The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

With every sentence that Alain de Botton writes, he only reaffirms his place at the top of my short list of favorite living writers. There are few authors who are capable of writing even a single article (let alone an entire book) that is so intellectually stimulating and even fewer who can communicate in such a witty and charming style. Indeed, since it's not out of order to call de Botton a philosopher, I tend to add "poet" to that, too. While reading, I struggle with two competing desires: to devour the book in a single sitting versus slowly savoring every sentence. I ordered this as a birthday present to myself from amazon.co.uk (I prefer the British covers of de Botton's work) and while it has not unseated On Love and The Art of Travel as my favorites of his books, I was still quite pleased with The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I only wish that de Botton had spent as much time deliberating on the less tangible concepts associated with work as he did reporting the facts of specific working lives, for his eloquent arguments of a more philosophical nature are always utterly fascinating.

In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton poses a number of questions about work... What is it that has driven us into our respective occupations? Do we enjoy it? Why do we keep waking up day after day to do it? What does it mean to us? What does it mean to the larger world? Are we, in fact, capable of loving what we do on a daily basis? Do we have to in order to have a meaningful life?

Of course, what's interesting is that the majority of the book is not spent wrestling with these questions... but rather, these are the questions that spurred the author towards this topic. These are the questions that might be asked in book clubs when discussing this book, and these are the questions that are truly compelling... but rather than answer them directly (as I feel his other works are at least prone to attempt), de Botton seems to leave these open. Instead of expounding on the philosophical implications of our occupational choices, he has become more of a documentarian in both word and image, with a photograph on nearly every page. These pictures of warehouses, electrical pylons, and conference booths illustrate what often comes across as a bleak beauty to scenes of people at work or the results of our labor. And so this books ends up being much more about the people he interviews and their occupations rather than de Botton's thoughts on work. He is a reporter who comes back with astute observations, but does not delve too far into analyzing particular people or groups. I wonder if it was too personal or if he felt things might be too judgmental if he drew any conclusions from specific examples. I found it interesting that he completely refrained from personal musing on his own career (beyond occasionally offering a self-deprecating comment on his own failings in comparison to, say, inventors or engineers), though he purposely focuses on jobs that aren't often in the limelight. We go through ten separate "studies" of occupations that span a broad spectrum, where de Botton speaks with those people who have found themselves performing this work on a near daily basis.

Not since Walt Whitman have I found a writer so successful at conveying the dignity of work while still leaving room for us to ask if we are truly fulfilled. As I've already noted, my only wish was that there was more Alain de Botton in this book, but I think he's produced a fascinating study that will have you spending as much time in thought about your own occupation as you spend reading this book... and for a philosopher, I think that's an excellent goal to have achieved.

Here's a few links to other reviews of the book, and below, I included a piece that Alain de Botton wrote on why he settled on this topic.


I wrote The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work to shine a spotlight on the working world. I wanted to write a book that would open our eyes to the beauty and occasional horror of the working world—and I did this by looking at 10 different industries, a deliberately eclectic range from accountancy to engineering, from biscuit manufacture to logistics.

The strangest thing about the world of work is the widespread expectation that our work should make us happy. For thousands of years, work was viewed as something to be done with as rapidly as possible and escaped in the imagination through alcohol or religion. Aristotle was the first of many philosophers to state that no one could be both free and obliged to earn a living. A more optimistic assessment of work had to wait until the eighteenth century and men like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin, who for the first time argued that one's working life could be at the centre of any desire for happiness. It was during this century that our modern ideas about work were formed—at the very same time as our modern ideas about love and marriage took shape.

In the pre-modern age, it was assumed that no one could try to be in love and married: marriage was something one did for purely commercial reasons. Things were going well if you maintained a tepid friendship with your spouse. Meanwhile, love was something you did with your mistress, with pleasure untied to the responsibilities of child-rearing. Yet the new philosophers of love argued that one might actually aim to marry the person one was in love with rather than just have an affair. To this unusual idea was added the even more peculiar notion that one might work both for money and to realise one's dreams, an idea that replaced the previous assumption that the day job took care of the rent and anything more ambitious had to happen in one's spare time.

