Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weekend Reading Plans.

I have been feeling sick for the last two weeks or so. The first time I went to the doctor, they told me I had strep, gave me some antibiotics, and sent me home. I took my meds diligently and started to feel much better.

Then, after another week at school, I started to feel off again. This time it was in my lungs. I had a really nasty cough to top it off and it got pretty bad. The worst was Monday night. I was sitting at home (Matt was at work with my car) when I started wheezing and my eye began to swell shut. In a panic, I called my mom, who came to my rescue with Benedryl. I called first thing Tuesday morning and talked to the doctor that afternoon on my prep period.

My appointment was yesterday and the verdict is that my walking pneumonia that I had in the Spring came back. The doctor gave me a nice long lecture about stressing myself out and getting more sleep.

His directions included staying in bed all day Saturday and Sunday, as well as when I get home from school today and tomorrow. :)

So, when he told me this, I knew that I needed to take advantage of my illness in the best way I know how! Reading!

I have been in a huge reading slump. I know that part of it is because I am adjusting to being back in school. By the time I come home, I am so mentally exhausted that I switch on the TV and zone out. But, I have some things I still want to read. Plus, I have a 3-day weekend this week, since Monday is a PD day and I don't have to go (you know, being a long-term sub and all).

So here are the reading plans for this weekend:
  • Finish Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Finish Moby-Dick
  • read half of Dracula
All doable, right? I hope so.

I guess you could say I am having a mini-readathon. Anyone want to join in? :)

(I secretly just like making lists and plans. It's called insanity. I haz it.)

Wish me luck and keep me company on Twitter all weekend!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book 114: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Book Stats.

Title: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

First Published: 1886
My Edition: Signet Classic (at left)
Pages: 144

Other Works Include: Treasure Island (1883), Prince Otto (1885), Kidnapped (1886), The Black Arrow (1888), Catriona (1893), as well as various short story collections and co-written novels

I am still working my way through the massive Moby-Dick, and while I love Melville's masterpiece, I need a little breather before diving back in. I decided it might be a good idea to grab a book off my R.I.P. Challenge list to get working on it.

I read Stevenson's Treasure Island last month and really LOVED it, so I was excited to get to it anyway. I have a huge pile of his work that I picked up at all those book sales, so I am hoping this is just as positive as Treasure Island was.

Hopefully, given Darlyn's recent review, this will be a fast, fun read that I will absolutely LOVE. I read the first chapter last night and only set it down because I was who knows, maybe I'll even finish it tonight!

If you are curious, here are my thoughts on Treasure Island.

Book 113: To the Sea and the White Whale.

I am about a third of the way through Melville's Moby-Dick. I am reading it slowly, and I actually prefer it that way. I think, that by taking my time, I am allowing myself to fully enjoy the power of Melville's prose. It seems as if he agonized over each sentence, each word, to get it just right.

Or it could just be that with school and other obligations, I haven't been reading all that much. :)

But I do love this book. It is kind of an odd book. Each chapter is fully constructed to give the reader just a piece of the whole story. Melville dedicates a whole chapter to describing a table. And I don't think he does it to be pretentious or to drag the story out, but because it has a meaningful purpose and place within his story.

Yes, the story moves slowly (I thought we would never get to sea), but I know why. Melville is taking his time, building up who the characters are, giving them names and histories. He needs to develop the ship and its qualities, the sea and the way it makes the ship move. And while a chapter on the table seems silly, I know it isn't. Nothing about Moby-Dick on a deep level is silly. It all has purpose somewhere, even if I can't see it yet.

I also don't mean to say that this is a deep and brooding book. While I do think it has passages that require me to think a little deeper, it does have moments of light-heartedness. There was a scene near the beginning when Ishmael (our narrator) spends a night with a stranger and freaks out. It made me laugh. But I also enjoyed the innate human quality of it-the real emotion and voice that Ishmael lends to the story.

From the beginning, we know that Ishmael is the one taking us on this voyage. And while he is important to the story, I know he isn't everything. Sometimes I forget he is there, and that he is the one conveying all this to me as the reader. Then he will butt in and say something like,

"I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul," (194).

I love that he pulls me back and reminds me that yes, there is a man there, watching this for me and painting the picture. His voice and tone are perfect. He gives us hope and desperation as we hunt the white whale with the crew. But his observations of Ahab are what really stick out to me,

"The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; --Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it," (200).

I love that. I love that kind of passion that I get with every turn of the page. Each page is similar, with the driving force of something pushing me constantly forward into the book. I can feel it ebbing me onward, forward, and forward.

This is really a book for the ages. I cannot even begin to hope to explain how...much this book makes me want to drive on as far as I can. It is almost as if I can feel Melville pushing me along, encouraging me to chase the things I need to-my demons and tormentors, so that I can find some kind of peace.

Amazing, isn't it? But I feel it every time I crack this open. I feel a need to go, and go I will.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want to Reread.

I couldn't resist this week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I don't participate every week, but when I see a topic and get all excited inside, I know I need to participate! If you decide you would like to as well, visit their blog (linked above) and join in on the fun!

I am actually a huge fan of rereading. Well, I was until I started this process. And while I am occasionally rereading a book or two that I've read before, I am not doing it at the rate I used to. Some of my books have been read so many times that they look quite beat up (that is saying something, since I am very nice to my books).

Anyway, here are ten books that I would love to reread. Some are coming up on my list, and some I finished already. There might even be one or two that aren't classics! Surprising, I know!

1. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I read these all in a row when Mockingjay came out, but I really want to reread them with the movie coming out in March. I keep eying them on my bookshelf, so maybe I'll cave in later this winter.

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: This was the second book I completed for my project. I think I got through it on excitement. :) Now that I have read more by him, I think I would appreciate more of the writing and thought with another read. I also have a new translation, so this one I definitely want to try again.

3. Germinal by Emile Zola: I LOVED this book. I thought about it for months after I read it. I have seen a few other reviews since I finished it back in 2009 and every time I see someone mention Zola, I want to reread it.

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I made the mistake of watching the movie a few weekends ago, and while it was certainly wonderful (young Christian Bale!), it made me want to read the book again.

5. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: I also made the mistake of watching this movie (for the first time!) about a month ago and it also made me want to dive back in. The first time I read this, I was so enthralled that I tore through it in record time. I would love to read it a little slower the next time around.

6. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: I read this one when I was in college and absolutely loved it. It is on my list, but I have been "saving" it for near the end. But someone out there was hosting a readalong of it, and I had to fight everything within me not to join in.

7. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: This is the longest I have gone without reading any of the HP titles. I think a small part of me is dying inside. I used to reread them every year, even as the new ones came out. The last time I read the series was in the summer of 2009, right before I started blogging.

8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: This is another one of my favorite books that I read almost every year, and like HP, I haven't read it since before my project began. This is another title I am saving for near the end, and I really hope I don't break down before then.

9. Villette by Charlotte Bronte: I really, really loved this one. And since I read Jane Eyre back in April, I want to reread this one to make sure it was really as excellent as I remember.

10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Okay, I know I just read this one in January and February, but I read it so fast that parts are already hazy. I was attempting to reread it again, but I set it aside months ago...and I still want to read it again. Crazy, right?

So what books do you want to reread?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hard to Find Titles and some New Acquisitions.

During the course of this project, there have been a number of titles I have had a hard time getting my hands on. You would think, that since these are classics, that bookstores would regularly carry them. But, I have found that bookstores regularly don't have the titles I am looking for.

