Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: January 31, 2010.

It has been another busy week for us. We finally moved over the last of my things to the apartment, so I am officially moved in! There are only a couple small things to put away and then we are only took a few months. We were both joking that we don't want to move from here unless we move out of state or we buy a house. We'll see which happens first.

I also spent a lot of time bonding with Sparty, who is growing up so fast. He loves to cuddle and he is finally getting along with Hemi (our older cat). They are currently cuddling together on top of the chair in the living room. We are so happy they are getting along.

In book news, I managed to almost catch up on my reviews. I still need to put all my posts about The Dollmaker up. I should just say now that The Dollmaker was not at all what I expected. But it was very, very, very good. I have lots to say about it, so be prepared.

I am also thisclose to finishing The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare. I only have 1 act left, so I should finish it tonight before bed.

So, goals for this week are:
  • Make posts for The Dollmaker
  • Finish The Winter's Tale and post
  • Start and finish The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Make posts on Tom Sawyer
  • Start something else??
Now it is time to join the hubby on the couch and watch the rest of the Grammys.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book 17: Finished.

"Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one's history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over.

'I wait,' Mrs. Morel said to herself-'I wait, and what I wait for can never come,'" (7).

When I sit down to write these entries, I usually have a lot of thoughts running through my head about what I want to say. And generally speaking, the entry comes out sounding like nothing in my head, but still gets my point across.

Right now, I am at a loss as to what to say. I finished Sons and Lovers and I don't have a thing to say about it. It is not as if I hated it because I didn't. However, I didn't love it and I am not even sure that I like it. I feel kind of "meh" about the whole book.

It is definitely a weird little story about a man who is so connected to his mother that he cannot break free from her to pursue a relationship with another woman. His mother controls him and he is fine with it. Perhaps you could call him a momma's boy? That makes it sound trivial, which it is not, but that seems to be the essence of this novel. Paul Morel is his mother's boy and he believes he must make her happy, to the expense of his own happiness.

In some passages, it seems as thought his mother, Gertrude, is living through him and accomplishing her goals through her second son. Take this passage for example;

"But Paul was going to distinguish himself. She had a great belief in him, the more because he was unaware of his own powers. There was so much to come out of him. Life for her was rich with promise. She was to see herself fulfilled. Not for nothing had been her struggle," (161).

It is hard to take in the passage without seeing how she is living through her son. I saw this a lot growing up with my friends, and even with my students. How their parents wanted to achieve more through them by pushing them to do the things that they didn't want to. And while my parents pushed me, it wasn't because they were living through me, but because they wanted me to be successful.

So perhaps this novel was just hard to relate to and that is why I don't have a solid opinion of it.

Or it could be the writing. It was sometimes slow and tedious and sometimes it held a lot of drama. But I found it to be inconsistent. There were long pieces that were description of something that I found to be unimportant. Then there were pieces that were short, but help more action. It just left me feeling like Lawrence was playing games with me. I didn't appreciate it.

But I did like the story. Of a boy trapped between his mother and his lovers. In doing some research online, I found a site with a bunch of D.H. Lawrence's letters to his editor. I think this one explains the book far better than I could ever hope to;

"It follows this idea: a woman of character and refinement goes into the lower class, and has no satisfaction in her own life. She has had a passion for her husband, so her children are born of passion, and have heaps of vitality. But as her sons grow up she selects them as lovers — first the eldest, then the second. These sons are urged into life by their reciprocal love of their mother — urged on and on. But when they come to manhood, they can't love, because their mother is the strongest power in their lives, and holds them. It's rather like Goethe and his mother and Frau von Stein and Christiana — As soon as the young men come into contact with women, there's a split. William gives his sex to a fribble, and his mother holds his soul. But the split kills him, because he doesn't know where he is. The next son gets a woman who fights for his soul — fights his mother. The son loves his mother — all the sons hate and are jealous of the father. The battle goes on between the mother and the girl, with the son as object. The mother gradually proves stronger, because of the ties of blood. The son decides to leave his soul in his mother's hands, and, like his elder brother go for passion. He gets passion. Then the split begins to tell again. But, almost unconsciously, the mother realizes what is the matter, and begins to die. The son casts off his mistress, attends to his mother dying. He is left in the end naked of everything, with the drift towards death," (Letter to Edward Garnett, November 12, 1912).

You see, when I finished reading this, I felt none of that. I felt frustrated because I didn't relate to the characters and I was upset with the pace of the book. So I am left here, feeling "meh" about the whole experience.

I suppose I knew going into this that I would not fall in love with every book on my list. After all, there are 250 different stories that I am reading, and there are many different authors as well. And while I have seemingly lucked out in the choices so far, I know that there will probably be books coming that I will hate, and some more that will fall into this middle ground of "meh-ness."

