Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

Last weekend I was prompted by another blogger to finally pick up one of the many unread Haruki Murakami books I have here at home. The Elephant Vanishes is a collection of short stories and it had its strengths and weaknesses. I liked about half of the stories and was really weirded out when the first one seemed incredibly familiar. (How many cats named Noboru Watanabe can there be?) It turns out that it became the first chapter of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle!

The main weakness of the collection was that too many of the stories were written about the same essential guy -- early thirties, smokes constantly, drinks almost as much, and likes to bed college students/twenty-somethings. The plots varied but this guy kept showing up and, well, I didn't find him very interesting. However, sometimes he still ended up in a story I enjoyed so who knows. The bottom line is that the mind of Murakami is sometimes predictable, sometimes special, but almost always worth a visit.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Radium Girls

I've been doing a good job at reading more non-fiction this year and of focusing most of it on voices that need to be amplified or remembered. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore definitely helps me toward my goal. This is a story of women who were taken advantage of and then dismissed. It is wonderful that now their names and stories are in the spotlight.

When radioactive elements were first discovered, not even the scientists working with them knew of their dangers. And, of course, businesses jumped on board and started taking advantage of these new, amazing elements before those dangers could be discovered. Radium was used in many applications, one of which was painting clock faces and airplane dials so that they would glow in the dark. This seems like a worthy use of radium, especially as the world was at war. However, this paint was applied by teens and young women ... with minuscule paint brushes ... that they could only get a fine enough point on by "pointing" them in their mouths.

This book is not an easy read. Based on our modern knowledge of radioactivity, we can already guess at the physical horrors that were in the futures of these women and they are talked about in gory detail. But the true horrors turned out to emanate from the businesses that betrayed them, denied them money and health care, and straight up lied to them even when the truth started to be revealed. In an age where certain people in high places think that industry is over-regulated, this story stands out as a stark reminder of why those regulations were created in the first place. So, though it is hard to stomach, I think this story is essential reading.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Classics Challenge 6: Lud-in-the-Mist

And in the sixth month, I finished my sixth of twelve reads for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Yay, me! I originally picked up Lud-in-the-Mist (1926) by Hope Mirrlees because Neil Gaiman  raves about it. I'm counting it as "A classic by an author that's new to you" because not only had I never read this author before but I had never even heard of her before reading Gaiman's The View from the Cheap Seats. I was able to scrounge up a used copy (which sadly ended up having water damage and various food spills inside) and am now acquainted with Ms. Mirrlees.

About this book, Gaiman says it is "a quintessentially English novel of transcendent oddness, set in a town on the borders of Fairyland, where illegal traffic in fairy fruit ..., and the magic and poetry and wildness that come with the fruit from over the border, change the lives of the townsfolk forever". It was one of his influences for Stardust and I could certainly see that as I read it. However, I have to admit that the oddness of this novel was such that I felt strong discomfort as I read it. I don't know if it was because Mirrlees was so good at describing fairy influence and power or if it was the mob mentality that rose up a couple of times or even if it was the enchantment and disappearance of quite a few children. Whatever it was, I found myself binging at the end to finish as soon as possible. (I told Z I was doing this and he thought it was the strangest thing ever and was even a bit concerned for me until I was done!) I am glad to have read it as it was an influence on books I love (Jo Walton points out that it was also obviously an influence on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) but now I would just like to stick to rereading those beloved tales.

With appreciation,

Thursday, June 7, 2018

New Release: Space Opera

As soon as I heard about Catherynne Valente's latest book, Space Opera, I decided it wasn't for me. After all, I had never watched a single Eurovision performance and that's what this was billed as -- Eurovision in space. But then I started seeing the reviews that she was retweeting on Twitter and they said things about Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and laughing and loving and, well, I gave in and grabbed the last copy at my local indie bookstore (which was a good thing since it's out of stock in many places and already on its sixth printing!). Then I started hearing even more amazing things about the audiobook, read by Valente's partner, actor Heath Miller, and so I promptly put in a hold for that at the library. I ended up doing the entire thing on audio but am glad I have the hardcover to put on my shelf because this is a book that I'm definitely going to want to revisit, perhaps quite soon.

So, this story *is* kind of Eurovision in space but, then again, it's so much more, enough that it can be enjoyable for many different sorts of readers. It's definitely a commentary on current U.S. politics. It's also a celebration of diversity. And it's, most of all, a plea for all humans to improve our behavior and to prove our claim to sentience. Liberally peppered with angst and profanity, Valente's frustration with the current state of the world certainly came through and mirrored my own. What she has managed to do that I haven't though is to create a possible solution. Now, the chances of that solution--a performance by the earth's greatest living pop group at an intergalactic competition to try and prevent the human race from being destroyed--being in our future is probably quite slim but I appreciate her creativity. The real solution is probably going to be much more painful and require an effort from more than two people. In the meantime, we are only going to be kept sane by bonding together over things like smart and entertaining art. For now, I suggest we bond over this book.

