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Monday, April 30, 2012

What I'm Reading

~~which really means, as y'all know, "What are you reading? And do you love it?" And which also means, this time, what I'm watching (translation: "What are you watching? And do you love it?").

First off, what I've read recently, "recently" being relative here, since the says of zipping through books lickety-split are long gone. They may someday return, of course: it's not that I've gotten too old to read quickly. No, no--that's not it. I hope. Yikes! What if it is? But then I'd never know, since I don't take time to read, so it's pretty much moot, so never mind.

It's that the days of lounging around reading for hours and hours--those aren't even a distant memory. I think there were times in my life when, if I didn't have to get up, get dressed, and go to An Actual Job, when I'd spend large chunks of the day reading. I seem to remember, eons ago, after I'd finished graduate school and had cobbled together a couple of jobs--substituting in the public schools, teaching a couple English classes at the college, working part-time for an independent newspaper, keeping score for high school basketball games--stuff like that--that I had days when I didn't have to be anywhere, and I would lie on the couch and read. Anna Karenina. War and Peace. The Brothers Karamazov. Because somewhere in grad school I'd realized that the problem with specialization--18th and 19th century British lit, for example--was that you miss huge chunks of stuff. Russian literature, for example.

Turns out I didn't miss so much after all. I read it. It was OK. But nothing in there changed my life, and eventually I realized that I wasn't cut out for The Life of the Mind. Oh, sure: my brain loved it in some certain sorts of ways. And I could balance out the lounging-around-on-the-couch part with running, which I was still doing. But the big problem with reading and thinking about reading and thinking about what you've read is that, when it's all over, you don't have anything to show for it. Now, for most readers, this is a total non-issue, but for me? I'm kind of a literal person, kind of a plodder at heart. Kind of the opposite of my mother, who loved to sit and think about things. I like to be productive, and I like having something to show for my day, you know? Like if you came over for a cocktail before dinner and asked what I did today, I would like to have something to show you: "Here. This is what I did. And this. And these over here. And this and this and this and this."

Yeah, I'd kind of like to show you that I re-painted all the walls in the Vatican and did a mural on The Great Wall and re-upholstered all the cabs in New York City, all before noon.

So "recently" is not, like, this week, OK?

OK. A while back I read an article in the Times Sunday magazine about a boy with severe autism and the therapy dog who changed his life. Now, I am the opposite of a kid person, so I don't usually read articles about kids. But therapy dogs, well. I love the ways animals interact with humans, and so I read it. And man, if it didn't make me tear up: it was that well written. Now, a regular person, I'm guessing, who read that piece and loved it would go online and look into therapy dogs and autism and maybe find out if there was a program in their area. Me? I started looking for what else Melissa Fay Green has written.

First was this: Praying for Sheetrock, which won a bunch of awards and was a finalist for the National Book Award. 
So of course I ordered it, and I ordered this one, too, even though it's about--sigh--kids again. Still, reading the excerpt on hooked me. Funny woman, this.
Praying for Sheetrock is OK, but I had a problem with the pacing. It seemed to drag, and I never felt it jell. I finished it, but I gave it to a friend. This second one, though, I loved. It was funny and thoughtful, and I liked it all the way through. It went on the shelf in the library. That's the key: if I like a book well enough that I can see reading it again, I keep it. If not, I pass it on. If it was a good book, I'll give it to someone I know who might like it. If it's not so great, I leave it on the table at Starbucks with a note.

If it's a really, really good book, I'll buy extra copies to give away. That has happened twice, I think.

Then I read The Virgin Suicides, a book I've had on my virtual reading list for years. I think I miss a lot by taking so long to read a book, because I'm sure I didn't understand this book and probably need to go back and read it again right away. Yeah, like that's going to happen. But who were the virgins in this book? Not the girls: Lux was having sex on the roof. And not the boys: some of them had sex with her. So I'm guessing I missed something there, assuming titles mean something. And it seemed to get lost between magical realism, which it wasn't, and a story in dire need of a stronger denouement, which was disappointing. Still, he wrote well, so I enjoyed it enough to check out another one of his books, The Marriage Plot, which I haven't started and probably won't, seeing as how I'm reading one now that will probably take me approximately a year to finish at the rate I read. When you get in bed at 12:45, which is somehow the time I seem to get in bed every night even though I don't have an actual bedtime and so don't ever plan, you don't spend a lot of time reading before you start yawning and figuring it's time to call it a day.

