Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I read this book out loud to my nine year old son. At first he was annoyed that I was reading a "bunny kid book" to him, but after the first chapter he was hooked (and so was I). I love it when an author can take a simple object, somewhat "kiddish" and give it a dynamic personality. Edward's journey starts with a little girl who loves him dearly, yet he doesn't love her back. He then gets lost and finds himself with an elderly couple. His journey leads him from one owner to the next...all love him dearly and he began to love them back. I loved the progression of how he changed from a non-caring being to someone who knew love. The descriptions were so vivid. You could see the frilly dress that was made for him, the hobo and his dog, the garbage, and the very sick child who smiled the moment Edward was given to her. You wondered at every twist and turn if Edward would come out ok...because he was a china rabbit, easy to break. And then when he did break, the twists and turns of his redemption were page turning.
This is a great read aloud book for elementary kids. But, I found it to be a fun read as well.
Monday, September 27, 2010
This remote, drooping community, where everyone's father, son, or brother seems to have drowned on a tragically unprofitable shipping expedition, where everyone is barely scraping by, family sexual abuse is a shared community history, and the industries that have kept the region alive are gradually dying--here, somehow, for the first time, Quoyle finds himself beginning to live his life. He gets a job writing the Shipping News column for the local paper, and over the course of a year comes to terms with his family's history, his own sorry story, and what he actually wants in life.
The Shipping News made my Gaps list because it won the 1993 Pulitzer. I knew absolutely nothing about it before dipping in (well, except for that the author was also the author of Brokeback Mountain).
At first, I found the book very inaccessible--for the first fifty pages or so, I couldn't get beyond what I thought was a fairly pretentious narrative tone, and I was afraid I was never going to become engaged by the story. But I definitely did--in spite of the stodgy beginning, the book is really beautiful to read, a careful meditation on a life that seems remote to most readers but which was a very real life path, a hypnotic piece of the North American cultural experience. The book makes much use of maritime devices (including a symbolic series of knots to open chapters), which added a certain charm for me--I grew up in New England where this harsh lifestyle was very much romanticized. Furthermore, the book is full of inventive imagery, so if you are a sucker for fresh language you'll have much to enjoy.
I am quite behind on reading and posting my reviews. This review was published on my blog a couple of months ago:
About the book: Set near London around the mid-1800’s, an artist is traveling to his latest work assignment. On his way he sees a disturbing woman in white on the highway. He attempts to help her but is mystified when she disappears. Her connection with his life becomes apparent over time after he arrives at his destination. There he falls in love with one of the nieces of the household owner. She however is to be married shortly to a man who appears less than genial, creating conflict and angst. Things become convoluted as the plot is conveyed by different individuals that are involved in the happenings in this tale of deceit, murder, and apparent madness.
My Thoughts: I did not realize that this edition was abridged until after finishing it, and perhaps would not have chosen this version if I had realized. I really enjoy listening to classics when exercising since they are often difficult for me to focus on when actually reading.
This audio version was lovely nonetheless. The narration was excellent - done by various speakers that had the gender, age, and class accents appropriate to the teller of each section; and they were of course done with wonderful English accents.
I was out of breath and shocked at some of the scenes, thought about the book between listens, and I did not guess what was going to happen next which is always a good sign. I also did not feel that the book was edited.
Audio Book Data:
- Publisher: Naxos AudioBooks; Abridged edition (April 1, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9626348631
- Genre: Classic Mystery
Challenge Update: I will be posting an updated list in the next few weeks; have abandoned Pride and Prejudice (sorry Jane); finished Dracula (actually a year ago) but have not put a review together yet. I am hoping to include a few pictures from Whitby – we took when visiting a few years ago. Also I am in the process of listening to Lolita, which is incredible! If it weren’t for this challenge I probably would have given it a miss.
I better get “crackin” here or I will be reading 3 books a month to complete this challenge. *sign*
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Verdict: I liked the book but didn't engage with it emotionally.
Love can be difficult to define but love, like pornography, is something I think I can recognize when I see. In Super Sad True Love Story, I don't see love. I see desperation, selfishness, delusion--which is sad, but hardly super sad. An argument could be made that it's not Shteyngart, but rather, the people in the book who deem this story "super sad" and that their lack of emotional depth means that this is the deepest sadness they are capable of comprehending, but in our world, I dispute the assertion by Mary Gaitskill that the "love" story is "super sad."
