Tuesday, February 22, 2005

This weekend I snatched rare moments whenever I could to read Out by Natsuo Kirino, the mystery bestseller that took Japan by storm back in 1998-99. Finally published here in hardcover in 2003, it was released as a Vintage paperback just last month.

I'm astonished that I've never tackled a Japanese novel before now, largely because I've never been drawn to Japanese culture or history. I searched for Out on the basis of the powerful, starred review in Publishers Weekly, which raved about it and noted Kirino's strong female characters, a rarity in Japanese literature. From the first page, Kirino gets inside her five women, portraying their home situations and their work on the assembly line in the boxed lunch factory. Kirino describes the factory in depth and, though the topic may sound dull, I was fascinated. I understand from the reviews that the story is grim and becomes a work of horror, so I may not be able to finish it, but I must say that the no-holds-barred picture Kirino presents of lower-middle-class Japanese society is eye-opening and worth the time spent.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Tonight Lauren Willig is reading from her debut novel The Secret History of the Pink Carnation at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge. According to an article in the Cambridge Chronicle, Willig prowled the used books section of the store for years, searching for historical novels from the 1940s and 50s. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is a historical novel (in a sense)about a historical novelist writing a historical novel. The novelist is a contemporary Harvard grad student in history doing dissertation research in London--that's what grabs me. The fact that she's trying to make a historical novel out of her dissertation is another. I love novels about academics set in London. Actually anything set in London will do. Alison Lurie wrote a couple, including Foreign Affair, which I loved so much I made everyone in my book group read it (great discussion book). Don't pass up the chance to curl up with that one, if you've missed it thus far.

Monday, February 14, 2005

I must make a confession that I have been studying a book that I never would have picked up a month ago. I say study because I've been pouring over it and am finding it helpful and fun as I start to reclarify my goals. Do I dare to say I'm reading (okay, you can choke now) The Success Principles by Jack Canfield? (Yes, that Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame.) No, I couldn't possibly post the inane book jacket, especially because you'll never beat a path to my door again if I do.

I found this book when I was searching for Small Business Marketing for Dummies online. I put on hold a bunch of marketing books (trying to get Ken's new business off the ground) and added The Success Principles for the hell of it. An hour later, I cancelled the hold, but, by some quirk of fate, the librarian placed it in my hands anyway.

And worst of all, I hate to admit to myself that I really love it. It's written by an egomaniac, but his exercises and ideas are finally moving me through the morass I've been in these last months. I had been feeling that because we need for me to earn a lot more money, I can't do what I most want to do with my life. But I know now I just can't live that way. And I'm off!

Don't worry, the Jack Canfield stage will be short-lived, and I'll never mention him ever again. But if you're a goal-oriented person (which I am), and you've steered yourself way off course, as a last resort you might want to take a peek sometime when you've got nothing better to do.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

It's coming! Only 8 weeks until we see these babies!

A beautiful early morning romp on frozen Ponkapoag Bog and Pond with Sophie gave me some space to think about my long-term goals. It's amazing how caught up in the day-to-day struggle I can be, zooming along month after month, and never reflecting on where I'm going. Sometimes I feel I better not look too closely because it's impossible for me to fulfill my dreams, but that's really nonsense. There is always a way. I just have to be more clever about figuring out a plan to make the things I want happen. I'm working on it, which at this point means I'm thinking about it.

Valentine's Day! Don't worry, I'm not going to blog about romance novels, but I will provide a link to "What Authors Read on Valentine's Day," an article from the Christian Science Monitor. Many of the authors I don't recognize, but it was mildly entertaining nonetheless.

I finished Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld several hours ago--all 400 pages. (To link to the article about Prep and Sittenfeld, type "Sittenfeld" into the search box that comes up when you follow this link.) I'm glad I read it, but it was 100 pages too long. She needed an editor to go through with a red pencil and write "Cut, cut, cut!" I would imagine that the book makes the prep school world uncomfortable--its focus on wealth, status, class, and race are hard-hitting. And I think it must be difficult for Sittenfeld to work at the Washington, D.C., prep school where she tutors, with this novel making the rounds. No matter what she says, people are going to believe it's autobiographical--that Lee Fiora's opinions are hers. If I were a journalist, I'd be on the phone to her classmates, trying to figure out where this novel came from, and what was Sittenfeld like when she was at Groton (class of '93).

Friday, February 11, 2005

Hey! Blogger has changed its "Comments" function. Finally! Now everyone, not only Blogger subscribers, can sign their comments and note their website or blog.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I'm feeling bereft because I'm low on books at the moment. I'm on the final pages of Prep, I'm just beginning Snowlegs by Nicholas Shakespeare, but I want MORE. I have The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates in the house. All the critics said it's great, but I can't help but feel a little wary when I approach the work of someone who writes as prolificly as Oates does. She really churns 'em out! According to an interview she gave to NPR, she writes as much as she does because she works really hard. Does she mean she writes more than the vast majority of writers because she thinks she works harder than they do? Actually, if the truth be told, I'm as jealous as all hell. I'd love nothing better than to have the problem of being a little too prolific.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

This is an experiment. Am I capable of blogging after trying to learn Word 2002's "Template and Add-Ins" and stylesheet functions? I've never had to do this before, and I feel rather insane at the moment.
Okay! Deep breath.

Don't miss Jessa Crispin's (Blog of a Bookslut) diary in the Guardian, which describes a typical, fascinating week in the life.

