Saturday, June 20, 2009

Once Upon A Time III Wrap Up

This marks the end of the Once Upon A Time III challenge. I had only committed to do the Journey (one book) but ended up doing a few short stories and three books.

Book of Lost Things

Death with Interruptions
City of Saints and Madmen

Short Stories:
The Library of Babel
The Lottery of Babylon

I never got a chance to post the links on the review site for Death with Interruptions or City of Saints and Madmen before Mr. Linky went away. By far my favorite read was the City of Saints and Madmen and I definitley plan on reading more by Jeff Vandermeer. Death with Interruptions was also good but I was very disappointed with Book of Lost Things. And of course the Borges short stories were fabulous as always. I enjoyed the challenge and look forward to next years.

City of Saints and Madmen

by Jeff Vandermeer

I first discovered this author last year when I participated in the Once Upon A Time II Challenge and came across a post on the author’s web site of the Exhaustive Essential Fantasy Reading List. I was intrigued by this list because it included many of my favorite authors such as Kafka, Saramago, Peake, Borges, Calvino, Marquez and made me rethink what fantasy was.The author also has an interesting blog and it made me curious to read this author.

The City of Saints and Madmen is a collection of short stories that all take place in the city of Ambergris. In its first edition it was just four stories, the deluxe second edition expanded to include an appendix which has more short pieces as well as letters from a director of an insane asylum and an Ambergris glossary. The second edition also included an encrypted story on the dust jacket. The paperback edition which I read includes an additional couple of stories and decrypts the story for you.

Ambergris is a fascinating dark and mysterious city with frightful grey caps or mushroom people, strange afflictions, giant squid in the River Moth, bizarre festivals and rituals and an interesting history. The first three stories in the book which introduced me to Ambergris reminded me of China Mieville’s New Corbuzon, although certainly not in a derivative way. The city is slightly evil, creepy, scary, richly imagined and enticing. I really enjoyed the fact that everything was not explained to you but you only caught glimpses and understanding gradually develops as you read more and more. The fourth story, The Strange Case of X, is my favorite and reminded me more of Kafka or Borges then Mieville. I don’t want to give anything away but it makes the reader, and author question what is reality, inserts the author into the story and makes you think about the writing process. The appendix then plays off of the Strange Case of X and includes materials that were in the possession of X such as other pieces about Ambergris in the form of stories, letters, pamphlets, scientific articles and a glossary. I enjoyed the fact that the appendix not only further developed Ambergris but explored different formats to do so. The appendix reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s experimentation with format in House of Leaves and Revolutions. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely will read more of this author.

Death with Interruptions

by Jose Saramago

Blurb from the Dust Jacket: On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This of course, causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, morticians, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is celebration - flags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life.

Jose Saramago, a Nobel prize winning Portuguese author who is now 86 years old has a style uniquely his own. His sentences run on for paragraphs or even pages, there is not much punctuation used and any dialog is imbedded in the run on sentences so it is sometimes difficult to tell who is saying what. His focus is not a strong fast moving plot or extensive in depth character development. The author definitely makes his presence felt and I have heard my friends remark that he makes himself too evident in the writing and that he was just showing off but should just let the story speak for itself with out intruding. But if you enjoy a different style once in a while Saramago is wonderful and one of my favorite authors.

I love his beautiful use of language, his acerbic wit, and his social satire. The time and locations are rarely identified and characters are often unnamed making the stories seem more like a fable. He takes a big question such as what would happen if everyone went blind (Blindness) or the Iberian Peninsula became unattached from Europe and floats off (Stone Raft) and sees where it takes him. In Death with Interruptions, his latest work (2008) translated into English, the question is what if Death stopped? The first part of the book looks at this situation from the big picture view point and explores what this would mean for politicians, the Church, funeral directors, grave diggers, insurance companies, nursing homes and the mafia. In the second part of the book we meet death, with a small not capital d. I don’t want to give too much away but she, yes death is a she, is faced with a situation she has never had to face before. At the end of this fable humans have a much better appreciation of death and death has a better understanding of humans.

This is not one of my favorite Saramago books and probably not where I would recommend someone start but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue to read whatever Saramago publishes. My favorite is All the Names which I selected for my book club and was well received. Blindness seems to be very popular and would be a good place to begin but please don’t see the movie first!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

BTT: Niche Books

What Niche Books do you read?

I have a lot of reference type books on my shelves pertaining to photography, Photoshop, dog training, gardening, travel and a huge collection of cookbooks (my husband loves to cook) but I don’t think of them as books that I “read”. They are simply references that I dip into to extract the information that I need and move on. There are three categories of niche books that I will curl up with and read cover to cover for pure enjoyment: 1) Books about Books 2) Books about Antarctica and 3) Books about the Carribean.

I absolutely adore books about books or reading or writing, either fiction or non-fiction. Some of my favorite fiction ones are The Muse Asylum by David Czuchlewski, Club Duma by Arturo Perez-Reverte, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino and the Cliff Janeway mysteries by John Dunning. Some of my favorite non-fiction are Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes, Used and Rare by Lawrence Goldstone, and Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles.

I find Antarctica fascinating and hope to get there someday. I have enjoyed fiction set there such as Ice Limit by Preston & Childe and Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robbinson as well as non-fiction such as Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson and In the Ghost Country by Peter Hillary. I will note that I have yet to find an extremely well written book about Antarctica but for some reason I am willing to tolerate poor or average writing that I normally wouldn’t read if it has interesting information about Antarctica.

The last niche that I sometimes read is books about the Carribean, either fiction or non-fiction, especially if it about or set in the Virgin Islands. This is a small niche and most of the books that I have are out of print or only available in the Virgin Islands. I must admit that I used to read and collect a lot more in this niche when I didn’t live in the Virgin Islands then I do now. When its cold and snowy in New England it is more fun to read about the Carribean but now it is more fun to read about the ice and cold of Antarctica.

Does anyone have any suggestions for Books about Books or Books about Antarctica?


Having perused the other responses I have found some great books about books to check out. From the comments to the post by Savidge Reads:
Reading Like a Writer - Francine Prose
Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs - Jeremy Mercer
Ex Libris - Anne Fadiman
Classics for Pleasure - Michael Dirda
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop - Lewis Buzbee
The Polysyllabic Spree or Housekeeping vs the Dirt - Nick Hornby
The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New - Rosenberg
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel -Jane Smiley
How to Read Literature Like a Professor -Thomas C. Foster
Why We Read What We Read - Lisa Adams and John Heath
Beowulf on the Beach - Jack Murnighan

And from Molly from My Cozy Book Nook:
Reading Like a Writer - Francine Prose
The 7 Basic Plots - Christopher Booker
How to Read a Book - Mortimer Adler
The Well-Educated Mind - Susan Wise Bauer
Mini Lessons for Literature Circles - Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke

And a new one:
A Temple of Texts by William Glass

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

May/June Bookmarks

Here's what sounded interesting in the May/June Bookmarks Magazine.

The City & The City, China Mieville
Prayer's for the Assassin, Robert Ferrigno
Lambs of London, Peter Ackroyd
Book of Air and Shadows, Michael Gruber
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin
Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
Emperor's Children, Claire Messud
Vagrants, Yiyun Li
Way Through Doors, Jesse Ball
What the Dead Know, Laura Lippman
The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (SF)
Drood, Dan Simmons
The Terror, Dan Simmons
Incandescence, Greg Egan (SF)
Lost City of Z, David Grann (NF)