Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fall Into Reading 2010 Wrap-up

It's time to wrap up the challenge that enticed me by its awesome button (and I should add, awesome host, Katrina at Callapidder Days):

My favorite season is ending, but my second favorite season is just about to begin, so all is good.  Katrina offered several questions about our reading experience this fall:
  • Did you finish reading all the books on your fall reading list? If not, why not?
I finished all but two.  One of them I've just started.  I didn't get to all of them because I got distracted with other books, readalongs, and life in general. Here's the list:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Sisters in War by Christina Asquith
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downs
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

  • Did you stick to your original goals or did you change your list as you went along?
I suppose neither!  I was conscious of my list, but when I veered from it, I didn't make any official changes to it.  
  • What was your favorite book that you read this fall? Least favorite? Why?
This is especially hard to answer because everything I read was a strong, four-star reading experience.  I enjoyed them all for different reasons.
  • Did you discover a new author or genre this fall? Did you love them? Not love them?
 I did not necessarily discover a new author, but I enjoyed a new experience from an old, beloved author--an adult novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  I'm hoping to write down my thoughts soon.
  • Did you learn something new because of Fall Into Reading 2010 – something about reading, about yourself, or about a topic you read about?
My one non-fiction selection, Sisters in War, helped me to learn more about the situations that women in Iraq face, and I took part in a great book club to discuss it.
  • What was your favorite thing about the challenge?
The button!  (Horribly superficial, I know!)

Giveaway Winner

My goodness! What a day it has been so far: a house filled with kids for a cousin sleepover, Zumba class, constant ant warfare, and getting drenched in the rain during a trip to the store because the milk was frozen. All the while freaking out because Christmas is just four days away. I'm thinking there are some things that just won't get done, and that will be okay. 

I did, however, take a minute to pick a winner with a random number generator and the winner of the $15 amazon.com gift card is Amy from Knit Think. Check out her blog--she's got food, knitting and books!  Congratulations, Amy!  (Amy, for some reason the email address you gave me didn't work, so I used the address that was on the link on your blog.  Let me know if there are any problems.)

Happy Holidays!  Now I need to pay attention to some dough for cinnamon rolls that is about three times the size it's supposed to be . . .

***Edit:  In a moment of all-too-usual ditziness, I failed to put Amy's book blog link:   New Century Reading. ***

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Author: Larry McMurtry
Originally Published: 1985
Length: 880 pages
Source: Amazon.com
Award(s):  Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Challenge: Readalong hosted by Amused by Books, My Friend Amy, and Gerbera Daisy Diaries

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

"If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen."

It's a time when a man's trip to the whorehouse is as customary as a quick trip through a McDonald's drive-thru, and stealing horses from the country next door is all in a day's work. It's the 1870's, in the town of Lonesome Dove, where former Texas Rangers--the cerebral Gus McCrae and the workaholic Woodrow Call--own the Hat Creek Cattle Company.  When fellow Texas Ranger Jake Spoon returns escaping trouble, his descriptions of Montana lead Call and his crew to drive a herd of cattle north with the aim of starting a ranch there.  What follows is a journey of epic proportions, filled with light-hearted humor,  devastating tragedy, and heart-pounding adventure.  No wonder they made a miniseries out of it.

Speaking of epics, it was interesting reading this at the same time as The Odyssey, in which Odysseus' (supposed) main goal throughout his journey is to return to his home, wife and son.  Despite the many obstacles thrown into his path, he returns home and all is well.  In Lonesome Dove, however, many of men seem to be grasping for some sort of domestic happiness (sometimes subconsciously), but it remains stubbornly elusive (or stubbornly shunned, as in Call's refusal to openly acknowledge Newt as his son).  The connections they long for never really connect.  Even the two main female characters, Lorena and Clara, who seem to have a little hope of living life on their own terms settled in one place, are both left with an empty longing and regret for opportunities missed with those they loved.

McMurtry refreshingly defies the concept of the "love triangle." He creates instead a web of relationships, often with the "sporting woman," Lorena, in the center.   "Relationships" is actually a generous word choice--the men in the story tend look upon the women in terms of what pleasure or function can be derived from them, rather than as human beings with needs and thoughts of their own.  Gus is the only one who attempts to reach beyond this attitude, but in one instance, thinks he can buy this with money.  But his attempts at the very least  make him the most endearing character, and I'm sure many a reader has a bit of a crush and perhaps a daydream of a cozy evening with him in the tent (minus the dirt, of course).   Rather than a typical romance, the general theme seems to be men chasing after women who don't want them, women trying to break free from the boundaries imposed upon them, and all of them just trying make it through the latest hail storm or grasshopper deluge on the way to Montana. 

