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 . . .