Monday, October 15, 2012

January First

For some reason, I thought this was a novel until I started reading and realized it’s a memoir. Oops. It actually reads like a novel in many ways, with an intriguing narrative and tight writing. The raw emotion spilling forth from it surprised me though. Usually people, even those writing memoirs, step back and don’t put quite everything out there the way Michael Schofield does.
The book is about Michael’s young daughter’s descent into madness. From the time she was three it was clear she had mental issues, but it took a long time to determine exactly what because of her age. The family had to deal with her wild behavior and the uncertainty of how to fix it. The cover explains that it’s schizophrenia, which is rarely diagnosed in children and is why it took so long to diagnose her. It’s also extremely difficult to distinguish a typical child’s fascination with playing pretend and creating imaginary friends and a schizophrenic’s hallucinations.
Young January becomes worse after the birth of her baby brother, and she often lashes out at him, violently attacking him and her parents. I cannot imagine dealing with what this family goes through. They have to protect their son from January and can’t get through to her. At first, they think it’s just an extreme version of a child misbehaving, but then know it has to be something more. They love their daughter and want to take care of her, but how can they do that and keep their son safe? Who believes them when they talk about how hard she is to handle?
Reading about the family’s experience with medical professionals was extremely frustrating. I would lose my mind if I to deal with what they did, and this book would scare me off having kids if I wasn’t already sure of decision not to have them.
There’s something that bugs me about Michael though. Despite his focus on helping his daughter, I just don’t like him. I think it’s the way he treats his wife. I’m a bit shocked that they’re still married after the way he tended to portray her. Although since at one point he admits they went two years without kissing, they don’t seem to have much of a marriage anyway. Everything is focused on the kids. I understand circumstances drove them to that, but if I were her, I’d be pissed about the book. He lifted himself up as January’s savior, while the evil wife just wants to lock her up.
I recommend this book if you’re interested in mental illness or like memoirs about people working through difficult circumstances. I read this at a good time because Ryan is currently taking a class on teaching students with special needs, and that came up in the book because they try to keep January in mainstream classes. It was interesting to talk to him about how they handled things and issues he may have to deal with once he’s a teacher.

Into the Darkest Corner & Broken Harbor

In high school, I read a LOT of mysteries, probably more than I read any other genre. Since then, I rarely read them but have craved them recently and heard great things about two more literary mysteries and enjoyed both of them. I think a lot of mysteries follow a pattern, especially when you read a lot by one author, so it was refreshing to read these two, which both have more developed characters and stronger writing in addition to a gripping story.
Into the Darkest Corner
In Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes added depth by giving her main character OCD and having her in recovery from a traumatic experience before the action even starts. The narrative alternates between her present and her past, and you aren’t sure if the thriller part will only be in the past part of the narrative or if it crosses over into the present.  It surprised me by focusing quite a bit on how screwed up female friendships can be.
While Haynes does a better job at explaining why a woman would stay in an abusive relationship than most stories of domestic violence do, I still don’t understand why she went back to Lee the first time? She knew it was a bad idea and did it anyway. After that, it became impossible to leave and I understood that by then he had too much control by that point for her to get away even when she plans carefully and tries her best. Haynes tries to show how her friends liked Lee and didn’t understand why she broke up with him, but that still seems crazy to me since she knew there was something wrong with him. But, when reading about domestic violence I usually spend most of the time yelling at the woman to leave and didn’t do that as much here, so she did something right.
Broken Harbor
One random thing about both of these novels – in England and Ireland, it appears common that you can lock someone inside a house or room. This happened in Into the Darkest Corner with a room, and I assumed that the person probably added an external lock to the door. But then, it came up again in Broken Harbor. Someone was worried about whether to lock someone in the house and risk a fire starting and her not being able to get out, or not locking the door and her possibly leaving in a bad mental state and getting into trouble. I’m confused as to how you can lock someone in a house, or more accurately, why houses would be set up that way unless you were a bad guy trying to hold someone captive. It wasn’t noted as something strange, so I assume this is common practice over there?
Anyway, on to the review. Broken Harbor by Tana French was much more literary than I expected, delving more into the detective’s psyche and personal issues than you usually find in mysteries. Usually even with recurring detectives, they usually have a couple of quirks, maybe a romance or two, and that’s it. You don’t go much below the surface with them, and the focus is on the plot, the murder, not the detective’s life.
At the same time, French does a good job with the mystery, slowing giving you clues and suspects and evidence and making you question everything, except sometimes the thing you should be questioning. It made me think about how when things are presented as fact we have less of a tendency to mistrust them, we make assumptions based on “facts” and then that can lead us down the wrong road.
French also points out that sometimes we never learn why something happens. We might not truly know what caused someone to snap. This is one of the most frustrating things about life to me – I want to know everything. I hate it when I hear about something that makes no sense to me, whether it’s an act of horror or the popularity of Honey Boo Boo. (Who are these people watching that crap and WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???)
I will definitely check out French’s other novels and hope to read at least one of them this fall. I love this time of year and the good reading that fits with the cooling weather and Halloween and grey skies.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dewey's Readathon - Post the Fourth

And I'm back to Dewey's Readathon! OU stomped Texas 63-21 (and those last 14 points for them came against our second/third string). It was awesome. Since then I've done a little more reading and finished another book. Now I'm either going to continue the Agatha Christie, try to make a dent in The Casual Vacancy (I'm about halfway through), or start The Shining. It might depend on if the rain starts back up and my headache. I may have to take another break because of the headache if it doesn't clear up soon. Ugh. I hope everyone's having a great reading day!
  • Books in Progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (reread), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  • Books Complete: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith and When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald  
  • Snacks: chips and queso, carrots and hummus, white chocolate
  • Blogging stuff: some commenting on other posts, some time on Twitter (@Sparksmarks)
  • Time spent reading: 4 hours and 20 minutes  
  • Pages read:   537 (236 in The Statistical Probability of Love, 31 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 33 in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and 237 in When It Happens to You)

Dewey's Readathon - Post the Third

 Dewey's Readathon is going well for me so far! I'm enjoying Molly Ringwald's When It Happens to You. I like short stories that are connected, giving you snippets of different characters and perspectives. But now I'm off to cheer on the Sooners as they beat Texas! Boomer Sooner! I'll be back after the game!
  • Books in Progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (reread), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, and When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald  
  • Books Complete: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith
  • Snacks: scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese for breakfast
  • Blogging stuff: Introduction meme, some commenting on other posts, some time on Twitter (@Sparksmarks)
  • Time spent reading: 3 hours and 20 minutes  
  • Pages read:   424 (236 in The Statistical Probability of Love, 31 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 33 in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and 124 in When It Happens to You)

Dewey's Readathon - Post the Second

Time for my first update for Dewey's Readathon! I cheated and got started reading a little early since I'll be watching OU/Texas later and won't make it all night.

Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Oklahoma City! Boomer Sooner! :)
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I guess I was most excited about The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight since I started with it, but I'm also excited about starting The Shining later on.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Probably chips and queso and salsa during the football game
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I'm Lindsey and obviously I love to read. I'll read just about anything, although I particularly like classics - especially British literature, literary fiction, and YA (and I'm attempting to become a YA author). I also read quite a bit of nonfiction, mainly histories and biographies/memoirs. When I'm not reading, I'm working in PR, spending time with my husband and two cats, watching college football and hockey (although not so much this season with the lockout), writing, or spending way too much time on Netflix. My favorite teams are the OU Sooners and the Pittsburgh Penguins. I'm happy to have the AHL (the minor league for the NHL) in OKC now and we have several awesome NHL players with us this season due to the lockout.
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? I've participated in several readathons, but none on OU/Texas day! So...that will definitely be a big a interuption. We're not going anywhere or having people over though, so it might not be too bad. I just hope the game goes my way and I'm not depressed the rest of the day.

Anyway, here are my stats so far!

