Monday, December 26, 2011

Adventures as a gay adolescent.

Merry Christmas! My first Christmas as a mama of 2 was wonderful. I even had a little time to get some reading done. A Boy's Own Story is a pretty sensitive account of growing up gay in mid 20th century America. A lot of topics I never thought about or considered in there. It wasn't light holiday reading by any means, but certainly gave me some things to think about. For example, how a gay young man looks at marriage, not as an inevitability but more of a far fetched aspirational thing. He wanted to get married, but he wanted to marry a man. Not possible then.

Now we are in the process of unpacking from our trip, finding homes for all of this stuff (including a big jar of 108 miniature plastic frogs for Peanut, which she adores and are currently all over the living room carpet), and I will start Brave New World. I read it in high school but remember next to nothing about it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

From the depths of under my bed...

I found my paperback copy of Adam Bede. I thought it was gone forever, so I got it for free from the iBookstore since it's in the public domain. And I'm still not done. It's a great story, but I get so tempted by all the books around the library. Maybe I commit to finishing it before the year is out? Marissa

Friday, December 16, 2011

It has been a busy busy month. To say the least. I noticed this same fuzzy headedness and utter lack of attention when I had just had Peanut too. But it seems even more pronounced this time around with Fuzzy.

Bouvard and Pecuchet was not a great book to read when fuzzy brained. It was a long, difficult slog. These two guys get together and basically amble through knowledge as it existed in 1840. Not much of a plot here. They have no attention span either, and it's not because they just had babies! I'm glad to be through this one and hope to be back reading a little more regularly once the fuzzy headed fog lifts!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A real story...

So I started reading Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan at the end of October. Then I had a baby! So it took a while for me to finish this one. I do enjoy reading while I nurse but the first couple of weeks are so chaotic and I just couldn't focus on anything.

I really liked this book, though. It is a story of a young IRA soldier caught in Great Britain and sentenced to juvenile prison, and the adventures he has there. It was not, as I anticipated, depressing or violent, just an interesting story. It is an autobiography so that aspect of it is cool too...I could really get interested in the characters because they were really real.

Anyway, good story. Time to take the little guy on his first outing to the library to return it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mildly interesting...

So it has been a while. Because I was reading a very long, slow book.

I didn't dislike Born in Exile. Really, I didn't. At times I found it to be very dated. And at other times I found the commentary woven through about church vs. science and evolution to be a little tiresome. But I thought it was a really nice commentary on society in the mid to late 19th century. I particularly liked how well some of the ironies were crafted. The characters all were rather believable and I liked them. I liked Peak for all his faults. I could see why Buckland and Sidwell each acted as they did. It was definitely fairly interesting.

So I guess I feel mildly about this one. I'm not exceedingly disappointed that it's done, but it was OK!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The unfairness of it all...

I recently finished listening to The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and it was a downer. Newland Archer sped up his engagement and wedding in order to quell feelings he had for his fiancee's cousin, but to no avail. He was still in love with her to the very end, at which point he was old and sad and couldn't even bring himself to go visit her. The cousin, Ellen, was persona non grata because she had left her husband but couldn't divorce lest it shame the family. It was, in short, a book about obligations vs. desires. I enjoyed the book very much, but it left me feeling sort of bummed. Luckily, things are a little better these days in terms of marrying outside one's class or race, but there is still a lingering stigma.


Looking for a book to help me sleep.

First of all, I would like to say that i really dislike pregnancy insomnia. Usually I can sleep just fine. Not lately. However, being up this late did allow me to finally finish The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. This book has been annoying me for about a week and I am glad to be through with it.

It doesn't seem to be a novel at all. Rather, it is this collection of stories and recollections. Some are in the first person and some are clearly fiction. They mostly deal with the struggle of the Czech people throughout recent history. And also sex. It all seemed so random and disjointed to me.

Unfortunately though, as tough as this material was to slog through, it didn't help me get to sleep!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Couldn't put down the Book of Illusions!

Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions was published in 2002. I am so surprised that I had not heard of it or read it before now. This book is fantastic. It is a wonderful layering of stories, a Vermont literature professor, a 1920s silent film star, and a mysterious young woman. I could not put it down. (That's usually the test for me - some books I just read so quickly because they are so interesting I have to keep reading and reading to find out what happens!)

This story hinges on the mysterious disappearance of this silent film star. The author is able to really show us America back in the 1920s as well as in the present day - I'm telling you, this book is so. good.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Short stories!

I don't know why I don't like short stories more. It is nice to sit down and quickly read a whole story - even when you don't have a lot of time, you can read one and then go about your business while turning over the ideas.