Even though I find the "love story" designation to be emotionally false, I think the book is well-written. Shteyngart invents phrases that are both surprising and familiar. Irony and satire in the novel are so tightly bound and balanced that even though I find myself unmoved, I also think that everything that happens in the book is how it should happen. The story isn't fixable. There's nothing that can be done to it to make it better. It's perfect the way it is. Which is sad.
Basically, if you like good writing, liked the structure of The Handmaid's Tale (Super Sad True Love Story is also diary-based, with the conceit that the diary was published subsequent to the events of the book and was considered at the time of publication to be emblematic of a fallen society), and feel like spending hours in the company of neurotic, superficial, unreliable narrators, then read this book.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The story is about Henry Fleming, a recent recruit to the Union army during the Civil War. As his regiment waits to see warfare, he becomes increasingly obsessed with whether or not he has the courage to stand his ground. He doesn’t know if he’ll run.
As it turns out, when he first encounters a battle, he’s so surrounded by fellow solders and confronted by the enemy that he can do nothing but fight. The second time her faces battle, however, he flees. He convinces himself that he was right to save himself.
He later makes it back to his regiment and fights bravely. He’s deeply ashamed of his earlier behavior, but by the end of the book manages to make peace with himself.
For a classic, the book was pleasantly shorter than I thought it was going to be. Still, I was sometimes annoyed by all of Henry’s self pity and castigation. But if not for all that, I wouldn’t have gotten such a deep understanding of Henry’s feelings.
And, I’m glad to finally know that a “red badge” of courage is a wound received in battle, according to Henry.
Overall, it was a good read, with good characterization and excellent descriptions of battle, the poverty of war, and death.
Note: This book wasn't on my original list, so I'll likely be dropping some other classic off...
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Currently, I have TWENTY SIX unread books on my shelf. So I'm changing my list, because I consider not having read Mathilda Savitch a more pressing gap than not having read Predictably Irrational. Blogs exist to save me from having to read non-fiction.
In the past year, my interests have shifted, and it has become more important to me to read certain types of books and less important to me to read other kinds of books. FORGET MARK TWAIN.
My 19 additions.
1. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski. (Read it, refuse to review it, as I spent too much time on it already.)
2. The Children's Hospital, Chris Adrian
3. Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart
4. Bad Marie, Marcy Dermanski
5. Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat
6. The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, Julie Stuart
7. Mathilda Savitch, Victor Lodato
8. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
9. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan
10. Olive Kitteredge, Elizabeth Strout
11. A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
12. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
13. Outfoxed (Foxhunting Mysteries), Rita Mae Brown
14. Thoroughbred Tales: An Anthology of Fiction
15. Some Horses: Essays, Thomas McGuane
16. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman
17. Losing Charlotte, Heather Clay
18. Fairies and the Quest for Never Land, Gail Carson Levine (shut up)
19. Southern Vampire Mysteries Boxed Set, Charlaine Harris
The Original 100:
Bolded books are currently being read or are finished. Books italicized with the word SPLAT after it are books that I have decided not to care about.
1. A Book of Common Prayer, Joan Didion. SPLAT
2. A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle
3. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain, Abandoned
4. A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolfe
5. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
6. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin
7. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (Forget Mark Twain except for where it concerns my boyfriend, Tom Sawyer)
8. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
9. Animal Farm, George Orwell. SPLAT. Read 1984.
10. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand. SPLAT. Read Fountainhead.
11. Atmospheric Disturbances, Rivka Galchen (ABANDONED)
12. Baudolino, Umberto Eco
13. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
14. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley. SPLAT. Was only on the list because I was trying to come up with 100.
15. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
16. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
17. Changing Places, David Lodge. SPLAT.
18. Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner. SPLAT.
19. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann. SPLAT.
20. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
21. Dune, Frank Herbert
22. Eve’s Diary, Mark Twain. SPLAT. FORGET MARK TWAIN.
23. Faust (Goethe)
24. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
25. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
26. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez
27. Hyperion Cantos, Dan Simmons
28. Ilium, Dan Simmons. SPLAT.
29. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
30. Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
31. Ishmael, Daniel Quinn. SPLAT. This books is falling way out of favor, huh?
32. Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott. SPLAT.
34. Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H Lawrence
35. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
36. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
37. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis. SPLAT.
38. Madam Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
39. Middlemarch, George Eliot (ABANDONED)
40. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
41. My Antonia, Willa Cather. SPLAT.
42. Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
43. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
44. Old Man’s War, John Scalzi
45. Olympos, Dan Simmons. SPLAT.
46. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
47. Once Upon a Time in the North, Philip Pullman
48. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
49. Orlando, Virginia Woolfe
50. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
52. Peyton Place, Grace Metalious. SPLAT.
53. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
54. Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely. SPLAT.
55. Rabbit, Run, John Updike
56. Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
57. Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
58. Revolutionary Road, Robert Yates
60. Sophie's Choice, William Styron. SPLAT.
61. Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust
62. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
63. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
65. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
66. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
67. The Call of the Cthulhu, HP Lovecraft
68. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
69. The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, Natalie Angier
70. The Coast of Good Intentions, Michael Byers
72. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery (Read it, didn't review it, didn't like it.)
73. The Eustace Diamonds, Anthony Trollope. SPLAT.
74. The Gravedigger’s Daughter, Joyce Carol Oates. (Read it, think I didn't review it, didn't like it.)
75. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
76. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
77. The Irrational Season, Madeleine L’Engle
78. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco
79. The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
80. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemmingway
81. The Once and Future King, T.H. White
82. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
83. The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet
84. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
85. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
86. The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis
87. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
88. The Summer of the Great-grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle
89. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
90. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
92. The World According to Garp, John Irving
93. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
94. Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
95. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
96. Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, Madeleine L’Engle
97. Ulysses, James Joyce
98. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
99. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen. (Read it, didn't review it, LOVED IT.)
100. Watership Down, Richard Adams
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
A "fantasy classic," first published in 1972, about a group of rabbits who set out against all odds to start a new warren. The main character, Hazel, finds himself leader of the group against all odds, and is guided in his decisions by his brother, Fiver, who has a supernatural ability to dream the future.
Watership Down made my Gaps list for a couple reasons--first, it had made a lot of "best of the 20th century" kinds of lists, second, because my mother, who has a very low tolerance for literary nonsense, expressed great surprise and sadness when she found out I hadn't read it. "It's very good," she promised. My baby sister, when she saw I was reading the book, shouted "Hazel-rah!" at which point I learned she had read it in fifth grade (while I had somehow missed it).
I sat down to lunch with a literary agent whom I was meeting for the first time, and when she saw the book in my hands, she said, "Silflay hraka!" I hadn't gotten to that part yet, so she explained, "That means 'eat s**t' in rabbit! When we read it in elementary school, we thought it was so cool we could swear in rabbit, since the teachers couldn't punish us." At this point I realized I had missed out on an entire piece of our English language cultural fabric by not having read it, and became very glad I was getting around to it now.
I spent a week reading this one--it inspired savoring--and was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Like, blind enjoyment--it wasn't any work to read at all, despite the many bettering and literary themes. It required suspending disbelief--when I first encountered "lapine," the rabbit language, my thought was, "Seriously? Rabbits don't talk!"--but it is satisfyingly easy to get over these humps. And while this book is, I guess, "fantasy" literature, Adams is also gruelingly observant of rabbit biology, natural phenomena, and the world of the downs in which they live. It's really ... real, and very easy to get lost in.
Like I said, I enjoyed reading it, in a pretty unqualified way. It's a great story. I do think there are a couple barriers to pure enjoyment, and I feel obliged to mention them here, if only in passing: the first is gender roles stereotyping, although one might write this off to faithful animal behavior observation. The other is racial/ethnic stereotyping, which comes in a little bit in the "dialect" rendering of non-rabbit speech throughout the book. I personally think the book would have been a little improved without the dialect inclusions, but in 1972 perhaps this was not as much of a concern.
So, another Gaps goal accomplished! Pip pip.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Rebecca was one book that I'd been meaning to read for a long time, and it didn't disappoint me - but the first chapter just seemed like a gratuitous attempt to beef up the word count (and trust me, I know all about that). It just stood out - it had no real bearing on anything that came after and really irritated me!
