Monday, May 31, 2010

May stats

Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan), Man from Beijing (Henning Mankell), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Stieg Larssen)

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Roald Dahl)

Spring-Summer 2010 Salmagundi for The Island, a novella by Andrea Barrett novella

By mid-May, I finished spring semester of school and threw myself back into reading for pleasure. The first change up in my reading came when I shifted from almost exclusively listening to audiobooks (thank goodness for audiobooks!!) to holding a book in my hands, which feels so good.
I finished the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Last Olympians series, The Sea of Monsters, which I read aloud to Winston. It was neither as satisfying nor as memorable as the first book in the series, but Winston found it exciting. His ability to hang onto details is amazing, even when a week has gone by without hearing the story, so often I ask him for a recap before beginning a session.

I also finished reading the third book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (GWKtHN). Lizbeth Salander might be one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. She’s feisty and a little gritty, socially awkward, and a survivor. The trilogy encompasses a couple thousand pages of novel, carved into three books. Book three begins right where book two left off. In fact, book two (Girl Who Played with Fire) ended with such a colossal cliffhanger that Mr. Bibliotonic decided he needed to read the next book immediately. Since we live in a global economy, we could indulge in instant gratification with an order placed to So I started reading GWKtHN during spring break in March but didn’t finish before school started up again. The book and I were reunited just after portfolio review. But this is the conclusion to Lisbeth’s story and her quest to prove her innocence in three murders.
If I were editor, I would have lopped at least 150 pages, including those with Ericka Berger’s harassment story, which did absolutely nothing to advance the plot. It was horrible filler. But ultimately I found GWKtHN to be very satisfying. I loved the trial scene, particularly Lisbeth’s defense lawyer, who is journalist and main character Michael Blomqvist’s sister. The trial was the saving grace of the last 300 pages and Giannini really socks it to the system that has screwed over Lisbeth since she was a child.
The books are far from perfect. For one, they suffer from translation problems, an opinion which I’m going to put out there without benefit of examples. Also, the plot could have been more taut. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading all three books. At best, they were well paced, which is more than can be said for many books being passed off as thrillers these days. Dan Brown, I’m looking at you. If you were wondering, Girl Who Played with Fire was my favorite book of the trilogy. This is the book that fleshes out Lisbeth, especially as she creates a new life for herself. Also, it was the first book I read on my e-reader and will, thus, always have a special place in my reader’s heart.
This month, I officially abandoned Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I remember reading John Hanken's copy as a kid, but what I don't remember was how utterly odd this follow-up to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was. Perhaps I found it entertaining because, without doubt, at 10, I had a greater tolerance for silliness. But reading aloud now, ack! Knowing what I do about publishing, I'm guessing that Dahl had a contract to fulfill. Winston and I have loved other Dahl novels, such as BFG and The Twits and James and the Giant Peach.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'm back

Earlier today, I presented my interior design portfolio to a committee. My very best work from the academic year was pinned to a 4'-0" x 8'-0"display board. I had ten minutes to encapsulate the objectives as well as the design decisions I made to achieve those goals. The anticipation leading up to the presentation was nerve-wracking, but I spent the preceding hour practicing my speech. And, to quote the kids, "I killed." Next week I will have the results that hopefully seal my fate for the next three years*. 

A very intense academic year has precluded reading for pleasure. If you look at my stats, I have read 13 books, a third of which have been audiobooks. Thank goodness for audiobooks! My daily commute is forty minutes roundtrip, which isn't horrible and certainly has been much improved by being able to listen to books. Recently I listened to Henning Mankell's most newest book, Man from Beijing. Quite frankly, the novel was a huge disappointment. Two story lines are meant to converge but never do successfully. As a result, at many points, I wondered what the book was really about: the brutal crime committed in a small Swedish village or the story of one of China's new captains of industry, who has a devious plan. Perhaps the problem was listening to the audio version. I think there are inherent problems with "reading" audiobooks while driving, especially during moments of attention deficit in favor of traffic. Nonetheless, I have a Kurt Wallender mystery on my current reading list and will give Mankell another try.

After portfolio review, I rode the bus home from campus (my car is dead, unexpectedly), which gave me an opportunity to dip into Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux's classic account of traveling around the coast of England. I love Paul Theroux and have read both his fiction and nonfiction. Last year I read the novellas in Elephanta Suite, which were stunning and dark. But his travel accounts, which appear in publications such as Architecture Digest and Conde Nast Traveller, blow my skirt up most. Something about the way he captures a place that is simultaneously repellent and desirable. His full-blown travel accounts are genre defining. 

I'm reading Kingdom by the Sea in anticipation of my summer vacation. It's 1982 and England is waging war in the Falklands, which becomes the backdrop for the prose. After living in London for over ten years, Theroux realizes he hasn't really been out of the city.  He jokes about towns like Lyme Regis and Chipping Camden but has never been to any of them, so he takes a trip, circling the the perimeter of the UK and Ireland. I'm reading a copy of the book that I bought in 1988, after returning from my London year abroad. When I picked the book up again, I found a bookmark (my younger brother's "calling" card from his year in Loudun) at the spot where I stopped reading—page 77. 

I hope to do better this time round, but it may be a challenge. Theroux is cranky; every town is a pit. He's nearly to the southwest counties, where I will be spending my summer vacation in three short weeks. He better not crap on my anticipation. Maybe I should stop reading now. 

But it feels so good to be reading for pleasure again. Writing for pleasure does not suck either.

*If not, I hope there is a place for me somewhere in the publishing world.