Books Heather read in January

February 4, 2009 at 1:39 am (Heather) (, , , , )

This is probably a partial list… I’m relying on my memory as I only thought to write them down last week.

Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead

It’s possible I may have a problem, here. This is books 3-6 of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries, on which True Blood was based. I may have also read #2 in January… I know I finished it at Millthorpe but I’m not sure if it was the December or the January end of proceedings.

I’ve lent Dan a couple of these, and since he said that the way they’re written bothered him I’ve been reading them in a much more critical way (which is probably for the best). So there’ve been some conversations like this:

me: I finished my last vampire book.   you know what else is bad about them? 
: the heroin in the paper?   heh
: lol  they fail at mystery but they fail at mystery because the reveal is usually, ‘and then of course it was like this because of [something that was never hinted at before]’. 

This is accurate, of course. And not just in terms of the mystery – characters will be introduced with a chunk of backstory about when Sookie met them that was never mentioned before. One of them had such a big ‘It was great when me and X were hanging out’ thing that I wondered if I’d skipped a book. But, no. Lots happens off-stage, so there’s lots of telling and not that much showing. There was no opportunity for me to go, “Aha!” about the conclusion of the sixth book because the elements leading up to that conclusion weren’t visible. The gun wasn’t shown anytime in the first act and it still went off in the third.

I was all set to swear off them after that. But of course trashy novels always have the first chapter for the next book at the end, and I had nothing to read on the way home…

me: so I was all, screw these they’re shit   but then I read the taster chapter for the next one at the back of the book
but then the heroin?

That chapter suggests that the next book is about the vampire response to Hurricane Katrina. I am a sucker for fiction that ties in real-world events with the imaginary, and also the logistical aspects of an aftermath. Probably I will end up reading it in a little while. I might order it over the internet so that I can’t read it on the spot. All Together Dead is the seventh Sookie Stackhouse book and the last one available, so at least once I read that the madness will stop. Unless I decide to track down all the short stories published in execrable supernatural romance anthologies.

Fables 11: War and Pieces

I think I only found out that this was out the night before we set off to Millthorpe. I had a mad scramble around town trying to track down a copy on the morning of the 28th, but Kinokuniya wasn’t open until a few minutes before our train was leaving Central, and Kings didn’t have any left.

The premise of the Fables series is that fairytale characters were exiled from their homelands (known within the series as The Homelands) and have to hang out in Fabletown, which is a couple of blocks in New York City. Those of them that can’t pass as human live on a farm in upstate New York (known within the series as The Farm). They’ve been working up to a war with the sometimes mysterious adversary that drove them away.

This volume was pretty much all about the war. I read it. I liked it okay. The war stuff has never been a real draw for me with this series. The author’s note in there seemed to imply that there would be more, which would be nice because I really enjoy the stories about the workings of Fabletown and how they all get along.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I saw the Miyazaki film of this back in the day and it confused the hell out of me. Not only were problems solved in ways that didn’t make sense using the information available to the viewer, the problems themselves were only introduced as they were being solved.

The book made a lot more sense. Sophie Hatter is resigned to the dull life ahead of her working in her family’s hat shop. But when the Witch of the Waste turns Sophie into an old crone in response to an inadvertent slight, Sophie runs away (well, hobbles really) and finds work as a cleaning lady for the famous Wizard Howl.

Something about Diana Wynne Jones’s writing doesn’t quite do it for me, though – what are supposed to be lush and well-imagined scenes just don’t seem to register, and I find myself without much of a visualisation. That’s a problem when it comes to scenes with a lot of action, because without an idea of the room it can be hard to keep track of where people are in relation to each other. The way Sophie finds herself old before her time, quite bent by responsibility and care rang quite a note with me during a fairly crappy week.

The Dud Avocado

From the blurb: “The Dud Avocado follows the romantic and comedic adventures ofa young American who heads overseas to conquer Paris in the late 1950s … Charming, sexy, and hilarious, The Dud Avocado gained instant cult status when it was first published and it remains a timeless portrait of a woman hell-bent on living.”

That’s pretty accurate, I think. I read this while I was in Melbourne and it was pretty delightful. I was frequently surprised by some of the language used – it was published in 1958 but I was hopelessly unaware of a few of the words used, and others sounded so modern I couldn’t believe they were around 50 years ago. I did feel somewhat inclined to slap Sally Jay from time to time (despite her endearing name) but I get that with most novels of this sort. In fact, the way the protagonist related her foibles and misadventures reminded me of nothing so much as Bridget Jones. Sure enough, when I finished the novel and read the scholarly introduction I was exhorted not to think that way:

“Now The Dud Avocado is out again in the United States, and I’ll bet money that some dewy-eyed young critic is going to read it for the first time and write an essay about how Sally Jay Gorce, Elaine Dundy’s adorably scatty heroine, was the spiritual grandmother of Bridget Jones. To which I say… nothing. I actually kind of like poor old Bridget, but if you want to properly place The Dud Avocado in the grand scheme of things, you should look not forward to Chick Lit but backward to Daisy Miller.”