It was only after Penguin released their hardcover classics that I managed to get a copy of The Woman in White. I also had to order a set of Sherlock Holmes titles (My big leather-bound collection was too big to carry around and read comfortably). My library also did not carry single volume editions of any of those novels, which really surprised me-they only had The Hound of the Baskervilles.

I also had to search pretty hard to find a couple Gaskell titles, as well as some of the plays. I have been constantly surprised by what I have needed to search for. I also have to commend Barnes and Noble for their collection of classics. I have found quite a few titles through them that are a little more difficult to find otherwise. They also offer them at pretty amazing prices, so you really can't complain.

However, there are still titles that I have to order. I don't necessarily like to shop online. I prefer to order through the store or search for titles I need in used sections. But, sometimes you have to go online to find things that are only published by one publisher, or not in high demand (and saying that classics are not in high demand kind of kills me).

Anyway, at this point I own all but the "hard to find" titles off my list. And I don't know if they are hard to find simply because my stores don't stock them, or if they really are that obscure. In any case, I made one last little shopping trip online before my book buying ban went into place.

Here is what arrived:

From left to right...
  • The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
  • The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
  • Winter in the Blood by James Welch
All three of these are titles I haven't heard of before. I also couldn't find them on Project Gutenberg for download. My library didn't have them either, so ordering them was the perfect way to get a copy.

But this is where I struggle with my list. I created it based off the AP reading list, as well as a couple "Best of" lists I found online. And I am pretty sure that these came from that AP list. If I had such a hard time finding them, how many people have actually read these off the list? It can't be many.

Of the three, The Little Foxes was by far the hardest to find. I ended up ordering a slightly used copy (it looks brand new)-it is a copy that would usually be used by actors for play rehearsals.

As for the other two, I have searched for them since before I started this process and haven't seen either in any bookstore I have entered (I have a lost of books "to buy" in my purse at all times). But I am glad I finally have them, and they all look quite excellent.

What have you gone through to find a copy of a book? Any tips on finding old gems?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for September 25, 2011: A Rough Spot.

I haven't had the best week. In fact, I have had a pretty crappy September so far. I mean, I am currently battling illness number 2 for the month (a cold; last week it was strep), and I am in a big reading slump...but more on that in a bit.

I was also hit with two pieces of sad news this week. Late last Sunday night, I found out that an old friend from high school passed away suddenly. We went back all the way to fourth grade, and while I hadn't seen him in awhile, we kept in touch on Facebook. It was a sudden and out of the blue death, and one that caught me totally by surprise.

Then I found out that a former student of mine committed suicide. I had this student way back in my very first job out of college. The school called me the day before school started and asked if I was interested in a long-term job. It was a great experience and this was a student I was very familiar with. I was really shocked to hear about it...and shaken.

So, this has not been a week filled with a lot of happiness, but I am soldiering through anyway. I can grieve, but I can't let it get in the way of living my own life.

Not that much has been going on...

Like I said, I am in a big slump. I feel lousy, and while I am really enjoying Moby-Dick, I have been reading it for nearly a month. And I made no progress this week (I literally didn't even open it). And on Wednesday, I have no more drafted posts waiting to be put up. I will be completely caught up, with nothing to write about because I have read nothing this month. I don't even feel that guilty about it....just annoyed because no new posts will go up.

Oh well.

I might shift gears over to something lighter this week-a fast, quick read to get me through the slump. I think that a good, condensed story might motivate me to finish Melville's epic and move on to the four big reading commitments I have coming up (the 2 group reads I am hosting, my Classics Circuit titles, and the group read for Hawthorne). I am sure something will fall by the wayside (Hawthorne most likely), but we'll see. You'll just see less posts from me in the next week or two, until I figure out a way to get myself out of this slump.

I suppose that's all for this week. I hope that next Sunday I am back with something a little more inspiring...wish me luck.

Happy Reading.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book 113: The First Chapter.

I finished reading the first chapter and scribbled notes furiously until I could come and write a post. I don't think I have ever stopped myself after just one chapter to jot down my thoughts, but the words in the beginning of Moby-Dick were just so...powerful I felt the need to share my thoughts from the beginning.

I need to share the opening paragraph. From the first sentence, it is perfection:

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

I love the passion Melville manages to portray from the beginning. He doesn't lead the reader on with pointless exposition, but instead shows us the power of the sea from the beginning. After all, we know the story is about the great oceans from just the title. But to capture the call and the beckoning of the sea to a character in such a beautiful way...I just love it. When he says, "I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can," I can feel that passion, not that I love the sea. But I see it similar to the way I view words, books, and reading. There are times when I crave comfort, so I run and grab my copy of Leaves of Grass and fall into it. I can understand that passion, and Melville evokes it right from the beginning.

I also love the mystery and aura Melville strikes into the heart of his readers with that first line, "Call me Ishmael." I have always heard that line and thought it an odd choice to open, but I can see how it fits, just pages into the novel. We are seeing the very soul of a man from the first page. It is honest and open in a way that many novels are not.

This beginning chapter also shows the reader that at times, there are many things greater than ourselves. We have desires, passions, that call to us and don't let go until we give way. As a reader, I saw that in Ishmael from the beginning. He feels a call to go to the sea, to look into its great depths and be comforted by whatever he may find there. The important thing, however, is that he has the desire and urge to go. And I know that Melville is talking about more than just the sea, but also about American destiny at this time period.

In the 1800s, Americans were pushing westward, exploring the dark places of the map and moving. If you really think about it, those early Americans and those who were born here, have the trait of exploration. It took guts to leave the known world behind and travel somewhere new to explore vast wildernesses. And the sea is still a wilderness to many. So not only is Melville commenting on the urge for Americans to continually discover, but also on the mysteries of the sea.

I find this whole beginning inspiring. I just want to sink further into the depth of Melville's words and see everything as he, and Ishmael, describe it to me. I, too, want to go to the sea and breathe in the salty air. It has sparked that adventurous spirit within me, and I cannot wait to see where Melville takes me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book 113: Moby-Dick and Book Stats.

Title: Moby-Dick, or The Whale
Author: Herman Melville (1819-1891)

First Published: 1851
My Edition: Penguin Classic (at right-and I want to just say that I really do adore that cover. It seems so powerful, doesn't it?)
Pages: 654

Other Works Include: Typee (1846), Redburn (1849), Piazza Tales (1856), Timoleon (1891), Billy Budd (1924-discovered by his biographer in 1919)

I have been craving a book I can sink my teeth into. Most of my reading over the summer months has been limited to short books that I have been finishing in 1 or 2 short sittings. But now that fall is here, I really want a book I can dive into and absorb over a week or two.

I have been curious about Moby-Dick since I was in college. For one of my favorite college English classes, we had to read Typee. My professor was very adamant about why he chose that novel over Moby-Dick. He didn't want people to drop the class when they saw the reading list. Even so, there were many of us wary of reading Melville. We all knew him as "that guy" who wrote about "that whale." And the first line of this novel, "Call me Ishmael," is legendary. Melville is just one of those intimidating writers we all hear about somewhere and form preconceptions about without actually knowing anything about them!

But, I ended up loving Typee. I remember thinking that Melville really had a gift with stringing words together effortlessly. His writing was just beautiful. Even with that positive experience, however, I haven't given Melville a second chance.

