Beginnings

Welcome friends! I have started this entry in the global technosphere because I have been in love with books since the age of 2. Among the busy business of being a new teacher, this is my outlet for sharing thoughts on a love of reading a wide variety of books. My inspiration can be summed up with a yearbook quote from a teacher written when I was 8: "To the only girl at recess I see reading a book. Good for you!"
My blog title is quoted from a classmate who asked me this once. Believe it or not, I've also heard it as a teacher :D

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monthly Wrap-Up & Year to Date

I'm just getting warmed up with book blogging, but here's a report of what I've read so far in August & the year 2010 to date (from what I can remember!).  Click the title links (if available) for my reviews.  I'll be retro-writing reviews on these & other books I've read in the past when I can.  It's fun to recall how much reading has been accomplished.  I hope my numbers go up!

Books Read This Month (5)
On Writing- Stephen King
Wishful Drinking- Carrie Fisher
The Bear That Came Over the Mountain- Alice Munro
The Book of Ruth- Jane Hamilton
One True Thing- Anna Quindlen

Other Books Read in 2010 (So Far) (21)
The Time Traveler's Wife- Audrey Niffenegger
The World According to Garp- John Irving
The Man Who Mistook his Wife For a Hat- Oliver Sacks
My Autobiography- Charles Chaplin
The Hours- Michael Cunningham
Julie & Julia- Julie Powell
About a Boy- Nick Hornby
Me- Katharine Hepburn
Lessons in Becoming Myself- Ellen Burstyn
She’s Come Undone- Wally Lamb
My Life So Far by Jane Fonda
Don’t Tell Dad by Peter Fonda
What Falls Away by Mia Farrow
Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder
Girl, Interrupted- Susanna Kaysen
What’s It All About- Michael Caine

Teaser Tuesday

I'm liking these memes...they're fun and they get me motivated to post even the smallest thought I have about reading.


How to Post:
Grab your current read.  Let the book fall open to a random page.  Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.  You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!  Please avoid spoilers.

My Life- Bill Clinton

"Twice he woke to tell Mother and me he was still there."  (Page 112)

"Often when I was a boy, Daddy would stare out the window into a storm and say, 'Don't bury me in the rain.'"  (Page 113)

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Good morning!  This is my first entry in this meme, hosted by One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Total books read this week:  2 (finished one & started one)
Titles:  On Writing- Stephen King; My Life- Bill Clinton

Currently reading:

I couldn't resist reading this, despite it's notorious length of nearly 1000 pages...maybe that's even more enticing for readers & his political followers (who may be one in the same), because you have to figure that Clinton will venture deep into the most memorable times of his career: governor of Arkansas, two terms as President, health care reform, surplus, Whitewater, and some lady named Monica.

So far, I'm 150 pages in and liking the style.  He's quite a storyteller and (assuming he wrote at least the majority of these words) it shows that an eloquent speaker can also be an effective writer, like Obama has proven to be with Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father.

As Clinton writes his memoir chronologically, I am up to 1969, the point where Nixon has won the election, Clinton is at Oxford in his senior year as a politics major, and witnessing the Vietnam War, the first ever televised, as friends receive draft notices.  I am wondering about details concerning how Clinton became unfortunately labeled a "draft dodger," but am grateful for it as a stint in Vietnam may very well have changed the face of American history.  Who could have possibly been a fresher face in the Democratic party?

Thank You!

On another note, it's been almost 3 weeks since I started this book blog & I have 5 followers so far.  Things are looking up!  I've been scouring through loads of other book blogs and continue to be impressed with people's design skills--wowee!  I also love hearing about the newest books, which knowing the rate I read at I probably won't get to for a few years :oP  I will continue to link to them here & hopefully get a chain reaction going.
Have a great week!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On Writing- Stephen King

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Published:  2000
Length: 297 pages
ISBN:  9780743455961
Genre:  Non-fiction, Writing

Start date:  Aug. 18, 2010
Finished date:  Aug 26, 2010

Where from: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read:  I'm a Stephen King junkie & I'd heard that this book was one of the best about writing as a craft.  I hope you don't scoff at this but, in the last 30 or so years, who would know best about how to succeed as a writer?

Summary:  Celebrating the 10th anniversary of his original edition, the popular yet critically respected horror-suspense-often fantasy writer Stephen King churns out a part-memoir, part-writers craft 101 that attempts to explain what an amateur writer as he once was can do to succeed and appreciate both the beauty & ugliness of the craft.

Review:

There is no doubt that Stephen King is the most successful American writer still alive, still in print, still publishing new material at a respectable rate, and still popular amongst a number of demographics.  He has come to earn more respect in the academic field, surpassing yet obviously relishing the title of "popular writer."  As Roger Ebert commented, "A lot of people were outraged that he was honored at the National Book Awards, as if a popular writer could not be taken seriously. But after finding that his book On Writing had more useful and observant things to say about the craft than any book since Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, I have gotten over my own snobbery."  So stifle those sarcastic coughs once again.

