Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When do I get my check?

My blog is worth $14,678.04.
How much is your blog worth?

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

Hell Hath No Fury: Women's Letters from the End of the Affair
Anna Holmes, editor

Last year, a little movie called The Break-Up came out that you may or may not have seen. I certainly didn’t go to see it in the theater, as I (a) never go to the movies and (b) thought the movie looked as boring and unfunny as hell.

I was right.

Months later, bored with nothing to do, I came across the film on HBO. I was too tired to read, too lazy to leave the house; I was all discombobulated. Fine, I thought, I’ll watch this stupid movie. And a stupid movie it was.

Actually, it wasn’t so stupid as it was utterly, utterly painful to watch. I’m sure all of us have been the uncomfortable witness to a couple (whether it be our parents, friends, or even strangers in a restaurant – true story, only I was on the wrong end of that one) viciously skewering one another by bringing up every imaginable detail of their relationship.

The Break-Up was exactly the same way. I watched my parents’ marriage spiral toward divorce; why on earth would I want to watch a movie that makes me relive all those moments? (I was suckered by the presence of Vince Vaughn. Usually he equals funny, but not even he could redeem this movie.) Depressing does not even begin to describe it. Imagine watching two people bitch at one another for almost two full hours. Sure, there is some “plot” thrown in there as they stop bitching for a minute in order to “do something,” but really, it’s two hours of bitching. Ugh.

Unfortunately, Hell Hath No Fury: Women's Letters from the End of the Affair is exactly like The Break-Up. The only difference is that I paid for the former with actual money, while I paid for the latter with a tiny bit of my soul. Actually, I’d rather lose the money.

Hell Hath No Fury: Women's Letters from the End of the Affair is a collection of, you guessed it, angry women’s letters to the men who did them wrong. This collection is truly all-encompassing, containing thirteen types of letters (for example, the tell-off, the autopsy, the divorce letter, the “dear John,” the marriage refusal, etc.). The authors of these letters range from the fictional (including one from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility), the classic (including one by Ovid), to letters written by nobodies, literary greats, and even nobility (Henry VIII receives more than one letter in this collection).

While this collection appears fascinating on a superficial level, the problems here are several:

The first is what I like to describe as The Break-Up factor: they’re painful. They’re not fun, they’re not funny – instead, they will take you right back to the worst relationship you’ve ever had and make you want to stab yourself in the eyeball while you’re at it. Reading the entire thing straight through will surely result in suicide. Unless you’re a virgin, and in that case reading all of these letters will probably scare you from ever venturing near another’s genitalia.

Secondly, this is not a book even possible to read all the way through, because it’s just not that interesting. Honestly. You’d think it might be, containing as it were a lot of funny “and your dick is small, too!” comments, but really, these letters aren’t funny, not even in bits. They’re all just kinda sad and pathetic, and not interesting enough to read even more than one at a time.

And thirdly, well, there is no thirdly. I thought it would be interesting, it wasn’t. Color me duped. (To be fair, the book achieves what it sets out to do; my lack of enjoyment can be blamed only on myself.)

In a nutshell: Not really interesting to read, but it is a good reference if you ever need to write your own “fuck-you” letter. I’m sure with a little tweaking here and there you could use the book to write a letter to any person, even one with whom you do not have a romantic relationship.

Bibliolatry Scale: 2 out of 6 stars

Monday, July 30, 2007

The return of Dick

Four Novels of the 1960s
Philip K. Dick

Welcome to Part Two of Philip K. Dick, featuring Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik. As I warned in my last post, there is far more to them; mere summary simply does not suffice. It is impossible to explain every aspect of these novels, and there is much that is interesting that I cannot mention here. If you’re curious, you’ll simply have to go read them for yourself.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the third novel in this collection, and I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it based on the few minutes of Blade Runner I’ve glimpsed over the years. I needn’t have worried. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? follows Rick Deckard, an android bounty hunter, as he takes down robots who have illegally landed on Earth. Androids are legal in space colonies, where they serve as servants for each emigrant family; but on Earth, which has been partially destroyed by fallout from a nuclear war, they must be put down. Few people remain on Earth; those who do choose to remain for financial or emotional reasons, or are forced by the government to stay because they have been too badly mutated by the fallout (those unfortunates are labeled “chickenheads” due to their diminished intelligence).

alrighty then

Androids often choose certain death on Earth (versus stability in the colonies) in order to, of course, experience freedom. Although appearing identical to humans, there are certain tests (involving emotion and empathy) which can prove the presence of an android. I could go on (and on) but needless to say, Dick uses this situation to pose a question that has become more relevant today than when it was written forty years ago: What is human? Are androids human if they are able to feel emotion? And if so, do they have the same basic right to life that humans enjoy? What about when people cannot feel emotion? Does that make them less-than-human? To whom does the right to freedom belong?

In case you were wondering, the title refers to the desire for animals that each person on Earth feels: nuclear war has eradicated many forms of life; all animals have become endangered, and many are outright extinct. Owning an animal has become one’s duty to society; those who do not own animals are frowned upon. Unfortunately it is difficult to keep animals alive in such an environment, so one might purchase a robotic (or “electric”) animal to keep up appearances. Ironically, many people, including Deckard, love these robotic animals despite feeling an aversion to their more human counterparts.

