Seventh Five Books of 2007

complete peanuts charles schultz charlotte bronte jane eyre chip kidd neverwhere neil gaiman jasper fforde eyre affair


35) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, finished May 15
    I first became aware of this book about the same time its first sequel came out. I loved the concept and truly wanted to read them, but didn't have my own copies and just never got around to it. So it goes. ¶ Since moving to El Cerrito, however, I have purchased both books at library sales for the grand total of one dollar and they have been sitting on my shelf with all the other Penguins, waiting their turn. With the completion of Jane Eyre (see #32), that time had come. ¶ The only possible complaint I can offer is that I had read Jane Eyre too recently, but that's being snippish. Let's just say this book was a total and absolute lark and I loved it. ¶ It was not exactly what I had expected, but that's okay. The detective novel voice was okay, the obvious clues and dead ends were okay. The book has no beef from me. I don't know how rabid readers of mysteries feel it fits into their genre, but me, I loved it. I love genre-bending wacko weird delightful brilliant fun intelligent gamey stuff. Bring it on! ¶ The only questions left now are, when will I read book two....and how long till a booksale gives me this...?
    two days

34) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, finished May 14
    I've said it before and I fear I'm just going to have to keep on saying it over and over again: Neil Gaiman's talent does not translate to well to longer work. It just doesn't and I'm sorry. ¶ Gaiman is an excellent story teller; his comics and short stories are exemplary, and many of his novel's more egregious sins would work better in short-story form. I just wish the man would let me read his manuscripts before he publishes them, because I really think I could make a big difference. ¶ And what are Neverwhere's sins? Well, to start with, they only intersect with American Gods's sins at a very superficial level. That's book's primary fault was a horrid, pasty bloatedness, gorging itself on the story's potential. And it was maddening: here was a book that could have been brilliant, irreparably damaged by a couple hundred extra pages; it read like an early draft. ¶ Neverwhere on the other hand is not too long. But it reads like a Terry Pratchett knockoff set in London, rather than Discworld. Now I know why Good Omens read like a Pratchett novel all the way through. (A lesser Pratchett novel, sure, but he writes those sometimes.) This, of course, is not necessarily bad. Not what Gaiman is uniquely empowered to give us, no, but not bad. Just disappointing. ¶ The setting is very Gaiman however, and the characters are split between Gaimain-types and Pratchett-types. But what's the problem? ¶ The problem is, shockingly, the writing. It's gimmicky. It uses Technique when simple telling would do. It expects us to be shocked by the same horror done the same way over and over and over again. It takes cheap shortcuts. It uses grammatical devises to heighten tension. ¶ And the saddest part is, none of those things should matter. None of those devises, in a Gaiman short story, would be a problem. The trouble is, he relies on the same ones over and over for 400 pages. ¶ None of this is to suggest he should not write longer books. Coraline was good, and for all I know Stardust and Anansi Boys may be too. I hope so. Because Neil Gaiman is a very good writer. His books should be edited to reflect that.
    eight days

33) Chip Kidd: Book One: Work: 1986-2006 by Chip Kidd, finished May 9
    This book and the one below it have been haunting my (literally) fevered dreams of late. Either I'm Jane Eyre fighting with St. John Rivers over going to India or napkin dispensaries, or I'm stressing about book design. Of course, in real life, I am stressing about book design, so the latter dream is not just illness playing with my recent readings. ¶ One great thing about Chip Kidd as book designer is he actually reads
    the books he designs for--and often really likes them. Reading this monograph has turned me on to books like Geek Love, The Secret History and Brazzaville Beach that I had 0 interest in before. So he's still selling books! ¶ I had seen this book at a bookstore, but had forgotten about it until Katya pointed me back to it. What a good librarian!
    ten days

32) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, finished May 7
    Lady Steed and I rarely read the same books at about the same time, which is a shame because by the time the other of us reads a book, the first has completely forgotten it. ¶ Well, I've been wanting to reread Jane Eyre for some time now and as Lady Steed's bookclub is reading it this month, I decided to read it as well. And it's still a very good book. ¶ One thing about the Penguin Classics edition, though: DO NOT READ THE INTRO NOR THE FOOTNOTES. THEY'LL RUIN EVERYTHING. It was because of this intro that I no longer read scholarly intros until I've finished books these days. Because this stinkin stoopid intro came with spoilers but no spoiler warnings. ¶ Now. Which Brontë comes next?
    say a couple weeks