  • Books in Progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (reread)
  • Books Complete: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith
  • Snacks: Almond milk, water, raisins
  • Blogging stuff: This post, about to check out a few other people's intro posts and see about the mini-challenges
  • Time spent reading: 2 hours
  • Pages read:   267 (236 in The Statistical Probability of Love and 31 in The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
Happy reading!

Dewey's Readathon - Post the First

Woohoo! Dewey's Readathon is here! I scheduled this last night, so hopefully I'm up and reading already. :) I've got a stack of books ready to go:

  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • Various poems and stories by Edgar Allen Poe
  • Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
  • When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer Smith
And I'm sure I'll get distracted and read from some other books too. :) If you're participating, I hope you have fun and look forward to connecting with you!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Weekly Update: Oct. 12, 2012

I feel like I had a long week at work this week, culminating in an all-day video shoot today. Video shoots drain my energy because you spend all day hurrying up and waiting. I also got my first two rejection notices on my query about my novel, which hasn't bothered me so far. I'm just glad they're responding instead of leaving me waiting. :) Hopefully something will happen at some point. Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting lost in some good books tomorrow for Dewey's Readathon. I'm just sad the Readathon is on OU/Texas weekend! I'll be spending quite a bit of the day watching the game, yelling Boomer Sooner and insulting Texas. :) I'm sure I'll get a good chunk of reading done too. I'm planning to get up early a read for several hours before the game and get back to it afterwards. I don't plan to stay up all night though - I'm cranky without sleep!

Update from last week:

  • Books I'm currently reading:

    • Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
    • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - still having mixed feelings
    • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
    • The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
    Upcoming reads:

    • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
    • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
    • The Shining by Stephen King
    • Stories/poems by Edgar Allen Poe
    • Lots of YA for the Readathon
    Books finished:

    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    • All Road Lead to Austen by Amy Smith
    • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    • Crossed by Ally Condie
    Posts this week:
    Books abandoned:
    • Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie - I only read about 40 pages and was enjoying it, but I knew I wouldn't be able to finish it by it's due date at the library so I decided to stop and check it out later rather than try to rush through it.

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    The Secret History

    I am so behind in my reviews. I read this over Labor Day weekend! The Secret History by Donna Tartt languished in my TBR stack from the library for a few weeks before I finally got to it. I can’t believe I almost took it back unread! It’s beautiful. The writing is lush and eloquent but never overdone and the story grips you from the beginning and never lets go. It’s rare for a literary work to be such a page turner, but I couldn’t set this one down once I picked it up.
    From the beginning, you know something bad happens, but you don’t know why.  It starts with Bunny’s death, then jumps back in time where we learn Bunny is friends with his would be murderers. The book is about determining why Bunny dies and gets its drama and tension from that psychological element rather than from action. Each sentence is carefully constructed, pulling you into the story and forgetting the world around you, until when you finally do come up for air you have to shake off the feelings from the book before moving on. The books is straight-up creepy, made extra disturbing because you start to understand why Bunny had to die and almost feel like you would have done the same thing. It does that good a job rationalizing everything and getting you inside the story.
    The story takes place at an east coast college, with a small group of highly intelligent students gathered around an eccentric professor named Julian. He has them study solely with him, studying Greek and isolating them from reality in many ways. Despite the creepiness, it made me long to be back in an academic environment, with a Julian pushing me to improve. Minus the whole murder aspect.
    Random quote that made me laugh because I don’t want kids: “The fulfillment of the reproductive cycle was, in nature, a harbinger of swift decline and death.”
    Book Riot recently did a story on who they would cast in the move, as did Flavorwire. I have to go with Flavorwire’s pick of Joseph Gordon-Levitt over the guy who plays Peeta for Richard’s role.  I think this would make an excellent movie, so hopefully someone picks up on that and the book’s recent resurgence in popularity. The novel was originally published in 1992, but I’ve seen it all over the place lately. When I was poking around trying to see why, I stumbled across an interesting fact from Wikipedia. Apparently this novel and Bret Easton Ellis’s novel The Rules of Attraction contain references to each other. I knew from the notes in the copy of The Secret History I read that the two went to college together and are friends, but Tartt didn’t mention that part. I thought that was fun and will have to give The Rules of Attraction a try now. The other random fact from my notes is that the novel was over 1,000 manuscript pages, but they got it down to 559 printed pages! The publishers didn’t think such a long debut novel would sell, especially since it’s not fantasy or science fiction, which gets away with longer page counts. So, it’s a dense book but still manages to be a quick, intense read.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

    I usually try to read a book from the challenged books list every year in honor of Banned Books Week. I had to laugh when I went down the top 10 list for 2011 and all of them were checked out of the library or books I'd already read. Remind me if I ever get a book published to get a bunch of people to challenge it - that's one way to guarantee an increase in readership. :)

    Anyway, I picked The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. So many people have blogged and raved about this book. Now I see why. It's funny, entertaining, heartfelt, and real. I could also see why it's been challenged, not that I agree with that, but it doesn't always portray Native Americans in the best light and really seems to be an inside look at a 14-year-old boy's head, which can be a bit dirty, unsurprisingly. Alexie is Native American and doesn't shy away from the negatives of life of the reservation. At the same time, he shows the good in their culture, their close-knit families.

    Arnold, the main character, must balance between being Indian on the reservation and "white" at the school he transfers to, the one he wants to go to so he can someday get off the reservation and out of the cycle of poverty. His fellow Native Americans resent his choice, seeing it as a rejection of them. It beautifully captures teenage life and felt so real, I actually doublechecked that it's a novel and not a memoir, even though I knew it wasn't. Interestingly, it's story is extremely similar to Alexie's own biography, so there was a reason why it felt so real. I don't say that to take anything away from his writing, which is wonderful. He excels at telling a story, pulling you in. Despite the sometimes dark subject matter, it's also really funny. The illustrations are great and enhanced the novel. I highly recommend it and will definitely check out his adult books.

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    The Italian - Week 1

    I read the first volume of The Italian by Ann Radcliff for Jean's readalong this weekend. So far, I'm enjoying it, but not as much as The Mysteries of Udolpho.

    I really like Ellena, the main character's love interest. She's smart and strong, willing to stand up for herself even when it's the hard thing to do. I like that she doesn't fall for Vivaldi immediately, which is what you expect when the handsome rich man woos the poor young girl. She doesn't go for him for shallow reasons. I liked hearing things from her perspective, so I hope the narration continues to switch between her and Vivaldi.

    The Marchesa's hatred of Ellena seems a bit over the top, so I'm curious if that's just the melodrama common in Gothic novels or if it's something deeper. I'm also interested in learning more about Olivia and what brought her to the convent.

    I think the action will pick up more in volume 2 and have a feeling bad things are in store for Ellena in next week's reading.   

    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Weekly Update - Oct. 5, 2012

    I made some progress cleaning up my library pile this week, returning some books I knew I wouldn't be able to get to and trying to focus my reading a bit more. I'm looking forward to some Halloween reads this month and hopefully cleaning up my library stack some more. I've got to stop reserving everything in sight and put some things in my cart to read later. I can't read everything at once, no matter how much I want too!

    Update from last week:

  • Books I'm currently reading:

    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    • Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
    • All Road Lead to Austen by Amy Smith
    • Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie - I may not have time to finish this before it's due back to the library. :( It's good though, just dense.
    • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling - I have mixed feelings so far... 
    • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe - Views on Volume 1 coming tomorrow!
  • Upcoming reads:

    • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
    • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
    • The Shining by Stephen King
    • Stories/poems by Edgar Allen Poe
    Books finished:

    • Broken Harbor by Tana French
    • Stolen by Lucy Christopher
    • Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
    • No Easy Day by Mark Owen
  • Posts this week:

  • Books abandoned:

    • The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt - I really liked this one and the next book, but I just haven't been in the mood or had the time for these. I want to return to both of these some day, and would like to own a copy of The Greek Myths for reference.  
    • The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
    • The Convert by Deborah Baker - The premise of this biography was good - Jewish American girl moves to Pakistan in the 60s and converts to Islam - but it just bored me. Again, I may just not be in the right mood.
    • Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King - I got about halfway through and was enjoying this one, but then it alluded to upcoming scenes involving animal cruelty. I literally let out a yelp and dropped the book. I just can't handle that.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Song of Achilles

    While the idea of Song of Achilles intrigued me, I wasn't confident about liking the result. It's a retelling of the events leading up to and during the Trojan War told from the perspective of Patroclus. I enjoy ancient Greek literature, but wasn't sure how this would come together. It might be boring and dry. It might not hold up well in comparison to The Illiad. It might not say anything new. Fortunately, it's engaging and tells a familiar story from a fresh perspective.

