Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Lady's Maid's Bell" and "The Eyes" by Edith Wharton.

I picked up a copy of this title, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, at a Borders closing sale. It was one of the few titles by Wharton I didn't own (I kind of LOVE Edith), and I figured that it needed to become a part of my collection.

I pulled it out a week or two ago when I was home alone and bored. I figured one or two ghost stories a night couldn't hurt me, right? Well, I read the first two stories (the ones I will talk about), had a nightmare and hellish awakening, and haven't really picked up the book since. Perhaps writing about the two stories is the way to go!

The first story in the collection, "The Lady's Maid's Bell," is more creepy than scary. Our protaganist has recently been ill, but is looking for employment. She is referred to the home of the Brymptons, where Mrs. Brympton is also a bit of an invalid. She is quiet, lonely, and ill. Their home is isolated and chilly. It seems to be a perfect fit for our protagonist, as she is still healing as well.

But of course, things are not as they seem. Upon arriving, our lady's maid sees a shadowy figure lurking in the doorway of an abandoned room. The house is mysterious, as are its residents. Mrs. Brympton is good friends with one of the only neighbors, a Mr. Ranford. He happens to come a visiting whenever Mr. Brympton is gone. That would be quite often. Since our lady's maid only knows pieces of information, we only see their interactions based on her thoughts and interpretations. It certainly does add to the mystery, but we never get real answers...

Anyway, as time unfolds, things begin to happen at night. Footsteps are heard in the hall, the bell above her bed begins to ring, but Mrs. Brympton denies ever ringing it...there are more shadows and faces emerging, and as the people spend more and more time in the house as the weather worsens, the more they feel confined...

It is certainly a creepy story. By the end, I was more creeped out than scared. I'll also admit I was a little confused by the end. I wanted more from the ending-something substantial in terms of answers...and I didn't get them. But, it was a fun read anyway.

The second story, and the one that gave me a nightmare, was "The Eyes." In this story, our narrator is at a party. As a group, they have been entertained by a series of spooky stories, before the eldest member decides to tell hsi tale of "the eyes."

He sets the mood and begins to explain that he was a bit of prankster at one time. It came back to get him...

For nights, months, and even years, he would wake up in the middle of the night to large eyes staring at him as he slept. The first night he jumped out of bed to investigate. After the lights were on, he searched his room for the source of the eyes, but found nothing. As soon as it was dark again, the eyes came back, watching him as he slept.

This continued off and on in spurts. The eyes followed him to Europe and came back after an unfortunate incident. They pop up when something happens, when he provokes them. He never knows just when they might appear in the middle of the night, staring at him unrelentingly.

It is freaky. I was reading this and getting super nervous...considering I was reading this in bed when Matt wasn't home. In the volume I have, there are pictures for each story (the one above comes from the first story). The image of this story was a man in bed with huge, scary looking eyes staring at him. I wasn't expecting that, so I jumped a bit when I saw it (I can't find a picture online or I would share).

By the time I finished, I set the book aside. Because while both stories were more creepy than scary, this second story had completely freaked me out. I don't like things watching me when I sleep....

So that night...I was fast asleep when I started dreaming about eyes watching me. I was tossing and turning for a bit before I jumped awake. I kid you not, at the foot of our bed I could see two eyes staring at me. Light comes in from our bedroom window, and those eyes were glowing. I jumped and screeched a bit before realizing it was just one of the cats. After my heartbeat steadied a bit, I pushed the cat off the bed and fell asleep. Matt slept through the whole thing. Jerk.

Anyway, I did enjoy both stories. I am very familiar with Wharton's writing style, so it made them more enjoyable than had they just been scary stories by another author. I can still see her love of misery in these. :) And even though I freaked out a bit, I am still excited to read the rest of them!

*I also have to say that reading the reviews for this on Goodreads really makes me laugh. Almost every review says that these are pretty tame and unscary. I suppose my freak-out is unusual and would make Wharton laugh! Considering Edith didn't like ghost stories either, I find that hilarious. This is why we are kindred souls, me and Edith. :)*

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for October 30, 2011: Crossroads.

Hi guys. Like usual, I had a bit of a crazy week. I recently took over the Student Government (Student Council) class at school, and I had my first event with them on Thursday night. It was a great success and we had a record number of teams sign up to participate in the Dodgeball Tournament. We also managed to raise a good chunk of money for the school. I feel pretty darn good about that!

I have also been swamped with papers over the last couple of weeks. I fell behind about two weeks ago and I am still playing catch-up. I only have two sets of assignments to go until I am COMPLETELY caught up. This will be victorious for sure. I am usually very good about getting papers back right away, but with taking over the Student Government class...well, I fell behind.

This week also marks the end of our first marking period. I'm a little sad about it. I only have four weeks left in the building, and two of those weeks aren't even full weeks (one week the kids have 2 days off and for another, they have 3 days off-Thanksgiving break). *sigh* I have made some great strides with the kiddos in the last couple of weeks. I finally feel like we have a groove down and that they are doing better with understanding my teaching style. That's going to disappear in a few weeks.

I also have some apprehension about leaving. This is the first long-term assignment I have been in where the teacher I am covering is returning to teach "my" kids. In my very first long-term, I left after the second trimester and another long-term sub stepped in to end the year. And of course, last year, she decided to take the rest of the school year off. So, of course, I am a little nervous about her reentering the classroom and taking over. What will the kids say? Will she think that I did a good job? Will she decide, after talking to the kids, that I was horrible? The whole situation makes me nervous. And I don't know what to really think about it.

And with the end of my position coming to an end, I have to think about what's next. For the first time in a year and a half, I am staring at unemployment for a few months. Yes, I will be able to do the daily subbing thing, but that isn't always steady. I'm a little worried about what that will mean (yes financially, but also emotionally). I can be honest and say that my emotions have been all over the place since the beginning of the school year. I hate uncertainty. And that is what Thanksgiving will bring (the Tuesday before is my last day-the 22nd).

So if I freak out and seem more like..well, not myself, you'll know why. In any case, I'm at a bit of a crossroads and I am mulling over a lot of big life decisions. I'm trying to decide what my goals are. I always come back to the fact that I am 26 and have no real job. It bothers me. And as much as I try to avoid thinking about it, I am still bothered by it. But, I am doing my best to remain optimistic, taking advantage of any opportunities that come my way, and doing research about what I really want to do. I just hope it all works out some way.

Anyway, in reading this week, I had some missteps coming off of the readathon last weekend. I did manage to finish Inferno this morning on a break from grading papers, but haven't started anything new. I don't think Richard III is going to work right now, so I might pick out something else. The kids won't be turning in any big assignments until the end of the week, so I will have my weeknights almost free to read as I please. Does anyone have any suggestions of things I should read?

I am going to spend the next hour or so fixing up my reviews of Julius Caesar, Winter in the Blood, and Inferno for posts this week (Inferno will go up first). At least I'll have some new things for you all to read! :)

Oh, has anyone else had a LOT of spam in recent weeks on their blogs? I have been getting a ridiculous amount...on older posts...and I find it really irritating. Anyone?

Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Ranger's Apprentice-The Lost Stories by John Flanagan.

