The Last Chronicle of Barset Readalong

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

We made it! One more book and we will have completed the entire Chronicles of Barsetshire Readalong. For those of you who have hung in there: Congratulations! A huge thank you to my co-host Amanda at Fig and Thistle for doing this crazy readalong with me. It's time to tackle our final book, the aptly named "Last Chronicle of Barset." Good luck guys!

"Anthony Trollope was a masterful satirist with an unerring eye for the most intrinsic details of human behavior and an imaginative grasp of the preoccupations of nineteenth-century English novels. In The Last Chronicle of Barset, Mr. Crawley, curate of Hogglestock, falls deeply into debt, bringing suffering to himself and his family. To make matters worse, he is accused of theft, can't remember where he got the counterfeit check he is alleged to have stolen, and must stand trial. Trollope's powerful portrait of this complex man-gloomy, brooding, and proud, moving relentlessly from one humiliation to another-achieves tragic dimensions." 

Share your wrap up post with all of us at the end of the month and tweet yourthoughts at #Trollope2014.

The Patron Saint of Liars

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Patron Saint of Liars
by Ann Patchett

Patchett’s first book introduces us to Rose, a married woman who decides she’s never loved her husband and she wants out. She’s pregnant, but still decides to leave her life in California behind. She takes off and ends up at St. Elizabeth's, a Catholic home for unwed mothers in Kentucky. 

Rose is a cold character and the first section of the book was hard for me to get into. About 1/3 of the way in we switch to a different point of view, that of the home’s handyman Son, and after that things clicked for me. By the end of the book we rotate perspective once more, seeing the world through Rose’s daughter Cecelia’s eyes. These alternative POVs made things work so much better because Rose is such an intentionally hard character to connect with. Since we started from Rose’s POV I should have understood her character better, but she kept the reader at such a distance.

I loved the interaction of the women at St. Elizabeth’s. There’s such an intense bond of shared experience, almost like a summer camp on steroids. I was reminded a little bit of the scene from When She Woke in the women’s home. The women form friendships quickly because they are all pregnant and alone in the world in some way.

I think what I loved about the book was the quiet rhythm that you get into without even realizing it. Not much happens, but there’s a steady flow of time, women come and go with the years and all the while Rose is a steady force, never changing. I also loved the character of Sister Evangeline, an older nun who is the only one who seems to understand Rose.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s an extremely good first novel. Patchett’s gift for storytelling has clearly improved with time, but I still enjoyed this one. I also love being able to compare her early work to her later work.

Reading Slumps

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tell me if this sounds familiar... you've just finished a book; horrible or great, big or small, it doesn't matter. Then you start looking for the next one.

You scour your TBR shelves, you check out the library, maybe you look at the local used bookstore, but nothing seems like a good fit. Nothing screams READ ME. Maybe you even start a couple books, but by 10 pages in it's clear they aren't the right book for the moment. About that time you realize you're in a reading slump.

I've found that sometimes my book blues are caused by my mood, other times it's connected to how busy I am. If I'm completely burnt out on work or something I can have a hard time concentrating on a chunkster from the Victorian era. Honestly, I don't know how you amazing moms get any reading done, but it gives me hope that one day I will be able to do that too!

No matter what the cause, sometimes it's really hard to find your next read, especially if you've just finished something you loved. When it happens to me I sometimes pick up an old favorite to reread; that almost always pulls me out of my slump. Sometimes I just need a good page-turning mystery or YA book. For some reason those work as "bridge" books for me, making the path to the next classic or literary fiction a bit smoother. Sometimes I browse books on Kindle and make a rare exception to my policy of not buying anything over $5 if something sounds really good.

What do you guys do when you can't seem to find the next book you want to read?

Photo of the pup by moi.

Wordless Wednesday: Wellington

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The view of Wellington from the top of the cable car.
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

