Monthly Archives: May 2012

This is serious.

I just discovered something alarming. I decided to make a Google doc to keep track of my book “To Buy” list (since it seemed more efficient and trustworthy than the dozens of post-it notes plastered all over my desk), and I have 49 books that I want right now. Keep in mind, I add at least one book a week to this list.

Now, couple this with the knowledge that I currently have 52 books in my house that I have yet to read. Fifty-two. That’s just the physical books. I have at least another dozen unread e-books on my Nook. They just keep piling up! This is not for lack of effort, mind you. I admit I have been reading very little over the past few weeks because of finals/grading/end-of-school-ridiculousness, but I’m still trucking along on China Miéville’s The City and The City. (Sidenote: I really like it so far, and it’s definitely making more sense than it did when I began it. I will post a review when I finish, but that’s unlikely to happen before I’m done at work for the school year.)

I did some quick math, and the results are disheartening. I need to read at least one book a week, for a full year, without buying any new ones, in order to break even. Now, over the summer, I’ll probably do better than that pace. Once the new school year starts, though, all bets are off. I’m starting a graduate program in English Literature — which I’m insanely excited for — but which will likely cut into my non-class-related reading time, especially since I’ll be teaching two sections of English 101 on top of my own course load.

So, the dilemma is this: do I try to instill some self-discipline, and cut myself off from buying new books for a solid amount of time, or do I give in and gleefully wallow in my book addiction? Since it’s me, I’m of course leaning toward the latter, but we’ll see what happens when I’m living on the meager salary of a graduate student.

Happy reading!

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Review: Deadlocked

For a long time, I thought of books by Charlaine Harris as a sort of guilty pleasure. I was worried my fellow English majors in college would think I was above the frivolity of modern vampire stories. (Of course, the mass Twilight obsession also made me feel like I should shove my adoration of this particular series to the back of the proverbial closet.) I would like to say this, though: The Southern Vampire Mysteries, a.k.a. the Sookie Stackhouse novels, are not Twilight. I respect the mythology that Harris built on and uses, and the topics and issues she tackles. There are vampires, were-animals, fairies, and other magical creatures, and they all pretty much adhere to the rules you’d expect them to. Vampires drink human blood and burn in the sun. Werewolves have a pack order that proves ruthless. Fairies, elves, and demons come in all forms, with varying degrees of darkness or light inside of them. Ditto on witches. The books are decidedly adult; there is violence, drugs, sex, and other serious themes. Sookie, the heroine, is an independent adult woman — likeable, relateable, and strong, flaws and all. She is telepathic, due to being part fairy. Her relationships are partnerships, in which — while there are most certainly problems — she holds her own. I like the characters here. I like the mysteries in each book, and the overarching plot lines that have tied the series together. Overall, though, I like these books because they’re fun.

Enough justifying and explaining! On to the review! (Note: no spoilers for this book, but I will be mentioning things that might be spoilers if you haven’t read books #1-11 in the series.)

Deadlocked is book number 12 in The Southern Vampire Mysteries series. I liked it significantly better than book number 11, Dead Reckoning.  In Dead Reckoning, I felt that the first part of the novel dragged, and then, just when things got exciting, the novel ended. Pacing is not a problem at all in Deadlocked. Harris begins the book with regular problems that Sookie and her mortal friends face: a difficult pregnancy, a possibly lying boyfriend, workplace dynamics. These issues, while not unimportant, are put on the back burner for Sookie relatively quickly when a dead body turns up in the front yard of her vampire boyfriend, Eric. This murder proves to be the central mystery of the novel, with dizzying possibilities for not only who their killer might be, but also what their motive could have been.

Sookie and her vampire friends Eric, Bill, and Pam, along with others, have extra reason to watch their backs: they killed Victor, who worked for the vampire king Felipe. It just so happens that Felipe and his entourage are at Eric’s house when the murder takes place, trying to ascertain guilt for the disappearance of Victor. Of course, the issue is also complicated by the mortals, fae, and weres involved in the plot. Were-animals (or “shifters”) and vampires are known by the general public, but fae are not. Of course, all the magical creatures know about each other, despite the secrets kept from mortals.

