Sunday, September 30, 2007
Author: E.M. Forster
Date Finished: Sept 30, 2007
I read this book for the Decades challenge (1910) and every single minute of it was pure struggle. OK, not every minute, but mostly every minute. This book is only 236 pages, but it took me two weeks to finish!!
The story is about Margaret Schlegel who befriends her neighbor Mrs. Wilcox. When Mrs. Wilcox passes away, she leaves her home, Howards End, to Margaret--although Margaret is unaware of the bequest. After the death, Margaret then befriends Mr. Wilcox. A strange type of courting pursues and they eventually become engaged. On the sidelines of the story are Wilcox's extravagant and snotty children and Margaret's aloof sister Helen. In the side-sidelines are the Basts, Leonard and Jacky, who are of a lower class but become entwined in the story. Its difficult to give a summary without giving away any of the plot, so that's basically it. Most of the story is wrapped up in class issues, the Mr. Wilcox and Margaret's courtship, and family scandals.
I've recently heard good things about Forster, particularly his A Passage to India but this is quite possibly the worst book I have read all year. Granted, I did just start a new job on Monday, but I was struggling even before my time got cut in half. And I'm not even really sure why I disliked this book so much! The character development wasn't half bad, but I found the writing a little confusing and very anticlimactic. The last couple of chapters were the best in the book, but I thought the writing was boring and without passion. I would not recommend this book and if you are reading it or plan to, I hope you have much better luck than I did. :(
Monday, September 24, 2007
Author: John Steinbeck
Date Finished: September 22, 2007
In the 1960's, John Steinbeck felt as though he lost his connection with America, so he set out with is French Poodle, Charley, to rediscover it. He basically traveled in a great loop around the country - beginning with New York across to Washington, down the coast, and through the southern states. Since I have had a bad case of wanderlust recently, this book was great for me!
Along the way, Steinbeck tried to make friends with the locals to get a feel for their particular locale. He did not throw around his name, but he did use Charley shamelessly to get his foot in the door. Steinbeck's narrative was very endearing to me. I felt he was really honest in what he wanted to say. There were some places that he loved, but others that really irritated him. Overall, at the end of the trip, I'm not sure that he was able to reconnect with America because the country itself is so unconnected in many ways, and I think Steinbeck really mourned this.
In many ways this book is outdated, but I felt that this was some of the charm in the book. I loved how Steinbeck described trailer parks with utter astonishment, it was humorous to hear him talk about traffic in the metropolitan cities and the vastness of Texas (he apparently did not like the state), and he spoke about civil rights issues with passion and fury. I would recommend this book - it is light and other than his tendency at the beginning to skip around from subject to subject every paragraph it was a solid read.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Date Finished: September 16, 2007
I really enjoyed this book, but I didn't love it like I keep hearing most people say they do. But I still really enjoyed it. At the beginning of the book, Liz explains her situation - a rather desperate situation. Her life seems to be falling apart all around her so she pleads with God to help her figure things out. What she decides is to travel for a year: first to Italy where she can learn the beautiful language and search for pleasure; second to India where she will live in an Ashram and devote her time to mediation; and finally to Indonesia (Bali, specifically where she will try to balance the pleasure and spiritual lives she lived in Italy and India.
What I really liked about this book was Liz's frank attitude. At times she reminded me of my old hero Bridget Jones - one starts to wonder, seriously? how could things get any worse but she also handles her situations with grace and humor. Her narrative was very personal and I found her humanness very easy to relate to. I found myself becoming Liz's personal cheerleader - wanting her to succeed in her searches and to find the happiness she so deserves. Honestly, I'm not sure what it is about the book that is keeping me from screaming I LOVE IT I LOVE IT, but there is just something...
I would recommend this book to a number of different people. I actually dropped it off at Mom's house last night for her to read when she has finished with the HP series - and usually I base my recommendations on whether or not I would pass the book on to Mom. There is just something about Liz that makes you want to really like her. But she isn't perfect--she has her really ugly moments, which to me makes her all that much more likable.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Author: Azar Nafisi
Date Finished: September 13, 2007
I'm wondering if I should give this one another day or two to soak in because I feel myself wavering between this rating and a higher one, but I think that is partially because I really loved the ending of this memoir. I'm not even sure what I accomplish with my ratings because I usually end up changing my mind later on anyway. It will be interesting to see at the end of the year how all the books stack up to what I initially thought of them.
Enough rambling! Reading Lolita in Tehran is the story of an expelled literature professor who takes in seven students for Thursday-morning discussions of the works of fiction they all love. The book is divided into four sections: Lolita, Gatsby, James, Austen. Nafisi's memoirs go beyond these teaching sessions, though. It seems to me as though her books is two-fold. First, she talks about literature - mainly in the context and with connection to the women's lives in Tehran. Second, Nafisi talks about the events and their effects on her and her teaching. Let me try it this way: in the first and last section, Nafisi focuses on her book group with the seven students. But then she regresses in the middle to sections to earlier events (about two decades) working her way back up to the book group. While in their own rights I appreciated all of these sections, the organization was confusing. We got to know these girls and their discussion of Lolita but then lose them except for vague references throughout the middle sections until they return in the final section. The point is, sometimes it felt as though Nafisi was trying to take on too much with this book OR that she wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go with it.
For me the best parts of the book were when she was discussing the characters (of the book, not the fictional characters). Because I haven't read any of the James works discussed or Lolita, sometimes I felt as though I was reading literary criticism with a deaf ear--not really being able to understand the full meaning of Nafisi's words. The heart of the book was the Islamic Republic and how it shaped the lives of these women, but also how the fiction shaped their lives in different ways. I don't usually include quotes, but I found this one particularly striking:
"I said to him I wanted to write a book in which I would thank the Islamic Republic for all the things it had taught me--to love Austen and James and ice cream and freedom. I said, Right now it is not enough to appreciate all this; I want to write about it. He said, You will not be able to write about Austen without writing about us, about this place where you rediscovered Austen. You will not be able to put us out of your head. Try, you'll see. The Austen you know is so irretrievably linked to this place, this land and these trees...." (338).
And I love that quote because literature/fiction/reading is such a personal thing - something that is tied to our experiences, emotions, thoughts. But at the same time, literature/fiction/reading is also a social experience - sharing, collaborating, exploring. And I think that this is what Reading Lolita in Tehran tries to express. I would recommend this book with a little hesitation. I think some of it may be lost one those who don't have any experience with literary criticism or who haven't read the texts. Sometimes the reading was tedious, but the overall experience of the book was a good one. OH YA!! This is my final Non-Fiction Five. Whooopppeee!
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Today, I read "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Black Cat," and "The Tell-Tale Heart." The first and third I have read several times, so it was fun to revisit, but I had never read "The Black Cat" before. Perhaps I'm a little numb to the ones that I'm so familiar with, but yikes!! This one really creeped me out.
Author: Diane Setterfield
Date Finished: September 8, 2007
This one is a popular choice for several challenges, and I picked it for the Something About Me Challenge. After hearing great things, I was excited to take this one as my vacation book to Alaska. While I didn't get much reading done on the trip, I was able to finish the rest of it during our 5 hour airport-wait and 5 hour plane ride home from Seattle yesterday.
I really enjoyed this book. The frame story is of Margaret Lea, an avid reader and amateur biographer, who is commissioned by the prolific novelist Vida Winter to write her biography. Margaret doesn't quit understand Winter's choice as she has never picked up one of her books (she prefers the Gothic classics), but she agrees to write Winter's biography under a number of conditions. The frame story was OK--Margaret bothered me in a number of ways and I wanted to scream at her several times "Get over yourself!!" But I didn't. :)
The story within the story, though, is what captured me. I really don't know what to say about this story without giving anything away, but it is a dark story, haunting, gothic, tragic, and gripping. As Winter tells her tale, Margaret also begins to piece bits of the story together through her own means, and she, as I did, becomes enraptured in the ghostly tale. I loved that I couldn't quite figure this one out until the moment of revelation. You know its there, something fishy, I turned every scenario over and over in my head, but... When the moment did come, I had to flip back and re-read entire passages just to see the puzzle pieces fit. Love it! And can I just say that I loved the references to Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Willkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, etc etc. I would definitely recommend this one!
