Friday, July 29, 2011

Rating System

Amanda, over on the Dead White Guys blog, just posted asking about how people rated books. I'm copying and pasting my comment here, because I'm pretty sure everyone rates books differently. Just like the teacher who hands out As on a rare occasion, my 5 star rating is reserved for something special.

In GoodReads, here is how I have it divided:
5 stars - amazing, life-changing, I will buy a copy if I don't own it
4 stars - solid, good book, might even read again someday
3 stars - okay but not my style, or it didn't live up to the hype
2 stars - just not great, nothing special
1 star - surprised I finished it, a disappointment

What isn't really included here is the way I feel about the rare book I give 5 stars to. It is the book I finish and immediately reread the first bit because I don't want it to be over, or will write fan mail to the author, or stop and read parts out loud because I want to hear them, or literally clasp the book to my chest and take breaks because I want to make it last. That, and only that, is a five-star book.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Man Booker Prize 2011 Longlist Announced

The longlist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize was announced today. I am not ashamed to admit that I do not recognize any of the authors, which means I will learn a great deal as I read through the nominees. Four of the nominees are first-time novelists, according to the news release, so it will be interesting if any of them make it to the shortlist. Three of the thirteen won't be available in the USA by the time the shortlist is announced, and one isn't even listed in yet.

Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
This title won't be available stateside until January 2012

Sebastian Barry - On Canaan's Side (Faber)
This title comes out in the states September 8, 2011

Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate Books)

Patrick Dewitt - The Sisters Brothers (Granta)

Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail - Profile)

Yvvette Edwards - A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)

Alan Hollinghurst - The Stranger's Child (Picador - Pan Macmillan)
This comes out October 11, 2011

Stephen Kelman - Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
Just released last week!

Patrick McGuinness - The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books)
Not even listed in yet

A.D. Miller - Snowdrops (Atlantic)

Alison Pick - Far to Go (Headline Review)

Jane Rogers - The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)

D.J. Taylor- Derby Day (Chatto & Windus - Random House)

I'm starting with The Testament of Jessie Lamb, because it sounded right up my alley based on the descriptions.

Trying to read all the nominees for certain awards is an insanity I started taking on last year. I've also gone back and read a lot of the past winners. My Booker Prize Bookshelf in GoodReads is a mixture of older prize winners and more recent long and shortlisted titles, so feel free to go read my old reviews if you are interested. I can easily say that the two I've enjoyed the most are C by Tom McCarthy and How Late It Was, How Late: A Novel by James Kelman.

Short Stories - St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves; American Salvage

I have been on a short story kick lately. I think when some people go toward light reads during the summer, I go for brevity. Blame lack of attention span, or just a desire to absorb as much as possible - whatever it is, short stories seem to do the trick! Anyone who reads a lot of short stories knows that they aren't always light. In fact, it is an opportunity for a writer to show us just how good they are at their craft, and they have less space to do so. Two authors recently have really wowed me for completely different reasons.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Stories
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reading Poetry

I remember sitting in the AP American History/English Block class I took my junior year of high school, not even trying to contain my skepticism over the symbolism Mrs. Aragon was berating me for not understanding in a poem. I remember thinking - if it is so obvious, why am I not getting it? And what if I see something differently from the teacher? Did each poem get written with some kind of key or legend that students just weren't given (and if so, where could I get my copy)? Understanding the poems of early Americans came with a certain amount of ire, and, well, boredom. As much as I love violets, I still would rather hike through the woods on my own and come across one than read another word of Wordsworth or Longfellow trying to describe them to me.

For a long time, poetry and I - we were through. It felt entirely too academic, and too saturated in historical and mythological references that I never thought I'd entirely grasp. Nobody had to know that I never read any.

At the same time, I have always paid great attention to song lyrics. Sometimes I like songs because of the words, forget the music part. Somehow I had created a mystical divide between song lyrics and poetry, thinking poetry was something dry and academic while song lyrics could be emotional and personal. I'm not sure where the desire to read poetry came back.... somewhere around the time I read The Anthologist and when I started writing for my own entertainment during National Novel Writing Month.

I started devouring poetry again, often reading the collected works of a poet. Mark Strand. Carl Sandburg. The Black Mountain poets. Mina Loy. Emily Dickinson. There wasn't any rhyme or reason to it, but for some of it, I did use the poets mentioned in Baker's book (which I obsessively created an index to). And I found that I could almost always find a poem or two that I really connected with, that touched me on a deep level. It seemed worth it to me, so poetry and I are back on, tentatively.

Without tests to take, without well-meaning teachers instructing me as to the meaning of a poem, here's how I think about it.

1. I skim a volume first. If I'm not finding little tidbits that I resonate with, I put it aside. I am even pickier about poetry than I am about novels. I don't usually care to read long-form poems (although some have won me over, Ginsberg) or dedication poems, and frequently am turned off by poems inspired by art, war re-enactments, or flowers. What is that, 80% of poetry? 90%?

2. If it something I'm feeling into, I skim, then I go back and read more carefully. I find a poem can rarely be fully appreciated in one sitting or one time through.

3. Once I find one I really like, I often read it out loud. It just seems that poetry should be heard, even in my own voice. The last volume of Margaret Atwood poems I read, The Door, included a CD with the poet reading some of her writing, which was a huge asset.

Who is your favorite poet? Do you have anything to recommend to me?