Category Archives: Reads

Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around

Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around: A Memoir of Floods, Fires, Parades, and Plywood, by Cheryl Wagner

I was at the library one day, picking up some research material for the book I’m working on, and this book caught my eye. There I am, walking down the aisle, and this book was at the end of one row, facing out, and I stopped, backed up, and looked at it. (Score one for the importance of cover art.)

The title intrigued me – there’s certainly enough suck in this world. I flipped it over and read the back, and discovered it was about post-Katrina New Orleans. I shrugged – why not, it’s the library, it’s free.

I got 9 pages in while my car was being inspected. There’s a dog named Aunt Clotilde Robichaux. Author Cheryl Wagner and her boyfriend Jake would occasionally talk with their neighbor across a fence “a ‘crazy white family’ had erected in the sixties.” The author’s mother’s official name is Lizzie, not Elizabeth, possibly due to a case of “classic New Orleans ineptitude.” She talks about her widowed mom moving in with her aunt: “I like to think of these two in the late seventies and early eighties dancing down their front steps for the Krewe of Shut-Ins parade with us kids cheering them on. Old woman in a worn housecoat shaking her rump, showing the young mother how you wriggle free of life’s palls.”

After my car was inspected, I met a friend for a movie. I showed the book to her, read a couple of bits, and told her she would probably like it…especially since she knows New Orleans far better than I do. She was going to download a sample on her kindle.

I kept reading, through their evacuation, through a chapter of email exchanges that had me in tears, from the hope that maybe their Mid-City neighborhood was fine, to the anger and rage over the reports of the evacuation and response, to the disappointment of finding out their neighborhood was very much under water, to the worry of wondering how long the wiring can be submerged before it goes bad.

“The next ten days hurt. All the LSU hurricane doomsday guy’s dire prognostications were coming true. Fire, floods, floods on fire. The giant ball of floating ants arrived. Our governor and mayor were on the television with eyes red from crying.” They started getting reports from friends, of people stuck on balconies or roofs or dangling from trees, people laying dead on the sidewalk. “No one had ever called me to say things like that, much less so many people.” And there they were, stuck in Florida, unable to help, not knowing what was left of their house or their belongings or their neighborhood. Wagner started doing what she could, trying to get people rescued from wherever they were stuck by reposting posts from message boards onto the Coast Guard Rescue website. “It seemed inconceivable that this could help, yet also inconceivable that people were posting desperate SOSs on the Web that trapped relatives had phoned to them in the first place.” After one more piece of bad news, this time from her mom, Wagner seems to lose it. “What the fuck. If anybody was doing his damn job, this wouldn’t be going on so long. People’s minds are breaking.”

Finally, Wagner and her boyfriend Jake couldn’t take it anymore. They were determined to get back into the city, to check on their house, to start the cleanup, to keep the thieves away, and to HELP. Since New Orleans was under Martial Law, they were afraid they would have to sneak in, hiking along River Road or impersonating medical personnel. Wagner was able to get press passes, they got Hep and Tetanus shots, and finally got back into the city. It looked like the set of a zombie movie – there was no one there. They dumped some dog food when they saw stray dogs, dropped some water off with stray people. When they finally got to their house, they found plants turned to goo, a swollen front door, a soup-filled van, swollen moldy furniture, and mud everywhere. They had rented a too-small storage unit, the only one available, and had planned to take anything they could salvage there. When they saw the house, they realized the unit would be too big.

The chapter the book was named after, “Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around,” really got me. Wagner talks about how the unflooded people started coming back, now that there was electricity and hot water. “Jake and I would overhear them at the drugstore bitterly complaining. They hated the curfew. They were upset about their manicurist being displaced, their favorite restaurant not reopening, and all the stores still being closed.”

“There was a trite mantra I found myself having to say out loud to myself – everyone’s loss is big to them – to keep from hating people…

“The weird thing was that this little bon mot of trite was actually true. People had lost their faith. Our city was in ruin….I was not interested in sifting and weighing suck on a bunch of tiny scales. Suck was too hard to quantify. There was plenty enough suck to go around. Sitting around measuring it wasn’t going to fix anything.

