Friday, February 27, 2009

Watchmen - Alan Moore and a Baby Quilt!

Title: Watchmen
Author: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Date Finished: Feb 27, 2009 #9
Published: 1985 Pages: 416
Rating: 4.5/5

Wow. What to say, what to say. I went into this reading with a little bit of excitement and a whole lot of fear. The only graphic novel that I've read is Persepolis, and this, to me, seems far more intense. Just flipping through the pages left me greatly overwhelmed. But what can you do--just take it one page at a time.

I became curious about this book when I first saw the movie preview. I have to admit that I hadn't heard of it before then. But now that graphic novels are all abuzz I started to see it listed more and more. Someone actually suggested it for the "future" classics list last year--I still hadn't heard of it then.

What is Watchmen? Watchmen begins with a murder and then an exile. It appears that someone is targeting heroes (most of whom retired when the US banned vigilantes) and killing them one by one. A few of the old Watchmen group get together at first to save themselves, but it may not just be themselves who are in danger. You know I hate summarizing...and really, the less you know, the better. :)

Several things surprised me about this book. First, I am astounded at the complexity that the author and artist achieved. The book contains twelve volumes, and at the end of each volume is a little snippet of secondary information. Sometimes journal entries, sometimes bits from a retired hero's book, sometimes interviews. But even though those few pages at the end of each volume added needed background information, the actual picture text part is where the depth comes from. The book is multilayered, switches points of view, is at the same time poetic and frightening. Really--compelling.

The most difficult thing I had to overcome while reading the book was my impatience. I couldn't decide if I should read the text first and then look at the pictures or visa versa--it was very difficult for me to take in both at the same time. This sometimes created a choppiness that I didn't really like (because I was impatient for more!), but on the other hand, it was hard not to get caught up in everything single little thing that was going on. One of the things that I loved about the illustrations was how a picture would focus on something small, then the next frame would zoom out, and finally it would zoom enough to get the entire shot. Words are failing me while writing this review...but there is just so much!

The other thing that really surprised me was how interested I was in the content. I don't read action books. I don't like conspiracy. I don't like end of the world type stuff. I don't like unrealistic, science fictiony, hero swoops in to save the day, etc etc. Really--if that dang movie preview hadn't been so fantastic, and if I hadn't seen this book around the blogosphere, I probably would never have given it a second glance. But once I started reading, I was hooked. This was not fast reading for me. Each volume took me about an hour to read (28 pages plus 5 of non-picture text). But, I loved everything about this book except for the story within the story, which I found most of the time distracting and way over my head. :)

Is it for you? I don't know. It is absolutely, completely, utterly different from anything I have ever experienced before. I don't know that it has universal appeal, and there is a little bit of s*x and a lot of gruesome violence. But none of that "Pow!" "Bam!" "Holy Jeepers, Batman!" stuff one might expect from a comic book. Am I even allowed to call it that? Pick it up and read the first volume. You'll get a pretty good idea if you'll like it or not. I know that I'll read it again one day and gain an entirely different perspective.

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In other news...

Last night we welcomed to the world my niece, Emma Cathryn. She's absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Both she and my sister are doing great. Below is the quilt that I made for Baby Emma. It took me about a month, but I'm thrilled at how it turned out. I hope Emma will love it one day as well. I machine sewed and hand tied the quilt. It is about 3.5x3.5 feet. The checked pattern is actually little butterflies (I think you can click on picture to enlarge).


And now...off to Hawaii (Oahu) for a week! Aloha Aloha. :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston

Title: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Date Finished: Feb 21, 2009 #8
Published: 1937 Pages: 184
Rating: 4.25/5

Well, I am happy to announce that my reader is now at zero. YAY!! And the classics challenge sign up is posted. And I'll finish my quilt in the next few days (maybe even today!!). I'm feeling much more settled and caught up. But, I'm going to Hawaii on Saturday...so I'm guessing it will be back to normal when I return (normal=chaos).

I can't believe I haven't read Their Eyes Were Watching God until now. I've read a handful of Hurston's short stories, and I've even seen the movie Oprah produced several years ago, but I never made time for the book. It's only 184 pages long, but the story contains so much depth.

Their Eyes Were Watching God begins when forty-year-old Janie returns to her hometown ragged and worn, wearing overalls and her hair swinging down her back. The town is all a flutter at her return, speculating that her last husband, Tea Cake, has left her and run with her money. Janie sits down with her best friend Pheoby and tells her the true story of what has happened. Her story includes three marriages, a lot of heartache and a lot of love. World's shortest summary, but because of the progressive nature of the story it is difficult to give more without spoilers.

The story is set during the Reconstruction era in the deep south. The characters are African American, so the themes of slavery and oppression and African American folklore are very prominent in the book. I loved the richness of this book and the language that Hurston uses to describe the feelings and emotions of the characters. On the other hand, she also writes in the vernacular of the people. At first this was difficult for me to read and it felt like I was trying to read a different language, but I finally got into the rhythm of the speech and the vernacular provided an extra layer of richness to the text.

Since I don't really want to go more into the actual story, I'll leave you with a few of my favorite lines (both to get a taste of the vernacular and Hurston's descriptions).

Granny speaking to Janie about going out with men:
"Ah don't want yo' feathers always crumpled by folks throwin' up things in yo' face. And Ah can't die easy thinkin' maybe de menfolks white or black is makin' a spit cup outa out: Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy, Janie, Ah'm a cracked plate" (19).

Janie on her first marriage:
"She knew things that nobody had ever told her. For instance, the words of the trees and the wind. She often spoke to the falling seeds and said, "Ah hope you fall on soft ground," because she had heard seeds saying that to each other as they passed. She knew the world was a stallion rolling in the blue pasture of ether. She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up...She knew now that marriage did not make love. Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman" (24).

Janie on Tea Cake:
"She couldn't make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom - a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God" (101).

Last line--maybe **spoiler**:
The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see" (184).

Hope everyone's having a happy Sunday!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Classics Challenge!!!



GO SIGN UP
HERE! YOU KNOW YOU CAN'T RESIST!!


Muhhahahahahahahah!!
(Really I'm just excited because I can mark it off my to-do list)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Miles from Nowhere - Nami Mun

Title: Miles from Nowhere
Author: Nami Mun
Published: 2009 Pages: 286
Rating: DNF (180/282 pages finished)

This may be the first time that I've abandoned a book with absolutely no intention of ever picking it up again. This was is our book club pick for March, and I suspect that the person who chose the book didn't quite know what exactly she was getting into--but she knew the book was going to be "gritty."

Miles from Nowhere is the story of a young Korean immigrant who runs away from home. She falls into the seedier side of the world--prostitution, drug abuse, thievery, and I won't even go into what make me finally put the book down for good. I read about 160 pages before I started feeling sick to my stomach, read the last chapter quickly, and passed the book back to its owner.

I was telling Laura, who is also in the [work] book club with me, that I think the story might have better had it been more character related rather than completely plot driven (yes, you know I love that characterization). I didn't get any sense of what Joon, the main character, was feeling--even despite the book being told from her narration. I only got a sense of how horrid her life was--maybe after the next chapter it would have been better, but I didn't want to give it any more time (it only took about 3 hours to get as far as I did).

Moving on! The quilt is coming along nicely. I have all the pinwheels sewn, as you can see below, and after the picture was taken I got half of the rows sewn together. So...just need to sew the rest of the top and then figure out how to quilt it. I'm not sure if I'll finish it before little Emma (my niece) arrives, but I'll be working on it most of the weekend to try!



I also hope to tackle my Google Reader this weekend. I still haven't spent much time on there this week due to quilting, etc., but I'm feeling less stressed. :)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby

Title: A Long Way Down
Author: Nick Hornby
Date Finished: Feb 14, 2009 #7
Published: 2005 Pages: 333
Rating: 2.5/5

Four people meet on top of a popular suicide building on New Years Eve, and although none of these four know each other, they all have the same intention of jumping. These characters couldn't be more different from one another: Martin is a divorced middle-aged celebrity who has just gotten out of prison for sleeping with a fifteen year old; Maureen is the mother of a disabled teenager and hasn't had a social life--or any life in nineteen years; Jess is a teenaged troublemaker whose sister disappeared a few years prior, and JJ is an American whose band just broke up and his girlfriend has left him.

