Thursday, August 30, 2012

First Line Friday! 2012 election edition

When I’m not bloviating about books and literature, I’m a pretty hopeless political junky. And with the two major party conventions taking place this week and next, I figured I’d combine those two hobbies for First Line Friday. Today we examine the opening of Mitt Romney’s two books, Turnaround  and No Apology.  Next week we’ll examine the two books penned by President Obama.

In Turnaround,  Romney’s hidden his first line behind a “preface to the paperback edition,” an “introduction and acknowledgements” section, and a prologue. But chapter one kicks off like this:
“In the fall of 1998 I got a call asking whether I would consider taking the helm of the troubled Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Games. I dismissed the notion out of hand.”
In No Apology,  he begins like this:
“I hate to weed. I’ve hated it ever since my father put me to work weeding the garden at our home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.”
Well, William Faulkner they are not. But since people picking up the books will already be familiar with their premises, those two openings do set an effective hook by making the reader wonder “how are we going to get there from here?” If he didn’t want to take on the Olympics, why did he end up doing it? And what the heck does weeding a garden have to do with American exceptionalism? I haven’t read either book, so I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I would read on.



Reading Check-up

So, we’re sitting two-thirds of the way through 2012. It’s time to revisit our reading resolutions. You can find mine here. And here’s what I’ve read so far this year:

  1. The View from Castle Rock, Alice Munro 
  2. A Bell for Adano, John Hersey 
  3. Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta 
  4. Wasatch, Douglas Thayer 
  5. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James 
  6. Curtain, Agatha Christie  
  7. Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust  
  8. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte  
  9. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte   
  10. A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan 
  11. The Vegetable, F. Scott Fitzgerald  
  12. The Fifth Column & Four Unpublished Stories of the Spanish Civil War, Ernest Hemingway  
  13. The Death of a Disco Dancer, David Clark   
  14. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett 
  15. The Dead, James Joyce 
  16. Blue Nights, Joan Didion
  17. Swamplandia, Karen Russell 
  18. Silas Marner, George Eliot
  19. Home, Toni Morrison
  20. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  21. Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
  22. The Human Comedy, William Saroyan
  23. Train Dreams, Denis Johnson
  24. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides   
  25. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern  
  26. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  27. Moby Dick, Herman Melville

And currently vying for attention on my nightstand are:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon
Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer

That’s 14 women and 15 men (with one gentleman showing up twice). But what really blows me away is that 24 of these authors were brand-spanking new to me. I feel like I’m tearing through new authors like they’re going out of style (some of them are!), and I’m still  only scratching the surface.

But back to my goals. I’m clearly reading more women, I’ve knocked off an Agatha Christie, and all I need to do in the next four months is read a foreign language book in the original. Not too shabby.

What about you? How is your reading year coming along?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What's your white whale?

The white whale from Moby Dick  is one of the great enduring symbols from the world of literature.

For Captain Ahab it represented everything menacing and evil in the world. For others on board the Pequod it illustrated Ahab’s monomaniacal obsession with revenge at the cost of all else. But the white whale has also come to conjure up images of some ultimate dread, of ill-fated unfinished business, and of hopeless, lost causes and predestined disasters.

As readers, we’ve all got a white whale. We’ve all got at least one book that taunts us mercilessly from the shelf- one that has conquered and defeated us, and that hangs ominously over us for years after our failure to read it. As I mentioned in this previous post, the book that became my personal Moby Dick, was none other than Moby Dick  itself. This seems like an appropriate place to leave one of Hollywood’s greatest motivational speeches:

Today, I am proud to say that I have finally defeated my own Moby Dick,  who also happens to be the ‘actual’  Moby Dick.  That’s right, fellow readers, pick your metaphor: I have harpooned the great white whale, exercised the demon, shaken the monkey off my back, and filled El Guapo so full of lead he’ll be using his... well, you get the picture.  


So what about you? What’s your white whale?

