There’s a possibility I might be going underground for a while.

I just (re)started Infinite Jest. It’s weird still being in the part that I’ve already read because it’s been probably over a year at this point since I left off reading it, but I have already read these parts so it is somewhat familiar. I really want to give Infinite Jest another shot and I feel that the time is right. I put it on my challenge again for this year and I feel like right now I don’t have much of an excuse not to try and read it.

I’m also working on Mansfield Park. I actually started it first before IJ won the war of wills we were having with one another. I figure there’s no way I’m toting that tome on the subway, so Austen can accompany me when I leave the apartment.

I realize that I also still owe you my review of Daisy Miller and that may or may not happen depending on how much I end up having to say about it. We shall see.

On an entirely different note, I think this blog needs a facelift. Maybe it’s too young for a facelift. A makeover? The point is, it’s not as pretty as I want it to be and I’m not technologically savvy enough to make it fit my vision. So how do I make it happen? I need to find someone who works in design and bribe them with… something. I’m open to other suggestions.

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The Gargoyle — Review

July 29, 2012

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.

What to say about The Gargoyle? Where do I begin?

As fair warning, I feel I should say that this review may contain spoilers. It might not. I really can’t tell. I don’t think I’ve given anything major away, but… I don’t even know anymore.

This book was bizarre. It was raw and sometimes gratuitous and I often didn’t really like the narrator at all. But I think that was kind of the point. Before his accident, the narrator of The Gargoyle is a shell of a human being. A beautiful, sexually versed shell, but a shell nonetheless.

I’ll give Davidson credit where credit is due. This isn’t the typical story of a cynic learning to live and love after losing everything in an accident. That is kind of what happens, but it does not happen in the most expected of ways.

I enjoyed reading The Gargoyle. The story moved along really well and it was definitely intriguing. My problem with it, I guess, is that I kind of wish the characters were switched. The narrator is never that interesting of a protagonist to me.  I was much more interested in Marianne Engel, the woman who mysteriously appears at his hospital bedside and takes over his care once he is released. Marianne gets the narrator interested in things again by telling him stories. She tells him about some of her friends — an iron-worker who died while the Black Death ravaged Florence, a Japanese woman who became a Buddhist nun and allowed herself to be buried alive to save both her father and her true love, and a Viking who never married, but died to show his devotion, to name a few. She also tells him all about their previous love affair in medieval Germany.

Marianne also carves huge gargoyles out of stone. It’s a crazy process. She sleeps on the stone and the gargoyle trapped within speaks to her and says what it’s supposed to look like and then she starts carving. She believes that she has an abundance of hearts and that she gives one to each gargoyle she creates. But she only has so many left, and when they’re gone, she will die.

Are you starting to see why I find her to be a much more interesting character? Even if she’s totally bonkers and hasn’t lived for however many centuries (likely), how did she come up with these delusions? They’re so realistic. And how does she have her gift with languages? And what if she isn’t insane and has been wandering the world for years? What has she been doing in the interval? Who has she met? What has she learned? She’s still kind of crazy, actually, even if the being alive for centuries thing isn’t a delusion, so how does all that fit in? What’s with the heart thing? How many did she start out with? Davidson, I see a companion piece in your future!

OK, so this was less of a review and more of me rambling like an idiot and asking questions that will probably never be answered, but there you have it. The above is probably why I put off writing this for so long: I had a feeling it would turn out like this and I wanted to postpone the inevitable. Alas.

Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose has been on my list of books to be read for years. Oddly, it has been on my bookshelf longer. Yes, you read that correctly.

At some point during my pre-teen/early teenage years my mother heard about the book and thought it would be something I would be interested in. I was already past my, albeit brief, “psh, reading” phase, but I was still hesitant to read anything my mother suggested because I was, after all, still a teenager. In any case, I eventually realized that this book sounded really interesting and was probably really good, so on the never-ending list it went.

