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Sunday Salon: the Pre-Yule Glow Post

December 20, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comThis has been a really difficult holiday season for my family, but last night we finally got our tree decorated, and I’ve been reading by Christmas lights ever since. I always find the week before and after Christmas some of the calmest and most delicious of the year; I’m sure that stems from winter breaks from school. And I usually end up reading a ton of wonderful books! Last night began fulfilling that prophecy, when I finished three five-star reads in a row, so I can’t wait to see what the end of the year has in store for me. But first I need to talk about the books I read last week; somehow, despite still watching my niece 8-12 hours a day, I ended up reading quite a bit!

I have a thing for boarding schools, and for the teaching of classics. I know the latter stems from my fervent wish to study Latin dating from fifth grade, which I finally achieved in high school. The former is less explicable to me…but there’s a certain romance about the idea of a cloistered community devoted to education that I just love. (And, I went to a tiny liberal arts college that made all 1100 of its students live on campus. So there’s that!) That’s why as soon as I came across The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate, I knew I had to read it! When I tell you the plot summary, it’s going to sound a bit steroetypical. So first, I want to say that what I loved most about the book is how convincing all of the characters were. Southgate has a real gift for bringing them to life; the story is told through three rotating narrators, and each one has such a distinct voice that I instantly knew whose head I was inside when a new chapter started. Usually, I’m not a fan of alternating narrators since they tend to feel too similar, but The Fall of Rome used the device to its full advantage. I loved getting to know each character, seeing them from both inside and outside, and I was fully invested in what would happen to them. Also, Southgate has plotted the novel like a classic tragedy; you can feel the ending looming, and you can see what the characters are doing that will inexorably drive them there, but at the same time you keep hoping maybe something will happen to stop that progress. It was a great experience! Ok, so about the plot. Jerome Washington has been teaching Latin at an elite all-boys boarding school in Connecticut for decades; he’s also the only African American professor on staff. Rashid Bryson comes from the inner bit of New York City on a full scholarship, and still reeling from a personal loss is taken aback at this new environment full of privileged white boys. Jana Hansen is a white middle-aged English teacher just starting her first year at the school after a career in Cleveland’s inner public high schools. The novel is set place over one school year and looks at the relationships between these three and how they all change one another. I really enjoyed reading this one, always looking forward to picking it back up (although at around 200 pages, it went by pretty quickly), and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s drawn to boarding schools or classics stuff like me, to anyone interested in ‘race issues’ (but please don’t think this is an ‘issues’ book; it’s a character book, in which the characters’ races play an inevitable role), or just anyone who enjoys a kind of classic story.

I finished Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti after that, but I’m saving my thoughts on it for a Women Unbound challenge group review. Which means that next up is Sandman, Vol. Four: Seasons of Mist by Neil Gaiman. Now, y’all know I’m a card-carrying Gaiman fan. But this book confirmed that Sandman simply isn’t for me. I thought the story itself was really fascinating. But the artwork continued to upset me; there was a lot of unnecessary (to me) gore and violence, the (few) women characters continued to have ridiculous bodies (I actually put bookmarks in so I could take pictures of these bodies to prove it, since last time I mentioned this problem a reader questioned what I was talking about, but my camera won’t work and I had to return the book, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that even a woman who was supposed to be starving and part of a torturous afterlife and whose ribs we could see still had at least c-cup, perky breasts, which is patently absurd), and when I thought of continuing to read the series (I read Season of Mists as part of the Absolute Sandman Volume Two) my stomach started hurting. So, I’ve simply decided to accept that for me, at this stage of my life, I’m not the right reader for Sandman and to stop torturing myself by forcing myself to like it. Instead, I’ll try out Gaiman’s other graphic books, and continue to reread his prose novels and short story collections, which I adore!

