on the night circus.

It’s a book, by Erin Morgenstern, about a circus of dreams. Or dreamers. I can’t remember which.

To me, it was more nightmare than dream. Possibly because I have been stranded for several hours, and will be stranded several more, in LAX, waiting on a plane that was delayed by all the bad weather today, and I’m grumpy, and it will be Thursday night before we reach our final destination.

Anyway, the Night Circus revolves around an interesting idea, but it reads more like an outline of a piece that would have served far better as a short story than an actual novel. It’s populated with too many characters, and it’s patched together with a bunch of hasty, non-linear scenes. Some written awkwardly in second person, the rest just written awkwardly.

I’m being completely honest. I downloaded this book on Kindle to read while we travel, so I had no idea what the Night Circus was supposed to be about, and once I got started I couldn’t even tell the primary from the secondary characters. I kept cheering for the wrong folks.

I’ll try to summarize: two old and obviously demented magicians pit their pupils against each other in a never-ending battle of the magics. Actually, it’s more of a competition–who can outdo the other in spells and charms–than a battle. And it all takes places over many, many years–during which the characters (except children) never age or change–at the Night Circus, a black-and-white nocturnal carnival. The two competing magicians eventually fall into passionate, chandelier-shaking love.

I can’t remember what happens after that. I think the only thing I remember is that the Night Circus is supposed to be so magical and enchanting and always smells like caramel and smoke.

Anyway, I sincerely hope that, if you read it, you like the Night Circus better than I did.

Also, happy hump day!

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on In Her Shoes.

The book, not the movie. The only knowledge I have of the movie is that it stars Toni Collette, who is in so many movies that I do like (Sixth Sense, obviously; Little Miss Sunshine, of course; and, more recently, The Way Way Back).

But this is the book, by Jennifer Weiner, and I bought it at our local used bookstore because it was only a couple of dollars and I needed something that I wasn’t emotionally invested in to read during my bubble bath, just in case I splashed water on the pages, and it looked perfect for that. Paperback, already creased, a fat chunk of easy-reading chick-lit.

And it was mostly easy to read, although very rarely actually enjoyable.

My biggest problem? I didn’t like any of these characters. Rose and Maggie are sisters, both complete opposites, so you’d think if you didn’t like one, you’d like the other. Oh, not so.

Rose is incredibly boring. She wears granny panties, eats bran cereal, becomes a dog-walker (or something, I wasn’t really paying much attention at that point). We’re told that she has lots of friends and is successful, and that her closet is overflowing with gorgeous shoes. She is also overweight, which, to me, is just ridiculous. If she eats bran cereal and rides her bike religiously, why are we continuously reminded that she’s overweight? While, on the other hand, Maggie eats terrible food and drinks too much, and she’s thin and beautiful. That just got on my nerves.

Maggie is not at all boring, though less believable a character than Rose. Maggie has a learning disability and an acting career that’s about as successful as Joey’s on Friends (except he does get on Days of Our Lives). She’s immature, needy, steals Rose’s shoes (and eventual co-worker boyfriend), and racks up bills that she never pays.

The majority of the book revolves around Rose and Maggie’s moving in together, fighting, and then Maggie leaving to live in Princeton’s library and discover her future as a basically homeless, literary genius, then subsequent personal shopper, while Rose finds herself in dog-walking (or is it sitting? Can’t remember) and falling rapidly in love with a different (less attractive) colleague.

Honestly, I really do think that Jennifer Weiner is talented and good-humored, but there just wasn’t much going on in this book besides sibling rivalry (and descriptions of all the shoes that Maggie steals from Rose).

So, all in all, this really was a good choice for a bubble-bath.

Happy chick-lit reading!

on the Moon and Sixpence.

It’s like a meandering Great Gatsby, only Nick is further removed from the characters and the story, and Gatsy is a boring and unbelievable (and unbelievably boring) sociopath.

Maybe it’s my problem. I’m no art expert, so I certainly don’t know enough of Gaugin (on whom this little book is based) to appreciate the melodrama and descriptions of isolated Tahitian life. My knowledge of Gaugin doesn’t extend much past his Yellow Christ. I’ll be honest, I doubt I would have even known that those post-impressionist paintings of half-naked Polynesian (?) belonged to Gaugin, except that Somerset Maugham has now enlightened me.

And so I suppose that is one good thing that has come out of my laborious reading of the Moon and Sixpence: I have learned a bit more of art. The Moon and Sixpence

However, should you decide to delve into these tedious and uninteresting pages, be forewarned: Maugham seems to be interested only in examining the life of a poor starving artist, but from a very safe distance. Charles Strickland, who serves as Maugham’s Gaugin (though in this instance, British as opposed to French), is emotionally desolate, uninspiring, and spends the whole of his life repeatedly confirming that he does not care about his family, his friends, or his brief (and eventually suicidal) lover.

I do understand Maugham’s dilemma: delving into the psyche of a great and strange artist would have to be intimidating at the very least. But instead of trying to do so, he steps as far as back from Strickland/Gaugin as possible, through the narrator (whose name escapes me–he does nothing except communicate Maugham’s opinions on Gaugin and women), and the result is like peering through a foggy window at what might be a beautiful landscape, or a decrepit ghetto, but you’d never know the difference for the thick cloudy windows between you and the real world.

Maugham does have a way with words, I’ll give him that. But, perhaps, not so much of a way with plot, or structure, and so his piece serves more as a fictional, lifelong case study than an artsy novella.

Here’s a little sampling of the Moon and Sixpence:

“When a woman loves you she’s not satisfied until she possesses your soul. Because she’s weak, she has a rage for domination, and nothing less will satisfy her.”

and:

“For men, as a rule, love is but an episode which takes place among the other affairs of the day, and the emphasis laid on it in novels gives it an importance which is untrue to life. There are few men to whom it is the most important thing in the world, and they are not the very interesting ones; even women, with whom the subject is of paramount interest, have a contempt for them.”

I’m not opposed to classics, and I would probably have enjoyed this one more if I had a better understanding of Paul Gaugin’s life and art beforehand, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a diehard Gaugin fan.

Happy reading!