Monday, June 27, 2011

Woe Is Me...

The neighbor that I was sharing internet with has moved and I'm having trouble setting up a connection to my other neighbor's internet at the moment. When I can finally catch her I'll see if she can't figure out what the issue is and hopefully I'll have a connection at home again. For the time being, I'll only be able to use the internet at work or, when I have time, when I go to someplace that has a wireless connection. This means, of course, that posting will be hard and replying to comments even harder. I'm hoping to have this all figured out by the end of the week, though.

Until then, I'm still reading so I'll have some reviews to post in the near future. I still have to review the film of A Clockwork Orange and I haven't written one yet for The Book Thief. Those will both be up this week.

I won't be participating in memes this week and Wildcard Wednesday is canceled. Other than that, there's not much to report. I gave up on Tess of the D'Urbervilles and am replacing it with A Study in Scarlet. I've still got a few more books to get through this month, so we'll see how it all goes.

Hoping to be back with regular posts soon!


Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Real Horrorshow Novel: A Review of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange

I put watching the film of A Clockwork Orange on hold last night in order to watch the Marriage Equality Bill (finally) pass in New York State. As an (almost) lifelong New Yorker and an (absolutely) lifelong member of the LGBT community, yesterday was a proud moment and a victory all at the same time. I didn't want to put off writing this review any more, though, so I'll have to post the film review on another day.

Title: A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. (1986)
Pages: 213
How I Came By This Book: To be honest, I don't remember exactly what got me interested in reading the book in the first place. I had a friend in college, Patrick, who loved the movie and my downstairs neighbors thought that I was crazy when they found out last year that I hadn't read the book OR seen the film. I know that I originally borrowed it from the library and ended up buying my own copy soon after that. This is my second time reading the book.
Challenges: Read Me Baby, 1 More Time; Books to Movies; GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to "redeem" him, the novel asks, "At what cost?"

This edition includes the controversial last chapter not published in the first edition and Burgess's introduction "A Clockwork Orange Resucked."

Review: There are some novels that I love so much that I don't even know where to begin. A Clockwork Orange is one of them. Burgess himself didn't really like the novel and he was especially angry that the American publishers left out the last chapter, 21, for various and sundry (and incomprehensible) reasons. He rants and raves in his "A Clockwork Orange Resucked" piece that adorns the front end of my copy of the novel. I happen to disagree with his take on his novel and think he's either being too harsh or too cynical or too bitter or too...something. For me, this novel is a treasure, one that I enjoy revisiting again and again.

The plot is simple and complex at the same time. A boy named Alex enjoys violence and rape with his droogs (or friends) in a dystopian future England. He crosses his droogs, they rat him out, and he ends up in prison. That's the simple part. The complex bit is from Part II to the end. Alex agrees to be "reformed" using a controversial new technique and finds that he has been left with no personal choice in life. He can't be bad because to do so makes him ill. But he doesn't necessarily want to be good; he's just forced to be to save himself from pain. The rest of the story follows Alex after he's left out of prison and the injustices brought against him by his former victims. There's a bit more to it, but I don't want to give too much away.

There are two things that are usually talked about when this novel is mentioned: violence and language. The former is heavily present throughout the novel and can be a bit much for the squeamish. The things Alex does are inhuman and unconscionable and no one will deny that. But the violence is necessary for the story and I truly believe that it needs to be as horrific as it is. Burgess takes the problem of hooligans, hoodies, and punks and lets it take on an even more sinister twist. Because Alex is so extreme, his story stands out more from the common thug on the street.

The latter, language, is also prevalent but not in the way you may be thinking. I'm not talking about swearing or anything. I'm talking about Nadsat, a slang created by Burgess using Russian words, schoolboy rhyming slang, and other things. It can be hard to read at first but within the first few chapters I found that I was understanding what they were saying with no problem. One of the book's themes is brainwashing and Burgess brainwashes his readers into speaking Nadsat. It's the most unique use of language I've seen in a novel so far and it was one of the things that impressed me most about the book the first time I read it.

I remember the first time I read this book it was while I was working at the library and the girl I was working with thought I was nuts when the following exchange occurred:

Me: Oh my God, this is the best sentence I've ever read.
Her: ????
Me: "I kuppetted a gazetta, my idea being to get ready for plunging back into normal jeezny again by viddying what was ittying on in the world."
Her: What the f***?
Me: (translating) "I bought a newspaper, my idea being to get ready for plunging back into normal life again by seeing what was going on in the world."
Her: Um...okay...

It isn't a particularly profound sentence, but it was one of those sentences that made me fully realize that I wasn't just reading the Nadsat words, I was understanding them. When I reread the book this time and I came upon that sentence again, I remembered that moment and was again struck by my ability (without a glossary) to pony what Alex was skazatting. I've talked to other people who have read the novel who have had similar moments, so I know that I'm neither crazy nor totally alone.

Alex himself, your humble narrator, is a violent, horrible young man who deserves to go to prison. No one will argue that least I hope not. His crimes are equal to the sentence he received and, in some respects, he actually probably deserved more jail time. Yet, despite the fact that you're sickened by what he does, you can't help but like him. He's funny, oddly sympathetic, and roguishly charming. In a way, the reader is brainwashed again, this time to feel sorry for him. I for one don't mind this at all. A) it's a novel and B) sympathy is a necessary emotion to feel for him during Part III of the novel and having it spring up all of a sudden would seem insincere and implausible. To feel it for him almost from the beginning makes feeling it for him when he really deserves it all the more real and powerful.

