This afternoon I spent $50 on two books--two! I may have to get a third job to support my reading habit. Tcha.

I bought Olympos, by Dan Simmons, the sequel to Ilium, which was very odd but that I enjoyed very much once I got my bearings.

I also got The Shroud of the Thwacker, by Chris Elliot. It was too weird to pass up.


The Joy Luck Club, Part II

Though I really enjoy reading The Joy Luck Club, I always come out of it feeling somewhat disappointed. The whole book is about mothers and daughers understanding each other and reconciling and learning about each other. Ying-ying teaches her daughter Lena to be a tiger instead of just taking what other people give her. Lindo and Waverly learn that no every comment is meant to wound. An-mei tries to teach her daughter Rose to fight for things instead of just letting them go.

But the fourth mother-daughter pairing, Suyuan and Jing-mei, you never get a reconciliation because Tan used Suyuan's death as a catalyst for the plot. While Jing-mei learns to understand what motivated her mother, we never get that moment of reconciliation. It's just too late for them. Because of this, the book feels unbalanced and a little incomplete to me.

Still, this is a really well written book. If you cry during stories about families, this one will make you cry.


I noticed this when I was reading The Book Standard this morning. Ann Coulter must be stopped!


The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, Part I

I know that I said I was going to read A Long, Long Way, but it just didn't grab me. I made it all they way through the first chapter and went, "Eh." But the idea of that book sound interesting enough that I might go back it sometime.

So, now I'm reading The Joy Luck Club, one my favorites that I haven't read in a long time. What I've always liked about Amy Tan is way that she can make Chinese and Chinese-American culture come to life. She can recreate the naunces of the language and the everyday philosophy of China. It's incredible. I've never seen anyone that can analyze their own culture in such a way that things get explained without a lot of expository prose that bogs the story down.

Whenever I encounter a book where the characters are from a completely different culture from me--every Amy Tan book I've read, John Burdett's books about Detective Sonchay Jitpleecheep, or Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart--I find myself reexamining my position on cultural relativism. In the main, I think that all cultures (with a few exceptions) are equally good. If they work, they're good; if they don't, they need to get replaced with something that works. But some of the ideas in Chinese culture that get portrayed here (like daughters-in-law being servants to their inlaws, teaching girls to "swallow sorrow," etc.) disturb me. But on the otherhand, listening to pop psychology and such makes me think that everyone needs to learn to swallow a little sorrow and stop whinging about their lives and go and change the things they don't like.

I always come back to the same position, though. Any culture that isn't your own is going to seem weird. You often don't understand how people in other cultures think. And people in other cultures probably think the same thing about us. With some exceptions, I think that all cultures and cultural practices are equally valid ways to live.

But I do like books that make me reexamine my ideas about things. I think it keeps them fresh. And it keeps my on my toes, so that if cultural relativism comes up in conversations (and I work in academia, so this sort of thing happens to me more than most), I can succintly argue my position.


A Library Thing

Because I often pick books to read depending on what kind of moon I'm in or what I happen to be interested in at the moment, I often wish that I could search my books by topic rather than stand in my room for twenty minutes scanning the shelves.

I read an article by one of the authors of Bookslut that appeared in The Book Standard about this web site called, LibraryThing.com. The site is like really easy individualized book cataloging. You can search for titles and in tags that you assign your books. All you really have to do is the tags and type in the titles, and then pull information from Amazon or the Library of Congress to full in the rest of the information. Plus, it's all stored online, so you don't have to go home to access your collection. If you have the right sort of mind, it's a lot of fun.


Progress Report

I was going to read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. (Honest.) I read an article in the Guardian on Tuesday that really sparked my interest. It mentioned slap stick, typographical jokes, postmodernist narration devices...Sounded like my kind of book. I even got through the first few chapters, but I think I've decided that it's just too weird. The narration is too jerky--the man can't even complete a sentence, which is saying something for an age known for it's elegant (if long) sentence structure. No matter how much fun the Guardian said it would be, I think this book goes back on the Books to Read Before I Die List, with War and Peace.

Right now I'm reading through The Outlandish Companion by Diana Gabaldon. For fans of her series, this is great reading.

