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I’ve been reading a  lot in French lately.

[My that sounds pretentious. My apologies. I’ve been studying la belle langue for work, and my own pleasure, and I read. Seems logical]

Last fall, I read Ensemble, c’est tout by Anna Gavalda…a lovely story of 4 unlikely friends who find themselves sharing an elegant apartment in Paris for a time. It’s an absolutely lovely book, the characters are fascinating and realistic, and some moments will move you to tears. I mentioned it awhile ago on this blog, where the only thing I really said about it is that they’d made a movie out of it. I’ve since read the book and seen the movie — my suggestion? Forget the film. Find the book. The movie hits the bulk of the plot points without delving into the characters at all deeply — and the characters make the story truly live. (The English title chosen was Hunting and Gathering — odd.)

So then the book L’Élégance du hérisson by Muriel Barbery was recommended to me by my tutor. And I would like to thank her deeply for both (1) pointing me in the direction of this brilliant book and (2) assuming that my French was up to the high-brow erudition of this novel en français!

From the first chapter, first paragraph:

I live alone with my cat, a big lazy tom who has no distinguishing features other than the fact that his paws smell bad when he is annoyed. Neither he nor I make any effort to take part in the social doings of our respective kindred species. Because I am rarely friendly—though always polite—I am not liked, but am tolerated nonetheless: I correspond so very well to what social
prejudice has collectively construed to be a typical French concierge that I am one of the multiple cogs that make the great universal illusion turn, the illusion according to which life has a meaning that can be easily deciphered. And since it has been written somewhere that concierges are old, ugly and
sour, so has it been branded in fiery letters on the pediment of that same imbecilic firmament that the aforementioned concierges have rather large dithering cats who sleep all day on cushions that have been covered with crocheted cases.

(Source: the sample chapter on the US publisher’s site)

So there I was, reading this in French, marveling at the gorgeous sentence structure, and then I got bogged down and unfortunately had to put it aside. I found it in the wonderful English translation, and continued reading…and was not disappointed.

The publisher’s reading group guide is available, for those that enjoy filtering their reading through themes.

Any other suggestions pour des livres en français pour moi?


Wouldn’t it be utterly brilliant to have a comprehensive list of available online books?

This site seems to be a step in that direction. It is a no-frills webpage of links to so many of the online book (including audio books) locations that one would be hard-pressed to say if anything was missing. And if it is, suggest it to the website’s owner, and I’m sure it will be added.

Next, give me a book reader and I’ll be all set.

Since we’re on the subject, if you’re looking to get me a gift (“Really? For me?!?”), I’m opting for the iRex iLiad — pricey but has features that I’d love. Unlike the much-too-hyped Amazon Kindle — where they don’t tell you the fine print (I’ve read this on Cnet, in the user reviews). You know all those thousands of free books online? The ones that you already have on your computer? Well, if you want them on the Kindle, you gotta buy them from Amazon, ’cause they won’t go on otherwise! Yup, Amazon has found a way to inveigle all those book lovers into buying stuff that is otherwise free! [The moral of the story? Do your research before you buy!!]

Tagged by the lovely alejna, also lifted from the rather literate casa az, who happened to have a copy of the fabulous Mr. Davies on her bedside table. (Go and read their posts — lovely and literary!)

Because I’ve not updated my blog recently, and because I have a copy of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame on my desk, here we go:

  1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
  2. Open the book to page 123
  3. Find the 5th sentence
  4. Post the next three sentences
  5. Tag 5 people

So, from the architecturally-inclined Monsieur Hugo:

“Those thousand thickset angular roofs, clinging together, nearly all composed of the same geographical elements, when seen from above, looked almost like the crystallization of a single substance. The capricious fissures formed by the streets did not cut this conglomeration of houses into slices too disproportionate. The forty-two colleges were distributed among them very equally, and were to be seen in every quarter.”

And as to tagging? I, too, will make this self-tagging — you know you want to do this!! Go ahead — make my comments delightful to read!

Much has been written about the late, great Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker series (yes, geeks, I am aware that it’s a trilogy in umpteen parts…) with their rather random sense of humour. The Dirk Gently books which always reminded me a bit of Thorne Smith (1892-1934) books.

