Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Mary Is Now +2 to Strike

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I really loved this book. And if, like me, you don't read any fantasy except for the horribly obvious titles, this is not a half bad place to start, especially if you're on the lookout for Harry Potter methadone.

Despite not reading much fantasy I had certain, not entirely unfounded ideas about it -- books thick enough to stop bullets, populated with humorless muscle-bound D&D characters and serving wenches in leather bikinis wielding elven blades. Gag.

But not only can Scott Lynch pull together an ass-kicking and eminently charming Ocean's Eleven-esque plot, the man also appears to be a card-carrying feminist.*

Can anyone recommend more titles like this? Low magic fantasy with strong female characters, and more focus on the brains than the brawn? I'd be ever so grateful for your assistance in facilitating my transformation to Queen of the Geeks.
* Check out his post on the new Bond movie, reminding critics that before they get all misty-eyed about the franchise's return to Ian Fleming's Bond, they would do well to remember that Ian Fleming's Bond is a misogynist rat.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Funsies

Not since I got Myrna Loy in the Classic Dames Test have I been so pleased with the results of a personality quiz.

I'm Nicola Tesla! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt!
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Leaving the Ivory Tower

If you'll allow me to deviate from our regularly-scheduled programming for just a moment, I'd like to point you towards this, the instant in which the rarefied world of Barthes and Bloom meets that of Brangelina and Benniffer:

Camille Paglia in US Weekly discussing Jennifer Aniston.

Now what I really want to know is: Just what does Stanley Fish think about Seth and Summer breaking up in real life?


Link via Defamer.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

$0.25 A Day, Plus Expenses

Brown Harvest by Jay Russell

The famous boy detective vowed he would never return home. But when his former partner and best friend is killed, he returns to Ideaville to find it very much changed from the idyllic small town of his youth. His father, Ideaville's former Chief of Police, is a gin-soaked laughingstock, software baron Roach Blackwell has the town under his thumb, and Ideaville is so corrupt that perhaps the only way to clean it up is to burn it down.

In this Encyclopedia Brown/Red Harvest mash-up, Russell is daring enough to pay obvious homage to everyone from the Boxcar Children to Cherry Ames to A Wrinkle in Time, and clever enough not to get sued.

The book is not without its problems. For one thing, it actually borders on being too explicit for my tastes. While I appreciate the archetypes of hardboiled fiction, and have made my peace with what that tends to mean for female characters, still, I don't relish finding a beloved fictional heroine from my childhood turned into a road whore. This is all made worse by the fact that the sex scenes read like X-Files fan fiction. Bad X-Files fan fiction.

Still, Brown Harvest is an inventive parody with unexpected twists and some fun shout-outs. If you like...: Confessions of a Teenage Sleuth by Chelsea Cain or this, this book is for you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Stirring the Chicken Feed

Maybe Baby by Tenaya Darlington

A former boss from my circulation clerk days gave me the following advice on keeping book displays looking fresh and well-stocked: "Patrons are like chickens, and you have to keep stirring the feed so they'll peck at it." We recently bought a much-needed bookshelf, our biggest one having been loaded up with three rows of books on each shelf. Moving some of these to the new bookshelf was kind of like an archaeological dig, as I uncovered a lot of titles that I hadn't seen in over a year, including this sweet, quirky, and very funny book.

In it, a young couple finds themselves accidentally knocked up, and announces to the family their intention to raise a gender-neutral child -- no Tonka trucks, no Barbies, gray onesies, and the child's sex will only be revealed when the kid's five. Much to their surprise, everybody completely freaks out.

It's weird to think about - when someone's having a kid, they always say, "Oh, I don't care what I have as long as it's a healthy baby." Then immediately following its birth, a child's sex becomes incredibly important. It shouldn't matter if, at the grocery store, you mistake some stranger's baby boy for a baby girl. But I've done it before, and know the kind of sharp looks I got.

An old acquaintance of mine from Madison, Ms. Darlington was a journalist who would write these intensely personal, in-depth feature articles for the Isthmus, and you'd wonder, "how'd she get that interview out of them?" Her book has that same kind of attentiveness to the tiny details of human behavior, and as a result, stands out from your typical domestic Midwestern fiction. Fun stuff.

If you like...: Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler or the short stories of Judy Budnitz, this book is for you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It Makes Learning Fun!

First off, I want the world to know that the uber-literate proprietress of this blog is currently watching the America's Top Model finale and saying things like "CarrieDee's gonna lose; she's an actress, not a model."

Highbrow, I tells ya.