“Flooded people started to grumble that unflooded people were SPOILED. And some days I was one of them. But in my unbitter, unflooded heart I didn’t believe people should be happy they had just lost their jobs or all their life plans. If unflooded people were spoiled for being rattled that their city and security had been shredded around them, then I should be thrilled that ‘at least I had an upstairs.’ And I really was. But I also wasn’t.”

I had made it 100 pages in, and I was hooked. I laughed out loud more times than I know, cried quite a bit, and nodded my head at the inalienable truths. Most importantly, I was reminded of something I already knew: everyone has their own version of loss, their own version of suck. Everyone is dealing with something.

Photo by geauxgirl

Photo by geauxgirl

 

 

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Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights – The Movie

I just read Wuthering Heights, and I hated almost every minute of it.  I also watched the 1970 version of the movie, with Timothy Dalton, and found it…equally as painful, and not much like the book.  I read that this version of the movie was “generally accepted,” and since I found both this movie and the book painful, I could agree with that.

For some reason, I was eager to torture myself further, so I ordered the 1992 movie adaptation, entitled Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.  According to wikipedia, this version “is notable for including the oft-omitted second generation story”  of Cathy Linton and Hareton.

Watching it, I was reminded that I was incorrect in my original review of the book.  I said that the only character I liked was young Cathy, but I was wrong.

I loved Hareton.

I forgot about Hareton, in my original review.  I felt sorry for the poor kid, throughout the book, and toward the end, I had a little soft spot for him.  It was quite obvious he was infatuated with young Cathy, in the way that the kid who pulls a girl’s pigtails is.  He wanted so much to please her, to make her like him, and when she rebuffed him, he reacted as if he didn’t care.

But he did.

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights captured that, and reminded me:

I *heart* Hareton.

Screw Heathcliff.

If Wuthering Heights had a redeeming quality, it would be Hareton.  He’s the early 19th Century version of Lloyd Dobler.

Well, I finally read Wuthering Heights…

One of my goals for 2011 is to read some of the “best books” I’ve never read.  I started with Wuthering Heights.

It took me nearly a full month to get through.  I really struggled through the first half of the book, but I picked up some speed in the second half.  I don’t know if it was because it became easier to read (I could understand the language and narration better), if it was because I could see the end in sight, or if it was because Catherine died.  I kind of think it was the end of her that made it better.

Not that it was better.

I’ve gotta say, I don’t get the fascination with the book, Heathcliff, or the doomed love story at the center of the novel.  I found the book painful to read, especially Joseph’s speech (in fact, I skipped over most of his parts).  I found Heathcliff to be a dick.  I found almost every other character to be weak, most of them sickly.  I did not like Catherine, although Cathy was somewhat tolerable…when compared to everyone else.

Let me back up just a little bit and take a slight tangent.  I have this weird ability to appreciate things I don’t like.  A particular dish in a restaurant that sounds wonderful, although I don’t like half the things in it and would never order it.  A movie, such as The Green Mile, that I can appreciate for it’s story and acting and directing – yes, it was an amazing movie – and yet hate every moment of it and vow to never watch it again.

Wuthering Heights was wonderfully written, and you have to give Brontë credit for creating flawed (and therefor “real”) characters.  Her descriptions of the houses and moors were wonderfully done.  But even flawed characters have to have one redeeming quality, and these characters had none.  None.

How is this a great love story?  It was abusive, and violent, and obsessive.  The characters were vengeful, and spiteful, and immature.

What is it with books about unhealthy relationships and people in love who make it a point to make the other person miserable and hurt them as much as they can?  Did I miss the lesson in school where this is the ideal? Oh, poor Catherine, poor Heathcliff, their love is doomed.

Poor me, for reading this.

Although, I do have to say, I laughed every single time someone “ejaculated.”  Certainly not the same meaning we use today…

Reading group update

Okay all you (the both of you) people, get me updates!  I just updated mine, and I am happy to report I have already far surpassed my goal, and I am determined to hit the 3000 page mark by the end date!

1 month to go!!

(View the page here.)

C’mon, you’re reading anyway!

