Things Read Lately

One month and two days later, and we've mostly finished the unpacking from Spring Break. The five bottles of champagne and the six medallions and the nine ships on a stick (maybe I should repeat that from the top because my subtlety on this issue is really flying under the radar) are still all on the carpet, arranged artistically, waiting for further instructions. I find myself thinking seriously of buying a house, so we might have a less scary place to display them than the "pot shelf-type thing" along the long kitchen wall that requires a stepladder and a sharp intake of breath to reach.

Of course, it will only be four bottles by then because if I ever get to the part of the trip report where I explain how to bring five bottles of champagne back without paying duty, which is to say the end, then I'm going to open one and celebrate.

This post, instead, is about books.

Last night I was snuggling with the Kindle, and - oh - today one of my co-workers was asking if I had regrets re buying a Kindle now that the iPad is out. Didn't I cover this already? If not, the answer is no. Heck, I would like an iPad, because I like electronic gadgets and anything from Apple is always very sexy, but I don't feel like a "sucker" (my co-worker's word, quoted from the media) at all. The Kindle (or any similar reader) uses e-ink, is lighter, and runs for two weeks without a charge. This is exactly what I want. What you want - who knows? Luckily there are multiple products to suit multiple preferences. (And hopefully the Steve "Nobody reads books anymore" and "Let's screw Amazon by negotiating a deal with publishers to increase e-book prices" Jobs' wannabe squad will stop acting there can only be one type of e-reader. Sure, like there can only be one style of sofa or car or chicken curry.)

Back to the snuggling. So, I have hundreds of free books on the Kindle. I download them, because free is free, and then I tend to ignore them completely. (Most seem to fall under the genres of Christian romance, bondage stories with bad dialogue, and formulaic science fiction. Now, if someone could merge all three...) But, I have found a couple of fun "chick lit" finds along the way that have led to buying more by the same author: Maureen Johnson (hooked with Suite Scarlett) and Laura Jensen Walker (hooked with the first of her Getaway Girls series). I'm not necessarily recommending these - too many caveats might be necessary - but for light/fun/original, you could do a lot worse in an indulgent beach book.

Anyway, last night I didn't have anything I felt like reading on the Kindle. (Remember how one reason I wanted a Kindle was so I could read The New Yorker without giving up entire metres of shelf space to the backlog of unfinished issues? Space that could now be used to showcase the golden spoils of knowing the apocryphal etymology of the word "posh"? And another reason was so I would never be without something to read? Well, now I have over a years' worth of New Yorkers in various states of consumption on the Kindle. It's totally worth the $3.99 monthly subscription, but some days you just don't feel like the NYer, ya know?)

And if I'm not in the mood for the New Yorker, then I'm probably not in the mood for a classic. I want to be all cool and just dreamily gnaw on the dramatic and public domain works of Aeschylus - perhaps the steamy-sounding Suppliant Maidens - but it almost never happens. It's late, I'm tired, gimme some easy-access wit. (Although that play doesn't look bad at all.)

The freebies weren't calling me, so I thumbed through some samples. I had tried The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and was ready to buy it right away - such an interesting case! - and now it was on my wishlist. (Despite Apple's misguided bedding of some misguided publishing houses, I'm not paying hardback prices for e-books. I wishlist and I wait for later.) Would anything else tempt me? Maybe something at a lower price point? (May I pop out a kudo for whoever set the final price of the Percy Jackson Kindle editions? Yes, the series is somewhat derivative and the movie was so awful that I don't think I last past the first fifteen minutes, but I just can't help but get sucked into modernized Greek mythology fanfic as quilled by a competent pen.)

There's a half-hour of my life that I won't get back with the sample of Kitty Kelley's Oprah. Not that it was bad, but it didn't add anything to my world. Oprah is imperfect and not gay. There, I spoiled it for you.

