Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's Not You, It's Me: Vol. 4

After being laid out on the couch as sick as a dog for nearly week, I've lifted my head above the fog with that strange notion of time set askew.  It feels as if I've missed more than a week of reality, and I figured that the best tonic would be to come clean on some perfectly good books that left me cold.  Once I get this out of my system I move onto gushing about other perfectly wonderful books and all will be well.

May I present: The Story of Many Dogs That Almost Broke Into Speech But Never Quite Did.  At least that's what I expected them to do.

This book was hugely popular a while back.  Oprah selected it.  I read enough unenthusiastic reviews to convince me not to read it, but then it was selected for my book club so I had to.  I got through it mostly on audio, and if I said that I cared about any of the characters, I'd be exaggerating.

However.  If you are a dog lover, a lover of the Shakespearean tragedy, if you are a Wisconsin lover or a lover of the long-winded epic, then this may be a match made in heaven.

Parts of Running the Rift were quite good.   The story of Rwanda's recent history can't fail to be compelling, making it impossible to remain emotionally detached during the climax of the plot.  It is important to tell the stories of those who are unable to tell their own—atrocities should not be left unremembered.

The problem is the nagging feeling that has followed this story for me: that those people weren't done justice in this book.  I had a hard time drumming up a connection to any of the characters...what should have been a celebration of survival and spirit, instead felt rather lifeless and mechanical, and I thought it was a pity.  Obviously my opinion is not universal, and I still think it's a story worth telling, even if the telling wasn't spectacular.

Now I thought that Rules of Civility would be a terrific romp through NYC in the Roaring 20s, and who am I to complain about that?  Snazzy style, glamorous girls, plenty of parties, and most of all...jazz.  Yes please.

Actually, I may have liked it more if I had read it instead of listening to it.  Perhaps it was the narrator's intonations that brought attention to the scads of metaphors saturating the prose.  It sounded as if it were written by someone who enjoyed sunsets and long walks on the beach and could rather do without having to actually read anything.  I'm sorry, but there it is.

Still, I love the era.  The title is great.  The premise has promise.  Sigh.

The Kitchen House: A Book Club Favorite.  It's no wonder, actually, because it seems to have been marketed directly for that purpose.  Simple writing, quick pace, tons of plot points, a gazillion-billion issues (and their sisters), and the Southern, historical setting, and Bam! Book Club Favorite!

Okay, but seriously.  If you are in the mood for a quickly moving, easy to read, page turning experience, then pick it up.  Do it.  It's what you want.  Just don't try to figure out why the Irish girl is named Lavinia, or what is benefited by the narrator switch, or if it is likely that all of these things would have happened to one person, or which issue you should care about the most...because you might get distracted and stop turning pages so quickly.  And that was the point, wasn't it? Oh, and don't forget to meet up with a group of girls and drink a glass of wine afterwards.  You've earned it.

Ahhh.  I feel so much better now.  I think that was just what the doctor ordered.  :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Peek Below Stairs

For the Downton Abbey fan, for the lover of history, for the memoir junky, or the behind-the-scenes aficionado: if you haven't met Margaret Powell, you're missing out.

Originally published in 1968 but only discovered by me during a recent trip into a bookstore (a woefully rare occurrence), this book ended up being the missing piece in my search to understand the history of domestic service in Britain.  Not that I'm done reading about it, mind you.

A year ago I read Up & Down Stairs: the History of the Country House Servant, and found scads of fascinating information.  What was missing, however, was the unedited opinion of the servants themselves.  While I'm certain servants' viewpoints varied as widely as personalities vary in general, there's nothing like information straight from the horse's mouth.

Margaret Powell is a spunky girl, and Below Stairs is never lacking liveliness.  From her tales about growing up poor in a small town to bold opinions and conjectures, there's always something to keep you turning the pages.  It had me laughing aloud and searching for a willing ear to pass tidbits onto.  In fact, I can't quote anything from the book because I lent it out as soon as I'd finished reading.  It was that much fun.

And now I'm torn—I want to scour bookstores for more, snatching up anything remotely related, and yet how can anything live up to a perfect experience?

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Cover Art Tour: Classics Club Spin List Selection

The spin has been spun and #14 has won!  In my list, that means I am reading F.Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned by April 1st.  First published in 1922, this is a story of the elite in the Jazz Age, and is supposedly a largely autobiographical look at marriage.

I had been pretty neutral at the thought of reading this book, but then I happened to have received a beautiful new copy in the mail last now of course I'm excited!  There has been quite a wonderful assortment of covers for this book, though, so a Cover Art Tour is in order.  I've chosen the ones I like best; I hope you enjoy! (images via GoodReads)

The Beautiful:

And Damned:

The Others:

My Collection:
I actually came across these whilst browsing Houzz, working on my
home design, and decided these were a Must Have.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Classic's Club Spin List

I love the idea of the Spin List!  I know I'm trying to read by whim, but I've also been wanting to participate more in the The Classics Club.  If you've decided to join in the Classics Club already, this is a great motivation to get another title crossed off your list.  Check out this post to see how it works.  I've put together a list of 20 books from my list that are quite a mixed lot, and I've used the List Randomizer at RANDOM.ORG to mix up my list so I don't go all crazyOCD in choosing how to arrange it.  Still, crossing my fingers the number picked is a good one.  ;)

  1. The Duel, Anton Chekov
  2. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  3. Native Son, Richard Wright
  4. The Kruetzer Sonata and Other Stories, Leo Tolstoy
  5. The Secret Sharer & Other Stories, Joseph Conrad
  6. Cakes and Ale, W.Somerset Maugham
  7. Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope
  8. Easter Parade, Richard Yates
  9. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
  10. Eugene Onegin and Other Poems, Alexander Pushkin
  11. Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskell
  12. The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
  13. Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
  14. The Beautiful and the Damned, F.Scott Fitzgerald
  15. The Devil's Pool, George Sand
  16. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  17. The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
  18. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  19. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  20. The Professor's House, Willa Cather

Giveaway Winners!

