Thursday, March 31, 2011

Villette Read-Along: Final Thoughts

Villette (Everyman's Library (Cloth))Villette is just a lovely book, made even better by experiencing it through the read-along.  I know there were a couple of readers that were bored, but I found it very enjoyable to read.  There were only a couple of parts where I got impatient with the pace and wanted it to hurry on (most notably The Fete) and those didn't even last too long.  Overall I felt like it was quick to read, especially for a  600+ page book.

I thought the ending was perfect.  The perfect balance of happy/sad, you know? As Lucy got to know M.Paul, he became more understandable.  And even with Lucy's quirks, I thought she became more understandable as well.  She really just wanted a place to belong, didn't she?  I appreciated how all the little side stories were summed up, and each fate seemed to suit each character.

What bugged me?  The French.  My edition didn't have translations, and since I didn't want to miss anything, I ended up translating everything on Google Translator, which really slowed me down.  That was annoying.  Also, the discourse on religion toward the end would have irritated me were it not for the fact that I felt like I was hearing Charlotte Bronte's own opinions.

What did I appreciate?  How complex a character Lucy was.  Her story was easy to read, but deep and layered--offering whatever level of introspection you're comfortable with.  I really enjoyed the writing, as well.

Since I've posted my thoughts throughout the process of reading, I think I'll take this space to leave some of my favorite quotes.  (Links to my previous posts about Villette are at the bottom, for reference)

(from page 48)  While I loved, and while I was loved, what an existence I enjoyed!

(from page 75) I knew I was catching at straws; but in the wide and weltering deep where I found myself, I would have caught at cobwebs.

(from page 319) Really that little man was dreadful: a mere sprite of caprice and ubiquity: one never knew either his whim or his whereabout.

(from page 329) No mockery in this world ever sounds to me so hollow as that of being told to cultivate happiness.  What does such advice mean?  Happiness is not a potato, to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.

(from page 452) At last, I struck a sharp stroke on my desk, opened my lips, and let loose this cry:--
"Long live England, History and Heroes! Down with France, Fiction and Scoundrels!"
The class was struck of a heap. I suppose they thought me mad.  The professor put up his handkerchief, and fiendishly smiled into its folds.  Little monster of malice!

(from page 461) Silence is of different kinds, and breathes different meanings...

(from page 487) Yes, you were born under my star! Tremble! for where that is the case with mortals, the threads of their destinies are difficult to disentangle; knottings and catchings occur--sudden breaks leave damage in the web.

(from page 506) ...his mind was indeed my library, and whenever it was opened to me, I entered bliss.

(from page 579) Some real lives do--for some certain days or years--actually anticipate the happiness of Heaven...

(from page 618) To see and know the worst is to take from Fear her main advantage.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dublin: A Literary City

I'm not usually a fan of big cities. The noise, the sirens, and the traffic can all grate on my nerves and make me a little claustrophobic (which is, perhaps, why living in L.A. county doesn't drive me whacked--it's so spread out that I can pretend that we aren't all piled on top of each other).  However, it is nice to visit a city with some history and character--something L.A. doesn't really provide.

I really didn't know what to expect from Dublin.  All I knew was that James Joyce couldn't wait to get away from it (and they seem to love him anyhow) and that it isn't a favorite of Em's.  As our taxi took us from the airport to our hotel, all I could think of were the disparaging remarks in Dubliners.  

Now I must say that being there the week of Saint Patrick's Day probably didn't provide the most reliable image of the city.  It was completely packed, and not necessarily with Irish people.  So the city was alive, but just with visitors...we found ourselves wondering where the Irish people were!  I did end up liking the city, though.  What I really enjoyed was the enjoyment of the arts.  Everywhere I turned I saw signs of music, art, and literature, which is far more than I can say for what I see in my neck of the woods.
James Joyce's Cafe...yummy cappuccino on a cold day.

Davy Byrnes was apparently a fixture in
Joyce's Ulysses??

Temple Bar Book Market on Saturdays.
Not only were there book stores and the Writer's Museum, but there are literary tours and monuments.  I even saw a group of kids on a Literary Treasure Hunt. There were people reading all over the place, poets selling their works on the street corners, and even books stashed behind desks and bars in case work was light. (And the Irish Film Institute was showing Norwegian Wood, which I was unfortunately unable to make time for.)  These may be normal where you are from, but it was a rare treat for me.  Buses in L.A. do not advertise the latest news in literary fiction.
L.A. ads are all TV/movie/fashion/beauty centered.

