Friday, February 25, 2011

Fantasy Fridays: Cerulean Sins by Laurell K. Hamilton

Book 11… in the “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter” series.
Where: N-train
Who was reading: A middle-aged woman in a full length red felt coat with a gold maple leaf brooch. She was huddled against the bars at the end of the bench as if to escape from her fellow passengers and delve further into the book.
What’s in a name? (via Wikipedia): “The meaning of the title is not apparent, but may refer at least in part to the sheets in Jean-Claude's bed, which Anita refers to several times as cerulean blue in this novel, and to the activities that occur in that bed.”
Shit, you mean someone’s already named a novel after sheets? So much for my smooth-jazz themed historical romance, Rhapsody in Beige.
Ditto this middle grade fantasy I've had in the pipeline, Bertram Bug’s Bedspread Battle: In which a plucky young bedbug defeats the sinister Subtratrulon, a wizard who uses his evil mind powers (ie. a basic knowledge of mathematics) to reduce the thread counts of unsuspecting snoozers.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Murder! Rebellion! Ruffled Sleeves! All hands on deck for CAPTAIN BLOOD by Rafael Sabatini

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A woman with a lightly spiked pixie cut and wire-rimmed glasses in traffic-cone orange. At one point she rested her hands on the open book and indulged both thumbs in a tightly wound twiddle. Perhaps she imagined herself turning the wheel of a very tiny wooden ship.
Charged with treason... Dr. Peter Blood is shipped to the colonies as a slave. But chains can’t bind his mutinous heart, and before long he escapes with a rag-tag band of convict-slaves and fashions himself one of the most hated and feared buccaneers in the Caribbean.
Based on 5 or 6 true stories lumped into one. Most notably, that of a physician named Henry Pitman who was swept up in the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685 and sentenced to Transportation. Similar to Blood, Pitman escaped enslavement in Barbados by sailing off on a pirate ship. Only difference was he never actually became a pirate.
Now a Major Motion Picture! And by “now” I mean “as of 1935.” Sorry to say Errol Flynn was a bit of a milquetoast in the role. I think it’s high time they did a re-make with Van Damme in the captain’s chair.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spotted: C by Tom McCarthy

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A middle-aged man clad in a potpurri of browns, olives and grays. 10-1 odds he listens to NPR.
Speaking of which… We should all do our best to help save federal funding for NPR! True, most of their budget comes from listener support, but it’s the principle of the thing…
Anyway, the plot sounds fascinating. We follow Serge, the protagonist, through a childhood experimenting with gadgets and receiving Morse-code handjobs from his sister, to a stint as a soldier photographing military installations behind enemy lines in WWI. Invariably he’s confined to a German POW camp where he digs tunnels, not in pursuit of escape, but masturbatory solace. The post-war period contains further adventures, which I will not reveal here, but to say they involve heroine, architecture and academia.
This one time... I was talking to an editor from Knopf, and I asked “What book are you most excited about these days?” The editor said “C” and told me a little bit about it, at which point I was like “OMG. That sounds soooo neat.” And the editor kind of looked around uncomfortably like maybe there was someone more important he needed to be talking to.
Someone more important (Jennifer Egan) says:Like life, which we overinterpret at our peril, this strange, original book is—to its credit—a code too nuanced and alive to fully crack.” (complete review)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spotted: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Where: 7-train
Who was reading: A dapper man in his 20's wearing a hat that appeared to be stolen from the set of Newsies. His clean-shaven jaw pulsated wildly in the act of masticating gum, and he adjusted the strap of a leather messenger bag repeatedly like some guy in a messenger bag infomercial demonstrating the ease of strap adjustment.
Notes from the Commentsphere: So the other day some commentor on the blog Read Roger was all like: “I once took a course from...Kingsley Amis.... All he did was harp on and on about Graham Greene's poor grammar and punctuation.”
And punctuation counts. Period. A misplaced comma in Greene’s will led to a protracted legal battle in which it was unclear whether the academic community would have access to his archives. This wouldn’t have been an issue except that the guy Greene put in charge (Norman Sherry) had to go and be a jerk about it. Thus Greene’s death did not mark ‘the end of the affair', it was only the beginning.
But for all that Norman Sherry acted the grinch, he was still less of a jerk than Kingsley Amis’s son Martin. That scoundrel. 
Accordingly: I have made the executive decision to remove The Rachel Papers from my to-read list (it sounded lame anyway), and include The End of the Affair.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fantasy Fridays: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Book II of: A Song of Ice and Fire
Digital reading device: iphone
Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A tall man in baggy business attire. His slacks were so oversized that the crease down the front went in a direction completely independent of the line of his leg.
If he were a character in this series: He’d be Davos “The Onion Knight” Seaworth. Seaworth was a smuggler of food (including onions) who performed a great service for the King. In addition to rewarding him with knighthood, King Stannis ordered several of his finger joints removed as castigation for his criminal past.
If I had a choice... I’d take finger joints over being a knight.
Awesomely Epic Book Description:From the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. . . . a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel . . . and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles."
Word! But what is a "knight of the mind" exactly?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Spotted: The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Strategies for Managing Your Business and Your Life by Geshe Michael Roach