We are the heirs of these two very ambitious beliefs: that you can be in love and married, and in a job and having a good time. It has become as impossible for us to think that you could be out of work and happy as it had once seemed impossible for Aristotle to think that you could be employed and human. Thus is born The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. —Alain de Botton



Let's face it, I was never going to like this book. I knew that from the beginning, though I did make a few half-hearted attempts to appreciate it for the style and the historical perspective. The fact that it takes place in mid-century China is the only reason it's getting two stars at all, really, because I found the details of their daily lives to be interesting (in a "dear god, how awful!" kind of way). The rationing, the regulation, the lack of agency in one's own life.
The basic story is this: in Communist China, a couple needs to live separately for eighteen years before a person can divorce his or her spouse without that spouse's consent. Doctor Lin Kong married young to a woman his parents selected -- an unattractive woman with bound feet (which had passed out of fashion with the previous generation) that he was too embarrassed to bring with him to his hospital in the city, so he kept her in the country. (The fact that his wife, Shuyu, is incredibly simple and has no personality aside from blind devotion isn't really a factor, except it plays on one's pity for her.) She cared for his dying parents and gave him one daughter, Hua. Meanwhile, in the city, Lin develops a friendship with a nurse, Manna, that makes him think that he should divorce Shuyu. The novel charts the years spent waiting for the year that Lin can finally divorce Shuyu and marry Manna, and then follows along for a little while later as they all deal with the repercussions.
I've heard that people disliked this novel because they found the characters unlikeable (particularly Lin, who is incredibly weak-willed), but I didn't have that problem. What I did mind was that on all counts, this is a stunted novel. The characters, the novel's revelation, even the language! To start, most of the more complicated aspects of a situation like this (married man intent on someone else, but who still wants to be a "good man") were never touched upon. Both Lin and Manna's thoughts about their relationship were incredibly simplistic, and I could never care about their worries because I knew they didn't really love each other... they simply committed themselves to each other without trying to really discover and love the other person. When Lin finally has this revelation, the tone of the voice in his head is so different it's as though a higher power said, "Enough! Don't you get it?" and had to explain it to him.
I understand that this novel meant to explain how the political situation reduced people to the point where they are incapable of maturing in any way, unable to make decisions or have deeper emotions that they believed should guide their actions. Not one character is a sound emotional being. The only two people who seem to ever actually be happy at any point in time are the rapist and the blank-slate wife. It's meant to illustrate the time period where individuality was clearly not prized and where the only inner feeling that was encouraged seemed to be one's devotion. But there was just something missing at every single turn that made me feel as though the author failed in their attempts at producing something truly good and meaningful. When finishing the novel, I actually looked up to see if it might be a translation, which might excuse some of my issues with the language, but no, it was written in English. I suppose I knew it all along, though, as the language is purposely simple as to illustrate the emotionally stunted characters, but still not lovely in its simplicity.
I'm thankful that this was a quick read, though (and with a title like Waiting, you can bet that I was worried this would make things feel like time was dragging on), and I'm sure that someone in my book club will have thought this book said something truly meaningful about love and life, so we'll be able to discuss it just long enough so that we can then feel justified in moving on to gossip about our personal lives.


Black Swan Green

During his lunch break, a co-worker went into the bookstore by our office. There, in the bargain section, was a stack of Black Swan Green, one of his favorite books. For whatever reason, no book lover likes to see one of their favorites in the bargain section. Sure, it's probably just the product of an overzealous print-run, but if I found something meaningful in that book, then I would tend to think it's being undervalued, and perhaps even tainted by the scarlet sticker emblazoned on its cover. Rather than leave them there to be passed over by those who didn't realize they were walking past a true gem, my co-worker bought them. All. The whole pile of approximately twenty copies. He brought them back to work and started passing them out to anyone who he knew enjoyed reading. His sole caveat was that if you didn't think it would be your cup of tea, pass it along to someone else. The warm and fuzzy feeling elicited by this display of loyalty to a book meant that I simply dove into Black Swan Green, confident that here, I would find an excellent novel.

