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“The Voyage Out” [A Review]

Virginia Woolf Smiling? Surely not…

Miss Virginia Woolf (Image by spratmackrel via Flickr)

If there’s one thing I love it’s a bitter cup of hot Earl Grey tea. And also Virginia Woolf.

My love for Virginia Woolf has grown to the point where I can honestly say that even my least favorite work of hers that I’ve read (Jacob’s Room, in case you were wondering) is on my top 100 Books Ever List. I’ll be the first to admit that this love runs the risk of making me a terrible reviewer of anything Miss Woolf wrote. I will try, however, to give a level-headed and concise reflection on this novel.

First, let me just say: GAAAAHHHH!!!! THIS BOOK IS SO FUCKING AMAZING!!!!! I WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO IT AND MARRY IT AND GO TO A NURSING HOME WITH IT AND BE THERE FOR IT AS IT DIES AND THEN KILL MYSELF BECAUSE I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!!!!!

Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this:

The novel begins with Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose, a nice couple who set sail with a small collection of family and friends from London, but the cast of characters quickly opens up as their boat arrives in a resort town in South America. The closest that this novel comes to having a main character is Rachel, the niece of Mrs. Ambrose. A young woman who has been brought up in the strict society life of her widower father she follows her aunt and uncle to South America. Her journey introduces her to new worlds, particularly the more liberal world of her aunt. This of course runs the risk of being the physical journey that is a perfect symbol for the character’s emotional, a trope that is often quite stale, but Miss Woolf’s deft use of language and her insight into various types of personalities makes this feel fresh and sprightly. Far from feeling like yet another self-discovery story The Voyage Out feels electric, a characteristic that I find common in Miss Woolf’s writing.

I had several highlights in this book. One of which was the use of Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway. I had fallen in love with this couple in Mrs. Dalloway and it was a treat to see them again, particularly to see them through Rachel’s biting eyes. The Voyage Out introduced me to another couple to fall in love with. Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are young, intellectual male friends staying with each other in the hotel near the house rented by the Ambroses. As a person who likes to project LGBTQ* diversity into every nook and cranny of his life Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are nearly as great a treat as Holmes and Watson are. While Mr. Hewet does indicate his heterosexuality throughout the book (or, as I like to think of it, his bi- or pansexuality) Mr. Hirst definitely read as homosexual to me (or possibly asexual…) I also took delight in trying to decide how much of herself Miss Woolf put into the character of Mrs. Ambrose (the book’s Wikipedia article does say that Mrs. Ambrose is more likely based on Miss Woolf’s sister but I can’t let that ruin my fun).

In The Voyage Out we are given a unique and engaging coming of age story that has Miss Woolf’s characteristic style while still being accessible to new Woolf readers. It also gives us this wonderful quote from Mrs. Dalloway (Chapter 4):

How much rather one would be a murderer than a bore!

5/5 stars.

The Voyage Out. Virginia Woolf. 1915.

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My Top Ten Books

Do you know how hard this was to make? The pain, agony, suffering. Actually, it was really fun and I plan on doing this for my own personal enjoyment every few months just to see how my list shifts around.

And without any more bits of nonsense from me here are my top ten books (in order of favorite-ness).

  1. Mary Poppins P.L. Travers
  2. Journey to the River Sea Eva Ibbotson
  3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling
  4. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Gregory Maguire
  5. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. The Waves Virginia Woolf
  7. The Art of Eating M.F.K. Fisher
  8. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Brian Moore
  9. To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
  10. The Uncommon Reader Alan Bennett

This list is part of my week long series where I post a list a day, mostly because I don’t really have very much time this week and I like lists. Yesterday’s list.

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List of Lists

You know how I really like lists? Well I’ve decided that this week I’m going to post seven posts, one a day, of lists.

Why? Because it’s my damn blog.

To kick things off I’ve got a list of the lists I’ll be posting this week:

Sunday: List of Lists

Monday: My Top Ten Books

Tuesday: My Top Ten Non-fiction Heroes

Wednesday: My Top Ten Artists

Thursday: My Top Ten Fictional Worlds

Friday: My Top Ten Fiction Characters

Saturday: My Top Ten Meals

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Star Trek Enterprise: The First Adventure [Review]

A stylized delta shield, based on the Star Tre...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m always really disappointed when I read a Star Trek book and declare it to be a flop. While reading a poor book in general is always painful I’m constantly jonesing for Star Trek so I crave each moment that I actually get of it to be perfection. Vonda N. McIntyre’s Star Trek Enterprise: The First Adventure is far from perfection.

Thousands of years before the most recent Star Trek movie there wasn’t a strong back story for the Kirk-era crew and in 1986 Ms. McIntyre provided one. One which Gene Roddenberry is quoted on the back of my edition as saying, “I heartily recommend ENTERPRISE: THE FIRST ADVENTURE as a most creative and enjoyable tale of Star Trek’s beginning…”

I heartily don’t recommend it.

