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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Plenty Of Paper

Back in 2012, I read twenty-two books. I thought that was kind of embarassing.
So for 2013, I set up a goal of fifty.

Let me tell you about the first ten.

The Little Shadows, by Marina Endicott

"The Little Shadows" tells the story of three sisters making their way in the world of vaudeville before and during the First World War. Setting off to make their fortune as a singing act after the untimely death of their father, the girls are overseen by their fond but barely coping Mama. The girls begin with little besides youth and hope but evolve into artists as they navigate their way to adulthood among a cast of extraordinary characters – charming charlatans, unpredictable eccentrics, and some who seem ordinary but have magical gifts.

Genre: Historical Fiction (20th Century Canada)
I found it: extraordinarily boring, with a handful of interesting side characters.

☆ ☆

The Ballad Of The Sad Café & Other Stories, by Carson McCullers

In "The Ballad Of The Sad Café", Miss Amelia, a spirited, unconventional woman, runs a small-town store and, except for a marriage that lasted just ten days, has always lived alone. Then Cousin Lymon appears from nowhere, a little, strutting hunchback who steals Miss Amelia's heart. Together they transform the store into a lively, popular café. But when her rejected husband Marvin Macy returns, the result is a bizarre love triangle that brings with it violence, hatred and betrayal. Six stories by Carson McCullers also appear in this volume.

Genre: Short Stories, Southern Gothic
I found it: beautifully written, but hard to follow?

☆ ☆ ☆

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a freshman. And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Genre: Young Adult
I found it: disappointing and unable to live up to the hype, and also, slightly pretentious.

☆ ☆ ☆

Disturbed By Her Song, by Tanith Lee

"Disturbed By Her Song" collects the work of Esther Garber and her half-brother Judas Garbah, the mysterious family of writers that Tanith Lee has been channeling for the past few years. Possibly autobiographical, frequently erotic and darkly surreal, their fiction takes place in a variety of eras and places, from Egypt in the 1940s, to England in the grip of the Pre-Raphaelites, to gaslit Paris and to the shadowy landscapes carved by the mind and memory. The themes of youth and age stream through these tales of homosexual love and desire.

Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy, LGBTQ*
I found it: perfect, in general, but particularly perfect for those days where all you need is a blanket and an escape route.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Book Of Human Skin, by Michelle Lovric

13 May, 1784, Venice: Minguillo Fasan, heir to the decaying, gothic Palazzo Espagnol, is born. Yet Minguillo is no ordinary child: he is strange, devious and all those who come near him are fearful. Twelve years later Minguillo is faced with an unexpected threat to his inheritance: a newborn sister, Marcella. His untempered jealousy will condemn his sister to a series of fates as a cripple, a madwoman and a nun. But in his insatiable quest to destroy her, he may have underestimated his sister's ferocious determination, and her unlikely allies.

Genre: Historical Fiction (18th Century Italy), Horror
I found it: disturbing in all the right places, with really good ambience, but a ridiculously saccharine wrap-up.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Sins Of The Cities Of The Plain, by Jack Saul

Written 12 years before "Teleny", by Jack Saul and a likely ghostwriter, this account of Victorian cross-dressing and rent-boys is a legend all its own. The work draws on the author's own experiences with an all-male brothel in Cleveland Street (later shut down scandalously).

Genre: Pornography, LGBTQ*
I found it: hilarious, because those wacky Victorians had some great words for "penis".

☆ ☆

Regarding The Pain Of Others, by Susan Sontag

How does the spectacle of the sufferings of others (via television or newsprint) affect us? Are viewers inured – or incited – to violence by the depiction of cruelty? In "Regarding The Pain Of Others", Susan Sontag takes a fresh look at the representation of atrocity – from Goya's "The Disasters of War" to photographs of the American Civil War, lynchings in the South, and the Nazi death camps, to contemporary horrific images of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, and New York City on September 11.

Genre: Philosophy
I found it: good with it comes to asking questions, bad when it comes to answering them.

☆ ☆ ☆

The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

Originally published on the eve of the 1848 European revolutions, "The Communist Manifesto" is a condensed and incisive account of the worldview Marx and Engels developed during their hectic intellectual and political collaboration. Formulating the principles of dialectical materialism, they believed that labor creates wealth, hence capitalism is exploitive and antithetical to freedom.

Genre: Philosophy, Politics
I found it: interesting, but like most ideological books, rather detached from reality.

☆ ☆ ☆

The Last Of The Wine, by Mary Renault

In "The Last of the Wine", two young Athenians, Alexias and Lysis, compete in the palaestra, journey to the Olympic games, fight in the wars against Sparta, and study under Socrates. As their relationship develops, Renault expertly conveys Greek culture, showing the impact of this supreme philosopher whose influence spans epochs.

Genre: Historical Fiction (Ancient Greece), LGBTQ*
I found it: too much for someone who's just incidentally interested in Ancient Greek culture, though some story arcs were actually quite good.

☆ ☆

Erotism: Death And Sensuality, by Georges Bataille

Taboo and sacrifice, transgression and language, death and sensuality – Georges Bataille pursues these themes with an original, often startling perspective. The scope of his inquiry ranges from Emily Bronte to Sade, from St. Therese to Claude Levi-Strauss and Dr. Kinsey; and the subjects he covers include prostitution, mythical ecstasy, cruelty, and organized war. Investigating desire prior to and extending beyond the realm of sexuality, he argues that eroticism is "a psychological quest not alien to death".

Genre: Philosophy
I found it: conflicting, because while most arguments are brilliant, their nuances are often impossibly problematic.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

What about you guys, what have you been reading lately?

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