Like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik also has you questioning what is real, but in an entirely different way than every other novel in this collection. It started off slowly, but once I finally got into it, I couldn’t put it down. It centers on a group of people with psychic talents who work for a “prudence organization,” a company (owned by Glen Runciter) whose employees block the psychic powers of others. Runciter’s enemy is Ray Hollis, who has his own group of psychics.

Sidenote: Runciter runs the company in part by seeking the advice of his wife, Ella, who died years ago. It is possible for the dead to remain for a period of several years in a state of “half-life” in cryogenic suspension before dying entirely. A person in cryogenic suspension is able to communicate with loved ones who frequent the moratoriums that store the deceased.

Back to the plot. Runciter’s company is hired by a wealthy businessman to counteract a psychic infringing on his business. Runciter takes several of his best psychics to attend to the problem. Unfortunately, it’s a trap. A bomb explosion kills Runciter without harming the others, who rush back to Earth to place him in cryogenic suspension.

So Runciter is dead and the rest are alive. Or, wait: is it the reverse? Nothing is as it seems in Dick’s worlds, and Ubik is no different. Soon the remaining psychics experience shifts in reality, regressing to earlier times. They discover fresh milk that has already soured, money in their pockets which bears the face of Glen Runciter. Then, one by one, the psychics start to die. Are these phenomena the result of the explosion? The result of the talents of Pat Conley (a psychic with a new anti-psi talent: the ability to change the past)? Or something else entirely? And what the hell is this Ubik we’ve been hearing so much about?

In a nutshell: Dick is fun. I think. Maybe I only think it's Dick. Maybe what I believe to be the work of Philip K. Dick is really the result of -- just kidding.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blogging Tips

Yay! I've never been tagged for anything before, so when Lisa over at Books. Lists. Life. tagged me for a blogging tips meme, I was really quite excited. Unfortunately, I don't have ten people to tag back, so if you're reading this and would like to add your own tip to the list, I hereby officially tag you.

-Start Copy-

It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends!

Just think - if 10 people start this and the 10 people pass it on to another 10 people, you have 100 links already!

1. Look, read, and learn.*** http://www.neonscent.com/

2. Be EXCELLENT to each other.** http://www.bushmackel.com/

3. Don’t let money change ya!* http://www.therandomforest.info/

4. Always reply to your comments.***** http://chattiekat.com/

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati.*** http://chipsquips.com/

6. Don’t give up - persistence is fertile.* http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/

7. Give link credit where credit is due.*** http://www.sfsignal.com/

8. Pictures say a thousand words and can usually add to any post.*** http://scifichick.com/

9. Visit all the bloggers that leave comments for you - it's nice to know who is reading!*** http://stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/

10. Thrown in something humorous occasionally, to keep things fun.* http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/

11. When picking the URL for your blog, think short and easy. You'll be typing it a million times. http://bookslistslife.blogspot.com/

12. Always think before hitting publish. What seems like a good thing to say one moment might come back to bite you later. http://bookworship.blogspot.com

13. Okay, I cheated. I actually have another one: Don't overcrowd your layout. Simple isn't always bad. http://bookworship.blogspot.com

-End Copy-

I agree with all of the previous tips...except #3. Who said anything about money? There's money? Enough to change me? Where?

grumble grumble

Your weekly dose of stuff that I find interesting

Do you like to read? Well, this man's booklove cost him his home. This is BULLSHIT. I'm going to organize a sit-in. Oh wait, I don't really care that much.

But while he was busy fighting to keep his books, this guy is getting rid of some of his. The grass is always greener... (Small warning: this article contains the phrase "book apocalypse," which gave me a small bout of the vapors, so watch out.)

Speaking of professors getting rid of books, it's about time someone called shenanigans on these creeps.

While some people are getting rid of books, many people may stop getting magazines, since prices are set to rise. As a result, we are losing a HIGHLY respected publication. A moment of silence, please.

I think we all know I'm responsible for this. I am eagerly awaiting my complementary fruit basket. I'm partial to flowers too, Jeff. Any kind will do.

I'm sorry -- I don't think I heard you correctly. Did you say zombies? Zombies from Pakistan? MIDGET zombies from Pakistan?? And all I have to do is click here?? AND there's a video to boot?? YES.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Where art thou, o my innocence?

Philosophy in the Boudoir
Marquis de Sade

I have a confession: I have judged a book by its cover.

But first let me say this: I am not a prude. I don’t object to porn – that is, when it’s labeled as such. I may not seek it out, but I’m not morally opposed to it. But when it’s passed off as “philosophy” – then that’s another story.

To be fair, Philosophy in the Boudoir was philosophic. But the philosophy was buried ugh too many sandwich jokes are coming ugh too many coming jokes are


Aherm. Let me start at the beginning. I liked the cover. I thought it was philosophy. Plus, "boudoir" is such an underrated word. So I bought the book. And, like any good reader of philosophy, I started with the introduction. But when the introduction gives away the ending, a scene of “brutal” and “truly sadistic rape,” I did what any good American would do – I skipped right to the end.

What met my poor beleaguered eyes was not so much philosophy as it was a glorification of every example of depraved behavior possible: incest, adultery, even murder. Look, I'm cool with many of the "depravities" praised by Sade: I love teh gays, so I don’t see sodomy as a problem. If you want to commit adultery be my guest, I don’t give a shit. S&M's not my bag, but whatever, baby. Neither do I care if you wanna fuck your brother, although that's just gross as far as I'm concerned. Go for it. But rape? Gang rape? Of your mother? For real?

