Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Friday, December 31, 2010

P4A and Zombies

"Congratulations, you’ve won an E-copy of an Unpublished Zombie Apocalypse novel by John Green! Thank you for donating to the Project For Awesome 2010. P4A raised over $135,000, in large part due to you."

Thank you, Harry Potter Alliance, Project for Awesome, and John Green. Don't forget to be awesome.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sookie: A Disappointment

Sookie Stackhouse and Charlaine Harris may be old news. But I work at Hastings, where people rent True Blood, the TV series based on the books, where we have a bottled beverage called Tru Blood, and where yesterday I rearranged all of the copies of the Sookie Stackhouse series. So let's just say it's on my mind. I wrote this post a year ago and never finished it. I present it to you now.

When I first heard of the Sookie Stackhouse series, I was vaguely intrigued, but I didn't make the effort to read one until I saw a coworker with a copy and he raved about it. Dead Until Dark, the first in the Sookie Stackhouse series, presents an intriguing world: Vampires have "come out of the coffin," letting their existence be known to the larger world. They claim they are not the supernatural undead, but victims of a disease which makes them allergic to garlic, silver, and sunlight. People who like to be fed from and like to get in the vampires' pants are called fangbangers. Vampires trying to live among humans are said to be "mainstreaming."

Sookie Stackhouse, young sexy waitress with the ability to read minds, is excited when a vampire comes to her bar and orders a bottle of synthetic blood. As Sookie gets friendly with the vampire, young women with vampire bites are being found strangled about the town. So begins this vampire story turned murder mystery.

In my experience, contemporary vampire stories either romanticize vampires or make them horrible monsters; vampire books are either romances or horror stories. Think Twilight and I Am Legend.

Dead Until Dark falls into the former category. Our sexy young waitress has maybe two conversations with the sexy old vampire, and suddenly they're madly in love. Surprise surprise. What had started out as a quirky take on the vampire genre with a saucy narrator turns out to be just another virgin-meets-vampire story. What follows is a number of sex scenes that try to titillate you while retaining a modicum of modesty. I have an idea: Let's describe sex while refusing to use the word penis or any of its synonyms. Gag me with a spoon.

The best part of the Sookie Stackhouse series may be the covers. I have to admit, they fill me with joy. You can't tell from the pictures, but they have glitter on them. I'm a sucker for glitter.

Still, the book was entertaining enough for me to read to the end and kind of want to read the next in the series. The romance may have been a drag, but the murder mystery was engaging.

At this point in the post I was going to compare Sookie Stackhouse to Sunshine, another modern vampire tale, but I've forgotten most of what I was going to say and it's been a couple years since I read Sunshine. I'll mull it about in my brain and post on it later. Stay tuned.

lucky girl

Hastings pays me to shelve books?!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love: There's Nothing Wrong with Inspiring Middle-Class Wives

It may seem a bit late to talk about Eat, Pray, Love. The book came out five years ago, the movie came out four months ago, and I read it over two months ago. But I was talking about it on the phone with Rhiannon today, and it's still a much-bought book and much-watched movie (I know since I work at a book/movie store).

In this post I'm going to address complaints against the memoir. Some have complained that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is spoiled. That she over-estimated the problems she faced in her life and that she dealt with them in a very bourgeois or even upper-class way. Most people can't pick up and travel the world whenever there's a problem on the home front. Someone called Gilbert a rich woman speaking to discontent middle-class wives.

It is my opinion that everyone is allowed to a personal crisis once in a while. And that if you have the opportunity to do wonderful things--like travel to Italy and India and Indonesia--you shouldn't refuse these opportunities because there are others who don't have these opportunities, who don't have the same privileges. Should I stop eating because there are people in the world starving?

And Gilbert wasn't necessarily rich. She lost most of her money in the divorce at the beginning of the memoir. And she was able to take a year to travel the world because she's a travel writer. That's her job.

So what's the actual issue with Gilbert? Is it envy? Are the complainers simply angry they didn't or can't do what Gilbert did? It's not Elizabeth Gilbert's fault we don't have publishers paying us to travel. She's just lucky enough to have a job that allowed her to spend a year in self-discovery. (I know at least one of the complainers simply wasn't paying attention when he read the little bit of the book he did; he was making an opinion with misinformation.)

Gilbert is inspiring. What's wrong with inspiring discontent middle-class wives? I find that when people bad-mouth chicklit and the stuff that appeals to middle-class wives, they are really bad-mouthing middle-class wives. So just stop.

I was telling Rhiannon that I want to read more books like Eat, Pray, Love. Not books about women who go to Italy to eat good food, or books about women who meditate, or books about women who fall in love (though I like all those things). I want to read books that make me feel the way Eat, Pray, Love did. Books that make me feel inspired, that make me feel spiritual, that make me feel motivated, that make me feel like there are forces of good working in the world.

