Monday, January 31, 2011

Book 73: Romeo and Juliet and Book Stats.

Title: Romeo and Juliet
Author: William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Written: Between 1591 and 1595ish.
Published: They believe the first copy was in the First Folio in 1597
My Edition: Barnes and Noble Shakespeare (Seen at left)
Pages: 370

Other Works Include: 35 other plays, a slew of sonnets, and some other short pieces.

Like many, my first experience with Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet in high school. I was in ninth grade and like every other ninth grade girl, I thought it was "the most romantic thing like ever." *sigh*

The newer version of the movie had come out just a couple years before then (you know, the one with Leo?) and I remember being absolutely enthralled with it. I also think that was because of the cuteness of Leo back then, but at least it was Shakespeare, right?

Now that I am older, I have a very different perception of this play. Overall, it is probably one of my least favorites. It does have one of my favorite Shakespearian characters, Mercutio, and is probably the one play I understand the best. But, I think that many of the other plays FAR outweigh this one in power and downright awesomeness.

Perhaps I am also a bit jaded since this is the only play I have taught. And yes, I taught it to ninth graders (while I was student teaching). There are so many other choices for plays to be taught in schools, so perhaps I am just bitter that this is sometimes the only exposure kids have to the wonders of Shakespeare.

In any case, I am looking forward to a quick reread. Like I said, I am very familiar with this play, so I am hoping to pick out some of the fun bits in this one, particularly all the dirty jokes and clever wordplay. :)

This is the 5th Shakespeare play I am reading for my project out of the 16 I have listed. The others I have read were books #4: Much Ado About Nothing, #19: The Winter's Tale, # 36: Macbeth, and #58, The Tempest (we read this in August 2010 for a readalong hosted here). You can click on the "Finished Books" link at the top of my blog to see these titles and my favorite post for each.

I am also reading this title to fulfill a requirement for my Shakespeare Reading Challenge!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for January 30, 2011: Library Book Sales, New Acquisitions, and Reading.

This last week was finals week as the kids finished their first semester and took their final exams. I get all new kids next Tuesday and I am excited to start fresh and implement some of my own ideas into the classroom. Right away I will be teaching The Glass Castle to my seniors and instructing them on how to write their own mini-memoirs. My sophomore American Literature students will be diving into Of Mice and Men, a book I am not a fan of. I will have a big challenge in front of me to make sure that I can teach it in a way that I end up loving it as well!

My two U.S. History classes will start learning about WWII, so that should be a fun few weeks. I have a lot of interactive activities planned, including a few webquests. Hopefully it all turns out well!

Besides being stressed out about grading essays, I also had some fun moments this week. My library was having their used book sale, so I made sure to set aside time on the first day to head over there. It was packed, as usual, but there were a lot of great things! I managed to walk away with a quite a few new additions to my shelves. I'm apologizing in advance for picture quality. I was fighting the kitties who wanted to attack and eat my new books as well as explaining to the husband where all these came from. :)

This first stack from top to bottom contains the following:

Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne Du Maurier: Since I adored Rebecca, I had to snatch up this collection of short stories as soon as I saw it.

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse: I have this one on my list and just haven't gotten my hands on it. It has a glorious cover and was in great condition, so it was a good find!

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian: A fellow teacher had this with her at lunch and the premise sounded interesting, so I grabbed it for a future read.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: This is one I have heard great things about. I'm a little annoyed with the amount of tape all over the book, but hey, it was $1!

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera: I have another title by the same author on my shelf (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), so this gets to join it (it was an impulse buy)

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt: I was certain I didn't have this and since the book looked brand new, I bought it. Then I came home and realized I already owned it...anyone want it? I'll ship it to you if you live in the U.S.!

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope: This was another book that looked brand new and since its a classic, it needed a home on my classics bookshelf.

Howards End by E.M. Forster: I read A Room with a View as my 3rd book off my list and loved it, so hopefully this one is as good!

This second stack from top to bottom contains the following:

Three Comedies by W. Somerset Maugham: Since reading The Painted Veil and loving it, I decided to start collecting other pieces by Maugham. This has three of his plays.

The Social Contract by Rousseau: A philosophical piece I once read in college for a history class. I lost my copy and have been looking for one ever since. I really enjoyed it, so I hope to read this again (eventually).

Evangeline by Longfellow: This is another piece I read in college and really enjoyed. This was a cute little edition, so I had to have it.

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch: Yet another book that just called to me. I seem to recall reading a review of it recently, so I picked it up and shoved it in the bag.

Four Major Plays by Henrik Ibsen: This was a pretty Oxford Edition (which I do love) and contains a couple of the plays on my list, including A Doll's House, which is being read for A Year of Feminist Classics in March.

So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba: I have seen reviews for this pop up everywhere, so when I saw it, I grabbed it and clutched it close (I also scared a little old lady in the process). I may have squealed as I grabbed it. Apparently it is hard to find??

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy: This is actually a title I cut off my original list. Now that I have a copy, I want to read it....but we'll see.

The Prince by Machiavelli: Yet another book off my list, and a pretty Oxford classic!

This third and final stack contains the following from top to bottom:

The Best American Short Stories 2005, 2002, and 1998: I am going to try and make a point of reading more short fiction, so when I saw these I picked them up. Flipping through them, I can tell that only a few stories will appeal to me, so I am glad I didn't buy these at a regular book store.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I have been intrigued by this one since seeing it in the bookstore years ago, so I was happy to find a nice copy.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: A long-time goal is to read all the Pulitzer Prize winning novels, so this is a step towards that goal.

The Reader by Bernard Schlink: I grabbed this thinking I didn't already own it. But I do. So if you say the word and live in the U.S., I'll mail it to you. :)

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud: This was another impulse buy.

Quite the loot, huh? I actually restrained myself this time, mainly because we are running out of room. :) But I saw people walking out with bags of books, so I was quite tame.

The first time I went a year ago, I didn't check the books for writing on the inside before I bought them and regretted that when I got home and looked at the more closely. Now I always check to see the inside condition as well. Do you have requirements for buying used books?

Even with finals and grading, I still had a decent week reading. I read A Raisin in the Sun for my pseudo buddy review with Amanda, a large chunk of Oliver Twist in preparation for the upcoming readalong, and more of War and Peace for the post going up tomorrow morning (although, at the time of writing this, I am behind and don't know if I can finish volume 2 in time for the post tomorrow!).

This week I need to make a lot of progress reading War and Peace, as well as reading the first three chapters of Ulysses for that readalong. Yeah, I'm a little nuts.

I also want to start something fun to alleviate all that heavy reading...any ideas?

Lastly, I want to point you in the direction of three excellent posts (that all went up on Friday) that I think you all need to read. I know that all three of them got me thinking about my reading process and how I view reading:
  1. Jillian from A Room of One's Own: Are we crazy to be reading so fast?
  2. Jaime from The Broke and The Bookish: To read or not to reread?
  3. Darlyn from Your Move, Dickens: "That the world may know he loved me once..."

Hope you have a great reading week!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oliver Twist Readalong UPDATE.

I am hoping that those of you who are participating in the Oliver Twist Readalong see this message.

Apparently I am an idiot and messed up the dates on the original sign-up post. When I was trying to figure out the specific dates for posting on each section, I was looking at two different calendars for for 2011 and one for 2010.

Zoe brought it to my attention that the dates and the days didn't match up.