I think I have learned that I cannot love everything I read, but I can learn from it and appreciate it for what it did offer to me. Each of these books has been called a classic for a reason. Those reasons may not always be clear, but they are there and I need to realize that. I suppose for me, Sons and Lovers was a stepping stone towards that realization, a side-journey on my odyssey towards realizing that just like in life, I don't have to like everyone I meet.

Not every book has to become my best friend. But I should give it the benefit of the doubt and see it for what it is. And Sons and Lovers just left me feeling nothing.

Book 17: Length in Novels.

I have no problems reading novels that are lengthy. If I had a problem with length, then I never would have made it through the Outlander series in 2009. There are other big works of fiction that I also hold dear to my heart, like the Harry Potter books. Their length helps rather than hinders the story, so I have no problem reading them.

I also love short books. I like being able to sit down and go through an entire story in one sitting lasting an hour or so, as long as the story is told well. Two of the books I have already read for my odyssey have been short novellas-Ethan Frome and The Old Man and the Sea. Both of those novellas were well done; the characters were developed, the plot was detailed enough, and the story left me thinking.

So it really bothers me when the scope of a work does not fit with the length. Simple plots and characters don't need as much time to develop as elaborate schemes. Harry Potter condensed into 7 300 page books would be a completely different story. The world that J.K. Rowling created would not be as deep or detailed.

In reading Sons and Lovers, I am finding that I am annoyed with Lawrence's use of page space and how the story is developing. To be quite honest, the first 50 or so pages have nothing to do with the rest of the story. Yes, the description of his mother and father and their early life does provide nice background, but it could have been given in another way. And while I appreciate that Lawrence is setting up the character of Paul Morel and his relationship to his mother, I find it completely aggravating. There is too much language and too much exposition for my tastes.

(I am not saying that I don't enjoy description, because I do, but I hate when the description is overbearing. On with the story, you know?)

And since my edition of Sons and Lovers is 370 pages long, there is a lot of time that I know will be wasted trucking through Lawrence's description and what he deems to be important to the story. I am hoping that when it is finished I will feel differently, but I don't think I will.

It is incredibly hard to like a book that drags on and on with only little spurts of excitement. Dull and monotonous writing bores the reader and this reader is bored with Lawrence. I really hate to be so negative, especially towards a book that I had high hopes for, but I can't help it.

Mind, this is not as bad as when I had to force myself through Great Expectations, but this is still pretty bad.

I know I cannot force myself to like a book and I know there will be other books on this list that I will also dislike for various reasons. Obviously not everything will appeal to me and I have been lucky so far that I have enjoyed pretty much everything I've read, but let me ask you this; Why are all the books I dislike the longest ones? It sure seems like they are!

So here are some questions for you, dear readers:
  1. What length of book do you prefer and why?
  2. Are there books you have avoided because of their length? If so, what titles?
Thanks, and happy reading!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn: 1922-2010

"I'm worried that students will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel - let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they're doing. I'm concerned that students not become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that's handed down to them from the White House, the media, textbooks, teachers and preachers.”

Writer and activist Howard Zinn passed away on Wednesday from what seems to be a heart attack. Known for his activism in the 1960s and on, Zinn was a teacher and writer who had a profound effect on education.

His book, A People's History of the United States, went against U.S. textbooks to give accurate accounts of historical events that have been altered to make the U.S. appear correct in all decisions (especially foreign policy).

For myself, this is another huge loss. A People's History of the United States was a monumental book for me when I decided I wanted to earn my history degree and teach history. It helped me decide to never just follow a textbook, but to expose my students to the other side of history that is often covered up.

If you have never read it, you need to go buy a copy now. It will challenge the way you think about U.S. history, and how it was taught to you.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger: 1919-2010

For those of you who haven't heard, J.D. Salinger passed away on Wednesday. He was best known for The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and Nine Stories.

I know that his loss is a big one to the literary world, even if he has not published any work since 1963. He has always been one of my favorite authors and I am sad that the literary world has lost so great a figure.

"Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all."

Thursday Treat #6: Feed by M.T. Anderson

For this week's "Thursday Treat," I decided to continue with the focus I had last week on literature for teenage boys. Like I said in last week's post, finding good young adult literature geared towards boys is very difficult. Book shelves are stocked with interesting things for girls and the variety is very good, but not so much for boys. In their teenage years, most boys pull away from reading. I think a large part of that is a lack of suitable reading material.

I read Feed by M.T. Anderson as an assignment for a teacher education class at Michigan State. For this assignment, we all picked a book from a list based on a description, then worked in small groups to create lessons. Since Feed is science-fiction and most of the girls (okay, all except me) in my section hated Sci-fi, I was the only girl in my group with 4 guys. We all loved the book and when it came time to create lessons, we really talked about the two things we all loved: the technology and the fact that it seemed like something teenage boys would like.

