Thursday, December 20, 2012

When everything is turned upside down.

I keep trying and failing to come up with a real life corollary to the dilemma faced by the main character in this book.

Anthony Trollope's Castle Richmond is a very interesting story of upper class life in Ireland during the famine.  The famine is the backdrop to the events that take place, though the main characters themselves are not starving.

The story revolves around the Fitzgerald family of Castle Richmond.  The oldest son's legitimacy to inherit his father's estate and title is called into question, and the book examines the impact on him, his family, his betrothed, and his cousin - the man who would take the estate if the oldest son were not allowed to inherit.  

It is hard for me to imagine how it must feel to be a man whose whole life has been directed by the expectation that he would inherit an estate and be a country gentleman - and is then faced with the prospect of making his way in the world, finding a job, etc.  I really liked this book, especially as it picked up steam toward the middle/end and found it fascinating.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Cat and Mouse is about a group of boys growing up in World War II era Germany.  It follows the narrator's obsession with this other boy, Mahlke.  Mahlke was kind of a different kid and the narrator can't figure out what makes him tick or why he operates the way he does.

I didn't find this book very interesting.  I couldn't really get into it in the beginning and it just kind of dragged on.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I really wanted to like Castle Rackrent.  I loved The Absentee, Maria Edgeworth's other book I read for this project.

I made a mistake though.  I opted to read this one for free on the Kindle for iPad.  And of course, when the book doesn't grip me immediately on the iPad, I have a hard time focusing on the book because there are so many other fun things to do on the iPad.  I literally had to force myself to read for 15 minutes before opening up any other apps to play around.  That doesn't happen to me with a book, and why I very much prefer to read the old analog way.

I don't mean to imply that Castle Rackrent is not excellent literature.  I understand it is once of the first historical novels written in English, and I am always impressed by Edgeworth's characters and how easily the messages can be adapted to modern day society.  I just wish that I was a little less distracted so that I could have more easily enjoyed the fullness of this book.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A castle featuring...a giant hand!

The Castle of Otranto was the third book in a row that I have read that featured the word "Castle" in the title.  The peril of reading these books in alphabetical order, of course.  This was the first one that was actually readable.

The book is short (about 100 pages) and old (published 1764) and free on the Kindle.  What's not to like?  Basically this lord, Manfred, has his castle taken over by the supernatural on the day of the wedding of his son.  But it wasn't obvious supernatural - my favorite was the giant body parts that the servants reported seeing.  The report of a glimpse of a giant hand was fun!  This book was pretty interesting and very readable considering its publication date.  I'm a fan.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tarot? Heck, no.

I never really got into tarot cards.  I always saw them as lame and cheesy, and the people that I knew that liked them REALLY liked them.

Speaking of lame and cheesy, now I will discuss The Castle of Crossed Destinies.  Basically these people gather in a castle and can't speak.  Instead they use tarot cards to tell each other their stories.  So the whole book is like this:

I surmised from the fact that he laid down the Seven of Cups that something had happened to him in the wood.  Could it be an attack?  Yes, it must have been, since next he put down the Eight of Swords.

No thanks.

In other news, I would like to share the best recipe for Migas I have found on the Internet.  We LOVE this.  Rachael Ray's Mighty Migas  Recipe is (optionally) cheesy, but NOT lame!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Some people think that stay at home parents have tedious lives.  I don't think I do.  At least, it is not tedious to me.  Sure, there is laundry, and there are poop diapers and dirty dishes, but there are also amazing, interesting, fun things that I get to do.

Every once in a while though I get the most mundane dreams.  I'm talking a whole dream where I carry a basket of dirty clothing to the basement, put each item in the washing machine, measure out the soap, etc.  The worst part about it is that I don't end up with actual clean laundry in real life from it.

Summary: happy, interesting life.  Tedious dreams.

You know what was really, really tedious?  The Castle.  I did not like this book one bit and it became such a drudge to get through.  I held out hope that it would be interesting (hey, it's about a castle after all!) but it's a story about how this guy got summoned to be a land surveyor at the castle, but can't go inside the castle because of mountains of bureaucracy.  Everyone in the village accepts the bureaucracy and makes excuses for the officials, but the main character is just baffled by the whole situation.

I read a summary of it on Wikipedia because I wanted to figure out how much I missed and the suggestion was made that it had religious overtones.  If that was indeed Kafka's intent, I think Kafka was wrong.  Perhaps it's just my own religious viewpoint, but I don't think the path to salvation is tedious or fraught with bureaucracy.

In any case, I'm glad to be done with this one and moving on!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Allow myself to introduce...myself.

"Danger Powers.  Oh, that's not quite right.  Danger is my middle name."

I could not read Casino Royale without imagining Mike Myers as the main character.  The whole time I was reading, I was just chuckling to myself what a fantastic spoof of the James Bond movies Austin Powers actually was.

Casino Royale seems so dated now.  There's a lot of stereotypes and what is now predictability in this book.  At the time it was written though, I could see how it could have been gripping reading.  The first of a genre that launched a thousand copycats and spoofs.  I just happen to read them out of order.

The one issue with this book that isn't the fault of its age is the inconsistency of Vesper's character.  She's portrayed on the one hand as this cold seasoned spy and on the other hand she gets caught making a phone call early in the morning.  It just didn't make sense that the cold spy would behave as she did.

I enjoyed this book a lot and it kept me giggling.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

You don't really want that onion.

Pea is extremely cautious about food.  We suspect that it is partially from having reflux as a baby - everything hurt her belly.  Now at almost 4, she sticks to a few safe foods and is reluctant to try anything new.

Except this one time.  I was chopping onions for risotto and she was standing next to me on a stool watching intently.  She nonchalantly says, "I'm going to go play...but first I'm going to just eat this onion."  And pops a piece in her mouth.

Oh, Pea.  She reacted as you could imagine a 3 year old trying a raw onion for the first time would.  I felt so bad for her.

My onion is similar to Communist Party membership in The Case of Comrade Tulayev.  Pea thought she would like the onion because she saw me cooking with it and decided to try it for herself.  Most of the non-Party members in the book wanted to become Party members because they saw it as a way to advance in society and gain particular advantages.  However, like the onion, the Party membership winds up being terrible.  The Party members can't do anything without fearing the consequences and have to deal with other Party members actively trying to usurp their positions, or being sent to exile in Siberia for some minor transgression, or being executed despite innocence.

This is particularly evident when a non-Party member murders a high Communist official pretty much on a whim.  It is inconceivable to the people in charge of the investigation that the murder could be anything but a vast conspiracy within the Party, so they investigate, charge and eventually execute 3 Party members for the murder.

This book was a great commentary on Stalin-era Russian life and the corruption and intrigue within the Communist Party of that era.  It was a little slow in parts, but I am glad I read it.

I don't think that Pea will be eating any more onions anytime soon - and I don't think any of us will be joining the Communist Party either!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oh no. Ohhh no. Oh no.

My son has said his first word!  And it wasn't "ball!" as he crawled around after a ball, or "mama," as he gazed at me lovingly, or "doggie," as the neighbors' dog sniffed him.  No, my son's first word is "oh no!"

"Oh no!"  Which he then repeats several times in a row.  "Oh no!  Ohhh no!  Ohh no!"  I'm not sure what this says about our parenting that our little 10 month old son crawls around fretting like a housewife trying to remove ring around the collar.

I could not put down Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  This was a book I stayed up late to read and also read a paragraph or two at pretty much every opportunity throughout the day.  It was SO good.  The main character, Blue, is a 16 year old girl who gets caught up in a murder mystery.

Blue, however, behaves a lot like my little son.  Sure, she tries very hard to solve the mystery and unravel what is going on, but there is a LOT of handwringing.  I'm not going to give away too much of the plot because this book should not be missed and I don't want to ruin it for any prospective reader.  But I came away feeling like there was maybe a bit too much "oh no!" going on and not enough good old fashioned sleuthing.  But that is just a minor criticism (and I also need to take into account that the main character IS 16, and is probably behaving exactly as a 16 year old would - even if I wanted her to be more proactive about certain things, it is probably more plausible the way the author has written it).

This book is creative, clever and fun and I loved it.  I'm SO glad I read it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thoughts on Cane.

Usually the fact that a book isn't available in my library means it is going to be some obscure, random book that is often difficult to read or understand.  Cane, an ILL book, did not let me down in this regard.  I can tell it is good literature.  Dealing with the experience of being African American in the early 20th century.  Unfortunately, I don't have the educational background or historical understanding to really appreciate this book for the excellent literature that it is.  It's embarrassing - I'm like, uh, yes, I can tell that this is good literature, but I can't get much more out of it than that.

Pea has discovered Where's Waldo the last couple of weeks, which has been really fun.  I fondly remember enjoying those books when I was young.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The big fat Greek book.

Corelli's Mandolin started off very slow, and very long.  I just couldn't get into the portrait of life in Cephallonia - it was all very nice, but just didn't do it for me.  I feared a long slog through the 430 pages.  Thankfully, the character of Corelli showed up and saved the book.  I read the portions dealing with the love story between him and Pelagia with interest, and read the sections dealing with the horrors of the war with somewhat less interest.

Here's the thing about war books - we know that war is terrible.  And I acknowledge the effort on the part of the author to make us understand what it was like for the Greek people to go through what they went through at the hands of the oppressors.  It doesn't make it less sad, or easier to read about.  I am not suggesting that writers should not write about it - I just personally don't like to read about it.

Mike says that this book was made into one of the worst movies!  It did get a 29% on the Tomatometer.  I did not know that Penelope Cruz was in the role of Pelagia.  I think I'll skip the movie on this one.  (Not a shock, I know - I don't watch movies)!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cannery row...or, why I am a doofus.

Today I finished Cannery Row, which I really liked.  It is not often that one finds literature idealizing the poorest members of Depression-era society.  But that is what this book does.  Everyone is reasonably happy with their life and the overall goal is to make Doc happy by throwing him a party.  These are people living in storage sheds, an industrial boiler, and prostitutes.  But they are good people who are trying their best.  Interesting book and interesting perspective.  The image of the starfish clinging to each other will be in my mind for a while.  That's what humans do when they are nervous, too.

Here comes the embarrassing part.  So I'm reading this and in my mind, comparing it to Absalom, Absalom.  I'm thinking to myself, wow, these sentences are shorter and this is a lot more readable.  It was only after finishing the book that it dawned on me.  Steinbeck and Faulkner are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AUTHORS.  I had sort of amalgamated them in my mind.  Faulkbeck, or something.  Whoops.

Books 131-140

Not quite there yet, but need to get this down so that I can start figuring out library holds, etc.

131. The Case of Comrad Tulayev by Victor Serge (1949)
132. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)
133. The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)
134. The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (1973)
135. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1765)
136. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1800)
137. Castle Richmond by Anthony Trollope (1860)
138. Cat and Mouse by Gunter Grass (1961)
139. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
140. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)

Lot of castles on here!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Always look on the bright side of life.

Last night, it rained and thundered a lot at our house, and our windows leaked again.  I learned this because Fuzz was up at 10PM, and his fussing sounded different.  Usually I can run in and soothe him and he will fall right back asleep.  This time, I ran in, and he was all wet, and there was water spraying everywhere.  Whoops.  This was an annoying thing to have happen at 10PM, because I had to get him up, Mike had to get Tupperware containers to catch the water, we had to get a whole bunch of rags to mop up the mess, and I think that Fuzz is going to have a bit of a water stain on the paint underneath his window in his room.

In the big picture, this is not a huge deal.  I don't think that God or the universe is out to get me because of the annoying window leak or anything.  It's unfortunate but we have moved on (and will have to figure out how to repair these things).

Voltaire, in Candide, mocks people who are optimists, and the view that things are generally for the best.  He does this in a pretty entertaining way, by creating this character and having this ridiculous series of unfortunate events happen to him.  The idea is that by the end of the novel, he essentially has his optimism beaten out of him.  It's pretty clever and creative, especially when you consider that it was written in the 1750s, so it certainly has stood the test of time.

I don't really agree with the idea though that optimism is silly.  It is silly to rely on optimism only and not do something about one's situation.  I can be optimistic that it won't rain again and hence our window won't leak, but that would be silly.  I will instead be optimistic that we will find the right repair person and get the windows fixed and it won't be an issue any more.

So I will continue to look on the bright side of life, although that may seem silly to Voltaire.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What could possibly be more depressing?

...Than a mid-1950s cancer hospital in the middle of the Soviet Union?  When I started Cancer Ward initially, I could not think of anything that would be more depressing.  Solzhenitsyn actually lived through this experience and the novel draws in part on his experiences.  As I learned from Wikipedia, this novel serves as a metaphor for the Soviet Union after Stalin.  (Definitely wouldn't have figured that out on my own.)

