Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Music Mix Friday...Twas the Night Before Christmas "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand"

This is my favorite of the classic Christmas Specials. My sister the Medieval scholar and her boyfriend Albert Einstein joined me last night to watch our old tape of all the Christmas specials (Micky's Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, etc.). To be honest, I am as equally excited to watch that tape for the old commercials as I am for the shows themselves. They had some excellent McDonald's and 7-Up commercials that year...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just a little bit more...

I know, I know. I've already said I'm going to end up driving myself bananas by the end of next year with all the challenges I'm not going to finish. But I just can't help myself. So here are two more...

First up will be the annual TBR Challenge. This is always one I like. There are basically no requirements for the books (other than being on your TBR list for at least a year), so I just use it as a way to plug through the next 12 books on my oh-so-many TBR lists. This year my books will be...

1. The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde (completed 3/23/2011)
2. An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro (completed 2/26/2011)
3. Slow Man - JM Coetzee (quit 4/30/2011)
4. Bombay Time - Thrity Umrigar (completed 8/14/2011)
5. Against Nature - Jori-Karl Huysmans
6. I Will Repay - Baroness Emmuska Orczy (completed 8/9/2011)
7. The Blue Star - Tony Early
8. Money - Martin Amis
9. The Sea - John Banville
10. Mystic River - Dennis Lehane
11. Agape Agape - William Gaddis
12. The Glass of Time - Michael Cox

And the second challenge, similar to TBR, is the Reading From My Shelves Challenge. This involves reading books that are languishing on your shelves. You're supposed to then give the books away, but I only ever give away books I don't like. I've always been a re-reader of books I like. This is a good challenge for me, too. I get books for Chirstmas or my birthday and I always push back reading them in favor of the books that are part of the challenges that I've joined. And even when the books on my shelf are part of the challenges, I often push them back in favor of library books because there's a time limit on those and ones I own can be read anytime. So, despite how much I want the books I own, it's often a year or two after I get them that I actually get around to reading them. Which is weird, I guess. Anyway, I currently have ten books on my shelf that are unread, so those are the ten that will be in the challenge. Sadly it's not twelve books. I like challenges that can be easily divided into months. But Christmas is coming, so maybe I'll be able to add a few more books to the shelf that need to be read. Anyway, my books are...

1. Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler
2. Against Nature - Jori-Karl Huysmans
3. Mirror Mirror - Gregory Maguire
4. La Mort d'Arthur - Thomas Malory
5. Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
6. The Revolt of the Eaglets - Jean Plaidy
7. The Heart of the Lion - Jean Plaidy
8. The Maiden of the White Hands - Rosalind Miles
9. When Christ and His Saints Slept - Sharon Kay Penman
10. Dragonwyck - Anya Seton

ETA...I was right about Christmas. I'll add two more books to the challenge to have a nice round 12 books in 12 months...

11. The White Queen - Philippa Gregory
12. Enduring Love - Ian McEwan

I'll try to say this is the last of my 2011 challenges, but that's probably a lie...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas is coming...

Today is my day on the Virtual Advent Tour. Last year I decided to tell everyone about my family's tradition of going to see the Christmas Revels every December. Of course we're going again this year, and for anyone who's curious, this year's theme (at least for the Puget Sound Revels) is Victorian England which should be a lot of fun. However, the Revels is not what I wanted to share with you this year.

This year, I wanted to talk about The Nutcracker. I am big fan of ballet, having taken lessons from age 5 to 18. I stopped after I graduated high school, and while I don't do it anymore I still love watching. During my years of dancing, I performed in the Nutcracker 5 times, once when I was little and during all four years of high school. I've performed as a gumdrop, a flower, a snowflake (three times), a Russian, a Chinese, a Spanish, and even the Rat King. Of the four scenes in the show, the only one I never danced in was the party scene. The dance everyone seems to know and like the best is the Russian Dance, so here's a video (definitely not of me).
 One thing I've always loved about ballet is the tradition of it. By that, I mean, while you can go and see new pieces being performed all the time by professional companies, there are some things that are always the same. If you go see Swan Lake or Giselle, there are certain famous pieces where they choreography has remained practically unchanged from the original choreography. The Nutcracker is the same, there are certain traditions I really like. I like that Mother Ginger (or Marshmallow) is most of the time played by a man and she runs around stage trying to keep her little babies hidden under her skirts. I especially like the four "country dances" and seeing those countries represented in costume. Sadly...I live in Seattle. And while we have a wonderful ballet company with a world famous Nutcracker, partly due to the fact that the sets including a huge animatronic Rat King were designed by Maurice Sendak (of Where the Wild Things Are), it's not The Nutcracker I know and love. The music is out of order, the country dances are interpreted very weirdly, and they don't even have a Sugar Plum Fairy. But that is okay because other people love it and it's adding to their Christmases just like it added to mine.

 Last thing I want to mention. The Nutcracker will always make me think of Christmas. I love hearing the music, I love the story (even though my sister, the librarian, likes to tell me how wrong the ballet is when compared to the actual story by ETA Hoffmann), but it has a specail place in my heart for another reason. December 5, 1999 was closing night of my first year dancing the Nutcracker with the studio I danced with during 
high school. I was a freshman in high school and wasn't part of the company yet (those were the advanced dancers), but would be within the next year. I sort of knew this one girl (Betty) who was part of the company. We went to rival schools, and from the little we knew of each other we didn't like each other much. We had dressing areas that were next to each other backstage, so this last night of the Nutcracker we finally ended up talking to each other. Now here it is, December 5, 2010, and though she lives in Hollywood now and I'm in still in Seattle, I just got a text message from my best friend wishing me a happy 11 year anniversary. Here we are in the picture...apparently we're saving the environment.

Super freak...

I recognize that I'm probably setting myself up for an End of 2011 Freak-out, and I just don't care. I'm signing up for more challenges anyway.

Today's post is brought to you by way of South Asia! S. Krishna's Books is once again hosting the South Asian Challenge and I'm signing up this year. As I said, I realize I'm slowly making myself go bananas, so I'm choosing to take it slow and only be a South Asian Wanderer, which means reading three books. S. Krishna has a provided a list of countries that qualify as South Asian countries, but instead of choosing three different countries to visit I am just planning on focusing on India. My books will be...

1. One Amazing Thing - Chitra Banejee Devakaruni
2. Bombay Time - Thrity Umrigar
3. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People - Farahad Zama

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

By the end of December...

And now it's December. I definitely got some books completed in November (I really thought I was just going to plow through stuff after how quickly I went through the first two books of the month), but not as much as I needed to. I've had to make peace with the challenges I'm probably not going to finish. I know I'll get through the Wilkie Collins and French Revolution Mini Challenges (it would be embarrassing not to), and I might could eke out the Year of the Historical Challenge, but TBR and the Books to Read Before I Die are done for. Maybe next year...

But there's still a month left, and there are still books to go...

To be Read by the End of December
No Name - Wilkie Collins
The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent
Scaramouche - Rafael Sabatini
Dragonwyck - Anya Seton
When Christ and His Saints Slept - Sharon Kay Penman

And soon it will be 2011...

To be read...

