Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Clarissa Update

I started reading Clarissa last year and found myself zipping through the pages on my Nook without really following the story. After nearly 200 pages, I realized I had no idea what was going on, so I stopped reading. This is one of the downsides of e-readers, for me. I'm so used to skimming when reading online that I tend to read that way on my Nook as well - I'm having to break that habit. It's also frustrating that I can't just skip back through the pages to wherever I started dropping off and read more carefully. So, I'm trying again with a year-long readalong. I think reading the letters on the dates they are addressed is helping me read more slowly and carefully. I've just finished the January letters and got the answers to the things that were confusing me. Whew! I'm actually a little sad that the next letter isn't until Feb. 20!

Terri at Tip of the Iceberg and JoAnn at Lakeside Musing are co-hosting the readalong if you want to join in!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Magical March

When I saw Adam at Roof Beam Reader's Magical March challenge, I was sad that I wouldn't be able to participate because I'm just reading books from my shelves and not library books, and I didn't think I owned that many science fiction, fantasy or magical realism books. I thought I would glance at my TBR shelves and see if I could manage the smaller level though, and I was surprised when I quickly found 20 books that would count! Oops.

Since a few of the books on my list are young adult books, I decided to go for the highest level - Grand Merlin Class, 8 books. If I don't make, at least I'll still get several more books crossed off my list!

Books to choose from:
  1. Outlander
  2. Dragonfly in Amber
  3. The War of the Worlds
  4. I, Robot
  5. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  6. The Wizard of Oz
  7. The Weather of the Heart
  8. The Handmaid's Tale
  9. The Crystal Cave
  10. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
  11. The Mermaid Chair

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Waves

I have finally become a Virginia Woolf fan! I'm not sure if I just needed to encounter her a few times or needed to be in the mood to poetry to "get" her, but I finally get the obsession with her. I may not understand all that she's trying to say, but I understand her appeal.

I read Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse both a couple of years ago and while I liked both to some extent, I just didn't connect with Woolf. I prefer my novels to have at least character or plot, if not both! Woolf usually seems to have neither. But what she does have is beautiful, amazing language. And I finally got that this time, with The Waves.

I think it might be helpful to others coming to Woolf for the first time or who didn't like her at first to think of her as a poet, not a novelist. The Waves is really a book of poetry, not a novel. It doesn't matter if you can't quite figure out what's going on all the time or who's talking. What matters is the images she makes you see, the feelings she invokes.

The Waves covers the lives of a group of children as they grow up, age, and die. It compares life to the waves of the ocean, going in and out, ebbing and flowing. The children begin full of imagination and possibility. They truly believe if they close their eyes and believe hard enough, they can be anything, even a tree. Going to school begins to beat this out of you.

"So each night I tear off the old day from the calendar, and screw it tight into a ball...I revenge myself upon the day...You are dead now, I say, school day, hated day." Oh, how I have felt that way when I made a heavy line through a day on the calendar, either during a bad time at school or at work. This is what matters in the book, this feeling parts like this make you feel, not what happened to cause one of the characters feel this way.

One of the things I did feel that Woolf was saas that saying though was that we keep rushing forward to the next station in life, not realizing that in doing so we're rushing toward death. Makes you want to slow down! While every new day as a child is an adventure, every day begins to run together as an adult. You get up, you go to work, you come home, repeat, repeat, repeat. You can feel that monotony weigh down the characters toward the end. This work made me want to recapture some of that feeling of childhood - of viewing each day as an adventure.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


In my quest to read all of the books I own, quite a few ancient works stand in my way! First up is a volume of all of Euripides' and Aristophanes' plays. Fortunately, I've read quite a few of them already so I don't have to read their entire works right now, but I've started working my way through Euripides. I haven't gotten as much out of these as I have some of the other Greek plays, so I'm just doing mini-reviews. Maybe I've read all the good ones already? I did read a lot in my Greek tragedies class for my MA...Anyway, fortunately Jean at Howling Frog Books is hosting a Greek Classic Challenge and hopefully that will help me keep working my way through all the Greek classics on my shelves!

I had couldn't remember hearing of Rhesus, but apparently he's in the Illiad. He's one of the Trojan soldiers. I thought this play was funny because they talk about how horrible Odysseus is, that he's such a sneak and won't fight face-to-face, but he was a Greek and this was written by a Greek. I suppose that's why in the end he wins and kills Rhesus, the mighty warrior. :)

"Among mortals the same man is not dowered by nature with universal knowledge; each hath his special gift appointed him, thine is arms, another's is sage counsel." I thought it was interesting that even back then they recognized that different people have different types of gifts.

The Cyclops
This is the only satyr play we have an example of, which was a fourth humorous play shown after a series of three tragedies in ancient Greek theatre. This really just told the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops, so I felt like I was missing something.

