Monthly Archives: May 2012

Shelf o’ Shame- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Heading to New York for the weekend and desperate for something trashy to take on the bus, I came across a stack of books sitting on the windowsill of my old room.  Not too long ago I went through a phase related to the person I was dating at the time in which I felt the need to purge my shelves of books that were in some way “bad” for me. This included anything that made me feel even slightly guilty- too much violence, sex scenes, irredeemable characters, swearing, anti-Christian messages, etc. etc. etc.  Naturally 80% of the books I like contain at  least one of the above, so this phase died relatively quickly. Not before I did some sorting, though. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

Self-censorship isn’t a bad thing. We know what we can handle, and we should protect ourselves. Extreme self-censorship, on the other hand, turns into OCD rather than thoughtful filtering. So, where do we draw the line?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a perfect example of my conundrum. It definitely contains all of the above and so earned its place on The Windowsill of Shame (well hidden behind The Curtain of Forgetfulness). I don’t like mysteries, but my mother does and I needed something for her namesday. On a friend’s recommendation I bought it for her without reading it first. If you haven’t been to America in the last two years and don’t know, the story focuses on Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist at a financial magazine who’s just been convicted of libel. He’s offered a unique assignment while on the punitive equivalent of a sabbatical, and meets a very unusual girl along the way. Beautifully paced and plotted, fresh characters, completely repulsive subject matter- but SO well written.

The murder mystery at the heart of the plot will suck you in, but, not unlike certain cop shows, the violence is what keeps you pinned. Swedish culture appears to have a higher tolerance for cruelty in their literature and film (watch Let the Right One In if you don’t believe me. On second thought, don’t.). So while you can’t help being fascinated by title character Lisbeth Salander, her bloodthirsty acts of feminist vigilante justice end up chilling more than empowering.  How exactly is that good for my soul- or even peace of mind? Why did I read it again? At least twice? I tried to pay more attention as I went through it this time. The allure of the forbidden, of the dark have a very strong pull.

I compromised. The first one- despite everything- is just a really good book. The sequels aren’t nearly as well edited or thought out. More importantly, they lose the ethical tensions of the first and demystify the protagonist. Back on the shelf they go. Conscience appeased.

What won’t you read? Why?

Testy Tenth Graders

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I’m proctoring state exams for my old Chinese students at the school where I sub this week.  This group is comprises a particularly difficult clique of boys- a wolf pack, equally ready to turn on each other or on their prey. (They vary pretty widely as individuals, but as a group they are A Force.) Naturally, none of them brought anything to entertain themselves with after the test. The last twenty minutes yesterday were agony, watching them attempt to communicate through facial expressions and crinkling paper.  I reminded them several times that they had to bring books to read after the test today.

This morning,  I ask- who doesn’t have a book?  None of you, eh?  Never fear, Ms. M. is here!

Out comes the bag I threw together this morning. Here’s the list from my shelves to soothe the savage beast:

1. The Princess Bride, William Goldman

2. Horrible Histories: The Measly Middle Ages, Terry Deary

3. Horrible Histories: The Awesome Egyptians, Terry Deary

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

5. The Rainmaker, John Grisham

6. Gregor the Overlander, Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games)

7. Dragon Head (a manga)

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

9. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

and of course…

10. Twilight, Stephanie Meyer

(Which one do you think they fought over?)

Comics, popular fiction, classic children’s lit, a little bit of quirk, and pure trash- not a bad mix. It was mildly rewarding to watch them tear into them like it’s Christmas.  What else would you provide to keep a high school class happy?

Things I’m Currently Reading- May Edition

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May already, can you believe it?

April has been both a difficult and triumphant month personally.  I lost my aunt, I finished up my contract at my school, and my immediate family’s recurring issues have been, well, recurring. However, I also sent in a graduate school application, had several interviews, and led the choir/readings for a church service for the first time (Royal Hours- Holy Friday).

Best of all, one of my dearest friends had a baby, and I started a new relationship. He’s lovely and treats me very well, though I have to watch my grammar a bit more now (English majors…).

Looking over the April Edition, I followed through on many of the tasks I set for myself. No, I didn’t get through most of the books I listed. The Pillars of the Earth has proved to be one of those tomes best read in actual book (as opposed to kindle) form. However, I did revisit many of my favorite bookstores, completed the CS Lewis, started to move away from chick lit (thank goodness!), and began reading actual paperbacks again.  There are a number of books I’ve been picking up and putting down, but hey, it was Lent.

Not bad, April. Now let’s tackle May.

Daily spiritual reading-

  1. Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, Victor Afanasiev (this is taking a long time)
  2. The Bible. (Usually via http://jordanville.org)

Pleasure reading-

  1. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  2. An Uncommon Education, Elizabeth Percer
  3. Object Lessons, Anna Quindlen
  4. Under the Dome, Stephen King

Work-

  1. N/A

Books that have been on hold, but want to finish-

  1. With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, Elder Paisios
  2. The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Dr. Li Zhisui
  3. Miracles, C.S. Lewis

Just finished-

  1. The Red Queen, Philippa Gregory
  2. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
  3. Along for the Ride, Sarah Dessen
  4. That Summer, Sarah Dessen
  5. The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins (yes, again.)

