Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Roots Readalong Post 4: Finished!

Finally we have reached the end of the month, and with it, the end of the Roots readalong hosted by Christina at Reading Thru the Nite. This is the fourth and final post, but you can see my thoughts over the other 3 sections of the novel in the following places:

-Chapters 1-30
-Chapters 31-60
-Chapters 61-90

I'm both happy and sad to be talking about the end of the novel. On one hand, I'm very happy that I am finished with the book. It was a huge book (my edition was 899 pages), and my hands will be grateful not to hold it up anymore. It is a great sense of accomplishment to finish such a chunky book in four weeks. On the other hand, I'm sad to leave behind the rich history found in the novel. I'm going to explain a bit more about that in a moment.

The fourth chunk of the book continues the story of Kunta Kinte's family. Now, considering we were with Kunta for about 550 pages of the book, I was skeptical of how Haley was going to bring us from 1820 to the present day in 300 pages when he spent 550 pages on 55 years. I was right in feeling that it would be rushed. From the point of Kizzy (Kunta's daughter) on, I felt like I never really got to know any of the characters, with the exception of Tom and Irene. A lot of the family history felt rushed as Haley tried to bring the history of his family through the Civil War and into his own personal history. Babies were born, barely described, and a page later, the eighth child was born. Names got confusing and I wasn't sure who was who until the end of the novel when Haley finally brings himself into the narrative and focuses on the reverse lineage of his family.

In addition to feeling that the ending was rushed (funny to say that for a 900 page book), I was also a little irritated with the amount of attention spent on Chicken George and those cock-fights. Where I felt a lot of the other description of daily life was necessary to the progress of the novel, I always felt pulled away when the focus was on Chicken George. I think that the same message could have come across without so much detail (because let's be honest, aren't we all disgusted by the idea of animal cruelty?). Had Haley pulled back and focused more on the family, which is what readers were invested in, I think he could have packed an even stronger punch (and I say this from my perspective in reading this in 2012).

As for what I did enjoy, I was surprised to see that Haley confronted a question IN the novel that would pop up after it was published. Since Haley "traced" his lineage back to Kunta Kinte and the exact village he was from, many asked whether the novel was fact or fiction. Haley points out in the last few chapters that,

"To the best of my knowledge and of my effort, every lineage statement within Roots is from either my African or American families' carefully preserved oral history, much of which I have been able conventionally to corroborate with documents," (884).

Obviously, as a reader, we know that Haley didn't know what Kunta thought or felt, but I think his inferences in the novel are pretty remarkable. He captured the sense of horror and helplessness of many slaves, and Kunta's identity confusion upon being made a slave in America seemed very realistic. And while I still don't forgive Haley for downright plagiarizing certain passages, I still think that this is an incredibly powerful and moving novel.

I think that many assume that issues of race and racism are issues of the past. I hope that most of us know that isn't true. Racism and hatred are still so prevalent. And what bothers me is how many don't "get" what actually happened. I've heard some say, "Slavery was so long ago. Get over it." But I think that those people are wrong. Why do we need to forget something that forged this country? Let's face it, the system of slavery helped shape America into what it is, and to forget that it happened, to brush it under the rug, says that those who died on the ships coming from Africa, those who were beaten to death in the fields, or shot while escaping, died for nothing. It is an ugly past, but one we need to continue to teach-to say, "Look at what we were, where we are, and where we still need to go."

Whether or not Roots is that platform...I'm undecided. I think it is an important novel, certainly, as it brings to the forefront some extremely powerful images and emotions. And I certainly think that we should read it, talk about it, and learn from the message it delivers. And while it is not a perfect novel, no work ever is. It is the imperfections that mark a great work and give us something to talk about, don't you think?

So for those of you unsure of whether Roots is a novel you want to tackle, I think you should. Beyond learning more about the history of the United States, it is also well-written. You'll want to keep reading, and rooting, for the people in it. Because while it may be fiction, the slavery was real.

*Finishing Roots marks another book finished off my Chunkster Challenge list! That's 2 down in 1 month! Go me!*

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thoughts on Night by Elie Wiesel.

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

I'm taking a short break from my other reading this week to read a couple of the books I'm going to be teaching starting on Monday. And while I won't be doing a lot with Night, I will be finishing up the discussion and having the kids write a paper about the book. Since it has been a few years since reading it, I knew it would be in my best interests to read it.

I sat down last night, rather late, to read a few pages before bed. And, like many other books, I was sucked into the story. Since the book is short, I managed to finish it before bed. Then I was up a little too late thinking about what I had read.

It reminded me a bit of something Matt and I had watched on TV a couple weeks ago. There was a Band of Brothers marathon on, so we snuggled into the couch to watch (the series is about a group of soldiers during World War II). Matt had seen the whole series before, but I had only seen 1 or 2 episodes. Anyway, there is an episode where the soldiers discover a camp, and those images were hard to watch. While my brain knew that they were actors and that they were pretending to be in such misery, a very real part of myself only saw the people on screen as those who really suffered during World War II.

As someone who has taught U.S. history, and who hopes to teach a history course again in the future, I always struggle with how to approach talking about the Holocaust with students. One of the things that I always push for as a teacher is the complete understanding of what history means for us today-that we learn about history to prevent those same tragedies in the future. I always want my kids to feel that and to acknowledge that we do have a dark past.

But with the Holocaust, I just try and show them. I wish I would have known about that Band of Brothers episode last year. I think seeing it would have changed a lot of my students' minds about the death camps. And I also wish they had the opportunity to read an account as honest and as open as Wiesel's Night. I do believe that reading an account makes it come alive.

What is special about Wiesel's book is that it is not just about his experiences in the camps. It is also about being human in a time where he was treated like an animal. The narrative is simple in that it never bogs down in language. Instead, Wiesel simply explains what happened to his family, how he felt, and what it meant to lose hope in everything.

I think that this approach is what makes his book so powerful. It is about his family-how they are broken apart. He never has the chance to say goodbye to his mother and younger sister. Instead, they are sorted and taken away from each other without a chance to speak a word. Elie, a young teenager, has to face the horrors of this world alone, since his father seems to disappear into himself from the beginning.

One of the most disturbing scenes is near the beginning-when they arrive at the camp. They are walking and Wiesel describes pits of fire where soldiers are tossing children and babies. Worried that they will also be tossed into the flames, Wiesel writes,

"I told him that I did not believe that they could burn people in our age, that humanity would never tolerate it . . ."

That line says a lot about the horrors of the camps and the feelings of disbelief that those sent to be in the camps must have felt. When I tried to close my own eyes last night, I also tried to picture what that must have been like. Denial must have been one of the only ways to cope with that kind of image.

Night is definitely a book worth discussing. Being that it comes from Wiesel's memories, it's powerful. It doesn't gloss over what happened in the many camps in Nazi Germany, but it explains how those captured lost their sense of self. Under the shadow of the chimneys and crematoriums, it was just a fight until the next meal.

I think Wiesel says it best...

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed....Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Anne of Green Gables Giveaway Winner!

My mom has been hounding me to pull a winner for the Anne of Green Gables giveaway I posted a couple weeks ago. And since the giveaway was sponsored by my mom, it almost makes sense that she was harassing me, right? ;) I jest.

I really enjoyed reading about all of your memories. They were really touching. I know my mom enjoyed reading the entries as well. We all have some awesome females in our lives!

The winner is receiving a pretty copy of the new Puffin edition of Anne of Green Gables, seen below:

I went to and it spit out a number...

Congratulations to:

I am going to e-mail Diana to get her information. If I don't hear back from her in a couple of days, I'll pull another winner. :)

Thank you all for entering!

Book 138: Initial Impressions.

“Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world," (150).

I am just around 200 pages into Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. I'm surprised at how quickly this one is going, considering it took me awhile to hit the same page number in David Copperfield, and this one is longer! But, there seems a be a drastic different in style between the two. This one appears "lighter" in tone, so perhaps that is why the pages seem to be flying by.

I'm going to be honest and say that in comparison to the other Dickens novels on my list, I know relatively nothing about this one beyond the fact that it was Dickens' third novel and that it is supposed to be funny. I rather like not knowing what's going to happen, or what his purpose is. Instead, I can "sit back" and enjoy the language and story.

