Monday, August 31, 2009

Two plays

Since they're plays, they're quick to get through, which is why I've put so many on my list. Like for many of you, other reading keeps butting into my list reading.
But there you go, two more down.
Kasimir und Karoline, by Oedoen von Horvath (1932) and
The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1777).
Both are on my list because I've read other works by the same authors.
Horvath gets assigned in high school in Germany, the novel Jugend ohne Gott. He seems to have made his living as a playwright, though, so I chose the one that includes my dad's middle name in the title - as good a reason as any, I think.
I picked up Sheridan to read The Rivals, which is where Madam Malaprop - the namesake of malapropisms - makes her appearance. I liked it, so I figured I'd read another.
I like Horvath's novels more, but, then again, I didn't see this staged, and I definitely didn't see it staged in Germany in 1932, which may have changed my interest. - It included a joke about women always going to the bathroom together, though. Now I wonder when this observation was first made in print. Maybe it's already on the walls of Lasceaux.
Sheridan is full of cutesy witticisms, so it's fun to leaf through.
My favorite line is by Lady Teazle to her husband, early in the play:
Authority! No, to be sure: if you wanted authority over me, you sould have adopted me and not married me. I am sure you were old enough.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

iasa, Progress Report

I spent two months of the summer in Belize so I didn't get much reading done, except for what I had in e-book format.  Although I got lucky. A tourist left behind a copy of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade. I did manage to read the following however, way back at the end of June. 

The Thirty Nine Steps- John Buchan

The Benson Murder Case - S.S. Van Dine

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade - Diana Gabaldon

The Drums of Jeopardy - Harold MacGrath

The Slime Beast - Guy N. Smith

The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndam

I don't feel I can remember the novel in enough detail to give adequate reviews.  Suffice to say they are, barring Lord John, short easy to read novels.  Never too taxing, they were ideal in between nap books.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Matthew, Book Review, *F. Scott Fitzgerald, *The Last Tycoon, *Voltaire, *Candide, *Xenophon, *The Persian Expedition

Three books in one post? I didn't realize that I'd fallen so far behind in posting my reviews, but I am nothing if not forgetful.

I'll start off with The Last Tycoon (1941), which F. Scott Fitzgerald was in the middle of writing when he died of a massive heart attack in his mid-40s. The focus of the story is Monroe Stahr, who in spite of his successes as a movie exectutive is thoroughly unhappy and has nearly succeeded in working himself to death. One night, Stahr has a chance encounter with a young woman who closely resembles his late movie star wife, and his quest to find her again (and later, his attempts to woo her) is intertwined with subplots involving the dozens of other concerns assaulting him from all sides: attempts by business partners to oust him, departmental infighting, employees and their personal troubles, the burgeoning unionization movement, and the romantic advances of Cecelia, the daughter of a rival business partner and narrator of the novel.

While the writing was interesting, what I most enjoyed was reading the outlines, character sketches, and notes he produced as he worked on the novel. Together with the rough first chapters, these extra documents made for a fascinating glimpse into Fitzgerald's writing process, halted forever in mid-stride.

Before I get to the other two books, I want to say that it never fails to amaze me how lively and immediate so many classic books turn out to be once I finally get around to reading them. I've noticed a tendency in myself and others to view works by literary icons like Voltaire and Xenophon as intimidating, unapproachable tomes that exist far beyond the ability of our puny mortal brains to comprehend them. Of course, nearly every time I give a work by one of those monoliths a chance it ends up being as readable and compelling as any great book put out in the last decade, but those experiences never seem to dispel that initial feeling the next time around.

Anyway, on to Voltaire. Candide (1759) is a picaresque novel (think Cervantes' Don Quixote and Fielding's Joseph Andrews) with an extra dose of mordant caricature. Through a fast-paced, wildly shifting plot, Voltaire manages to rail against the evils of religion, politics, warfare, and philosophy (especially philosophy of the optimistic variety) without breaking the novel's tone of humorous naivety. The ending was cryptic enough that at first I thought I might have missed something important earlier in the plot that would have made the final message more comprehensible, but after doing a little research I found that pretty much everyone else has had the same reaction to Candide's ending, which made me feel better about my confusion (or at least as better as I'm likely to feel about being confused). Also, I apologize for being rather vague about plot specifics, but I don't think I could say too much more without ruining the fun of watching Voltaire's plot unfold yourself.

Xenophon's The Persian Expedition (379 - 371 BCE) (the title used on my copy -- the more commonly used name the work is Anabasis) is, if I may be blunt, insanely awesome. The book is an account of Xenophon's experiences as part of a Greek mercenary army led by Cyrus, a Persian prince bent on overthrowing his brother the king. The Greek army marched across Asia Minor, finally engaging the giant Persian army in the Battle of Cunaxa (in the vicinity of modern-day Baghdad). Despite the Persians' superior numbers, the Greeks prove to be the better fighters and Cyrus and his bodyguard almost succeed in killing the king before Cyrus himself is killed.

