Frustrated Ramblings and The Archive of the Forgotten

Have you ever tried to remove the battery cover with a coin slot for turning it open?  Those devilishly difficult  covers are on cameras, fit bits, and in my case, the remote for a window shade.  I persevered in this exercise in frustration – because what else do I have to do these days.  I seriously considered keeping the shades where they had landed.  It wasn’t so bad; I could move to another chair when the sun beat in, or just avoid the room altogether.

I tried every coin I could find – a penny, a dime, a quarter.  I dug through my sewing supplies and found a quilting pin.  I pressed a toothbrush and a pen into service to no avail.

I asked google. Surely someone else had had this problem.  Turns out many had posted complaints but no solutions.  But I persevered.  Finally, in an obscure corner of the internet I found a note to use a Euro coin.  I still had one from my travels, and – it worked!

This morning I could finally raise and lower the shades, but the clouds are covering the sun, so the shades remain dormant.

Between my furious attempts to solve my shade problem, I read the ebook the library threatened to take back.  Libby, the online master of library books, had offered me a “skip the line” to a book with a six month waiting list.  The caveat was to finish the book in seven days, not an insurmountable problem, except I forget about it until it was due in two days – thanks to Libby’s threatening reminder.

The Archive of the Forgotten is A. J. Hackwith’s sequel to The Library of the Unwritten, a fantasy story with books in hell, a dead librarian/author with unachieved ambition, and a cast of other worldly characters with issues, mostly concerning stories in books.

If you are a fan of the irreverent “Good Place” series, you will relish Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten.  A librarian who was human but didn’t make it past the pearly gates, Claire oversees books not yet written; the library is in hell.  When one character escapes from his book to meet with his author on Earth, and another soul offers stolen pages from the devil’s Coda in exchange for living among the angels, the action starts, and never falters.  An exciting ride through different worlds where the devils are more fun and the angels tend to be judgmental and arrogant, the book swerves through lives and characters.  Noting the cautionary note to all procrastinating authors (me included) – “there’s nothing an unwritten book wants more than to be written” – I listened to the book on Audible and found myself speeding up the narrative to get to the next chapter.

The Archive of the Forgotten has the same characters with Claire, Hero, Rami, and Brevity continuing the battle to protect the library, while facing a new threat. More of Hell’s Library is revealed – the Dust Wing, where the books that humanity has forgotten end up, and the Unsaid Wing, full of letters and confessions that were never sent. Although the storyline gets more or less resolved, it also leaves points to be addressed in the next book.

I can’t wait for the next fun adventure with books in Hell, and my next challenge with assorted mechanical malfunctions.

 

Reading My Way Through Fantasy Land

Although it may seem these days as though we are living in a strange world, with the virus continuing to spread its tentacles, the government in limbo, and hurricanes blowing furiously, advertisers continue to try to lure shoppers into the fantasy land of everything being fine as long as the latest toys, electronics, and clothing can be acquired for gifts, either to self or others.  After all, don’t we deserve a little comfort?  I’ve been telling myself that for weeks as I munch on cookies and chocolate.

A safer and less caloric path to escape is, of course, reading books.  These days I am indulging in two at once, alternately giving my attention to other worlds in The House in the Cerulean Sea on my Libby Library ebook account, and Alix Harrow’s new The Once and Future Witches, a hardback I can hold in my hands and throw at the television when the news gets too frustrating. I do conveniently miss; I wouldn’t want to destroy my source of old movies and fictional drama.

A friendly librarian recommended The House in the Cerulean Sea a while ago, and I was happy to see it appear on my phone with a Libby notification.  Linus is an uptight and meticulous auditor sent to review and write a report on an orphanage for magical children, located on the bluest sea imaginable.  Only six orphans are under the care of Arthur  and each has a specialized talent, both scary and humorous – one is a blob, something I can relate to feeling like lately.  As Linus is getting to know each of the children, his initial fears dissipate and he becomes their protector.

In her review, Colleen Mondor notes: “it is about the false promise of blind faith in authority and the courage it takes to challenge that promise. But mostly, it is proof that such precious books as this can still exist and still succeed and are still, very much, needed. Do not discount what TJ Klune has done with this novel, and do not ignore importance of this marvelous treasure he has unearthed for us all..

I am still reading and enjoying this wonderful distraction from the real world, and today, Friday the thirteenth, seems an appropriate day to finish it.