    Miller weaves together a beautiful, moving story. It begins well before the war, when Patroclus is a child. You see the downside of being a prince as he is exiled, bringing him into Achilles' world when he's sent off to another kingdom.

    Despite being a hero, I've never really cared for Achilles. In Homer, he comes across as arrogant and whiny, unwilling to do his duty if he doesn't get his way. Shown here, through Patroclus' eyes, Achilles is different. We see him as a young man who takes an exiled prince under his wing, caring for him and giving him friendship and love. My opinion of Achilles changed, so by the point where we get to the fit he throws during the war, I'm on his side. I never liked Agamemnon anyway.

    One of my favorite aspects of the novel was learning more about Briseis and seeing Patroclus try to help the captured woman. I also enjoyed Thetis, Achilles' immortal, controlling mother. I don't remember her from Homer or anything else, so that helped make the story fresh to me.

    I think this would be a good starting point for someone who wants to read the ancient Greeks but is scared to jump into Homer. Miller uses poetic language to capture the same tone as Homer, but isn't nearly as intimidating as Homer can be. It's still a novel, not an epic poem. It would give you a familiarity with some of the key characters to make Homer's story easier to follow. It made me want to get back to reading the Greek tragedians.

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    YA Reading Update

    As I finished edits for my first young adult novel (woohoo!) and started the process of writing query letters and researching agents, I read a lot of YA novels to help me work on all of that. I decided to do mini-reviews of a lot of these so I don’t get horribly behind in my reviewing. Here we go!
    Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    This book is all over the book blogosphere for a good reason – it’s awesome. I avoided it for a while because it deals with cancer, but it’s worth it. Hazel and Augustus are two of the best characters I’ve read about in a while – they stick with you almost like old acquaintances instead of fictional characters.
    I was surprised by the parts about Amsterdam and liked reading about the city. Ryan and I are tentatively planning our 10-year anniversary trip (which won’t happen for nearly two more years but I love travel planning!) and are leaning toward a trip to Brussels with a side trip to Amsterdam. It was nice finding a bit about the city in an unexpected place and made me want to go there even more, especially since it talks about one of the things I most want to do there.
    Forever… by Judy Blume
    Reading all these YA books made me want to read the book that started it all. I’m not sure that YA as a category really even existed when Blume wrote this and to me at least, she started the movement to write books specifically for teens. I’m sure someone who has studied that more will correct me, but it seems to me that she’s the mother of YA lit.
    Forever… holds up well. I first read it in somewhere in the early 90s, when I was in late elementary school. At that time, we were more focused on the sex scene than anything else. I read it again a few years later, and loved it. Blume perfectly captures teenagers while crafting a readable story without all the vampires and controlling governments and craziness that’s in a lot of YA today. It focuses on a girl and her boyfriend and an average teenage relationship. It’s wonderful.
    One thing that bugged me though on this reading – why does Katherine have to ask her mom’s permission to wash her hair??? She also mentions having oily hair, so she needs to wash it at least every other day – implying that most people wash it less than that? This was written in the 70s, not way back before indoor plumbing, so this really confused me. I need to ask my mom if she knows what’s up with that.
    Matched by Ally Condie
    I avoided this series for a while because I’m burned out on dystopian/paranormal stuff but I finally gave in. I think the characters come alive in this series and it held my interest so much that I read it in nearly one sitting and immediately checked out the next book. It has a lot of normal relationship and teenage issues in addition to the issues coming from the society, so I think that helped get me past my initial hesitation.
    Tyrell by Coe Booth
    If you want more realistic YA, here you go. Tyrell is about a 15-year-old homeless kid in the Bronx. His dad’s in jail, his mom is worthless, and he’s struggling to provide for the family when he should be in school. While the book is fictional, it feels very real and the author worked with homeless kids in the Bronx and grew up there, and it felt like a story she’s seen many times.
    My heart broke for Tyrell. He tries so hard, but he’s just a kid. How is he supposed to support himself, his mom, and his little brother without turning to a life of crime like many of the people he knows? The people with money are the drug dealers, while he’s living in a nasty motel room that’s serving as a homeless shelter. I wanted to reach through the pages and help him, and give his mom a good lecture, not that it would do any good. I just don’t understand how she could not even try to do anything, and how she tried to keep her younger son in special needs classes so she could get extra money from the government. That made my blood boil.
    I noticed Booth realized a sequel to Tyrell’s story, called Bronxwood, that came out last year. I need to check it out!
    Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
    I’ve read several of Dessen’s novels and have enjoyed them all. In this one, I noticed how she incorporates a lot of family life and issues into her stories, so it’s not just about a girl and her relationship struggles. That was one of the weak points in my novel, so this inspired me to go back and work on the family scenes and develop those characters more. Dessen writes parents as people with their own lives and the parents in my book at that time weren’t written that way. I think my novel is much stronger as a result and just hope some agent out there feels the same way!
    Do you have any recommendations for realistic YA novels?

    Saturday, September 29, 2012


    I finished Ulysses this summer and for some reason keep putting off writing about it. I wrote my thoughts on episodes 1-6 back on Bloomsday, June 16, when I first started reading it. I finished it about a week later, but I think it sort of wiped me out and I felt I needed to write some grand post about it and struggled to find the time or the right words.

    Overall, Ulysses was less impenetrable than I expected. Yes, it's confusing. Yes, you have to work at it. Yes, I missed a lot. But, it's not impossible. It's also better than I expected. I didn't go overboard with reference materials. I referred to the introduction of my edition a lot, which had a chart of the episodes with the corresponding event from the Odyssey, the narrative form, the body part, the color, etc. This was simple but helpful in giving me a starting point of a reference for each episode. I know I missed a lot, but I was still able to follow along and I think I enjoyed it more than if I had focused too much on reference materials. I might reread it at some point with reference materials and do more of an in-depth study, but for now I'm happy to have read it at all!

    Here's a run down of the remaining episodes.

    Episode 7: This is written as a newspaper, except not on the fourth-grade reading level most papers use. :) It's the first time Bloom and Stephen meet in the book. The main focus seems to be money vs. art - you can either sell out and make money or stay true to your art but not both.

    Episode 8: This is a poetic chapter, in blank verse. This chapter focuses on the feminine. Priests embrace their feminine side - is he saying that makes you closer to God? Is that the ideal? Not feminine or masculine, but something in the middle? Bloom also reflects a lot on labor as he hears about a woman in labor for three days. A baby is born every second, someone dies every second. The circle of life. People don't stop and enjoy life - shows people rushing through dinner like savages.

    Episode 9: Bloom, Stephen, and others discuss Shakespeare. They consider his plays autobiographical - should we then consider Ulysses autobiographical, like Portrait of the Artist of the Young Man is? They talk about how Ireland doesn't have a Shakespeare yet, a definitive writer of the Irish experience, a national epic. That's why Joyce was trying to achieve here with Ulysses, and I think he succeeds.

    Episode 10: The perspective shifts, starting with a priest who presided over a funeral earlier in the narrative. He walks through a park, and the perspective shifts through various people as they see one another, eventually getting to Bloom and Stephen. I think he's trying to show how we're all connected.

    Episode 11: At a pub, we hear snatches of conversations, including the barmaids making fun of Bloom. This section was more like what I expected - hard to comprehend, seemingly random, nonsensical sentences.

    Episode 12: This section varied between lists and dialogue. He lists Irish heroes, but half the list isn't Irish. Is he commenting on the Irish, that their own heroes aren't even their own? "Ireland sober is Ireland free." Bloom wonders if he's really Irish, as a Jew.

