Friday, April 27, 2007

Pretty Books

For the past week or so at work I've been working with books as opposed to computer records. When these books begin to deteriorate, we either prep them to be rebound, repair them ourselves, or prep and measure them for archival boxes.

While most of the books I work with are older and seriously damaged, I realized something: What happened to the book as art form? What happened to the embossed covers, the leather binding, the marbled boards, the gilt edging? Modern, mass-produced books, by comparison, are ugly.

I love books - not just reading them, but also the construction of them. It actually pains me to buy books today because there is not artistry to them anymore - plain boards, no design, and half the time the covers (dust jacket or paperback) are just hideous.

I think I'm in the minority, but I would be willing to pay more for a nice, embossed, and leather-bound book. Granted, it would have to be a book that I know I would want to add to my library - but I'd like the option to be there.

Am I alone on this?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Book 21: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
STARTED: April 18, 2007
FINISHED: April 21, 2007
PAGES: 435
GENRE: Juvenile / Fantasy

FIRST SENTENCE: Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.

SUMMARY: [From] During his third year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter must confront the devious and dangerous wizard responsible for his parents' deaths.

REASON FOR READING: The rereading fest continues.

THOUGHTS: The series is still as good as ever, and Rowling, so far, has aged the language and themes of her books with the characters. Two things struck be as I re-read this volume:

1.) Rowling has an insane amount of imagination. To create such a complete world down to the most minute detail is utterly astounding. I envy her ability to write such a book... or rather a series.

2.) While Rowling may have this fantastic imagination, it is her ability to craft characters that makes the series so damn addicting. Unlike other authors (coughElyotcough) she does not hit you over the head with how much she has developed her characters. Each personality trait and piece of background information is unfurled slowly and with just reason. There is no unnecessary exposition.

I commend her for turning her characters into friends of the reader. Reading this books feels like a conversation because the emotions and actions of her characters are so true to life. And boy does she get the personality traits of her teenage heroes right. Rowling's got skillz.

MISCELLANEOUS: Can you do the hippogrif? Nah, nah, nah, Nah, nah, nah, Nah, nah, nah.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Monday, April 23, 2007

Natural Light Part II

Despite the fact that I doubted I would follow through on my plans, I actually did. Twice.

On Saturday, I walked over to the library to return some books (picked up three more - at least it's free), and ended up running into my friend Kathleen. After we checked out our material, we walked over to Panera for lunch. Afterwards, I headed back to my apartment, taking my darn-tootin' time because it was so nice out. Then, shock of all shocks, I set myself up and proceeded to sit outside and read. I didn't start reading and then stare off into the day, I actually read. Yoohoo! I finished up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and, later that day, started a library book Freddy and Fredericka.

Then on Sunday, I proceeded to shock myself some more and read outside for about 3 hours. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and I simply could not help myself. Since our patio only gets the morning sun, I did not have the glare of sun bouncing off the pages and into my face. With the nice breeze, the birds, and some nice classical music on my MP3 player it was a glorious way to spend the afternoon.

Now that the weather is nicer, I hope to do this a lot more often. My roomies and I are planning on buying a patio set so I won't have to drag out the butterfly chair every time I want to do this. Plus, I will a table to put my snackage on. I fear small woodland creatures will jump into my glass every time I set it on the patio floor.

I hope you all had the chance to enjoy the marvelous weather.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Natural Light

All the weather reports I check are predicting that this weekend will be utterly gorgeous. Not one to waste a good day (or at least try not to waste a good day), I'm making a special trip to the library. I have absolutely no reason to go, but I did finish two of four the books I picked up last weekend. Even though they're are not due until May, I'm returning them tomorrow simply so I can walk around outside.

Then, when I get home, I'm making myself a drink of some sort (probably tea), pulling out the butterfly chair, sitting on the patio, and finishing Harry Potter and reading the Saturday paper. Normally, I spend Saturday, inside, vegging. Not tomorrow. I've vowed that with the remarkable weather I will soak it up and read.

Then again, every time I try something like this, I fail to actually do any reading. I usually end up setting up my environment and reading only a page or two. Then I dissolve into people watching and day dreaming.

Back home, on nice days, I claim the wicker sofa on the porch and actually do read... followed by a nap.

