Monday, April 30, 2012

Clarissa in April: Failure.

Well, it is officially the end of April, and I should be posting about how amazingly wonderful it was to read all of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa in one month.

If you didn't guess by the title, I should clue you in. My attempt to read Clarissa this month was a total failure. I think that the three of us who were attempting this (Adam and Jillian were my partners in crime) all felt like we "could" do it, but none of us did. I think Jillian made it the furthest before setting it aside, and by stalking Adam on Goodreads, he only made it to page 165. My Goodreads isn't up to date (I should fix that), but I only made it to page 450 or so.

So why did we all seem to fail?

Personally, I had way too much going on in the month of April to concentrate on such a BIG book. Since my copy is so massive and heavy, it didn't fit easily in my purse (in fact, it doesn't fit at all), so it stayed home a lot of the time and smaller books were brought with me. I also had a really hard time reading it in bed, which is where I spend a lot of time reading. I usually read while on my back, but after being smacked in the face once by not holding the book steady, I gave up. It also killed my hands to hold it open for long periods of time.

I also think I simply misjudged my abilities to plow through it as I intended. The first 200 pages or so are incredibly repetitive, so I struggled to get past that point (now it is A LOT better). The font is small, and the pages are large.

More than anything else, I was simple too busy to read it in April. I had some new units to prep for school that required me to reread those books, and since I was so worn out, I could only read 20 or so pages of Clarissa at a time before throwing the towel and moving on to something easier.

So, I sadly have to admit that I failed in reading this in April. I'm not sure I can actually set a date for finishing it, but ideally, I'd like to be done with it by the end of August. It is the perfect book for rainy summer days, so I hope that at some point I can say, "Hey! I finished that really big book I was talking about!"

(I also have plans to read Richardson's Pamela this year, so we'll see how that goes).

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for April 29, 2012: The End of April and Some Loose May Plans.

This is a super late weekly post, but I worked an 8 hour shift earlier today at the park. And while I set my alarm for 6:30 so I could pump out a post this morning, I decided that hitting the snooze 15 times was a better option. :)

Anyway, things have been crazy busy around these parts. Since starting back up at the park last week, I've been running around like a nutso person. Thankfully I'm not working many weekday evenings (maybe 1 or 2 a week) until school gets out, so I will be a little less insane than I was at this time last year. But, all my "free" days on the weekend are gone. I forgot how much it sucks to have no days off. Oh well.

It is also hard to believe that it is already May! Time is flying by! I can't believe I've been teaching for two months and only have about 6 or 7 weeks left in the school year. Things have been going well in that department. Since I am teaching all English this year, I've noticed there is a definite difference in my workload (I taught 2 sections of history last year and 3 English, and this fall I had 4 English and the Student Government class). There are lots more essays to grade when you have 5 sections of English. But, I am really enjoying it and I am learning a great deal. It helps that I have great kids too. :)

In regards to reading, I have had a pretty steady month of finishing smaller books, but I completely failed in reading Clarissa. I have a post planned for tomorrow on that whole shebang and failure, but I'm really not that upset that I didn't finish it. There is still plenty of time left in 2012 to get through it. I have noticed that I have been spending a lot of time this month reading things NOT on my project list. I'm okay with that, but I do want to transition back to reading more of my project books in May. May will be a "free" month for me (June and July starts my Victorian Event-more on that below), so I am going to try and make some progress through a few challenge titles, etc. I've been craving some Greek literature, and since I have 4 smaller Greek pieces, I might get through those. I am also going to dive back into Nicholas Nickleby, since I set it aside in March and April to deal with school stuff. Beyond that, I'm not sure what I'll grab. Maybe A Passage to India and Kim? We'll have to see. All I know is I want short so I can feel like I am making progress.

It is also hard to believe that my Victorian Event for June and July is right around the corner. I've been neglecting getting the word out, so here is my lame attempt at reminding you. :) If you haven't signed up yet, please visit the sign-up page. I am going to be pulling some winners in the next day or two, so sign up!

I'd also appreciate it if anyone wanted to put up the badge on their blogs, tweet about the event and get some excitement stirred up again.

I am also still looking for people interested in hosting their own giveaway, or writing a guest post for me during one of the two months. I would love to have some featured posts on Victorian writers, etc, so if you're game, please send me an e-mail and let me know (my e-mail is on my profile page). And if you have e-mailed me, I'll be getting in touch with you this week so we can discuss.

Well, that's all I have for tonight. I'm going to try and get through a big chunk of An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer (a very rare book that I accepted for review) before watching Game of Thrones with the husband and a couple of friends.

Happy Reading everyone!

Friday, April 27, 2012

My World Book Night Experience.

I've been meaning to write about my experience being a Giver for World Book Night on Monday, but time has gotten away from me this week. But, I can't let any more time pass without telling you all about it.

I picked up my copies of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak the first day I could. My local Barnes and Noble was a pick-up location, and I was slightly disappointed to see that they only had 6 or 7 Givers total. I'm hoping that next year we can have more in our general area.

