Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Weekly Poll 12/16/09: Favorite Genres

Getting back on my blog feels like coming home after a long trip--I've missed my blog while I've been busy the past week grading, preparing for finals, writing a presentation, and presenting at a conference in Poland.  Even though I returned from Poland just in time to attack ten stacks of grading work that I need to do, I feel quite calm now that I was able to take the preparation work for the conference off my to-do list.  I can return to a more normal schedule, one that includes visiting my beloved blog more often.  It's so lovely to click on the website and know that my blog will be there waiting for me. . .  And I thank all my readers for their patience while I was away (both physically and mentally).

The poll question from two weeks ago was this:

When it comes to your reading choices, do you have a favorite genre?

Naturally, the two answers to choose from were "yes" and "no."  The results are in (and have been in for a week), and 100% of responders answered "no."

I find this interesting because going into the question, I thought that most readers would have one genre that they preferred reading in over others.  My initial response to the question was that I was sure I had a favorite genre--I just had to put some thought into which one I preferred most.  I thought and thought and realize my so-called favorite genre changed with my reading mood.  Some days I prefer reading young adult books, other days I prefer reading any kind of fantasy book, and yet other days I prefer reading books that fit into a genre all on their own.  I used to be the type of reader that picked up one book and read it from start to finish before starting another book.  Now I've turned into the type of reader that has several books started and reads whichever book suits her fancy for the day.  I'm currently reading The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman (and still loving it), Sherlock Holmes by Sir Conan Doyle (I'm making my way through the complete works), and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.  These three books only have one thing in common when it comes to genre: They are all works of fiction.  So perhaps my favorite genre is simply "Fiction," as I tend to read much more fiction than non-fiction when I read for fun.  But can "Fiction" be a label for reading choices?  I feel like it's entirely too broad to say much about my reading habits (and I feel like using it as an answer is kind of cheating), yet it's the only one broad enough to fit in all my favorites.

The next poll question is up (or will be in about five minutes), so be sure to head over to the left-hand sidebar to get your answer involved in the next weekly poll discussion.

Happy reading in whatever genre suits your fancy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Love Affair with THE ICE QUEEN

Read sometimes for the story....  Don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that.  Read sometimes for the words--the language.  Don't be like the play-it-safers that won't do that.  But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.  --Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis
This quote from Stephen King makes my breath stop--it does more than just take it away, it makes it impossible for me to breathe while my body processes the words.  I am the type of reader that gets carried away with books and their words and their stories.  When I read a good book, I forget that there is a world outside, and I crawl inside the book and live there until I'm finished with it.  I have posted before about how my favorite books are those that have both content and style; I take King's advice and treasure those books.  A while ago, a colleague of mine recommended that I read The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman, and I started reading it a few weeks ago.  The book is so beautiful that I find I'm picking it up in spurts and enjoying it slowly, much like I would a gourmet dessert that I want to make last as long as possible.  I read a few pages, type out all the memorable quotes I encountered in those pages, and then reflect.  I can't push myself to go any faster because I don't want the book to be over too soon.  It's 'joie de lire' at its best.

The book is about a woman who is struck by lightning and survives; her story really begins after the lightning strike, which allows her to open herself up to another person--a fellow lightning strike survivor.  The story is intriguing because it revolves around a woman whose life is mundane at best, yet Hoffman crafts it with such love that I find myself drawn to this woman's story.  The book is so well written, that I find myself wanting to know what it feels like to be struck by lightning so that I can better commiserate with the main character.  I think that's one of the highest recommendations I can give a book--it makes me want to be struck by lightning, and not in a bad way.  The book has rendered me speechless, so instead of focusing on my own musings, I'm going to let Hoffman's words speak for themselves.

Hoffman's descriptions of characters rarely rely on physical traits but rather on personality quirks and beliefs and actions.  One such instance of character description through thought is the following paragraph, which is told from the main character's viewpoint:

I didn't believe that people got what they deserved.  I didn't believe in a rational, benevolent world that could be ordered to suit us, an existence presumed to fit snugly into an invented logic.  I had no faith in pie charts or diagrams of humanity wherein the wicked were divided from the good and the forever after was in direct opposition to the here and now.
As a person who doesn't regularly focus on outward appearances as the definition of people, I appreciate her attention to providing truer descriptions.  Later on in the book, she describes a man as beautiful, but never once stops to justify that description physically but instead focuses on how he is beautiful because of his energy--his raw magnetism.