Recently I decided to become active on LibraryThing. Sure, I've been down the "catalogue all books online" road before, most noticeably with GoodReads, and I avoided LT for years because I thought it was just for people with enormous libraries and their own barcode scanners. I don't remember why I decided to switch allegiances and try again there, but it was probably just my ever-burbling need to classify and archive things. Anyway, my library on LT can be found here.

Embarrassingly, the latest Kindle freebies are always going to come up first. Please judge me for being frugal and optimistic, not for whatever frightening tome might currently top the list.

When I was entering all of these books into LT, I had to go back to my Kindle account to get the titles of all those "might be awful - might be wonderful - who cares - it's free" books. A friend of mine recently noted that she won't get a Kindle, if only for the temptation of being able to buy books with one magic click on every sleepless night. She has a point. After years of library trips and very few book purchases (textbooks and biannual Harry Potters aside), this past year of indulgent Kindling might be scary if I ever total it up.

[Here is where I fell asleep for four hours. Hurry, Friday, Hurry!]

When I woke up, I did total the bill over the past 14 months. And I did gasp. But then I broke it down further, and I have since decided (rationalized? hoped?) that $8.25 per week for (paid-for) books (of which there were 56) and a subscription to The New Yorker is really quite reasonable.

Consider that before it would've been about $1.50/week for the magazine (as opposed to $1.00 on Kindle), and that I was spending at least $2.00/week on gas to the library, and at the library I was bringing home armfuls of duds, almost all of which I have since successfully dodged with getting sample chapters on the Kindle (the one exception being Jennifer Weiner's much-lauded Good in Bed, which took an unpredictable turn in tone that the sample chapters couldn't predict), and that I could never have lugged as many books as I read while traveling this year, and the adjusted figure of $5.75/week is really quite reasonable, and that's not even figuring in for free stuff.

In fact, now I'm wondering if I'm reading enough.  We canceled the HBO last month. I only have one or two Starbucks per year. Maybe I'll buy the Henrietta Lacks book after all.

(No, no, mustn't give in. Must vote with dollars for softcover prices. Sigh.)

Anyway, now that we've accomplished objective #1 of this post ("Share LibraryThing link"), it's time for objective #2: "What have I read lately?"

Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe). Here's how I heard of this book. 1. I went sweepstakes/contest-crazy last summer. (Remember?) 2. I won a copy of Newes of the Dead. (Yay! I liked it enough to ask our department chair to order six copies for us to use in lit circles through some grant money, but then the grant people questioned the appropriateness of the entire list of books being ordered, and I'm not sure what happened next, but no books came.) 3. The contest was sponsored on a site called YA Books Central, so perhaps even better than winning was discovering this site. (Double-yay!) 4. The force behind the site is Kimberly Pauley, who wrote Sucks to Be Me, which intrigued me enough to get a copy and now be excited about the sequel. (Triple-yay!)

If you don't like YA, then I can't comment. I love YA books because it feels like I'm feeding lovely literary gifts into the young me of the 1970s/1980s. But, adult me is reading these novels, so my standards are higher now than they would've been then in those days. (I constantly wonder if I'd "get" the whole Twilight thing if I'd read it when I was younger. Still flummoxed by my inability to like Bella enough to read about her angst.) Anyway, Mina Hamilton is a teenage girl... with vampire parents. And now she must decide whether to become a vampire. It's quite cute, especially if you like seeing new twists on the old lore.

Next up: all kinds of stuff by Madeleine Wickham, now better known as Sophie Kinsella of the Shopaholic novels. (Sorry, but ample servings of light literature is how I deal with a heavy world.) I won't say the books aren't predictable, but the writing is high-spirited and fun.

The Luxe. I saw this one in the school library and, probably like lots of other readers, the lush cover drew me in. Soon after I saw a student reading it. "Meh," she said. "Not bad. I'll probably finish it by tomorrow. That kind of book." When I finally read it, I felt the same way. But I mention it here because it was a nice little glimpse into New York society in the late 1800s. Oh, I know I should read more Edith Wharton if I like this kind of thing - and who doesn't adore Roman Fever? - but.. but.. the movies for The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth were so depressing.