Or, if you’d prefer, what’s your favorite Three Amigos quote?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vintage Mitchell

One more interesting tidbit from the Margaret Mitchell House:

Long before she was producing Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction, young  Margaret Mitchell was naturally producing non-Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction. Take, for example, this early, early story- written in her own girlish hand:

In case you can’t read the words through the glare of my cell-phone pictures, here is the full text below:
Two Little People
Two little people live in my backyard. One is named Tommy, and the other, Sarah. Tommy is the boldest and the bravest. Each morning he gets up and salutes Sarah, saying “Come Sarah, the sun has been up an hour you are very sleepy, my dear.” Sarah rubs her eyes. They go together and get breakfast. Sarah is lazy and lets Tommy do the work. She does not even cook her food, but eats it raw.
Every day they have a singing lesson. This is what they sing. “Quack, quack, quack,” for Tommy and Sarah are two ducks.
The End.
Not quite Pulitzer material, I admit. But you can’t help but be moved by the social commentary provided by Sarah’s unwillingness to wake-up, just as the post-bellum South was reticent to wake up to the harsh realities of reconstruction. Or the symbolism of the raw breakfast as a stand-in for man’s unfulfilled potential. Or how the skilled use of onomatopoeia reminds us all that we are all, at center, just brute animals striving for an unattainable transcendence.

How a pre-teen Mitchell accomplishes all that in just 10 or 11 sentences is downright remarkable, no?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Literary Atlanta

My little brother was in town this weekend, rounding out the list of Atlanta attractions he’s visited on previous trips. Our wanderings took us to the Oakland cemetery, where Margaret Mitchell is buried, and then to the Margaret Mitchell house downtown.

Now, the Margaret Mitchell House is a bit of a misnomer. It really should be called the Margaret Mitchell one-bedroom apartment, because that’s all the living space she took up in the grand three-story building that now bears her name. 

But hey, false advertising seems to have been a running theme in Ms. Mitchell’s life. She found herself engaged to five different men, falsified her resume to gain employment at the Atlanta Journal, and when talking about her masterpiece, Gone With the Wind,  tossed off this classic line: “In a weak moment I have written a book-” as if the muse attacked her one long weekend and she dashed the thing off on a whim. That weak moment actually lasted her a good ten years from start to finish.

Oh well, if you get caught up in Mitchell-mania, stop on in. It’s worth your time. You’ll see the apartment she referred to as “the Dump,” you’ll see the front door of the Tara movie set, and you’ll learn a thing or two you might not have known otherwise. (Fun fact, Scarlet was originally named Pansy O’Hara, and she lived not at Tara, but at Fontenoy Hall. Also, if Margaret Mitchell had her way, Rhett Butler would have been played not by Clark Gable, but… wait for it… Basil Rathbone. What a name!!)

Next up? The Ernest Hemingway museum in Oak Park, Illinois, which I’ll visit this coming weekend.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Some reasons to ruin a book

Looking for a crafty project to fill up your Saturday? Look no further. READTHE100 forwarded us this link for bookish DIY types. Take a look:

(Some of you may remember this post from last year, where I lamented the fact that my wife doesn’t often follow this blog, and therefore wouldn’t know that a hollow book safe would be a pretty rad Christmas gift for yours truly. Turns out she does check in every now and again, and painstakingly fulfilled my wish with one of these:

Friday, August 24, 2012

First Line Friday! Police Line-up

We’ve covered some amazing first lines and some others that tend to… fall flat. This raises some questions: Is a first line truly any different than any other line? Does a first line have  to knock you on your butt? Are the first lines of “great” books actually better than those of lesser books?

Let’s put that last question to the test. Our first lines today come to you courtesy of my phone’s camera, and the $0.50 romance bin at my local used bookstore. But here’s the catch. There are also two so-called “classics” mixed in for good measure. Without the crutch of your favorite search engine, can you pick the two classics out of the line-up? Just curious…

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Travel Narrative: In pictures

You thought I was done with this theme? Well, maybe just one more post. Here are a few literary journeys for those of you with a cartographer’s bent. 

From On the Road,  Sal Paradise’s path through the US and Mexico:

Steinbeck’s rambling jaunt from Travels with Charley:

William Least Heat Moon’s roundabout roamings in Blue Highways:

The ill-fated wanderings of  Alexander Supertramp (Chris McCandless), from Krakauer’s Into the Wild:

The Pequod’s journey on the high seas in Moby Dick:

And Phileas Fogg’s mad race across the globe in Around the World in 80 Days:

What other great literary maps are we missing?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Travel Narrative: Amateur Hour

Continuing our theme from yesterday I thought I’d add that my obsession with the travel narrative isn’t solely limited to great works of literature. As I’ve mentioned here, I’m a bit of a blog voyeur. And today I’m sharing a few of my past internet haunts to give you an idea what I’m talking about.

I’ve stumbled on many an expat blog, some great, some dull.  The worst kind are without a doubt the married couples- burned out consultants with money burning a hole in their pockets- who vow to take a year or two off to “recharge,” but who actually just give off an air of wanting to make their friends and families jealous. Boooor-ing. 

