Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On the Job #4: I Bite

While I was merrily working my way through the books on the carts in my office, I realized something. Something vital. Something exciting. Something profound.

I work with a laser gun everyday.


Now I want to go around and shoot things, but I don't think my coworkers would appreciate it.

Maybe they'll go along with my cart jousting plan.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Seen on the Metro #4

Have you ever accidentally / purposefully matched what you were wearing to the cover of your book. Commuting in this morning, I saw a woman who matched perfectly the cover of Devil in the White City. I doubt she did it on purpose, but she amused me greatly.

For those of you who have not seen the book. It's black and white with gold accents. This woman was wearing black pants and shoes, a white quilted coat with black piping and detailing, and gold accessories (earrings, buttons, and purse).

I am so easily amused.

Book 4: The Knight Before Christmas

TITLE: The Knight Before Christmas
AUTHOR: Jackie Ivie
STARTED: January 22, 2007
FINISHED: January 29, 2007
PAGES: 352
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: The man's directions were as bad as his food.

SUMMARY: [From] While on his way to wed the "Harridan of the Highlands," Myles Magnus Donal gets lost in a snowstorm. When a silent beauty rescues him, he becomes convinced that she is his betrothed, and he does his seductive best to convince her to marry him by Christmas. When Myles arrives at his fiancee's home, he discovers the woman with whom he has been stranded is not his bride to be, but her sister.

REASON FOR READING: After loving the author's first book and loathing her second, I wanted to see if she went back to her magical ways.

THOUGHTS: She failed. This book was a snore fest full of trite occurrences and very little chemistry. Shocker. Our love birds are snowed in and fall for each other. Shocker. There is a mix up and our hero's betrothed is his lover's sister. Shocker. Our heroine has been beaten all her life by her father, yet retains her spine. Shocker. We have a stock cast of characters ranging from the harpy sister, lover from afar, and sister who talks in riddles to provide comical relief. Shocker. Our love birds fight and makeup. Shocker. I'm bored to tears by the bland writing and laborious plot. Ivie phoned this one in.

I beg of you, go back to the style and plot lines of your first book. It was actually good.

MISCELLANEOUS: Worst. Cover. Ever.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to PBS, though I don't encourage anyone to take it.
RATING: 3/10 [Poor, Lost Interest]

Monday, January 29, 2007

Book 3: Y The Last Man: Kimono Dragons

TITLE: Y the Last Man: Kimono Dragons
AUTHOR: Brian K. Vaughan
STARTED: January 28, 2007
FINISHED: January 28, 2007
PAGES: 144
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: Man is a fool.

SUMMARY: [From Boing Boing] In the new edition, Kimono Dragons, Yorick and Ampersand end up in Tokyo, which is miraculously unscathed -- or at least, so it seems. As they explore further, it becomes apparent that the Yakuza has been taken over by ruthless Japanese subculture teenagers -- Harajuku Bridge meets the Sopranos -- and that the vice industry continues to thrive.

REASON FOR READING: I've been waiting (impatiently) for the latest volume to come out.

THOUGHTS: When I first read this series, I purged on the first six books. I read them one after another, and loved them. In reading book 8 as a standalone, I felt bereft. The series, while still good, did not have the same magic. The jump into Tokyo, at least along the lines of 355 and Yorick, seemed unnecessary. I can understand the importance of tracking down Dr. Mann's mother, but everything else just seemed like filler. The story did not get interesting again until Alter, the Israeli military leader, returns. She wants so much to track down Yorick that her storyline is almost more dramatic than the last mans.

For me, this edition for the series felt like one giant setup. I'm sure everything in this particular volume will end up being incredibly relevant. Right now, however, it was simply filler.

The art of this series continues to be simplistic, but I found this particular series to be more movie like than ever before. Instead of graphic novel, I was reading filmic storyboards. Perhaps that has something to do with the film rights being optioned by New Line Cinema.

MISCELLANEOUS: Children of Men much?