The novel begins with two brothers. One, Ralph, gambles with his inheritance money and makes a fortune. His brother, the older Nicholas, marries, has two kids, and settles on his farm. When he passes, he leaves his wife and kids poor with no where to turn. In desperation, they turn to Ralph for help.

Ralph is a funny...and rather bitter old man. He agrees to help his relatives by pushing them off into the first situations he finds for them. For the son, Nicholas, they go to answer an advertisement in the paper for a teacher's assistant. They arrive to find a lovely fellow named Wackford Squeers. Now, just judging by that name you know that Nicholas is in for a treat, right? HA.

Nicholas travels with Squeers to his home and school 250 miles from London. The boys in the school are thin, wearing patched and ragged clothing, and freezing from lack of proper bedding and warmth. It is clear to Nicholas that they are mistreated and Squeers is a tyrant, but what can a guy in his situation really do? His descriptions of the boys were pretty heart-wrenching;

"There were little faces which should have been handsome, darkened with the scowl of sullen dogged suffering; there was childhood with the light of its eye quenched, its beauty gone, and its helplessness alone remaining; there were vicious-faced boys brooding, with leaden eyes, like malefactors in a jail; and there were young creatures on whom the sins of their frail parents had descended, weeping even for the mercenary nurses they had known, and lonesome even in their loneliness," (97).

The other descriptions of the beatings and meal times were equally as painful (the boys lined up for breakfast to have a wooden spoonful of food shoved in their mouths before getting a measly bowl of porridge). At first I wasn't sure what Nicholas was going to do to combat that pain, but after befriending an orphan named Smike, it seems obvious that he will eventually fight back. Which he did in heroic fashion, beating the crap out of Squeers and running away.

As for Nicholas' sister, Ralph Nickleby found her a place in a milliner's shop, but the narrative switched before I could see what happened to her.

Already 200 pages in, I know that I am going to enjoy this one. While it may not have the same depth or complexity as David Copperfield, it does seem to be touching on some similar themes-self-preservation, reliance, and making a path in a world set against your own success. There are also quite a few characters, just as in David Copperfield. The characters are all unique and crazy, with their own individual quirks. I'm looking forward to seeing where this one leads, and whether I will rank it as highly as David Copperfield.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I've had this post sitting in draft form ever since Trisha tagged me back on the 10th. I was hoping it would write itself, but I decided to play along, finish it, and make the rest of you suffer. :)

The idea is that Trisha made up eleven (hard) questions that I have to answer. When I'm finished, I create 11 more and tag a bunch of you to do this. So, here are the questions she gave me and my answers. 

1. What is your favorite piece of art? 
Well, if I have to go with a well-known piece, I'll choose the following by Van Gogh:

Obviously it is Starry Night. LOVE this painting!

I also really love the sculptures my boss at the park does. He got into marble sculpting a few years ago, and every summer he journeys out to Colorado to sculpt for a few weeks. Waiting for him to come back to see what he comes up with each year is amazing. He also works with bronze-casting pieces. I think he's amazing. Here are two of my favorite pieces he's done:


2. What literary character do you think would make an awesome world leader?
Uhhhhh...this question is super hard! I have no idea...someone with more a clue than I have. :)
3. What color do you think should be outlawed from clothing?
Magenta. I just don't think it's flattering on anyone. At all. WAY TOO BRIGHT and just...ugh.
4. Hats. Yes or no?
My husband wears a hat almost non-stop. And not anything awesome like a fedora or top hat...he wears baseball hats. When we tackled his closet the other day, we counted and he has 30+ hats. Ridiculous.

I don't mind hats though. I would love to traipse around in a bonnet. :)
5. What contemporary novel should be added to the high school curriculum?
I would give anything to teach The Book Thief. I think it is a wonderful book that addresses a lot of issues that come up in curriculum. And it is a great cross-curricular piece.

(I also would have said The Hunger Games, but hey! I'm teaching it this spring!)
6. What book featuring real people do you think could work if the characters were switched to animals?

Let's turn The Odyssey into animal characters for kicks. :) OHHH! Or Macbeth! I would read that, for sure. 

I don't mind books with animal characters, but I don't think I would really want to change any of my favorites. 
7. Genetically designed humans. Hell yes or absolutely not? I think that's a horrible idea. I get pictures from Anderson's book Feed in my head-where the grotesque becomes something to be desired because being genetically modified is okay. And it isn't.

8. What book would you like to see get parodied a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?

None because it makes me sad.

But I would love to see those writers tackle Mrs. Dalloway and add zombies. THAT I would read. :)
9. What book would you absolutely hate to see get parodied?
Anything that I love? I think that if they went after Eliot or Wharton I would have a fit. Or anything that's a little more serious in tone. Just don't even go there!

That being said, I haven't read any of the parodies. Maybe they're funny?
10. TV. Awesome source of entertainment or horrifying time suck?
Definitely a time suck, but also entertaining. I'm trying to reduce how much I watch TV because, well, it's cutting into my reading time. There are certain shows I will never abandon though!

11. What literary character should immediately jump off the page and into your bed?
Snape. I LOVE me some Snape. But only if it is Alan Rickman playing Snape. 


Okay, now I am supposed to come up with my own 11 and tag a bunch of you, but because I am party pooper, I'm tagging everyone who hasn't done this and YOU HAVE TO answer the same questions I did. HAHA!  

Weekly Wrap-up for February 26, 2012: Playing Catch-up and Teaching Texts.

I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea that this month is almost gone. While I haven't been busy doing too many things, I still feel like I am far behind on getting anything accomplished. I guess I will reevaluate that when I get to March 1, right?

I ended up going to see a movie with my mom on Thursday night, which we haven't done in a long time! We went and saw One for the Money, based on the Stephanie Plum series. I read the first ten a real long time ago, and my mom, I think, it caught up on the series, so it was fun to see the movie. It was definitely a good choice-funny with cute guys-and we had a good time.

On Friday, our district had a snow day. We were supposed to get 8+ inches of snow. We got maybe 1. But, Matt had the day off, so we took advantage of it and went to see an early movie. We figured that by going early, we would miss a lot of the crowd (the movie was at 4:30), but we walked into a theater that happened to have a large group of my old students. They all said hi, stared at Matt a bit, and made it that much more fun. :) We saw Wanderlust, which was a little more...extreme than I had planned on (don't get me wrong, it was funny, but a little over the top in regards to the humor). After, we hit up a local seafood place for dinner. It was a good date night and we both needed it, since we never go out anymore.

I've also been doing a lot of reading this week. I knew I had my third Roots post to read for, but I swore not to touch the book until I finished David Copperfield. I managed to finish it Tuesday so I could read Roots all day Wednesday. I finished both books, which was exciting since it doubled my monthly book number. :)

So while I managed to read a lot this week, I didn't read as much as I wanted to. I would have liked to be done with a few more titles (maybe a challenge book or two), but I can't help it that the chunky books are calling to me. My next read is Nicholas Nickleby, so I suppose I just do these things to myself, right? I doubt I will finish Nicholas Nickleby by the end of the month like I want to, but hopefully I can hit the halfway point.

The only other exciting thing to happen this month was my meeting to learn more about my long-term placement on Thursday morning. I'm starting on the 5th, just over a week away, and I will be there until the end of the school year. I'm really excited to get back into it, especially because of all the wonderful books pictured below:

The only two books that are new to me are The Color of Water and Alas, Babylon. I don't know much about either, so if you've read them, please give me some pointers. I do think Alas, Babylon will fit into Adam's Challenge for March, so I'm glad it will serve double duty.

I've read everything else at least once. I probably won't read The Crucible again until we're reading it in class since I am fairly familiar with it (so excited to teach it again), but I want to read through everything else before we get to it in class. Two of the classes are in the middle of two books, Night and Kindred, so I have to finish up the units on each. I'm planning on reading both this week (I read Kindred when I was a high schooler and Night a few years ago).

