29 October 2012

A snow day without snow (is Facebook ruining your blogging experience?)

The view from our bedroom window this morning.
(Just kidding. DC is about a three-hour drive to the ocean.)
Hunkered down for Hurricane Sandy it feels like a wonderful snow day. Both of us home from work. John no longer has to fly to Chicago tomorrow for work. Lucy is as snuggly and cute as ever. Did a good run on the treadmill. Back in cosy sweat pants and slippers. What's that, oh, I feel something, I think it might be, yes, it is, a numbered list...

1. Yesterday just hours before the rain began, one of the electric windows on our car got stuck in the open position. Can you think of better timing? So far the trash bag solution is holding up to the rain. We will see what happens when the winds, gusting up to 70 mph, get going.

2. We had a fun time bowling yesterday with Roz and Layla. Some of you may remember Roz from a book club in London. They are residents of DC now, and despite all of their very outgoing efforts to wring every bit of entertainment out of their new home, I think they have yet to find a book club here that doesn't make them want to fall asleep or run from the room screaming.  With any luck Roz is wrangling an invitation for us to an event in December that will make you all envious. But I am not going to say what it is until it happens. Stay tuned.

3. As I mentioned previously, I am making my way through the 1980s portion of my Century of Books list. My latest was 1986 which I jut finished this morning:

Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
This was Moore's first novel. Up until that point she had been a mildly successful short story writer. Well. Anagrams feels like short stories in search of a novel. Overall it is the tale of Benna and her bestfriend/boyfriend Gerard but each "chapter" is a kind of alternate universe version of their story. I kind of enjoyed the first two or three but then the final one is not only the one I enjoyed the least, but it is by far the longest. Longer than all the others combined. Which for me, reinforced the notion that Moore really couldn't come up with a single, cohesive novel, but instead strung together a bunch of trying to be too clever twaddle. She (both author Moore and protagonist Benna) is one of those lit professor types who things too much about what she writes. Full of puns and plays on words and various veiled and not so veiled references to anagrams.  There were moments that I quite enjoyed but overall I was glad when it was over.

4. I have been the recipient of unsolicited book gifts from three people lately. I will blog about them in more detail in the days to come. Suffice it to say that the online book community is a wonderful place to hang out.

5. Is Facebook ruining your blogging life? Or maybe I should say impairing, or even just changing.  I have become Facebook friends with some of my favorite bloggers and I love following the ups and downs of their daily lives. But I find that it divides my attention a bit and keeps me from being more creative on My Porch. Granted I have had less time for blogging this year, but it seems like the stimulation I now get on FB is taking away some of my urge to blog. My Porch has always had a healthy dose of my personal life mixed in with books, and those posts tend to encourage more comments than posts that are strictly about books. And now I find that my books only posts are boring the tears out of most of you...I am not sure where I am going with this.  I know I need to step up my blogging game, but that might have to wait until my work project is done at the end of the year.

In the meantime, are there any of you regular commenters, or even lurkers, who would like to be friends with me on Facebook? If so, shoot me an email and I will let you in on my last name and we can be friends.  onmyporch [at] hotmail [dot] com

26 October 2012

Eight is Enough

In the midst of preparing a manuscript that: A) is the culmination of nine months of research, and B) has a final draft deadline of 12/31/12, I am not very favorably inclined to try to come up with clever ways to string together (or even write) reviewlets for the eight books I have read so far this month.

So here they are in the order from the books I liked best to the books I liked least.

I wish I had this edition.
Crucial Conversations by May Sarton
Long married couple Reed and Poppy separate when Poppy realizes she has wasted too much of her life living for others. The collateral damage is much less their children then their closest friend Philip who has been like a third member of their marriage--but in a benign way, not in a Charles, Diana, Camilla way. Or at least it is largely benign for Reed and Poppy, perhaps less so for Philip who left much of his life undeveloped (perhaps a lot like Poppy) because of the satisfaction he got from his close friendships with Reed and Poppy.  In the Pantheon of Sarton books (all of which I love) I would put this in the high middle.

The House on the Cliff by D.E. Stevenson
From the author of Miss Buncle's Book. Need I say more? Well it is much less clever and more conventional than MBB, but I still loved it to pieces. Poor London actress inherits a mansion on a cliff overlooking the sea. Defies expectations by keeping the house and making her home there. Trusty, helpful servants. Trusty, helpful, and ultimately amorous soliciter. Ne'er do well former object of infatuation leaves protagonist with instant family. Ooops, I might have said too much. But honestly you can see this stuff coming down the pike from a very long way away. Loved it!

