Friday, October 28, 2011

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

He was born in the dying days.

And so opens this amazing story of young Willie Dunne.  This may be the most important novel I've ever read; it's certainly one of the best.  Awarding my own 5 measly little stars makes light of the experience, since I still get teary whenever I think about the book.  It doesn't seem fair that I have no one to discuss this book with, so I'm hoping one of you has read it!

It is a book of the Great War: the First World War: a war of horrific scope and tragedy that is often overshadowed by WWII.  This isn't about the entire war, though, it focuses on the Irish boys that fought and died in it.  At the time, Ireland was controlled by England, and internally struggling with opinions about autonomy, which resulted in Easter Rising (see the photo and link below for more info). So Willie Dunne from Dublin, unable to follow his father's footsteps as a policeman because he didn't reach the height requirement, decides to volunteer to fight for England: a decision that becomes quite controversial as time passes.

I don't know about you, but when I think about "war books" I automatically groan inside.  I know from the get-go that there's going to be some rough spots, and dread reading it because I'm afraid it will be all action-movie-gruesome, lacking any introspection or emotional connection.  It was immediately apparent that this wasn't going to be the case with this book.  Here's a great example of the writing, setting the stage on the second page:
Those millions of mothers and their million gallons of mothers' milk, millions of instances of small-talk and baby-talk, beatings and kisses, ganseys and shoes, piled up in history in great ruined heaps, with a loud and broken music, human stories told for nothing, for ashes, for death's amusement, flung on the mighty scrapheap of souls, all those million boys in all their humours to be milled by the mill-stones of a coming war.
Devastation on Sackville Street, Dublin, where it crosses the River Liffey, due to the Easter Rising of 1916
Read some of the history about WWI and Easter Rising @ the guardian
What was surprising to me was how Barry managed to write a book that mostly takes place on the front lines, and yet avoid repetitive boredom.  Not to mention the fact that I'm baffled as to how he survived writing such an emotional journey in the first place.  It really is about so much more than just War, although you will be there like you've never been there before.

The prose was stunning. It ranged from simplistic to poetic, which helped to keep interest high and packed more power in the punch.  The pace and plot were thoughtful and engaging. It alternated from action to introspection with perfect timing and balance, and covered a fair amount of time, yet didn't feel rushed or dreary.  The setting and characters were vivid yet spare. Not overly descriptive, yet strong enough to feel you are there. Familiar, normal people just like those all around us.  Some we know more of, some less.  Some stir compassion, others incite frustration.

Read this when you are in the mood for a deep conversation with a good friend--that's what I felt I'd experienced when I closed the covers.  Read it with an expectation to learn, to grow, to see beauty, to remember, to feel.

A bit of background: I was introduced to Sebastian Barry during my trip to Ireland this year in March.  I went into the Clifden Bookshop to buy Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light (which I somehow haven't posted about) and asked the bookseller for other Irish author recommendations.  She handed me The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry.  I enjoyed that very much, and picked this one up at the library on a whim.  I'm so glad I did; looking forward to reading Barry's other novels.

Title: A Long Long Way
Author: Sebastian Barry
Pages: 304
Published: Penguin (orig. 2005)
My Rating: 5 stars

Anna Karenina: Week 3 of 12

My Thoughts on pp.142-210
  1. First of all, I couldn't stop at page 210--what a cliffhanger!  I had to know, so I read a few more pages. I'm beginning to seriously doubt how I'll be able to make this book last the rest of the year!

  2. Why is it that so many of the characters base their actions on public opinion?  Are we really like this and just don't realize it?  Or is this a facet of a high-profile section of society?  As one example, Vronsky's mother was pleased with her son's affair until she realized that it was looked down upon by others.  Tolstoy has a way of giving the reader information about a character (such as their thought processes) that the character himself isn't even aware of, which not only adds a bit of humor to the story, but also exasperation that the characters don't see what we so plainly see.

  3. I really enjoyed all the macho bantering in this section.  From the comment about Vronsky being on a low-carb diet: "he avoided starches and sweets." (p.175) to teasing someone about not drinking because of the calories: "Today I don't drink." "Why? So as not to gain weight?" (p.180) and most especially about hair loss: "You should get your hair cut, it's too heavy, especially on the bald spot." (p.180)  These fellows are funny.  Can't you just picture them?