I'm reading 11/22/63, and it's going to take a while.
Back in the days before I went back to school, I would read everything. I didn't care: People Magazine, series of mysteries, everything Stephen King had ever written up to that point (he is, in something of the world's greatest understatement, A Very Busy Guy). I devoured it all. And then I went to grad school and did the whole Lit Crit thing, which in some ways ruined my life. When you start thinking about plot and theme and character and stuff, it takes some of the fun out of werewolves and demon-possessed classic cars. You notice whether writers have control of pacing and whether characters stay true to their natures and whether or not the writer is able to bring in a strong finish--because I don't know if you've noticed, but it seems, more and more, as if writers start out with A Great Notion and go gangbusters with it for 283 pages and then just run out of steam. They had the idea, they created the characters, they scripted the action. But they never really figured out exactly where they were going and--really important--how they were going to get here. You know, it makes me think of my all-time favorite cartoon, by Sidney Harris:
Or they could be like John Grisham, who created a character, introduced us to him, and then seemed to forget everything he'd told us, letting that character use words he never would have used and contradict himself in ways that weren't all the-depths-and breadth-of-the-human-personality but were more like what I'd do if I were creating a character and, sometime in there, went out to take a walk and came back and had forgotten every single thing I'd written about him so far but, instead of starting over, just kept going, thinking, "Eh, those readers: they're too stupid to notice. They'll buy my books because I'm famous; screw character development! Give me a beer!" Like that. I actually hurled one of his books across the room. And it's why I haven't ever been able to read Julia Cameron, never mind that almost every single artist I've ever talked to has raved about The Artist's Way. Remember? I've told this story before: I swear she confused The Scarlet Letter and Wuthering Heights and thought the moors were just outside Boston, and by the time I finished checking up on what "moors" actually are and whether or not we have any of them in the US, I hated her too much to even bother.

And I know I've said all this before. And I'm sure I'll say all this again. But at least I won't forget I said it and then expect you to pay for it. (Man, I crack myself up.)

So. Watching. I've Netflixed (I love new verbs) Homicide: Life on the Street, and we're on season 4, I think. Back when The EGE was still teaching, we had actual tv, with multiple cable channels to keep him company while he sat up until 3 or 4 in the morning grading English papers, trying his best to figure out ways to help his 9th graders pass English. Seeing as how a fair number of them didn't even speak English, much less read it or write it, this became an ever-increasing challenge and was one of the reasons he retired when he did. Filling regular English classes with kids who are just marking time until they can legally quit school at 16 and get a job, yet holding the teacher accountable for the failure rate? Kind of a recipe for non-success for everyone involved.

Anyway. I'm not going to rant, I swear. No ranting on a Monday!

So one of the shows he watched in the wee hours was Homicide, and he mentioned it a couple years ago, that he'd liked it and that I probably would, too (no, I was not one of those supportive spouses who would stay up in sympathy night after night), and so I Netflixed it. And it went to the end of the queue, which you know, if you're a Netflixer, can easily run into the hundreds (up to 500) of videos, but it finally reached the front of the line. It's weird to watch pre-cell-phone detective work, isn't it? It's a good show, though, and I'm loving it. It's funny: I'm beading on the Alabama Chanin bolero, and I do that after dinner while we watch, and so whenever I bead on it at any other time, I find myself automatically thinking of the characters, hearing Pembleton's voice in my head.

Here are some of my favorite lines from various characters:
"Quit beating that horse. It's dead. It's dog meat. It's glue." [about obsessing about an old case, not about an actual horse]

"Sometimes you're funny. And then there's now."

[on why men are the way they are] "Maybe it's because we don't sew."

"It was hard on the family, with him bein' nuts and all."

So, yeah, I spend a fair amount of time laughing out loud and scribbling down dialogue. But I'm also getting a ton of Pembleton Beading done on the bolero!

We've also watched all of Lie to Me, which Roz says was pretty accurate in the facial reading department. She and I agree, though, that all the interpersonal drama ruined the show. I would have liked just the detection part--but I always like the science part if they mix in some science drama. Leave out the romance and the silliness and do not--DO NOT--make the women all show either leg or cleavage or Big Hair. Just let them have a cool job and get on with it. We're watching The Good Wife--I Netflixed the first two seasons, and now I'm getting season 3 on as the episodes come out. I hate that because the characters begin to run together with, say, Bayliss and Lewis. I forget who goes on which show. I like a show in a bazillion episodes that I can watch, one after another, until it's done. Then I'll forget everything in it, and a couple years later I'll watch them all again. It's just background noise for stitching, really.

OK, now it's your turn. Any other series we should watch? We loved Intelligence, DaVinci's Inquest. Courtroom drama, police procedural, forensic mystery--stuff like that.