It’s really difficult for me to talk about The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I read it for the Dewey’s Books Challenge, and Dewey read it right around the time that she passed away. The one-year anniversary of her passing was last month, and I found myself grieving over the loss of such a good friend and wonderful person. So I knew going into the book that reading it would be a bit bittersweet. And for those of you who read it, you can imagine why after finishing it I rather felt as if I had been punched in the stomach, with all the wind knocked out of me. But those are personal reasons I didn’t love the book. I also have some more literary ones. Quite frankly, I’m always skeptical of books that throw in a lot of philosophy. Once upon a time, I was very into reading, analysing, and discussing philosophy, and compared to the careful arguments and structure of philosophical texts, fiction that incorporates philosophical ideas feels a bit glib to me. When I see character asserting something, I start mentally demanding their chain of reasoning, or developing counterarguments in my head. So, during much of this novel, I couldn’t simply relax and enjoy it because of the constant philosophical musings of our two narrators. Also, I found them both to be a bit too precious at times. That being said, despite my personal and intellectual reservations, much of the book charmed me. I’d say about fifty percent of it at least. Unfortunately, I found the ending anything but charming, and it seemed to bring my annoyances with the book into sharper relief. Obviously, I’m rather ambivalent about this one…and I haven’t even mentioned what it’s about, since it’s popular enough in the blogosphere that I’ve assumed you all know! :) If you’re not a philosophy geek, and if you don’t mind endings that come out of left field, you should give this one a try! But I expected to fall in love, and instead I find myself uninterested in reading more of Barberry.

Um, ok, now I’m about to move from ambivalence to outright negativity (I promise, after this, I loved most of the books I read this week…so this post will become happy!). When I decided to get a few manga books from the library, I began to do a bit of online research about the genre, and Yoshiro Tatsumi kept coming up as a classic in the field. My library had his short story collection Goodbye, so I put it on hold and was genuinely excited about reading it. It was described as literary, thought-provoking manga, and I couldn’t wait to read it! Instead, I got some of the most strongly anti-women trash I’ve read all year. I hated this book. I know that’s strong language, but it’s true. I read it before I had intended to go to sleep, and it made me so upset that I ended up staying up for two more hours just to distract myself. The first story in the collection, about Hiroshima and with a film noir flavour to it, was actually good. It also had no women characters. The rest of the stories were full of women behaving in ways I’ve never seen and men behaving in ways I refuse to believe are typical. Each story simply got worse and worse, but I hung in there in case there was a literary merit beneath the apparently misogynistic surface, until finally the last and titular story “Goodbye” made me want to explode with rage. All of Tatsumi’s characters feel like cardboard cutouts, but the way he treats his female characters is worse, in that they’re always objects, more specifically sexual objects. While the men are oddly obsessed with sex, and just horribly depressing people in general who seem to have no principles, at least the stories are told from their points of view. They’re subjects. But to see women so objectified, and especially since there are illustrations (which made it worse for me, somehow), just angered me. And I’m sure someone will tell me that Tatsumi’s point was to break taboos and that his willingness to look at the ‘darker side of human nature’ is brave. But I found it prurient, and far from being some kind of unflinchingly honest look at the realities of human nature, it just felt like the personal projections of a sexual neurotic. It was like reading Freud, actually. Insulting to women, unrelentingly negative compared to my experiences with actual people, and left me wanting a hot shower to scrub myself clean again.

Whew. I’m glad that’s over…I considered simply not reviewing it, but it would have haunted me. I actually considered not even putting it on my ‘books read’ page, and trying to forget I’d ever read it. Anyway, I’m happy to report that I loved the next book I finished: The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarrie. I read this for the World Citizen Challenge, as a history selection. While I have a decent knowledge of contemporary Peru, I knew nothing about its ancient past. Before this, all I knew about the Incas were that they built Macchu Pichu, that they had llamas, and that the Spanish destroyed them. Now, I know all sorts of fascinating stuff! The story is bookended with chapters on twentieth century Western explorers searching for Incan ruins, but the bulk of the narrative opens with the Spanish arriving in Peru, then looks backwards at both the main conquistadors and the history of the Incan empire. After that background information, the bulk of the book details the years during which the Spanish conquered the Incas and subdued Peru and Chile (yep-did y’all know how vast Incan terrotiry was?!) into colonies. MacQuarrie most impressed with me with his balanced treatment of both sides; he doesn’t fall into the whole ‘Noble Savage’ trap when evaluating the Inca, but neither does he try to gloss over the Spanish atrocities. He’s also really good at narrative history; the book is obviously well-researched with over one hundred pages of endnotes, bibliography, and index, but it never feels dry. On the contrary, MacQuarrie’s writing kept me reading, his chapter breaks are perfect, and I never felt bored. At first, I was nervous about starting a longer nonfiction read this close to the end of the year, but soon I was happy knowing that I had so many more chapters left! After finishing it, I was sad to discover that this is MacQuarrie’s only book; I would happily read anything else he published. That’s how good this book is, and I’m not naturally overly interested in ancient history. ;) I think this would make a great gift for guys who enjoy military history, since the bulk of the book is about the Spanish compaign to subdue the country and the Incan response, which eventually centered around a guerilla movement. The one quibble I had with the book is that women are rarely mentioned, and MacQuarry sometimes uses euphemisms, like calling Incan princesses ‘mistresses’ of the conquistadors, when I think ‘rape victim’ would be more appropriate. But honestly, that’s a very minor complaint, and I can’t imagine there is much documentation of what life was like for Incan women, since they didn’t write in the same sense that we do. So even if you’re only vaguely curious about the Incans or the history of the ‘New World,’ I highly recommend checking this out; MacQuarrie makes the material so fascinating, I bet you’ll become caught up in the story before you know it!

I chose Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife for part of the Science Book Challenge, since I find mathematical philosophy really interesting. And when Seife is actually talking about mathematics, he’s good. Unfortunately, this book was way too scattered for me to enjoy, and I often found myself questing Seife’s credentials. Why? Well, in addition to math, he ventures into history and cultural analysis that feels incredibly iffy and stereotypical to me (and he also talks repeatedly about the ‘Dark Ages,’ which tends to raise my hackles). And then the last few chapters are devoted to a really basic look at relativity and string theory, which having read other books about physics, I found boring. The actual chapters about zero and how it transformed mathematics were thought-provoking, but those chapters were all too rare. I can’t say that I’d recommend this one.

I have rather mixed feelings about my next read, which was for the China Challenge: Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong. It’s the first in a mystery series set in 1991 Shanghai, and there was much about the book that I simply loved. Xiaolong drew the setting wonderfully; I felt like I was walking along the streets of Shanghai with the characters, and whenever they stopped to get some street food I would start salivating. ;) I enjoyed seeing how Chinese Communist politics worked, and I liked how Xiaolong wove contemporary Chinese history into the story. I imagine even if I didn’t know anything about Mao, Xiaolong provides enough background knowledge to keep me in the loop. The main character, Chief Inspector Chen, is neat too; he’s also a poet and a lover of literature (which reminded me a bit of James’ Dalgliesh, one of my very favourite mystery series), and he’s devoted to getting justice for murder victims. So why do I have mixed feelings? Quite simply, there’s a lot of sexism going on. There were frequent passages about devoted wives, lamentations about a single woman’s loss of her true happiness (i.e.: spending her life taking loving care of her husband and child), etc. that made me annoyed with both Chen (who expressed these thoughts) and Xiaolong himself. Here’s a typical passage of what I’m talking about:

Guan could have married Engineer Lai, or somebody else. An ordinary housewife, bargaining over a handful of green onions in the good market, searching through her husband’s poclets in the morning, fighting for stove space in the common kitchen area…But alive, like everyboday else, not too good, and not too bad. But politicals had made such a personal life impossible. With all the honors heaped on her, an ordinary man was out of the question for her, not enough for her status and ambition. There was no way she could step down from the stage to pick up a man at a bus stop, or to flirt with a stranger in a cafe. On the other hand, what man would really desire a Party member wife delivering political lectures at home-even in bed?

Or this:

In Tokyo, in a floating skilk kimono, kneeling on a mat, and warming a cup of sake for her husband, she would make a wonderful wife.