When I originally applied to be a Giver, I had planned on e-mailing some of the teachers I have worked with in the last two years to give them copies, but since I have a temporary position, I decided to give out my copies to my students. I also sent a couple of copies off to other teacher friends for their classroom libraries. I also gave our school's librarian three copies of the book (the day after I gave them to her, she came to tell me that the school's copy was returned heavily damaged-so it all worked out!).

I brought the remaining copies in to school and gave a little background about the book to each of my classes. I also showed them my signed copy and talked a little bit about my experience meeting Zusak back in 2007. In a couple classes I had minimal interest, but in others, it seemed as if every kid wanted a copy.

I ended up collecting names, then pulled names at random to give away copies. My only negative feeling about giving them out in school was that I couldn't give every student a copy of a book. But, my students were amazing. A few offered to lend their copies to others when they were finished. It was so sweet of them.

All of them were grateful. There were many "thank yous" and hugging of books to chests. After class, one student came up to me and said, "this is the very first book I've owned. Will you sign it for me?" I was touched, so I did.

The next day, almost all of the students who had gotten a book the day before brought them to class. After their quiz, it was nice to see them reading the book. One student told me that their parent started reading it the night before and had to finish it first. :)

In all, it was a great experience to give my students some books. They were so thankful and so excited about reading something that I loved so much. Again, the only downside to the whole experience was not having enough for everyone. But, I was touched by the generousity of my kids as they shared and talked about the book with their peers.

I will definitely do this whole thing again. There was something just so wonderful about talking books with my kids and seeing their eyes light up.

Who else participated? What book did you pass out?

Or, if you didn't participate, if you could pass out any book, what would it be and why? I'm curious!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book 141: The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman.

 I wanted something short to plow through during the readathon on Saturday, and The Little Foxes has been staring at me since I finally bought a copy. This was the hardest play to find, since it doesn't seem as well-known as the others on my list. In fact, the only edition I could find to purchase was the edition used for productions (seen below). I also read online about the movie adaptation with Bette Davis, now on my list of movies I need to watch at some point.

The Little Foxes was first published in 1939. The movie adaptation came out in 1941, so I have to assume it was well received in play format.

Like all the plays I have read for the challenge, this one would also be even more spectacular to see live. While you can get a lot out of reading the text of a play, there is less description. You can only get that by watching the actors.

The play is set around 1900 in a small Southern town. All of the main characters are from the Hubbard family. Ben, Oscar, and Regina are siblings who are fairly well off in the town. From the observations and statements made by two minor characters-Addie, Regina's maid and Birdie, Oscar's wife-it appears the Hubbards are not well liked in town. The men go out shooting and throw away their kills, even though they could be put to better use for the poorer families in town. They also appear to be rather haughty, looking down on the others they interact with.

At the beginning of the play, the Hubbards are entertaining a rich Northerner who wants to build a cotton mill down by the cotton fields. He is will to put in 49% of the cost if the three Hubbards will put in the remaining 51%. All the events after this revolve around the issue of money. Both Ben and Oscar have their share, but Regina must beg for her portion from her husband, who is laid up in a hospital with a heart condition.

This is where the action really begins. Regina is a slimy, self-centered witch who insists her husband leave the safety of the hospital to come home and give her the money she "needs" for this business venture. After sending her young teenage daughter, Alexandra, so go get him, all three of the Hubbards are waiting to pounce on him the moment he gets home.

The actions after that just show how much greed can push people to doing horrible things. The play really speaks to the power money has over us all, and how if we let it, it can ultimately destroy us. It also speaks a bit about family relationships. I think we all know that going into business with a family member isn't always the best idea...

More importantly, I found it interesting to view the events from Alexandra's point of view. At one point, she is used as a pawn to get more money into the deal. She is also used by her mother to bring home her father, since she is the only one to convince him to come home. At the end, I really felt for her and what she witnessed-the pure evil of her mother and uncles.

I also found Birdie to be an interesting character. As Oscar's wife, she is supposed to be a well-respected and loved woman. But her husband seems to despise her, and she turns to alcohol to cope with a lot of her problems. I cannot imagine being trapped in such a marriage, or knowing your husband only married you to get to your money. Of all the characters, I found Birdie to be the most honest.

In all, I really enjoyed this play. It was a fast read, and I enjoyed the way Hellman brought me into the living room of the Hubbards (the only setting for the play). It IS interesting to think that all kinds of things go on behind our neighbors' walls, and we don't really know what kind of people they are. I think this is definitely a play worth reading if you get the chance. I am also going to be on the lookout for a performance at some point. I would have killed to see the original performance with Tallulah Bankhead as Regina. She was such a wonderful actress, and I can just see her in the role.

As a side note, if you can find an edition that was NOT a production version of the play, I recommend it. My edition had a LOT of stage directions, to the point that it was distracting from the text. I didn't need to know when an actor walked upstage or downstage between words, etc.

Has anyone read or seen this one?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten All Time Favorite Characters In Books.

Oh goodness, it's Tuesday, which also means that it is Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish.