    Episode 13: Some girls play at the beach while Bloom watches. Cissy tries to get Father Conroy's attention, but, like Bloom, he can't keep his eyes off Gerty. Bloom masturbates while watching Gerty (ewwww!!!!). When Gerty leaves, he realizes she is lame and is glad he didn't realize that earlier. Our fantasies are sometimes better than the real thing.

    Episode 14: The narrative styles progress through the styles of various authors in chronological author. Shows Joyce's range. This parallels Mina's labor. The men discuss abortion, birth, saving the mother or baby. Bloom says they shouldn't be discussing such topics at that time. We are all born the same but die differently.

    Episode 15: This episode takes the form of a play. It's the longest section. It's mainly a series of hallucinations. Bloom pictures being with other women, including wife Molly's best friend. He imagines being ruler of Ireland, Bloomusalem. In his mind, Bloom goes on trial and is a womanly man who bears eight children. Stephen also hallucinates, imagines he's a cardinal, primate of all Ireland. Everyone dreams of power. In real life, they are at a brothel. Boylan offers to let Bloom watch as he does Molly; Stephen hallucinates about his mother.

    Episode 16: Ireland is England's Achilles' heel. England will fall. Why has Ireland fought for England more than against it? Bloom is more fatherly to Stephen in this section, which follows a more traditional narrative.

    Episode 17: Told through a series of Q&A, Bloom takes Stephen to Bloom's house. Bloom thinks of Boylan and Molly's previous lovers. Molly gets into bed and tells him about her day. She thinks about how she and Bloom haven't had sex in 10 years.

    Episode 18: This is Molly's famous monologue - eight paragraphs, 62 pages, no punctuation. Yeah. It's mainly about sex - why do women have a hole, why do men feel compelled to fill it and their bellies? When a women gets old she might as well die. She thinks of her daughter becoming a woman. She imagines being with Stephen, plans to study so he'll think she's smart. She wishes people weren't so uptight about sex. What would it be like to have sex like a man? It hasn't been the same between her and Bloom since their son died.

    So what does it all mean? I have no idea. This is just one day in the life of these characters, just a snapshot. It's not enough to judge them. We learn how Molly's perspective differs from Bloom's - you can't judge based on one person's view. We can never get the whole picture. We can't know all.

    Ulysses was actually the first book I finished from my Classics Club list, even though I'm just now posting about it. It's the fourth one I'm posting about. I'm hoping to pick up speed on my list a bit this fall.

    Friday, September 28, 2012

    Weekly Update - Sept. 28, 2012 & Gothic in October

    I have a feeling doing these weekly updates will keep me from stringing books out for so long...I hate that nearly all of the books I was currently reading last week are still on here!

    I also decided to sign up for the Gothic in October event. I'm doing the readalong of Ann Radcliff's The Italian that Jean at Howling Frog Books is hosting. I'm also participating in Delaisse's event, which includes reading a gothic work from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The Italian meets the 18th, then I'm reading some stories from my complete works of Poe for the 19th and probably The Shining by Stephen King for the 20th. I'm also planning on reading a few Agatha Christie novels in October, as one of my goals is read through all of her books in order. I've read many of them, but have lost track of which ones and I read many of them in junior high so I probably don't remember them anyway!

    Update from last week:

  • Books I'm currently reading:

    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
    • Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
    • The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt
    • The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
    • The Convert by Deborah Baker
    • Broken Harbor by Tana French
    • All Road Lead to Austen by Amy Smith
  • Upcoming reads:

    • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
    • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
    • No Easy Day by Mark Owen (this may be more of a skim - I'm just curious)
    • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
    • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling as soon as it comes in from the library!!! I'm in the first group so hopefully it will be soon!
  • Books finished: (Reviews coming soon! Also, I'm reading more YA right now to help me research agents and write my query letter, so that's why there are so many!)

    • Penelope by Rebecca Harrington
    • Kill You Last by Todd Strasser
    • Matched by Ally Condie
    • Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (don't judge by the title!)
    • Smack by Melvin Burgess
  • Posts this week:

  • Books abandoned:

    • None this week, although I did have to return a few to the library unread. :(

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    The Classics Club - Sept. 2012 Meme

    The September meme for The Classics Club is to pick a review by another member and write about why it made you excited to read that classic as well. Anne Bronte is one of those writers I CANNOT believe I haven’t read, so I decided to pick one of the reviews of her two novels. I went with Athena at Aquatique’s review of Agnes Grey, which once again made me kick myself for not having read her works yet.
    Like many readers of Anne’s works, Athena mentions Anne may become her favorite Bronte.  I like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre so much, so why the heck haven’t I read Anne yet? Her books aren’t even that long, compared to other Victorians. Have I avoided her because I’m afraid of being disappointed?
    This comment from Athena helps ease my fears and know what to expect:
    “While the tone is still very Victorian, there are moments that could be in any novel after the 1900s. While I really liked Jane Eyre, and I have read Wuthering Heights, neither of those books are particularly realistic in terms of their plot. This one is the opposite.”
    I think that both explains why I haven’t read her yet – her stuff doesn’t have the crazy plot/characters of her sisters’ most famous works – and explains why I will like her – I like realistic portrayals of life in different times.
    Part of me feels the need to run home, abandon the other books I’m in the middle of, and read Agnes Grey tonight. And maybe I will, although I bet once I see Tana French’s thriller Broken Harbor waiting on my reading chair I’ll change my mind. Instead, I’ll plan to read her when I get to the Brontes in this DVD series I checked out from the library. I got the second volume of The English Novel, one of the Great Courses offered by The Teaching Company, for its lecture on Ulysses  when I read that this summer (review coming Saturday, finally!). I decided to check out volume one and go through the whole thing, reading any authors along the way with books on my classics list. First up is Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, which I’ve craved since finishing Clarissa. Plus, I’m about to start The Italian by Ann Radcliffe for the Gothic in October Readalong in October that Jean’s hosting.

    Monday, September 24, 2012

    Every Day

    David Levithan's novel Every Day is profoundly moving. The idea is refreshingly original - it's about a person who has no body. The person, A, wakes up each day in someone else's body. They are all the same age as A, who ages and is 16 in the novel.

    Think about what that allows Levithan to do. A is not male or female, black or white, fat or skinny, attractive or ugly. A has no family, no long-term plans, no consistency. This makes for a fascinating story - A sees life through many different eyes. A knows what it's like to be stared at for your stunning to beauty. To receive disgusted looks because of your obesity. To see how colors look different through different eyes. To live a day in the life of someone so depressed they're considering suicide.

    It makes you question how you look at other people. We judge so much based on looks, but why? They don't dictate who we are. We don't want others to judge us that way. Yet we can't help it. It made me feel guilty for not being able to see past the outside of people, something I've been trying to work on anyway, but we do it all the time, without even realizing it.

    A has the power to change lives, but must be careful because with that responsibility can come great guilty, and lots of questions if you changed things for the better or worse. But what should A do when A falls in love? How can A sustain love when A changes bodies each day? I'm not spoiling anything - read it for yourself to find out!

    With a premise like this, if you're like me, you have a lot of questions about how it all works. Levithan responds by asking how any of us are here. We can't really, 100 percent know. No matter your beliefs and faith, it's just that - faith. Thinking about it that way made me enjoy the book more, because I didn't focus too much on how it all works. We can't know all the answers. We just know that we exist. Like Descartes said - "I think therefore I am."

    The book also shows how vital long-term relationships and plans are to life. How horrible would it be to not have that? To wake up every day as a child with a different set of parents? To not be sure if you'll ever see any of the people you saw today again, and if you did, they wouldn't recognize you. It would be so lonely. I love to travel and sometimes get frustrated at the monotony of many days, wishing I could travel and do different things each day. This was a good reminder to appreciate that - it's better than the alternative, to have no roots, no real home.

    This was a quick, entertaining, and thought-provoking read. I strongly encourage you to give it a try!  

