Thursday, January 29, 2015

Classics Club

Happy Thursday! January 29th already, yikes.  No better time to write about reading goals than the end of January, am I right? ;) I'd heard of the Classics Club before, but didn't know if I wanted to jump in until now.  One of my 2015 goals is to read more, and this seemed like a focused way to do that, while finally getting around to some of the greats.

The deets: The Classics Club is a community of readers and bloggers who have the goal of reading at least fifty classic books in five years. With a few guidelines, you make the list, you set the number and the timeframe, and away you go! The goal is to read every one of the books on your list in five years, and to write a little bit about each one.
For my own list, I tried to pick books that:

  1. I knew I wanted to read, and really would try to plow through.
  2. Were not all written in English (though most of them were).
  3. Women wrote.
  4. Had diverse styles and stories, and were from different geographical areas.

Below is the list that I've come up with, where "classic" also means published at least 25 years ago. Am I missing books with authors from Africa, Asia, and many, many other countries? Yep.  Are probably 90% of my picks written by dead white men? Yep.  It's not the most diverse, and doesn't have the most "classic" classics - like Aenid or Shakespeare - but it's mine, and I had a lot of fun putting it together.

Nuts and bolts:
I'll have a few mini prizes (a chocolate bar or other small treat) each time I finish five books.
Each time I finish a book, I'll write a short reflection or review and link up to the Classics Club.
The reviews will also be under the "Classics Club" tab up at the top of the blog for easy access.

Have you joined the Classics Club? What classic books are you trying to read?

Ladies first:
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allande
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rys
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
My Mother's House by Colette
Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

United Kingdom:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
A Passage to India by EM Forster
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Germinal by Emile Zola
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
In Search of Lost Time (Volume I) by Marcel Proust
Father Goroit by Honore de Balzac

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
Native Son by Richard Wright
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Dune by Frank Herbert
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
*The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

German Language:
The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
The Trial by Franz Kafka

Last but not Least, Greece:
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

*Sources said Canadian-American/Canadian-born American writer, so I placed him there.

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

After looking at another blogger's "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" post last week, I saw that it's Book Journey that hosts!  Glad I found her blog and glad to be joining again this Monday.

What am I reading?

I wasn't really getting into The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes like I thought I would, so I decided to put it down.  On Friday, some book mail came (hooray!) and I decided to read the first few pages of each.  I went with Fadeaway Girl by Martha Grimes, since I was in the mood for a good mystery, but I think I should have read her earlier books to know what was going on - I thought it was a stand-alone, but it looks more like it's part of a series.

But! I am loving Someone by Alice McDermott.  It reminds me a little bit of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and I'm hoping it's less tragic.  The writing is so vivid in the small moments and reminiscent of a kind of New York I'm not sure I ever knew, but heard stories about.  Here's one favorite piece from early reading:

"I pushed my glasses back on my nose.  Small city birds the color of ashes rose and fell along the rooftops.  In the fading evening light, the stoop beneath my thighs, as warm as breath when I first sat down, now exhaled a shallow chill." (McDermott, 7.)

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mini-reviews: First weeks of January

I'm declaring January the month of women - nearly all of my reads this month have been written by the ladies.  This was completely unplanned and glorious.  Looking forward to keeping it up...should 2015 be the year of women writers?!

Not getting carried away.  Let's do this: mini-reviews for the first weeks of January, with titles linked to goodreads.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson
My sister gave me this book for the holidays, and it's the first hardcover I've had in a long while, since I usually wait for things to come out in paperback.  I could not wait to read it.  I had enjoyed Gilead, and I think that's why I couldn't get enough of this book.  Robinson's writing is so poetic, almost lyrical, and it stuck with me the whole way through. As with The Lowland, the characters were written in a really intimate way.  I know that Home was written in between, but I had not read it before this one.  Has anyone read all three of the series in a row? What were your thoughts?