Cover of the Mandarin edition
Where: N-train
Who was reading: A young woman of South Asian descent, holding a paperback folded cover to cover. She had cropped, curly hair, still damp from the shower, giving her a dewy kind of glow.
What gives Roach the right to speak on behalf of the Buddha? He's a fully ordained Buddhist monk.
Excerpt: "Your ethical way of living and doing business must be driven by a clear and conscious awareness of what kind of imprints this behavior will plant in your subconscious, and how this will determine the very reality of the rest of your business career."
Midway through the train-ride... an old man came shuffling down the aisle of our car, pulling a stereo in a wheeled leopard print suitcase and asking for money. His voice was forlorn—like a question that's had all the hope stamped out of it but still must be asked—and it mingled seamlessly with the old Russian tune emanating from the suitcase. The woman looked up from her book, but she couldn't spare a quarter. No one could. And so the old man shuffled on to the next car.
Ethical Ambiguity: It's not unethical not to give, but I do think there's something ethically unsound about a socioeconomic system that drives so many to beg.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Feast your Eyes on "Eating Animals": A Tasty Treat-ise from Jonathan Safran Foer

Where: R-train
Who was reading: An ash-blonde clutching a Kenneth Cole bag full of red yarn. The ghosts of expressions kept jerking her face one direction or another but never settling into any clear shape. She remained impassive even when a bunch of hooligans without pants boarded at Union Square.
Luckily they weren’t deviants, they were just celebrating Annual No Pants Day. How cruel that it falls in January.
From the book’s website: “Synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many stories we use to justify our eating habits—folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent facts and inherent fictions—and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting.”
Fascinating stuff, but... I don’t know if I can bring myself to read it. Foer ranks pretty high on my Enemies List (which happens to coincide exactly with The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 talented-fiction-authors-to-be-jealous-of list). Maybe if he gets really unpopular I'll read it to be "different."
Until then, best to eat as much MEAT as possible! This March, for example, I've resolved to eat only animals I've never consumed before (eg. snail, guinea pig, dodo?). Anyone care to join?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spotted: Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess

Also available as an ebook! And I’m sure the diagrams don’t get effed up at all on your ereader screen.
Where: N-train
Who was reading: A man in a long woolen coat and meticulously gelled brunette plumage.
Where you know him from (Bruce Pandolfini, that is): He's the face on the box of Mattel’s computer chess. Also, he was famously portrayed by Ben Kingsley in the 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fisher.
Check Mate! Or not. A Dutch study shows that women find professional chess-players romantically undesirable. Copious anecdotal evidence tends to support this theory, and furthermore suggests that its holds true across borders. 
I hope this doesn't mean... the man on the train cried himself to sleep this Valentine's Day.
Anyhow, chess is OK… but cribbage is better.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spotted: Going Solo by Roald Dahl

