The Book's Lover

The Book's Lover
Damiano Cali

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stuffing a (Blue)Stocking

Happy holidays, Gentle Readers!

Christmas is quickly approaching.  The house is decorated.  The krumkaka is made (it's a Norwegian cookie without which my Christmas is incomplete, and a little sad).  The wicked-smaht corgi we're dog-sitting for the holidays arrives tomorrow.  And Sister Dear arrived at 2am after a grueling 26-hour ordeal filled with lost luggage, delayed flights, missed connections, and a multiplicity of frantic phone calls. 

So I am happily wrapping everyone's presents and beginning to fantasize about my own.  I know it's late for this sort of thing, but if you still need a gift for the bluestocking in your life, let me hand out some suggestions.  And, you know, if you want to get your favorite book-blogger a little something special, I always accept gifts, even if they're late for Christmas.

1) If you want to go last-minute, can't-miss, Holy-Schnikes-is-it-Xmas-Eve-already?, I recommend book gift cards.  We love 'em.  We really love when you pick out a book for us yourself, but you also can't lose with a gift card.  It allows us hours of deliberation and wandering the aisles of the local bookstore, trying to decide whether the giftcard allows the splurge of one good hardback, or the quantity-over-quality of multiple paperbacks.  These are the sorts of crises we thrive upon.

2) For the outdoorsy type (you know, the kind that reads out in the fresh air), grab this reader's chair.  It has holes for your arms, and a place for your face to rest.  Anyone who has tried to read a book of any size on a chaise lounge understands why this seeming combination of lounger and massage table is absolute genius.  No more having to weight down your book pages with rocks, or sunglasses, or water bottles, because your arms lose feeling from hanging over the edge.  No more weird pressure on your throat as you try to rest your head over the tippy top of the lounge chair.  No more chaise lounge yoga, Gentle Readers!
(This picture is straight from my Pinterest board, but no longer connects to the manufacturer's website.  The closest thing I can find is this chair, on eBay.) 

3) For the wee ones, try a classic book like Eloise at Christmastime (Thompson)Or, discerning consumers that you are,  find new favorites like When Dinosaurs Came with Everything (Broach), The Mitten (Brett), or Library Lion (Knudsen). The illustrations are fabulous in all four, and each story is great for girly girls, manly boys, and everyone in between.  Or start a children's book collection of your own.  I may own a few (hundred) kids' titles, without actually owning any children. 

4) For grammar geeks, I have two solid options.  There are these  fabulous mugs and an amazing t-shirt, available for both sexes, that reads "Misuse of 'literally' makes me figuratively insane."  Each gift allows the recipient to do two important things: inform an audience while judging others.  These passive-aggressive impulses are dear to grammar geek hearts.  And yes, we did notice your grammatical error this morning; we were just too kind to point it out.
5) Most booklovers wear our hearts on our sleeves.  We also like to wear our favorite texts there!  If the grammar t-shirt above doesn't make the reader in your life swoon, I can recommend some other options.  Most of these t-shirts come in slightly different cuts for women and men, but any book lovin' girl will rock a boxy t-shirt with the right slogan.  Try a team t-shirt for the Innsmouth Swim Team for your esoteric horror fan, the confident I Just Nevilled Up for your Potterhead, or one of the so very many versions of Talk Nerdy to Me.  I also like the one that proclaims that the wearer is a Literary Rebel: I Read Past My Bedtime.

 6) A woman with a slightly more ladylike sartorial style would appreciate these tights, and this text-printed infinity scarf.  This Etsy seller has lots of texts to choose from, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Lewis Carroll, and Jane Austen, but I prefer the Romeo & Juliet edition of the scarf. If the recipient is a writer (or has crummy circulation), there are also cotton fingerless gloves that are very sweet.  
7) Or you can upgrade to jewelry.  No worries, though, we're not talking diamonds.  We're talking leather.  Any girl with more books than sense will drool for this super expensive necklace. Don't worry, the individual leather book necklaces aren't nearly $400 like this one, but they are just as sweet.  And the Harry Potter fan in your life desperately needs this horcrux necklace, even if she doesn't yet know it herself.  Because Potterphiles will be jealous and Muggles don't count.  