  4. I'm so sad about Anna.  She seems to have let her emotions rule, making (of course) the wrong decisions.  She can't bear to talk seriously about the issue, and puts on this lightness that I totally understand but isn't doing her any favors.  She's working herself into a corner and it is so sad to see.

Quotes from pp.70-141
  • p. 147:  "Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed."

  • p. 174: The majority of young women, envious of Anna and long since weary of her being called righteous, were glad of what they surmised and only waited for the turnabout of public opinion to be confirmed before they fell upon her with the full weight of their scorn.

  • p. 176: Yashvin, a gambler, a carouser, a man not merely without any principles, but with immoral principles--Yashvin was Vronsky's best friend in the regiment.

  • p. 183: He was angry with everybody for their interference precisely because in his soul he felt that they, all of them, were right.

  • p. 200: For the first time in his life he had experienced a heavy misfortune, a misfortune that was irremediable and for which he himself was to blame. [...] But the memory of this race remained in his soul for a long time as the most heavy and painful memory of his life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

How can you not love a classic book that has an exclamation mark in the title?

This is my fourth stop in my personal challenge to read Willa Cather's works chronologically.  Not only that, but O Pioneers! was the first title of hers that I read, and is my first re-read.  Somewhat of a milestone, I'd say.  If this one failed to impress, I'd be rethinking my challenge.  I was able to appreciate it much deeper this time around, which has me looking forward to my next re-reads.

In her previously published works, Willa Cather experiments with her fascination for the bond between people and land, with what drives a person, and how they make difficult choices.  In O Pioneers! she really lets the land (and the power it has on people) shine.  She has a way of simplicity in her words that speaks volumes; the way she talks of the land is just as she would speak of any human character.
There is something frank and joyous and young in the open face of the country.  It gives itself ungrudgingly to the moods of the season, holding nothing back.  Like the plains of Lombardy, it seems to rise a little to meet the sun.  The air and the earth are curiously mated and intermingled, as if the one were the breath of the other.
O Pioneers! feels like a coming-of-age story, but the main character is an untamed land.  It spans those years when immigrants became Americans, when the West became the Heartland.  It also follows Alexandra Bergson's life, as she struggles to take her father's land from the wild, and wrest from it a better future for her younger brother. Sadly, Alexandra is a strong, intelligent woman living in a time when it was much more acceptable to be a subservient, simple woman.  Because of this, much of her life is spent somewhat alone.
Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.
Unless the idea of getting into the minds of those immigrants: the Swedish, the French, the Bohemian, is distasteful to you, then I believe you are in for a wonderful experience with O Pioneers!  The generalizations of the different nationalities, and how they responded to the land and the other new neighbors, felt unique yet somehow so familiar and comforting.  The writing is simple, yet there are many though-provoking layers.  How we need hope in order to live.  How love is not so simple.  How physical strength or vivacity are not the answer they sometimes seem to be.  How our own selves are often more of a hindrance to our futures than any other obstacle.  How the grass is not always greener.
Frank knew well enough that if he could once give up this grudge, his wife would come back to him. But he could never in the world do that. The grudge was fundamental.

(Side note: In classic Wikipedia form, the page for this book states that it is #83 on the ALA list of banned/challenged books, which is simply not true. It is #83 on Radcliffe's Rival 100 Best Novels List, which the ALA cites. And kids wonder why you can't cite Wikipedia in research papers.)

As a recap:
1st was April Twilights, a collection of poetry
2nd was The Troll Garden and Others, a collection of short stories
3rd was Alexander's Bridge, a novel[la]

Title: O Pioneers!
Author: Willa Cather
Pages: 144
Published: Vintage (orig. 1913)
Read for: my personal Willa Cather Chronologically challenge
My rating: 5 stars

Friday, October 21, 2011

Anna Karenina: Week 2

My Thoughts on pp.70-141
  1. This installment provided much character development for Levin, Vronsky, Anna, and Kitty, while Stiva and Dolly faded into the background somewhat.  Like the camera panning and zooming in on the background, these somewhat peripheral characters have become more interesting and more important.  I sympathize with Kitty, although I have to admit I'm running out of patience for her (pull it together, girl!)  I dislike Vronsky: what a player.  Anna I love, except I'm saddened that she can't resist Vronsky.  Society certainly doesn't help her out! (see the quote below form page 128)

