Friday, February 29, 2008

The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin

Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Date Finished: February 29, 2008
Yearly Count: 10
Pages: 301
Rating: 1.5/5

I'm writing this post with the awareness that I cannot do this book justice--mostly because I didn't understand it. Great way to start, huh? Science fiction is a genre I consciously steer clear of, and perhaps with some more exposure it is a genre that I can learn to appreciate. Certainly I can appreciate many aspects of this book, but overall my experience with this book was not an enjoyable one.

I'll start with the back cover of the book (I realize this is SO lame):

"On the planet Winter, there is no gender. The Gethenians can become male or female during each mating cycle, and this is something that other cultures find incomprehensible.

The Ekumen of Known Worlds has sent an ethnologist to study the inhabitants of this forbidding, ice-bound world. At first he [Genly Ai] finds his subjects difficult and off-putting, with their elaborate social systems and alien minds. But in the course of a long journey across the ice he reaches and understanding with one of the Gethenians [Estraven]--it might even be a kind of love..."

What I liked about The Left Hand of Darkness: Le Guin's language is exquisite. After coming off of Water for Elephants, I really appreciated the insight and careful look at humankind through Le Guin's thoughtful and strong command of her storytelling. One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Le Guin explores the inherent roles of men and women, especially as the Gethenians are not necessarily either man or woman. There is a poignant section (my pages 234-5) that discuss the differences between men and women and the difficulties that Ai has in verbalizing the different characteristics. I believe this book would have been best read (for me) in a college course where I could have teased out some of the themes (gender, societal evolution, crime and punishment, etc).

What I struggled with: While the book had many very interesting sections (namely the section where Ai is in prison and then when he and Estraven make their journey back to Karhide together), the book became very dense in other parts. Le Guin provides a detailed mythology of the planet and the different cultures that I often got lost in; the language (specific words) and culture were difficult for me to get past because they are utterly foreign. Also, the book is a sort of compilation of different artifacts (some myth, some from Estraven's journal, some from Ai's journal, etc); because of the different points of view and the lack of voice, I had a difficult time discerning who's point of view I was reading. This was a difficult read for me, but I'm glad I finished and can move on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Random Book Thoughts

I'm still reading The Left Hand of Darkness and feeling very impatient with the book and my reading progress this month. Hopefully I'll finish the book by Friday, but that will make 4 (mostly short) reads for February. And that's fine. I'm just impatient. Ha! Ohhh, and I don't even want to get started on my progress on Eragon (audiobook). I'm on disc 5/14. Bleh.

But in other booking news, I received two books this week! Joy was so kind to send me a copy of 'Tis after reading my review of Angela's Ashes a few weeks ago. I was so excited to receive the book! And then, I also received my prize book, Half of a Yellow Sun, from Michelle for the Decades Challenge. Thank you so much ladies for making my week!!In addition to those books, I also discovered some abandoned books in my in-laws storage. We were putting some equipment in the shop a few weeks ago and there in the dust and dirt and who-knows what else was a collection of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. I already have a pretty nice set of Dickens, so I asked hubby to hint to mom-in-law that if the books are just going to waste away in the shop and be eaten by silverfish, I would be happy to give the books a home. Hubby was down in Coleman a few days later and brought me back ALL of the books. Not sure what I'll do with the Dickens yet, but I'm thrilled with the Mark Twain set (all in all its a medium U-Haul box two-thirds full of books!!). Hmmm...need a new bookshelf. :)

And finally, I discovered Google Reader this week. Where the heck have I been??? I love reading everyone's blog, but sometimes I get bogged down with life and find it difficult to keep up. But, now all I have to do is look at my Google Reader and see who has new posts! I'm not sure if I'm any quicker at reading everything, but I feel so much more in the know. Ha ha! I guess it's the little things. Thanks Google, for making my life so much easier!

Hope everyone is having a great week so far!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Date Finished: February 19, 2008
Yearly Count: 9
Pages: 331
Rating: 3/5

I really really wanted to like this one, especially because its the first time my sister and I read the same book at the same time. She picked it out and urged me to move it up on my reading list. So, I feel awful that she loved it and I didn't--especially because she enjoyed it for the same reasons that I didnt--mostly the writing.

