Monday, December 27, 2010


The Bell by Iris Murdoch is a beautiful, complicated novel that left me feeling like I missed a lot of nuances. I even went back and read the introduction again after I finished the book to see if there was anything there that could illuminate things for me. This was a good story about a lay community next to an enclosed group of nuns and the various people in the community. There are some interesting themes here about religion and spiritual life. As I said though, I think I may have missed some things. Which leaves me feeling like a ding dong (heh) or as Peanut would say, a doovis.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I can see where this is going...

I knew next to nothing about Sylvia Plath before I started to read The Bell Jar. Wow, this is an amazing book. I was truly amazed and saddened by the author's ability to lay out in detail what she was going through at the time of her mental breakdown. It was just heartbreaking to read especially because the one thing I did know about Plath was about her death. I think this was an important story and I'm pretty embarrassed that I was 32 before I read it!

One amazing thing is how the author is able to alter her writing almost imperceptibly to show how the bell jar is descending and ascending again. I found myself rooting for the main character even though I knew sort of what was going to happen in the author's life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Don't like the character, but like the book.

I really liked Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant. I generally like stories with these kinds of wealthy, interesting characters. What was really interesting about this book though was how unapologetic the author is for the actions of the main character. We aren't supposed to like him very much, and I was interested to see whether he accomplished his goals.

This was over too soon!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This one might even be too dirty for Marissa.

Believe it or not, The Beautiful Room Is Empty might be too dirty for Marissa. It is a memoir written by a man who struggled with his identity as a gay man in the 1950s and 1960s. Very good writing and definitely a good story, but WOW. There was some really very graphic descriptions in here. My eyes! My eyes!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lost momentum.

The first hundred pages or so of Back are really, really interesting. The main character comes back from World War II and learns that the girl he loves has died. He thinks that there may be some sort of conspiracy. The reader wonders whether there is really a conspiracy or whether it is all in the main character's mind. I seriously couldn't put it down.

Then the story just kind of slows down and peters out. I won't give anything away but it just...kind of....stopped...holding my attention. It was a good story though, just not as exciting as I thought it would be.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was the last A book still for me to read on the list, and I'm done! I can't really say that I found this particularly interesting. While I'm sure their lives were interesting hanging out with all those famous authors and artists, reading about who they met and what they did was not. The book does have the anecdote about Gertrude Stein telling her philosophy professor she didn't feel like taking a philosophy exam and receiving the highest grade, which I had heard before.

Not much to report here. I'm glad this one is over, and I appreciate Marissa's effort to get this book for me to read!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's all about asses and cocks.

Ok, I couldn't help it. I know the fables are referring to donkeys and roosters, but it still makes me giggle.
(And I hear Emily exclaiming "You're so dirty!) Anyway, I finally read Aesop's Fables. There are SO MANY more than I thought there were! I was familiar with "The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" but there about a zillion more. I liked the overarching themes of being content with what you have, not reaching beyond your means, getting what you deserve, helping others, and the like. No wonder they've lasted throughout the centuries. And they are so adaptable, which is why there are so many versions mixed into books, movies, TV, etc. In fact, Jerry Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal this past year for his version of The Lion and the Mouse which had no words, just beautiful images and subtle details. I'm glad I got acquainted with the original tales. Thanks Project Gutenberg!

Who is more of a tortoise than a hare.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Everyone's a nonconformist.

The funny thing about having a baby is that you turn around one day, and they are a toddler. With opinions. Opinions that may differ from your own on topics such as what to wear, what to eat, whether to take a bath, and so on. And though some of the things they do are awfully cute, I guarantee that every once in a while, they are going to want to wear their green pajama shirt all day with their purple striped leggings. Or is that just my kid?

Sinclair Lewis' masterpiece Babbitt is about a man who has spent his whole life doing what he should. He joins the right clubs, makes the right friends, lives in the right subdivision, and has a life that seems quite happy on the surface. Inside, though, he is restless and wonders if other choices would make him happier. He essentially wants to try the adult equivalent of wearing his green pajama shirt all day. The book is a wonderful story not only about Babbitt and his desire to no longer conform, but also an amazing illustration of America in the 1920s. Whenever his kids became part of the story, I kept thinking, those are my grandparents. I can definitely see why Lewis won a Nobel Prize for this book.

Happy Thanksgiving! I can't wait to see what Peanut decides to wear to Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Peanut: Want cranberries!
Me: You have a dish of cranberries right over there on the coffee table, see?
Peanut: (wailing): Nooo! You don't LIKE those cranberries! Want DIFFERENT cranberries! Nooooo!

This kind of scene is repeated several times at my house over the course of a day. Peanut will be 2 on Saturday. I usually just give her what she's asking for if it isn't a big deal like a dish of different cranberries. There are several reasons for this. I love her very much and I want her to be happy. And if it is important to her and not so important to me, I don't mind compromising. Goodness knows that there's plenty of stuff she doesn't get to choose (wearing a coat is the biggest right now) so I may as well say yes when I can. But I see why people say toddlers can be dictators, though. Yikes.

Thankfully, I'm not afraid that Peanut will have me beheaded or quartered if I don't give her the cranberries, like the dictator in The Autumn of the Patriarch might. (How's THAT for a segue, ha!) This book was tough to read. Difficult subject matter for me, very difficult stream of consciousness writing style, and very depressing book. There were almost no paragraphs. Just these really long musing, meandering sentences. I found it harder to read than Faulkner.

Anyway, glad it's over, and I better post this before my baby dictator spots my iPad...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Post from beyond...

Oh hey. It's Marissa. What's up? Just checking in. I started Adam Bede. Which is book 7, friends. My sister Emily von Speedypants Readsalot is at 57. AND I'm only on 7 because I haven't read 5 and 6 yet. Although I had read 52 of the 1001 prior to starting this project, so we're about even. Will post again when I've actually gotten into Adam Bede because I'm in the explanatory notes now (George Eliot was a WOMAN!).

Marissa von Slowpoke Gradschool Readsotherstuff

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Books 61-70

Into the B's now!

61. Back by Henry Green (1946)
62. The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White (1988)
63. Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (1885)
64. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
65. Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen (1968)
66. The Bell by Iris Murdoch (1958)
67. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
68. Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace (1880)
69. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul (1979)
70. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin (1929)

Lots of bells. I guess that's appropriate for the coming season of the year.

One of the original feminists.

Kate Chopin's book The Awakening came in an edition that had a few hundred pages of critical notes, discussions of what society was like at the time, etc. The text itself was only 109 pages. I'm glad that that other stuff was included though because I think I would have missed some important nuances.

Edna Pontellier is a proper Southern lady who gradually comes to realize how limiting her existence is. Society places all these restrictions on her. She gradually works to be free of them. In some ways I agree and see why she has the feelings that she does. I also think, however, that women of that level of wealth at that time were comparatively lucky. Many women had to struggle to feed their families and care for them. It doesn't necessarily mean that the challenges of women like Mrs. Pontellier shouldn't be considered, just that they were lucky to be able to consider higher issues such as women's roles in society. I also didn't like how Mrs. Pontellier kind of abandoned her children and husband. Even if they were part of the social order that was causing her to feel so troubled, I kind of was sad that she discarded them so easily.