I really found this book interesting, though, once I got into it.  Yes, it was depressing, but the characters were really well written and I learned a lot reading about their experiences.  I also found the book hopeful - many of the characters have goals that they intend to achieve, and their cancer is viewed as a minor obstacle along the way.

Russia has always interested me.  I studied the language for a few years in high school and college (and retained very little of it, certainly not enough where I could read any of this novel in the original language).  The history and the diversity of cultures there has always interested me as well.

Sometimes books like this leave me feeling depressed and sad, but not this one.  I am very glad I read it.  I learned a lot.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The long, long, long adventures of Camilla

It's been a while! Before we left on vacation, i looked up the next 3 books on the list and hurried to the library to collect my vacation reading. Well, it turned out i did not need any of them.

Camilla is one of the longest books i have read so far. One estimate online has it at 350,000 words. (i read it on the kindle, so I have no sense of how many pages that is). I started it before we left and it occupied me the whole 2 weeks of vacation. I really, really liked it though. Sometimes these older novels are hard for me to get into, but this one was really interesting.

Of course there are some things about it that do not translate well to modern times. Camilla is one of those passive heroines. Things just keep happening to her and she does very very little on her own behalf to make things different. The few decisions she does make often lead to disastrous results until a man comes in to fix things for her.

However, it is a happy, uplifting story and things all turn out the way they should in the end. I like when that happens in books.

Now we are back from vacation and fall is almost here!  Hard to believe!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

You can call it whatever you want.

When you have a baby, people always ask you, all concerned, how the baby sleeps.  I tend to answer something like, "oh, fine" or my favorite "you know, just like a baby".  The reality is, neither of my children has been a particularly great sleeper - if you define sleep as going to bed easily at night, then not being heard from again until the morning.  But that's OK.  It ends.  Pea is actually a very sound sleeper now at 3.5.  On the other hand, her baby brother woke up the other night at 11PM and all he wanted to do was wrestle.  I tried to calm him down, soothe him, rub his back, and he was like, kick!  punch!  lay on Mama and pin her!  roll around!  If there were ropes around the bed, he would have tried one of those moves where he bounces off the ropes, I'm sure.  Babies are funny.

Despite its title, Call It Sleep is not actually about sleep very much at all either.  The story follows Davy, a little boy, a recent immigrant to New York in the 1900s.  It is all about assimilation and growing up, learning the new city, new language, new customs, etc.  I really enjoyed this book - it was long and some of the language was hard to understand at times (the author uses a very phonetic method of showing the different accents that people have, and it can be confusing and hard to understand what people are saying) but I really did like it.

Even if it isn't about sleep.  Not that I'm getting big chunks of sound sleep anyway.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A woman ahead of her times.

Literature is full of men who are celebrated, not vilified, for doing just what they want. When a woman does it, it's controversial. The heroine of Cakes and Ale does exactly what she pleases with views and decisions that are well ahead of her times. She manages to be memorable enough to her first husband's biographers that they are determined to keep her out of his biography. But what is amazing about this book is that you don't really fully understand Rosie and what is driving her until the very end of the novel. When I read the last part, I was like, Oh! A lightbulb clicked on.

Looking back at this novel, I really liked it.  It was slow at first and I didn't think I would enjoy it, but it picked up steam and I wound up really liking it at the end.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Having children has taught me to watch what I say.  Pea started calling people "EEE-diot" after hearing me rail against some doofus driving like, well, an idiot.  EEE-diot has thus made it into our family lexicon.

EEE-diot is an apt description of the hero of By the Open Sea.  I couldn't stand this guy.  He was arrogant, overly impressed with his intelligence, and continuously put down everyone around him to make himself look better.  I can't say I was disappointed that the community eventually pretty much threw him out at the end.  I'm glad this book was short, because I was certainly fed up with Mr. Borg by the end of it!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sad story of a childhood.

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe is a tough one for a mom to read. This young kid has all these terrible things happen to him and he winds up struggling mentally and becoming very violent. It reminds me how powerful childhood is and how fiercely I love and want to protect my kids. It was a confusing story too, because it was written in a very stream of consciousness style. I wasn't always exactly sure what was going on, or whether my impressions of what was happening were true. Anyway, I see why this was on the list, but it's not necessarily one that I particularly enjoyed.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thanksgiving 2000

Do you remember where you were Thanksgiving 2000?  I was on the Cape with my family, having driven down from Boston where I was in school.  It was gray, and I went for a run.  I remember that it was very empty - no summer tourists, so I was actually able to run on a busier road than I normally would have.  That's about all I remember.