Naturally, this turn of events does not bode well for an invading Greek army in the middle of Persia. A few days later, the situation gets even worse as the Persians use treachery to capture and execute several of the Greek army's remaining leaders. The leaderless mercenaries are ordered to lay down their arms and surrender themselves into slavery. But instead of giving up, the Greeks elected new leaders (one of them being Xenophon) and managed to fight their way back to Greek soil across hundreds of miles of hostile territory.

Amanda's progress - July & August

Well, I haven't been reading too many books off my list this last little while. Too many other reading challenges I've been trying to complete! Altogether, I've read 4 more in the last two months. Here's what I've read, with brief thoughts about each book and links to the full reviews. All my reviews are located at The Zen Leaf.

1. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf - I would have preferred to listen to this one on audio, but it was pretty good. Still hard to get through like all Woolf seems to be. 3.5 Stars.

2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck - Excellent book, though not as good as the Grapes of Wrath. A little heavy handed with the biblical references near the end. 4 Stars.

3. So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld - A standalone Westerfeld book that doesn't get anywhere near as much attention as it deserves. This ranks among my favorites of his. 4.5 Stars.

4. The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld - Eh. B-grade. Too many big white worms. Everything was too convenient. This is the first disappointing book by Westerfeld I've ever read. 2.5 Stars.

Okay, hopefully September will bring me back with another good set of progress on this challenge. So far, I'm at 24 books read, 3 skipped.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mya Review *The Good Earth* Pearl S. Buck

I just finished this book last night. I have to say, I did enjoy the story. I wasn't necessarily dazzled and awe inspired, but I did like it. I can definitely see why it's a classic, and I would encourage anyone to read it.

In the end, "The Good Earth" is a very good read about life in a time that most of us have never experienced. At its heart, for me, it also felt like a tale of the human condition, of how things can change, and how people change (and don't change) because of that.

This wasn't exactly an all time favorite read, I'll admit. But it was definitely a book that kept me interested, and it was one that made me feel and understand things that I hadn't really considered before. I would say pick it up and add it to your classic collection. Full Review Here: Mya's Blog

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Basics Challenge

I hope people don't mind me mentioning this, but i think many of us here are both writers and readers so i thought you might be interested in The Basics Challenge.

The idea behind the challenge is to stop 'reinventing the wheel' which according to SF Writers of America, means:

A novice author goes to enormous lengths to create a science-fictional situation already tiresomely familiar to the experienced reader. Reinventing the Wheel was traditionally typical of mainstream writers venturing into SF. It is now often seen in writers who lack experience in genre history because they were attracted to written SF via SF movies, SF television series, SF role-playing games, SF comics or SF computer gaming.
The 'reinvention of the wheel' though doesn't just happen in SF and Fantasy but in almost every genre, so its always important (so i've been repeatedly told) to be extremely well read - for both your chosen genre and outside that genre. However, similar to FITG books, i keep putting alot of these books in a TBR pile which i never actually get around to.
So, the Basics Challenge is similar to FITG project except it is focused on the classics/basics of a particular genre rather than a mix of books.

So if your interested in joining up, drop by the blog and/or drop me an email at and i'll send you an invite.

Thank you!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Kokoro, Garp, and Regeneration

In the last couple of weeks I've finished three more books from my list. Though they are very different in plot, context and style, they share one common theme: Guilt.

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki is considered Japan's first modern novel. It is a story reflecting the conflict in Japan between traditional values and the newly-adopted Western institutions. Full review.

The World According to Garp by John Irving is the wild story of a writer struggling against the influence of his tragic personal life on his writing... and much more. Full review.

Regeneration by Pat Barker is the first book in a trilogy depicting the treatment of cases of combat-induced mental illness in Britain in World War I. Most of the characters are historical figures, and the depictions of therapy are taken from actual published case studies. Full review.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Karen's Review, *The Widows of Eastwick, *John Updike

Oops, just realized that I forgot to review The Widows of Eastwick. It was a few weeks ago, so here are my surviving impressions:

--John Updike has a funny relationship with commas, which he later proves is a deliberate style choice by putting in an "excerpt" of Suki's novel.

--Updike is funny, but you have to want it. I find that I have to be actively imagining a robust character, otherwise I'm unaffected by the story. It's like you have to choose to BE in Eastwick with the characters of your own accord, because they don't give enough of a shit about you to convince you.

--Even a legendary author is not immune to bad jacket copy. The widows weren't railing against conformity in any way. Sorry, but no, they weren't. If anything, they were trying to find their way back to conformity, helping people procreate, fixing body parts, trying not to die (seeking equilibrium and a conformity in their physical selves!), trying to make amends in their own way. There are two sides to conformity: there's the square peg/round hole aspect of conformity, which is bad, and there's the moderation and normalcy side of conformity, which can be good; it's how we know whether we've got a problem. Conformity can be where we seek balance, and I think the desire for balance is one of the themes of the novel.

