Friday, June 01, 2007

Meme, Meme, Meme (Part the One)

There have been a lot of memes going around lately, or maybe it just seems that way to me because I’ve been tagged with a lot of memes after a long meme dry spell. Instead of answering those memes when I received the tag, however, I’ve slacked off to do actually work, spend time in the sun or just read a book. (Also I tend to over-think memes leading to the process taking far longer than it should, and proceeded to do so these last few days outside.)

Well, the slacking (and over-thinking) is over, and I’ve decided to bundle all the memes into one post. If you haven’t answered any of these memes (from Kate or Robin or web or Mary Warner of the Bedroom Reader) feel free to view this as an open invitation to do. I’m horrible at tagging people.

First, Kate’s “Sort of Obscure Books” meme, which was created by the lovely Jennie of Jennie’s B(ook)log.

The rules:

List and describe three of your favorite books that other people might not be familiar with. Then tag five people. See, easy!

My three “not really that obscure, at least I don’t think so” books were hard to come up with because I have a habit of shouting my love of certain titles and authors (Christopher Moore! Lamb! Jonathan Stroud! Bartimaeus!) on this blog with all the fervor and conviction of a newly converted reader. Then, having shouted about them loud and long, I just assume everyone then reads these titles taking them from the realm of obscure to mainstream. Or maybe they were mainstream to begin with and I just missed it somehow because I’m less than observant sometimes. I mean, I looked at this list of “The Best Novels You’ve Never Read” and it is true. I’ve never read any of them. Sold a lot of them, but never read them.

Obviously I am a book failure.

Anyway, here are some books you might not have heard of:

The China Garden by Liz Berry. I picked up a copy of the China Garden many, many years ago (around age 14 or 15) at Powell’s not really knowing anything about it. I don’t know if I just had money to spend or it just looked interesting or what, but I must have picked it up and put it down three or four times. Even after I finally decided to buy it, I think it took me a couple of days to get around to reading it. When I did, however, I was blown away. Here was a really well-written young adult novel with strong world building and mythology. Clare was a strong heroine, and Berry expects her readers to keep up with Clare adventures into a world that draws heavily on old mythology. When I was looking to find a cover to post with this blurb, I ran across the School Library Journal review of this book on Amazon which says (among other much nicer things):

“Ordinary teens will find The China Garden overwhelming, if not incomprehensible. It is very British, full of unfamiliar words and phrases. It is laden with historical, mythological, architectural, and religious references that would baffle many adults.”

The Britishness? Didn’t bother me at all. The unfamiliar words and phrases? It is called a dictionary, my friends. And the “historical, mythological, architectural, and religious references that would baffle many adults” made me think and do research.

Oh, my gawd, Becky! A book that makes you want to go out and learn more. Oh Noooooes, not a book that forces you to think!

I really hate it when people view that as a detraction. More books should try to make their readers think and The China Garden managed to do it without being incomprehensible, in my opinion. It just requires a close reading.

And speaking of books that make you think, if for some reason you haven’t read Katherine Neville’s The Eight yet, you’re missing out. Not only does it make chess interesting, but it made me want to learn about Charlemagne and the 1790s the time period in which one of the storylines takes place). This is a thinking person’s Indiana Jones, or what the Da Vinci Code could have been in very skilled hands. Neville manages to follow two separate stories (taking place in 1972 and 1790 respectively) and wind them around a mythical chess set owned by Charlemagne purported to give the winning player immortality (or at the very least, invincibility).

According to everything I’ve read, The Eight is considered a cult classic, having been reprinted several times since its 1988 release. I known that it frequently pops up on favorite lists of people I follow, and it got quite a boost as a “If you liked the DaVinci Code, then you might like…” book (given that it is slightly more accessible to most than The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, it was a book that I would often suggest). I first learned about it in England when I picked it up at a bookstore in London. I find it far superior to the other novels I’ve read by Neville (or perhaps I was just soured by The Magic Circle) and I hear that she is contemplating writing a sequel. An intriguing, but unnecessary thing, as The Eight is strong enough to stand on its own.

The Idiot Girls Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life by Laurie Notaro (picture forthcoming), ranks up there with Sedaris for me. She tells it like it is--all of life's foibles and our own inability to avoid them--while making you laugh out loud. Oh, and we share the same lack of filter between our brains and our mouths that keep us from saying stupid/offensive/ill-thought out things.

And that concludes the end of part one of "Meme, Meme, Meme" for the moment because the phones are ringing off the hook here at work. I'll hopefully be back to answer the rest of these later.


May said...

I liked The Eight, but wasn't tempted to pick up other Neville books.

I've the Berry book on my wishlist already, so I'll bump it up. :)

trisha said...

Ooh, two of my favorite books. I love The China Garden and The Eight. The China Garden doesn't circulate much at my library, but I can never bring myself to weed it.

And the sequel to The Eight is supposed to be published in Fall '08.

Jennie said...

I bought The Eight years ago and then never got around to it. I should dig it out again. :)

Miri said...

FINALLY. Another person who appreciates the Bartimaeus trilogy!

Your cool factor, already infinte, has doubled.

Yes, it's late. Why am I commenting on a literate blog? No idea.

I've heard that Jonathan Stroud's other stuff isn't that great, though.

Bookseller Chick said...

May, I read The Eight when I was in England which probably infinitely upped its cool factor, but I was unimpressed by the Magic Circle and never picked up her other title.

Trisha, yay for keeping The China Garden in circulation! It needs to be added to a bunch of "if you liked this, you should read this" lists to help up its popularity. I have to admit that I'm a little freaked out by the idea of a sequel to The Eight though. When would it be set? What would it be set around? It stands alone so well that I'm afraid that a sequel won't measure up.

Miri, I've been shouting Bartimaeus loud and wide for a while now. God, I love those books. I haven't had a chance to read Stroud's other novels, but I know that they are quite a bit different than the Bartimaeus trilogy and often in that case it is like comparing apples to oranges. If you go into his other books expecting Bartimaeus, Nathanial and Kitty then you're going to be disappointed, but if you measure them on their own merits I've heard they come out fine. Not that I've read any. My TBR stack grows to more and more dangerous heights every day. No worries on commenting late and I'm glad that my cool factor has been upped!

Kirsten said...

The Eight is one of my favorites too. I recommended it to my book club and was shocked that no one else liked it except for me. I was crushed! And I love Laurie Notaro's writing for the laugh out loud moments it brings me :)

Anonymous said...

I loved The Eight. I bought it back when the first paperback came out, and I only regret never having found a hardcover edition.

But for cheesy, beach reading, I love her second novel, A Calculated Risk

BTW, according to her website, Kathering Neville is working on the sequel to The Eight

CLM said...

I found China Garden in an arc when I worked in publishing, fell in love with it, and ran to the woman who headed my company's juvenile division, begging her to acquire the rights so we could publish it in paperback. She made some excuse not to do so, along with a snide comment about my knowledge of the genre (as it happened, much better than hers because I actually read books that weren't movie tie-ins). After I had moved on to another job, she did buy it and took all the credit. Sad to say, she is still employed and is quite successful.