Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Treat #28: I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak.

While I adore Zusak's The Book Thief, I am focusing on one of his other novels today. For me, this novel is closer to my heart. The center focus of it is something many of us go through and for that, well, I love it.

The main character, Ed Kennedy, is an underage cab driver. He lives with his dog and his life seems to be going nowhere. Ed is somewhat complacent with the direction his life is going. Then Ed stops a bank robbery and his life begins to change when an ace from a play card deck arrives in his mail. Ed is sent on missions, to hurt or help as he is needed.

Throughout the process, Ed grows. He begins to realize what happens when we make choices, good or bad. He learns about the mistakes he has made, the assumptions he had about himself, well, they are all wrong.

Each message and note to him allows Ed the opportunity to do things he wouldn't have done before. He reaches out to individuals who have it far rougher than he does to comfort them, give them guidance, and set them straight. He becomes a person who cares about the people and world around him, and forgets to focus solely on his own misery.

It is an inspiring book. The way Ed begins to handle the darker side of life thrown at him really grabs hold of the reader. You meet Ed as a pathetic teen, who believes in nothing but continuing to work at his crummy job. But once he believes that someone believes in him, it all begins to change. Ed takes on an assertive tone, and finds the courage within himself to push the people around him-strangers or friends.

This is a novel I need to praise more and recommend. I think it is overshadowed by its brother (The Book Thief), but I cherish it a little more. I can relate to Ed and his struggle. Looking at this cover reminds me to be kind to the people around me and to help others as much as I can. It certainly is a message we all need to hear.

But the best part of my own copy is that it is signed, along with my copies of The Book Thief and Getting the Girl. Zusak came to my hometown about 3 years ago for a reading and to promote The Book Thief. I begged my mother to go with me, and she did. He was a great speaker and inspiring. He talked to everyone who came to his signing, and personalized messages in each book. All three of the books have their own special message. In this book, "Here's to coffee drinking dogs, barefoot shoes, and love..."

This is a novel that holds a special place in my heart. I hope you all pick up a copy at some point, and give it to a friend in need.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book 56: On Culture and Language.

A very large part of me is glad that I am rereading this. I am pulling far more out of it than I can remember my tenth grade self understanding.

For one, I am learning to appreciate the cultural significance of this story in a way that blew over my head at fifteen. This has made me realize why this must be deemed a modern classic. It is a novel that truly captures what it means to be an immigrant to the white-dominated United States.

I was most likely ignorant reading this as a high schooler. I grew up in a suburb north of Detroit and while there were students of other races scattered in my classes, it was mainly white, middle-class. It was simply something that I accepted and paid only slight attention to.

Throughout college, I had more ethnic diversity in my classics, but in my subject areas, it was heavily Caucasian. My college has a reputation for being very diverse and home to a large international student body, but I never found that in my own classes.

Now I realize that diversity and culture are everywhere around me, and rereading this has shown me that I do need to make an effort in the future to read more outside of my comfort zone. I need to read more Asian literature, as well as pieces from Africa and everywhere else that isn't close to what I call my own culture.

I guess I owe Tan for showing me what I am missing in bettering myself. But, in the meantime, I can enjoy and love what she does to show me what I am missing.

Tan does have a gift for capturing her culture and language in this novel. Through the voices of the seven main characters, I am appreciating their struggle and strife as part of a minority here. Here is an example:

"And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English...They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation," (31).

While I knew all that-the struggle and pain of seeming to lose culture from generation to generation, I never really experienced it. This made it more real for me, more tangible.

This is why I think Tan's novel is seen as a modern day classic. It captures the thoughts of a new wave of immigrants that are not MY forefathers. My ancestors came over around the turn of the 20th century, or maybe a little after. America as a cultural phenomenon was nothing like it is now. This novel, it captures the power of an American culture, and shows how those who live here and who do not follow that culture can appear to be isolated, and to forget the place where they came from.

I am not an expert on any kind of literature, and I do not know enough about diversity in literature to say anything more than my opinion on this, so bear that in mind. But I find we need more of this publicized for us to grab for. We are not all the same, and we should celebrate our differences in all aspects of our lives and literature is no different.

Anyway, I am sure I am rambling by this point, so I shall cut this stream off. But if you are looking for something to capture the feeling of trying to find a place to belong, I might steer you this direction. For me, it is worth the time and energy to read it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Fictional Couples.

Every Tuesday is Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, there is a topic and bloggers create their list of their "top ten!"

I am a big list maker, so I love this idea!

This week's topic is our top ten fictional couples from literature. I thought this was going to be easy for me, but I found I had a hard time narrowing it down to my top ten. Anyway, I persevered, so I hope you enjoy my list and consider joining in!