The Lay of the Land is a very detailed look at the 3 days up to Thanksgiving 2000 in Frank Bascombe's life.  He's a 55 year old realtor on the New Jersey shore.  He does a lot of things and the novel is a commentary on society at the time, as well as a story of him and his life and kids and stuff.  I liked the book a lot - I liked Frank and I was glad to see the outcome at the end.  It was detailed and slow, but enjoyable.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ye auld blog post. Fer F's sake.

I started The Busconductor Hines and was just baffled by the dialect and profanity used in the book.  It was almost like a different language at first until I got used to it.  I finally figured it out about 100 pages in, and then the story went fairly quickly.

Robert Hines struggles with the monotony of his life.  The protagonist has a tough job as a Busconductor and lives in a no bedroom apartment with his wife and 4 year old son.  The circumstances of his life totally weigh on him.  Throughout the book, his wife suggests ways that they can get things better - such as moving to a different location, or saving money for a year with the eventual goal of possibly moving to Australia - but Hines can't ever seem to get it together to make a change.  Even at the very end, where he winds up quitting his job, he goes back to it after a little while because it would be foolish not to work the week's notice and get the extra money.

This is a moderately interesting portrait of working class life in Glasgow.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why you aren't supposed to throw carrots in restaurants.

When Peanut was 2, she sort of understood the general rules but couldn't figure out the logic behind them.  For example, one time she tossed a carrot stick in a sandwich shop.

Me: Peanut, don't throw the carrot in the restaurant.
Peanut: You can't throw a carrot in the restaurant.  Other kids will want to play with the carrot.

You could tell she was sort of understanding how things worked, but couldn't really fully grasp the logic behind why yet - and in situations that were not directly related to health or safety, it took some time before she figured out the why behind the rules.  At 3.5, I promise that she hasn't thrown a carrot in a restaurant for at least a week or two.

I just finished Nadine Gordimer's book Burger's Daughter.  I felt a lot like Peanut while I was reading this.  I definitely got the gist behind what was going on, but I completely lack the historical/social context to understand the book more fully and clearly in the way the author intended.

Thus seems to be a recurring theme for me with these books.  I really enjoyed history when I studied it in high school but we obviously didn't cover the history of every country through every time period.  Hence, my knowledge of South Africa is very lacking.  I found this book was useful to help me understand in some small way what apartheid South Africa was like - but I can also tell it only scratched the surface.  I get that you aren't supposed to throw the carrot, but I don't understand why.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Life in a British colony.

IIt's Memorial Day weekend and I'm finishing up Fuzz's nap before we have a cookout and relax with our friends and family. It is about 90 degrees and in the distance, I can hear the roars of the Rolling Thunder motorcycles as they come to their convention. That is Memorial Day weekend for me- our cookout and the Rolling Thunder.
I just finished reading Burmese Days, a novel by George Orwell set in the early 1900s in Burma, a British colony. This book amazed me simply by the different attitudes about different races that were so prevalent and accepted 100 years ago. Colonialism itself. The way the white inhabitants treated the natives. Even Flory, who seems to like native culture, treats his Burmese mistress terribly. It was an interesting book because it was so different than anything I'm used to in my life. I can't imagine just going a place and proclaiming my way of life to be superior.
happy Memorial Day!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Books 121-130

Here are the next 10 books on the list!  Almost to the C's!

121. The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe (1992)
122. By the Open Sea by August Strindberg (1890)
123. Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham (1930)
124. Call it Sleep by Henry Roth (1934)
125. Camilla by Fanny Burney (1796)
126. Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1968)
127. Candide by Voltaire (1759)
128. Cane by Jean Toomer (1923)
129. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945)
130. Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (1994)

Monotony is good!

Have you ever had a period of your life that was characterized by doing the same thing day in and day out?  Monotony doesn't bother me in the least.  I find comfort in it and find very mundane tasks particularly relaxing.  (I was an AWESOME administrative temp in college for this reason.  Need to organize thousands of batteries by country of origin?  I'm your girl.)