This is about the children of Herakles, who are seeking protection after the death of their father. Eurystheus wants to kill them to prevent them for taking revenge upon him. A maiden must be sacrificed to ensure their safety and keep the city safe as it fights for them. Macaria, one of the daughters, volunteers. However, their mother helps capture Eurystheus, and they plan to kill him and they'll all be safe.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shakespeare's Poetry

Allie is hosting a Shakespeare Reading Month, so it seemed like a good time for me to finish reading the complete works of Shakespeare! In planning my trip to England last year, I told myself I couldn't visit Stratford-Upon-Avon until I'd read all his plays, so I finished those last year, but I couldn't finish up his long poems. Now seemed like a good time to remedy that, especially since I've been in more of a poetry mood this year.

I'm not sure why I dreaded reading Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece so much. I like epic poems like the Illiad and the Odyessey, the Aeneid, the Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost. And I like Shakespeare! But still, I dreaded reading these.

I'll admit I didn't get a lot out of Venus and Adonis. I think it can be read on two levels, as a poem of lust or a poem of love. I noticed a lot of the sweet phrases could also have a dirtier meaning! :) I kept stopping and going, "Um, does he mean what I think he means or is my mind in the gutter???" It was kind of funny.

My favorite lines were probably these:
"Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
But Lust's effect is tempest after sun;
Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain,
Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done;
Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies." 799-804

Apparently this poem was very popular during Shakespeare's life, which now that I think about it, makes me think that's pretty good evidence of Shakespeare writing the plays. Edward de Vere or Bacon could have realeased this poem without a problem, so why would they have put it out under Shakespeare's name? And if Shakespeare can write this and The Rape of Lucrece, why can't he have written the plays? They clearly seem to have been written by the same person. Hmmm.

As for The Rape of Lucrece, a 30-page poem about a rape doesn't sound that great, but I actually really liked the poem. It has a fantastically horrible villain that definitely seems similar to Richard III or some of the other great villains. Lucrece is so pure and focused on her love of her husband, like some of his later female characters, like Isabella from Measure to Measure. Tarquin offers Lucrece a choice - have sex with me willingly or I'll rape you, kill you, and kill another man and make it look like you two were doing it and I killed you both in defense of your husband. How evil is that?

The language Shakespeare uses when Tarquin first enters Lucrece's room is wonderful:
"Into the chamber wickedly he stalks,
And gazeth on her yet unstained bed.
The curatins being close, about he walks,
Rolling his greedy eyeballs in his head.
By their high treason is his heart misled,
Which gives the watch-word to his hand full swoon
To draw the cloud that hides the silver moon." 365-371

Both poems were surprisingly readable. I'm not sure if that's because by this point I'm fairly used to Shakespeare's language or if they may actually be a good starting point for someone who wants to read more Shakespeare but has trouble following all the plot in some of the plays because of the language. Both poems have fairly basic plots, so you can just soak in the language. I'm very excited to have finally read all of the works currently ascribed to Shakespeare!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Old Curiousity Shop: First Impressions

I'm about 100 pages in to The Old Curiousity Shop by Charles Dickens, and I thought I'd do a post about my first impressions for this week's post for Amanda's Charles Dickens Month celebration. Since Dickens' books usually have quite an array of characters, it will also serve as a way for me to sit down and make sure I know who all the key players are before I get confused!

Nell - So far, sweet little Nell is living up to her reputation as a lovely little girl. When I studied Dickens in one of my college classes I learned that people in America went to the docks to meet the ships coming in with the installment of this book that came right after a cliffhanger - does Nell live or die? I'm glad we can just go to midnight book release parties now instead of waiting in the shipyards for an anticipated release from across the pond!

Mr. Quilp - There's an evil dwarf as a main character??? Why did I not know this? This is giving this book a very fairy tale feel. He's an ugly, mean, arrogant old dwarf who is holding something over Nell.

Mrs. Quilp - Why oh why is a pretty young woman married to Quilp? What did he do to her? And she seems to think he's amazing even though she's terrified of him. She seems like an emotionally abused woman who for some reason won't stand up to him.

Nell's grandfather - I haven't quite figured him out. He definitely cares about Nell, who lives with him. But he's okay with her working too much and being in situations she probably shouldn't be in, plus apparently he owes money to Quilp. However, he does see through Nell's brother, which is good.

Fred - Nell's no good brother. It appears Nell will come in to some money at some point, and Fred wants it. He even comes up with a plan to have one of his no good friends marry her when she's old enough so they can split the money once it comes to her.

Dick Swiveller - Fred's friend and a swindler. He makes a habit of "buying" things he has no intention of paying for and has a list of streets he must avoid because of the shops where he owes money. He's the one Fred is trying to convinve to marry Nell.