I suppose he is getting that now. And while I am a little worried about reading a book about a whale, I know that the story is more than that. Melville was writing during a fascinating time in American history, and I know that part of that American spirit is captured in this. I also tend to love books dealing with the sea and voyages. Some of my recent reads (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Treasure Island) have spurred that bit of adventurous spirit within me, so I certainly hope Melville and ol' Ishmael up there are up for the challenge. :)

Who has read this one? thoughts?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book 112: "The Eumenides" (The Oresteia) Finished.

The last piece in the Oresteian trilogy by Aeschylus is "The Eumenides." When we left off in "The Libation Bearers," Orestes had exacted revenge on his mother for killing his father. After the murder of his mother and her lover, Orestes was chased off by the Furies, since now his mother's death must also be avenged.

In this third and final piece, Orestes escapes to Athens and pleads for Athena's help. A trial is held and not only is Orestes tried for the murder of his mother, but also Apollo (who offered him guidance). It is an interesting court scene, with Athenians serving as the jury.

I really enjoyed this piece of the trilogy. It finally puts an end to the circle of violence (to recap: Agamemnon sacrificed one of his daughters before leaving for the Trojan War, Clytemnestra and new lover murdered Agamemnon and Cassandra on their return from the war in revenge, and Orestes murders Clytemnestra and lover because they murdered his father. Complicated? yes).

During the trial, Apollo defends Orestes and basically explains that in a marriage, a man is more important than the woman-so defying the husband is worse than defying the wife. I thought this was an interesting way of proving a point, and while I certainly believe that partners in marriage are equal, it wasn't so in older societies.

Anyway, Orestes trial comes to a vote and the vote is tied. Athena sets a precedent and acquits Orestes, proclaiming that in hung juries, the accused should always be acquired from that point forward (she says something about not being too harsh).

While the first piece of this trilogy was by far my favorite, I would have to say that this comes in a close second. There is a lot of imagery in this scene as Orestes tries to escape the Furies and their need for vengeance. I also really enjoyed seeing Athena again. She has a huge role in The Odyssey and seems to be one of the Greek gods that interferes in a positive way in mortals' lives (at least from what I have seen).

The trilogy was fascinating, but now I need to read Electra and others to see what happens to Orestes' sister, as well as different takes on the family saga. And, once more, I was reminded that Greek works are not as difficult as I seem to think they are. Sure, they read differently, but that is solely because they are meant to be performed out loud. I never have to struggled through them like I think I am.

I also highly recommend the translation I read (by the wonderful Robert Fagles), as it really does capture the "out loud" qualities of the trilogy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Books I am "Saving."

A few people have asked me, via twitter, e-mail, and comments, about the books I am leaving until the end of my project. From the beginning, I knew that there would be a handful of titles I would want to save. I have caved in on a few and read them already (Jane Eyre being one). Others have been added to the list as other titles by that author have blown me away. Some have been added simply because of recommendations from bloggers and readers like you.

In any case, I thought it might be good for me to see what titles I am saving and put them down on...screen. I also thought you might have some suggestions for other titles to leave until the end. After all, I am approaching the halfway mark and my list is gradually shrinking (I am starting to get to some titles I am not so excited about).

Here they are:
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: It has been years since I've read this one, but I love it.
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: One of my favorite titles ever, so of course I'm saving it.
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: Sadly, this is the last title by Steinbeck on my list (tragic, I know), and since I love him so, I want to save this one.
  • Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: LOVE this book.
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather: Cather is a new favorite, but this is one I read before and hated-it could go either way.
  • Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: What!!! A Dickens title! Yep. Quite a few people told me I would love this one, judging by my other tastes, so it will be my last go-around with Dickens for my project.
  • Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser: I adored An American Tragedy, so I am hoping the same for this one.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot: Eliot is another favorite, so I am saving this one for a bit.
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: Hardy is another new favorite, and this title seems to be a favorite among many...
  • Billy Budd by Herman Melville: After my recent love-affair with Melville, I can't wait to read this one, but it can be a treat later on.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare: This has always been one of my favorite plays by the bard...
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: I love Huck and Tom and Twain.
And my last book?
  • Ulysses by James Joyce: After my failed attempt at the Ulysses readalong this past spring, I realized that this one would be a great end to my project. Since my first book was The Odyssey, it is only fitting that this one end the project. :)
What do you think? Any titles I should add to my "save" list? Any I should remove?

(or am I crazy for saving titles?)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book 112: "The Libation Bearers" (The Oresteia).

"The Libation Bearers" or "The Choephori" is the second in the Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. In the first play, "Agamemnon," we saw Agamemnon come home from the Trojan War to be murdered in his own house by his wife and her new lover.

This second play picks up where the first left off. Orestes, Agamemnon's son, arrives at his father's grave to mourn. He is accompanied by a friend, and they hide as Orestes' sister, Electra, also arrives at the grave with a company of women mourners (also known as the libation bearers). The siblings meet and once they prove their identity to one another (I think, from what I can remember, that Orestes was banished from home at some point).

Once the siblings known one another, there is a really long exchange between Electra, Orestes, and the libation bearers where they recall a dream, interpret it, and decide that Orestes must avenge his father's death and kill Clytemnestra (his mother).

Orestes and his friend disguise themselves, for back to his home, convince Clytemnestra that Orestes is dead, and eventually murder Clytemnestra and her lover. At the end of the play, Orestes is chased by the Furies while the chorus explains that rather than ending the cycle of violence, it continues as Orestes should not have killed his mother for killing his father.

Confused? I was a bit. But, I enjoyed seeing what happened after the first murder of Agamemnon. And from what I recall from The Odyssey, Agamemnon doesn't tell Odysseus what has happened to his son.

What I was surprised to see (and I really shouldn't have been), was the level of interference, again, from the gods, as well as from the dead. When they are consulting the dream, they think of what Agamemnon and the gos were prefer, rather than what might be just. This goes back to the whole "eye for an eye" ordeal, in that by taking revenge, you end up in an endless cycle (isn't this why gang violence gets so out of control?). Yes, of course Clytemnestra wasn't right in killing her husband to be with her lover, but it also isn't up to Orestes to take it into his own hands.

After all, isn't this why we have law and government? So that they can "clean up" the mess we make?

Anyway, it was interesting to see Orestes out his mother for the murderess she is. He really digs into her and rips her apart before doing the dead.

But what I really enjoyed about this play was the chorus and the libation bearers. One of the things I should have remember from reading Lysistrata earlier this year is that the chorus not only tells the audience backstory and much-needed information, they also interact with the characters on stage. I almost began to see them as the conscience for each of the characters as they grappled with their decisions.

Well, there is one more piece to go, and I know it'll start with Orestes still fleeing from the Furies, who want vengeance on him for murdering his mother. And since I am unfamiliar with what happens next, I am curious to see how it all plays out!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for September 18, 2011: Bits on School, Sicknesses, and the Book Buying Ban.

I am finding it hard to believe that I have been back at school for two weeks already! But I am kind of glad the first two weeks are over. It was stressful starting in a new place, with new kids, and a new routine, but things are settling firmly into place. We are finally moving into some heavier content this week in both of the English classes I am teaching, and we're moving into fun documents with the Government kids.

My sophomores are starting their "What is an American?" unit this week by reading the Declaration of Independence. I am hoping we are going to have good conversations about the ideals the U.S. was founded on, as well as their rights and privileges (it could be interesting). At the end of the week, they are writing me a "break-up" letter to show they understand it all...should be a fun assignment.