Fine. I just downloaded Bunner Sisters, The Custom of the Country, and The Early Short Stories (Volume One). Cost? $0.00. Yes! Ethan Frome can wait.

Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Restaurant Reviews, Articles, Memoir, Fiction and More. As much as I could probably use this book personally, I actually got it to help plan a "food writing" unit for my advanced composition class. But then I shelved that plan until the next school year, which will give me time to actually read this. (Feel free to throw this statement in my face, come August.)

I was thinking that my students in that class needed a "writing in real life" example beyond college application letters, and food writing being so hot right now. (Cue Zoolander sound bite.) And food writing being something I like to read about... More thinking on that this summer. I did give them a "pick an exotic ingredient and write a researched narrative about your experiences with that ingredient" assignment as an extra credit option - we'll see how that goes. (Those darn seniors and their last-minute desires to avoid summer school!) Sadly, no one picked cumin. :(

(I also think the kids need to enter more essay contests. This year I had the kids enter two. That's it. And my students won both. THIS IS ME BEATING ON MY CHEST LIKE A GORILLA. So, yeah, we need to do more of that next year. True, for the second contest there were 40 winners, but my winner worked like a dog revising that essay over and over - and not a chihuahua dog, but one of those sled-pulling breeds - and he won a laptop! The other student was the winner of the contest, and she won $200, although she will probably go on to add several zeros to that number throughout her life without much help from anyone. The kids all complained at the time that I was killing them with these contests, but heck, that was going to happen anyway.)

NOT recommended YET: We're Just Like You, Only Prettier: Confessions of a Tarnished Southern Belle. Celia Rivenbark is a funny, funny woman. She killed me with Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank. I joined her Facebook fan page and everything. I read the sample chapters for this book. I wishlisted it forever. And now? MEH if not BLEH. Maybe it's the chapters I'm reading, but the quips are more like predictable pot-shots at low-hanging fruit. Maybe it's because the book is now six years old and a little dated? (Or because I'm jealous that someone else is making really lame jokes?)

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. Didn't I already praise this one? Oh, the blog posts that are only written in my head, leading to confusion later... It's about an unusual character who loves rare and collectible books... so he steals them. The best part of the book was getting a little insight on the world of book collecting. However, as much as I too wish to own yards of old and precious, precious parchment and vellum, I stand by my post-Kindle adage: "I love books... but I love reading more." 

...Now, having said that, I just bought 36 books on but I had to buy some things for students, and all of those 75-cent titles with "reduced shipping from the same seller" tempted me! Now on the Media Mail way is Herman Wouk's A Hole in Texas - hey, I remember the supercollider!, another Madeleine Wickham, Devils on the Deep Blue Sea - a cruise industry history/expose, Tender at the Bone - to complete my Ruth Reichl foodie experience, The Quilter's Apprentice - because I'm still optimistic that the quilting bug will take me, and a number of CliffsComplete texts - ostensibly for school, but because I just love heavily annotated Shakespeare. (I can feel not-so-stupid and almost scholarly!)

But now it is nearly midnight, so I'm off to read... to read... okay, everyone knows I hate romance novels, with a few notable exceptions, but as I keep saying, I want to like them... and I had nothing to read last night... so I started reading a freebie.. and... and these endless ellipses are even giving me a headache... that freebie was Mistress by Mistake. I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW. But it's not terrible so far. I read the first chapter out loud to Mike, and oh how we giggled! And said "ew" a lot, but in a funny way. Maybe I've just been reading these things wrong.

Or perhaps I'll start the Edith Wharton. I'm not anticipating any "oops, I apologize for boinking you just now, but I thought you were your sister" scenes, but perhaps I'll be surprised.

07 May 2010 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)