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.)

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    The Read-a-thon Pile, and a recipe

    I need to post the traditional pile of books for Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon so that I will stop adding to it!  I've been to three different libraries today, not to mention a few other trips here and there.  The "good" news is that my closest library is closed on Fridays.  One less distraction tomorrow while I jam Friday's and Saturday's tasks into one day.  

    Here they are:

    It's only about five times as many books as I will have time to read, but a variety of moods might surface that day and I need to be prepared.

    For the first time all of my kids will be home and able to participate for at least some of the day.  They, however, don't have piles.  They would never be so weird, they claim.

    We usually donate to an organization based on the number of pages we all read together, but this year the read-a-thon falls on the day of our city's annual Empty Bowls Dinner, a fundraiser for the Settlement House.  We will go and enjoy soup donated by local restaurants served in  hand-painted bowls that we get to keep, and the money raised will provide  food and programs for the low-income families and individuals in our community.  Win-win!

    Speaking of food, spinach-artichoke dip is something of a tradition for us  for the read-a-thon.  It's actually a Weight Watchers recipe.  No guilt--if you eat only one serving.  But we just eat it because it's good.

    Zesty Spinach-Artichoke Dip
    Serves 8 (or 2 if it's us)

    2 (14 oz.) cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
    1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
    1 cup grated Romano cheese
    1 cup low-fat mayo
    1/2 cup light sour cream
    1/2 small onion, chopped
    1 garlic clove, minced
    1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

    Mix everything in a crock pot and cook on High for 1-2 hours or Low for 3-4.  Serve warm.

    A 1/2 cup serving is 135 calories, 3 Weight Watchers points

    The chips you eat with it are calorie-free, of course.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    24-Hour Read-a-thon Coming Soon!

    Like many of you out there, this Saturday, October 9, I will be participating in

    which will be preceded by a 
    12-Hour Clean-a-thon

    and followed by a 
    6-Hour Bike-a-thon.

    I'm counting down the days to excessive reading and gluttonous spinach-artichoke dip eating.  Who's with me?