I’m sorry to say that it all comes down to Ms. McIntyre’s poor writing and story pacing. While reading through this 371 page soft back novel I couldn’t stop thinking that I was simply bewildered.

Ms. McIntyre’s writing struck me as blocky and awkward. Take this little block of text from page 101:

At the captain’s table, Leonard McCoy got tired of making up excuses for Jim’s absence. After all, it was Jim’s idea to invite the company to sit with him tonight.

“Pardon me just a moment,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

A minute later, the lift let him out in the officer’s territory. He headed toward Jim’s cabin. He felt in better physical condition than he had enjoyed for years. Even the ache of his deeply bruised thigh muscle reminded him of a moment of sheer, terrified exhilaration.

He knocked on the door of Jim’s cabin.

I’m sure that we can all agree that the writing is blocky but the question that I feel needs to be raised is the following: What’s up with McCoy’s thigh? Doesn’t it seem a bit strange of a place to start suddenly talking about McCoy’s physical condition? I can personally say that after reading the novel myself I really can’t answer where the heck that came from. So I’m not a big fan of Ms. McIntyre’s writing, next point.

This novel has a bizarre plot. While the sketchy premise of it is sound (the first adventure of Kirk’s crew, a first contact, tense Klingon hostilities) the actual plot is painful. Each scene feels disjointedly stuck together and the pacing strikes me as one-legged (you know, hard to balance and awkward and all that). Also, there’s too much going on. Here are all the plot points that Ms. McIntyre tries to push out:

  • Kirk and his crew have to adjust to each other.
  • Kirk falls in love with a younger women (shocker!) who doesn’t love him back (actual shocker!).
  • A rogue Klingon stealing a ship and going after the Federation.
  • A first contact.
  • Klingons pursuing said rogue Klingon.
  • A vaudeville company on the ship.
  • Janice Rand’s history.
  • Spock’s potentially homosexual love affair personal issues.

While some authors could pull it off Ms. McIntyre doesn’t really get it together and everything just kinda fizzles around.

There are some elements that are nice. I did enjoy most of the Uhura-Rand backstory and Sulu provided a nice background and McCoy was well-written for chunks of the novel (like I said, she was able to do a few good dialogs between him and Spock) and I felt that this new species provided an example of exactly what Star Trek can do with aliens.

I am so sorry to say that I personally can not recommend this novel.

2/5 stars.

And just in case you want some more prose that’s painful to read here’s some that also happens to feature Bones:

McCoy called the Enterprise. He fumed at the delay of getting a ground-to-space frequency. Why hadn’t he brought along his communicator?

The he though, You didn’t bring your communicator on purpose. For one thing, it’s against the rules. For another, you can’t hear it beep and not answer it. Don’t let the universe drag you back into its modern state of hyperactivity.

He smiled to himself and waited.

Enterprise, Lieutenant Uhura here.”

“This is Leonard McCoy, chief medical officer. What’s the plan?”

“Dr. McCoy! What are your transporter coordinates?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” he said.

The manager recited a set of numbers.

“Stand by to beam on board,” Lieutenant Uhura said.

The cool tingle of dislocation caught him and sucked him away.

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Too Many Books On The Bookshelf

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.

Image via Wikipedia

Careful, I’m about to be blunt.

There are too many books out there.

But I’m not going to get into some big thing over publishers and too many books to make choices and other things that I’ve read in School Library Journal and Newsweek. Instead I’m going to talk about living with too many books to read.

On the surface this sounds like a good thing but I’m sure we’ve all experienced the crippling, catatonic-rendering feeling that comes from standing in a book store and realizing that there are more books that you want to read than there are days left in your life. The immediate option is dropping out of school/quitting work and killing off those who depend on you (children, pets, elderly parents, etc.). Of course after a while you’ll realize that this is irresponsible and illegal (though you will probably get plenty of reading time behind bars so…) so I’m going to propose a new plan.

New Plan!

Instead of dropping off the world and murder let’s look at smart planning (yes, I was listening to Marketplace Money today, why?) To cope with that overwhelming catatonic feeling I was talking about earlier I’ve developed my Book Budget, better known to my whiteboard as The List.

The concept is simple. On my list are seven books. These are the seven books that I must read before moving on to something else. That means that when someone recommends a book to me or I read a great review I can’t just drop everything and go find a copy of this new book. Basically this is just me trying to exercise some self-control.

But say! What if I want to read  Enterprise: The First Adventure but it’s not on my list? Simple, I carefully look over the list to see if there are any books on there that I want to read less than Enterprise, if there aren’t on the list then I put Enterprise on my Shelfari to read list and ignore it until a spot opens. (As it turns out I was able to switch it for A Wizard of Earthsea– it just wasn’t working out for me.)

Basically this stops me from trying to read fifty books at once (I have been caught trying to balance nearly ten books at once and just never finished any of them.)

If you want to look at my short list click here or on the “My Short List” link up top. What books are on your short list?

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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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