Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend. -Author Unknown

Wow, I cannot believe that it’s been a month and a half since I last blogged! It’s kind of funny actually; things have been way crazy-busy in my life as of late, yet I’ve actually been finding more time to read (probably because I’m on the subway more often going here-there-and-everywhere).

Let’s see…I’ll begin where we last left off. I finished up Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. I don’t really know what to say about it since I’ve read it before, and Jane Austen is always amazing. I will say that I find a lot of people think that Jane Austen is old-fashioned (the number of people who think this is probably directly proportional to the number of people who think Jane is sheer awesomeness), but I don’t think Jane Austen is old-fashioned; I thinks she’s witty and intelligent, and I find that even though circumstances are different now, her plotlines still hold a strong resonance with the modern situation. I can’t rank Mansfield Park; Pride and Prejudice is my favourite, Emma is my least favourite, and all of Jane’s other writings are tied in the middle.

After Mansfield Park I read The Coffee Trader by David Liss. Liss sort of has his own unique niche-genre; he writes (for the most part) suspenseful historical fiction that revolves around the stock exchange, and commodities trading and speculation. The Coffee Trader is set in 17th-century Amsterdam, and centres on a Jewish immigrant named Miguel Lienzo. Miguel loses all of his money in a sugar scheme gone wrong, and wants to regain his position in the community. Being Jewish, in 17th-century Amsterdam, Miguel is directly under the influence and power of the Ma’amad (the Jewish governing council), and must keep his money-making scheme, and dealings with the Dutch, secret in order to not incur their wrath. Miguel becomes involved in coffee futures (coffee was a little known commodity in Europe during this period), and must lie, plot and connive in order to get what he wants. The whole complex story is way too involved to get into here (plus, I don’t want to give it away since it’s so good), but it’s quite a bit different from anything I’ve read before. The book was a little longer than I thought it needed to be, but I also think that it would have been very confusing and difficult to enjoy if Liss had shortened it and not spent the time plotting out the steps. I really did enjoy it, and look forward to reading his other books (which are on my Christmas list).

After finishing up The Coffee Trader, I felt that I needed some non-fiction so I decided on False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes by Thomas Hoving. Hoving is the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and has some great stories, but dude (and I love him) he’s got a huge ego! His ego however is a major part of the reason that I find him so enjoyable to read. Hoving styles himself a fakebuster, and in this book he recounts how he started in his career, the fakes and con artists that he’s encountered, and how museum politics affect the world of art forgery. I just love Hoving; the fact that he uses words like “chicanery” makes me love him even more! Hoving is definitely not a born writer; he has a tendency to jump around a bit whenever something pops into his head, but all of his stories are so interesting! I also have another book by him, Making the Mummies Dance, that I have to read; it’s sort of a memoir about his time at the Met.

Now onto my traditional Christmas reading! I didn’t read Dickens’ Christmas Books this year, because I just wasn’t in the mood, but I fed my yearning with three others. First off was The Christmas Tree, authored by Julie Salamon and illustrated by Jill Weber. It’s a cute little tale about finding the Christmas tree for Rockefeller Center, and the special relationship that a nun, Sister Anthony, has with her Norway Spruce (which is eventually picked to be the Rockefeller tree). It is a very sentimental story, I really like it, but it doesn’t have a lot of real substance; the pictures are cute though!

No Christmas would be complete without a little Lucy Maud Montgomery! Every year I read Christmas with Anne and other Holiday Stories, which is a collection of Maud’s holiday themed stories and holiday chapters from the Anne books. There are two chapters taken from Anne books (one from Anne of Green Gables and one from Anne of Windy Poplars), the rest of the stories are ones that Maud had published in turn-of-the-century magazines. My favourites are “Aunt Cyrilla’s Christmas Basket” and “The Josephs’ Christmas”. These stories (I know it sounds cheesy) fill me with warmth, and happiness, and just pure bliss! I love Maud, I love Maud!

My last Christmas-themed read for the season was Maeve Binchy’s This Year It Will Be Different and Other Stories. Maeve Binchy is great; I haven’t talked about her books here yet, because she’s only released one book since I started blogging and I haven’t read it yet. I’ve read everything that she’s written, except for Silver Wedding (only because I bought it, but the pages were all screwed up and I haven’t found another copy yet). Maeve Binchy’s stories and books are always about people and situations that could be real, but she writes in such a wry and witty manner that even mundane daily details become amazingly interesting!

I started reading Measuring the World: A Novel by Daniel Kehlmann (translated from the German) and found it intensely boring from the beginning. I tired to get through it, I really did, but just couldn’t. I’ve put it back on the bookshelf for now, and maybe I’ll try it again someday. Maybe it’s better in German.

After that boringness, I decided on Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Marquez is never boring! I just finished it yesterday, and it was fabulous. I know that I’m reading him in translation, so I can only imagine how poetic it would be to read him in Spanish; everything he writes is so wretchedly beautiful that I don’t really know what to say. It’s more of a feeling that I get when I read, it’s nearly impossible to put into words, but it’s as if Marquez knows something I don’t or has seen something beyond beauty that I will never see. I loved this book (even more than I loved Love in the Time of Cholera, and that’s saying something!); I know I’ll read it again.

I’ve been shuffling along through Return to Treasure Island and the Search for Captain Kidd by Barry Clifford (with Paul Perry). It’s one of those books that I can only read when a certain mood strikes, so I grab it whenever it does. Clifford is an archaeologist and he’s pretty famous in the marine archaeology community for his devotion to finding shipwrecks. He is best-known for finding the wreck of Black Sam Bellamy’s Whydah (Black Sam was a pirate), and the Whydah is the only shipwreck discovered that has been conclusively identified as a pirate ship. In Return to Treasure Island, Clifford and his team go in search of the burnt and sunk remains of Captain Kidd’s The Adventure Galley. Clifford and his co-writer Perry also give a thorough background history on the islands themselves, how Kidd came to be a pirate, and how his story inspired Stevenson’s Treasure Island. So far, so good.

After I finished Of Love and Other Demons last night, I grabbed Toby Young’s memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People off my shelf. I’ve heard some really good things about it and got it used, so I figured I’d give it a shot. He’s hooked me already: he mentioned Evelyn Waugh twice, Woodward and Bernstein, and the Whaleship Essex all within the prologue and first ten pages. So far he’s a man after my own heart, if he wasn’t my Mother’s age…anyways; I think it’s going to be a good one!

Okay, I’m done for now (and out of [metaphorically-speaking] breath). Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivas/whatever-holiday-you-do-or-do-not-want-to-celebrate to everyone!

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