Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

I’m still reading, but haven’t been active in the blog world for about five months. It’s freeing, in a way. I can read a book and start another immediately, enjoy something without having to analyze why. I’m realizing more and more that it’s less stressful for me not to worry about maintaining this blog.

And yet, part of me it still reluctant to let it go. I’m going to take a step down and go back to recording the books I read in a handwritten journal. I honestly do enjoy revisiting my thoughts from time to time, like a mini reread. I may type some of them up here or I my not; we’ll see how it goes. I’m getting into the busiest part of the school year for me and taking a grad class as well, so I may not even have all that much time for reading.

I wanted to do mini posts on the stack of read books next to my shelves, in order to do an accurate year-by-the numbers, but they keep trying to turn into proper reviews. This may be harder to get closure on than I thought. The most difficult part for me is always writing the summary, especially the longer its been since I read the book, so I may set a one-paragraph limit on the rest just to get through them.

I’m hoping that a switch to a more succinct format will cut out what seems to be a stumbling block for my OCD tendencies. I have drafts from three years ago that I still feel guilty about never finishing. It’s time for me to move on.

Published in: on January 1, 2013 at 3:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Summertime, and the Living Is Easy

Once again, posting during the school year just didn’t really happen for me. I find that once all the planning and grading are done,all I want to do is relax with a new book, not write about the last one I finished.

I have a ton of old drafts because I did at least keep my habit of making notes to myself as I read. The only thing that these reviews still need is the synopsis, which ironically for me is the hardest part. I can be quite long-winded and have trouble summing up a book succinctly. I’ve got a stack of books on my nightstand glaring at me for this sole reason, so one of the things to cross off on my to-do list this week is finalizing the posts. Bear with me if you see a lot of them suddenly crop up!

It was a very mystery-heavy spring, so my focus on summer reading is to mix in some classics. Last summer I kept Bleak House in the car for whenever I had a break between tutoring students or was waiting around somewhere. I’m thinking about giving Oliver Twist a go this time around; I’ve seen the movie(s)–real as well as Oliver and Company–and read the heavily abridged illustrated classic as a child.

I’m also continuing the Year of Rereading. The Jasper Fforde books are just calling my name, and I’m so excited to start from the beginning with Thursday and her world.

Published in: on June 11, 2012 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Nancy Drew Graphic Novels

Since I shared my thoughts here on the Nancy Drew Girl Detective series, I thought I would mention some additional series news.

Papercutz is now beginning a graphic novel series in the Nancy Drew Clue Crew universe, which are aimed at younger readers. I’ve read many of the print series, and enjoy them, and I think the target group does as well. In fact, I would say that Clue Crew is preferable to and more consistent that the Girl Detective series.

I’m taking this as good news, because it makes me think the Clue Crew series will continue despite the switch to the Nancy Drew Diaries. I’m also glad that Papercutz remains committed to Nancy Drew. Even though they have many successes since, Nancy was one of their earliest projects.

On the other hand, I love the main graphic novels and hope that this is not a replacement. Even though I didn’t understand the revamp and am disappointed it seems to have petered out after a trilogy, I was overall impressed by the quality and consistency of the books. Is there a chance that Papercutz is just holding out to see what Simon and Schuster does?

I’ve grown up with both traditional American comic strips and manga-style artwork, and like both. Sho Murase’s art was never a problem for me, though there were some volumes I liked more than others and Nancy sometimes had a very angular figure. One of the selling points of this new Clue Crew series is that is illustrated in the American style by Stan Goldberg, who worked on Archie comics. I’m not as much a fan of this particular artwork from the few pages I’ve seen, but I’ll hold off on judgement until my preordered book arrives.

Published in: on February 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Back from Hiatus

I think I give the same apology/explanation every time I have a long absence from the blog, but here’s how the story always goes…

1. The school year goes into full swing and I get really busy.

2. I still read some books, but I don’t have the time to review them, so I put them on my nightstand and pick up the next book. (Well, not the library books, but you know what I mean.)

