March 30, 2010

Quarterlies

I was trying to come up with something suitably alliterative for the title of this post. The best word I could come up with was "quality," but that wasn't sufficiently book-related to merit a spot, so for now we are simply "Quarterlies". (For explanation of said naming dilemma, read on.)

It has come to my attention that we are just about three months into 2010. Yeesh. A full quarter of a year has gone by, but I still feel like it's January. Except for all the sunlight. And the pollen. Maybe the reason things are moving fast is that this is a big year for me - I'm graduating college, (hopefully) getting my first "real" job, and in essence transitioning into the "real world". No more languorous student life for me - from here (technically, May) on out, it's every college-graduate-entering-a-crap-job-market for herself.

But this is not a nostalgic piece, although I may have fooled you thus far. This post is about books. Thus far, I have read 53 books in 2010. This fact in itself is not notable; I have actually been reading rather slowly, by my standards, because of the external pressures of two jobs and a full course load. What is notable about these 53 books is that overall, they have been much better than I expected them to be.

No one wants to waste time on bad books, of course, but I assume that most of us take the occasional bad apple for granted. Unless you have some kind of book-related superpower (being able to smell quality? or enabling great books to glow neon green in the dark?), your book selections will sometimes include the sub par. Not so for me, at least in the first three months of 2010. There have been a few books I haven't been thrilled by, but still! Far less than I was expecting, and that means that for the last three months, I have been floating in the Blissful Sea of Bookish Bounties.

Because of how darn good it feels to be reading good books all (or at least most) of the time, I am instituting a new feature on my blog, the first actual, honest to goodness, regularly scheduled, feature. Quarterlies! (Although - does it really count if they only come out once every three months? Anyway...) Coming out in the next couple of days, Quarterly #1 will have capsule reviews of the best of 2010 (thus far), rather like my Best of 2009 post. Now we can all float away in the Blissful Sea of Bookish Bounties together! My gift to you!

Now you see the need for a book-related word starting with Q. Anyone?

PS: I am not particularly interested in April Fool's Day, but Ernest is. He may be bringing you a guest post. Possibly about honey.

March 28, 2010

The Paper Raincoat...

...rocks my shoes and socks. Ah! My new favorite people ever. I saw them perform live on Friday (as part of the Noe Valley Music Series) and they rocked. Confession: the main reason I went to the show was that Vienna Teng was going to be there. She is also my favorite person ever. But discovering The Paper Raincoat (and the excellent Tim Snider, who opened the show with a solo set, and rocked the socks off the electric violin, and who fronts the band Sol'Jibe) more than made up for the fact that Vienna only played one song by herself. (Granted, it was one of my favorites.)

Enough with the parentheses. Basically, the night was awesome, much more so than I was anticipating it being. Now CakeGirl, who you may or may not remember from this post, can't stop playing all of that lovely music. We loved it all, though perhaps the part we loved best was how Tim Snider was so into the music that he completely wrecked his bow.

Actually, the main point of this post was not to gush about the music and the electric violin. The main point of this post was to talk about inspiration.

I am not good with inspiration. I get tons of ideas...but when I go to write the story down, the words just don't match the excellent idea that's drifting around my head. And when I finally do start writing well, it's usually in a burst of creativity during which I write a couple hundred words that I never ever ever want to change. So I'm...half inspired? I'm not sure what to call this.

Anyway, The Paper Raincoat got me thinking. See, there's a whole story about the creation of the band, which is dealt with exhaustively on their Facebook and Myspace pages. See here:

"The Paper Raincoat is an imaginative collaboration between Brooklyn songwriters Amber Rubarth and Alex Wong that brings to life a colorful world teeming with compelling characters, dream-like storylines, and metaphorical narratives. Their debut EP Safe in The Sound is an introduction to this fantasy world drawn from real experiences of excitement and solitude its creators shared in moving to New York City."

I won't bore you with the rest of it - if interested, see their website. The story is more or less, if you didn't want to read too closely, that there's a whole fictional world they've created, and all of their songs are about one or another of these fictional characters who live in this fictional community. It's an interesting way to conceptualize a band and an album, and I have to say that I loved it. It got me conceptualizing my own project along the same lines, where I'd make up my own fictional community and characters, and write ten or twenty books that focused on each character in turn, running around, growing up, growing out...

It's been done, of course, but I never thought it'd be done by me. Except now I can't get that idea out of my head. Well - this new project (if it ever germinates) will have to get in line. I have two serious projects ahead of it, and no end to those in sight.

In other (abbreviated) news, I changed my template. If any of you are actually visiting the blog, you will notice it. If any of you are also on Blogger and have been playing with the new templates, you may recognize it as (more or less) the default of one of their new ones. But I couldn't help it! I tried out a ton of the others, and this is the only one I really really liked, mostly because of the background design. Although I'd probably like it more if it were in blue... I't'll probably be a bit before I get around to a steady design, since I've only spent about twenty minutes playing around with it, but this is a start. What do you think?

March 19, 2010

My god, is that a world out there?

