Sunday, September 26, 2010

Currently Reading

Felt like blogging, didn't really know what to say, so turned to BTT. And they had a ridiculously easy one up:

What are you reading right now? What made you choose it? Are you enjoying it? Would you recommend it? (And, by all means, discuss everything, if you’re reading more than one thing!)

(I’ve asked this one before, but, well, it’s not like the answers stay the same, and darn it, it’s an interesting question!)

So right now I'm reading Private Life by Jane Smiley. I chose it because of an ad in The New Yorker. For a long time, I've had an irrational prejudice against this author because I really hate her last name. I know it's stupid, but I find it annoying. I did actually try one of her other books once, called Moo. And she did that thing I hate, when she makes an animal a symbol of something negative, like loss, or the toll that neglect and someone's whims takes on something. It always makes me miss the point.

So, to me, Moo is about a pig who's stashed in an unused building at a college and meticulously cared for by a student who bonds with the pig because he grew up on a farm and kinda misses it, and then after being stashed in the dark for months, they tear down the building because no one knows the pig was in there, and the pig (who's been depressed for a while) gets so excited to see the sunlight and smell the fresh air again that he goes running across campus, except he's big and fat now and can't really run and dies.

So anyway. Private Life. So far, I'd give it a meh-not-bad. It's another family saga, and I'm beginning to think maybe I checked out too many of those. It's about three daughters, especially the youngest, who were born in the late 1800s, and their marriages. Two of them stick close to home and make financially advantageous, conventional matches. But who cares about THEM. This book is about Margaret, consigned to old-maidhood until a naval astronomer (the joke is that they're never sure whether to address him as Dr., Captain, or just Mr.) marries her and takes her to California. All this is a rather slow burn, and I'm substantially into the book at this point. Hard to think of what to say about this one.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Salt and Sand

The House on Salt Hay Road appealed to me as a family saga, but it turns out it's just as much of a time/place saga. When you read this book, you'll smell sea salt, you'll feel the mosit wind lashing your face, you'll hear the cry of birds and you may just be the tiniest bit irrationally cautious of where you read the book, lest you get sand in your bed or your car.

This is a first novel by Carin Clevidence. It's set in the late 1930s on coastal, rural Long Island. It's a family saga, like I said, about a blended family. Nancy (age 20) and Clayton (age 12ish) are brother and sister. Their parents are both dead, and they've been living for several years with the grandfather, whom everyone calls Scudder, their aunt Mavis who was abandoned by her drunken husband and now works as a domestic at a lodge, and their uncle Roy, whose first girlfriend died when he was about Nancy's age and heralded his permanent retirement from all that, and from many other things.

It's their story over a few years. Nancy feels trapped. Clayton loves it, being a real nature type who loves fishing, crabbing, clamming, drawing dead animals, hunting birds, feeding live birds (Mavis' employer has a ton of them) and all variety of outdoor pursuits. Scudder inevitably ages and declines. Roy gets forced out of his comfort zone for one. Mavis confronts all the unpleasantness in her marriage that she's worked hard to ignore for years.

Nature plays a major role in their story. The book opens with an explosion at a fireworks factory and essentially closes with the biggest hurricane the region had ever seen, although there is denouement. I give this one a strong reccomendation. While it wasn't one of those that impelled me to read late into the night or one that I was thinking about when I wasn't reading it, it was a beautiful, realistic novel that felt like life and has one of the stronger senses of place I've ever seen in a book.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Today's catch at the library

It was a good day there. I found parking right away, I got a large quantity of books, and as it turned out, didn't owe them any money. I did have a secret weapon, though: the spring fiction issue of the New Yorker. It is to readers what the September issue of Vogue is to fashionistas. It tells you what's going on in the book world and why. It's as valuable for its ads as it is for its editorial content. It has the added advantage over Vogue, though, of being in reach of anyone with a library card, whereas the average Vogue reader will probably have to wait for the knockoffs to come to their local mall, or seek out a vindictive ex-husband of a wealthy fashionable woman who's putting all her purses on eBay for $50 each.

I noticed a couple of interesting things at the library today:

1. They're putting in a handicapped entrance near where I usually park. OK, I guess it's not that interesting, but it's disrupted things a bit.

2. You can make anything sound trendy and modern by sticking an "i" in front of it. Like iPoe, who is the subject of the local Big Read. Calling him ePoe would have made more sense, but I'm not in marketing.

3. If you eat right and try to exercise on an increasingly regular basis, "as many books as you can carry" becomes less of a solid benchmark for what your personal limit should be. Today, I could carry ten.

So, what'd I get? I'm so glad you asked.

The House on Salt Hay Road by Carin Clevidence. Just because it sounds cool.

Lockport Boy: a memoir of a magical time and place by Frank Bredell. I like to read books about the area, and this just sounds like such a joyful one. It was on their staff picks table, proving again that their stff has great taste.