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
I had such a fun time with this one.  I wasn't expecting anything (well, maybe that Miss Marple would be more of the narrator, but other than that, not much) and could not figure out who did it.  This was my first Christie, and I loved her writing style, the easy dialogue, and the incredibly natural way her characters all interacted.  Thumbs up.  I will be reading more Marple this year.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison
If I had to describe how I felt about this book in a word, it would be: disjointed.  I wish there had been more passages where all of the characters interacted in some way with each other, rather than the format of a chapter for each person's perspective.  The characters were vibrant and engaging, but it seemed as if the book was too short for them to really develop.  For the passages that were written in Florens' and Sorrow's voice, I understood the point, but I found it very confusing (and it sort of made me want to put the book down, not delve deeper).  I've really enjoyed Morrison's other books, so this one was a little bit of a letdown for me.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Beautiful.  There was not a single time when I picked up this book that I was disappointed. (Say what?!) The characters each had their quirks and qualms and imperfections, and they felt fleshed out.  As in life with the people we love, I didn't fully know them, but I felt like I knew them from the inside-out.  Even the "unlikable" parts of each character didn't seem over the top or pushy; they felt natural.  I loved it.  My only tiny qualm? I might've wanted to hear a bit more from Udayan.

What have you been reading this month? Do you read more male or female authors?

Monday, January 19, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

What I Want To Be Reading:

I saw the movie Calvary this weekend, and it was stunning, gutting, and thought-provoking.  Brendan Gleeson did a tremendous job playing a parish priest, with all of the complexities, problems, and really difficult questions it brings up.  It sparked a conversation about faith, intellect and morality, (if you're interested in that sort of thing, definitely see it) and someone recommended I take a look at Graham Greene - I've settled on The Power and The Glory and can't wait to tackle it.

What I Am Reading:

I've been stalwartly plodding through the first 233 pages of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton, because I was so excited by the idea and heard such good things about it.  Now that I've gotten halfway through, I think it might get there.  Maybe it's because I started reading it after going through some heavy hitting female authors, and maybe it's because I've spent considerable time around people from Appalachia, but I'm having a hard time seeing what everyone is raving about.  What I think is most disappointing, and the biggest loss in terms of potential character development and plot depth, is how Scotton writes his female characters (in spite of the fact that they are mostly minor).  Isaac Babel can describe women by the density and swing of their breasts, because he's Isaac Babel - but for any writer born after WWII, I think it's a questionable writing choice.

What I Will Be Reading:

After a lot of waffling, I finally ordered some books from my list! Book mail, the best kind of mail, will be arriving within a few days, and I'm starting with Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen.

What are you reading this week? What have you been reading this weekend?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Getting Around to Them in 2015

Long post - skip to the bottom for books, stick around for a...not-so-interesting tale of auto-renew ;) 

When I first moved here, I had the idea that I'd be buying a bunch of books from Barnes & Noble to prepare for a program that I was interested in, so I became a member of B&N for the discount(s).  As it turned out, I decided not to pursue that program....aand....I didn't buy a single book after the ones that I'd purchased with the membership.  I felt sort of weird about the whole thing and was planning on canceling it this year.  One thing led to another (working, applications to grad school, traveling, etc.) and I forgot.  So, due to blasted auto-renewal (*fist-shake at the heavens*), I am once again a member of B&N.

Rather than getting miffed, I decided to make the best of it. I looked at their discounted books (! genius, why did I never consider that before?).  For this year, at least, I plan on purchasing some books that I really want to read.  I'll still be using my library and swapping with friends and family, but I'll also shell out some freaking cash.  None are coming out this year (I'm not that kind of reader), but it's high time I read them, and they all look exciting.

