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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick

A guy in my class said he didn't like this book because Gornick tried too hard to explain her experience, that there was too much meditation interspersed with the stories from her life.

Well, I guess I need a lot of explanation, because Gornick's meditation on her experience was my favorite part.

To summarize, this is a memoir about Gornick's relationship with her mother. Gornick explores her childhood experience in a poor Jewish family in New York, and how this experience made her the adult she is: both rebellious toward her mother and exactly like her mother.

Vivian Gornick doesn't seem like the kind of person I would like to meet, but she's a fantastic writer. She does a wonderful job of portraying her mother both as a victim of circumstance and culture, a woman who tried her best, and as a cold, judgmental, controlling mother who should have tried harder (and, actually, as a strong and independent woman who rose above her circumstances). She also portrays herself as a person who is victimized, but has made her own choices, both good and bad. I think this was possibly the most fair way Gornick could have told her story.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Hi, guys. So here I am, doing what I said I would do--totally failing at updating the blog during my busy school semester (my last one!). I'm not going to promise that I'll be any better over the next few months when I'll be graduating and having a baby, but I will try when I can, since I've been reading so many books. The reviews will probably be rather belated, like this one, and might not be very good or very long, but I want to try to stay a part of this great book-blog community! 

I knew without a doubt I would love this book. And I wasn't disappointed.

Ever since reading North and South, I've been dying to read more Gaskell. And I'd heard wonderful things about Wives and Daughters, so that was my next pick.

Of course, then life happened and other books got in the way and I didn't actually end up reading it until nearly two years after reading N&S. But even with all the expectations that built up in those two years, Wives and Daughters still gave me all the wonderful, good-book feelings I knew it would.

With this sort of book, it's hard to know exactly what to say. I could talk about the issues it deals with in 19th-century English society--the class problems, the gender issues, the rise of naturalism, etc.--but that would make the book seem more like a relic of purely historical interest than a real classic. I could wax poetic about the timeless themes of love, loss, marriage, sisterhood, friendship, family, duty, right and wrong, and plenty of others--but that's all been done before, by people who are much more poetic than I am.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

This is going to be one of the most difficult reviews I've had to write in quite a while. I had a lot of mixed feelings about The Reader. A summary, as spoiler-free as possible:

In postwar Germany, a sick teenage boy is rescued by an older stranger named Hanna. As he gets to know Hanna better, Michael becomes Hanna's lover. After some time, Hanna disappears without a trace...until Michael sees her again, several years later, in a courtroom being accused of committing horrifying crimes as a Nazi guard. 

The first half of the book, about Michael and Hanna's love affair, was not my cup of tea. Frankly, I don't really find it interesting to read about a messed-up thirty-something woman indulging a horny fifteen-year-old boy's sexual impulses. I think part of the purpose of this part of the book was to make me care about the characters, particularly Hanna--or, at the very least, to be curious about them--but it only repulsed me. I didn't want to learn more about the characters. The only reason I pushed on was that my mom gave me this book, so I knew there had to be more to it than first met the eye.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams

I was sure I was going to like this book. First of all, it came highly recommended from sources I trusted. Plus, the way the memoir was set up seemed to be fail-proof: the author juxtaposes her narrative of the rising of Utah's Great Salt Lake and the effect it has on the birds in the Bird Refuge alongside the narrative of her mother's slow death from cancer. Brilliant. Even more, it's by a Utah author, so I really had no choice but to like it.

...Except that I didn't. I hate to say that. I really do. This is possibly the biggest reading disappointment I've ever had because I just really wanted to like it. 

In the first half, Williams failed to make me care about the birds. The parts about her mother were the most interesting, but they were only snippets in the longer, much more technical narrative about the birds. I felt more like I was reading a newspaper article than a personal memoir. Williams made it clear how much she cared about the birds, but she didn't express this in a way I could understand. The birds were her job, and she left out no solitary technical detail. It was hard to keep my eyes from glazing over. 