Anyway, definitely an important book and I'm glad I read it.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Get away from it all.

When Mike and I were dating, we once took an ill-timed vacation to Miami in August. Everything was great until Hurricane Frances started lurking in the ocean. Faced with the hotel's suggestion of evacuating to a shelter in North Miami, we rented a car and joined the largest evacuation in Florida history at the time - drove all the way back to DC, braving gas shortages and stopping for a few hours to rest in Florence, South Carolina. When we got near DC, just to add insult to injury, we found ourselves stuck in Labor Day traffic. I think we were both more stressed out when we got back from that vacation than when we left!

August is a Wicked Month is the story of another vacation that doesn't turn out the way the protagonist wants it to, and it is much more tragic than a little Labor Day traffic or the rush to find gas in the middle of the night in Jacksonville. I don't know much about this author or anything else she has written, but this was a really good, if sad, story. It's slightly dated now (I think it was published in the mid-1960s) but the messages still are powerful.

Oh, and the next time we visit Miami, it's going to be in the WINTER. When there are NO HURRICANES.

56 of 1001, or about 5.6%!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Crazy good.

You know those people who can get so absorbed in what they are doing and their own worldview that they can't see that anyone else has different motivations or goals? Dr. Peter Kien, the hero of Auto-Da-Fe, is one of them. His love for scholarship and literature blinds him to everything else and ultimately is his undoing.

This book was fantastic. I really thought 464 pages were going to drag but I was interested the whole time and couldn't wait to see what happened to everyone. I won't give away the ending, just say that what I wanted to happen, didn't happen.

55/1001 so far, or about 5.5% done!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A look at the Holocaust through a man's memories.

The book jacket of Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald makes it sound like a mystery story - a man is trying to find out his real identity. Which it is, but it is a lot more based in history and European life than the book jacket makes it sound. It is a sad, melancholy, complex book. Quite a bit of time is spent on descriptions of various train stations and public spaces in Europe. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand why it is on the list and I am glad to have read it, but it wasn't really what I expected either. Maybe I'm not sure what I expected.

Also, I have been telling my daughter that there aren't usually pictures in Mama's books - so much that she says, "No pictures Mama's book" when she sees one. This book made a liar out of me.

Marissa, I think you'll be interested to read the descriptions of libraries in this book.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An airhead exhibition.

One of the reasons that I have been enjoying this project is that I haven't really read a lot of great literature in my life and I think I can appreciate it now. However, sometimes some of these books just leave me shaking my head - I am clearly missing something. I usually get what is going on in most of these, but The Atrocity Exhibition exposes me as the airhead that I sometimes am.

J. G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition is a short story that is about 11 pages long. It focuses on (I think) a sort of World War III situation, a guy who might be insane, some other characters that are trying to take over his mind or have him do these weird things for him, and some mannequins. I'm glad it was short because I just don't get it and I felt dumb!

Read so far: 53/1001. It's been about a year and I'm about 5% through.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More than a historical novel.

I really liked Atonement by Ian McEwan and I can see why it was honored with so many prizes. It starts off and you think it is a really well written historical novel - and then as you keep reading you realize that the author is doing a couple of really cool things. You wind up questioning who the narrator is and how much he or she actually knows about the events described in the book. I don't want to say too much more because I don't want to spoil it. This is one that I think Mike would really enjoy and I hope he has a chance to read it soon.

Also, McEwan captured the 13-year old girl so well in the early part of the novel. I could definitely relate to her urge to write, create, put on a play, write a story and give it decorative covers, etc.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A book within a book within a...

At Swim Two Birds is a crazy, fun, sometimes confusing book. The main character is writing a book. In his book, the main character is writing a book. And the main character's characters do some writing of their own, too. It was very hard for me to keep the layers straight and remember who was who.

This book reminds me a little of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. That book didn't have the layers to it like this one but something about how it was set up called that book to mind. (Jonathan Strange is probably my favorite book I've read in the last few years before starting this project, by the way.) But weirdly, I can't decide if I liked this or not. It's definitely a cool concept and good writing and laugh-out-loud funny in places, but it was also pretty out there.

Great character name: The Pooka MacPhellimey

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Should we be reading this at all?

H.D. wanted Asphodel destroyed and it was never published during her life. This fact makes me wonder...should we read this? Do we have a right to read something the author doesn't want us to? There is definitely stuff I have written that it would be embarrassing to go reread now (Business Planning paper, I'm talking about you) and I can't imagine how that would be on a larger scale. Anyway.

This book is about a somewhat navel gazing young woman based on H.D. who goes to live in Europe during the World War I era. I thought it was pretty good. I couldn't figure out what any of the characters did for money but I'm guessing they were supported by upper class families. H.D.'s style can be difficult to read at times. It's almost like a stream of consciousness.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two Boys.

At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill is the first novel I've read, I think, where the romantic story at the center is about two boys. It takes place in 1915-1916 in Ireland, a time period where you'd think they would be faced with a lot of negativity about their choices. They do, but that's not really at the center of the story at all. Also woven in is the Easter Rising, which both characters play a role in.

This is a really well written, sad and interesting book. Not necessarily something I would have chosen on my own, but I'm glad I read it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Books 51-60

I can't believe that after I read 2 more books, I will be 5% done with this project. That is amazing to me!

Here are the next 10 books on the list, 51 through 60.

51. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien (1939)
52. Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
53. The Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard (1970)
54. August is a Wicked Month by Edna O'Brien (1965)
55. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald (2001)
56. Auto da Fe by Elias Canetti (1935)
57. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (1933)
58. Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1975)
59. The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)
60. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)

And we're into the B's! :)

Grateful for my safe life.

Slavenka Draculic's book As If I am Not There is also titled S., which made it a little confusing to find. This book was really difficult to read, but absolutely amazing. I like a lot of these books, but often they don't rivet me to my seat or have me thinking about them throughout the day. This one was a real page turner. I couldn't put it down. It really made me grateful for my life.

The story is really tough to get through, it's about a woman in a camp in the Balkans in 1992, so it is really upsetting and sad. The message at the end is hopeful though. Even till the last few pages, I really doubted it would turn out the way it did. (This was also a book I was so afraid of what was going to happen at the end, that I flipped and read the last page when I was only about 100 pages in. I needed to make sure that it wasn't going to turn out the way I feared. Embarrassing to admit, but true!)

While I was reading this, it really had an impact on me. Little things I complain about (Peanut, please don't throw your cars on the floor!) all of a sudden seemed so much less important. I wanted to give my husband and little girl a big hug. (Thankfully for me, my little girl is really into hugs right now too. Give Mama big hug!)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Extra spinach in postwar Japan.

I really enjoyed Kazuo Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World. I liked the portrayal of postwar Japan and the look at arranged marriages. I also could identify with Ono and his attempts to do the right thing, what he believed in, and his later regrets about doing so when the political tide turned against him.