But, there will always be a little place in my heart for The Meaning of Liff — here’s one of my favourite entries:

A South American ball game. The balls are whacked against a brick wall with a stout wooden bat until the prisoner confesses.

And here it is online, in its entirety. Gotta love the Internet!

Back to Thorne Smith, because he was just a weird and wonderful writer, and yes, Dirk Gently reminded me of him. Here’s an except from the beginning of my favourite of his books, The Nightlife of the Gods (available in its entirety online as well, with others):



THE small family group gathered in the library was only conventionally alarmed by the sound of a violent explosion—a singularly self-centred sort of explosion.

‘Well, thank God, that’s over,’ said Mrs Alice Pollard Lambert, swathing her sentence in a sigh intended to convey an impression of hard-pressed fortitude.

With bleak eyes she surveyed the fragments of a shattered vase. Its disastrous dive from the piano as a result of the shock had had in it something of the mad deliberation of a suicide’s plunge. Its hideous days were over now, and Mrs Lambert was dimly aware of another little familiar something having been withdrawn from her life.

‘I hope to high heaven this last one satisfies him for this spring at least,’ was the petulant comment of Alfred, the male annexe of Alice.

‘I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting,’ came a thin disembodied voice from a dark corner. ‘Night and day I’ve been waiting and expecting—’

‘And hoping and praying, no doubt, Grandpa,’ interrupted Daphne, idly considering a run in her stocking and wondering what she was going to do about it, if anything, and when would be the least boring time to do it if she did, which she doubted.

A co-worker and I have discovered that we both read fantasy novels. She took it upon herself to lend me a rather silly series, by a writer I’d never heard of before — Tamora Pierce. A quick Google search tells me that she is a fantasy author who writes books for young people. That just tells me that publishers don’t think young people can handle any richness to their writing. Here’s her motivation for writing, from an interview (quoted here):

I got into this to write about girls who kick butt. In the mid-’70s, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sheri Tepper, C.J. Cherryh, that crowd particularly, started to change the field. For me, there was a problem that a number of these characters were gay or celibate female warriors, and I was neither. So I wrote fantasy with female warrior heroes who like guys. Robin McKinley and Barbara Hambly both started to publish their fantasy at the same time, so I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Is she comparing herself to Robin McKinley? Author of The Blue Sword? Funny though, how Pierce’s heroine, Alanna — who isn’t a lesbian, no way no how! — has a series of adventures very similar to those of Harry/Harimad-sol in McKinley’s book. Desert adventure, finding her powers…

Thank goodness, she’s not comparing herself to Bradley, Tepper, or Cherryh!

What problem do I have with this writer?

  • She takes absolutely no time to develop her characters beyond the bare minimum.
  • She tells, and tells, and tells, and never once shows.
  • The plot points are so transparent it’s annoying — since she doesn’t take any time to develop the world or the characters, when someone blinks, you know it’s significant.
  • Three words: Deus ex machina. Magic is unexplained, it just bang! is there to save the day.
  • Each of the 4 books in the series I read (oh yes! All 4…I’m not complaining on the strength of only reading one — not too onerous, they were quick reads), had enough action for 3 or 4 books. Huge quest material, dealt with in 4 chapters. Move on to the next with a “And they all went back to the city.” Come up with another 3 adventures, some innocent shtupping (’cause remember, she’s not a lesbian. NO. Not a lesbian!), some more ways for Alanna to be utterly wonderful and perfect and strong and the best fighter and . . . ingredients for one more Tamora Pierce book, 3 more for any other writer with a modicum of talent for exposition.

I wish I could say I was exaggerating. But if I’d been introduced to this as a pre-teen, I would have been scarred for life, my ability to appreciate good writing forever damaged.

I’ll go back to Lois McMaster Bujold (or Sheri S. Tepper or . . .) any day.

I interrupted my reading of this tripe to pick up one of Bujold’s latest, that I’d been trying to ignore, trying to prolong the anticipation — The Sharing Knife: Beguilement. (Read the first couple of chapters here!)