Edith Wharton's novella Bunner Sisters (do you italicize the title of a novella?) is a story of how a pair of sisters with a small shop change up their monotonous lives with disastrous results.  I have written before about how amazed I am that I hadn't read any Edith Wharton until beginning this project, and this novella yet again made me realize what a brilliant writer she was.  The whole picture of the sisters, their sad little lives, their sad little shop, just drawn so perfectly - and then just turned on its head as their circumstances change.  I really enjoyed this one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sometimes you get it, and, well...

Sometimes you just don't.  The Buddha of Suburbia was not one of those crazy books that make absolutely no sense to me, stream of consciousness or with holes cut out (or pooping outside of a window).  It was a coherent story.

Unfortunately, it just didn't resonate with me.  It's narrated by a half Indian young man making his way in 1970s London.  The story was interesting, and his world was interesting, and the characters are all interesting, but I just was left feeling kind of meh.  I'm sure that for some people this was a fascinating social commentary, but I'm just not one of those people!

I'm definitely not going to like them all.

In other news, my daughter has just started reading!  I'm so happy and proud of her and we have been reading a lot of those decodable books.  She loves it so far.  The way she goes through a new library book at rapid speed enjoying every minute reminds me a lot of Marissa and me when we were little.  It's a very happy time here in my house.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


We have a picture of my little 2 month old son, his dad, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather all sitting together on the couch last Christmas Eve.  It's so amazing to look at these 4 generations of men and think about everything that has happened in their lives - and to think that someday my son might pose for a picture with his son, grandson, or even great-grandson.  I look at Great-Grandpa and think about what an interesting life he has had.  And I look at my son and think about what an interesting life he may also have.

Thomas Mann's novel Buddenbrooks has really gotten me thinking about family.  This novel was amazing.  So amazing in fact, that I read all 730 pages in less than 2 weeks.  I simply couldn't put this one down.  I obviously hope that my family doesn't turn out like the Buddenbrooks - the novel chronicles the decline of this once-illustrious German merchant family and ends with the typhoid death of little Hanno, the young son.  It was very sad.

But I liked how no matter what they were going through in the story, the family remained very close.  They had Thursday afternoons as family time when extended family members would come to eat.  They had this cool family chronicle book handed down through generations in which all the important events that took place were recorded.  And they generally had each other's backs.  Although Antonie had to deal with 2 very bad marriages, she knew she could always come back to the family home.  She could always count on her parents and oldest brother.  And she similarly could always be counted on to support her family and stand behind them no matter what they chose to do.  I liked their family closeness through good times and bad.

This is one of those books that I absolutely loved and would recommend to anyone.  I'll definitely be thinking about this one for a while.  This was among the best I have read so far for sure!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Jerry Springer has nothing on Dostoevsky.

So I stay at home with my kids. That doesn't mean, however, that I watch a lot of daytime television. We actually keep the TV off most of the time. My kids aren't too interested in it and we find other fun stuff to do.

I remember being in high school and college, though, and LOVING those trashy midday talk shows. Maury always had some baby mamas on who wanted to figure out who the father of their babies was. And Jerry Springer had so much drama. Parents and children dating the same man or woman. And it always wound up in these huge fights. It made for some entertaining television. I can tell you now that Dostoevsky would have really liked those shows, too. The Brothers Karamazov has it all.  (And about 1200 pages too!)

The brothers Karamazov are these 3 brothers, from 2 different mamas. The oldest one, Dmitri, decides to leave one woman, Katya, for another woman, Grushenka. Fyodor, Dmitri's dad, also wants to get with Grushenka. Katya and Grushenka get into a fight. Fyodor and Dmitri get into a fight and Fyodor winds up dead.

Grushenka has headed off to another town to be with another guy and Dmitri shows up there with all this money and they go on a huge bender. Unfortunately for him, the law catches up to him. He is arrested and tried for killing his father.

It comes out at the trial, though, that it was probably Smyerdakov, Fyodor's illegitimate son by a woman who was not quite right in the head, who probably killed Fyodor, not Dmitri at all. Too bad for Dmitri, who is sent off to Siberia.

So. Much. Drama.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In demand.

There are apparently quite a few people in my town who really want to read Ivo Andric's The Bridge on the Drina. It was very difficult to borrow from the library, which is surprising because usually, these books are not in that much demand. Mostly people who want to read them have already read them - there isn't a huge waiting list for most of them or anything.