There’s still time to join the summer reading group!  At the rate we’re going, EVERYONE will receive a prize of some sort, 50 pages or 5000 pages!

jenfromtheblock gave me her update today, and it looks like she’ll be blowing us all out of the water!  And I thought I was doing so well…

“Rules” and information are located on the Summer Reading Group Page.

Just let me know if you want to join in the fun!

Summer Reading Group starts today!

So far I only have 2 people signed up, but there’s still time!  Come on, you’re going to be reading, anyway, why not win prizes for it? 

Here are the rules:

  • Reading time is May 29 (Memorial Day Weekend) through September 6th (Labor Day Weekend).
  • Log the book and the number of pages read by emailing me. (This way, War & Peace and Goodnight Moon cannot be weighted equally as “books read.”)
  • I will choose a multitude of winners, and you will get a prize – TBD at this point. Prizes will likely consist of more books, food (cookies, or a casserole, maybe, for locals), or perhaps a gift card or two.
  • As a bonus, you can project the number of pages you think you will read – the one who gets the closest to it will win an extra prize. Projections need to be emailed to me by June 10th, and must be at least 500 pages. 
  • Sign up by June 30th.
  • To sign up, please email me at allthingsdelightful at hotmail. Supply me with a “username” to use, or I’ll use your blog, if you have one. ALL information will be kept top secret – it’s just me, I’m not trying to sell anything, I’m not going to sell your info, etc.  If you win, I’ll request your address so I can send you your prize.
  • I’ve set up a page to keep track of rankings:  https://delightfuleccentric.wordpress.com/summer-reading-group/
  • Be honest!  Keep this fun.  You’re on your honor.
  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • Spread the word. If you know someone who would be interested in this, let them know about it! Publicize it on your blog! Let’s have some fun with this!

My first book up is The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.  Of course, I’m also mid-way through a couple of other books, so I’ll start counting pages from where I am now.

Click here to see how this started!

What are you reading this summer?

I saw an article in the paper today about the library’s summer reading program, and it got me to thinking.

I’ve always been a big reader, from the time I was a little kid. I can remember being 8, 9, 10 years old, sitting in the corner of the sofa with a book in my hand. I think my bookworminess is in my genes. My grandmother always had a stack of books, romance novels, and she would sit down around 9pm, watch some TV with the rest of us with a book in hand, and read into the wee (wee) hours of the morning, long after the rest of us went to bed. My mom, too, was a reader, and she also had a stack of romance novels when I was growing up, although she didn’t read as often or stay up as late reading as my grandmother did.

My parents never had a problem getting me to read. I was not one of those kids that didn’t like to read, like my sister was. Every summer, I would join the Summer Reading Club at the local library, and every year I’d be near the top of the list as far as number of books read. But there was always one or two kids that far surpassed me, and I always wondered how they managed to read so much more than me. Of course, I was honest in my accounting, and perhaps they weren’t. I considered lying and saying I read more, but even then I wasn’t comfortable with out-and-out lies.

Do you remember the Scholastic Book Fairs? I loved it when the school would have a Book Fair – I would get the little 8 page flyer and go through and circle the books that I wanted, and there was never fewer than 20 books circled. I can still do that, with the Barnes & Noble or Borders magazines. It’s like Scholastic for adults.  🙂

I read the Sweet Valley High books, and Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but I was into “adult” romance novels at an early age – Lavyrle Spencer and Judith McNaught and any Harlequin book I could find. Again, I think it’s in my genes – that’s what I grew up with. My reading choices have certainly widened since then. Currently, I’m working on two non-fiction books (The Guinea Pig Diaries, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven), a fiction book (I Did, But I Wouldn’t Now), and two romance books (Inferno, Dakota Home). I go through phases with romance novels – I’m currently in the “read half a book a night” phase.

I’m a member of an “online bookclub,” which sends daily emails, with the first 20 or so pages of a book. A lot of my book choices lately have come from that, including three of the books I mentioned above. There are a bunch of different genres you can sign up for – non-fiction, fiction, business, mystery, the list goes on. It makes a nice break from my work day – when I need to stop and regroup, I’ll just go into my inbox and find the latest book offering sent to me.  www.dearreader.com – sign up through your local library.

