Category Archives: unfinished

suffering from abandonment issues

The Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare 1993- English ed. (205 pgs/read 58)

A low-level clerk in a overly bureaucratic nation sorts and analyses the citizens’ dreams. Interesting premise, but a bit too overly-veiled and metaphorical for me.

Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey 2008 (183 pgs/read 41)

A ruler’s personal chef, barber, and portrait painter are imprisoned during a political coup. It never really took off.

The Swimmer by Zsuzsu Bank 2005-English ed. (278 pgs/read 94)
A spacious, introspective novel set in 1950s Hungary. Kata and her younger brother Isti find their lives unalterably changed when their mother abandons the family with no notice. Their father promptly sells the family home and leads them into a rootless existence, traveling from distant relative to distant relative. This is one of those books I’d love to return to. But after chipping away at it for six months, I had to let it go.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer 1961 (255 pgs/read 55)

I thought I’d read this as a child, but it didn’t  seem in the least familiar. And worse, it wasn’t anywhere as compelling as the childhood books I did love.

The River Wife by Jonis Agee 2007 (393 pgs/read 142)

A young pregnant bride, whose husband is often absent on mysterious business, fills her empty nights reading the journals of her husband’s Missouri ancestors.  Fairly interesting at first, especially the woman’s survival after an earthquake leaves her trapped in the family cabin as the river rises nearby. But I lost interest about the point where her baby gets eaten by wild dogs & she suddenly starts up an affair with John James Audubon.

The Outlander by Gil Adamson 2008 (389 pgs/read 20)

On the run, a woman tries to elude her in-laws who blame her for her husband’s murder. Failed to grab me.


stuck in the middle with you

The ones I gave up on:

Can a Robot Be Human?: 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles  by Peter Cave 2007 (192/read 130ish)

Somewhat interesting, but written in an overly twee style that I could only take in short doses.

Fieldwork  by Mischa Berlinski (320 pgs/read 40) 2007

Love this book, but I’ll have to get it again later. So little time, so few renewals.

The Soul Thief  by Charles Baxter (210 pgs/read 95) 2008

Reads like an art school cocktail party. In a good way. The prose is sophisticated and intellectual without being pretentious. It’s the perfect style for this tale of the entanglements of graduate students searching for connection, while one tries to steal the other’s identity.

Solitaire  by Kelley Eskridge (353/read 213) 2002

Mmm, comfort book. One of my fav books, about a woman sentenced to solitary confinement in a virtual cell in her own mind (which is the point I started this time round). I love the evolution of her character and how being completely alone forces her to face herself.

Unaccustomed Earth  by Jhumpa Lahiri (333/read 45ish) 2008

Short story collection from an excellent author who winningly captures the dichotomous nature of the emigrant experience.

The Third Domain: The Untold Story of Archaea and the Future of Biotechnology  by Tim Friend (296/read 35) 2007

Archaea are microbes older than bacteria that are being discovered thriving in the most extreme environments- from volcanic vents to streams deep within icebergs. It’s a fascinating topic, but the meandering writing failed to grab me.


you are what you read

What book am I? Apparently the most annoying one out there.  Pale Fire  by Vladamir Nabakov of Lolita fame. Our book club selection this month was actually a quiz that tell you what book you are and what that says about you. Great fun for a book club- everyone gets to read something different (or possibly the same) and determine whether the literary horoscope-style description fits. Here’s what my book says about me.

You’re really into poetry and the interpretation thereof. Along the road of life, you have had several identity crises which make it very unclear who you are, let alone how to interpret poetry. You probably came from a foreign country, but then again you seem foreign to everyone in ways unrelated to immigration. Most people think you’re quite funny, but maybe you’re just sick. Talking to you ends up being much like playing a round of the popular board game Clue.

The description was amusing and slightly applicable. But I hated the book after just a flip-through. The first section of it is a rambling epic poem. The bulk of the book is then a footnoted (even more rambling) commentary on the poem and the supposed contribution from its fictional author. Nabakov even goes so far as to include a substantial glossary on the fictional author’s native land.

some things are best left unfinished

Chaotic by Kelley Armstrong in Dates From Hell 2006 (112 pgs)

Novella focusing on a couple of sideline characters from Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series. Twas ok but I prefer her in full-book form.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 1999 (213/read 12)

A thousand worlds of ick. A friend picked this for our “excuse to get together and drink beer” bookclub. Sophomoric writing and moronic dialogue.

Many Bloody Returns 2007 (read 72)

Things that go bump in the night have birthdays too. So just for them- a collection of bday stories of the undead. Read a so-so one by Kelley Armstrong and an enjoyably madcap one by Jim Butcher, both set in their respective series.

Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital 2007 (358/read 23)

In this modern take on the myth, Orpheus/Mishka is a street musician and Euridice/Leela a mathematician fascinated by him. I was less than fascinated. The only thing I find more boring than reading about music (as opposed to actually listening to it), is reading about people listening to music.

Tesseracts 10: A Celebration of New Canadian Speculative Fiction 2006 (301/read 40ish)

There were a couple interesting stories, but mostly the sci-fi was too hard (spaceships & artificial intelligence) to interest me.

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link 2001 (266/read 240)

Excellent bizzarity and nonchalant weirdness. I’d pecked at this previously, so some stories were re-reads & a couple I’d just read in other collections.

you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here

Library books that have been living at my house for far too long:

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen 2007 (394 pgs/read 27)

During the influenza pandemic of 1918, some small towns quarantined themselves to avoid infection. The novel is set in one such town. Fearing that influence will spell the end of their progressive timber company cooperative, the townsfolk vote to close their borders. Then the guards are forced to shoot a soldier seeking access. Definitely one for the “come back to it” list.

Open Me by Sunshine O’Donnell 2007 (230 pgs/read 24)

Didja know: throughout history, in many different cultures, people have hired professional mourners to “perform” at funerals. Mem is one such, trained from childhood in the heriditary art. Interesting concept, but a bit too much “cultish child abuse as vocational training” for me.

The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda by Sonia Rivera-Valdes 2000/2001 US (158 pgs/read 102)

Strangers confide their darkest secrets in a student’s sociology interviews. A bit like Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies by way of Anais Nin, with a Cuban twist.

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme by Chris Roberts 2005 (202 pgs/read 90ish)

A bit of a travel guide around London via nursery rhymes, and their historical basis. Somewhat interesting, but not terribly scholarly and overly slang-ladden.

the books less traveled

Books I didn’t finish:

Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story  by Leonie Swann 2006 (341/read 30)

Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Sheep. Solving crime. When they find their farmer skewered by a spade, the sheep resolve to solve his murder. Strangely fun and funny, with comical misunderstandings resulting from sheep vs human thinking.

The Emerald City of Oz   by Frank L. Baum orig. 1910, read 93 ed- wonderfully illustrated by John R. Neill(300/read 80ish)

While visiting family, I figured I’d revisit my childhood as well. I thought I’d read all the Oz books, but I didn’t recall this one. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em come to live in Oz as the Nome King is plotting to invade. Didn’t read far enough to get to the action, it was mostly set up but I was impressed with the quality of writing. I’d forgotten how rich and challenging Baum’s writing was. He didn’t condescend or dumb it down, he wrote genuinely interesting stories with vivid vocabulary.

Einstein’s Monsters  by Martin Amis 1987 (149/read 31)

Read two stories: In “Time Disease” everyone cowers under a nuclear ravaged sky. Vitality is a fatal disease and the only protection is inactivity. In The Immortals, a man reminisces about witnessing the dawn of life and mourns the end of humanity. He watches sadly as the last few survivors labor under the delusion that they are immortal. And he shrugs off his delusion that he is mortal.

Right Livelihoods  by Rick Moody 2007 (223/read 72)

Of the three novellas, I read the second and a bit of the third. In “K & K” a woman is stressing by the increasingly threatening notes left in the office suggestion box. When half of New York is leveled in “The Albertine Notes,” the survivors’ drug of choice is albertine which makes you relive memories with crystaline clarity. The only catch is you can’t choose the memory.

The Apocalypse Reader  edited by Justin Taylor 2007 (318/read 250ish)

A bunch of great short stories. Authors I’d like to read more from: Stacey Levine, Jared Hohl, Lucy Corin, Allison Whittenberg, Kelly Link, Steve Aylett, Colette Phair, Terese Svoboda, Theodora Goss, and Joyce Carol Oates.

My favorite was the hilarious “These zombies are not a metaphor” by Jeff Goldberg, where a man tries in vain to convince his imbecilic roommates that the zombies outside their door is NOT a metaphor, but are in fact literally zombies.

giving up is half the battle

Books I didn’t finish:

The Last Season  by Eric Blehm (335 pgs/read 60) 2006

Well written chronicle of an experienced back-country ranger who goes missing.  Blehm aptly captures both the Sequoia/Kings Canyon country and the ranger Jim Morgenson to the point that you feel you’ve know both for years.

Beyond the Body Farm: A Legendary Bone Detective Explores Murders, Mysteries, and the Revolution in Forensic Science by Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson 2007 (282 pgs/read 135)

A second case study book from one of my personal heroes. Bill Bass pioneered post-mortem decomposition analysis when he founded the Forensic Anthropology Research Center or “Body Farm” at the University of Tennesee in 1971. Not quite as riveting as the first book, Bass seems to be reaching deeper into his historical grab-bag than previously.  There are still some interesting cases, and Bass’s personable, down-home tone is always enjoyable.

Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories  by Elizabeth Hand 2006 (240 pgs/read 2 stories)

It’s the rare writer who can use “chiaroscuro” in a sentence (twice!) and not come off pretentious.  Hand is an apt and enjoyable author and her $50 words never distract from the narrative, but seem to fit with an almost unnoticeable ease.  And “strange stories” is right.  The writing is intense, compelling  and vaguely unsettling- like trying to meditate while caffeine-jittery to the point of nausea.