A House and Its Head by Ivy Compton-Burnett
It says a lot about the other books I am reviewing here that this ICB is so far up the list. There were moments of this book that I loved. And much of ICB's writing--which is 99% dialogue--was funny and charming. And I am pretty sure I liked it better than the only other ICB I have read (Manservant and Maidservant) which I also enjoyed to a degree. But my overall thought when I finished was that perhaps after two of her novels I don't have to read any more. I still have two others unread in my library, but I am not so sure I will get to them anytime soon.

Fisher shows us how she feels.
Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher
I put this one on my Century of Books list for 1987, not only because I assumed it would be a quick, fun, read, but also because it seemed to really capture a slice of pop culture for the year in question. I was right on all accounts. It was a quick, fun, read. And it definitely felt a lot like 1987. A semi-autobiographical novel about a young Hollywood actress going through rehab and figuring out how to live sober. Who knew Princess Leia could write.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
I liked many things about this coming of age/coming out story set against the looney backdrop of Jeanette's Pentacostal evangelist mother. There were moments that were funny and uplifting and maddening. This book would have rated higher for me if it hadn't contained a fantasy story within the story. That never sits too well with me. My eyes kind of glaze over.

The Bachelors by Muriel Spark
I love me some Muriel Spark, but I didn't love this one. I liked the initial character introductions and had a soft spot for a few of them. But then it just became too much about spiritualist circles and fraudulent mediums. Even then I could have been kind of interested but I felt like Spark may have taken it all a bit too seriously despite the satire involved.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
I loved, loved, loved, Eco's novel Foucault's Pendulum which I have read two or three times. When I first started The Name of the Rose, I thought I was going to like it in a similar fashion. I was wrong. I can see why many find this book wonderful, perhaps if I had been in a different mood I might have as well. Instead I kept thinking I would rather go back and re-read Foucault's Pendulum.

The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
The "greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution", written in 1915, bored me to no end. It might have had to do with my complete ignorance of Mexican history, but I think it is more likely that I was just bored by the episodic nature of the book as well as the rootin', tootin', shootin' kind of vibe it gave off. I might have also expected something of only 149 pages not to feel like it took me a year to finish.

16 October 2012

Looking at life through a pee-colored lens

Cute cat, but he will be even cuter when his liver disease clears up.
photo credit
I know I may ruffle some feathers with this post, but I have to say it...

I hate Instagram.

I am contrarian enough to dislike it just because it seems ubiquitous these days, but that's not my real problem. My real problem is that not every snapshot should look like it has been fading for 30 years in a shoebox under someone's bed. Sure, occasionally it is is kind of fun to see a cool effect that someone has achieved in the pursuit of creating an interesting image. But as a means to convey information about a life? Meh. I don't find it interesting to see fuzzy, grainy, pictures with distorted colors and a loss of detail.

Like I said, I can understand that there are times when it can be pretty cool, but overall I'd rather look at images that were interesting for their own sake.

From Instagram's FAQ page:

"Snap a photo with your mobile phone, then choose a filter to transform the image into a memory to keep around forever."  Because without a filter it just isn't a memory.

"We're building Instagram to allow you to experience moments in your friends' lives through pictures as they happen." But our friends are so boring we needed to do something to keep us awake. (Or the alternate response: But we think all of your friends' lives should look alike.)

 "We imagine a world more connected through photos." And what connects you more than a fuzzy image with all sorts of indiscernible details?

"When we were kids we loved playing around with cameras. We loved how different types of old cameras marketed themselves as "instant" - something we take for granted today."  We get it, Polaroid is dead and their cameras produced crappy photos.

"Mobile photos always come out looking mediocre." But not mediocre enough. We decided to magnify the mediocrity.

"Our awesome looking filters transform your photos into professional-looking snapshots." And what says professional like grainy?

If you use Instagram images on your blog or on Facebook, I still love you. I just wish I could see you more clearly.

15 October 2012


This edition of Queen Lucia is available at The Book Depository.

Does anyone know of a good paperback edition of the Lucia series? I would like to own all of them in the same edition, but NOT an omnibus edition.

14 October 2012

Penguin Books hates me (or the U.S., or people who still read books made of paper...)

This Anita Brookner novella is only available in e-format and that e-format isn't available in the United States. (At least according to iBooks, and Penguin's website.)


Another reason to hate e-readers. If this was a real book only available in the UK, I could at least have a friend buy it and mail it to me.

Anyone know a way around this?