With all that being said, I went back and changed the dates of the posts. Remember, we are doing three posts since there are three "books" in this novel. Here are the dates:
  • Post 1 will go up on February 8th (Tuesday) and will cover Book 1 (roughly 180 pages-the longest section)
  • Post 2 will go up on February 17th (Thursday) and will cover Book 2 (roughly 120 pages)
  • Post 3 will go up on February 28th (Monday) and will cover Book 3 (roughly 140 pages)
The dates have also been changed on the original post and for those of you who are still interested in joining us, you can sign up there.

I have also heard from a couple participants that their editions don't have the divisions of books. The first book has 22 chapters, the second has 14, and the third has 15. I hope that helps!

Please pass the word along to any people you know are participating.

Thanks for understanding my error!

Book 70: Finished.

The first time I read this as a 17 year-old high school student, I knew I loved it. I don't know why I was so in love, since I certainly didn't have enough life experience to fully understand the heavy weight of this little novel.

And on subsequent rereads, I still don't think I fully understand every little nuance in language, or relate to the emotions that Edna has towards her children and life. I am not in her situation. I cannot understand what it must feel like to be sweltering under the weight of things that you don't want.

I don't have the trapped feeling my own marriage. I don't know what it would be like to feel that way. Perhaps I am lucky.

My husband understands who I am, what I enjoy, and who I want to become. He allows me the freedom to be the person I want. He doesn't hold me back, or expect me to be something else.

Edna is in a relationship like that. While her husband seems to care about her, he doesn't understand her. Instead, he holds her to the image of what she should be. When she begins to rebel against that image, he freaks out. Who wouldn't be a tad upset with their spouse if they stopped doing the things they had done for so long?

Of course, this novel was published in 1899, so the relationships between men and women, husbands and wives were held to different standards. Women were expected to marry, have babies, and take care of the household. It was never really accepted for a woman to do what she wished with her own time, to cultivate deep passions for things that were not her husband or children.

But that is what Edna so desires in this novel. And she begins to pull away, to "wake" the person inside her who has been pushed down for so long. She longer wants to see herself as a mother or a wife, but as a person.

That is a powerful realization. To know that you have been suppressing the deepest and more central part of yourself, for fear of it not being understood. And to finally release that person into an environment where everyone sees you as something else...well, that is bound to cause ripples.

But this is what happens to Edna in The Awakening. She begins to pull away from the woman she once was, define her independence, and come to the realization of what that means.

It is no wonder that this book was controversial upon its publication. A strong woman making her own choices, and being seen sexually, was too much for audiences in 1899. Now, some may read it and wonder why she didn't leave sooner.

In many ways, I am grateful for where society is now-that I am allowed to make my own decisions and follow my passions because they make me happy. I don't have to be something that will make me miserable. If I want to leave the home and work, I can. If Matt wants to stay home with the kids, he can. It may raise eyebrows, but it is never as shocking as it once could have been.

I know that as I age, have kids, have more responsibilities, that The Awakening will be something I often return to. It is a book with choice, with possibilities, and alternate meanings. Like so many other classics, I know I will pull more from it in each and every read of it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

Of the four books I am possibly teaching this semester (depends on when she comes back from maternity leave), Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is the only one I hadn't read. So when I saw that Amanda at The Zen Leaf was reading it this week, I knew I had to join in. It was a good excuse and a great way to take the pressure off that inevitable situation of reading it a day before teaching it.

Amanda and I decided to do a pseudo-buddy review. We're both putting up posts about the play today, so I hope you head over to her marvelous blog as well to see what she pulled from the play as well.

For those of you unfamiliar with this title, it is a play that is set in the late 1950s/early 1960s (it was first performed in 1959 on Broadway). The focus is a poor black family living on the south side of Chicago. Every scene is done within the confines of their living space. Mama Younger, the matriarch, lives there along with her two adult children, Walter and Beneatha, Walter's wife Ruth, and Travis, the child of Walter and Ruth. Together, they struggle to make ends meet.

Walter is a driver for a wealthier white family and when he is home, he is always trying to come up with ways to earn money. His love affair with money really drives his character. Like many people in his generation, there was an intense fear of being poor, and of going back to the ugliness and despair of the Great Depression. I am sure, that as a minority, that pressure was even stronger.

His sister, Beneatha, is a character that both Amanda and I struggled to understand. She is significantly younger than her brother and goes to college. Where the other three adult members of her family are working and struggling, it seems as if Beneatha just gets to follow her dreams of becoming a doctor, without consequences. During the course of the play, we see her interact with men and struggled to find her identity as a poor black woman in America.

Ruth and Mama were two women I truly sympathized with. Together, they seem to run the family. Mama is trying to hold her family firm to her beliefs as they wait for her late husband's insurance check to come in. She really is the epitome of a strong, family oriented female character. She wants what is best for her family and when the insurance check does come in, she is torn about what the right decision will be. Should she buy a house for her family? Put away money for the education of Beneatha and Travis? Give in to Walter's whims and let him invest it in a scheme?

(I won't tell you what happens because I think all of you need to read this. It is a very short, easy read; I read it in just over an hour. And unlike many plays, it is very straightforward. Go get it.)

It is this theme of living in America that really drives the play and makes me so excited to teach it. I will be teaching this to sophomores in their American Literature course. This is the last big piece we're reading before they begin their research projects and I cannot wait to dive in. The historical context around the play is what makes this so significant. I only hope that we get as far in U.S. History by the time we read this so that the students can begin to make the connections.

One of the things I am most looking forward to discussing in class is something I talked with Amanda about. We were discussing how the family, Mama in particular, seem to be full of pride and refuse charity. This sparked a discussion about how before the Great Depression, Americans didn't believe in government programs or "hand-outs." It was still a strong belief that you took care of your family and it was your responsibility to support yourself.

I just finished teaching the Great Depression/New Deal era and my students struggled to understand why there was resentment against governmental assistance programs. Today, there are all kinds of programs for struggling families to turn to when they are in need (remnants of those old New Deal programs and new versions). It is not as looked down upon as it once was. In my discussion with Amanda, we talked about this, and how for some, it all comes down to a matter of pride.

The Younger family is proud, but chances are, a lot of opportunities for assistance weren't there. This was before the Civil Rights Movement and the changes that occurred throughout the 1960s. I can't wait to talk this over with my upper-middle class students to see what they think.

There are other issues that come up as well that also develop in the 1960s and 1970s that will also offer great discussion. This little play packs a powerful punch that will be just the thing to jump start discussions in my English classes. I am glad that I read it now, to mull it over and plan a few things to get my students thinking about these deeper issues of identity and pride.

And again, for those of you who haven't read this one, I highly suggest you do!

Don't forget to check out Amanda's post as well!

The Woman in White Readalong: Post 2.

Welcome to the second post (of two) for Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White readalong hosted here at A Literary Odyssey. If you missed the first posts over the first half of the book a couple weeks ago, you can go here to read my thoughts, as well as seeing links to the other participants' posts.

Now, can I gush about this book without anyone being offended? Because if you're going to get offended by my fan-girldom, you should probably just not read this.

I am kind of in love with this book. At first I wasn't so sure where Collins was going and what the point of all the mystery was, but as the novel went further in, the narrators changed, and the story progress, I found myself to be a part of this novel.

I think it all comes back to the way that Collins approached the telling of the tale. By having different narrators giving us the pieces of the story, we felt we were closer to the action. Not once were we really away from what was happening, as can often occur in a novel with one voice telling us the story. It also allowed us to become closer to certain characters. My favorite was by far Marian Halcombe. I loved her kick butt, take no prisoner attitude in the entire book, as well as the way she took care of Laura. Laura grew on me, but I still think Hartwright picked the wrong girl.

By far, however, was the power of the mystery and the unfolding of the clues. That is what kept me hooked to the story and the progression of events. As Hartwright begins to put together the pieces of how Laura was trapped, I found myself trying not to count how many pages were left until I got my answer to the mystery. THAT is wonderful storytelling.

I also love that Sir Percival, while an evil mean little man, came no where close to the villainy and corruption that was embodied in Count Fosco. What an evil, evil man. The pages of his "confession" thrilled and disturbed me. His flippant manner towards his scheme and desires to get his hands on Laura's money were incredibly disturbing. And his obsession with Marian bothered me like no other.

By the end of the novel, I was as drained as the characters by the ordeal they endured. I cannot imagine that horrors of having your identity stolen in that time period. I am grateful for our level of technology now that situations like this can be fixed in a much easier way!

But Collins surely is a mastermind. It is hard to believe that he was a contemporary of Dickens! After reading Bleak House in the fall, this novel felt like it read so much quicker and smoother (yes it was a little shorter), but they were written around the same time period. I think I much prefer Collins and look forward to reading more of his work in the future (I hope you think so too!)

If you participated and posted on this second half, please leave a link here so I can link to your post for others' to read. I also want to remind you that if you completed the readalong, I need your e-mail so I can discuss a special "prize" for participating!


Rebecca Readalong Post 2: Chapters 16-27.

Two weeks ago the participants in my Rebecca Readalong posted their thoughts over the first half of this remarkable novel. And after a slow first couple chapters, I was hooked on this gloomy, mysterious, and creepy novel. So hooked, in fact, that I finished the last half of this book in one sitting (and that was on January 2, if that tells you anything).

This book awed me. I shut it and immediately wanted to begin again. Du Maurier succeeds in crafting a tale that haunted me from the moment I began reading. She does it in a way that strings it along ever so carefully. You wander with the narrator in search of answers to questions you didn't even know you had to begin with.

In the first half, we watched as our narrator came to Manderley and suffered through the first few days in terror. She was young, naive and scared that she would never live up to image of Rebecca. In every place she turned, she sensed the ghost of her husband's deceased first wife;

"She was in the house still as Mrs. Danvers said, she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall. Even in the little flower-room, where her macintosh still hung. And in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage on the beach. her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs. The servants obeyed her orders still, the food we ate was the food she liked. Her favorite flowers filled the rooms. Her clothes were in the wardrobes in her room, her brushes were on the table, her shoes beneath the chair, her nightdress on the bed. Rebecca was still mistress of Manderley. Rebecca was still Mrs. de Winter," (233).

We can only watch as disaster seems imminent, that Rebecca will win and our narrator will leave Manderley in shame. And as events unfolded, all I could do was keep reading. Our narrator begins to grow up and mature before our eyes as the depths of the mystery of Rebecca continue to unfold. her change might even be more fascinating than the events that take place, as she finds within her the strength to confront what is being thrown her way.

Don't worry, I won't give away what happens, or the powerful ending that took my breath away.

I give myself credit for figuring out plot twists and turns well in advance, but Du Maurier crafted this so well that I never saw it coming. The final blow hit and I gasped. And that was it.

I am still thinking about this novel, days after I set it aside. I can tell that it is a novel that will continue to haunt me. I will think about it until I read it again. And I know that I will read more by this suspense genius. This was a beautiful introduction into the long fiction of Du Maurier (I have read and taught "The Birds" before). I cannot wait to read more of her work in the future, and I hope you do too!

For those of you who participated in the readalong, leave a link here so I can get your post up for us to come visit and comment! For those of you who have read Rebecca, what did you think of this novel? Did it grab you as much as it did me?

Lit Addicted Brit
Katy F.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

College English Classes: Post 2-Literature from 1660-1800.

Last week, I started a new, short series of posts focusing on the reading lists for my college English classes at Michigan State. This whole idea began with a conversation I had with Eva on Twitter. In my first post, I talked about the first English class I took as an English major when I was in my second semester at school.

Going into my sophomore year, I had to take a few prerequisites as well as a few other "fun" English classes to get to my credit limit. One of the basic requirements was taking 3 of the 5 offered "310" classes. Each one of the 5 classes focused on a certain time limit and would cover a broad span of literature. The first one, 310A, was focused on all literature before 1660. Since my Intro to English class covered a lot of Ancient Greek pieces, I decided that 310A was not for me, and enrolled in 310B.

For some reason when I enrolled, there was only one section. There were multiple sections for the other class options, but one, lowly little time period for this class. But, I thought the time period sounded interesting and since I had to take three of the classes anyway, I figured this was the one for me!


It turns out that like my professor for my Intro class, the professor for this class also had a nasty reputation. He was the second lowest in the ratings on the MSU teacher ranking site...second only to my Intro teacher. I had awesome luck, didn't I? His name was also scary-Professor Arch.

That first day of class, I was absolutely petrified. He was a tall skinny man with a hook-shaped nose. He stalked up and down the classroom while he talked and stared at everyone so intently. I was flipping out. When we went over the book list, he kept listing books he kept off the list since he had read them with his last class. I can remember those titles (they're written on my syllabus).
  • Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
  • Paradise Lost by Milton
  • Tom Jones by Fielding
And I remember him saying, "Not to worry!" since we were going to read "fun" things too.

Buying books for his class also freaked me out. Many were big and heavy. And scary. And while I was an English major and had read a few classics, I hadn't even heard of most of the people we were reading. And at the time, I had no interest in reading them either.

We started off the semester reading Benjamin Franklin's 1726 Journal (focused on his trip to America), followed closely by his autobiography. Professor Arch was in love with Benjamin Franklin and taught both pieces every semester to this class without fail.

He even brought in his Benjamin Franklin action figure and acted out scenes with it.

I am not kidding.

After Franklin, we read through Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and A Modest Proposal. Both were my first exposure to satire, but I rather liked them.

We moved on to Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man." I honestly don't remember much about it, but I did find the paper I had to write on it. It is awful. No, I won't share any of it.

The longest part of the semester was focused on Samuel Johnson. The book we had of his work was the Oxford edition (still have mine) and contained all of his major works. We read some of his poetry, but focused on the periodicals he wrote, "The Rambler" and "The Idler." We also read Rasselas, his novel.

The only person Professor Arch loved more than Ben Franklin was Samuel Johnson, let me tell you.

After Johnson came Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry. It was the hardest thing I ever read and I still don't think I understand it.

We also read Immanuel Kant's "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" That is another piece that I can hardly remember! Perhaps it is time for a reread!

The last author we read was Eliza Haywood, and she was probably my favorite. We read Fantomina and Love Letters on All Occasions. She was a saucy writer for her day and I absolutely adored the material we read. She is definitely an author I want to return to.

The last couple weeks of class were spent discussing and presenting topics of interest in the time period to the class. My group's topic was archeology and we rocked our presentation (I found my power point on my computer-so glad I have better power point skills now).

At the time I took the class, I thought that Professor Arch was too hard and difficult. I struggled through his class and the readings. He gave pop quizzes and asked what I thought to be stupid and unimportant questions. I remember how the class reacted when the first question on the first quiz was, "What year was this published?" We all sat there thinking, "Can this guy be serious?" I know better now.

Quite honestly, I didn't have any interest in the material we were talking about in that class. I thought it was too much, but I plunged onward and kept trying. Looking back, I can remember some of the things very fondly. I still regard Swift as a favorite, and the things I learned about him this class helped me teach my seniors satire the last month. I also remember loving Eliza Haywood to the point where I read a few of her other pieces in the book we had that were not assigned.

I also remember rather liking Professor Arch through his scary exterior. He was simply a man who was very passionate about what he taught and the material. At times, he was even funny. He liked to pick on himself for being a nerd and always encouraged us to show our true nerdy selves.

But most of all, I owe Professor Arch for teaching me that learning about literature is not just dissecting the piece in front of you. It is about understanding the historical and culture context of each piece of writing. Knowing those things can help you dissect it. And, as you move forward in time, you can understand and appreciate the gains made based on what came before. I wish I would have realized the importance of this back then. I think my experience in that class would have been far better had I known how important that was. It took me a long time on my own to figure that out-and now this time period and some pieces from it are on my own project list, waiting to be loved. I wish I could take his class again, now, and see how much I gain this time. I bet you it is still a lot!

I'll leave you with some wisdom he said in one of our class periods (this is written at the top of one of my pages of notes and starred);

"Benjamin Franklin had high hopes for humanity. Remember, at all times, to make dear Benny proud."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Starting a Book Club. *EDITED*

I don't know about you guys, but I have a hard time finding people to chat books with in real life (not that you aren't real). It is not that I don't know people who read, but there is no one who loves and reads books the way I do. I eat them up and must always have my nose stuck in one. So when I find a friend who loves to read, I scare them with my passion.

It may also be the fact that I am currently in the midst of this insanity. I think some of my friends are surprised that I have stuck with this project for so long (and let me tell you, I am NOT giving up). I mean, who reads just classics? (the correct answer would be me).

Anyway, I have had this obsession with finding a book club in the area. I looked on Craigslist and found nothing interesting. I searched my library's site but that was no so helpful. My only option was to put my feelers out and see if anyone I know was interested in reading some books and talking to me about them.

Here is my problem, however. Since I have never been a member of a book club, and neither has anyone else I invited to join, I don't know what I am doing. I get the general idea that we somehow agree on what to read and someone hosts. But what are the particulars?

I am hosting the first meeting and already have an idea for the book to read (I want to pick The Glass Castle since I need to reread it to teach it, and I thought it would be a good place to start). I am just going to schedule the day and we'll have at it then, but I was hoping that those of you who have had experience in such things could offer advice and answer my annoying questions:
  • How do you choose books? How far in advance do you choose them?
  • How many members is too many?
  • Can I make a rule to ban boys from joining? :)
  • What do you do if certain members of your group refuse to read certain things? (there is a girl who wants to join but told me she won't read anything "hard")
  • Does the same person host each time? Or do you go elsewhere to chit chat?
  • Do you come up with discussion questions ahead of time?
  • Does someone "lead" the talking?
  • Am I going to annoy everyone because I am going to want to teach them?
  • Anything else I should know?
I'm sure I sound like an idiot, but I would very much like this endeavor to be a success so I can have another outlet for my reading and all these crazy thoughts in my head. Anything you have to say would be helpful!

Thank you!


Based on some of the comments, I felt like I needed to explain a couple questions above. I don't want anyone to be offended by my joking manner, since jokes don't always carry weight over the internet.

I meant no insult in my third question by asking about not allowing boys. What I truly meant was whether your book clubs are solely female and if that works? I asked because the members I invited were all girls and one guy asked about it. I was unsure of a response and wanted some insight. I like the idea of an all-female club, which is why I asked it in that way.

Again, I didn't mean to offend anyone (thus the ridiculous smiley face). I hope you all understand it was said in jest and was not a serious question. I would never ban anyone from joining in and reading with me!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book 70: The Awakening and Book Stats.

Title: The Awakening
Author: Kate Chopin (1850-1904)

First Published: 1899
My Edition: Avon Books by Harper Collins (Seen at left)
Pages: 190

Other Works Include: At Fault (1890), Short Stories: "Désirée's Baby," A Respectable Woman," "Madame Célestin's Divorce," and others.

I first read Chopin's The Awakening as a senior in high school for the famed AP Literature class. This was one of the books I chose to read on my own for our monthly essays. When I first picked it out, I really had no idea what it was about, but I knew it was short. I needed short since I read the novel two days before my paper was due.

I ended up loving the book. And while I didn't relate to it entirely, I certainly loved it. It spoke to me. So, I have read it numerous times since then. It was a required book in one of my college English classes, and I have read it on my own a couple of other times. It is a story I am very familiar with and have a special fondess for.

But saying all that, I have only read one other thing by Chopin, and that's her story, "A Respectable Woman." I need to make sure to read more by her in the future!

Have you read this title? What did you think?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book 69: Finished.

"There is only one way to win hearts and that is to make oneself like unto those of whom one would be loved," (179).

I don't know if I can write my final thoughts on a book that has so deeply moved my emotions. I shall try, but I am not making any promises that this post won't be fully of gushing fan-girldom, or mild spoilers (nothing that will ruin the book for you, but I will say a few key plot points that happen within the first 100 pages).

I left off in my first post by saying that after Walter discovered Kitty's affair, he accepted a position working in the middle of the cholera epidemic to treat the illness' victims. Kitty had been an opportunity to go and talk to her lover, Charles. If he agreed to divorce his own wife and take care of her, Walter would let her go. If not, Kitty had to leave with Walter and go into the heart of the epidemic.

It isn't a surprise to the reader when Charles outright rejects her. What more would you really expect from a man who is already married and holds a high government position? I think I would have been shocked had he said, "Yes, Kitty, I will divorce my wife and marry you." I think we all know that if you are silly and stupid enough to have an affair with a married man, he will never leave his wife for you. Why would he? So I knew that Kitty would be traveling with her husband, who now seems to despise her, into the heart of the epidemic.

And you can imagine how much it hurts when, once there, they Fanes befriend another man in town, who knows Charles and his adultrous ways. And while I certainly didn't live Kitty and her unfaithfulness to Walter, it stung me when their new friend Waddington and Kitty have the following conversation about Charles:

"'She doesn't take his flirtations very seriously?'

'Oh, no, she knows they don't go very far. She says she'd like to be able to make friends of the poor little things who fall to Charlie; but they're always so common. She says it's really not very flattering to her that the women who fall in love with her husband are so uncommonly second-rate,'" (101-102).

Ouch, right? To think that this man loved you and would care for you, but to hear an opinion about yourself like that? Ouch.

At first I didn't feel sorry for Kitty. She brought this pain on herself and her husband. By having an affair and being unfaithful, didn't she deserve some kind of pain? But as the novel progresses, and the realities of the epidemic hit Kitty, she begins to grow up. Probably for the first time in her life, she begins to realize that she did wrong. She begins to see that Walter is a good man, too good for her.

"Waddington too thought highly of Walter. She alone had been blind to his merit. Why? Because he loved her and she did not love him. What was it in the human heart that made you despise a man because he loved you?" (125).

Kitty continues to change. Alone, with no one but Walter, she turns to a local convent to find peace in work. She tries to help those around her, and in turn, begins to change herself. The reader can see her struggles to understand what she did, the pain she caused herself and Walter, and we begin to hope for the ending we want. We want peace and happiness for both of them, don't we? We want Kitty to see that she had a great and glorious man in front of her the entire time, and that he is entirely deserving of her love.

"'You know, my dear child, that one cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one's soul,'" (138).

I don't want to give away what happens, or the transformation that takes place in Kitty. But I was deeply moved by what happens, and in the manner of Maugham's writing. It is beautiful. If you want to read something that will truly move you down to your core, look no further than this.

"'Remember that it is nothing to do your duty, that is demanded of you and is no more meritorious than to wash your hands when they are dirty; the only thing that counts is the love of duty; when love and duty are one, then grace is in you and you will enjoy a happiness which passes all understanding,'" (206).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for January 23, 2011: Rearranging, Explanations, and Productivity.

