Tuesday, August 28, 2012

School is Starting!

I wanted to update with a quick post to let you know what was going on around here!

I hope it has been obvious that I have been crazy busy in the last few weeks. I've been devoting some extra time to The Classics Club and the new blog. I've also been in a little bit of a reading slump and have been trudging through the titles on my nightstand.

But, most of my free time has been spent preparing for school, which starts next Tuesday. I'm doing okay with my planning, but I always feel like I could be doing more, you know? And with professional development starting yesterday, classes to plan for, and a classroom to prep, I just want to give you a little notice that it might be a little quiet around here for a week or two. :) So, not an official break, just a notice that I'm running around pulling my hair out. And trying to create amazing lessons to make my students love learning!

I'm sure that once I get back into the routine of things I'll be fine, but I have to figure all this business out. :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mythology Books.

Part of the reason I haven't been making much progress on my project lists is that I have been absorbed in reading for the mythology course I am teaching this fall. I have two sections of the class (it will be all juniors and seniors), and I'm really excited about it! While I consider myself decently versed in Greek myths, I'm not as comfortable with myths from other regions and cultures. Since finding out I had the class, I've been trying to dabble a bit in everything. I do have a course outline, courtesy of another teacher, so I should be okay if I stumble onto something I am unsure of!

In any case, I've been purchasing books left and right that I think might help me gain a little more knowledge. I'd like to share them all with you to see if you have any further suggestions and, well, to maybe get you to add one or two to your TBR pile. :) Hey, what are friends for, right?

Mythology by Edith Hamilton

This is actually the only "textbook" we have for the class, but it is a pretty standard overview of mythology, particularly the Greeks. I think Hamilton's book is pretty well-known and revered, so I'm excited to use it with the kids. There is a lot of great stuff in here, and most of it is pretty approachable, so it should be a great fit with the class (which should be a big mix of students and skill levels).

I have some easier activities planned for the first two weeks of school which revolve around the book and easing the kids back into a "school" frame of mind, so this will be a great place for us to start!

American Indian Myths and Legends edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz

I really wanted to supplement the materials I was given, so I thought that pulling in some stories from the Americas would be a great way to do so. This book kept popping up in my searches online, so I caved and ordered it. It is pretty extensive and covers multiple tribes. Some of the stories are pretty similar to one another, but I found some great stories that I'm going to pull in to my units (a great flood story and one about the trickster Coyote).

I will say that a couple of the stories shocked me in regards to their sexuality and content. Needless to say, those stories won't be read in class, and this is a book I won't lend out to students.

World Mythology edited by Donna Rosenberg

When I asked on twitter a few weeks ago for book recommendations, Sarah suggested this as a title to check out. I found a copy and ordered it, thinking this would be a great way to get myths from a variety of places.

Needless to say, I really like this volume. The myths are diverse in origin and I think they are written in a way that my high schoolers will enjoy them. There have been a few I haven't been a fan of, but I have marked quite a few to share with my students. There is great background information here!

The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

This was another title that kept popping up when I was searching for books. While there are some Norse myths that are already in the material I was given, I figured why not have more to look at! :)

I really enjoyed the introduction of this book. Of all the sources I've looked at, I think this one had the easiest terminology to understand (yep, will definitely be using it). I also really enjoy the stories. Loki is a favorite of mine, so whenever he pops up, you know it'll be a fun story. :) I will say, however, that you need a bit more background to understanding who the gods/goddesses are before you begin reading. If you had no prior knowledge of any Norse gods/goddesses, you might be a bit confused at first.

World Mythology edited by Roy Willis

I stumbled on this book yesterday when I was strolling through Barnes and Noble. I'll admit it was the green that grabbed me at first. :) After flipping through it in the store, I knew I had to get it. Unlike the other books I've mentioned, this is more of a reference book. There is some great information about myths and themes between cultures that I really liked. It also has a very broad and diverse range of myths and information. I see this more as a book I will use than something I will share with my students.

I'm also a big fan of the images in this book, as well as the biographical sketches of different people.

Mythology (Visual Reference Guide) edited by Philip Wilkinson and Neil Philip

This last title is another that jumped out at me in the bookstore yesterday. What I really liked about this one is the condensed version of the information and the fabulous layout of the pages (summaries and images intermingled). This will be an invaluable reference book for me since it is easy to find information about all of the myths, as well as bright images to share with my classes. I can see myself turning to this one when a kid asks me a random question I don't know the answer to! :) I also think the summarized stories will be a great resource for those kids who need the story to be reinforced a bit more!

There you have it! The mythology books I am using to guide my way in this class. As always, I would love to hear recommendations for more sources and stories that I could use. Right now the class is set up rather thematically-creation, heroes, the underworld, floods, etc-but I am open to suggestions. I am also thinking of having the students look at modern mythology in connection with super and comic book heroes. Any help anyone could give would be much appreciated!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins.