But I thought, it'll get better. It has to. Everyone loves this book; it simply must get better. Well, unfortunately, it was actually downhill from there. In the second half of the book, I started to realize just how distant I felt from Terry Tempest Williams. Like her photograph on the back of the book--a black and white picture of a young woman on a boat, clasping her hands as her luxurious hair billows in the wind, looking toward the camera with a mystical half-smile that says, Oh, I didn't see you there--Williams paints herself as a mysterious, wise woman. Frankly, I didn't like this portrayal at all; I thought it was inappropriate for a memoir. Memoirs are a place to connect with your reader, to say, Look, I have these problems just like you, and I'm going to lay them out in front of you so we all can acknowledge that we're not alone. At least, those are the kinds of memoirs I like to read. Williams, instead, seemed condescending, as though she knew something the rest of us don't about nature and life and the universe. It didn't help that she started calling everything she did--driving, vacuuming, whatever--a "meditation." Oh, please. I progressed to the eye-rolling stage. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bout of Books 11: Belated Wrap-Up

Well. I pretty much failed at the last 3 days of the readathon. I did do some reading, but I didn't post every day like I planned and then even my reading kind of fell by the wayside at the end. I finished some of my goals, but not all....

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bout of Books: Day 4

Books read today: The Da Vinci Code
All books finished: Marie Antoinette, The Da Vinci Code

Okay, I didn't do a challenge yesterday because I got sucked down the rabbit hole of The Da Vinci Code. But today I'm going to START the day with a challenge!

Bout of Books: Day 3

Books read today: The Da Vinci Code
All books finished: Marie Antoinette

Well, I failed in doing a challenge today, mainly because I got pretty wrapped up in The Da Vinci Code. (Don't worry, I wasn't surprised. I figured when I started it that it would be unputdownable.) I was planning on finishing it yesterday, and I definitely could have, but finally I decided not to. It was kind of depressing me. But I think I only have about 60 pages left, so I should be able to finish it tomorrow without a problem.

I do have a lot of plans for tomorrow, though, so I may not be able to get much reading done. We'll see!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bout of Books: Day 2

Books read today: The Da Vinci Code, Marie Antoinette
Books finished: Marie Antoinette

12:45 pm: I've been busy making a pie this morning, but I have gotten some time to read The Da Vinci Code. It's starting to take over my reading, I admit, but I would like to finish Marie Antoinette today, so I'd better get on that.

Later: I finished Marie Antoinette! I spent the rest of my time on DVC, which has become rather too exciting to put down. Still not a particularly amazing reading day, but pretty good! I'm planning on doing a challenge tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bout of Books: Day 1

Books read today: The Da Vinci Code
All books finished: None yet

I'm usually really bad at doing challenges in readathons. But I want to this time! So I'm doing the Scavenger Hunt challenge hosted by The Book Monsters. I found all the books for this challenge on my own shelves.

Bout of Books 11: Goals

Whoa! Okay! I almost forgot that Bout of Books starts today! But that's okay...I was needing some reading motivation today!

Right now I'm in the middle of several books that I'm feeling sort of apathetic toward. That's not really a recipe for reading success. So, for this readathon, I want to focus on finishing these books and getting excited about them again. And maybe starting some fun new books!

Here's my little currently-reading pile:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

August Classics Club Meme: Adaptations

The question of the month:
What are your thought on adaptations of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and the adaptation? 
This is a good question. *rubs hands together* Personally, I love adaptations of classics, no matter their form. And I really like modern approaches, too; I think they prove the timelessness of the stories.

Is it better to read the book first? In general I would say that it is, for me anyway, because I like to get a good idea of the characters are they were originally written before I see them played on a screen. With the book, you can really let your imagination run wild, no matter how detailed the character description, but once you've seen an adaptation, that particular interpretation of the character will always color the way you read the book. So I think reading the book first, then watching the adaptation provides the most "genuine" experience of the story. But I've been guilty of seeing the movie before I've read the book, and in some cases I think it's a good thing--if I simply can't bring myself to start reading the book, or I have a premonition that it will be horribly boring, then watching an adaptation can get me more excited to read it. Once I know the storyline, it's easier to get through the book; I'm excited to get to the good parts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

A Three Dog Life is absolutely one of the most appropriately written memoirs about tragedy I've ever read.

Not that I'm an expert on memoirs about tragedy. Far from it. But I know well enough that they are generally unbearably sad, that they make me think fearfully about all the horrible possibilities, and that they're often not uplifting. I don't want to be willfully ignorant, but I also don't want to be unnecessarily depressed. I don't want to avoid the mere mention of tragedy, but I don't want it to consume my thoughts when it hasn't even happened to me (yet).

Abigail Thomas does a beautiful job of gently guiding readers to an understanding of her own tragic experience. At the time of the memoir's writing, Thomas's husband had recently been in a car accident that had caused major brain injuries. He's so unlike himself that he can't even live with her anymore; Thomas has no choice but to put him in a care facility. He has frequent personality changes, often turning against his wife and being suspicious of her. Visiting him is an emotional roller coaster.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Classics Club Spin Results!

