Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reading Plans for 2015

Well, the year is winding down, and I'm starting to think about next year's reading, as many of you are.

The past couple years, at the end of the year I've usually said things like, "Well, I can't guarantee how much reading I'll get done next year, since I'll be in school..." I've always wanted to participate in all the many awesome challenges I see, but I try to keep it to a minimum, since I know most of my reading will be for school.

Well, this next year is going to be totally different. I'd like to say that I can finally read anything and everything I want, but that's not entirely true either, since, well, I'll have a baby.

I now interrupt this program for a mini life update: I am now extremely pregnant and the baby could arrive at any time. While I'm waiting, I'm writing a bunch of extremely boring papers for school (well, they're mostly not that boring, but I'm tired of them so they're boring to me). I only have one week left of school--hallelujah--and then I'll be a college graduate and a mom! 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Oh, Joan Didion. I just love you.

Is there really more I can say?

Okay, okay. I'll say more. But only because you really twisted my arm.

I'm grouping these two memoirs together because they're similar in style and content and I read them at almost the same time, so I don't have much different to say about each one. The Year of Magical Thinking is a memoir about her husband's death, and her subsequent attempt to understand that experience. Blue Nights is about her daughter's death, which occurred not long after her husband's.

I did find Blue Nights a little more chaotic--in a good way. It seems like Didion really let herself go in that one and just explored everything she wanted to explore--not just her daughter's death, but her own experience aging, her experience with the success of The Year of Magical Thinking, and just her life--without apology.

Joan Didion has mastered the ability to write incredibly deeply without being dense. She doesn't ask us to come too far from what we know, or to stretch our minds too much. She doesn't lose us by trying to be poetic. Yet she follows her subject matter into real depth, and her writing style is magnificent. Her books have a place in the classroom, but they also make good rainy-day reading. She just tells it like it is without trying to explain it or make up for it. She's brave enough to ask questions she doesn't know the answers to. And I couldn't help but see myself in her--despite the fact that she's much older than me and has had many more years of much more difficult experience.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Is it our duty to finish books?

Have you seen the article going around these days about how it's so important to finish books? What do you think of it?

I had mixed feelings about it. Obviously I don't finish every book I start. As an English major, that's nigh unto impossible (although I don't think that's the situation the author was talking about). I do see what the author's saying, though. It can be really valuable to finish books, for all the reasons she's talking about.

But I think it's a bad idea, at least for me, to lock myself into a finish-every-single-book rule, for a few reasons:

1. One of the reasons the writer of the article gives for finishing books is that we ought to show respect for the author. Yes, there are some authors who deserve respect even if I don't get their writing (that's why I pushed my way through The Sound and the Fury). If you're reading an author who's widely respected as an important/classic author, then it's a good idea not to discount their work.

But I don't think every author deserves equal respect. The authors of trashy romance novels don't deserve as much respect as, say, Shakespeare. And the divide isn't always that obvious. Sometimes I might have heard good things about an author only to find that they consider some things appropriate that I don't. Or that they just aren't at the level of writing as people said they were. And if I discover that I actually don't respect them as a writer, I think it's better for me to put the book down than to keep resenting the author.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Giant by Edna Ferber

After reading the first chapter or two of Giant, I was sure I wouldn't like the rest of it. I couldn't tell exactly what was going on, there were too many characters and I didn't know which ones were important, and I was bored. I didn't think it would, or could, get any better.

But then--miracle of miracles--it did. The first couple chapters, it turned out, were more of a "flash forward," and almost the entire rest of of the book was a flashback, and I got to see the characters (the ones that mattered) start out young. It was terrific.

As a basic synopsis, Giant is a story set roughly in the 1920s/'30s (it does move through at least 20 years) about a Virginian woman, Leslie, who marries a Texan, Jordan "Bick" Benedict. Bick, who owns more than two million acres of land called the Reata ranch, is one of the Texas giants, and Leslie has to learn to deal with the unfamiliar Texas customs. More than just the customs, Leslie also has to deal with the questionable ways her own husband treats the Mexican workers on his land.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff

This is a book about a troubled teenage boy with a broken, dysfunctional family.

So of course, from the beginning I was destined not to like it. I didn't hate it. I thought the writing was pretty good. But frankly, I have never understood teenage boys who get into trouble and don't care about anyone but themselves. I would have liked it if this book had helped me understand that sort of person, but it only made me more confused. Wolff tells us, "This is what I did, just because I felt like it," and I was constantly thinking, "But why? Why did you do it? And why does it matter? And why should I care what you did when you were a teenage boy?"

The way I felt about This Boy's Life reminded me of my experience with Catcher in the Rye. They're not really all that similar, but they're both about teenage boys who can't even begin to understand themselves or other people, so they act out in self-destructive ways. It seems that people who had similar experiences as teenagers are absolutely in love with Catcher in the Rye. "Oh, it's just so real," they'll say. Well, maybe. But I think really good stories are told in such a way that anyone, even those who haven't had the same experiences, can relate to them and understand them. Especially memoirs--a huge reason for the existence of memoir is that people who can't relate to the memoirist's experience can live in the author's story as they read.

I didn't have that experience as I read This Boy's Life, and for that reason the book felt distant to me. It was somewhat interesting, and it was readable, but I didn't particularly enjoy it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter

I'm surprised that I liked this book. Normally I have trouble with children's books because I find them too simplistic or didactic, and this book was definitely both of those. Maybe I'm getting kinder towards children's literature now that I'm going to have a child of my own. (I hope so.)

If you haven't read Pollyanna but have heard someone called "a Pollyanna," then the story is probably much like you would expect. A little girl named Pollyanna, recently orphaned, goes to live with her aunt Polly, a strict, strait-laced woman constantly preaching about duty. The optimistic child runs about town chattering incessantly and teaching everyone she meets (mostly adults--there aren't too many children in the story) about the "Glad Game," the rules of which are simply to find something to be "glad" about in everything. The characters are transformed and everyone learns how to be happy. Until, of course, Pollyanna runs into a hardship that even she can't find anything to be glad about.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Counting books.

I started counting my books even before I started blogging. I counted them in my journal--I'd make a list in the back of all the books I'd read that year.

After I created Classics and Beyond, I started using Goodreads to track the books I read. (I had a Goodreads account before, but I didn't use it regularly.) I loved this easy way to see what I'd read, and just as importantly, how many books I'd read in a year.

At first, I was a little surprised at how low my numbers were, but as I looked over my books, I found that I usually read a few long and/or difficult books each year; the majority of my reading wasn't just breezy novels. Of course, being in school, I'm often assigned to read long and difficult books in a short space of time.

Up until now, I would only count a book in my year's reading if I finished every last page of it. But I've become dissatisfied with that. Of course, I'm not going to count DNFs if I only made it through the first 30 pages. But I often get pretty far in these books before I have to give up. I have a ton of reading to do, and although I really want to finish every book I'm assigned, sometimes I just don't have the time, especially nowadays. So far this semester, I've already put aside How Green Was My Valley after about 200 pages, and I'm suspecting the same is going to happen to Angela's Ashes, even though I only have about 100 pages to go.