Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: 2005
Length: 192 pages
Source: Library
Challenge/Event: Readalong

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3.5/5

Water does not resist.  Water flows.  When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress.  Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you.  But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it.  Water is patient.  Dripping water wears away a stone.  Remember that, my child.  Remember you are half water.  If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it.  Water does.

At last we get to hear the other side of the story of faithful Penelope, self-described (in Atwoods's account) "goody-goody" with a thing for bad boys.  And anyone female who has read The Odyssey knows that Odysseus is the quintessential cad--he lies, he cheats, he shacks up with goddesses...

How does Penelope deal with it all?  She acts like water.  This is advice from her Naiad mother.   Just like water, "if you can't go through an obstacle, go around it."  Penelope encounters many obstacles.  Unloving parents?  Go to backwater Ithaca with your new hubby who probably would have rather wedded your cousin Helen.  Unfeeling husband?  Fantasize that he will be impressed with your housekeeping skills when he returns from seven years of sleeping with Calypso.  Pesky suitors?  Pretend you like them.  Better yet, tell them you will marry one of them when you finish weaving the shroud that you unravel each night.  That'll show 'em!  Be the waterBecome the water.

Unfortunately, this does seem to be the only survival strategy for Penelope given her situation and time.  I yearned for Atwood to make it something different, but that would involve skewing the circumstances, and I got the idea from the notes at the end that she was trying to stick to established mythology rather than rewrite Homer.   At least she gave Penelope a voice, a back story, and a dry sense of humor.  Helen got a good slamming, which I greatly relished.   As for Odysseus, I actually felt sorry for him in the end, still running away to take on another identity.  The story of the maids is haunting and tragic, but they sure know how to put on a good show!

Thank you Bellezza and Col for hosting this readalong.  I'm a day late and writing quite haphazardly, which is usually how it goes for me with group reads!  I'm looking forward to reading others' thoughts, but that will have to wait for tomorrow when my eyes aren't crossed.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let the fun begin!

 The killer history final is over, the Elizabethan costume is made, the 5K has been run, the kids' room has been painted bright green, and softball season is coming to an end.  The house is still a mess, but with 4 kids, it's always going to be a mess, so why try?
Anyhow, hopefully I'm not biting off more than I can chew, but here are some upcoming events I want to join in on now that I think I have more time:

Penelopiad Readalong

Read May 23 through May 28, post reviews May 30

Vanity Fair Readalong

 The month of June, post June 15 and June 30
Hosted by Allie from A Literary Odyssey

52-52-52 Challenge

June 1st, 2011 to June 1st, 2012
52 weeks. 52 books. 52 pounds.
Just what I need!  I'm changing it up a bit for myself.  I usually read more than 52 books, so my goal is to review at least one a week, which is much more than I've been doing.  Also, if I lost 52 pounds, I think I would actually fit into my cheerleading uniform from high school, and I dare not have such lofty goals.  I'll be happy with 30 pounds gone, but I need help focusing a week at a time, and this will help.
Hosted by Amanda from The Zen Leaf
48 Hour Book Challenge

June 3-5
I love to take the time during this challenge to read any of the Childrens/Young Adult  books I've been wanting to get to.  Really, you can read whatever you want, but it is a kidlit focused blog, so I just like that to be my focus.  I have other things going on that weekend, but I'm still hoping to read a good amount.  My kids are also out of school starting that weekend.  Yay!
Hosted by MotherReader

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Tour - Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps

Editor: David Isay
Published: 2010 by Penguin Press HC
Length: 208 pages
Source: TLC Book Tours/Publisher

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

Annette Zumba talking to her sister Jenevieve:  I remember Mother's Day:  We were very young, and she took us to a park...She asked us to please call her Mrs. Zumba on Mother's Day.  So we would be swinging in the swings and say, "Mrs. Zumba, can you push me?"  And a person came by and said, "Oh my, it's Mother's Day.  Are you doing this for a friend of yours, taking care of the kids?" And she goes, "No, no, these are my children."  I remember the woman was just looking at her.  With a deadpan look, Mom said to her, "Well, what do your children call you?"  Joann and I, because we were the oldest, we got it, and we knew that Mom was just tired of seven kids saying "Mom!" 140 times apiece over the course of eighteen hours:  she had had enough.  For one day, she just wanted to be called by something else." 

David Isay's StoryCorps Project is such a simple but wonderful concept-- family members or friends sit down with one another and talk for 40 minutes about memories that are meaningful to them.  The recording is then preserved at the American Folklife Center at the library of Congress for future generations to experience.  I had heard these conversations on NPR but never really knew the story behind them.  There's just something so powerful about listening to two people talk about something dear to their hearts.

This collection focuses on moms from all walks of life in very diverse situations.  It's a sort of melting pot of motherhood.  Mothers with disabled children, mothers who had to give their children up for adoption, single mothers, working mothers, adoptive mothers.  Some accounts were siblings simply remembering their mothers who have passed on, and the life lessons that were taught.  They all share the common thread of the love between a mother and her child.

This would be a great Mother's Day gift for a mom who would appreciate hearing several experiences of non-traditional motherhood, completely throwing that June Cleaver image out the window.  This is real stuff.  As a fairly traditional mom myself, (but so not like June!)I still felt a connection with these stories of mothers just trying to make it day by day through life's obstacles, and loving their kids because really, they just can't help it!  Even if you are getting tired of being called "Mom" a hundred times a day. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

April Reading

Life has been busy, but I had to post about what I've read just to assure myself that I did get some reading time in, even though I read only a smidgen of what I would have liked to have read.  I'm already fantasizing about a reading binge in about a couple of weeks when a few stressful things come to completion.  Then it's party time!  (Or so I always think, and then I'm proven wrong.  But I have high hopes.)
One of my favorite April memories is our Spring Break Staycation in which the "fort of all forts" was built in our living room:

The picture just doesn't capture the coolness of it.  My kids spent several nights sleeping in it, as it was furnished with bed areas, and even an entertainment zone:

I was a bit jealous as I had to sleep in my own bed--not enough room for me in there.

Anyhow, April's reading mostly consisted of finishing books, short novels, and audiobooks for the usual accompaniment for housework.

Finished up this month

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu  (Personal Enjoyment Rating: 2/5)
This only took me four months to read, and it was sheer compulsion that drove me through to the end.  At first I was entertained, especially by one long conversation in which Genji and his companions discuss what qualities they deem necessary in a woman.  These guys are going to be searching for a long time for a perfect woman that doesn't exist.  Which seems to be what Genji does, over and over and over again.  The repetition wore on me, but I had to finish what is considered by some to be the first novel in the world, written in Japan during the early 11th century.  There is much spontaneous spouting of poetic couplets, and lots of sleeves wet with tears (and snot, I presume).  Man, I really wanted them to invent Kleenex, those poor souls.

The Capture:  Guardians of Ga'Hoole #1 by Kathryn Lasky (Personal Enjoyment Rating 4/5)
I read this one aloud to my two youngest daughters ages 11 and 9 because my youngest had bought it at the book fair.  I'll admit, if I had read this alone I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much.  But my girls really got into it, asked so many questions, looked up pictures of owls on the internet, and just made it so much fun to read.  I was actually quite disturbed at the beginning of the book because the brainwashing of orphan owls creeped me out a bit.  I think maybe I've just read too much dystopian fiction and wondered where it was headed.  But it took a positive turn eventually, albeit with some fairly gruesome scenes, and ended with me feeling like I could fly if I just believe in myself.  BTW, the movie sucks compared to the book.

Short books

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (Personal Enjoyment Rating 4/5)
In thinking back on reading this short novel, the plot seems almost unremarkable, almost boring.  But I so love the way Greene writes that I simply don't care.  In my fantasy reading/blogging world, I plan give this book its own post.  So I'll leave it at that for now.

The First Battles:  A Sourcebook on the Civil War by Carter Smith (Personal Enjoyment Rating 4/5)
I feel a little silly even mentioning this one.  It is the first of a childrens series about the American Civil War.  I just feel the need to express my frustration that I have not yet been able to immerse myself in all things Civil War-related in the way that I envisioned for this year.  Just a sprinkling is all I've gotten, and it's just not good enough.  Maybe over the summer...

Audio Books

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, narrated by Simon Vance (Personal Enjoyment Rating 4/5)
I was really worried that I wouldn't be able to follow along with a spy novel in audio format, but this was really very easy to listen to.  It turns out the most difficult part was listening to M being read as a man.   I mean, isn't M a woman who sounds like Dame Judi Dench?  I'm obviously a James Bond newbie who only feels the need to watch Bond movies in which I can be mesmerized by Daniel Craig's eyes, and in which the sexism of Fleming's character is tempered by giving the job of the head of MI6 to a woman.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre (Personal Enjoyment Rating 3/5)
Feeling quite proud that I understood Casino Royale, I moved on to this highly recommended Smiley novel.  But this book made me feel DUMB!!  I had to admit to myself that I do not speak spy!  I think it was really one that I need to read in print.  I loved The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and am willing to give this another one another chance someday.  In the meantime, I'm going to try to watch the BBC series.  Then maybe I'll know what happened in the book...

Really long book that I had to read in two weeks instead of eight because someone else placed a hold

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Personal Enjoyment Rating 4/5)
I don't always appreciate comparisons to highly-popular books, but this one kind of struck me as "Harry Potter goes to university and drinks real booze instead of butterbeer."  There's much more to the book than that, but it sort of had the feel-good aspect of Harry Potter with a bit of an edge, and it was certainly not  a copy-cat of HP.  There's a lot of humor, ample adventure, and an overdose of romance in some parts.  Maybe my estrogen levels were just to low at the time, but the lovey-dovey parts are what took this original book down a point in my rating.  Otherwise, great entertainment!  I have the second book on hold, and some other patron will have to rush through it so I can get my turn.

In May, I hope to finally attempt a review of my experiences with Ulysses.  I just need to get a horrid history final out of the way first, and then hope there's something left in my brain to share.

Happy reading!