  2. I loved the chapters that gave us greater insight into Levin; I especially liked seeing him out on his estate.  I feel so much more sympathetic toward him now.  I now see why he is referred to as being most like Tolstoy himself.  Many of his thoughts, (particularly on the economic conditions in chapter 26,) sounded much like the beginnings of the Tolstoyan movement. (see the quote below from page 93)  As of now, he is by far my favorite character.  He seeks truth and a whole, well-rounded life: something I admire.

Quotes from pp.70-141
  • p. 80: Kitty looked into [Vronsky's] face, which was such a short distance from hers, and long afterwards, for several years, that look, so full of love, which she gave him then, and to which he did not respond, cut her heart with tormenting shame.

  • p. 93: [Levin] regarded the reforming of economic conditions as nonsense, but he had always felt the injustice of his abundance as compared with the poverty of the people, and he now decided that, in order to feel himself fully in the right, though he had worked hard before and lived without luxury, he would now work still harder and allow himself still less luxury.

  • p. 95: He felt that something in the depths of his soul was being established, adjusted and settled.

  • p. 97: 
    • Dolly: "Everything in your soul is clear and good."
    • Anna: "Each of us has his skeletons in his soul..."

  • p. 104: He looked at people as if they were things.  A nervous young man across form him, who served on the circuit court, came to hate him for that look.  [...] the young man grimaced, feeling that he was losing his self-possession under the pressure of this non-recognition of himself as a human being and was unable to fall asleep because of it.

  • p. 105: Only now did Vronsky understand clearly for the first time that the husband was a person connected with her.  He knew she had a husband, but had not believed in his existence and fully believed in it only when he saw him, with his head, his shoulders, his legs in black trousers; and especially when he saw this husband calmly take her arm with a proprietary air.

  • p. 107: He called the celebrated Countess Lydia Ivanovna 'samovar', because she was always getting exited and heated up about things. 
  • p. 107: And the son, just like the husband, produced in Anna a feeling akin to disappointment.  She had imagined him better than he was in reality.  She had to descend into reality to enjoy him as he was.

  • p. 128: He knew very well that in the eyes of Betsy and all society people he ran no risk of being ridiculous.  He knew very well that for those people the role of the unhappy lover of a young girl, or of a free woman generally, might be ridiculous; but the role of a man who attached himself to a married woman and devoted his life to involving her in adultery at all costs, had something beautiful and grand about it and could never be ridiculous, and therefore, with a proud and gay smile playing under his moustache, he lowered the opera-glasses and looked at his cousin.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather

With Alexander's Bridge, Willa Cather's published works made another jump in length: from poetry to short stories, and now to a short novel.  In many ways, this short novel contained less of her characteristic insight-into-people-and-places than was displayed in the previously published collection of short stories: The Troll Garden.  It was almost as if this was an exercise at extending the number of pages used, rather than a natural growth of feeling.  At the same time, however, it is still the inner-workings and driving-force of life that command her attention, and thus mine.

It is the story of Bartley Alexander, a renowned engineer and bridge builder, who happens to be one of those people who seems to be kissed by good fortune.  His career is incredibly successful, he marries a rich girl (who he also happens to be in love with), and to top it all off, he gets to travel between Boston and London on a regular basis.  What's not to love?  His somewhat idyllic life begins to unravel, however, when he becomes reacquainted with a former flame.

I was hoping to find something with a little more depth of feeling in it, honestly.  Not that this wasn't an interesting character study, just that it didn't seem to hold Cather's full sense of wonder and heartbreak--as if she was disenchanted with the story: a feeling which rubs off on the reader.  The premise is a good one, I just wish it had been more fully developed.  I'd recommend for someone familiar with Cather in the mood for a novella: sort of Classic Lite.  However, if you are trying to decide which book of hers should be your first, don't start here, as you won't get the proper feeling for her writing.  Instead, find one of the short stories I mentioned in The Troll Garden for a taster, or move into one of her later novels for something with more depth.

