Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: August 2009 (page 1 of 3)

An eloquently written misery memoir, long but loaded with nuggets of the author’s wit and bite

Closing Time by Joe Queenan

I have enjoyed all the Joe Queenan books I’ve read, particularly The Unkindest Cut: How a Hatchet-Man Critic Made His Own $7,000 Movie and Put It All on His Credit Card.  Queenan is a journalist and author, having written for the New York Times and The Guardian amongst others, where his acerbic wit and eloquent ranting holds no hostages. I’m not a fan of misery memoirs, but given previous exposure to the Queenan wit, I was happy to make an exception to read this one…

Queenan and his sisters grew up in Philadelphia with a violent alcoholic father and an uninterested depressive mother.  Irish-Americans, they grew up in poverty having to live in the ghetto of a housing project for years. Queenan is clearly bitter about his drunkard father who couldn’t hold down a regular job and subjected them to regular beatings. Queenan soon started to become creative about staying out of the house to avoid his Pa – after-school jobs with father surrogates clothier Len and pharmacist Glenn gave more than just a few dollars in his pocket.

In the two years I worked at the apothecary, my father’s downward trajectory continued, as if he was unaware that the bottom he was seeking had already been hit.

My personal diversionary strategy throughout these years was diabolically cunning: I made sure that when my father was on the premises, I was not.

Thinking he had a calling, he also managed to escape for a whole year to the seminary, but that was a mistake. Ironically, his father was well-read and young Joe also enjoyed literature; he soon realised that the best way out of poverty was to work hard at school and get to college, and luckily for us it worked. When Glenn took him to New York for a day-trip, it was love at first sight, and Joe had a stratagem for ultimately getting out of Philadelphia.

Queenan’s trademark wit and bite can be found in this memoir, and there are passages of dazzling description that will keep you reading; but the book is rather long, and the highlights are sprinkled through like little nuggets of gold. He always speaks with candour and is never sentimental, however it is diluted by the sad but repetitive nature of his circumstances. Philadelphia too comes over as a dull city.

It’s obvious by the end of the book that Queenan, who is nearing 60, is coming to terms with his childhood and wanted to get it off his chest. It will lead those who already know his work to understand where his style comes from, others may find this memoir too long despite the lovely writing. (Book supplied by the Amazon Vine programme).

Gaskella goes walkabout on Bookmunch

I was delighted when Peter at Bookmunch invited me to review a book for them.

So you can now see my review of Fists by Pietro Grossi here. I really enjoyed it.

My Life According to Books I Have Read

I got this fun meme from Kay at The Infinite Shelf.

Using only books you have read this year (2009), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!
* Describe Yourself: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
* How do you feel: Cloud Busting
* Describe where you currently live: Loser’s Town
* If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Far North
* Your favorite form of transportation: The Invention of Hugo Cabret
* Your best friend is: The Juggler
* You and your friends are: Remarkable Creatures
* What’s the weather like: Turbulence
* Favorite time of day: Friday Nights
* If your life was a: Tanglewreck
* What is life to you: A Life’s Music
* Your fear: The knife of never letting go
* What is the best advice you have to give: Trust me I’m a junior doctor
* Thought for the Day: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
* How I would like to die: Wishful Drinking
* My soul’s present condition: Something Beginning With
It was fun yet actually quite difficult to do. One thing I’d like to stress though – remember that these are just book titles, and are no reflection on my real life!

Stieg Larsson Book Giveaway!

For my first proper book giveaway on this blog, those nice people at Knopf in the USA gave me a copy of Stieg Larsson’s second novel in the Millennium Trilogy The Girl Who Played With Fire.

I read the part of the trilogy last year and really enjoyed it. I got the UK edition of the second a couple of months ago, but haven’t read it yet – my Mum has though and she thought it was excellent, see her comment here.

The giveaway is the US hardback with those nice rough-cut page edges that they do; a first edition, but third pre-publication printing!

What is nice though, is that they’ve also supplied me with a handful of rather fab temporary tattoos for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The winner will get a few, and so will two others.

Just leave a comment by the end of August 31st. I will send world-wide. The draw will be on September 1st.

A book with mischievious intent, that doesn’t entirely live up to its promise

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith

If you look at all the reviews, you’ll see that this monster mash-up of the beloved novel has totally split opinions of those who have read it. I’ll tell you mine after a bit of explanation.

Zombies have been plaguing the English countryside for years. It’s no longer safe to venture out alone; you need to be either armed to the teeth, or have safety in numbers. The Bennets are well equipped to deal with the undead, for Mr Bennet and his daughters have been trained in the deadly arts in China and are warriors all with swords and feet alike, having their own dojo at home to keep their skills honed.

The Zombies and martial arts are all shoe-horned into Austen’s original novel, most of which is left in tact – it’s usually pretty obvious which are the additions and adaptations, although not having read the original for many years, I kept it by me so I could compare and contrast if needed. I am an expert in the BBC’s wonderful P&P series from 1995 though, which enriched this reading immensely – imagining Colin Firth as Darcy slashing and burning the undead…

Sorry, where was I?

The novel starts off really well, it had me chortling loud enough to have to read the first few lines out to my other half:-

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.
“My dear Mr Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is occupied again?”
Mr Bennet replied that he had not and went about his morning business of dagger sharpening and nusket polishing – for attacks by the unmentionables had grown alarmingly frequent in recent weeks.

Even from just this small quote you can see already that it mixes the new and old and rewrites other sentences to fit. Some of the adaptations are witty, and there is the added frisson of a little double-entendre introduced between Lizzie and Darcy. There’s nothing like a little smut to remind you that this mash-up is intended to entertain – some of the other write-ups I’ve read seem to have expected a more serious shock-horror treatment, but the comedy approach was fine by me.

The big problem is, that with one notably sad exception, the zombies are a mere nuisance, seemingly there to prevent travel and explain the high turnover in servants – there are missed opportunities for more zombie mayhem in more elevated circles. It’s mostly a class thing – the rich can afford warrior training and/or servants to do the zombie killing for them, unlike the working class who get devoured with relentless monotony. There is one real highlight though, appended at the end of the novel which, if you decide to read it, you too must save for the end – in which the author’s comedic credentials are exploited to the full. A neat finish, but I can’t tell you more.

So what did I make of it all?
It was a great concept, (with a fantastic cover). It was fun, but not sustained all the way through. Did I enjoy it enough to read the new title from Quirk Books – Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters co-written by Ben H Winters this time – well maybe! (6 .5 out of 10)

Rude Awakenings!

Maybe it’s my current reading (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith), but I’ve been having vivid dreams. The latest of which consisted of a science experiment at school involving woodlice which transmogrified into giant maggots (remember the Pertwee vintage Dr Who with maggots – but not quite so big and scary) which then hatched into psychedelic butterflies. Luckily that one ended up fairly happily – but I can’t explain it at all.

Then this morning I woke up, looked across at the bedroom reading pile and saw someone looking straight at me!

E E K !

Then I realised it was the spine of a new arrival on my bookpile. The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent about the Salem Witch Trials seen through the eyes of a ten year old girl whose mother is accused.

I’m going to have to move it!

Older posts
%d bloggers like this: