Sunday, November 25, 2007
Author: John Irving
Date Finished: November 25, 2007
Not really quite sure how to summarize this one. Or explain my feelings. I read this one for the Decades and Book Awards Challenges and put it off, put it off, put it off. I did like this book--a lot, but I didn't really know what to expect because I had heard so much praise for it. The best way that I can describe it is that it is like Tom Robbins but less blatantly metaphorical and less shocking. Although there is a lot of shock value in this book.
And sex. In fact it had a lot of the same sexual themes as Flesh and Blood (minus AIDS) although Irving is in many ways a little more subtle in his terminology and descriptions than Cunningham. The book begins with Jenny, a nurse taking care of patients during the war--particularly a Technical Sergeant Garp whom she has sex with in order to conceive a child (because she doesn't want to get married or have a baby the "conventional" way). The book is about her son, Garp, from the time he is a baby until...well...his whole life. :) The book discusses the intricacies of his marriage and affairs, his relationship with his children, the heartaches and joys of his life.
I really liked this book--but it was tedious at times. Garp is a writer in the novel, which is a major part of the plot. Little snippets of his works are included within the book but I found myself getting bogged down in these stories. They didn't take up a great length of the book, but I found them distracting and poorly written (which I guess maybe they were supposed to be?). Another thing that I found distracting was the narrator; the narrator is omniscient and mostly just a narrator, but sometimes he made his presence a little too noticeable. I'm not sure how to explain this except that the narration sometimes felt contrived. Not like the narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being who I thought was entertaining and endearing. Overall a good book and won't be my last Irving--but maybe I'll read a little Robbins first.
Author: Anita Shreve
Date Finished: November 23, 2007
This is my fourth Shreve book and my favorite so far (coming in second is The Weight of Water). I picked this up at a booksale and read it for Something About Me. While I like Shreve's writing, for some reason I wouldn't buy her books at a regular book store. I always seem to pass her up for Piccoult.
Anyway, this book is about a number of characters who are drastically different from one another but manage to come together for a common cause. The book takes place during 1929-1930--the first difference from the other books I've read which are more contemporary--and follows each of the main characters instead of a select two or so--which is also different. Among the characters there is Honora, the naive young wife of Sexton who is not always entirely honest. McDermott, a lower class factory worker who takes in the young Alphonse under his wing. And Vivian, an upperclass socialite who gets mixed in with the others at first just for something to do.
The social setting is obviously the depression, but also the factory mills of the Northeast where many of the characters work. The conditions are abysmal and the workers want change and a better life when that doesn't seem to be a possibility for anyone. Other than required non-fiction reading in college, I haven't really read anything about this specific time period and while the book was more about the lives of the characters rather than the politics (although they were present), the topics made the book an interesting read. I read this while at the in-laws for Thanksgiving and sped right through it. I would recommend it as a quick, light read--especially if you enjoy Shreve's books.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Author: Michael Cunningham
Date Finished: November 14, 2007
I picked this book up a few years ago at a booksale after reading The Hours. While I didn't like this book as much as I did The Hours, I thought it was a good book. The book follows the Stassos family through three generations beginning with Constantine the Greek immigrant patriarch and ending with his grandchildren almost 100 years later. Hmmm, sounds like Middlesex? Perhaps--most of the story revolved around the sex lives of the characters--first the parents Constantine and Mary then their children Susan, Billy, and Zoe and finally the grandchildren. The difference? Cunningham does not tackle delicate subjects with quite as much grace as Eugenides does. Sometimes the topics were brash, but they were also written brashly.
Nevertheless, Cunningham writes characters beautifully. This is one of the things that I really admired about The Hours, and to a lesser degree this book. Perhaps because of the time-span of the book or simply what the characters go through during the book, I felt myself being drawn into their stories and becoming invested in what happened to them even though I didn't necessarily feel sympathetic to any of them until the last third of the novel. Would I recommend it? Umm...not the best book I've read this year, but I also felt really compelled to finish it all the way through. I even shed a few tears at the end of the book. Take it on at your own risk. Definitely start with The Hours, though.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Author: Jane Austen
Date Finished: November 2007
I read this for Joy's 2nds Challenge because I read Pride and Prejudice years ago...ironically I will be re-reading P&P later this month/next month for Something About Me Challenge. It wasn't until a co-worker asked for a "fluff" recommendation that I realized that most of the books I've been reading lately have been classics, but I've been enjoying them in a very strange, almost sadistic way. :)
Northanger Abbey is about Catherine who is not your typical heroine. She leaves her home to stay in Bath with some friends, the Allens, and she becomes entangled with Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor. After befriending Catherine, the Tilneys invite her to stay with them at Northanger Abbey, an old Gothic castle. Can Catherine find love at Northanger Abbey; did her love interest's father commit a horrible crime at Northanger Abbey; does Catherine come into the type of life that she deserves? These are some of the questions that are answered in the second half of the book.