How to Be Both by Ali Smith
I've read so many good things about this book, from NPR to Twitter to Oprah (yes, Oprah).  It sounds like a really interesting concept (the connection between an Italian Renaissance artist and a teenage girl in the 1960's), and it checks off two boxes for me: historical fiction and female protagonists.  Blammo. 
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
This is another book I heard a TON about last year, but didn't look too much into.  Once I read an excerpt, I knew I wanted to read it.  A story about rural families, responsibility, and sacrifice.   
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
As I was perusing the B&N website to try to assuage my money-spending guilt, I saw this - and first, didn't notice it.  The second time around I read the first few pages, and will certainly be picking it up.  Again, historical fiction and female protagonist.  Win win. 
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
I found this one on a list written by Roxane Gay and was hooked as soon as I read the blurb.  A story about two sisters in Korea, one of whom disappears and the other goes looking for her.  It sounds lush, rich with details and history and family stories, and I'm really excited to read it.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Another find from Roxane Gay, about a family that comes to the United States from Mexico, hoping to help their daughter.  It's a story of family and neighbors, what it means to be an immigrant, and the complexities of family relationships.  ...Are you picking this one up yet too?!
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
Goodreads is to blame for this one - it's been on my TBR shelf there for ages, and I've never picked it up.  I think everyone and their mother has read this book, but I've never gotten around to it.  It seems like the kind of book that people either LOVE or don't, and I guess I'll have to wait and see...
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
My college roommate read this book for an economics class - or an anthropology class? - and raved about it to anybody who would listen.  It's something I've been meaning to read, but have always had something else before it.  I hope it will be engaging and help me get back into non-fiction. 
I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson
I've been wanting to dive into some of Bill Bryson's books since high school.  Uh, why haven't I? I have no idea.  This year I want to change that, and this one, about Bryson's return to the USA after 20 years in Europe, looks like just the thing to start with.

What are you reading this year? What have you been meaning to read for ages but never gotten around to?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thoughts On Bout of Books Round 12

First things first - I really enjoyed it.  From the (late) moment I tagged along, I had such a fun time.  I kept the expectations bar looow, and just tried to read more.  When I woke up, instead of mindlessly scrolling through whatever, I read.  When I felt the urge to go on Facebook (again), I read or looked for tweets with the #boutofbooks hashtag.  Before I went to bed, instead of watching Netflix, I read.  I think the last two had a lot to do with the fact that I'm also watching how I spend my time online and trying to be more thoughtful about it.

And it actually made me feel, overall, more connected with people.  Here are some deets:

Total pages read: 415+
Total goals met: 3 out of 3

Pros/Things I really enjoyed:
  • Participating on Twitter (chats!, seeing other people's progress, looking at the #boutofbooks hashtag)
  • Doing something positive, fun, and involved
  • Feeling more outgoing on Twitter
  • Going more regularly to post on my blog, or schedule posts
  • Getting through things/books I'd wanted to for ages
  • Feeling in control of my schedule and more organized
  • Rethinking what it means to read (re-reading counts!)
Cons: A little bit of pressure, having to check my goals against others (uh, like people who read 4,000 pages?!), sometimes feeling like I was being anti-social, when really I was just connecting in a different way.

Wish I'd done more: Twitter chats, getting my butt in the chair and reading

Notable things:
Monday: I spent the day traveling, and surprisingly this was not when I did most of my reading! That was mostly because I had work to do and emails to catch up on after being away, but I felt sort of silly for not reading more.

Thursday: The day I finished two out of three goals! I definitely felt the freedom to read whatever I wanted, which was daunting and so exciting.  

Friday: This day was the day that I read the least - I had friends coming over for dinner and had to get things prepared, cooked, cleaned, etc. and I thought I was coming down with something.
Saturday: All I wanted to do was read, and only read, all day long.  Alas, real life intervened, but I did get some good "me" time to veg out and indulge (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you will always be my favorite).

Sunday: Pushed through my last goal (blerg, nonfiction).

What were your experiences like? Have you participated in Bout of Books before?

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

Hello again! Happy Monday.  After an absolutely insane past few weeks, I'm looking forward to a more contained, regular-paced week.   Maybe some more time for reading? I hope so.  I've been reading at times I'd otherwise be floating around the internet or watching Netflix, and I hope I keep that up.  I really, really enjoyed participating in Bout of Books last week, and I'll have a separate post coming to sum up all of my thoughts on it.  In short, I'm so glad I decided to do it.  Let's get to it - what are you reading?!