During most of the end of the book, I had this song stuck in my head often.  In my head I was hearing The Rolling Stones, but found this cool Glee version:

The chorus of the song sums up the constant message I got from the book:  there are things we will always want or long for that we will never get.   But life goes on, and we somehow get what we need and make it through each day.  And it doesn't hurt when someone like Gus McCrae has got your back.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Three Year (plus 17 days) Blogoversary and Giveaway

Celebrating my three-year-blogoversary on the actual day of it would be completely out-of-character for me, so here it is, 17 days late.

I've done a bit of reflecting on this past year of blogging, which actually began as a non-blog.  I said farewell in September of 2009, kept quiet (almost) for about six months, and then jumped back in again, in an earnestly laid-back way.  One of the hardest things to give up was reviewing every book I read, but for the most part it's been kinda nice.  

I think sometimes as book bloggers we have a bit of nostalgia for the pre-blogging days, when our reading choices were comparatively haphazard and carefree, but we also find great satisfaction in taking the time to ponder and deconstruct the heck out of a book, and then share it with anyone who will come and visit our own little spot on the net.  With the way I approach my blog now, I feel like I'm getting the best of both worlds.  This year, there are many books I've just read, ravaged, and then tossed aside (it almost sounds obscene!), and others I've spent more time with, taking notes, underlining, writing down thoughts, and wracking my brain to put them into quasi-coherent sentences and paragraphs.  I feel a sense of accomplishment when I hit the post button, and a little bit of a high to see the published result.  Does anyone else feel this way, or do I need to get a life?

The result:  I've read about 100 books in 2010, and only done a full-on review for about 20.    20% (even I can do that math).   In school, that's a failing grade, but for me, in real life, it's a success.  It works for me, and brings me satisfaction and happiness, and I think that's what this is all about, right?

I'm grateful for those who come and visit, and I love to hear your thoughts.  It gives me a warm feeling (and now I'm getting overly sentimental)  and a comfort that I am not alone in my love for books. 

I rarely do giveaways, but because it's a month full of celebration I thought it would be fun.  I'm making it simple (and modest):  a $15 dollar amazon.com gift card, to be sent by email.  All you need to do is leave a comment here with your email address by  December 20, and I will put your name into a hat or something and announce a winner on December 21.   If you feel like it (not required), you can share with me what you find most fulfilling about your own blog.  No need to be a follower or subscriber or anything.  And don't tell anyone about about it, because doesn't that just decrease your odds of winning?

All the photos here are book-related scenes around my house.  If you look closely, you can see dust.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Odyssey by Homer: Wrap-up

I have greatly enjoyed the readalong of The Odyssey hosted by Trish from Love, Laughter, and Touch of Insanity, I only regret that it all went on at a busy time and I've gotten behind in posting and reading posts.  What a great group of participants!  I have been so enriched and entertained, and I can't wait to read everyone's thoughts for the last couple of weeks now that things have slowed down a teensy bit.

One of the things that kept us busy in November was an odyssey of our own -- to San Francisco.  We even traveled in our beat-up Honda Odyssey that has taken us on many previous adventures.  Although we did not face the trials that our scheming man-of-exploits did, we did take a short, chilly voyage to Alcatraz:

We weren't held captive, but we tried to lock a few of our crew in:

We were pretty smart and didn't kill any cattle, but we did visit with some livestock:

We feasted of course (without the sacrificial rites):

and tested our mettle by walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and back in the wind:

We didn't see any six-headed monsters, but we thought these jellyfish were pretty cool:

Really, the scariest thing we encountered was this giant Jelly Belly:

He looks pretty menacing to me.  Take away one eye and he's a dead ringer for Polyphemus.

But now back to Homer's Odyssey.  Like I mentioned in a past review of The Iliad, what I find most exciting about The Odyssey is how old it is.  We get this amazing peek at ancient Greek society and its people, and we get to try to figure out what makes them tick.  Sometimes, we feel a connection, and think that not much has changed over the millennia.  At other times while reading, we're flabbergasted at the things they deem to be valuable and moral, and we think, "What the heck is wrong with these people?" 