Barney's Version - Mordecai Richler
Dance, Dance, Dance - Haruki Murakami
The Passionate Brood - Margaret Campbell Barnes
Life Sentences - Laura Lippman
All the Fishes Come Home to Roost - Rachel Manija Brown
Wishin and Hopin - Wally Lamb
The Hundred Foot Jouney - Richard C Morais
The Wedding Shroud - Elizabeth Storrs
The Greenlanders - Jane Smiley
Last Night in Montreal - Emily St. John Mandel
The Rinaldi Quartet - Paul Adam (first in a series)
The Emperor's Tomb - Steve Berry (first in a series)

10 new books and 2 new series.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More big plans...

The end of the year is such a happy time because I can kind of ignore the fact that I'm so behind on challenges this year and just look towards all the beautiful challenges I probably won't JUST KNOW I'll finish next year. With that in mind, here are two more challenges...

This is the third time I've participated in the What's in a Name Challenge. I finished it this year, though not last year. I enjoy going through my outlandish TBR list and fitting books into the WiaN categories. For this challenge, read 6 books during 2011. Each title must meet a specific requirement. My books will be...

1. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller (number)
2. The Diamond - Julie Baumgold (jewelry or gemstone)
3. Small Wars - Sadie Jones (size)
4. The Walking People - Mary Beth Keane (travel or movement)
5. On Love and Other Demons - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (evil)
6. Child of the Morning - Pauline Gedge (life stage)

The other challenge I'm joining today is the 2011 Global Challenge. Read books in 2011 that are all set on different continents. There are different levels for this challenge, and I'm choosing the easy level: one book set on each of the six inhabited continents and one set on a "seventh continent" which could be Antarctica but could also be space or the sea or a fantasy realm. My books will be...

1. The In-Between World of Vikram Lall - MG Vassanji (Africa - Kenya)
2. An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro (Asia - Japan)
3. Pobby and Dingan - Ben Rice (Australasia - Australia)
4. Small Wars - Sadie Jones (Europe - Cyprus)
5. The Day the Falls Stood Still - Cathy Marie Buchanan (North America - Canada)
6. Red April - Santiago Roncagliolo (South America - Peru)
7. The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde (7th Continent - though this is kind of set in England, it's weird alternative nursery land England)

It's Tuesday, where are you?

No Name
Combe-Raven House
West Somersetshire, England, 1846

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Candide - Voltaire

candide voltaire
c. 1759
78 pages
completed 11/28/2010

read for: HSTEU302 (modern european history 1648-1815), penguin classics, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

In the land of Westphalia, in the castle of the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth endowed by nature with the gentlest of characters.

Candide, the bastard nephew of a baron on Westphalia, grows up studying under the tutelage of Dr. Pangloss. Pangloss is a firm believer in the theories of Leibniz, a German philosopher who poses a theory of optimism, that the world we live in is the best possible world. After engaging in sexual relations with the baron's daughter, Candide is driven from his home. This leads Candide on a journey across Europe, the Americas, and eventually the Ottoman Empire where a series of misfortunes causes Candide to seriously question the teachings of Pangloss and the theories of Leibniz.

I think this book could easily not be enjoyed without knowing the context in which it was written. I remember trying to read this before, but I didn't really know what it was trying to say since I didn't know what was going on historically in Europe at the time. I didn't even make it halfway though, which is sad considering the books is ONLY 78 PAGES LONG. Since I'm now reading it in my European history class, I was able to go through it pretty quick and appreciate it for what it really was, Voltaire's rebuttal to Leibniz's philosophy of optimism. Voltaire used this satire in order to write a social commentary on the state of the world at the time and the amount of suffering people go through on a daily basis at the hands of others as well as nature itself.

Without knowing the historical context, this book can be both pretty boring and horrific (for a comedy, there's a lot of rape and execution going on). Even knowing and appreciating the historical aspect of the book didn't make it a great read for me. While I enjoy history and was glad that I was able to know exactly what Voltaire was referring to in some of his more veiled metaphors, I don't really do philosophy. I don't really care if Voltaire thinks the amount of suffering within the world proves that there's no way this is the best possible world. But I read it, and I'm glad I did (seeing as I had to write a paper on it).


Monday, November 22, 2010

Preparations for what's next...

One of my favorite things about the end of the year is making plans for the next year. I get to do a lot of that when it comes to my book blog since this is the time that people are putting out all their sign-ups for next years challenges. Last year I ended up quitting all my challenges, but I've done better this year (and by that I mean I actually have finished one). I've had my feelers out and I'm gearing up for next year. Here are my first two challenges for 2011...

I Want More books written by authors you've read once before and just need more of. I have an ongoing list of books that I've read that have made me want to read more by a certain author which is great for this challenge. I'm choosing the second level of participation: give me more, in which I need to read 5-8 books. I like round numbers, so I'm planning on reading 6 books (6 being a round number for how well it corresponds to 12 months of reading time). My books will be...

1. On Love and Other Demons - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
2. The Improper Life of Bezelia Grove - Susan Gregg Gilmore
3. The Know-it-All - AJ Jacobs
4. The Scent of Rain and Lightning - Nancy Pickard
5. Theft: a Love Story - Peter Carey
6. An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro

Challenge number two is Back to the 8 classics. There's a bit of a catch though, as each classic has to fit one certain parameter. But I think that makes things a little more diverse so that's good. My books will be...

1. Lady Chatterly's Lover - DH Lawrence (banned book)
2. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (wartime: Waterloo and the June Rebellion - seeing as I've known all the words to the musical since I was seven, it's surprising that I've never even tried to read this...)
3. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (pulitzer prize winner - also surprising I've never read this considering I wrote my final paper for my 12th grade AP English class on it...)
4. Are You There God, it's Me Margaret? - Judy Blume (childrens/YA classic - maybe this is pushing it a little, but when I think of classic YA lit, Judy Blume is what immediately springs to mind even though I somehow managed to never read anything by her...)
5. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitsgerald (20th century classic)
6. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (19th century classic)
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz (21st century classic - this is a little hard to predict, but all I've heard of this has made it seem like it could well be on it's way to classic-dom...)
8. Catch-22: Joseph Heller (reread from a highschool or college English class - I didn't actually finish this so only half of it will be a reread...)

I'm looking forward to 2011!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A state of abandonment...

It's kinda getting old that I keep moaning about the problems I've been having with books the past few months. I'm not sure what the exact problem is, but I keep picking stuff up and very quickly realizing NOPE, there's no way I want to finish this. It's not even that I'm reading bad books. A lot of the ones I've been trying are actually really good books, critically acclaimed good books, they're just not doing it for me. I don't like abandoning books, especially when it's not because the book just blows. But at the same time, I don't want to just keep plodding through books that are just bogging me down. When I do that I end up just quitting books in general. So I'm not going to feel bad any more about abandoning books I don't like. If I'm bored or can't tell you what I think the story is supposed to be about within the first fifty pages (yes, down for my previous goal of 100) I'm done. Yeah last seven weeks of the year!!!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The wrap up...

It's been a long time since I completed a challenge, so YEA FOR ME! I did have to make a change from my initial list since I couldn't get my hands on a copy of one of the books I was planning to read, but other than that there were very few problems. I didn't quit on any of the books, which is something of a problem for me this year. I keep trying to read books that are not for me. That's not a good idea. That makes me hate reading and go into reading/blogging hiatuses. But not this challenge! My books were...

1. Sir Percy Leads the Band - Baroness Emmuska Orczy 4/5
2. The Whisky Rebels - David Liss 4/5
3. The Last Queen - CW Gortner 5/5
4. Like Mayflies in the Stream - Shauna Roberts 3/5
5. Peony in Love - Lisa See 4/5
6. Looking for Alaska - John Green 4/5

Wow. Unusually, not only did I finish everything, I more or less liked everything. Way to go, Challenge!

