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.

Friday, August 17, 2012

On Writing

I’m not quite sure why I waited until I actually finished writing a novel to read Stephen King’s On Writing, but I did. And like everyone else on the planet, I highly recommend it, whether you like to write or if you like memoirs of writers. Part memoir, part writing guide, the book shows why King excels at his craft.
I only recent became a King fan. I read Carrie a million years ago, but just thought of him as a horror writer, despite liking movies like The Green Mile, and shied away. The reviews of 11/22/63 convinced me to give him another try and I quickly awed at his skill as a writer and story teller. In On Writing, King shares brief glimpses at his childhood and early years, the events that formed him into a writer. He then shares his advice to writers. Equally entertaining and helpful, I made quite a few notes to help me improve my writing.
·         Focus on character development and story. Let the characters carry you along. Don’t plot everything out. I think this was my problem with previous attempts at novel writing. I felt like I had to plot everything out and had notebooks full of outlines and character background and notes and I was bored by the time I tried to actually write.
·         Write at least 1,000 words every day. King writes 2,000, but he suggests starting at 1,000. As I have a full-time job and other responsibilities, that seems like a good goal. I plan to write 1,000 words each day in fiction – blog posts and work-related working don’t count!
·         Stop using passive voice! Yes, I already knew that one. We all do, we just don’t do it. During my next edit of my draft I will rewrite in the active voice as much as possible!
·         2nd draft = 1st draft -10%. I delete a lot as go but I think it would be good to keep in mind.
I also learned that I really want King’s life. I like my life and don’t dream of fame and fortune, of being a rock star or actress. But living like King? Yeah, that I want. Here’s his typical day: write 2,000 words, eat lunch, nap, walk, handle correspondence, read 4-6 hours, spend time with family. Did you catch the “read 4-6 hours” part? Yes please!
Do you have a favorite King novel? Any recommendations?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paper Towns

You’ll be seeing a lot more young adult books reviewed here, at least over the next few months. I have finally finished writing a draft of my young adult novel!!! Woot woot! I’ve already done quite a bit of editing and rewriting, but it’s to the point that I think I just need to set it aside for a few weeks and do one (hopefully) final edit before starting the submission process. That means it’s time to start researching literary agents and writing query letters. So far, I’ve read a few books that seemed like they would be similar to mine and therefore their agents might be a good match. It has also meant stalking Jodi Reamer (online only, not in a crazy fly to NYC and camp outside her office building kind of way). I have a .0000000000000000000000000000000000001 chance of getting her attention and having her even request to read the whole manuscript so I’m reading debut novels from a lot of her client list to get a feel for what made the cut. This had led to an interesting array of books on my library reserve list, which looks even more eccentric than usual and the librarians probably think there are eight different people using my account.

Now, on to my review! First up is John Green’s Paper Towns, aka the reason I’m stalking Ms. Reamer. I’m late to the John Green bandwagon, mostly because I got the feeling from reading some reviews that my style would be similar to his and I didn’t want that influencing my first draft (which I’ve been working on forever because I work full time at a job that requires a lot of writing and sometimes sitting at the computer is the last thing I’ve wanted to do the rest of the time. Fortunately that seems to have passed and now I can’t stop writing.). We do have a similar writing style, although I do not claim to be as awesome as he is. I LOVED this book!

Paper Towns has it all – interesting characters, a fast-paced plot, and great writing. I developed a bit of a crush on Q, wanted to strangle Margo and wished I could hang out with the gang (especially Radar!) on their road trip. I spent quite a lot of time after reading this daydreaming about road trips, actually, although since they had some rather unpleasant experiences along the way I’m not entirely sure why it made me do that. I suppose that’s a testament to Green’s writing as he still made the whole thing just so darn fun.

The novel also made me think about what it means to be real. We spend so much time hiding who we are and trying to present a certain image to others that’s not necessarily who we really are. And even when we don’t consciously try to do this, people still see us a certain way that’s not going to be the whole picture. It’s a good reminder not to judge others on superficial traits.

I think people who don’t normally read YA novels would still really enjoy this book, so I encourage you to give it a try. I’ve already got The Fault in Our Stars reserved and can’t wait to read his whole backlist.

Since I’m on a YA kick, what are your favorite contemporary YA novels?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy, like George Eliot, is another one of those authors where I wonder why I've only read one of their works. I loved Tess of the D'Ubervilles, but read it nearly 10 years ago! I actually read it in the same college class in which I read Middlemarch. I liked both, yet haven't read either author again until this summer. Shame on me.

I finally read my second Hardy novel, Far from the Madding Crowd. I looooooove that title. I've never exactly been a people person and as an introvert, I desperately need quiet alone time. The idea of being "far from the madding crowd" sounds quite pleasant to me. I'm pretty sure Hardy was an introvert and not overly fond of people either as he always makes horrible things happen to his characters.

The most interesting thing about Hardy to me though is that he creates such vivid female characters who aren't villains. They don't always do the right thing, they get in trouble, and they seem real. Bathsheba runs a far in this novel, and isn't afraid to take charge. She was quickly becoming one of my favorite characters until...spoilers!!!! Stop reading if you don't want to know what happens. :)

Until she marries Troy. What was she thinking??? How could she give it all away for a late nineteenth century version of a frat boy? Especially when she has wonderful Gabriel - who even has the name of an angel in case you don't get it Bathsheba - ready to marry her and help with the farm and be her partner. (Hardy was not exactly subtle with names here. You know someone named Bathsheba is not going to make good decisions when it comes to men. I suppose one could also make a case for the fall of Troy playing a part in the naming process.)

But Bathsheba isn't the only female to come to ruin in the book. Fanny makes the mistake of loving Troy as well, resulting in the tragic death of her and her child. Really, sometimes Hardy could be mistaken for a bitter, recently dumped lady. However, it seems like Hardy always shows how the character could have made a different decision and saved herself. She was not destined to this wretched life. Both Bathsheba and Fanny have a choice in selecting a mate, unlike women a century earlier, like say Richardson's Clarissa. They aren't powerless at the hands of men like poor Clarissa - they brought their misery down on themselves by making the wrong choice.

How often does this still happen? Women fall for the bad boy and think they can be the one to change him. Maybe they don't look very hard and don't even see that he is a bad boy. Or they get caught up in some fantasy they spin about a guy and don't seem him for who he is. Or they marry who they think they should marry instead of who they actually love. Or they marry someone no one expects solely for that reason. I'm seeing something similar in Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, which I'm currently still reading (it feels like it's been going on for.ev.er. even though I like it. Mostly. I see a lot of similarities between Bathsheba and Isabel.)

End Spoilers!!!

If you haven't read Hardy before, I think this might be a good place to start. It's not as polished as Tess, but it has a faster-paced plot and sets up some common themes that run through both books and that I have a feeling run through many of his works. I own several other Hardy novels and plan to read another one soon. No waiting nine years in between them again! If you've read Hardy, which novel is your favorite? Which should I read next?

Ack! I forgot to mention this is on my Classics Club list! It's also my first official review for the Classics Club! I apologize if this shows up in your readers twice because I went back and added this in after publishing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Off Balance

Since the Olympics have been consuming my evenings lately, I picked up an Olympics-related book to read during the boring sports and commercials since I haven't been able to focus on anything more complicated. Gymnastics is my favorite sport of the Summer Olympics and this year's USA team gold made me think about watching the 96 Olympics, so I picked up Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu. I was expected a story mainly about gymnastics and the Olympics, but apparently Moceanu has had a crazy life.

Moceanu was coached by Bela and Marta Karolyi and it seems like the horror stories about them were even worse. Moceanu says they treated her worse that the others because her parents are Romanian immigrants who would go along with their worst abuses. The girls practiced on run-down equipment and in an unair-conditioned gym through most of the summer while at training camp. They had to bring their own food to camp, but were punished if it wasn't healthy. The Karolyis would eat all kinds of food in front of the girls and yell at them about their weight.

She talks about how Bela played up his concern for Kerry Strug after completing her vault on a broken foot because the cameras were on. Moceanu was forced to compete in a different competition through an injury - they told her to just stop whining. Turns out she had a stress fracture in her leg and had made it worse by continuing to work so hard on it. After the Olympics, the Karolyis left without saying a word to Moceanu and didn't speak to her until she tried to make her comeback and she was forced to.

Of course, with any memoir you have to take everything with a grain of salt. This is Moceanu's side of the story, and we can't know for sure how accurate everything is since it is only from her perspective. However, her story rang true to me and is a fascinating story of mental abuse from her father and the craziness of the Karolyis. On top of that, the most interesting thing about the memoir has nothing to do with gymnastics.