Black Swan Green is composed of thirteen chapters that chart thirteen months in the life of a thirteen year old boy. Jason Taylor is growing up in the English town of Black Swan Green (located in Worchestershire, which is "somewhere in the middle") in 1982. For England at large, that means Maggie Thatcher, the end of the Cold War, recession, and the Falklands War. For Jason Taylor, it means those things, but they tend to serve as background to his life spent navigating the complicated adolescent world of school, bullies, girls, secret clubs, bickering parents, and speech therapy.

It should come as no surprise that Black Swan Green is semi-autobiographical. Some critics have grumbled about this fact, saying that it restricted Mitchell's movements when he normally plays much more with form in his other work. The novel frames a little over a year in Jason's life, resulting in the fact that there isn't a single narrative arch to the novel. Instead, it could be taken as thirteen short stories, each highlighting an encounter or an experience that the reader can see will help shape his life and his character. Mitchell is then free to linger over details and characters, evoking a sense of what one really remembers about growing up. After reading this, I feel as though I've been given a very intimate glance into Mitchell's life. It went beyond the facts and illuminated the core of what it means to be on the cusp of adulthood, no longer a child but not quite a man. Black Swan Green might not have had a fancy literary format, meant to impress and surprise, but I was certainly dazzled with its quiet beauty and truth. It was quite a bargain indeed.


The Night Climbers

The Night Climbers by Ivo Stourton is an alluring depiction of a lush and decadent side of upper class student life at Cambridge. Of course, that life comes at a price, and perhaps that's more the crux of our story. James is a first-year student at Tudor College, so concerned that he might fall into the "wrong" set of friends that he ends up isolating himself from everyone rather well before he's even realized it. But a chance at something different literally barges into his life, giving him the opportunity to make the acquaintance of a particularly fascinating group and he latches on to them with fierce tenacity. Such a fierce grip is doubly important, as these friends have a secret evening pastime of scaling the buildings of Cambridge, challenging themselves with dizzying heights and dangerous climbs. Of course, we're not simply climbing buildings in this world, where status matters so much and to fall would mean complete ruin.
The story jumps between the "present" day, where Jessica seeks out James after nearly a decade of silence, and James' first year at college where the bulk of the story takes place as we learn about the various ways this group is bound together. Francis is the charismatic center, financing their pleasures with his father's money and practically personifying hedonism. Jessica is beautiful and rather calculating in her chilly exterior, though she is devoted to Francis and his well-being. Lisa strikes a rather odd chord, with a schedule full of often shady business ventures, and Michael is nicknamed Falstaff (he thinks for his wit, though the others point to his size), clearly interested in the status of their group more than the friendships. While living as though money is no object, Francis is cut off from his father and more than anyone else, he needs a new source of income... which sets the friends on a dangerous and thrilling money-making venture.
There are a few books that will provoke the phrase, "this is perfect for you" from my friends, but undoubtedly, I got that reaction from people when I told them about the plot. Full of fascinating characters, discussions of art, and beautiful prose, this book was a delight. Sure, there were a few small rough patches (for instance, his characters in their older state were not quite as believable as they were in their youth), but one might point to the fact that Stourton was a mere twenty five when this was published. I'm certainly looking forward to Stourton's other work, because I know that the Cambridge setting was certainly a bewitching thing for me (being an Oxford alum, I might have spent more time imagining my time at Oxford than the surroundings of Cambridge) -- and it will certainly be interesting to see if Stourton can produce something just as compelling with different scenery. If so, then he can certainly count on my reading whatever he produces.