I know how you feel, kid

You’re probably sitting there saying, “It’s the Marquis de Sade, you donkey. What did you expect?” But I saw ads for this book in several very respectable publications and the cover was just so quaint and I really didn’t think it would involve [don’t read if you’re squeamish] helping to gang rape your mother and then stitching her up to prevent any children from coming out among other things that I’m trying REALLY hard to forget and I think I might just throw out this book but I do have an aversion to throwing out books even though I did throw out that copy of the Necronomicon I was dumb enough to buy but that was for superstitious reasons and it gave me the willies just like Philosophy in the Boudoir so keeping that in mind maybe it would be okay to throw it out WHEW.

To prevent another system overload, let me at least attempt a brief overview: Philosophy in the Boudoir is a “play” written in seven “dialogues.” It begins when Madame de Saint-Ange receives notice that a young virgin, Eugenie, will soon be arriving to receive an “education” in the form of sexual awakening. Along with her brother and their friend, Dolmance, Saint-Ange will educate Eugenie in the ways of the world. Along the way, Sade drops in some of his "philosophy," namely that anything natural (and not surprisingly, Sade considers everything natural) is good.

Furthermore, Sade really doesn’t have a problem with any "sin"; he glorifies it all, even crimes like theft and murder. Regarding murder, he writes, "In short, murder is a horror, though a horror that is often necessary, never criminal, and indeed essential...the sole offense that a man can commit...is suicide."

Ah, so he does, at least, have one scruple.

Did I mention how charming the cover is? The artist is Tomer Hanuka. Yay for Tomer. Boo for Sade.

In a nutshell: My eyes! My eyes! Where art thou, o my innocence?

Bibliolatry Scale: 0 out of 6 stars

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When in doubt, go for the dick joke

Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s

I love Library of America editions. There’s just something about the hardcover with the paper-thin pages, bookmark sewn into the spine, and the overall compactness of the edition. (How do they get 900 pages to look so thin?) I don’t know why I don’t own more, but when I saw they had one for Philip K. Dick, I had to have it, even though I knew nothing about the man or his work.

Sure, I know that Keanu Reeves starred in that movie based on that book that I didn’t read, and it was all really cool because they like colored over the film or something. But I hate reading a book for a movie, especially a movie I didn’t see, especially one starring Keanu Reeves. True, I’ve seen the first five minutes of Blade Runner, but my childhood self could not understand why Indiana Jones was being so boring; and so, I know nothing about Philip K. Dick or his work.

Thank god for the Library of America. Now I’ve read four of his novels and I can now exult in the glory that is Dick. In Part One of my expose on this tome, I’ll discuss The Man in the High Castle and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Part Two will cover Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik.

First, I have to say how surprised I am at the depth of Dick’s work; it’s not that I thought his work would suck per se, but I didn’t expect to find such substance in these novels. Now I find myself compelled to read everything the man ever wrote.

The Man in the High Castle, published in 1962, won a Hugo Award for Best Novel. Despite it being my least favorite of these novels, I can still say I enjoyed it for the way Dick speculates about an alternative history. In this novel, the Allies did not win World War II, and Dick illustrates how different life would be if Germany and Japan divvied up the world. Needless to say, it’s not a pleasant picture. The plot is comprised of several different characters and their interactions as things finally come to a head at the end of the book. In The Man in the High Castle, it’s not plot that’s so important as is the alternative history that Dick presents.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, on the other hand, might be my favorite of the four novels. Published in 1965, it tells the story of a world in which people colonize other planets. Life on other planets is, needless to say, quite depressing; thankfully, there are lots of drugs to ease the pain. Specifically, there is Can-D, a hallucinogen that gives the user an out-of-body experience of sorts, one that allows the user to believe he or she is back on earth. The novel begins when industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from a ten-year exploration of Proxima Centauri. He has returned with a substance that rivals – even surpasses Can-D – and yet, it is not as benevolent as Eldritch would have everyone believe.

Unfortunately for those who haven’t read these works, there is far more to them than my mere summary can explain. Dick fleshes out whole worlds that defy easy summary. For example, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch features evolution therapy that many people can undergo; the earth is also in the throes of an ecological disaster which has heated the earth so that people cannot go outside without protective clothing. There is much more to these novels than meets the eye.

In a nutshell: Awesome. Dick tackles the question “What is real?” and proves that truth is often elusive, or an illusion entirely.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars

Stay tuned for Part Two: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dead bodies, six-toed cats, and much, much more

Have you ever read anything by Spalding Gray? Neither have I. But in case you were wondering, here's what it feels like to discover his corpse. I've also provided a link to his wiki entry if you're not familiar with either the man or his work. RIP, buddy.

Forty-six years after his death and Hemingway is still making news. Of course, having read this article several times, the only thing I can remember is POLYDACTYL CATS. That and the fact that a "cat whispurrer" is being called in to assess the situation. Papa would be proud.

I first heard about the Tintin fiasco via this article over at Little Man, What Now? Now, The New Zealand Herald ponders whether some Tintin books should be sold only to adults. I admit I never knew this Tintin fellow so much as existed until now, so I don't want to give an uninformed opinion on the subject. However, I must say that it is up to parents, not legislators or booksellers, to raise their children correctly. What do you think of the Tintin debate?

