Monday, April 30, 2012

Clarissa - April Post

Blurg. I am so behind on posts! After the readathon, I think I was just blogged out. I have 14 books and a couple of short stories to post about!!! Yikes. So...expect some sort of post of mini-reviews soon because some of the books weren't worth a full a review and I don't want to dig myself too deep a whole. I may just skip a couple of them too. I also haven't commented on anyone's blogs all week, although I have been reading them and marked a few to go back and comment on later because I just wasn't in the mood at the time. But on to the topic at hand - Clarissa.

As April began, I was still totally frustrated with Clarissa. It was still repetitive. Then I read Delaisse's post where she mentions loving it, and I went back and read her original post about it and she raves about it and this may be what sparked a sudden interest in this from the blogosphere. She promised that something would happen soon. And it finally did - although I'm pretty sure we're still not to the BIG something happening yet.

At this point, Clarissa finally does something other than whine and write letters. She runs off with Lovelace! She does this as someone seeking assistance and rescue, not as a lover. For now. At that point, my reading sped up and I actually finished the April reading a week early! I was shocked! I was also SHOCKED that Richardson actually skips including some of Lovelace's letters because they would repeat what was in some of Clarissa's??? Seriously dude? You do that but you felt compelled to write 297 other letters of Clarissa repeating herself? What's up with that?

And oh, Clarissa, you somehow make running off with a man boring. I do appreciate what Richardson is trying to show. Women had very limited options. Clarissa is faced with two options: be imprisoned by her family and forced to marry an older man she does not love or run off with a possible rake and ruin her reputation whether or not she actually sleeps with him. Not much of a choice. What's frustrating to me is that this should be a compelling story! That sounds like a good plot, right? Something to keep you interested in finding out what happens to her? Instead it feels like Richardson is working hard to make the reader miserable. 

Wait! One more good thing I almost forgot about. We start learning more about Lovelace in April and he's definitely not that great. He knocked up a poor girl and abandoned her, and implies this isn't the only time. It appears Clarissa might get off easier since he does seem to want to marry her (probably for her money), but he's so not prince charming, and Clarissa is realizing that. Hopefully that will make May a bit more interesting.

Overall though, I just do not care for Richardson's writing style. Or, more accurately, his lack of a good editor. I have a feeling I'm going to want to reach for some Hemingway when I'm done with this mess. You can check out the other posts linked on JoAnn's page this month.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Readathon Update 5 - Final!

Good morning/afternoon/night to everyone! I went to bed a while ago and am getting up bright and early to head to an all-day concert, but wanted to share my final update with you. I'm pleased with my progress yesterday and the amount of time I spent commenting - I read a lot most Saturdays so it's nice to do it with other people now and then! If you participated, I hope you had a great readathon!

Pages read: 956 of The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson, Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Books finished: 4 The Bridge to Terabithia, The Virgin Blue, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Big Stone Gap
Time spent reading:  9 hours and 30 minutes
Time spent blogging/commenting/tweeting: 4 hours (I think)
Mini-challenges: 9 - Introductory Meme, Reading and Translation, Book Puzzle, Turn to Page 32, Find a Poem, Book Appetit, Noumena's Reading Survey, Favorite Troublemaker, Mid-Event Survey
Food/drink since the last update: Baked potato
Distractions since the last update: Sleeping!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Readathon Update 4

Whew! I'm still doing good, but my eyes are starting to get tired and I've started losing track of how much time I'm spending on stuff. I'm felt a bit meh about my choices so far. It's probably good that I'm powering through them for the readathon. They were all good enough to finish, but not good enough to keep me from picking up other options on a normal day. I'm about to take a break to eat dinner and then I hope to finish another book and maybe make a dent in another before heading to bed. I definitely won't be staying up all night and participating for the whole 24 hours!

Pages read: 703 of The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson and Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
Books finished: 3 The Bridge to Terabithia, The Virgin Blue, Big Stone Gap
Time spent reading:  7 hours
Time spent blogging/commenting/tweeting: 3 hours and 15 minutes (I think...I'm losing track)
Mini-challenges: 9 - Introductory Meme, Reading and Translation, Book Puzzle, Turn to Page 32, Find a Poem, Book Appetit, Noumena's Reading Survey, Favorite Troublemaker, Mid-Event Survey
Food/drink since the last update: None
Distractions since the last update: My husband watching hockey and talking to him, printing concert tickets for tomorrow, checking email and Facebook, cuddling with Optimus Prime (one of my cats)

Readathon Update 3

I'm starting to almost get tired of my lighter reads for the day. I may actually break out Clarissa and read a bit of that...nah, probably not. :) It does feel good to start getting more books off my TBR shelves though. I hope your reading is going well if you're participating today!