I’m also a member of a “real” book club, although we’re certainly not as “real” as we should be. Almost from the start, we talked more about our lives than the book pick for the month. In fact, some months we didn’t discuss the book at all, which worked out well for those of us (usually about half of us) that didn’t bother to read the book. There were a couple of months where we didn’t even bother picking a book. We’re trying to get back on track, though, and pick a book, and I’m making a concentrated effort to actually read the book, if I’m interested. As one of the women says, “We all read books, we just don’t normally read the one chosen.”

Sometimes I’ll go a full month without picking up a book, and then some months, like this month, I go through three, four, five books. I take after my grandmother, in that I could easily stay up until 2 or 3 am reading, especially romance novels. It’s one of my forms of escapism, I’ve known that for years, and often my excuse for not liking or wanting to read a particular book is that, “I don’t want to escape to that place.” I mean, who wants to escape to war-torn Africa, or China during the era of foot-binding? Not that I can’t appreciate the story, but I just don’t want to be those people.

I’m amazed at how many men on match.com, under “Last Read,” will put, simply, “I don’t read.” Many will put a magazine (GQ, Men’s Monthly) or the newspaper, but very few actually have a book listed in that field. And saying “I don’t read” is a huge turn off for me. You don’t read? At all? Are you uneducated? I can understand being busy, and it maybe taking you a year to get through Davinci Code, but at least that’s something. I had a date recently with a man who said he hadn’t read a book since high school. I just don’t get that.

You know, all this has gotten me thinking…

I’m going to start my very own Summer Reading Group! Are you interested in being a part of it? Here are the rules:

  • Reading time is May 29 (Memorial Day Weekend) through September 6th (Labor Day Weekend).
  • Log the book and the number of pages read (This way, War & Peace and Goodnight Moon cannot be weighted equally as “books read”).
  • I will choose a multitude of winners, and you will get a prize – TBD at this point. Prizes will likely consist of more books, food (cookies, or a casserole, maybe, for locals), or perhaps a gift card or two.
  • As a bonus, you can project the number of pages you think you will read – the one who gets the closest to it will win an extra prize. Projections need to be posted by June 10th, and must be at least 500 pages. 
  • Sign up by June 30th.
  • To sign up, please email me at allthingsdelightful at hotmail. Supply me with a “username” to use. I’ll set up a page on this blog with the latest rankings.  ALL information will be kept top secret – it’s just me, I’m not trying to sell anything, I’m not going to sell your info, etc.
  • Be honest!  Keep this fun.  You’re on your honor.
  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • Spread the word. If you know someone who would be interested in this, let them know about it! Publicize it on your blog! Let’s have some fun with this!

Twilight Thoughts

I got a little bit of a late start on the Twilight series, but after hearing everyone talk about it, I felt compelled to read it. I’m on the third book now, and there’s some things I want to say.

I’ll start by saying that I didn’t particularly like Twilight. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I didn’t see what the big deal was. I heard about The Meadow scene, and when I read it, I was completely unimpressed. I wasn’t going to continue reading the series, but I was told that I should read the second book. So I did.

And I liked the second book, New Moon, much better. About halfway through the book I realized why. It was because I didn’t have to hear about how damn perfect Edward is.

That’s right, folks. Count me on Team Jacob. I mean, come on. Warm-blooded boy, or cold-as-marble boy? I personally would rather curl up next to some warmth at night, TYVM.

Then I watched the movie Twilight, and I enjoyed it much more than the book. And I realized that, again, it was because I didn’t have to listen to Bella’s internal monologue about how perfect Edward was. That was the part that really aggravated me in the first book. I mean, come on…I GET it already!

So now I’m reading the third book, Eclipse, and we’re back to Bella talking about Edward, although it’s not as bad as in the first book. But here’s the part that made me write this blog post. I was reading it the other night, and this line popped out at me: “Cold as ice, his tongue lightly traced the shape of my lips.”

