17 April 2007

Birthday books!

My birthday was about a month ago (yeah, I'm in denial!) and I got a lot of lovely books:

The film books at the bottom and the miniature book at the top are from my dad (we're both huge movie nerds, in our spare time at least). The Book of Perhaps Unnecessary Cursing and the thick paperback are both from my lovely boyfriend.

I also got a gift card from my Aunt Trish and Uncle Bob (& co.) which read, "If you buy books with a gift card, they don't count, right?" Well, if you insist:

Delightful! Birthdays are great, and my To Be Read pile is officially taller than I am. (Not that that's a feat; I'm quite short.)

12 April 2007

Tinfoil Prize For Kurt Vonnegut, RIP

I'm not a lifetime Kurt Vonnegut fan like some of y'all. In fact, I read one of his books only because of this project. But as far as I'm concerned, if he had just written that one book he would still have made an indelible mark on 20th century fiction.

Kurt, this tinfoil fez is all for you.

09 April 2007

Adieu, adieu, all's vanity

In this passage from Heart of Darkness, the narrator is traveling down the river in his interminable voyage Kurtzward, and wondering about his fellow shipmates whom he believes to be cannibals:
Why in the name of all the gnawing devils of hunger they didn't go for us--they were thirty to five--and have a good tuck-in for once, amazes me now when I think of it. They were big powerful men, with not much capacity to weigh the consequences... And I saw that something restraining, one of those human secrets that baffle probability, had come into play there. I looked at them with a swift quickening of interest--not because it occurred to me I might be eaten by them before very long, though I own to you that just then I perceived--in a new light, as it were--how unwholesome the pilgrims looked, and I hoped, yes, I positively hoped, that my aspect was not so--what shall I say?--so--unappetizing: a touch of fantastic vanity which fitted well with the dream-sensation that pervaded all my days at that time.

03 April 2007

Conspiracy theory, and a new Chunkster.

I just finished Alexandra Robbins' SECRETS OF THE TOMB, a short nonfiction book which purports to tell the real truth behind the Skull and Bones secret society. Skull and Bones is a fraternity at Yale which is famous for potentially having its pledges lie in coffins and recite their sexual history (only part true, says Robbins!) and for being the party house of power, where both John Kerry and George W. Bush were members (true, although neither will talk about it). For those of you who saw "The Good Shepherd," Matt Damon's character was "a Bonesman." Skull and Bones is just one of many secret societies which have existed in the Ivy League through the years, but it's arguably the most famous because of its most powerful members.

I was inclined to take most of what Robbins says here with a grain of salt, when I noticed something... weird. Sure, I love a good mystery story, and Robbins herself was a member of a Yale secret society (she wouldn't say which) and got apparently a lot of Bonesman to talk to her under cover of anonymity. That doesn't explain, though, why my library copy of SECRETS... was missing several pages. It looked like someone very carefully tore out parts of three different chapters, so the page remainders were almost down to the spine. And given the context, I'm pretty sure some of the missing pages contain a description of the Bones building's inner sanctum, the so-called Room 322.

Very mysterious! It would be very easy for the secret network of Bones patriarchs (as the alumni are reportedly called) to order this kind of destructive work to be done. But does anyone want to go to her or his library and find out if the same thing has been done there? After all, I'm pretty close to Yale here...

Have I been caught in a web of International Conspiracy? Nah, I just wish I were.


In other news, I've made a few changes to my Chunkster Challenge line-up. As it is, I haven't started any of the books (bad! bad!), but a new Chunkster just fell into my lap this week. To wit:

Doesn't it look lovely? It's the second novel by Chandra (whose first book RED EARTH AND POURING RAIN I read several years ago) and my mom just finished it while she was on vacation. Yes, she really took it to the pool! Or so I imagine, because it isn't greasy with sunscreen and it doesn't smell like chlorine. But I'm going to go ahead and throw that up there, and do some arm curls in prep for carrying this 900-plus-page monster around on the train.

02 April 2007


Once I heard this very short novel was not a discourse on the postal system, but in fact a noir classic, I was all over it. I got my copy via Bookmooch and took it with me Saturday night while I was out with my friend Katy. (Gotta have something to read on the way home, but my regular read wouldn't fit in my going-out bag.) I read almost all of it that night between Times Square and my apartment and eventually put it down when I was too tired to finish the last 20 pages.

I'll try to write this without giving too much away: The book is narrated by Frank, a vagrant of sorts who stops at a Greek diner in southern California where the owner tries to convince him to stay and work for him at the diner. Frank doesn't want to settle down until he sees the owner's wife, Cora, who's really hot, so he stays there. Frank and Cora fall into lust, and he tries to convince her to run away with her -- but then they hatch a plan to kill her husband. (There are no postmen in the book; I found an interesting (but with spoilers) theory on Wikipedia about the title.)

Depending on what you've been reading lately, this book might be a breath of fresh air. In Cain's world there are no flashbacks or long stretches of dialogue; things happen very quickly (a lot more things than what I've described here, because I didn't want to spoil any of it) and it forces you to read in a different way to handle the punchier text. You don't have to slow down, necessarily, as much as realize that details of the plot are coming at you faster than the last book you read. It's invigorating, though, and I'll definitely be looking for other Cain books to pick up.

Many of his books have since been adapted to films, the most famous being "Mildred Pierce" and "Double Indemnity"; there are also two American movie versions (and several others from other countries) of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," the John Garfield/ Lana Turner version and the Jack Nicholson/ Jessica Lange remake. (Apparently the second is much racier; I didn't find the book that scandalous, but apparently the original film had to be re-edited because it was too shocking to comply with the Hays Code.) I'm adding the Garfield/ Turner to my Netflix queue right now.

Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 42-58