Wordless Wednesday: Frankfurt

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Frankfurt, Germany

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books On My TBR List For Winter

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks what are the top ten books on your TBR List for winter?

1) Little Women – I’ve been meaning to re-read this one for years and since it begins with Christmas, I think that’d be a good time to pick it up.

2) Case Histories – I can’t wait to start this mystery. Nymeth has said good things about it and that’s enough for me.

3) Monsters of Men – I’m reading The Ask and the Answer right now and this one is next.

4) Outlander – I read the first 200 pages of this back in February and just couldn’t get into it. I’m going to give it another shot before the end of the year.

Starting in January I’m going to dig into my list of challenge books for 2011

5) Bleak House by Charles Dickens – For the last few years I’ve read one new Dickens book every winter. It’s my new favorite reading tradition. Something about his rambling prose and huge casts of characters fit perfectly with winter reading for me.

6) Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Seabiscuit was great and my book club picked this one.

7) Silver on the Tree – I’ve really enjoyed the first 4 books of this series and I think the final one should be great.

8) Cloud Atlas – I think I’m going to be co-hosting a read-along for this one with Care of Care’s Online Book Club in March next year. I’ll post more about that later, but I think it’ll be a great one to discuss with others. Anyone interested in joining the fun?

9) Forever by Maggie Stiefvater – This is another series I’m about to wrap up.

10) In the Woods by Tana French – This might be the perfect series to curl up with on freezing cold nights.

Image form here.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2011 - Completed!

Monday, November 28, 2011

I have officially completed the Back to the Classics Challenge for 2011, which was hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much. Here's my complete list with my posted review. Yay for reading classics!

1) A Banned Book - The Chocolate War (1988)

2) A Book with a Wartime Setting – War and Peace (1869)

3) A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner: A Visit From the Goon Squad

4) A Children's/Young Adult Classic – Heidi (1880)

5) 19th Century Classic – David Copperfield (1850)

6) 20th Century Classic – Tender is the Night (1934)

7) A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic – Persepolis (2000)

8) Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes – Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Scout, Atticus, and Boo

Friday, November 25, 2011

Scout, Atticus, and Boo

A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird

by Mary McDonough Murphy


The author created both a documentary and a book compiling the thoughts of authors, teachers and celebrities about the wonderful classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. She included everyone from Oprah to Harper Lee’s own sister to the actress who played Scout in the movie. The book chronicles people’s favorite scenes, their questions, their first experience reading it and the reasons why they love it.

People all over the wor
ld have been touched by the book because of the issues it addresses and the young characters’ unique points-of-view. Lee could talk about racism or a morphine addiction without it seeming too dark, because Scout and Jem were so innocent. Their questions don’t feel preachy because they ask them out of true spirit of curiosity. Lee also made the wise decision to set the book a few decades earlier than it was published, in the 1930s, so people in the south were able to look at the issue of racism while distancing themselves from the issue.

(Me and Harper Lee in the Monroeville Courthouse)

So many people in the book talk about how they wanted to know exactly what was fact and what was fiction. I never wondered about that. I suppose I always assume an author can’t help but put themselves in their novels in one way or another, but it doesn’t affect me too much as the reader.

One thing I loved discovering was that Harper's sister Alice was such a B.A. She worked for the IRS, then as a journalist, then as a lawyer, and even in her 90s, she still practices in Monroeville. She bucked the norms and worked in male-dominated fields, never backing down from a new challenge.

Many people compared the book to Gone with the Wind and there are some amazing similarities. Both are set in the south, deal with racism, were written by women, were the only novels written by their authors, etc. They are such different books, but it’s interesting to think about the threads that connect them.

The fact that Harper Lee withdrew from the public eye has always been a point of interest for people. One person in the book suggests that she may have done that after seeing what happened to her friend Truman Capote when he embraced his fame. It would be horrible to watch your friend self-destruct in that way. I’ve always had such respect for Lee’s choice to withdraw from the limelight. She knew she didn’t want that spotlight on her for the rest of her life; so instead, she went and lived a rich life with her friends and family in Monroeville.

I read this during my recent road trip through Alabama, while we were on our way to Monroeville to see the town and courthouse that started it all. I’m sure that played a huge part in why I enjoyed this so. I already felt immersed in the South and in that story, so reading others thoughts on it fit right in.