On top of the tangled web of relationships surrounding the dead girl, Sookie is forced to face the unraveling relationship between her and Eric. Eric has been signed into a contract that would wed him to a beautiful, ambitious, and lethal vampire queen. Though the vampires have their own strict rules and ethics, the events and feelings surrounding the marriage contract are murky, and Sookie feels that Eric should be able to extricate himself from the situation if he truly loves her and values their relationship. Likewise, Eric is looking to Sookie to prove her love by using her own brand of magic to free him. Being at odds with Eric doesn’t help Sookie’s complicated relationship with other important men in her life, Bill (vampire, former boyfriend) and Sam (shifter, boss/business partner, friend). Sam has his own relationship and its host of issues to worry about, including the fact that his girlfriend dislikes Sookie to a truly alarming degree.

I’m pretty firmly staying away from saying much about the plot, because this really is a quick, fun read and I think you should experience it for yourself without any bits being given away. For perspective, I started this novel on Monday and finished it on Tuesday after work. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Harris writes great characters and sharp dialogue, all in her wonderful realm of magic realism. She tackles social issues such as religion, sexism, racism and bigotry, all without getting preachy or downtrodden. Like I said, Harris writes fun books, but they’re still books with something to say. These vampire/werewolf/fairy/magic novels are fluffier than, say, Anne Rice, but they’ve still got a bite. (Hardy har har — I had to do at least one pun!)

Happy reading!

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Goodbye, and thanks for all the books

Maurice Sendak passed away yesterday (May 8, 2012) at age 83. There is nothing I can say that thousands of people haven’t already said about him and his work. All I can say is this: his work was an integral part of my childhood. His books were read to me from infancy; I dreamed of his vivid and inspiring illustrations. I pretended on a fairly regular basis to be Max, and sailing off to see the Wild Things. I still own my well-loved copies of Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen.

As I grew older, I came to realize that his books were not for children: they are for everybody. As an adult, I still look to Sendak’s books to remind me of the love, creativity, passion, and imagination that make life vibrant and exciting. I am a lifelong fan of Maurice Sendak — even more so after learning more about him as a person and an author. He was funny, creative, biting, unapologetic and wonderfully confident. Sendak knew what was important to him; he also knew what was important for children to know and feel.  It was this in particular that moved him to write the books he did, and for that I will always be grateful.

Mr. Sendak, your vision will be missed, but your books will be treasured forever.

(For a full obituary, you should read the NY Times story on Maurice Sendak. It’s well written and you can see the full text here.)

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Apparently, China Miéville is a man

I recently began reading The City & The City by China Miéville, and — for no reason, really — I assumed the author was a woman. ‘Tis not. China Miéville is a well-known (except by me, apparently) British author who has won quite a few awards for his self-described “weird fiction” novels. So, moral of the story is that I feel silly for assuming Miéville was female.

I’m not too far into The City & The City, but I’m really getting pulled in. It’s set in the fictional eastern European city of Besźel, and opens with a murder. The murder victim may or may not be a prostitute, and there may or may not be an otherworldly influence in her death. I’m not far enough in for any definite answers yet, but it seems that there is another city (dimension?) — euphemistically referred to as “elsewhere” by the detectives — that overlaps in places with Besźel. These overlaps are called crosshatches, and not everybody can see them. The otherworldly city is called Ul Qoma. Miéville has brilliant descriptions of the crosshatches, though they were a little hard to understand at first. He paints the image of one of the detectives walking down the street, lit not only by the grey lights of his own city, but also by the orange glow of streetlights that aren’t there.

I’ve only read a couple chapters, but I’m very excited to read more. The mystery of the dead woman is matched by the mystery of Ul Qoma, and I can’t wait to discover the secrets of both. Miéville’s weird fiction is definitely gaining another fan right now: me.

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