Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Idiot Readalong Post 1 and 2: Parts 1 and 2.

Welcome to the combined post of parts 1 and 2 of the readalong for Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot hosted here at A Literary Odyssey!

I had every intention of sticking to the schedule I had made to keep the posts separate, but life happens and I had to deal with it. Of course I'm not happy about not sticking to my schedule, but it happens.

"There is something at the bottom of every new human thought, every thought of genius, or even every earnest thought that springs up in any brain, which can never be communicated to others, even if one were to write volumes about it and were explaining one's idea for thirty-five years; there's something left which cannot be induced to emerge from your brain, and remains with you forever; and with it you will die, without communicating to anyone perhaps the most important of your ideas."

We are now about halfway through The Idiot. Rather than recap every little thing that has happened so far, I thought it would be better to explain to you what I am loving about this novel so far.

I love the characters. Perhaps it is the Russian names, nicknames, and my inability to pronounce their names, but I love the characters in this novel. Prince Myshkin is without a doubt my favorite. I love his naivety and innocence. I love the way he interacts with those around him in a seemingly simple way. He made me smile when he was telling stories. He isn't afraid of embarrassing himself or those around him. He appears to be perfectly humble and giving.

I find it refreshing to read about him. How often are we granted a character who is so inherently good? He appears to only want the best for those around him and seems willing to do anything to make that happen. I wish there were more people like that in the world-who sincerely care for those around them....

The choice in naming the book The Idiot is one I have been mulling over. It is definitely a play on how the others in the book perceive Myshkin. He really isn't an "idiot" in his mentality, he just isn't as world-wise as everyone else. I wonder what Dostoevsky means when he calls Myshkin an idiot...did he really think he was? It just adds more depth to Myshkin's character.

I have found, that in all of the Russian novels I have read so far, that this depth in character seems to be a staple (other Russian titles I have so far include Fathers and Sons, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace). There is something about the breadth of these novels that allows the reader to become insanely intimate with the characters. In the other two novels by Dostoevsky, I find that he really strove to accomplish that. I find this one to be no different.

In addition to the depth in characters, I also love the complicated plots with the characters interacting all over the place. It give the readers a great place to focus on and become accustomed to. I am finding this to be a staple in Russian literature as well. If you can't tell, I definitely love the novel so far and I am looking forward to how things work out for dear Myshkin and the others within it (I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a happy ending).

How are you all faring? Hopefully it is going well? Let me know in the comments! And don't forget to give me links to both your posts so I can link them here!

The next post on part 3 will go up on June 15. I will see you then!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for May 29, 2011: Quickly!

I am in the midst of a mad cleaning spree and I need to cook some breakfast, but I knew that if I didn't sit down to write a quick post, I just wouldn't. I am working in a couple hours and I have a million things I want to get done around here before I go in.

Matt and the rest of my family (siblings, parents, etc), are down in Indianapolis for the Indy 500 today. My family goes every year. I was sad not to go this year-I had to work-but I am trying to make the best of it by getting some things done around here while Matt is gone. It is much easier to clean when a husband isn't getting in your way. :)

I also went and got my hair done yesterday morning as a present to myself for working so hard, so that was a nice treat as well. Sometimes I need to treat myself. :)

This week was a another rough one, but the finish line is truly in sight. I cannot wait to have a little more free time and to only be working one job. It will be truly wonderful to have time and energy to do things I enjoy.

Anyway, I did manage to finish The Iliad this week (mainly over lunch). I still have a chunk left to go in The Idiot for my last post, but I also started Silas Marner, an old favorite I haven't read in years. I have the day off tomorrow (YES), so I will be spending a large chunk of the day reading (and doing laundry). I am hoping to finish the Eliot and get through the second portion of Dostoevsky.

I'm excited to see some of the BEA posts from you lucky ducks who got to go! And for everyone else, I hope you had a great reading week as well!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Few More Grumbles.

I don't mean to be a big ball of whine over here, but I can't help it. Things are just all over the place right now and I am struggling to keep on top of the million and one obligations I have. Sadly, my internet presence is taking the brunt of my efforts to cut down on stress.

I had full intentions to come online tonight to FINALLY get the first post for my Dostoevsky post up and running, but when I realized the date of the next post is merely 6 days away, why bother? I'll post the first half together-I hope that is okay with those of you participating. I just don't...have the energy to deal with writing and finalizing what is going be an intense post.

Like I mentioned on Saturday, I have finally hit a wall. I am having a hard time falling asleep at night, and I can't get myself up at the right time in the morning. I am struggling through some lessons, and I find myself getting a little snippy with the kids (which they don't fully deserve, but since it is so close to the end of the year, they are QUITE whiny). It isn't fair to them to have a cranky teacher, so I have started to take naps in the afternoons before heading to the park. It only helps a little.

Another huge area of stress is taking care of our apartment. Matt has been chipping in as much as he can, but with summer classes for college and a full-time job as well, he can only do so much. I have pretty much resolved that there are a few things I have to let slide until I have more time to take care of them. But it is making me twitchy.

There are two lights at the end of the tunnel. The first is on Monday. Since we don't have school, I sort of begged my boss at the park to let me have the day off. My plea of "I haven't had a day off in 40+ days" seems to have worked, so Monday will be spent here at home relaxing, cleaning, and having some much needed "me" time.

The other light at the end of the tunnel comes on June 17-the last day of school. I am pushing my classes through to the end, and I know we're going to make it, but there is a lot left to do. 16 days left isn't that many, so I know I can do it!

