Sunday, January 31, 2010

J.D. Salinger

I don't even know what to say about the death of J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye is one of my all-time favorite books and has been since I read it in my freshman year of high school. I like what John Hodgman said
I prefer to think JD Salinger has just decided to become extra reclusive
And here are some links to people who are more articulate on the subject than I:

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

    The Lightning Thief
    By Rick Riordan
    Publisher: Disney Hyperion (May 5, 2009) Kindle version
    ASIN: B00280LYIC

    This is the first book in the Percy Jackson series, which incorporates elements of Greek mythology and the classics into the adventures of a twelve-year-old boy. The book is narrated from Percy's point of view, and I have to say I am finding him extremely likable and funny. This book is actually laugh-out-loud funny in some places; the author has a great, wry sense of humor, and he's given it to the narrator as well. The reader feels empathy for Percy from the start: he is at his umpteenth boarding school after having been kicked out of each of them for suspicious "incidents" that he does not fully understand. As the book goes on, he figures out what makes him unique, finds others with similar problems, then engages on a quest. A heroic quest! For real! Lots of great, great juxatpositions as the ancient world merges with that of a twenty-first-century kid from New York city.

    The best character (adult) so far is Mr. D.:

    "A lucky thing, too," Mr. D. grumbled, playing a card. "Bad enough I'm confined to this miserable job, working with boys who don't even believe!"

    He waved his hand and a goblet appeared on the table, as if the sunlight had bent, momentarily, and woven the air into glass. The goblet filled itself with red wine.

    My jaw dropped, but Chiron hardly looked up.

    "Mr. D," he warned. "Your restrictions."

    Mr. D looked at the wine and feigned surprise.

    "Dear me." He looked at the sky and yelled, "Old habits! Sorry!"

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Robert B. Parker

    I started reading the Spenser novels in high school. My mom started reading them first and recommended them to me. I couldn't get enough of them. My friend Heather and her mom loved them, too. I even convinced my family to name our dog Spenser.

    At some point I stopped reading Parker, but in the last few years I've started up again. It's such a cliche, but I thought he'd always be around, that the Spenser books would just keep coming. I really hate the thought that some day I'll have read them all.

    Here's a nice roundup of tributes (from Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, redux, and The Swan Thieves

    Jana spoke of Alan Bradley's TSATBOTP earlier, and since I just finished it myself (read her copy, in fact), I'll share my thoughts quickly: it's a fun mystery with interestingly drawn characters--lots of fabulous English eccentrics. Nice melancholic postwar feel (truly moving on shellshock and postcombat trauma); nice potrayal of how grief affects families; nice analysis of the British tendency to repress emotion. Also, the author does a fine job of portraying the delicate balance between violence and affection that exists among sisters. Finally, the wildness, intelligence, and scariness of Flavia are great; it's great the author was unsentimental and clear-eyed in his portrayal of the positive and negative aspects of girls around 12-13 years of age. In sum, the book is a lot of fun to read; am looking forward to more books in the series.

    However, I have a query. In conversation with Flavia, Inspector Hewitt quotes something:

    "'Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,
    Who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?'"

    Crack research reveals that this is from William King, The Art of Cookery (1708). Crack research does not reveal exactly what the quote means, however. Merriam-Webster's collegiate defines crinkling as follows:

    intransitive verb
    1 a : to form many short bends or ripples b : WRINKLE
    2 : to give forth a thin crackling sound : RUSTLE *crinkling silks*
    transitive verb : to cause to crinkle : make crinkles in

    Unless there's sweetness at the bottom of the pie, who cares if -- it's ornately fashioned and crinkled? Who cares if it's a fancy, pretty pie if it's not sweet? There's no point in thinking a pie is going to be good just because it looks good? I do not know. Neither Flavia nor I can parse this.

    [ETA: I went and reread the "boring" part of the definition: the etymology:
    Etymology:Middle English crynkelen; akin to Old English cringan to yield
    Date:14th century

    So, perhaps: If the pie yields no sweetness, what's the point of it? Er. I need an OED at home.

    I'm reading Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves, and I'm enjoying it a lot so far. Two things that have nothing to do with the book itself (I'll save those thoughts):

    1. Release date was January 12. I was in a local discountish type store on January 8 or 9, however, and to my JOY, JOY, JOY, I saw the book on the shelves. I have been waiting for this book for a while. I loved The Historian; I really like Kostova's precise, measured descriptions; they have lots of lovely detail but never feel out of control or overdone. So when I saw the new one in the store, I was, again, elated. However, when I got it to the cash register, a message flashed on the screen: "Not to be sold until January 12." I said to the cashier, "But can't you just type in the price?" (Okay, no, it was not right to try to pressure her to sell the book, I do know that, but you see, I WANTED IT VERY MUCH), and she said in return that she did not know how to type in the price. Readers, let us assume she was telling a white lie intended to make me STFU and not that she was truly incapable of the feat of typing in a price and a 30 percent discount.

