Book Beginnings - A Red Death

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

I always started sweeping on the top floor of the Magnolia Street apartments. It was a three-story pink stucco building between Ninety-first Street and Ninety-first Place, just about a mile outside of Watts Proper. Twelve Units. All occupied for that month. I had just gathered the dirt into a neat pile when I heard Mofass drive up in his new '53 Pontiac. 
It's not an attention-grabber, but knowing what Easy Rawlins went through in Devil in a Blue Dress (review here) makes you wonder why he's sweeping floors. I'm completely intrigued by his character, but I can't pinpoint why exactly. I'm halfway through this one and it's pretty good. Spying on Reds is both tricky and interesting...how does he get into these situations?  


Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate, grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers, but do include the title and author.
He was doing a crazy dance in my potato patch. He held both hands in the air, with his head thrown back, and cackled deep down in his throat. Every now and then he'd stamp his feet, like little pistons, and reach both hands down into the soil, coming out with long tan roots that had the nubs of future potatoes dangling from them.
p. 54 of A Red Death by Walter Mosley


The cure to a reading slump is not an audiobook...

I’ve settled into a rare reading slump. My already relaxed reading pace has almost slowed to a halt. I just haven’t had the desire to read the books I’ve opened. I know this isn’t necessarily a reflection on the books, and it’s more than likely just me. To remedy this slump, I thought I’d change it up a bit…with an audiobook. 

I’ve never listened to an audiobook (those times in elementary school don’t count) I always thought it was an odd concept—an audiobook? Isn't that cheating? You’re not reading, you’re listening to someone tell a story orally, a recording. I couldn’t understand how people could pay attention and absorb everything on the page, if their eyes weren’t scanning the words into their brains. This went doubly for those who listened to audiobooks while driving or cleaning or exercising etc…but I tried one anyways to see if it was something I could handle. 

And I was right. I cannot do audiobooks for all of the reasons mentioned above. I could only listen to the story when I was doing absolutely nothing else, which meant I was listening right before bedtime. Now if you’re like me, you’re never not doing something…and when you “aren’t doing anything”, you’re actually on the internet, watching television, texting, doing household chores, etc. But nope, that wouldn’t cut it. When I listened to the audiobook I had to be in complete silence, or I would zone out and miss the story…or fall asleep. Falling asleep happened a lot. 

I think I can blame my inability to focus on the choice of audiobook. I chose The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larrson, the second book in the popular millennium trilogy. I still wanted to know what happened in the series, but didn’t want to commit the time to reading, so I thought trying the audiobook might make it more interesting. It didn’t. I barely made it through 3 hours of an 18 hour recording…and from what I can remember, it’s mostly rehashing what happened in the first book and describing central characters that readers already know about. I liked that the person narrating had a British accent (that’s always nice), but I didn’t like his Caribbean impersonations, or how his voice quivered creepily when he read as Lisbeth. The truth is I wasn’t impressed with the first book, so I should have known better than to use an audiobook, something I’m already skeptical about, to reignite interest in a series. Needless to say, I won’t be finishing the series. I think I’ll just watch the movies to see what happens. 

And yet, with all that said, I want to try another one. I think an awesome book can turn around this not so great experience. I was thinking about trying Seal Team Six or Anansi Boys as audiobooks. 

What do we think about these choices? And am I the only one with an audiobook complex? 

top image: flickr-joebeone


Poetry for thought - A Happy Birthday

A Happy Birthday
by Ted Kooser

This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

Image: Flickr - Like_The_Grand_Canyon


Shaping America's View

The Library of Congress has a pretty cool exhibition right now called Books That Shaped America.

Curators throughout the LoC compiled a list of books that have had a profound effect on American life. An emphasis was placed on influence, not how awesome a book may be. I think everyone will agree that lists like these will never reflect an absolute consensus.

The books on the list are divided into 50 years block beginning at 1750. I was surprised by the number of books I have actually read written between 1750 and 1900. Do I think I'm better than the next American because of that?--heck no! It just means I did A LOT of reading for my history and political science courses, as an undergrad.

