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!