I have been following this series since the first one came out. I was in my local bookstore shortly after the fifth Harry Potter book was released (I'm dating myself here). There was a display out that said "For Harry Potter Lovers." I remember walking around the display and dismissing most of the titles. Then I saw the first book in this series, The Ruins of Gorlan, and picked it up. After glancing over the synopsis, I bought it.

And I have bought every title since.

I love this series. And sometimes is embarrasses me just how much I love these. But I do. I was sad last spring when I went to pick up the tenth book in the series to find a "last book" sticker on the front. I was a little heartbroken, but got over it. So when I saw this one on my recent excursion to the store with Matt, I clutched it to my chest and squealed until he said he would buy it for me.

So why do I love these so much?

First, they are just plain good fantasy stories. Flanagan manages to create a lively world (modeled on Europe), full of drama, suspense, and mystery. There is a huge cast of characters, but every one of them seems lively and true. There is danger, adventure, sword fights, and lots of description of battles and tactics. That part of the book always reaches my nerdy little core.

But what Flanagan does so well is creating a world where good does triumph. These are intended for the MG/YA age group, and they teach lessons without being overly preachy. They have a nice balance of action to moral, and I find that I really like that.

I also think Flanagan does a superb job with the fighting aspects of these. Each of the different groups have their own fighting style and weaponry, and he truly brings that to life. He also manages to have multiple cultures interacting, without belittling any of them. I think this is what makes these so successful. Where one culture or way of life is usually placed above others in fantasy type novels, Flanagan successfully shows how each culture and way of life is equally important.

And the stories themselves? Wonderful. These are great "boy" books for boys who don't like reading. When I was teaching a younger age group, my male students got hooked on the series (this was when there were only 4 or 5 out) because there was less of the icky girl stuff. The action and violence was there, but in a tasteful way.

So, yeah. I love this series. And I cannot wait to share them with my own kids!

As for this title in particular, Flanagan decided to create something to bridge the gap between this series and his new series (the first title comes out in November). Since the series doesn't necessarily go in a linear direction, there are a few time gaps here or there. There are also a number of questiosn left "unanswered." This title, The Lost Stories, was a way for Flanagan to wrap up loose ends as well as answer some fan questions.

There are nine stories in this volume (some of them rather lengthy), and while I love some more than others, they really rounded out the series. There was more information about the founding of the Ranger Corps (the main character, Will, is a Ranger), more development of relationships between characters, and a really touching story about what happens to the Ranger's horses (this was such a sweet story).

What surprised me, though, was the transition to giving a small amount of information about Flanagan's new series. I didn't know much about it, but apparently it will be based off another land in this world of Flanagan's (Will's world, and that of the series, is named Araluen, based on England. The new series is based in the country of Skandia-a lot like the Vikings). This just made me more excited for that series to debut!

It was a great, fast read, and one that helped the first few hours of Saturday's readathon fly by!

Has anyone else read any of this series?

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 2011 Group Read: Dracula by Bram Stoker.

“Oh, the terrible struggle that I have had against sleep so often of late; the pain of the sleeplessness, or the pain of the fear of sleep, and with such unknown horror as it has for me! How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.”

Oh Dracula. I have fond memories of you from the first time I read you. My high school offered a lot of electives in the English department, and one of the favorites was the "Mystery, Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy" class. Dracula was the horror title that the class read (I feel like I should also tell you that we watched Poltergeist in that class as well. And everyone laughed at me when I started screaming and freaking out. My teacher took pity on me and let me sit in the hallway and read instead of watching the end).

But Dracula? I really enjoyed reading it for that class. This was back in 2001/2002, so it was before the vampire craze that seems to be everywhere now. I remember distinct moments from that class, like our teacher demonstrating how to "stake" a vampire. And her making a garlic necklace. It was FUN. I even remember our final project for the groups, we had to create a skit based off of one of the scenes in the novel. Our group chose the "chase" scene at the end and ran around our downtown shooting images. It was a horrible skit, but it was a fun experience anyway.

Yes, fun. Because if I were to choose one word to describe Dracula, fun would be it. And on this read, I was reminded why I enjoyed it so much the first time around.

There are portions that are slightly frightening. The opening chapters, where Jonathan Harker is in Dracula's castle freaked me out this time around too (at one point I was reading in bed while Matt was in the living room shooting zombies, and I SWORE I saw red eyes staring at me from outside the window). The mystery and suspense of it all as Harker chronicles his thoughts in his journal are unnerving. As a reader, you aren't sure if he will make it (although, you assume he does because hey, we're reading his journal). When he begins to piece together what is actually going on in the castle, you get nervous for him. And then the narrative drops off and you get transported to London.

In London, we meet the rest of our characters-our two ladies and a host of handsome gentlemen who all love them ever so much. This is the one (big) critique I have of the novel. WHY do all the men LOVE their women so much? Why are they frail and sappy and in need of rescue? Blegh. No thank you. I like strong female characters and men who see them as such. not this nonsense:

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights"

“No one but a women can help a man when he is in trouble of the heart..."

“Good women tell all their lives, and by day and by hour and by minute, such things that angels can read. ”

“She is one of God's women fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth.”

I have more, need I go on? The fact is, all of the male characters fawn over these two women. They act like big saps and the is all "Oh, I am so frail and fragile. I need you to protect me." It is just too much. Once I realized how ridiculous some of the "speeches" were to the women, I had to chuckle. Again, I like my strong female characters, so the mooning and sappiness of it all was just too much. And it never lets up. Ever.

Even when Van Helsing, Harker, Seward, and the other men are chasing after Dracula, it is all about poor little Mina. Because she is beautiful, smart, and everything a man could want in a good woman.

As for the rest of the story, it has its highs and lows. I do think, that as a modern audience, we are spoiled by the countless versions of the story in various forms of media. Had we read this when it was first published, I think it would seem far scarier and out there than it does to us (in the world of Twilight and film). Vampire lore and legend isn't anything new, so as a modern reader, I think we expect a little more gore!

I can only imagine how some of the scenes must have terrified readers way back upon publication. There is a scene where Dracula is feeding on Mina (and vice versa) and the men (our dear heroes) barge in. THAT was horrifying! I can only imagine the reaction of readers back then!

Another of my favorite parts about this novel is the way in which it is told. I like that as a reader, we are learning as we go with the characters. Being able to read their journals, letters, and other bits as they discover who Dracula is really adds to the suspense and drama. I'm not sure if it would be as successful if we knew more than they!

In all, it was a fun story. It does seem to drag in the middle as the menfolk begin to put together the pieces, but the action picks up. I couldn't put the book down once I got to the halfway point! It was the perfect choice for a fall Group Read, and I hope all of you who participated enjoyed it!

“Once again...welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 2011 Group Read Link-In Post: Dante's Inferno.

Welcome to the Group Read Link-In post for Dante's Inferno!

I hope you all enjoyed your read of the first chunk of Dante's The Divine Comedy and might consider signing up for the next two as well (no pressure!).

At the time of writing this, I am still working my way through hell with Dante, so my link will be up later this week. Be sure to check back often to see who else has posted-it is always fun to see what others had to say about a book!

