Saturday, October 29, 2011

Some Books for You

Simon did this meme again, and given the fact that I am extremely busy, haven't reviewed much in the last two months, and am now sick, I figured I would give it another go too!

1. Book I am currently reading: With me, there's never just one! I'm reading A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, (for school--I teach this to my freshmen), Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (also for school--I teach it to my juniors), and Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, (for Wallace's readalong; I'm dreadfully behind). I'm currently listening to Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, by Rick Riordan, because I'm trying to find some more boy-friendly books that I can have on my classroom shelves.

2. Last book I finished: A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. It's been my favorite of the series so far, but A Storm of Swords is really good so far!

3. Next book I want to read: I really want to read The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, but I will probably read A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, if my hold goes through at the library in time.

4. Last book I bought: The Scorpio Races. I've actually been REALLY good about not buying books lately ;).

5. Last book I was given: I don't get books very often. But I do have high hopes of getting this gem for Christmas:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Readathon: Update the Last

I got a little distracted by the internet last night, so I didn't manage much more reading. Overall, however, this was one of my more successful readathons! Can't wait for April's!

1.Which hour was most daunting for you? Probably from about 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. That's when I finally gave up and went to bed.
2.Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I was completely enthralled by the end of A Clash of Kings, but I think only the last 200 pages could be considered "high-interest" in terms of makes you want to keep reading even at 3 a.m. I did have The Scorpio Races but didn't get to it because I was so engrossed in Clash.
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? Everything! I visited the site and others' blogs less this year just because I was driving for a good chunk of the time, but I LOVE the readathon!
5.How many books did you read? I read three and finished two.
6.What were the names of the books you read? Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly, A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin, and A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin.
7.Which book did you enjoy most? A Clash of Kings
8.Which did you enjoy least? There were parts of Revolution that dragged for me, but that's probably because I was in the car and listening for a LONG time.
9.If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
10.How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Very likely! And I'll probably sign up to cheerlead!

Here are my final stats:
Books finished: 0 (2 total)
Pages read: 37 (231 total)
Minutes listened: 45 (255 total)
Hours read: 1 1/2 (9 total)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Readathon: Update the Second

I just finished A Clash of Kings, and HOLY SMOKES. It was so good that I'm going to dive right into A Storm of Swords instead of starting The Scorpio Races. Given how much I've been looking forward to The Scropio Races, that is saying a lot!

Here's my progress:
Books finished: 1 (2 total)
Pages read: 169 (194 total)
Minutes listened: 0 (210 total)
Hours read: 3 1/2 (7 1/2 total)

Readathon: Update the First

I just got home from my parents', and I am DYING to dive back into A Clash of Kings! I read a bit when I stopped for lunch, and it got INTENSE!

Here are my bookish facts/stats:

Books finished: 1 (1 total)--Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly
Pages read: 25 (25 total)
Minutes listened: 210 (210 total)
Hours read: 4 (4 total)

The Readathon Begins!

As you are reading this, I am driving home from my parents'. Luckily for me, I can still participate in the readathon because I'm listening to Revolution, by Jennifer Donnely, and will also probably have a chance to start the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightening Thief.

I don't have a strict schedule for today, but I do hope to come close to finishing A Clash of Kings, I'd like to read a good chunk of Anna Karenina,and, if UPS cooperates, The Scorpio Races will also make an appearance (I hope!).

Happy reading to all!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Further Evidence That I Am Crazy

But that's pretty much a prerequisite for an English teacher, right?

The evidence alluded to in my post title is the fact that I am joining Wallace's read-a-long of Anna Karenina. I actually tried to read this back in college, but a serious bout of mono derailed my reading, and I never went back to it. Each week's reading is extremely manageable, so I'm hoping this proves doable.

But why is that so crazy? Book bloggers join read-a-longs every day. Well, it's crazy because I'm starting a new reading project; it's even more crazy because I am currently 160 pages in to Clash of Kings (its over 1,000 pages long), and I have Storm of Swords staring me down from the shelf thanks to some fluke in the library system that resulted in my hold requests for both (1,000+ page books) being processed at the same time. This means that I have until October 21st to finish those two books, or else I have to return Storm of Swords without finishing it (highly unlikely) or keep it and rack up library fines (highly likely). We do have a school break in about two weeks which could help my chances on the bookish front, but still. What am I thinking?

There are too many books....I cannot resist them....

You know you have a book problem (is there such a thing?) when you start telling yourself things like, "well, it will be okay because I can read the Martin during D.I.R.T. (Daily Independent Reading Time--I do it three times a week with my freshmen), and I can read the Tolstoy on the weekends; everything will get read!" Only in a perfect world, self, only in a perfect world.

Now it's time to fess up: who else has this problem? Please tell me I am not alone...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Various and Sundry Things

Happy Sunday to all!

This has been a puttering type of weekend for me. I started to feel rather icky Friday morning at school and have been trying to ward off fully succumbing to illness (and missing school), so I haven't done much this weekend that required a lot of energy. I did enjoy going through my books to find some candidates for my new project (send me some suggestions! 1900-1920 are looking a little bare!), and I've managed to almost finish Game of Thrones. Sadly, I won't get the next book for almost three weeks, but I hope to get a good start on some of my project reading as I wait for A Clash of Kings.

Another excellent bit of bookish news is the fact that the date for the fall read-a-thon has been set: October 22 it is! Mark your calendars, sign up, and start stockpiling your books! I know I will.

I hope all of you are experiencing more typically fallish weather than we are here. The high for today is 81 (grrr), and I'm tired of it. Last year we had our first snow of the year the first week in October, so I just hope we get a little fall before winter comes to stay.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A New Project

A few days ago, Simon announced that in 2012 he was going to try to read a book published in ever year of the twentieth century. As soon as I read that, I knew I wanted to read through the twentieth century too!

I also knew, however, that I would need more than a year to try to finish the project. A hundred books is a lot of reading, and it is also about how many books I've read each year for the last few years; I can't see myself reading ONLY books for the project, so I'm going to go ahead and plan for some contingencies that will give me some freedom within the confines of the project.

I am going to start working on the project now; I hope that the extra three months will mean that I will be finished with the project by the end of 2012. I'm going to try to keep my reading for the project more on the classical side of things, and I'm going to try to include as many books that I already own as I can. I'm looking forward to reading Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, and E.M. Forster for the first time!

I'll be making a project page to keep track of what I read, and I hope to review each book that I read for the project. If you have suggestions of things I MUST read, please share!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

School Started....But You Probably Already Know That

Hi, bloggy friends!

Life has been a bit crazy these last few weeks with school starting; somehow I always manage to forget just how exhausting those first two weeks can be. School becomes the proverbial black hole, and it sucks everything (energy, ability to function, desire to socialize, desire to read for long periods) into its vortex. Things are settling into their routine, however, so the blog should start getting more attention from me!

Since school wasn't enough of a time-eater, I also (innocently, and without full knowledge of the implications of my decision) embarked on a journey through the Doctor Who universe shortly before school started. It is my NEW FAVORITE THING. It is amazing and geeky and everything that I like, so I will admit that when it came down to a choice between reading and watching another episode of Doctor Who (especially the first few days of school), I chose the Doctor every time.

I have a post of mini reviews planned for tomorrow, but here is some bookish goodness to hold you over until then.

1. Which book has been on your shelf the longest?
This is a tricky one. It's probably either my copy of Winnie the Pooh or one of my All-of-a-Kind Family books. The library was my main source of books as a child, and the compulsive book-collecting didn't start until I was in my teens.

2. What is your current read, your last read and your next read?
Currently I'm reading Game of Thrones and Ceremony; I'm listening to Anne of Green Gables in the car on my drive to work. The last book I finished was the audio version of A Long, Long Sleep, which was mediorcre at best. Next I will either read Sherman Alexie's War Dances or A Month in the Country since I am on the waiting list for A Clash of Kings, the sequel to Game of Thrones, at my library.

3. What book did everyone like and you hated?
One that I hated? Twilight. One that almost everyone loved but that I was fairly impartial to? The Help.

4. Which book do you keep telling yourself you'll read, but you probably won't?
Hmmm...I like to think that I will at least give a book a try even if I end up not finishing it. I guess there's a pretty good chance that I will never get around to The Fountainhead.

5. Which book are you saving for your "retirement"?
I don't really work that way. Now if you asked me about books that I would definitely need to reread in retirement, I would tell you that I would like to reread all the Dickens that I have loved (Little Dorrit, Our Mutual Friend, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield)

6. Last page: read it first or save it for the end?
Always save it for the end. I don't understand people who read it first...

7. Author acknowledgements: waste of ink and space or an interesting aside?
I always read them if they are there. I find it especially enjoyable if I have read other books by the author or have some knowledge of the author's background and biography. Plus, sometimes the author acknowledges the reader (like J.K. Rowling did in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), which is pretty cool.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?
Probably either Hermione from Harry Potter or Beth from Attachments.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life? (a person, a place, a time?)
Here's a few: I will always associate Nicholas Nickleby and The Hobbit with Segovia, Spain, because I read them while I was studying there. Another that comes to mind is Lord of the Rings. I was a freshman in college when the first movie came out, and that was also the first time that I read the books. Several of my friends were also Tolkein fans, which was fun. Return of the King stands out especially because I whenever I had a bad day or just needed to experience a little piece of beauty, I would reread the scene where Eowyn and Faramir are standing together on the battlements of Gondor. My copy of the book automatically falls open to that page ;).

10. Name a book you acquired in some interesting way.
When my friend DeAnna got married, she gave a personalized, meaningful gift to each or her bridesmaids. During our senior year of college, I basically forced her to read Jane Eyre; I pestered her and pestered her until she finally read, and I was very happy that she liked it after all that! Her gift to me was a beautiful, antique edition of Jane Eyre.

11. Have you ever given away a book to a special person for a special reason?
I gave a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird to a guy that I was dating. He hadn't read it, and things (I thought) were getting pretty serious, so I knew he had to read what I would name, if forced, as my favorite book. Things didn't work out between us, but at least he read that amazing novel!

12. Which book has been with you to the most places?
Probably Lord of the Rings. The trilogy has been to England, Colorado, Tennessee, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

13. Any "required reading" you hated in high school that wasn't so bad ten years later?
I didn't hate very many things in high school, but what I did hate I haven't revisited. Oliver Twist is the one novel that I was required to read that I despised; I know that I will go back to it eventually and that I will probably appreciate it much more than I did as a sophomore in high school, but it just hasn't happened yet.

14. What's the strangest item you've ever found in a book?
I have no interesting stories for this one. I've found bookmarks and some interesting inscriptions, but nothing crazy.

15. Used or brand new?
Either. But if I buy it used, it can't have highlighting or writing in it. I don't mind if I highlight or write in it later, but it drives me crazy to try to read around someone else's thoughts.

16. Stephen King: literary genius or opiate to the masses?
I've never read any of his work because I am a wimp. I can't handle scary things AT ALL. One of my students last year told me I should read his fantasy series, which I might try eventually.

17. Have you ever seen a movie you liked better than the book?
I liked the movie The Jane Austen Book Club so much better than the book. And of course, Last of the Mohicans the movie is briliant (and not just because it has Daniel Day-Lewis) while Last of the Mohicans the book is BO-RING.

18. Conversely, which book should NEVER have been introduced to celluloid?
Hmmm....again, kind of coming up blank.

19. Have you ever read a book that made you hungry, excluding cookbooks?
Julie and Julia. Also, lots of British books with all their talk of tea and scones.

20. Who is the person whose book advice you always take?
My friend Sara. We have a very good bookish relationship. She's the reason I'm reading Game of Thrones. In the blogging world, Angie has never failed me. I've also found some real gems through Sasha (even though we have pretty different tastes), Dolce Bellezza, Wallace, Amy, Eva, and Allie.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ooooooo, Pretty!

I have to warn you that this blog might become YA Central for a while. Let's just attribute it to the fact that I'm trying to get ready to head back to school, shall we (I go back unprepared...)?

Anyhoo, I came across this lovely book through goodreads, and after reading the premise, finding out about the series as a whole, and poking around on the author's website, I must say I am quite intrigued and excited by A Breath of Eyre, by Eve Marie Mont. This book is strongly connected to Jane Eyre (hooray!), the second is connected to The Scarlet Letter, and the third is connected to The Phantom of the Opera (huzzah!)! They sound very clever, and the author seems lovely. You should definitely check her out!

In other, non-book related news, I think I'm about to succumb to Dr. Who. I've been hearing so many good things about for a long, long time, and I think the time to give in has come (plus I just finished Friday Night Lights *sob*). Anyone have any suggestions as to where to start in the Who oeuvre?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tris and Izzie: Oh, I'll Be Honest...

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley

I'll admit two things: I was pretty excited when I saw Tris & Izzie, by Mette Ivie Harrison listed on NetGalley; I had seen it mentioned on both Angie's and Steph's blogs and found the cover just breathtaking. Secondly, I am not familiar with the fairy tale Tristan and Isolde, but I do know of the opera story, and I saw the surprisingly un-terrible movie from a few years agao.

All that being said, I was pretty disappointed. Some of that may be because I don't know the fairy tale, but the weaknesses in the plot and writing and characters went far beyond any lack of knowledge of the original on my part. I was expecting a story of star-crossed lovers who loved and lost, but I got a poorly structured, ridiculously magical, over-the-top (and not in a good way) adventure story instead.

Izzie has everything she wants: a great best friend, a super popular boyfriend, and a mom who does her best to provide for her and love her in the wake of her father's death when she was five. Things start to change (quite quickly) when Tris starts to hang out with Izzie's boyfriend. Turns out Izzie and Tris are destined to love each other, fight evil, and use their magical powers together to slay Gurmun, the demonic, seemingly (but not really) immortal serpent terrorizing the magical kingdom of Curvenal.

As I read, I kept thinking about Harry Potter. I don't know if this was intentional on Harrison's part or not, but everything from Izzie not knowing of her magic right away to the way she decides to sacrifice herself and the whole process she goes through to come to that decision came across as watered down Potter magic. Add to this the fact that none of the major plot developments have a sense of inevitability or reason for happening, and the story really falls flat.

What probably drove me the most crazy about this book, however, was the characterization of Izzie, Tris, Mark (Izzie's boyfriend at the beginning), and Branna (Izzie's best friend). None of these characters are terribly compelling and much as they try, none of them are dynamic either in the literary sense (they change and grow) or the personaltiy sense (you care and want to know what happens to them). Reading the book was like watching cardboard cut-outs being moved around a stage. They lacked depth and any sort of logic or reasoning behind their interactions with each other: Izzie and Tris fall in love and it's not because of the love potion? why? Mark feels very little about Izzie breaking up with him despite supposedly loving her deeply? why? Izzie has no problem with Mark and Branna getting together about 30 seconds after she breaks up with Mark? why? Mark easily and completely falls in love with Branna 30 seconds after Izzie breaks up with him? why?

There was one thing that I liked about this book: the cover. It is beautiful and haunting but doesn't really give an accurate impression of what the book will really be about (and it helped contribute to my confusion about why there was a giant evil serpent in a story that I thought was about a pre-Romeo and Juliet Romeo and Juliet). Sadly, the story didn't live up to its gorgeous cover.

*Tris & Izzie will be released October 11, 2011*

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rabbits, Rabbits, Everywhere: Of Mice and Men

So far in my reading life, Steinbeck has been something of a mixed bag for me. I HATED "The Pearl," which was my first encounter with him, but that could very well be because my eighth grade English teacher made us read it three or four times over the course of studying it, which I did because I was a good little rule-follower. Again, this loathing could be misplaced and not Steinbeck's fault, but I do so detest "The Pearl." But I digress. My second encounter with Steinbeck was much better. The Grapes of Wrath was assigned as summer reading before my senior year of high school. At that point, I had a terrible track record with summer reading (despite being a rule-follower), probably because I was too busy reading what I WANTED to read during the summer rather than all the assigned reading which I diligently, and almost religiously, read during the school year. Imagine my surprise, then, when The Grapes of Wrath became not only the first summer reading book I ever actually finished but also was a book I rather enjoyed despite it coming from the same author who produced the oh-so-reprehensible "The Pearl." A while back (possibly years? my, time does fly), my book club read East of Eden. I didn't know quite how I felt about the novel and decided to reserve judgment until I could read it again over a shorter period of time.

When the Classics Circuit announced a Steinbeck tour, I knew I had to participate. While contemplating what book to choose, I will admit to being heavily influenced in my selection by Lost; ultimately I chose Of Mice and Men because of Lost (if you want to know how Lost is connected to the novel, you can go here. But be warned: there are spoilers for the novel and, depending on how you see it, the show itself.).

If Of Mice and Men is about anything, it is about dreams. Specifically, it is about the dream that George and Lennie have to own their own piece of land that they can work, control, and belong to. This dream of owning their own farm is really a thinly veiled desire for home and belonging, and it is their dream as a representation of home and belonging that becomes so appealing to other characters in the novel (especially Candy, an old, soon-to-lose-his-usefullness farmhand and Crooks, the ostracized Black stable hand). In typical Steinbeck fashion, however, this dream is not easily achieved, and many, many obstacles stand in the way of George and Lennie getting their farm.

Ironically, Lennie, who thinks about and clings to this dream more than anyone else in the novel, himself is probably the biggest and most consistent obstacle to achieving the dream. He longs to have rabbits he can care for, he is constantly telling George how he can't wait to live off the "fatta the land," and he is very, very strong, but Lennie has the mind and understanding of a child and often finds himself in trouble without knowing why. George, for reasons left unrevealed to the reader. takes care of Lennie, tries to protect him, and, ultimately, shows him kindness and love, but even he can't keep Lennie from destroying the possibility of achieving their dream.

I was reminded of two other works of fiction while reading Of Mice and Men: The Heart is a Lonely Hunger, by Carson McCullers, and East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. George and Lennie's relationship made me think about John Singer's friendship with Spiros Antanopolos; there's not really much of a comparison there, but this friendship from McCullers' novel popped into my mind several times as I read Of Mice and Men. It was the character of Crooks that reminded me of East of Eden. Like he does with Lee in East of Eden, Steinbeck writes Crooks to directly contradict many of the racial stereotypes and prejudices that would have been prevalent in the 1930s. Both Lee (a Chinese man) and Crooks (a Black man) are atypical according to stereotype, and I wondered while reading about Crooks, as I did while reading about Lee, what Steinbeck was trying to do with these two characters. I'd love to read more about it, so if you know of some resources, please let me know!

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, which makes my Steinbeck experience more positive than negative or ambiguous. I think this would be a great introduction to Steinbeck (unlike "The Pearl"...okay, I'll stop complaining about "The Pearl" now): it showcases his writing style (there are some truly beautiful descriptions), it is set in California, a place he comes back to again and again, it deals with the struggling working American man, and many of the themes and ideas touched upon in the novel are expressed and fleshed out in Steinbeck's longer works.

Yes, Please!

My review of Of Mice And Men will be up a bit later today, but I simply had to share this bit of loveliness with you:

Book Snob is hosting a readalong of Persuasion in September. Given the fact that Persuasion might be my favorite Austen, I will definitely be joining in the festivities! Plus, the button is just to die for!

If you want more details, go here. Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Testament of Youth, Testament of Pain

Out there, we've walked quite friendly up to Death, —
Sat down and eaten with him, cool and bland, —
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour of his breath, —
Our eyes wept, but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorused when he sang aloft,
We whistled while he shaved us with his scythe.

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick against His powers.
We laughed, — knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

--"The Next War," by Wilfred Owen

I have been listening to Benjamin Briton's War Requiem and had to pretty much stop everything to just listen when I heard these lyrics. Briton wrote War Requiem in memory of three friends who died in World War II, and he used many of Wilfred Owen's poems as the text for the requiem. Owen was a poet who wrote about his experiences in World War I, which, of course, is why I'm listening to Briton's Requiem.

I have been quite haunted by Testament of Youth. I've already mentioned how the memoir has set me off on a bit of a WWI fixation, but in all honesty it is more than just a desire to learn more about the War (although there is that as well); I want to understand what happened and see how in the world what Vera Brittain experienced could ever have occurred. In Hew Strachan's introduction to The First World War, he explains that in the purely statistical, economic, historical sense, there was no Lost Generation: populations were rebounding and those lost in the War and the Influenza Epidemic had, numerically, been replaced. But in the emotional, pyschological, and spiritual reality of post-War life, Strachan points out, there very much was a Lost Generation that left behind wounded, devasted lives who would have to reconcile themselves to living while bearing all they had lost.

Vera Brittain was one such life.

If ever there was someone unprepared to live the realities of war (not to mention modern war), it was Vera Brittain at the beginning of the War. Brittain grew up at the very end of the Victorian era, and Vicatorian ideas about propriety, manners, relationships, and a woman's place in the world were still very much in place in the provincial town where Brittain grew up. Her desire to study and go to Oxford baffled, confused, and even angered her parents, and she was left largely on her own to prepare for her exams, apply to Oxford, and navigate actually getting to Oxford. A bright, motivated spirit was not exactly in high demand in the future wives of Great Britain! Brittain was so sheltered as she was growing up that going to Oxford to live in a dorm was shocking and eye-opening, so the reader knows from the beginning that training as a VAD, nursing, and serving on the front will be a seemingly unbearable, horrible, and shocking experience for Brittain.

Given how hard Brittain worked and how important going to Oxford was to her, it is truly impressive that she gave up Oxford after her first year. Her brother, Edward, and soon-to-be fiancé, Roland, enlisted as soon as war was declared, and Brittain felt she must do something to help the war effort.

Brittain makes it very clear that she had no real desire to nurse; she volunteered because she needed to do something on the same scale as Edward and Roland. She also makes it very clear that these three, like thousands of others, felt a patriotic duty to their country and so gallantly, yet foolishly, joined the war effort with very little understanding of why the war was being fought and how their participation would affect the outcome of the war. This blind allegiance and youthful optimism are portrayed in a painful, poignant manner as Brittain details the story of her war experience. We know things will end badly, she knows things will end badly, yet her writing is so skillful that each battle, each letter, each waiting, each turn is painful and heartwrenching; we experience everything along with Brittain. There were moments I couldn't breathe because Brittain had so keenly portrayed her hope, her fear, her anger, and her mourning.

Brittain wrote her Testament almost seventeen years after the war ended, and I think her older, more mature understanding of the world (and perhaps even her ability to see the rumblings of another war on the horizon) serves her memoir well. Brittain very much condemns the War to End All Wars, and like Owen finds it despicable that men, including her men, fought "Death" for "men" and "flags" rather than "lives." Brittain became a pacifist as a result of her experiences in World War I, which is not terribly surprising. But she was a pacifist not just because she had seen the individual and personal destruction that war had brought; she also saw the historical and economical uselessness of war. Several years after the War ended, Brittain and her good friend Winifred Holtby actually toured the parts of Germany and France that were most affected by the War, and Brittain came to understand that this war had cost everyone, and though the Allies may have been named the victors, no one really won.

Brittain struggled for many years (which she documents in her memoir) to find purpose and to understand how her life could have any meaning without Edward, Roland, and other beloved friends she had lost. She details her darkest times and explains how alone she truly felt. Slowly, she starts to move on, and, eventually, contemplates a completely different kind of life with a man with whom she does not share the War (at least not in the same way that she shared the war with Edward, Roland, and others). Towards the end of her book, however, she finds some reconciliation with what had happened, at least in terms of herself:
"If the dead could come back, I wondered, what would they say to me? Roland [her fiancee]--you who wrote in wartime France of 'another stranger'--would you think me, because I marry him, forgetful and unfaithful? Edward [her brother], Victor, Geoffrey, would you have me only remember you, only dwell in those days that we shared so long ago--or would you wish my life to go on? In spite of the War, which destroyed so much hope, so much beauty, so much promise, life is still here to be lived; so long as I am in the world, how can I ignore the obligation to be part of it, cope with its problems, suffer claims and interruptions? The surge and swell of its movements, its changes, its tendencies, still mould me and the surviving remnant of my generation whether we wish it or not, and no one now living will ever understand so clearly as ourselves, whose lives have been darkened by the universal breakdown of reason in 1914, how completely the future of civilised humanity depends upon the success of our present halting endeavours to control our political and social passions, and to substitute for our destructive impulses the vitalising authority of constructive thought. To rescue mankind from that domination by the irrational which leads to war could surely be a more exultant fight than war itself, a fight capable of enlarging the souls of men and women with the same heightened consciousness of living, and uniting them in one dedicated community whose common purpose transcends the individual. Only the purpose itself would be different, for its achievement would mean, not death, but life.

To look forward, I concluded, and to have courage--the courage of adventure, of challenge, of initiation, as well as the courage of endurance--that was surely part of fidelity. The lover, the brother, the friends whom I had lost, had all in their different ways possessed this courage, and it would not be utterly wasted if only, through those who were left, it could influence the generation, still to be, and convince them that, so long as the spirit of man remained undefeatable, life was worth living and worth giving. If somehow I could make my contemporaries, and especially those who, like myself, had once lost heart, share this belief; if perhaps, too, I could have children, and pass on to them the desire for this courage and the impulse to redeem the tragic mistakes of the generation which gave them birth, then Roland and Edward and Victor and Geoffrey would not have died vainly after all. It was only the past that they had taken to their graves, and with them, although I should always remember, I must let it go. '...Under the sway / Of death the past's enormous disarray / Lies hushed and dark.' So Henley had written: and so, with my eyes on the future, I must now resolve."

Testament of Youth is so many things: it is a condemnation of the choices leading up to and continuing World War I, it is a plea for pacifism and alternative conflict resolution, it is an expression of grief and mourning, it is an example of healing, but most of all it is a labor of and testament to love: yes, Brittain mourns the men she lost in the War, but she also brings them to life, pays tribute to them, and records them so their memories may live on.

I owe a huge debt to Laura for bringing my attention to this book (you can check out her review of the book here). This is one of those books that changed my life, and I know it is a book that I will come back to again and again. As an American, my working knowledge of World War I was fairly vague (as I think is fairly typical for most Americans with only a high school understanding of World War I). The emphasis had always seemed to be on World War II, and the US doesn't have any sort of observed day of remembrance and acknowledgment for World War I, probably because the country became involved in the conflict rather late in the game. This book gave me new respect, appreciation, and feeling for all those who fought and sacrificed in World War I. Thanks to this book, you will not be forgotten.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Scorpio Races

Maggie Stiefvater is one of my favorite young adult novelists; I've read all her books, and I would say she is probably the writer that brought me into the young adult reading fold. I adored Shiver, really loved Linger, and almost couldn't talk after finishing Forever.

So when I had the chance to meet Stiefvater a few weeks ago and get my copies of the Wolves of Mercy Falls signed, I jumped at the chance. She was funny, warm, and so kind; Stiefvater is an artist in so many ways, so hearing her speak about her experiences as a writer, artist, and musician was very enjoyable. Stiefvater mentioned that her next book, The Scorpio Races, was her favorite of all her books. I was familiar with the premise and was already excited for the book, but that pretty much sealed the deal, and The Scorpio Races became a must-read.

I mentioned that Stiefvater is an artist and musician; what I didn't mention is that she makes her own book trailers for her books. Here is the trailer for The Scorpio Races; Stiefvater did all the artwork and composed and played the music in the trailer. Cool, huh?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Derailing the Reading Plan

Even though I am very much a planner in real life, the most planning I do when it comes to my reading is reserving books at the library and participating (rather badly given my track record) in read-a-longs and book tours. I also will mentally calculate my next few books, but these plans are seldom set in stone and very rarely accomplished as planned.

My current loosely constructed plan was to try to finish The First World War before next Friday night because that is when my book club will be discussing Testament of Youth. I also was rereading the Lady Julia Grey books to prepare to read Raybourn's newest installment. After that, I was ready to give in to the winds of Maisie Dobbs, the sirens of WWI, and those wily reading fates.

Turns out the wily reading fates have stepped in a bit earlier than expected (as they are wont to do...they are fates after all). One of the blogs I love best (and one of the blogs that inspired me to start my own book blog) is Stuck in a Book. Simon has such a wonderful knowledge of books and stories, and I always find unexpected gems on his blog. Today I found mention of an article in The Guardian that moved Simon to tears and the book that the article was excerpted from, Let Not the Waves of the Sea. After reading the article (and being moved to tears myself), I jumped on my library's website to reserve it. It is not there. I went to Barnes & Noble. com; they don't have it either. I then proceeded to my old standby, Amazon. Turns out it has not yet been released in the U.S., but it is available in Kindle format.

As soon as I saw that, I felt that old familiar feeling, and knew my plans were of no use. For the foreseeable future, I will be reading Let Not the Waves of the Sea. Oh, reading fates, you are cunning!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Well of Despair and Joy

Never fear, my friends! The despair and joy have all been of the vicarious, literary variety. Since my last posting, I have found myself immersed in the world of Harry Potter (both on the page and on the screen, and crying through both), marvelling at the wonders of Oxford (courtesy of A Discovery of Witches--not sure how I feel about it yet), and feeling deeply for the pain and loss that made up the War to End All Wars as experienced and depicted by Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth.

I will be reviewing Testament of Youth very soon, but I think the review will not be the end of it; this memoir has taken a distinct and strong hold on me (it even achieved the impossible: I found myself wondering during Deathly Hallows, Part 2 at what a difference it makes to fight a war (against Voldemort) that has meaning, purpose, and necessity; I think Brittain would have envied Harry & Co. their conviction and knowledge that fighting Voldemort was absolutely necessary and must be done, but more on that later!).

I have also picked up The First World War, by Hew Strachan, in an effort to understand this war more. I knew little about it beyond major dates, vague memories of battles, and Wilfred Owen's "Dule et decorum est." Now I find that I must know as much about the war as possible, and I sense that I could well be reading about the war (in both fiction and nonfiction) for quite a while.

So there you have it. What has captured your reading imagination of late?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Maggie Stiefvater Is Still Brilliant

After finishing Linger, I had no idea how I was going to make it a year before finding out what happened to Sam and Grace; ironically, I almost missed the release date for Forever because my brain was completely convinced that it came out at the end of July. Happily for me, my brain was wrong, and I was able to devour Forever a full two weeks earlier than I thought I would!

Like Shiver and Linger, Forever delivers another tale of love, sacrifice, and how to truly live life. The writing is just as achingly beautiful, and the use of poetry and song lyrics were pitch-perfect. Indeed, these stories would not be these stories without the songs and poems and flashes of art that imbue the writing so effortlessly. Good story is important, but I think the thing that will keep me coming back to these novels for a long time is the quality of the writing. They are so well-written and achingly reflective of the truth; this book was no exception in its ability to make me catch my breath and pause at a phrase, sentence, or passage so exquisite that it required time regardless of my urgent need to read, read, read to find out the rest of the story.

Just as Linger expanded the reader's focus from Sam and Grace to Sam, Grace, Isabel, and Cole, Forever expands its focus to center on the pack as a whole; and it is not just the pack as an abstract or a fact of Sam's past or a future responsibility for Cole: the pack is a very real factor in the present for both Sam and Grace once more. When the pack is threatened, it is not just the most important pieces of Sam's past that are threatened. Instead, it is Grace's (and by extension Sam's) future that is threatened as well. As Sam and Grace continue to struggle through these obstacles, their story widens to include Cole and Isabel. As I stated in my review of Linger, I didn't really care much about what happened between Cole and Isabel because I was so wrapped up in Sam and Grace's storyline. In Forever, however, I became very invested in Cole and Isabel and was so happy with they way they ended up by the end of the novel.

The end of the novel may be unsatisfying to some, but I really thought it was perfect. I know what I think happens beyond the end of the story (which Stiefvater left ambiguous), but the ending being happy or sad wasn't really, I think, the point. I think the point was what the characters in the novel learn by the end. They all, at some point early in the series, learned to survive in the strictest sense of the word; what they do in Forever is learn to live. Grace is the least conflicted of the four in the novel, probably because her battle to merely survive was lost (or possibly the definition of survival was changed) at the end of Linger; for her, the biggest battle is to make it back to Sam and recognize herself and their relationship in a very different light. Sam, however, has some major demons to slay: for him, truly living is all about facing down his fears. Whether it be bathtubs, Beck's true motives, shifting again, or losing Grace, Sam must come to grips with the things that have held him captive. These things were all built up very poignantly in the first two books, and seeing Sam deal with them (realistically and honestly) create some of the most moving scenes in the novel. The fact that Sam moves past being controlled by these fears is part of why the ambiguity of the ending didn't bother me; the point is not so much happens over the winter but that Sam's life can really now be a life.

Cole and Isabel are fighting to move past what they label the "toxicity" of their separate pasts that leads them to push each other away for fear of being toxic to each other. Cole starts to win his battle first and is able to show Isabel that they are only as toxic as they choose to be. Cole St. Clair grew over the course of this novel, and we see glimpses of the leader Beck knew he could be from the very beginning of the story. Isabel, on the other hand, must give up her hardness and desire to push people away in order to truly live. Her choice at the end of the novel is huge precisely because it is completely selfless; she believes she has no hope for her own happy ending, but she takes action at great cost to herself for friends who have really become her family.

In the end, this series is about love in all its forms. It is the story of friends, family, and lovers living life and taking care of each other. I so wish that I could speak more eloquently about this book and this series, but perhaps I'm still a bit too close to the experience of reading it to do so. Just trust me: read these books!

Check out Angie's wonderful review: it says everything I couldn't!

Monday, July 11, 2011

"How Harry Saved Reading"

I found this extremely interesting article over at Dickensblog. I didn't intend for the blog to have a Harry Potter theme this month, but it's sort of happening, so I'll just go with it!

The article details the Harry Potter phenomenon and then shows how Rowling was influenced by Charles Dickens. It also touches on the fact that Harry Potter made kids want to read again; the best part is, it was a well-written series of books that brought many kids back to the reading fold (*ahem-ahem* Twilight, I'm looking at you...)

Here's the link:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Since May 30

I have been quite the busy bee! Here's what I've been doing for the last week and a half:

1. Grading, grading, grading: In the course of four short days I graded 55 research papers, 75 semester exams, and lots and lots of smaller homework assignments and quizzes. I am exhausted!

2. Moving my classroom: In the midst of all the grading craziness, I also had to pack up and move my classroom. It involved a lot of stairs and boxes of books.

3. Driving 1600 miles: For the next three weeks, I will be visiting friends in North Carolina and Tennessee. Because I am insane, I drove from North Dakota.

4. Sleeping: I hope this is self-explanatory.

5. Finishing four books: I FINALLY finished Frankenstein with my seniors, and I still loathe it as much as ever. I also finished listening to Dragonfly in Amber (audiobooks are a MUST on long roadtrips!), and I gave in and read Attachments again (I think it might become my go-to comfort read). I also listened to the very enthralling Delirium, which I think gave me a cramp in my neck because I got so tense while listening! On the plus side, Delirium helped me ignore the fact that I had to drive in West Virginia for three hours.

I don't know how much I'll be around in the next few weeks, but I will be reading! Happy summer!

Monday, May 30, 2011

I Was Going to Review Sense & Sensibility, But Then...

My big, exciting plan for Memorial Day night was to FINALLY (sorry friends) post my Classics Circuit review of Sense & Sensibility and Little Dorrit (which was derailed by an awful flu-like illness...I if I haven't been sick enough this year...), but then a tornado watch was announced for my area.

And this was not just any tornado watch; phrases like "high risk" and "perfect tornadic conditions" and "perfect storm situation" were tossed around, and I proceeded to freak out. Having grown up in southwestern Minnesota, I know a wee bit about tornadoes, and I am, to this day, irrationally afraid of any sort of severe weather. Even intense thunderstorms freak me out (just ask my old roommate about the story of when I called her and her then-roommate to see if I could spend the night on their couch because I couldn't handle being alone during the bad weather...sad but true...).

Given the impending doom and destruction barrelling down on my city, I will not be writing my review. Instead, I will be trying to distract myself with some knitting and chocolate overload, eyes glued to the tv, trying not to use the paper bag that I have already located for hyperventilation purposes. See you on the flip side.

Update: we did have a tornado/tornado warning. There is some damage here, but all is well. I met some of my neighbors, and I was able to help one woman with her two young children, which helped distract me from my terror quite nicely. I hope that this is not an indication of the summer to come!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Iliad Readalong: Post 1 (Books 1-12)*

Here's a few housekeeping items to get out of the way before I start my review:
1. I am unabashedly Team Hector.
2. I will try to be fair to Achilles.
3. I am reading the Robert Fagles translation of The Iliad (it's so pretty!)
4. Consequently, I love Robert Fagles.

I have been wanting to read The Iliad ever since I read (and enjoyed immensely) And Only Deceive, by Tasha Alexander. And Only to Deceive is a Victorian mystery that plays off The Iliad and Ancient Greek art quite a bit; in fact, large portions of The Iliad are quoted in the novel. I read parts of The Iliad for a World Literature course in college, and I taught part of Book 6, all of Book 22, and part of Book 24 the last five years at my previous school, but I had never read all of The Iliad. Reading the quoted parts of The Iliad in And Only to Deceive proved to be the final prod needed to get me to read The Iliad in its entirety.

While The Iliad is many things, at its core, it is a story about war. We see the many effects of war, and Homer is not shy about giving us the nitty-gritty of hand-to-hand combat and battles that hinged off the strength, drive, and determination of a few key individuals. As Sarpedon says to Hector, it is "the toils of war . . . the mesh of the huge dragnet sweeping up the world" (5.559-560) that have captured the attention, men, and means of two great countries, Greece (Achaea) and Troy, for ten years. The war may have started when Paris stole Helen from Menelaus, but now, ten years later, fighting to the end and to victory (which both sides concurrently believe will be theirs) has become a matter of honor and glory; the war cannot be abandoned easily (even when all seems lost, even when the war appears futile) because honor and glory cannot be discarded easily. Honor and glory are breath, bread, water, life for the men of Greece and Troy, and this determination, this unerring pursuit of victory, is what makes reading The Iliad exhilerating, haunting, and disconcerting all at the same time.

It is particularly chilling to read of the great fighters for each side because they all acknowledge that ultimately they have NO control over the outcome of the war; time after time, Agamemnon, Diomedes, Great and Little Ajax, and Odysseus for the Greeks and Hector, Aeneas, and Sarpedon for the Trojans vow to fight their best, win glory, accomplish superhuman feats of strength and courage all the while knowing that it is the favor of the gods and the decree of fate that will determine who wins this war. It is clear that men on both sides of the battle grow weary, but it is only Achilles, who is angry beyond reason, honor, and his own character at how he has been betrayed by Agamemnon, who contemplates sailing for home before the war is over. Every other Greek and Trojan, to the man (with the possibly exception of the clueless, preening, despicable Paris) will stay and fight and die for the cause they pledged themselves to ten years before.

In addition to the human players in this story, we also read and learn about the immortals who are fighting in the Trojan War. To be fair, it's really the immortals who started this war, and much as it kills me to be fair to a numskull like Paris, it has to be said that if Zeus had manned up and named who was fairest when the golden apple showed up, then Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena wouldn't have needed to try to bribe Paris to name them fairest, Paris wouldn't have chosen Aphrodite (who conveniently failed to mention that Paris' prize, the most beautiful woman in the world, happened to already be married), then Helen would never have been stolen, Menelaus wouldn't have needed to seek revenge, Agamemnon wouldn't have sacrificed his daughter for smooth sailing, and lots of pain and heartache could have been avoided. Needless to say, however, this would not have made as good a story as The Iliad! Homer is not shy about showing the Greek gods (particularly Zeus, Hera, Athena, Apollo, Ares, and Aphrodite in Books 1-12) in all their glory, pettiness, and capriciousness, and the gods' inability to make up their minds adds to the reader's sense of futility. Even when a god proclaims a favorite, his or her favoritism has very little affect on that god's actions. Case in point: Zeus claims to favor Troy (and especially Hector), but there are several points in the first twelve books where we find him actually fighting for and supporting the Greeks. He made a promise to Achilles' mother to repay the Greeks for shaming Achille (Agamemnon claimed Achilles' prized woman, Briseis), so he must act for and support the Greeks. There are many other instances of gods flip-flopping back and forth between sides, and, again, capricious is a word seemingly invented for the Greek gods!

The Iliad opens in the tenth year of the war, so we are immediately thrown into a conflict that has twisted and knotted and become complex beyond its original cause. Families, cities, and countries are caught in the web of constant fighting, constant loss, and constant uncertainty. Characters are made or broken in these situations: while Andromache weeps and begs Hector to command his troops from the wall of Troy, Helen spurns and despises Paris, wishing he was a better, braver man than his cowardly self; Diomedes and Odysseus volunteer to brave almost certain death to scout out the Trojan troops threatening the very lives of the Achaean force while Dolon, a foolish Trojan scout, plunges ignorantly into the darkness to scout out the Achaen camp and even more foolishly begs Diomedes and Odysseus to spare his life and demand a ransom. True characters and personalities, of mortals and immortals, are shown in The Iliad because the ten long years of war (and the future years of war stretching out before everyone involved) have chipped away at pretense, deceit, and falsehood, leaving the characters exposed and raw, shown for who and what they really are.

The Iliad is utterly compelling. The story is rich and vivid, and Fagles' translation is breathtaking and brilliant. Fagles' art alone makes The Iliad well worth your time.

*this is a reposting of the post I wrote for the Ancient Greeks Tour over at the Classic Circuit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I just have to share: I passed my big, scary, future-determining licensure tests! I'm so happy, and a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

In honor of this happy event, I am going to do the meme that Simon at Stuck in a Book started. Apologies in advance for helping perpetuate the ever-growing TBR piles.

1. Book I am currently reading: Sense and Sensibility (for the Classics Circuit Author duel), The Iliad (for Allie's readalong), and I am listening to Dragonfly in Amber

2. Last book I finished: South Riding. It was amazing; I am in literary love with Winifred Holtby; drop everything and read it now!

3. Next book I want to read: Um...The next one I will probably start is The Idiot (which I am reading for another of Allie's readalongs); I really want to read The Name of the Wind and Violets in March. I'm also itching to reread The Hunger Games series. Clearly I can't decide.

4. Last book I bought: Does a free book count? I downloaded Passage to India for my Kindle; the last book I paid money for was The Idiot.

5. Last book I was given: I won Children of Scarabaeus in Angie's giveaway and The Lost Summer of Louisa Alcott over at Devourer of Books.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

South Riding: An Unexpected Book with an Unexpected Message

There are many things that I love about PBS' Masterpiece; one is that the program often inspires me to read things that I wouldn't otherwise read. I discovered Little Dorrit this way (but I would have found it eventually, given the fact that it was written by Charles Dickens), and I just finished South Riding, by Winifred Holtby, which I REALLY wouldn't have found if not for the BBC/Masterpiece series.

Friends, I have discovered a new literary love. It is so pleasurable to read something so completely embued with a love of place (in this case Yorkshire) and so reflective of a community of people. I can't really talk about this book and my thoughts on it without giving away major plot points, so consider yourself warned.

Sarah Burton is the new headmistress of the Kiplington High School (confession: there are three towns in the South Riding, and I never quite figured out which was which. Throw in another village, and I was geographically-confused most of the time. I still really enjoyed it!), and she is as modern as they come. She is strong-willed, outspoken, passionate, dedicated, and completely convinced of the importance of her mission to show her students (all girls) that there can be more to their future than marriage and babies. It doesn't take long before she clashes with the more traditional, staid members of South Riding, especially Robert Carne, a gentleman farmer and father of one of Sarah's more interesting students.

Sarah's fight against the traditionalists is a small piece of the larger conflict between tradition and progress that the novel focuses on. We are introduced to idealistic preachers, cheery self-made men, poverty-stricken families struggling to survive, the aristocracy, the working class, and everything in between. All these characters are deeply flawed, but most of them are also deeply likable. While it at first seems that most of the inhabitants of South Riding have very little in common, it becomes clear by the end of the novel that they are bound by community, and, as Sarah so eloquently realizes, "'we all pay,' she thought; 'we all take; we are members one of another. We cannot escape this partnership. This is what it means--to belong to a community; this is what it means to be a people.'"

South Riding takes place as England teeters on the edge of war with Germany. Reminescences and horrors of WWI loom large in the minds of many characters, and the cost of the War to End All Wars is still being paid. Even as the inhabitants of the South Riding strive to recover from that horrific conflict, they are forced to prepare for and reconcile themselves to what will become another bloody, draining conflict. I was deeply moved, especially, by Sarah's memories of the wars and her reactions to things as simple as patriotic songs that were sung during WWI. These remembrances serve to highlight all the more starkly the foreboding nature of the war about to break.

Even though there is a huge cast of characters in the book, in the end, really, it is Sarah's story. I had a few jarring moments as I was reading this book: the first came when Sarah realizes her love for Robert Carne. She is a strong, independent woman, so far ahead of her time, so to hear her acknowledging that she would give anything to have one night with Robert, even if he was so drunk that he thought she was his mentally unstable wife, was a bit shocking and disappointing. Her declarations of love (never to him, of course, but just to the reader) were beautiful and moving, and Holtby intentionally alludes to Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester as she introduces Carne, shows us how Sarah falls for him, and even in the way that Sarah and Carne interact.

The thing that almost took away my love for this book was the death of Robert Carne. Holtby makes it fairly clear that Carne will die because of heart problems, but the manner of his death still shocked me. I will admit to being quite the romantic; I wanted Sarah and Carne to be together, and finally, after 400 pages, it seemed that Carne was starting to acknowledge the possibility of feelings for Sarah. He is a wounded, damaged man, distraught over the loss of his wife to mental illness, wracked with guilt over his perceived fault in driving her to insanity, and determined to sacrifice everything (even his ancestral home, himself, and his pride) to see that Muriel (his wife) is cared for. I freely admit that there are few things more appealing to me than the wounded suffering hero, and to see him, after so much pain, and strife, and hardship, catch a glimmer of hope and change in Sarah was beautiful and exactly what my mushy little heart wanted to see.

And then he has a terrible accident, dies, and leaves behind speculation of fraud, suicide, and cowardice.

He dies.

And I found myself thinking, "WHAT THE.........!!!!!!!!!"

It was not a pretty moment in my reading life. This character, who I had become so deeply invested in, is cast off without seeming thought or care from his creator.

Sarah, naturally, is destroyed by her guilt, grief, and regret (in true repressed, angsty fashion, they never discussed their feelings), and she is at a loss, almost paralyzed by what she sees as the game-changer of her life.

I will admit: I was angry at Winifred Holtby. True, Sarah eventually finds out that Carne did feel the same for her, and she has several almost transcendant revelations about herself, her purpose, and life in general, but it wasn't until I read the epitaph that Holtby's good friend Verra Brittain wrote that I understood.

Winifred Holtby wrote South Riding as she was fighting her final battle with terminal kidney disease; she finished the novel a month before she died. And I understood that Robert Carne had to die because Holtby, like Sarah, was reconciling herself to the reality of death; she was coming to grips with her own death, and to have Robert Carne die in the way that he did was a fitting testament to Holtby's resolution about her own death. South Riding shows Holtby's belief that "the world, with all its beauty and adventure, its richness and variety, is darkened by cruelty. Death, if it ends the loveliness, the adventure, ends also that. Death balances the picture. It completes the pattern. It makes even cruelty fall into place. It is completion."

Brittain wrote:
"This tale of universal values mirrored in local experience is not only an achievement of the mind; it is a triumph of personality, a testament of its author's undaunted philosophy. Suffering and resolution, endurance beyond calculation, the brave gaiety of the unconquered spirit, held Winifred Holtby back from the grave and went to its making. Seed-time and harvest, love and birth, decay and resurrection, are the immemorial stuff of which it has been created. In it lies the intuitive rather than the conscious awareness of imminent death. Its lovely country scenes go back to the earliest memories of the Yorkshire child who, thirteen years ago, came as a brilliant Oxford graduate to London, as though she returned to her beginning because some instinct told her that beyond the brave struggle for life and for time, the inevitable end was near.

This knowledge has given to South Riding a wisdom and maturity beyond its author's years. With the clear enlightenment born of her own peril, she understands the men and women who already belong to those dim regions where the living walk as strangers, yet who hide from their friends their consciousness of encroaching doom. She realises that the death which swoops down from the sky or roars upward from the sea may sometimes appear a mercy and a release; she knows the reassurance brought to the soul tormented with griefs and problems by the certainty that life is not endless nor sorrow everlasting."

To have written a book that is about death that is so vibrant, full, refreshing, and beautiful is a true accomplishment. I will definitely be seeking out more of Winifred Holtby's work.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Perfect Girl"

Attachments*, by Rainbow Rowell, tells an odd love story with perfect comic timing, beautiful writing, and an innate understanding of what real love and relationships are all about. Here's the summary from Goodreads: "Beth and Jennifer know their company monitors their office e-mail. But the women still spend all day sending each other messages, gossiping about their coworkers at the newspaper and baring their personal lives like an open book. Jennifer tells Beth everything she can't seem to tell her husband about her anxieties over starting a family. And Beth tells Jennifer everything, period.

When Lincoln applied to be an Internet security officer, he hardly imagined he'd be sifting through other people's inboxes like some sort of electronic Peeping Tom. Lincoln is supposed to turn people in for misusing company e-mail, but he can't quite bring himself to crack down on Beth and Jennifer. He can't help but be entertained-and captivated- by their stories.

But by the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late for him to ever introduce himself. What would he say to her? "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your e-mail, and also, I love you." After a series of close encounters and missed connections, Lincoln decides it's time to muster the courage to follow his heart . . . even if he can't see exactly where it's leading him.

Written with whip-smart precision and charm, Attachments is a strikingly clever and deeply romantic debut about falling in love with the person who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Even if it's someone you've never met."

Kiss me
Photo Credit

Attachments achieves that rare thing of having characters that are completely relatable, real, and likeable. Lincoln is a quiet man who feels things deeply and lives a very insular life. It takes him a long time to realize that he needs and wants to change his life, which includes everything from moving out of his mother's house and having a job that doesn't break down his spirit and sense of right and wrong to admitting his feelings for the one woman who he thinks he can never have.

Lincoln is a sensitive, kind soul, but he still comes off the page as completely real and believable. I even found myself falling for Lincoln just a little bit, even though I knew he was a character in a book. In many ways, Lincoln is an idealized yet completely realistic man: he loves long and hard (seemingly challenging Anne Elliot's claim that women love longest when all hope is gone), he falls in love for all the right reasons, he is honest, compassionate, and tender, and he has a refreshingly frank and simple approach to himself and his life; on the other hand, he does some incredibly stupid things, he is a bit slow on the uptake, his confidence in himself is almost nil for most of the book, and he can be complacent, hesitant, and altogether too passive. All these things, however, combine to paint a romantic hero more boy-next-door than idealized prince.

As I was reading the email exchanges, with Lincoln, between Jennifer and Beth, I felt like I was reading the emails of real people. These two women are self-confident, brash, rude, kind, silly, and supportive, and I kept thinking to myself, "I want to be friends with them!" I also kept thinking about my former roommate and I. We didn't email at work nearly as much as Jennifer and Beth, but when we did email, they were epic, and I knew that, more often than not, I should NOT read them while students were in the room because I would probably end up laughing uproariously. She has similar stories. We would, however, email while we were at home; there was one particularly memorable time when we facebook messaged each other back and forth for thirty minutes while sitting in the same ROOM! Some might find this disturbing or pathetic; I prefer to think of it as charming and adorable. And while we may not have talked about the same things that Jennifer and Beth did, our emails and messages always had the same comradery, deep affection, and caring as Jennifer and Beth's even when they, like Jennifer and Beth's, were at their snarkiest. Rowell captures the tones and nuances of friendship between two smart women perfectly, and you can't help but root for both of them.

Jennifer, Beth, and Lincoln were all wonderful, and I could totally understand all three of them at various points throughout the novel. Even the quirky characters (Lincoln's mom and sister, Lincoln's Dungeons & Dragons buddies, Lincoln's co-workers, and the oh-so-appealing but oh-so-despicable Chris) are real and just jump off the page.

I know that many have classified this book as light reading or weekend reading, but I found it profound, insightful, and meaningful. The writing was wonderful, and I found myself doing two things that I almost never do while reading: laughing out loud and crying. Reading is a highly internalized experience for me, which is why I think I so rarely have external reactions to what I am reading. I may smile internally or think, "that's funny!"; I may feel my stomach twist because something I just read is almost unbearably sad, poignant or touching; for these experiences to leap accross that divide between my most internal experience of a book and my external interactions with the world, they must be extreme: extremely funny, extremely moving, extremely horrifying. Attachments did this: it was so visceral and real that I couldn't help but experience it beyond the internal.

This is one of those books that I want EVERYONE to read; I want to buy lots of copies and indiscriminately give it away; I want to email everyone I know and tell them to read this book. This is the first book of the year that I KNEW, as soon as I finished it, would make my top reads of the year. Considering it's only May, that is high praise indeed.

So please. Do yourself a favor. Check out this quirky read, be pulled into the world of The Courier, and enjoy the ride. But set aside some time: once you start it, you won't want to put it down.

Thanks to Wallace for reviewing this! I never would have found it otherwise!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Another Poem

I will be spending Easter weekend with my family (for the first time in almost ten years!), so I won't be around much on here. I wanted to leave you with another poem to ponder in my absence.

I read this poem last night and just knew I had to share it. I plan to make it a permanent part of the blog somehow because it is just so true. Here is "Reader,"* by Lisel Mueller from her collection Alive Together:

A husband. A wife. Three children. Last year they did not exist;
today the parents are middle-aged, one of the daughters grown. I
live with them in their summer house by the sea. I live with them,
but they can't see me sharing their walks on the beach, their dinner
preparations in the kitchen. I am in pain because I know what they
don't, that one of them has snipped the interlocking threads of their
lives and now there is no end to the slow unraveling. If I am a ghost
they look through, I am also a Greek chorus, hand clapped to
mouth in fear, knowing their best intentions will go wrong.
"Don't," I want to shout, but I am inaudible to them; beach towels
over their shoulders, wooden spoon in hand, they keep pulling at
the threads. When nothing is left they disappear. Closing the book I
feel abandoned. I have lost them, my dear friends. I want to write
them, wish them well, assure each one of my affection. If only they
would have let me say good-bye.

*Mueller wrote this poem specifically about Family Life, by Mary Elsie Robertson, which I have not read. I could certainly, however, relate to the sentiment of this poem!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"kisses are a better fate"

Love ya!
Photo Credit

Here is another post in honor of National Poetry Month, and the poem is another from the tenth grade textbook. It might be a bit ambitious to teach e.e. cummings to sophomores, but I liked the poem so much that I couldn't help myself. I don't necessarily agree with everything in the poem, but it is so beautifully expressed that I feel compelled to love it.

since feeling is first
e.e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Caution: Indiscriminate Gushing Ahead

If you have not read Jane Eyre, proceed at your own caution. Important plot points will be given away. If you do not like the equivalent of a fangirl squealing over a cute boy, do not read what follows. I do the blog-equivalent of squealing. A lot. My apologies in advance.

Friends, Jane Eyre is killing me in all the best ways. The passion and tension of the scenes between Jane and Rochester as she acts on, acknowledges, and struggles with her love for him are BREATHTAKING. As in, I literally had to put the book down at the end of the chapter so I could breathe.

Yes, I have been reading this book for almost two months, but that is the joy of returning to a novel that I know so well and already love. I can take my time and really relish the story, the language, and my new observations because I do not have that persistent, ravenous sense of "hurry, hurry, hurry....what will happen? I MUST find out!" I already know how the story ends, so now the pleasure comes in the getting there, not in being there.

I think Chapter XVII is a new favorite. This is the chapter when Jane finally admits to herself (and by extension to the reader) that she loves Edward Fairfax Rochester:
'He is not to them what he is to me,' I thought: 'he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine--I am sure he is--I feel akin to him--I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. Did I say, a few days since, that I had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands? Did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as a paymaster? Blasphemy against nature! Every good, true vigorous feeling I have gathers impulsively round him. I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me. For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract; I mean only that I hae certain tastes and feelings in common with him. I must, then, repeat, continually that we are for ever sundered--and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him.'

I love that she says she can't help but love him while she breathes and thinks, for if Jane Eyre is anything, she is a thinking woman. This internal dialogue happens at the beginning of the first evening that Jane has to endure with the rest of the party (Blanche Ingram and company), and as the night progresses, Jane becomes more and more miserable and tries to escape. Mr. Rochester, of course, is reluctant to let her go because he, too, is in love with her. Jane says that Rochester "made me love him without looking at me," but, of course, he does look at her because he loves her. Until this reading, I didn't realize that Bronte very subtly lets the reader know along the way that Rochester is feeling exactly what Jane is feeling; I didn't notice on previous reads, I think, because I was just so caught up in the exquisite feeling of not knowing what would happen.

The fact that the feelings are mutual is very clear at the end of this same chapter. Please indulge me by allowing me one last quote which is a new favorite:
'Return to the drawing-room: you are deserting too early.'
'I am tired, sir.'
He looked at me for a minute.
'And a little depressed,' he said. 'What about? Tell me.'
'Nothing--nothing, sir. I am not depressed.'
'But I affirm that you are: so much depressed that a few more words would bring tears to your eyes--indeed, they are there now, shining and swimming; and a bead has slipped from the lash and fallen on to the flag. If I had time, and was not in mortal dread of some prating prig of a servant passing, I would know what all this means. Well, tonight I excuse you; but understand that so long as my visitors stay, I expect you to appear in the drawing-room every evening; it is my with; don't neglect it. Now go, and send Sophie for Adele. Good night, my---' He stopped, bit his lip, and abruptly left me.

I seriously could live off of the end of this chapter. So much pain! So much angst! So much tension! I love it!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I Might Be Crazy

Amy recently posted about her literary eyes being bigger than her literary stomach, and I think I have a severe case of book consumption optimism. Why you ask?

Well, because I just signed up for two readalongs of two very long literary classics. Allie over at A Literary Odyssey is hosting a readalong of The Iliad in May and The Idiot in May and June. Did I also mention that I signed up to read Sense & Sensibility and Little Dorrit for the Classic Circuit's battle royale between Austen and Dickens?

Then there is the small fact that the last month of school (i.e. May) is notoriously time-consuming and insanity-inducing.

But I couldn't help it! And in my defense, I've already read the first half of The Iliad, and I've already read Little Dorrit (so I could skim or read only select passages again. But did you really expect me to root for either Austen or Dickens over the other? I can't swear that kind of allegiance!). That means I would only really be reading Sense & Sensibility (which compared to the other three is quite puny in length), the second half of The Iliad, and all of The Idiot, which runs into June anyway.

Maybe I'm just in denial, but how, HOW, was I supposed to resist all these lovely books?

Friday, April 15, 2011

"The Boat Longing For the Sea"

It is National Poetry Month, and I hope to share some of my favorite poems as the month continues.

"George Gray", by Edgar Lee Masters, is a poem I discovered last semester because it is in the sophomore textbook. I immediately loved it and decided to read and discuss it with my sophomores. I particularly love the metaphor and symbolism of the boat.

George Gray
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me—
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire—
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Torn Between Two Great Loves

Do I even need to say how ridiculously excited I am about this??!! Now I just have to decide who I want to read...I was thinking about it on the way to work this morning, and I think I will try to sign up for Sense and Sensibility (as long as no one else grabs it) because it is the only Austen I haven't read. While I feel I owe my literary allegiance and endless love to Mr. Dickens, reading an Austen novel during the last month of school is just a bit more realistic. Plus I've read most of Dickens already...more on that later.

Won't you join me in biting my nails in extreme anticipation over this literary pleasure?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Readathon 2011: The End

It turns out that I was more brain fried than I thought last night, so I didn't post any more about my readathon reading. I did end up getting some good reading in, though, so my readathon stats didn't turn out quite as pitiful as I thought they would!

The facts:
Books finished: 1 (1 total)
Pages read: 234 (367 total)
Hours read: 4 (7 total)

I finished When We Were Strangers shortly after posting last night. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the greatest thing ever. I finished One Day, by David Nicholls, a few days ago, which pretty much rocked my world. I will be posting on it eventually (probably after I read Tess of the D'Urbervilles), but when I picked up When We Were Strangers, I was looking for another really, really awesome read. When We Were Strangers didn't end up being that for me, but it was a fast, nice read.

After I finished When We Were Strangers, I started Nightshade, which proved to be a good late-in-the-game read. Despite tired eyes and exhausted brain, it kept my attention and made me want to keep reading. I picked this one up at the library based on Amy's review.

So all said, not my best readathon ever, but I still enjoyed it!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Readathon 2011: In Which I Multitask...Sort of...

First things first: here are my mid-event survey answers!

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now? When We Were Strangers
2. How many books have you read so far? Two (one audio, one print). Do four MTLE tests count?
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Um...I'm really just looking forward to reading instead of test-taking. I might listen to an audiobook later and knit, since I'm sure my eyes will go early thanks to the four hours I spent staring at a computer screen during testing.
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? I wanted to, but the small fact of keeping my teaching license got in the way ;)
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? See the answer to number 4 ;)
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Uh....these surveys go a lot better when you've actually read more than a few hours!
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? None! love it!
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? Set aside the day for real!
9. Are you getting tired yet? Yes, but that's because of those tests...
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? Nope!

I've only read for about three hours today (and I've listened to my audiobook, Bonobo Handshake while driving to and from the tests) because most of my day was consumed with taking the licensure exams. And let me tell you, friends, I think I'll be taking them again. Big sad face. Maybe after I've gotten some sleep and my brain has rebooted I will feel more confident, but confidence is not overabundant here at Read the Book right now.

Now that I can be fully committed to the readathon, I hope to post a few more times tonight. See you then!

The facts:
Books finished: 0 (0 total)
Pages read: 133 (133 total)
Hours read: 3 (3 total)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Bit of Catch-Up (But Not the Kind for Fries)

I have been a bit absent from the blog lately and will probably continue to be for the next few weeks. Life is extremely busy right now with teaching, coaching speech, finishing my online class, preparing for the Minnesota licensure exams that I have to take, and trying to sleep, eat, and stay healthy in between! I hope to do two or three more Jane Eyre posts (the movie STILL isn't here!) as soon as possible, but I wanted to take care of some housekeeping in the meantime.

I was extremely excited about participating in the 24-Hour Readathon, and I fully intended to read as much as I possibly could that day. Sadly, April 9th was one of the only days that I could take one of the aforementioned licensure exams, so I will actually be spending most of that day answering questions about literature, pedagogy, and adolescents age 11-18. I know your jealous; try not to let it eat up your soul. I do have a four hour window between tests and I will have the evening free, so I still plan to read, read, read. In fact, I am headed to the library to pick up the Readathon books that are waiting for me there.

Speaking of library books on hold, it is time for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge! I discovered this challenge last year, and while I didn't complete it, I did enjoy the books I read for it. This year, I am signing up for Quest the First, which means I have to read four books that fit any of the challenge categories (fantasy, myth, folklore, or fairy tales).

I had the hardest time with the folklore category last year, but I already have a good list of books that I am contemplating reading for the challenge. Here's what I'm thinking I will choose from (at least at the moment!):
1. Tender Morsels (folklore)
2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (fantasy)
3. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (fairy tale)
4. The Iliad (myth)--I never did finish this...
5. The Name of the Wind (fantasy)
6. Till We Have Faces (myth)--I had this on my list last year, but I didn't actually read it.
7. As many of the books from the Samaria (fantasy) series by Sharon Shinn--One of my goals for this year was to reread these books, which I loved the first time through.
8. Something by Angela Carter (fairy tale/folklore)

My list is quite fantasy heavy, but I hope to find some good ideas from the other challenge participants.

Here's to Spring and some wonderful reading!