The rest of the characters, with the exception of the prison charlie (the chaplain), are sort of cardboard-y in comparison, but I don't see this as a fault. Alex, as the main character and the center of his own universe, is going to be the most vibrant character in his own story. Burgess does such a great job of creating a dynamic and interesting character and has his psyche mapped out in such a brilliant way. I could never see this having been told in anything but first person narration and I think the story would have suffered had it been in third. You get so far inside Alex's head that you practically become Alex for the duration of the novel, which may be why some people have such a hard time with it.

I've seen a lot of people say that they really hated this novel, but what I'm wondering is if perhaps what they were hating was the fact that they were immersing themselves in someone else's crimes, in someone else's sociopathy. It can be difficult at times to watch Alex beating up an old man or raping a defenseless woman, but I don't think the novel would have been as powerful without such brutal, vivid acts. The last chapter, especially, would not have carried as much weight if Alex hadn't been coming from such an ultra-violent background.

As for the last chapter--the real last chapter, 21--I am one of the ones who feel as if the novel wouldn't have resonated with me as much if I had read it when the American copies ended it at number 20. Kubrick's film, which I'll be talking about either tomorrow or the next day, ends where the original American edition ended, making it a much more chilling film and, obviously, a much more chilling novel. I don't want to give away the ending, so I won't talk about it, although if you read anything that Burgess has written on this book, he sort of gives it all away. I just think that that chapter ties everything up nicely and I enjoy seeing what's become of Pete, one of Alex's droogs from before he went to jail.

The last thing I want to talk about is the dystopian elements within the novel. Unlike some dystopian books, we are so fully immersed within this world that we can't actually see it. If this had been a third person narrative, we probably would have gotten into what had led to the current state of society and what exactly was wrong with it. Because we see it through Alex's eyes and because he is part of society's problems, the most we learn is that they're trying to clear out the prisons so that they can make way for "political prisoners." Other than that, we are "treated" to a personal joyride through this dystopia, viewing it from the vantage point of someone who likes the lawlessness and fear. Burgess doesn't need to spend time with lengthy explanations; he can just show us the horrors. As someone who loves dystopian novels, I find this to be refreshing, unique, and immensely terrifying.

I'm obviously giving A Clockwork Orange 5 out of 5 Gabriels. This book isn't for everyone. There are people who will vehemently hate it for various reasons and they are entitled to their opinion. Some will recognize the books merits, but would never consider it a "favorite." I'm one of those (possibly crazy?) people who will revisit this novel over and over again.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

It's Friday and time for the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books. Every week, Jennifer asks a question and hundreds of book bloggers link to their own post answering that question. It's a great way to connect with other bloggers who have similar (or divergent) interests.

This week's question is: When did you realize reading was your passion and a truly important part of your life? 

I've been doing the Hop for months now and I mean it when I say that this is my absolute favorite question so far. The problem is that I'm not really sure how to answer it.

I learned to read when I was about two years old. It's early, yes, but it was all thanks to my mother, who read to me all the time, and my grandmother who encouraged me to read anything I could get my hands on. There's one book in particular, Go Car Go, that Mom read to me over and over again (because I kept asking for it). Eventually I had the book memorized and, from what I'm told, was able to recognize the words in other books. 

Between then and kindergarten I learned enough words from enough books that I entered at a second grade reading level. It was nice because I got to skip out on the "see Jane run"  books, but it also sucked because my elementary school library was broken up into two sections: picture books and chapter books. You weren't allowed to check out chapter books until you were in second grade, which meant I spent more time at my town library than my school library. 

I think it was this distinction that really cemented for me, even at such a young age, that reading was my first true love and that books were kind of a big deal for me. I would sit with my kindergarten class in the picture book section of the library and while they'd be paying attention to the story being read to them by the librarian, I would be looking over at the chapter book section longingly. 

I almost think that in first grade my teacher finally convinced the librarian to let me get books out from there, but I don't fully remember. I do remember that shortly after I was able to do so, I read chapter books so fast it made my head spin. I also used to read all of the dinosaur books they had, including this old-ish yellow encyclopedia with red letting on the cover that was about two or three hundred pages of nothing but dinosaurs. I'm pretty sure I read it straight through two or three times before I went to middle school.

My grandmother had a huge collection of books and would always let me read pretty much whatever I wanted from it. There was never any censorship or control over what I read. Grandma might say, "Oh, I didn't like that book," but only on very rare occasions (maybe once or twice in my entire life) did she tell me straight out, "You really shouldn't read that." 

From her I learned the value of packed bookshelves and a voracious reading habit. She always had a book next to her, usually with an unused tissue stuck in it as her bookmark, just in case she wanted to read at any given moment during the day. She told me that when I was about four or five I told her that she must be rich because she had so many books. That, I think, is another moment in which my passion for reading was evident. 

There have been so many other moments like these, moments that have made me realize that reading isn't just a hobby for me. It's almost an addiction...just not in a creepy, sell-your-children kind of way. During college I wasn't able to read as much as I would have liked and I felt its absence. Having this blog the last few months, reading as much as I have in such a short amount of time, has reignited my addiction in a big way. 


*Insert Sheepish Explanation Here*

So, this space right here? Yeah, it was supposed to contain a review of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange which I reread, um, five days ago. What does it contain instead? My reasons for why it doesn't contain the aforementioned review.

