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Joannasephine's Bibliofiend Indulgence

75 Books Challenge for 2010

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1joannasephine
Edited: Aug 27, 2010, 2:44pm Top

I officially completed the 75 book challenge at the end of June.
My summary thread for the months of January to March inclusive (books 1 to 25) can be read here, and the summary for April to June inclusive (books 26 to 77) here.

I plan to keep going with this challenge – who knows, maybe I'll manage the same again …



There are very few things that give me as much pleasure as sitting down with a new book and losing myself for a while. Being part of this challenge should give me all the excuses I need (and I don't need many!) to spend some serious time reading this year, as well as (hopefully) prompting me to take the time to write down general comments about the books once I've finished them.

Roll on 2010!

August

107. Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett.
Started 22.8.10,

106. The Strange Hours Travelers Keep by August Kleinzahler.
Started 19.8.10, finished 23.8.10.

105. unlocking the poem by Ottone M Riccio and Ellen Beth Siegel.
Started 19.8.10,

104. Affluenza by John de Graaf.
Started 18.8.10, finished 23.8.10.

103. The Best of It by Kay Ryan.
Started 16.8.10, finished 18.8.10.

102. The Best Australian Poetry 2005 edited by Peter Porter.
Started 16.8.10, finished 17.8.10.

101. Rain by Kirsty Gunn.
Started 16.8.10, finished 16.8.10.

100. The Best American Poetry 2005 edited by Paul Muldoon.
Started 16.8.10, finished 16.8.10.

99. The Forward Book of Poetry 2005 edited by Lavinia Greenlaw.
Started 26.8.10, finished 16.8.10.

98. Still Lost in Translation by Charlie Croker.
Started 15.8.10, finished 15.8.10.

97. The Loblolly Boy by James Norcliffe.
Started 13.8.10, finished 14.8.10.

96. The Forward Book of Poetry 2004, edited by Peter Stothard.
Started 9.8.10, finished 9.8.10.

95. The Best Australian Poetry 2004 edited by Anthony Lawrence.
Started 9.8.10, finished 9.8.10.

94. The Best American Poetry 2004 edited by Lyn Hejinian.
Started 8.8.10, finished 9.8.10.

93. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett.
Started 8.8.10, finished 9.8.10.

92. Second Nature by Michael Pollan.
Started 5.8.10, finished 8.8.10.

91. The Best Australian Poetry 2003 edited by Martin Duwell.
Started 3.8.10, finished 4.8.10.

90. The Best American Poetry 2003 edited by Yusef Komunyakaa.
Started 3.8.10, finished 3.8.10.

89. The Forward Book of Poetry 2003 edited by Michael Donaghy.
Started 3.8.10, finished 3.8.10.

88. A Recipe for Water by Gillian Clarke.
Started 30.7.10, finished 1.8.10.

July

87. Making Poems by Todd Davis.
Started 26.7.10,

86. The Noticeably Stouter Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.
Started 16.7.10, finished 25.7.10.

85. The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe.
Started 16.7.10, finished 16.7.10.

84. Speed Cleaning by Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming.
Started 15.7.10, finished 18.7.10.

83. The 10 pm Question by Kate de Goldi.
Started 14.7.10, finished 26.7.10.

82. A Long Girl Ago by Johanna Aichison.
Started 10.7.10,

81. Betrayal by Fiona McIntosh.
Started 7.7.10, finished 8.7.10.

80. The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Started 5.7.10, finished 5.7.10.

79. Crossing Over by Tony Curtis.
Started 2.7.10, finished 2.7.10.

June

78. Isms and Ologies by Arthur Goldwag.
Started at some point before 30.6.10, finished 14.7.10.

77. Minsk by Lavinia Greenlaw.
Started 30.6.10, finished 30.6.10.

76. How to Rule the World by André de Guillaume.
Started 29.6.10, finished 30.6.10.

75. Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer.
Started 24.6.10, finished 25.6.10.

74. The Wild Iris by Louise Glück.
Started 23.6.10, finished 23.6.10.

73. The First Five Books of Poems by Louise Glück.
Started 22.6.10, finished 23.6.10.

72. Averno by Louise Glück.
Started 21.6.10, finished 21.6.10.

71.Vita Nova by Louise Glück.
Started 21.6.10, finished 21.6.10.

70. Meadowlands by Louise Glück.
Started 20.6.10, finished 21.6.10.

69. The Wellspring by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

68. The Father by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

67. The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

66. The Dead and the Living by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

65. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Started 15.6.10, finished 19.6.10.

64. Satan Says by Sharon Olds.
Started 15.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

63. How to Get the House you Want by David Hindley.
STarted 14.6.10, finished 15.6.10.

62. What Einstein Told His Cook by RL Wolke.
Started 11.6.10, 15.6.10.

61. The Hobgoblin Proxy by JT Petty.
Started 11.6.10, finished 11.6.10.

60. Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by JT Petty.
Started 11.6.10, finished 11.6.10.

59. Blue Hour by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

58. The Angel of History by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

57. The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

56. Gathering the Tribes by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

55. What the Water Gave Me by Pascale Petit.
Started 5.6.10, finished 6.6.10.

54. A Greener House by Richard Reed and Sara Wilkinson.
Started 1.6.10, finished 6.6.10.

53. Selected Haiku / Haikús Selectos by Ron Riddell and Raúl Henao.
Started 1.6.10, finished 4.6.10.

52. Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence.
Started 1.6.10, finished 2.6.10.

May

51. The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins.
Started 28.5.10, finished 10.6.10.

50. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Started 26.5.10, finished 27.5.10.

49. The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins.
Started 26.5.10, finished 26.5.10.

48. Red Bird by Mary Oliver.
Started 18.5.10, finished 19.5.10.

47. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
Started 18.5.10, finished 19.5.10.

46. Excuse Me While I Wag by Scott Adams.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

45. Don't Step in the Leadership by Scott Adams.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

44. I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot by Scott Adams.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

43. White Pine by Mary Oliver.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

42. Twelve Moons by by Mary Oliver.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

41. American Primitive by Mary Oliver.
Started 17.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

40. Vice: New and Selected Poems by Ai.
Started 16.5.10, finished 24.5.10.

39. Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets edited by Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack.
Started 14.5.10, finished 17.5.10.

38. wild camomile by Owen Bullock.
Started 12.5.10, finished 12.5.10.

37. Otherwise: New and Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon.
Started 11.5.10, finished 13.5.10.

36. The New Discworld Companion, edited by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Briggs.
Started 10.5.10, finished 23.5.10.

35. A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan.
Started 6.5.10, finished 10.5.10.

34. American Smooth by Rita Dove.
Started 5.5.10, finished 10.5.10.

April

33. Grace Notes by Rita Dove.
Started 26.4.10, finished 4.5.10.

32. The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens.
Started 24.4.10, finished 25.4.10.

31. Tigers at Awhitu by Sarah Broom.
Started 18.4.10, finished 20.4.10.

30. Word Origins And How We Know Them by Anatoly Liberman.
Started 11.4.10, finished 5.5.10.

29. The Catastrophe Continues by John Clarke.
Started 10.4.10, finished 11.4.10.

28. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.
Started 8.4.10, finished 9.4.10.

27. History's Worst Inventions: And the People Who Made Them by Eric Chaline.
Started 1.4.10, finished 6.4.10.

March

26. The Joy of Work by Scott Adams.
Started 27.3.10, finished 31.4.10.

25. Dilbert and The Way of the Weasel by Scott Adams.
Started 25.3.10, finished 27.3.10.

24. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Started 24.3.10, finished 25.3.10.

23. Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin.
Started 22.3.10, finished 23.3.10.

22. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin.
Started 22.3.10, finished 22.3.10.

21. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage.
Started 19.3.10, finished 19.3.10
(see also January #4).

20. Espresso by Karl Petzke.
Started 16.3.10, finished 16.3.10.

19. Tyrannosaurus Rex versus The Corduroy Kid by Simon Armitage.
Started 16.3.10, finished 16.3.10.

18. The Creative Writing Coursebook, edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs.
Started 15.3.10, finished 24.3.10.

17. Master Class: Lessons from Leading Writers, edited by Nancy Bunge.
Started 6.3.10, finished 15.3.10.

16. The Weather of Words by Mark Strand.
Started 4.3.10, finished 6.3.10.

15. Hourglass by Sue Wootton.
Started 4.3.10, finished 4.3.10.

14. Boy A by Jonathan Trigell.
Started 3.3.10, finished 3.3.10.

13. The Treekeeper's Tale by Pascale Petit.
Started 3.3.10, finished 4.3.10.

February

12. The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky.
Started 25.2.10, finished 3.3.10.

11. Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.
Started 22.2.10, finished 23.2.10.

10. The Dilbert Principal by Scott Adams.
Started 19.2.10, finished 24.2.10.

9. Real Sofistikashun by Tony Hoagland.
Started 2.2.10, finished 23.2.10.

8. Why Poetry Matters by Jay Parini.
Started 2.2.10, finished 8.2.10.

7. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.
Started 1.2.10, finished 1.2.10.

January:

6. Ghosts and Lightning by Trevor Byrne.
Started 23.1.10, finished 27.1.10.

5.After New Formalism by Annie Finch.
Started 22.1.10, finished 25.1.10.

4b. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M Sapolsky.
Started 18.1.10, finished 21.1.10.

4. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage.
Started 13.1.10, postponed 31.1.10.

3. Farewell My Lovely by Polly Clark.
Started 11.1.10, finished 11.1.10.

2b. Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade by Guy Browning.
Started 5.1.10, finished 8.1.10.

2.The Striped World by Emma Jones.
Started 2.1.10, postponed 31.1.10 …

1b. The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt.
Started 1.1.10, finished 5.1.10.

1. A Poet's Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie.
Started 1.1.10, postponed 31.1.10 …

2drneutron
Dec 31, 2009, 10:05pm Top

Welcome!

3alcottacre
Jan 1, 2010, 6:05am Top

Welcome to the group, Joanna!

4joannasephine
Jan 2, 2010, 12:47am Top

Thank you! This should be a lot of fun. How many books does an hour of reading LT posts count as?!

5avatiakh
Jan 2, 2010, 1:29am Top

Hi Joanna, It's incredible how many posts we seem to generate at present, but hopefully it will settle down in the next few days.
I'm looking forward to following your thread.

6joannasephine
Edited: Mar 4, 2010, 2:56pm Top

Just finished reading The Art of Syntax. Interesting book, but not as absorbing as The Art of the Poetic Line – not least because of the amount of time I had to spend flicking back to the glossary at the back to check what various terms meant. (But I think that's largely my issue, not an inherent problem of the book. There was a twenty year period in Australia where teaching English grammar beyond absolute basics (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) was abandoned as unnecessary … guess when I was schooled? As a result, while my practical grammar is pretty good, I don't have the concepts matched to their names very well.)

She makes some interesting observations about the power of syntax to act as both a unifying and/or disrupting force within a poem, and uses a number of examples to illustrate her points. But I didn't come away from the book feeling that I had something new that would stay with me when the book goes into the bookcase. It isn't quite as “sticky” (to borrow a phrase from Malcolm Gladwell) as Longenbach's explorations of the poetic line.

Final verdict? Good, but frustrating. A worthy book rather than one I look forward to reading again.

eta: to fix the touchstones

7alcottacre
Jan 5, 2010, 6:01pm Top

I hope your next read is better for you, Joanne!

8joannasephine
Jan 6, 2010, 2:46pm Top

It wasn't that it was bad … just frustrating. I'll go back to it in a few months, and probably get lots more from it.

As a change of pace I'm blobbing through Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade – nice brain-candy, and one I've read before. Good for dipping into, or reading in short bursts.

