Sunday, February 28, 2010

Love It / Hate It

This post is going to be a rather random conglomeration of bookish things from the weekend. And then I PROMISE I will review East of Eden!

2010 has been a rather slow reading year for me so far. I don't know if I have read less because I got sick several times, was frantically trying to play catch-up with my grading (and nothing kills the reading spirit like reading horrible sophomore writing...), discovered the dangerous world of book blogs, or was trying to slog my way through the now infamous East of Eden (the albatross around my neck, the sword dangling above my head...okay, you get the point), but I have resolved to be more intentional about my reading time. Basically, this means carving out the time in the evening before I go to sleep for reading books and not, erm, book blogs, which, apparently, have become my new addiction!

Due to a variety of things (economic climate, NO storage space, random forgetfulness, aforementioned frantic grading), I have also been rather slack in the book-buying department. This is not a bad thing, but it is surprising. I am a person who is almost singularly unsuccessful when it comes to resisting the siren call of books in a bookstore. When I proudly announced to some friends that I had only bought 2 (TWO!) books since the beginning of the year, and those books were used (I got both of them for $3!), they laughed at me. LAUGHED! They obviously don't understand what an achievement this is for me. And I wasn't even trying to avoid buying books. It just...happened. Ironically, if I had been trying to curb my book-buying, I probably would have been a lot less successful. Of course, now I feel like I am justified in going on a book splurge...

I have a love/hate relationship with my public library. For the first two years that I lived here, I did not have my own computer, so I used the computers at the library. Computer use was the extent of my library experience because I was not being so successful with the resisting-books thing, and I was happy. When I finally decided to try to be more concientious about my book purchasing, I thought the library was an obvious resource that I could use. This is where the hate part of the relationship began: this library system (in general) has a limited selection, charges fees for odd things, and has a generally unhelpful, unfriendly staff. More often than not, a library visit would cause grumbling on my part because I couldn't find the most basic of things that I would like. The system has either gotten better, or I have gotten easier to please, but I am currently in a "I LOVE the library" phase. Everything I have searched for I have found, the librarians have been unusually helpful, and I have received holds more quickly than anticipated. And today, I found a new reason to love my library: the annual Friends of the Library used book sale. It was glory! It was bliss! And I even managed to stick to my self-imposed limit of only spending $10. Here's what I bought:

And my two particular favorites are actually two books that I would have passed up before I started reading book blogs!
Jenny Wren, by E.H. Young (first Virago!), and The Group, by Mary McCarthy!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Booking Through Thursday (on Friday) and Failing Miserably at Buttons

I’ve seen this quotation in several places lately. It’s from Sven Birkerts’ ‘The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age’:

“To read, when one does so of one’s own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one’s life or one’s orientation toward it.”

To what extent does this describe you?

It is true that in reading voluntarily we "make a volitional statement,...cast a vote." Part of the joy and beauty of reading for pleasure is the very simple truth that we are able to choose what and when we read; this is why enjoying reading may be so shocking for so many people who suffered through their English classes in high school and college. They are shocked to discover what pleasure freedom of choice brings.

To a certain extent, we should have confidence in what we choose. It is our right as readers to read as we please; we do not have to explain ourselves (even though many of us do so in spite of this) because we have cast our vote and set off for our chosen destination.

Reading is often about escape but always about experience. My reading choices are not things that comment about my dissatisfaction with my life or understanding of my life. Rather, I have always thought of reading as something that enriches my life: it does not replace my experience, but neither does it belittle it. In fact, my life experiences are made more beautiful and meaningful because of what I read.

Reading can also bring comfort, both in the reading and in the remembering of the reading. It is so comforting to recognize yourself, a person in your life, or a circumstance you are experiencing in what you are reading. And, again, so often that reading can enlighten how I think about or react to someone or something.

SOS: Inexperienced blogger seeks help with adding buttons to her blog. It is sad, but true: adding buttons to my blog is still an ellusive concept that mystifies me. The almighty Google and Bing have failed me, so perhaps some of you could enlighten me? It surely can't be that difficult!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Blue and Unsure What To Do

Okay, I know that rhyming in your post title is perhaps a bit shameless, but I just couldn't help myself. I promise that reviews of East of Eden are coming soon, but I need to do some more ruminating and reflecting before sharing any of my thoughts on and reactions to the novel.

