Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book 25: Book Stats.

Title: O Pioneers!
Author: Willa Cather (1873-1947)
First Published: 1913

My Edition: Barnes and Noble Classic Edition
Pages: 176

Other Works Include: The Song of the Lark (1915), My Antonia (1918), One of Ours (1922-Pulitzer Prize Winner), A Lost Lady (1923), My Mortal Enemy (1926)

This novel was partially inspired by Walt Whitman's poem, "O Pioneers, O Pioneers!"

For my reading challenge, I will be reading this as well as My Antonia. I read My Antonia in high school, but have never picked this up.

Reading this is also counting as a book for the LOST Books Challenge as one of the five books I am reading before the series ends in May.

Sunday Salon: February 28, 2010.

It is really hard to believe that it is the end of February already! Time is simply flying by and I can't believe that I have been married for two months already. I suppose you could say that time flies when you are having fun.

This has been a great month overall. I got a lot of reading done and probably posted way too much. I am pretty much caught up on my backlog of posts, so they will slow down a bit.

In exciting news, I am launching my first giveaway later this week, so keep checking back for it. I am giving away some exciting things (I think), so please enter!

I also went to the bookstore this week to pick up the copy of Gone With the Wind that I ordered a week ago. Would you believe that neither bookstore in my city had a copy? And these are the big chain stores! But, now I have my huge copy and I am contemplating reading it. I might put it off for something a little darker. I have been reading a lot of women writers recently and I think I need some manly influences in my reading.

While picking up my copy, I wandered through the store and noticed some amazing new editions by Penguin that seemed to just appear. You might have seen them:

The store also had Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Tess of D'Ubervilles, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights, and Great Expectations in similar styles. I thought they were all beautiful. They are wonderful hardcover editions, complete with ribbon bookmark. I absolutely loved all of them and wanted them all, but I managed to only buy one (Cranford), since I already own the other titles. I think in the future (money permitting), I am going to have to get all of them. They are such beautiful editions and I love Penguin classics. Penguin does a great job and I find that all of their classic editions are well done. I am so excited to add that green volume to my shelves.

Anyway, I managed to read O Pioneers! as well as Little Women this week, which was a really good week in reading (over 600 pages). Again, I am not sure what I am going to read next. I was thinking about The Great Gatsby, but I might go for a play since I have been ignoring all those titles except for Shakespeare.

Happy reading everyone!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Book 24: Finished.

I won't say that I hated it, but I can't say I liked it either. Quite honestly, I have nothing good to say about The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. Perhaps it is because I read it too quickly, thinking that if I kept going it would suddenly grab my attention. And while I find that there are a lot of things in the novel itself that I loved, the book left me feeling nothing.

Perhaps I went into read this with the wrong frame of mind. Or, perhaps my mind has been spoiled by older classics that this felt too normal to me. I mean, part of the reason why I am reading the classics is that I really wanted to learn something from each and every book I picked up. Each of these 250 are seen as a classic for a certain reason and I want to know why.

I just think that this modern classic left me feeling empty, where perhaps if I read it a few more years down the road, I could have appreciated it more.

But let me talk more about the book and leave your own mind to determining whether this is a worthy read or not.

Like I said in yesterday's post, The Shipping News is about a man named Quoyle, who is a newspaper man almost by accident. After the death of his wife, his crazy aunt comes to visit and convinced him to move with her and his two daughters to Newfoundland, the land of his ancestors. He agrees and they go. Once they are back, Quoyle lands a job working for a crazy newspaper run by a random grouping of men.

At the same time that Quoyle is trying to learn that his wife really was a little crazy (and horrid to him), his daughter is also coming to terms with the meaning of life and death. As they both heal, they move on with their lives.

It really is a touching story and I do admire the writing style. Proulx turns this big man, who is described as a big, unattractive man, into someone I actually began to like at the end of the novel. The daughters are also wonderful, but the men at the newspaper stole the show. I loved their personalities and the focus of the newspaper as a whole (most of the paper was comprised of the darker side of news-sexual abuse stories, car wrecks, etc). I also loved that Quoyle eventually came into his own as a writer and really turned his portion of the newspaper, the shipping news, into something extraordinary.

The history of Newfoundland was also well done. It is a part of the world I hadn't given much thought to, or hadn't learned about in school. Unfortunately a history degree these days doesn't account for much, as there are large parts of world history I know nothing about. Proulx gave the history of the people life by integrating it as oral history in the eyes of the older characters. It was their history and it felt very real as I was reading it. It was well done.

So why do I feel no connection to the book?

I felt that the ending fell flat. I didn't like her little twist at the end, or how everything wrapped up so easily. In my opinion, the ending didn't fit with my own interpretation of the characters' lives and I was disappointed. It also took me a long time to warm up to Quoyle. In the beginning, it felt like he had no personality and was a "no one." I couldn't picture him in my head and I couldn't understand him or his decisions. That was frustrating for me, especially since I generally warm up to characters and scenes rather quickly.

In all, I think that this is a book I will have to read again, once I have more distance from it. I often say that there is a right and a wrong time for each book we read. I think that is why some times I cannot always get into a book-it is just not right for that moment or where I am in my life. So yes, I will try this again, along with some of the other books I have felt this way about. Perhaps more life perspective and experiences is what I need.

Anyway, I must move on to bigger and better things (hopefully).

Happy Reading.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book 24: First Impressions.


I'm not sure what to think.

I am currently about 50 pages into The Shipping News and I am not really sure what I am thinking.

I was expecting some great things, considering this is a rather new novel (1993) and is already being considered a "classic" on some lists, so why do I feel like I have nothing to say?

Sure, the book is interesting, but I am still waiting to be bowled over with an amazing story.

So far, I have gotten this: Quoyle is a large man who not really bright. He falls in love with a loose woman and has two kids with her. She hates her kids and often abandons them. He works for a newspaper, even though he has no knowledge of writing.

That's about it. And I am feeling like I am missing something. Perhaps I am not far enough into the book to be grabbed yet by the story. I am enjoying the writing. Obviously, I know that a main part of the novel is the fact that Quoyle works for a newspaper. Some of the writing seems written in that short, choppy style that I associate with news articles. So that, in and of itself, is interesting.

I also like the characters...except Quoyle. To me, it seems as if Quoyle is just going through the motions of life and I am finding it hard to like him. I do like his crazy aunt and his daughters, and some of the other minor characters, but I hope he grows on me, because right now I think he's an idiot.

The structure of the novel is also different. Each chapter is titled with a type of nautical knot and a short excerpt from a book of knots always follows. The chapter is always related to the knot and the description, which really adds a lot of depth.

Anyway, I am going to keep plowing through in hopes that Quoyle begins to amaze me.

Book 24: Book Stats.

Title: The Shipping News
Author: E. Annie Proulx (1935- )
First Published: 1993

Awards Won: National Book Award (1994) and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1994)

My Edition: Scribner Paperback
Pages: 337

Other Works Include: Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988-short stories), Postcards (1992-novel), "Brokeback Mountain" (1997-short story), That Old Ace in the Hole (2002-novel)

Her short story, "Brokeback Mountain" was turned into a film in 2005 starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. The Shipping News was turned into a film in 2001 starring Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, and Cate Blanchett.

