Non-Fiction: The Truth Is Out There

I’m not a big lover of non-fiction. When I think of non-fiction, I tend to think of true crime, celebrity bios, and war stories. It’s silly. Non-fiction is much more than that, I know, but that’s where my mind goes. I do read some non-fiction though. The non-fiction I enjoy is something that’s a bit offbeat, different, or funny. Here’s a list of some of my favorites.


black countThe Black Count by Tom Reiss. This is the biography of Alexandre Dumas’s (The Count of Monte Cristo) father, an eighteenth century man with a black mother and white father. His life could have been the plot of one of his son’s books, and in fact, he was the inspiration for Edmond Dantes.


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Bossypants by Tina Fey. Tina Fey. I laughed until I cried. I listened to this one on audiobook. I was glad I was alone at the time. I recommend the audio. It’s the full Fey experience.


EveryoneIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling. I’ve really come to like Mindy on her new show, The Mindy Project. Mindy was most definitely a girl like myself as a kid. Studious and concerned about getting in trouble.

record collectingRecord Collecting For Girls by Courtney E Smith. Loved this book about being a female music lover and how to become a collector of great music. Lots of interesting stories in this one.

Canadian HousewifeOne more. The Canadian Housewife: An Affectionate History by Rosemary Neering. It’s not easy being a woman today and it was even harder in the days before electricity. This book looks at the different eras of the Canadian housewife.

I hope you’ve found something that appeals to you on my list!

Developing Into…Something

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been book blogging for six years. I started out just wanting to discuss books with other readers, then I had ambitions, and now… I don’t. As Amy pointed out, sometimes you reach a plateau. I’ve reached mine. Since this time last year, I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate on reading and blogging. I don’t want to give it up though. I’ve made friends I don’t want to give up and I still want to talk about the books I love.




However, life changes and blogging has to change with it. I don’t have ambitions to become a “pro” or break into the publishing business anymore. I rarely accept review copies these days. I just want to read what I want to read. I’m ashamed to say that I don’t visit my book blogging friends as much as I should. Am I just lazy? Or is it that blogging was such a big part of my life that it took over and now I need a break?
There is a pressure (internal mostly) to post often, to not lose that audience that you’ve built, to come up with new and interesting ideas. But you know what? You don’t have to. You can slow down, blog when the mood strikes you. You might not have thousands of followers by doing this but the ones you have will stick with you because they like you and what you have to say. And that’s something.

Welcome, Armchair BEA Peeps!

An explanation. Armchair BEA:

If you're a book blogger who can't attend Book Expo America and the Book Blogger Convention in New York this May, you don't have to miss all the fun - this virtual convention is the place to be!

Hi! Welcome to my blog, if you’ve never been here before. Today is the day Armchair BEA participants introduce themselves and answer some questions. I’m Chris of Chrisbookarama. I’ve been blogging for six years so I feel like I’ve introduced myself a lot over the years for various reasons. In fact, here’s my post from last year’s Armchair BEA. Have a gander. Anyway, I’m just going to go with one question.

What is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? 

I loved The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. It’s not a new book by any means and everyone knows about The Stepford Wives but the book really surprised me. I was totally sucked into it and it creeped me out! I’m going to recommend it to everyone, especially fans of horror. I hope you’ll give it a read.


As you can tell, I don’t always read and review new books. I like reading the classics. Classics are some of my favorite books. I probably have a favorite classic in every genre. If I could recommend some classics based on a non-classic reader’s preferences, I’d choose:

  • Sci-Fi. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Meet the monster.
  • Horror. I would have said Dracula by Bram Stoker, but after reading Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, I’d have to go with that one.
  • Gothic Mystery. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte or The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
  • Romance. Probably Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, although it’s so much more than a romance, it has a HEA ending so I think it counts. Or The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Dystopian. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Is there hope for humanity?
  • Chick Lit? Can chick lit have a classic yet? I think it can. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.
  • Short story. For those with short attention spans. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
  • Non-fiction. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Love him or hate him, he knew Paris.