The next book I plan to read is A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry. This book was shortlisted for this year's Booker, though it didn't win. We'll see if my theory that whatever books the critics like I hate holds true. :) One person who read it told me that it was a beautiful book--which usually means nothing much happens--but we'll see how it is.

This usually happens when I read a really good book. I have a hard time finding something just as good to follow it up. I sometimes have to go back to old favorites like Good Omens or Coyote Blue and work my way back up.


Elantris Addenda

Many times, readers are left with thoughts about why authors did the things they did. But we are often left wondering, but not in the case of Elantris. On Brandon Sanderson's web site, he's posted "annotations," short discussions of each chapter that explain his story structure, the characters, and all sorts of things.

Note: you can chose to see the spoiler or read the annotations without spoiler text.

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

I was actually kind of refreshing to read an epic fantast that wasn't The First Book in the Chronicles of insert name of country, hero or object. On the other hand, Elantris was so good that I want there to be more books in the series. Natch.

Elantris is a very political book. There is magic, and there are cults, creatures, princesses, etc. But most of this book centers around one country's attempt to rebuild itself after the collapse of a power structure that had existed for centuries. Plus, a neighboring country with imperialist tendencies is looking to add Arelon to its territory. While this main plot is going on, there is a second plot almost as important--the search for why the old order, based on magic, failed.

Unlike a lot of fantasy I read, Elantris was so original that I couldn't figure out the answers to anything. The characters were so devious and well thought out that they surprised me by the things they thought of. I only managed to stay a little ahead of them (only some of the time, to be honest) because I had the benefits of a third person omnipotent narrator talking me through.
This book is a fun, addictive read. I was up until 1:00 last night reading and I finished it this morning before I did my reading for class. Its about 400 pages long, but I finished the book in about eight hours of reading.


Justifying God's Ways to Movie Goers, Part II

An explanation for Hollywood's decision to turn Paradise Lost into a movie, in epic fashion.

Tee hee hee.


Justifying God's Ways to Movie Goers

This should be interesting. According to a story in the Guardian, there is talk afoot to turn Milton's wonderful but challenging poem Paradise Lost into a movie. There's even a screen play. My first thought was, are you kidding me? How are you going to turn ten books of beautiful verse into an approximately two hour movie.

For example:
What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert th' Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men. (Book I, l. 22-26)
Plus, this is, afterall, a pretty bold poem. There's a sympathic Satan, for Go-- (Can I say for God's sake if I'm talking about Satan?) for someone's sake them. If I remember right, Adam and Eve get it on in the first few books. (Forgive me, it's been a while.) 'Course, Satan does turn into an ugly, toad-like thing after a few books. But that's all kind of hard to by if you've read through Milton's description of Hell and Pandaemonium.


I am such a bibliophile...

I went down to our Special Collections department this morning, as part of some library tours I was doing for visiting high school students. In the second group, we got to spend about ten minutes down there. I love Special Collections, because I absolutely adore old books.

I got to see a 1584 edition of some sermons by John Calvin.

I got to see a very old (they don't know how old) Buddhism manuscript that wasn't in codex form.

And, I got a particular thrill of out this one, because I just got done reading one of his books, I got to see our somewhat spotty collection of All the Year Round. And, wearing cotten gloves, I got to flip through All the Year Round. I found, in the first volume A Tale of Two Cities, and in a later volume, part of Great Expectations. Fun!...in a geeky kind of way. :)

Also, as if to confirm by bibliophilic nature, I went and bought about $70 worth of books at the local Waldenbooks. I got the new Robert Jordan, Knife of Dreams, the new Terry Pratchett, Thud! (I got a signed copy of that one), and I got a book by Brandon Sanderson, Elantris.


The Truth, Part II

The Truth is one of my favorite Discworld because it centers on an issue that I am always interested in debating with people: the public good.

The public good in this case is the right of the public to be informed, about their government, about the powers that be, whatever. As advocated by William de Worde, the public has the right to know what's going on--even if they're more interested in reading about elf abductions and Lancre women giving birth to snakes than they are about the Patrician's case.

Because the media is a new form of information in Ankh-Morpork, people don't really know who it's responsible to. William says he's responsible to the Truth. But the people who he quotes aren't at all comfortable about that. The running joke is William writing down what people say to annoy them and having them reply, "Is he allowed to do that?"