The art of writing well is nothing new, and if you expect the King of Popular Fiction to crack open his treasure trove of highly coveted secrets to his success, you will be baffled to find that there aren't any.  Seriously.  What King does accomplish with On Writing is the ability to re-examine the craft in light of his success and attempt to modestly explain how he made it, warts and all.

The first aptly titled section "C.V." (curriculum vitae) is a memoir of sorts that provides some interesting anecdotes of his childhood with startling clarity that he claims are not entirely influential in his choice of genre, but nevertheless support it: dropping a cinderblock that crushed his foot, being tortured by a reckless babysitter who sat on his face, enduring several needles into his eardrum, and the hilarious description of the areas affected by wiping his ass with leaves of poison ivy.  How could such events not persuade him to write about the horrors of human nature & the cataclysmic events that transpire because of them?

Toolbox is a foundational chapter that reflects on the basic concepts of writing: vocabulary, grammar (especially his hatred of adverbs, which makes me want to seek & destroy all words ending in "-ly"), language, and style.  There are clear-sighted examples from some of the most respected writers, and those that never saw the glory years of being a famous writer.  King suggests that when a rule ought to be broken, you need to be able to justify it on a number of levels.  What is good for the writer goose may not always satisfy the publisher gander.

On Writing, the gutsiest chapter of the book, recounts experiences with rejection, finding the right agent, and addresses the most sought-after question every author dreads: "Where do you get your ideas?"  He offers a pat answer to this, but it seems to satisfy the glibness of the question:  Think of a concept, even a familiar one, and connect it to another concept (with the same criteria as the other) that in combination have never, to your knowledge, been written on.  Simple?  For sure.  But, in essence, that is the formula of a good idea and accounts for originality.  He goes on to prove this formula successful with how he developed the idea for his breakthrough success, Carrie, which I won't spoil for you, but shows how plausible developing an untouched, unseen idea can be.

On Living is a follow-up of sorts that recounts his painful recovery from a 1999 accident which nearly cost him his right leg after being hit on the side of a road by a reckless driver.  His scattered memories of the accident, along with his slow therapeutic treatments that allowed him to return to the book (this one) that went nearly unpublished.

The book concludes with a practical lesson in editing.  A portion of the 1st draft of his short story "1408" is presented cleanly, then a 2nd draft of the same portion is marked efficiently and self-critically with a postscript that comments on his edits.  The clean draft shows a promising story, but even I could see areas that may be trimmed for overzealous description, and sure enough, several of them were attacked with the coloured pen, yet he surprised me by changing some lines that I felt worked just fine.  There was even one that I liked but got cut.  The lesson which he cites often, "Kill your darlings," suggests a willingness of the author to edit what ultimately will ruin or, perhaps less hyperbolically, mar your manuscript with unnecessary description, redundencies, or (horrors!) ridiculous adverbs. 

The final touch is one many faithful readers have wanted for a long time, and that is to know what Stephen King reads.  He provides a short list of titles he has read in the last few years, even though they may not have been newly published in that time.  His choices are variable, including Dickens, Faulkner, Conrad, Graham Greene, Maugham; multiple titles by historical war fictionist Pat Barker, Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, and Ian McEwan; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, E. Annie Proulx, The Poisonwood Bible, Anna Quindlen, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, fellow horror writer Thomas Harris' Hannibal, and even popular authors Michael Chabon and Michael Connelly.  And he could not possibly exclude his wife and most fervent critic Tabitha King, whom he praises in the book as being an atypical muse who is not afraid to put the vice of egoism in check, not that King has much of one in the public eye, and is second only to himself to aptly critique his latest project.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his popularity, his reign of the bestseller list, his perseverence, and likely because he still feels the need to justify his success, King has produced a writers' bible from which, as he claims, any decent writer can become good.  He does go on to say that no "good" writer can rise to supremacy, though I think he is being modest in this respect, as this memoir-cum-guide would not have been acceptable by the masses unless it was preceded by a slew of equally popular & critically acclaimed material.  Who else but King?

Rank:  (A+)- Highly recommended (especially if you want to be a published writer, high school English teacher, English college professor, are a huge fun or even mildly interested in King as a writer, and/or if you want to know the meaning of his success--basically anyone who would scour this review!)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Fuhgettaboutit

My first official meme...yay!  I came up with this one myself, since the only Friday meme I found was Friday Favourite, and I wasn't up to writing that today.  Plus my creative boosters are on overdrive, so here goes nothing...

The idea is to write about a book that I tried my best to read wholeheartedly but gave up on for one reason or another.  I had this little blurb saved up & now it has a purpose.