While I enjoyed the book, it wasn't as developed as I would have liked. It has been so long since I've read Pride and Prejudice that I don't have much to compare with, but the depth didn't seem to be there--not only with the characters, but with the plot as well. There were parts, especially near the end, where the connections were never really clear (why was Catherine asked to leave Northanger Abbey?). I thought it was a fun book, and I loved how Catherine has a tendency to overanalyze situations because I do the same thing. I'll be really interested in reading more of Austen's books--especially P&P in a few weeks.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
Date Finished: November 3, 2007
"William Wilson" - This is the story of William Wilson who attends a school where there is another boy with the same name and birthdate. The two become more and more similar until finally Wilson sneaks upon his "other" and realizes they have the same face. He leaves for another school and begins acting rebelliously. His double always appears at these moments, but under a disguise. Finally, Wilson pulls his double aside at a ball and stabs him; he has really stabbed himself and dies.
Author: Edith Wharton
Date Finished: October 29, 2007
I chose to read this book because a) its been sitting on my shelf for years and b) for the Decades and Book Awards challenges. There were some parts of the plot that I really liked, but mostly it was enjoyable reading about the social obligations of New York's uppercrust in the late 1800s. But overall, I was a little disappointed in the actual story. Blah!
The story follows Newland Archer who is engaged to May, a beautiful and naive young woman; both Newland and May are members of New York's upper class where strict social protocol dictates much of their lives. Everything is going well for Newland and May and their engagement, but the arrival of Ellen, May's intriguing cousin who is recently separated from her European husband, shakes up Newland's emotions. Ellen is everything that May is not--particularly "free"--and Newland finds himself falling for her. The remainder of the story deals with whether Newland will settle for a safe and predictable life with May or leave her to be with Ellen.
There were a few parts of the book that I found really confusing--it seemed as though Wharton was more subtle in discussing some of the scandals that occurred in the book and because the social conventions of the 1870s are lost on me I didn't always quite follow what was going on. This was a pitfall of the book for me. What I missed I was able to supplement with secondary reading, but too much was lost in "translation". I would recommend the book for a study of social conventions, but that is really the only part of this book that truly appealed to me.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Scott, Chaz, and I were the first ones up in the morning, so we started cooking breakfast. Truthfully it took a little while for Chaz and Scott to get the fire started (weren't you guys in boy scouts??), but soon we were on our way! We cooked eggs, pancakes, bacon, and sausage. It was a little tough to get everything organized and cooking the way we wanted it, but it turned out to be a delicious breakfast!
After waking up the troops (JOE MARKS UP, EVERYONE UP!) and finishing breakfast, we headed off on a hike. We couldn't have asked for better weather. The Texas climate is pretty sketchy, so who would have thought that we would an 80 degree day? Eisenhower park is on the edge of Lake Texoma which straddles between Texas and Oklahoma. The shores are relatively rocky, but with the leaves all different colors the hike was beautiful.
We walked through a little bit of forest, through some grassy fields, and down the rocks to the beach. Being the daredevils that they are, Chaz, Scott, and Nick climbed down the rocks to look over into the lake. We hiked for about 2 hours until we were pooped and ready for an afternoon nap. But before that, you know we did our fair share of singing obnoxiously while walking back to the campsite. Some things don't change. :)
While Mom, Brooke, and I relaxed a little, Chaz, Scott, and Nick went on a hunt for some firewood and a deck of cards. The rest of the afternoon was pretty relaxing--as the girls read and napped and the boys played with the fire. So typical!
After being well-rested, it was time to eat (again!). I pre-cooked chili for taco salad for an easy dinner, so the pot went onto the fire and the cooking began! The taco salad was delicious (if I say so myself), and for dessert we had S'Mores. We talked and told stories and joked around by the campfire, but the evening wouldn't have been complete without a little experimentation.
I think I can say with some certainty that one of the highlights of the evening was cooking Nick's Halloween popcorn on the fire. It took a little while to figure out the best way to cook it, but once we figured it out we ate some of the best popcorn ever!
Friday, November 2, 2007
Sleeping in a tent was quite the experience, but the sleeping bag was warm and the air mattress (um...what did you expect??) was pretty comfortable. I kept hearing drops on the tent during the night, so I was afraid that it was raining and everything would be wet in the morning, but it was just the leaves dropping on the tent. We picked the perfect weekend to go camping with all of the leaves changing colors and the weather not too hot or too cold.