She's Not There: a life in two genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan. I read her other book and thought it was terrific. This has been on my mental list for a while. Since I actually came with a paper list this time, I remembered to look for it.

Private Life by Jane Smiley. This was in the New Yorker issue that I mentioned. It sounded very good. I only read one of her other books, and it had an animal subplot that was so compelling and upsetting that I completely missed the point of the rest of the book.

The Family Beach House by Holly Chamberlin. A sort of quandary, because it's a family saga, which I tagged as suitable for fall, but about a beach house, which makes it more summery. I figured this in-between period would be perfect.

Midnight on the line: the secret life of the US border by Tim Gaynor. I passed it looking for something else and I thought it seemed like a valuable thing for a Northerner to read. We hear so much about border issues up here, but they don't really affect our lives to the point where we might have an informed opinion. I want a better understanding of why this is such a big issue, and if it's a real issue or just a 'wedge' issue like the so-called Ground Zero mosque or gay marriage.

Glass, paper, beans: a revelation on the nature of... by Leah Hager Cohen. I also found this on the way to something else. I guess it tracks the sources of these three things or something. Looking at my list, I would dub this one Most LIkely to Be Returned Unread, especially since it's so similar in subject matter to what I was really looking for, which is...

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Consider me her Colbert Bump: this is where I heard about her book, but it's a topic that's sort of interested me for a while: how the poorest Americans have tons of shit, where it comes from, and what happens to it when we're done with it.

The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute. I guess this was the It Book one year in the 80s. My parents had it, and as a little kid, the title confused the absolute hell out of me, especially since on closer examination, the book was not set in Egypt nor did it have anything to do with beans. I think it's about white trash, actually. I also think I've tried it before and not gotten far, but I'm interested in trying again.

Rest area: stories by Clay McLeod Chapman. This one had me at the description of the story in which preteen boys pretend that the lifeguard at the pool is a witch and they have to safely get to the bottom of the slide to defeat her. It's been a while since I read a good short story collection. I hope this qualifies.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Characters welcome?

Despite my belief that long books are better in the winter, I dove headfirst into David Copperfield three weeks ago. I don't know why. I bought it at Barnes and Noble a few months ago, and suddenly, there was nothing I wanted to read more. I finished it over the weekend.

I liked it, overall. But I know this is one book that frequently has the "boring" charge brought against it, and I can sort of understand why. Most of the stuff that happens develops rather slowly, and there is quite a bit in there that's not relevant to the main plot, which in itself is hard to define, since it's just a coming-of-age story and you could argue that everything that happens to you while you're growing up is relevant in a coming-of-age story.

And it's all there in David Copperfield. We get treated to accounts of what he ate in the inn on his way back to boarding school, what the interior was like of every door he darkened, and lengthy scenes with random characters. I think Charles Dickens liked making interesting characters so much that he just couldn't restrain himself.

And all of the random characters are pretty interesting. His beautician-dwarf made me think of the beautician-dwarf in the Tales of The City book where Michael goes to London. The cheerful funeral outfitters were interesting too. My co-worker was coincidentally re-reading it at the same time and pointed out that there was a great deal of foreshadowing in the book, and she's definitely right. Steerforth is described in too glowing terms not to have a dark side, and Uriah Heep is just shady as hell. But really, the cahracters make this one. And I love character-driven books.

Even though I liked Great Expectations better (it was much funnier), I enjoyed David Copperfield so much that I picked up Our Mutual Friend and Ye Old Curiousity Shoppe this weekend at B&N.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It happened to me

So my whole adult life, basically, I've heard about people having computer problems. Viruses. The screens on their laptops failing. Hard drives crashing. Fried memory. But when it came to my own computer, I had this bizarre, magical yet persistent belief that I. Was. Bulletproof. I've had my own machine since 2002 and been problem-free the entire time.

Until the past few weeks. There were signs. I got the infamous "Blue screen of Death" a few times. My SO convinced me that the problem had to do with the fact that my virus protection expired two years ago, so I bought new virus scanning software. I ran several scans, it found a few things, and I figured that would be the end of it. Then. THEN. One day, I got the BSOD three times in a row. It happened so fast that I didn't even see the second time, it was still rebooting from the first time and I was turned around in my chair, talking to SO.

He messed around with it for a little while, imparted to me the surprising fact that it was not only possible to clean a computer but imperative to do so, and...he didn't fix it. Every time we tried something, it got progressively worse. We tried implementing some of the suggestions of our WoW friends, most of whom work with computers, but didn't get very far. It's fried. Windows now won't load at all. I've got to take it somewhere to get it fixed, but until then, it's just sitting on my kitchen table like a big, expensive paperweight.

So if there are no blog posts for a while, that's why.