Stopped because I couldn’t take it anymore-

  1. Black Mass, Dick Lehr (we know what happens, and half my kids are using it to write papers)
  2. Perfect Match, Jodi Picoult (oh my gosh, I HATED this book.)

Next up-

  1. A spiritual book that has a narrative (possibly Beauty for Ashes, as mentioned in an earlier post)
  2. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
  4. A Shakespeare- I still have 6 plays left.
  5. Insurgent, Veronica Roth (Divergent was one of the best dystopian YA novels I’ve read in a loooooong time)

Five Bookstores not quite in Boston

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Every summer when I was a kid, we drove north to our semi-ancestral homeland of Cape Breton and south to our even less ancestral homeland of Daytona Beach. Having grown up in a state where you can drive from the south eastern tip to the north western tip in about four hours, it’s torture to drive through states outside of New England.

Fortunately, I live in Boston. I have relatively easy access (on public transit, no less) to most of my beautiful, delightful and kind of snobby state. These stores are not terribly far from the city, and definitely worth a visit.

1. Brookline Booksmith:  Brookline is surrounded by Boston on three sides, so this barely counts, but count it does. Hop on the C line to Coolidge Corner, get off the train and walk straight down the street, it’ll be on your left. The Booksmith has events with authors all time, a used book cellar downstairs, and a lovely collection of sketchbooks and kitsch for those of you who like such things (raises hand). They also sell, for no discernible reason, really good cookies. Favorite finds here have included reduced price classics, books from the $0.50 rack, and a fantastic collection of book-themed postcards I give out instead of regular cards with presents.

2. Porter Square Books: I have a meeting in this area every other week, so this a regular spot for me. This unobtrusive corner of Cambridge may not look like much, but they’re incredibly active.  In addition to the many author events they host, there’s a knitting/book club, a beautiful children’s corner with story time, and gorgeous displays in the front entrance. They have theme tables, best seller tables, literary challenges, etc. This is the perfect place to come to do quiet work- Cafe Zing at the front is sunny and friendly, and has a very decent vegan selection (pastries AND sandwiches!). They often have specials on drinks. I spotted Amanda Palmer here more than once, and got a vicarious literary thrill (she’s married to Neil Gaiman). They also sold me my copy of The Woman in Black, but I won’t hold that against them.

3. Harvard Book Store: Quirkier than The Coop (the other major bookstore in the Square), bigger than Raven, with its own used book cellar where you can bring in your books for cash or store credit, Harvard Book Store is pretty ideal. What I love most about this place is the atmosphere. Unlike the Porter Square Books, which is pretty boxy and small, Harvard Book Store is a meandering, high ceilinged place- rolling ladders and the whole bit. They will also print out books for you from an online database, which is pretty cool. Apparently people often start dates here. My favorite thing I’ve ever seen here was a science fiction novel they created a new cover for. The dust jacket covered an incredibly ugly Star Wars-esque cover illustration with stick figure renderings of the main characters and included an explanation from the employees that the book was so awesome they really didn’t want the hideous cover to deter you. I didn’t buy the book, but I bought that these are dedicated employees.

4. Derby Square Bookstore: Salem, MA, just a commuter rail ride away! This is not a place to go if you’re looking for a specific book, but rather somewhere to go if you want a book to find you. Tiny and tucked into Salem’s main tourist drag, Derby Square consists of gigantic stacks of books you wander through around around- and I do mean stacks, no bookshelves necessary (see image above). This makes it a challenge to retrieve something from the bottom of a pile, but the staff person on duty is usually happy to assist you if you’re not into the idea of death by book avalanche. All the books here are half off the list price- great spot to find recent best sellers (and surprisingly, many YA favorites!). Not a place to settle in and read for hours, but a place to explore and definitely buy.

5. Manchester By the Book: Also a quick walk from the commuter rail. Not unlike Commonwealth Books, Manchester By the Book in Manchester by-the-Sea is a treasure trove of rare books and early editions. Very quirky, good displays, has that old used bookstore feel. My first trip there for Valentine’s Day 2011, they had a spectacular Austen themed display and Austen spin-off section. Naturally, I was completely won over.  I found some spectacular children’s books, including beautiful copies of the Brothers Grimm, the Andrew Lang Fairy Books, etc. Being a seaside town, they have plenty of nautical themed books. The leather armchairs and tall bookshelves make this a great place to hide on a winter’s afternoon. If you’re looking for a peaceful break from the city, I strongly recommend a walk on the beach and stopping in here at any time of year. Warning: it is impossible to leave without buying something.

This concludes our trip through northeastern Massachusetts. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

A Shaker Shout Out

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by Elizabeth Percer

I was lucky enough to attend Liza Percer’s first reading of An Uncommon Education at the Brookline Booksmith last night, the very first day of its release!  This is the first novel written by a Shakespeare Society alum that heavily references our beloved Society.  It was wonderful to chat with her and the other alums who came last night.

I’ll update this post once I’ve finished the book, but wanted to share it as soon as I could.

Read more about An Uncommon Education at Elizabeth’s website, which includes her book tour dates.