Lifestyles of the Rich and Undead

May 29, 2009 at 11:15 am | Posted in Book Blather | 6 Comments

How do vampires afford their lifestyles?

I know fiction is supposed to be read with a willing suspension of disbelief.  It’s just that I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head for a while now, and I haven’t figured it out.  Why are all vampires supposedly loaded?

Let me go on.  Living costs money, but being undead does too.  The undead don’t need to eat, right?  We can also assume that they don’t need haircuts or manicures.  But if they’re going to circulate amongst the still-breathing, they will still need to update their wardrobes (and do laundry), furnish an appropriate dwelling, and keep the lights on.  In some respects you’d think they would have to spend more, say, for human-tone foundation or a grill to hide those pointy canines.  The main point, though, is that if they’re going to walk the earth for so much longer than the rest of us, they’re going to have to have an even larger retirement account.

We start with Count Dracula.  It looks like he’s inherited his estate along with his title.  But really, how is it that only living nobility ever seem caught up with entailments and taxes and high overhead?  Sure, the Count is a bit of a miser, and he has investment income.  But would he still be in good shape in these troubled times?  I mean, one of my retirement accounts just lost 28% of its value.  Are we to believe vampires have a supernatural knowledge of which funds to invest in?

Let’s talk about the vampire Lestat.  He has money too.  Of course he does.  What would be less hot than a homeless vampire with only one fang?  (You know, because he can’t afford dental insurance).  But… where did he get it?  I think there’s this romantic idea that vampires have lots of gorgeous antique furniture because they bought it when it was new.  Well, sure, but upholstery wears out eventually, whether the person sitting on it is dead or not.  Ya gotta restore this stuff.

My favorite has to be the immortal (immoral?) Cullen family.  Not only are they rich, they are so rich that they can keep enrolling in universities every few decades in order to pretend to be young still.  Now that’s wealthy.  Classic cars, a steady stream of new clothes, a fridge full of food just for show… I hope they aren’t shopping at Whole Foods!  Doctors make a fairly good income, but they’re middle class, after all.  I just don’t believe that a century of being undead would allow enough of a nest egg to support an entire family with a billionaire-level lavishness.  Even in Washington State.

The crux of the wealthy-vampire myth would seem to be the principle of compound interest.  Of course he’s rich, he’s had the time to let his investments sit and gather value, right?  Well, there’s a pretty big loophole here.  How do they get around the fact of the incriminating paperwork?  “Oh, Baron von Bloodsucker is one of our best customers; he’s banked with us since 1497.”  Wrong!  I suppose the idea is that the supernatural powers of vampirism enable a person to hypnotize finance professionals into forging account details or something.  Have you ever talked with the IRS over the phone?  It’s hard to imagine any profession less susceptible to manipulation.  The vampire starts turning his pupils red or whatever, and lo and behold, the auditor just glares back, only his look more like yellow cat eyes.  Brr!

Anyway.  I like J. K. Rowling’s presentation of Lupin the poverty-stricken werewolf.  It seems more accurate.  Just because someone develops occult powers doesn’t mean he automatically understands how to build wealth and learn to interact with the upper class.  Maybe he’s just as prone to suffer the effects of inflation as the rest of us.

Booking Through Thursday: Unread

May 28, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 8 Comments

Here is my response to this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

Is there a book that you wish you could unread?  One that you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?

This question is so beautifully tempting – it’s the perfect opportunity to slam those authors we love to hate.  But I can’t say that I wish I had never read something like The Da Vinci Code, for instance, because I feel a sort of duty to keep abreast of wildly popular fiction.  So no, I don’t think there is any one particular title I would single out.

There are probably enough lackluster books in my reading history, though, to fill a piano crate.  I look back at some of the things I’ve read and I just feel sad.  I wish I had focused more on reading the classics when I was younger.  The Brothers Karamazov, in particular, is a book I am profoundly glad I got to read in my lifetime – but I could have read it that much sooner if I’d skipped some of the chick lit or the self-help books.  You know, like Women Who Love Books Too Much or Librarians Who Run With the Wolves.

