Emerald Green

A fun conclusion to a charming series, Emerald Green is the third and final book from Kerstin Gier in her Ruby Red Trilogy about time-travel, romance, secret societies, and stopping a really creepy guy from becoming immortal. Like ya do.

Gwen grew up in the shadow of her cousin Charlotte... not only was Charlotte beautiful, talented, popular, redheaded, and rich, but Charlotte was destined to become a time-traveler and complete the mission of a secret society with which their family has been involved for generations. But when it turns out that Charlotte *doesn't* have the gene and it's Gwen who will fulfill the prophecy (and whose birthdate was actually fudged to deflect focus), everything is different. Through Ruby Red and Sapphire Blue, Gwen discovers her ability, learns more, and gets limited information about what's expected of her, but it's obvious she's not being told the whole story. In Emerald Green, Gwen will finally be able to unravel the mystery surrounding not just her own birth, but the intentions of the secret society whose agenda she's not willing to blindly follow.

If you're looking for a light, sweet read with romance, pretty costume dresses, and charm, then I'd definitely recommend the Ruby Red Trilogy. It's a good fit for teenage girls in the 12-16 age range, as there isn't much more-than-kissy content to get anyone's knickers in a twist. Just lots of romantic angst and lack of clear communication. Sounds about right for the early teen years.

I don't recommend judging books by their covers but, let's face it, I think these covers do a pretty good job at setting your expectations. Pretty dresses, time travel, romance. Don't expect great depth or shocking plot twists and reveals. Most of the things Gwen learns in this book are facts that the readers has seen coming for a very long while, so you might be a touch irritated at her dimness, but Emerald Green is a nice wrap-up so at least poor Gwen can catch up.

A point of note: I sense a bit of redhead envy in Gier's childhood, given that Charlotte's hair is a frequent point of discussion, usually in the same sentence as a remark about her attitude or villainy. (Gier's hair is blond but has enough richness to it that she might also have redheads in her family.) I actually enjoyed seeing a redhead in a less-than-flattering role, as Charlotte's is an interesting role, particularly in this book, where she's finally dealing more actively with her frustration at not being the destined time-traveler as everyone expected. Thwarted ambition, anger, and sadness... it would have been nice to have more of this (or have Charlotte included in the ultimate triumph) but this is Gwen's story and so we focus on our time traveling teen.

Gier is a German author, so I find it particularly amusing that this storyline is all set in London, but she obviously has familiarity with the city, as everything seems quite accurate. This series was a pleasant bit of escapism with lots of heart. Whatever project Gier tackles next, I'll be happy to read it.


Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology

Despite the fact that I am very much a cat lady and have a deep love for animals overall, I am generally not one for books about our furred, feathered, hooved, or scaled friends. The reason for this is largely because I know it will all end in tears... and when animal are involved (real or fiction) and they end up taking a trip to the farm, I weep. I will sob into the fur of my cat, who accepts this fate with impressive patience for about ten minutes before she determines she's had enough and attempts to flee my embrace.  

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology was added to my to-read pile the week it went on sale, after I saw and was utterly charmed by the book trailer. If you haven't seen it yet, stop now and go do so. It took a while for me to actually get to it but it was a truly charming read. Caroline Paul was in an accident (a small plane crash to be precise), which left her rather house-bound in the San Francisco home she shares with her thirteen-year-old indoor/outdoor cats, Tibia and Fibula, while she recovered. (The names are funny on their own, but doubly so to Caroline when the doctors tell her those are two of the bones she broke in her accident.) Her girlfriend, Wendy MacNaughton, was new enough to the scene that Caroline was grateful Wendy stuck by (and since Wendy did the illustrations for this book, we're all very grateful, too). Wendy, not being a cat owner, did not get the Cat Thing, but found Tibby and Fibby to be nice enough.

Then Tibby went missing. He just disappeared one day from Caroline's San Francisco home... and then, after five weeks of searching, pet psychics, pound visits, and hysterical tears... Tibby came back. Entirely on his own, he showed up in Caroline's bedroom one night and meowed to announce his presence. He was completely healthy (even half a pound heavier) and totally silent on his whereabous, though even after reappearing, he stopped eating at home and yet must have been eating somewhere... Caroline, still recovering from her injuries, became obsessed with finding out where he'd been, where he was eating, and why he had gone.

