Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle

Why I read it: Well, I didn't really, not this time through. I read parts of it to the boy, but then he moved on and read the rest of it and the sequel himself. It was about a month ago. I'm only mentioning it now because it's banned books week and I didn't really realize that it was a "most challenged" book.

Bookmark: Probably a Yugioh card or something.

Tastes like Chicken: This one for me is like Shakespeare or the bible. I've read it so many times, it doesn't compare to anything else. Other things compare to it (I almost wrote IT there, and that wouldn't have been good).

What I liked: Familiarity. I also liked that the boy finally read the thing.

What I hated: As an adult, and having probably read this book five or six times before, the religious content seemed heavy-handed. I never noticed that before. It seems just absurd to me that anyone would think that references to witches (Mrs Which) and crystal balls would be offensive. And also all that non-standard religious fare I guess offended people.

Lessons learned: Read things again. You get something else the next time through. (Not that I really need reminding about that.)

The boy thought the ending was lame, but that didn't stop him from reading the next book in the series, and then asking me to get the third out of the library for him. I can see his point. the ending was kind of pat and simple, and doesn't fit in with where YA seems to go these days... percocet and prostitution and stuff like that.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Across the Wall" by Garth Nix

Why I read it: I'd just finished something else and had another book listed as "in transit" at the library, so I didn't want to start anything long, because the "in transit" book was a leaden tome at something like 838 pages, so when it was mine I wanted to be able to devote my full attention to it. There are holds after me, so no renewal available. I didn't want to have to put something down half-way through, and I didn't want to read my carry-around book, because a good carry-around book is hard to find and needs to be dragged out as long as possible. Short stories seemed like the perfect choice. I could put the book down at any convenient spot and not have to recapture characters or place.

I finished the book, and the library book is still "in transit"! Well done, TPL! (It's "Darkmans" by Nicola Barker, if the suspense is killing you).

Tastes like chicken: I've read pretty much every published book by Garth Nix except Thursday and Friday, which are around here somewhere. The boy has read them all, even Sabriel and Lirael, which I was afraid he would think of as chick books. But then, he's read all but about 150 pages of the Twilight series, so I guess he's pretty comfortable with any fictional reading material.

Bookmark: A piece of scrap paper with "When Saturday?" scrawled across it. (The boy was right -- it was August 1, not that he'll be reading this... but I guess I'll be going to Chapters on Saturday)

What I liked: The Ancelstierre story. I always liked Ancelstierre better than the Old Kingdom (even if I don't like trying to spell it, thanks Google!). It seems populated, whereas the Old Kingdom seems to have pockets of institutionalization in it, but no villagers. "Nicholas Sayre..." hit all the right notes for someone (me) who read the books three or four years ago. The right characters were mentioned (Lirael, Sabriel, Samael, Touchstone), paperwings, the clayr. It was all so "I remember that" without it being important that I remembered many details of the plot of the previous books. I'm not sure how well it would work for someone who hadn't read the series.

I liked the Nimue story very much, and the Hansel-and-Gretel retelling. And I liked "Endings" better than I expected.

What I hated: The first time I encountered an "Author's note" in a short story collection I was probably 14 and reading "The Early Asimov" and Ursula K. Leguin's "The Wind's Twelve Quarters". I've always found author's notes to be self-indulgent*. Maybe it's part of why people think short stories are only written for other writers. The notes were interesting to me, from a process point-of-view, but I'm not sure most people would care.

The "Choose Your own Adventure" story... I've always hated these. The only way to know you got your money's worth (i.e., read the whole thing) is to read all the numbers you didn't tick off (defacing the adventure). It makes me feel like a product reader rather than a process reader, and that's something I'd rather like to hide from myself.

I didn't like the western too much -- no point to it.

What I can steal: Well, after complaining about author's notes, I always learn a lot from them. Not that having read all those things by Piers Anthony have ever made me a better writer (or given me the nerve to even attempt to get someone to read something I wrote). But the process is interesting. Clearly I am the target audience. I just wonder if they drive other people off sometimes.

*A blogger with approximately two readers maybe should be commenting on self-indulgence, but... shut up.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"The Priest: A Gothic Romance" by Thomas M. Disch

Why I read it: I liked the previous book I'd read by this author, so when I was at the library checking to see if what I'd requested was in (it wasn't) I got this instead.

Bookmark: Library receipt.

Tastes like chicken: Probably the only thing comparable for me would be his other book.

What I liked: The characters were very amusing. I was quite curious how an author could make a book work, when the main character was a pedophile priest. And it did work. I would say it helped that we rather drew away from the priest towards the end and took more interest in the other characters, and it didn't hurt that the priest... well, let's say that things didn't go too well for him.