The Beautiful and the Damned

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Beautiful and the Damned
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In 1913, a 25-year-old man, Anthony Patch, falls in love with a socialite named Gloria. The pair is ill-suited, neither one practical or hardworking, but their passionate love is based more on momentary infatuation than a long-lasting partnership. What follows is their marriage and then their inevitable disillusionment with each other and their lives. Fitzgerald’s gift for language is clear in every description. His novel paints a poetic picture, even though the characters themselves fill you with disdain.
“Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know—because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot. And when I got it it turned to dust in my hands."
"I've often thought that if I hadn't got what I wanted things might have been different with me. I might have found something in my mind and enjoyed putting it in circulation. I might have been content with the work of it, and had some sweet vanity out of the success."
The progression of their marriage is all too familiar. They’re delighted with each new thing they discover about each other. Every new behavior is endearing instead of infuriating, but soon the delightful revelations turn to irritating quirks and then to soul-crushing habits. As you learn who your spouse truly is, flaws and all, it can be incredibly painful to come to terms with the marriage if you’ve chosen badly.  
“It was, at first, a keen disappointment; later, it was one of the times when she controlled her temper."
Their downfall is so tragic because it’s so inevitable, yet it still comes as a surprise to them. They are trapped in a state of arrested development, perpetual partiers who are shocked when they begin to grow older and realize the life they love requires money that they don’t have.
Anthony is a pitiful character. He expects his family to give him money and has never had to work for a living. Because of this he has a view of self-importance but a lack of self-respect. As the story progresses he loses himself more and more in drink. Gloria reminded me of Estella from Great Expectations. She’s so admired that most men bore her. She flits from one to another with no real attachment. It’s not until she’s unhappily married for years that she begins to grow up. Her downfall feels all the more tragic because she doesn’t really become aware of what she values and desires until she is saddle with an alcoholic husband and those dreams are even farther out of reach.
BOTTOM LINE: For me it’s Fitzgerald’s writing and not his characters or plot that make him great. Tender is the Night is still my favorite of his books, but this one captures that unique moment in time when an entire generation glittered with hope before reality set in. That oft repeated pattern still rings true today when bright-eyed millennials realize the party finally has to stop.  
“In a panic of despair and terror Anthony was brought back to America, wedded to a vague melancholy that was to stay beside him through the rest of his life.”
"A classic," suggested Anthony, "is a successful book that has survived the reaction of the next period or generation.”
“Surely the freshness of her cheeks was a gossamer projection from a land of delicate and undiscovered shades; her hand gleaming on the stained table-cloth was a shell from some far and wildly virginal sea….”

Banned Book Week: Go Ask Alice

Monday, September 22, 2014

It’s Banned Book Week!!! As I may have mentioned in the past, banned book week is a big deal to me.

As Heinrich Heine said, “Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” I know that banning a book isn’t the same as burning it, but it’s not far off. Anytime we decide to restrict what others are allowed to read, we are treading into dangerous territory. Reading gives people the opportunity to explore new worlds and ideas and forbidding that should never be an option.
So celebrate your freedom to read this week and check out this list of frequently banned and challenged books to see how many you’ve read.
This year, in honor of banned book week, I read “Go Ask Alice” a book that has been banned countless times since the 1970s. The reasons cited for banning include profanity, explicit references to runaways, drugs, sex, and rape.

Go Ask Alice
by Anonymous
This fake diary of a teenage girl explores her downfall by drug use. At the beginning we see a self-conscious girl who isn’t sure where to turn. By the end she’s tumbled beyond society’s ability to help her because of the bad influences by friends. This book rocked the literary world decades ago when teens everywhere thought they were reading an actual diary.
The book has an oddly childish tone and never sounded like a real teen to me. There are too many times when the girl says how wonderful her mother is or how sorry she is for her actions. In my experience, most teenage girls are a bit more critical of their mothers. It felt like something a mother would write to make her daughter scared of drugs.
It was hard for me to take seriously because it just felt so forced. I know that when it first came out people thought this was a real diary and if I’d read it at that time I’m sure I would have had a completely different reaction. But instead I went into it knowing that it was later revealed to be a work of fiction.
BOTTOM LINE: Not my cup of tea. I know a lot of teens struggle with drugs, but there are other books I’ve read that deal with that issue is a more convincing way.
“Sometimes I think we’re all trying to be shadows of each other, trying to buy the same records and everything even if we don’t like them.”
Image from here.

Meeting Brona!

Friday, September 19, 2014

I am back from vacation and fighting jet lag right now. I promise that in coming weeks there will be photos and more info about the trip (it was incredible!) but before all that I just wanted to take a minute to tell you about one highlight.

While the Huz and I were in Sydney, Australia we met up with Brona from Brona's Books. We had planned to meet for a quick drink so we could say hello. Instead, we ended up spending four hours chatting and laughing with our husbands. It was just so much fun!