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    Weekly Update - 9-21-12

    I like how some bloggers give a weekly update/wrap up that generally shares what they read that week, what they've got coming up, what readalongs and other events they're looking forward to, etc. I think that's a good way to keep from posting review after review with nothing more personal. So, here's the first of what will hopefully be a weekly feature here!

    This week I caught up a little bit in my posting and got a few posts scheduled for the next few weeks since I was so far behind in my posting.

    • Books I'm currently reading:
      • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
      • Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
      • The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt
      • The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
      • The Convert by Deborah Baker
    • Upcoming reads:
      • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
      • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
      • Penelope by Rebecca Harrington
      • No Easy Day by Mark Owen (this may be more of a skim - I'm just curious)
      • City of Women by David Gillham
      • And the rest of my gigantic library pile...
    • Books finished: (Reviews of those not linked coming soon! Also, I don't usually have that many in one week!)
    • Other posts this week:
    • Books abandoned:
      • Color by Victoria Finlay. Eva and Sam both loved this one, but I just wasn't feeling it. It relates to art and travel, two things I like reading about, but I felt like the writing jumped all over the place and annoyed me. I liked the idea of learning the origins of our colors, but her stories of going to the depths of Africa, Australia, and South America seemed repetitive and uninteresting to me. I also thought it was misleading where she talked about the blood from insects still being used in food products today, but I looked into and that's banned in the US and some of the EU but she doesn't mention that part, although to be fair the author's from the UK and she may have only looked at it from that perspective. I got almost halfway through and realized I was started to skim and not enjoy it so I decided not to finish it. It just wasn't for me.
      • Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil. I tried this one since it's on the Booker shortlist, but I wasn't in the right mood. It starts with a seven-page sentence. It does switch to a more standard style in the first two chapters, but it still felt like someone trying too hard. I would consider giving it another shot at some point though. I had to return it to the library and didn't want to rush through it, plus I just wasn't in the mood for that type of book. Maybe another time.

    I've also made what I think are my final edits to my first novel before I start submitting it. I'm planning to finetune my first query tomorrow and send it off, then start researching more agents and customizing. Woohoo! I've also started on a new novel and I'm discovering I'm the type of writer who makes bad things happen to their characters. I'm not sure what that says about me.

    Tonight, I'm off to the Oklahoma State Fair, which should be interesting since I've been gluten-free for six weeks now, so no Indian Taco for me. I tried this diet because of the book Wheat Belly, and am surprisingly happy with it. I feel better, more energetic and less bloated and sluggish. I never thought I would give up bread and pasta and all the other yummy stuff containing wheat, but it hasn't been that hard because I've been so pleased with the results. I've lost weight, but I'm more excited about feeling better. I'm still planning on indulging tonight, just without wheat. I hope you have a great weekend, whatever your plans are!

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Dare Me

    Dare Me was not what I expected. There's a danger in filling up your library reserves list with books and then forgetting about them until they come in weeks or months later. When this came in, I looked at the cover and glanced at the jacket flap. It's a book about cheerleaders and has pretty lips on the cover - it's YA, right? I knew it had a dark side - the cover talks about how there's a suicide and the cheerleaders are investigated. I assumed this was going to be a book about bullying - the cheerleaders bully someone into committing suicide, how much blame should they take for it? But I was wrong.

    As I started reading, I was struck by the writing. It was literary fiction and clearly not YA. I flipped to the spine - yep, not YA. I readjusted my expectations, but it was an odd transition for me. It's hard to go into a book expecting one thing and get something so different. A literary fiction adult book about high school cheerleaders? You kind of need preparation for that.

    The book itself is well written, although Abbott tends toward purple prose in places, mixing it with contemporary slang and pop song references that causes a jarring feeling and just didn't quite work for me. It distracted me from the novel. It was engrossing and I finished it in a day, so clearly the writing and story were strong enough to keep me interested. However, I thought the cheer coach was completely unbelievable and that made it hard for me to accept the story and not argue with all along the way. In the end, I didn't care for it, although I can see how others would. Have you ever gone into a book expecting one thing and getting something completely different? How did it affect your experience?

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    Classics Club Check In #1

    It's time for my first check-in for the Classics Club! I cannot stop changing my list!!! If I want to make any more changes I'll just have to read faster and start my second list. :)

    I wish I'd read more from my list, but I've only managed four so far. I've been working my way through a huge stack of library books and have been reading more YA than usual as I'm researching agents for and making final edits to my young adult novel. I'm really read to dive in more and hope to do so through the fall. I'm planning to start Tom Jones by Henry Fielding next, partly to wash the taste of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa out of my mouth. (I didn't put Clarissa on my list since I'd already started before the club.) I'm also selecting it because I checked out The English Novel, one of the Great Courses from The Teaching Company, out from the library and Fielding (and Richardson) are the first two authors discussed. Even though I've taken similar courses in real life, I like The Teaching Company courses and wanted to work through this one. I watched the lectures on Ulysses back when I read it this summer, so I already know I like the professor and his style. If you ever wish for more of a lecture to go along with your classics reading, you might check your library for these. I've also watched one on the Greek Tragedians and London. 

    I hope your reading is going well! Any favorite classics I should add to round two when I get there?

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

    I gave into temptation and joined the Harry Potter Read Along. I was jealous reading everyone's posts. I'm rereading them right before bed. It's a nice comforting way to end the day.

    I thought I'd start by sharing how I first came to read Harry Potter. It was the fall of 1999. My mom's friend from work told her she had to read them and let her borrow them. My mom blew through them and convinced me to give them a try. I thought she was crazy. What high school senior wants to read kids' books? And seriously, something about a wizard? But since we swapped books often and she sang their praises so much, I gave him. Thank God I did! I fell in love immediately and gobbled up the first three books (all that were out at that time) in one weekend. We bought our own copies. I re-read them. I convinced my boyfriend at the time, who never read, to read them. I couldn't wait until the fourth one came out. That was the last quiet release of something Harry Potter related that I went to. I breezed into Walden Books during the middle of release day and picked one right up. But after that - Harry Potter mania hit the U.S.

    I went to midnight releases for the next three books. I saw all the movies on their release date, most of them during midnight releases (the first couple didn't have midnight releases here, or at least I don't think they did). For the first one, I convinced my then boyfriend now husband to go even though he thought my obsession was odd. He caught on eventually and read all the books and we've gone to Harry Potter parties with friends together now.

    So, what is it about Harry Potter? In rereading HP and the Sorcerer's Stone, I'm still struck by Rowling's ability to create this magical world and enthrall us with Harry's story. This is probably the 15th time I've read this novel. Yet it still captures my attention and draws me into this world. She does such a great job creating the world that you can't help but wish you had received your letter to Hogwarts when you were 11. :) I can't wait until I eventually get to visit the Harry Potter theme park at Universal in Florida and feel like I'm really there.

    One sad thing about reading this time is that it's the first time I've read it without anticipating something - the next book or the next movie. I have nothing left to wonder about! It's a bit weird, after 13 years.The other slightly disappointing thing is that the books and movies have mingled in my mind, so as I read I picture the actors and scenes from the movies. This enhances in some ways and detracts in others. They did such a great job with casting that the actors were quite close to what I pictured, so that's not so bad, but sometimes it's a little sad to not use my own imagination as much. This changes a bit when I get to the later books, when the movies annoy me in some places. But we'll discuss that later. :)

    I don't think I ever posted pictures from some of the Harry Potter related things Ryan and I did when we visited England last year, so I think I'll post about that soon. Until then, happy reading!

    Sunday, September 16, 2012

    Why Have Kids?

    I have so many notes on Jessica Valenti's Why Have Kids that I could probably write about five blog posts about it. I'll spare you that and try to stick to one post, but highly encourage you to check the book out for yourself.

    Valenti addresses a lot of myths and issues regarding having children that people tend to ignore. Despite the title, it isn't a book telling you that you should have kids, nor does it argue the opposite. She draws on her own experience as a new mom and the cultural constructs and lies about motherhood she's encountered. It's a book that challenges societal norms and pushes you to think. She admits the book will likely make the reader angry because of it's discussion of controversial topics.