And, in book news, I wasn't aware that Erin Hart, author of Haunted Ground, a book I loved, published another in September. Lake of Sorrows brings back American forensic psychologist Nora Gavin and Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire, the two main characters in Haunted Ground, Erin Hart's debut. That title is richly atmospheric, suspenseful, and full of Irish history and mythology. If you wish you could take a trip to Ireland, this book will do it for you. I read it on vacation and it was the perfect pleasure read. I was transported.

I'm concerned about reading Lake of Sorrows, though. I know nothing about it as of this moment. It's just that I love her writing so much that I wished at the end of the last book that she'd write another about an entirely new place. I'm not sure I want a reprise of the same characters and setting, as much as I liked them the first time. I guess I'm definitely not a series reader. Except for the Little House books!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

I've never been into crime thrillers, yet I've lately found myself blogging about them and occasionally reading them. I recently heard about a new book by a Swedish crime novelist, Henning Mankell. Before the Frost has received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and is generating quite a buzz. It seems Mankell has written many bestselling books (European bestsellers, that is) about the veteran police investigator, Kurt Wallander. In Before the Frost, Mankell introduces Kurt's daughter Linda Wallander, a police rookie, in a tale about her first case. The Observer (London) notes that Mankell is "one of the most ingenious crime writers around, strong on characterization, plotting, and atmosphere." Review after review praises his writing, so I'm going to hunt for it.

Yes, I had reading time this weekend! I've been loving Prep (see February 1st entry) and have also started Snowleg by Nicholas Shakespeare (see my January 16 entry in the archives.)

Friday, February 04, 2005

I'm confronting a dilemma at the moment: to read State of Fear by Michael Crichton or not. I'm fifteen pages in, and I feel the same way I did when I started reading The Da Vinci Code. Is this 400 pages worth my time?

What makes me hesitate? At least eight people (I'm not sure if they're characters or walk-ons at this point) have been introduced, all engaged in different nefarious deeds that seem totally unrelated. I close the book a moment. Will there be a character that I can relate to? A character that will develop as the story goes along? Will I care about him, her, or them? Or is this an idea thriller, in which everything revolves around the action of the plot?

Reviews have not answered this question for me. Although from my vantage point there is no question that global warming is at least partly humanmade, it doesn't bother me that Crichton is arguing that it is not. From the point of view of ideas and scientific fact, State of Fear seems, from all I have read, to be worth reading, but I can't help but feel that I'd rather read a nonfiction book on the subject than a fiction thriller.

I am on the fence. Meanwhile, I can't stop myself from turning to Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, which has a character I care deeply about. (See my post of February 1st.) Will Lee, a girl from a modest Midwestern background, get her feet under her at this posh New England prep school? She's been there six months now, and doesn't have a friend, yet she observes everything and everyone around her with a sharp eye, missing nothing.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I have been in heaven because I keep receiving little chunks of reading time. A flood of books has arrived and there's no way I can read all of them, which profoundly saddens me.

The Christian Science Monitor had an interesting article about the new genre "matron lit." Please, gag a little into your teacups. The Hot Flash Club by Nancy Thayer is one of them, as is The Red Hat Club by Haywood Smith. I suppose I should be generous and grant that they're harmless. After all, they give "gals" (oh, how I loathe that word) between the ages of 48-62 a few role models of women who have finally given themselves permission to live. Well, good for them. I've seen both books at the library--how trite and insipid can novels be?

I should never diss books. Never! I may have readers who loved both of these books. My apologies! The CSM article is intriguing, however, from the perspective of cultural oddities.

Philip Roth's The Plot against America has arrived. It's on tape. My idea was that Ken and I could listen to it in the evenings. I know he'll love it, but it's hard to pull him away from 24, House, West Wing, and Boston Legal. I'll see how far I can get.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I have been reading! This weekend I had more than two hours both Saturday and Sunday. Then last night Ken had to go out to a job, and I had another two hours.

I finished Lip Service (it's good, although the climax came too early, leaving the ending a bit of a fizzle.) Even so, it was an exciting read. I picked up many books on Saturday, and again on Monday, so I have lots to sample and choose from now.

I selected Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World, which is what I would call an odd story with odd characters. The writing is exquisite, which is what has pulled me along and kept me rapt. During the depression, eighteen-year-old Rose must fend for herself, which, for most young people her age, is an insurmountable obstacle. Yet Rose finds a job as an assistant to a professor of religion. He and his family have recently fled Nazi Germany and have very little money, except for the help they receive from James, an author's son, who has been immortalized in his father's famous children's books. (Think Christopher Robin all grown up.) James provides most of the provocative action. I'm nearing the end and everything about the book still seems strange, but I'm enjoying it nonetheless.

Last night I fell into reading Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. It's a tale of teenage bewilderment set in a posh New England boarding school. Sittenfeld attended Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts, and the school in Prep resembles it. Of course. I was attracted to the book because I've been hearing about it and wondered if it could possibly be any good. I stuck my toes in last night and didn't go near Heir to the Glimmering World because I couldn't stop reading. So at this point all I can say is it's very readable. Let me spend more time before I pass judgment. There is also something about the atmosphere Sittenfeld creates that's reminiscent of The Secret History by Dona Tartt. By the way, the reviews I've seen so far just don't describe the book at all well. I've read the one in the New York Times and a few others, and they're cutesy. I hate it when reviewers bend over backwards to be cute and forget to critique the book.