I would measure your wrist twice

Reading now: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
When I was your age, my grandfather bought me a ruby bracelet. It was too big for me and would slide up and down my arm. It was almost a necklace. He later told me that he had asked the jeweler to make it that way. Its size was supposed to be a symbol of his love. More rubies, more love. But I could not wear it comfortably. I could not wear it at all. So here is the point of everything I have been trying to say. If I were to give a bracelet to you, now, I would measure your wrist twice.
I'm not even halfway finished, but so far I am head over heels in love with this book. I don't want it to end.


Then We Came To The End - Joshua Ferris

Then We Came To The End satires the modern day American workplace; that of the office. It details the ridiculousness, the monotony, the humor and the tedium that is all associated with spending eight hours a day in a cubicle, surrounded by the same people day in and day out. Ferris brings us inside the walls of a Chicago ad agency just as the market is taking a turn for the worst and layoffs are inevitable.
It was a shrill, carping, frenzied time, and as poisonous an atmosphere as anyone had ever known - and we wanted nothing more than to stay in it forever.
I'm not quite sure what to say about this book. It took me awhile to warm up to it. I liked certain parts a lot, and others I felt dragged on. But overall, I liked it more than I didn't like it - if that makes sense. It is very funny, but not in an obvious or obnoxious kind of way. Ferris does a fantastic job relating the comedy in the trivial compulsions, exaggerated emotions and complicated politics that result from the abnormal dynamic of today's corporate culture. In this way the novel almost functions as a farce, except by the end I found myself caring about these characters, without having really gotten to know them at all (except one - whose story is the only section of the book that isn't narrated in the first person plural, and is a very touching and honest account that made me believe that Ferris understands women). It took awhile to get going but once it did, I couldn't stop reading.

Ferris' novel brought up interesting questions: do we ascribe more importance to our everyday life than we should? Do we continually search for meaning in meaningless situations? In a particularly funny part of the novel, an employee, Benny, decides that for an entire day, he will answer everyone's questions with quotes from The Godfather, to see if people noticed or even cared to hear what he was really saying. No one does:
I mean if you can get by with quotes from The Godfather, and nothing you say matters, that's pretty bleak, don't you think? Don't you want what we say to matter?
Then We Came To The End was named one of the Top Ten Books of the Year in 2007 by The New York Times Book Review and was also shortlisted for the National Book Award - I think it is well deserved.

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2007


Top Ten Scariest Books

In honor of the upcoming holiday, The Broke and The Bookish have featured "Top Ten Scariest Books" for Top Ten Tuesday. Since "scary" is such broad word, below is a list of books that are scary in the traditional sense, but also scary is a disturbing or suspenseful way (in no particular order). I should also point out I don't typically read mystery/suspense genre, so this list is probably different than those more familiar with these genres. (I still have yet to read anything by Stephen King or Agatha Christie.)

1. The Shadow of The Wind (Ruiz Zafon): From the dark setting to the suspenseful plot - this is my favorite literary thriller. People either love it or hate it. I loved it.

2. Turn of the Screw (James): Scary in the typical sense; ghosts, a creepy house and a crazy governess.

3. Her Fearful Symmetry (Niffenegger): I have a serious love for Audrey Niffenegger novels, and this one didn't disappoint. It is perfectly ominous and captivating all at once. The setting is also perfect - Highgate Cemetary in London, where Niffenegger once was a tour guide.

4. The Moonstone (Collins) - Not quite the "scariest" book per se, but my all-time favorite Victorian sensation novel.

5. A Child Called It (Pelzer) - An incredibly heartbreaking account of a child who is continuously and seriously abused by his alcoholic mother. Quite scary in the sense that it is non-fiction.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Rowling) - If I had to pick the scariest novel of the series, it has to be the last. I can't wait for the movie!

7. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson) - One of my favorite creepy classics. Stevenson knows how to build suspense!

8. Orxy and Crake (Atwood): I could also add The Handmaid's Tale, as both are disturbing dystopias that don't seem all that far fetched.

9. Blindness (Saramago): While I didn't love this book as a whole, the premise and the execution of the story line creeped me out.

10. Glamorama (Easton Ellis): My introduction to Ellis. I'll read American Psycho one day, but I'm waiting for the sting of Glamorama to wear off; very disturbing and scary all at once.


R.I.P. Challenge - Complete

This was my first time participating in the R.I.P. challenge and I loved it. I participated in Peril the First: Read four books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between. I read five, because I especially love scary books this time of the year:

Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Turn of the Screw - Henry James
The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

My very favorite of the five was Stiff, followed closely by The Turn of the Screw and The Book of Lost Things


Is Stephen King Any Good?

