The Book's Lover

The Book's Lover
Damiano Cali

Monday, April 29, 2013

Laugher -Hermia

It is apparently a habit of mine that I do not belly laugh often. I'll giggle, smile big and do the silent shoulder raise, or (perhaps the most annoying) sweetly say, "How funny!" thus implying that whatever I'm meant to be laughing at isn't funny at all. Southerners are the EPITOME of passive-aggressive bitchiness. 

Because I'm a twelve year old boy (Figuratively not literally), the only thing that really makes me belly laugh is physical humor. Turn on America's Funniest Home Videos, wait 'til someone falls down, and watch me slowly suffocate myself by laughing until I cry. 

Generally, I do not read books that could be considered "funny." Dark, yes. Twisty for sure. Confusing, smart, literary, etc. These are adjectives which I love. Funny, though? It's rare. I'm funny enough without help. 

Naomi gave me a book called Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) a long time ago. I avoided it. Why, you might ask? Generally I'll read anything anyone hands me, but especially Naomi....but this had a taxidermied (GR, GOOGLE, It's a word...get over it!) mouse on the cover. I suppose I should back up. 

 The author of Let's Pretend is Jenny Lawson. She is a Texan (LIKE ME), she is socially awkward (LIKE ME) and she is funny as all get out (LIKE ME). Therefore, I am in love with her and want to be her best friend. She doesn't have much of a choice in the matter. 

The book is about her life in Texas, and boy oh boy did it resonate. I laughed, readers. I laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe and people were concerned for my health (mental and physical). I laughed so hard that other people laughed with me nervously, just in case I was laughing at them. I cried while attempting to explain and read out loud. This book is responsible for any abdominal muscles I currently have. 

My favorite parts included a squirrel puppet, cow artificial insemination, discussion of Hill Country scorpions and other wildlife, random conversations at parties and just other general awesomeness. I have a feeling if I wrote a book (Instead of just reading them), it would sound suspiciously like this and I might get sued. 

I don't think this is a book that will only be funny if you're from Texas. My laughter was knowing laughter.  [HAHAHAHA, chupacabras...] If you're not from Texas, it will probably be a mixture of nervous laughter (when she discusses taxidermy and gun cabinets) and laughter at us. I'm okay with that.  

Honestly, it's just  good to know that one misfit is making it in Texas. You go, Jenny. Good for you, girl. 

Awesome, random podcast I found with Jenny, WILL WHEATON, PATRICK ROTHFUSS, and John Scalzi. Geek with me. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On the List: Naomi

If you love books like crazy, and if you adore libraries, you probably understand that restricted libraries are like speakeasies for geeks.  Regular libraries are cool.  Anyone can enter, borrow a book, and share ideas.  Amazing! 
But restricted libraries are full of books that just some people can read.  Now, Gentle Readers, I do not believe that knowledge should be restricted to the few.  I think that the trend of digitizing manuscripts is fantastic.  Anyone from anywhere can now see texts that were previously only available to certain scholars.  Huzzah for dissemination of the written word!   
But being able to enter a restricted library and look at special copies of books that most people can never see (because they’re too delicate, too fragile, or too obscure) is wicked awesome.  How do I explain why my egalitarian heart beats just a little bit faster when I have a reading pass for special collections somewhere?  It’s like you’re being let in on a secret.  Like you’ll discover something just by turning the pages that most people will never touch.  Like the smell of the book alone will make you smarter. 
It’s a totally geeky high.  Add in a bag check to guard against contraband, white gloves, a weighted fabric snake, and a foam book support, and I am in heaven!  But what really cinches it is that you need a special library card.  You need an ID.  You need to be on the list. 
For some, this thrill becomes passé.  If you work in special collections, I’m sure it’s quite normal.  But I am a Book Geek with Capital Letters and I am still Quite Excited when I get Reading Passes.  But it’s true, Gentle Readers: a girl never forgets her first time. 