EEEEWWWWW! That just makes me think of a lizard. Or a wet willy. I don’t want cold lips kissing me, a cold tongue tracing over my lips, a cold body pressed up against me in a passionate embrace. There’s a reason romance novels are called “steamy” – because the men are warm-blooded, and their mouths and tongues and all other parts of their body are HOT. (Ugh. That makes me think of Edward and Bella having sex, and his cold penis. Double EW!!) There’s a reason “Cold Fish” is a bad term!!

BTW, there is a “5th” book available online at Stephanie Meyers’ site. It’s not really a 5th book, it’s actually the 1st book written from Edward’s POV. And, not surprisingly, I enjoyed it far more than the original – because it wasn’t Bella talking about how perfect Edward was.

I’m a little more than halfway through Eclipse, and I have a couple of ideas on what the end of the series will be.  My coworker refuses to acknowledge whether I’m correct of not.  So I will continue reading, and see if I am right.  I was already right on one theory, so I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be right again.  We’ll see!

Learn Something About…House of Leaves

 Years (and years) ago when I was living in Dallas, I listened to The Best Radio Station Ever – KDGE The Edge.  One of my favorite DJ’s ever, Jessie, was on in the afternoon, and she played Poe’s Latest song, “Hey, Pretty.”  (More on Poe later, when I get to P.)  In the song, a man was reading off what I thought was a poem.  I wanted to find out what it was and who had written it, because it provoked one of those “mouth dry” reactions in me.  I was captivated, listening to this man read this poem.  At the end of the song, Jessie came back on and said that the man was actually Poe’s brother, Mark Danielewski, and he was reading from his book, House of Leaves.

I went looking for the book, but the bookstores weren’t really stocking it, so I ended up ordering off of Amazon.  (Later, the bookstores couldn’t keep the book in stock – a shipment would come in and be gone in a day.)

House of Leaves is…different.  It’s essentially a thesis paper, found by a tattoo artist, about a documentary film made by a video journalist about the strange happenings in his house.  It starts out very dry, neatly written as a research paper, interspersed with extensive footnotes (including footnotes the tattoo artist interjects), and then it devolves into a strange gathering of scraps of paper as the author, Zampano, writes on anything handy – a cocktail napkin, a torn ticket stub, the back of a postage stamp…

House of Leaves uses a movie trick to create tenseness in the reader at opportune times.  In a movie, the scenes will often switch at a faster rate as the director tries to build tension.  This can be difficult to do in a book, when you can’t force the reader to read any quicker.  The author instead puts single words or sentences on a page, forcing the reader to turn the page quickly in order to take it all in.  The author (and the tattoo artist, later, as he reads it) slowly descends into a mentally unstable state, full of fear and paranoia.  You can feel the insanity gripping you, too, as you read it, sections of which must be read in a mirror.

When I read the book, I had no prior knowledge of it, other than it was written by one of my favorite singer’s brother and he read a part of it in a remix of one of her songs.  In other words, I went in blind, with no knowledge of what it was about, or how it was put together, or really even what genre it was in.  Horror?  Paranormal?  Literary?  I went back later and investigated it, and found a wealth of information on the internet.  Seems the book had cultivated quite a cult following, and I devoured pages upon pages of forum discussion.

A quick rundown from Wikipedia:  It’s classified as ergodic literature (you have to do more than simply read left to right, top to bottom).  It was released in March 2000, but had already acquired a cult following from gradual release over the internet.  It has multiple narrators, “who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.”  Some editions have the word “House” in blue throughout the book.  There are many spelling and grammar mistakes in the book, put there on purpose.

The editorial review from Amazon says, “Had The Blair Witch Project been a book instead of a film, and had it been written by, say, Nabokov at his most playful, revised by Stephen King at his most cerebral, and typeset by the futurist editors of Blastat their most avant-garde, the result might have been something like House of Leaves. Mark Z. Danielewski’s first novel has a lot going on: notably the discovery of a pseudoacademic monograph called The Navidson Record, written by a blind man named Zampanò, about a nonexistent documentary film–which itself is about a photojournalist who finds a house that has supernatural, surreal qualities. (The inner dimensions, for example, are measurably larger than the outer ones.) In addition to this Russian-doll layering of narrators, Danielewski packs in poems, scientific lists, collages, Polaroids, appendices of fake correspondence and “various quotes,” single lines of prose placed any which way on the page, crossed-out passages, and so on.