Those are the main people so far. Something that I thought was interesting about the beginning of this book is that we start with a narrator who finds Nell on the street and helps guide her back home. There, he meets the key players and introduces us to them. Once that's done, he acknowledges the reader and says now that he's introduced us to the characters, he'll step back. I'm always interested in narration - the point of view an author chooses, if the narrator is involved in the story, if they're reliable, if it's a frame tell or flashback of some sort, etc. I can't really remember reading a set up quite like that before. I wonder if he'll come back at some point later or at the end. I'll soon find out!

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Room with a View

Ergh!!! I had a great post about A Room with a View and it somehow got deleted!!! Blurg! I can remember none of the awesome things I had to say, so hopefully this will still convey how much I enjoyed this book and why you should read it!

First of all, I was surprised I liked this book so much. I read A Passage to India in school and didn't care for it. That may have been because I had to read it and five other lengthy, mostly boring books for a one-hour pass/fail class my freshman year of college. I had so much other reading and things to do that the books for that class didn't get much attention from me. I felt like it was pretty dry, so I was surprised when A Room with a View was so wonderful and a quick read, entertaining read. I suppose I'll have to give A Passage to India another shot sometime.

A Room with a View is about a young woman visiting Florence and Rome before journeying back to England. It was published in 1908 and takes place around that time, which was a time of massive change. England was moving from the Victorian age to the modern age. I know we've experienced massive change just in my lifetime with the prevalence of the internet, but can you imagine living back then? They were on the cusp of having technological changes with cars and electricity, but they were also experiencing social change with women fighting for the vote and the changing societal classes.

The novel focuses on this social change, with the main character starting out with a proper chaperone on her travels who dictates her behavior, but you begin to see changes as they travel and meet new people. One of those people is Mr. Emerson, who despite being an older man, is quite modern. He makes comments about one day women will be seen as equal and how a lot of the rules people follow are silly and how love is more important than following expectations. I adored him! He was so unexpected, although I suppose old people do tend to have more of a "tell it like it is" philosophy and he definitely had that. You shouldn't live by other people's expectations.

Forster also talks about how some people are so snobby and pretentious that they suck the life out of everyone around them. He demonstrates this through Cecil, who I just wanted to strangle. I wanted to shake Lucy  and tell her to snap out of it and get away from him!

The novel was very similar to a Jane Austen novel - it captures a small part of society and has the same sort of feel, which I think makes the discussion of the more modern elements all the more striking. Lucy has to make a choice that none of the Austen heroines can make - love or independence? An Austen character might have to choose between love and comfort, but independence is never an option.

"It makes a difference, doesn't it, whether we fence ourselves in, or whether we are fenced out by the barriers of others?" Lucy can choose to fence herself in or not, whereas women even a decade earlier didn't have that option. "I don't see any difference. Fences are fences, especially when they are in the same place." The character speaking here is thinking of literal fences, but she has a point - a fence is still a fence. Someone told me the other day that every decision in life is a sacrifice. If we choose to marry, we sacrifice our independence. If we choose to have kids, we sacrifice time and money and freedom. If we choose one career over another, we sacrifice the other. It was an interesting way to think about things, and I thought it fit this book nicely.

I think fans of Austen who are looking for something new would enjoy this, as would people who are interested in the start of feminism and the modern age. I'm looking forward to reading Howard's End soon!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Media Free Day

Yesterday was glorious! One of my goals for this year is to have a "media free" day once a month. No TV, no movies, no internet. By default, this basically means a mini-readathon for me! I can also choose to do things around the house, go out with friends, write, etc., but for the most part I'll end up reading. I decided to do this to be more conscious of how I spend my time.

Although I already read a lot, and read for hours on Saturdays anyway, I feel like I waste a lot of time screwing around on my phone looking at Facebook, Google Reader, my email and watching junk on TV. None of those things are bad, and I don't want to cut them out entirely, but I want to think about how I spend my time.

Despite having a sinus headache, which I usually would use as an excuse to zone out in front of the TV, I did a ton of reading. I just started with a young adult novel and then went on to other stuff after my head stopped hurting.

I managed to read The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen, The Heraceidae by Euripides, The Rape of Lucrece by Shakespeare, finished one political book and started another, and finished The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Not too bad! I'm already looking forward to next month's day! This did make me want to limit my TV watching more in general (I've already cut back some) and not waste so much time online. I hope everyone else had a happy reading weekend too!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mowgli's Brothers and Two Friends

I'm trying to read some of the short story collections I have, and read two very different stories recently!