In that spirit, I bring you Shel Silverstein's Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book: A Primer for Adults Only. I'd always heard Uncle Shelby didn't actually like small children very much, and that he hung out at the Playboy Mansion quite a bit when he wasn't writing A Light in the Attic or The Codependent Tree or whatever. Rereading the ABZ book, originally published in the pages of Playboy, it all makes sense.

What can I say about a book that ends by telling the young reader that the pages are really made of paper candy, one that points out that the fireman in his Red hat with his Red engine (all of which are super keen) only come to houses where there are fires?

Uncle Shelby really goes the extra mile here, writing not just a ribald or snarky primer but one that leaves him open for several wrongful death lawsuits. It has a coupon inside for a free pony, redeemable at your local grocer. In short, it's great fun, and giving it to a niece or nephew for Christmas will secure you "favored relative" status among your younger kin. Quicker, even, than teaching them swears or how to make sparkler bombs will.

I'll leave you with this quote, the last line of which has become an all-purpose consolation around our house.

"O is for Oz.
Do you want to visit the wonderful far-off land of oz where the wizard lives and scarecrows can dance and the road is made of yellow bricks and everything is emerald green?

Well, you can't because there is no land of Oz and there is no tin woodsman and THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS!

Maybe someday you can go to Detroit."



PS: Oh, and CarrieDee just won. Shows what Mary knows.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

G.I.F.T. Challenge: 1 Naughty, 3 Nice

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings has issued a Christmas challenge which I could not resist. A Yankee living in Los Angeles needs all the help she can get to fortify her Christmas spirit. The challenge is as follows: partake of 4 Christmas-type things, including movies, novels, short stories, poems, traditions, and memories, then post about them. Here's what I came up with:

1. Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
As a child, this Jim Henson Christmas special was one of my very favorites, but I only learned recently that it was actually adapted from a children's book by Russell Hoban, the man responsible for another of my childhood favorites, Frances the Badger. The illustrations are adorable with with the power of a thousand suns, and the story has a hint of Gift of the Magi about it, so all the elements of a perfect Christmas warm fuzzy are right here. Plus, the book contains the completely unexpected and awesome-for-grown-ups line: "We never had much even when Pa was alive, what with him being a traveling man."

2. "The Birds for Christmas" by Mark Richard (in Charity)
"Fuck Frosty," Michael Christian said to me. "I see that a hunrett times. I want to see "The Birds," man. I want to see those birds get all up in them people's hair. That's some real Christmas TV to me." This story of two hospitalized, abandoned, and unloved boys who want to watch a Hitchcock movie on Christmas Eve is a downer, but incredibly memorable and affecting.

3. "Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor" by John Cheever (in The Collected Stories of John Cheever)
A story of Christmas hospitality gone horribly awry. I hadn't read this story in about ten years, and realize now that much as I like Cheever, his writing is better when it's about the disaffected and alienated upper classes.

4. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
Several years ago, I went on a huge Truman Capote bender. Read every book and biography I could get my hands on. And as interesting as it was to read about his exclusive parties and hobnobbing with Manhattan socialites, I'm partial to little Truman's early years, when he lived in Monroeville, Alabama, raised by a flock of eccentric maiden aunts. Two of his best stories draw a little from this period of his life. One is "The Grass Harp," and the other is this one. A genuinely touching story about the friendship between a little boy and his elderly aunt.

Bonus: a family tradition since I was wee - the viewing of A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott. Accept no substitutions.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

If Stephen King Says It's Creepy...

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I have a bad habit of judging a book by its author bio and photo.* So, when I picked up Sharp Objects, I thought, "Oh, a mystery novel by a young, attractive person who writes for Entertainment Weekly. This should be daffy fun." And that is how I learned a valuable lesson about rushing to judgment and underestimating an entertainment writer's capacity for darkness and depravity.

This book is not what it seems. On the surface, it is the story of a young reporter working for a crummy Chicago newspaper who returns to her hometown to cover the story of two little girls murdered there. Now, that is not even the half of it, but it's all I'm willing to say here because it is all too good and unexpected to be spoiled.

In his blurb for Sharp Objects, Stephen King writes, "I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them." This is currently where I am in the book, and feel pretty much the same way. Flynn's narrative voice is harsh, ugly, and completely merciless, yet somehow, this doesn't keep you from wanting to finish Sharp Objects in a single sitting.

If you liked...: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson or Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, this book is for you.
* Still, I stand by my assessment of Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It wouldn't have made the slightest difference to me if Marissa Pessl was a pock-marked crone with a back hump. That book is just no darn good.