The Weekend in Books

(This encompasses books 133-136, incidentally.)

My my, what a weekend it has been. On Friday morning, I picked up four books at the library, assuming that they would see me through the weekend. Alas, one of them reeked so badly of cigarettes that I couldn’t even read it, which was irritating, and I hated another one so much that I stopped reading it (about which more later), and the other two were fairly brief. Fortunately for me, the two buck book sale took place on Saturday morning, so I was able to refresh my coffers, so to speak.

At any rate, here’s the weekend in books:

The Tell-Tale Horse

There’s really only so much to say about books in a formulaic mystery series, especially when you’ve already written about a bunch of books in said series. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, although I feel like my current passion for mysteries is dwindling to an end (don’t worry, it will be inflamed again sometime next year). It’s just that these books aren’t really very thought-provoking or informational, so I don’t really know what sort of comments I can make about them.

I suppose I could explore the reason why I find myself returning to formulaic mysteries now and then, typically in a glut. I think I read like I eat, going through periods where I just need to eat a lot of trash to remind me just how good real books are. I mean, no offense, Rita Mae Brown, but these books are definitely popcorn novels. They are books for reading in the shade on the porch on insufferably hot days while eating ice cream, because they require no thought processing whatsoever.

And sometimes that’s a nice thing. I like not having to think now and then, especially since I’ve read some more content-heavy books lately. I think that when you read the sheer volume of books that I do, reading crap is a good way to clean out the pipes. And, honestly, it was too hot on Friday for words. Even in boxers and a tank, I was sweltering.

Demographics:

The Tell-Tale Horse, by Rita Mae Brown. Published 2007, 278 pages. Fiction.

The White Hotel

This is the book I stopped reading.

This is still a new thing for me, the putting a book aside when I don’t like it, and I was debating whether or not I wanted to include this book in the Book Project or not. I finally decided that yes, I did, because the Book Project is supposed to be about every book I read in 2008, not every book I finish in 2008. And this, the deciding not to read a book after starting it, is a very new and scary thing for me.

Talking with my father about this issue a few months ago, I mentioned reading a book I really didn’t like, and he, quite reasonably, said “well, why didn’t you stop reading it?” And then I had a rehash of the same conversation with Haddock, when we both admitted that we have trouble putting a book down after starting it because it seems almost…rude, somehow.

Well, I’m here to tell you that, rude or not, sometimes it just has to happen.

I started reading The White Hotel because I’ve been reading along with Tristan’s book club, which doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to picking out good books. I had my misgivings about the book when I ordered it from the library, and these misgivings only deepened when I got the book, opened it up, and plunged into a contrived series of letters.

I really, really, really hate books written in the form of letters (Dracula is a notable exception). It just infuriates me, especially when the letters are purportedly written by real people, because it feels so forced and pretentious and, uhm, stupid. But I slogged through the letters, after sending Tristan the following IM:

“FYI, I hate the White Hotel already and I’m only on page 8.”

And there was an extremely stupid erotic poem. Which I read. All of it. I hate poetry. When there’s poetry in books, I usually skip over it. But no, I had to try. By god, how I tried, writhing through the poem and muttering under my teeth.

And then I got to page 32, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

“Fuck this,” I said to Mr. Bell, and I picked up I Was Told There’d Be Cake and returned The White Hotel to the side table where I keep my library books, where it smouldered under the stinky book until Saturday morning, when I returned it to the library. The phrase “good riddance” may have been uttered.

The next time you’re reading a book you don’t like, gentle readers, just stop. Just. Stop. It feels so good.

Demographics:

The White Hotel, by D.M. Thomas. Published 1981, 271 pages*. Fiction.

*I only read 32 pages, though. And that was enough, let me tell you.

The Dead Beat

I picked this little gem up at the book sale, because I find obituaries mildly intriguing, especially when they are well written, and I thought it might be fun to read a sort of ode to the genre. Because, make no mistake, obits are a genre, and in some instances, they even approach an art form. A well written obit is nothing less than a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Sadly, this book was a little less than stellar. It wasn’t terribly well-organized, meandering around between subjects and locales, and it didn’t seem to have any real point. Was it a survey of the state of the modern obituary? A paean to the art of writing obits? A fangirl’s recounting of meeting some of the gods of the obituary world? I’m not really sure.

Johnson excerpted some obits in the book, pulling out really choice and interesting bits, and some of her selections were quite interesting, funny, or moving. I found her brief (and sadly disconnected) discussions of some of the more interesting trends in obituary reporting quite intriguing. For example, she talked about the various portraits of grief series done after the 11 September attacks and the Seven July bombings. Living in a world where mass death is commonplace, we must think about how to face, address, and deal with such death, and I would have really enjoyed it if she’d gone into more detail there.

I can’t decide if she was writing about obituary culture, obits themselves, or both. I think that with a little focus and editing, this could have made a first-rate book.

Demographics:

The Dead Beat, by Marilyn Johnson. Published 2006, 251 pages. Sociology.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

Ok, first off, the Sonoma County Library uses some incredible book sealing binding for paperbacks that makes them all rigid, and I totally want to know what it is, and where to get it, because I like the idea of having indestructible paperbacks.

Second of all, this is a good book. It’s silly, entertaining, and at times almost painfully honest. I absolutely loved the essay about being asked to participate in a wedding by a bride the author didn’t really know, and the essay about the author’s first real job, and an evil boss named Ursula. I know that this sort of memoir/essay collection is very trendy right now, but Crosley’s stands out from the crowd, in my opinion.

The best chapter, by far, was Sloane’s discussion of her name, where she talked about what it’s like to be born with an awful name. I still maintain that if you don’t have an awful, strange, or weird name, you really don’t know what it’s like. Oh, you think you do, you say you can imagine, but you just don’t. There’s no way to comprehend it. And, as Sloane pointed out, when you struggle to change your name, you can’t imagine what to change it to: “there’s something about having an especially different name that makes it difficult to imagine what you’d be like as a Jennifer.” She also says “my name is my cross and my copilot,” and maybe she’s right, although I just think of my name as my cross. Like Jesus, I hope to climb down from it some day and leave it behind.

So, if you want to be entertained for a few hours, read this book.

Demographics:

I Was Told There’d Be Cake, by Slone Crosley. Published 2008, 230 pages. Memoir.