Archive for June, 2010


June 29, 2010 @ 9:07 am | Filed under:

Byatt’s The Children’s Book. There is much to say. I can’t, yet. I finished it on Saturday and I couldn’t even look at another book on Sunday. Yesterday I picked up something I’ve already read: Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days. It begins at the end of World War I (which is where the Byatt ends) with a shell-shocked Welsh soldier taking a teaching post at a remote school for boys in North Devon. I think I felt a little shell-shocked myself after Byatt’s dark epic and, like David Powlett-Jones, needed a dose of bracing upland air and boyish pranks to pull me out of my head.

There’s a lesson for me here, and it’s that making reading lists, while a deeply satisfying activity, has, for me, practically nothing to do with the actual reading of books. Much of the time, perhaps most of the time, the book I have just finished reading selects its successor.

Between The Children’s Book (which begins in 1895, in the last creaky years of Victoria’s reign) and The Diamond Age, which I flipped through the other day, looking for (and not finding) a particularly iPad-ish quote for Friday’s little post (because is it just me, or is the iPad a device within spitting distance of the Young Lady’s Primer?), I have found myself hankering after a biography of Queen Victoria. Serendipitously, today Colleen teases a novel (not bio) called, deliciously, Prisoners in the Palace: A Novel of Intrigue and Romance about How Princess Victoria Became Queen with the Help of a Maid,  a Newspaperman, and a Scoundrel. According to the blurb at Powell’s, it was “meticulously based on newly discovered information” by historian Michaela Maccoll. Sounds promising, no?

The Diamond Age

June 25, 2010 @ 2:34 pm | Filed under:

I mentioned Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in my last post. I’ve added a brief and hopefully not-too-spoilery synopsis in the comments, with caveats, if you’re interested.

No, Seriously, I Mean It

June 24, 2010 @ 7:37 pm | Filed under:

No more lists! Enough with the booklists! I just found two more library books on my nightstand, titles I left off this morning’s library list:

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce (I think I heard about this at Semicolon)

(What? Two books is not a list. Okay, it’s a veryshortlist. Fine.)

And the library website informs me I have at least three more books on the way: a Scott Westerfield novel, another by Cory Doctorow, and the about-to-be-released Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, whose Secret Keeper I liked very much. (Mitali, you may recall, has written the foreword for the upcoming reissue of Emily of Deep Valley, which, along with the double volume of Carney’s House Party/Winona’s Pony Cart, for which I had the pleasure of writing a foreword, will be released this coming October.) Bamboo People pubs next week, and I’m first in line at our library system.

Anyway, you know, that’s IT. I am going to have to swear off book blogs until I catch up. (I will never catch up.) (I will never swear off book blogs.)

I did resist the VERY STRONG temptation to join Detective Girl and Mental Multivitamin in the Neal Stephenson summer reading project—the entire Baroque Cycle for DG, and Quicksilver (part one of the cycle) for Ms. M-mv—largely because I still haven’t finished (yes, I started it!) Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which I bought after Comic-Con two years ago. AND ALSO BECAUSE I HAVE FIFTY BOOKS PILED UP TO READ FIRST.

So that’s exactly how much self-restraint I have. I decided not to read this one book until I read some of the others. I’m sure you’re impressed with my strength of mind.


Speaking of Stephenson, I’m glad I read The Diamond Age before the launch of the iPad. It has been great fun reading all the descriptions of the device with the image of Nell’s Illustrated Primer so fresh in my mind. How prescient of Stephenson. We don’t have his “smart paper” yet, but the iPad isn’t far removed from his vision.

And I feel somewhat chagrined for not picking it up the first time through, but I JUST GOT the connection between Diamond Age‘s Mr. PhyrePhox and, duh, Firefox. At least, I’m assuming (now that I’ve noticed it) that the similarity is no accident. An homage?

Kind of a Boring Post, This

June 24, 2010 @ 6:33 am | Filed under: ,

The cold is passing; has mostly passed. Thanks. I’m cleaning closets and the refrigerator. The Children’s Book still has me in its grip. Last night I didn’t even start thinking about dinner until about ten minutes past dinnertime. I threw together a slapdash meal of the last foodlike substances I could find in the house: some broccoli, some ramen noodles (lightly seasoned, no broth, the world’s cheapest side dish), and thin slices of deli ham fried on the pancake griddle. We had a big laugh, because it turned out to be the tastiest meal we’ve had all week. But then, you can’t go wrong with ramen noodles.

I am going to have to stop making To Be Read lists because they seem to doom the books to limbo. Most of the books named in my summer reading plan are books that appeared on a TBR list here on the blog at some point; all of them are books I actively want to read, or finish reading. I do this meta thing where I talk about wanting to read them but don’t actually, you know, READ them. And then eventually I do.

