Thursday, October 30, 2008

Weekly Geeks #22 - Archiving

All right, all right. I know I teased everybody about my stay in the book blogger leper colony (okay, it took me more than three tries to spell colony - argh), but I'm afraid you'll have to wait just a few days more because despite being "demoted" at work, I've managed to fill up this whole week with a ridiculous amount of extracurriculars that have kept me away from the computer. I am also alternating between mild depression about the state of my life and, um, going about seeming completely unhinged. This is an unhinged night. Maybe not the best time to be writing a book review? It would either be really depressing or slightly insane, no?

I am, however, going to explore the archives of some Weekly Geeks as per Dewey's challenge for this week. Because, really, we all know how I need some more blogs in my feed reader that I desperately want to read but probably ultimately won't (or will very sporadically) what with my great dependability when it comes to bloghopping. But hey, this was fun anyway. It's always fun to get out and see who's new or uh, new to you.

Right, so Dewey asked us to journey out into the blogosphere, pick three Weekly Geeks, and comb through their archives in search of a post to spotlight. I tried to pick three that were pretty new to me, you know, so I could further burden my feed reader. So here it goes.

First, I paid a visit to Ali over at Worducopia. Onto my feed reader she has gone, which is pretty good, because I'm trying to be discriminating. Just like I am with free books. And free food. Maybe I should stop talking now. Anyhow, I enjoyed her post about what makes a memoir worth reading, especially given my unusual penchant for memoirs this year. Also, the post about the somewhat serendipitous discovery of a kids' author event at her local book store complete with free chocolate milk of all things, is pretty entertaining, too.

Up next is Joanne over at Book Zombie who ended up in my Google Reader not too awful long ago. Now, first of all, who doesn't love the name "Book Zombie"? (Disclaimer: The following comments are the loony observations of the author and the author only. They are not intended to reflect on Book Zombie and are merely the insane ramblings of yours truly). I equate book zombie-ness (or is it zombie-dom?) with how I feel after I've been luxuriating with a book all day and I finally put it down to do other things. I always feel a tad out there and otherwordly for awhile and a little like I walk around with arms outstretched, grunting creepily (say - I think I saw some book zombies at the end of the Read-a-thon, now that I think about it). I kind of enjoy being a book zombie but can see how it might frighten other people. And again, someone please stop me - I've gone on too long. I don't think this exercise was intended as an exercise in "stream of consciousness" writing, and yet, it is. Joanne's blog is pretty and she writes some very spiffy reviews like, for example, this one or, maybe, that one.

Then I bumbled on over to see Shelf Elf where I could indulge a bit in my thing for YA fiction of which she reviews much. I have to be honest, first I got distracted (because what am I if not distractable? Is that a word?) by the post with the link to the Peanuts Character Test because I was watching the Great Pumpkin Halloween special the other night. I was Sally - in case you were wondering. Then I got distracted and clicked over to the free rice vocab game thing where I screwed up the answer for "auspicious" not once but twice. 700 grains of rice later I returned to the task at hand. There's some sentiments about ARCs I can sure appreciate, and how about those microwavable bunny slippers?

Okay, well, that's done. Wanna read some other Weekly Geeks who are doing this? Ones who are perhaps feeling a little bit less unhinged than I am tonight?


Callista and Suey get brownie points because they "did" me. Hi, ladies, thanks for stopping by!

And, if you're uh, tired of me (No! It can't be!), you could go visit Rachel and Jessica for some totally Leafing Through Life-free bloghopping.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wherein I Rant About Life and Perhaps Even Talk About a Book