For some reason, the ones that really seem to hold my interest are the blogs of artists living abroad. Sadly, the lifespan of blogs both good and bad, are sometimes shorter than we’d like them to be. (I write that sentence… on a blog. Irony? Or foreshadowing?!!) Most of these have petered out, or have found new homes on Tumblr, but if you’re anything like I am you might just enjoy browsing the archives.

  • Jed Sundwall was a friend of some friends. On his blog I had Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brazil and Argentina all at my fingertips. He’s still churning out great material on Tumblr, but you can visit his archives here for a look at his days abroad. It’s no exaggeration to say that everything I know about the Phrygian cap, I learned from Jed. 

  • When I was planning my own trip to Buenos Aires, I happened upon Jimmy Danko, a mohawked expat artist who has since returned home to L.A. But watching him whip up some art or repurposingold Subte passes never gets old. Oh, he's still on Tumblr, too. 

  • Others examples can be found at They feature case studies on the vagabonding lifestyle and share other helpful tips for those who want to head out into the unknown on their own. Check them all out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Travel Narrative

I mentioned the other day that I’m reading Blue Highways  by William Least Heat Moon, a book that was recommended to me 10 years ago in Cuszco, Peru and which has been nagging to be read on and off ever since. Next to it on my nightstand sits Into Thin Air   by Jon Krakauer, a first-hand account of the Everest disaster of 1996. Meanwhile, on my way to and from work I have been enthralled by Melville’s Moby Dick,  a book that nearly circumnavigates the globe before its finish. 

My favorite book so far this year might just well be Kerouac’s On the Road,  and my favorite author of all time, as any regular readers have probably deduced by now, is Ernest Hemingway- chronicler of European wars, African safaris and Cuban boatmen. If it wasn’t clear to me before, it’s becoming crystal clear now, that I am a hopeless sucker for the travel narrative:
“The travel narrative is the oldest in the world, the story the wanderer tells to the folk gathered around the fire after his or her return from a journey. “This is what I saw” — news from the wider world; the odd, the strange, the shocking, tales of beasts or of other people. “They’re just like us!” or “They’re not like us at all” The traveler’s tale is always in the nature of a report. And it is the origin of narrative fiction too, the traveler enlivening a dozing group with invented details, embroidering on experience.”

–Paul Theroux, The Tao of Travel.
Anyone else?

Monday, August 20, 2012

My life story- in ten authors or less

Like Wallace Thurman and Neal Cassady, I was born in Salt Lake City.

I went to the same high school as another Wallace, Wallace Stegner.  (and Roseanne Barr as a matter of fact. High School Musical was filmed there-yep, okay. I’ll stop.)

Like both Wallaces, I went on to the University of Utah. And like Thurman, I was a pre-med student while there.

Like Pearl Buck, I spent time abroad as a missionary.

Like Harper Lee I was once an airline reservations agent. Unlike Harper Lee, I didn’t have friends who funded a one-year sabbatical so that I could finally write my lasting literary masterpiece.

Which is why I’m a marketing slave in corporate America, which kind of makes be like Kurt Vonnegut, who worked as a PR man at GE before exploding onto the literary scene.

Like Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and Margaret Mitchell, I now live in central Georgia. (But yikes, unlike  those illustrious southern belles, I hope to live past their average 46 year lifespan. Perhaps Erskine Caldwell, who was born just 20 miles away and lived to age 83, bodes a little better for me.)

What about you? Who shares your biography?

Friday, August 17, 2012

First Line Friday! William Least Heat Moon

Today’s first lines comes to you courtesy of my bedside table, where sits William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways  at the moment. Take a look:
“Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren’t turned properly; they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources. Take the idea of February 17, a day of canceled expectations, the day I learned my job teaching English was finished because of declining enrollment at the college, the day I called my wife from whom I’d been separated for nine months to give her the news, the day she let slip about her “friend” Rick or Dick Chick. Something like that.”
The opening sentence, and the one that follows it, don’t so much launch into a story, as they simply share some words to the wise. And any time we recognize the voice of experience talking to us, we do a very human thing, we start calculating whether or not we should trust the source and heed the warning, or whether we should dismiss it out of hand. We become eager to hear the tale behind the advice. Curiosity overtakes us, and we read on.