I had an interesting week to say the least. My schedule was a little off because of MLK day on Monday and not having school. So, four days of class flew by without a whole lot getting accomplished. The kids have exams this coming week, so last week was spent finishing up assignments and papers. My seniors are turning in their satire narratives tomorrow, and I am anxious about grading all 90 of them before grades are due. Should be fun, yeah?

I also spent Thursday and Friday super sick. I had a high fever, aches, and chills, but thankfully the fever and the symptoms went away by the time I woke up on Saturday. I still feel a little weak, but a million times better than I did on Thursday. A lot of the kids have been out sick, so I am assuming they gave me the bug, whatever it was.

I know that Bloggiesta was going on this weekend, but I didn't officially sign-up for it. I am usually pretty good about keeping links working and my different pages updated that regular maintenance has become routine for me, but I did have some goals that I knew I wanted to take care of this weekend.

One of the big ones was to rearrange and fix my bookshelves. I have two "big" shelves (Billy bookshelves from IKEA), as well as one skinny shelf. The skinny shelf is home to hardcovers and signed copies of books. It has a lot of random things on it, from Harry Potter to the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, so a couple titles from Lisa Mantchev, Carrie Ryan, Markus Zusak, and Naomi Novik. I also have my David McCullough books on there. One of my big shelves is called my "fun" shelf, with random assorted titles that are just plain fun-mainly a lot of YA, fantasy, and science-fiction. The other big shelf is my classics shelf. And that is the shelf that was bursting and overflowing with books. So, I rearranged and cleared off two shelves on the "fun" shelf for some of my classics. I ended up moving my Shakespeare titles and Sherlock Holmes books, as well as all of my hardcover Penguins. They take up a whole row by themselves, so now everything seems to be set.

The books I removed have found a new home in a box, which is being stored with all my other boxes of books in the closets of the apartment. I really wish we had room for all my books, but displaying 1200 books takes up a lot of wall space. Perhaps one day all my books will be out.

Anyway, the classics shelf is now set, but there isn't a lot of wiggle room. I'm sure that'll be a problem when I go to the library book sale this coming weekend. :)

I've also been working on posts, which probably requires some explanation. Since I have had quite a little influx of new readers and more hits, I figured it was time to re-explain my little philosophy on posts. First, I write multiple posts on each book I read. When you click on "Finished Books" at the top of my site, it takes you to a long list. The post that is linked there is just my favorite of the ones I wrote about each book, not a full review. I always write at least two posts for every book. They always include a formal "Book Stats" post, as well as one I just label "Finished." Usually I write more than that, but the number is never set in stone.

When I am reading a book, I will write a post when the mood strikes me. Sometimes I will stop halfway through, or when I am done reading that book for the day. Posts are always written at haphazard times and saved as drafts. These drafts are my thoughts on the book through the part that I have read and are usually a little scatter-brained.

When it is eventually time to put the posts up, I go back to my drafts, edit them as needed (usually fixing typos and misspellings) before scheduling them to go up.

Because of all of this, my posts are usually behind when I read a book. Right now, for example, you have seen posts go up for Maugham's The Painted Veil. I actually finished this book back in December. With a backlog of posts, readalong info, and other things I want to discuss, this happens. I used to put up multiple posts in a day, but it got tiring and was even more confusing for readers. Now, I really try to limit my posts to one per day, unless one is short or silly. This whole system may seem silly to you, but it works for me and I am sticking to it.

If you ever want to know what I am currently reading, your best bet is to pay attention to what I have listed in the left column on my blog, as well as my account on (you can find me at Allie Danielson). I always have the intention of getting "caught up" but with life, other posts that I write weekly (like this one), and random bookish happenings, I don't think that will ever happen. Again, I am totally okay with it, but I know my style of blogging isn't for everyone.

Anyway, I am glad I re-clarified that, so that I don't get 40 million e-mails asking. :) Not that I ever get 40 million e-mails, but you know what I mean.

In reading news...

I had a fairly successful week given the fact I had the plague. I managed to read all of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare as well as Lysistrata by Aristophanes for my upcoming Classics Circuit post. I had Ceremony by Leslie Marmom Silko with me at all times this week, but I never started it. I think I might wait to dive into it. I did ask around on Twitter Friday night for another recommendation (everyone was trying to peer pressure me into read Jane Eyre), but I ended up choosing Doyle's The Lost World instead. I was looking for something with action, and truth be told, I am scared to read Jane Eyre in case I don't love it.

This week I need to continue making progress for the second War and Peace post, as well as finishing the Doyle book. I will also be freaking out in anticipation of the madness happening next month with the Ulysses readalong and Oliver Twist. I may be jumpstarting the Dickens this week, but we'll see what happens with exams and all.

What about you all? Reading plans for this week? What did you accomplish this weekend if you were taking part in Bloggiesta?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book 69: First Impressions.

I forced myself to stop reading this novel long enough to write about my first impressions. If I hadn't stopped, I knew I would forget to mention how wonderful this novel is at a first glance.

I already know that I am in love with Maugham's writing. I cannot even begin to explain how beautiful it is. Every word, every sentence creates such glorious imagery and emotion that I want to cherish every page I turn. It is simply wonderful.

Before even beginning the novel, I made sure to read the preface. There I found this little passage I want to share with you,

"I think this is the only novel I have written in which I started from a story rather than from a character. It is difficult to explain the relation between character and plot. You cannot very well think of a character in the void; the moment you think of him, you think of him in some situation, doing something; so that the character and at least his principal action seem to be the result of a simultaneous act of the imagination. But in this case the characters were chosen to fit the story I gradually evolved; they were constructed from persons I had long known in different circumstances," (5-6).

Since I write a little on my own, I love to see how these authors craft their stories. I think that is one questions that all writers are asked: Where do you get your ideas? And I don't think there ever is a full answer to that question. Sometimes stories just happen, other times they are forced, and there are more times when a person pops into your head and says, tell my story.

But I think that in this case, it means a lot that the story came first, because this is a powerful kind of story, and one that is so incredibly moving. It opens on a scene with Kitty Fane and her lover, hiding in a room as the doorknob is twisted and turned in attempts to open it. When the moment passes, Kitty is certain that it was her husband checking on her. Her lover thinks she is overreacting and soon leaves.

The problems and history begin there. When Kitty was a little younger, she always had men around her, courting and loving her. She was never in a hurry to marry, but when her younger sister fell in love and landed quite a catch, Kitty felt the urge to marry as well (and before her sister). That is when she settles for Walter Fane, a man who is very much in love with her, but not a perfect match. Where Kitty is flighty and social, Walter is much more serious and intellectual.

They move away to Hong Kong for Walter's work, and that is when the affair starts. So determined not to see any of the good in Walter, Kitty find little faults that bother her. She dwells on them and soon falls for Charles Townsend, a higher up in the colonial government.