"She could not pray, but she could weep; and as she wept pity, and purified hope, and joy, welled up in her heart."

Originally published in 1955, The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins is being republished by Canongate Classics in their new series of "Canon" titles. I was offered a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review, and I am so happy I said yes.

On its surface, the book wasn't something that really jumped out at me. But once it arrived on my doorstep, I was intrigued. Maybe it was the minimalist cover, but I sat down, flipped it open, and began reading. And immediately I was transported into a story that I cared about.

I should back up a second and tell you a little background. The novel is essentially about a small community of people on an estate in Scotland during WWII. The landowners have a large amount of trees on the property that are going to be cut down for the war effort. Two brothers are hired on as cone-gathers-basically to gather seed and cones from the trees so the forest can be replanted in the future.

The brothers, Neil and Calum, are incredibly close. Calum is a bit deformed and slow, so Neil cares for him and protects him. In many ways, their relationship was very close to that of George and Lennie in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (in fact, the book mentions this relationship on the back cover). It is obvious from the first instant the reader meets the brothers that they have struggled to find and keep work. With Calum's deformities, Neil has his hands full in protecting and caring for him. When the reader meets them, we learn that the two brothers are living in the woods in a rundown hut. They spend all of their days up in the trees harvesting for their masters. Most of the other people who are also on the estate either ignore them or look down on them. They are very much the bottom of the barrel.

Another man, Duror, is the gamekeeper on the estate. He also lives in the woods. At the beginning of the novel, we learn that he hates the two brothers. He is bothered by Calum and his deformity. He seethes in anger whenever he sees the two brothers and sets things in motion to drive the two men off the estate and away from his home.

The other two characters that I really need to mention are Lady Runcie-Campbell, the woman of the estate, and her son, Roderick. She is very much of the upper-class and in her few encounters with the two brothers, she acts superior to them and their work. It is obvious from the way she speaks with both of them that she is bothered by their poverty. Her son, on the other hand, is the shining little piece of hope in the entire novel. He feels for the men and doesn't understand why his mother looks down on them for making a living in their own way. She chalks up his feelings to immaturity and a lack of proper education, but it seems obvious that he is the only one with any sense of social justice.

So it is with these characters that the novel unfolds over the course of just a few days. The reader learns the grievances of the two brothers as they seem to be cast aside by the rest of humanity. Roderick attempts to understand what his place is in the upper class as his mother continually instructs him on how to behave by treating those around her as if they are less than her. And Duror...he lurks and hides in shadows. The chapters and scenes with him make your skin crawl as he plots and watches the brothers working.

The whole novel is smooth and haunting from the very beginning. Jenkins drew me in from the first page with lush descriptions of the forest and trees that the cone-gatherers called home,

"Single stars appeared, glittering in a sky pale and austere. Dusk like a breathing drifted in among the trees and crept over the loch," (2).

The forest was also a character in all of this, providing a sense of gloom in the backdrop of the characters' interactions, since it was also doomed (the threat of being cut down to aid the war effort). But Jenkins also gave this sense of despair in his descriptions of the characters and their actions, from Duror,

"Hesitating there in the hallway, he felt himself breaking apart: doomed and resigned he was in the house' still yearning after hope, he was in that miserable hut," (23)

to Lady Runcie-Campbell's musings on Duror's ailing wife,

"By merely enduring, she could have acheived a superiority over any earthly visitor: even a queen in her resigned presence must be humble. Instead, monstrous and feeble, she would fawn and simper and suggest obeisances almost obscene," (134)

to Roderick's own despair over not being able to change things,

"Coached by his grandfather, Roderick knew that the struggle between good and evil never rested: in the world, and in every human being, it went on...Good did not always win," (145)

and to Neil's doubts about his own abilities to continue to protect Calum in an ever-harsher world,

"Wherever that light had shown from, it had not been from heaven. There was no such place," (150).

All of it leads to the final 20 pages and the decisions that change the land and the quiet, peaceful nature of the woods where the story takes place.

In many ways, the story IS similar to Of Mice and Men, so that comparison on the cover is correct. But where I find Steinbeck's novel to be harsh and garish, I found Jenkins' story to be simmering and smooth. While I knew, from the tone and descriptions I shared above, that something would happen, he never pulled me from the beauty of the Scottish woods. He also made me understand Duror in a way that I never could understand Curley. Where Curley was just a gross example of a man...I could see why Duror would be filled with such hate and anger.

I think it is safe to say that I preferred this one over Steinbeck's novel, if only for the beautiful language and the ultimate climax of the novel. This, quite simply, was an amazing read. It drew me in from the very beginning and sank in. The complex balance between good and evil, right and wrong, the old way and social niceties...it was all in perfect balance before the scales tipped at the very end. It gave me much to think about and as I closed the book, I found myself thinking about all the moments when that own balance in my life has been tipped.