3. I take pictures of the books and create drafts with the titles/pictures. If I’m smart, I include a bulleted list of things to mention while the book is still fresh. If not, I will really need to wing it later on.

4. The growing pile makes me feel guilty, so I don’t really start any new books because I have so many others to write about still.

5. I open up a draft and stare at it, and maybe type a sentence or two, and stare some more. By this point I have to flip through the book again to get the summary right because it’s been so long. After a few more repetitions of this the review might eventually get written.

6. Once I’m about halfway caught up on the backlog, I let myself start a new book. This often means the other half of drafts will continue to languish. (I have reviews from two years ago still sitting unfinished.)

Right now I’m somewhere in between steps 5 and 6, which means you’re going to get several new posts over the next few days, so that I can actually read a book again instead of limiting myself to online fiction websites (which are good, and I like supporting unpublished writers and indulging the occasional fanfiction whim, but its just not the same).

I ask myself once in a while why I do this. Maybe book blogging was a phase in my life and I’m nearing the end of it (the writing part, not the reading). Sometimes I just want to read a mystery, think that it was pretty good, and move onto the next book. There is a part of me, however, that really wants to stick this out (I’m coming up on three years of blogging). I think it helps my critical reading skills, and I definitely know it helps my writing skills. Ever since I stopped writing essays for school on a regular basis I find myself working harder to present my thoughts in a coherent, orderly written sequence. I know, I sound like the typical math nerd.

Even more, as litlove recently wrote about, I like having a record of my thoughts on what I’ve read, mostly for myself but also for others. I do go back and visit some of my older posts, and it’s like a mini reread; I find that I remember better the books I write about. In addition, sometimes I read older or obscure books that don’t really get much mention on the Internet other than sales pages. Maybe someone else interested in Howard McGrath or Louise Platt Hauck would be able to learn more about their books by reading my reviews.

Again, I can’t make promises that my posts will occur regularly rather than in fits and spurts, but I want to keep trying. And if you have a blog that I’ve visited in the past but don’t comment on much anymore, I am still reading! I usually go through my Google Reader on my lunch break, and if I want to comment I have to try to remember to go back and do so that night.

Published in: on November 27, 2011 at 10:14 pm  Comments (1)  

Nancy Drew, Girl Detective

There is news in the series  book world that Simon and Schuster is finally dropping the Nancy Drew, Girl Detective series. After a short break, she will return in a new series called the Nancy Drew Diaries. I responded in the comments section of that post, but I wanted to record my thoughts here as well.


I’m glad to see something is finally being done about the Girl Detective series! I, too, was excited about them at first, but agree that there were too many changes and the books have drastically gone downhill. I’ve been following the new releases but have only read the first 25. I wonder if this is tied to the revamp of the graphic novels. There seem to still be titles planned in the Clue Crew series, so I’m guessing that will continue even though it is in the same universe as Girl Detective. I hoping that the Hardy Boys will get a similar makeover as well, though, since the Undercover Brother series is even more maligned than Girl Detective.

If I had the ear of someone at Simon and Schuster, here’s what I would say.

The Good about Girl Detective:

~fleshed-out secondary characters: Bess, George, and Ned have more interests and family background

~a well-built world : I really liked seeing minor characters and places show up more than once, like the mayor, the Rackham family, the coffee shop, and Charlie Adams. They gave a sense of consistency to the books. And Dierdre in moderation actually works for me. I don’t want another Lettie, but she provides humor and conflict, almost like the Tophams. Unfortunately, this seemed to largely disappear in the later books.

~Nancy and Ned’s relationship: for me, this series had surprisingly the best balance of them all. Their relationship had more sentiment that the classics without the angst of the Files.

The Bad (most of which has been mentioned already in other responses):

~drastic and unnecessary character changes: after six years I still cannot believe Bess as a mechanic. Make her fluent in three languages or an antiques expert, but not something that requires getting dirty. Chief McGinnis may not like Nancy’s assistance, but he shouldn’t come across as incompetent.

