Th Reading Lair

Archive for January, 2010

  • Dostoevsky and His Women (or women of hysteria unite)

    Thursday, January 28th, 2010

    Speaking of rabid and swooning women (as we did in last week’s Twilight post), I’m convinced that Dostoevsky went and bought the corner market on that petri dish.

    Don’t get me wrong–I love his female characters. It’s just that, well . . . they’re all kind of insane. Spending weeks (or months in some cases) entrenched in a book with them is akin to something of an extended visit with the world’s most unbalanced mother-in-law. For example, Dostoevsky’s women hardly ever actually say anything. Instead, they shriek, they cry, they interrupt, they moan, and–more often than not–they yell whatever it is they want to communicate at the rest of humanity.

    Take my favorite Crime and Punishment character for instance, Katerina Ivanova. A drama-queen to the hilt (okay, so I might’ve once or twice unfairly referred to her as a 19th-century Perez Hilton). She’s furious at her husband for being alive and drunk, then cursing up his corpse for getting killed and abandoning the family. She accuses her landlady of being heartless and low (which she is), but then proceeds to thoroughly insult the woman’s, er, “heritage” before digging into one of the best cat-fights recorded in literary fictiondom. Not that her hysterics aren’t understandable in light of her life situation; however, it’s the way she performs them which is so disturbingly wonderful.

    What I love about Katerina Ivanova more than anything though is that she is, in essence, an exaggerated variation of each one of us–male or female.

    Her pride and craving for security breed false expectation and a yearning to control. She sets up in her mind the way life is supposed to be–the way she needs it to be–and then alters her view of people and circumstances to support those ideals; to the point that she truly believes in her own illusions. And when life and individuals don’t pan out the way she planned? Her world falls apart. Over. And over. And over. She becomes victimized by circumstance, yes. But more so by her unreal expectations.

    And herein lays Dostoevsky’s genius with his women. They are each a piece of the dysfunction we all possess. Just embellished to the point of hysteria so that we might see ourselves as we are, in the dish, under the microscope of fiction at its best.

    All that said, my reading friendlies, I’ve a question for you. What novel would you recommend as doing an excellent job in its representation of human nature???


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    Posted in Author Tidbits, Best & Worst Books, Dostoevsky, Literary Classics | 12 Comments »

  • A Recipe for Serendipity Cake

    Monday, January 25th, 2010

    To indulge in a scrumptious novel is, in its own way, very much like indulging in Serendipity. It’s a moment taken to digest a stillness not our own. A sweet repose which brings discovery of energies awakening, dreams to bud anew. Through images we’ve not yet known.

    The experience of chanced possibilities is what a good novel offers up. Even a bad novel, for that matter, will at least awaken our senses, if only to result in its being tossed across the room (better still than the worst novels which simply evoke no emotion at all).

    And is this not then the very reason we read our beloved novels? To enliven our souls? To scream at the inner dullness that there is more for us beyond self-improvement and leadership tomes. That, in the midst of our busyness, the soul needs to dream. And for that, a moment of serendipity please.

    And if we might, could we have ours with a bit of cake and tea?

    If given the chance, I’d drag you in to share over a table of china and linen. We’d eat and talk of serendipitous stories we’ve read and loved. Or of those we plan to read. And at one point, when the conversation ebbed out into a comfortable lull, I’d ask you what scrumptious novel you planned to indulge in this year.

    And you would say???

    Well? What novel do you plan to read?

     Serendipity Cake

    •  (best served with lemon curd and a pot of tea)


    • 3 oz. cream cheese (room temp.)
    • ½  cup butter (softened)
    • 1 ½ cups sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 tsp. almond extract
    • ½ tsp. coconut extract
    • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
    • ½ tsp. baking powder
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • 1 cup frozen blueberries
    1. Heat the oven to 325 and spray one bread loaf pan with cooking spray.
    2. Beat the cream cheese and butter until pale.
    3. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy.
    4. Blend in the eggs, mixing well. Then add in both extracts.
    5. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and blend into the wet mixture using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula (mix well, but do not beat).
    6. Fold in the blueberries.
    7. Place into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle a tad bit of sugar over the top for crispness.
    8. Bake for 1 hour. Remove and cool 10 min. before taking cake from pan.
    9. Serve warm or cool by cutting into 1-inch thick slices. Enjoy plain, or with a side of lemon curd.


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    Posted in Reading Recipes | 13 Comments »

  • Twilight Dating Savvy

    Friday, January 22nd, 2010

    or “the way to get girls”

    Is it just me, or are guys really going about this whole Twilight thing wrong?