The next book on the list of New York Times Best Books of 2006 is The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel by Amy Hempel. I had not heard of this author before. I really liked this collection. Her work is very direct and her sentences are very short. Not a lot of extra words in here. But the stories were really interesting and good and full of emotions. I liked these a lot.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Books 101-110

Here are the next 10 books on the list.

101. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera (1979)
102. Born in Exile by George Gissing (1892)
103. Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan (1958)
104. Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert (1881)
105. A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White (1982)
106. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
107. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (1958)
108. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1973)
109. The Breast by Philip Roth (1972)
110. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)

It takes a lot of the fun out of a crime story...

...when there isn't a whole lot of suspense. John Banville's The Book of Evidence is kind of a unique way to write a book. Basically, this guy has been arrested for a crime, and the book is his confession. So at the outset you know that he has been caught - hence there is sort of no suspense about how it is going to end. The story was OK, and it was an interesting idea. It just wasn't a page turner and didn't really stand out that much for me.

Monday, September 19, 2011


The Book of Daniel is based on a really cool premise. The book imagines that the Rosenbergs had children, and follows Daniel, the older son, as he grows up through the 1950s and 60s and deals with his parents' deaths. The idea of it was so great, I was really excited to read this one.

It turned out not to be my favorite book, though. The way it was written was really confusing and there were a lot of flashbacks and jumping around points. I can definitely tell it is good literature, but for a casual reader like me, it wasn't the greatest. I'm sure I missed a lot of important stuff. So I was a little bummed out - I really wanted to like this more than I did.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seventeen-year-olds are amazing.

What I think is most amazing about Bonjour Tristesse is that it was written by Sagan when she was just 17. When I was 17 my biggest concerns were (1) friend drama and (2) math class. Meanwhile, Sagan at 17 put together this amazing short novel. Very impressive.

The narrator of the novel is also a 17 year old girl, Cecile. She and her father are on vacation with a woman her father, a widower has been dating. When her father turns his attentions to another woman, Cecile decides to take matters into her own hands and manipulate the situation so that the woman she prefers can win back her father's heart. The novel is very short and beautifully written. I liked it a lot.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Extra credit.

The version of 1001 Books that we are using ends with books published in 2005. I had been thinking recently about how it is going to take me probably 20-30 years to read all of these books, and, during those years, a lot of other really good books will be published.

So I decided to read the New York Times Best Books of the Year for the years 2006-on, one every month or so. This way I can also read some newer good books as the years go on.

The first Best Book of the Year that I read is Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart, one of the Best Books of 2006. This book is a clever story that satirizes American values and how those values and ideals are transmitted across the world. Sometimes it seemed like the author was getting a little too cute, such as where the main character's girlfriend leaves him for the evil Professor Jerry Shteynfarb. On the whole though, I thought the book was funny and interesting. Halliburton, cost plus contracts and even Dick Cheney come into play in a story about a Russian guy who is trying desperately to get back to the US and finds himself the Minister of Multicultural Affairs in Absurdistan, a tiny republic on the Caspian Sea.

Next up, back to the regularly scheduled programming. Bonjour Tristesse is next on the list.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I love Bonfire of the Vanities. I read it in high school, college and now again at 33. I feel like I took away different impressions from the book now as compared to when I read it years ago. Plus, now that 23 years have passed since it was written, a lot is different in New York and it seems more dated, more of a reflection on New York society at the time.

So I'm sitting here watching the Weather Channel, watching New York and Connecticut get walloped by Hurricane Irene and thinking of how much I enjoyed this book and how much it makes me think. I was a lot more ambivalent about Sherman this time around. When I was younger, I was rooting for him as the hero of the book, and I wasn't sure I liked him this time. I found his moral ambiguousness startling. I thought it was inconsistent for him to stick up for Maria through almost to the end of the book, even though her interests and his diverged, while he was very easily able to dismiss Judy, his wife, for getting too thin and too interested in her decorating business. Usually Sherman acted entirely in his own interest but when it came to Maria, he had this glaring weak spot that proved to be his undoing.

Anyway, I loved this book as much as I did the first time. I raced through it and was sorry to see it end!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Blood and Guts in High School is one of those books that is wayyyy over my head. It is sort of a stream of consciousness writing, involving a woman named Janey (I think) and her life as a young woman. I struggled to figure out what was going on. The narrator is so unreliable - in the opening chapter you are told that Janey is ten years old but then the way the story goes, it is obvious that she is not ten years old at all and is probably a woman. Interspersed with the text are some graphic drawings and a sort of Arabic grammar text (ostensibly created by Janey when she was held captive by a "Persian slave trader").

This type of book is not my favorite. I never seem to know what is going on, and, as the book continues, I find myself caring less and less.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Justin Time.

The Body Artist is a very measured, very well-edited, very beautiful book. It is evident that the author thought very carefully about each word in the book - each one has meaning and there are no extraneous words. It is a very short book but definitely takes some thought to read because of how carefully it is assembled.

The book deals with a woman who is grieving the loss of her husband and discovers a mysterious person living in the home she is renting. As she talks to him (his name really isn't Justin Time), he gives her a new perspective on time and how things work. He is somehow able to simultaneously live in the past, present and future. The book is kind of sad, but also really pretty. I liked it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Message in a Bataille?

I know I should be getting more out of Georges Bataille's work than I do. Blue of Noon is the second of his books that I have read (the memorable L'Abbe C was the first). I just don't like his books. I don't understand what message he is trying to send. The protagonists do crazy things for seemingly unexplained reasons.

You may recall that the guy in L'Abbe C pooped outside someone's window. In this book, the main character decides he likes a woman named Xenie. Rather than make cute little jokes at her expense or offer to buy her a drink, he stabs her in the leg with the prongs of a fork, drawing blood. Yuck. And the book just goes on from there. I never get interested enough to care about the characters and they just do things that are totally absurd.

At least it was short!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Thoughts on The Bluest Eye.

I am not sure how I hadn't read The Bluest Eye before. I had heard of it but never read it. Good book, obviously, I can see why it is on the list. Definitely deals with some difficult topics and themes. It's not just the incest that I found difficult (though that was hard to read about for sure) but also the racism, the child abuse, the whole structure of society. The book definitely made me think.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

It's (not) a wonderful life.

I am not what you would call a movie buff. In fact, movies are not something I have ever really gotten into. It sounds weird, but it is just not my thing. There are many classics that I haven't seen and honestly, I'm not all that interested in seeing them.

I knew who Marilyn Monroe was, obviously. I kind of had a vague outline of the fact that she was a movie actress, had a number of high-profile relationships, and died from a drug overdose at an early age. Beyond that I knew nothing and I haven't seen any of her movies.

Reading Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates was a really fascinating look at Marilyn Monroe. It was difficult to read at times because her life was so difficult and sad. And some of the things that happened to her as a child were horrible. Reading about children being harmed is difficult.

The amount of work that went into writing this and the different ways Oates approached the story was just amazing. I particularly liked how it got kind of less coherent toward the middle and end and you couldn't really tell whether the things that were portrayed in the book really happened - because Monroe herself wasn't sure what was real and what was not. (I seem to like the unreliable narrator). I also liked how Oates handled the ending - you aren't sure whether Monroe was assassinated or overdosed on her own and was imagining the people conspiring to kill her.

Is this book going to make me want to watch a whole bunch of Marilyn Monroe movies? No. I did enjoy this book tremendously though. All 738 pages. I couldn't put it down.

Friday, August 5, 2011


So I posted last night's entry and then realized I had more to say about The Blithedale Romance.

I thought the whole idea of them all kind of getting away from the world to live in the Utopian society kind of interesting. I know it was kind of in fashion at the time (and have read that Hawthorne also did this himself for a brief period). It reminded me of The Bell, except that all the action in this book is kind of on the periphery of the society, and the book is not as concerned with the inner workings of the society itself. In The Bell the book was much more about the society and its growth, and this book was a lot more about the personal relationships between the characters.

At various periods of history this sort of Utopian society has come into vogue. Back in the 1850s, again in the 1960s with commune living and maybe also to some extent now as we build societies over the Internet and form digital friendships or renew old friendships with people who live across the world from us. (Whatever happened to Second Life, anyway? Wasn't that supposed to be the next big thing in, like, 2005?) I wonder what that says about us at those periods where we are so dissatisfied about what is going on that people feel the need to retreat and often in such an extreme fashion.

Anyway, just a ramble about something that was rattling around in my head last night.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Behind the scenes of a Utopian society.

I find Nathaniel Hawthorne's books to be very difficult. I feel like I am not getting enough from them. There is so much symbolism and things going on in the margins that is important- and I just know I'm missing a lot of it.

I liked The Blithedale Romance. I thought it was an interesting story and I liked that some of the mysteries in the book stayed unsolved. I liked how Hawthorne didn't feel the need to wrap everything up in a neat little package at the end. I liked the exploration of the relationship between Priscilla and Zenobia and how they related to Hollingsworth. I definitely liked it more than I thought I would. Not that I got everything out of it that Hawthorne intended...but I definitely am glad I read this and got a lot out of it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A short novel about a difficult situation.

Blindness by Henry Green is one of those literary books. You know the ones. It is really well written and deals with an interesting topic - but it isn't a page turner or anything. This book is about a young man who was blinded on his way home from boarding school and how he and his family members deal with the situation. While it wasn't a gripping story, I thought it was really well written.

The book did get kind of slow, especially in the middle part, where it was kind of like, oh dear, now I am blind, whatever am I going to do? But I felt like the last third of the book or so got more interesting. I particularly liked how intricate and developed the relationships were between the family members.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Books 91-100

Here are the next 10 books on the list.

91. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates (2000)
92. Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker (1984)
93. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
94. Blue of Noon by Georges Bataille (1957)
95. The Body Artist by Don DeLillo (2001)
96. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)
97. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan (1954)
98. The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow (1971)
99. The Book of Evidence by John Banville (1989)
100. The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster (2002)

I LOVE Bonfire of the Vanities. I've read it several times and I can't wait to read that one again! Some of these others look really good, too!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Loved the book. The main character? Not so much.

The Blind Assassin is a phenomenal book. The characters and the whole story are just so interesting, I couldn't put this book down. I really like Margaret Atwood's writing.

You know what I really didn't like, though? The main character in this book. As I was reading it, Iris mildly annoyed me. I felt like she wasn't standing up for herself and her family and allowing herself to be led along because that was what was easiest for her. However, once I saw how everything turned out at the end, I got really mad at Iris. I think she screwed her family over, both her sister as well as her daughter and granddaughter, for pretty much no reason.

I think Atwood's a fantastic writer and I am sure that she intended for her readers to feel this way about Iris. It was a really interesting experience to read a story that I was really interested in - even though the main character was making me angry!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Where's the rest of the story?

I asked myself that question as I finished Blind Man With a Pistol. This detective story had no resolution. You don't find out who the killer was. Instead, more killings take place in the last chapter.

The unresolved nature of the story is difficult for me to like. It reminded me of the game where one person starts a story, then another person picks it up from there, and so on. Fun, but not how I like my novels. This book is set in Harlem and it is one of those books where the author's goal is not necessarily to tell a story but get a message across. The message about the struggle the residents of the book face came through very clearly. I just would rather read a story, thanks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Not a good bedtime story.

You know when you are so thoroughly freaked out by something that every little noise in the night wakes you up and you are freaked out that the BOOGEYMAN is going to come in your room and GET YOU that very night? Yes, that was me last night. And yes, I am 32 and stuff still scares the crap out of me. I'm a big scaredy-cat.

What was freaking me out so much last night, you ask? Well, I finished The Black Dahlia last night before I went to bed. This book was so good, so absorbing, that I couldn't put it down and I was reading it at pretty much every available second. This book is very violent and disturbing, dealing with a LA cop's search for the killer of a young woman dubbed "The Black Dahlia" in 1947. (According to Wikipedia, the murder is still unsolved.) The murder itself was horrific and, in addition to that, the whole book is just really gritty and violent. It even scared me more than American Psycho because it is based on a true event and there wasn't the "oh, phew" ending.

Don't get me wrong though. I really, really thought this was an excellent book and I enjoyed reading it very much. Just not great bedtime reading for a scaredy-cat like me!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

By and by, I got to reading Huckleberry Finn

I actually got to listening Huckleberry Finn as I drove to and from my class in Northampton and to and from work. Like Emily, I never had to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school or college, and I don't know why. Well by and by, I got to it. I am so glad I finally did-- what a fun story! It was a really good book to listen to because the reader had the dialect and voices down perfect. I think if I physically had to read all the dialect bits with "We would learn Jim how to write on the shirt" instead of "We would teach Jim to write on the shirt" I might get really irritated. Listening to it made those parts blend in. I found the story really funny, especially how Tom is dead set on making everything so hard in order to be "right" and Huck thinks that's ridiculous. I agree with Emily that everything ties up a little too neatly in the end, but I'm glad Jim was freed.

Regarding Twain's use of the word "nigger"-- 60 Minutes did a brilliant segment earlier this year about a publisher replacing every instance of the word with "slave" instead. I linked to the transcript of the show because I found it really interesting. If I were black, I may feel differently, but I find Twain's usage a sign of the times and to change the text in such a way makes it a shadow of the great story it is.


Monday, July 4, 2011

She's a Bleak...House!

I mentioned last entry that Bleak House was next on my list and that I hadn't enjoyed the Dickens I read in the past. Maybe it is growing up a bit, or maybe it is the setting (being on vacation would put anyone in a good mood), but I was amazed by this book. There were so many interconnected subplots, a detective story, social commentary, all set against the backdrop of this criticism of the English legal system: Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the longest-running Chancery case ever.

I'm sure this book has been analyzed very thoughtfully, better than I ever could, so I won't get into all of that. Just a couple of things struck me. A lot of the themes of this book are still relevant 150 years later, no small feat. However, there are major cultural shifts at work also. The female narrator, Esther, stands out as a culturally ideal woman of her time. She never has a negative word to say and is always happy to do whatever people ask of her. While I like Esther (she is impossible not to like) I am glad that society has developed such that women are valued for their thoughts and opinions as well as their appearance and acquiescence to the ideas of the gentlemen around them.