Ah, paradise.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book 20: Fahrenheit 451

TITLE: Fahrenheit 451
AUTHOR: Ray Bradbury
STARTED: April 15, 2007
FINISHED: April 17, 2007
PAGES: 190
GENRE: Literature

FIRST SENTENCE: It was a pleasure to burn.

SUMMARY: [From] Fahrenheit 451 is set in a grim alternate-future setting ruled by a tyrannical government in which firemen as we understand them no longer exist: Here, firemen don't douse fires, they ignite them. And they do this specifically in homes that house the most evil of evils: books.

Books are illegal in Bradbury's world, but books are not what his fictional -- yet extremely plausible -- government fears: They fear the knowledge one pulls from books. Through the government's incessant preaching, the inhabitants of this place have come to loathe books and fear those who keep and attempt to read them. They see such people as eccentric, dangerous, and threatening to the tranquility of their state.

But one day a fireman named Montag meets a young girl who demonstrates to him the beauty of books, of knowledge, of conceiving and sharing ideas; she wakes him up, changing his life forever. When Montag's previously held ideology comes crashing down around him, he is forced to reconsider the meaning of his existence and the part he plays. After Montag discovers that "all isn't well with the world," he sets out to make things right.

REASON FOR READING: Everyone needs to read the classics

THOUGHTS: I find it somewhat ironic that I had to finish reading this book by candle light. I was ten or so pages away from the end when my power went out. I lit a candle and continued my reading. It was not until the next day that I found myself chuckling at that situation.

I enjoyed this book because it seemed to confirm my love of reading (and need to ask questions). The deeper I went into the story, the more I felt confirmed that technology can be inherently evil at times (particularly when I'm on a deadline). Bradbury seems to state, and I agree with him, that technology is not necessarily bad, but it risks becoming an all consuming portion of society. We need to be careful to not let ourselves be swayed by the Technicolor, high-def screens that are becoming ubiquitous.

Bradbury may have written this book fifty years ago, but it seems even more relevant today. This particular edition included a interview with the author, and he states that technology, if not viewed with trepidation can become dangerous. People are so glued to their televisions (like most of the characters in the book) that they will believe anything that comes on the screen. Life is not life, it has become the characters and scenes on the screen. The news of the world is entirely encompassed in the 30-second sound bite. As a former media studies major and journalist, I can tell you that no matter how hard a journalist tries, their is always bias and skewing in their story. It cannot be helped. If the story is being crafted by a writer or producer with a political agenda, you might as well throw truth right out the window.

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury seems to argue that is not books that will save us, but rather our on intelligence and need to question authority. Books, in this case, merely act as a metaphor. A brilliant metaphor for curiosity, education, and the defeat of ignorance, but a metaphor nonetheless. The novel is chock full of themes are skepticism and, for lack of a better word, anarchy. Guy, the lead character, breaks out of his zombie-like following of the "party line" to actually question what is right and wrong. His curiosity over these "horrendous" and "dangerous" books is what spurs his characters' change.

Chills went down my spine as I read the book because it so perfectly describes the current environment in the United States in the past few years. People are kept in a constant state of fear, and the government is put up as this unmatched savior. If we don't question their actions or intentions, we're save. Anyone who has contrary ideas is deemed "unpatriotic" or a "terrorist." Bradbury wants to warn his readers away from this lemmingish attitude. I, for one, was wholeheartedly behind his book's themes. (If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm a virulent opponent of the current presidential administration.)

I don't think Bradbury set out with a particular agenda in mind, he merely wants to make his readers think about how they act. Are we like Guy before his transformation, merely following set standards, or do we question the morality and legitimacy of what is being asked of us.

In terms of structure, the narrative of Guy is loose and organic. This form of storytelling usually seems sloppy to me, but in this case it worked. In the interview, Bradbury comments that the characters act on their own, he's merely transcribing their story. In not imposing a plot line or goal on his characters, the story seems more completely. It's just that, a story - one where the reader is along for the journey with the characters.

For me, this book was not about the characters or plot, but the themes. Had this just been a story with no deeper philosophical question, I doubt I would have liked it as much. It's a quick read and one the brings up a lot of questions in the reader's mind.

MISCELLANEOUS: The Hound terrified me, I hate needles and actually felt faint whenever that character appeared.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Technical Serives, how may I help you?

I'm the youngest employee in my department. Due to the rather large generational gap between myself and my coworkers, I've become the pseudo-IT hero. Whenever anything went wrong in the past, the ladies I work with usually called our two tech guys first, now the check with me.

