Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Take This Book and Get it Out of My House!

Sooo, it's come to my attention that I've been winning a lot of cool books from a lot of cool bloggers lately. This reminds me that A)I have no place to put more books B) I promised to host some sort of giveaway in those lengthy draggy months that stand between Christmas and springtime, and C) I've got a bunch of books that are duplicates or that both my mother and I have read that are ready to be cast off upon the unsuspecting public in one way or another. So, in this case, I'm hoping that my "trash" is your treasure and I can interest you in some books that need new homes, so that I can make space for the new (or even the old that I don't quite have space for...)!

First, the duplicates. I haven't read these, but I keep buying them.

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

Turning Angel by Greg Iles

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

And then the ones I've read and want to pass on...

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan - I wasn't terribly in love with this one as you might be able to tell from my review, but I know it made a lot of blogger "Best of" lists last year.

The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty - A book that I didn't think I liked upon finishing it but found myself thinking about long after, another one that a lot of people seem to like more than I did.

Even the Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou - An essay collection that had its moments.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer - That's right everybody, I'm giving away my paperback copy of Twilight. I wanted to buy the rest of the series, and it was cheaper to buy the box set of all four than to buy the last three individually, so if there's one person left out there that wants to read this book and hasn't, why here's your chance!

A Tranquil Star by Primo Levi - This is a nifty little book of largely satirical short stories, I guess you could say. Oh no, this means I've read more short stories than I thought, but I forgot about them! Here's my review.

The Nitty Gritty: All eight are used, some more gently than others, but all in totally readable condition. Songs for the Missing and The Rest of Her Life are ARCs. I register all my books on BookCrossing, so I can watch them travel. You certainly don't have to journal them if you don't want to (though I'd like it if you did!), but expect them to come with a BookCrossing label stuck inside the front cover. I'm willing to make the giveaway international, but will send a maximum of three of these books outside of the U.S., so there can be as many as three winners who don't live in my country. I want to give everybody a chance, but I don't want to spend more money getting rid of my books than I do acquiring them, so I'm thinking this seems like a fair trade-off.

To enter, leave me a comment here. Tell me which of the books you're interested in winning and leave me an e-mail address or some means of contacting you. You can enter for as many of the books as you please, but you'll only win one, unless, um, nobody wants my books in which case the rules might be bent ever-so-slightly. Please get your entry in by March 6th (yes, I've extended the deadline!), and I'll draw the winners over the weekend sometime. Also, please specify if you're in the U.S. or not to make it easier on me. I should have specified that from the start, but I kind of didn't - so if you're entered already, don't worry about it, but if you're reading this sentence, please do! ;-)

Okay, now take my books, mmmkay?

P.S. My giveaway told me that it wanted to play with all the other giveaways at the Book Giveaway Carnival, and I just couldn't say no since it's been such a good little giveaway.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Megan Vs. Short Story Round 1

Once upon a time not so very long ago, I decided I would like short stories. Not that I did like short stories, that I would like short stories. This is rather a bizarre decision because but for a few in high school that survived rigorous overanalyzation and still came out on top, I don't have much of a track record with the things. I either don't read them, or read them and don't understand or very much enjoy them. I get a brief peak into some situation or characters and it's not enough to answer all the questions burning in my mind, which is also startlingly ironic considering I don't have an inquiring mind at all. It's why I don't do author interviews. It's why I'm no good at keeping small talk going. It's probably why I do such a dismal job at interviewing for jobs. Questions just don't burn in my mind begging for answers. At least, not at the right times.

Nonetheless, I saw all the bloggers reading the short stories and loving them and figured I was missing out on some crucial reading experience (or, my childish mind at that moment whined, "I want to be like the cool kids!"). They were stories, they were short, other people liked them, and they make for an easy blog post for your local lit blogger, no? "What's not to like?" my easily rationalized mind asked, and so I set about acquiring them. I bought authors' collections of short stories. I stretched out my hand for an anthology or two. I won one in a blog contest. I grabbed a review copy of one. When I saw that my mom was being offered a great price, I even subscribed to a year of the New Yorker ("Oooh, cheap! And they have short stories!")...and then another. Having done all this, I think in the year and maybe a half that I've been blogging I have read a grand total of two, both compliments of the only two New Yorkers I've managed to read cover to cover, and it does demand to be read cover to cover, you know. The first was a selection by Louise Erdrich, of whose books I have read two. One which was excellent, one of my favorites, and one which left me oh so cold. The short story followed in the trail of the latter. I didn't understand it or think it had enough of a point to even make a blog post about it.