9joannasephine
Edited: Jan 10, 2010, 4:04pm Top

Oooh, starting to feel Reading Performance Anxiety …

I've made a few modifications to my reading list. Since I'm mainly doing this for my own benefit, I've separated my list into ‘new’ books (well, books I haven't read before) and ‘rereads’. Be interesting to see what the proportion of one to the other is at the end of the year.

I've also added a book that I started reading last year, but am still working my way through – Mary Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry. I was only a little way into it by Christmas, and have had to virtually restart it. Finding it strangely hard going, which worries me a little.

(Edited to fix touchstones – see here.)

10alcottacre
Jan 11, 2010, 1:52am Top

No need for Reading Performance Anxiety. All us of understand when RL gets in the way of the books.

11joannasephine
Jan 22, 2010, 12:19am Top

I'm a bit behind on my updating, so this first post is an update from a week ago (urk!)
I had a lovely time devouring Polly Clark's Farewell My Lovely, but I want to read it again properly before I write a review of it. But my first impression is that it's a bit bleaker than her previous two – not quite as welcoming, and not as immediately impressive. (If you've not come across her work before, I'd suggest starting with her second book, Take Me With You.) But there are some seriously good poems in there, that have been nagging my brain since I returned the book to the bookcase, so it's definitely one I will reread to review.

12joannasephine
Jan 22, 2010, 12:35am Top

And now today's update. Again, I'm going to have to hold off on writing a proper review, but I thoroughly enjoyed Robert M Sapolsky's Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. It was a LibraryThing Secret Santa book, chosen for me by the brilliant Michelle (aka chellerystick).

If you have any interest in popular science, or are curious about what exactly stress does to the human body (and why), then make a beeline to this book. It's funny, intelligent, very approachable, extremely well researched, and brilliantly well written. Somewhere between Oliver Sacks/Robert Winston and VS Ramachandran in style, with the accessibility and enthusiasm of the former meeting the erudition of the latter.

Strongly recommended.

13alcottacre
Jan 22, 2010, 3:39am Top

#12: I will have to try and find a copy of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. It looks interesting. Thanks for the recommendation!

14souloftherose
Jan 22, 2010, 4:55am Top

#12 Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers sounds really good - I'll have to try and get hold of a copy. Thanks!

15elkiedee
Jan 22, 2010, 5:48pm Top

#12 - that book has an eye-catching title!

16joannasephine
Jan 22, 2010, 7:52pm Top

#15 – doesn't it just! And then there's The Trouble With Testosterone and A Primate's Memoir

17joannasephine
Edited: Jan 27, 2010, 3:20pm Top

Just finished reading Trevor Byrne's Ghosts and Lightning, which I started as part of the inaugural LibraryThing Readathon.

It's an … interesting book. As I commented on the readathon thread, it wasn't quite to my taste to begin with. It's one of those gritty/poor/whitetrash novels, heavy on the swearing, boozing and drug use. But it's been getting rave reviews, and I actually know the author (who is a stunningly good writer).

The premise is interesting – Denny returns to Dublin when his mother dies, and has to try to put some sort of life together. According to the back jacket blurb it's “the tale of someone trying to do the right thing when surrounded by all the wrong choices”, which is a good summation of the story. Denny's sister is chronically drunk; his friends are stoners and resolutely unemployed, spending most days drifting around Dublin in varying states of intoxication; his two older brothers are genuinely vicious bastards. Add to this the unexpected death of his ma, and you've got the makings of either a great coming of age story, or a miserable book that'll make you feel as though you're the one with the hangover.

But what about the ghost? As the cover flap blurb says:

“As is squabbling siblings and reprobate childhood friends were not trouble enough, a ghost starts making appearances in the family home. Denny's life is about to get a lot more complicated.”

So from that and the title you'd expect the ghost to be a fairly important part of the book, and something original that promises to lift the story away from the depiction of Denny's miserable life. (Frankly it was that hope that kept me reading after the first hundred pages.) Lots of possibilities open up – who's the ghost? His dead ma? A dead friend? A stranger? And what do they want? Why are they haunting the Cullens? And what's going to happen when they hold the seance?

Without giving too much of the plot away, I'm sorry to report that the ghost is pretty much narrative wallpaper. A pretext for Denny to interact with another minor character, and for the beginnings of a discussion of one of the other characters' (mildly) odd spiritual beliefs. So there goes that hope.

The other problem is that the whole book is written in dialect. The book is told in the first person (from Denny's perspective), so everything is in dialect –his thoughts, his actions, descriptions of scenery – the works. It doesn't make for easy reading, but is bearable. Although I kept getting irritated by having passages of beautiful, lyrical prose punctuated by dropped g's and slang. The trouble is that, while Denny may well talk in dialect, he doesn't think that way. It feels a bit as though the author has gone back through and repunctuated all the passages where Denny's thinking, yanking ‘g’ off the end of all the words that end in ‘ing’ and adding ‘yer’ in place of ‘your’ and (sometimes) ‘the’.

But … it does work. Just. And it does reinforce the notion that somewhere underneath the booze and the pills and the habitual no-hoper-ness there is a real mind and plenty of depth of character. Denny may be as ordinary as muck, but he's got the soul of a poet. And although I spent nine tenths of the book wanting to give him a kick in the backside, he is a likeable character. You want him to succeed, to break away again and make something of his life.

So ultimately it will come down to personal taste. If you like your novels to reflect the seedy side of life (is misery-lit a genre? grit(ty)-lit?), then this one is for you. I can't speak for the authenticity of the characterisations, but they do, on the whole, convince. I never enjoyed it so much that I was postponing other tasks in order to read it, but I am glad I persevered. It's very well written, even if you don't like the story.

Trevor Byrne is a very, very good writer. I'll buy his next book. And just hope that the lightning strikes a little more brightly.

18joannasephine
Edited: Feb 1, 2010, 2:53pm Top

Well that was an interesting month. First the confessions: I still haven't finished A Poet's Guide to Poetry, The Striped World, or made it more than a few pages into Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Very annoying – I was hoping to read the latter pair as part of the TIOLI challenge for January, but it just wasn't to be. And I think I'm going to have to abandon the Kinzie until later in the year, and try again from the beginning.

On the other hand, I did have the most delightfully indulgent time yesterday reading the new Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey. Got it mid morning, and had to be physically prised away from it to do all those irritating things like eat and interact with other human beings. Fortunately my OH understands my addiction, and decided to spend the day reading with me … bliss! (Review will follow whenI've had a chance to deal with some of the other things that were neglected during my wallowing.)

Edited to fix spelling. And #@!?* touchstones. Again.

19alcottacre
Feb 1, 2010, 4:23pm Top

With all the raving here in the group about Shades of Grey, I am hoping to get it read this next week so I can join in the fun!

20joannasephine
Feb 2, 2010, 2:28pm Top

Definitely worth it. It's got that wonderful madcap spoof feeling that his books all have, and it's very well realised alternate reality. But what impresses me most is that there is a really strong current of anger behind it – it's very political. Not in a way that interferes with the story at all. (Quite the opposite.) But it's like Terry Pratchett's Thud: a book that is driven by a strong reaction to real-world issues, and which responds by making an amazing story out of them.

About the only thing that made me feel at all let down was the ending, when it became clear that I was going to have to wait for the next book to continue the story …

21alcottacre
Feb 2, 2010, 2:31pm Top

#20: About the only thing that made me feel at all let down was the ending, when it became clear that I was going to have to wait for the next book to continue the story …

I really hate that!

22verdelambton
Feb 2, 2010, 2:57pm Top

#18 I loved Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next and Nursery Crime books but wasn't sure whether I'd enjoy the latest offering or not. If you read it in one sitting and had to be physically prised away from it is as much of a recommendation as I need as it fits with my experiences reading other Jasper Ffordes (particularly the Thursday Nexts). The fact that it's very political too (and warrants a comparison with Thud - a book by another of my favourite authors) just makes me all the more excited. Bounce, bounce, bounce :)

23joannasephine
Mar 3, 2010, 3:03pm Top

Argh, way behind on reporting. Ok, a couple of quick-and-dirty posts about the books I've finished. Starting with Why Poetry Matters, by Jay Parini.

Had trouble with this one. Essentially it's a personal survey of the history of poetry. Probably the most interesting section was chapter 9, where he discusses his personal reading of Eliot's Four Quartets. It just wasn't particularly gripping reading. Probably not helped by the fact that I was also reading Tony Hoagland's Real Sofistikashun at the same time (I'll talk about that book next, I promise). Parini has lots of good points to make, but I can't actually remember any of them – maybe a stylistic thing, that he discusses rather than argues?

Actually that's probably the crux of the matter. How the points were made. Edward Hirsch was an author I was similarly unmoved by, but at least with Hirsch there was always this sense of his own passionate involvement, even if I never quite managed to work my own passions up to match his. With Parini I felt as though I was listening to a dissertation or lecture delivered in a mild, pleasant voice, but largely not aimed at me personally. Hirsch is more of a tutor – still a dissertation, and you're close enough to be able to see the emotion of the speaker's face, but you are just one of many people in the room, and he only makes eye contact as part of sporadically scanning the room (as if reading a handwritten reminder on his notes: “memo to self – remember to look at them and smile more!”).

So in summary: another probably very worthy, worthwhile, well-written book. Just not one that grabbed me.

24joannasephine
Edited: Mar 3, 2010, 3:30pm Top

Now for Real Sofistikashun, by Tony Hoagland.

I absolutely loved this one. It's argumentative, intelligent, passionate, entertaining and very very well-written. Each of the essays is his personal take on some aspect of poetry and/or poetics, and if you think that sounds dry then all I can say is go and get a copy: see for yourself.

I could imagine that someone not accustomed to modern poetry might be a bit lost sometimes – phrases like “A marring on the part of a poet who otherwise seems quite capable of making seamless art” probably look quite off-putting out of context. But I suspect most people would be able to read along and follow the gist of what he's saying, even if some of the finer details escaped them. More to the point, I reckon a lot of those people would feel motivated to go and look up the confusing bits – it's that sort of book. He sweeps you along, and you don't question where he's taking you.

I made the mistake of trying to read this book in bed, and my OH eventually had to take the book away from me. Partly because I kept elbowing him awake so I could share some particularly good passage with him – how do you go past things like “metaphor … is the raw uranium of poetry”, or “Fashion is the way that taste changes and then spreads, a kind of swell or wave of admiration”? (Not to mention the final essay, where he suggests that post-modernism has a passive-aggressive attitude to poetry in general and meaning in particular …)

I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you are at all interested in modern poetry, or even non-modern poetry, give Hoagland a try. (You can even read the final essay in the book online at the Poetry Foundation website.) You won't always agree with him, possibly not even follow some of his arguments. But there's something deeply enjoyable about following a restless intelligence through examinations of the subject of its passion. If Parini is a distant lecturer and Hirsch a (slightly less distant) general tutor-to-many (see above), Hoagland is the guy who takes you to the pub for a beer and spends the afternoon in full-on, passionate discussion about anything and everything. This is the tutorial you wouldn't miss even with a force ten hangover.
Great stuff.

eta: because I can't spell

25alcottacre
Mar 4, 2010, 1:25am Top

I am not really interested in poetry of any kind, but your enthusiasm for the Hoagland book inspires me :) Maybe I will look and see if I am missing anything.

26joannasephine
Mar 4, 2010, 2:54am Top

I am not really interested in poetry of any kind

8-O

27alcottacre
Mar 4, 2010, 3:18am Top

Sorry, Joanna!

28joannasephine
Mar 4, 2010, 2:49pm Top

I'll forgive you.
;-)

29joannasephine
Mar 4, 2010, 3:10pm Top

Been trying to work out what to do with my numbering system to accurately reflect the number of books I have completed reading. I have three abandoned/postponed books from earlier in the year, which were inflating my numbers somewhat. So I've assigned their original number to the next book with the suffix ‘b’ (as in “second attempt at completing my 1st/2nd/3rd book for the year”).