Now, I’d never heard of Daisy Miller. I’ll think about reading it now. But what irks me about this is that a modern novel of very similar style and scope is called chick lit, set apart by its charm and focus on the life of a woman, fiction but never literature. The Dud Avocado, on the other hand, has a certain respectability because it was written fifty years ago, and surely everything old is better, classier, more solidly built than anything in the shops now? I think the way genres are sliced up is strange, unnatural and generally snobbish, and I am perplexed by the way popular culture rubs off its patina as it ages and becomes high culture. I can’t really bring myself to read serious literature at the moment because so much of it seems to deal with people who are miserable, and that is not what I want to read right now. But The Dud Avocado was good fun. I may seek out other books by the author, who died a little under a year ago. I just read her obituary and she had a pretty interesting life, but a dreadful husband.

French Milk

I came to this book by a rather circuitous route. I’ve been reading Pictures for Sad Children for some time, and in January the guy behind that does hourly comics every day. I am pretty addicted to these journal comics – reading them seems to be therapeutic in some way, so I followed links to other people doing similar things. The First of February is Hourly Comics Day, so heaps and heaps of non-comicky people joined in. Maybe one day I will try it! If I can bear to attempt to draw. Anyway, Lucy Knisley did it every Wednesday, and her hourly journal comics were particularly delightful. So when I discovered she had a book out I ordered it from the internet*.

From the blurb:

“Through delightful drawings, photographs, and musings, twenty-three-year-old Lucy Knisley documents a six-week trip she and her mother took to Paris when each was facing a milestone birthday. With a quirky flat in the fifth arrondissement as their home base, they set out to explore all the city has to offer, watching fireworks over the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve, visiting Oscar Wilde’s grave, loafing at cafes and, of course, drinking delicious French milk. What results is not only a sweet and savory journey through the City of Light but a moving, personal look at a mother-daughter relationship.”

Okay so blurbs are pretty hokey, and you know I dick on quirky. I would blurb my own blurb if it weren’t 1am. But I really really liked this book. It turns out it’s all journal comics in convenient book form. It was eminently relatable and made me feel better about my fretting and made me want to go and live in a place for a while. I read bits of it when I couldn’t sleep last week, and then ended up staying awake for longer than was really required to finish it one night. I’ve ordered Radiator Days, that appears to be another book of her journal comics, also from the internet. I hope it arrives soon.

Also read but not included on list because they don’t count somehow:  Some portion of The Fiery Cross, at least half of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, White Elephants 2.

Next time: Probably fewer books, hopefully written about with less of an interval so I won’t’ve forgotten so much.  Maybe also pictures. Also linked book titles, but that might happen sooner than that.

* Folks, if you, like me, enjoy ordering books over the internet, you should check out booko. You tell it what you want and it tells you who will ship it to Australia cheapest! You can even tell it you want a bunch of things, and it will tell you who will give you the cheapest basket of books. For me the cheapest is virtually always The Book Depository, who are in the UK but do free worldwide shipping. I have ordered five books from there, and show no sign of slowing.



  1. andrewcrisp said,

    Thank you for the booko link, Heather, I will use it: all the time. Also, I love the way your conversations with Dan are portrayed. I can imagine them happening right in front of me right now!

    I can’t believe the Sookie Stackhouse books all have “dead” in the title. What a silly gimmick! I guess that’s because I think the word sounds a bit bizarre too. I mean, “Definitely Dead”? I appreciate the trashy vampire heroin, though; I read about 8 or so books in the Anita Blake series…

  2. Heather said,

    The conversation with Dan actually occurred on gmail chat and I just copypasted it over. I did rearrange it a little bit so that things lined up with responses, but that is pretty much how it went down. Probably we would both talk that way with our mouths as well, though.

    Yep, the ‘dead’ title thing is pretty lame. The day after I posted this, though, I got an e-mail from Amazon letting me know that there are yet another two books coming out soon. ‘m not sure how this abstaining thing is going to go for me.

    But I’m attempting to get my vampire fix without the junk, with Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It sure is Swedish! And genuinely dark and scary rather than fluffy and crap. I’m only a couple of chapters in so far, but I may have some more thoughts about it in a few weeks’ time.

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