Now I've read this second one, and I didn't particularly like it either, but I do like to think that maybe I understood it. So, I thought, why not start a totally irregular blog feature wherein I duel with short stories (*ahem* comment on them and announce whether or not the story "beat" me or not)? You can expect to see this feature maybe twice in the next year if I keep up with my dismal track record. Keep in mind, of course, that my viewpoint may be slightly skewed considering the fact that there is no evidence on record to suggest that I might actually like any short story.

But anyway, the short story.

Having read the rest of the March 24, 2008 issue (yes, I know, almost a year old, Megan) complete with charming essay about getting a little too friendly with spiders by David Sedaris and a mildly intriguing story about a chef opening up a new restaurant, I found "The Region of Unlikeness" by Rivka Galchen whose debut novel is apparently forthcoming.

"...In Augustine's view, we live in what he calls the region of unlikeness, and what we're unlike is God. We are apart from God, who is pure being, who is himself, who is outside of time. And time is our tragedy, the substance we have to wade through as we try to move closer to God. Rivers flowing to the sea, a flame reaching upward, a bird homing: these movements represent objects yearning to be their true selves, to achieve their true states. For humans, the motion reflects the yearning for God, and everything we do through time comes from moving - or at least trying to move - toward God. So that we can be...our true selves. So there's a paradox there again, that we must submit to God - which feels deceptively like not being ourselves - in order to become ourselves..."

The story is about an unnamed female narrator who by chance (or is it?) happens upon a pair of men having an intellectually pompous discussion about Wuthering Heights in a coffee shop on the Upper West Side. Having thus encountered the two men, Jacob and Ilan, the narrator is drawn into their society despite her dislike for Jacob who is rather a boor (or is it bore?). Something like love develops between the narrator and Ilan, but then the latter disappears all of a sudden. Despite efforts to pin down Jacob, the narrator can't seem to get a straight answer out of him as to Ilan's whereabouts. As the narrator goes about trying to convince herself that she shouldn't need to find Ilan yet can't stop herself from wondering and looking, a sense of unreality prevails.

As it turns out, the narrator's relationship with the two men is more complex than she can imagine. I won't ruin the surprise, but it involves time travel, the grandfather paradox, and inescapable fate a la Oedipus. In other words, I'll admit that it was rather intriguing and thought-provoking, but as usual when it comes to my reading of short stories, even after thinking it through and arriving at what may actually be the "right" conclusion about the events that transpired in the story, I still feel like I very well might have missed something crucial and am thus left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.

So, then...

Short stories: 1, Megan: 0

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Canvey Island by James Runcie

All right, so here it is. The book that derailed my healthy reading pace and kept my January reading numbers firmly in "look at this and want to jump off a bridge" range. It came in the mail and it was all new and sparkly and it smelled good and it had a cover and pages that were thicker and more pleasing to the touch than your average ARC. Even those things would not normally be enough to divert me from my standard purposes, but then it started with this paragraph (and no, I haven't checked it against the completed work - sorry):

I know the fear of death is always with us but sometimes it can disappear for days. You don't think about it when your wife is coming to bed and she takes off her nightgown and you're excited by her nakedness even if you have been married a long time. You don't think about it when your child gives you a smile that you know is meant only for you or when the sea is dead calm and you're out fishing with no one to trouble you. You don't think about death, of course you don't, it never crosses your mind, but then back it comes, far too soon, telling you not to be so cocky, don't think this is going to last, mate, this is all the happiness you're going to get and you should be grateful I didn't come before.

Yeah, I know, right? It's a pretty good paragraph, so tantalizing in fact, that in a weak moment I cast aside my barely started copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a book that is apparently actually really good, in favor of James Runcie's Canvey Island freshly arrived after being awarded to me by Library Thing Early Reviewers in, I believe, November. Oh, but let's stem the tide of my mild bitterness and get on with the "real" review.