    Valenti's main focus is the way we lift up motherhood in our culture, that we say it's the most rewarding, challenging job out there and we pressure women to be the ideal mother. All of these things may be done with good intentions, but they harm all of us. By lifting up motherhood above all else, we denigrate fatherhood and any woman who can't or chooses not to become a mother. Why even both going to college or having a career if being a mother is the best career? Why encourage our daughters to do anything else? We also pressure women to be everything for their kids, putting unnecessary stress on the woman to do everything right and creating overly coddled kids at the same time.

    I can see this in my friends - the Facebook posts about making organic baby food; taking their kids to various lessons in gymnastics, Chinese, art, music, and more; bragging about their kids asking for broccoli and hummus instead of junk food or even fruit; constant updates about their potty training progress and every minute detail of the child's life with no updates about them, as though they don't exist as a person outside of their children anymore. I don't mind the posts about their kids and understand that's important to them, but often it feels like a competition and I picture the pressure that most put on the other moms. That must make them feel guilty for making their own baby food, for using disposable diapers, for working, etc. They also seem to compete about having a natural childbirth - how does that make someone who has to have a C-section feel? Valenti writes about how other moms feel perfectly comfortable giving her advice and strangers will berate her for not breastfeeding. Why do women do this to other women? It's dangerous.

    One of the many dangers is that as a society, we promote certain ways of mothering that might be feasible for an upper-middle class woman with a supportive husband and, if she works, a flexible and supportive employer, but aren't possible for poor women. For example, we berate women who don't breastfeed, to the point that many hospitals no longer provide free formula as a gift or discuss any options but breastfeeding. If you don't breastfeed, you are portrayed as not loving your children enough to do what's best for them. However, if you don't have a job where you can pump and you work long hours, and don't even get much of a maternity leave since it's unpaid and you need the money, how are you supposed to breastfeed? Should we really look down on women in that situation? And what about the women who can't? Valenti shares the story of one woman who tried but couldn't do it. People told her that she wasn't trying hard enough or it would have worked. Valenti herself struggled with it, pumping for five hours a day after her daughter was born prematurely. She built up a supply, but it wasn't enough and she couldn't keep up and tortured herself trying to make it work. Why? How is that helping anyone?

    She also writes about how women's health is often considered only in terms of how it affects child-bearing. The CDC issued a statement advising all women of child-bearing age to take care of their "pre-natal" health for their future children. Should the woman not take care of her health for her own sake? What if she doesn't plan to have kids or can't have kids? Does her health not matter? I'm not suggesting we not promote pre-natal care, but it seems odd that the CDC would promote it but not women's health in general. I once had a doctor give me a lecture about not being so focused on my career and how I need to go ahead and have kids now and even after I insisted I don't want kids she prescribed me pre-natal vitamins. Needless to say, I don't go to her anymore. The experience was so frustrating - she wouldn't listen to me and assumed she knew me better than I know myself. I'm not the only one. It's extremely rare to find a doctor who will perform sterilization treatments on a woman if she doesn't have kids already. They insist she will change her mind. I get that because of potential lawsuits, doctors are hesitant. However, a man doesn't have the same problem. Nearly any doctor will perform a vasectomy on a young man. So, the young man won't change his mind, but the woman will? The doctor knows better than the woman, but not the man? How is that right?

    Another frustrating issue with our society is how we view fatherhood. The Census Bureau - in 2010 - considered mom's time with kids as parenting time and dad's time with kids as childcare - the same as a babysitter or daycare. What??? How is that right? Dad's time with the kids is just as important as mom's and both should be considered parenting. We shouldn't celebrate when a dad actually spends time with his kids - that should be the norm. And women are the cause of most of this. They don't make their husbands participate and complain about how they don't do things right when they do try. I see this all the time - women complaining about their husbands not doing things and then complaining they didn't do it right when they do try.  I just don't get it. Ryan and I have always split chores and now that he's going back to school, he does all the chores. Once he starts working again, we'll go back to splitting things. I just don't understand why everyone doesn't do it that way.

    One of the scariest parts of the books is the section where she talks about new laws regarding investigating miscarriages. Several states have tried to or have passed laws saying that miscarriages must be investigated to see if the woman intentionally caused them. Yeah, that's what a grieving mother needs - the cops questioning her about if she caused it. I've had several friends who have miscarried and I hate to think about them dealing with that. She also tells the story of a woman who had a C-section and wanted to have a vaginal birth with her second child. No doctor would agree, so she found a midwife and planned to have the baby at home. While in labor, she needed an IV. They found a hospital that agreed to administer the IV. After she was there and on the IV, the hospital asked her to sign papers agreeing to a C-section. She refused and went home to have the baby. While in labor in her own bedroom, the deputy sheriff and state attorney arrive and physically force her back to the hospital to have the C-section against her will. She then sued the state and lost. Seriously???? This story makes me so angry! The labor had progressed to the point where it was almost in the birth canal before the C-section and wasn't in danger. How can the woman have no say over what happened to her? How can we allow that?

    Most of the book got my blood boiling, especially the story above. The one thing I liked was parts about women who don't have kids being happier, and how smart women are less likely to have kids. :) You're also less likely to get divorced if the woman works and the man shares in the housework. All of that bodes well for me. It also challenges our beliefs that you have to follow the traditional path. Why must we assume everyone will get married, have kids, that everyone wants those things? Why do we tell women who don't want those things that they will change their minds or regret it?

    There is so much in this little book and I barely scratched the surface here. I know I haven't done it justice, but I hope you'll check it out for yourself. I did not agree with a lot of Valenti's solutions - I'm a libertarian and most of her solutions involve increasing government involvement - but I love that she raises a lot of questions about our cultural constructs and encourages people to challenge them. I think this book would be extremely helpful for someone considering having kids or who has kids and wants to not feel so alone about some of the issues she raises. And for me, it added to my already strong desire to not have kids.

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Clarissa - The End

    I conquered it. I finally finished Clarissa, considered the longest novel written in English, clocking in a million words. Most novels average around 100,000 words. Meaning, in the time it took me to read Clarissa, I could have read 10 interesting books instead. Five more worthy, lengthy classics. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way. Ugh.

    I read a lot of classics. It’s extremely rare that I don’t like them. In fact, Richardson is the ONLY British classic novelist I haven't got on with - and I've read a lot of British lit. I’m fine with stories where nothing much happens, where the story comes more in form of a psychological view inside a character’s mind or we get a slice of life from a specific point in time. At the very least, I can usually appreciate what the author did regarding style or format or something. Occasionally, I know I came to an author to young and need to try them again, like I did with James Joyce and William Faulkner, both of whom I now like.
    But with Clarissa? I just…can’t even…why…how?
    There is very little plot, which doesn't bother me in many works, but over the course of 1500 pages gets tiring.
    The writing is repetitive. Any editor worth her salt could make this immensely better by cutting it down to around 150,000 words. And I think that’s being generous. That Richardson didn't allow this makes me think he's a pompous twit.
    The characters are all one-dimensional and therefore boring. It felt like reading a looooooong morality play in novel form, only not funny the way those could at least occasionally be.
    Bad writing, boring flat characters, no story, I do not understand what there is to like here.
    I’ve gone on and on about my complaints in previous posts so I won’t go over them in depth here. But I think the worst thing is that his basic plot is actually interesting – he just manages to mangle it so much that it’s boring as all get out. It got to the point where I started wishing Clarissa would turn into some crazed lunatic and start murdering people.
    I have mentioned this before as well, but I would recommend reading Richardson’s Pamela. If you love it, then go for Clarissa. If you don’t like Pamela, I doubt you’ll like Clarissa. Pamela is shorter and more tightly written, although it still has some issues with plot and character development. However, you then get to read Joseph Andrews and Shamela with even more enjoyment and understanding so it is worth it. If you're looking for a good classic epistolary novel, try Evelina by Fanny Burney (considered a precursor to Jane Austen). It's in some ways similar to Clarissa, only Evelina - both the character and the novel - is far more entertaining, interesting, and realistic.
    But don’t just take my word on it. You can check out the other participants in the Clarissa readalong (I raced ahead to put myself out of my misery so they aren’t quite through yet) or get an entirely different perspective from Delaisse, who loved it. At least I have another book to mark off my Classics Club list! And I might have to reread Joseph Andrews soon to rejoice with Fielding in his ceasless mocking of Richardson. :)

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

    Howards End

    I have read so many good books lately! But I am so so behind in posting. I'm busy editing my novel and I think I'm close to having it ready to start sending out, which is crazy to me since I've worked on it so long. I don't want to neglect the blog though, and I want to share the wonderful books I read recently with you! First up - Howards End by E.M. Forster, one of the books on my Classics Club list.

