Tag Archives: Arts

“The Thirteenth Tale” [A Review]

Cover to the first edition

Image via Wikipedia

A proper book tells a tale which sweeps you up, tumbles your emotions around, and then sets you down hours later, a changed reader. Dianne Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale does just that, and it does it in the twisting style of the Victorian Gothic story.

Set sometime in the 20th century (I thought ’50s, an online reader felt it was the ’70s, you can make your own call),  the story is as straight forward as a Fusilli Bucati Corti noodle, sure it’s got a direction but it’s got its twists along the way. Margaret Lea is a youngish woman who’s grown up in her family bookstore, a childhood that has left on her the mark of the weight of the stories we tell. A few pages in, her quiet, almost sad, life is shaken to the core when she receives a request from Vida Winter, the most popular writer in the world. Now the novel begins to spin the life story of Ms. Winter, a story in the vein of the Brontës and their contemporaries. As the story of the octogenarian writer unfolds itself, so does the story of Maragaret Lea, a personal, tragic, Woolfian story.

Now, I will not say that Ms. Setterfield is a particularly brilliant writer (as one reader pointed out on Goodreads– she’s quite fond of repeating phrases, particularly “hot, sweet tea”) but she does have quite the intricate brain in her skull. The myriad of subtle twists and turns that Ms. Winter’s personal history takes, the secrets that are quietly revealed, are cunning  and full of misdirection.

She also does something that I personally feel is quite important when writing mysteries. I don’t know about you, but I think that writers need to let us figure somethings out for ourselves. Not the whole enchilada, of course, just little plot points that, when worked out, make us go, “Oh! I am clever, aren’t I?” For example, the information revealed to us on page 349 was something that I was speculating at a few chapters earlier, though the true implications completely shocked me. The fact that I was able to guess made me feel all the more engaged in the novel, made it more relatable.

You really can’t read a review of The Thirteenth Tale without hearing comparisons to the great Victorian Gothics and it does raise the question of whether it’s a worthy comparison. Well, I’m going to cop out of answering that by saying: It’s worth making your own call. I mean, it has the style and personally I found it gripping, but I don’t want to assert anything that I can’t prove. So, pick it up, read it yourself, make up your own mind.

4/5 stars.

The Thirteenth Tale. Diane Setterfield. 2006. Atria Books. 


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It’s National Poetry Month!

Emily Dickinson

Image via Wikipedia

Happy April! Happy National Poetry Month! And if you live in Northern Vermont: Happy Still Having Several Feet Of Snow In Your Yard!

Let’s ignore that last one and focus our attention to poetry. I’m not going to lie, I’m about to weasel out of writing a big post. The fact of the matter is that school’s a bitch right now and updating my blog is important but will not help me get straight “A”s (if you get an “A” in a subject you don’t need to sit for the final exam which means less time in a room thinking about how I know how Harry felt when sitting with Dolores). So here are some of my favorite poems from:

Emily Dickinson

(Who kicks ass all around)

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee.

And revery.

The revery alone will do,

If bees are few.


I taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –

And Debauchee of Dew –

Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –

From inns of molten Blue –

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee

Out of the Foxglove’s door –

When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –

I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –

And Saints – to windows run –

To see the Tippler

Leaning against the – Sun!


Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,

Impatient of no Child —

The feeblest — or the waywardest —

Her Admonition mild —

In Forest — and the Hill —

By Traveller — be heard —

Restraining Rampant Squirrel —

Or too impetuous Bird —

How fair Her Conversation —

A Summer Afternoon —

Her Household — Her Assembly —

And when the Sun go down —

Her Voice among the Aisles

Incite the timid prayer

Of the minutest Cricket —

The most unworthy Flower —

When all the Children sleep —

She turns as long away

As will suffice to light Her lamps —

Then bending from the Sky —

With infinite Affection —

And infiniter Care —

Her Golden finger on Her lip —

Wills Silence — Everywhere —


Best Witchcraft is Geometry

To the magician’s mind —

His ordinary acts are feats

To thinking of mankind.


Witchcraft was hung, in History,

But History and I

Find all the Witchcraft that we need

Around us, every Day —


They shut me up in Prose —

As when a little Girl

They put me in the Closet —

Because they liked me “still” —

Still!  Could themself have peeped —

And seen my Brain — go round —

They might as wise have lodged a Bird

For Treason — in the Pound —

Himself has but to will

And easy as a Star

Abolish his Captivity —

And laugh — No more have I —


Thanks to poets.org and americanpoems.com for helping me get the full text to these non-copyrighted poems.