It is the fact of Kitty's swelling on Walter's inevitable faults that has really impacted me. My mother always told me growing up when I was dating, and as things got serious with Matt, that you cannot change a person to be who you want them to be. Their little faults and habits will always be there. You must learn to accept them or move on. This passage (long) really captures that. Here Walter is confronting Kitty,

"'I had no illusions about you,' he said. 'I knew you were silly and frivolous and empty-headed. But I loved you. I knew that your aims and ideals were vulgar and commonplace. But I loved you. I knew that you were second-rate. But I loved you. It's comic when I think how hard I tried to be amused by the things that amused you and how anxious I was to hide from you that I wasn't ignorant and vulgar and scandal-mongering and stupid. I knew how frightened you were of intelligence and I did everything I could to make you think me as big a fool as the rest of the men you know. I knew that you'd only married me for convenience. I love you so much, I didn't care. Most people, as far as I can see, when they're in love with someone and the love isn't returned feel that they have a grievance. They grow angry and bitter. I wasn't like that. I never expected you to love me, I didn't see any reason that you should, I never thought myself very lovable. I was thankful to be allowed to love you and I was enraptured when not and then I thought you were pleased with me or when I noticed in your eyes a gleam of good-humored affection. I tried not to bore you with my love; I knew I couldn't afford to of that and I was always on the lookout for the first sign that you were impatient with my affection. What most husbands expect as a right I was prepared to receive as a favor," (66).

This passage just got me when I was reading and I had to stop and breathe before moving on. I don't know how Walter could be with a woman who clearly doesn't love him, but still love her as much as he does. I could never be in a relationship like that, and I am so glad that my own marriage is filled with a lot of love and communication. But you have to respect Walter for trying as hard as he can to accept Kitty, with her faults, and sacrificing pieces of himself to make it work.

Because isn't that what you do for someone you love? You sacrifice things for their happiness to make it come first? I think so. And Walter knows that. But Kitty is so young and selfish that she doesn't know that.

So when a few pages later her own heart is broken by the equally selfish Charles Townsend, I don't feel for her. I don't even feel for her when Walter packs her things and takes her into the heart of the cholera epidemic in China. Perhaps now she will realize that you cannot be selfish in a relationship or is doomed from the beginning. Of course I don't know what will happen, but I have an idea.

And with that, I need to go finish.

A Thank You.

I don't know if its the fact that I have been feeling rather ill this week, which is causing delusions, or if I am just too emotional of a person, but I have spent a great deal of time in the last few days thinking about how great things have been going for me since starting this project.

When I began, I don't know if I really knew where it would take me. I was feeling low. So low. Things had not been going well professionally and I was without anyone to turn to. I felt very alone and miserable, and as if I was going no where.

Then I started this whole shebang and here I am. I am infinitely happier than I was a year and a half ago. I have read wonderful things that have truly changed me. I know that I have a great deal more to read and I cannot wait to see the person I will become when I finish this journey.

Most of all, though, is the feeling of community I have now. There are quite a few of you who I am so grateful to know. Through you I have grown to become a much better person. I am more confident in what I am doing and where I am going. And best of all? I have so many people to talk books and literature with! :)

Really, I am so thankful that I started this odyssey, and I cannot begin to thank you all enough for coming for the ride. It would not be the same without your encouragement, cheers, recommendations, and support. I probably would have given up by now had it not been for all the lovely comments and e-mails.

Too often we take the people who are most important to us for granted, so every once in awhile we need to stop and thank them.

So this is for you, dear reader: Thank you.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

College English Classes: Post 1-Intro to English.

I was talking with Eva the other night on Twitter (I believe it was Tuesday) when we got on the subject of the classes I took in college for my English degree and what books I read. It got me all excited, remembering when I discovered some of my favorite authors and the wonderful books I got to read.

Since I was double majoring, I did a lot of reading in college, for two reading intensive degrees (English and history). Both majors required TONS of reading, which I was all too happy to comply with. Granted, some things were more interesting than others. And since I was going into teaching, I also got to take some specialized classes in both majors that were a blast (like my young adult lit class).

So, I started thinking back to these old classes, the books I read, and the wonders I learned about. I felt it would make for interesting reflections now (7 years away from that freshman year in college). Perhaps you will get some suggestions from my old reading lists, or can give me more titles and writers to investigate in the future.

The first class I wanted to talk about in this first post was the Introduction to English course that every English major at Michigan State had to take. There was one course that was a prerequisite before this English class (it was a writing intensive class), but I tested out of it. So, the sole English course I took as a freshman in college was Intro to English.

I can remember buying the books before the semester started. We only had two texts, whereas all the other sections of this class had at least 6 or 7. A very big part of me was sad that I wasn't going to read more, and I was stuck with a measly two books. It was a sad beginning for an English major who loved to read.

The two texts we had for class were Homer's The Odyssey (translation by Robert Fagles) and the Norton Guide to Classical Literature. I still own both books and they are sitting on my shelves right this minute. :) My professor also gave us packets with other pieces and translations I'll mention in a minute.

The professor had the lowest ratings of any professor on MSU's teacher rating site. I was not impressed. He had this habit of clenching his teeth together at the end of every sentence and sucking in air through the corners of his mouth to make this loud "swishing-swooshing" sound as the air hit the spit in his mouth. It drove me absolutely insane.

But this professor knew his material. We started the semester discussing The Odyssey. We spent two class periods (4 hours), just talking about the opening stanza. We read at least five other translations before reading the one from our edition (Fagles);

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

I fell a little bit in love with Homer after reading that intro-a love affair which has yet to stop. As we progressed forward through The Odyssey, we would spend so much time diving into the details of Homer's work-the imagery, the message, and the power of what he wrote. Never in any of my English classes had I felt that kind of passion and respect for a piece of writing. I loved it.

When we finally finished The Odyssey, we spent the rest of the semester reading other Greek pieces. From Norton, we read Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and bits of Sappho's poetry. I was so enthralled by Sappho that I purchased an edition of her poems and devoured it on my own time. He brought us other translations of these works to compare, as well as other bits and pieces from Greek tragedies. We also spent a "fun" class period discussing Greek myths and legends, which my professor waved off as "rubbish."

I should also note there was one class period that we read a bunch of Emily Dickinson poems. You see, my professor was related to her (he told us nearly every class period that he was), so this was a necessity. It had nothing to do with the rest of the class focus.

Where the other classes were reading about the beginnings of the novel, we were discussing the history of the oral tradition and where we had once been. It was an eye-opening class. At the time, I don't think I fully understood what he was trying to do. More than anything else, he was showing us the beginning, and where many things stemmed form. Those nights spent huddled over my copy of The Odyssey (which is battered and highlighted as a result of those nights) were to teach me how our stories were originally remembered. We didn't always write them down, but passed them along by word of mouth.

It was a powerful class and one I am glad to remember. Besides The Odyssey, the only other work I have revisited since then is that of Sappho. Both Oedipus Rex and Antigone are on my project list, but I haven't gotten to them yet. Soon!

You can also probably tell that The Odyssey is what inspired my own journey here. The name for this was inspired by one of my favorite books. I find so much inspiration in Homer's words,

"Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
start from where you will-Sing for our time too."

When I started this whole thing, I was launching on my own odyssey with inspiration from the muses around me. In fact, that quote is on a paper I keep by my desk. In the moments when I feel like quitting (at anything), reading those words brings me back to my purpose here. And to think, I owe it all to the English professor who had the lowest ratings of his entire department! I wonder what he would say now if he knew?

So here are some questions for you, dear readers. If you were to teach an Intro to English course, which titles would you require your class to read and why? And if you have taken a course like this, what titles did you read? Dig deep and tell me! :)

If you all like this post, I have many other classes and reading lists to talk about (including a young adult lit class where we read 30 titles in a semester). Perhaps I can post one every other week until I run out? Let me know!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book 69: The Painted Veil and Book Stats.