1) I just spent literally all of yesterday running around trying to pay bills and start the process of acquiring a new car. I left my apartment at around 10 AM on Thursday and didn't get back home until 11 PM. There is good news to report, though. My electric bill is paid, as is my car payment, and my insurance company is willing to take me back even though they cancelled my policy because of my non-payment of last month's bill (damn poverty). The guy that I got my current P.O.S. car from is willing to trade it in for a new long as I can get a loan. With my credit, it might not happen, but we'll see. On a bad note, I found out that it's not my transmission (which is good, obviously), but my CV joints and a few other things that for some strange reason didn't get fixed the last time I had my car in the shop...despite the fact that those problems were probably present at the time and I spent $3,000 dollars to get it fixed. Yeah, not happy. Personal rant over. Just...think happy thoughts that I can get this new(er) car.

2) I read A Clockwork Orange for the Books to Movies Challenge that Two Bibliomaniacs is hosting and it just dawned on me last night that I haven't yet re-watched the film in order to review that as well. I have the day off today and, after yesterday's marathon driving-fest, I'm determined not to leave my house unless I absolutely have to. I'll be watching the film then and will (hopefully) have a review of the book and film up on Saturday and Sunday.

3) I'm still not very far into Tess of the D'Urbervilles and I want to get at least halfway done with it before I post my reviews of ACO and The Book Thief.

So, there you have it. A slice of my life and a few reasons why I slacked off last night. I should have my Book Blogger Hop post up later today. Also, you still have until just before midnight on Saturday to add your Wild Card Wednesday post if you so choose.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

July Reading List!

I have two more books to write reviews for this week--A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak--but I had to work unexpectedly yesterday and was too tired to write anything. I'm also not as far into Tess of the D'Urbervilles as I had planned to be, so I'm going to stretch out the remaining reviews a little.

Today, I'll be posting my reading list for July instead. Anything that doesn't get finished this month will go onto next month's list, but here are the titles that I'm planning to read in addition:

Paris in July Picks
-Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
-The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
-Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (in French)
-Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (in French)

Books I Should Have Read By Now Picks
-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
-Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Books to Movies Pick
-Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Misc. Picks
-Bossypants by Tina Fey
-Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind by Graham Hancock
-Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
-Twice a Spy by Keith Thomson
-Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
-Dune by Frank Herbert (part of a six month personal challenge)


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Trip to Mars: A Review of C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet

Title: Out of the Silent Planet
Author: C.S. Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Publisher: Macmillan Company (1945)
Pages: 174
How I Came By This Book: Nonners from Ridiculous Reviews had been reading this trilogy and suggested that I try the first book to see how I like it. I acquired it from, where else?, my library.
Challenges: GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: On a walking trip, Dr. Ransom, Cambridge philologist, encounters two old school friends by whom he is, quite unexpectedly, abducted and drugged. Waking from this bad treatment, Ransom finds himself en route to a distant planet, Mars--or Malacandra, as the inhabitants call it.

In this book the distinguished author of "The Screwtape Letters" turns his brilliant and versatile talent to telling a story for "those who like books about other planets." (Those who do not, are invited to read it--and then ask themselves if the theme could have been embodied in any other way.) Whoever does accompany Ransom through the unknown onto the weird planet Malacandra, will revel in the voyage and the strange horror which await him. Whoever goes will also look down on our "civilized" global ways with pleasant detachment, and with that awareness of irony which can come only when beholding human actions from the Malacandran point of view.

Review: After reading The Screwtape Letters, I was ready to jump into yet another of Lewis' novels. As a sci-fi lover, the first book in Lewis' Space Trilogy seemed to be my kind of novel. I was absolutely right.

I'm not going to bog everyone down with terminology or plot or anything like that. For a short novel, Out of the Silent Planet packs a lot into it. There's three alien species who speak an alien language; there's religion, science (although completely wrong assumptions about space travel are made), and diplomacy; there's friendship and danger and discovery. Lewis manages to deftly sew them all together in a well-crafted quilt of a novel that imagines a Mars far more beautiful and haunting than it is in actuality.

Lewis' novels will always have religious themes, no matter which one you choose to read. The religion in this novel, however, is quite different than the religion in Screwtape Letters. Lewis doesn't hit you over the head with it; instead, he masterfully slides it into the narrative of the story and it is so beautiful and touching that you don't mind that it's there. In fact, the universality of the religious themes can be applied to anyone, regardless of their beliefs. While obviously intended to be Christianity, I felt that there was an openness to the Malacandran religion, an ability for the reader to paint the story with the brush of their own religion.

Continuing with the painting motif, Lewis himself paints a picture with this novel. The world he has created on Malacandra is nothing short of breathtaking, like a brilliant watercolor. It's nothing like Earth (or Mars, for that  matter) and it was so vivid in my mind that when I close my eyes I can still see it. The alien races on Malacandra were not so easily visualized, but, as I came to understand them more, they became clearer in my mind. Lewis does with this book what he did with The Screwtape Letters in that he pretends that it is a true story that he is just compiling from correspondences he's had with people and in this case I wish it were true. I would really love to visit this planet, to see everything that Ransom sees, to learn the language. It truly was amazing.

Even more amazing is the way that Lewis explores the themes of humanity, understanding, respect, and knowledge. By having three very different but equal types of hnau (sentient beings) on Malacandra, Lewis is able to expose the failings of the human race in loving and respecting one another. The inspirational relationship between these three hnau is what really made this novel stick with me after it was done. Well, that and the fact that the whole book is insanely good.

There are two more books in the trilogy that I haven't read and I'm looking forward to delving into them. If they are anything at all like Out of the Silent Planet, the Space Trilogy may end up on my list of favorite series. From the first page to the last, I was involved with the story, the characters, and the emotion of the novel. At times suspenseful, at times sad, at times triumphant--this novel was a veritable roller coaster of feelings and, even with a third person narration, you feel every one of them deeply.

Lewis is masterful and inventive and his novels are beyond enjoyable to read. I'm giving Out of the Silent Planet 5 out of 5 Gabriels.