Mowgli's Brothers by Rudyard Kipling
The Jungle Book is one of my favorite Disney movies. My brother and I watched the heck out of that VHS tape when we were little. So, I’d always thought I’d enjoy reading the original story by Kipling. In encountering Mowgli’s Brothers, I realized I had thought that The Jungle Book was a novel – not a short story collection. And, it’s the same short story collection that contains Rikki Tikki Tavi, which TERRIFIED me as a child. I HATED that mongoose. What’s that you say? The mongoose is the hero? I refuse to believe it! It’s an evil, evil monster, and I was horrified to learn that mongooses (mongeese?) are real! I have absolutely no idea what caused my terror, especially since my mom enjoyed the story because she hates snakes, but I still get the shivers when I hear the name of the book. I actually don’t mind snakes and often held and played with grass snakes when I was younger, so maybe that’s part of it and I felt sorry for them or something. I also remember the evil mongoose having terrifying red eyes that still haunt me. I should probably check it out at the library to see what was so scary, but I’m scared to! :)

So by the time I actually read Mowgli’s Brothers, I was a little on edge having relived my nightmares about Rikki Tikki Tavi. I really did not enjoy Mowgli’s Brothers. I’m not sure how much of that to place on Rikki Tikki Tavi and how much to blame Disney. Disney’s version of The Jungle Book is awesome! There are singing animals, lovable Baloo, the cute little wolves, and Mowgli having fun. Mowgli’s Brothers was much darker and sadly, kind of boring. Kipling skips the interesting stuff about what it would be like to grow up in a wolf pack and skips from Mowgli’s initial appearance as a toddler to his becoming a man and being banished. As a result, there wasn’t much to this story. I know Mowgli continues to make appearances in many other short stories by Kipling, and some of those are used as part of the Disney movie as well, but this just didn’t make me want to go out and read more. There was something very stilted in the language and so many references to the Laws of the Jungle that I felt like I was reading a law text book instead of an adventure story.

Two Friends by Guy de Maupassant

What a sad, tragic little story! It starts off as this uplifting story of friendship and how even in dark times, friends are there and you sometimes just need to go fishing together, to do something familiar and enjoyable to forget the stress of life. And then BOOM! There is no escaping the stress! There is no escaping war! It will find you. I don’t want to spoil this for anyone, but encourage you to check it out. It’s very short, even for a short story!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dickens: A Life

For my third post for Amanda's Charles Dickens Month celebration I expected to write a glowing review of Claire Tomalin's Dickens: A Life. Sadly this is not meant to be. I've been on the waiting list at the library forever to get this one, and it was the only library book I was going to let myself read as an exception to CB's TBR Double Dare (because it finally came in Dec. 30). Unfortunately, I only read/skimmed about the first 100 pages.

I think part of the problem is that I'm already fairly familiar with Dickens' life, even though I've never read a full biography on him. I studied him pretty in depth in one of my master's level classes, and most of the information in this section wasn't new to me. I would have kept skimming and just reading the new-to-me bits, but I HATED that Tomalin kept throwing in spoilers without warning.

Fortunately, the spoliers I saw were all for books I'd already read (thankfully I'd just finished Oliver Twist!) and for The Old Curiousity Shop, which I hadn't read but that had already been spoiled for me. She just seems to assume anyone reading has already read all of Dickens' works, which was annoying. She should have at least given some sort of warning upfront since presumably many people pick up author biographies when they haven't read an author's complete works.

So, consider this your warning! If you're interested in reading a biography on Dickens, only pick this one up if you're okay with spoilers. (Does anyone else picture River Song every time they use the word "spoilers"?)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Contested Will

Allie at A Literary Odyssey is hosting a Shakespeare Reading Month this January. I was already reading Contested Will and have a few other Shakespeare-related books on my TBR shelves so I decided to join in.

Contested Will is about the controversy over who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays. During college, I learned a little bit about this issue, that some people believe that a nobody like Shakespeare could possibly have written those works. I wanted to learn more about the topic, but hadn't really read anything about it until recently. I started a different book about the controversy last year, but I was about to head to England  and didn't want the thought that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays to ruin my excursion to Stratford-Upon-Avon, so quit reading after the first chapter. Ironically, while in Stratford, I picked up Contested Will, which is about the controversy.

Contested Will focuses on the two primary alternatives to Shakespeare: Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford) and Francis Bacon. I find Bacon to be an extremely odd choice as the writer of the plays and don't see how people believe this one. The "evidence" relies primarily on codes hidden in the plays and convoluted theories more appropriate for a Dan Brown novel.

The idea that de Vere wrote the plays is much more plausible. His life story matches with some of the happenings in the plays and he was involved at court and had a reason to remain secret. Some big names such as Freud bought into this theory.