In the meantime, anyone read Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold? Its subtitle proudly declares that it is "A Novel Inspired by the Life & Marriage of Charles Dickens." Now, I love Charles Dickens (as evidenced here), and I had been eagerly anticipating being at the top of the holds list at the library and receiving this book. It is incredibly readable (though I may not be far enough into it to understand why it was long-listed for both the Man Booker and Orange), but I'm beginning to wonder if this is how I really want to discover the details of Dickens' marriage. I am well aware that he was not the most, ahem, admirable of husbands (okay, he was downright unfaithful to Catherine), but as I would really like to be able to continue reading and loving his works, this novel may not get finished.

Anyone have any thoughts on the subject? Have you ever read a biography (fictional or not) that you wish you hadn't read because it jaded or ruined the author for you? Do weigh in!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My First Challenge

Drumroll please: brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Read the Book's first reading challenge will be a poetry one! I haven't decided which level to strive for yet, but I'm toying with either Octave or Sonnet level. I will keep you posted as I read.

P.S. As a new blogger, I have yet to figure out the mysterious button concept. If you would like more information on the challenge, visit Clover, Bee & Reverie.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Seventeen Essays, Eight Days, Two Books, and One Bookmark Later...

I am back from the brink of coughing up both lungs; I may have gone back to school too soon, but the excitement and joy (really!) my return caused in my students was the best kind of medicine. A student even presented me with this wonderful bookmark today. She told me it made her think of me and that she just HAD to buy it for me (how sweet). I'm not sure I agree with all the books on the list (is Wuthering Heights really something a person needs to read to have a fulfilled literary life? I'm not sure...), but you can't argue with the overall sentiment! And I love it when an item's packaging is almost as exciting as the item itself!

I am eager to post my review(s) of East of Eden, but I fear the poetry essays I have been grading have sapped quite a bit of my mental strength, at least as far as posting goes. I have 57 pages left in East of Eden, so I am not quite ready to review it, but I thought I would leave you with this little teaser, which is also, coincidentally, one of the best quotes I've encountered about reading in a long time:
Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.
What a way to read!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One Will Love This Book

It was only a matter of time; I have caught one of the many bugs going around the school where I teach, and after practically losing my voice yesterday, I decided I needed to take a sick day and try to get better. This decision was quickly followed by the realization that East of Eden was NOT what the doctor ordered. It's a great novel, but it's definitely not something to read when you're feeling crummy.

Luckily for me, however, Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader was waiting for me at the library. I had read about it on several blogs, and it turns out that it was the perfect book to read!

I read The Uncommon Reader in one night, and it was just lovely. It is always nice to recognize pieces of yourself in characters that you read about, and I think half the book will end up in my quotations notebook! It is a very gentle tale of how the Queen of England's life is turned upside down by a single visit to a travelling library. She wasn't much of a reader before, but she quickly falls in love with books, reading, and the new world that books open up for her. The people around her become more and more perplexed and exasperated, and when the Queen, inspired by all the wonderful things she has been reading, decides to try writing herself, very interesting and unexpected things happen!

Alan Bennett manages to poke fun at many people's preconceived notion of what books are for, how books should be read, and what is and isn't appropriate dinner conversation (i.e. books are not appropriate dinner conversation). As the Queen dives deeper and deeper into her lists of books, her staff and advisers, with the exception of the faithful Norman, become more and more perturbed by the changes that are taking place in "Ma'am." Many even consider that the Queen is probably sinking into senility (which presents a whole different problem than the book obsession since Alzheimer's is so singularly common), which is highly ironic given the fact that the Queen finds herself to be more mentally vivacious than she has been in a very long time. Bennett shows how powerful the reading experience can be and shows, as the Queen herself says, that reading is often a "tenderising" undertaking. The Queen herself changes not only her ideas and understanding of her surroundings because of what she reads; she starts to see and notice things in people that she never would have been aware of before.

Part of what is so compelling about Bennett's story for me is the presence of another voracious, compulsive reader. I love that the Queen was willing to try anything, and her reading horizons were broadened immensely. I don't necessarily agree with her philosophy of always finishing a book once having started it, but I do think it is a wise reader (which the Queen very much is) who is willing to give an author a second chance because she knows that reading exercises the brain and makes it stronger. I also appreciate that the Queen realizes that reading should be an interactive experience; I believe that we get the most out of what we read if we respond to it and interact with it in some way both while we read and after we are done. Again, it is a wise reader who reads with a pen or pencil or highlighter in hand because she knows that there are treasures to be mined as she reads. The Uncommon Reader demonstrates that there is so much more to reading than entertainment; entertainment is all well and good, but reading and writing at their best can challenge us and make us think in ways that we wouldn't have otherwise and often can literally change our lives.