    Okay, husbands–I sorta get it. You feel a tad threatened that your wives stay up until four in the morning devouring a book they’ve admittedly already drooled into the last two dozen times through. Then you’re forced to come home and hear the crooning and dialogue of the M.D.M.E. (Most Desirable Man Ever) regurgitated over the dinner table. Or worse, during a date-night movie.

    I’ll also allow that, if the roles were reversed and the husbands walked around oozing infatuation over a sparkling vamp babe who sported the body of a Greek goddess, some of us women might be a tinsy-winsy up in arms about it.

    But single guys hating Twilight??? THIS I am at a loss with. So much so, that I finally did a Google search of “twilight + haters” and discovered mountainous listings of blogs devoted to the single-man’s abhorrence of Edward. And you know what I came away with? A conviction that these are, for the most part, ego-blanketed, insecurity support groups. The motto apparently being: “My mom assures me I’m wonderful exactly the way I am.”

    And all the time I’m flipping through these, I’m wanting to ask, “WHAT in the name of heaven is wrong with these people?” Because, at least–what–like 48% of U.S. women have (dare I admit) Edward key-chains, Edward candy hearts (yummy actually), Edward glimmer chapstick, Edward posters hanging above the bed (or in their closets, ahem), Edward action figures (except when one’s husband wouldn’t believe they were for one’s son), and every other assortment of Edward paraphernalia that can be bought at one’s local Wal-Mart.

    Single guys, I’ll clue you in: This is an untapped market for dating savvy. Quit fighting it. Get over the whole “sparkling chest-hair is weird and girly” thing and embrace the emerging genre of glittery guys. Don’t worry that your man friends may laugh and accuse you of being “bitten by rabid fan girls,” or see you as lost to the “deluded and swooning” world of Twilight women. Ignore such criticisms for being the pure jealousy they are; especially since none of these friends have actually read the book. I mean, look on the bright side . . . at least if you read the darn thing you might get to hang out with actual GIRLS (never mind the fact they’re rabid and swooning).

    I’m just saying you should take a hint. You want to know the real way to get girls? Quit the hater support group, buy a Twilight book, and sit out in front of any café in town with the novel propped in front of your face. You’ll be a female phenomenon.

    Or am I REALLY missing something here?

    ‘Cuz you can tell me if I am . . .


    (**highlighted quotes taken from Crunchy Roll; a hater community I’m rather fond of)


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    Posted in Best & Worst Books, Twilight, Undead Leeches | 22 Comments »

  • What Will They Write Next?

    Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

    The power went down at my house today.

    For nine hours. 

    I’d like to say I acted as an uber-fantastic (and slightly romantic) variation of Mary from Little House on the Prairie, only I didn’t.

    Instead, the kids and I imagined we were cavemen eating our dinner of meat and soda over candlelight (this might be related to my husband’s current fascination with the original Conan novels) before we snuggled down and read books in front of the fire. Cozy and unexpected. But fun.

    And while I lay there in front of said fire–half-reading, half-praying that my 4-year-old would quit trying to put out the flames with his spit and just fall asleep–I was also thinking of you, my reading friendlies, and of an entertaining game we should play called “What Will They Write Next?”

    I’ll start us off by naming an author, and then we all come up with what we think (A) the title of their next *hit* book will be, and (B) two sentences describing the plot.

    Here’s the thing: you can be serious, humorous, sarcastic, or downright prophetic–all’s fair in blood and war.


    Author is: J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series)


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    Posted in Best & Worst Books, Games | 15 Comments »

  • Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

    Friday, January 15th, 2010

     or “that which lurks beneath the soul’s surface”


    Sunset unfolds along the Thames River, bestowing the day’s final gilded caresses upon the bow of an old ship and the men who sit waiting for the tide. The luminescent skyline and haze-drenched shores incite the tired memory of one sailor, soon drawing out a bizarre tale set in the heart of the Congo. A story of racism, greed, human depravity, vain ambition, and the choices one makes on their own in the darkest regions of the soul. This, in essence, is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. 

    Told mainly through Marlow, an old, British seaman reflecting back upon his earlier years as a steamboat Captain in a time when the ivory boon was high, and the opinion of African natives unpardonable, Conrad’s novella is barely 95 pages long, and yet a verbose read. Our protagonist describes his venture for a trade shipping company as he travels up a river “resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country” to collect both ivory and a fellow by the name of Kurtz.

    Kurtz’s enigmatic reputation precedes him (for the copious amounts of ivory he yields and the god-like influence he possesses over others, as well as his assured position of title within the company), and Marlow finds himself enrapt, nay—becoming obsessed, with the image of this man. As the swampy, protracted journey continues, Marlow’s absorption expands until, at last, in the afterward of a bloody raid on his ship from local natives, he meets Kurtz face-to-face. Or the creature that is left of him.