Pages read: 542 of The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson and Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani
Books finished: 2 The Bridge to Terabithia and Big Stone Gap
Time spent reading:  5 hours and 30 minutes
Time spent blogging/commenting/tweeting: 2 hours and 45 minutes
Mini-challenges: 6 - Introductory Meme, Reading and Translation, Book Puzzle, Turn to Page 32, Find a Poem, Book Appetit
Food/drink since the last update: ham and turkey sandwich, carrots and celery dipped in low-fat Italian dressing, water
Distractions since the last update: Fixing a late lunch, my husband watching hockey and talking to him

Readathon Update 2

Pages read: 362 of The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier and The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson
Books finished: 1 The Bridge to Terabithia
Time spent reading:  3 hours and 30 minutes
Time spent blogging/commenting/tweeting: 2 hours
Mini-challenges: 6 - Introductory Meme, Reading and Translation, Book Puzzle, Turn to Page 32, Find a Poem, Book Appetit (see below)
Food/drink since the last update: Cheese and all natural wheat thins - yum!
Distractions since the last update: Lots: making my snack, showering, trying to transfer files from my iPod to my iPhone for our road trip tomorrow (why is that Apple is good at almost everything but iTunes sucks???), breaking up cat fights, talking to the husband

Book Appetit mini-challenge hosted by Book Journey
I just finished up Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson. Not a lot of food references, but it did mention ham sandwiches, so I'd serve those, plus warm milk fresh from Miss Bessie (ewww). I'd also serve a salad made with fresh ingredients from the farm - lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions. And I bet we could scrape up enough stuff for an apple pie. Okay, now I'm hungry.

Readathon Update 1

Pages read: 225 of The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier and The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson
Books finished: 0
Time spent reading:  2 hours and 15 minutes
Time spent blogging/commenting/tweeting: 1 hour 15 minutes
Mini-challenges: 4 - Introductory Meme, Reading and Translation (see below), Book Puzzle (see below) and Turn to Page 32 (see below)
Food/drink since the last update: A slice of whole wheat toast with local honey - trying to see if this helps prevent allergy flare ups for me
Distractions since the last update: Just making my snack

Reading in Translation mini-challenge hosted by Reading Through Life:
    1. If you could read any book that’s been translated into English in its ORIGINAL language, what would it be? War and Peace - The Russians are masters of the novel and I'd love to be able to read Russian.
    2. Include the original book’s cover if possible; if you want, also post the English cover for comparison. It's not the cover, but here's the original title page in Russian.
    3. Optional imaginary bonus points: post a sentence from the book in its original language.
Гостиная Анны Павловны начала понемногу наполняться. Приехала высшая знать Петербурга, люди самые разнородные по возрастам и характерам, но одинаковые по обществу, в каком все жили; приехала дочь князя Василия, красавица Элен, заехавшая за отцом, чтобы с ним вместе ехать на праздник посланника. Она была в шифре и бальном платье.
And the bad Google translation:
Living Anna Pavlovna started slowly filled. She came to know the highest Petersburg, people are most diverse in age and character, but at the same society in which they lived, came to Prince Vasili's daughter, the beautiful Helene, came for his father to go with him on the feast of the messenger. She was a cipher and a ball gown.

Librarian's Book Reviews is hosting a Book Puzzle challenge. You make a puzzle out of a book title. I just looked at one of the books in my TBR stack and game up with this:

Reflections of a Bookaholic is hosting a mini-challenge called Turn to Page 32. You fill in this phrase with something from page 32 of your current read. "I would rather read than ________ any day!"

"I would rather read than parachute jump any day!" From The Virgin Blue

I also liked these possibilities from The Bridge to Terabithia:"I would rather read than farm it and think about what's important any day!""I would rather read than go to Washington to work any day!"

Happy Readathon Day!

It's time for Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon! As usual, I won't make it the whole 24 hours. I'll just read as much as I can. I'm trying to stick with reading books I own, and making it through several that I think will be fast reads but that I might put off reading at other times due to shiny new books. Happy reading everyone!