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to Tony. I will buy my own someday.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book 2: Queen of Fashion

TITLE: Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution
AUTHOR: Caroline Weber
STARTED: January 5, 2007
FINISHED: January 22, 2007
PAGES: 412
GENRE: Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Designed for his 2000 Christian Dior "Masquerade and Bondage" collection, John Galliano's "Marie Antoinette" dress tells an unexpected story.

SUMMARY: [From] In this dazzling new vision of the ever-fascinating queen, a dynamic young historian reveals how Marie Antoinette's bold attempts to reshape royal fashion changed the future of France.

Marie Antoinette has always stood as an icon of supreme style, but surprisingly none of her biographers have paid sustained attention to her clothes. In Queen of Fashion, Caroline Weber shows how Marie Antoinette developed her reputation for fashionable excess, and explains through lively, illuminating new research the political controversies that her clothing provoked. Weber surveys Marie Antoinette's "Revolution in Dress," covering each phase of the queen's tumultuous life, beginning with the young girl, struggling to survive Versailles's rigid traditions of royal glamour (twelve-foot-wide hoopskirts, whalebone corsets that crushed her organs). As queen, Marie Antoinette used stunning, often extreme costumes to project an image of power and wage war against her enemies. Gradually, however, she began to lose her hold on the French when she started to adopt "unqueenly" outfits (the provocative chemise) that, surprisingly, would be adopted by the revolutionaries who executed her.

REASON FOR READING: It crossed my desk at work, and I remember being intrigued by an ad I saw.

THOUGHTS: I have to hand it to Caroline Weber, she found a very ingenious way of documenting the life and impact of Marie Antoinette. While I know that clothes are a form of expression and always have been, it never would have crossed my mind to write a book about one woman's wardrobe. Queen of Fashion is a unique and compelling look into how Marie Antoinette's love of fashion made her an icon and, at the same time, helped doom her in the eyes of her people. Weber's book may drag through description in spots but, on the whole, it is an intriguing read.

Since the key to Queen of Fashion is its description of Marie Antoinette's clothing, Weber dives into very intricate detail about the ribbons, jewels, bobbles, and whathaveyou that went into each item of her clothing. She describes the color, the cut, the style, and, most importantly, the reasons behind Marie Antoinette's fashion choices. Weber does a phenomenal job of pinpointing why a dress of hairstyle altered the French public's perception of the Queen. When most of the country was burdened by heavy taxes, the Queen spent a fortune clothes that were encrusted with diamonds. She powered her hair with flour, while the people went without bread. At the same time, Marie Antoinette was a fashion icon. Women depleted their dowries to copy her clothes and hairstyles - including the sky-high poufs that made her famous.

Weber goes even deeper than these obvious points, she also discusses how the Queen's shifting style earned her a damning reputation. When Marie Antoinette flounced around her country estate in a garment that closely resembled a shift, the public thought her to be a whore, sharing her favors with everyone (women included) except her husband. The choice of colors in her wardrobe made political statements. She chose specific hues to indicate her support of the royal line (both French and Austrian). At the time of her demise, she used color as propaganda. First, she wore the tricolore of France to indicate her support for the revolutionaries. When she plotting her escape out of the country, she ordered clothes made in hues of the royal houses in which she lived her life. Clothes were Marie Antoinette's way of making a statement, politically and socially.

The main strength of Weber's book is that she takes each period in the Queen's life (from before her betrothal to her death) and outlines how fashion played an essential role in how the public and court viewed her. Weber's writing is consistently strong. She creates vivid scenes in the reader's mind, recreating life in revolutionary France. Her prose is punctuated and, for the most part, flows from one costume change to the next. If one is not an 18th century fashion expert, however, the terminology can be confusing. Weber throws vocabulary in without fully developing the new words for a modern audience. Since the book is essentially a biography of fashion, a glossary (with pictures) would have been extremely helpful.