I have not read anything by Proulx before and I have not seen either film adaptation, so I will be diving in. This is the only novel by Proulx on my list.

And I understand that this novel being included on the list is questionable. Besides The Poisonwood Bible (1998), this is the newest book to grace this list and might not be considered a "classic." I will remind you that when I started creating this list, I consulted the AP English Literature list, as well as various classics lists online. The Shipping News popped up often, so it was included.

Under the Weather.

I want to quickly apologize for not getting around and commenting this week. I have been feeling ill since Sunday afternoon. My fever finally went away late last night, but I still have a horrid cough and a stuffy nose. It is making thinking a little difficult and Matt is getting frustrated because I don't feel like cooking all the time, so he has to. :) But I have been cuddling with the cats, sleeping, and reading, so I am on the mend.

Luckily for you I have enough posts written to get me through the weekend. I hope to be back in the full swing of things by then. I have some interesting posts to write and I am working out the final details on my first EVER giveaway. I am pretty excited about it. And you should be too.

So don't be upset I haven't come around! I promise to be back in full swing soon enough!

Happy reading all!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday Treat #10: Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger.

I decided to focus on another great YA novel this week for my "Thursday Treat," and hopefully it is a lesser known YA novel for those of you in the blogging world.

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger was first published back in 1999, so it has been out for awhile. As a teen, I never saw this book publicized or saw it in the library or bookstore. It wasn't until college that I read this novel.

As part of my education requirement, I had to take a YA literature class (which ended up being a favorite) and I had the opportunity to read a lot of things I never would have found. A previous "Thursday Treat" post talks about my favorite novel from the class: Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood.

It was also in this class where the professor told us that YA is the only place where authors are allowed total freedom. I totally agree with that sentiment.

Hard Love was one of the last books we read as a class and we were all very surprised by it. It was not at all what any of us expected and we were all surprised by the subject. One of my discussion group members, Ben, had been dreading reading it, thinking it was a "girl" book, but ended up loving it.

Hard Love is the story of two teens who feel misunderstood and alone. John is an extremely shy and reserved boy who has no connection to either of his parents. He has only one friend at school, who doesn't even seem like much of a friend while John is battling inner demons. With no where else to turn, John begins writing a zine, a homemade magazine that he prints and leaves at a local coffee shop.

It is through the zine world that he meets Marisol. A gothic girl, Marisol is misunderstood and stereostyped. Her zine attracts John's attention early on for its honesty and personality. He arranges dates to meet with her and discuss their zines and life in general.

It is through these dates that John learns to deal with emotion. Finally he feels a real and true connection with another human being, and might take that connection too far. After all, Marisol is a lesbian-a fact she makes very clear.

This is an incredibly personal and moving book. When I read it back in college, I remember thinking that I knew people like John and Marisol back in high school. I remember kids feeling like they were all alone. I knew of people who struggled to connect with others because they simply didn't know.

John's struggle with his parents was also very emotionally draining. You feel so keenly for him that you want to step in and take his side. You also want to hold his hand and guide him through this tough patch and show him-everything will be okay in the end.

When our class finished reading the book, we all loved it. One of the main things we loved was the formatting of zine excerpts within the novel. It made the novel much more realistic and appealing. It also sparked a lot of great conversation-especially about the possibility of teaching a book with homosexuality in it in a high school setting. How would we go about that? We also talked a lot about how kids would react to this and came to the conclusion that they would love it for its honesty.

In all, Hard Love is an inspiring novel about hope, love, and friendship. I regret not finding it sooner, but I am glad I can pass it on to you.

*I should point out that Hard Love won numerous awards in 1999-2003 or so, including Printz Award Honor in 2000.*

**I have also read some of Wittlinger's other work. Heart on My Sleeve is a novel completely in e-mails and texts, which showcases how relationships over these mediums are never what they seem. Wittlinger also published Love & Lies in 2008, which is a companion to Hard Love. I have not had a chance to read it yet**

Book 23: Finished and LOST discussion.

This is probably one of the fastest reads ever. This is such a slim book that is so involved you have no choice but to finish it as soon as you sit down to start it.

Since this was my fourth or fifth reread of Animal Farm, I flew through it even quicker and still found more to love. I now have a larger fondness for the donkey, Benjamin. He is the pessimistic old man of the group, who doesn't always have a lot to say. Because of that, the other animals seem to ignore him without realizing that he is really the one they should be listening to.

I also really like the character Squealer. Squealer is a pig and if you are familiar with this novel, you'll know that the pigs kind of run the show. Squealer is the spokespig and has the task of explaining to the other animals new rules and procedures, while also dissipating unrest and confusion. Squealer is a fitting name for his occupation.

I also love Boxer, the large and muscular horse that sacrifices himself to try and better the farm. He continues to push himself until he breaks. Boxer is the unsung hero and every time I read about him, I get a little upset. I love that big horse.

I love the political turmoil and the changes the pigs continuously make to the commandments to fit their needs and desires. Obviously the novel is full of these references and a lot can be learned from it:
  • Those in power often change rules to protect themselves.
  • Corrupt regimes will do anything to continue holding power.
  • Those with higher intelligence often manipulate those without to get what they want.
  • Excuses can be made for everything.
  • Lies can be very convincing when you are unsure of what is the truth.
So yes, this is a powerful little novel. When the pigs change the commandments to one single rule at the end of the novel, you get the full impact of what Orwell is trying to say:

"All animals are equal.
But some animals are more equal than others," (133).

We can obviously change this to get to the real message of the book:

"All men are equal.
But some men are more equal than others."

The possibilities are limitless.

If you really want to question corruption, politics, and leadership, this little novel really says it all. It is surprising how deep 139 pages can be.

*LOST Discussion*

Finishing this novel also means that I have completed one book for the LOST Books Challenge. While I have still not finished all the seasons, I did find quite a few comparisons for what I have seen in the show.

Early on in the show's run, it is made clear that there are a few survivors who hold more power than the others (the main characters obviously). As a group, they call the shots and run things, often making the minor characters their little puppets. Since it is a show and they are the main characters, the audience has to sympathize with them. After all, they are the ones we are introduced to and care about.

However, you get a glimpse of this kind of Animal Farm corruption in an episode in Season 2 where a minor(ish) character is attempting to build a sign on the beach to get rescued. The characters simply dismiss it. There is also a lot of discussion about who is in charge and who is calling the shots.

It is interesting, to say the least.

Anyway, I have finished 1/5 LOST books! 4 to go!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book 23: Animal Farm.

Animal Farm is a interesting read if you have never read it. At first you have to wonder where Orwell is going, and then BAM! It hits you in the face that it is a small novel packed full of political satire.

I love this little novel. I have read it a number of times and each time I find something more to love in its 139 pages.

