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Niche Blog Friday: Better Book Titles December 3, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Just for Fun, Niche Blogs, reading.
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Have you ever tried to figure out what a book was about from its title? Have you ever read a book based on its title only to find out you were sorely misled? Well, this site: Better Book Titles, tries to remedy such situations by renaming books with literal (pun intended) titles. Check it out for a good laugh!

Possible Best Literary Award Ever? December 2, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Just for Fun, Of Interest, reading.
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Today I found out that the UK annually awards a “Bad Sex in Fiction Award”. Don’t you just love those randy Brits? According to Bloomberg.com, the award started in 1993 and was designed to, “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.” This year’s winner was Rowan Somerville for a passage in his novel, The Shape of Her. Runners up were Jonathan Franzen and Alastair Campbell. Check out the whole story here.

Move over Neil Gaiman…Here Comes China Miéville November 29, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Book Reviews, Of Interest, reading.
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If you’re like Dataduchess and me, you often wonder what all the hullabaloo surrounding Neil Gaiman is about. I liked Coraline (graphic novel version) and The Graveyard Book (both more than Dataduchess), but still didn’t see what the BIG DEAL was about. Similarly, American Gods left me with the feeling that Gaiman was reaching for something that he never quite grasped. While I do think his literature is something to be read and lauded as truly unique, I don’t think he deserves the numerous awards that have been bestowed upon him.

But this post isn’t about Neil Gaiman. It’s about an author who reminds me of him, but who excels exactly where Gaiman starts to flounder, an author similarly bestowed (but more deservingly) with numerous literary awards, an author dabbling in both Young Adult and Adult fantasy – China Miéville. While Miéville distinguishes himself from many of his colleagues by considering his writing “weird fiction”, Wikipedia’s definition of the genre sounds like an exact description of Gaiman’s writing as well: “weird tales often blend the supernatural, mythical, and even scientific.” So what impressed me so much with Miéville besides the fact that he looks like a pirate while actually being a Dungeons and Dragons-playing British socialist? Two books: The City & the City and Un Lun Dun.

At first, I was wary about The City & the City. When my library emailed me that it had arrived I had forgotten why I had requested this detective novel. Usually, in the heat of the moment, I request a book after seeing some blogging buzz or write-up in American Libraries, or its high-placement on some inconsequential “Top Ten” list that I believe reflects my highly nuanced taste. But I digress. The detective story on which the entire plot revolves plays second fiddle to the setting – two cities (Besźel and Ul Qoma) that co-exist “grosstopically” and the way that the citizens of the two cities run their lives so as not to wrongly enter into the other city. And by co-exist, I mean just that – the two cities are so interspersed that often houses next-door to each other are in the other city. Both cities’ denizens distinguish each other as fellow citizens by demeanor and dress. They learn to survive by “unseeing” the people and places in the other city. Should citizens of Besźel want to visit Ul Qoma (or vice-versa), they may, but only by crossing the international border in Cupola Hall (which exists in both cities) and with proper paperwork. Should a citizen accidentally or purposefully interact or even look at part of the other city Breach, a highly secretive force outside of both cities, quickly sweeps in and remedies the situation, usually by obliterating the existence of the offender. The forces that keep citizens from “breaching” into the other city, part actual threat from the menacing Breach and part psychological, are so strong that, a police officer from one city is not allowed to apprehend a criminal from the other city even if he is standing right beside him. Instead, he must “unsee” him. It is problems like these, amid many others, that make this murder-mystery far more than a detective novel.

Salon.com writer Laura Miller describes Un Lun Dun as “a sooty, street-smart hybrid of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Phantom Tollbooth,'” which is exactly the reason I requested this book, The Phantom Tollbooth, being one of my top-tens for as long as I can remember. The book starts with two best friends who find their way into another world – UnLondon, and saddled with the task of defeating the indomitable Smog. At first I was bothered with UnLondon’s lack of consistent rules. While I’ve always like Fantasy books, every realm has its set of rules that creatures must follow. Not so in UnLondon. The world of the “abcity” (a term for all of the “other cities” such as No York, Parisn’t,  Lost Angeles, etc.) seems to use the limits of imagination as its only guideline. And this, once accepted by the reader, works. It is particularly reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth in this respect, and thus the reason that it’s a children’s/young adult book, and not an adult one. Deeba, the underdog-cum-hero, is accompanied on her mission to defeat the Smog by a half-ghost boy named Hemi, a tailor whose head is a pincushion and whose clothes are made of books named Obaday Fing, “utterlings”, creatures in various animal-like form made from speaking new words named Diss and Bling, and various other characters at other times. While Miéville often seems to throw obstacles at Deeba willy-nilly for the sake of creating the “quest” that the fantasy genre is known for, he is at the same time, having fun with the reader. Deeba is not your usual heroine. In fact, she is known as the unChosen, because she is only mentioned in a book of prophecy as the Chosen One’s “funny sidekick”. She is also given a number of tasks to complete before she can defeat the Smog. But after completing one, Deeba realizes that the quests themselves are pointless and that she can just jump to the last task. It is in these small ironies that the true genius of the book resides.

While I would like to do a more in-depth comparison of Gaiman and Miéville, it’s been a while since I read American Gods and Coraline and I’m loath to revisit them for the sake of a blog post. All I can say is this: Miéville has me requesting his entire oeuvre from the public library, while Gaiman, on the other hand, has not inspired such.