8:00 Update
Pages read: 66 of The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier
Books finished: 0
Time spent reading:  45 minutes
Time spent blogging/commenting/tweeting: 15 - just starting!
Mini-challenges: 1 - see below
Food/drink: Glass of almond milk and some water
Distractions: Two cuddly cats - Lucy has been in my lap so far, but Optimus Prime just took her place.

Introductory questionnaire:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
My red reading chaise lounge, my living room, Oklahoma City, OK
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Hmmm...maybe Smart Women by Judy Blume. Or The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards. My stack leans more toward commercial fiction for today - taking a break from classics and literary fiction for the readathon!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Cheese and crackers
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I'm a PR specialist by day, reader by night/nearly every other free moment. I love hockey and am afraid I may get distracted by playoff games later today, although at least my team - the Pittsburgh Penguins - aren't playing today. I love to travel and can't wait to go back to London, explore the rest of the UK and visit continental Europe at some point.
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'm focusing on books from my own shelves today and hope to make a dent in my TBR stacks (mountains really). I'm also focusing on commercial fiction - I usually have a classic I want to make progress on or some literary fiction or project books I read on readathon day, but today is all about light reading. A bit of fluff is good now and then, and I've had a crazy busy time at work lately and planning to read some lighter stuff today made me happy.

If you're stopping by and participating in the readathon, good luck to you and have fun!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Youth by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad amazes me. He mastery of the English language is remarkable - it's his third language! He writes better than many native English writers. And, he knows how to write an actually interesting sea story! I haven't enjoyed any of the Melville stories I've read - Moby Dick, Benito Cereno, Billy Budd (and Bartleby, but it's not a sea story) and I didn't care for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I'm also currently reading Cloud Atlas and wanted to give up during the first section with the dreadful sea voyage journal, but fortunately stayed with it and am enjoying now that that part is over for now!

In the short story Youth, Conrad uses Marlow, the same narrator from Heart of Darkness, to narrate this story. Marlow is with a group of friends, telling them a story about his first trip as a second mate 22 years earlier. It's a story of disaster after disaster - it takes them three months just to leave England! In the story, Marlow remains optimistic that everything will work out, but the present day Marlow knows that youth disappears as quickly as a ship can burn.

I really enjoyed this short story, and this reminded of how much I like Conrad. I may have to move Lord Jim up in my reading pile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Martian Chronicles

Yeah! I've now read two books by Ray Bradbury that I actually like! After enjoying Something Wicked This Way Comes, I decided to check out The Martian Chronicles.

The Martian Chronicles is a series of interconnected short stories about life on Mars, mostly in the 2030s. I thought it was interesting that Bradbury wrote these in the 40s, a time before space travel, setting them nearly 100 years in the future. Now, it's 2012, Bradbury is still alive, has seen us travel to space, and I was born in the same decade as several characters, yet we've just suspended our space program, making attempted settlement of Mars by the 2030s unlikely. :) Thinking about all of that was just a big of a mind trip for me.

Speaking of mind trips, since we get the Martian perspective in some stories, you tend to view the Americans attempted to explore Mars as a bit unwelcome. I wonder how much of that was a criticism of WWII. Oddly enough, I had just heard a story about an old Twilight Zone episode where a woman is being attacked by tiny men with tiny guns, and she has to start throwing them in the fire and smashing them like bugs, and you cheer for her when she defeats them. Then the camera goes up to the rooftop to show the tiny spaceship the tiny men arrived on - they were U.S. military arriving on Mars. Dun dun dun. Some of these stories felt a bit like that - they forced you to think about someone else's perspective.

The most moving stories to me where the ones about being able to "see" your dead relatives again, seemingly alive and well. I thought about my grandfather, and I understood the characters' desire to believe that at any cost, even if they rationally knew that their dead loved one couldn't be there in front of them. I ached along with the characters as they realized their mistake in believing and had to go through the pain of loss again.