Looking for Alaska - John Green

looking for alaska
john green
c. 2005
221 pages
completed 11/7/2010

read for: what's in a name challenge

*may contain spoilers*

The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.

Miles has decided to leave home and family in Florida in favor of boarding school in Alabama, searching for, in the words of Francois Rabelais, The Great Perhaps. At Culver Creek school he finds friends and adventure, something other than the books of famous last words that were his only comfort at home. But just like Miles, there's more to his new friends than initially meets the eye and in the aftermath of a huge incident in the middle of the school year, Miles has a hard time understanding exactly who these new friends are.

I don't often read a lot of young adult novels anymore. For one thing, at 25 I'm not exactly their target market. But more than that, I sometimes think they try too hard. Before I continue, I realize I'm making a wide generalization. I'm not really talking about young adult genre novels, but books that are just marketed as YOUNG ADULT FICTION, stuff that is supposed to be literary fiction for a younger audience. And even then I know I shouldn't generalize like this, but I'm going to anyway. I'm off-put by young adult books because they always seem to have to be ABOUT SOMETHING. They're about bullying, or teen dating violence, or anorexia, or drug abuse. They can't just be about life, they have to talk about some kind of hot button issue within the teen world. I'm sure I'm being unfair, but that is the way I see YA being marketed anymore. And not to say that those issues shouldn't be addressed in literature, but sometimes a book that's solely about one of those things can get a little bogged down in the one issue. I feel this same way about adult literature such as "cancer books," "grief books," and "middle aged women un-fullfilled in their marriages books."

With all those pre-conceived notions in my mind, I was a little apprehensive going into this but I ended up really liking it. I think there was definite potential for this to become an "issue book" with messages of the evils of self destruction and drunk driving oozing off every page, but instead those issues were seamlessly incorporated into regular kid life. In fact, with most big issue books (YA or otherwise) it's almost impossible to go into the book with no idea what the issue is. You know going in it's a book about bullies or cancer or domestic abuse, etc. With this book, when the incident happened I was shocked. It's so much better to read something shocking when you don't know going in it's going to happen.

One thing I really appreciated was that the group of friends Miles found himself in the middle of weren't on an extreme of the social scale. Instead, the characters felt very real. They were funny and stupid and talked pretentiously about subjects they didn't fully understand yet, just like regular kids. I think too often teens are depicted (and at this point I'm talking about movies and TV and everything) as either the most popular kids in school or total losers. There are never any average kids anymore. These kids were just average kids and they weren't struggling to improve their social standing. They had found their niche and were happy with the people that surrounded them.

I know I've done a lot of ripping on YA books in this post, and like I said above I'm sure that some of what I've said isn't fair. This book hasn't changed my mind or anything. I'll still probably steer clear from what I see as "issue books," and maybe I'll be missing out on some good things, but that's okay. Other people are able to appreciate them more than I do, so those are the poeple who should be reading them.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Peony in Love - Lisa See

peony in love
lisa see
c. 2007
273 pages
completed 11/6/2010

read for: what's in a name challenge, year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Two days before my sixteenth birthday, I woke up so early that my maid was still asleep on the floor at the foot of my bed.

In seventeenth century China, after the invasion of the Manchus, Peony is about to turn sixteen. During her birthday celebration, when she is privileged with the extremely rare experience of witnessing a performance of the famous opera The Peony Pavilion, Peony accidentally meets a man and instantly falls in love. Knowing she is already betrothed and very soon to be married, Peony tries to cherish her few stolen moments with her stranger, taking to writing a detailed commentary on the text of The Peony Pavilion. So obsessed with her project and her doomed love for her stranger, Peony's life begins to mirror the life of Liniang, the heroine of The Peony Pavilion, and she soon succumbs to "lovesickness" and dies before her wedding. Now a ghost trying to navigate the afterworld, Peony must watch and nudge her betrothed's next two wives to complete her project and help her find peace as an ancestor. Peony in Love is based on the actual events that led to the writing and publishing of The Three Wives' Commentary on the Peony Pavilion, one of the first books of its kind written by women.

I am not entirely sure what happened, but somehow in the past months I've gone into a major anti-reading funk. October was ridiculous in my lack of motivation to read anything. It took me a month and a half to start and discard only two books. So yea for this one for holding my attention the whole way through.

I enjoyed Peony in Love much more than I enjoyed See's earlier novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I felt Snow Flower's story kind of sputtered a lot, like there was a lot of start and stop. With Peony, however, I felt there to be a much more consistent flow, and I was equally intrigued by the story and the wealth of information regarding seventeenth century Chinese history, custom, and beliefs of the afterworld. I remember being annoyed by aspects of Snow Flower's story, but really enjoying the cultural information. In Peony I found both facets to be extremely compelling. Particularly, I was really interested in the ideas of the ghosts and spirits of the afterworld. Some of the beliefs seem so bizarre and arbitrary to me (as I'm sure my own beliefs would seem to someone who had been raised with this knowledge of Chinese ghosts). I especially liked the notion that Chinese ghosts can't make sharp turns. As such, zigzag bridges were apparently built all over China to keep ghosts from being able to enter and haunt the villages.

To be completely honest, the fact that Peony's stranger and Peony's betrothed husband turned out to be the same person annoyed me. Actually, no, that's not true. I probably could have gotten behind that. What annoyed me was how quickly I realized they were the same person, but how it took Peony until she was basically dead to come to the same realization. So really, I was annoyed with Peony because if she'd just opened her eyes a little bit she could have been happy. But I guess that's the point. She is kind of blind and childish in the beginning, but through her journey she becomes enlightened.

Two things I wanted to mention...

First, I found it extremely fascinating the way anorexia in this story was seen as "lovesickness." Whether or not Peony actually fell in love with Wu Ren in that initial meeting, which I'm not one hundred percent sure she could have in so short a time, it did awaken a realization of her complete lack of control in her own life and destiny. This was probably the same with the other lovesick maidens. Like the doctor in the story claimed, their access to The Peony Pavilion was in some ways dangerous as it portrayed a woman who was able to choose her own destiny, something these women who were reading it (and in extremely rare cases, seeing and hearing it) were in no way able to do, and it gave them a desperate and ultimately fatal yearning for a life they couldn't have. Just like many modern people who suffer from anorexia, Peony's mania for her project and her refusal to eat were ways to exert some sort of control on her life. Please keep in mind as a disclaimer, though I can objectively see how The Peony Pavilion could have played a role in the deaths of these lovesick maidens during this time in Chinese history, I in no way agree with the doctor and other men in this story who used this phenomenon as an example of why women should be kept illiterate and uneducated. Let's advocate education for everyone.

Second, I am extremely impressed with Lisa See's ability to include detailed information about certain Chinese customs in such a neutral and unbiased way. While the process and the dangers of foot binding, for example, are in no way sugar coated (especially in Snow Flower where the entire procedure is described in excruciating detail), they are also not simply dismissed and demonized to perhaps appease a Western audience. Instead, perfectly bound feet are portrayed as a mother's greatest display of love for her daughter. While I, as a contemporary American, can read about that process and feel it to be unnecessarily dangerous and torturous, Lisa See leaves that opinion entirely up to me to come to on my own and leaves Peony and her family's opinions of foot binding as historically accurate as possible. I found that extremely well done.