    Before I rave about this, I will point out the only thing that bugged me - why is there no apostrophe in the title??? Shouldn't it by Howard's End or Howards' End??? On a related note, Forster's name also bugs me - I feel it should be Forester. I always think people have left out the e when I see it and then remember that no, it's just Forster. Clearly this isn't his fault. :)

    Anyway - read Howards End! Put it on your Classics Club list! Move it up on your priority list! Why? Because it is amazing! I said this when I read A Room with a View - I didn't like my first experience with Forster, when I read A Passage to India. I must now revisit that work because I loved A Room with a View and Howards End quickly rose up the ranks of my favorite books. It may actually be in the top 10, which for the most part have been set for year.

    "And month by month the roads smelt more strongly of petrol, and were more difficult to cross, and human beings heard each other speak with greater difficulty, breathed less of the air, and saw less of the sky. Nature withdrew."

    How contemporary does that sound? This novel came out in 1910 - can you imagine what Forster would have said about TVs, computers, social media, iPhones? I love how he doesn't complain directly about cars and radio, but focuses on the withdrawing from nature. No one wants a lecture on giving up their fun toys, but a reminder of breathing fresh air and seeing the sky? That's much more effective.

    There's something soothing to me about Forster's writing, the rhythm washes over me and floats me along, whether it's making me laugh or cry or scream or cheer. He writes beautifully, but not in an overdone, showing of an MFA way that some modern authors gravitate toward.

    I'm glad I read this after reading Far from the Madding Crowd and Portrait of a Lady. Each of the novels focus on women who might marry jerks and they seem like a natural progression in time. I adored Margaret. She's strong and bold, but in a quiet way. She's not flashy and reckless the way strong women are often portrayed. She stands up for her family members and stands by them even when they make mistakes, without judging them. And I like the ending much better than in the previous two but I'll keep this spoiler free and won't say why. :)

    Here's a rather long quote from Margaret exemplifying why I love her:

    "All over the world men and women are worrying because they cannot develop as they are supposed to develop. Here and there they have the matter out, and it comforts them. Don't fret yourself. Develop what you have; love your child. I do not love children. I am thankful to have none. I can play with their beauty and charm, but that is all - nothing real, not one scrap of what there ought to be. And others - others go farther still, and move outside humanity altogether. A place, as well as a person, may catch the glow. Don't you see that all this leads to comfort in the end? It is part of the battle against sameness. Differences - eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow perhaps, but colour in the daily grey."

    Love love love that! I love that she admits to not wanting kids - people judge me for that today, in 2012, 100 years after Forster wrote that! We still want to suck the color out of people who are different from us (I meant that metaphorically, but I suppose that also speaks to racists). We make fun of those who are different from us. We judge each other. EVERYONE does that. I'm trying to be more conscious of this, that God created many of our differences, and even the ones that He didn't, they still bring more color to life.

    Have you ever disliked a book by an author and giving them another chance and loved the next book?

    Sunday, September 2, 2012

    Happy Labor Day Weekend!

    I hope everyone in the U.S. is enjoying Labor Day weekend and getting some extra reading time in. I'm hoping to get caught up with both my reading and blogging. I feel like I've been starting and not finishing a lot of books and jumping from book to book too much so I haven't had much to post. I finished Howards End on Friday and loved it and will have a review up soon. I also just finished Tyrell, a powerful young adult book I also want to review soon.

    I'm in the middle of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which is beautiful and intriguing and is taking all of my attention. I'm also in the middle of 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King, but it just hasn't grabbed me the way his other works have and I'm struggling with getting back into it. I almost finished with Clarissa - I've had only 70 pages left for several weeks! My goal is to finish it this weekend and finally put that one behind me. I also started reading Color, a nonfiction book Eva recommended, and Lies My Teacher Told Me. I like both, but haven't been in the mood for much nonfiction lately. I did skim through Curiosities of Literature yesterday, but the poor, unclear writing put me off so I just looked through a few sections of interest to me. It was disappointing.

    Coming up, I want to read The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and 20 plus other books I have checked out from the library right now. I wish I were kidding. I have a problem. I'm also hoping to read some American and Oklahoma history alongside Ryan for some classes he's taken this semester. (He's going back to school to be a history teacher.)

    I'm off now to try to catch up on my blog reading and commenting. Happy reading!

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    Random Thoughts on Writing

    As I was driving home today, I forced myself to listen to some modern pop songs on Pandora. I'm working on a new novel and wanted to get into my 16-year-old protagonist's head - what would she be listening to? Probably not 90s rock, sadly. I don't like pop except for certain 90s songs that bring back memories and don't like modern music in general. So, I was not overly excited by my idea. But, I learned something.

    Pop singers understand All the Teenage Feelings. They are angsty. Everything is the Most Important Ever. They are about having fun and being young. Or having a broken heart like only a teenage girl can have. Yes, it's annoying. But, when I forced myself to actually listen, I was surprised by certain phrases and feelings that would catch my attention. Things that would spark an idea and leave me trying to jot a note a the next red light. (Probably not the safest approach.)

    I have a tendency to live in my head. I'm not always a good listener because I'm often talking to myself. Thinking through something. Imaging different responses, or what people would do if I did something odd like jump up and yell a random word during a meeting or start rapping in the middle of church. What I'm discovery as I'm starting to write creatively again is that it gives me an outlet for those thoughts. I can focus that energy for when I am writing. Not that I don't still drift off, but it's different and is more focused now, focused on the story I'm telling or the character I'm creating and what would happen if. It's making me wonder how I survived the last decade with barely writing anything creative. This is what was missing. This makes me happy. Creating a world from my mind, crafting it into words, that makes me happy. Even if I never get published, never make a dime from it. I think for a while I thought it was a waste of time if I didn't know I would get published and it's so hard to get published that surely I would never have a chance and I might as well not bother. How stupid is that? I'll certainly never get published if I never try! And I find in enjoyment in it! How many hours did I spend as a child and a teen scribbling away? Did I worry about publishing then? Of course not! So why did I let that take away something I loved?

    Since reading On Writing, I've been writing 1,000 words minimum in my new novel each day. I love it. I feel more settled. More focused. More alive. Like I'm doing something I'm meant to be doing, regardless of what happens next. It's a great feeling.

    Reading wise, I'm doing a lot of it. I'm also updating my Classics Club list. I included a few more contemporary works when I created it and I don't like that they're on there now, so I'm subbing those out. I've actually read one of those, Cloud Atlas, which was great, but it just doesn't belong on the list. I'm off to do more reading - I hope you had a great day doing whatever it is that you love to do!

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    Animal Farm

    Almost everyone reads Animal Farm in high school. I did not. I read 1984 years ago, but despite being short, I'd never picked up Animal Farm. It's one of those books I was a bit embarrased to admit I hadn't read, so it was one of my first picks for The Classics Club.

    The edition I read was a beautiful illustrated anniversary edition that I highly recommend. The pictures enhanced the story, an additional way of humanizing the animals. I became quite invested in the story and grew to love and hate many of the characters. That surprised me more than anything, although considering my love of animals it shouldn't have. And I should have remembered my rule about not reading books with animals on the cover. I bawled. I only teared up at The Fault in Our Stars, which I just finished tonight and will review soon. I'm an odd human. 