So yeah. This wasn’t a whodunnit type of mystery, more of a procedural and political mystery, which I thought Xiaolong handled well. Still, I’m not sure if I’m interested in reading more of the series…as much as I loved seeing Shanghai through Chen’s eyes, I disliked his meditations on my gender. Recommended if you love learning about new cultures and can overlook ridiculous sentiments like the ones I quoted above. ;)

I decided to reread Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw when I saw it available as an audiobook download from my library. I’m a huge fan of James’ novels, but I haven’t had as much luck with his shorter fiction…both Daisy Miller and this one disappointed me the first time around. I’m thinking this might be due to expectations, though, since a reread left me rather impressed by The Turn of the Screw. I read this for the first time in 2007, and I didn’t review it on the blog. But I do remember that I had expected it to be a creepy ghost story, and instead found myself a bit bored. Of course, this is most famous for its ambiguity; told by a governess who proves herself quite the unreliable narrator, it’s never made clear whether there are actually ghosts or if the governess is simply going insane. I’m not sure if listening to it made the difference, or if it was simply that I didn’t expect scary ghosts, but I spent most of the time in awe of James’ skill. He ratchets up the governess’ hysteria slowly but surely, and listening to it, all I kept thinking was “She is totally cracked! Get her away from the children!” lol While I didn’t love it the way I did Portrait of a Lady (my other James read this year and also an audiobook), I did very much enjoy it. I’m always happy when I reread a book that underwhelmed me the first time and end up with a lot more appreciation for it, so I’m pleased to report that’s exactly what happened. I think it’d be fun to read this one with Susan Hill’s modern pastiche The Woman in Black.

Now for those incredible books I finished last night! :)

First, there’s Sugar by Bernice McFadden, which is coming up on its tenth anniversary next month. It’s set in the 50s in small-town Arkansas, and tells the story of Sugar, a prostitute who returns after years spent in big cities to her tiny birth town. McFadden manages to combine brutal honesty with utter compassion in her storytelling, and the result blew me away. There was a lot of potential for stereotype here, with Sugar as the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ or Pearl her neighbour as the older Baptist woman determined to bring Christ into her life. But McFadden never even gets close to that; Sugar and Pearl both simply are individuals, and the book feels so genuine. I connected with it from the powerful opening:

Jude was dead.
On a day when the air held a promise of summer and people laughed aloud, putting aside for a brief moment their condition, color and where they ranked among humanity, Jude, dangling on the end of childhood and reaching out toward womanhood, should have been giggling with others her age among the sassafras or dipping her bare feet in Hodges Lake and shivering against the winter chill it still clutched. Instead she was dead.

This was McFaddens’ debut, and I can’t wait to read the rest of her novels! I highly recommend Sugar to anyone who loves good storytelling, heartfelt characters, or Southern stories.

After whining about my ILL request taking forever to be processed, Song for Night by Chis Abani did arrive at my library in time for me to finish up the What’s in a Name? 2 Challenge. This is a slim book by a Nigerian author narrated by a child soldier, and based on that I didn’t really want to read it. But I couldn’t find another book written by an African author with a ‘time of day’ in the title. So I opened it up with more than a hint of trepidation. And I immediately became lost in Abani’s words. It’s impossible for me to talk about this book without resorting to cliches…lyrical, haunting, mesmerising, exquisite…these are all the words that come to mind. At times, the prose was so beautiful I actually caught my breath. At only 160 pages, including 20 pages of introduction, this can be read in one long sitting. But it’s the kind of book that stays with you long afterwards, and the kind that makes you pause and reread a paragraph just to savour it. It’s the kind of book that’s a reader’s dream. Yes, it’s narrated by a child soldier. And yes, sad things are discussed. But really, the book is about identity and memories and survival and language and love. It’s got a bit of the fable in it, with a tone that gets dreamier as the book progresses. But at the same time, the narrator has a completely distinct voice and personality; he’s not simply a tool. I can’t figure out how to convince you all to read Song for Night, but you should. I am so grateful to the coincidence that led me to read this book, and I plan to read more Abani in the near future. And to resort to more cliches, I sighed when I read the last page, and it was all so perfect I was tempted to go back to the first page and read it all over again straight away. This book is an exquisite jewel, and Abani is a master writer.