To the modern reader, the story of Odysseus' perilous journey and his domestic troubles is mired in contradictions that can be just plain irritating.  How is it that the people who seemingly read and believe in a sign from every eagle they see in the sky can't believe it when they are repeatedly told that Odysseus has returned?  How can they be so forgiving of Helen, saying it is the gods' fault she did what she did, but then slaughter all of the women who fooled around with the suitors?  Why does Zeus demand hospitality amongst mortals, but then allows Poseidon to punish the Phaeacians  just because they like to help wayward travelers?  And why, oh why, is it okay for Odysseus to have his flings with goddesses while Penelope spends three years weaving a freakin' shroud for her father-in-law to delay any kind of relationship with another man?

I know that there are answers and explanations for all of these questions, but they are still striking and cause a certain amount of exasperation.  It doesn't help that the characters and gods always seem to be lying or in disguise, and as a result they always need to be "testing" one another.  They make things so much more complicated than they need to be.  But then, don't we do the same thing?  I know I can be a bundle of contradictions myself, and I probably make life harder than it needs to be.  I am human, after all.

I think in the end what connects us most to the ancient Greeks is our zeal for entertainment, especially entertainment that reflects our core values.  Those values may have changed, as well as our mode of reception, but just as regular joes 3,000 or more years ago listened raptly to the bards reciting their songs, we flock to the theaters to experience the latest installment of Harry Potter, or a few years ago, The Lord of the Rings.  Only instead of the mighty warrior who proves that "might makes right," we revere and embrace the unexpected, humble hero whose greatest power comes from love.  We've come a long way, haven't we?*

*And in some cases, we have a long way to go . . .

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Odyssey: Books 7-12

In this section of The Odyssey, we get to know our title character a little more.  While it's admirable that he claims to be devoted to his wife and home, I suspect that he might just say this because it's what he's supposed to say, since he does so many IDIOTIC things that delay his return.

Nevertheless, I have formed a special bond with Odysseus.  It seems we have a few things in common:

1.  We both have a problem with emotional eating:

The belly's a shameless dog, there's nothing worse.
Always insisting, pressing, it never let's us forget--
destroyed as I am, my heart racked with sadness,
sick with anguish, still it keeps demanding.
'Eat, drink!' It blots out all memory
of my pain, commanding, 'Fill me up!'

2.  We both cry during an evening's entertainment:

That was the song the famous harper sang
but great Odysseus melted into tears,
running down from his eyes to wet his cheeks . . . 

For Odysseus it's accounts of the battle of Troy that get him going, for me it's Friday Night Lights, among other things. 

3.  Bad things happen when we fall asleep.

'Father Zeus!  The rest of you blissful gods who never die--
you with your fatal sleep, you lulled me into disaster,
Left on their own, look what a monstrous thing
my crew concocted!'

Whether it's his crew letting out the torrential winds or killing the sun god's cattle, you would think that Odysseus would have insomnia.  For me a nap can be a risky thing--when I wake up, I never know what my own little crew has concocted.  It's usually some sort of monstrous mess.  Occasionally, it involves a yummy baked good, so I guess I'll forgive them.

I would love to write more, but I have a mid-term to study for.  Coincidentally, some of the material I will be studying involves Ancient Greece.  Both good and bad timing.  For more thoughts on this section, check out the list of other posts at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Odyssey: Books 1-6

If I had to come up with a new title for the first four books of The Odyssey, I would go with this:

Eat, Bathe, Cry:
One Young Man's Search For News About His Missing Father

It's been twenty years since Odysseus left for Troy, and no one knows if he is alive or dead. Several suitors, banking on the "dead" option, want to marry Penelope, and will wait for her to choose a candidate, shamelessly mooching off of the estate.  With a little push from Athena, son Telemachus decides he is done playing the victim at the hands of the obnoxious suitors.   He calls an assembly that turns out to be contentious and somewhat unproductive, despite Athena's instant image-enhancing powers.  He nevertheless continues with the next part of the plan--a secret trip to find out if anyone has information concerning the fate of Odysseus.  