I got lucky! The spin number was number 17--smack dab in the middle of my "please pick one of these" category! So I'll be reading Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I've been wanting to pick this one up for quite a while, so I'm excited to get started!

Friday, August 8, 2014

When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson

This is a laugh-out-loud memoir about motherhood and family life. Amy Wilson talks about pregnancy, childbirth, and raising small children with an honest voice. I liked that she was able to be funny without being cynical or forgetting the joys of motherhood--something that's not often achieved when writers talk about parenthood. The book is probably aimed mostly at moms, but even though I don't have kids, I still thought it was relatable and hilarious.

Wow, this is a short review, since I've pretty much just said everything I wanted to say. I needed a really fun memoir, and that's exactly what I got with this book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Classics Club Spin #7!

Originally, I decided to skip the Spin yet again. I have a lot of books I'm in the middle of, and school starts in a just didn't seem like a good time to add a random classic to my pile of books. But once I saw everyone else's lists, I just couldn't help it. I'm going to do the Spin! Even if I don't manage to finish on time, it'll still be fun to try. But I'm going to keep the books on this list relatively short--I don't want to put any pressure on myself to read War and Peace in the next two months.

Please don't pick one of these: 
1. The Odyssey - Homer
2. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
3. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
4. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
5. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Very big, non-bookish news

I've been holding back this news for a while, this being a book blog and all and not really about my personal life. But this is big news...

I'm pregnant! 

Come December, I will have an adorable baby girl! I'm excited beyond belief. This is going to be my first baby and I can hardly wait. 

I think it's time to start compiling baby's library. What are your favorites--for small children, older children, little girls, etc.? 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Devotion by Dani Shapiro

This book, a memoir about finding faith and hope in a tragic world, absolutely exceeded my expectations. It profoundly moved me, leading me to ask questions about the strength of my own faith, what faith does for me, and the nature of God.

One thing I often worry about before reading memoirs like these is that I'll come across harsh criticism of organized religion. I'm a Mormon, and my church (officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) seems, to most people, very strict and all-encompassing. (And I love it that way.) A lot of writers about faith these days seem to scoff at the idea of strict obedience and are determined to find their own way, picking out bits and pieces of different religions according to what makes sense to them. Shapiro, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, actually has a lot of respect for this kind of religion with a lot of rites, symbols, and rules. Although she's become mostly assimilated, she still tries to incorporate Judaism into her life, and I loved that. I was fascinated to read about Shapiro's relationship with Judaism and her determination to keep it in her family, even though she had mostly abandoned the beliefs about God that she had been taught growing up.

Bout of Books 11 Sign-up

Bout of Books

Bout of Books is almost here! I need another readathon before school starts, so this comes at a perfect time. I'm joining in--are you? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

In my opinion, some of the most wonderful books in the world are books about books. And this book was no exception. A summary, written by me:

Wendy and Jack, a married couple, have always talked about someday owning and operating a used bookstore--and they've finally decided to live their dream. They purchase an old house in the small town of Big Stone Gap and open a bookstore right away, without any experience or know-how except a love of books and people. As they traverse the trials of running a bookstore in a small town, they also find unexpected joys in their new life's work. 

Have you ever dreamed of owning a bookstore? I totally have, even though I know it's the most unrealistic thing in the world and I probably wouldn't love it as much as I think I would. So living vicariously through Wendy and Jack's experience is my best option. Welch doesn't try to make running a bookstore sound easy--she and her husband go through some tough times and have to solve some interesting problems--but she still keeps the book lighthearted, focusing on the benefits of owning a bookstore. This book was certainly a fun read, but it also made me think about how and where I buy my books. Most of us book lovers have contemplated the question of whether e-books are going to eventually overcome print, but Welch also brought my attention to big online sellers of print books (cough, Amazon). Welch pointed out that buying books online is what's putting bookstores out of business because they can't compete with online prices. It made me reconsider the way I buy books (although honestly, I hardly ever buy books anyway--unless they're for school--because I'm a poor college student. But, you know, someday). 

To anyone who loves books and especially those who have dreamed of owning a bookstore, I would absolutely recommend this book. It makes me want to visit all the used bookstores in a fifty-mile radius and buy out all their inventory. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

I expected to like this book. I couldn't imagine not enjoying a book about a restaurant critic for the New York Times who is so determined to expose the truth about fancy restaurants that she dines in disguise. (And yes, it's nonfiction.)

