Thursday, February 26, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays

Booking Through Thursdays asks:

• Hardcover? Or paperback?
• Illustrations? Or just text?
• First editions? Or you don’t care?
• Signed by the author? Or not?

I’ll pretty much collect any and all books that fascinate me. I don’t really have the money to collect valuable books right now, but that doesn’t stop me from collecting. I have a pile of moldering old books I got from an estate sale. Seriously. They are actually moldering. The spines are crumbling, the pages are transluscent and I’m fairly sure the covers have been nibbled by mice. And they’re probably not worth much, but they make me happy so I keep them.

And I always keep my author-signed books. Most of them are specifically addressed to me, so they're not valuable to any one else other know, the army of other Olgas!

Image source: heidiologies

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Links of Interest

Tired of reading my stuff? Why not try these links?

- That Shakespearean Rag is celebrating Freedom to Read week by publishing a book each day that has been censored.
- Even comic books are starting to feel the economic pinch.
- Laurie King, author of The Beekeeper's Apprentice posted a guest blog at A Striped Armchair and it convinced me to read her book!
- Speaking of authors, my favourite author blog, Chickens in the Road, travels back in time to 1960s Virginia.

What do you think? Do you like this post? Are you interested in the links that I've posted? Feedback is appreciated!

Friday, February 20, 2009

B(u)y the Cover

They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but it's hard not to. Especially when there are a thousand books all vying for your attention with their shiny surfaces, embossed lettering, and misguided portraits.

These are delightful cover remixes of the Harry Potter series by M. S. Corley. Retro and funky, you can almost smell the musty scent of these books as you discover them on a shelf in a secondhand store.

He's also remixed the entire Lemony Snicket series and the Spiderwick Chronicles.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays

Booking Through Thursdays asks:
How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?
Ooh this is a great question! I used to have a pretty mundane order to my bookshelf; paperbacks on top, trade in the middle, and hardcovers on the bottom.

One day I was looking at the shelf and thought, "God, this looks boring." So I came up with the idea of colourcoding my shelves.

I'll give you a minute to laugh at my intense nerdiness.

It took about an hour or so, with the help of A, my best friend, but we did it. We colourcoded my bookshelves! They run from white to black and span two bookshelves. I think it looks great, except it's a bit more haphazard, and it's difficult to put books back onto the shelf. Plus, I broke apart series, like A Series of Unfortunate Events, to fit the colour-scheme, which I wasn't terribly happy to do, but felt it would look best entirely colourcoded. The final drawback is that it's difficult to put new books onto the shelves because they're pretty much packed to the gills. Fitting even a single book would mean snaking the entire collection down some shelves, and that's a lot of work in a small space.

So, was it a worthy endeavour to colourcode my books? Dunno. I'm still undecided as to whether I want to keep it; it certainly looks nice, but it might be best to just revert back to the original organization.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford

I broke my recent reading stalemate with The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford (Riverhead Hardcover, 2005).

The name attracted me to it when I was in the library looking for Young Stalin. While I couldn't find the Stalin biography, I decided to take a chance with Crawford's tale. The title seemed interesting, and I liked the movie Jarhead, so I figured this was a good bet.

I promptly fell into my reading hiatus and forgot about it until last week. When I finally picked it up, I read it in one sitting.

The title says it all, frankly. This is a tale of an accidental soldier—a man who took advantage of the National Guard's free school tuition for the price of a weekend a month. He's deployed to Iraq where he spends three years as an infantryman patrolling the streets of occupied Baghdad and collecting his stories.

Crawford's writing is simple and straightforward, the prose of a man who isn't interested in crafting a beautiful tale. Yet, there are lines of real beauty in the book as well. The story is propelled by his words and how well they fit together.

Despite the title, I feel no pity for Crawford's situation. Yes, most soldiers sign up so they can go to school, but they make the decision to take the risk and Crawford is no different. His story happens to be well-crafted, though, and worth telling. No one can really explain to you what it's like to go to war, but you can get a small sense of it when you read accounts like Crawford's.

There are moments when you can almost feel the regret in his mind, especially in the final moments of the book as he recounts his final days in Iraq. After three years of patrolling a war-torn country as an American conqueror, he is suspicious of everyone, right down to the children. He makes no attempt to hide the fact that the Iraqi people considered the occupying forces as conquerors, not saviors. So you can understand his motivation when he spots a child holding a gun. It still chills you to the bone, though. You don't know whether or not he shoots the child in the end, but he does tell the reader that the gun was merely a shell with no chance of being a threat.

It's a sad story, but there are funny parts, despite the grim subject. If you liked Jarhead, you'll like The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell.

Rating: Four Stars

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wordle Circling the Blogosphere

If you haven't seen this yet, this is a Wordle.

Anyone can make one, as long as you've got some text and capability to copy and paste. If your blog has an Atom or RSS feed, you can even create one out of your own words! I was mildly amused the first time I saw it, and now that I've tried it out I declare that I am tickled pink. There's something fun and delightful in seeing the words you have written in a mass jumble of different colours and sizes.

Give it a shot, or take a look at the inauguration speech wordles people created. They look like thumbprints!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bad Sex Award Proves Literary Heavy Weights Can't Handle Sexytimes

Paulo Coehlo, John Updike, and Simon Montefiore all have something in common—they should leave the love scenes for the professionals. All three have been shortlisted for the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

As a woman who has read a lot of sexy books and written some exceptionally distasteful sex scenes in her time (read on for an explanation), I am not surprised that these illustrious literary heavey-weights have been brought down a notch. It's not easy writing sex. There's a fine balance between just enough exposition and the purple prose that keeps the reader wanting more.

Plus, is sex really something a novel needs anyway? Obviously if the literature has been published, and it hasn't been cut in the rigorous editorial process, one can assume that some one made the executive decision to keep it. Sex sells, right? So maybe if we keep Coehlo's love scene (set upon a park footpath), we'll sell a few more copies. What say you, Coehlo?
"At last, she could no longer control the world around her," Coelho continues, "her five senses seemed to break free and she wasn't strong enough to hold on to them. As if struck by a sacred bolt of lightning, she unleashed them, and the world, the seagulls, the taste of salt, the hard earth, the smell of the sea, the clouds, all disappeared, and in their place appeared a vast gold light, which grew and grew until it touched the most distant star in the galaxy."
If I had read this in context, I still would have snorted out laughing. Then rolled my eyes, because never have I emitted "a vast gold light." But then, I'm probably too artless for the type of sex Mr. Coehlo composes. For the longest time, my literary sex life was rooted in fanfiction written by and for teenagers like me, a world full of dominant males and eager to please sexual novices. Heck, I even wrote some of that garbage myself. And no, you cannot see it.

And nowadays I've got a pile of Harlequins a meter high, waiting to be devoured in between Don Quixote and On the Road.

I'm not saying that sex should stay in genre fiction. Heaven knows there are great examples of good sex in literary novels (The Time Traveller's Wife, anyone?) But it's awfully difficult to write a good love scene.

Image source: Stewf

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Forgive me if this review is short; I made the mistake of reading this and then avoiding the review like it was made of plague until today. Part of the reason is because I’m lazy. Another part is because I sort of lost my drive and zeal for reading and have been overdosing on Dog, the Bounty Hunter.

But I’m back, baby!

So what can I tell you about American Born Chinese? Yang’s graphic novel is actually three stories in one. The first is a mythical folk tale about The Monkey King, who, despite being a powerful god, is laughed at by the other gods. The second tale is of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American boy who endures the pressures of being a minority in his new school. And finally, the third story follows the life of a white boy named Danny and his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, who visits every year to wreck havoc on Danny’s life. Chin-Kee is the ultimate in Chinese stereotype—his dialogue is written phonetically, his clothing is stereotypically Chinese (right down to the conical hat); Yang is almost vicious in his depiction of Chin-Kee—the words of all Chinese stereotypes embody the character.

These three stories appear to run parrallel together, but at the end the characters begin to appear in each other’s stories.

I don’t know much about Chinese-American culture, but I can understand the pressures of wanting to be someone you are not. I think everyone has at some point in their life longed for something different, but it’s not possible to change who you are fundamentally.

Deep down, the story of American Born Chinese is that you should accept your heritage, and love your family and friends, no matter what their culture is. It may take a demi-god Monkey disguised as a Chinese stereotype to knock that into you, but ultimately you can’t run away from who you are.

It’s an old lesson, but it’s told in a unique way with lovely cartoon graphics, and a fun set of stories. I felt like I learned a bit more about what it’s like to be Chinese in America.

A good graphic novel, and I would even recommend it for children. The lesson is easy to grasp and the story moves quickly enough that you can share it with your kids.

Rating: Four stars