Canvey Island is, primarily, the story of Martin Turner, who, as a young boy, lost his mother to a deadly flood while his father and aunt were away dancing on the mainland. The moment his mother is in the ground, Martin's father and Aunt Violet become a little too close than seems decent. All of this, of course, leaves an indelible impression on young Martin who soon decides that his chief end in life will be to "stop water." Single-minded in the pursuit of this goal, Martin departs for Cambridge to study water engineering forsaking his girlfriend Linda, the only real love he has ever known since his mother passed. Afraid that loving someone so much will only lead to more heartache if she were ever lost to him and caught up in his ambitions for the future away from the island, Martin turns his back on Linda in favor of another girl who rivals his ambition in her own way. Claire is a rebellious vicar's daughter whose commitment to feminism, social change, and one especially notable peace camp rally trumps her commitment to Martin and their daughter Lucy. Each ceaselessly driven by their ever-elusive goals, the two drive each other away, and Martin ultimately finds himself back on Canvey Island, the very place that he was so desperate to leave behind, seeking the same things that eluded him even in the wider world.

For a guy who lost his mother at a tender young age only to find his father getting together with his shallow, somewhat irritating aunt, Martin was a remarkably unsympathetic character. The rather stiff, over-literary writing style peppered with moments of unrealistic overthinking on the parts of the narrators seems designed to prevent one's ever getting close to the characters but for a few unexpected moments, none of which take place in Martin's narration. All of these characters should be sympathetic. They've lost their sister, their wife, their mother. They don't understand their places in the world. They made decisions in war time that might have caused unnecessary death. Their husbands love other women much more than they love their wives. These are people living lives that are average but hard, lives that might easily speak to our own experiences, and in most other books their plights would speak to readers' hearts, but these narrators, for the most part, seem so very hollow.

Speaking of narration then, let's talk for a moment about narrators. Canvey Island has a bunch of them, around six, it seems, of varying importance and strikingly little differentiation in the voices. When done with flair and pizazz, multiple narrators can be great and give an amazing depth to characters and plot alike as in another "island" book Small Island by Andrea Levy. Unfortunately, though, it seems more often that authors undertaking to present the points of view of a vast array of narrators confuse readers and fail to even give one of them a unique and convincing voice. Such is the case with Canvey Island. Present are the points of view of Martin, his wife Claire, his lover Linda, his Uncle George, his Aunt Violet, and his father, Len. Their voices aren't ever especially different, and the narration appears to change for no apparent reason and to no apparent benefit. Cases in point are chapters when Runcie switches between Martin and say, Linda, midway through a conversation. You note, of course, that the beginning of the section is marked "Linda," but find that you're totally baffled at the accumulating "I saids" and "He saids" that pervade the mostly dialogue-based chapter in which the narrator is of little consequence anyway. To be quite frank, Martin and his family and his problems and total inability to ever be fulfilled by anything were, well, boring.

Canvey Island has an interesting premise, a beautiful cover, and just the sort of first paragraph that would scream "take me home" if you happened upon it while browsing bookstore shelves. Unfortunately, the story itself fails to live up to its great promise.

Okay, so, I realize this is probably one of the more ornery reviews I've written in quite some time, so if you happen to review this book more positively than I have (or even just as negatively as I have), do leave a link and I'll be happy to post it and give people a contrasting viewpoint to this, um, unhappy outpouring. Perhaps it's that I'm feeling particularly blunt this week which I'm a bit afraid is going to get me in trouble in more places than one... Anyhow, it looks like the jury's still out on this one with the public at large, but the folks from some British periodicals apparently quite liked it - though by and large their praise seems to include some variation on the theme of "understated" which is quite right, in my opinion, except for not in an especially good way.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

And then there were awards...

Wow have I been a crummy blogger (and reader) this week (too). Or wait, maybe this is just a return to my typical blogging practices after a much more impressive January. I have, at long last, finished another book, which despite my total lack of inspiration to review, I'll have to since it happens to be a Library Thing Early Reviewer book. This is what happens when you are swayed from your informal reading plan that is really working out quite well by a purely tantalizing paragraph of a newly arrived book...that turns out to be, well, kind of lame. But yes, more on this later. Rather than dwelling on what a dreadful blogger I am, how busy I've been, and how it's been much easier to put down my book than pick it up of late, I'm going to turn my attentions to gratitude and giving! Yay!

