Monday, December 21, 2009

I'm Getting Married!

Well, it is here (finally). On Saturday December 26, 2009, I am getting married to my fiance Matt, who I have been with for almost 7 1/2 years. It has been a long time coming.

With all of the events leading up to the wedding, Christmas, and everything else, I know I won't be here. That is obvious since my last post was last Tuesday. So, I won't be writing here until the New Year when we get back from our honeymoon.

Have a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and wonderful memories. I know that I will be making many wonderful new memories with Matt.

See you in 2010!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book 14: Inspired by Sawyer.

“Hell of a book. It’s about bunnies,” Sawyer to Kate in Lost (Episode: “Confidence Man” Season 1).

Matt and I have been watching a lot of Lost recently. When the show first went on the air, I made an effort to watch it, but only got through a couple of episodes. At the time, I was in college and had an irregular schedule so I always forgot to watch it. Besides, I am not a huge T.V. watcher anyway (I’d rather read), so I just plain forgot about it.

I ended up buying the first season on DVD when it came out with the intentions of watching it before the second season aired. I got all the way to four episodes before the end. Then the writers made me angry by removing a character and I refused to watch any more.

But Matt is a huge Lost fan and the last season starts up in January. So, we are trying to get through 5 seasons before then (which I highly doubt will happen). And I actually really love the show. It has quite a few sci-fi elements in it, which I love. It also has a ton of literary references in both the titles of episodes, to things characters say, to the books that surround the characters.

And the first book that appeared on screen was Watership Down by Richard Adams. It appeared in the hands of Sawyer, which threw me for a loop. But, knowing the writers of Lost, I know that there is some significance to everything they have chosen. On the cover of the book it says, “The timeless classic novel of exile, courage, and survival.” Where else would you find those things than on an island?

(And since I have seen a few episodes from other seasons and I know a few of the tricks, it was definite foreshadowing when A Wrinkle in Time popped up a few episodes later).

Anyway, I owe it to Sawyer that I chose Watership Down as my next book. Mostly because I also want to read about bunnies. Also, I love the fact that a popular T.V. show is making such amazing literary references. So, I am taking one of their subtle nudges and going with it. I am also sure that reading it will give me further insight into the mysteries that surround Lost and so when we keep watching, I can make little gasps of realization instead of Matt because for once, I will make a connection that he won’t.

(On another side note, it is infuriating to watch a T.V. show with someone who has already seen every episode. Especially when they give things away).

On to the bunny rabbits.

For anyone who is interested in the literature in Lost, here is a link to a Lost wiki (yes, there is such a thing) entry about the literature and literary references throughout the series:

Book 13: Finished.

With out a doubt, Germinal is the best book I have read during this challenge. I’ll even go so far as to say that Germinal is one of the best books I have read this year. And I’ll go even further to say that Germinal is one of the best books I have ever read.


It wasn’t the story that made it great, or the writing, or the characters, or the time period, or the drama. It was a combination of all of those things in the right amount.

Germinal serves as a perfect time capsule of the time in which it was set. The characters are real, as is the situation. The plight of the miners is tangible to the reader and you feel as though you are right there with them.

When the story eventually turns to tragedy, you feel as though those people are your own, and that you have grown up with them in the mining village. You have suffered and starved with them and lost your own family members to the horror of the mines.

But even with all of its dark and depressing plotlines, the novel still leaves you with a bit of hope in its last words:

“Beneath the blazing of the sun, in that morning of new growth, the countryside rang with song, as its belly swelled with a black and avenging army of men, germinating slowly in its furrows, growing upwards in readiness for harvests to come, until one day soon their ripening would burst open the earth itself.”

While it is a story of a group of miners striking because of low pay, lack of food, and horrid working conditions, it is also the tale of a time in everyone’s history where the working class had enough. The United States got that in their factories and shops. You might even know about the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where women were locked in a burning factory and jumped from windows to plummet to their own deaths.

Labor strikes are a part of almost every developed country’s history. People rising up against corruption and prejudice to fight for what they believe to be their own.

