Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Teasers

Still wading through tons of student papers, so here's a preview of upcoming book reviews, just to whet your appetites (I told you I've been a busy reader!):

Fiction
The Bitch Posse (also published as The Bitch Goddess Notebook in England) by Martha O'Connor -- Highly recommended. This is compelling, unflinchingly honest storytelling about what it means to live haunted by memories you can't stomach but can't quite repress. It's about the darkness within all of us, which so often seeps out through senseless, self-destructive acts. It's a haunting novel, perfect for readers who appreciate Joyce Carol Oates. Read an excerpt here -- it's representative of both style and subject matter. Another good thing: the blurbs are actually accurate!

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte -- I picked this up because it was recommended over at The Elegant Variation. I liked it, but I wasn't as enthused as TEV (overly high expectations, perhaps?). Lipsyte subverts the high-school alumni update to create a funny, absurd tale that kept me turning the pages.

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin -- Cullin gives us a nanogenarian Sherlock Holmes who is still solving mysteries, though in a smaller, more intimate scale. This Holmes is perplexed by the vagaries of his aging intellect, but he is still a force to be reckoned with. The novel intertwines Holmes own written account of a case that still haunts him (not for its complexity, but for its protagonist), with flashbacks to a recent trip to Japan where his host presents him with a mystery, and the present, where he is trying to figure out his life and cope with some traumatic events (that I won't spoil by revealing).

Mystery
Eight of Swords by David Skibbins. This is the first in a planned series of mysteries featuring Warren Ritter, a tarot-reading fugitive who juggles several different identities and who always has an escape plan in place, ever since his 'death' thirty years ago. In this installment, one of Warren's tarot clients is abducted; another is murdered; his sister recognizes him on the street; and he starts romancing a wheelchair-bound ex-Army computer whiz/one-woman army... Entertaining, to say the least.

Memoir
Nervous System, or Losing my Mind in Literature by Jan Lars Jensen -- In this memoir Jensen chronicles how he quite literally went insane during the final editing of his first novel (though that turned out not to be the cause, as good a hook as that is). Jensen became convinced the publication of his novel would set in motion a series of events that would end with the total destruction of the world through nuclear holocaust. Honestly -- he really thought this, which is why he couldn't sleep, which in turn resulted in his hospitalization (twice) in a psychiatric hospital. The memoir is interesting, but repetitive -- Jensen dwells too much on his delusions and paranoia, and too little on everything else in his life.

Young Adult
Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters -- Sweet novel about teenagers falling in love and lust. The twist -- both are girls, and one hadn't realized she was even a lesbian.

Luna, also by Julie Anne Peters -- This is Peters' most recent novel, about a transgendered teen. I found this novel less satisfying than Keeping You a Secret, perhaps because the novel is told from the point of view of the transgendered teen's younger sister, and Peters uses flashbacks to fill out the story (sometimes rather clumsily introduced by a sudden flash of memory...). Still, it's an interesting story; I might even assign it to my students -- they thoroughly enjoyed Normal, Amy Bloom's collection of essays on transgendered, cross-dressing, and intersexed individuals.

Miscellaneous
The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leven -- short, entertaining book about how to get more from your reading time. Leven (of Levenger catalog fame) advocates keeping a List of Candidates (books you might like to read), a Library of Candidates, a Living Library (of books already read), and an annotated book biography (the rather awkardly titled Bookography) of books read...

Monday, May 23, 2005

When will this semester be over?

The semester is dragging to a close, a couple of weeks later than usual, due to the students' enthusiastic but ultimately futile attempt to stop a tuition increase (the first in over a decade). And I'm just so tired...

Plus, how many times can you keep a straight face when a student claims his disk just won't open, every printer at the university is out of ink, paper, toner... or perhaps a relative has died --or been seriously injured... One of my colleagues had a student who very calmly informed her that her baby daughter had just died (it turned out her 18-month-old niece was sick, but not dying); another had a student hand in a portfolio with a forged paper -- yes, forged. It's apparently no longer enough just to plagiarize; the girl had copied the professor's handwriting to write comments on a 'draft' -- and she even signed the paper using the professor's initials. Of course, the artful student didn't know that my colleague keeps track of the drafts she corrects, so... busted!

[Have been reading a lot -- will post reviews and comments ASAP (as soon as I dig myself out from under the piles of student quizzes, papers, tests...)]

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