Karen's Review *Jane Eyre, *Charlotte Bronte

Upon finishing and reflecting on Jane Eyre, I think that it would have been a pivotal book in my intellectual development no matter when I had read it, but I'm kind of glad I waited so long. If I had read Jane Eyre as a junior high school-er, I think I would have bonded too fiercely with Jane. I would have imagined her struggles as my own and raged against my teachers and parents even more than I already did. As a high school-er, I would have already been polluted by romance novels and would have been annoyed with long passages that didn't even have the courtesy to be about sex. It would bother me to sit through 520 pages for the prissier version of stories I had read dozens of times before. At 25, the timing was just right!

I was drawn in from the start by the voice, and more so because I wasn't expecting a strong voice in Jane Eyre. Honestly, I didn't think writers had invented real voice yet. My assumption was that Jane Eyre was going to be a chore, and I was going to have to search for the least-dull character in which to invest myself. Not so. She was feisty, observant, and, as was mentioned in the notes, rebellious. She stunned and seduced me in just three pages.

Speaking of pages, I was a bit horrified by the page count.I was sure it was going to go the way of Middlemarch, abandoned halfway through while I convinced myself I was "busy." I had no idea how I was going to get through 520 pages of Victorian-era prose without losing all interest in this project, but here's where Bronte taught me my second lesson in writing: That woman's chapters are tight. There's a beginning, a middle, an end, foreshadowing, conclusion, and a lingering question about what comes next.

That said, Jane Eyre is not going on my "Favorites" list in Amazon's Books application on Facebook. I found Jane Eyre readable and educational, and it made me think about writing and character development and what it means to be a writer, but it didn't make me giggle, it didn't make me cry, and it didn't make me want to tell everyone to go read this book. Maybe every writer ought to, but certainly not every person. While I liked her voice and personality, I found her lack of interest in her inheritance to be wholly implausible, because Jane Eyre is actually a pretty prideful and self-interested character; she's quick to judge, assess, and rank herself against household members--usually highly. Much is made of her humble traits, but she's not, not really.

Bronte erred in allowing Jane to become aware of her inheritance so early in the book but then NEVER DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. By the second mention of her inheritance without any action on Jane's part, I lost interest completely in what happened to her, and started to read the book with the firm belief that this was merely masturbatory writing; that the book kept going on and on and on pretty much because Bronte just felt like writing.

I'm sure I'm coming at Jane Eyre very much a product of my generation. If I'd been alive and able to read in 1847, I can see how I would have had a different perspective. Which brings me to my last point. I wasn't an English major and I'm no literary scholar, but the long, convoluted, hyper-literary passages and dialogue got me thinking:

1) Did people really talk like that?
2) Wouldn't I have written like that, too?
3) Holy crap, class warfare.

By that I mean: Who the hell has time for all the literary references, the passive voice, and the "hide the ball" story-telling in which the characters indulge? Probably people of leisure and academia. The governesses and the clergy have time to read enough books to refer to them subtly in their everyday speech, because book learning is their, you know, JOB, and Mr. Rochester can because he's got nothing better to do, owing to being loaded and not having to do any real work at all, but the servants speak plainly. They're direct, to the point, and don't pussyfoot about with being coy--well, ok, they do, but they do so much more quickly.

Before getting too rankled, I tried to put myself into a Victorian era woman's perspective. If I'd been fortunate enough to be wealthy, what would I have done all day long? I'd have read. And it would have been the greatest joy of my life, and it would have infected everything I did or said. The same would go for writing.

In a slower-paced world, I think there's a lot more room for literary fiction. Active, direct language is more conducive to moving along a plot, but I wonder if Charlotte Bronte, her peers, and her readers, didn't take a greater joy in the act of deciphering and understanding language than I do. Maybe they loved language for its own sake, while I'm more concerned with what it can do for me. I keep expecting books and writing to change my life, make me think new thoughts, entertain me, DO something. Maybe that's the wrong way to think about it. Maybe I should be changing my life, thinking new thoughts, and, through being an active, engaged reader, I should be entertaining myself.

So. That's what Jane Eyre did to me. You?

PS: Love, love, love Ellen Page of Juno being cast as Jane Eyre. She's perfect for it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Book Blogger Award Nomination.

YAY!! We got nominated for the Book Blogger Award for Best Challenge!!

Congrats Everyone. Fingers crossed!!