I love how Orwell really gets into the mindset of his animals.

This passage is taken from fairly early on in the novel and shows how the animals get a jump start on their rebellion:

"'Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps himself,'"(29).

It is not a surprise then, when the animals revolt and take over the farm. "Together" they decide to run the farm and be self-sufficient so they no longer have to rely on man. One of the first things they do is write their Seven Commandments:

"1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal," (43).

It should come as no surprise that gradually things fall apart. The animals fall subject to a leader, and that leader begins to change things, but I am not at the part yet. That comes later. :)

Book 23: Book Stats.

Title: Animal Farm
Author: George Orwell (1903-1950)
First Published: 1945

My Edition: Signet Classic w/ preface by Russell Baker
Pages: 139

Novels Include: Burmese Days (1934), A Clergyman's Daughter (1935), Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), Coming up for Air (1939), Animal Farm (1945), and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Orwell also wrote books about his personal experiences.

For this list, I will be reading Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. I have previously read both of these novels.

I am also fulfilling part of the LOST Books Challenge with this!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book 22: Finished.

I knew I was going to like The Mill on the Floss. After all, I have loved every other Eliot novel and this was no exception.

I have already raved about the beauty of Eliot's style. She creates graceful languages that grabs a hold of the reader and sucks them into the story. Maggie was not just another female character-she was a very dear and intimate friend.

So when tragedy struck, I felt very deeply for Maggie. I felt her heartache and feelings of loss as keenly as if she had been my sister or a best friend.

Eliot had a great gift.

I have to wonder why Eliot never seems to have gotten the same amount of fame as some of her contemporaries, namely Charles Dickens. While she wrote and published at the same time, Dickens claimed all the fame, and he is a name that is really well known. And while Eliot is certainly known by bookish types, Dickens still gets all the honors. In my personal opinion, Eliot is a much better writer and far more interesting, especially since she hid her identity and published under a man's name. Perhaps it is because her body of work isn't as extensive, but it is much better written. Again, this is only my opinion.

In any case, I loved this novel.

For those of you who are interested, here is my synopsis.

Maggie Tulliver is a bright and intelligent child who seems to be misunderstood by her parents. Rather than portray the standards of beauty, she is dark-skinned, dark-eyed, and has dark hair. The shame of her mother and her mother's sisters, Maggie retreats often into a world of books and make-believe. Her older brother, Tom, is sent away to school early on by their father, in hopes that he can escape the same sort of life, as his father is a miller.

Years pass and tragedy hits the family. Mr. Tulliver is engrossed in a lawsuit with a neighbor and loses, which results in the loss of every material item belonging to the Tulliver's. Together, Maggie and Tom have to face the circumstances now thrust in their faces. Giving up their childhood, the forge on to create a new life for themselves out of the misery of their father's.

However, fate steps in and rips them apart. Maggie is outcast by her brother, while Tom is obsessed with restoring his father's name.

Like I said, this is one of my favorite Eliot novels. It is far more gripping than Middlemarch or Silas Marner, both of which I'll be reading again in the future.

Finally, I want to post one more quote to help suck you in to this novel.

This quote I loved because I am sure I am not the only book lover who can relate. This really shows the depth of Maggie's feelings about her appearance and the standard of beauty in this time period:

"'I didn't finish the book,' said Maggie. 'As soon as I came to the blonde-haired young lady reading in the park, I shut it up and determined to read no further. I foresaw that that light-complexioned girl would win away all the love from Corinne and make her miserable. I'm determined to read no more books where the blonde-haired women carry away all the happiness. I should begin to have a prejudice against them,'" (377).

Does Maggie, the dark-eyed, dark-haired beauty find her own happiness? You'll have to read to find the answer to that question....

I need to also say that finishing this 608 page novel also helped me in the Chunkster Challenge, where I am trying to read 12 Chunksters (adult novels over 450 pages in length). This was book 1!

Illness, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Sparty,

I have been feeling very under the weather since Sunday. When I am ill, I tend to get a little forgetful and scatterbrained. Matt might say I am like that all the time, but it gets pretty bad when I don't feel good.

I also get whiny and demanding, which Matt bore the brunt of last night when I made him go out and buy grape popsicles because my throat hurt at 11 at night.

But that is another story.

I have yet to start reading Slaughterhouse-Five since finishing The Shipping News late Sunday night. I have only managed to read a page or two before my mind wanders elsewhere. I last gave it a try yesterday afternoon. I set it down somewhere and this morning I could not find it anywhere. I also could not find Sparty (our kitten).

Matt had left this morning for class while I was still asleep and usually Sparty comes and cuddles with me once Matt is gone. But I could not find him, or my book, anywhere.

Then it dawned on me that the second bedroom door was closed. We use that bedroom as our office. I opened the door to find my book and Sparty in the same place.

(I should note here that our wall is covered with car posters, and the leopard print monstrosity is a Snuggie Matt "won" at work. So this picture is a whole lot of PAZAAM! in regards to color and pattern).

It seems as though Sparty found a great place to sleep and it was on top of my book. I did attempt to remove it, but Sparty got a little possessive of his new bed, so I let it be.

Needless to say, I am giving up on Slaughterhouse-Five fow now and I am reading something different.

The kitten wins...for now.

Book List Meme: February 23, 2010.

Okay, it is time for a weekly book Meme hosted by Rebecca at Lost in Books. Each week a topic is posted that must be answered by the titles and pictures of 3 books.

This week's topic?

3 Books That Should Be Made Into Movies

This was a really fun topic that I had to think long and hard about.

1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. While there is an old version of this movie already out (from the 60's I believe), I would love to see an updated version of this. It is an old favorite of mine about a world where books are considered dangerous and firemen burn them.

2. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. This is a fun series about a teenage criminal who decides to mess with the fairy world. It is original, fun, and action filled.

3. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. While the movie rights have been bought for this a number of times, Card is refusing to have it done in a way that will take away from his work, which I love. He is making sure that when and if the movie is made, it will portray his novel correctly and in a way that his fans will love. In the meantime, I am waiting and hoping that a movie will be made, since this is an EXCELLENT piece of science-fiction that I absolutely LOVE.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book 22: Favorite Passages.

I have read Eliot before, so I am not surprised by the fact that I still love her writing. While she can be overly descriptive at times, I still love the overall feeling she gives her novels. Her description helps to build the story rather than hinder it. If her writing style was slightly different, her novels wouldn't be so well-loved.

There was a moment earlier today when I had to take a break from the scene, so I flipped to the afterword in my edition to browse and get some more insight. I found that the author, Jane Smiley, had this to say about this novel:

"The greatest pleasure of The Mill on the Floss is its eloquent, closely reasoned style. Eliot seems to perfectly anatomize all of Maggie's inner contradictions and all of their effects, all of Maggie's relationships and all of their consequences. Characters that might seem too one-dimensional in another novel are softened in their effect in this novel by Eliot's voice and insight. But the greatest virtue of the novel also constitutes an unkept promise that the author's intelligence and imagination will find Maggie a satisfying fate," (603).