Here’s a guy on the edge. His marriage is on the rocks, he’s anxious about his job, and then boom- things go from bad to worse. He gets canned, his wife has replaced him and he’s pushed right over the precipice. Now he’s susceptible to all sorts of crazy whims. And we want to know just how crazy it gets. All in all, I think it’s a great opening. Worked for me, anyway.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The movie was good, but the poem was better...

So here’s an interesting topic: Movies based on poems.

Yes, they exist. It seems they are few and far between, but a little digging reveals a few prime examples. Of course most that spring to mind live in the epic poem category, but I’m going to go ahead and disqualify those right at the outset. An epic poem is, for all intents and purposes, basically a book. And a book-length work, regardless of its rhyme and meter, ought to contain more than enough plot to fill out a feature film. 

So, while they may be great movies, don’t give me your Troy (the Iliad), your Beowulf (Beowulf), your El Cid (Cantar de Mio Cid) or your Braveheart (The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace). Neither McKayla nor I am impressed.

Also, spare me the modern retellings like “O, Brother Where Art Thou” (the Oddysey) and the biopics like “Howl” (“Howl.”)- both of which are already disqualified based on length above.

No, I’m talking about relatively short poems, that spin complete yarns, and that have inspired some hungry screenwriter to create movie magic. Here are a few that fit the bill:
The Man From Snowy River,” based on the 1890 poem of the same name, by Australian poet Banjo Paterson. The climax of the poem became the climax of the film- Jim Craig’s lunatic plunge down that impossibly steep gorge on horseback was seared into my five-year-old brain like few movie moments have been before or since.
Gunga Din,” based on the 1892 poem of the same name, by Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling. This one’s a “loosely-based,” but the theme of the brave and decent native as compared to the craven British soldiers is true to the original.
The Raven,” based on the 1845 poem of the same name, by drunkard and all-around wierdo Edgar Allen Poe. I haven’t seen this one, so I don’t know how loyal it is to Poe, but it’s a B movie horror-comedy. What more could you really want?
Mulan,” based on “The Ballad of Mulan” a Chinese poem transcribed in the 6th century. I haven’t read this one, and haven’t seen the movie. But I did read the Chick-Fil-A kids meal version to my kids a year or so ago. Does that count?
Which ones did I leave out, readers and movie buffs? What other short poems have made their way to the silver screen?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Quote Board: Books

Got any of your own to add? Throw them in the comments.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Haiku-ption Contest #9

Mine is below. Throw yours in the comments. Go!

Performing Fam’ly
‘Oh! Like the Von Trapps?’ they ask
Uh, kind of… I guess.

Monday, August 13, 2012

See India! Read a Novel!

The summer travel season may be drawing to a close, but the literary  travel season doesn’t have to . Here are three books that will transport you to the subcontinent of India, a place I’ve always wanted to visit.

For the intrigue and excitement of The Great Game, you’ve always got  Kim,  by Rudyard Kipling.
 “The hot and crowded bazaars blazed with light as they made their way through the press of all the races in Upper India, and the lama mooned through it like a man in a dream. It was his first experience of a large city, and the sight of the crowded tram-car with its continually squealing brakes frightened him. Half pushed, half towed, he arrived at the high gate of the Kashmir Serai: that huge open square over against the railway station, surrounded with arched cloisters where the camel and horse caravans put up on their return from Central Asia. Here were all manner of Northern folk, tending tethered ponies and kneeling camels; loading and unloading bales and bundles; drawing water for the evening meal at the creaking well windlasses; piling grass before the shrieking, wild-eyed stallions; cuffing the surly caravan dogs; paying off camel drivers; taking on new grooms; swearing, shouting, arguing, and chaffering in the packed square. The cloisters, reached by three or four masonry steps, made a  haven of refuge around this turbulent sea. Most of them were rented to traders, as we rent the arches of a viaduct; the space between pillar and pillar being bricked or boarded off into rooms, which were guarded by heavy wooden doors and cumbrous native padlocks. Locked doors showed the owner was far away, and a few rude-sometimes very rude- chalk or paint scratches told where he had gone. Thus: ‘Lutuf Allah is gone to Kurdistan.’ Below, in coarse verse: ‘O Allah, who sufferest lice to live on the coat of a Kabuli, why hast thou allowed this louse Lutuf to live so long?’
For the era of Independence, there’s always Midnight’s Children,  by Salmon Rushdie
 “He made his living as a simple ferryman, despite all the rumors of wealth, taking hay and goats and vegetables and wood across the lakes for cash; people, too. When he was running his taxi-service he erected a pavilion in the center of the shikara, a gay affair of flower-patterned curtains and canopy, with cushions to match; and deodorized his boat with incense. The sight of Tai’s shikara approaching, curtains flying, had always been for Doctor Aziz one of the defining images of the coming of spring. Soon the English sahibs would arrive and Tai would ferry them to Shalimar Gardens and the King’s Spring, chattering and pointy and stooped. He was the living antithesis of Oskar-Ilse-Ingrid’s belief in the inevitability of change … a quirky, enduring familiar spirit of the valley. A watery Caliban, rather too fond of cheap Kashmiri brandy.”
 And for the turmoil of the Emergency, how about A Fine Balance,  by Rohinton Mistry
 “The morning Express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed. The train’s brief deception jolted its riders. The bulge of humans hanging out of the doorway distended perilously, like a soap bubble at its limit…
 “The southbound express slowed again. With a pneumatic hiss, the bogies clanked to a halt. The train was between stations. Its air brakes continued to exhale wheezily for a few moments before dying out.
 “Omprakash looked through the window to determine where they had stopped. Rough shacks stood beyond the railroad fence, alongside a ditch running with raw sewage. Children were playing a game with sticks and stones. An excited puppy danced around them, trying to join in. Nearby, a shirtless man was milking a cow. They could have been anywhere.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Another Month in the Can