This is definitely one I would recommend, especially if you didn't enjoy the harsh nature of Steinbeck's tale (don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Of Mice and Men, but this was done so much better). I am certainly going to seek out more of Jenkins' work in the future, as well as other titles in this collection of books.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Harry Potter Readalong. I'm In!

I was introduced to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by my Aunt Sherry on our annual vacation at my grandparents' cabin. Every year, my family would go up for a couple of weeks to stay in the cabin, while my Aunt Sherry, Uncle Mel, and their kids would stay across the lake at the State Park (technically they aren't related to us. My Uncle Mel went to college with my Dad). Every year I would pack as big a bag of books as I could get away with into the car in hopes they would last me while we were up there.

One year I packed too light and ran out of reading material. For me, this was a travesty. I was 14 or 15 at the time and going through some lovely teenage moods...and all I wanted was a book to read. My Aunt Sherry offered to give me my cousin's Harry Potter books. He wasn't at all interested in them, so I could keep them. I took them, a bit reluctantly, and started reading. I was fortunate that he had the first three (at that time, the fourth had just come out in stores), so I flew through them, then begged my dad to drive into town to buy me the fourth one.

I was hooked. Since then, I have made it a yearly tradition to reread the series. At first it was a refresher as the 5th, 6th, and 7th books all came out. But then it became a way to escape back into a world that I fell in love with.

I haven't reread the series since before I started blogging. In fact, the Harry Potter series were some of the last books I read before I began blogging in September 2009. At the time, I was ONLY going to read books from my list, so I crammed in some last minute favorites to "tide me over." I have sorely missed my time with Harry and the gang, and since having a marathon of all the movies last winter, I really just want to read the books.

So Jenna's readalong over at Lost Generation Reader has come at a perfect time. I have been craving some comfort in the last few months, and I can think of nothing better than disappearing into Harry Potter's world this fall. I generally slow way down in reading in the fall, so I think this is a great way to keep me reading through the inevitable slump that comes with the fall season (and the beginning of my new teaching position). And while I know this won't help me make any progress on any of my lists...well, to quote Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind, "I don't give a damn." :)

For this project, I am planning on rereading all seven books, as well as The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Harry's two school books (which I don't own-so a good excuse to get them!). I'll post thoughts and chatterings on the books as I go, and I might even discuss my experience at Harry Potter World in Florida (I went last summer).

If you want to join, visit the sign-up page!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books Since I Started Blogging.

I've been out of the loop with Top Ten Tuesday posts, but when I saw today's topic when I opened my Google Reader, I knew I had to take some time to write a post. :)

I started blogging almost 3 years ago. My first posts went up on the 30th and 31st of August, with my project kicking off on the 1st of September. I've read a LOT of books since then (not all of them from my project list), but most of them classics.

For this list, I'm not holding myself to any restrictions. I'm including re-reads, non-classics, etc in my choices. :) And these are in no particular order since that would be torture.

  1. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James: There is no way I could leave this one off the list. I started it last fall, set it aside, then flew through it around the holidays in December. I was blown away by the book as a whole, and I find myself recommending it on a fairly regular basis. I love Isabel's story, her anger, and the decision she has to make about her own happiness (just writing about it makes me want to read it again).
  2. The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow: This was a fairly early title in my project reading, but it was one of those books that happened at the right time. It's a book about a family who moves to Detroit during WWII to find work, and how the mother sacrifices so much of herself to keep her family going. I haven't seen anyone else read this book since I began blogging, but I would love to read your thoughts if you have!
  3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: I highly doubt that any other Dickens title will usurp this as my favorite. Like dear Charles, I too have a favorite child of his, and David Copperfield is it! There was something very beautiful and honest about David's journey to becoming a man that I loved. I felt a bit like a kindred spirit to young David!
  4. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot: My favorite Eliot is another book that I read fairly early on in my blogging career. Like The Dollmaker, it was the perfect book for the time I read it. I related so well to Maggie, and I rooted for her throughout the novel. I think this book is far superior to Middlemarch, even though I loved that one too. :)
  5. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch: This was a new release when I read it-a book sent to me by the publisher. I knew the book was about someone else with a book project, but I never expected to be so emotionally invested in someone else's reading journey. The personal e-mail I received from the author after posting my thoughts on the book is something I will cherish forever.
  6. The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: In November 2010, I decided to revisit some childhood favorites, and the Little House books were at the top of my list. These books were a huge part of my childhood, and I was reminded how much I loved them when I reread them as an adult. I cannot wait to read these with my kids one day!
  7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville: I was incredibly intimidated by this book before I read it. But once I sank down into Melville's writing (and realized I needed to read each chapter as if it were it's own short story), I came to love the writing and the power of the story. This book is about so much more than a whale!
  8. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy: When I think about all the books I've read, sometimes I am surprised by what ones seem to pop up in my mind over and over again. Jude the Obscure is definitely one of those books. This book is tragic in every sense of the word, and knowing that Hardy stopped writing novels because of this one's reception by the public...well, that should tell you something. And there is THAT SCENE you just have to read.
  9. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: I always brushed this book off as early fluff. It was also massive, so I wasn't a fan of that either. However, when I finally sat down to read it, I found myself completely in love with the amount of history and depth the book had. It was so much more than what I thought it would be, and I loved every page of it.
  10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: This was the second book I decided to tackle off my list. At the time, I thought it was the scariest, and I wanted to be done with it quickly. I don't think I planned on loving the book as much as I did (or all the Russian novels I've read). I can't wait to reread this one in the future!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for August 19, 2012: Plans for the Week.

This is going to be another short post. If you haven't noticed, I've been in a bit of a funk the last month or so-no real reviews, no posts of any value, etc. I'm sure I'll snap out of it in a bit, so bear with me in the meantime.

I had my last day at the park on Friday, so I spent the weekend with Matt and I've been plotting out what I'm doing this week. I have a whole week with no real obligations. I have PD and room set-up next week (school starts after Labor Day), so I am going to take advantage of my last week of freedom. :)

Here is what I am hoping to accomplish in the next week:
  • Finish Mansfield Park and A Passage to India
  • Rearrange/straighten up bookshelves
  • Move initial items into my classroom (I have a lot of reference books, etc that I want to get in there. I also want to measure my bulletin boards for fabric, etc).
  • Type and prep first week activities, etc.
  • Continue prepping all my classes (I've made the most progress with my American Lit class, sophomores, but I need to get more done in mythology and U.S. History).
  • Clean and scrub down the apartment-I've been meaning to do a real good deep clean of the apartment since summer started, but haven't had time. 
  • Go shopping for new dress pants, etc. Dress pants always seem to be something I need!
I'm hoping that I am productive, yet relaxed this week. :) Help keep me motivated, okay?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for August 12, 2012: Park Ramblings and a Bit of Bookish Stuff.

Whew. I can't believe another week has gone by. And while I know I've been a little busy, it seems as if nothing has gotten done round these parts!

Sassafras Tree Leaves
I'm still working at the park (my last day is this Friday), and that has proven to be a bit crazy this week. One of our Rangers, Lance, hosted an Adventure Day Camp on Monday through Thursday morning (the campers spent the night Wednesday in the park). A lot of time this week was spent with the kids as they learned forestry skills, worked on survival skills, and made lots of cool things. Some of the pictures accompanying this post were taken while I was with the campers!

They learned to identify certain kinds of trees, including my new favorite, the Sassafras tree! The mature leaves look like dinosaur feet, don't they?

The kids also crafted walking sticks from Sugar Maple branches. We skimmed the bark off the branches, sanded them smooth, carved places for their fingers, then the other Ranger, Al, burned designs into the tops of the sticks for decoration (Al is an artist outside the park-he carves marble and forges things in bronze!). One girl had a horse head burned into the top of her walking stick, then had little horseshoe marks going all the way down her stick. Al is still working on mine (its going to have a dragon. :) Nerdy, I know).

Archery Bruise. Yeah, it hurt!
We also spent some time helping the kids learn to shoot with a bow and arrow. For anyone who follows me on Instagram, you may have seen the results of my first attempt (Yeah, I included it here!). I stupidly didn't bend my elbow and after I launched my very first arrow, I felt a bad stinging on my arm! The picture shows what it looked like the next day! Needless to say, I learned my lesson and fixed my arm during the next few practice sessions. Shooting was really fun and the kids got into it. We even attached balloons to the target to try and pop them!

I also worked on conquering a fear. Well, kind of. You see, I'm a bit scared of snakes. I don't mind them if they're in a cage or habitat at the zoo, but seeing them out and about kind of freaks me out. Yeah, I'm a bad park employee.

Just a little guy!
Anyway, the two girl campers found a little baby garter snake and were so in love with the thing-holding it, asking to keep it, etc, that I felt a bit silly not even wanting to touch it. So after brushing its back with my fingers, I agreed to hold it for a minute. It wasn't that bad! :)

He felt a lot different than I thought he would, and while I wasn't that excited by the amount of squiggling around he did, or his back end wrapping around my fingers, I'm glad that I at least held him for a bit. It also made it easier to grab him when he escaped his aquarium home later that evening and was rustling around the park office!

Besides the camp, we've been working hard to get the park in good order before the seasonals leave for the year. I'm leaving a bit earlier than usual because of school-I need some time to prep my classes-but the college kids are also leaving! Al has been working us hard-trimming trails for the cross country meets this fall, spreading new layers of woodchips on all the city's playgrounds, etc. I've come home exhausted every night. Not to mention we have some crazy soccer groups coming in and dealing with their messes and attitudes has become a daily chore!

Favorite trail in the park!
I did take some time earlier this week, in a spot of good weather, to drive around and just appreciate the park. Sometimes I get so caught up in all the daily shenanigans that I forget why I like working there in the first place. I get plenty of fresh air and sunshine in the summer, and new experiences are pretty common.