Really awesome bloggers have been giving me awards and I've left them in the lurch for far too long bereft of my lengthy acceptance speech (inevitably cut off by orchestra music before the commercial break) and the further giving of awards. Thanks for all the awards, ladies, not only does it make me feel all warm and fuzzy and accepted to get them, it also gives me something to write about on my blog during a week when I've pretty much got nothing. *orchestra music, commercial break while I take my parents out for dinner because they're whining - that's right my parents are whining at me to take them out for dinner, have the tables turned already?*

And now for the awards. I've got three...

The Blog Friends Award from Lexi

"These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

The Premio Dardos award from CJ

"The Dardos Award is in appreciation of the merits - culturally, literary and individually- of every blogger who expresses him/herself on his/her blog."

The Butterfly Award from Elizabeth.

Yet again, thanks!

Now, these come with all sorts of tagging rules and whatever, and I was going to be all organized and give certain awards to certain people. Instead I'm going to love and link totally at random in the spirit of the first Weekly Geeks post of the year that I totally missed (because I'm such a bad blogger, right?). So, if you aren't reading these blogs, you should be. If you own one of these blogs, feel free to take the award of your choice and pass it on at will, but if you don't I won't be offended. I'm also going to link some bloggers who may not have the faintest clue that I exist and heart them and then inevitably be too shy to go and say, "hey, I'm a creepy lurker who just gave you an award," so if you folks happen to notice and stop by, uh, hi, nice to meet you. Sorry if this list is a bit lengthy. I'm still leaving out a bunch of people whose blogs I read that I think are awesome which is ever the pitfall of giving out awards. I'll get you other nifty people on the next one - I mean, if someone ever gives me an award again, you know?

Really - on with it now....

Eva at A Striped Armchair because her blog not only entertains me and makes my wish list grow and grow....and grow, it makes me feel smarter for having read it.

Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot and Chris at Stuff as Dreams Are Made On for making me desperately want to read books that I would never think to pick up on my own if I were browsing in a bookstore.

Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty and Debi at Nothing of Importance for really showing who they are on their blogs, for their genuine reviews, and for their ever so regular presence here that is always so appreciated.

One right back at CJ at My Years of Reading Seriously for, and maybe this is a weird reason but, seeming like a lot of the people I know and love in real life except for the fact that I feel like I can, on occasion, respectfully disagree with her and not have the smack laid down on me. If that makes any sense? It makes sense to me and seems like a fantastic reason to give someone an award! =D

Raych from Books I Done Read and Chartroose at Bloody Hell! It's a Book Barrage for their talent for nearly always making me laugh even though I'm all by myself sitting in front of a computer seeming insane.

One right back at Elizabeth at As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves who writes great book reviews, but who really caught my eye by weekly doing this Sleeping With Bread meme that encourages people express gratitude to God for for the good stuff and turn to him for solace for the bad. Not only did this help me get to know Elizabeth - it kind of made me take a closer look at my own life, too!

Lexi and J.S. Peyton get awards, too. Because we're all apparently in a friendly (if unrealized) competition for the "slowest reader" in book blogging title. Lexi reminds me of myself with being easily distractable - you know, a Wii will do that to you, as will many other things.... J.S. has an uncommon talent for talking about books even when she hasn't finished reading one lately, thus I would have never have pegged her for a member of the "slow reader" club if she hadn't mentioned it herself! Would that I were so good at talking about books in between finishing them and maybe this space wouldn't be so vacant so often....

Bookfool/Nancy for (sending me a big box of awesome history books!) those always amusing reviews where she has conversations with herself and all the great pictures!

And how about a couple of newish discoveries for me - S. Krishna's Books for a stunning quantity of book reviews that are of equally stunning quality, and The Book Lady's Blog again for such high quality reviews and for that great Adventures in Bookselling series that never ceases to make me laugh and simultaneously makes me want and not want to be a bookseller again.

All right, there you have it. Bloggers, consider yourself awarded. You all have fantastic blogs that you should be proud of. Thanks for all you do to make the book blogosphere a great place to be. =D