The seniors are in the midst of the memoir unit. Those of you around last winter might remember that I had to teach The Glass Castle. I am teaching it again and they were given their first big reading assignment due Wednesday (I have more kids who work at this school, so I decided giving them big reading assignments over the course of a few days would be better than reading every night-we'll see how it works). I also modified their memoir writing assignment. They are doing 4 short in-class vignettes before I assign them a longer (3-4 page) assignment. They're going to compile the whole thing into a blended genre/memoir paper. So far it is working out, but they are whining a bit about all the writing. It IS a composition class, so I guess they better get used to it. :)

I started to feel a bit off on Thursday night. It was a really long week, with a couple of before/after school meetings, curriculum night with the parents, and Homecoming activities gearing up-our game and dance is this week, so we have spirit days and shenanigans all week. Should be a riot.... Anyway, I woke up feeling like knives were stabbing my throat on Friday, toughed it out, and went to the doctor that afternoon. Turns out I have a case of strep. So, it has been a good weekend of sleeping, reading, and cuddling with my cats, who have been feeling rather neglected since I went back to school.

My father-in-law started his chemo treatment on Wednesday. It sounds like he had a rough couple of days after, but at least his treatment has started (I can't come in contact with anyone who will see him, so as not to pass on my germs). They finally staged his lymphoma at stage 2, which was good news (they thought it was more advanced than that to begin with). We're all hopeful the chemo knocks it out of his system.

The only other exciting news is that I bought books. Again.

Yeah yeah, I know. It all started when Matt came home on Wednesday and told me that our local Borders was officially closed. I was surprised to hear this because it was scheduled to close today. I was bummed, since he promised me one more book excursion before putting a ban in place. He decided to let me buy a few books on Amazon and be done with it.

So, I did order 3 books on Amazon and they'll be here sometime this week. I'll include them in next week's post.

But then, I got a coupon for Barnes and Noble, FOUND an old gift card that hadn't been quite used up, and discovered that all of their classics are on sale (buy 2 get 1 free). So I went (you all knew I would). I found some great things, even scouring their used department for some AMAZING deals (yes, our B & N has a used department, does yours?). So, I promise that the damage wasn't too bad-it just looks bad. Here is what I got:

From top to bottom:
  1. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
  3. The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
  4. Henry V by William Shakespeare
  5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  6. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
All of these were part of the classics sale, so two of them were completely free! The Woolf titles make me especially happy, since the other publishers who have these titles charge an arm and a leg. I was also excited to finish my set of B and N Shakespeare (I really love these editions. They are WELL done). Now I have all the available B and N editions-the rest of my Shakespeare is Folger's...sometime I should take a picture of my Shakespeare collection...remind me. I really wanted these so I could have them for the readathon next month.

Also, ALL of these are list books. So that's super-duper.

From top to bottom:
  1. Plays by George Bernard Shaw (contains "Mrs. Warren's Profession" which is on my list).
  2. The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman
  3. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  4. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
  5. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  6. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  7. Nana by Emile Zola
  8. The Ambassadors by Henry James
  9. The Bostonians by Henry James
The top five books were all found in the used section of the store. I was kind of geeked out by The Oregon Trail since I loved the game as a kid. I was also happy to find the O'Brien, since I have been meaning to replace my copy ever since I lent it out in college and never got it back (LOVE that book). The copies of A Mercy and The Trial were amazing finds, since both of them are brand new, but were in the used section. They seriously look like no one has opened them (score). But the best part is that I got more classics at a really good deal. Of this pile, the Kafka, Forster, and Shaw are the only list books....but who really cares? The others were a great deal!

BUT, I am done. The book buying ban has been put into place. From now until January 1, I am not allowed to buy any more books. If I win a book in a giveaway, get a giftcard, download free ebooks, or receive books for Christmas, I am okay. But I am not allowed to purchase anything. I'm not even allowed in the bookstore. I am slightly sad, but I honestly don't need to buy any more books (obviously). I have more than enough reading material to last me a few years. So, we'll see how I do. I still get to look forward to my amazon package.

Anyway, this turned out to be much longer than I wanted it to be! I hope you all have a wonderful week!

Happy reading!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reading with Teenagers.

I just finished my second week at my new placement. If you recall, I am at a different high school from last year, but in the same district. I am actually teaching at MY old high school, which is a bit trippy and odd. But since most of the teachers I had as a student have since retired, there is a new staff to learn.

Anyway, I am teaching two of the same classes I taught last year-senior English and sophomore English. This is great, because I already have experience in what worked and bombed with my classes last year. I have some good lessons on standby, and I am familiar with the content.

But I am amazed at how different the two schools are. And how different this school is from the time I graduated 8ish years ago. It has been a lot of work adjusting to a new set of kids with different needs than the kids I had last year. Don't get me wrong-both groups of kids are great, but these kids, in my current placement, need a lot of help.

We had a discussion in class yesterday during our grammar warm-up about parts of speech. We are working through a grammar program that the teacher I am covering for came up with (It is a pretty awesome intro to basic grammar and I really like it). The first concept is reviewing parts of speech. We have been talking about this for over a week. Cue yesterday when my kids got into an argument with me about how "English is the only language with parts of speech" after they didn't believe me that "have" or "is" were verbs. I had to pull out some (very rusty) Spanish skills to conjugate a verb to show them that YES, all languages have parts of speech.

These are things you would think 15 and 16 year-old kids would know, but don't. A junior in my Government class asked me if Japan was a country or just part of China.

It is hard to understand how they can't understand these things, but rather than continuing to be frustrated by it, I know I have to reteach them things they already/should have learned. That's okay since teaching is my job!

But with all the struggles, you also get some great moments. I am instituting a "reading day" on Fridays for the kids in my sophomore English classes. They have to read a 250 page novel of choice by the end of October, so giving them time in class is the best way to make sure that they actually read the book rather than find summaries and notes online.

Yesterday, I had our media specialist come up with a huge cart of books to give them a book talk and check out books for reading. She set up books all over the room, discussed some of her favorites (I joined in), then we let the kids "go shopping." When someone found a book they liked, she checked it out to them, complete with a scratch and sniff bookmark (I, sadly, did not get one. And the apple pie one smelled delicious). Walking around the room yesterday was an interesting experience. There were some kids who looked for books that were exactly 250 pages. They didn't care what it was about, just that it was short. Others were looking for the titles we had recommended (The Hunger Games disappeared in seconds). Others asked me to help them.

It was fun to guide some students to YA titles I love, like Sarah Dessen and Suzanne Collins. I also convinced one girl to try The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, since she has that sense of humor to appreciate it. I steered another girl to Looking for Alaska. Another boy selected 1984. Yet another selected Ender's Game. It was just reassuring to see them thinking about their reading choices. And I stressed to them, I want you to enjoy what you read. So pick something you WANT to read.

Today they brought in their books and got to reading right away. Some were more into it than others, but I was surprised by how absorbed many of them were without me even telling them to begin. After taking attendance, I grabbed my own book, Moby-Dick, moved to an open desk, and started reading with them. This alarmed them and a few students asked, "Why are you reading? You don't have to!"

So I told them, "I'm not reading because I have to. I'm reading because I want to. I told you, I won't make you guys do anything I'm not willing to do myself."

So we read together for a half hour. And when I called time, they asked for ten more minutes.

I gave it to them.

It is moments like today that make me grateful for my choice to go into education, even after this week and the conversations I have had with my students. I see a lot of things wrong with our educational system (how someone can get to 11th grade and not know that Japan is a country is beyond me), and I know that there are a lot of things that need to be fixed. But while we were reading today, it didn't matter.

