The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs

Recommended by: A Life in Books

So basically I finished this book late last night and I was dead tired; but I still managed to have many thoughts about it after I had dropped it onto my flip chair and turned off the light, and they all sort of centered around the thought that this man could use some serious cognitive behavioral therapy.  He might really enjoy cognitive behavioral therapy, I was thinking, because of its structured, project-like nature, and furthermore it would make him less crazy (and I use that word in its nicest sense).  I was composing a letter to him in my mind, but then I guess I fell asleep because the next thing I remember was thinking, How lucky are we?  What a fortunate congregation!  Kristin Chenoweth gives such good homilies, and all of them sung in her beautiful voice!

Seriously, though, Mr. Jacobs sounds mad neurotic, and this is from a girl of much anxiety and obsessiveness.  But I’m not in his league, dude.  Whoa.

Now that that’s out of my system, I will say that I enjoyed this book.  It was entertaining, and it was amusing, and I think it’s an interesting kind of project to undertake.  And I know comparisons are odious but! too bad! his other book, to avoid reading my mum’s birthday gift copy of which I checked this one out of the library, was funnier – but maybe I am just prejudiced in its favor because I liked the encyclopedia project idea a lot better.

This project wasn’t as structured to begin with, and the result is that the writing is less tight, and the structure he uses for the book doesn’t really work.  It’s organized chronologically, and it prevents everything from being orderly, even a teeny bit orderly.  It’s just messy.  Messy.  I don’t like a mess.  I think he would have done better organizing it in chapters by commandment clusters, rather than by time.

As I say, I enjoyed the book, but I wouldn’t buy it and I doubt I’ll read it again.  The Know-It-All, those bits of it I read at the bookshop, seemed like more of a keeper.  When my mum finishes it and I can borrow her copy, I will let you know if I am correct. (I think I will be.) (I usually am.)

Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer

Well, I have just finished up Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer’s third trashy vampire book.  In case you were wondering whether all the trashy continues unabated, the answer is a resounded and unqualified YES.

Basically, in this book, Bella and Edward have lots of anxieties for several reasons, including 1) she misses Jacob and wants to play with him; and 2) he (Edward, not Jacob) wants to get married and she doesn’t; and 3) she wants to have sex and he (still Edward, not Jacob) doesn’t; and 4) a vampire they pissed off a while ago is making a massive army of baby vampires to kill Bella.  The angst is ceaseless.

Also, Jacob still loves Bella.  He’s more twenty-five-y than sixteen-y these days, so everyone can stop worrying about whether Bella’s a pedophile.  Because, yes, that’s been bothering me a little bit as she inched closer to nineteen and he was still only sixteen.  I did the equation and figured out she’s still okay until he’s 16 and a half, but nevertheless it was bugging me a bit.  He is also no longer cooler than Edward, because now he’s threatening suicide in order to make Bella slip him some tongue.  Lame.  If there’s one thing I hate even more than your garden variety emotional manipulation, it’s emotionally manipulative suicide threats.

To return to the point, however: My stars, this book was trashy, and for some reason, not as absorbing as the first two.  I’ve been trying to decide why that is, and I think it may be because we’ve got all the characters now and nothing new is really being developed.  In Twilight, there was Edward, and Bella was working out things with Edward; and then in New Moon, there was Jacob and she was working out things with Jacob.  In this one we’ve already got them both and Bella’s just being wishy-washy and working nothing out at all except that she really, really, really doesn’t want to get married right out of high school, because she’s afraid of being trailer trash or something.  She wasn’t doing anything, and neither was anyone, except getting very protective of her.  There were lots of pissing contests between Edward and Jacob – first the nice normal pissing contests and then the more subtle ones where they were both all trying to love Bella the best.  And it got tiresome.  I quit reading it and went to bed.  If the next one isn’t more interesting, well I’ll just be.  You know.  Cross.

Hmm – do you think I’m becoming jaded and growing to hate all books everywhere?  The last several books I’ve read haven’t impressed me.  Maybe my brain is on new book overload.  But no, because I’m enjoying Night Watch a lot.  But maybe, because if I can’t enjoy a trashy vampire novel, WHAT KIND OF SOUL-DEAD CREATURE AM I?

Wolf Woman, Sherryl Jordan

I swear to God I will try and say some eloquent things about Night Watch which I am really enjoying, but I can’t even be bothered with Wolf Woman.  Sherryl Jordan?  What happened here?  Have you no sense of humor at all?  This is not an interesting story and exhibits a woeful lack of any sense of humor at all ever even a little bit ever.

