Sunday, August 29, 2010

A few thoughts on book love and The Passage

Around the summer of 1986, I read my first Dean Koontz novel, Strangers. I'd never read anything like it, and it's still my favorite of all the Koontz books I've read. It was something like 630 pages, hardcover, and I read it in five or six days. How deeply engrossed was I in Strangers? I still remember coming downstairs one night to find my mom and brother asking me if I'd heard all the racket outside, and I said I hadn't. There'd been several police cars on our street earlier in the evening, because a guy had apparently overdosed on something, and was sitting in a car, naked, just a couple buildings down from us. Even now, I don't mind that I missed all that excitement, because reading Strangers was way more entertaining than anything happening in my real world.

For the past two weeks, I've been reading The Passage by Justin Cronin. I first heard about it on a Books on the Nightstand podcast, and several of the book bloggers I follow read advance copies and were raving about it. My favorite review is this one from Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? I love how she's practically begging people, "Don't be that guy!" -- the one who refuses to read The Passage because of some bias against this or that kind of book. Basically, there are enough reviews of this book online that I don't feel obligated to write a "review." And I also want to say that while book hype often turns me off, I've wanted to read this one ever since I heard about it on Books on the Nightstand.

So, having purchased the hardcover for half off at Hastings back in June, I finally picked it up and started reading it right after my August book group meeting. I wasn't overwhelmed right from the start, but by about page 50, I was really enjoying it. I found myself reading whenever I had 15 minutes (or more!) to focus on it: on many of my breaks at work, while eating supper at home, during the evening if I could, and before going to sleep. (And of course, I was up later than I should have been.) Reading The Passage reminded me of reading Strangers, that same kind of total immersion in another world that true book lovers are always seeking. As Stephen King's blurb on the back cover says, "Read this book and the ordinary world disappears."

Speaking of Stephen King, I was also reminded of his book The Stand as I read this. (I'm really NOT a huge horror/thriller fan; The Stand is the only King I've read so far, and Koontz has written MANY more books than what I've read.) It's a different kind of virus, but the idea of only small pockets of people surviving the crisis, corpses scattered across the country, and the scarcity of resources from "the Time Before" is similar to King's epic. And yes, the character of Auntie is reminiscent of Mother Abigail.

But in spite of these similarities and echoes, The Passage didn't seem derivative to me. It's huge, chaotic, and exciting. In spite of my busy life, I read this 766-page novel, every page, in only two weeks. I actually felt a letdown for a day or two after I finished it. (My reply to Stephen King: Finish reading this book, and fall back into your regular humdrum life.) It's full of characters I came to care about, some even to love. When my book group met to discuss A Division of the Spoils, the last book in Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, maybe 11 years ago, I confessed to everyone, "I'm in love with Guy Perron!" As I read the final chapters of The Passage this past week, I thought to myself, "I'm in love with Peter Jaxon!"

The Passage is the first book in a proposed trilogy, and while some things were resolved in the book, additional questions were raised near the end, and there is room for a lot more story to be told. I'm definitely going to read the next book; Cronin has me completely hooked. Visit the website, and consider taking this amazing trip for yourself.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Not-Quite-Ten Books I Haven't Read

I only have about 20 minutes to spare, and debated going for a walk outside, spending time on the treadmill instead, reading an extra 20 minutes of The Passage, and then I happened to pull up my iGoogle page and glance at the newest posts in my Google Reader. Allie over at A Literary Odyssey posted the top ten books she hasn't read. Of course, I instantly thought of a few books that I can't believe I haven't read, at least not yet, and I decided to give this a try. I'm flying by the seat of my pants and have no idea if I'll even reach ten. By the way, this meme is hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish, a blog I'd never seen before but hope to check out again soon. ;-)

1. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I consider myself a feminist, and I graduated from Smith College, same as Ms. Friedan herself. I didn't even own a copy of the book until a few years ago... shame, shame!

2. Anything by Gloria Steinem, and I have three books by her. Another groundbreaking feminist writer who graduated from Smith, what kind of jerk am I that I haven't read even one of the three books yet?

3. The Odyssey by Homer. Allie's blog title reminded me of this one. I've read parts of this, but not the whole thing, not even half of it.

4. The Complete Tales of Washington Irving. The thing about this one is, I got it when I subscribed to the International Collectors' Library, i.e. classics in bindings that appear to be higher quality than they really are. I think I stopped getting them before 1992. I don't think I've read even one of the tales in this book! And yet I never think of weeding it from my collection. I just know that someday I'll read it and love it!

5. Time in Its Flight by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. I've mentioned a few times before how much I love love love nearly all of the books I've read by SFS. Of the ones I have but haven't yet read, I think this is the oldest.

6. Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman & Noam Chomsky. I'm pretty sure I bought this around 1997, after seeing a video about Chomsky that was also called Manufacturing Consent, when I was in grad school. This is one I've thought many times, I should either try to read it (at least SOME of it!) or give in and weed it, and still it sits on my shelf, I can't let it go.