But, I also really liked the novel. At first I was kind of afraid of the depth of Anderson's world. Right from the beginning the reader is thrown into this dystopian society where lesions are the height of fashion and slang is overly abundant. Right away action hits and the reader is hooked.

The "Feed" is actually a device that almost every individual has implanted at a young age. The feed is essentially a technological device that allows the person who has it to have the internet directly in their head. In this world, you don't even necessarily have to talk to another individual, you can simply chat via the feed. Schools are owned by corporations and since the students have total access to any information they want at any moment, schools don't teach anything, but gear products towards their students. Ads flash up in front of the feeds and direct themselves to the things you talk about in chat mode, or what you search.

It is a world dominated by technology.

Titus, the main character, shows us this world through his observations of the events of him and his friends. None of them seem to care that the corporations have control over their lives and can hack into their brains to target them for products.

This all changes when Titus meets Violet, a girl who thinks about things a little differently.

The result is a book that challenges the reader to think hard about the impact of technology as well as consumerism. When we were creating our lessons in that class project, we focused a lot on those two themes. All of us were deeply moved by the story and the ending and hoped that we could one day teach the novel.

To give you a small taste of Feed, here are some favorite lines;

"We Americans are interested only in the consumption of our products. We have no interest in how they are produced, or what happens to them once we discard them, once we throw them away."

"The natural world is so adaptable...So adaptable you wonder what's natural."

"I am messaging you to say that I love you, and that you're completely wrong about me thinking you're stupid. I always thought you could teach me things. I was always waiting. You're not like the others. You say things that no one expects you to. You think you're stupid. You want to be stupid. But you're someone people could learn from."

If you like YA fiction, dystopian worlds, or science fiction, this is the novel for you.

I will warn you, however, that there is a lot of language in this novel. Be prepared for it because it'll surprise you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book 17: Sons and Lovers

I really have no system for picking out which book I am going to read next. I just look at what I have in front of me and choose what I think could be fun. I have also been trying to pick things from all over the map to keep myself (and you) entertained. Like many readers, I need to give myself a variety of things to read or I get bored.

That is how I picked Sons and Lovers. It is 1 of 2 novels by D.H. Lawrence on my list (the other being Lady Chatterley's Lover) and something I thought to be entertaining. And, like a lot of the other titles and authors on my list, it is a book I know next to nothing about.

I am starting to think that my English degree didn't really teach me much of anything, or expose me to as much as it should have.

Anyway, every time I pick up one of these books that I know nothing about I tend to do a little research. Mainly because I like research, but it helps me get a sense of where the author is coming from, and who I can relate him to.

D.H. Lawrence's full name was David Herbert Richards Lawrence, which is quite a mouthful (no wonder he shortened it). He lived around the turn of the 20th century, which happens to be a favorite time period of mine. He wrote a lot about sexuality and modernity, which is a good thing. It keeps me interested.

Also interesting is this quote by E.M. Forster (author of A Room with a View, which was Book #3 on my list-I read it back in September) which was in a obituary notice after Lawrence's death. In that notice, Forster said that Lawrence was;

"The greatest imaginative novelist of our generation."

That is high praise. And considering that Lawrence was also called a pornographer and much of his work was censored, it is also quite a contradiction.

So, needless to say, Lawrence has a lot to live up to. I'm hoping for great things in Sons and Lovers, but I hope it doesn't go the way I am thinking it will based on the information above.

Taken from Barnes and Noble's synopsis;

"Called the most widely-read English novel of the twentieth century, D. H. Lawrence’s largely autobiographical Sons and Lovers tells the story of Paul Morel, a young artist growing into manhood in a British working-class community near the Nottingham coalfields. His mother Gertrude, unhappily married to Paul’s hard-drinking father, devotes all her energies to her other son. They develop a powerful and passionate relationship, but eventually tensions arise when Paul falls in love with a girl and seeks to escape his family ties. Torn between his desire for independence and his abiding attachment to his loving but overbearing mother, Paul struggles to define himself sexually and emotionally through his relationships with two women—the innocent, old-fashioned Miriam Leivers, and the experienced, provocatively modern Clara Dawes.

Heralding Lawrence’s mature period, Sons and Lovers vividly evokes the all-consuming nature of possessive love and sexual attraction. Lushly descriptive and deeply emotional, it is rich in universal truths about human relationships."

I am hoping that this novel offers something for me to think about in regards to my own relationships to my husband and my family, but we'll see. I'm not sure how much I'll have in common with Paul Morel or any of these characters.

I do want to point out one more thing about this novel. In every site I visited to do research, I found the same quote;

"When you have experienced Sons and Lovers you have lived through the agonies of the young Lawrence striving to win free from his old life." Richard Aldington

This is a very autobiographical piece and I sometimes have a hard time reading those. Perhaps I think too much, but I always wonder about the authors and writers who put so much of themselves into their work. Do the people they base their characters off of become offended when they see how they are portrayed? Do they hold back in their descriptions of events to protect the people around them?

