Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's a Mess

North Dakota is currently experiencing it's first official blizzard (they're officially calling the weather life-threatening), and I am UBER thankful that I didn't have to go to work today. I'm sure that we would have gotten out of school early, but then I would have actually had to get home! I went out for some groceries this morning (before the actual blizzard warning was in effect), and visibility was bad even then.

Aside from feeling like I should read The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, again, I have also been putting off my grading and pondering which books I want to read for the Victorian Reading Challenge over at Words, Words, Words.

I LOVE the Victorian era in literature (I won't gush on about Dickens, I promise!), and so this challenge was perfect for me! I'm hoping to reach the Great Expectations level, but I'm flexible. I definitely want to read some Dickens (a friend recommended Barnaby Rudge since I've read most everything else), but I also plan to read Tess of the Durbervilles and an Eliot novel (possibly Middlemarch, but I'm not quite sure yet). There is also a really good chance that I will read Jane Eyre and North and South again.

Happily, being snowed in while mean lots of time to read and watch movies (I hear Bright Star and North and South calling my names). I suppose I'll manage to squeeze in some grading, too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let's Talk About Books

After spending all day inside cleaning, cooking, and watching movies, I'm going to end the day in the perfect way: talking about books! This will be quite the conglomeration, so feel free to skim as necessary.

First of all, I've made good headway in the Fall Into Reading Challenge. I finished all of the Harry Potter books, and I cried almost an embarassing number of times. I've read all the books numerous times, but this was my first time listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I blame Jim Dale's amazing narrative skills for having me in tears so many times, and I cried so hard through most of the second half of Deathly Hallows that I actually had to pull off the highway! So let this serve as a warning: don't drive and listen to Deathly Hallows unless you have a Grinch-sized heart!

I don't know that I will finish Bleak House before the end of the year, but I am very encouraged by how pulled in I am by the audio. The reader took a very different approach to Krook (he is much more harmless and a bit kooky in the audio; I've always pictured him as rather sinister and nasty, largely due, probably, to my viewing of the BBC/Masterpiece Theater adaptation). I still get sad thinking about Richard, but I don't think I'll end up sobbing on the side of the highway anytime soon! :)

I've read quite a bit since my last posts, so I thought I would highlight my favorite and not so favorite reads of the last six weeks.

Of the seventeen (seventeen!) books that I have read since last posting, here are my top picks (not including the three Harry Potters that I reread):

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an incredibly vivid portrayal of slavery, the effects of slavery on enslaved and enslaver, and the importance of knowledge and learning, this autobiography was a complete hit with my juniors and inspired some great conversation about history, injustice, and the power of the written word.

ilyria: this book almost defies description, but it had a beautiful, magical quality about it, and the writing was just exquisite. I'm not sure that I agree with its marketing as a Young Adult novel, but I enjoyed it immensely despite some of its more bizarre plotting aspects.

Orpheus Lost: I love any book that writes powerfully and provocatively about music. This novel is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce, and I could hardly put it down. The myth is very creatively and surprisingly retold, and, again, the writing was beautiful and very much like the music it described.

Though not necessarily the best of the seventeen books I read, the Lady Julia Grey novels (Silent in the Grave, Silent in the Sanctuary, Silent on the Moor, and Dark Road to Darjeeling) win for being the most compulsively readable books that I just couldn't put down. I don't normally enjoy mysteries, but I loved the Victorian setting, the palpable, believable tension between the two main characters, and the delicious and unexpected twists that Deanna Raybourn works into her plots. I pretty much LOVE the Victorian era of literature (see here for my love gushing about Charles Dickens), and I will be a little sad to finish Dark Road to Darjeeling because the next novel won't come out again until next year.

Not so Favorites
Happily, I didn't read anything in the last six weeks that was just downright awful. I did, however, read some things that didn't quite measure up to the wonderful favorites I just finished praising!

The Scent of Lightening and Rain caught my eye because the jacket quotes Macbeth. While it had its moments, it never quite delivered. What could have been an interesting and poignant exploration of loss, guilt, and forgiveness ended up coming off as very pat and cliche much of the time.

I loved both Shiver and Linger when I first read them, and I loved Shiver even more when I reread it back in October. I had to drive a bit last weekend, so I jumped at the chance to listen to the audio version of Linger. There were things that I appreciated more on this second listening/read-through, but overall I am glad that my first encounter with the book was in print and not the audio. Some things worked well, but in general I found the audio version a bit too melodramatic and over the top (yes, I KNOW the book is about werewolves, but the book in print is extremely well done withOUT being over the top and Twilighty). Still really like the story, but I will definitely be reading the next installment, Forever, instead of listening to it.

As for the rest of my week, I will be focusing mainly on grading and planning since I will be gone from school on Friday for a friend's wedding. I'm sure Friday will be here before I know it!

I am definitely looking forward to the Christmas break for all the reading I will be able to do, so please share your book suggestions!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So It's Been Six Weeks

Since my last post! It's amazing how fast time flies.

I won't bore you with in-depth stories about my computer's demon possession, the insanity that was playing in the pit for the high school's musical, or the pile of grading that I am still trying to claw my way out of. Needless to say, I am still trying to figure out how best to do things, and I am (surprisingly!) still feeling the effects of being hired so close to the beginning of the school year.

Now, you would think that after a six week absence (!!!) I would write a profoundly deep post about all the wonderful things I read while I was MIA from the blogosphere. I am, however, saving that post for tomorrow because I am planning on staying inside all day and doing my best to NOT become a human popsicle during the day with a -6 degree high (doesn't it seem counterintuitive for high and negative to be in the same sentence regarding temperature?). Blogging seems like a perfect inside activity!

I will say that I am having much more success with the audio version of Bleak House than I did in trying to read the print version. I never did get around to reading North and South again for the readalong, but I very well might pop it in tomorrow when I'm under a blanket on the couch!

All in all, I'm glad to be back, and I hope (barring any other computer exorcisms) to avoid more unplanned absences!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I Really Shouldn't...

But I don't think I can resist!

Ticket to Anywhere is hosting a North and South readalong, and while I tried to convince myself that I REALLY should be reading Bleak House (side note: considering pursuing the audio, as all I ever do with the book itself is stare at it, tell myself I should read it, and read something else), I could not resist the beauty that is the button. I will AT LEAST be watching the BBC miniseries again.

If you haven't read or watched North and South, I strongly encourage you to do so now!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sophie and Robin, Sitting in a Tree

I learned about what my mother doesn't know, by Sonya Sones, over at the fabulous Angieville. Both what my mother doesn't know and its sequel, what my girlfriend doesn't know, are novels written in verse. I haven't read many novels written in verse form, but the style was the perfect way for Sophie (narrator of what my mother doesn't know) and Robin (narrator of what my girlfriend doesn't know) to tell their story.

In what my mother doesn't know, Sophie tells her story of being almost fifteen, liking boys, and trying to figure out how to live when "my mind / and my body / and my heart / just don't seem to be able to agree / on anything" (which is a pretty insightful, succinct description of what it's like to be a teenager). Sophie is neither popular nor unpopular, and the story opens with her dating her first boyfriend and trying to figure out how much she really likes him. Despite really liking Dylan, her first boyfriend, she finds herself thinking about other boys, too.

She eventually breaks up with Dylan, and as she gets ready for the Halloween dance at school, she just knows something good will happen to her that night. As she watches a mockingbird outside her window, she thinks about who she might meet at the dance:
And as I watch him,
I'm feeling a lot like him,
like a feathery creature
balancing on a wire,
trying on lots of different voices
to see which one works best

and every now and then,
doing a little twirl
out on the dance floor,
hoping the boy bird of my dreams
will fly by and notice me,
flutter down beside me
and ask me to dance.

Something good does happen at the dance, but she is most disturbed by the fact that she keeps thinking about Murphy (Robin), an unattractive, utterly unpopular boy who is the butt of all the jokes, collective and otherwise, at her school. Still, Sophie can't escape her attraction to Murphy, and they eventually find themselves pursuing a relationship. what my mother doesn't know ends with Sophie having to decide if she will tell her friends about her relationship with Robin (and accept certain outcastdom) or pretend nothing happened and break up with Robin to save face.

what my girlfriend doesn't know picks up where what my mother doesn't know ends and details Robin's worries about how Sophie is suffering on account of him, trying to figure out who he is and protect Sophie at the same time, and dealing with the constant onslaught of his hormones. I should probably confess right now that Robin is just the kind of boy that I wanted to date in high school: he is sweet, sensitive, smart, and truly loves Sophie in the best sense of the word.

There was never a doubt in my mind that Sophie and Robin did truly love each other, and these books would give someone who doesn't think teenage love was real love a run for their money. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these books present very real depictions of what true love is: there is romance, but Sophie and Robin also sacrifice for each other, put each other first, and truly see the good and the bad and everything in between. Sophie and Robin are not perfect by any means, and they make some mistakes that are fairly common when hormones are in abundance and common sense isn't, but these mistakes only make Sones's characters more real and her portrayal of their relationship more believable.

Robin explains that he loves many things about Sophie, but one of my favorite sections from both of the books comes near the beginning of what my girlfriend doesn't know:
Sophie's eyes
are smiling into mine.

And it's amazing, really,
because all she has to do is look at me

and my lump of a nose
straightens out,

the muscles on my arms
start to sprout,

the circles fade
under my eyes,

my ears shrink down
to a normal person's size...

If only everyone else
could see

what Sophie sees
when she looks at me.

Both Robin and Sophie are fifteen in the novels, but they seemed much older, much more mature than that, especially Robin. These books deal very honestly with the things that would be at the forefront of a fifteen-year-old's mind: who you like, who likes you, school, homework, parents, how to get someone to like you, sex, and how to just make it through your day with as little trauma as possible. I appreciated Sones' approach to all these issues; they felt very real, and both Sophie and Robin practically jumped off the page.

I really, really loved these books, but I can understand why parents might not want their fifteen-year-olds reading these books. I don't know that I would want my hypothetical fifteen-year-old reading these books, at least not at fifteen, and definitely not without us talking about them as they read. The reason? There is quite a bit of discussion about sexuality and when the time is right to have sex. Both topics need to be discussed openly, honestly, and without embarassment between teenagers, parents, and other trusted advocates in their lives, and when I eventually have teenagers, I will make sure that we have those discussions. There is very little in terms of whether it is right or wrong for a fifteen-year-old to be contemplating sex, which is very fitting since it is two fifteen-year-olds telling their own stories; Sophie does tell Robin no when she's not ready, and Robin respects her and doesn't make her feel bad about not wanting to have sex, but to be completely honest, the unspoken assumption that fifteen-year-olds would be having sex niggled at me a bit.

I am not naive enough to think that fifteen-year-olds aren't having sex, and I don't think that Young Adult literature should simply be a soap box that older, "wiser" people use to preach at teenagers. Literature (in any form) needs, on some level, to meet readers where they are at, and sometimes that place isn't always ideal. What I do know is how I feel about whether teenagers should be having sex, and that really was the only thing that made me hesitate before expressing unabashed love for these books. While there are so many things about these books that I would love for my students to experience and enjoy, I know that I, as their teacher, couldn't encourage them to seek these books out. If students are mature enough to choose the books on their own, I would gladly dialogue with them about the books, and I am most definitely NOT advocating removing these books from libraries or bookstores. What I am advocating is weighing exactly what I am recommending to my students and staying true to my integrity as a person and a teacher.

Bottom line: as a reader, I loved these books; as a teacher, I wouldn't necessarily recommend these books to my students, but I would gladly talk about them with my students. Wow. The last part of this review was a lot harder to write than I thought it would be, and I still don't know if I expressed myself very well. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Listening to Music in the Car Wash*

I bought my battered copy of Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen, over two years ago at the wonderful McKay's, a used bookstore in my old home city. I had heard about it somewhere and figured it was worth the dollar listed as its price. I was trying to broaden my Young Adult library and figured Just Listen was as good a place to start as any.

This book could so easily have been one big cliche, but because of Dessen's skill as a writer and her sensitivity to her subject, her characters, and her audience, she pulls off, very successfully, what could have ended up as one big melodramatic mess. The book starts with Annabel trying to brace herself for her first day of eleventh grade. Dessen quickly flashes back to the fateful day that Annabel met Sophie. Sophie was new to town and was desperate to get Kristen, Annabel's older, cooler sister, to notice her at the pool. And the rest, as they say, is history, and Sophie and Annabel become best friends.

The book quickly fast forwards back to Annabel in the present, and it becomes clear just as quickly that something dreadful has happened to Annabel; whatever it is (and you don't find out until near the end of the novel) has fractured Annabel's friendship with Sophie and made her a social outcast. It was fairly obvious to me what kind of thing had happened to Annabel, but having my suspicions didn't ruin the book for me; if anything, it made me sympathize with and root for Annabel even more.

Due to her status as a social stigma, Annabel develops an unexpected friendship with Owen, a boy who recently returned to her high school after punching out a fellow student and being arrested the previous year. Surprisingly, Dessen gives Owen a refreshing (and amusing) wisdom, hard won from Anger Management, and the book becomes an examination of honesty, truth, friendship, and genuine love.

The title phrase, "just listen," takes on several significant meanings over the course of the novel: Annabel needs her mom to listen to her; Kristen needs her parents to listen to her so they can help Whitney (Annabel's and Kristen's other sister); Owen wants Annabel to listen to the music he gives her (there is even a burned CD titled "Just Listen"); most importantly, however, Annabel must learn how to listen to herself, and what she learns when she is finally able to do this is pretty powerful stuff.

I don't want to give away the ending, but I appreciated how Dessen dealt with some very pertinent issues facing teenagers today. I loved the characters that she created in Annabel and Owen, and I know many of my students who would benefit from reading this tribute to self-confidence, honesty, and what it really means to let other people help you.

*You have to read the book to find out what this means!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And Ode to Jane Eyre, or I discuss Jane

Before I dive into my discussion of Jane, by April Lindner, I need to explain my almost life-long (and going strong) relationship with Jane Eyre. I first encountered Jane Eyre as a comic book (this was before, I'm sure, the term graphic novel was coined!), and I remembered being fascinated by the orphaned Jane and how she wanted (I thought) to be a teacher. My brother and I were obsessed with orphans (our favorite make-believe game to play was entitled "Orphanage", heavily influenced by my reading of historical fiction and complete with evil orphanage owner and an escape across the sea), and even then I dreamed of being a teacher (for some reason my brother was less than thrilled when I wanted to play school, probably because I assigned homework that I expected him to complete...). Not much else (surprisingly) stuck, however, so when the novel was assigned in my sophomore English class, I came to it knowing very little about the story.

To put it bluntly, I fell in love. Aside from Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre was the first assigned book that I loved in high school. I loved the novel for so many reasons, and it was one of those reads that was just perfectly timed and pitched for where I was as a fifteen-year-old high school student. The thing that I loved most about the novel was that Jane was loved, truly loved, for WHO SHE WAS, not for WHAT SHE LOOKED LIKE. As a teenager who put herself firmly in the brains camp (not the beauty camp), I daydreamed about a boy falling deeply, madly in love with me once he got to know me(do you see why Jane Eyre resonated so strongly with me?). I loved that Rochester loved Jane and chose her for who she was. I also loved that Jane did the right thing (left Rochester after finding out about Bertha), even though it was hard, even though she didn't want to, but she still won in the end: she and Rochester ended up together in forever, eternal bliss. Again, there is an obvious connection to my life: I had (and still have) a strong sense of right and wrong, and I have always been a rule follower. High school, however, at least on the social front, is not always kind to the rule follower who stands up for what is right and isn't afraid to call out those whose wrongdoing is affecting others.

In a nutshell, Jane was my hero.

All that being said, I have high expectations when it comes to any sort of adaptation of Bronte's (like Simon, I have NO idea how to add the two little dot thingies, and I don't even know what the dot thingies are fail...) wonderful novel. The first film adaptation I saw, the one with William Hurt as Mr. Rochester, did NOT impress me because Jane was altogether too pretty. I liked the adaptation with Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, and I found the version with Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester ridiculous (newsflash: Jane and Rochester were NOT fashion models, so why did this adaptation cast ridiculously attractive people in the roles?). Then I discovered the most recent adaptation by the BBC and Masterpiece Theater. It is brilliant and passionate and everything that the book was.

Again, I'm pretty harsh on adaptations of Jane Eyre, but when I found out about Jane, I was really excited. Jane is translated into a college freshman who, due to circumstances outside her control, must find immediate employment, and Mr. Rochester becomes Nico Rathburn, hot rock 'n roll star who is making a comeback after a meteoric (and not entirely innocent) rise to fame followed by a spectacular, drug-induced downfall. The premise is very believable, and there were moments that really pulled me in.