My biggest issue is that I don't understand why people think someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays. No one questioned it during his lifetime. It was common for people to publish works anonymously, so why would someone use Shakespeare as a front instead of just publishing anonymously? That just doesn't make sense. Also, the plays are clearly written with the available actors in mind, which only someone heavily involved in the theatre troupe would know. It seems like snobbery to me, with people not believing a nobody from Stratford could have written so well. But, he would have been taught Latin and had access to the books the plays are primarily drawn from, so why is that hard to believe?  Contested Will sets out from the start on the side of Shakespeare, so I am interested to read a work that comes from a different perspective, but I don't see myself changing my mind. I do think this is a good starting point for learning about the controversy.

I thought I'd also share some photos from my trip to Stratford. It's a beautiful little town and looks like the idyllic English village I think most Americans tend to picture England looking like!

Shakespeare and his wife are buried at a pretty little chapel near his home in Stratford:

Shakespeare's childhood home and where he first lived after marrying Anne (with his parents!):

 Me in the doorway to his house:

The beautiful street his house is on. I want to live here!
The altar and view about his grave:

Sadly, Shakespeare's later home was mostly destroyed because the tenant got tired of all of the visitors! How horrible is that? They're doing excavation work, but just think of what we might have lost. Also, one cool thing about visiting his childhood home was that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Mark Twain and many others have visited too, standing in those same rooms and admiring the Bard just like I did. It's a bit of a trip from London, but it was well worth it for me!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Every Thing On It

I LOVED Shel Silverstein as a child and still have several of his books in my office at work for writing inspiration. I don't usually buy books at Wal-Mart, or shop there at all for that matter, but when I was there recently I decided to browse the books since I was in the cards and gift wrap section and happened to see a new Silverstein book! I've been reading a couple of poems a day to savor it.

I definitely enjoyed this new collection, although I think Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout is still my favorite of his poems. It still didn't make me want to take the garbage out though! My favorite from this collection is probably The One Who Invented Trick or Treat. Here's a snippet:

"Yes, I invented 'trick or treat'
So you could fill your mouth with sweets -
Candy bars and lemon drops,
Marshmallows and Tootsie Pops...
Slurp a soda, munch a pie,
Don't let those M&Ms go by,
Chew that toffee, munch those treats,
Get that caramel in your teeth,
Then come see me, I'll be here -
I'm your friendly dentist, dear."

I love how he just has fun with language and makes funny little jokes in some of his poems. I like how he incorporates the illustrations. Then, in the middle of being silly, bam! He has a poem that makes you stop and think.

"She had blue skin,
And so did he,
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew."

How powerful is that simple little poem? How often does that happen? We wear masks through life, hiding parts of ourselves and never realizing that others have similar interests. I read a quote the other day about friendship starting in the moment when one person says "You too? Wow!" If we hide parts of ourselves though, we miss those opportunities.

The book was full of other fun and meaningful poems - check it out if you like Silverstein's other works!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Classics Challenge: E.M. Forster

November's Autumn is hosting A Classics Challenge and this month's prompt is on authors. As I just finished A Room with A View for this challenge (thoughts coming Monday!) and plan to read Howard's End this year, it was interesting to learn a little more about E.M. Forster.

Level 1

Who is the author? What do they look like? When were they born? Where did they live? What does their handwriting look like? What are some of the other novels they've written? What is an interesting and random fact about their life?

E.M. Forster was Anglo-Irish and Welch but was born in London in 1879. He was a "peripheral" member of the Bloosmbury Group, although he seems to have a quite different writing style, maybe because he would have been a little older than the writers that were part of that group that I'm most familiar with. He volunteered for the Red Cross during WWI, going to Egypt.

Level 2

What do you think of their writing style? What do you like about it? or what would have made you more inclined to like it? Is there are particular quote that has stood out to you?

I found Forster's writing style very accessible and not too stuffy. I liked, but I think I'll save my thoughts on this for my review post on Monday.
Level 3

Why do you think they wrote this novel? How did their contemporaries view both the author and their novel?

Forster wanted to explore class distinctions and how they affect society, and how they were becoming more fluid. Forster wrote during a major time of tranistion, when we were moving from the Victorian to the modern period and I think he needed to write about that change.
As far as reception goes, I thought this bit from Wikipedia was interesting: "In the United States, interest in, and appreciation for, Forster was spurred by Lionel Trilling's E. M. Forster: A Study, which began:
E. M. Forster is for me the only living novelist who can be read again and again and who, after each reading, gives me what few writers can give us after our first days of novel-reading, the sensation of having learned something (Trilling 1943)."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Bell Jar

It should perhaps worry me that when I had a bad day a little over a week ago, my response was a craving for a re-read of The Bell Jar. I'll just hope that means I'm wonderfully sane because I wanted to read something about someone having a much worse day than I was to remind myself of how lucky I am!