This book is Caroline's and eventually Wendy's rather hilarious search for the answers to their questions as well as a very realistic depiction of the insanity of pet owners trying to understand the companions that we all think we know so well... but we really have no clue what goes on in their fuzzy little heads. It took me less than an hour to read it, as it's really more like a lengthy illustrated essay, but it will leave you thinking about your own pet relationships for quite a while. I can't definitively say that the artwork was my favorite part, as the writing is nuttily endearing (part of the charm is the manic, loopy descent into a spiral of feline obsession). I can't speak highly enough, though, of the artwork that depicts Tibby with his large eyes and various contraptions strapped to his collar or sitting calmly on a block of ice like Ernest Shackleton, exploring the world with a dish of kibble. Ultimately, the text and art are a heartfelt collaboration that perfectly present this very personal story which is completely relatable for anyone who's ever wondered what their pet was doing when not in their direct line of sight.

On a note of full disclosure for others who have a similar approach to/fear of books about pets, I picked this up because of the funny conceit and the adorable art, thinking it would be different from the others that I've shied away from. And for the most part it is... but then, there I was at 11:30 on a Monday night getting sucker-punched by sorrow about halfway through the book in an achingly realistic depiction of clinging desperately to an ailing pet... and having to let go. Just when I thought I was safe, the damn book got me. My poor cat's fur might still be wet from the tears.

Still, Lost Cat is a charming story of people loving and struggling to understand their pets. I particularly appreciated the sweet change in Wendy as she shifted from saying "cat" to "kitty"... the transition signaling that a cat lover was now born. It's good to be reminded that pets play a fascinating role in our emotional development and make-up, and while sometimes we take our love a bit too far and occasionally pass into the realm of "crazy cat lady," there's really nothing to compare with the emotional bond that comes with loving a pet. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to return to researching video monitors that will let me watch my cat sleep while I'm at work.


35 to 35

Well, given that I haven't yet completely finished the 30-to-30 challenge, even now that it's been a full summer/100 days since my birthday, it might be somewhat foolhardy to discuss the next list that I'm tackling, but let it never be said that I let up on myself.


I've opted to treat the 35-to-35 list a bit differently, having learned a few things from 30-to-30. First off, you might notice the window of time is considerably more generous. I've got 1726 days to get this one done. Who knows, perhaps I'll get to all these quite quickly and I'll have to write a second challenge (ha!), but perhaps I'll forget and end up scrambling at the end anyway. Second, instead of being so rigid with my selections, I've decided to pick a few key titles and authors but leave all the other slots somewhat open-ended where a number of books might meet that requirement. Titles written in specific time period, novels recognized by an award, a book I've carted around since high school, etc. Mostly fiction, but some nonfiction is required, too. Certain titles might fit in more than one category, but they can only be the fulfillment of one. In this way, I hope to be allowing myself some wiggle room so things can still feel fresh. Sure, I may have a few books in mind and for each of those open-ended slots, I've jotted down some possible contenders (it will surprise no one that by "jotted down" I mean I made detailed Excel documents with at least three options for every category), but I'm not going to hold myself to those in case others pop up that meet the stated criteria. Don't try to read too much in to the required titles... they either fit too many categories below or none of them and I knew I wanted to cross them off. I also gave myself two "wild card" slots but even those have a requirement.

So here we go, once more into the breach...

The Required Reading:
1. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
2. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
4. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Authors:
6. Fyodor Dostoyevsky
7. John Green
8. Erica Jong
9. Salman Rushdie
10. Edith Wharton

The Award Winners:
11. Pulitzer Prize winner
12. National Book Award winner
13. Man Booker Prize winner
14. Newbery Award winner
15. Nobel Prize winning author (book published before he/she won)

The Miscellany:
16. A pre-1800 title
17. Staff recommendation: something a friend has directly recommended
18. "Thanks! I'll read this right away!" : aka, "yes, I still have that novel you gave/loaned to me and no, I haven’t read it yet"
19. The doorstop: a 600+ page epic
20. This book has moved apartments with me... probably more than once
21. Judging a book by its cover: something I bought on pure whim based on title or jacket
22. "You'll hate it." : a book that I've specifically been told I will not enjoy
23. Everyone else read it for school except me
24. Not lost in translation: a work translated from another language
25. "Of course I've read that!" : a book I've pretended to have read
26. Redhead pride: a work with a redheaded main character/author
27. Thar be dragons here: a science fiction/fantasy epic, preferably written by a woman
28. A tribute: a work read the year following the author's passing

The Nonfiction Categories:
29. A biography
30. A memoir
31. A history title on a specific topic
32. A contemporary (post 1975) political/historical study
33. A travelogue

The Wild Cards:
34. Title must be listed in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die
35. Title must be listed in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die


Crown of Midnight

Things I love about Celaena Sardothien: an incomplete list.