Dead and Gone

Dead and Gone is quite a testament as to how entranced I am by this series of novels. I was quite content while reading it to accept whatever Charlaine Harris tossed in, and it wasn't until after I set it down that I realized this one wasn't quite up to par. Granted, there were a few points along the way where I arched an eyebrow at some choices, but I had to sit and muse on it before I recalled a few continuity errors and questioned not just choices, but judgment.
Of course, if you're a fan of the series, I think you'll be entertained. The world is about to be rocked with the information that vampires are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the supernatural world. Weres and shifters are next, adopting the tactics of the vampires by broadcasting their revelation on television, with local representatives to break the news. And while most people seem to take this okay (though Arlene unsurprisingly freaks out), a few incidents do occur. Sam's mother is shot by his step-father (though she survives), but it's a few days later when what looks like a truly terrible hate crime is committed -- Jason's estranged and pregnant werepanther wife is found crucified outside of Sam's bar. If you're getting faint with that one, then beware -- this is perhaps the bloodiest book to date in the series, because the fae are at war, too, and Sookie is a prime mortal target for enemies of her great-grandfather. Of course, there is some progress in the romance area -- if Eric tricking Sookie into "marrying" him can be called progress. He does it with good reason, though... the act binds her to him so no other vampires (say, the new establishment that's taken over Louisiana) can simply stake a claim and take her off. Which is what the FBI might have an idea to do, too, as they show up on Sookie's doorstep with questions about how she found survivors after the vampire summit explosion.
The plot moves quite quickly along, but honestly, I think we rushed into the whole fairy plotline. It seems that Harris herself is trying to pull the plug on things there, too, but I can't tell if that's her way of wrapping up a story in the plotline or the whole series. Anyone know how many books we're planning on having here? As many as we can justify Sookie waffling between Bill and Eric? Because aside from a brief cameo, Quinn's bowed out of the running, even if his dismissal wasn't quite substantial enough as one might like. Of course, don't get me wrong. I find the vampires more interesting myself, though a happily ever after will hardly come from that direction, particularly as Harris has asserted that Sookie herself will never become a vampire. Eric's the main beau in this book, though you can tell that things certainly aren't tied with a pretty ribbon, no matter how good the sex might be. Sookie skirts some relationship discussions and Eric might not be passing muster in terms of protecting the woman he's worked so hard to have pledged to him. (Though really, if Sookie was in such a strong place with the vampire and the were community, she would have been a bit better protective and no one needs to go to the post office that much.) Eric's a strong character in the beginning of the book, but there are parts where I'm worried he's morphed a little into what romance readers might want him to be -- for instance, him spilling his life story to Sookie while they sit in Fangtasia when earlier in the series, it was cited that he couldn't remember much. It makes him seem human and vulnerable. Tricking Sookie into the pledge and sending sexy cards, that I can see -- but the admission that he discovered the spell that sent him amnesiatic and reeling to Sookie was a curse that he would be close to his heart's desire without ever realizing it... well, we'll see how this goes. I'm not counting Bill out of the running just yet (and neither is the cover illustrator, for that matter, as Bill still has his place asserted there).
I also wasn't thrilled with the way that every single darn still-living character that we've come across seems to pop up in this book for just a brief moment. Things weren't terribly streamlined here, but then, if you're on top of things (for instance, say you had finished reading the other eight books in the immediately preceding seven days), then it's not like you'd forget who anyone was. It does mean, however, that the main supporting cast is not really given enough space. Then again, I can't get enough Pam (I know she's supposed to be blonde, but in my head, she's Joan Holloway/Christina Hendricks from Mad Men) and I'm ready for Sam to make a real bid for Sookie beyond his quick kisses.
And now that I've gotten through all of the books, what am I supposed to do while I wait for the next installment? I've already hunted down all of the short stories that Harris has written that feature Sookie. Sigh. Well, I suppose that's just as indicative of how I've been won over by Sookie Stackhouse. I'll forgive a few inconsistencies in the long run, but let's hope Harris's proofreaders do a better job on the next one. It's too fun a series to suffer at the hands of such annoying details, but those can certainly cut into one's enjoyment.
And now, I shall sit and twiddle my thumbs, reading books that have nothing to do with werewolf politics, fairy torture, or fangbangers. Sigh.