She seems to be echoing my own thoughts. It is truly the styling of the novel that drives it and makes it interesting.

Anyway, like most of the books I have been reading, I have kept a handy pack of Post-it tabs at hand to mark my favorite passages and lines. And while I probably marked too many, there is so much to love about Eliot's style. Here are a few of my favorites for your pleasure.

"The promise was void, like so many other sweet, illusory promises of our childhood; void as promises made in Eden before the seasons were divided, and the starry blossoms grew side by side with the ripening peach-impossible to be fulfilled when the golden gates had passed," (211).

"The world outside the books was not a happy one, Maggie felt; it seemed to be a world where people behaved the best to those they did not pretend to love and that did not belong to them. And if life had no love in it, what else was there for Maggie?Nothing but poverty and the companionship of her mother's narrow grief's -perhaps of her father's heart-cutting childish dependence. There is no hopelessness so sad as that of early youth, when the soul is made up of wants and has no long memories, no superadded life in the life of others, though we who look on think lightly of such premature despair as if our vision of the future lightened the blind sufferer's present," (266).

"...our life is determined for us-and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing and only think of bearing what is laid upon us and doing what is given us to do," (342).

"Yes, Lucy, I would choose to marry him. I think it would be the best and highest lot got me-to make his life happy. He loved me first. No one else could be quite what he is to me. But I can't divide myself from my brother for life. I must go away and wait. Pray, don't speak to me again about it," (498).

"I know that we must keep apart for a long while; cruel tongues would force us apart, if nothing else did. But I shall not go away. The place where you are is the one where my mind must live, wherever I might travel. And remember that I am unchangeably yours: yours-not with selfish wishes, but with a devotion that excludes such wishes," (574).

Musing Monday: February 22, 2010.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about a keeping books.

Do you keep all the books you ever buy? Just the ones you love? Just collectibles? What do you do with the ones you don’t want to keep?

Musing Mondays is hosted at Just One More Page.

When I was living at home, it was a lot easier to store my books without them taking up a lot of room. I didn't have any bookshelves in my room, but I did have the use of a big linen closet outside my bedroom. I used that closet to store my books. I have pictures somewhere that I'll have to post sometime.

I would also store the books I was going to read soon by my bed in a big pile on the floor.

Needless to say, with a big closet with room for lots of books, I bought a lot and kept a lot. In fact, I have kept every book I have ever bought unless someone has borrowed it and I haven't gotten it back.

Now that I am in an apartment, I have come to realize just how much room over 1200 books takes up. While I don't really want to part with any of them, I do think I need to go through them and be honest with myself about what I want to keep. I love to reread books, so I am always afraid that I'll want a book and it won't be there.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: February 21, 2010.

Wow. What a week it has been! Matt and I have been busy with a few things around the apartment. Even though we've been here for a few months, it is finally starting to look and feel like home. We have pictures up and it looks a little more relaxing.

I've also been busy learning some new recipes this week. I've been trying to keep us on a food budget so we aren't spending a ton of money on food we won't eat. It is actually pretty easy to do with just the 2 of us and we've found some things that we really like to eat.

I also went to substitute teacher training on Thursday to get readmitted to the system so I can start getting some sub jobs. Only working 2 days/week gets old pretty fast and while I have lots of time on my hands, I don't get a whole lot accomplished. Hopefully I get some steady work and can balance some subbing with the parks job (which goes back to full time hours and more pay at the end of March!).

I managed to sneak away to the bookstore the other night, which was the first time I had been in a bookstore in a long while! I have been trying to avoid going in because I inevitably want to buy something, if not everything. Since it had been a bit, I made sure to walk around and look at everything. There are a lot of new titles out (especially in sci-fi and fantasy) that I want to read RIGHT NOW, but I'll be patient and wait. The YA section was depressing.

Now, don't get me wrong. I LOVE YA and I read a lot of it, but I feel like amidst all the good books with original ideas are 50 others that don't do a good job. I get it that vampires and werewolves are "in," but I would love to see something different on the shelves. Granted, I haven't read any new YA in about 6 months, so I don't really know. These are merely my impressions from looking at the shelves.

I was also disappointed to see the following on a big display with Twilight and the vampire books that are booming in popularity:

It really just made my stomach turn. It is not that I am against teens finding these books and loving them as much as is the clear marketing ploy. Granted, it is clever, but I feel it takes away from the value of these great works. Try as I might, I cannot hold Twilight in comparison to Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice and call them equal.

Anyway, I hunted through the used section last and found a few more titles on my TBR list that I don't own. I finally picked up one of Graham Greene's novels, The Power and the Glory, as well as the other Hemingway that I need to read, The Sun Also Rises. I also found a great collection of some of the Greek tragedies. I haven't even gone near any of the Greek stuff since The Odyssey, so I thought I should get on that. The last book I found was a really cool edition of The Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison.

I went looking for one of Richardson's two novels on my list: Clarissa and Pamela but found neither-not even in the fiction section! There were also no copies of Gone with the Wind to be found, or some of the Virginia Woolf titles on my list! And while it looks like the store is rearranging, I hope that they restock. I was sorely disappointed, especially since it is my favorite bookstore in the area.

In reading news this week, I finished not only The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, but also Animal Farm by George Orwell. Orwell's book only took an hour or so since it is so slim, but I enjoyed it anyway. I am in the middle of The Shipping News by Annie Proulx...which is an odd novel and newer than most of the books on my list (it was published in 1993). It stands as one of the "modern" classics I am reading.

I also made some new cosmetic changes to the blog. There are links at the top to an introduction to why I am doing this, the list of books I am going to read, as well as the list (in order) of what I have finished already. In the finished list, I also have the titles linked to my personal favorite post about that book. Enjoy!

I have some great things planned in the coming weeks. There is a giveaway that I am waiting to launch once I hit Book 25! Keep an eye out for it in the next week or so.

This week I am planning on finishing The Shipping News as well as Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, so it should be another good reading week.

Happy reading everyone!

Book 22: Ruin and Relationships.

One of the reasons I love Eliot's writing is the way she crafts her characters and their relationships. In every novel I have read by her (which includes all except this and Daniel Deronda), she creates such spectacularly realistic people.

The Mill on the Floss is no exception. While I think that the beginning 100 pages dragged for lack of action, the characters brought it to life. While I of course love and adore Maggie, the main female character, I think I might love the crazy assortment of aunts a little more.

Mrs. Tulliver, Maggie's mother, is one of four sisters. Each of them is married and boy, do they have opinions about everything. Near the beginning of the novel, the family is called to discuss Tom's education (Maggie's sister). Each of the aunts arrives, with her husband, and conversations that ensue are pretty humorous. There is a lot of, "Well, I wouldn't do that," and "I always said that..."

It makes for enjoyable reading.

I also really like the development of the relationship between Maggie and Tom. While sister and brother, they also seem to be friends, which must be tough for Tom. Even when Tom goes away to school (at a clergyman's house), he still tries to maintain that relationship with his sister. She comes to visit and he tries to impress her with his learning.