Some of the books on the list are no-brainers, especially between the years 1900 and 2000, but I'll admit, I've never even heard of a great deal of them. Blame it on my age and a little ignorance. However, now I'm interested to read many of these and see for myself how these may have shaped America.

More than anything, this exhibition reminds me of how young the United States is...and how far it has come and has yet to go.

For obvious reasons there isn't a 2000 to 2050 block, but I'm curious to know, what are some books you think can already be considered for this time block? Remember--influential, not necessarily the best...I'll have no mention of Twilight or Hunger Games--haha..but I'm sort of serious. International people, feel free to comment as well. These books have not only shaped American views, but may have shaped the outside view of America.

I'll start. I think The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot could be thrown into the mix. An American story, a tragedy turned into something of a miracle. It exposes an immoral dimension of American medical practices, as well as social/cultural/racial disparity of the era. It's about an American family history, spanning through the past, present and future. To me, it's perfect for this type of list.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate, grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers, but do include the title and author.

I don't know, maybe your experience differed from mine. For me, growing up as a human being on planet Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking. 
p. 16 of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


Some interesting Amazon news...

So apparently HG (Hunger Games) is topping HP (Harry Potter) in sales...I do not understand!
HP is easily the better series--writing, characters, world-- it's all better.

Am I right? or am I right?


Book Beginnings - Ready Player One

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest. I was sitting in my hideout watching cartoons when the news bulletin broke in on my video feed, announcing that James Halliday had died during the night. 
I can't pinpoint why, I just have a feeling I'm really going to like reading this book. The opener in the prologue sparks a few questions: what exactly is the contest? why are they in a hideout? who is James Halliday? ...he sounds very important-- his death a turning point in not only the speaker's life, but many others. 

I wasn't supposed to start this book because I've been reading a certain fantasy book (I won't mention the title) for a long time now , but I couldn't help myself.


Review - Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress (Easy Rawlins #1)
by Walter Mosley
200+ pages

Description via Goodreads
A man like Dewitt Albright didn't die, couldn't die. It frightened me even to think of a world that could kill a man like that; what could a world like that do to me? (210)
Let's get right into it. Easy Rawlins is unemployed, but still has bills to pay. He runs into a man who will pay him to find information on the whereabouts of a woman named Daphne Monet. Easy accepts this  assignment but quickly discovers that he could be in over his head.

Mosley uses Rawlins in a very Ellisonian (Ellison-esque?) way to confront issues of poverty and race relations in this hard-boiled crime story. I really like the tour of the L.A underworld led by Easy to find Daphne. Whether it be a hole-in-the-wall bar, secret jazz club, local barbershop, sketchy apartment complexes, or around-the-way brothel, Easy uses his social connections to extract the information he needs. I also really appreciate the reflections on race relations throughout the book because they add another layer to Easy's persona. At the same time, it's not just blackness or whiteness, right and wrong. There's the universal idea that regardless of background; money, fear and power can turn anyone. 

There were a few elements I could of done without, such as, 'the voice'. 'The voice' is the conscience that likes to pop up during high stress situations, and lead Easy to victory. I thought it was kind of cheesy...And surprisingly, I was really challenged by Easy's Houston/LA twang, which was odd because I'm no stranger to Southern speak. Coretta and Daphne bothered me too. I think many readers, particularly female readers like myself, will find their motivations and decisions to be insanely annoying. I didn't have a problem with them seducing Easy, no, that was to be expected, but it's unfortunate that they were simply objects of possession. Easily used and discarded. I mean, after Coretta hooks up with Easy, she's murdered and that's it. I don't know, just seemed like a very masculine-fantasy, way to go about things...I'm also wondering if that's just characteristic of this type of fiction.
"You see, Easy," he cut me off, "Daphne has a predilection for the company of Negroes. She likes jazz and pigs' feet and dark meat, if you know what I mean.'' (26)