If you don’t adore To Kill a Mockingbird, this book isn’t for you, but hopefully that’s pretty obvious. For the rest of us, it’s a chance to revisit a favorite book and to look at it through a dozen different pairs of eyes.

*Photo by the Huz and from here.

Wordless Wednesday: Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What I'm thankful for this year: the Huz and the pup.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Authors I'd Love To Have At My Thanksgiving Feast

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Authors you'd love to have at my Thanksgiving feast. I don’t know if we’re allowed to include dead authors in this, so I’ll do half and half. I decided to pick authors that not only have books I love, but that I think would be hilarious or fascinating conversationalists.

Authors that are still living:
1) Neil Gaiman

2) Nick Hornby

3) John Green

4) David Sedaris

5) Margaret Atwood

Authors that have died:
6) Douglas Adams

7) Jane Austen

8) Roald Dahl

9) Oscar Wilde

10) Dorothy Parker

Image form here.


Monday, November 21, 2011

by George Eliot

The small, fictional town of Middlemarch is a tight-knit community filled with people who are kind, pious, romantic or devious. In other words, it’s just like any other small town. Everyone has their own secrets and money problems and everyone knows everyone else’s business. The book looks closely at marriage, especially between two people who are not well-suited.

Now for the meat of the story, spoilers and all...

The main focus of the book is on three separate couples in Middlemarch, but unlike many books, the majority of the story happens after they’re married instead of during the courtship.

First, there’s Dorothea, a young idealistic woman and Edward Casaubon, the scholarly older man she marries. She believes he will do great things and wants to be his helpmate in that process. Unfortunately, he’s not the great man she hoped he would be and she quickly finds herself in a lonely marriage. Then she meets his cousin, Will Ladislaw, and feels an instant connection.

Then there’s the town’s doctor, Tertius Lydgate, who’s bursting at the seams with new ideas for the hospital and experiments to improve the healthcare offered. He falls for the sweet face of Rosamond Vincy and before he knows it, he’s married and she’s spending money faster than he can make it. Rosamond may be beautiful, but she’s also selfish and conniving, always looking for the next angle that will benefit her.

The final couple, Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, tends to be everyone’s favorite. Fred is immature and constantly gets himself into financial troubles. Mary loves him, but refuses to marry him until he gets his life together and finds an occupation that he loves. I loved that Mary wasn’t willing to settle and her decision helped build a happier life for both of them.

The three very different couples show a wide view of marriage. They offer both cautionary tales and sweet love stories. They remind us that you don’t always fall in love with the person you should and that sometimes people aren’t who they seem to be on the surface.

I love classics, but to be honest it usually takes me a little bit it get into them. Once I adjust to the language and get to know the characters, then I’m good to go. This one was completely different. From the first chapter I felt like knew Dorothea Brooks. I didn’t agree with all of her choices or connect to her on every level, but I felt like I “got” her. Her noble aspirations and idealistic nature act as both main strength and weakness. I was rooting for her from the beginning and the final scene between her and Will is one of my absolute favorites.

Sometimes, I felt so involved in Dorthea’s story that it was hard to switch gears and hear about the other people in Middlemarch, like Bulstrode of Dorothea’s sister Celia and her husband, Sir James.

Parts of the story are slow. It’s hard to avoid that when you have 800 pages of provincial life. But I really loved the intricacies of the characters’ lives. Nothing is laid our in black or white. Each character does both good things and bad things, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes not. Everyone has flaws and makes mistakes. Even our two idealistic heroes (Dorothea and Lydgate) make horrible choices when they pick their spouses. Those flaws make the characters feel very real and relatable, which is what made the book work for me.

So, dig in and be willing to stick with the story, even if it gets slow, and you’ll be rewarded. The story is worth it, but don’t expect quick, constant drama.

“…and had been inclined to regard of himself as a general favorite. We are all apt to do so when we think of our own amiability more than of what other people are likely to want of us.” Middlemarch

“For Rosamond’s discontent in her marriage was due to the conditions of marriage itself; to its demand for self-suppression and tolerance and not the nature of her husband.”

Other reviews…

A Thousand Books with Quotes: “I was astounded as to how much this classic, which explores the many facets of marriages in the provincial town of Middlemarch amazingly parallels the different marriages that still exist today…”

It’s All About Books: “I loved the crazy parts, and suffered through the boring ones.”