I have no problem helping my coworkers, but I'm beginning to feel like the Medieval Help Desk guy in the video.

I tend to get the same sort of feeling in my class, which happens to be on technology in the library. Technically we're supposed to be learning how libraries incorporate computer technology (i.e. databases, cataloging programs, etc.) but the professor, Opie (formerly: Errol), has decided to not teach that. I've been sitting through weeks and weeks of HTML and user interface class. I learned all of that in high school and am completely bored out of my mind.

I understand the importance of learning these codings skills, but this is one time where I really find that I hate knowing the material before I go into class. I would have been much happier taking this course if it was taught by a professor who actually followed the course description laid out by the department.

Thank goodness I have my summer course, "The History of the Book," to look forward to. At this point, I don't care if the professor has the reputation of being Drunky McSlursalot, I just want to feel like I'm actually learning something.

Maybe my younger brother, who could language the space shuttle from his desktop, could teach me a thing or two.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Book 19: 300

TITLE: 300
AUTHOR: Frank Miller
STARTED: April 14, 2007
FINISHED: April 14, 2007
GENRE: Graphic Novel


SUMMARY: [From] The Battle of Thermopylae ranks as one of the ancient world's most important events, where Spartan King Leonidas and his 300-man bodyguard met the massive army of Emperor Xerxes of Persia, who intended to add Greece to his empire. To no one's surprise, the Spartans were destroyed. While the battle bought the Greeks enough time to defeat the mighty Persians, it was more important for the metaphor it created: occasionally one has to lose to win.

REASON FOR READING: I will see the movie at some point.

THOUGHTS: Ummm, why was this turned into a move? Actually, I'm more inclined to ask "How?" This was an insanely short graphic novel and, while the history behind the story is certainly interesting, I felt cheated by this book. I was expecting more. Mainly, more pages. This sucker was short.

Also, who fights naked?

MISCELLANEOUS: The book was so wide it did not really fit in my bag.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library
RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Book 18: By a Lady

TITLE: By A Lady: Being the Adventures of an Enlightened American in Jane Austen's England
Amanda Elyot
STARTED: April 9, 2007
FINISHED: April 13, 2007
PAGES: 384
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: "It's beautiful," C.J. murmured, examining the curiously pockmarked amber cross.

SUMMARY: [From] New York actress C.J. Welles, a die-hard Jane Austen fan, is on the verge of landing her dream role: portraying her idol in a Broadway play. But during her final audition, she is mysteriously transported to Bath, England, in the year 1801. And Georgian England, with its rigid and unforgiving social structure and limited hygienic facilities, is not quite the picturesque costume drama C.J. had always imagined.

Just as she wishes she could click her heels together and return to Manhattan, C.J. meets the delightfully eccentric Lady Dalrymple, a widowed countess who takes C.J. into her home, introducing her as a poor relation to Georgian society-including the dashing Earl of Darlington and his cousin, Jane Austen!

When a crisis develops, C.J.-in a race against time-becomes torn between two centuries. An attempt to return to her own era might mean forfeiting her blossoming romance with the irresistible Darlington and her growing friendship with Jane Austen, but it's a risk she must take. And in the midst of this remarkable series of events, C.J. discovers something even more startling-a secret from her own past that may explain how she wound up in Bath in the first place.

REASON FOR READING: I read about it some time ago.

THOUGHTS: I wanted to like this book, I really did, but the author just would not let me. Elyot seems to go out of her way to bore the reader. The book at times seems nothing more than one continuous info dump. When there's no informational inundation occurring, Elyot confuses the reader with her lost narrative and description. The writing, at times, seems lyrical - for the most part, however, this was one dull read.

Elyot spends so much time info dumping that she never actually develops her characters. While her heroine, C.J. rarely spews forth information, the secondary characters' only purpose seems to be a constant dialog about their past or future plans. When Elyot gets those characters talking, I was just taken right out the book. The tone of the writing changes at the info dumps and it feels like a completely different book.

There was far too many instances of character's unnecessarily outlining their history. Elyot has Darlington spend pages talking about his background and it adds absolutely nothing to his character or narrative. He just prattles on and on and on and on and on and on about his family, his former wife, his schooling, yada, yada, yada. I just wanted to smack some duct tape over his mouth. It actually seems like Elyot was trying to impress the reader with how fully she developed her characters. God I was bored.