And can I tell you how stoked I am to teach Ender's Game and The Hunger Games? Card's novel got me hooked on science-fiction, so I have a soft spot for it. And The Hunger Games is just going to be fun. :) They just bought the books and no one has used them yet, so I can't wait to develop a unit for the book. I'm going to be reading that one with the class for the non-readers, so it should be a fun time.

So, my last week before teaching is going to be full of reading, don't you think? In addition to making some good progress with the Dickens title, I need to get through those other two titles. We'll see how that goes. :)

Well, I am spending the rest of my morning and afternoon reading, writing, and doing a little lesson-planning.

Hope you all have a happy reading week!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book 138: Nicholas Nickleby and Book Stats.

Title: Nicholas Nickleby
Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

First Published: 1839 (serialized)
My Edition: Penguin Classic (seen at left)
Pages: 817

Other Works Include: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, The Old Curiousity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, A Christmas Carol, Dombey and Son, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend

I've been wavering back and forth the last day or two about what my next read should be. I've been reading a couple of chunksters this month and the idea of going into another one has me a little unsettled, but with David Copperfield and Roots under my belt, I feel like I can tackle anything. Plus, the idea of settling into another Dickens after my recent success has me feeling all toasty inside. :)

I don't know much about this one besides the fact it was his third novel and that is supposed to be a funny one. I do like the humor I find in Dickens' novels, so I hope that's true!

Anyway, here are the posts on the other novels by Dickens I've read for this challenge, starting with my most recent posts on David Copperfield:

Book 137: David Copperfield-
  1. Book Stats
  2. Dickens is Winning Me Over
  3. Characters-Dickens at his Best
  4. Finished (A New Favorite)
Book 10: Great Expectations
  1. My Hatred of Charles Dickens
  2. Invitations and Torture
  3. Charles Dickens Made Me.
  4. The Bright Light of Manwich.
  5. Finally Finished.
Book 65: Bleak House
  1. Early Chapters.
  2. Finished.
Book 77: Oliver Twist
  1. Volume 1.
  2. Volume 2.
  3. Volume 3.
Book 88: Hard Times
  1. Classics Circuit Post (Dickens v. Austen)
A Christmas Carol (Love-not a book from my project list)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Roots Readalong Post 3: Chapters 61-90.

Welcome to post 3 of 4 for the readalong of Alex Haley's Roots, hosted by Christina of Reading Thru the Nite. Christina divided the book into 4 big chunks, and we are reading a chunk a week before posting our thoughts. You can see my first post here, and my second post is here.

I took a break at the halfway point to read David Copperfield, so I was a little hesitant to jump back into Roots. We left off with Kunta Kinte learning his place as a slave on Master Waller's plantation. He had already tried to escape 4 times before going there, and he was beginning to learn that while he might want to hold on to his African roots, the others around him were uncomfortable with his strangeness.

This section followed in that vein. By the time this section started, Kunta had been living life as a slave on this plantation for a number of years. While he didn't agree with all of the slave customs, he adapted the ones that he was okay with. But he still had a constant battle between his old African ways and those of the other slaves. They were scared of the things he believed, but he was also scared to abandon his heritage. Haley truly succeeded in capturing that kind of dissonance between Kunta and the other slaves.

This section also shows Kunta marrying (Bell, as I knew he would) and having his first and only child, Kizzy. Both Kunta and Bell are older when they have Kizzy, but both seem happy to have a family. The family dynamics were interesting. Being taken from Africa, Kunta had certain beliefs of hos his wife and child should act, whereas Bell didn't know much about her ancestors. It was an interesting dynamic, as they learned what quirks to live with and what traditions to abandon. Again, Haley focused on Kunta's displeasure at the other slaves' lack of knowledge about who they truly were. Kunta made it a point to educate Kizzy as much as possible her other family across the ocean.

Once Kizzy is born, it is clear that Haley is setting us up for some heartbreak. Kizzy is "adopted" by the white niece of the master and seems to live a softer life than some of the other slaves. The niece even teaches her to read and write. I actually wasn't all that surprised by this knowledge. Many white children were brought up with slave children. Rich plantation owners' wives couldn't be bothered to rear their own children, so often the slave mothers took in the white children as their own until they were independent. Relationships between whites and slaves were common until white children hit puberty. Then those slave companions and friends were discarded. In retrospect, it seems incredibly hypocritical-that those who most hated blacks would allow their children to be so close and intimate with them.

Eventually their friendship comes apart and Kizzy begins to form a friendship with Noah, a field slave. Both are in their teens and they fall in love. This portion of the novel was hard to read. I can relate to that kind of teenage obsession-the want to do anything for the other, even when there can be severe consequences for your actions. So when Noah runs away and is caught with a forged traveling pass, I just knew that Kizzy had something to do with it.

The scene where Kizzy is taken away, and her resulting rape by her new master, was incredibly hard. It took me a chapter or two to realize that we weren't going to hear anymore about Kunta or Bell-not because their story was finished, but because Kizzy never knew what happened to them after she was taken away. And if, in fact, Haley was descended from them, then the story had to move elsewhere. I had to go back to read the last little piece of Kunta's story:

"He would never see Kizzy again. His face contorting, Kunta flung his dust toward the cabin's roof. Tears bursting from his eyes, snatching his heavy gourd up high over his head, his mouth wide in a soundless scream, he hurled the gourd down with all his strength, and it shattered against the packed-earth floor, his 662 pebbles representing each month of his 55 rains flying out, ricocheting wildly in all directions," (546).

I love that passage for its passion. And I think it captures something about slavery that Haley was hinting at in the first 545 pages of the novel. Eventually, all men and women who were captured in Africa and brought to the New World broke. Some probably gave up their African roots early on after being broken by harsh masters and overseers, but others, like Kunta, held on to a false hope that eventually they could and would return home. That smashing of the gourd? So symbolic.

From that scene, we follow Kizzy to her new home in North Carolina. She is now one of five slaves on a small farm-owned by a poor white. Time passes much more quickly once we are in Kizzy's narrative. Where we lived with Kunta and truly got to know him well, I feel like Kizzy was just a transitional character to get us to George, her son by the master. True, we see a lot of heartache from Kizzy in her narrative. Her new master is much harsher-he rapes her, beats her, and seems a lot meaner than Master Waller. She is also sent to work in the fields-a big change from her place in the household on the old plantation.

Once George arrives, it seems as if the narrative transitions drastically to his life. Born as the master's illegitimate son, it seems as if he has more hope than his mother. He eventually finds a place helping Uncle Mingo, one of the master's slaves and in control of the fighting roosters that the master breeds.

To be honest, I was incredibly disinterested in this last portion. I find the idea of cock-fighting to be disgusting and disturbing, so the descriptions of the fights I glossed over a bit. I am hoping that the next section flies over it a bit quicker.

The sections ends in the middle here, so I am curious to see how Haley is going to get us from around 1820 to the 1960s in thirty chapters. I have really enjoyed the description and insight in the first 3/4s of the book, so I think it will feel rushed from this point forward.

I do have to say that I am still a bit disturbed by the plagiarism in the novel. While I know that the proven plagiarism took place in the first section, I still find myself questioning the integrity of the author who chose to do that. But I cannot fault him for the power of what he has to say. I am moved by every description and I want to know how it'll all come together.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book 137: Finished (A New Favorite).

I finished David Copperfield late last night. I was up until 2 in the morning, determined to finally finish it...and because I was hooked. It was worth it, except that I stayed up even longer thinking about the novel and what it had to say about life. I think it is easy for me to say that I doubt any other Dickens novel will surpass this one. I could be surprised, but I don't think that anything else Dickens has to say will reach me so deeply and change me so much.

A lot of what kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning was spurred by a comment made on this post by Donna. I had pointed out how much I loved the first line of the novel, "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show," (5). Her comment basically told me to mull that over as I read further and as I finished. I did, so thank you for pointing that out to me.

In David Copperfield, the young David undergoes many struggles and heartache before he reaches a true sense of happiness at the end. He is born to a young widow who eventually remarries a mean man. She is bullied and eventually passes, leaving David in the care of a man who hates him. Forced to work at a young age, David seems hopeless. In desperation, he runs away to an aunt he has never met, who left him the night of his birth because he wasn't a girl. Thankfully, she agrees to take him in and nurture him. This is where David gets his chance. He begins to thrive. He succeeds. And while there is still plenty of heartache in store for him as he grows older, he survives. He manages. And not because he has the faith in himself to keep going, but because of the people around him.

