Life Among the Savages

ImageThe last book I read, The Dinner by Herman Koch, while amazing, was rather disturbing, and wanted to be followed with something more light-hearted. Who knew that the author of The Lottery and The Haunting of the Hill House had two memoirs that focused on her home life? Well probably many, but I was not one of this population until I found these books at a used book store a few years ago.

The book starts with the narrator (who I assume is Shirley Jackson), her husband, and her two children relocating from New York City to an ancient house in a small New England town. Hijinks ensue:

… perhaps, with some kind of feline optimism I cannot share, she believed that the chipmunk episode had been a freak, the sort of thing that might happen to any man confronting an oscillant chipmunk.
p 38

It’s hilarious- reading the phrase “oscillant chipmunk” made my day. (Does anyone else keep track of the funniest thing they’ve heard during the day? This was mine.) It is mostly a sweet description of their life in a bucolic New England town. Over time, the house fills with more children and pets. There is no real plot driving much of the book, just loosely joined stories describing their life throughout the years during which the youngest two children were born. I like to think of the book as the 1950’s version of today’s Mommy-blogs.

The house described in Life Among the Savages is apparently still standing, and closely matches the description in the early pages of the book:

The classical revival was upon the country then, and Doctor Ogilvie modeled his house after, persumably, a minor Greek temple; he set up the four massive white pillars across the front, threw wings out to both sides and then, with true New England economy, left the house only one room deep behind its impressive facade.  p16

Sounds like a good destination for a road trip!

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New Books

new bought 71413As a reward for completing a presentation that I had been worried about earlier this week I went to the bookstore and picked out some new books this morning. So here’s the photo at the left- there’s something so fun about looking at piles of books.

Super Sad True Love Story- Gary Shteyngart

I recently started listening to the Book Riot podcast where it was mentioned that this book was the closes dystopian analog to the current NSA controversy. At which point I did a double take in my head at the surprise that this was a dystopian future novel- goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book based on it’s title.

The Road Through the Wall- Shirley Jackson

I just love Shirley Jackson. I’m currently reading a very old copy of Life among the Savages and had her on the brain.

The Fat Years- Chan Koonchung

Apparently another dystopian novel. It’s a phase I guess.

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City of Dreaming Books

ImageI just finished the third (or possibly fourth, the count seems to vary online) book in the Zamonia series by Walter Moers. I first found Walter Moers’ books when wandering around the bookstore and running into this book. Being a huge sucker for books about books, I immediately wanted to start reading it, but subsequently realized that it was in fact, a sequel. Not only a sequel, but apparently number 5 in a series. So I had to start at book number one of the Zamonia series before making it to the Labyrinth of Dreaming Books.

The Zamonia series is very reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth. Each book is full of adorable illustrations, and features amazing adventures. They take place in an imaginary continent between North America and Europe, called Zamonia, which happens to be the location of Atlantis, which features prominently in the very first book, The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear.

Anyways! In the City of Dreaming books, the main character, Optimus Yarnspinner, a dinosaur who hopes to become an author, travels to Bookholm, a city obsessed, and mostly composed of books, in search of an author of a manuscript that his godfather left him. Did I mention that Bookholm is built upon catacombs of books? Also, there are amazing illustrations. Just look at this one:2012-12-17 18.46.52Those would be Booklings, some of the many inhabitants of the Bookholm book-ish catacombs. The Zamonia series are sweet imaginative books. Large enough to get lost in, and a good break from more serious fare.

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The Bell by Iris Murdoch

Bell murdoch   This was my first Iris Murdoch book. She is one of those authors who has a long list, leading to confusion on where to start, but this book was mentioned by Susan Hill in Howard’s End is on the Landing. Some people are reluctant to read books that take place on boats, or while people are walking, and I am personally reluctant to read books that take place in communes. I can’t really explain it, other than I may have had enough of the commune-type of life-style when I lived in a co-op in college. But anyways, the reluctance was unnecessary, this is a fantastic quiet sort of book, that I think may gain from a rereading or two. I tried googling and reading blog posts to see what others have thought about this book, but I could never find anything mentioning what I specifically wanted to discuss. So, I’m going to add a break in the page after describing the plot in order to discuss possible spoilers.

The story takes place at Imber, a commune situated just outside of a convent, whose members are completely isolated from from the outside world. Imber is meant to be a halfway world between the commune and the rest of the world. At the start of the book several people are making their way to Imber for a short stay. Dora, a wife returning to her husband after attempting to leave him, and Toby, a young student, who is about to start his time at the university. Dora’s husband, Paul, is an overbearing, jealous (and rebarbative as Toby keeps pointing out) man who can’t seem to understand his wife. The Imber commune is lead by Michael, a quiet man who wants to be a priest.

As Dora and Toby arrive at Imber, they are preparing for a ceremony in which a bell will be introduced to the convent, to replace a bell that disappeared centuries ago. There are plans for a bishop to visit and bless the new bell. Meanwhile, Toby finds the old bell at the bottom of a lake, and formulates a plan with Dora to replace the new bell with the old one…

Arggg!  There be spoilers after this point!!!


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Dusting again!