So there it is. Welcome to my Armchair BEA post!

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson: Review

deceiverI can’t really “review” The True Deceiver. What is it about? What does it mean? The introduction calls The True Deceiver Jansson’s “most subtle works”. I’d agree with that. It sneaks up on you. I’m sure it’s stuffed with symbolism that went right over my head.

To sum up the plot (if there is one), Katri decides to ingratiate herself into the life of a reclusive artist living in her village. She can’t do it with kindness. Katri isn’t known for kind. She’s a cold, cunning, yet terrifyingly honest young woman. Anna Amelin, the artist, is an older lady who draws flowery rabbits for children’s books. Her only contact with the village is through the deliveries of the only grocery store. Katri, replaces the delivery service with herself and her brother, Mats. Slowly, Katri becomes a part of Anna’s life, never completely liked but depended upon.

Anna and Katri are polar opposites. Katri, cynical and suspicious; Anna, childlike and trusting. They end up influencing each other, for better or worse. Mats is in the middle, though he’s unaware of it. Katri is overprotective of her younger brother, while Anna relates to his love of reading and his innocence. This causes friction between the two women.

In the end, the women have changed through their interactions with each other. Is this a positive or a negative? I’m not sure.

The writing is quite simple but deceivingly so. It feels as if every word is a part of a puzzle that the reader has to put together. I know I missed a lot. I will have to read it at least a couple more times. It’s very different from The Summer Book, which I loved. I don’t know how to feel about The True Deceiver. I definitely respect the book and Jansson, but it left me feeling confused.

Lazy Sunday Thoughts Are Trying to Blog

Ok, so I’ve gotten off my schedule. And I might as well forget it for next week since it’s Armchair Bea! I should be working on my posts for that. But first…

I bought some books at the library sale. I found a few interesting things. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Cakes and Ale, The Moon and a Sixpence, and The Glass Castle

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I want to ask Penguin what it was thinking in the 1970s. Both covers for the W Somerset Maugham books are icky. One is p0rny and the other super-racist. Seriously, Penguin. I can’t read these in public.

This also arrived in the mail.

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It was a good book week!

Some grammar humour for you. The Lonely Island discusses semi-colons. Yes, I know, I know, but wait until the end. It’s worth it. (Oh yeah, and swears.)

Later!

Changes. The Only Thing David Bowie and I Have In Common

someecards.com - I just had a near-work experience.

I’m a working lady now. I have to be out of the house before everyone else, after many years of me sending them all on their way. It’s not an easy adjustment. My body is all, “Wtf?” Saturday I was wide awake at 5:30 am and fell asleep at 10pm. On a Saturday. I have to record my shows and reading is nearly impossible. Will this last forever? I hope not.

So, the only book I managed to finish was True Deceiver by Tove Jansson. It was a thinker, so my opinion about it is all over the place. I should have read Dan Brown’s new one instead. My brain is broke.

I did manage to watch my TV shows though.

  • Revenge’s season finale was actually interesting. I have hope for Season 3. I’m like a sad girl with a bad boyfriend. I keep believing it will change if I just stick around long enough. C’mon, Revenge, don’t do me wrong!
  • The Elementary finale was wack! Seriously, what is happening there? Moriarty. What?! I still love Watson though. I have thoughts I will share at a later date. She is my fashion guru. She rocks a pair of 4 inch heels.
  • ABC released the last 8 episodes of Don’t Trust the B- In Apt 23 on iTunes. Since it would cost me $$$, I only downloaded the last episode (cheapcheap). I did not like where it went. At. All. So now I don’t care about it anymore. Boo.

BEAtwo

 

Hey, have you signed up for Armchair BEA? It’s coming soon. May 28-June 2. You better get on that!

I better go. I have to freeze my butt off at a BBQ!