Out of all the characters (and there are many), I hold a special dislike for Daphne--not Albright, not Mouse, not Frankie Green--Daphne Monet. I hate that she was placed on a pedestal, though I understand why. The most obvious reason being her connection to a potentially large sum of money, and later on to the crimes that will follow. The less appealing reason is she's a woman in demand, but at times unavailable and seemingly unattainable. However, that doesn't deter Easy one bit. He bends over backwards for this mysterious, white woman and puts himself in danger to help her, to be with her, to be her lover. But Daphne has her own secrets... 
"She wanna be white. All them years people be tellin' her how she light-skinned and beautiful but all the time she knows that she can't have what white people have. So she pretend and then she lose it all. She can love a white man but all he can love is the white girl he think she is."
What's that got to do with me?"
"That's just like you, Easy. you learn stuff and you be thinkin' like white men be thinkin'. You be thinkin' that what's right fo' them is right fo' you. She look like she white and you think like you white. But brother you don't know that you both poor niggers. And a nigger ain't never gonna be happy 'less he accept what he is. (209)
When Easy finds out the truth about Daphne he's devastated. He actually compares it to an earthquake, and almost refuses to see her for what she is. A woman he lusted for, who caused him to search down in his soul, someone he could have died for had deceived him, and on top of that, she was one of his own. This made me feel some kind of way...I love that Mosley was able to convince me to dislike a character so much.

In the end, I found myself less concerned with who killed who and why, and more concerned with who is who and why. The characters and setting are way more intriguing. To me it's an origin story, Easy Rawlins' transition from black war veteran and day laborer to private investigator, in 1940s, Los Angeles. I can't wait to read more Easy Rawlins mysteries. 

Devil in a Blue Dress

Four stars.


Teaser Tuesdays


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. To participate, grab your current read, open to a random page and share a few sentences. Don't include spoilers but do include the title and author. 

The boy started crying outright when Albright said that. I was pretty confident that he was just joking, in a sick kind of way, but my heart quailed along with the footballer.' 
Down on your knees or you're dead, boy!'
p. 62 of Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley


Poetry for thought - Sea Canes

Sea Canes
by Derek Walcott

Half my friends are dead
I will make you new ones, said earth
No, give me them back, as they were, instead
with faults and all, I cried

Tonight I can snatch their talk
from the surf's faint drone
through the canes, but I cannot walk

on the moonlit leaves of the ocean
down that white road alone,
or float with the dreaming motion

of owls leaving earth's load.
O earth, the number of friends you keep
exceeds those left to be loved.

The sea-canes by the cliff flash green and silver;
they were the seraph lances of my faith,
but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,
enduring moonlight, further than despair
strong as the wind, that through dividing canes

brings those we love before us, as they were,
with faults and all, not nobler, just there.


Review - The Man in the Brown Suit

The Man in the Brown Suit
by Agatha Christie
200+ pages

Description via Goodreads
It was too dark to recognize anybody. All I could see was that he was tall, and a European, not a native. I took to my heels and ran. I heard him pounding behind. I ran quicker, keeping my eyes fixed on the white stones that showed me where to step, for there was no moon that night.
And suddenly my foot felt nothingness. I heard the man behind me laugh, an evil, sinister laugh. It rang in my ears, as I fell headlong--down--down--down to destruction far beneath. (156) 
So this was my first Agatha Christie mystery and overall I liked it. It's full of semi-interesting characters and witty, comical dialogue. Here's a simple plot breakdown: Girl witnesses suicide. Suicide related to past crime. Murder happens same day. Girl is nosy, wants to figure out connection. Identity of man in brown suit is priority. Girl travels from England to South Africa. Girl meets many suspicious people. Girl gets too involved, at risk, but carries on being nosy. Third-party interference. Girl makes weak connections, figures out very little. Identity of the 'Colonel' becomes priority. Third-party interference. Kidnapped once, attempted murder twice. Girl meets man who fills in blanks. Man also deeply involved in shenanigans. They fall in love. Girl discovers identity of the 'Colonel'. 'Colonel' is captured--then escapes. Girl and man live happily ever after in jungle of South Africa. The end. 
"This is South Africa," I kept saying to myself industriously, "South Africa, South Africa. You are seeing the world. This is the world. You are seeing it. Think of it, Anne Beddingfield, you pudding-head. You're seeing the world". (109)
The name of the nosy girl, the protagonist, is Anne Beddingfield. She's young, good-looking, posesses an interesting balance of smarts and naivete, and is seeking adventure...lots of it. What better adventure than to unfold the mystery of the man in the brown suit. I thought Anne was atypical in wanting to pursue such a dangerous case, but typical in how she went about it--using her looks to get what she wanted, using her father's status to get what she wanted, enchanted by lies, playing games, wanting the love of a 'bad boy'. That sort of thing. She was easily the most interesting and dynamic character.