This is why it always saddens me when people take parks and nature for granted. I get a little huffy when I see people litter outside of the park because I know that someone will have to pick it up! I groan inside when people tell me they don't want to pay an entrance fee because they pay taxes (because really, your taxes come to things like parks LAST. We have to charge to maintain and upkeep the park! If we let our trails go, they would be overgrown in a year!). So, moral of the story is to go out and enjoy your parks-National, State, County, and City!

Anyway, transitioning to other things (can you tell I am a bit nostalgic today?), I did some other fun things this week. On Friday, my mom took me out to go shopping for things for my classroom. :) We headed to the Secondary Teacher Store first and found all kinds of great resources, posters, and other fun things for my room. We also went to a Lakeshore Learning Store even though it is geared towards younger grades. We still found some great things-especially for organization-so I was really happy. And if you have a Lakeshore Learning near you and you have kids, you need to go. They have some pretty awesome stuff for learning! And thanks Mom! My students will love all the stuff I got for the room!

Can't wait to see it once it's fired!
After shopping, I headed home and was going to start cleaning my bathroom when my friend Jackie called and asked if I wanted to go to The Painted Pot with her. I went with her a week or so ago and wasn't that happy with my piece, so I wanted to try again. I ended up making an owl plate and a matching pencil holder-both for my desk at school. :)

Speaking of school, I got better news on Wednesday-I got bumped to full time (I was at a .8 before)! I'm so excited since I'll have a full schedule and a good balance between Social Studies and English. I just need to get cracking on some planning!

Beyond all of that craziness, I haven't had a ton of time to read. I've been slowly working my way through Mansfield Park by Austen, but haven't gotten too far. I'm also in the middle of a book of Norse myths (for the mythology class I am teaching). They're pretty interesting, and I think I found one or two I will use-so bonus!

I also started reading the book of Native American myths and legends and while some of the stories are good, some just aren't suitable for high school students! I do love the stories with Coyote, but I wish I knew more. I haven't really started Edith Hamilton's Mythology just yet, but I will make it a priority in the next week or two.

I also got a slew of new books in the mail. No really, a SLEW. Let me show you...

My mailman must hate me.

Sadly, this post is a bit too long to go through them all, so I will be devoting another post this week just to the contents of this crate. :) I'm a tease, huh? I will tell you that one book is a mythology title, and the others...well, you know the Penguin English Library editions I'm so fond of? Yep. It's an obsession and I have a problem.

Alright, time to get off this computer and spend some time with my wonderful husband (with his new job, Sundays are the only day he has off). Have a wonderful week everyone!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book 138: Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.

 “When I speak of home, I speak of the place where in default of a better--those I love are gathered together; and if that place where a gypsy's tent, or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding.”

THIS BOOK. *sigh*

I started reading this back in February as part of my little ode to Dickens on his 200th birthday. That was a mistake for a few reasons. First, I picked it up after finishing David Copperfield, which blew me away. In fact, David Copperfield remains my favorite book of 2012. It was also another lengthy title in a month where I read two other chunky books-David Copperfield and Roots-both of which were well over 800 pages. I also started the book a week before finding out I had a landed another long-term subbing position.

So you see, Nicholas Nickleby and I got off to a rough start. I managed to get to page 180 or so before setting the book down. And there is sat, languishing away on my nightstand for a couple months before I picked it back up again. It seemed to be a bit of a love/hate relationship. Once I started reading it again, I was reminded of how much I really enjoyed the story. But I also hated it a bit. I always had it lingering in the back of my mind as being something that was unfinished and dragged out.

I finally determined enough was enough and devoted myself to reading the book in the middle of July to finish it once and for all (and the fact that only parts of this post have been written until today also shows you how everything about this book seems to drag out).

So, on to discussing the actual book, now that I've dragged this all out.

Nicholas Nickleby is quite simply the story of a family down on their luck after the loss of their father/husband. With no one else to turn to, the Nicklebys seek out the help of Ralph Nickleby. Uncle Ralph supposedly comes to the rescue by seeking out employment for Nicholas and his sister. What happens after is a series of life-changing events as the Nicklebys come to terms with finding a stable life on their own.

In one word, I might describe the book as funny. There are many "Dickens Characters" throughout the entire novel. They make the book what it is, and even after I set the book aside for months, I still could picture them in my mind clearly as I finished the rest.

The first big character to come to mind is Wackford Squeers, Nicholas' first employer. Dear Wackford runs a school out in the country. He hires on Nicholas to help teach, but it is clear from the beginning that Squeers is just in education for the money and really doesn't care about the boys he takes in. A good first part of the novel takes place at the school, as Nicholas realizes what kind of abusive environment the boys live in. The Squeers family, while horrid creatures, were actually some of my favorite characters in the novel, just because of how much I hated them!