The Juniper Game, Sherryl Jordan

“What I want to do,” said Juniper, “is an experiment in mental telepathy.”  She hesitated, waiting for his reaction.  There wasn’t one.  “I know I have some telepathic abilities,” she went on more confidently.  “I can go through a pack of cards, face down, and guess about fifteen correctly.  And I often know who it is when the phone rings before I answer it.  But I want to try mental telepathy with someone else.  I want to try giving someone else my thoughts.  Images are easier to receive than words.  They’re more intuitive somehow, not so tied up in logic and reason.  I want to see if I can send images to someone else and whether they can draw what they receive.  I need someone who’s sensitive and a good artist.”

Dylan’s gaze shifted, and his eyes met hers.  “Me, you mean?” he said.

She smiled unexpectedly.  “Who else, Leonardo?  You’re perfect.”

This is one of those books my mum picked up for no special reason for my sisters and me and it turned out to be really good.  Or maybe my sister picked it up for no special reason and it turned out to be really good.  Whatever.

It’s about a boy called Dylan (why Dylan? don’t ask me) who is a bit of a geek and a loser but he’s brilliant at art, that lucky duck, and one day this beautiful popular mysterious girl called Juniper (what a good name!) notices he’s good at art and enlists him for her private psychic image-sending project.  At first they’re just sending images of things she goes and sees, but after a while it turns out that her ultimate goal was to travel mentally through time and send him images from Back In The Day.  The witch-burning day, as it goes.  And things get very intense for everyone.

(I find it tricky to cast a critical eye upon books I’ve been fond of for a while.)

I really, really like this book.  Juniper is a good name, for one thing, and for another thing, I have always wanted to be able to do psychic things.  All my faintly-psychic family members, as well as this book, assure me that this is no desirable thing and in fact can be very annoying for your brain, but still, although I mostly believe them, I am always a teeny bit jealous and wish I were not so completely close-brained.   But I think Ms. Jordan does a good job of integrating the supernatural elements of the plot with Dylan and Juniper’s family lives and the effect of their relationship on everyone else.  And the supernatural elements are most interesting.

It just occurred to me Sherryl Jordan has probably written other books, and – hey!  the library says that indeed, yes she has.  Yay.  There are six books of hers at my university library, and six at the public library, and I forgot to pay attention to the titles, so I don’t know how much overlap we’re looking at, but anyway, there are definitely at least seven of her books that exist and are available to me and I haven’t read them yet.  Oh goody.

Miss Spitfire, Sarah Miller

Recommended by: Book Nut

I love Annie Sullivan.  Every time I think about Annie Sullivan it blows my mind.  She was twenty when she went to go teach Helen Keller, and she’d had no proper parenting, and she was twenty, and she must have been just about the most brilliant and inventive person of all time.  Annie Sullivan.  WOW.  There was a woman who knew how to parent.

Anyway, I was excited to read this book about her.  I like young adult books, even though I have now become a real adult and can no longer feel smug, as I did when I was seven and eight and nine, about reading way above my grade level. So I checked out Miss Spitfire to read.

And it was, you know, fine.  Nothing wrong with it at all.  It’s just – we all know this story already.  I guess I was hoping for a fresh look at the story, and this really wasn’t it.  It went down just about the way you’d expect: Annie comes, there are big fights, she feels anxious, she makes Helen behave, there’s a breakthrough, things improve, the end.  Of course Ms. Miller has given us a good story, but the story of Helen and Annie is a good story, and it would be some trick to make it boring.  But she hasn’t brought anything new to it.  For me.

However, there was a picture of Helen’s house when she was a kid, and I was really surprised about it.  Look.  In my mind I always pictured something more airy and grand and plantation-like, but this could very easily be a house in the Garden District or something.  It’s cute!  It’s the kind of house everyone is tearing down now to build their McMansions.  Learn something new every day.

Birds in Fall, Brad Kessler

She handed the open tube across the cello.What do I do with this? I asked.

You write your name.

You’re being dramatic.

Am I? she asked.

The name of the lipstick was Japanese Maple. Against her pale skin, the letters looked lurid and blotchy.

The Japanese maple on our roof was slightly more purple than the lipstick. Its leaves in fall the color “of bruises” Ana once said. She would have looked good wearing that pigment. I held the glistening tube in my hand, not knowing what to write or where. I wanted to write Ana’s name, or both our names, as though we were a piece of luggage that, lost, would find its way back to the loft. So I put our address down, taking care with each number, each letter: 150 First Avenue; and then I showed my arm to the cellist, and she said: Your name. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to write it down.

Recommended by: A Reader’s Journal

Basically I chose to read Birds in Fall because I’ve been rereading a bunch of old books lately, and I thought, You know, I have this massive long list of books to read that I’ve been at some pains to compile, and here I am doing nothing but reading stuff I’ve read before a million times. So I glanced at my List, picked a few things at random, and checked them out of the library; and then I read this one first because it has a pretty cover.

