Friday, September 28, 2012

Winner of the Banned Books Poll!

With 28% of the vote, the winner is... To Kill a Mockingbird!

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee   
  6 (28%)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  1 (4%)
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  4 (19%)
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler           
  3 (14%)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  5 (23%)
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissenger
  2 (9%)
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  3 (14%)

I will be re-reading this amazing book in honor of Banned Books Week, which starts on September 30.  I'm excited.  I even have a pretty hardcover version to read.
Photo: To Kill a Mockingbird is currently winning my Banned Books Week poll... which is lucky, because I have this gorgeous copy with dust jacket and slipcover that's been sitting on my office shelf for a year.  
But it's still not too late to vote!
With slipcase!
If I have time, I'll also re-read the second-place finisher, A Wrinkle in Time.  Consider joining me in reading a book in honor of Banned Books Week!  If none of the nominees above appeal to you, there are plenty of other options, from Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter.  Did you know the Hunger Games trilogy was among the ten most challenged books/series in 2011?  Obviously books that start with H are magnets for people who Hate books.  Kidding!  The full top ten for last year is below, courtesy of the American Library Association:  
To Kill a Mockingbird is still on the list in 2011, how crazy is that?  Also, Brave New World, the title that inspired the name of this blog, was number 7.  For more about Banned Books Week, visit the American Library Association website.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Not to Title a Book (but also, How to Sell Me a Book I Don't Want)

How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free LifeHow Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life by Dan Wilbur

I have not read this yet, but I want to tell you how I came to own it.  In hard copy.  New.

The Brooklyn Book Festival was this past Sunday, and I had a blast browsing dozens of booths.  Bookstores, publishers, reading groups, authors, and literary merchandisers were hawking their wares.
Tents, tents, and more tents... and a beautiful day!

In one of the bookstore tents, I picked up this book.  The eager guy behind the counter exclaimed, "That's my book! You should buy it!"

I read the subtitle, Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life, and got flustered.  "Uh, I'm sorry, I don't really like the title.  It just, ah, makes me not want to read the book."

He looked confused, then slightly hurt, but recovered his eagerness. "It's okay!   It's not a serious title, it's a joke.  But I promise I'll work harder on the next book title!  And if you buy this one I'll sign it, and apologize in writing!"

I ask you, what choice did I have?   I felt terrible for insulting his title, and he was being really nice. On closer inspection, I realized the book is an expansion of his website, where he "improves" book titles, which seems fairly entertaining. For example:

The renaming of Gone Girl.
The re-titled Gone Girl, to which I gave five stars).
This reader-submitted title is spot-on.  
Anyway, I caved. I paid $16 for a slim paperback. I almost never pay more than $10 for a book anymore, and then only on the rare occasions when a book isn't available for my Kindle through the BPL.

In other words:  Trick me into insulting your book, and I will buy it because I feel bad. I am, apparently, that much of a pushover.

Nevertheless, I stand by my original feeling.  If you write a book meant to appeal to readers (because who else is going to appreciate book-related jokes?), don't pick a title that turns readers off.   Readers do not want a guide to a literature-free life.  I understand (now) that it was meant to be funny/satirical, but there are so many people who don't read -- and don't want to read -- that I could easily believe the title is serious.  I mean, people disagree over whether The Colbert Report is supposed to be satire!  And remember that Congressman who thought The Onion was reporting real news?  To paraphrase an old quotation, satire just doesn't stand a chance against reality anymore.
Nevertheless, I'll end with this excellent bit of satire, compliments of the talented reader/commenter Mikey.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Two Lives from Scratch: Confections and Confusion for the Kindle

My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a timeMy Life From Scratch by Gesine Bullock-Prado
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Confession: I read this book by accident.

Some time ago, I saw Life From Scratch on Amazon and added it to my to-read list.  I will not lie.  I was initially seduced by the pretty stuff in spoons on the cover:
Whose life is it, anyway?

A few weeks ago, I searched some titles from my to-read list in the Brooklyn Public Library's electronic books catalog, and put a few on reserve. Obviously, what came up when I typed in "life from scratch" was My Life from Scratch, and I didn't notice the minor title difference when I downloaded it to my Kindle.

Interestingly, after I realized my mistake, I discovered that this book was published in hardcover in 2009 as Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker. They changed the title to My Life from Scratch for the 2010 paperback release (which happened about a month before the release of Life from Scratch).   Can anyone in the publishing world speak to whether completely changing a title between releases is more common that I realize? Would they have known that a very similarly titled book was due to come out a month later?  Edit: According to a friend in the publishing industry, this is really unusual and represents the publisher basically cutting its losses (the losses being hardcover sales).  Which makes sense -- they're putting out a different title and hoping that it will generate more sales than whatever name recognition/reputation the hardcover had already garnered.  Also, it looks like the title has changed more than once; a 2011 release was called Starting Over One Cake at a Time: One Woman's Journey from Movie Executive to Macaroons.  When sales are slow, adding fireworks to the cover is the only way to go.  Even if fireworks have nothing to do with baking.
          Confections of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker            Starting Over, One Cake at a Time. Gesine Bullock-Prado
For what it's worth, I think "Confections" as a play on "Confessions" in the original title is clever, but "Closet Master Baker" is a weird phrase that probably should have been avoided in the first place. If I were the publisher, I would have gone with Confections of a Master Baker and left it at that. Unless we think "Master Baker" is something like "Master Debater" and likely to elicit snickers from 12-year-old boys? Relatedly, who else did a spit-take when Jill Biden said, “I’ve heard the urgency in [Joe Biden's] voice when he comes ... and talks about the people he’s met”?

Back to the post.  I did learn a few things from reading this book: (1) the original macaroon was coconut-free; (2) the author's name, Gesine, is pronounced Geh-see-neh, with a hard "g" (she really hates when it's mispronounced); and (3) Sandra Bullock is her sister.
Sister, sister!  

I figured out the last point shortly after reading about the clothes that "Sandy" gets free "for being a movie star."  Another clue was:
On the right wall next to the large wine cooler sits an imposing sixteenth-century Spanish church pew that my sister had shipped up from an antiques shop in Savannah, Georgia, for my birthday.
Funny, that's almost exactly what I got from my sisters for my birthday! But aside from the my-sister-is-a-rich-movie-star tidbits, My Life from Scratch is just a quick and easy read about a woman who gave up the Hollywood rat race to open a bakery in Vermont. If this book were a pastry, it'd be a meringue: airy and sweet, but slightly dull and not terribly filling.  Still, if you need a snack, this might hit the spot.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Stupid Shadow of Stupid Night

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am going to say something in this review that no one (least of all me) ever expected me to say.  I wish I were more familiar with Twilight.

Yes, you read that right.  I think if I were more intimately familiar with Twilight, I'd be able to do a really interesting comparison of vampire mythology in modern-day novels.   Especially the whole pregnant-by-a-vampire treatment of a heroine (oops, was that a spoiler?).  However, since pigs do not fly, and I know very little about Twilight beyond what I have gleaned from Kristen Stewart's dead eyes in the movie posters, you will have to look elsewhere for that insightful bit of writing.   You're stuck with me, for now.

For those who didn't know, this is the recently released sequel to A Discovery of Witches, which I reviewed here.   I rather liked the first one (or was in a generous mood when I read it), but this one left me colder than (take your pick):
  • a witch's tit
  • a vampire's preternatually cool skin
  • a 16th-century London bedroom (remember, no central heat!)
Don't worry, those will all be funny once you've read the rest of the review book.

I knew Diana and Matthew were going to go back in time, but I didn't expect the déjà vu.  Basically, it was like reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, except with a brooding vampire (aside: are there any vampires in popular fiction who aren't either brooding or bloodthirsty?) playing the male lead instead of a red-haired Scot.  Oh dear, magic sends a modern-day woman several centuries back in time, and she has to wear different clothes and she sounds funny and isn't sure if she knows how to get back!  Where have I read that before?