I suppose the real reason I came here was to simply say that if I'm not around as much (like I haven't been in a couple weeks), that's why. There is a lot on my plate right now, and I need to make sure that the people who need to be taken care of are. :)

Don't worry, I have huge plans for this summer-especially since I get two days off per week once I am full time at the park. What am I going to do with all that free time? ;)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for May 22, 2011: Tales of a Grumpy Blogger.

I am not very happy with Blogger. Besides the minor meltdown the site had last week, I haven't been able to post all week-making me incredibly cranky. The couple scheduled posts I had went up, but any attempts to publish a new post just didn't happen.

I'm cranky.

And I am thisclose to transferring over to Wordpress. If I do decide to make the switch, it won't be until summer. For those of you who have transferred over, how much of a pain is it? I'm so-so with technology, so I am a little worried about taking this on.

Today also marks the 37th day in a row of work. It truly is insane. I hit a brick wall this week with working both jobs. My hours were upped last week and I ended up working every weeknight. My hours, after today, are 38 for the park, and the normal 5 days/week at the school. Insane, right?

Anyway, I hit a brick wall and when I wasn't working, I was sleeping. I am overtired and really cranky, but I am trying to hold it together. I am doing okay, given the circumstances. Anyway, all this working hasn't helped my crankiness and my goals here. So if I am absent like I was this week, no panicking, okay?

I hope you all have great reading weeks, and for those of you at BEA, have a blast! I wish I was there!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Classics Circuit Dueling Authors Tour: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Welcome to A Literary Odyssey for the Classics Circuit Tour of the dueling authors! If you are unfamiliar with the Classics Circuit and this particular tour, the Classics Circuit hosts tours of various classic authors on different blogs. On particular days, bloggers write posts on the featured author and one of their works.

What makes this tour so fascinating is that we are focusing on two authors and having a mini-duel of sorts. It is Dickens vs. Austen, and I know that I am interested to see who wins.

For those of you familiar with my blog, you might be surprised by the fact that I chose Dickens over Austen as my featured author. I view Dickens as my arch-nemesis in the literary world, and Austen as a great friend of mine, but I really wanted to push myself into reading something I was not so excited about.

Looking at titles by Dickens I have yet to read (and their length), I decided on Hard Times, a novel that defeated me back in college. It was the ONLY novel I was assigned in college that I didn’t read (thankfully, on the exam I was allowed to write about one of the other choices we read in class, so I wasn’t penalized). Back then, I read the first three pages and gave up.

My rivalry with Dickens has lasted from even earlier-to the ninth grade when I had to read Great Expectations. I hated it then, and I hated it in the fall of 2009 when I read it as Book #10 for my project list. The only other Dickens novels I have read include Oliver Twist (which I really came to LOVE) and Bleak House (which made me hate Dickens all the more). I am in a dead heat in whether I love or hate him, and I viewed Hard Times as the make it or break it. If I hated it, the score would be 3-1, and I would be tempted to give Dickens up for good. But if I loved it, well, Dickens would have another go round with ME before I considered our duel over.

Turns out, I loved it. As I began reading, I couldn’t remember what it was about the first three pages that made me so despise it in college. From the beginning this time, I was enthralled in Dickens’ world. I loved these opening lines,

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts; nothing else will ever be of service to them."

The story moves steadily from there. We are introduced to two distinguished gentlemen-Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby (I should mention that whenever I read his name I pictured a giant rabbit bounding around. It kept me very amused). I love Dickens’ description of Mr. Bounderby as well,

"A year or two younger than his eminently practical friend, Mr. Bounderby looked older; his seven or eight and forty might have had the seven or eight added to it again, without surprising anybody. He had not much hair. One might have fancied he had talked it off; and that what was left, all standing up in disorder, was in that condition from being constantly blown about by his windy boastfulness."

Both of these men truly believe that children shouldn’t learn to use their imagination and should only be taught the truth. To think beyond, to imagine, would be false and unapproved.

Mr. Gradgrind’s children, however, are truly the stars of the novel. On one hand you have Tom, a seemingly put-together kind of individual who appears to be following in his father’s footsteps. There is also the lovely Louisa, a girl who does her father’s bidding to make him happy. This scene truly touched me and really captures the sense of despair I sensed in Louisa throughout the novel,

“Confining yourself rigidly to Fact, the question of Fact you state to yourself is: Does Mr. Bounderby as me to marry him? Yes, he does. The sole remaining question then is: Shall I marry him? I think nothing can be plainer than that?”

I love Louisa’s sense of despair, and it slowly worsens throughout the novel. But Tom, who seemed to upright and outstanding-sticking solidly to Fact in the beginning, also has a slow spiral downward.

The resulting conclusion is one that truly made me appreciate Dickens’ skill in storycrafting.

So yes, I loved this little novel of Dickens (the length was perfect-any longer and I probably would have struggled more than I did). The contrasts to the working class, the characters of Stephen Blackpool and Rachael, the descent of Tom into stupidity, and yes, the obnoxious Mr. Bounderby all made this novel come alive. It was a pleasure to read and has pushed me to continue trying Dickens’ novels.

Who knows, perhaps he will eventually become an author I can say I like. :)

Please make sure you check out some of the other stops for this Classics Circuit Tour! Lots of wonderful things to read!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Iliad Readalong Post 1: Books 1-12.

Welcome to Post 1 of the May 2011 Readalong of Homer's The Iliad hosted here at A Literary Odyssey!

I know that I was excited to dive into this one since The Odyssey is one of my all-time favorite books, and I am not disappointed. Homer is truly coming alive in this, and I am LOVING it.

I'm reading from the lovely Robert Fagles translation (that makes up our image), and I truly love the voice and lyricality he gives to Homer's story. While I know he is not true to the meter of Homer's original tale, I truly believe that he captures the sense and mood of Homer's original story.