So…Germinal. Why do I keep singing its praises?

It is how Zola ties everything together. Rather than focus on one specific instant, or one specific character, Zola creates a world in the 7 parts to his novel. Each part is its own story, with the introduction of characters, a rising struggle, and the inevitable climax, which usually leads to tragedy. Each part grabs you until you finish it. Then you move on. It is almost as if Zola crafted 7 independent problems, but tied them together in the larger context of the novel.

It’s amazing. And breathtakingly beautifully written. I marked hundreds of passages for their beauty and it is too hard to pick my favorites. Perhaps my ultimate favorite is above., the last words from the novel that seem to sum up its message. That even through struggle, death, and tragedy, there is still hope. There is always hope.

Germinal is without a doubt a book I will be returning to again and again. I recommend it above anything else that I have read so far for this challenge. Just make sure that before you get to Part 7, you make sure you have enough time to read straight through it. Trust me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Small Update.

This has been a really busy week for me. I had appointments with a lot of our vendors for our upcoming wedding. Things seem to be going along somewhat smoothly, so I am just trying to keep on top of things. We also had a mouse in our house earlier this week, which caused a bit of excitement.

The computer at the apartment has also been broken, but that was taken care of earlier today. I also drove up to Mt. Pleasant and back to get my sister from college on Thursday, which was a good 6 hour trip.

All in all, a busy and stressful week. Sadly, reading has again taken a backseat and so has blogging. I finished Germinal on Tuesday night and I started my next book. I hope to find time to write about them later this weekend.

As it gets closer to the wedding, I am most likely going to take a hiatus until we get back from our honeymoon. The less on my plate, the better. But in the meantime, keep reading.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Book 13: Necessary Violence.

Violence for the sake of violence is unnecessary. Especially in a book where it is not needed to prove a point. In fact, you could say that about a lot of things. Sometimes, romance isn’t necessary either and it simply detracts from the power of the book. In my opinion, I think authors throw it in (at times) because they think it is necessary to keep readers. And while I do love a good love story, sometimes it only ruins the message of their main plot line.

However, in Germinal, the violence is extremely necessary. Like I said in an earlier post, Germinal is about a mining town where the workers are underpaid, underfed, and starving to death. When they decide to strike, they launch a series of events that spiral them further and further into poverty.

I have come to see that Zola’s realistic portrayal of every aspect of this novel is what makes it so powerful. Not only does he explain the minute details of a mining town and its people (both proletariat and bourgeois), he also explains every other aspect of the characters’ lives. They aren’t just names. You are in their houses. You know who is sleeping with whom and whose husband had no idea. You know who the town “whore” is, as well as where you can go to borrow bread. The minute details are what make this story so realistic.

As well as the violence.

It is not that you don’t see it coming. I mean, you read passages where a certain character is being thrown around by her “man” and beaten. So the reader does see violence early on. But the intensity of the violence keeps going up and up until, at one point, I had to set the book aside.

The scene I am talking about (and it won’t ruin the novel for you if you read about it), is when an angry mob defiles a dead man’s body by cutting off his…well…you know what and parading it around on a stick for all the town to see.

Out of context it is a disturbing scene. Really disturbing, but when you are reading a long, you are on the side of the mob. You can see why they would do such a thing and why they feel the way they do. In this case, the violence is understandable and adds to the book. It is only a further portrayal of the plight of the town.

It is necessary violence.

Later, when a mob is mowed down by soldiers, it is also necessary violence, and violence that Zola orchestrates beautifully. The entire central portion of the novel is the rising of the strike and its progression. For anyone who has studied labor history, strikes usually go until there is a breaking point. Sometimes that breaking point is handled in a way to avoid violence, but there have been many cases where a strike has ended in violence, particularly in the time period this all takes place (around the turn of the 20th century). There were no unions to protect workers back then.