On the left is the Dublin Writer's Museum.
The Paddy's Day Parade in Dublin was another feature of our visit there.  It surpassed anything we'd imagined.  The creativity and imagination in the costumes and other creations was astounding.  Plus bagpipes.  I love bagpipes.

So lifelike it was almost creepy.  I was captivated
but luckily remembered to take a picture.

Eyeballs and doggie-bone-hats.  Not really sure why.
We arrived in Dublin Tuesday night, and left midday on Saturday (St. Paddy's Day was on Thursday) and found it to be a nice amount of time there.  We did tons of walking and sight-seeing, and were ready for the next leg of our journey: Northern Ireland.  Will post pictures tomorrow. :)

Home Again

Ireland was fantastic--an amazing vacation (can you imagine Ireland being completely sunny for a whole 2 weeks in March??)--but it does feel good to get back and get everything in order.  I'll be posting pics of my trip and catching up with my very long Google Reader list as quickly as I'm able.  The month before my trip was a hard one, so I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do.  I'm looking forward to it. :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Villette Read-Along: Chapters 26-30

Villette (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
(I'm currently enjoying St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, halfway wishing I had time to blog about it and halfway wanting to get back out and do something! Happy Saint Patrick's Day to all, hope you enjoy your day wherever you are and whatever you do.)

If the last five chapters had me excited enough to engage in a heart-to-heart with Lucy, these 5 chapters had me wishing that she would just take a nap--to liven it up a bit, you know? ...and also to allow me to nap too, which is what I started to wish I was doing towards the end there.

If the last five chapters had me wondering, why all the attention on Graham? and where was M. Paul?  then these 5 chapters had me wondering, why all the attention on M. Paul? and where was Graham?  At this point I just don't like either one of them and can't really figure out what Lucy is thinking/feeling/doing.

If the last five chapters made me forget my feelings on modernity (with all the ghost talk and such), then these 5 chapters made me recall it (the layers and complexity--why does Bronte lead you around the story instead of plunging you into it? why, when most authors strive to get readers to identify as closely as possible with the main character or theme, does Bronte just keep dangling Lucy far enough away to make you keep grasping?)

We are definitely in the home stretch of the book now.  Only a couple more weeks and we will know all...well, no.  We'll probably not know all.  We may have read all, but I can't bring myself to expect Lucy to change so much in these final chapters that we will actually know all.

Actually, right this second, I'm rather worn out of M. Paul's quirks and Graham's shallowness and Paulina's oddities and Lucy's infernal aloofness and stubborness.  Can you kill your family by being too aloof and stubborn?  Maybe that's what Lucy confessed to the priest?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Salon: Packing Books

I'm leaving tomorrow on a two-week vacation, and I haven't packed a single thing.  All I can think about (apart from earthquakes and tsunamis) is books.  I'm sure you're floored at the thought...(as if this isn't a common bibliovore conundrum).  Part of this, of course, is a matter of not wanting to be without reading material.  But that's not the whole issue--after all, there are book stores all over, never mind at the tip of my fingers when my Kindle is in hand.  Regardless of where I am, books are accessible.

There is mood to consider, which is affected by quantity and quality of reading time.  What will I be wanting to read?  How much will I able to focus?  For any serious reader, there is also the consideration of goals, deadlines, and TBR lists.  If I'm going to read, I usually want to read something that is already on my mind, on my radar, on my nightstand, or on my list.

But books are more than a goal to me.  They are more than a story, more than the sum of their parts.  They are representative of family and home, adventure and creativity--all that is right in the world, even if it is shown by illuminating that which is dreadfully wrong.  Books are a declaration of life, an insistence that people matter, a celebration of the imagination.  They are symbol showing that even when all else fails, we have the ability to make a difference, to create hope where none existed.

That is the bigger reason why I keep stacks of books around me, why I carry them wherever I go.  Entertainment? Certainly.  But also a reminder that within our many differences lies a common ground.  Inside each book is a chance to see the world through someone else's eyes, to see something new or remember something old.  In some sense, these keep me tied to family that isn't nearby, they help me think and grow.