Filed under The Bookshelf

What Was That?

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

I expected more from you, Grey Lady. --Image via CrunchBase

I like looking at the pictures that result from fashion shoots. Does this make me an expert on fashion shoots or photography? No. I do have a blog though and so I’m qualified to spill my opinion and pretend I know what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about now is a post on The New York Times’ fashion blog. While I’ve enjoyed much of what I’ve seen on the site their “Leapin’ Labels” post from March 11th is something that I really didn’t enjoy. The premise of this alliterated post is something that excited me.  A slideshow showing how “this season’s double-breasted jackets are crazy good”? Count me in.

The four photos in this “interactive slideshow” (I’m not quite sure what was so “interactive” about it. Maybe the fact that you could click the links below to take you to the stores’ websites? Maybe it was the little buttons on the side that allowed you to toggle between pictures? If someone can inform me what was interactive I’d truly love to know.) were disappointing. Basically they violated every rule I have about clothes, photography and life in general (Trust me, I know how pretentious I sound).

Well, they violated my one rule: It should not be busy. These photos featured five models wearing quite bright clothes jumping (thrashing? moshing?) around in front of really colorful city scenes. The effect was similar to what I imagine LSD being like. Often times I could barely pick out individual pieces of clothing as they were obscured by the other clothes and other body parts of the people around them. If the point was to highlight how great double-breasted jackets are it was lost on me as more often then not I couldn’t even see the jackets.

I would like to give the shoot some kudos for including gender-flexibility when it came to clothing: on the second photo I could pick out a cute skull themed skirt on a cute bearded fellow. Overall though I felt like the photos were similar to the photos taken by high schoolers hyped up on Red Bull and enjoying a sunny day out. You could tell that they were having fun but it seems to have been an event that you needed to be there to enjoy.

And thus concludes my rant.


Filed under The Closet

“Unfamiliar Fishes” [A Review]

”]New book

My first brush with Sarah Vowell occurred on This American Life where she is a somewhat frequent commentator. When I first heard her I thought she was amusing, well spoken and quite intelligent. The first book of her’s that I read, Assignation Vacation, reinforced my opinions of her (only change well spoken to kick ass writer) and reading The Wordy Shipmates really reinforced this. Unfamiliar Fishes has only really, really reinforced this.

Unfamiliar Fishes will be Ms. Vowell’s third history book (her other three were about her own life) when it’s published on March 11th. It’s story is one that I think is far too often brushed over: The story of how Hawaii lost its independence and was brought into the U.S. of A. My advanced reader’s copy is only 233 pages but it manages to convey a good hundred years worth of history with ease, starting with arrival of Captain Cook, the social changes that his arrival brought, the arrival of New England based missionaries, the social changes they brought, then the various meddlings of the American business interests (side note: sometimes I have trouble eating Dole bananas) and finally Hawaii’s annexation into America.

Weaving in her own history with the history of her subject is something that I’ve come to think of as a trademark of Ms. Vowell and she repeats this once again, and once again I find that it makes her writing all the more engaging.

Think of that really awesome teacher who’ve had. The really awesome teacher who managed to take History/Chemistry/Shop and turn it into a fascinating class where you didn’t even realize you were learning. The one who’s lectures were hard to stop paying attention to because you found yourself strangely committed to. That’s how I think of Ms. Vowell’s writing. She never becomes more complex then the situation requires, something that I think makes her easily accessed by most. And unlike some non-fiction writers who seem to view themselves as mini-gods with perfect facts Ms. Vowell acknowledges her own opinions and that sometimes the observer effects the results (or so I feel.)

Unfamiliar Fishes is another well written and highly informative text from Sarah Vowell and since she’s still young I think we can hope for plenty more to come.

4.5 stars out of 5.

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“The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet” [Review]

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

Image via Wikipedia

Once again I’m setting a book aside without finishing it and once again I have no regrets. On Wednesday the 26th I finally decided that The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet really wasn’t for me. Which I found sad since it came so highly recommended (“Oh! You should read this! The main character is like you! You’ll Love it!” Bullshit) but I just could NOT get into this little novel.