I've also rearranged the order I'm reading them in, so that the most recent books come first. So the books extend upwards, and the comments extend away from the list …

How tragic is it that I've just spent half an hour doing all this?!!

30alcottacre
Mar 5, 2010, 12:45am Top

#29: How tragic is it that I've just spent half an hour doing all this?!!

I have a very simple theory on numbering the books I read: I do not count them until I read them, lol.

31joannasephine
Edited: Mar 11, 2010, 2:32pm Top

Bloomin' heck, I'm sooooo far behind in my comments! Right, back to quick-and-dirty.

Raced through Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation – fabulous book. Very thought provoking. A couple of reviewers have commented that she makes assertions that go counter to the experience and/or advice of animal trainers. It's true: she does. But where she does that she offers her reasons why she disagrees, and signals it very clearly by concluding with the phrase “That's what I think”. If nothing else, the unique perspective autism gives her makes the areas where she disagrees with trainers worth considering again. She has plenty of credentials – academic as well as hands-on – to add weight to her views. And brings together so many different disciplines.

Quick verdict: read it. If you have anything to do with animals, read it. If you have ever wondered about what an animal is thinking, read it. If you've ever encountered anyone with autism, or wondered what makes people with autism different, read it. If you've ever wondered about human emotions, read it.

It's so good that I had the follow-up book, Animals Make Us Human, on order before I'd even finished this one.

edited to fix punctuation

32joannasephine
Edited: Mar 14, 2010, 3:33pm Top

Next on the list was The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky.

Maybe it's just me, but I really couldn't get into this one. There's a lot going on, but it's never really covered in sufficient detail – he zooms past, and is on to the next comment before you've had a chance to really understand what he's getting at. And it's an area I'm more and more interested in, so as well as feeling unsatisfied I also felt frustrated. He's intelligent and articulate, and has thought about the area (sound and its function in poetry) quite deeply, but he just doesn't manage to put that information into a form that makes it accessible. He lingers on the wrong bits!

An example – scansion. He makes a good case for why it's worth using terms like “iamb” and “anapest” to describe patterns of sound. And he gives quite an interesting little sample of possible other ways of discussing duration etc, and why that ultimately wouldn't work in English language poetry. But then he dismisses the term “dactyl”, arguing that a dactylic line can just as easily be described as a combination of trochees, iambs and light anapests.

If you don't do poetry scansion, the above won't mean much to you. So here's a metaphor that might help. He argues that there are different ways of describing animals. And that two main types are mammals and birds. And since insects can essentially be thought of as more primitive examples of flying creatures, to keep things simple we should just refer to them as “proto-birds”.

Ultimately this book feels like the skeleton of something very interesting, but that doesn't quite do it properly. It's like having your back scratched by someone who's paying attention to the TV – you're all “no, left, left, yes that's it, no, back up, up, yes, yes ahh… oh ok, when you're ready again, no, harder please, yes, yes, ahh… no, oh ok, please, higher, higher, yes, that's– no, down a bit …”

eta to correct the example (doh!)

33mamzel
Mar 11, 2010, 3:15pm Top

joanna - did you catch the HBO special about Temple? I had never heard of her before. I thought it was amazing how her autism gave her a totally different view of things. The actress did an amazing job of portraying her.

34dk_phoenix
Mar 11, 2010, 8:27pm Top

Absolutely agreed with your thoughts on Animals in Translation! I read it last month and really liked it. I plan to read Animals Make Us Human as well... as soon as my mother finishes with it :)

35FAMeulstee
Mar 12, 2010, 4:19pm Top

> 34 ditto, I read it recently too.
Sadly Animals make us human is not translated yet, so I will have to wait for that one.

Anita

36joannasephine
Mar 14, 2010, 3:34pm Top

>33 mamzel: – wrong country, I'm afraid! But I have seen her being interviewed on a couple of occasions. She's a fascinating person.

37joannasephine
Mar 14, 2010, 4:04pm Top

Continuing quick-and-dirty …

Pascale Petit's The Treekeeper's Tale is an interesting modulation of her usual poetic territory. She writes amazingly painterly, surreal, ostensibly ‘confessional’ poems, but in this collection she ranges further for material.

The books is in four sections – “The Treekeeper's Tale” is an amazing series of poems which inhabit and speak for (and out of) the redwood forests of coastal California. The second section, “Afterlives” is a return to Petit's usual canvas of mythological/historical stories. A bit reminiscent of Seamus Heaney's bog poems in subject, and told with the same sense of reverence. The third section, “War Horse”, is six poems that respond to the work of German expressionist painter, Franz Marc (not a painter whose work I knew), and the final section, “The Chrysanthemum Lanterns” is a series of translations of modern Chinese poems.

I really enjoyed the collection. At first I thought the four sections were almost separate books-with-the-book, but you do quickly realise that there's a thread running right through the whole collection. It's almost a pagan feeling – this concept of the world (the universe?) being so strongly connected, so inextricably linked. Bodies and forms are temporary habitations, and it's natural to slip between them.

If you've not read her work before, this is a good place to begin your initiation. Expect magic, and dazzling colour, and a fierce aching joy. Wolf, not dog. Hawk, not gull. She's not an easy poet, but she's very rewarding. And addictive. Once you've looked out from behind her shaman-mask, you'll never quite see things the same way again. And never want to.

38joannasephine
Mar 14, 2010, 4:22pm Top

Jonathan Trigell's Boy A is not a comforting book. It's loosely based on the fate of the two young boys who abducted, tortured and then murdered British toddler James Bulger.

I don't think anyone could read it and say they enjoyed it. It's very well written, but the author isn't interested in happy endings, or making the reader feel comforted. It explores the whole notion of ‘justice’ as opposed to ‘vengeance’, and left this reader feeling thoroughly depressed. But that's what a good writer does – makes us question our assumptions, makes us think again.

I'm beginning to think there's a new category – opposed to chick-lit we have grit-lit. And if you like gritty realism in your novels, then this is the book for you. Ignore the back cover blurb – the “now” parts of the story cover a disturbingly brief period of time, and the events are both plausible and seemingly unstoppable. Well written, and a story that won't leave you in a hurry.

39joannasephine
Mar 14, 2010, 4:32pm Top

I loved Sue Wootton's second poetry collection, Magnetic South, so I was really looking forward to seeing what her first book, Hourglass, was like. And it's a cracker. Less ambitious than Magnetic South – the poems are simpler, more personal. But the same love affair with musical language, and the same fantastic eye for a strikingly apt metaphor. A particular highlight was the poem “Heavy hen”, which describes grief as ‘The ball of feathers / roosting behind your sternum’.

She's a lyric poet who doesn't get bogged down in the personal – she's talking to you, not at you or to herself. Her poetry is accessible, intelligent and musical. One of my favourite NZ poets, and a damn fine first collection.

40joannasephine
Mar 14, 2010, 4:36pm Top

Mark Strand's The Weather of Words is a nice enough collection of essays on things poetical, collected (I think) from various previous publications. He's an enjoyable writer, and the essays are mildly interesting. Not something I'm going to dive back into, but not something I'm planning to give away soon either.

41joannasephine
Edited: Mar 15, 2010, 3:35pm Top

Just finished Master Class, edited by Nancy Bunge.

It's misnamed really – the subtitle is “Lessons from Leading Writers”, and it begins by talking about interviewing some of the leading writer/teachers of a generation. So I was expecting a series of interviews and/or essays talking about the teaching of creative writing from the viewpoint of these writers. (Given that that's what I'm doing at the moment, it seemed highly pertinent!) But less than half of the interviews actually talk about teaching creative writing, and mostly then it's in very general terms. So less “Lessons from Leading Writers”, and more “discussions about writing as a vocation with leading writers, some of whom also discuss teaching creative writing”. Life-lessons, rather than pedagogy.

The interviews themselves range from mildly to quite interesting, depending on the interviewee. And she's got some of the biggest of the big guns of American writing involved, so it makes for a pretty decent survey of contemporary American literature.

All in all, a reasonably interesting book. Just not what I expected, and not what I wanted.

42joannasephine
Mar 16, 2010, 4:12pm Top

I feel a bit guilty about adding this to my list, because it was a ten minute read: Espresso, by Karl Petzke and Sara Slavin.

Pure food porn. Lots of photographs, some excerpts from various works of literature that mention coffee, and a smattering of information about coffee in general. The recipes are the most detailed bit of the book, and range from the interesting (Duck Breast with Prunes and Espresso) to the expected (Chocolate-Espresso Torte) to the odd (Toasted Espresso Nuts). One peeve – the word “espresso” is used with religious fervor in places where the word “coffee” would be used normally. So it's “espresso beans”, not “coffee beans”, and so on – it did start to grate a bit.

The other thing to keep in mind is that this is a small format book – 230 mm x 140 mm. So it's not the typical coffee-table offering. You can't leave it lying around, artfully opened to a particular page.

Verdict? Nice, but a little lite. An addition to your coffee porn collection, not a book to pour over again and again.

43alcottacre
Mar 16, 2010, 5:07pm Top

#42: I love food porn books, but just cannot do coffee. Now if it was tea, I would be all over it!

44joannasephine
Edited: Mar 20, 2010, 3:14am Top

Just read Simon Armitage's brilliant translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Why, in the name of all that is holy, didn't I read this back in January?! What was wrong with me?!!

The poem (all 2,500 lines of it) is one of the great treasures of English literature. It tells the story of Sir Gawain's encounter with a terrifying green giant, who storms into Camelot one New Year and lays down a challenge – one of their brave, bold knights to take up his axe and try a single blow to cut off his head. And then to come to his hall one year later to receive the same blow.

It's a classic story, full of bravery and intrigue and sex and violence, and a strange kind of redemption. It's also one of the earliest poems written in English. (Recognisable – mostly – English, of the mid to late 14th centuary.)

I've been a fan of Simon Armitage's poetry for years, and lived for three years in his part of the world – Yorkshire. I remember a short documentary that followed him during some of the research he did to prepare for the translation – we're not talking about sitting in a room in the British Library, delicately handling ancient manuscripts (although he did that). He literally got his hands dirty, learning about how you go about cutting up wild game on a mountainside. (A key scene in the story is a detailed description of a particularly violent and bloodthirsty three days of hunting.)

I'd always meant to read this book – his translation has received a lot of praise. But what kicked me into pulling the book from the bookcase and diving in was the form – it's a perfect example of a really old poetry form, the Anglo-Saxon measure. It works on strong, driving rhythm, and lots of alliteration. It's what poetry in Britain was all about before the coming of the Normans. It's primal.

And by God he's done a good job. It somehow manages to feel modern, while telling an old, old story in an ancient form. It's been translated well before – Tolkein's version has been the default for ages, and American WS Merwin has apparently done quite a good version recently. And Armitage's fellow Yorkshireman, Ted Hughes, famously translated chunks of the story too. But oh, this one …

I heard Armitage say (with a combination of embarrassment and conviction) that he'd begun to think that this was what he'd been created a poet for – to bring this poem back to life.

I think he's absolutely right.

45alcottacre
Mar 20, 2010, 3:18am Top

#44: Why, in the name of all that is holy, didn't I read this back in January?!

Is there some reason in particular that January was important?

46catherinestead
Mar 20, 2010, 7:47am Top

I've been holding out for a copy of the Armitage translation of Sir Gawain rather than picking up a different translation; I think I'm going to stick with that intention. And possibly try harder to find a copy.

47joannasephine
Mar 21, 2010, 4:09pm Top

#45 – no, just that I grabbed it out of my bookcase to read for the TIOLI January challenge (a book with a colour in the title) and kept getting stymied by other things. I don't think I even made it through the introduction.

48alcottacre
Mar 22, 2010, 12:40am Top

#47: Ah, OK.