"People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy... and I keep it in a jar on my desk."
-Stephen King

I read this quote on my Half Price Books calendar and it intrigued me. I haven't read any King and, given the time of the year, I am starting to wonder if I am missing out. So, my question to you, lovely readers, is if I were to pick a book, which should I start with? 

photo via the New York Times


The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

This was a fun read for Halloween. It is dark, but also lighthearted, evoking a Hans Christian Anderson/Brothers Grim tone. We meet Daniel, a young boy who lost his mother. He and his mother shared a love for books. She taught him at a young age the importance of books and storytelling. After his mother passes, Daniel's books begin speaking to him, luring him into a world of crooked fairy tales and evil creatures.

One of the things I liked best about this book was Connolly's dismissal of a typical "happily ever after" theme. Fairy tales are retold in a twisted and bleak manner, offering a new outlook on Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, to name a few. Even the ending rejects the conventional. Ultimately the tone is hopeful, but Connolly doesn't sugar coat anything and instead opts for a darker, cheerless tone, perfect for Halloween.

This is a great book to read when you want a captivating story. It's a true modern fairy tale about transitions and the loss of innocence. I'm tempted to compare it to The Shadow of the Wind, as they are both suspenseful books about books. However if you didn't enjoy The Shadow of the Wind don't write off The Book of Lost Things. I would recommend this book to the true bibliophile, someone who loves to not only read books, but to admire and collect them as well. It's a fun suspense for the book lover, exploring how books shape the world around us and our imagination. It captures the trills, the fears and the triumphs that are held in books.

Publisher: Atria Books, 2006


Top Ten Fictional Crushes

1. Henry DeTamble- The Time Traveler's Wife (Niffeneger): He's a librarian. What is hotter than a guy who likes to read? Not to mention his advanced survival skills he developed as a result of you know, the uncontrollable time travel. Let's face it, the guy is downright resourceful. Oh yeah, and I want him to love me like he loves Claire.

2. Edward Rochester - Jane Eyre (Bronte): Dark, brooding and rough around the edges. Sure, he may be a bigamist (some may say creep) who keeps one wife locked up while marrying another - but there is something about him that gets me every time. Don't judge.

3. Jacob Jankowski - Water for Elephants (Gruen): A hard worker, animal lover and incredibly moral, I'd let Jacob sleep in my train car anyday.

4. Lysander - A Mid Summer Night's Dream (Shakespeare): What I envision to be the sexiest of all Shakespearean characters.

5. Jay Gatsby - The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald): He is incredibly social, impossibly handsome and ridiculously wealthy. The air of mystery surrounding his past is also intriguing. Stupid Daisy...

6. Severus Snape - The Harry Potter Series (Rowling): Again, don't judge.

7. Shadow - American Gods (Gaiman): Big strong man with a broken heart... I can't help it.

8. Stanley Kowalski - A Streetcar Named Desire (Williams): Passionate and always wearing a tight t-shirt, what's not to love? The uncontrollable rage, you say? Maybe it's because I fall for the bad boys or maybe it's because I watched the movie that stars Marlon Brando after I finished the book.

9. Leo Gursky - A History of Love (Krauss): This might be less of a crush than it is an extreme love for this character, he's probably my favorite out of all the books I've read this year. He's full of witty thoughts and crazy tendencies, and I love him.

10. Eric Northman - The Sookie Stackhouse Series (Harris): Confession; I have never read The Sookie Stackhouse Series. However, I couldn't pass up the chance to talk about Eric Northman, since he's based on a literary character. Simply stated, wow and wow. I'd pick Eric over Bill any day.

Thanks to The Broke and The Bookish for hosting Top Ten Tuesday!


Stories Were Alive...

Reading Now: The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
Before she came ill, David's mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren't alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs and cats... Stories were different: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them out loud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath the blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of  a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music to being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge.
This is one of the funnest books I have read all year. It is well written and fastastically whimsical. Review upon completion! Have a great weekend. 


The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood

Margret Atwood wrote The Penelopiad for an international project called The Canongate Myth Series, which brings together an array of writers who explore and re-tell timeless myths in a contemporary way. Other Myth writers include Chinua Achebe, Philip Pullman and Alexander McCall Smith.

