Thursday, April 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays: So What?

Booking Through Thursdays asks:

Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

Ah, symbolism, the bane of my English class existence. When I was in high school, a favourite English teacher of mine used to drive us crazy by asking the same question after each passage we'd read: "So what?"

Meaning, so what does this mean? What do you get from this part of the story? What else can you see in here?

Like I said, it would drive some of us crazy. Especially if the answers were never very clear.

While I was never one of those people who couldn't 'get' symbolism, I wasn't the quickest on the uptake. So I normally wouldn't pick up on it until after my teacher would explain it. However, over the years I've gotten a little better at it through self-study. I read The Odyssey as an adult and found the symbolism much easier to pick up than I would have as a child. I guess that really only comes through experience, though. If you read enough books, you start reading in between the lines yourself.

I still hate those individuals who seem to find symbolism in every book and don't hesitate to point it out. That's probably why I've never joined a proper book club. Eventually I'd want to throw the book at someone if I had to deal with that nonstop.

The last book I finished was The Reader by Bernard Schlink and I'm trying to think of what symbolism I can garner from that story.

Nope, nothing comes to mind.

Okay, so maybe I haven't gotten any better at identifying literary symbols over the years. Or perhaps the question posed is right—books these days are less likely to carry symbols, but somehow I doubt that. There are plenty of books written each year that you can read further into if you stop and look past the main plot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Review: My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

I've been meaning to review Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life for awhile, but I've been dragging my feet here at the ol' Punnery. My apologies. I'll strive to get back on track. The list of books that I need to review is starting to get long and unwieldy and I'm afraid I might just give up on some of them soon enough. But anyway! Onto the book review:

My Horizontal Life is a collection of memories from Chelsea Handler's life growing up as a young, hot sex-kitten and the sort of antics that I could only dream of experiencing, given that I was never a hot sex kitten, not even in my wildest dreams. So to say that My Horizontal Life is my way of living vicariously through the glory days of some blonde skinny chick is a pretty good sum up.

The best part about the book is that it's actually good. Handler's funny as hell in a way that only fearless women can be. Her good looks have allowed her to get away with essentially murder, and she knows it, and she rolls with it. She recounts some of her most embarrassing morning-afters (the ones that we've all had but are hesitant to admit to). Midgets, male strippers, black guys, rich guys, weirdos, Chels has done 'em all.

Plus, she's funny. You can't hate a girl who willingly admits she has a drinking problem and it's led to some incredibly awkward situations in bed. All you can do is laugh and thank God it wasn't you. Unfortunately, I don't think her brand of humour really translates well to TV (thus, I've never been able to get through an entire episode of the Chelsea Handler Show), but I'll keep reading her books if she's willing to keep embarrassing herself further.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays: I'm Rich! Let's Go to the Bookstore

Booking Through Thursdays asks:

Yesterday, April 15th, was Tax Day here in the U.S., which means lots of lucky people will get refunds of over-paid taxes. Whether you’re one of them or not, what would you spend an unexpected windfall on? Say … $50? How about $500? (And, this is a reading meme, so by rights the answer should be book-related, but hey, feel free to go wild and splurge on anything you like.)
It certainly depends on the windfall! As much as I love books, I don't know if I can lay down $500 on new books. Perhaps if I were able to find a complete set of Winston Churchill's memoirs (I have The Hinge of Fate...someday the rest will be mine!) in good condition, it'd be worth it to spend that windfall on books. Otherwise, I'd probably splurge on something else. A vacation is more likely.

How about you? Would you spend your tax refund on books? Or would you reserve it for something else?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Review: Aya of Yop City by Abouet & Oubreri

Aya of Yop City, written by Marguerite Abouet and drawn by Clement Oubrerie, is the sequel to Abouet and Oubrerie's 2007 graphic novel, Aya. It's about a teenage girl named Aya and her group of family and friends set in the 1970s, in the Ivory Coast. It paints a very different picture of life in Africa than we normally get.

Aya's friend Adjoua has just had a baby and she needs help to rear the child. The father—nicknamed the 'Skirtchaser'—is missing and she's set to be married to the lazy son of a wealthy brewery owner. When they discover who the real father is, the wedding is called off and life starts to resume a normal pace. Aya's busy helping Adjoua with the baby while their friend Bintou falls for a rich-looking Parisian.

Life is delightfully normal in Abouet and Oubrerie's Aya of Yop City. The drama in their lives is not unlike the drama we find in our own, and it's a refreshing take on African culture. I would recommend it anyone whose looking for a quick and light read.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays: Oh, I'm a Book Slut

Booking Through Thursdays asks:

Some people read one book at a time. Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to…

1. Are you currently reading more than one book?
2. If so, how many books are you currently reading?
3. Is this normal for you?
4. Where do you keep your current reads?

If I could ever proclaim that I’m a slut, it would be because of books. And, for the record, I can’t actually call myself a proper slut as I’m a bit of a prude, even with the women’s fiction job. But! Books, well…they are my Achilles’ heel. Give me a stack of books and a hunk of man-meat and I’ll ask to read the back cover copy first before I make my decision.

That being said, yes. I read way more than one book at a time. I’ll read anything at any time. Currently, if you’ll look down to my Shelfari widget, you’ll see that I have five books on the go that I’ll admit to. That doesn’t account for the book in my parent’s bathroom (Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer), or the book by my bed that I haven’t touched in about four months cause it’s really boring, the countless books in my office, or the others strewn around my apartment in various states of completion (I’m looking at you Absurdistan).

I’m perfectly happy to flit from book to book. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for that dark, wordy nine hundred page tome about the Middle Ages. Sometimes I need something light and airy. Right now I’m on a graphic novel kick. I’ve finally acquired several of the books from my Graphic Novel Challenge list and I’m busy getting through those. And where do I keep them all? Everywhere. A Scanner Darkly is hiding in my purse. I found a book in bed with me this morning, I rolled over and came face to face with the cheeky monkey gracing its cover like it was the morning-after and it’s time for that awkward conversation.

Thankfully, books don’t talk back (well, they can if you get the audio, but you know what I mean). And that’s why I’m more of a book slut than anything else.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Book Review: Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi

The more books I read by Japanese authors, the more I think that I do not possess the level of self-awareness and intellect needed to read Japanese authors.

Introspective, moody and steered primarily through the body language of the characters, Red Colored Elegy is a poetic graphic novel about a couple, Ichiro and Sachiko. Written by Seiichi Hayashi in the seventies, it feels very much like I'm 'reading' a Japanese arthouse film.

It's about love, heartbreak, death, and the mishmash of feelings that every young person struggling with making a living for the first time has to go through. That's pretty much the best way I can sum up this book. Ichiro and Sachiko are a young couple, living in Japan in the seventies, trying to make it as a comic artist and an animator respectively. While it's set in a politically turbulent time in Japan's history, Ichiro and Sachiko skirt around the politics, as they are focused on their own personal struggles.

It's a pretty graphic novel, and it didn't take me long to read at all. Perhaps if I had reflected more on the meaning behind the art it would have taken me longer. I'm really shitty at doing that though, especially if the art is a little more obtuse than I'm used to. It's the same thing that makes me think poetry is boring. Admitting that is probably the most embarrassing thing I can do on a blog, but I make no claims that I'm a genius critic. I likes what I likes.

That being said, I didn't hate Red Colored Elegy. Like I said before, I'm probably just not the sort of person this book is meant to be for.

Rating: Three Stars

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Booking Through Thursdays: National Library Week

Booking Through Thursdays asks:

“I saw that National Library week is coming up in April, and that led to some questions. How often do you use your public library and how do you use it? Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library? Did you go to the library as a child? Do you have any particular memories of the library? Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older, darker, quiet, cozy libraries?”

Oh, the public library. I have had a tumultuous relationship with my various public libraries as I’ve grown up. I suppose I should start from the beginning. But don’t worry—I won’t go through the entire sordid history.

My earliest memory of the library was of my first library card. A true rite of passage, we were assigned our first library cards in the first grade. I was lucky enough to go to school within walking distance of the nicest, prettiest library you could find in an East Toronto suburb. To this day, I still frequent the same library. Of course, none of the librarians recognize me since I was knee-high to a grasshopper when I first patronized the branch, and it’s been at least ten if not fifteen years since then.

Still, it fills me with joy to go back to the same library where I fell in love with the written word. While things may have changed a little since those first tentative years, I can still find anything I need in that branch. And if it’s not there, I can certainly put it on hold. At first I devoured old copies of Asterix comics, Baby-Sitters Club adventures, and Goosebumps, but eventually I branched off—I found the non-fiction section, romance novels, mysteries, magazines. I would spend whole summers in that tiny branch.

And I've certainly given my library card a work out; if I’m in a reading mode, it’s hard for me to curb how many books I take out. Over the years I’ve learned to be prudent though. The first and only time I ever found myself faced with a $90 library fine (because I refused to return the books…oops!), I knew I couldn’t let that happen again. I’m happy to report that it’s never happened since. *knocks on wood*

When I first moved back to Toronto, I couldn't afford cable. The library kept me from going insane with it's DVD collection and it introduced me to such memorable characters as Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable, and Audrey Hepburn. Everyone should watch old movies. They are amazing.

Now I’m happily in between two really great libraries: Main Street and Beaches. I couldn’t live without my local public library because it’s like a bottomless bag of crack—without it I would be strung-out and broke from all the books I’d buy (and I still buy a lot of books.)

Image Source: Chuck Kahn