When Moceanu was six, her mother gave birth to a baby who had no legs. They kept the whole thing secret from Moceanu and gave the baby up for adoption. Years later, the sister found Moceanu and reunited with her and their youngest sister. It was horrifying that Moceanu's parents gave up this baby because it was disabled. Ironically, the sister ended up having a much happier, more stable childhood than Moceanu and has been impressively successful in athletic pursuits. She's so amazing at acrobatics that she's toured with Britney Spears! How crazy is that? Her story was really inspiring. How can I make excuses to not even exercise when she's off playing volleyball, basketball and softball and winning a state championship in tumbling and doing acrobatics with no legs?!?! She also went to a high school with four stories - and no elevators. Most people would have just given up, but she climbed those stairs and did anything she put her mind to. Check out this brief video featuring some of her tumbling work! This was definitely an interesting read, for both the story of these two sisters and for the inside look at gymnastics.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Most Difficult Books

Last week, Publishers Weekly published a list of the 10 most difficult books. They defined difficulty in different ways. It could mean the syntax is difficult or it’s filled with obscure references or it’s a slog to get through or the psychological ideas in the work are hard to understand. I thought this list was interesting, although I think it would have been better if they had limited it to novels. They included a philosophical work, which seems odd since I would think there are many philosophical works that would be harder than the other books on the list.
When I read the list, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of several. I was also surprised at some of the ones I’ve read! I’ve read To the Lighthouse, A Tale of a Tub and most of Clarissa (and should finish soon!). To me, it makes sense that Clarissa’s on the list. It’s just so stinking looooong and repetitive that just getting through the whole thing is an accomplishment. The article did make a few good points in it though. Clarissa is really the first novel where we get a psychological look inside characters minds. No, I don’t think Richardson handled it very well, but he was really the first novelist doing that and it made a big change in the development of the novel.
As for To the Lighthouse, I didn’t really find it that difficult, although if it was your first encounter with Woolf or works in a similar style, then I can see this making the list. I think Woolf masters the art of writing in a stream-of-consciousness style and a very artistic way without making it so convoluted her readers can’t follow along. This is what makes Joyce so much more difficult in my opinion. I think he’s similar to Woolf in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but then with Ulysses and I’m assuming with Finnegan’s Wake, he just goes too far. I would have put both Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake on the list, but I suppose they wanted to limit it to one work per author.
The last book I’ve read on the list is A Tale of the Tub, and it shocked me that this one was on the list! I love Swift, and I read this in college so I had background information and notes and it just didn’t seem difficult. I then reread it when I was working on my MA in English and did a lot of research to go along with it, so I can see what they mean about it being difficult because of all the inside jokes and references that don’t mean anything to most modern readers, but there’s so much there even if you miss a lot of that, so I don’t know that I’d really consider it that difficult.
So what wasn’t on the list? I was surprised that Gravity’s Rainbow wasn’t included. I’ve never read it, but it comes up fairly often as the hardest book people have read. Personally, I would include Atlas Shrugged. There was so much philosophy in that book and so much meaning crammed into every sentence. It’s a long book, so if every sentence is full of meaning, that’s a lot of depth! I really loved the book in the end, but I had to work harder at reading that book than other book I’ve read except Ulysses.
So, what’s the hardest book you’ve ever read? Have you read any of the books on PW’s list? Any I should give a try?

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Mill on the Floss

I read George Eliot's Middlemarch in college and while I liked it, I've never picked up another one of her books. I think my problem is that while I liked Middlemarch, I read it during one of my busiest semesters in college. I was taking a class on the English novel and we read a novel just about every week - 18th and 19th century bulky ones. I was also in a Shakespeare class where we read a play a week, plus we were expected to watch 10 plays and only a handful of those could be the same as the ones we were reading. And I had three other classes that I'm sure had a lot of reading because all of my classes had a lot of reading! So, I sort of associate Middlemarch with being tired. :) I'd like reread it soon because I think I would love it now instead of just like it, if I wasn't having to rush through it.

Anyway, I haven't picked up another Eliot since then, but finally decided to read The Mill on the Floss after Allie raved about it. And I'm so glad I finally did! I loved this book! Eliot creates such modern female characters and shows such feminist beliefs that I'm amazed her books were published during her lifetime. Maggie is such a relatable character and I felt so bad for her and wished she had more options.

Eliot's writing is wonderful, her plot is interesting and moves along at a good pace, her characters seem real and I don't know why I waited so long to read more Eliot! The ending will stick with you for a long time and is one of the most powerful endings I've ever read. I'll leave it at that so I don't spoil anything!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Classics Club - Fave Classic

Since the Classics Club site has officially launched, I thought this would be a good time to see where I’m at and join in on the first meme. Surprisingly, during my blogging absence I read four books off my Classics Club list without even realizing it! Go me! I’m quite sad that I put The Golden Bowl by Henry James on the list instead of The Portrait of a Lady since Portrait is the one I’m reading now and it’s not making me jump for joy (it’s not bad either, it’s just not awesome thus far). When I made my list, I included quite a few things that would be more of a stretch for me instead of just making a list of 50 unread classics that I own, since those are ones I’ll read anyway.