After reading a number of translations of The Odyssey in college, I definitely fell in love with Fagles. I feel like he truly "gets" how Homer and other bards would have told this story.

And going into reading The Iliad, I have kept this in mind. This was not a story that was read. It was a story that was performed to the masses by a bard. The bard would chant and give dramatic flair to the story and battle scenes. It wasn't just a reading in someone's head, but a form of entertainment.

Reading this, I try to capture that sense of the dramatic in my own mind. I try to "perform" the story as it unfolds. This has truly made it come alive. It has made some of those long battle-filled passages come alive! Try reading this passage once in your head and once aloud to see what I mean,

"Sing to me now, you Muses who hold the halls of Olympus!
You are goddesses, you are everywhere, you know all things-
all we hear is the distant ring of glory, we know nothing-
who were the captains of Achaea? Who were the kings?
The mass of troops I could never tally, never name,
not even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths,
a tireless voice and the heart inside me bronze,
never unless you Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus
who shield is rolling thunder, sing, sing in memory
all who gathered under Troy. Now I can only tell
the lords of the ships, the ships in all their numbers!"

So dramatic and lovely, especially when read out loud.

I was reading little bits and pieces aloud on Saturday while working at the park. While they were laughing at my dramatics, it made the story jump off the page and come to life-something you just don't get when you read inside your head. I also enjoyed reading this little line out loud,

"And Thetis answered, bursting into tears,
'O my son, my sorrow, why did I ever bear you?
All I bore was doom...'"

So gloomy. But wonderful.

For those of you reading along, read a passage or two out loud when you continue on and see the difference it makes in the story. It is worth it, believe me.

As for the story, I am enjoying it. Even though I already know I will love The Odyssey more for sentimental reasons, this is just as passionate and as thrilling. I love the scenes in the beginning between Hera and Zeus. Like The Odyssey, the gods and goddesses interfere in the lives of the mortals more than they probably should. But I feel like we get to see them interact more than we did in Odysseus' tale (maybe they learned to butt out then), and their influence is rampant in the amount of sacrifice going on.

The hardest part for me in reading this first chunk was in Book 2, when the bard begins to recall the men there to fight and those who came with the big heroes. Lists of names, numbers of ships, etc. It seemed like it would never end. Plus, I had no idea who anyone was. But, I soldiered through and it has been wonderful since then. I have VERY high hopes for the remainder!

How are you all feeling here at the halfway point? Ready to plunge through the second half? Leave a comment here with a link to your post so I can link it!

See you on May 31 for your final thoughts!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for May 15, 2011: New Books and Stress.

I have truly been running on empty all week. I fell behind on sleep Sunday night and just never caught up. With interim grades due Tuesday morning and lots of things to grade and finish during the week, I was stressed and at my limit. But, things will only be getting better this week.

I have 1 more week with my seniors before they are done, and their big projects are underway. They were put in groups of three or four, and together they decided on a broad topic (like Survival, Love/Romance, Addiction, Heroes, etc). With their group members, they developed a theme and then a thesis. Each member had to find five sources (3 fiction (1 of those a novel), 2 non-fiction), and then put together a multimedia presentation that would last 50 minutes (a little under a class period). Sound crazy? It is. They also have to write a big formal outline and an annotated bibliography of their sources, so they have been stressed. But, the first two groups went and I was thoroughly impressed, so I hope the next 5 groups are as wonderful.

I only have 5 more weeks of teaching and working at the park, so I will make it through. It really stinks not having any free time, but I'm doing okay. Tired and a little cranky, but I am managing well-enough.

Anyway, on to the books!

I've been acquiring quite a few books over the last few weeks, so I attempted to round them up for a picture. Here are most of my new additions:

From L to R:
  • The four books on the left (in the primary colors) are a box set of The Game of Thrones series. We don't have HBO so I haven't been watching the series, but I have heard so many good things about them that when I got a 40% off coupon and saw the set...well...
  • On top of those are two paperbacks (a collection of Robert Frost poetry and Edgar Allen Poe stories) that I won from Trisha! THANK YOU! I will love them forever.
  • The next four books are my new Penguin Clothbounds. They include A Tale of Two Cities, Middlemarch, Dracula, and Gulliver's Travels. I pre-ordered them a couple months ago and I jumped up and down when they came. My only complaint is that the whole collection doesn't fit on one shelf. ;)
  • The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan: Okay, technically I haven't read the first in the series yet, but I know I want to get to them sooner or later.
  • Ranger's Apprentice Book 10 by John Flanagan: I knew this one was coming out, so I made sure to go grab a copy shortly after the release date. Imagine my shock when I saw the notice on it that it is the last in the series! It made me sad, but also super anxious to get to it. One day...
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth: I love a good YA novel, and since hearing about this one a while ago, I knew I wanted to read it eventually. When I saw one little copy sitting on the shelf all by itself...well, it ended up in my arms.
  • Archeological Study Bible: I posted about this yesterday, but I am going to start reading the Bible, and this is the edition I chose.
  • A whole slew of paperbacks. Includes The Madonnas of Echo Park (a win from hosting the readathon), and three ARCS from HarperCollins (including Tolstoy and the Purple Chair), which I cannot wait to read!
So yes, lots of new reads to get to at some point and only a handful from my list.

This week was full of posts, which you may have missed. The whole blogger debacle from Thursday night really messed up my posting schedule, so I decided to reschedule them over the last couple of days instead. Here are the posts from this week:
I hope you all have a great reading week!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Bible Reading Project.

Sometimes I make plans to do things with the intention of getting to them "someday." "Someday" always seems to be pushed back, and sooner or later, I come to realize that unless I set a goal for myself, I'll never get to those plans.