One fun scene is when he is explaining how tough his lessons are in Latin. Maggie takes up the book and shows him up.

Score one for the little sister.

I know, even now when I haven't reached the halfway point, that disaster will inevitable strike. Maggie and Tom won't always be friends. I know that life and circumstance will get in their way.

The last character I really want to talk about is Philip Wakem. A student beside Tom, Philip is a hunchback and his father is an enemy to Mr. Tulliver. For a boy who was probably made fun of all his life, and who has no expectations, Philip is remarkably nice to both Maggie and Tom. While he might be more wary with Tom, you can tell that Philip and Maggie have a remarkable budding friendship.

And I guarantee there will be feelings on both sides before the novel is through.

Anyway, I seem to be flying through this hefty book. Time for more reading!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book 22: The "Clever Wench."

As I am plunging wholeheartedly into The Mill on the Floss, I am already thinking about the heroine...a lot. At the time the novel begins, Maggie Tulliver is just a little girl who seems to be almost unloved by her family. From the beginning she is seen as clever, but not attractive. Where attractiveness seems to equate to blonde hair, light skin, and blue eyes, Maggie's appearance is different-with dark eyes, dark skin, and dark hair.

The only things Maggie really seems to have going for her is her imagination and her cleverness. And apparently those are not appealing traits. Her father continuously refers to her as the "clever little wench" or some variation. While I know he means it as a pet name, it is rather insulting. I mean, being clever is a good thing, but not for women in this time.

So as I am reading about poor little Maggie, I have to wonder if this will follow a familiar story arch. The young clever girl will grow up to realize that while she may be clever, she is nothing else. She is not a beauty and her cleverness is not a positive attribute. So far it seems as this is true in this novel, as Mr. Tulliver is only worried about the education of his son, Tom, who not nearly as smart or clever as his sister.

I have to keep thinking to how many female heroines have these traits. Let's make a list:
  • clever
  • likes to read
  • is rather lonely (no friends her age)
  • is misunderstood by her family
  • is told she is not a beauty
  • the opposite of the "norm" of the time
  • has their imagination/intelligence stifled at an early age
I don't know about you, but I can think of quite a few who have a few of those qualities. What is it about crafting a character with those traits? Is it that the writers who create these characters felt that way about themselves when they were younger? Or is it that most adult women readers were at one time that same little girl, or can relate to her?

Personally, I know that I can relate better to female characters who have some of those characteristics. I was reading all the time when I was younger and my brothers used to tease me about it. I'm also halfway intelligent and like Maggie, have big dreams for something "more." I am sure I am not the only one. Is that way so many writers create characters like this? So they are relatable to the main audience who reads? I could be completely wrong here, but I feel like many of the most well-loved female characters have at least a few of those character traits, and those traits are commonly held by a large majority of the reading audience.

Again, this is all my opinion, but it is interesting to think about. I'm curious to see if my guesses about Maggie come true.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book 22: Book Stats.

Title: The Mill on the Floss
Author: George Eliot aka Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880)
First Published: 1860

My Edition: Signet Classic w/ Afterword by Jane Smiley
Pages: 608

Novels Include: Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Felix Holt, the Radical (1866), How Lisa Loved the King (1869), Middlemarch (1871-72), and Daniel Deronda (1876)

Eliot also wrote plays and short stories. I have previously read all of her novels, excepting Daniel Deronda and The Mill on the Floss.

For this list, I will be reading The Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, and Middlemarch.

I am also fulfilling part of the Chunkster Challenge by reading this novel!

Book 21: Finished.

Well, I finished Washington Square and I feel like if I wrote about the ending it would ruin all the fun for you, so I won't go there.

But I loved this book, mainly because it was nothing I thought it would be, but it was so much more than I could have asked for.

Sometimes with these classics that center on a love story, you know what you are going to get. Man and woman meet. One falls in love with the other. Then the other falls in love. There is a confession of love, but one must reject it from circumstances. Time passes. Conflict ensues. Conflicts brings man and woman back together. They marry. The end.

Well, usually that is how a classic romance works. I guarantee that if you read a romance novel today you will find a similar plot line as well. I always tease my mother that romance writers just come up with new names to fill in and some random side stories, but they are all the same (I am not bashing romances. I read them once in awhile as well).

But Washington Square turns all of that on its head. It is quite a different kind of story, and is really unexpected. It was refreshing and different and I liked it, a lot.

Apparently the kitten also likes it, since he sleeping on my copy on my desk.

If you're interested in giving James a go, I would suggest starting with this one. It is a lot of fun and a quick read.

Happy reading!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday Treat #9: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

I am not a huge non-fiction fan. I read it sporadically if the subject is something I am really interested in. I guess you could say I prefer the made-up worlds of fiction as opposed to reality; and there is really nothing wrong with that.

But my husband loves non-fiction. I have never seen him read a book that wasn't based on fact (granted, he reads FAR LESS than I do-maybe a book/year). He is especially interested in these types of discovery and disaster books. So when Matt said he was interested in reading Into the Wild I immediately bought it for him, trying to show some encouragement in hopes he would read more.

I was slightly familiar with Krakauer before I bought this for Matt. I read Into Thin Air the year it came out and loved the straight-forward account of the Mt. Everest disaster.

Needless to say, it took Matt a long time to get through this novel, so I ended up purchasing it on CD to listen to in the car.

If you know nothing about the story, Into the Wild depicts the life of Chris McCandless, a young man who after graduating college, disappeared into the Alaskan wild to love off the land. The book follows his journey from the moment he disappeared and gave away his savings to charity, to his time working for a company in the plains, to his hitchhiking journey up the California, to his eventual hike into the wilds of Alaska.

Krakauer dives deep into the life of Chris, who seemingly had everything going for him. What drives a young man away from civilization and into the wild?

The story is heart-wrenching and I found myself sucked in to Chris' struggles. Krakauer's writing is objective, but helps explain why someone would run away from everything and everyone they knew and loved. Krakauer also goes into some detail about other examples of people living away from civilization, but none of those stories grabbed in quite the same way.

I also love that Chris was a huge literary geek. Some of the few objects he kept with him were his books that inspired him. I love that Krakauer really hit on this and explained his love of literature and how it saw him through.

There was also a movie adaptation recently. And while usually I am of the school of thought that movies always fail to live up to the book...the opposite might be true in this case. The movie is beautiful, and the soundtrack is amazing. If you are not up for reading the book, you NEED to go and get the movie to watch-you won't regret it. I should also point out that the film stars Kristen Stewart....before her Twilight fame and she is actually pretty convincing! Chris is played by Emile Hirsch, who is an excellent actor.

*Like I said, I have also read Into Thin Air, which is also excellent. I full recommend either of these!*

Book 21: Favorite Passages.

As I am moving into the end of Washington Square I am struck by the simplicity and beauty of James' language. He creates these vivid characters, but does it so simply that they just seem to come to life in your head.