I had to create a list on today's topic, mostly because I find it nearly impossible to name ten favorite characters, but I am going to do my best to create a list.

Off I go (and these are in no particular order because the only thing harder than narrowing this down to ten is picking an actual favorite).

  1. Severus Snape from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: I have loved Snape since the first time he came on the page in Sorcerer's Stone. I was always intrigued by his back story and why he was just so darn mean to poor Harry. And I loved how Rowling slowly developed him. I think, of all the characters in her world, that he was the best. 
  2. Lily Bart from The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: I love Lily so much that I named a kitten after her. There is something so weak and naive about Lily to start, but as you get to know her, she acquires such a sense of strength and purpose...and I just admire that in any female character.
  3. Vardaman from As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: I love Vardaman. And I love how he struggles to cope with the death of his mother throughout the book. I couldn't imagine being that young and losing your mother. He also has one of the best chapters I've ever read, "My mother is a fish." Read this.
  4. Lucy Snowe from Villette by Charlotte Bronte: I see a lot of myself in Lucy Snowe, which is probably why I loved the book so much as I read it. She is shy and reserved, but knows when she must speak out. I loved her quiet nature, and the way she kept secrets from everyone, even the reader!
  5. John Proctor from The Crucible by Arthur Miller: I just reread the play with my sophomore English classes, and once again, I was blown away by the power of Miller's play. I love John Proctor and his emotional outbursts-the way he chooses to passionately defend his honor and reputation. It gets me every time. (honorable mentions to Reverend Hale and Giles Corey)
  6. Ender Wiggin from Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: I am currently reading this one with my elective English class and while they are not as big of fans of Ender as I am, they still find him interesting. I always feel bad for poor Ender-born as a request of the government, forced to give up his childhood, and later called a monster. I love his development, the way he thinks, and who he chooses to become by the very end.
  7. Telemachus from The Odyssey by Homer: While I like Odysseus just fine, I really like the story of Telemachus and his journey to becoming a man. There is something so honest and interesting about his interactions with Athena and the other kings as he struggles to determine who he is in his father's shadow.
  8. Silas Marner from Silas Marner by George Eliot: I love the transformation Silas undergoes once he is responsible for someone other than himself. He is no longer allowed to be a cranky old hermit, obsessed with his money and isolation. Really, I just want to give him a big hug and tell him he's wonderful for taking in a little girl.
  9. Moby Dick from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville: I spent a lot of time with that big white whale last fall, and I really came to like the whale as a character, even though you don't meet him for a long time. There is something to be said about a large whale driving a man to the brink of insanity that makes you have to respect that whale. And I do.
  10. Isabel Archer from The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James: One of the best books I read in 2011, I just loved Isabel Archer. She was bright, vivacious, and a little bit saucy-just what I like in my heroines. But she was also vulnerable and naive, and her eventual decisions broke my heart. I don't think I'll ever forget her!

There you have it! Ten of my favorite literary characters of all time, and I didn't even get to mention Tom Sawyer, Hermoine Granger, Mr. Darcy, or any of the others I consider to be superb. Let me know who you picked!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up: Readathon and a Park Story.

Hey everyone-

I was planning on making one more post last night to officially call it quits on the readathon, but I just didn't have the energy. After my last update, I curled up on the couch with Matt because he wanted to watch a movie together. And yeah, I took time with my husband over reading because I just haven't seen too much of him recently. When our movie was done, I finished The Little Foxes and crashed in bed.

I did have to work this morning, so I couldn't stay up all night and still function at the park (more on the park in a minute).

Even though I finished 2 books during the course of the readathon, I don't think I was super productive. If I had the day off, I am sure that I would have read more, been more interactive, and entered more of the challenges. I need to make sure that I request future dates off so I don't get stuck like I did this time around.

I think I might do my own mini-readathon next weekend to makeup for my lack of reading yesterday. I still want to get through most of Clarissa, so I figure if I get ahead with all my school stuff, I'll be able to devote a lot of time to reading next weekend. :) We'll see how it works.

Anyway, my first day at the park was yesterday, and it was relatively uneventful. Today was also pretty boring until about 3:30, a half hour before I was supposed to clock out. A woman came to inform us there was a suspicious man in the woods and that her kids saw him burying something. Intrigued, I went down with my other supervisor to see if we could find anything. We discovered a bag buried under some leaves where the man had been, so I called the police to come take a look. I didn't want to open it, you know?

So, a police officer comes, as well as one of the full-time rangers from another park. I lead them down into the woods on the hillside where the bag is. The officer actually seemed all excited to find something good.

Imagine all of our disappointment when he opened the bag to find two water bottles, two bottles of juice, two wine glasses, a wine cork opener thing, and a bottle of Chardonnay all set in the bag full of ice. We all started laughing. Apparently our suspicious man was planning a date night of some sort...and we ruined it. We don't allow alcohol in the park, so there was no way we could leave it.

It was a funny moment and was a good way to get back into the swing of park life.