As I write this, I am watching my husband and daughter play in the pool. The book I thought would be a boring, slow vacation read turned out to be anything but!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summertime...but the livin's not easy when you're trapped in a sinking car.

It seems like I'm reading a whole bunch of summer related books all in a row. Which is nice. I love summer. Of course right now the heat index is 113 so I am enjoying summer from inside the comfort of my home and the air conditioning. I still love it though.

I really was interested to read Black Water, which is kind of a novel loosely based on the Chappaquiddick incident. And I think the book is good. I was slightly disappointed that the book was more like a series of short essays or streams of consciousness from the woman stuck in the car, rather than a novel that held all together. I did enjoy it though, just a little more "English class" and less "interesting novel" than I expected.

I think Bleak House is next. Is that a summer book too? Something tells me it won't be a quick beach read. Dickens and I have not gotten along very well in the past.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Happy Summer!

Mike and I agree that June is one of our favorite months of the year. Weather is great, and there is the promise of the whole summer ahead. Vacations are on the horizon and everything seems a little more relaxed, a little more fun.

We celebrated the first weekend in June this year by spending some time at the pool. The large pool was pretty cold, but the kiddie pool was just the right temperature to splash around with Peanut. It was fantastic.

Eilis Dillon's book The Bitter Glass is also about the beginning of summer. The MacAuley kids head to their summer place ahead of their parents, but the civil war in Ireland causes them to be separated from their parents in Connemara. I liked this book a lot. It was an easy, quick read but managed to raise some questions about the historical context of the novel, the motivations of the characters, and what Ireland was like at that time of history. It isn't necessarily a fun summer beach read (definitely sad) but enjoyable nonetheless.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Not the Black Dog that I am used to.

The Black Dog that I am familiar with is a very touristy restaurant and shop that is fun to visit when on the Cape. We buy T-shirts and various other items there. I try to get a T-shirt of a different color each year. Peanut really likes them - so much that if I am wearing a Black Dog shirt, she asks to wear a "doggie shirt" too.

Ian McEwan's Black Dogs is a lot more sinister, suspenseful, and scary. It is the story about how a young woman's run-in with these huge animals (she thought they were donkeys initially) changed her life and her outlook on the world. The story is told kind of back and forth, so you don't actually get to find out what actually happened when she encountered the dogs until the very end of the book. There is a lot in here about Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nazi Germany, and other important events affecting Europe in the 20th century as well.

I really enjoy Ian McEwan's writing. Good stories that also really make me think.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

More Iris Murdoch!

Before starting this project, I had no idea who Iris Murdoch was and had never read anything by her. The Black Prince is now the second book of hers that I have read (the other one was The Bell.) I like her books because they are a good story, but also can be thought provoking. I think I liked The Black Prince a little bit less than The Bell, just because the story wasn't as interesting to me. But it definitely made me think, and I did like it.

The Black Prince is a story about a middle-aged writer who finds his attempts to write thwarted by various things that happen to his friends and family members. Then, after that, he finds himself falling in love with the very young daughter of a friend of his. But what I thought was really cool about this book is that after the guy finishes his story, there are 4 epilogues by other characters that kind of cast doubt on the events as the narrator has told them. It was a neat way to make you think about the story. (That whole idea of the truthful narrator.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Peanut has become quite a little negotiator lately. Her chief techniques are the urgent tone of voice and the word NOW.

Peanut: Want some O's.
Me: Sure. Why don't you finish the O's in your bowl, then you can have some more.
Peanut: Want some more O's NOW.
Me: Yeah, sure, OK. (getting up)

The characters in The Birds Fall Down are dealing with issues much more important (you know, the socialist revolution in Russia). But their style of getting things done is sort of just as basic. Lots of terrorism, lots of spying, basically lots of intrigue. Rather than trying to convince the world what they want, they try to beat the world over the head with it through terrorism.

The Birds Fall Down is the story of an 18 year old girl who gets caught up in a situation where her exiled Russian grandfather has unknowingly been employing a double agent. Worse yet, that double agent might have the hots for her. The book started off really slowly but then toward the middle it became very exciting. I especially was interested in what it said on the book jacket that the book is actually based on something that happened in real life (catching this one particular double spy) that helped pave the way for Lenin's rise to power. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I don't usually like war books.

Before I started reading all these books, I definitely had preconceived notions about war books. I thought they were all dry and boring and full of death. All Quiet on the Western Front and now, Birdsong, have totally changed my mind. Yes, there is a lot of death and sadness. But the characters are interesting and human and I came away feeling like I learned something. World War I was really a tough, difficult war and it is hard to believe it took place just 100 years ago. I can't believe there were whole groups of men devoted to digging out tunnels under the ground!