When the four get to talking on top of the roof, they learn that maybe they can help one another for the next six weeks when they will reevaluate their lives and decide whether or not they still want to commit suicide. Throughout the rest of the novel, the characters band together to fix some of the messes that they've made and even make right out of a few wrongs. But in the end will it be enough for these characters to find a reason to live?

It sounds like a depressing novel, but it really isn't. Hornby has a dark kind of humor that lets the reader know that--hey, it really isn't as bad as it seems. Each character has his own voice in the novel as each chapter is written from a different character's point of view, so not only did I get to see the character through his/her own eyes, but also each character through the others' eyes. One of my favorite aspects of a book is point of view, and I think that Hornby does a great job of giving each character a distinct and unique voice.

In the end, though, it didn't keep me interested enough in the story. I sometimes found myself forcing my way through each chapter to try and figure out just exactly where this unlikely story was going. I didn't care about most of the characters, particularly Martin and Jess who I strongly disliked, and for such a serious topic (ie suicide), I thought the plot was rather superficial. Grrrr! I know others really love Hornby, and I enjoyed High Fidelity when I read it two years ago, but I was really disappointed in this one. I did, however, get a kick out of the literature/music references in the book and particularly loved JJ's thoughts on reading:

"Why does reading freak people out so much? Sure, I could be pretty antisocial when we were on the road, but if I was playing a Game Boy hour after hour, no one would be on my case. In my social circle, blowing up ****ing space monsters is socially acceptable in a way that American Pastoral isn't" (193).

Yes, JJ. My thoughts exactly! Do I recommend this one? If you're a Hornby fan, go for it. Otherwise, I don't know if I'll be passing this one on or keeping my copy. And another warning--the language is incredibly bad. I'm not a prude when it comes to language, but it is quite excessive.

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Booo! I hate writing reviews like this. And maybe it is exacerbated by my blogging slump of late. I've hardly been on my reader at all the past few weeks. And I hate that, but I'm finding myself a little discouraged at my lack of "free" time and the amount that my favorite bloggers post. :) This is not a gripe at you guys, but I am having to figure out the best way to read the blogs that I love. It may come down to skipping meme posts--the Monday Musings, Library Loot, Friday Fill-ins, etc. Or picking one or two posts from a blogger a week instead of trying to catch up with 7 posts at the end of the week? Anyway, for now I've just been avoiding. And although you probably don't notice my absence, I notice and it bugs me.

How do you keep up with blogging without it running your life?

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

Title: The Woman in White
Author: Wilkie Collins
Date Finished: Feb 8, 2009 #6
Published: 1859 Page: 498
Rating: 5/5 (not perfect, but I'm tired of holding out for perfection!)

I want to know who started the rumor that classics are awful, and dry, and boring, and dull, and dumb. Sure, I confess that I feel some belong in that category (ahem…James), but I loved The Woman in White. I will admit that it took me a little while to get into the nineteenth century language, but once I found the rhythm (and the patience to read slowly), I was swept away by the writing and the story.

The Woman in White is a collection of narratives which are strung together in order to solve a series of mysteries. The narration begins with Mr. Hartright, who is commissioned to teach two young ladies, Marion and Laura, painting. On his way to their home in Limmeridge, Hartright meets a strange, distressed woman who is dressed all in white. He helps her momentarily, and after they part, he finds that she has escaped from an insane aslyum. The rest of the novel works to explore who the woman in white is and how she relates to several other characters and events. The plot is extremely intricate and is unraveled as different narrators give their accounts of the events--thus making it difficult to neatly summarize, but making it a compelling read.

It's difficult for me to express why exactly I enjoyed this book so much. Part of the reason is because I really enjoyed getting little pieces of the puzzle from the experiences of the different narrators. This provided a richness to the story that couldn't have been achieved with an omniscient narrator, especially as I had to learn which characters I could trust to tell the whole story and to find the holes in the stories I wasn't entirely sure I could trust. Also, though, all of the different narrators gave such varied perspectives into the other characters. I got to see the everyone's eccentricities through multiple lenses. And the characters! I won't even go there because it would make this review super long, but great characters.

