October 29, 2006

Don't Look Now

Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier
Short Stories
Finished on 10/20/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very Good)

As I recently mentioned, there’s been a plethora of reading challenges within the book-blogging community. I didn’t join in on Carl’s R.I.P. Fall Reading Challenge since I was busy with my own challenge. However, after a month of classics, I decided to wrap it up and move on to something else. With Halloween coming up, I got an itch to read something creepy and gothic. While perusing my TBR shelves, I came across a copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. I have no idea where this book came from! It’s an old hardcover with a dust jacket that I can’t seem to locate anywhere online. Either my mom sent it or I picked it up at a library sale or grabbed it from a traveling book box. Who knows?!

Rod and I were on a Hitchcock kick a few years ago and among others, we rented The Birds and Rebecca, but I’ve never read any of du Maurier’s books. (Maybe that’s when I got the book! After our Hitchcock marathon.)

Anyhow, I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially once it dawned on me that I was about to read a collection of short stories and not a novel. I am not a big fan of short stories. I’m always disappointed in them. Just as I’m settling into the narrative and feeling a sense of familiarity with the characters, boom, it’s all over!

Looking through my reading journals, I only come up with a few short story titles that I’ve read: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro; The Love of a Good Woman: Stories by Alice Munro; Ordinary Life: Stories by Elizabeth Berg; and a few collections of shorts by Rosamunde Pilcher. As I recall, I loved the Berg collections, but she’s one of my favorite authors and I’d probably be quite content reading her grocery list. The others were disappointing and I’d pretty much resigned myself to not reading shorts ever again. Part of my displeasure is that none of the stories are memorable, even after just a few days, let alone years.

That said, I was absolutely spellbound and pleasantly surprised when I finished du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. All but one of the five stories were fantastic, each dripping with sinister suspense and mystery. These psychological thrillers are not chock full of intense action. Instead, internal drama and foreboding tension overshadow the actual plot. The conclusion of “A Border-Line Case” had me shaking my head in disbelief, wondering how in the world I hadn't seen such an obvious finale looming. (I don’t feel too ignorant. Rod didn’t see it coming, either!) Then again, perhaps that's what makes for a satisfying resolution to a mystery: You're amazed that you hadn't seen it coming, but looking back, you see that it was inevitable--it had to end the way it did.

I can picture each and every one of these stories on the big screen and was pleased to hear that Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie starred in one of my favorites, “Don’t Look Now,” which we’ve just received from Netflix. I can’t wait to curl up with a bowl of popcorn and a brownie (or two!) and see if the film is as good as the story.

It occurred to me that I may have misjudged the genre of short stories. Perhaps it’s as simple as just not caring for Alice Munro. And that Rosamunde Pilcher’s sagas are better suited than short stories to her style of descriptive writing. I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to dismiss short stories in the future. These were great fun and I have a feeling I’ll be ready to read them again next year. du Maurier was quite a prolific author, writing numerous novels, short stories, plays and biographies, and I plan to peruse her bibliography for future ideas, perhaps in time for next year’s R.I.P. challenge. Until then, I have The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain and Tales of O. Henry (sixty-two stories!) to keep me occupied. Those should last me a while, don’t you think?

October 26, 2006

Big Fat Books

Since I started this blog, I've noticed that bloggers like a challenge. At least that seems to be true of book bloggers. I missed out on the Summer Reading Challenge and opted out of Carl's R.I.P. Autumn Challenge and Sassymonkey's October Challenge. Booklogged is gearing up for a Classic Challenge and Bookfool has plans for a Chunkster Challenge in 2007. I wonder what it says about those of us who participate in these challenges? Do we all just need an extra push to read some of the books that have lingered on our shelves for too many months (or, in my case, years!)?