Harry Potter Countdown!

Kayleigh at Nylon Admiral is anxiously counting down the weeks to the release of the last Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part II. Each week she posts about a different topic relating to Rowling's insanely popular series and invites other bloggers to join her. 

This week's topic is one that's close to my heart, more so than any other topic she's covered so far. Today we're all going to be talking about:

"Snape. Snape. Severus Snape."

(Raise your hands if you mentally added the word "Dumbledore!" to the end of that. Click here if you have no idea what I'm talking about.)

NOTE: Here there be spoilers!

Those of you who've been following me for a while will know that Snape has been my favorite character since the first book. I've droned on and on about him at length since I started blogging in March and I've said pretty much all there is to say about him. He's morally gray, which is my favorite kind of character. He and I have a similar childhood, so I identify with him more than the other characters. He's an absolute bastard but he shows repeatedly that he has a heart buried somewhere deep in his chest. Etc. Etc. Etc.

So, what else is there to say about our favorite potions master? I've decided to do something a little unconventional today. After I'd finished reading the series, I was ridiculously unhappy with the way things turned out for Snape and was heartbroken that we'd be seeing no more of him (or the other characters, for that matter). As a writer, I sometimes find that when I'm having writer's block, it helps to write fan fiction. Yes, I know that it's looked down on by a lot of people, but working with other people's characters and developing your own plot and dialogue can be a great way to help work through writing issues without having to worry about creating brand new characters. 

You can see where this is headed, I'm sure. I decided in a moment of "Holy crap, I have no idea where I want my current novel to go!" to start working on the autobiography of one Severus Snape. Lame? Probably. Helpful? Yes. Something I intend to finish some day? Damn straight. Because Snape is such a versatile, shadowy, and down-right awesome character, he's immensely fun to write. Below, you'll find some excerpts from what's being tentatively called The Life and Death of Severus Snape. Some of the text is taken directly from Rowling's novels (NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS INTENDED!!!! and I don't ever intend for this to leave my computer), but quite a bit of if is just from my (probably deranged) head. All of these excerpts are scenes from the Sorcerer's Stone timeline.

"Draco Malfoy Puts Snape on Edge"

          I’ve heard students say that I don’t walk, I stalk. Whether or not that’s true, I could feel myself stalking into my classroom that Friday. It was, I knew, my first lesson with Potter and I felt particularly moody. The idea of Lilly’s son being in my general vicinity was like a dagger being thrust into my heart. In fact, as I came to his name on the roll I felt a twinge of pain and I couldn’t stop myself from a little unpleasantness.
            “Ah, yes,” I said softly, “Harry Potter. Our new—celebrity.”
            Pushing aside the urge to snap out at him, to demand to know how he could have the audacity to sit there looking out of those eyes, her eyes, not knowing the battle that was raging inside of my head, I continued down the roll, then looked out at the first years.
            “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making,” I began, staring them down, measuring them up. “As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.” Here I stopped and let my words sink in. As I had expected, no one seemed very impressed by what I’d said, but there was the slightest glimmer in a few of the students’ eyes. “I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death—if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”
            There was a ringing silence. I saw Potter exchange a glance with a boy that I would have pegged as a Weasley even if I hadn’t seen his name on the roll. It was, I decided, time to see what the Potter boy was made of.
            “Potter!” I snapped. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
            His confusion was palpable. Another glance at Weasley, then one at Hermione Granger, whose hand had shot up out of nowhere.
Oh no, I thought. A know-it-all.
            “I don’t know, sir,” he said finally.
            I felt my lips curl into a sneer. “Tut, tut—fame clearly isn’t everything.” I paused. “Let’s try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”
            Several students snickered and Granger’s hand shot even higher into the air, but Potter just looked down at his desk and repeated, “I don’t know, sir.”
            “Thought you wouldn’t open a book before coming, eh, Potter?” Then, “What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?” I was, I knew, enjoying this too much.
            “I don’t know,” he admitted, glancing again at Granger. She was standing up, practically jumping up and down in an effort to get my attention. “I think Hermione does, though, why don’t you try her?”
            “Sit down!” I snapped at Granger. “For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Sleeping Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite.” I glared at him then snapped, “Well? Why aren’t you all copying that down?” I looked at Potter, saying loudly enough for everyone to hear, “And a point will be taken from Gryffindor House for your cheek, Potter.”
            I strode up the board, flicked my wand, and watched as the directions for a cure for boils swirled out onto it. “Pair up with the person you are next to,” I said, “and carefully follow these directions. I cannot stress enough the importance of strict adherence to what is written up here. To not do so could be dangerous—even deadly. You may begin.”
            I had expected the first years to be incompetent—they always were—but it pained me to see so many mistakes being made with the easiest of directions. “Not crushed finely enough,” I told a Slytherin boy. “I think you’ll find that’s too much dried nettles, Finnigan.”
            Draco Malfoy caught my eye and as I looked at his friend Goyle’s completely wrong potion—“That ingredient isn’t even on the list!”—he said, “Father says to say hello, Professor.”
            “Does he now?” I replied, staring down into the depths of his cauldron.
            “Oh yes. He says that you two are old friends.” There was something shrewd and calculating in his look. I could tell that he, like Potter, had not fallen far from the proverbial tree.
            “And what else does he say, Mr. Malfoy?”
            He shrugged but it was too forced to be casual. “Not much, really.” I started to walk away but stopped when I heard him say, “Only that he would hate to find out that you and I weren’t getting on well. He’s very protective of me, Professor.” I could feel his eyes boring into the back of my head. “Very protective.”
            I swiveled around to face him again. “I see. Well, Malfoy,” I said over the chatter of the other students, “this looks perfect. Just perfect.” I hoped that my voice didn’t sound strained. “If everyone could look over here at the way Draco has stewed his horned—”
            I was cut off by a loud hissing noise that was coming from the same cauldron as clouds of foul green smoke. All over the room people were leaping onto stools to get out of the way of the potion leaking out of a melted cauldron, eating the soles of shoes. A fat Gryffindor boy—Nathan? Neville?—was moaning in pain as boils popped up all over his body.
            “Idiot boy!” I rushed over and cleared away the potion with a wave of my wand. “I suppose you added the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire?” The moaning continued and I pointed to his partner. “Take him up to the hospital wing.” Potter and his friends were sitting next to the mess and I must admit that I took my anger over Malfoy’s words and the potion fiasco out on them. “You—Potter—why didn’t you tell him not to add the quills? Thought he’d make you look good if he got it wrong, did you?” Before he could sputter an answer I added, “That’s another point you’ve lost for Gryffindor.”
            My face burning with rage, I wiped the directions off the board and slipped out of the room and into my office, not daring to look back at Malfoy or The Boy Who Lived. 

"Lucius Malfoy Makes It Worse"

           “Severus, I see you are well.”
            I could feel the blood pulsing through my veins, my heart beating wildly against my chest. He never came to me here in my office. He also never paid social calls. Nothing good could come from this meeting.
            “Lucius,” I said, hoping my tone didn’t betray the anxiety that I felt, “to what do I owe the…pleasure of this visit?”
            I looked up briefly from the copy of The Daily Prophet I had been immersed in to see him gazing absentmindedly at the jars on my shelves. He had always been an imposing figure. His proud manner had once enthralled me and I had spent my years at Hogwarts adoring him. Now, however, I found myself merely hoping that he would leave and never come back.
            “It’s my son, Draco,” he said.
            I set the Prophet aside. “Ah, yes. He’s quite the promising potions-maker,” I lied.
            Lucius’ head swiveled around and his grey eyes pierced me. Still I did not look at him.
            “Is he now?” he asked smoothly. “Well, that’s just…wonderful.” He settled into the chair in front of my desk. “Unfortunately that is not what I’ve come to discuss. Or, really,” he corrected, “that is only part of it. Are you, by chance, familiar with the name Galena Malfoy?”
            “No, I can’t say that I am.”
            “How about Trevor Black?”
            “By last name only,” I admitted, not entirely sure where this conversation was headed but knowing that I probably wouldn’t like it.
            “Malachi Forge? Joshua Tibbert? Christiana Stone?” At each of these names I had shook my head but, rather than being displeased, Lucius’ thin, cold smile grew at each sign of my ignorance. “Just what I wanted to hear, Severus. You have not heard of these people because they are unimportant. They are nonentities. They, in short, do not matter.” He leveled his gaze on me and I made the mistake of looking up at just that moment. Our eyes met and I was caught in his serpentine stare. “Do you catch my meaning?”
            “I’m afraid I don’t,” I said, trying to look away. It was a lie, but I wanted to hear it from him. I wanted him to openly admit to what both he and his son had hinted at.
            “Don’t play dumb with me, Severus. I’m certain that Draco has spoken with you.”
            “Draco,” I countered, “has done little more than insinuate. Which, I might add, is what you’re doing right now.”
            Lucius leaned forward and gripped the edge of my desk. “Draco is my only child, one of the last of the Malfoy line. His mother and I both feel as if he is destined for greatness—and we want you to help him achieve it.”
            I stood up, almost knocking over my chair in the process. “Lucius, if you think for one moment that I’m going to play into your delusions of grandeur—”
            “It’s very simple,” he interrupted, acting as if nothing had happened. “All you’d have to do is help him along, make sure he’s doing his best…tutor him if need be.”
            “As if I haven’t got enough to deal with already.”
            “Yes,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “I can see how very trying it would be to sit in Dumbledore’s pocket and plot against every fool he hires for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post.”
            “You’re being unfair.”
            “I’m being unkind. There is a marked difference. Don’t forget that I sit on the board of directors, Severus. This is merely an inconvenience. I am capable of much, much worse.”
            It was not an empty threat. He knew that to get me fired would be the worst possible thing he could do. This was my home, my life. It was the only way that I could fulfill my promise to Dumbledore.
            The choice was mine to make. I could take the brave route and stand up to him, refuse to give in to his threats. Or I could take the safer route—the cowardly route—and do whatever he asked of me.
            I didn’t speak for quite a while. Instead, I weighed my options, carefully considering both. Did I really think myself capable of defiance? No. But, was I willing to allow myself to become the guardian of yet another brat—yet another reminder of my past?
            “Will you give me some time to think about it?” I asked.
            “Is more time really necessary? I mean, I’d think that your choice was clear.” He smirked. “Or were you thinking of doing something noble?”
            The truth was that I had been thinking of doing something violent…like punching him.
            “Your job or your pride?” he said, then added maliciously, “Not that you’ll have much pride once you’ve lost everything.”
            Again I forced the urge to hurt him down. I thought hard about this. There really wasn’t an option, I conceded. The way was clear.
            Reluctantly, but with my head held aloft, I said, “Draco will live up to your expectations, Lucius. I swear it.”

Okay, so they're a bit long, but I liked them both and couldn't choose between them. I really like the idea that Snape only helped Draco as much as he did because he was afraid of Lucius. He could have ruined Snape several times over with everything that he knew about him and I never saw any real reason why Snape would have been so openly on Draco's side. I also just like the idea that Snape was being forced to help both Harry and Draco, mortal enemies since the day they met. It adds even more tension to an already tense story line.