Bujold really takes the time to develop her characters, and their world. In one sequence, 2 of the characters ride 3 hours into town…it takes 15, beautifully written pages.

Pierce would have done it more efficiently: “They rode three hours to town.”

Gads. I don’t usually write negative reviews, but I need something to show for the wasted time!

I found a guy I like online — the Burgomeister, and his books. Not only is he a reader, he’s someone who prefers to read online (I’ve been looking for one!):

I love the great novels on my computer screen because, for me, paper is passé.

So, here we’ve got a reader who has found a solution to the problem of friends borrowing books and not returning them. (I just realized last night that I loaned out my only copy of Sei Shonogan’s The Pillow Book.) He is lending out his ebooks to anyone who wants to borrow them.

Brilliant. Not only is he cool, he’s got similar taste in reading to me…lots of SF and such.

Go visit, follow his guidelines, and read.

How can I resist an //engtech contest?!? Especially one where I can talk about my other favourite thing — movies!

Okay — on to the list. Let’s assume that LOTR is in the list somewhere, but that it’s been over-blogged in the last couple of years. And when I say ‘memorable‘, I mean my memory!

No. 1

I Capture the Castle. The Dodie Smith book of the same name is a delight. It’s in diary form, written by 17-year-old Cassandra, who lives with her rather eccentric family in a broken down old castle. The strength of this rather quiet movie lies in Smith’s background as a playright (and writer of The One Hundred and One Dalmations) — I’ve never seen a movie capture the characters, plot, setting, and essence of a book so well. At no point does it slap you in the face and say “hey! I’m literary! Can’t you tell?” (Unlike the first Harry Potter film…which I watched, anticipating each scene: “Ho hum…now we’re going to get ___ scene.”)

No. 2

A Little Princess (the 1995 version). From the book by Frances Hodges Burnett. Okay, so they added a little dramatic ‘hanging-from-the-eaves’ scene — I don’t mind. At that point in the movie, you’re really in the mood for it. The Miss Minchin character is wonderfully done by the great actor Eleanor Brun. You feel for her and hate her at the same time — brilliant! The story-telling, the ‘magic’, and the relationship between all the girls is beautifully represented. And the colours…each scene is shot with either a dark, earthy green that menaces, or a sunny golden glow that, well, glows.

No. 3

The Power of One. Is this a great movie? No. It’s got some brilliant moments, but overall, I wish it had been more…meaty. Gutsy. Longer. The treatment of the material was sketchy — it’s obvious that Bryce Courtney’s greatest book needs to be made into a BBC mini-series (a la Dune or Gormenghast), not relegated to a shortish Hollywood film. But, they manage to get some of the best bits right in this one — it definitely captures the feel of the book, even though they totally botched the story.

No. 4

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. Is this movie based on the biography Dorothy Parker: Oh What Fresh Hell Is This? by Marion Meade? [ooo…a triple whammy. A movie based on a biography of a famous writer!] It doesn’t say that the movie’s writers used the book, but it is the most common biography on Parker, and many of the anecdotes from the book are reproduced verbatim in the movie. (Of course, that means nothing, as all of her friends were literary, everyone in that crowd wrote everything down…) Anyway, it’s a great film, representing the life and times of a great if tragic woman, played with utter perfection by the indomitable Jennifer Jason Leigh!

No. 5

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Okay, I’m cheating on this one. In a sense, the movie came first. But, the author of the movie (and the supposed file cabinets full of material on this character), Earl Mac Rauch wrote a ‘novelization’ of the movie, like no other I’ve ever seen! Usually, a book-from-a-movie is a scene-by-scene rehash of the action. Cheesy. Badly written. Who reads them??? (Okay, I admit, the first book I read in Portuguese when I was living in Brasil was the novelization of ET…and I highly recommend them to language learners because of their screen-to-print regularity.) But this one is different — written from the point of view of one of the main characters, it’s his version of events. And, it’s as wonderful as the film. (If I have to convince you, you’re really not a geek.)

What are your movies?

Book Discussion Pages

Here on the Book Nook you can discuss: The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, as well as the next two books in the Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore and World of Wonders, and if that's not enough for you, see what's up on the forums at BookTalk.org!