*I should note there might be slight spoilers for these if you haven't read them, but nothing that will ruin the book for you if you do.

1. Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. This is my favorite play and I love the banter between the two. Their witty arguments and conversations make the play, and distract us from Claudius and Hero, and their whining. :)

2. Penelope and Odysseus from Homer's The Odyssey. How could I leave these two off the list? I mean, we can brush aside that little part where Odysseus and Calypso have their thing and focus on the connection between these two. Penelope waited 20 years for Odysseus to come back to her, and Odysseus fought all kinds of monsters to be reunited with his love.

3. Etienne Lantier and Catherine in Emile Zola's Germinal. While they may not have the most beautiful and romantic relationship, it was still a relationship that grabbed my heart. The scenes near the end of the novel were so beautifully written....if you haven't read this book, you NEED to.

4. Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden from Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. This is another set of tragic characters who cannot find the courage to express their feelings for each other. Their relationship develops slowly, and painfully, until the ultimate tragic end.

5. Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara from Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. I can't believe it took me so long to read this novel, but I love their relationship! Constant strain, fighting, passion....what more could you ask for!

6. Anne and Frederick from Austen's Persuasion. I could just have easily put Elizabeth and Darcy here, but I am a bigger fan of the more mature and lasting relationship found in Austen's later work. I related to it far more than the P & P relationship! And that letter? Oh boy....

7. Gatsby and Daisy from Fitzgerald's The Great Gastby. While I wasn't a huge fan of this the first time I read it, as I have gotten older I have begun to appreciate the power of the green light and Gatsby's love for Daisy. The end of this novel captures that feeling of a lost love and what we do to try and attain someone.

8. Macy and Wes from Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever. My favorite Dessen novel, I have always felt that the relationship between these two characters was the most mature and realistic. The way they fall for each other is simple and heart-warming. It reminds me a lot of some of those early conversations I had with Matt when we began dating.

9. Beauty and the Beast in Robin McKinley's Beauty. The tale of Beauty and her Beast is one of my all-time favorites (and I am in love with the Disney movie). McKinley manages to take this classic tale and make it real. I love the connection between these two characters, and the growth they both show from beginning to end.

10. Jamie and Claire from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. The love story in this series is EPIC. The characters have such a deep and passionate love that I adore. And wouldn't adore Jamie? I remember reading this and telling Matt that if Jamie was real he would have some competition. :)

Book 56: Structure.

Reading The Joy Luck Club for the second time is a completely different experience than the first time. When I read it back in high school, my teacher altered the way in which we read the novel.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the novel, it follows four mothers and their daughters (although one of the mothers is dead at the beginning). There are four sections, each with four short chapters. Each character gets two of their own chapters to tell an overall story in the book.

Back in high school, we read the novel by characters. We would read the mother's two stories, followed by her daughter's. And so on and so forth. It made some kind of linear sense as we read it and it was probably easier for our tenth grade minds to understand.

This time, I am reading the novel straight through. It is different enough that I feel I am pulling more from the novel, but the stories are familiar. I know that one of the chapters/stories, "Rules of the Game" is taught in schools and is found in many of those heavy "literature" textbooks kids get in high school (I know, I taught the story!).

In reading this again, I find that I am thinking a lot about the structure of the novel. It has 16 different parts that equal one big whole. I wonder if Tan tried to write it from one point of view instead of 7, and if she believed that the only true way to tell this story was in the way she did.

I am wondering all of this as a writer myself. I have restarted pieces because it didn't sound right from one perspective. My current WIP was restarted three times to get the sound right and the structure in place so my character's story could be told.

It makes for interesting thinking-the structure of the stories we love so much. If you think about one of the biggest novels from this summer, Mockingjay, it is easy to change how we would ahve viewed it. The novel would have had a different tone and feel had the point of view come from one of the Gamemakers, or from a citizen of the Capitol. Would we have seen Katniss as a friend or foe?

We can take one of Austen's novels, Pride and Prejudice, and think about the structure there. Why did Austen tell it in such a way?

I am beginning to think that sometimes a story can only be told in one way, and it is the author's job to find that right structure for their novel. Perhaps that is why some novels fail, even with good ideas.

I remember thinking back in high school that Tan's novel was a stupid way to tell a story. I had a hard time putting together the pieces of these women's lives and making sense of it. But now, I can see why Tan's structure is so important to the whole. Each piece fits together in a way that a linear novel couldn't accomplish. We get insights about the struggles of being a different race in a white dominated America from more than one person. And together, they paint a picture of racial differences and prejudices I wouldn't have gotten from any other novel.