1.  Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most badass of them all? Hint: by the time you've asked the mirror this question, Celaena has punched out the mirror, killed a majorly creepy plot-lurker you didn't even know was behind you, and given a critical once-over to your outfit. You don't need to ask this question. You have the answer already.

2 (or 1b).  There are few things more annoying than characters who do not fill the shoes they've been given.  "Oh yeah, sure, you're the most powerful wizard of all, right, uh huh."  But there is no doubting that Celaena has what it takes to be Ardlan's Assassin.  She travels days with severed heads in a sack, she has no problem torturing people who deserve it, and she's got one heck of a temper.  Even her male romantic interests are a little scared of her.  She may be a teenager, but that means we see a great amount of arrogance in her, too, which can sometimes be her downfall.  She isn't all-powerful or completely right all the time, but she is a very major force to be reckoned with.  (Except you'd be dead long before reckoning.)  So yeah, her shoes fit perfectly (and they're undoubtedly gorgeous).

3.  Celaena does not whine, moan, or otherwise fret over boys.  The crux of this series, unlike so many others in YA, does not rest on which boyfriend will she pick.  (Also, she mostly skips over "boys" and goes for "men." Good call, Celaena.)  This doesn't mean there isn't romantic intrigue, tension, and drama.  Ooooh no.  The huge amount of Chaol fan art across the interwebs will clue you in there.  Celaena is a young woman who understands there's a greater game being played and she strategizes as such, but she still has her failings. The reader is reminded of her young age when romance comes in to play but I feel like her actions and reactions are completely in keeping with her character.  

4 (or 3b).  Celaena is a complicated character who can be both strong and female.  There's so much more behind this pretty face and her trump card is never her sexuality because she's got so many other talents to rely upon.  Additionally, she may be a feared assassin, but she's also very much a young woman who indulges and delights in luxury and pretty dresses.  She doesn't have a problem being both feminine and fearsome and I appreciate the sending of that message.


Throne of Glass introduced us all to the glory that is Celaena Sardothien, an assassin sentenced to hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier, who was then pulled out of that prison by the Crown Prince to be his contestant in a competition to become the king's assassin. But can Celaena even call it "freedom" when the prize is working for a heartless, conquering king?  And what's all this about magic being banished from the world?  Surely that won't come back and bite us in the ass?

So, I never got around to writing a review of Throne of Glass, but I really loved it. It's fast, it's fun, it's creative, and I didn't want it to end.  Good thing there were four prequel novellas to gobble down that were released after I'd finished the galley but before the final book was published.  I read the novellas *after* reading ToG and that means I knew a lot of what had ultimately gone down (aka what heartbreak we were headed for), but the novellas are so detailed on their own that it didn't matter.  Read them first or after ToG and you'll get just as much out of them either way.

Now we have Crown of Midnight and despite what was the original plan, this isn't going to be just a two book series -- THANK GOODNESS.  Of course, that means you should get ready for the binge-read/twiddle-your-thumbs-for-a-year cycle that we who read books in a series as they publish are already quite familiar with.  I was so delighted to get my greedy little hands on an ARC of this book at the start of the summer.  In just two books (okay two books and four novellas), Maas has scrabbled her way to a permanent spot on my "must read ASAP' pile, whether she's publishing another novel or a frickin laundry list.

If you've already read Throne of Glass and you're worried that Crown of Midnight won't live up to its predecessor, I'm here to tell you that your fears are totally unfounded. Not only did Maas manage to build and grow the world, but she introduced new challenges that are shockingly refreshing.  There's a big game-changer in this novel and Maas isn't afraid of setting huge challenges for herself, which makes me excited for her as a writer and for the series as a fantastic adventure that I have forced in to more than a few hands, including that of my mother.

I haven't crawled out of my cave to post a YA review in a while and that isn't for lack of great YA, but there's something about this series, guys, that makes me need to talk it up. I'm a huge Tamora Pierce fan and while Sarah J. Maas has a different tone, I would be willing to be that fans of one will easily become fans of the other. (Indeed, I haven't looked in to interviews or blog posts to see whether Maas has talked at all about Pierce, but I'd be willing to bet that Celaena's foundation is built to some degree on Alanna's, as there are a lot of great compare/contrast studies one could do with these female warriors fighting in a world where magic comes in to play.) Be prepared for a complicated, vivid world in Crown of Midnight. When you're all done, drop me a line and we can sit and gush and stalk Sarah's website for any hints about book #3. In the meantime, I leave you with this teaser...

