Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for July 31, 2011: The Hard Post.

I think, given the news I have to share, that it would be silly to recap my week in books. You can go visit me on Goodreads if you are interested.

On Friday, Matt and I received some sad news. Matt's step-father, Don, hasn't been feeling exactly right and he finally went in to the doctor. After a series of tests and some x-rays, the doctor found a couple of large tumors in his stomach and they diagnosed him with lymphoma. We're a little bit in shock and slowly coming to terms with the news.

Don is really a father to Matt and his sisters and brother (Don did have one more son with Matt's mom-Matt is one of five kids). Matt has no real relationship with his father, so Don has been there for everything.

I think we are really having a hard time seeing someone who is so full of life, happy, and loving as being sick. But we are praying and hoping for the best. We'll see what the doctors say, but I know it is important to continually think positive.

Anyway, anything else would be silly to add here.

If I am a little more absent than usual, you know why.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book 97: Their Eyes Were Watching God and Book Stats.

Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurstone (1891-1960)

First Published: 1937
My Edition: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (pictured at right)
Pages: 219

Other Works Include: Color Struck (1925), Jonah's Gourd Vine (1935), Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939)

I had originally picked this one up back in April at the end of the last read-a-thon. I got 30 pages into it, set it down on the nightstand, and it was eventually buried by the million other things I had to read in the meantime.

In a cleaning spree the other night, I uncovered it and felt immediately guilty. I hadn't set it aside because I disliked it...I just....forgot about it. And I blame that on the sickness that came over me back in April.

But I am excited to finally get back into this one and give it the attention that it deserves. I really loved those first 30 pages, so we'll see where this takes me this time around.

One thing I do want to say is that my edition has one of those reader's guides in the back. Now, normally I am okay with extras included in books. I like reading old introductions, criticisms, notes, etc, but for some reason, reader's guides irritate the crap out of me. I feel like the publishers are telling me how I SHOULD be interpreting the novel and how to think about it. I don't like that kind of pressure. Anyone else feel this way? Or am I just usual? (it is also possible that I am a book snob. I can own that for once, I suppose).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book 96: Finished.

"Atticus said to Jem one day, "I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father’s right," she said. "Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird."

*sigh* There was something so beautifully heartwarming and lovely about Lee's one and only published novel. It had been over a decade since I read it, and while some details came back to me as I read it, I had forgotten how truly wonderful it is.

At first glance, it seems so simple. The first half of the novel shows us just who the characters are. We play along with Jem and Scout as they explore their neighborhood. We too fear the Radley house. We go with Scout to school and suffer with her when her teacher tells her not to read anymore at home. I just loved this line about that in particular,

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

Oh Scout, I feel you on that. When things are threatened to be taken away, we all pitch a fit and hold on tighter, don't we? I do have to say, shame on any teacher who discourages kids from reading. You should be tarred and feathered. Moving on...

What I really loved about the beginning of the novel is that we understood just who the characters were. Jem was the older and more mature brother, who knew best and attempted to keep Scout in line. I was reminded often of my own brothers, who once they hit a certain age, didn't want to play with their little sister any longer. But Jem was smart, and you could see his transformation as he began to truly understand the importance of what his father was doing in court. It clicked with him.

As for Scout, while she knew that her father was sticking up for good, she still seemed to look at everything with such a childlike innocence. Atticus never hid things from her, but you get the idea that Scout didn't quite grip the full severity until very late in the book. I think that kids, in general, don't see the big picture. They are too focused on what is happening right now, and mainly, to them. I know that when I was younger, I was very concerned about how things would change ME, not the world around me.

"Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts."

But, hands down, the best and most well-constructed character is Atticus Finch. How I admire him for standing up for he believed to be right. Atticus is the kind of man who does not stray from something just because it is hard, and that is something he passed along to both of his children. You can see it in Scout and Jem when they stand up to the crowd of men in front of the jail.

I also love the little Atticusisms throughout the novel, as he passes down words of wisdom to his children. Because Atticus doesn't want his children to just survive in the status quo, he wants them to fight and understand that things can (and should) change at some point.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."

Atticus is a wise, wise man. Of course he has his flaws. He even owned up to Scout that he perhaps didn't listen to her thoughts before punishing her when she fights her cousin. It takes courage on the part of an adult to admit a mistake to a child. As adults, don't we feel that pressure to always be right? I certainly think so. This is what makes Atticus such a great character. As a reader, you think he is perfect, even though he isn't. He's just so real.

"When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em."

I love Lee's novel. I really want to start over again, so I can admire how she slowly draws her reader in, slowly getting them to feel comfortable with life in such a small town. It is simply a work of genius and I loved every page of it. And I hope you will grab it off your shelf if you have it, or go find a copy somewhere, because it is just a marvelous, warm book full of the wonder and strangeness of childhood.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Some Book Loot.

I don't think anyone is ever surprised to hear that I am constantly acquiring new books. I have problems, you know? I just have this desire to collect, so when there are details, I lose control.

I do want to say before I show you my loot is that I was very restrained. I went with my mom to the other Borders (about 20 minutes away), since I thought they would have a different selection that my local one (only 5 minutes away). I was right. There were MANY things I wanted, but I only brought home 8 books with me this time.

And you all know I will be going back multiple times when the discounts get better.

From top to bottom:
  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs: I found this lonesome copy hiding in the history section. And I really liked the green cover. Bite me.
  • Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. I just finished my first Vernes a few days ago and LOVED it, so when I saw it I needed to add this one to my pile.
  • Three Plays by Ayn Rand: I know RAND. How could I? But it was the only one, and I am REALLY curious about her plays. There won't be a 70 page speech, right?
  • The American by Henry James: All of my experiences with James have been really positive so far and I adore his writing style, so I figured I should add his other work to my library for the future.
  • The Wings of the Dove by Henry James: See above. :)
  • Traitors' Gate by Kate Elliott. I have had the hardest time finding this book, and it is the third in a trilogy. I had to pick it up.
  • Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. I've been having a hard time locating this one, and since it is on my list, I grabbed it quickly.
  • The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton. This is one of the few Whartons I don't have on my shelf, know...
So often do you all go on book shopping sprees? Will you go to a Borders near you if you have one to get deals?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book 96: Childhood.