Wild Card Wednesday!

It's Wednesday and that means that it's once again time for Wild Card Wednesday, hosted by yours truly. Every Wednesday I'll be posting a prompt that requires bloggers to use both their imaginations and what they read to answer it. Your answers can be in any form you like and they don't even have to make a whole lot of sense. The point is to have fun!

If you'd like to participate, just add a link to your Wild Card Wednesday post in the linking tool below.

This week's prompt is: Pick one character for each color of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) and explain why they remind you of that color.

Red: War (from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)

This is sort of a cheat because War's nickname in the book is Red. A gorgeous red-haired woman, the kind that men fight over, War loves nothing more than to stir up trouble wherever she goes. When the end is near, we find her working as a war correspondent but she covers wars that she begins. Wherever she goes, fighting breaks out and she's conveniently already there to cover the story. What she wants more than anything else, however, is to wield her sword at the end of days alongside the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

Orange: Mary Lou Finney (from Absolutely Normal Chaos by Sharon Creech)

Orange is one of those happy colors but I also associate it with citrus fruits like the aptly named orange, fruits that are sweet but can also be sour. Mary Lou, the diary-writing protagonist of Creech's book about a crazy summer, is the perfect blend of sweet and sour. She can be a very frazzled young girl but is also full of creative energy. Funny in an often sarcastic way, Mary Lou finds her boring summer becoming increasingly more exciting and takes the reader along for the ride. 

Yellow: Miss Honey (from Matilda by Roald Dahl)

Yellow is a nice, sunny color and these are two traits that describe Miss Honey to a "t." Sweet, kind, and always looking on the bright side of things, Miss Honey treats her students with love and care. But, like the sun, Miss Honey shows later on in the book that if you mess with her, you'll get burned. She stands up to Miss Trunchbull as well as to Matilda's parents and, in the end, she and Matilda go off to live happily ever after in their nice, sunny, yellow world. 

Green: Erik (from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux)

Green is usually seen as being the color of envy. If there's any character in the history of literature who exemplifies this deadly sin, it's the Phantom of the Paris Opera House, Erik. In love with Christine, both for her beauty and her voice, Erik goes to VERY extreme lengths to try to secure her all for himself. Sadly, she loves another (Raoul), which leads to the Phantom taking even more drastic measures. In the end, he sees that it cannot be but for the majority of the novel, he's a very green character. 

Blue: Abraham Lincoln (from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith)

The real Abe Lincoln and the fictional Abe Lincoln have something in common: melancholy. Historians have long believed that Lincoln suffered from bouts of depression...and who can blame him. His mother died when he was young, he lost the woman who might possibly have been his first love, he buried several sons, and he had to deal with a little thing called the Civil War. The fictional Abe also had a vampire problem to deal with and a few deaths to avenge. As blue is seen as the color of sorrow, I'd say it's an appropriate color for our 16th president.

Violet: Lady Julia Grey (from The Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn)

Purple is the color of nobility because back when dyes were made from plants, it was expensive to create purple dye so only the rich could afford it. While Lady Julia's family isn't the richest in England, they do have a lot of money, so it fits the color. The other reason I chose her is that purple is a sensual color and Lady Julia is that as well. She's an elegant, wealthy woman who occasionally likes to indulge. 


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cthulhu and Sherlock and Shadow; Oh My!: A Review of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things

Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Harper (2006)
Pages: 363
How I Came By This Book: I picked this up at Barnes and Noble a few months ago in my continued attempt to own and read everything ever written by this man.
Challenges: Read Your Own Books Challenge; GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: A mysterious circus terrifies an audience for one extraordinary performance before disappearing into the night. Two teenage boys crash a party and meet the girls of their dreams--and nightmares. In a Hugo Award-winning story, a great detective must solve a most unsettling royal murder in a strangely altered Victorian England.

These marvelous creations and more showcase the unparalleled invention and storytelling brilliance--and the terrifyingly dark and entertaining wit--of the incomparable Neil Gaiman. By turns delightful, disturbing, and diverting, Fragile Things is a gift of literary enchantment from one of the the most original writers of our time.

Review: Gaiman's first book of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors, got me interested in the genre in a way I had never been before. While Fragile Things is an impressive batch of tales, I found that I didn't like it quite as much as I did the other.

Obviously these stories are well-written, funny, dark, terrifying, and wonderful all at the same time. Even when I'm not fully impressed with Gaiman (see The Graveyard Book), I still cannot deny that he is a) one of the greatest living writers and b) my favorite contemporary author. These stories are everything that I've come to expect from him and, as an American Gods lover, I appreciated the added bonus of a novella featuring Shadow, the main character from Gaiman's novel of gods and men. Many of these stories were enjoyable, but I felt they lacked a certain something that the stories in Smoke and Mirrors had...I just can't put my finger on what it is. We'll just call it that je ne sais quoi (I don't know what).

Some of my favorite stories from this collection include the aforementioned novella ("Monarch of the Glen"), the brilliant Sherlock Holmes/Cthulhu mash-up ("A Study in Emerald"), the Gothic satire "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (which also has the best title ever), and the Matrix-inspired "Goliath." Two of Gaiman's best poems are also featured in Fragile Things: "Instructions" and "The Day the Saucers Came."

