Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

This weekend I did a lot of things I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, including covering my paperbacks with contact paper.  And in the process of doing this, I got started reading Harriet the Spy, which I haven’t read for ages and ages.  What a good book it is!  Harriet is an eleven-year-old girl who wants to be a spy, and she goes around spying on people and writing down everything she sees, and trying to figure out grown-ups.

I identified so strongly with Harriet when I was a kid.  I once got into huge trouble for writing a mean note to this girl in my class (she was called Jenny also, which may have contributed to my irritation with her), and after my principal fussed at me for an hour and said my note was chilling and made me cry, I got home and my mother said “So what we’ve learned is – never put anything in writing.”  A lesson I took much to heart.  I completely stopped writing my stories down on paper and took to writing everything on the computer, in documents with long complicated passwords; and when I reread Harriet the Spy not long after, I felt superior to Harriet.  Silly, silly Harriet, I remember thinking, putting things in writing when she clearly should not.

One thing Ms. Fitzhugh does terribly well is to convey how confusing adults are.  The adults in this book are completely incomprehensible, which is so true about being a kid, that thing of often not having any idea at all what all the grownups are on about.  And asking questions was so frustrating because they didn’t understand what you were really asking.  That comes through nicely in this book.  If you’ve never read it (which hardly seems possible), you should read it.  It cemented the nothing-in-writing lesson for me, and as well taught me about Dostoevsky at a very young age.  Harriet the Spy.  Check it out.  The Long Secret is also quite good, but I didn’t like the book about Sport.  Whatever it was called.

Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, Martin Millar

Yes, yes, I finally caved and read this.  I have been delaying gratification for quite a while, but I just couldn’t resist the siren call of this book anymore.  It has been sitting so alluringly on my bookshelf.  Last night I was reading The Sixteen Pleasures and suddenly it became clear to me that if I went another second without reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, my brain would explode.  (Nothing against The Sixteen Pleasures, which I’m enjoying.)  I am beginning to entertain the notion that my great dislike of everything else I’ve been reading is all to do with the fact that I really wanted to be reading Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me.  I mean really reading it, not reading two pages and then putting it away, delaying gratification some more.

Anyway, it was definitely worth the wait.  What a totally excellent book.  Martin Millar is brilliant.  It’s weird because last year around this same time I didn’t care about Martin Millar at all, and now when people ask me who my favorite author is, Martin Millar springs immediately to mind.  I wish Neil Gaiman and Martin Millar had a Time-Turner like Hermione and they could sit around and turn back time all over the place, and write dozens and dozens of books for me to read.  That would be great.  Right now there are only, like, four?  five? books of Martin Millar’s that I haven’t read already.  Four or five is an extremely small number.  I have to dole them out to myself slowly, one by one, over several years, to prolong my enjoyment.

(But not the sequel to Lonely Werewolf Girl.  When that comes out I’m going to buy it straight away.)

Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me is all about a young Martin Millar being in love with a girl called Suzy, and going to see Led Zeppelin play a gig in Glasgow, and then talking about it many years later with his friend Manx.  I liked it a lot.  (Spoilers) He mentioned Buffy and the geeky girl met Led Zeppelin and got advice about life from Robert Plant.  How good!  An altogether totally pleasing book.  And I didn’t even read the end before I got there.  (Not the right kind of book for that to be necessary.)  This book was funny and also poignant.  I like the word poignant.  I never get to use it enough.

I’m a bit sad that I’ve read this book and now I haven’t got any other Martin Millar books to read.  Our library only has books I’ve already read.  But at least now I’m not yearning for it tragically, and hopefully I will be able to enjoy other books.

Or maybe I will just watch Doctor Who a lot, as it’s Christmas and I’m trying to make my big sister who is just home from law school learn to love Doctor Who like my younger sister and I do.  This would be more successful if the TV at my parents’ house were in the living room, not the bedroom, because the living room is more comfortable to watch films in.  I am pleased about starting the fourth series, as I got tired of Martha not being fierce enough (she was always much cooler when the Doctor wasn’t around), and Donna looks like she will be clever and make the Doctor laugh but not put up with any crap.