ProSe: “At first blush one has this sense of simply being immersed in a rather quiet and pastoral story, but there's really very much more going on here as one turns the pages. …it is the story of human beings, and what it means to be human.”

My book club is awesome

Friday, November 18, 2011

You guys, I love my book club. For years I tried to find a good book club, but every time I joined a new one I would once again be disappointed. Each time I quickly discovered that “book club” was mom code for “get out of the house and hang out with people.” Which is great except, I didn’t know those people well enough to want to talk about their kids for 30 minutes, I wanted to talk about the book! We rarely even got around it, which is just not cool.

So time and time again, I realized that every book club made up of 20 and 30-somethings was not for me. Believe me, I have nothing against sitting around and drinking wine or coffee and chatting. It’s just I’d just rather do that with my friends than with a group of people I don’t know well.

After years of this, one of the women in my United We Read program invited me to her book club. This was about two years ago and I have been a member ever since. During my first meeting they showed me a list of books they’d read and rated over the past decade and the vast majority were ones that I either loved or had on my TBR list.

I’m the youngest member in the group by 30 years and it’s perfect. It’s a small group, but one that’s very committed to reading the book and showing up for the meetings. Our difference in age and personalities allows for a diverse reaction to books and great discussions. Each year we try to read at least one mystery, nonfiction and classic in addition to various fiction.

Here’s the list of books we’ve picked for 2012:
January: The Paris Wife
February: The Forgotten Garden
March: Case Histories
April: Cold Comfort Farm
May: Unbroken
June: Life is so Good
July: The Liar’s Club
August: Middlesex
September: The Madonnas of Leningrad
October: Clara and Mr. Tiffany
December: Cutting for Stone

Of the books we chose, I’ve only read Middlesex and The Forgotten Garden, both of which I loved.

So how about you all, are you in a book club? If so, do you love it or what would you change?

Image from here.

2012 TBR Pile Challenge and Finishing the Series Challenge

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A challenge that encourages me to tackle the massive stacks of books on my To Be Read shelves, I'm in. Adam at the Roof Beam Reader is hosting the 2012 TBR Challenge. You can sign up to join here and see a complete list of the details.

The basic idea is to pick 12 books (and two alternates) that you've owned for at least a year, but have not yet read. I decided to pick a variety of books, including classics, modern lit, fantasy and sci-fi. I also included a particular Salinger book in honor of our host. It's a travesty that I haven't read it yet, but I'll admit, I've been saving it because it's my last unread book by the author.

Here is my complete list ...

1) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (finished March 2012)
2) The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh (finished April 2012)
3) Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger (finished June 2012)
4) Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams (finished July 2012)
5) Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (finished April 2012)
6) Bleak House by Charles Dickens (finished March 2012)
7) Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (finished January 2012)
8) The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
9) Affinity by Sarah Waters
10) The Quiet American by Graham Greene
11) The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy (finished May 2012)
12) Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (finished February 2012)

1) Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
2) That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy) by C.S. Lewis (finished July 2012)

Here are the details ...
The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2011 or later (any book published in the year 2010 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.
2. You must write an original review/response (it doesn’t have to be anything fancy) for each book, to help us ensure you are actually completing the books you say you are.
3. The link you post in the Mr. Linky below must be to your “master list” (see mine below). This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge).

I'm also going to attempt the Finishing Series Reading Challenge hosted here. I'm going for the top level, 3 or more series.
Level 1 - Complete 1 series.
Level 2 - Complete 2 series.
Level 3 - Complete 3 or more series.
I'd like to complete the following series...

The Dark is Rising series - Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper
The Wolves of Mercy Falls series - Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
Anne of Green Gables series - Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
The Space Trilogy - That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
*Photo by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Castello di Amorosa

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Ten Books That Have Been On My Shelf For The Longest But I've Never Read

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Ten Books That Have Been On My Shelf For The Longest But I've Never Read. There might be a few that have been on my shelf longer, but these have all gathered some serious dust.

1) The Master and the Margarita - I've been told a million times that I should read this, but the crazy plot summary has always made me wary.

2) Sometimes a Great Notion - I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and I heard this is even better.

3) The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett - I loved Bel Canto and bought everything she wrote after that. Unfortunately I haven't read everything she's written quite yet.

4) Cloud Atlas - I want to read it, but then another person describes it as "dense" or "complicated" and somehow that's made me view it in a negative light.

5) Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov - I read Lolita and the writing was so gorgeous. I don't know why this one hasn't made it off the shelf.

6) Any books by Tracy Kidder - Not even joking, I have 5 books by this author on my TBR shelf (let's be honest, I have multiple shelves) and I've never read anything by him. His books always sound good and I always find them at book sales, but somehow I never pick them up to read them!

7) The Mists of Avalon - This is one of those books I've heard about for years. I do love Arthurian legend books.

8) The Stand (or any other massive King book) - I've read a few short story collections, his nonfiction "On Writing" and even my first novel of his "Carrie," but I've never read any of King's epic work. I think I'm always worried it'll be too dark for me.

9) Travels with a Tangerine (and a dozen other travel memoirs) - I do love reading this genre, but I like it more when I'm traveling a lot. When It's been a year or two since my last venture abroad, it's sometimes hard to read about someone else's great adventures.

10) Small Island by Andrea Levy - It's been on my shelf forever, then they made a BBC miniseries and I wanted to read it even more. I just never seem to get to it. In my defense, I read a lot of WWII fiction.

So, which of those books is an amazing must read? Are there any that have sat unread for too long?

Photo from here.

Lending of books (aka my babies)

Monday, November 14, 2011

I feel exactly like this. There are some people I trust and will always lend to. There are others that I know will have the book for 3 years and never read it. And that's ok, I just buy them a used copy and "lend" it to them, so that way I don't stress about getting it back.

I have a couple vintage copies of books and a few editions that are special to me because of my own marginalia and I won't lend those out to anyone. But if someone wants to read a book of mine that falls into that category I will buy it for them if I'm positive they'll actually read it.

How about you guys? Happy to lend out your books or hesitant?

Image from Bookfessions.

Alabama Slammer

Friday, November 11, 2011

Our October road trip to Alabama was just fantastic. There’s so much to see there, who knew? I’ve included a few fun photos from the trip and a brief description of what they are below. Seriously though, road trips are the best. You never know what you’ll find along the way.

- The National Annual Shrimp Festival on the beach in Gulf Shores (which we just happened to stumbling upon)

- Noccalula Falls, a 90 ft. waterfall in Gasden

- A Japanese moon bridge in the Asian section of the Bellingrath Gardens

- The wall separating the lots of Truman Capote and Harper Lee’s childhood homes in Monroeville

- Mini golf at a cheesy putt-putt place with The Huz (it’s his favorite)

- Lots of seagulls on our ferry ride from Dauphin Island

- Margaritas, essential to any good trip

- The Alabama Booksmith bookstore in Birmingham

- The courthouse in Monroeville that Harper Lee based To Kill a Mockingbird on (it’s now an awesome museum)

- The Huz at the Parthenon in Nashville, TN (There are almost no photos of him, because he hates having photos taken, so unfortunately I end up in every picture).

- The Irondale Café, the inspiration for the Whistle Stop Café in Fried Green Tomatoes

- F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s home (now a museum) in Montgomery

- Dreamland BBQ in Birmingham (tangy deliciousness)

- Our tiny tent and such at one of our camping sites

- The Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery

It was a great trip and if you're ever headed to the Alabama area, I'd be more than happy to give you a few suggestions of places to stop. I still think that ever single state has so much to offer if you're willing to do a bit of research and exploring.

*All photos by moi or the Huz

Tender is the Night

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tender is the Night

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When we first meet Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous married couple living a life of leisure in the south of France, we know nothing about who they truly are. We see them only through the eyes of Rosemary, a young actress who becomes completely infatuated with them. As she falls for Dick, we see the story begin to spiral towards disaster, but we aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen.

The second section of the book takes us back to the beginning of the story. We learn how Dick, a psychoanalyst, met Nicole because she was his patient. I think this is essential for the success of the story, because it’s important for the reader to understand that Dick knew what he was getting into when he married her. I didn’t become completely attached to the book until that second section. I need the back story in order to feel anything but distant interest in the characters. Once I was hooked I couldn’t looked away from the doomed love story.

(The Fitzgerald's home where F. Scott wrote part of Tender is the Night)

I’ve read The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, and most of Fitzgerald’s short stories, but this one has a level of rawness and beauty that really struck a chord with me. Some of the lines are just so lovely. For example, read the following and just try to tell me that isn’t the most eloquent way to say that someone liked to look in the mirror…

“He was enough older than Nicole to take pleasure in her youthful vanities and delights, the way she paused fractionally in front of the hall mirror on leaving the restaurant, so that the incorruptible quicksilver could give her back to herself.”