    What Marlow discovers in Kurtz is more a ghostly fiend than a man. An individual who, though at one time was very similar to Marlow, has allowed his ambitious ideals and time away from “civilized society” to alter him into a debauched monster. A god among the local natives, he wields his position with fear and cruelty. In their few grim days together, Marlow comes to both loath and pity Kurtz—revolted by the man’s uncouth methods, yet identifying with the desires which have led him to use them.

    It is Kurtz’s famous (and pathetic) cry of, “The horror! The horror!” which sums up the palpable flavor of the book. One wonders if his horror is due to the inability to fulfill his ambitions, or the realization that those ambitions have betrayed him. And what of Marlow’s response? Might his own ideology betray him as well?

    Joseph Conrad does us the gut-wrenching service of challenging the conscience through graphic visuals and an inquiry into Marlow and Kurtz’s personal ethics. Considered semi-autobiographical, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness takes us readers on a journey into the jungles of our own souls, there to breed reflection and discomfort with the hope that we will somehow find our way back out—alive and perhaps even altered for the better.

    What I liked:

    1. Conrad’s use of two 1st person POV characters to tell the story. Creative.
    2. His descriptions of characters and places are fantastic.
    3. The chew quality. Meaning, the more you reflect on the story, the more you take away.
    4. The psychological implications embedded throughout.

    What annoyed me:    The wordiness slows it down in places.

    All right, dear readers, today’s query is simple. Have any of you read Heart of Darkness? Yes? No? Care to share your perspective on it?


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    Posted in Book Reviews, Heart of Darkness, Literary Classics | 15 Comments »

  • A Recipe for Man Soup

    Monday, January 11th, 2010

    I love to eat.

    Especially while reading. Which means that, invariably, whatever I’m snacking on most often during a page-turner becomes associated with that particular book forever after in my mind. Such as Lord Peter Wimsey and eggs with toast and marmalade. Or The Secret Garden and Lemon Soufflé.

    So what am I reading right now? Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. And what am I craving? Man Soup. Don’t ask, because in my more disturbed moments I’m likely to make some uncouth correlation to the cannibals in the book.

    But, why, you wonder, is it called Man Soup? Well . . . because for the life of me I can’t pronounce the real name. Also, every man that eats it LOVES it. As do kids actually.

    Anyhow, I’m going to make Man Soup this week and thought, what the hey—you might want some as well, Heart of Darkness or not. Thus, dear reader, I bequeath upon you the recipe for Man Soup in a Crock-Pot (as stolen from my beautiful cousin, Jenny, and her recipe box).

    Oh–except before you read through it, you have to tell the rest of us what YOUR favorite treat is when reading a delectable story.

    1. 1 ½  cups dry Great Northern Beans *soaked and drained
    2. 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
    3. 1 tablespoon olive oil
    4. 2 medium onions, chopped
    5. 2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
    6. 1 ~ 28oz can plum tomatoes
    7. 2 cans (14 ½ oz each) chicken broth, or 3 ½ cups chicken broth
    8. 2 cups water
    9. ½ teaspoon salt
    10. A sprinkling of various seasonings (Basil, Italian seasoning, Oregano, Thyme, Parsley)
    11. 6 ounces ditalini or tubetti pasta (1 rounded cup)
    12. 5 oz spinach, washed and dried very well, tough stems trimmed and leaves cut into 1-inch wide strips
    13. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


    1. Cook sausage until browned, breaking up with side of spoon. Transfer to crock-pot.
    2. Add oil to pan, add onions and cook until tender and golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Transfer to crock pot.
    3. Add beans, broth, water, salt, and spices to taste.
    4. Cook 6-7 hours on LOW.
    5. About 1 hour to finish, add tomatoes.
    6. About 10 minutes to finish cook pasta. Do NOT add salt to water.
    7. Just before serving add spinach, and you can either add the pasta or put it in the bowls and serve the soup over it. Top with Parmesan cheese. (I find it works best to put the pasta in everyone’s individual bowls otherwise the pasta can get soggy when you reheat the leftovers.)

    And for a faster, non-crock-pot version, simply follow the above instructions but using a pot on the stove and substituting 2 cans of Northern White beans for dried, and a ½ can of spinach for the fresh (and cut out the 2 cups of water). Cooking time is usually about 1 ½ hours start to finish.


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    Posted in Heart of Darkness, Reading Recipes | 22 Comments »

  • The Not-so-favorite Novel.

    Friday, January 8th, 2010

    Admit it: we all encountered a few reads last year which some friend of a friend with dubious taste recommended to us. And despite knowing better, we ingested them anyway during random fits of boredom.