P.S. Just can’t say this enough.  Thank you, Neil Gaiman, for writing an introduction to The Good Fairies of New York and making me decide to read it.  Also, thank you, Amazon.com, for bringing up The Good Fairies of New York when I did a search for Neil Gaiman, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known it existed.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken

My God, this book was sad. It was so, so, so sad. It was just so unrelentingly sad. Even when she wasn’t particularly talking about anything sad, still it was incredibly sad. I cried a lot, especially at the end. And I’ve never even had a baby! Imagine if I had had a baby and I read this book, which is Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir about how her baby was stillborn. That would have been way much even sadder.

However, it was well-written and interesting. And it had lots of good bits, and Elizabeth McCracken endeared herself to me forever and ever and ever by saying this about New Orleans from her visit there in 2007 (I believe it was 2007):

Spring had arrived just ahead of us, in the form of actual blossoms – magnolias – and the weird kudzu of flung-from-floats Mardi Gras beads in the trees. The city was all blue skies and light breezes and raw nerves and melancholy. Most everyone we met was on edge, some so heartsick we worried, even if we hadn’t met them before. They seemed frozen. Something had happened. It had been a year and a half, and if you weren’t in the middle of it you might lose patience: New Orleans, why can’t you get over it? We were very sorry for you for a while. Now there are other things to be sad about. It’s not your time anymore. Pull yourself together.

Of course it felt familiar, as wretchedly presumptuous as that sounds. … The people we saw, old friends and strangers, had left and come back, and now they were waiting for the next disaster, the next murder, the next hurricane, the next levee failure, the loss of their home, the revocation of their homeowner’s insurance, and still of course at the same time they had to hope. Hadn’t they come back for that reason, because they hoped?

Me, too: same place, remembering the disaster, trying to believe it would not come for me again.

Ouch. It made me sad to read that. Poor New Orleans. That whole “City That Care Forgot” thing now depresses me hugely. But as a Louisiana girl I was glad she said that, and as a girl from a high-anxiety family I was glad she said this:

Our religion is worry; we performed decades of it.

And this was good:

Now what I think that woman in Florida meant is: lighter things will happen to you, birds will steal your husband’s sandwich on the beach, and your child will still be dead, and your husband’s shock will still be funny, and you will spend your life trying to resolve this.

As for me, I believe that if there’s a God – and I am as neutral on this subject as is possible – then the most basic proof of His existence is black humor. What else explains it, that odd, reliable comfort that billows up at the worst moments, like a beautiful sunset woven out of the smoke over a bombed city.

Elizabeth McCracken is a good writer, so I enjoyed reading the book, but it was very, very, very sad, and I will probably never find it necessary to read it again. Still, I really liked the things she said about grief – so maybe I will read it again. I can’t decide. This is the second (or third?) book this month that I’ve read about on Caribousmom‘s website and then really liked a lot, so thanks for that!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Aw, this book was so sweet.  I feel like I’ve been hearing about it everywhere I turn, but I think initially I read about it on Caribousmom – apparently ages and ages ago, as she reviewed it in July.  My mother owns a copy, and I borrowed it from her and lost it, so I was in a panic about where it could be, and then the other night I was at home and I saw it on her bookshelf.  Apparently I brought it over to my parents’ house to read and then left it there.  I’m such a spaz.

Well, this book was really very, very sweet.  It’s all about post-WWII England, specifically the Channel Islands, specifically the Channel Island of Guernsey.  Writer Juliet Ashton becomes interested Guernsey’s occupation by the Germans during the war, and decides to write a book about the people there.  The book is such a dear, nice book, with all these excellent anecdotes in it.  I love anecdotes from Back In The Day.  I love reading about the brave, brave, brave British during World War II.  I love epistolary novels.  There is no bad here.  I wish the author, Mary Ann Shaffer, had lived longer so I could have read interviews with her in which she could have said where she got all these anecdotes from.  Because I am interested.

So yeah, you should read this book.  It’s nice.  Not unflawed, but really such a nice book, it’s well worth reading.