I’m going to predict that many of the people who single out a certain book and wish they never had read it will choose either something disturbing or a classic they thought was really boring.  Frankly, I tend to be drawn to disturbing things, having developed my chops reading horror and true crime, so a book with a reputation for creepiness, violence, or a really harsh ending will work its way higher up my list.  The classics go without saying.  It takes fortitude.  Ire will no doubt be raised when I say that if you don’t like a classic book, you are missing something and you didn’t try hard enough, but that’s really how I see it.

Some things are better left unread.  If you are prone to nightmares, it’s good to find out ahead of time that a book has been known to shock people.  A lot of third-tier titles can just be left to gather dust.   But the time we spend ploughing through “boring” stuff that is a notch higher than our comfort level pays off in making the next challenging work that much more approachable.

The End is Near

May 27, 2009 at 9:51 am | Posted in Book Blather | 12 Comments

It’s Wednesday.  By this time next week, I will be living in my new house with my man Rocket Scientist.  The wedding invitations are going out tomorrow.  The moving van is pulling up Sunday morning.

What does all this mean?  Aside from the bafflement of our families and friends, who were all certain neither of us would ever marry again?  The culmination of four years of abiding friendship?  The opportunity to save scads of money on rent?

What does it mean?  What does it mean?  It means I’m never going to have time to read any more!

I’m freaking out, you guys.  My bachelorette days are through.  No more can I leave self-help books lying around where they might be seen.  Alas, it’s time to say goodbye to three-hour bathtub reading binges.  Say hello to explaining why I might want to read a 900-page historical romance novel like Outlander.  Or maybe a Cosmo.

Is it really possible for a married lady to stir the soup while holding a book in her other hand?  Read while flossing?  Or, God forbid, page idly through something while tuning out one of my relations on the phone?  (Not that I would ever actually do something like that – purely hypothetical scenario.  Really).

All the married people I know with full-time jobs read less than I do.  I assume this is because they talk to each other and do things other than read.  But… how?  (I think I’m down with ‘why’).

Anyway, I’m trying to make the most of it.  I read something like 700 pages yesterday, deep in denial about how much I have left to pack.  There are still two shelves of books out because I was convinced I’d have time to read them before I moved.  Wait, maybe I do!

Daisy Chain 2

May 22, 2009 at 10:47 am | Posted in Daisy Chains | 2 Comments

Now that I’m thinking about daisy chains, I’m taking note of more of them in my reading.

The Crow Road -> Knocked Out By My Nunga-Nungas:  The first time I ever saw the beverage Irn-Bru mentioned was two weeks ago.  I assumed from the context that it was a whiskey or something.  I found out a week later, from the second book, that it’s actually a Scots brand of soda.  I guess I could have just Googled it.

The Willoughbys -> The Abstinence Teacher:  Both have major characters named Ruth.

The Pornography of Power -> Slouching Towards Bethlehem -> Acedia & MeThe P of P had a cover blurb by Joan Didion, who wrote STB, which was extensively quoted in A&M.  Incidentally, STB has been on my reading list for absolutely years, but I finally read it after having visited Alcatraz and Waikiki for the first time (this spring), both the subjects of essays in the book.  What are the chances?

Sloth -> Acedia & Me:  I read Sloth by Wendy Wasserman during the Read-a-Thon last month.  It was quoted extensively in A&M.

It would be really cool to draw out a sort of web linking all the connections between the different books I’ve read, but it would probably start to get pretty illegible after a while.

Mt. TBV

May 20, 2009 at 9:42 am | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

Last night I went to my man Rocket Scientist’s house so we could work on some sewing projects.  He happened to mention that I’m filling up his DVR with all my back episodes of Desperate Housewives.  This is an issue because I’ve we’ve decided not to get cable in the new house, and he’ll have to give back the box when he moves out of his current place.

I don’t particularly watch TV.  I’ve never owned one and the loaner in my house doesn’t have television reception.  It’s more of a DVD player with a screen.  I used to follow DH and 24, because I had roommates and it was the social thing to do.  But then Trish and I started catching up from the first season of 24, so I skipped the current season.  And, well, all those DH episodes were available any time, right?

So what’s happened is that the DVR is nearly a third full with unwatched episodes dating back to December last year.

What?  I’m supposed to cut into my reading time or something?