From Dead to Worse

Book number eight... which means I've reached the end of the mass-market paperbacks and the next will come with a hardcover price tag. Ridiculously enough, I was rather thrown with this one in the beginning, because my copy has a different font set than all the others. And I'm still not quite sure what to make of the cover (even though it's pretty obvious for all the others), as Bill takes a bit of a backseat, but his presence on the cover seems to indicate he's a big player.
We're back in Bon Temps after the disaster explosion at the vampire summit that nearly killed everyone -- and no one seems to have walked away without their scars. As if the repercussions of that weren't enough to deal with, Charlaine Harris moves full speed ahead on tossing in a whole host of new complications and plot points. Quinn is MIA (though we know he made it out), leaving Sookie in the lurch and wondering why he isn't in contact. Bill tells her that he's still in love with her. (No surprise.) And while it's been quite some time since book four, Eric finally has a glimmer of memory about his time that he and Sookie spent together. On the non-romance front, Sookie acquires a new houseguest when Amelia's witch mentor comes to stay, and Amelia's dad visits to drop the bomb-shell that he knows Sookie's deceased cousin Hadley's ex-husband... and apparently, there's a baby. Oh, and we meet Sookie's great-grandfather, a prince of the fae who warns Sookie to be on her guard in case people try to hurt her to get to him. Like she needed another host of supernatural enemies. Of course, the weres and the vamps are a little busy at the moment, dealing with their own internal wars.
This one is so not a book for someone who just wants one clear storyline. Big things are happening to change the entire supernatural world... and Sookie seems to be mixed up in it all.


All Together Dead

It's book seven and Sookie is attending the vampire summit in Rhodes in the service of Sophie-Anne, the vampire Queen of Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina has hit, devastating New Orleans and a good part of Louisiana (though Bon Temps is fine), which has weakened Sophie-Anne's position... and at this summit, there's the possibility that she'll be standing trial for the murder of her husband, the King of Arkansas, who met his end after initiating a coup against his bride in the last novel. Also at the conference, we have were-tiger boyfriend Quinn, vampire Eric (who's still trying to figure out things with Sookie), vampire Bill (also known as Nameless since the revelation that his relationship was Sookie started by order of the Queen), Barry the Bellboy (the only other telepath that Sookie has ever met), and a host of other vampires from previous books. We picked up Amelia in the last book (the witch who turned her one-night-stand Bob into a cat after some adventurous sex went definitely wrong) and she's settled in as Sookie's housemate who's there to hold down the fort in Bon Temps. Oh, and apparently there are other dimensions from which people can be summoned? Seriously, the cast keeps growing... to the point where the reader must wonder if we're getting everyone together for a big event where some folks end up dead. And really, people/vamps ending up dead is something you can usually count on.
If you thought Sookie got into trouble with a few vampires, imagine a whole convention center full of them. Sookie might be there as a "human Geiger counter" to the Queen so she can do some business deals and clear her name, but naturally there are other forces to be fought against. Sookie and Barry must figure out what's going on before it's too late, daylight or no.
Side note: I have to confess. I'm not crazy about Quinn. The image of him simply isn't sexy. If Sookie needed a non-vampire guy, what was so wrong with Sam? I'm liking how conflicted Eric is about his connection to Sookie (and we get an interesting turn with this), and while Bill is clearly sorry, Sookie isn't getting over his betrayal quickly.

Definitely Dead

Before you read book #6, I recommend you pause and do some sleuthing to save yourself the "wtf?" moment that happens when you realize that you're missing some information. What you're looking for is a short story called "One Word Answer" that was published in a collection called Bite, and in this story, you learn about Sookie's cousin Hadley. Hadley became a vampire and then met her final death, and Sookie has been named the sole heir. In addition, during her short time as a vampire, Hadley became a favorite of the queen of Louisiana. I say all this because I was pretty miffed when I was reading book 6, as this information is summarized as though it has happened in the series and it was most definitely not in one of the novels. If you google the title and author, you can find a pdf somewhere.