Yet again, I am amazed at how much more I can pull out of a book on a reread. Every book has value and insight, given that we read it at the right time.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weekly Wrap up for September 26, 2010: Not Much of Anything.

To be quite frank, I am in a big reading slump. I have completed a grand total of ONE book this month, and while I hope to finish more, I doubt it.

I'm STILL reading Villette by Charlotte Bronte and it looks like these last 140 pages are going to be my nemesis. It is not that I don't like it, I just find it hard to read in large amounts.

I also still have the massive Bleak House sitting on my nightstand and waiting for me.

I have goals of course. I want to finish Villette before the end of the month, as well as one other smallish novel that I am eying, but I am not going to sweat it. I have had quite a bit on my mind recently and I don't need to pressure myself. :)

Anyway, Matt and I are beginning to look for a new place to live. I am not thrilled with where we are. Matt's car has been broken into twice since living here. I personally don't feel like this is the best area for us. And, we just got some new neighbors who are pushing my buttons. On Friday night, they cranked up the worst accordion music in the world and had a fiesta of epic proportions. I asked them to turn it down, which they ignored, so I took matters into my own hands and pulled out the trumpet (I play in a community band). Needless to say, after hitting some high notes for 20 minutes, they got the point and turned the music off.

So, we are looking for a new place. We're trying to find something the same size, which is difficult. But we have a few options, and we're even looking at houses instead of just apartment complexes. I am sure that this is a process that will take up a great deal of time.

I hope to be back in a reading mood soon, but I still have posts for you. :) Happy Reading everyone!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Penguin 10 Essential Classics:

Last year, Penguin released their list of the Ten Essential Classics that everyone must read. It was a fun list and included some of my favorite classic novels.

Since its release, there has been some discussion about novels that needed to be included, so Penguin is asking for votes for the new Ten Essential Classics. Included with the vote is an opportunity to win a tote bag filled with the amazing Penguin editions of the ten new novels.

I already cast my vote, but I figured it would be best to pass along the opportunity to you all!

And in case you were wondering, here are the ten titles I selected (I should point out that I only chose titles I have read. I felt that was fair. That might explain why a certain Bronte title is missing...and some from Tolstoy). And these are in no particular order:

  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  • Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Good luck if you enter!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Treat #27: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

"You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything."

The reason I picked up this novel is as special to me as the story itself.

Two years ago (the first year I was out of school and looking for a full-time teaching job) found me answering a phone call the day before school started. I wound up at a school an hour north of my home as a long-term substitute for eight months. It was a great experience and I loved every minute of being there.

Besides teaching history, I was also responsible for a class called "Guided Academics" which was a study skills based class for the large at-risk population in the school. One of their requirements was to read for 20 minutes a day.

There was one girl in my class that I was almost scared of. She was prone to some violent reactions and I never knew when she would be in class. We argued when she was in class about the reading requirement. She continued to tell me that there were no books in the world that she could relate to, and there was nothing that I could suggest that would interest her. In desperation, I sent her down to the library and told her to come back with 3 books that might be interesting. I would read one with her if she did so.

She came back with 3, and Thirteen Reasons Why was one of them. I went and bought a copy to read with her, and together, we finished the book in class during silent reading time. After that, we seemed to get along and she tried a few others books I recommended (like The Perks of Being a Wallflower). It was one of the best teaching experiences I've had.

But the book itself? Marvelous. It's the story of a girl, Hannah, who committed suicide and left behind 13 tapes with the reasons why she did it. Clay finds the tapes and begins to listen....and learn what drove a normal teenage girl to kill herself.

It is a book that I struggled to put down. The power of Hannah's voice over the tapes haunted me. Her struggle with identity and coming to terms with life's difficulties was something that my teenage self could have related to. I also found that when she listed her thirteen reasons (in reality, 13 people) why she did what she did, it made me think of moments in my own life when I didn't reach out to someone else who needed help. The book was an eye-opener, and truly powerful. My student told me she loved it because it felt real and honest. That is all I could have hoped for as a teacher.

"A lot of you cared, just not enough. And that...that is what I needed to find out.

But I didn't know what you were going through, Hannah.

And I did find out.

The footsteps continue. Faster.

And I'm sorry.

The recorder clicks off."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book 56: The Joy Luck Club and Book Stats.

Title: The Joy Luck Club
Author: Amy Tan (1952-?)

First Published: 1989
My Edition: Ivy Books (seen at left)
Pages: 332

Other Works Include: The Kitchen God's Wife (1991), The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001), Saving Fish from Drowning (2005)

This is actually a re-read for me. I read this novel as a tenth grader for school. My teacher allowed the class to pick and vote for what we would read during the year, and this novel edged out Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I still have no idea why she let us do that, since we read a lot of things the other classes weren't...and we never read some of the big things we should have.