I liked The Bell Jar when I first read it in high school, but I loved it even more this time. I had forgotten just how beautiful the language is. Plath is wonderful at drawing you into Esther's mind, which is a bit disturbing, but there's something cathartic about it. It's like instead of snapping yourself, you get to experience snapping through the safety of a book and return back to the real world cured.

It surprised me how much I could identify with Esther in the beginning of the novel. I didn't really expect that since what I remembered about her came more from the second half, after she begins going crazy. It's a bit scarier this way, as it makes you feel like we each have this ability to go a bit mad lurking under the surface. I suppose that's why it's such as good book though.

In one scene, Esther pictures a tree with figs, each representing a possible future - wife and mother, editor, Olympian, professor, world traveler. "I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and everyone of them, but choosing meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." Oh how I have been there. I'm normally a very decisive person, but I went back and forth about my major several times in college and then considering switching careers at various points when I wanted to leave a certain position and couldn't find anything similar. PR, teaching, pursuing my doctorate, marketing, being a librarian, being a freelance writer, packing everything up and running off to Europe and teaching ESL. It's all sounded appealing at some point or the other. I'm happy with the direction I chose, and didn't find myself unable to move forward as Esther does, thankfully. But I definitely understand that feeling of wanting to be able to do everything!

I also think that perhaps my views on childbirth and raising children were greatly influenced by all the reading I did when I was younger. Perhaps reading does corrupt a girl's mind after all. No wonder men used to not want woman to read and learn! :) This book had a rather gross childbirth scene that I'm sure added to my disgust at the whole situation, and Esther has some good quotes about motherhood, although they're quite sad considering Plath was a mother. "So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about numb as a slave in some private, totalitarian state." "If I had to wait on a baby all day, I would go mad." Amen sister. I'm glad other people enjoy that and totally get that they're the normal ones, but just the thought of having a child makes me feel slightly crazy, claustrophobic, panicky. I'm so thankful I live in today's society and can be both married and childless by choice.

Re-reading The Bell Jar reminded me of how enjoyable re-reading is. Like many book bloggers, I've tended to re-read less since I started blogging. I had massive reading lists before blogging, but since then my lists have exploded and it's hard to re-read when there are so many books waiting to be read for the first time. I need to make a point to re-read more often!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty

I was excited enough to visit Persephone books on my 30th birthday, and I couldn't believe it when I saw a book called It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty. I knew I had to have it. I was surprised, because I've read through the Persephone catalogue before, but for some reason this title didn't sound familiar to me. Maybe because I wasn't ready for it yet!

It's been a while since I've read much poetry, so at first I wasn't sure if I would like this collection. But, while still in the store, I opened it to a poem that was so me! I knew I then that I would enjoy the collection, and have read it slowly, just a poem or two a day to savor it. The language and easy to understand poems reminded that poetry can be enjoyable and has inspired me to keep up the habit of reading a poem every day, which is good because I have several poetry books in my TBR stacks! It's also good because I think reading poetry is helping my own writing, making me think more about my language choices as I write.

The poem that drew me in is called "Starting on Monday." It's all about her starting a diet and exercise plan on Monday. "Starting on Monday my will will be stronger than brownies." Brownies are my favorite dessert. The poem goes on about jogging each morning, eating carrots, losing flab, all starting on Monday. "But Tuesday a friend came for coffee and brought homemade muffins." And so on, through the week. There is always an excuse isn't there? I can't really capture it without writing out the whole poem, but I just love her writing. It's so accessible, yet still meaningful, and she still plays with language. Most of the poems are about everyday life: marriage, babies, diets, friends, growing up. Yet she somehow makes beautiful poetry out of it.

The book is really two collections of poems, It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty and People and Other Aggravations. How great is that second title? I had to laugh at that. And while the poems are about how other people can indeed be aggravating, at the same time, they're about how we need others and our lives are enriched by them.

I think anyone who enjoys the Persephone books would enjoy this one, and it's worth it even though it's a slim work. I promise you'll keep flipping through it to re-read! I also think it would be a great gift to a mom struggling with meshing her old self to her new mom identity. And it's a great starting place for someone who wants to read more poetry, but is intimidated by it. And, it's written Judith Viorst, who wrote Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It's got to be awesome, right? I loved picking up a grown-up book by the author of one of my favorite childhood books on my birthday! If you give it a shot, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oliver Twist

Woohoo! I finally read Oliver Twist! I think it's odd that I've read so much of Dickens, but never this one. I started it at the beginning of last summer and absolutely could not get in to it, so I quit reading it. I was disappointed, because up until then I'd loved every Dickens' novel I'd read. But it was just so preachy and depressing. I think it was just the wrong time of year or I was in the wrong frame of mind. Stefanie at So Many Books recently posted about if there's a right place to read and the discussion veered toward if there's a right mindset or timeframe to read too. I think Oliver Twist is a winter book, and I simply picked it up at the wrong time.