Marie Antoinette's clothes have always been remarked upon, but few have delved into the massive role they played. In using this framing for her biography, Weber has offered up a fascinating new view of an often studied woman.

MISCELLANEOUS: Whatever happened to simple elegance?

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Seen on the Metro #3

In my Sudafed induced, lack of coffee, Friday morning haze/high, something really jumped out at me as I was commuting to work this morning. No one was reading a book. Everyone was reading either the Washington Post or the Washington Express paper. Everyone save for one man. He was enthralled with a book that I could easily identify by its wacky coloring.

Oh Janet Evanovich, your books stand out so clearly.

The man, who looked to be in his late forties, was wearing muted greens and browns. Even his hair and skin were a muted color. That only made 11 on Top stand out even more. He was almost at the end of the book, I would guess five pages away, and I could see his eyes darting furiously across the page.

He switched to the green line at Fort Totten, one stop before mine, and he kept on reading as he walked away.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

You. You. Not you.

Another article has been circulating through the staff list at my library. This time, it's about a new book weeding process that is ongoing in a neighboring public library system. Apparently, the Fairfax County Public Library System (VA) has devised a new program to clear up space on their shelves. There is a computer program that informs them about which books have not been checked out for 24 months. It turns out that, shocker of shockers, the "classics" are the books most at risk for being tossed aside.

The original Washington Post article has been picked up and bandied about by a large number of library journals and blogs. From what I've read, most people seem to think that the weeding of classics will only hinder the purpose and legacied function of libraries. The main question being debated is whether or not libraries should act like a business and conform to the wishes of their customers/patrons, or if they should attempt to become/remain repositories for knowledge, even if said knowledge is out of vogue.

I can see the pros and cons for both sides of this. The librarian side of my cringes at the thought of removing classics from the shelves. It reminds me of when I was in middle school and could not locate Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." It was not available at the school library or the local public library. I finally found a copy at the local used bookstore (where, in a few years, I would be employed). At the time I was shocked and appalled that such a literary classic was not readily available. Then I worked in book retail. At that point, I didn't want to shelve anything that wouldn't sell. I hated having to inventory and shelve books that I knew would languish in the store for years. I didn't see the point of buying something that we could not sell for profit. After all, I had to be paid.

So the conundrum of this story comes down to shelf space versus primary function. In this instance, librarians get to play God. They decide what stays and what goes, in essence, possibly crafting the reading habits the nation (or at least that county). Should they let their patrons dissolve into nothing but mindless-poorly-written-popular-fiction reading drones? Or, should they risk becoming obsolete my stocking nothing but those volumes which professors everywhere claim to be vital to the interests of the history of the English (and other) speaking languages? What is a librarian to do!?!

To be honest, I think that is a bunch of hooey. If people really wanted the classics, they could find them. Libraries disperse to the masses what they want. Sure they could argue for the repository of knowledge theory; they'd be correct to do so. They could also argue that any reading is good reading. Again, they'd be correct.

To me, this is not a debate about the purpose of a library. That purpose is two-fold with one goal. Stock the classics. Stock the popular fiction. Mainly, get people to read, whatever that reading may bed. This article has been picked up not because of the debate but, rather, because it represents our own unease. Libraries are supposed to have the classics. Everyone knows that. Fairfax is doing what is not supposed to happen. They're making us consider that a library can/should/should not be more than it is stereotyped to be.

People are debating this story because it makes them realize that they take their local library for granted. They want Fairfax to carry Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and John Maynard Keynes, because there may be a chance that, one day, they'll have a desire to read a classic. It's a comforting thought to know that, even if these books are never read, they're still available. It's a security blanket of knowledge.

And, honestly, a simple way to increase circulation of the volumes at risk is to make a display. It's all about how you sell it. People have trouble avoiding tables with items and shiny things on them. It's all about the shiny things.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Book 1: Basilica

TITLE: Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's
AUTHOR: R.A. Scotti
STARTED: January 1, 2007
FINISHED: January 4, 2007
PAGES: 300
GENRE: Art & Architecture

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the author's note] I first saw St. Peter's Basilica on a scorching late September day of my first week in Rome.