We’ve seen our traffic take a slight dip in the past month. We can only hope it’s evidence that people are enjoying their summer instead of burning their eyes out surfing the information superhighway. To the rest of you, why don’t you go out and have some fun while the weather holds? Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

As usual, here are our five most popular posts from this past month:

And the many-splendored search terms that led readers here:

Phillis Diller really big hair  >>>>  We've mentioned her once
John updike on the sidewalk  >>>>  I disagree with Updike here
Topless hemingway  >>>>  ...And Twain, Ginsberg and London
How does midnight in paris portray paris  >>>>  See here
To have and have not book  >>>>  The only Hemingway/Faulkner collaboration
Little Lizzy Mann  >>>>  Covered it here
Knut Jensen cyclist  >>>>  Our only cycling post so far
Guy frozen on dance floor  >>>>  This awesome post
The bee gees Saturday night fever album cover  >>>>  The same post again
From the first clang of the rail  >>>>  First Line Friday, Solzhenitsyn style

Friday, August 10, 2012

First Line Friday!

Today’s first line is one that absolutely grabs you by the ears and demands you pay attention. Have a look:
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
Excuse me? You were what?  So begins Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel Middlesex.  

I love how the author delivers the crux of the plot in the very first line. He’s still going to take us through the twists and turns of a novel-length work, the slow burn of details, the crescendo of backstories and present action. But right there in the first line, he stabs his finger at the map and shows us our destination. It has the effect of making you wonder ‘how the devil are we going to get from here to there?’ And I, for one, was sold on the story.

Here’s how the next couple lines continue fleshing out the novel’s destination. I think it’s brilliant.
"Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce’s study, “Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites,” published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology  in 1975. Or maybe you’ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity.  That’s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes."
Agree? Disagree? Fire away!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Poet's Corner: "Tamed" by George Bilgere

As summer draws to a close (school starts next week here in Georgia- good grief!) I thought it would be good to pass along this poem I stumbled on a while back.

Because of the subject matter, it may remind you of this Ray Bradbury post, but while I think it certainly speaks to “summertime,” I think it also celebrates boyhood, rites of passage, and our relationship to the earth around us. A poem for the common man. Have a look:

By George Bilgere

This summer my nephew
is old enough for his first job:
mowing the lawn.

I watch him lean his skinny chest
to the bar of the pushmower,
put his weight into it, and become,

for the first time, a beast in harness,
a laborer on the face of the earth,
somehow withering and expanding at the same time

into something worn and ancient, but still
a kid withal. And I remember
how bitterly I went into the traces,

hating that Saturday ritual
for a while, then growing inexplicably
into it, gradually mastering

the topography of the yard,
sometimes using the back and forth technique,
sometimes going for the checkerboard effect,
or my favorite, the ever-diminishing square
that left, at the lawn's center, one
last uncut stand of grass, a wild fortress

I annihilated with a strange thrill,
then stood back to take a look—
to survey the field. To cast

a critical eye on my work.
Just as this kid is doing, standing
at the edge of the mowed clearance.

Taking his own measure. And liking it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I mentioned my vacation reading material the other day, and thought I’d chime in with a slightly heftier review.

The Night Circus is a pretty captivating book, and one I’d generally recommend to other readers who are looking to escape into another world for a time. As I’ve said before, it won’t soon find its way onto university syllabi, but it’s pretty well-written and full of spell-binding imagery.

At the center of the story are two apprentice magicians who study real magic and pass it off to the world as mere prestidigitation. They are pitted against one another in a sort of competition- a game whose sinister rules are only hinted at, but are never really explained. In the beginning, this vague premise lends a good deal of mystery to the book, but by the end it becomes a drag on the believability of the story. More on that in a moment.

Nevertheless, it’s a book filled with interesting characters. And the most interesting character of all happens to be the circus itself. You discover it through the eyes of both lay circus goers and those on the inside. Momentum builds as you see it develop from a mere idea to a tangible enterprise that attracts its own traveling fan-base. You’re enchanted in the same ways you were first oohed-and-aahed by Hogwarts, or Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

But here’s the problem I encountered. I had no problem suspending my disbelief about the magic and mystery of the circus, but I was completely unable to swallow the central premise on which it all rested, not to mention the motivations of the characters as they played out “the game.” That the two main characters could be compelling, strong-willed actors in their own stories, and yet be such naive and hapless pawns in a game they never understood just… didn’t ring true to me.

And on top of that, the resolution of the book’s main crisis seems to break the very rules that created the crisis in the first place. And here’s where the story really rubbed me the wrong way (spoilers follow): there is a desperate need to find a new steward for the circus, lest it and its creators start crumbling out of existence. The action crescendos to this point, and then… wait for it!… a complete nobody is chosen to step in and save the day. Nothing destined, nothing special about him, nothing that even remotely suggests that he could continue where the two magicians had left off, just a force-fed resolution that didn’t really satisfy.

Aggravating. But hey, it was a vacation read, so I lowered the bar just a bit. Anyone else read it? Anyone disagree?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Writer's Voice: Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling. Fount of manly fiction. Bearer of burly eyebrows. Speaker of… a surprisingly effeminate, mousy little voice. Have a listen:

Could that be the voice of a retirng bank clerk? Sure. Or a sniveling apothecary? Absolutely.  But a spinner of adventure tales? Voice of British Imperialism? And author of “If,” that ultimate poem of manhood?


(But man, those eyebrows are amazing!)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Library Envy

Fun fact: This site was this close <pinching an inch of air between my index finger and thumb> to being named "The Rolling Ladder." That bit of trivia won't mean a whole heckuvalot to any of you, but I simply offer it up as proof that I have an affection for libraries and library paraphernalia.

It's no wonder that I enjoyed this post ("37 Home Library Design Ideas") over at Freshome:  

I have to say that if I were ever to draw up plans for my own dream library, it would have to contain a mezzanine. It's the greatest architectural feature known to man. Hands down.

And if said mezzanine were accessed via a secret doorway? Well, all the better:

Lots more here. Take a gander.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Thomas Hardy: Graveyard Excavator

Before he quit his day job to pen great works of literature, Thomas Hardy was an award-winning architect. Huh. Who knew? Not me, until I happened upon this piece at Kuriositas.

Click on through to find out his connection to the curious tree pictured above.

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Line Friday

If you’ve had a sneaking suspicion that this blog has been on auto-pilot for the past two and a half weeks, you’re very astute. (Was it the eight straight days of Bookish Nerd Bait that tipped you off? The lack of responsiveness to comments? The dearth of weekend posts? All of the above?) Well, we’re back. And we’re better than ever.*

My vacation spanned three weekends, two countries, and despite my best efforts, only one book. So without further ado, let’s resume First Line Friday by looking at the opening of that particular book:
“The circus arrives without warning. 
“No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
It’s the opening salvo in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus,  and if you’ve read the title of this book before you get to the first page (hey, I’m not making any assumptions about your crazy reading habits) you already have some vague idea of what it’s going to be about. You know what a circus is, of course, but you may be asking yourself what the devil a night  circus might be.

The first line gets right down to business. There’s no beating around the bush, no backstory or exposition, no long lead-in. Just answers. It’s slightly mysterious, yet it already unveils some of the mystery the reader brings to the reading. It begins to explain and yet it raises new questions. It’s a great hook, and that’s what first lines are all about.

The book is by no means a great work headed for the Western Canon, but it’s a pretty decent opening if you ask me. Check it out.

* We’re not actually better than ever, but we probably feel a bit better post-vacation