Anyway, Diana conveniently has all kinds of rare witchy powers that make her able to do just about anything, including "timewalking," which means basically she is her own DeLorean.  So when some important book turns out to be all damaged in the present day, she and Matthew head back to 1590 to find the pre-damaged version.  We get to meet Queen Elizabeth in all her decayed-tooth glory, Christopher Marlowe (who turns out to be super-annoying) and William Shakespeare (who is pretty much written as just a Marlowe-wannabe).  There are a lot of discussions about whether or how they're affecting the future by being in 1590.  Discussions that sound eerily like Outlander... or, okay, like any time-travel novel ever.   Except instead of trying to change the outcome of the Battle of Culloden, these characters try to prevent some witch-hunting and -burning.  They fail, because this is paranormal historical fiction, not alternative history fiction, so their attempts were doomed from the start.

Just for fun, let's review a few things that made this book suffer by comparison to Outlander.  Actually, we don't even need "by comparison"; these are just things that make the book bad:

(1) There are confusing, unnecessary supernatural creatures.  Diana's newly discovered familiar is a "firedrake."  It is very carefully explained that a firedrake is not a dragon because it only has two legs.  This is important because some important alchemical illustration turns out to be of a firedrake, not a dragon the way Diana always assumed it was.
And did you notice that the dragon has its tail in its mouth?  And that it's not a dragon at all?   Dragons have four legs.  That's a firedrake.
Fine, that's all well and good.  Firedrakes have two legs, dragons have four. Except:
The last thing we needed was a cavorting firedrake.  My control over the past might have slipped, but I knew better than to let go of a dragon in Elizabethan London.
Wait, what's that?  Oh, now "firedrake" and "dragon" can be used interchangeably?  In other words, a firedrake is just a dragon except when a dragon is too cliché?  

(2) Secondary characters are treated like chaff.   For example, a sweet but secondary character dies off-screen with little-to-no explanation or fanfare.  Maybe the death will be explained more fully and used to motivate some revenge plots in the third book, but it was clumsily and carelessly handled.  That bothered me; he/she/it (trying to avoid a spoiler) deserved better.

(3) The author skipped some pretty basic research.
We'd been married by vampire custom when we mated and again by common law when Matthew had put Ysabeau's ring on my finger in Madison.
Yeah, no.  There are so many problems with that sentence that I hardly know where to begin, but suffice it to say that giving someone a ring does not ever make a common law marriage.  Also, the requirements for a common law marriage vary wildly by jurisdiction.  Some -- including New York, where "Madison" is located -- don't recognize common law marriages at all; others require several years of cohabitation.

(4) Even time travel needs a bit of internal logic.  Matthew was already a vampire in 1590.  To avoid dealing with the icky problem of having two Matthews in the past, the conceit is that the original Matthew magically vanishes when future Matthew returns to the past.  Literally, Original Matthew goes "poof" out in the countryside when Future Matthew timewalks into London with Diana.  Fine.  But Original Matthew is going to reappear when Future Matthew goes back to the future, and here's where I see a major logical flaw. Diana and Future Matthew spend seven months in the past, and are constantly meeting friends, acquaintances, and enemies of Original Matthew.  Diana and Future Matthew even have a wedding ceremony and invite bunches of people!  But when they timewaltz back to their future, Original Matthew -- who is unmarried and doesn't even know Diana -- is going to be left with a hell of a lot of 'splaining to do.  At a minimum he's going to be incredibly confused.  You cannot convince me that no one is going to say, "Hey, Matthew, what happened to your wife?"  I can only assume he will respond, "What wife?" and people will think he's making a Henry VIII joke.  (Don't you think Henry VIII had to ask "which wife?" fairly often?  And there's an Anne Boleyn joke in there somewhere that I would be shocked to find out hasn't be made yet.  Which wife = witch wife, get it?)  Because Henry VIII jokes were timely and topical in 1590.

Also, is it just me, or is Shadow of Night kind of a dumb title?   If I ever call a book Sunlight of Day, go ahead and tell me I suck.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bartlett's Not-So-Familiar Quotations

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern LiteratureBartlett's Familiar Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature by John Bartlett

On Wednesday night, I showed up to my first Brooklyn Book Festival event: pub trivia focused on famous quotations.

You see, this year is the 175th anniversary of publisher Little, Brown & Company, and something like the 150th anniversary of their publication of Barlett's.  That is a lot of quotation publication.