This novel was so fascinating because it’s so autobiographical. Fitzgerald talks about Dick drinks too much and Nicole “ruins” his genius and ambition. These are elements seem to come directly from his own life. That’s exactly how Hemingway described what Zelda did you F. Scott. It’s strange to think about writing a book that’s clearly a thinly veiled reference to your own dysfunctional life.

Apparently there are two versions of this book. The original was published in 1934, while Fitzgerald was alive. The revised version was created by a friend of Fitzgerald’s, Malcolm Cowley, using the author’s notes. It was published in 1951. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s strange to think of multiple versions of the same book being out there.

A few elements seem to spring from nowhere, but maybe I just missed something. There were a few references to Lanier and Topsy and at first I didn’t realize that they were their children. Also, their alcoholic friend Abe North’s story seemed to peter off until he only merited a mention later.

(A facsimile edition of the original galley proofs of The Great Gatsby
and me inside the Fitzgerald museum in Alabama)

Regardless, it is full of more brilliance than anything else. The writing completely captured me and in the end, that makes the book well worth reading. I think this may be my favorite Fitzgerald novel because it helps explain the tragedy of his own life.

“There were other letters among whose helpless caesuras lurked darker rhythms.”

“I am a woman and my business is to hold things together.” – Nicole

“A schizophene is well named as a split personality ­– Nicole was alternately a person to whom nothing need be explained and one to whom nothing could be explained. It was necessary to treat her with active affirmative insistence, keeping the road to reality always open, making the road to escape harder going.”

p.s. While we were in Alabama last week we got to visit the Fitzgerald's home, which is now a museum, see pictures above. Tender is the Night was written there.

*Photos by me and the Huz

Wordless Wednesday: St. Mark's Basilica

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

St Mark's Basilica in Venice

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Ten Books That I Read That Were Outside Of My Comfort Zone

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Ten Books That I Read That Were Outside Of My Comfort Zone (whether you liked them or not)

I don’t read a lot of memoirs, self-help books or books about politics or economics. I don’t read these because I’ve learned that I usually don’t enjoy them. There are a few exceptions, but usually books about modern politics/economics bore me. Memoirs seem self-indulgent and gossipy and self-help books just aren’t my thing. Sometimes though, you stumble into new territory and you’re thrilled with what you find.

1) Freakonomics – I was expecting this to be really hard to follow and dry as toast, but it was surprisingly entertaining.

2) Watchmen – My very first graphic novel. A friend convinced me to try it and I was skeptical. Aren’t graphic novels basically just comic books? Nope, they’re amazing.

3) The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court – I do love learning about new things, but I might not have picked this one up if it hadn’t been for my United We Read committee. It was a wonderful read.

4) The Sparrow – A priest in space, doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but it was SO good!

5) Cesar's Way - Cesar Millan’s books were really valuable to me this year as a brand new dog owner, but they definitely aren’t something I normally would gravitate towards.

6) Ender’s Game – The book that made me realize Science Fiction could be so incredibly fantastic. I love this book.

7) Twilight – Vampires, teen drama, swooning and such, not my style. But I got completely hooked on these, even though they are fluff books, and read the whole series.

8) Glenn Beck's Common Sense – A family member talked me into this one. It’s just not for me.

9) The Art of Racing in the Rain – I don’t do sappy books from animals’ points-of-view. I shouldn’t have made an exception for this one. If I’m going to read something from an animal’s POV I would rather it be Watership Down, because I couldn’t stand this one.

10) How Starbucks Saved My Life – My book club picked this one. It was fine, but it falls it reminded me that I don’t really like those books to begin with.

Image from here.

Back to the Classics 2012

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm excited to once again participate in the Back to the Classics challenge in 2012. I'm all about the classics and I'm all about making lists, so this is perfect for me. Sarah Reads Too Much is hosting and there's plenty of time to sign up. The challenge runs from January to December in 2012 and so you have loads of time to complete it.

I decided to at least get an idea of what I'd like to read for the challenge, so I picked a book or two for each category. Here's my possible list...