In any case, I really enjoyed this novel as a tenth grader. It was far more modern than a lot of the other things I had read in school. It can be argued that it maybe shouldn't be here, but it is hailed as a modern classic, so I am just going to accept that.

I haven't read any of Tan's other novels, although I have meant to. I think I have a copy of Saving Fish from Drowning somewhere, but I've never gotten around to it. In any case, I am looking forward to revisiting this novel and seeing what I can pull from it that my 15 year old self ignored.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Complete Sherlock Holmes: Finished.

Like I said in my introduction to Sherlock Holmes, I am reading through all four novels, and all fifty-six short stories starring the famous detective. Rather than just skip around and read what I am feeling at the moment, I felt it was a better idea to read the novels and stories in order of publication. That way I can get to know Holmes and Watson as they develop.

I am also going to point out one more time that while I am reading all NINE books featuring Holmes, they are only counting as ONE title on my overall list. See my introduction for clarification.

Completing all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels is one of the biggest accomplishments of this project so far. 56 short stories and 4 novels is a lot of material on a couple of characters. And while Doyle never gave me all the details and the full background on either Holmes or Watson, I have learned to regard these two men as close friends. I know them, and I know their stories. In a crisis situation, I would know who I could rely on, and who to turn to.

But learning about these two men was not all that I learned. I am sure that my own deduction skills have improved. :) I also learned a great deal about crime in the era that Holmes and Watson lived in. And while these stories didn't have all of the fancy equipment and lab items that you might see on CSI, they tricked me more times than I figured them out.

More than that, this series showed me that it is not just in our generation that characters became so well-loved and like. With our addictions to series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, the characters and terminology from those books lives on in our everyday chatter. I would argue that Sherlock Holmes has permeated even further. We all see the sign of a detective when we see his signature hat, his cloak, and the magnifying glass up to his eye. Those are the signs of a lasting impression of literature on the world. Personally, I would rather remember a dazzling and intelligent detective over a vampire who sparkles in the sunlight.

These stories have lasted and become such a part of our culture for a reason. Holmes is the ultimate detective-a man who lives by his own rules and seems to love no one (except maybe Watson). He works to prove his intelligence and to show that there can be an explanation for almost everything.

Sherlock Holmes will forever be a part of the literary canon. He is a figure and a character that we will always remember.

I think Doyle says it best. In the introduction to The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle says the following,

"I fear that Sherlock Holmes may become like one of those popular tenors who, having outlived their time, are still tempted to make repeated farewell bows to their indulgent audiences...His career has been a long one...It is a striking example of the patience and loyalty of the British public."

Yes, Holmes perhaps outlived his legacy, but Doyle would probably be surprised at how the public has held on to his character. I don't think Doyle ever could have dreamed that in 2009 there would be a movie made about the famous detective that he attempted to off, but had to bring back to life because of public demand.

That shows the power of literature and the effect it can have on those who cherish it.

In any case, I can finally cross off The Complete Sherlock Holmes from my list and move on. But I know I will be returning to these stories and novels in the future...many, many times.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The End of the Crazy...I Hope.

I apologize for being gone for the last week and a half. I thought it might be a longer break, but the crazy has subsided and I think I can go back to a functioning level in the blog world.

So, as for an explanation....things just got a little overwhelming. Most of my followers know the reasons why I started this blog in the first place. I have been done with school since 2008. I graduated with two bachelor's and a teaching certificate, but I have been searching for a job ever since. This whole thing started last summer when I had enough of not "being" anything. Rather than continue to sit around and wait for something good to happen, I created this whole project, and I have been in love with what I am doing ever since.

That doesn't mean that I am hunky dory and happy with how things are going. Truth be told, I am in almost the same position this September as I was last September....and that is really frustrating. I was pretty down last week, and I have been kicking myself a lot. There are a lot of questions in my head. Mainly, why am I not hire-able?

It has only been through some intense conversations with my mom and Matt (husband) that I am coming to realize that perhaps I am not meant to be teaching. Even though I think I want to teach and work with kids in that role, that might not be what I need to do. This has been a big realization for me, and I am slowly working towards accepting that.

I am slowly getting out of my depressed little hole and accepting that there are many other things positive in my life that need my focus. I like my blogging, and it has become a huge part of my life in the last year. I love reading. I love writing. I am accepting these things and taking steps towards making it all okay.

I feel I should also point out that all of this was also taking place while I was preparing for an interview. Last Monday I interviewed at a school and I feel in love with what the school was trying to accomplish. But I haven't heard anything yet. I am not sure what will happen.