But anyway, I mention this because the TBR list has swollen again. Phoebe and I read the same James Sturm article at Salon (was it Salon?) and were intrigued by his mention of M. T. Anderson’s novel Feed. I read the first chapter via Kindle-for-iPod’s “sample this” option. Phoebe actually read the whole book, and she recommends it. I’ve got it on hold at the library.

Which is, of course, the reason for my Always TBR, Never R list…the books on that list are books I own. I wind up reading the books I’ve requested from the library, because there’s a time limit on them. Which ought to be a cautionary lesson for me.

My current library stack includes Enchanted Glass (the new Diana Wynne Jones), Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, two Kathi Appelt novels, another Hope Larson graphic novel, the Guy Appelt book we were talking about here the other day, Shannon Hale’s Calamity Jack, and, of course, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Which titles, along with the Byatt, themselves comprise a pretty fine summer reading list. Not to mention I have a new Lois Lowry (!) and a new Linda Sue Park (!) in my giant pile of review copies.

(Digital review copies, those two, which can only be read on a computer—since I don’t own a Kindle. The Kindle-for-iPod app is no good, here. This is an annoyance. I badly want to read these books, but I loathe the idea of reading a novel on my laptop. Ugh.)

Pass the Echinacea

June 23, 2010 @ 6:20 am | Filed under:

The Shakespeare Club and choir performances went wonderfully well on Saturday.

On Sunday, every member of this family came down with a raging cold.

Eight people burn through a lot of Kleenex, let me tell you. Small forests have died in service to this virus.

We have stayed home all week, so far. Beanie, who wants to learn Japanese, is watching a lot of I learned to count to ten in Japanese yesterday, quite by accident.

We also discovered LiveMocha, a language-learning program very much like Rosetta Stone, but free.

I had more to say, I’m pretty sure, but that’s all my pounding head can recall at at the moment. Achoo!

Booknotes: Byatt’s The Children’s Book

June 21, 2010 @ 6:50 pm | Filed under:

Olive was sometimes frightened by the relentlessly busy inventiveness of her brain. It was good and consoling that it earned money, real bankable cheques in real envelopes. That anchored it in the real world. And the real world sprouted stories wherever she looked at it. Benedict Fludd’s watery pot on the turn of the stair, for instance. She looked casually at the translucent tadpoles and had invented a whole water-world of swimming water-nymphs threatened by a huge water-snake, or maybe by that old terror, Jenny Greenteeth, lurking in the weeds and sifting them with her crooked fingers, before she reached the landing.

Yesterday’s events had also transmuted themselves into story-matter, almost as fast as they happened. She had watched Anselm Stern’s version of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s tale with glee—her response to any performance, any work of art, was the desire to make another, to make her own.

—from The Children’s Book, A. S. Byatt

A third of the way into the book, I don’t altogether like Olive, Byatt’s Edith Nesbit-esque children’s book writer, mother of a large family, amiable queen of an idyllic country home called Todefright. There are hints of a kind of grim selfishness lurking under the surface of her bright, witty, energetic personality. But I heartily sympathize with her as she is described in this passage: the restlessness of mind, the perpetually unspooling narrative, the inescapable inventive fervor.

Emergent Reader

June 17, 2010 @ 6:19 pm | Filed under: ,

Rilla, who is four years old now, pointed to the garland (made by Lesley) that hangs between our living room and kitchen. “I can read that,” she announced matter-of-factly.

“It says, ‘Please—be—on—this—house.'”

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Trailer

June 17, 2010 @ 6:35 am | Filed under:

I just watched the trailer for the new Narnia movie. Dawn Treader is is one of my favorite Narnia books and I’ve been anxious about the movie; so much potential for getting it wrong; so many things I desperately want them to get right.

I don’t know…some worrisome glimpses there. Looks like they’ve added a conflict subplot for Edmund—back in England, the war is on, and they won’t let a mere “squirt” join up. “But I’m a king!” he huffs to Lucy. Argh. Even worse, later in the trailer the White Witch appears in some sort of vision to tempt him. Really? Really? Edmund is so beyond that. After his fall and redemption in LWW, he’s one of the staunchest, most honorable young men in either world.

Equally puzzling: Eustace is barely present in the trailer. All the focus is on Edmund and Lucy, and Ian McKellan’s*,** voice uttering vague yet grand pronouncements about their adventure just beginning. No dragon. Scarcely any indication that Eustace is along for the journey at all. Perhaps in this early trailer, they’re targeting fans who know the films better than the books?

The Dufflepuds look good, though.

*I wrote “Patrick Stewart” before. I knew it was Ian; nearly made a Gandalf reference; I think I must have had Patrick’s name lodged in my mind because of Scott’s dramatic recitation yesterday.

**Except!! I am totally wrong. It’s Liam Neeson. LOL! Thanks, Robin, for the heads-up! Oh, these actors with their sonorous voices!