I was surprised at how romantic this book was...I wasn't expecting that at all. I was also surprised at the transparency of the mystery. I think it was somewhat important to pay attention to the prologue. Read it thoroughly, and the answer is laid out on the table. But even if attention isn't given to the prologue, it's pretty easy to pick apart. When no one knows for sure how a rich man makes his money, raise the red flag. 

I'll definitely try more Agatha Christie...I want to read the less romantic side of her writing, if it exists. I didn't get the feeling this was the typical Christie novel, not the Agatha Christie everyone loves.

The Man in the Brown Suit
Three stars.



Book Beginnings - Devil in a Blue Dress

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy's. It's not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks.
hmm....interesting. This is how I imagine a sub-par pimp from Miami to dress...he could also be a foreigner. And what's he doing at Joppy's? --I don't know. And I won't know until this weekend because I haven't officially started reading this one yet. I hear Walter Mosley is a legend, so I'm kind of excited to see what he's about.
What do we think? pimp? foreigner? other?


A Few Morose Pieces of World Literature...I really enjoyed

La familia de Pascual Duarte - The Family of Pascual Duarte
by Camilo Jose Cela (Spain)

I don't know if its been translated to English, but I hope so because I think everyone should read it. For those who like reading banned books, this is a must-read. It reflects rural life in Spain right before the beginning of the Franco regime. Its protagonist is a very religious, young man, who can only express himself through extreme violence...I want to say more, but it's a short book. Sad and disturbing. 

The Good Earth 
by Pearl S. Buck (USA/China)

Yes, I know. Pearl S. Buck is an American writer, but she spent most of her time in China and wrote this amazing book (which won her the Pulitzer and the Nobel Prize in Lit.). It's a beautifully written piece centering around peasant life in China, with a deep and simple story about tradition, change, love and hardship, and the flawed humans that endure through it all. Absolutely love this book. 

Santa maria de las flores negras - Santa Maria of the Black Flowers
by Hernan Rivera Letelier (Chile)

Once again, I'm not sure if this has been translated from Spanish to English...However, its a realistic fictionalization of a horrific happening--the Santa Maria school massacre. It's about nitrate miners going on  strike and coming together to change their poor working conditions. Very sad and true work of historical fiction.


Review - 1Q84

by Haruki Murakami
900+ pages

Description via Goodreads
"Blood shed in this world is real blood. This is no imitation world, no imaginary world, no metaphysical world. I guarantee you that. But this is not the 1984 you know."

"Like a parallel world?"

 The man's shoulder trembled with laughter. "You've been reading too much science fiction. No, this is no parallel world. You don't have 1984 over there and 1Q84 branching off over here and the two worlds running along parallel tracks. The year 1Q84 no longer exists anywhere. For you and for me, the only time that exists anymore is this year of 1Q84." (462)

That's about as clear of an explanation the readers will get on the world of 1Q84. It's weird, I blew through the first 500 pages, and then put it down for a few days to reflect. It was during this time of reflection when I realized I had no idea what the hell this book was about. And even now after having finished reading it, I still have no idea what the hell this book is about...Is it a story about true love? star-crossed lovers? or in this case moon-crossed? In the end, I can only sum it up as a peculiar piece of magical-realistic, meta-fiction, and I still can't be sure that's right.

I think what propelled me through the first half of the book was Murakami's writing style. It's new to me. But then after 600 pages or so, I began to pick out annoying details that were ruining an already weak storyline. For example, a lot of the descriptions are redundant. I mean really overkill repetitive. Some things just seemed out of place (frequent mention of breasts, their size and shape) or negatively awkward (sex scenes and phone conversations) or just unnecessary...like when Aomame uses a pregnancy test. Read this:
The test itself was simple. Just urinate into a clean container and then dip the indicator stick into it. Or, alternately, urinate directly onto the stick. Then wait a few minutes. If the color changes to blue you're pregnant, if it doesn't change color, you're not. In one version, if two vertical lines appear in the little window, you're pregnant. One line, and you're not. The details might vary but the principle was the same (709)
I mean, we all know how those work. Why write that? ...Maybe it serves a purpose I'm not aware of. But things like that happen a lot.