I'm sure I'll bring many more books than I'll be able to get through (I always do) but I don't mind.  I prefer it that way.  There is always another dream to dream, always another book to read.  Adventure lies just around the corner.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Villette Read-Along: Chapters 21-25

Villette (Everyman's Library (Cloth))Oh Lucy.  What are you doing?  You need a mother around, poor dear, or a confidant of some sort that isn't afraid to smack you upside the head.  You are a smart girl--those thoughts about your warring Feelings and Reason were spectacular--but please attempt to maintain a firm grip on reality!

He doesn't love you, you do realize that, don't you?  Not in the way you need him to.  Take those rampaging feelings and listen to what they are telling you: you need a social life, dear--but don't put all of your eggs in one basket, and certainly not a flimsy one!  The Bretton's can't be your reason for living.  I think you realize that, although it seems to be your greatest wish for it to be so.  They are kind, but they aren't as deep as you.

Hold it together, sweetie.  I won't make you talk about Polly or the nun just yet.  Get to know yourself a little better.  Find some other friends.  Your life needn't be over just yet!  Just be willing to open up a bit, see the world through a wider lens.  (and now I must read on to find out where this story goes!)

(thanks again, Wallace, for hosting the read-along!  I wouldn't have gotten to this book this year without those fabulous deadlines!)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and FishingTitle: The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing
Author: Melissa Bank
Pages: 274
Published: 2005 Penguin (orig. 1999)
Read For: recommended by book club buddy
My Rating: 4

I enjoy claiming that I like depressing books and music--enjoying something depressing sounds like an impossibility, doesn't it?  If I'm enjoying it, then how could it truly be depressing?  I get a lot of cheap entertainment out of thoughts like that.  Nobody else around me thinks it's all that funny, but they're polite and reward my silly beaming smile with a courtesy chuckle.

What I mean when I say 'depressing' is thoughtful, somewhat introspective.  The reason I say 'I like depressing' (apart from being easily entertained) is because those thoughtful, introspective things are rewarding to me, and often seem to be gloomy to other people.  When I read the reviews on GoodReads for The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, I found that this book was a prime example.  Most people seemed to think that it was depressing and disconnected.  They seemed to be saying, "If this is chick-lit, I don't like it!"  Which of course means that I thought it was entertaining and thoughtful and was thinking, "If this is chick-lit, I like it!"

This isn't a new book.  In fact, it seems to be credited as being one of the first "chick-lit" books, pioneering a new genre along with Bridget Jones (another I liked).  This genre has since evolved into something that seems to have become a bit more predictable (if not in story, then in style) as typifies any genre.  What seems to happen is that a specific book or author is credited with spurring a change in literature, but when judged through the lens of all the books that have come after it, having been affected by it, the original piece doesn't shine as bright.  Like James Joyce--huge contribution to literature even though his stuff isn't often thought of as rewarding, fun reading.  (Now don't get all excited, I'm not say that Melissa Bank is the new James Joyce or that chick-lit is the new academic darling.  Just making a point about viewing a pioneering work with certain expectations.)  As is often the case, if you get your hopes set too high, you are disappointed.  The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing has suffered this fate for many readers, I believe.

In this collection of short stories, we see Jane at different periods in her life, dealing with the consuming struggle to find happiness in love.  The book isn't simply a "girl looking for Mr. Right" story, though, and that's one of the things I appreciated about it.  It's the story of family, of loss, of finding yourself, of what happiness is.  One of the stories doesn't even have Jane in it--it focuses on a neighbor instead--but the themes fit together perfectly.  Another fun thing was that each story had a different flavor.  One story is told in 2nd person, another features some fabulous internal dialogue.  It was quick and sweet, yet had substance.

This was a great detour from the classics I've been reading.  The unique format was refreshing for me, and the balance of humor and thoughtful themes suited me perfectly.  Is there any other 'depressing' chick-lit out there that I should know about?  It's always great to have a varied TBR, and mine is lacking in this area.  Recommend away!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Sunday Salon: (My First!) & The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

I love reading The Sunday Salon posts, they are often so relaxing and offer a glimpse of life behind the curtain of book reviews and stat-tracking.  I tried to convince myself that it was not the best use of my time to begin a new project one week before my vacation, when there are so many other things needing to be done, but I didn't listen.  Spending some time sipping tea, surrounded by books, and putting everything into perspective sounds like the perfect way to spend part of my Sunday.

I started my book blog at the end of 2008 as a way to track my reading life without inundating my family blog, but I didn't really join the book blogging community until last June.  As you all know, this is one fabulous group of people, and the time I spend blogging and visiting remains a rewarding addition to my life.  In the 9 months or so since I decided to put more effort into my blog, my blogging style has gone (and continues to go) through changes.  Sometimes these changes are spurred by an imbalance somewhere--type and quantity of reading, type and quantity of blog posts--but sometimes they are spurred by something I've read in a book or on a blog, something that makes me consider what I'm doing from a different angle.

The Slippery Art of Book ReviewingReviewing books in a blog format, just for the joy of sharing bookish thoughts and starting bookish conversations, is different than writing book reviews in a less personal way, as a means to building a career in the industry.  Depending on your style, involvement, and platform, this may be a fine line...but I think it is one worth exploring.  Reading The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (a title which bugs me every time I think it, say it, type it, read it, type it...what is slippery?  books aren't slippery, nor are reviews, nor even [most] art.  I don't like the idea of slippery-ness. What are we sliding into? Away from? Ugh.) has made me reconsider again, my approach to writing book reviews.

In the past I think I've tended towards maintaining a professionalism in my reviews, striving for nicely constructed sentences and fulfilling prose, often sacrificing strong opinions, humor or passion in the process. The [er...] Art of Book Reviewing has helped me to realize that I am not interested in making a career of book reviewing.  I want to read what I choose to read, and I want to be able to chat about it.  Why it took me so long to realize this, or why it was a fairly simple book that brought me to the realization, I have no idea.  I liked that the book showed that writing short reviews or long reviews is a matter of taste, on the part of the one reading it, the one writing it, and the one publishing it.  I prefer shorter reviews, and have occasionally felt inferior because of it--no more!!

This book also touches on book blogging, and includes resources for becoming more involved in book reviewing professionally, both things I appreciated.  If you are interested in some of the how's and why's behind book reviews, this book is worth a read.  Maybe you'll even get lucky like me and come away with a bit of perspective as well.  Is it ironic that the post in which I talk about my preference for short reviews happens to be a post of some length?

The week ahead, my last week home before my Ireland trip, (a place I've wanted to visit for such a long time,) is all about organization.  My thoughts, my house, my suitcase, etc.  I'm hoping to be able too continue to spend some time here in the off moments, but I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that my time and internet will be limited.  It's reassuring to know that when April rolls around, and my life resumes some semblance of normality for a while, you will all still be around, ready to talk books.  Here's to a productive week!

Title: The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
Author: Mayra Calvani and Anne K. Edwards
Pages: 186
Published: 2008 Twilight Times Books
My Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Villette Read-Along: Chapters 16-20

Villette (Everyman's Library (Cloth))You know what you get when you follow instructions without looking into it further or asking questions when you notice something odd?  You get a break, that's what...35 pages less to read at the last minute than you'd thought.  I can't say I'm complaining.  Today, Wallace at Unputdownables (who is hosting this fun read-along) noticed that her starting post listed the chapters incorrectly.  So it was a nice surprise this morning when I found out that I didn't have to jam in another 2 chapters after all.

Now, nearly at the halfway point of the book, I have to say that the biggest surprise for me has been how modern the book feels.  Not only in density, but in ideas.  I remain surprised how fluid the writing is.  Apart from the bits in French which slow me up (because I can't stand not knowing what they are saying so I type everything into Google Translator) most of the text has been rather light.  That isn't to say that the book is simple or fluffy, because it isn't that at all.  It has layers, nuances, complexity; it makes you think about what is happening.

Lucy Snowe is certainly an intriguing character.  I'm loving the little internal monologue that we, as readers, are privy to.  These bits, along with the ideas she expressed about the art she was viewing, and the depiction of Graham's relationship with his mom all seem to have such modern sensibilities.  I can almost see the story taking place in a modern setting without changing a thing.

[possible spoilers ahead] Anyone notice how Lucy enjoys M.Paul?  At the concert she says "I smiled to myself as I watched him," and at the museum she seems to enjoy taunting him about the art work.  I'm wondering if something will develop there, or if I'm reading into it.  I'm hoping that she doesn't pin her hopes on Graham. [end possible spoliers]

If you are reading (or have read) Villette, what do you think about the pace and style?  Has anything stood out to you as seeming more modern than Victorian?  

This is Not a Laughing Matter

Literary Blog HopNo indeed, this is Literature we are talking about. Tweed jackets, dusty shelves, and serious discussions. Got it?

Can literature be funny?  This week's question for the Literary Blog Hop comes from Gilion, from Rose City Reader.

While this may depend on your definitions of literature and funny, in my world literature can absolutely be funny.   From the classics (Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, Jane Austen) to the currents (Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O'Connor, Jonathan Safran Foer) I have found many examples of fine literary fiction that keeps me laughing in one way or another.

An especially good example of this, perhaps, is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  Although it has been quite a few years since I read it, I still laugh about it.  What a character Ignatious is!  I mean, the first few sentences of the book alone...
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.  The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out of either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.  Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.
It just gets better.  This guy is a character. I was fascinated throughout the book, although it was a fascination tinged with a bit of horror and disgust.  Talk about character driven fiction...the plot is interesting, the writing is well done, but the characters are larger than life, and the humor is laced throughout.  Funny literary fiction? But of course.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

For the Record: February 2011

I said goodbye to February by having book club at my house.  We discussed Everything is Illuminated (my pick!) and my fabulous husband came home from an extraordinarily stressful day at work and cooked us all an incredible 5 course meal on the spur of the moment.  Great company (there were 6 of us altogether), great conversation (if you've read the book, then you can imagine), and great food:
1. melted brie with honey, cashews and crackers
2. salad with toasted capicola, sliced figs, blue cheese, heirloom tomatoes, and homemade tarragon vinaigrette
3. mushroom ravioli with a creamy white wine reduction sauce
4. roasted and fried sausage, carrots, and potatoes in honor of our book
5. vanilla-bean gelato with fried cinnamon roll bites for dessert

A-mazing.  Wish I'd thought to take a picture or two!

Viewed through the bookish lens, February felt like a heavy month.  I discovered how much is too much in regards to how many books I should be reading at a time, and have since eliminated some of those 12 burdens for my own sanity.  I have discontinued installments of Daniel Deronda for now, saving the rest for a time when I can concentrate on it more fully--either while I'm on vacation (I leave in 2 weeks for Ireland!!) or when I get back--because the story has reached a point that I want to be able to spend some time with it.  I should be able to do that as soon I finish my reading-straight-through-the-chronological-bible-as-quickly-as-possible project (I started on January 29th, and am just over halfway through).

I ended up reading 10 books in February, 23 year-to-date:

Aloud to my kiddos (also qualify for Newbery Challenge):
Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Janet Gray (Newbery Medal)
Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry (Newbery Honor)

Review Copies:
The Boat and Sea of Galilee, Lea Lofenfeld Winkler (review on LibraryThing)
A Kidnapping in Milan, Steve Hendricks

Book Club:
Everything is Illuminated

For Personal Challenges:
Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut (From the Authors of my 2010 Top Five)
The Fates Will Find Their Way, Hannah Pittard (Published in 2011)

Because another Book Blog inspired me to:
Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez (reviewed by Bibliophiliac)
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing (The Prairie Library reviewed a similar book)

And One Simply Because I Wanted To:
Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier

It actually isn't a bad spread of books, now that I can look it over objectively.  What the list doesn't show is all the other things I'm concurrently reading, and all the work I need to do to prepare for my vacation (my mom is going to substitute-teach my 3 home-schooled kiddos!  Is that incredible or what?  I just need to come up with lesson plans).  Not to mention the inevitable dilemma of trying to decide which books to bring with me.  Maybe some goals would help...

Goals for March:
  - Catch up on writing book reviews.
  - Finish Villette before leaving for Ireland.
  - Update links to reviews and other stats on my blog.
  - Finish the following books by the end of the month:
        - the bible
        - At Home
        - The Troll Garden
        - Expiration Date, Sherril Jaffe (ARC from LibraryThing)
        - either Gilead or Revolutionary Road (they've been on my nightstand for too long!)
        - The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing (on loan from a book club member)
        - How to Be Good (also on loan from book club buddy)

How's that for goals?  That's at least 8 books on my goal list alone, although what I finish in the next 2 weeks will greatly determine what I take on vacation.  And always better to take too many than too few, I say.  Picking out books is one of my favorite things!