I can't really figure out what all the hype is about for this one. I read it very quickly, over the course of 5 days or so (thanks to a drive to Connecticut where both kids were pretty quiet), and I just couldn't get into it. The book's main character is this bridge that connects this town in Bosnia. It spans quite a bit of time, from when the bridge was built, through the development of Bosnia and the various conflicts there, and through to 1914 when the bridge is destroyed in war. The book is very, VERY bloody and violent. There was one scene in particular toward the beginning of the book that almost gave me a panic attack.

Books like this where the action centers around an object, rather than a character, are hard for me because I can't really get interested in the object the way I would a story about a person. There needs to be some continuity among the people for me to start to care about it. The book definitely helped me learn about a time in Bosnian history that I didn't know about before, but I just didn't particularly enjoy it. (I wonder if the other folks in my town also reading the book feel the same!)

Thursday, March 15, 2012


So it has been 80 for the last 3 days. In DC. In mid March. I've had to put the A/C on at night and have shorts on. I'm as tired of winter as the next person, but 80 just feels like too much too soon. I like a few weeks of mild temperatures before we go straight into full on summer. Plus, if it's 80 in mid-March, I fear what August is going to be like.

Ismail Kadare's Broken April is a fantastic novel. So apparently in the mountain regions of Albania, there are these blood feuds. The Kanun, the local code, permits murder to avenge murder if certain conditions are followed. So what winds up happening is that families engaged in a blood feud take turns killing members of the other's family. The hero, Gjorg, kills a member of the rival family to avenge his own brother's murder. This takes place in mid-March. The Kanun provides for a 30 day truce before Gjorg is allowed to be murdered by the other family. The book is about this last month, where he travels around and basically gets ready for his death. I loved reading about the customs and traditions of the people, and the descriptions in this book were just so beautiful. You could feel the end of winter chill and the little warmth that was beginning spring. The book seemed unseasonable to me because usually spring is the time where new things start to grow, but Gjorg is getting ready to die. He's dreading mid April when the truce ends and the other family is allowed to ambush and kill him.

I just loved this book. I'm surprised that my local library didn't have it. I would recommend this to anyone.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Life's a beach.

When I was little, I always thought it would be pretty much the best thing ever to live in a beach town or a ski resort town. The vacation fun never stops when you live there year round, right? Right? While on the vacation, I used to imagine the house my family would live in and what our day to day existence would be like. Fortunately (though perhaps unfortunately for 11 year old me) my parents knew better and dutifully returned all of us to our non-beach, non-ski resort town at the end of every vacation.

The characters in Brighton Rock do live in a resort town. It is nothing like a daily vacation that I used to dream about when little, though. They are gang members in a mob of young thugs that is falling apart. They continually try to consolidate their power against the rival (and much better funded) Colleoni gang, only to be thwarted at every opportunity. Basically, they kill someone, then to cover their tracks, they keep having to kill other people, until there are like 2 gang members left. Plus the head of the gang figures he has to marry a local waitress who has a clue to the murder so that she cannot testify about what she saw. The book is dark and sad. I couldn't help feeling bad for Pinkie, the mob leader, and Rose, the young woman who he marries. They are just sad, sad people.

I liked this book though. I liked how it was set up with the gang members constantly trying to outwit Ida Arnold, who has seen something and is out to discover the truth about the original death.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Crazy, but fun.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut was pretty cool. It started off kind of slow (but with a lot of amusing social commentary). As the book progressed, it got more and more frenetic. The author inserts himself into the action and actually becomes a participant in all the crazy nonsense that is going on. You know how usually the narrator is kind of invisible and describes the action? Here, the narrator pulls up beside one of his characters and explains that he created the character and is in control of him. The character is a little astonished by this. The narrator is on the outside, looking in, but also on the inside, looking out.

I liked this book- it was amusing and pretty cool. Sometimes books from this time period are a little too crazy for me. For example, the book with a hole in the middle of it. This one was nuts, but in an interesting, fun way.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A visit with Brideshead Revisited

As is usual, I'm typing this blog entry one handed as Fuzzy nurses and Peabo plays around on the floor telling a story with some playsilks and Playmobil characters. So I have a lot going on. I read Brideshead Revisited in quick bursts. 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there. It wasn't a great way to read this story. I think I missed a lot of the nuances.

The story follows a young man and his interaction with a Catholic family in the early 1900s, just before the war. He first befriends his classmate, Sebastian, but then pretty much abandons him once Sebastian becomes an alcoholic. Later he remeets Sebastian's sister Julia and they are planning to get divorces and marry each other. It is a good story and an interesting commentary on the time and the Catholic faith. Each family member has his or her own level of belief and observance and I was interested to see how that weaved through the story. This was also a LONG book for some reason. Only 313 pages, but type was small and it just seemed long to me.

Time to go burp the baby!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Books 111-120

Here are the next 10 books on the list:

111. The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (1945)
112. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (1938)
113. Broken April by Ismail Kadare (1980)
114. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)
115. The Buddah of Suburbia by Hanif Kurieshi (1990)
116. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (1901)
117. Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton (1916)
118. Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer (1979)
119. Burmese Days by George Orwell (1934)
120. The Busconductor Hines by James Kelman (1984)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Boobs, boobs everywhere.

Nursing a baby can take a while. When they are little, they aren't very efficient yet, so they often hang out at the breast and nurse for sometimes 30 minutes at a time. It's a good idea to be relaxed and read a good book or watch TV or just enjoy bonding with your new, snuggly infant.

That is how I got a lot of reading done in the early days of this blog. I had a baby that loved to hang out and snuggle and nurse. Now, with baby #2, I still have toddler #1 to look after, so it isn't as easy to curl up with the baby and a good book and nurseathon. I still do have some good chances to read, though.

The Breast was a very odd book. I know I'm totally missing the point. I found my own humor in the fact that I was primarily reading it while nursing.

So basically, this guy turns into a breast. I'm not sure if it was the time in which it was written (early 1970s, I think) or what, but the breast's essential function as a food source was quite diminished. Roth spends pages upon pages dealing with the sexual nature of the breast, the guy has his girlfriend come over and stroke his new form, etc. Only at the very end was there any discussion of the fact that breasts make milk and that this guy did not produce milk, and even then it was very brief.

Anyway, weird, weird, weird book and I definitely missed the theme of this one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

9/11 fiction.

I knew that eventually there were going to be books about September 11th. The horror of it is imprinted on every American who was alive to remember it. Even 10 years out now, it seems too fresh to be fictionalized, though. Claire Messud does a nice job with The Emperor's Children of coming up with some likeable characters and an interesting story. So I did like reading the book, even though it is difficult and sad to read about such a horrible day. You can see how things are leading up to the events and you almost don't want to keep reading because you don't want these people to be affected by the terrorism. But you know the fictional characters will be affected, just like we all were.

The cultural references in the book are great - very 2001. It's amusing to look back at them now just 10 years later. The author really captured what 2001 was like in a very clever way. I'm glad I read this Best Book of 2006 for sure.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's a catchy song.

So this is embarrassing. I knew the Deep Blue Something song, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" before I knew that there was a book! And whenever I so much as catch a glimpse of the book on my table, I get that silly song in my head. I think that is called an earworm.

Despite the associated earworm, this was a really good story. One aspect of it that was especially cool is how Holly's story is presented through her neighbor - who starts out disinterested but winds up being intrigued and caring about her, enough where he helps her leave at the end.

I'm surprised that I never read this before!

Friday, January 6, 2012

You Can't. Always. Get. What You. Want. (and you wouldn't like it much if you did)

Having a 3 year old can be tough. She is amazing, funny and sweet. And can be demanding and difficult. Sometimes the things she wants are, well, just not a good idea. She LOVES to stay up late, doesn't enjoy taking a bath very frequently, and if it were up to her, she'd have all 9 billion of her toys out at once.

I see part of my role as her parent to help guide her to do those things that she may not want to do initially, but are good for her in the long term. Sure, it is not fun to take a bath in the winter when it is freezing cold. But you feel better after, you don't smell, and you are clean. It is fun to stay up late, but then you feel terrible the next day. If you go to bed at a normal-person time, you sleep well and wake up happy and have more energy to do fun stuff the next day.

How does this relate to Brave New World, you ask? Because in Brave New World the society has abandoned the idea of long term good entirely. Immediate pleasure is maximized. The whole society functions around immediate wish gratification. Any sort of pull to do otherwise has been conditioned out of people, whether in their test tube gestational bottles, or in the whispered messages to them while they sleep as they grow up. It's basically like living in a society of unparented 3 year olds. Horrifying.

As I read this book I kept waiting for the Savage to figure out a way to save the society, or at least contribute to its downfall. But now I realize that is part of what is scary about the book - the society keeps going. It gets the best of everyone.

I really, really liked this book. Much more than when I read it in high school.