Water for Elephants is the story of an elderly man, Jacob, who reflects upon his time as the animal vet at a struggling circus during the depression era. He joins the circus after a disasterous moment in his personal life when he has nowhere else to turn. He is taken under the wing of several people in the circus, including August who is the animal handler and his wife Marlena who performs with the animals. As the prologue details, the story is about a murder that still haunts Jacob--a murder that he has never discussed with anyone.

The prologue certainly gained my attention, but unfortunately my attention began to wane quickly thereafter. The story was fine, but it wasn't gripping or riveting or compelling--any of the adjectives that have been used to describe the book. Everything juicy was in the first 5 pages of the book--which also meant that the reader knows what is going to happen at the end.

Basically the novel was utterly anticlimatic. I didn't feel that the characters were well developed--many of the supporting characters blended together--and the writing was sparse and bland. Urg, I hate writing stuff like this about a book!! After finishing the book, I read some of the author's interview in the back of the book and noticed that she has done a lot of technical writing, and it fit with her style. I expect writing to be rich (not over the top!), but even the dialogue (of which there is a lot) was without feeling and predictable.

Would I recommend it? It's a pleasant enough story, certainly very easy to read, but there's not a whole lot there. But I didn't dislike it--just didn't love it. The pictures are fabulous and I enjoyed reading about the circus, especially in the 1930s when times were tough, people got thrown off the train, the workers went weeks without pay, and prohibition and bootleg whiskey were in full swing. And who could forget Rosie, the mysterious and loveable elephant. Pick it up if you're looking for something light. And after browsing Amazon reviews, I'm definitely in the minority with this one.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Non-Fiction Meme

Gautami at My Own Little Reading Room has come up with a non-fiction meme and tagged CJ at My Year of Reading Seriously, and CJ urged me to do this one. Without further ado:

a) What issues/topic interests you most--non-fiction, i.e, cooking, knitting, stitching, there are infinite topics that has nothing to do with novels?

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction and what little I do read still feels novelish (memoir, autobiography, biography). I am interested in lots of different topics, but I usually just search the web. My coworkers joke around that all they have to do is express a little interest in a topic and a few minutes later I will come back to give them a full report of the topic. What can I say, I’m curious. But not curious enough to read a whole book—not now anyway.

However, I do own and have read a lot of non-fiction/essay books dealing with writing, teaching, and other literature/history related topics. One of the most interesting books I had to read for grad school was Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Early Speech in Early New England (link to amazon).

b) Would you like to review books concerning those topics?

Except for the odd memoir or biography that I’ve read since blogging, all the reviewing I’ve done has been for school.

c) Would you like to be paid or do it as interest or hobby?

What? Get paid? As far as I understand, if you get your review published in academia, it isn’t a paid thing but more of a CV thing…

d) Would you recommend those to your friends and how?

I am guessing that the books referred to above that I own are only interesting to those interested in teaching, writing, literature theory (e.g. Post-Colonialism, Post-Modernism, etc), and the history of literature/language/etc in general. And most of the writing books are based on theory (for teaching writing) or technical writing rather than fiction writing. Readers of my blog: believe it or not, I do know how to write decently. I tend to get a little lazy, though, when blogging. Ha ha!

e) If you have already done something like this, link it to your post.

I only have paper reviews written for school (well, they are saved on my computer but not in blog posts).

f) Please don’t forget to link back here or whoever tags you.