In her second book, The Once and Future Witches, Harrow explores American history and it is just as entertaining as her first book, The Thousand Doors of January.  The witches are three sisters, reunited after years apart, just as the women’s suffrage movement is becoming a force in America in the nineteenth century.  Klune’s book has priority for me right now, so I am including Jessica Wick’s marvelous review for NPR, to tease you into reading.  If you are a fan of Alice Hoffman, you may want to start with this one: “Once Upon a time there were three witches.”

Review of The Once and Future Witches

My Review of The Thousand Doors of January

 

Comparing The Undoing and You Should Have Known

Caught up in the new HBO series The Undoing with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, I could not remember much about it, despite  having read the book it was based on, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz when it was first published.   Remembering the plot of a book I’d read five years ago was improbable for me;  I had the haunting feeling the young son had done it, but that could have been the plot of a number of books I’ve read since then.

Then I saw an interview with one of the lead actors on the Stephen Colbert Late Show. An older Hugh Grant was still handsome with the well modulated voice of British wealth and privilege; I knew him from romantic leads like Notting Hill but I also remembered his villainous role in Paddington 2. When Grant spoke of what Colbert referred to uncomfortably as “Barbie porn,” Hugh Grant’s suave demeanor suddenly morphed into a smarmy character. He was good at pretending; maybe he was the killer.

Since I couldn’t wait for the episodes teasing me each week with cliff-hangers, I decided to buy the ebook (now only $7.99) and find out for myself.  As is usually the case, the book was so much better.  I recognized the major constructs in the film, finding many conveniently changed, but curiously, Nicole Kidman’s character, Grace, the psychotherapist, was the focus.  Her husband, played by Hugh Grant, was never on stage.  The reader discovers him through Grace, through his fellow doctors, and by innuendo.

In the HBO series, the plot becomes a mystery thriller, chasing down red herrings, looking for the killer.  Most of the books’s tension is changed from introspection, betrayal, and self discovery to the thrill of discovering whodunit.

I won’t spoil the ending of the book for you, but if you are not an HBO fan or have not begun to watch the series, renamed The Undoing, do yourself a favor and read the book first.

I’ll keep watching The Undoing; it has the same delicious thrill as Big Little Lies with the same writer, David E. Kelley, adapting the book for the screen.  Maybe he changed the ending.

Addendum

The series finale on HBO delivered a thrilling ending, and kept the author’s final nod to the killer with a Hollywood movie flare.

Trying Out a Podcast

I’ve been recording book reviews for the Hawaii Library for the Blind and Print Disabled during this pandemic, converting my audio into MP3 files for patrons.  I’ve thought about starting a podcast as a supplement to my reviews on this blog, but thought I’d try by sharing some my recordings here first.

This file is focused on Halloween stories with enough magical realism and scary tales to carry you through Halloween, and maybe the horrors of the subsequent election coming soon.

Let me know:  if you can access it, what you think, ideas for what you’d like to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

Solutions and Other Problems

Having finally finished Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Cafe (taking almost as long as reading The Splendid and the Vile), I found myself happily ensconced in an easier path to philosophical thinking with Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems.  If you have read her first book, Hyperbole and a Half, you will recognize her cartoonish characters combined with serious thinking. I like books with pictures but tend to shy away from graphic novels. Brosh, on the other hand, offers her heavy insight mixed with a light touch.  It was easy to transfer Bakewell’s evaluation of Sartre to Brosh’s world of grimly smiling characters.

Brosh’s book is full of her own story as she navigates through her sister’s suicide and her traumatic health scare and includes a plethora of sublime and funny vignettes from childhood through her thirty year old self (notice I did not say adulthood). She draws herself as a frog-eyed and neckless stick figure with a blonde shark fin of a ponytail protruding from her head.   She explains why:

“There are a lot of distracting things about humans,” she says. “There are ways we’ve learned to interpret each other, based on all these outside clues. Drawing myself in this spastic, animalistic way allows me to communicate more directly about the things I’m trying to talk about without using this confusing [human] vehicle as a medium.”

Her style works to simultaneously provoke humor and pathos, drawing the reader into funny situations with thoughtful outcomes. Brosh adds her quirky art to a humorous angst reminiscent of David Sedaris talking about his childhood or his favorite pants. Allie Brosh transforms simple stories about her cat, her childhood, and her anxiety into humorous lessons. Some are just laugh out loud funny but others will have you connecting to your own experiences.

Best of all, by exposing her own idiosyncracies, worries, and insecurities, she gives the reader the freedom to admit to some too, and, in the end, become your own best friend. Maybe Solutions and Other Problems was not written to draw us out of our social distancing doldrums in a pandemic, but reading the book sure does a good job of it.

The last line in the book:

Because nobody should have to feel like a pointless little weirdo alone.   Especially if they are.