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A middle-aged man with thick lips pursed into a sausage-y frown. His heavy blonde eyebrows were a little too neat to be described as flyaway—more flyaway in the sense that a turkey “flies away”: There’s a great deal of noise and plenty of ruffled feathers but very little actual flying.
Out of Africa, Into the Wild Blue Yonder: Going Solo chronicles Dahl’s own adventures in Africa as an Oil Man, and in the sky as a pilot in the Royal Airforce. It’s a continuation of Boy, which was mainly about deadly Mamba snakes.
When it comes to Roald Dahl... It’s nearly impossible to agree on a favorite book, but it’s safe to assume that nobody chooses Going Solo. Not that it’s not well-written and all, it’s just... given the choice between a sequel to a memoir and something like Matilda, what would you choose?
In conclusion: Roald Dahl is pretty much the funniest author ever. He also came up with more ideas for candy than a stoner at a Hershey Food Corp. product development meeting. So what if he was slightly more bitter in person than the sweet, sweet candy stuck to every page of the Charlie Bucket books? He’s still my children’s book idol. So there.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fantasy Fridays: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A toussle-haired geek (with a dollop of chic) holding his jaw fairly slack. 
If he had the magical ability to manipulate or "bend" one element, it would be: Air, clearly. Why on Earth would he stand there with his mouth agape if not to facilitate the ingress and egress of vast air currents?
Silver Screen Slaughter-fest: Though hugely popular as a Nickelodeon TV show and book, M. Night Shyamalan’s film adaptation of Airbender was widely recognized as the biggest cinematic flop of 2010 for its flagrant abuse of the 3D medium and its racially charged but merit-blind approach to casting. Wrote The Onion’s A.V. Club, “If any movie ever warranted a class-action lawsuit against the filmmakers, it’s The Last Airbender.”
I actually saw the film (free screening, mind you) and I’d say it was about on par with Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know. Make of that what you will….

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spotted: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A pregnant woman who appeared quite flushed, but declined to take a seat when it was offered. She wore a pair of dark glasses.
Dark glasses? Underground?! That’s some real mole-people shit.
Anyway, here's what that Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime guy (Mark Haddon) said: “[It's] a first novel with a sustained, magical and utterly faultless voice. After five pages, I knew she could persuade me to believe anything.”
And boy, does it ever take a wacky turn! I mean, I like dystopian cousin-cest as much as the next person, but c’mon, where were the parents?
Errr… not in a dirty way, of course.
Quickly moving on: It’s actually a lovely book, an excellent teen/adult crossover, and one I’d heartily recommend. In fact, I might even have an extra copy I could give to whoever comes up with the cleverest comment (or, let’s face it, probably the only comment) in response to this post. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Spotted: Off Road by Sean Murphy

Where: N-platform
Who was reading: A young woman in a hipster scarf and white chucks. She had a ponytail the actual length of a pony’s tail.
A Graphic Novelty: Published in 2005, this is Sean Murphy’s first graphic novel, or 'comic book' as the layman might say. It tells the story of three guys, bro-ishly named Trent, Brad and Greg, who go off-roading and get stuck in a swamp.
The great thing about comics—particularly YA comics—is that they tend to run about the same length as the train-ride from Downtown Brooklyn to Midtown Manhattan. You step out of the subway feeling a peculiar sense of an accomplishment, like you’ve completed a quest or walked a day in someone else’s shoes. With Gene Luen Yang’s The Eternal Smile, for instance, I became strangely reflective and a little teary for the first few hours of the work day.
“What’s wrong?” inquired a concerned colleague.
“Oh, don’t mind me.” I sniffed, “I’m just pondering the ‘levels of fantasy and how humans use it to escape or transcend everyday tedium and suffering.’” (via PW)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

See Spot. See Spot Spotting Sheetzucacapoopoo by Joy Behar. Run Spot Run!