Finally, I finished another Spice of Life read Hunger: an Unnatural History by Sharman Apt Russell. I’m excited to find that Russell has other nonfiction books, because I’ll definitely be reading them! I picked up Hunger after Rebecca’s review back in March, and I must say that I loved this one. Russell looks at everything from the science of what our bodies do in response to hunger to religious and medical fasting to hunger strikes to anorexia to the effects on society of mass starvation to twentieth century efforts to aid during famines. I will say that two chapters had me sobbing: “The Hunger Disease Studies” which is about the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II and “Hungry Children” whose title makes it obvious why I would cry. But much of the book is more of the ‘isn’t this fascinating?’ variety than the ‘wow-how depressing’ and Russell ends with positive notes. She’s a wonderful writer, and she seems to unite a wide disparity of facts and stories with ease. I really enjoyed reading this one, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for good nonfiction.

There you go! I know that a lot of you get super-busy during the holidays, so I’m curious: do you find yourself reading more or less during Winter Holidays? As I mentioned earlier, I’m in the more camp…but I also don’t have a husband or kids to distract me. ;)

69 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2009 8:23 am

    I just finished Hedgehog, and ironically (and predictably) I had the exact opposite reaction as you. It helps that I had no personal connection to the book that would make that ending a gutwrencher. I was a bit bored by the pretentiousness of the narrators particularly in the first half of the book, but started to understand the form of the novel in the second half (I’ll explain more fully when my review goes up, I think I have it scheduled for the 23rd?). The ending brought tears to my eyes -but again, I didn’t have the personal connection you had that would make it sting. The ending brought the book together for me and turned it from a blase book to a good one. Not my favorite ever, but one I ended up enjoying far more than I expected.

    • December 22, 2009 1:24 am

      The second half did feel like it justified the first half a bit, but I don’t know…I’m rigorous about my philosophy! I think I had opposite expectations though; I expected to love it, which is always difficult for a book to live up to!

  2. December 20, 2009 8:27 am

    OH MY….what is your secret to reading so many wonderful books in the midst of a busy weekly schedule?! I consider myself lucky if I can read one book a week. I am so impressed.

    Glad that the tree is up and you are able to enjoy reading by the peaceful glow of Christmas lights.

    • December 22, 2009 1:24 am

      I sneak in reading and stayed up late a couple nights (which I totally regretted the following mornings, when I was vainly trying to convince my niece to sleep in! lol).

  3. December 20, 2009 8:38 am

    I love this time of year and especially reading near the Christmas tree. I HAD to add Song For Night to my TBR list after reading your thoughts on it. Have a great week Eva!

    • December 22, 2009 1:25 am

      I hope you read it and love it as much as I did!

  4. December 20, 2009 8:46 am

    I love boarding school books too! I think (for me) it’s because it’s a closed circuit – everyone knows everyone, which makes for a lot of great character moments. And then of course I love classics books because I love Latin, lovely Latin, took nine years of Latin and oh how I miss it. Adding to my list!

    • December 22, 2009 1:25 am

      That’s a great analysis of why boarding school moments rock! I only took Latin for three years, but I took AP classes, so it was rigorous and fun. :D

  5. December 20, 2009 8:50 am

    Reading by the Christmas tree lights sounds wonderful. You do have such a great attention span too. I think that’s part of the key to doing so much reading! :–) I love your review of the Gaiman and of Barbery. I have been considering reading both of those but I think I feel better now about skipping them!

    • December 22, 2009 1:32 am

      That’s a great point about attention spans! Because as soon as I have a fibro flare-up, my brain can’t focus, and suddenly my reading zooms to pretty much nothing. But when I’m healthy, my brain is all about staying still for long amounts of time! ;)

  6. December 20, 2009 8:59 am

    I’m hoping to read a whole lot this week since I’ll be off work and in the house alone Monday thru Thursday. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that! Added The Fall of Rome to my reading list. I’m also attracted to tales involving boarding schools.

    • December 22, 2009 1:32 am

      I always read a ton when I’m home alone! :) I hope you enjoy The Fall of Rome!

  7. December 20, 2009 8:59 am

    December is always the time of year where I put away any heavy book that I’m reading (currently Under the Dome) and read something lighter (currently Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). I love reading by the light of the Christmas tree.

    I have Elegance of the Hedgehog here in a pile but I haven’t read it yet.

    Here’s to me finishing a book today ;)

    • December 22, 2009 1:32 am

      That’s neat! I think I’m the opposite-the colder the weather, the heavier the books I crave.