“I don't think you realize who you're dealing with."
The man clicked his tongue, "If you were that good, you would be more than just Captain of the Guard."
Chaol let out a low, breathy laugh. "I wasn't talking about me."
"She's just one girl."
Though his guts were twisting at the thought of her in this place, with these people, though he was considering every possible way to get himself and Celaena out of here alive, he gave the man a grin. "Then you're in for a big surprise.”
- Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas


30-to-30 Check-In

Sooooo, my birthday was June 1st and a few people have suggested that I should consider this challenge to extend throughout my 30th year.  That's code for I didn't make it.  
While I do still intend to read all the titles that I did not get to this past year, I can accept my failure on finishing up my self-challenged 30-to-30 list.  I got to 23.  And a half.

Moral: setting a specific reading list is hard, particularly when I was the only one holding myself to it and I refused to approach any book with a heavy heart.  If I wasn't feeling it, I waited until I was or, well, I hit 30 and hadn't read it yet.  For many (*cough* Faulkner *cough*), the simple fact remained that I didn't want to read it and putting it on this list (or swapping for another Faulkner title people assured me would be more reader-friendly) didn't seem to induce me to pick it up.  Others, like the Donna Tartt, remain on this weird "oooh, I want to be able to power through so I need a whole weekend" level where I really want to read it and yet want the circumstances to be right.  Ultimately, though, aren't the "right circumstances" just you wanting to read it?  Come on, subconscious, loosen up and let me get at this one. Most, however, were on the "oh right, that one" level, where I have a vague interest, but never overpowering enough to make it the book I picked up when I looked around me for the next thing to read.

Like I said, though. I'll power through and keep on going, but in the meantime, you can also expect a 35-to-35 list coming soon.  (Because it's not like being behind on one thing will keep me from starting something else.)

1. The Iliad - Homer
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood 
3. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
4. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
5. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
6. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas 
7. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
8. The Sound and the Fury swapped for A Light in August by William Faulkner
9. The End of the Affair - Graham Greene 
10. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
11. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
12. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
13. The Wings of the Dove - Henry James 
14. On the Road - Jack Kerouac (reading aloud now)
15. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle 
16. The Balkan Trilogy - Olivia Manning replaced by The Dark Is Rising Sequence - Susan Cooper
17. West With the Night - Beryl Markham
18. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

19. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
20. The Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller (reading now)
21. The Women of Brewster Place - Gloria Naylor
22. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

23. The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon
24. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
25. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
26. Maus - Art Spiegelman 
27. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
28. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
29. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut 
30. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde


The Iliad

Even though I was thoroughly familiar with the story, I had never before read the actual text of The Iliad (except, perhaps, in small selections within larger English textbooks). As part of my "30 books to read before I turn 30" initiative, I decided it was high time that I corrected this lapse. After all, I was a big fan of Greek mythology in general when I was younger, so I've read the Edith Hamilton descriptions of everything. Really, all I was doing was just familiarizing myself with some lovely poetic language, right?

Well, despite knowing every true plot point of the story, I found myself repeatedly surprised at elements of the actual text. Here are a few:

#1 The actual segment of the story. Some part of me knew that only a selection of the larger Trojan War story would be told, but I felt disoriented by being thrown in long past the events that sent the whole thing spiraling off. Then at the end, I felt so abandoned, knowing what was to come and yet unsatisfied in the closing. Did it make me feel better, as though these characters were eternally held from this utterly brutal finish, the walls of Troy still standing, the women still bewailing their fates before it came crashing down upon them?

#2 The violence. I was expecting the description of battle scenes and for some description of violence, but the sheer volume of description of killing and death was somewhat surprising to me. Friends can attest that I even incorporated "and darkness covered his eyes" a few times in conversation, poking a bit of fun, but then there were the graphic descriptions of spears through buttocks and chests, the heartbreaking comparisons to men falling like trees, the taunting of payback and grieving parents. The interaction served as a very strong reminder of the intimacy of war when modern day warfare tries to eliminate this. It might seem easier to bomb from a plane or fire a gun from a distance if one need not feel the blood gush over one's hands from the wound created by a spear or knife... but then, I have utterly no way of knowing and it seems the weight of lives way just as heavy one way or another.