Where: N-train
Who was reading: A wide-eyed tot occupying half of a double stroller and all of a puffy little jacket decorated with psychedelic flowers.
On a scale of 1 to cute... she rated “as a button.”
Her gaze did not stray from the book until it was DONE. Making me call into question the idea that adults are somehow more cerebrally advanced. I developed the idea for a while, and then this shiny Publishers Weekly review caught my attention....
Here's what PW had to say: “Conveys the energy of the cavorting canines. Yet the story's stabs at humor tend to miss their mark . . .”
That sounds familiar. Kind of like most of my experiences trying to initiate conversation with strangers.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spotted: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A beautiful brown-haired man with startling pale blue eyes and a chin full of scruff.
Slightly less beautiful... for the branded swoosh on his hat. That and the fact that he spent a good 15 minutes gnawing each finger nail one by one and pausing to chew on (and swallow!) the fragments.
Maybe... fingernail fragments are high in fiber? 
A Marxist Analysis of Education: In this book, Freire likens the traditional teacher/student relationship to the interaction between a colonizing power and colonized territory/people. The student is seen as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge—an act that necessarily involves conquest and manipulation—whereas Freire advocates for an educational model based on unity and synthesis in which the student is a co-creator of knowledge.
Cool! But not according to Arizona Secretary of Education Tom Horne, who objects to the use of this book in classrooms. 
Good thinking, Tom. Keep them in the dark and they won't stir up trouble. American educators aren't doing nearly enough to propagate ignorance these days.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sci-Fi / Fantasy Fridays: Contact by Carl Sagan

Where: B-train
Who was reading: A hirsute half-ster (read: all suited up for the workday, but with greasy hair that screamed "Bushwick!") He had those crazy earlobes that flow directly into the skull. You may have learned about this genetic trait in biology class, but it doesn't become real until you see it in the flesh.
If he were science fiction character... he would be, idunno, a lab technician? What can I say? People who carry those unfortunate laptop bags just don't excite the imagination.
Contact High: This is what Carl Sagan was on after Simon and Schuster gave him a $2 million advance on this book in 1981.
High Horse: This is what he mounted after he won his Pulitzer in 1978.
And the book is about? Extraterrestrial something, technologically advanced, etc. If you're familiar with the genre it kind of writes itself in your head..

Thursday, February 3, 2011

You Can't Start a Fire without Nicholas Sparks

And you can't keep it burning... without plenty of war heroes and cancer patients—not to mention a few paperback copies of Sparks' books.
So, which tome was this in particular? The Lucky One: The harrowing tale of a soldier who gets all obsessed with a picture of a pretty woman and can't stop his heart from beating comically out of his chest. Apparently this is how one gets lucky this day and age.
Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A young woman with curved, questioning eyebrows and a dusting of freckles across her upturned nose.
Surprising that... she didn't make any effort to conceal the cover.
But come to think of it, that image is almost cool enough to override the author's name. Makes me want to ride the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island.
I used to confuse Nicholas Sparks with... Nick Hornby. Nothing to do with content, just a name thing.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In case you had any doubts about how amazing Philip Pullman is...

Read this speech. And then read The Golden Compass.

Spotted: Dead Cities and Other Tales by Mike Davis

While New York is alive and well… navigating the icy streets this morning kind of made me wish I were dead. In all fairness, though, I might wish I were even more dead if I lived in Davis’s favorite city to berate: Los Angeles.
Where: Q-train
Who was reading: A petite woman with heavy eye makeup and a pageboy haircut from which two perfectly shaped slivers of ear peeked out like pink seashells.
But what are these 20-some-odd essays about? “There’s no general thesis here, aside from the big-time subjects that typically preoccupy Davis: the city (especially Los Angeles, which figures in maybe half the essays); government scams; the police and police-state repression, particularly among America’s urban poor and disenfranchised; the ecological impact of greed and capitalist corruption; the depredations of racism and middle-class ignorance.” —Metrotimes 
This is the type of shit... my college freshman self could have really gotten on board with—probably while plotting subversive acts on some Williamsburg fire escape and smoking clove cigarettes by the carton-full.