I just had – I mean – well, okay.  You know how I said it was unflawed, and then I didn’t say what any of the flaws were?  That’s deliberate, because the flaws, you know, they were few and not distressing, and it was such a nice, nice, sweet, pleasant book that I didn’t want to mention them.  But I just have to say that the whole Oscar Wilde thing – well.  I mean, I’m thrilled, of course, for it to be more widely known that Oscar Wilde’s full name was Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.  Insofar as that goes, I’m enchanted to have the subject brought up.  Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde.

The only thing is that – minor spoilers here, I guess? – the only thing is that those letters that they have that are written by Oscar Wilde, they’re supposed to be from 1893.  Ninety-three.  The man would not have signed a letter O.F.O’F.W.W.  Not in 1893.  He didn’t do that anymore.  It was a whole thing – he said he was born with five names and he had shed all but two, and he wanted to someday be just known by one of them.  (Darling Oscar Wilde.  His 108th anniversary of death is approaching.)  I’m not saying it’s beyond the realm of possibility that in 1893 he would have signed a letter that way, but he had stopped doing that absolutely by the time he married Constance (before that actually, but this works as a benchmark), and that was, what, nine years? before these 1893 letters were supposed to have been written.  And I mean, yes, fine, that doesn’t by itself make it impossible that the letters would have been genuine, but you’d think somebody would have said, Hm, this is curious.  I certainly thought it was curious, a word I here use to mean TOTALLY IMPLAUSIBLE.

I have now officially said more about the implausibility of the date of some letters that aren’t even a major plot point, than about the book itself.  But I can’t help it!  It bothered me so much!  After I finished the book I went upstairs and fetched my Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde – yes, I own one – and looked at the signatures on every letter from 1893, just to make sure I wasn’t wrong.  (I wasn’t wrong.)

In the Woods, Tana French

I read about In the Woods on Trish’s blog as well as the other Jenny Claire’s, and it sounded very intriguing, and it was.  In the Woods is a twisty murder mystery – lots of interesting detail and inexplicable things.  Detective Rob Ryan, who as a child was one of three children that disappeared in a case that was never solved, and the only one who returned, gets put on to solving the murder of a child in the very same forest where he vanished as a kid.

It was a really good book.  I couldn’t quit reading it, and I stayed up late a couple of times to carry on reading it, and there’s a chance I’ll read Tana French’s other book The Likeness.  Just – it wasn’t my thing at all.   In the first place, I like my murder mysteries much more bloodless than this.  Something about murder mysteries has to set them one remove away from me or it’s too scary – it’s helpful to have them set in another time.  Unpleasant child murders occurring in the present day are disturbing to me, particularly when they include autopsies and postmortem rapes.  So if I hadn’t really, really wanted to know what was going to happen in the end, I’d have stopped reading it because it was disturbing (see?  Good book!).  However, I did really want to know what happened, and this gave rise to the other thing in this book that stopped me from liking it.  Which is that I get very frustrated when I am only reading a book in order to see what happens, and peeking at the end doesn’t help me.  In this case, I wanted to know what was up with Ryan’s two friends, and I couldn’t figure it out from peeking at the end of the book.

Spoilers now.  I was so, so, so disappointed when we didn’t find out about Jamie and Peter.  I really wanted to know what happened with Jamie and Peter.  But Tana French got all Stella Gibbons on us.  Poo.

Still, it was an excellent book.  If you are not bothered by gruesome details, you should definitely read it.  (I mean not gruesome.  The author didn’t dwell on them at all.  But the story’s about detectives, and they have to have details about the body and where it was found and what happened at the autopsy, and that’s too specific for me.  I have a low tolerance.  I am easily grossed out.  Hence my chosen career path of anything-but-a-doctor.)

What Happened in Hamelin, Gloria Skurzynski

I’ve been such a schizophrenic reader lately.  I’ve not gotten any books out of the library for the past several weeks, because I’ve been reading Harry Potter and Martin Millar, and planning to get started on Shakespeare.  However, the last time I went through reading all the book blogs I read, there were so many books that appealed to me.  And I wrote them all down but I was all on board with finishing up my Harry Potter & Shakespeare reading before carrying on to new things.