Another character that comes to mind is Smike. Orphaned when really young, Smike has been a part of Squeers' school for a long time. He isn't all that bright, but he's loyal and loving. When Nicholas flees the school (not a spoiler, as this happens fairly early on), he follows him to serve him. I was struck by how Smike was always there for Nicholas as they continued traveling and finding work to sustain them. Their friendship throughout the novel was purely genuine, and I loved seeing their interactions.

I should also mention Ralph Nickleby in passing, since he was a conniving piece to all of Nicholas' misfortunes in the beginning. You would hope, that in the event of a family member's death, your family would be there to support and love you. Ralph was anything but supportive and loving. He handed off Nicholas to the first person (Squeers) who would take him on, then seemed to brush his hands of the whole matter.  We eventually find out bits and pieces of why Ralph was such a piece of work.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story, but it paled in comparison to David Copperfield. In many ways, the two stories are similar. Both tell of young men, David and Nicholas, who are trying to work their way up in the world and become successful. David's story seemed more honest to me. While he was also surrounded by schemers, he also had people who truly supported him helping him along the way. Nicholas' story, on the other hand, seemed full of characters. And while I love a good Dickens character, they were too much throughout the entire novel. It seemed overdone...and fake in some way. I just preferred the honesty of David's story over the wild nature of Nicholas'.

But that doesn't mean it isn't a good book, because it most certainly is! It had me laughing constantly, and there were many passages that I marked. It was also a fast read (once I settled back into it) and I finished the last half in only a couple of days. It is definitely a great example of Dickens at his funniest, and of course, the social commentary was spot on. I will definitely read it again!

“Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Looking for "Modern" Mythology Suggestions.

As some of you know, for my teaching position (squee), I am teaching two sections of mythology. I have already purchased a few books in some key areas (Greek, Norse, and Native American), but now I am looking for suggestions for something a little different.

I am wondering if anyone has any suggestion for books with more modern types of myths. Someone suggested I dive into comic and super heroes as a way to bridge the gap between ancient and modern day. Does a big old reference book exist for this? Do you have another suggestion? I would love any titles you can give me!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Austen in August Giveaway Winners!

Austen in August is well underway! I am currently reading Mansfield Park in honor of the event (and loving it!). I hope that all you other participants are also enjoying some lovely Austen titles.

I'm here to announce the winners of the giveaway I hosted last week to help Adam kick off the event. Up for grabs were 6 Austen titles-1 of each of her big novels!

I should let you know that no one entered for poor Pride and Prejudice! I would like to send it off to a good home, so if you want a copy, comment below. The first person who claims it can have it. :)

As for the winners...

Emma: Heather M. (no blog linked)

Mansfield Park: Jenna

Northanger Abbey: Donna

Persuasion: Missy

Sense and Sensibility: Logan E. Turner

Congratulations to the winners! I'll send you an e-mail later tonight to get mailing information, but if you see this first, feel free to e-mail me instead. :)

Enjoy your Austen reading!

A Victorian Celebration Wrap-up and Giveaway Winners.

Wow. I have been so impressed by the response to my little Victorian event. There are almost 230 posts on the Master Post! That's simply amazing! And if you still have a lingering post, feel free to add them in the future. I know that I have quite a few posts that I never found the time to add. :)

I have to admit that I am a bit sad the event ended and that many of us will be moving on to other books. For me, the hyper-focus on Victorian literature was a good and a bad thing. Good because I managed to read a lot of great Victorians, but bad because I burned myself out just a little bit. I know I will bounce back as soon as I get sucked into the next great book. But now, I can just look back and be happy with the titles I managed to read in June and July. Here is what I finished:
  • The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  • Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
  • The Dickens Bicentenary
  • And half of Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
So, all in all, I had a great two months!

I'm hoping you enjoyed the event. I love hosting things like this, and have rough plans in mind for a few more monthly themed projects in the future (probably not in 2012, however). I am looking for some feedback and suggestions for the future. If you could take a few minutes to fill out this feedback form, I would greatly appreciate it!

Feedback Form

I also have some unfinished business to take care of-mainly, some giveaway winners! I got a little lax about announcing winners in the last couple of weeks (sorry about that), but here are winners from the last few giveaways...

The winner for the copy of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone...

Annette of Impressions in Ink!

The winner for the copy of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield...

For the Bronte giveaway, no one entered for poor Emily, so I am going to give away one for a Charlotte entry and two for Anne (mainly because I read my first Anne this month!)

The winner for a Charlotte title is...

Athena of Aquatique

The two winners for Anne are...

Terri-maree of Bibliophilia and Adam of Adam's Bibliomania!

Lastly, the winner of Anthony Trollope's The Warden...

I am also sending a Victorian book of choice (up to $15 in value) to Becky of Becky's Book Reviews (because she read a TON of books) as well as a book to Claudia of Lit Hitchhiker (for being a random number I pulled off the master list) and O of Delaisse (again, random number pulled from the master list). 

Winners, I will be contacting you via e-mail at some point today. If you see this before I get to you, feel free to shoot me an e-mail first!