    In my case, a few novels were so lousy I actually returned them to the Library unfinished. And to one lovely gem, I allotted a special place on the bookcase next to my writing cozy just to remind me of how NOT to write. It’s still there. I think I’ve developed a weird kind of fondness for it.

    Quickly now—before someone with honed sensitivities protests over the criticizing of an author’s work or at the indecent questioning of how various manuscripts actually get published—let me point out that I’m simply acting as a responsible, democratic citizen by defending the name of good literature.

    So what was my not-so-favorite, you ask? Hmm . . . I think I’m going to have to go with Anne Rice’s Vittorio the Vampire.

    Don’t get me wrong, dear readers, I very much like Anne Rice. She single-handedly brought vampires to a full other level of exposed coolness. But this book was . . . uh, well, my husband brought it home from the local library thinking any book I’d not yet read on vampires would excite me. Except apparently Anne Rice also does erotic vampire novels. Am I the only one who did not know this? So between the awkward scenes and the passive writing (which, to be fair, was already inclined to be passive because of the past tense, reflective, 1st person POV)—to it I bequeath the golden seat of honor on the “Not-so-favorite” list. Sorry, Anne. But I’ll still defend Lestat to the teeth with you.

    All right, my reading friendlies. Your turn. Check out this short, but wonderfully entertaining list of books to avoid at  The Guardian’s  Worst Books of the Decade. And be honest with us–have you read any of them?


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    Posted in Best & Worst Books, Undead Leeches | 23 Comments »

  • Your Top Novels of 2009?

    Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

    In case you missed it–The Guardian posted their top 50 books of the past decade list. I think you’ll find it an interesting read when you’ve got time, although I confess to feeling mortified at how many books are on it of which I’ve never even heard (and the many more I’ve not yet read). Ergh . . . so many books, so little–well, you know how it goes.

    However, the list idea prompted me to rummage around in my tousled mind and come up with two fiction favorites from the year we’ve all so recently left behind. Keeping in mind, of course, that playing favorites with books is a bit like picking out one’s best child (it all depends on what mood you’re in and which one is currently NOT running with scissors or dipping Barbie into the peanut butter jar). Especially for a girl who’s got five mountainous tome heaps lined up taller than her nightstand beside the bed.

    After much in the way of tears and guilt and indecisiveness, here are the two I came up with:

    An oldie:  Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment

    And a goodie:  a little YA (hey, don’t laugh) called The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

    One of these days I’ll review them both and we’ll discuss. But for now, dear reading friendlies, it’s your turn. WHAT are your top two novel picks for 2009?


    What’s the mood music of the moment? Nightwish:  Phantom of the Opera




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    Posted in Best & Worst Books | 21 Comments »

  • The Reformed Vampire Support Group

    Friday, January 1st, 2010

    or “Simpsons of the vampire world”

    Welcome to my very first post! I guess I should probably tell you what I’m doing with my life and why, but if you haven’t figured it out by looking at the front page of my website, or at the disclaimer above this blog, I’m not sure I can help you. You’ll just have to read on. You’ll figure it out. I’m not that mysterious (although I will admit to possessing an excellent maniacal laugh, if that counts one ounce toward intrigue).

    That said . . . shall we begin our review?

    I’m not swearing Catherine Jinks wrote The Reformed Vampire Support Group as a parody of the Twilight universe. I’m just calling it as I see it.

    If you hate Twilight, chances are you’ll love this book. And if you’re Twi-obsessed, well, then, I’ll give you a 60% possibility of enjoyment. Consider it Twilight on a bad LSD trip.

    What’s different you ask? Hmm. Well . . . imagine your mom as a vampire. The mom you know and love and shudder at when she walks around at seven in the morning in curlers and a hair-net, smoking like a moldy hay-stack and ever-complaining about her over-sized goiter. Except rather than a bottle of gin in hand, she’s drinking blood.

    Weird, right? That’s what I’m talking about. No Edwardian sparkles, no super-human strength, no poetic tangents professing the passionate need to resist the smell of the wine barrel, and definitely no Greek god-like physiques going on.

    The vampires in this universe never age, but their physical bodies do (or more specific–their physical ailments do). Toenails fall off and stay off, and one’s breath is always bad. Add to that the issue of their being terrified of driving, choking, being killed, or interacting with human society on any level and you begin to get the general idea. They hide out in their homes watching TV re-runs and drinking the blood of guinea pigs (which they breed, mind you), attending their once-a-week “I promise to be ashamed of what I am” support group. Thus it is that when one of the members of The Reformed Vampire Support Group gets staked and winds up as a “pile of cat litter” in the bottom of his coffin . . . well, uh . . .

    Maybe you should read it.

    Or perhaps you have? Hmm . . .

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    Posted in Book Reviews, Twilight, Undead Leeches | 12 Comments »

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