Please fill out the Mr. Linky with a link to your post, your name, and comment below! I would appreciate any suggestions, criticisms, or hurrahs. :)

Hope to see you in November for Purgatorio!!

Weekly Wrap-up for October 23, 2011: Readathon Recap.


I ended up going to bed by 12:30 this morning and woke back up at 7 to finish out the readathon. I did, and then I went back to bed until about 11 this morning. I guess my body needed the sleep!

I had a great time participating. In fact, I think this was the best readathon I have participated in! I did what Jillian also did, and only came only every 2-3 hours. It kept me focused on my reading throughout the day. I also think I made a smart decision in reading a "fun" title to start it off. I'm proud of the fact I went through 3 books yesterday and made significant progress in my fourth. I rock. :)

I hope that all of you who participated also had a wonderful time! I can't wait for April!

Because of my glorious success yesterday, I finished 4 books this week:
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Ranger's Apprentice: The Lost Stories by John Flanagan
  • Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
  • Winter in the Blood by James Welch
Go me!

I really need to get that Dracula post up, and you might see it pop up later this afternoon or tomorrow. The goal for today is to catch up on some grading-so let's hope I have a super-productive day getting all of that done!

You'll also see the link-in post for the Inferno Group Read shortly. Make sure you post your review to be eligible for Adam's giveaway!

Happy reading everyone!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Readathon Master Post Part 2.

My previous master post was getting a little on the long side, so I have decided to break off into a second master post for the last chunk of the readathon!

Readathon Update 7 (10:30 PM):

My last update was just over two hours ago, and I have still been productive! Yay!

After finishing the last chunk of Winter in the Blood, I spent a little time hemming and hawing about whether to read Inferno or Richard III. I settled on the Dante, considering my Group Read starts tomorrow. I guess you could say that I procrastinated! :)

But, I am making steady progress, as shown by my stats below!

The only downer is that I am starting to get pretty tired, and Matt forgot to pick me up some caffeine on the way home. Tea just isn't cutting it anymore, but now I am trying to decide what to do...stay up late? Or go to bed and get up early to finish out tomorrow? I'm not sure. Since the Michigan State game is on, I will probably stay up to watch the end.

Anyway, on to the running stats!

Pages read: 955 (I think I might have to keep going until I cross the 1000 page mark!
Books finished: 3 (The Lost Stories by John Flanagan, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, and Winter in the Blood by James Welch)
Time spent reading: about 9 hours (this is a guesstimate)
Time spent commenting/tweeting: about 120 minutes
Mini-challenges: 3 (Intro Meme, the "States" challenge hosted by Melissa, and Mid-Event Meme)
Cups of tea: 5
# of distractions by my husband: 11 (He came home from work and didn't bring me a Diet Coke! Insert grumpy wife!)
# of kitten snuggles: 10 (Sparty continued to be my cuddle buddy. He has slept ALL day).

Readathon Update 8 (12:00 AM):

We had have some CRAZINESS in this apartment the last half hour. My team, you know, the MSU Spartans? They won the game in the LAST SECOND! It was insane. And my husband is still watching replays on Sportscenter.

Amidst all the excitement, I got further into Dante's Inferno. I am really enjoying it so far! Why was I procrastinating?

But, it is time for bed. If it wasn't for the fact that I have a lot to grade tomorrow, I would stay up later. I am planning on being up for the last two hours of the readathon tomorrow, so I will be back then!

Running Stats:

Pages read: 1008!! I crossed over 1000!
Books finished: 3 (The Lost Stories by John Flanagan, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, and Winter in the Blood by James Welch).
Time spent reading: about 10.5 hours (this is a guesstimate)
Time spent commenting/tweeting: about 140 minutes
Mini-challenges: 3 (Intro Meme, the "States" challenge hosted by Melissa, and Mid-Event Meme)
Cups of tea: 5
# of distractions by my husband: 1 million (we were watching the game. I gave up).
# of kitten snuggles: 11 (Yes, Sparty has continued to be my cuddle buddy. He has slept ALL day).

Readathon Update 9 (7:40 AM):

I ended up sleeping through my alarm.

To be honest, I'm okay with that. I read a lot yesterday and as I am typing this, I can feel how tired and grainy my eyes are. I am definitely headed back to bed after this goes up! :) Bravo to all of you who managed to stay up the entire time!

I spent some time looking through some of the last mini-challenges and only entered one (hosted by Adam), so we'll see how I do! Can I be honest and say I'm bummed that through 4 readathons I haven't one a prize yet? *crosses fingers*

Anyway, here is the end of event meme. I'm not updating my running stats, since nothing has changed.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
I would definitely say the last hour I was awake last night. I was pushing through because I wanted to cross the 1000 page mark, but I was pretty pooped!

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
I think I had a good selection this year. I started with a "fun" read that I knew I could finish relatively easily, then transitioned into some Shakespeare. I was worried that reading Shakespeare would be too difficult, but since most of his plays were performed in a few hours, the play went quickly! I think I will make reading the Bard for the readathon a tradition! Then I moved into a short classic, which allowed me to finish 3 books for the day.

Try and pick titles to keep your attention at the beginning. I think we all feel a sense of accomplishment for finishing a book!

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
I think some of the mini-challenges were too narrow in scope. Nothing against the hosts, but the ones I entered were ones that any blogger could answer. This also has to do with prizes. I think prizes that are more open-ended draw a greater part of the blogging community.

(Again, I don't mean to offend anyone. Just my thoughts..)

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
The cheerleaders were organized VERY WELL! I like that they continually updated who was participating, so it made it easier to post on blogs!

5. How many books did you read?
I finished three and started a fourth!

6. What were the names of the books you read?
I read "Ranger's Apprentice: The Lost Stories" by John Flanagan, "Julius Caesar"by Shakespeare, "Winter in the Blood" by James Welch, and Dante's "Inferno." The only one I didn't finish was Dante.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?
I really enjoyed by first choice. It was a fun YA book to get me back into a reading groove since I have been in a bit of a slump!

8. Which did you enjoy least?
While I liked it, I would have to say "Winter in the Blood." It took me a little while to get into, and it reminded me a lot of "Ceremony," which I read earlier this year...and "Ceremony" was better written.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
I was not, but I did try and cheer as much as I could. You cheerleaders ROCK!

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I will most definitely participate again! I really enjoyed focusing on my reading this time around, so that will remain a goal. I hosted a mini-challenge back in April, and I think I will do that for the upcoming 'thon. I really enjoyed that! I also hosted last April and didn't this time...and I missed that role. I'll have to think about signing up to host again!

I hope you all got a lot read! I know that this readathon was a very good thing for me-I have been in a huge slump and this has definitely pulled me out of it! Thank you to everyone who posted a comment!

Readathon Master Post.

Hi everyone! :)

I am awake and ready to go for today's readathon. The husband is still sleeping, but he has promised to cook for me and keep me hydrated until he goes to work this afternoon. ;) Ahhh, husbands....they make reading more enjoyable.

Anyway, I decided that creating one master post with all of my readathon updates would be the best option. And here it is. Anytime I have an update to share, I'll add it down below. I am planning on popping online every three hours or so to check in. Any more than that and I'll neglect my reading.

