Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ice Haven

Ice Haven is a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. I like Clowes style of illustration, and the story is as meta as I've ever read in a comic book. Clowes, who I believe is from the Chicago area, refers heavily to the story of Leopold and Loeb - a grim and awful tale of these two kids from University of Chicago who kill someone for basically no reason. The story parallels the tale of L&L, while the entire book is bracketed by the narrative of a comic book (or graphic novel) critic whom Clowes both mocks and elevates, by making him ridiculously self-absorbed and ass-scratching while at the same time allowing the "critic" to remind the reader of the greater themes of the book. Finally the critic explores Clowes biography for "evidence" of the author's worldview, thus providing a rather humorous bio of suspect veracity (at least to me) while continuing to mock the critic for assuming the artist's bio influences the work. Which leads the reader to consider whether it might... Very clever.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters

At our book club meeting for this book, someone had a great idea to go around and say what we hated the most about the book. The funniest answer was - the subtitle: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire - Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do.

I actually hated this book so much I can't bare to write much about it, aside from saying Evolutionary Psychology seems to be a new and suspect field in which "scientists" claim that basically, everything we do is motivated by the urge to spread our seed, as it were. Of course, it's a ridiculous argument and there are like, four THOUSAND reasons it's ridiculous.

I'd go so far as to say that this book is dangerous and could easily inspire racism and sexism while excusing inexcusable behavior by claiming that the offender is merely following his natural, biological impulses. One of my friends said, "That book makes me angry beyond words. I would like to hunt down the author and punch him in the face." Me too! Not only that, but a room-full of librarians, book lovers and liberals agreed we'd all like to go out in the street and burn every copy we could get our hands on.

I would never suggest you read this book unless you enjoy being outraged.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

I learned about Grace Paley from Selected Shorts, a podcast I listen to and admire. It's nice to hear her stories read, and read well. I probably should have tried reading some of the stories in this collection out-loud.

Paley's short stories are beautifully written - modern, witty, very American (American immigrant), feminist. Here's an example of a killer opening:
I saw my ex-husband in the street. I was sitting on the steps of the new library.

Hello, my life, I said. We had once been married for twenty-seven years, so I felt justified.

He said, What? What life? No life of mine.

I said, O.K. I don't argue when there's real disagreement. I got up and went into the library to see how much I owed them.

The librarian said $32 even and you've owed it for eighteen years. I didn't deny anything.

Although I found myself emotionally distant from most of her characters, sometimes they crashed right into my world:
Alexandra, in the first summer dress of spring, stood still and watched. She breathed deeply because of having been alone for a year or two. She put her two hands over her ribs to hold her heart in place and also out of modesty to quiet its immodest thud. Then they went to bed in the bedroom and made love until that noisy disturbance ended. She couldn't hear one interior sound. Therefore they slept.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Somewhat ambitiously, I took four books on our nine day Christmas vacation. Long days in a wintery cabin were spent not reading, however, but snuggling on couch with sister and staring adoringly at beloved nephew with husband. Therefore I only read one book, which I started on the airplane out and finished on the airplane in: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. It's a mystery story that takes place in Sweden. It's a translation, so that may account for what frequently comes off as stilted language.

It's a "page turner", as they say, in the grand tradition of the Dan Browns and Michael Connellys of this world, and of about the same literary merit. It's about a journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, who gets hired by a wealthy business owner to unravel a decades-old family secret. Along the way, a young woman, Lisbeth Salander, becomes involved. She's something of a private investigator and has some unexplained mental condition and social conditioning that leaves her with a different set of moral and ethical values than most of world generally agrees on.

Each section of the book begins with a quote like, "Forty-six percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man." Lending an ostensibly pro-woman, anti-violence theme to the book. The fact that the book glorifies violence toward women in its graphic exploration of the same theme is a bit problematic, to say the least.

I love reading books about different cultures, but this book reads as if the story were in any generic place, only all the places have Swedish names. So, it's not unusual to read a sentence like, "She took the tunnelbana from Zinkensdamm to Östermalmstorg and walked down towards Strandvägen." Also, apparently in Sweden there is a statute of limitations on murder.

I wouldn't recommend this book unless you happen to really love murder mysteries. The author was obviously a huge fan of the genre himself and frequently his characters pick up a book by Sue Grafton or the like for some casual reading. I'm vaguely interested in learning more about Lisbeth, but not enough to read the other books in the series. I'm sure there will be a movie soon enough.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Year in Review: 2009

Last year I started keeping some stats of the books I've read so now I've got charts and everything! Here's how 2009 looked!

Books I read in 2009
Fiction: 34
Non-Fiction: 10
Books by Women: 29
Books by Men: 15

Comparison to 2008Good, my numbers have gone up, and up is always good, right? (That's what they tell me at work, anyway.)

Can you imagine what my chart would look like if I take my own challenge one year and only read one book, over and over? (Middlemarch.)

My favorites of 2009
A Gate at the Stairs
Olive Kitteridge
Pride and Prejudice
Watch Your Mouth
The Year of the Flood

Happy Reading in 2010!