The British Library is a wonderful place in a terrible building, like a beautiful soul trapped in the Elephant Man’s body.  One of my friends once described the “new” BL (since 1997) as looking like an industrial Chinese restaurant.  He is spot on.  The BL used to be housed in the British Museum, and had a gorgeous reading room.  I’m sure that housing the books was a total nightmare, and the air must have been terrible for the books, but it was pretty.  Now, not so much.  
The website claims that any UK citizen “with a permanent address who wishes to carry out research can apply for a Reader Pass.”  When I was living in London, I had to have a British sponsor (being an uncouth American).  I was doing a research project on the golden age of British children’s literature, and I was up to my eyeballs in Shakespeare papers.   A Reader’s Pass seemed like a good idea, but frankly, I didn’t quite know what I was getting into.
Downstairs is the library exhibition hall, the café, the giftshop.  In order to access anything in the stacks, I had to flash my Reader’s Pass four times.  1) to get off the escalator on the second floor.  2) to enter the Reading Room of my choice.  3) to order up a book on the computer.  4) to collect the book. 
I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it was to be (an uncouth American.  An undergrad.) able to flash that Reading Pass and swan on by the guard to the Reading Rooms.  A speakeasy for geeks, people.  Secret knowledge.  Many are called but few are chosen.  Name of the Rose stuff, I tell you.
What did I do there, you may ask?  I can’t tell you.  You’re not on the list. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hell. Innermost circle - Hermia

[Note to readers: I wrote this months ago, and am not in this situation any longer. However, one of my good friends is. This is for her.]

I've been reading a lot of dystopian literature. It's really becoming a problem. You see, I work in an office environment that is more toxic than Chernobyl. It's the type of place where they not only monitor your emails and phone calls, but have cameras installed, and a strict Anti-Fun policy.... I'm not sure that they don't monitor the number of times I go to the bathroom. The majority of the people are simply awful human beings with barely two brain cells to rub together to generate intelligent thought. The problem lies in my need to read dystopian lit. You see, I become a bit testy when I feel I am encountering the "man." And, Dear Reader... I work for him. While on a day to day basis, I am Hermione Granger, content with my books and cleverness, at work I suddenly turn into Katniss. I want to whip out a bow and arrow and show them that I am not a piece in their games. However, that type of rebellion is frowned upon in polite society. I'm Robin Hood. I'm Tris. I'm Joseph Effin' k. Actually, The Trial is just as apt a reference point for insanity as Katniss. I never quite know what's going on, never feel like I have all the details. I work for a combination of the Red Queen, Mad Hatter, and the Judge from the trial. Send me another coupon, boss. I'll shove it up your ass.

The truth is, Reader, I'm having some trouble harnessing my aggressive dystopian take-down-the-system-ism. I make small changes, little clues that scream "I was here! I matter!" But it's not enough. My cubical walls are closing in, and even if I pull a Peter-man and dismantle my cube I still won't be able to see the outdoors... No windows, you see. So, every night, I curl up in bed with a beer and a book... Generally dystopian and always rebellious, because let's be honest... Life is one effed-up book which will never be published and I'm refusing to follow the plotline. And at work? When I get the memo about the new memos? I curl my lip and think "like a dog!"

Head in the Clouds: Naomi

Hermia & I went to see Cloud Atlas at the cinema.  Like, the NIGHT it came out.  (We’re that awesome.)  It was a very interesting experience, largely because she & I had very different relationships to the GENIUS David Mitchell book when we saw the film. 
I read Cloud Atlas two years ago, when a good friend of mine picked it for Book Club.  This Book Club, Gentle Readers, gets to be capitalized because we actually talked about the books at Book Club.  The rules of Book Club were the opposite of Fight Club: you always talk about Book Club!  Of course, now everyone in Book Club has moved away, and I have no more Book Club.  But I have Gentle Readers.  So things all worked out…
Back to the narrative: I read Cloud Atlas, and loved it, and have been SUPER FREAKING EXCITED about the movie for ages.  But it’s been two years since my reading.  So the book has that delightful, warm’n’fuzzy sensation of being loved while not being particularly well-remembered.  Hermia had just finished it, practically the day we saw the movie.  She was a bit more critical, as things were somewhat more sharply-edged in her mind. 
With the exception of the horrendously bad Asian make-up (did we HAVE to give everyone piss-poor Asiaticism? They all looked like Charleton Heston pretending to be Mexican in Touch of Evil.  It was offensive!), I thought that the movie was an overall success.  It was crazy ambitious.  Like, balls-to-the-wall, WTF, unfilmable ambitious.  It is not flawless; it is not perfect.  But the film did two things:
1) It made me feel, as I left the theatre, just as I had felt when I finished the book.  The book hangover and the movie hangover were JUST the same.  I was thoughtfully pleased, unsure of what had just happened, and damn sure I wanted to do it again. 
2) It made me want to re-read the book.  When I first finished Cloud Atlas two years ago, I was unsure as to whether I would ever re-read it.  Now I HAD TO. 
Gentle Readers, it’s even better the second time around!  This time I was not focused so very tightly on what happened.  I was able to unfocus my mental eye enough to take in the whole picture, to let the book happen to me, instead of barreling through the plot to see what happened next.  It was the Magic Eye version of reading.  I saw so many more layers, and so many colors of connection, than the first time I read Mitchell.  It was a bit like reading Shakespeare, for me.  No, I am not making Mitchell into the Bard: don’t get your panties all in a twist!  I am merely saying that when one reads Shakespeare for the second or third (or fifty-seventh) time, one lets go of plot and enjoys the language, the structure, the craft of it.  …There may have been a happy sigh, and some unobserved clutching of said book to my bosom. 
Cloud Atlas @ Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Doll Face: Hermia

