Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Straight From the Heart = Straight From the Kitchen

I do not love to cook. And really, I don't cook that often. I find it to be too much of a hassle just cooking for myself; there is very little incentive for me to spend more time preparing and cleaning up than enjoying the product, so I tend to eat a lot of cereal, toast, quesadillas, and turkey sandwiches.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen, by Molly Wizenberg, made me want to love to cook. Heck, it made me want to cook period! As already mentioned, I stumbled across this book on Roses Over a Cottage Door, and I am so glad that I did!

A Homemade Life is the story of Molly Wizenberg's cooking and eating life. The two are very intertwined since her parents were great cooks; Wizenberg grew up in the kitchen, and the kitchen is where she firmly remains today. This is a very poignant, fresh book, and it will pull you in as soon as you start. I loved Wizenberg's honesty about everything from foods she hated as a child to how she coped with her father's death to the things her husband does that drive her crazy. I felt like I was listening to an old friend as I read this book, and I even found some recipes to try. This book was so wonderful that it might actually get me in the kitchen!

On a final note, be sure that you know exactly where you are in your reading of this book. A Homemade Life is a book that you can easily dip in and out of, but as my roommate found out, you might skip crucial parts of the story if you only have a general idea of where you are in the book!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Want to be Jane Eyre When I Grow Up

He wakes to the scratching of a pencil against a page: a noise out of the darkness. He lies quite still on his back, reaching out for sound. His ears have become wings, straining, stretching, carrying him away. The world comes to him only through sound, and there is precious little of that.

So begins Becoming Jane Eyre, by Sheila Kohler. The novel opens soon after Charlotte Bronte's father's eye surgery; they are far away from home and all that is familiar. Charlotte is nursing her father, and her father is acknowledging her in a way he never had before. According to Sheila Kohler, it was during this convalescence that Charlotte Bronte started writing Jane Eyre.

I knew I wanted to read this book from the first time that I saw it in Borders. I have loved Jane Eyre since I first read it at sixteen, and I was intrigued by the premise of the novel. Essentially, Kohler intertwines Charlotte's struggles and desires with those of Jane; the result is an interesting and moving acknowledgment of Jane Eyre's power. Kohler also discusses Charlotte's relationship with her sisters, and it was easy to feel along with her as whe watched Branwell's demise, attempted to cajole Emily and Anne into publication, wrestled with her jealousy over the publication of her sisters' novels before her own was published, and mourned her two dear sisters' deaths.

I did not love this book, but I did appreciate it. Becoming Jane Eyre made me want to delve into Jane Eyre; it also made me want to pull out my copy of Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte. I was pleasantly surprised by how normal Emily Bronte was (my view of her is admittedly skewed by my negative reactions to Wuthering Heights), and I was greatly intriuged By Anne Bronte.

Sheila Kohler's writing was beautiful and visceral. She presented Charlotte Bronte as a real woman with real (pressing problems). She did not deify Bronte, but neither did she try to explain Bronte. She presented Charlotte; she did not pyschoanalyze her (again, this is another reaction to two novels involving Chrales Dickens that I ultimately could not bring myself to finish because I didn't want my view of Dickens ruined).

Bottom line: I am glad I read this book because it brought back many of the feelings I had while reading Jane Eyre for the first time. It also made me want to read the other Bronte novels (Villette, Agnes Grey, and Tenant of Wildfell Hall in particular).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Once Upon a Time Challenge: Post the First

Being the slightly obsessive-compulsive person that I am, I set out to find a good literary definition of folklore. After accomplishing this first task, I then set out to find a definitive list of suggestions of books that would be considered folklore/folktales. Sadly, such a list does not exist (at least not that I could find).

Based on my understanding that folklore has to do with the lives of people, tends to present some sort of explanation or truth, and, unlike myths, explains something without having a religous message, I've decided that Impossible, by Nancy Werlin, fits the bill. Inspired by the ballad "Scarborough Fair", it is the story of a girl who has to figure out a way to escape the family curse: she must perform three impossible tasks (hence the title) or be cursed with madness when her first child is born. Probably not strictly folklore, but it's close enough for me and my loose grasp of what could be considered folklore.

I tend to be much more familiar with the other three categories (fantasy, fairy tale, and myth) in this challenge. Out of the three, I've read the most in the fantasy genre, and most fantasy reading that I do tends to lead to more and more (I sort of go on fantasy kicks and then will leave the genre for quite a while), so do suggest any other good novels that you would consider folklore (note: I'm not particularly interested in reading a collection of folktales from any given culture; I would prefer to read a novel or interpretation of traditional folklore).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

She's Ba-ack, or Reading Lately, or How I Joined Two Challenges

Hello, folks! First let me apologize for my absence. The end of the quarter really snuck up on me, and using every spare moment for grading and recording grades is NOT conducive to book blogging! This past week has also been crazy, but I have firmly resolved to do better, and I know that the nearness of Spring Break (please hurry. PLEASE!) bodes well for putting me back on the right blogging track.