Okay, okay: I don't read Harry Potter. Sure, I read the first one; who didn't? Beyond that, I just didn't care. I do feel kinda left out now, though, so I feel obligated to mention the Potter at least once. With that in mind, I give you this hysterical article from the people over at Cracked magazine. Don't worry, Potter fans: there are no spoilers here. It's simply "Six Questions The Last Harry Potter Book Had Better F#@king Answer" -- that, and sex. "Lot's of clumsy, clutching, adolescent wizard sex." Damn me for not reading the other six books.

And last but not least, here's one final Cracked article, just cause it's funny. I'm so with you on the cell phones.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Honesty or loyalty?

Light of Day
Jamie M. Saul

What is more important: honesty or loyalty? Are you one who thinks, “well that depends on the situation,” or do you believe that one of these traits always transcends the other?

This question underscores Jamie Saul’s Light of Day, what Booklist calls “a probing exploration into the psychology of grief” and “a gorgeous literary thriller of the highest caliber.” The novel begins with a short description of a small Indiana town; only at the end of this description do we learn its purpose: to describe the place where Danny Owens’ body has been found.

Danny Owens is the fifteen-year-old son of professor Jack Owens, who (not surprisingly) does not take the news of his son’s suicide well. Danny’s death occurs right before the summer, the last summer Jack was to spend with his son, who planned to get a job the following summer after turning sixteen. Like any grieving parent, Jack seeks to understand his son’s death, coming close to madness in the process.

Jack spends his summer entombed in his home, sorting through old photos and objects, trying to remember the myriad experiences which might have contributed to Danny’s suicide. Was it his own fault for not spending enough time with him during the end-of-the-year crunch every teacher faces in May? Was it his own fault for being a single father? Was it Anne’s fault for abandoning her son ten years before to be an artist? And how on earth will Jack ever endure this crushing loss?

Saul recounts Jack’s mental state with the clarity that only one in that situation could understand. At times such close scrutiny becomes a bit stifling, and some passages could have been condensed or omitted altogether. The end of the novel is so gripping that one could do without some of the (at times repetitious) examination found before it.

As Jack comes closer to the truth behind Danny’s death, the question regarding honesty or loyalty is repeated in Jack’s mind. By the end of the book, it becomes clear that both Danny and Saul would choose honesty. Ironically, such an answer vindicates Anna in her decision to abandon her family, choosing to remain true to herself over loyalty to her family. Of course, what then of Jack’s decision at the end of the novel?

There are no easy answers here.

In a nutshell: Thought-provoking but could have been condensed a bit in places, Light of Day is an excellent debut from a promising author.

Bibliolatry Scale: 4.5 out of 6 stars

Monday, July 16, 2007

The lemon meringue of plague fiction

Year of Wonders
Geraldine Brooks

Because Year of Wonders received so much attention and was so highly acclaimed by some reviewers, I approached it with the trepidation usually reserved for such “vividly imagined and strangely consoling tales” (as praised by O, The Oprah Magazine).

Let me say right off the bat that there is much in the novel that doesn’t make any historical sense and many scenes veer dangerously into utter silliness (especially the closer one comes to the end). Anyone who wants a serious account of the plague that ravaged Europe should probably stay away from this book. And yet, I must admit that I enjoyed it; at about 300 pages, I read Year of Wonders in a day and didn’t notice the hours slipping by. I don’t feel compelled to read anything else by Geraldine Brooks, but this book helped me pass an enjoyable Saturday afternoon, and that deserves a smile and nod at the very least.

Year of Wonders describes one town’s encounter with the bubonic plague. As it becomes clear that plague is beginning to pick off family and friends, those who have not yet fallen ill must decide whether to remain or flee. Fleeing is a dubious prospect at best – there is little hope that they will be accepted in another village once a plague outbreak has become known. And yet what of the decision to stay behind? For most it means almost certain death. The villagers ultimately decide to quarantine themselves to protect others from the dreaded disease. (This situation is historical fact, as the novel is based on the events which occurred in the village of Eyam during the seventeenth century.) Of course, Brooks fictionalizes things a bit -- and that's where things get a little ... hairy.

Year of Wonders strives to emulate Camus’ Plague, as those who remain behind must face their own worst fears, and in doing so must choose to act morally or not. Some steep themselves in drink, lust, and even witchcraft; others toil for the good of all, regardless of the risk to themselves; still others seek to appease the vengeance of a wrathful god.

whipeth it goode

Year of Wonders, unfortunately, does not meet the standard set by Camus in 1947, for in reading Camus one doesn't think, "Well now that's the silliest shit I've read in awhile." The reader is likely to think this about Year of Wonders, especially because the heroine is simply too modern for her time. For her part, the narrator, Anna Frith, is a heroine right out of Camus (nevermind, of course, that his philosophy would never have occurred to a woman of Anna's standing in the seventeenth century). Her family is one of the first victims of the plague, and despite having lost everything, she does not give in to despair.

Anna is the maid for the town’s reverend, Michael Mompellion, and even though she is a servant Mrs. Mompellion befriends her and even teaches her to read. Anna is quite ahead of her time (almost absurdly so), for she is intelligent, frowns upon both the superstitious and superreligious, and is capable of doing and learning much that a peasant woman would not have been (like Latin, midwifing, herbology, mining, horse taming and more ... all in less than a year).

Some reviewers have seen Anna’s personality as the central flaw of the book; it’s as though Anna is a twenty-first-century woman forced to endure a seventeenth-century plague outbreak. I, however, didn’t really notice this problem during my reading. I was more discouraged by the end of the novel, when (and I won’t spoil anything here) there are a few scenes of passionate sex that really didn’t fit either the tone or the events of the preceding 280 pages.