And Garlic and Sapphires exceeded my expectations. Not only did it provide descriptions of meals and life as a New York Times restaurant critic, it also addressed the issues that Reichl faced. Halfway through the book, I was beginning to be a bit sickened by the idea of someone criticizing minute details of ridiculously luxurious meals. I'm not trying to be one of those self-righteous "children are starving in Africa" people, but it just seems wrong to be critical of a $100 prepaid meal while you're being waited on hand and foot.

I was surprised and pleased that Reichl tackled this issue. She didn't want to become the pretentious NY Times restaurant critic, trusting all too thoroughly in her own importance as the "Princess of New York" (as Reichl says). Near the end of the book, she has an experience that I think illustrates perfectly what a restaurant critic ought to consider her mission: She eats in an expensive restaurant that serves truly terrible food and has horrible service, and notices that a young couple at the table next to her seem to be the sort of people who have saved up for a fancy meal. Unfortunately, the service and food are so terrible that they can't enjoy their time. She insists on paying for their meal: "Let me pick up your check. Take the money you were going to spend here and go to another restaurant. A good one." When they protest, she says, "It's sort of part of my job. What I'm supposed to do is make sure that people don't waste their money in places like this. . . ." A restaurant critic isn't supposed to spend her time basking in her power, being as judgmental as possible to make herself feel more knowledgeable and important. She should be the informed voice that can help those of us who can't eat fancy meals every day (like me--and like most people) make good decisions when we do go out for special occasions.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July Classics Club Meme

Other than the readathon, I've been all about the reviews lately (and I have about five more waiting to be published. What's up with my habit of writing posts and then not bothering to publish them these days? Weird). Which is awesome, and I'm so proud of myself, but it's always fun to change it up. I haven't done a Classics Club meme in a while, and this one caught my attention:
Have you ever read a biography on a classic author? If so, tell us about it. If you had already read works by this author, did reading a biography of his/her life change your perspective on the author's writing? Why or why not? Or, if you've never read a biography of a classic author, would you? Why or why not? 
Why yes, I have--actually, I've read a few. Most of the biographies of classic authors I've read haven't been particularly memorable; I read them for the information and appreciated it at the time, but the biography itself didn't stand out. The one that immediately sprang to mind was Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence, which inspired the movie "Becoming Jane."

I liked the biography because I thought it was written well and it was actually a good book--imagine, a biographer that actually tries to make his book interesting--but also it gave me a lot more perspective on Jane Austen. Prior to reading Becoming Jane Austen, I didn't know a lot about Austen herself, other than that she lived and wrote at the beginning of the 19th century and never married. But learning about her certainly did change my perspective on her novels.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 9

Books read today: Wives and Daughters, Marie Antoinette
All books finished: Refuge, When Did I Get Like This?, The Reader

11:30 am: I've had a busy morning, and an even busier day planned, so I don't know how much reading I'll really be able to do. I have read a couple chapters of Wives and Daughters, though. It's getting interesting! It's fun to get into a classic that's so easy to read.

10:00 pm: Well, as I predicted, it hasn't been much of a reading day. However, I did read another chapter of Marie Antoinette, which means I'm basically halfway done! Which also means that I finished all my goals for the readathon! Yippee! I'm pretty proud of myself. I even went above and beyond, finishing three books instead of just the two I was planning. Tomorrow, the last day of the readathon, probably will be another slow reading day (I have family in town), but I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 8

Books read today: The Reader
All books finished: Refuge, When Did I Get Like This?, The Reader

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 4

Books read today: Marie Antoinette, The Reader
All books finished: Refuge, When Did I Get Like This?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 3

Books read today: When Did I Get Like This?, The Reader
All books finished: Refuge, When Did I Get Like This?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 2

Books read today: Marie Antoinette, When Did I Get Like This?
All books finished: Refuge

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 1

Wicked Wildfire Read-a-Thon 2014

Books read today: Refuge, Marie Antoinette, When Did I Get Like This?
Books finished: Refuge

12:00 pm: I'm not counting pages read this time because, uh, it's hard. (Yeah, counting is hard. I'm an English major, kay?)

