Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2009 at 11:17 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 2 Comments

Here are two of my favorite posts on a Halloween theme.  If you don’t like them and would like a refund, call me and I’ll send you some of our five pounds of leftover candy.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Undead

Zombies vs. Vampires vs. Werewolves

Booking Through Thursday: Blurb

October 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

“What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”

My book choices are made largely by what’s on various award lists or recommendations from particular sources.  I’ve actually stopped reading all fiction book jackets!  It’s rare for me to browse a bookstore and come across something I want to read that I haven’t already heard of through another source. so I don’t encounter that many blurbs.

Other than that, the cover art is the big draw.  I’ve learned that for some reason, women’s fiction tends to have pictures of women from the shoulders down – so a headless woman on the cover is a sure sign that I’m unlikely to be interested in the book.  Literary fiction tends to have more abstract cover art, maybe focusing just on the title and author’s name, and I tend to be drawn in that direction.  Nonfiction, my favorite, is a different beast entirely.  I’ll read a book on an interesting topic regardless of whether the quality of writing is any good, and I might also read any book by a particular author regardless of subject.

If I am interested enough to pick up a book to scope it out, the next thing that’s going to catch my eye is whether another author has commented on it.  If it’s someone I like, I’ll look closer.  If it’s someone I don’t, I drop it like a hot rock.  Best is when two or three authors with really different styles all seem to like it.

So here’s how I choose books:  First, anything that’s been nominated for a major literary award; second, anything recommended in the “best of” on the Amazon or Powell’s sites; third, anything new by an author I follow; fourth, the occasional recommendation from a friend or another blogger.  Then I look them up on my library web site and put on hold whatever looks like I might be able to read it sometime in the next 4-6 months.  I keep a list in my PDA of books I want to read and where I can find them.

Here’s how I do not choose books:  Book jackets, professional reviews, or other bloggers’ reviews that include any plot details.  I swear I can’t understand why on earth the standard is to spell out all the plot details and character studies for the entire book.  What’s the point of reading it when you already know everything that’s going to happen?  When I read a review in a blog, I skim to the bottom paragraph and look to see whether the blogger says he or she liked the book or not.  That’s it.  When I look at a book jacket, I skip the upper section that spoils the plot, and just look for quotes about how great the book is from other authors or publications.


October 28, 2009 at 8:45 am | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 6 Comments

It’s another milestone.  (Did I almost just type millstone?)  Today I finished Girl in a Blue Dress, my 400th book for the year.  Last year I finished book #400 on December 22nd.

As you all know by now, I’ve been trying to read 500 books this year.  This means I have 64 days to read the last 100 books.  That’s one a day on weekdays (46) plus three a day on 18 weekend days.  (I’m not counting the holidays because for some reason I always seem to read far less on vacation days).  Hmm.  It sounds like I’ll really be pushing it – especially because I have some very lengthy books in my future. 

I still have 41 Pulitzers, with an average length of 440 pages, including the 1056 page Executioner’s Song.  I’m also flailing against the bounds of reason as I try to complete my Too Big to Ignore Anymore challenge by November 15:  If I do them all, I have over 7500 pages to go, or 420 pages per day.  I think I can just manage to do it, but it will bring my total book count down.  There’s also The Faerie Queene for another challenge, and Under the Dome, which we all know will be impossible to leave alone.

If I can pull this thing off at this point, it will be a miracle.

Reading Recap

October 27, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

It looks like it’s been a while since I’ve recounted what I’ve been reading lately.

The Late George Apley – Pulitzer winner of 1938.  Read this if you ever have trouble understanding your parents.  Touching pseudo-biography of a Boston brahmin as he is forced from adventurous young man to stodgy paterfamilias.

A Gate at the Stairs – I love Lorrie Moore but this one didn’t grab me.  It was kind of a bummer.

The Yearling – ARGH!  Never again!  You can’t make me!  This book has no business in the Juvenile section of the library.  It was frickin’ brutal.

The Adventures of Tintin, vol. 1 – I couldn’t help it, I had to know what Tintin was all about.  Like The Yearling, I have to ask what is supposed to make this a children’s book.  Heroin smuggling?  Opium dens?  The Mafia?  The only thing missing was a brothel.  I love it and I’m planning to read more, but I wouldn’t give this to a grade-schooler.

The New Valley – Josh Weil is hotttt!!!  I can’t say enough good things about this book.  He’s a terrific talent, and if he’s already writing at this level we’ll be hearing more of him.

Fear the Worst – I think I reviewed this.  If you like thrillers, you’ll love this.

Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys – Can’t get enough of the Weetzie Bat books.

The Song of the Cid – I think I reviewed this, too.  It’s short and the Penguin translation is really approachable.

Howards End – I’ve been rationing out E. M. Forster for years because I know he didn’t write very many books.  So many quantum leaps above and beyond all other literature, in my mind anyway.

The 13 Clocks – One of James Thurber’s children’s books on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list.  I didn’t care for it as much as his adult works.