This time around, I loved it! Yes, it was still a bit preachy, this is Dickens after all, but it didn't bother me. And the characters! Characters are why I love Dickens so much. The first time around, Oliver was just too perfect and honestly a little annoying, but this time I liked him more. The villains are all beautifully written, as is Nancy. I'm glad to finally know who Sikes and Fagin and the Artful Dodger are. You hear their names so often, so it's nice to finally "meet" them.

I felt like this story was more tightly written than other Dickens' works, except for maybe Great Expectations. There seemed to be more of a direction from the beginning, without the sideways rambles that tend to happen in the longer works. That made for a much faster read. Also, Dickens used the phrase "stupid-head" at one point, which was hilarious and awesome.
Spoiler Alert!
Seriously, I wanted to strangle Nancy. I loved the way Dickens wrote her, and it was probably more realistic to give her the ending she got, but I hated that she didn't leave when she had the chance! I have never been able to understand women who stay in abusive relationships. I don't think I ever will. I don't blame the victim, but at the same time, she walked in to her own death. She knew it was dangerous to go back and talked about her death so much she had to suspect it was coming, so she is partially responsible for what happens to her. The other thing that really bugged me was the death of the dog. So unnecessary! Dickens spares him from Sikes, then has him jump to his own death!!! Why??? We got the same point from Nancy's death, we didn't need the poor dog to die so horribly!

End Spoilers!

While Bleak House remains my favorite Dickens' novel so far, I definitely recommend Oliver Twist! This is my second post in celebration of Charles Dickens Month hosted by Amanda at Fig and Thistle. You can read my first post on the Charles Dickens Museum.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Future of Us

The Future of Us is an awesome book and a fun-filled trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up in the 90s. I was intrigued by the concept of this young adult book – two high school students in 1996 stumble upon their Facebook pages from 2011. Do they like what they see? How does what they’re doing in 1996 affect their future selves? Plus, it was co-written by Jay Asher, who wrote Thirteen Reasons Why, so I didn’t think it would be just a silly gimmick book.

I’m so glad I gave it a chance, because this book was fun! It’s narrated by both Emma and Josh, and I enjoyed seeing both of their perspectives. Emma isn’t pleased with her future self, so she starts trying to change things. How will that affect Josh though, who is happy with his future life? How can you live in the present when you’re seeing how everything you do affects your future? Both characters are extremely likeable but not without flaws, and I got sucked right into the story. I could totally be Emma. I WAS Emma. Minus the whole seeing my future self on Facebook thing. :) And the running. I hate running. But the boy crazy part, the dating the wrong guy part, the ignoring the nice guy part, the dating guys and casually dumping them because you’re scared of commitment part, yeah, that was me. I’m afraid a lot of people will get annoyed with Emma when they read this, but I totally identified her and unfortunately understood why she was doing what she was doing.

But the best thing about this novel is that it totally transported me straight back to 1996. Oasis. The Dave Matthews Band. Dookie. Ellen was in the closet. There was no gay marriage – anywhere. Discman. VCRs. Seinfeld. Not being able to watch something else while recording something. This book is loaded with mid-90s references. It made me so nostalgic! (Although very happy about the invention of DVRs.)

And of course, the whole premise is nostalgic. Emma finds Facebook the first time she loads up her new AOL CD-ROM – which takes 97 minutes to download – and it’s magically already on her favorites. The description of that first time getting online was spot on. It was so crazy! Now we can watch movies instantly online on our TV or our phones! It’s insane how much the world has changed just during my lifetime. I can’t imagine where we’ll be in another 30 years.

After finishing the novel, I couldn’t help wondering what my 15-year-old self would make of my Facebook page. What would she think about my life? Would she be happy about it or want to change it?

I think she’d be happy I’m married to an attractive guy I met in college, although she’d be confused as to why we have a picture of us in Pittsburgh as our profile photos. She’d be glad I’m working in PR, which is kind of funny since I’ve gone back and forth over that so many times but I think in ninth grade was when I first learned about PR and thought it would be a fun career. She’d be glad I work at a company on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work for list, but would probably disappointed I don’t work at any agency. (Which is also funny, since I did work at an agency and wasn’t a fan.) She might be surprised I didn’t go to OU or out of state for college but would be happy about OBU.

She’d be glad that I’m still friends with a bunch of my friends from then, although I’d be sad to see Suzanne, Hunter, and Amber ALL live out of state! (Which does in fact suck.) I’d be confused that I don’t know most of the people in my photos and commenting on my posts, but would hopefully be happy because that means I’ve made lots of new friends over the years while keeping the old ones.