And thank you to the person/people who nominated us!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Mya Review *Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant* and *Kane and Able*

It's been so long since I've posted, and I apologize. Real life is like that sometimes, I suppose, but I have kept up with my reading. I've read two more books that were on my list, and I've posted the full reviews on my blog:

"Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" by Anne Tyler

One of the reasons I picked out this book was because of the title. I'm not sure why, but it just sort of yelled, "Mya! Mya you have to read me!" "...Homesick Restaurant" is the story of a family, of four very different people and how they struggled to be a family. The themes in this book are timeless. So, what was the deal with the title? It's in reference to a restaurant and one of the siblings. That's all I'm going to say about it, because really, finding out the truth of the title is like finding the kernel of the story. There is a reason it is considered a classic, and deservedly so. I highly recommend this book. Full Review Here: Mya's Review "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant"

"Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer

Once I'd started reading, I found it very hard to put this book down. Kane and Able is the story of two boys, each born into two very different worlds, and raised in very different ways. The book follows their lives, through personal tragedies (all relevant to early and mid-1900's history) and triumphs. Kane and Able cross swords, unknowingly cross paths, carry animosity for each other, and ultimately find the truth that life is more than vendettas and pride. I would definitely recommend this book, though it's not necessarily for the faint of heart as it deals plainly with some very touchy subjects. Full Review Here: Mya's Review "Kane and Able"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The N-Word and Christ

When we went to Disney World last year, I took along Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. It’s my idea of irony: going to the South to the “happiest place on earth” with a wackily gothic author.

So this year I repeated it (yes, we went again) and upped the ante. Along with A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor (1953), I also brought The Groucho Letters: Letters To and From Groucho Marx (1967) and Witold Gombrowicz, A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes (1971). The only one I actually finished while there was the Guide to Philosophy. (It and the Groucho Letters are highly recommendable.)

But I finally finished the other two as well. At first it’s a little difficult for me to get into O’Connor’s world (see title of post for reasons why), but once I got going, it became more and more engaging and ultimately awesome. I almost feel like reading them once is just a warm-up to reading them again, which I’ll do eventually, but not yet, because “the list” beckons.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

I am alive and I am reading, just very slowly. It's a good thing I joined this group because otherwise I would never complete any of the books on my list. On to the review...

What made me put this book on my list was that my husband read it, finished it, raved about it, and then acted on it. A rare thing for either of us when it comes to a self help book. This book has put a little bit of my faith back in self help books. Some of these people do actually know what they are talking about.

This review will be short and sweet because to me the book was just that. I'm not speaking in terms of length but in comprehension. In short, this man just makes sense. He explains things well and cuts through all the hoopla. I also appreciated the fact that even though the book is primarily about finances he touches on other aspects of life.

He is also truthful and blunt, something I like and can appreciate. His methods are not easy and take sacrifice, hard work, and focus. If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.

Since reading this we have paid off a loan, gone on a spur of the moment trip, fixed a flat the day it occurred, and learned how NOT to touch our stock and let it build. If you need a good financial push then I encourage you to read this book.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

In 1959, the following article appeared in the New York Times:

Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15 [1959] (UPI) -- A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged ... There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.

It piqued the interest of Truman Capote, who set off to Kansas to investigate the murders along with his childhood friend Harper Lee. After extensive interviews, and eight thousand pages worth of notes he wrote In Cold Blood.

Widely considered to be the first of its type, In Cold Blood looks mainly at the relationship between the two killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, but also tells of the Cutter family, and the effect that their murder had on the town of Holcomb. Capote spent six years working on the book, from before a suspect was found right through to the hanging of Smith and Hickcock.

I'd never read any of Truman Capote's work up until now, but I have read the biography Capote written by Gerald Clarke (on which the movie with Phillip Seymour Hoffman is largely based), so I knew a little bit about the book. Whether it is the first 'non fiction novel' or not, it's still a pretty amazing piece of journalism - a book like Underbelly owes a pretty big debt to this book I think.

I read somewhere that some people criticised the book for humanising the killers, especially Perry Smith, to the point where people accused Capote of having an affair with Smith while he was on death row. I guess in a way its true, in that Smith seemed much more sympathetic than Hickcox, but by the end of the book I just about felt sorry for everyone. I liked the idea of Capote taking Harper Lee with him down to Holcomb to gain the trust of the locals. I can imagine how he must have gone over down at the local cafe.

Anyway, I definitely recommend In Cold Blood, especially if you have an interest in investigative journalism. Even if you don't though, it's well worth the read.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Has anyone else read PUSH? I started it last night and finished it today--reading the whole thing only took about 4 hours (and I'm a slow reader, promise).

That said, there's a lot in it to think about in it, and I kinda don't want to read anything else for awhile so I can mull.

I had it on my list because I remember hearing Sapphire on NPR when I was like 13 or 14, I think--maybe on Terry Gross--talking very vividly about one particular scene. It stuck with me and I've been meaning to read it for a long time, but I doubt I would have been ready for it when I was any younger.

Has anyone else read it?

Jen's little update

I've finished one more book on my list! I've spent the summer buying a house/fixing up said house/moving into same, so reading has unfortunately fallen down my list of priorities...also now I can't find the books I want to read, since they're all in boxes. Soon I'll have organization again, and I'll post more often.