And what are you reading? Anything really good?


Judah is a.... said...

Just finished The Magicians (Lev Grossman) which I have mixed feelings about. I enjoyed the author's style, but the characters were people I'd avoid spending time with in real life. It's kind of like a mash-up of Tartt's The Secret History and Harry Potter. With a lot of drinking.

In the end, I liked it well enough that I'll be reading the sequel.

Ricë said...

You mentioned that book, so I hurried over and read some reviews, and the reason I haven't read it is the thing about no likable characters. I'm not sophisticated enough to want to hang out with people I don't like. I know that's a mark of A Sophisticated Reader, that you can enjoy/profit from books with unlikeable characters, but eh: life's too short, you know? Why did you like it well enough to continue?

Judah is a.... said...

I thought I may have already mentioned it to you, but wasn't sure. I think what kept (and is keeping) me interested is the physical setting of the story... I want to know more about the background there. Plus, there's a hint that maybe the characters are actually experiencing growth, and becoming less jaded/cynical/etc.

It's also one of those cases where, after finishing it and looking back, you realize that you enjoyed it more than you thought you did, somehow.

Have you ever read anything by Doris Betts? I was unfamiliar with her until her passing a few weeks ago, and several of my friends recommended her to me. I think she deals mostly with Southern/Appalachian themes.

I'm not sure I qualify as a Sophisticated Reader! I'm currently reading an Epic Fantasy, Complete with Dragons.

ChrisF said...

Tried the Stephen King book and although I did finish it , somewhere in the middle it just fell apart for me. Not sure why. Maybe you'll have some comment when you finish.
I don't have book recommendations, but I loved Homicide also. I still think about all those quirky calendars. (and it helps that I would listen to Andre Braugher read the phone book) Another series you might like is Carnivale.

Chromosome Crawl said...

I've been reading Karen Finley's "A Different Kind of Intimacy". Transgressive, of course, but a GREAT first hand account of watershed moments in the history of the intersection of politics & art in America.

Chrisf said...

Sorry....typing disfunction today..quirky CHARACTERS

Carol said...

Hello! The last beautifully written book I read was "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. In fact, I'm afraid to read anything else by him because I don't want my idols to fall.

Eugenes "Middlesex" I really enjoyed.

I read every day but nothing everything I read is worthy of my time- case in point the latest thing I read "Elf Girl" by Reverend Jen. Arghh. Some books need heavy editing, or maybe the author just lacks introspection or something (rant over!)

Re: Netflix I suggest "The Killing" - if you liked "The Wire" you'd love this. I haven't watched "Homicide" but my husband loved it.

Carol said...

Darn it - I forgot to click the "email follow-up comments"

jinxxxygirl said...

I'm not sure i could recommend any books to you Rice that you would like but i can tell what i've been reading....Just finished The Hunger Games series....sigh...yeah i got hooked by everybody raving about it and was sorely disappointed.....I enjoyed the first book but feel as though i should have stopped there and the ending was totally anticlimatic. I read alot of Clive Cussler which i enjoy and James Rollins. I used to be a HUGE Stephen King fan as a kid then found authors that i liked better. SK i can skip pages and not miss anything and the endings never seem to satisfy. And he is not the only one with that problem. So many books i read i feel like they rush the endings, maybe their editors are rushing them to finish or something or maybe they don't know HOW to end it? Me? I like all the loose ends tied up in a neat little bow. Either that or just get out of the way and let me write the endings for you. :)
Watching??? I enjoy the Gilmore Girls series and don't laugh....Bonanza.....NCIS....Bones....we also watch Storage Wars and i like Antique Roadshow...American Pickers....the last movie i watched was Dragonheart i just love hearing the dragon talk with Sean Connery's voice. Thanks for sharing Rice. I cannot wait to see what everyone else is reading and watching. Hugs! deb

Sharon Robb-Chism said...

Currently I am taking a break from reading the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series. I have book three still to go, but since the books are so intense—sorta like watching a train wreck, where you don't want to look, but can't help yourself—I needed a break, so turned to a book of short stories by Charles de Lint titled Moonlight And Vines.

I also threw a book across the room once, I was so disgusted. It was one by James Clavell. I had invested time and emotion on the main character all through this long book, only to have the author have him die during sex one chapter before the end.

As for TV, we don't have any, so get Netflix as well. Just watched the movie Hugo, and loved it. And last night we watched a movie we ended up buying, because we laugh through the whole thing. It's the animated movie Rango. How can you not laugh at Johnny Depp playing a lizard, stranded in the desert in a town called Dirt. It's a parody of all the old westerns, and it's hilarious.