Overall, however, the book didn't really deliver for me. It wasn't Jane Eyre for me, and it left me wanting more. It definitely had its moments, and I think it would definitely point readers to the original (I know it made me want to read Jane Eyre again!), but it really paled in comparions to the original. While the novel was (for the most part) well written, I was disappointed that Lindner didn't create a successful voice and vocabulary for Nico when she had been so successful in creating such a vivid, engaging Jane. There were moments when I was reading Nico's dialogue that literally jolted me because it was so close to the original dialogue in Jane Eyre. I appreciated that Lindner turned to the novel when she needed inspiration, but there were several times when what Nico said just didn't fit into the context that she had given him.

I'm glad that I read this novel. It was fun to see a modern twist on one of my favorite stories, and I look forward to reading Jane Eyre again and pointing some of my students to Jane and (hopefully!) to Jane Eyre.

P.S. I sort of collect editions of Jane Eyre. This is the next one I hope to acquire:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reading With Teenagers

I have to warn you: I will be doing a LOT of gushing in this post. If you are anti-gush, consider yourself warned, and flee now for your own good!

I finished what my girlfriend doesn't know, and while I found it sweet and hilarious, I think that I liked what my mother doesn't know better. They are both excellent, and it may just boil down to the fact that I liked the one narrated by Sophie better because I'm a girl ;).

I forgot to mention in my first Teen Read post that I loved my first Sarah Dessen novel: I picked up Just Listen last week because I was kind of at a loss as to what to read, and I pretty much devoured it. I hope to review it tomorrw, but I will keep the gushing (I hope) to a minimum when I do.

I gave my sophomores time to read in class today. One of the students has already finished two books, so I sent him off to the library to choose another one. I had to SERIOUSLY restrain myself from jumping out of my chair and GUSHING when he came back from the library with The Hunger Games. I'm so excited for him that I can hardly stand it!

Finally, my sophomores are required to give a book talk about their independent read, and I have been sort of agonizing over which book I should use to give a sample book talk. Right now I'm trying to decide between The Hunger Games, Jane, and Shiver. If you would like to weigh in, please do!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Teen Read Week!

One of the things that I am loving about the block scheduling at my new job is that there is actually time to assign and encourage independent reading. My sophomores are working on their first independent read, and you can imagine the joy I've experienced every time they've asked, "can we read today?" Music to an English teacher's ears!

In formulating the structure and assignment for another class's independent reading assignment, I was chatting with one of the school's librarians, and she mentioned that the ALA puts out a list of top ten picks for reluctant readers. I visited the website and, in addition to discovering a bunch of AWESOME Young Adult novels, learned that this week is Teen Read Week.

In honor of this fact, I have decided to read only Young Adult books for the next week. I kind of started this celebration early (and without meaning to) because I finished Jane, by April Lindner, and what my mother doesn't know, by Sonya Sones (reviews of both coming this week). I'm looking forward to finishing what my girlfriend doesn't know, by Sonya Sones, reading Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles, and rereading the fabulous Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater.

Won't you join me in encouraging the teens in your life to enjoy some books this week? And if you plan on reading Young Adult books this week, please let me know!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bleak House Week 2, or I am Very Far Behind

As you may know, I have decided to cut myself some slack when it comes to Bleak House, and I no longer feel like a delinquent because JoAnn has assured me that she too will be taking her time with Bleak House. So, without further ado, my thoughts on chapters 8-13:

I should probably warn you that some of this is fuzzy in my mind because I read chapter 8 before I moved. I then proceeded to not read Bleak House for another month, which is distressingly familiar territory for me as I have attempted and failed to read Bleak House twice before. Anyways...

We get more story with the Deadlocks, Mr. Jarndyce, and Mr. Guppy, and we are introduced to the rather odd but altogether delightful Mr. Boythorn. I found the Badgers hilarious, and Mr. Snagsby is quite the character as well. We also find out about Nemo, the mysterious law writer.

I have been discovering that it really is a TERRIBLE idea to see the movie adaptation of a Dickens novel before reading the novel (I blame my lack of motivation on this fact), but in some ways it has been fun to see how characters who become hugely important later are introduced. Case in point: the "dark young man", the surgeon present when the doctor, examines Nemo's body was a very pleasant surprise, and I am looking forward to seeing more of him.

On the downside, however, we have Richard. I like how Dickens connects everything together, but in this case, I am already so sad about Richard (and was before I even started reading the novel) that seeing Dickens put the pieces together for his inevitable end is sort of like helplessly watching a train with no breaks hurtling towards a bridge (aka: it's no fun!). I found these quotes about Richard particularly insightful and affecting:
"With a bouyancy and hopefulness and a gaiety that hardly ever flagged, Richard had a carelessness in his character that quite perplexed me -- principally because he mistook it, in such a very odd way, for prudence." (138)

"I believe Richard's was as frank and generous a nature as there possibly can be. He was ardent and brave, and, in the midst of all his wild restlessness, was so gentle, that I knew him like a brother in a few weeks." (139)

Like I've said before, I know what happens to Richard, and I nearly cried when he proclaimed that he would never make Ada unhappy. Oh Richard, if you only knew!

I will keep plugging away at Bleak House, and I know that it will really grab me eventually. I will admit, however, that reading Bleak House is REALLY making me want to revisit Little Dorrit. Perhaps that will be my treat for finishing the big BH.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

I know I just posted my answers to the End of Event Meme, but I just had to gush a little bit about all the wonderful blogs that I found as a result of this readathon. Many of these wonderful people were my cheerleaders (thanks, guys!), and I wanted to return a little bit of the love. Because of the readathon, I found:
Col Reads
Bonjour, Cass!
Book Clutter
In Laurie's Mind
The Introverted Reader
A Good Stopping Point
I am really looking forward to reading more of these blogs!

I also found a great challenge because of the readathon. I'm really excited about it because I would be meeting the criteria even if I didn't sign up for the challenge because the only requirement of the challenge is to read! So, drumroll please, I give you the books that I want to read for the Fall Into Reading Challenge:
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Bleak House

I want to read the Harry Potter books again before the next movie comes out, and I want to finish Bleak House before the year is out. There you have it! If you would like to join in, be sure to follow the link!

Readathon Update #6 and End of Event Meme

It seems that the theme of my blog the last few weeks has been "the best laid plans of mice of men," and like a good rule-follower, I continued the theme during my second readathon experience.

I went home to spend some quality time with Harry Potter and some tacos (tacos...yum...), and as soon as I ate my tacos, I fell asleep on the couch. I am not a random napper (in fact, unless I'm really sick, I rarely nap at all), so I'm not sure what happened. I slept for almost an hour and had some really bizarre dreams, but it refreshed me to read a little longer (and ensure that the bizarre dreams didn't make a reappearance).

Here are the facts:
Books finished: 0 (2 total)
Pages read: 143 (412 total)**I am very proud of myself that 77 of these pages
were from Bleak House**
Time read: 2 hours (8.5 total)

Apparently I didn't keep track of my actual time during my last readathon, but I am fairly positive that I at least doubled the amount of time that I spent reading during this readathon. I am eagerly looking forward to the April readathon, and perhaps the third time will be a charm and I will manage at least 12 hours reading!

Here are my answers to the meme

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
The 10 p.m.-11 p.m. because that's when I took an impromptu snooze.
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
The Maltese Falcon is definitely a nail biter and makes you want to keep reading. And you don't even have to be a mystery reader to like it!
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
I loved that the cheerleading teams were named after literary elements!
5. How many books did you read?
I read four; I finished two.
6. What were the names of the books you read?
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuko Ishiguro, The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett, Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling
7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
8. Which did you enjoy least?
Bleak House (let me clarify: it's not a bad book, but it IS a challenging read)
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
I wasn't a cheerleader, but I LOVED the literary cheers!
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I will be there, and I might even sign up to be a cheerleader or host a mini-challenge!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Readathon Update #5

I have been dawdling around on the internet for the last hour or so, and I think the time has come to pack up and head home. Since there is no internet at la casa, I will be doing one massive update post in the morning.

Happy reading to all!

The facts:
Nothing has really changed since my last post (I know, shame on me!).

Harry Potter, here I come!