First, Telemachus visits King Nestor.  There he listens to Nestor's war stories, sheds some tears, feasts, sleeps, gets bathed and oiled, and feasts again.  Then he takes off with his new buddy Pisistratus to King Menelaus where likewise they feast, bathe, share stories, bawl some more, feast, get drugged by Helen, sleep, shares stories, and feast again.  Where can I sign up for this life?

Meanwhile, "back at the ranch," the suitors and Penelope finally realize that Telemachus is gone.  The suitors sail out to ambush Telemachus,  and we are left at that scene, wondering what will become of Telemachus.

As for Odysseus, he is indeed alive, and has been shacking up with the goddess Calypso, who has offered him immortality if he will be her husband.  Every man's dream, right?  But Odysseus spends his days on the headland crying, "wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish/ gazing out over the barren seas through blinding tears" because he yearns to return to his wife and home.  What a good, good man!  No wonder all the women seem to fall all over themselves to help him: Calypso, who, when forced to let him go by Zeus, gives him help and advice;  Leucothea, who gives him a magic scarf of immortality when Poseidon sends his storms; Athena, helping him out once again; and last of all in this section, Nausicaa, who feeds and helps Odysseus get all gussied up for his introduction to the king and queen of Phaeacia.
For the most part, Telemachus is the star of the show in this first section.  Thanks to Athena, he has realized that it's time to grow up and be a man.  It's hard not to judge him and wonder why he hasn't come of age sooner in life, but I need to remember that he has been raised without a father, babied by his mother, and teased by the suitors.  

I tried not to cringe when his first assertive act was to reprimand his mother, but that's my own modern sensibilities coming into play, I guess.  He does seem to waver a bit throughout these first chapters, which I think is pretty realistic--one minute he's taking control, and the next he's falling apart again.  He seemed to be doing so well with his speech at the assembly, and then all of a sudden, he's bursting into tears, putting himself in the position of one to be pitied, not respected.  But he's trying, and growth is, after all, a process.

Then I wonder, how much of his growth is really him?  His courage never quite seems to come from within--it's mostly imbued by Athena.  Will he get to a point where he has some self-esteem?  Does he even have it in him?  One of the things I liked about Odysseus in The Iliad was that he was a man of action.  A lying, scheming man of action, but at least he was doing something.  I'm not sure yet if Telemachus inherited this quality from his father.  And maybe I'm delving into his character much more than Homer even intended.

I always seem to have a few thoughts that I don't want to put into full-on paragraphs in a post that is getting quite lengthy already.  Here are a few of those, and maybe they will come up in later weeks:
  • I'm interested in the idea of identity, which I know comes up more later.  Athena has appeared as many different people already.  Telemachus is trying to figure out who he is.  Others can see Odysseus' features in his face and body.
  • Women play quite a prominent part in the poem so far.  So far they seem to act as protectors in many cases.  When they're not weaving, that is.  Or braiding their hair.  
  • As with anything with the Greek gods--must they meddle so much?  Zeus says they do mess things up a bit sometimes, but people do things that mess things up even more.  A shared responsibility for hardship?
  • Penelope--does she lead them on, as the suitors claim?  How does she "exploit" the gifts given her?  Does she tease them to exercise power, or are their accusations false?   She does seem to be quite faithful to Odysseus, which is more than can be said for Agamemnon's wife.

*For more thoughts on The Odyssey, Books 1-6, visit this post at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
*I am reading the Robert Fagles translation for the readalong. 
*If you actually read this entire post, I think you deserve some sort of an award ;-).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Group Read or Pipe Dream?

I may have learned to resist signing up for too many reading challenges, but a group-read of a book that I've been wanting to get to is hard to resist.  I'm not sure if I will have the time to read, post, and visit other participants in these read-a-longs, but for now, I'm just going to pretend it's completely doable, and ignore the fact that in the last four days, my reading has been limited to the five minutes before I fall asleep.

Trish from Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting a group read of The Odyssey this month (six books each week).  I've read it before, a translation by T. E. Lawrence (yep, Lawrence of Arabia) but I've had the Robert Fagles translation on my shelf, and would like to reread it before tackling some presumably good stuff (The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood) and some scary stuff (Ulysses by James Joyce). 

Frances from Nonsuch Book is hosting a group read of this new translation of Dr. Zhivago, with discussion taking place between November 16-30.  I haven't read this since junior year of high school for a book report, and I'm sure this experience will be much different.