The novel contains other flaws, most of them involving what seems to be a poor understanding of the seventeenth-century mindset. I'm not trashing Year of Wonders, however, since it was a quick, interesting read that helped pass a hot Saturday, but it is not something that I’d read a second time, nor am I likely to seek more by this author.

In a nutshell: Light and fluffy, Year of Wonders is the lemon meringue of plague fiction. If you want something of more solid substance, stick with Camus.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

Friday, July 13, 2007

A post for other paraskavedekatriaphiles

Everything's Eventual
Stephen King

I love when Friday the 13th comes around. I guess that makes me a paraskavedekatriaphile. In theory. You'd think that the day (or at least the night) would feature lots of Friday-the-13th-type movies. You think they'd at least play Friday the 13th, Part I, but in recent memory they haven't played a single scary movie in the past few Friday the 13ths. It's really annoying.

I have EIGHT HUNDRED channels and yet I STILL cannot find a single good movie on Friday the 13th.

So let's read instead. I thought a little Stephen King in honor of Friday the 13th might be nice.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Now I have an admission: I'm a King fan who doesn't often read his books. I read the Dark Tower books, which I loved. But for some reason I haven't read much of his other stuff, whether because I've already seen the movie, or because it didn't get a good review, or simply because I'm too busy reading other stuff. Everything's Eventual, however, has been brought to my attention because of the success of 1408, a movie I haven't seen and probably won't see for at least a year despite my furious desire to see it.

Why? I rarely go to the movies. I can't be penned in such a small space with so many strangers. I just can't do it. For this reason, I've been to a movie theater three times in as many years, to see The Village, 300, and most recently, Transformers (which I didn't even see the end of; I had to leave just before the big showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron. Long story.)

gee, I wonder who won?

Since I've obviously used up my yearly theater quota, it's clear I won't be seeing 1408 any time soon. Better get the book.

Everything's Eventual has been slammed on Amazon, and I'm not quite sure why. No one buys Stephen King expecting Shakespeare. And while it's true that not all of the stories in the collection are awesome, there is enough for anyone who enjoys a spooky tale to enjoy.

First, let me clarify that most of these stories have appeared in one form or another before (another gripe on Amazon was that these stories were not "new" to readers). Consider yourselves warned if this is a problem for you. For example "Riding the Bullet" was previously published as an e-book and a few stories were previously published in The New Yorker (unfortunately not during my tenure as a subscriber). These stories were new to me, so I'm a happy duck as far as that goes.

To briefly recap a few of the 14 stories contained herein: "The Little Sisters of Eluria" returns to the adventures of The Dark Tower's Roland Deschain and explains another bit of the history of this character (although you can enjoy the story without being a DT fan). "Autopsy Room Four" recounts one man's terrifying experience of being dead to the world, even though he is most certainly still alive. "All that You Love will be Carried Away" is the story of a man planning to commit suicide. As most people know, "1408" is a story about a haunted hotel room. Sure, he already wrote The Shining; does that diminish the quality of the story?

Many people seem to think so, as the most common problem Amazon reviewers had with these stories is that they were not original. That may be true, but I'll say again: no one expects Shakespeare from King, they expect a good story, and a good story is exactly what King delivers here. There are only so many stories under the sun; repetition is bound to occur. Thankfully, there are clear differences between similar works like The Shining and "1408," and fans of chilling stories should find plenty to like here.

In a nutshell: Not King's best work, sure, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. Not all the stories deliver chills, but most will definitely entertain you one way or another.

Bibliolatry Scale: 4.5 out of 6 stars

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Another stupid quiz

I found this quiz via Dewey's blog. Lord knows I can't resist a quiz.

You're Les Miserables by Victor Hugo!

One of the best known people in your community, you have become something of a phenomenon. People have sung about you, danced in your honor, created all manner of art in your name. And yet your story is one of failure and despair, with a few brief exceptions. A hopeless romantic, you'll never stop hoping that more good will come from your failings than is ever possible. Beware detectives and prison guards bearing vendettas. Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

So true. It's almost as though the quiz-maker has seen into my very soul.

Odd that I'm a book I've never read. Actually, I do at least own it; it just stares at me morosely while newer books get read instead.

Oh well.

By the way, if you would like to sing about me, dance in my honor, or even create any manner of art in my name, please upload it to youtube so that my ego can grow to even more terrifying proportions.

Polished poo and a good story

You can expect a review later in the day, but first, a few bits o'randomness.

This seems like the biggest no-brainer ever. People read books to feel better? Um...duh. Now there's a name for it: bibliographic therapy. Whatever. A polished turd is still a turd, no matter what you call it.

There's nothing you can't find on the internet

And I don't disagree with the author's point, but really: do we need to be told that

People turn many places when they are confused or in some sort of turmoil. Many turn to reading material, fiction and nonfiction. This often is referred to as bibliographic therapy. This term means exactly as it sounds: the achievement, better understanding or closure to some conflict or trauma via the written word.

Oftentimes individuals participate in bibliographic therapy without even being aware. I believe it's one of the many reasons some people enjoy reading in the first place. Do you find a sad, sappy love story when a romance of your own doesn't work out? How many times do you find yourself checking out those self-help books? Think about how large those self-help sections are these days.

If they are paying people to point out the obvious, I'd like to suggest my writing an article on how hot it is today. Think someone will pay me to write about that?