  8. December 20, 2009 9:18 am

    I have the Death of a Red Heroine on my TBR list too. I am reading it for the A-Z reading challenge which I may not finish in time. I did not realize how long the book was and it is not the only one I have left. This is my third year to do the A-Z reading challenge authors and books and it may be my last. I have not made my mind up yet about it. The same four or five letters give me trouble every year. I am trying to cram in books but I waited until the last mintue to do most of my shopping so this weekend I have only read one book. I have no husband or children either. :)

    • December 22, 2009 1:34 am

      I never officially done the A-Z challenge, but since I have review directories, I enjoy filling in the gaps. :) I had planned to read a book by Xinran for my ‘X’ (the only letter I have left for my ‘book reviews by author’ page), and I didn’t realise until I finished the book that the author was an X! lol

      Last minute shopping can be a killer. I’ll be doing some last-minute crocheting this week!

  9. December 20, 2009 9:27 am

    Wow, I’ve just added a bunch to my TBR-list. If The Fall of Rome wasn’t already on the list, it would be now. I also think I will put The Last Days of the Incas on the list because, even though I’m not really into military history, I would like to learn more about the Incas. Thanks for sharing the books you read!

    • December 22, 2009 1:34 am

      It’s not just military history-there’s also cultural stuff and almost a group biography of the key players involved. So I think it’s definitely worth you checking out!

  10. December 20, 2009 10:10 am

    Looks like you read some good ones this week, but I’m trying to be much, much more choosy about what I put on my TBR list these days, so I’ll resist. That resolution will probably not last until New Years, but we’ll see :-)

    I tend to read less in the run-up to the holidays because of all the time I have to give up for parties, shopping, etc. Plus I usually have some sort of paper or project and a final for whatever class I’m taking. Once that’s over, I tend to read a lot more. This year, it seems that this week is the first week I’ll have lots of time for reading. I’m expecting to read a lot in the next three weeks or so.

    • December 22, 2009 1:35 am

      I get the choosiness thing. :) I went to a college with 3 terms instead of 2 semesters, so our winter break began right before Thanksgiving and ended right after New Year’s. I didn’t have a December final after high school until I studied abroad in Russia and then went to grad school! :)

  11. December 20, 2009 10:58 am

    It’s bee so cold here lately, that I expect I’ll be inside reading more over the break this time around. I’m adding Hunger and Last Days of the Incas to my TBR stack. Both sound very good.

  12. December 20, 2009 11:49 am

    It’s hilarious to me how many tags this post has! Way to wrap up all your challenges :-) I think I’ll skip Goodbye, but I’ll definitely look into the non-fiction books you mention in this review. They sound fabulous! The Inca one, particularly.

    • December 22, 2009 1:36 am

      LOL-My TSS posts always have a ridiculous amount of tags, since I have to tag the genre and challenge of each book. I wish I didn’t have to do big group review posts like this, but otherwise I’d never get to all the books I read!

  13. December 20, 2009 12:10 pm

    Wow, that’s a lot! I’m looking forward to your thoughts on Full Frontal Feminism– I’ve been meaning to read her other book, The Purity Myth.

    • December 22, 2009 1:37 am

      Erm…as a preview of my thoughts, I have no desire to read any of her other books. ;)

  14. December 20, 2009 3:42 pm

    My short review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog is also up now. It was kind of funny to read your review after I posted mine, as we seem to have had similar reaction to the ending. I found the ending very odd.


    • December 22, 2009 1:37 am

      I’m glad I’m not the only one that resented the ending!

  15. December 20, 2009 7:50 pm

    I am off for two weeks so I hope to read some wonderful books as well. Isn’t it just the best feeling to be able to read as much as you want for as long as you want? I mean, I know that I have other obligations such as feeding the children and such but the gift of time is so precious! It’s the best gift ever.

    I hope you have a lovely week.

    • December 22, 2009 1:37 am

      LOL @ feeding the children! And you’re so right about the gift of time. :) I hope you get a ridiculous amount of reading done!

  16. December 20, 2009 8:04 pm

    I was afraid I would not like Hedgehog for the very reasons you listed, but I ended up loving the book and didn’t find the philosophizing intruding upon the story. Just my take.

