Monday, March 31, 2008

13, A Reading Diary

The title: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
The author: Alberto Manguel
Publication: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
Got it from: RC, Christmas 2005

"The main inconvenience of traveling is having to learn how to manipulate new bathroom fixtures." - Alberto Manguel

Grade: B

I approached this book with some hostility, memories of Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why still leaving a bad taste in my mouth even after many years. I don't normally like this genre of books. By "this genre" I mean some snooty literary white dude waxing on and on about other (dead) literary white dudes, patting their backs and propping up these paragons of patriarchal purveyors, all the while writing so cryptically that no one can understand what the #@*! they're talking about except themselves, so smug and laughing with their little in-jokes.

But this book wasn't so bad. Maybe because I read the whole thing in the bathroom, where I was more inclined to humour it a bit. Sure, it started out as bathroom-wall banging frustrating, but once I got Manguel's voice, he became kind of companionable. A bit like a silly old professor uncle who says witty things but is ultimately harmless. And I did get the jokes, so ha ha.

This book is basically a compilation of musings based on a classic book Manguel reads every month. I haven't read any of them, sadly. Most of them were the kind of melancholy, enigmatic books that drive me nuts so I doubt I will even ever read any of them, except perhaps The Wind in the Willows. The section I found most interesting was the chapter on Sei Shonogan's The Pillow Book, partly because it was written by a woman, and partly because of the author's fascination with lists.

In the spirit of this chapter, I am compiling my own list. It is of books in my collection which I treasure for personal reasons, but which are probably not worth much to anybody else:

  • My grandfather's 19th century edition of Pilgrim's Progress
  • My signed copy of Budge Wilson's The Imperfect Perfect Christmas
  • My great-grandmother's scrapbooks
  • My 1911 edition of Anne of Green Gables
  • My signed copies of Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, The Map that Changed the World and Krakatoa
  • My copy of The Mists of Avalon purchased in Cornwall, England
  • My signed copy of Alberto Manguel's A Reading Diary

Friday, March 28, 2008

Flora Kidd

Not a book review, but a bit of news: Flora Kidd, the world-famous Harlequin writer from the 1960's-1980's, who lived in my old hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick, passed away a few weeks ago. I didn't find out until my dad sent me her obituary this week.

Flora Kidd is of particular interest for me because of the work I did back in the fall of 2005 designing a database of her works for my digital libraries class. Such a project had never been attempted before and I spent a good part of my semester tracking down some of her rarer works from libraries and booksellers around the world. [My roommate at the time, J, can attest to the insane amount of labour that went into designing our databases, and the number of evenings we spent banging our heads against the wall. And she did hers on orange crate labels!] My database is still something I'm immensely proud of and to this day it remains the number one hit when you Google "Flora Kidd." I'm ashamed to say that I never actually got to read any of her books because I donated them to the library archives before I had a chance to.

If you're a fan of cheesy old skool romance covers, check it out. You'll be in heaven. My favourite is "Masquerade Marriage" because I swear to you that is David Hasselhoff on the cover. Really. Seriously. Or his evil twin.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

12. A Book of Curious Advice

The title: A Book of Curious Advice: Most Unusual Manners-Morals-Medicine
The author: Ruth Pepper Summers
Publication: Sterling, 2004
Got it from: La Library

I'm not going to "review" this book since it is a compilation, but I would like to say: holy crap. Some of this advice given in actual magazines and health pamphlets: damn.

Charles Darwin, on how to cure a broken limb, 1833: "Kill and cut open two puppies and bind them on each side of a broken limb." [Say whaaaa?]

On how to have beautiful children (1872): "During pregnancy the mother should often have some painting or engraving representing cheerful or beautiful figures before her eyes, or often contemplate some graceful statue. She should avoid looking at or thinking of ugly people or those marked with disfiguring diseases." [Well, that's it. I definitely won't be able to go to work when I'm pregnant.]

(1892): "Do not give opium to children under the age of one year except on the advice of a physician." [But opium for all toddlers is a-okay!!]

This one, from something called "Creative and Sexual Science" (1876) made me laugh so hard I almost fell out of my chair. You just know it was written by some woman who had to resort to her only means of getting her boorish husband's attention:
"Have your wife's breasts declined since you courted and married her? [Stop making her pregnant. That usually does the trick.] It is because her womb has declined and rebuilding it will rebuild them and nursing up her love will rebuild her womb and breasts. Come, court her up again as you used to before marriage [make love to me like you used to, Harold] and, besides reddening up her now pale cheeks, lightening her now lagging motion, you will redevelop her shrivelled breasts. [What about our shrivelled sex life, Harold? What about that?] Stay home of nights from your club rooms, billiard saloons and lodges [come home to me, Harold!] to read or talk to her [omg talk to my wife? wtf?] or escort her to parties, lectures, concerts and you'll get well paid every time you see her bust. [Yeah, Harold, who needs gambling and billiards when you can stare at my hot boobies all night long!]"