Birds in Fall is about a plane that crashes off the coast of Nova Scotia. The families of the people who died come to the wee island where it crashed, and they all stay in the little inn together while they are waiting for news. I thought it was going to be extremely depressing. If it hadn’t had postage stamp birds on the cover, I might never have read it and devoted my time entirely to the watching of Angel until my eyeballs fell out.  (He hit Buffy in the face.)

However, there were postage stamp birds on the cover, and for the first two-thirds I enjoyed this book tremendously. It was – and you’ll have to excuse the adjectives and be aware that I hate myself a little bit for using them – haunting and elegiac.  The whole thing of becoming a community on the basis of their mutual loss worked very well, and Mr. Kessler created the mood quite perfectly, the boredom and the grieving more or less put on hold until bodies could be found.  Excellent.

Then around chapter nineteen or twenty, everything went to hell.  Well, not to hell, but the book experienced a sudden drastic drop-off in interestingness.  Everyone went home and I got bored and kept wanting to skim, and I read the end like five times, but it didn’t help because the end wasn’t that interesting either.  Everyone went home.  I didn’t even care about Ana getting closure, and previously I’d been unable to put the book down, I was so involved in whether Ana (and everyone) got closure.  So humph.  I was all set to recommend this book to my mother and put a lot of energy into persuading her to read it, and then it got less interesting and saved me the trouble.

Still, it’s worth reading, and I can see reading it again.  For one thing, the drop-off in interesting was so drastic and sudden that I have some concerns that I, not it, might be the issue.  Perchance I just suddenly became not in the mood for this book, and in fact it didn’t change at all.  So I’ll probably read it again sometime, to see if that’s the problem.  I can see that being the problem; the more I think about it, the more likely it seems.

Emily’s Quest, L.M. Montgomery

A really sad story: One time when I was in England I developed this mad craving to read all the Emily of New Moon books, so I went to great trouble to obtain them.  As things ended up, I had the first two on loan, and the third one I bought at a charity shop, so I read the first two lickety-split and returned them, at which point my yearning to read Emily’s Quest surpassed all imagining.  At this point it was late May, I think.  I was into exams and all.  And I had the bright idea – being a hardcore delayed gratification girl – of delaying gratification with Emily’s Quest, taking the book with me on the airplane home and reading it then, at which point it would be incredibly satisfying because I would have been craving it all the while in the interim.  But by the time the flight home rolled around, my primary emotions were excitement about seeing my family and soul-deep joy at the existence of my hat (oh, my lovely Ascot hat), and I was sort of no longer in the mood to read Emily’s Quest.

Well, never mind.  Here we are a year on, and I really enjoyed it a lot this go-round.  Teddy’s still boring, bless him.  I don’t know why L.M. Montgomery can’t write any interesting romantic leads.  All Teddy has going for him is that he draws pretty pictures.  Lame.  Not that she should have married Dean, but she maybe should have married that author guy who came and proposed to her and hurled a goblet at her.

The other thing I noticed this time – I was saying this to my mum – is that it’s funny how the main plotline throughout the series is Emily’s writing, and that’s the thing that drives everything else really, but she publishes her novel well before the end of the book.  The book only ends when she gets together with Teddy (at last).  Her man.  And I was saying it like those girls in The Ten Commandments.  And it’s sooooorta antifeminist, and you’d be hearing me complain about it with much greater anger if not for the fact that I remembered this: If the book had ended after Emily published her book (I don’t approve of the title The Moral of the Rose, by the way), we would never have had all those reviews, and that’s one of my favorite bits in all three books.

And you know what?  DEAN PRIEST JUST SUCKS SHIT.  The end.

Sweethearts, Sara Zarr

Recommended by: God knows.  Some website.  I remember seeing it but I didn’t take note of where and now I can’t remember.  I’m cute but dumb.

I actually bought this book mainly out of terror and dismay, as it sounded a lot like a story I’m in the process of drafting, and when I read about it I freaked out immediately and started having depressing dreams in which Sara Zarr (who looked a lot like Scheherazade from the TV movie of Arabian Nights, damn her) came and fussed at me for writing a lamer version of the exact same story she had written.   This isn’t very admirable and demonstrates deep insecurities and also a hitherto unacknowledged desire to look like Mili Avital, but there it is, that’s what I dreamed.

To my relief, this book is really nothing like my story at all, so Mili Avital/Sara Zarr/my mean old embarrassing grouch of a subconscious can just leave me alone.  It’s about a girl called Jennifer (hmph) who was a misfit outcast girl in elementary school and she had a best friend called Cameron and they were outcasts together, and then Something Happened when they were nine and Cameron left very unexpectedly and Jennifer recreated herself.  And named herself Jenna.  And then when she is seventeen, Cameron comes back.

