jump to navigation

Niche Blog Friday: Better Book Titles December 3, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Just for Fun, Niche Blogs, reading.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

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!

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

Posted by pupfiction in Book Reviews, Of Interest, reading.
Tags: , , , , , ,
4 comments

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.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

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.

First Annual Moby Awards for Book Trailers May 25, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
2 comments

Last year, we started noticing trailers for new books. Well, as with all media creations (books, movies, even commercials), the book trailer industry now has its own Award!

This year marked the First Annual Moby Awards for Book Trailers. The nominees are listed here, and the winners are here.

Awards were given in separate categories for Big Budget and Low Budget Trailers, and even a category for Trailer Least Likely to Sell a Book! The award, named for the iconic white whale was created by the publisher Melville House in New York, and will consist of a trophy and bragging rights.

Here’s one I liked (not a winner though):

(via NYTimes Book Blog, Papercuts)

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

Posted by dataduchess in reading, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

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.

Monday Book Review: Storm Front May 3, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

We haven’t been blogging much lately, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been reading! As of yesterday I was in the middle of 4 different books! I finished one though so I’m down to 3, and have one to review for you today: Storm Front by Jim Butcher.

Storm Front is Book One in The Dresden Files, a series of books about Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, a modern-day wizard. It’s hard to describe what this book is about without making it sound really cheesy… and yet there is nothing cheesy about it. While the main character, Dresden, is indeed a staff-carrying, robe-wearing wizard in contemporary Chicago, he is also a Private Detective and consultant for the local Police Department, called in when crimes occur that are unexplainable by any known laws of nature. The two aspects of this character are so completely intertwined that the novel reads like a hard-boiled detective noir, all the way down to the mysterious dame who comes with her yellow dress and breathy voice, looking for his aid – because only he can help. Then come the fantasy aspects of the story – the toad-like demons spewing acid and melting holes into furniture, love potions, talking skulls (actually this was entertaining, the wizard stores all his data in a spirit that inhabits a skull, like a little google bot you can converse with and ask questions), rapidly-growing poisonous scorpions, all mixed with the typical noir characters: close-mouthed barkeeps, tough nosed mobsters protecting their turf with block-headed thugs, and the just-can’t-shake-her tabloid journalist who will do anything for an outrageous scoop about a wizard.

Overall, not badly written, pretty entertaining even if predictable, and a great mash-up of genres. I wouldn’t recommend the story to anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good supernatural yarn, since there is nothing realistic about these. However, despite the other-worldly setting and circumstances, the formula boils down to a tightly-knit private detective story that has you wondering if the wizard can figure out the puzzle before he’s condemned for the crimes.

P.S. The series has also been serialized in graphic novels, and on television as a series for SyFy (Season One available now on hulu).

Attn NYers: Empire State Book Festival This Weekend April 8, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , ,
3 comments

This weekend the New York Library Association is holding the first ever Empire State Book Festival at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York. The event is free and will host nearly a hundred writers, dozens of workshops, and opportunities to meet authors and have books autographed. The weather is supposed to be great and I hope this will be made an annual event. If you haven’t been to the beautiful Empire State Plaza this is a great opportunity to make the trip. It is certainly going to be well worth it. For the full listing of events as well as a list of the attending authors, click here.

That's the State Library where we used to work!

In Other iPad News (briefly): Get Thee to a Library! April 7, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Just stumbled across this New York Times “Op-Chart” entitled, “How Green is My iPad?,” comparing the environmental impact of e-readers with actual books. It’s interesting enough to browse but what I really wanted to post was the article’s pithy last line which states, “All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.”

Monday Book Review: Wait Till Next Year April 6, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Springtime is a wonderful time of year for lots of reasons, but one of the best things about Spring is the return of BASEBALL! In honor of the opening of baseball season this week, I’m reviewing a book I read a number of years ago, but think about each year at this time. Wait Till Next Year, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a memoir focused on a young girl’s life growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950’s, her relationships with her friends, mother and especially her father with whom she shared a special bond of love for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Ms. Goodwin is a presidential historian, author of numerous accounts of historical events, and is a frequent guest on a variety of political and current event news and commentary programs. Her father taught her how to score a game when she was only 6, and she can still recount games she heard on the radio that summer. The tale focuses on a time when even Brooklyn was a small town, and families and communities were brought together around radios or new-fangled televisions to watch and hear about current events – things that were changing and shaping our country in the tumultuous post-World War II era. But the best memories of this girl’s childhood center on her obsession with the Brooklyn Dodgers, (even forsaking all other teams and players, including greats like Mickey Mantle who dared to play for the Yankees!) and the whole neighborhood’s hopes that the Dodgers would win the pennant, maybe next year.

The memoir is incredibly well-written, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in 1950’s suburbia, family relationships, father-daughter relationships, and most of all, baseball.

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

Posted by dataduchess in reading.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.