Ichiro, his grandson, stole the show for me though. I loved the discussions between them and how he was so very 8. Extra spinach on the Junior Lunch, please!

I never would have found this on my own and I'm glad I read it!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It's a hard стучать life.

What struck me about The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky is how difficult life in Russia was. Where Anna Karenina portrayed life among upper class Russian society, The Artamonov Business follows the life of a recently freed serf mill founder and his children as they build their mill and become involved in town life, and ultimately wind up on the wrong side of the revolution.

The book is a really good, if sad, story, but yikes. Life is tough. There are many dead children. People seem so unhappy. I can see why many people thought that the revolution would make a difference - because life was so difficult before, how could it get anything other than better?

I had not read anything by Gorky before and I'm definitely glad I read this book.

Oh, and Google Translation helped me with the Russian in the title. I actually studied Russian in school but years of disuse have made me incredibly rusty!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Babywearing and Nigerian culture.

Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe Is one of those amazing books that I had no idea existed before I started this project. I had read Things Fall Apart in college and really enjoyed that but had no clue that Achebe had written other books. I'm really glad I read this. There are a lot of themes here that I hadn't really thought about.

I liked the story of the intersection of the traditional religion and Christianity. Even more, I liked learning about the culture of the people from Umuaro. I liked the glimpses of family life and childcare. They carried babies on their backs! (I'm convinced that is one of the most comfortable ways for me to carry a baby!) Interesting how the colonizers were convinced they were introducing the people to new and better ways of doing things, but now looking back, many of the older ideas and traditions (baby wearing!) are actually becoming more popular again. The new ways aren't necessarily better.

I really enjoyed this book. I was kind of sad it ended where it did.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pretty thoughtful.

Where The Apes of God was long, silly, and unreadable, Arcanum 17 was pretty, thoughtful and WAY over my head.

The book is not really a story. It is more of a series of musings on the world in 1944 that the author assembled while spending time in Quebec. It is beautifully written with some really cool imagery. I liked that the author seemed to have a lot of respect for women and thought their contributions to society were undervalued. I'm sure I missed some important points because it was kind of confusing at times, but I'm glad I read this. It was short and really beautiful.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Thud is the sound The Apes of God made when the reference librarian placed it on the counter in front of me. This book weighs a ton, and it is about 640 pages.

Thud is also the figurative sound this book made as I was reading it. Not interesting. Whatever Lewis was trying to do with this book ("tell a story" not really working out for him) doesn't translate to a contemporary audience. I was glad to see in the afterword that lots of people find it unreadable. I have to admit that I kind of gave up trying to figure it out and just skimmed to get through it.

Here is a recipe for Peasant Stew we had a few weeks ago and loved. It's not made from peasants or anything, don't worry.Peasant Stew from Cooking Light

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The amazing race!

Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days is like a book version of my favorite show, The Amazing Race! I loved it! I loved how methodical Fogg is and the different ways he devises to solve his various travel issues. I liked the servant and how he gradually became more trusted and able to make decisions as the journey progressed. And I liked the ending! This was super fun and over too soon.

I was amazed at how quickly they got out of the house and off to their trip once it was decided. They definitely weren't traveling with a toddler, that is for sure. (No! Burpies! Yellow doggie turtle! No! Green car! Ball! Snacks! Nooooo!)

Next up for me is The Apes of God, over 600 pages. Due back at the library on September 9, no renewals. I better get going!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Not many antics here.

I didn't know what to expect when I started Aldous Huxley's Antic Hay. I think I skimmed Brave New World at some point in my educational career but I don't remember anything about it at all. This book was kind of a disappointment. I could tell that the author was trying to put forth certain views but I honestly have no idea what those are. I am really not enjoying the books that consist mainly of characters sitting around talking to each other. DO something! I didn't like any of the characters and they just didn't seem real to me. I feel like the author just created them as mouthpieces for various views.

I'm sure I missed the point of this book but I'm just glad it's over!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Russia with love.

Anna Karenina was a lot different for me this time around. A lot has changed in my life since I read this 5 years ago and I enjoyed this book a great deal more now. The last time I read this perhaps I didn't have the patience to really enjoy it, or wasn't in the right frame of mind. Plus I think there is something about reading a lot of great's like I have more practice or something, so I'm getting more out of each one.

This book is just incredible. It's a novel but the reader also learns so much about the history and culture of Russia from the story as well. Mike said something interesting the other day when I was marveling at how much I was enjoying the book. He said, imagine how amazing it must have been when it first came out too. People must have been awestruck by what an incredible novel it was.

Lately I've been thinking that there is a very wide disparity among the 1001 books. There are some that are incredible like this one. Even people who aren't fans of Russian literature could probably appreciate what a masterpiece it is. On the other hand, there are also there random weird books that are stream of consciousness, or there's a hole cut out in the book, or whatever. Gimmicky things. It is just interesting the wide range of books that the editors considered the best.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Books 41-50.

Not that I'm going to be done with Anna Karenina anytime soon. But I thought it would be interesting to see what is next on the list.

41. Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley (1923)
42.The Apes of God by Wyndham Lewis (1930)
43.Arcanum 17 by Andre Breton (1945)
44.Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (1873)
45.Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe (1964)
46.The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky (1925)
47.An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
48.As if I Am Not Thereby Slavenka Drakulic (1999)
49.Asphodel by H.D. (1992)
50.At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill (2001)

I've never read any of these. I wonder if I will like the first few books of this grouping. Several of the books that were written around that era have not been my favorites, but I never know from book to book which I'm going to like and which I'm going to hate. I'm looking forward to the Achebe book and the Jules Verne book particularly.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Running amok.

Amok by Stefan Zweig is not really a book, it's more of a short story. The writing is incredible. I know it was originally German so the translator deserves credit as well as the author, but wow. Just amazing.

I never knew where the phrase "running amok" came from until I read this. It basically refers to a person who has gone crazy from the tropical heat, alcohol, etc and runs around doing crazy things until stricken down. So one of the characters here has run amok.

I just can't get over how fantastic the writing was! I'm also surprised I never heard of Zweig till reading this.

Next up for me is Anna Karenina which is super long. So it may be a while before I post again!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Where pigs rule the world. A fairy tale.

I'm glad I read the introduction to Animal Farm by George Orwell. I learned a lot about him and the background to this book that I wouldn't have otherwise known. I'm SURE I would have misunderstood the book if I were to just read it without having the background. I would have understood that it was a satire on Stalinism/Communism but I wouldn't have known or understood that Orwell was actually liberal and wasn't anti-socialism, but just critical of how it was implemented at that time in the Soviet Union.

I also found it interesting that Orwell referred to the story as a fairy tale. It can be read on the surface as a story of animals running a farm. I did that reading Lord of the Flies in high school. I just didn't get what the whole big deal was! I also liked how simple the language and story were. It was very straightforward describing events as they happened with not much character development. Not that you need much when the leading characters are pigs, I suppose.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A world of disappointment.

I just finished Another World by Pat Barker. When I started reading this book it sounded super interesting and I was all excited to see where the story led. Unfortunately the book kind of fizzled out for me at the end. The parts of the plot I was interested in just sort of...went away. I felt like the author really missed some interesting opportunities with this book.