Saturday, September 8, 2007
When I asked Scott if he had anything to add to the blog, he said, "It was good." Again, that's why I'm writing this.
Alaska was amazing. Why Alaska? Scott and I both discussed a trip we would like to take before we have kids. Not that we won't travel when we do have kids, but things that we wanted to do on our own first. Scott said he wanted to go to Alaska; I said Europe. The Alaska trip just sort of fell into our laps (like any great trip does). I am thrilled that we went, but some things that we learned:
September is the end of the season. It rains a lot more, the wildlife is beginning to hide, and the weather is a lot cooler.
Princess Cruises (at least this one) are meant for older people. While we had fun, the activities were focused on an older crowd (bridge, shuffleboard, bingo). During the day on ship, there really wasn't a whole lot for us to do.
Would I recommend a cruise to Alaska? Certainly! Scott would disagree, but I think it is the best way to see the towns that we did. Unless we decided to fish or do some of the more adventurous excursions, the time that we spent in each town (except Victoria) was enough for us. Next time, though, I think we will go more to the mainland of Alaska, which will be a totally different experience. BUT, that's why I love traveling. Each experience is unique and totally our own.
Friday, September 7, 2007
After being on ship most of the day, we docked in Victoria around 6:30 pm. I was so excited for this port because I've never been to the Western part of Canada and it was Scott's first time to Canada (well, except our Skagway/Yukon trip). When we docked, we hurried off ship since the sun was setting and took a bus ($6 roundtrip per person) to the downtown area. Driving through the parks with all of the gorgeous flowers made me really homesick for Toronto. I must have told Scott a million times, "I really really want us to go to Toronto soon."
As soon as we got off the bus, (which let us off right in front of the beautiful Royal Empress Hotel--which Scott is standing in front of above), we took some quick pictures of the hotel and government buildings and began looking for a place for fish and chips. A very kind lady saw me furiously flipping through my guidebook and Scott looking lost and clueless with his silly little chest strapped backpack and gave us a suggestion for the Blackfish Cafe on the harbor. We walked there and had delicious fish and chips.
After leaving the cafe, we weren't really sure what to do and the sun was already rapidly setting. I had reviewed my guidebook and had a general idea of where to go, but to be completely honest there were some people on the streets that made me a little nervous about pulling out my book to get a better idea of where to go next.
So, we continued to walk, went into a outfitter store, and made our way safely back to Government Street. There were several really cute shops and stores, but the best part was seeing this spectacular street band. I found the below clip on Youtube to give you an idea of what it was like (yes, this is the same band we saw at the same place in Victoria). Everyone was dancing and having such a great time. After that I picked up my smarties (my favorite childhood candy)and made our way back to the bus. I wish we had more daylight time in Victoria.
Unfortunately I didn't get many pictures of Victoria--none of Scott and I together and none of me at all. As you can tell from the pictures, I have about a million of Scott and a handful of the two of us and maybe a fraction of a fraction of just me. :) I think this picture below, though, was Scott's favorite part of being in Canada:
I love my great big kid of a husband. Note the chest strap. :)
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
We overslept a little (which is weird because every other morning we've been up at 6:00 am), but I think we got up in time to see the best part. The picture to the left is a peek at one of the glaciers. We were able to cruise fairly close, but because we were on one big honkin' ship, we weren't able to go as close we I would have liked. The scenery was breathtaking, though. The day was a little overcast and the clouds were low in the mountain, but the water was glassy and calm.
Because Tracy Arm is an inlet, we were right in between the mountains. When we first walked out onto the deck in the morning, the rightside picture was our view. We didn't see any wildlife while we were there--as you can see the mountains are pretty barren. All of these mountains were carved by these glaciers at one point. Once the glacier has retreated or made its way down the mountain, vegetation cannot grow on the rocks for quite some time. Finally a moss will grow on the rocks and then smaller shrubs and plants and finally larger Sitka Spruce trees.