I always like it when something I read makes me interested in reading something else. I've now acquired a copy of The Peony Pavilion and am excited to read it, though I don't think there's any easy way for me to get my hands on a copy of The Three Wives' Commentary. Sometimes, though, I'm more excited to learn about specific historical texts than I am to actually read them. We'll see how this goes.


Monday, November 1, 2010

By the end of November...

Okay, so the wheels have really fallen off the wagon, so to speak. I read next to nothing last month (except school related things). I barely made it through 100 pages of one book. That was it. Not only that, but I didn't go on my blog or anyone else's in that whole time either. Which is why there is no post of all the awesome books added to my TBR pile last month. There weren't any. I'm not sure what the deal is. I could say I was getting back in the swing of school after summer break, but let's be for real...I only have class three days a week. So, like I say every month, let's try this again and maybe this month will be different...

To be Read by the End of November
Peony in Love - Lisa See
Beloved - Toni Morrison
Against Nature - Jori-Karl Huysman
Looking for Alaska - John Green
The Heretic's Daughter - Kathleen Kent
Mudbound - Hillary Jordan
No Name - Wilkie Collins

Check back next month to see if I actually finish something...

Friday, October 1, 2010

By the end of October...

So the reading hasn't been going so well the past few months. I make great plans, but then they all fall apart. I wish I could give a good reason for the lack of reading, like I was off having awesome adventures or running from the law. Unfortunately, my lack of reading probably stems from the fact that I just watched the first five seasons of Bones from the beginning (hence the new TV boyfriend). Maybe this month will be different? Somehow I doubt it...

To be Read by the End of October
Possesion - AS Byatt
No Name - Wilkie Collins
The Well and the Mine - Gin Phillips
Beloved - Toni Morrison
Mudbound - Hillary Jordan
Against Nature - Jori-Karl Huysman
The Heretics Daughter - Kathleen Kent
Looking for Alaska - John Green

Yikes. Things might be starting to unravel...

To be read...

Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal - Christopher Moore
What Was Lost - Catherine O'Flynn
Burnt Shadows - Kamila Shamsie
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives - Lola Shoneyin
I'd Know You Anywhere - Laura Lipmann
Numb - Sean Farrell
The Report - Jessica Francis Kane
The Lacquer Lady - F Tennyson Jesse
The Rising Tide - Molly Keane
The Factory Voice - Jeanette Lynes
Mr. Rosenblum's List - Natasha Solomons
Queenmaker - India Edghill
Fall of Giants - Ken Follett
Notchan - Natsume Soseki
Russian Winter - Daphne Kalotay
Cut to the Quick - Kate Ross
The Gods Will Have Blood - Anatole France
Palace Walk - Naquib Mahfouz
Broken For You - Stephanie Kallos
The Edwardians - Vita Sackville-West
Mrs. Ames - EF Benson
Where the River Narrows - Aimee Laberge
Lady of the Butterflies - Fiona Mountain
What Alive Knew - Paula Marantz
Cohen The Partly Cloudy Patriot - Sarah Vowell
Ballad of the Whisky Robber - Julian Rubinstein
Veil of Lies - Jeri Westerson
A Separate Country - Robert Hicks
The Wind Seller - Rachel Preston
The Sky is Falling - Caroline Adderson
The Crossing Places - Elly Griffiths (1st in a series)
A Tattoo Shop Mystery - Karen E Olson (series)
Night Soldiers - Alan Furst (series)

30 new books and 3 new series.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Beauty - Zadie Smith

on beauty
zadie smith
c. 2005
443 pages
completed 9/9/2010

read for: before i die challenge, 1001 books, EW new classics

*may contain spoilers*

One may as well begin with Jerome's emails to his father.

Howard, a white British art history professor, is trying to make things right with his African American wife Kiki after she catches him in an affair. Their three children, Levi who is still in high school and Jerome and Zora who are attending college, are all trying to make sense of the world around them and their place in it.

I'm finding it really difficult to give a decent synopsis of this book. There was a lot going on. Each of the five family members had their own personal story taking place. And sometimes there were other people's stories thrown into the mix just for good measure. So it could take me a long time to really describe the basic plot. Instead, I will just say, thematically I think this books centers around discovering how you identify yourself and how that identity may clash with family. For example, Levi, the youngest child, identifies very strongly as African American. To Levi, being black is equal to being urban, unintellectual, and "street." Despite being raised in the suburbs in a intellectual household, Levi uses what he describes as street language as a way to connect with his heritage. His older siblings, though African American through their mother, were both born in England and don't have this same pull to be "black" the way Levi does.

Severe differences within the family led to a very difficult family dynamic. They were each on such different ends of all kinds of spectrums: white vs. black, British vs. American, intellectual vs. plebeian, religious vs. secular, artistic vs. realistic, among others. At times it really seemed like these people didn't know each other at all. The relationship between Levi and Howard was especially awkward to witness. They had absolutely nothing to say to each other. This leads me away from describing the book into talking about what I thought of it...

While thematically it was interesting, I hated every single character. This was a family who claimed to love each other and yet I could not get passed the complete disrespect they all displayed toward each other. I couldn't get behind any of the choices any of them made especially Howard. I find it hard to like a book when I don't like any of the people.

I also had trouble with the gaps in the story. By that I mean, an episode of the story would be happening, conflict would arise, and just when it looks like we're getting to the climax of the action, the chapter would end kind of cliffhanger-like and the next chapter would start several weeks or months later already well into the aftermath. I would have liked to have seen how things actually played out. And sometimes the issues or debates just petered out instead of coming to any kind of conclusion. For example, there is a major debate throughout the college Howard teaches at regarding "discretionaries" (underprivileged people not enrolled at the school but who are found by professors to show extraordinary promise in their field and who are then allowed to take class). Howard is for discretionaries, his professional rival is not. A lot of time is spent setting up this issue, but then instead of addressing it and coming to any kind of conclusion, something happens to make Howard's rival's opinion moot and so the whole thing just blows over. Also from the tone of the book, I think I come down on the wrong side of the debate.

I was interested in the themes and the story, but it kind of fell short for me. I wish I could have cared about any of the characters.


It's Tuesday, where are you?

The Known World
Manchester County, Virginia 1841

Friday, September 10, 2010

Music Mix Friday... Bonnie Tyler "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

Been stuck in my head for days...kind of epic..

 Even more epic is the literal video version, but youtube won't let me embed that one. Sad face. :(

Monday, September 6, 2010

Movie Mondays...

Small disclaimer...part of this post may be discussing something slightly less than classy.

Okay, I tried to start talking about the movies I've been watching, but after only two weeks I kinda got out of the groove. Since then I've been watching quite a wide variety of movies, so let's start again! Just a few days ago, my sister the literature scholar, her boyfriend Albert Einstein, and I went and saw Scott Pilgrim. Surprise, surprise (not really) it was really funny. Very quippy with lots of pop culture references (which I love). The way it was stylized was hilarious, all like a big giant video game. Just about anything Jason Schwartzman is in I want to see. I've heard some complaints that it'll end up a cult film since anyone older than 25 won't get the video game jokes and that it's too hipster-ish (I did feel like I needed to be wearing black rimmed glasses and some skinny jeans in order to fully appreciate the movie), but I think that's crap. It's just fun.