In my own writing I always find it hard to base too much on my personal experiences, so it will be interesting to compare the qualities of Paul Morel to that of Lawrence.

And now that I am done rambling and being all over the place, I will end this post.

Happy reading!

Book 16: Finished.

Every time I read Ethan Frome I find more to love. Perhaps it is my unabashed LOVE of Edith Wharton, and not necessarily that novel, but I love the story.

Ethan Frome is trapped in what appears to be a loveless marriage. His wife, Zeena, has constant ailments and sicknesses that prevent her from doing much of anything. Ethan's farm is constantly on the verge of going under as he is forced to work it alone. In a sense, Frome is trapped into a life that he never wanted. The only reason he was ever on the farm was to nurse his mother and father back to health. his dream had been to leave the small town life and travel for bigger and better things.

At the time the story begins, Frome is a broken down old man doing his best to keep his home running. He begins to befriend a new person in town, who eventually learns Ethan's story and relates it to the reader.

Prior to the novel beginning, Ethan and Zeena had taken in a young cousin of Zeena's, Maggie Quiksilver, to help around the house to to be Zeena's nurse. A young and beautiful girl, Maggie is also an orphan, with no where else to go. Ethan and Maggie become friends and spend a great deal of time talking to each other. Of course, Zeena is still around and shows her disdain and hatred for Maggie.

Things begin to spiral out of control until tragedy hits. When the story draws to a close, the young man recounts the results of the tragedy and the ruin of Ethan's life.

All of this is accomplished in a mere 77 pages, but the power of the story is like that of a far longer novel.

I have read a great deal of Wharton's work, minus a few novels, but I find that she often manages to create these powerful stories out of nothing. Most of her larger novels are about the upper class and society in New York and other large towns, but this is one of the only about a rural setting. And while many of her other novels are also tragedies, I think this one hits closer to home. I almost think it is a far more realistic version of tragedy.

In any case, I still love this little novella and the memories it holds. It remains one of my all-time favorite pieces of fiction. If you haven't read any Wharton before, start here and you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book List Meme: January 26, 2010

As part of my goal to get more involved in the book blogging community, I have decided to join in on a weekly blog meme for book bloggers. Rebecca at Lost in Books is hosting a weekly book meme that is right up my alley.

Essentially every week she will list a topic and a question for book bloggers to answer in regards to 3 books.

This week's topic?

3 Fiction Worlds I Would Like to Hang Out In

This was incredibly hard for me to choose! So I decided to do it based on 3 different pieces of what I like to read. One based on my love of fantasy, one based on my love of great and moving fiction, and the last based on childhood memories.


1. The land of Middle-Earth! I couldn't leave this off my list, as much as I would want to. The Lord of the Rings is such a central part of fantasy literature that OF COURSE I would want to live there...most likely in Rivendell. I love the Elves.

2. Old New York City, primarily during the 1920s of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth as well as Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I love that old society feel in both their novels, even though they have very different points of view.

3. The last is the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. The series was one of my favorites growing up and I have already decided that it needs to be reread as soon as possible. I loved to escape into that world, and I wouldn't mind doing that now.

There are a limitless amount of worlds I would love to live or hang out in, but 3 was the limit, so there you have it. :)

Book 16: Ethan Frome

Way back at the beginning of twelfth grade, my AP English teacher handed us all a book on the second day of school. The book was Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. It was a cheap Dover Thrift edition with a hideous cover of wood grain. We all looked at it and thought to ourselves, "This looks HORRIBLY boring." She told us the books were our own and we could mark them up as we pleased while we read them. I think we all assumed that we had to mark them up, so we wrote things like "IMPORTANT" in the margins, or underlined passages because we thought we were supposed to.

A week or so later, we had our first paper due. We were all nervous, seeing as we were all overachievers who before this class received A's on all our papers. So when the big day came to get our papers, we were all perfectly quiet. This would tell us if we were actually smart and if we deserved the honor of being in this class. She told us that in her 3 sections of AP English, she only gave out 3 B's, every other paper was a C or lower. I think in that moment everyone had a small heart attack.

When I got my own paper back, I remember trying not to panic and trying to figure out how I was going to tell my mom I got a C on a paper. But I didn't need to worry. I was one of the 3 (out of 100 students) that got a B. I was ecstatic. It was a glorious moment.

What made it even more glorious was that I absolutely HATED Ethan Frome. I thought the novella was stupid. Even with all my scribbles in the margins I couldn't make sense of its simplicity. I hated it, and I hated that the back cover called it Wharton's masterpiece.

A few years later when I was in college, I was looking for a quick read one weekend. I had brought a few books up with me for such occasions, including my battered copy of Ethan Frome. I remembered that it was small and a quick read and that I hated it, but I couldn't remember why. So I read it again.