So when the mob is mowed down and people die, it is shocking. It is violent in its description, but it is necessary. How else would Zola have portrayed the extent of anger the strikers were feeling but to have them transform into an angry mob? And how else could he have shown his readers the ultimate end and disheartenment of those strikers?

While out of context these scenes seem like too much, they add so much to the story. So even though I had to set aside the novel after reading both scenes, I have realized that one of the main reasons this is heralded as a classic is because of its realism. Zola didn’t shy away from the violent side of human nature, or mob mentality. Instead, he takes the risk of explaining it fully and painting very vivid pictures for his readers. I get it and I praise him for it. He used violence in a way that added to his novel, and probably pushed it to the place where it is today.

I only wish that more writers would use such discretion in their own writing. Sometimes it is okay to use that kind of detail and mental image for reader, and sometimes, you just don’t need it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Salon: December 6, 2009.

This has been an incredibly busy week for me, thus, the lack of blogging. I have been trying to make an effort in the last few weeks to reach out to other bloggers, but sadly, I am lacking the time. With the wedding only being 20 days away (eek!), I think it is too much to ask of myself to devote the few minutes I have of free time to searching out other book bloggers and networking a bit. So, that will have to wait until the New Year.

I have spent some time this week reflecting on this past year. This has truly been the roughest year I can remember. A lot has happened to make this a very emotional year, and it isn’t even over yet! I know that 2010 will have a lot of great things in store for me, so I am excited to get there. With that being said, once we are back from our honeymoon, on the 4th, I will definitely find myself with more time on my hands to devote to blogging. For the couple of months I have been here, I have loved it. It is nice to know that I have my own place here. Sometimes it is hard, knowing that my blog is not where I want it to be yet, but I know that in a few weeks, it can be. So be prepared for insanity once the calendars change to 2010.

Anyway, back to this week. Like I said, it has been kind of crazy. I finished all my Christmas shopping, with the exception of my grandmother and Matt’s step-dad. I also have been calling our wedding vendors to set up appointments and get everything finalized. I have a few more phone calls to make in the morning. I am hoping by the end of this coming week to have everything mostly set.

RSVPs have been flying in. We are up to 181 confirmed guests for the wedding, which is excellent. We’re hoping to hit the minimum number of 225 for the room so we don’t have to go crazy money wise, but if not, we already know what we’re going to do to upgrade. There are still 90 people yet to RSVP, so keep your fingers crossed.

I also went for a practice run of my bridal hair yesterday, which turned out beautifully. We discussed a few small changes for the big day, but I am really happy with the stylist and her work.

Last night, Matt and I headed to downtown Detroit for a concert as a requirement for one of his classes. The concert was held in the historic Fort Street Church (go here for more: It was a beautiful church, built in 1855. When it burned down, it was rebuilt in 1877. It is a gorgeous building and we got to sit in the upper ring, looking down on the main floor and the front of the church. The performance was of Handel’s “Messiah.” For anyone not music minded, “Messiah” contains what it called the “Hallelujah Chorus” (picture clouds parting and light beaming down while a choir sings, “Hallelujah!”). It was a wonderful performance, if long, and we both really enjoyed it.

Today was spent packing up some things to move over to the apartment and then moving all those things into our apartment. Officially, all of my books are now moved in, all 1200+ of them are stacked in boxes in the closet. That closet is officially stuffed to the gills with books and some other items. Remind me to take a picture to show you the madness. The only books I kept here are a stack of 15 or so to see me through until we can purchase some bookshelves. We also moved over a bunch of other items. I am amazed by how much stuff I have accumulated. I have gone through a lot, but there are still a few things left to clean out—mainly some bins in our basement FULL of stuffed animals. One goal for the week is to go through them and decide which ones I don’t want, which will be many, and donate the rest. I am hoping to find some homes and shelters in nearby Pontiac which will take them for needy children.

In reading news, I am still in the middle of Germinal. I honestly haven’t had time to read, even though I am so close to finishing it. Honestly, there was a scene which kind of tore me up a bit so I stopped reading it last night in favor of sleep. Don’t fear, however, I have a lot to say about the book, which will all be forthcoming.