What I hated: Two things.
  • I hated the author's need to wrap everything up with a tidy explanation at the end. He did this in "the MD" as well. Just be in the ridiculous, go with it, let the characters revel in the hell of their own making. Though I did rather like the resolution of the abortion sub-plot.
  • Whenever I put the book down, I would be confused for a chapter or two about who was who. I wish there were more identifiers other than name for the characters. All the priests and their henchpeople, for example, tended to blend together. Or maybe that was the point. Also, all the pregnant girls. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, perhaps that was intentional. Still, it was annoying at the time.

What I can steal: Good god, this was a cheeky book. I would love to not be afraid of offending people. If I could learn to offend people just a little bit like TMD did, I would probably be much more successful.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Today when I got to work I opened the internet to discover that David Foster Wallace had died. This made me very sad. While I only read one of his books, I enjoyed it very much. See this post. I'd meant to read Infinite Jest, but never gotten around to it. I guess I'm going to have to make a tag for writers who were seemingly suicides (I'm reading another Tom Disch book now).

Anyway, in one of the obits, I came across this article, which I found very amusing. And so, the next short story I write will be about lobsters.

Okay, I admit it, it was going to be anyway, when I'm finished this one I'm working on now, which will be probably tomorrow. That one is about funerals. I'm so cheery.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I got nothin' so I'll do a quiz

Your result for The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test...

The Cardinal

You scored 58% Cardinal, 38% Monk, 29% Lady, and 30% Knight!

You are the real power behind the throne. No one dares dispute or refuse you. Which is good because that's how you get things done. You are also, however, completely corrupt and highly immoral. This doesn't bother you in the least as you lounge around your rich comfortable surroundings, reveling in wealth and authority.

Take The Who Would You Be in 1400 AD Test at HelloQuizzy

Thursday, September 11, 2008

WM (waste management) truck

If only I ever carried my camera around everywhere I went, like your EG tourguide does, I would show a picture of the truck. On the side it said something like "We have preserved 17,000 hectares of habitat for wildlife". I'm sure it's not what they were going for, but the image that immediately popped into my mind was of bears, raccoons, seagulls, and maybe even crows traipsing over a garbage dump.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Accidental City" by Robert Fulford

Why I read it: One of my coworkers, Nadine, lent it to me, and then several weeks later she gave notice, so I thought I'd better read it now, so I could give it back before she left. I would have gotten to it eventually, since I live here (the book is sort of a cultural history of Toronto), so it's the only city I can write about (set my stories in) with any real sense of authority, and it would be good to "understand" it from another perspective (historical in this case).

Also, after rather a long string of novels, I thought it was time to read some non-fiction.

There was a documentary I saw a little while ago, "Let's all hate Toronto". When I told Nadine that ultimately Torontonians hate this city the most, because we hate it every day, whereas people from, say, Vancouver, really only hate Toronto on special occasions, she said that was typically Toronto-centric thing to say. She commutes every day from K-W.

What I liked: I got a little self-righteous glow from having been in tons of the ravines of Toronto because of geocaching, but I also liked the history of the public places that I know so well. I regularly go to the Scarborough Town Centre area and North York city centre, and I find these places bizarre, so it was neat to read how they came about. I've been to the island a bunch of times, and the beach, and I lived in the Village by the Grange for a little while in the 90's, and all these places were given a lot of attention.

What I hated: Well, I wished there were more pictures and maps. I found the chapter on public art especially frustrating, because a lot of the art I just couldn't visualize. If there had been a map in every chapter, with labels of where each item was located, that would have been cool. It also would have made the book more expensive, though (not for me, however, as I was just borrowing it).

What I can Steal: One thing this book made me think about was stories that could take place here. Vampires could live in that underground network of tunnels under the towers downtown (so great for pedestrians in the winter, but I might populate it with a series of imaginary restaurants or something). Werebeasts could live in the etched ravine parklands beneath the flat city. (Did I mention I was out bike riding with Ed and the boy a couple of weekends ago, and we saw actual deer! Two of them! just north of Finch ave., west of Leslie.) Maybe these would be more like the animal spirits of Widdershins than the werecreatures of Laurel K. Hamilton, though.

Also, since Toothbrush takes place in Toronto, this book probably helped me with the settings, though I don't know it yet. Next draft will be better.

Bookmark: Ball band from Patons Kroy Orangina, out of which I made mini-cable gloves a couple of years ago.

Ed is reading it now.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"Widdershins" by Charles de Lint

Why I read it: I finished the first two of the three books I took on vacation in two days, so when I found myself in a bookstore in North Conway NH (due to the boy's need for more Twilight books -- he'll be embarrassed that I mentioned that), I thought I'd pick something up. They had a shelf of ARCs they were selling for charity, and I'd never read an ARC before, so I thought that would be neat. I'd heard the name of the author before, though I don't think it ever appeared in the list.