This past week I finished Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's a slow-burn thriller--took me a while to get into it, but once I did, I really wanted to know what happened. There are some parts to this book that are not for the squeamish: there's some sexual abuse, gory details about murders, and some truly ugly (personalities, not looks) characters. The first part of the book is *not* about the girl with the dragon tattoo, so at first you wonder where the title came from. But Larsson ties the plot threads together very nicely, so it all makes sense in the end.

Since this is a translation of a book originally published in Swedish and I'm not Swedish myself, I missed some of the references, and had to actually look up what the nickname of one of the main characters meant. And I had no idea where most of the places were--obviously I didn't learn my Swedish geography! I noticed that this book had an ending a la "Return of the King"--just when you thought everything was wrapped up, there are still fifty pages left! But it works, somehow. Larsson answers questions you forgot you had from the beginning of the book and leaves you wanting more. Luckily, he turned in two other manuscripts before he died, so your cravings can be satisfied.

If you like murder mysteries, give this one a try. Of course, you're not even sure if there *has* been a murder at the beginning, which is part of the fun.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Dark is Rising

I decided to listen to this one instead of read it, but it's one more off my list.

Books like this are what make me think that I don't like fantasy. I know I'm going to get a lot of flack for this, but ugh. I did not like this book. AT ALL.

I had two big complaints:

1. Will. I never understood him, or identified with him, or really cared about him. My friend Mary says that this is because I'm an oldest child and Will is very much the youngest child of a huge family. (My friend Mary is too, she also really likes this book.) She says youngest kids just kinda roll with everything and don't question much. I don't know if it's true. Will did. He turns 11 and has to start battling evil and keeps jumping around in time and NEVER BATS AN EYELASH. Let alone think it was awesome that he has super-powers. I just didn't get it!

2. Also how are these signs supposed to help defeat the dark? I mean really? Give me some explanation about what they are and why they're awesome once joined.

3. The magic at play, and Will's powers aren't well explained, and that's fine. I don't need things overly, or even completely, explained. BUT they aren't well defined! Will seems to be able to do anything and everything, but occasionally he can't. And he learned it all by reading a book. Not studying it, but once he read the words he'd remember them forever and then have all the power of the gift of grammery. LAME.

Anyway, this was just so not my cup of tea. But, it's off the list! Yay!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I have finished 3 books on my list since I posted last.

With Malice Toward None - Stephen B. Oates
Everything you ever wanted to know about Abraham Lincoln. Review Here

The Promise of Lumby - Gail Fraser
Living in a small town with some strange people and things happening. Review Here

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen
About a garden, 2 women and the magic of their garden. Review Here

Steven's Update

I've finished three more books from my list since my last update:

Atonement by Ian McEwan - a powerful and multi-faceted novel about love, war, class, guilt, and the literary imagination. Full review.

Neuromancer by William Gibson - an interesting vision of the future (already realized in part) where human and cybernetic intelligence begin to merge. Full review.

them by Joyce Carol Oates - a gritty novel about the lives of the urban poor, set in Detroit from the 1930s to the riots of 1967. Full review.

With nine books down in four months I suppose I'm on pace to finish my list in five years, but there are some 1000+ page monsters still lurking on the list!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dana, Book Review, *The Bridges of Madison County, *Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

My rating:
1 of 5 stars

I will preface all of this by saying that I don't generally read romance, so please don't be offended. And, everyone likes different things, so don't let my review taint you if you want to read this novel.

I hated this book. In fact, I think I would give it zero stars if that didn't seem too mean. I thought it was absolutely terrible.

Very basically the novel is about a photographer who goes to Iowa to photograph some covered bridges for National Geographic. He gets lost, meets a farm wife whose family is away at the fair and they have a torrid affair for a week, exciting all of the passion that she has never felt and all of the commitment that he has never felt. At the end of the week they part and return to their normal lives but never forget their one true love.

There are a wide variety of things that I disliked about the book, so I think I'll just list them. 1. I hate (HATE!) the writing technique where the "writer" has been approached to tell some story and then proceeds to tell it and wraps the whole book up with "well, that's their story." I don't care whether you were actually approached and commissioned or something to write this book. Don't tell me.

2. The actual story is so contrite. It's played and there wasn't enough plot to it. Really? Boy meets girl, boy can't have girl, boy and girl always wonder what would have been.

3. There is no depth to the characters. I hated the descriptions. If I had to read the female character describing her love as "hard" one more time, I might have thrown up. I didn't care about them. I couldn't relate to them.

4. Waller switches between points of view like a forth grader. I had a really hard time following whose head I was in. The reader is bounced around so much, I started to feel dizzy. The transitions aren't smooth. It wasn't well balanced between POVs either.