Parts of this story made me sad, too. There's a bit of toddler violence in this book, and that was hard to read. It made me hug my little one very tightly.

That ends my vacation reads for this year! Big thanks to Marissa for checking out these from the library for me!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fun with words.

Words are the star of Lorrie Moore's Anagrams. This book has an interesting construction. The beginning part seems like a few short stories with the same characters, while the longer last section develops the characters more fully. The main character, Benna, is a college poetry professor and it is often in the classroom setting where the reader can see what is going on with her feelings and emotions through words that she uses with her class.

The book is sad. There is a lot of loneliness in Benna's life and the extent of it isn't really all revealed until the last few pages. This was a really good book though and I'm definitely glad I read it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

In which no one is actually named Absalom.

Yes it's true, I finally finished Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! I didn't love this one. The story and complex familial relations are great, but I find Faulkner's writing exhausting. In the edition of the book that I got from the library, there is a timeline and character synopsis for the major players, and I thought that was immensely helpful.

I found (and still find) the lack of an actual character named Absalom funny. That's like publishing a grilling cookbook and naming it Cupcakes, Cupcakes! I decided to look up what the name "Absalom" meant, hoping to clarify. The name means "father of peace" and refers to King Solomon's son, Absalom, who wanted to take over the throne. It's often associated with terrible grief, and that makes total sense because this novel is full of sadness and more sadness.

I think this is one for me to revisit in the future. The story is rich and I like the premise, but Faulkner is a tough one to read.


Thursday, July 8, 2010


Amsterdam by Ian McEwan is really short. I picked it up and thought, hmmm. Tiny, as my daughter would say. I wondered how much could really go on in such a small volume.

It turns out a whole lot can go on in 185ish pages. This book was so good! I couldn't believe how neatly the story fit together and how entertaining it was! The whole idea behind the book is so unique, too. I loved it! It took me some time to get the hang of who was who at the beginning but it was pretty well sorted out in my head a few pages in. Lots of moral questions presented in here too. I'm amazed the author got this all into such a short book.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


John McGahern's book Amongst Women is very melancholy. I am on vacation now, and I have to say it isn't a typical vacation read. The story follows a man who was abusive to his children and his last few years of life, how he interacts with his kids and how they relate to him and how their lives develop. It is sad, but beautifully beautifully written. It is one of those books where the portrait of the life and environment where the characters live is just amazing.

A weird vacation read, but very good.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

From the outside looking in.

I just finished Amerika by Franz Kafka. I was in a rush to finish this and get it back to the library before we go away on vacation, and I did get through it. Kafka did not finish the novel so there is a huge leap in the book - it's like about 8 or 9 middle chapters are missing, and the last chapter is not finished either. (And I'm pretty sure that the gaps are real, it wasn't just me skimming.)

I read in the introduction that Kafka never visited the United States, so the book is an interesting perspective on this country from someone who had not been here. The Statute of Liberty holding a sword is probably the best illustration of that.

This was a decent book, I didn't mind the characters and the plot seemed to move along okay (except for the big jump and the unfinished ending obviously). I don't really know how memorable it will be though when compared to some of the other ones I have been reading recently.

I didn't know what Kafkaesque meant until I started this book. I think I was supposed to have read The Metamorphosis at some point in my educational career, but I don't know if I ever actually did. I think this might be the first book I've ever read by Kafka.

Looking forward to seeing Marissa for a few days starting tomorrow!

Friday, June 25, 2010


Yikes! I kept thinking that as I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I had never read anything this violent or graphic before. I had to just skip whole paragraphs and pages of gory violence.

That doesn't mean that I didn't appreciate that this was a good book. I understand why it is on the list. The satire of the 80s is pretty funny. I liked how the reader could tell how connected with reality the narrator was by how he described the clothing that he and his companions were wearing. The resolution at the end is clever.

But, yikes...what violence!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day.

It's fitting that I am writing about American Pastoral by Philip Roth on Father's Day. This book was fantastic. It made me a little sad, though. Without giving away too much of the plot, the protagonist's daughter commits an act of political terrorism and the book is about how the protagonist deals with his feelings about his daughter and the terrorism, and how it changes his family and his outlook on the world.

There are a lot of flashbacks where this guy is pushing his daughter on the swing, or playing with her as a baby, etc., and it made me sad. As a parent of a one year old, I always love to imagine the possibilities of her life. Whether she'll love basketball, or classical music, or whatever. What she'll decide to be when she grows up. Who she'll fall in love with. And I can't imagine a few years down the road, having my life turned upside down by something like what happens to this guy. Very sad.

I can't stress enough, though, how fantastic this book is. I just couldn't put it down.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Everyone loves Amelia Bedelia.

Me: So this book I'm reading is really long. Amelia by Henry Fielding.
Mike: Amelia Bedelia?

3 days later...
Me: I can't figure out what's so great about Amelia anyway. All the men in the book want to be with her.
Mike: Amelia Bedelia?

A week later...
Me: Amelia's husband is such a moron.
Mike: Amelia Bedelia?
Me: [head explodes]

Finally finished this one. It was actually not about a character who takes directions literally and gets in funny scrapes. (thank you, wikipedia for refreshing my memory on that one!) This Amelia really dragged. The women in this novel were all kind of annoying. Even Amelia, the apparent best woman in the world, got on my nerves. There is a lot of hand wringing. And Booth is SUCH an idiot. Every time things start to look up for the family he messes it up somehow. Oh well. At least they really seemed to love their children and each other. I thought that part was really sweet.

I can't believe I'm done with #30!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A vocabulary lesson.

Oh HI! Thought I forgot about this? No waaaay. Recently finished another semester of grad school, so it's summer and that means...summer reading. I'm about halfway done with Absalom, Absalom! and that Bill Faulkner LOOOOOVES his vocabulary. Ow, my brain. Also, was the period not invented when this book was written? You know, that little dot that ends a thought? Needless to say, I'm not loving this book so far. This may also be due to the fact that I keep falling asleep when I read it. But that's ok, because it's one big long thought, so I wake up and I may have dropped the book in my sleep, open three pages beyond where I was, and it's the same sentence peppered with words like "dulcet," "wroils," and "miasmal."

I love vocabulary, but I cannot get onboard with all these unhappy Southern ladies and that dude Sutpen. Period.

Final thoughts to be determined.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Move along. Nothing interesting to see here.

The Ambassadors by Henry James was slow going for me. I found his sentences long and I felt like it took FOREVER to get anywhere in this book. And you know what? Not that much happened. I really thought I missed something, so much that once I was done, I went over to Wikipedia to read the plot summary to find out what I missed. It turns out I hadn't missed anything at all. The book just wasn't that exciting.

I couldn't really relate to the characters and couldn't figure out what was so great about Paris or Madame de Vionnet that would cause Strether to risk a relationship with Mrs. Newsome, who obviously loved him very much. But maybe that's just because I'm an ignorant American!

This was the first book I read on my iPad. Awesome awesome awesome.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Books 31-40

Here are the next 10 books on the list.