Finally, although its fiction and poetry convinced me to enroll in a two-year subscription to The New Yorker, I've come to realize that I really don't care for most of the fiction and poetry found within its pages. Thankfully, I'll be receiving my final issue next week and so won't have to look at it anymore. I will miss the cartoons, though.

At any rate, Stuart Dybek's "If I Vanished" (found in the most recent issue) is an exception to this rule, and it's a story I plan to save and reread. It says much about viewing life through the lens of a work of art (in this case it's a movie, and not a very good one at that).

More importantly, it illustrates how love and loss are so intricately connected; for example, when thinking about a piece of classical music he hasn't heard in years, the narrator realizes "that sometimes one stops listening to a beloved masterpiece in order to continue to love it." Sometimes, the same can be said for a person.

Read "If I Vanished" here (it's free).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Anus rings and other fun words

I'm a logophile. I can't help it. I love words. It should come as no surprise, then, that I squealed with glee upon hearing Merriam-Webster has announced the nearly 100 neologisms that will make it into the 2007 edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Here's a sample (and their meanings) taken from the website; you can read the original article here.

My favorite? Agnolotti, simply because it's a diminutive of anus ring.

ummmm, butt pasta

AGNOLOTTI: pasta in the form of semicircular cases containing a filling (as of meat, cheese, or vegetables)

BOLLYWOOD: the motion-picture industry in India

CHAEBOL: a family-controlled industrial conglomerate in South Korea

CRUNK: a style of Southern rap music featuring repetitive chants and rapid dance rhythms

DVR: digital video recorder

FLEX-CUFF: a plastic strip that can be fastened as a restraint around a person's wrists or ankles

GINORMOUS: extremely large

GRAY LITERATURE: written material (as a report) that is not published commercially or is not generally accessible

HARDSCAPE: structures (as fountains, benches, or gazebos) that are incorporated into a landscape

IED: improvised explosive device

MICROGREEN: a shoot of a standard salad plant (as celery or arugula)

NOCEBO: harmless substance that when taken by a patient is associated with harmful effects due to negative expectations or the psychological condition of the patient


PERFECT STORM: a critical or disastrous situation created by a powerful concurrence of factors

RPG: a computer language that generates programs from the user's specifications especially to produce business reports

SMACKDOWN: (1) the act of knocking down or bringing down an opponent; (2) a contest in entertainment wrestling; (3) a decisive defeat; (4) a confrontation between rivals or competitors

SNOWBOARDCROSS: a snowboard race that includes jumps and turns

SPEED DATING: an event at which each participant converses individually with all the prospective partners for a few minutes in order to select those with whom dates are desired

SUDOKU: a puzzle in which several numbers are to be filled into a 9x9 grid of squares so that every row, every column, and every 3x3 box contains the numbers 1 through 9

TELENOVELA: a soap opera produced in and televised in or from many Latin-American countries

VIEWSHED: the natural environment that is visible from one or more viewing points

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Charles Ives: "Awards are merely the badges of mediocrity."

The Telegraph has published an interesting article about Nobel Prize winners. You may read the entire article here, but I've included some more interesting bits below.

But there is something perverse about a literature prize that bestowed the laurel crown on the brows of John Galsworthy and Pearl Buck, leaving many more illustrious writers unacknowledged.

In our own day, no doubt Toni Morrison and Seamus Heaney have their fans, but I would be extremely surprised if, in 100 years' time, anyone rated their work.

Then there are the figures such as Churchill and Bertrand Russell who, however worthy of commemoration for excellence of one kind or another, would not, from an all-English panel of judges, have been given a prize for literature.

And how do you account for Elias Canetti getting the prize? A fascinating writer by any standards, but his one novel, The Blinding (or Auto da Fe) is a failure; his reputation stands on three or four volumes of memoirs which, though completely brilliant, hardly place him in the league of Rousseau or St Augustine.

What puts us off the Nobel laureates, perhaps, is the sense that the panel, at any one juncture, has been swayed by non-literary criteria.

I do agree with the author (A. N. Wilson), to a certain extent. Obviously singling out one person a year for excellence in literature leaves a lot of talent ignored. But, like many awards (the Oscar for Best Actor comes to mind), a recipient is recognized for a myriad of factors, not solely for one specific work. In the case of the Nobel Prize, an entire career is honored. A quick check on Wikipedia informs us that Arthur Nobel stated the literature prize should be awarded to one who demonstrates "most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency" although more recently the award is given to one who demonstrates lasting literary merit.

Literary merit, then, is quite subjective and says nothing about nixing a writer (like Churchill, say) whose laurels rest on nonfiction. At any rate, Wiki reports that Churchill won due to "his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values." Perhaps the latter part of that statement is not so literary-based, but the former is.

I'll leave it up to you; I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Here is a list of Nobel Laureates, and while I agree with the author on a few of them, the majority seem to deserve the prize. Who could argue with (in addition to the author's choice of Yeats and Eliot) Hesse, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, Steinbeck, Beckett, Bellow, Marquez, and Szymborska? Surely they do have lasting literary merit beyond whatever social concerns were pressing at the time of their win.

But maybe you disagree. Which authors have been basely ignored (I'd say Nabokov right off the bat) and which have been undeservedly praised? What do you think about the merits of the Nobel Prize for Literature? Is it a grand institution, or is any award, as Charles Ives suggests, a "badge of mediocrity"? (For the record, I disagree with Ives, but I sure do love making him the title of this post.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Reality’s always better when it’s made up

Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen

Catherine Morland is a girl after my own heart. She loves a good novel, especially a good Gothic romance. Unfortunately, her propensity for such literature colors her perception of reality, adding an overactive imagination to an existing naiveté. Because she so wishes to see herself the heroine of a great Gothic romance, she often finds conspiracies where there are none and frequently misreads people’s motivations.