Serious question, though: is there room for a hard-copy reference like this in the digital age? I understand they're developing a ten-dollar app, but how many people turn to an actual book when they want to look up a quotation?  For that matter, how many people are going to pay ten bucks for an app when Google is free?  Even though I retain some nostalgic affection for Bartlett's, I'm supremely uninterested in buying either the hard copy or the app.  At most, I'd pay some sort of subscription to be able to search it online, but even then, someone would have to make a pitch that it offers something more valuable than Google and the dozens of free sites I'll find there.

Back to the trivia.  I love trivia, but this was particularly great trivia because, let's face it, almost all famous quotations are book, film, or history-related, and bibliophiles like me have some advantage in those areas.

It looked for awhile like I was going to be a team of one, but an old law school classmate saved me from this ignominy.  He also contributed greatly to our third-place finish, which is more impressive than it sounds given that we were the smallest team.  He correctly identified Neil Young as the source of some quotable lyric, and for a bonus point, also named the song it was found in (Needle and the Damage Done, if you're curious).

The high point, by far, was winning one of the single-question lightning rounds, and thus earning a free drink.
Q. Who said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it"?
I can't believe my biggest triumph came from identifying a nonsense quotation by a sports icon.  However, I am not one to look a Blind Russian* in the mouth, so I celebrated my free drink even though it sadly was not earned by identifying an obscure but meaningful passage written by a literary giant.
*A Blind Russian is equal parts Bailey's, Kahlua, and vodka, served on the rocks. Basically, it's a White Russian with Bailey's instead of milk, and it is both astonishingly tasty and has magical powers. Just ask my law school roommate; that drink is responsible for our friendship.
I did have a quibble or two with the event, though.  I suppose in anything like this it's impossible not to overlook some extraordinarily quotable people, but I thought it was pretty absurd that there was not a single Mark Twain quotation.  (Fun fact:  our team name, Inspiring the Cabbages, came from a Mark Twain quotation.)  And, despite the fact that we were in the Franklin Park Beer Garden, Benjamin Franklin, -- the father of American proverbs -- was similarly snubbed.  Yet someone at Little, Brown clearly has a thing for Oscar Wilde, because he was the subject of three questions.

More on the Brooklyn Book Festival coming soon!  And, here's a bonus for those J.K. Rowling fans who read this far into the post -- Little, Brown is having a Pinterest-based contest to win:

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

You can read the rules and enter the contest here before the book comes out on September 27.

Good luck, and don't forget to vote in the poll to help me decide what to read for Banned Books Week!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Spoons, Toons, & Booze

I recently discovered that Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hosts a monthly event called Spoons, Toons & Booze. This event is basically an adult version of Saturday morning cartoons at a movie theater. Genius, you say? You don't know the half of it.

First, a ticket to the event itself ($11, if I recall correctly) includes an all-you-can-eat cereal buffet full of sugary favorites (and they even provide soy milk!). Lucky Charms, how could I have gone so long without your marshmallowy goodness?

Second, this theater serves actual food, so you can order Eggs Benedict to forestall the sugar crash. The method for ordering ingeniously allows you to avoid disturbing fellow movie-goers when you order: slips of paper and golf pencils are provided, so you write your order on a slip and place it in a little stand at the front of your table, and the waiter plucks it noiselessly away and returns with your order. No talking!

Third, each cartoon is chosen differently, with varying levels of audience participation. The first one was chosen by popular vote, after inviting a few shouted suggestions from the audience at large. This won:
(Searching for this image, I discovered there is an official Daria Halloween costume. What do you think, too obscure?)

Next, the winner of a brief cartoons-and-cereal-themed trivia contest chose Dexter's Laboratory.
Then, two members of the audience were invited to make impassioned arguments on behalf of their favorite cartoons, and the audience voted. In the battle between Darkwing Duck and Clone High,
Clone High won. For those of you not familiar with Clone High (I wasn't), it was a cartoon on MTV that aired for one season in 2002-2003. In the picture above, from left to right, are the high-school versions of Mahatma Ghandi, Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, and JFK. That should tell you all you need to know about the show, but really, it was much more entertaining than you'd think.