That is skill my friends.

I love writers who can do that. I mean, I do enjoy flowery descriptions at times, but sometimes simpler is better, and easier to read. I am certainly flying through this much faster than I have some other books thus far, and that is definitely due to the sentence structure, etc.

I'm not complaining (far from it). I like this style of writing and how it advances the story. Had James done this in a flowery style, I probably wouldn't be enjoying it as much as I am.

Anyway, I have been marking left and right favorites lines and quotes. I should probably take stock in "post-its" since I use so many of them to mark favorite passages. :)

Here are a few examples of the evil Dr. Sloper's impressions of his daughter (Catherine):

"I am sure that if you were to see Catherine she would interest you very much. I don't mean because she is interesting in the usual sense of the word, but because you would feel sorry for her. She is so soft, so simpleminded, she would be such an easy victim! A bad husband would have remarkable facilities for making her miserable; for she would have neither the intelligence nor the resolution to get the better of him, and yet she would have an exaggerated power of suffering," (95).

"I have done a mighty good thing for him in taking you abroad; your value is twice as great, with all the knowledge and taste you have acquired. A year ago, you were perhaps a little limited-a little rustic; but now you have seen everything, and appreciated everything, and you will be a most entertaining companion. We have fattened the sheep for him before he kills it," (168).

You can see from these couple of examples how condescending and sarcastic her father is to her; and how little he appears to love her and admire her for her strengths.

Like I write about previously, Morris Townsend (her lover), is no better about guilting her and influencing her. Here are a couple examples:

"'You must tell me,' he went on, 'that if your father is dead against me, if he absolutely forbids our marriage, you will still be faithful,'" (73).

"'Then you don't love me-not as I love you. If you fear your father more than you love me, then your love is not what I hoped it was,'" (139).

I love how James portrays both of these characters. And while Dr. Sloper might be right is believing his daughter to be slightly slow, you have to feel for her. On one hand, her lover is urging her to go against her father. She never knows if it is for her money or because he really loves her. And her father is dead set against her seemingly only happiness and chance at love. The poor thing.

This really is a catching novel, and deceiving from what I thought it would be. I really am rooting for Catherine, although, I am not sure what outcome I am hoping for. I know that no new rich man will come in and sweep her off her feet, but I do wish for her happiness.

And for Dr. Sloper to be wrong, but I know he isn't.

It is amazing how much parents know about their children and what is best for them. It must be a gland that switches on when you have children.

Anyway, enough philosophizing for one day, happy reading.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book 21: Villains and Unpretty Girls.

I'm chugging through Washington Square and there are a lot of things to comment on. Based on the description, I really thought I was getting into a fluffy little classic (similar to A Room with a View), but I am finding that to be false.

Instead of a conventional "classic" love story, the novel near opens with an engagement (it is only a few pages in) as opposed to the end of the novel (usually the engagement and eventual marriage signals resolution). This is not so in Washington Square. Here, you have less of a love story, but more of a, "let's see how miserable we can make poor Catherine."

From the beginning, it is made clear that Catherine is two things: wealthy, and slightly unattractive. During this era (1830s and up), it was generally the pretty girls who found men quicker. They were allowed to fall in love and be picky about the man they decided to marry. It was not so for plainer girls. Instead, they would be lucky to find one lover and must accept him at all costs.

So when Catherine meets Morris Townsend, you would believe that her father would be excited. Since Catherine has no mother and was partially raised by her aunt (who is a trip, believe me), the reader would assume that Dr. Sloper would want the best for his little girl. Well, he does push for the best and outright rejects Morris Townsend. Based on some sleuthing and a visit to Townsend's sister, Dr. Sloper deems him unsuitable for his daughter and tells her he will not allow it. Dr. Sloper believs that Townsend is only after Catherine's inheritance and does not actually love her.

What is a girl to do? For a girl like Catherine, who is repeatedly explained as being plain, but wealthy, how can she refuse what might be the only offer of marriage she may get?

This is the dilemma and where I stopped reading, but I want to talk about two things. First, the idea of a "villain." You would think and assume that Townsend is the villain. He is a conniving man and the few glimpses we get of his thoughts turned my stomach. He is only after the wealth that Catherine has and while he might be somewhat affectionate towards her, you have to question his motives, much like her father does. After all, he has no money of his own and is living with his sister (who is widowed with a pack of kids) and "mooching."

But he really isn't the worst villain. That award goes to Dr. Sloper. While he might be thinking he has Catherine's best interests at heart, he goes about it in a completely demoralizing way. From the very beginning he is down on his daughter:

"Once, when the girl was about twelve years old, he had said to her [his sister]:
'Try and make a clever woman of her, Lavinia; I should like her to be a clever woman.'
Mrs. Penniman, at this, looked thoughtful a moment. 'My dear Austin,' she then inquired, 'do you think it is better to be clever than to be good?'
'Good for what?' asked the doctor. 'You are good for nothing unless you are clever,'" (10).

You can see by this that Dr. Sloper does not see and appreciate his daughter for what she is. She never "becomes" clever, but she does try to do good by her father and uphold his wishes. You can't fault her for trying, but merely feel for a girl who is continually degraded and put down by her father.

What I am trying to say is this. While the real Washington Square represented a place of wealth and happiness and success, that was not always the case once you moved into the homes of the people who dwelt there. And while Washington Square might seem like a pleasant novel full of love and grand romance and gestures, it is the complete opposite; instead it shows the darker side of courtship and unapproving fathers; and men who are not what they pretend to be.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Perspective, Chunksters, and Some Personal Notes.

I spent some time today trying to map out what I am going to read next. It is kind of a difficult task, even with a list. One on hand, I am trying to mix up what I am reading off my list so that I can jump all over and be entertained. But I also have to keep in mind that certain authors have more books on the list than others. I'm trying to make sure I spread their work out so it doesn't come down to the last ten books and I only have Dickens and Hardy to read. THAT would be rough going. It is a very daunting and overwhelming task.

I also took some time to look at the titles I actually own, which is about 175 out of the 250. I am one of those people who has to "own" their books, so I am trying to mix that up as well, so that I can slowly purchase a book here or there to supplement what I already own.

It ended up frustrating me. But I came up with a list of books to read next, which goes all the way up to finishing book 50. It was exhausting and it depresses me. 50/250 doesn't seem like much in the way of progress.

I also began to realize how MANY of the books were larger than I expected. I started looking at page numbers to balance out reading the smaller novels and plays with the bigger works (like Clarissa by Samuel Richardson which is a staggering 1536 pages). I began to realize that while I signed up for the Chunkster Challenge in hopes of getting through a mere 6 volumes over 450 pages this year, if I do that I won't be making any progress!

I've decided I need to challenge myself a little further to read more of the bigger volumes at regular intervals. I am editing my Chunkster post and list to reflect that change. The truth is...many of the classics are huge. Reader attention spans were different way back. Also, families couldn't afford to purchase a lot of books, so authors wrote longer works to make up for that. A longer book meant it took more time to get through. Now poor little me is paying the price for that.

