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.