SUMMARY: [From] Out of the clash of genius and the caprice of popes came the most glorious monument of the Renaissance

It was the splendor-and the scandal-of the age. In 1506, the ferociously ambitious Renaissance Pope Julius II tore down the most sacred shrine in Europe-the millennium old St. Peter's Basilica built by the Emperor Constantine over the apostle's grave-to build a better basilica. Construction of the new St. Peter's spanned two centuries, embroiled twenty-seven popes, and consumed the genius of the greatest artists of the age-Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael, and Bernini. As the basilica rose, modern Rome rose with it as glorious as the city of the Caesars. But the cost was unimaginable. The new basilica provoked the Protestant Reformation, dividing the Christian world for all time.

REASON FOR READING: It was on my TBR list, and just happened to be on a cart of books to grace my desk at work.

THOUGHTS: My sophomore year of college, during Spring Break, I visited St. Peter's Basilica. I thought it was an awesome sight and quite beautiful too boot. Not once did it cross my mind that this gargantuan church actually had to be built by someone. To me, it was just there. Something breathtaking to behold and nothing more. Reading Basilica was eye-opening to me simply because it made me consider how St. Peter's came to be. St. Peter's is not just a building; it's a living, breathing work of art.

In her book, Scotti breaks down the history of St. Peter's construction in such a way that it shows how the birth of the physical church marched in time with the metamorphosis of the religious church. What the pope wanted, or what the artist/architect wanted, drove the building of the Basilica. Scotti does not hide the fact that creating St. Peter's was oftentimes and contemptuous project. Pope's pilfered materials from the ruins of Rome, including stripping the Parthenon of its bronze. The book chronicles the many stalls, starts, funding problems, architectural and design problems, and ego problems of building of St. Peter's. It's a fascinating history that truly brings meaning to the existence of the Basilica we see today.

Scotti's writing is also very readable, to the point of merging with the prose found in most fiction. She truly brings the artists, architects, and popes to life. Most authors of this genre tend to just say the name and assume the reader knows about their character. Scotti does not do that. Instead, she talks about the artist's arrogance and womanizing ways. She discusses the Pope's need for power and his every vice. In Scotti's work, these people are not merely historical figures; they are living, breathing, philandering characters. It gives the book a depth that other art histories lack. In portraying their character, Scotti can show how their art and desires came to be.

MISCELLANEOUS: Totally thought the author was a man.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): Back to the library.
RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Year of the Mediocre

I figured that I should probably write up my "Year in Review" post before I post my first read of 2007. You all know what this means... LISTS! LISTS! LISTS!

Random: My dad bought me this book for Christmas. There probably is some sort of scientifically proven connection between bibliophiles and lists.

This year was dominated by mediocre reads. Which, in some ways, made the baddies and the goodies really stand out. Then again, it also means that I should probably change what I've been reading. I really did go for quantity over quality this year. Bad Meghan. Then again, I'm trying to reach 100 books again in 2007, which probably does not help me. What do they say about history being bound to repeat itself?

The Year in Ratings
10 = 1
9 = 1
8 = 19
7 = 24
6 = 23
5 = 24
4 = 3
3 = 5
2 = 0
1 = 3

If I could bell curve that out, it would be skewed slightly toward the good, which is a decent thing. But the fact that I only have one 10 out of the year is kind of disheartening. What makes it worse is that that 10, Samantha Power's "A Problem From Hell," was the first book I finished in 2006.

The Year In Genres
Fiction = 20
Romance = 48
Non-Fiction = 15
Graphic Novels = 20

Out of all my reads, only three could be considered Classics. That is why I endeavor to read more classics in 2007.

Now, following a brief drumroll...