Anyway, I just needed to put some things into perspective for myself. I still have every intention of finishing this within the 2 and a half years I set for myself, I just need to get cracking.

I also need to find a way to keep myself on track. I am behind in my postings to where my reading is. My post from this morning is from when I started Washington Square, which was (in actuality) over a week and a half ago. I am trying to keep from posting multiple entries a day, but I also don't want to give up my process of writing.

For me, reading is about the journey through the novel, which is why I write multiple posts about each book. I like to explain my feelings and thoughts as I get through each work. I don't want to give that up, but I am struggling to catch up the blog to where I really am. All of my posts to the point where I am now are written and scheduled to be posted. Right now I am starting Animal Farm, but all of my posts from Washington Square and The Mill on the Floss are in limbo waiting for publication. It is frustrating to be off track.

Do any of you have some advice about how I can fix this? Or should I just let it be?

Anyway, that's about all I had to say...

Oh, I am prepping for a giveaway (my first one!) that will be coming up in the next week or two. I'm excited about it, so keep a look out for that exciting post!

Book 21: Washington Square.

Washington Square by Henry James will be my second experience reading James. I read Daisy Miller for a college course and liked it, but I never went into any of James' other work. Lucky for me that I have 4 chances to read James on my list (the other two titles being The Turn of the Screw and Portrait of a Lady).

But I like his style and swagger and I was reminded that I needed to read this particular novel by my friend Scott.

Scott works with me for the parks system and two winters ago, we got into some great literary discussions. At the time, I was rediscovering my love and admiration for Edith Wharton. I was flying through her work left and right and Scott happened to have a professor he was taking a class with who was also obsessed with Edith. For his class, he had to read The Custom of the Country (which is one of my favorites by Wharton, but not on my list), along with a lot of other titles.

While we discussed Wharton, a LOT, we also talked about the other books he was reading for his class. A few weeks later, he had his copy of Washington Square with him and I asked about it. He told me then that I needed to read it and it would be something I would like. Like the Wharton novel, it centered on some of the rich and fabulous of New York City, just earlier. As he gave me details, I decided I wanted to read it. In fact, I even went out and bought a copy. But then I got side-tracked, and I am sure you know how this goes. I never got around to it and it ended up being another book that would be read at a later date.

Well, Scott reminded me that I never read this, so why not give it a go. it sounds intriguing and full of that gossipy humor and sarcasm that I love in novels centered on "high society." I am sure love it, especially since the other novel Scott suggested for this challenge (McTeague by Frank Norris) was so excellent in a devilish sort of way. Anyway, here is the back cover blurb for your enjoyment;

"Washington Square follows the coming-of-age of its plain-faced, kindhearted heroine, Catherine Sloper. Much to her father's vexation, a handsome opportunist named Morris Townsend woos the long suffering heiress, intent on claiming her fortune. When Catherine stubbornly refuses to call off her engagement, Dr. Sloper forces Catherine to choose between her inheritance and the only man she will ever truly love."

It sounds deliciously juicy doesn't it? Well, for a novel published in 1881, and based in the 1830s on up, it can't be too juicy or all the copies probably would have been burned by now. I'm looking forward to it anyway and I hope that I can rant and rave soon!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prolific Blogger Award.

I want to say a HUGE thank you to Amelia at Imagination in Focus for giving me such an awesome award! I am extremely flattered!

A Prolific Blogger is one who is intellectually productive… keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content.

1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers.

2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.

3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to this post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners. (Click here for the Mr. Linky page.)

I would like to honor a few of the blogs I have been really hooked on in the recent weeks (and it says nothing in the rules about not sending the award back, so I am doing that as well, as she is entirely deserving of getting it a second time!).

Thank you all for writing such wonderful and thought provoking posts!

Musing Monday: February 15, 2010.

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about a reference material.

Do you keep reference books on your shelves at home? What’s your first port of call when you need information – the internet or a book?

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT with either the link to your own Musing Mondays post, or share your opinion in a comment here (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks.

I do keep a few basic reference materials (like a dictionary) on my desk, but I rarely have anything else on hand (besides reference books for crafts, etc). I usually head online to search for more in depth data about something I am interested in, or I head to our local library. Our library is pretty well-stocked and the librarians are helpful, so if I am struggling on the internet to find something, they can usually point me in the right direction.

I also own a few "fun" reference materials I have bought in the past at garage sales and used book stores. One is a set called "The Classroom Teacher" from the 1920s that gives rules for teaching children. It is a pretty entertaining read!

Book 21: Book Stats.

*This is a new feature I will be doing from this point forward on all books I read.*

Title: Washington Square
Author: Henry James (1843-1916)
First Published: 1880

My Edition: Modern Library Classic w/ introduction by Cynthia Ozick (2002)
Pages: 258

Other major works include: Roderick Hudson (1876), The American (1877), The Europeans (1878), Daisy Miller (1879), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Tragic Muse (1890), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), The Awkward Age (1899), The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904).

I will also be reading the following by James: Daisy Miller, The Portrait of a Lady, and The Turn of the Screw

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Salon: February 14, 2010.

First I just want to say, "Happy Valentine's Day!" to everyone! I hope you are able to spend some time with your loved ones today. Even if some say that V-Day is just a Hallmark holiday, I still think it is a special and wonderful day that gives you an excuse to be with your family and that someone special.

I am working today, so I will be spending time at the park in the cold. Unlike some other regions of the United States, Michigan really hasn't gotten a great deal of snow this winter. Usually we are the ones digging ourselves out, but we managed to miss the big storms. We did get about 5" on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, so it is great to finally have snow on the ground and the sled hill open at the park! I love working during the winter and seeing everyone coming out to enjoy the snow.

After work I'll probably be cooking Matt and I some dinner so we can spend the evening together. We don't have any special plans, but I assume after dinner we'll sit down and watch a movie, or better yet "Lost." I am still catching up, but I am getting there! Promise! And now that I am doing the LOST book challenge, I NEED to catch up to make more connections!

I had a good reading week this week. I finished up Washington Square by Henry James, which I found to be a pretty deceiving little book. I have a lot to say about in my posts, which will go up sometime this coming week.

I also signed up for two challenges in addition to reading 100+. The first is the LOST challenge I mentioned, and I think I picked some great things to read for it. I only have until May 23, but that seems to be plenty enough time.

The second challenge was the Chunkster Challenge, where I am going to read 6 of the Chunkster type novels on my list in the come year. It wasn't really hard to find 6 (I mean, I'm reading the CLASSICS for goodness sakes!), but I narrowed it down to 6 with 2 alternates. I decided to be proactive and start one this week. I'm now in the middle of The Mill on the Floss, which is one of two novels I haven't read by George Eliot (the other being Daniel Deronda, which is not on my list). It is a bigger book than what I have been flying through at 608 pages, so it might take me a little longer.

Anyway, goals for this week:
  • Have all my Washington Square posts up by the end of the week
  • Finish The Mill on the Floss
  • Start reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding (for the LOST challenge).
It should be a good week.