Also a really cute movie was Happy-go-Lucky. Mainly a slice of life movie (I like that phrase) about a woman named Poppy who is infectiously happy and who decides to finally get her drivers license when her bike is stolen. I think Poppy can pretty much be summed up by the scene when she discovers her bike has been stolen. Her only concern was that she didn't get to say good-bye. How cute is that? Okay, to be honest, Poppy's overly happy attitude could get a little annoying at times. She didn't seem to take anything seriously (though I think she really did, she just couldn't get that across to anyone else) and she didn't really seem to understand personal space. But in the end I couldn't help but admire her attitude. And watching her try to flamenco dance was pretty funny.

A few weeks ago, both my sisters and my mother and I went and saw Inception and let me tell you, it is pretty epic. And this movie could have gone either way for me. I am not often one to enjoy science fiction/fantasy. But this I could get behind. I have a mental list of things I don't like in movies (a list my sisters enjoy making fun of) which mostly involves science fiction/fantasy elements and this movie managed not to really use any of these things (such as space, aliens, the future, technology, Angelina Jolie, dinosaurs, robots, etc). And this movie provided me with a new imaginary boyfriend in the form of Tom Hardy (who played Eames). Eames was kind of fabulous. He totally thought he was fly, what with the linen suits and the pink shirts and the loafers with no socks and the pinky ring. I may have actually made up the pinky ring. Anyway, this love for my new imaginary boyfriend is shared by my sister the librarian and we have been watching lots of old movies of his in the past few weeks such as...

What did I learn from watching these movies and clips of others (like RocknRolla, Stuart: A Life Backwards, and Scenes of a Sexual Nature)? Dude likes to get nekkid!* I am not even kidding. And that's not something you get too often in American movies. Naked women? No problem. Just not dudes. British movies (or at least the ones this guy gravitates towards) are quite another story. So there I was, trying to watch a really weird prison movie (Bronson), and all of a sudden...JUNK ATTACK. And not just one shot and then we're done. No, dude was stark naked, greased down, and fighting prison guards, something like three different times during the movie. So let's just say, things were moving around a bit. Despite the amount of junk seen, this ended up being a pretty good (albeit extremely darkly funny and really weird) movie. Kind of A Clockwork Orange meets Chicago the musical.

To continue with the theme of the junk attack, and in an effort to completely contradict what I just said about this not happening so much in American movies, I also watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall this past week. I am a little ashamed to admit I watched this, seeing as I have a strong hatred for basically anything associated with Judd Apatow. He seems to think that all men are just man-children who have poor hygiene skills and are only interested in smoking pot and getting laid, and that all women are uptight shrews who just need one of these man-children to show them have to cut loose and let their freak flag fly. Anyway, I watched this solely because I really like the show How I Met Your Mother and Marshall from that show wrote this movie. And okay, it was kind of funny. There were a few too many man-children for me, but at least the character of Rachel wasn't a terror (even if Sarah Marshall kind of was). I attribute this to the fact that Judd Apatow only produced this and didn't write or direct it.

*naked means you have no clothes on...nekkid means you have no clothes on and you up to something.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Music Mix Friday... LeeAnn Womack "I'll Think of a Reason Later"

My ex-boyfriend is getting married tomorrow. I am feeling petulant. Also, I couldn't find a real video for this song. However, I do like Disney, so this works for me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cleopatra's Daughter - Michelle Moran

cleopatra's daughter
michelle moran
c. 2009
411 pages
completed 8/29/2010

read for: year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

While we waited for news to arrive, we played dice.

News quickly did arrive, news of Egyptian defeat and the suicide of Marc Antony. As Octavian and his Roman army invaded Queen Kleopatra's Alexandrian palace, she followed her husband's example and committed suicide herself, leaving her eleven year old twins, Alexander and Selene, at the mercy of Rome. While at first paraded through the streets of Rome in chains to celebrate Octavian's triumph over Antony and Kleopatra, the twins soon find themselves treated as honored royal guests, living with Octavian's sister Octavia, and becoming fast friends with the children of both Octavian and Octavia. Though day to day life seems easy, the twins know their fate is in the hands of Octavian, a man who may decide at any moment that they are a threat to his rule.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. Michelle Moran's Egyptian historical fiction has been really popular in the past few years, but this is the first one I read, so I cannot comment on how it compares. I can say that after reading this one I am looking forward to reading the others. Most of this book is set in Rome, anyway, so I'll be interested to see more Egyptian culture in the others.

It's funny, my sister the librarian and I were just talking last night about a specific problem that we have found in a lot of historical fiction that deals with real people. I also think I mentioned this in a review post earlier this year. Too often, I have found, the only historical figures that people seem to want to write about are tragic historical figures. So while the story is interesting, it's still kind of a downer. I, for one, refuse to believe that their are no people in the world who are both interesting and happy. They don't have to be happy all the time, I can be down with personal struggles and heartache, but every once in a while it would be great for a happy ending. Cleopatra's Daughter ends somewhat happily. There is love. And there is freedom. But there is also death and exile. So this come close to what I'm looking for, I guess, but it's not quite there.

I felt that Moran did a really good job of depicting, not just the events that were specific to the story of Alexander and Selene, but also events that really explained the political struggles that were going on in Rome at the time. Specifically, the two trials Selene witnessed, which were not sugar coated, and Moran's invention of the Red Eagle. Both trials horrified me. Octavian surely had his work cut out for him in keeping the peace in Rome.

There were a few things that irritated me throughout the book. Within the actual text of the novel, Kleopatra (both mother and daughter) is spelled with a K. Yet the title is spelled with a C. I don't know if one is more historically accurate, but I think it should have been consistent. I like consistency. Because there was no consistency between the book and the book title I was forced to be inconsistent in my post. Which makes me sad. There was also a lot of expository writing in the first few chapters. Like, a lot of Marcellus explaining Rome to Alexander and Selene when they first arrived. I can kind of look past that as Alexander and Selene were new to Rome and didn't know anything and at least there was a Q&A session between characters instead of just one big long descriptive paragraph/chapter, but at times it made me think of chapter two of every Babysitter's Club book where each character and the creation of the club is described in detail. I wish there had been a bit more discovering of Roman culture through the story and less through Marcellus' monologue.

A good read. Some parts were horrifying, but it was nicely balanced with universal adolescent concerns (first love, struggles with parents, etc).


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

By the end of September...

The beginning of August looked like it was really going to be a productive month of reading. And then I started Oscar and Lucinda and the month kind of unraveled from there. Will September be any different????

To be Read by the End of September
On Beauty - Zadie Smith
The Known World - Edward P Jones
Possession - AS Byatt
No Name - Wilkie Collins
The Well and the Mine - Gin Phillips
Beloved - Toni Morrison

To be read...