"You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don't you let 'em get your goat. Try fightin' with your head for a change."

Before beginning this, I knew I had read it, but only remembered the basics. After the first few chapters, it all came flooding back! How could I have forgotten?

I am through the first half of the book and thoroughly enjoying this read. Scout and Jem are amazing children characters. I love that Lee chose to tell the tale from Scout's view. I know that I am moving into the racism/court case part of the novel and having Scout as our narrator leading into it was the perfect choice.

I think that knowing the perspective of your story helps its success. This book, and the deep subjects it discusses, would be far different had Jem narrated, or Atticus (their father).

One of the things that I most love about Scout is her true child-like nature. Lee does a great job of giving her a child's voice and we see the world through her eyes. The escapades she pulls with Jem and Dill as they play throughout the summer had me cracking up. Only children would find climbing into an old tire and wheeling down the road fun (it would make me sick nowadays). I love that because she doesn't know any better, they invent a game surrounding the Radleys and the mystery surrounding the family. It is painful to know, as an adult, what the neighbors must be thinking, but that is the fun of being a kid in the summer.

There are two scenes that stick out more than any other. The first is when Jem argues with the older woman down the street about what Atticus is doing. And while what she says is hurtful, Atticus is right in sending Jem down to make things right. I know that had I been in Jem's shoes, I would have been just as mad to sit and read to a cranky old lady in the afternoons. Scout captures that emotion perfectly and since we are seeing Jem's punishment through her eyes, we learn the lesson along with the kids.

The other scene is one that I didn't remember from my first reading. The Finch family goes to visit Atticus' sister. It is there that Scout gets into it with her cousin and hits him for saying something about Atticus. Her hurt feelings in defending her father and the misunderstanding about why she hit him are something that hit home with me. How often did we feel misunderstood as children and as teens? I can remember some moments where I felt like the adults around me didn't give me the chance to speak up. I felt for Scout in that moment.

I think now, as an adult, I need to be more mindful of what the kids in my life are telling me. Like Scout's experience, there could be something more I don't know and need to.

But more than anything, this first half of the book, and Scout's tales of their shenanigans, brought back memories of my own childhood and some of the silly games I used to play with my friends and older brothers (my sister was born when I was 6, so I have memories of playing with her a little later on). And its funny, I was also stuck remembering some of my other favorite book memories (The Little House books came to mind).

Childhood truly is a wonderful thing, and I am glad to be experiencing that of Scout and Jem. I know moving forward that things will get darker for them as the trial begins. But as the saying goes...

"You have to grow up sometime."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for July 24, 2011: New Books, Decisions, and Reading.

This has been a really great week. Coming back from Florida, I went into an interview first thing Monday morning. Not only did I land the job, but they hired me on the spot! It was a great feeling and I am looking forward to teaching again (if you missed the post, there will be a link at the bottom of this one). I will be long-term subbing in the same district I was in this past school year. I will be at one of the other high schools (it is actually the high school I graduated from!) and I am teaching a vary similar set of classes to what I was teaching. I'll have sophomore and senior English again (the senior class is only a semester, so I can refine some of the things I taught this past year!), as well as one section of Government. I haven't taught Government before, so it should be a great experience.

I also had my toe check-up with the doctor on Wednesday and it looks like everything is healing nicely. It is still a little tender if I accidentally touch it just so or put too much downward pressure on the nail, but it looks great. The only bummer is that I still can't remove the nail polish from it and it is starting to look a little scary (I like pretty toes).

In reading news, I finished two books this week (not great, but good enough). I also hit the magical 100 books off my list late last night! Yay! I've been reaching for this milestone for quite some time, and I am proud to say I have read 40% of my list. Woot for that!

My 100th book was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and was the first full book I read on Homer (my NookColor). I really enjoy how light Homer is, but my eyes do get tired a bit faster than from a paper book. That's really the only big downside. I like being able to flip easily between footnotes and the page I am reading, the search options are great, and Homer is easier to hold up in bed. So far, I am really loving it!

I am also debating making change to my list. I have a couple of poems lingering on there (you might recall I counted "The Waste Land" as a book last year), but I am thinking of removing them and adding a few larger titles that didn't make the cut. I took off 5 non-fiction titles in the first few months of this and replaced them with the Gaskell and Collins, but left those poems on there. One of the books I want to add is East of Eden by Steinbeck. If I decide to do this, what other missing titles should I add?

I already posted about the sad news of Borders closing. I still have a Barnes and Noble within ten minutes of home, so I won't be without a bookstore, but I know others won't be so lucky.

I went to Borders on Saturday just to look around. They have everything on "sale," but I knew from my experience with the store that closed a few months ago that items would only be 10% off. The store was packed and people were grabbing things like it was a race. I felt bad for the workers, many of whom I know from being in the store so often. There were a few things I wanted, so this is what I walked away with:

The stack from top to bottom:
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The Turn of the Screw
  • Notes from Underground
  • The Double and the Gambler
  • East of Eden
  • Hawthorne's Short Stories
  • Outliers
Don, the cashier who rung me up, told me my selections looked bleak colorwise.. I laughed. The Borders near our house is sometimes unorganized, but I really enjoy the staff (the other one 20 minutes away...not so much). Don is someone I seem to run into every time I'm there. He always comments on what I'm buying. I will certainly miss him!

My plans for the rest of the evening are to read and catch up on a little housework. But mostly read. :)

If you missed any posts from this week, here they are:
Happy Reading!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why the Closing of Borders Breaks my Heart.

Earlier in the year, when Borders announced that some of their stores would be closing, I was only slightly nervous. I mean, I had three Borders within a 20 minute drive from my house. Excessive? Probably. I took advantage of the price cuts and such. I ended up bringing home many new books to add to my collection.

But now that Borders is closing everything, including their headquarters in Ann Arbor (about an hour from where I live), the reality of losing such a massive chain of bookstores is kicking in.

I know that there will be a lot of people who simply don't care about the closing of nearly 400 stores nationwide. These are the people who only go to a bookstore when they have to, or who know little about the book industry. But for those of us who visit far more regularly (in my case once a week, sometimes more), I am losing a home away from home. Crazy as it sounds, I love going into bookstores and just walking around. I like seeing the covers all lined up in rows on the shelves waiting for someone to pluck a book out and take it home.

I will miss being able to do that. With Borders gone, we are left with one major chain in my area (that would be Metro Detroit and Barnes and Noble). I worry that they will eventually succumb to the crappy economy and the ereader evolution.

*I should mention that I think B and N is in better hands. With the Nook and NookColor, Barnes and Noble has held its ground better than Borders has*

I'm left wondering what is next for the bookstore world and the fate of hardcover, paper style books? As bloggers, we have all seen the huge increase in ereader technology and many of us own an ereader (I recently was given a NookColor). But have they replaced our love for the original book? In my case, no. While I certainly love my NookColor-it is easier to hold at night when I am lying in bed-it won't replace my love of physical books. I was very upfront with Matt about the fact that just because I have a new ereader, I wasn't forsaking my books! I will never stop buying paper books as long as they exist.

With this closing of a national chain, that reality is one step closer. I think we are nearing the point where large chains simply cannot compete with online stores like Amazon and The Book Depository. I think there is still a longer future for indies and second-hand book stores, but only if the solid base of readers in communities don't give up on them. I think that eventually, bookstores as we know them will no longer exist. That shouldn't surprise anyone, right?

In any case, the out-of-business sales at Borders starts today. The sale even carries online. I know that I will be making a couple of trips in the next week or two to the two Borders still within reasonable driving distance. I still want to thank them for being a home away from home and show my support for bookstores. I hope you will do the same.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book 96: To Kill a Mockingbird and Book Stats.

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee (1926- )

First Published: 1960
My Edition: Grand Central Publishing (pictured at left)
Pages: 376

Other Works Include: No other published works...

I was inspired to move this one from the bookshelf to the nightstand a few weeks ago when I was still teaching. I was covering a class for another teacher and they were reading a chapter of this novel in the session I was covering. The ninth graders asked me if I liked the book, and while I knew I read it as a ninth grader as well, the details were incredibly fuzzy. It was that same day I moved the book to the "get to it soon" pile on the nightstand.

I do remember reading this one, but I am sad that I don't remember more than a few names and events. And since I often see this one listed as many bloggers' favorite classic, I feel like I need a refresher. To say I am excited is an understatement. I wonder how the memories will come rushing back after over 10-11 years of not reading this title.

I am also curious about the author and the fact that this is her only novel. All of my research has shown me that she is still around (she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bush in 2007), but hasn't published any other official writing. Curious, isn't it? To write such an outstanding, loved, and influential novel and never publish again? She also seems to be a bit of recluse, like Salinger was. But I am intrigued and anxious to revisit Atticus, Boo, Jem, and Scout-names I remember, but whose story I have forgotten.

Are you one of those bloggers who claim this as a favorite? Tell me why!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book 95: Inspiration and Finished.

"I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love."

In a single glance, you wouldn't think I have a lot in common with the character of Celie. She is abused from a very early age, raped by her father, and put through more struggle and strife than most. It isn't her pain that I connected with, but her awakening.

Celie, over a long course of time, learns who she is and how to cope with the things that have happened to her. She learns to accept and understand her past for what it is and to move forward into a much happier future. It takes a long time for Celie to come to terms with the things she has been given.

But she realizes that if she wants things to change, she must change. Rather than accept the life and pain she has always known, she has to push outside of the box she was placed in. She awakens and the transformation is simply amazing. And inspiring.

I was riveted by her courage to leave a life of pain behind to take a chance on something she loved. She didn't settle for what was right there, but took a chance and made something of herself. I admire that kind of courage.

I wish I could do that. I am a lot of talk about the things I want to do and what I wish for. But rarely do I go for it, no matter what happens. I like to be safe and secure. I take what is given to me and accept it. I could stand to take some of Celie's courage and use it to make something of myself. I struggle with this-this want to make something of myself, to make a difference and to inspire. I have goals, dreams, but I never just go for them. I need to. And it took Celie to remind me.

The other character who truly inspired me was Sofia. Sofia is a strong black female character who refuses to bow to the power of the men around her. She refuses to be beaten and put into her place as a female. Her courage had me cheering for her. I loved her spunk and attitude and the way she refused to accept society's role that was given to her.

Many of the female characters in the novel echo those same thoughts. Oppressed by the men around them, some manage to escape and challenge that role. Some don't. Reading about their journeys made me appreciate what I have and how our society has changed a little. But we still have a long, long way to go.

I walked away from this reading of The Color Purple inspired and moved. I remember from my previous reads that this was a powerful novel, but in the place than I am now, I gained far more knowledge about the power of women who stand united and the dark and nasty things that many women have to go through. I didn't remember the scenes from Africa and those were quite the shocker for me on this read.

This is a novel that everyone must read at some point in their lifetime. Not only does it address a variety of social and racial issues (including female-male relationships, homosexuality, abuse, rape, mutilation, incest, class, race, etc, etc), but it does it in a haunting and gripping way. As a reader, you are pulled directly into Celie's pain and her struggles. When she cries, you cry. When she pulls away in that climatic dinner scene, you whoop and jump for joy. And at the end? You feel her utter joy.

To say that it is moving is an understatement. The Color Purple is an experience, and one that will grab hold of you in a way that you have never experienced before. It will change you, it will inspire you, and it will make you want to go for it-whatever "it" may be.

I know that I have a renewed faith in my own goals and the dreams that I have set. I will not doubt myself or tell myself "no." Most of all, I will continue to love those around me and cherish them for what they are.

"Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved."

Thank you Celie.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Required Reading for Teens.

When I saw this week's topic over at The Broke and the Bookish, I knew I had to post, even if I would be sneaking it in late in the day.

As a "teacher," I see reading in the classroom as something that needs to be constantly changing. Obviously I am an advocate for the classics, but I think there needs to be a mix. Today's teenagers need something to grab them-they need drama and action. And while I might adore Austen, I can think of many of my students who would absolutely despise that kind of story.

I approached coming up with this list by thinking about the students I have had and the issues they could relate to. I also had to think long and hard about trying to cover a variety of topics and decades. It was really hard. Eventually, it came down to picking the ten books I would be most excited to teach to students. I think my list covers a broad spectrum and would hopefully have something for any student in my classroom.

So basically, if I could teach any ten books to teens in MY classroom, this is what I would pick. Enjoy!

1. Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Ben Alire Saenz: I cannot say enough about this YA novel. Set in a barrio in new Mexico, it follows the story of Sammy and his friends. Together they battle loss, marginalization, racism, war, and family issues. It is a YA novel that no one seems to know about, but it is absolutely riveting. I think this would be a great novel to read with any teenage group, especially those who don't have a lot of diversity in their lives.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry: I picked this to fit the bill for a dystopian novel and one that will give us all a lot to talk about. I created a unit plan for this one in college and I am itching to teach it to a class. Discussing memories, how society functions, etc. It would also be great to discuss this with an older group considering this is often classified as middle grade.

3. Macbeth by William Shakespeare: While I have no big issues with Romeo and Juliet, I do think it is rather overdone. My Shakespearean pick (because yes, WE NEED SHAKESPEARE) would have to be Macbeth. It is dark, gloomy, violent, and has witches. I love the witches. And wouldn't it be great to talk about the influence of power on individuals? And what we do to hold on to power? Way more fun than that icky love stuff.

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: This classic is one of the most influential books I have ever read. I have read my copy so many times it is falling apart. My favorite quote about the power of books is included in this novel and would create so many great discussions, especially now and the loss of physical books with the influx of new technology. (Here is the quote I LOVE: "There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.")

5. The Odyssey by Homer: None of my lists are complete without Homer's epic. :) I would prefer to teach that full version rather than the water-down version many find in their textbooks. I can picture reading this out loud with classes of students and discussing all the fun and gory language. I would also want to transition away from talking about Odysseus' journey to talking about how Telemachus comes of age-something that gets ignored. What better issue to discuss with teens that that?!

6. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: This is probably the "hardest" novel on my list, but I think that if taught in the right way, this can be an extremely influential novel. From a literary standpoint, there is so much in here to discuss. But it is also a little wacky and out there, which would definitely hold the attention of some readers.

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: I put this one on here solely for the scene with the green light. I never understood that green light as a teen and I would love to be able to explain how significant it is. How it symbolizes that desire in ALL of us to reach out for the thing we want most.

8. The Crucible by Arthur Miller: Funnily enough, this is the only title on here that I HAVE taught, and I would love to teach it again. I think this is a great play for teens to read. There are so many issues here that are great discussion topics-lies, hypocrisy, etc. It was a favorite of my students, so it is definitely accessible.

9. Germinal by Emile Zola: This is definitely a wish-list book. I think the action and pace would hook readers, and while it is long, it has everything a teen could want. There's romance, danger, a corrupt company, rioting, profanity, etc, etc. It is definitely a mature book, but hey, this is a dream list, right?

10. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: I really wanted a Victorian novel on the list, and since Dickens is usually the standard, I wanted to switch it up. Mysteries are a genre usually ignored by required reading lists, but this one is wonderful. There are likeable and wonderful charaters, amazing villains, and lots of language to discover. I also like the idea of making teens read something that is lesser known.

There you have it. My list does veer away from the topic, but I think these are all great novels that I think some teens would love. Obviously there are some harder titles on here, but in a perfect world, every teen would be a reader and be moved by everything I like, right? :)

What would you put on your list?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Home at Last and Some News.

Hi everyone!

I meant to post last night, but with unpacking, grocery shopping, and a trip out to belatedly celebrate my birthday, I just didn't have time. :)

But I wanted to pop on and let you know we got home safe and sound. We had a wonderful trip with my family. As soon as my mom gives me the pictures (well, posts them on FB), I will make sure to do a post dedicated to Harry Potter Land (it was AWESOME).

The Thursday before we left to go, I was contacted by a teacher in the same district I just finished long-term subbing in, but from MY old high school. She needed a long-term sub for the beginning of the year until just after Thanksgiving, and she asked if I would be interested. With the trip in the way, we had to wait until today to meet for an interview.

To avoid the suspense, I got the job and start during the last week of August. It isn't a full time job, but everything is one step closer to a permanent position. I'm going to be in the same district and will be teaching pretty much the same classes-sophomore and senior English, as well as one section of Government. I'm excited and happy to have something in the fall.

Anyway, I'll probably get back to a regular posting schedule tomorrow night or Wednesday. I have a lot of things to discuss, but I'm not too far behind. I only read two novels over my vacation. I spent more time talking with my family and relaxing, so I don't feel at all guilty about that. But now? We're down to business! :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy Potterday/Birthday!

In honor of the last Harry Potter movie which came out today, I wanted to share the lovely image at right. It made me chuckle when I saw it, and I hope you giggle as well. :)

Today is a great day not only because of the release of the film (which I am SO excited about), but it is also my 26th birthday. :) I feel kind of honored that such a glorious event is taking place on my day of birth. Makes me feel all warm and cozy inside.

I hope you all have a wonderful day-for those of you seeing the movie, ENJOY! And for those of you who haven't read the books, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR??

Oh, and happy birthday to me! :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book 95: On Rereading...

I first read this as a high school senior. I picked it at random from the AP list my English teacher had given out. I didn’t know what it was about going into it. I think, had I known then, I wouldn’t have chosen it. What I read shocked and scared me. The book was so real, so violent, and in my face. Looking back at it, I’m surprised I finished it. It was nothing like what I expected.

Now, I am reading this from a completely different perspective. I read this again in college for an African-American Literature class and gained a whole other point of view to read it from. I learned to appreciate the subtleties and language, the pain and the suffering.

I’m reading this from the same edition I read in high school. It is full of little comments and insights that make me laugh-not because they’re funny but because they’re pretty shallow. I missed so much depth and complexity in that first read, that I am learning a lot from myself as a reader.

The things that I have underlined or starred are nothing that impact the actual power of the story. I also have way too many things misspelled for my grammar loving heart. But I really love seeing my little "aha!" moments as I read, when I begin to piece things together and jot them down.

This is truly the joy and pleasure in rereading. I seem to be in a little spurt of rereads recently, and they have all shown me how much I have grown. Now I am seeing how Walker really uses language to draw her reader in from the beginning. She is clever and sharp, making me feel Celie's pain as if I was there with her. While I remembered the lingering feeling of pain from my previous rereads, I forgot the beginning.

What makes this such an emotional and powerful story is that Walker brings us directly in to Celie's world. Nothing is sugarcoated. From the beginning, we are hit with raw, ragged pain as we begin to understand what is happening to Celie:

"He never have a kine word to say to me. Just say You gotta do what your mammy wouldn't. ..when that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it. But I don't never git used to it," (1-2).

See? From the beginning, we are pulled in to the pain that Celie suffers (I did leave a small but out in the middle of that quote). I forgot the beginning and the strong feelings it already invokes.

I wonder what else I will suddenly remember as I continue onward. Already I am jumping ahead in my thought process and remembering bits and pieces, names, people. I am already yearning for that scene that makes me so proud of Celie, but I know I'm not there yet. :) For now I will just continue to soak up and enjoy the mastery of Walker's words and the memories they bring back.

**I'm sorry if the formatting is wonky. I am pre-scheduling these and this was written in word and transferred over. It seems to have messed up a bit, at least from what I can see on my preview screen**

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book 95: The Color Purple and Book Stats.

Title: The Color Purple
Author: Alice Walker (1944- )

First Published: 1982
My Edition: Pocket Books (pictured at right)
Pages: 295

Other Works Include: Meridian (1976), To Hell with Dying (1988), Finding the Green Stone (1991), The Same River Twice (1996) and more...

I have eyed this one on more than one occasion since starting this project. I usually picked it up whenever I saw a review, since it is such a powerful book. I have read it twice before, but not recently, and the time has certainly come. I am looking for one of those powerful, "move me emotionally" kind of titles, and this certainly fits the bill.

Out of curiosity, has anyone read any of Walker's other books? I was looking around for lists of her other published titles and I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of any of them. I also can't recall seeing reviews of any titles, but that might be my brain not remembering. :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Authors I Would DIE to meet .

When I saw this topic coming up for The Broke and the Bookish's Top Ten Tuesday, I knew I was going to have to participate.

Since starting this process, I have been thinking about all the questions I would ask these authors if I had the chance to. I mean, who wouldn't want to nitpick the brains of these greats?

Now, while the topic says we can pick authors dead OR alive, I decided to stick with the dead guys. Why? Because I know that no matter what, I won't meet these people. There is still a chance for anyone still kicking! ;)

In no particular order...
  1. Virginia Woolf. I really admire and respect the woman that Woolf was and a chance to shake her would be wonderful.
  2. Edith Wharton. You knew she would be on here, right? As one of my all-time favorites, I would go all fangirl on her. Might scare her a bit. :)
  3. Homer. I would LOVE the opportunity to listen to him recite The Odyssey. That is how it was meant to be, and I think hearing him performing some of my favorite lines would be simply amazing.
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien. I would love to share my love of Smaug, Gondor, and attractive elves with this man. And ask him how it feels to be the author of one of the most definitive pieces of fantasy literature ever.
  5. Jane Austen. I think it could get no better than asking one of the most beloved authors of all time to sign my editions of her novels. Even my duplicates.
  6. William Shakespeare. I would probably just bow down to him. Repeatedly.
  7. F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have many questions for this guy-about Gatsby, the green light, and the genius that came out of his head.
  8. Kurt Vonnegut. I am so sad that Vonnegut died when he did. I was just beginning to discover him and fall in love. He would be great to talk to, even for a moment.
  9. William Faulkner. As one of my other all-time favorite writers, I would cherish any time with him. One his novels helped me cope with the death of my grandfather. I would love to tell him that.
  10. Walt Whitman. This one man has comforted me more than any other. I see him as a friendly grandfather figure, and one who i love and respect more than anything.

This was actually a really hard list to narrow down. To be honest, I would love to meet any of the authors on my list, including my arch-nemesis Dickens, just for a moment. I wonder how many of them would have thought that we would love and cherish their work as much as we do when they wrote it. Do you think they knew the impact of their words on future generations? Do you think they would be proud or happy or saddened by their enduring fame?

I wonder...

Who would you pick?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book 94: Memories and Finished.

When I was a junior in college, I took my favorite English class. It was with this professor who was incredibly passionate about every piece of literature he taught, and I really began to appreciate literature because of him. One of the many things we read in his class was Daisy Miller by Henry James.

When I saw Jillian was reading this, I knew I had to move it up in my pile. Because while I remember loving that class, this is the one book I was having a hard time finding a connection to. I also really loved the other James novel I’ve read in this process (Washington Square) and wanted another go around.

I think I chose a good one.

Daisy Miller is the story of a young American girl abroad in Europe. The reader meets her through the eyes of Winterbourne. Winterbourne recalls when he first met her, and their subsequent meetings. While they only meet for a small amount of time, Daisy has a huge impact on Winterbourne. He romanticizes her and continues to stand up for her when she makes quite a few unwise decisions.

But the story is not about their relationship. On the surface it is, but underneath it focuses on the complexity of how others view ourselves and our actions. To the outsider in the story, Daisy appears to be a frivolous flirt, throwing herself into awkward situations with men, and causing quite a stir. The people around her (mainly Europeans) are shocked and scandalized by her behavior. But for Winterbourne, who also interacts with her in "scandalous" ways, she is simple a naive but friendly girl. Daisy craves human attention and just seems to form friendships. She cares little for what others think of her.

James is also discussing the relations between Americans and Europeans. There is a clear line between the stuffy Europeans around Daisy and the way she and her family acts. Her mother has no control over her actions and doesn't really seem to mind. But Daisy is acting "American," which is certainly something we are still labeled with.

I have never traveled abroad, so I have not felt that kind of stigma and judgment for being an American. But I know it is there. I struggled teaching my sophomores this past year in history just why so many countries don't like us and our policies. It was hard for them to understand. We are privileged and wealthy in comparison to many countries around the world, and yes, we do act a certain way. I know that I am conscious of this in as many ways as I can be. At the park, my status as an authority figure (and female in charge) is often challenged by patrons of different cultures and ethnic groups. I have to take it in stride and acknowledge that the way I see things is different than how they see things.

I see Daisy Miller as an early version of this. Daisy is a spoiled American girl who is used to getting her way back home, and abroad doesn't see the need to act any different. Yes, she acts entitled, but was she ever taught another way? It is interesting to see this play out, and her general disregard for the feelings around her and her actions.

But what I really loved was the ending. it speaks so clearly to the reader about what to value and why. I don't want to say more than that and ruin it for you. And this is such a short little book, you really should go read it. :)

It was good to reread something I had only fuzzy memories of, and I am determined to get to more James sooner rather than later. There is something very honest and open about his writing, which I also admired in Washington Square. I love this type of society and status novel and the exploration of what it means to be "up there." Perhaps that is why I enjoy Wharton so much? In any case, it is always great to rediscover something I have read before, in a different time and place. It is amazing how much more I pull from it a second time.

How do you feel about the current stigma against Americans? Is there one? Are we deserving?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for July 10, 2011: The Vacation Edition.

By the time this post goes up, I should at Detroit Metro Airport waiting for my flight to Orlando. So really, I am cheating and writing this in the wee hours of Saturday night (yeah yeah, this morning). I'm a little too excited to go to sleep, and I knew I needed to get this post done. :)

I am excited to get out of Michigan for a week and to relax in the boiling Southern heat, but this week is going to be a blast. My parents decided we needed a big family vacation, so while everyone might be coming at a different time, we're all going to be together at some point (my dad is driving down solo, and my SIL will be flying down near the end of the week).

We have grand plans for this week. Tomorrow we will be going to Universal Studios and Harry Potter World. Let me tell you that this makes me SUPER excited! I am going to drink butterbeer and go to Zonko's, and perhaps pick up another wand (my sister got me one last year when she went). I am sure I will be posting photos to Twitter if it works, so keep an eye out!

We also have plans to go to one of the Disney parks, but I'm not sure which one. I'm rooting for Epcot, but we'll see. :) I just want to enjoy my week off.

This last week or two weeks had been a little insane. You remember the Great Toe Debacle from the fall? Well, it came back. About two weeks ago, I noticed that the same toe (my right big toe) was looking a little red and felt sore. And then, almost overnight, it went from looking a little off to looking pretty ew. I finally decided I just needed to go back in, and since the original injury was done at work, the city I work for covered the bill to let me go back in. The doctor ended up doing a second surgery (it was kind of like and ingrown nail...if you know about that. Don't google it. The images will gross you out). In the fall, he did a temporary fix and removed the part that was irritating me. I thought it was all healed (apparently not). This time, he told me that when I dropped the brick on my toe, in addition to creating a small hairline fracture, it also pushed on my nailbed, permanently moving the direction my nail was growing. He ended up going in and removing the small section of nail along the righthand side permanently (there was a lot of cutting, and scary tools, and some blood, oh, and some acid being put in to kill the root. I watched. It was fascinating. And yes, it was all numbed up).

Now I seem to be on the mend, but my poor toe looks like someone beat it up. I'm limping a little and when I walk for too long, it starts to kills. I hope it gets better because I am going to be all over that park tomorrow!

Anyway, I am glad it is taken care of, but I never want to go through that whole ordeal again. The lesson learned? DON'T DROP BRICKS ON YOUR TOES!

On to the reading...

I am meandering my way through a number of things. I am working on Vanity Fair still, as well as Their Eyes Were Watching God. Both are going to be going in my carry on I think. I also have quite a few books downloaded on the new NookColor. I went a little crazy the other night, but I have some lovelies picked out for vacation. Some of the downloaded titles include Scott's Lady of the Lake, Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, The Time Machine by Wells, Hardy's Jude the Obscure, Letters from an American Farmer by de Crevecoeur, Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Ibsen's The Doll's House. Told you I went crazy. :)

I also bought a pretty cover for the NookColor. I had a hard time deciding which one to get, but when I saw this pretty white one, it spoke to me. I'm sure I'll regret it and it will inevitably get dirty, but who cares. It's pretty now!

I also decided on a name for the NookColor, at least for now. I decided on Homer. :) Fitting? I hope so.

(And if for whatever reason you can't think of why I chose Homer, think about the title of my blog...)

I'm also taking a small stack of paperbacks with me as well. One of them Matt will also be reading (A Game of Thrones), but the others are things I am planning on getting through.

The pile includes my three "fun" reads for vacation time-Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake. Also, Martin's A Game of Thrones as mentioned. I'm also taking Dubliners by Joyce and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Albee and recommended by Adam.

So yes, I have lots of reading planned. We're going to be spending a lot of time by the pool, so I am going to enjoy it FULLY with some great literature. And now with Homer by my side, I won't run into a problem where I run out of books!

*side story-skip if you'd like**A few years ago, I was flying down to Orlando to meet with my mom and sister for spring break. The rest of my family were unable to come. It was only my second experience flying, and I was freaked out. I was also flying alone and had to make connecting flights all over the place. Leading up to the chaos, I kept joking I was going to get on a plane to Norway on accident and they would never find me! But I was okay and made it.

Anyway, the book connection. I had to fly from Lansing, MI to Detroit, MI for my connecting flight to Orlando (I was at State at the time for class). I missed the connection because of snow and was stranded at Detroit Metro for a few hours before the next plane (it is a really nice airport btw). There was a Borders in the airport, and of course, I wandered in there and ending up buying 3 or 4 new books. I already had a tote bag with me that was pretty full, so I jammed them in there and kind of forgot about them until I was on the plane. Seated and getting nervous, I started shuffling through my tote bag trying to find the book I had already started. It was at the bottom, so I kept pulling out more and more books. This lady next to me looked at me and said, "You know, its only a 3 hour flight. You only need 1 book." I told her, "Just watch, I'll need more than 1."

And what do you know, I finished not only 1, not only 2, but 3 books on that flight....due to the fact we were stuck on the runway for a couple more hours while our plane got de-iced. Rock on bibliophiles. If any airport person tells you that you have excessive reading materials with you, there's a story to support you. :)

Anyway, you will see a couple posts going up throughout the week that have been pre-scheduled. You'll also see updates on Goodreads and twitter I suspect, you know, unless Florida's internet dies. :) So I'll be around...kind of. I hope you all have a great week and I will see you next Sunday!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book 94: Daisy Miller and Book Stats.

Title: Daisy Miller
Author: Henry James (1843-1916)

First Published: 1878/9
My Edition: Penguin Classic (pictured at right)
Pages: 126

Other Works Include: Roderick Hudson (1876), The American (1877), The Europeans (1878), Washington Square (1880), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Princess Casamassima (1886), The Tragic Muse (1890), The Spoils of Poynton (1897), What Maisie Knew (1897), The Turn of the Screw (1898), The Awkward Age (1899), The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904).

I was inspired to finally pull this one from the small pile on my nightstand by Jillian (who has been inspiring a few of my recent reads!), and I am excited to give this one another shot. I read this one previously for a college course (with one of my favorite professors ever), and I am a little hazy on the details. I remember really enjoying it, so I hope I have a repeat experience with this one.

James is an author I am slowly discovering. I have limited experience, but it has all been positive. I read Washington Square relatively early in my project-it was book 21-and I truly loved it. I still have Portrait of a Lady and The Turn of the Screw left after this one, so perhaps James will turn into a new favorite.

If you are interested in reading my Washington Square posts, here they are:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book 93: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett/Finished.

"Let's go."
"We can't."
"Why not?"
"We're waiting for Godot."

Sometimes you read something, enjoy it, nod your head in the right places, chuckle, and still come away from it scratching your head in wonder.

This is one of those pieces. I have no idea how I feel about it. On one hand, I am frustrated that I don't seem to get the deeper meanings and the point of it all, but on the other, my guesses and assumptions seem pretty darn awesome in my mind.

But I think that really was Beckett's point. He refused to comment on his work, saying, "it is what it says" and that is all I can accept. So here is what I am pulling from this...

The two men waiting for Godot are crazy, loving, and hopeful. Every night they put on a repeat performance in waiting for Godot to show up. I think that they are waiting for answers, for a solution to the lives that they are leading. And every night they go a little crazy, with memories, thoughts of suicide, and not remembering the lives they led a day earlier.

Some other kooky characters show up and play into that search for meaning as they continue to wait for Godot to show up. But this isn't some kind of sad, hopeless longing for meaning. The men are hilarious as they interact, hug, and discuss things to do to "pass the time." Here is an example:

"Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It'd give us an erection."

See? In the midst of longing and waiting, they find humor. We can all find humor in our darkest moments if we try hard enough to accept that there are certain things we cannot change.

"Vladimir: Did I ever leave you?
Estragon: You let me go."

But the play also has this slightly bittersweet feeling as well. Like the men know that they may be waiting for something that may never come. They struggle to accept that there are things they cannot change. Eventually, they too will pass on and leave the world behind.

"The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors."

This is definitely a play I would love to see live. There are scenes that can only be even more beautiful and funny with an actor performing them. I also think the lines would come alive, the men would seem real, and I would begin to understand what they are waiting for. But for now, I can just enjoy the beauty and wonder of Beckett's words and wonder how long you can truly wait for something to arrive before walking away.

"Estragon: Do you think God sees me?
Vladimir: You must close your eyes.
Estragon closes his eyes, staggers worse.
Estragon: (stopping, brandishing his fists, at the top of his voice.) God have pity on me!
Vladimir: (vexed). And me?
Estragon: On me! On me! Pity! On me!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book 91: A Room of One's Own/Finished.

"It is strange how a scrap of poetry works in the mind and makes the legs move in time to it along the road."

For someone who loves Woolf, I am surprised it took me so long to read this slim little volume. I think I always brushed it off as being unimportant compared to her novels. I mean, why read essays when you can read her lyrical flowing writing in Mrs. Dalloway or The Waves? After Jillian raved about this one, I knew I needed to get to it sooner rather than later, and I am glad I reached for it one night.

I feel I can tell you all now that this is now my favorite Woolf, knocking The Waves down a notch. The simple fact is that this "simple essay" has a lot more impact and punch than you would expect.

As a woman who is a read and a writer, Woolf was speaking to me throughout her ramblings and examples. I accepted and understood what she had to say about the plight of women in a writing profession. For centuries, a woman's main role was that of wife and mother. We all know that women have historically stayed at home to take care of children rather than make a living. Woolf merely expands on this idea in new and interesting ways. She invents a sister for Shakespeare who also wanted to write. Rather than being allowed to have that opportunity, as a woman she was forced instead into a more traditional role.

I love that Woolf creates this scenario and continues to harp that women, in order to write, need money and a room of their own to write and create. I read a few passages out loud to Matt, and he chuckled at a few. He said, "don't we all need money to create?"

Of course we all do, but Woolf's point is that if a woman really wanted to strike out on a career that is drastic and different from what society expects, she CAN create with money to get her by. That might not even apply to writing in today's world.

I also love her comparisons between male and female writers. Of course men and women write about different things. I am having a hard time thinking of a female write who has written an epic war novel, while I can think of MANY male writers who have. We cherish and love different things. But because women have been held back from writing, we see far more male writers in earlier centuries than female. What would our written history be like if females had been writing more? If they had been encouraged to write? I think we would view things differently!

But more than any of this insight, I am walking away feeling inspired by a woman who lived my dream. I dabble in writing, and while I continue to write on an almost daily basis, I still try to find purpose in what I set down. Now I feel the push and the urge to capture the things around me I most care about in a way that years from now, someone else may find that same kind of inspiration. Perhaps that is a grand sort of goal, but it doesn't matter. I'm going to reach for it anyway.

"So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say."

If you haven't read this one yet, you should. It was different than her fiction (obviously), but it really does capture the same genius she expresses there. If you have read this one, what did you think?

"Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Vacations, Birthdays, and my New Toy.

It dawned on me late last night that I completely forgot to mention that I am going on vacation next week. From July 10 to July 17, I will be down in the Orlando area with my family. My parents are taking everyone down for our first whole family vacation in YEARS.

Needless to say, I am super excited about escaping Michigan for awhile and heading for Florida. We have grand plans-going to the beach, shopping, going to a Disney park (we haven't decided which one yet), and of course, going to the Universal Studios park and MOST IMPORTANTLY, going to Harry Potter World!! This is probably the thing I am most excited for. The last time I was down there, they were building the castle, so it will be amazing to see the completed thing. :) It will also be really cool to be there during the week before the release of the final movie (good timing!).

I will also be spending my 26th birthday down there (July 15-which is also the release date for the final movie. Best. Birthday. Ever.). Can you tell that I am really excited about it?

I also wanted to mention that Sunday night we had a birthday party at my parents house for my little sister, my sister-in-law Lauren, and myself. My family all chipped in and bought me the most marvelous new toy-a Nook Color! I've been playing around on it for a bit, and I have even downloaded a few new books onto it. It'll be making the trip down to Florida, so I can try out reading on it.

For anyone who has a Nook or Nook Color, any tips, tricks, etc that I should know? Any freebies I can download? :) The help is much appreciated.

That's all for now. I have some time set aside tonight to write reviews and get things set up, so you should see more bookish posts in the very near future!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for July 3, 2011: Summer Reading Redux.

Hey guys!

I finally feel like it is summer! I am back full time at the park, I am out in the sun, and I have days off every week! Its AMAZING! :) I feel like a much happier, whole person when I have time to do things that I love. And working outside and soaking up the sunshine and park atmosphere has really helped me feel like myself the last week.

I am still working on getting back into the groove of blogging. There has been so much lapse between some of the titles I have read and the posts that I am beginning to feel incredibly disconnected from the books, and I think my posts come off that way as well. To catch up, and feel more like I am putting real meaning into my posts, I am probably going to reduce some of my posts-basically there will only be one for each title. I think this might get me back on track and feeling a little more positive about writing posts.

Because let's be honest, sometimes we all read a ton and don't write reviews, right? But no matter how much I would love to skip a book and review, I have promised myself to write about everything, and I am going to keep doing that.

The other factor leading me to only writing one post per book is that I am reading some short, quick reads. Since I'm not pausing to reflect in the middle, it makes sense to only write once (beyond my "Book Stats" posts). So, just wanted to give you all a head's up.

This week has been super productive. Late Wednesday night (2:30 in the am on Thursday actually), I wrote about coming up with a list of books for some summer reading. Basically, I want to read 25 books between now and August 31-to get to number 120 on my list complete. You all gave me some great suggestions, and I have already started to attack that list, as well as some of my other goals.

On Thursday, I did some massive cleaning and reorganizing of my office space and our bookshelves. I can now sit at my desk and work (before my laptop was on our coffee table and my desk was overrun with papers, books, etc. I literally couldn't see the top of my desk OR my chair). I also reorganized the three bookshelves we currently have. I ended up boxing up FOUR boxes with books that were double stacked, piled up, or in random places around the apartment. The shelves look great and my classics are now taking over space on the second big bookshelf (the other big shelf is full of just books from my list and other classics). I feel so accomplished.

I've also been reading up a STORM since then. I finished Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett on Thursday night, started Daisy Miller by Henry James on Thursday and finished it Friday, and read all of The Color Purple by Alice Walker on Friday and Saturday. Look who has their reading mojo back! This girl!

I'm also reading To Kill a Mockingbird and finishing Vanity Fair, as well as getting through some more of Genesis for my Bible Reading Project. I got some great ideas from all of you who commented with some wonderful things to read in the next two months and I am super excited to dive into all the things you mentioned! THANK YOU!!

But here is another toughy....I am coming up on book 100 and I feel like I should celebrate it somehow with a significant title. I was talking with Iris about it on Twitter yesterday and she suggested reading something I think I'll enjoy....but I don't know what. So, if you had to pick the one title that you would be MOST excited to read off my list, what would it be?

And for those of you who read this entire rock. :D Have an AWESOME WEEK!