When I do hear, I think I will be okay with it, whatever the answer.

I am coming to accept that sometimes things are out of my control. I cannot always focus on what is not going my way, and what I wish would happen. I can only accept what I can do, and what I can accomplish.

Think of this as my reaffirmation of what I am doing here. Never before have a I felt such a compulsion to keep chugging away, picking up classics off the shelf and sharing how I feel about them with you all. I started this with the intentions of learning from the greats, and letting these great authors be my teachers. I think I lost sight of that for awhile and what a truly life changing experience this has become.

I know that I gained a few new followers this week, thanks to a beautiful post from Amanda over at The Zen Leaf. I checked my e-mail on a whim on Monday, right after my interview, and it brought tears to my eyes. It was the kind of thing we need more of in this world, and I am so grateful to her for writing such wonderful things. I feel like I have a lot to live up to! ;)

For those of you who are new, I feel I should give you a little more info about myself. This will certainly help me as well, as I reembark on my odyssey (since I have read hardly anything the last two weeks).

My purpose in creating this blog was to read through a list of 250 classics. My original goal was to finish in 3 years, but I think at this point it is going to take me longer than that. We shall see.

I feel it is really important to point out that I post multiple posts for each book I read. For me, reading is more about the experience than the conclusion, so I write posts when the mood strikes me during my reading, and save them in Word. When it is time to post about the book, I set them up and schedule them to post during the week. This can cause confusion since I am always behind, but it is a format that works for me. You will always see a "Book Stats" post to kick off the new title, as well as a "Finished" post. In most cases, there is at least one other post about the book, but more often more. It is how I roll.

Originally I wasn't going to read anything BUT classics until the list was done, but I have made a few exceptions. In July I took a vacation and read some fun fantasy novels that have been on my shelf for a bit. In August I read Mockingjay, since I KNEW I would read spoilers somewhere before I could get to it. This last week I read Beauty by Robin McKinley as a comfort read, as well as many, many poems from Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

Moving forward, I am continuing on with my heavy classics reading. I have a few things on the nightstand that I am still progressing with. The first is to finish Villette by Charlotte Bronte, which is a glorious book, but I have been taking my time with it. I also need to catch up with Bleak House for Amanda's read-along. I really do hate Dickens, so this is a book that has been coming everywhere with me....but stays unopened.

I also signed up for the Banned Books Challenge, which may or may not be completed (it isn't a priority). I have some posts backlogged, which you will see this week and next.

Anyway, I'm back and ready to do some more reading. If you are new, please introduce yourself and leave a link to your blog so I can come visit!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Be Back Soon.

I wanted to let you know I will be off the blog-o-sphere for the next few days. I have some crazy going on at the moment that I need to take care of and blogging has to take a very far back burner until the crazy is addressed.

See you all soon.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sherlock Holmes: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.

Like I said in my introduction to Sherlock Holmes, I am reading through all four novels, and all fifty-six short stories starring the famous detective. Rather than just skip around and read what I am feeling at the moment, I felt it was a better idea to read the novels and stories in order of publication. That way I can get to know Holmes and Watson as they develop.

I am also going to point out one more time that while I am reading all NINE books featuring Holmes, they are only counting as ONE title on my overall list. See my introduction for clarification.

If it is even possible, I enjoyed the stories in this collection far more than those in the previous. And I really thought those were hard to top. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes is the last collection of Holmes stories ever published by Doyle, and bring the mastery of Holmes to a close. But more on that closing at a later date.

For now, I need to focus on what makes this final collection of 12 short stories just as good, and better, than the ones that came before.

In the beginning, the Holmes stories were clever and original, which is what made them popular. But as Doyle developed Holmes, and Watson, Holmes becomes this person that is larger than life. He shows that Holmes is not immune to anything, and even he can be stumped at times. And if there were a theme to any of the would be to never give up. Holmes always seems to know that the answers will come to him if he waits.

This is never more true than in these stories. There is one story I want to talk about from the start. Throughout the series, you always seem to perceive Holmes as a person with no real human connections. He never shows deep and loving devotion to another person, and always seems to interact with his friends at a great distance. In "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs," Watson is accidentally shot (not a spoiler...I promise). Holmes reaction made the entire series for me. He transformed in a single moment into a person, not just a detective. He feared for his friend and showed real love and care. I loved it.

Another story that I got a kick out of was "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," a tale about a woman accused of sucking blood from her baby's neck. It was one that was slightly creepy, but in the end, logical (as always for a Holmes story. The paranormal is never real). I enjoyed seeing an early vampire story....where the vampire does not glitter in the sun.