31) The Complete Peanuts 1959-1960 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 25
    I love these books. LOVE. THEM. Lady Steed gave me the most recent box set for Christmas, and I just finished the first volume. ¶ It took me quite a bit longer than any of the first four volumes did, but I suppose that's to be expected. First, because there is no way I could keep up my hopped-up breathlessness for fifty years' worth of books, and also because one of the thrilling things about reading these books is reading firsts, as if for the first time. Lucy's first appearance. Schroeder's first appearance. The first time Snoopy stands on his hind legs. Or thinks words. Or Linus's first words. ¶ Not that this book was firsts-free: Sally is born; Lucy sets up shop as a psychiatrist; Linus's first round with the Great Pumpkin---important moments all. ¶ One thing I love about reading Every Single Strip in the order of original release is watching Peanuts develop, strip-by-strip, just as America did fifty years ago. Yet having them all on page together lets Schultz's brilliance shine through. I don't know how obvious it could have been when they were spread out, only one a day. ¶ Anyway, another beautifully designed and produced book for one of the artistic landmarks of the last century. Check out the first book from your library and read it through. You'll see what I mean: It's magic.
    four months


30) Devils & Demons edited by Marvin Kaye, finished April 23
29) Talk Talk Talk: Decoding the Mysteries of Speech by Jay Ingram, finished April 23
28) Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, finished April 20
27) The Long Chalkboard: and Other Stories by Jennifer Allen and illustrated by Jules Feiffer, finished April 19
26) Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, finished April 19
25) Frank by Jim Woodring, finished April 12
24) The Complete Concrete by Paul Chadwick, finished April 3
23) The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde, finished March 30
22) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, finished March 28
21) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller et al, finished March 23
20) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, finished March 16
19) Batman: Gothic by Grant Morrison et al, finished March 13
18) Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, finished March 7
17) Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald, finished March 7
16) 50 Professional Scenes for Student Actors: A Collection of Short 2 Person Scenes by Garry Michael Kluger, finished March 6
15) Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda, finished March 5
14) Frindle by Andrew Clements, finished March 1
13) Brain Wave by Poul Anderson, finished February 27
12) The Best American Comics 2006 edited by Harvey Pekar and Anne Elizabeth Moore, finished February 26
11) Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, finished February 15
10) The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ edited by Mormon and Moroni, finished February 7
9) Lisey's Story by Stephen King, finished February 1
8) The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, finished January 26
7) Empire by Orson Scott Card, finished January 24
6) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, finished January 22
5) Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, finished January 17
4) Superman Adventures Vol. 1: Up, Up and Away! by Mark Millar, finished January 16
3) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, finished January 12
2) Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, finished January 11
1) Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut, finished January 10


  1. So pretty much I don't like Jane Eyre. She's so prissy.

    But I love Villette. Read that one next.

  2. I liked Eyre Affair. I've had a hard time getting into anything else of late, so maybe I should try picking up the sequel and seeing if I can get into that one.

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  4. Though I certainly didn't dislike it as much as you did, Neverwhere did seem a little inconsistent to me. I liked so much about London Below - the way he used the underground system, including stations that had once existed but are no longer open, the way that the Londons of various time periods were all still part of its depths and dimensions. I loved the way that they (the inhabitants of LB) faded out of people's notice when they become part of London Below, and the way that correlated with the experience of the homeless on the streets of London that first gave him the inspiration for the story concept. What I didn't like was the way that superbly rendered characters were thrown together with mere caricatures, or how really great ideas had to share space with the corny ones. I read some advice to writers once (can't recall the source, sorry) that said that a writer should find their most beloved passage in a story, and rip it out, because it was almost certainly less well-written than they imagined. I felt no surprise at all then when I read that Neil absolutely loved the scene in the market where some woman is calling out about all the lovely garbage she's selling, because that was so fake-sounding it was nigh on indulgent to leave it in.

    I honestly didn't notice all this terrible writing you speak of, but in spite of whatever flaws I did notice, in the end for me the overall cancelled out the details. I still loved it. I wish the BBC production of it hadn't been quite so low budget. It was good considering, but could have been so much better.

  5. I loved Eyre Affair and Peanuts. It's been so long since I've read Jane Eyre itself. If you like Jasper Fforde, you may try reading The Big Over Easy. Its main characters are Jack Spratt and Mary Mary, Scotland Yard detectives in the Nursery Rhyme Division. Hilariously funny.