Whatever the reason, I am determined to read some of these Big Fat Books for Bookfool's Chunkster Challenge. My goal is to read one a month for the entire year. I may only read a total of twelve books in 2007 (instead of my normal average of 75 or so), but that's ok. It's never been a goal of mine to read a certain number of books in one year. But, wait! That sounds like a good challenge, doesn't it? ;)

The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (1047 pages MM)

2. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (945 pages MM)

3. The Alienist by Caleb Carr (597 pages MM)

4. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (894 pages QP)

5. The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald (810 pages QP)

6. Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris (740 pages QP)

7. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (601 pages QP)

8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (529 pages QP)

9. Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (525 pages QP)

10. Pasadena by David Ebershoff (485 pages QP)

11. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (483 pages QP)

12. London by Edward Rutherfurd (829 pages CL)

13. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King (617 pages CL)


The Brothers K by David James Duncan (645 pages QP)

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (548 pages QP)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (524 pages CL)

MM = mass market
QP = quality paperback/trade paper
CL = cloth/hardcover

October 22, 2006

Still Life

Still Life by Louise Penny
MysteryFinished on 10/13/06Rating: A- (8/10 Very Good)

Winner of the New Blood Dagger in Britain and the Arthur Ellis Award in Canada for best first crime novel.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Qu&#233bec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.
Still Life introduces not only an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces – and this series – with integrity and quiet courage, but also a winning and talented new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.

It took me a few chapters to settle into this debut novel, but once I got a handle on all the various characters (many of whom were possible suspects in the death of Ms. Neal), I couldn’t put it down, anxious to get back to my reading and trying to solve the crime as I went about my daily activities.Still Life is not a hard-boiled thriller, but rather a gentle “drawing room” mystery in which the chief investigator relishes a warm café au lait and flaky croissant as he ponders the details of the crime, while enjoying the peacefulness of the village as dawn breaks.
Gamache is a likeable character, reminding me a little bit of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport (although, not quite the womanizer and much more well-read). I have a feeling Gamache and Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir will become another favorite duo and I look forward to Penny’s next installment (Dead Cold), due out next spring.

October 19, 2006

Disappointing Classics

Last week I posted a list of my favorite classics. This week you get to see what has failed to impress me.

1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

3. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

5. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

6. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

9. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

10. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

11. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

12. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty

13. Animal Farm by George Orwell

October 15, 2006

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Young Adult Fiction
Finished on 10/9/06
Rating: A+ (10/10 Superb!)

Wow. Where do I begin?

This was simply the best book I’ve read all year. It may very well be the best book I have ever read. I will even venture to say it was better than To Kill A Mockingbird (one of my absolute favorite books). It was better than The Kite Runner. It was better than The Sparrow… and Atonement. Well, you get the idea.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such emotion from the printed word. It moved me beyond description. Every single page (and quite possibly every sentence) was a gem. I’ve been sitting here, thumbing through the book, re-reading highlighted passages and entire chapters. There are so many quotes I could share in this review, but I think they’re best read in the context of the story.

"Death" narrates the book and tells us of how he came to know the book thief. While a bit unconventional for a narrator, he is eloquent and, ironically, an ultimately benevolent and compassionate soul. I came to care as much for him as I did Liesel, Rosa, Hans, Max, and Rudy, each of whom is so distinctly drawn that I was left with a sense of deep love and tenderness for their individual roles in this story.

The Book Thief is the tale of a young girl, living with her new foster parents in Germany at the beginning of World War II. It’s a story about a Jewish man in hiding. And it’s story about German citizens refusing to follow along like sheep, standing their ground and showing love and compassion toward their fellow human beings.

This is a love story. Love of a family. Love of a stranger. Love of a playmate. Love of reading and books.

It’s a story about courage.

And it’s a story about death.

The Book Thief is an extremely emotional and draining narrative (how can anything about the Holocaust not be depressing?). I sobbed as the last pages drew closer. It's as moving as Schindler's List and The Pianist. But... I think it's worth the tears. It was just so damned good. I can’t remember the last time I was so affected by a book.