Over the weekend, I read the Diviners (Fascinating opening. I’m certain that I’ve got your total and undying attention.). Perhaps I’m not the right person to give an unbiased review of this book…But when we began this blog, I don’t believe we promised to be impartial….

There are certain time periods that I am totally insane about. The first one is the late 1500s. Post Spanish Armada, England. Court specifically. I think I could have gotten into some glorious trouble…I had a dream once that I got my head chopped off. There just aren’t opportunities like that in the modern age….

But my real love…the time period that I think I should have been born into (and I’m not 100 percent sure that I wasn’t) is the 20s. NYC specifically. God…The clothes. The hair! The dances, the music, the words…. But more than that…The utter rebellion. Prohibition? I’d rather have a massive secret anyway. Show me the way to the nearest speakeasy and pour me one of whatever ya got. Corsets? No, thanks, I’d prefer to breathe, doll face. I’d have been the craziest babe of jazz of ‘em all-ski. I’d show my ankles…my knees…hell. We all know I’d be a chorine and have it all hanging out. While the generation previous fought for the vote, these sisters fought for the right to Be. Don’t like my knees? Don’t look at ‘em. Sweet rebellion at its best. The 20s were the absolute bee’s knees.

Which is why I can’t give an unbiased review of the Diviners. Obviously, it’s set in the 20s. In Manhattan. Add to that some crazy-shite, spiritualist occult-ism, and you’ve got a Hermia- classic. I am a sucker for dark magic. I am a sucker for bloody ghost stories…but only if they are based in a truly well developed story. And this is….

Sure, the 20s language gets to be a bit much. She seems to add a –ski to the end of every other word. But in a lot of ways, it’s like any other dialogue within a book. The reader is partially responsible for the content…fall into it. Swallow the glitter, darling. It’s about decadence. It’s about finery-real or paste. It’s about living life and taking it by the balls. It’s the 20s…not the 1800s.

It’s got a very Black Dahlia feel to it. Spiritualist Noire. Law and order-like in some points, but with a healthy dash of ‘what the fuck’ added for good measure.

So, read this if you love the 20s. Read it if you love Dark YA. Read it if you love spiritualism, the occult, libraries, sexy words, well said sentences, or…just read the damn book. Preferably while wearing a silk robe and drinking a g&t.

Once again, grain of salt, darling doll-face. I am the person who bobbed my hair and put on cupid bow lipstick the day after reading this.


The first 11 chapters of The Diviners for free. You're welcome.