Ah, and then Obama got elected, and I got an unexpected check from my old job.  It’s a perilous combination for me to be both extraordinarily happy and extremely emotional.  It makes me want to make other people happy.  I was listening to NPR while I was driving to the mall yesterday, and I was crying and thinking that when I got back to my apartment I was going to donate a thousand dollars to them because they made me feel so happy with their inspirational stories about Obama celebrations.  And then when I got to the mall I went to Border’s and I was all I HAVE TO BUY BOOKS FROM HERE SO BORDER’S WILL NOT BE MADE SAD BY THE FAILURE OF THEIR STORE AND EVERYONE MUST BE HAPPY BECAUSE WE ARE HISTORIC TODAY.  However, I refrained from both of these things (except I did buy a guitar book at Border’s, because I was so happy and I had no other outlet) (and I also went to the place where I used to work a few summers ago, and I hugged everyone there exuberantly and bought a shirt and two really nice pens).  Instead I went to the library and get a whole bunch of books, including What Happened in Hamelin, which I read about on Jeane’s blog, Dog Ear DiaryWhat Happened in Hamelin is, as you may have begun to suspect, a retelling of the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

The Pied Piper – they call him Gast – is portrayed as a brilliant, charismatic, unscrupulous man, who uses crafty means to Harold-Hill the residents into doing everything he wants, and then getting rid of their rats while winning over every person in the town.  Chief amongst them (at least at first) is a fourteen-year-old orphan called Geist, who feels some uneasiness about the stranger’s methods but finds it hard to resist the attention he’s getting as Gast’s right-hand man.

It’s an interesting take on the Hamelin story.  Gast thinks of a clever way to get rid of the rats, and the thing he does with the children is also clever.  The whole thing isn’t as far-fetched as you might expect an explanation of the Pied Piper story to be – actually, it seemed rather plausible to me.  You know, sad, but plausible.

This book was damn unsettling.  It was already unsettling before I got to the end where – spoilers – Gast leads all the children through a mountain pass in order to sell them to some guys he’s presumably got on retainer.  I just found it thoroughly disturbing that Gast was using his charm to get these kids away from their parents and off to be sold, and that was his plan all along.  If I had read this book when I was a little girl it would have given me nightmares.  As a grown-up, I was still bothered by it, but I really, really enjoyed it.  Thanks, Jeane, for the excellent book recommendation!

P.S. Want to hear something sad?  I know you do.  The first written record in the actual town of Hamelin is in the chronicles in 1384 and says “It is ten years since our children left.”  It’s true.  I read it on Wikipedia.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling

I saw this graph one time on something connected with the Lemony Snicket books, and it showed how as time went on, the number of fortunate events decreased. And that is what I always think of when I read the fifth Harry Potter book. It contains so many depressing things – dementors, Umbridge, writing lines in blood, everyone thinking Harry is crazy, an acknowledgement of Harry’s psychological issues, Cho Chang – and the end makes me feel so very, very sad, for Harry and for Dumbledore. I stayed up until midnight for this book when it came out, at the Bongs & Noodles near my place, which was fun because of the big party they were having. I kept running into people from my high school who tried to pretend they weren’t there for the Harry Potter book but I KNEW BETTER. And the cover was so cool and mysterious! And then once we got our books, me and my big sister and our friend Jane went back to Jane’s house to read it, and they both got cross at me if I made a single noise when I was reading. And Jane’s dogs got really tired because we never turned the lights off, and they kept falling over when they tried to walk. It was good times.

I mean, sort of. If you ignore how sad this book is. In this one, Voldemort’s back, and nobody believes it. Harry and Dumbledore are totally discredited in the wizarding world, and everyone is constantly telling lies, repressing stories about dreadful things happening, and punishing Harry when he tries to tell the truth about Voldemort. There is a new awful Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher called Dolores Awful Umbridge, who spends her time turning Hogwarts into a Fascist state. Snape continues being horrible to Harry, and we sort of find out why. Harry’s psychic connection with Voldemort deepens (ugh), and Hagrid makes Harry’s life harder (again) (but I still love him). A few cheerful things happen, but they are few and far between, and they are quickly cancelled out by all the awful things that follow in their wake.