49joannasephine
Mar 23, 2010, 8:06pm Top

I'm fighting off a cold at the moment, so while I have more time for reading, I have less brain for thinking with. So forgive the shortness of the book report(s).

I read Ursula le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness the other day. Great book. Really really well written. Bits of alienness keep catching you unexpectedly.

It's got the usual SF/fantasy mechanisms – a Quest, with a native helping the (human) alien; cultural misunderstandings leading to a deeper appreciation of each other's viewpoints; even the obligatory ‘long trek through the wilderness’. But it does all these things intelligently, and stays both plausible, and retrospectively inevitable.

The quirk that the book is best known for – the unisex nature of Winter's inhabitants – is probably the least important aspect of the book. It's used as a way of making an oblique comment on the sexual and/or gendered basis of a lot of human violence, but it's offered as another facet of difference, not a sermon to be preached at the reader.

The thing that struck me most is how very modern it is. It could have been written yesterday; all the elements of our own social and cultural problems are woven into the thread of the book. I don't know if that's something to be impressed by (that le Guin was able to tap into something utterly fundamental to the human condition) or depressed by (that thirty years has passed and we've still got the same problems).

More than a novel about difference, much more than a story about gender or sexual politics, The Left Hand of Darkness is an exploration of politics, power and idealism. And what happens when they – inevitably – collide.

50alcottacre
Mar 24, 2010, 3:07am Top

Sorry you are not feeling well, Joanna! I hope the cold leaves you soon.

51joannasephine
Mar 24, 2010, 4:18pm Top

Thank you Stasia.

Finished Temple Grandin's Animals Make Us Human. Another great book, following on from Animals in Translation, this time looking at how to understand and improve the life of specific animals – dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs and chickens.

Grandin's key for all these animals is the same, and it's one of those “oh, of course!” things that seem so very sensible once you think about it – engage the positive emotions in order to mitigate (or eliminate) the negatives.

Some of her methods are a bit controversial, but time and again they are vindicated where it matters: in the field. Where she can't explain why something seems to work, she says so. Where her predictions are contradicted by the evidence, she also says so! And offers possible explanations and ways in which these theories could be tested.

So reading this book gives you payoffs in a number of areas. You learn about why people have treated animals in a certain way, and how those methods and/or understandings are changing. You learn the basis of emotion in all animals (including humans), which parts of the brain they belong in, and how that can help us predict which emotional responses are likely in which species. You learn about new methods for analysing and evaluating animal welfare. And you get to watch over her shoulder as she devises experimental methods of testing her various hypotheses. And the final essay offers Temple's answer to a question she gets asked a lot – why, if you love animals, do you work for abattoirs? Her answer will make you think.

Where Animals in Translation was a broad look at animal welfare, Animals Make Us Human looks at specific strategies for improving the existence of the animals we share our lives with, with the reasoning behind the suggestions also laid out for you to see.

For anyone who cares about animal welfare, or is curious about how animals think and feel, this book is a must-read. I grew up on a farm and have had animals all my life – cattle, (Arabian) horses, pigs, dogs, cats and birds of many different species. And I spent the whole book wishing that I'd known these things thirty years ago.

Read it.

52FAMeulstee
Mar 24, 2010, 6:35pm Top

And I spent the whole book wishing that I'd known these things thirty years ago.
Sadly this book is not translated into Dutch yet, but I know the feeling ;-)
The past ten years I have changed a lot, changed my dogs to a mainly Raw diet, changed my training methods to more positive ways of training etc.
Anita

53joannasephine
Mar 25, 2010, 4:14pm Top

I finished Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake yesterday, as part of my immersion in classic dystopian fantasy.

Oh boy.

It's an amazing book. Disturbing. Revolting even. One thing that blew me away was her characters. By the end of the book, I felt that I knew Crake and Oryx intimately, but when you go back through the text there is hardly anything about them! She's created these strong, important characters with a few phrases only, but their presence in the novel is huge. To me, that is the sign of some serious craft.

And I think that's the crux of the book – this technique of creating a scene with a few phrases only. On one hand you could argue that the whole mad scientist trope is overdone. But … isn't the point she's making at least partly that we have trouble seeing the world except through stereotypes? And that one of the great dangers there is that once you lock someone into a particular pattern (lover; wife; disappointment; genius) that you not only make it hard for them to act with any real autonomy, but that you also make it harder to notice danger signs? To head off the coming storm?

Within the world of Oryx and Crake, there are so many things that are offered to us as “normal” – child pornography, drug abuse, genetic manipulation of animals and plants for profit, the segregation of society. And again, I think this is the point that Atwood is making: that we stop paying attention, and allow things to blur and slide into changes that we would fight against, if only we noticed. If only we thought. If only we cared enough. The book enacts its own message.

Not comfortable reading. A bit Lord of the Flies meets On the Beach. I can understand why some reviewers have been left unmoved by it – there's nothing shrill here, there's no great turning up of the dramatic effects. The creation of a new species of human is given the same level of drama as a young man's ongoing sexual adventures. Did you even notice that he was being watched by secret police?

This is a parable of the banality of evil; of the perils of the slippery slope; of how easily we let freedom slip away in exchange for comfort. Of the world ending – all too plausibly – with a whimper.

54mamzel
Mar 25, 2010, 5:58pm Top

I read O&C quite a while ago. I think I want to read it again! Atwood is an amazing author.

55joannasephine
Mar 25, 2010, 6:10pm Top

That she is. Although I can understand why this book would just not work for some. Have you read The Handmaid's Tale?

56alcottacre
Mar 25, 2010, 11:39pm Top

#53: I loved Oryx and Crake when I read it last year - the first Atwood I had ever read. I am glad to see it has found another fan!

57joannasephine
Edited: Apr 6, 2010, 4:20pm Top

Just finished reading History's Worst Inventions by Eric Chaline. A good read – a short, pithy chapter on each invention, beginning with a nifty little graphic explaining what made this invention such a bad idea, (ranging from “Never got off the drawing board”, through “Didn't work in practice”, “Killed its inventor”, “A commercial failure”, “Unforeseen consequences”, “Was used for evil ends” to “A success born of failure”) and a summary of who the main culprits were, what the motivation was, and what damage was done.

Some of these people and inventions I had come across before – Thomas Midgley Jnr (1889-1944) for example, who was responsible for both lead in petrol and the creation of CFCs. And ideas like the rocket-powered chair of Wan Hoo, chemical warfare, and the creation and wide use of DDT are inventions that almost everyone would agree we would be better off without. But Chaline also offers some much less obvious candidates for “Worst Inventions” – how about platform/high-heeled shoes, fast food, or karaoke? Or the suggestion that wigs brought about the French Revolution?

In short, it's a compendium of human ingenuity and stupidity, presented in an interesting and easily digestible format. If you enjoy trivia, and especially if you enjoy books like Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, try History's Worst Inventions.

Oh, and recycle your plastic.

edited to correct spelling

58alcottacre
Apr 6, 2010, 11:58pm Top

#57: Adding History's Worst Inventions to the BlackHole. Thanks for the recommendation, Joanna.

59joannasephine
Apr 7, 2010, 3:58pm Top

You're welcome!

60dk_phoenix
Apr 8, 2010, 9:09am Top

I've really got to sneak away my mother's copy of Animals Make Us Human. I really appreciate how she admits "I don't know" when she doesn't know instead of making things up... her blunt style is very different, but effective. You're right, her methods, though controversial, work where it matters and proves that she's a forerunner in her field.

61joannasephine
Apr 10, 2010, 2:23am Top

Just finished Malcolm Gladwell's latest – What the Dog Saw.

Great read, as always. And a blogger's nightmare – you could justify a blog post on every single chapter, and still have more to say, ponder, theorise, ask and exclaim.

His skill is in the way he tells stories – I doubt there's a subject on the planet that would completely fail to interest him, and he hooks you in with his enthusiasm. He really is that rarest of creatures: a great reporter. He has a knack for finding the perfect way to bring the elements of a story together, so that you have no trouble following, and find yourself as caught up in a story about the history of hairdye advertising as would be by any block-buster movie.

The back-cover blurb sums it up perfectly – he makes you feel like you're the genius, not that he is. But at the same time, it's presented as persuasion rather than holy writ – you're free to disagree with him. (Maybe that's the secret – like anything addictive, you believe you could give it up any time you wanted too … you just don't want to yet.)

Highly reccomended. The perfect place to start if you haven't read his other books (The Tipping-Point, Blink and Outliers).

62alcottacre
Apr 10, 2010, 3:00am Top

#61: I have not read Gladwell's other books, so I will give that one a try. Thanks for the recommendation, Joanna!

63joannasephine
Apr 10, 2010, 3:08am Top

He's good. A bit like a laid-back version of Michael Polan in some ways. Not dumber, but less … acute. (Hence the blurber's comment, I guess.) With both of them I find myself really hoping that they've done all their research properly, because they're very convincing.

64alcottacre
Apr 10, 2010, 3:31am Top

I have read one of Michael Pollan's books (In Defense of Food), so that gives me some basis of comparison.

65joannasephine
Edited: May 16, 2010, 4:29pm Top

Just finished John Clarke's The Catastrophe Continues. (I started it as part of my ReaderThing slot – thread here.) Painfully funny, as expected. Political satire at its simplest and most effective.

(edited to fix the touchstones. Why, in the name of all that is LibraryThing, does an author touchstone set around John Clarke-with-an-E bring up John Clark-with-no-E?!?!?!?!?!)

66joannasephine
Edited: Apr 20, 2010, 4:49pm Top

Just finished Tigers at Awhitu, by New Zealand poet Sarah Broom.

Wow. This is some seriously good poetry.

The book works as a rough story arc, following a woman through motherhood and then through serious illness. Both of these things have been done before – well, and very, very badly – but the way Broom writes about them makes the experiences vivid and new. And it's not an overt story – you are free to read the poems as individual pieces, linked only by this wonderfully sure voice. But the arc is there, giving structure to the collection as a whole.

She is very different in style and tone to most New Zealand poets. I can hear the echoes of the years she spent immersed in British poetry behind her poems. Most obviously in their musicality – I don't think I came across a single line that was rough or flat or in anyway out of kilter. And despite the fact (or assumption?) that the poems are told as the experiences of a single ‘I’, this isn't a collection of personal lyric poems. They feel more like dramatic narratives to me, and that alone would mark her out as a new and very valuable voice in New Zealand poetry.

It's hard to pick a standout poem, but since I spent a hour just reading and rereading and marveling at the first piece, I've included the beginning and ending of it below:

Snow

It was as the snow started falling again
that she blurted it out, so they were all
just standing there gazing up, knee-deep
in snow, the little one thigh-deep,
when they heard it, the news that slipped
out like a necklace from a sleeve,

and his dad just looked
straight back at her, his clove-brown eyes
soft with fear, the hound's sour breath
hot on the nape of his neck.

Such an innocuous start, and such an ominous ending! I hear something of Maurice Riordan in her work generally, but this poem most of all. The same understated skill, the same slightly skewiff view of the world. And the same deftness with language.

Easily the best book of New Zealand poetry that I've read in the last five years.








edited in a vain attempt to fix the touchstones

67joannasephine
Edited: May 5, 2010, 5:53pm Top

I've finally finished reading Anatoly Liberman's Word Origins and How We Know Them.

Dear god, where do I start? It is an incredibly annoying book. Being a writer (and worse, a poet) I'm professionally interested in word origins. This book – subtitled “Etymology for Everyone” – has a phenomenal amount of knowledge behind it. The trouble is that Liberman is utterly unable to communicate that information. It reads like a selection of lecture notes – whole pages where every word is perfectly understandable, but the sentences and paragraphs are unintelligible. Maybe one paragraph in ten made sense?