8) If you know a YA aficionado looking for a fix, try the sweet and inspiring My Most Excellent Year (Kluger) or John Green's incomparable An Abundance of Katherines.  If your YA lover is more of a Hunger Games fan, try Pure (Baggott).  It's just as dark, and possibly even more twisted.  The sequel, Fuse, suffers from sophomore book syndrome, but I have high hopes for Burn, which will be out in late February (yep, it's probably a series review to come).
9) If you're looking for something incredible and personalized, Jane Mount will make an individualized print of your very very mostest favorite books.  She has awesome ready-made prints of various book "collections," like Fantasy, Poetry, Kids, even Golf.  My problem is that in her ready-made collections, there is usually at least one book I'm not crazy I may have to spring for the custom print, which is pricy, but would be totally worth it. 

Or, for arty types with more wallspace than bookshelf space, try this frame-able poster with the complete text of a favorite book.  I like both Litographs and Postertext, although there are others.  In my opinion, Litographs has the edge here, since they print in color, but I do love this Peter Pan from Postertext:
10)  I would be remiss, Gentle Readers, if I did not recommend two of my favorite books to you, and by extension, to the reader in your life.  Neither have yet been reviewed on this site, but mostly that's because I'm not sure I can be objective in a review when all I want to do is shove the book into your hands and scream "Just read it!  Then we can be friends!"  *ahem*
Carlos Ruis Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind is a gothic, creepy love letter to readers everywhere.  It's an obsessive quest fueled by the world's perfect novel, and it will break your heart and freeze your blood.  This stunning prose is translated from the Spanish, and the translator has the soul of a poet.  (For more on my craziness on translations, see my rant about Dante.)  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is one of the most beautifully-written fantasy novels ever written.  Even Sister Dear, who doesn't much like fantasy, read this book over and over just because it's so pretty!  Its sequel, The Wise Man's Fear, is lovely as well, and I am chomping at the bit waiting for The Doors of Stone (working title), which as of yet has no release date!  So, you know, "Just read it!  Then we can be friends!"

EXTRA CREDIT: If all else fails, Gentle Readers, combine most booklover's two favorite things: literature and wine.  Try this bottle of wine, in "As You Wish" white or "Inconceivable" red, both from Bottle of Wits.  I have no idea if it's good wine, but who cares?  Everyone needs to own this bottle of wine. It is, of course, best served while reading a copy of the book and/or watching the DVD.  Anything else would be inconceivable!
Have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, O Gentle Readers!  I'll be back soon with more reviews, fun stuff from the intertubes, and tales of camels from far-off lands.  Enjoy your holidays, snuggle up next to a roaring fire, and crack open a good book.  That's where I'll be!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Katniss's Playlist

Catching Fire was very, very good.  Thank you, Movie Gods, for not effing up my favorite book in the Hunger Games series.  Thank you for:

1) Making the Capitolists [sic] people, and not just cartoons.  They had depth, and I loved it.
2) Elizabeth  Banks' heartbroken, but still sassy, Effie Trinket.
3) Making Cinna’s last appearance truly brutal.  We need to mourn him like Katniss does. 
4) The arena being almost as awesome as it is in my head. 
5) Peeta crying “It’s not real!” when Katniss hears the Jabberjays imitate Prim.
6) Jena Malone.  ‘Nuff said.
7) The moment in the elevator when Johanna Mason strips.  The character of Katniss disappears and we see Jennifer Lawrence, in all her crazy, awkward glory, making insane faces.  It’s delightful.
8) No more handheld cameras in the woods!  I can see what's going on: Hallelujah!

I saw it with a mixed bag of people: some were as obsessed with the series as I am, and some had no knowledge of the books, only knowing the story from the first film.  Everyone thought it was fabulous.  Any film that can please both the die-hards and the newbies is impressive.  For that film to be a sequel is pretty spectacular.  Well done.

Caveat:  If, O Movie Gods, you spend Part I of Mockingjay building the love triangle, trying to force a Twilight-y Team Peeta/Gale thing to happen, I reserve the right to retroactively hate you.  I'm already cranky that you're splitting the last book into two movies.  Just a heads-up.