After enjoying the scenery, we grabbed a little breakfast and then spent most of the day playing cards or reading. We did play trivia with a bunch of older people. We faired pretty well, but the group whose card we were checking cheated and won. I was really mad about it, but I guess if that makes them feel better about themselves...whatever. :)
That night we went to our dinner at Satorini's instead of the other dining room. The boat was rocking so badly that while we were getting reading in the room something was banging around in the room next to us/above us. I was feeling pretty shaky at dinner--plus I had developed a sore throat from being out in the cold in Skagway and Tracy Arm. Dinner was fabulous, though. It was about 16 courses of Italian food. I can't believe all of the food they brought out to us.
I can't believe our trip is half over!
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Once we got to Yukon, we stopped at a little tourist pit (Caribou Crossing) where we had a hot lunch and roamed the museum. I got my bell and Scott got mad at me when I asked the cashier what the exchange rate was and when she told me it was even and I proclaimed, "That Sucks!" Well, it does! :) There was a little museum on site with a bunch of stuffed animals native to the region and outside the museum if one was so inclined he could ride on a dogsled (sans snow). There was also a petting zoo (which we got enough of in Gouldbusk on the ranch), but there was a horse who would not leave Scott alone. He kept nudging up to Scott trying to finagle some food out of him. Kind of sad, but made a great picture!
Monday, September 3, 2007
Upon returning to Juneau from the glacier, we walked around town a little before hopping back on the cruise ship. The downtown area of Juneau is very compact, which is great because our feet were very sore from hiking (or as I like to say, My dogs were barking!).
We walked up the strip of shops, got a drink at the Red Dog Saloon (where we left impatiently before the show ended. Bah!), and made our way to the government buildings on the hill. The capital building was not very spectacular (which is the nicest way I can put it), but we saw some awesome totem poles, an old church (which was originally built in Russia and shipped over), and quaint little houses snuggled up to the mountain slope.
Definitely a great day in Juneau.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
After missing dinner in the dining room last night, I was determined not to miss breakfast. With the time change, this wasn't a problem and no buffet food for us! After a lovely, quiet breakfast Scott and I went...where? To the Casino! Of course he lost all of his money, but I walked away with $10 more, so I was pretty proud. Its not every day that you can go gamble at 9:00 in the morning!
After hitting the slots, we made our way to dance lessons where we learned out to Merengue. So, we were a little late and had to dance in between the theatre seats because there was no room on stage, but I like to think that this is now what we look like: (that's right, you've got to be the tiger)
Coincidentally, the people we dined with were from Plano which I thought was incredibly random (Plano is the town where I grew up). They were nice enough; they were two couples traveling together and one of the wives kept trash talking the other husband (not hers). It was very strange and often awkward. Oh well.
Author: Daniel Wallace
Date Finished: September 1, 2007
This doesn't happen very often, but I prefer the movie to this book. This is the story of Edward Bloom who is on his deathbed after living a full and unusual life. His son, William retells the stories of Edward's life (well, mostly. Some are prefaced with "they say" not really knowing who "they" are). For me this was a little reminiscent of my freshman comp days when I would ask my students, WHO ARE THEY?? They got really tired of me asking that over and over, but it is something that really bothers me!
Anyway, the stories are fantastical - from the woman in the water, to the giant that Edward befriends, the witch with the glass eye, and Edward's purchase of the town of Specter. The bigger story, though, is that of Edward and William's relationship as father and son. At the beginning of the book the relationship is sparse, but as William gets deeper and deeper in the humanity of Edward, their relationship forges in real life. The biggest story is of Edward himself and his evolution of a character beyond the realm of humanness.
The movie really is beautiful (as are most Tim Burton flicks). I missed the circus scenes which are only in the movie and the dynamics of Jenny and Edward which are only touched upon. The movie was magical, and I think reading the book after made the tales seem less magical. The ending of the book, however, was more powerful for some reason than the movie--which for me is usually how it goes. Redemption at last...