Monday, February 24, 2014

Self-Imposed Read-a-Thon

My husband is out of town for business, and it seemed to me the perfect excuse to buckle down and get some books read.  I even asked my friends and family to sponsor me in a read-a-thon (no takers). Of course, I wasn't taking kiddos into account.

My kiddos all pose for a picture (yep, that's how they pose).  Left to
Right: Andrew (15) hates having his picture taken, Timothy (17) held that
soda up to his mouth for at least 20 seconds to make sure it got in the picture,
Melinda (13) is all about those awkward moments - like when our food is
delivered and the number must be retrieved from the top of her head, and
Audrey (9) is just ready to smile and be a part of whatever is going on.
On Saturday, I got to watch a 7-month-old-sweetie-pie. (I'm actually not a "baby person" but this is the little girl of a long-time friend. Plus she is super adorable, so we had fun.)  Also, we watched the entire Back to the Future trilogy (it was time—my 13yo had never seen them).  To top it off, we had YogurtLand for dinner (yum-o) (and yes, for dinner, not for dessert.  I'm a believer in breaking the dinner rules every now and again) and before I knew it, I was falling asleep at midnight something and hadn't read a single page.

My 17yo son had decided to spend the weekend relaxing at home with the family instead of filling his time (to the point of craziness) with surfing and friends, so that was a treat I couldn't pass up.  (Well, he did hang out with friends Friday night, and took my 13yo to work on Saturday morning to catch up on some paperwork, but he was home much more than usual and that's a treat these days.)

On Sunday, my 13yo had friends over, so that was a bit crazy.  My 15yo stayed in his room during most of that time, trying to avoid the chaos. My 9yo thoroughly enjoyed it. :)  Finally, at about 5pm, the house had reached a level of relative quietness that allowed me to pick up my book in earnest.

My goal was to finish reading Sense and Sensibility.  At around 9pm I had a solid 150 pages left.  Melinda (13yo) told me, "I'm sorry mom, but it's not going happen."  Which, of course, brought out the stubborn rebellion in me and was probably one of the biggest reasons that I DID finish it. (yay me!)  It took some major discipline to keep myself focused and not switch activities, but it paid off in the end.

My husband doesn't get back until tomorrow night.  My hope was to get at least two books read (finish S&S, read The Rosie Project) and I'm still holding out hope.  After all, I managed to complete the first half of that goal, right?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Splurge: New Bookish Self-Gifties

I splurged over the weekend and let myself do some shopping.  I really strive to keep a proper balance between buying books and reading books because it is so incredibly easy to overbuy and end up with shelves full of books I don't have time for and risk losing interest in.

I didn't have plans to buy any specific book when I walked into my local book shop, but since I'd finally finished the last two hardcover books I'd purchased there, I felt a little open-ended shopping was in order.

The first book I noticed when I walked in happened to be my current book club book: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.  For some reason I'd assumed by the title that this was going to be a light&fluffy but it doesn't really look that way! Have you read it?

I bought The Rosie Project because of Emily @ As the Crowe Flies and Reads.  I don't really know anything about it, because I'd rather go into it without any preconceived notions, but she read it multiple times last year so I know that it's worth my time.

We Need New Names caught my eye, partially because of the author's intriguing name, and partially because of the interesting title and the airplane on the front (my husband is a private pilot so flight catches my attention).  The synopsis wasn't what ended up selling me on the book, (children from Zimbabwe try to escape to America,) it was actually the author bio on the back flap that made me decide to take a chance on something unknown to me. Born in Zimbabwe and living in America with an MFA from Cornell, I think it is safe to say that the author knows her topic.

In other shopping, I stopped in a local boutique that has a lovely array of handpicked items. When I was Christmas shopping in December, I had a really hard time not buying things for myself, but I was strong and waited until February (when it seems only right that one should buy things for one's self). The main thing I coveted was this gorgeous wooden crate with monthly dividers—the perfect arrangement for a tangible view of the books I've read.  I also snagged a Library candle based on Leo Tolstoy: black plum, persimmon, and oak moss. Mmmm.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Life Seen Backwards (a.k.a. first thoughts on Middlesex)

I started reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides for a read-along at Unputdownables (this is the first week, so I'm only about 60 pages in).  Now, my experience with Eugenides thus far (why does reading Eugenides always seem to need to come with a prior-experience disclaimer?) has been only with The Marriage Plot, which I read when it came out simply because it was sent to me by Powell's in my Indiespensable shipment (back when I was doing so good at keeping up with them).  It thought it was...okay.  Mostly I just really didn't connect with it—the characters, the plot, the theme, and even the writing itself.  However, people ADORE Middlesex.  The Pulitzer Board loved Middlesex.  Right?  So I've got to read it at some point and it may as well be now.