Young me would be horrified at all the baby pictures. Just like old me. :) And she’d be down right shocked over some of the people who married each other! Micah and Amber? Amanda and Ashley? Breanne and Jason? My brain would have exploded, which is funny, since most of those couples have been together a loooooong time now. And they all have kids. She would be very, very happy that I don’t have kids, although probably surprised. At that age I assumed my maternal instinct would kick in at some point and I’d change my mind. Clearly not!

She’d be thrilled I spent my 30th birthday in London! She might be surprised that I didn’t also throw a massive party because I loved throwing parties back then. There are certain people she’d be surprised at how much weight they’ve lost or gained over the years, or how they look exactly the same or completely different. She’d probably be surprised to see recent photos of me at Bridget’s house, since I tried hard to hate her in ninth grade because she was gorgeous and all the guys I liked liked her! :) But she’s just too dang nice not to like! Funnily enough, I’m Facebook friends with the two guys who came to mind (and did ‘date’ that year, I guess I wasn’t too concerned about coming in second!) and they’re both married, which I’m sure would have disappointed me then even though I certainly didn’t expect to marry either one of them!

It was a fun little exercise. It made me very appreciative of my life. If you had asked me before I thought about it, I would have said my 15-year-old self would probably be appalled at my life, but in thinking about it more I’m exactly where I thought I would be.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Charles Dickens Museum

Amanda at Fig and Thistle is hosting a Charles Dickens Month leading up to the 200th anniversary of his birth in February. Each Tuesday participants will post something about Dickens, and we’ll celebrate together!

That’s me making my sad face at the Charles Dickens Museum in London. I had planned to kick off my 30th birthday with a visit, but alas, when we go there, it was closed for renovation. I had checked their website during my planning, but they didn’t have anything about the renovation on there at that time, and sadly, it wasn’t scheduled to reopen until the day after we’d be back in Oklahoma. Sigh.

I’m afraid Ryan thought I was about to throw a temper tantrum like a 2-year-old, but I managed to hold it together. At least I got to see the outside of the house and walked up and down the street he lived on. It’s crazy to me that normal people live next door. How cool is that? I’d love to live next door to where Dickens lived! Can you imagine reading A Christmas Carol, curled up by the fire and knowing the man who wrote it lives next door? That’s crazy!

And it was really a beautiful street. It’s very traditional London, or how I pictured residential London anyway. Gorgeous row houses, trees, in a quiet part of town, bookstores and cute restaurants nearby. This is where I would want to live if I moved to London.

Plus, it’s close to Persephone Books! That was the next stop on my birthday, and not being able to spend hours in the museum did give me more time there and at the string of bookshops we went in on Charing Cross road that day. Everyone who has seen my London photos have been a little confused by the ecstatic photo of me in Persephone Books, so I thought it would be nice to share with my fellow bloggers since most of the book blogging world is slightly obsessed. And, one of the books I got was in fact by a Dickens – I got The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens, Dickens’ great-granddaughter. It has a quite lovely bookmark and endpapers.

The store was quaint and cozy and overflowing with the beautiful grey books. I had such as hard time making my selections, but fortunately Ryan is a good sport. And he carried the books while we continue our shopping at Foyle’s later. He’s a keeper. And we’ll make it back to the Charles Dickens Museum someday!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Goals

I wasn’t going to post any sort of goals post, but Allie inspired me to! I enjoyed reading her post, so what the hey, right?


• Continue reading an average of two books a week (104 for the year)

• Read all the books on my TBR pile reading plan for the year (about half of my total books for the year)

• Succeed in the challenges I’ve signed up for

• Make a massive dent in my TBR shelves!

• Blog at least three times a week

• Include more posts that are more personal, not just reviews

• Do not buy any books except as allowed as an incentive for clearing off the TBR shelves (3 Persephones or 3-5 Morland Dynasty books since these are available through my library system for every 50 books I read from my TBR piles) and any book gift cards I get.


• Lose 15-20 more pounds! With muscle gain, I’m not sure on the exact weight goal because I will hopefully gain some muscle, but somewhere in that range should be good.

• Enjoy the present. I spend WAY too much time focusing on the future. I’ll still do that, but I need to enjoy life as I’m living it!

• Stop complaining. My life is actually pretty awesome and I need to learn to remember that!

• Continue reducing the amount of processed food I eat.

• Continue growing emergency fund and paying off debt.

• Help keep Ryan on track with school! My husband’s going back to school to be a history teacher.

• Finish writing my current novel, edit it, and submit it to agents!

• Do more volunteer work.

• Practice some of the ideas of minimalism – buy less crap and get rid of more of the crap I already own. Simplify.

• Have a media fast once a month – no TV or internet – including on my iPhone! Read and write and spend time with Ryan and friends instead.

Happy New Year everyone! What are your goals for the year?