Now Reading: Prince Otto by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is a lesser known work by RLS, and I admit I’m reading it for a couple rather silly reasons: first, it’s a short work (only 181 pages in my edition), and I’ve promised myself to read a few more ‘shorter’ books this year to inflate my total count; second, I was intrigued by the title. “Otto” is a nickname and “handle” of mine in the Buzztime Trivia Network, so I figured I couldn’t NOT read this book when I heard of it.

I’m not quite 25% of the way into it thus far, and I must confess that – although as always I am enjoying RLS’s writing style – not enough is actually “happening” in this book to recommend it. At least not thus far…

What about you? Have you heard of or read this (relatively) unknown book? What about other books by Stevenson.

My Life in Book Titles (2010 Reads)

I lifted this idea from The Roofbeam Reader’s blog.  It kind of reminds me of some of those things you used to see on Facebook or formerly MySpace where you set your iTunes on “random play all” and each song title is the answer to a question, but in this one, I get to pick the answers from the titles of books I read in 2010:

Describe Yourself: Beastly 🙂

How do you Feel: (like an) Outlander

Describe Where You Currently Live: The House Divides

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: (on) Travels with Charley

Your favorite form of transportation: Gone With the Wind

Your best friend is: Mother Night

You and your friends are: The Smartest Guys in the Room lol

What’s the Weather Like: Storm Over the Land

Favorite time of day: Twilight

What is life to you: The Quiet Game

Your fear: Fahrenheit 451

What is the best advice you have to give:  One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thought for the day: Always Looking Up

How I would like to die: Killer Angels

My soul’s present condition: Catching Fire

That was fun.  Care to try it yourself?  🙂

Deal me in!

Fellow blogger “Prongs” – of the Padfoot and Prongs blog fame – posted recently about an idea she had. Her goal is to read 52 books this year (not coincidentally, that’s one per week, isn’t it?), and she already has a list of books she plans to read and has left room for a few “wildcards.” This last term is quite appropriate, as it ties in with how she is going to randomly select which book to read next. She has assigned each book to a particular card in a standard deck of playing cards and will “draw” them one at a time to determine her reading order. (isn’t that great!) At the rate of one per week she’ll be done by the end of the year.

I was inspired to somehow adopt this idea myself, but I wasn’t sure how. I am very “protective” of my reading schedule and don’t like to be bound to mostly obligatory reads. This is why I don’t often participate in challenges or read alongs. Also, I don’t often have a whole year planned out in detail; sure, I have a TBR list a mile long (like most of us), but it is in no recognizable order (possibly ALSO like most of us 🙂 ). So, I thought doing fifty-two books this year was too restrictive for me. Then I thought, “Well, why don’t I just read (draw one card) once every four weeks and read the related book?” that would let me go through the entire deck in just four years. But then I thought, “Jay, you know you could never stick with any project for FOUR YEARS!”

Then it hit me. Short stories! I love the short story form, and I must’ve read about fifty of them last year anyway! So, I could adopt this (way cool) idea for 2011 and apply it to reading short stories WITHOUT seriously affecting my normal reading pattern. Brilliant!! (lol)

My thought is this, I’ll have each suit represent a category of stories – maybe one suit could be stories that are already in my queue (e.g. The last two Stories in Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars collections). Another might be sci-fi or fantasy, another might be re-reads of favorites (ooh, I like that one), but I would definitely want one “suit” to be “Recommended by Others.”

So now I’m off to work to come up with a list, but here’s where I NEED YOUR HELP: please comment and leave me a short story recommendation. I’d love to have one fourth of my stories be recommended by my fellow bloggers. Heck, suggest more than one if you want to. I’ll probably just crate a new page on my blog with the list of what card equals what story as I begin to fill it in. The first two weeks of 2011 I can “cheat” and just finish my Stephen King stories, but after that it’s “game on!”. Who’s with me?

Big Driver (story 2 from Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars)

I posted about the first story in King’s new book a week ago; this second one I wasn’t quite as taken with. “Big Driver” is the story of a female author – seems her specialty (as i imagined it anyway) is a series of “Jessica Fletcher-toned” mystery novels featuring a crime solving cooking club – who encounters misfortune returning from a bookstore appearance and book signing in a nearby town. Actually, misfortune is not the right word; she is violently assaulted and left for dead. Of course, she’s not dead, though. We wouldn’t have a story then now would we?

What I liked: I enjoyed King’s early descriptions of the nature of the book store event, and all of its associated routines and rituals clearly aggregated from years of his own personal experience. I enjoyed the device that King uses to share the protagonists internal deliberations. Her cat, the dog of one of her perpetrator’s accomplices, and even her own Tom-Tom GPS system (creepy!) all take turns serving as her foil as she decides what she is going to do in the wake of her attack. I liked her spunk after being a victim. She decides to take action, rather than the route so many victims of sexual assault apparently take – not reporting the attack. According to the statistics referenced in the story, two-thirds go unreported.

What I didn’t like: The violence. Not a big fan. (of course, there was also plenty of violence in the first story in this collection, which I really liked, so I guess violence is not a deal breaker) I also thought things worked out a little too easily for her towards the end of the story. I mean ***Spoiler Alert!*** are we really expected to believe she’s going to get away with her vengeful killing spree? And her one “loose end” too easily agrees to be complicit in her crime. (fortunately – not surprisingly, though – this particular loose end was also a victim of sexual assault earlier in her life. Overall, not a bad story and an easy read at just over one hundred pages. I suspect, though, that this story will be one I remember almost nothing about a few years from now. Although, now that I’ve started blogging about what I read, I find I’m remembering a LOT more than I used to, so we’ll see…

(above: a Peterbilt 389; the newest truck in the fleet of Red Hawk Trucking (“Big Driver’s” Company)

This is the first short story of my “Deal Me In!” Short Story Reading Project of 2011.