Fast-forward however many years and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.

Overall, I really did enjoy reading it, but it took me longer than expected to get through. Generally, when I’m reading something so intrigue-packed like this, I can hardly put it down to sleep, eat, coo over adorable animals, etc., but I found myself taking breaks from this one. I also kept falling asleep while reading it, which I really don’t understand because it isn’t boring by any means. Maybe my mind was just trying to tell me that I needed to process.

I really enjoyed the intrigue of this. There are so many twists and turns and Eco keeps the reader guessing the entire time. Adso, the narrator, is a great character, as is his mentor William, and it’s interesting trying to get into their heads as they work to figure everything out.

My only critique of the book would be that there is a lot of Latin left untranslated in the book. Personally, it’s been a while since I picked up my Latin books, so I would have appreciated a footnote or something like that.

The Name of the Rose takes place in a monastery and follows two monks as they try to unravel the secrets behind murders that have taken place there. Given the setting, it’s understandable that there’s a lot of reference to Catholicism and Christian theology. I’m wondering if perhaps I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I would have had I had more of a background or understanding of it all.

I was actually thinking along these same lines again today, but concerning art.  My friend and I visited The Cloisters museum, which is associated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It specializes in Medieval art, all of which is beautiful, but the building and grounds are absolutely stunning and merit a visit on their own. The thing is, a lot of Western art (especially in the medieval period) primarily employs Christian imagery. Since I grew up Jewish, I am not particularly familiar with much of it.

I guess my question is whether I feel I’d enjoy the art more if I understood more of the imagery/theology behind it. I certainly think it could help in terms of literature — recognizing allegories and such — and I’ve been meaning to read the New Testament (and the Old Testament actually, since I’m not sure I’ve ever read it all the way through), but would it help in art as well?

Anyway, I distracted myself. The original point: I enjoyed reading The Name of the Rose. Could I have enjoyed it more? Possibly. I’m not entirely sure. In any case, you should read it. But maybe brush up on your 14th Century Christian theology, and definitely brush up on your Latin.

For reasons too ridiculous to get into, I was back in DC briefly and then my parents drove me back up and got to have a mini-vacation/help me organize my life. Both of their birthdays happened recently, so we got to sort of celebrate that by having family time, good food, and seeing Mary Poppins on Broadway. They left today, but first we went to IKEA to get me a dresser and they, saints that they are, stayed and helped me put it together before hitting the road. I took pictures at different points in the process because I always find it interesting to see how things come together.

The “before” picture. This was my makeshift dresser of boxes. Classy, I know.

 

The frame starting to come together. Much faster than I would have expected.

 

My dad screwing one of the hinges in place.

 

My roommate’s dog, Bowie, wishing she could help, but sadly lacking opposable thumbs.

 

The finished product with the top open.

 

I wish I’d taken more “construction” photos, but I guess I was a bit busy constructing. I’ll remember that for the next time around (though that won’t be for a while, as I’m decidedly out of space for furniture).

I promised you photos of my bookshelves, and though you get a glimpse of them here, I’m not counting these. I have a bit more reorganizing to do, and then I’ll take and post pictures.

I also recently finished The Gargoyle and Daisy Miller, so reviews of those should be around the corner as well. I’m about 2/3 of the way through The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, so maybe there will be a review of that in the near future as well.

Unfortunately, my IKEA saga is not quite over, but I don’t have the energy or mental fortitude to explain all of that right now, so another time. Possibly tomorrow, when it will all (hopefully) be over.

Bastille Day!

July 16, 2012

Yesterday I went to the Bastille Day celebration on 60th St. with a friend. Apparently, every year during the week of July 14, New York holds celebrations in honor of Bastille Day. It’s the perfect excuse to drink French wine, eat delicious food, and… do other French stuff.

The street festival was yesterday and there were a ton of food vendors. My sad grad student wallet decided that the $20 food and wine tour probably wasn’t worth it, so instead I got an $8 strawberries and chocolate crepe, which definitely was. I would have taken pictures, but I was far too busy stuffing my face…

There weren’t as many activities as I was expecting. There were these photobooth type things scattered throughout and they could have been fun, but 1) I was way too sweaty to feel like being in a picture, and 2) I think it had something to do with Twitter (which I don’t have) where you post the picture and then they enter you into a drawing to win a trip to France? I’m not really sure.

Really though, if there are contests to win trips to Europe on Twitter, maybe I should join…

There were lots of businesses and shops with booths, so we walked around and looked at those. I spent a some time at the tea booth sniffing the different teas like a weirdo. I did consider buying some, but I wanted to save some money for macaroons.

The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) was one of the main sponsors for the event (I think so anyway, their logo kept popping up everywhere), yet I only saw one booth for them. When I did, I asked them about French classes and they were very helpful. They offer a lot of interesting-looking classes (though I’d have to get past beginner-level first) and have cultural events as well. Not cheap, but not as expensive as I was expecting either, so I’ll have to see if I can make it work.

After we walked up and back (it went from Lexington to 5th Ave.) and I stopped to buy a print for my room and a few macaroons (chocolate praline and raspberry were good, salted caramel was to die for) my friend and I parted ways. I had a somewhat eventful trip downtown that mostly involved me missing my stop because I don’t understand numbers, but going uptown back to my apartment went much more smoothly.

All in all, I’d say it was a decent day out exploring what my new city has to offer.

This was my last full library read before my move and I read most of it by lantern-light during the blackout after the storm in DC.

I was immediately drawn to this book because it brings together my love of historical fiction, museums, and the circus. Strangely enough, now that I think about it, I haven’t actually been to a circus in years and I’m not sure that I’d really enjoy it if I went, but I love reading about them; there’s this aura of magic and whimsy that I just love…

Anyway, back to the point. Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson.

In the 1840s Phineas T. Barnum, starry eyed and unknown, buys a well-established natural history museum in New York City and immediately begins transforming it into a provocative new museum driven by gossip and greater than public imagining. Taxidermied exhibits are ousted in favor of an ever-growing live menagerie (somehow left to the care of the baffled resident taxidermist who views much of the change in the museum as a personal affront), while unusual people take up residence on the fifth floor and add to the live spectacle as representatives of the wonderful.

That is as far as I dare delve into this book without 1) having it in front of me and 2) horribly ruining it for any potential reader. Not ruining in the sense of “ruining the ending,” but just in my foisting my observations and opinions on you, which is what I normally do, but everyone needs a change of pace now and then. Anyway, it’s my blog, so my prerogative.

The Time Machine Review

July 13, 2012

Now we move on to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

A random confession — the entire time I was reading this book I kept picturing the time machine and Morlocks from Big Bang Theory, which was mildly distracting, especially in the beginning when I hadn’t gotten anywhere near that part of the book yet.

I honestly don’t even know how to begin reviewing something that is so much a part of classic science-fiction literature (or really just the Western Canon in general)… It was amazing, and I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me this long to read it.

I guess I’m not a huge sci-fi fan when it comes to literature, so that could be part of the reason. In any case, I picked upThe Time Machine from the library intending to read it for a Goodreads group read, but was then caught up in the insanity of packing and losing power and packing some more that I never actually participated in the discussions. I did, amongst all that chaos, finish the book though (no power = no TV, therefore more reading).  The Time Traveller’s assumptions about the inevitable evolution of humanity and society were very interesting. I had to wonder how much was based on his hopes and political views and how much on observation. Obviously, his conclusions changed as he had more time to wander and observe, but it presented an interesting picture of Wells’s views and politics of the present day.