As I look back at the first statement, I want to change it so it applies to all of us..."Whether we will turn out to be the heroes of our own lives, or whether we will allow those who love us to hold that station, our lives and the result of our work must show."

I neared the end of the novel thinking about that. As David grows older near the end, as he begins to see the impact that others have had on his life, I think he comes to the same conclusion I did. That the people who surround us in our lives are the ones who shape us. True, some might have the drive and power to push above their circumstance, but we are all shaped in some way by those who care for us.

I think a lot of what David becomes is powered by the belief others have in him. Near the end of the novel, he finds that to be true of his best friend and "sister," Agnes. When they were young, she helped push him to believe in himself. He says near the end,

"And I am so grateful to you for it, Agnes, so bound to you, that there is no name for the affection of my heart. I want you to know, yet don't know how to tell you, that all my life long I shall look up to you, and be guided by you, as I have through darkness that is past," (709).

After finishing the novel, I realized that David's observations about Agnes were both correct and incorrect. While she did guide him through much of his life-offered support and inspiration-she is not solely responsible for the man he became. The last chapter touches a little on this, but Dickens doesn't seem to dive into the idea. Instead, he just kinds of holds it out there in hopes his readers will grasp the idea. But in that last chapter, David talks a little about the people who most influenced him. From Peggotty to Mr. Peggotty to Traddles to Steerforth to Uriah Heep to Dora and more, every character and every person mentioned influenced him. Some, like the Murdstones, were there to show him what kind of man he didn't want to be. Others, like his aunt and Peggotty, were there to show him he was of value when his world came crashing down. Others challenged his strength of character, others showed him how to be a man, and others tested his abilities to do the right thing.

In some ways, I don't think the novel is really about David Copperfield. I think it might be about the people around him...who made him who he became. It was only through these interactions and experiences that he succeeded...and that others became the heroes of his life.

Does that idea apply to us? Perhaps. I think we do have the opportunity to make our own way, but you can't argue that no one has had an influence on your life. For me, I can think of many, from my parents, to Matt, to my siblings, and my teachers. All of them, some of them mere characters for a moment, gave me something. They have all altered me in some way, changed me, molded me into who I am today. To claim that I am the hero of my life is silly. I owe my drive and passions to those who have been near me for even a moment's time. Just like David Copperfield.

I don't know how Dickens would feel about my observations on his work, and to be frank, I don't care. :) I do think he would be happy to know that I loved this book and that it will probably remain my favorite Dickens. And that I am thinking of giving Great Expectations another try. I think I "get" him now. I respect him and his work. And we share a favorite. That should mean something.

"It will be easily believed that I am fond parent to every child of my fancy, and that no one can ever love that family as dearly as I loved them. But, like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield," (Charles Dickens).

*Finishing this novel also means a book crossed off on 3 of my challenge lists: 2012 Victorian Challenge, 2012 Chunkster Challenge, and 2012 TBR Challenge. Go me!*

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Pączki Day!

I'm sure that some of you know that today is Fat Tuesday-the "last" day to pig out before the 40 days of Lent. Here in Michigan (and I'm sure a few other pockets of the mid-west), it is also Pączki Day, a day where we all make a mad run to bakeries to pick up our Pączki.

After asking on Twitter yesterday and seeing that hardly anyone knew what a pączki was, I figured I might as well let you know, in case you ever find yourself up here on Fat Tuesday in the future. :) A pączki is a Polish pastry, very similar to a doughnut, that is filled with fruit or cream. They are different than jelly-filled doughnuts because of the ingredients to make the dough. These contain eggs, sugar, milk, as well as various kinds of fat (think lots of butter and lard). Many times, they are rolled around in sugar. They are far richer than a doughnut and MUCH bigger. These things pack some serious calories, but since you only eat them one day a year, that's not too bad, right? :)

From what I've read online, pączki are big in places where there are large Polish communities in the United States. Hamtramck, an area in Detroit, is a Polish-American center, so I have grown up with the tradition. My mom would always buy us a big box of pączki to celebrate the day, and I always ate my pączki in place of a meal (they can be over 500 calories each with 27 grams of fat!).

In Poland, they are typically eaten on Fat Thursday-the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday-to rid the house of anything fatty in preparation for Lent. The idea is that you would be fasting for much of the time during Lent, so it was best to get rid of these kinds of temptations before the 40 days started. Here in the United States, we eat them on Fat Tuesday as a last hurrah before fasting for Lent. Now, I'm sure that many people around here eat them because they are just plain delicious and not for the religious history. But I do think it is a great way to celebrate a little Old World Tradition....while eating something insanely delicious and fattening.

There is also a celebratory parade down in Hamtramck today, and I am sure there are all kinds of other Polish yummies waiting to be eaten (pierogies anyone?). As for myself, I'm going to be walking down to the bakery in our little downtown area to pick up my order of pączki. I'm glad I ordered them ahead of time, since sometimes there are huge lines!

Anyone else know about pączki? I'm led to believe it is a mid-west thing, but I'd love to know if anyone else is eating one today!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book 137: Characters-Dickens at His Best.

I've read a few Dickens novels, but never with more excitement than my current reading of David Copperfield. I think that my own reading maturity level is finally on par with what Mr. Dickens has to offer in his work. I think I have finally set aside my own prejudices from bad reading experiences to see that yeah, all those millions of people who have read Dickens and loved him might be right. Remind me to keep this in mind as I continue teaching because I am sure that this will be great to talk about with students.

Anyway, there is one thing that Dickens excels at and that is creating and developing characters. Even in my negative experiences, I appreciated the fact that Dickens creates the most amazing characters. That continues here in David Copperfield.

You have to admire the diversity in his characters...and it also has to wow you. For a novel that spans over 700 pages (in my edition), it continually astounds me that Dickens can show the growth in multiple characters as the novel progresses forward. Of course the novel is focused on David, being that he IS the title character and all, but I'm going to ignore him for this post and focus on the other characters.

From the beginning, Dickens maintains a large number of secondary characters that wander in and out of David's life. When he is young, that is limited to the Peggotty family, as well as Mr. and Miss Murdstone and his mother. For some reason, after his mother died and he ran away, I assumed I was done with the despicable Murdstones. Imagine my surprised when they BOTH popped up again at various points. I love this description of Miss Murdstone...

"A passing thought occurred to me that Miss Murdstone, like the pocket instrument called a life-preserver, was not so much designed for the purposes of protection as assault," (329).

Buahahaha. That part had me cracking up, and it wasn't because that line was particularly funny, but because Dickens had done such a lovely job of painting Miss Murdstone beforehand! And while I hadn't encountered her in nearly 200 pages, I was again reminded of her snarly face and her manipulative ways. That just made the line come alive for me-because I knew her and could see that description fitting. And even though I really hate both of the Murdstones, I find myself wondering when they will pop back up, simply to see what kind of description Dickens paints them with.

Another of my favorite characters is Mr. Peggotty. In the beginning, I saw him as kind of a goofy uncle...which is just what he is. I didn't take him too seriously because he seemed to happy in life and circumstance (something I think really shaped young David). But when his niece, Emily, runs away, I saw a completely different side to Mr. Peggotty. And I just love him. He is so focused on protecting his family and keeping them together. When he approaches the mother of the son who took her away, he speaks with such passion...

"Hark to this, ma'am," he returned, slowly and quietly. "You know what it is to love your child. So do I. If she was a hundred times my child, I couldn't love her more. You doen't know what it is to lose your child. I do. All the heaps of riches in the wuerld would be nowt to me (if they was mine) to buy her back!" (394).

I wanted to jump and shout "YEAH" right at her face. But I couldn't and didn't.

Here is why else I love him...

"I'm a going to seek her, fur and wide. If any hurt should come to me, remember that the last words I left for her was, 'My unchanged love is with my darling child, and I forgive her!'" (398).

*sigh* That is some level of devotion.