Alright, enough procrastinating for me. I have one small stack of papers left to grade, and I need to get them done! :)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Readathon Master Update Post. April 2012. Update x3

Update 1 (8:03 AM):

To prevent your readers from clogging up, I am going to do what I have done for the last few readathons-create one master post where I will keep all my updates, challenge entries, etc. It makes my life easier to deal with. :)

I have Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver sitting next to me, and the goal is to finish it by the time I go to work at noon (roughly 4 hours from now). I don't know if it'll happen, but that's the plan.

Anyway, here is the into meme and my answers:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I am reading from Rochester, MI. I am currently home, and when I go to work, I'll be reading from the park. I'll make sure to take pictures of that location!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I am really excited to start Pandemonium, even though I wasn't completely blown away by Delirium. I think it is because I feel like I am cheating on Clarissa. That's okay, right? I mean, Clarissa is ginormous, she can hunker down for awhile. 

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I'm not really sure...I'm sure when I'm at the park we'll be snacking and goofing around for part of the day (It is cold and chilly today, so I'm not sure how much we'll have to do outside). I am bringing some homemade soup with me for dinner, so I am pretty darn excited about that.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I have way too many books in a small apartment. I like Diet Coke way too much (I am trying to stop drinking pop altogether). And my blog usually focuses on classics...which is why this YA title feels like such a guilty pleasure sort of thing.

Oh, and I have a huge craving to watch "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Some time might be spent doing that later. :)

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
This is readathon #5 for me, and I think I finally have it figured out. Start with a fun book before moving to things I want to read. I always feel more accomplished when at least one thing is finished early on. I am most looking forward to just enjoying a day of reading. Reading hasn't been a big priority recently, so I can't wait to focus a bit. I might also grab some random books off the shelves, so anything can happen!

Readathon Nonsense Stats (8:09 AM):
# of Pages Read: 0
# of Books Finished: 0
# of Cups of Tea: 1
# of Kitten Cuddles: 1
Random Thoughts: I really, really wish I didn't have to work today. How lame that my first day back at the park is also readathon day? Boo-hiss.

Update 2 (11:05 AM):

I just had a solid 3 hours of reading. I love when a book can suck you in that way. I didn't even move off the couch until I closed the back cover. :) I haven't done that in AGES.

So yes, I finished my first book (Pandemonium). I liked it a lot better than Delirium, as I thought the world-building was better. The only piece I didn't like was the very end. I hate cheap tricks like that. Boo hiss Lauren Oliver. But, I will most definitely read the third book when it comes out!

I just scarfed down a bowl of oatmeal and I am attempting to type this entry with a cat on my lap. I have to shower and such before leaving for work, so I'm not sure if I will update until I get home. Sorry for going dark for 8 hours, but I will be back! :)

Readathon Nonsense Stats (11:14 AM):
# of Pages Read: 375
# of Books Finished:1
# of Cups of Tea: 2
# of Kitten Cuddles: 3
Random Thoughts: Still really mad I have to go to work. I'm not happy about missing a large chunk of the readathon. Lame.

Update 3 (8:50 PM):

Well, I just got home from work a few minutes ago. I just settled into my PJs and I am now firmly planted on the couch. I'm a little mad that I got home later than I was supposed to (we had cars in the lot past close, so I had to wait for the people to leave before I could lock up and go), so I'm all kinds of cranky. Otherwise, work was fine. It was really cold out, but we got some maintenance things done around the park. I also got to meet the new inhabitant at the park office...a very big Red Tail Boa Constrictor. I'm not the biggest fan of snakes. I can tolerate smaller ones as long as they aren't touching me, but big snakes freak me out. And he's pretty big. I also don't like that his cage is in our main meeting/lunch room. While I was eating my lunch, I kept feeling like he was watching me trying to size up if he could eat me. Unnerving. Supposedly he is going to be moved into one of the full-time Rangers' office, so that'll make lunch time a little less creepy.

I managed to read a little bit. I decided to read The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman as my next read. It is a short little play, so it would normally be a perfect choice. I thought I could fly through it on my lunch break, but I only managed to get through 2 Acts. There is only 1 Act left, and it is only about 20 pages, so I should finish it quickly. I'm not sure what will be up after that...maybe Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot? Or maybe I'll suck it up and start Clarissa. Not sure...

Anyway, I best get cracking on some reading. I'm going to call it quits at midnight or 1, so I need to make some progress. :)

Readathon Nonsense Stats (8:57 PM):
# of Pages Read: 429
# of Books Finished:1 (almost done with 2!)
# of Cups of Tea: 2 (no more tea at work, but I had some Gatorade and a lot of water)
# of Kitten Cuddles: 3 (I am sure that snake wanted to cuddle at work)
Random Thoughts: My husband is watching some crappy car show and I find it irritating. I think I am going to read in the bedroom instead. :)

Readathon Start.

I made sure I went to bed at a decent time last night so that I could be up nice and early for the readathon this morning. Unfortunately, I have to work an 8-hour shift this afternoon/evening at the park, so I'm not going to be able to be online all afternoon like I wanted to. But, since it is cold and kinda icky out, I'm sure we won't have too much to do. I can probably sneak in some reading and tweeting if that's the case. :) But if I don't update for a few hours, that's why.