On a related note, let’s talk about the soundtrack.  The soundtrack for the first Hunger Games film is total, absolute genius.  For those of you who have not been listening to it in 
rotation for a year, let me explain.  The original soundtrack was produced by T-Bone Burnett and only includes a few songs featured in the film.   The complete name of the soundtrack is “The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond” and the point of the album is not to have songs that are in the movie, but songs that can come from the movie.  Each musical artist was asked to imagine District 12 music 300 years in the future: it birthed neo-Appalachian folk-rock.  These are not words that describe Kid Cudi (“The Ruler and the Killer”), Arcade Fire (“Abraham’s Daughter”), or Maroon 5 (“Come Away to the Water”), but all those artists appear on the soundtrack.  And it’s AMAZING.  Some of it is a little too folksy, but as a whole, it’s awesome! I can (and do) listen to this album All. The. Time.  

Then the Catching Fire soundtrack came out.  And I was SO EXCITED. (sigh)

Lorde’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is the standout here.  It’s ridiculously awesome.  And Patti Smith’s “Capitol Letter” is great, if a little heavy-handed on the lyrics.  But Coldplay? Christina Aguilera?  No, no, no.  Someone figured out that the Catching Fire soundtrack was gonna make a boatload of money, and they decided to cash in.  And the soundtrack is less cohesive for it.  

The sequel doesn’t even need to sound just like the first soundtrack!  Feel free to switch it up.  Give us more music from the Capitol, if you want!  More awesome post-apocalyptic music like “The Ruler & The Killer” and “Abraham’s Daughter” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”  Give us weird neo-techno music from District 3.  But not a mishmash of capitalist—not Capitolist—crap.   Can we ditch the new producer (Alexandra Patsavas) and bring back T-Bone Burnett, please?  I’ll start a write-in campaign.  

Long story short: Buy the first CD.  It rocks.  As far as the second CD, just grab Lorde’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” on i-Tunes.   Your twisted little Capitolist heart needs to sing along.

Monday, December 9, 2013

George the Camel and "The Way of Kings"

Hello again!

Vacation was AMAZING.  A week in Rome and a week in Morocco.  I got to ride a camel, and yes, I named him George.  It was awesome.  And then I had to come home to real life again.  

I have not been posting since I returned.  It is not because I have abandoned you, O Gentle Readers, but because re-adjusting to post-traveling reality has been more challenging than I originally thought. I have been caught up in:
1) Posting pictures online so everyone can see George & Seabiscuit.
2) Catching up at work (you would think I’d been gone a year).
3) Finishing the remodel of my bathroom (begun before vacation).  It’s bee-you-tee-ful!
4) Prepping for the holidays.  The parents left for a 2-week jaunt to see the grandparents and left me to finish decorating the homestead solo. 
5) A seriously-overloaded DVR.  Who knew 2 weeks of missed TV would take a month to catch up on?  Plus, lame Christmas movies!!
6) Going to see Enders’s Game & Catching Fire & "Day of the Doctor."
7) Finishing Way of Kings.  See below.

So let's talk about the important things.   Books, movies, and my camel George.  Yes, Gentle Readers, meeting cranky, grumpy George in the furry camel flesh has only made me love him more.  *snuggle*

I got very little reading done.  THAT, above all, is the hallmark of a good vacation!   I mostly ended up packing the books I had earmarked:

I think I'm taking Walter Moers' Alchemist's Apprentice,  Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings (it's the size of a George R.R. Martin, and makes me feel secure), The Artist, the Philosopher & the Warrior (about da Vinci, Cesare Borgia, and Machiavelli), and Crowley's Little, Big. But that will all change tomorrow, when I pack my carry-on.

Alchemists's Apprentice didn't make the suitcase.  Nor did Little, BigA few last-minute substitutions were loser books that got left in various airports.  The Artist, the Philosopher & the Warrior was quite good nonfiction, and is now on Sister Dear's to-read pile.  The Way of Kings was the only one to come home with me.  Because it's SO. VERY. LONG. that I couldn't finish it in time.  And then I slept the whole way home, and carted it around in my purse for a month to finish it.

The Way of Kings is 1114 pages of "Really Very Good."  And then there are 139 pages of "Oh Dear God, That's Fabulous."  The ending is SUPERB.  From the final battle scene to the various ways in which the plot points come to semi-resolution (it is the first of a series, after all), the last hundred pages or so are really incredible.  Enough to make me want to re-read it.  But I shall simply wait until March of this year, when Words of Radiance comes out.  (Except I just read that it's going to be a 10-book series.  Oh, hell.)

