Roseanna and Scott Pilgrim

I think I heard about the Martin Beck series, by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (my umlaut key is broken!) from either NPR or a blog last summer. This series is usually recommended as a “if you liked this, then you’ll like this…” type scenario with The Girl Who books by Stieg Larsson. The Martin Beck series also takes place in Sweden and was also intended (and succeeded) in being a ten-part series. The couple who wrote these books alternated authoring of chapters.

And so on to the mystery! Roseanna starts in the middle of a hot summer with a canal being dragged (for some sort of naval, watercraft, canal type issue, I don’t know) and the discovery of the body of an unidentified woman. For months nothing is known about this woman. No one claims her body, no missing person matches her description, and no suspects are present. Martin Beck becomes increasingly obsessed with the unidentified woman as the colder fall months begin but the case appears to go dormant. Until a break arrives from the US! in the form of a missing tourist who looks like the victim found in the bottom of the canal.

I am not much of a mystery connoisseur. I mostly read mysteries as a quick diversion from other books and don’t spend much time thinking about the logic of the mystery. This seemed to me to be a solid mystery different from most only in it’s location. The majority of the book takes place during the winter and there are abundant descriptions of cold wet snow which didn’t do much for my desire for summer. If I were to ever attempt to solve a mystery I want it to be in a warm location without cold dampness. So this might be a mystery novel best read during the summer when it is so hot that one fantasizes about the cold of northern Europe during winter.

I am lately obsessed with books that are about either people trying to grow up or twenty-somethings attempting to find their way. Scott Pilgrim is stuck in a rut. He is 23, between jobs, and dating a high schooler (named Knives Chau, If I ever have a daughter I’m going to push hard to name her Knives). One night as he’s sleeping he dreams that he’s in a bleak desert lamenting his lonesomeness and a girl on rollerblades glides past him saying, “You’re not alone, you’re just having some idiotic dream.” Later the Scott finds that the dream girl is actually an deliverer named Ramona Flowers who uses a “convenient subspace highway that goes through (his) head.”

Soon after Scott and Ramona start to date Scott is attacked by Mathew Patel and his back-up harpies. Scott defeats Mathew but only earns $2.10 for his efforts. It turns out that in order to date Ramona Scott will have to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. (Which brings up the question- Romona obviously has a thing for evil guys- seven evil boyfriends! Maybe Scott is evil too…) There are several references throughout the book to the subsequent books (maybe that will be covered in vol 2, we’ll address that in volume 3… etc) which adds a funny later of meta-ness to everything.

Scott Pilgrim’s universe is a funny mixture of (our type of) reality and video game reality. (Wouldn’t it be fun though if it turns out that we do have different realities- maybe some people do see the world has a video game reality, and other see it as a comic book reality. Or if you’re Kenneth on 30 Rock you see it as a muppet reality. I decided yesterday that even though I don’t know what is going on with my life right now I’m determined to spend my time experiencing things that are strange and wonderful, so bring on the strange and wonderful books!) Characters are introduced with a brief summary of their characteristics and statuses. Not to mention that when characters are defeated they pop into non-existence and leave behind coins!  However not enough for bus fair, (much to Scott’s chagrin).

I liked the character of Ramona Flowers solely on her predilection for tea. Listen to the list of tea from her cabinet, “Let’s see… Blueberry, raspberry, sleepytime, green tea, green tea with lemon, green tea with lemon and honey, liver disaster, ginger with honey, ginger without honey, vanilla almond, white truffle coconut, chamomile, blueberry chamomile, decaf vanilla walnut, constant comment, and earl grey.” Reads like my own tea cabinet! With a little less chai.

I can’t really gived educated comments on the artwork. I don’t know enough (and then, what do I ever know?) With the exception of the cover all of the drawings are in black and white. I find the characters to be appealingly drawn. Once again it takes place during winter- I’m mistiming all of my reading! I’m trying to read more graphic novels. I’ve taken Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi out from the library and purchased Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli with a gift card.

Final thoughts- was there ever a word whose sound mismatched it’s meaning more than diphthong?