#3 The gods are dicks. I could phrase this in a more polite way, but seriously, I can call a spade a spade. I know that, in my youth as I would read and re-read selections from Edith Hamilton's Mythology, I preferred the stories where the gods weren't just going off the rails because they could or overreacting (aka Zeus going "don't piss me off or I'll hurl you off Olympus and we'll talk again in a few hundred years when you've managed to crawl back up here with your shattered body."). I knew the gods were capricious and crazy, but the partiality and short attention spans and alliances based on personal vendettas... wow. Also, I was surprised at the number of times that the gods intervened in very direct ways... spiriting off beloved warriors right before an ax was to fall or materializing as trusted advisers to whisper ideas in a man's ear. It seems at odds with the image I have of the philosophical and logical Greeks that they'd have gods who based incredible decisions on whims. Or perhaps those were the gods they needed, to explain such urges that were not based in careful thought. I did, however, reminds me that I often had a hard time picking favorites amongst the gods, as it's not like there's one sane and well-meaning character in the bunch. Their very natures are weighted to the things they symbolize and the extremes do not make for well-rounded persons with whom one can identify.

I opted to listen to this as an audiobook, though I did re-read a few passages in my printed copy. Given the oral tradition, I felt The Iliad would be an easy text to listen to, able to hold my attention in a way that not all audiobooks can and I was quite right. It's a heart-wrenching story, worthy of having been passed down for so many years and one that translates surprisingly well in today's world. Even now, I feel there's a great deal to be learned from this ancient story of vengeance, war, and loss. I thought I might find more actions or impulses that seemed at odds with that which is valued in today's society, but I was somewhat unsettled by the fact that not much has changed. Perhaps the most prominent concept that isn't something we focus on much today is the idea of fate. Most of us can't quite reconcile the idea of making one's own way with free will and the knowledge that our deaths have been precisely foretold. To cheat fate and death was a negative things to the Greeks, whereas modern society rather applauds those who can avoid that which they would not choose for themselves. In our religious evolution, we've rejected the concept of multiple gods who play favorites and, instead, often base our wars (or at least fortify our claims as to being on the "right" side) on the concept that we've selected the one true god and everyone else is worshiping a lie. I wonder if it would be better for us if we hadn't abandoned the ability to think that there's just one force up there and obviously it's on our side. (I suppose I could add that as surprising thing #4 -- I did not expect The Iliad to make me deeply consider religious tradition and the shift to monotheism with its effect on war).

Even now, some time after finishing reading The Iliad, I will occasionally think back to the events and specific lines. It is not a tale that leaves your thoughts easily, nor do I much suspect it ever will. I also realize this isn't much of a review. Shouldn't I be at least mentioning brave Hector, musing on the limited but crucial roles of women, offering my opinion on whether Achilles and Patroclus were more than just friends, providing background on epic Greek poetry and who Homer might or might not have been? Perhaps, but I'm not going to. There are experts for that... I'm just pleased that this story is now something I've absorbed in to my consciousness, making me a little richer for the experience.

Random fact: my cat doesn't really like music. As in, she will generally leave the room if I have music playing at anything other than a barely-audible level. But the soothing voice of Alfred Molina reading The Iliad obviously passed some kind of feline test, as she was incredibly content to settle herself next to my iPhone as I let the Audible app play the audiobook while I knit. So, apparently Alfred Molina is a cat-whisperer or cats like ancient Greek epic poetry. (Or maybe she related to those mercurial gods.) Who knew?


30 days to 30...

Status update! Guys, I'm not going to lie, it's looking incredibly grim and I only have 30 days to go before my 30th birthday. And you know what? I think I might be actually coming to terms with my impending failure. (Could I be growing up??) I'm two-thirds of the way through (I'm counting the fact that I'm through 90% of the 5-book tome that is the Dark Is Rising sequence) and I'll probably get through at least two or three more before 6/1, but in the eleven months since my last birthday, I've read over 250 books in total. Okay, fine, that includes kids books but I work in kids books, so I keep track! If I break that number down, over half are books for adults (young adults count!)/non picture or chapter books.

In an effort to make sure I'm giving each book that I put on the 30-to-30 list a fair go (aka an opportunity for me to actually enjoy it), I'm not actively forcing myself to read a book when I don't feel like it, which means I've been letting other reading (work and pleasure) get in the way of knuckling down. In addition, now that we're in the home stretch, I don't exactly want to rush most of the titles I have left, as they deserve time and thoughtful attention. (Though I might add, that if I had to choose 10 or so books from this list that I thought were truly essential to it, I've read all but one or two of those already.) My rules might have to bend and allow some titles to slip in after the deadline. Several people have told me that it still totally counts to finish up this reading list while I'm 30, though we all know that's cheater's logic. I was never one for extensions but better late than hate everything still to go because I forced a quick read.