Brona gave me the cutest fold-out book about Australia (see above) which I just love! The whole evening was this wonderful reminder of why I started blogging in the first place. For me, blogging is about discussing the books I've read and having a place to journal about them. That's enough right there, but then there's the huge bonus of meeting other book bloggers online. Brona and I had never met before that night, but we'd emailed and read each others blogs, so we instantly felt connected.

We sat there, 36 floors above the Sydney Harbor at a gorgeous hotel bar, drinking G&Ts and never once had a pause in our conversation. It didn't matter that we'd never met before. We shared a love of books and theatre and travel and so there was no need for awkward small talk. We lived on opposite sides of the globe, but we loved so many of the same books. It's just incredible.

Here's to blogging and Brona and our great husbands who made the whole evening even more fun. I hope we all get to meet up and do that again in the future!

p.s. Brona's posted about the night too!

Photos by moi and the Huz.

The Optimist's Daughter

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Optimist's Daughter
by Eudora Welty

Our title character, Laurel, is a young widowed woman who returns home to Mississippi when her father becomes ill. Soon she finds herself reeling after his death and she must grieve while trying to deal with her acerbic step-mother Fay. 

The descriptions of Laurel’s time in her hometown felt so real to me. I remember going through the motions of regular life while being wracked with grief. I could feel her frustration as she has to listen to old biddies gossip and prattle on with their exaggerated stories when all she wants is to be alone with her pain. The plot never became melodramatic; instead Laurel calmly suffers through the indignities of dealing with unbearable neighbors and old friends. She keeps her thoughts to herself, processing things in her own quiet way.

One thing that really rang true for me was Laurel’s struggle between what she knew of her father and what people were saying about him. People’s memories of the deceased are often contradictory. They are tainted with our own opinions and experiences. Laurel’s know this, but it’s still painful to hear people wax poetic about her father in a way that doesn’t ring true.

“What’s happening isn’t real,” Laurel said, low.
“The ending of a man’s life on earth is very real indeed,” Miss Adele said.
“But what people are saying.”

Fay is a character that’s easy to dislike, but when I dig a bit deeper I can’t help but pity her. She marries up in her mind and her new husband provides an escape from the family and life she despises. Now he’s gone and she’s bitter and angry. She can’t help but feel abandoned and she’s taking the pain out on everyone around her.

BOTTOM LINE: This is the first work of Welty’s I have ever read, but it won’t be the last. Her writing invokes Laurel’s claustrophobic angst so easily, I felt like I was right there with her.

“For there is hate as well as love, she supposed, in the coming together and continuing of our lives.”

“She was sent to sleep under a velvety cloak of words, richly patterned and stitched with gold, straight out of a fairy tale, while they went reading on into her dreams."

Wordless Wednesday: Bridge of Sighs

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Bridge of Sighs in Venice.
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

Kiwi Tracks

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kiwi Tracks
A New Zealand Journey
by Andrew Stevenson

Kiwi Tracks is about the author’s adventure trekking through New Zealand and it wavers between self-pitying and optimism thought out the book. He’s so negative in the first half that it was hard to remain interested. He writes more about his loneliness and the breakup that preceded the trip than about the location or his experiences there. The second half was drastically better. He finally gets past his loneliness and begins to reflect on the gorgeous land around him and the kind people who live there. 

I love how he talks about the unexpected deep connections you sometimes form with travelers on the same path. He also touches on the intense but often indescribable experiences you can have while traveling. You’re never truly able to explain them to others once you return home, but they stay with you forever. Stevenson’s journey was a solitary one and he talks about the self-reflection that a trip like that encourages. It can be both wonderful and painful in equal measures.

I did appreciate his honesty about the bad travel days. Sometimes you are lonely or incredibly sick or you miss your train, all of that is part of travel. It’s not all rainbows and brilliant experiences, but those bad spots make everything else shine a bit brighter. My favorite parts of the book are his descriptions of the incredible things he saw and the details he provides about the history of the country. I loved learning more about the native Maori people.

BOTTOM LINE: I definitely recommend this one if you’re about to travel to New Zealand, which is why I read it. Otherwise skip it, because there are better travel memoirs out there with less moaning about life. The author was so depressed and that came through in every page of his writing. I like it when the author’s personality comes through, but I still want to learn about the area or hear about what they did/saw there. It can’t all be their internal monologue as they reflect on their own life choices. 

“Because I travelled alone, I have more intensely experienced a foreign culture and language in a country far, far away, and discovered an independence and courage I never knew I had before. Now I know better what I want and who I am.”