The final cartoon was chosen by secret ballot -- and you got one vote for each alcoholic beverage you'd consumed by that point. Oh, did I not mention that? One of the most amazing parts of this event is that you can order Cereal Shots. Yes, that's Bailey's to put on your Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Or Kahlua for your Cocoa Puffs.

In case you have a weak imagination, Bailey's on Cinnamon Toast Crunch is delicious. Go try it immediately.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Pleasant Journey into Dark Places

Dark PlacesDark Places by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I devoured this book like a cupcake, in three bites, and enjoyed every crumb. Like Gone Girl, this book has a kind of mystery that slowly unfolds as the main character goes through some self-discovery. The narrator goes a bit out of her way to make it clear that she's not very likeable, although I don't think she's as bad as she thinks she is.

Also like Gone Girl, this book comprises several flashback stories -- this time, told from the points of view of several of the important characters, including the dead mother -- as well as the present-day journey of the lone surviving sister.

I found it really interesting to have We Need to Talk About Kevin in the back of my mind as I read this. Lionel Shriver made a very different decision there; we knew the whole time who committed the violence. Here, neither the reader nor the victim knows who the guilty party is for most of the book, but there are similar explorations of the parent-child relationships and the psychology of the suspects.

TL;DR: read it. It's a fast, enjoyable, twisty plot with a great hook and interesting characters.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Red House is Full of People

The Red House: A NovelThe Red House: A Novel by Mark Haddon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You probably recall the quirky narrative voice from the author's previous book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (which, full disclosure, I loved). This time around, though, Haddon shifts the narrative perspective amongst his ensemble cast of four adults and four children. I have discovered that I really, really hate when I start reading a bit of dialogue and have no idea who's speaking. (That's actually the primary reason I abandoned Girl Reading, it drove me so insane.) In this book, I felt like I kept running into passages like this one:
I poured myself another glass of the Monbazillac. As I raised it to my lips something moved in the darkened hallway. Was it the white shoe? My heart hammered, the stimulus rushing through my sensory cortex and hypothalamus to the brain stem, flooding my body with adrenaline. I walked over and found that my coat had slipped off its hook.
The problem was, I didn't remember Monbazillac being mentioned, and what white shoe??? Eventually I realized it was an excerpt from a novel one of the characters is reading, so really, it's just put in there to be confusing, as far as I can tell. Grrrr.

And so when I was about twenty-five pages into this book, I was thinking it would be a close call on whether it managed to get two stars from me. Besides the ongoing problem with knowing whose perspective I was reading from, I also had trouble for the first quarter of the book remembering the characters' relationships. Two adult women and two adult men form two married couples, but one of the women is the sister of the man she's not married to, and I just had trouble keeping it straight. The kids were easier: a teenage boy, rather stereotypically but probably realistically full of hormones; a haughty teenage girl used to being popular but secretly insecure; a misfit teenage girl who's recently found religion, making everyone else a bit uncomfortable; and a pre-teen boy, the kind who begs for a toy sword in a souvenir shop and can entertain himself with it for hours afterward. Perhaps not surprisingly, that last character was easily my favorite:
He occupies, still, a little circle of attention, no more than eight meters in diameter at most. If stuff happens beyond this perimeter he simply doesn't notice unless it involves explosions or his name being yelled angrily.
So it took me awhile to settle into this one, but I'm glad I stuck with it. The stream-of-consciousness style is not my favorite; the sentence fragments can be a bit annoying.
Judy Hecker at work. Awful breath. Ridiculous that it should be a greater offense to point this out. Arnica on the shelf above his shaver. Which fool did that belong to? Homeopathy on the N.H.S. now. Prince Charles twisting some civil servant’s arm no doubt.
But in the end, almost despite myself, I found myself wrapped up in the intricate family dramas -- in the way each person's secrets implicate others, affect their behaviors, and change their relationships. I'd say worth a read, especially given that it's a quick one.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Luminarium is Illuminating

LuminariumLuminarium by Alex Shakar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not quite sure where to start with this one. It's not an easy read, but not a difficult one either. I recommend picking this up when you're in a pensive place, when you need a little musing about the meaning of life, but in engrossing novel form, not thick pretentious philosopher form. In fact, that's how I would describe this book in a nutshell: profound but not pretentious. And that, my friends, is a delicate balance to strike; with the (incredible) exception of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I'm not sure I've ever seen it struck so deftly.