In this novella, Atwood used the story of The Odyssey to explore the roles Penelope and her maids while Odysseus was gone at war. She explains what Penelope was really up to in the 20 years her husband was at war and why her 12 maids were hung upon Osysseus' return to Ithica. Atwood convincingly gives Penelope a voice that is both strong and progressive.
I was a child who learned early the virtues - if such they are - of self-sufficiency. I knew that I would have to look out for myself in the world. I could hardly count on family support.
I thought this was a fun, interesting read, but it is not Atwood at her best. If you haven't read anything by Atwood yet, I would suggest starting with The Handmaid's Tale or Oryx and Crake. She really is amazing. On the other hand, I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in Greek mythology or really loves the classics.

Publisher: Knopf Canada, 2005


Plodding Along with Books

Now, 75 years later, in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.
-Harper Lee

Top Ten Books I'll NEVER Read

I'm not huge on memes but I love making lists, so when The Broke and the Bookish began Top Ten Tuesday I knew I'd eventually succumb. Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because, like me, they are particularly fond of lists.

Top Ten Books I'll (probably) NEVER Read:

1. Ulysses - James Joyce: This is probably the most intimidating of all novels. I just can't see myself picking it up. In a related note, I am currently reading The Penelopiad, which Margaret Atwood wrote for The Canongate Myth Series and tells Penelope's (wife of Odysseus) side of the story. I'm enjoying it very much.

2. Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert: This book is probably the biggest cliché of all time. It would probably just make me angry and annoyed.

3. Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pynchon: I read The Crying Lot of 49 in college and loved it. It probably helped that the professor who taught it was amazing. While Pynchon is a literary genius, Gravity's Rainbow scares me.

4. Any and all future books written by James Patterson. Because I hate James Patterson, Inc.

5. The Lord of The Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien: I didn't enjoy the movies and I've decided the series isn't for me.

6. Clarissa - Samual Richardson: I read Pamela in college. It's one of the most boring books I've ever read and I have absolutely no interest in tackling Clarissa. Richardson just isn't my thing.

7. I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell - Tucker Max: Because I hate assholes and am not interested in supporting their debauched behavior.

8. The Iliad or The Odyssey - Homer: The only way I would get around to reading these books was if I were trapped somewhere for many days and only had these novels for reading material. I"m just being honest

9. Angles and Demons and The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown: Because Dan Brown is the most overrated author there is and The Da Vinci Code was just a sad excuse for a book.

10. Mein Kampf - Adolf Hitler: I just won't.


Someone Really Loves Ray Bradbury

Warning: Because of the language, this video is inappropriate for some readers.  Please use your discretion. With that being said, this is hilarious. 

Have a great weekend!


The Turn of the Screw - Henry James

I chose to read this novel for the R.I.P challenge. It quickly became one of my favorite ghost stories. Set in the country estate of Bly, we follow a governess who begins the care for two young children, Flora and Miles. As the governess settles in at Bly she starts to see ghosts around the estate and soon discovers that they are the spirts of the former governess, Miss Jessel, and her dead lover, Peter Quint. The governess is convinced the ghosts are appearing to the children and communicating to them in an evil way, persuading them to do terrible things. She decides that she was there to "protect and defend the little creatures" as they were all "united in danger".

What makes The Turn of the Screw so captivating is that James never tells us if the ghosts are real or if the governess is simply going crazy. The governess is our narrator throughout the story, and she proves herself to be very unreliable, constantly overcome by emotion and suspicion. Also, she is the only character in the novel who admits to seeing the ghosts. It's almost as if she is driving herself crazy, slowly developing an obsession with the children and protecting them from the ghosts.

James does a fantastic job setting the scene of the ghost story, as the estate gets bleaker as the novel progresses. We are first introduced to Bly as a place of exquisite charm, filled with "beauty and dignity". Later in the novel the estate seems to change :
The summer had turned, the summer had gone; the autumn had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights. The place, with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces and scattered dead leaves, was like a theater after the performance - all strewn with crumpled playbills.

My take? This is an account of a young woman's decent into madness as a result of isolation and loneliness. The ghosts become a part of her imagination as she begins to find demonic qualities in everything around her, including the seemingly angelic children. The question of whether or not The Turn of the Screw is an actual ghost story or the story of a woman going mad is open to interpretation, as there is no concrete answer. Did the ghosts of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint haunt Bly? Did the children keep a dark secret hidden from their governess? I don't have answers to these questions, but I do know that this story will stay with me for quite sometime. Highly recommended for a Halloween read!