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Book polygamy

I usually try to read only a single book at a time but lately I’ve been picking up several and only reading a few chapters before heading on to the next book. These are the books that I’m currently reading. I just finished Roseanna and will try to make a review-ish post soon. I’ve read most of The Lottery and other short stories by Shirley Jackson this past weekend but something about the slow depressing air of the stories required that I put them down for a few days for my own sanity. The Vintage Caper has been my version of trying to escape the cold rainy weather here- wine, California, and France all sound infinitely more appealing at the moment than late March snow. And finally I’ve heard so much great stuff about Mr Peanut by Adam Ross (specifically The Bookrageous podcast seems to mention it every single episode.) So far it is dark and hilarious. I wish it was my job to read books, I’d never want to retire.

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The Magicians- Lev Grossman

I don’t know how to start this first book review-ish. I loved this book, it feels very poignant to my personal situation at the moment.

The Magicians starts with the main character, Quentin, going for a college interview with his friend in Brooklyn. However when he gets to his destination he finds that his interviewer dead of a heart attack on the floor. The paramedics come, tend to the deceased, and hand Quentin an envelope found on his person. Quentin leaves the house and opens the envelope to find a final unpublished chapter of his all time favorite childhood book series which take place in the world of Fillory, very similar to our Narnia. As he’s walking Quentin all of a sudden finds himself on the grounds of a magic college where he takes an examination and is admitted as a freshman.

I think this book is essentially a coming-of-age story despite, and thinly disguised by, the fantastical elements. Quentin attends a college that is essentially his fantasy but what he never thought possible. Like many people he is unable to decide on a major- described as a discipline here. He finds a close group of friends with whom he experiments with alcohol and drugs. He has his first love which grows and crumbles in the college and post college experience.

(I need to find a way to make a cut to a post for the spoiler parts which I really really want to discuss).

As much as I think this is a coming-of-age story I also think its a story about the dangers of refusing to grow up. Martin, aka The Beast, becomes a beast due to his refusal to leave the magical world of Fillory and essentially his childhood. He becomes this creature which terrorizes Fillory and occasionally Earth and Brakebills College. His actions reflect Quentin’s desire to go and stay in the land of his childhood dreams. I thought up to the very ending that this book was about accepting and dealing with the problems of adulthood. Eventually you must choose a major, graduate, and find a job. Eventually you’ll have to deal with the death of a loved one. And eventually you’ll have to realize that the desire to cling to your childhood can be destructive and will inhibit the progression of life and relationships. Those last few pages really threw me for a loop though. Granted the life that Quentin eventually carved out for himself in the normal mundane world left a lot to be desired I felt that it was contrary to the lessons of the book to return to Fillory in order to be a king.

In a way this book reminded me a bit of The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt which had themes of adults praying on their children in order to maintain their art despite the damage it caused.

So despite all of this confusion about the ending this book felt exceptionally poignant to me. As I mentioned above, Quentin’s difficulty in finding a discipline felt a lot like difficulty in finding a major in college. I personally waited until the first semester of my junior year of college to declare my biochem major. And I still question whether that was the right decision. I relate quite a bit to the questioning of the future that the main character displays throughout the book. I think so much of the time there’s a belief that things will get better during the next step of life and that we just need to get there and then we’ll be happy without regards to how this current place in life is unique and quite possibly happy within itself.

I also want to mention that there is an exceptionally strong female character in this book (several in fact!). I’m still not certain what to think of what happens to her (Alice) and so I haven’t said much. She is probably the real hero of this book.

There are quite a few references to various popular fantasy books. Considering the themes of growing up I wonder if the author was commenting at all on adult fans of these books.

In the end I loved this book. I would like to reread it at a different point in my life to see how I feel about it. Maybe I’ll have a different point of view on those last few pages. My copy came from the library and I’m going to start combing the shelves of the used bookstore to look for a copy.

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Obligatory introduction-ish

Hello world!  Here is my somewhat introduction. I’m a grad student in the biological studies at a research university on the east coast. Despite my education my predominant passion is books!  I love books. I love reading them, piling them up, reading about them, looking at them, thinking about them…. On and on. Very often I’m worried that I’ve made the wrong decision in my career and what I should have done was gone into fiction publishing, or maybe I should have worked at a bookstore or a library.

Anyways, as I said, I love reading about books.  Book blogs to be specific. I love listening to book podcasts. I love discussions of books. So I’m trying to get involved in the book-ish discussion. So this!

In the past week I’ve read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Hunger Games, and The Man Who Loved Books too Much. This is rather above my normal reading amount, but at least one of those books was a young adult selection. Later on I’ll try to make a post with my thoughts on the books. I need to go into lab now however. So signing out of my first post!

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