I'm surprised I hadn't ever heard of Birdsong before. Since it was published relatively recently it seems like I would have some across it at some point, but nope.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Books 81-90

Here are the next 10 books on the list. Happy May!

81. The Bitter Glass by Ellis Dillon (1958)
82. Black Dogs by Ian McEwan (1992)
83. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch (1973)
84. Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
85. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (1987)
86. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853)
87. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)
88. Blind Man with a Pistol by Chester Himes (1969)
89. Blindness by Henry Green (1926)
90. The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1852)

Some good authors on here. I have really liked the Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood and Iris Murdoch books I have read. To say nothing of Charles Dickens, who I struggled with when reading assignments for school - maybe now I have matured enough to enjoy more!

Can't stay in Yorkshire, can't get out of Yorkshire.

What I liked most about Billy Liar, by Keith Waterhouse, is that I think there is a little bit of Billy in lots of us. Billy has a hard time making any decisions, overthinks everything, lives a rich fantasy life because his ordinary life is not so interesting, and struggles when the half-truths he tells people come back and get him. He wants desperately to move to London to pursue his writing hopes but can't bring himself to take the measures necessary to do so.

I didn't think I was going to like this book as much as I did, but I did. I kind of felt bad for Billy that he couldn't quite figure out how to make his life go the way he wanted it to, but it was entertaining.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Totalitarianism and paprika cheese.

Billiards at Half-Past Nine is a fairly readable story of a few generations of a German family coping with their opposition to totalitarianism in the early to mid 1900s. It dragged at times, but wasn't too bad. Definitely a book more for literature/ history types instead of the mainstream reader though.

Gross: the grandfather wants to be remembered at the restaurant where he hopes to become a regular, so he orders paprika cheese. Cream cheese mixed with paprika. Yuck!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An anthropomorphic frog. And Billy Budd too.

Lately Peanut has been liking for us to read her Froggy Plays Soccer by Jonathan London. In Froggy Plays Soccer, an anthropomorphic young frog plays in the big soccer game. But he keeps forgetting the rules and using his hands! Will Froggy remember the rules in time to help his team beat the Wild Things and win the City Cup? You'll have to read it to find out!

I would estimate that I have read Froggy Plays Soccer 963 times this week. I also kept putting off starting Billy Budd this week. I remember being assigned to read Billy Budd in high school, really struggling with it, and not really giving it the effort it deserved. My second reading of Billy Budd was pretty much the same. You know how I summarized Froggy Plays Soccer just now? Well, I am not sure I can even summarize Billy Budd that way. I think basically Billy is this sailor? And he manages to irritate his superior, who trumps up some b.s. accusation against him. And when the captain confronts Billy about the accusation, he punches his superior, accidentally killing him, rather than defend himself. So then he is put to death. Of course it takes Melville 4 pages to write a simple sentence, so this just dragged. And dragged. And dragged.

I think I will stick with Froggy Plays Soccer. At least I have some clue about what is going on.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Before the Sopranos...

...there was Billy Bathgate. This is a really interesting story about a young kid trying to get into a life of organized crime. I normally don't really enjoy crime and violence in books but this one really was good and the violence, while definitely there, didn't ruin the story for me.

It was weird, as I read the book I kind of realized that something was going to take place, that the characters weren't all going to continue to live their lives as they were doing so, so there was this sense of foreboding. Was the main character going to get knocked off?

I really enjoyed this one and even though it was long, I went through it really fast!

Monday, April 4, 2011

I would be a terrible detective.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler is a fun detective story. I like the 1930s historical details like the phone exchanges, people wearing hats, etc. I really enjoyed reading this. The one thing about detective stories is that I can never figure out how the clues are fitting together and then the detective is like, aha! And I'm slightly confused and feel like I missed something. Very clever...I guess that is why I wouldn't be a good detective. That, and the getting shot at all the time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Details, details.

One of the many things that amazes me about Peanut is her attention to detail. She will notice and remember these little tiny details of things - the blue frog is the one that doesn't light up at Gacky's house, only one of her Playmobil characters has short sleeves, and so on. It is really cool, especially now that she is talking so much, to be able to hear these observations of hers.

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf is a very detailed look at one day in the life of an English village. Some locals are putting on a pageant and the book takes place just on that day. The way it is written just reminds me of Peanut's details. It wasn't a particularly interesting book from a plot standpoint but I can see why people who are good at literary stuff probably like it! And at least it was shorter than that last book! I have had a string here of a couple in a row that have not been my favorite. Let's hope The Big Sleep turns things around. It's a detective story!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hey! I have heard of that guy!

The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni, was long. Really really long. And not the most interesting thing I ever read either. One bright spot was that St. Charles Borromeo showed up in kind of a peripheral way, which was nice. There is a local church here that is named for him.