It didn't matter that I had a sore throat and wanted to rip my throat out, or that I would have a rough time with one of my seniors later that afternoon, or that my password for my e-mail still wasn't working, or that my father-in-law started his chemo the other day and is having a rough time, or that I would have a pile of papers to take home and grade, or that I have a pile of clothes to wash this weekend and chores to complete. It didn't matter.

What mattered is that a classroom filled with teenagers were reading, and they were amazed I was reading with them. How can that not be one of the best moments? It was. And I'll remember it always.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More Information about October Group Reads.

I wanted to touch base with those of you participating in one (or both!) of the group reads for October.

You may have missed this post over on Adam's blog, but I am partnering up with him and his sister to make our October group read experience much more exciting. He outlines it much better than I do, but basically if you participate in the group reads here, you will also be eligible to win a book (given by Adam), and a painting inspired by the book (painted and given by his sister Shannon at One Thousand Paintings).

I am really excited about this partnership and I think it is a wonderful way to bring the community together.

So, if you have been undecided about whether to join in, or make it official, please visit THIS POST to sign up. You have to be "registered" for participation to win (but registration never ends. Join when and if you want to!).

I hope you'll all spread the word!

BBAW: On Reading.

Today we are were asked to talk about our reading habits and how blogging has changed them.

Personally, I know that my reading habits have changed dramatically since starting A Literary Odyssey. Before I began blogging here, I read a lot of YA, fantasy, science-fiction, and general fiction. I would read books in short spurts and as fast as I could. I would only read one title at a time and I never, ever wrote about what I read (unless it was for a class).

A lot of that has changed since starting my little corner of the book blogging world. Nowadays, it is a rarity for me to be reading only one title. I gradually grew into the habit of reading more than one book at a time in the last year or so as commitments for events started to take place. I try not to be in the middle of more than three books at a time, but I think this has helped my reading. Sometimes it is better to step away from a book for a bit before coming back to it.

In recent months, I have also started reading ebooks. I got Homer, my Nook Color, back in July, and since then I have read a couple of books on him. While my reading is a little slower on him, I do enjoy the different format and portability of it all. I also like Project Gutenberg and the thousands of free classics available for download. With Homer, I have opened new doors for my reading, but he will never take the place of my paper books.

As for book acquisitions, I am just as bad as I ever was. I buy a lot of books. It is a problem and I acknowledge that completely. I like having new titles on my shelf waiting to be read, and I am completely okay with my obsession. Everyone I know makes fun of me for my "book habit," but I don't think it will ever stop. Too bad. :)

The biggest change in my reading is a direct result of my project here. With reading classics, sometimes I need to do a little research outside the book so I don't sound like an idiot when I am talking about it. This often leads to interesting conversations in posts, as well as some frustration on my part. But the background research has really helped me discover the good bits in some length pieces, like War and Peace and Atlas Shrugged.

As you can see, book blogging has been a good thing for me, as it has broadened my horizons in regards to what I read and when, as well as my own self-education. I am a much better reader now than I was a few years ago. While I read less books, I am reading better quality more often (although, I still love a good fun read every now and then). I can also see a marked improvement in my writing and vocabulary (I blame Dickens). I suppose you could say I am direct evidence of all of those reading studies!

How about you? How has blogging changed your reading habits?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BBAW: Community Part 2.

In today's daily topic for BBAW, we are asked to talk about finding out place in this big community, as well as our tips for cultivating relationships with our like-minded book bloggers.

When I started my own blog, I knew nothing about the larger book blogging community. In fact, I didn't really consider myself a book blogger until I realized that I seemed to click with this amazing group of people!

At the start, I had a hard time determining where I fit in. I was originally finding a ton of YA themed blogs and my classics project didn't seem to fit in anywhere! It was only after quite a few months that I began to regularly seek out bloggers who reviewed classics (there aren't as many of us as there should be!). However, I am usually a pretty diverse reader in terms of genre, so there were a lot of bloggers I began to follow who have nothing to do with reading classics.

One of the things that helped me as a new blogger was joining in on certain memes. And while I have never been a huge participant, filling one out every once in awhile is a great deal of fun and the perfect way to find new bloggers to read. This definitely helped me as a new blogger.

But what really got me involved in the book blogging community was participating in some of the big events. While I was around for the October 2009 Read-a-thon, I was so new that I didn't know to sign up or anything. When April 2010 rolled around, I made sure to participate and visit other blogs. This really gave me the opportunity to branch out into reading even more blogs by the people who came and commented on my own posts that day. Since then, I make a concerted effort to participate in the 24 hour read-a-thon every time, and this past time, I even hosted!

I also joined my first readalong in April of 2010 (The Brothers Karamazov hosted by Bellezza). It was another way of communicating with bloggers with similar bookish tastes. It helped me meet a few other bloggers and become part of the community.

The other big event that I began to participate in on a regular basis was the Classics Circuit. This is probably my favorite "event" in book blogging, as it gives me a chance to explore writers with other people. I think it is a great way to promote what I find important, and I have participated in almost all of the tours since I discovered it.

Most importantly, however, I became a bigger part of the community by simply writing. Without real content on your blog, it is hard to form relationships with your readers. From the beginning, I wanted to speak from my heart and I try to remember that in each post I write. I have also tried to branch out to the community by hosting readalongs/group reads for classics, as well as being involved in other events as they pop up. I think that to feel accepted by any group, you need to be an active participant. I try to do this as much as I can around my busy schedule. Nothing bugs me more than when a blog is all filler and no substance. The number one way to get more readers is to read, then write about it. Memes, surveys, and the like are fun, but after a while, I want to get in your head about your thoughts on what you are reading. After all, isn't that why we're here in the first place?

In the future, I hope that more people will be inspired to start new events and things for bloggers to participate in. I love joining in on readalongs, featured series, group reads, and discussions. I am also hoping to discover more bloggers from my own state (Michigan), since I feel we are in the minority! But anyway, I love the interactive nature of blogging and I hope that we all strive to achieve more of it!

Be sure to head to the BBAW website to see what others have to say!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW: Interview with Rebecca from Rebecca Reads.

Last year, I missed out on the opportunity to interview another blogger for BBAW. This year, I made sure I was on top of things so I could be paired up for an interview!

I was over the moon when I heard that my swap partner is the lovely Rebecca from Rebecca Reads. I have long been a follower and fan of her blog, so I feel incredibly honored to be partnered up with her. It is also great fun to interview someone who made the same short list I did (Rebecca and I are both up for "Best Classics Book Blog") and someone who I look up to immensely.

Rebecca is a true driving force among classic book bloggers. Before I even started blogging, she created the Classics Circuit, one of my favorite things to participate in as a book blogger. It is a great opportunity for all of us to dive into new classics by authors we already love, as well as authors we're scared of. It is a great way to meet other bloggers, and Rebecca is the mastermind of it all. I know that I am very grateful for her time and energy for such a wonderful event!

Additionally, Rebecca writes a great deal on her own blog (linked above). In addition to focusing on classics (especially the Victorians), she also reviews children's books as well. Her reviews always make me want to revisit my childhood and the memories I have of being read to. She also has a son she reads to often, and another little one on the way! I am looking forward to hearing more about their own reading adventures in the future!

Anyway, enough of my rambling and on to the important stuff-our interview!

1. You have a quote from Madeleine L'Engle on your blog that I just love; "A great piece of literature does not try to coerce you to believe it or to agree with it. A great piece of literature simply is." How does this apply to what you choose to read for yourself and to your family?