Chatterton Square - EH Young
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell
The King's Mistress - Emma Campion
Before the Fact - Francis Iles
Still Missing - Chevy Stevens
April and Oliver - Tess Callahan
Things Go Flying - Shari Lapena
Amandine - Marlena de Blasi
Never Wave Goodbye - Dave Magee
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise - Julia Stuart
The Good Daughters - Joyce Maynard
The Typist - Michael Knight
Day for Night - Frederick Reikan
Stranger Here Below - Joyce Hinnefield
Fauna - Alissa York
Curtains - Tom Jokinen
Skippy Dies - Paul Murray
Juliet - Anne Fortier
Rich Boy - Sharon Pomerantz
Shinju - Laura Joh Rowland
Henrietta's War - Joyce Dennys
In the Shadow of the Cyprus - Thomas Steinbeck
Fragile - Lisa Unger
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove - Susan Gregg Gilmore
The Rembrant Affair - Daniel Silva
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell
The Raven and the Wolf - Christopher Spellman
The Countess and the King - Susan Holloway Scott
The Circus in Winter - Cathy Day
Poison - Sarah Poole
The Blind Contessa's New Machine - Carey Wallace
Coventry - Helen Humphries
The Devil of Nanking - Mo Hayden
Woman: An Intimate Geography - Natalie Angier
The Irrisistable Henry House - Lisa Grunwald

35 new books.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Projects for procrastination...

I moved to a new apartment a few weeks ago. I am still unpacking. I've done all the big stuff and now it's just down to the little annoying stuff. I keep coming up with new projects to do to keep me from having to finish unpacking. Like today. While I already have on my blog the original 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, the list was updated again recently (like in March) so all those new books need to be added to the list.

1001 Books to Read Before You Die - 2008/2010 Update*

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
2. The Children's Book - AS Byatt
3. Invisible - Paul Auster
4. American Rust - Philipp Meyer
5. Cost - Roxana Robinson
6. The White Tiger - Arayind Adiga
7. Home - Marilynne Robinson
8. Kieron Smith, boy - James Kelman
9. The Gathering - Anne Enright
10. The Blind Side of the Heart - Julia Franck
11. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
12. Animal's People - Indra Sinha
13. Falling Man - Don DeLillo
14. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid
15. Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
16. The Kindly Ones - Jonathan Littell
17. The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai
18. Against the Day - Thomas Pynchon
19. Carry Me Down - MJ Hyland
20. Mother's Milk - Edward St. Aubyn
21. Measuring the World - Daniel Kehlmann
22. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian - Marina Lewycka
23. The Accidental - Ali Smith
24. The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst
25. 2666 - Roberto Bolano
26. Small Island - Andrea Levy
27. The Book About Blanche and Marie - Per Olov Enquist
28. Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
29. The Swarm - Frank Schatzing
30. Your Face Tomorrow - Javier Marias
31. A Tale of Love and Darkness - Amos Oz
32. Lady Number Thirteen - Jose Carlos Somoza
33. The Successor - Ismail Kadare
34. Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre
35. The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri
36. Snow - Orhan Pamuk
37. Soldiers of Salamis - Javer Cercas
38. I'm Not Scared - Niccolo Ammaniti
39. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
40. Bartleby and Co. - Enrique Vila-Matas

41. The Museum of Unconditional Surrender - Dubravka Urgresic
42. In Search of Klingsor - Jorge Volpi
43. Pavel's Letters - Monika Maron
44. Savage Detectives - Roberto Bolano
45. Dirty Havana Trilogy - Pedro Juan Guitierrez
46. The Heretic - Miguel Deliber
47. Crossfire - Miyabe Miyuki
48. Money to Burn - Ricardo Piglia
49. Margot and the Angels - Kristien Hemmerechts
50. Fall on Your Knees - Ann-Marie MacDonald
51. A Light Comedy - Eduardo Mendoza
52. Santa Evita - Tomas Eloy Martinez
53. The Late-Night News - Petros Markaris
54. Troubling Love - Elena Ferrante
55. Our Lady of Assassins - Fernando Vallejo
56. Deep River - Shusaku Endo
57. Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light - Ivan Klima
58. The Twins - Tessa de Loo
59. The Holder of the World - Bharati Mukherjee
60. Remembering Babylon - David Malouf
61. The Adventures and Misadventures of Magroll - Alvaro Mutis
62. Before Night Falls - Reinaldo Arenas
63. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture - Apostolos Doxiadis
64. The Triple Mirror of the Self - Zulfikar Ghose
65. All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy
66. The Dumas Club - Arturo Perez-Reverte
67. Memoirs of Rain - Sunetra Gupta
68. Astradeni - Eugenia Fakinou
69. Faceless Killers - Henning Mankel
70. The Laws - Connie Palmen
71. The Daughter - Pavlos Matesis
72. The Shadow Lines - Amitay Ghosh
73. The Great Indian Novel - Shashi Tharoor
74. Inland - Gerald Murnane
75. Obabakoak - Bernando Atxaga
76. Gimmick! - Joost Zwagerman
77. Paradise of the Blind - Duong Thu Huong
78. The Last World - Christopher Ransmayr
79. The First Garden - Anne Herbert
80. Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto
81. Black Box - Amos Oz
82. All Souls - Javier Marias
83. Of Love and Shadows - Isabel Allende
84. The Ballad for Georg Henig - Viktor Paskov
85. Memory of Fire - Eduardo Galeano
86. The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman - Szczypiorski
87. Ancestral Voices - Etienne van Heerden
88. Annie John - Jamaica Kincaid
89. Simon and the Oakes - Marianne Fredriksson
90. Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
91. Half of Man is Woman - Zhang Xianliang
92. Love Medicine - Louise Erdich
93. The Young Man - Botho Strauss
94. Democracy - Joan Didion
95. Larva: Midsummer Night's Babel - Julien Rios
96. Professor Martin's Departure - Jaan Kross
97. The Witness - Juan Jose Saer
98. Fado Alexandrino - Antoni Lobo Antunes
99. The Christmas Orotorio - Goran Tunstrom
100. Baltasar and Blimunda - Jose Saramago
101. The Book of Disquiet - Fernando Pessoa
102. Couples, Passerby - Botho Strauss
103. The War of the End of the World - Llosa
104. Leaden Wings - Zhang Jie
105. The House with the Blind Glass Windows - Wassmo
106. Smell of Sadness - Kossman
107. Clear Light of Day - Anita Desai
108. Southern Seas - Montalban
109. Fool's Gold - Douka
110. A Dry White Season - Andre Brink
111. So Long a Letter - Mariama Ba
112. The Back Room - Gaite
113. Requiem for a Dream - Selby
114. The Beggar Maid - Alice Munro
115. The Wars - Findley
116. Quartet in Autumn - Barbara Pym
117. The Engineer of Human Souls - Skvorscky
118. Almost Transparent Blue - Rhu Murakami
119. Kiss of the Spiderwoman - Manuel Puig
120. Blaming - Elizabeth Taylor
121. Woman at Point Zero - El Saadawi
122. The Year of the Hare - Paasilinna
123. The Commandment - Jessica Anderson
124. The Port - Solian
125. The Diviners - Margaret Laurence
126. The Dispossessed - Ursula K Le Guin
127. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty
128. The Twilight Years - Ariyoshi
129. Lives of Girls and Women - Alice Munro
130. Cataract - Osadchyi
131. A World for Julius - Echenique
132. Play It as It Lays - Joan Didian
133. Fifth Business - Robertson Davies
134. Here's to You, Jesusa - Poniatowska
135. Season of Migration to the North - Salih
136. Heartbreak Tango - Manuel Puig
137. Moscow Stations - Erofeyey
138. The Case Worker - Konrad
139. Jacob the Liar - Becker
140. The Cathedral - Honchar
141. Day of the Dolphin - Robert Merle
142. The Manor - Isaac Bashevis Singer
143. Z - Vassilikos
144. Miramar - Mahfouz
145. Marks of Identity - Juan Goytisolo
146. To Each His Own - Sciascia
147. Silence - Shusaku Endo
148. Death and the Dervish - Selimovic
149. Garden, Ashes - Kis
150. Closely Watched Trains - Hrabal
151. Back to Oegstgeest - Wolkers
152. Three Trapped Tigers - Infante
153. Dog Years - Gunter Grass
154. The Third Wedding - Taktsis
155. The Time of the Hero - Llosa
156. The Death of Artemio Cruz - Fuentes
157. Time of Silence - Luis Martin Santos
158. Memoirs of a Peasant Boy - Vilos
159. No One Writes to the Colonel - Marquez
160. The Shipyard - Onetti
161. God's Bits of Wood - Sembene
162. Bebo's Girl - Cassola
163. Halftime - Martin Walser
164. The Magician of Lublin - Isaac Bashevis Singer
165. Down Second Avenue - Mphahlele
166. Deep Rivers - Arguedas
167. The Guide - Naravan
168. Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon - Jorge Amada
169. The Birds - Vesaas
170. The Deadbeats - Ruyslinck
171. The Manila Rope - Meri
172. The Glass Bees - Junger
173. The Devil to Pay in the Backlands - Rosa
174. The Tree of Man - Patrick White
175. The Burning Plain - Rulfo
176. The Unknown Soldier - Linna
177. The Sound of Waves - Mishima
178. Death in Rome - Koeppen
179. The Mandarins - de Beauvoir
180. A Day in Spring - Kasmac
181. The Dark Child - Laye
182. The Hothouse - Koeppen
183. The Lost Steps - Alejo Carpentier
184. A Thousand Cranes - Yasunari Kawabata
185. Excellent Women - Barbar Pym
186. The Hive - Camilo Jose Cela
187. Barabbas - Par Lagerkyist
188. The Guiltless - Hermann Broch
189. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen - Tadeusz Borowski
190. In the Heart of the Sea - Shmuel Yosef Agnon
191. Ashes and Diamonds - Jerzy Andrzejewski
192. Journey to the Alcarria - Camilo jose Cela
193. Froth on the Daydream - Boris Vian
194. Midaq Alley - Naguib Mahfouz
195. A House in the Uplands - Erskine Caldwell
196. Zorba the Greek - Nikos Kazantzakis
197. The Death of Virgil - Hermann Broch
198. Andrea - Carmen Laforet
199. The Tin Flute - Gabriella Roy
200. Bosnian Chronicle - Ivo Andric
201. Pippi Longstocking - Astrid Lindgren
202. Joseph and His Brothers - Thomas Mann
203. Chess Story - Stefan Zweig
204. The Harvesters - Cesare Parvese
205. Broad and Alien is the World - Ciro Alegria
206. The Man Who Loved Children - Christina Stead
207. On the Edge of Reason - Miroslav Krleza
208. Alamut - Vladimir Bartol
209. The Blind Owl - Sadeq Hedayat
210. Ferdydurke - Witold Grombowicz
211. Rickshaw Boy - Lao She
212. War with the Newts - Karel Capek
213. Untouchable - Mulk Raj Anand
214. The Bells of Basel - Louis Aragon
215. On the Heights of Despair - Emil Cioran
216. The Street of Crocodiles - Bruno Schulz
217. Man's Fate - Andre Malraux
218. Cheese - Willem Elsschot
219. Viper's Tangle - Francois Mauriac
220. The Forbidden Realm - JJ Slauerhoff
221. The Return of Philip Latinowicz - Miroslav Krleza
222. Insatiability - Stanislaw Witkiwicz
223. Monica - Saunders Lewis
224. I Thought of Daisy - Edmund Wilson
225. Retreat Without Song - Shahan Shahnour
226. Some Prefer Nettles - Junichiro Tanizaki
227. The Case of Sergeant Grischa - Arnold Zweig
228. Alberta and Jacob - Cora Sandel
229. Under Satan's Sun - Bernanos
230. Chaka the Zulu - Thoms Mofolo
231. The New World - Welde Selasse
232. Kristin Lavransdatter - Sigrid Undset
233. The Forest of the Hanged - Liviu Rebreanu
234. Claudine's House - Colette
235. The Life of Christ - Papini
236. The Storm of Steel - Ernst Junger
237. The Home and the World - Robindranath Tagore
238. Pallieter - Felix Timmermans
239. The Underdogs - Mariano Azuela
240. Platero and I - Juan Ramon Jimenez
241. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge - Ranier Maria Rilke
242. Solitude - Victor Catala
243. The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler
244. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness - Daniel P Schreber
245. The Call of the Wild - Jack London
246. None But the Brave - Arthur Schnitzler
247. Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem - Emilio Salgari