The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett: Review

I don’t have a lot to say about this book. It was okay. I read it in an hour for the Readathon.
The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett is the story of an older couple, the Ransomes, who come home from the opera to find their house has been burgled. Of everything. Even the toilet paper. So they have nothing and have to start over. One of them decides that this is a good time to make a few changes, but the other just stays the same.
I found the book rather depressing. I wasn’t expecting that. I had read The Uncommon Reader by Bennett and thought it was a cute little story. Like Uncommon, The Clothes seems like a parable, but what the lesson is, I’m not sure. Mrs Ransome makes positive changes in her life. She steps outside her comfort zone. They’re not huge steps, but considering her narrow little world, they’re big to her. Mr Ransome doesn’t change at all and Mrs Ransome won’t even share her experiences with him because she knows he’d be horrified. This marriage made me sad. I wanted better for them both.
The writing is neat and tidy, very once upon a time, in keeping with The Uncommon Reader.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: Thoughts

It’s hard to review The Bell Jar so I’m not going to try. It ain’t entertainment. It’s a book about a girl with depression who ends up institutionalized. I don’t think that’s a spoiler since most people know what it’s about (and it’s in the blurbs on the back cover). It’s how she gets there that’s the story.

Esther Greenwood looks like a girl who has it all: a job in New York City, parties, a handsome doctor beau. From the outside, Esther’s life is perfect, but for her it’s anything but. Esther sees the world differently. She has no ambition, no lust for life, and little love for the people she knows. The reader experiences what Esther does, sees what she sees, and it’s a gloomy world.

Reading The Bell Jar is an emotional experience. I found it heavy reading, not the writing, but the atmosphere. I remember seeing a commercial for some new anti-depression drug, where the actors sat in their housecoats looking lethargic. I thought to myself, “This commercial is making me depressed.” That’s how reading The Bell Jar made me feel. I don’t think a book can make someone depressed, but it can give you a good idea of how it feels when done right. Plath knew her stuff, obviously as she was depressed herself.

I had to remind myself not to judge Esther harshly. Yes, she does have opportunities that most people can only dream of having, but she is sick and can’t help how she feels. I never thought of her as whiny. I’ve read plenty of characters who do that all too well. She doesn’t complain, she just doesn’t give a fig.

The “care” Esther gets at first is horrible. I can’t imagine that making anyone well. Things improve later on but still the drugs available today weren’t then. I wonder if that would have made a difference for Esther. Reading about Esther’s experience made me appreciate my own mental health.

If there is anything funny about The Bell Jar, it’s Esther’s pursuit of losing her virginity. Girl goes at getting that done like it’s her job. Most of the guys come off pretty terribly in the book. Sorry, dudes.
I hadn’t read The Bell Jar before. This was my first time. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure you do at some point.

Hey Ladies! Or Unlikeable Female Characters

In two separate articles, two different female authors were asked to defend their ‘unlikeable’ female characters.

Claire Messud took umbrage over one reporter’s question of would Claire want to be friends with her character Nora. “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that?” and went on to say that you shouldn’t read to find friends (sidenote: though sometimes you do). Gillian Flynn was called a misogynist for creating an irredeemable female sociopath in one of her books.

These ladies aren’t nice. Is that really such a big deal? It’s not even a new thing. There have been plenty of female protagonists who were awful, nasty bitches over the years. Why are people acting so surprised by these two recent additions? It took me about five minutes to come up with a list of examples.

Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair): Becky is an opportunist. She had a hard life and will climb her way to the top if it kills her.

Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind): The biggest bitch in heels there ever was. After nearly starving to death during the Civil War, she vows never to go hungry again. She steals her sister’s sweetheart and works him to death to make sure of it.scarlett2

Catherine Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights): Cathy is a brat. She wants to have her cake and eat it too. In her case, have a rich husband and a sexy, bad boy lover. She drives them both crazy.

Undine Spragg (The Custom of the Country): Another brat, spoiled by her parents. Entitled. Social climber. Doesn’t care who she hurts on the way to the top.