1) Any 19th Century Classic: Moby Dick (1851) or Bleak House (1853)

2) Any 20th Century Classic: Cold Comfort Farm (1935)

3) Reread a classic of your choice: Sense and Sensibility

4) A Classic Play: A Streetcar Named Desire (1948)

5) Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction: The Sign of Four and The Stand

6) Classic Romance: My Antonia

7) Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language: The Count of Monte Cristo

8) Classic Award Winner - To clarify, the book should be a classic which has won any established literary award: The Yearling (won the Pulitzer in 1939)

9) Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime: Villette (set in the fictional city of Villette, published in 1853)

p.s. My post on completing the 2011 challenge will be up in a couple weeks.

Here are the other details from Sarah:

1. Challenge runs from January 1, 2012 through December 31, 2012. Books started before January 1st do not count, and all links/reviews/comments for each category must be posted in the correct place by December 31st. Feel free to join in at any time, but the end date is December 31.

2. Please feel free to use books in this Challenge toward any other Challenge you may be participating in. However, you must read a different book for each category of this challenge. Audio and e-books are allowed.

3. Please sign up for the Challenge using the linky list (or comment section if you do not have a blog/website). If you would be so kind, please spread the word about this challenge by creating a post on your blog/website and link back to this sign up page.

4. Once the Challenge has begun, you will see a new bar on the left hand side of this blog. This will list the places for you to link/comment your reviews of the book you have read for each category as well as a "wrap up" page. I will not be doing monthly check-in posts this year. I will probably do a "Half Way" post in June. These will be important because....

5. THERE IS A PRIZE THIS YEAR! People who complete the challenge (and I will check that all categories are completed!) will be entered into a random drawing for $30 worth of books (Book Depository will be used for an International Winner). I may have other prizes as well.

John Green is Pretty Awesome

Friday, November 4, 2011

(Horrible iPhone photos of Green signing my book and speaking)

On Nov. 1st I got to go see John Green speak in Indianapolis. One thing I learned was that the man has some serious teenage groupies, which on one hand is wonderful because he’s reaching a whole new generation of readers. But, on the other hand, it’s annoying to have to sit next to dozens of giggling piles of hormones. Anyway, that’s beside the point and even though I’m only 27, it makes me feel old to say that. What I really want to talk about it the author himself.

So here’s the thing about John Green. Yes, I think his vlogs are hilarious and I really love his books, but seeing him talk in person leaves me with a different reaction. I feel like he’s just a normal guy who I could grab a beer with and I love that. I feel like I could run into him in Indy and have a great conversation about life or books, etc. There are some authors that are so intimidating for one reason or another, but Green isn’t one of them, and that’s a good thing. I think that’s also why his writing is so accessible. You can relate to what he’s saying.

The talk was great, aside from a few awkward audience questions, like “Will you give me a hug?” Really people, that’s never an appropriate question to ask a stranger who is on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I loved hearing him read from his new book, The Fault in Our Stars, though I wished I could keep reading it instead of waiting until I get my pre-ordered copy in January. I got two more books signed by him afterwards and I was reminded of just how much I love hearing authors talk about their work. It always gives me a deeper insight into their work. Just hearing them talk about their lives or writing process allows me to connect a bit more with the work.

One thing that he said has really stuck with me. He referenced a well-known quote about how dogs have it so easy because they know how to be dogs. Then he talked about how people don’t really know how to be people and everyday we have to try to figure out what we’re doing and what the point of it is. It was much more profound when he said it. So, if you haven’t read anything by him, you definitely should. Looking for Alaska or Paper Towns would both be great places to start.

The Marriage Plot

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Marriage Plot

by Jeffrey Eugenides


When I read summaries of The Marriage Plot it doesn’t sound that interesting to me. Three Ivy League college kids in the ‘80s graduate and try to figure out what to do with their lives. First there’s Madeleine, a clever girl, except when it comes to love. Then there’s Leonard, the passionate, but troubled man she falls for. Finally we have Mitchell, the intellectual who struggles with the question of faith and his unrequited love for Madeleine. It just doesn’t sound to original. Then I remember who the author is: Jeffrey Eugenides, who wrote Middlesex, which I loved! Suddenly the book is a must read and I know that however simple the plot sounds on the surface, they’ll be a whole different level of depth reached by the end. I’m so glad I Brenna at Literary Musings sent her copy my way!!!