CJ urged me to do this, but I wasn’t officially tagged—so, I’m not officially tagging anyone. Easy as pie!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nine Stories - JD Salinger and other Miscellany

Title: Nine Stories
Author: JD Salinger
Date Finished: Feb 13, 2008
Yearly Count: 8
Pages: 198
Rating: 2.5/5

I feel like I should probably re-read this volume again to better grasp these stories. This slim collection includes:
-A Perfect Day for Bananafish
-Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut
-Just Before the War with the Eskimos
-The Laughing Man
-Down at the Dinghy
-For Esme – with Love and Squalor
-Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes
-De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period

The stories are easy to read – all short, the language accessible and smoothly written – but at the end of each story I was left with the feeling of wanting either a decent explanation or at least some closure to the story. I like short stories—and I’ve read a fair amount. I know that a lot finish with a moment of irony or some type of twist, but most of the time I can at least make sense of the ending. With these stories, I always wanted to scream “What???” From searching around the blogosphere, I have found that people seem to really like these short tales, but perhaps I missed something. Please enlighten me!!!

On another note, I am testing out my first audiobook - Eragon. I am very easily distracted. When at work I will start a number of projects so I can work on a little bit here and there otherwise I can’t stay focused on anything. If a book drags on for too long, I tend to get bored and won’t read at all (or will start wishing I could read something new). So, audiobooks is going to be a challenge.

I’m trying out audiobooks during my commute home in the afternoon. I listen to talk radio in the morning, so I’m pretty entertained, but on the way home I feel tortured with commercials and bad songs. The first day went pretty well. I only had to rewind the CD a few times. Yesterday, though, I was VERY distracted. And my sister called and we chatted for a while. Any tips for a first time listener? Joy, at Thoughts of Joy is an avid listener and I’ve been picking up tips from her for a few months now, but how many of you listen to audiobooks? Do you find one genre easier to listen to than another? (I don’t read a lot of fantasy, so I’m having a difficult time hearing descriptions and visualizing rather than reading a description and visualizing).

Monday, February 11, 2008

Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt

Title: Angela's Ashes
Author: Frank McCourt
Date Finished: Feb 10, 2008
Yearly Count: 7
Pages 460
Rating: 3/5

I picked this book up probably almost 10 years ago (when the movie was being released) and have tried to read it two or three times in that span. According to my dog-eared page, my last attempt took me to page 60. I don’t remember exactly why I gave up on the book, but probably because I thought it was incredibly boring. :) I was determined to get this book off my TBR shelf once and for all—and I did!!

Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s memoir of his coming of age. His memoir begins when he is a small child growing up in New York; his family keeps growing in number despite their extreme poverty, and eventually his aunt’s pay for their way back to Ireland to live. The McCourt’s situation continues on a desperate path in Ireland as his father, Malachy, finds it difficult to keep a job and when he does have a job, he drinks his paycheck before his family can see a dime (or shilling?? I am a little fuzzy on my foreign currency in the early 1930s-40s). Frank must endure daily ridicule from his classmates, members of the Catholic church, and others in general as he tries to make sense of his life and make the most of the little he has been given.

The book outlines Frank’s desire to become a man and be able to do the things that adults do—such as drink the pint, earn a living and his way to America, and do other things that I don’t need to mention. Angela’s Ashes is written from Frank’s point of view at the various stages of his life—so the narrative becomes much more detailed the older Frank is. While this type of narration was difficult at the beginning of the book when Frank is a small child (and also a great part of why I dislike James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist…), Frank’s perspective became one of the things that I enjoyed most about the book. Sometimes it was funny to see Frank trying to make sense out of his life and some of the “rules” that he had to endure, but at other times it is heartbreaking as Frank doesn’t really quite understand what is happening to his family as they continue to struggle to survive.

So what’s up with the rating? There were times when I was really interested in the narrative, and to be fair, I never truly struggled with the prose (except the first chapter, maybe). As I got further into the book I found myself reading more and more, which could have been because of my 6+ hours in the car this weekend or because I was more interested. But, it came to a point where I could only hear about so much more heartache. I often forgot that I was reading someone’s memoirs rather than a fictional account—but for most of the book, it was just more of the same. Dad is a big fat loser. And I don’t want to diminish what Frank went through as a child, but the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were the ones where he got away from the narrative of his dad spending all of the money in the bar and coming home drunk. I felt there was more meat to his stories about church and classroom and dancing lessons and looking for a job and becoming a man.