Who needs candy or soda when you could get a paperback? August 9, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Of Interest, reading.
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Instead of candy – this early vending machine dispensed Paperback books. Called the Penguincubator, and developed by the founder of Penguin books, it was designed to help cheaply distribute books to the masses.

Story at Publishing Perspectives, via the always fascinating Mental_Floss.

Jump or Go Down with the Ship? Abandoning Books is Not for Me May 6, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in reading, Uncategorized.
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I’d like to state that I always finish books I start, even the bad ones- but with 1 observation, 1 exception and 1 caveat to the rule. First, the observation, and this is merely a personal fact about myself: I read slowly. I read lots, I enjoy reading and will read just about anything – I’m just not fast about it.

Borrowed under Creative Commons from kwerfeldein's flickr stream

The reason I point out this observation about myself is to explain the exception to my above-stated rule of always finishing books, which is I rarely finished the books assigned in high school. Part of me wishes I could claim, I was a rebel and no one was going to tell me what to read (a statement I have in fact made) but the truth is I often liked the assigned books; I just didn’t read fast enough to finish the assigned chapters every night. Soon I was giving up on that book and starting the next assigned novel, and just never looked back. Some of them I plan to pick up again someday though.

Which brings me to the caveat: sometimes it takes a really long time for me to finish a book, and I might read another 1, 2, or 12 books in between. Remember my review of Crossworld? It took me something like 5 years to get through that book! There are several books I have started, and will ultimately finish, but for some reason or another they’ve been put on hiatus. One is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A lovely book with such real passion, but I just can’t read more than a few pages at a time. I don’t even know what it is about it that makes me have to put it down, but I just can’t bring myself to get to the end. I wonder if subconsciously I don’t want to know how it ends… (don’t tell me!)

Aside from high school and the books on hiatus, for some reason I am compelled to finish books. Generally, there are very few books I dislike enough to abandon completely, but it does happen once in awhile that a book just doesn’t hook me. But even those I usually try to get through. I just need to know how they end. For what its worth, I’m not suggesting this is a good quality about me – it’s just the way I am.

What about you, readers? How much time do you invest in a book you aren’t enjoying before you give it up? Do you have a set number of pages you always read before deciding to continue? Do you finish every book you start, no matter how terrible?

For more opinions check out this recent bit from NPR or this bit from a Contemporary Literature Blog.

Can a book written by committee be any good? My sources point to Yes! March 26, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in reading.
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Over at NPR’s All Things Considered is a piece about a newly released Thriller that was written by 22 writers. The novel, Watchlist is the result of collaboration of some of the best authors of modern thrillers, including Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Child. It started with a character created by Deaver, and then the story was passed from author to author, each adding a chapter and moving the story forward or in a new direction. It sounds like a project that can go either disastrously wrong, turn our incredibly brilliant. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say yet whether the collaboration was a success – but I’m certainly intrigued enough to check it out.

The Smell of E-books March 11, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in reading.
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I came across this essay from last week’s New York Times, and admittedly, only read the first paragraph before I was inspired to write this post. Here’s what it said:

People who reject e-books often say they can’t live without the heft, the texture and — curiously — the scent of traditional books. This aria of hypersensual book love is not my favorite performance. I sometimes suspect that those who gush about book odor might not like to read. If they did, why would they waste so much time inhaling?

From methyl_lives' flickr stream Licensed under Creative Commons

Any guesses why I just had to respond? It’s no secret around here that we are big readers. And, I think pupfiction would agree with me that there is definitely something sensual about reading a physical book. Since I was a kid, I have recognized the different smells of books, and the scent of a brand new book is right up there with fresh from the oven apple pie and Final Touch Fabric Softener as one of my all-time favorites. Library books have a distinct smell as well, and though not as pleasing to me as a brand new book, still pleasurable in its association to the joy of reading a good book.

So why would the author of this essay claim that people who love the smell of books must not like to read? I know I am not the exception to the rule when it comes to enjoying the feel of a book. And for the record, I like reading eBooks too- I use the Kindle App on my iPod Touch, and will consume any written words in any form. Enjoying the scent of a book doesn’t change that.

What do you think? We’ve asked before what you think of eBooks, but let’s ask again… how much does the medium of your words matter? And have you ever noticed the smell of books?

Is reading a social or solitary experience? January 27, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in 2666, reading.
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This article from the New York Times last weekend includes a quote from none other than Matthew Bucher, organizer of the Spring 2666 group read of Roberto Bolano’s novel 2666 (which just started – there’s still time to catch up!). He said that he still reads, at night, at home and on his own, but the discussion of what he read the next day only enhances his experience.

I feel the same way – audiobooks notwithstanding (they have their own place) I don’t want to read in a group; I read by myself. However the article includes quotes from other readers who indicate they are somehow disappointed to know that anyone has ever read the same book as them. They feel that the world of the novel is their own secret place, and for someone else to read the book is like an unwelcome intruder in that world.

While I have felt connected to some of my favorite books, even so much so with some of my favorites as to imagine they went on without me everytime I put them down, I have never felt the imaginary world to be mine exclusively. Rather, when I found a particularly special world, I was (am still) eager to share that world with friends who I know would also appreciate it. (Just ask any of the individuals I continually press my latest reads upon.)

So what do you think? Solitary or Social Activity? Do you like to share books?

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