I have a dilemma probably faced by few other Americans.  I’m working my way through a stack of books for hours every night, half-heartedly convincing myself that I’ll make more time for television some day.  Everybody knows I’m just fooling myself and I don’t watch nearly as much TV as I like to think I do.  Chances are I’ll never catch up on my To Be Viewed pile.

Saved from Certain Doom

May 19, 2009 at 9:00 am | Posted in Book Blather | 2 Comments

There are some titles on my TBR list that have been there for some time.  One of them was The Beach, by Alex Garland.  I read a review and decided it would be a good road trip read for me and my man Rocket Scientist this weekend.  The library catalog showed that it was on the shelf, so I merrily went in to grab it.

No book.  That’s happened before.  Some clumsy oik knocks it behind another book, or it gets shuffled between books on a different shelf.  I thought perhaps it had been shelved with the mysteries or sci fi.  No dice.

The reference desk librarian offered to drag herself out of her chair and check the shelf for it.  Naturally she didn’t see it either.  (I can’t help but have ruffled feelings when this happens, as though they don’t trust that I know my alphabet).  She had an idea where this missing book might be.

Lo and behold, it was on the goodbye cart!  This book that I wanted to read had been “pulled for review” and was destined to be tossed in the dumpster with the other unloved books.

This makes a certain sense, as the volume I have was a movie tie-in (urgh) and only five people had checked it out in two years.  There are other copies in our system, so it would still be available.  There’s just no particular reason to let a paperback with Leonardo DiCaprio’s face on the cover hog valuable shelf space.

On the one hand, I have an intrinsic horror of throwing away “perfectly good” books.  On the other hand, I also have a horror of clutter, and I’m glad my library isn’t full of obsolete science books and 1970’s era romance novels.  Now I’ve checked out a book that was slated for certain doom.  When I return it, will it then sit on the shelf for another year, unwanted and forgotten, taking up the space where The Able McLaughlins should go?

This is one argument in favor of e-books.  Let’s be frank and say that not every book is destined to be a classic.  How many millions of copies of… I want to name a book that isn’t a classic, but it seems that if the name immediately springs to mind, maybe it’s got some power behind it after all.  Anyway, all those millions of mass market paperbacks have to go somewhere.  Sometimes, it’s probably the recycle bin.

Reading Road Trip: “The Willoughbys”

May 18, 2009 at 8:33 am | Posted in Children's Book | 3 Comments

The Willoughbys is an instant classic.  A bit of satire, a bit of black comedy, it was hard to remember that this is supposed to be a children’s book.  It never occurred to me to wonder whether Lois Lowry could do humor, but the answer to that question is an emphatic yes.

Product Details

My man Rocket Scientist and I are developing a family tradition, wherein we read books together on road trips.  Sweetie Junior, at 14, has adapted to this with enthusiasm.  So as we read The Willoughbys, it was hard to get through each chapter due to disruptive laughter.  We also had to stop to speculate what was going to happen next, which characters were the villains, etc.  Then I had to pass the book back so SJ could see the illustrations, and stop RS from trying to peek because he needed to keep his eyes on the road.

We really enjoyed this book, and I’m certain that anyone who liked A Series of Unfortunate Events would, too.

The Long and the Short of It

May 15, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 12 Comments

Does the size of a book influence whether you’ll read it?  All these years, I’ve always gone out of my way to read longer books and avoid shorter ones.  It seemed that it would just be over too quickly otherwise.  I needed something to “last me.”

Right now I’m playing a little game.  I’m trying to see if I can read 500 books in a year.  Naturally, this would be a lot less likely to happen if I only read titles over 800 pages.  I figured out I could read an average of 400 pages per day, so if I chose books of about that length, then I could finish a book a day and read a couple extra on the weekend.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I could also read shorter books, and finish more than one a day.  Surprise!  I started going through the 600+ names on my TBR list, picking out a few shorter ones.  It is absolutely amazing how many worthy books I have put off reading for years, simply because they were “too short.”

F’rinstance, can you believe I have never read The Red Badge of Courage, at 150 pages?  Or Heart of Darkness, at 100?  I guess I always figured I could read them any time, so why not just put them off until later.  There’s also that sense that everyone else read it in high school, so why is an adult carrying it around?  The same thing makes it hard to read classic children’s books like Winnie the Pooh or Pippi Longstocking, though I’ve always wondered what they were like.