The Hobbit – We did this for Family Reading Hour, and it took two weeks.  Sweetie Junior kept falling asleep.  She kept saying, “I think this book is cursed!”  She enjoyed the plot and plans to read LOTR, but I think they’re not at their best read aloud.

In the Company of Cheerful LadiesThe No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series continues.  I do these on audio while I fold laundry and cook, and it’s pure bliss.

Sag Harbor – Funny and moving.  Deals with racial tension.  Do those things even go together?

Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson, I can’t figure you out.  It’s either a tiny book or an enormous book.  Either way, it’s a distinct voice.

The Good Soldier – I always thought this was a war story, but it’s actually a twisted mess-with-your-mind story of romantic obsession, tragedy, and death.  Absolutely brilliant and great for a stormy night.

The Nobody – A graphic novel retelling of The Invisible Man.  Wonderful.

What the Dead Know – For book group.  Eh.

The Grapes of Wrath – I finally did it!  This book has always been my albatross, but I finally confronted it 20 years later in all its odd beauty.

In This Our Life – Pulitzer for 1942.  It’s sort of a cross between Years of Grace and To Kill a Mockingbird.  Big fat soap opera.

New World Monkeys – I loved this book, although I’m not sure I can figure out the ending.

Dogs and Water – A surreal and haunting graphic novel.

The Three Paradoxes – A graphic novel about family, love, and philosophy.  Hornschemeier’s artwork is absolutely pure.

Curses – Yes, I read graphic novels all day Friday.  BFD.  I loved this one because it was about starlings and superstition.  Great for Halloween time.

The Recognitions – The epic monster I tackled for Read-a-Thon.

The Elements of Style – Everyone should read this.  It’s funny.  I just found out I’ve been misusing the word ‘aggravating’ all this time.  How irritating.

Her Fearful Symmetry – Wonderful!  Fabulous!

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – …And then I read the most gut-wrenching, depressing memoir of all time.

The Satanic Nurses – A collection of short literary parodies.  I’ve been pecking at it for weeks.  There’s sure to be something for everyone here.

Reading and Exercise – A Weighty Subject

October 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 10 Comments

It’s the ultimate taboo:  talking about body fat.  Am I fat?  Are you fat?  Is she fat?  Have we been gaining weight lately?  Well, I’m going to go there.  My name is Jessica, I read a lot, and in the last two years I’ve gained back 17 of the 28 pounds I had successfully kept off for two years.  (125 to 142).  Was “a book a day” worth it?  I sat on my butt too much.  There, I’ve said it.

This came up because a couple of cheerleaders exhibited surprise that I read on the treadmill during the read-a-thon.  It never occurred to me that this was unusual.  I’m going to tell you more.

I have a treadmill I bought “new out of the box” at an athletic consignment store.  I paid $300 (birthday money).  It folds up when not in use.  I keep it smack in the middle of the family room, right under the ceiling fan.  There is no way on earth I could bear using it without something to read!  Usually I hold a book in one hand and switch back and forth.  The Recognitions was too big, so I rested it on the ledge that’s built into the machine.

I also have a mini stair stepper that I bought new for $50.  I wanted to use it at work, as I had seen another employee do, but that was nixed by our safety officer, so it went home.  This device is literally just pedals connected to a little computer a little larger than a digital wristwatch.  I don’t have the batteries in it, though – I just step up and down, and my hands are free to hold my book.

I’ve also just joined a gym – Anytime Fitness.  I like the elliptical trainer.  It’s a little trickier to read on the elliptical because you’re rocking side to side more.  I will also read while doing my stretches; I find I do a longer, deeper stretch when I have something to distract me.  Let’s face it – exercise is almost terminally boring!  Unless you’re my husband, who has been a jock since age 4.

Here’s what happened to me.  I worked out for 18 months, burned off 25 pounds, and kept it off for two years.  I moved and quit my gym membership, but was biking to work.  I moved again, shortly after deciding to try to read a book a day.  (I finished at 409 for the year).  Then this year I decided to try for 500.  Notice that during this time I was still not going to the gym; then I also quit riding my bike because it cut into my reading time too much.  I used my treadmill maybe once a month and the stairstepper maybe 15 minutes at a time once every several weeks.  I’ve been walking 3 miles per day – trying for 1000 miles this year – but it’s clearly not enough to keep my weight down.  Evidently reading makes a person fat.

Carrying extra weight is not something I do well.  Fat hurts.  It makes me tired and breathless, and I’m not even big.  I’m technically two pounds over the healthy BMI for my height, but for me that feels like ten pounds too much.  If I had it to do over again, and you had told me what I would sacrifice in terms of my fitness level, I would not have tried to read all those books.  No question.

