Saturday, November 22, 2014

Minireadathon: I'M AWAKE I'M AWAKE. WhadidImiss?

The Minithon's been in progress for about 2 hours now, and I've just stumbled out of my cave and toward the coffee. This is why Angelenos are notorious for being late to everything: Pacific Standard Time, that cruel minx.

I tentatively planned my reading for this thing, but it's mainly just whatever books I'm in the middle of right now.

  • I'm halfway through Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories (short stories are miniature longer stories).
  • I'm also halfway through Middlemarch (not miniature in girth, no, but the people in the cover art are quite small) and determined to finish it by 2015, so help me.
  • I've been saving Horrorstor for this day because I have a feeling it will whiz along. And it's about an IKEA, basically, where all the furniture and the meat products come in pieces. Small pieces.
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1 is a comic and therefore inherently miniature. Let's hope nothing inside is miniature. *nudge-nudge*
  • Oh yeah, and I checked out a couple of Star Wars middle-grade chapter books yesterday because of reasons.
I have coffee in my cup. I have miniature quiches in the oven. READY, SET . . .

UPDATE: It's after 7 p.m. now, and I've just kind of . . . kept reading and eating. But I guess I can't keep counting all this toward my minithon achievements indefinitely. Otherwise I'll be 83 and still making a list of all the tiny foods I've accomplished, and then it will be a list with just PRUNES written over and over and over.

Despite starting the minireadathon 2 hours late and going shoe shopping in the middle of it, I did manage to put the following into my brain and/or face:
  • One heart-achingly beautiful short story from Thunderstruck (16 pages)
  • The entirety of Horrorstor, which fit the mini theme even more closely than I thought because so MANY things were in small pieces by the end (243 pages)
  • Three mugs of coffee
  • Seven tiny spinach quiches
  • Three teensy oranges
  • Innumerable cheddar Goldfish
  • Half an ahi tuna slider

But I've got all these snacks left over . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Bone Clocks: Does no one else feel as though photos of David Mitchell are quietly judging them?

I was intimidated by David Mitchell for some reason. No, actually . . . I know why. It's because he has an expression of vague disapproval in his author photos* and the trailer for the film adaptation of Cloud Atlas makes my noodle hurt.

Oh NOW I get it.

Despite my crippling self-doubt, I have now read a David Mitchell book in its entirety, and aside from a few instances of flipping back 50 pages, rereading select portions, waiting for the light bulb to go on, and then proceeding, my concerns were unfounded.

I'm not saying it's a simple story structureIt's written from multiple character perspectives and intertwines story lines, which seems like it might be Mitchell's Thing. The transitions from one perspective to the next are clearly divided into six sections and marked with thematic illustrations, but even so the switch-over can be disorienting—like going to sleep and finding, upon waking, that you're in a different body. You might need a minute to get your bearings.

Oh please, you know this is the first thing you would do.

We start out with Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old in the English countryside who has a fight with her mother and decides to run away from home. Everything is pretty standard-teenage-girl-stuff with Holly. She's a lot like Johanna from Caitlin Moran's How to Build a Girl, dealing with family life, falling for the wrong boy, and itching to grow up. But there's this subtle undercurrent of oddity, because Holly has, in the past, heard voices and experienced what you might call psychic premonitions.

That supernatural flavoring carries through all the sections, as we jump from Holly to a cast of other characters whose lives intersect with hers in unexpected ways. The book jacket uses the phrase "everyday grace and extraordinary wonder," and I guess the book jacket knows what it's talking about.

The prose isn't flowery or spare, but it's often quite good, like so:
Love's pure free joy when it works, but when it goes bad you pay for the good hours at loan-shark prices.
Minor quibbles: In one of the sections, people occasionally speak French, without any translation provided. That sort of thing makes us peasants feel left out, and we don't prefer it. Also, the foreshadowing can be heavy-handed at times—"I couldn't shake the feeling that I had just seen so-and-so for the last time" and that sort of thing. I suspect the editors recommended adding these signposts, maybe worrying that the average reader would trail too far behind without moderate hand-holding.


At any rate, this book successfully broke the David Mitchell ice for me, and now I can tackle that copy of Black Swan Green I've had for 3 years. Well, you know . . . eventually.

*After watching this video of Mitchell's presentation at BEA 2014, I see that he's charming and self-deprecating and not at all scary. He describes his own book as a "big, thumping beast of a thing" and briefly examines the subject of tickling.

Monday, November 3, 2014

California: The book, not the state...but also the state a little bit

Brainstorming about what we might do in the event of a global catastrophe seems to be a natural human compulsion. It's driven by nothing so practical as preparedness (I have the empty cupboards and junk drawer with a lone AA battery rolling around to prove it); I think it's more about our fascination with the breakdown of the civilized world. It's why Zombie Apocalypse story lines are most compelling when they focus more on how the survivors form new hierarchies and moral codes and less on the AAAAAAH ZOMBIES.

The husband and I discuss contingency plans as a matter of course.

Just the other day
Me: "That looks like the kind of place where people are lured to die."
Husband: "But . . . no windows . . . gated courtyard . . . high, flat roof. Excellent shelter for the Zombie Apocalypse."

If you don't mind the very real possibility of murder by puppets and/or Bob

In California, civilization is knocked off course by a series of natural disasters, the severe effects of climate change that all those scientists have been warning us about. Exclusive gated compounds called Communities pop up for the few who can afford the extravagant membership rates. Outside the Communities, everything looks a lot more dystopian. This intensified contrast between the haves and have-nots brings out political radicals who seek to dismantle society even further so that everyone will be on the same level.

Young married couple Cal and Frida decide to leave disintegrating and increasingly dangerous Los Angeles and head for the woods, and that's where we find them at the start of the book. Juuuust the two of them. In the woods.
The finality of their situation sat on her chest like a brick and pushed. No one was looking. Her audience was sucked away, the ones keeping her safe with their concern, keeping her okay, keeping her the same as before, and she was spit out as if from a Wizard of Oz tornado.
But then Frida discovers that she's pregnant, and this whole cabin-in-the-woods, solitary existence doesn't seem like the best option anymore. As events unfold, Frida and Cal get alternating chapters to show us their side of things, which makes the book a lot about how this new reality changes them and leads them to do things that strain their bond as a couple.

Just for example

It's "eminently readable" for all the reasons Alice lists in her review (subtle plug for my homegirl, Reading Rambo), but if you happen to live in Los Angeles, you also get the added joy of seeing well-known locales from actual life through a grimy post-apocalyptic filter.
Toni lived on the second floor of a ramshackle duplex that overlooked Echo Park's now-drained lake. The lake's old bridge was gone, maybe burned for firewood, as were the pedal boats. Frida had been born too late to see the lotus flowers, which had once floated across the water's surface.