Dickens does such a masterful job with each character that I can't even begin to explain each of them. From Steerforth's sliminess, to Mr. Micawber's weird letters, to his aunt's fear of donkeys on her grass, each character jumps off the page and comes to life. And all of them are so different! Like I said, this is a massive book, and while hundreds of pages may elapse between when David encounters a character, I never mix them up or forget them. That is a high level of skill and one that I am coming to appreciate. By making all of his characters a character, I don't forget them. I love it.

I can't wait to see what happens to each of them as I finish. I have some guesses, but I have 300 pages to go. A lot can happen! :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for February 19, 2012: Productivity, Good News, and Reading Plans.

This has been a cuh-razy week. I mean CRAZY. It finally hit me that the month was slipping away and I had made no progress on any of the plans I had to get things in order around here, so I told myself that by today, I had to get something done.

I tackled a couple of big projects this week. The first thing I did was organize my recipe binder (also jump started by the fact that Matt knocked my card box off the counter and broke it. After watching the cats bat my recipe cards everywhere-including under the fridge (that was fun to retrieve)-I decided to tackle this project this month instead of next). While doing my laundry at my mom's on Friday, I also tore through her recipes and wrote down the ones I wanted. I am still waiting for my specialty page protectors to come in the mail. As soon as they do and everything is perfect, I'll show you what I did. I foresee lots of cooking in the future. :)

My new goal of trying one new recipe a week is still completely successful. :) We've liked everything I've made so far, but the trick is going to be keeping this up as we get busier!

I also went on a cleaning/organizing RAMPAGE yesterday. We've been dealing with some clutter and mess in our second bedroom, so I finally decided to tackle it. Most of it was just tossing old magazines, filing bills and paperwork, and putting things away. I also cleaned out my desk and put some of the things away that have been out for no reason (like our Christmas wrapping paper. It was still out). From there, I got into a zone and tackled our bedroom. I did laundry on Friday, so I started organizing and putting clothes away. But then I was digging in my drawers and closet and wound up with a bag full of clothes to donate. THEN, I noticed my jewelry was a certified mess, so I spent 2 hours sorting out my jewelry, re-arranging, and setting aside a PILE of old jewelry for my nieces. I figured they would appreciate some new sparkles. :)

By the time I finished everything, I had a small pile of stuff to donate (I'm taking it all this afternoon), two bags of garbage, and it was 10:00 PM. I told you I was productive. But the apartment looks awesome and I feel really good about getting that all taken care of so I don't have it lingering over my head.

It also comes at the perfect time because I got some good news on Friday afternoon. If you were on twitter, you probably saw, but I got a long-term subbing position for the rest of the school year! :) I interviewed for the job on Tuesday morning, and they called to tell me Wednesday that they wanted a second interview next week. I was incredibly surprised to see the school calling me Friday afternoon, and the principal offered me the job! My mom and I did a happy dance.

I'm really excited to be going back into a classroom. The last 3 or 4 months have been hard with nothing to do. I'm even MORE excited that I'm going to be back in the school I worked in LAST year. It was a great environment, so I can't wait to be returning.

I'll be teaching sophomore English again (I get to teach The Crucible again! Yay!), a section of eleventh grade English (research papers), and a class called Exploring Literature. I'm really excited for the last class, since it is geared for students who don't like reading. I think it'll be a great avenue to push some books on kids and test my own abilities to engage non-readers. :) I'll know more about what I'm doing after our meeting Thursday morning.

But I am stoked. :)

I'm celebrating by reading all day today (and since I failed to read anything yesterday). I'm going to join in on the readathon going on with Literary Stars. Having other people reading today is good motivation, and since Matt has to work on homework, I know he'll leave me alone. ;)

Goals for today:
-Finish David Copperfield
-Read the third section of Roots for my post due Wednesday!

I hope you all had a marvelous week-Happy Reading!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Nice Little Saturday.

This week has been a little all over the place, as I will explain in tomorrow's weekly post. Because of all the insanity, I haven't had a lot of time to read or work on many of my monthly goals. I did manage to organize most of my recipe binder the other night, but I am waiting for some special page protectors to arrive in the mail before I'm going to share what I did. :) But so far? It looks awesome.

Anyway, today I have some big plans and by posting them here, I'll have some pressure to complete them. :)

I have two main goals for the day. First, I need to finish cleaning out and organizing our second bedroom. There are a few boxes and piles of "stuff" that need to be sorted, thrown out, or given away. I haven't seen the top of my desk in months! It should only take a couple hours and a quick trip to Goodwill.

When I finally finish that, the plan is to sit down and read as much of David Copperfield as possible. I am past the halfway mark and I really just want to finish it. I'm still loving it, but it is LONG. There are only 300ish pages left, so I can do it, right? Let's hope so!

I hope you're all having a good weekend! Let me know what you're up to!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

25 Things.

I should be writing a post about David Copperfield, but I need to think a bit of it over before I begin. That post can wait for tomorrow. :)

Instead, I decided to do this-inspired by Christina's Sunday Salon post. In her post, she simple named off 25 things about herself that she thought we might or might not know about her. It was a lot of fun, so I am going to repeat that here. I'm sure that some of these things are better known than others, but I'm going to try to think outside the box to be a little more creative!

If you decide to create a list, please let me know so I can read it!

1. People tell me I have nice handwriting. I'm not sure if I believe that or not, but I will say that it is a heck of a lot neater than most people's. :)
2. I actually have two Bachelor's degrees: one in English and one in history. Originally history was going to be a minor, but I went to college with a lot of credits from taking AP classes, so it was easier to just add it on. I also have a minor in social studies and my teaching certificate (duh).
3. I'm a bit of an overachiever. I'm sure this comes across, but I like to be busy. If I'm not busy, I'm lazy. And that is never good.
4. I watch too much TV for my own good. Before getting married, I would only watch a little TV a day, if anything. I didn't follow shows and just watched whatever struck my fancy. Nowadays, I watch too much. And I blame Matt.
5. Speaking of TV, one of my biggest guilty pleasures is watching The Real Housewives. I got sucked into it one season...and I just. keep. watching. My favorite "city" is Orange County, but I also love New York, Atlanta, and Beverly Hills. I watched New Jersey for a season but it was a bit too much. (feel free to make fun).
6. We have 3 cats-Hemi, Sparty, and Lily. Hemi was Matt's cat before we got married. We adopted Sparty shortly after I moved in to keep Hemi company. And Lily was added to the bunch a few months later when we found her and her sister abandoned in the park. Lily is the only one with a literary connection. She's named after Lily Bart from The House of Mirth.
7. During the summer, I work for my city parks system. I started when I was in college, and I just keep returning. Nowadays I am one of the seasonal rangers. I love that job-very relaxed and the work is always diverse. Plus, I get to work with teenagers all summer (our employees), so I love it.
8. I was in a sorority in college. That always seems to throw people for a loop. :) I was also in a history honors fraternity. That one isn't as embarrassing. ;)
9. I rarely wear my hair down. When I'm teaching, my hair always starts down, but it eventually gets put up in a ponytail. When I'm working at the park, it is usually in the way if it's down (and I hate having my neck be all hot and sweaty-yuck). Most days when we're not up to much, my hair is up in a messy bun. The best part about wearing your hair up constantly is that when it IS down, you get lots of compliments. ;)
10. This July will mark TEN years that Matt and I have been together. We started dating before my senior year of high school (he was a junior), and have been together ever since.
11. I am exactly 4 months and 1 day older than Matt.
12. I'm pretty good at crafty things. I crochet on a semi-regular basis. I also scrapbook. I'm good at making things if I have an example to look at, and I really enjoy that kind of work.
13. I have blue eyes. In fact, everyone in my family has blue eyes. I always thought that was cool when I was a kid.
14. I absolutely HATE being hot. I whine like a little kid if it is at all warm outside. This makes perfect sense with me working at a park, right? No, really, I cannot stand being hot. I hardly ever wear a real coat in the winter because I don't like being warm (I usually rock a fleece) and I sleep with a fan pointing directly on me year round. And I live in Michigan. Yeah.
15. I'm kind of clumsy. I will randomly run into things and bruise myself. Last night I was washing dishes and sliced my thumb open on a thermometer. Don't ask how I did it.
16. I have only been pulled over once and it was when I was 16. I was running late to school and my mom asked me to take my sister to school. I was speeding in a school zone. Ugh. It was bad.
17. I HATE being late. And I hate it when other people are late. It drives me absolutely insane. What's worse is Matt is ALWAYS late and it makes me so mad!!
18. I am only organized in certain aspects of my life. Anything pertaining to work, my blog, my books, etc is always kept in perfect order, but our bedroom is chaos-clothes everywhere. I just pick my battles.
19. I'm obsessed with the color green. If something comes in green, I have to get it. Thankfully Matt tolerates the green obsession.
20. Anything Matt does that is overly romantic makes me giggle. Had Matt proposed in a super cheesy way, I would have giggled. I can't help it. Now, I love romance movies and such, so who knows what's wrong with me.
21. I get migraines. A lot. The first one I ever got was in college, and it was in the middle of a class. Thankfully I had a friend in class and he walked me back to my dorm and put me to bed. When I get a really nasty migraine, my vision usually disappears (some people get the "halo," where they can still see in their periphery, but mine goes completely).
22. My favorite number is 22. :)
23. I can be overly sarcastic and snarky if you get me going. Some people appreciate it and some don't, so I have to feel you out before unloading my snark. :)
24. I'm actually a bit of an introvert. I don't mind being with people, but I generally choose staying in over going out. Too many people stresses me out and makes me uncomfortable.
25. I bend over backwards for people because I have a fear of letting people down. This probably goes hand in hand with my overachiever tendencies, but I HATE feeling like I didn't do enough. A few people have taken advantage of this, so recently I've become a bit more careful about not doing too much for other people-know what I mean?