I lazed around this morning, dipping a bit into When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson, a book I bought recently at a library book sale. After I went jogging (finally), the serious reading began. I started with Marie Antionette by Antonia Fraser, a book my mom gave me, which is somehow the most interesting book on my list right now. Don't you love when you're actually drawn to chunky nonfiction? I think my brain is starting to miss school.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Sign-up and Goals

Over the past couple days, I've been a little down on reading motivation, turning to other, more useless pursuits, like comedy TV. Clearly, I need a readathon to motivate me. So I'm signing up for this year's Wicked Wildfire readathon!
Wicked Wildfire Read-a-Thon 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

This book was all the rage for a while, and I guess I'm jumping onto the bandwagon a little late (particularly considering the copy I bought was in the bargain section). So I'll try to say something at least somewhat original about it.

A summary, for anyone else who's late to the bandwagon, spoiler-free, written by yours truly:

Tom Sherbourne, a WWI veteran haunted by his past, couldn't be happier now that he's a lighthouse keeper and married to the love of his life, Isabel. But Tom and Isabel's carefree life alone on an island is marred by two miscarriages and a stillbirth. All Isabel wants is a baby...and one night, it seems that God has granted her heart's desire when a boat appears with a baby--a live baby and a dead man. Isabel can't bear to let the baby go and insists that she and Tom pretend the baby was hers all along. As they raise "their" little girl, Tom becomes more and more uneasy, wondering who might be devastated at the loss of the baby...

This book is a slow read. I got a little irritated by the slowness, and I'm not sure why because I usually like slow books--probably because I was impatient for some of the mysteries to get solved. But the book wasn't really about the mysteries; it was about the moral dilemma.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

After several months of slow reading, I finally finished this book...several weeks ago. And I also wrote about it several weeks ago. (I'm kind of the worst. I have all these reviews waiting in the wings that I have failed to share with you yet.) So finally, I'm sharing my thoughts.

A spoiler-free summary...written by me:

Alma Whittaker, born right at the beginning of the 19th century, is the daughter of Henry Whittaker, a stubborn self-made man who finally settled down in Pennsylvania after years of botanical exploring around the world. Alma grows up in the finest house for miles around, honing her genius under her parents' tutelage and applying her brilliance to a study of naturalism. 

That makes it sound incredibly boring, but I'm not sure how much further I can go without revealing too much. (Personally, if it's not revealed within the first 50 pages of the book, I consider it a spoiler. So I even left out some of the stuff that was on the jacket. But I promise there is much more to the book than what I've written.)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart

This is a very specific book that probably won't appeal to a lot of people, so I'll keep this brief.

When I initially picked up Handling the Truth, I was actually expecting a memoir about writing memoir--maybe the author struggling with the difficulties of memoir or something. Instead, the book is more of a how-to guide on writing memoir (although it certainly isn't as technical about it as all that). It was actually a very pleasant surprise, since I'm interested in writing memoir.

Kephart gave lots of wonderful examples of great memoir, zeroing in on the difficulties of memoir and how to deal with them. I even used some of the exercises she gave (and I might go back to some of the others). I wish I owned this book so I could go back to it when I'm seriously writing a memoir.

My only complaint--which isn't much of a complaint, really--is that sometimes her writing got a little pretentious. At times it was like she was trying to write poetry or something, not trying to talk honestly about writing memoir. I feel like that happens to a lot of writers these days; they forget the actual point of what they're trying to say and start waxing poetic, turning adjectives into verbs, using nonsensical metaphors just because they sound pretty, and generally ceasing to sound like a real person. I'm fine with that in poetry, but I'm not sure it belongs in a book like this. (In the interest of honesty, though, I'll be the first to admit that I, too, get caught in this trap more often than I would like--but I'm a beginning writer, not a veteran who's written five memoirs like Kephart.)

Anyway, I promised to keep this short, so I'll leave it there. Despite my overly long paragraph criticizing minute details of the writing style, I actually really enjoyed this book! I would recommend it to anyone considering writing memoir.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I hesitated actually writing this review since I wasn't sure what I would even say. Little House in the Big Woods was everything I remembered it being, since I last read it, as a child. I have a hard time thinking of it any other way.

As a kid, I loved imagining being in any time, place, or world other than the one I was in. (Not that I didn't have a happy childhood.) My sister and I often pretended we lived on a farm, grinding "wheat" (wheat-ish looking weeds) with a stone and making "bread" (nicely-shaped rocks). Naturally, the Little House books were right up my alley. If only I lived in Laura Ingalls Wilder's time, and we could bake bread every week, make our own maple sugar, and be overjoyed to receive oranges and a rag doll for Christmas.