The main problem is that Liberman uses way too many examples, and doesn't really offer the non-etymologist any way of following what he's saying. At the very least, a glossary of terms would have been helpful. Instead, he provides three – yes, really – indexes: one of the words mentioned, one of names (of people discussed during his forays into the history of English-language etymology) and a subject index (which presupposes that you know enough about the topic to realise that the information you're looking for will be under the subject ‘infixation’, or ‘clipping’, or ‘woman, words for’, or ‘s-mobile’).

This could have been a really good book – as far as I can tell, Liberman's knowledge is considerable, and his desire to communicate that knowledge is patent. But the book desperately needed a decent editor (or ghost-writer-cum-collaborator) to anchor Liberman's expertise in a framework comprehensible to the non specialist.

Reading this book is like being dropped into the middle of a gigantic museum, with no idea where the exits and entrances are, and only fragmentary labels on any of the exhibits. All you can do is wander helplessly through room after room, through the jumble of cognates and samples of words from a vast number of other languages, with the author's voice just a drone in another room, getting fainter and fainter as the lights start to dim.

Not recommended.



edited for spelling

68alcottacre
May 6, 2010, 1:59am Top

#67: Another one to add to the 'Do Not Read' stack. Yikes! I hope your next read is more enjoyable, Joanna.

69avatiakh
May 6, 2010, 3:51am Top

Will add Tigers at Awhitu to my reading list - loved the few lines that you posted. I still haven't read the Alison Wong poems - it's due back to the library so I'll have to rerequest it.

70joannasephine
May 7, 2010, 1:43am Top

Stasia, it wouldn't have been quite so bad if it didn't have the potential to be quite so good, if that makes sense.
I'm burying myself in a new Michael Pollan (A Place of My Own) at the mo, so “more enjoyable” is pretty much assured. (As is engrossing, stimulating, fascinating … I reckon he could write a shopping list that I'd be blown away by, lol!)

Kerry, I'm pretty sure if you like one of those, you'll like the other. They're not particularly similar in tone, but they both thrum with the joy of language. Cup is a little less flamboyant perhaps? But both are seriously well written, and well thumbed! Let me know if you have trouble getting hold of Cup again – I'd be happy to lend you a copy.

71alcottacre
May 7, 2010, 2:17am Top

#70: I understand exactly what you mean!

72joannasephine
May 10, 2010, 5:12pm Top

And now I've finished A Place of My Own. Gorgeous, as I expected. (And timely too – we've just started house hunting.)

The premise is simple: author renovates house with assistance of friendly architect. Architect comments that a hut or similar structure would give a particular vista more interest. Author discovers that sharing a house with a new child is not ideal for writing, and gets back to architect with the proviso that it be something he can build himself. Author embarks on a three-year building project that turns into an immersion in the world of architecture, carpentry, building and allied trades. Author finishes building.

Sounds boring? Anything but. In many ways this book is a love-story – a man and the building he creates, and which is created especially for him. Being written by Michael Pollan, it mixes a vast amount of information (the history and ethos of architecture; the historical status of the carpenter; feng shui; Walden … ) with an extremely readable story. And unlike his agri/food trio (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food and The Botany of Desire) there is no political message, no agenda. (Which isn't to say there are no opinions, but this isn't a polemic.)

I realise this isn't the most informative book report I've come up with, but ultimately it comes down to this: it's written by Pollan, and if you live in a building, you'll find something of interest here. It'll open your eyes to the work and thought and history that has gone into the buildings we inhabit.
Read it.

73alcottacre
May 11, 2010, 2:50am Top

#72: I will read it if and when I can get my hands on a copy. My local library does not have that one yet.

74joannasephine
May 12, 2010, 6:10pm Top

Ok, a multiple poetry book report. (So that I can bracket them here, and not have to fix the @#!%ing touchstones in the original post every time I add a book to the list.)

I'm teaching a poetry class this term focusing on the work of a number of American women poets, hence the nature of my current reading list. So I began with Rita Dove's Grace Notes.

It's a gorgeous read. Her fourth collection, it has a number of her better known poems, including the (confronting, but beautiful) “After Reading Mickey in the Night Kitchen for the Third Time Before Bed”. These poems are largely personal lyrics, but being Rita Dove they have plenty of space for the reader to join her. They are well crafted, interesting, and frequently a little shocking, but the honesty in them never feels gratuitous. (“Mickey” above is the best example of this.) The nature of lyric poetry is personal. Many (possibly most) lyric poems therefore read as though we're eavesdropping on a private conversation – the poet with another person, or the poet with themselves. Rita Dove's poems read like an overheard conversation, but there's a strong sense that the writer knows we're there, knows we're listening, and even moves a little to make space for us. So we get to observe, as she thinks her way through her experiences.

Where Grace Notes was (mostly) personal, American Smooth is more political. There are still plenty of personal lyric poems, but they are overshadowed by the long dramatic/narrative central sequence, “Not Welcome Here”, about African American soldiers who fought for the French in World War One (having been banned from serving in the US military on racial segregation grounds). And if that sounds dry – it isn't – perhaps you'll be tickled by the fact that each section of the book is prefaced by an epigraph taken from the words of Lieutenant Commander Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager? An inspired choice – the poems combine that very Vulcan ethos of control and clear thinking with passion and humour.

She's a poet I have always enjoyed reading, and would recommend to anyone. Of these two, I would recommend Grace Notes as a starter – both are equally accessible, but Grace Notes has a slight edge in the Poems I Will Reread Again And Again stakes. Either way, she is a poet to enjoy.

75joannasephine
May 18, 2010, 5:00pm Top

I feel a little guilty putting Dilbert books on my read list, but hey, they still count, right? And yesterday I got three at once (BookMooch, I love you!) – I'm Not Anti-business, I'm Anti-Idiot, Don't Step in the Leadership and Excuse Me While I Wag.

They aren't exactly deep and meaningful, but it's a brand of wry (verging on outright cynical) humour that really appeals to me. These three are straight collections of comic strips, rather than his “Advice” books (like The Dilbert Principle, The Joy of Work etc.) It was interesting to see some of the strips he uses in the “Advice” books in their original habitat – lots of extra context, and in some cases a subtle change in meaning.

Definitely worth a read if you enjoy Adams' brand of humour.

76joannasephine
Edited: May 18, 2010, 5:33pm Top

And now on to my Mary Oliver binge. I'm teaching a class on American Women poets, and so taking the opportunity of really saturating myself in the work of some of my favourites. (Hence Rita Dove and Jane Kenyon earlier this month.)

I'd read Twelve Moons before, ditto Why I Wake Early and White Pine. But this was my first time with Red Bird and American Primitive, and it was interesting to see how little change there has been in her subject matter and voice over the 30-year span of the collections (Twelve Moons (1978) was her 4th collection; Red Bird (2008) her 28th).

As always, I'm both amazed and a little worried at the way she manages to make poetry out of very ordinary events. The worry is because of the ease with which this sort of poetry can miss its mark – it could very easily become banal, be nothing more than a set of very ordinary details tricked out in a faux gnomicism. She is the mistress of American Plain style. And, to a certain extent, whether you believe she hits or misses will depend on your own relationship to the natural world, and you comfort levels when offered someone else's spirituality. Normally I'd run a mile from this sort of thing, but somehow she manages to convince me, again and again, that this is real, and that it is poetry.

Partly it comes down to the fact that she is technically very very assured. The poems have a strong tonal and metrical skeleton, which disappears into the background. The poems sing.

But … I still worry that she will get it wrong, and that the honesty and integrity of her work will soften into sentimentality and bathos. And, much as I enjoyed Red Bird, it was the earlier collection – her Pulitzer Prize-winning American Primitive – that most impressed me. But she is an important poet and well worth reading, regardless of whether she rises or falls to the challenge she has set herself.

77alcottacre
May 19, 2010, 1:34am Top

#75: I feel a little guilty putting Dilbert books on my read list, but hey, they still count, right?

As far as most of us are concerned, if it is between covers, it counts!

78joannasephine
May 19, 2010, 1:36am Top

So … if I read them in bed, that counts for double? ;-)
(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

79alcottacre
May 19, 2010, 1:40am Top

Cute, Joanna, very cute.

80BookAngel_a
May 20, 2010, 5:50pm Top

Dilbert is hilarious - especially so if you work inside a cubicle!

81joannasephine
May 24, 2010, 5:17pm Top

Just finished reading Ai's Vice.
Oh boy.

She writes mainly dramatic monologues, inhabiting many personas, real and imagined. And the subject is almost always sex and violence. Or violent sex. Or sexual violence. Or all of the above.

It's hard reading. She writes well, but dramatic monologues always risk slumping into prose, and there are plenty of times when that is the case. And her characters use sex as a way of enforcing (or reinforcing) personal power, so you have to ask when this crosses the line to become exploitative? How often can a poet use detailed depictions of rape, sodomy, incest etc., before they themselves become complicit in the abuse? Ai's poems spend most of their time straddling the border with ‘gratuitous’. It only escapes being pornographic because no-one seems to be enjoying themselves, least of all the poet.

I think the problem for me was that a Selected brings together so many examples. A single slim volume would be more bearable – still shocking, still transgressive – but bearable. But I can't remember any poems which lifted above the crotch – possibly an unfair statement, but true to my experience.

For all that, they are some seriously good poems. ‘Rwanda’ for example is amazing (although still firmly grounded in rape). She is, above all else, a political poet; but sexual, rather than party.

82alcottacre
May 25, 2010, 1:21am Top

#81: That one does not sound like my cup of tea at all and I think I will give it a pass.

83joannasephine
Edited: May 27, 2010, 4:52pm Top

Just finished Billy Collins's The Trouble With Poetry.

A fun read, as usual. Unchallenging (also as usual), pleasant (ditto), mild-mannered (ditto) – typical Billy Collins. Which is the problem, as well as the reward.

I like Billy Collins's work. It's hard not to – the poems almost always begin in a conversational tone, maybe slightly wry, or gently ironic. He'll note some of the things he sees, or hears, give you a couple of stanzas of description, or musing about the things described. Then he'll end with a slight twist, or a slight turn. In the really good poems this turn is a reversal – of image, or of tone. “Bereft” is a good example of this, moving from a whimsical catalogue of things the ‘lucky dead’ no longer have to worry about:

no need for doorknobs, or snow shovels,
or windows and a field beyond,
no more railway ticket in an inside pocket,
no more railway, no more tickets, no more pockets.

almost without warning to the reversal of the final stanza:

the occasional beating of wings –
and, I wanted to add
as the sun dazzled your lifted wineglass,
the sound of the newcomers weeping.

That is an example of what he does very well indeed.

The trouble is that he does the same sort of thing in almost every poem: an interesting opening stanza, an interesting final stanza, waffle in between. As an experiment, pick three poems at random and read only the first and last stanzas. Write them down somewhere. Now go back and read the whole poems. What did your abbreviated versions lack, other than details? How close to being enough were they?

It's a mannerism. The first and last stanzas are the ones that stay most firmly in the reader's mind, and are where you win or lose the battle for the reader's attention. So they tend to be the strongest parts of many poems (Mine included). But the trouble with a successful formula is that it can create writing that is merely formulaic. For a plain-speech poet like Collins, this is a perennial problem. And in this book, it's in full flower.

But he's Billy Collins. Generous, accessible (and I don't use that word in a pejorative sense), wide-ranging, intelligent without being offputting. Affable. Likeable. And this is a collection of Billy Collins poems, so the previous adjectives apply again. But it isn't his best work – less prosy than some of his other collections, which is good, but also less rewarding and less memorable. Fewer risks, fewer lines that sing in your head afterwards, and a lot of ‘acceptable’ rather than good poems. I suspect an editor wouldn't have passed them through if they were written by an unknown (but then part of being a writer is building up a track record that shapes people's readings of your work).

