Sunday, September 21, 2008

Almost a Goddess is Almost Incomplete

I was attempting to read Judi McCoy's "Almost A Goddess" in MM Paperback (I bought it at the Maple Valley Library Sale) and once I finished page 139, I turned to page 140 and it was BLANK. Yes, you read that right. Totally blank, with no print at all. Then page 141 was followed by another blank page, and so on for every other page!
I tried to continue to read the book, but without the information on the blank pages, it was nonsense.
And there isn't a thing I can do, having bought the book from a library sale for a mere 50 cents.
So I just reserved a copy from the KCLS web site, and I am going to have to wait to read what really happens on page 140.
Meanwhile, though, I am left with the dilemma of what to do with this sham of a book, with all its blank pages.
I can't, in good conscience, donate it back to the library book cart, as then another reader would end up just as frustrated once they hit page 140. I am not crafty or creative enough to recycle the book and make some thing clever from it, like a handbag or a book end.
What I'm left with is the option of tossing the book in the trash, and hoping no one will take pity on it and fish it out to resell it.
It's like a bag full of holes or a box without a just has limited uses, if any at all.
I'm amazed that Avon Romance, the publishers of this novel, would let something like this slip. A book with blank pages? What are the chances? I understand, though, that proofreaders are hard to come by, as are copyeditors, so I always expect to find more than a few typos, especially in mass market paperbacks, which are considered somewhat disposable.
But I don't expect to face blank pages with no text.
There is a blurb on the cover of this novel that reads "Judi McCoy dazzles," Rachel Gibson. I got news for you, Ms Gibson. Judy McCoy is far from dazzling as an author, at least with Almost a Goddess. More like a futile little fizzle than anything.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Great Book Poem/Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is a poem from the GoodReads newsletter that I enjoyed almost as much as their interview with the luscious Neil Gaiman.

Used Books by SarahJ

I like them dog-eared and lawnsoft,
and savor the character of winestain
and thumbsmudge,

the tear-warp between pages,
scrawl lolling down margins,

x's, question and check marks
scratched out as anchors.

They kindle affinity with readers
who've leafed through before, house

a kinship of signatures, conjuring towns
and streets in states I'll never visit.

They preach the economy of timber
and purses, while scribbled dates

evoke evenings spent couch-lounging
through past springs and winters.

Though they come off the press crisp
and unsullied, I like them used

for the gust of tinder and sawdust,
the waft of feathers adrift in a hayloft.

I turn the yellow hem of the pages,
a hue half neon, half tubercular,

like the wallpaper of a motel
nicotine-thick with confessions

where with the fray, I find repose
under covers well plumbed
and sepulchral.

Eat, Pray, Love was a New York Times bestseller and an award winning non fiction book published in 2005-2006.
I'd heard more than one woman sing the praises of this book, which is about the authors travels to Italy, India and Indonesia to heal after her divorce and find spiritual happiness and balance. Initially, I can see why so many women were enamored of the book, because Gilbert's prose is exhuberant and rich, full of tasty descriptions and honest emotions, not to mention the odd witticism every few paragraphs.
Yet I felt a vague sense of unease as I was reading this book, that "too much information" feeling you sometimes get when a crazy person sits next to you on a city bus and proceeds to tell you all their problems and troubles, totally ignoring your "GET AWAY FROM ME" body language.
But as early as page 25, I encountered delicious nuggets of prose like this one: "I instead felt my soul rise diaphanous in the wake of that chanting. I walked home that night feeling like the air could move through me, like I was clean linen fluttering on a clothesline, like New York itself had become a city made of rice paper, and I was light enough to run across every rooftop."
And: "Dante writes that God is not merely a blinding vision of glorious light, but that He is, most of all, L'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle, The love that moves the sun and the other stars."
Gilbert's travels in Italy are full of gorgeous moments like those, moments that drip with breathtaking beauty and revelations that are humble but profound. Then she moves on to India, and things get intricate and tedious, as she whines for page after page about her inability to still her mind and meditate or chant. I feel that a great deal of this section could have been edited, as it was redundant and made Gilbert seem like a petulant, spoiled child unable to sit still or learn to pray. The only interesting part of her time in India was meeting a man she calls Richard from Texas who, upon seeing her at trench, eating, nicknames her "Groceries" and is always just around the corner, ready to provide a bit of homespun wisdom or a bon mot. While that may have seemed a bit too convenient, I gather from my neighbor that Gilbert lied about the last third of the book, in which she claims to meet a Brazilian man, fall in love and get married. In reality, I'm told that she took Richard from Texas with her, that they had an affair and married once she moved back to New York.
This left me with a sour taste in my mouth about the last chapters in which Gilbert lives in Indonesia, Bali, to be exact, and develops relationships with Ketut, a medicine man and Wayan, a medicine woman. She solicits money from her friends in the states, and forces Wayan to buy some property and build a home/shop there so that she might raise her three children in peace. While all this is happening, however, Gilbert rambles on about her fears of dating, having a sexual relationship and falling in love again after the pain of her divorce and the breakup of her post-divorce affair with a guy named David, who comes off sounding like a tremendous wimp (but then, Gilbert sounds like an insanely needy person with emotional issues, so I suppose I don't blame him). She meets several men who would be happy to have a sexual liason with her, but ends up choosing a man 20 years her senior simply because he smells good, is persistant and flatters her.
Now I find myself wondering if this Felipe existed at all, or if he was a cleverly disguised Richard with a Brazillian accent. If so, that's a mean thing to do to your readers, Ms Gilbert, especially when you've gone to such great lengths to become an enlightened soul. Enlightened people don't lie to their readers.
So while most women would give this book a solid B plus, I have to downgrade my rating to a mediocre C and let it stand at that, for cheating her readers out of the real story.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Unearthed Reading List

I was hunting through some old file folders on my iMac when I came across a book list that I'd shared with my friend Frank Shiers, master of all local media, about 11 years ago. This was before I'd encountered Linnea Sinclair or Joanne Harris, or Charlaine Harris and Syne Mitchell, all of whom I'd add to the list now, if I were to make another TBR recommendation.
Here's the list as I wrote it back in the year I got married (Frank was the best man at our wedding at the Museum of Flight).

DeAnns Booklist: (In No Particular Order, and excluding favorite authors you have already read, like Bradbury and Irving)

The Warriors Apprentice--Lois McMaster Bujold I chose this of all her titles not because its the best, but because its the first of her novels to introduce Miles Vorkosigan, a fascinating character unlike any in modern Science Fiction. If you like him, I highly recommend that you read “Borders of Infinity”, which places the character, who is small and physically vulnerable, on a prison planet inside a bubble with hundreds of thugs with literally nothing but his wits to save him. GREAT stuff. Bujolds first work was a masterful SF novel called “Falling Free” about genetically-created beings called “Quadies” who have hands for feet. You would love it, I bet!

The Flaming Corsage--William Kennedy If you like this book, its style and its magical ‘Irishness’. then I recommend that you read “Quinns Book”, which has an amazing resurrection scene and lots of Kennedys nearly perfect prose. He won the Pulitzer for “Ironweed”, which is the only book that I have ever fallen in love with that is about the horrible grind of poverty on people, and the toll that it takes. Vile subject matter rendered in such glorious prose that I wept copiously at the beauty of several passages. I had the chance to meet Mr. Kennedy at Elliot Bay Book Company. He is a dear, elderly Irishman who looks rather like a slight-bodied version of Einstein. I told him that his prose reads like beautiful music; he called me a “darlin’ lass” for saying so. I nearly left Jim and eloped with him on the spot....sigh.

Journey--Marta Randall (Marta Randall now teaches writing at some fancy-schmancy university, and has given that as the reason that she doesn’t write more SF novels. I have been praying for years that she gets fired and goes back to writing fiction instead of teaching it. She is a sublime storyteller. If you like this book, the sequel is called “Dangerous Games” and I have a copy you can borrow. Randall, like the late Zenna Henderson, has a knack for drawing people and breathing life into communities on far-away planets. I have a strong hunch that her work is so good because it takes her a long time to write each novel, and she hasn’t written more than 4 of them, that I know of...quality takes time.

To A God Unknown--John Steinbeck This is about as close to perfect as a short novel can get. Steinbeck is my favorite ‘classic’ lit author because there is no bullshit about the man. His prose is clean, elegant, simple and profound. He loved his country, and its people, and yet he knew all about Americas weaknesses and wherein lies our virtue. He is a tower of strength among American writers, and his sly wit endeared him to me from the beginning. He once said that he would only write with Blackhawk Indian-made, round, “Black Warrior” pencils on legal paper, longhand. {Berol owns the “black warrior” pencil company now--they aren’t easy to come by, but I always keep a few on hand in tribute to the master} the idea being that real writers must feel the page beneath their hand and have a direct connection to what they write. He was a brilliant man, and like Carl Sandburg, another literary hero, he died before I was out of infancy. I regret that I will never have the chance to meet either man, except through their work.

Winter Rose--Patricia McKillip The first Patricia McKillip novel that I read is a classic called “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld” that is often made fun of by male hard-core SF readers because it was a gorgeous female fantasy novel, and nearly every female who ever read it fell in love with it, myself included. It made a whole generation of women want to be veterinarians. If every man who laughed at it had actually read it, lots more of them would’ve understood the female heart and soul, and gotten laid. The loathsome Stephen Donaldson notwithstanding, his quote/blurb on all her book-jackets is essentially correct; “There are no better writers than Patricia McKillip”. She writes like butterflies. Her words soar, her colors are breathtaking, her metaphors float on flowers and her sentences laugh with song. I would sell relatives to be able to write like McKillip for even an hour. Like any author, there are those who just don’t “get” her poetic prose, but then, there are people who think butterflies are just insects.

The Electric Forest--Tanith Lee (Tanith Lee is not just notable for her prolific Fantasy/SF--she also wrote a number of SF-TV-series scripts, including “Sand”, the best Blakes 7 episode in existence. She is an odd little British woman with the wisdom of the world in her head, who must have had the most hideous parents known to mankind. Her works all have a character who breaks away from an evil, dominating parent or husband. However, she does so in a subtle and fascinating manner--and in the process, brings up issues of how society treats those who are different. Reading “The Electric Forest” and “The Silver-Metal Lover” was a revelation for me as a teenager. No other author spoke so clearly about being considered ‘ugly’ in a world where ‘beauty’ is so highly valued as to be almost sacred. I KNEW exactly what Magda Cled felt like, alone and reviled...and I knew what Jayne, the chubby girl with the domineering mother felt like in “SilverMetal Lover”. I haven’t seen many authors deal with this subject as elegantly as Tanith Lee, which leads me to wonder if anyone could write so clearly about that kind of pain without actually having felt it.

The Falconer--Elaine McCarthy I give you fair warning--this book will make you cry. Its worth the extra tissues, believe me. I was stunned at how beautiful the story and the prose were, and that I had never heard of the author--talk about hiding your light under a bushel! If I could write first-novels like this, I would never leave the computer. This is the best death I’ve ever read about, and God knows I have seen enough real cancer deaths and read about enough of them to know. This is one of those rare books that can make you cry and uplift you at the same time--after reading this, you’ll want to run outside and frolic with joy at being least I did. If nothing else, its certainly a good antidote to whining about all the stupid crap that provides speedbumps in the road of our lives. It also made me wonder about the virtue of settling for comfort and happiness over “real” love...and I wondered how many people ever feel this kind of earth-shattering amore. (Please feel free to talk amongst yourselves--discuss!)

Short Stories:

Miss Lonelyhearts--Nathaniel West (this is a rich broth of a story--very satisfying)
Jeeves and the Song of Songs--PG Wodehouse (The pinnacle of British humor, in my opinion, lies in this mans Bertie and Jeeves stories. In the words of a college buddy of mine “Hes the only author whose stories can make me guffaw with laughter when I have dysentary.” ‘Nuff said)
Uncle Einar--Ray Bradbury The best short-short story ever written, in my opinion. Ray Bradbury does more with 5 pages of text than most writers do with 40. He is the King, the best SF short story writer ever to set foot on the planet, I believe. I worship his work, and I imagine I’d dissolve into a puddle of goo if I ever met the man.

Featured Alternate!
In case of emergency--in other words, you find that you just cannot stand one or another of the writers/novels listed above, proceed DIRECTLY to the following non-fiction tome and DIG IN!

Glass, Paper, Beans--Leah Hager Cohen This is the best non-fiction title I’ve ever read. Elegant, yet clean and spare prose combined with empathetic, no-nonsense storytelling. A noble and excellent read. It will surprise you, I guarantee. Highly recommended!