The Book Thief is classified as a Young Adult novel, but I believe it crosses over to contemporary fiction quite well. The young protagonist (Liesel) is reminiscent of Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Griff (An Unfinished Life) and I doubt I’ll ever forget her or her story. The dialogue is marvelous and the pacing is consistently steady, with just enough tension to keep the pages turning (and not as predictable as I thought!). I wonder if this will ever be taught in high school English classes. It should be; it’s so powerful and, I would think, suitable for that age group. (It maybe even be good for junior high school students, although perhaps they're too young to really get much out of it.)

This is definitely one to read again, slowly savoring the lyrical prose now that the final outcome has been revealed. Unless something else knocks my socks off (The Thirteenth Tale, perhaps?), I’ve found my #1 read for 2006. Absolutely phenomenal and achingly beautiful.

October 14, 2006

Marley & Me

Marley & Me by John Grogan
Finished on 10/3/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very good)

Dogs have given us their absolute all.
We are the center of their universe.
We are the focus of their love and faith and trust.
They serve us in return for scraps.
It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.
~Roger Caras

I was 26 years old when I got my first dog. Oh, sure, we had a couple of dogs while I was growing up, but they were really more my parents’ than mine. And to be quite honest, Sidney was really Rod’s dog. It wasn’t until we became empty-nesters and (quite coincidentally) Sid became an indoor dog that we became close pals. I had more time for him than I had in the past and I was in desperate need of something to nurture. I went from room-mother and soccer mom to head-groomer and dog-walker. Sidney was 12 and I was a year-and-a-half away from the big 4-0. It was a perfect fit.

I got a copy of Marley & Me from our library, but since I was trying to wrap up my classic challenge, Rod went ahead and read it first. I warned him that I’d heard it had a sad ending and it didn’t surprise me that he chose not to read the final chapters. I, on the other hand (being a glutton for punishment), sucked it up and read the whole book.

It took me a few chapters to get enthusiastic about Marley & Me. Something about the author’s style bothered me, at least initially, and I was afraid I was headed for another disappointing read. However, at some point Grogan stopped trying to sound like Dave Barry (and I stopped comparing his book to Fifty Acres and a Poodle) and I found myself nodding my head and chortling at his recollections of life with “the world’s worst dog.” I saw a lot of us and our Sidney in his stories.

Like the Grogans, we traded our postage-stamp-sized lot for three acres, a creek (crik to the locals) and gentle, rolling hills, moving from San Diego to Lincoln. It felt as if we’d moved into a Norman Rockwell painting. Never had we seen so many parks, all full of happy families riding bikes, flying kites or walking to the neighborhood DQ. Gone were the days of drive-by-shooting drills and gated communities. People left their cars and homes unlocked and a couple of grocery stores even let you sign for your groceries, happy--and trusting enough--to bill you at the end of the month.

We were thrilled and Sid was in heaven. Freedom! We let him roam during the day, happy he’d made friends with the neighbor’s dog, Molly, and smiled like proud parents as the two frolicked in the meadow, returning home utterly worn out and covered in burrs, pond scum and ticks.

But he paid a price for his new life as a country dog. Poor Sid. He hated thunder (and fireworks) and like Grogan, we eventually wound up drugging Sid every time a storm rolled through. This happens a lot in Nebraska, especially compared to San Diego, which rarely ever gets the big thunderstorms we see in the Midwest.

Sid was quite the retriever (on his own terms, mind you), entertaining us with unusual gifts from his daily excursions: a snapping turtle from the creek, a Runza bag with the remnants of someone’s partially-eaten lunch, a pair of pantyhose (don’t even want to know where he got those!), and the occasional golf ball (hopefully from one of the ditches alongside our road and not from the private golf course kitty-corner to our lot).