These are really my favorite type of short stories - those that interconnect to tell pieces of a whole story. I liked that you get all the meat without a bunch of filler, the freedom to jump perspectives and times in a page or two. I also liked that these weren't too heavy on the science fiction, even though they take place on Mars. The focus is much more on the characters and making you think, not on the science behind everything. I can't wait to read more Bradbury in the future and am glad that I can now say I like him as an author even if Fahrenheit 451 seems to be forever ruined for me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lone Wolf

Ack! I'm so behind in my posting! I've been reading up a storm, but have been working so much the last few weeks I haven't wanted to write or get a computer for non-work related things, so I'm behind on posting and commenting and hope to remedy that this week. I'd like to get a bit caught up before the readathon this weekend! I've already started making a pile of books for that day. I'm going to do something a little different this year. I'm going to stick to books that I own, and mainly books that have been on my shelves for a while and that I know might be hard for me to pick up at some point, but for some reason haven't been able to just let them go. Hopefully I'll end the day with some books to add to my stash that I'm going to take to Half-Price Books soon!

And on to the book! I know Jodi Picoult can be a little formulaic - multiple narrators, current hot topic, twist to the story, boom, done. Although her last few books haven't been as good as some of her others, I still like her and credit her for helping me get out of a reading slump when I was drowning in classics while working on my MA. (I LOVE the classics, but that was all I had read for a long time, in an academic setting, and needed a break!) So, I picked up Lone Wolf from the library and hoped it would have a bit more of a spark than the last few of her novels. And it did!

I think it helped that this wasn't quite as much of a ripped from the headlines type of story. It's centered around a man who is obsessed with studying wolves and actually leaves his family for two years to live with them in the wild. Yes, someone actually did this, but I don't feel like it got as much coverage as some of her other topics, so it didn't feel quite so overdone.

The strength of the book was showing the relationship between the father and daughter. Picoult seems to write these types of relationships really well. The parents in the story are divorced, and the the daughter chose to live with her father and her brother left for the other side of the world, while the mom creates a new family with her second husband. When the girl and her father are in a car accident that puts him a coma, the rest of the family is left trying to determine what to do and how to be a family again. This is where Picoult excels - showing family dynamics and creating believable characters. I quickly grew to care about them and became invested in the outcome, and could see elements from both sides arguments. 

Another thing I enjoyed was the father's occupation. I love animals, and I've always been interested in people who learn to live with them (even if I think they're a little crazy in this case). I liked learning more about wolves and how they interact with each other, and how they interact when a human tries to become one of them. Picoult always does extensive research and it shows.

However, I was a little annoyed that she still felt compelled to through in a "shocking" twist that could be seen a mile away. That detracted from the story a bit, because I had to keep reminding myself that the characters didn't know that yet, and that's why they were being a bit stupid in places. Also, yet again a close family member is part of the legal team in the story, which might have been allowed in this case, but still just seemed annoying - why do the characters always have personal relationships with the lawyers?

Overall, I did enjoy reading this story. It was engaging and did keep me interested to the end. It's a nice, quick read and I'm hoping it's a a sign that Picoult will have an upswing on her next couple of books.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Marriage Plot

I know a lot of book bloggers read this one months ago and it's been talked to death, but now that I'm through with my library ban I finally got to read this. I LOVED it. I thought I would like it, but didn't expect to connect with it as much as I did. If it's true that Middlesex is even better, I can't wait to read that one!

Eugenides is a master of language. It's beautifully written, with phrases and sentences to be lingered over, read slowly. I read this so much more slowly than I normally read a book I'm enjoying. I usually start racing through when I like a book, but this one made me keep pausing, rereading a section, thinking, pondering. He is a perfect example of "show, don't tell" as it was perfectly clear this was set in the 80s and that Madeleine is studying literature well before he says so.

I loved the characters, despite, or really, because of, their faults. They seemed so real to me. They are flawed and endearing and alive. I felt more like I was reading a very well written biography instead of a novel. I don't always have to identify with characters to like them or get into a story, but I just connected so much with both Madeleine and Mitchell. Their thoughts just made sense to me, even when they were doing something stupid.

A Marriage Plot felt like a love letter to the Regency/Victorian era novel. Of course, part of that is from Madeleine's position as a literature student who loves that era, but it comes from the novel's structure, it's pacing, it's tone, it's themes. I think it's as close as we can get to one of those novels that's set in the present day. And although most of the time period's novels center around "the marriage plot," not all of them are happy novels either, or have happy tales of first love. Think of Dickens and Eliot - I couldn't help but think of David Copperfield and Dorothea Brooke. Getting what you want isn't always what's best for you.