Some of that inspired my reading of the classics and this whole large project I have going on here. Of course there were other reasons, but I figured, why wait?

I'm announcing today that I am taking on another project, but one that may be more personal. I'm going to read through the Bible.

This is something I've always had the intentions of doing "someday." I have read portions of it in the past, but I have never studied it. I feel that urge and need now. My urge and need was inspired by a few events and people from the last few weeks.

First, the lovely Bellezza inspired me to really start thinking about it when she gave up all literature BUT the Bible for Lent. I enjoyed reading her thoughts as she read the Bible, and I made a note to get to it sooner, rather than later.

Then, the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, my sister-in-law was baptized and confirmed. It was a beautiful ceremony. But it got me thinking about how little I know of Biblical history and faith. I began searching for a way to incorporate this into my life then.

Last, Jillian posted last week about her own plans to read the Bible. She has purchased the version you see pictured, and after her explanations of it, I was intrigued. I decided to just begin reading the Bible after reading her post.

Since her post, I have been looking at the Bibles we have here at home, as well as doing some searches online for an edition. My husband and I have quite a collection.
  • I have a Catholic edition, as well as a small King James version
  • Matt has a small King James version
  • Together we have a Couples Devotional Bible that we read out of together
  • I also have a Women's Devotional Bible packed away somewhere
After looking at the editions and versions here at home, I realized that if I really wanted to study the Bible, I needed a Study version. There are many to choose from, so I had to figure out which edition.

After trips to two bookstores, I ended up deciding on the same version Jillian chose. I wanted a Bible that would not only help my faith, but also my understanding of the Biblical stories and history. I felt it would be a great study companion (I am sure I will also reference some of our other editions here at home as well).

My goals for this project are to read a little each week, starting at the beginning. While the eventual goal is to read the whole thing, it isn't a race or something I am going to get accomplished soon. I just want to be in the process. I am hoping that since I will be reading this alongside my classics, I'll be able to pick up on a lot of the references, etc that go over my head now. The Bible as a text has influenced MANY a book.

I won't be making regular posts or reviewing it in any way. Instead, I have plans to create a separate page that I'll update from time to time with my general thoughts and progress. I think that'll be the best way to keep myself on task. :)

I'm excited to begin and explore the depth of it-especially all those little books we don't usually hear much about.

I'm curious, how many of you have read the Bible? Just pieces or the whole?

Vanity Fair June 2011 Readalong Sign-ups.

Welcome to the sign-ups for the June 2011 readalong of William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair hosted here at A Literary Odyssey!

This is a title I know little about, so of course, I can't wait to jump in! I know that a movie came out a few years ago, but I've never seen it. I don't know about the storyline except what I am about to tell you, so now is the perfect time to jump in and enjoy.

Here is a short synopsis taken from Goodreads.com;

""Vanity Fair" is a story of two heroines--one humble, the other scheming and social-climbing--who meet in boarding school and embark on markedly different lives. Amid the swirl of London's posh ballrooms and affairs of love and war, their fortunes rise and fall. Through it all, Thackeray lampoons the shallow values of his society, reserving the most pointed barbs for the upper crust. What results is a prescient look at the dogged pursuit of wealth and status--and the need for humility."

Sounds fascinating, doesn't it?

I based the posting schedule and pages based off of my edition, so the page amounts may differ in your copy. My edition is the Modern Library Classic if you are curious. :) Here are the posting dates:
  • Post 1 will go up on June 15 (the first 34 chapters-368 pages)
  • Post 2 will go up on June 30 (the last 33 chapters-347 pages)
Does anyone else find it funny that the posts for this one are double what the posts are for Dostoevsky's novel? It happens!

I hope that you are looking forward to joining in on the fun! If you are interested in taking this one on, leave a comment with a link to your blog so I can link it here. I look forward to reading this one with you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book 85: Mary Barton and Book Stats.

Title: Mary Barton
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)

First Published: 1848
My Edition: Penguin Classic (seen at right)
Pages: 417

Other Works Include: Cranford (1853), Ruth (1853), North and South (1854), The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857) and Wives and Daughters (1865)

I am fairly familiar with Elizabeth Gaskell. One of the first readalongs I hosted here was on Cranford (posts are linked below). In college, I had a friend introduce me to the wonders of the BBC adaptation of North and South, which I promptly purchased to watch over and over again. I eventually read the novel (which I LOVE), so I would say that I am definitely a fan of her work.

It was a recent re-watch of the BBC miniseries that inspired me to pick up another of her novels. I was feeling all needy for some Gaskell-inspired England, so this was the only choice left to me off my list (When I made my list, I originally excluded Gaskell, but eventually put in three of her titles. Since I had already read North and South, I decided to add in three titles I was unfamiliar with: Cranford, Mary Barton, and Wives and Daughters, which may be a readalong in September). Whew. Anyway, I am excited to read some of earlier work. This one seems promising and I am excited to dive in.

Have you read anything by Gaskell? I would love to read her biography on Charlotte Bronte, but I need to find a copy first. :)

If interested, here are the links to my posts on Cranford (Book 48):

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book 84: And...Finished.

"You can pretend for a long time, but one day it all falls away and you are alone. We are alone in the most beautiful place in the world..."

I read this book in two short sittings. At under 200 pages, it was a fast and manageable length. Sometimes we need that.

That being said, I had to really motivate myself to not put the book down. I knew that if I did, I wouldn't pick it back up again.

It isn't that I hated it. I think what really bothered me was seeing it in connection with Jane Eyre, and so shortly after I finished Bronte's novel. Had I waited and read it a year from now, I might not have been so bitter about what Rhys did to Bronte's characters.

