Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Heroines

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but I had to jump back on the bandwagon for this week's theme.  As I was looking for pictures for my usual (very high-brow) collage, I realized that so much of these characters are in my mind that it's hard to pick images that actually represent them.  Instead, here they are in (mostly) their own words:

Lisbeth Salander: “Salander leaned back against the pillow and followed the conversation with a smile. She wondered why she, who had such difficulty talking about herself with people of flesh and blood, could blithely reveal her most intimate secrets to a bunch of completely unknown freaks on the Internet.” Steig Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

Jenny Fraser: "And if your life is a suitable exchange for my honor, why is my honor not a suitable exchange for your life?” Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

Hermione Granger: “Hermione drew herself to her full height; her eyes were narrowed and her hair seemed to crackle with electricity. "No," she said, her voice quivering with anger, "but I will write to your mother.” JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Sabriel: “I used to think like that at school," Sabriel answered. "Dreaming about the Old Kingdom. Proper Charter Magic. Dead to bind. Princes to be --"
Garth Nix, Sabriel 

Sammy Keyes: "I thought about dialing 911, but the only phone in the apartment is in the kitchen and since Grams was in there making dinner I couldn't exactly go dialing Emergency without her knowing about it." Wendelin Van Draanen, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

Scout Finch: “I thought she was going to spit in it, which was the only reason anybody in Maycomb held out his hand: it was a time-honored method of sealing oral contracts. Wondering what bargain we had made, I turned to the class for an answer, but the class looked back at me in puzzlement.” Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

Harriet Vane: “I know what you're thinking - that anybody with proper sensitive feelings would rather scrub floors for a living. But I should scrub floors very badly, and I write detective stories rather well. I don't see why proper feelings should prevent me from doing my proper job.” Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

Janie Crawford: "Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches." Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Scarlett O'Hara: “...all the bullying instincts in her nature rose to the surface. It was not that she was basically unkind. It was because she was so frightened and unsure of herself she was harsh lest others learn her inadequacies and refuse her authority.” Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind

Matilda: “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone." Roald Dahl, Matilda

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Books for a Snowy Day

I was recently in Boston for a visit while the snow-to-end-all-snows was (is!) happening.  While I spent most of my time traveling and trudging through snow banks, I also did a lot of reading, inside the airport and out. 

It's been a long time since I've spent a day snuggled inside from the cold, just sitting and waiting with time to spare, so I thought about the books that are the best (for me, at least!) to have on hand - you know, the next time a snowstorm comes or you're stuck waiting for a bus/train/airplane.

From Left to Right:

1. Two parallel stories of childhood, survival, myth, and curiosity during wartime.  Exquisite descriptions and a suspenseful, page-turner of a plot meant I was reading this one during landing turbulence (and that's saying something!)

2. If you're looking for keen, photographic descriptions of ordinary life (and a peek into Russia), check out Chekhov's short stories - long enough to delve deep into human issues and really make you think, short enough to read while trying to tune out a screaming baby and people smashing into you with their luggage.

3. Lovely, light, melt-in-your-mouth descriptions of food and France PLUS a story about family, sisters, and what it means to uncover secrets you think you know (but really don't).

4. Is there anything not to love about Colette? Badass, controversial, daring.  My favorite in college was Les Vrilles de la Vigne, but any of her stories fit the bill for when you want a beautiful, feminist, slightly risque read.

Any one of these three series is guaranteed to make the next "hour delay that turned into a three hour delay" announcement go by fast. 

1. Diana Wynne Jones was a discovery of mine in middle school, but she is still fabulous to read as an adult.  Tongue-in-cheek but never cynical, and light enough to read as an escape.

2. The fifth book in the Harry Potter series is both long and one of my all-time favorites.  If you're feeling the travel rage and angst, this is one I'd grab and disappear into.

3. Do I even need to say anything?! Time travel, rich character development, history, sweeping Scottish romance...another big book and a great series.  Plus, when you make it to your hotel/friend's couch and crash, you can check out the tv adaptation for a re-cap.

Non-fiction and mysteries coming up next week...What do you read when you travel?

Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

I'll be doing some traveling today, so my Monday reading is a bit different than usual! Wish me good weather and smooth skies (if I could, I'd insert a teeth chattering emoji here...turbulence is the worst).  I'm bringing along my favorite magazine for traveling - Opraaaaaah! - and will also be reading the following:

I finally came off of the waiting list at the library, so All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is downloaded and queued up for me to read on my Kindle.  I've heard so many fantastic things about this one, and I'm very excited to get started...even though it means pushing The Brothers Karamazov off a little bit.  I still brought it with me in case, but I don't know if I'll read it.

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers is a big comfort read for me - well, any Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey mystery, but this one's a favorite of mine.  I've been reading it a lot lately in the evenings, and I know I'll be pulling it out for any moments when I need distraction and a storyline I already know.

That's it for me! What are you reading this Monday? What are your favorite books and magazines when you travel?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ode to the Public Library

This is a story of dread and loathing, with a happy ending.  Grab a snack, then go check out Kelly's library post, over at The Well-Read Redhead.

When I was about seven, I took out some books from my local library and then...never returned them.  Had I lost them? Were they returned and someone forgot? Destroyed somehow? No one knows, no one remembers - all I do know is that from then on, I was blacklisted.


Am I being too dramatic? I think not.  Every time I went, they would ask me where my books were.  The shame! The panic! The sweaty palms of my seven and eight-year-old self could not hold on to any more cellophane-d books, so I stopped going.  I couldn't take out more books until I'd paid my fee, and the mountain of fear and dread I felt every time I walked past kept me from going inside.  (Okay, I was a little dramatic).

Lest you think I am exaggerating, that perhaps the volunteers at our local village library were warm and friendly and I was just a brat, I present to you this image (which I did not create), which accurately represents my frame of mind when approaching the checkout desk in elementary school:

(Someone eventually paid my fee, my parents were not monsters.)

I don't think I went at all in junior high school.  I read my books for school, books I got as gifts, and borrowed from friends and family.  I read voraciously, and would save baby-sitting money for trips to the bookstore.  When high school rolled around, I had gained enough courage to wander around and read while I was in the library, but there weren't too many there that I wanted to take out anyway.  Small towns have long memories, and I guess I was pretty shy in some ways as a kid.

College was where I learned to love the library, and where I eventually worked.  They had a section on the first floor for popular books and magazines, and a whole corner decked out with cushy chairs and space to read.  I loved taking out DVDs and reading while I was at the gym or waiting for class.  I liked checking out books and helping people reserve things they wanted to read.  When I would go and get someone's reserved book, I liked talking to them about what they were reading, or even just seeing what book they'd picked out.  I learned how libraries worked.

From then on, I was a library aficionado.  What really sealed the deal was when my sister, not at all a fan of e-readers, got me a Kindle for the holidays while I was living and traveling overseas.  I borrowed books like a fiend and took them with me wherever I went, minus the $25 extra weight luggage fee.  I also brought a regular book or two with me, but Harry P and the Weasleys could come along with no angst.

When I first came to DC, I got a reader's card for the Library of Congress (anyone can! you should do it!), went into the main Reading Room and actually got a little bit choked up.  It was so, so beautiful.

Long story short, I love my library.  I love the fact that I can walk there and have books sent to me.  I love the things I can learn there, and the way it helps me explore the world (and write papers, and find jobs).  Most of all, I love the fact that there are no late fees.

What do you love about your library? Were you blacklisted like I was, or do you always return things on time?

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday again! Did you watch the Grammys last night? I didn't (I was re-reading the beginning of Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers - pish posh, fancy) but I caught some of the tweets, which made it feel like I was watching.  I especially loved when Kristin Wiig came out of nowhere to do something (?) and everyone, at the same time, went:


Anyway, it is Monday again, so on to the books - here's what I'm reading:

I finished Someone by Alice McDermott on Sunday afternoon, and loved it.  Loved it! It was nowhere near tragic like I'd suspected, though a friend of mine did say: "Books about the Irish in New York during the early 20th century rarely end well." True, though this one ended okay (spoiler?) What did I love so much about it? It felt like such an intimate peek into someone's life over many years.  It was almost like a memoir, but fictional.  It was beautifully written, and I felt very much like I knew the characters.  All of which I've probably said already.