    Anyway, at this point, the manager was called, and as we waited for her to arrive, everyone in line behind me thought about how very, very much (I imagine) they hated my guts. Finally, the mgr came over, and I waited to hear what would be decided. The mgr mumbled some things to the cashier, tucked the much-coveted book under her arm, and then began to sidle away. I thought I heard a dim "I'm sorry . . ." coming from her direction, but I'm not sure, since she made no effort to establish eye contact with me or to speak directly to me. That annoyed me, so I said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute--what's with the 'I'm sorry's? What's going on?" just to force her to talk to me. Finally, it was explained that I could not yet buy the book owing to blah blah blah etc. etc. Publication dates as they relate to agreements between vendors and publishers was probably what she was talking about, but it was hard to understand bec. I was too busy being annoyed and embarrassed and sad, because I had held the book in my hand and now it was being taken from me!

    Anyway, when the explanation was over and it was official and obvious that they were not going to sell the book to me, there was nothing else to say except, "Well, then, I suggest that you TAKE THE BOOKS OFF THE SHELVES, BECAUSE THERE ARE A LOT OF THEM OUT THERE," and this idea was met with agreement. As I left the store, the non-eye-contact-loving manager already was on the phone with the offending dept.

    Yes, I know. They really could and should not have sold the book. I feel bad for the person who made the mistake and put the book out too early; she or he might be in trouble now. We all make mistakes. A stitch in time saves nine. Life is a vale of tears. It's just that I held it in my grubby, covetous hands, and I could have had it early, and then it was taken away. That was hard.

    2. So I went straight home and decided to pre-order the book on Kindle (to arrive on the 12th). But lo and behold, readers, there is a wrinkle in e-book paradise: Publishers are sometimes NOT making new releases available until a few mos. after the release date of the hard copy. Thus, I could not get Agassi's Open on time; thus, I could not get The Swan Thieves until April. I'm very glad to have it now (in hard copy), however.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Barnes & Noble Ebook/Ereader Survey

    Part of the B&N survey

    I stumbled across this survey yesterday. It's a Barnes & Noble survey they link to from their main site. Here is the link. In case that doesn't work, you can find it from the Barnes and Noble ebooks page: look for the "Send Feedback" link in the list on the lefthand side.

    What a smart thing for them to do! I love it when I have something to say as a customer and a company makes it easy for me to say it.

    Now everyone please go over there and ask them to add a Pre app. :)

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    books I'm reading and enjoying

    The Age of Comfort, by Jean DeJean
    Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
    Hardcover, 304 pp. Color photo gallery, many illustrations--I would not recommend an e-book for this reason. I don't think it's available in electronic format, even.
    ISBN-13: 9781596914056

    Many of the things we now expect in the course of daily life--comfortable sofas, easy chairs, flush toilets, heated rooms, clothing that does not restrict movement--were first popularized in France in the 1670s and 1700s. All of this happened in a burst of creativity fostered by a few architects, designers, and decorators in response to demands from Kings Louis XIV and XV and other tastemakers such as their many rich relatives and associates (including famous mistresses such as Madame de Pompadour). Also,interestingly, a few capitalists/business people began influencing taste as well since they had gained the money that gave them access to the decorators and architects. This book covers the development of the various innovations as they emerged, and of the evolving concept of "comfort": there are chapters on inventions in heating, flush toilets, comfortable chairs, sofas, and then some on interior decorating, smaller rooms (bedrooms, boudoirs), and the idea of making space/rooms private. Used to be, you went to the bathroom in front of everyone (as the kings did), and people felt no need (and had no opportunity) to be alone during the day. With the advent of comfort, smaller rooms, and private spaces, expectations about everyday living (and privacy/subjectivity) changed radically--people began to expect comfortable things and clothing, and the idea that we all require privacy became essential to subjectivity and to house design. It's a fascinating shift in history, and this book traces it really well for a general reader like me. It is very nicely written, has pretty color plates and lots of illustrations besides. It's made me interested in furniture, architecture, interior design, and toilets. Who knew? I am really enjoying it; highly recommended.

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog
    By Muriel Barbery. Translated by Alison Anderson

    Publisher: Europa Editions
    ISBN-13: 978-1933372600
    Seems to be no e-book edition, alas.

    "Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terribly elegant" (143).

    Two narrators: (1) Madame Renee Michel, the concierge in a ritzy hotel/apartment building in Paris, who has a rich inner life but works hard to seem perfectly bland and uninteresting on the surface; and (2) Paloma, a young girl, age 12, daughter of one of the tenants in the building. Paloma is brilliant but hides it from her family and is saddened/troubled by the apparent meaninglessness of life. She plans to commit suicide at age 13. Paloma and Mme. Michel become friends with each other and the newest tenant in the building, M. Ozu, who is Japanese. Great interior monologues, character sketches, very pleasurable reading. The Paloma parts are meant to begin with haikus--and I bet they are, syllable-wise, in French--but they are not translated as haikus in the English, so some of that poetry is lost. However, I bet it's not linguistically possible to translate them directly and preserve the syllables/etc. without rewriting them, so no fault on the translator.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Espresso Book Machine

    I have conflicting feelings about the Espresso Book Machine. On the one hand, I want one in my living room. On the other hand, I don't want anyone else to have one. Thoughts (other than about what a selfish person I am)?