The main character is a librarian, so Hoffman also provides descriptions of books, reading habits, and libraries.  One description that got my attention is how the character defined her brother in terms of his reading choices; while she is a fan of fairy tales (Grimms' fairy tales--not Andersen's), her brother is not.

He'd always had some comment to make: Genetically impossible for men to turn into beasts.  Ridiculous to imagine that a woman could sleep for a hundred years.  Absurd to think the dead could speak in rhymes and the living could make wishes that come true.  But the logic of fairy tales was that there was no logic: bad things happened to the innocent, children were set out in the woods by their parents, fear walked hand in hand with experience, a wish spoken aloud could make it so.

I like how she boils it down to "the logic of fairy tales was that there was no logic."  This analysis provides more description of the character by showcasing her belief that life is not fair and people do not get what they deserve.  It also shows the distinction between her and her brother: her brother prefers logic while she prefers the illogical.

Hoffman's descriptions of events are also spell-binding.  In the following passage, she describes the moments just before a man (a roofer) got struck by lightning:

Halfway through his work, he heard a hissing sound, and he found himself thinking of hell and whether or not he might end up there, if such a place existed.  His fingers started to tingle.  And then he saw what he thought was the moon falling from the sky.  But the moon had a tail, and that was surely a bad sign.  It was ball lightning; it fell on the roof and rolled down toward him.  It looked like a comet headed straight for him, a blue-black thing that was as solid and real as a truck or boot or a living, breathing man.  The roofer thought he might be face-to-face with the devil himself, that fallen angel.  He thought about everything he hadn't yet done in his life.  All of a sudden owning a dog seemed like the most important thing in the world.
Hoffman is realistic in her depictions of what people think, and I love how the man's last moments before being struck go not toward his family or his life or anything of great importance but instead toward the fact that he had never owned a dog.  I tend to wonder if lives actually flash before people's eyes or if people who say that are just too afraid to admit that their thoughts zoomed in on something insignificant during what could have been the last moment of their lives.

Hoffman also poses fascinating questions through the character's thoughts:

Could you walk into fear as one person and come back as someone else entirely?
If an ice age could be triggered by trivial shifts in the earth's orbit, what might be wrought by a woman in tears?
Are people drawn to each other because of the stories they carry inside?
When I come to questions in the book, I have to stop reading and put the book down to give myself time to think about what is being asked and how I would respond.  Oftentimes, the questions will be followed by the character's thoughts on the issue, and I like to work out how I feel about the questions before I find out how the character answers them.  It's a great thinking practice, and the book is making me more philosophical than I often am.

Happy reading and savoring your treasured books!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Weekly Poll 12/2/09

The voting for the last poll question I asked closed a week ago, but I am just now getting around to writing about the results.  With the holidays and the end of the semester and life in general, I let my blogging slide--so much so that I barely remembered to write this post today, and I only have 46 minutes left before it's no longer Wednesday.

The question asked what you would like to receive if you were to win a contest on a book blog (one much like mine); out of the four choices, which were a book, book paraphernalia, a gift certificate, and other, all the votes were for the same one: a gift certificate.  I find that a wise choice, seeing as how it's not much fun to win a book if you've already got it or if you're not interested in reading it.  With a gift certificate, you get the power to choose, and isn't that something we Americans treasure?

The reason I asked that particular question is that I'm toying with the idea of doing a contest on my blog, and I wanted to find out what my readers would be most interested in receiving as a prize.  With only two votes, I only know what two of my readers want, but I have a sneaky suspicion most readers would agree with the assessment that we'd rather get money to spend however we'd like than get a specific prize.  It's like being on a game show and having the ability to take $15,000 in cash rather than the car that you don't really want.  When I decide exactly what I want to do with the contest, I will keep in mind the fact that my readers would appreciate gift certificates.

Thank you to those who voted, and remember to check out this week's question, which is posted in the left-hand sidebar.

Happy reading and voting!