Thanks to all who joined in the Literary Blog Hop and Giveaway hosted by Judith @ Leeswammes!

The winners have been emailed...if I don't get responses by Monday then the rest of you have another chance.  :)  Congratulations!


Friday, February 8, 2013

Let Me Give You a Book!

It's time for the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop!

(Big thanks to Judith @ Leeswammes for hosting!  Be sure to visit her site as well as the other blogs participating (linky list below) to enter to win even more books!)

It's your lucky month, because I'm giving away 2 Books.

The first is a product of impulse (a.k.a. me buying books I already own) and is a perfectly new, lovely copy of Willa Cather's The Professor's House.  Since I'm shipping this book out, it is available only to addresses within the US.

The second is available internationally, though only to those countries to which Book Depository will ship. (If you are unsure, check out their list here.)  After gushing (and going on and on and on and ON) about my recent re-read of Persuasion, I think it's only right that I give you all an opportunity to enjoy the incredibly beautiful annotated version for yourself.  This one is a treat!

  • You do not need to be a blogger to enter, but you do need a post-office recognized address.  
  • US residents may enter for both books, though only eligible to win one (please leave me a note on the form if you prefer one over the other, otherwise Persuasion will be first.)  
  • Giveaway will close on Wednesday, February 13th, and the winners will be chosen by Friday, February 15th.
  • I will email the winners and announce them on my blog.  You must respond within 3 days (by the end of the day on Monday, February 18th) or the book will be awarded to someone else.

[EDIT: Giveaway has been closed--thank you so much for joining in!  Winners will be announced soon!]

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

For the Record: January 2013

Ah the New Year.  I've been trying to focus on reading what I want to read, when I want to read it, not worrying about how many of what kind of book I read, and so far it has been a lot of fun.  What a concept!  I may be back into the swing of reading!

8 Books Read in January: (8 year-to-date)
1 for Book Club:
  - Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver (3.5) [meh...the agenda was too much]
3 Non-Fiction:
  - The Famine Plot, Tim Pat Coogan (4) [good overview of the times, cause, & effect of famine]
  - Two Guys Read Jane Austen, Chandler & Hill (3.5) [not as funny as it should have been]
  - Below Stairs, Margaret Powell (4.5) [brilliant!]
2 Classics:
  - Persuasion, Jane Austen (5) [adored, as usual]
  - Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw (3.5) [I suppose I should watch My Fair Lady now too?]
2 from my shelf:
  - Little Pear, Eleanor Francis Lattimore (4) [fun read-aloud written in a time gone by]
  - Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron (3.5) [all right, I just didn't care as much as I'd hoped I would]


1 Current Reads:
  - River of Earth, James Still.  This has been on my shelf for yearsandyears.  I'm happy to have found the right time to read it.  Written in 1940, this is classic Appalachian literature.
  - Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Reading it along with a great group (& Wallace) @ Unputdownables.  This has also been on my shelf for yearsandyears, and I'm worried that I won't like it & will constantly be wishing he were Tolstoy instead.  Oh well, here goes nothing...for the next few months.


On My Nightstand:
I'm really enjoying leaving my nightstand somewhat open and pulling books off the shelf as the mood strikes me, but my mood has been pushing me towards my next Willa Cather, and the ARC on my shelf...we'll see what happens once River of Earth is never know.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Flight Behavior, or: May I Have an Agenda Please?

Despite my extreme dislike of the Agenda-Novel, I still have traces of conviction that there is a way that it should be done and a way that it should not be done—and most authers reside in the latter.  After reading Persuasion, (a book that argues for love over propriety, and good company over good manners,) and seeing how it should be done, Kingsolver was even more of a let down.  Once an author decides to write a novel instead of a persuasive piece of nonfiction, the characters and the story should have the forefront—not the agenda.

Of course, I'm willing to concede that this could be partly personal opinion.  After all, I know many people love Lord of the Flies, and (though its message was far more integrated into the story than how Kingsolver handled her message) I found it maddeningly like being preached at.

Around midpoint, this book went from being a light engaging read (in the weight of the prose, not in significance or beauty) to being a dragging slog through an environmental primer. It did pick up at the end, but the whole agenda/lecture felt rather insulting.

One of the things that frustrated me no end was the tone Kingsolver used in her arguments...that let-me-explain-this-to-you-in-very-simple-terms tone.  As a reader, I'm stuck giving the author the final word—or so it feels whilst reading—and can't help but feel that, though I'm the frustrated one, she's the one that loses in the end, because this was not an intelligent discussion or an invitation to stimulate thought; this was a lecture.  A lecture that didn't accomplish anything.

In one sentence she  rages that nobody will open their eyes and see what is going on, and in the next she says there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it.  Have you ever watched a documentary hoping to bring awareness to a serious issue, that tells you in the end that there is no solution?  What's the point of that?  OK, we're all aware, so what's next?  Live in hopelessness and despair?  What does that accomplish?

I've always been so impressed with Kingsolver's nuance and subtlety but she let it drop here. I liked the location, even though I never fully felt the setting.  The characters were interesting, and the butterflies were beautiful and amazing.  My final feelings are torn, as I did enjoy the writing, but being talked down to is never a pleasant experience. 3.5 stars for what might have been...though as time goes on I like it less and less.