The adverbs in this book hurt me. I tried not to notice them but it was difficult when they were clawing free of the page and burrowing into my eyeballs. My recollection is that the sixth book isn’t as bad about this, but we’ll see. I feel like the adverbs in this book are worse than they’ve been.

My mother doesn’t like it when Harry yells at everybody all through this book. I kind of do. I mean, not the all-caps business, which just shouldn’t be allowed, but I feel that at this point, he’s entitled to a little anger. You know, the kid loses his parents, gets raised by assholes in total ignorance of his heritage, and when he does go off to wizard school and escape from the jerks that didn’t parent him properly, the adults in his life continue to not parent him, not even managing to protect him from Dark wizards trying to kill him (I feel guilty even writing this because I was so sniffly when I was reading the bit about how guilty Dumbledore feels about Harry at the end of this book), and then, when the person who killed his parents returns to start killing more people, everyone he knows quits talking to him for half the summer. Oh, and the wizarding world staunchly denies that his very traumatic experience of watching Voldemort return ever happened. So hey. I’d be mad too.

(Apparently growing up with these books has made me very protective of Harry.)

Now I will have spoilers.

On rereading, I find myself much fonder of Luna Lovegood, who grew on me in the sixth book after I originally completely loathed her (how did I ever loathe her? I’m so weird). I find Umbridge and Snape’s nastiness with Harry actually more upsetting now than I did originally, because I know that Umbridge is never getting her comeuppance, and because I feel like Snape could really have made more of an effort to be nice to Lily’s kid, especially when the kid in question is going through a very hard time with hostility on all sides. That jerk of a Snape. Lily’s looking down from heaven and saying You asshole. I found it incredibly woeful when Lupin told Mrs. Weasley that of course Ron and Ginny would be taken care of if something happened to the Weasley parents. In light of what I know is going to happen to Lupin, that is rather depressing.

On the positive side, I love their top-secret underground Defense Against the Dark Arts Group. I love it when Fred and George take off for good, and everyone in the school works to sabotage Umbridge and her reign of terror (that writing lines in your own blood thing is damn creepy, I must say). I am pleased each time I read the scene where Dumbledore fights off all the Aurors and goes on the run. As much as it pains me, I am interested in the scene from Snape’s memory with James and Sirius – because, I hate him, but it’s about time we found out some extenuating circumstances about Snape. And I am glad about how Hermione confronts Harry about his “saving-people thing”. She’s so clever and perceptive, and if Harry had just damn well listened to her, Sirius wouldn’t have died. So it was nice to have that out there.

I have not yet reconciled myself to the fact that Sirius dies. I cry every time I read that scene. My own father’s so lovely! Imagine having no father and then when you finally acquire a father figure who, okay, has some issues to work out, but nevertheless is devoted to you, HE DIES. It’s so unfair. Poor Sirius. Poor Harry. Actually, the sequence in the Department of Mysteries is a tense and upsetting sequence. Everyone is so brave, and particularly darling Neville is so brave! Oh, when he says that Harry’s not alone, he’s got Neville, and when, oh, Neville, when he tells him not to give them the prophecy, and…

Suffice it to say that – this always happens – I started crying when Neville starts being so brave and wonderful, and I carried right on crying through Sirius’s death, Dumbledore’s fight with Voldemort, and especially all through the part where Dumbledore is explaining everything to Harry. Just don’t even talk about how many tissues had piled up next to me by the time he told him why he didn’t make him a prefect. Oh, right, and at the exact second when I managed to begin drying my eyes, I got to the bit where Harry finds the mirror, and then just when I was feeling proud that I didn’t cry when Harry talks to Nearly Headless Nick, I got to the part where he talks to Luna, and that destroyed me all over again.