    I, too, am ready to read for the next two weeks. Enjoy!

    • December 22, 2009 1:38 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it so much more than me! I just can’t turn off the analytical side of my brain when there’s philosophy mixed in with fiction. ;)

  17. December 20, 2009 9:40 pm

    Fascinating. I just read Vol. 4 of Sandman and that’s where it all came together for me and I decided that I loved it! Always interesting what works for some people and not for others. I also am glad you liked Turn of the Screw — I had a hard time with it, but I kind of like it upon retrospect. It would be fun to read in conjunction to Woman In Black…

    • December 22, 2009 1:39 am

      Yeah-for me, I just hate the artwork SO much. I did really love the story this time around (I think it’s miles better than the previous volumes), but I can’t get past the artwork. I’m a pansy when it comes to gore and violence. ;) I was surprised how much more I liked Turn of the Screw the second time around!

  18. December 21, 2009 12:33 am

    Lots of lovely reviews here! My mother also really disliked the ending of Hedgehog. At this point I’ve read so many mixed reviews that I almost want to read it solely for that reason! I want to know where I’ll fall on the spectrum of EVERYwhere that this book’s reviews are.

    I was also seriously underwhelmed when I first read Turn of the Screw, even though I’ve enjoyed all of the James novels that I’ve read. I am planning on rereading it this year–now I might consider also listening to it if I find myself still confused.

    • December 22, 2009 1:40 am

      I’d only read positive reviews before I picked up Hedgehog! Now I want to go find the other less-positive ones. :) Turn of the Screw works really well on audio, imo, because of the way James framed it. But I’d still pick one of his huge books over one of his novellas any day! ;)

  19. December 21, 2009 2:43 am

    I can definitely understand your reaction to Hedgehog, especially given your personal sentiments. I actually really liked the ending, not in a way that I liked “it” to have happened (because I wish it hadn’t) but for the fact that it gave the novel a punch, and made it less sweet. Even at my age, I still really enjoy philosophical musings. I actually thought Renee and Paloma were very pretentious, but I didn’t really dislike them for it. I thought the novel just had that certain feel to it that made it imperative for the protagonists to be pretentious, if that makes any sense. (I felt much the same way as Amanda did about the book.)

    Anyway, wonderful to hear about the Abani. It’s on my wish list and only need a few more convincing bloggers to make me put it at the top.

    • December 22, 2009 1:41 am

      I think if it weren’t for my personal issues, I would have appreciated the ending more. I love philosophy itself, but I like it in a more rigorous style. ;)

      I was so nervous about Abani, since all his books have SUCH depressing topics, but now I want to read them all! What is it about Nigerian authors that allow them make sad topics into wonderful books?!

  20. December 21, 2009 9:53 am

    Great reviews, Eva. I love honest reviews, whether they’re positive or not! Like you, Manga just isn’t my thing. I’ve never been able to settle into it or adapt to it enough to love it. And I often find the storylines silly or just disturbing.

    I do want to dive into The Last Days of the Incas. It looks really wonderful, and I’m looking to bump up my non-fiction reading in coming months.

    As for Turn of the Screw…I read it in a literature survey course in college and absolutely hated it. However, I think I might receive it very differently now. I always detested reading out of those huge anthology collections with the thin, Bible-like paper. They were so uncomfortable and overwhelming, and oddly enough, I think that had a lot to do with my not liking it. I think I’m game to give it another try in the new year.

    • December 22, 2009 1:42 am

      Thanks! You make me feel better about not enjoying manga that much since you’re a GN queen. :D

      I find it difficult to read out of huge anthologies too. So you’re not alone! :)

  21. December 21, 2009 10:29 am

    I love boarding school books, too. Two of the ones I loved are Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld and The Secret History by Donna Tartt, if you haven’t read either of those I’d definitely recommend them.

    I absolutely read less during the holidays, especially this year because I am moving a few days after Christmas. But with the hustle and bustle and four family Christmases to attend (my hubby and I both have divorced parents) it gets a little insane. Reading doesn’t exactly make my priority list this time of year, sadly. I am super jealous that you have been able to read so many wonderful books, though!