I am only planning on reading two titles today. I am kick-starting my morning by reading a fun YA title that I just picked up. I decided to read Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver since I enjoyed Delirium when I read it last year (not my favorite, but I enjoyed it well enough to read the second in the trilogy). When I finish, I will be spending the rest of the day reading Clarissa. I am still hopelessly behind, and while I really enjoy it, the book kills my hands when I read it. There is something about propping it open that just kills after about 30 minutes.

I have been eying a play on my shelf (Lillian Hellman's Little Foxes), so I might even read that at work as something fast and easy to fly through. I fared a lot better in October by allowing myself to read whatever sucked me in, so while I say these are my plans, I am leaving my options open.

Anyway, time to go brew a little pot of tea and settle in with Pandemonium. I am hoping I can finish it before I have to be at work at noon (work is only a 5 minute drive, so I hope I can make it).

Good luck-I'll check in before I leave for work!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Readathon Plans.

Saturday is Dewey's biannual 24 Hour Readathon. If you haven't participated before, you should really consider joining in on the fun if you have some time to devote to reading Saturday.

This will be my fifth readathon since I started blogging, so maybe I am a readathon pro?

I think what I have learned from participating in readathons is not to hold myself to lofty goals. Or to make ginormous stacks of books. I usually only manage to read a book or two...and that's perfectly okay.

For the readathon in October, I started out the day by reading something fun and light-hearted. I really liked starting out the day that way, since it allowed me to get through one book before I started in on my classics.

For Saturday, I am debating between A Million Suns by Beth Revis and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver. Both are sequels to books I read last year, and both would be easy, fun reads to start out the day. After I finish one of those, I am spending the rest of the day with Clarissa. I have made minimal progress with it, even though I'm really enjoying it.

I am working Saturday as well (my first day back at the park), so I won't be reading all day...but since it will be relatively crummy out, I probably won't be up to too much at work anyway.

I will most likely have one master post that I'll update sporadically throughout the day.

Who else is joining in?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

I decided to read The Book Thief last week in preparation for World Book Night. I was lucky enough to get my first choice in books to pass out, but since it had been a couple years since I read the novel, I wanted to refresh my memory.

I ended up flying through the book in two nights-all the while reminded of what I loved it so much.

Narrated by Death, The Book Thief tells that story of a young girl, Liesel, in the midst of World War II. And while the book takes place in Germany, and there are the obvious references to the war, Nazis, and Jews, the book is about SO MUCH more than that.

Liesel, while struggling to come to terms with the death of her brother, finds comfort and help in books and words. Her foster father teaches her to read so that she might read the book she stole at her brother's funeral. Once the floodgate of knowledge opens for her, she able to read more and more. She comes to understand the world through the books she reads and the words she loves.

There are scenes where she reads to her neighbors as they wait out bomb raids in a basement. The words she reads, the stories she recites, are the only escape for them as they wait until the all-clear is given. She reads from her books to an older neighbor-the only positive connection that woman has had with her family. She shares her love of language with the Jewish man her family hides in their basement. While different, they form a lasting connection all because of the power of books.

I think this is the perfect book for non-readers. Without preaching, it shows everything there is to love about literature. It captures the escapist quality of a good book, the hope a story can give, and the way that stories can forever live on as part of you. Reading this I was reminded of why I love words, and why I love sharing that passion with all of you here.

You cannot deny the power of words to capture every human emotion.

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

I was lucky enough to meet Markus Zusak a number of years ago...way back in 2007. I had purchased my copy of The Book Thief almost as soon as it came out. I spotted it on a shelf and grabbed it...all because of the title. I drank it in, the first time I read it, in one long sitting in the booth at the park. I loved it so much that when I saw he was going to be doing a signing, I jumped all over it the following year.

My mom went with me, and I brought all of the books by Zusak I owned (The Book Thief, I am the Messenger, and Getting the Girl). The signing was small-maybe 40-50 people? He spoke for a few minutes about the story-how it was inspired by his parents and their stories. And about his writing process...I remember being really moved by the way he talked about his writing-and the fact that he said he would never rush writing a book until the story felt right.

When I got to talk to him, we chatted for a few minutes about each of the books I brought with me. And he took his time to personalize each of them. I love when authors take the time to do that, and it was worth the longer wait. :)

I cannot wait to share this with some students and others next week when I pass out the copies for World Book Night. It makes the event even more amazing to know that I'll be passing on a book I love so much.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Tips for New Bloggers.

I think you guys know how Top Ten Tuesday works. Every week, the lovely folks over at The Broke and the Bookish pick a topic. Bloggers create their top ten in that week's category, and we all go crazy reading a lot of posts and adding books to our ginormous TBR piles.

I only participate every once in awhile, and this week's topic is a bit outside of my comfort zone, but I felt like I needed to write out a few things that I have learned in my 2 1/2 years of blogging. I don't know if I am an "old" blogger, but I definitely don't consider myself a newbie.