Turns out, I actually loved it. Something inside me clicked and I finally understood the passion of the seemingly simple story. Maybe it was because I gave it an honest chance, or perhaps because I was older and finally understood the meaning of the story. In any case, I loved it.

And I have read it nearly every year since. That one re-reading of a story I once thought I hated sparked a passion for Wharton's work. I love her writing style and the passion she puts into her characters, and I think she does a perfect job in the slim little Ethan Frome. Her skill as a writer shines through and this little novella encapsulates her views as an author. The messages in her books are all as beautifully contrived as in this, and she only gets better with each piece you read by her.

Part of me would love to tell Mrs. McWhirter that she helped inspire my great passion for reading great books. After all, she assigned that slim little novel. And when I finally gave it a real chance, it sparked a love in me of the books that I would have normally rejected.

I still have my Dover thrift edition of the book, and while I would love to get a nicer version, I still love this copy. Its a little beat up, the pages are written all over, the paper is practically see through, but I love the memories. And even though all the passages I marked and comments I made are completely superficial and gloss over the depth of this novella, I still love them and the images they bring back, like that beautiful B I got on that paper, and how reading experiences can change with age.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Salon: January 24, 2010

It simply amazes me how fast time goes! Over a month and half have gone by since I last wrote a Sunday Salon entry, but it doesn't feel like it. I suppose a lot has gone on in the last month and a half. I got married, went on my honeymoon, moved out of my parents' house, and have settled into life in the apartment.

This last week has been especially eventful in our house. Since getting back at the beginning of January, Matt and I have been searching high and low for a kitten. We already have an adult cat, Hemi, who has been with Matt nearly her entire life. She was found, abandoned, under his sister's front porch. His mom and sister helped bottle-feed her until she was old enough to eat normal food. She's probably never even seen another cat, seeing as her eyes were still closed when they found her!

Since moving to the apartment, Hemi has been lonely. There is a lot less hustle and bustle going on over here, so we decided she needed a buddy. But it is HARD to get your hands on a kitten! We tried Craigslist with no luck, then turned to to search some local rescues. I was getting discouraged until Thursday afternoon when I stumbled on the cutest group of kittens. They had Star Wars names, so it was pretty much meant to be.

By the time we got to the shelter Friday morning, 2 had already been adopted, leaving us with the choice of Vader or Leia. We ended up bringing Vader home, and he is a spunky, mouthy little thing of 6 and a half weeks old and we are already in love with his precious little face. Hemi, on the other hand, was not to excited and starting hissing and growling immediately. After belatedly reading up on introducing cats to one another, we corrected out mistakes and isolated him, so she could dominate the house.

It must have worked. Tonight both of them were in the same room, playing and walking around with minimal hissing. I think in a few days they will be the best of friends and we'll find them cuddled up together.

We did change his name, to Spartacus, or Sparty for short. My college mascot is a Spartan and we both go up yearly for games and events, so we thought it fitting. As soon as he is less squirmy, I am sure he will end up in some pictures with books. He has already tried eating them, which I told him was definitely a NO.

Anyway, here is a picture of the little guy trying to climb up my leg:

He is a cutie, isn't he?

In book news, I have been working on trying to catch-up on the backlog of books I have. There are only 2 more books to review and discuss before my current novel. Look for entries on Ethan Frome and Sons and Lovers in the next few days. I don't like being behind, but it does give me more material to write more often!

I have also been trying to get back into the habit of reading every night before bed. It has been difficult to keep up that good habit in the last 6 months or so. I have been so busy with wedding planning and moving that reading took a far back seat. It is time to shift some other things around to make room for reading as a priority. Even if I don't have as much "me" time anymore, I still need to make an effort to continually read.

I'm halfway through my current book, The Dollmaker, and I have a lot to say about it already. It is definitely a chunker of a book, at over 600 pages. Even more difficult is the dialogue. While I love when authors make their characters sound like the region they're from with phonetic spellings of words, it makes my brain work a little harder, making my reading pace slow down. Oh well, I still enjoy it and my brain needs the work out.

Anyway, the goals for this week are these:
  1. Write and post reviews for Ethan Frome
  2. Write and post reviews for Sons and Lovers
  3. Finish reading The Dollmaker
  4. Write and post reviews for The Dollmaker
  5. Read a new Shakespeare play; perhaps The Winter's Tale?
I think those are all perfectly doable. Let's hope for a good week of solid reading, yeah?

Happy reading everyone!

Oh! And one last thing! I have a new poll up and would appreciate you voting! Have at it!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


In honor of finishing Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck, I wanted to share a song with you that I felt really connected with the book and my own journey. This song happened to come on the ipod in the car as Matt and I started our drive through the mountains. Again, it was fate.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Book 15: Finished.