5. Waller also gets preachy at points. He had his characters spout off some long monologue that you can tell is just the author expressing his own viewpoint. It wasn't good and didn't feel natural.

6. The ending was awful. It ends with an interview of some random guy that knew one of the characters. No, just no.

Now, one might ask, if I thought this book was so terrible, why did I finish it? Because I thought it would get better. It was a bestseller. I honestly thought that something good had to happen in it. Nope, wrong. I really don't know how so many people purchased this book. My only guess is that there are a lot of desperate housewives out there.

As an aside, I got this book from my husband's bookshelf. It apparently was a gift or something. I knew he had read it and when I finished I tentatively asked him if he had liked it. Thank God he said it was awful too. If he loved this book, that might have been grounds for a divorce.

Matthew, Book Review, *Dante Alighieri, *Purgatorio, *Paradiso

I first read Dante's Inferno back in high school when it was assigned to me by an English teacher who decided I needed a challenge, and in the years since then I've read it a few more times (once for a college class, and a couple more times for various research projects of my own devising). But like most people, I never seemed to be able to talk myself into checking out the other two-thirds of the Divine Comedy (1308 - 1321), Purgatorio and Paradiso. I guess reading poetic medieval theology loses its appeal when it doesn't involve demons, grotesque torments, and an infernal hierarchy stuffed to overflowing with Dante's political rivals.

By the end of Inferno, Dante and his guide Virgil (as in the Roman author of the Aeneid) have traveled down through the rings of Hell, passed by Satan in his icy prison at the center of the Earth (yes, the center of Dante's hell is frozen--keep that in mind the next time someone whips out that tired old "when hell freezes over" line), and come out on the other side of the planet to find themselves at the base of Mount Purgatory. Purgatorio takes up the story there, following Dante and Virgil as they ascend the cornices of Mount Purgatory and finishes with them arriving at the Earthly Paradise located between purgatory and heaven. Paradiso then follows Dante and his new guide Beatrice as they ascend through the spheres of the Ptolemaic universe, each of which serves to introduce Dante to a different subgroup of saved souls, and ends with him being allowed to look upon God himself.

I have to admit, it was hard to motivate myself to finish Purgatorio. In many respects, it is the mirror opposite of Inferno. Hell's rings are arranged from the least serious sinners (the lustful) to the greatest (traitors) in Inferno, while purgatory's cornices in Purgatorio are arranged from greatest sin to least; while the damned in hell are trapped against their will for all eternity, the souls in purgatory stay at each cornice of their own free will until they feel they have been purged of that particular sin; and so on. In short, Purgatorio was pretty much everything I feared it would be: a dull, tedious imitation of Inferno, lightened only by sporadic bursts of cattiness directed at various people who had earned Dante's ire.

Imagine my surprise when Paradiso turned out to be deft, innovative, and eminently readable. Granted, it still includes many of the same opaque discourses on the finer points of medieval theology and astronomy, but the rest of the work is fascinating enough to make these digressions bearable. To Dante, heaven exists in an abstract form that is beyond the ability of the mortal mind to comprehend, so what he is shown by Beatrice is an artificial framework used to put a concrete face on a purely ethereal realm. The balance Dante strikes in his poetry between the apparent reality visible to him and the actual reality that lurks behind it gives Paradiso a vitality that helps it to match -- and in some places surpass -- what he was able to accomplish in Inferno.

Becky's Progress: 22 completed

I've finished five more books...

Choldenko, Gennifer. Al Capone Does My Shirts
Heyer, Georgette. The Grand Sophy*
Heyer, Georgette.The Corinthian.
Pearce, Philippa. Tom's Midnight Garden.
Orczy, Baroness. The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Linda P Review *Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants *Ann Brashares

From Amazon:
They were just a soft, ordinary pair of thrift-shop jeans until the four girls took turns trying them on--four girls, that is, who are close friends, about to be parted for the summer, with very different sizes and builds, not to mention backgrounds and personalities. Yet the pants settle on each girl's hips perfectly, making her look sexy and long-legged and feel confident as a teenager can feel. "These are magical Pants!" they realize, and so they make a pact to share them equally, to mail them back and forth over the summer from wherever they are. Beautiful, distant Lena is going to Greece to be with her grandparents; strong, athletic Bridget is off to soccer camp in Baja, California; hot-tempered Carmen plans to have her divorced father all to herself in South Carolina; and Tibby the rebel will be left at home to slave for minimum wage at Wallman's. Over the summer the Pants come to represent the support of the sisterhood, but they also lead each girl into bruising and ultimately healing confrontations with love and courage, dying and forgiveness. Lena finds her identity in Greece and the courage not to reject love; Bridget gets in over her head with an older camp coach; Carmen finds her father ensconced with a new fiancée and family; and Tibby unwillingly takes on a filmmaking apprentice who is dying of leukemia. Each girl's story is distinct and engrossing, told in a brightly contemporary style. Like the Pants, the reader bounces back and forth among the four unfolding adventures, and the melange is spiced with letters and witty quotes. Ann Brashares has here created four captivating characters and seamlessly interwoven their stories for a young adult novel that is fresh and absorbing. (Ages 12 and older) --Patty Campbell --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

I knew I was going to like this book. I'd seen the movie before and love it. I did indeed enjoy the book. I love all the characters and identify with each of them. I love how they are friends and they need each other as much as they need themselves.
Quick read, very funny and charming. Recommended.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Big One Taken Down

I finally knocked another book off my list: An Encyclopedia of Modern American Humor, Bennett Cerf, ed. (1954).