This time around, I was still thinking of the story the way my little-girl brain did. However, I was a little more uneasy about how romanticized the story was. The family laughs over their near-deadly experiences with bears. When Laura's cousin gets stung all over his body with bees and has to be bandaged from head to toe, the parents merely say, "well, he deserved it." Really? That sort of incident would merit a trip to the emergency room these days! Who cares how annoying the kid was?

And I was able to appreciate a little more how much more luxurious the American lifestyle is now. There are things from the book that I irrationally still wish I could have; I guess as people like to say, "It was a simpler time" (but honestly, I find it hard to believe that any time in human history was ever "simple"). But overall, the book reminded me to be grateful that I live in America today, and not back then.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer Reading Plans

Everyone in the book blogging world is posting about their summer reading plans. I love reading all your lists and seeing your ambitious goals!

I've been thinking a lot about my own reading plans for this summer. This is the first summer in quite a while that I've actually had a lot of time to read. I don't have any required readings for classes, so I can actually read whatever I want for once without anyone breathing down my neck.

I feel obligated to use this time to tackle some big, chunky, difficult classics. I rarely read them for school because they don't fit well on a single-semester syllabus--teachers don't like having to devote an entire semester to a single book--and I finally have time to slowly work through them. I could read War and Peace! Or Moby Dick! (With Adam's readalong going on, I was really tempted.) Or Ulysses! (Okay...barf.) I could do that readalong of Les Miserables I've been wanting to do forever!

As fun as it would be to finally be able to say I've read some tough chunksters (or, hey, even some shorter classics), the honest truth is that I don't have much enthusiasm for them this summer. After 3 1/2 years of studying literature in college, I can finally read for fun. Reading difficult classics, as wonderful as they are, would just drain the fun right out of it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

I've had this review waiting in the wings for a while. I actually read this book a few months ago and wrote the review shortly afterward, but for some reason I waited until now to publish it. 

Last year I tackled The Sound and the Fury on my own. I didn't love it, but I found a lot to appreciate about the book. I thought that it might be interesting to study Faulkner in a class. And this year, I got my chance in my American Literature class (click to see the full reading list).

Honestly, I probably should have just left the poor dead guy alone.

I don't know what it was, but this time, I had a lot less patience for Faulkner. Everything about the book, from the very beginning, seemed to just irk me. The sentences were unbearably long, the characters were unrealistically chatty, and Faulkner seemed to have no real concern for his readers or reality.

Here's a quick rundown of the novel:

Quentin (yes, the same Quentin from the TSatF) learns about his Southern past. An old lady named Rosa Coldfield and Quentin's father, Jason Compson, discuss the story of Thomas Sutpen in great detail in the first couple chapters, particularly speculating on the reasons why Sutpen's son, Henry, killed his sister's fiance, Charles Bon. In the last two chapters, Quentin and his college roommate Shreve (a Canadian--yes, that's important) spend a ridiculous amount of hours hashing over the story again and again until they finally come to a conclusion about why Henry Sutpen killed Charles Bon.

Of course, there about a million more details in the story of Thomas Sutpen and his family, which Faulkner spends very little effort trying to make us care about.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Home again.

Remember that one time that I completely neglected my blog for two whole months, neither writing new posts nor even responding to comments?

Yeah, okay. That happened just now.

But I'm back, friends. I'm back and I'm so glad.

I don't really have a good reason to be gone, but I do have reasons. The short answer is that life happened. The long answer is that I was finishing out my school semester and things got busy, and I not only neglected my blog but I also neglected most other important parts of my life including reading for pleasure, writing, spending time with friends, cooking for fun, and everything else I genuinely like to do and spent all my free time watching inane television; and then I was out of town; and then I spent all my time watching some more inane television. I'm not very proud of these last two months.

But I've finally come to my senses. Mainly because I went to the library today. There's really nothing that can bring you to your senses better than a good, long visit to the library.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Passing by Nella Larsen

This was an interesting new read for me, for several reasons: I had never read (or even, alas, heard of) the author, and I've never seen race dealt with in quite the same way.