I really, really liked Travels with Charley. It wasn’t that it was the best thing I have ever read, but it ranks pretty high as one of the most inspirational. I think that if I would have read this at a different time I could have felt differently. I mean, the book spoke to me in the moment, and it was meant to be read when I read it.

(I believe in fate, don’t you?)

There were many passages I loved, some for their quirkiness and some because they were breathtakingly beautiful. Here are a few I loved:

In speaking to an actor about his craft Steinbeck says, “So it went on—a profession older than writing and one that will probably survive when the written word has disappeared. And all the sterile wonders of movies and television will fail to wipe it out—a living man in communication with a living audience. But how did he live? Who were his companions? What was his hidden life? He was right. His exit whetted the questions,” (151).

On being a restless American, “Driving the big highway near Toledo I had a conversation with Charley on the subject of roots. He listened but he didn’t reply. In the pattern-thinking about roots I and most other people have left two things out of consideration. Could it be that Americans are a restless people, a mobile people, never satisfied with where they are as a matter of selection? The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there,” (103).

And because I work for a parks system, “I must confess to a laxness in the matter of National Parks. I haven’t visited many of them. Perhaps this is because they enclose the unique, the spectacular, the astounding—the greatest waterfall, the deepest canyon, the highest cliff, the most stupendous works of man or nature. And I would rather see a good Brady photograph than Mount Rushmore. For it is my opinion that we enclose and celebrate the freaks of our nation and of our civilization. Yellowstone National Park is no more representative of America than is Disneyland,” (161).

This was a book full of personality. Steinbeck is a marvelous narrator and you can really see the place he speaks about, and relate to the individuals he meets along the way. Charley is a great companion and sidekick, often offering relief from the trials of the road.

Steinbeck recalls conversations with the people he meets along the way to add to his narrative. The conversations offer little portraits of life of Americans, but no where does Steinbeck really discover America and what it is to be an American. He never finds specific answers, and you would hope that he doesn’t. It’s not really his goal. He is merely exploring and seeing a nation that even so broad, has much in common.

He also hits on many of the issues plaguing the nation at the time of his journey, namely the flight of people from their hometowns and the discrimination issues in the South. Those scenes, near the end of the book, were difficult to leave, but one line really sticks out in my head;

“What we knew is dead, and maybe the greatest part of what we were is dead. What’s out there is new and perhaps good, but it’s nothing we know,” (203).

Throughout his journey, Steinbeck discusses how America is changing and how it isn’t stagnant any more, and that is his answer. Americas as a people are changing, adapting, and shifting to the things that are thrown their way. So while Steinbeck never answers his question, the reader knows and we understand.

Like I said in an earlier post, this book came at the right time. Not only was it a reaffirmation in what I am trying to accomplish here, but I read it on my own journey through a portion of America. Matt and I took a side trip on our way back to Michigan through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as the National Forests that litter Northern Georgia, the western part of North Carolina, and Tennessee. As we took the scenic roads and Matt pointed at things for me take pictures of, we kept saying, “Wow, it is so beautiful down here.” We commented on the houses, the people, and the way of life. And in our own way, we developed our own image of what America is, or just edited the old vision we had. In any case, we knew that words and pictures could not describe the beauty of what we had seen, even as we tried to capture it.

I think that is the frustration Steinbeck must have felt. He sought out the beauty in people and found it, but couldn’t explain it in a way that all his readers could understand. But I got it, so I could walk away from this book knowing. And even though I have tried to explain it to you, you can’t understand the depth of it until you have seen it yourself.

So save this one for the right moment. I think it’ll only matter to you then.

All pictures were taken by me during our trip.

Book 15: Journeys.

There have only been a couple of times in my life where I picked up a book and it was perfect for that moment. You can’t plan it, you can’t try for it; it just happens. And when one of those books comes along, it just speaks to you in that moment. You simply have to take it in for what it is and cherish those moments.

When I selected a few books to take with me on our road trip down to Orlando for our honeymoon, I just grabbed a few things that I “might” want to read. Travels with Charley was one of those books. I only knew that it was a travel narrative and nothing more. I didn’t know how perfect it was going to be for a road trip down to Florida and back.

From the moment I began reading, I was touched by Steinbeck’s words:

“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do all the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it,” (4).

How perfect an analogy for the journey Matt and I started on that trip down there. When I first read those words, we were only a couple of hours into our trip, stuck on the highway in a blizzard. We were starting two journeys then; one to our destination in Orlando, and the other with each other. And the journey has swept us along with it in the process. It has/had a plan of its own and we were merely along for the ride.

But I also felt a much deeper connection to this because of this blog. My blog and this challenge to myself is an odyssey; that is what inspired the name. And in many aspects, this blog has taken a hold of me and I am merely along for the ride. I never thought anyone would read it outside my family and I never thought that I would already feel something for doing this. With each book, each side trip if you will, I am already feeling a sense of accomplishment and like I have gotten somewhere. I never would have picked up these books if I hadn’t challenged myself to do so and I KNOW that there are many other great things waiting for me in the covers of the books I have yet to read.

