I’ve done a couple of booksy posts here before, to less than overwhelming response. Your apathy does not deter me, people. I love books, possibly even more than clothes. Whoa! Did I just blow your mind a little bit? You might frequent this blog for outfit posts, but today what you’re getting is books. Books, books, books.

Rather than tell you about what I’m reading (which is currently Game of Thrones, and will continue to be until I finish book #5 approximately in November), I’m going to try something a little bit different. I’m going to take a shelf from my home library, and ramble on a bit about the books on it. Kind of like a closet tour, except with books. Ready?

I figured I’d start with a shelf I haven’t really looked at in a while. To be precise, this one:

Witness my glorious Photoshop skills
Witness my glorious Photoshop skills

I like to keep my favourite books handy, so as you might imagine, this shelf (not being at eye-level) is for what I think of as “the other stuff”. Let’s take a closer look.

Left half ...
Left half …

I’m fairly certain that The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear was a bargain bin find from back in the days when I was really into satirical fantasy/sci-fi epics (see also Stanislaus Lem, Christopher Moore, Jasper Fforde). I’m also pretty sure I never finished it, but I probably should. It sounds funny.

A bluebear has twenty-seven lives. I shall recount thirteen and half of them in this book but keep quiet about the rest…

The Best Alternate History Stories of the Twentieth Century is a pretty self-explanatory title. This genre intrigues me, as a sometime history buff (I’m not super dedicated). OK, I’m lying; it mostly intrigues my inner 13-year old, who dreamt is still dreaming about an alternate universe in which she runs away to Tuscany, or possibly Provence, with Crybaby-era Johnny Depp. (That 13-year old is currently horrified that Crybaby Johnny Depp got old and is now apparently the spokesmodel for Derelicte – all the more reason alternate worlds are awesome.) Anyway, personal fantasies aside, I find this genre really hit-and-miss; there are some fantastic stories out there, and a lot of really, really crappy ones – usually involving Nazis. One of my favourites in this compilation is Greg Bear’s “Through Road No Wither”, which – here’s a twist – features Nazis. But it’s actually a really great read, and has an ending that – I promise you – will haunt you for a long time.

The Wapshot Scandal was a freebie. I was fortunate to receive a dozen or so boxes of books from a former professor, who was downsizing his collection; I picked and chose what drew my attention, and gave the rest to my mom and friends. I probably kept this one because the title made it sound potentially juicy, but I never got around to reading it.

I’m embarrassed to say I also haven’t yet read Charlotte Gray. Maybe I should watch the movie? Would that count? Sort of? Ahem, moving on … I did read Veronika Decides to Die, but it was ages ago and I don’t remember most any of it. I do think of it every time I look up Veronika’s Blushing (the blog). That’s from the department of random, by the way.

I liked Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (which I have, but on a different shelf), so I picked up The Courage Consort (short stories) from the bargain bin because, you know, same author. You do that too, right? I can’t remember if I read it or not. I don’t read a lot of short stories, unless they’re mystery/crime ones, or are written by Neil Gaiman. Which this one isn’t. Yeah, my questionable choices are not limited to clothes, obviously. (Not saying these stories are bad. They’re probably really, really good. Sorry, Michael Faber.)

Milan Kundera is one of my favourite writers, and I always feel compelled to buy all of my favourite writers’ works, which is why I have The Curtain. Haven’t read it, though. I’m a bad literature groupie. (Sorry, Milan Kundera. I will forever adore The Unbearable Lightness of Being.)

The Life of God (As Told by Himself) falls in the same satirical fantasy genre as Captain Bluebear; I was sure I read it, but on perusing the back cover, the plot summary rings zero bells, so I probably didn’t read it after all. At this point, you are probably wondering if I read any books at all, and I assure you that I do. Case in point: Summer At Tiffany. Which I wish I hadn’t bothered reading. It’s a loosely autobiographical story about a college student who, in the summer of 1945, moved to New York and started working at the famous Tiffany store. Breakfast at Tiffany this was not. Honestly, it was a bit of a snooze.

Under The Frog … was shortlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize, and that’s about all I can tell you about it. It’s about Hungary from 1944 to 1956, which is described as being “under a frog’s arse down a coal mine” (presumably not a good thing), hence the title. I am fascinated by post-WWII Eastern European history, so I really should get around to reading this, one of these days.

I am certain I read The Road to Wellville, or at least a substantial portion of it. On second thought, I may be confusing it with a non-fiction book about the real-life Dr. Kellogg (begetter of your morning cornflakes). I know the novel was made into a movie, which I am positively certain I did not see. It has a 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a truly random cast (Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, and Matthew Broderick? And Lara Flynn Boyle?! And John Cusack?!?!) that would make it perfect for 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon (is that still a thing, or is my 90s nostalgia showing?) but not for, you know, actual watching. But I digress.

Politics is described as “a novel of sexual etiquette, the Queen Mother, premature ejaculation, the moral life of Milan Kundera, threesomes, the fetishes of dictators, blow jobs, Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, breakups, Mandelstam’s infidelity, selfishness, Bollywood, shopping & pink fluffy handcuffs”. I swear, it says that right there on the front cover. You see why I had to buy it (from the bargain bin, again). I can’t remember now why I haven’t read it.

Lastly, there is The Debt to Pleasure, which appears to be about a guy who likes food, a lot. That should tell you whether I’ve read the book or not. (Not.)

Here is a sneak peek at the second half of the shelf:

Right half ...
Right half …

There are at least 3 books there that I’ve actually read! I’ll tell you all about it next time.

7 Comments on The Reading Shelf

  1. I love Milan Kundera too! I had to read it for a class in Eastern European Literature in college. I started it a few weeks early and ended up staying up all night to read it. I’ve since read it many times; it’s a favorite! I love this passage: “Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short. Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company.”

    And I love this part too: “She was experiencing the same odd happiness and odd sadness as then. The sadness meant: We are at the last station. The happiness meant: We are together. The sadness was form, the happiness content. Happiness filled the space of sadness.”

    Now I am going to have to read it again! Thank you for reminding me what a great book it is!

    • Another Kundera fan, yay! I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being when I was 18 or 19, and it was one of those definitive books of my early 20s. It framed so much of my thinking at that time – not to mention my writing. I haven’t re-read it in years, and I should. It would be interesting to see how I relate to it now, more than a decade later.

    • Your comment made me dig out my copy and look over some of my favourite quotes too:

      “While people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars, they can go about writing it together and exchanging motifs … but if they meet when they are older … their musical compositions are more or less complete, and every motif, every object, every word means something different to each of them.”

      And this:

      “The fact that until recently the word “shit” appeared in print as s— has nothing to do with moral considerations. You can’t claim that shit is immoral, after all! The objection to shit is a metaphysical one. The daily defecation session is daily proof of the unacceptability of Creation. Either/or: either shit is acceptable (in which case don’t lock yourself in the bathroom) or we are created in an unacceptable manner. It follows, then, that the aesthetic ideal of the categorical agreement with being is a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist. This aesthetic ideal is called kitsch.”

  2. I also love the book posts – and covet your wonderful library. The alternate history book sounds interesting – although disappointing with respect to Nazis. There were so many other places where history could have changed long before the Nazis.

    Currently I’m reading Vanished Kingdoms: A History of Half-Forgotten Europe by Norman Davies. Actually re-reading it – it’s a monster of a book but it’s great. TO be fair, some of the stories about medieval kingdoms are a little hard to follow, but some of the later stuff about various Eastern European countries are fascinating.

    • Thanks for the recc! I just ordered it from Amazon, along with A Dictionary of Imaginary Places. I can’t wait to read them!