How did a book like this come to be a “gap” in my reading? Two things: first, I’ve read Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor and E.B. and Katharine White’s Subtreasury of American Humor, both of which have turned me on to writers I hadn’t heard of (or simply ignored) before; second, it was among the books my mom took home from her parent’s house after they died, so I thought it might give some insight into my Grandpa (though, in retrospect, it didn’t look well-read). So, when I saw a copy of the book in a used-book store, I picked it up and never read it and finally put it on the “gaps” list to get around to it.

Nearly 700 pages later, I’m not sure it was a worthwhile gap. Maybe if I hadn’t read the other anthologies first, but as it is, Roy Blount’s anthology made me question Cerf’s chapter on “The South” (the book is subdivided first into regions and then into genres) and the Whites’ anthology had already introduced me to the better writers in the collection.

Benchley, Twain, and Perelman are still the cream of the crop for written humor pieces as far as I’m concerned. I love Anita Loos’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which is excerpted here (as it was in the Whites’ book). The nicest surprise was an excerpt from Donald Moffat’s A Villa in Brittany (which I’ve already ordered from ABE books), mostly because of the way he translates the French to English. For example, when a car is about to get a ticket:

What is it that it has, Mr. the Agent? She is to me, the carriage.

Still makes me snicker.

And, for good measure, some Benchley:

People lie in bed and send out to the wine-shops for the native drink, which is known as wheero. All that is necessary to do with this drink is to place it in an open saucer on the window sill and inhale deeply from across the room. In about eight seconds the top of the inhaler’s head rises slowly and in a dignified manner until it reaches the ceiling where it floats, bumping gently up and down. The teeth then drop out and arrange themselves on the floor to spell “Portage High School, 1930,” the eyes roll upward and backward, and a strange odor of burning rubber fills the room. This is followed by an unaccountable feeling of intense lassitude.

Progress for July

Well, I didn't read quite as much this month, but I made a little headway on my list:

Fairies in Tradition and Literature Review
Golden Bough Review
If Not, Winter Review

Then, I finished a few more that are partials - some Shakespeare plays, and the first half of Anne of Green Gables:

Twelfth Night Review
Anne of Green Gables, Avonlea, Island Review
Macbeth Review

It was SO much fun to read Anne of Green Gables again, but the highlight of the month on this list was definitely If Not, Winter, which I highly recommend.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jennbook's Fill in the Gaps List

Hi, all! Long-time reader, first time poster. :) I'm excited to have finally made the 100-book commitment and join the literary self-education.

My criteria for books which made my List: nothing I've ever read before (natch), consciousness of multiculturalism and gender, fiction only (rule happily broken for My Life in France, and a couple of others), repetition of authors only if I felt strongly about the material about which s/he wrote. My List is below, in alphabetical order. Thanks for the inspiration!