~scatterbrained detecting: the Nancy we admire doesn’t need to be perfect, but she should be confident, capable, and composed. She should not completely lack fashion sense, and she should be aware enough to make sure her cell phone and car will be ready when she needs them. As written, I don’t blame the Chief for not trusting her.

~repetitive and irrelevant plots: after over 400 Nancy Drew books, I understand that coming up with fresh ideas is probably tough. However, in the same series we’ve had multiple Hollywood/movie plots, fashion plots, bike races, etc. In addition, some of the recent more ostensibly “girly” plots seem like they are chasing a subset of all the girls who love Nancy Drew. I was appalled that the latest features a take-off of “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” because that is not my idea of something appropriate for the target ages. Why would Nancy ever want to hang out with them?

~short books/too frequent/trilogy format: all this contributes to poor writing and thin plots. I know that anyone Nancy suspects in the first two thirds of the book will not be culprit. At this point I almost have more respect for the plots in the Clue Crew books.

My suggestions:

~Please go back to longer books with better writing and more intricate plots (aka if you think it would make a trilogy, condense it into a 250 page book). Nancy doesn’t have to have every case mysteriously match up with Carson’s, but the investigations could benefit from being less linear, similar to the computer games. Space out the publishing. This might not make sense for short-term profits but will make the series more sustainable. The books will have a higher quality, and readers might actually anticipate the new releases with excitement. I don’t think anyone was ever counting down to when the next GD was released, even with the trilogy format. In addition, with fewer but more distinct title, new readers might be more likely to buy previous volumes in the series.

~a mix of gothic and original plots: Jennifer is absolutely correct that Her Interactive hits the nail on the head with this. In addition, they manage to have historical and educational aspects. Not every mystery needs a haunted house, but the plots could involve past crimes coming to light, or missing heirlooms. Troubled Waters actually stood out to me as a great plot in the Girl Detective series because it included multiple storylines, an original situation (Habitat for Humanity), a tie-in to an old crime, and a creative use of modern technology (using a cell phone to record the crook’s confession). Several of the early books (3-15 or so) also had good plots.

~Nancy does not need to be perfect, but she should be intelligent and capable. Nancy can certainly make miscalculations, or ask a suspect a question that makes him or her clam up, without losing her ability to be a role model. None of the protagonists on all the mystery/law shows on TV make hare-brained mistakes. When they get called Nancy Drew, let’s keep it a compliment.

~Keep a well-rounded supporting cast, where the characters have larger defined roles but are not arbitrarily different from the originals. Continue to keep the vibrant River Heights that has been set up, with its industrial history and friendly residents.

~Above all, Simon and Schuster needs to take this seriously, and keep an active interest in the quality of the series. The more reincarnations of Nancy we are given, the less likely they are to take hold with the target audience. If the Nancy Drew Diaries are not a success I will be sincerely worried.

Published in: on September 20, 2011 at 1:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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Back to the Blog!

As anticipated,  I needed to take a break from blogging for the remainder of the school year. I enjoy sharing my thoughts about what I read and books in general, but I’d rather use the sparse spare time I get while teaching to actually read books and blogs! Now that summer vacation is here I hope to get back to posting on a regular basis (though I make no promises for September).

I have still been reading, and the stack next to the shelves is books I would like to still write about before I put away. I might not get to all of them, but there should be several reviews cropping up in the next week or so. I tend to start drafts for books and never finish them (the drafts, not the books). I apologize for the influx if you read this with an RSS feed! I’ll probably keep the original dates on the posts so they appear in the order in which they were read, just for my own sake.

I don’t really have summer reading plans, though I would like to finally read books 6 and 7 for Harry Potter. (Have I said that enough times on this blog yet?) I also want to pick up with Angela Thirkell and Agatha Christie, and perhaps even start Anthony Trollope. I even have a couple challenges I’m thinking about, though I know from last year that if I don’t finish over the summer they won’t get done. As always, my eyes seen to be bigger than my stomach when it comes to books…

Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reading Notes

February has been one crazy month; so far I’ve had an eye infection, a car accident, and a stomach bug, not to mention a pile of midterms to grade. This would have been a four-day weekend, but both days were taken away to make up for all the earlier snow days. Yes, I know we had the time off earlier instead, but there’s not another break for teachers until Easter.