31. American Pastoral by Philip Roth (1997)
32. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
33. Amerika by Franz Kafka (1927)
34. Amok by Stefan Zweig (1922)
35. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)
36. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (1998)
37. Anagrams by Lorrie Moore (1986)
38. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
39. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
40. Another World by Pat Barker (1998)

Seems like an interesting group of books. With a few notable exceptions, lots of relatively recent ones. I read Anna Karenina about 5 years ago, but I think I might reread it for this project. I enjoyed it and I'm curious to see what I will get out of it the second time around.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More like anecdotes. With porcupines.

I just finished Amateurs by Donald Barthelme.

This was super fast because it is under 200 pages, and it's a series of 3 to 5-page anecdotes, with a title page for each one. So it was really more around 100 pages of actual text. (So Marissa, that is why I read it so fast!)

This wasn't my favorite. I didn't really get a lot of the anecdotes. They didn't seem to relate to each other at all. And while some of the anecdotes featured hilariously funny satire (Porcupines at the University was my favorite. "Why not enroll them in Alternate Life Styles? We've already got too many people in Alternate Life Styles.") others seemed to make no sense.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

We are all part of history...and it is very sad.

All Souls Day by Cees Nooteboom is an interesting mix of a novel and a social commentary. Unlike Against the Grain, there is a real story here, interspersed with a whole lot of discussion about history and art. The real story here is very sad. This Dutch guy has lost his wife and child on a plane and he spends his time taking videos (he's a professional cameraman and is working on a documentary project for himself too) and talking with his friends in cafes. There's also an interesting young woman that he happens to come across.

The beauty of the book is really in the thoughts and discussions that he has with his friends. A lot of it went way over my head, but it was really interesting. My favorite thought though, was that clouds are the Holy Spirit's horses and they wander around the world making sure everything is OK. I like that thought a lot.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Not as haba as I thought.

My 17 month old has picked up the word "horrible" - "haba". Everything is "haba" right now.

How do you feel?

How is your breakfast?

Do you want to go in the car?

I was sort of expecting All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque to be, well, haba. I knew it was a novel about World War I and I knew it was going to be a grisly, sad read. But I did wind up liking it to my great surprise. I liked how human the characters seemed. It wasn't all about guns and shooting but more about the characters' feelings about being in the war and about their country.

I think I was supposed to have read this in high school at some point, and I'm actually glad I didn't. I don't think I had the maturity then to be able to appreciate it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This guy can't stop doing dumb things.

I just finished All About H. Hatterrby G.V. Desani. This was not among my favorite books. I'm certainly missing something culturally here because I just couldn't figure out why on earth this guy wound up in these predicaments. It was as if he had no judgment. His friend would suggest some nonsense scheme and then all of a sudden Hatterr was laying on the ground at a circus sideshow having a lion eat meat off his chest. (I'm not exaggerating that one at all.)

So I'm not sure if I just didn't get it, or if I missed enough cultural references that would put this in context, or what. I'm just glad it's over.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The end of the Crusade.

I got an iPad yesterday. Whenever we acquire a new gadget, Mike and I usually have some kind of discussion about what technology is going to be available when our baby is older and how much she will laugh at us for being so excited about an iPad. ("You were this excited about atouch screen? Hahahahaha!")

Just like my child will probably laugh at the concept of an iPad someday, there are parts of The Albigenses that don't resonate well with a 2010 audience. The first half or so of the fourth volume is a very detailed battle scene. There is quite a bit of untranslated Latin and French throughout the book. And the mere fact that it's four volumes means that it's a big commitment for a reader.

Which is too bad, because this is a really great story. The characters are interesting, reading about their adventures was really cool, and I managed to learn something about a Crusade I had no idea existed. There are really unexpected plot twists and I liked the medieval setting. I'd love to somehow see this book updated for a modern audience but I don't think that is usually done. And as Mike pointed out, literature professors would probably be horrified at the suggestion.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Crusading.

I just finished volume 3 of The Albigenses by Charles Robert Maturin. There is so much going on in these books. This one centered mainly on the female heretic Genevieve. I felt like I got to know her character a lot better. On the other hand, the knight Paladour and the beautiful Lady Isabelle were kind of minimized in this volume. We got to see more of what they were up to through other people's eyes and how they were reacting to them rather than a direct narration. It was different than in the first two volumes.

One thing that was kind of weird is that a new character came in about 2/3 of the way through this book - Queen Ingelberg. It was like all of a sudden the author needed someone for Genevieve to deal with and poof! Here's a queen.

I can't figure out what happened with Paladour and Isabelle and the mystery witch woman. I wonder if I missed it, or if all will be explained in volume 4.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The long Crusade featuring: perfect women!

I am now halfway done with The Albigenses by Charles Robert Maturin. I’ve finished reading volume 2. It is interesting how different volume 2 is from volume 1. There is so much more action! I feel like the plot developed so much more in volume 2, where volume 1 was maybe more about character development. SO much went on in this book.

It’s interesting that both main women characters are portrayed as being pretty much perfect. They are both beautiful, wise, smart, stand up for what they believe in, and have several handsome admirers. The Lady Isabelle even fixes a steely gaze on some bad guys, which intimidates them enough to refrain from doing bad things to her and her attendants! Not a very realistic portrayal. I wonder if they will remain perfect throughout the series or if the next two volumes will humanize them somewhat.

I’m still enjoying this quite a bit, although it isn’t one of the ones I am going around recommending to everyone like The Age of Innocence and Alias Grace. It is pretty long and involved.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?

I had never read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll before. This type of book – fantasy books in general, actually – is really not my favorite. I often feel like these kinds of books are super hard to follow and so implausible. I have a hard time figuring out the story when you never know if the next thing that happens is that the protagonist is going to grow 10 feet tall.

I am glad I read this one though. I was so impressed by the author’s imagination! I don’t know how all that crazy stuff came out of one person’s head. Maybe I will get to like them more if I think about it that way.

My favorite was the Lobster Quadrille song. I thought that was so cute. I also thought the ending was really sweet – how he wrapped it up with Alice’s sister thinking about her. It made me think of my little daughter and what her imagination is going to be like someday. So I didn’t mind this one as much as I thought I would!

Next up: Back to The Albigenses. Volumes 2 through 4 arrived! Now I just have to remember what was going on at the end of volume 1!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Amazing Grace!

Marissa, you were right. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood is a fantastic book! I loved the historical context of the story and I love reading about this time period in general and the life back then. I was fascinated by the science they used at the time to help diagnose Grace and help explain what may have happened at the murders. I also liked that no character was perfect. Everyone had their faults – there was no perfect character riding up on his horse to save the day.

Books like this one portraying life in the 1800s always make me want to be more industrious around the house. Learn embroidery, mop my kitchen floor, bake bread, etc. Women back then did SO MUCH by hand. I’m just amazed by how much they did and how much easier we have it now. I did a couple of loads of laundry by hand this winter when our washing machine was having some issues and it is HARD work. I can’t imagine having to do that constantly, plus making all that food by hand, churning butter, etc. Yikes. I guess that’s why wealthier families had so many live-in servants.