I'm also continuing a fabulous readalong of Lonesome Dove, jointly hosted by Amused by Books, My Friend Amy, and Gerbera Daisy Diaries.  Each Wednesday, one of these blogs has a set of questions for a ten-chapter section.  I haven't been posting for each section on my own blog, just commenting on their blogs each week.  Hopefully at the end I'll do one review for the whole thing.  By the way, I was very snobbish about the copy I'm reading.  I had to have the one above, and I am loving the twinkly stars on the cover.  

I'm also looking forward to a traditional book club read of Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis to be held early in December (?).  I read and loved Main Street, so I'm really excited about this one.  Isn't that the greatest cover? 

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Happy Halloween!  What a week!  I managed to survive this week without:

  • My husband (out of town) 
  • My Sansa Clip (getting repaired. Housework without an audio book?  I just ended up doing less cleaning.)
  • Bread and sugar (South Beach Diet Phase 1.  Not one piece of Halloween candy has entered my mouth . . . yet.)
    All in all, October has been a wonderful month!  I made a concerted effort to read excessively  this month and prepared accordingly.  I made a month of freezer dinners, and gave my house a good enough clean-up.  Yes, I do realize this is the sort of thing people do before having a baby or major surgery.  "Nesting" for books?  I'm screwed up, what can I say?

    But you have to admit that October is an exciting month for reading in the book blogging world.  I loved joining in on Dewey's Read-a-thon for what I think is the sixth time.  Each time I read less and less, but it's still fun, and there's a comfort in knowing there are others all over the world who think it's fun, too!

    October is also wraps up Carl's R.I.P. Challenge.  I don't usually read horror and mysteries, so I love the change of pace this challenge provides for me, and it gets me in the Halloween spirit.  I read more than I planned, but many of these are quite short.  Here's the final report on my reading:

    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury:  (Review here.)
    I Am Legend by Richard Matheson:  This short novel does its job of creating suspense and horror.  The movie is better, but it was interesting to see the same themes set in a different time period.  The ending is abrupt, but meaningful.  I did not read any of the unrelated short stories that followed. 
    And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (audio):  This is my first Christie, and I was happy to learn that audio was a great format.  I'm a really slow thinker, and I wasn't sure if I would be able to follow a mystery on audio, but it worked out great.  I'll be listening to more!
    The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:  I'm reading all of the Sherlock Holmes works in order of publication, and this was next.  It's definitely my favorite of the novels so far.
    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: (Review here.)
    The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre:  My first le Carre, and I was impressed.  I loved the story and the writing.  For a wonderful review on what makes it so great, read this post from The Literate Man.
    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (audio):  Great audio production! It's very gothic, and the readers really helped set the mood.  I'm thinking I enjoyed this more as an audio than I would have reading a print copy.
    The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey:  A historical mystery solved from a hospital bed!  I enjoyed it, but had to read carefully to absorb all of the history of Richard III and his alleged murder of the Princes in the Tower. 

    I'm in the middle of reading The Woman in White and listening to The Graveyard Book with my kids.

    I also experienced a bit of craftiness this month.  I was in the mood to sew costumes this year, and here's what we ended up with:

    A pig

    And a pirate:

    My other daughter put together a cute cat outfit, and my son wore a Spiderman T-shirt.  Costumes are one of the few things that get easier when your kids enter the teen years.

    We also did a craft that has been waiting to be done for a few years!  The kids and I made a  few spider wreaths like this one:

    We were also hoping to make mummy legs and witch hats, but somehow we didn't get to them.  Where does the time go?  (Yes, I do know the answer to that one.)

    Tonight we celebrated by eating our traditional Mummy Pizzas and Monster Shakes:

    and some of us watched (very LOUDLY) the Saints vs. Steelers game.  Mr. Book Clutter is a happy man tonight!

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Madame Bovary Part III and Final Thoughts

    "From that moment on, her life was no more than a confection of lies in which she wrapped her love, as though in veils, to hide it" (240).