Despite what the lack of posts suggests I have been reading, just not finishing books. Halfway through February I am still making progress on my reading plans. I’m more than two thirds through The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which both is and isn’t what I expected. I’m reserving judgment until I see how it all turns out. Ivanhoe is much slower going, and also read less because it’s my purse book. I just reached the 100 page mark this afternoon, though, and the action is starting to pick up. Right now a mysterious knight is having surprising success at the tournament, making many fans and also an enemy. Sir Walter Scott seems to have borrowed heavily from existing material in spinning his tale, whether or not his sources were accurate.

It may seem sort of silly, but with longer books like these I find myself constantly checking how far I am, and how far I still have to go. Right now I only have about twenty minutes a day to read; sometimes it feels like I’m not making any progress, and there are so many other books I want to read as well! I don’t usually read two dense books together, so that might be part of the problem. Once I get lost in the story, though, I stop looking at page numbers and they seem to pass quickly.

Published in: on February 20, 2011 at 9:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Fudged End of the Year Stats

The fact that I am posting this a week into 2011 just about sums up 2010 for me. It seems as this year was rather a slow one, in terms of both reading and blogging. I find that with all my work I’m often hesitant to lose myself in a good book for fear of procrastination. Even worse, I’m often at a loss as to what to say afterward; by the time I’ve really processed the  book, others issues are demanding my time and attention. I have quite a few drafts for posts with only titles (about 10–eek), books I was waiting to do justice to and fear I never shall. Unfortunately, these were often the books that were my favorites. As a result, the numbers are in all probability inaccurate.

A Year in Review by the Numbers: 2010

Total number of books: 58

Fiction: 19

Nonfiction: 1

Mystery: 13

Classics: 4

Children/YA: 11

Graphic novels: 10

Short stories: 5 and a collection

Books in Translation: 1 (and 5 of the graphic novels)

Favorite Books of 2010

I find that my opinions of books are usually much stronger at the final page than after the covers have been closed for a while. These books, however, still make the grade.

~A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster. Hands-down my favorite of the year. I tutor for the SAT’s on the side, and recently discovered a new-to-me practice test from the College Board. When I realized that one of the reading passages was from this book (discussing Lucy’s piano playing), I nearly squealed with delight.

~The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. This book needs no introduction, I’m sure, and I’m so glad I read it sooner rather than later. (And yes, for me this is sooner.)

~ Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. A fun Cinderella story for grownups.

~ Human Voices, by Penelope Fitzgerald. I find her books very appealing, especially the premise of this one. It takes place at the BBC during WWII, and is sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and always observant.

~ Redwall, by Brian Jacques. It’s hard to describe this book, because warrior mice fighting to defend their abbey doesn’t quite do it justice. This was the third time I’ve read the book.

What does 2011 hold? I’m not making plans. After all, I’ve still got this list from last year, on which I only checked off three(!) titles. They are still all books I want to read. Hopefully this year I can keep them more in mind, rather than reaching for short offerings like graphic novels or old series books.

Published in: on January 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Sound and the Fury

So, long time no post? I think I drowned in The Sound and the Fury. I’m actually fairly disciplined if necessary when it comes to reading (thanks to the age-old school vs. pleasure reading conflict), and refused to let myself get caught up in any fiction other than Faulkner. Unfortunately, he didn’t tempt me too often.