Here they are, my wise advice to those of you just starting a blog!

10. Forge Your Own Identity: I think it is very easy to get swallowed up in the big world of book blogging. There are SO MANY book blogs that sometimes it can seem impossible to create something new. I like to seek out blogs that are doing something different-something unique! That might be the inclusion of more personal posts, an inspirational project, etc. Make yourself stand out. Create your own identity.
9. Don't Let BIG Numbers on other Blogs Discourage You: Stats, stats, stats. Personally, I only look at my stats every once in awhile. Sometimes it is fun to see where my readers are coming from. :) But I don't dwell on the numbers, or how many followers I have, or how many hits I get a day. When I first started, I was a little shocked by some of the high numbers on other blogs. Don't worry about that. Write good content and the followers will come.
8. Promote Literacy: If something cool and literary is going on in your neck of the woods, write about it! I love hearing about other literary-themed events going on and other readers do too! Promote those events and seek out interesting things in your community. I bet you'll be surprised by what fun things you'll discover. I also think, that as bloggers, we have a unique voice in promoting literacy. Embrace that!
7. Participate in Community Events: This is one of the biggest ways to meet other bloggers, promote your own space, and read lots of wonderful things. If you see a readalong of a book you've been meaning to read, join in. Participate in a readathon if you can. Jump in on a meme if the mood strikes. Don't be shy about it!
6. Comment on Other Blogs: If you stumble on a post you like, TELL the blogger! This is something I need to work on as well, but the best way to create relationships with bloggers is to communicate. :)
5. Host an Event: I started hosting readalongs as a way to get to know other bloggers. It helped me meet new bloggers with similar interests and reading tastes. Hosting readalongs, hops, etc are great ways to help out the community.
4. Avoid Becoming Over-Committed: This is something I still struggle with. Try not to participate in too many things at once. Soon, your blog will seem like a chore and less like a hobby. Be real with what you can actually accomplish in your free time and stick to that. If it is too much work to post every day, don't. If you can't be on twitter all the time without driving your family bonkers, don't. Simple as that.
3. Don't go Meme Crazy: I know memes are a great way to start out getting content up on the blog (and hello, I'm doing one right now), but don't let memes take over your blog. I won't follow blogs that have all memes as content. Every once in awhile (once a week), it's okay, but if you are too concerned about getting all your meme posts up, then stop!
2. Quality, not Quantity: I like quality posts. I like detail, emotion, and personal reactions in the blogs I read on a regular basis. Some people can have a new book review up every day. I can't. And if you can't, be okay with that. But make the posts you do have EXCELLENT. I quickly stop following blogs with short, uninspired posts. I would rather see less posts that are beautifully written and well-thought out than a million little posts with no depth.
1. There is NO One Way to Blog: I think this is the most important thing I can tell anyone about blogging. We all do it differently, and there is no correct way. From the beginning, I have posted MULTIPLE posts per book because it fits my needs. I have been criticized for it, and even now, I know some people are put off by it. But it works for me, so I will continue to write like that until it doesn't work. Don't be afraid to do things your own way. If it works for you, awesome! :)

I don't know how helpful my advice is, but hopefully someone, somewhere, got something out of it. :) What is some other advice you all have for new bloggers? Or veterans?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Adventures with Clarissa: Post 1.

I figured it was about time for me to update my status on my reading of Clarissa. You know, for that group read I'm doing with Adam and Jillian.

I think I hear laughing in the distance, and I bet you that it belongs to Adam. I was very gung-ho about this whole shebang before it started, and I tried to be very encouraging.

I was probably over-confident, and now I am kicking myself since I am lagging very far behind where I should be.

If I was at the halfway point, like I should be, I should be closing in on page 750 or so....I'm only around page 200. Yes, pathetic.

But now that I am caught up on school readings and lesson-planning, I will be spending every spare moment of my time cramming in more of Clarissa. I am determined to finish it BEFORE the end of the month.

Anyway, I thought that it would be fun to photo-chronicle my read through the book to check my progress. The first picture, up at the top, is of me starting the book at Detroit-Metro Airport. People walking by gave me funny looks as I tried to begin the book.

The second picture is when we were on vacation. I banished myself to the back of the van in attempts to get some reading done. I was only semi-successful...something about reading super tiny print in a bouncy car just doesn't appeal to my stomach. It didn't help that my brother and his friend were picking on me. :)

This next one is from last night, where I was trying to prop the book open in bed. My hands struggle with keeping the book open unless I am sitting up, but I wanted to be cozy in bed, so this was my solution. It worked a little...

I'm really enjoying the story so far, and now that I am diving into it a little more whole-heartedly, I think that the pages will start to fly by. I mean, the print IS tiny, and the pages are ginormous, so the pages take a little longer to flip. But I really like the expository style, and while some of it is repetitive, I'm still pretty engaged in what's going on. I feel for Clarissa, and I wonder what will become of her in the future...

Anyway, I hope that when I update again, I'll have a few more locations to share with you, as well as a few hundred more pages. :) If all else fails, I know what I will be focusing on during the upcoming Readathon.