The Diviners @ Barnes & Noble

Possessed: Naomi

I don’t know about you, Gentle Readers, but I am always a bit anxious when I enjoy a book.  I’m afraid the author will do it wrong  If I love the book, follow the characters, am invested in the plot, who is to say that the ending won’t ruin everything?  So MANY books are great until the last 50 pages.  I don’t need a happy ending; just a good one.  So even reading a book I’ve enjoyed becomes fraught with peril as I approach the last few chapters. 
(It’s my main problem with Stephen King.  I think he’s very inventive, and sometimes quite good.  But then it’s like he gets near the end of the book, looks at his watch, and says to himself, “I can bang this out before dinner!”  And the ending is insipid.)  This is the way the book ends, not with a bang but a whimper. 
But then I read, and re-read, A.S. Byatt’s Possession. 
Which brings me to my question for today: What would one call the experience of reading a book one doesn’t remember, but knows one likes? 
I took a grad class at Very Distinguished University entitled “Booker Prize-winning Novels.”  This class introduced me to undiscovered novelists, including Ben Okri, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and Salman Rushdie, and offered unread books by Peter Carey, Roddy Doyle, and J.M. Coetzee.  For me, though, the highlight of the course was my opportunity to re-read Possession.  A.S.Byatt’s novel had been placed first into my hands in my senior year of high school by Jolene, my AP English teacher (My junior year English teacher’s name was Earlene; such are the perils of living in the South). 
I loved loved loved it. 
And for the most part, I couldn’t remember a damn thing 5 years later.  I remembered the parallel narration and the scholarship-treasure hunt theme.  Mostly, I remembered adoring it.  But I had no clue how it ended, and no clue how the bits I remembered fit together.
Routinely, I have an excellent memory for things: books, people, movies, connections.  My mind is a repository of useless information.  (And yes, I kick ass at trivia games.)  So my re-reading experiences are usually friendly things, where I revisit people and places I love, but they are not voyages of discovery.   Re-reading is comforting, enjoyable, but can be a bit boring; I always know what comes next. 
Possession was different.
It was one of the single most perfect reading experiences of my life, Gentle Readers.  Because I remembered loving it, I knew the book would not disappoint me.  I knew the ending wouldn’t make me angry, or be unsatisfying.  So I was utterly, completely SAFE in my reading.  I could abandon myself without hesitation to the story, the imagery, and the characters.  I knew, you see, that it wouldn’t let me down. 
I luxuriated in this book.  I swam in it.  Usually, unless I am struck by a particularly lovely bit of writing, I am a pretty speedy reader.  Possession took me ages to read: almost two weeks.  Keep in mind, Gentle Readers, that I was a grad student on fellowship.  I was not working; reading was my job.  Two weeks was an eternity in which to read a book.  I would read a few chapters and then sit on my couch, chewing on what I’d just read.  I even took my time with Byatt’s faux-Victorian poetry, which is just as overwrought as the real thing.  And the book was just as good as I remembered it to be!  It had not gotten stale; I had not made it more interesting in the remembering.  It was a delightful experience. 
So how does one describe that feeling?  That perfect meeting of ignorance (or forgetfulness) and surety?  It is a perfect storm of safety and uncertainty.  You can place yourself without reservation in the author’s hands because you know you’ll like the ending, but you don’t know how you’ll get there.  It’s a bit like floating in warm water, with the sun on your face, and you know whatever happens, you’re OK.  Because you’re swimming in the Dead Sea.  And you can’t sink…

Possession @ Barnes & Noble

Backstory: Hermia

I’m going by Hermia. Ask Naomi why.
Books, and the subsequent engagement of the mind was my second great love affair (the first was the stage). I'm little and dark (like one of the fairy people), and I learned to flirt from Scarlett O'Hara. The slight Southern accent, puffed up confidence, and overall excitement about life tend to lead people to want to pick me up like a pocket pal instead of listen to me. Screw 'em. I value cleverness above any other attribute, and love laughing (especially at my own jokes). I have a tendency to be directly in the spotlight, and I'm completely happy there. 

I am a fantasy geek, and prefer sword fights and dragons to swooning maidens, love, or other such nonsense. I will read anything once, but I typically tend to stay prior to 1700, academically. There are, of course, exceptions to that: I'm currently into YA, love dystopian lit, magical realism, and I'm the type of person who can pick up Shakespeare for fun. I'm a huge feminist, and much more Madwoman than Angel. Theoretically, I love post-Freudian queer and feminist theory, as well as some Marxism when I'm feeling feisty....

I work for Very Small College, as well. After a short, terrifying, soul sucking hiatus, I'm back in the classroom as an ENGL/COMM instructor. I love the thrill, slight theatrical quality, and watching that dawning moment of realization. Even more than teaching, I love sitting in a room of people and diving deeply into one book, paragraph, sentence, word.

And then I met Naomi… which benefits you, dearest reader, because we are ridiculous together and now you get to enjoy it.