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Kaethe

Kaethe

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Something Wonky This Way Comes - Kate DiCamillo,Chris Van Dusen 

Something Wonky This Way Comes - Kate DiCamillo, Chris Van Dusen

http://pin.it/c61MXET

 

How did I not notice before that Can Dusen paints everyone with the same skin color, same highlights and shadows? Everyone, including Mercy Watson, the pig. Different hair, facial features, head shapes, clothes, but the exact same skin (old people are all highlights and shadows for the wrinkles, but the same colors). And unlike The Simpsons, it's not one color for all the White people, but different colors for people of color. It's an interesting choice.

 

I didn't notice before because I just assumed that the unnatural peachy-pink meant White, because that's how we roll: default = White. No one is really that color, but society has agreed to pretend, just to make it easier.

 

I've been thinking about this for hours now. I still don't know how I feel about it. Is it good to ignore actual melanin across the board to avoid dividing people into White or Other? Would I be comfortable with it if he'd chosen a default that wasn't already understood to be White? If everyone was green or grey, some color which doesn't have racial coding, the deliberate neutrality would have been obvious. As it is, Mercy seems to live in an idealized mid-century sundown town. I like the setting in general, with the sidewalks and big-time cars, I enjoy the same Imagineared quality in the art of William Joyce and Mark Teague. But now I can't stop thinking how middle-class suburban White it is, and getting creeped out.

 

Race isn't real, but racism is so horrifyingly visible right now, that a town of pink people isn't neutral, it's threatening.

 

Guess I finally figured out what I feel. I am not in the pink.

 

Library copy.

The Queen Is Coming to Tea - Linda Ravin Lodding,Constanze Von Kitzing 

The Queen Is Coming to Tea - Linda Ravin Lodding, Constanze Von Kitzing

I really liked the text, and mostly liked the illustrations, except what the hell is with Ming? I get that it is all pretend, but where would she get such a weird look from? What is that outfit even? Why is Ming bald? What!?!

Library copy

 

My Pet Human - Yasmine Surovec 

My Pet Human - Yasmine Surovec

A homeless street can narrates the 're of finding a family and a friend for his new pet human. The anime style of "the look" that elicits good from humans is worth it, all in its own.

library copy

The Assistants - Camille Perri  

The Assistants - Camille Perri

I opened the package, and the Spouse asked what it was. "I think it's the new Microserfs". He looked blankly back at me. "Generation X?" More blank. "Devil Wears Prada?" Oh, well. He's an excellent cook, among other sterling qualities.

***

I enjoyed the book enormously. It was funny, it was zippy, it was mild-mannered and self-effacing, and inoffensive. The way Tina develops strength and self-confidence felt right. It would make a good film, not unlike The Devil Wears Prada.

But I wanted more. I wanted a little rage, some self-righteousness, some recognition that this horrible dilemma of college debt and poorly paid jobs isn't acceptable and that something needs to happen to help everyone in the same boat, not just a lucky few. It was too mild for my socialist leanings, too tentative, unwilling to name the sexist elephant in the room, and somehow oblivious to the fact that the depressed minimum wage, the lack of affordable housing, and the insane cost of higher education are all issues that have been successfully remedied in other times and countries. I wanted anger, and I wouldn't have minded a call to arms.

And also, two issues that snapped me out of the book within a page of each other: in a book so modest and coy about sex, making reference to any specific penis is a shocker. But as a metaphor it just didn't work at all. But even more jarring was a comment about a character in college having read to many James Lee Burke novels. Said character would have graduated from college twenty five years before James Lee Burke was published. The twenty century is not lost in the mists of time. Someone should have checked.

goodreads giveaway

Saturday Requiem - Nicci French  

Saturday Requiem - Nicci French

Copy on its way! can't wait! One of the best writing duos of all time.

***

I don't think of myself as being a fan of series in general, because so many series that I started out loving became unreadable at some point. Maybe there will be a let down somewhere in the future, or maybe, as with Terry Pratchett, the books will just keep getting better. Fingers crossed.

Frieda is in trouble with powers that be, because she's such a maverick, but she also has more powerful powers that be, which are vague, and mysterious, and appreciate a clever woman. There's her whole extended family of people who mostly aren't related to her, and her cat, and her fire, and her walking. The mystery was fine, although that really isn't the point any more. Mostly now Freida has to deal with her own sort of celebrity, which is horrible for someone who never sought the limelight. And there's this other problem that won't go away...

At this point I wouldn't mind at all if the authors dropped the mystery plot convention altogether. As a means of addressing a topic it is fine, but they could just use a patient. I admit that I love seeing social injustice (and crime) being fought, even if Frieda didn't win.

Advance copy, yay!

Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World - Sarah Vowell  

Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World - Sarah Vowell

I can already tell I'm going to want to read this again. Essays, I love them. Plus, in my mind, I can hear Vowell as she must have sounded on This American Life, which is where most of these began. There's a few bits of growing-up interspersed throughout, a lot of history, the blackest of humor. Great stuff, perhaps especially on the Trail of Tears and how many different emotions that trip spawned.

So much humor, though.

On the one hand, I think Vowell would be an awesome friend to hang with, laughing at Choo-Choo and working it into every comment because of the way it sounds ("spleen" is a personal fave) on the other, she would someday drag me along on the least appealing road trip ever. Hotspots of the Teapot Dome scandal? Tippecanoe? Some other phrase I only dimly recall from American history, but can't actually place in time or space? She's already done The Hall of Presidents, so I'd be clear of that one. Yet no matter how little the idea would appeal to me, she'd make it fascinating: full of humor and humanity. Maybe we can just get her and Kate Beaton and Bill Bryson to filter all of history for us?

Library copy

Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov  

Death and the Penguin - Andrey Kurkov

I don't read much from Russia or the Eastern European nations because life is mostly grim enough. The only exception I make is for Chekov's short stories. Until Nick Hornby reviewed this in his column for Believer. And he pointed out, just for me, that the titular penguin is a real seabird from Antarctica not some sort of metaphorical penguin. Had to read it because Penguins.

My opinion of literature in Russian remains the same. This is grim; it is also joyless. There's some contentment, things aren't always horrible, but there's no pleasure, no happiness, nothing but emotional grey from autumn until spring, and even when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, no one is having fun. Viktor writes obituaries, and not in a warm, positive, life-affirming way, nor with any humor.

Also, the penguin isn't doing so well.

Nonetheless, it was bearable, if only for the sheer relief of "At least my life isn't like that." And the penguin, who sometimes comes and rests his head against Viktor's leg while Viktor works at the kitchen table, and Viktor pets him. There's no joy, but there is a penguin. And I can go forty years without reading any more fiction translated from Russian.

I would love to have a pet penguin though.

Library copy

Art and Max - David Wiesner 

Art and Max - David Wiesner

Wiesner does the most amazing things with the picture book format. I'm dazzled by his virtuosity in so many styles. I'm awed by the humor he manages to imbue every picture with. If you haven't checked out any of his work, it's probably because you're an adult who doesn't read picture books, because they're for kids. Pish, tosh. There is a narrative here, but like the best cartoons, it's going to sail right over the heads of children. Go, get a stack of his books and just wallow in the artistry. And laugh. And shake your head, and then you'll grab someone and say, "you've got to see this."

Library copy

Skios - Michael Frayn

Skios - Michael Frayn

  

Wow! I can't think when I last read a farce, let alone enjoyed one. Probably it was Noises Off. It's difficult to maintain the suspension of disbelief in a text; in a play or film the pace of the action doesn't give one time to consider just how silly, how contrived, how unnatural the whole exercise is. And because Frayn is very skilled, he keeps one from dwelling on how absurd it is, while never forgetting for an instant just how absurd it is.

I don't think I actually laughed out loud, but I loved every silly minute of it.

Library copy

Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble: Some Things About Women and Notes on Media (Vintage) - Nora Ephron 

Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble: Some Things About Women and Notes on Media (Vintage) - Nora Ephron

Having recently read Crazy Salad again, I didn't feel like I needed to give it another go. But I have never read Scribble Scribble. So, that was great.