What are your tips for getting through long, chunky books? Do you set daily page goals?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for April 15, 2012.

After my mild panic earlier this week about lesson-planning, I'm feeling much better. Sometimes I panic and then it turns out it isn't so bad. I ended up reading the book I was discussing on Wednesday night (yes, the whole thing), and I met with another teacher on Thursday to go through the unit. Problem solved. I managed to figure it all out yesterday-worked out the kinks and figured out the small bits and pieces I need to fix before I actually teach the unit. I feel a lot better about it. So, crisis averted. ;)

I also planned out the rest of my unit on Ender's Game yesterday. So now all of my classes are planned through mid-May. I feel a big sense of accomplishment. :D

As for reading and the blog, well, I am still feeling like I am in a big ol' rut. Don't get me wrong, I've been reading, just not the books I'm supposed to be. I read The Color of Water by James McBride (teaching it), as well as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (the book I am passing out for World Book Night). I haven't touched Clarissa in about a week, and I am starting to panic a little bit about finishing it in the next 15 days...

I'm still aiming to plow through it by the end of the month, but if I'm going to do that, then I best get on it, right?

Alright, I am off to clean and do some reading. I hope you all have a wonderful reading week!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thoughts on Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

“Because never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along--the same person that I am today," (from the 1991 introduction to the novel)

This past week I decided to reread Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card in preparation for a unit I am doing with one of my classes (the same class that just finished The Hunger Games). It had been a few years since reading the novel, so I wanted to do a quick reread before reading it once again with my class.

When I was in the eighth grade, heading into ninth grade, I was preparing for my Honors English class. We had some summer reading to complete before the new school year. Everyone had to read My Antonia and The Count of Monte Cristo. We were given a choice on whether to read David Copperfield or Ender's Game. Since the Dickens title looked scary, I chose this title.

I had been reading fantasy for about year at that point and really loved it, so I assumed that Ender's Game and it's science-fiction angle wouldn't be too far off (although, the two genres are pretty different. I still don't understand why they are grouped together in bookstores). I ended up LOVING the book, and it sparked an obsession with science-fiction.

I have always claimed this as a favorite novel. While I was a big reader before reading this title, there was something about this book that sparked an obsession. I was curious to see whether the book would hold up in comparison to all of the heavy classics I have read since starting my blog.

It did. While there were bits and pieces I thought were different than they actually were, I was almost surprised to see the depths of the novel were still there. The book is a great conversation piece, and I am sure my students will have a lot to say about it.

The novel follows the story of Ender Wiggin, a young boy and commissioned Third child of the Wiggin family. In a futuristic world where there are strict regulations to control population, Ender was "ordered" by the government after his older brother and sister failed to meet the requirements for Battle School. The Battle School, run by the International Fleet, is a school for genius children to go and train. All them will spend their childhoods training for war, and almost all of them will end up as commanders by the time they are 16+.

Ender, a super-genius, is thrust into this environment. From the beginning, he is seen as the best hope in the upcoming Third Invasion by the Buggers, a super-advanced alien race that has already attacked twice. Some of the other children love him, others hate him, and the adults manipulate him.

I love this novel. While it certainly has some faults, I think the issues and ideas it brings forward are worthy of conversation. The idea that children are better candidates for military leaders is one that I can't wait to discuss with my class, as well as the manipulation of Ender by the adults in his life. I know that they'll question it as much as I did when I was their age.

There is also a lot of controversy surrounding the book and the author, Orson Scott Card. I don't want to talk too much about it, and no, I won't be sharing it with my students. But it is worth mentioning here so that you can make up your own mind.

What did you think of this one? Any particular scene I should hammer home to my students?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Quick Update for Sunday April 8, 2012.

This will be a quick post-mainly because I have a large pile of papers to grade tonight (thankfully I don't have school tomorrow, but I want to have some "me" time tomorrow).

I had intentions of posting more this week, but we were busy, and time got away from me. I have quite a few things I will be writing about this week-more thoughts on Clarissa, a review of Shusaku Endo's Volcano, thoughts on Ender's Game (the next book I am reading with my lower-level kids), and some other bits and pieces.

I hope you all had a great week, and another one coming up. :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book 140: Finished.

“Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” 

It starts with the finding of a journal by an old scientist, which inspires our narrator's uncle to go on a journey in search of whether it is possible to reach the center of the Earth.

I was really excited when I started this. I had loved Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when I read it this summer, so I knew I was going to be in for a Vernian treat. I've also been teaching a small science-fiction unit in my sophomore English class, and since I talk a lot about Verne, it was fitting that I read one of his novels.


I had to force myself to read this one. Perhaps it was the timing-with school stuff piling up, random drama elsewhere, me being distracted from reading-but I really didn't feel this book calling to me from my nightstand. By the time I finally finished it, I realized that there were a lot of things that I wanted to happen in the book that didn't. I expected the narrator to be like the narrator in Leagues, smart, educated, and determined. Instead, I had a whiny boy who complained almost the entire time they were on the journey. Say what you will, but if the main protagonist isn't interesting, then the book won't call to you.