…I have a lot of feelings.  The more of these books I read the more emotional I get.  I’m going to have a thing or two to say about Rufus Scrimgeour after I read the sixth book.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

I decided to read these books all over again. The length of my workdays, and the fact that today I was working at one place or another from six-forty in the morning until nine at night, has put the kibosh on any adventurous reading I might feel like doing. I returned all my library books to the library with the intention of reading my books that I already own (but not yet Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, for which I’m still delaying gratification); and I came up with the bright idea of reading the entire Harry Potter series over from the beginning. My little sister and I have been having a big moan about how much we miss the prospect of new Harry Potter books now that the phenomenon is all, all over.

Also, I decline to call it Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. What is a sorcerer’s stone? The thing is called the philosopher’s stone! It has basis in alchemic legend! Why assume Americans are too stupid for this? Hmph.

In case you’ve been living under a rock: little Harry is a wee lad of eleven, and lives with his awful aunt and uncle and cousin, where nobody likes him and his glasses are broken and he gets in enormous trouble every time something strange happens around him (which isn’t un-often). And then, and then, and then – and then it proves that he’s a wizard, a really famous one because he somehow defeated the darkest dark wizard of all time when he was just a tiny baby, and he goes off to the wizard school Hogwarts, where he has all kinds of exciting adventures and meets loads of new people and flies brilliantly all around on his broomstick. And confronts the aforementioned dark wizard, all over again.

All the problems I remember with JK Rowling’s writing – crazy long sentences which bugs me as someone who likes to read aloud, and also a plethora of unnecessary verbs where “said” should be, and of course the ubiquitous adverbs – are still there. (I realize that last sentence was on the long side, but this is the same blog where I just used the word “unreviewy”, so the standards aren’t quite the same.) I’ve heard people say that JK Rowling is unoriginal, and Harry’s a cliche, and wizard school is a cliche. However, kids who have been mistreated and then find out they’re special are one of those plots that continues to be enjoyable for ages and ages – just like kids who go off to their relative’s strange old house for the summer and discover it is all full of magic. So I am not bothered by this, and since JK Rowling has created an unbelievably thorough and interesting world for her wizards, I can’t support charges of unoriginality.

I have to say, these are charming, charming books. She’s populated her world with good, bright, vivid characters, and she’s made up or borrowed from myth a ton of interesting places and things for Harry (and me!) to be introduced to. I like these books because every one of them introduces new places, new people, new stuff. And as well, I kind of enjoy this one because it’s lighter in tone than the later ones. I want to give Harry a hug and tell him to run away because I KNOW WHAT IS COMING. (JK Rowling was always saying that in interviews – that if she could talk to Harry, she’d tell him she was sorry; if she could spend a day as Harry, she’d run and hide, because she knows what’s in store for him, and I can totally see her point now.) As someone who held out reading them for a while out of a suspicion that they weren’t as good as everyone was saying, let me just say: They’re as good as everyone is saying.

Rereading this, I’m having flashbacks to eighth grade, which is when I first read this book. My friend Rachel lent it to me, and I read it on the bus so I wouldn’t have to talk to the irritating girl who sat with me. Her name was Terri, and she had a high-pitched voice and an annoying little sister who also rode our bus, and she couldn’t understand why it would bother me to have somebody poking their fingers at my face. I finished it, urged my sisters to read it, and ran straight out to the Books-a-Million to buy Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And then, oh my God, I think I maybe got the third book at the school book fair! I miss the school book fairs!

I’m also finding that I react to every character differently now, because I know the entire arc of their story. (If you haven’t had the joyous experience of reading the Harry Potter books, don’t read this paragraph. I mean it. Even I, queen of reading the end, did not want to know the endings of these books.) So when people show up who are going to die later, I feel urgently that everybody else should enjoy their presence while they can. When people show up who are going to be heroic later, I can only think of their future heroic deeds. I’m having surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, when you think about how tired I am) emotional reactions to everything. When Neville comes into the compartment looking for his toad, I could only think about how he slays Nagini later, oh, how Harry’s going off and he tells Neville, just if he gets the chance, “Kill the snake?” “Kill the snake.” Darling Neville! I wish I could tell him how brave he will be! And when Dumbledore’s giving his speech at the school banquet, I was filled with visceral rage about the nasty things Rita Skeeter was going to say about him later. Oh how I hate her, with her vile insinuations about his very touching paternal relationship with Harry. VILE VILE VILE WOMAN.