Searching for harmony,

p.s. Valente got news a few days ago that it's going to become a movie!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A LONG List of Upcoming Releases

I have been getting a lot of notifications lately from Amazon and publishers that authors I love have new books coming out in the next six months. My list is getting so long that I wanted to put it up here in case anyone else is waiting on these books!

Matthew Pearl
The Dante Chamber (just released, sequel to The Dante Club)

Jasper Fforde
Early Riser (Aug 2 in the UK, possibly next Feb in the US)

Connie Willis

final English version cover not yet released
Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Labyrinth of the Spirits (Sept 18, series finale)

Kate Milford
Bluecrowne (Oct 2, Greenglass House series)

Kate Morton

Genevieve Cogman
The Mortal Word (Nov 27, Invisible Library series)

Diane Setterfield
Once Upon a River (Jan 8, 2019)

Alan Bradley
The Golden Tresses of the Dead (Jan 19, 2019, Flavia de Luce series)

Charles Finch
The Vanishing Man (Feb 19, 2019, Charles Lenox series prequel)

I'm also really interested in these new-to-me authors:

A.W. Jantha
Hocus Pocus & the All-New Sequel (July 10, a 25th anniversary novelization and sequel to the movie!)

Stuart Turton

Brett Anderson
Coal Black Mornings (Oct 2, memoir from the lead singer of Suede)

So, yeah ... I didn't actually realize that this was more than a dozen books. Wow. I need to start saving my pennies!

Wanting all of the books,

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Classics Challenge 5: Emma

My fifth read for the Back to the Classics Challenge is one that I have been avoiding for years -- my final Jane Austen, Emma. Partly, I didn't want to be done with all of the Austens but, mostly, I have never liked the character of Emma in the film/television versions I've seen. But, I needed "A Classic with a Single Word Title" and so decided that now was the time to finally pick this one up. It's on the longer side at 500 pages so I also chose an audiobook version from the library, narrated by Juliet Stevenson. Thanks to her stellar performance, I listened to the majority of the book over two days while painting a powder room and the time just flew by!

Now, if you know nothing at all about this story, it's simply this -- Emma Woodhouse is young and beautiful and upper class and therefore thinks she knows best about everything. It turns out, she doesn't. And, to my great surprise, I really enjoyed reading about all of her mistakes and misunderstandings.

And, okay, I will confess that I was running Clueless through my head the entire time and was just waiting until she figured out that SHE was "majorly, totally, butt-crazy in love with Josh" ... um, I mean Mr. Knightley. I have a whole new appreciation for that movie too, by the way.

So, yes ... I loved this book and am so glad I finally picked it up. Thanks, Classics Challenge!

Daydreaming about that gif,

Friday, June 1, 2018

Summer Reading Plans

The time has come to think about summer reading and, as usual, I have big plans that will likely never come to fruition. Still, the joy is in the planning, right?

First, I really want to pair a reading of the recent Henry David Thoreau: A Life (Laura Dassow Walls) with a reread of Walden (which I LOATHED in high school but have a feeling I will appreciate much more now) and a first time through The Fledgling by Jane Langton. At 600+ pages, the biography could take most of the summer!

Then I want to reread Three Men in a Boat and first read Three Men on the Bummel for the Back to the Classics Challenge, paired with a reread of To Say Nothing of the Dog. This could very well also lead to a reread of Connie Willis' entire time travel series -- and that would take the rest of the summer!

Not to mention the summer reading shelf I created from my TBR ... Oh! And I also want to keep going with my Amelia Peabody rereads. I did the first one recently on audiobook and it was a lot of fun! Hopefully we don't have the intense, smoky wildfires up here in the Pacific Northwest that we had last year and I'll be able to sit outside with a book as often as I want.

What books are you planning on reading this summer?

Listing and sharing,

Thursday, May 31, 2018

New Release: All Summer Long

I was super excited to receive a review copy of Hope Larson's new middle grade graphic novel, All Summer Long. It's the story of Bina and the summer after seventh grade. From her changing friendship with Austin, the boy who has been next door all of her life, to her new opportunity to hang with his older sister, to the things happening within her own family, this is basically a story about how to cope with change. Some things work out well and some things don't in Bina's summer but it all comes together to teach her a bit about growing up.

With super realistic dialogue and simple artwork, this is a book that should speak to young teens for a lot of different reasons. Some will see their friendships with the opposite sex modeled in the one between Bina and Austin. Some will relate to getting that first babysitting job. Others will appreciate that Bina also has a gay older brother that is married and adopting. And lots of kids will relate to finding themselves through popular music.

I'm still building the stack of books to share with my nieces this summer. This will definitely be in it!

Lost in nostalgia,