Tastes like chicken: A cross between Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" and Emma Bull's "Finder", with a chunk of that short story by Kelly Link I read in a magazine a while ago thrown in (the one about the girl with a boy shadow, and the pocket universes).

Bookmark: White Birch Books complementary bookmark.

What I liked: For one thing, it made me want to take out my fiddle and, I don't know, try to tune it or something (I am a very crap fiddle player, and I can't even tune the instrument, but that's another story). The story also made me think I'm wasting my lifewith this 40-hour-per-week day job, and I own too much stuff, and my life would be better if only I could cull down my wardrobe.

What I hated: For me, the climax of the tale was at p. 400 or so, and the book ended on p. 560, so there were 160 pages of denouement. I think that's because for me the story was about the war between cousins and fairies. That meant that almost a quarter of the book was a bit of a slog for me.

I recognize that for CdL, the book was about the relationships between the people, not the silly war with the buffalo and the fairies, so for him the climax was much later. But I did feel like it was chapter after chapter of "and then", "and then", to drag things out to make word count. I admit that I might care more about the characters like Raylene if I had read what I think of as the prequel(s?). Also, since it felt like we had to tie off every character with a happy relationship by the last page (Grey=Christiana wtf?) it particularly rankled me that we had Galfreya just get blown off and then never heard from again. And everyone else from the fairy court. I guess Fairies don't have "thank you"?

What I can steal: I loved the blended euro-western feel. The characters were great. Awesome lifestyle guide. Not one character obsessed about money.

I think maybe I should change the name of "what I hate" to "Peeves" or something. Those weren't things I hated at all, they just irritated me.

But at least I don't have a cat:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"The Darkness the Comes Before" by R. Scott Bakker

Why I read it: I bought it a couple of years ago because the cover looked interesting. I started it a couple of months ago in the tub, but put it down again 14 pages in, and didn't pick it up again. (In this case, the long prologue seemed like a mistake -- this one seemed nearly unintelligible.)When I was packing to go on vacation, I selected it knowing I was unlikely to get through it when I had to go to work every day.

Tastes like chicken: The Black Rose/Shadows Linger?

What I liked: For fantasy, the characters were non-standard. The wizard, for example, was described as portly.

What I hated: The author didn't seem to have much use for women in his world. There were three of note -- a prostitute with a heart of gold, the 61-year-old dowager empress (I forget her title) who is particularly despicable because she's always dressed as a vampire serpent queen geriatric skank, and a concubine who, though mentioned on the back cover, turns up about 80% through the book seemingly solely to fall in love with the guy everyone else falls in love with (man or woman). I don't need a Xena in every story, but a woman who, I don't know, uses her wiles rather than just being a carry-along victim would be nice.

What I can steal: Well, the psychology of the world was neat -- the religion/magic standoff/war, and there were some interesting characters. I got little sense of place, though.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I forgot to mention...

Last Friday I finished the latest page-a-day project, a wretched novel that I will now put in a cupboard to ferment for a few months or years, in hopes that when I take it out again, it will somehow magically become, you know, good.

In the meantime, I am working on a couple of short stories until I decide what to do next.

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Great Expectations" Charles Dickens

Why I read it: A year ago, maybe two, I was documenting a product that had PIPs in it (or Pips, or PiPs, depending on who's writing). PIP stands for picture-in-picture, like when a news reader has a graphic over their shoulder on TV. So I was in a teleconference, and a senior manager said "Let's count how many times she says PIP." So we did. And every time I heard the word PIP, I thought of this book, so I started to read it.

Last year, when I was going through my phase of losing library books (It only happened twice, and I've done my penance) I wanted to have a "carry around" book. This would be something I could always find my place in, and if I lost it (because I owned it) I could always get a replacement, and not owe the library money. So I've been reading this book for quite a while. I read 100 pages on a business trip to Ottawa in May. I finished it on vacation.

What I liked: The easiest thing was that this book is so archetypal, even though I hadn't read it before, huge parts were familiar. (Most people read GE in grade 11 English, but I took that in summer school and wound up with "elective children's literature" which ironically I did very poorly in. Like I got about a 57. I failed every essay. The teacher and I were not on the same page.)

But I remember doing portions of this book in Linguistics and Literature in university, and people refer to it other places -- Jasper Fforde comes to mind. So I knew all about Magwitch and Biddy and the general outline of the plot.

I bet people have written theses on subjects like "Marriage in Dickens". I loved best the wedding scene, where Wemmick pretends he's going fishing, and says at the end "let me ask you whether anyone would suppose this to be a wedding party!" Loved it.

What I hated: End notes. Footnotes are better.

What I can steal: Well, the idea that according to the footnotes "walking 26 miles will strain the readers' credulity, but..."

Tastes like chicken: Strange and Norrell come to mind...

Bookmark: Library receipt for "Sarah" !?!