I helped chaperone some of our students at a writing conference today, and there were some excellent sessions just for teachers. We actually got to do some writing ourselves, so I was inspired to continue writing and decided that updating my blog needed to be my first writing priority! This will probably end up being one of those random posts, so feel free to skim for the interesting bits and skip the ones that don't grab your attention!

First of all, I have decided that I cannot do justice to a review of East of Eden. I am not just trying to get out of a writing a review; I truly think that I will need to read the novel again before I can formulate a coherent, truthful response to the novel. I will reread it eventually, but I just can't handle reading it again so soon. I think I read it over too long a period of time, so I will be sure to make my second reading of East of Eden much more condensed!

Since last blogging, I have finished Andrea Levy's Small Island and have discussed it with my book club. Um...I had very mixed feeling about this book. I picked it up because Masterpiece is showing an adaptation at the end of April; I didn't know anything about it beyond the fact that it was about a Jamaican couple that immigrates to London right after World War II. I was expecting to sympathize with Hortense, I was expecting Gilbert to be a traditional sort of hero, and I was expecting a depiction of racism and bigotry similar to the depiction of those same things in the United States during the same time.

Very few of these expectations were met. Small Island was not the book I expected, but in many ways it was better. My favorite character was Gilbert, a sensitive, kind man whose experiences fighting for the British during World War II unexpectedly, and tragically, broaden his horizons to the point where Jamaica feels more like a prison than a home when he returns after the war. All of the characters are very real, and Levy managed to evoke many complex emotions in me and in my friends who read the book.

Despite all this, however, Small Island was not a great book. It had its brilliant moments, but there were too many things left unresolved. I don't know that I will read anything else by Levy, but I am glad that I experienced a part of history that I wouldn't have if I hadn't read the book.

Let me move on before this post turns into a full-fledged review of Small Island! In other bookish news, I am being forced to endure Firefly Lane, by Kristen Hannah, because it is the next bookclub pick. I picked up The Bronze Horseman, by Paullina Simons, because I hadn't read much fiction that was set in Russia at the beginning of World War II (if you're wondering, World War II is, and always has been, one of my favorite historical periods). It's not the greatest thing that I've ever read, but I was really enjoying it until the two main characters FINALLY achieved the one thing they had been working for. And then things went downhill. Fast. Since the book was overdue at the library and I didn't have a strong desire to find out what happens to the two main characters, I returned it this morning and moved on to A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg.

I found out about A Homemade Life over at Roses over a Cottage Door and knew I needed to read it. I'm sort of a softy when it comes to memoirs, and this one has not disappointed! It is the story of the author's cooking and eating life, and I have really enjoyed it. I've also found some recipes that I absolutely must try!

Last, but not least, I have decided to join two more challenges (these will probably be my last!): I am going to join Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge and Trish's Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I'm going for Quest the Third because I too love Midsummer Night's Dream. The only book I've decided on so far for either challenge is re-reading (if it's allowed!) Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis.

Anyone have any suggestions for either challenge? Please share them!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


No one should be surprised that I absolutely couldn't resist doing this meme as soon as I found it. Gina over at Dickensblog tweaked it from another blog (and her site is great, so you should go visit!). Yet more evidence that my love for Charles Dickens borders on the obsessive...

Warning: my answers do contain some spoilers. Read at your own risk!

1.Which Dickens character are you secretly in love with? Arthur Clennam, hands down.
2.Which Dickens character would you most like to be? Oooo, this one is hard. I'll go with Amy Dorritt (yes, it is because she gets to marry Arthur Clennam, and she is just delightful!).
3.Which Dickens character do you think most resembles you? Um...I relate a lot to David Copperfield's love of books, and I love his description of how reading sort of saved him from his stepfather.
4.Which Dickens book have you read the most times? I'm still working my way through reading all of them, but I have read Our Mutual Friend and A Tale of Two Cities twice.
5.How old were you when you read your first Dickens book? Does a Mickey Christmas Carol count? I was in seventh grade when I read A Christmas Carol.
6.What is the worst Dickens book you've read? I don't really think there can BE a bad Dickens book, but I reacted badly to both A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist (fear not! I will reread them eventually!) before A Tale of Two Cities opened my eyes to the perfection that is Dickens.
7.What is the best Dickens book you've read? Currently, Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit are duking it out for this honor (Little Dorrit is winning).
8.What Dickens book would you most like to see made into a new movie and/or miniseries? Hmmm....I like the old version of Our Mutual Friend, but I would love to see it updated. A Tale of Two Cities could stand to overcome the bad hair of the most recent version.
9.What Dickens book would you least like to see made into a new movie and/or miniseries? Uh...again, probably all of Dickens' work should be made into movies, but I would probably have to say the Mystery of Edwin Drood.
10.What is the most difficult Dickens book you've read? Bleak House. I've started it at least three times, but I always get distracted (it could also have something to do with the fact that I know that Richard is going to die and it is going to be awful...)
11.What is your desert island Dickens book? Ooooo....this is so hard! I know, I'll cheat! I would like an omnibus edition that had Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend, and some of Dickens' essays (which are HILARIOUS!).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

TGIT (Thank Goodness It's Thursday)!

I have been confused about what day it is all week. I think being under the weather and fairly fuzzy-headed is to blame, but I got pretty excited when I realized that it was Thursday because that meant I could do my second Booking Through Thursday! (It's okay...you can laugh...but it's the small things that count, right?)

In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books?

More importantly, have you read them?

How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?

Ah, grammar. Everyone's favorite, right? Okay, so maybe not so much! To answer the first question, yes, I do have grammar books. Many of them, in fact (and yes, I know that this is a fragment, so don't freak out! As I tell my students, if you know how NOT to write run-ons and fragments, then--and only then--can you use them for effect!). I AM an English teacher, after all, and it wouldn't look too good if I didn't have some writing handbooks, style guides, and grammar books. The students even get their very own grammar handbook to use and love throughout the school year (*snort*).

I have not read all of the grammar-related books that I own, but I find them to be more intended as reference books rather than books to be read from cover to cover. I do own Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by Lynne Truss, but I haven't read all of it; I also appreciate Strunk and White's handbook, but, again, I haven't read it in its entirety. I also have numerous books from my college days that were helpful but referenced more than read. And who can forget that Holy Grail of Works Cited, the MLA Handbook?

Disclaimer: Remember that I'm an English teacher as you read this last bit!

What is my take on grammar? GRAMMAR IS IMPORTANT!!!!!! I firmly believe that proper grammar and good writing are extremely necessary in order to communicate effectively, and that is ALWAYS how I present grammar to my students: if you want people to understand you clearly, you need to know how to write/speak using proper grammar. Proper grammar = effective communication. Now, with that being said, I would also like to state that I do not think that standard grammar is some sacred untouchable that is above the daily usage of English speakers. Grammar should be largely defined by how it helps us communicate, and, clearly, the means we use to communicate are changing, so the grammar will (and probably should) change to accomadate. What does this mean for us as writers?

Spelling always counts. Spelling was standardized back in the day for a reason, so use correct spelling.

Commas are your friend; they are not the enemy. However, if you are unsure of how to use commas, do not, I repeat DO NOT, read Charles Dickens. The man knew how to use the British, Victorian species of comma, but the rules have changed!

Whether people admit it or not, bad grammar and bad editing DO affect opinions. Proofread your resume, or those errant commas COULD keep you from getting that job (it you don't know how to use a comma, why would anyone trust you with inspecting a nuclear power plant?).

This is my current pet peeve that makes me hit the ceiling when I read it in a student's paper: although IS NOT INTERCHANGEABLE with however!!

My perspective may be a bit skewed because I teach high school English, but I tend to fixate on proper punctuation. Proper punctuation seems fairly obvious to me, but that could be because I read so much as a child (and I read so many good writers) that I just sort of soaked in the good grammar along with the great stories and wonderful characters. I never really understood the rules until I started teaching (I would slide by with my ability to identify something as correct even though I didn't know WHY it was correct). Proper punctuation is deeply rooted in understanding how English functions, and this proves difficult (sometimes more for native speakers than non-native speakers) more often than not.

I will leave you with this: I think that grammar should be taught in the context of literature and writing. Too often teaching grammar has meant separating understanding of how language works from understanding what language says. I never (and will never) teach sentence diagramming, for instance, because sentence diagramming breaks down the sentence so much that it is no longer a sentence (but that's another soap box for another day!). Grammar is not essential unto itself; it is essential in the context of understanding and communicating.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Shout-Out!

A BIG thanks to Eva at astripedarmchair.wordpress.com for the assistance with adding buttons to my blog. You're the best, Eva! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Do visit her blog!