Thank you all for participating! I had a wonderful time and I hope you did too!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for August 5, 2012: What I've Been Up To.

It seems like it has been a few weeks since I wrote a real update on what's been going on around here. However, this post won't be too long, since my joints are a bit swollen and typing is a bit painful.

First, A Victorian Celebration came to an end last week. I have a wrap-up post half-written and I am hoping to get it up tomorrow. It'll announce the last few winners, as well as highlight some awesome things that happened in June and July.

I've also been working a bit at the park. I am nearing my last day (the 17th), so we've been even busier trying to cram in maintenance that can't wait until next summer. In addition to my departure, most of our college kids are leaving the same weekend, so you can imagine that the full-time rangers are taking advantage of all the bodies. We've spent the last two weeks laying down new woodchips on all the playgrounds in the city...which believe me, is a TON of work. I have come home every day exhausted and with sore muscles.

I've also been prepping a great deal for my new teaching position! I picked up text books a week or two ago, so I have been reading and working on organizing some classes. I've been outlining sections from the World History textbook in anticipation of turning them into power points. I've also been poking around the mythology books I ordered, as well as all the resources I got from the teacher who usually teaches the class. I have some new ideas for the class (comic book heroes!), so I'll really dive into that class in another week or two. The only class I haven't done anything for is the sophomore English class. I've taught the second half and parts of the first half, so I'm not as worried about it as the other two classes.

The biggest news this week is the launch of the new Classics Club website. I'm so excited that it "launched" and that so many people have decided to join! I'm looking forward to all the new reviews, members, and of course, book lists.

Alright, that's about all my hands can handle. Have a wonderful week everyone!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Nightstand Pile: August 3, 2012.

It has been a little over a month since I last did a nightstand pile post. Basically, I always pull books that interest me from my shelf to put in a pile on my nightstand. When I'm looking for a new book to read, I go to my pile rather than my bookshelves (most of the time-you know how that goes).

With the Victorian event ending, school lurking in the not so distant future, and my reading challenges going relatively untouched, I put back almost all of the books I had left from the last nightstand pile and pulled new books. Some are repeats, others are new. Well, let's just see them, shall we?

From top to bottom, then left to right:
  • The Hobbit by Tolkien: With the first movie coming out in December, I figured it was time for a reread. :) I love this edition of the book. I bought it when I was in 7th grade on a family vacation in Colorado (I bought The Lord of the Rings in the same editions). That was before the movies came out!
  • Main Street by Sinclair Lewis: I've never read anything by Lewis, but I seem to have acquired quite a few of his novels. This one will count for my TBR Challenge...which I am DETERMINED to complete this year.
  • Oedipus Rex by Sophocles: I have no idea why I haven't just finished this. I started it in May, then set it aside in favor of the Victorians. This will be an easy afternoon read (I'm halfway through it already!). This will count for my Greek Classics Challenge.
  • When I Whistle by Shusaku Endo: This is the second of two books by Endo I was sent for review...back in April (oh, how time flies). Jillian said she just finished this one and really enjoyed it, so this one is near the top of the pile for more than one reason!
  • Sanditon by Jane Austen: One of the two titles for Adam's Austen in August event that I am bound and determined to finish. I have never read this one, so I am looking forward to it!
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: The other Austen I must finish this month! I'm not as familiar with this one (it's been awhile since I've read it), but I'm really excited to read it!
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison: It's been some time since I've read anything by Morrison and this one seemed the most interesting of my pile! This also counts for my "Back to the Classics" Challenge...that I am failing. whoops!
  • Light in August by William Faulkner: I think I meant to read this one last August as well, but it never happened. *crosses fingers
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro: This one jumped out at me on the shelf, so I snatched it. I probably won't get to it until September, but it'll be tempting me until then.
  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster: This is one that will be going to the top of the pile, since I started it months ago and set it aside for the Victorians. I was having a hard time getting into it before, so I think I just need to restart it! This is another one for the TBR Challenge.
  • American Indian Myths and Legends: This is a book I bought for my mythology class. I've already read a couple of stories and I'm getting some good ideas for the class!
  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton: This is the textbook for the class I am teaching, so it is probably a good idea if I read it!
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: This is another one that jumped at me off the shelf. Does it surprise you that I've never read it? I was also surprised to see it was an alternate for the TBR challenge, so that's good news, right?
  • The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf: Yet another title I started in the Spring and never managed to finish. I'm only 30 or so pages into this one, so like the Forster title, I'm just going to restart it. I imagine I'll save this one for the fall, but I'll be eying it, I'm sure. Oh, and this is yet another title for the TBR challenge.
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray: I started this one LAST June. It's another challenge book (Books I Started but Never Finished), so...yeah. I actually really like this one...I just stopped reading for no reason.
  • The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner: I accepted this one for review because it was set in Flint and Detroit. It sounds interesting-I just haven't made time for it! Soon, I hope??
  • The Norse Myths: Another book I bought for my mythology class. The teacher who used to teach it told me that the materials she had were mostly on the Greeks, so I wanted to change it up a bit. I haven't read anything from this yet, but I did flip through and it looks awesome!
  • Clarissa by Samuel Richardson: It's BAAAAACK. This has been languishing on my nightstand sit I set it there in frustration back in April. I'm not planning on reading it all this month, but I do want to get back into it. I've been craving it, believe it or not! I'd like to finish it by the end of 2012, so we'll see if that happens!
There you have it! My nightstand pile for the next couple of months. I'm sure I pulled too many books, but I think that's a good problem to have!