Happy Reading everyone!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book 20: Finished.

I finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer loving is just as much as I always have. It is hard to say anything negative about a book the captures the spirit of childhood and adventure so well.

Sure, it might not stand up to Dostoevsky or Austen in regards to real human emotion, but I love it anyway. It is not meant to be a novel read for depth, but for enjoyment. It is the kind of book meant to be read at night when you're tucking in your children, or to give a child for Christmas so they can get lost in childhood fun.

Tom is the prime example of youth so how can that be a bad thing?

As it says in the conclusion;

"So endeth this chronicle. It being strictly a history of a boy, it must stop here; the story could not go on much further without becoming the history of a man. When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop-that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can," (227-228).

And while I have read this at different stages of my life-youth and adulthood, I still love it just as much, if not a little more. Perhaps it is because Tom reminds the reader of childhood, and how the biggest adult issues still seems to be just fun to a child. Or how children can always surprise you (by running away for a few days then popping up at their own funeral).

But, it is just a novel about American youth and vitality and how, if you try really hard, good things can come your way. It definitely is a far cry from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I am less familiar with, but special in its own way.

Happy Reading.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book 20: Why I Love Tom Sawyer.

I said in yesterday's post that I absolutely adore the character of Tom Sawyer and I wish I could someday have a boy just like him. I told Matt this and he looked at me like I was crazy. I mean, Tom is known for crazy antics, running away, and mischievous schemes, but I love him anyway. Although, I am sure that if I do get blessed to have a boy like him, I may regret this post in the future.

One of the main reasons I love him is that he knows everything about everything. And he usually gets the boys that surround him to go along with what he wants. Take for example the point in time where Tom, Joe, and Huck run away to the island. Here is a snippet of Tom's influence on the others,

"Joe was for being a hermit, and living on crusts in a remote cave, and dying, sometime, of cold and want and grief, but after listening to Tom, he conceded that there were some conspicuous advantages to a life of crime, and so he consented to be a pirate," (94).

Once the boys are on the island, hidden away from the town, Huck asks,

"'What does Pirates have to do?'
Tom said:
'Oh, they have just a bully time-take ships and burn them, and get money and bury it in awful places in their island where there's ghosts and things to watch it, and kill everybody in the ships-make 'em walk a plank.'
'And they carry the women to the island,' said Joe; 'they don't kill the women.'
'No,' assented Tom, 'they don't kill the women-they're too noble. And the women's always beautiful, too,'" (99).

Even though the reader can be 100% positive that Tom has never encountered a pirate, he can pretend and play that he does to get the others to go along with his schemes.

Another great example of Tom's vast knowledge of everything comes in near the end of the novel. Here, Tom is explaining to Huck how gangs work. Again, you can be sure that Tom is really going all out to get Huck to understand how a ransom works and what it is:

"Money. You make them raise all they can, off'n their friends; and after you've kept them a year, if it ain't raised then you kill them. That's the general way. Only you don't kill the women. You shut up the women, but you don't kill them. They're always beautiful and rich, and awfully scared. You take their watches and things, but you always take your hat off and talk polite. They ain't nobody as polite as robbers-you'll see that in any book. Well, the women get to loving you, and after they've been in the cave a week or two weeks they stop crying and after that you couldn't get them to leave. If you drove them out they'd turn right around and come back. It's so in all the books," (214).

See? You just have to love Tom for all his knowledge.

But the real reason I love him? It all comes down to one scene, and probably the most famous scene in the novel.

Of course I am talking about the scene where Tom is being punished by having to whitewash the fence. While the other boys in town get to go out and play, Tom is painting. But, he soon turns it around so he is not doing a spic of work:

"'Oh come, now, you don't mean to let on that you like it?'
The brush continued to move.
'Like it? Well, I don't see why I oughtn't to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?'
That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth-stepped back to note the effect-added a touch here and there-criticized the effect again-Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:
'Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little,'" (23).

Of course Tom hems and haws a bit before insulting the boy by saying,

"Yes, she's [his aunt] awful particular about this fence; it's got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain't one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it's got to be done," (23).

Of course Tom caves, and soon boys from all over are clamoring to help paint the fence by trading Tom precious items in return for a stab at painting the fence. That is pure genius. I love it and I hope my future boys will have that skill. Okay, maybe that's mean, but you have to see how clever Tom is and I have all the respect in the world for cleverness.

Anyway, that's a bit about why I love Tom so much. He's such a great, well-developed character that really comes to life in the way he talks and his attitude throughout the novel. I just love him to pieces.

(Can you tell?)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thursday Treat #8: The Wind Singer by William Nicholson

I have a huge soft spot for YA fantasy and science fiction. You can blame that on the popularity of Harry Potter. Before I read any of the HP novels, I was mainly reading adult science-fiction and fantasy.

I discovered The Wind Singer in 2001. The book had been out for a year and was just released in paperback. More than anything else, I was drawn to the cover. Looking at it, I had no idea what the book might be about, but I thought I would give it a go.

That first time I read it I knew I loved it. I found it original (even at the young age of 15 or 16) and unique. I loved the characters, especially Mumpo. I loved the battle scene with wooden ships on the broad expanse of the desert. It was beautiful and really captured my attention.

Since my funds were limited at that age, I had to wait for the next book in the trilogy, Slaves of the Mastery, to come out in paperback to purchase it (in 2003). Shortly after, the third book came out, Firesong. I re-read the first before reading the second two, and while I love the series as a whole, I still have a fondness for the first book.

So what is it about? Here is the description from the back of my copy:

"Kestrel Hath's schoolroom rebellion against the stifling caste system of Aramanth leads to explosive consequences for her and her family: they are relegated to the city's lowest caste and ostracized. With nothing left to lose, Kestrel and her twin brother, Bowman, do the unthinkable: they leave the city walls. Their only hope to rescue the rest of their family is to find the key to the wind singer. The wind singer, a long-defunct device in the city's center, was once the source of happiness and harmony in Aramanth. But the key was given to an evil spirit-lord, the Morah, in exchange for the Morah's calling off its terrible army of Zars. Armed with desperate bravery, wits, and determination, Kestrel, Bowman, and a tagalong classmate set off to find the key. Along the way they meet kind allies and terrible foes, but in order to succeed in their quest they must face the most sinister force of all: the powerful Morah."

The second and third book carry the story farther and tell of what happens when the twins think they have accomplished everything they set out to do. Like the first, they are also imaginative and detailed.

One thing I need to share about the author, William Nicholson, is that writing novels became his second career. Before attempting novels, Nicholson was known for writing screenplays; most notably the screen play for the film, "Gladiator." It is no wonder that he can describe epic battles and richly develop his characters.

This is a series I often recommend and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

*I do have to note, however, that Nicholson's second YA series (The Noble Warriors) was not nearly as good as this series. In fact, I pretty much hated it. Like many other authors, sometimes storylines do not pan out. While this one did, his other did not.