Ephron started a s a journalist, and I think that training informs her essays. They are personal, they are reflective, but they are also about something real, not just aimless musing.

Quality writing, often amusing, and still vital and fresh.

Library copy

 

(edited for afterthought) In case you're wondering, apparently none of the material from Scribble Scribble made it into The Most of Nora Ephron, although some from Crazy Salad did. Just to clear things up for anyone else who might be considering a massive Ephron read.

The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek  

The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting - Anne Trubek

After a slow couple of months my reading has picked up again: I'm finishing more, and I'm enjoying what I'm reading. The sad aspect of this is that I keep finishing books that I want everyone else to pick up, and mostly no one does.

This is an exception. It belongs on the odd shelf I don't have specifically, but can't resist reading from, called "History of a Thing". While it isn't funny exactly, there is a lightness of tone that makes this a pleasant break from heavier reading, like say, about Nixon and Mao, to pick a topic out of thin air and not off the cover of another book lying around the house. It's fascinating to learn at some depth about a very narrow topic. Not surprisingly, this book is a distillation of a topic Trubek has been teaching in college for years. Specialization is awesome: I've never thought about all the different kinds of writing together until now.

I love this post-book feeling of erudition. Two days after I finished the book I can't recall anything specific that I learned, which isn't really the point. I've grasped the gestalt. I've placed my own flirtation with calligraphy (highly recommended as a means to achieving a legible handwriting) into the appropriate context.

There are a number of people worried about the fact that schools aren't teaching cursive. I'm not bothered. I've done my share of handwriting and it hurts and it's slow, and I'm one of only two people I know who can write a cursive others can read. Admittedly, the time spent learning keyboarding will no doubt also become wasted time at some point in the Offspring's lives, in favor of something newer and easier for more people. That's fine.

Favorite bit: seeing all the different types of clerks/scribes/copyists there were a fairly short time ago. Poor Bartleby and Bob Cratchit!

Library copy

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks 

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks

Adequate space adventure but Banks enjoys elaborating on the grossest parts, and I do not. I like the Culture, but there is just too much nauseating gore. So, I feel like I can safely scratch the rest off the List.

Library copy

33 1/3 Greatest Hits, Volume 1 -

33 1/3 Greatest Hits, Volume 1 - David Barker

Nick Hornby recommended several of the individual books, so I wanted to check out the series. I only read the pieces about albums I knew, but the ones I read I really enjoyed.

Library copy

Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang 

Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang

In contrast to Bradbury, I have Chiang. Now these are science fiction, and they are particularly rare in that the are fine examples of both science and storytelling. I picked it up because the new movie Arrival is based on one of these stories. It's a first-contact story starring a linguist. Who doesn't love a linguist?

Any one of these stories is mind-blowing, but together, sheesh, I'm reduced to mental rubble. I don't have words enough to express how cool they are.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves science, and to readers who enjoy thought-provoking stories.

Do read the notes on the stories at the end. The aren't necessary, but they are interesting.

Library copy

 

Lovable Lyle - Bernard Waber  

Lovable Lyle - Bernard Waber

Lyle is lovable, don't try to resist him. Everyone wants her own Lyle.

***

Still true.


But also? In a climate where hate speech and hate crimes are increasing, the book feels way darker than it did before. Poor Lyle, doing everything he can to keep people from fearing him, and none of it does any good to sway people who refuse to believe that an upright-walking, talking, socially responsible crocodile could be human. What's wrong with people?

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books - Nick Hornby 

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books - Nick Hornby

It took me forever to read because I had to stop at least once per page to add something to The List, or to move something else higher, or to request something from the library. Hornby is a much bigger fan of literary fiction than I and he isn't a fan of genre (I know, right?) But I love his reviews like no one else's. It's ten years in the life of someone who loves to read, so it's all familiar, but written by a humorous pro. It's funny that I've read all of these three books before at least once and there were still so many I not only hadn't read, but also so many I hadn't already put on The List.

Library copy