I really enjoyed the detailed description that the Time Traveller provides his listeners (and therefore readers), but for whatever reason I had some difficulty actually picturing the landscape and the people in particular. Usually I am able to draw up a version in my mind, even with very little description of the surroundings, but in this case I found the opposite to be true. Every time I mentally oriented myself, another description threw me off balance. As far as I can tell though, I’m the only one who has had this particular problem, so perhaps I’m just gifted that way.

I think that The Time Machine is definitely up for re-reading if I ever get my New York Public Library card. It is apparently quite the ordeal. I need multiple forms of ID/proof of residence. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to get a plastic card that gives me access to free books. They give them to children! Why am I, as a non-native New Yorker, less trustworthy than a small child? The bureaucracy here is a nightmare.

I said I’d be giving you reviews, and I’m staying true to my word. It has just taken me a bit longer than intended to get everything in gear, so sorry about that!

First up: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

While reading this book I was in love. The whole idea of this place with these peculiar children living apart from the world had an almost fairytale-like quality to it that I really enjoyed. As a someone who was told myriad stories growing up, I love that Riggs took the familiar “grow up-stop believing” chain of events and gave it a twist, making Jacob (our protagonist) question everything once it appears that his grandfather Abe’s “stories” may have been based in fact.

I enjoyed the interweaving of vintage photographs into the story as well, but I think it could have been done more successfully. Also — and I must admit that I didn’t notice this until after finishing the book and ruminating on it for some time — there are pictures in the book of peculiars who are never introduced or explained. The photos were a great opportunity for Riggs, and may have been a jumping off point for him, but I think they should have been better integrated into the story.

The characters are interesting enough. I think I may just have personal issues that invariably lead me to at least somewhat dislike any character in a YA novel. It’s something I’ll work on if I ever find a therapist. Jacob has “rich white boy” problems until his grandfather dies (this happens pretty early on, so I don’t think that’s giving away too much), and then he has “my grandfather died horrifically and I was right there” problems, which I imagine are a bit more difficult to deal with, so I guess he’s allowed to be a bit of a brat. The other characters are likeable, though are somewhat one-dimensional. It seems like a good bet that this will turn into a series, and I think that with time those other characters will develop well.

My main issues with this book come mostly out of thinking about it for too long because as I said, I really did enjoy it as I was reading. There is (for me, anyway) an undeniable “ick factor” in the relationship that blossoms (quite quickly, I might add) between two of the characters, but fine, whatever, I can get past that (almost). In hindsight I start to think about how the pictures throughout the book don’t connect, how the home for peculiar children bears a striking resemblance to another home/academy that houses and teaches children with extraordinary abilities that have caused them to be cast out of society, and how the plot wears very thin in quite a few places.

In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings because I was on such a high when I finished this book, but as I’ve had time to think about it and read other reviews, I’ve started to see what pieces are missing. I would still enthusiastically recommend this book to most people who ask about it. After all, I have to think about my experience reading it, and I had a lot of fun. It wasn’t really creepy or scary, so if that’s something you’re looking for, this isn’t the book for you, but if you want a fantasy/other-world type book with a few creepy aspects, then I suggest you give this a try.

I clearly dropped the ball on this blog a bit, but never fear!, I have a wealth of excuses.

For one: I got an iphone, so that took up about a day and a half of my attention.

Next: DC was hit with a massive storm, leaving us without power for roughly 5 days. Did I mention it was in the high 90s all that week? My battery-operated fan may well have saved my life.

Once we finally did get our power back, I had to finish packing, make multiple trips to Ikea, Target, and Pier 1 Imports…

AND THEN

I had to move and unpack.

I am finally (mostly) settled in my apartment in New York.

Now that I’m here I’m in this weird limbo where I don’t really have anything to do. I’m applying for jobs, and will have an interview some time next week, but other than that I don’t really know what to do with all of my time.

I owe you quite a few reviews, so you will get those soon, but I figured I should give an account of my whereabouts. I will also, at some point, provide a picture of my bookshelves as I am quite proud of them right now.