Here's a video of Gaiman himself reading "Instructions:"

And the best animated version of "The Day the Saucers Came:"

Whereas all of the stories in Smoke and Mirrors kept me interested, there were several stories here that got my mind wandering a bit. I'm going to be fair here and remind everyone that this was the second book that I read during the read-a-thon this past weekend so this could have had something to do with it...although I doubt it. Nothing really stood out to me, like "We Can Get Them for You Wholesale" or "Murder Mysteries" did in Smoke and Mirrors.  "Forbidden Brides" comes close but I didn't fully enjoy it until I had reached the end of it and realized that the whole idea behind the story was that what was going on the whole time was normal. (To understand what I mean, you'll have to read the story. When you get to the last few pages the whole thing becomes a LOT funnier than it originally seems.)

I even found the American Gods novella to be a bit lacking. I loved revisiting Shadow and I love that the story took place in Scotland, but I'm not a huge fan of Smith or Mr. Alice, so their inclusion in that story sort of threw it for me. I also felt that Shadow wasn't quite the same as he had been at the end of American Gods, that the character had lost something. It was a great story, it just didn't fully do it for me.

All in all, this was a good book, especially the poems, which Gaiman has said some people didn't like in either book. I'm not a fan of poetry, but I love the way that Gaiman plays with words, rhythm, rhyme, and different poetry styles. These are poems that I could read over and over and not get sick of. I will say that Smoke and Mirrors is superior in terms of its short stories, but I would read Fragile Things again.

I'm giving Smoke and Mirrors 4 out of 5 Gabriels.


Oh, And One More Thing

Okay, so it's late and I'm going to bed now, but I had to share this. I'm probably the last person on the internet to see it, but I don't care. I just saw this on The Allure of Books (which, by the way, how did I not discover this blog until now?) and I needed to post it.

It's like he knows my soul or something. Yeah...or something. :)


Top Ten Tuesday!

Happy blogoversary to The Broke and the Bookish, who are celebrating one year blogging! As part of their festivities, the prompt for this week's Top Ten Tuesday is the Top Ten Reasons We Love Book Blogging.

I wasn't able to participate last week because, let's face it, I'm not really an "aww" sort of guy, but this week I've got loads to say. So, here are my top ten favorite things about book blogging.

1) It gives me an excuse to read tons of books: Not that I really need an excuse, but blogging does legitimize my obsession a bit.

2) It gives me a reason to read tons of books: This is not the same as number 1. From time to time in the last (almost) decade, mostly because of college, I've gotten into these long periods of time where I didn't read anything. I would tell myself that I didn't have time or would let life get in the way. Blogging has given me the push I needed to be continuously reading something. I was able to survive a busy semester with two grad classes and two jobs while reading 8-10 books a month...and I still got a 4.0. I no longer can explain away my reading deserts with the "I'm too busy" excuse.

3) It helps me to discover new books: I'm obviously not very particular with what I read. With very few exceptions, there is virtually no genre in which I can't find something I enjoy. Having a connection with loads of other bloggers reading books in tons of different genres, I've been able to find books I've liked and even loved simply by watching my blog feed.

4) It's introduced me to some amazing bloggers: I've made some really great connections with people through blogging, all of whom share an important trait with me: a love of books. While I have lots of real world friends who enjoy reading, I also have lots who don't like it at all. Blogging gives me the option of talking about books with people who have read them and loved them (or hated them) rather than trying to foist books upon the people I know outside of the internet.

5) It's given me a chance to connect with authors: Obviously I won't be on anyone's Christmas list, but through blogging, Twitter, and GoodReads, I've been able to have a more direct connection to some of my favorite authors (Deanna Raybourn, Neil Gaiman, Derek Landy) and some new discoveries as well (Jackie Morse Kessler, Sean Ferrell). Even if I never have a conversation with them, I can still see what they're up to in terms of writing, book signings, etc.

6) It's gotten me out of my comfort zone: Even though my rule has always been "if it looks interesting, read it," there are some genres (YA, short story, historical fiction) that I just never really enjoyed as much as others. Because of this, I tended to ignore book recommendations if they were in a genre that I wasn't interested in. Through this blog, I've read books that I would never have looked twice at in the past and fallen in love with them. The Book Thief, which I'll be reviewing later this week, is a good example of this, but so is Smoke and Mirrors (even though it's Gaiman, I kept avoiding it because it was short stories), The Screwtape Letters (I saw it as being merely Christian lit but discovered it was so much more), The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which had more illustrations than I'm used to and will hopefully lead me into graphic novels), and A Walk in the Woods (didn't think I'd like travel books, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I do). Even now, I have a huge list of books that have yet to be read, all of which were suggested by other bloggers and most of which are books that I would have passed over before starting this blog.

7) It's gotten me writing: I love to write, always have, but I seem to have found a particular talent for talking about books and myself. I had tried blogging in the past and it hadn't worked out too well, but book blogging has combined my loves of reading and writing and turned them into something that I can get excited about.

8) It's gotten me writing everyday: Not to toot my own horn or anything, but as of today I have not missed a single day of posting since I began blogging in March. This is sort of a big deal for me, especially since I tend to get bored with things easily. I also tend to have trouble sticking to a schedule, but this just clicked for me. It's something that I want to do, something that I enjoy doing, and so it's not difficult for me to spend bucketloads of time doing this every week.

9) It entertains and educates me: In the last few months I have entered unimaginable worlds and experienced amazing things...and all without leaving my chair. At the same time, I've been learning about lots of different topics, both from novels and non-fiction. I learned more about Islam and Buddhism; I became better informed about the struggle facing those who engage in self-mutilation; I discovered what sorts of crazy things can happen to your body after you die; I even picked up some new phrases from various foreign languages. With the books I have coming up next month (yup, that's right, I've already picked them out), there's even more opportunity for knowledge and fun.