But we can’t really blame her. How many times do people view life through the lens of their favorite songs, television shows, and movies? Hopefully readers of Bibliolatry are more influenced by their favorite books, but as Jane Austen proves, doing so is hardly preferable.

It all begins when Catherine Morland is invited to vacation with family friends. An innocent seventeen-year-old girl, Catherine is often at a loss in Bath and frequently misreads the social situations in which she finds herself. She immediately falls in love with Henry Tilney but remains unsure as to his feelings for her. Soon, however, she befriends his sister as well – their happy friendship culminates in her visit to the family estate, Northanger Abbey.

A real abbey! To say Catherine is excited at such a prospect would be an understatement. She views such an excursion as an opportunity to experience a real Gothic setting. Catherine wants nothing more than to explore the old abbey and discover its secrets. But what secrets does it hide, if any? Is there a great mystery lurking at the heart of Northanger Abbey, or is Catherine simply confusing fiction with reality? What about Mr. Henry Tilney – does he truly love her, or is she simply romanticizing a rather mundane friendship? And what will become of the silly girl who sees secrets, plots, and omens everywhere she turns?

Of course, an Austen novel would not be an Austen novel if it lacked her famous social commentary, which is thankfully not lost here. But while Austen criticizes the social hypocrisy and false flattery that ran so rampant back then (as it still often does today), one might say the social commentary takes a backseat to Austen’s critique of the Gothic genre.

To put it simply, Northanger Abbey is a novel for those who love novels, especially Gothic ones, and even though I’ve already set two summer challenges for myself one involving poetry and one involving my bought-but-ignored books, reading Northanger Abbey has inspired me to add yet one more challenge.

I hereby declare that the summer of 2007 will also be known as The Gothic Summer. Even though I’ve labeled several modern works as Gothic (check out the Gothic Lit label to the right if you’re interested), I’ve only reviewed three truly classic Gothic Lit novels: The Monk, The Woman in White, and The Castle of Otranto. Before the end of the summer I also plan to add The Italian and The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe as well as The Necromancer by Peter Teuthold.

If I’m missing a great read which you feel should be added to my Gothic Lit Challenge, please leave a comment and let me know. Hopefully I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew with all these challenges I’m setting for myself. Oh well. Thankfully failure is always an option.

Don't ask me; Rummy appeared when I did a GIS on "failure is an option."
There's a joke here, but you go ahead instead.

In a nutshell: Fast, fun, and funny, with a few spooks thrown in along the way. A must for Austen fans, Gothic lit fans, and just plain "good-book" fans.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars

Friday, July 06, 2007

The first-ever psychic interview?

Eeeee Eee Eeee
Tao Lin

So late last night, I’m dead asleep when I feel a tapping on my forehead. Did the roof spring a leak? I wonder groggily. Nope, it’s clear as soon as I open my eyes that nothing near me has caused the rapping on my head. Musta been a dream. I shut my eyes again.

Seconds later: tap, tap, tap.

“What the hell?” I ask no one. My sleeping puppy looks at me sadly, awakened for no reason.

Ssh, a voice in my head whispers. Stop talking. I’m in your head.

“Who the hell are you?”

Ssh, I said. I can hear you think. You don’t have to talk. I’m Tao Lin. You read my book a few weeks ago. I can’t help but wonder: what’s up with the review? It’s been awhile.

Oh shit. Um...no it hasn’t...I’m backlogged. Good lord, who let this guy in? Methinks Club Bib needs a new bouncer.

Yeah, sure. If saying so’ll help you feel better, then go for it. Tao Lin sounds angry.

I decide honesty is the best policy. Fine, look. I just didn’t know what to say about it. Quite frankly, it confused me. And I’m not really sure I liked it. There, I’ve said it.

That’s what I thought. Shall we discuss it? Why don’t you interview me? I’m a very interesting person.

Um, okay, although I have to say this is quite unconventional. Do you enter every reader’s brain in this way?

No, just yours. Now I think you should switch to the more traditional interview format so you can dispense with those annoying html tags.

BIBLIO: Thanks. All those tags were highly annoying.

TL: I’m sure. Now let’s talk about me and my Eeeee Eee Eeee, shall we?

BIBLIO: If we have to. To be quite honest, I found it really disturbing. It just didn’t sit right with me.

TL: Good. That’s what I wanted. I think, since I’m really an extension of your psyche and not the actual Tao Lin. Anyway, what about my book made you feel this way?

BIBLIO: Well, it just seemed so aimless, so pointless. I guess you were illustrating the character’s own sense of isolation and depression, but when I read it I just felt...vacant.

TL: Vacant?

BIBLIO: Empty.

TL: Huh.

BIBLIO: Yeah. Nothing happened. Andrew just drives around and feels depressed. And thinks about going on killing rampages. And what’s up with the animals?

TL: The animals?

BIBLIO: Yeah, the talking dolphin, hamster, etc. And why do you hate Elijah Wood so much?

TL: Who said I hate Elijah Wood?

BIBLIO: Well in your book you kill him. More than once. And Salman Rushdie. Speaking of which, would you like to bet on who the next ex-Mrs. Rushdie will be?