This is definitely one of my very favorite books so far!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Not cool.

The other day I was reading over the last few blog entries I wrote and I noticed that I conclude that pretty much every book was “cool”. I need to become more creative with my descriptions.

Therefore, Albert Angelo by B.S. Johnson was not “cool”. It was really interesting, very different, some might say neat, nifty, or swell. (Those last 3 words are synonyms for cool.) I have never read a book like this before. The book jacket says this book “extends the possibilities of the novel” and I definitely see how it does that.

I’m not sure I totally got everything that was going on, but basically this book is about one thing (a man who wants to be an architect but has to work as a teacher to pay the bills), but is really about something else as well. Interesting. I’m not sure it was one of my favorites or anything, or that I will think about it a lot over the next few days or weeks, but I am glad I read it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Crusading through volume one.

The Albigenses by Charles Robert Maturin is 4 volumes! I did not know this when placing my interlibrary loan request. So I’m waiting for volumes 2 through 4 to come in! This entry is only about volume 1. I think I’ll write a separate entry about each volume. I don’t want to forget my thoughts about volume 1 by the time I reach the end of the series.

These books are no joke. Volume 1 is 439 pages long. However, the print is on the large side so it is probably more like a 250 to 300 pager if it were set in normal size type. But in any event, I’m looking at 1200+ pages.

THANKFULLY, I like the topic. The book was published in the 1820s and it’s about a crusade in the 1200s. I’m not sure which crusade it was, but the crusaders are aiming to stamp out heresy in the Languedoc, not take over Jerusalem. The Albigeois are a group of religious nonconformists that the crusaders are attempting to get rid of. It is really interesting to view the 1200s through the lens of an 1820s writer.

Volume 1 deals more with the personalities and characters of the crusaders, not the Albigeois. And there is a lot of intrigue and interesting stuff going on. One of the knights, Paladour, has a mysterious background and a sense of déjà vu when he enters the towers of the Lord of Courtenaye. There are all kinds of scary things going on including a mystery woman who seems to be up to no good. Oh, and the beautiful Lady Isabelle.

Marissa is going to laugh at me. But this book reminds me a little bit of The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. The Other Boleyn Girl was an attempt to fictionalize medieval history for a 21st century audience. And similarly, at least so far, The Albigenses is an attempt to fictionalize some aspects of medieval history for a 19th century audience. I have no idea whether Maturin’s work succeeded in the 1800s but it succeeds with me. I’m excited to get the other volumes and dive back in.

I have Albert Angelo here and I may try to knock that one out (only 180 pages!) while I wait for volumes 2 through 4 of The Albigenses.

Monday, March 15, 2010

20 down, 981 to go!

I just finished reading Aithiopika by Heliodorus. I can’t believe I’ve already made it through 20 books! Before I get to my thoughts on Aithiopika, I’d like to quickly go through some highlights and lowlights of the first 20 for me.

Weirdest Premise: Ada. Incest in some kind of parallel world? Really?

Most Bizarre Act of Revenge: Pooping outside someone’s window, in L’Abbe C.

Most Bizarre Activity: Encrusting a turtle with gems to see how it brought out the colors of a carpet, in Against the Grain.

Mind-Numbing Series of Sentences: Adjunct: An Undigest. I’m sure it wouldn’t be mind-numbing if I actually GOT THE POINT of the random sentences that formed this book.

Character I Would Not Want to Meet in a Dark Alley: The Worm from the After the Quake story. Yuccckkkk. Yuccckkkkkk.

Now to Aithiopika. This book presented logistical challenges for me. It is available free online. Which is awesome. I also recently got a new phone with souped up Internet capability. Which is also awesome. However, reading a 10 chapter, 300 page-ish book on a 2x3ish inch cellphone screen was horrendous for my eyes. Also, you can’t bookmark where you are online the same way you can on the Kindle, so there was a lot of scrolling around trying to figure out where I had left off. Anyway. I made it through and I can still see.

Aithiopika is a complicated book with a very traditional theme of a man and a woman who want to be together, but life keeps throwing things in their path that keep them from getting married. In their case, it isn’t money or disapproving parents or anything like that that keep them apart. It’s things like getting caught in the middle of a war and taken prisoner, or being captured by a band of thieves, or being nearly offered as human sacrifices. It’s interesting how it’s a contemporary theme but the things that befall the couple are so unbelievably different.

The book was confusing in parts because there are SO many flashbacks. It was also confusing because Heliodorus decided to make most of the male characters’ names start with T. So for the first couple of chapters I couldn’t tell Thyamis from Theagenes. Then later on come the C names. So once I figured out the T’s, along came Calasiris and Charicles and I was Confusedicles. This wouldn’t have been as big of an issue if I were reading this in normal format and could flip back a few pages more easily to figure out who was who. Anyway. This was a really cool read and I enjoyed reading something so old but with relevance, too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Appreciating simplicity.

It is hard to describe The Afternoon of a Writer by Peter Handke. If I tell you the gist of what goes on (guy goes for a walk after writing all day) then you’ll say, “What a snooze that book must be.” But I really didn’t find it a snooze at all. Yes, it is a really simple story but the descriptions are so beautiful and the ideas in the book are so thoughtful.

This book is super short (something like 85 pages) and I felt like it was over before I even really got started. It’s an amazing portrait of an individual and the whole craft of writing in a very short novel. I’m impressed when writers can accomplish so much in so few pages. This was a really simple but very cool book.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Adventures of a misanthrope.

Not much going on in Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans. This guy doesn’t like anyone. Not anyone at all. So he sells the family chateau, buys a house and shuts himself up in it reading, looking at paintings, and generally being a grouch. The guy also does some really random things searching for new experiences.

The novel is a tool for the author to explain his views on various pieces of art and literature and religion. So obviously there isn’t a lot of action, each chapter provides the opportunity for the author to explain what he thinks of say, Baudelaire, or whatever.

Since I haven’t read any of the underlying literature and I don’t know much about the paintings, I didn’t get a whole lot out of this one. I think I understand why it’s on the list (and it’s interesting to read a novel that is more than a story and is used as a tool for commentary), but it just dragged for me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

DO something, lady! (Or, why I would not have been a good Victorian woman.)

By some weird stroke of weirdness, I read Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte at the same time I’m in the middle of Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn (which is a non-1001 book!). It was a striking contrast to see how children are treated in Agnes Grey (mostly like property that must be bent to the parents’ will) when compared to the ideas Kohn has about raising children!

I think this might be the first book I’ve read by a Bronte sister. While it was a good story, I was underwhelmed. I didn’t think the book fit together well. The stories from the first position she takes as a governess seem kind of unrelated, there is very little discussion of how she ends her governess position at the Murrays (I’d think it would be hard to give notice and I was interested to see what Mrs. Murray would have said about Agnes’ plans with her mother), and it all wraps up just a little bit too neatly at the end for my taste.