There you have it, 25 pieces of worthless information about me. :) I hope this was somewhat entertaining for you. Again, if you decide to join in on the fun, let me know!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Roots Readalong Post 2: Chapters 31-60.

Welcome to post 2 of 4 for the Roots readalong hosted by Christina at Reading Thru the Nite. Last week we all posted about the first thirty chapters of this chunky book, so this time we are talking about the next 30. You can read my thoughts on the first part here.

I actually started reading the second portion of the novel immediately after writing and scheduling the post for the first part. I was hooked on the novel and needed to know what happened to Kunta Kinte. It seemed almost perfect that the first portion of the novel focused solely on his life in Africa. It gave me, as the reader, the opportunity to fully understand and appreciate what Kunta left when he was captured.

I didn't have long to wait in my reading to have the mood and the tone of the whole novel change. While I knew that Kunta would be captured and sent over to America to be a slave, I was surprised by how quickly it happened and how everything changed. I'm aware that having everything change completely was what happened when someone was captured, but it took my breath away. I actually couldn't even stop myself from turning pages until 100 pages later in the narrative.

Two chapters into this section, Kunta is alone in the woods searching for wood to make a drum when he is captured. It was just as horrific as you could imagine. He was shackled and abused, branded with hot iron in the middle of his back. He is beaten, repeatedly, and whipped so that blood runs from his back.

It gets worse when he finds himself on the boat, shackled to a strange man from another tribe, without any knowledge of what's going on or where he is going.

Their time on the ship was actually hard for me to read. In my last year of college, I had to take a few summer courses to wrap things up. One of those courses was a class in African-American Woman's history. For the course, we had to travel to the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit. In the museum, there was a section created to look and feel like a slave ship. You could see how dark it was, with men lying so close together on rough boards, with no room to sit up. It was the most significant part of that class. For so long I heard about what it was like from history textbooks, but to see it? It changed everything.

And as intense as that experience was in the museum, multiply what Haley has written in this portion of Roots. The description and heartache of Kunta's journey on the slaving ship was simply powerful. Reading descriptions of men crying, voiding their bowels where they lay, then having food served in the same place...horrifying. But the scrubbing of raw sores, the whippings and rape of the women, as well as the complete lack of I was completely hooked on what Haley was writing. It truly gripped me. I felt for all of those men.

They eventually reach America and the men are sold. Kunta is brought home and immediately tries to escape...and he tries again and again. Eventually on his fourth try, his captors give him the option of either losing have his foot or being castrated. He chooses to lose part of his foot, and they immediately take an ax to it. Kunta is then sold to his master's brother, where he is treated far better. He receives care from a woman named Bell while he recuperates from his foot injury. Once it is mostly healed, he is given crutches and the job of gardener. The other slaves are slow to warm and Kunta repeatedly battles his own inner struggles to understand why these other blacks have given up who they are.

A few of the men start to befriend Kunta, and he eventually becomes his master's driver. This whole period of time also takes the reader through the Americna Revolution, as the slaves gather information from what they overhear. This big section leaves off with Kunta discovering another African-someone he can communicate with-at the very end and twenty years from the time he first landed in America.

I really took a lot from this part of the book. The descriptions of his capture, the voyage, etc were all heart-breaking and took that 100 pages of reading without a break. There was the same attention to detail in this section as the first. Once Kunta was in America, I think the confusion between who he was and what he was becoming was done perfectly. He was constantly at odds with those around him and was often angry at those who seemed to forget who they were and where they came from. He always swore to not become complacent, but by the end of this section, it appears that he has settled into his life as a slave.

Moving forward, I am curious to see where Kunta's narrative ends-what choices he will make and when he'll finally realize that Bell is right in front of him. :) To say that I am addicted to this novel is an understatement. I can see why this novel had such an impact and why it has endured. Let's just hope the second half lives up to the power of the first.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book 137: Dickens is winning me over.

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show," (5). 

And so begins David Copperfield, my next foray into Dickens' writing. As I mentioned in my intro post, I haven't had the best experiences with reading his work (due to an extremely negative read of Great Expectations in high school), but I thought I would love this one.

Turns out, I am. There is something about his writing in this novel that has completely drawn me in. I don't know if it is because this is a more autobiographical piece that I admire the writing more, or if it is because I am working hard to appreciate the subtleties of his writing. Perhaps I am just developing a tolerance for his work. Or maybe, just maybe, it is because I am finally letting go of my negative impressions of Dickens and just letting the work speak for itself. Considering that the Victorians may be my favorite era, I should love Dickens! I am getting there.

It also might be that I find young David Copperfield to be a far more interesting and relate-able character than Pip (Great Expectations) or Oliver (Oliver Twist). From that first line I mentioned above, I care about him. I want young David to succeed and thrive in a world where the odds are against him.

David is born to Clara Copperfield, a young widow who seems quite naive and unsure of her own status in life. David's great-aunt, Betsy Trotwood, abandons them both the night of David's birth when she learns he is a boy. This means that David only has his mother and nurse Pegotty to raise him into a strong man. It is clear from this kind of beginning that David will struggle.

He seems to lead a very happy albeit sheltered life. He has close relationships to both women and seems to flourish under their care...until his mother is wooed by the nasty Mr. Murdstone.

This is where I felt my heart start to truly feel for David. His mother, young and blinded by her love for Mr. Murdstone, agrees to marry the jerk. Once married, Mr. Murdstone and his sister, Miss Murdstone, rule with an iron fist. They make the rules and decisions in the once happy household. They refuse to take clara's feelings and ideas into account and soon alienate poor David from his mother. Soon, David begins to feel neglected, cut off from his mother.

You have to sympathize with him, and this is truly the place where Dickens succeeds! By making Murdstone so despicable, David immediately becomes likable. I hate Mr. Murdstone right along with him! I also want to lash out and when David eventually snaps and bites Murdstone when provoked, all I could feel was a sense of justice.

Until David is sent away to Salem House, a school, after the incident. Away from home, David isn't there when his mother falls ill and eventually dies. Then he is at the mercy of those awful people. What a horrible kind of existence-to know that your future lies in the hands of two people who hate you!

So why did I sympathize so much with David and not with Pip or Oliver? Unlike the other 2 protagnonists, David feels real. He doesn't have the same whiny characteristics as Pip. And he isn't so achingly...Oliver. No, David seems to accept his lot in life. When things happen to him, he acts genuine and accepting. There aren't fake tears or complaints, but an acceptance that these things are meant to happen. He seems stronger than the other two, and while he may lack a little confidence, he continues to try to be better. That is why I love him so. And that is certainly the mark of a great writer-to make me care about a fictional little boy.