“Golden Anniversary” for my book club

No, not our 50-year anniversary (now THAT would be something…) but our 50th meeting.  We’ve met faithfully once a month since the fall of 2006, and late last year we had our 50th meeting. I can’t really say “Our 50th Book” because we’ve had a few “Short Story Months”/”Ghost Story Months” thrown in along the way, but we’re closing in on our 50th actual book as well.  Our hostess for the 50th meeting collected her copies of all the books we’ve read and put them on her mantle. (picture below) They barely fit! You may also notice the binders she’s made of our short story/ghost story readings (she’s so good).

This is my second ‘serious’ book club for which I’ve had a hand in the founding and administration, the first one lasting maybe 2 years and maybe 20 books.  I think it’s hard for book clubs to stay together for a long time; members’ priorities change (we “lost” two members when they became parents), interest flags, other obligations usurp reading time, and so on.  We’re fortunate to have five of our original members still with us and some good “new blood” in the form of four new members who have joined us in the past 16 months.  Our book club’s web site is now on wordpress too if you’d like to see what we’ve read so far.

I’d be interested to hear from readers about their own book club experiences.  Size of clubs, frequency of meetings, how long they’ve been going on, what types of books you read and how you select them.  Let me know!


Aunt Pittypat’s Chairs…

I’ve read several book blogger’s posts recently about Gone With the Wind, which I read last year as part of my “Project: Civil War” reading. I was reminded that, when on an Indiana State Museum Volunteers tour in April, I visited the Dr. James Ford historic home, which included in its furnishings the actual chairs from Aunt Pittypat’s parlor (I think they said parlor, anyway) in the movie version of Gone With the Wind.  Below is a picture I took which includes the chairs.  Having not seen the entire movie, you couldn’t prove it by me if these were the chairs or not, but I thought I’d share the picture since it seems so many book bloggers love the novel and movie.  Here is a link to my prior post about the tour for the volunteers, and a link to the web site of the Dr. James Ford historic home and museum.

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Function: noun

1: destruction of an employer’s property (as tools or materials) or the hindering of manufacturing by discontented workers
2: destructive or obstructive action carried on by a civilian or enemy agent to hinder a nations war effort
3: a: an act or process tending to hamper or hurt b: deliberate subversion

Player Piano was Kurt Vonnegut’s first published novel (1952). It describes a future America where a second Industrial Revolution has run amuck and a third one is nascent.  A schism is growing between people with “know how” (particularly engineers, but generally those with higher IQs) and those without (who are assigned menial jobs or to the army, or to the reeks and wrecks – kind of civilian manual labor force). To me, this sounded a lot like Huxley’s “Alphas” and “Deltas” from A Brave New World. (in fact, I read that Vonnegut ‘cheerfully admitted’ ripping off plot elements from that classic. BUT, there is no Soma drug in Player Piano to keep everyone pacified, and you don’t hear citizens walking around proclaiming “I’m glad to be in the Reeks and Wrecks!” as Huxley’s Deltas did.

The “upper class” of engineers and “smart people” enjoys greater privileges than their less gifted brethren, and the novel’s protagonist, Dr. Paul Proteus, and his upwardly mobile wife, Anita, are no exception. Proteus, however, is ironically smart enough to sense something is not right with the way things are, and has second thoughts about being a willing part of this social structure. He learns of a growing “resistance” movement in opposition to the
current state of affairs, and eventually becomes swept up in it.

Part of the consequences of this is that he is condemned as a saboteur – the worst thing one can be in this dystopian society.  This term is particularly apropos considering the popularly accepted origin of the word. Legend has it that, in the early years of the actual Industrial Revolution, disgruntled French peasants, who were gradually losing their livelihood due to the emergence of weaving machines, would destroy them by throwing their wooden shoes (“sabots”) into the works of the machines. (below: Sabots – I can’t imagine they’re very comfortable)

This was a consequence of the first Industrial Revolution, described by Proteus in the book as “devaluing muscle work.” The second Industrial Revolution is one that “devalues routine mental work.” Proteus’s secretary wonders aloud “do you suppose there’ll be a third Industrial Revolution?” To which he replies,  “A third one?  What would that be like?”  She says,“I don’t know exactly. The first and second ones must have been sort of inconceivable at one time.”    He says, “To the people who were going to be replaced by machines, maybe. A third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one’s been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines.  That would be the third revolution, I guess – machines that devaluate human thinking.”

While reading this book, I often caught myself pausing and kind of staring off into space as I pondered some of the ideas and themes within.  It’s a good book that can do that to the reader, I think.  The subject matter was somewhat depressing to me, as a card-carrying rat-race participant, but it’s better to think about these things instead of simply burying one’s head in the sand and “trying NOT to think about them.”

This book was also re-published with a different name (Utopia 14 – see pic below) to play to the Sci-Fi crowd and increase sales. I’m not sure which Vonnegut book I’ll read next, but I plan to continue to work my way through them this year…

What about you?  Have you read Player Piano or other books by Kurt Vonnegut?  What were your impressions and which were your favorites?

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