It's been a long week. I'm wishing I could get a new job again, but I don't know where or if that's even a possibility given the economy of late. I just finished subbing in full time for a girl who just had a baby in a different part of my department. Nobody really thought she would come back to work - I don't think she even thought she would come back, but come back she did, so now I'm really out of a job that I legitimately liked and sent back to a job that, for the most part, is just something to get through to get my paycheck. Not only that, but after I'd done my best work, better than most even, my boss saw fit to remind me that I'm only "part time" (except for when, on a whim, he feels like he needs me to be full time) and take 20 hours per pay period out of my schedule. It was pretty much like being demoted when you've been doing better than good work, better work than many full-timers around you who don't seem to appreciate their good fortune in having a full-time job. It doesn't really give one much of an incentive to be a very good employee. Is it a total oxymoron to say that someday I'll find a job where my boss actually appreciates what I do? Or is that one of my naive, youthful beliefs that I'd do better to be disabused of as soon as possible? Either way, it's been pretty much a bummer of a week, and I haven't felt like doing much of anything (which may also explain why I punked out on that Weekly Geeks first line list - thanks to those of you who helped me - but I just kind of got bored and wandered off to look at shiny things). Well, the good news (if you choose to take it as such...) is that you may well be seeing more of me around here which could lead to more blog posts, more book reviews, more comments, and more responding to comments (which I have been sadly lacking in lately). The bad news is, well, I'll probably be resenting the extra time instead of embracing it for awhile because of my natural propensity to spend undue amounts of time obsessing over stupid crap that I'm pretty much powerless to change.

Luckily, I went out for dinner and a movie with some friends last night and it kind of shook me loose from my funk. So now, I'm semi-enjoying a stormy, crummy day by vegging out in front of the computer and with some books. I was out of town visiting with my old college roommates last weekend, so yet again, I missed the Read-a-thon. One of these times I'm really going to be able to get it into my schedule....I hope. But, I'll at least get back some of that reading time today because it seems the perfect day to engage in the doing of nothing productive whatsoever.

I've also been diligently attempting to switch from Bloglines to Google Reader. Yes, I'm finally taking the plunge. I finally got just fed up enough with Bloglines' perpetual malfunctioning when I realized I was missing posts from some of my favorite bloggers because it up and decided to just stop collecting them for no apparent reason and with no indication of its failure to do so until I thought, "hey, I haven't heard from so-and-so lately" who had actually, it turns out, been posting with some regularity. As with everything I do, I had to make it into a project and make sure I only brought along the blogs that I really think that I'm going to read on a regular basis, as opposed to bringing along all the blogs that I let their posts pile up and then mark them all as read without ever taking the time to look at them. Alas, only a few have failed to make the cut so I'm sure Google Reader is going to fill up with unread posts just as quickly as Bloglines did.

Sooo, now that you've been apprised of all the mild misfortune of my daily life, maybe I'd better actually talk about a book (because I do that sometimes...really). Being down and unmotivated all week, actually made it a great week for me to do something I don't usually do - read a novel that is absolute, total brain candy.

Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn by Sarah Miller (not to be confused with the uh...other Sarah Miller) is the story of Gideon's first year at prestigious and pretentious Connecticut prep school Midvale Academy as told by a female student there who has somehow managed to enter into Gideon's thoughts. The identity of the narrator is kept under wraps until the very end providing just the tiniest bit of suspense as we follow Gideon through his first year. It just so happens that in his first year at Midvale, the hapless Gideon ends up rooming with two big men on campus, good-looking, womanizing, pot-smoking Cullen McKay and quirky, vegetarian, also good-looking Nicholas Westerbeck. The two, upon finding that Gideon's virginity, despite one near miss, is very much intact make a bet as to whether Gideon will be able to get Molly McGarry, a girl within his "range," to go to bed with him by Halloween. Unfortunately, Gideon is distracted from his pursuit of Molly by the stunningly beautiful and far outside his reach Pilar Benitez-Jones who seems to be more into him than he could have ever expected. Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn is a fun romp as the more or less innocent Gideon gets sucked into Midvale's bizarre prep school culture where he learns its ins and outs and what makes its shallow students tick all while trying to bed preternaturally beautiful girls in part to win the friendship and respect of his slightly twisted roommates. It's not going to broaden your mind or increase your understanding, unless you happen to be wondering what sort of environment spawned those twisted bunch of frat boys at your private college which served as a haven for those who went to New England private school but couldn't hack the Ivy League. You know, the ones who would don their khakis and pastel shirts and golf across campus while in varying states of intoxication. Oh, what? That's just me? Anyhow, the book was fun. Read it for its escapism factor.

That's all I've got for today, but stay tuned for more on my stay in the book blogger leper compound where all the book bloggers who fail to be impressed by the books that the rest of book bloggers loved must lurk, wondering what it is they missed about that book that made everyone else love it so much.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

We Have a Winner

Congratulations Lexi!

