Monday, July 30, 2007

A Good Hanging is a good read

Books now read in ’07: 76
Title: A Good Hanging
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 7-30
Pages: 253

A dozen early short stories featuring Rankin’s Inspector Rebus. The book was issued in 1992 in England, but didn’t make appearance here until 2002 after Rankin began to enjoy acclaim on this side of the Atlantic.

The tales are especially enjoyable for fans of this series – providing additional insight into Rankin’s memorable Scottish inspector.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Books now read in ’07: 75
Title: The Gravedigger’s Daughter
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 7-29
Pages: 582

I’ll say this about Joyce Carol Oates. She’s consistent.

Her 2000 book, Blonde, a fictional hatchet job on the life of Marilyn Monroe, rankest among a very short list of books I dislike the most. Since reading Blonde I had vowed never to read Oates again. I broke that oath this month to read her newest book, The Gravedigger’s Daughter. That short list has gotten larger by one book.

The Gravedigger’s Daughter is a tedious, over-written work that’s also emotionally dishonest and whose characters ring false. In one scene, Oates’ main character, the gravedigger’s daughter of the title, thinks that another character has “a deep-sea predator’s eyes.” This from an illiterate high school drop-out. It’s an instance of a writer exercising her chops, but not honoring her character who has no context whatsoever to see this man’s eyes in this way.

What’s worse, is that The Gravedigger’s Daughter is a book in search of an ending. It builds to what we think may be an explosive climax only to taper off in a series of pointless letters that go on far too long.

Bury this book. Deep. Very deep.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Books now read in ’07: 74
Title: First Among Sequels
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 7-20
Pages: 395

In order to reverse a precipitous decline in reading rates, the governing council of BookWorld makes Pride and Prejudice into a reality television show. Once a week one of the Bennet sisters will be voted off the show and, as viewers “rewrite” the novel, the venerable classic will cease to exist as we know it.

This is only one of the nefarious schemes confronting Thursday Next in her triumphant return in First Among Sequels. The ChronoGuard is tinkering with the time stream, the Goliath Corporation is suspiciously friendly, Thursday’s illegally selling cheese, the government’s stupidity surplus is dangerously high, her deceased uncle returns as a ghost – he has something to tell her but can’t remember what, someone’s trying to kill Thursday and she has not one, but two, Thursday Next clones yearning to be Jurisfiction agents.

Thursday has been noticeably absent for two books as author Jasper Fforde introduced detective Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes Division and took a new look at the death of Humpty Dumpty and the relationship between Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

It's a welcome return. Since her first appearance in The Eyre Affair Thursday, and Fforde, have promised a thoroughly entertaining and humorous adventure in BookWorld. Neither Next nor Fforde disappoint in this action-packed fifth book in the series. It’s a delightful, delicious romp.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Books now read in ’07: 73
Title: The Maytrees
Author: Annie Dillard
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 7-17
Pages: 216

I wanted to like this thin, awkward novel – the first by Annie Dillard in more than a decade – but could not. Ultimately, it is too slight, too opaque and, at times, to much like a writer’s notebook than a polished work to be truly satisfying.

Words like pauciloquoys, (which I think is spelled wrong. I think pauciloquy was intended, which means brevity of speech), thigmotropic (a biological term meaning 'oriented growth of an organism in response to mechanical contact, as a plant tendril coiling around a string support', which could be extended to mean “fond of touch”), and epistomeliac (I don’t know, I really don’t) had me cringing.

As do sentences such as: “So might a seeing white statue, aware and at ease, over whose feet and plinth wash wild seas, guard a greasy harbor.” I don’t know what that sentence means – standing alone or in context. Is there a context?

The atmosphere is compelling and the setting vivid, but the narrative (in keeping with the novel’s themes) is a shipwreck, run aground on the thinness of Dillard’s prose, which wants to be poetry, and which can’t support the weight of her philosophical musings on mortality and love. A beautiful story is lost in sentences that twist and turn and never emerge into a consistent coherent whole.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Five more mysteries add to 2007 reading total

Books now read in ’07: 68
Title: Skin Tight
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-8
Pages: 318

Books now read in ’07: 69
Title: The First Eagle
Author: Tony Hillerman
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-9
Pages: 278

Books now read in ’07: 70
Title: Blood at the Root
Author: Peter Robinson
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-11
Pages: 309

Books now read in ’07: 71
Title: Double Play
Author: Robert B. Parker
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-12
Pages: 288

Books now read in ’07: 72
Title: Red Square
Author: Martin Cruz Smith
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-15
Pages: 418

The reading rampage has ended – 10 books in 15 days, not bad considering it was largely interrupted by a three-day trip to New York. A final Hillerman and an early Peter Robinson were among the final five. Both solid reads, as was Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith. Skin Tight, an early Carl Hiaasen, isn’t one of the author’s best. And I can’t recommend Robert B. Parker’s Double Play.

Still reading the new biography of Edith Wharton and a collection of poetry by Jim Harrison.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On reading rates

Received the following yesterday:

Lola has left a new comment on your post "Five books in five days, a reading marathon":

How many hours did you read in one day (on average?) You must read really fast, OR you read nearly 24 hours straight! I can't do that unless it's a really good book.

PS: I added you to my short list of biblioblogs links. Hope you don't mind! (..?)


First, Lola, I'm delighted that you've added this blog to your short list of links. Of course I don't mind. My goal is to have a dozen readers by the end of this year. I think I'm halfway there!

