Posts Tagged ‘reading’

11th Decade Roundup!

It’s that time of my reading life again, where I review the last ten books I read, pretend I can remember them all, and then take stock of what happened. It’s also that time of my blogging life where I’m incredibly frustrated because WordPress has eaten three of my blog posts in the last two days. C’mon, guys, get it together.

This was a pretty good batch of books. It was a good mix of books I knew I’d enjoy, books that were just enough of a digression from my usual taste to be a challenge without being annoying, and books that I really liked but never would have read otherwise. It’s pretty much what you’d want in a book grouping.

I started out with What I Loved, which was fine while I was reading it, but very much on the “meh” portion of the scale. It wasn’t awful but I didn’t love it. I’m glad I read it, I suppose, but I doubt I’ll read it again. Another book in the category of, “glad I read it, now let’s move on” was The Girls of Slender Means. It was more enjoyable than I expected it to be, but I’d be surprised if I ever revisited it.

Then there were the books about two very different boys who were actually pretty similar, in some ways. Huck Finn is always a classic, and if you dialed up Huck’s delinquency and sense of adventure and combined it with a bit of crazy, you’d have Francie Brady of The Butcher Boy

Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye was a bit of an emotional read, but it was okay because it was followed by two zany books by Douglas Adams. It’s always fun to revisit Dirk Gently and his friends, and it’s even more fun to try and explain what you’re reading to people who don’t know Douglas Adams.

Finally, I was thoroughly sickened and shocked by Lolitabefore being captivated by some Murakami magic in Kafka on the ShoreI rounded out the bunch with the amazing Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. I think Vonnegut is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors.

My favorite book out the batch was definitely Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut knows how to spin a phrase and play with language at least as well as Douglas Adams does, but there’s something about the way he weaves chaos through order and brings crazy insights into his work that I adore.

The reward for biggest shock goes to Lolita. I went in with bravado thinking that I was prepared and certainly wouldn’t be shocked like all those prudes who are sickened by books about sex. I was wrong.

And the book I liked the least was probably What I Loved. Like I said, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just that it didn’t do anything for me. Not every book can.

Now I’m off to (hopefully) catch up on my post for the next book, House of Leaves, assuming WordPress stops eating my posts.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Let me preface this post by saying that it might come across as a little biased. I love Cheryl Strayed. I was never going to not adore this book. That doesn’t mean that Wild isn’t a wonderful, fantastic book, however.

I’ve been meaning to read Wild for a long time. I’ve been a fan of Cheryl Strayed ever since I found out she was the Sugar behind The Rumpus’s “Dear Sugar” column. If you’re not familiar with it, you should definitely check it out. It’s an advice column unlike any you’ve read before. It’s equal part beautiful prose, advice from the heart, and personal stories. A bunch of us discovered the column in a creative writing class in college, and from that point on Sugar became one of the guides I took with me through the end of college and into the real world.

I took with me phrases like “write like a motherfucker” and the kind, gentle advice from “Tiny Beautiful Things” into the real world. Sugar was like a friend. I felt this strange connection with her. I was thrilled when I got to meet her, just a few weeks before I left for Prague. She was in Iowa City promoting Wild, which had just come out. One of my English major friends drove down from Minnesota to go see her with me. I bought both her books and had her sign both of them. It was awesome. She exudes this peaceful, calm energy that makes you want to sit and listen to her tell stories and truths about her life forever. Or maybe that’s just because I’d spent most of the previous spring clinging desperately to “Dear Sugar,” rereading several of her columns and forcing myself to believe that graduation wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

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Anyway, Wild is the story of how, at 26, Strayed, after a 3-year spiral into darkness and drugs following her mother’s death, decided to heal herself by walking part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Unlike most people, who plan for years and practice and meticulously prepare for this hike, Strayed just sort of up and did it with only a few months of preparation. In this book, she recounts her transformative journey.

loved it.

Strayed is a great writer. She’s good at writing about things that affected her profoundly and reflecting on them in a way that isn’t constantly preachy or reflective. This is something I still need to work on. Pretty much every creative-nonfiction piece I write winds up sounding like a sermon, and when I read them back even I get annoyed with myself. I appreciate when people are able to walk that line between telling us what they got out of experiences, while leaving us room to draw our own conclusions and have our own thoughts about them.

On another note, I’ve always had a very strong sense of wanderlust, so I really like books where people travel and have profound experiences (except for Eat, Pray, Love. I couldn’t get into that one). Wild was no exception. I suddenly had a profound desire to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or take a month to backpack through Yosemite or the Rockies or something. Nevermind that I have never been backpacking in my life, I hate camping, and I am not cut out for carrying a giant backpack over rough terrain and not showering for days on end. I wanted to.

Maybe someday I will. I probably won’t go off on my own without a clue like Strayed did, but maybe I’ll go have some sort of spiritual journey of my own sometime. I just hope that I don’t have to get hooked on heroin and drown in grief to be transformed, because that’s not going to happen. At the heroin part isn’t, and I certainly hope the grief part doesn’t.

Either way, I recommend Wild if you’re looking for comfort and a good read that will make you want to hike and explore nature. One warning though – it’s an emotional read. I’m not a very emotional person; I rarely cry even when things are sad, and books and movies never make me cry. That said, Wild had me tearing up by page 20.

Rating: *****

Aaaaand We’re Back

So. It’s been awhile. Sorry about that. Again.

I think I’m going to finally start reading (and writing!) for this project again. I’ll probably explain more about why I’ve been gone as I go, I don’t know. But in a nutshell, I got busy and found myself not having much time to read and also not enjoying reading as much. I was already several books behind on the blog, and I’ve discovered that unless I’m reading, I’m not at all motivated to post on here.

I thought about coming on here and giving an update about how things were (not) going or trying to at least get caught up with the books I’d already finished. But that just brought back all the shame of “I’ve been stuck on the same book for four months.”

Basically, James Joyce happened to me. More specifically, Ulysses happened. That. Book. Is. Impossible. Literally impossible. I’m not even halfway through it and I’ve been reading it since May, though I haven’t touched it in several months.

I always intended to finish the book and make some sort of triumphant return (though no one here would realize how awful I’d had it so it’d only feel triumphant to me). But I think I’m going to concede temporary defeat on this one and try to come back to it later. Maybe.

I’ll probably write some sort of “Ulysses made me insane” rant post about my experience so far at some point, but right now this is just to say that I’m back(ish) and I’m planning on updating more soon.

Quotes I’ve Loved, Last Half of 2013

“Within me are the dark immemorial forces of the Evil One, human and pre-human; within me too are the luminous forces, human and pre-human, of God–and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

“Man is a frontier, the place where earth stops and heaven begins. But this frontier never ceases to transport itself and advance toward heaven.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

“When you find yourselves in front of a beloved tomb, do not begin to weep. Keep ever in your minds this great consolation: Death is the door to immortality; there is no other door. Your beloved did not die–he became immortal.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

“When the soul is willing, the body doesn’t mean a thing. All becomes soul, even the club in your hand, the coat on your back, the stones you walk over–all, all!”
– Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to become immortal. Let me continue to live on the earth, and afterward, turn me into ashes.”
– Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

“He could control her destiny now that she was dead, offer her the experiences she would have wanted, and provide drama for a life which had been so cruelly shortened. He wondered if this had happened to other writers who came before him, if Hawthorne or George Eliot had written to make the dead come back to life, had worked all day and all night, like a magician or an alchemist, defying fate and time and all the implacable elements to re-create a sacred life.”
– Colm Toibin, The Master

“He allowed himself to love these streets, as though they were a poem he had once memorized, and the years when he had first seen these colors and stones and studied these faces seemed a rich and valuable part of what he was now.”
– Colm Toibin, The Master

“‘The human race is unimportant. It is the self that must not be betrayed.’
‘I suppose one could say that Hitler didn’t betray his self.’
He turned. ‘You are right. He did not. But millions of Germans did betray their selves. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good.'”
– John Fowles, The Magus

“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight.”
– Thomas Mann, Death in Venice

“Things somehow seem more real and vivid when one can apply somebody else’s ready-made phrase about them.”
Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow

“Only love one person utterly and all the others will seem lovable too.”
– J.W. von Goethe, Elective Affinities

“When we see the many gravestones sinking down or being worn away by the feet of churchgoers and even churches themselves fallen in on their memorial stones, still life after death may seem a second life into which we enter as a picture with its caption and dwell there longer than in our real and living lives. But then that picture too, that second existence, fades sooner or later. As over people, so over monuments, Time maintains its rights.”
– J.W. von Goethe, Elective Affinities

“Few people are capable of concerning themselves with the most recent past. Either the present holds us violently captive, or we lose ourselves in the distant past and strive with might and main to recall and restore what is irrevocably lost.”
– J.W. von Goethe, Elective Affinities

Book #36: The Yellow Wallpaper

Oh. My. God.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

I feel like “The Yellow Wallpaper” is one of those “English majors’ torture” stories. It’s the story that teachers and professors assign to their students when they want to freak them out and really get discussion going.

Thus, I’m very familiar with this short story.

Nothing, of course, will ever compare to the sheer horror of reading it for the first time. But it can still be a pretty interesting read.

My professors always want me to read it. They say it’s an interesting story. They say that Ms. Gilman gets inside the narrator’s head in an interesting way. They say that if you want to write, this is a good story to study. “It’s good for you,” they say. “You’ll learn from it.”

At this point I’m just horrified and, frankly, a little bored.

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There’s a very obvious feminist reading in this story, though. The narrator is having a nervous breakdown after she has a baby. She thinks that maybe getting out and doing things will help her, but he says she shouldn’t. Her opinions don’t matter. He’s a doctor and he knows what’s best for his wife.

And what’s best is to be shut up in a room with awful yellow wallpaper, so she can rest until she feels better.

She doesn’t really have a voice, my professors tell me. The men in her life are completely controlling her. It’d be enough to drive anybody crazy.

I really wish I didn’t have to read this story again. But it’s assigned in yet another class. This time we can talk about the gothic elements maybe, they say. Of course we’ll really just get into the “trapped woman” thing. But it’ll be slightly different. Maybe.

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There are lots of ways to read this story. We can read it from a Gothic perspective, a feminist perspective. We can read it as a horror story or maybe even a ghost story. Every time I read the story, it shifts and changes. I can’t seem to pin it down. It’s very strange. But maybe if I read it a few more times I’ll be able to figure it out.

No one’s assigning it anymore. But I know that if I just take a bit longer, I’ll finally know what it means. They can’t stop me now.

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I’ve figured it out. It’s about a real woman. She’s really there and Ms. Gilman has trapped her in the story. But she’s real and she’s there. Sometimes I can hear her wailing from the pages of my textbook. I know she’s there. Sometimes I think she gets out though. I feel like I see her walking around campus.

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I’m going helping her escape. I’m slowly tearing the pages away. Soon they won’t be able to put her back in the story. Soon she will finally be out of that room. She won’t have to creep or wail or lay in bed with nothing to do.

I think the story is about me.

I rip the pages out. They can’t stop me. I’m not defacing a book. I’m getting my freedom.

I’ve got out at last, Professor. In spite of you and the others. And I’ve ripped out most of the pages, so you can’t put me back.

 

(I hope people get what I did here. Otherwise this’ll just be a really freaking weird blog post, huh?)

Rating: *****
Up Next: Bunner Sisters

Book Survey!

1. Favorite childhood book?
The Harry Potter series. Or The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews
2. What are you reading right now?
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.
3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None!
4. Bad book habit?
Sometimes I read ahead.
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Alias Grace and Foundation.
6. Do you have an e-reader?
I just bought a Kindle. I feel like a book nerd sellout, but I’m moving to a non-English-speaking country and I need a way to keep reading. Reading on an e-reader isn’t ideal, but it’s better than not reading at all, or only having access to the 2 or 3 physical books I’m bringing with me.
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
When I was little, I’d get a stack of five or six of those Mary Kate and Ashley mystery books. I’d read a chapter of one, put it on the bottom of the stack, and read a chapter of the next. And in college I also had to read tons of books at once and I never minded. But lately, I’ve found that if I’m reading more than one book, I get stressed out about which one I should read and if I’m neglecting the other one.
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
This is an interesting question. I guess I still read as much as I normally would, it’s just that now I have to make sure I’m making progress with all my books. I guess if anything, it’s changed my reading selection.
9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Out of Africa. I wanted to enjoy it, but I didn’t.
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Oh, man. It’s a three-way tie between Corelli’s Mandolin, Dandelion Wine, and Lamb.
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Since I’ve started this blog, fairly often. Though I don’t think I really have a comfort zone when it comes to reading. I’m willing to give anything a try.
12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Like I said, I don’t really have a “comfort zone.” I mean, I’ve read and enjoyed Faulkner and Virginia Woolf and some postmodern stuff. And that’s pretty damn uncomfortable. But if this is a way of asking my favorite genre, it’s Fantasy.
13. Can you read on the bus?
I’m not in a place where there are buses to take, but I’m sure that I would if I took the bus.
14. Favorite place to read?
Here it’s on the deck overlooking my back yard. At school it was in the fort under the spare bed.
15. What is your policy on book lending?
I don’t like lending people books. Probably because I suck at returning books I’ve borrowed (I borrowed a series from a friend three years ago. I still have it. Oops.). But often, when I love a book that I’ve read, I all but force people to borrow it from me. Once I even went out and bought a copy of a book I’d just read so I could lend it to someone.
16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
I used to, but I don’t so much anymore.
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
I did for school. And I did when I was reading Pynchon. I would do it again if I ever feel like I have interesting things to add. I like annotations.
18. Not even with text books?
Yes, I even do in text books. Well, I was an English major, so most of my class books were novels. Actually, I’m far more likely to write in the margins of a novel or book of poems than I am a text book. Because with text books I just take notes.
19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English. It’s the only language I’m able to read much in. But I’m working on reading in German!
20. What makes you love a book?
The language, mostly. And the story. I like books that make me laugh, then cry, then throw them across the room in frustration, only to immediately run over and pick them up again. I like books that make me think and see the world in a different way. Also, if a book sucks me in so completely that I have trouble getting out of its world, that’s good too.
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
See what I said in #20.
22. Favorite genre?
Fantasy. Like I said.
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Historical monographs. I majored in history as well as English, and I don’t read enough historical books as I think I should. Especially because when I do buckle down and read them, I enjoy them.
24. Favorite biography?
I haven’t read a lot of biographies, actually. I’ve read several memoirs, though. So I guess if we can count those as autobiographies, my favorite would be If This Is A Man by Primo Levi. If we aren’t counting memoirs, then I can’t answer this.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I had to read a few for a rhetoric class.
26. Favorite cookbook?
I….don’t have one?
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Oh, wow. Um. I think
28. Favorite reading snack?
I don’t really have one, I don’t think?
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I can’t really think of any. I don’t usually base my decision to read or not read books based on hype. But I guess usually if I hear people talking about how a certain book is SUPER amazing, I build it up too much in my head and then I’m underwhelmed.
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don’t really pay attention to critics. In my experience, they like all the weird things and don’t like many of the good things.
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Fine, as long as I have reasons other than, “OMFG diz book so stupid lolz TV 4evr.” There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I didn’t like this, and here’s why.” I’m going to read things that I don’t like.
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
All of them. But probably German and Russian most of all.
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? 
Probably To The Lighthouse. I knew it was stream-of-consciousness and kind of “out there” and hard to understand and I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get it and then I wouldn’t be able to discuss it in class. I really wanted to be one of those people who likes Virginia Woolf (because, you know, liking Virginia Woolf is such a Type) and I was afraid that it would go over my head. Thankfully, it didn’t (does being intimidated because of my impression of a book count as hype?).
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It’s just so big and it’s supposed to be so good and his mind is so awesome and what if I’m not good enough for it??? Also pretty much anything by the Russian writers. Except now I’ve conquered Brothers Karamazov so I’m not as afraid.
35. Favorite Poet?
T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman. Also, John Keats if I’m in the mood to swoon.
36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Usually between 4 and 6. When I was younger it would be more like 10-15, but I could never read all of them before I had to return them, so I learned to scale back.
37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Not that often. Just when I checked out too many and couldn’t read them all in time. That happened a few times in college when I’d be like, “I’m going to read THESE FOUR BOOKS for leisure” and then my courseload would be like, “Heh, no you’re not.”
38. Favorite fictional character? 
This is a hard question. I don’t like this question.
I guess I’m going to fall back on Rhett Butler. Because, well, Rhett Butler. You Austen-heads can take your Mr. Darcy. I like my scoundrel Rhett.
39. Favorite fictional villain?
Does Satan from Paradise Lost count as a villain? Because him. Otherwise, Ambrosio from The Monk because he’s just SO bad.
40. Books you’re most likely to bring on vacation?
In college it was always the books I wanted to read but couldn’t because of school. But it would probably be something in the fantasy genre, like part of the Song of Ice and Fire series.
41. The longest you’ve gone without reading.
Not longer than a few weeks.
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Hmmmmm. I don’t remember. Since I started using Goodreads, I usually force myself to finish books. But I didn’t finish this really dense history monograph called A Consumer’s Republic
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Sound, the TV, thoughts, the internet.
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Lord of the Rings. Also, for some reason I really thought they did a good job adapting Atonement.
45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They didn’t win the Quidditch Cup, left out most of the stuff about the Marauders, and what the hell was up with that clock?
46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
More than fifty dollars.
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Depends on the book.
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If it was poorly written or I really wasn’t enjoying it. But, I mean, I fought my way through The Corrections and Zofloya (though that was for a class), so we know I’m capable of forcing myself through just about anything. I suppose if a book was really offensive, I’d stop.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Semi-organized. I organize them in a way that makes sense to me, but not to anyone else. But I’m not especially strict about it.
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I keep most of them. But more and more, I like the idea of passing them on to someone else. I have to balance that with my dream of having a HUGE personal library someday.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
A Casual Vacancy. I’ll probably wind up reading it, but I’m so afraid that I won’t like it. JK Rowling was SUCH a big part of my childhood. I know that there are some prose issues in Harry Potter, but I love those books so much that I’m able to ignore them. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do that if there are problems in A Casual Vacancy and then JK Rowling will be ruined for me. I kind of want to just let JK Rowling stay in my childhood.
52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Tao of Pooh. He spent a whole chapter hating on scholars and being like, “There are all these people who feel like they have to KNOW things and who want to just keep learning and learning and knowledge is worthless and does them no good.” It just sounded SO anti-scholarship and academia, and that’s the world I want to spend the rest of my life in. It bothered me.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
A Separate Peace. I read it in my freshman English class in high school and did NOT like it. I reread it a few summers ago and it turned out to be one of my favorite books ever.
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I read an absolutely beautiful New Yorker piece by him and had heard great things about him. I expected to love The Corrections. It turned out to be kind of terrible. More recently, I expected to like White Teeth more than I did.
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
All the reading I do is for pleasure. But I guess any young adult literature would fall under this category. I’m probably being unfair, because there’s really good YA stuff out there.

“Hey, Dollface”: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet (#7)

The Maltese Falcon book cover

Oh look! It’s a detective book! This is really exciting. I haven’t read that many detective novels. I think the last one I read was Pulp by Charles Bukowski, but I don’t know if that counts as a classic “detective” novel. I enjoyed it, but it’s Bukowski. I have this weird lit-crush on him so I’m biased.

Actually, come to think of it, the last “detective” novel I read was Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. That DEFINITELY doesn’t count!

Anyway, I’m glad I finally get to read a Sam Spade novel. Goodness knows I’ve heard enough about him what with all the movies and books and everything. I’ve heard from several sources that this is where “it” all started. I don’t quite know what “it” is, but evidently all the awesome detective stuff from way back when movies were actually good is connected to this. Somehow. Or at least that’s what the lady I met in the stacks at the library told me.

I don’t know a whole lot about detective novels, to be honest.

Humphrey Bogart in fedoraFor awhile when I was in high school this boy called me “dollface.” It always made me feel like we should be in black and white and he should be sitting beside a desk with his feet up and a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. Then, he’d put on his fedora, tip it down over his eyes, and head out into the rain to solve a case. That is how I imagine 1930s detective stories should be. So if this isn’t, I’m going to be VERY disappointed.

I’m really looking forward to reading this book. I’ll probably read it all in one sitting because I have a 3 and a half hour car ride tomorrow and it’s probably going to be really exciting. I hope. Maybe if I’m lucky, someone will even say “dollface.”

Also, as a sidenote, don’t Google image search the word “dollface.” I mean, I found what you would probably expect to find, but don’t do it. I’m spending the night in my grandparents’ basement, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t be sleeping…

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