Friday, February 29, 2008

Book 8/50: The Amber Spyglass

I finally finished The Amber Spyglass yesterday afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed the world that Philip Pullman invented, and I was sad to leave it. No doubt I will return to these books in the future.

The conclusion left me sad and heavy-hearted. But it was a fitting conclusion, and anything else would have seemed contrived (no spoilers here...). To be honest, the book was so emotionally draining that I don't have much to say. Nothing pulls at my heartstrings quite like acts of self-sacrifice, and The Amber Spyglass was full of them.

If I had a daemon, I think it would be a squirrel. A squirrel who liked napping with kitties.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Books versus audio books

I'm making a separate list of the audio books I have listened to in 2008. I'm separating them from the books I've read in print in order to acknowledge the difference in the reading versus listening experience. I only started listening to audio books last year. I usually listen while I'm exercising, jogging, washing dishes, or doing other household chores. That doesn't diminish the experience of the book for me; I don't get any less out of listening to a book than reading one. Still, even though reading and listening are equally active processes, they are not identical. The audio book narrator can add luster to a mediocre book or make a good book dull. There are also the visual and tactile dimensions of reading that are lost in audio books. With my iPod shuffle, I can't easily turn back to the beginning of a chapter to refresh some fact, or puzzle over some unlikely word choice or turn of events, because the story flows on. I can't take notes or bookmark passages to return to later or jot down quotations.

I tend to choose audio books where these won't become issues - fast-paced dramas, mysteries, and the like - light reading that doesn't require too much thought and reflection in the first place.

My 2008 Audiobooks

Why I list my audio books separately

1. The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen
2. The Race by Richard North Patterson
3. Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
5. The Appeal by John Grisham
6. The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman
7. Sacred and Profane by Faye Kellerman
8. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

9. The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz
10. The Devil's Feather by Minette Walters

11. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
12. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
13. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

14. The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters
15. Open and Shut (Andy Carpenter) by David Rosenfelt
16. A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton
17. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

17. Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
18. The Pillars of Earth by Ken Follett

19. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

20. The Broken Window (Lincoln Rhyme) by Jeffery Deaver
21. The Mercedes Coffin (Peter Decker) by Faye Kellerman

22. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
23. Cold Case (Barbara Holloway) by Kate Wilhelm
24. A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
25. Blind Fall by Christopher Rice

26. Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody) by Elizabeth Peters
27. Bones (Alex Delaware) by Jonathan Kellerman

Books Read in 2008

Last updated: 10 May 2008

1. 5000 Nights at the Opera by Sir Rudolph Bing
2. Necklace and Calabash (A Judge Dee mystery) by Robert van Gulick
3. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
4. Black Orchids (A Nero Wolfe mystery) by Rex Stout

5. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
6. Mending the Web of Life by Elizabeth Call
7. Over My Dead Body (A Nero Wolfe mystery) by Rex Stout
8. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

9. Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
10. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (re-read)
11. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
12. Washington Square by Henry James
13. Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander
14. Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi

15. An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
16. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
17. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
18. Jeremy Visick by David Wiseman
19. The Novel by James Michener
20. Until Whatever by Martha Humphreys
21. The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
22. The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

23. Murder Makes the Wheels Go 'Round by Emma Lathen
24. The Golden Spiders (Nero Wolfe) by Rex Stout

25. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
26. Calico Bush by Rachel Field

27. The Silent Speaker (Nero Wolfe) by Rex Stout
28. The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (re-read)
29. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
30. Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell

31. My Babysitter is a Vampire by Ann Hodgman (re-read)
32. My Babysitter Has Fangs by Ann Hodgman (re-read)
33. My Babysitter Bites Again by Ann Hodgman (re-read)
34. The Mother Hunt (Nero Wolfe) by Rex Stout
35. Where There's a Will (Nero Wolfe) by Rex Stout
36. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (re-read)
37. Might As Well Be Dead (Nero Wolfe) by Rex Stout
38. The Second Confession (Nero Wolfe) by Rex Sout
39. The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox by Jennifer Lee Carrell

40. Compulsion (Alex Delaware) by Jonathan Kellerman

41. Lost in the Snow by Linda Jennngs and Alison Edgson

42. Godblog by Laurie Channer
43. The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt by Patricia MacLachlan
44. Meet the Laugh-Out-Loud Cats by Adam Koford
45. The Cat Who Dropped a Bombshell by Lilian Jackson Braun
46. Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (re-read)
47. Anastasia's Chosen Career by Lois Lowry (re-read)
48. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
49. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (re-read)
50. The Cat Who Moved a Mountain by Lilian Jackson Braun
51. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England by William Cronon
52. The Littlest Book of Kittens (re-read)

Total page count: 12065

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

As predicted, The Amber Spyglass has me in tears

I'm reading the final chapters of The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Books don't usually bring me to tears, but some passages in this triology, especially this last installment, have had me dabbing continuously at my eyes (and blowing my nose). At first, I thought I was coming down with a cold, but I think it's just the book.

I hope to finish the book tonight, but unfortunately I have class to go to now. The book will have to wait...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gathering my book posts in one place

I think I will copy and paste (and post-date) my book posts from The Miao Chronicles here so I have them all in one place. Blogger doesn't have a post-importing function that I can find, so it might take me a while to finish this little task.