In any case, the plot of book six rests on this information. Sookie goes to New Orleans to pack up Hadley's apartment and finds a bit more than she bargained for. Quinn (the were-tiger) is back and even manages to have a semi-normal date with Sookie (before it's interrupted by a werewolf attack). The Pelt family continues to persist in trying to discover what happened to their daughter. The Queen of Louisiana has just married the King of Arkansas, but things aren't exactly going smoothly. And while Eric has all the information about what happened while his memory was lost, he still can't quite figure out what Sookie means to him now, which pushes him into making Bill reveal some rather major information.
We're definitely seeing a shift away from Sookie's absorption with her relationships (not like she was ever only boy-crazy, but she's become a bit older and wiser), and while we certainly aren't discounting the fellas, Sookie is becoming more and more involved in the supernatural world in her own right as the Queen calls upon her for her assistance.
Trivia: evidently Charlaine Harris had finished this manuscript just prior to Katrina, and considered changing it as a result of the hurricane, but because of the season in which it takes place, she left this novel as it was and, instead, worked Katrina's destruction into the next.


Dead as a Doornail

I promised myself that at the end of book four, I'd take a breather before I picked up another Sookie Stackhouse book. That breather apparently consisted of the five hours between me finishing book four on my lunch break and my stopping by Barnes & Noble on my way home from work. And now I've finished five books in five days.
Book five of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels feels a little different from the first four. Things aren't focused on past boyfriends quite as much (though Sookie seems to be enjoying keeping information from Eric, who forgets everything that happened while he stayed at her home) and we're also not quite as focused on present loves to the same degree, either. A couple of kisses, sure, but we don't have nearly the same scenes that the last few books included. Instead, we're getting further into the politics of supernaturals. After Jason's ordeal in the last book, Sookie's waiting for his first time changing with the full moon. In addition, there appears to be someone shooting random people around town, including Sam -- though it's not so random when you know that all the victims are supes. Sookie gets Eric to loan her a vampire bartender to pick up the slack at Merlotte's, and the new vamp seems to be a very charming pirate. Alcide practically tricks Sookie into giving her allegiance to his father as a new packleader candidate by being his date for a packleader funeral. And oh yes, Sookie's house partially burns down. At least she seems to have picked up a fairy godmother. A lot is going on, but if you don't know that Sookie's up to the challenge by now, then where have you been for the past four books?


Dead to the World

The blonde vampire on the cover (rather than our usual tall, dark and pale one) is a big clue before opening this book that things are changing in Sookie's romantic life. This, the fourth book, opens on New Year's with the fact that she and Bill are no longer together, and since his work is taking him to Peru, that leaves Sookie single... which is when she comes upon Eric on a dark night, apparently with no memory of who he is. His mind has been wiped by a strong coven of witches that have moved into the area, demanding a piece of the vampire's businesses, and as if that wasn't enough, Sookie's brother Jason has gone missing. Her worry, however, is not so overwhelming that she can't appreciate the kinder, gentler (but not too gentle, lest we forget one of the steamier scenes in this series that occurs in this book) Eric that's staying hidden in her house while the witches look for him everywhere.
In addition to witches, we get more shifters in this book, and a few that we already knew about are back on the scene. (Unsurprisingly, Sookie acquires YET ANOTHER supernatural admirer.) There's almost too many supernaturals around for my taste -- I kind of like watching the uncomfortable reactions of the normal townfolk to the other beings in their midst. So it's not even that important to note that we're staying put in Bon Temps, rather than run around other southern states, because we get so few interactions with the locals.
And yes, this would make four books in four days. But here begins my self-imposed breather from the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Let's see how well I keep to that.

Club Dead

I suppose I knew it was inevitable -- the book in the series where something comes between them and the heroine has to do without the hero for a while. Another quick read, this one introduces us more fully to other supernatural creatures, like werewolves and shape-shifters. From the get-go, Sookie and Bill are a little estranged as work calls him out of town, but soon Sookie learns that Bill is definitely in danger and possibly dead (dead again? dead for good?) already. So Sookie is off to Mississippi to collect yet another supernatural suitor, information on Bill's whereabouts, and more bruises. Seriously, do we have to beat this girl up in every single book? Of course, her emotions are getting a little battered in this one, too, as it's possible that Bill has been unfaithful, but Sookie is still intent on finding him.
In this, the third book in the series, Charlaine Harris manages to entertain and I no sooner set this one down than I picked up the fourth.