You won the autographed copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin. Lexi, if you see this - please send your address to me at toadacious1 at yahoo dot com so I can arrange for the book to be sent your way!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Weekly Geeks #21 - First Lines

Dewey's got a fun Weekly Geeks game for us this week. We've got these 100 first lines from books and the goal is to identify the titles and authors of all 100, but we're not allowed to Google them. We have to know them, get them from other Weekly Geeks, or from our readers. So here are the ones I've got. If you know any of the many I'm missing - please share! I promise to give you credit - but hey - no giving me wrong answers (you *can* Google to double check). ;-) If nothing else, it was fun just seeing how many I could get!

1. Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick by Herman Melville)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

3. A screaming comes across the sky.

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. (One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. (Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov)

6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy)

7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

10. I am an invisible man. (Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison)

11. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.

12. You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)

13. Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. (The Trial by Franz Kafka)

14. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. (If On a Winter's Night, a Traveler by Italo Calvino)

15. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

16. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. (Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger)

17. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

18. This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

19. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me.

20. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. (David Copperfield by Charles Dickens)

21. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

22. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

23. One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary.

24. It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

25. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. (The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner)

26. 124 was spiteful.

27. Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. (Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes)

28. Mother died today.

29. Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. (Waiting by Ha Jin)

30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

31. I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. (Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky)

32. Where now? Who now? When now?

33. Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”

34. In a sense, I am Jacob Horner.

35. It was like so, but wasn’t.

36. —Money . . . in a voice that rustled.

37. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. (Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf)

38. All this happened, more or less.

39. They shoot the white girl first.

40. For a long time, I went to bed early.

41. The moment one learns English, complications set in.

42. Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.

43. I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane;

44. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.

45. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

46. Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex’s admonition, against Allen’s angry assertion: another African amusement . . . anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa’s antipodal ant annexation.

47. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis)

48. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. (The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway)

49. It was the day my grandmother exploded.

50. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. (Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides)

51. Elmer Gantry was drunk.

52. We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.

53. It was a pleasure to burn. (Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury)

54. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

55. Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.

56. I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call’d me.

57. In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.

58. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. (Middlemarch by George Eliot)

59. It was love at first sight.

60. What if this young woman, who writes such bad poems, in competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings?

61. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.

62. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

63. The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.

64. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

65. You better not never tell nobody but God.

66. “To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.”

67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

68. Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden.

69. If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.

70. Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up.

71. Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.

72. When Dick Gibson was a little boy he was not Dick Gibson.

73. Hiram Clegg, together with his wife Emma and four friends of the faith from Randolph Junction, were summoned by the Spirit and Mrs. Clara Collins, widow of the beloved Nazarene preacher Ely Collins, to West Condon on the weekend of the eighteenth and nineteenth of April, there to await the End of the World.

74. She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably, and there were moments at which she showed herself, in the glass over the mantel, a face positively pale with the irritation that had brought her to the point of going away without sight of him.

75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

76. “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

77. He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.

78. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

79. On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.

80. Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.

81. Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.

82. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. (I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith)

83. “When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.” (Geek Love by Katherine Dunn)

84. In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point.

85. When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

86. It was just noon that Sunday morning when the sheriff reached the jail with Lucas Beauchamp though the whole town (the whole county too for that matter) had known since the night before that Lucas had killed a white man.

87. I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as “Claudius the Idiot,” or “That Claudius,” or “Claudius the Stammerer,” or “Clau-Clau-Claudius” or at best as “Poor Uncle Claudius,” am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the “golden predicament” from which I have never since become disentangled. (I, Claudius by Robert Graves)

88. Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.

89. I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.

90. The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.

91. I will tell you in a few words who I am: lover of the hummingbird that darts to the flower beyond the rotted sill where my feet are propped; lover of bright needlepoint and the bright stitching fingers of humorless old ladies bent to their sweet and infamous designs; lover of parasols made from the same puffy stuff as a young girl’s underdrawers; still lover of that small naval boat which somehow survived the distressing years of my life between her decks or in her pilothouse; and also lover of poor dear black Sonny, my mess boy, fellow victim and confidant, and of my wife and child. But most of all, lover of my harmless and sanguine self.

92. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

93. Psychics can see the color of time it’s blue.

94. In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.

95. Once upon a time two or three weeks ago, a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man decided to record for posterity, exactly as it happened, word by word and step by step, the story of another man for indeed what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal, a somewhat paranoiac fellow unmarried, unattached, and quite irresponsible, who had decided to lock himself in a room a furnished room with a private bath, cooking facilities, a bed, a table, and at least one chair, in New York City, for a year 365 days to be precise, to write the story of another person—a shy young man about of 19 years old—who, after the war the Second World War, had come to America the land of opportunities from France under the sponsorship of his uncle—a journalist, fluent in five languages—who himself had come to America from Europe Poland it seems, though this was not clearly established sometime during the war after a series of rather gruesome adventures, and who, at the end of the war, wrote to the father his cousin by marriage of the young man whom he considered as a nephew, curious to know if he the father and his family had survived the German occupation, and indeed was deeply saddened to learn, in a letter from the young man—a long and touching letter written in English, not by the young man, however, who did not know a damn word of English, but by a good friend of his who had studied English in school—that his parents both his father and mother and his two sisters one older and the other younger than he had been deported they were Jewish to a German concentration camp Auschwitz probably and never returned, no doubt having been exterminated deliberately X * X * X * X, and that, therefore, the young man who was now an orphan, a displaced person, who, during the war, had managed to escape deportation by working very hard on a farm in Southern France, would be happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to come to America that great country he had heard so much about and yet knew so little about to start a new life, possibly go to school, learn a trade, and become a good, loyal citizen.

96. Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.

97. He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

98. High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour.

99. They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.

100. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan

This book laughs at me whenever I try to sit down and write a review of it. I'm looking at its cover right now and it's snickering a little and saying, "You don't really have any idea what you're going to say about me, do you?" And I don't. A lot of people whose reviews I have encountered loved Songs for the Missing. I didn't, but I can't seem to peg the reason exactly why I didn't love it. I mean, I liked it, but then, it was just okay for me. Perhaps, despite their not having done so before, the reasons will become apparent as I write the review. Here's hoping.

In Songs for the Missing, Stewart O'Nan allows us only one stunningly ordinary chapter in the life of Kim Larsen before she vanishes without a trace. The one chapter is so barren of clues that we are left just as baffled as the family and friends left behind to dissect how Kim could have disappeared on that last seemingly ordinary day. O'Nan's story, however, is not about Kim. As a matter of fact, Songs for the Missing is not, though it might seem, even a book about finding Kim. Songs for the Missing is a picture of the ordinary people left behind when their daughter, their sister, their friend is just suddenly mysteriously gone.

Each character reacts in their own way to Kim's disappearance. Kim's mother, Fran, loses herself and perhaps even the spirit of her daughter in her incessant publicity campaign to continue the search for Kim. Kim's father, Ed, forsakes his job and even sometimes his family as he follows the action of the search, traveling to each new area where leads are discovered to hang flyers and look for himself, unable to return home and simply wait. Kim's sister, Lindsay, retreats in silence to her room where she takes refuge in books, e-mailing, and the family dog, none of which can replace the identity and future that she has been robbed of with the disappearance of her sister. Kim's boyfriend, J.P. and and her best friend, Nina, struggle with some shady what-if involving drugs and an ex-Marine, whose late discovery robs them of the right to even be involved in the search for Kim.

The reader is present for about three years during which there are some leads but no real news about Kim, and during which all the people she left behind are forced to consider how long is long enough to feel bereft and when, if ever, it is okay to feel okay again. Without any certain resolution, the characters exist in a purgatory where hope has gradually faded away to be replaced with a nothingness that forces them to re-create themselves in a world without Kim without ever knowing whether she is, indeed, dead, as many suspect or merely gone.

Songs for the Missing starts out a mystery and ends up as a penetrating character study of those who lost parts of themselves when they lost Kim. As such, O'Nan's writing shies away from the facts of the investigation in favor of probing the pysches of his characters. As a character study, Songs for the Missing is an undeniable success. Unfortunately, my own curiosity, efforts to pry loose some unnoticed detail that would prove the answer to the mystery, and desire to know the truth about what happened got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. Instead of wanting to know the characters left behind, my mind was focused on what happened to Kim. Because O'Nan skirts those details and offers up an ultimately unsatisfying conclusion to the investigation without ever probing the hows or the whys that keep Kim's fictional family up at night, I ultimately felt let down and as if I had missed something that, it turns out, wasn't there to start with. A certain mindset is called upon to appreciate this book, and I wasn't properly in it.

That said, O'Nan's writing is crisp and clean and beautifully grapples with the very human emotions faced by the characters in this uncertain situation. Having read Songs for the Missing, I'm certain it won't be the last of O'Nan's books that I will read. Then again, it probably won't be my favorite either.

My copy is an ARC. The book will be available for purchase (so says the back of the ARC) on November 3, 2008.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Matrimonial Giveaway

Serendipitously in conjunction with my 1 year blogiversary, Joshua Henkin has generously offered me a signed copy of his New York Times Notable book, Matrimony, which has recently been released in paperback, to give away here. While I've yet to read the copy of it waiting for me on my bookshelf, I've heard countless great things about Matrimony and I'm excited to have the opportunity to host this giveaway!

Book Description:

It's the fall of 1986, and Julian Wainwright, an aspiring writer, arrives at Graymont College in New England. Here he meets Carter Heinz, with whom he develops a strong but ambivalent friendship, and beautiful Mia Mendelsohn, with whom he falls in love. Spurred on by a family tragedy, Julian and Mia's love affair will carry them to graduation and beyond, taking them through several college towns, over the next fifteen years. Starting at the height of the Reagan era and ending in the new millennium, Matrimony is a stunning novel of love and friendship, money and ambition, desire and tensions of faith. It is a richly detailed portrait of what it means to share a life with someone-to do it when you're young, and to try to do it afresh on the brink of middle age.

A few of the many blogger reviews:

Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Literate Housewife Review
Devourer of Books
The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

If you're interested in winning Matrimony, just leave a comment on this post any time before midnight (EST) next Monday, October 13th. For a second entry, link to this post from your blog and let me know that you've linked it. Please make sure that your comment includes some way for me to get in touch with you if you win, whether it's your blog URL or an e-mail address.

It's my Blogiversary!

A brilliant thing has happened and I nearly missed it! As of today, October 6th, Leafing Through Life has lived for a year. I tell you, it sure doesn't feel like I've been blogging for a year, so I guess maybe it's true that time flies when you're having fun. It's been a great year. I've successfully reviewed almost all of the books that I've read since setting off on this endeavor. Actually, CJ, one of my first book bloggy friends tagged me for a meme that seems just built for a blogiversary post. The meme is simple - just list 5 ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.

1. Well, first, is the reason I started blogging in the first place. I graduated from college in 2006 and the year between then and when I began this blog, I realized how much I missed writing. Blogging has given me an outlet for my creative energies at the same time as it has made me a more thoughtful reader. As I read now, I find that I'm not simply being entertained but am really digging into what I read and coming out with larger themes and better understanding because of my concious effort to process what I read so I can write a good review.

2. This one always seems obvious to me, but it certainly must be said. The book blogging community is just awesome and getting to know each and every one of you I've had the privilege of interacting with has been a pleasure. It's great to find a group of people as passionate about books as all of you are, and I look forward to many more years of that!

3. This one falls more on the negative. I'd be hard pressed to describe myself as the most consistent blogger and even just popping in when I have time, I'm stunned at how much time blogging takes up. Between writing my own posts, keeping up with my feed reader, and leaving what few comments I'm able to on everyone's blogs, blogging really takes up a lot of time. I really respect those of you who seem to have time to work and/or take care of your families, read a dizzying amount of books beyond what I could ever hope to read in a year, and blog on a far more consistent basis than I do (not to mention your extensive commenting on others' blogs!).

4. Being a part of a community of bloggers has renewed my interest in reading a lot of books that before I might have sworn off. Eva with her enthusiasm for non-fiction definitely put it in my mind to reach for more non-fiction this year. Bloggers like Danielle have renewed my interest in reading literary classics. Nymeth could probably make me want to read the phone book, but other than that, her reviews of fantasy and fairy tales have inspired me to take a second look at those genres. Countless others have had a hand in making me want to try short stories again, seek out the best sci-fi, and even take up a mystery or two (which, by the way, I would never realize so many types of mysteries seem to exist were it not for my mystery-loving book blogger pals).