But anyway.  "The Stormlight Archive" series begins with The Way of Kings.  There are three main narrators, with other incidental voices chiming in to mix it up.  
1) Kaladin: Trained surgeon, gifted soldier, disgraced slave.  
2) Shallan: Scholar with a desperate secret and a hidden talent or two.
3) Dalinar: Greatest warrior of his time, plagued by visions and longing for peace.
Naturally, all of them learn that the truths of today are rooted in the mythic past, which the audience discovers as the characters unearth it.  

As with all Sanderson, the world-building is excellent.  I did find the book overwhelming sometimes, however.  Oftentimes writers ground worlds with a few recognizable traits to give their readers a solid footing.  Sanderson seems to think that idea is for wimps: there is nothing recognizable here.  The peoples, while all humanoid, all have slightly unusual skin colorings and physical features, making them tricky to keep separate.  The weather follows unusual patterns and the flora and fauna are so unique as to make them difficult to picture.  None of these things are problems in and of themselves, but it takes quite a while for a reader to get her footing.  

Once that footing is found, however, Sanderson delivers.  The backstory and the myths in The Stormlight Archives are impressive.  It reminds me a bit of Tolkien (don't get your knickers in a twist, Gentle Readers!  Lemme 'splain!) in that you really want to read the myths and legends everyone talks about.  This series may need a Silmarillion.  I want to read the stories of the Knights Radiant.  I want to read the original MS of The Way of Kings.  I want, I want. 

With tomes this large and complex, I like a quick reference in the back of the book to remind me of which character belongs to which plot thread.  Or at least to which ethnicity they belong.  The one appendix in the back of the book was largely unhelpful, and the map in the front was more decorative than useful.  There were some illustrations in front of the chapters which were wonderful, however.  These excerpts from scholar Shallan's notebooks give great insights into the world Sanderson builds, and include the character's sketches, notes, and questions.  They give real texture to the oddball plants and animals that Sanderson has spent so much time including in his world.  Unfortunately, the sketches sometimes appear hundreds of pages after the reader has first encountered mention of a particular plant or animal.  But the idea is fabulous.  More illustrations, please! 

As much as I liked it (and I did, very much), my main issue is the language:
1) Most of the world's languages, names, etc, sound as if they are from the same linguistic roots, even if they are on opposite sides of the world.  I know this sounds beyond geeky, but it's helpful if one race's names don't sound just like another's.  It's confusing.
2) Sanderson falls into the common mistake of adding extra syllables or punctuation to make words "exotic."  You can make unusual words without adding apostrophes and 27 syllables to everything...  (Sorry.  Personal bugbear from early authorship crisis.)

But it's pretty awesome, and I'm willing to forgive him a few hiccups here and there.  Sanderson is a great builder of new worlds, and if that means that I need some time to sink into his new places, I'm willing to give him some time.  Besides, when Words of Radiance rolls out, I'll still mostly remember how it all works... and then for the third book--in three years--it will be time to re-read the whole shebang!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fond (Temporary) Farewell: Naomi

Greetings, Gentle Readers!

It has been a while since we’ve talked, and I apologize.  The winds of change have been a-blowing, and I have been a bit buffeted.  

The very best buffet-y thing that is occurring is that I am preparing for a vacation to see my sister.  She lives in Rome, lucky sod, and I have been promising to visit for a while now.  So I shall spend some time wandering through The Eternal City.  I love Italy, but I am not a huge lover of Rome itself.  Sister Dear tells me that she will take this opportunity to change my mind, and I will return to the States pining for Rome.  I’m willing to be convinced. She's doing her best to get her tourguide friends to convince me, too.  I'm booked for an Italian wedding, a 5-hour long tour of the Vatican gardens & Museum, a twilight architectural tour of Rome, and a day trip to Tuscany for Brunello tastings.  (Sleep is for wimps.)

We’re also planning a weeklong trek to Morocco.  ‘Why Morocco?’ asks my mother.  ‘Why the hell not?’ we answer in chorus.  We have booked a three-day trek from Fes to Marrakech (or from Fez to Marrakesh, depending on which travel book I read: standardized spelling helps me plan, O gods!) which includes wanders around the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert.  We have booked a traditional Moroccan cooking class, and we will soak in a hammam, and we will get lost in the souqs.