248. Eclipse of the Cresent Moon - Geza Gardonyi
249. Dom Casmurro - Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
250. As a Man Grows Older - Italo Svevo
251. Pharoah - Boleslaw Prus
252. Compassion - Perez Galdos
253. The Viceroys - Frederico de Roberto
254. Down There - Joris-Karl Huysman
255. Thais - Anatole France
256. Eline Vere - Louis Couperus
257. The Child of Pleasure - Gabriele D'Annunzio
258. Under the Yoke - Ivan Vazov
259. The Manors of Ulloa - Emilia Pardo Bazan
260. The Quest - Frederik van Eeden
261. The Regent's Wife - Leopoldo Alas
262. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas - Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
263. Martin Fierro - Jose Hernandez
264. The Crime of Father Amaro - Jose Maria de Eca de Queiros
265. Pepita Jimenez - Juan Valera
266. Indian Summer - Adalbert Stifter
267. Green Henry - Gottfried Keller
268. The Devil's Fool - George Sand
269. Facundo - Domingo Faustino Sarmiento
270. A Hero for Our Times - Mikhail Lermontov
271. Camera Obscura - Hildebrand
272. The Lion of Flanders - Hendrik Conscience
273. Eugene Onegin - Alexander Pushkin
274. The Life of a Good-for-Nothing - Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff
275. The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr - ETA Hoffman
276. Michael Kohlhaas - Heinrich von Kleist
277. Henry of Ofterdingen - Novalis

278. A Dream of Red Mansions - Cao Xueqin
279. Anton Reiser - Karl Phillip Moritz

280. The Adventurous Simplicissimus - Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen
281. The Conquest of New Spain - Bernal Diaz del Castillo
282. The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda - Miguel de Cervantes
283. Thomas of Reading - Thomas Deloney
284. Monkey: Journey to the West - Wu Cheng'en
285. The Lusiad - Luis Vaz de Camoes
286. The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes - Anonymous
287. Amadis of Gaul - Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo
288. La Celestina - Fernando de Rojas
289. Tirant lo Blanc - Joanot Martorll and Marti Joan de Galba
290. The Water Margin - Shi Nai'an
291. Romance of the Three Kingdoms - Luo Guanzhong
292. The Tale of the Gengi - Murasaki Shikibu
293. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter - Anonymous

*This is a list only of the new additions

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey

oscar and lucinda
peter carey
c. 1988
432 pages
completed 8/24/2010

read for: before i die challenge, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

If there was a bishop, my mother would have him to tea.

Oscar Hopkins, a nervous and fidgety clergyman, was born to an English Evangelical minister, but left him to study the Anglican faith. Lucinda Leplastrier, an overtly modern feminist, was an unwitting heiress to a large fortune after her beloved Australian farm was sold off piecemeal by an accountant following the death of her parents mere months before Lucinda came of age. These two oddballs, square pegs living in a world of round holes, were drawn together by a mutual obsession with gambling, a compulsion that would lead to the ultimate wager that, in 1865 Australia, would change the course of their lives forever.

