Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Antonia, by Willa Cather

This is one of those classics I'd been meaning to read since high school and had never got around to--classic Gaps material. I finally picked it up last week because my sister had finished reading it and left a copy with me. It was a used-and-purged library-bound copy printed in the 1940s, with satisfyingly large round type, thick pages, and scattered line drawings, and the pages had that pleasant dry-mildewy smell of old library books. It all contributed to a very nostalgic reading experience.

I really enjoyed reading My Antonia, despite or perhaps because of its non-adherence to many conventions of novel structure. The story is a sketch of turn-of-the-century American prairie life, with a migrating focus and rolling cast of characters, and no particular plot arc, per se. The main character, Jim Burden, chronicles different chapters of his life from age ten on, especially chapters that intersect with Antonia, the "Bohemian" girl whose family settles in the Nebraska farmstead next to Jim's grandparents'. Together they practice English, grow up, gossip, throw themselves into the extreme physical activity of farming. They survive the hardships of prairie winters, note the habits and scandals of the motley (but largely Scandinavian) settlements around Black Hawk, and mix with other young people. Along the way, they collect the stories of the passing farm hands, the foreign farmers who left their so-distant homelands, and the tough and colorful residents of Black Hawk. For me, these side stories make the narrative really special.

I found myself coming out of the book wanting to think about a lot of its aspects, like the way your high school English teacher wanted you to think about aspects in Great Expectations or whatever other book s/he was pushing at the time. I found myself deriving satisfaction from isolating themes and trying to spot things Cather specifically wasn't saying. And, you know, very much enjoying this thinking. Which says, to me, that this book deserves to be the classic it is.

If anyone else has read and wants to discuss, leave me a comment :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

One of my favorite things in the world (I know I'm not alone here) is finding a book that makes me forget I'm reading a book. Bog Child, for me, was that good. Set in Northern Ireland in the 1980's, main character Fergus finds the body of a dead child in the peat bogs near his home.

At first he and his uncle think the body is fresh, recently buried. In actuality, it lay for close to two-thousand years, preserved by the peat, until Fergus uncovered it.

Fergus is on a journey of self-discovery, wrestling with the challenges of growing up in a region split by warring political factions. He feels pressure to join the military effort instead of following his dreams. But at the base of his personal struggle is the thrill of uncovering the story of this two-thousand-year-old child, and what her story teaches him about his own life.

I appreciated the threads that author Siobhan Dowd wove together in her novel. There's the main thread of a teenage boy whose older brother is in prison for political crimes, the boy finding himself, coming of age, but there's also the thread of a young man forming a connection with a girl who lived two- thousand years before in the same land.

This isn't a ghost story, but Fergus has a powerful connection with the past and as the archeologists piece together the clues about this young girl's life and death, he's right there with them.

I was fascinated by this book on so many levels. I love learning about history, about other cultures, and getting into characters' heads. Dowd gave me all that. Fergus is an emotionally rich character. He's smart and complicated, but very human.

One thing I love about this Fill in the Gaps project is that I'm working off a (hopefully) intelligent list. Most of my chosen books are prize-winners or best-sellers, so, for the most part, when I bring a book home, I have a certain amount of faith that I'm going to love it. (The best-sellers don't always do it for me, but the prize-winners usually do.) When I brought home Bog Child, saw the cover, and read the blurb I knew I would get some meat. Something to savor and love every minute of. The literary carnivore in me was not disappointed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alyssa Sue's 100