Sid loved to chase squirrels, sitting at the base of a tree for hours, completely unaware that the squirrel was long gone. He’d bark at rabbits, opossums, skunks, raccoons and stray cats as they’d wander up on our deck, enjoying the food and water my well-meaning hubby would leave out. He’d bark at Amy as she rode our shiny new John Deere mower, or at the two wild turkeys (named Lucy & Dezi -- Amy was a big I Love Lucy fan) that came to graze under the mulberry tree. Hell, he’d even bark at a solitary leaf blowing in the wind (we didn’t get a lot of falling leaves in San Diego). Quite the happy fellow. Until we told him we were moving to Texas. Land of scorpions, fire ants and heat. But that’s another story for another time.

And like any dog-owner, I have dozens and dozens of Sidney stories that I’d love to share (like the time we accidentally overdosed him on his tranquilizers or how his lip would curl into a smile causing him to sneeze and snort all over you or how Rod built a ramp for the porch steps so Sidney, as he aged, could continue to come in the front door with dignity), but this a book review and I should try to stay focused.

Sidney was part Chow, part yellow Lab and part human. I never fail to think of him when we have fried eggs and toast for breakfast. We always saved him some of the runny yolk and he licked that plate cleaner than any dishwasher ever could. He was my true companion and, until last year, I have never experienced a loss of a loved-one quite like I did when we had to have him put to sleep. He was almost 14 and he was the best damned dog I ever knew. Sniff.

Marley and Me is a book for all dog-lovers, whether they currently own a dog or have fond memories of a family pet that has passed away. Of course it’s a tear-jerker (Marley’s senior years were so much like Sid’s), but overall the book was entertaining and made me laugh (and made me grateful we didn’t wind up with a dog quite as high-maintenance as the Grogans). I think, most importantly though, it brought back some special memories of our sweet Sidney and for that I’m especially grateful.

Sidney's Photo Gallery

October 12, 2006

Favorite Classics

I know. I know. Enough already with the classics! I've written 11 posts/reviews focusing on classic literature and was ready to move on, but the book blogging community seems to be fixated on the subject. Over at A Reader's Journal, Booklogged is planning a Classic Challenge to start in January. Go here for more details. New challenges keep popping up everywhere I turn. I'm going to pass on Booklogged's, but I've begun to squirrel away some tomes for Bookfool's Chunkster Challenge (also beginning in the New Year). Below is a list of my favorite classics. If you're like me and love lists, you can go here for more titles. Or, you can check back here next week for a list of the classics I dislike the most. That should generate some chatter. ;)

***UPDATE*** Not sure how I forgot all about Kate Chopin's The Awakening, but I did. That is until Lisa mentioned it here. Good luck to everyone who participates in Booklogged's challenge!

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

5. A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

6. Giants in the Earth by O.E. Rolvaag

7. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

9. My Antonia by Willa Cather

10. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

12. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

13. Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya


O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

October 11, 2006


Just read this from Seattle.pi.com:

"Now, a Seattle startup by the name of Shelfari is hoping to change the way people catalog and discuss books from their personal collections."

Hmmm. "Myspace meets Amazon.com?" Aren't we already doing this?? I feel like the book-blogging community is just that -- a community of like-minded folk who enjoy chatting about their books, adding titles to their never-ending TBR lists, all the while rejoicing in someone's good fortune (BAFAB or a R.I.P. Challenge prize), sympathizing with a personal loss, or sharing juicy details about the latest House episode.

Why does this new website irk me?

Anyone? Anyone? Class?

October 8, 2006

Classic Challenge Recap

From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: 2classic
Function: noun
1 : a literary work of ancient Greece or Rome
2 a : a work of enduring excellence; also : its author b : an authoritative source
3 : a typical or perfect example

Finished! I decided to devote only one month to my
Classic Challenge and have to say that I'm quite pleased with the final results.

# of books selected: 13
# of books finished: 7
# of books abandoned: 3
# of books untouched: 3

Favorite read: The Good Earth (followed by The Bell Jar and Brave New World)

Least favorite read: The Optimist's Daughter (followed by Death of a Salesman and Fahrenheit 451).

I hope to make this an annual event, as I truly enjoyed the experience.