Cosmetic details aren’t terribly interesting to me.  I think most people are good looking.  I find fashion beyond uninteresting, I refuse to wear uncomfortable shoes, and I won’t spend more than five minutes fussing with my hair unless it’s, well, my wedding day.  I think there’s a common thread among readers and intellectuals that separates “smart” from “attractive” and would rather be clearly identifiable as “smart.”  (I’m in Mensa and the Society for Creative Anachronism, and frankly, both groups appear to have a preponderance of morbidly obese members).  To be concerned with things like one’s weight is a little trivial and shallow, perhaps.  “I have more important things to think about, thank you very much.”  When it comes down to it, though, it’s really a health issue, isn’t it?

[Whew, heavy topic today].

So, yeah!  Treadmills!  How ’bout them treadmills!

Hour 24

October 25, 2009 at 4:40 am | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 11 Comments

I did it!  I finished The Recognitions in under 24 hours, with about 40 minutes to spare!  Here is a sly quote from William Gaddis, evidently describing the diametric opposite of his own work:

It was written with reassuring felicity.  There were no abstrusely long sentences, no confounding long words, no bewildering metaphors in an obfuscated system such as he feared finding in simply bound books of thoughts and ideas.

I thought I’d be able to read this book at 50 pages an hour.  But the page format, margins, and font size are similar to Ulysses and The Kindly Ones – big blocks of solid text in tiny print with little space between the lines.  I’m looking at Her Fearful Symmetry right now and it literally looks like it has half the text per page – or less.  I guarantee I could have read another very long book, maybe by Diana Gabaldon, in significantly less time.

Anyway, I did what I set out to do.  I stayed awake for 24 hours and read a notoriously difficult novel.  If I had tackled this book the way I normally do, it would have taken me nearly a week to read.  I’m pretty thrilled that I was able to knock down a challenge book in this way.  The other advantage is that I was able to keep track of the plot and characters more easily – over a period of days they wouldn’t be quite so fresh, you know?

Ordinarily I would finish out the hour – 25 minutes more – in reading something.  But I’ve been nodding off periodically since 3:00 and I just want to floss and go to bed.  Thanks for cheering, everybody, and I hope you all had fun!

Hour 16

October 24, 2009 at 8:21 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 6 Comments

Oh man.  Am I tired.  It seems like I haven’t made any progress in my book at all.  I think I am going to get the booby prize for Fewest Book(s) Read.

I’m on page 610 with 349 to go and only nine more hours.  I’m starting to worry that I might not make it!  I’ve had to start getting creative with ways to keep myself awake – TG I have a treadmill!

Here is a quote from The Recognitions:

– I really prefer books.  No matter how bad a book is, it’s unique, but people are all so ordinary.

Hour… 12?!

October 24, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 2 Comments

How’d that happen?

I’ve just hit the halfway mark in The Recognitions.  I lost a half hour logging in this morning, and then I had a 20-minute lunch break with my man Rocket Scientist.  I don’t think I’m going to hit my goal of finishing by 1 AM.  I think it’s more likely to be 3 AM.  At least I’m confident I can finish it within the 24 hours… I’m doubly glad I didn’t choose The Man Without Qualities, which I was considering last week.

The good news is, this is a really absorbing book.  It’s full of all the things I like: picaresque characters, erudition, long intellectual conversations, a little blasphemy, and the occasional bawdy joke.  [i.e. “It’s okay to kiss a nun as long as you don’t get into the habit.”  Snort].

The bad news is, reading one long involved book takes twice as long as reading a stack of short books and graphic novels.  When I did this in October last year I read 1800 pages, and this time I’m not sure I’ll hit 1000.  Funny, huh?

I’ll check in again after dinner, in a few hours.  I want to thank all the cheerleaders – I get a huge kick out of reading the comments, and I can just see you all pumping your fists in the air!

Hour 1

October 24, 2009 at 5:14 am | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 19 Comments

3 facts about me … How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?

Three facts about me:

I am trying to read 500 books this year.

I got married August 29.

This is my third read-a-thon.

I have one single book in my read-a-thon pile, The Recognitions by William Gaddis, and it’s my goal to read all 956 pages (plus introduction) before 1:00 AM.  My advice to anyone else doing this is to just gut it out, because you’ll have to wait 6 months to try again if you give up.

Read-a-Thon Stack

October 23, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Challenges | 2 Comments
"The Recognitions" by William Gaddis

"The Recognitions" by William Gaddis

My “stack” is only one book high this year.  I’m going to do the impossible.  I’m going to get up at 4:30 AM* and read a 956-page book cover to cover.  It’s The Recognitions, by William Gaddis, and it’s about art fraud.  I’m quite pleased that I read Seven Days in the Art World recently, though it’s entirely possible this book will go over my head anyway.

I read about 50 pages an hour on average, so if that holds up then I should finish this baby around midnight.  Then I’ll be free to read graphic novels or whatever I find lying around.

*I try to be showered and dressed before 5 AM so I can get a good start right at the deadline.  The last couple of times, though, I’ve had trouble getting online to make my initial post, so I’m giving myself 15 minutes more than usual.

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