    I don't normally like allegories, and I think that's what I expected from Animal Farm. I expected something like Pilgrim's Progress, where the characters don't feel remotely real. Instead they jumped off the pages, more alive than many human characters. I actually think the characterization was better in Animal Farm than in 1984.

    But, the heart of Orwell lies beneath the characters, with the philosophy behind their actions. I now understand how people on both the right and the left claim him for their own. He shows the good and the bad of socialism and democracy and everything in between. He shows the natural progression governmental philosophy, how we are doomed to keep moving in a never-ending circle. All of our governmental structures are flawed because humans are involved. Some will always "more equal than others." None will ever be perfect or work exactly as planned. Bit of a depressing guy, that Orwell.

    After reading Animal Farm, I see how socialists pick up on his anti-capitalist ideas and how capitalists pick up on his anti-socialist ideas. It's interesting how they don't seem to see he's commenting negatively on both. A large part of the population is stupid and will go along with a charismatic leader until he/she becomes a dictator, then the people will rebel and form a democracy, then Mr./Mrs. Charisma will reincarnate and convince them to hand over control and repeat the process. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but it's what I got out of the story. I was reminded of the negativity of Hobbes, about man's life being "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

    There was something freeing in reading it though. I used to be heavily politically involved, working on campaigns, constantly watching and analyzing the news, discussing politics with my husband. I've started to become disinterested, not that I don't care at all and of course I still vote and pay attention, but I'm not as emtional about it as I once was. Part of that may be that I'm a libertarian and I've learned most people will never believe like I do, so while I'll still support my beliefs I don't fight so hard to convince everyone else that I'm right. It's freeing and I'm actually much less stressed because I just accept the government is and always will be extremely flawed. That sounds terrible, but I actually feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I no longer feel responsible for persuading everyone else that they're wrong. :)

    I wonder though, if teaching Animal Farm in high school is wise. I can see how it might teach kids to be apathetic and assume they can't make a difference and we're all screwed anyway. Hopefully teachers focus more on the importance of being educated and knowing the rules yourself so that no one can take control of your life without you at least knowing it.

    Now that I've read Animal Farm, I'm interested in rereading 1984 with this as background. I think 2013 may be the Year of Rereading as I have quite a list of books I want to reread going!

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    The Portrait of a Lady

    I read Daisy Miller in college, but despite liking it and owning four of his novels, it remained the only work by Henry James I had read until now. I finally finished The Portrait of a Lady, about a woman (obviously) who is teetering on that line between Victorian and modern. An intelligent woman interested in the world around her, she inherits a large sum of money and can do as she wish. What will she do?

    The overall story and ideas James raises make this novel worth reading and made me enjoy it once finished. However, I did not always enjoy it as I read. I felt like the beginning and the end were extremely strong, but it sagged heavily in the middle. This is an early attempt at a psychological novel, and his style works well in some places but drags in others. In the middle, he often writes in passive voice, uses odd, unnatural sentence structures and creates paragraphs that run for pages. I think he needed to use Stephen King's editing rule about removing 10 percent of the copy in the second draft. I felt like James tried to write like an Englishman, in the style of Dickens or Thackeray, but ends up sounding stilted. Daisy Miller felt much more natural to me, less like James was trying to prove he could write as an Englishman instead of an American. I rarely like American authors as much as English ones, and he felt like a fake Englishman to me here, which I suppose is what he was.

    Please know that I'm not saying he's a bad writer - he's quite good at hooking you in the beginning and keeping you interested in Isabel and the other characters. I also think his dialogue read much more naturally to me than some of the other language, which surprised me. And the last 150 pages flew by, with more tightly written copy.

    It surprised me how modern the story felt, with Isabel able to choose if she wanted to marry and whom to marry if she chose to do so. That's not exactly common in most Victorian novels. I think it suffers though from still being Victorian - the language conflicted with the story. I suppose that's part of what James was showing though - Isabel is American and her story feels more American, yet she's in England and most of the writing feels like it's trying to be British.

    And now for the spoilers....

    Isabel reminded me a lot of Bathsheba from Far from the Madding Crowd. Both give up their independence and marry unworthy men who just want their money, after turning down two good men. Madame Merle manipulates Isabel throughout the novel without Isabel even realizing it. If only Isabel had listened to Henrietta instead! I wish we saw more of Henrietta - I loved her character. Despite not having the amount of wealth Isabel did, Henrietta managed to stay independent and make her own way, falling in love when she chose to do so and clearly not giving up herself in the process. I can't picture her thinking as Isabel does when Isabel considers confronting her husband: "She had not as yet undertaken to act in direct opposition to his wishes; he was her appointed and inscribed master." Why? Why did she marry that man? Then, just when we think her spine grew back and she disobeys and goes to see Ralph, she still goes back to him, or at least that's the implication.

    I know it sounds like I didn't like it, and I didn't always as I was reading, but I did like it overall. I enjoyed reading a work so progressive in women's issues for it's time, even though I grew frustrated with Isabel. I also learning about Isabel, since Edith Wharton purposefully used the name "Archer" as the last name of Newland and May in The Age of Innocence. I see many of the same ideas of tradition and women's roles playing out in both. I'd like to reread The Age of Innocence now that I've read The Portrait of a Lady, but my read soon stack is already overflowing so I'm not sure that will happen.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012

    The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

    Happy Saturday! I hope you're having a great weekend. Mine has been filled with books so far, which is good because I've overdone it at the library again and have 20 books out and have several of my own books out hoping to be read soon. Oops. Fortunately, last night I managed to finish The Portrait of a Lady, which I read sloooooooowly, so it's nice to be finished. I'll post a review of it tomorrow. Today I spent a little time with Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot while curled up in a chair listening to the RAIN!!!! It has been a while since we've had a good rain here, or really anything more than a sprinkle, and it's been so hot most of the summer, so it was nice to see temps in the 70s instead of the 100s and watch the storm roll through. Once the sun came out I turned to something lighter, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

    I'll be honest - when I heard about this book, I was quite confused about the massive amount of buzz. An elderly gentleman walks out on his wife to walk 500 miles across England to see a woman dying of cancer? Why not drive? Take a train? Catch a bus? It just seemed really idiotic. But, I was curious as to why it was getting so much praise, so I decided to try it.

    I read it in almost one sitting, so clearly it's engrossing. Harold's an interesting guy - you see several sides to him, see him as a man, husband, son, father, coworker, friend. He came alive. His irrational decisions made him seem almost more real - humans aren't purely rational yet we sometimes want characters to be so. I accepted his ridiculous journey despite the stupidity of it. I became interested in his wife Maureen and her side of the story. I wanted to know what happened between Harold and Queenie and between Harold and his son David. I wanted to know why Maureen and Harold's marriage grew strained over the years.

    The story pulled me along, entertaining me and making me celebrate humanity's resilience and determination. As Harold pursues his purpose, it becomes clear that retirement doesn't mean the end, that you can no longer accomplish something just because you're old. There will always be things to do, goals to set, people to meet. So in that way, it's an uplifting story that celebrates humanity.

    However. There were a few plot points that annoyed me to no end and made me want to destroy all the humans. First up were the people who join Harold. There's a good reason I'm not God. I would totally strike down every single one of those people, starting with Rich. This group erased any positive feelings I was having about humans. They also made me turn on Harold and start screaming at him in my head. The next two items are spoilers, so avert your eyes if you don't want to see them!

    Harold gets to Queenie and then does not thank her. Seriously???? You did all that and then you can't even say thanks? I'm confused. Did that line get accidentally cut in the editing process? I know he's thrown by seeing her, but really? Then, when we learn the truth about David I wanted to track down Rachel Joyce and punch her for making me invest in this storyline and have her trick me like that. You can not have a surprise twist that does not make sense with the entire rest of the plotline!!! That's not a surprise twist, that's just lazy writing. You can do shocking twists in ways that make sense, like in Gone Girl, you just have to be smart about it.

    Despite my serious frustrations with some of the stuff at the end, I still enjoyed most of the reading experience and wouldn’t steer people away necessarily. If you want to see what the buzz is about, it's a fast entertaining read and clearly most people aren't as annoyed about the few items as I was.