I get the point of why Rhys wrote the novel, and I love the idea that she gave life to a character we really don't interact with in Jane Eyre-the mad wife of Rochester. I like that she gave her a history, and showed us how Rochester met her and how they married. And I do like seeing a little of her dissent into madness.

What I didn't like were the differences in Rochester's character between the two. If you are going to do a mash-up of a classic novel, a prequel, or a sequel, you make sure you have the characters EXACTLY right, or fans of the original will hate your work. Simple as that. In this title, Rochester is a total jerk, with no regard for his wife's feelings. He comes across much harsher and uncaring in this one, which was not my perception of him at all. I can see how having a crazy wife would lead you to be that way, which is why his gruff exterior in Jane Eyre makes sense. But I didn't get it here. I don't know why Rhys made him out to be such a jerk.

But perhaps that is my love affair with Bronte's work stepping in.

I will say that I enjoyed Rhys' writing. There were some truly haunting passages, like the one below:

"'On the contrary,' I said, 'only I know how long I have been here. Nights and days and days and nights, hundreds of them slipping through my fingers. But that does not matter. Time has no meaning. But something you can touch and hold like my red dress, that has a meaning.'"

It chilled me a little a bit, especially after the events that led up to that.

I also love this next line-it is just as chilling:

"Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I have to do."

But even with the writing, something in me just couldn't handle the story (again, why I read it in two sittings). I was disappointed. I think I expected so much more from the story than what I got. BUT (yes, another but), I do think this was an important one to read. I like that Rhys captured the essence of the Caribbean during this time period. The effects of colonization on the location where the story takes place is clear and it was interesting to read about it from a different perspective, which was definitely a part of her purpose in writing the novel.

It just didn't work for me. Perhaps I'll give it another try in the future, but I highly doubt it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Last Little Bit of Jane Eyre.

When I'm reading, I keep a small stack of post-it tabs next to me so I can mark passages as I go. Often, I look back at the places I mark as I am drafting posts and wonder, "why did I mark this?"But going back to see what I have marked is a whole other journey. I can tell what kind of mood I was in when I was reading. Sometimes, words of inspiration were marked. Other times, I mark things that made me chuckle, or appreciate the skill of the writer in placing together such perfect phrases.

Sometimes I don't mark anything in a book. Sometimes, the idea of stopping to mark something hinders my enjoyment of it, so I just keep reading. It is an imperfect system, but it works for me.

I am talking about my marking skills to bring you back to a conversation about the lovely Jane Eyre, which I feel I need to write just one more post about. There was a particular passage that I loved so much that I have randomly picked up the book multiple times since finishing it just to read it. It is a passage that I posted on facebook out of love, discussed with my husband, and have simply savored over the last couple of weeks since setting Jane Eyre back on the shelf. This is the passage I am talking about;

"I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest - blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character - perfect concord is the result."

There is something so real in this passage that is simply speaks to me. I have not been married for ten years (a few months over a year now), but I feel like I completely understand what Bronte wrote here. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. Shouldn't all couples feel that way?

I know that I am an extremely lucky girl, to have a man like my husband. He truly understands me and while we do have our differences, we have a great marriage that rests firmly on our love for one another. When Bronte writes, To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. *sigh* I KNOW that feeling, and I love the Bronte captures that connection between two people who love each other so clearly.

I think that is what I loved most about Jane Eyre. Even with all of the twists and turns in the novel, it was, at its core, a novel about two individuals destined to fall in love and be with one another. The romantic in me loves that notion. I did feel that Rochester and Jane were suited and their passion fit their story. It makes my heart swell when I read that passage-knowing that through struggles and pain, they managed to remember the one thing that brought them together: love.

I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine.

Just another example of how powerful literature can be, and why we should all cherish these words.

Has there ever been a passage or line in a book that has stuck with you? What was it?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for May 8, 2011.

I am making this a short post today because I have a pile of things to do before heading to the park for my shift in a couple hours.

I had a much better week this week, even though I didn't make a ton of reading progress. I accomplished a lot for school, and while I still brought home a huge stack of papers this weekend, I am feel much more "in balance" than I did last week. Besides, only two more weeks with my seniors and then I have a second prep hour. :)

One thing that really helped me keep my sanity this week was my lunch hour. Generally, I go down to the English office to eat with the other teachers, but I spent three days this week eating in my room and getting miscellaneous things done. I read while I ate, then spent the other half of my lunch getting things reorganized and put together. I am very active when I am teaching, so my desk quickly becomes a war zone. This really helped me this week, and since I subbed twice this week during my prep hour (meaning I went all day without a break), this REALLY helped. I'm going to continue to read and relax on my lunch as a way to refocus in the midst of very busy days.

I am in the middle of a couple of books. I am THISCLOSE to finishing Hard Times by Charles Dickens for my Classics Circuit Post, and I have also started The Iliad for my readalong. Both are much quicker reads than I was expecting.

I posted quite a bit this week (getting very close to being caught up). Here are the posts for this week if you missed them:
This week you'll see posts on Wide Sargasso Sea and Gaskell's Mary Barton. I also have one more post half-drafted on Jane Eyre (couldn't help it).

Happy Reading!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Book 84: Wide Sargasso Sea and Book Stats.

Title: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Jean Rhys (1890-1979)

First Published: 1966
My Edition: Norton Paperback Fiction (No images of my version were available)
Pages: 190

Other Works Include: Voyage in the Dark (1934), Sleep it Off Lady (1976)

I had a roommate in college who was originally an English major (she later switched to Criminal Justice). She took a class on Post-Colonial Lit (it wouldn't fit in my class schedule), and we had long conversations about the things she was reading in class.