Oh, and if you are participating, please leave me a comment below so I can come and visit you today! My Google Reader is a mess, so knowing outright who is reading their little brains out will be helpful when I come around to cheer. :)

Readathon Update 1:

For hour 1, it is kind of tradition to fill out the introduction meme.

1)Where are you reading from today?
My home in dear old Michigan. :) I will say that it is kind of chilly in here, so we might finally succumb to the fall weather and turn on the heat! As for where I will be reading in the apartment, I have a few lovely little places I like to cuddle in as I read. Mainly, my bed and the couch. I may also sneak off to the library this afternoon when Matt turns on football.

2)Three random facts about me…
I am obsessed with the color green. I really want a puppy (a basset hound). Last time I checked my database, I own over 1500 books. And all of them are stored IN our 900 sq. foot apartment (My husband loves me).

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
Well, I posted a pile of books on Thursday night and that pile included 5 titles. I am adding one more title to the list as a "fun" read:
  • The Lost Stories by John Flanagan (this is my fun read)
  • Hamlet
  • Julius Caesar
  • As you Like It
  • Richard III
  • Inferno by Dante
4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
My main goal is to relax. I have been stressed out the last couple of weeks, so I just want a day where I can enjoy myself. But, I really want to get through the Flanagan title, a good chunk of Dante, and start one of the plays. If I can do that, today is a success.

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
Have fun! Visit other bloggers at some point to check in. Also, it is easy to get caught up in trying to participate in everything, so try and remember that some reading should be done too!

Readathon Update 2 (10:45 am):

I wanted to pop in and give an update before the next big post goes up on the main site.

I have had a relatively good reading morning. I took a little break to eat the wonderful breakfast my husband cooked (pancakes if you want to know), and I have already downed my first cup of tea. It has been a good morning, but now that the hubby is up, the TV is
on, which is incredibly distracting. I think I am going to move into the second bedroom (our "office") and take over the futon while he is still home.

Here are some stats for you about where I stand so far (this will be updated each time I check in with a running total):

Pages read: 227
Books finished: 0
Time spent reading: about two full hours
Time spent commenting/tweeting: about 30 minutes or so at the beginning.
Mini-challenges: 1-just the Intro Meme. The others haven't peaked my interest yet.
Cups of tea: 1
# of distractions by my husband: 2 (one for breakfast and one when we talked football)
# of kitten snuggles: 3 (each of the three kitties has cuddled at some point this morning. My lap is a rotating cat bed)

See you in a few hours!

Readathon Update 3 (2:00 PM):

I told myself I wouldn't come back online until I finished my first book, which I have! Yay! The last three hours have been a little distracting. Matt has been in the living room with me and did his whole "pay attention to me" thing. So I attempted to read while the TV was on. I got distracted numerous times, but I finally finished the first book of the day. :)

I'm going to take a little breather-a shower is in order, as well as some commenting on other blogs. I'm not sure what I am going to start next. It was going to be Inferno, but I really want to grab a book NOT on my readathon pile to start next....we'll see. I'll think it over.

Here are my running stats:

Pages read: 422
Books finished: 1 (The Lost Stories by John Flanagan)
Time spent reading: 4 hours (this is a guesstimate)
Time spent commenting/tweeting: about 30 minutes or so at the beginning of the day (hasn't changed in the last few hours).
Mini-challenges: 2 (Intro Meme and the "States" challenge hosted by Melissa)
Cups of tea: 2
# of distractions by my husband: 5 (breakfast, football, and multiple cases of whining. I rounded down).
# of kitten snuggles: 5

Readathon Update 4 (3:15 PM):

I wanted to update once more before diving back into reading. Over the last hour I tried to comment on some blogs, showered, and expected a delicious lunch whipped up by my husband. Apparently that meant ordering pizza, but now I am fed, clean, and ready to dive into Julius Caesar, my new book of choice. I haven't read it since college, so hopefully it isn't too painful. ;)

None of my stats have changed, so I won't bother pasting them here. Again, if you're reading today, let me know so I can try and visit (I am limiting my internet time, so I know I haven't gotten to everyone yet!).

See you in a few hours!

Readathon Update 5 (5:30 PM):

Hi readathoners! I hope you are all still hanging in there as we head towards the halfway point. I am chugging along as well!

I had a productive two hours! Matt ended up leaving for work, so I could really dig in and read Julius Caesar and what do you know, I finished it! I forgot how fast Shakespeare can move when you really understand it. I know that if it was a play new to me I would have taken longer, but since I have read Julius Caesar before, the play wasn't at all difficult to get through.

I established a "nest" on the couch, where I spent the last two hours. You can see one of our kitties, Sparty, nestled on my lap with my book:

You can see a little bit of gray fur as well, and that belongs to Lily, the baby kitty. :)

I think I am going to take a break for an hour or some blogs, comment/cheer, and rest my eyes a bit. I also need to decide what to read next....I'm still not feeling up to starting Inferno (since I am a procrastinator and all), and I don't know if I want to read another play...we'll see though.

On to the stats...

Oh, I feel I should explain my page count. It is going to seem inflated because of the play. The edition I read has the text of the play on the right and notes on the left. See below:

The text doesn't take up the entire page like a real novel, so it goes much more quickly. I do read all of the notes as I go along, but in reality, I probably read only half the number of pages are are in the book if you take into account all that white space!

Anyway, the running stats:

Pages read: 739 (Julius Caesar was 317 pages, so realistically this number should be around 580. I just like the bigger number. :))
Books finished: 2 (The Lost Stories by John Flanagan and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)
Time spent reading: 6 hours (this is a guesstimate)
Time spent commenting/tweeting: about an hour.
Mini-challenges: 2 (Intro Meme and the "States" challenge hosted by Melissa)
Cups of tea: 2.5 (Sparty started drinkign my tea so I ditched my cup halfway through!)
# of distractions by my husband: 9 (His attempt at "fixing" lunch, i.e. ordering pizza, whining, and leaving for work).
# of kitten snuggles: 7 (Lily and Sparty cuddled with me on the couch during my entire reading of Shakespeare)

Readathon Update 6 (8:10 PM):

I did end up taking a prolonged break from reading after my last post. I stretched out, did a load of dishes, and took care of a few things in the apartment before decided to settle down with a new read shortly before 7pm.

I decided to go with a book not from my readathon pile, but something that has been sitting on my nightstand for a bit-James Welch's Winter in the Blood. I was also going to try and start Richard III, but the Welch novel was calling to me. And I am about 35 pages away from finishing it. :) I suppose that was a good choice, huh?

I'm starting to feel tired. Twelve hours have passed, and as I am closing in on finishing my third book of the day, I'm not sure how much more reading I can do without a much needed nap. We'll see though.

Since it is the halfway point, I need to fill out the mid-event survey. You'll also find my running stats for the night after that.

1. What are you reading right now?
I am in the middle of "Winter in the Blood" by James Welch. I am actually 30ish pages away from completing it!