7. Walden by Thoreau. Long on my shelf, and I listened to a couple hours of the audio, but didn't finish.

8. Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. Some of the books everyone read in high school, I never got to because I dropped out. This one slipped through the cracks. I did read East of Eden for a book group meeting, though, and that one's a LOT longer. ;-)

9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This was never on my radar until I saw the Winona Ryder movie in early 1995. Love that Christian Bale! * sigh *

There are far too many more of them, I'm sure! And now I've typed too long, need to call my grandmother and check in, before Jeff and the boys get home. But this was so much fun! And also a trifle guilt-inducing ... but I'll think about that tomorrow ... and yes, I have read Gone with the Wind. ;-)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to school / Time passing

The boys go back to school tomorrow. I am already thinking ahead to the next day I'll be able to take the day off from work, now that Jeff has a job again and the boys will be at school, and I'll be able to have a real and true day TO MYSELF. The past couple of weeks at work, I've felt like I've been treading water -- or like I'm a woman on the verge of burnout. It feels wrong to think of taking a day off from work when I have a ton of things to do there, while at the same time the thought of setting aside a day to recharge my batteries sounds tempting and quite heavenly.

That's basically where I'm at: feeling scattered, split in 20 different directions, mostly at work but also sometimes at home. I feel like all the extra stuff I've had to do this year related to work -- going to my first TRB Meeting last January and participating in a poster session, the trip to New Orleans in June for SLA and NTKN (though I fell in love with the city), all my conference calls for the various groups I'm involved with, and the duties that go along with them -- all of this piled on top of my daily work has made it so hard to keep up, to make any sort of progress, and it's worn me down to the point where I wish I could withdraw from all the tasks and activities that aren't directly related to my regular work in my own library. It makes me want to withdraw, period, as far into my books and reading as I can go without losing touch with the "real world." HA! A mental health day wouldn't be enough, I think maybe a mental health WEEK would be much more beneficial!

But beyond the fact that my next day off (whenever I have it) will be a day ALONE, two other things give me a bit of hope: first, that I resigned my spot from one of the groups I was involved with, so that eliminates a two-hour conference call each month, plus occasional duties related to that task force; and second, the conference I'll attend in Madison next month will be shorter than my January and June trips, and is the last work trip I have in the foreseeable future. And also, I've stopped writing conference call minutes, and that has been a relief.

Finally, although yesterday gave me some difficult moods, particularly during our family outing to the bowling alley, I'm pleased that I got my regular housecleaning all done today, and have also been reading a fantastic book in which I can easily lose myself: The Passage by Justin Cronin. I started it on Wednesday or Thursday, and hope to reach page 200 (at least) before I go to bed tonight. It's a true chunkster, over 700 pages, and it is thrilling to me. I love going into a novel and away from my own life for a while.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yep, I’m still here…and a short reading update

(I wrote this during my break at work yesterday, then forgot to e-mail it home or save it to my flash drive. So even though it's now Friday evening, just pretend that I posted it on Thursday evening.)

In about the past week and a half, I’ve read two books that I completely enjoyed, that were wildly different from one another. First, I read one of my newest acquisitions (gasp!), The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I finished that on Sunday morning, but didn’t quite feel up to writing a review, wanting instead to start reading something else as quickly as possible. I wanted it to be something GOOD, but also different from Hedgehog so I could keep that “mood” in my head a bit longer. I picked up a book that’s been on my shelves for at least five years, The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. I started it on Sunday afternoon, and finished it on Tuesday evening – yes, in not much more than 48 hours, I read the whole thing! Truthfully, it’s not a long book, and it’s a fast read, but the fact that I was able to read it so quickly, that just makes me happy. :-)

So here’s the thing: I’d like to blog about both of them, at least a short review with a few quotes, but at the moment, TIME is an issue for me. Our book group meets next week, and we’d planned to read a few short stories by Eudora Welty. I would have started reading those last night, however, the woman leading the discussion is now sick and in the hospital. A quick “Plan B” has formed: to read the novel written by a member of our group, and discuss that at our next meeting. The pros are that several members have the book and/or have already read it. The con for me is, while I did just buy it, I haven’t read it yet, and it’s over 400 pages long. The meeting is five days away. So, I think I can get a decent amount of it read, enough to participate intelligently at next Tuesday’s meeting, but beyond this short update, I probably won’t be writing any other blog posts for about another week. It's hard to not write when I actually have posts in mind that I want to write. But hopefully, I'll be back at it soon.

One positive thought on the topic of TIME: once the boys go back to school, I’ll be able to take the occasional day off and actually have the house to myself, now that Jeff is working again. This simple thought brings me so much quiet contentment and anticipation, I can’t even tell you! My books and my blog should be getting a bit more attention, if I can catch up enough at work to schedule a few days off in the next couple months.