Goals for this week are to finish Germinal and to start something new. I’m not sure what I’ll grab, but I know that it won’t be a play.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday Treat #4: Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne.

I am resuming my “Thursday Treats” this week after a break for the Thanksgiving holiday. This week’s choice is a little more fun than amazing and well-written, and I am choosing it for a number of reasons.

I have chosen Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne. If you haven’t already seen the trailer, the movie for this book is being released soon. It stars Michael Cera, who I believe is one of the funniest young actors working today.

I read this over the summer months and quickly fell in love with it. Nick Twisp, the main character, is a teenager who falls in love with a girl. She is demanding and requests Nick to go through all kinds of ordeals to prove his love to her. The result is a novel full of ridiculous teenage antics that leave your sides aching with laughter. It is told in diary/journal form by Twisp and takes place over a series of months.

The best part about reading this when I did, was that I already knew Cera was staring in the main role and I could see him as Nick Twisp so clearly. It was perfect casting.

The other main reason why I was so excited to read this, and why I am so excited to see the movie, is that portions of the film adaptation were filmed in my hometown of Rochester Hills, Michigan. In addition, scenes were filmed at Yates Roadside Park, which is one of the parks I work at for the city! Last summer they filmed the scenes and it was total chaos around the park. We even drove by to see if we could get a glimpse!

When I saw the preview (while I was waiting for New Moon to come on), I saw a glimpse of my park on screen, which makes this a very special experience.

Even with all of that aside, the book alone is a hilarious read. Twisp’s antics and behavior is so extreme that it is humorous. But you won’t be able to put it down. Trust me.

I will warn you that this book is quite the chunker at 499 pages. Be prepared to get sucked in!

You can find more information about the film at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Blogger Issues.

I seem to be having some problems with Blogger. The list of blogs I was following has disappeared and blogger is telling me I have no list. This confuses me since I checked all the blogs I follow this morning.

Until I get this straightened out, I apologize for the glitch.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book 13: Germinal.

“Etienne Lantier, an unemployed railway worker, it a clever but uneducated man with a dangerous temper. Compelled to take a back-breaking job at Le Voreux mine when he cannot get other word, he discovers that his fellow-miners are ill, hungry, and in debt, unable to feed and clothe their families. When conditions in the mining community deteriorate even further, Lantier finds himself leading a strike that could mean starvation or salvation for all. The thirteenth novel in Zola’s great Rougon-Macquart sequence, Germinal expresses outrage at the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope,” (Penguin Classics Ed. 2004).

Germinal is not what I expected. It is far more. When I sat down to start it, I had every intention of stopping after 20 pages. When I finally did put it down, I had read over 70 and wanted to read more. By then, it was 2 in the morning and I needed to sleep, but even after I shut my eyes, I was haunted by what I read:

“And in the heavy silence created by the crushing mass of earth it was possible to put an ear to the rock and hear the teeming activity of human insects on the march, from the whirr of the cables rising and falling as the cages took the coal to the surface to the grinding of tools as they bit into the seam deep within each working,” (39).

I have never read any of Zola’s work. And I had never even heard of Zola before deciding to add this work to my list. It is the only novel by him I will be reading for this challenge, but I have already decided that the rest of his body of work is a must read for myself in the future.

The book is haunting. The degree of poverty is extreme and described in such vivid detail that you truly feel the pain of these characters. They must beg the wealthy for food to get by. They are rejected by shop-owners because they are already in so much debt that they cannot pay. They are dirty and starving and malnourished. The mine workers cough up black phlegm and their skin and hair is discolored. Even with all these things against them, the miners still seem to hold on to hope that one day, things will get better. On the verge of constant starvation, they make do.

They beg from those with more and barter with shop-keepers. To get bread for a week, they send their daughters to pick up their food and to “pay” for their food with sex. They send their children of ten or eleven to the mines to work and stretch a handful of coffee grounds over 3 days to get the most from it.