2. How many books have you read so far?
2! And in just a little while, that number will be 3! Go me!

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I might start "Hamlet" instead of "Richard III." Both seem interesting, but I think reading a play I am familiar with is a better idea as I start to get tired.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Not really. I told my husband way in advance what my intentions were, but we didn't have plans anyway. It helps not to have kids...and he has been working the last four hours, so that helps in regards to distractions.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not really! Considering I wasn't even sure if I was going to participate, this has been my most productive and relaxing readathon. I'm just trying to enjoy a day off!

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
Not much? Things have been going smoothly. I am surprised at the progress I have made!

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
I'm going to be honest...I haven't been inspired by many of the mini-challenges. Nothing against the hosts, but many of them just don't interest me.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
I actually think that my current plan, of checking in once every two-three hours is working splendidly. I am getting more reading done, checking in on other bloggers as I can, and focusing on what I need to get done! I do think I might sign up to be a cheerleader for a couple hours!

9. Are you getting tired yet?
My eyes are tired, but it might be that my current read has tiny print. The other two titles had relatively large print.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
If you really want to be productive, only take a few breaks and limit your time on the computer. It was worked wonders for me. Also, don't worry about everyone else's page counts. Everyone reads at different speeds and different levels of material. If you are reading harder stuff, like a classic, no worries about how far you get. They're tough!

Running Stats:

Pages read: 840
Books finished: 2 (The Lost Stories by John Flanagan and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare)
Time spent reading: about 7 hours (this is a guesstimate)
Time spent commenting/tweeting: about 90 minutes
Mini-challenges: 3 (Intro Meme, the "States" challenge hosted by Melissa, and Mid-Event Meme)
Cups of tea: 4
# of distractions by my husband: 9 (No new distractions since he has been at work!)
# of kitten snuggles: 9 (My two buddies have been snuggling on the couch with me all evening as I continue to read).

I also feel the need to point out that yes, we own the ugliest couch in the world. It is orange and brown plaid. From the 70s. But hey, it was free! :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

I'm In (The Readathon of course!)

I posted yesterday about my "maybe" intentions of joining in. Yesterday, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of things that I needed to do this weekend, so I figured it would be better for my sanity to do what I had to and skip the readathon.

But then I went to bed early last night and got a lot of rest. I woke up this morning determined to make my life easier this weekend. Somehow, I managed to finish grading my fifth hour's essays before their class (I did work through lunch) so I could give them back to them. This leaves me with my sixth hour's to complete this weekend. That was a huge weight off my shoulders. When I came home from work, I cleaned up the apartment, then sat down to finish Dracula.

And I feel like a huge weight has lifted from my shoulders. Because...well, I have been incredibly stressed the last couple of weeks. School has been a little chaotic, Matt's step-dad is having a hard time with his chemo, and well, the usual stress.

And after I realized tonight that I was feeling far more relaxed than I have in weeks, I decided that I NEED to participate tomorrow. I need to jump back in and feel like I am a breathing part of the book community.

So, at 8am I will be out of bed to complete my beginning memoir. I already have the husband slated to make me some breakfast in the morning. It will be a good day.

I also think that I am going to start by reading a "fun" title, just so I can truly relax and enjoy myself. :)

I'm so glad that I'm participating! See you all in the morning.

Classics Circuit: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg.

“With regard to the work itself, I dare not venture a judgment, for I do not understand it.”

Welcome to the Gothic Lit Classics Circuit tour! Make sure to go and visit the Classics Circuit blog to find more posts for this tour, as well as information for upcoming tours.

I was really excited when this tour was announced. For one, I am not a big "scary book" fan, so this was a great opportunity to read something out of my element. And two, it would also give me the opportunity to read something NOT on my list of classics.

After looking at the suggestions on the sign-up post, I did some searching online to find something obscure. Call me crazy, but I really wanted to go outside the box and pick something I had never heard of. It was between this title and Jane Talbot by Charles Brockden Brown. I decided on this one for length, and because no one else chose it! (sue me, I wanted to be different).

I am glad that I went with this one. Published in 1824, the novel was originally published anonymously. Even though Hogg (based on what I've read) was well-known, he was a little unsure of whether he wanted to place his name on it. It was a book that wasn't received all that well at the time, but has gradually gained a readership over time.

I found my copy of the novel through Project Gutenberg and read it in its entirety on Homer (my NookColor). Without a physical copy of a book I was so unsure of, I had no idea what to expect from the novel.

It starts out normal enough-with a great deal of back story into the characters' lives and an eerie mood from the beginning. It begins with the marriage of Rabina to George Colwan. Rabina isn't too thrilled with her marriage...and quite frankly, she isn't a fun lady. she disapproves of her husband's drinking and partying and soon she mentally checks out of the marriage. She does have a son with George, and they name him after his father. She also has another son, while married to George, that she names Robert. Robert is rumored to be the son of the preacher in of course, that causes a lot of tension.

Robert is raised by his "supposed" father and never meets his brother until he is older. Robert is very intense in his religion, and throughout the beginning of the novel, the reader doesn't really understand who he is or why he does the things he does. He believes, fervently, that only some are allowed into heaven. He feels, in some way, that it is his duty to get rid of those who are unworthy. So when he finally does meet his brother, he is arrogant, angry, and absolutely insane.

He begins to stalk his brother, which obviously freaks George out. He makes attempts on George's life. Then George winds up dead.

This is where the novel gets interesting. For the first section of the book, we are merely observers. We are along with Robert as he hunts and stalks his brother throughout the countryside. We watch as Rabina acts like an idiot to her new husband. Then George is dead and we are drawn into the mind of Robert.

It is an awkward and horrible place to be. Robert descends into a kind of madness. He has delusions that cause him to do things to others. As an observer and realizing what sane and normal humans do, the reader is kind of at a loss as to how to understand Robert's mind. On one hand, I thought he was just plain crazy. But on the other....

Hogg makes Robert an interesting character, and maybe even understandable. Because where George was given opportunity as the proclaimed son of a Duke, Robert was shepherded away as something awkward and uncomfortable. His illegitimacy probably had some kind of impact on his mind...

And then Gil-Martin appears. Gil-Martin is either Robert's other personality, or just a doppelganger that arrives to mess things up. Robert's thoughts continue to get jumbled and mess up until you just don't know WHO Robert is and what exactly he had done. The end leaves you scratching your head in wonder.

I really, really enjoyed this. It was far more than a "scary" title. Instead, it offered a lot to think about in regards to upbringing, family, and the real meaning of insanity. I like that the whole story was unclear. As a reader, I wasn't quite sure who I was supposed to be rooting for. Was Robert the hero? I don't think so...but then again, I'm not quite sure.

My one critique of the novel is the beginning. It sets a slow pace. for the first 60-75 pages, I wasn't sure where the "gothic" element was. I mean, I was at a wedding with Rabina and old George, then muddled through description of their unhappy marriage...I wanted murder!

But when the action finally hits, it HITS. You can't help but be fascinated by what Robert "does" and his descent into, well, madness. It is creepy, entertaining, and very well-done.

I can see why this one may not have been a hit with the audiences of Hogg's age. It is an uncomfortable kind of novel-one that doesn't leave you with any warm fuzzies or any feeling of understanding. Instead, it causes you to question sanity and what it means to have a grip on life. It is more of a psychological thriller, which is why is more familiar today than it was when it was originally published.