Let me know what your reading plans are!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Classics Club Monthly Meme: August 2012.

One of the newest features on the new Classics Club Blog is the Monthly Meme. It's a great way to bring members of The Classics Club together to talk about what we're reading!

This month's question is simply, "What is your favorite classic book? Why?"

I think that this is a great place to start, but it is also such a HARD question. I know that most of you can relate. How can you narrow it down to ONE favorite book?

Off the top of my head, and going with my gut, I have to give the title of the book that has inspired my own classics journey and the name of my blog-Homer's The Odyssey. As one of the oldest classics I have read, it has always struck me how this story has captured the minds of so many generations. From those who sat around in the starlight in Ancient Greece to listen to Homer, to the ninth grade students in my school district who read an abridged version every spring. There is something so powerful and mystical about the whole book that I often find myself remembering lines, scenes, and images from my many readings of the book.

I think it is more than just the story for me. It is truly about the personal connection I have to The Odyssey and what it has done for me since I picked it up almost three years ago at the beginning of my blogging journey. I can remember lying on my bed in my parents' house (because I was still living there then) when I started the journey with Odysseus home to Ithaca...

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove—
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return.
Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will-Sing for our time too.”

There is something about those lines that gets me every time I think of them. Of calling to the Muse to inspire and set the story straight from the beginning. For hoping that the Muse gives the reader and speaker the courage and knowledge to tell the story correctly from the beginning, to honor the man the story is about, and to sing the story so that it matters in our time too. It inspires me, thinking about those lines.

And as I continue to move forward in my classics journey, and a new chapter in my life as a permanent teacher, I know I will be constantly thinking of Homer and his words. In some ways, it seems almost silly for me to say that I struggled to pick a favorite classics. But in this moment, in this time, I can think of no other but the book that started this entire project for me.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Announcing: The Classics Club Blog!

I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to be writing this post. Since Jillian founded The Classics Club back in March, I have slowly been shifting my own goals as a reader to meet the goal I made as a participant in the club. This has allowed me to branch out to classics not on my original 250 list, but still feel like I am making progress in my own literary education.

It has also been amazing to watch the Club grow in that amount of time. New members are still joining and setting goals to explore the classics. It's inspiring to me-to know that so many individuals want to explore those dusty books English teachers always talk about!

The last few weeks, I have been working on transferring information over to The Classic Club's new home, alongside five other marvelous people. It was decided, a couple months ago, that the Club was outgrowing it's space on Jillian's blog, so it's own location was a necessity!

The new blog launched this morning, and I could be more excited to show you what has been consuming all my time in the last few days. :) I am excited about this new direction I am headed and my involvement in the "classics" world of blogging.

Please make sure you go over to the new site to check it out-especially all our new features, events, and other goodies that we have "rolled out" with the new digs. You can also add the club's twitter to your account (@ourclassicsclub).

I hope to see you there!

Austen in August 6 Book Giveaway!

I am really excited that August is here, and with it, Adam's wonderful Austen in August Event! I have been anxiously awaiting Adam's event since he first mentioned it on twitter a few months ago.

I have been a big fan of Austen since I was in high school and first decided to read Pride and Prejudice. I slowly worked my way through each of her 6 main novels, finishing with Persuasion only 2 years ago. However, in my slow Austen reading, I have also collected sets of her novels...to the point that I simply have too many Austen collections.

In honor of Adam's fabulous event, and my own love for Austen, I am giving away six Austen titles to six lucky winners. They comprise a full set of her complete novels, so there should be something here for everyone!

All of the titles are Barnes and Noble Classics editions. To enter to win one of these lovelies, please read the following rules and comment below:

  • This giveaway will be open to any residents of the U.S. or Canada (I am willing to ship one book to one winner outside of the U.S. or Canada...so I will allow for one international winner if your name is pulled!).
  • You MUST be a participant of Austen in August to enter.
  • You MUST be 13 years or older
  • You do not have to follow me or subscribe to qualify
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond or I will pick a new winner.
  • To enter, comment on this post and provide the following information: an e-mail so I can get in touch with you if you win, the title you would like to be entered for, and what Austen titles you are planning to read for the event!
  • The giveaway will be open until 11:59 PM on Monday, August 6, 2012 EST.
Good luck! I hope one of these six titles will be coming your way soon!