Readathon Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now?
Bleak House and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
2. How many books have you read so far?
I've been reading out of four, and I finished two that I started before the
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I think I'm done with
Bleak House for the night.
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
I usually plan for the week and grade on Saturday, so I had to switch days. I'll
plan and grade tomorrow. I also went to bed pathetically early last night.
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not so much interruptions, but not having internet at home yet has been something
of a hastle.
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How slowly time moved while I was reading Bleak House and how quickly
time moved during reading breaks!
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Nope. Love it!
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do
this again next year?
I will definitely get to the library in advance. I didn't really have a lot of
books on hand, which is why I'm focusing on two massive books and have fewer
9. Are you getting tired yet?
Not really
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is
working well for you that others may not have discovered?
Not really. I love the poetic, book-related cheers that Team Simile has been

Readathon Update #4

I'm back!

I just finished The Maltese Falcon, and HOLY COW!!!!! I had to take some long, deep cleansing breaths as I read the end. I'm still sorting out my thoughts, and I grin every time I think about how my students will react to reading the last four chapters of the book. I'm predicting some great class discussion, which is always a good thing.

I'm going to browse at the bookstore before I head back to reading. I think I hit my Bleak House brick wall, so I will be reading Harry Potter and various other things for the rest of the night. Hope everyone is doing well!

The facts:
Books finished: 1 (2 total)
Pages read: 41 (269 total)
Hours read: 1 (6.5 total)

Readathon Update #3

It hasn't quite been two hours, but Bleak House is making me feel a bit antsy, especially since the next chapter is forty pages long. I'm one of those weirdos that likes to read in chapter increments, and I can tell you definitively that forty consecutive pages of Dickens is not going to happen right now!

I did find this lovely quote in my last chunk of Bleak House. I would expect the weather to be like this in October in the Midwest, but it is definite 82 degrees right now! Here's the quote:

"The clear cold sunshine glances into the brittle woods, and approvingly
beholds the sharp wind scattering the leaves and drying the moss. It glides
over the park after the moving shadows of the clouds, and chases them, and
never catches them, all day. It looks in at the windows, and touches the
ancestral portraits with bars and patches of brightness, never contemplated by
the painters" (181-182)

I accidentally left Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the car, so I think I am going to finisth The Maltese Falcon while I take a break from Bleak House.

Here are the facts:
Books finished: 0 (1 total)
Pages read: 33 (228 total)
Hours read: 1.5 hours (5.5 hours total)

Readathon Update #2

I took a break from Bleak House so I could eat lunch. And yes, my decision to switch to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was partly influenced by the fact that Harry Potter was easier to read with one hand. So over a Schlotsky's turkey sandwich and some of the best baked chips around, I immersed myself in Dudley's diet, Weasley's Wizarding Weazes, and the Quidditch World Cup.

One of the reason that I loved the Harry Potter series the first time I read it (and one of the reasons that I keep returning to it) is because of all the little details that Rowling presents almost in passing that become REALLY IMPORTANT in later books. During lunch, for instance, I was reading about when Weasleys & Co arrive at the Quidditch World Cup; Mr. Weasley is telling Harry and Hermione who all the Ministry workers are as they walk past the campsite, and he mentions two men who are Unspeakables. We, along with Harry and Hermione, aske, "what does that mean?" Well, it means the work in the Department of Mysteries. And then the scene moves along its merry way.


Okay, on to the stats:
Books finished: 0, but I'm working with massive tomes
Number of pages read: 94 (195 total)
Time spent reading: 1 hour (4 hours total)

Readathon Update #1

I just spent the last two hours reading Bleak House, and I made it through fifty pages. I also checked how far behind I am on Amanda's blog: everyone will be on page 816 and posting about that section on Wednesday; I am on page 181 *hangs head in shame* So it looks like regardless of how much I read in Bleak House today, I will still be ridiculously behind.

On a brighter note, I got to the part where we meet the "dark young man" who turns out to be a compassionate surgeon (which, in Dickens' time, was basically a doctor). I already know what happens to this particular character, and I was quite happy to see him enter the story.

Here are my stats so far:
Books finished: 1
Total pages read: 101
Total time spent reading: 3 hours

Cheers to all!

The Read From My Shelves Read Away From Home Readathon

Hello, all you fellow readathoners. I have decided I am mended enough to participate in the readathon, and I just keep telling myself that I really should take it easy today to be sure that my recovery sticks. In other words, I am making as many excuses as I need to in order to read all day today.

I started out my morning by finishing Never Let Me Go. The book was as compulsive as I thought it would be, but I can't quite put finger on WHY I couldn't put it down. I then moved on to a little bit of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I am now sitting in Starbucks getting ready to dive into Bleak House, which I haven't picked up since the end of August (bad read along participant!).

Before I get back to my reading, here are my goals for today:
1. Read as much as possible.
2. Read a good chunk of Bleak House so that I am only embarassingly behind
instead of distressingly behind.
3. Read enough of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire today so that I can
finish it tomorrow and start the audio version of Harry Potter and the Order
of the Phoenix
on Monday (side note: the audio versions of the Harry Potter
books are AMAZING. If you have never listened to Jim Dale read one of these
books, you are missing out).

The only goal I am committed to sticking to strictly is goal number one. Getting more caught up on Bleak House would be nice, but I know I probably can't read that and only that for the next twelve hours. And I have to ration Harry Potter or else I will read that and nothing else.

I would show you a spiffy picture of the rest of my books that I will be dipping in and out of today, but my camera is somewhere in the confused and unorganized things that still haven't been sorted out after my move. I still don't have internet at home, so I will be drinking a lot of coffee today so I can use various establishment's free wi-fi.

But really, what goes better with a book than coffee? In my opinion, not much!

Monday, October 4, 2010

"My Head Feels Fuzzy"

I have been thinking about this line from You've Got Mail (possibly one of the BEST movies ever!) a lot over the last week because I can completely empathize with Kathleen Kelly (but I didn't get daisies from a dashing stranger). There have been multiple students hacking up their lungs all over my classroom over the last few weeks, so I'm not terribly surprised that I got sick. I would, however, have liked to avoid missing three full days of work my first month at the school.

Oh, well. "The best laid plans" part two, I suppose.

Anyways, on to the point. I am supposedly participating in the 24-Hour-Readathon on Saturday (and greatly looking forward to it), but my recent stint with illness may demand a less-involved readathon than I would like. I would like to catch up (some, at least!) on Bleak House, which I will probably finish NEXT October at the rate I'm going, but it may turn into grading catch-up, license acquiring, and other miscellaneous things day. And I don't have internet at home (STILL!).

Needless to say, the life lesson is that it does no one any good to be essentially knocked out for three days straight, but on the book front, I'm still loving The Hunger Games trilogy (I'm in Mockingjay), and I discovered that Never Let Me Go will probably be a completely compulsive read as well once I fully give myself over to it. Sadly, my poor, fuzzy head couldn't handle it last week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hunger Games, Bleak House, Maltese Falcon, Oh My!

What are you reading right now? What made you choose it? Are you enjoying it? Would you recommend it? (And, by all means, discuss everything, if you’re reading more than one thing!)

I am very glad that the caveat was included for multiple books. As I've mentioned before, I am a chronic multiple book reader, and the habit has only been reinforced by my choice of profession. I haven't participated in Booking Through Thursday in a while, but I knew I needed to answer this one!

My highest priority read right now is Maltese Falcon. I am teaching it in one of my classes and had never read it before. I wasn't necessarily thrilled that it was included in the curriculum for the class as I am NOT a mystery fan (at all...I kind of detest them), but I have been very pleasantly surprised by how much I am enjoying Maltese Falcon. Perhaps I like hard boiled detective fiction? It has been fun to teach, too, because I am reading everything out loud to the class. It is a group of struggling English students, but it has been entirely gratifying to experience this novel along with them. They even asked to keep reading today, so we did!

I am also nominally rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for my sophomore class, but since I have read it so many times before, I am just kind of dipping in and out as time allows (I am still trying to unpack, and there is still some scrambling taking place at school because of my last-minute hire). I WILL read the last few chapters because they are my favorite...and they make me cry...and I don't cry when I read...

My highest priority personal read is the Hunger Games Trilogy. I finished the series about two weeks ago, and I immediately started it again. I NEVER do this, but I just couldn't let Panem, Peeta (oh, Peeta! You're so my favorite!), and Katniss go quite yet. I'm currently halfway through Catching Fire, and I have had a stern talk with myself about how I have to put them down when I finish Mockingjay because I suspect that I will want to read them again right away.