Also, I don’t know whether it is simply a function of how women were treated/expected to behave at the time Bronte was writing, or what, but I really didn’t like Agnes very much. I found her to be way too navel gazing and not self-determining. She just kind of sat around and waited for things to happen to her. I kept wanting to yell at her, “DO something!” Unfortunately she never really did.

You know what I like about this project? Seeing the portrayal of the lower to middle classes in European society. So much of the history I learned in school focused on whatever the lords and upper classes were doing – and I didn’t have a great idea of what everyday life for everyday people was like. This book was cool for that reason, and that’s another reason why I liked Adam Bede, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who is this Don Juan guy, anyway?

I don’t think I got enough out of After the Death of Don Juan by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Perhaps it’s that I don’t really appreciate Spanish culture fully – I’ve never been to Spain and don’t speak a word of the language. (Well, I think hamburger is something like hambergesa – but that’s really about all I know.) The descriptions of the country in the book were beautiful, though.

I know from reading the introduction that the book is supposed to be a parable relating to the Spanish Civil War, which was going on at the time that Warner was writing. I also don’t know anything about the Spanish Civil War.

So, obviously the nuances of the book were lost on me (even more than usual). And maybe if I did understand the Spanish Civil War or more fully grasped the culture, it would make more sense. I was following everything that went on, but then toward the end it got really confusing. Don Ottavio went back to kill Don Juan, but wound up banding together with him to fight the peasants? And why did they tie up Don Saturno? I just felt like the whole thing got very muddled at the end. Also, the back of the book and the introduction both hint at the fact that Dona Ana might be pregnant as a reason why she is so relentlessly pursuing Don Juan. I didn’t pick up on that in the text at all.

In fact, some of this stuff was SO lost on me that I needed Mike to explain to me the idea behind Don Juan. I couldn’t really figure out whether the legend of Don Juan came from this book or whether Warner used the legend as a jumping off point for the story. It probably would have helped if I knew the Don Juan legend before starting to read this book.

So, interesting book, definitely see why it’s good literature, but not my favorite.

Embarrassing confession: Mike had to explain to me when I was about halfway through that all the characters were not actually named Don.

Friday, February 19, 2010

An elegant series of short stories, plus a giant frog.

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami can best be described as elegant. It is a series of short stories involving characters whose lives were somehow impacted by the earthquake in Kobe, Japan. It is not a book about survivors in the traditional sense – the characters were not pulled-from-the-rubble survivors, but individuals whose lives were touched in a more roundabout way. So the earthquake is kind of the common theme among the stories and the stories portray the characters’ different way of dealing with it.

Some of the short stories were depressing (as you can probably imagine) and one is really bizarre and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. (A giant frog comes to visit a guy to ask him to help fight a giant worm.) But I really liked the last story and it seemed like Murakami wanted to end the series on a hopeful, inspiring note. The last story is all about love.

This was a pretty cool book. I had not realized that the 1001 Books included some sets of short stories.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rich people are interesting to read about!

I just finished The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Here’s an admission about how superficial I am about books. Before I started this project, I lumped all the 1800s books into the “boring” category and figured I’d just get through them for the sake of having read them.

Well, I’m really, really glad I read this one. It was SO GOOD!!! (I envision Marissa nodding her head and saying, duh.) I’m sure I’m missing some really important themes and everything, but this was a fantastic story and fun to read. It takes place among the very very wealthy in New York City. Which, (here comes the superficial part) was kind of a breath of fresh air. No one in the book is hungry. There are no dead babies. No one is pooping outside anyone’s window. The characters don’t even really work. Their time is spent going to dinner parties and the opera and Newport. They wear beautiful clothes, ride in nice carriages and basically lead a fantastic, fun life.

Now that all sounds wonderful but I think part of the idea behind the book is that even in that environment there is still conflict and things are not as great as they seem. But I was still left with the impression that the characters were lucky to have the luxury to feel the ambivalence that they do. One’s troubles are just different when you have unlimited funds.

I really enjoyed reading this – it was one of those books that I wish were longer because I just wanted to keep reading!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Books 21-30

That photo is a TRUE PHOTO of Emily's entry hall full of boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked from their move prior to Christmas.

Ok, not really. But Emily's copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is still packed in a box somewhere, so she requested that I post a list of books twenty-one through thirty. So here we go!

21. Albert Angelo by B.S. Johnson (1964)
22. The Albigenses by Charles Robert Maturin (1824)
23. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996) Emily, I own this one and will send it down if you want. It's so good!
24. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
25. All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani (1948, revised 1972)
26. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1929)
27. All Souls Day by Cees Nooteboom (1998)
28. Amateurs by Donald Barthelme (1976)
29. The Ambassadors by Henry James (1903)
30. Amelia by Henry Fielding (1751)

There you are, ma soeur. :)


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sorry, I appear to have been an absentee.

HA! Did you see what I did there? I finally finished The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth. Like Emily said, "Incognito adventures!" I really liked this book. I was pleasantly surprised because I found it slow at first, but it all tied up nicely. And I'm pleased that they went back to Ireland. Lady Clonbrony was trying way to hard to fit in and Lord Clonbrony was letting everyone walk all over him. It's hard to believe that Colombre, so upstanding and heroic, is their child. But he followed his heart, saved the day, and got the girl. Definitely refreshing after Eponine and her shenanigans in Bataille's book.

Absalom, Absalom! is up next for me when I can wedge it in between reading for school.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Familiar tales.

I thought I would like Aesop’s Fables more than I actually did. Mike pointed out (as I was complaining about it) that the fables are really very well assimilated into culture by now. So, they feel formulaic. But they can’t really BE formulaic since they were the first ones on the block!

I learned from reading the Preface (which the Kindle put at the end of the book, oddly) that Aesop didn’t necessarily write all of the fables but probably collected them as they were part of popular culture during his time as well.

We’ve all heard or read a lot of these. The grasshopper that spends the summer sleeping and making fun of the ants and then has nothing to eat during the winter. The tortoise beating the hare at a footrace. But I liked The Boy and the Nettles. The boy grasps the nettles really gingerly and gets hurt. His mother explains that he has to grab the nettles really hard and then they’ll get crushed and not hurt him. (Whatever you do, do with all your might.)

I’m at a weird stopping place in the book list. I am waiting for the library to open so I can pick up a few more books that are next on the list. I have an ILL request for After the Death of Don Juan by Sylvia Townsend Warner. And, After the Quake by Haruki Murakami will be placed on hold for me. It will probably be a few days before the library opens because we're all still cleaning up from Snowmageddon. And Snoverkill is currently rapidly falling outside my window. In the meantime, I’ll download The Age of Innocence onto the Kindle. It’s free!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Elementary, my dear Watson.

I kind of had an idea of what Sherlock Holmes was before I started to read this book. Though I may have been under the impression that he was a real person. (Since he is character in a novel, I’m guessing he wasn’t.) This was a fast, fun, super enjoyable read. Each chapter stands on its own with its own little mystery. Perfect for reading in small chunks and perfect for the Kindle.

I liked how the author portrayed Sherlock’s processes of “deduction” to figure out each mystery. (There’s a lot of tapping of the fingers together and saying “Hum.”) Sherlock is a fully formed character at the start of the book so you don’t get to see how he got that way. It would have been cool to see him as a young man developing his processes and learning about how to solve mysteries.

