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 Challenge...read 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 Classics...read 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...