I can remember the conversation where this title came up. We were talking about the canon and why we read it, which was all related back to her class. They were in the middle of reading this, but since I had never read Jane Eyre, I didn't want a lot of details about it.

I figured that now is as good a time as any to dive into this one. Coming right out of Jane Eyre, why not read the "prequel?" All I do know about this one is that it gives details about the life of the mad-woman in the attic before any of the events in Jane Eyre take place. I have a feeling that I am either going to love or hate this one, but who knows. I'm a little worried it is going to ruin my feelings about Bronte's novel, but since this one is so highly regarded, I know it won't be a mash up.

How many of you have read this one? What did you think about it?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book 83: Finished/Reflections on Reading.

I'm always amused by my feelings towards certain titles. When I was first discovering reading, I had very strict feelings about the types of books I read. Obviously as a young girl, I read a lot of classic children's literature, like The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I also read The Babysitter's Club, The Boxcar Children, and random titles from other big names.

Moving into middle school, I began to discover other things that captured my interest. I don't ever remember the young adult section being as big or as diverse as it is now, so I had a hard time finding interesting things for my age group. That is when I began to branch out (one of my friend's and I loved to read Mary Higgins Clark and would share our books). It was only after some great English teachers that I began to venture into the classics, and I did so with great trepidation.

When our English teachers passed out lists of classic titles, I always searched for titles similar to what I already enjoyed-I read a lot of H.G. Wells, Orwell, etc. It was only after some gentle nudging that I started to read and enjoy other classic pieces.

But during all the time, I never had any interest in reading anything by any of the Brontes. I equated Brontes with stuck-up, old school literature that I had no interest in. And while I loved Homer, Austen, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Woolf, and Faulkner, I just skipped right over the Brontes and moved on.

I don't know why I held that prejudice for so long. When I finally read Wuthering Heights last year, I loved it. And then I loved Villette, but there was something inside of me that stayed far away from this title. Something about Jane Eyre spooked me.

At first, I was worried it wouldn't be any good. But after reading Charlotte's other title, I knew that the writing would be excellent. Then I was worried that I would be the one person who wouldn't like it. I would find some fatal flaw that would ruin it.

I was also worried that I would be too dumb to understand the story. I wouldn't enjoy it because I wouldn't get it.

All silly thoughts.

It also became a game as I resisted. There were many tweets going on about the fact that I needed to just dive in and read the novel. I resisted out of fun, but mainly fear.

Now I realize that was silly.

There is nothing to fear about reading a book, and especially a classic. What I have learned throughout this entire process is that classics are far more accessible than we realize. The story of Jane Eyre IS timeless and something we can all cherish and love. Who doesn't want a gruff Mr. Rochester to love? (I tried to call Matt Rochester. He didn't like it).

The story is beautiful and captured me from the beginning. And when Jane left Thornfield, I found myself freaking out. Would she return? Would Rochester take her back? Will the crazy lady die so they can be happy? I was invested and hooked. I flipped through those last 150-200 pages quickly, sucking in the story as fast as I could. By the end, I held the book closed in my lap and just sighed.

I love the adventure that literature takes us on. I love that it takes our emotions and scrambles them up so we can see all sides to an issue. I love that it can make us change our minds about the way we approach reading and what we truly enjoy. But most of all, I love that no matter how much I read, I am constantly moved in new and deeper ways. I am in love with literature, and my experience of reading Jane Eyre perfectly explains why.

I like to look back at the beginning of this journey here and see myself as a 5 year-old clutching her Laura Ingalls Wilder novels. I was curious, but cautious. I started out slowly and approached each new novel with fear and excitement.

Now, I still approach them with fear and excitement, but I also feel hopeful, that the book I am reaching for will take me on that same journey.

So thank you to those pesky few who continually nagged me to pick up Jane Eyre. I can honestly say that it is now a favorite and I cannot wait to read it over and over again.

Favorite Lines:

"I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give."

"I have little left in myself -- I must have you. The world may laugh -- may call me absurd, selfish -- but it does not signify. My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied, or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame."

"Good-night, my-" He stopped, bit his lip, and abruptly left me."

"I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest - blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband's life as fully as he is mine. No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. I know no weariness of my Edward's society: he knows none of mine, any more than we each do the pulsation of the heart that beats in our separate bosoms; consequently, we are ever together. To be together is for us to be at once free as in solitude, as gay as in company. We talk, I believe, all day long: to talk to each other is but more animated and an audible thinking. All my confidence is bestowed on him, all his confidence is devoted to me; we are precisely suited in character - perfect concord is the result."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book 83: Love.

Oh dear.

I am so totally in love with Jane Eyre that I just can't help it.

I love the drama of her life at Thornfield, her conversations with Mr. Rochester, the mystery of what lives upstairs. It is all so beautifully wonderful. And if you haven't read the novel, please STOP READING this here because I am totally going to spoil it for you.

Jane just left Thornfield and has escaped after the disaster of her wedding day. I had to set the book aside to record my thoughts, because there is so much to talk about.

First, I absolutely adored the scene with Rochester playing the gypsy. So fun and enlightening. I think that as readers, we really got to see him interact with Jane in a different way.

I also love their interactions leading up to that moment of the wedding. It is passionate and truthful-something I find so necessary in love. Here is a piece of what I love:

"I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel–I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one."

*sigh* Just let me swoon over here...

Really, the novel is full of passion and hope, something very different from what I found in Villette. In this one, it so much more...youthful. It is so full of hope for what the future will bring these two, that the wedding day disaster tears them all apart. I can understand why Jane would leave.

I am sure I am saying nothing new about this. Everything I could say, has been said, and probably much more eloquently. But seriously, this is a such a beautiful novel. I know that Jane must return to Rochester, she must!