Expect reviews of these four classics soon:
  • Ulysses
  • Animal Farm
  • Cloud Atlas (I know this one isn’t exactly a classic yet, but I still put it on my list.)
  • Far from the Madding Crowd
As for the meme, we’re supposed to write about our favorite classic work. But how can I pick just one? Out of my top ten favorite books, nine are classics and I have no idea how to order them. I’ll list all ten here for you, in case you’re curious. I’m thinking about rereading all of these next year, since I haven’t been doing much rereading lately. How fun would that be – reading all your favorite books in one year!

In no particular order:
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  •  A Little Princess
  •  I Capture the Castle 
  •  Pride and Prejudice (I’m limiting myself to one work per author)
  •  The Harry Potter series (if I only get to pick one, I’d pick the Prisoner of Azkaban) 
  •  Bleak House 
  •  Their Eyes Were Watching God
  •  Wuthering Heights
  •  Jane Eyre
  •  Atlas Shrugged
How do I pick just one of those as my favorite favorite??? I suppose I might say A Little Princess, just because it was the first of these I read and it was really the book that taught me to love classics and England. Without Sara Crewe, would I have developed a life-long passion for both of those? Who knows. I must have read this 100 times. I loved pretended to be Sara, which is sort of morbid. I’d sit in my closet and read, pretending it was the attic. I sometimes tried to read in our actual attic, but it was too dusty and usually too hot. I was much better at pretending to suffer than actually suffering. J

It’s interesting to list all of these out. I notice some common themes. They all feature strong females, even the Dickens’ title, which is a bit unusual for him. All but two focus on younger women, so it makes sense I’d identify with them. All except P&P have some sort of sadness/darkness to them and focus on people finding hope even through struggles. There’s a lot of poor characters struggling to make ends meet. But there’s a lot of hope too, even though several of these don’t have the typical happy ending. And quite a few feature characters who like to read. Can’t imagine why I like that! Maybe I’ll come up with two more titles and re-read one per month next year. Maybe a Shakespeare's Henry V and Vanity Fair.

Well, I'm off to watch more Olympics! I've managed to avoid spoilers so far and hope USA won gold in women's gymnastics today!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Quick Hits

Since I haven't been blogging regularly, I have a lot of books I want to recommend but don't want to go back and review all of them. So, I decided to do a quick hits list of some of the ones I've really enjoyed. I'm going to do detailed reviews of the classics I've been reading...at some point! I've read several great ones lately, although I'm currently slogging through Portrait of a Lady. I like it, but can't take much of it at a time. Anyway, off to the hits!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Yep, I'm joining the chorus on this one. It's a great thriller, it makes you think, it's well written, it's got an unreliable narrator and is all around awesome.

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs: If you like his books or like stunt memoirs, you'll like this one too. It's not as good as some of his others, but I still had a good time reading it and thinking about how we buy into any health trend to avoid doing the hard work of actually eating healthier and exercising.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: This was better than Wolf Hall, in my opinion. It's got all the good stuff of Wolf Hall, but with tighter writing. Mantel's aversion to attributing dialogue still drove me crazy, but nearly as much.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan: This is a nice suspenseful read about a horrifying experience being stuck on a lifeboat waiting for days for rescue. Do you sacrifice others so you live? How long do you hold out hope? Are you fully responsible for your actions in such a situation, when you're delirious with hunger/thirst? I do recommend this one, but there were a few issues I had with some of the plot.

11/22/63 by Stephen King: LOVED this. The only King I'd read before this was Carrie, which I read back in junior high. King's writing blew me away with it's clarity and precision. He's a masterful storyteller who doesn't have to resort to overblown copy like a lot of literary writers (even though I often like those works). I will definitely check out the rest of his non-horror works.

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzger: I didn't really care for this. It's getting great reviews everywhere else, so clearly it appeals to a lot of people, but I was just bored with it. The main character really annoyed me, which would be okay except the main point of the novel was to be yourself and embrace who you are, but when the main character is not likable that just seems sad.

A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan: For some reason, I didn't think I'd like this one, which is why I'm just now getting to it. But, it surprised me. I really liked it. I loved the interconnected stories, the writing, the experimentation that worked for the story instead of just trying to be different, the idea of time being a good and how it's out to get us all but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep going. Worth the hype. Plus, she mentions Garbage's Supervixen. Awesome.

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin: I've liked all of her books and this one is no different. This time she writes about adoption, family and lies. I really liked Conrad and it was fun reading two music-themed books back to back.