Living Dead in Dallas

Sure enough, I finished writing my quick review of Dead Until Dark and then started this, the second book in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels. Similar to the first in terms of fun, though we spend a decent amount of time in Dallas, where Sookie has been "loaned out" to help them discover a kidnapped vampire. This time, we explore more of the vampire world... hotels that cater to the undead, regional hierarchies, the anti-vampire groups, a vampire so old that he's ready to "meet the sun" and die, etc. We get more of Eric in this one, which was intriguing. He's not behaving how I would have expected, but he's pretty amusing towards the end of the book. And there felt like there was less sex in this (though there was a pretty intense scene at one point), and there is a storyline involving an orgy, so maybe I'm mistaken.
I finished this one in a couple of hours and while I don't think it was as good as the first, it's hard to really define what makes one of these books any better than another. And I may have already started the third, so clearly I'm still hooked.


Dead Until Dark

A couple of very literate friends of mine took me into their confidence recently. Their secret? They couldn't stop reading Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series of vampire novels. They knew it was wrong but they couldn't stop. So I wasn't entirely surprised when, for my birthday, they made a gift of the first four books, battered and worn the way that mass-market paperbacks should be. Less than a week after that, stuck at home with a cold, I started this, the first book. I was only a few pages in when I took a sip of tea and then came across the phrase "fang-banger," and I nearly spat out my drink. After a full minute of laughter, I sighed and knew that I, too, had fallen victim to this series.

Sookie Stackhouse works as a waitress in a bar in small-town Louisiana, living with her grandmother and keeping few friends. She never dates, even though she's in her mid-twenties and is reasonably attractive. Why? Well, Sookie is seen as a bit of a local crazy because she can read minds (which she and some townsfolk refer to as her disability, if they refer to it at all). Since she's mostly concentrating on keeping out the multitude of thoughts around her, she likes her job at the bar because it keeps her busy. Then, one day, the vampire arrives and her life changes. (Now, you might think that the arrival of a vampire in town would be cause for alarm, but apparently vampires have been legally recognized in this novel's world. While they're not exactly a common occurrence -- especially in small-town Louisiana, but then, they are close to New Orleans -- they aren't cause for panic, either. I thought of likening it to the civil rights era, as though a black man walked into a white bar, but no, the vampire is cause for even less of a stir. Sure, there's some curiosity and a bit of prejudice, but not nearly as much as one might think.) For Sookie, the vampire's arrival is even more meaningful because finally, here is someone whose thoughts she cannot hear, and she's immediately smitten.

There are a few things that struck me about these. (1) It's the first time in a long time that I've read a novel where the heroine is not well-educated. I certainly wouldn't say she isn't smart, but she makes no excuses for her lack of education and the fact that she enjoys her job as a waitress. I'm not quite sure what to make of it yet. (2) These are incredibly more sexual than I was expecting. I haven't watched True Blood, the series based on these, and I didn't check out anything about them before I started to read, so that's my own fault for stumbling blindly into it there. (3) I had to look up what a banana clip was and why it was so important for the author to keep citing it so specifically as what Sookie was sticking in her hair... and I still don't understand why it was so important.

Now, these are not deep novels. (Even though I've only read the first at this point, I feel I can still make this statement without it coming back to haunt me.) There's a reason why they feel so at home in their mass-market paperback binding. They're light and fun reading, perfect for vacations or for those stuck at home with a cold. I finished this in a matter of hours and feel sure that I'll get to the next one soon. But there's no doubt, I'll definitely be continuing to read the series.

And one more thing. "Fang-banger"? The whole series might have been crafted around this phrase and I wouldn't care. It's kind of priceless.