10 October 2012

A New List for a New Day (1925 was a good year)

After my recent rant about important books that I no longer feel compelled to read, I realized I needed to revamp my A Century of Books list. I thought about abandoning ACOB altogether because it seemed like it was beginning to be a chore. But, revamping the list and getting rid of those literary heavyweights that don't appeal to me, or that I have found too tedious to read, suddenly made the list much more interesting.

Many of you helped me out with ideas for filling in some of the newly created gaps in my list. Someone gave me Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) replacing Ford Madox Ford, someone else gave me Claudine at School (1900) to replace Conrad, which then led me to throw out Kipling in favor of Claudine in Paris. Now I just hope I like Claudine. And then a friend of mine helped me solve the very difficult 1918 with Patricia Brent - Spinster and she even is providing me with a copy of it.

And then there is 1925. I mean what an amazing year for literature. An American Tragedy (Dreiser), The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald), Arrowsmith (Lewis), and The Professor's House (Cather). All of these rank among my favorites. Then we added in Gide's The Counterfeiters, which I also liked as well as The Mother's Recompense (Wharton). So many great things to choose from. But I have read them all. What in the world would I choose? And then Mrs. Dalloway revealed herself. Hooray. Not a huge fan of Woolf, but I haven't read this one and have wanted to since seeing the movie twice (and reading and seeing The Hours). So, woohoo. 1925 solved.

I also updated the 1980s and 1990s to make them a little more representative of those decades. One exception is The Temple by Stephen Spender. It was written in the 1930s but not published until 1988 due to its homosexual content. Normally I would think of this as a 30s book and not appropriate to satisfy 1988. However, I bought my copy of this book in 1989 at Gays the Word bookshop when I was 20 and in London for the first time. It was my first Stephen Spender and I haven't read it since then. So it seemed right to consider it part of my 80s.

Other new additions that I am happy about: Quartet by Jean Rhys--an author just recommended me today by a new fan of the Anita Brookner website; Talented Mr. Ripley which I have always wanted to read; The Name of the Rose; and Postcards from the Edge--what could be more 80s than that?

So here is the updated, and way more fun, list. [UPDATED 12/9/12]

I have already completed the one's that are crossed out. Those marked "ML100" are on the Modern Library's list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century, which I have been working my way through since 1997.

1900 - Claudine at School by Collette
1901 - Claudine in Paris by Collette
1902 - The Immoralist by Andre Gide
1903 - The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
1904 - Peter Camenzind by Herman Hesse
1905 - The Duel by Aleksandr Kuprin
1906 - Young Torless by Robert Musil
1907 - The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (ML100)
1908 - Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson
1909 - Martin Eden by Jack London
1910 - Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett
1911 - Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (ML 100)
1912 - The Charwoman's Daughter by James Stephens
1913 - T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1914 - Penrod by Booth Tarkington
1915 - The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
1916 - Under Fire by Henri Barbusse
1917 - Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
1918 - Patricia Brent - Spinster by Herbert George Jenkins
1919 - Consequences by E.M. Delafield
1920 - Queen Lucia by E.F. Benson
1921 - Dangerous Ages by Rose Macauley
1922 - The Judge by Rebecca West
1923 - The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy
1924 - Some Do Not by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1925 - Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
1926 - Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
1927 - Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards
1928 - Quartet by Jean Rhys
1929 - The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
1930 - Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestly or The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield
1931 - The Square Circle by Denis Mackail
1932 - Young Lonigan by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1933 - Frost in May by Antonia White or Ordinary Familes by E. Arnot Robertson
1934 - The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1935 - A House and Its Head by Ivy Compton-Burnett
1936 - Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner or Eyeless in Gaza by Huxley
1937 - Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson
1938 - Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
1939 - Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
1940 - Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
1941 - The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge
1942 - Clark Clifford's Body by Kenneth Fearing
1943 - Gideon Planish by Sinclair Lewis
1944 - Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
1945 - The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
1946 - Every Good Deed by Dorothy Whipple
1947 - Not Now, but Now by MFK Fisher
1948 - The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
1949 - Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
1950 - Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
1951 - A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
1952 - The Far Country by Nevil Shute
1953 - Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
1954 - Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
1955 - The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
1956 - The Flight From the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch
1957 - Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
1958 - A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym
1959 - The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley
1960 - The Bachelors by Muriel Spark
1961 - Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (ML100)
1962 - A Clockwork Orange by A. Burgess (ML 100)
1963 - The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy
1964 - Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
1965 - Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor
1966 - The House on the Cliff by DE Stevenson
1967 - My Friend Says It's Bullet-Proof by Penelope Mortimer
1968 - Sarah's Cottage by D.E. Stevenson
1969 - The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble
1970 - 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
1971 - A Meaningful Life by L.J. Davis or My Own Cape Cod by Gladys Taber
1972 - Augustus by John Williams
1973 - After Claude by Iris Owens
1974 - House of Stairs by William Sleator
1975 - Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Crucial Conversations by May Sarton
1976 - The Takeover by Muriel Spark
1977 - Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald
1978 - The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym
1979 - The Safety Net by Heinrich Boll
1980 - The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
1981 - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (ML100)
1982 - Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar
1983 - Look at Me by Anita Brookner
1984 - Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
1985 - Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
1986 - Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
1987 - Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher
1988 - The Temple by Stephen Spender
1989 - A Natural Curiosity by Margaret Drabble
1990 - Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
1991 - The Translator by Ward Just
1992 - Arcadia by Jim Crace
1993 - While England Sleeps by David Leavitt
1994 - The Longings of Women by Marge Piercy
1995 - Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
1996 - Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
1997 - Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty
1998 - The Book of Lies by Felice Picano
1999 - Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