Steinbeck set out in the fall of 1960 to see America and to figure out what America was, much like I set out in the fall of 2009 to find purpose. He had questions in mind, but got no definite answer. I am merely hoping that I get answers to the questions I’m not even sure of.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book 15: Travels with Charley in Search of America

I have never read anything by John Steinbeck.

Before you attack me, know that it was not entirely my fault. In high school I was always in Honors or AP English. During my sophomore year, I ended up in the one class with a teacher who had never taught it before. Her genius idea was to let us vote for the things we wanted to read and discuss that year. While we read some great things that year, The Grapes of Wrath was mysteriously left off our list. I think that my classmates were also scared of its immense volume.

(She never taught Honors English again by the way. I think her methods of teaching were too much for the administration to handle. The entire class was set up as a workshop where we got to decide our own assignments and due dates. We all loved it, but apparently no one else did).

So, I blame my high school for not having to read any Steinbeck in class. And then somehow I earned my English degree without having any Steinbeck on the required reading lists (unlike Dickens, where I just decided NOT to read it). And in all my own prior reading, I just simply never picked up anything by him, even though I probably should of.

I have heard both good and bad things about Steinbeck and I think he might be one of those authors that you either love or you hate. My brother-in-law LOVES Steinbeck and he is the one who asked me to add this title to my list. There are a few other titles by Steinbeck that I left off so I could keep this on (like Tortilla Flat). I am hoping that this was worth it.

Plus, this book has a dog in it and from experience, anything is better with a dog.

Thursday Treat #5: The Ranger's Apprentice Series by John Flanagan

The one main problem I have with Young Adult fantasy is that most of it is geared towards females. You might argue with me, but most fantasy lining YA shelves revolves around vampires, werewolves, and witches, which seems to be more appealing to female readers. Also, once boys hit the teen years, statistics show that they read less. Those who do read, and like science fiction and fantasy generally start moving into adult literature because there is nothing for them at the teen level.

(And if you don’t believe me, go look at the shelves in your local bookstore. It will reflect readership. More females read than males, so literature reflects that).

As a teacher, I always had a hard time finding novels at the teen level for my male students to read. While Walter Dean Myers is always a great recommendation, sometimes my boy students wanted something with a little more fantasy. Since some adult fantasy can be over an seventh grader’s head, it was important for me to find something to fill that void.

On the eve of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’s release in bookstores, I was searching the shelves looking for other things to read when I came across a display that said, “If you liked Harry Potter, try these!” Most of things on the shelf were things I had already read (namely the Narnia series), as well as some standalone books. None of them caught my eye until I caught a cover. I know you shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but I do. I can’t help it. When a cover catches my attention, nine times out of ten I buy the book. It’s an impulse.

The book was called The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan. Reading the blurb, it sounded like something I would like, “He had always wanted to be a warrior. The Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways, made him nervous. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now fifteen year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice. What he doesn't realize yet is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied.”

It contained a lot of elements of fantasy that I personally enjoy: a well-crafted world, a likeable main character, and something unique. I bought the book and read through it in a few hours. I loved it and had to wait anxiously for the next book in the series to come out.

A few days ago, book 7 (Erak’s Ransom) came out in stores and I made sure to buy it, even though I won’t be reading it just yet. I am hoping that when I do get a chance to open its covers it will be just as amazing as the rest of the series.

The fact is, Ranger’s Apprentice is a great series for fans of young adult fantasy and for boys. Where a lot of popular YA fantasy is geared towards females, this is a remarkably male fantasy series. Sometimes authors make male characters unrealistic to teenage boys, but not Flanagan. The protagonist, Will, is a completely believeable, intelligent teenage boy who my male students immediately liked. In fact every male student I recommended this series to loved it. The fantasy elements are enough to still capture their imagination, but there are also well-crafted battle scenes and well-developed characters.

I find this to be a much better written and likeable fantasy than say…Eragon by Paolini. Where Paolini tries to hard, Flanagan tries just enough. His world is not contrived and everything unfolds in each of the books as it should.

With the release of Erak’s Ransom, the United States is finally up to date with the release of the series (It was originally published in Australia) and I am hoping and waiting that Flanagan continues to develop his world.

This is a series I hope that any fan of YA fiction or fantasy will pick up and add to their collection. It would also make a great gift for those difficult to buy for teenage boys.

If you are looking for more information on the series and its author, please go to Flanagan’s website. There are games and such added on now, but it offers a lot of in-depth detail about the origins of the novels.

A Nightmare.

Back in November, my husband's laptop completely died. It was only a couple years old, but it simply decided it was done and it was no longer going to work.