Do I recommend Angela’s Ashes? With caution—although I think I’ve seen more positive than negative reviews. Will I read his follow-up memoir, ‘Tis? If I can get my hands on a copy for cheap cheap cheap—but I’m not running out to store anytime soon for it.

I won I won I won!!!

I was just notified by 3M at 1 More Chapter that I won the grand prize in her By the Decades Challenge. For this challenge I read 13 books (decades 1880-2000). I really struggled with this challenge because by the end of the year I was burned out and didn't want to read the books I selected. This was one of the first challenges I joined, and I was a little over-ambitious in my selections. But, I pushed through, used one alternate, and finished the challenge. Yay!!!

Thanks, Michelle for the great challenge and the prize! I am so excited and can't wait to browse Amazon for my book choice. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Like a kid in the candy store (or more likely a bookaholic in a bookstore).

*I have selected Half of a Yellow Sun, which is fitting because it is a book I discovered through the blogosphere. Yippee!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Reading Meme

Lisa tagged me for this fun meme a few weeks back. I'm just now getting to it, and I can see that many others have done it. So, if you read this, haven't done the meme, then tag yourself. :)

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? Brothers Karamazov, although I’m not sure if that is an irrational cringe or not since it’s a hefty 800+ pages (which in my eyes makes it a rational cringe since I cringe at anything over 500 pages). I bought it last summer only to let it collect dust on the shelf, but I have heard great things about the book! One day…probably a long time from now.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be? Bridget Jones from…well…the Bridget Jones books. So she’s a little whiney sometimes, but aren’t we all? I bet she’d be a blast to be with while knocking a few back! I’ve always had an irrational love for Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. Yes, I know he’s no good—but in my eyes that makes him the perfect bad boy. Mmmmm. :) Oh way, is this the same social event? I’d enjoy spending an afternoon with Liz Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). So, maybe I could hang out with Liz—get some coffee and pastries, then head out to the bar with Bridge, and um…the rest with Heathcliff. Ha ha! Wow…

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave? Angela’s Ashes (which I’m currently reading). :) Pamela, which I could not finish for a grad class, was pretty boring as well. Howards End is by far the most boring book I’ve ever read. I have my prejudices, but I hate to speculate about books I haven’t read yet!

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it? Underworld by Don DeLillo. We had to read it for a Post-Mod grad course and I read 200/800 pages of it. It was a good book, just an extremely busy week and there was no way I was going to finish 800 pages in a week (when I was also reading books for my Post-Colonial and 18th Century Brit Lit classes). I think it was pretty clear to my professor, but I lived through the three hour class. Eeeks! :)

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book? I keep a pretty detailed list of the books that I’ve read, so I don’t get confused too often about that. But, I will get confused on which books I own and which ones I don’t.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP) This is difficult not knowing the person and what interests them. I think never a bad thing to start with something lighter to test the waters and then move into some of the heavier things. I think about this a lot when I’m thinking about which books I would recommend to certain people.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with? French. Really no good reason other than I took a few classes in high school. And it seems like when I’m reading random books, French is the language that keeps popping up in little blurbs. Tender at the Bone, the last book I finished, had pieces of French—some of which I was able to decipher.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick? There are a number of books that I would love to re-read, but I’m not sure about every year. Anyway, those that I would like to re-read include The Handmaid’s Tale, The Red Tent, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and The Poisonwood Bible.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)? I discovered The Book Thief first and foremost. There have been a couple of other books out there, but The Book Thief has certainly been the most impactful. Also challenges—a great way to organize my reading.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free. Lisa – your dream library sounds fantastic! I, too, would want somewhere really cushy. Right now I have the couch, which has a permanent imprint of my bottom; my car, which is not all that comfortable; and the bed, but the cat can’t cuddle with me on the bed. So a huge cozy couch or recliner where I could have a place for my beverage and still have room for the cat to snuggle up would be great. Someplace quiet so that if hubby is watching 300 or something equally scary and loud I can still have peace and quiet. I’m not picky about the books. I love all types of books. I actually don’t need any more books. :) but I would like to have matching bookshelves.
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