Let's get slightly more concrete. Fred has an identical twin brother, George, who is in a coma after a long battle with cancer. Fred, not surprisingly, is having a bit of an existential crisis. [An aside: for me, I think the "not surprisingly" is important, because as incredibly, stupidly famous as Albert Camus and his Stranger are, I never once sympathized with that narrator, and hated every second of being dragged along on his philosophical journey. Fred, on the other hand, is a sad and complex but eminently sympathetic character; throughout the whole book I wanted desperately for him to figure out his life and everything in it. In other words, I rooted for him in a way that cut through, or survived, all the spiritualist questioning.] Rather on a whim, Fred enrolls in a medical study that turns out to be based on the concept that spiritual experiences can be replicated by manipulation/stimulation of certain areas of the brain and the chemicals therein. For example, a sense of connectedness or oneness with others and with nature can be simulated by messing with the part of the brain that defines the edges of the self, the "this is me, that is not me" perception. The goal, in a sense, is to see if the benefits of spirituality (peace, comfort, a sense of purpose) can be attained without the mysticism of religion: a "faith without ignorance," as the tester puts it.

That sounds a little deep and heavy, right? Well, it is, but it's leavened by the backdrop of Frank and George's company, a sort of Second Life-type immersive reality game called Urth. The problem is, Fred sold the company to pay George's medical bills, and now their game is being remade as a virtual training arena for the "military entertainment complex" [which, as another aside, I think is a brilliant phrase, though I don't know if it's original to this book].

Here's the fun part: without any spoilers, some things start happening to Fred that seem (sortof, although it's not really possible -- is it?) like George, still in his coma, might be orchestrating. Which naturally provides a different but still understandable and fascinating path to the pondering of life and the afterlife and the power of... what? The brain? The soul? The ineffable essence of the self?

Things get a lot more ethereal in the last chapter or so; I'm not even going to lie and tell you that I'm exactly sure what the last few sentences mean or where they're supposed to leave me. But by that point I'd gotten enough out of this book that I was content to just let them be; they're words, and they have meaning, even if I don't understand it yet. Is that my very own existential enlightenment?

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Marriage Plot Thickens

The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really would give this four and a half stars -- it's very close to five. The only thing that keeps me from giving this five stars is that Madeleine's thesis, which I thought would be a fairly continuous thread in the novel (given that it gave rise to the title), dropped out of sight completely for much of the book, such that its mention at the very end struck me as slightly jarring.

The Marriage Plot did an extraordinary job of taking me back to my college days, in the intellectual sense. College is a time when students encounter challenges to accepted modes of thought and discover new perspectives from which to approach age-old questions. This can be experienced both as intellectual excitement (so much to discover! so much is new!) and as intellectual vertigo (nothing is stable! we have to question everything?). I thought Eugenides captured that period perfectly; his characters see so much possibility in the world, but also wrestle with being overwhelmed by it.

One of my favorite things about the book was how seamlessly the perspectives of different characters were integrated. I almost didn't notice the first time the book stopped following Madeleine's story and picked up the path of another character, because the narrator's voice was so consistent. Even though you were seeing inside a different character's head, a character with completely different thoughts and emotions and motivations, it was so clearly part of the same story that I could just relax into the current of the story without worrying about changes of direction.

I mention this because it strikes me as very different from The Dovekeepers, which I also read recently. Though I loved that book too, the changes from one character's story to another were quite abrupt, and each time I worried that I wouldn't like the new narrator or wouldn't identify with her character as strongly as I had the last. I always did, in the end, but it also always took me several pages before I was comfortable with the new voice.

For those of you planning to pick this up, I'll be honest and tell you that the first couple of chapters made me feel a little dumb, as I am definitely not well-versed in the field of semiotics and several of the names dropped were unfamiliar to me. But don't worry, that feeling of being a bit out of your depth doesn't last, and in some ways I thought it was a bit of a brilliant way of reminding the reader how it feels to be treading water in a subject that at the moment is beyond your ken.