It took me a really long time to get through this book. I have a really frustrating issue with reading. No matter how much I am enjoying the story, the act of reading always makes me sleepy. I have no idea why! Because of this I often have to read in fairly small increments, no more than like 20-25 pages in one sitting. This can really make for slow going. And then, the longer the book is taking, the more frustrated I get. I wish I could figure out some way to not get so sleepy when I read.

To be completely honest, this was kind of a bizarre love story. Every single character, especially Oscar and Lucinda, were complete oddities. I couldn't help but laugh at the situations they would get themselves into, but then it would immediately become clear that they often had no idea how odd they were so while I was still laughing my heart would be breaking. These people were all equal parts hilarious and depressing. Which I guess was mirrored in the whole book itself. Equal parts hilarious and depressing. The best way I can think of to describe the tone of this book is quirky. Like I said, all the characters were total weirdos. This made certain characters, like Ian Wardley-Fish, totally endearing, and at the same time made other characters, like Mr. Jefferies, completely detestable. But it wasn't just the characters that were quirky, but the tone of the writing itself, its descriptions of places and people. For example, my favorite description of anyone in the novel, "Theophilius Hopkins was a moderately famous man. You can look him up in the 1860 Britannica. There are three full columns about his corals and his corallines, his anemones and starfish. It does not have anything very useful about the man. It does not tell you what he was like. You can read it three times over and never guess that he had any particular attitude to Christmas pudding." It was this attitude towards Christmas pudding that led to the rift between Theophilius Hopkins and his son Oscar.

Peter Carey has a very unique voice, though certain aspects of it kept reminding me of a wide variety of specific authors. For example, the quirky names and descriptions of people often made me think of Charles Dickens, whereas the matter-of-fact descriptions of certain body parts, functions, and ailments brought to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Carey also uses a lot of words. I know that's a weird thing to say, but I mean...maybe I'm not sure exactly what I mean. The sentences were complex and the writing was often quite dense. But not in a bad way where it's hard to get past the language and into the story. If anything, I felt the density of the language only contributed to the story. Putting these different elements together lead to, as I said, a very unique voice.

Despite its humor and quirkiness, there are a lot of subjects addressed in this novel, such as 19th century feminism and the loneliness and ostricization (yes, I may have just made up that word) that came with such modern ideas. Lucinda was very much ahead of her time and was constantly thwarted and frustrated in her endeavors because of the limitations of her sex. The novel also focuses a great deal on religion, exploring different denominations of Christianity and the emergence of Darwinism. At least five prominent characters are vicars or ministers of some kind, all with differing views on their faith. Last month I posted a review of The Queen's Lady where I complained a lot about the way the author dealt with the complications of Christianity in Tudor England. I am happy to report that there will be no repetition of those complaints. Instead, I found Carey's examination of Victorian Christianity to be complex, intriguing, ambiguous and respectful. At no point did he try to say that any one idea was totally right or that any one idea was totally wrong. Everything was a valid idea.

Lastly, I should let my sister the librarian know that I will finally admit defeat and agree that "gewgaw" is a real word...albeit a stupid one.


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Summer of the Danes - Ellis Peters

the summer of the danes
ellis peters
c. 1991
245 pages
completed 8/9/2010

read for: brother cadfael chronicles

*may contain spoilers*

The extraordinary events of that summer of 1144 may properly be said to have begun the previous year, in a tangle of threads both ecclesiastic and secular, a net in which any number of diverse people became enmeshed: clerics, from the archbishop down to Bishop Roger de Clinton's lowliest deacon, and the laity from the princes of North Wales down to the humblest cottager in the trefs of Arfon.

Brother Mark, who once was Brother's Cadfael assistant in the abbey's herb garden, has gone on to become a deacon to Bishop Roger de Clinton and has been sent as an envoy to the newly appointed Bishop Gilbert in the North of Wales. Needing an interpreter, his old mentor Cadfael is allowed to accompany him. But what should have been a quick and pleasant foray in Wales quickly turns more deadly Cadfael and Mark find themselves thrust into the middle of warring brother princes and foreign invaders.

I think this has to be my least favorite installment in the Brother Cadfael mysteries simply because there was no mystery. I mean, someone was murdered, but no one really cared too much because of the immediate threat of war. In the last chapter there is a deathbed confession by the murderer, but by that time you'd kind of forgotten who it was that had been murdered so you really didn't care. And Cadfael was really in no way involved. I think I've said it before, but I really like the formulaic nature of the earliest episodes and the ones that stray from that formula aren't nearly as good.

I also had a big problem with the lovers in this edition. In each mystery, there are always two people who are already in love or who fall in love that Cadfael kind of has to help out, and normally they're incredibly endearing and worthy of Cadfael's devotion. Occasionally there have been a few that have taken some time for me to warm up to, but eventually they always win me over. Not this time. Heledd was frosty and malicious towards her father (though I do agree she had some cause for this) and even kind of mean to Brother Mark in the beginning. And I love Brother Mark. There is no need to go out of your way to make him uncomfortable just because you think it's funny.

So to sum up there was no real mystery and an unsatisfactory love story. I did enjoy learning more about Prince Owain of Gwynedd and his family, but that's not enough. Sad.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jim the Boy - Tony Early

jim the boy
tony early
c. 2000
256 pages
completed 7/22/2010

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

During the night something like a miracle happened: Jim's age grew an extra digit.

Jim is a boy living in a small town in North Carolina during the Great Depression. During the year he turns ten his life teaches him lessons on friendship, family, and what it means to be a man.

It's been a little while since I finished this book. My head has been in another space the past week since I just moved to a new apartment in Seattle with my sister the literature scholar. So this review is probably going to be a little short. I should have written it closer to when I had finished it.

This was a very quiet little book. Much of it was very sweet and somewhat idyllic: a small boy living with a mother and uncles who love him whose biggest problem seemed to be a competition with another boy from school to see who was better at everything. Things took a bit of a turn at the end and Jim came in contact with some much bigger issues (poverty and polio among other things). For the most part, though, I was reminded of books like Little Women and Little House on the Prairie with simple episodic life lessons.


Monday, August 2, 2010

By the end of August...

I don't really know how but July kind of got away from me. I got through basically nothing. I say this month will be different, but let's be for real. It won't be...

To Be Read by the End of August
Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey
Possession - AS Byatt
The Known World - Edward P Jones
On Beauty - Zadie Smith
Cleopatra's Daughter - Michelle Moran

To be read...

The King's General - Daphne du Maurier
The Scarlet Contessa - Jeanne Kalogidis
Purge - Sofi Oksaner
The Secret Confession of Anne Shakespeare - Arliss Ryan
Whiter Than Snow - Sandra Dallas
Mrs. Tim of the Regiment - DE Stevenson
The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death - Charlie Huston
Finny - Justin Kramon
Nightingale Wood - Stella Gibson
Where's My Wand? - Eric Poole
Empress Orchid - Anchee Min
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran - Rob Sheffield
My Name is Mary Sutter - Robin Oliveira
The Devil Amongst the Lawyers - Sharyn McCrumb
The Amelia Peabody Mysteries - Elizabeth Peters (series)

14 new books and 1 new series. Wow. Not too many added this month...