The other books I am "reading" (i.e. I was actively reading when I was ambushed by the Hunger Games and followed it down the rabbit hole) are Bleak House and Echo in the Bone. I haven't done more than pack them and look at them in several weeks, but I will go back to them as soon as I'm done with Mockingjay.

In other exciting news, I am anxiously awaiting my library card. I was thrilled to discover that I didn't need to have a state driver's license to apply for a card, so it is really only a matter of time before cumpulsive library material checking out commences once more! Yay!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men", or I am Dreadfully Behind in Bleak House

Remember my last post? The one where I promised to post within the next few days about the next section of Bleak House? Well, a funny thing happened (but not on the way to the forum): literally thirty minutes after I posted, I received a call from a principal wanting to interview me for an English position. I had submitted my application the night before (the night before!), so, needless to say, I was a bit caught off guard. We set up an interview for the next afternoon (the town is five hours from my parents'), and I called my mom to share the exciting news.

And then they offered me the job. On the spot. I didn't even know that schools could do that, much less that they would! I was quite surprised (possibly the understatement of the century), and the drive home was pretty much a blur. The next day I found myself driving back to the school, fighting a cold, signing my contract, looking for an apartment, and trying to get ready to start school on Tuesday. That's right: I got hired 5 days before school started!

Despite the stress and insanity that has been my life the last few weeks, I am unspeakably grateful that I am teaching full time. I am teaching four different classes (three of them new), but my five years of experience have come in handy! And I get to teach To Kill a Mockingbird, which you might remember was one of my teacherly wishes.

I finally found an apartment a week ago, but I am still getting internet at the apartment figured out. There is also the small detail of preparing for all these classes, and the planning is something of a beast since two of those classes are block, which essentially means two classes for the price of one! It has been an intense experience, but my new co-workers have been incredibly supportive and kind, and I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

So if you have stuck with me through this rather long, personal post, then you deserve to know what bookish things I will be talking about in the near future. Bleak House will definitely be making a return, but first I will have to get the Hunger Games series out of my reading and blogging system.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Temptation, Thy Name is Hunger Games

Here I am, a week later, and I am finally posting about chapters 1-7 of Bleak House*. I hope to post about this week's installment, chapters 8-13, tomorrow or Friday. And then I hope to be caught up and able to post on Wednesdays like I am supposed to!

Willpower has proven itself to be in short supply the last few days due to another job interview, a compulsive need to finish watching Heroes (it is embarassing how little time it has taken me to blaze through the first three seasons), other interesting reads, and the siren call of The Hunger Games. I may have to use my old trick of having someone hide the book so I can get caught up on Bleak House (In college, I routinely asked my roommate to hide any book that was tempting me until a given time so that I could get my work done. Sad but true, my friends!).

One last thing before I actually start talking about Bleak House: I think I am going to try this format for my discussion of the novel; I'm hoping it will keep me more organized. We'll see how long it lasts...

General Tidbits:
I have started this novel at least two other times but have always put it down when I am between 100 and 200 pages in. Why? Well, I have a confession: I saw the movie before I read the book (gasp, horror, the shock!), and in this case, knowing what happens, especially to one character in particular, makes me really reluctant to read the novel. Perhaps this is some twisted way for me to deny the truth of what happens to this character, but this reluctance translated into some real difficulties for me as I started the book. I had trouble frinding the cadence, was a bit bored by the description of the fog and Chancery (but I liked it before), and had doubts as to whether I would really be able to finish this book after all.

Don't get me wrong; I am a Dickens LOVER. We're talking Team Dickens, my friends; I absolutely adore him and eventually want to read everything he wrote (so, obviously, I would have to read Bleak House eventaully), but I still struggled. It wasn't really until I got to Chapter 4 and the Jellybys that things started to look up for me.

Important Things:
Since this is the beginning of the novel, there are (obviously) lots of important things in these chapters. We're introduced to a whole host of characters, the first being the Chancery Court. I know this isn't techincally a character, but its presence in the novel is inescapable. Chancery is immediately identified as corrupt by the presence of fog, which continues to be a sign of corruption throughout the novel. The case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce is introduced, and it becomes clear fairly quickly that it will do nobody any good. Dickens explains that it has corrupted everyone who has ever been involved in it (foreshadowing, anyone??!!) and its being in Chancery is described by Tom Jarndyce (of him-who-blew-out-his-brains fame) as "being ground to bits in a slow mill; it's being roasted at a slow fire; it's being stung to death by single bees; it's being drowned by drops; it's going mad by grains" (71). In other words, it's not a fun time.

I really want to focus on Esther, Ada, Richard, Mr. Jarndyce, and Mr. Skimpole. Esther is a true gem; she is humble, hardworking, generous, gracious, and kind, and I can't really blame everyone in the novel for loving her almost instantly. That everyone, of course, doesn't include her guardian/aunt, who has a serious Esther-related chip on her shoulder. I did find it extremely fitting that Esther's aunt is struck with her illness (possibly a stroke?) while Esther is reading the passage from the Gospels when Jesus saves the adultress by telling the murdering crowd that those who are without sin should cast the first stone.

In Ada, Dickens returns to his much-loved image of a woman as angel. She is beautiful, blond, "bright", and "innocent" (44). She very much relies on Esther and Richard and is almost child-like in her understanding of the things going on around her. Of course, it is natural for Mr. Jarndyce and Esther to hope that she falls in love with Richard, "a handsome youth, with an ingenuous face, and a most engaging laugh" (44) who proves to be protective, kind, entertaining, and unsure at various turns in these first chapters.

What I found interesting about Mr. Jarndyce was his blind spots. He is obviously generous: he provides for Esther from a young age, invites Ada and Richard, distant cousins, to live with him, and knows people like Mrs. Jellyby and others who try to do "good." While he can recognize the inconsistencies in Mrs. Jellyby's charitable work (he readily agrees with Esther and Ada that she is wrong in neglecting her family in order to pursue her work for Africa), he does not extend the same clarity of sight and understanding to Mr. Skimpole.

Simply put, Mr. Skimpole is despicable. He is, "in simplicity, and freshness, and enthusiasm, and a fine guilelss inaptitude for all worldly affairs, he is a perfect child" (87), and "he has been unfortunate in his affairs, and unfortunate in his pursuits, and unfortunate in his family; but he don't care - he's a child!" (88). He has essentially abandoned his family, and he takes no responsibility for any of his actions. The interesting thing is how indulgent Mr. Jarndyce is towards Mr. Skimpole; he seems to have no problem about the fact that Mr. Skimpole is essentially mooching off of him. Needless to say, I don't like him, especially since it seems that Mr. Skimpole is essentially manipulating everything and everyone to his advantage.

Is more light going to be shed on why Mr. Jarndyce is so indulgent towards Mr. Skimpole?

Who (if anyone) is Dickens trying to satirize with Mr. Skimpole? Does it have anything to do with Dickens' father?

Favorite Quotes:
"Solitude, with dusky wings, sits brooding upon Chesney Wold" (103).

"[Mrs. Rouncewell] considers that a family [the Deadlocks] of such antiquity and importance has a right to a ghost. She regards a ghost as one of the privileges of the upper class; a genteel distinction to which the common people have no claim" (112).

*I am reading the Peguin Classics edition of Bleak House.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh No

My apologies to all of you visiting from the Zen Leaf to read my thoughts on the first installment of the Bleak House readalong: not only did I misread how many chapters we were to read for today (through chapter 7, not chapter six), but I also just finished chapter 3.

Epic fail, I know.

I will do my best to be caught up as soon as possible, and then I will post my thoughts.

Please pardon my temporary insantiy and come back in a few days!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I should really be working on job applications, but I couldn't resist this delightful installment of Booking Through Thursday.

1. Favorite childhood book?
GAH! This is so hard... I think probably the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib books (yes, I know this is more than one, but cut me some slack!)

2. What are you reading right now?
I just finished Diana Gabaldon's A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I am listening to Insatiable, by Meg Cabot, and am about to start Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, and An Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
A book about Pearl S. Buck

4. Bad book habit?
I compulsively check books out from the library and then don't keep very good track of the due dates.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life, 77 Love Sonnets, The Cookbook Collector, Far North, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Insatiable, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Jayber Crow, Letters of a Woman Homesteader, and Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
NO! And I don't plan on getting one.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
I've been reading more; at this point, I have read the same number of books that I read in an entire year, and it is only mid-August! This isn't strictly a result of blogging, but I have been buying fewer books and using the library more.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Hmmm...possibly the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Another hard one!!! I'm going to say Linger, by Maggie Stiefvater, but I might change this one after I look at this year's list of books.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
I have pretty broad reading habits, so I'll have to say not much.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
I like books that are smart and intriguing and well-written. A Twilight fan I am not.