Jeannie said...

I watch NCIS. It isn't too dark, it can be funny in a dry humor sort of way. I love the character Abbey. I also watch Bones. The earlier seasons are better - less soap opera - but I love the forensics.

patty said...

One of my favorites on Netflix is Amelie and have probably watched it at least 10 times.

Since I have been unable to find anything new and good to read, I have been re-reading The Vampire Chronicles.

jeri said...

"The Dovekeepers" by Alice Hoffman.
I really liked it.

geri said...

'treme' is a series about post-katrina new includes some of the actors from 'the wire'(GREAT and underrated show), and lots of good music!
'sons of anarchy' is a great trashy biker series . what can i say...some people read romances, i watch biker flicks.
'deadwood' was an excellent series on hbo where all the characters (from grubby prospectors to saloon owners) speak shakespearan english no matter what is going on. early characters included wild bill hickok and calamity jane.
i have been a tv-junkie since birth (but i always have something else going on at the same time). in fact once the hassock caught fire when me and my sister were very small and we were so involved in the tv (westerns for sure) we had no clue until my aunt rushed in to pound the fire out? duh

just finished bill maher's 'NEW, new rules' so i'm digging around here for something to catch my fancy.

have you read stephen king's book 'on writing'? if you have a cassette player i will send it to you. it's read by king and is pretty cool. it's as much about his life as his writing, including that terrible accident he was in a few yrs ago. the best thing is hearing him read it himself; he's someone i would love to know and just sit and pick his brain about everything.picked it up at a yard sale and was looking for someone to pass it on to who would enjoy it as much as i did.

Adrian said...

Thanks for all the good book and tv/movie ideas. I got a Kindle (sorry! but I have been running out of bookshelves and some books are kind of heavy and I really miss the feel of pages, but it does have some good points and some books are cheaper than at a book store and some are even free!)
Anyway, these books were all good reads:
"Their eyes were watching" by Zora Neale Thurston, "The elegance of the hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery, "Blue" by Lou Aronica and "The art of racing in the rain" by Garth Stein.
And for all things metaphysical: "The nature of personal reality- a Seth Book" by Jane Roberts. I read all of the Seth books over and over. I always come away refreshed. And, challenged.
There are a lot of books I love, but sadly, or maybe happily, I frequently forget if I have read them, so I get to read and enjoy them again.

Maria said...

I'm reading the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage. Young readers books, but I love them. No drama, just fun. Back to stitching... Maria from San Francisco

donnaj said...

The Killing
Gilmore Girls
enjoyed all of those-as for books, i lean towards light reading over the more "heavy" stuff. I just want to be entertained.

Sandi said...

I HATED The Magicians, but the sequel was much better!! The very best book I've read in a long, long time is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenson! A magical book!!! Also enjoyed Water For Elephants a lot! I watch all of the NCIS shows. And I like Criminal Minds too.

Kim Schlinke said...

My favorite book by Jeffery Eugenides
is "Middlesex". A great character study with a bit of a family mystery stirred in.

My Netflix pick of the week is the BBC's "Sherlock". It's the modernized version of the Holmes mysteries. Well cast, and the references to the original material is just right.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sophisticated enough to want to hang out with people I don't like."
*snerk*...oh yeah...

A huge yes to the new "Sherlock"! It's great fun to see how they will incorporate all the original elements.

Currently back to reading comics online: love Brooke McEldowny (Pibgorn and Chickweed Lane) and Wiley's "Non Sequitur" for the great characters, and in McEldowny's case, the plots.

I love it when you ask this question, because everyone has such great suggestions.
Marilyn the Art Appreciator

Lisa said...

Don't read a lot of fiction, but just finished The Night Circus and loved it!!

Ricë said...

I just LOVE this--I'm adding your titles to my Netflix queue and shopping for used books on (and have found several for a penny each, which, with shipping, comes to $4 for a book I can read and then share, which is hard to beat). Thank you, thank you! And I realize I need to make this a regular thang. So I'm going to try to do it once a month or so--and if I don't, would somebody please remind me? Y'all make lists, please, of things (books, movies, shows, magazines) you discover that you'd like to share, and then periodically we'll do just that. XO

kimberlyncreations said...

I just finished reading Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg. I have loved all her books. I am now reading Insomnia by Stephen King. I don't know how I missed that one years ago. I got that for $1.00 at Half Price Books. The cashier said it was his favorite of all SK's books. My favorite SK was The Stand.
I started watching The Big Bang Theory about two months ago. So funny. You gotta love Sheldon. I also watch NCIS and Bones.