In addition to the narration style, I simply really enjoyed Collins' writing style. I think I might still prefer Dickens' dry wit and social commentary, but I was constantly dogearing pages and marking passages in this book. Reading this book made me miss grad school tremendously, and I was even tempted to dig out my old notes on a 19th Century Sensationalism course I took (we discussed The Moonstone) and see if I could find some old literary criticism articles I might have kept. This is the type of book that is enjoyable on its own, but I also know that there is so much hidden beneath the plot that could be picked apart. Mostly what I found interesting was the treatment of women in the novel--especially comments made on the correct roles of females and the differences in thoughts and actions that men and women have.

I could babble on and on, but I won't. There were a few lulls for me, especially with the main narration by Mr. Hartright (who I found a little dull), but overall I had a difficult time putting this one down. There are so many twists and turns that just when I thought have it all figured out, I realized that I was no where close to knowing the answers. So, if you're looking for a great mystery to read while curled up by the fire, this is your book. It is one of those pesky classics, and it is really long, but despite all of that I had such a great time with this one that it made me want to dig out some of those other classics on the shelf.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Date Finished: Jan 27, 2009 #5
Published: 2007 Pages: 230
Rating: 3.75/5

I can't remember the first time that I read a review for this book, but it had been on my wishlist for quite a while. Everytime I went to the used bookstore, I searched and searched, but I finally broke down and purchased a shiny new copy. I don't know what I expected from this book, but overall it was a really enjoyable read.

Absolutely True Diary is the story of Junior (or Arnold) who is in many ways a normal fourteen year-old kid. Except he is Spokane and lives on a reservation. His family is poor, his father is an alcoholic, his sister a recluse who hides in the basement, and Junior himself was born with hydrocephalus--or as he describes it, his brain is drowning in grease. It seems that all the odds are against Junior. Especially when he decides to go against his family's wishes and travel 25 miles each way to the "white" school outside of the reservation.

This diary, then, is Junior's story of trying to fit into a world where in many ways he is completely different from everyone else. But in the end, Junior is just a regular kid who has a crush on the beautiful Penelope, loves to play basketball, and dreams of one day becoming someone. Junior's writing is funny yet sarcastic and his diary is enhanced by really great cartoons.

While I didn't love this book as much as I had hoped, I find the reading greatly entertaining. If there was a sequel, I'd certainly pick it up. Junior, despite the fact that there are so many things going against him, gives hope that we can look past our skin colors and differences to come together. And if you're wondering--while this is YA fiction and one bookseller tried to tell me it is 7th or 8th grade, I'd recommend this one for older teens. I don't think I'll be passing this one on to my 13 yo brother just yet...

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Yes, I finished this book a week ago. I think this is the longest I've gone after finishing a book and posting my thoughts. So, what have I been doing with my time? I've been reading The Woman in White, and while it is slow going, I'm loving the book. In addition, I've been doing non-book type things. My sister is having her first baby in 3 weeks, and I'm making baby Emma a quilt. The pinwheel design is maybe a little ambitious for my second quilt, but I'm loving trying to figure everything out. I've got quilting on the brain and hope to make Scott a new quilt to replace his cat-hair infested fleece Texas Tech blanket I made him a few years ago (the other quilt I made was a queen size Texas A&M-pattern quilt).




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In addition to everything else that I'm behind in, I was tagged by Rebecca and Melody for this little meme. My apologies, ladies, for taking SO long to complete it:

6 Things That Make Me Happy

1. A Perfectly Sunny Day (warm makes me even happier!)

2. Hearing a song I love on the radio that I haven't heard in a while (even better when sunny outside)

3. Unexpected hugs and love from hubby

4. Finishing a book that makes me think for days after I've closed the cover

5. A really great cup of coffee (yes, I prefer my own)

6. A freshly made bed--I LOVE a freshly made bed...with no wrinkles

So, what makes YOU happy??
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