Top 10 of 2006
10. The Lady Spies Series by Samantha Saxon
9. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
8. Maus by Art Spiegelman
7. Night by Elie Wiesel
6. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
4. Y The Last Man (Series ) by Brian K. Vaughan
3. The Sandman (Series) by Neil Gaiman
2. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
1. "A Problem form Hell" America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power

For further details on each book, click the title to reach my original review.

To sum up the year: I read 103 books totaling 32,374 pages.

Happy reading in the new year!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Does it clean the floors too?

A co-worker of mine passed this story about robot shelved library stacks around the staff e-mail list today. The key line with this story is: "Robots making out in the stacks: 0."

When I worked in the Stacks until 11:30pm my sophomore year, I came across people making out all the time. More than that, I came across people actually having sex in the stacks. The first time it happened, I freaked out and ran away. After the second and third time, I had no trouble disturbing the paramours I came across. It was actually fun to see them jump when they were caught.

But a note to all those would be booklovers. Find a dimly lit, rarely used area for your escapades. Anyone can catch you if you're bumping and grinding against the central window in broad daylight.

Also, pick-up after yourselves.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Out with the old...

... and staying with the old.

At the beginning of 2006 I set two book related resolutions for myself. The first was the read 100 books in a calendar year. Well, at 103, I've done that. Yoohoo! Granted, I wanted to see if I could do that without graphic novels, but I failed. Still, to me, graphic novels are books, so they count. Ha!

The second resolution was to make this blog into something more than me just listing off the books I've read. For most of the year, I failed to reach that goal. Things have perked up recently and I think I can continue the trend.

So for 2007, I'm remaking these resolutions for myself.

I will attempt to read 100 books in the year. This time, however, to try to change things up, I will set a goal of reading at least 25 non-fiction titles and 10 classics. That ought to challenge me a bit - though I will be counting books I have to read for class in the non-fiction category.

Secondly, I will continue to try to make this blog into something more than just me listing books. I work at a library now (then again, I've worked here for 6 months) - I ought to have plenty to talk about.

Seriously though, sometimes you really don't want to know what happens in the stacks.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Book 103: Lord Greville's Captive

TITLE: Lord Greville's Captive
AUTHOR: Nicola Cornick
STARTED: December 29, 2006
FINISHED: December 31, 2006
PAGES: 296
GENRE: Romance

FIRST SENTENCE: It was high summer and the village of Grafton was garlanded for a feast to celebrate the betrothal of the Earl of Grafton's only daugher to the eldest son of Fulwar Greville, the Earl of Harrington.

SUMMARY: [From] Years before, he had come to Grafton Manor to be betrothed to the innocent and beautiful Lady Anne - a promise that was broken with the onset of war. Now Simon, Lord Greville, has returned as an enemy, besieging the manor and holding its lady hostage. Simon's devotion to his cause swayed by his desire for Anne, he will not settle for the manor house alone. He will have the lady - and her heart - into the bargain! Yet Anne has a secret that must be kept from him at all costs.

REASON FOR READING: I wanted to fit one more book in 2006.

THOUGHTS: For a Harlequin, this book was actually pretty decent. Simon and Anne behave quite believable for the circumstances, even if Simon's jealous does seem a bit overwhelming at times. Simon, if a woman tells you she loathes a man, all her friends and family tell you anecdotes of how she loathes him, and even you can sense her hatred, why the hell would you think she is running away to him? Simon, you may be pretty, but you had some dumb as a post moments.

Generally, the book was a nice, enjoyable, quick read. Nothing special about this one. Sworn enemies become lovers, so expect the usual fights that turn into back-up-against-the-wall-leg-melting-kisses.

Also, I give Cornick credit for actually putting in the dirt and grime of the middle ages. I hate it when historicals try to prettify not-so-clean eras of history.

MISCELLANEOUS: I want a moat around my apartment.

KEEP/SHARE/CRINGE(?): It's already on
RATING: 5/10 [I didn't particularly like it or dislike it; mixed review]