I really didn't care about Renzo and Lucia, the betrothed characters who were kind of star crossed. The bright spot in the book for me was the religious conversion of the Unnamed bad guy. And what seemed like hundreds of pages about bread riots? Not for me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Anna Karenina and Charlie Sheen, separated at birth?

First of all, wow. I finished Anna Karenina yesterday. I feel like I've been listening to it forever. Now that it's over, I sort of miss those crazy Russians. What a story! Full of family complications, jealousy, betrayal, resignation. It is epic. Fine work, Mr. Tolstoy. I salute you.
Now, about the title of my post comparing Ms. Karenina with Mr. Sheen-- why, you ask? HOW? Charlie Sheen has been all over the news lately like white on rice, and it got me thinking that he and Anna Karenina are very similar. First, the adultery and/or exploits. Anna brings Vronsky into her home while her son is there and he totally knows what's going on. Charlie fools around with a porn star and trashes a hotel room while his daughters are in the next room.
Second, substance abuse. Anna is using opium like it's going out of style at one point. I thought that would be her end. Charlie has been in rehab a few times and his alcohol and drug use is well documented.
Third, they both live on the fringes of society and dislike feeling judged by others. Anna can't even go out in society in Moscow and that nasty lady at the opera is really mean to her. She's an outcast because she can't divorce Alexei Alexandrovitch and marry Vronsky, and she has an illegitimate child. Charlie Sheen, although in the limelight, is on the fringes because he has gotten into trouble with the law and his job, to the point that his TV show is cancelled and he is facing custody issues with his recent ex. Anna can't stand being an outcast and often references her "position." Charlie, in his recent interview on 20/20, likened himself to not being of this terrestrial plain and says he has "tiger blood" and "Adonis DNA." They are frustrated with how they feel other people feel about them.
Finally, they both come off to me as rather erratic. At one point in the audio book, when Anna is being particularly unreasonable about Vronsky, saying that she doesn't care, and he'll pay for this, and the letter doesn't reach him but she thinks she's been given the brush-off and Vronsky wants to leave her, I literally, after every sentence, said aloud, "Because you're crazy!" Anna was out of her mind. Charlie Sheen has made some comments in interviews that seem unusual, like the tiger blood thing, and generally isn't making sense these days, at least to me.
Besides all that, I admire Anna Karenina and Charlie Sheen for being themselves and not conforming to anyone else's standards. Anna loved Vronsky obsessively and they both paid the price. Charlie Sheen likes his lifestyle and doesn't lie about it, and time will tell what happens next. Do I condone it? No, but I appreciate the honesty.
I think if I had read Anna Karenina I would not have liked it as much. I mentioned before that the reader of the audio book was great, and her name escapes me at the moment, but I will look it up. It was very accessible. And Tolstoy, what a beautiful and heartbreaking piece of literature. I think Charlie Sheen should read it.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book backwards of sort a.

Every once in a while Peanut asks us to read to her backwards. At first I thought it was really odd but then I realized that maybe it is her way of focusing more on the words, since I tend to read more slowly that way and use my finger to follow along with the words.

La Bete Humaine is not backwards word for word the way that Peanut likes us to read her books. But the premise is kind of backwards. A murder happens pretty early on in the book and there is no disputing who committed it. The rest of the book deals with the fallout from the murder and basically what happens next in the perpetrators' lives. The book also centers around a French railway line and a lot of the activity occurs in train stations and on trains.

Although this book was written in 1840 there are some pretty modern themes in this book and the construction of it seems way ahead of its time. I really, really liked it. This is one of just a few that I highly, highly recommended to Mike that he read. I think he will find it super interesting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Really tasty chicken.

I just didn't get Berlin Alexanderplatz at all. Here's this guy, released from prison, going about doing stuff in 1920s Germany, and it just wasn't that interesting, and I really didn't care. I'm sure the book has lots of meaning and significance but I wasn't able to find it at all. Oh well.

So this is how my mom makes these really tasty chicken thighs.
Chicken thighs
Bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
Poultry seasoning
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350, and place pan you plan to cook chicken thighs in oven so it gets hot. Meanwhile, in a ziploc bag place equal parts flour and bread crumbs, plus a dash of salt and pepper and some poultry seasoning. Put each chicken piece in the bag individually to coat with the mixture.

When oven is hot, remove pan and immediately place about a tablespoon of olive oil on it, tilting it to coat the whole pan. Place seasoned chicken thighs skin side up in pan and bake for 30 minutes. Remove and turn chicken pieces over and bake for an additional 20 minutes.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Anna Karenina discs 1-15, or WHY TOLSTOY WHY?