[They] say a drowned man’s shadow was watching for him in the water all the time. It twinkled and glinted, like breathing, the float slow like breathing too, and debris half submerged, healing out to the sea and the caverns and the grottoes of the sea. The displacement of water is equal to the something of something. Reducto absurdum of all human experience, and two six-pound flat-irons weigh more than one tailor’s goose. What a sinful waste Dilsey would say. Benjy knew it when Damuddy died. He cried. He smell hit, He smell hit.

image from

Normally I love reading classics because they make me think, with larger-than-life characters and universal themes, elements that speak to every reader. The Sound and the Fury is less like speaking and more like multiple one-sided phone conversations overheard on a train, a barrage of thoughts with little context.

We learn about plot mostly secondhand, through character hints and reactions; instead the novel focuses on the Compson family: mentally retarded Benjy, intellectually troubled Quentin (the male one), Jason the “brutal cynic,” and tempestuous Caddy, a influential force on the lives of all her brothers. Their “long-suffering” mother is a burden mostly because she believes herself to be, while their servant Dilsey seems the sole calming presence.

Honestly, not one of the characters is really that likable. I didn’t really care what happened to them, especially because, with the exception of Benjy and Dilsey, they mostly brought it upon themselves. When Mr. and Mrs. Compson complain of each other’s bad blood it’s somewhat true, because the family has a talent for both self-pity and self-destruction.

The stream-of-consciousness writing is my other issue with the book; it’s just not a technique that appeals to me, and here Faulkner seems to delight in being obscure. For example, after the narrator change for the second section it takes quite a while to learn that the new voice is Quentin (and the brother, not the niece). I honestly might not have figured it out without having read the back cover. In addition, the narrative slips back and forth between present and flashback with little indication other than strategically placed italics. Expecting the reader to do that much detective work in the constant confusion seems somewhat conceited, and I don’t even know if the conclusions I drew are correct.

I’ll concede that writing in this manner requires skill, for the the author must really become the character. What are his memories and fears, what small detail will spark a train of thought? My friends and I used to love the word association game, and comes across at times as a similar exercise. In this attempt at verisimilitude, however, most of the text was relatively tangential or mundane, again prompting the reaction of why I should care. John Irving did it much better with first person narration in A Prayer for Owen Meany (which I still owe a review for).

Jason’s section was easier to read than his brothers’, perhaps because his perspective on life was less hazy. In the fourth and final section, focusing mostly on Dilsey, I was surprised to see Faulker switch to a third person omniscient narration. Was this because he needed a wider viewpoint for some of the events, or because he didn’t want to write in constant dialect (not pretty, but a product of the times, I guess)? Either way the story seemed to have little resolution.

I’m glad I read Faulkner and I do think the book is an interesting example of stream-of-consciousness, but I probably won’t be checking out the rest of his catalog of classics. I never thought I’d say that I preferred More Die of Heartbreak. His short stories are supposedly very good, however, so later on I might see if my anthologies have any. In the meantime, perhaps a trip to Cliff’s Notes might clear things up.
This hard-fought accomplishment is my first for the Classics Challenge 2010. It’s also on the 1001 Books and Guardian lists (family and self category for the latter).

Update: Also, I wish I had remembered this Pearls Before Swine strip. Yet another reason why Stephan Pastis is my hero: “You could pour words out of a bucket and end up with a more comprehensible book than that.”

Published in: on August 24, 2010 at 11:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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Fed up with Faulkner

My current classic is The Sound and the Fury, and I am so annoyed with William Faulkner right now. I knew vaguely that the story included a mentally challenged character, but didn’t expect it to be told entirely from his narrow perspective.

So far everything is a mishmash of various scenes from Benjy’s life, at least four different days from what I can tell. At fifty pages in I think I’ve identified which characters are related. I was thrown when the pronouns referring to Quentin kept switching, until I finally realized that “he” Quentin is Benjy’s brother in the childhood scenes, and “she” Quentin is Benjy’s niece in the present-day scenes. Seriously? Was Faulkner being intentionally abstruse, or did he just run out of names?

If this were a regular book I would have given up by now, but because it’s a classic I feel like I have to persevere. Has anyone else read this, and does it get clearer? I don’t know if I can take 250 more pages.

Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 5:42 pm  Comments (5)