Thursday, February 26, 2009

Category 5, Book 3: Audiobooks - Going Postal

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
999 Challenge Category: Audiobooks

Moist von Lipwig, con man extraordinaire who unfortunately got caught, narrowly avoids dying...only to be practically forced into becoming Postmaster at the long-defunct Post Office of Anhk-Morpork. The task is, well, impossible - he has only two employees and a golem for a parole officer to make sure he stays in line. The Post Office has bigger problems than that, though, with its mail bursting out of every room and everyone using the Grand Trunk to send messages. Maybe it's a perfect job for a con man, after all.

Though the 30th in the Discworld series, you don't need to have read any of the others to enjoy the story (I've only read one other one that had nothing at all to do with this). Pratchett's trademark humor made me laugh out loud at times, and Stephen Briggs did an excellent job narrating. 4.5 stars.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Category 3, Book 4: Books about Books - Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby
999 Challenge Category: Books about Books/Reading/Writing

In his second collection of articles from The Believer, Nick Hornby writes his impressions of various books he has read each month. In his preface, Hornby writes about how writing these articles changed his reading - he started reading those books that he, incredibly, wanted to read - and believes that reading itself should not be, as some people think, a grand slog to read those books that one "should" read, but a fun way to spend free time. Only he says it much more elegantly and persuasively than I can.

Then, when you get to the articles, he also has fun talking about the books that he's read. Continuing where The Polysyllabic Spree left off, the articles are from February 2005 to June/July 2006, and include his thoughts on a wide variety of books. He includes short passages from a handful of his favorite reads from the year. Maybe your TBR pile will grow maddeningly or maybe, like me, you'll just enjoy reading someone else talk about books he's enjoyed and make a note of a couple of new authors to try. Either way, I highly recommend it to other avid readers. 5 stars.

Cross-posted on the 999 Challenge.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Category 8, Book 3: YA/Children's - Rogue's Home

Rogue's Home by Hilari Bell
999 Challenge Category: YA/Children's

(Warning: if you haven't read the first book in the series, this is necessarily going to have *spoilers* for that story.)

Michael and Fisk are on their way back to Baron Seven Oak's, knowing that Michael will soon be declared "unredeemed," when a mysterious messenger gives Fisk a letter. It's pretty much incoherent, except that his sister Anna writes "come home" and that they need him. So Sir Michael (knight errant) and his squire Fisk's second adventure begins.

As in the first book, each chapter switches between Michael's and Fisk's first-person, humorous narratives. This time, we learn much more about Fisk's background and hometown. Both of the characters are richly drawn and funny. As enjoyable as the first, the only complaint I have is that I figured out the end a bit early (but then, I am a bit older than the intended audience). 4.5 stars.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Category 1, Book 2: Award Winners - Octavian Nothing

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
999 Challenge Category: Award Winners (check out this post for an explanation of the challenge and my categories).

Octavian, a slave owned by Mr. Gitney (aka 03-01) of Boston, and son of an African princess, doesn't realize that his childhood - consisting of Latin and violin lessons, experiments and the measuring of his waste - is odd. His narrative begins with impressions from his younger days and gradually follows a more chronological path as he becomes older and more aware of the revolutionary world beyond the College of Lucidity.

This exceptional historical fiction received the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2006. It doesn't strike me as a particularly teen/ya novel (even though it's billed as such), but seemed like one of those books that appeals to adults more, overall. The plot took awhile to get going, especially with the short, impressionistic glimpses we get of Octavian's earliest memories, but the writing is superb and the characters so well-drawn and sympathetic that I couldn't help but read on. In the end, I was ready to start the second book as soon as possible. 5 stars.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Category 4, Book 4: Nonfiction - The Cross by Arthur Blessitt

The Cross: 38,102 miles. 38 years. 1 mission. by Arthur Blessitt
999 Challenge Category: Nonfiction
This book was received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

The subtitle "38,102 miles. 38 years. 1 mission." is a little misleading, perhaps suggesting that this is Arthur Blessitt's account of his carrying a cross to every nation on the globe from 1969 to 1998. This is only incidentally the case. The story is very much about The Cross, but instead of being organized chronologically, every chapter is a theme such as "following God's call on your life" or "tearing down walls." Within that chapter, various stories from different years and countries highlight the point as Blessitt challenges his readers to do this in their own lives. Ultimately, it's about his 1 mission to point people to Jesus.

Though his storytelling is mediocre, his passion for evangelism and loving people really shines through. Arthur Blessitt's theme of following God's call no matter what and encouraging others to do the same loosely holds the book together. His approach to writing and inclusion of God's words to his heart, a vision, and phrases most familiar to those who have grown up in church (such as "the miraculous power of God was manifest" (p.121)) may make this book less appealing to some, but it will definitely challenge readers about their own lives. I had such mixed feelings reading this, it took me awhile to decide how to rate it. The writing didn't impress me, but his passion did. Maybe it's a little high, but I give it 4 stars.