The best part of these last 12 stories is that they continued to showcase Holmes and Watson in the same light. Both characters age, but do it realistically. And Doyle stays true to who he created them to be back in the beginning. For a writer who never wanted to write another Holmes story, he continued to produce amazing little mysteries. These were just as deliciously written as the first.

Again, these were more violent. One story talked about hiding a live body in a coffin with a dead body, which was a little unnerving (and a nightmare of mine). I think Doyle's diversions into the morbid was based on fan requests, otherwise, why go there?

Anyway, I have a lot more to say about Doyle and the great detective in length, but that will wait for another post-when I can sit back and think more clearly about all 56 short stories, and the full 4 novels that I have been reading since April.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Villette....

This is sort of a random post, but I just need to ask you all some questions. Bear with me.

I am in the middle of reading Charlotte Bronte's Villette. It is the first thing I have ever read by this Bronte and I am enjoying it.

Well, more than enjoying. I am soaking up every word and loving it with all of my being. Perhaps it is because I see a lot of myself in Ms. Lucy Snowe (more on that in the future).

But, even while I am falling in love with it, it is taking me a great deal of time to read it. Perhaps it is my fear of it ending, or maybe it is because I am insane and just need to finish it already.

Anyway, what I would like to asked is if any of you have had this problem? I mean, loving a book as you read it, but not being able to just suck it up and finish it? Any words of advice??

And if you missed it, I made a post about the next installment of Sherlock Holmes short stories I read, so you need to read it too.

Happy Tuesday. :D

Sherlock Holmes: His Last Bow.

Like I said in my introduction to Sherlock Holmes, I am reading through all four novels, and all fifty-six short stories starring the famous detective. Rather than just skip around and read what I am feeling at the moment, I felt it was a better idea to read the novels and stories in order of publication. That way I can get to know Holmes and Watson as they develop.

I am also going to point out one more time that while I am reading all NINE books featuring Holmes, they are only counting as ONE title on my overall list. See my introduction for clarification.

I feel as though Sherlock Holmes and Watson are fast becoming some of my best and most intimate friends. In the eighth book in the vast collection of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, we, as the readers, are greeted with some phenomenal stories. His Last Bow contains some of my most favorite Holmes stories (that I have read so far), and continues to develop the famous detective's reputation for intelligence.

His Last Bow begins with a preface written by Dr. Watson that explains that Holmes has retired and is living a fairly normal life away from London. The collection of stories included in the volume contain many that were never before "released" to the public for various reasons. I love this little preface as a way of introduction to more stories about the dynamic duo. While you would think that not a lot of character development can happen in a single short story, by this point I had read nearly 40, plus four novels. Watson's little letter of introduction made my little heart warm.

This volume contains far fewer stories than any other, with only 8. But, like I said, it has more of my favorites.

Let's begin with "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box." In this story, a woman is sent a box with two human ears, freshly removed from their victims. She has no idea who they must belong to and is in a panic. Once again, Holmes steps in and solves the dilemma. One of the reasons I like this story so much is that it is a great example of human emotion. Holmes didn't have to solve so much of a complicated story, but the people involved in this story truly touched me.

I also loved "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans," which is about a missing set of plans for military equipment. Holmes gets to do a little breaking and entering and truly uses all of his sleuthing expertise to solve the case and clear an innocent man's name. I felt that this was one of the more interesting cases, given the political intrigue and mystique.

This collection also has "The Adventure of the Dying Detective," where Holmes is dying of a mysterious disease and will not let Watson near him. This is one of the cases that would never happen in modern times, given our extensive medical knowledge, but it was clever and interesting, and I loved Holmes ability to play a part, even on his "death-bed."

However, the crowning jewel in this collection is the story called "His Last Bow," the final outing of Sherlock and Holmes, set far later than any of the other stories. A major difference is that this story is not told from Holmes' or Watsons' perspective, but by some outside third party. It is set on the eve of World War I and definitely shows some of the patriotic sentiments of the time. It was moving and stirring. And I can imagine that at the time of its publication, it was bittersweet.

In all, this collection of short stories continued on the trend of more violent crime. I am sure that the novelty of having Holmes solve simple and non-violent crimes grew old rather quickly. We are all drawn to the ghastly side of human nature, and the crimes presented here for Holmes to solve display that need of the public.

But, Doyle does a supreme job of giving Holmes more depth and heart as the stories go on. I think Holmes would like us to think that he is a standoffish kind of man, who doesn't rely on anyone, but Holmes needs Watson and the public to love him to be the man that he is. I can see that coming through in these stories.