TL: Don’t you think that’s kinda juvenile?

BIBLIO: This from the man who added talking dolphins to his book.

TL: Touche. Fine, I’m gonna go with Ann Coulter.

BIBLIO: I knew it! Why do you bash Wood and Rushdie and leave psychos like Ann Coulter unscathed? Ann Coulter lover!

TL: I think you’re taking this all a bit too literally.

BIBLIO: You make me want to go on a killing rampage.

TL: Now you’re getting it! Aren’t you feeling the boredom, the angst, the rage of your generation?

BIBLIO: Yeah, thanks for pointing that out.

TL: I’m getting bored with you. Entertain me.

BIBLIO: Eeeee Eee Eeee.

TL: Now you’re being lazy.

BIBLIO: What’s the point?

TL: Exactly.

In a nutshell: Not an uplifting read, Eeeee Eee Eeee will give you much to think about. Tao Lin is definitely someone to watch.

TL: Wait, before you go you really should mention my blog.

BIBLIO: Yeah, yeah.

TL: Don’t act like you don’t visit. I’ve seen your ISP on sitemeter.

BIBLIO: Go ef yourself.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

Monday, July 02, 2007

Breaking News

Salman Rushdie is a pimp.

Reuters is reporting that Rushdie and his wife (Padma Lakshmi, pictured with the author below) are getting divorced. Lakshmi is his soon-to-be fourth ex wife, and while Reuters says they are divorcing "because of her desire to end their marriage," I think it's because she's hitting the wall. A true playa knows when to move on.

With that in mind, I present to you the following poll adventure:

Summer Poetry Quest, Part II: Here, Bullet

Here, Bullet
Brian Turner

For the record, I don’t like the preachy. Are you a preacher? No? Then hush, child. I realize that many people either too dumb or too lazy to form their own opinions may benefit from those screaming masses who proudly wear their beliefs like a badge of honor, but I am not one of those. I can form my own opinions, thank you.

My biggest beef? The bumper sticker. There should be a law which limits their application to one FUNNY sticker only. People who use their cars as their own personal billboards to advertise their myriad beliefs on everything from religion and politics to food and music should be forced to clean every car in a 10-mile radius, just like the gum-chewing child who has to scrape all the desks in his class as punishment. Really: has anyone EVER said, Gee, if it weren’t for that bumper sticker I’d never have changed my ways. Thank goodness for that well placed PETA sticker -- it surely opened my eyes! Consider my conversion complete! I don’t think so. At least I hope not. Dear lord.

ok well this one made me giggle

Of course, it is a bit more forgivable for a book to be preachy. When you buy an author’s work, you buy all that he has to give, opinions and all. Still, it’s always best for an author to present the facts, to show the nature of reality objectively and allow the reader to form his own opinion. Thankfully, Brian Turner’s poetry (the second stop on this runaway train that is the Summer Poetry Quest) does just that.

Turner’s Here, Bullet is a collection I’ve been meaning to read since its publication in 2005, when it made a splash due to its subject matter and, if I may be so bold, beauty. Here, Bullet has won several awards since it debuted, beginning with the Beatrice Hawley Award. This collection, however, doesn’t need awards to heighten its visibility; despite the fact that a poetry collection rarely garners major discussion outside of literary circles, the subject matter is important since it describes one soldier’s experiences in Iraq. As a team leader in the US Army, Turner spent a year there and he describes the people, situations, and images on both sides of the cultural and military divide. He avoids taking a clear stand on the war but instead lets his poems speak for themselves, allowing one to form his own conclusions.

I thoroughly enjoyed every poem in the collection – a rarity. I cannot understand why Publishers Weekly panned Turner's poetry when they wrote, “The verse in this book is not good, but it is, in a cultural moment that includes Cindy Sheehan, timely.” Wait, do they mean the poetry is not good? As in bad? Did they read the same Here, Bullet? Although this is no indication of his talent, Turner is educated in his field, having earned an M.F.A. from the University of Oregon, but I maintain, however, that not only is Turner talented, he is able to bring beauty to such a sad and grim topic. Consider this segment from “6 Iraqi Policeman,” which describes the aftermath of a bombing (it is never made clear on which side the bombers belong).

The shocking blood of the men
forms an obscene art: a moustache, alone
on a sidewalk, a blistered hand’s gold ring
still shining, while a medic, Doc Lopez,
pauses to catch his breath, to blow it out
hard, so he might cup the left side of a girl’s face
in one hand, gently, before bandaging
the half gone missing.

While reading Here, Bullet, I diligently underlined selections I wanted to share in my review. Unfortunately, by the time I had finished, I had so many that I'd have nearly no review were I to include them all. There were simply too many lines, too many images, too many entire poems I'd like to quote. Instead, I'll finish with an example of Turner's ability to imbue a scene -- even one involving senseless death, as in so many of his poems -- with a certain ethereal beauty. This selection is taken from “Hwy 1” in which he describes the shooting of a crane:

Cranes roost atop power lines in enormous
bowl-shaped nests of sticks and twigs,
and when a sergeant shoots one from the highway
it pauses, as if amazed that death has found it
here, at 7 a.m. on such a beautiful morning,
before pitching over the side and falling
in a slow unraveling of feathers and wings.

In a nutshell: Excellent poetry that is both relevant and first-rate; poetry fans must not let Here, Bullet pass them by. I feel as though I'm doing him a disservice by not including more snippets of his work, but it really is best to read the poems in their entirety.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars