Tuesday, December 31, 2013

3/116 - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I can't believe I'm done.  This was one of those books that I was afraid would de-rail the whole project because it would be too boring or difficult and I'd get discouraged and seek shelter with Agatha Christie.  But I was, mercifully, wrong.  I tore through this book. I thought about it all the time, talked about it to relatives and friends who have never read and never intend to read it. During a period of very focused reading (like, several hours a day), I felt like all the characters were walking around with me, invisibly, a few get behind.

I think I get why people consider Tolstoy a genius. I'm not really into literary analysis, so I didn't see a lot of, like, symbolism and stuff like that. Granted, I didn't look for it.  But it didn't seem like the sort of book where symbolism and all that are vitally important to your understanding.  I read for pleasure and sometimes personal development, but I can't make myself read things that are boring, poorly written, or so obtuse that you have to have an English degree just to comprehend it.  Anna Karenina felt like an extremely complex Jane Austen novel, a really magnificent piece of psychological invention.  And, like a Jane Austen novel, it wasn't hard to understand or follow at all. The names were just longer. The only place I got even a bit muddled was during a politics session - but I have a suspicion that Tolstoy meant it to feel confusing because Levin couldn't make head or tail of it either.

It, more than almost any other book I have ever read, felt true.  The characters felt real, were just as confusing and interesting as real people.  Seeing into their minds was thrilling and odd.  Watching how things raveled and unraveled, watching people spiral into self-destruction or scrape their way into the light was fascinating.  And I've honestly never felt that way before.

I'm now EXTREMELY curious to see the recent movie adaptation Joe Wright made.  Besides the main casting - Anna, Karenin, Vronsky and Oblonsky - I have no idea who plays what. I know Olivia Williams is in there (I'm a big fan of hers) and I'm curious to see who she plays.  After reading it, I'm more and more convinced that Keira Knightley might have been extremely well cast.  We'll find out about that, I suppose.
I can completely see why Joe Wright chose to go the very stylized route with this.  I think it'd be too enormously overwhelming to do anything else, and you'd miss the opportunity to play with a lot of elements in a more overt way.

I miss carrying this book around my house.  Not because it was fun to show off my obviously fabulous taste in literature - I just miss holding it.  It was one of those books that just feels good to hold.  Solid, you know?

CONCLUSION: Well, yeah.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

books I have read at least three times (and probably more than that):

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (I've probably read this 15 times at least)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
  • Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  • All of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis
  • Every Agatha Christie novel I own except The Big Four, Passenger to Frankfurt and the one set in ancient Egypt
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl
  • Dog Friday by Hilary McKay
  • State of Fear by Michael Crichton
  • Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare 
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg 
What does this list - which I intend to add to as I remember things - say about my taste?  I really don't know. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Taking Care of Terrific by Lois Lowry

Unexpectedly good.  the cover was hideous and didn't give you any sense of how biting - and reference-y it would be. I sincerely enjoyed it. A lot of good points made about perception and how we treat people based on it.  And the story made me tense! I really skimmed through one section because I was so nervous about what happened to the characters.

CONCLUSION: I'm designing a new cover for it in my head. I'll be keeping this one around.

The Monument by Gary Paulsen

Again, unexpectedly good.  Something about the look of these books made me thing they would be a lot less good than they were, even though I do like Lois Lowry and Gary Paulsen books in general.
This one definitely made me think guiltily of my drawing table and under-used sketchbook.

CONCLUSION: Quick and thoughtful.  Perfect for reading all in one sitting on a slightly wet day in front of a fire that you prod occasionally.  Which is what I did.

Monday, December 2, 2013

recent reads that I stole from my mom's book club stack because I had no time to go the library. (2.5)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor 
I was really jealous of the main girl's art capabilities and endless wealth because I was having a HORRIBLE time with my art stuff and felt particularly broke at the time.
I'm glad it didn't have a love triangle, because I'm tired of those.

CONCLUSION: I told mom she probably shouldn't bother with this one.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Another one I told mom she might not like, because she's not hugely into fantasy.  I'm really wondering who published first, because The Hunger Games came out on '08 and so did this.  And the main lady's name in this is KATSA. Which is suspiciously close to KANISS, is it not?  Especially when there is archery involved.
There were a lot of interesting elements in this book.  It's not something that's going to blow your mind, but it's interesting.

CONCLUSION: I was probably distracted by the Katsa/Katniss question.

ALSO! I re-read A Wrinkle in Time the other day, which was WAY better than either of these.  So.


I think I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 books.  More, if you count all the Caldecott Medal winners I got for Christmas.  But the cruddy phone photo you see before you represents a sad, 116 volume group:  the unread.

Granted, I've begun at least half of these books.  If you notice, anywhere a large break in the orientation of the organization takes place (for instance, the books suddenly go from vertical to stacked), all the books on the right are ones I trifled with at some point.
However, just because I've begun all those books doesn't mean I am somehow less pathetic.  That is far too many books to leave unfinished.

Also, this proves a point I often make when people exclaim over my books.  I always stammer something silly like, "the shelves are better read than I am!" because nearly all of the "classics" are on that left hand shelf.  I buy Tristram Shandy and D.H. Lawrence and stuff like that in bulk at used book sales because I know I ought to read them.  Then I just never do.

So! I'm considering making my goal next year to read ALL of these books.

It's not nearly as boneheaded as trying to read a book a day, but it's still a daunting task.  Even with some help before New Years, I'll have to read at least two books a week, which won't be anything easy when it's time to tackle Anna Karenina or that three inch volume of somebody or other's short works.
I gave myself permission to cram as many in before the first of the year as possible, so that ought to help. It also sounds exhausting, because I plan to read some Kurt Vonnegut (too many things in my life are telling me I need to) and more Orson Scott Card over the Christmas holiday as well.  My life is so hard. So much reading.

However, I think the idea is sound.  If nothing else I'll be better read, I guess.

Lots of books with the word "Shadow" in the title by Orson Scott Card (5)

I re-read Ender's Game before seeing the movie, and then went on the bender to end all benders of Ender.


Actually, it was more of a Bean binge, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Regardless of what anybody says, I will love and respect Orson Scott Card for many years to come.  Before this binge, I'd only read Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and listened to a couple of other books on tape (Tales of Alvin Maker and The Lost Gate), and I was not as wholeheartedly devoted as I am now.  I've realized that he has an amazing capacity to put serious, thoughtful ideas into a fun-to-read book without loosing any of the grace or punch.  I adored these books - not as much as Ender's Game, but nearly.

If I recall rightly, I read:

Ender in Exile
Ender's Shadow
Shadow Puppets
Shadow of the Hegemon 
and Shadow of the Giant

Which is a pretty respectable list, considering I did it all in about two weeks, while in school, and also with the obstacle of having to steal some of the books while other people were reading them to overcome.

Good work, Kelsey.

Friday, October 11, 2013

and every award on earth goes too....

I was thinking tonight that there has been an abysmal lack of reading in my life lately.  Really, there has been a noticeable lack of anything besides school and work, but reading in particular has suffered. I haven't loved any of the library audiobooks I've downloaded recently (Another Timothy Hallinan book that so far I don't like as much as Crashed, the second Inkheart book, etc.) but I have listened, several times, to the BRILLIANT, MIND-BLOWING recordings of P.G. Wodehouse stories by Martin Jarvis.

I would give Martin Jarvis every award possible for these recordings.  The man is a genius.  He is - dare I say it? - just as good as Fry and Laurie.

If you can spare the cash for a Very Good Jeeves volume or two, I promise you won't regret it.

Dear Martin Jarvis,

Please read all the P.G. Wodehouse books.  We go around the house breathily chanting, "Darling!" in the manner of Mrs. Bingo Little. No other audiobooks have ever made me laugh aloud.

I love you.

Thanks a million times,


Friday, August 2, 2013

fast, cheap or good

You've probably heard somebody say something along the lines of, "fast, cheap or good - pick two."  If you haven't, you need to watch more bonus features on DVDs.  Set designers are always being told that.  It really makes them hop.  Anyways, the point I'm trying to make in a very roundabout way is that, from what I've found, picture books operate on the same kind of system.  But instead of fast, good and cheap you have:
  • Drop dead gorgeous pictures.  You want to frame every page.
  • A good story, truly well written.  Won't make the reading adult's brain shrivel into a raisin.
  • A book kids won't loose interest in.
How many times, honestly, can you say you've found all three in one book?  I have never - never - got a kid to sit all the way through Horton Hears a Who.   How many books have truly gorgeous illustrations?  So beautiful that they are almost universally admired?

One of my absolute favorite books right now, Just Being Audrey, has perfect illustrations. They are perfect!  Julia Denos even got the little bump in you could see in Hepburn's jawline when she got older. I'm going to do a post about those perfecty perfect pictures on here some time. But you know what?  I have a hard time believing that any kid could sit through a reading of it. The story just isn't that great.  I can't see it becoming the family favorite for bedtime if I have my own kids someday.  Heck, I don't remember reading it to myself the first few times I looked it through. The book feels like it was made for adults - I bought it at Anthropologie - and while I tell myself out loud that that's okay, an inside part of me mutters that it isn't. A book written for and marketed to children shouldn't be really only good for grown-up Audrey freaks.

I wandered around the kids' section at Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago, picking up every picture book that caught my fancy.  I don't know much about trends in picture book styles, but that back wall seemed very short on good stories.  They all wandered. Very episodic. The character's mom loves them, even though they're a pill.  They play with their toys.  They dance around the house.  They get into trouble.  Things like that.  Olivia is episodic to me - and even in such a fantastic book, it still bothers me just a bit.  In the considerably less interesting and attractive books I perused, the wandering was... well, insufferable. Nothing really happened.  In my mind, a story has a beginning, middle and end.  It does not doddle through every room of the house.
(Also, almost without exception, the stories at B&N were concerned with everyday things.  I don't mind that, but when I was little I wanted some 'igh adventure in my stories!  I didn't want to read about kids getting into trouble for having a messy room.  I had to deal with that in real life!)

I am also sorry to say that there were a lot of ugly new picture books at Barnes and Noble as well.  I know it's probably wicked hard to be an illustrator, but so many of the books seem like they're going to look outdated in five years.  Or look outdated even now. OliviaEloise, Winne-the-Pooh and Madeline have all done their various amounts of aging gracefully - so it proves that it can be done.  You might have to be a genius to do it, but it's clearly possible.

So.  That was a lot of paragraphs to explain why The Story of Ferdinand is the best picture book on earth.  Because it is the best.  

Now You See Her by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Another purchase from the discards sale, made entirely on a whim.

This also was a refreshing read plucked from the mire of the teen lit section.  I always think every decent book would be a great movie, but I really think this could be especially cool and timely.  I think in essence it's about knowing yourself.  Which I guess you could say every book is about in some way, but I think that was the overarching thing in this entire book. (Gosh, I am so great at literary analysis.)  It made me think a good deal.

So much of life and the perception of "success" is based in fame.  Heck, the pinnacle of existence in the popular mindset is being famous. If you doubt me, think of how many times you've said or heard someone say, "well when you're a famous ______..."  I've said it many a time.  I'm trying to stop because it's a silly thing to say, but it's still totally unconscious sometimes. Which makes me a tad bit uneasy.

CONCLUSION: All in all, a book very clear-eyed about life and the ways it can get messed up, and what hard work some people have as a result.

Birdwing by Rafe Martin

I bought this book at the library discards sale because of the cover.  I mean, that's a pretty good cover, especially for a young adult book.

And, in content, I'm glad to say it didn't disappoint. One of the most enjoyable - and certainly most unique - stories aimed at the YA audience that I've read in a while.  Definitely head and shoulders above almost every other book in that category.  It has a timelessness to it that was very pleasing, and a distinct lack of trendiness.

CONCLUSION:  A good story told, I thought, for its own sake - which I can't help thinking is a very rare find.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bazillionth Percy Jackson book.

I've read so many Percy Jackson books that I've lost count.  Of course Rick Riordan couldn't leave things nice and tidy with the first series - he had to throw in the Romans too! 
This book was much like the others in that I read it in like three days, was not at all surprised, and will read the next one when it comes out.  
I honestly can't figure out why I like these books.  I'm a big Greek mythology fan, and seeing how he interprets gods and goddesses into modern forms is fun.  But otherwise, I'm just not sure. 

CONCLUSION: When is the next one coming out again?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

list of recent reads par-tay! (6)

Because I'm too lazy to write about all of them individually!

The Search for WondLa
I can't decide if I liked this.  Kind of a strange tone - but I finished it, so that says something.  I liked that Eva was female, but though she's kind and "pure of heart," it isn't exactly the strong female lead I was hoping for.  I'm considering reading more. It was nice that, though it did have the requisite "this is going to be a series, consumers of America!!" ending, it also had a complete feel.  The cliffhanger thing  came as a surprise - there was already an ending wrapped up.  Interesting illustrations.
CONCLUSION: I KNEW it would have something to do with The Wizard of Oz.

Artemis Fowl
Another one that the jury is still out on.  The scale was a lot smaller than I expected, and I didn't like that the series was so obviously being set up.  When conservative people were all in a furor over Harry Potter, someone suggested this as a safer substitution, which is ludicrous to me.  Harry Potter glorified self-sacrifice, courage, loyalty, kindness and justice. This was about a genius child criminal who uses people shamelessly to get what he wants. Not only is he not as relatable as Harry, he also is kind of bad!!! I can't believe people tried to substitute this for the Harry Potter books. 
CONCLUSION:  It's unlikely that I'll continue on with more books. 

The first two books in Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series. 
YAY! I complained on facebook about how Rick Riordan is a meanie, because he ends chapters with things like, "he woke up and they were screaming." and even though it's three in the morning you have to find out why.  I almost get grumpy about it.  Sort of, "well, THANKS Rick. Just GREAT that I have to get up in four hours but I can't stop. Awesome."  
CONCLUSION: I don't know why these books are so fun.  They just are.

Howl's Moving Castle
Borrowed from a friend, sorry I had to return it. 
CONCLUSION: Better than the movie, as the friend promised.  And that says a lot in this case. 

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is a master of the bittersweet ending.  I liked the ending on this so much better than the ending of the movie in some ways, and in some ways... well,  I hated it for being just so darn sad. 
CONCLUSION: Thank you, Lord, for Neil Gaiman. 

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Seriously, it's a miracle this woman can sell books with such an un-typeable name.  Yeesh.

So! I absolutely loved The Scorpio Races and was prepared to love this book too.

And, probably, if I hadn't already read The Scorpio Races I would have been happier.  Of the way, way too many supernatural books I've listened to on tape (in most cases out of desperation during the school year, when I only have time to consume any literature while doing homework for art classes), this was one of the absolute best.  Mainly because it just wasn't as supernatural. It was written before the Twilight explosion hit (if I remember rightly) and it's just so different from that type of book.  When the boy is a wolf - and he is either a wolf or a boy, nothing in between - he can't remember things, or think normally. He's just a wolf. When he's a boy he doesn't have a ton of, like, magical abilities.  The wolf thing seems more like a plot device to make the young lovers angsty than the point of the story - which is often not the case with these supernatural books.  One thing this writer does well is make decent characters.  I liked no-nonsense Grace and her negligent parents - especially the parents.

I'm not sure why I didn't love this book as much as The Scorpio Races.  This was the second time I've listened to it on tape - the first time I didn't get through it.  For some reason I just lost interest.  It seemed like there was too much "oh no he's not going to change let's be sad" in the middle, and that the pace got a bit lost.  But do I only think that because, both times, I was somehow unconsciously expecting the tightly-wound drama of The Scorpio Races? I don't know.

Unusual. Good. I might check out the other books in the "cycle." (Just realized I despise the word "cycle."  Why do I despise it?  What a confusing night.)  But I won't be heartbroken if I never get around to it.

(P.S. Didn't realize that red spot on the cover was blood. Cool!)

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

I listened to this on tape, and about three days after I initially downloaded it from the library, I saw a positive review for the book on NPR and felt unreasonably proud of myself for downloading a decently reviewed book purely because the cover is well-designed.

The review said that it was the tone that makes this book - and I think that's very true.  When you tell someone what the story is about, it doesn't sound like anything spectacular. It's about the underworld of the Hollywood area, a drugged-out child star, a burglar, and a porn film.  How is that new or different, right?  And when you tell them that it's funny sometimes, it's even more misleading. Because it isn't a funny book overall; people die, and it's serious and scary. Yet the characters can find humor in life - they aren't perpetually serious - and that makes them seem like human beings.  Nothing is more boring to me than the stoic, inscrutable, Bond-style detective.

So, basically, it's a hard book to describe to people.

I can say that this is the only modern mystery story I've read that I really enjoyed.  Not only because the main character was fun and all that - but because it was at least a bit believable, and seemed to be about bigger things than just giving the reader a fun ride.  I was struck by the unmistakable social commentary.  And how the characters - all of them (with the possible exception of Junior's wife - she's believable and everything, but not meaty) - would be an actor's dream. And since Lionsgate has bought the rights to make a movie, there's a slim chance that it might pull through development purgatory and get made. Of course, the story and the characters and the social commentary could all get sapped out of them by dumb people, but with a smart screenwriter and a handful of great actors it could be something really, really special.  And I don't think that often.

Thistle Downing, in particular, would be a dream of an acting role. If somebody played the part well, I'd see them grabbing awards.  Thistle is drugged-out, obviously, but she's also so self-aware, and sees precisely what the media machine is after. She has a sense of humor.  She has weird ideas about what happened to her talent. She's not your normal messed up hollywood kid character - and I think that's cool because there is no such thing as a normal messed-up hollywood kid.

People in real life are not just types - they're all different, no matter what group they fit into - and that, right there, is why this book is good: because Timothy Hallinan knows it, and writes his people like people.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled of the Most Audacious Rescue in History by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio

I listened to this on tape, actually.  Well, actually actually it was a library digital download.  So shoot me for using dated terms.

It was a fun-ish listen, I guess.  Honestly, I was more interested to see how the movie matched up. It was certainly the same story, though it was quite obviously jazzed up a bit.  One of the oddest things about the book is learning that Tony Mendez is apparently quite the painting devotee!  He got into the CIA as an artist - doing document forging and things like that.  But he said in the book that he has always considered himself an artist before a CIA agent.  Who'd have thought?

The reader stank. His pronunciation of the word "houseguests" was the most precise, laborious thing I have ever heard.

Enjoyable if, like me, you wanted more details after watching the movie.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Have I ever mentioned that I never cry in books?  I never cry in books.  At least never for real. I made myself cry at the end of A Severe Mercy, but it was out of obligation.

At first I thought that I might have to dislike this book on principle.  The main girl was so quirky and well-read and witty that I began to believe I would have to dismiss her as an unrealistic character.  But then I got further in and realized that though she is wittier than I will probably ever be, she dealt with her stuff the way I would. And the problems she had were ones that would bother me. And I began to think she was a real person.  And I would call that successful writing.

I cried in this book.  I sobbed. Twice.  It could be that I have a boyfriend I like rather a lot now, and the idea of death and all that has a new significance.  But either way, I wept like a baby.

Read it and weep.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Reading round up. Yee-haw, indeed. (6)

Though I truly didn't have much time to read this term, I did get through a few very good books, and they ought to be remembered.

Blink and Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Hugo by Brian Selznick

And Both Were Young (HATED the cover) and A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle


I know there were more!

I can't remember. I am a bad person.