And, a word from Mani: Books are yummy.

Decades '08 Challenge

I was inspired to join the Decades '08 Challenge:

The rules are simple:

1. Read a minimum of 8 books in 8 consecutive decades in ‘08.

2. Books published in the 2000’s do not count.

3. Titles may be cross-posted with any other challenge.

4. You may change your list at any time.

I am also doing the "50 in 365" challenge. The decades '08 challenge will help me to focus my reading so I have a more varied reading list (rather than a bunch of murder mysteries from the same three decades). Choosing a reading list was so very exciting. Of course, it is subject to change, but here is the tentative list. A lot of the books are already in my library or my parents' library - I just needed a little push of motivation to read them.

1840s Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

1850s The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

1860s Silas Marner by George Eliot

1870s An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

1880s Washington Square by Henry James

1890s Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

1900s The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

1910s Anne's House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery

1920s Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

1930s Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

1940s 1984 by George Orwell

Alternates that I've been wanting to read for a while, and hope to fit in somewhere:
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas (1840s)
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1840s)
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1850s)
  • The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850s)
  • Eight Cousins and Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (1870s)
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870s)
  • Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1900s)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1930s)
  • And others...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Over My Dead Body - Nero Wolfe

I'm two books behind behind in my 50 in 365 posts. On 15 Feb, I finished my second Nero Wolfe mystery of the year. Papa Miao recently sent me a box of goodies (i.e., books), and I was in the mood for more Nero Wolfe, so I chose Over My Dead Body (published in 1939). It was a great read - I can always rely on Archie Goodwin to tell an entertaining detective story. This one featured Nero Wolfe's(adopted) daughter from Montenegro, international intrigue, fencing, and, of course, murder.

Prince Tantra found a new favorite word to describe Lotus Batcat - "bughouse". Lotus likes (to eat) buggies, so he doesn't mind.

I have three other Nero Wolfe mysteries to read before I have to beg Papa Miao to send me more. But he also sent me several other books, including The Amber Spyglass, which I am currently reading.

Over My Dead Body

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

All Creatures Great and Small

(Originally posted at Vox)

I actually finished reading All Creatures Great and Small a week ago, but I'm only just posting about it. I've read several Herriot stories in the past, but always individually (as children's books or magazine articles). This is my second non-fiction book of the year (the other being Sir Rudolph Bing's memoirs). It is 499 pages long, but it felt much shorter because Herriot is such an excellent storyteller. The references to veterinary history were fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed the setting in the Yorkshire Dales, perhaps because Herriot's own love of the region and its people was palpable on the pages. Some of the stories were sad and brought tears to my eyes, but they were nonetheless a pleasure to read. Herriot's compassion to his animal patients was equaled by his sensitivity to people. The story of his courtship with his future wife was humorous and sweet - though he passed over the wedding so quickly I almost missed it. My favorite story arch was probably of the pampered Pekingese Tricki Woo and his person Mrs. Pumphrey.

It was a delightful, uplifting book and I look forward to reading the next books in the series.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Reflections on The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife
Today, I finished listening to the audiobook version of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2004, Harvest Books). I had seen it mentioned somewhere as a worthy book, and I guess it is being made into a movie. When I choose audiobooks, I often select books that I wouldn't otherwise read. I might choose an audiobook on a whim, or get it because its length makes it cost effective (more hours for the same price). So for whatever reason, I chose The Time Traveler's Wife, and I was fairly disappointed. It could be that I am less inclined to like books I listen to than books I actually read - I'll have to see if this develops into a pattern.

The Time Traveler's Wife chronicles the trials and tribulations of Henry, who has a genetic mutation that makes him time travel involuntarily, and his wife Clare. I won't bother to summarize the plot here, since I'm sure summaries and reviews abound. Just a few thoughts, then...

Henry and Clare's romance is the focus of the novel, but I find it unsatisfying and unconvincing. Clare is only eight (or so) years younger than Henry, but as an adult he time travels to her throughout her childhood. Why Clare, starting at age six, should devote her life to Henry is a mystery to me. For starters, I didn't find Henry to be a particularly likable character. He is basically an intellectual snob, which shouldn't be damning in and of itself, but it becomes a problem when it's the only defining feature of someone's personality. The only opportunity he has for character development comes when he first meets Clare in "real time". At that point, he is a dissolute alcoholic/drug user/womanizer. But as soon as he meets Clare, he abandons his former lifestyle with little or no conflict. Clare herself has no opportunity for character development whatsoever (I should amend that to say she does have one opportunity toward the end of the book, but she refuses to take it). She is eternally defined by her relation to Henry - as in the book's title. She is constantly waiting, always for Henry - the epitome of a passive wife with little ambition other than to be with her husband. Her relationship with him was in effect predetermined, which is perhaps one reason it lacks depth.

The novel wasn't entirely unsatisfying, though it was tedious and had the occasional unsubtle plot device. The narrative is non-linear, yet it flows well and is not confusing (the narration was well done). I must say it tends to melodrama, which does nothing to add to the depth of the characters' emotions. The time-travel concepts are convincing enough, and they touch on interesting issues, such as the nature of time and determinism/free will. Yet, I didn't find the book's exploration of these issues satisfying enough to counterbalance the unsatisfying character development.

On a more positive note, I think the book has the potential to make a good movie.