Sunday, June 21, 2009

just finished: the house of the spirits

The House of the Spirits - Isabelle Allende (1982)

Jittery is not an unusual feeling on a Friday. It was an apt description at 4:00, 3:00, 2:00, lunchtime, snack time, (self-imposed) break time, and just-got-to-work time. On the bus, though, heading towards the weekend both literally and metaphorically, I can't attribute the impatience to the day of the week alone. I'm anxious to reach the end of this novel, but anxious because the middle is beginning to bore me. Only so many examples of poor choices and bad judgment can a reader take before she just wants to reach the end. The fact that the novel lost its titular touch of magic and whimsy when the (spoiler!) only magical character died certainly didn't help.

Was Allende always this barely-above-middle-of-the-road, or was I just less picky? I'd prefer to believe the former because I (thought I'd) enjoyed Eva Luna, but I fear it's simply the latter at work. The more I read, the more ADHD I feel. I need more exciting language, more complex syntax, more unusual and compelling metaphor to keep my interest for prose that spans hundreds of pages. Or, barring that, the other end--pointed simplicity. Muddling about in the middle doesn't cut it any more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

reading: time vol. 173 no. 24

TIME Magazine Vol. 173 No. 24 - June 22, 2009

A thick, satisfying slab of a double issue. International news snippets galore and plenty of health articles that preach, then comfort. Even the not-so-lofty language of TIME makes me realize how out of the loop I am in terms of international news...and yes, even national and local news. Yikes.

A good news magazine for the traveler. TIME isn't intellectual by any means, and its pieces are decidedly skewed, its language golly-gosh-next-door-neighbor chummy. If I wanted a more sophisticated take on the world, I'd look elsewhere. But what with the bumping and the drowsiness and the uncomfortable shifting I go through to avoid unnecessary contact with the commuter seated beside me, it's bite-sized chunks of easily digested information. Almost skimmable. :) Interesting piece: a guy in Japan who watches cliffs for potential suicide jumpes and invites them in for tea, mochi, and life talks.

(And now I know more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than that it's a conflict. Between Israelis and Palestinians.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

started: the house of the spirits

The House of the Spirits - Isabelle Allende (1982)

Perfect Friday-afternoon post-workweek reading. Vigorous in a different way from Accordion Crimes. Magic, myth, and even death in bursts of unbelievable, unrestrained liveliness. This isn't a depressing read at all and I'm sucked into the characters' lives in a state of suspended disbelief, precisely what you want from magical realism.

The bus bumps to a stop and I look up hastily, note my progress at page 29, and scamper off. Whoops. Good thing someone else pulled the cord.

just finished: accordion crimes

Accordion Crimes - Annie E. Proulx (1997)

"Vigorous" and "salty" (The Times) are apt descriptions. It's a hard book to read on the bus. Bumping over gravel and the bracing for the jarring turns of a green bus driver are enough to distract from all the activity going on in the language--almost too much activity sometimes. Proulx's prose is certainly roiling, full of harsh jargon and images that slap you once in the face, then do it again for good measure while you're down. Her ability to shock, disgust, and, less frequently, sadden, are uncontested. Each of these disjointed, accordion-linked tales is certainly "salty" enough to scald your tastebuds.

Under fire is The Times' final label, "extraordinary." Each story was interesting, though some much more compelling than others, and yet it didn't mesh together as a novel. The end was unsatisfying, but so were innumerable almost-ends within each section. Proulx is a great writer. This isn't her best work.

summer book list

Plans; let's see if I actually achieve them.

50 minutes per ride x 2 rides per day = 100 minutes per day

100 minutes per day x 5 days a week = 500 minutes per week

9 weeks x 500 minutes per week = 4500 minutes on the bus this summer...

= 75 hours of reading! Assuming I finish the average book in 3.5 hours, that's 21 books. I'll lower the estimate to 18, factoring in my ambitions to read some lengthy classics and the inevitable drowsiness that will hit me in the mornings. :) Still, it's a good solid number...and I'm not even considering the reading I'll be doing with my feet firmly planted on the ground.

So the books of this summer are:

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
In the Woods - Tana French
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
Bridget Jone's Diary - Helen Fielding
Accordian Crimes - Annie E. Proulx

The Yiddish Policemen's Union - Michael Chabot
Light in August - William Faulkner
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Nine Stories - J.D. Salinger
Up in the Old Hotel - Joseph Mitchell
The House of the Spirits - Isabelle Allende

Atlas Shrugged - Ann Rynd
A Mercy - Toni Morrison
Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
Dangerous Laughter - Steven Millhauser
Drown - Junot Diaz
Perdido Street Station - China Mieville
Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
Pale Fire - Nabokov
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

a bus and a book

a bus. a book (and sometimes a magazine, periodical, or newspaper). a good solid 50 minutes to spare.

That's how my summer is looking, at least for five days out of every week. The almost-hour I spend on my commute could become a monotonous everyday habit, but I'm choosing to look away from the window where fog-dulled shades of blue Bay water and grey concrete hum by. I'm stuffing a book or magazine or newspaper or something with print into my bag every morning, and I'm going to use my twice-daily bus time to read. :)

It's a lovely bit of forced relaxation time.