So, if in the future you are looking for a creepy and disturbing look into a man's mind, look no further than Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, even if the title drives you crazy because it is just way too long. :)

**I do want to point out that I skimmed over much of what happens in the novel. I mean, I could have gone heavy duty into the spoilers, but I really don't want to ruin what happens by getting too specific. There is a lot more depth than what i covered here (I didn't even tough on the religious fanaticism that takes over a great deal of the writing). So go enjoy it for yourself at some point!**

Also, be sure to visit the Classics Circuit to find more reviews of other Gothic type novels, and to watch out for future tours!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Readathon Plans (Maybe).

I posted not too long ago about my intentions to join in on the 24-Hour readathon coming up on Saturday. And while I love the event and I really would love to participate...I don't know if I will be as into the event as I usually am.

I am in a slump...and not just in blogging. Life to seems to be plodding along all right, but I seem to be going through the motions only.

I am going to try my darndest, but my participation on Saturday depends on the following:
  • Finishing Dracula either tonight or tomorrow
  • Finishing my fifth hour memoir projects (and I still have one class set to go after that)
  • I feel better. My walking pneumonia came back with a vengeance a couple weeks ago, and I still don't think I am over it. At times, I still have a hard time breathing. I've also been feeling a bit "off" at times. Maybe it is just my mood, but I want to feel "up" to reading if I am going to participate.
Even with all of that, I decided to make a small stack of books to read this weekend. Here they are:

My original goal was to read some Shakespeare, so you can see the four titles I picked out off my list. I figured Hamlet might be a good choice for the weather and time of year. It has also been quite some time since I read it, so I am kind of looking forward to it. The bottom title is Dante's Inferno, which I have yet to start for the Group Read I am hosting (whoops).

Anyway, perhaps I will be reading alongside you on Saturday. If a post isn't up by halfway through, you'll know that life got in the way. :) But, I'm sure I'll be around on twitter to cheer you on!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book 113: I Battled the White Whale and Finished.

"Moby-Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!"

I have spent over a month battling the white whale and reading Melville's words, and I am finally finished.

I don't say that with a sense of exasperation or with thankfulness. Instead, I am saying it with pride. I think Moby-Dick encompasses a great deal of fear for many. It is a large book, which sometimes focuses on the mundane, but it does so with such power that I think it intimidates. But I am finished. And I loved every page of it.

I think, that to truly appreciate Melville's work, we also have to appreciate the man behind it, as well as the times. Melville was an under-appreciated and underrated writer in his lifetime. While his first few books, including Typee which I read in college, had great success, Moby-Dick and some of his later works were flops. They didn't grab hold of their audience and many waved them off. Melville passed away with little "to-do" and underrated for his greatest novel.

In my opinion, I think Melville and Moby-Dick were ahead of their time. When it was published in 1851, Moby-Dick was too close to the times and the people. I think now we can appreciate what Melville did and what he accomplished.

Because not only is Moby-Dick about the battle of Captain Ahab and the whale who haunts him, it is also a great deal about the American spirit. Still young, the U.S. was fighting to find a place in the world amidst powerful nations who helped found us. Like Ahab, Americans were pushing out and conquering their demons of the past.

And, like Ahab, Americans were consumed by obsession, the need to move forward, conquer what land they could, and progress. Ahab is a man driven by obsession and revenge against the animal who took his leg. He convinces his crew to go along with his drive to find and kill the whale Moby Dick, and pushed them onward at all costs.

It is a novel full of that underlying throbbing passion. Between the mundane descriptions of whale anatomy, discussions on religion, savages, and relationships, the core of the novel throbs with the passion that Melville and his characters had for the sea. Because the sea called to them in a way that not many can understand. I think that some are meant for specific things, and those who choose to be career sailors are meant to be on the sea. The sea is something that many of us cannot understand. It is full of mystery, or power, and of things that we cannot see.

The sea drives the men onward. It is their home as well as the white whale's. It beckons to them throughout and while they think they understand its mysteries, they don't. I believe that is why Melville continued to focus on the little things about the sea and the ship. Where the sea and its creatures, including Moby Dick are natural, the men aboard their ship, their belongings, and their whaling practices are not. All those chapters of description, whaling gear, and objects are meant to show that while men believe they own and understand the sea, they are just strangers. They don't actually belong to that place.

I feel like I have to discuss the very end, so I am warning you here that I am talking about it in full detail. Skip down to where you see the line of stars to miss my discussion of the end.

When the end comes to the men aboard the Pequod, it comes fast. Part of me felt slightly robbed as I read the last three chapters, the only three chapters that the whale is actually in. I actually reread the end a few times before closing the book and setting it aside.

I determined that the end was fitting. Throughout the other 590 pages, Melville gives us the opportunity to know the men aboard the ship; we learn their struggles and personalities. So when the whale finally emerges, we cheer, hoping they will destroy the creature that has destroyed Ahab. It is gripping and frightening as they pursue the whale.

And then the end comes. As a reader, we realize that the whale is natural, he is doing as he wishes and as Ahab relentlessly pursues him, it all clicks into place. Ahab is obsessed with destroying what he believes has destroyed his life. Instead, Ahab is consumed by his desire to kill, and that is what leads him to his doom. He is pulled under by the whale and into the sea. He is destroyed by what he thinks he understands.

The rest of the ship and its crew are also destroyed, save for Ishmael, our narrator who seemed to disappear into the ship as the novel progressed. He is the lone survivor, picked up by another ship after floating in the sea for a day. He proclaims himself to be an orphan, abandoned to the sea by the crew of the Pequod. I felt for Ishmael then, as he understood what led to the demise of the men he had spent so much time with. The sea took them, not the whale, and I think that at the end, he realizes this.


At such length and with so much to discuss, I could go on for days about my thoughts of Melville's masterpiece. But I won't. I have to end it somewhere, so I will. Moby-Dick was a large adventure, with bits and pieces I'll never be able to forget. It is full of power and passion...and the American spirit. It was emotional and confusing, strange and familiar. It left me with a greater appreciation for what I cannot hope to understand about the sea and myself.

I am sure I will return to it again and again, with each new reading letting me discover more of its depths.

“ the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

*I am sure that there are many other people who have read this who would be far more eloquent than I in explaining just how wonderful of a book this really is. I cannot hope to convey how beautiful the language is. You just need to read it for yourself.*

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Re-Readathon November 18-20.

The wonderful Jaime over at The Perpetual Page-Turner has announced that she is hosting a Re-Readathon over the weekend of November 18 to the 20.

Since I am a fan of readathons...and rereading, I figured this would be a perfect fit for me.

Last November, I took the whole month "off" from reading my classics and focused on rereading books from my childhood and teen years. It was a great break and sent me back to the classics with open arms. I found myself refreshed and renewed.

I am feeling like I need a break sometime in the near future, so Jaime's readathon will come at a great time. That weekend leads into my last two days in my current teaching placement, so spending the weekend reading old favorites will be a great way to relax before a sad couple of days.

I don't have any specific reading plans. I might reread The Hunger Games trilogy, since I have been craving them. Or I might reread some Harry Potter. We'll see. But it'll be great fun either way, no pressure, and a chance to revisit some books lingering on my shelves.