Next time I do this kind of list (35 to 35?), I'll give myself a bit more time and wiggle room with the exact books... maybe have half of the list be specific titles but also reserve some slots for types of books with titles in mind so I could say something like "a Dostoyevsky novel," "A pre-1700 title," "a biography" (if I opt to include non-fiction), etc., but who knows if that list would do any better. (Presumably with five years in which to do all 35, I'm betting I have a decent chance... and it's not like I'm evidently going to let up on myself, even in the face of stress and imminent failure.)  In the meantime, I'll note that I am not letting myself substitute titles any longer (I only actually swapped two!), as I figure I'll just add substitution contenders to the list, even if some of those are books I feel should have belonged on this, ultimately, what with my whole "read before your 30s" mindset. 

In any case, here's my update...

1. The Iliad - Homer
2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood 
3. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
4. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
5. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
6. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas 
7. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
8. The Sound and the Fury swapped for A Light in August by William Faulkner
9. The End of the Affair - Graham Greene 
10. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
11. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
12. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
13. The Wings of the Dove - Henry James 
14. On the Road - Jack Kerouac (reading aloud now!)
15. A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle 
16. The Balkan Trilogy - Olivia Manning replaced by The Dark Is Rising Sequence - Susan Cooper (should be done tomorrow!)
17. West With the Night - Beryl Markham
18. 100 Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
19. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
20. The Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller 
21. The Women of Brewster Place - Gloria Naylor
22. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
23. The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon
24. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
25. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
26. Maus - Art Spiegelman 
27. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
28. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
29. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut 
30. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde


The Crying of Lot 49

Well, hell, I really have no idea what that was all about. 

I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person, but throughout my entire reading of The Crying of Lot 49, I felt lost and uncertain. I knew all of these words were English and I frequently enjoyed the flow of the prose, I just had no bloody idea where it was going and, frankly, was hazy on the details about how we got where we were at any point in time.

I have since been told this is all normal and I'm not sure that makes me feel any better.

The basic "plot" centers around a woman, Oedipa Maas, who has been made co-executor to the estate of an old boyfriend. That sentence is the beginning and end of what I can summarize with any real certainty, because the rest of the book deals in things that may or may not be happening, may or may not have deeper meaning, and may or may not be a complete sham. Let's just say I was at least glad that LSD was brought up by name as it was one of the only times where I felt like the text confirmed what was going through my head.

Oedipa just might have stumbled upon a centuries-old conflict between two mail systems (Thurn and Taxis and the Trystero/Tristero) and, in doing so, has possibly uncovered a still-functioning service that caters to lost souls and broken-hearted. Those outside the know who discover details without approval seem to end up dead. Oedipa begins to see the symbol for a muted horn everywhere and we're all left to wonder if this is real or a set-up, and (spoiler but not spoiler) we never get to find out.

Bewailing what I saw as my utter stupidity in failing to see the point of everything, I had a conversation with a Pynchon scholar (who probably disavows everything I say here, as he's incredibly disappointed I didn't love his favorite author).  He confirmed that everything I thought about the novel seemed to be true and the true reason for my flailing about was my inability to accept that this novel is meant to be open for endless interpretation and discussion. 

The title comes from the final scene of the novel, where Oedipa sits at an auction for her ex's stamp collection which might reveal the truth about everything, the stamp collection being "lot 49" up for auction and "crying" referring to the auctioning off of a lot. My friend the Pynchon scholar pointed out that, in the end, Oedipa gets to find out the truth about everything -- at which point, I argued that since she's a fictional character, she must exist within the realm of the novel, and so she's left hanging just as much as the reader, in a permanent state of bated-breath with one's sanity on the line and never, ever able to confirm what real truth might be. He patted me on the shoulder and said I was getting the hang of it now. Oh dear.

Whether that's the truth or not, I think I can ultimately say that there was something satisfying about reading this slim volume that seems to have such weight in modern literature... and there's something even more satisfying in crossing it off the list and admitting to myself that Pynchon is perhaps not for me, and yet I'm pleased to have had this disorienting experience for the sake of expanding my horizons. It's important to go where we're not comfortable every now and then, so all in all, this was a successful addition to my "30 to 30" list. I'm sure I'll keep thinking of it for a long time and it may even be worth a re-read many years from now to see what different conclusions are reached.