Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Being the Lucky One (The Interestings, Eleanor & Park, The Rosie Project)

Guys, I've read some really great books lately. So good that I don't even feel bad that I haven't read any nonfiction yet this year (although I am working on fixing that).  I want to talk about each of them, but first thought I'd ponder on a thought that struck me today.  I've thought about it before, but it really sunk in again today.

It's the idea of being the Lucky One.  Lucky in love, lucky in life, (what have you).  It's easy to look at being lucky as an extension of being grateful—I'm lucky I have wonderful parents.  But it gets interesting when you consider being lucky in the face of personality or lifestyles because so much hinges on perception.

In her song, Alison Krauss sings, "Give you a song and a one night stand, you'll be looking at a happy man, 'cause you're the lucky one."  While her song makes it sound as if she doesn't actually envy the person in question, there is some truth to that sentiment. It must be easier to live a life free of contemplation, longing, and regret.  Is it luckier to be the person who thinks deeper and observes more, or the one unbothered by convictions?

It's Complicated: I started thinking about this again because my husband will soon be going on a sailing trip, while I'll be staying home taking care of the kiddos...which spurred loads of feeling-sorry-for-myself.  Not because I want to sail also, but because I feel like I am easy to leave behind.  Honestly, this is mostly emotion rather than truth but I started thinking...would I rather be the one who finds it easier to leave?  Sometimes that sounds quite enticing. But if that meant giving up all my deep thoughts and contemplations, then I'm cool.  I'd rather feel deeply.  But that's a matter of perspective if I've ever seen one...things are never that simple.

That's what I liked about The Interestings.  Meg Wolitzer doesn't pretend that life is simple, that you have one main story arc and none of the other details matter.  We Are Complicated.  And so are her characters (and I love that).  Still, the first third of the book had me convinced that I'd be bored until the very end. You see, I didn't much like the main character.  Jules wasn't a terrible person, but she nurtured envy, and that's a terrible place to be. She was jealous of her friends Ethan and Ash: they were the lucky ones.  Jules thought they were lucky because they had money, but I think they were lucky because they didn't suffer from a paralyzing envy.

I loved the way she told the story, and I loved how real the story was.  The story flipped between different times and different points of view, but it was handled so delicately, so expertly, that the telling was always smooth and easy to follow. If you enjoy themes that make you ponder and characters you feel you know, this is a book worth reading.  All 480 pages of it. (It doesn't feel that long, honest.)

And then there's Eleanor & Park.  Have you read this? Oh my.  My heart felt bruised after closing the cover.  I don't even know how to talk about it without gushing spoilers all over the place.  Set in the '80s (but not obnoxiously so) in Nebraska, we find Eleanor and Park: two teens whose story is anything but normal.

From the first glance, it is obvious that Eleanor doesn't fit in. As the story builds, however, we see what we've really known all along: we all have ways that we don't fit in, and we all just want to be loved in spite of it.  There are some serious issues that Rowell addresses that complicate the story, but what felt truly unique to me was the way she captured the incredible magic of young love. From the shocking realization that you have feelings for someone, to the unimaginable sensation when holding hands for the first time, and finally the wonder of having your quirks and secrets understood.  So often those things are underestimated or ignored, superimposing older experiences onto the relative innocence of youth.  I married my high school sweetheart, so perhaps that created an extra special connection to this book, but I think we can all relate to the awkwardness and novelty of a first love.

Finally, The Rosie Project. I tend to gravitate to depressing books, generally speaking...those stories
that I think are heartwarming are actually pretty sad.  When I am asked for a "happy book" recommendation, I come up rather empty.  It isn't that I don't like happy, it's just that happy is usually boring or typical.  Not so with The Rosie Project.  The writing is fairly simple and light, in contrast with the story itself which could have been written in a more serious tone.  The humorous touch serves to deepen the connection with the story, which really is a rather sweet one.

Don, professor of genetics, has some social-interaction-differences and has decided that the best way to go about finding the ideal mate is to develop a properly thorough questionnaire.  We all, at some point, have thought about what qualities would comprise the ideal mate.  Someone like ourselves, right?  Rarely do our ideas pan out in reality, and the same is the case for Don.  His journey to happiness brings many smiles along the way—I've finally found a happy book to recommend.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

For the Record: March 2014

I didn't do very good on my weekly-blogging-goal this month.  I also failed to read my Classics Club Spin book. And I haven't updated the Back the Classics stuff.  So, all around not a great month for reaching blog goals.  I've been working on a post about some of my recent favorites, but it has been slow in forming.  I don't know why some things seem to write themselves and others are slowly birthed.  It probably has to do with the depth of my thoughts and the amount of time I mull it over. Things that I actively ponder seem to come out fully composed.  I must not be doing that with this post!

I did, however, welcome a nephew (today!) and a near-niece (day before yesterday) and said goodbye to an uncle (at the beginning of the month) which makes it fairly natural that blogging would find itself on the back burner momentarily.  It meant that I completed some knitting projects, as that is portable/multi-taskable work.  I finished a baby blanket and three hats and put some more work into a sweater that is almost complete (the weather has been so warm that I find myself unmotivated on that end).  I also happened to squeeze in a trip to Napa, experience an earthquake in a theater built in 1924, and even found some time to read...not really sure how that happened but I'm not complaining!

Napa in the spring is such an incredibly lovely place...the morning mist just adds to the effect.

9 Books Read in March: (21 year-to-date)

3 Read Aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton (4) My 9yo daughter can't get enough of the Faraway Tree.  This was the second in the series, and we've begun on the third (and final). Fun little adventures, if a bit predictable.  Good for the kiddos who like the innocence and fun of the older books.
  - Along Came a Dog, Meindert DeJong (3) We loved DeJong's The Wheel on the School, but this one wasn't quite as captivating.  The best parts were the moments described from a hen's point of view—you don't get that very often! Overall, though, it was a little slow.
  - The Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Speare (4) This was a reread for me, but still quite enjoyable. It provides a fascinating glimpse into life as an early settler with a fully satisfying Native American involvement.

2 Audiobooks:
  - Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls (2) I've had this on my TBR list since reading The Glass Castle.  This one has been called a novel because Walls has filled in the details of her grandmother's life and written from her point of view, but it really is more of nonfiction/memoir style read.  I enjoyed the first part, but it started a downward spiral about halfway through.  By the end of the book I was quite thankful I'd never met the lady and couldn't wait to be done reading about her.  Don't get me wrong, she had quite an interesting life. But where other people saw a spunky personality, I saw meanness and selfishness. I'm sensitive to this perhaps, as I have extended family that classifies rudeness and a lack of consideration as humor and spunk, and I simply can no longer indulge that point of view.  Over and over, Lily justified how she treated her children because it was the means to her selfish goals. It was sad, and I think explained her daugher's demise into emotional/mental issues and homelessness.
  - The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt (4) I listened to this on audio because I thought I'd be bored with the book itself, but it was so much fun to listen to that I just may reread it (with my eyeballs this time) at some point.  The narrator did an excellent job capturing personalities and humor.  It's like a modern, funny True Grit, but totally stands on its own also.  If you enjoy tales of the Gold Rush or the Wild West, or if you like a Wes Anderson style of humor, check this one out.

3 New Books:
  - The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer (4.5) This is one of the books I've been wanting to blog about (hopefully that'll pull together soon!) because I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  The negatives: it's on the long side, it was somewhat slow to start, and some won't like that it's character driven.  The reward is in how fully fleshed out her characters are and how expertly the story is told, not necessarily in the story arc itself.
  - Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell (5)  This is another of the books I've been wanting to blog about! My heart felt bruised after closing the cover of this one. It might be a bit sentimental in some ways, but there was so much wonder and loveliness that I didn't care.
  - The Dinner, Herman Koch (3.5) Fun to read a modern book in translation, though stylistically it wasn't really my thing.  If you enjoy an unreliable narrator, however, this is a delight.

1 to Cross Off My List:
  - Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (3) Once again, Everybody's Favorite left me cold. It happened with Owen Meany (most notably, since I couldn't even finish that one) and scores of others that I'm not going to waste the effort to remember.  I can see why people like it, really I can, but there is something about his style of writing...no, about the author himself and the things that speak to him, that I really don't connect with.  It wasn't a terrible read, but it wasn't wonderful either.


2 Current Reads:
  - Me Before You, Jojo Moyes.  My current book club book...I've just started so I don't have much to say. Lots of good reviews on this one, so we'll see!
  - Devil in the White City, Erik Larson.  I just started this on audio. It takes a little more work to listen to nonfiction, but Larson just might be the exception.


On My Nightstand:
I haven't been doing much planning on what books I'm reading, but I'll be heading out of town for a week and these are the books I might take with me:

  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan
  - Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  - Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  - Longbourn, Jo Baker


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's Been a Week of Books

My only bookshelf: all books needing to be
read, and a box on the side full of books I've
read that are ready to head out to the garage.
I've been so good at regulating my book buying, that my book binge this week took me by a bit of a surprise. Part of it, I'm sure, is that I've been dreaming about moving my books into my new home library at the end of the year.  My books will have been in storage for two years at that point, and I get a little giddy thinking of unboxing them, cleaning them, organizing them, and shelving them where I can actually see them all. In the last eighteen months, the only books I see on a daily basis are the dreaded TBR books (well, some of them) because of my limited shelf space.  I thought it would be terrible to having them looming over me, but while I do miss seeing all my dearly loved books, it has been rather nice to have the constant reminder of new friends to come.  Plus, its pretty much the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before falling asleep, which is a treat no matter how you look at it.

So this week my local book shop - which previously required a bit of a walk to get to (just a bit) - moved less than a block away.  Danger! Danger!  Yeah, so I bought some books there....Eleanor & Park, another copy of The Rosie Project to loan out, The Lighthouse Road, and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I had to welcome them to my block and check out the new space.  That is one thing that will make it hard to leave the neighborhood once our rebuild is complete!

Also this week, I noticed a Crown Books Liquidation Center nearby, so of course I had to go check that out.  I came home with a copy of The Art of Fielding to loan out, The Position by Meg Wolitzer (since I enjoyed The Interestings so much), Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.

As if those weren't enough, I let myself go into Barnes & Noble, where I bought Longbourn by Jo Baker, The Dinner by Herman Koch, and two pictorial history books about my area...just because I figured that was something that should be on my shelf.

Meanwhile, I'm still busy busy with house design. It's been a long haul, but (as my husband reminded me this morning) we are more than halfway through! We can do it! We've discovered that we are extremely particular and have therefore ended up doing many things ourselves.  (It's the whole If You Want Things Done Right, You've Got to Do It Yourself.) However, we are still hoping to be done near the end of summer one way or another.  One thing is certain: it will be a little while before we jump into another major remodel!

That's all I've got for now.  I've actually been doing a lot of reading - hopefully I'll be able to post about some of those titles soon!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

For the Record: February 2014

Here in California, winter has been quite the opposite of winter in the rest of the States.  We haven't really had one.  That's sad - both because we desperately need the moisture, and because winter is my favorite season.  Winter in SoCal is silly enough (temps tend towards the 60s instead of 70s) but usually I can escape back to NorCal and get my fill of snow and icicles.  Not so this year.  Still, I've been trying to make the most of it by getting cozy and reading books anyhow.  It worked pretty well in February!  I feel (for the first time in nine months or so) that I'm finally reading again. Mostly due to intentionally forcing myself to focus and get some reading done.

7 Books Read in February: (12 year-to-date)

2 Read Aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - The Children of Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren (4.5) Written by the author of Pippi Longstocking, but a bit different in tone.  While I enjoyed this one more than the Pippi books, it makes for an interesting comparison.  The Children of Noisy Village is probably more representative of the time it was written (mid 1940s) which makes Pippi even more of a standout.
  - Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo (4) I find DiCamillo's books to be a little sad, but perhaps that's just the way of modern junior fiction.  This was a re-read, and much more enjoyable read aloud. I got more out of it than my daughter, though she certainly enjoyed the descriptions of the animals.

1 Classic:
  - Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen (5) One of Austen's more serious books, but still quite enjoyable for me...made even more so because of the annotated edition I read.  I highly recommend the Belknap publications.  Not only are they beautiful, but the illustrations and annotations are thoughtful and balanced.

1 Audiobook:
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller (4) A little slow to ramp up, and not my preferred topic (post-apocolypse) which is why I opted for the audio version.  Ultimately, the writing style grew on me and I found Heller's dystopia to be realistic.  It ended up being less the story of an end than the story of a beginning.

3 New Books
  - Lexicon, Max Barry (4) From the first Book Riot Quarterly shipment, this was yet another book that wasn't in my usual diet - sort of a plot-based action-filled story.  I found it very enjoyable, largely due to the fact that it revolved around the power of words.  It was like X-Men For Readers.
  - The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion (5)  What a book!  (Thanks Emily!) It's short and sweet and funny and intelligent and completely re-readable.  One of those stories that I could recommend to just about anybody.  This is one I think I'll end up keeping multiple copies on hand so I can hand it out to whomever is nearby.
  - The Moon Sisters, Therese Walsh (4) A review copy of this was sent to me, and I have to say that [after other poor experiences] I was a little worried it would be gimmicky and lacking in depth.  Fortunately, it wasn't.  It was unique and interesting, and bit magical as well.


3 Current Reads:
   - The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer.  I'm reading this for book club, and in some ways it is [so far] much more satisfying to read than I thought it would be.  In other ways, it is just somewhat bland.  I'm getting a lot of those popularity/talent/beauty superiority sort of vibes.  Sort of like The Marriage Plot. I have to finish it by Monday night (I'm currently around page 150 of 480) so I need to kick up the speed.
  - Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides.  I'm mid-way in this read-along.  I'm not enjoying the book much, mostly because I just don't seem to jive with Eugenides.  He bugs me.  :/  But I shall carry on.
  - The Best of McSweeney's.  I didn't progress much in this during February, due to stalling out on a David Foster Wallace story, (I know he's supposed to be amazing but my mind just drifts,) but as soon as I finish my book club book, I'll be back at it.


On My Nightstand:
This is somehow in about the same place it was a month ago, partially due to impulse buys and group reads that pushed their way ahead.  I'm sure I'll have a couple more of those this month, with another Book Riot box and LibraryThing Early Reviewer book on their way.  The good news is that I feel like I'm keeping my TBR list under control, which is always nice because then I have a good excuse to buy more books!

  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan.  One of my goals this year is to read more nonfiction, so I thought it might help to have it staring me in the face.  I really enjoyed Egan's The Worst Hard Time (about the Dust Bowl) and am looking forward to this one about Teddy Roosevelt and our National Parks and Forest Service.
  - Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather.  It's been a while since I've read something by Willa Cather, and I'm itching!
  - The Touchstone, Edith Wharton.  This was my Classic's Club Spin.  It's quick, so it should be no problem.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Books About Sisters

I recently read two books (in a row) whose main focus was the relationship between two sisters during a trying/coming-of-age time of life.  One of these books was a reread: Sense and Sensibility, and the other is a book soon to be released: The Moon Sisters.

Now, if you're anything like me, you'd expect a soon-to-be-published book to pale in comparison to tried-and-true favorite.  I experience that so often that I really should pay attention and pick my following book more carefully.  What a surprise then, to have another good reading experience despite the glaring similarities and differences it held to Austen.


Sense and Sensibility is probably a familiar tale to most of you: two sisters disagree how best to live one's life—logic vs. emotion—whilst navigating that rough period between adolescence and adulthood.  Oddly enough, The Moon Sisters is about the exact same thing (I wasn't really expecting that).  Of course, there are some differences.  The era (Regency/Modern), the names (Elinor & Marianne/Jazz & Olivia), the location (England/West Virginia), and the situation (marriage/mother's death), for starters...not to mention writing style and other technicalities.

What I love about Sense and Sensibility is the high level of observation that Austen carries throughout the story (until the end, which she wraps up way too quickly and tidily, as usual) mixed with a humorous perspective on people's foibles.  That being said, this is one of her more serious novels, not carried along by witty quips—a deep exploration of dreams, ideals, duty, and expectation.  Reading it at this point in my life, I found it more sad than I previously had.  All of those oddball characters were believable (and sometimes stressful) rather than just silly and entertaining.  But her writing is still seriously enjoyable.
"Elinor was to be the comforter of other in her own distresses, no less than in theirs."
Walsh's writing is nothing like Austen's, and the mood of the story leans toward the magical, but the interesting characters and contemplation of dreams, duty, and grief are as present in this story as in any of Austen's.  I was caught up in the story from the beginning, and never once got irritated by the alternating point-of-view or other writing mechanics.  The themes were deep, while the plot made it a quick read.  I loved finding out the details of how Jazz and Olivia grew up, how their different experiences led them to have very different opinions of their mother's death, and I loved meeting the people they met throughout their journey.
"If you live your whole life hoping and dreaming the wrong things," she said, "what does that mean about your whole life?"
Now...I don't have any sisters.  I thought this was the reason I didn't enjoy reading The Weird Sisters.  But that may not be the case after all.  While sisters certainly have a unique dynamic that I don't have firsthand experience with, I do have firsthand experience being female.  Many of the things that Elinor, Marianne, Jazz, and Olivia felt (insecurities, frustrations) are things that I have felt and can identify with, and that's pretty much what I hope to find in a book: a connection.

[Two things:  First, a big thank you to Random House for giving me an opportunity to read The Moon Sisters and share it with you!  Second, Sense and Sensibility is being counted toward the Back to the Classics Challenge as my 19th Century Classic.]

Monday, February 24, 2014

Self-Imposed Read-a-Thon

My husband is out of town for business, and it seemed to me the perfect excuse to buckle down and get some books read.  I even asked my friends and family to sponsor me in a read-a-thon (no takers). Of course, I wasn't taking kiddos into account.

My kiddos all pose for a picture (yep, that's how they pose).  Left to
Right: Andrew (15) hates having his picture taken, Timothy (17) held that
soda up to his mouth for at least 20 seconds to make sure it got in the picture,
Melinda (13) is all about those awkward moments - like when our food is
delivered and the number must be retrieved from the top of her head, and
Audrey (9) is just ready to smile and be a part of whatever is going on.
On Saturday, I got to watch a 7-month-old-sweetie-pie. (I'm actually not a "baby person" but this is the little girl of a long-time friend. Plus she is super adorable, so we had fun.)  Also, we watched the entire Back to the Future trilogy (it was time—my 13yo had never seen them).  To top it off, we had YogurtLand for dinner (yum-o) (and yes, for dinner, not for dessert.  I'm a believer in breaking the dinner rules every now and again) and before I knew it, I was falling asleep at midnight something and hadn't read a single page.

My 17yo son had decided to spend the weekend relaxing at home with the family instead of filling his time (to the point of craziness) with surfing and friends, so that was a treat I couldn't pass up.  (Well, he did hang out with friends Friday night, and took my 13yo to work on Saturday morning to catch up on some paperwork, but he was home much more than usual and that's a treat these days.)

On Sunday, my 13yo had friends over, so that was a bit crazy.  My 15yo stayed in his room during most of that time, trying to avoid the chaos. My 9yo thoroughly enjoyed it. :)  Finally, at about 5pm, the house had reached a level of relative quietness that allowed me to pick up my book in earnest.

My goal was to finish reading Sense and Sensibility.  At around 9pm I had a solid 150 pages left.  Melinda (13yo) told me, "I'm sorry mom, but it's not going happen."  Which, of course, brought out the stubborn rebellion in me and was probably one of the biggest reasons that I DID finish it. (yay me!)  It took some major discipline to keep myself focused and not switch activities, but it paid off in the end.

My husband doesn't get back until tomorrow night.  My hope was to get at least two books read (finish S&S, read The Rosie Project) and I'm still holding out hope.  After all, I managed to complete the first half of that goal, right?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Splurge: New Bookish Self-Gifties

I splurged over the weekend and let myself do some shopping.  I really strive to keep a proper balance between buying books and reading books because it is so incredibly easy to overbuy and end up with shelves full of books I don't have time for and risk losing interest in.

I didn't have plans to buy any specific book when I walked into my local book shop, but since I'd finally finished the last two hardcover books I'd purchased there, I felt a little open-ended shopping was in order.

The first book I noticed when I walked in happened to be my current book club book: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.  For some reason I'd assumed by the title that this was going to be a light&fluffy but it doesn't really look that way! Have you read it?

I bought The Rosie Project because of Emily @ As the Crowe Flies and Reads.  I don't really know anything about it, because I'd rather go into it without any preconceived notions, but she read it multiple times last year so I know that it's worth my time.

We Need New Names caught my eye, partially because of the author's intriguing name, and partially because of the interesting title and the airplane on the front (my husband is a private pilot so flight catches my attention).  The synopsis wasn't what ended up selling me on the book, (children from Zimbabwe try to escape to America,) it was actually the author bio on the back flap that made me decide to take a chance on something unknown to me. Born in Zimbabwe and living in America with an MFA from Cornell, I think it is safe to say that the author knows her topic.

In other shopping, I stopped in a local boutique that has a lovely array of handpicked items. When I was Christmas shopping in December, I had a really hard time not buying things for myself, but I was strong and waited until February (when it seems only right that one should buy things for one's self). The main thing I coveted was this gorgeous wooden crate with monthly dividers—the perfect arrangement for a tangible view of the books I've read.  I also snagged a Library candle based on Leo Tolstoy: black plum, persimmon, and oak moss. Mmmm.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Life Seen Backwards (a.k.a. first thoughts on Middlesex)

I started reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides for a read-along at Unputdownables (this is the first week, so I'm only about 60 pages in).  Now, my experience with Eugenides thus far (why does reading Eugenides always seem to need to come with a prior-experience disclaimer?) has been only with The Marriage Plot, which I read when it came out simply because it was sent to me by Powell's in my Indiespensable shipment (back when I was doing so good at keeping up with them).  It thought it was...okay.  Mostly I just really didn't connect with it—the characters, the plot, the theme, and even the writing itself.  However, people ADORE Middlesex.  The Pulitzer Board loved Middlesex.  Right?  So I've got to read it at some point and it may as well be now.

All that to say that I began reading it with some hesitation.  The first chapter wasn't great.  And then the second chapter had me [first] highly irritated and [second] entranced.  And I'm thinking.  Perhaps this is Eugenides? Or maybe only Eugenides to me, but this quality of being simultaneously impressed and disdainful has settled over me during both of his books so far.  Is that a reflection of the author's feelings/personality or something he's hoping to evoke? Or is it just me being a little bit snotty?  I don't know. But interesting thought.

What left me entranced was the description of the grandmother's, erm, relationship, when she was young.  I really enjoyed how it was written, I could picture the characters and setting, and I was planted in the fictional dream.  If you've read it, you know of what I speak.  If you have not read it, well, I don't want to spoil it, but suffice to say that it is related to tough times in a small town.  Maybe.  Anyhow, (when the narrator kept his nose out of it at least,) the whole thing was captivating.

The great irritation stemmed from the point of view it was written in (first person semi-omniscient or something like that) that kept jolting me out of the story being told.  The high point of aggravation was the part where he rewinds time back to when his grandmother was young.  How those sentences were written simply didn't hold up to Pulitzer status.  In my opinion, of course.  They were highly conspicuous to me because it was impossible to not compare it to a similar type of scene in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.  And really, there is simply no comparison because Vonnegut composed one of the most amazing things ever in that scene. Anything else would necessarily pale in comparison. I actually had to put Middlesex down for a few seconds because I was annoyed about the whole Pulitzer thing.  (See?  That disgust that is so ready to rear its ugly head?  I'm not usually like that.  What's the deal? Who really compares authors like that? As if nobody is ever allowed to rewind the story ever again? Ugh.)  But because my subconscious won't leave me alone unless I actually compare them for realz, even though I feel like that makes me a little bit of a terrible human being, here they are.

[from Middlesex, 2002 by Jeffrey Eugenides]
And so now, having been born, I'm going to rewind the film, so that the pink blanket flies off, my crib scoots across the floor as my umbilical cord reattaches, and I cry out as I'm sucked back between my mother's legs.  She gets really fat again.  Then back some more as a spoon stops swinging and a thermometer goes back into its velvet case. Sputnik chases its rocket trail back to the launching pad and polio stalks the land.  There's a shot of my father as a twenty-year-old clarinetist, playing an Artie Shaw number into the phone, and then he's in church, age eight, being scandalized by the price of candles; and next my grandfather is untaping his first U.S. dollar bill over a cash register in 1931.  Then we're out of America completely; we're in the middle of the ocean, the sound track sounding funny in reverse. A steamship appears, and up on a deck a lifeboat is curiously rocking; but then the boat docks, stern first, and we're up on dry land again, where the film unspools, back at the beginning...

[from Slaughterhouse Five: or the Children's Crusade, 1969 by Kurt Vonnegut]
American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again. 

Actually, typing it out made me realize that I was probably mostly just offended that a pregnant woman is described (by a man) as "really fat".  I'm not an easily-offended sort of person but THAT gets my ire up.  After continuing on to read the third chapter my irritation was mostly diffused—I still don't care for the narrator/narration style very much, but I'm quite interested to see where the story leads.  (Still, that Vonnegut passage is the bees knees.)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This Week

I've been reading in bits and pieces this week - I've been listening to The Dog Stars (which has been much easier to become interested in through audio somehow...probably due to a good narrator making a topic more interesting than it would have been otherwise) and barely started Middlesex for a read-along at Unputdownables.  I'm also making my way through Sense and Sensibility.  It has been seven years since I've read S&S, and I'm getting so much more out of it this time.  What a good book.  Although I must say that the edition I'm reading is not exactly reading-in-bed-friendly.
That's me trying the sideways pose...the lying-on-my-back pose made me
look like I had alien thumbs.  (Thanks to my 9yo for help taking the photo!)

In other news, I'm apparently I'm an eclectic reader.  I didn't realize that my reading selections were oddly mixed until I saw this on GoodReads:

And...I discovered that knitting blankets—even baby sized blankets—is way more tedious than knitting sweaters.  But I did finish it in time to ship it over to Qatar, where my new nephew will be arriving in April. (Yay!)  After finishing this I immediately began two different sweaters to make up for it.  I have 3 more babies to knit for within the next few months, though, so I need to amp myself back up for knitting large rectangles.

Last, I'm thinking that maybe I'll give the Classics Club Spin another shot.  It was great motivation the first time, but completely ineffectual the second time.  And then I was so blog-absent that I didn't even realize they had a third and fourth time.  Now they're on Spin #5.  I really want to get some of my novellas read, so I've listed all those here, in addition to a few others to make up 20 books.
  1. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  2. The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  4. Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  5. The Enchanted Wanderer, Nikolai Leskov
  6. The Duel, Alexander Kuprin
  7. My Life, Anton Chekhov
  8. *Freya of the Seven Isles, Joseph Conrad
  9. *The Man Who Would Be King, Rudyard Kipling
  10. *The Distracted Preacher, Thomas Hardy
  11. *The Lemoine Affair, Marcel Proust
  12. *The Alienist, Machado De Assis
  13. Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, Sholem Aleichem
  14. The Duel, Anton Chekhov
  15. *Fanfarlo, Charles Baudelaire
  16. *May Day, F.Scott Fitzgerald
  17. Parnassus on Wheels, Christopher Morley
  18. Jacob's Room, Virginia Woolf
  19. *The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl, Italo Svevo
  20. The Touchstone, Edith Wharton (edited to add: #20 it is!)
* These novellas are pretty tiny.  If one of these numbers is selected, I'll choose another to pair with it.  Two for the price of one!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

For the Record: January 2014

How is it that the first month of the year is over already?  Being that this is the year we finally finish our house renovation, I've got a gazillion things to decide.  But I'm starting to really look forward to unpacking all my books...I seriously daydream about how I'll organize them (sad but true).

