Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes on Sandman

I don't feel up for a whole write-up on Neil Gaiman's graphic novel Sandman. I only read Vol. 1, and GN and RA are still a little shaky for me, but I wanted to record a few notes in case I come upon anything in the future that may be a readalike.

The first volume is definitely strongly influenced by horror. In fact, I feel like this series is often suggested as a good intro to GN that many adults will like, but I don't think I was prepared for how violent and scary it is. I hear the later volumes are less so.

Other descriptive adjectives: fantasy, a bit of humor, the justice league makes a very brief appearance, fantastic, absurd, unpredictable and at times unclear (though explanations follow).

Dr. Doom, the bad guy and source of most of the horror of the book, describes the book well when he's talking about dreams: "People think dreams aren't real because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes..."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

RAview: Knit the Season

I just finished Kate Jacobs's Knit the Season on audiobook. I found it a little harder to identify appeal in this format, I think primarily because I'm not as accustomed to it as reading a physical book.

It would be classified in that dumbly named genre, Women's Fiction (which feels different from Chick Lit to me, But is it?). It's a character-driven book, but, as the third in the "Friday Night Knitting Club" series, there isn't as much character development as one would expect.

This volume focuses on Dakota, daughter of the knitting shop owner, Georgia, who recently died. Dakota has reconnected with her father and taken the club members, women of a wide range of ages, as family.

Most of the characters are likable and easy to identify with. Sections of the book alternately focus on different members of the big cast, but none of them are too multilayered or complex to understand and like quickly.

Although not plot-driven, the pacing is fast, as the language is pedestrian, the setting relatively unimportant, and details only pop in to describe certain things--a wedding outfit, knitting projects, holiday traditions, food, specific memories of Georgia.

I'm not yet sure how to tackle the organizational aspect of story line in an audiobook, since it's difficult to tell where section breaks are. The book is told in roughly chronological order, taking place from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, but it jumps into the past as characters remember previous times. Themes include family relationships, holiday traditions, aging (both growing up and growing old), dealing with change, cooking, and crafting.

The tone is nostalgic--that mix of sad and happy that come with it--festive, exciting, warm, comforting, and inspiring.

Since I had to look back at my appeal terms cheat sheet, I figured I'd throw in a link for you, too, and add it to my "What is RA?" sidebar. Happy holidays!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Thrillers 101

I haven't read any thrillers--it's one of the most popular fiction genres, but it never seemed like these were books for me. But, since becoming an adult, I've started enjoying Law & Order, mystery books, and some thrillers on film, at the same time that I started reading more pop fiction, so I figured it is past time to give them a go.

Also, in my efforts to understand appeal, I think it is smarter to focus on a genre rather than jumping around as I've been doing. I was going to try to make up a Thriller 101 list, but I also found the Thriller & Suspense Challenge 2010 for some communal motivation. It requires reading 12 thrillers in 2010. Here are the sources I've compiled to get book suggestions for where to start.
Seems like Lisa Gardner's The Neighbor and Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow are on almost all these lists.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

RAview: The Handmaid's Tale

I started Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale not knowing anything about it except that it was maybe sci-fi-esque and dark. I don't think that describes it well, but I won't spoil the experience of going at it clean by trying to summarize.

The pacing feels leisurely, but the book is a fast read with short chapters and simple language. Atwood does choose her language carefully, though, to create an impressionist sense of a woman so scared and troubled that she isn't able to sit down and think carefully on her situation. It's told primarily in present tense, with the past flowing in and out of the narrative without warning.

An example of the rich, impressionist language (language that also helps keep up the pace):
I walk around to the back door, open it, go in, set my basket down on the kitchen table. The table has been scrubbed off, cleared of flour; today's bread, freshly baked, is cooling on its rack. The kitchen smells of yeast, a nostalgic smell. It reminds me of other kitchens, kitchens that were mine.
Characterization is not the book's strongest factor. The narrator is nameless and she's lost touch with herself. Readers are sympathetic to her, but she's not the main draw. The situation she's thrust into is--the storyline elements of piecing together the mystery of what really happened, the what-if futuristic aspects, the nostalgic flashes to the narrator's past, the politics and hierarchy of this society.

The book is full of details of the narrator's everyday life, her clothes, her room, smells, the scenery. Again, these add to the rich, impressionistic experience of reading. Atwood focuses on things one can see and hear to evoke what the narrator must be feeling because she is so entrenched and not able to describe her feelings.

The overall experience of quiet, pervasive, everyday horror reminds me of Toni Morrison, Tim O'Brien, and Cormac McCarthy. Any other readalikes you can think of?

****Side note! Just discovered Reader2 in looking for a book cover. Does anyone know anything about this site?? At first glance it seems cool, and I picked up another Handmaid's Tale readalike recommendation: "reminded me of Ayn Rand's "Anthem" and Lois Lowry's "The Giver" with its overall plot." and a link to more recommendations, seemingly based on a user generated tag cloud.