Short things to start with:

An article that peeks into the ballet world at a time when things are changing.

Penguins playing games on an iPad!

Looking at new blog templates, since I've noticed a few issues (sorry if you have, too!)

I love this article by Alison of The Alison Show.


Still working on Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland, which so far I'm loving.  Each time I open the book, I don't want to stop reading.  My goal for this one for the Bout of Books was to get to the midway point, and I'm glad I did.  The next section opens up with a completely different set of characters, so it was a good place to stop.

During Bout of Books, I started listening to The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.  I was going to go for a jog and decided to listen to an audiobook instead of nothing at all. Good choice! The narrator has been spot-on, and I love the different characters.  I'm trying to find more time when I can listen to this one.

I'm very much taking the slow-and-steady route with Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson.  I've been trying to pick up or continue more nonfiction and enjoy his writing style, but had a hard time getting through page after page of statistics about rifles...

How was your weekend? What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Bout of Books Round 12

I thought I should really post this as "Bout of Books Round 1" since it's my first time entering the ring, so to speak, but it's technically the twelfth time the wonderful women of the Bout of Books blog have been hosting.  Twelve times! This is something I've heard about for as long as I've been blogging here, but I've never joined.

(It seemed very intense.)

By way of explaining what the heck this is, here's the official Bout of Books blurb:
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 5th and runs through Sunday, January 11th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 12 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
Do I have some goals? Heck yes. They line up with my own goals for 2015, one of which is to read more and watch television (ok, Netflix) less.  So really, it was kismet that I saw this and am able to tag along for this round.

People get all sorts of stressed about what books you can read, how many, and so on and so on.  I am keeping things waaaay low stress on this side of the blogosphere, and just working towards "read more." If that doesn't align exactly with my BoB goals below, it aligns with my bigger goal for 2015. Win-win, right?

My goals are as follows:
  • Finish A Mercy by Toni Morrison 
  • Read half of The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri 
  • Read another chapter of Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Fergusun
That's it! I'll check in here (below) and via twitter and post something at the end of the week to check in on how it went.  

Bout of Books

Let's do it :)

Are you joining in this round of Bout of Books? Were you too intimidated to join? What are you reading this week?

Pages read: 80
Book(s) read: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Pages read: 90
Book(s) read: A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Pages read: 43
Book(s) read: A Mercy by Toni Morrison (finished!), The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Pages read: 65
Book(s) read: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (read half of the book!), The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Pages read: 25
Book(s) read: Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Fergusun, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Pages read: 107
Book(s) read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Pages read: ?
Book(s) read: 45 minutes of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Total Pages Read: 415+ (not sure how many pages on the audiobook!)

Monday, January 5, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

First Monday of the year! Filled with potential, frigid morning air, and hopefully some warm beverage to hold while you read. Sheba gorged herself on cat food this weekend, I came back from holiday travel (fun! exhausting!), and we're both getting back to being snug as bugs in our tiny toasty apartment.

I'm not sure where this Monday themed post started, but I've seen a bunch of book bloggers doing it and I like the way it brings in the week, so here's my version!

Short things to start with:

  • This quote on courage.
  • Reviews of the Saffiano Organizer by Filofax - there's a very intense planner blogging niche out there.
  • A list of objects throughout the year from my new favorite blog.


I rang in the New Year with Lila by Marilynne Robinson and some snuggly cats with seriously powerful purrs.  I didn't want to put it down, and looked forward to moments when I could sneak away and keep working at it.  As with Gilead, I feel like it needs another read, and I want to go back and savor it.

That was the book I'd brought with me for reading while traveling, and after I finished, I browsed through the very well stocked shelves of my mother's mystery collection and picked out The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie.  The copy is around 35 years old and almost crumbling, but I love it so far.  I think it'll be an easy and engaging read.

I'm still fully engrossed in A Mercy by Toni Morrison, and am taking my time.  I've found some parts of it more challenging to read than others - keeping the different voices and perspectives together in my mind - and will be renewing it from the library.

What are you reading? Did anyone else spend New Year's cuddled up with a book?