One to borrow, rather than buy.

edited to fix html

84joannasephine
Edited: May 27, 2010, 5:21pm Top

sorry, duplicate posting.

85joannasephine
Edited: Jun 7, 2010, 7:50pm Top

Finished Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
Wow. How did it take me so long to get around to reading it?

The comparisons with Orwell's 1984 are inevitable – both set in a totalitarian future state; both deal with mind-control-by-media; both protagonists begin as ‘happy’ drones of the status quo and are shocked out of their complacency (and complicity) by an encounter with a young (and attractive) woman. Both end up getting caught. Both find a ‘friend’ turn out to in fact be their greatest enemy.

But those similarities aren't really very important – they're structural devices that allow the writer to explore the particular political and/or sociological issues at stake. It's a bit like fantasy novels based on quests – you know the rough structure before you start, and there are plenty of narrative and genre conventions along the way that act as a sort of cultural shorthand, and let the original aspect of the story establish itself as quickly and deeply as possible.

It's been a few years since I last read 1984, so the details aren't as fresh as those of Fahrenheit 451. But my main feeling is that Fahrenheit is an easier read – not lighter in content in a pejorative sense, but more streamlined narratively. There are fewer undercurrents, fewer complications and subtexts. The quality of the writing is good – Bradbury knows how to let almost poetic passages merge and flow with faster-paced developmental bits, so the overall effect is almost stream-of-consciousness (although this consciousness is a lot more coherent and lucid than most). And the book is more optimistic, overall. It ends with the possibility of redemption, of action-based salvation. Our protagonist ends the book with a clear goal, and the (theoretical) ability to actually effect change. The underlying message here is more hopeful – exasperated with human stupidity, but still essentially saying “look, we've been here before. We'll probably screw things up again. But there are ways we can at least improve matters, and we can do this.” For Orwell, there was no such hope. The message of 1984 is very much bleaker – “This is the path we must not take, because this and this will follow, and I can't imagine any way we could ever win after this point.” The action Bradbury is urging us to is grassroots – ordinary people will be able to take part in saving us all. But Orwell's warning was on a much bigger scale, a national, even internationally political scale – that ordinary people would not be able to make any difference if it got past this point.

Strangely, the book that Fahrenheit most strongly put me in mind of was Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The same feeling of cataclysm being almost inevitable, but not the automatic end. And the belief that yes, it was possible – and essential – for the individual to take action as an individual to be part of everyone's salvation. Whereas 1984 speaks to the same despair as Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake – past this point, there no return, no salvation. Just survival – and only just.

Fahrenheit 451 is an important book – the parallels with our own world here in 2010 are impossible to miss. It's well written, it's well thought-through, and it's a a genuinely good book – moral without being moralistic, and helpful without being didactic. It tells a story and tells it well: that the story is also a parable and a warning with particular relevance to our times is a bonus. In every sense, a good book.

And strangely enough (given that it's a classic dystopian fantasy), it's also a hopeful one. Read it.

86Carmenere
Edited: May 27, 2010, 6:19pm Top

Great review joanna! I have it on my bookshelf and look forward to reading it, especially after reading your review.

87alcottacre
May 28, 2010, 12:27am Top

#85: Wow. How did it take me so long to get around to reading it?

You express how I felt when I read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time about 5 years ago. How did I never read Bradbury before? I really liked that one!

88joannasephine
Jun 10, 2010, 9:52pm Top

Finished The Greatest Show on Earth.

It's a good read, but it's probably his most self-indulgent book so far. Lots of digressions, lots of bits of unnecessary repetition. The book of an author who knows his editors will let him get away with most things.

One thing did nag me though – whilest I am a fan of his writing from way back and am entirely of his opinion where the intersection of religion and science are concerned, I have to wonder if this book that would sway someone not already aware of evolution-as-truth. Don't get me wrong – there are lots of fantastic bits of information, and he writes passionately and intelligently. But not convincingly. The facts convince, but the manner and delivery of the writer don't. If I was unsure about the evolution vs creation debate (and the number of people who take this or the creationist position is truly horrifying – they'e allowed to vote, for heaven's sake), I doubt that this book would change my mind. I'd feel too hectored, too talked-down-to. Dawkins whirls past with his big top of fascinating facts, and doesn't seem willing (or able?) to bridge the gap to those people who don't see how obvious and elegant the whole thing is.

A very good book, and one that any thinking person should at least read. But it's mainly preaching to the choir. He's right; he's thorough; he's interesting. Just combative, rather than persuasive. Another writer will have to come along to reason with the wavering and the disbelievers.

89joannasephine
Jun 16, 2010, 12:59am Top

I stumbled across JT Petty's gorgeous Clemency Pogue, Fairy Killer and The Hobgoblin Proxy in my local discount stationers, and bought them thinking that they'd be good books to list on BookMooch.

I've had to go buy a second copy, as my OH has also fallen in love with the books.

Essentially they are a modern take on the world of fairytales. In the first, our heroine Clemency is being attacked by a particularly nasty creature (“The Fairy of Frequent and Painful Pointless Antagonism”), when she remembers a lesson from the story of Peter Pan. Without giving too much away, lets just say that there are unintended consequences, and that the story follows Clemency and her newly acquired Goblin assistant as they try to undo the harm she's done. Like all good fairy tales, the moral is … well, moral. That good can triumph, if the good are willing to suffer a little for the cause. This isn't sugar-plum-fairy territory: bad things can and do happen to good people. And good people can be the cause of bad things happening. But there is (almost) always hope.
Oh, and you can't beat a pair of burlap pants.

In The Hobgoblin Proxy, we again join Clemency and her Goblin guide as they try to undo harm: a boy who cannot become a Goblin until his clay changeling proxy can be persuaded into water. Where he will die. Once again the story is surprisingly adult, and surprisingly real. And once again Clemency inadvertently makes things worse while trying to make things better.

These books will appeal to kids and to their parents. The subtext(s) will keep most parents glued to the plot; young kids will just enjoy the adventure and the irreverence; and older kids will find plenty of things to look sideways at their parents about. I suspect ages eight to eighty will find plenty here to enjoy – great writing, intelligent plotting, and no easy answers.

More burlap pants!

90alcottacre
Jun 16, 2010, 1:05am Top

#89: Those books sound fun. I will see if I can find them. Thanks for the recommendation, Joanna.

91ronincats
Edited: Jun 16, 2010, 9:30am Top

Oh, dear! Two more books to go on the wishlist! I've never heard of these, Joanna. (she wanders off muttering to herself...)

92joannasephine
Jun 16, 2010, 3:52pm Top

Roni, they have a definite flavour of Pratchett about them – not a rip-off, but informed by the same sort of mind.
Stasia, if they still have copies I might be able to snaffle a few more to put up on BookMooch.

93alcottacre
Jun 16, 2010, 11:56pm Top

#92: Joanna, I appreciate the offer, but I am not on BookMooch. I checked the local library and they do have the first book in the series, so I will give it a shot.

94gennyt
Jun 20, 2010, 4:28pm Top

Hello, Joanna, just looked up your thread to see what you thought of Not on the Label, which I noticed you'd entered in the June TIOLI. For me it was a powerful book which I read just at the right time (about 5 years ago) when I was beginning to get into the 'politics' of food in a big way. It helped me decide to change some of my food buying and eating practices - I've practically never bought a bag of pre-washed salad since. And I bought copies of the book for all my friends-and-relations for Christmas that year! Anyway, would be interested to know what you made of it.

95joannasephine
Jun 20, 2010, 4:47pm Top

Hi Gennyt,

I thought Not on the Label should be compulsory reading for everyone over the age of fifteen. I was already one of the converted (Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation made sure of that), so it didn't change my shopping habits much. Confirmed my worst fears and reinforced my determination to continue on the path we've chosen.

One of the things that makes those books a little less immediately relevant is that we live in New Zealand, which is self-sufficient for food. Many of the horrible factory-farming practices that are doing so much damage in Europe and America just aren't done here. (Beef is grassfed, not grain fed for example, and a high proportion of NZ pork is raised freerange. Livestock belong outdoors.) But it is starting to change for the worse – dairy farming here is the biggest culprit, with some cubicle dairy farms starting to appear. And the spread of intensive dairy farming is beginning to make a lot of people uneasy.

But to go back to your original question – I thought Not on the Label was horrifying, and essential reading. And yes, it'll probably find its way into the Christmas presents of most of my family. I dream sometimes of stumbling across a pile of them at remainder prices, so that I can afford to give copies to everyone …

96gennyt
Jun 20, 2010, 5:01pm Top

I agree re making it compulsory reading - in our industrial society people are becoming so cut off from the origins of our food that we just haven't got a clue about what goes on and the way both people and planet are being damaged/exploited to give us cheap, tasteless and additive-filled rubbish. I was pretty aware of many of the issues Lawrence raises, being already actively involved in fair trade campaigning on the one hand, and aware of some of the ways supermarkets put pressure on suppliers etc. I think what this book did for me was show how the environmental, health, justice and taste issues are all connected.

I'm currently reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about a year of living locally and sustainably - covers some similar ground.

97alcottacre
Jun 21, 2010, 1:24am Top

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is very good, Genny. I hope you like it.

I will look for Not on the Label. I have read Pollan's In Defense of Food already.

98joannasephine
Jun 21, 2010, 1:30am Top

I think of those three (I'm mentally bundling In Defense of Food with Omnivore's Dilemma, as they do really act as companion volumes to each other) as my Ethical Consumer Triumvirate …

99alcottacre
Jun 21, 2010, 1:32am Top

I have not read Omnivore's Dilemma yet. I will get to it eventually I imagine.

100joannasephine
Jun 21, 2010, 1:42am Top

Truly, do. I know it sounds corny, but it really will change your life. And certainly your attitude to food, and modern industrial food production.

101alcottacre
Jun 21, 2010, 1:45am Top

My view on modern industrial food production is that I wish it did not exist and that I am very glad I have a homesteading sister who has free range chickens, goats, pigs, ducks, turkeys etc and shares freely with her older sister :)

102joannasephine
Jun 21, 2010, 2:15am Top

Woohoo, 70 books and 100 messages!

A quick-and-dirty comment on a few that I've read and not yet reported on.

First, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
I managed to nab this in a mooch a little while ago as part of my research (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!) into Dystopian fantasy.

I can only guess how shocking this must have seemed to the people who first read it. It is an obviously political novel, and the parallels between it and Orwell's 1984 are overwhelming. I don't know if Orwell was ever accused of plagiarism, but I think it would have been a hard case to defend. Both are critiques (and warnings) against totalitarianism in general and communism in particular; both have a drone-protagonist who is jolted out of his complacency by an encounter with a young and beautiful female; both have the same sort of ending and direction of resolution. Both civilisations wear a specific uniform. Both have their days strongly regimented. Both cultures practice sexual control, (which is where our protagonists are eventually turned to question – and later, oppose – the status quo). Both endings involve (and depend upon) the protagonist believing that he has been betrayed sexually as a precursor to his own retaliatory betrayal. Both protagonists use an old building as the location of their trysts. Both denouements come down to a face-to-face confrontation between our male protagonist and the person who is the embodiment of State power.

Having said that, I don't feel cheated, or that the world only needs one or other of these two books. We is very much more fantastical – there are humanoids as well as humans, and the technology (the Wall, the Aeros, the Integral) is clearly fantastical. I don't know how much of the totalitarian world of We comes from Zamyatin's experience of early Russian communism and how much is imagined and invented. 1984 though is very obviously set in a real world, in a real now, and with real knowledge (albeit secondhand) of what happens under totalitarian regimes. There's no real science fiction in 1984, whereas We is full of it. And We explores the social side of conformity much more than 1984 – Orwell was clearly repelled by the very concept of the state taking control of people's lives. Zamyatin is willing to give the idea room to explore a bit – what it might actually mean to live in a world with so many rules, so little freedom. Why we might like it, not just why it would be politically expedient. It's an examination of a dystopian society, not just a denunciation of it.