Since I have two computers, a laptop and a desktop, we decided to bring over the desktop in the meantime for him to use. My desktop was built in 2004 or so, so in computer terms, it is a little on the older side. But it has served us both well. It needs to be reformatted and will be done shortly.

My laptop is also from around 2005 or so. It too needed to be reformatted badly. It decided one day to stop opening PDF files, which was a huge pain in the butt, and it wouldn't load any new programs. I couldn't update any of the programs I was using or that program wouldn't work anymore.

We decided to reformat my laptop first, which husband kindly did for me last night. Before he started the process, he told me to make sure I saved everything onto my flash drive, which I did.

Lo and behold, I got to reload all my documents, writing, and pictures this morning and everything from the last year and a half is missing. All that is on the flash drive is the backup I had done about a year and a half ago. All the pictures I had saved in the intervening time were gone, as well as all my professional documents (my resume, cover letters, letters of rec...all gone). The new novel I was writing is also gone. I have the first two chapters in my gmail account, but the other 7? Gone.

Fortunately I saved my blog files in a different file, as well as a few other random things that are important to me (mainly my huge Excel spreadsheet with my books).

However, I am so upset that I lost everything else. Some of the writing I could care less about, but I am missing lessons I wrote in the last few months of my long-term subbing job that I worked really hard on. The professional documents are also a huge loss. I don't know how I will recover some of those items, but I think I can get a few of them off of the websites I am registered on. I also think that most of the pictures are backed up on Facebook, which is fine.

The biggest loss is my personal writing, and the new novel I was working on. To know that all those hours of typing, thinking, drafting, and editing are gone is what is really getting me down. I won't get any of that back, and I am kicking myself now for not backing it up earlier, especially knowing that my laptop was on its way out.

Anyway, lesson is learned. And I know that when Matt goes to reformat the desktop, I am going to quadruple check everything.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book 14: Finished-More Than Just Bunnies.

Watership Down is about more than just bunnies. Granted, the characters are all bunnies (with the exception of the insane bird they befriend), but the story behind the bunnies is one that could be applied to any species.

The novel centers on a group of rabbits who, at the bidding of a panicked friend, decide to leave their warren and set out for something new. On their journey, they run into other rabbits that are and are not their friends. They face challenges like weasels and rivers, as well as human machines. Along the way they pick up stragglers until they reach their new home: Watership Down.

So while this is certainly a tale about bunnies and their plight, it is also about courage and strength. When they originally decide to leave their warren, it is because of the foresight of their friend that they do so. After this particular rabbit has had a vision of destruction, they leave for better things.

You have to wonder whether you would leave in a similar situation. On one hand, you have a well-developed, warm home with friends and family nearby. There is no danger that you can see (or smell), and there is no warning that anything bad may happen. On the other hand, you have a rabbit who “Sees” things and is warning his friends to leave for a new place. Do you stay or do you go? Personally, I am a huge chicken so I would have stayed.

Here is also where we begin to see parallels between the book and the TV show “Lost.” Very early in the first season (I promise I am not giving away anything too crazy), the characters are torn between staying on the beach (which is the “Safe” option), or venturing into the jungle after Jack to stay in the caves. Those characters are facing a very similar situation and Sawyer, the character who inspired me to read this book next, is reading Watership Down as this dilemma unfolds. It is an interesting coincidence.

And it turns out, that neither choice is safer than the other. With choice comes risk, and characters from both book and TV show realize that. There never is a “safe” option and sometimes, you have to make the decision whether staying in one place and facing what comes is a better choice than going out and seeing what comes at you.

So with all that being said, did I like the novel? Yes…and no. I enjoyed the tale of their flight from home, and characters. However, I got annoyed with the rabbits whining about lack of females. It was incredibly distracting to the rest of the tale and while the major conflict in the end of the novel was centered on their lack of females in the new warren, it was an almost constant whine that really distracted from the tale.

In all, I enjoyed it. I am sure that as Matt and I continue watching “Lost” I will find some more connections between book and TV show. When I explained the book to Matt, his eyes went wide in parts, so I am sure that those connections will click into place.

Before I cut this off, there are two passages I would like to share. The first stuck out because of its connection to my blog:

“What Robin Hood is to the English and John Henry to the American Negroes, Elil-Hrair-Rah, or El-ahrairah—the Prince with a Thousand Enemies—is to rabbits. For that matter, Odysseus himself might have borrowed a trick or two from the rabbit hero, for he is very old and was never at a loss for a trick to deceive his enemies,” (38).

This second passage I enjoyed was later in the novel, when they run into a rabbit from their old warren. I found this very insightful:

“Bluebell had been saying that he knew the men hated us for raiding their crops and gardens, and Toadflax answered, ‘That wasn’t why they destroyed the warren. It was just because we were in their way. They killed us to suit themselves,’” (169).