For those reasons, I was delighted that my American Modernism professor chose Passing as one of the readings for my class. ...Can I go on a mini-rant here? So many of my professors think it's very important to read the canonized literature, so they all assign the same exact stuff and an English major ends up reading the same texts over and over again. (And, I might add, we go over more or less the same interpretation every time.) And yes, I know you remember it better if you read it more times, but I think there's much more to be gained reading a text, say, ten years down the road than in reading it 4 months down the road. As great as these texts are, when we just read the same stuff, we only get one side of the story. I think it's better to see many different sides of the same story, so that even if we don't remember the individual texts themselves all that well, we remember the different perspectives (or, at the very least, we remember that there are many different perspectives). I think my American Modernism teacher is doing a great job of mixing up canonized literature ("dead white guys") with stuff that also shows another side of the story, the way Nella Larsen does in Passing

Friday, March 7, 2014

Literary periods, movements, and all sorts of other fun

I'm in the middle of a few reviews which I've had a tough time finishing, for some reason. So, I thought, why not do the meme over at the Classics Club (which I've been neglecting the past few months)?

What is your favorite "classic" literary period and why?
First, a little background on literary periods and movements in general. Some people have mentioned that they don't really know which authors belong to which periods, etc. I wouldn't call myself an expert on literary history, but I've been studying it for over 3 years, so I do know a thing or two about it.

One thing that seems to confuse people is the difference between literary periods and literary movements. So, in case you're wondering, here's my understanding of periods and movements: A period is simply a space in time, but it's often confined to a certain part of the world. So, anyone who wrote during that time period, in that particular place, was part of that period. A movement, on the other hand, is when a bunch of authors decided to write in a certain way at a certain time. So, not everyone in the country at the time is actually part of the movement.

Movements are kind of tricky, at least for me. Some people are very obviously part of a certain movement. For example, Dante Gabriel Rosetti was clearly a Pre-Raphaelite. No doubt about that. Emerson was obviously a Transcendentalist. But what about authors that didn't firmly identify with a particular movement? There are about a million and one authors that have been identified as "realists," it seems. "Modernism" is another sketchy one.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reading Lists

For some of you, this post will be the most boring thing you could possibly read. So if you read the title and thought, "Gross, I thought I was done with those," then please do yourself a favor and skip it! My feelings won't be hurt!

Others of you, however, have indicated interest in learning what I've been assigned to read in my various classes. So without further ado, here are my reading lists. (I've also included links to anything I've reviewed, so you can check those out if you want.)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Candide by Voltaire

I originally put this book on my Classics Club list because I heard it was short and funny, and then it worked out perfectly because I was assigned to read it for my World Literature class this semester.*

I'll be honest; I didn't think Candide was all that funny. Well, it was sort of funny in a really sarcastic way, but it was also atrocious, which made it a lot less funny to me. The introduction in my book made it sound like Voltaire was such a master of humor that he could make the worst injustices seem rip-roaringly hilarious, but I was never quite on board with that. Not that it pulled at my heartstrings, really; Voltaire didn't seem to have much sympathy for his characters. I wasn't sad; I was repulsed. Yeah, I get that he was making fun of people who think "everything is for the best." That doesn't make it any more amusing to read about rape, prostitution, deliberate disfigurement, torture, and all the other lovely events related throughout Candide. Don't get me wrong, I can see how someone might think it's funny, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tartuffe by Moliere

I actually read Tartuffe as a homeschooled teenager. (Am I sensing a trend around here lately?) The only thing I really remembered about it, before reading it this time around, was the positively insufferable (yes, the uppity word "insufferable" is called for here) rhyming couplets that made up the entire play.

Well, thankfully, I read a different translation this time, and that made all the difference. The translation in the Norton Anthology of Western Literature, which I was assigned this time, was by Richard Wilbur, and although it kept the rhyming couplets, it managed to make them sound a little more elegant and a bit less contrived. Whatever translation I read as a teenager sounded like a seven-year-old had written it.

But anyway, once the rhyming couplets came out right, they did their job of keeping the entire play light on its feet. After spending several weeks immersed in King Lear, this play was exactly the right thing to read. It was fun and hilarious, short and sweet. I can imagine it would be even more fun to see it played onstage.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Obligatory Bloglovin Post

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

(So I finally decided to claim my blog on Bloglovin, heh, and apparently in order to do that, you have to write a post with this link at the top. Here you are. No pressure--but I do recommend Bloglovin; I've been using it for several months now. I also recommend my blog. Yep. Shameless self-advertising.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

King Lear by William Shakespeare

I have to say that reading Shakespeare as an adult is way more fun with the past experience of having read it as a homeschooled teenager. I first read King Lear when I was about 12. Probably needless to say, I hardly remembered it at all when I started it this time around. Here's a comprehensive list of all the details I remembered:
  • The first scene is very long and it involves King Lear misinterpreting something his daughter said. 
  • Goneril and Regan are jerks. 
  • Something gross and violent happens (who knows what). 
  • People die at the end. 
Yeah, okay, Shakespeare may not have been my primary focus as a 12-year-old. (What's King Lear in comparison with cute boys?) But I do remember liking the play, believe it or not. It was my first real introduction to Shakespeare, and although I barely understood a word, I loved it. 