One thing I found myself wondering over and over as I read was what the real Queen's response was to this book. Was this book inspired by something particular? As an American, I will admit that I know very little about the ins and outs of the English monarchy, so I was left wondering about what Bennett was trying to achieve with the book. Was his purpose simply a gentle satire of people in general, or was he pointing out and satirizing something specific to the monarchy? Again, I very much felt my non-Englishness and the fact that I wasn't really in the know.

Part of the brilliance of Bennett's story, however, lies in the fact that you don't have to be English to appreciate the Queen's discovery of books. In fact, I would venture that the Queen is not an uncommon reader simply because she is the Queen; she is an uncommon reader because of what and how she reads. And that, my friends, is what makes The Uncommon Reader so appealing!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Don't Know (or Care) Much About the Super Bowl

The statement I am about to write is tantamount to blasphemy in the US. Tonight is the Super Bowl, a sporting event that lures even the most un-sporting to its viewership (this happens, mostly, thanks to the fact that there are many parties celebrating said sporting event). I, however, don't really care about the game itself, and, thanks to a cold, I have an excuse to stay home, read East of Eden, and watch the end of Emma on Masterpiece Classic.

I was not all that impressed with the first episode of Emma; I was a bit put off by some of the more modern aspects of the interpretation, but by the end of the second episode, I had been won over by this youthful, boisterous, joyful interpretation of Austen's novel. I am now anxiously awaiting the incident at Box Hill, Emma's realization of her love for Mr. Knightley, and one of the most perfect proposals in all of literature. If I have to have a cold, at least I have wonderful consolation while I "suffer"!

One last miscellaneous tidbit to leave you with before the weekend ends: I LOVE Charles Dickens.

These are all the Charles Dickens-related books that I have at home with me. There are a few more that live at school, but I like to keep them close! I also thought I would include my favorites from Dickens' canon.

Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are the novels that redeemed Dickens for me. I read A Christmas Carol in seventh grade and Oliver Twist in tenth grade and wasn't terribly impressed by either. Tale of Two Cities changed all that for me.

Here are the rest of my Dickens favorites in order of how much I love them: You can't love Dickens and NOT love David Copperfield; I love Nicholas Nickleby because it is one of Dickens' truly comic novels; I did my undergraduate thesis on Our Murual Friend. Many critics thought it was a disappointment, but I found the tale of love, redemption, and resurrection to be moving and well-written.

Finally, Little Dorrit is my new Dickens love. It's pretty much a toss-up as to whether I love OMF or LD more, but love them I do!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Know, I Know

I've changed the blog template. I know I've been blogging for all of three days, but I just didn't like my first template. And really, if I can't make my blog look the way I want it to look, then why blog?

East of Eden continues, and the twists just keep a-comin'. Poor Cal...let's see if it lasts...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rain, Rain, Rain

After a seemingly interminable week made even longer by the buckets of rain falling from the sky, Friday evening has finally come. I ate a yummy dinner, I'm snugly parked on the couch, the rain is falling is very soothing (and I don't have to go out in it!), and I have nothing that HAS to be done tonight. This, my friends, is bliss!

I am hoping that East of Eden will occupy a good chunk of my night, but I have to be honest and admit that I am REALLY tired and will probably succumb to sleep long before I read my projected fifty pages. Oh well. In the spirit of Scarlet O'Hara, there's always tomorrow!

I do want to say one thing about East of Eden: I don't think I have ever read another novel that has made me change my sympathy for so many characters so many times. I think Steinbeck intentionally keeps his reader off-kilter, and I think he uses his wide cast of characters to help achieve this affect. It reminds me some of how Dickens builds his stories, but Steinbeck doesn't give the reader nearly as many clues about his characters as Dickens does. Dickens gives the reader glimpses of who the characters will become by the end; Steinbeck keeps the reader in the dark until he decides it is time for the reader to be in the know, and a few times Steinbeck's character revelations have been a bit like being broadsided by a truck. My newest unexpected character sympathy is for Cal. We'll see how long it lasts...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Welcome and Hello!

Well, I have taken the plunge...back into the blogging world, that is. Specifically, I have the taken the plunge into the book blogging world. This is largely due to reading several other extremely inspiring book blogs, especially Stuck In A Book over in the UK. Thanks, Stuck In A Book!

I hope to share my thoughts on a little bit of everything, but I will focus mostly on books and book-related things. My first project: a review of East of Eden, which I hope to finish this weekend. Stay tuned, and thanks for stopping by!