I know that Dickens is known for his characters, but this novel far outshines the others that I've read. Beyond David, there are countless others worth mentioning, but I want to read more before I say anyting about them. I am curious to see where David goes from this point in life-orphaned and in the care of despicable people. I wonder whether he'll succeed as I want him to. And I suppose I'll find out soon enough.

"The mother who lay in the grave was the mother of my infancy; the little creature in her arms was myself, as I had once been, hushed forever on her bosom," (115).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Shakespeare Reading Month Wrap-up and a Winner.

Welcome to the wrap-up for Shakespeare Reading Month. It was my first time organizing and hosting an event of this magnitude, and while there were a few kinks and glitches, I think it was a great success!

What I love about events like thius is seeing how a vast and varied group of people interpret works by the same writer (or the same piece). While some of us love the Bard's comedies, others found a deeper connection to his poetry, histories, or tragedies. Based on my own reading list for the event, I'm leaning towards his tragedies. :)

Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that William Shakespeare, whoever he was, has had a lasting impact on literature and popular cultire. As I read, I couldn't help but notice all the phrases, words, and ideas that we still reference and use today. Without his work, would we have ever had them? THAT is something to think about.

More than anything else last month, I was struck by the power and endurance of his work. It is almost hard to believe that these plays and poetry, written 400+ years ago, retain a universality in theme. The same things found in Shakespeare's work-racism, infidelity, identities in crisis, love, and a constant quest for power, are all things we still battle with on a daily basis. That timelessness is what marks a classic, I think, since it allows us to feel, understand, and contemplate the same issues as those who saw his plays performed in the Globe on the banks of the Thames.

I also love that his work is ageless. Earlier today I subbed in a classroom where the students read Jacques' "All the world's a stage" speech from As You Like It. We talked a bit about Shakespeare and the play before reading, and after we read and I broke down the speech for them, the majority decide that "Old Will' was a pretty good writer. :) I am also reminded of when I was in Florida, reading Shakespeare poolside (because I am that cool), when a couple of older gentlemen stopped by to talk to me. My mom had just gone back to the room, so she missed the exchange, but they stopped to talked about Hamlet with me-and that they were rather delighted to see a "young thing" reading old "fuddy-duddy" books. :) It made me smile, but it also goes to show that literature is powerful and bridges generations. That is why I am glad that so many of you participated in the event. Because while Will might be "old" or "fuddy-duddy," we all know that he matters.

I again want to thank everyone who participated. You guys made this event a roaring success! And while I am still commenting on posts from the master post, I appreciate everything you guys had to say about the Bard and his work. It does my classics-loving heart some good to see I'm not alone. YOU ROCK!

If you are interested in going back to read some other posts from the event, please visit the Master Post for all the links. There is some great stuff! I would also appreciate any suggestions or comments to improve future events of this caliber. :)

Last but not least, I went to to pull a number to win the clothbound edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets (seen at left). There were 83 links left, and since I couldn't win, the first qualifying number spat out at me was....

I am going to notify Carol and give her 48 hours to respond. She can also choose to pass along the prize if she is disinterested to someone else and I will repull a number. :)

Thank you all again!

And so you know, I am planning a Victorian event, structured similarly to this one, for June and July. Keep an eye out if you're interested!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for February 12, 2012: Lazy Days.

I'm feeling a little rundown today, so I'm not sure how long my little wrap-up post is going to be. Matt had a few of his guys friends over last night drinking and brewing beer (yes, brewing beer), so I hid in our bedroom most of the night and played on my Nook or read. Even with all of that, I stayed up too late and I'm feeling particularly cranky this morning.

Part of it is that every once in awhile my lungs act up. You might remember that I had two bouts of walking pneumonia last year (once in the Spring and once in the Fall). Ever since, my lungs will sometimes act up. I have a hard time breathing and my lungs feel tight-almost like I can't breathe out enough air. It is painful and uncomfortable and probably a side-effect from the illness. Anyway, they acted up last night so I spent a lot of the time in the bedroom concentrating on breathing.

And before anyone tells me to, I am calling my doctor tomorrow morning to see if I can get in. Perhaps there is something I can take to help, like an inhaler. I think that would be helpful, especially as I continue to work out (I've been having a hard time with cardio-my lungs start screaming at me after about 5 minutes on the elliptical-I've been sticking with low key workouts, mainly yoga).

In any case, since my lungs still feel a bit tender, I am putting off my cleaning job for today. I was going to tackle cleaning out and organizing our second bedroom, but I don't feel up to it and don't want to trigger another attack. Instead, I think I am going to catch up on some reading, since I really want to finish David Copperfield by Thursday, as well as some scrapbooking (working on my goals for the month). I also need to comment on all the Shakespeare Month posts, as well as pull a winner for the clothbound book. But, this should be a relaxing day.

This week I don't have any grand plans beyond finishing David Copperfield. Like I said above, I want to finish it by Thursday, then finish Roots, before moving on to Nicholas Nickleby for the rest of the month. I had intended on getting more read this month, but I read Dickens very slowly and since both of his books are chunky, they are going extra slow. We'll see what happens. :)

I hope you all have a good reading week. Let me know in the comments what you're reading and how things are going. I've been a little MIA from reading blogs and being on Twitter this week, so I feel like I've missed a lot. I hope to be a little more active this week!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Anne of Green Gables Giveaway.

My mom is pretty amazing.

She reads my blog on a regular basis and comments (some of you noticed this a week or so ago). She is always there for anyone in her life who needs help. She is always ready to talk things out over lunch, or buy something silly because it'll make you smile, or offer advice when needed.

Yep, she's an awesome lady.

And to top off her awesomeness, she gave me this to give away to one of you...

It is the Puffin Classics edition of Anne of Green Gables. I have the same copy, and let me tell you, it is absolutely adorable. I LOVE this cover!

Anyway, my mom gave me an extra copy, with instructions to pass it along to a blog reader. :) Here are the rules/guidelines for entering!
  • The giveaway ENDS Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 11:59 EST.
  • You must be 13 or older to enter.
  • You must live in the U.S.
  • You can only enter once.
  • You do not have to "follow" or subscribe (but do if you so feel the desire)
  • You must leave your e-mail in your comment so I can contact you if you win.
  • If you win, you have 48 hours to respond or I will choose a new winner.
  • In your comment/entry below, answer the following question: What is your favorite memory of/with a female family member? (It doesn't have to be your mom!)
  • Winner will be chosen randomly using
 That's it! Good luck!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book 137: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and Book Stats.

Title: David Copperfield
Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

First Published: 1849-1850 (serialized)
My Edition: Wordsworth Classic (similar to the one at right-the image on mine is different, but I can't locate it online)
Pages: 737

Other Works Include: The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiousity Shop, Barnaby Rudge, A Christmas Carol, Dombey and Son, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Our Mutual Friend

Usually when I draft these kinds of posts, I go back to look at my other posts by the same author so I can copy in some of the information. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I hadn't done one of these stats posts for any of the Dickens I've read! I suppose I was just fortunate enough to avoid this. :)

I was supposed to get to this title last July for a readalong hosted by Adam. But, I was super busy that month and while the book was on my nightstand, I never got around to actually opening it. Oops. It seems to have all worked out, since Dickens' 200th birthday was yesterday and it seems the world has gone crazy for Charles.

I have a love/hate relationship with him, but I have become more and more intrigued by his novels. He called this one his favorite, so I am hoping I feel the same way as I dive further into it (I'm about 20 pages in right now). So many people have said they love this one, so that seems promising, right? In any case, I can't wait to be a little more knowledgeable about his work. 