William often gets questioned by the Patrician and Commander Vimes of the Watch about the nature of information and the real consequences of an informed public. After all, if you tell the people the government is committing heinous crimes, they might riot; they might revolt. The truth, in theory, shall set you free. But I rather like the misprint in The Truth, "The Truth shall make ye fret."

My take on all this is, telling the public everything may be overkill, it may cause a lot of problems, but it beats the alternative. Once you start selecting what the people can and cannot know, the government and other organizations may not be held as accountable as they are. After all, someone has to know that a crime has been committed before something can be done about it. Also, there's that thorny issue of who gets to decide? Given what I know about human nature, the person who gets to decide what people can know will probably decide to hide whatever makes them look bad and will spread the stuff that makes them look good.

So, funny book, deep issues.


The Truth, by Terry Pratchett, Part I

To paraphrase Browning, how do I love Terry Pratchett, let me count the ways...

What I love about him the most is that he is endlessly creative and funny. He's the only person I know who can satirize entire industries and organiztions and concepts like Hollywood, politics, and war. He can transplate our culture to the Discworld and entertain his readers and educate them at the same time.

The Truth takes on newspapers and their effect on society. It takes on tabloids; it takes on the media and the need for the public to be informed. And, there's Pulp Fiction jokes. In The Truth William de Worde tracks down the truth behind the Patrician's inexplicable attack on his secretary.

But the mystery bit is really just something to move the story along. Tacked on to it are funny episodes where The Ankh-Morpork Times staff try to figure out what they're really doing, how to make colored pictures using imps and a vampire iconographer, how to deal with the Guild of Engravers who are out to put The Times out of business.

So, why am I following up books about the 1665 plague and the American Revolution with Pratchett? I find that, when I read a really good book, it's hard to find something to follow it up with. So I tend to fall back on old favorites.


A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Part II

I finished A Breath of Snow and Ashes last night.

I really love these books. They're so full of plot, great characters, humor, fun philosophical points (see part I for a quick discussion of this). They're like mini-serieses, really. I think I read on Gabaldon's site (see link at the right) or maybe in an interview, that she writes the chapters like individual episodes. And you can really see that in the books. But some how she manages to keep a plot arc going across the top of it all to hold it together.

I've talked to other people who've read the book, and we all agree that Gabaldon's characters, after a while, become like real people to you--especially Jamie and Claire. Books like that, I think, are among the greats. Even if the critics don't think so.


Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

I finished listening to the audio tape of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks last night. What a beautiful book. It was excellently written, thoroughly researched, with a great plot and great characters. I laughed; I got weepy. It was great.

I had read reviews of the book before I got all the way through, just to see what other people thought about it. The only thing people didn't like was the ending. I was surprised, but I got curious to see what kind of left turn the book would make at the end.

Having finished the book, I get what people were complaining about. The ending was so unrealistic and unexpected. It didn't fit with the rest of the book. It was interesting, but I just didn't buy that the heroine, Anna Frith, would escape to Oran of all places, where she becomes the apprentice of a surprisingly liberal Muslim doctor. Unbelievable.


A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon, Part I

I've debated about whether or not I should blog my way through this book. As you can see, I decided to do it. Why? Because I read reviews of the book on Barnesandnoble.com that would tell you most of the plot anway. (Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

This installment of the adventures of Claire, Jamie, et al., finds them in the years right before the American revolution. Because three members of the family are from the 1960s, they know what's going to happen. It's a common thread through this story, the question of: If you know what's going to happen, can you act on things and change them for your benefit? Should you? And can history be changed at all?

Gabaldon's second book in this series, Dragonfly in Amber, asked these questions about the 1747 Jacobite Rebellion. And Claire and Jamie's meddling didn't change history at all. The only thing they might have change may have been things that happened in the historical record anyway. Which leads one to think that, in Claire's universe, time is linear, even if your experience of it isn't. Basically, history meant for her to go back and affect the course of events.

In A Breath of Snow and Ashes, though, the war is the American Revolution. And the big question here is when to switch sides and join the colonists side. There is also a lot of other things happening--murder, mayhem, tarring and feathering, medical emergencies. Basically, the usual in Gabaldon's books. The books have always been very episodic, with story arcs over the top of it all.

So far though, this is a fun book. Maybe not my favorite, but it's up there on the list. I've very interested to see how it all turns out.