13. Can you read on the bus?
Yes, but not in a car unless I have my handy dandy pressure point wrist bands.

14. Favorite place to read?
A comfy couch or chair

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I'm pretty indiscriminate. But if you don't give it back, or it comes back damaged, watch out!

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
No, but I do sometimes do lay them down open.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
In books for school, yes; in books I am reading for fun, no.

18. Not even with text books?
I'm more of a yellow highligher girl.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

20. What makes you love a book?
Beautiful writing, realistic portrayals of characters (note, this does not mean the characters need to be real!), interesting subject.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
If I absolutely loved it (depending on who I am recommending it to) or if I think it will make the person want to read more (I sneakily did this to my youngest brother, and he is now a reading fiend!)

22. Favorite genre?
Uh...fiction, I suppose.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

Favorite biography?
Nathan Hale. I read it as a kid and was just in love with him.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

26. Favorite cookbook?
How to Boil Water

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Bread of Angels.

28. Favorite reading snack?

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I don't really know.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Sometimes. I tend to look for any comments/critiques from authors I like on the backs of the books.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I have no problem with it. I am honest on my blog.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
I can already read in Spanish, but I have always thought it would be cool to be able to read Hebrew.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Probably Don Quixote.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I don't know that I really have one. Maybe Bleak House because I've started and put it down so many times.

35. Favorite Poet?
Too many to choose from! I do really like Liesl Muller.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Lots of times. Remember, I'm a compulsive book checker-outer.

38. Favorite fictional character?
Arthur Clennam is one of them (one of many)

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Hmmm... Bradley Headstone is pretty much a total creeper.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Lots of them! I usually bring a variety so that I will be sure to have something to read.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
a few days
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Lakeshore Limited

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
not much unless the book is only so-so

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
This is hard! I did really love the movie of Little Dorrit. And I loved the Lord of the Rings movies. Oh, and I thought Atonement was great. I'll stop breaking the rules now.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Maybe Time Traveler's Wife

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
$40 in one stop, but I could spend that three or four times a week before I cut back on buying books.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If it was poorly written, absolutely cliched, or extremely offensive (and I'm not easily offended)

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
by group (classics, sentimental favorites, books I might like to read a bit of before going to sleep, etc.) and then alphabetically.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I am a book packrat.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
The rest of the Twilight books.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
March, by Geraldine Brooks

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
The Sunne and Splendour, by Sharon Kay Penman.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The Help. It's not like I hated it, but I didn't think it lived up to all the hype.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When the Fates Conspire...

Hello, blogging friends. I was doing so well; my last two posts were up within a week of each other, and I had grand intentions of reviewing the The Cookbook Collector and Eat Pray Love (I won't bore you with how much the lack of commas in this title bugs me!)and sharing some of my favorite Atticus (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame) anecdotes.

And then the Fates (also known as the Realities of Real Life) intervened with: a massive two-day headache (possibly a migraine?) complete with nausea and general ickiness, family friends visiting from the Dominican Republic who needed an additional translator, and my parents' internet, which decided that it hated not only my computer (old news) but also all computers currently residing in my parents' home.

However, I am back, and I have exciting news! I received a call last Thursday to interview for a job at a high school! It is the first application that has actually turned into an interview (yay for potential employment and the hope of moving out of my parents' place. Don't get me wrong: I am so thankful that they have let me stay with them, but this CANNOT be a permanent situation...). I spent this weekend shopping for an interview outfit, telling the story of my interview over and over again, and generally being nervous about said interview.

The interview went really well, and now I am waiting to hear back from the school. This waiting is definitely more nervewracking and stomach-twisting than the waiting for the interview day. So to distract myself yesterday, I went to see Eat Pray Love.

And this, my friends, is where we have the opportunity to discuss a rarity in my book world: I liked the movie better than the book. I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's voice and writing style, but there was just a bit too much Eastern mysticism, God is who you want him to be, let's all chant in Sanskrit for my taste. Despite all this, however, I will readily admit that this book (and the movie) really reasonated with me; I mean, how could it not? It's all about a woman who makes a seemingly crazy, huge change in her life, and her life is literally never the same. For the better. How could I not relate? The movie had this same effect on me (the spiritualism was played down quite a bit while still retaining Gilbert's distinct voice and humor, which I thought was a much better tone than the book) and proved to be a good distraction from my interview worries because it was like taking a mini vacation to three exotic locations (in only 3 hours!). I especially loved the scene at the end where Liz explains the physics of the quest: she essentially said that making a change can't be anything but good. And in my case, I think she's right.

On the bookish front, I am very excited to participate in the Bleak House Readalong that is being hosted by the Zen Leaf. I have been meaning to actually finish this book for quite some time, and I had vowed back in June to read it during my less hectic, temporarily (hopefully) unemployed time. And here is the perfect incentive! Many consider this Dickens' greatest work, so head over to sign up if you want to read with us!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Linger, or Why Did I Start Reading This Series Now?

Photo credit

Well, friends, the temptation to compulsively consume Linger, the sequel to Shiver, proved too much this past weekend, so I did something that I rarely do: I went to Barnes and Noble and read the entire thing there.

Now, before you get upset, let me assure you that I do understand the difference between a bookstore and a library (I can even tell you about the difference in two languages!), and I do know that bookstores need to make a profit (does it make you feel better to know that I bought ridiculously large coffees while there?), and I do plan on buying the entire series when it is out in paperback and (more importantly) when I have a teaching job.

Let's just say that this inability to overcome my scruples about reading an entire book in a bookstore is evidence that Maggie Stiefvater did an excellent job continuing her good work from Shiver. There were many unexpected twists (least of all the ending: how, I ask you, how am I supposed to wait another year to find out what happens to Grace and Sam?) and lots of poetry and music. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Shiver, but I think that's mainly because there was a side story that I didn't care about too much because I just wanted to KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH GRACE AND SAM FOR PETE'S SAKE!!!!

Did I already mention that reading this book was a bit compulsive?

Anyway, I liked the book a lot. I know this wasn't a great, coherent review, but I don't want to give anything away to people who want to read the series. If you like Young Adult Literature, or you just want to assure yourself that Twilight does not signal the downfall of mankind, then you should really read this series.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Shivers Down My Spine

Photo credit

I don't always know what to do about book hype, particularly when the book being hyped is a Young Adult novel. I have nothing against Young Adult Literature, but ever since the Twilight fiasco, I have been a bit wary. Imagine my surprise, then, when I devoured Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, in a mere day and a half. I didn't know much about the book, but when I saw it on the library's new books shelf, I thought to myself, "what the heck. I'll give it a try."

Boy, am I glad I did.

First let me just say how much I appreciate that Stiefvater's publisher a) did not give away the entire book in the blurb and b) did an amazing job on the cover art. Okay, on to the review!

I'm not going to give a plot synopsis here since I am probably the last person in the blogosphere to have read this book. The main characters are Grace and Sam, and I liked both of them almost immediately. Grace is a junior in high school, but she pretty much keeps her family together: both her parents are rather scatterbrained, so most of the care giving responsibilities fall on her. Sam had a pretty rough childhood, and his teen years are proving to be quite trying, too. I don't want to give away the twist here, but I do want to commend Stiefvater for writing two great characters who feel like real teenagers. She understands teens without condescension or cliche. It's a book that deals with lots of emotions, but these emotions never feel fake or melodramatic; they are real and genuine and, as a result, evoked some pretty real emotional responses from me.

This is a sweetly told story, and it maintains its sweetness and sass despite some not-so-nice details. I especially appreciated that Stiefvater explored and present Grace and Sam's relationship in a realistic but tasteful way. She conveyed the strong feelings that so often come when great amounts of emotions and hormones are involved, but it never got weird or icky. The ins and outs of their relationship were very well done.

Needless to say, the book delivers. It is all about longing, loss, pain, and love, and it is supernatural/fantasy writing at its best: it takes a complex human dilemma, clothes it in some rather fantastical clothing, and then lets the situation unfold in a realistic, moving way despite its fantastical elements. If anything, because it is fantasy it allows for a more honest, up-close look at and answer to how we deal with the complexities of wanting someone, loving someone, and helping another person conquer his personal demons.