I also struggled with the believability of this one. I was fine with all the science, etc that was presented in Leagues. It made sense, and it translated well to modern time. Everything here, didn't. I didn't buy that they could climb down miles into the Earth with no change in temperature, or that there would be a cavern in the middle of the earth with a sea-complete with sea monsters. I think that when this was published, people would have bought into that aspect of the book. It just didn't come across as powerful or as magical in modern times. We know that the middle of the Earth is molten and extremely hot, so that logical sense of myself couldn't buy into the magical qualities of the land below ours.

I also felt the book lacked just a little something to draw me in. There was a great sense of wonder in Leagues that wasn't here. This might connect to the horrid narrator, but nothing was presented in that mystical sense that I so admired in Verne's other book.

By the time I finished, I was just grateful to be done with it. This is just a book that didn't come across right to me as a modern reader, but I do see how it could have inspired many when it was first published. I think that acknowledging there might be other worlds out there would have drawn people in.

It just didn't work for me.

“We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read.”

Monday, April 2, 2012

Clarissa Update #1:

I figured I would stop in with a small update on how the first two days' reading of Clarissa has gone.

I started the behemoth yesterday while we were waiting in the airport for our flight. I managed a good 20 or so pages before we boarded the plane, and then I attempted to read some more during the flight. The problem was trying to keep the book open while we were flying. The book is HEAVY, so it kept slipping out of my grasp and slamming onto my tray table. Not a good experience.

I picked it up again this afternoon before I took a nap (haven't been sleeping well). I was on my back reading, with the book propped up on my stomach/chest. It was fine until the book slipped, slammed forward, and hit me on the face and nose. I yelped a little, since it hurt. Then I got a headache and now I am eying it warily from where I am sitting at the table in our hotel room. I think the book is best read while I am sitting up, since my hands can't seem to hold a grip on 1450 pages on one side and a mere 50 on the other. Perhaps when that evens out I'll be a bit better.

Anyway, I'm starting to doubt my ability to read the whole thing in 30 days, but I am going to keep pushing forward. I actually really like what I've read so far, so at least the content is engaging. I'm just intimidated by the size, you know?

My two main counterparts seem to be doing okay based on their Goodreads status, so maybe they'll have better luck. ;)

Reading Check-In (March and Plans for April):

I wanted to briefly check-in on my (lack of) accomplishments in reading for the month of March. I had high hopes going into the month, especially with regards to Adam's Magical March Event. But with starting a new job the first week of the month to other chaotic events, I really didn't get through as many classics as I had hoped.

I was fairly successful in reading things related to school, as you'll see by the list. My juniors in my Exploring Literature class want to read Catching Fire once the seniors leave halfway through May, so I decided to read through once more to be a little more familiar with it. Then I had to finish out the story, so I crammed a reread of Mockingjay in on Saturday.

Anyway, here is what I read in March:
  1. The Girl who was on Fire edited by Leah Wilson (Read to plan for The Hunger Games unit I'm teaching) 
  2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 
  3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess 
  4. Journey to the Center of the Earth  by Jules Verne
  5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Yep, a month dominated by books not on my classics reading list. And while normally I would beat myself up for it, I know that it was for a good purpose. :)

Anyway, in April I have a few more plans. I am tackling Clarissa for a month-long readalong. I am also reading Ender's Game, The Color of Water, and The Crucible for my classes, so I need to reread them as well. I've also accepted a couple of books from publishing houses (I know, out of character for me), so I'll get to those as well.

I'm aware that the above probably sounds crazy to you. I'm going to be incredibly busy and all over the place this month. But, I feel like I finally have a handle on school and what I need to do there to be productive with my kids. I'm hoping that I'll have a solid balance between home and school once we go back in a week.

Anyway, nothing is official, and I'm not sure I'll even stick to these plans. I'm debating ignoring all the challenges I signed up for at the end of last year and just reading what grabs me for the next few months, but I'll have to see. I'm still working through what I want my blog to be.

Let me know what your plans are for the month!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April 1: Starting Clarissa.

Today is April 1, and you know what that means (and no, I'm not talking about April Fool's Day). Today I begin reading Samuel Richardson's Clarissa with Jillian and Adam.

I have been excited about reading this since Jillian and I talked about it last fall. There is something a little daunting about reading one of the longest books in the English language in 30 days (the book is close to a million words. To put it in perspective, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is about 565,000 words, War and Peace is about 587,000 words, and Les Miserables is about 530,000 words). But, I think we can all handle it, as long as we get lots of cheering on.

I know there are a few others who are also going to tackle this one with us (you can go to this post to see who else is jumping on board). I'm not sure when I'll be posting. We all decided to tackle this one on our own and see how we do. I'm sure I'll update every few days. ;)

If you want to join in, you can download all 12 files of the book on Project Gutenberg, or order the 5 lb. Penguin edition. ;) That makes it sound more exciting, doesn't it?

Wish us luck!