I hope you'll join in!

October 2011 Group Read Link-In Post: Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Welcome to the link-in post for October's first Group Read on Bram Stoker's Dracula. Starting today and ending on the 22nd, you can link your post on Stoker's vampire novel here. You can also revisit to see others' posts as well!

Since I am trying a new format with this Group Read format, I am going to refrain from using this space as a place for my own thoughts on the novel. Instead, I will also link my post here when it goes up.

I am also attempting to use Mr. Linky. I am a first-timer, so if I fail to set this up right, you all have permission to laugh at me....or sic a vampire on me (haha).

I hope you all enjoyed your read of Dracula and will consider participating in more Group Reads!

Please fill out the form with a link to your post and comment below! I would appreciate any suggestions, criticisms, or hurrahs. :)

Weekly Wrap-up for October 16, 2011: Busy, Busy, Busy.

I am in the midst of chaos. I don't know how else to explain the insanity that has taken over my life. Sorry to say, my lowly blog has been placed on the back-burner for a little while...and it might need to stay there until the end of this week.

In addition to conferences at school, grading 60 memoir projects (I have 10 done and I have had them nearly a week-not good), preparing for our band concert on Tuesday night, regular cleaning and living, sleeping, taking on the student council class this week....well, I also have reading commitments that I am trying to make. I am almost done with Dracula so a post will be going up by the end of the week for my Group Read (the link-up post will be up shortly after this one). I also need to start and finish Inferno this week.

Perhaps I am just insane.

At any rate, life is busy and chaotic. I didn't get anything productive done yesterday-we went to the bar to watch the football game, spent time with Matt's family to see how his step-dad is doing with the chemo, and went grocery shopping. No papers were cleaning was done.

That's okay. Just means more to do today...

Bah. I don't know. I feel like I have things to say, but I am tired and have a mile-long list of things to take care of today.

Hope you are all doing well. When my life returns to "normalcy," I hope you'll all forgive me.

(and there are only 6 more weeks in my long-term subbing assignment-WHERE has the time gone?)

Happy Reading.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Breaking the Book Buying Ban.

Well, I lasted a month, which is better than I thought I would do. I was doing SO WELL in avoiding the bookstores nearby until Matt asked if I wanted to go to Barnes and Noble with him while he looked for some manual he needed. It wasn't as if I could say no....

So we went. And we started walking around and I was being really good until I saw a display with books by John Flanagan. He ended his "Ranger's Apprentice" series earlier this year, and I have been a little heartbroken about it. They were such lively, fun books! I have read them since the first one came out, so seeing the series come to an end was tough. But, then I saw it sitting on the table. In addition to the last book (I already have it), there was another title with "Ranger's Apprentice" on the cover! I grabbed it immediately to read the blurb. Matt just sighed and asked what it was. I explained the whole thing to him, jumped up and down, and hugged it tight before moving to place it back on the display. He just looked at me and said, "oh just hold it."


There I was clutching my little lovely in my arms when we stumbled into the fiction section. There was a big ol' sign saying "Barnes and Noble Classics: buy two get one free!" Matt looked at me and said, "Do you want any?"

He should know better.

I ended up finding another 6 classics to add to my collection. And it is all Matt's fault. The ban is also still in place. Matt knows I have had a horrible couple of weeks, so this is probably his way of making me feel better. He knows me well. :)

Here is what I got:

From top to bottom:
  • Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte: I am done reading work by the Brontes for my list, but I am going to make it a goal to read all of their work at some point!
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Writings by Washington Irving: This is actually a title I need to read for my list, so now I have it. :) I might even get to it this month (if a miracle happens)
  • Daniel Deronda by George Eliot: This is the only big Eliot title I haven't read, and I have been meaning to get a copy for ages. This was the last copy at the store, so I told Matt it was fate.
  • Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum: Not for my just looked interesting. I also have this things for books about the sea, so this will be a great read at some point.
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy: This is actually a replacement copy. I read this one in the first year of my project, and my copy self-destructed while I was reading it. I had bought it for 25 cents at a library sale, and apparently it was on its last leg (the cover fell off completely, pages fell out as I was turning was a mess). And since I loved it, I knew I needed a new copy.
  • Billy Budd and the Piazza Tales by Herman Melville: Billy Budd is on my list, but I didn't have a copy yet! I also have grand plans to read a lot more Melville in the future, so the second title is a definite bonus!
  • Ranger's Apprentice: The Lost Stories by John Flanagan: This is the one I clutched like a little kid. I don't know what it is about this series, but I just love it. It is FUN. It doesn't make me think too hard. And it is FUN. I cannot wait to read it to my kids one day (the series is a fantasy/adventure type and PERFECT for boys. I recommended this one a lot when I was student teaching in middle school and the boys LOVED IT).
There you have it. The evidence of my failure. I'm okay with it. Had Matt turned me loose in the store, I probably would have gone crazy. There are a ton of titles coming out in the next few months that my fingers are getting itchy over (like the new Riordan release-I didn't see it, which was probably a good thing). I need to learn some self control, don't you think? :)

I'm going to try and be good until January. Hold me to it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

November 2011 Group Reads:

While the first posts for the October Group Reads still haven't gone up yet, I had great response. It seems as if the idea of posting once for a book during the broad span of a week was more appealing than multiple posts per book on a specific day.

Maybe I am being premature in launching the next set of sign-ups, but I am going ahead with them anyway. :) Like I have said countless times before, I really enjoy the community aspect of reading a book "together." It also helps me get through some books that I would otherwise shy away from.

Here are the two November Group Reads:

Group Read #1: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

I have read Conrad's "masterpiece" three times now. The first time I picked it for a read off the AP English list as a high school senior. The second two times were for college courses.

I had a really hard time with this book each time I've read it. I don't know if had to do with experience, reading tastes, or something else, but I always came away feeling like I was missing something. It has been a number of years (5?) since I have read it, so perhaps my feelings towards it have changed. I know that it is one of the titles on my list I have been avoiding and I am hoping that someone, somewhere, will want to read it with me.

If you don't know what it is about, here is a little summary from Goodreads:

"A masterpiece of twentieth-century writing, Heart of Darkness (1902) exposes the tenuous fabric that holds "civilization" together and the brutal horror at the center of European colonialism. Conrad's crowning achievement recounts Marlow's physical and psychological journey deep into the heart of the Belgian Congo in search of the mysterious trader Kurtz."

See? It sounds interesting!

If I haven't scared you off, here is what you need to do to join in on the fun! First, you need to comment here saying that you want in on the fun. Second, you need to read the book and write a post. Then, during the week of November 20-26, you need to link your post back to the master post here. Visit other participants and comment away. Easy enough, right? It would also be wonderful if you spread the word so we can have more participants!

Group Read #2: Dante's Purgatorio

One of my goals for the fall was to read The Divine Comedy, and since I am reading the Inferno during this month, it is only right to carry on right into the second of the trilogy-Purgatorio. I know less about this one than the first, since it seems everyone generally reads the first and skips the other two!

Here is a description from Goodreads:

"As Dante ascends the Mount of Purgatory toward the Earthly Paradise and his beloved Beatrice, through "that second kingdom in which the human soul is cleansed of sin," all the passion and suffering, poetry and philosophy are rendered with the immediacy of a poet of our own age."