Since it’s been a year since my last post and my last attempt at dusting off the old (ill-used, anemic, forlorn, forgotten, etc….) blog, I’m trying again. There have been a few life-changes- I am no longer a grad student! For the first time, in over twenty years, I am no longer a student, leading to the belated “what do I want to be when I grow up” question. I am treating this as my fantasy-life, I wish I could spend all my time reading books and talking with others about books, rather than what I am spending my days doing.

And showards_end_is_on_the_landingo- on with the books! I started reading Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill about a week ago. I think this book has been reviewed ad infinitum. But the gist is that, for one year, Susan Hill would only read from the books that she had on her own shelves, not acquiring new books (with a few exceptions). It ends up being a love letter to all sorts of books that are distributed along her shelves. There are different chapters dedicated to journals, children’s books, or stories of meeting various authors. Of all the recommendations in that book, I think I was most curious about Iris Murdoch based on Susan Hill’s stories about her throughout her life. So I bought two of the books that were recommended: The Bell and The Sea, The Sea. And so I’m currently reading The Bell.

I wonder if there is a reading challenge or book list out there in the internets dedicated to all the books that are mentioned in HEiotL. Usually, at the end of every year I start thinking about dedicating the next year to reading only books on my shelves and not acquiring new books. The dedication really only lasts about two months anyways. It usually really only ends up being an excuse to collect books leading into the new year (as if we need an excuse to buy books!), and an excuse to ask for more books for Christmas. But perhaps next year I will try to read all of those books that have been lingering on the shelves… (I sound skeptical, but I really am hopeful, and planning to do this.)

So curling up again with some (pumpkin*) tea and Iris Murdoch. Loving it so far!

*I adore pumpkin everything. Apparently this is an american epidemic according to this NPR article, which hypothesizes that we like pumpkin because it harkens back to a simpler era. Although, I think, for me, it’s about the season, rather than olden times. Even though we’re really moving into winter now rather than fall. Is there anything better than curling up with a mug of tea and reading a book?

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

So I’m attempting to brush off the dust from this excessively unused blog. I find typing anything that will be visible to someone other than myself a very hard thing to do.  I’ve heard or read before that the internet is a haven for shy people.  I would like to object to that, as I’m finding myself too shy even for the internet! But I love books, and would love to find a way to become a member, or at least slightly less of a lurker, of a book community. And so…

I guess it seems silly to point out where I heard about this book from, because it seems to be everywhere. But I first heard about it from the Bookrageous podcast. It was mentioned as a book that can withstand the format change from a physical book to an ebook, which I agree with, I read this as an ebook and that did not hinder my enjoyment at all.

I usually try to avoid books about circuses since reading The World of Wonders by Robertson Davies. That’s not to say that is a bad book, but it was rather traumatic to learn what a circus geek is. But The Night Circus avoids any bad circus connotations.

So anyways! Once, an aunt of mine tried to describe Harry Potter to my grandma as how you wish school had been when you were growing up. The circus in this book, Le Cirque des Reves, is what I wish circuses were like now. (Although I’ve never been to the circus).

Even the food was amazing. Apples dipped in caramel so dark they appeared almost blackened but remained light and crisp and sweet. Chocolate bats with impossibly delicate wings. The most disiciouls cider Bailey had ever tasted.

Everything was magical. And it seemed to go on forever. None of the pathways ended, they curved into others or circled back to the courtyard.

I think people are comparing this book to Harry Potter quite often. What I really liked about the Harry Potter books was the invention of this new world, where everything is new and magical. When I reread those books, it’s to return to the world of Harry Potter rather than to read the plot. I don’t want to downplay the plot of The Night Circus, but that’s what I really like about this book. The author created another world within Le Cirque des Reves that I want to visit.

A little sidenote- when I first saw the author’s name, Erin Morgenstern, I thought that her last name was a reference to The Princess Bride. But it turns out that Morgenstern is not an absolutely uncommon last name.

I don’t want to spoil much about this book, so I’m going to put more specific observations after the break that are meant for people that have already read it. Continue reading

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Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

I think I heard about this book from both the Bookrageous podcast and the Books on the Nightstand podcast. This book is a circling contemplation on the dark moments in marriages and relationships contrasting with the unique relationship that is formed in a marriage wherein after years together two people know each other better than anyone else.

The main character, David Pepin, a computer game designer, starts the novel by explaining that when he first started fantasizing about his wife’s murder it took place through convenient acts of god. For instance, she would be struck by lightening as they ran across a beach to get out of the rain. Within a few pages his wife, Alice Pepin, does die from an allergic reaction to peanuts. When the police arrive Alice is found dead on the floor and a plate of peanuts on the table. Did she commit suicide by eating the peanuts or did David kill her by stuffing the nuts down her throat?

The middle of the book focuses on a detective in the case Detective Sheppard formerly Dr. Sam Sheppard, famous for possibly killing his wife, Marilyn Sheppard, during the 1950’s (The Fugitive). Various narrations of the last days of her life occur over and over again suggesting two or three possible murderers.

David Pepin’s interest in MC Escher is reflected in the book. There is a book within the book in which a character is writing a book. After awhile it becomes hard to determine who is writing the book that we’re reading.

The murders of Alice and Marilyn are introduced early in their respective narratives and are thus constantly around the corner. At times the violence around their deaths is graphically described, especially Marilyn’s death. After reading this I felt like I needed a “palate cleanser” that was relatively simple and pleasant.

After the cut I have discussion that involves spoilers and more thoughts on the book.

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