Next up - Red Sorghum by Mo Yan.  I don't think I've ever seen sorghum in my entire life, but this book is filled with it - it's basically another character.  It weeps, it droops, it sings, it smothers, it sparkles.  At this point I think I'm about halfway through, and I can say that I like the characters enough to find them interesting, and want to see how it ends.  This may not have been a book I would have picked for myself, since there is an (almost excessive) amount of blood and guts (literally), and extensive, detailed descriptions of injuries and dead bodies.  To be fair, it is about a difficult historical period, so I guess that's expected.  The book club meeting is next week, and hopefully I'll have it done by then.

And last but certainly not least, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  I've read the beginning/Part I - oh, seven or eight times by now, so at the very least I've got an idea of how it starts.  This is my first Classics Club book, and I've already gone through and marked the pages for each section I'll read.  I think I may throw myself a party when I reach the halfway mark...wanna come?

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review of "The Miniaturist" by Jessie Burton

Happy Sunday! I'm glad that this is the first review of the year, since it was such a great read.  Also since it takes place in a wintry, icy, and somewhat grim-faced city - which is basically what DC looks like right now (sob).  Has anyone else noticed how dismal the weather is in February and March? Here's hoping for winds that blow away the winter, and in more great reads.

Basic plot: (from Goodreads) On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt.  But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming.  Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office - leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.  But Nella's world changed when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home.  To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist - an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways...

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: Minimal!

Memories from reading: I listened to this book a lot as I was washing the dishes late at night, and while cleaning (weird, but true).  I loved the voices the narrator gave the characters, though others might find them strange - she has a very distinct way of speaking.

Teeth-gnashing: Nothing that I can think of.

Favorite parts: I loved the rich descriptions and vivid characters, the feel of Amsterdam that she built - the canals, the cold, the smells, and the descriptions of sugary treats.  I didn't even mind the unexpected development in the story.  All of it left me wanting to stay with the characters as the book ended, to know what happened next.  Did Johannes really know his sister? The secrets she kept? Was he untruthful about his experiences? What really happened between Johannes, Frans, and Marin?

Weapon of Choice: This was one I started as an audiobook, then moved to hardcover when the audiobook expired on OverDrive.

Other titles by this author: None - this is her debut.

More reviews of The Miniaturist from Leah at Books Speak Volumes and Catherine at The Gilmore Guide.

Have you read The Miniaturist? What did you think?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Classics Club Part One: 2015-16

After putting together my list of 50 classics I wanted to read in five years, I knew I wanted to break it down into sizable chunks so that it was doable. This is what I've come up with.  I am going to valiantly try (!) to read these ten books this year, though by the looks of it I've picked the longest books in the history of the world - only joking, don't tell me which books are longer - and will report back on how things are going.  For this year I tried to pick at least one from each category, except for Spain (sorry Spain), and most are new authors to me.  The blurbs are all linked, so you can take a look, too, if you'd like!

First up is The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, since I'd already begun reading it and have been meaning to finish it for ages.  This will hopefully be the kick in the pants to do it, not just talk about it.

If the year ends with my only reading a few of these, I won't be too hard on myself - the point is to read more classics, not to not read classics and then feel bad about it, right?

Have you joined the Classics Club? What are you reading this year?

Classics Club Year One:

Orlando by Virginia Woolf
'Orlando' is a historical fantasy in which the eponymous hero remains alive for over three centuries, but ages physically just 36 years. Over this huge span of time, Orlando has many strange adventures, chief among them being his sex-change from a man to a woman. Woolf uses this bizarre and intriguing notion to examine many aspects of human existence: the difference between fact and imagination; the utility of poetry and art; how humans conform to whatever civilization of group they find themselves in; and (a central theme of the book) the gender roles which society imposes so unjustly upon men and women, when - in Woolf's view - the two sexes have in reality very similar dreams and aspirations. (from Amazon)

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
"Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again." So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past [their beaches], white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten...her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant — the sinister Mrs. Danvers — still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca...for the secrets of Manderley. (from Barnes & Noble)

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
In a poor, remote section of Southern Mexico, the paramilitary group, the Red Shirts have taken control. God has been outlawed, and the priests have been systematically hunted down and killed. Now, the last priest is on the run. Too human for heroism, too humble for martyrdom, the nameless little worldly “whiskey priest” is nevertheless impelled toward his squalid Calvary as much by his own compassion for humanity as by the efforts of his pursuers. (from Goodreads)