And, oh! The literary references! I felt like a horrid snob, but couldn't help loving the numerous allusions to literary works and discussion of literary critics. Like Madeleine, I have trouble with a lot of modern literary criticism. In my MA program in English lit, it was made clear you had to buy into these new criticisms or you clearly aren't intelligent. In most of my papers I felt like I had to fake it, to pretend I was a Deconstructionist or New Historicist and analyze texts that way (and I love that Eugenides points that out - these new critics always say "texts" instead of "books") or I wouldn't have been able to successfully complete the program. That was one of the many reasons I decided to stick with the business world instead of pursuing a Ph.D in English. While having that experience did help my sharpen my skills at arguing a point I don't believe in, I would have preferred not to have been made to select from only a few "legit" literary criticisms in most of my classes.

I rarely write down quotes from books, but made note of several passages this time, mostly about the literary criticism issue. "Madeleine had a feeling that most semiotic theorists had been unpopular as children, often bullied or overlooked, and so had directed their lingering rage onto literature. They wanted to demote the author. They wanted a book, that hard-won, transcendent thing, to be a text, contingent, indeterminate, and open for suggestions. They wanted the reader to be the main thing. Because they were readers." They went from being unpopular children to pompous adults.

"How wonderful it was when one sentence followed logically from the sentence before! What exquisite guilt she felt, wickedly enjoying narrative!" I love some modern works that don't have linear plots - or plots at all - but I feel like the attitude toward traditional narrative is just so stuck up sometimes by those in academia and I loved Madeleine for feeling this way.

"Under the pretense of becoming a critic of patriarchy, Claire uncritically accepted every fashionable theory that came her way." Oh, how I hate this. Nothing drives me crazier than people who just parrot everything a professor would say, or a politician, or whoever, without critically thinking about it for themselves. We all have brains, I just wish more people would use them.

"But the idea of studying theology - of studying anything, as opposed to working nine-to-five appealed to him." Oh Mitchell, I get it. I love my job, but if someone wanted to pay me to read and learn new things all day I would be in heaven.

"The worst thing about religion was religious people." Amen. See note above on people who uncritically accept things.

"If Mitchell was every going to be a good Christian, he would have to stop disliking people so intensely." Guilty.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bloomsday Readalong

I'm clearly insane. I've decided to sign up for Delaisse's Bloomsday readalong. On June 16, I'll be joining her and other brave readers as we attempt to read Ulysses on date the book takes place. I'm hoping we can make it back to England and on to Wales, Ireland and Scotland in two years, for our 10th anniversary. Our anniversary is June 19, so I thought we might be able to schedule it so we're in Dublin on June 16 and then maybe the Lake District on our actual anniversary. So, I of course have to actually read Ulysses by that time, and this seems like a good time to do it. If I don't manage to finish it that day, my plan is to just keep reading and finish it up that week. Want to join in? Have you read it? Any tips for making sense of it?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

First Quarter Reading Update

Since I like reading other people's monthly update posts, I thought I'd do a quarterly update to see where I'm at on my challenges and talk about my plans for the next quarter.

Books read: 39 plus two long poems and five plays
Pages read: 12,569

TBR Double Dare: Complete! I managed to abstain from library books, so all of the book totals above (and below, for that matter) are books I own! Woohoo!
Shakespeare Reading Month: Also complete, since this happened in January. I read Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and Contested Will
Clarissa Readalong: I'm up-to-date in my reading, although I'm also frustrated.
Magical March: Done! I read 8 books.
A Classics Challenge: 3/12 books I completed books and posts for January (EM Forster), February (The Old Curiousity Shop) and March (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)
Greek Classics Challenge: 5/12 books: Rhesus, The Cyclops and Heracleidae, The Suppliants and Helen by Euripides
Chunkster: 0/8 - I've read several that would count, but I'm trying not to double dip and was trying to get a few specific chunky novels of my TBR shelves, so I'm not giving myself any points here yet.
Truth in Fiction: 0/7 pairs - Again, I read one of these books but didn't end up reading the pair and posting about them at the same time. Oops.
Back to the Classics: 0/9 books - I read the books I was going to count for my 20th century classic, but forgot to mention the challenge in the post so I'm going to try to read another one instead. I may end up counting it later! :)

Upcoming Projects
I joined the Classics Club so I'll try to read a few books for that, and I'll participate in Allie's Victorian project in June and July. In April, I plan on hitting the library quite a bit since I've been deprived! But, I think I'm going to participate in Dewey's Read-a-Thon and focus on my own books for that to whip through some of the books that have been lingering on my shelves the longest.

Happy reading everyone!