Saturday, September 29, 2012


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

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

Here's a run down of the remaining episodes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 28, 2012

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

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

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

Update from last week:

  • Books I'm currently reading:

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

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

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

  • Books abandoned:

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

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    The Classics Club - Sept. 2012 Meme

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

    Monday, September 24, 2012

    Every Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    Weekly Update - 9-21-12

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

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

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

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

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

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Dare Me

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

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

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

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    Classics Club Check In #1

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

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

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

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sunday, September 16, 2012

    Why Have Kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Clarissa - The End

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

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

    Thursday, September 6, 2012

    Howards End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sunday, September 2, 2012

    Happy Labor Day Weekend!

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

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

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

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