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The last and greatest of Dostoevsky’s novels, The Brothers Karamazov is a towering masterpiece of literature, philosophy, psychology, and religion. It tells the story of intellectual Ivan, sensual Dmitri, and idealistic Alyosha Karamazov, who collide in the wake of their despicable father’s brutal murder. Into the framework of the story Dostoevsky poured all of his deepest concerns—the origin of evil, the nature of freedom, the craving for meaning and, most importantly, whether God exists. The novel is famous for three chapters that may be ranked among the greatest pages of Western literature. “Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” present what many have considered the strongest arguments ever formulated against the existence of God, while “The Devil” brilliantly portrays the banality of evil. (from Barnes & Noble)

Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
'Père Goriot' is the tragic story of a father whose obsessive love for his two daughters leads to his financial and personal ruin. Interwoven with this theme is that of the impoverished young aristocrat, Rastignac, come to Paris from the provinces to make his fortune, who befriends Goriot and becomes involved with the daughters. The story is set against the background of a whole society driven by social ambition and lust for money. (from Goodreads)

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
Absalom, Absalom! is Faulkner's epic tale of Thomas Sutpen, an enigmatic stranger who comes to Jefferson, Mississippi, in the early 1830s to wrest his mansion out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness. He was a man, Faulkner said, "who wanted sons and the sons destroyed him."  (from Barnes & Noble)

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Upton Sinclair’s muckraking masterpiece The Jungle centers on Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant working in Chicago’s infamous Packingtown. Instead of finding the American Dream, Rudkus and his family inhabit a brutal, soul-crushing urban jungle dominated by greedy bosses, pitiless con-men, and corrupt politicians...Today, The Jungle remains a relevant portrait of capitalism at its worst and an impassioned account of the human spirit facing nearly insurmountable challenges. (from Barnes & Noble)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri's poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is a moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary journey through the infinite torment of Hell, up the arduous slopes of Purgatory, and on to the glorious realm of Paradise—the sphere of universal harmony and eternal salvation. (from Amazon)

The Trial by Franz Kafka
Written in 1914 but not published until 1925, a year after Kafka’s death, The Trial is the terrifying tale of Josef K., a respectable bank officer who is suddenly and inexplicably arrested and must defend himself against a charge about which he can get no information. Whether read as an existential tale, a parable, or a prophecy of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the madness of totalitarianism, The Trial has resonated with chilling truth for generations of readers. (from Goodreads)

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis 
The classic novel Zorba the Greek is the story of two men, their incredible friendship, and the importance of living life to the fullest. Zorba, a Greek working man, is a larger-than-life character, energetic and unpredictable. He accompanies the unnamed narrator to Crete to work in the narrator’s lignite mine, and the pair develops a singular relationship. The two men couldn’t be further apart: The narrator is cerebral, modest, and reserved; Zorba is unfettered, spirited, and beyond the reins of civility. Over the course of their journey, he becomes the narrator’s greatest friend and inspiration and helps him to appreciate the joy of living. (from Amazon)

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Some of the same: I'm still reading Someone, by Alice McDermott, and still loving the language and the word choice and the whole thing.  Just got to Part II - so many things swirling in my brain.  It's a good read for my cold, quiet early mornings, that's for sure.

Some new things: I decided to finally join a book club, for the first time (I think?) in my life.  It looks like a "serious" book club, and the February book is Red Sorghum by Mo Yan.  I had heard of Mo Yan a few months ago, when I saw one of his books in a bookstore, and am glad I have a chance to read his writing.  It looks very intense, and I read a review that called it "graphic" and "brutal." Wish me luck.  In other news, I was out to dinner last week and saw The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell, and immediately grabbed it up, on impulse.  I've gone through Amichai's Open Closed Open so many times, cover to cover, and am finding this one just as wonderful.  I love his bringing together of the day-to-day and the biblical.  Translating poetry: probably one of the most difficult things.  Well done, Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell.  I'll leave you with a verse from one of his poems:

A girl who has washed her hair/asks the hard world, as if it were Samson,/where it is weak, what is its secret.
What are you reading this week?