1. Adams, Douglas – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
2. Aguirre, Ann – Grimspace
3. Alexander, Caroline – The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
4. Allende, Isabel – Zorro
5. Anthony, Piers – Split Infinity
6. Ashenburg, Katherine - The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History
7. Atwood, Margaret – The Handmaid's Tale
8. Austen, Jane & Grahame-Smith, Seth – Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
9. Barry, John – The Great Influenza: The Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History
10. Bradbury, Ray – Fahrenheit 451
11. Brooks, Polly Schoyer – Beyond the Myth: The Story of Joan of Arc
12. Bronte, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
13. Burgess, Anthony – A Clockwork Orange
14. Card, Orson Scott – Ender's Game
15. Canavan, Trudi – The High Lord
16. Canavan, Trudi – Voice of the Gods
17. Carroll, Lewis C – Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
18. Cashore, Kristin – Fire
19. Cashore, Kristin – Bitterblue
20. Chabon, Michael – A Yiddish Policeman's Reunion
21. Collodi, Carlo – The Adventures of Pinnochio
22. Cooke, Alistair – Alistair Cooke's America
23. Cormier, Robert – The Chocolate War
24. Cornwell, John – Hitler's Scientists: Science, War and the Devil's Pact
25. Dante – The Inferno
26. de Cervantes, Miguel – Don Quixote
27. Dick, Philip K. - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
28. Dickens, Charles – Oliver Twist
29. Dostoevski, Feodor – Crime and Punishment
30. Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan – A Study in Scarlet
31. Dumas, Alexandre – The Three Musketeers
32. Elgin, Duane – Voluntary Simplicity
33. Ellis, Joseph J – Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
34. Evans, Jimmie Ruth – Flamingo Fatale
35. Franklin, Benjamin – Benjamin Franklin
36. Fulda, Jennette – Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir
37. Gaardner, Jostein - Sophie's World
38. Gaiman, Neil – Neverwhere
39. Galland, Antony – Arabian Nights
40. Golden, Arthur - Memoirs of a Geisha
41. Gould, Steven – Jumper
42. Grisham, John – The Client
43. Hamilton, Edith – Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
44. Heller, Joseph – Catch 22
45. Hemingway, Ernst – The Old Man and the Sea
46. Hosseini, Khaled – The Kite Runner
47. Hugo, Victor – The Hunchback of Notre Dame
48. Hugo, Victor – Les Miserables
49. Keneally, Thomas – Schindler's List
50. Kidder, Tracy – Mountains Beyond Mountains
51. Larssonont, Stieg – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
52. Lewis, CS – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
53. Livio, Mario – The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, The World's Most Astonishing Number
54. Loewen, James W – Lies My Teacher Told Me
55. Marsh, Ngaio – Death of a Fool
56. Melville, Herman – Moby Dick
57. Michod, Alex – The White City
58. Mitchell, Margaret – Gone With the Wind
59. Mortenson, Greg – Three Cups of Tea
60. Nabakov, Vladmir – Lolita
61. Orwell, George – 1984
62. Plath, Sylvia – The Bell Jar
63. Poe, Edgar Allen (selection of works – haven't decided which ones yet)
64. Pullman, Philip – The Golden Compass
65. Pyle, Howard – Robin Hood
66. Rice, Anne – Interview with a Vampire
67. Rostand, Edmond – Cyrano de Bergerac
68. Rothfuss, Patrick – The Name of the Wind
69. Shakespeare, William – The Merry Wives of Windsor
70. Shakespeare, William – The Taming of the Shrew
71. Sheff, David – Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction
72. Singh, Simon – Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem
73. Spiegelman, Art – Maus I & II
74. Silverstein, Shel – The Giving Tree, Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends
75. Spyri, Johanna – Heidi
76. Stampf, Gunter – Interview with a Cannibal: The Secret Life of the Monster of Rotenburg
77. Steketee, Gail – Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
78. Stevenson, Robert Louis – The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
79. Stewart, Sean – Nobody's Son
80. Stockett, Kathryn – The Help
81. Stoker, Bram – Dracula
82. Stoppard, Tom – Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead
83. Stowe, Harriet Becher – Uncle Tom's Cabin
84. Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver's Travels
85. Troost, J Maarten – The Sex Life of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific
86. Troost, J Maarten – Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation
87. Troost, J Maarten – Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuata
88. Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
89. Twain, Mark – The Prince and the Pauper
90. Verne, Jules – Around the World in 80 Days
91. Verne, Jules – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
92. Verne, Jules – Journey to the Center of the Earth
93. Washington, Harriet A – Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
94. Weeks, Brent – The Way of Shadows
95. Wells, HG – The Time Machine
96. Wiencek, Henry – An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves and the Creation of America
97. Wilde, Oscar – The Importance of Being Earnest
98. Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
99. Young, Paul – The Shack
100. Zinsser, William Knowlton – On Writing Well

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Matthew, Book Review, *Knut Hamsun, *Hunger

First off, Knut Hamsun's name is fun to say. Go on, try it: Ka-noot. Ka-noot, Ka-noot, Ka-noot. See what I mean?

His novel Hunger, on the other hand, is not so much fun. It's a fantastic piece of work, the kind of brilliant that makes you realize oh, now I see why he won a Nobel Prize. It just isn't a barrel of laughs, is all.

The plot is fairly straightforward: the protagonist is a struggling writer, and he starves for days at a time because his written output doesn't bring in enough money. The real character, though, is the process of starvation itself: the way it pains and gnaws at him, making him lightheaded and giddy and weak as he sobs and rants his way through increasingly desperate attempts to either fill his belly or forget his hunger for a few brief moments.

I've been told by a few people that Modernism really starts with Hamsun. After reading Hunger, I'd say that sounds about right.