So it was sort of nostalgic to read King Lear again, for the first time since those fateful few weeks as a 12-year-old.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Austenland by Shannon Hale

How long has it been since I read a book like this? Ummmm...over a year. I'm not kidding. At all.

This year I made a goal to focus on fun books, which works out perfectly with a book club I joined. (I finally joined a book club!) Some of the other members of the club are students as well, so most of the books we're planning on reading are short, easy, and fun.

Austenland was the first pick. I was excited about it because I've been interested in Shannon Hale since I read Princess Academy as a teenager. But I also felt a little weird reading YA for the first time in a long time. I felt even weirder when I got totally hooked, blowing off studying and housework and other important things in order to read it. Of course, I finished it within a couple of days, after carrying it around with me and reading it in spare moments.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

I finished this book early last December and I've been working on this review ever since. I'm finally just putting it out there, even though it still feels unfinished. 

I think I found a new favorite author.

Okay, of course, it's hard to say that when I've only read one book by George Eliot. But it's such an exquisite book. It felt like the book I've been waiting for, one of those positively delicious books that you can't help but drink right in. 

This book has all the elements I love the most in books. Characters that are beautiful and complex and inherently flawed. A story that is meaningful and important without needing extravagant epic proportions. A message that comes through, but that will necessarily look and feel different for every single reader. And above all, gorgeous writing. 

I honestly don't know how to praise this book enough. After reading it, I can't imagine not liking a book by George Eliot. It's just that wonderful. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

I've been meaning to read this book for years, and I only just got to it this year. Once I started reading it, I finished it in just a couple days. (First book of the year!...Don't worry, I finished it forever ago. I'm just behind on reviews.)

I think it would be hard for anyone to dislike this book (despite the weird Mormon stuff--which I'll get to in a minute). Like most people, I've seen adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and loved them. The original book did not disappoint. Holmes himself was just as awkward, egotistical, brilliant, condescending, and all-around fantastic as a character as every adaptation had made him out to be.

Now that I've seen the original character, I really love the way he lends himself to interpretation. Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch play Holmes in two distinct ways, and neither of these is the "original Holmes"--but each of them is right. There really is no "one Holmes" that everyone is trying to imitate. Sherlock Holmes is a character that can be taken in many different directions, and that's what I loved about him.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Goals for 2014 (and the sad truth about Bout of Books)

Last year, I made a few vague, last-minute goals for the new year. I was still new to blogging and I wasn't even sure what I was trying to accomplish in 2013. (I reviewed those goals in this post.) This year, though, I have just a bit of book blogging experience under my belt, and I've been able to come up with goals that I think will actually help focus my reading and blogging for the next year.

Reading Goals: 
  • Read more than last year. More books, more pages. 
  • Always have at least one book that I'm reading just for fun, and allow reading for fun to be a priority. 
  • Use my e-reader. 
  • Save the hard stuff for school, and focus more on light, fun books. (I read a lot of dense, thought-provoking classics for school, and then I go and try to read even more of them on my own. This year, I don't want to push myself so hard. Fun books are not just okay, they're good for me.) 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bout of Books Sign-up

Excited for another round of Bout of Books? I am!

Bout of Books

I don't know how much reading I'll actually be able to do given that it's the first week of school (reading aside from assigned reading, that is). So, my only goal is just to try to read for fun as much as I can in my spare time.

See you on Monday! I'll be reading!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Best (and worst) of 2013

So I mentioned in my last post that I was excited to do an end-of-year book survey. I've noticed that not everyone loves these, but I love reading them on other people's blog and this is my first chance to do one of my own! 2013 was a great year for reading and I'm excited to look back with this end-of-year survey hosted by Jamie at the Perpetual Page-Turner.

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? (If you have to cheat — you can break it down by genre if you want or 2013 release vs. backlist)

This is a serious toughie--as I think it is for all of yeah, I'm totally breaking it down by genre. 
Classic: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (still working on that review, by the way...) 
Non-classic Fiction: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Non-classic Non-Fiction: This one is oddly the hardest to choose, but I think I'll go with Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard and My Life in France by Julia Child...closely followed by Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott.