Monday, July 1, 2013

Moll Flanders

Author: Daniel Defoe
Originally published:1722
Length: 339 pages
Source: Local library
Challenge(s): 18th Century Challenge, 1001+

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

I found by experience, that to be friendless is the worst condition, next to being in want that a woman can be reduced to: I say a woman, because 'tis evident men can be their own advisers, and their own directors, and know how to work themselves out of difficulties and into business better than women; but if a woman has no friend to communicate her affairs to, and to advise and assist her, 'tis ten to one but she is undone.

I love that there is a built-in summary in the long version of the title:

The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums.

For modern readers, this may take all the fun out of reading a novel. Back in the 18th Century I suppose it might have been great advertising.  I found it pretty captivating in the beginning, but had to really force myself to keep turning the pages near the end. Moll is a great character because you can admire her one minute, and then be horrified by her actions the next. She gets herself out of devastating situations that a woman without many options would face at that time.  It's sink or swim, and she not only keeps her head above the water, but she makes it to the finish line in first place. On the other hand, she steals from children, takes advantage of people in the midst of tragedies, and tells a lot of lies.  But overall I admired her determination.  In the 17th century, when her story takes place, she survived by becoming a prostitute and a thief, and, perhaps most importantly, managing her money well.  In today's world, she would surely be near the top of the corporate ladder, breaking glass ceilings, without having to commit any crimes.

I read this as part of o's celebration of 18th Century Literature in June.  I really would have liked to have read more.  If only I had a nickel for every time I've said that.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On the Road

Author: Jack Kerouac
Originally published: 1957
Length: 293 pages
Source: Purchased from used books at library
Challenge/Event: Beats of Summer, 1001+, Classics Club

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 3/5

Here I was at the end of America--no more land--and now there was nowhere to go but back.

"Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"

We all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one and noble function of the time, move. And we moved!

I'm having an "off" day today--one of those days when I just can't focus on anything. It's like my brain is stuck between radio stations and I feel like my chest is full of bubble wrap that needs to be popped. My to-do list looks like ancient runes.  I could clean, but won't it just be dirty and messy again tomorrow?  I could eat, but according to the Internet, 99% of food will be the death of me or the earth.  I could work out, but I've pretty much accepted that my ripped physique will forever be camouflaged by a jealous layer of adipose. Everything I think of doing just seems so...pointless. And then I realized I am in the perfect state of mind to write down my thoughts about On the Road.

Narrator Sal Valentine (real-life Kerouac) and his main traveling companion Dean Moriarty (real-life Neal Cassady) seem to be plagued by this same lack of focus and feeling of futility. Only for them it's not just an "off" day.  It defines their lives. The remedy?  Drive!  They frantically criss-cross America, searching for some insight into the meaning of life.  They don't really know what they're looking for, and maybe they don't even need a definitive answer, but they know that what they seek can't be found in the conformity of post-World War II America.

Sal seems like a nice-enough guy.  He can appreciate a good slice of apple pie, he's passionate about music, and he has a thing for the way people laugh. The excitement he feels about embarking on his first trip across the country is contagious.  I wanted to join him--at first.  At least as long as there was a reliable source of apple pie and ice-cream. But there are other aspects of the road trip that would have me hitchhiking back home faster than Dean Moriarty can park cars in a New York City parking lot.  One of those things is Dean himself. Dean talks too much, drives too fast, and wears me out.  But for Sal, Dean seems to be the crux of it all.  Dean, the manic drug/sex-addict who abandons him in Mexico with diarrhea and delirium. Does his life hold all the answers? That possibility fills me with an empty feeling and I feel truly "beat."

Other reasons I would get off the trip: drugs and bugs. Heavy drugs and bloody bugs.  No thanks. 

But the driving everywhere bit sounds glorious. I've been on some great road trips and passed through some of the same cities Sal visits.  America is beautiful. It all seems like a romantic, adventurous lifestyle for Sal and his companions.  Until you number the casualties.  Wives left behind on a whim.  Children abandoned.  Not to mention the drug and alcohol abuse of these Beat pioneers and the toll it took on their own lives. I sound so stodgy and mainstream, don't I?  I'm a fan of stability, roots, being a productive member of society.  I want dads to be there for their kids and for wives to be respected by their husbands. I don't think people should steal cars.  It scares me that people saw this as an inspirational guide book. Wouldn't Frommer's be adequate?

I'll admit that I don't have a good sense of what they were rebelling against.  Without living during that time period, can I really fathom what societal pressures led them to break free in such an extreme way?  Were those who were considered different severely marginalized?  Did it take the Beat generation to shun conformist society so completely that in the end we at least ended up with a happy medium between responsibility and non-conformity?  Did they feel as though society didn't do anything for them, so why should the do anything for society?  Or was it a matter of principle--that society is inherently too restrictive for anyone to find meaning and happiness?  What do I take for granted in today's world that is a result of the Beat movement? Lots of questions that I haven't answered yet.  But I will ponder them here at my laptop instead of on the road, at least for now.

Tomorrow will be a better day for me.  Most likely I will wake up disgusted at myself for wasting a perfectly glorious commitment-free day.  I will dust something because I like the smell of the lemon oil.  I will eat an apple even though the ones I bought were sprayed with pesticide.  I will work out because my strong muscles at least help me carry that extra fat around, and because it's fun. Sometimes there is a point to doing things just because you enjoy the process or the journey, without worrying about the outcome.  Oh, wait--was that what Kerouac was trying to tell me?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Finish - 48-Hour Book Challenge

I finished up the book challenge last night at 8:30 just as I finished my second book.  Two books sounds pretty wimpy, but I have to laugh when I think that only in the book-blogging world would anyone be disappointed at reading two books in two days!  I didn't keep close track of my time because I'm not entering for the prizes, but I probably spent about 12 hours reading.  Some of those hours were spent in the car with distractions, so the going was slow.

Not impressive, but very enjoyable!  I loved the two books I read:

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner: I read The Thief about three years ago and even though I loved it, it has taken me this long to read the second book in the Queen's Thief series.  I can only wonder how long it will take me to get to Book Three.  Hopefully not another three years.  If that's the way I'm going to tackle series than I might as well go ahead and read the Game of Thrones series...
I love Gen's character.  He's not quite as magnetic as in the first one, but then he does go through some pretty tough stuff.  I had to read what happens to him in the beginning of the book a few times until it sunk in.   The story was rich and complex, and although you kind of know how it's going to end, it's still surprising and unexpected in some ways.

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman: This one reminded my a little of the movie The Sandlot.  It had the same kind of humor and was just a nudge beyond reality.  I was laughing out loud in many places and reading bits to my family. (They don't really appreciate it when I do this, but I do it anyway.)  Shusterman seems to have held something out there for all ages to grasp and appreciate--the different ways anyone can feel "invisible" or unnoticed.  I will look forward to reading the next in the series (didn't even realize that it was part of one until I read the comments in my start-up post.)  I've also always wanted to read Unwind, maybe I'll get to that sooner now.  I think it must be quite different though.

Thanks to Ms. Yingling for hosting :)  I'm sure everyone had a great time (and read much, much more than I did!)

Friday, June 7, 2013

48 Hour Book Challenge Starting Line

I'm participating in the 48-Hour Book Challenge, hosted this year by Ms.Yingling Reads.  Details can be found here.  I'll start right now around 8:30 p.m. my time, and hope to read as much as I can between now and Sunday night.  I've places to go and things to do this weekend, but I'm still hoping to cram more reading in than usual.
This challenge is open to all types of reading, but I always look forward to reading any Childrens and Young Adult books I've been wanting to get to for this one. Here's my pile:

I'll be starting with The Queen of Attolia.  I can't believe I've waited so long to read this one.  I've also thrown in a couple of Maisie Dobbs mysteries in there just because.  I also have two ebooks on my Nexus:  Finnikin of the Rock and The Knife of Never Letting Go. I've heard great things about both.

I know I'll probably only get to a couple of these, but it was so much fun to pick them out and make a book pile picture.  It's been way too long!


Wives and Daughters Read-a-long

Unputdownables is hosting a group read of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters during the months of June, July and August. Oh, happy summer!  Today marks the end of Week 1, and at this point we are to have read through Chapter 5.  I'm not planning to update every week (the main discussion will take place at the read-a-along hub each Friday), but I wanted to share my initial thoughts and expectations.  Then when I'm done, I'll do a final review.

I may be jumping the gun, but I already feel that I'm going to love it.  I absolutely loved Cranford.  It was witty and heartwarming, and I loved Gaskell's writing.  But then I was disappointed with North and South.  Well, "disappointed" might be too strong of a word.  It's just that I was looking for some magical combination of the writing of Cranford with the story I was familiar with from the excellent BBC production, and it didn't quite meet my expectations.  But I still liked it. I later read Mary Barton, for which I have no review or thoughts on my blog.  I found it quite unimpressive.

I'm not sure if I would have picked up Wives and Daughters if not for this group read.  My Gaskell experience seemed to be going downhill. But so far, I am very excited!  From the first five chapters, I feel like I'm revisiting the wit of Cranford, and I love the characters.  I am hopeful for that magic I was looking for in North and South.  I think it's going to be a good thirteen weeks!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Author: Susan Cain
Published: 2012 (Crown Publishers, New York)
Length: 333 pages
Source: Local library

Personal Enjoyment Factor:5/5

"Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them in energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet."

When I finished up a season of volleyball in Eighth Grade, I received an award that simply said "Shy Shelley." Did my coach think I would proudly display this on the fridge? Could she seriously not think of anything else to say? Maybe something actually related to volleyball? I thought I was a pretty good volleyball player. But apparently my personality overshadowed my skills.

Then in tenth grade, I was told by a classmate that he thought I was a foreign exchange student from France because I never spoke (he thought I didn't know any English), and because our history teacher pronounced my last name with a French accent.

In eleventh grade, I became a cheerleader. This was a little shocking to all who knew me. Did this mean I had magically transformed into an outgoing teenager who suddenly cared about popularity? No, I just loved to dance. (I had learned a few moves watching Janet Jackson videos.) I don't remember the exact wording, but I received an award at the end of the year that again focused on being "quiet." A quiet cheerleader. Now that's something to be proud of.

When you're shy/quiet/introverted it's hard to escape the labels. But what's worse is the judgment that often accompanies them: you're somehow inferior to your more outgoing peers, you have an over-inflated sense of self, you're anti-social. And the most damaging of all is the idea that YOU NEED TO BE FIXED.

In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain dispels these myths about introverts, and focuses on the special contributions they make to society. Introverts don't need to be "fixed." Rather, their unique abilities are necessary and should be valued in a society where the traits of extroversion are often idealized.  Cain argues her point in a fascinating, utterly readable book that encompasses history, science, psychology, and a bit of self-help.  But this "self-help" does not entail changing yourself  into something you're not.  Accept who you are, making adjustments only when necessary, and compensate by scheduling down-time. Pretending to be outgoing when you're not often has negative results.  I love how Cain sums it up in the conclusion:
The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers--of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity--to do work you love and work that matters.  Solve problems, make art, think deeply (264).
But this is not just a book to make introverts breathe a sigh of relief and feel gratified that someone is recognizing their worth.  It's also very instructive for those who don't understand the "quiet" ones at school, at a party, or in the workplace.  Introverts thrive in a different environment than their peers.  Teachers, managers, parents, and anyone working with people would benefit from recognizing this and allowing all personalities to shine in their own way and at their own pace.

I'll take a lamplit desk over a Broadway spotlight any day. I like small groups and quiet places.  It takes me a long time to adjust to changes--don't ask me out to lunch five minutes before noon.  I'm thin-skinned (literally! See page 141).  I hate being the center of attention (perhaps due to thinking a wild animal is stalking me. See page 107).  But I'm also very creative.  I study things intensely and thoroughly.  I have a strong sense of empathy (although this often keeps me from certain situations because I am afraid of an inappropriate outburst of emotion.  It's never good when I'm crying and the person who is hurting isn't.)  I'm cautious, and I look before I leap.  I have an incredible amount of focus when I'm doing something I enjoy (never mind that I was late picking up two of my kids from school because I was writing this). I overuse parenthetical statements...

I firmly believe in the advice to "seek first to understand, then to be understood."  It's an effective way to communicate, and people are so interesting--I want to understand them.  But, wow, does it feel good to be understood!  I am who I am, and that's okay!  Maybe I should dig up that "Shy Shelley" award and place it proudly on my fridge. And maybe learn French...


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Classics Spin #2

I missed out on Classics Spin #1, but this sounds like too much fun to pass up. Here are the instructions from The Classics Club Blog:
  • Go to your blog. 
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List
  • Try to challenge yourself: list five you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.) 
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog by next Monday. 
  • Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1-20. Go to the list of twenty books you posted, and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce. 
  • The challenge is to read that book by July 1, even if it’s an icky one you dread reading! (No fair not listing any scary ones!) 
I've switched up the categories a little bit, adding five really long choices, and five shorter ones:

Five I'm hesitant to read/ am not sure if I will like:
1. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
2. The Europeans by Henry James
3. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
4. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
5. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

Five I can't wait to read:
6. Possession by A.S. Byatt ***The Winner!****
7. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
8. Germinal by Emile Zola
9. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
10. One of Ours by Willa Cather

Hefty books:
11. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
12. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
13. Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
14. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
15. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Books light enough to carry in my purse:
16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
17. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
18. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
19. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
20. The Reef by Edith Wharton

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Glass Castle

Author: Jeanette Walls
Published: 2005
Length: 288 pages
Source: Local Library

Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4.5/5

First Line: I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

I've avoided reading this for a while because I was afraid of it. From other reviews it sounded pretty gritty and traumatizing. I also don't really like memoirs.  I'm too mistrustful of memoir writers. I feel like they're lying to me or embellishing the facts or making themselves into heroes. I probably would have left it alone forever if it had not been chosen for a book club. It turns out that I either trust Jeannette Walls, or she told such a gripping account that I forgot to doubt her.

I suppose it's funny that I should be so believing of such an unimaginable account. It would make sense for me to insert here a few examples of the appalling situations Jeannette and her siblings find themselves in as a result of the unconventional lifestyle of their parents. But I figure those who have read it already know. And for those who haven't, I don't want to lessen the impact by sharing bits and pieces out of their proper order.  Walls unfolds her story perfectly, and the reader grows and learns and survives with her.

Walls withholds judgment of her parents in such a way that made me as reader need to compensate for it.  I was ANGRY with her parents.  Very angry.  I believe that Jeanette's parents threw off the burdens of parenthood and let them fall on the shoulders of their children.  They did this in the name of teaching their children self-sufficiency.  I'm all for teaching my children to be independent.  But in this case, it only served as a justification for their extreme selfishness.

Am I too harsh?  I wasn't able to go to the book club, so I don't know if others felt the same.  Both parents were clearly mentally ill.  Alcoholism and depression smothered much of what was positive about their approach to raising kids.  But I can't bring myself to excuse some of the things they did or allowed to happen. Am I a perfect mother myself?  Absolutely not.  But I have to say that reading this book puts my ugly moments into perspective.

Thankfully, Jeanette and her siblings were molded into strong and successful adults despite and/or as a result of their experiences.  What makes the memoir bearable is the survival story of these remarkable children. One thing I've learned about parenting is that one and one don't always equal two.  The equation is complex with too many variables to predict what the product will be.  But we still try to do our best with the tools we have, and love our children the best way we know how.  I suppose in some way, that's what the Walls parents did.  I'm just grateful that I have at least a few more "tools" than they had--food, shelter, and mental health (most of the time, anyway.)

On a somewhat related note--Happy Mother's Day!

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Literary Events of Early Summer

I think I'm blogging again. I'm reasonably sure enough that I am declaring my intent to participate in a couple of "events" in June:

Sign up at Roof Beam Reader.

I'm planning to read On the Road by Jack Kerouac for the simple reason that its been collecting dust on a shelf for a while now. 


Sign up at Délaissé.

There were several buttons to choose from.  I chose the above because of the smoldering look this guy was giving me...
I'm not sure what it says about me that I don't have any 18th Century English Lit on my shelf.  I have Clarissa downloaded onto my phone.  I will finish it someday, but not this summer.  If someone asks me next September, "So what did you do over the summer?" I really don't want the answer to be, "I read Clarissa."  If I could answer, "I read Clarissa on the beach in Hawaii," maybe I would consider it.  More realistic choices for me are:

I'm beyond excited!  Now I just need to find a readalong to attach myself to.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hello and Help!

I have been missing a couple of things very much lately.

One of those things is blogging.  What was supposed to be a two-to-three month break has stretched into almost a year.  Going back to school has been more challenging than I thought it would be.  There's a lot of reading and writing.  Which sounds a lot like having a book blog.  But it's not.

The other thing I've been missing is this guy:

I know I can watch Doctor Who on Netflix anytime.  And I know he's in a whole lot of other stuff. And Matt Smith is pretty good. But nothing is quite like David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Needless to say, I'm excited about 50th Anniversary happenings. 

So I was already missing these things, and then I decided to check out some blogs I haven't visited in a while, and Google Reader is GONE.  I heard that it was going to die somewhere in between studying the French Revolution and reading the Communist Manifesto, but I guess I didn't take note of the date. 

Dear Readers, (if any of you are even subscribed to me, I don't even know!!!), how do you read blogs without Google Reader? I'm lost. I think I missed the opportunity to import my feeds to another reader.  I would research this problem but really right now I'm supposed to be studying for a mid-term and writing a paper. (Yes, the fact that I'm even posting anything at all right now is just one form of procrastination I'm resorting to.  Pinterest may seriously endanger my GPA.)  Any recommendations on a new reader or a how to read other blogs in an organized way?

P.S. - Thank you Book Blogging Community At Large.  Without your many recommendations, I may have never even watched Doctor Who, and my universe would be a much smaller place.

P.P.S. - I keep making the image of David Tennant larger.  Did I overdo it?

***Update:  I discovered the cutoff date is July 31, and I used Google Takeout to download stuff and then I think I take that and upload it somewhere.  So I'm still looking for recommendations on readers. And still not doing my schoolwork. ***