And we’re gonna ride camels!  Apparently camels are mean and stinky and spitty, but the camels of my imagination will love me and follow me around like puppies.  So I have given them all traditional Moroccan names: mine shall be George, in homage to the cartoons of my youth.  Sister Dear is going to name hers Seabiscuit.  Apparently hers will be quite speedy, or she’s talking the “ship of the desert” thing rather seriously.  Our guide will of course be riding a camel named Alice, for Alice the camel has three humps (boom boom boom)  and such a multi-humped camel can only be ridden by a master of the desert.  Dear Readers, I am a bit punch-drunk on vacation-planning.  Can’t tell, can you?

But of course, being me, I have all my clothes packed.  Do you know what I can’t seem to decide upon, Gentle Readers?  Yep.  Can’t decide which books to pack.  I have a crippling fear of running out of reading material.  Plus, if it’s a really good book, I’ll want to bring it home.  So I’m choosing books that I think I’ll want to part with once I’ve read them.  But of course, they’re not the ones I’m dying to read right now…  I’ve re-packed my vacation book-stash at least five times, and I leave tomorrow.  Please send me patience.  

I think I'm taking Walter Moers' Alchemist's Apprentice,  Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings (it's the size of a George R.R. Martin, and makes me feel secure), The Artist, the Philosopher & the Warrior (about da Vinci, Cesare Borgia, and Machiavelli), and Crowley's Little, Big. But that will all change tomorrow, when I pack my carry-on.  

Wish me luck, and I'll post pictures when I can!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banned Books Week: Naomi

 Today’s post is in honor of Banned Books Week.  I won’t waste your time by explaining why banning books is bad.  I won’t mention Hitler’s book-burnings, or GroupThink, or the dangers of a world without critical dialogue.  If you’re reading my blog, Gentle Reader, I presume you have enough brain cells to rub together to figure all of that out.  I’m not worried about you; I’m worried about everyone else…

Because the idea of book-banning has not gone away.  Last week's banning of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man in Randolph County, North Carolina makes it perfectly clear that some people still see ideas as dangerous.  Thankfully, that ruling has been reversed, in spite of one committee member asserting that “I didn’t find any literary value” in the book.  Sure.  It only won a National Book Award.  It's only number 19 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 greatest English-language novels of the 20th century.   It only has its own monument.  Nope, obviously dreck. 

But let's be honest, Gentle Readers.  Even if the book was total crap (50 Shades, I'm a-lookin' at you), I will still respect your right to read it.  I will judge you, O Twilight readers, but I will not ban your book, regardless of its literary merit or lack thereof.  Read as thou wilt.

There are hundreds of people that do not agree with my laissez-faire reading philosophy.  Here is a list of the 100 most-challenged books from 2000-2009.  And here is a PDF of books that were banned or challenged in 2013.  One of those challenged books?  An easy-to-read version of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.  Because it's not like Shakespeare can teach us anything. And let's be honest, Readers: Do you really think middle schoolers are going to understand all of Shakespeare's sex jokes in R&J? Did you? *headdesk*

Also challenged or banned in the past are such heretical texts as Where's Waldo?, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Alice in Wonderland.  Oh, yeah.  You know what else has been banned?  THE DICTIONARY.  Because it defines sex words like "breast."  Filthy, filthy educators.

All I can speak to with real authority is my own experience.  And Readers, I read all kinds of age-inappropriate material when I was growing up.  And somehow I am—against all odds—well-educated, highly critical of what I read, and able to make my own decisions.  Color me shocked.  All the personality flaws that I possess I blame on my parents, not on my reading materials.  

Ray Bradbury said “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”  In a world where children are more likely to watch a watered-down film adaptation than crack a book, and people are content to get the "real" news from The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, I am worried that a culture without books is imminent.  And that frightens me.  

So Banned Books Week is not over, Good People of the Intertubes!   Find a book that someone, somewhere, thought you shouldn't read.  Read it.  Love it.  Hate it.  It doesn't matter.  But think about it.  Don't let someone else decide what you need to know, what's good for you.  Sometimes, the best things in life are a little naughty. 

And if talking of banned books gets you depressed, just read this article about a publisher, a book outlet, and private citizens who banded together to give away free copies of Invisible Man in Randolph County.  America, I love you.
Buy this spiffy Banned Books tote bag here from Out of Print Books.  Also look at their t-shirts.  I own like 8 million of them and I LOVE them.  So buy me one while you're shopping.  I need Goodnight Moon, please.