As a new stay-at-home mom, I found myself wondering just which books would be worth my time to read. For the first time since childhood, I had time on my hands and reading two books in an afternoon wasn’t satisfying me. Then I discovered East of Eden and was blown away by the language, the epic nature of the plot, and the complexity of human nature as portrayed in fiction.

Shortly after this, I started blogging. Then I came across Madeleine L’Engle’s quote; I adopted it as one of my mottos because I was finding it was true. You know when you’re reading great literature. Steinbeck’s novel did that for me; other books also have taught me that. Books that are good are simply good: they aren’t trying too hard, they aren’t forcing a point or a plot. They simply are great, and I can tell, normally, from page one.

It is not hard to apply the same principles to children’s literature. I know when I pick up a picture book whether it will work for me and my son. Do the illustrations balance the text? Are they attractive illustrations? Does the text read well? Does the story work for a young child? As with the fiction I choose to read myself, picture books can simply be great.

2. One aspect of your blog that I really love is your discussions of reading with your son. What are some books you cannot wait to share with him (and the baby on the way) when he is older and why?

I admit I haven’t waited for some books! I read Winnie-the-Pooh to Raisin when he was 4 months old, and I’ll probably do the same with the new baby.

I’ve also read Raisin some other full-length classic novels when he was one and two years old, like Charlotte’s Web, Peter Pan, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. We’re in between full-length novels now that he’s nearly four; he’d rather reread favorite picture books, which of course is also wonderfully fun! When we do get back to longer books, I look forward to revisiting those books, as well as reading other favorites of mine by Beverly Cleary, or Mr. Popper’s Penguins or The Wizard of Oz, and so forth. I remember that one day when I stayed home sick, my mom read me The Secret Garden. That book has a special place in my memory because it came to me first on a day my mom took the time to read to me (and only me)!

I hope my son will treasure similar memories. I intend to encourage the classics by introducing them to my son when he’s young. I’ll have them nearby in case he is decides he’s ready to give them a try. Tom Sawyer, Kipling’s Just So Stories, Treasure Island…the list goes on and on.

3. Since you also read a lot of classics and older literature, I am sure there are some authors you wish had more works left behind. If given the opportunity, which author(s) would you want to read more books by and why?

Although I do love classics, I haven’t read multiple books by many authors. Charles Dickens is the author I’ve read the most fiction works by, but even having read seven works, there is still a lot of Dickens left to love. Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope have also become favorites, but both authors have extensive backlists. I don’t think I’ll wish for more by the time I get to the end (if I do).

There are many other authors I really can’t wait to read more of, and once I’ve read through their backlist, I’ll probably be craving more: Jane Austen (only one more major novel left), George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Virginia Woolf, John Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, the Bronte sisters (Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels), Shakespeare. Also, this isn’t a particularly author, but I do look forward to reading more of the women authors of the Harlem Renaissance. Many of them have written only a few books, so it will be sad to reach “the end.”

I could go on. There is a wealth of literature available to be enjoyed. While I’m sure I will be sad to come to the end of the backlist for some favorite authors, I will remain happy with an abundance of other literature awaiting my read. Besides, I absolutely love rereading favorite books. If worse comes to worse, I could reread favorites for years. Each reread is a different experience from the last.

4. What do you believe is the biggest misconception about classics by modern-day readers?

I think some people believe classics are boring or wordy or just not their style. To be completely honest, I too think some classic works are boring! In my college Victorian literature class, we read essays by Ruskin and the novel Wuthering Heights (which I didn’t like). I found “Victorian literature” very boring indeed. I was surprised when I later discovered the Victorian author Wilkie Collins, a sensation fiction writer, and I also have fallen in love with the plot twists and conveniences in the Dickens novels I’ve read, not to mention the women Victorian authors I adore. I’m finding Victorian literature is my favorite literature to read.

That said, other readers simply may not be able to get over Dickens’ writing style, or may find Wilkie Collins too melodramatic. That’s okay! Wuthering Heights isn’t my style, and neither are Ruskin’s essays! To each his own. Readers are individuals, so each reader has their own expectations when they pick up a book. Is reading for being entertained? Is reading for a story? Is reading for humor? Is reading for beautiful language? Readers provide their own definitions for “good” when they pick up a work, and it may be different every day. The wonderful thing about classics is that there is an abundance of options to choose from.

5. What books or authors would you recommend to anyone looking for a
wonderful, enriching read?

I struggle with giving recommendations simply because, as I mention in the previous answer, everyone is looking for something different when they pick up a novel. Here are some suggestions, but keep in mind that not every novel is going to work for every reader!

If you want a novel about human nature, good and bad, as seen through the eyes of a growing child: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

If you want a romantic novel about love that turns out right: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

If you want an intense and complex psychological novel about guilt and innocence: Crime and Punishment by Feodor Dostoyevsky

If you want a lighter modern novel that helps you appreciate math even when you normally hate it: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

If you want a Victorian gothic novel with romance: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

If you want a modern novel in the Victorian gothic tradition: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Thank you so much for the interview Rebecca! You all need to go check out her blog at Rebecca Reads and see for yourself what an amazing woman and blogger she is!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Announcing October 2011 Group Reads.

Group reads? What am I doing over here?

Well, since I stopped hosting readalongs back in June, I have missed them. I really enjoy reading as a community, but they were becoming slightly overwhelming (I blame the Atlas Shrugged readalong in particular). A lot of work goes on behind the scenes, and I was starting to pull my hair out. Also, a lot of people would sign up, and only a handful would finish by the reading dates. It became incredibly frustrating to host, and when I fell WAY behind in my Vanity Fair readalong, I knew I needed a long break.

But I miss them. I know that the process needs to be revamped. If I was feeling overwhelmed, I am sure that some of you participating did as well. I think the problem stems from the multiple scheduled posts that have to take place. For me, multiple posts are comfortable and easy to write, since I write in that format all the time. But I can see how stopping to write a post, scheduling a post ahead, etc, can be incredibly annoying for those not used to it.

So, I have a solution. Rather than call them "readalongs," it is easier to refer to them as Group Reads. The same fundamental idea still applies-we all read and post on the same book-but instead of checkpoints, we'll all post on the same day, weekend, or week to get rid of some of that stress.

On twitter and in some bloggy conversations, I have mentioned that there are two titles in particular that I want to read this fall. Both of them qualify for the R.I.P. challenge as well, so if you are participating in that, these might be right up your alley.

Here are the details:

Group Read #1: Bram Stoker's Dracula

The first novel I have chosen for a group read is Bram Stoker's Dracula. I have been trying to read it every fall since I started my project (that makes it sound longer than it is....only two years), but I really want to get through this one this year. I read this once before, as a junior in high school for a class, but I barely remember it (I do remember the worst project EVER for class. Our group dressed up like the characters from the book and "hunted" Dracula all over our downtown area).

To participate in this group read, all you need to do is leave me a comment below saying you want in. Then, you read the book. Then, you post anywhere from October 16-22 and link back here to my master post (see? I am the only one getting stressed out here, since I need to have that master post up).

During the week, as posts are linked up, you can visit and comment on other participants' posts to see what they thought of this horrifying vampire.

Again, to sign up, all you need to do is comment below, and maybe swipe my little graphic and spread the word.

Group Read #2: Dante's Inferno

The second book for our group read is Dante's Inferno. I attempted to read this one last summer in a readalong, but I honestly just forgot and haven't gotten around to it since. I am also going to get to books 2 and 3, but that's for a later time.