There is love among the miners and boys and girls go off together and have babies before they are married and while they still live at home.

Throughout this narrative, Zola describes everything in perfect detail—from the living conditions, to the feeling of oppression down in the mines, to the way the youngest children scrounge for food.

In one word, the tale is sad. Or hopeful.

Etienne, who appears in the mining town in the first pages, offers an outside perspective on the situation and encourages the miners to think about fighting back against the wealthy who are keeping them down. And while I have not gotten to the strike, I am anticipating it with every page I flip. Tensions are mounting and I so desperately want these characters to succeed.

It is no wonder that when I went to research this novel I found quite a few comments about how it became a rallying point for French workers. And as it eventually spread, it became a battle-cry for the working class. I even found out that at Zola’s funeral (this happened in 1902 and many believe he was murdered and it wasn’t quite an “accident” as it was made out to be), workers screamed out “Germinal! Germinal!” as his casket passed.

I say all this trying to portray the emotional impact that this novel is already having on me. I didn’t expect it. This is a far more emotional work than almost anything else I have read so far. The people are far more real, the situation more dramatic, and the writing…well, the writing is beautiful.

At the time of this post, I am already over 200 pages into the massive 550 page behemoth. I have no doubt I will finish it as quick as I can. I am only said that it is the only work by Zola on my list and that I must wait to read more of his masterpiece.

“Then, suddenly, Etienne made up his mind. Perhaps he imagined he’d caught another glimpse of Catherine’s bright eyes, up there at the entry to the village. Or perhaps it was the wind of revolt beginning to blow from the direction of Le Voreux. He could not tell. He simply wanted to go down the mine again, to suffer and to struggle; and he though angrily of those “people” Bonnemort had told him about, and of the squat and sated deity to whom ten thousand starving men and women daily offered up their flesh without ever knowing who or what this god might be,” (72).

Book 12: Finished.

Well, I finished The Stranger. And I honestly don’t have a lot to say about it. When I finished I just thought, “meh.” I mean, there were portions I really liked, but I don’t feel like I got anything out of it.

The style is very simplistic. It is all in first person point of view and just kind of goes. It never really breaks and the events seem to move quickly from the opening pages. The result left me feeling like I wasn’t getting as much from it as I should have.

It starts with the character Meursault journeying to the Home where he had sent his mother. He was notified before the book even begins that she had died and so he is going to her funeral. Once there, he seems completely distant from the events and does not shed a tear at her funeral. He comes back home after the funeral, hooks up with his lady friend, Marie, and they go with a friend, Raymond, to the beach. At the beach there is an altercation between Raymond and a few men. Meursault then wanders out on the beach, stumbles upon one of the men, and kills him. All of these events take place over a course of a couple of weeks and the account of them seems very straightforward.

The second half of the novel describes Meursault’s time in jail and his trial. This half spans over 11 months. In this part, the reader finally sees some kind of emotion. All emotion is missing in the first half and even though he facing death, Meursault still doesn’t show any feeling or regret for his actions. This lack of feeling comes out in his trial and is the prosecution’s main argument against Meursault. People from his past, including Marie, Raymond, and workers from his mother’s Home speak about his personality and his lack of emotion at certain turning points in his life.

Meursault’s eminent death ends up being the climax of the novel as a chaplain comes and tries to get Meursault to admit to some kind of emotion. In the last pages of the novel, they argue about the existence of God and finally Meursault realizes that the universe does not care for humanity.

All I will say is that it is hard to connect to a character who doesn’t demonstrate any feeling, when I am a person perfectly fine with showing my emotions all the time. And while I enjoyed the writing style and the ease of the novel, I still don’t think I pulled any value from it. Now, it could be because I was unusually tired when I read the middle portion of the novel, but I think that even if I went back to reread it, I would feel the same.

With all that said, there were a few portions of writing that I found to be beautiful. Camus knows how to write and he writes well.

I leave you and Book 12 with one of my favorite quotes:

“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hatred,” (154).