This is one of those books that I’m SO glad I read and I wouldn’t necessarily have picked it up on my own.

Next up: Aesop's Fables on the Kindle, during what the media are calling a "paralyzing" snowstorm.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I'm still around, never fear.

Wow, Emily is a CHAMP. I am on The Absentee still. It's turning out to be really good, though. My semester just started again and I'm taking 2 courses, so fair warning. I have to finish The Absentee though, because it's an interlibrary loan and it's about a week overdue. Oh, and I already renewed it once. I think I shall go read right now.



I just finished Adjunct: An Undigest by Peter Manson. This book was very, uh, different. I’ll include a quote. From Page 18.

“Dr. Ramsay good at injections. Prynne lineation in poems not by Prynne. Rabbi Hugo Gryn is dead.”

The book is entirely like that. Well beyond my understanding.

Here’s a recipe for Bistro Dinner Salad.

For the salad:

1 box (probably 5-6 cups) mixed herb salad

¼ c walnuts

¼ c dried cranberries

1 pear, chopped

½ c Gorgonzola cheese crumbles

7 slices bacon

3 eggs

Sliced French bread

For the dressing:

1 ½ T Dijon mustard

1/2 c Olive oil

1 tsp tarragon

½ c white wine vinegar

Cook bacon in large cast iron skillet and hard boil the eggs. Place other ingredients for the salad, other than the French bread, in large salad bowl. Slice the French bread and lightly toast in toaster. Prepare the dressing. When bacon is done cooking, tear into little pieces and add to salad. Toss the salad with the dressing. Serve in bowls and top with sliced hard boiled eggs and pieces of toasted bread.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

“What do you mean, you’ve never read Huck Finn?”

Said Mike when I told him what was next on the list. Indeed, I managed to get through high school and college without reading this book. (I was going to call it a “timeless classic” there. Then Mike started chuckling.)

So, it was pretty cool. I understand why it’s popular. As I’ve personally never actually SEEN the Mississippi River, it was hard for me to envision the action. I have a hard time imagining them floating along on this raft? And they also had a canoe? And all that stuff? It seemed like a lot for them to keep track of. And there’s also all that other stuff floating along in the river? Very weird.

I also thought the ending was kind of a little bit too neatly all tied up in the last chapter. It was like, all of a sudden, everything is wonderful! Hooray! Jim is freed, Huck gets his money back, finds out his father isn’t going to bother him anymore, and Aunt Sally wants to adopt him. It just felt a little bit rushed. But I was glad that everything wound up working out OK for everyone at the end.

I'm glad I finally read Huck Finn. It was a fun adventure story. I can see why everyone likes it so much!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2 endings!

The Adventures of Caleb Williams is a tough read. The author (William Godwin) is a big Enlightenment guy and truly believed that if everyone followed the principles of reason, we would have a perfect society with no crime, no laws, no government, etc. This thinking comes through in the book – which must have been very trendy at the time. Now it just seems kind of goofy. Anyway, there is a lot of reasoning and “expostulation” that goes on (and on, and on).

The plot is pretty interesting but not that plausible. I found it difficult to believe that the characters would behave the way they do. The characters also are not that complex. It’s kind of a good vs. bad story. I was really glad I read the introduction for this one though because it helped put the book in historical context and helped me figure out some stuff I found confusing.

Finally, the edition of the book that I have has 2 endings! Apparently the author wrote one ending, then changed his mind and wrote a second ending. The second ending was published originally. The book puts the first ending in an appendix – so you can see what the other alternative was. I thought that was pretty cool – though I wonder how the author would have felt about that. If I wrote something, changed my mind, and wrote something else, I’m not sure I’d be all that thrilled if the first thing came to light and were published. (Though, now with everything on the computer, I guess the chances of that are slimmer.)

Next up: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. On the Kindle. It was 25 cents to buy! Now I just have to see if the baby will be too interested in the Kindle to allow me to read it when I’m around her. She does OK with books, but LOOOOVES electronics.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm squeamish about violent books.

Thankfully, Marissa doesn’t mind if I discuss a little bit of the plot of Adam Bede in this entry. It would be really hard to write about this book and not reveal any of the plot. (The introduction and the back of the book kind of give it away, anyway.)

When I found out that this book involved a young woman killing her own child, I really was dreading reading it. Ever since I became a mama a little over a year ago, I’ve been SUPER sensitive about - and try to avoid - reading or seeing stuff that involves dead children. How could someone kill their own child. Too awful to contemplate.

So I approached this book with some dread. Thankfully, though, the author develops the plot really softly and subtly. Much of the stuff that goes on is not presented directly and you learn about them because other characters are talking about what happened. So it wasn’t as explicitly awful to read as I had feared. I’m sure this is what the 1850s readership wanted and it’s a really nice contrast from how this topic would probably be covered in a book today!

And the introduction discusses this quite a bit, but this book really IS a beautiful portrait of rural farm life in 1800. I felt like I was living there with the villagers watching Adam build stuff and Mrs. Poyser run her dairy. It’s weird, the contrast between the beautiful writing and the thoughtful portrait of the community and the violent crime that forms the basis of the plot.

I do have one question though. I can’t figure out what happens to Hetty at the very, very end of the book. (I think she’s referred to in the epilogue, pages 537 and 539 of the Penguin Classics edition). It’s just TOO subtle for me, I guess. I even looked it up on Wikipedia to no avail. (Hey Marissa, when you get to this point, help!!!)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Not necessarily simpler times.

I keep starting to write about The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow and deleting everything. Too boring or book report-ish. I’m flummoxed by how good the book is. Anything I say will just muddle it up. So I’ll limit this to a few quick thoughts.

This book is a fascinating look at 1920s-1940s middle America. We idealize the past as Simpler Times but it’s more like different times. Life is not simple for Augie and his family and friends. The challenges they face are quite different than today (for example, they didn’t have the pleasure of the Magical Verizon Time Window, where you sit in your house and wait and wait and wait for a technician to come galloping over the horizon on a unicorn to fix all your tv, phone, and internet problems. But I digress.) The problems Augie and his family and friends face are no less complicated, though. Well, it is the Great Depression and all. Not really the most jolly, carefree time.

Augie doesn’t have a formal college education and holds about 10,000 jobs over the course of the book. (And some of them are crazy! He trains an eagle!) None of these jobs define him. You know when you meet someone for the first time and they ask, “So what do you do?” Augie would have this litany of things. I was struck by how many opportunities there were available to a person without a college education back then. Sadly, that is no longer the case.

Augie frustrates me sometimes because he doesn’t do what I think he should do. Sometimes he is presented with these choices where he would just make his life So.Much.Easier if he did the easy thing, but no. Instead he turns the easy decision down every time. I’m glad that I managed to like the book even though the main character got on my nerves a bit.

This book was absolutely worth reading and it’s one of those books I keep turning over and over in my head thinking about it. I don’t even want to start Adam Bede yet because I want to reflect a while on this one.