I'm not even going to talk about the recipes for pigeons and squirrels in the back.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

11. Sophie's World

The title: Sophie's World
The author: Jostein Gaarder
Publication: Berkley, 1994
Got it from: Reads Saint John, when D. bought it for us to read when we were home at Christmas

While I ponderate on the sheer mind-numbing paradox that the beautiful young man featured in this enlightened article (mentioned previously) is the same stupid, bitter old man who doesn't know jack all about wtf he's talking about, I'll actually write a review. Or maybe there's a philosophical problem to ponder here. Is this an example of Heraclitus' thesis that everything flows and nothing stays the same?

Sophie's World, if you don't know, is a mini history of philosophy. As such, I had a tough time categorizing it for my tags. It's a bit of fiction and non-fiction mashed together. This book came into my reading list through a New Year's pact that D. and I made: we would each try to read a book that would help us understand the other. D. chose this book for me. I confess I have very little formal training in philosophy, but my interest in science and my lifelong pursuit of answers served me well in my reading.

As one of the reviews said, this book is partly a history of Western philosophy mixed with Alice in Wonderland. Sophie, a 14-year-old girl living in Norway, begins receiving mysterious letters from a philosopher. As she learns about the history of philosophy, she becomes increasingly aware that her life is being manipulated by a mysterious man named Albert Knag. I won't lie to you. This book gets trippy. Disney characters show up. Animals talk. But once you understand the secret of Sophie's World, it all makes perfect sense.

I admit that I enjoyed the book more than I expected. I love the fact that author had his pupil be a girl, which is not the usual choice. I like how Sophie sasses everyone, including the philosopher, but still manages to be a lovable, wonderful character. I like how the ending was purposefully cloudy. That's only to be expected from a philosophy book. I liked the gentle touches of humour woven throughout the book. It made me think and it made me laugh, two things that are increasingly rare in books for me. Therefore, I stamp it with the shadow of a real A-.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

An update

This is an apology to myself, for not keeping up with my reading as I should be. In my defense, I can only say that I have been both busy and reading a tough book, as I mentioned in my earlier post. No, I'm not referring to Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, although I'm reading one of those too. I'd like to point out, for the record, that those Bathroom Reader books are dang interesting and great reads. I'm sure some of you literati types reading this blog will scorn, but they're like some addictive sour candy that you just can't stop eating.

The real reason for my post is that I've discovered something exciting and I feel like I have to share it with the world, even though I'm sure no one else will find it even remotely interesting. As people who know me will attest, I make so secret of my love for Tyrone Power. I'm not so naive as to believe he was a complete angel, though he may come across as one in comparison to say, Errol Flynn. No, what really got my knickers in a twist (in a good way), is the discovery of this article, in which he comes across as smart, articulate and shockingly feminist. What a swoonbeast.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

10. Enchanted

The title: Enchanted
The author: Nancy Madore
Publication: Spice, 2006
Got it from: Amazon

Oh lord, did I have to debate whether I would put this one on my blog! All I can say is thank heavens my grandmother doesn't use the Internet anymore. This is probably going to shock a lot of people and their notions about what a good girl I am. I had plenty of excuses at the ready: but we read erotic fairytales for my children's literature class! It's not like it's hardcore or anything! Oh, #@*$ it. Like you've never had these thoughts before! Like you never thought about how sexy those old fairytales really were! So you can take your morals and shove them!

Heh heh.

(Plus, I couldn't bear the thought of giving up another notch on the book count tally. Especially since the one I'm reading right now is really dense and will take awhile to finish.)

I LOVED this book. It was freaking awesome. This is going to be the book to beat this year. (Heh heh. She said "beat".) Seriously, I'm going to be hard-pressed to find a book I like more in 2008. (Heh heh. She said "hard pressed".) Aside from the obvious, there are many reasons why I adore this book. First of all, it's written entirely for women: no subtle injections of male fantasies, no snide moralizing, just lady-worshipping goodness. There is a strong feminist streak in all the stories, but they're anything but libido killing. We're pretty much dealing with everything here: s&m, exhibitionism, menage-a-huit (I'll let you guess which fairytale that is), girl and girl, husband-swapping, beastiality (sort of. With the Beast.) Also, a really lovely take on the Cupid and Psyche myth, which is just hot anyway, but is really something here.

The no moralizing aspect is really what makes these stories gems. Goldilocks? She learns NOTHING from her visit to the three barons, other than that being nosy will lead to sexy results! Bluebeard's wife? She's going to die - of pleasure! And the two ladies who scheme to swap husbands in secret? They keep on doing it, yo, because the grass may not always be greener, but it's still pretty green. (Although I'm still confused as to how both the guys could totally not know it was their best friend's wife. Even in the dark. Come on!)

All joking aside, these stories were excellently written in clear, non-vulgar language. They managed to be smart, funny and sexy, while helping women to appreciate themselves just as they are and to not be ashamed of their sexuality. A romantic, sensual book for women that doesn't insult my intelligence? A for Awesome.

(As an aside, I may be kind of biased toward these stories because they take the form of fairytales, which I have adored all my life. I guess when I was little I used to be obsessed with Cinderella's prince. Mom says there was a time when all I could do was watch, talk about and draw pictures of the prince. I have, like, a dozen of these "books" I made when I was six about the prince. Even though he is totally bland and unappealing. I think I need to have myself psychoanalyzed.)

(Also note: if anyone attempts to tease me about this in real life, I will kill you. No, really.)

(Also also note: I know you totally want to borrow this book. Admit it!)