Again, I can only imagine how the public viewed "His Last Bow" as their last outing as a duo. For us, I can see it in the way we reacted to the last Harry Potter novel coming out. The end of Holmes and Watson as a team must have been heartbreaking for those who followed the pair from the beginning. And even though I still have one more volume to go (and this volume was published after "His Last Bow" was released), I know it will merely be more "recollections" from Watson.

I have been on a trip with Holmes and Watson, and I still have one more book, and 12 more stories to go until I get there and have to say goodbye for now.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book 54: Finished.

Well, Cooper is a tricky little man. I was all set to continue my hatred of him after reading that awful book, The Pioneers back in college. I mean, I went around and authoritatively said that I hated Cooper, based on that one horrid experience.

I guess I have to eat my words.

Its not that I loved The Last of the Mohicans because love is a strong word, and I would not compare how I felt about Zola's Germinal to this, but I rather liked Cooper's book.


I can't help it. A very large part of me had to give it up to Mr. Cooper. His novel accomplished quite a few things that some of our modern day writers can't. And even with its faults, I still came away rather liking it.

For one, I really do admire the character of Natty Bumppo. Now, I have heard that it is different in Hollywood's version, but in Cooper's work, Bumppo seems to portray a truly great Romantic hero. He is not chasing after the girls for his own gain, or pulling them from trouble to fulfill his heart's desire. Instead, he is sacrificing them for honor and for the simple fact that he doesn't want to see them fall into enemy hands and be harmed. There is no romantic entanglements between Bumppo and either girl. I like the he goes into battle risking his life for no other reason than to make another man (or men) happy. He does it because it is the right thing and not because he expects anything from it in the end.

THAT is what more modern writers need to learn. There are, in fact, good people who do things for others for the enjoyment and pleasure of bringing a smile to another's face. We are not all selfish beings who believe that we need to be "paid" in some way for doing a good deed. It is a moral and a belief that seems to have been disappearing....and I admired that Cooper portrayed a character that we can love wholeheartedly.

I also really loved Cora, the strong-willed and determined female. I was glad to see a strong female character in this work, since it is a rather early piece and well....most females are seen as simpering, whiny little things who constantly need protection from the men in their lives. And while Cora is rescued in a few parts, she has a lot of spirit and courage. Again, that made me admire Cooper.

Now, on the other hand, there was a whiny little girl named Alice who made me cringe. She needed looking after and portrayed that stereotypical image of a woman in distress. Unlike her sister Cora, she needed a strong man to save her. I found her to be rather annoying and I wasn't a fan of her romantic entanglements. In fact, I found them almost nauseating.

My other big issue was Cooper's interpretation and representation of the Native American tribes. I have to give him a little leeway, since we know far more about their traditions and beliefs than they did back then. We are far better educated and understanding of cultures other than our own, and Cooper's level of education on the matter really shows. It was hard, at points, to keep in mind that many, if not most of the people living in that time period, were frightened of the "savages" and didn't want to see them as human beings. It is just how it was and that shows in the novel.

That being said, I kept it in perspective and felt that given the time period, Cooper attempted to showcase them in a positive light. Whether it was a great job, well, I'll leave that up to you if you decide to read this.

In all, I thought that The Last of the Mohicans was wordy, long, and confusing, but it really pulled at a deep part of me. I can't say exactly why, but I feel as though I understand Cooper and where he was coming from in writing his Leatherstocking Tales. He truly wanted to capture the excitement and danger of young America in the wilderness. Perhaps in the future I will continue my journey with Natty Bumppo.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book 54: On Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses.

Back when I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, I mentioned an essay Twain wrote about Mr. Cooper. The essay is called "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" and it is one of the most brilliant things I have ever read. I get the feeling that Cooper is to Twain what Dickens is to me (perhaps I need to write my own "offenses" about Mr. Dickens).

Anyway, in the essay Twain rips apart Cooper's writing, in much the same way I criticize Dickens. But he does it with great humor....and I laugh, a lot. Here is one of my favorite passages:

"Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series."

Okay, I tried to just pick my favorite line, but couldn't, so you get the whole paragraph. The point that I am trying to make is that even these revered authors find fault in their peers. I love that, and I love that Twain rips Cooper a new one.

Anyway, back when I read my first Cooper novel, The Pioneers, back in college, my professor had us read this essay. A good friend of mine, Vicky, was also a huge Twain fan and has glorified this essay. And since I really did NOT enjoy The Pioneers, I assumed I would hate The Last of the Mohicans. After all, it is written by the same guy, and has some of the same characters. Not to mention, I LOVE Mark Twain, and how could he be wrong???