I know I am excited to carry on in my journey with Dante, and I hope that many of you will join in, even if you aren't participating in our current read of Inferno.

To join in, you need to comment below to let me know. Then, read the book and formulate your thoughts into a post. During the week of November 20-26, come back here and link your post on my master post. Then you can visit other blogs, comment, and discuss throughout the week as more participants link up!

I hope you all consider joining in on the fun! I know that in December I will be read the final book of The Divine Comedy as one of the Group Reads. I think I will put up a poll in another couple of weeks to vote on the second book for that month. Be on a lookout for it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again For The First Time.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the wonderful folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, they pick a topic and bloggers participate by posting their own responses. I like to participate now and again, most because I am a list person. I like lists. Lists dictate my life.

Anyway, this week's topic is "Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time."

Since I have been focusing on the classics, I am reading a lot of books for the first time. And there are many cases where I think to myself, "Wow, I wish I could have saved this." Because as much as I love rereading, there is nothing like the mystery and joy in reading a book for the first time. That feeling of awe, enthrallment, and wonder just simply cannot be beat.

Here are the top ten books I wish I could read again for the first time...

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This was one of the titles I was saving for later on in my project. But, I finally caved in and read it, knowing nothing about the story before I began. This one grabbed me and absorbed in a way that few books have. That first reading experience was powerful and I would love to have it back!

2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville: While I enjoyed my first foray into Melville's writing with Typee in college, it was Moby-Dick that left me stunned. I don't think there is a comparison to the power of language in this novel, or of the carefully constructed story. I was continually impressed by the attention to the smallest and most important details. A beautiful story, that I, again, went into without any prior knowledge of the end (the rest of my posts on this one will be going up later this week).

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: What I wouldn't give to go back to the night when I first decided to read this one. It was only a month or two before starting my blog. It was about 11:30 at night, and I had finished my other book. I decided to pick this one up and start it...I didn't set it down until I finished it. I was simply sucked into the story, the adventure, and the horror.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: I was one of those people who waited to get their book at midnight. I took it home, as did my sister with her copy, and stayed awake until I finished it. I had to know how it would all end, what would become of my beloved Snape, and if it would end the way I hoped it would. But now that the story is over, I am sad and wish it was still ongoing.

5. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: I remember the first time I read this I was working for one of our parks. It was a rainy day in the summer, so I was sitting in the booth with uninterrupted reading time. I cried. For sure. And while I still get an emotional punch in the gut every time I read this one, I still wish I could capture that first time feeling.

6. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier: While I have only read this one once, I know that nothing will beat that first time through. It was a book that I sailed through-the action intense, the story riveting...and while I know I'll love it just as much the second and third times, nothing can really beat the first read of this!

7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: As any fantasy nerd will tell you, there is nothing like conquering Tolkien's masterpiece. But the reading of this trilogy also has great memories for me. I bought my copies of the trilogy while on vacation in Colorado at some tiny bookshop (I had already run out of things to read), and as we drove through the mountains, I sank deep into Middle-Earth. It was before the movies had come out, before the hype, and I just fell in love with the world.

8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: This is another novel that I have fond memories of reading the first time. It was on the summer reading list before ninth grade, and I began reading it up north on vacation. We were at the beach, the boat anchored in the water, and my family playing on the sand or in the water. I escaped to the boat to lay out and read...I can vividly remember the boat rocking in the waves as I read about the was just so powerful.

9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin: This was a title I picked up as a senior in high school. I was immediately sucked into the story and desperation. I remember finishing it over a weekend and going in to talk to my teacher about it that Monday morning. I have reread this one numerous times and while it still has a great deal of "magic" about it, it is never as strong as that first time.

10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: This was one of the first classics I ever picked up on my own. It was in the middle of the summer, and sick of reading some really bad YA, I decided that for every two "fun" books I read, I also had to read 1 classic. This was the first classic I read that summer and like so many other books, I have fond memories of reading it.

What books do you wish you could read again for the first time?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book 114: Finished.

“Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm. ”

I sat down to read this one and ended up reading it pretty much in one solid go (I feel the need to be honest and say I fell asleep during the first time I sat down, so I started over the next time and finished it shortly after). It was a gripping story from the beginning-full of suspense, mystery, and great writing.

Okay, that might be a stretch. The writing isn't superb. Some of the "scary" or suspenseful scenes even seemed a little silly. But it was entertaining and interesting, especially because I wasn't familiar with the all.

Yes, apparently I have been living under a rock for 26 years and didn't know who Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde were.

Anyway, so I don't ruin it for anyone wanting to pick this up, I should leave my lack of knowledge behind.

Basically this is the story of Dr. Jekyll, a well-to-do man who gets caught up with the mysterious and mean Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll's friends are confused by the choices he makes concerning his relationship with Mr. Hyde and attempt to step in. Shenanigans begin and soon, events spiral out of control into a kind of pseudo-tragedy.

It was wonderful. It was thrilling in that I didn't know what was going to happen next. Stevenson managed to keep a feeling of suspense until the very end, and when I finally realized what happened, I not only felt surprised, but only slightly stupid I didn't catch on sooner. :)

I'm not sure what else to say with spoiling it all over the place. Just take away that it was a wonderfully fast read, one that kept me on my toes, and didn't give me any nightmares (I cannot say the same for Matt's new video game. I slept with the lights on last night in fear of zombies coming to eat me).

“If he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. Seek.”

I do think that I am going to have to read more of Stevenson's work in the future. Sadly, there were only two titles by him on my list and I have finished them both. I suppose that is something else to look forward to in the future.

Oh, are there any good film versions of this that I should watch?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

New Penguin Clothbounds.

Okay, by now you all should know how much I love and adore the Penguin Clothbound Classic series. I own the full set (minus Crime and Punishment and Madame Bovary which were only released in the UK for a limited time), and I give them away as much as I possibly can. I don't love them just because they're classics-I love them because they are high-quality, lasting editions I will own and cherish for a lifetime. I see my set as something I can leave behind. Morbid? maybe. But it is how I think. I am building a library not only for myself, but my future family. Know what I mean?

Earlier today I was fiddling online when I stumbled across a clothbound cover for Charles Dickens' Bleak House. Since I don't own that one and I own the entire set, I knew it had to be a new release. So, I did some more sleuthing and discovered that there are going to be 5 new titles released in the "near" future (at least from what I could find).

On December 27, Penguin is releasing two more Dickens titles (Bleak House and Hard Times) to celebrate Dickens' 200th birthday (you can read more HERE on the Penguin UK site). These will join Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol in the collection.

Here are the two covers:

I also discovered that they are releasing the remaining Jane Austen novels (of her main 6) in April (however, the Book Depository, based in the UK, has them releasing next month).

Here are the three covers:

What do you think? I know I am going to have to get my hands on them. :) I do like some of the covers better than others, and it is hard to judge the colors based on what you see on screen. Some of the color combos on the other titles are also a little wonky, but the editions are still beautiful. Of the five new titles, my favorite covers are Hard Times and Persuasion.

Any of you Austen fans going to collect all 6? ;)