Sunday, March 26, 2006

Books, books, and more books (and a deep, philosophical thought)

More for my 2006 list:

10. The Devil in Music by Kate Ross -- Loved this one as much as I loved the previous two, despite the potentially spoilery printers' error in my copy (two chapters were reversed in order). Now I just have to find the last of her four Julian Kestrel novels, which seems to be out of print at the moment. I'm kind of glad it might be difficult to find though. It always sucks when you finally find an author that you really enjoy, you read all their books, and then you realize that there won't ever be anymore. It's really a shame. I do enjoy rereading books, but even though that's fun, you never get quite the same thrill as you do when you're reading something for the first time.

11. Chicks in Chainmail by various authors, ed. Ester Friesner -- With a title like this, how could I resist. This compilation of short stories riffs on that classic of bad fantasy covers, the buff babe in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny chainmail bikini. Most of the stories had a humorous slant, and I really enjoyed them -- most fantasy is too male-centric for me, and the girl-power attitude of these was great, if occasionally a bit heavy-handed. Still, it's way past time that the ladies got their due, and I'd happily pick up any of the sequels if I see them at the bookstore.

12. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig -- Being a big fan of the Scarlet Pimpernel (both the book and the thoroughly awesome movie starring Anthony Andrews), I had to pick this up. The story of a grad student's search to discover the true identity of British spy and swashbuckler the Pink Carnation, the book is both chick lit and historical fiction. I was initially a little disappointed in it. Being a connoisseur of pink-jacketed literature, I was pretty sure I knew where both the present-day story and the historical one were going, and I wasn't entirely happy about it. But then Willig did exactly what I was hoping she'd do, plot and character-wise, and I started really enjoying myself again. The characters were fun and I'll definitely have to check out the sequel.

13. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson -- The story of the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the mass murderer H. H. Holmes, this book has been on my list for a long time. While the overly dramatic writing style (cliffhangers abound) and fictionalized murder scenes bothered a friend of mine who reads lots of true crime, I actually thought they worked pretty well. The melodramatic style is sort of appropriate to the time and place where the story is set. It's very penny dreadful, in a good way. The murder bits were appropriately grisly, but maybe all those Patricia Cornwall novels have desensitized me to the violence -- it's nothing worse than Kay Scarpetta runs across. Except that this was real, of course, and that 's what makes it really horrifying. The 1893 Exposition was a major event for Chicago and the country, and it was really interesting to see all these different threads of American culture that have ties to it. From Ferris wheels to Frank Lloyd Wright to Walt Disney and the belly dance, the fair's influence is still with us, and I really liked the way Larson brought that out. It made me willing to overlook some of the dramatic flourishes that bothered my friend so much. It's such an interesting story, it would have been hard to write a boring book on the subject. Not that people haven't, but that's a story for another day.

Oh, I almost forgot my deep thought:

How many books are too many? While I firmly believe you can never have too many books, I do believe that you can run out of places to put them. I have a lot of books, although I very foolishly left many of them back at my parents' house. Every time I go home, I come back with a bag full to repopulate my collection here. I'm lucky in that I have plenty of space for more bookcases (which I dearly need to go ahead and buy), but lately I've started to think about how to cull my collection. It's very difficult for me to get rid of a book, even if I know I'm not really going to want to reread it. I mean, you never know when you might need a book and then what if you can 't find it?? What then, eh? So far I've been keeping a book if (1) I might need it for grad school or work research, (2) it has sentimental value, or (3)it's one of my favorites. While it's pretty easy to decide what falls under category 1, categories 2 and 3 are harder to define. I like all my books, mostly, and I'm more sentimental about them than I'd like. There are no-brainer keepers, like my collection of Barbara Michaels and Colin Dexters. I could happily reread them any day. But that copy of Canterbury Tales in olde English? I'll probably never read it again, but it reminds me of my study abroad trip to England, where I took a class on Chaucer. Is it worth keeping? It is for now, but in an few years, who knows. I'll also admit that I'm a victim of book snobbery. It makes me feel smart and well educated to have certain books on my shelf, even if I haven't read them since college. I want people to know that I read all those Russian short stories. I suffered through them, I deserve to get credit for them. (Actually, I liked most of them, but I don't really see myself picking them up again any time soon). So for now, I'm getting rid of the easy ones. The romance novels I bought in airports to have something to read on the plane, the chicklit I can't stop buying -- most of them are like junk food, I love them while I'm reading them, but afterwards I feel slightly ill and dirty. I'll worry about the rest of it when I finally run out of shelves.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Not Dead Yet.

I'm just sayin'.

More after I get home from an exciting lecture on Victorian wallpaper.