If you know of any books like that, do let me know.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Recommendations?

Not a lot of new exciting thoughts to report on books, you may have noticed. This is how my days have been going since school ended:

Try to get caught up on cleaning the house.
Go to work (at Hastings, half of which is devoted to books!).
Read Sherlock Holmes or wander the Palouse Mall on my break (Hastings is located at the Palouse Mall).
Go home. Watch Doctor Who and maybe a little Glee until bed.
Read Sherlock Holmes in bed.

But now that Christmas is passed and I'm not working full-time pre-Christmas hours, I have more time to read (and write and do yoga and hang out with friends). I'm putting together a reading list out of books people recommend and some stuff in the Hastings' "Books to give" catalog. So now I'm putting the question to you: Do you have book recommendations? The kind of books that are good to read over winter break? The kind that are absorbing and hard to put down?

So far people have told me to read:
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
House of Leaves by that guy with the funny last name
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King (I haven't read Stephen King since high school; if I'm going to keep quoting him I suppose I should read him.)
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Points to anyone who can guess which friend/relative recommended which book to me (I'll give you a hint, PB is on the list).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I'm in the supermarket one day with my cart, and there's this woman, about 95. She says, "I know who you are. You write those stories, those awful horror stories . . . I don't like that. I like uplifting movies like that Shawshank Redemption." So I said, "I wrote that." And she said, "No, you didn't."And that was it. Talk about surreal. I went to myself, for a minute, "It's not very much like my other stuff. Maybe I didn't write it!"

-Stephen King

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Narrative Chronology

I continue in my quest to find the optimal order in which to read the Sherlock Holmes stories. I thought that the list at the bottom of this page was the order in which the stories took place. So I was going through this list, and I began on the "The Reigate Squires," but immediately Watson was referring to events that I knew nothing of. Big sigh. So I'm just reading The Adventures straight through. I think I need to do more research into all of this. For instance, were the short stories published individually before they were gathered up and published as The Adventures?

Here's the list in (hopefully) narrative chronology:
A Study in Scarlet
"The Speckled Band"
"The Beryl Coronet"
"The Resident Patient"
"The Reigate Squires"
The Valley of Fear
"The Noble Bachelor"
"The Yellow Face"
"The Greek Interpreter"
The Sign of Four
"Silver Blaze"
"The Cardboard Box"
"A Scandal in Bohemia"
"The Man with the Twisted Lip"
"A Case of Identity"
"The Blue Carbuncle"
"The Five Orange Pips"
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery
"The Stockbroker's Clerk"
"The Naval Treaty"
"The Engineer's Thumb"
The Hound of the Baskervilles
"The Crooked Man"
"The Red-Headed League"
"The Copper Beeches"
"The Dying Detective"
"The Final Problem"
"The Empty House"
"The Second Stain"
"The Golden Pince-Nez"
"The Norwood Builder"
"Wisteria Lodge"
"The Three Students"
"The Solitary Cyclist"
"Black Peter"
"The Bruce Partington Plane"
"The Veiled Lodger"
"The Sussex Vampire"
"The Missing Three-Quarter"
"The Abbey Grange"
"The Devil's Foot"
"The Dancing Men"
"The Retired Colourman"
"Charles Augustus Milverton"
"The Six Napoleons"
"The Priory School"
"Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"
"Thor Bridge"
"Shoscombe Old Place"
"The Three Garridebs"
"The Three Gables"
"The Illustrious Client"
"The Red Circle"
"The Blanched Soldier"
"The Mazarin Stone"
"The Creeping Man"
"The Lion's Mane"
"His Last Bow"

There are at least two stories missing from that list which my source has not told me anything about.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You May Now Proceed with Winter Break

Semester's over! I can return all these to the library. A gold star to whoever can figure out what my research paper was on.

New Watson Likes Jam

I can't seem to get this comic to be of an appropriate size. So read it here. This is by my favorite comic artist, Kate Beaton. Be a dear and go read her.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Chronology

I decided it was time for me to read more Sherlock Holmes. I took my double copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes/The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes and began reading. But says Watson is married! When did Watson get married? Hmm...perhaps I need to read these in order. So I went onto my handy dandy Wikipedia and looked up the canon.