My trouble revolved around my dislike for Mr. Temcumsah Sparrow Spivet himself, or at least the author’s portrayal of him. One thing that authors seem to struggle with is remembering childhood. More precisely, they struggle with placing an appropriate age for the maturity of their character. T.S. Spivet was one of those characters. While I could accept that he was a twelve year old prodigy with maps or whatever he simply didn’t sound or feel like a twelve year old. I’m fine with characters being younger then me and being smarter then me but the level at which T.S. Spivet was expressing himself was simply too mature for someone his age. I simply could not suspend my disbelief.

The other matter that turned me off was the writing style. Reif Larson seems like a nice writer but he also seems incapable of making up his mind. I found that he seemed to want to use every metaphor and writing trick that came to mind and then would even jump around between those from time to time. Honestly it felt like the book could have used some major editing for style. The best I can say for it was that it was quirky.

2/5 stars out of 5.

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Top 10 Books of 2010

Portrait of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

My favorite read this year. --Image via Wikipedia

I’m jumping on the bandwagon and am publishing a list of my favorite books I read this year. (Hyperlinks are to blog posts that I wrote about the book.)

  1. To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
  2. The Art of Eating MFK Fisher
  3. I’m a Stranger Here Myself Bill Bryson
  4. Mrs. Bridge Evan S. Connell
  5. The World From Beginnings to 4000 BCE Ian Tattersall
  6. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Brian Moore
  7. Tess of the D’Ubervilles Thomas Hardy
  8. Beowulf Seamus Hinley’s translation (bonus points for beautiful printing)
  9. S. John Updike
  10. The Serpent and the Rainbow Wade Davis

I was originally just going to publish the list but the compiling of it was such a bizarre experience that I feel compelled to write about it.

As I watched books that I loved getting bumped off the list (particularly The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart) I realized that the books that were remaining were not the books that I had most loved reading. While most of them were such fun to read the books that remained were the ones that had the greatest emotional response from me as I looked across my Shelfari account. Some of them reminded me of the burst of excited intellectual energy that I got as I read them (The World from Beginning…, The Serpent and…) while others brought back the painful stories that carried a sorrow that was still as fresh (The Lonely Passion…, Mrs. Bridge, Tess…). Of course there were the stories that I still think of daily (To the Lighthouse, The Art of…, I’m a Stranger, Mrs. Bridge.)

As I was compiling this years list I was struck by one thought: Damn, this was one good year for books.


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I Use Online Cartoons To Support My Opinions

Cover of "Barnyard - The Original Party A...

I'm not going to recommend this (Though I might not have seen it.) --Cover via Amazon

All through my life I’ve had one set mindset regarding reviews: Stupid. And then I started reading them. These past few years I’ve been hearing myself say things like: “Well, The New Yorker really hated that. ” (In fairness they hate most things that actually gross over two dollars in the opening weekend.) OR “I want to pick up this book I saw reviewed in Newsweek.” And then I started writing them.

Up to a few seconds ago I was pretty ambivalent about them. It seemed ridiculous (You know what’s ridiculous? The spelling of ridiculous.) that one person should tell me whether or not to watch a movie or buy a shirt based off of their own opinions. I mean, watching that eighty-something year old review Barnyard was just painful, although in the end I did agree with him (a quick note: I am almost completely positive that I watched this and did not enjoy it but in full disclosure I might have just seen the preview, my memories are fuzzy). And then the idea that someone should be basing their opinions off of my crappy blog post just frightened me (not that anyone is really reading this blog but you catch my drift.)

Recently I started justifying my avid reading of reviews in two ways:

  1. There is just way too many books, cds, pairs of underwear, movies, etc. coming out that trying to read/listen to/wear/watch them all is damnedly overwhelming and finding a reviewer who you tend to agree can help to keep you from reading/listening to/wearing/watching crap.
  2. Every once in a while they just shred it (The New Yorker‘s review of Bush’s new book) and that is just terrific good fun. Like a tiger mauling a bunny.

However there was always a part of my brain where I still felt icky about reviews until a few minutes ago when I read this strip from Questionable Content. My mind feels at peace now.

I’m not writing any more about this strip because I have no idea what the copyright laws are and although I would probably meet the strip’s creator if he sued me over it (something I really want to do- the meeting not the being sued) I really, really, really don’t want to be brought to court.

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