Like the Dracula group read, signing up is easy and so is participating. To sign up, all you need to do is comment below saying you want in. Then read the book! When you are finished, make a post any time between October 23 and 29. Link that post back here on my master post, and you are all set! Of course you can look back here over the course of the week to see what everyone else thought, but I was force you (it does make it WAY more fun).

So those are my October Group Reads! I hope you will think about joining in on one or both of them! Spread the word and Read On!!

BBAW: Community.

Today, BBAW has asked us to write about the community of book bloggers and those who have impacted our own blogs in some way. I think that this is a difficult task to write about, simply because there are so many wonderful blogs to read in our community. But, I have tried to think of the bloggers who have had the biggest impact on what I do here. It was hard to decide, and to keep the list within a reasonable length. If given the time, I would talk about all of you because I love book blogging and this community.

Anyway, here are the 4 bloggers who have shaped me the most.

Steph from StephTheBookworm

Steph was one of the first book bloggers I "met." We both starting blogging around the same time (September 2009). I think it took us a month or two to find each other, but we did. In the beginnings of my blogging "career," I was unsure of this whole community and the people I would find. In fact, I think I was a little unnerved when I got my first comment from a stranger. But Steph was always there being supportive.

Two years later, I am glad to see that Steph is still blogging. She writes beautifully. I read every post wanting to throw aside my list and read what she recommends. But most of all, I leave and remember that she was one of my first blogging buddies, and for that, I am grateful.

Eva from A Striped Armchair

I think I discovered Eva's blog randomly during my first few months blogging. It was in the midst of her 2009 end of year recap, and I was simply in AWE of how much she read. I soon started waiting anxiously for each post to see what she was reading next.

What I love most about Eva is her desire to read and learn. She reads diversely and finds such wonderful books. Her library loot posts are always inspiring and make me add too many books to a long TBR list. She also writes about the things she reads so eloquently that I too want to dive in and read as much as she does. In the years that I have been reading her blog, I have always found her to be a great resource for finding the perfect book for any topic.

Jillian from A Room of One's Own

I think it would be impossible for me to talk about community without talking about Jillian. We began reading each other's blogs over a year ago. Jillian was just starting to get into book blogging and I was passing my one year mark. And we just clicked. Jillian was also working on a book list at the time, and we both seemed to find inspiration in what the other was doing.

That hasn't changed in the year or so since. I still leave Jillian's blog feeling completely inspired and craving to read the books she discusses. She has probably influenced more of my recent reads than she even realizes. She always manages to talk about what she is reading so eloquently. Her posts are insightful, well-written, and beautiful. She manages to to do all this on top of being a full-time college student and working. She is truly inspiring and I am so glad that one of us (I can't remember which), decided to take the first step towards creating this friendship I now cherish.

Amanda from Ramblings (formally The Zen Leaf)

I don't know how Amanda is going to feel about being included here, since she has stopped being a full-time book blogger, but this list didn't feel right without including her.

Amanda is more than a blogger to me. I consider her a friend. She started reading my blog when I was about 6 months in and is the most consistent reader I have. At the time she started reading, I was trying to decide if I was going to stick with my project or not. Her comments and insight kept me going.

To this day, I still find myself being constantly inspired by what she has to say. When she was book blogging full-time, I was always curious to see what she thought of a book I had loved (I think it might be safe to say that we like different things). I always wanted to know more, and she was/is great about expressing why things do/don't work. Since she has moved to just blogging, a move that seems to be working well for her, I still find myself constantly inspired. As someone who struggles with weight issues, her success gives me hope and inspires me.

But most of all, I love the friendship we have formed online-the tweets, the e-mails, and the comments. She continually lends support and I can always count on a comment from her. :) Thank you for always supporting me!

I hope that you will also be taking advantage of this opportunity to talk about the wonderful people who have shaped your blogging life. I know that my life is much richer being a blogger. Be sure to come back tomorrow to read about person #5 on my list, who I was lucky enough to be paired with for a full interview!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for September 11, 2011: School, Remembrance, BBAW, and Books (of course).

I am so grateful for weekends. They just happen to come along at the right moment and give you a breather from everything else going on.

I started school this past week, and it has definitely been difficult to get back into a teaching mindset. I am slowly finding my groove again, but it is taking a little longer. I also realized that I need to revamp some lessons and make them my own-I am hoping that will make this coming week a little easier on myself and my students.

One of the highlights in my current courses is that I am teaching Government. I have never taught the class before, so I am excited to explore the opportunities it provides. We have already had great discussions in that class about citizenship, my cynicism towards government, and forming educated opinions. I think it will be a great class for me to really grow as a teacher.

In that class on Friday, we watched one of the many documentaries on 9/11. I loved that I was able to share with my juniors my own experiences from that day, since I was sitting in their seats as a junior. I was shocked to realize that many of them were only 4 or 5 when it happened. We had a great discussion on that day's impact, and they asked wonderful questions about what things were like before it all happened.

That set in motion my thoughts for this whole weekend, and late last night/early this morning, I tried my best to compose my thoughts into another post. But I find it difficult to acknowledge those kinds of emotions in words. It is hard to capture that kind of feeling.

Anyway, my post is on the blog for anyone who chooses to read it. I know, looking at my own reader, that there are many similar posts, experiences that we are all sharing. My husband and I lay in bed this morning to watch the reading of the names and see the new memorial. And as we lay there, I just felt very grateful for what I have and how far I have come since that September day. It is only fitting that we all acknowledge it in some way...

Moving on to unimportant items (in comparison), I do want to touch on the rest of the week.

As pretty much all of you know, this week is BBAW. I was honored to make the short list in the category I was nominated for-Best Classics Book Blog. I see what I try to do here as very personal. When I began, a handful of supporters read my blog, including my mom and sister. It wasn't until a month or two into the process that I realized I was a small piece in a very large and welcoming community. Since then, I have tried my best to remain true to my own voice-by capturing how these books are changing and teaching me. I hope that I have done that. So for all of you who nominated me or even voted for me, thank you.

I am looking forward to participating in the week's activities, as I hope you are. It is a great week full of respect and fun, so I hope you all enjoy it. I know that I discovered many wonderful new blogs last year, so explore and have a great time!

I am still in the middle of Moby-Dick. I am quite enjoying it, but with school starting, exhaustion setting in, and the like, I haven't made much time for reading. I am hoping to finish it this week so I can move on to some other titles, but we'll see what happens. I really want to get into some of my RIP reads, but I don't know how that'll pan out with school.

In any case, I am spending the rest of my Sunday either reading or working on a couple of things I brought home. I twisted my left ankle last night and it is a touch swollen, so I think staying off of it would be a great idea. :)

I hope you all have a wonderful week. Happy Reading!

Ten Years Ago...

Life is full of indelible moments. They can take your breath away, define you, and completely impact your life in ways you never expected. For me, I can only think of a handful of days that would qualify as indelible. They include the deaths of my grandfather and grandmother, my wedding day, and 9/11.

I was 16 years old on September 11, 2001. I was a junior in high school, sitting in my second hour computer applications class when my teacher turned on the TV monitor to CNN to check his stocks. The image on the screen was of one of the two twin towers burning. As we all watched and listened to the TV anchors explaining how a jetliner seemed to go off course and crash into the building, we all watched, stunned, as a second plane entered the screen and slammed into the second tower.

I will never forget that moment of shock, of fear. The anchors on TV were trying to explain that it appeared the U.S. was under attack. I remember some girl in my class crying out. And I remember my teacher picking up the phone to call the main office to tell them what we had seen on TV.