All that to say that I began reading it with some hesitation.  The first chapter wasn't great.  And then the second chapter had me [first] highly irritated and [second] entranced.  And I'm thinking.  Perhaps this is Eugenides? Or maybe only Eugenides to me, but this quality of being simultaneously impressed and disdainful has settled over me during both of his books so far.  Is that a reflection of the author's feelings/personality or something he's hoping to evoke? Or is it just me being a little bit snotty?  I don't know. But interesting thought.

What left me entranced was the description of the grandmother's, erm, relationship, when she was young.  I really enjoyed how it was written, I could picture the characters and setting, and I was planted in the fictional dream.  If you've read it, you know of what I speak.  If you have not read it, well, I don't want to spoil it, but suffice to say that it is related to tough times in a small town.  Maybe.  Anyhow, (when the narrator kept his nose out of it at least,) the whole thing was captivating.

The great irritation stemmed from the point of view it was written in (first person semi-omniscient or something like that) that kept jolting me out of the story being told.  The high point of aggravation was the part where he rewinds time back to when his grandmother was young.  How those sentences were written simply didn't hold up to Pulitzer status.  In my opinion, of course.  They were highly conspicuous to me because it was impossible to not compare it to a similar type of scene in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.  And really, there is simply no comparison because Vonnegut composed one of the most amazing things ever in that scene. Anything else would necessarily pale in comparison. I actually had to put Middlesex down for a few seconds because I was annoyed about the whole Pulitzer thing.  (See?  That disgust that is so ready to rear its ugly head?  I'm not usually like that.  What's the deal? Who really compares authors like that? As if nobody is ever allowed to rewind the story ever again? Ugh.)  But because my subconscious won't leave me alone unless I actually compare them for realz, even though I feel like that makes me a little bit of a terrible human being, here they are.

[from Middlesex, 2002 by Jeffrey Eugenides]
And so now, having been born, I'm going to rewind the film, so that the pink blanket flies off, my crib scoots across the floor as my umbilical cord reattaches, and I cry out as I'm sucked back between my mother's legs.  She gets really fat again.  Then back some more as a spoon stops swinging and a thermometer goes back into its velvet case. Sputnik chases its rocket trail back to the launching pad and polio stalks the land.  There's a shot of my father as a twenty-year-old clarinetist, playing an Artie Shaw number into the phone, and then he's in church, age eight, being scandalized by the price of candles; and next my grandfather is untaping his first U.S. dollar bill over a cash register in 1931.  Then we're out of America completely; we're in the middle of the ocean, the sound track sounding funny in reverse. A steamship appears, and up on a deck a lifeboat is curiously rocking; but then the boat docks, stern first, and we're up on dry land again, where the film unspools, back at the beginning...

[from Slaughterhouse Five: or the Children's Crusade, 1969 by Kurt Vonnegut]
American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again. 

Actually, typing it out made me realize that I was probably mostly just offended that a pregnant woman is described (by a man) as "really fat".  I'm not an easily-offended sort of person but THAT gets my ire up.  After continuing on to read the third chapter my irritation was mostly diffused—I still don't care for the narrator/narration style very much, but I'm quite interested to see where the story leads.  (Still, that Vonnegut passage is the bees knees.)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This Week

I've been reading in bits and pieces this week - I've been listening to The Dog Stars (which has been much easier to become interested in through audio somehow...probably due to a good narrator making a topic more interesting than it would have been otherwise) and barely started Middlesex for a read-along at Unputdownables.  I'm also making my way through Sense and Sensibility.  It has been seven years since I've read S&S, and I'm getting so much more out of it this time.  What a good book.  Although I must say that the edition I'm reading is not exactly reading-in-bed-friendly.
That's me trying the sideways pose...the lying-on-my-back pose made me
look like I had alien thumbs.  (Thanks to my 9yo for help taking the photo!)

In other news, I'm apparently I'm an eclectic reader.  I didn't realize that my reading selections were oddly mixed until I saw this on GoodReads:

And...I discovered that knitting blankets—even baby sized blankets—is way more tedious than knitting sweaters.  But I did finish it in time to ship it over to Qatar, where my new nephew will be arriving in April. (Yay!)  After finishing this I immediately began two different sweaters to make up for it.  I have 3 more babies to knit for within the next few months, though, so I need to amp myself back up for knitting large rectangles.

Last, I'm thinking that maybe I'll give the Classics Club Spin another shot.  It was great motivation the first time, but completely ineffectual the second time.  And then I was so blog-absent that I didn't even realize they had a third and fourth time.  Now they're on Spin #5.  I really want to get some of my novellas read, so I've listed all those here, in addition to a few others to make up 20 books.
  1. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  2. The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
  3. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  4. Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  5. The Enchanted Wanderer, Nikolai Leskov
  6. The Duel, Alexander Kuprin
  7. My Life, Anton Chekhov
  8. *Freya of the Seven Isles, Joseph Conrad
  9. *The Man Who Would Be King, Rudyard Kipling
  10. *The Distracted Preacher, Thomas Hardy
  11. *The Lemoine Affair, Marcel Proust
  12. *The Alienist, Machado De Assis
  13. Stempenyu: A Jewish Romance, Sholem Aleichem
  14. The Duel, Anton Chekhov
  15. *Fanfarlo, Charles Baudelaire
  16. *May Day, F.Scott Fitzgerald
  17. Parnassus on Wheels, Christopher Morley
  18. Jacob's Room, Virginia Woolf
  19. *The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl, Italo Svevo
  20. The Touchstone, Edith Wharton (edited to add: #20 it is!)
* These novellas are pretty tiny.  If one of these numbers is selected, I'll choose another to pair with it.  Two for the price of one!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

For the Record: January 2014

How is it that the first month of the year is over already?  Being that this is the year we finally finish our house renovation, I've got a gazillion things to decide.  But I'm starting to really look forward to unpacking all my books...I seriously daydream about how I'll organize them (sad but true).

After lowering my goal on GoodReads (for number of books to read in 2014) I'm less stressed, but I'm still struggling a bit to keep on track.  Ugh.  I wish I didn't care.  I'm trying to not care.  But still.

5 Books Read in January: (5 year-to-date)

2 Classics:
  - Free Air, Sinclair Lewis (4) Okay, so this Sinclair is delightful.  This was a wonderful look at a road trip in 1919.  Who knew Americans were all over the great road trip adventure way back in '19? I loved the social humor and the peek at so many different kinds of society at the time.  I've heard this is in no way his best—which is quite intriguing for this fan.  I bought this book because of the lovely cover in conjunction with the author's name.  See?  Judging a book by its cover paid off.
  - Oil!, Upton Sinclair (3) And THIS Sinclair was a bit of a drag.  Even though the title has an exclamation mark which should mean the book is exciting.  It isn't.  Well, more precisely, the first third is engaging, and then it devolves into a political rant about socialism being better than capitalism.  Even that is interesting, in light of current sentiments...and the fact that we have seen the socialist ideal fail in practice...but still a little so-so overall.  I haven't watched There Will Be Blood (which is supposedly based on the first third of the book) but I think I'll do it soon.

1 for Book Club:
  - Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler (3.5) I adored Tyler's new book, The Beginner's Goodbye, which I picked up on a whim at the airport a few months back, so I decided that her Pulitzer Prize winner would be a good choice for our next book club read.  There were many funny parts, and a lot of depth into what drives people, but it was sad too (in that life-doesn't-always-turn-out-how-you-expect sort of way).  One thing the two books did have in common was the extraordinary way she writes of ordinary people.  Her characters are so real.

2 Others:
  - The Lighthouse Road, Peter Geye (5) I loved this book.  Probably even more than I did his first book, Safe From the Sea.  There is something about the way he writes about land, family, and history that appeals to me so much.  If you are ever in the mood to read a little historical fiction—something that reads quickly but has depth and substance—pick this!
  - Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn (3.5) This lovely lighthearted book was an impulse buy at my local book shop.  Although it began with a cast of characters in disarray, it soon pulled together and tidied up.  Kuhn's portrait of the Queen was very kind and sweet, and the book ended up being a nice happy read.  Recommended if you're in the mood for something simple and happy.


4 Current Reads:
  - Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen.  I'm reading the annotated version for this re-read and it's wonderful so far!
  - Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides.  I'm joining Wallace at Unputdownables for a read-along of this.  I haven't begun yet (I need to start!) but it's not scheduled for completion until the end of March so I'm feeling like I've got all the time in the world.
  - The Best of McSweeney's.  Still reading this, story by story.  There's been so much to love that I'm not in a huge hurry for it to end.
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller.  My new audiobook.  So far the writing is spare, which matches the post-apocalyptic landscape.  Listening to it instead of reading it myself (which I tried a while back) is helping me to go at a slower pace and appreciate the syntax.


On My Nightstand:
I really don't have much in the queue right now, although I have a couple of vague goals.  First, to catch up on an Indiespensable book or two (I did a terrible job at keeping up with them last year) starting with the newest shipment: Orfeo by Richard Powers.  Second, to read my next Willa Cather book and/or knock back a couple of my classic novellas.  We'll see how it goes after I'm done with Sense and Sensibility.

  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan.  One of my goals this year is to read more nonfiction, so I thought it might help to have it staring me in the face.  I really enjoyed Egan's The Worst Hard Time (about the Dust Bowl) and am looking forward to this one about Teddy Roosevelt and our National Parks and Forest Service.