Title: The Painted Veil
Author: W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

First Published: 1925
My Edition: Vintage International (Seen at left)
Pages: 246

Other Works Include: The Magician (1908), Of Human Bondage (1915), The Razor's Edge (1944)

I had to replace one of the titles on my book list, since I had a repeat. James Joyce's "The Dead" is a short story found in The Dubliners, so there was no reason to have it on my list twice. Since I had nothing by Maugham on my list, I asked Amanda at The Zen Leaf for her recommendation on which Maugham title to add. I had never read anything by him before and since she has reviewed quite a few of his titles, I figured she would know where to begin.

She suggested The Painted Veil as a great place to start instead of the more well-known Of Human Bondage, so on to the list it went! When I went to go get a copy, I read the "blurb" and knew I needed to read it right away. There is something about this novel that is calling to me. I love the main character's name, Kitty Fane, and the setting in Hong Kong. I am expecting great things from a book that is "...a beautifully written affirmation of the human capacity to grow, to change, and to forgive."

Have you read anything by Maugham? What did you think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jousting with Joyce: or Because I am Insane.

Whenever I see an announcement pop up for a readalong, something happens to me. My heart begins to pound, my fingers twitch, and the little nerdy parts of my brain begin to send off these signals that say, "DO IT" until I do. I cave in easily to my nerdy impulses.

That is my only explanation for what I am about to tell you.

You see, there is another readalong going on in February and March, and its on that lovely book we all cower in front of-yes, James Joyce's Ulysses. It is the only big scary book that I wasn't going to tackle in 2010, but since this is the year of insanity, I have decided to go for it.

I know that I will regret this decision eventually. Because not only am I starting this monster in February, I will also be finishing War and Peace, reading all of Oliver Twist, and starting Atlas Shrugged in March.

Yes, my name is Allie and I am addicted to readalongs.

There are worse things, right?

In any case the plan is to read the following parts and post starting at the end of Week 1 (the first week of Feb.):
  • End of week 1: thoughts on Section 1, chapters 1-3.
  • End of week 3: this is midway through Section 2, through chapter 9.
  • End of week 5: thoughts on Section 2, through chapter 15.
  • End of week 6: Section 3, end of book.
If you are interesting in joining us, you can head over to Fizzy Thoughts and join in! YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO! :)

Book 68: Finished.

There is something about reading Jane Austen novels that makes my heart so incredibly happy and full. She never fails to cheer me up with her wit and depth.

I can only wish that there was more to read by her than the six full novels she left behind (I do still have all the smaller and unfinished pieces left to go).

I think the hardest thing about completing an Austen novel is trying to figure out where you place it in line with your other favorite Austen novels. I mean, after all, they are all excellent in their own way. And after I read one, I just cherish it so much more than "those others" I haven't read as recently.

Anyway, on to Emma. The first time I read it, I really didn't see the love connection between Emma and Mr. Knightley. Perhaps it is because I have learned to concentrate a little more on details and underlying themes (you know, that English degree and all). Now, on my third reread, I got it and I am blaming it on the fact that I am a little more experienced in the ways of love nowadays after having to live with a boy and pick up after his messes (really, they should tell you that before you say "I do").

In any case, this time around I still loved Emma just as much as that first time. Again, I was reminded about how love grows and changes, as does our perception of what love is. I can remember being in 7th grade and being "in love" with this boy who absolutely no idea who I was. But I was convinced we were going to get married and live happily ever after. *sigh* We all know that it doesn't work that way, and to be honest, while I remember feeling this way about that boy, I don't remember his name. True love, you know?

But in Emma, Emma Woodhouse does seem to know what love is. She cherishes the solid examples she sees in her own life, but doesn't want it for herself. It is only once she understands what that kind of love does for the people around her that she seems to get it and want it. It makes me a little sad that she waited so long to cave in.

But Emma is about more than that. It is also about overcoming your preferences and beliefs about things you believe you know all about. Emma certainly changes her tune after the debacle with Mr. Elton. She figures out what she did wrong and seems to learn from it. She also gets stung with the whole situation surrounding Frank.

So when she finally realizes just how she feels about Mr. Knightley, she comes to term with her own definition of love and what she really needs.

This is definitely one of my favorite Austen novels, but since I love them all, I have to place this one third (behind Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice). I think one of the reasons I do love this lies in the character traits of Miss Bates. I adore Miss Bates and her silly attitude. She cracked me up every time she shows up in the novel. In terms of secondary Austen characters, she comes in a very close second behind Mr. Collins (because really, he's hilarious).

If you haven't given Emma a try recently, I urge you to. Read deeper than the silly high school nature of Emma Woodhouse and you'll find a far deeper novel. I know I did.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Oliver Twist Giveaway Winner.

Hey all!

I wanted to pop on real quick to announce the winner of that lovely Penguin clothbound for Oliver Twist. I put all the entrants' names into one of my husband's hat and had him pull the winner.

I would like to congratulate Katy F. from A Few More Pages on winning a pretty new book for her shelves! I am going to go search for your e-mail, but if there is nothing in your inbox when you see this, my email is listed on my profile page. :)

Thank you all for entering! Please keep spreading the word so we have more participants!

Weekly Wrap-up for January 16, 2011: School, Game On! Diet, Blog Changes, and Readalongs.

I am SO GLAD I don't have school tomorrow and get to enjoy another day off. Since I felt like last weekend went by so quickly, I am really trying to enjoy all the time I have this weekend to accomplish some things that need to get done (like taking down our Christmas decorations-we're a little behind).

This week will be a busy one in regards to work, even with it being a four day week. My seniors are writing satire narratives (how exciting will those be to grade? I am expecting awesomeness and I told them I wouldn't accept anything but). My U.S. History class is finishing discussions on the New Deal policies and taking a test on Friday. World Religions will be spending the week presenting their final projects. It will be a busy week in regards to grading, and prepping for next week, when they'll be taking their finals.

In the past few weeks, I have really picked up my goal to become a healthier, thinner person. I have been watching what I eat and working out at the gym with a personal trainer. It is going well so far and I have lost some weight. But it is a continuing battle and one that I feel like I am always going to struggle with. I hate being a "bigger" girl, and I didn't always used to be this way. I was a SKINNY little thing when I graduated high school, but bad habits in college and onward have caused me to gain quite a bit of extra jiggle in all the wrong places.

So when I was asked to join in on the "Game on! Diet" program with seven other bloggers, I immediately said yes. In two teams of four, we will be competing weekly in a battle of weight loss, getting rid of bad habits and starting new ones, and starting a new, healthier lifestyle. At the end of four weeks, the winning team members will each win giftcards to buy books with! It should be a blast and a great way to gain some motivation to start some new, healthy habits, while losing weight.

My team (also known as the winning team) is called Team Metamorphosis. The members are:
  1. Me aka Allie :)
  2. Amanda from The Zen Leaf
  3. Christina from Reading Thru Nite
  4. Trisha from Eclectic Eccentric
The other (losing) team is called Team Hunger Artists and has the following members:
  1. Amy from My Friend Amy
  2. Jason from Moored at Sea
  3. Lu from Regular Rumination
  4. Jenn from Picky Girl
Cheer us on as we struggle to get rid of some nasty habits and become healthier people. I am going to try and give up my Diet Coke, so if I am cranky, you know why.

I also wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who commented on my post about stress and balancing life. You all gave some great tips and were super supportive. I think that as I continue to get into a new schedule things will all work themselves back out. I just need to be better about my time management. After all, I am a much happier person when I am busy, and while pressed for time, I always seem to get more done.

In blogging news...