    I have just finished a book about contemptible characters who do and say horrendous things, nevertheless I relished almost every page.  I feel as though I paid the characters much more attention than they deserved--my fascination with them  was matched only by their own self-absorption.  I felt like a voyeur  delving   into Emma's psyche while witnessing her desperate performances, "playacting" as her mother-in-law describes it.  She and other characters seem obsessed with crafting invented images of themselves, with no substance to uphold them, like Dr. Canivet, described as "practicing virtue without believing in it."   And yet I was riveted by this dichotomy between their inner motives and outer actions.  They're all (with a few exceptions) just a bunch of poseurs, however realistically portrayed.  Is it morbid to have been so entertained by the Bovarys' downward spiral and demise?  Well, at least I can accuse Flaubert of the same insensitivity in the writing of it.

    If this story can be described as a train wreck, then in Part III the train is accelerating at an alarming rate, and I came just short of closing my eyes to avoid seeing the inevitable outcome.   This section seems frantic, and as the pace quickens, the irony becomes more frequent and the sarcasm more caustic.  Flaubert's beloved hats go on, then off; the colors are electrifying; and almost everything comes in sets of three.  I laughed.  I cringed.  It moved me--to judgment, which the narrator so avidly suspends.  I've got a whole collection of one-liners that kept me entertained.   Here's a few:

    Emma's conversation with Leon before their runaway romp in the carriage: 
    "It's quite improper, you know."
    "In what way?" replied the clerk.  "They do it in Paris!"
    And that remark, like an irresistible argument, decided her.

    Pere Rouault, after Emma's funeral, in so much grief he cannot even bear to sleep in the Bovarys' house or see his granddaughter, says to Charles:  "Goodbye! . . . You're a good fellow!  And never fear, I'll not forget,"  he said, slapping his thigh.  "You'll still get your turkey."

    Of Homais' ambitions:  "He followed the great chocolate movement."  (I don't even know if this was meant to be humorous, but it tickled me.)

    I came to Madame Bovary with a fairly clean slate, and my expectations were all wrong, in a satisfying way.   What I thought was going to be a stodgy telling of a dissatisfied French housewife turned out to be  an in-depth psychological study in the form of a brilliant tragicomedy.  There are so many things that can be discussed (the different power structure in each of Emma's relationships, class distinctions,  the significance of the Blind Man, etc., etc., etc.), and I trust that other participants in the group read will cover them expertly.  Thanks again to Frances for hosting.  It has been wonderful (and humbling) to virtually rub shoulders with some very insightful and educated readers.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Madame Bovary Part 2

    "One had to discount, [Rodolphe] thought,  exaggerated speeches that concealed mediocre affections; as if the fullness of the soul did not sometimes overflow in the emptiest of metaphors . . ." (167)

    Later, Emma to Rodolphe:  "There's not a desert, not a precipice, not an ocean I wouldn't cross with you.  When we're living together, our life will be like an embrace that becomes closer and more complete every day!" (174)

    Gag!  (And I hate Rodolphe.  Why does he have to be the only perceptive one of the lot?)

    My notes on MB are in my daughter's car all day, but I want to get a few vague thoughts out about Part II before I continue reading and take a final ride on the roller coaster of Emma's mood swings in Part III.  Luckily I have managed to avoid ever hearing or reading how the book ends, although I can only think of two possible outcomes, one of which involves the potato garden graveyard.

    In Part II, I often found myself amused and horrified at the same time (like the club foot surgery!  Eek!), an effect that I'm sure was intended.   Rather than the lists of details Flaubert often inserts into Part I, I felt like he used details mainly to create contrasts that had a very dissonant feeling.  For instance, he writes some  passages that, taken out of context, perhaps in the midst of a novel like Jane Eyre, would seem romantic and moving, but he sets them up right against a few distasteful goodies, like Rodolphe's shiny patent leather boots in which he was "trampling the horse dung underfoot," and then when he pulls out three stools instead of two for their rendezvous in the town hall.  The overall effect makes the "romance" rather nauseating and  Flaubert makes you see it for what it is--a load of crap, as smelly as the manure on Rodolphe's shiny shoe.  But what can you expect from a romance begun at a bloodletting? 

    How do I feel about Emma at this point? That's still a bit complicated.  I hate her as a mother, and her selfishness is aggravating.  I want to sympathize with her because she is a woman trapped by her circumstances, as I have sympathized with female characters in other novels for the same reasons.  She herself is a bundle of contradictions.  She lives in this intangible dream world, but at the same time has an obsession with physical objects.  It's almost as if they are the only things tethering her to this world.   In a modern setting, I think she could be treated for bipolar disorder, but I don't quite want to let her off the hook so easily. But then again, she lives in this provincial town where the most excitement they get is a field trip to the local flax mill and a long political speech at an agricultural fair.  I would worship Sir Walter Scott too.

    Many thanks to Frances of Nonsuch Book for hosting this group read.  I'm enjoying it immensely and getting much more out of it than if I were reading on my own.   On to Part III!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Non-fiction Review: Sisters in War by Christina Asquith

    Author: Christina Asquith
    Published: September, 2009 (Random House)
    Length: 352 pages
    Source: Local Library
    Author Website

    Personal Enrichment Factor: 4.5/5

    I've noticed since I gave up the notion of reviewing every book I read that I now tend to shy away from reviewing non-fiction.  I think this is because I don't feel like a have much expertise in certain subject matter (especially politics!) and I feel like I'm still at a stage of objectively gathering information, rather than forming arguable opinions.  But every once in a while I come across a book that I just want to share, one that I think others would find enriching as well.  I decided I would format my non-fiction reviews in a way that I think will torture my brain a bit less by focusing on the things I would personally most want to know about when choosing non-fiction titles.  So here goes:

    What made me want to read this book:  It was a book club selection.  I hadn't even heard of it until it was chosen.

    Short synopsis:  Sisters in War is the story of  four women in Iraq during the U.S. occupation and the chaos of the insurgency--two Iraqi sisters, one U.S. soldier and a U.S. aid worker–whose experiences show the challenges that Iraqi women face in attempting to gain basic rights in a time of upheaval.

    My own personal background with the subject matter:  I have a very general knowledge of the time-line of events during the Iraq war, and have previously read the book Reporting Iraq, which contains several personal accounts of journalists covering the various stages of events.

    Readability:  Very easy to read without seeming too basic.  One of the book club members said that she remembers Asquith saying in an interview that she purposely wrote it at a level that could be read by junior high/ high school students as well as adults. 

    What I liked most about the book:  I really appreciated the fact that the author did not make herself a part of the story. The focus is on the four women, so some of the irritations I feel when reading memoirs were not an issue.  I also liked the details of women's lives, and got a better sense of what it's like to be a woman living in a war-torn country:  "With a decade of experience in aid work in the Arab world, [Manal, the  Muslim-American aid-worker] knew the first casualties of war were the most essential ingredients to women's freedom--security and stability.  Without these things, women couldn't even leave the house." 

    (Picture of author with a family in Basra, Iraq from the book's website.)

    How this book changed me/affected my life:  I'm not a very opinionated person--I can usually see both sides of an issue and I have a hard time taking a stance one way or the other.  But when it comes to women's rights, I can get pretty riled up, and although this book isn't sensational at all, it did increase my desire to do something to help.  I visited the Women for Women International website, an organization mentioned in the book, which provides information and ways to help.  I've signed up for the newsletter and "connected" with  the organization on Facebook.  A baby step on the road to activism, but it has to start somewhere, right?

    Author on YouTube:  I almost always check out YouTube for author interviews when reading newer non-fiction books, and find them very enlightening  This one is actually a talk given by Asquith at Northeastern University.  It's quite lengthy but well worth the time, especially if you don't plan on reading the book:

    Would I personally recommend this book?  YES!

    Other review(s)Rhapsody in Books

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Madame Bovary Part 1

    "She needed to derive from things a sort of personal gain; and she rejected as useless everything that did not contribute to the immediate gratification of her heart."

    Group read of Madame Bovary hosted by Frances from Nonsuch Book.

    This first part of Flaubert's Madame Bovary has been full of a few surprises for me, most notably that I'm really enjoying it.  I attempted to read it several years ago and was simply bored.  I'm chalking that up to an inferior translation, because so far in Lydia Davis' capable hands, I'm entranced.  

    (I should note here that I did not read the introduction.  Davis so graciously gives a spoiler alert before the intro, and I like to know as little as possible before beginning a novel, other than historical context.  I will go back and read it when I'm done, as I already have questions that are probably answered therein.)

    I was a bit jolted by the transition from the beautiful embossed cover of a woman in a veil to reading this first line:  "We were in the Study Hall, when the Headmaster entered, followed by a new boy dressed in regular clothes and a school servant carrying a large desk."  Okay.  I was both impressed and perplexed.  It was not at all what I expected, and I love that.  We get to meet Charles Bovary here, and wallow in his average-ness. (I was really nervous when he had to fix the broken leg.  I wasn't sure if he was going to be able to do it or not.  I don't think he was so sure of himself either.)

    I was also wrong in my preconceived ideas about the character of Madame Bovary.  We actually meet a couple of other Madame Bovarys before we get to the protagonist, all with personalities of their own.  The first Madame Bovary introduced is Charles' mother.  Her marriage is far from happy, and her "rebellion" is to suffer in silence and take on more of the responsibility for running the household.  Then Charles takes a bride.  She's ugly, bossy, high-maintenance, and just happened to lie about her fortune.  This woman so fit my idea of what THE Madame Bovary was like, but then she dies.  Huh?  But there's the captivating Emma, with her white fingernails, dry knuckles and beautiful brown eyes.  She's intelligent.  She's talented.  She was quite religious (albeit romantically so) for much of her childhood, until it doesn't satisfy her lofty longings.  Will Charles Bovary be the answer?  Well, if the fact that he just stands there empty-handed while Emma picks all the grass and thistles off of her wedding dress by herself is any indication, we're in for a bumpy ride.

    One of the things I love about Flaubert's writing is the details.  There is frequent mention of clothing.  (I think Flaubert had a thing about hats.)   We have a lengthy description of how the wedding guests are arriving and what they are wearing, but only one phrase referring to the actual ceremony.  All we know is that it wasn't at midnight, by torchlight they way Emma wanted (big warning sign, by the way, Charles.)  I have a pretty sharp visual image of each scene and object, it's like looking at a vivid, realistic painting.

    I'm getting quite lengthy here, so just a few briefly worded thoughts. 
    • I'm troubled by the male characters' choice of words--Emma's dad want to "give her" to Charles, Charles feels better about himself because he "possesses" her, she's like a toy to him.  
    • Ironic that it is a "spinster"  who gets all of the romantic ideas into Emma's head.
    • She's pregnant?  She ain't seen nothing yet as far as depression goes. Wait 'til that post-partum depression hits...

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    End of Read-a-thon

    I was really hoping to stay up until around the 19th hour, but I crashed around the 14th near the end of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Lesson learned:

    Do not read a selection with the word "sleepy" in the title if you're trying to stay awake.

    In all, I read for about ten hours, which is always a win in my book (pun completely unintended and only noticed when proofreading).  On Saturday I read:

    and most of

    And then on Sunday I was in denial that the read-a-thon was over, so I read:

    And started:

    I have found that reading short books is just like eating chips--you can't eat just one, and it's hard to stop until the bag is empty.  I'm looking at all the books left in my pile that I knew I wouldn't get to, but now it just breaks my heart to think of taking them back to the library unread.  I may have to sneak them into my week somehow.  I'm not sure I can stop myself . . .

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    24-Hour Read-athon Mid-Event Meme

    I woke up at 5 a.m this morning only to find the internet not working.  Holy crap!
    But all is well now.

    1. What are you reading right now?
    I'm almost done with The Agency:  A Spy in the House.  Loving it! 

    2. How many books have you read so far?
    I'm on my third book.  I have read two short novels:  84, Charing Cross Road and The Uncommon Reader.  Both reflect upon obsession love for reading, which I found to be very appropriate for today.

    3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
    All of them.  I'm so excited about all of my books that it's been really hard to pick each new one.  I may have one of my kids pick next time.

    4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
    I haven't really had a whole day free, which is fine.  I had a fundraiser to go to that I mentioned in my previous post and a baby shower to go to tonight.  Here's a picture of the bowls we picked out at the Empty Bowls event to take home:

    5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
    My life is built upon interruptions.  I just try to "enjoy" them.
    6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
    I'm not totally pigging out!!!!  Not yet anyways.
    7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
    It's always great!
    8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
    I always do something different each time, just for variety's sake.  Who knows how I will do it next time.  
    9. Are you getting tired yet?
    I started tired.  I only got about five hours of sleep and have drifted off here and there.  My usually state is tired so that's basically how I roll.

    10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
    Do whatever floats your boat.  (It's possible I say that every year.  But if I don't remember for sure, I'm sure nobody else will.)