Monday, December 5, 2011

12-Books-in-12-Months Challenge - A book you have re-read more than once...and just read again

Book: The Holy Terrors (Les Enfant Teribles) by Jean Cocteau


It's basically the story of a brother and sister and their bystander of a friend and their adventures playing "The Game". The heat of youth that cannot sustain itself in anyway except to end in tragedy. And knowing Cocteau thus become the thing that inspires poetry.

Supposedly Jean Cocteau listened to the soundtrack from Carousel over and over while writing this. There is something a little manic and circular about the book so I tend to believe it. I read this book over and over during high school and college and even after. A friend of mine in college and I wanted to shoplift fish tanks and make young children cry in restaurants as a result of it. We'd ask each each other if we were "going away".

Rereading it now much older it's no longer strikes me as a book of madcap adventure and romantic tragedy. It left me a little depressed, a little nostalgic and rather happy that I'm older now. Which in the end I suppose is a good thing. Especially since it means I'm less likely to try to frighten children in restaurants.

I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are on Armchair Squid where you can also read up on what he's been reading.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

12-Books-in-12-Months Challenge - A book you read because you wanted to laugh

Book: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

When you have a daughter, a daughter that likes to be read to a lot. You discover that within children's literature there are a lot of orphans. A lot. As a parent you hope your kid doesn't notice that the kids in books that have all the cool adventures appear also to not have any parents.

And then after a few of these orphan tales, you begin to get kind of tired of orphans. Even Dido Twite although I guess technically she's not an orphan.

So Cold Comfort Farm is a lovely send up of orphan tales as well as many other late 19th century genres. Flora Poste's parents have died and having little money she is forced to either get a job or find some distant relatives who would be willing to take her in for awhile. She settles on the Starkadder family because they are in need of so much help.

So with her copy of Higher Common Sense in hand she goes off to set her distant relatives onto the path for a normal and sane life. Tropes that normally cause orphans to blanch or get into difficulty in other novels are merely things that need to be tidied up by Flora all in a rather hilarious manner.

If you don't wish to read the book, I highly recommend the movie. It's quite true to the book with the exception of eliminating the futurisms in it like TV phones and air taxis. However the novel doesn't have Rufus Sewell in it. There are always trade offs.

I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are on Armchair Squid where you can also read up on what he's been reading as well as other who are doing the challenge.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

12-Books-in-12-Months Challenge: A book for which you have not already seen the movie

Book: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Author: John Le Carré

Technically this is sort of cheating because I have seen the TV miniseries with Alec Guinness. However, I haven't seen the Gary Oldman movie which came out in the UK this month and the US in November in time to be Oscar bait.

My grandmother had all the Ian Fleming James Bond books and one weekend when I was staying there, I read all of them. The thing that I liked about them compared to the movies was that you get to see some of the psychological toll that Bond's work had on him. I did like his jet set lifestyle but I liked also that the books made him more human.

In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy the spies are all too human. Not in a bad way just more in the way where you can understand how someone might become and be a spy. The book is the first in LeCarre's "The Quest for Karla" trilogy. It has George Smiley coming back from retirement to ferret out a mole in Britain's secret service, The Circus, at the behest of a government minister. It has to be kept quiet from The Circus itself since the mole is thought to be at the highest echelons of the organization.

The Circus is rather drab. I have to admit I kept thinking a little bit of Kafka as I was reading it. The lives of these spies aren't quite as pointless as the characters in a Kafka novel but they're certainly suffering from a lot of the same existential crises.

I liked the book a lot. There were a couple of characters I really liked in the miniseries that the book gives you more information on - Jim Prideaux and Peter Guillam. I loved how their stories fit in even more with the themes of loyalty and how different generations view each other.

I'm a little nervous for the movie. It has a lot of actors I love but some of the changes I've heard about worry me. Especially the changing of the sexuality of one of the lead characters. But we'll see. In the meantime, I'm in the middle of the second book of the trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy which is just as enjoyable.

I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are on Armchair Squid where you can also read up on what he's been reading as well as other who are doing the challenge.

And so you don't think I've given up entirely on hiking, my husband posted about weekend and a hike involving Letterboxing on his blog.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

12-Books-in-12-Months Challenge: A Book You Don't Really Want to Read

But Everyone Keeps Raving About It

Book: Slaughterhouse Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut


My dislike of Kurt Vonnegut's books goes back to senior year in high school. We had a teacher who was trying to be cool and "connect with the kids" so instead of a survey of English and American literature like we were supposed to do, we read Breakfast of Champions and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Drifters by James Michener. Of those 3 Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the only one I like, well love. I feel like we must have read a Tom Robbins novel and thus my visceral dislike of him stems from then as well. However, I went to a Catholic school and it seems unlikely.

I could be using my class as a cover to explain to those who love Vonnegut why I don't like him. His fans seem to be a legion. Truth be told I really didn't like the book or ever want to read another book by him again. But I've felt guilty about it all these years (see I did go to Catholic school) that perhaps I hadn't given him a fair shake. Especially since I have been told by those who love Kurt Vonnegut that Breakfast of Champions is not the book to start with and even some of those who love his writing find it difficult.

Unfortunately, a second shake did not overcome my dislike of his writing. Most of what I dislike about it is sort of encapsulated in the longer title of the book -

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, A Fourth-Generation German-American Low Living in Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This is a Novel Somewhat in the Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.

If you haven't read Slaughterhouse Five and the whole title sounds amusing and like something you'd want to read, you'd probably like the book. If it just sounds annoying to you, like it does to me, then you should probably continue to skip reading it.