5. Last but not least, blogging has affected my be showing me that I can have an effect. This probably shouldn't have been as big of a surprise as it is. I guess a part of me thought, when I started this, that I'd just be blogging off in a special internet vacuum. I continue to be surprised when authors pop in my comments and in my e-mail box. I never realized that I could be such a positive (or negative) force for their books just by posting what reviews that I do or that the authors themselves would be interested my opinions as posted in my humble internet abode here. Stuff like that, and the impressive undertakings of other bloggers like Natasha have shown me what considerable effects bloggers can have for the publishing industry and even for the world at large. Who knew?

Thanks to everybody who has been a part of my first year of blogging. It wouldn't be near so much fun without you, nor would I have had the motivation to soldier on with it even when life got busier if it hadn't been for your company and your great examples to follow. With any luck, I hope there will be a good many more years of fruitful book blogging here!

Stay tuned for some more Blogiversary fun later today!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tops of 2008: Weekly Geeks 19 and 20

I missed the Weekly Geeks last week, but seeing as its so very closely intertwined with this week's "assignment" I figured it couldn't hurt to just lump them together. Last week, Dewey asked the Weekly Geeks to come up with lists of our favorite books published in 2008. Here's my list (and yes, it is in a particular order) with links to my reviews.

1. Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir
2. Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer
3. The Cactus Eaters by Dan White
4. Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion
5. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

So, that's mine. How about yours? That's right, Weekly Geeks #20 encourages us to encourage our readers, even those who aren't Weekly Geeks (oh, the horror!) to make their own lists of their favorite books from among those published this year. Should you do so, you'll make the ultimate goal, a list of the book blogosphere's top books of 2008 an even better representation of our collective opinions. So, please, make a list of your own and post it on your blog. When you do, leave the URL on the Mr. Linky for Week 19 and let your book bloggerly voice be heard, not to mention, be entered in another one of those spiffy Hachette box of books giveaways that Dewey always seems to have going on. Of course, you can (and probably should!) visit the post for all the finer details. Oh, and if you happened to actually hear about this for the first time here (what, you live in a cave? Cool!) and choose to make a list, please do let Dewey know that I sent you so I'll get more book blogging street cred another entry in the spiffy giveaway.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Uglies and stuff

Now, I'd nearly decided not to bother commenting on Scott Westerfeld's Uglies. I mean, hasn't everybody and their brother's cousin's best friend's second cousin talked about already? It was a decent read about a future in which at the age of 16 everyone undergoes an operation to become pretty which pretty much renders everyone almost the same, thus alleviating many of the problems that existed in "Rusty" (which I take to be our current) society stemming from differences in the way people looked. Tally Youngblood eagerly awaited the day when she would be transformed into a pretty, but her friendship with the runaway Shay, who decides that there are more important things than just looking the same as everyone else, stands in the way of Tally's future as a pretty. In the process of trying to find Shay in the Smoke, a community of runaway uglies who have rejected the opportunity to turn pretty, Tally learns some unexpected truths about the operation and just what it entails which cause her to think twice about her present and her future. Not a bad read, as a matter of fact, I thought the premise was quite insightful. The writing, however, seems to limit Uglies to just what it is, young adult fiction for, well, young adults. I guess I prefer my YA to be a bit more age-transcendant, which it often happens to be. For its target audience, this is a page-turning adventure story with a stimulating premise that ponders what happens when we exhaust our resources and corrupt our environment beyond its breaking point. For grown-ups who enjoy YA, I'd have to say that, while the story is engaging, I found the writing a bit on the shallow side. Ah, but I'm sure you could find a hundred others who disagree with my opinion.

Now, if you're wondering about my twisted reasoning behind pseudo-reviewing this book after all, I'd have to tell you it has to do very little with the book and a lot more with the piece Uglies author Scott Westerfeld wrote on YA for Obama which is anything but shallow. I saw the link to YA for Obama at Sarah Miller's blog (I think...) and have been finding many of the YA authors' blog posts on the coming presidential election and why they happen to have leanings toward voting for Obama to be very worth reading. I found Sarah Zarr's and Scott Westerfeld's to be particularly interesting, but I'm sure there's even more good stuff there if you happen to want to have a look around over there, and apparently there's even more good stuff yet to come. Maybe not all rock solid fact but valid in the insightful editorial sense.

Disclaimer: Uh-oh. I think I may have just tipped my political "hand," so to speak. It's not my intention to do a lot of politics-talking here, but it's hard to avoid mentioning it at all when it's such an important part of life here in the US of A these days. I'm kind of surprised I held out this long.