I am off to find out!

Monday, May 2, 2011

When History Comes Alive.

I had phenomenal history teachers when I was in middle school and high school. All of them were dedicated, passionate people who truly made each moment of history come alive for their students. And while English was certainly my favorite subject, history was a very close second.

Once I was in college, I realized that it wouldn't be that much more work to turn my history minor into another major, so I did. It was one of the smartest decisions I ever made and I am glad that I have that degree as well. My history background has helped me understand literature better. It has helped me understand the world in a way that I hadn't before. Yes, it was a great decision.

I am reminded again today of how glad I am that I can teach history. After the events of last night, I knew that today I would be able to have an important conversation with my history students. On Friday, one of my students asked me, "Why do we study history?"

I gave him my normal answer-that history teaches us where we have been. Knowing where we came from, and the events that have brought us to this moment, explains why things are the way they are. We learn history to know our past, our mistakes, and the things that have shaped the world around us. It teaches us to think critically and question decisions our leaders make. Most importantly, it teaches us to be grateful for what we have and who we are as people.

He didn't like that answer. He said, "I like you and your class, but history doesn't matter."

The events of the last 24 hours have proven him wrong. And I made sure that I got through to him.

Both of my history classes watched Obama's speech from last night. Many of them hadn't seen it, so they were enthralled. When it was over, we talked about Obama's phrasing, the way he broke the news to the nation. We talked about the fact that he said, "One nation, under God" and what that meant.

But mostly we talked about this moment in U.S. History. I showed them the images of the people cheering and gathering outside the White House and Ground Zero. We talked about what the death of Osama bin Laden truly meant to our nation as whole, and why people were cheering that a man had died, instead of remembering the people we lost on September 11.

They asked if I remembered where I was on September 11, as most of my students were only 5 or 6. They couldn't remember seeing footage of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, of the anxiety of the nation. I told them I was a junior in high school at the time, and my computer teacher had turned on CNN to check his stocks. CNN was showing footage of the first tower, with smoke billowing from its top. We all stopped and listened as the anchors explained that a plane had somehow crashed into the tower when a second plane came from nowhere and hit the second tower.

I told them that there are moments in everyone's lifetime that you remember vividly. For me, one of those moments include September 11. That day is forever etched in my mind. That is why yesterday is so significant, why it changed history. While hate and anger may not be over, this is a step in the right direction. It is the end of an era. It is the end of questioning where that man is hiding, and when are we going to find him.

I wanted them all to know that we should be grateful for what we have and where our history has brought us. While many across the globe hate us for our freedom and diplomacy, we are who we are for a reason. The decisions that our government has made in the past brought us to this moment. We should not be cheering that a man is dead, but that our beliefs have held true. We should be cheering in remembrance of the people we lost that date, and knowing that as Obama said last night, "Justice has been done."

Yes, I am glad I made that decision in college, and I'm glad I was able to share my love of history with my students today.

History is very much alive, whether we want to see it or not.

Atlas Shrugged Readalong Post 3:

"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

Welcome to the third and final post for Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. The first post was made on March 19, and the second post was up on April 8.

I am not sure how many people who began this monster have finished just yet. This is truly a daunting title and if you decide to read it, you need to go into it knowing that you will be constantly challenged by some aspect of it.

After my post on April 8, I set the book aside. I was getting a little angry with Rand on the few occasions I tried to pick it back up. But when last Sunday came around and I knew that I needed to finish the last 426 pages for this post, I picked the book back up and was completely lost. I had lost the grasp on the story. I went back a chapter and tried to pick up the story partway through. It didn't work. I went back another chapter. THAT didn't work. I went back to the beginning of the second part and tried to start there. And then, in a fit that can only be attributed to some unconscious need for self-harm, I restarted the book last Sunday, giving myself 6 days to finish the thing. I don't know what I was thinking, but I had to do it.

During the first read of the first 600+ pages, I found myself getting really angry with Rand. I was upset by the way she treated her readers, I was sick of hearing her philosophy shoved down my throat, and I was sick of the nagging voice in my head telling me to hate the book. When I restarted it, I told myself to ignore what I knew and hated about Rand and to just read the story. THAT is how I got through 1080 pages of rambles in less than a week.

It is obvious why there are two camps about this book. Those who love it, and those who feel like Rand is absolutely crazy. I can see both sides, and I can understand both sides now that I have read the thing 1 1/2 times. There is so much that I can discuss that I have to break it apart into the things I liked and the things I didn't like.

Let's start with what didn't work for me.

First, Rand was a woman who was full of contradictions. As a person, I don't like her. Some of the choices she made in her life, some of her beliefs, are so contrary to my own that it was only after I separated her from her book that I could stomach getting through it. Once I separated the person from the product, I was okay (I should point out that there is a whole school of criticism and theory that focuses on that technique).

Another huge problem for me was the dialogue. The characters never talk to each other. They give long speeches. And they drone on and on about the same things. The infamous John Galt speech near the very end of the book goes on for over 50 pages. I struggled through it on Saturday night. But I told myself that if I was going to read the other 1030 pages, I had to make it through the 50 pages of his speech. So I did. And it was torture. Imagine 50 pages of ONE CHARACTER rambling on...and on...and on. I kept flipping the pages hoping for a break, but none came.

There was also the issue of Dagny and her love triangle. I find it hard to believe, even in the world that Rand knew, that there would be only 1 successful woman in industry, and one woman worth fighting for on part of our three male leads (Francisco, Reardan, and John Galt). The fact that each of those men were attracted to her, and found her as a person they loved, was pretty unbelievable. I couldn't believe that both Reardan and Francisco were willing to let her go.