Ooooh... It's been a while. So I said that it was easy. Liquids, bumming around in my pajamas, TV and happy bluebirds and better in a couple of days. I was going to make up my midterm this week. Ha. Ha. Ha.

I think we've all heard more about mono than it deserves, but the long story short is that my condition took a serious dive south last weekend, and I was finally forced to call my father to bring me home (yes, all the way home from college) to recover. Nearly a week later, I am (mostly) done being delirious, and I can now happily say that I have regained the ability to stay awake for more than two hours straight.

It might take a few more days, since I now have a ton of catching up to do, but you may expect to see me more often from here on out.

My sympathies to anyone who will, in the future, contract mono. It was no party, and knowing this, I will gladly bring all of you chicken soup and read to you when your brain is too tired to read to itself.

March 11, 2010

Ah, well

The votes (and the blood test) are in, and the answer is: mono.

My friends, mono is something I wish on no one. It sucks like no other. It's like having all those nasty childhood diseases that kept you vomiting and itchy and out of school for weeks on end, all at once. Blech.

At least I know that's what it is, and that I don't have, say, a brain tumor. So things could be worse. Anyway, since I went and saw a real live nurse, I can now say I have a real live set of recovery procedures. This involves: too much Advil, my body weight in liquids, and lying around in bed (basically, skipping class). It's nice to have nurse-sanctioned class cuttage, but this week was not the best week for that - now I've got a midterm and a paper I'll have to make up once I can walk again.

So still, the Rwanda post will have to wait until my brain comes down from its feverish heights and decides to work without hurting. Instead I present today's best scavengings of the bloggy world. (See? Since I'm doing all the work, you don't have to do it. Just come here for all the best in internet news!)

First, Terrible Yellow Eyes, a tribute to Maurice Sendak and Where the Wild Things Are. If you were ever a fan of the book or the movie or the man, you should check this project out. There are some gorgeous pieces in there.

Second, Shaun Hutchinson, someone I really know nothing about but now will be following with interest, has a short series of posts on the importance of sexuality in young adult literature. The first post is here, the second here, and I believe the third will be coming along tomorrow. So far I've been really impressed with his candor and eloquence when discussing some difficult topics. I am an excessive lover of books myself, but I have in the past had trouble explaining exactly how and why books are dear, dear friends - I can only say, pretty much, that they are. But Shaun has been able to bring to the table something I have not. He's been able to articulate in very real terms why certain things in literature matter quite a lot in the lives of young folk. And that, in a world of people who read in decreasing frequencies, is commendable.

Third, utter frivolity:

March 9, 2010

I changed my mind

It could not be worse. Because not only am I in head pains (now progressed to feverish head pains), there are throat pains, swollen eyes (no, not from crying), and an ear that refuses to hear straight. That plus a phenomenal exhaustion that means that everything weighs three times its normal size, ensuring that I cannot walk ten minutes to class without breaking into a sweat and collapsing, upon arrival, into a rickety wooden chair that scarcely holds my weight normally, much less the defeated head I now drop on its desk panel. (That would be my head, not a dead orc's.)

Anyway, I was going to regale you with an introductory post on how to start thinking ethically about the Rwandan genocide (and I swear, it was going to be one of those ones that is interesting and intelligently informative). But since I now cannot think beyond a moan, I will leave you with a short parting message:

Dealing with Dragons. Read it. Now. It was one of my all time childhood favorites, and it still is. Short, lovely, escapist, a dollop of fantasy humor and poking-fun, a dash of intelligent heroine, some crazy goings-on... In short, it's a perfectly cheery perfect book for when you're feeling slightly majorly under the weather.

Be back soon. Hopefully without a broken wrist, but hey - with the way things are going, you never know.

March 7, 2010

Why everything always piles up at exactly the same time

So I was lying, or at least lying by implication. I do not actually know why everything always piles up at exactly the same time. I just know that sometimes it does, and this 'sometimes' happens to include right here, right now, on Sunday afternoon.

I have two midterms and a paper due this coming week. Plus, I am working until midnight on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Plus, I am way behind on Project Voldemort, mostly because I never have the %*$&# time to write, since I am always working on schoolwork or real work. Plus, I have this massive headache, the likes of which I have never had before.

I'm serious. It has never been like this before. I'm (almost) okay if I sit still and stare straight ahead. But if I turn my head without turning the rest of my body as well, or if I move my eyes without moving my head, or if I make any sort of expression which involves the upper half of my face, or... You get the picture. Basically, it hurts right now to exist, and it's been like that since yesterday morning.

But hey! It could be worse. My blog posts could be disappearing; it seems this is a trend right now with Blogger. (Cross fingers it doesn't happen right now...) Also, it's just a trick of fate that I was born a human. Right now, I could be a termite. I should be thankful I'm not a termite, right? Right?

Anyway, in other news, Guinevere at This Is Not My Day Job (who I like more than I generally let her know) is having a contest because she recently hit 101 followers. Go here to enter.

And now I have a soccer game in an hour. Maybe if I dope myself up on painkillers, I can still make it...?

March 5, 2010

Once upon a time at Goodreads...