I am eagerly waiting for my turn to come up on the library's hold list so I can get my hands on the next book in the series, Linger. The last book in the series will be published next summer, and I'm sure it will be hard to wait if Linger is anything like Shiver.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Excuse Me? or a Defense of Reading Fiction

My parents and I had lunch with some old friends and other people the old friends knew. We had eaten lunch, and the women had settled in for a delightful post-lunch conversational meander. The talk turned to books (four of us were teachers, so this was no surprise), and in the midst of discussions about Harry Potter (yay!), the Twilight series (blech!), and whether the standards for the Newberry had changed, one lady casually mentioned that she only allows herself one novel per year.

*Insert crickets, blank stares, and a rather uncomfortable silence where the rest of us looked at each other awkwardly, not quite sure how to respond*

This lady then went on to explain that she had so much to read with her cookbooks and children's school books (she homeschools them) that she just couldn't justify allowing herself to read more than one novel a year.

I have to admit that I was more than a little put off by her rather nonchalant statement. I can understand people who don't like or want to read (crazy people that they are) not wanting to read much in a year, but how is it possible that someone who suppposedly enjoys reading, who is trying to instill in her children the importance of words and reading, deprives herself of so much great material? This lady is clearly reading other things, but it irked me that she made this statement as an obvious testament to how pious and worthy she was because she wasn't reading the drivel and slop that the rest of us were because she didn't read multiple novels each year.

And this, really, is the heart of the issue: people still see reading fiction as largely a waste of time. I know there are people who prefer non-fiction, which is fine. There is a lot to be said for personal taste. I also know that people who are not readers cannot quite grasp the sometimes obsessive nature of a booklover's desire to read. But what I want to know is how a responsible, educated person can assert that all fiction, across the board, is frivolous and meant to be doled out in tiny bits like too-rich candy to children who might get sick if they eat too much of it. Is there frivolous, fluffy fiction? Certainly; the same, however, can be said for non-fiction.

What I really wanted to say in response to this woman's statement (but didn't because I was too dumbstruck) is that fiction has value. It's an argument that's been debated since the beginning of literature: what makes literature valid and valued? Is it only worthwhile if it instructs (which many associate with non-fiction)? Is it valuable if it only entertains? I would assert that the best literature (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, you name it) does both, but it is not necessary to feel actively instructed to take something valuable from a work of fiction. Sometimes it is enought to recognize yourself, your situation, or your feelings in a work. Even better if you learn something because of it.

I have gained so much from the fiction that I have read throughout my life. My appreciation of and love for music and beautiful things have been heightened by works like Bel Canto and the poetry of Liesl Muller. I have understood sacrifice and true love (romantic and non) more deeply and more truly because of Our Mutual Friend, Lord of the Rings, Little Dorrit, and even something as silly as Belong to Me. I have seen great moral lessons played out in To Kill a Mockingbird, Tale of Two Cities, and Things Fall Apart. I can hardly make a respectable dent in all the historical fiction I have read that not only taught me about the time and place but also brought significant history to life (Outlander, the Sunne and the Splendor, Macbeth, Gaskell's North and South, all of Dickens' works, The Bronze Arrow, the Little House on the Prairie books, Maude Hart Lovelace's Betsy, Tacy, and Tib books, and so many more).

I can honestly assert that my life would not have been the same if I had not read the books that I read, and most of those books have been fiction. Regarding all fiction as suspect is as problematic as assuming that every work in a certaing genre is valuable because it is that genre. It smacks of smugness and ignorance, and I don't like it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Do We Go On? Living in the Face of Suffering

I recently finished two extremely different books that both dealt with the issue of how we as individuals and as a nation can continue living a supposedly normal and disinterested existence when we know what other people are experiencing around the world.

The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake, is a novel that is set in 1940 and 1941; the novel depicts the stories of the people living in a tiny coastal town in Massachustes (literally the last town in America before hitting the Atlantic Ocean), specifically the postmaster, Iris, the town mechanic, Harry, and the new doctor, Will, and his new wife, Emma. The novel also follows Frankie Bard, a woman reporter covering the Blitz in London and then trying to discover what the Nazis are really doing to all the Jews the are relocating.

The other book is The Bread of Angels, by Stephanie Saldana. In this memoir, Saldana recounts the year she spent in Syria (2004-2005); Saldana discusses the people she met, the struggles (emotional, spiritual, and physical) she encountered, and the most definitely unorthodox decisions that she made as a result of her time spent in Syria.

Both of these books were very fast reads for me, but I found The Bread of Angels to be a much more authentic answer to the question of how to continue living in the face of suffering. Saldana confronted the repercussions of war, poverty, and religious differences with honesty and authenticity; I never felt like she was hiding her pain or her indecision regarding suffering from the reader. In fact, I think it was Saldana's raw pain, doubt, fear, and insecurity that made this such a compulsive read for me. I didn't necessarily agree with all of Saldana's thoughts, resolutions, and answers, but I still found the book to be an honest portrait of a woman striving to define and live by what was important and mattered most to her.

Sarah Blake, on the other hand, ruined the good work that she did in her novel by feeling the need to explain that she was dealing with how people continued living, unchanged, in the face of suffering. I was interested to learn what inspired Blake to write her novel, but I felt a bit patronized by her explanation of why she discussed the Blitz and Frankie Bard's journey through Nazi-occupied Europe. Coincidentally, it was Frankie Bard's train journey, spent recording the stories of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime, that resonated most deeply for me; it was the least forced and most authentic part of Blake's story, and it was the part of the novel that evoked the deepest, truest emotions in me. It clearly presented the juxtaposition that Blake sought and was powerful enough to make Blake's explanation unnecessary. By contrast, the rest of the novel seemed to be working too hard to prove a point (a point that didn't necessarily match her content) without just letting the story be told.

Interestingly, The Postmistress has stayed with me, largely because of how it ended. I realize that part of the reason that I like Victorian literature so much is that there is always a neatly wrapped-up ending, and oftentimes those endings are happy. This was not the case with The Postmistress. I didn't feel as though the ending fit the book; it seemed as though Blake wanted to infuse as much suffering as possible into her novel, but, ironically, she never attempted to make sense of that suffering. Saldana, however, presented just as much pain and suffering, but all that pain and suffering (even though much of it was senseless and unnecessary) became a necessary piece of how her story was told.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, TKAM!

I LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird. It is possibly my favorite book, and all my fellow bookies out there KNOW how hard it is to land on an unconditional favorite!

To honor the fact that this wonderful, life-changing book has been delighting us for fifty years (and may it have many, many more), I am thinking about dedicating some yet to be determined amount of time on my blog to To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm thinking favorite scenes, favorite quotes, best themes, funniest teaching stories, and much, much more. Would anyone like to do this with me? Read it? Discuss it? Contribute quotes, etc.? If so, please let me know!

P.S. I just found out that my dad (my own father!) has not read To Kill a Mockingbird. This might be grounds for disowning him, especially since he didn't seem all that interested in rectifying the situation.

P.P.S. I hope that this continues to be true:

Im teaching To Kill a Mockingbird

UPDATE: I have found a lovely blogger who has already set-up a little schedule to honor To Kill a Mockingbird on her blog, so I will be working within the framework on Capricious Reader's blog. Do check it out!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Confessions of a Delinquent Blogger

A recent conversation I had with my mother:
What are you doing?

I'm working on my little blog, Mom

I didn't know you had a you have a following?

Probably not, since I started the blog in February and then didn't post for two of the four months of the blog's existence.


Apologies to you, dear reader, if you have felt any of the confusion my mother experienced. I could quote all kinds of excuses (and oh, they are many and reasonable), but really I just didn't make time to blog. Yes, there were papers to grade and musicals to accompany for and exams to write and apartments to pack, but I also found time to read the entire backlog of the love story between Ree and her Marlboro Man (at the fabulous Pioneer Woman, but be warned: it is VERY addicting!) and watch almost the entire first season of Lost. Again, my brain was tired, my sanity was shot, and my body was beyond over getting up at 6 a.m., but I could have prioritized.

Let's all just agree that this was an unofficial blogging break, and I promise to try to do better. I have had some major life changes that will probably mean more time (at least for right now) to read and blog: I have left the South and returned to the Midwest. I am currently living with the parents (and the brother and the sister and the two crazy dogs) while I try to find a teaching job in a more severe allergy-friendly environment!