The Good Earth

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Classic Literature
Finished on 9/18/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very good)

The sun beat down upon them, for it was early summer, and her face was soon dripping with her sweat. Wang Lung had his coat off and his back bare, but she worked with her thin garment covering her shoulders and it grew wet and clung to her like skin. Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. The earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes. Sometimes they turned up a bit of brick, a splinter of wood. It was nothing. Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would their house, some time, return into the earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together – together – producing the fruit of this earth – speechless in their movement together.

It's been over two weeks since I finished this wonderful novel. I'm not sure why I've put off writing my review, especially since I enjoyed the read so well. I think it may have something to do with the simplicity of the narrative. I'm not sure what I can say about it that would entice another reader. Unlike Brave New World, which was so complex and multilayered, Buck's Pulitzer Prize winner (1932) is a fairly simple story about a simple Chinese peasant, scratching out a meager existence for himself and his family. It's a classic case of man vs. nature; an examination of the human condition; an epic story of one man’s life. A proud, honest, hardworking (and sometimes stubborn) man who tends to his small plot, slowly (and wisely) acquiring more and more land, ultimately rising to the status of a wealthy landowner with thousands of acres that he eventually rents out in his old age.

Buck is a skillful artist when it comes to drawing her main characters. Wang Lung and O-lan come to life, pulling the reader into their lives and struggles, occasionally with a gentle tug at one’s heartstrings. On the other hand, the remaining cast is nothing but a outline sketch of family members and neighbors. I didn’t care for any of them. I never felt like I knew them.

It didn’t take me long to start caring about Wang Lung and O-lan, silently applauding their good fortune while muttering under my breath when life to a turn for the worst. I liked Wang Lung. He worked hard and was honest, refusing to join his family when they were reduced to begging and thieving in order to survive. He had a great respect for his elders and strong sense of family loyalty. However, when he brought a second wife home, I lost some respect even though I know it was part of his cultural make-up. Even he seemed ashamed of his actions, which made me think he was behaving in a heartlessly selfish manner. He may have bought O-lan when she was a young slave, but I believe he came to love and admire her for her resourcefulness, independence and silent, yet proud, role as his wife.

A simple story? Maybe. Maybe not. There weren’t any car chases. No aliens. No futuristic technologies. No cute little anecdotes about dogs or children. But there were marauding bandits, concubines, an abundance of opium, floods, drought, locust plagues, war and death. As I read I found myself thinking about another couple from the great epic tale Giants in the Earth. Rolvaag’s Norwegian immigrants Per Hansa and Beret struggled with the challenges of living off the land, the constant battle between man and nature, very much like Wang and O-lan. More than once, I found myself thinking, "Thank goodness I was born when and where I was." I can't begin to imagine surviving such hardships simply to stay alive, feeding one's family, sheltering it from the harsh elements, all the while keeping one's sanity in the midst of extreme isolation. I'm thankful for indoor plumbing, modern medicine, plentiful food supplies, technology that allows me to keep in touch with friends and family, near and far. I'm afraid I would’ve been a terrible pioneer or peasant. I'm too fond of my creature comforts!

October 6, 2006

Ghost Rider

Note: This review appeared in my monthly newsletter (September 2005). Apologies to those who have already read it.

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart
Nonfiction - Travel Essay/Grief
Rating: A (5/5 Excellent!)
Top Ten List for 2005

Book Description:

In less than a year, Neil Peart lost both his 19-year-old daughter, Selena, and his wife, Jackie. Faced with overwhelming sadness and isolated from the world in his home on the lake, Peart was left without direction. This memoir tells of the sense of loss and directionlessness that led him on a 55,000-mile journey by motorcycle across much of North America, down through Mexico to Belize, and back again. He had needed to get away, but had not really needed a destination. His travel adventures chronicle his personal odyssey and include stories of reuniting with friends and family, grieving, thinking, and reminiscing as he rode until he encountered the miracle that allowed him to find peace.

Interesting story (at least to me) about the timing of this read. A friend loaned it to Rod early in the year (2005) and he told me I might be interested as well. Rod said it was very good (but sad) and I decided to add it to my pile of books, hoping to eventually get to it. And there it sat, month after month. I finally decided I'd better return it to our friend and took it downstairs to add to the others we'd borrowed, knowing I'd see Steve that weekend since we had a gig and he'd have to come back to the house later to help unload the band's equipment. Well, that was May 28th and the gig was cancelled. The band did return to our house that morning, but only to circle around me on the front porch while Rod sat in stunned silence on the back deck, mourning Rachel. Obviously returning the book was the furthest thing from my mind. But after we came home from Rachel's funeral, I came upon it again and took it back upstairs with a firmer resolve to read it soon. The timing couldn't have been better. After working my way through a half dozen grief books, I pulled it from my stack and dove in. I couldn't put it down. I knew right away that I had to get my own copy. There was so much to relate to (Peart lost his 19-year-old daughter in a single car accident and then his wife died of cancer the following year) -- my hand kept reaching for that yellow highlighter. Peart (a Canadian drummer and lyricist for RUSH) is very articulate and quite well-read. In addition to jotting down several authors & titles he referred to, I dog-eared a few pages with travel recommendations in Canada and the northwest. Now if only Rod could convince me to climb on a motorcyle and take a trip of our own...

After reading the last page of Peart's book, I felt compelled to sit down and send him a fan letter. Is this the highest tribute a reader can pay an author? Peart writes (in reference to a friend's book), "The highest tribute is the way it 'hooked' me, and here's a perfect illustration: On my way back from dinner with my friends one night, I was thinking, 'good, now I can get back to my book.' That's the greatest spell a writer can cast..." Peart cast his spell on me and I plan to tell him so.

Some favorite passages:

Because of some strength (or flaw) of character, I never seemed to question why I should survive, but only how -- though that was certainly a big enough question to deal with at the time.

I remember thinking, 'How does anyone survive something like this? And if they do, what kind of person comes out the other end?' I didn't know, but throughout that dark time of grief, sorrow, desolation, and complete despair, something in me seemed determined to carry on. Something would come up.

If I wasn't exactly finding joy in that scenic splendor the way I used to, I was at least resonating again, feeling the beauty around me, and curious about what the next line in the map might look like.

Through those days and nights I wasn't always feeling better, as the process of grieving oscillated, even through each day, from a little better to a little worse, from total existential despair to those occasional rays of hope and interest, which was definitely a spark of healing.

In the wake of my devastating losses it was hard for me to accept that fate could be so unjust, that other people's lives should remain unscarred by the kind of evil that had been visited upon me. The big question, why? was ceaseless torment, as my brain struggled for meaning (Is this punishment? A judgement? A curse?), and when I saw other people with their children, or with their lovers and mates, or even just apparently enjoying life, it wasn't so much ill will that moved me, as it was jealousy, resentment, and a sense of cruel injustice.

Thinking today as I rode that my survival remains an act of pure will. Holding myself together like a soldier wounded in battle, and feel that I could collapse from within at any time. No peace anywhere, no redemption imaginable. Just sense of waiting, killing time. Waiting for what? For time to pass, I guess. Can there be healing? Don't think so. Only strive to minimize scars. Not get too twisted, too crippled inside.

The proper way to look at these observations is that they are necessarily adaptations. I have found that it's meaningless to talk in terms of 'dealing with it,' or of 'working through it.' No. This particular It simply changes everything, and there's no coming to terms with it. No deal to be made, no compromise. (I think Ayn Rand once wrote, 'You can't compromise with evil.')

I couldn't help thinking 'bummer thoughts.' Like what a drag it is for other people to have to hang around with me. Throughout this long nightmare, all of my friends have come through for me in such a righteous and big-time way, but after all, at this point it can't be much fun to be around me: thinking of what to say, worried about a flagging conversation, a tactless remark, feeling awkward and sad and helpless to do anything for 'poor old me.' I don't know. All I can say is, I wouldn't want to be my friend.