Cross-posted at the999 Challenge.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Category 6, Books 1 and 2: Graphic Novels - Maus

Maus: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History and
Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
999 Challenge Category: Graphic Novels

These two graphic novels chronicle the Holocaust experiences of the author's father, Vladek Spiegelman. The action moves back and forth between the present, with Art and his father talking and bickering, and the story Vladek tells his son about living in Poland during World War 2. The art complements and extends the meaning of the conversations, often playing off stereotypes (for example, the Jewish people are represented as mice, the Polish people as pigs) that bring home the events described all the more powerfully.

Absolutely deserving of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize it received, Maus is not an enjoyable story, but an absolutely necessary one to remember. I highly recommend this sobering, powerful work and would definitely read it again. 5 stars.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 8, Book 2: YA/Childrens - The Last Knight

The Last Knight by Hilari Bell
999 Challenge Category: YA/Children's

Michael, a knight errant about 200 years after it's a common thing to be, and Fish, his reluctant squire that's just waiting until he can get away from his insane master, free a lady from a tower only to find that she may be a murderess. In alternating chapters, Michael and Fisk tell the story of how they have to chase after her and redeem themselves. The plot is uneven and a little meandering at times, but Michael and Fisk's characters, their humor and being able to see each of them through their own words and in how the other sees him, makes up for this admirably.

Hilari Bell is one of my favorite young adult fantasy authors, and this story didn't disappoint. I loved Michael and Fisk as characters which made up for any flaws, and was rather disappointed when the story ended. 4.5 stars.

Cross-posted at the 999 Challenge.

To Reread or Not to Reread?

Do you reread a lot of old favorites, or do you prefer reading new books?

I like a little of both. I estimate that I reread 20 books last year, about 14% of my total reading. I started thinking about why I might revisit a book. I tend to reread:
  • Complex stories
  • Earlier books in a series
  • Familiar and beloved stories
  • Audiobooks

I listen to an audiobook before I go to bed at night, and I find that if I fall asleep or my attention wanders, it's easier to pick up the story if I already know it. So I often listen to old favorites like The Chronicles of Narnia or Anne of Green Gables. Other times, I'm just in the mood for a familiar favorite, a "comfort read" where I know exactly what I'm in for. When a new book in a series comes out, especially if it's been over a year, I often need to reread the earlier books to remember what's happening. And of course there are those stories that are complicated and practically beg to be reread just to understand what happened (in my opinion, The Thirteenth Tale is one of these).

I've also realized that I reread more as a child than I do now. I didn't have easy access to new books, depending on allowance and my parents' driving me to the library or a bookstore. I read more of my own books then, and I had a limited number to turn to. Now, my rereading is mostly in small doses, less than one in five of the books I chose last year and primarily audiobooks.

So if you reread books, why? When do you?

And if you don't reread, why? Did you ever, or do you think you will?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Category 3, Book 3: Books about Books - The Pleasure of Reading

The Pleasure of Reading edited by Antonia Fraser
999 Challenge Category: Books about Books

For the bicentenary of the publishing house W. H. Smith, forty writers of the English language talk about their early experiences reading, what reading they do now, and (if possible - not everyone did) their ten favorite books. Many authors -- such as Catherine Cookson, Doris Lessing, A.S. Byatt, and Margaret Atwood -- were names I recognized, though the only author I have read to date is Ruth Rendell. Keeping in mind that the book was published over 15 years ago, however, it's quite an impressive list.

I loved reading the variety of experiences each author had with reading and books. In particular, I loved seeing the same books or author mentioned (like Enid Blyton or The Biggles), but with very different responses. Also, the various approaches to "top ten" (in order, alphabetically, with a few more titles thrown in) were fun. I kept wanting to write my own essay or agonize over a top ten list or talk back to the authors that had a particularly nice point. An absolute pleasure to read; my only regret is that I don't own it. 5 stars.

Cross posted at the 999 Challenge.

Category 2, Book 2: New-to-me Authors - Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
999 Challenge Category: New-to-me authors

In this reworking of The Wizard of Oz, Maguire tells the history of Elphaba from birth to death. In between, we see her growing up years, school and friendship with Galinda, and her strong feelings about injustices in the world. The cast of characters includes a smorgasbord of humans, Animals (including a Goat who teaches at the school), and animals, as well as familiar characters like Dorothy, the Wicked Witches, and the Good Witch, each with a new twist. Maguire mixes serious moments, such as discussions about the existence of a soul or the nature of evil, and purely weird fantastical elements that left me wondering if this was something I really wanted to read.

I still don't know if I like the book, which is making it extremely hard to review. The tale is definitely unique, and includes moments that I liked and others I didn't. I'm not planning on reading this book again, but I'd try another book by this author. So, I'm giving it a rather ambivalent rating of 3 stars.

Cross posted on the 999 Challenge.