Monday, August 2, 2010

MaDonna's 100

The List:
1. .  Abott, Tony. The Postcard
2. Appelt, Kathi, “The Underneath” 
3.  Austin, Jane, “Pride and Prejudice”
4. Austin, Jane, “Sense and Sensibility”
5. Austin, Jane, “Persuasion”
6.  Austin, Jane, “Northanger Abbey”
7.  Bartoletti,  Susan Campbell,  Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow” 
8.  Bissinger, “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream”
9.  Blackwood, “The Shakespeare Stealer” 
10. Bloor, Edward, “Tangerine”
11. Blumberg, Rhoda “Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy”
12. Bronte, “Jane Eyre”
 13. Boniface, William, “The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy
14. Bryant, Jen. “Pieces of Georgia: A Novel”
15. Brashares, Ann ,”The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”
16. Choldenk, Gennifer, “Al Capone Shines My Shoes
17. Chbosky, Stephen , “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
18.Cochrane, Mick, “The Girl Who Threw Butterflies” 
19. Colfer, Eoi, “Eoin Colfer’s Legend of … the Worst Boy in the World”
20.Collins, Suzanne, “Catching Fire”
21. Connor, Leslie, “Waiting for Normal
22. Cowley, Joy “Snake and Lizard”
23. Clements, Andrew, “No Talking”
24. Clare, Cassandra, “City of Bones
25. Curtis, Christopher Paul, “Bud, Not Buddy” 
26. Dahl, Ronald,  “The BFG”
27. Dahl, Ronald, “Matilda”
28.DuPrau, Jeanne, “The City of Ember
29. Deuke,r Carl, “Heart of a Champion”
30.Delyo, Elaine E, “Kansas City Marvels – the FBI Briefcase”
31. DiCamillo, Kate, “The Miraculous Journey of Edwrd Tulane”
32. DiCamillo, Kate “The Tale of Despereaux”
33. Feldman, Jody, “The Gollywhopper Games”
34. Friedman, “Laurie B. Red White & True Blue Mallory”
35. Funke: “Inkheart”
36. Gaiman, Neil. “The Graveyard Book”
37. Gaiman, Neil, “Anansi Boys”
38. Hale, Shannon and Dean, “Rapunzel’s Revenge” 
39. Huang, Tiffany, “Taiwan Tiff”
40. Haddix: “Uprising”
41. Hughes, Dean. “Soldier Boys
42. Hurricane, Terry, “Trueman”
43. Kadohata, Cynthia, “Kira-Kira” 
44. Kingsolver: “The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel” 
45. Judge, Lita. “One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II”
46. Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody, “Ice story: Shackleton's Lost Expedition”
47. Lewis, C.S., “Screwtape Letters”
48. Lewis, Elizabeth Foreman, “Young Fu on the Upper Yangtze
49. Lin, Grace, “The Year of the Dog”
50. Lin, “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon”
51. Li, Moying, “Snow Falling in Spring, Coming of Age During the Cultural Revolution”
52. L'Engle,  “A Wrinkle in Time
53. Levine, Gail Carson, “Ella Enchanted”
54. Law, Ingrid, “Savvy” 
55. Meyer, Stephanie, “Twilight Begins”
56. Moore, Beth, “Get Out of the Pit”
57. Mortenson and Relin: “Three Cups of Tea”
58. Meehan, Kierin, “Hannah’s Winter
59. Nelson, Jandy, “The Sky is Everywhere”
60. O'Brian, “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
61. Nivola, Claire. “Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai”
62. Patron, Susan, “The Higher Power of Lucky” 
63. Perkins, Lynne Rae, “Criss Cross” 
64. Park, Linda Sue, “A Single Shard
65. Park, Samuel, “This Burns My Heart”
66. Picoult: “My Sister’s Keeper”
67. Parry, Rosanne, “Heart of a Shepherd”
68. Pratchett, Terry, “Nation
69. Philbrick, Rodman, “The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg”
70. Rowling, “Harry Potter #1
71. Raskin,The Westing Game
72. Ryan, Pam Munoz, “Becoming Naomi Leon”
73. Smelcer, John, “The Great Death
74. Schalesky, Marlo, “Shades of Morning”
75. Stead, Rebecca, “When You Reach Me
76. Sachar, “Holes
77. Schroeder, Lisa, “Far From You”             
78. Schroeder, Lisa, “I Heart You, You Haunt Me”
79. Spinelli, Jerry, “Stargirl”
80. Stone, Tanya Lee, “Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
81. Stork, Francisco X, “Macelo in the Real World
82. Scieszka, Jon, ed. “Guys Write for Guys Read
83. Tolkein, J. R. R.. “The Fellowsip of the Ring”
84. Thorp Tim, “Knights of the Hill Country”
85. Tolkien, “The Hobbit
86. Vautrin, Minnie, “Terror in Vautrin’s Nanjing, Diaries and Correspondence 1937-38”
87. Whelan, Gloria, “Listening for Lions
88. Wilson, Jacqueline, “Best Friends” 
89. Winter, Jonah. You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!
90. Woodson, Jacqueline, “After Tupac & D Foster
91. Collins, Suzanne, “Gregor the Overlander”
92. Buckey, Michael, “The Fairy-Tale Detectives”
93.  Riordan, Rick, “The Lightning Thief”
94. McMullan, Kate, “The New Kid at School”
95. McSwigan, Marie, “Snow Treasure”
96. Wrede, Patricia C., “Dealing with Dragons”
97.  Newberry 2011
98. Newberry 2012 
99. Newberry 2013
100. Newberry 2014