There are more but those ladies came to mind first. With the exception of Vanity Fair, the books were written by women. None of the characters had much in the way of maternal instincts, although they were all mothers. Scarlett and Becky have something admirable about their mad self-preservation skills. They both occasionally do something nice for someone else, but Cathy and Undine are out for #1. Murder? Maybe not, but given the opportunity I’m sure they could do it.

I actually love an unlikeable character. It’s fiction after all, I don’t have to work with these people. They aren’t real. But there is something interesting about exploring the darker side of humanity. Why else would film and TV keep giving us new stories about Hannibal Lector? Why should the guys have all the fun anyway? Ladies don’t have to keep in the kitchens doling out advice about not letting the sun go down on our anger, like Marmee March. Marmee’s okay, but a good slap from Scarlett would set some people straight too.
bitches
And it’s true that bitches get stuff done. You might not like the stuff they do, but they sure know how to do it. Women can be just as awful as men. It’s sexist to think otherwise. Unlikeable female characters? I say, bring them on!

Who are your favorite unlikeable female characters?

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood: Review

edible womanMarian McAlpin is a young woman living in Toronto with a wild roommate, a dull boyfriend, and a boring job. She’s just sort of floating along, not really in control of her life. She’s mostly waiting to get married.

Her job at a market research firm is a dead end. Even if she can move up the ladder, she’s not going to get far. She can’t see herself staying there, she balks at the pension fund, but doesn’t know where else to go. Her boyfriend Peter is an ordinary guy. She figures she’ll marry him when he asks. However, when he does ask something strange starts happening to her. Food suddenly disgusts her.

At first, it’s anything that drew breath, but soon it’s anything that grew and then pretty much anything edible! She wants to eat but her body won’t let her. Marian struggles to keep this secret from her fiancé who is sure to think she’s crazy, while trying to figure out how to stay alive.

This was Margaret Atwood’s first published novel and while people think it’s feminist literature, she prefers to call it protofeminism. According to her intro, the women’s movement wasn’t a thing when she wrote it in 1964 and she says she’s not clairvoyant. Ha! I agree. Although gender identity is explored in The Edible Woman, Marian seems to be going through an identity crisis. She’s not willing to enter into a conventional life, though she believes that’s what she wants. Her body is trying to tell her what’s what.

The thing is Marian doesn’t think she has many options. She doesn’t want to end up like the “office virgins.” She can’t be like Ainsley whose latest project is to get pregnant and raise a baby on her own. Peter and marriage is it, she thinks. Then she meets Duncan, a graduate student, who rejects reality. He makes up his own rules. She’s attracted to him because he’s unconventional.  He reminds me of a cat. He does what he wants. If he wants to take a nap, he just lies down and takes one. And like a cat, he has people to take care of him, his two roommates, Fish and Trevor.

Marian, and the reader, get to see traditional gender roles rejected or discussed through the other characters. Clara, pregnant with two small kids, isn’t nearly maternal as her husband, Jeff. Ainsley declares that fathers aren’t needed to raise children and picks the most unfatherly of all men as an unsuspecting sperm donor. Len, who only dates teenagers (ew), gets angry with Ainsley for ‘seducing’ him, even though he thought he was seducing her. “You used me!” he declares, on the verge of hysteria. Marian herself is afraid that Peter’s personality will overshadow her own once they’re married. He really only wants Marian as an extension of himself. His reasons for marrying are because everyone else is doing it and he doesn’t want people thinking he’s a homosexual. Yeah, he’s a real charmer. All these personalities clash during a disastrous dinner party, where Marian finally comes to some sort of decision.

I enjoyed The Edible Woman for not only giving me a lot to think about but entertaining me. It’s a very funny story, really. Very clever with lots of odd characters. It’s very much a product of its time. I giggled over some of the old fashioned ideas. Clara is particularly funny when she says she can only drink vermouth- she’s pregnant at the time.

About the Audio: The book is narrated by Lorelei King. She has a pleasant voice and was totally believable as a young woman in the 1960s.

Ratings:

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