The order in which the Sherlock Holmes Canon was published:

A Study in Scarlet (novel)
The Sign of the Four (novel)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)
The Valley of Fear (novel)
His Last Bow (collection of short stories)
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (collection of short stories)

I'd already read A Study in Scarlet a few years ago, but I'd forgotten most of it so I read it again. I then read The Sign of the Four, but I read in a footnote that it took place seven years after A Study in Scarlet. Seven years? What happened in those seven years? A lot happened, actually. The Valley of Fear and parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. And the short stories within The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes weren't even sorted according to chronology. It gets more complex: Some of the short stories take place early in Holmes and Watson's career but were only written by Watson later. So what order do I read them in? I don't want spoilers. I don't want to know Watson is married before I've heard the story of how he met his bride. * It's the more complex version of Narnia: Do I start with The Magician's Nephew or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?

The order you would read them if you were to do them by chronology of the characters' lives rather than chronology of publishing:

A Study in Scarlet
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Valley of Fear
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Sign of Four
Part of His Last Bow
Part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Parts of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Part of His Last Bow
Part of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Part of His Last Bow
Parts of The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Parts of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

The list goes on as we sort out 19 more short stories, but I'm done figuring it out and typing it up. I'll also include the list of the novels and short stories in chronological order, but not today. I'm going to try finding a compromise between publishing order and chronological order. I'll let you know how it goes, and hopefully at the end I can posit a good order to read them in that is not too taxing on your library account.

*Sorry for any of you who didn't know Watson was married and hate spoilers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

-Stephen King

Monday, December 6, 2010

Delicious Death

September 15 was Agatha Christie's 120th birthday. In celebration, the baking star Jane Asher created a cake based on the Delicious Death chocolate cake made for a birthday tea in A Murder is Announced.

"Impossible to make such a cake. I need for it chocolate and much butter, and sugar and raisins," says the housekeeper who is to make the cake in the book. "It will be rich, rich, of a melting richness! And on top I will put the icing – chocolate icing – I make him so nice – and write on it Good Wishes. These English people with their cakes that tastes of sand, never never, will they have tasted such a cake. Delicious, they will say – delicious."

Jane Asher says of her Christie-inspired concoction, "It has an intense, forbidding dark Belgian chocolate centre which is lifted by the unexpected sharp zing of its brandy-soaked cherry and ginger filling. The glorious assault on the senses doesn't end there: the cake is decorated with flecks of pure gold, sprinklings of crystallised rose and violet petals, and swirls of ganache piping. This paragon of a cake is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious – and deadly? – to eat."

You can find the recipe for this cake at Agatha Christie's website. I'm certainly going to try it, though I may veganify it. But veganism is too wholesome for such a poisonous endeavor... We shall see.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saffron Eyes

I recently read Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly. If you're a vampire aficionado, you may want to read it. If it's the middle of finals and you just need something to take your mind off school before bed (like me), this might be worth your time.

But generally, not a very good book. For all the ingredients that should make this good--it's a gaslamp fantasy; it's got an intriguing theory on vampirism; its heroine is more kick-ass than Mina; its protagonist used to be an agent for the British government and is now a linguistics professor; it's got legendary ancient vampires*--the finished product just isn't particularly delicious. But it's got suspense and mystery, so I did get caught up and read it through.

I'll give an example, something that immediately made me distrust the book. Hambly uses her adjectives and adverbs ill-advisedly--she's trying to be poetic, but she goes overboard. And cliches abound. What most annoyed me were the descriptions of the main vampire's eyes. She could have said they were yellow and left it at that. But no, she gave four different descriptions of the eye color in the space of twelve quick-to-read pages. Each description was lovely in its own right ("saffron eyes," "acid and honey"), but all together it was simply heavy-handed. And I was only keeping track those first twelve pages; she continues to constantly harken back to the vampire's eye color throughout the book, rotating through her descriptions. When she could have said, "the vampire looked at me," she instead said, "impenetrable champagne eyes looked into mine."

*What I love about vampires is the immortality, that they can have seen so much history and lived in so many different time periods.

How to Write

Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

-Samuel Johnson, "Recalling the Advice of a College Tutor," Boswell, Life of Johnson, 1791

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Esme's Bookshelf

Books I finished in November:

Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir by Ander Monson.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling.

The Women by Hilton Als.

PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality, edited by Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel, preface by Kate Bornstein. (Did you see Bornstein's tattoo?)

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie.

On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men by J.L. King.

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly.

Amphigorey Also by Edward Gorey.

These days, when I look at the list of books I've finished reading, I don't feel very accomplished. But of course this list doesn't reflect the tons of reading I've been doing. The essays by fellow MFAs, parts of books for my rhetoric class, parts of books for my research paper, children's picture books, even webcomics.

Speaking of which, if you've never read any Kate Beaton, she's fantastic. Especially if you like literature and history. But even if you don't like literature and history, she's hilarious. Maybe in an upcoming post I'll make a list of my favorites.