Despite that, I did enjoy the book. I can see parallels with Jane Eyre, although I think I prefer Jane to the unnamed narrator here. I absolutely identified with the insecurity and unease of the narrator, and the story sucked me in completely, even if at times it felt a bit melodramatic. But I still prefer Jane Eyre. She has more substance to her.
"Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger
Julia and Valentina Poole are twenty-year-old sisters with an intense attachment to each other. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. Their English aunt Elspeth Noblin has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions for this inheritance: that they live in the flat for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the girls’ aunt Elspeth and their mother, Edie.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Stella Gibbons, and other luminaries are buried. Julia and Valentina become involved with their living neighbors: Martin, a composer of crossword puzzles who suffers from crippling OCD, and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. They also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including—perhaps—their aunt.
# Paperback: 406 pages
# Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (September 29, 2010)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 1439169012
# ISBN-13: 978-1439169018
MY THOUGHTS: This is my book clubs choice for September. I have wanted to read this book and I'm really glad I did. It was a very good book. I really liked all the characters. I really liked Martin a lot. I could feel for him. Does he get to leave his apartment? Does Robert get his Thesis done on Highgate Cemetery? As Julia and Valentina move to London they seem to grow apart. Valentina wants to be separate from Julia. With the help of their Aunt Elspeth's ghost they think of something that seems so impossible. But does it work? Will Valentina get her wish and be separate from Julia? You'll have to read the book to find out the outcome of this very interesting book.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting to like this book. Some books just seem daunting and impregnable (Jonathan Franzen!), but this book was amazing. Most of the book takes place in a lifeboat in the ocean with Pi and Richard Parker, but at no point did I lose interest. It's one of those books that leaves you feeling exhausted.
My most favourite part is the last chapter, which I won't go into for anti-spoiler purposes but it left me thinking about the value of a good story. Life of Pi is definitely that.
Another book that I read that turns out not to be on my list is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. If you've got Moby Dick on your reading horizon then I would recommend reading this one as well. Despite the pages and pages of Professor Annorax naming the types of marine life he sees through the window, I really enjoyed it. There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end - why Captain Nemo throws his life away to live beneath the sea for one - but I didn't feel cheated. I thought it was pretty similar to Moby Dick but not quite so severe.
Next up is either Bleak House or Rebecca.
Yea! Finally done with Middlemarch. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it. It was a long book and it took me almost a month to read. I summarized my thoughts halfway last week but I thought I would talk a little about the characters and why I liked or didn't like them.
Dorothea-Probably my favorite character in the book. Dorothea longs for a life different that she has. She longs to be poor (or maybe just not as rich). She wants to learn more and not be constrained by what's right for women to learn. Dorothea speaks her mind overall and, in my mind, is the most steady of the characters.
Mr Casaubon-I liked Mr Casaubon at the beginning. Over time, I pitied him. Here's this older gentleman, doing ok in life. He meets this young woman who wants to be his companion and assist him with his writings. After marrying Dorothea, it seemed like he didn't know what to do with her. Honestly I think he probably would have been better off with a secretary than a wife.
Mr Brooks-This man's speech patterns annoyed the crap out of me. Overall nice man, just never looked forward to him speaking.
Celia-Not as much substance as Dorothea. But she served as a nice opposite to Dorothea. Celia was happy to get married, have babies, and do as expected by the rest of society.
Rosamond-Similar to Celia. She was a good opposite to Dorothea as well. I did want to write her off but she proved helpful at the end. After she marries Mr Lydgate, Rosy has to learn that life sometimes isn't as easy as it was when you live with your folks.
Fred & Mary-Probably my favorite couple. I loved the evolution of "them". I was excited by their happy ending in the Finale. I also liked her mother and father. Could have read a book about the Garths on their own happily.
Will-My favorite male character. In the beginning he seemed like a shyster but redeemed himself in my eyes by refusing Mr Bulstrode's money and attempting to leave Dorothea to live her life without his interference.
Overall I enjoyed Middlemarch. Especially the last half. Once I understood what was going on and what Eliot was trying to do (the life of a town's inhabitants and how they affect each other), I relaxed and enjoyed Middlemarch. It's a beautiful story of love, family, honor, trust, patience, and society.