I guess that leads me to the characters, which are interesting in the beginning, as you learn their backstory, grievances and circumstance. The two central characters are Aomame and Tengo, moon-crossed lovers navigating Tokyo in the time of 1Q84. Aomame is a personal trainer and assassin. Tengo is a teacher and writer. Tengo and Aomame have very similar backgrounds. They have little social interaction and their daily lives are routine and boring. The only way I can differentiate them is to say Tengo is passive-passive, whereas Aomame is passive-active. They both let a lot happen to them and participate the minimum one can participate. Just flat. 

They reconnect in the year 1984/1Q84 after not having seen each other after twenty years...and there's not much more than that. They shared a very strong moment of connection in adolescence (a squeezing of hands together at school) Fast forward, Aomame assassinates a leader of a cult, who also happens to be exploited in a book Tengo has rewritten. That's the point of reconnection. Yes, there are whole bunch of other side characters and elements involved, but it's just too confusing and boring to mention.

I don't know. I think it was too long, probably could have cut out 200 pages of useless description. It didn't bother me that I didn't understand how 1Q84 worked, it bothered me that nothing dynamic happened in the second half of the book. However, with all that said, I'm not completely turned off to Murakami's writing and I will read more of his stuff. This may have simply missed the mark...it happens.

Three stars.


Book Haul (+9)

What's in this haul?

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eating the Cheshire Cat by Helen Ellis
The Babes in the Wood by Ruth Rendell
Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
...and a few others.

I'm excited to read more Rendell--she really impressed me with A Demon In My View. And I love Kingsolver. Prodigal Summer is the most recent book I've read written by her...Middlesex has been on my reading list since last summer and I've only read three of the books from my last haul a couple months ago. How efficient I am.


Book Beginnings - The Man in the Brown Suit

Book Beginnings is a meme hosted by Rose City Reader. Share the first sentence (or so) of a book you are currently reading, along with your initial thoughts and impressions about the sentence or book. Remember to include the title of the book and the author AND link up at the Rose City Reader

Nadina, the Russian dancer who had taken Paris by storm, swayed to the sound of the applause, bowed and bowed again. her narrow black eyes narrowed themselves still more, the long line of her scarlet mouth curved faintly upwards. Enthusiastic Frenchmen continued to beat the ground appreciatively as the curtain fell with a swish, hiding the reds and blues and magentas of the bizarre decors. 
I've seen bits and pieces of movies based on Agatha Christie's stories but never read any of them. So this will be my first...I've heard nothing but good things about her, thus my expectations are fairly high.

I'm only a handful of pages in. As for the beginning, it's from the prologue and I like it. Nadina gives off a slight femme fatale vibe, right?


Poetry for thought - Olimpicamente

by Monica de la torre

It was my feet. They were oversized for my age,
restless and strong enough to do more than pick fruit or sell fish.
For kicks, in my hometown of two thousand, I tried taekwondo. I was five.

The neighbors, they thought of me as marimacha,
Women around me were tough, but they were no tomboys.
Dad, a fisherman by trade, was undeterred. He's good at cultivating.

He and I, we're driven people. They kind that look
beyond the horizon -- westward and eastward in step.
Hence we outgrew the dirt roads of La Brecha (The Gap) in Sinaloa.

Did I choose the art; was it the art that chose me?
But for a white uniform, I had the essentials.
This was my calling: self-defense for which you needed no arms. Only fists.

Rock solid. And limber limbs and a feistiness
not antagonistic. Think dealing blows so less blows
are dealt -- aiming to stop the fight, but not destroy your rival, your equal.
Where I am from, some folks do things differently.
My way's the way of the hand and foot, and unity
of purpose. On the tatami, I write their bodily calligraphy.

Image: Peter Harrison/Cheetah100 - Flickr