Publisher: Dover, 1898


Congratulations, Mario Vargas Llosa

It was announced today that Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa has won the Nobel Prize in literature. I am not familiar with this author (nor have I been with any laureate since 2003 when J.M. Coetzee was awarded - what kind of reader am I?!) but NPR says he's a "phenomenal" choice:
"What makes him significant, though, is not this backbone of steel or his shape-shifting political ideas - he was once a supporter of Castro, later a disillusioned communist, later still a center-left candidate - but the restless, searching way in which he has crabwalked across history and genres."
In the words of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prize in literature is awarded to the author, from any country, who has written "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Rather than be upset that I have never heard of Vargas Llosa I am going to celebrate it. That's the thing about Nobel laureates in literature; it's basically pointing out a fantastic author to the whole world, whether we have heard of him or not.

CNN tells me Vargas Llosa teaches at Princeton and his best-known novels are The Green House and The War of the End of the World.

Also, here is a lovely review Vargas Llosa did with the Paris Review that everyone who is interested in learning more about this Nobel laureate should read.


The Book That Lived

“Is the ‘book’ an object made out of paper, or is it rather a set of functions? If it’s the latter, the book isn’t dead—it’s just using various digital forms to serve the same function.”

-Leah Price, Professor of English, via Books and Bytes, The Harvard Crimson


Blankets by Craig Thompson

I haven't read very many graphic novels. This is my third (after Persepolis and Fun Home, both of which I adored).
Blankets details Craig Thompson's childhood, up through his high school graduation: I was brought into a world filled with teen-angst, profound faith, first loves and challenges families face everyday. This was a comforting read, laying in bed on a cold Sunday afternoon with blanket of my own. Thompson does an excellent job conveying heavy, complicated emotions with his art. I don't have anything profound to say about this book, except that it kept me warm and I'll bet it would do the same for you.

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions, 2003


Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach

*Please avoid this review if you are easily disturbed by the idea of corpses and cadavers. As the title suggests, this review will revolve around these subjects. This certainly won't be an exceptionally grotesque or disrespectful review, but to some these subjects may be off-putting.*

This non-fiction book written by Mary Roach literally details "the life" of a human cadavers: the many different things they can be used for, exactly what they under-go and how each process worked historically.  Roach's well-researched book is written in a unique and often humorous tone, which helps to bring a sense of lightness to the heavy subject matter. I was never disturbed or offended while reading the details of this book; rather I was intrigued and fascinated with the odd specifics:
"Before us is a man with a torso greatly distended. It is a circumference I more readily associate with livestock. As for the groin, it is difficult to tell what's going on; insects cover the area, like something he is wearing.  The face is similarly obscured. The larvae look like cooked rice. They live like rice, too, pressed together: a moist, solid entity. If you lower your head to within a foot or two of an infested corpse (and this I truly don't recommend), you can hear them feeding. Arpad pinpoints the sound: "Rice Krispies." Ron frowns. Ron used to like Rice Krispies."
The book is broken into 12 chapters, each chapter exploring a different theme. Two of my favorites were "How to Know If You're Dead: Beating-heart cadavers, live burial, and the scientific search for the soul" and "Beyond The Black Box: When the bodies of the passengers must tell the story of a crash". The footnotes are well worth reading, detailing interesting facts. For instance, every so often an anatamy student will recognize a lab cadaver. A professor at the University of California said he's "had it happen twice in a quarter of a century". Of course these are slim odds, but could you imagine?

A few (of the many) other interesting things I learned while reading this book:
  • When embalming fluid is pumped into a cadaver's viens, the body's erectile tissues expands, leaving male cadavers "better endowed in death than they were in life"
  • Up until 1965 necrophilia was not a crime in any US state
  • Before it was possible to donate your body to science, anatomists would buy cadavers for a sizable sum of money, thus prompting some to create their own corpses by killing people they believed would die soon anyway
  • Corpses lose about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit per hour until they reach room temperature
  • The brain is an "early-departure" organ, liquefying very quickly after death. It pours out the ears and bubbles out the mouth.
If you are intrigued by this subject matter (as I am) I highly recommend this book. Not only is it very interesting, it is also one of the funniest books I have read in awhile. (Not because of the subject matter, but because of the way Roach approaches it.) It is especially fun to read around this time of year.   

Publisher: Norton, 2003


Easy to be Around

Reading now: Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
I find the dead easier to be around than the dying. They are not in pain, not afraid of death. There are no awkward silences and conversations that dance around the obvious. They aren't scary. The half hour I spent with my mother as a dead person was easier by far than the many hours I spent with her as a live person dying and in pain. Not that I wished her dead. I'm just saying it's easier. Cadavers, once you get used to them - and you do that quite fast - are surprisingly easy to be around.