I will wrap this up by giving a shout-out to two books I enjoyed recently: I loved The Last Summer (of You and Me)*, by Ann Brashares, when I read it two years ago, so I was very excited to learn that she had a new book coming out in June. I really enjoyed My Name is Memory *(and what a great title!) until the end. Then even the end was redeemed when I learned that My Name is Memory *is the first installment of a trilogy! Rock on, Ann Brashares!

*Disclaimer: While these books all deal with teen/young adult angst, they are by no means typical. If you don't like uncomfortable, unconventional, or sad situations, these books are probably not for you.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Fairy Tale Post, or I Assure You I am Alive

According to T.S. Eliot, "April is the cruelest month," and in many ways April was a very cruel month to me! April was busy, busy, busy, mostly because I was accompanying for the school's production of State Fair. It was loads of fun to get back to my musical theater roots, but the sleep deprivation definitely took its toll. April started strong for me, but then I floundered: I have put down at least four books that just haven't managed to keep my interest (ironically, all the audio books I listened to in April were wonderful, so maybe I was just too tired to physically read?).

I did, however, manage to read three fairy tale-esque books, so I figured I would talk about all three in one post since I still need to fulfill my fairy tale requirement for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. Without further ado, I give you three petite reviews!

The Girl with Glass Feet, by Ali Shaw
I was probably the last person with a book blog to read this book, but it was well worth the wait! This novel is a darker sort of fairy tale (think Brothers Grimm) but is no less enchanting for its dark, unflinching look at the reality of life. I won't summarize the plot here because I want to focus on the characters. I found Midas to be one of the most complete, cohesive characters I have read in a long time. From the opening passage that tells us that Midas is only comfortable looking at things through the lense of his camera, we know that Midas will face his fair share of obstacles and struggles. Midas is awkward, isolated, introverted, and "rigid in every way;" he knows very little about interacting with people in general. All this changes when he meets Ida (the fact that her name is part of his is probably not coincidence). Ida is struggling with her own bizarre problems, and over the course of the novel, these two characters must confront painful things about themselves, their pasts, and each other. In many ways, both are looking for completion and redemption, and they both look to each other in order to find them. This novel does not give easy answers, and does have its flaws (the winged bulls seemed completely random and unnecessary), but the novel ends as it should and presents itself as a very modern fairy tale. Here are some favorite quotes:
The snow was as stiff as the rest of St. Hauda's Land. The awkward bending of branches in the wind, the brittle leaves that broke like ancient parchments. Even a falcon she had watched fly without grace, with mechanical beats of its wings. As if that was the way of these islands, to seize things up, to weather away their vitality.

She found time for inhibited men, and in doing so found excuses for them. There must be some excuse for the way his father left an inheritance of inhibitions for his son.

This was my favorite of the fairy tale books that I read, and I am anxiously waiting for this to come out in paperback so I can buy it!

Sing Me To Sleep, by Angela Morrison
This Young Adult novel was another attempt to add to my summer reading list. It didn't make the cut for the list, but it had some very unique things going for it. It's not the best thing I ever read, but I appreciated how well the author captured a teenage girl's mindset, worries, and thought process. The story is a twist on Beauty and the Beast. Beth, the main character, is a tall, unattractive girl who is teased mercilessly; her classmates find her so unattractive that they call her the Beast. She has one friend, Scott, who she is becoming increasingly aware of as a boy and potential love interest. The only thing that Beth feels she has going for her in life is her singing. Beth has a beautiful voice and is a member of a competitive youth choir. When her choir travels to Switzerland for a competition, she meets Derek. As Beth and Derek attempt to build a relationship, odd things have Beth confused, and the answers to her questions are most definitely not happy. This book does not have a fairy tale ending, but was a pleasing distration from the realities of school and grading.

Curse Dark as Gold
This is a Young Adult retelling of Rumplestilskin (spelling is probably incorrect...sorry, it's a very long German name to spell from memory!). I've always loved retellings of fairy tales; I think I read every Donna Jo Napoli book I could get my hands on in high school! This book was a bit on the creepy side for me (I'm a major wimp when it comes to anything scary), but I really enjoyed the explanations that the author gave for why Rumplestilskin, known as Jack Spinner in the novel, wanted the main character's baby. The writing was much stronger in this novel than in Sing Me to Sleep, which was perhaps due to the fact that Sing Me to Sleep was Angela Morrison's first novel while Curse Dark As Gold was not Elizabeth Bunce's first.

All in all, Girl with Glass Feet was my favorite. Here's to being back in the world of blogging!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Just wanted to post a quick assurance that I AM still alive. I have been running non-stop since my last post, but things have finally slowed down! A post is coming soon about the fairy tale reading I have been doing, so be on the look-out for that!

11 regular days of school left before exams...I will make it...somehow...I think...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

March Madness

Much as I love to read, I often struggle to find the kind of time (i.e. hours and hours upon end) that I would like to have to spend reading. As an English teacher, reading is a large part of my job, and I spend lots of time reading student essays, test questions, and journals. Most of the time, this reading cannot compare to the reading that I would rather be doing. I do read every night before I go to sleep, and I find myself reading during at least one meal each day; I get snippets and tastes, but extended periods of reading times are generally confined to weekends and breaks from school. I become a reading monster during these precious hours of extra reading time, and so it is pretty easy to tell what time of the year it was on my list of books read!

As I've already mentioned, January and February were pretty dismal reading months for me. I got sick several times, I was slogging my way through East of Eden, and I was behind on my grading before the quarter even began (those of you who teach English know how this is possible; those of you who don't teach English should be thankful for your blissful ignorance). I usually have no trouble reading multiple books at once (a phenomenon that continues to stun and amaze my roommate, a strictly one-book-at-a-time reader), but I knew if I gave in and read something other than East of Eden, I would never go back and finish East of Eden. And I WANTED to finish East of Eden (that, Kari, is dedication!).

Thus it was that I was pleasantly surprised to find myself at the end of March with a quite respectable number of books under my belt. This is the first time I have been specific about the month in which I completed a book, and I am proud to say that I finished more than triple the number of books in March than I did in either January or February.

I may not know the first thing about college basketball (ask my friends; they will confirm this fact), but I got lots of reading done! Who needs basketball when you can read a book about a mysterious glass disease, a cursed girl who must complete three crazy tasks, and the backstory of the mysterious Weird Sisters. Here is the list of books I read in March:
Small Island
Lady Macbeth's Daughter
The Eyre Affair (audio)
A Homemade Life
Becoming Jane Eyre
Firefly Lane (audio)
The Girl With the Glass Feet

My top three of the month were A Homemade Life, The Girl With the Glass Feet, and Impossible.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

24 Hour Read-a-Thon: "Don't Stop Believin'"

It's Hour 15 of the Read-a-Thon, and my reading has finally kicked into high gear! I tossed The Everafter aside after only about 20 pages because it wasn't holding my interest. I have moved on to Lunch in Paris; I am enjoying it, but I keep comparing it to A Homemade Life (you can read my review if you need a break from the books), and it doesn't hold up too well in the comparison...I'm trying to stay strong, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to succumb to the siren call of Gardens of Water on my i-pod and then drift into blissful sleep.

24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Switching Gears

Well, I finally get to hunker down and read, read, read! Shades of Grey wasn't really doing it for me, so I'm going to switch gears a bit. I'm planning on reading as late as I possibly can tonight (I'm hoping until midnight, but we'll see if it happens as my body firmly believes that 10 p.m. is bedtime!). I'm going to answer the survey and then hit the books!

1. What are you reading right now? I just started The Everafter, which I'm going to alternate with Lunch in Paris (if The Everafter is too scary, I'll change accordingly!). I will also continue listening to Gardens of Water (it is amazing!).
2. How many books have you read so far? 1 (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand)
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Probably Lunch in Paris, Love and Summer, or My Life in France.
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? Well, I didn't free up my whole day (or even most of it), so no. :)
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Again, see the above answer.
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How much I want to be reading instead of doing what I have to do! Oh, and it's been really nice visiting new blogs.
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope!
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I would definitely plan a little better so I could actually read for most of the time.
9. Are you getting tired yet? Yes, but that's probably because I'm an English teacher and the kiddos are wearing me out! ;)
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Keep it up! It's been awesome!