1. Accidental Tourist, The- Anne Tyler
2. Age of Innocence, The - Edith Wharton
3. American Wife- Curtis Sittenfeld
4. Anansi Boys- Neil Gaiman
5. Anna Karenina- Leo Tolstoy
6. Atonement – Ian McEwan
7. Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The– Junot Diaz
8. Brothers Karamazov, The - Fyodor Dostoevsky
9. Butterfly and the Diving Bell, The- Jean-Dominique Bauby
10. Candide- Voltaire
11. Catch-22- Joseph Heller
12. Cheri & The End of Cheri- Colette
13. Clockwork Orange, A – Anthony Burgess
14. Color Purple, The – Alice Walker
15. Confederacy of Dunces, A - John Kennedy Toole (10/10/09)
16. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
17. Daniel Deronda- George Eliot
18. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
19. Dead Souls- Nikolai Gogol
20. Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
21. Dombey & Son- Charles Dickens
22. Don Quixote- Miguel de Cervantes
23. East of Eden- John Steinbeck
24. Ender’s Game- Orson Scott Card
25. Fahrenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
26. Farewell to Arms, A – Ernest Hemingway
27. Gift, The - Vladimir Nabokov
28. Golden Compass—Philip Pullman
29. Golden Notebook, The – Doris Lessing
30. Grapes of Wrath, The – John Steinbeck
31. Gulliver’s Travels- Jonathan Swift
32. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
33. Hound of the Baskervilles- Arthur Conan Doyle
34. House of Mirth, The- Edith Wharton
35. House of Spirits, The- Isabel Allende
36. House on Mango Street, The - Sandra Cisneros (8/05/09)
37. Human Stain, The- Philip Roth
38. Hunchback of Notre Dame, The – Victor Hugo
39. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
40. I, Robot- Isaac Asimov
41. Iliad, The – Homer
42. Into the Wild- Jon Krakauer
43. Invisible Man, The - H.G. Wells
44. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
45. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell – Susanna Clarke
46. Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
47. Jude the Obscure- Thomas Hardy
48. Kite Runner, The – Khalad Hosseini
49. Lady Chatterley’s Lover- D.H. Lawrence
50. Last King of Scotland, The – Giles Foden
51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52. Like Water for Chocolate- Laura Esquivel
53. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
54. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
55. Member of the Wedding, The- Carson McCullers
56. Moby Dick- Herman Melville
57. Moll Flanders- Daniel Defoe
58. Mrs. Dalloway- Virginia Woolf
59. My Antonia- Willa Cather
60. My Life in France— Julia Child
61. Namesake, The - Jhumpa Lahiri
62. Odyssey, The- Homer
63. Once and Future King, The – T.H. White
64. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
65. Orlando- Virginia Woolf
66. Paradise- Toni Morrison
67. Passage to India, A - E.M. Forster (9/05/09)
68. Persuasion- Jane Austen
69. Portable Dorothy Parker, The - Dorothy Parker
70. Portrait of a Lady, The – Henry James
71. Possession- A.S. Byatt
72. Reader, The- Bernhard Schlink
73. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
74. Remains of the Day, The – Kazuo Ishiguro
75. Revolutionary Road- Richard Yates
76. Room with a View, A - E.M. Forster
77. Screwtape Letters, The— C.S. Lewis
78. Secret Life of Bees, The – Sue Monk Kidd
79. Shipping News, The- E. Annie Proulx
80. Sister Carrie- Theodore Dreiser
81. Slaughterhouse Five- Kurt Vonnegut
82. Sophie’s Choice- William Styron
83. Sound and the Fury, The – William Faulkner
84. Tender is the Night— F. Scott Fitzgerald
85. Time Machine, The - H.G. Wells
86. Time Traveller’s Wife, The- Audrey Niffenberger
87. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
88. Treasure Island- Robert Louis Stevenson
89. Tristram Shandy- Laurence Sterne
90. Tropic of Cancer- Henry Miller
91. Ulysses- James Joyce
92. Unbearable Lightness of Being, The - Kundera
93. Uncle Tom’s Cabin- Harriet Beecher Stowe
94. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
95. Waiting- Ha Jin
96. Way We Live Now, The- Anthony Trollope
97. White Teeth – Zadie Smith
98. Wonder Boys- Michael Chabon
99. World According to Garp, The – John Irving
100. Yiddish Policeman’s Union, The – Michael Chabon (8/19/09)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dana, Book Review, *Wonder Boys, *Michael Chabon

Wonder Boys: A Novel Wonder Boys: A Novel by Michael Chabon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow. This wasn't my first foray in the the wonderful world of Michael Chabon, but it was his first adult novel that I have read. I had previously read Summerland which is a fantastic Young Adult fantasy. I'd seen the movie version of Wonder Boys ages ago and loved it, so I was definitely excited to pick up the book. I had high expectations and Chabon exceeded them.

In brief, Wonder Boys is about a college professor, Grady Tripp, who is also a bit of a has been writer. Tripp saw great success with his first couple of novels, hence the professor job, but has been unable to finish his thousand page epic Wonder Boys, due partly to his marijuana addiction, partly to his disastrous marriage and affair, and partly to the fact that he's just trying to cram far too much into this novel. When Grady's neurotic and addict editor rolls into town for the college's LitFest, the pair end up on an epic adventure involving a suicidal student, Tripp's ex-in-laws, a dead dog and a lot of drugs.

While the plot of this novel is hilarious and well crafted, I enjoyed the writing the most. What I wouldn't kill to have Chabon's gift. He is a beautiful writer and each sentence is so melodiously crafted that they are hard to get out of your head. He finds uniques ways of saying things and his comparisons are superb. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone because it's a great book, but I would especially recommend this novel to writers. Seriously, study how this man crafts a sentence, a paragraph, a book. It's beautiful and lyrical. Well worth the read.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Matthew, Progress Report

I've been thoroughly absent lately, what with getting married and all, but I did manage to make some progress on my list:

Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri
Paradiso by Dante Alighieri
Candide by Voltaire

Currently Reading:
The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Persian Expedition by Xenophon

I'll add some reviews for the above sometime in the next few days, but for now I'm just going to collapse on the couch for awhile and be really glad my wife and I don't have any more wedding planning and preparation to do.