If you're curious, here are the posts I've written on the other books I've read by him for this project. For kicks, I show whether they landed on the love or hate side of my Charles Dickens scale. :)

Book 10: Great Expectations (Hate)
  1. My Hatred of Charles Dickens
  2. Invitations and Torture
  3. Charles Dickens Made Me.
  4. The Bright Light of Manwich.
  5. Finally Finished.
Book 65: Bleak House (Hate)
  1. Early Chapters.
  2. Finished.
Book 77: Oliver Twist (Love)
  1. Volume 1.
  2. Volume 2.
  3. Volume 3.
Book 88: Hard Times (Love)
  1. Classics Circuit Post (Dickens v. Austen)
A Christmas Carol (Love-not a book from my project list)

What do you think Charles Dickens' work? Love it? Hate it? How about my current choice-David Copperfield?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Roots Readalong Post 1: Chapters 1-30.

Today is the first post for Christina's readalong of Roots by Alex Haley. A small group of us (5 total) are reading this during the month of February. It is a pretty big book; my edition is 899 pages. But, I was excited to read it.

I feel I should mention that this was a title originally in consideration for my 250 list. When I was compiling books to choose from, I had around 260. I wanted a more even number, so I eliminated enough to bring it down to 250 (in the future I'll read those other titles). This title was eliminated because of some controversy, and I think it is important to understand what that was.

When Roots was published, it was a bit of a juggernaut. It sold over a million copies in the first year, launched a TV mini-series, and inspired many to investigate their own roots. You have to admire and respect that kind of impact. When a book comes along and has the ability to inspire so much, you should take notice!

But then there is the controversy. Apparently Haley copied quite a few passages (Wikipedia tells me 81!) from another book (The African by Harold Courlander). It ended up going to trial, as obviously, you can't do that. That was why I originally took the book off my list. I figured if I had a lot of books on my list, fully and completely written by the authors whose names are on the covers, then I was good.

Anyway, I bring all this up so that I can remind myself to take this whole book with a grain of salt. Haley stated that the book was about his family and his roots, but there is some uncertainty about whether the book is really non-fiction or fiction. It falls somewhere in the middle, and with the shenanigans surrounding the authorship, you have to keep it all in perspective. I am choosing to remember that the ideas behind the book are more important than all of it.

After 30 chapters, I am hooked on this book. Haley can really write (unless its those parts he stole). The books begins by introducing us to Kunta Kinte, a very young boy born in Africa as the first son of Omoro and Binta. Most of these early chapters are spent introducing the reader to Kunta's life in his village of Juffure. There are amazing descriptions of everyday village life, interactions, and the beliefs of those in the village. We basically grow up with Kunta and go through his childhood in stages.

I was a bit fascinated by the rite and passages he must endure as he gets older. There are "kafos," or stages where young boys are placed depending on age. As they grow through their kafo to the next level, they take on bigger and better responsibilities. They also start to earn more respect as an individual in their society. Early on, as a member of the first kafo, Kunta is left unclothed. When he moves up to the second kafo, he earns clothing and the responsibility of watching his father's goats-protecting them from panthers and lions.

As Kunta grows older, he begins to realize more and more that aging brings with it new responsibilities. It is with age that he will gain wisdom and the right to marry, have children, and make decisions in Juffure.

The second chunk of what we read for this first section covers Kunta's transformation to manhood. With the other boys of the third kafo, he is taken away to be trained in the ways of men. They learn to hunt, fend for themselves, navigate by the stars, and how to act like men (basically that they are above children and women). This portion was completely fascinating. It was a completely different society for me to understand, and I loved how Haley described all of it. On one hand, I think a reader could be irritated by all that description, but it worked. I think that knowing the place Kunta came from on such an intimate level will add to the power of his eventual capture.

Once he and his fellows are deemed men, they return to the village and their new duties-to monitor things around the village for safety, and to watch over the women. This was an interesting transformation, especially in his relationship with his family. His mother is empty-nesting over losing her eldest son to being a man, but they eventually figure it out. I also liked the change in relationship with his younger brother, Lamin. Before leaving for manhood training, they were close. Since returning, Kunta must treat him a bit like a child since he is now a man. The two eventually go on a trip together to search for gold, which mends their relationship a bit.

The 30th chapter ended here, and I have a feeling we are closing in on the piece where Kunta is captured by slave-traders. I am sure that there will be a lot to discuss in that next section.

But I have to say here that I am having a hard time putting the book down. I want to know what happens to these people and even though I know that some nasty and seedy parts of human history will be coming up, I need to keep going. I have to commend Haley for his ability to draw me in this much. No wonder the book was a massive hit when it came out!

I am curious to see how he describes the parts coming up-the ship, being sold as a slave, etc. I have some familiarity with these kinds of things, having read a lot of narratives and textbooks in college (I also took an African-American Women's history class that gave me a new perspective). I am sure that it will be powerful and moving.

Has anyone seen the mini-series? Read the book? Your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday Charles.

Happy birthday Charles!

It seems as if the whole world is celebrating today, so I would feel a bit guilty if I didn't say anything. After all, this is a classics book blog. :)

I have a love/hate relationship with Dickens' work, but I am still learning more about him and his work. I actually started David Copperfield last night and I was immediately hooked. As evidenced by the painting above, Dickens has had a lasting impact on the world of literature. I am slowly discovering that world. I'm kind of glad that I have a lot of his work left to read.

Here is to his legacy lasting at least another 200 years. ;)

Book 136: A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare Reading Month).

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

For those of you who are getting tired of the Shakespeare, be happy since this is my last post on one of his plays. Yep, play #11 for the event is A Midsummer Night's Dream. I purposefully left this one for last. Besides Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, I know this play the best. I've lost count of how many times I've read it or seen the movie. It is a fabulous example of Shakespeare at his best and one of the "funnest" plays I've read.

This is a play that focuses on the connection between the fairy realm and that of mortals. But there is also a sub-plot that focuses a bit on class issues. I'll touch on that in a minute.

The main plot focuses on 4 humans who wander into the forest. The two men, Demetrius and Lysander, are both in love with Hermia. Only one of them (Demetrius) has the favor of her father, and she loves the other (Lysander). There is also Helena, who adores Demetrius.

The four of the them are wandering around the forest, fighting over each other. They gain the attention of Oberon, king of the fairies, and his friend Robin Goodfellow (he is also called Puck in many editions). Oberon wants to fix the problem by having Demetrius fall in love with Helena using a flower powder, but Robin screws up the instructions and winds up having both men fall in love with Helena. So now, instead of the two men chasing Hermia, they wind up chasing Helena. It causes some funny interactions, but eventually Oberon straightens out the problems, leaving the couples paired off and ready to return to Athens to get married. In typical Shakespearean comedy fashion, it all works out.

The sub-plot focuses on an acting troupe. They are also in the woods at the same time as our four lovers, practicing for a play to perform before the King and Queen of Athens. They serve as the clowns in the play-causing mischief, etc. There are some hilarious scenes with these characters. I love when one, Bottom, is given the head of an ass and Titania, Oberon's wife, falls in love with him due to a spell. I am sure that for viewers back in the Globe, seeing that on stage was a riot.

But they really steal the play with the last Act of the play. They finally "perform" the play they've been practicing live in front of our two couples and the Royal couple. Before they perform, they give a little prologue, assuring the ladies that it is an actor, not a lion, who is roaring at them, and that the "wall" in the play is a man who is only symbolizing the wall. Hilarious. I am sure that with the right staging, etc, this was the highlight of the play in Shakespeare's time.You also get this gem as one of the characters in the play dies...

“Thus I die. Thus, thus, thus.
Now I am dead,
Now I am fled,
My soul is in the sky.
Tongue, lose thy light.
Moon take thy flight.
Now die, die, die, die.”

Ah, so funny. But, while this whole scene is certainly funny, it is important to at least notice the undertone. All of the characters in the acting troupe are from the working class. Their main goal in performing before the King and Queen is to earn the opportunity to make more money. They are at the mercy of those higher than themselves. Their bits of stupidity and hilarity are caused by their lack of education and knowledge about acting. I also think that Shakespeare uses them to poke fun at unprofessional acting troupes. I believe that Shakespeare and many of his contemporaries were showing that actors were higher than the everyday man. But those are my guesses.

The other piece of the play that I love are the ending lines, which I'll also end with. They say a lot about the play, but I also find them a fitting closure for my discussion on Shakespeare's plays this month.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.”