Well...I actually kind of like The Last of the Mohicans. I mean, it certainly has its problems. Alice is a whiny sort of girl that I find myself getting annoyed with. If we were stuck together in the woods I would be very reluctant to help out such a helpless and whiny person. I also have a hard time following who is talking and what they are trying to say at points. I think Cooper is trying to give the impression that Natty Bumppo is all-knowing and wise in his speech, but I find him confusing and long-winded. I also have some problems with the way all of the Native American peoples are portrayed, but that is a result of the time in which this was written. I can deal with that. My biggest peeve, however, is how Cooper will make a few chapters super exciting, and then NOTHING happens, and then something BIG happens and I keep flipping to find that eventually, nothing will happen again.

But even with all of that, I still like it. Granted, I'm not done yet, but this is a far more pleasant experience than I was expecting! I think this just reaffirms my belief that you have to give an author a fair chance before dismissing them (but I might be speaking too soon). Only time will tell.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Banned Books Reading Challenge 2010.

I am not one to sign up for a lot of challenges. I mean, my personal project is ENOUGH of a challenge some days, but the Banned Book Challenge is something very important to me. Steph, at Steph Su Reads, is hosting the challenge.

The goals of the challenge are simple:
  • To bring attention to books that have been challenged or banned
  • To support authors whose freedom of expression have been questioned or challenged by buying and reading their books
  • To increase awareness of censorship
And since some people don't realize that many, MANY classics have been challenged and banned in the past, I figured it was my duty to participate and read some of those banned and challenged books. I used this list from the ALA to reference my list and I encourage you to check their site for more information.

Between September 1 and October 15, I am planning on reading at least SIX novels from the following list (I am hoping for ten, but we'll see):
  1. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  6. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  8. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  9. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  10. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  11. Native Son by Richard Wright
  12. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
I hope you plan on joining in!

Thursday Treat #26: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

I discovered Diana Wynne Jones when I was in high school. At the time, there really wasn't a huge YA section in the book store, so choices were pretty limited. Nowadays, YA is booming and it takes up far more space than it used to.

I sometimes had a hard time finding something wonderful in the YA section at the time, which is why I turned to a lot of adult fantasy and science fiction. But one day my eyes caught on the collection of work by Jones, and I began picking up titles off the shelf. I believe, that on that day, I picked up not only Howl's Moving Castle, but also the first two books in The Dalemark Quartet, and some of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci. I ended up loving them all and went back for more.

Howl's Moving Castle, however, is fantastic. It has been a bit since I have read it, but I reminded of how wonderful it is because of the film. The glorious Miyazaki had a hand in directing it (other films include "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke") and I loved every minute of it, even if it was different than the book.

Sophie is a girl who believes that she is unattractive and plain. She worked in a hat shop until the Witch of the Waste came in to purchase a hat. Unhappy with her service, the witch turned Sophie into an old woman. Sophie leaves and finds her way out to where the wizard Howl has his castle. In a series of events, Sophie moves into the castle and finds her way as a part of Howl's craziness.

During all of this, Sophie has to learn how to overturn her own well as fix Howl and the others living in the castle.

The first time I read this, I fell in love. I mean, it had all the elements I loved in a fantasy-originality, a wizard, a fire demon who is pretty funny, and a little romance. It was a story that was perfect for my age and one that I cherish. I am so glad I read it when I did, and that I discovered Jones at a young age. I had the opportunity to love her and cherish her as a young adult. I think that had I read this when I was older, I just wouldn't have loved it the same way.

I will say that I also loved the film, even with the story being slightly different. It was similar enough to the book in the right ways that I could love it as well. The beautiful animation and soundtrack didn't hurt either. They made a beautiful story pop from the screen.

This is probably one of those novels that solidified my love for the gentler tones of YA fantasy and science fiction, and one that reminds me that when I can, I am going to return to that world.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book 54: The Last of the Mohicans and Book Stats.

Title: The Last of the Mohicans
Author: James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)

First Published: 1826
My Edition: Bantam Classic (seen at left)
Pages: 410

Other Works Include: The Spy (1821), The Pioneers (1823), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), The Deerslayer (1841)

My only previous experience with Cooper was in college. In the same class where I was required to read Dicken's Hard Times, we also had to read The Pioneers, which I absolutely hated. I thought it was boring compared to some of the other things we were reading and I hated every moment of it.

But one of my best friends at work, Kyla, absolutely adores this novel. She says it is one of her all-time favorites. We usually share taste in books, so I am going to give this an honest try. I have never seen the movie (which she says is incredibly different anyway), so I will be approaching this with no expectations.

And, if it is complete hell, this is the only Cooper title on the list.

I feel I should also point out that this is one of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, which feature the character Natty Bumppo. The Pioneers is actually the first, but I barely remember Bumppo anyway. :)