(Coming soon: a review of her 4th published work: O Pioneers!)

Title: Alexander's Bridge
Author: Willa Cather
Pages: 144
Published: 2010 Vintage Classics (orig. 1912)
Read for: personal challenge
My Rating: 3.5 stars

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunday Salon: Peripheral Bookishness

I've just realized that I consider things to be bookish even if they are decidedly not literary.  Have you ever found yourself doing that?  Many forms of artistic expression give me the same thrill that an amazing book might, and thus I lump them all together in one wonderful bunch of inspiration.

Film.  I love watching indie films because they tend to be unique: there is more emphasis on artistry and themes than on general appeal.  Quite similar to literary fiction, in fact.  In the best circumstances, a film will leave me thinking for days, amazed and awed.  In the worst circumstance, least it was different.  Last night I watched Melancholia with Kirsten Dunst, a new film by Lars Von Trier (who also wrote & directed Dogville with Nicole Kidman, another film I found fascinating).  Melancholia was simply incredible.

To put the plot simply: Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth. (thanks IMDB) (check out a longer synopsis here)  It is saturated with art, from the almost-still shots in the beginning sequence (set to classical music...all of which adds up to something surprisingly non-boring) to the beautifully immense grounds that it was filmed on (which made it feel almost like a period piece...except it wasn't), to the incredible closing shots: the eye never gets bored.  This film has depth: themes, symbolism, stuff-to-think-about.  It kind of made my brain explode, and now I want to read the book.  Except there isn't one.  Watching the movie is reading the book.  (See? Non-literary bookishness.)

It's slated to release in the States on 11/11/11, (we watched it on Apple TV,) although I imagine the release will be limited.  However, if you are intrigued by the preview, you should find a way to watch the film.  It's stunning.

Modern Design.  I'm lucky enough to live in a spectacularly unique example of mid-century modern architecture.  We'll soon be beginning some renovations--a face lift mostly, bringing it up to date--and I find much to be inspired by in my design research.  I get all excited by an amazing design: the art & inspiration in architecture or furnishings being only another way to express an interest in how we live, an appreciation for what is around us.  This real-life inspiration is what links me, the reader, directly to an author.  It is more than comprehension; it is a different level of understanding and communication.

Quilting.  I know:  what??  Like in Little House on the Prairie?  Yes, it is a homespun, domestic sort of art form, but I love it.  I just designed a quilt for my modern bedroom, and the incredible fabrics and fun design just leave me full of happiness.  In my quest for a quilt design that wouldn't look out of place in my house, and with some input from my math-loving-husband, I've come up with a visual representation of the first 50 digits of Pi.  Weird, I know.  But also exciting in a geeky-intellectual sort of way.  My husband is convinced he'll get smarter by osmosis.  I'm getting ready to cut into the fabrics...I'll keep you updated on this one.

I'm seeing a theme here: I equate books with happiness and everything wonderful, therefore anything wonderful or happy must be related to books somehow.  That totally explains why I'm always tempted to blog about non-bookish things as if they were books.  What things in your life are as wonderful as books?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Anna Karenina: Week One

My Thoughts on the first 70 pages:
  1. I'm loving my edition of the book.  Translations occur at the bottom of the page, and the notes on social references are very interesting (they are in the back, but easy to flip to and well worth the effort!)
  2. The references to Pushkin's works are making me want to read more of his works.  The Tales of Belkin was one of my favorite novellas in August, so seeing him quoted by Tolstoy thrills me somewhat.
  3. The first (and only other) time I read Anna Karenina, I was around 16.  Which, unfortunately, means that it has been more than 16 years since.   This also means that I'm finding it much easier to comprehend and enjoy, as I suppose is only natural.  The reading is pretty quick, and I'm loving how philosophy is intertwined with humor.  Just what I've come to love about Tolstoy.  Because of my experience with him so far, this book isn't intimidating at all.  It doesn't even seem long (which earns me very strange looks from friends and family.)
  4. I wasn't planning on posting every week about this read-a-long, but I'm beginning to rethink's nice to have a place to record my thoughts and quotes--especially for a lengthy classic.