Simultaneously with my 500-book goal, I am racing S. Krishna to see who can read the most in a year.  We’re going by total page count, though, so it won’t matter a bit whether I read a few long books or a lot of short books.  (Since she’s about 5000 pages ahead right now, it probably won’t matter much either way!)

How about you?  Do you ever pass on a book simply due to its length?  Are you more likely to read something if it is a certain size?

Booking Through Thursday: Book Gluttony

May 14, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 7 Comments

Here is my response to this week’s Booking Through Thursday:

Book Gluttony!  Are your eyes bigger than your book belly?  Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them?  Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself?  Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?

Hahahaha!  I am having trouble imagining anyone answering no to this question.  The only reader I know who does not hoard books is my man Rocket Scientist.  He will literally buy a new book, take it home, sit down, and start reading it right away.  Then he will finish it before he starts something else.  Amazing.

My biggest problem with book gluttony is the library.  I can walk in and take home as many books as I can carry, free of charge.  This is part of why I’ve tried to limit myself only to new titles I’ve put on hold.  Typically they come in at a manageable rate, especially now that I can only hold 20 at a time.  Ah, but, we can only check out 30.  I found that out the hard way, shortly after I moved here.  Right now I’m at 27 again and not sure entirely how that happened.

The next problem is lent books.  I always say ‘lent’ because people bring me their books when they think I will be interested in them.  I always feel obligated to give them a shot, especially considering I go through 9 or 10 a week.  (I have begged ARCs from Trish before when I just couldn’t wait to get them from the library, though oddly enough, I never seem to get around to them).  These books have a tendency to pile up, because they don’t have a “due date” the way library books do.

I will buy books that I can’t get any other way, but again, once I have them in hand, the pressure to read them disappears.  Heck, I can read that book any time, so even though I was desperate to read it when I found it, why not just let it marinate for a few years?  Part of the problem here is that I loathe paperbacks.  The other is the “due date” thing.

I’ve gotten much better about this over the last couple of years, particularly since I started tracking my reading.  I have actual metrics on how much I can realistically read in a given period, plus a long list of books I want to read before I die.  In theory I can tell you how many books I will be able to read if I live to be 75, my family’s minimum lifespan, and in that case, I should also know what many of those books will be.  So, okay, maybe I’d like to read Principia Mathematica, but realistically, I’m not going to.  It would displace something else.

All my books are currently packed in 10 identical Avon boxes.  I left out a good-sized stack of ‘lent’ books and second-hand books that are intended to circulate through our book group.  Other than those and the library books, I can tell you definitively that I’ve hoarded a three months’ supply.  Why don’t I just take three months off from the library and read them, then?  This is a question RS is bound to ask now that we’re getting married, and I’m really racking my brain to come up with an answer.

Um, because?

Pulitzer Problems

May 14, 2009 at 9:17 am | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 6 Comments

Reading all the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction has been a long-time goal of mine.  I decided I’d do it this year, figuring I only had 67 left to read.  It should be a cinch.  Well, if you have a similar goal, let me tell you that it’s more complicated than it looks at first.  That’s why I’ve only read four in five months.

The biggest issue is pure size.  Many of these books are quite large – for instance, The Executioner’s Song is a thousand-pager.  Of the 63 remaining on my list, the average page count is 411.  With nearly 26,000 pages to go, I’ll have to read 812 pages a week.

The next issue is availability, for various reasons.  Some titles have fallen out of favor and are hard to come by – there are at least four that aren’t available at my library.  The other problem is that reading the Pulitzers is a fairly common literary challenge, so there’s competition.  Many of these books are represented by only one volume in my library system, most at far-flung branches around the county.

The upshot is that I’m going to have to revise my intention of reading through the Pulitzers in chronological order.  Right now it’s just taking too long to get the books.  It looks like I’m going to have to read The Able McLaughlins in e-book format.  It’s okay, though – most of the ones I’ve already read are pretty randomly distributed through the list.  I’ll just cherry-pick a little and work on both the older and the newer ends of the stack.

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