Obviously, there is also the issue of her philosophy and length. The book was her way of explaining her philosophy and it shows on every page. The book is WAY too long. Rand was in need of a sane editor who would tell her where to edit. John Galt's speech is a perfect example of something that needed to be cut down. 50 pages? Really?

I will say that once I began to ignore the shoving of her ideals down my throat, I could handle the story as a story. In that second read of the first 600 pages, I noticed more things that I liked.

So what worked?

First, I want to say that I can see why her ideas are interesting and appealing. For Rand, who pretty much escaped from the Soviet Union, I can see why she went this other direction-such an extremist viewpoint. I get it. And I get why certain individuals would gravitate towards it. And there are small pieces that I even like. Let me explain...

In the book, the big, high-powered industrialists gradually disappear, taking with them their minds. There is argument over what it more important-serving the need of the people at the cost of profit vs taking away the hard-earned ideas and progress made by those who worked for those advancements. When Hank Reardan tells his brother that he doesn't have a job for him because his brother hasn't earned the right to work (based on the fact that he was a freeloader during the course of the whole book), I got it. I believe that people need to work for their success. And if you prefer to loaf around and be lazy rather than work and earn your place, well, I don't really feel all that bad for you. If you have the ability to be productive, why sit around? Obviously Rand takes this to an extreme, but that core belief I agree with.

That is what makes me like Hank so much. He is a character driven by success. I think many would find him cold-hearted, but I don't. He is a man driven by his own success. And why should he give up the patent to his metal, the epitome of his own success?

I was also a huge fan of Dagny. She is ruthless and inspired by her work. She is the true definition of a workaholic, something that I can relate to (I am sure you have noticed that by now). She is driven to succeed, especially when the odds are against her. I find that admirable. She doesn't give up, even when others have, and she continually pushes forward.

And I will admit it, but the time I closed the book, I liked the premise. That someday things may go too far and that things will collapse. I suppose it depends on your political views, but I can understand Rand's view of the future.

This was an undertaking, and my copy of the book is beaten and bent. The spine is broken in multiple places (you should know that I NEVER break the spines on my books). I suppose the book's physical condition really shows how I battled my way through it. I am glad I read it (1 1/2 times), and I am glad that I can cross this monster off my list and set it aside. But I know, that no matter how I really feel about it-the fact that I really don't respect Ayn Rand as a person, even with such a grand scheme of a story-I will be thinking about this one for a long time. It is as heavy as the world on Atlas' shoulders, no matter how you feel about it.

"If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?"

I…don't know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?"

To shrug."

If you finished this as part of the readalong, make sure to pat yourself on the back. You deserve it. Then please leave a link to your post so I can link it here!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for May 1, 2011.

I'm trying really hard to believe that I just wrote "May" up there. This year is flying by!

I have had quite the month. Pneumonia, working two jobs, trying to keep the apartment looking like its livable, and of course, maintaining the blog. It has been stressful, and I can't wait to move forward. Something about the idea of starting a new month had given me a little resurgence of energy and motivation. I have 7 weeks left of teaching before I go down to one job. That'll feel like a vacation! :)

I had a fairly successful month of April when I look at the numbers. I read 9 books this month, including starting over Atlas Shrugged last Monday when I was already over 600 pages into the chunkster. THAT I am proud of, but 3 of those books were "fun" reads that I picked up and don't give me any forward progress in my project goals. Another one of those titles was A Raisin in the Sun, which was a reread for me as I taught it to my sophomores last week. 5 books off my list in a month just isn't enough forward progress.

I have been growing increasingly discouraged with the state of my progress. I feel like I haven't been doing enough to get through titles on my list. Since the fall, I have felt stalled in my reading. I have been diving into too many "fun" reads. Then I get distracted, and well, you know. I feel frustrated. The numbers upset me. I have only read 87 titles from my list of 250. When I originally set out to do this, I really felt like it would only take me 2 and a half years to get through my list. And I am already past the 1 and a half year mark. See my frustration?

I know it is not a race, it is not something I should rush through. But I need to stop making excuses and push forward. I have felt disheartened about everything in the last couple of weeks. I have to mentally make the decision to ignore things out of my control and focus on what I can control, like coming home and vegging in front of the TV instead of doing something productive.

It is definitely a personal issue I need to work on, but I want you all to know that I am going to be working hard to try and get my little butt in gear-in writing and reading. :)

This coming month will be busy to begin with, but halfway through some of the stress will go away. At school, the seniors are finishing up their final group presentations and will be leaving in only 3 weeks. My sophomores are finishing up a unit on the 1960s, the Vietnam War, and Feminist literature before starting a series of two big projects that will take us to the end of the year (they have a poetry project and a mini-research project). The only class that is going to require a little more on my end in regards to completing lectures and powerpoints is U.S. History (everything is done for the English classes). This means less grading for me after I finish this last stack of essays.

I can do it, right? Sure!

Anyway, my hopes for May are to be more productive and get 10 books checked off my list. That is probably a very lofty goal, but I am creeping up on 100 books read and I want to get there sooner rather than later. I haven't decided on a reading list, but I know that two of those books will be a Dickens novel (for the Classics Circuit) and The Iliad for my readalong. I also have Their Eyes were Watching God sitting on my nightstand, as well as George Eliot's Silas Marner. Does anyone have any other suggestions for me?

This week I began posting my series of Jane Eyre posts and they'll finish this week. I also think I'll get my posts up for Wide Sargasso Sea (I have to check that they are all set to go). You'll also see my post on Atlas Shrugged go up tomorrow (even though it was supposed to be up yesterday). It is going to be a busy posting week. :)

In any case, I have essays to grade since my students are probably going to revolt if I don't get them back to them soon. :)

Happy Reading!