10) It's taught me more about myself: I know more about what I like or dislike in a book. Even though I've been an avid reader all of my life, I didn't always pay attention to the finer details when I decided I loved or hated a book. Now I do and I tell the world all about it. I've also learned more about who I am and who I am in relation to other people. I know which subjects are touchy, which are open for discussion. I've discovered where I'm more open-minded and where I'm apt not to budge. It may sound kind of cheesy, but I feel like blogging has given me a much better understanding of myself.

And there you have it, folks.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Book 100: Update

I had posted this earlier this month about something called The Book 100. Basically, it's a list of 100 books that are within a genre in which you are personally interested in writing. I cheated a little a chose sci-fiction/fantasy and will be reading fifty books from each genre. Rather than a challenge, I'm considering this to be a goal, instead, which will be kept track of in the "Extras" section of my blog. There's no time limit or time frame, just an eventual goal of 100 books.

I've also decided that, rather than compile a list ahead of time, I'm just going to add books to my list as I read them until I have fifty of each. It saves me time and makes this a lot more fun and spontaneous. Keep checking back to see my reviews of these books.


About a Boy: A Review of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Title: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Author: Mark Twain
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic Book Services (1968)
Pages: 318
How I Came By This Book: The copy that I have of this book is my mom's. Like most of my aunts and uncles, she'd left it, along with a bunch of other books, at my grandparent's house after she got married and moved out and my grandmother thought I'd like to have it. It's been kicking around my shelves since I was in middle school and I hadn't gotten around to reading it.
Challenges: Books I Should Have Read By Now; The Classic Bribe; Read Your Own Books; GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Here is the story of Tom, Huck, Becky, and Aunt Polly; a tale of adventures, pranks, playing hookey, and summertime fun. Written by the author sometimes called "the Lincoln of literature," The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was neither a critical nor a financial success when it was first published in 1876. It was Mark Twain's first novel. However, since then Tom Sawyer has become his most popular work, enjoying dramatic, film, and even Broadway musical interpretations. (from GoodReads)

Review: I chose the perfect time to read Tom Sawyer. Even though a lot of the action takes place during the school year, this book is such a summer novel. Full of laughter, mayhem, and heart, Tom Sawyer is an absolute gem of a novel.

Young Tom Sawyer wants nothing more than to fish, go on adventures, and stay away from school. He causes his Aunt Polly no end of trouble and, occasionally, heartache and he's sure to stir things up no matter where he goes in his small, rural town. Here he talks the neighborhood kids into paying him to let them white-wash a fence, runs away to be pirates with Huck Finn and Joe Harper, shows up at his own funeral (much to everyone's surprise), and witnesses a murder in a shadowy graveyard. This is a great book for boys, obviously, but I'm sure there's a lot for girls to love about Tom as well.

As this novel takes place in the South, there is a bit of a dialect that Twain uses, although it's not as heavy as the dialects in my favorite Twain novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There were only a few spots that had to be reread, but it was less because of dialect and more because of my not getting a reference that would have been more recognizable to an earlier generation of readers. Twain often assumes that his audience will be familiar with cultural references that a modern reader may never have heard of before and it occasionally interferes with comprehension.

The story is so good, however, that these few spots can be overlooked. The book acts almost like a novel and a collection of short stories at the same time. There's an overarching plot--Injun Joe/Muff Potter's involvement in a murder--but mostly the action of the novel moves forward in small chunks, almost like episodes in a TV show. Here's the episode about being pirates; there's the episode about getting lost in the cave. In this way, Twain gets Tom in and out of trouble about a dozen times throughout the narrative and keeps the reader engaged.

The characters in Tom Sawyer are endearing--mischievous Tom, worried Aunt Polly, vagrant-esque Huck. Each character has a role to play in the novel but they are memorable in their own right. While the focus of the book is on Tom, the characters around him aren't "background" characters at all. They have a voice, they have a personality, and they are instantly likable...except for Sid. He's the kind of do-good, tattle-tale you just wanted to punch when you were a kid.

I really don't have anything bad to say about this book. It's not as heavy as Huckleberry Finn in that it focuses more on the story of a boy than it does on the issues of the era. It's the kind of book that you can relax with and not have to think about. While there are some lessons to be learned about family and bravery, these can be overlooked if you're just looking for a good laugh. It's a classic that doesn't feel like a classic. In fact, it might be a good book to use to introduce young kids to the classics.

I'm giving The Adventures of Tom Sawyer 5 out of 5 Gabriels.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

It's Monday; What Are You Reading?

I'm back to doing It's Monday! What Are You Reading? now that I've actually read some books this past week. The week before I had literally read nothing so it seemed sort of a waste of people's time to throw my link in. They'd get here and be like, "Wow, this guy read nothing. How exciting."

Anyway, this weekly meme is hosted by the lovely Sheila at Book Journey. Each Monday book bloggers show off what they've read, what they're currently reading, and what they're planning on reading in the coming week.

What I Read Last Week:
-Death: A Life by George Pendle
-Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
-The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
-Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (review posted Tuesday)
-Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis (review posted Wednesday)
-A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (review posted Thursday)

What I'm Currently Reading:
-The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
-Imajica by Clive Barker

What I'm Reading This Week:
-Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
-Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
-Possession by A.S. Byatt
-Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

This week I should also be posting my tentative reading list for July as well as posting the next poll as to which book should be added to that reading list. Once again I'm having you guys vote on one of the titles that was suggested to me in May (see this post). This month's winner, The Book Thief is incredible and I have you guys to thank for my reading it. I haven't figured out which four you'll be choosing between, but you'll know in the next few days.

EDIT: I had completely forgotten to list A Clockwork Orange, which I read on Sunday. I read so much last week that my brain apparently fried. :)