So here’s the things about the summary, it doesn’t capture anything about why the book is good. It misses all of the nuances when you smack a “troubled twenty-somethings” label on it or reduce it to another love triangle book. Sure, there’s a love triangle, but the reason it is interesting is because it’s not really about the love or the triangle, it’s about the people caught up in it and what they’re thinking about life in general, not just love. You’re doing the book a huge disservice if you try to put a simple label on something so complicated. Imagine calling Middlesex a coming-of-age story and thinking that covered it!

The book rotates between all three characters’ lives. I particularly loved Mitchell's parts, where he's traveling and trying to figure out what he believes. I’ve found that when I travel on my own I learn a lot about myself. You have so much more time for internal dialogue and you’re put in situations outside of your comfort zone that test you in different ways. His experiences rang true for me. I also loved reading about Madeleine’s literary pursuits. Eugenides manages to weave dozens of references to classic books and to make those century old plots relevant in the story.

I didn’t love this one as much as Middlesex, but I loved so many aspects of it. I also love reading a book that gives me something to chew on. There were a few parts that became repetitive or lagged a bit, but the amount of literary eye candy I got was enough to balance it out for me. After just reading Middlemarch and The Portrait of a Lady this year, I loved reading a book that paralleled those in some ways.

The book doesn’t have the same epic scale or sense of humor as Middlesex, but it also doesn’t have the same disconnected aloof style of The Virgin Suicides. It feels like a book written by an author who may have found his groove. He can capture characters beautifully and lay them out in a way that is both interesting and accessible. In The Marriage Plot he has created a world that is easy to connect to, but also gives you so much to ponder. His story is about trying to figure out who you are, both in relation to other people and to the world at large. It’s about the unexpected paths your life can take and the people who you didn’t know would one day be important. I know that I’ll be reading whatever he writes next, even if it takes another decade.

"She thought a writer should work harder writing a book than she did reading it."

“There were some books that reached through the noise of life to grab you by the collar and speak only of the truest things.”

p.s. On a side note, I wish the book had a different title or cover because I read this on vacation and it looked like I was reading a marriage self help book. I was reading it while we were waiting to be seated at a restaurant and a waiter came up and asked what I was reading. I told him and he said the title made it sound like a Disney movie about kids trying to keep their parents together.

For some other great thoughts on this one, check out A Thousand Books With Quotes, Literary Musings, Things Mean A Lot, Nomadreader, and Farm Lane Book Blog

R.I.P. Challenge - Complete!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I completed the Peril the First and finished the following books...

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

More Early Horror Works by H.P. Lovecraft

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness

That's about the order in which I enjoyed them as well, with my favorites at the top. A huge thanks to Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting the R.I.P. Challenge. This was so much fun and I can't wait to participate again next year!

Wordless Wednesday: Bethesda Fountain

Bethesda Fountain in New York City

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books I Had VERY Strong Emotions About

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Top Ten Books I Had VERY Strong Emotions About (cry, laugh, hurl across the room, etc.)

1) One Day – If you’ve read this, I’m pretty sure you can figure out what part made me want to throw it across the room.

2) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – I read this one back in 2005 and it really resonated with me. It was easy to connect with some of Egger’s experiences and it just felt so raw and honest to me.

3) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Oh my gosh, this book gutted me. It’s so beautiful, but it’s also incredibly tragic.

4) The Handmaid's Tale – This one gave me an overwhelming feeling of fear. It’s terrifying to think the future could end up like this.

5) Truth & Beauty – Author Ann Patchett talks about her real-life friendship with Lucy Grealy, the author of Autobiography of a Face. Grealy’s life was filled by a continuous battle against a cancer that disfigured her face and the emotional problems that her disease led to. I just felt so sad for both Lucy and Ann.

6) Harry Potter 5, 6 and 7 – I cried when Sirius, Dumbledore and Dobby died. I know people have to die in a war, but it still broke my heart.

7) Everything by Jonathan Franzen – Ugh, his books just aren’t for me. They make me want to punch someone in the face and scream at the characters to stop whining!

8) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – This book overwhelmed me with feelings of love and nostalgia for the characters. It made me think of my obsession with reading as a child.

9) The Black Dahlia – I just hated this book. I don’t know why I finished it, but it definitely gave me a strong feeling of disgust the whole time.

10) Of Mice and Men – Again, this book will seriously break you heart into a million pieces.

Image from here.