Quotes from the first 70 pages:
  • p. 3  He could not now be repentant that he, a thirty-four-year-old, handsome, amorous man, did not feel amorous with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, who was only a year younger than he. [...] He had never thought the question over clearly, but vaguely imagined that his wife had long suspected him of being unfaithful to her and was looking the other way.  It even seemed to him that she, a worn-out, aged, no longer beautiful woman, not remarkable for anything, simple, merely a kind mother of a family, ought in all fairness to be indulgent.

  • p. 9  It turned out that he had forgotten nothing, except what he had wanted to forget--his wife. [...] And his inner voice told him he should not go, that there could be nothing here but falseness,that to rectify, to repair, their relations was impossible, because it was impossible to make her attractive and arousing of love again or to make him an old man incapable of love.  Nothing could come of it now but falseness and deceit, and flaseness and deceit were contrary to his nature.

  • p. 10  She still kept saying she would leave him, yet she felt it was impossible, because she could not get out of the habit of considering him her husband and of loving him.

  • p. 41  Christ would never have said those words, if he'd known how they would be misused.  Those are the only words people remember from all the gospels.  [Referring to "lovely fallen creatures" (a phrase from Pushkin) and Luke 7:47--"Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much"]

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jumping into Junior Fiction

Like Non-Fiction, I haven’t read near the amount of Junior Fiction this year as I have in past years, but I did go through a short spell a month or so back where I read a few of those titles on my JF TBR shelf.  There's another handful that I'm planning on reading before the end of the year, but I figured now was as good a time as any to share these ones.  They range from one extreme (historical fiction specifically for learning purposes) to the other (magical fiction for fun and imagination).

The Iron Dragon Never Sleeps by Stephen Krensky
This is a small book that I picked up when I was planning a unit on California history for my kiddos last year. It isn’t your typical Gold Rush era story, which is both good and bad. On the down side, this story definitely has the feel of existing so that a lesson can be taught. The characters are somewhat thin, and the plot is a bit stilted. However, I think that, in the right situation, the positives outweigh the negatives. It teaches much about the competition that went into the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, as well as the mistreated Chinese workers that helped to build it. This book turns a blot in California’s history into regret for the past and hope for the future. I’d so much rather learn from mistakes and build compassion than cover them up to save face. This may not be award winning fiction, but it does provide an interesting perspective, and is much more fun to read than a textbook.

Journey to Jo’Burg by Beverly Naidoo
Another title that I purchased to go along with school studies, this is a quick story that serves as a great introduction to South African history and the apartheid regime. The author, born and raised in South Africa, has first hand experience with trying, at a young age, to process the inhumanity surrounding her. I think that she does a beautiful job of showing the difference in culture at an appropriate level for grade school children. The main characters, being children, make this story especially touching. Simple story, complex themes, and a worthwhile read.

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
I'm coming to think of Sid Fleischman as a new favorite author.  I loved Bandit’s Moon and By the Great Horn Spoon! (talk about great perspectives on California history!) so I was excited to read his Newbery Award winning novel. I love his characters, how he interjects humor and adventure into his stories, and how he makes the historical settings seem like a normal part of life. This is Historical Junior Fiction at its best. The Whipping Boy tells the story of Prince Brat and the boy who takes the physical brunt of the prince’s punishments. It was fun, teaches a great lesson on humility, and—while I don’t think it was quite as good as the others of his I’ve read—was simply a lot of fun.

Magic in the Park by Ruth Chew
This book came home with my eldest daughter from school when she was in 2nd grade, and she loved how the magical creativity set her imagination going. Originally published in 1972, it has that lovely Nancy-Drew-ish vintage flavor. The kids go play in the park by themselves and run around the city all by themselves and are never missed, fun stuff like that. That’s not the point of the story though, the point of the story is to find out what is going on with the old man in the park that feeds the birds…and why a mysterious looking tree seems to change locations. For young readers (or listeners) it is a great adventure, though the older ones may find it a bit silly. It made me miss the days as a kid when I used to read mysteries like they were going out of style. There’s something happy about vintage literature, (not classic, necessarily, just somewhat aged,) whether it’s for children or adults. Something that sets that old imagination back on fire.