So, a conclusion. We is well worth reading, even if only to see where so many of the concepts that Speculative Fiction depends upon got their first outing. Ideally you'd read this quite a few years either before or after 1984 so that the similarities didn't distract you too much from either book. The style of writing is quite elliptical – plenty of things are never spelled out, but do come into a sort of clarity by the time you finish. Come to it with an open mind, and you'll come away feeling thoughtful. A dystopian classic from the less-depressing end of the spectrum.

103alcottacre
Jun 21, 2010, 2:17am Top

#102: I think I already have We in the BlackHole. I will have to check. If not, I am adding it!

104joannasephine
Edited: Jul 11, 2010, 12:39am Top

Woohoo, and that's me – 75 books in six months!

I want to keep recording what I read, so I'll shift the first six months down here and link to it in the original post. Hopefully that will help cure some of the issues with @#?!* touchstones refusing to load.

Wholeway Halfway Retrospective:
the first three months.

January to March


1. A Poet's Guide to Poetry by Mary Kinzie.
Started 1.1.10, postponed 31.1.10 …

1b. The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt.
Started 1.1.10, finished 5.1.10.

2. The Striped World by Emma Jones.
Started 2.1.10, postponed 31.1.10 …

2b. Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade by Guy Browning.
Started 5.1.10, finished 8.1.10.

3.Farewell My Lovely by Polly Clark.
Started 11.1.10, finished 11.1.10.

4. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage.
Started 13.1.10, postponed 31.1.10.

4b. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert M Sapolsky.
Started 18.1.10, finished 21.1.10.

5. After New Formalism by Annie Finch.
Started 22.1.10, finished 25.1.10.

6. Ghosts and Lightning by Trevor Byrne.
Started 23.1.10, finished 27.1.10.

7. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.
Started 1.2.10, finished 1.2.10.

8. Why Poetry Matters by Jay Parini.
Started 2.2.10, finished 8.2.10.

9. Real Sofistikashun by Tony Hoagland.
Started 2.2.10, finished 23.2.10.

10. The Dilbert Principal by Scott Adams.
Started 19.2.10, finished 24.2.10.

11. Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.
Started 22.2.10, finished 23.2.10.

12. The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky.
Started 25.2.10, finished 3.3.10.

13. The Treekeeper's Tale by Pascale Petit.
Started 3.3.10, finished 4.3.10.

14. Boy A by Jonathan Trigell.
Started 3.3.10, finished 3.3.10.

15. Hourglass by Sue Wootton.
Started 4.3.10, finished 4.3.10.

16. The Weather of Words by Mark Strand.
Started 4.3.10, finished 6.3.10.

17. Master Class: Lessons from Leading Writers, edited by Nancy Bunge.
Started 6.3.10, finished 15.3.10.

18. The Creative Writing Coursebook, edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs.
Started 15.3.10, finished 24.3.10.

19. Tyrannosaurus Rex versus The Corduroy Kid by Simon Armitage.
Started 16.3.10, finished 16.3.10.

20. Espresso by Karl Petzke.
Started 16.3.10, finished 16.3.10.

21. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage.
Started 19.3.10, finished 19.3.10
(see also January #4).

22. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin.
Started 22.3.10, finished 22.3.10.

23. Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin.
Started 22.3.10, finished 23.3.10.

24. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Started 24.3.10, finished 25.3.10.

25. Dilbert and The Way of the Weasel by Scott Adams.
Started 25.3.10, finished 27.3.10.

The challenge didn't begin so well, with Mary Kinzie's A Poet's Guide to Poetry taking a whole month to give up on. And it wasn’t the only one I postponed – Emma Jones’s multi-award-winning The Striped World was another that I gave up on. Just not in the right frame of mind for her wonderfully complex poems. (I must get on to it asap, as she and I are both in the running for the Mary Gilmore Prize for poetry, which is announced in a week’s time.) And the same fate befell Simon Armitage’s fabulous translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (I have no idea what on earth was going on in my tiny mind that it got left until March for me to go back to it!)

Highlights of the quarter: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Shades of Grey, Real Sofistikashun and Animals Make Us Human (although it kills me to leave Oryx and Crake, The Left Hand of Darkness and Animals in Translation out!)

Lowlights of the quarter: postponing three books.

Altogether not a bad start to the year.

105drneutron
Jun 29, 2010, 11:43pm Top

Congrats!

106joannasephine
Edited: Jun 30, 2010, 12:12am Top

Thank you!

107alcottacre
Jun 30, 2010, 12:39am Top


108joannasephine
Jun 30, 2010, 12:58am Top

I'd like to thank the Academy, my agent, my school librarian …
:-)

109alcottacre
Jun 30, 2010, 1:10am Top

. . .all the 75ers who manage to increase the number of books in the TBR stack. . .

110joannasephine
Edited: Jul 14, 2010, 3:15am Top

Wholeway halftime retrospective:
the second three months

April to June


April

26. The Joy of Work by Scott Adams.
Started 27.3.10, finished 31.4.10.

27. History's Worst Inventions: And the People Who Made Them by Eric Chaline.
Started 1.4.10, finished 6.4.10.

28. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.
Started 8.4.10, finished 9.4.10.

29. The Catastrophe Continues by John Clarke.
Started 10.4.10, finished 11.4.10.

30. Word Origins And How We Know Them by Anatoly Liberman.
Started 11.4.10, finished 5.5.10.

31. Tigers at Awhitu by Sarah Broom.
Started 18.4.10, finished 20.4.10.

32. The River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens.
Started 24.4.10, finished 25.4.10.

33. Grace Notes by Rita Dove.
Started 26.4.10, finished 4.5.10.

May

34. American Smooth by Rita Dove.
Started 5.5.10, finished 10.5.10.

35. A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan.
Started 6.5.10, finished 10.5.10.

36. The New Discworld Companion, edited by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Briggs.
Started 10.5.10, finished 23.5.10.

37. Otherwise: New and Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon.
Started 11.5.10, finished 13.5.10.

38.wild camomile by Owen Bullock.
Started 12.5.10, finished 12.5.10.

39. Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets edited by Andrew Johnston and Robyn Marsack.
Started 14.5.10, finished 17.5.10.

40. Vice: New and Selected Poems by Ai.
Started 16.5.10, finished 24.5.10.

41. American Primitive by Mary Oliver.
Started 17.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

42. Twelve Moons by Mary Oliver.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

43. White Pine by Mary Oliver.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

44. I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot by Scott Adams.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

45. Don't Step in the Leadership by by Scott Adams.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

46. Excuse Me While I Wag by by Scott Adams.
Started 18.5.10, finished 18.5.10.

47. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver.
Started 18.5.10, finished 19.5.10.

48. Red Bird by Mary Oliver.
Started 18.5.10, finished 19.5.10.

49. The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins.
Started 26.5.10, finished 26.5.10.

50. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Started 26.5.10, finished 27.5.10.

51. The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins.
Started 28.5.10, finished 10.6.10.

June

52. Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence.
Started 1.6.10, finished 2.6.10.

53. Selected Haiku / Haikús Selectos by Ron Riddell and Raúl Henao.
Started 1.6.10, finished 4.6.10.

54. A Greener House by Richard Reed and Sara Wilkinson.
Started 1.6.10, finished 6.6.10.

55. What the Water Gave Me by Pascale Petit.
Started 5.6.10, finished 6.6.10.

56. Gathering the Tribes by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

57. The Country Between Us by by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

58. The Angel of History by by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

59. Blue Hour by by Carolyn Forché.
Started 8.6.10, finished 8.6.10.

60. Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer by JT Petty.
Started 11.6.10, finished 11.6.10.

61. The Hobgoblin Proxy by JT Petty.
Started 11.6.10, finished 11.6.10.

62. What Einstein Told His Cook by RL Wolke.
Started 11.6.10, 15.6.10.

63. How to Get the House you Want by David Hindley.
STarted 14.6.10, finished 15.6.10.

64. Satan Says by Sharon Olds.
Started 15.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

65. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Started 15.6.10, finished 19.6.10.

66. The Dead and the Living by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

67. The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

68. The Father by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

69. The Wellspring by Sharon Olds.
Started 16.6.10, finished 16.6.10.

70. Meadowlands by Louise Glück.
Started 20.6.10, finished 21.6.10.

71. Vita Nova by Louise Glück.
Started 21.6.10, finished 21.6.10.

72. Averno by Louise Glück.
Started 21.6.10, finished 21.6.10.

73. The First Five Books of Poems by Louise Glück.
Started 22.6.10, finished 23.6.10.

74. The Wild Iris by by Louise Glück.
Started 23.6.10, finished 23.6.10.

75. Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer.
Started 24.6.10, finished 25.6.10.

76. How to Rule the World by André de Guillaume.
Started 29.6.10, finished 30.6.10.

77. Minsk by Lavinia Greenlaw.
Started 30.6.10, finished 30.6.10.

Much better quarter this time around. Mind you, winter usually is good for me that way, and having heaps of reading for the poetry course I was teaching did no harm either.

Highlights of the quarter: lots of good fiction and non fiction, and heaps of good poetry.

Lowlights of the quarter: none, really! Even books that I didn't derive huge pleasure from reading (Ai's Vice comes to mind) were satisfying in other ways. Not so much thank heavens I'm finished that as hmm, very good writing, but I'm not going to need to reread it for a while.

111alcottacre
Jul 2, 2010, 1:59am Top

Congratulations on such a nice quarter, Joanna!

112joannasephine
Jul 2, 2010, 2:16am Top

Thanks Stasia. Heaven knows how good it could have been if I'd managed to limit myself to the one hour in the morning reading LT posts that I mentally allocated … I swear, keeping up with TIOLI alone takes that much!

113alcottacre
Jul 2, 2010, 2:19am Top

Tell me about it :)

114Whisper1
Jul 8, 2010, 12:33am Top

Congratulations for winning a very special award.

115BookAngel_a
Jul 8, 2010, 10:25pm Top

Yes, congratulations!!! :)

116joannasephine
Jul 10, 2010, 1:22am Top

Thank you!
:-)

117joannasephine
Edited: Jul 17, 2010, 5:03pm Top

Just finished reading The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe – the first book in a new four book series, The Wall of Night.

First, the disclosure. Helen is a close friend. And the copy I read is an Advance Readers Copy (my first ever!), which Helen gave me. So I am going to be biased.

Even so … god, it's good! It's classic fantasy – young heroine thrust early into a role she isn't ready for, possessing powers that she has to learn to control. Evil enemies, betrayal, revenge, battles, magic. And we've all read books that do nothing more than traipse through this territory, doing little more than changing names.

But there's a lot more going on here. For starters, Helen is an award winning poet, and writes really really well. She doesn't go in for over-the-top, faux-medieval dialogue (a la Cecilia Dart Thornton), just (‽) deft exposition, and a poet's ear for phrasing and cadence. (There's an excerpt here on my blog, for those who'd like a sample.) Characters are delineated clearly (and believably), and the action stays just ahead of expectation the whole way.

There are echoes of other fantasy novels – a hint of Katharine Kerr's Snare, and maybe Sara Douglass's Axis series, among others – but you never feel that you're reading a derivative work. The echoes just link it into the canon of fantasy literature. And she has echoes from the real world too – questions of colonialism and conquest, of prejudice, of religion versus the State, of isolationism, of assimilation versus multiculturalism. In the hands of many lesser writers (CD-T a classic example) this would turn into preaching of the most strident kind. But Lowe doesn't do that. These are just echoes behind the work, and make it feel more believable, more real. It's like the use Katharine Kerr makes of the history of the Roman Empire in the later books of her Deverry series – it's an underpinning that helps to deepen the story, but not something that intrudes.

She is my friend, and I wanted to like the book. And I didn't. I loved it. It's an experience I've never had before – losing sight of the person that I know who wrote the book, and catching myself thinking god, this woman's good!.

Now I just have to find a way of ending her social life so that she can get on and finish the other three books, asap …

edited for spelling … sigh …

118ronincats
Jul 17, 2010, 6:03pm Top

That's quite an accolade, Joanna!

119avatiakh
Jul 17, 2010, 6:19pm Top

I have her Thornspell here lined up to read so it's good to hear about the new book. I enjoyed the review on your blog very much.
I see that you have several volumes of James Norcliffe's poetry, have you read his junior novel The Loblolly Boy? I really loved it and in a bookstore yesterday another customer picked it up and raved about it too.

120alcottacre
Jul 17, 2010, 11:54pm Top

#117: Well I am obviously going to have to track down a copy of the book - and since you are her friend, Joanna, tell her to get hopping on the other 3, would you?

121joannasephine
Jul 18, 2010, 12:11am Top

Roni – EOS took one look at it and signed her up for a four book series. And Robin Hobb has offered a very positive blurb for the back cover. I don't think it's just my own partiality. Take my comments with a dietarily appropriate quantity of sodium chloride (or preferred substitute). But … it is good.

Hi Kerry – actually I haven't got myself a copy of The Loblolly Boy yet. Which is a shocking admission, given that Jim's a friend (the Christchurch literary community is a fairly small creature, and most of us know or know of someone who's good friends with everyone else). A bit of trivia for you – the American publisher wanted to change the title to ‘The Invisible Boy’. Sigh!

Stasia – I plan to! This one comes out in September/October, and I think she's just signed off on the proofs of #2. Fingers crossed for the smallest number of distractions possible …

122alcottacre
Jul 18, 2010, 12:13am Top

#121: Ah, well the September/October release date explains why my local library does not have it yet, lol. Glad to know number two will not be lagging too far behind!

123avatiakh
Edited: Jul 18, 2010, 12:55am Top

Joanne - I know his agent, Frances, here in Auckland, she's at the Richards Literary Agency and she told me about the US title change - but it is now The Boy who could fly with a less attractive cover too (I first spotted it here). She said the American publishers always go for a more literal title. It's a shame as it takes the mystery away - I love the NZ cover.
edit: fix link

124alcottacre
Jul 18, 2010, 1:10am Top

As an American reader, I find it ridiculous for the publishers to think that I cannot appreciate regional titles. I saw on another thread a couple of months ago where someone mentioned that an Australian author was revising his book to make New York the location! Geez Louise.

125avatiakh
Jul 18, 2010, 1:27am Top

Stasia - that's not the only changes they make - they also ask writers to change the type of bird, breakfast cereal brands, drinks and on and on. It is annoying because instead of finding out about New Zealand and Australian lifestyles - you end up with bland predigested books. I think the children's book market is especially prone to this. And the other side is some of our writers end up making their settings neutral so their manuscript will be picked up by a US-based agent.
A couple of links where writers have commented on this loss of 'voice':
http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2008/10/16/in-which-i-agree-with-a-commenter...
http://www.insideadog.com.au/residence/index.php/michael-bauer/if-youre-daggy-an...

126alcottacre
Jul 18, 2010, 1:28am Top

Do American publishers think so little of the intelligence level of their audience? It is a shame.

127avatiakh
Jul 18, 2010, 1:36am Top

It is a shame. And this in a time and age when French schoolchildren were reading Harry Potter in English, they couldn't wait for the French edition, and the US editors were changing the British English to US English so American children could read in their own context and not be tripped up by the metric system or footpath or how we put the 'u' in colour!

128alcottacre
Jul 18, 2010, 1:42am Top

I can understand a bit about the metric system because in the schools here, kids do not learn the metric system until they are older than the age at which they would begin reading HP. The 'u' in colour thing I think is ridiculous!

129avatiakh
Jul 18, 2010, 2:02am Top

I've had a small bee in my bonnet about this since David Hill talked about having to replace our most famous songbird, the tui, with the chickadee for a US edition of one of his books, as well as changing weetbix to fruitloops or something.

130alcottacre
Jul 18, 2010, 2:07am Top

I cannot blame you, Kerry. It irritates me from the American end of the business, so on the New Zealand end I expect it is truly maddening.

131joannasephine
Edited: Jul 25, 2010, 5:07pm Top

Just finished The 10 pm Question, by Kiwi author Kate De Goldi. It's a book that has won a slew of awards, and had heaps of rave reviews. And deservedly so.

It's quite like Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – both are YA books with a strong adult audience; both deal with an adolescent boy in a somewhat dysfunctional family; in both cases said boy is “odd” (don't want to spoil any surprises), and his oddity falls somewhere between being the catalyst for the book's central conflict, and the cause of the conflict's resolution. It's classic coming-of-age, but with a modern (psychological) twist. Both books have realistic rather than happy endings too, which helps them feel believable.

But The 10 pm Question is definitely not just an antipodean TCIotDitNT knock-off. It's part of a long, proud (and troubled) history of what film critics refer to as “The Cinema of Unease”. New Zealand artists across all genres seem drawn again and again to the stories of the slightly damaged, the outcast, the misfit, the awkward, the strange. The places where the seemingly ordinary surface rubs up against the fractures and fissures of reality, of compromise. It's what you'd expect from a beautiful place where earthquakes happen – an awareness that normality is a lot less fixed than you think.

But I digress. The 10 pm Question is well written, intelligently plotted, and doesn't go to either the Disneyesque “And-They-All-Lived-Happily-Ever-After” or the The Road / Said Hanrahan “We'll-All-Be-Rooned” extremes of ending. It's plausible, both sad and happy, and doesn't try to pretend that it will solve the problems of the universe. Just answer a couple of 10 pm Questions. Recommended.

edited for spelling – sigh

132alcottacre
Jul 25, 2010, 11:57pm Top

#131: Adding that one to the BlackHole. It sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation, Joanna!

133joannasephine
Edited: Aug 16, 2010, 4:05pm Top

Just finished Michael Pollan's Second Nature: A Gardener's Education. Ignoring the irony of reading his first book last, I think I can sum it up very easily –

Michael Pollan: I love you, and I want to have your books.

134alcottacre
Aug 8, 2010, 4:10am Top

#133: Michael Pollan: I love you, and I want to have your books.

LOL! I guess I need to read more of his books since I have only read one.

135joannasephine
Aug 13, 2010, 8:49pm Top

And I've finally read James Norcliffe's The Loblolly Boy. One of the reasons that it's taken me so long to get around to it is because Jim is a good friend, so it's been in the “heaps of time, no need to rush” pile. (Kinda like the reason why I was able to live in the UK for three years and never set foot in France …)

It's a gorgeous book. A fable that kids will love, full of freedom and deserved comeuppances, and just the right mixture of grotesque and gentle. Adults will love it because it's beautifully written (Jim's a highly regarded poet, after all) and talks about the perils of getting your heart's desire, and the downside that comes with freedom. It reminds me a bit of Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, but with a defter touch. You could call it a morality tale (in the good sense, not the preachy sense), a coming-of-age tale, a quest tale … most of all a damn good book, which is deservedly picking up awards all over the place. Strongly recommended for adults and children alike.

136avatiakh
Aug 13, 2010, 9:35pm Top

I agree, it's one of my favourite children's books from last year and it's a finalist for the Esther Glen Medal which will be announced on Monday.

137alcottacre
Aug 14, 2010, 1:42am Top

#135: I know I already have that one in the BlackHole because of Kerry's review. I hope I can get my hands on it some time.

138joannasephine
Aug 16, 2010, 4:21pm Top

Just finished Kirsty Gunn's Rain. Hard to describe without either giving things away, or being too vague to be informative, but I'll try.

It's a novella, really, coming in at under 100 pages. And written in a beautiful, quite elliptical style. Reminds me of Murray Bail's Eucalyptus – the same dreamy quality to the prose. It's written from the point of view of a young girl, living with her parents and baby brother in what seems like an eternal summer by a lake. It's touching and sad, and there are two big episodes that occur quite late in the story but which you know must be going to happen from very early on. The impressive thing is the way that Gunn handles these events – offstage. She doesn't linger on them, or give us details. We just see them coming, and then find ourselves on the other side of them. It's a lovely bit of technique, and something that could have failed to convince in the hands of a less assured writer, but they work. The whole novella is told in the voice of the girl, many years later. Again, this sort of “and I remember that summer by the lake” device could have been clunky – it's hard to balance the thoughts of an adult, looking back on her childhood, with the perceptions and actions of the child she was, but Gunn manages it.

Not a book that you're going to run out into the streets shouting about, but one that will make you nod, and think about for quite a while afterwards. A sad story, told with precision and some amazing craft. I'll certainly be looking out for her next book. Recommended.

139alcottacre
Aug 17, 2010, 12:14am Top

#138: You need to post your review, Joanna, so I can give it a thumbs up!

140joannasephine
Aug 17, 2010, 4:18pm Top

Thanks Stasia – have done so here.

141alcottacre
Aug 18, 2010, 2:47am Top


142joannasephine
Edited: Aug 27, 2010, 3:07pm Top

Finished Affluenza a couple of days ago. (Sorry about the delay – I was distracted by a book sale.)

It's … a bit mixed, to be honest. I am already one of the converted, so it's not that I have an issue with the message. But the manner of delivery doesn't really work.

It's an important – and terrifying – book. The historical aspects of the consumer society that most of the Western world has been swallowed by are things that almost beggar belief. (And one more reason to detest Ronald Regan.) The thirty-hour week; the rise of advertising; heck, even the real reason for America's network of wide highways (which enabled the growth – in all senses of the word – of the American automobile and the impact that it's had on the rest of the planet …) these are things that literally changed the world, and ninety-nine percent of people wouldn't even be aware of them.

BUT … much of the message of this book is repeated in increasingly uninteresting increments. And the writers lack the narrative skills of a Michael Pollan or Eric Schlosser, so despite everything, you find your attention wavering. It may be a result of the fact that the book comes from a (very successful) television program – repetition that is essential for the episodic nature of TV doesn't translate so well to print.

In the summary then – this is an important book, and one you should read. Just not one that is as compelling a read as it deserves to be.

143alcottacre
Aug 28, 2010, 12:34am Top

#142: I already had that one in the BlackHole, my local library does not have it, but I just discovered it is available for the Nook.

144avatiakh
Sep 4, 2010, 1:04am Top

Hope you and family are ok after this morning's earthquake.
#138> I loved the movie Rain and hadn't realised it was based on a book. Will have to add it to my list.

145alcottacre
Sep 4, 2010, 1:07am Top

Like Kerry, I am just checking in to see if you and yours are OK.

146ronincats
Sep 4, 2010, 10:45am Top

Hoping all is well with you and yours after the earthquake.

147joannasephine
Sep 5, 2010, 3:50am Top

Hi guys,

we're both ok – spent a frankly terrifying couple of hours hanging on to each other in the bathroom doorway while we waited for things to stop shaking and roaring. The only damage was to the chimney – we've moved into the spare room until it can be safely demolished.

We're still getting regular aftershocks, which do nothing to calm the nerves, but we've gotten out of this incredibly lightly compared to some. The worry now is the next 48 hours – there's gale force winds coming, and heavy rain forecast after that, with the flood stop-banks to the north badly damaged by the quake.
Fingers crossed.

148alcottacre
Sep 5, 2010, 4:00am Top

Fingers, toes, eyes, whatever will help is crossed!

149elkiedee
Sep 5, 2010, 10:39am Top

Sorry to hear about the experience but glad you're ok.

150ronincats
Sep 5, 2010, 12:22pm Top

So glad to hear you are okay! Hope you are able to weather the storm well--keep us posted.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2010

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