10.27.2006

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

I didn't think that I would like this book all that much when I first picked it up. Literary fiction and I haven't always gotten along in the past. But then, I kind of thought that about The Shadow of the Wind when I first read that one, but I loved that book and I keep recommending it to people.

Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, though, was so engaging that I ended up reading it in two days. The Thirteenth Tale is, I think, unique in fiction today because you don't really get out-and-out Gothic fiction any more. And by Gothic fiction, I mean those depraved stories that you got around the same time that Romanticism was taking off. (I always kind of wondered about why those two literary movements coincided when I was a young lit major. How could a country produce someone like William Wordsworth at roughly the same time that it produces people like Matthew Lewis? Weird) Anyway, this book is about as bizzare as those first Gothic novels and the plots are about as disturbing, too.

One of the reasons I first picked this book up was because the New York Times book reviews said it was similar to The Shadow of the Wind, and about books with a mystery on top. But it's not really about books so much as it is about storytelling, truth and lies. I hate to say much more about this book because when I try to think of a way to describe the plot I can only come up with sentences that involve truth being stranger than fiction and the ability of some people to reinvent themselves. And that sound a little dull, but I have to let you know that this book is damned interesting. It's not an especially moving book, and it may not even be particularly believable when you pick apart the plot, but this book is fascinating.

10.25.2006

Quote of the Day

While helping a man renew a book over the phone:

Him: I just wanted to make sure of when it was due. I didn't want the Gestapo to come after me.

Me: We're a small library, sir. We don't have a Gestapo.

First Snow of the Season

Snow falling on spruces

The snow started to come down at about 10:00 this morning and hasn't stopped yet. And, unlike most first snows, this one looks like it's going to stick around for a while.

Another view of the snow. It caught use before we could bring in all the lawn stuff from the summer.

My mom's lawn tschotschke's under snow

10.23.2006

In the Merde for Love, by Stephen Clarke

In the Merde for Love, the sequel to A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke, I hate to say, is not as much fun as its predecessor. And I was really looking forward to it.

Both books center on the experiences of Paul West, a Brit who moves to France for a job. The best parts of both books involve Paul's trying to learn how to function in France and it's alien culture. The absolute best parts involve his trying to deal with the French bureaucracy, which often sounds like something out of Brazil.

In the Merde for Love, though, has moved away from all this somewhat, to focus on Paul's love life and his new English-style tea room in Paris. While there are some great moments in this book, it still felt like kind of a slog and not nearly as much fun as it could have been.

Fun with declensions

Seriously.

While working during a kind of busy period at the public library when we couldn't get much done, a co-worker and I amused ourselves by making grammar jokes. By way of background, Co-worker was looking at the Wikipedia article on declension (she's trying to learn Croatian, of all languages), and we found a ton of cases we had never heard of. So we started making up definitions for them. Here's some of the best ones:

Ergative: case in which the noun is most comfortable
Absolutive: used by dictators, tyrants, and autocrats
Pergative: used by mythical horses
Temporal: only works for the time being
Elative: used when you're really happy
Excessive: ...actually, this is funny on its own

I have to stop looking at that page, because I could go on forever making declension jokes. Sick, isn't it? :)

10.08.2006

Russell and Holmes Novels, part II

Just an update on my progress through Laurie R. King's Holmes and Russell series. So far, I have made up through books four and five, The Moor, and O Jerusalem. One of the things that really struck me during this read through was how integral the setting seemed to the story. I know that the setting is rarely just a background, a place for the characters to act out the plot, but honestly, for many books, the setting is just that. However, in these two books, I was constantly made aware of the setting.

The Moor takes place primarily in Dartmoor, in Devon. And O Jerusalem takes place in Palestine. As I was reading these books, it struck me how hard it must be for a writer to describe a setting without bogging down the story. Writing about place (good writing about a place) must be a little like drawing, you have to use minimal lines that suggest the setting; you have to rely, somewhat, on your readers to do the rest of the work. When I read, it often seems like I have a little movie running in my head. A few well-chosen sentences can cause my mind's eye to see whole streets and shops and forests and so on.

Since what really draws me into a book is the plot and the characters, I don't usually notice the setting unless it's really important or it's described very poorly or very well. In these two books I have to say, King did a great job and I felt like I was right there with the characters, freezing my ass off on Dartmoor and sweating in the underground tunnels in Jerusalem.

10.02.2006

Misheard Book Titles

A patron came in to pick up an interlibrary loan. When I asked her what the book was, so that I could find it on the shelf, I could have sworn she said the book was called "The Squirrels of the Ancients."

Holmes and Russell Series, by Laurie R. King

I can't imagine the guts it would take for an author to use another writer's character, especially a character as iconic as, say, Sherlock Holmes, for several reasons. First, you have to worry about pissing off fans of the original character. Second, you might have to negotiate copyright issues. And third, you have to do something with the character to make it your own, and make it new. Yowza. If you want to see where this idea goes right, I recommend that you pick up this series. (If you want to see where, in my opinion, this idea goes dreadfully wrong, try picking up the "sequels" to Pride and Prejudice. Some of them, I understand from the plot synopses, look down right pornographic.)

Over the weekend, I've zipped through the first three books in Laurie R. King's Holmes and Russell series: The Beekeeper's Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and A Letter of Mary. I just started a sentence that descriped the plot, and I found that I couldn't right one without it sounding silly or uninteresting. Okay, let's try that again. In the first book, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, a young orphan, Mary Russell, stumbles across Sherlock Holmes in his retirement. Over the course of that book, Russell becomes Holmes' apprentice and then partner.

I think what I like about these books is that, through King, I get to see Holmes through the eyes of an intellectual equal. I have never liked books, such as the original Holmes stories or the Hercule Poirot novels, in which the main character has someone thick to act as their foil. Plus, I never liked that those stories usually involved a sentence to the effect of, "Ah, but Hastings/Watson/etc., if you had known this bit of information that I have known about for fifty of more pages, you would already know who committed the crime." Mysteries, for me, are a chance to flex my brain muscles. Some people do crosswords, I try to beat the detective to the punch.