06 October 2012

Random Book Thoughts

1. Dumping my determination to persevering through unenjoyable, "important" books has been one of the best things I have ever done. My reading pace has picked up and my interest in reading has picked up.

2. I am still determined to do the A Century of Books challenge but I really would like to pick up something from the 21st Century sometime soon, but I feel like I can't when I have the 20th Century to finish. So I came up with a plan that allows me to break my OCD chains a bit. After I finish up the three books I have started now, I am going to read through the 1980s and 1990s novels on my list in chronological order. That will bring me right up to 2000. The plan is to finish those two most recent decades by the end of the year thus (for some reason) freeing me up mentally to read something newer than what is on my ACOB list. I think this would work because: a) it would knock out two decades and make me feel like I have made progress; b) most of the titles on my list from the 1920s to the 1950s are well within my comfort zone and are like candy to me, so they don't present much of a challenge; and c) I could just throw in one of the older books from the aughts or teens, which even though possibly enjoyable, tend to take more time to read, in between some of the newer or more enjoyable stuff.

3. I went to a comic store yesterday in Austin, TX, and was impressed by the quantity and appealing stock of graphic novels. So many wonderful covers. But I must say, I am always a little disappointed to open them up and see the aesthetic quality of the insides don't live up to the beautiful covers.

4. Needing to distract a 9-year old going through a difficult time who isn't really a comic book kid,  I showed him a book I came across of the Garbage Pail Kids. Anyone else remember those disgustingly funny trading cards from the 1980s that made fun of the Cabbage Patch Kid craze? Anyhoo, I was a little worried about their content but then I thought of all the violence in his video games and thought that the GPK book was no big deal. And he loved it. He was laughing his head off. And they proved to be surprisingly educational. Like the character "Adam Bomb" gave us a chance to talk about atomic weapons, "Ultra Violet" offered an opportunity to explain about UV rays and the dangers of sunburn, and "Hole in Juan" gave us a chance to talk about Spanish names and the racial insensitivity of the past.

5. Thanks to Book Woman in Austin for helping me find the comic book store. Sitting in the car at a drive-in Sonic, I knew I had to kill some time. But what do you do with a 9-year old in a city you are unfamiliar with when you have no Internet access? I looked on my GPS system to find some sort of attraction we that would interest him. Well, Book Woman came up as being close by, and although I had an inkling it was a feminist bookstore, I thought I would give it a go. I called up the store and the woman I spoke with was really helpful, she said they had some things that would interest a 9-year old boy, but not whole lot. But she mentioned a few other places not to far away, and although I didn't manage to find the regular bookstore she told me about I was able to find the comic book store she mentioned. And she ended the call by thanking me for wanting to take a kid to a bookstore. Good karma for Book Woman.

6. Reading A House and Its Head, my second Ivy Compton-Burnett. I am not quite sure where it is headed yet but the banter, and it all seems to be banter, is pretty hilarious in a droll, dry, wry way. I would love to see it acted.

7. I mentioned over at the International Anita Brookner Day blog that Brookner is going to be the one to finally get me to read something on an e-reader. She published a novella in 2011 that is only available as a Penguin e-book. How crazy that AB drags me into the 21st century.

8. With any luck my reading will pick up this month. I decided I was spending too much time living every single peak and valley of this election season on political blogs. It is way too emotional so I have decided to go on a news blackout until election night. Maybe now I can put the computer away and read, or keep the computer on and actually get around to reading all of your blog posts about BOOKS.

9. I can never do a post without a picture so I did a Google image search on "coolest book cover ever". The picture above was the number two result.  Remember a while back when I searched for "reading lots of books" and Levi Johnston's picture came up? Well it did again when I did this search! Crazy.