Reviewers on Amazon who gave it 5 stars say, “Fun and disturbing ride through several psyches”;  “Creepy and thought-provoking”;  “A unique reading experience”;  “Great fun – it’ll make you go mad”;  and, my favorite, “Double Dog Dare is alive and well and literary in the 00’s.”

Reviewers who gave it 1 star say, “Incredibly Dull Pseudoeintellectual Gimmickery”;  “One seriously lame novel”;  “House of Pretentious”;  “House of Self-Congratulation”; and “House of [expletive deleted].”

Bookslut had an interview with Mark Danielewski in 2006.

And here’s the video – when the man talks, that’s Mark Danielewski, and he’s reading from House of Leaves.  (And, yes, you’ll probably recognize the song from a car commercial – it made me SO happy to hear Poe on TV.  Not enough people know her, and she’s amazing.  But as I said earlier – you’ll have to wait until I get to P.)

 

Just Read – The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz

I read the first 20 pages or so as a pre-publication, and was interested enough to write it into my “Possible Reads” file.  Then I happened upon it at Barnes & Noble in the Bargain Bin, so I went ahead and picked it up.  I’ve had it on my bookshelf for maybe a year, and I took it down over Christmas, anticipating a flight that didn’t happen.

From Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly
In a family of private investigators, privacy is nonexistent. The Spellman parents spy on the kids just as much as the kids spy on the parents. But after 28 years of this, middle child Isabelle wants out of the family business. Her parents agree, but only if she solves the 10-year-old cold case of a missing teenage. Amusing and entertaining, Lutz’s tale of investigation, family and love is given an additional bemusing touch by Ari Graynor. She grasps the material and Isabelle’s resigned disposition of both loving and loathing her family. She captures Isabelle’s more emotional responses and the youthful tone of her younger sister, Rae. However, she is occasionally too breathy, literally blowing into the microphone. While these come off as sighs, they still seem to cross that line between narration and interpretation. The abridgment of some of the book’s various subplots increases the speed of this already fast paced comedy-mystery.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist
Fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series will enjoy this clever debut (the first in a series) featuring Izzy Spellman, an irrepressible 28-year-old sleuth who works for her parents’ San Francisco PI firm. Members of the dysfunctional and relentlessly nosy Spellman clan include Izzy’s 14-year-old sister, Rae, who engages in recreational surveillance (a fancy term for tailing people just for kicks), and her uncle Ray, a cancer survivor and recovering health-food addict who regularly disappears on liquor-drenched “Lost Weekends.” Scenes showcasing the relationships among the various Spellmans are often laugh-out-loud funny. (The novel’s prologue is an amusing example of the boundaries–or lack thereof–between Izzy and her mom and dad). Alas, bit after comic bit does not a mystery novel make, and only toward the end does Lutz pick up the narrative pace. Addicted to Get Smart reruns and forever attracted to the wrong kind of men, Izzy Spellman is definitely an appealing heroine; all this series needs to become a smashing success is a more generous dose of story and suspense. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the
Hardcover edition.

I’ve read several Stephanie Plum novels, and this can certainly be compared to them.  Part chick-lit, part mystery, with some high jinks thrown in.  It was a nice change of pace, after getting burned out on Stephanie after the sixth book.  And it was a very light read, fast paced.  There was one very glaring typo in the copy I read –  she’s on a missing persons case, trying to find a guy named Andrew who disappeared 12 years ago.  She keeps calling Andrew’s brother, Martin, but at one point in the book it says, “I placed another call to Andrew…”  It confused me enough that I had to re-read about 50 pages or so, before I figured she must have meant Martin. 

The best part of the book, I think, was Rae, the main character’s 14 year old sister.  I thought she was the most developed character, and I kept thinking she would be fun to watch in a movie version of the book.

Anyone want to read it before I throw it in the Goodwill bin?  Let me know.