Andrea Blythe (blythe025) wrote,
Andrea Blythe
blythe025

Books Read in August

1. Poems of Stephen Crane, by Stephen Crane, selected by Gerald D. McDonald
2. Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen
3. Habibi (graphic novel), by Craig Thompson
4. Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, by Holly Black
5. Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost between the Pages, by Michael Popek
6. Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to be Haunted, by Eric Nuzum
7. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
8. The Dark and Hollow Places, by Carrie Ryan

READ REVIEWS:

1. Poems of Stephen Crane, by Stephen Crane, selected by Gerald D. McDonald
Stephen Crane wrote one of my all-time favorite poems, which I discovered because Stephen King quoted it in [Four Past Midnight]. The untitled poem goes:
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
It's a brutal and evocative poem, grim and incredibly appropriate for the beginning of a collection of Stephen King horror stories. This poem can be found in this collection.

Many of Crane's poems explore similar themes. They allegorically present lonely wanderers trudging forward to face strange encounters in an hostile world, and yet, there is a light too, for though god as presented in these poems is often uncaring or cruel, also "the voice of God whispers in the head / so softly / that the soul pauses."

It's interesting that in the forward the editor Gerald D. McDonald notes that in its original editions Crane's poetry was presented in all capital letters, whereas McDonald choose to remove this in this collection. In Crane's originals the word "GOD" would have been all caps like all the rest of the text, and therefore did not afford any special importance to the word. Whereas, McDonald's choice to upper and lowercase the text (into more proper grammatical format) means "God" is now capitalized as religion dictates it should be, which certainly changes the effect.

I wouldn't call it beautiful. Crane's poetry is terse, straightforward, and blunt rather than lyrical, and often delves into dark unpleasant realms, but it's poetry that lingers, squatting in peripheral of the mind.


2. Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen
Discussed elsewhere.


3. Habibi (graphic novel), by Craig Thompson
Discussed elsewhere.


4. Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, by Holly Black
This is a follow up book to [Tithe]. Though set in the same world, Valiant follows a new set of characters. When Val catches her boyfriend and her kissing on the couch, she runs away from home and lands in New York City. She creates a new identity with herself and meets new friends, other teenagers living in the NY subway system. Through them she discovers the world of faerie and the many folk who live in the city despite the great amount of iron that could do them harm.

I love Val. She a great character, on the one hand noble and giving, willing to sacrifice herself for her friends, and on the other hand throwing herself into action (a way to combat prior complacency) to such an extent that she makes terrible and terrific mistakes. I like her, even when she's screwing up, even when she's stupid or mean, because it's clear that for all her self destruction there is a chance she could pull herself free of the rut she's dug for herself, and that underneath it all she has the will and good heart to do it.

At its core, Valiant is about figuring out and making sense of who you are as a person. It's about Val growing up and taking ownership of her life, but it's also about friendship and love and loyalty and the willingness to take risks in the name of what's right, in other words, being Valiant.

Though Val is a complex character, the plot itself isn't especially complex. But that's okay, because it's a fun, quick read, and altogether thoroughly enjoyable.


5. Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost between the Pages, by Michael Popek
Michael Popek has been involved with his parents used book store for most of his life. Over the years, he's found a multitude of bookmarks left behind in the used books sold to his store, from old photographs to letters, receipts, gift cards, and advertisements to razor blades. He describes the experience of finding these things as leaving him with "a lingering wonder, a sense of misplaced nostalgia, a touch of the voyeuristic thrill that comes from peeping into someone else's life."

Popek has shared this experience by publishing photographs and scans of a few of his bookmark finds along with photos of the books in which they were found. It's fascinating to see what's left behind inside what books, so much so that I read through the entire book in a matter of hours (okay, it's not so hard since it's mostly photographs). Sometimes the pairing of found bookmark is perfect (like an old baseball card found inside a book about baseball) sometimes the finds are ironic or contradictory (I can't remember an example at the moment, sorry). But it's definitely a fun glimpse into the strange worlds of other's lives.

Of course, I had to leave my own "forgotten" book mark between the pages when I returned it to the library. Just the receipt for the books I checked out with this one. I'm curious what the person will think of my contribution, though I'll never know as I didn't leave any identifying contact information. Hehe. (^_^)

If you want instant gratification, you can check out his blog, which also host his daily finds of forgotten bookmarks.


6. Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to be Haunted, by Eric Nuzum
Discussed elsewhere.


7. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon is pretty much the epitome of the noir detective novel, with Sam Spade playing the part of hard-boiled detective and Brigid O'Shaughnessy the femme fatale that leads him into intrigue and danger. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was the first (because I have not clue as to whether that's true or not), but this book when it came out certainly gave to the popularity of the genre, influencing a number of books and movies that would come after. This influence in understandable, as the writing is snappy and the mystery quite fun.

My only complaint is that since it was published in 1930 it presents a backwards view of women, as well as brief moments homophobia and racism. Every time Spade patronized his secretary or other women in the novel by talking down to them, patting them on the head, whispering in their ear, or in other ways performed acts of touching that would have been inappropriate today, I couldn't help but cringe. The sexism is just so present and accepted. While I understand that this is a result of the era in which it was written, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be talked about or pointed out.

Despite this, The Maltese Falcon is full of twists and turns and action and suspense, and is absolutely a quick and fun read.


8. The Dark and Hollow Places, by Carrie Ryan
Living in the Dark City, a place infested with zombies and beginning to collapse, Annah only tries to survive and wait for her friend Elias to return from his tenure as a Recruiter. Realizing that he might never come back, Annah decides to head out on her own in search of her sister left behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Only to find Catcher, who has his own dark secrets and may be a link to her past.

I think this third book in the Forest of Hands and Teeth series is my favorite, though I've enjoyed them all. Annah is a character roughed up around the edges, scarred both literally and figuratively, wracked with guilt about once leaving her sister behind. It takes her a while to warm up to people, to trust them, but this is understandable and despite this, she is willing to stick her neck out when its called for. She's strong in a survivors way and learns along the way to be strong in other ways, too, in spirit and friendship and in love.

I'm also fond of the rest of the characters. Gabry, who was the narrator of book two and is Annah's lost twin is strong in entirely different ways. Elias is flawed, but loves with his whole heart and does what he can for those he loves despite impossible odds. Catcher is practically broken by his past, but he refuses to collapse completely into despair while his friends need him. Even Ox, the head of the Recruiters, is fascinating in is refusal to see how his own choices have caused evil.

I love this book, especially so for the ending, which is kind of beautiful and miraculous.
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