On top of that, the author clearly wants to showcase all the research she conducted. Egad. She doesn't shut up. I'm all for correct historical details, but this was going to far. Elyot was showing off - "Look, I researched clothing!" or "I totally studied period maps of Bath." If an author wants to include accurate history, that's all well and good, but don't shove it down my throat. The historical fictions that work include history without talking to the reader like they're some paste-eating five year old. I'm not an idiot so don't talk to me like one. Elyot misses the point of research completely - it's not meant to impress the reader, it's supposed to set the stage. Good research in a novel means that the reader is not aware of it. You want them engrossed in the story, not wishing the could hit you over the head with a kidskin slipper.

Elyot's narrative is also confusing in many places. Her descriptions of scenes and her characters actions are all over place. There were multiple times where I read a passage three, four, or more times and was still lost. If I can't understand what you're saying, I will not enjoy the book. Elyot also changes characters POVs with no transition or warning (sometimes mid-paragraph). One second you're in the C.J.'s head the and next your a butler with one line in the whole novel. By the time I was done reading I felt schizophrenic.

The only thing that keeps me from panning the book outright is the fact that the language was beautiful. Elyot has an extensive vocabulary and, when she's not trying so damn hard, she can describe a scene beautifully.

Elyot is so wrapped up in her own illustriousness that the book suffers terribly. This novel had vast stores of potential, but Elyot spent to much time trying to impress her readers with her abundant knowledge and research that she forgot to craft a story.

MISCELLANEOUS: When up in a clip my hair, as of late, has looked remarkably like it belongs in the 19th Century.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Onto it goes.
RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book 17: A Little Bit Wicked

TITLE: A Little Bit Wicked
AUTHOR: Victoria Alexander
STARTED: April 7, 2007
FINISHED: April 9, 2007
PAGES: 373
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: "Very well then."

SUMMARY: [From] No man in his right mind would want to get married, but every duke, earl, and viscount knows that a fellow must do his duty in the end. So four of London's most desirable gentlemen make a wager—the prize going to the one who remains unwed the longest.

Gideon Pearsall, Viscount Warton, thinks he has a fair shot at winning. After all, he's managed to enjoy the favors of many a lady while resisting the parson's noose. Even when he's stopped dead in his tracks by the most scandalous woman in all of London—Judith, Lady Chester—he vows to have her bedded but never wedded.

Beautiful, and more than a little bit naughty, Judith has always kept herself within the bounds of respectability, even while playing by her own rules. And the experience has taught her to avoid marriage. She has no desire to resist Warton's hot kisses, and his tempting touch is impossible to ignore.

REASON FOR READING: Again, Alexander has yet to steer my wrong.

THOUGHTS: Finally! A romance novel that feels real. It has been so long since I read a romance that came anywhere close to portraying real life characters and storylines. Sure, in theory, Judith and Warton are your stock Regency characters, but Alexander crafts them in such way that they come alive as real people. What I loved most about this book is that it does not fall into the typical romance trap of needing an OMG! Big Misunderstanding, instead Alexander has created a plot that puts two people together and they must figure out how to realistically make it work.

Judith is a widow with a less-than-stellar first marriage (though she does not realize that at first). Her experience makes it believable that she would not relish the idea of being married again. Instead she has a few "adventures" with men - the most current of which is our hero, Warton. Warton is your typical Regency Romance male. He does not want to marry (in this case again) because the ole' ball-and-change bit is not his bag, baby (also, in his head, marriage = sucky betrayal). Instead, he decides to embark on a little fun with Judith our merry-widow.

What results is two characters who enjoy the ardent passion and intelligence of one another's company. Neither expected to fall for the other. The whole plot of the book is about the two of them figuring out that they do actually love the other person but have the problem of making it work. Alexander does a fantastic job of not relying on the old "irrational jealousy" bit. Sure there is jealousy, but in amounts that are completely believable. Warton sees his woman kissing another man, but he does not react by storming out, throwing a hissy fit, or asking the unwanted male who his second should be? He simply quarks an eyebrow than makes it known to our heroine that he'll be sticking around for awhile - in a manner that makes me want to own a pool table.

I applaud Alexander for not making her heroine a TSTL, virginal ninny. Judith knows what she wants and goes for it - without coming across as brash or stubborn as a mule. She simply enjoys the freedom of her station in a way that is completely realistic. Who would expect a 30-or-so-year old widow to abstain from playtime? And thank you, Victoria, for not giving Judith some steel-made hymen that remained magically intact through a 3-year marriage.

When our hero's ex-wife (the closest we come to the OMG Big Misunderstanding in the book) returns to the scene to throw a monkey wrench between our couple, said couple reacts in a way that makes the ex-wife look as stupid and selfish as she really is. Alexander does not allow outside forces to come between the couple. They merely have to work things out for themselves.

This was an incredibly addictive read that has still stuck with me to this day. The only thing that kept it from being a keeper was the Tied-With-a-Bow ending. Alexander is a good writer, and I was expecting just a tad bit more form her. That said, this is one of her best books - and quite a nice change from the usual Regencies that are dominating the romance shelves these days.

As a side note: Who wrote the blurb for this book? They're an idiot. Judith is not the "most scandalous" woman in the ton. That's just you exaggerating for sales. Did you actually read the book?

MISCELLANEOUS: I want stripedy stockings...

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): PBS (but just barely)
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Book 16: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
STARTED: April 3, 2007
FINISHED: April 7, 2007
PAGES: 341
GENRE: Fantasy/Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.

SUMMARY: [From] The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls' bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley's younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone — or something — starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects...Harry Potter himself!

REASON FOR READING: I'm on a mission...

THOUGHTS: This is still my least favorite book in the series, but I can't honestly figure out why. I think it's because I don't like Ginny. No real reason, I just don't like her. As always, however, I was highly amused and entertained.

Keeping in tune with my review of Sorcerer's Stone I noticed the language. In fact I noticed that they language aged with the characters. I'm sensing a trend - it will be interesting to see if, as I read the rest of the books, the language continues to grow with the characters.

MISCELLANEOUS: Chamber of Secrets = My Closet

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 15: What a Lady Wants

TITLE: What a Lady Wants
AUTHOR:Victoria Alexander
STARTED: April 1, 2007
FINISHED: April 3, 2007
PAGES: 388
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: "And now there are three," Oliver Leighton, the Earl of Norcroft, said under his breath.

SUMMARY: [From] Nigel Cavendish knows he'll marry one day, but hopefully that day is many years—and many women—in the future! Until then, the handsome, unrepentant rake intends to enjoy life's pleasures to the fullest!

From the moment Lady Felicity Melville spies the adventurous scoundrel climbing from a neighbor's window—with his comely conquest's husband in hot pursuit—she knows Nigel is the answer to her prayers . . . with a little reformation, of course! Felicity craves excitement and who in all of London is more exciting than the infamous Mr. Cavendish? So what's a girl to do but hatch a scheme to win what she so fervently desires. But her plan works too well when a game of chance and an errant pistol shot abruptly make them husband and wife—but in a way neither wanted.

Now Felicity has to prove to her wayward husband that she's the only woman he could ever want . . . or need!

REASON FOR READING: Victoria Alexander has never been bad.

THOUGHTS: I waited far too long to review this book. I honestly don't remember much about it anymore, which is a bad sign. But, I do remember enjoying it immensely. Alexander does a great job of adding a different spin on the classic Regency characters and plot devices. Aside from that, I can't remember a whole lot. *sheepish grin*

Actually, I remember thinking the Nigel was a tad bit too stubborn and it began to grate on me. Aside from that, nothing stuck out as being overly negative.

MISCELLANEOUS: I actually like the cover.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Monday, April 02, 2007

Book 14: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
AUTHOR: J.K. Rowling
STARTED: March 29, 2007
FINISHED: March 31, 2007
PAGES: 309
GENRE: Fantasy/Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

SUMMARY: [From] Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter.

REASON FOR READING: Re-reading the series before the (*sniffle*) last book comes out.

THOUGHTS: I only had one revelation while re-reading this book for the third (or more?) time: Harry Potter (at least the first book) truly is geared toward children. For some reason, the language of the novel struck me as being very juvenile fiction appropriate. The tone of text and the words used is directly geared toward the elementary and middle school aged demographic. There is something playful about the story, even during the darker scenes. As I re-read the series before the last book is released, it will be interested to see if the language ages as the characters age.

And, as always, I am in awe of J.K. Rowling's imagination. To sit down and think up such a world is a remarkable feat, one that I envy.

MISCELLANEOUS: I want an owl. I will name it Edgar.

RATING: 9/10 [Excellent!]