...I got sucked into this madness and found myself unable to get away. Not that I'd want to, actually...

Well, it goes kind of like this: There's a reading challenge, where you have to read books for certain categories. (Example: Read a book with a picture of a flower on the cover, or a book narrated by multiple people, or a book published in the 1800s.) When I first heard about this I spent far too much time thinking about which books I'd read to complete which tasks, and now it's started, so I'm spending far too much time reading the actual books for these tasks.

So anyway, that was my (sort of) long winded introduction into the books I've been reading recently. Namely, the first two books I read for the challenge: The Secret Year, by Jennifer Hubbard; and Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick.

Where to begin? First off, I was very surprised to discover that The Secret Year was so short. Less than two hundred pages! But I have to say, it was well worth the read. The premise is based in reality (a nice reprieve from all the sparkly vampire/werewolf/fairy stuff that's going around like the flu), and it's not that groundbreaking or fantastic, but the writing! The writing! I'm a firm believer that you can still write a fabulous book even if the plot isn't crazily awesome, as long as you write well. And right here I'm going to lay it out and say: Jennifer Hubbard writes really well. I was sucked into the story and found myself there for a comfortable journey. Colt's voice was sympathetic, consistent, and just lovely. While I wouldn't necessarily call this book a must-read, I'd definitely recommend it.

On to Hush, Hush. This one was a little bit trickier. Honestly, there were times I was about to give up on this book completely. Those times encompassed the first three fourths of the book. Literally. The whole high school scene was so completely unrealistic to me. I will not go into much detail, as I want to leave the mystery for those who want to discover it on their own, but still - the totally bizarre sexual education class where they talked about who their ideal mates were; Patch pursuing Nora relentlessly with those gag-me pickup lines and contrived scenes; Elliot doing pretty much the same thing, except in a progressively creepier fashion as the book goes on... The list goes on, but perhaps my least favorite part was the fact that Nora had no spine whatsoever. A savvier girl would have told Patch and Elliot to bugger off (and not have ruminated on how hot Patch is anyway, in a creepy stalker/abusive boyfriend kind of way, a la Twilight). A savvier girl would have confronted some characters who were clearly not who they said they were.

On the other hand... Starting at page 281, the book did a complete 180 degree turn. Nora gets some answers, some things start falling into place. She's not spineless girl, and Patch ceases to be creepy and stalkerish. (In fact, his past actions even start to make a little bit of sense.) So for me, the last 110 pages of the book completely saved it. I finished the book really liking it, actually. It was hard for me to go back to the first 3/4 and think again about why I disliked it - but the final verdict was that I needed to, because I really did dislike the first part.

The bottom line: It's clear that Becca Fitzpatrick is a good writer. Even while I was hating the characters at the beginning, I could tell that. Now I want her next book to be at the same level as the end of this first. So I guess I did end up liking this book...

In other news, I have a busy week coming up. And I haven't had any interesting dreams lately. They've all been of the mundane, forget-you're-dreaming sort. Bleh. Give me flying broomsticks and hot vampires any night.

And I'm still very into the Alice in Wonderland music. Ernest is too.

(Also, when did I miss the beginning of the month? Seriously? I demand a recount. We are so still in February. Maybe the 10th.)

March 2, 2010

Alice (and music)

As if I wasn't already looking forward to Alice in Wonderland. I just heard "Alice's Theme," one of the songs on the soundtrack, and I was hooked. How many times have I listened to it? Twice? Three times? Oh wait - iTunes just repeated it again... I love the song, and can't even explain exactly why I love it. To me it has shades of the score from A Beautiful Life in there, as well as the chorus from A Little Princess (the one with Liesel Matthews). Yum.

This got me thinking about great soundtracks. Many writers (especially recently) have talked about the "soundtracks" to their books - the songs that played in their head (and through their earphones) while they were writing, the main character's love theme, the song to play while a journey is taking place... I myself have never done that, probably because contemporary songs wouldn't really fit with my decidedly uncontemporary writing. But I do love music to write to. Especially movie soundtracks. Maybe I'm the only one who loves them as a background to heavy duty writing, but I hope I'm not. There are an abundance of great movie soundtracks out there too: Pirates of the Caribbean (the first), Pride & Prejudice (the Keira Knightley one), Stardust, and Lord of the Rings, to name a few. Gah, they're great. I once had an urge to make an a cappella arrangement of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme.

More generally, though, I've been wondering about the human predisposition toward music. It's everywhere, in so many different forms. I read somewhere that music (specifically, rhythm) is inherent in our nature, that it's been around longer than history, and that it may be part of why we are so different from most of the other creatures on this Earth. Now that I'm thinking about it again, I really want to go back and find that piece, whether it was an article or a book. I feel like I was too young at the time to really get what was going on.

Suffice to say (for now) that I think music is just beautiful. Certainly I have my specific tastes, but think about it. Music! I literally get chills and goosebumps when I hear some voice or instrument or melody that's particularly moving. I wish I could be a composer. I feel like you need an alien brain or something to do it - I could never keep the notes straight in my head. And the instruments! All the different instruments!