Getting the Girl, Markus Zusak (another unreviewy review)

Sheesh, I read this right after Fighting Ruben Wolfe and then completely forgot to review this.  It’s because so many new things are happening.  I’m not just making an excuse.  There are a lot of things going on in my life at the moment.  For instance:

1. New job
2. New commitment to regular writing schedule
3. New phone and laptop
4. New record player
5. Loads and loads of new records – some purchased, some given to me by kind aunt and uncle – and the discovery of a wondrous record store in town
6. New addiction to Jodi Picoult
7. Renewed addiction to cross-stitching
8. Renewed addiction to Gilmore Girls (differing from my previous addictions in that it encompasses the latter four seasons, rather than the first three)

All of these things are time-consuming, particularly the addictions.  I am beginning to suspect that I have an addictive personality.  I get into these manias and I can’t escape until they shake me loose.  The cross-stitching while watching Gilmore Girls thing is just getting started, but it is gaining momentum rapidly.  Plus I am writing for two hours in the morning and then working nine hours after that (I mean eight really, with a break for lunch, but I am out and about all that time), so I have a long and tiring day, and by the end of it I just want to do something soothing and mindless, like read Jodi Picoult or watch Gilmore Girls.  My mum keeps insisting I can’t possibly read Jodi Picoult’s books without thinking about the issues raised in them, but it turns out that I really, really can.  I am willing to entertain the notion that I am just turning off my brain as soon as I leave work, and that’s why I have thought no deep thoughts about Jodi Picoult.

Well, in any case.  (Obviously all this business has given me ADD and I can’t focus on anything.  Oo, and what else is new too also is that it’s fall, and all the fall TV shows have come on, and I enjoy to cross-stitch while watching (on successive days) Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill (Monday is guilty pleasure day), House, Pushing Daisies, and The Office.)  In any case, Getting the Girl was again very good.  Of course.  Markus Zusak is always good.  Of course his other books (other = books not The Book Thief) are less amazing than The Book Thief, but the four I’ve read have all been quite excellent.  At times I thought Getting the Girl was a trifle disingenuous, but overall, I liked it a lot.  So far I have yet to read a book by Markus Zusak without getting choked up and teary-eyed (though of course with The Book Thief I cried many, many tears).

Fighting Ruben Wolfe, Markus Zusak

I read this because I bought Getting the Girl, and then it turned out that Getting the Girl was a sequel to Fighting Ruben Wolfe.  I haven’t liked reading things out of order since I was a young lass reading Patricia C. Wrede’s Dragons books.  I read Talking to Dragons first and found it totally confusing, and after that I resolved to read things properly and in order thereafter.  (The one exception being the Chronicles of Narnia.  I can see a person being just as happy reading those books in the order they were written, which would give them the joyous good fortune of reading The Horse and His Boy rather late in the game.  Also The Magician’s Nephew – it is my fourth favorite, but it clusters high up with the four best ones, rather than down a bit lower with Prince Caspian, The Terrifying Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.  I like Uncle Andrew.

Er, anyway.  Fighting Ruben Wolfe is all about two brothers, Ruben and Cameron, whose father has lost his job, and their whole family is trying really hard to keep its head above water.  And Ruben and Cameron – ostensibly to get some extra money for themselves – get involved doing fights for money.  Ruben always wins, and Cameron often loses.

In fact I wasn’t expecting to like this book much.  People’s first novels are sometimes not very good, and this was Markus Zusak’s first novel.  Furthermore I have only sisters and am greatly averse to pain, so I was thinking that I would be unable to identify with anything here.  But actually it was quite moving.  I didn’t cry at the end – not like when I read The Book Thief and weep helplessly every time – but I got pretty teary-eyed and sniffly.  They fight their circumstances!  They stick together and are brothers!  It’s very uplifting.