(Please, like that’s an improvement.  There are other, better nicknames for Jennifer than that.  Just saying.)

I enjoyed this book.  Ms. Zarr (who incidentally doesn’t look any more like Mili Avital than I do except that she is brunette like Mili Avital and I have fair hair) writes excellent dialogue and genuine relationships which is often tricky.  And although I was extremely sleepy and I knew I would be losing an hour today, damn Daylight Savings Time, I nevertheless stayed up late and finished it in one sitting.  With, in the interests of full disclosure, some getting up and down for water and the bathroom and to brush my teeth and to check Woot and PostSecret.  I wasn’t wild about the last chapter – it seemed unconnected with the rest of the book, how suddenly we were leaping through enormous dollops of time in the narrator’s life and all kinds of shit happened in the intervening years, and – it was a bit jolting, and I thought, really, it could have been handled more smoothly.

But overall a thoroughly good book.  If I knew any teenage girls I would give them my copy.

Oh, hey, I do know a teenage girl.  Maybe I’ll give her my copy.

Emily Climbs

One of my favorite lines in all of literature happens in Emily Climbs:

“Of course,” said Mrs. Ann Cyrilla, “I think a great many of Emily’s faults come from her intimacy with Ilse Burnley. She shouldn’t be allowed to run about with Ilse as she does. Why, they say Ilse is as much an infidel as her father….She swears like a trooper, I’m told. Mrs. Mark Burns was in [her father’s] office one day and heard Ilse in the parlor say distinctly ‘out, damned Spot!’ probably to the dog.”

Oh God. That’s as good as anything Valancy says in that dinner with her family in The Blue Castle. I never read Macbeth without thinking of Ilse Burnley.

You wouldn’t say that Emily Climbs was long on plot. She does things that shock people even though she is perfectly innocent and reasonable in the matter, and she tries to get things published, and her family is frustrating and supportive by turns, and she has a lovable cast of friends plus boring Teddy, and she likes pretty things. I can’t say what it is about this book that appeals to me so much. It’s just charming and friendly and amusing. It’s episodic but the episodes are interesting.

And, ugh, I don’t like it when Dean teases her about her writing. What a jerk! How mean he is! How could anyone do such a mean thing? That enormous prat! He may be more interesting than Teddy, but what a humongous selfish jerk telling her bad things about her stories when they are indeed very good! Whatever. I want to like Dean because he gives Emily new books to read, and I try to shut down those parts of my mind that are screaming “Humbert Humbert” and “that surely untrue but still creepy story about Alfred Douglas going to visit Oscar Wilde with Andre Gide and telling Gide that Oscar Wilde’s kid Cyril ‘will be for me’ (ew! ew! I know it’s apocryphal but ew, ew, ew, ew!)”; anyway I try to shut down those parts of my mind and focus on Tom Lynn and Polly or Jane and Mr. Rochester, who undoubtedly lived happily ever afterwards to the end of their days, but it’s impossible to be friends with Dean given his unconscionable behavior as regards Emily’s writing. And I shouldn’t even be getting all het up yet because he hasn’t done the really super duper unconscionable thing that he does in Emily’s Quest.

That bastard. I never forgave him for that.

I wish I had that old copy like I have of Emily of New Moon. The one with the cover where she is smelling a flower and it’s all greeny. That’s a better cover than the one I’ve got. On the one I’ve got Emily just looks really blah. But still, if you are ever near Emily Climbs, in any edition, read it. It’s friendly.

The most unbelievable luck

So there was a book fair today, right, and do you know what I bought for one dollar, one dollar?

A shiny clean hardback of Crocodile on the Sandbank. For a dollar. A hundred pennies.

Wow.

I also got hardbacks of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of King Midas, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, Thursday’s Child, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Twilight, and The Little Lame Prince. All of these things, plus some assorted paperbacks, for a grand total of $20.10. I am one happy camper.

Edit on Friday to add: Oh I am so happy.  Today I got Shadow of the Moon in hardback, an earlier edition evidently than the one my mother has, as it is differently organized (more focus on Alex, it seems) and shorter.  I also got a book of Audubon for my father, a book of Robert Browning, a sweet little Latin grammar from the late 1890s,  and a book entitled The Tremaynes and the Masterful Monk, which now that I investigate turns out to be the third in a series of books by an ex-Anglican Catholic convert.  I foresee great things for me and Masterful Monk.  If nothing else, its title never fails to make me giggle.  Masterful Monk.  Oh, God, life’s too good.