I got Tolstoy's Anna Karenina on CD to listen during my commute. It's thirty discs long. THIRTY. Makes sense, since the book is gigantor, but it's the most I've ever tackled. Luckily it's split into two sets of fifteen. I finished the first set last week, and let me tell you, Tolstoy likes words. Also, everyone has a super long name. I thought I was going to be bored out of my mind, but it's actually a compelling story. Levin likes Kitty, but she refuses his proposal because she's waiting on Vronsky. Meanwhile, Vronsky and Anna fall in love and Anna cheats on Alexei Alexandrovitch and he's mad. Anna is Stiva's sister, and Dolly is Kitty's sister, and Dolly and Stiva are married but Dolly is upset because Stiva is sleeping with the governess. Kitty realizes that Vronsky will never propose and she's sad because she could've been with Levin, and she gets sick and goes abroad to drink special waters and rest at a spa. Anna gets pregnant with Vronsky's child and Alexei Alexandrovitch debates on what to do regarding their marriage. Kitty comes back, Levin gets over himself and re-proposes, she says yes, and at the end of this set of discs, they are going to get married.


Throw in various political asides, lots of trips from Moscow to Petersburg and the country, carriages, troikas, Levin's life in the country and his idealization of peasant life, and that's my summary of the first chunk. Epic. I am really liking it! Also, the reader on the audio book is fabulous which makes a huge difference. She's got a slightly different tone for each character without being cheesy. There is so much drama and family goings-on. I'm kind of irritated by Anna, to be honest, and I like Kitty and Levin a lot. We'll see what awaits in the next fifteen discs (I'm actually on disc 18 right now but there's still a lot!).


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oh, Africa.

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul was one of those books on the list where it is a novel, but it is also intended to teach something. It wasn't heavy handed or annoying though - I really was interested to read the story set in a post-colonial African city. I knew nothing at all about this topic before beginning the book. The main character is not from the city and goes there to set up a little shop and witnesses all the changes and troubles that people have there. The main character is not necessarily likeable (I'm mainly referring to the fact that he beats up a woman at one point).

Another interesting point is that his family (who lives on the coast of Africa) had slaves dating from a long time ago but it has become way different from US pre-Civil War slavery. The tables have kind of turned on his family and they can't do anything about the slaves. The slaves (which have now multiplied and become numerous) are entitled to the family's care and support.

This was generally pretty interesting, if a little slow at times.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Books 71-80

Here are the next 10 books on the list!

71. La Bete Humaine by Emile Zola (1840)
72. The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni (1827)
73. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf (1941)
74. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
75. Billiards at Half-Past-Nine by Heinrich Boll (1959)
76. Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow (1989)
77. Billy Budd, Foretopman by Herman Melville (1924)
78. Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse (1959)
79. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1993)
80. The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West (1966)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


When I told Mike that Ben-Hur was next on my list, he told me that he saw the movie and it freaked him out about getting leprosy. I can totally understand that from reading the book too. I can't figure out why it didn't kill off everyone in the world if it was that contagious. Yikes.

This was a really interesting book. It was unique to me with the use of Jesus as a character. The plot advances with rough parallel to the life of Jesus and He figures in a lot of the things that go on. (I suppose you could say that He figures in everything that goes on, but what I mean is that His life intersects with Ben-Hur's.)

This also was another book that must have been pretty amazing to read in 1888.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hold your baby just a little tighter.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison, was really hard for me to read. Just to imagine the desperation that the main character felt to resort to such a horrific action. And then the let down when she realizes that the baby ghost is out for no good rather than just to be with her...this was just so unbelievably sad. I had to stop reading it at night before bed because I was finding it so upsetting that I couldn't fall asleep. And when Peanut woke up in the morning, I just hugged her so tightly, appreciating who she is and how lucky we are to live our life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I laughed, I cried, and I read and read and read and...

Belle du Seigneur by Albert Cohen is 974 pages long! I was really daunted by this book when I first picked it up (and the interlibrary loan deadline with NO RENEWALS looming) but I made it through! While I was worried that this was going to be long, boring and unreadable, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself really enjoying it.

The story is kind of a love story, kind of a comedy, tragedy, drama, social commentary, political commentary, pretty much everything you could imagine all rolled into one. And it was LONG. Although, last night when I finally finished the book, I turned to Mike and told him that I was going to miss those characters. I had spent so much time with them over the past couple of weeks and all of a sudden they are gone.

I am shocked that this book isn't more popular. I understand it being so long and everything, but it was really, really good and I'm surprised that more people don't read it. I am curious whether any of Cohen's other books are on the list as well. (This book is the third in a series of novels that follow the same main character.)

Happy New Year! (Peanut is still saying Happy New Year - so cute, she will just come up to me once in a while with a big smile on her face and say, "Happy New Year!" - so Happy New Year to you, blog.) Last year I read 64 books in total I think (counting a few non-list books as well) - I am not sure I will ever top that as a record.