You may have noticed a few small changes on the blog. I know that am peaceful when things are the way I want and need them, and that includes the blog. The major change is that I changed the color scheme. I had originally changed it to the "world map" theme last year around this time and really loved the image (it goes with the name of my blog so well), but I wasn't always crazy about the brown. And since the template was from Blogger-I'm not tech savvy enough to make my own, but have an idea for when I eventually figure that out-I learned out to tweak the color scheme. The greens are much more soothing and fitting to who I am as a person. Perhaps that is insane, but I like it.

The other big change is that I am, for the time being, not writing any more "Thursday Treats" posts. When I began the feature, it was a way for me to talk about books that weren't classics, since I felt that was lacking. And while I still love all those non-classic books that is not the focus of my blog. I find that when I write those posts I have to drag the love for them out of me. Sometimes they are easy to write, but most of the time I have a hard time writing them. I really want to be able to focus on my project and what I am doing, so the "Thursday Treats" are gone for now.

In Readalong news...

You should have noticed a grand total of FOUR posts going up about readalongs this week. From this point forward, I have decided that never again will I host three at once. Two is more than enough. So please, no more ties when you are voting! ;) Here are the links to the posts if you missed them (or need to still give me the link to your thoughts on one of the books). REMEMBER, if you participate in a readalong and complete it, I have something to send you in the mail! Yes! Extrinsic motivation to join in!
  1. War and Peace Post 1 on Volume 1
  2. Rebecca Post 1 on Chapters 1-15
  3. The Woman in White Post 1 on the First Half (300 pages or so)
  4. Oliver Twist Readalong Sign-ups and GIVEAWAY (only a few more hours to enter!)
So go read some of the awesome discussions we're having about these amazing books!

And because I saw it last night and really wanted to join in, I am going to be participating in Whitney's Jane Eyre readalong starting in March (I seem to have an obsession with readalongs-can you tell?). If you are interested in joining, go sign up!

And in reading news...

My reading has been primarily focused on the readalongs I have scheduled. But now with Rebecca done, The Woman in White nearly completion, and War and Peace having a post scheduled two weeks from now, I feel like I can finally dive into a book from one of my challenges. I am eying both Ceremony by Leslie Marmom Silko for Adam's TBR Challenge, or a Shakespeare play for my Shakespeare challenge (I also got that pile of plays for Christmas, so they are calling to me). We'll see how it goes, since I want to finish Collins before starting anything else.

I also need to read Lysistrata for my Greek Classics Circuit post coming up on the 4th, so that might get priority.

Expect to see posts this week on Emma and The Awakening. Both are excellent novels if you haven't read them.

What are your reading plans for this week? Let me know!

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

War and Peace Readalong Post 1: Volume 1.

Welcome to the first post (of four) for Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace readalong hosted here at A Literary Odyssey. I have been excited to dive into this chunker of a book since I got my hands on my copy.

I think that I was always intimidated by this book by simply not trying it. I have found that through this process of reading classics, that the books I was most scared of become my favorites. They are far more accessible than I thought they would be and it is certainly the same for War and Peace.

I am not saying that this is an easy book to read. Like all of the Russian novels I have read so far, the names trip me up a little. It is an adjustment and I eventually get used to it, just like I have before. I did print out a character list I found online and while I referenced it a lot when I first started (I think more out of fright than anything else), but now I am fairly certain that I am keeping the characters straight in my own head.

And with that said, the book is surprisingly easy to get through. Granted, the volume I have is massive and if I really wanted to, I could knock myself out with it due to the weight. But, I find that I am reading more of it at a quicker pace than I thought I would. Tolstoy really draws his reader in to the spic grandeur of his tale and I am eating it up, eagerly turning pages to discover what else he has planned for me.

As for my translation, I am glad I chose to purchase the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov that I read last April was beautiful, and I am finding the same in this novel. I also love the fact that they left the original French in during the course of the novel. Reading the footnotes isn't too bad and I am making steady progress. I figure that Tolstoy intended that the French be left in, and since I have recently read another classic with a lot of French (Villette by Charlotte Bronte) I'm not bothered by it.

As for the story, I love how it is slowly unfolding. I never seem to caught up in the fact that hey, I'm reading War and Peace, but instead I'm treating it like any other story I am completely unfamiliar with. The introduction of the families and characters was interesting, and I am slowly getting to know them. I also find that I am not put off by any of the larger scenes-the battles and so forth. I think that for some readers, this is completely uninteresting, but since I read a lot of history books and science fiction in the past, I love battle scenes and can picture them vividly in my own mind.

From this point on, I can't wait to see where Tolstoy is going to take me. I can imagine that it will be to grand and wonderful things. I want to see where the characters wind up in this saga, and what their result will be. Only....1000 more pages to go to see what happens. :)

What do you think? Is it as hard as you always thought? Are you finding the length to be intimidating?

If you are participating, please leave a link here so I can link to your post! (If I happened to see your post and remembered, I linked up for you).

Avid Reader

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Woman in White Readalong: Post 1

*I want to apologize for this post going up late. It has been a crazy week, which is also why this post may seem disjointed.*

Welcome to post of the January 2011 readalong of Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. This post will cover roughly the first half of the book (around 315 pages).

The first thing I want to do is apologize for not making the halfway point more distinct. When I hit 315 pages in ym own edition, it was right in the middle of a tense moment. I read further in hopes of getting to a good stopping point. Having said all that, I reached page 338. This was after the Count's entry in Marian's journal and what I will be discussing in my post.

So. Where to begin?

Can I say right now that I cannot wait to finish this novel? From the very beginning, Collins hooked me on his mystery and characterization. I eagerly turn pages in hope that I get the answers, but by this point, I am still wondering what the solution is, and Anne Catherick's Secret about Sir Percival Glyde (what a horrid sounding name, by the way. It oozes creepiness, doesn't it?).

Our story begins with a narration by Walter Hartwright, a drawing master who comes across a mysterious Woman in white on a late walk in London. After a disturbing conversation, Hartwright is haunted by the woman he doesn't know and continuously finds instances to discuss her once he reaches his new place of employment at Limmeridge House. There, he begins to teach to two young women, Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie.

This is where the story really begins. Young and beautiful Laura is engaged to the nasty Sir Percival, who knows something about Anne. Walter falls madly in love with Laura and to protect both of them, Marian tells him to leave. He does, but leaves heartbroken.

You would think that this is more than enough emotional power to move the story along, but the story becomes even more powerful from this point forward. The narrative switches into Marian's journal entries and we learn what happens after Walter leaves. Laura, in love with Walter, agrees to marry Sir Percival anyway, and the wedding goes off (how I wanted Walter to sweep in and save her). When they return from honeymooning, Marian joins them at Percival's home, Blackwater. There, the two women begin to learn why Percival married Laura in the first place: her money.

With Percival hounding Laura to sign documents without letting her read them first, to his friend Count Fosco spying on the two women in the woods, to the reappearance of Anne in the neighborhood, the action moves quickly. Percival turns violent and the tone of the book becomes so much darker and more desperate. Marian continues to be a pillar of strength for Laura and does all she can to get information. The last scenes in this first half were of Marian huddled on the roof in the pouring rain to hear a conversation between the Count and Percival. The very last entry I read in her journal was from Count Fosco, who read her writing to see what she knew.

At this point, I am itching to dig back in and discover the answers to my questions:
  1. What does Anne know about Sir Percival?
  2. What is UP with the Count and his wife?
  3. What will happen between Laura and Percival? more violence?
  4. When will Walter decide to come and save the woman he loves?
I am in love with Collins' writing style, and I hope you are too. I love novels that are written from multiple perspectives and this is a great example of one done well.

If you joined in and read the first half, please comment with a link to your post so I can link it here! I can't wait to see what you all thought!

April (She created a drinking game-HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?)