    Have a good Christmas with your family, Eva. I know this one is probably hard for you guys but I hope it’s a good time anyway. :)

    • December 22, 2009 1:42 am

      I’ve read both of those! ;) WOW-your Christmas sounds crazy already (like that Reese Witherspoon & Vince Vaugh movie that I have yet to see, lol) and the move must be stressing you out. I’m sending you peaceful, calming thoughts. :D

  22. December 21, 2009 12:43 pm

    Well, I’m like Molly, I’m in amazement that you can read so much during the holidays! I love your reviews of these too, both the good and bad reviews – it gives such a balanced feeling to what you’re reading and liking. I’ve been of two minds about the Hedgehog book once I picked up the back to read what it was about; I put it back down because I hate the awful precociousness of a twelve year old deciding to die. I know there’s a lot more to the story, but that premise doesn’t interest me. I can feel myself getting angry again at the book just writing this!!! lol and because of you, I am now going to look for Song for Night! So you save me one book, and get me to pick up another……happy reading over the holidays, Eva!!

    • December 22, 2009 1:44 am

      Thanks Susan! I think it’s interesting how I seem to have a spate of ‘meh’ books followed by a spate of wonderful books. I used to read proportionally more wonderful books, I think, but I also took less risks. :)

      Yeah; Hedgehog was a bit too affected for me! And Song for the Night is much shorter, so I’ve helped your TBR list! lol

  23. December 21, 2009 11:18 pm

    umm, why do i wanna run out and acquire everything in this post? excellent!

  24. December 22, 2009 8:47 pm

    I enjoyed Turn of the Screw when I read it for class. I don’t think I expected a ghost story at all, so that helped, I guess. I should reread as I don’t remember a lot about it other than the ending.

    I’ve added Song for Night to my list because it sounds wonderful — except, was it one that made you cry? I mean, was it heart-wrenching sad? I’m not sure I can handle that.

    I’m glad you enjoyed Hunger too. I didn’t read it all at once — maybe over three or four days — so I didn’t find myself in tears. But yes, it’s quite vivid. I just remember eating and eating every time I picked up that book. Just because it made me feel hungry :)

    • December 25, 2009 12:07 am

      I had forgotten the ending! lol Yeah-rereading it w/o expecting it to be a ghost story made it MUCH better. Song for the Night didn’t make me cry (Hunger did). It’s sad, but more of a melancholy sad than a heart-wrenching sad. I was really nervous about the subject matter and whether I could handle it, but honestly I mainly thought of it as beautiful.

      I had the opposite reaction to Hunger; I kept wanting to go on a fast to see how long I could go. LOL

  25. December 23, 2009 4:39 pm

    That’s an amazing list — you must have that “Rain Man” capability of reading one page with your left eye and another with your right :)
    I read Turn of the Screw for a course on the supernatural and was hugely bored. That was in high school, so I might not have fully understood it, but the experience has made me reluctant to pick it up again.

    • December 25, 2009 12:08 am

      lol # being Rain Man! A lot of the books I read this week were short. ;) I think “Turn of the Screw” works much better as a psychological/madness story than a supernatural one. :)

  26. Chelsea permalink
    December 29, 2009 10:05 pm

    Eva, please, please, PLEASE do me the honor and yourself the favor of putting ‘Becoming Abagail’ by Chris Abani on the top of your TBR pile! The book is under 200 pages long, and if you liked ‘Song of Night’, I’m hoping you’ll love ‘Becoming Abagail’ as well! He just has such a powerful way with words, and he is such a brilliant man and public speaker, that I’m not surprised to see his work turn up on your blog! I was lucky enough to hear him speak at my university, and to get a private lunch with him afterward to pick his brain, and he’s just as brilliant in real life as he is on paper!

  27. January 31, 2010 12:20 am

    Eva, may I make a recommendation? Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman [whom I know you like] & Terry Pratchett [whom I hope you will come to like better] — the best of both worlds. Some of the best work either of them has done to date. In fact, I was kinda surprised it wasn’t in your index. Terrific book!

    • February 10, 2010 2:31 am

      I’ve read Good Omens multiple times! It’s simply not in my index because I haven’t reread it since I’ve been blogging. :) But it was my very first Gaiman and Pratchett!


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