I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are on Armchair Squid where you can also read up on what he's been reading as well as other who are doing the challenge.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

12-Books-in-12-Months Challenge: A Book About or Set in Your Favorite Place

Book: Prague Tales
Author: Jan Nerua


I went to Prague in the mid-90's. It was my first trip abroad since a trip to England during high school. I fell in the love with the place. It was like something out of book. We went to a Dada exhibit, who knew there were Czech Dadaists? Not only that but they seemed to get Dada better than the French. We visited Jan Svanmajer's place. And went to performance of Mozart's requiem for I think about $2. I think it helped also that the visit to Prague a city preserved in time was contrasted with a visit to Budapest, a city not preserved but that has just as much history.

Of course we visited Mala Strana where Prague Tales is set. The book is a set of sketches of various inhabitants of Mala Strana mostly told from the point of view of someone who has grown up there during the 19th century.

The last tale is one of a student who has made the mistake of taking lodging in the Mala Strana because he has a romantic view of what it will be like to live in this quaint district. The student is rapidly disabused of his notions. While the details would change I think the tale serves as a nice cautionary lesson to anyone who moves to a place because of quaint tales they've heard about it. Vermont comes to mind for me.

This book is not only set in one of my favorite places but it's also set in what has become one of my favorite times, the 19th century. Maybe it's all of the costume dramas I watch. Or all of the Balzac I've read. Lest you think I haven't learned the lesson of the last tale in Prague Tales, I know I wouldn't want to live in the 19th century but I do find its novels a constant source of interest.

It was nice to revisit this book that I bought in Prague and think about my time there.

I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are on Armchair Squid where you can also read up on what he's been reading as well as other who are doing the challenge.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

12-Books-in-12-Months Challenge: A Book from a Genre You Don't Normally Read

I was going to do an historical bodice ripper for this but ended up reading a biography while on vacation and realized it's a genre I don't normally read for good reason.

Book: Lee Miller a Life
Author: Carolyn Burke


I've always wanted to know more about Lee Miller. She was a great beauty who started out as a model at Vogue, moved into photography, moved to Paris to study with Man Ray, became his muse and student, was a muse in Jean Cocteau's first film, became the first woman photographer to be on the front lines during WWII, one of the first photographers at Dachau when it was discovered by Allied forces and later became a mentor to young women helping them go through the doors that she had opened.

From Cocteau's Blood of a Poet

Her personal life was interesting and sad in many ways. She was raped at the age of 7 by a family friend's friend. Her father took nude photos of her and her friends throughout a good deal of her life. I think the author and I both had a hard time about it because Lee Miller never really talked about it but had a great relationship with her father and the photos were done with her consent and nothing else untoward seemed to be going on. She also probably suffered from PTSD after the war although they did not have a word for it yet. This probably led to her drinking problems later in life or at least spurred the one she already had on. It also led to her basically giving up photography for the most part and becoming somewhat of a hausfrau although one with surrealist touches to her cooking. She actually dove into cooking around the same time Julia Child did even going to the Cordon Bleu which was interesting. But also a result in a period of her life when she should have had showings of her work and been talking about it, she didn't, so her legacy suffered somewhat.

Picasso's portrait of Lee Miller
The problem with biographies is that often you don't have much actual insight into the subject's personal life. It seemed to be very true for Lee Miller who although she was writing letters to her family didn't really talk too much about her personal life. As a result a lot of conjecture takes place. "Perhaps she did this or felt this way due to her childhood trauma." Also the author seems to focus on how selfish Lee Miller was or the comments that other people at the time made while also recounting generous things she did. There are tales of her being a horrible mean drunk to house guests and yet somehow they managed to have full houses for parties at their country house up until her death for most part. I'm sure Roland Penrose (Lee Miller's 2nd husband) was a nice guy but it doesn't mean that people would trek out to the country for his company if they hated his wife.

Lee Miller in Hitler's bathtub.
To be fair to Ms. Burke, I think these sorts of contradictions are true for any life. I think they're probably even more pronounced when someone is a barrier breaker like Lee Miller was. If you're relying on 2nd and 3rd hand accounts to fill in your story of a woman who does as she pleases in the 1920s and beyond people are going to resent her and thus give a skewed picture in accounts of her at least to 21st century sensibilities.

The one thing I do blame the author for and that I think should be against the law is describing in great deal the importance of a photograph or painting done by your subject and not including the photograph or painting in your book so the reader can see what you mean. Especially for someone like Lee Miller whose work has been neglected to some degree. I would have preferred it to the pictures of her scattered throughout the book.

Overall, the book was enjoyable. I did find myself wondering if she hadn't been considered quite so beautiful how much would she have gotten away with by force of will? I do admire though her ability to set her own rules. So that although she was part of a rather misogynist group (The Surrealists) she could and did cut her own path taking what she wanted and leaving them wanting more from their muse.

Most of the photos borrowed from A Blind Flaneur.

I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are on Armchair Squid where you can also read up on what he's been reading.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

12-Books-in-12-Months Challenge

After starting this blog I added to my life list to do a blogging challenge probably as a means of not letting the blog get too dormant. Fortunately, my husband came up with one - 12 books in 12 months. The details can be found on his blog, Armchair Squid. You should take part and let me know where you're posting.

I've already completed the first book for the category - "a book you really don't want to read but everyone keeps raving about it". I'll post a review soon. I'll happily take suggestions for a "tear-jerker". For the category "a book from a genre you don't normally read" I'd like to do a good historical bodice ripper so I'll also take suggestions for that as well.

In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying summer.