Then he sent some of us, myself included, to go around to the teachers in our wing of the building to spread the news of what had happened. I remember pulling one of the teachers in the hallway and telling him that New York was on fire, that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. He didn't speak to me, but instead reentered his classroom and turned on the TV.

The rest of that day was the same. We all traveled from class to class, talking in whispers as kids were given passes to go home. Rumors were flying that other buildings in different cities were also burning. The teachers didn't teach that day. Instead, we sat in classrooms and watched images of burning buildings and chaos for hours.

I remember that I was in my English class when the towers fell. We were all horrified and I remember my teacher saying, "those poor people."

It is a day and an event that has changed my life forever. While I did not know anyone who perished that day, I feel for their families and loved ones. It was a horrifying moment. And I know that I will never, ever forget the feeling of hopelessness I felt as I watched those two buildings disappear.

Today marks ten years since I sat in front of a computer in my second hour and watched a plane crash into a building. Those ten years have marked many significant changes in the world around me. They have shaped our world into what it is and our fear of living in it. But I also think they have given many of us hope-that the world will one day be at peace. One of the things that did come about after that tragedy was a true patriotic feeling for all Americans. We were glued together by our common loss.

I think we still have a long way to go, but today is not the day to talk about that. Instead, we need to remember what the significance of it all is. We need to remember the thousands of people who lost their lives that day. We should remember the brave people of Flight 93 who fought their high-jackers and lost their lives in Pennsylvania. We should remember the men and women who helped others escape, only to lose their own lives in the collapsing rubble. We should remember the firefighters and emergency responders who did their jobs until the very end and perished. We should remember the families left behind-the children, wives, husbands, parents, siblings-who never got to say goodbye.

It is a sad day, one that will bring back memories for many. I am sure many of you also remember where you were that day, the moment you found out, how you felt. And I am sure it has impacted you as much as it has me. I am a different person for what happened. And I am grateful I have had ten years to remember, build new memories, and grow. I know I will never forget-one day I will tell my children and grandchildren what happened that day.

I hope you will too.

9/11/2001: In Remembrance

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Giveaway Winners.

I had every intention of posting winners earlier this week. But, with school starting Tuesday, things have been a little insane around here. I haven't even been online in the last few days! So, I sincerely apologize for making you all wait!

I just pulled winners for each of the giveaways, and here they are, in order:

Giveaway #1 (Penguin Clothbound copy of Dracula):

Eva (A Striped Armchair)

Giveaway #2 (Diana Wynne Jones Titles):

Jenn (Books at Midnight)

Giveaway #3 (International):

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens)

Giveaway #4 (Willa Cather Novels):

Meg (A Bookish Affair)

Giveaway #5 (Penguin Clothbound of The Odyssey):

Edie (Silence in the Library)

Giveaway #6 (Fun pack of 4 titles):

Lindsey (Literary Lindsey)

Giveaway #7 (Fun pack of 3 titles):


Congrats to all the winners! I am in the process of writing you an e-mail, so please respond!

Thank you to everyone who entered!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book 112: "Agamemnon." (The Oresteia)

One of my favorite books in The Odyssey is when Odysseus travels to the land of the dead. There, he meets many figures from his past, including the great hero, Agamemnon. There, Odysseus learns what happened to Agamemnon when he returned home from Troy. When Agamemnon tells Odysseus of his murder and betrayal by his wife, it sets up the ending books of The Odyssey and what Odysseus finds when he returns home.

The fallen hero, Agamemnon, is the feature of the first of Aeschylus' triology The Oresteia. The first play is fittingly titled Agamemnon. It is short and can be easily read in one sitting. And like Homer's works, it should really be read out loud (it was performed after all). I read it out loud to my cats, but I am sure your plants would benefit as well (and no, my cats did not like my reading. They slept).

I was pretty excited to dive into this play. Since I have a deep and abiding love for The Odyssey, I am pretty familiar with what ghost Agamemnon tells Odysseus. But I have always wanted to know more. I got more.

The drama begins with Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, declaring that Troy has fallen and Agamemnon will return home. She also boasts of some "inappropriate" things to the Chorus, who chastise her to the audience. It is here that we get the back story of Agamemnon.

His brother, Menelaus, is the man who WAS married to Helen, before she ran off with Paris to Troy. As Menelaus' brother, he had to go to war as well, and commanded much of the battle over Troy. The important backstory is what he did before he left. After seeing an oracle before departing, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter to get a fair wind to Troy. Needless to say, Clytemnestra is not too happy with him. And she probably has reason to be angry.

When Agamemnon does return in the drama, he has little to say to Clytemnestra. You would think that after being gone for ten years he would have tender words for his wife, but he doesn't. Instead, the scene is tense. It also doesn't help that he brought a war prize home with him, a girl named Cassandra, who also happens to be a prophet of sorts. After Agamemnon and Clytemnestra venture indoors, Cassandra begins to prophesize, basically affirming that Clytemnestra has taken a lover and they plan to murder Agamemnon. She also utters that their son will avenge Agamemnon's death. Then she also goes inside.

The Chorus discusses this until two cries are heard from Agamemnon, and yep, his body is brought out at the hands of Clytemnestra and her lover. They have also murdered Cassandra.

The play more or less ends there, and it gives greater detail to the story Agamemnon tells Odysseus in The Odyssey. After being away from home for ten years, Agamemnon was betrayed in his own home. Again, I can't help but compare this to Odysseus' own homecoming to Penelope and the anxious feeling he must of had in his stomach. In Odysseus' case, however, he was gone 20 years. Interesting in comparing the two, right? I was fascinated!

What I loved most about diving into this was the further depth I got in this area of Greek history. I also like that the two writers, years and years apart, give us the story of his death in different ways.

In any case, I am looking forward to the second part, The Libation Bearers, to see how Agamemnon's son avenges his death.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book 112: The Oresteia and Book Stats.

Title: The Oresteia
Author: Aeschylus (A really long time ago. Wikipedia tells me he was born around 525 B.C. and died in 455 B.C.)

First Published: Again, wikipedia gives me a date of 458 B.C. as for when it was performed, but who really knows?
My Edition: Penguin Classics-Robert Fagles translation (pictured at right)
Pages: 336

Other Works Include: The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, the Suppliants, Prometheus Bound

I feel guilty for neglecting the ancient works on my list. I really do have a large number of them left. And it isn't that they are terrifying, but rather than I feel like I am diving into some really intense history.

I knew I wanted to read a piece that was new to me, and I remember quite a few bloggers raving about Aeschylus during the Classics Circuit tour, which is why it has been on my nightstand for months (much like Ceremony was). So now that it is dusted off, time to give the old Greek a go.

What is really interesting about this one is that it is a trilogy (the only complete set surviving). That is pretty cool (like a really early version of The Hunger Games? I should probably go hang my head in shame for comparing this to modern fiction, huh?). It is amazing we have these works at all, considering that many of them have been destroyed or lost as thousands of years have gone by!

I want to just mention that it seems like the Greeks and some other Ancients always appear "difficult." I don't think a lot of us jump in without acknowledging that we are reading pieces that are old. And I mean OLD. But in my experience reading old epics, like Homer, they are very accessible, especially with a great translator. I cannot rave enough about Robert Fagles. If he has translated a work, that is the edition I want. Anyway, the moral is: don't be scared of the old stuff. Most of it almost seems modern! They were scandalous people, those Greeks! :)