The House on Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
I grew up with Pooh stories, and my kiddos grew up watching Pooh movies, but I don't think I'd ever read any of it in Milne's actual words.  I was missing out!  My 7 year-old and I were both enchanted with the wording, and with the bear of very little brain.  She had never before been interested in hearing or seeing anything to do with Pooh, but this book changed all that.  As a girl whose stuffed-with-fluff friends spend each night on her bed, this is a story that she could relate to.  What sweet characters; what gentle storytelling.  Just as the end was beginning to be too sad to bear, what with Goodbyes and all, Milne refocuses on the bright side, leaving a sweet comforting memory of your time in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov

For a book that started with a paragraph so amazing that it immediately became one of the most brilliant things I'd ever read, Lolita ended up being a very disappointing experience for me.

I knew the basic storyline, (even saw the movie...I think?) Indeed, how could one not know the premise?  It is the prime example of Books Which Are Unceasingly Banned.  The synopsis didn't put me off.  I've been reading long enough to know that it takes more than an unpleasant topic to make a book unenjoyable.  In fact, there have been plenty of books that I've loved despite the topic not being a natural favorite.  Examples: 
 - The Art of Fielding (baseball)
- Revolutionary Road (extreme marital discord)
- Star of the Sea (boats, ocean)
- Slaughterhouse Five (space/science)
- The Good Earth (ancient China)

I was ready for Lolita to fall into a growing line of books in which the writing overcame the topic, but it didn't happen.  Not only that, but it took a great amount of effort for me to finish it.  It was sucking the reading-passion out of me.  Perhaps that sounds drastic and extreme, but, believe me, the going was rough.

By page 70 or so (just after the first incident) I was tempted to quit.  The topic, from Humbert's point of view, was too much for me.  In my mid-book-procrastination, I did what I often do: read reviews of the book online, and read the author's note at the end of the book.  This often helps me refresh my frame of mind and jump back into the book, and it worked this time as well.  The scenes didn't progress as I feared they would, something else happened instead.  I got depressed.

I didn't see any loveliness in this book.  There wasn't any hope, any humor, any levity.  It was all imbalanced minds, selfish passion, and destruction.  Nabokov is a master of language, but he shows H.H. in such a rigidly realistic manner that it didn't do anything for me at all.  The perspective didn't engage me or compel me to contemplate the characters.  It was just sad, depressing, and I wanted it to be over.

I chased Lolita with a cleansing shot of Flannery O'Connor, which seemed to do the trick.  I read the short story "Greenleaf" (part of the collection Everything That Rises Must Converge) last night and enjoyed it greatly--my interest in reading is restored.  Where Nabokov shows unsavory characters in a moderated tone, O'Connor illuminates the ridiculous in us all.  Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but I'm happy to put this one behind me.  All but the first paragraph, which I still love.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin, my soul.  Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo. Lee. Ta.
Title: Lolita
Author: Vladamir Nabokov
Published: 1993 Everyman's Library (orig. 1955)
Read For: Back to the Classics Challenge, Banned Books Week
My Rating: great writing, depressing topic, averages out to 3 stars 

Read-a-Long Warning

I've decided to join Wallace at Unputdownables for an end-of-the-year read.  There's still time to join if you are in the mood (it is a 12 week reading schedule--totally manageable, right?)  I'm excited at the prospect of re-reading Anna Karenina, since I enjoyed War & Peace tremendously in 2009.  I'm not planning on blogging every week about it, although you never know when inspiration may hit and the blogging bug takes over, although some status updates in the next few months are to be expected.

I originally read Anna Karenina in high school.  I was a teen that loved to read, but had migrated away from the quality reads of my younger years and was spending all my time with forgettable, dramatic stories.  My mom finally had enough, and challenged (dared?) me to read a classic.  She'd had a friend that read War & Peace in high school, so Tolstoy seemed a perfect choice.  I flew through Anna Karenina, mostly because I enjoyed seeing the horror and chagrin on my mother's face when I told her of all the dramatic plot points.  (What can I say?  I was a teen.  I knew everything, and had to make sure my mom knew it.)  Reading Anna Karenina earned me the right to go back to reading the silly stuff of my own choosing.

Now, more years later than I care to claim, pretty much all I remember is that there was an affair a train accident.  Definitely time to revisit.  In the last couple of years, Tolstoy has become one of my favorite authors.  I'm seriously in love with how the guy thought, and how he expressed those thoughts.  In War & Peace, all the philosophical bits weren't the boring parts...they were just exciting in a different way.  I'll admit, I have high expectations for this experience.  But I don't think Tolstoy will let me down.

Title: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
My copy published: Penguin 2001
Originally published: 1873
Translated by: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Pages: 817 (without notes)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For the Record: September 2011

I didn't do a "For the Record" post for August, since I was posting so much on my Art of the Novella Challenge books, but I actually did read 3 books last month in addition to the 27 novellas I completed.  I'm including those books here so that they are on the record somewhere.

30 books read in August:
- 27 classic novellas (all-around wonderful experience)
- The Great Gatsby, F.Scott Fitzgerald (audio)
- Turn of Mind, Alice LaPlante
- The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, Justo Gonzalez (finally finished!)

I certainly experienced some challenge-burnout, but still loved the experience.  The time frame and focus seemed just about right to me (something I'll keep in mind for my future reading goals).  With school beginning again, my reading time has been diminished, though we are slowly getting into a routine.  It also marks the time of year when I start thinking about what books I want to get through before we are on to a new year; see below for those thoughts.

5 Books Read in September: (104 books year-to-date)
2 for Book Club:
  - The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (3.5)
  - The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning (review coming soon, 3.5)
1 Read-Aloud for my kiddos:
  - Dolphin Treasure by Wayne Grover (small but I'm still counting it! 3)
2 Just Because:
  - Newes From the Dead by Mary Hooper (YA--4)
  - The [Illustrated] Elements of Style by Strunk & White (NF--4.5)

1 DNF:
Yeats is Dead! A Mystery by 15 Irish Writers.  I originally picked it up because I liked the idea of getting to know 15 different Irish authors.  By the time I was 75-100 pages in, struggling with a dislike for the murder mystery premise, I was finding that there wasn't as much of a difference in writing styles as I'd hoped for.  I don't think that this is because the writers' styles weren't different, just that this book wasn't the best platform for discovering them.

2 Current Reads:
  - Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Banned books week, Back to the Classics Challenge)
  - O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (reread for my Willa Cather Challenge)

On My Nightstand:
  - The Giver, (to finish up my Back to the Classics Challenge,) and maybe some other JF
  - Some Short Stories by Flannery O'Connnor (I have 11 of 31 stories still unread)
  - Anna Karenina, because Wallace is having a read-along and I can't resist

Before the End of the Year:
Short stories, junior fiction, and Anna Karenina (not to mention the 2 books I'currently reading and the 3 ARCs I should tackle) should keep me more than busy for October, but in the interest of organizing my brain, I want to think beyond that.  First off, I'm not planning on accepting any more ARCs for the rest of this year at least...they've started to become a mental burden, which is something I want to avoid.  Second, my main goal is to get my personal goals and challenges wrapped up and thereby earn the right to think about next year's goals!

Pulitzer challenge:
  - one more book, probably Middlesex or A Visit From the Goon Squad
Top 5 of 2010 challenge:
  - Joy in the Morning, Betty Smith (author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
  - Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver (author of The Lacuna)
Newbery Challenge:
  - 5 more books total, probably the 2 pictured above plus The Westing Game, Shiloh, and Mrs. Frisby
Willa Cather Chronologically:
  - I wanted to finish 5 this year, but I don't think that will happen.  After O Pioneers! I'm aiming to also reread Song of the Lark, which would put me at 4 for the year.  Good enough.  My Antonia = bonus
Books on my Shelf:
  - Many of the above books also count for this, but I'm hoping to get to an additional 3 books or so...don't know what titles yet.

All of the above challenges, (except for my Top 5 challenge, which I don't think I'll be repeating) are perpetual and will continue into next year.

Are you beginning to reflect on 2011's reading yet?  Looking forward to making new goals in 2012?  There have been some things that have worked well for me this year, and others that I already know I want to change.  There is still a good amount of reading time left this year, but since I have so much fun planning and organizing, I figured I may as well get thinking!