"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Monday, November 21, 2016


Bookstagramming Superheroes

I've had an Instagram (shellys555) for a few years, but only recently learned that Instagramming photos of books is a thing, with the tag #bookstagram. So, I figured, since I love books and photography, I'd give it a try. And I decided to crosspost to flickr and here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Slaughterhouse Five

TITLE: Slaughterhouse-Five
AUTHOR: Kurt Vonnegut

I have a lot of classics on my shelves that I've never gotten around to reading. They hadn't been assigned when I was in school and I had so many other things I wanted to read once I was out of school. So I decided to work my way through some of them and started with Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut's anti-war masterpiece.

The story revolves around the Allied bombing of Dresden near the end of World War II, bookended with Vonnegut's own experiences in Dresden during the war and after. The prose is simple and felt dated, but it was still powerful in its ordinariness. The horrors of war are here, as Billy Pilgrim, our hero and Vonngeut's stand-in, goes to war as a chaplain's assistant, gets taken prisoner by the Germans, ends up in Dresden in time for the bombing, then goes home to get married and become an optometrist. He also gets unstuck from time, traveling up and down his timeline, and gets taken prisoner by aliens who put him on display in a zoo, along with a fellow abductee, a former porn actress. Did he really get abducted by aliens? Is he really traveling through time? Or did he wartime experiences leave him with PTSD and a need to make some sort of sense of his life? There is something so mundane in how Vonnegut describes the horrors of war, giving it the same tone and weight as everything else that happened in Billy's life that makes the war scenes worse somehow.

And the repetitive phrase "And so it goes" that punctuates nearly all the paragraphs in the book, a precursor, perhaps, for the more contemporary "It is what it is." There are things that can't be changed, so they can either be accepted or not. To not is to drive yourself crazy. To accept is to, perhaps, stay sane. But war isn't sane, and maybe a sane response isn't appropriate. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but the story is the sort that inspires introspection. I'm glad I finally read this.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book List

I love lists. This one is interesting: 100 Must-Read Books of the '90s. I dismiss the poetry collections, because I don't enjoy poetry and have read it only under duress: school assignments way back when. I don't read short story collections, anymore, either because there are too many novels I want to read. And having comics on the list was interesting, but that was the one decade where I read hardly any comics, and while I read novels years after publication, I rarely do that with comics. So, my tally (I re-alphabetized because I can't abide having books alphabetized by "The" or "A" as the first word, and I interfiled the comics with the books), with commentary:

Books I've Read (6)
  • Astro City, Vol. 1: Life in the Big City by Kurt Busiek, art by Brent Anderson... I've read all but 2 of the rest of the volumes, plus the ongoing comic. One of the best graphic novels ever published.
  • The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson... Since I've read all the Calvin and Hobbes strips, I'm counting this as read.
  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (novel, historical fiction)... Not the first Atkinson I read (That was Case Histories), but one of my favorites.
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (novel, historical/literary fiction)... Wonderful book.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (YA novel, Newberry Award-winner)... A delight, and I saw the movie, too.
  • Supergirl by Peter David, art by Gary Frank, Cam Smith, Karl Story, Terry Dodson... I believe this is the Supergirl as angel inhabiting Linda Danvers version, which I didn't like at all. It got better when a version of the original Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, showed up. Peter David has always struck me as a decent writer who other people tend to like more than I do.

Books I Own, Waiting to be Read (4)
  • Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (novel, historical fiction)
  • The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead (novel, speculative fiction)
  • My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (novel, historical fiction)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (novel, literary fiction)

Book I Couldn't Finish
  • Possession by A. S. Byatt (novel, historiographic metafiction)... I think I got as far as page 3, maybe 4. Didn't like the writing style, at all. By the way, I have no idea what "historiographic metafiction means.

Books I Saw the Movie/TV Show Instead (3)
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (novel, historical/contemporary fiction)... Good movie, though I don't know how true it was to the book
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (novel, speculative fiction/historical romance)... I watched the first season, but lost interest before the season finale.
  • Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis, art by Steve Dillon... I'm loving the TV show. I just read that Steve Dillon died. So sad. His talent will be missed.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Foreign Correspondent

TITLE: The Foreign Correspondent
AUTHOR: Alan Furst

I wouldn't call Furst's World War II-era spy novels page turners, but they are addictive. In this one, Carlo Weisz is an Italian ex-pat living in Paris, working as a journalist for the Reuters news service, and secretly writing and editing an anti-fascist newspaper distributed covertly in Italy. As if that isn't enough, the Italian secret police are trying to put an end to the underground newspaper and British Intelligence has plans for him. Even the Paris police are interested him and his fellow Italian ex-pats when the editor of Liberazione and his mistress, the wife of a prominent Frenchman, are brutally murdered in an act made to look like murder-suicide. And finally, Carlo's German girlfriend won't leave Germany despite her anti-Hitler activities putting her in danger.

There's a lot going on in this book, yet Furst takes his usual pace laying out the story, giving readers a feel of life in 1940 Europe, from the civil war in Spain, to fascist Italy, life-as-usual Paris, and tense Berlin. The civilian-enlisted-as-spy, painstakingly researched and recreated settings are Furst's stock-in-trade, yet the stories never feel old or repetitive. Carlo is an engaging protagonist trying to do the right thing for his homeland, and Furst is a skilled storyteller, a perfect combination.