Currently Reading

You know that feeling? The feeling you get when you've discovered what may turn out to be your #1 read for the year? I remember getting it when I began to read Bel Canto, The Kite Runner, The Sparrow and Atonement. It's back.

As I look through my reviews for 2006, I realize I haven't read anything quite like this book. There are a few titles that will easily land on my Top Ten List, but this book.... Wow. It may wind up at the very top.

Of course, I still have The Thirteenth Tale on my nightstand and THAT book has been getting quite a bit of hype from fellow bloggers. The hype worries me a little bit, but I have yet to read a negative remark about Setterfield's debut novel.

Twelve weeks remain in 2006.

Lots of good books waiting to be read. I'm making my list, checking it twice...

October 5, 2006

Wish List

If you've been following my blog, you're aware of my good fortune earlier this week. I'm not sure what I'll wind up buying with my $50 gift card, but after reviewing my (shhh, the gift card is for Barnes and Noble) Amazon wishlist, I came up with the following:

1. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

2. The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

3. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan

4. Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

5. Booked to Die by John Dunning

6. Blue Water by A. Manette Ansay

7. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

8. The Whole World Over by Julia Glass

9. Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

10. Growing Girls: The Mother of All Adventures by Jeanne Marie Laskas

11. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

12. The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

13. Our Yanks by Margaret Mayhew

Obviously, I can't buy all of these for $50, but it'll be fun to see just how far I can stretch my winnings. Stay tuned! :)

October 3, 2006

Online Bookfair Winner!

I happened upon an online bookfair (thanks to Lotus for the heads-up) hosted by loveofreading.com and entered a raffle for a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card. I won!!!! Yay me!! Whatever shall I buy...

October 1, 2006

Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Classic Literature/Science Fiction
Finished on 9/23/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)

From Amazon.com:

"Community, Identity, Stability" is the motto of Aldous Huxley's utopian World State. Here everyone consumes daily grams of soma, to fight depression, babies are born in laboratories, and the most popular form of entertainment is a "Feelie," a movie that stimulates the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Though there is no violence and everyone is provided for, Bernard Marx feels something is missing and senses his relationship with a young women has the potential to be much more than the confines of their existence allow. Huxley foreshadowed many of the practices and gadgets we take for granted today--let's hope the sterility and absence of individuality he predicted aren't yet to come.

Oh, this was so much better -- and so much more satisfyingly complex -- than Fahrenheit 451 and one I will look forward to re-reading. I found it quite thought-provoking, but I wish I had taken some notes. (It’s been over a week since I finished and I’ve read two other books in the meantime.) I’m finding it difficult to come up with anything intelligent to say about such a well-documented work of literature. I suspect many papers, theses, and dissertations have been written about Huxley’s masterpiece and I am feeling a bit intimidated to find anything noteworthy to mention. On the other hand, I’m getting that itch to go back to school and take some literature classes. I’d love to take one in which Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and 1984 are discussed and analyzed. As George Eliot once said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I wonder how my hubby would feel about being married to a co-ed. ;)

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Classic Literature/Sci-Fi/Horror
Finished on 9/29/06
Rating: B (6/10 So-so)

It was worse than anything. Mrs. Hall, standing open-mouthed and horror-struck, shrieked at what she saw, and made for the door of the house. Every one began to move. They were prepared for scars, disfigurements, tangible horrors, but nothing! The bandages and false hair flew across the passage into the bar, making a hobbledehoy jump to avoid them. Every one tumbled on every one else down the steps. For the man who stood there shouting some incoherent explanation, was a solid gesticulating figure up to the coat-collar of him, and then – nothingness, no visible thing at all!

First things first. I love that word! Hobbledehoy. I wonder if I can work it into my daily vocabulary without sounding like a complete idiot. ;)

Another “new-to-me” author, thanks to my self-imposed Classic Challenge. Of course I’m familiar with Wells’ The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Invisible Man but never got around to reading any of them. I had a few days remaining in the month and needed to wrap up my Challenge, but really didn’t want to dive into one of the tomes in my stack. (I’ll save East of Eden and The Portrait of a Lady for another time). After thumbing through my daughter’s copy of The Invisible Man, I figured I could read it in a day or two and move on to some library books I’d recently checked out.

The novel started off quite well, immediately grabbing my attention, suspense mounting as the pages flew. However, at some point after the halfway mark, it began to lose momentum and I found myself flipping to the back of the book, counting the remaining pages (never a good sign). I won’t even pretend to understand any of the scientific details of invisibility and light refraction (unrealistic, not to mention impossible as the former might be), but overall I thought the story was moderately entertaining and would make for a fun movie. Or at least a remake of the Claude Rains version.

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Classic Literature/Drama
Finished on 9/26/06
Rating: B- (5/10 Fair)

If someone said to me,
How did you spend your life?
I’d have to say,
Lying on the sofa reading.
~Fran Lebowitz

That’s me! My favorite place to read is stretched out on our sofa, propped up with a pillow or two, burrowed under a quilt, with only the background music of neighborhood children quietly (and sometimes, not so quietly!) playing in their front yards. Pure bliss.

Someone once asked me why I like to read so much. That’s like asking why one breathes. I’ve always enjoyed reading and have become hopelessly addicted to the pastime.

For the most part, I read for the simple enjoyment of losing myself to another world, another time, another’s life. I love a beautiful turn of phrase or the way in which an author captures my own personal feelings about a subject, reflecting a thought or belief of mine as if they’d peeked inside my mind or heart.

But occasionally, I’ll choose to read something out of my comfort zone in order to educate myself. The subject matter doesn’t necessarily have to be nonfiction, although I do I have a keen interest in World War II and am drawn to books dealing with that time period. What I’m referring to, however, is an effort to educate myself about works of literature that seem (at least to me) to be a part of the literary subconscious or classic canon; in a case like this, I read so that I can understand and recognize characters or events referenced in other works. In other words, I read so that I can take part in the enjoyment of that canon, so that I can be a part of that literary subconscious. (A small part, to be sure, but a part, nonetheless.)

Ishmael. Scout. Scarlett. Tom Joad. Polonius. Most are familiar with these literary icons. One of the reasons I decided to spend a month devoted to reading nothing but classic literature was to educate myself about some of the literary works and characters that I’d been hearing about for several decades.

Until last week, I didn’t know who Willy Loman was. Other than the title, I knew nothing about Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Death of a Salesman. Plays (and poetry) tend to gravitate to the bottom of my reading list (if they make it on the list at all). However, this book caught my eye as I was perusing our shelves for books to include in my Classic Challenge. It didn’t seem too intimidating, so I threw it in the pile. What could go wrong?

Well, at least it’s a short play, easily read in a day or two. Unfortunately, it’s quite bleak and depressing. Once I was able to sort out Willy’s hallucinations (early Alzheimer’s or dementia?) from reality, the story was pretty straightforward. Grim, but straightforward: Is that all there is? You work at a meaningless job, raise your meaningless family...and then you die? Yikes. However, I feel like I missed something and wish I had read it in college where I could benefit from a professor’s analysis and class discussion. I suppose there’s always Cliffs Notes, should I get inspired to read more about Willy’s plight.

From The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature:

A play in "two acts and a requiem" by Arthur Miller, written in 1948 and produced in 1949. Miller won a Pulitzer Prize for the work, which he described as "the tragedy of a man who gave his life, or sold it" in pursuit of the American Dream. After many years on the road as a traveling salesman, Willy Loman realizes he has been a failure as a father and husband. His sons, Happy and Biff, are not successful--on his terms (being "well-liked") or any others. His career fading, Willy escapes into reminiscences of an idealized past. In the play's climactic scene, Biff prepares to leave home, starts arguing with Willy, confesses that he has spent three months in jail, and mocks his father's belief in "a smile and a shoeshine." Willy, bitter and broken, his illusions shattered, commits suicide.