After lowering my goal on GoodReads (for number of books to read in 2014) I'm less stressed, but I'm still struggling a bit to keep on track.  Ugh.  I wish I didn't care.  I'm trying to not care.  But still.

5 Books Read in January: (5 year-to-date)

2 Classics:
  - Free Air, Sinclair Lewis (4) Okay, so this Sinclair is delightful.  This was a wonderful look at a road trip in 1919.  Who knew Americans were all over the great road trip adventure way back in '19? I loved the social humor and the peek at so many different kinds of society at the time.  I've heard this is in no way his best—which is quite intriguing for this fan.  I bought this book because of the lovely cover in conjunction with the author's name.  See?  Judging a book by its cover paid off.
  - Oil!, Upton Sinclair (3) And THIS Sinclair was a bit of a drag.  Even though the title has an exclamation mark which should mean the book is exciting.  It isn't.  Well, more precisely, the first third is engaging, and then it devolves into a political rant about socialism being better than capitalism.  Even that is interesting, in light of current sentiments...and the fact that we have seen the socialist ideal fail in practice...but still a little so-so overall.  I haven't watched There Will Be Blood (which is supposedly based on the first third of the book) but I think I'll do it soon.

1 for Book Club:
  - Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler (3.5) I adored Tyler's new book, The Beginner's Goodbye, which I picked up on a whim at the airport a few months back, so I decided that her Pulitzer Prize winner would be a good choice for our next book club read.  There were many funny parts, and a lot of depth into what drives people, but it was sad too (in that life-doesn't-always-turn-out-how-you-expect sort of way).  One thing the two books did have in common was the extraordinary way she writes of ordinary people.  Her characters are so real.

2 Others:
  - The Lighthouse Road, Peter Geye (5) I loved this book.  Probably even more than I did his first book, Safe From the Sea.  There is something about the way he writes about land, family, and history that appeals to me so much.  If you are ever in the mood to read a little historical fiction—something that reads quickly but has depth and substance—pick this!
  - Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn (3.5) This lovely lighthearted book was an impulse buy at my local book shop.  Although it began with a cast of characters in disarray, it soon pulled together and tidied up.  Kuhn's portrait of the Queen was very kind and sweet, and the book ended up being a nice happy read.  Recommended if you're in the mood for something simple and happy.


4 Current Reads:
  - Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen.  I'm reading the annotated version for this re-read and it's wonderful so far!
  - Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides.  I'm joining Wallace at Unputdownables for a read-along of this.  I haven't begun yet (I need to start!) but it's not scheduled for completion until the end of March so I'm feeling like I've got all the time in the world.
  - The Best of McSweeney's.  Still reading this, story by story.  There's been so much to love that I'm not in a huge hurry for it to end.
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller.  My new audiobook.  So far the writing is spare, which matches the post-apocalyptic landscape.  Listening to it instead of reading it myself (which I tried a while back) is helping me to go at a slower pace and appreciate the syntax.


On My Nightstand:
I really don't have much in the queue right now, although I have a couple of vague goals.  First, to catch up on an Indiespensable book or two (I did a terrible job at keeping up with them last year) starting with the newest shipment: Orfeo by Richard Powers.  Second, to read my next Willa Cather book and/or knock back a couple of my classic novellas.  We'll see how it goes after I'm done with Sense and Sensibility.

  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan.  One of my goals this year is to read more nonfiction, so I thought it might help to have it staring me in the face.  I really enjoyed Egan's The Worst Hard Time (about the Dust Bowl) and am looking forward to this one about Teddy Roosevelt and our National Parks and Forest Service.


Pass it on!