Your question about how fast I read is a question that I’ve often asked myself. The simple answer is that I read about 50 pages of fiction in an hour. The more complex answer is that the actual number of pages read in an hour might range from 35 to 70.

Factors that contribute to my read rate include the author’s style, the genre of the book, where I’m at in the book (beginning, middle or end) and any external distractions – from TV, a wife who wants to converse or a barking dog.

As to author’s style, some authors just read “faster” than others. I’m a fan of Charles Dickens, but it always takes me about 100 pages to become re-acclimated to his writing style before my reading pace picks up. It’s the same with Edith Wharton. With Shakespeare, the pace never does pick up. On the other hand, I can pick up Tony Hillerman's newest book and read 70 pages in an hour without breaking a sweat.

That leads to the genre of the book. Mysteries are quick reads. I think there are several reasons for this – mysteries are not laden with loads of descriptive text, but are rich in dialogue and mysteries generally have a propulsive plot that propels the narrative and the reader along. This holds true for some of the authors I enjoy such as Robert Crais, George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly. It’s less true of P.D. James.

I always read at a slower pace when I’m just starting a book. Refer back to my point about the author’s style. Usually there’s a small adjustment period as I familiarize myself with a writer’s style, the characters and setting. I always feel that by the point I’ve reached 60 to 100 pages I’m well on my way – and the pace picks up – and the pace always picks up again in the final 100 pages. I don’t know why. I’m like a horse who smells the barn.

Eliminating external distractions are important. A quiet, well-lit room with a cozy chair and a couple of hours uninterrupted is the ideal. No TV. No dogs. No one else around. That’s when the world slips away and I slip into something like an alpha state. I’m not aware of the passage of time, the turning of pages. Nothing. I am one with the book. Or, more accurately, one with the story.

When I find my thoughts wandering, my pace slows down. That’s often a time to put the book down, take care of what’s on my mind or engage in some other activity.

I said a few hours of uninterrupted time is the ideal, and it is. But many people seem to believe if they don’t have a block of two or three hours what's the point of picking up a book at all? I think the failure to take advantage of interstitial time is one of the biggest mistakes non-readers make. An interstice is the space between things. Interstitial time is that time you spend in doctor’s waiting rooms or in those dingy rooms at the car dealer while you’re waiting on the oil change and safety inspection. Fifteen minutes here, 30 minutes there and it all adds up. I never go on an appointment without a book. It’s a good use of time and helps the time go faster.

My goal, each day, is a minimum of 100 pages. I read an average of 50 pages during my morning commute and another 50 pages on the trip home in the evening. I try to read at noon, generally about 35 pages. I read at in the evenings at home, but less than you might suspect. Perhaps a few pages before dinner and then for 60 to 90 minutes after dinner. But I don’t always pick up a book after dinner. My wife and I might spend the time talking. The kids may call. We might pop in a DVD; currently, we’re working our way through Season 1 of The Closer or catch the most recent airing of Gray’s Anatomy.

I read less on the weekends then you would imagine. Weekends are for me and my wife. That’s the time we spend together; shopping at the farmer’s market, running errands, dining out, sightseeing.

All in all, I have the same attitude about reading as I do running. It’s not how fast you are that’s important, but that you’re doing it. Both are good for you.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Five books in five days, a reading marathon

Books now read in ’07: 63
Title: A Thief of Time
Author: Tony Hillerman
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-1
Pages: 209

Books now read in ’07: 64
Title: Baltimore Blues
Author: Laura Lippman
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-2
Pages: 324

Books now read in ’07: 65
Title: Coyote Waits
Author: Tony Hillerman
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-3
Pages: 292

Books now read in ’07: 66
Title: Bleeding Hearts
Author: Ian Rankin
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-4
Pages: 374

Books now read in ’07: 67
Title: Sacred Clowns
Author: Tony Hillerman
Genre: Mystery
Date Completed: 7-5
Pages: 305

OK, I got little crazy. Took some time off from work. I travel all the time as part of my work so I didn’t want to go anywhere. What I wanted to do, what I did, was go on this reading jag – five books in five days. It’s going to end tomorrow. It’s the wife’s birthday and we’re heading to New York City. I think she would frown on me carving out a few hours a day to toss off another book or three. But it's been fun, sort of like running 20 miles just to see if you can. (I should mention this isn't all I'm reading: I'm also working my way through the new biography of Edith Wharton, which is a bit of a slog, and a collection of Jim Harrison's poetry, a few comics and the newest issue of The New Yorker.)

Three Tony Hillerman mysteries. I’ve read Hillerman in the past, but sporadically. This concentration gave me new appreciation for his genius. These are great books with vivid characters. Lots of opportunity to enhance your knowledge of Southwest history and culture, especially regarding the Navajos.

Baltimore Blues was re-issued in observance of that book’s 10th anniversary. It is Lippman’s first book and her first book featuring Tess Monaghan. I know Lippman was a reporter for years, but there’s very little evidence of the fits and starts and stumbles of a beginning novelist. This is good. All the ingredients that make the Tess Monaghan series so fine are here.

Rankin’s Bleeding Hearts is also a re-issue. The book, first published in England in 1994, made its first U.S. appearance last year based on the success of Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. The premise of the novel is improbable if you pause to give it much thought. Fortunately, it’s such rollicking good fun it’s not necessary to examine the premise all that closely. Rankin is one of the few writers who can make a hit man a sympathetic figure. If you’re a Rankin fan, pick this one up. If not, go directly to an Inspector Rebus novel.