Julie & Julia- Julie Powell

I went to see the movie with a girlfriend and we both loved it.  It was as light & fluffy as a French pastry and the rich closeup shots of the dishes made were so droolworthy, they (almost) made the popcorn & Reese's Pieces we ate positively shameful.  The key word is almost...we also went out for Starbucks mochas after :oD

So, being smitten with the good-hearted film, I was interested in trying the novel and grabbed a copy, merely skimming the then 50/50 (good/bad) reviews (now they are more 20/80).  Sorry to say that I was disappointed.  I got to 100 pages & got sick and tired of Julie. She was so full of it & seemed cranky all the time--not completely unlike Amy Adams's character, but at least there she gave us a sweet, honest-to-goodness rendition of the rather pathetic whiner that the book makes her out to be.  I mean, for Pete's sake, she is responsible for her own joy & equal misery that comes from taking on the challenging task of cooking the entire iconic bible for housewives without servants: Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  What's even worse is that the Julia half of the novel seems underwritten and just when it gets interesting, it's back to poor, sad Julie. 

The writing style is rather pedestrian--I can tell that Powell has made an awkward transition into novel-writing--and comes across as dull when it doesn't delve into an uninteresting backstory or the trials & tribulations of her marriage to a slob who doesn't seem even mildly supportive, let alone interested, in Julie's project.

I thought the Meryl Streep-Amy Adams movie was very sweet and enjoyable, especially Julia's journey into culinary school and her saucy chemistry with Paul (Stanley Tucci), which alone would have made a great movie, so I was rather disappointed that the book did not come across the same way.  Goes to show that there are rare times where the movie is better than the book it is adapted from. I’m going to try reading My Life in France by Julia Child some time down the road as I think her story is much more readable than Julie's.

On a final note, I realize now that Julie Powell's book has two separate titles: the hardcover edition is called Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen and the paperback edition (shown above, which I read) is subtitled My Year of Cooking Dangerously.  I don't think there is any difference in the pages between the covers, but luckily adapted screenwriters Nora & Delia Ephron, the sister writing team that separately brought you Meg Ryan romantic comedies (Nora--When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail; Delia- Hanging Up--and I admit to loving them all), applied their Midas touch to this otherwise sloppy drivel that makes for a more enjoyable, rare experience of the movie version besting the novel.

Rank:  (D)- Did Not Finish, Don't Recommend

P.S.  I won't make every Friday post a "Friday Fuhgettaboutit" (that could make this blog look like a book-burning cult!) but every now & then I may just wave my critical wand and let my feelings about the rare occurences when my reading time was sadly wasted pour out.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Harking Back...Part III: University (Year 2)


Shakespeare

We read 12 plays (tragedies & comedies).  Having only my high school Shakespeare experience to go on, I did not know what to expect from this course. Almost everyone I knew majoring in English took this course for 1 of 2 required early lit credits! We used all Folger editions, which are very well developed and offer side-by-side page views of the translated play version and the language translation with key words in bold to correspond. This made it much easier to follow the play seamlessly without having to change pages to read the translation!


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Hamlet
Yup, we read this again. It was an even richer reading experience, knowing many of the themes & great characters.
Rank:  (A+)- A must-read









Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Othello
Surprisingly, I didn’t read this in high school, even though it is highly appropriate for the age group. A controversial romance to be sure (see also A Taste of Honey) between the moor Othello and the tragic Desdemona. Iago is considered Shakespeare’s most evil villain, though I thought King Lear’s Goneril & Regan were pretty despicable.
Rank:  (A)- Highly recommend





Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
My favourite (so far) of the comedies. I thought it was so whimsical with dreamlike imagery and enchanting descriptions of the setting, and the humour, like Oscar Wilde, is still quite funny.  There is a lot to visualize, which allows flexibility in how people perceive the world these characters live in.  The movie version from 1999 is decent but the set design is just like I thought of it--so luscious.
Rank:  (A+)- Excellent (the best Shakespeare comedy I've read)



Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Measure for Measure
I had to look up what this play was about, so it likely wasn’t that memorable and is one of the least known Shakespeare plays. It’s technically a comedy, though has some light tragic elements and is a testament to sexual politics before the term was even coined.
Rank:  N/A (can't really rank something that I don't remember!)

Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Henry V
A historical play that I didn’t expect to enjoy, but did.  Best line:  “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…”  Best Folger cover: this one.  They use rich colours and blends, but this one is the most striking.
Rank:  (A)- Highly recommend






Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Richard III
We started the course reading this play. It is full of memorable lines: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” “Now is the winter of our discontent.”
Rank:  (A)- Highly recommend








Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Antony & Cleopatra
Wasn’t too fond of this one, as I recall. Historical plays are hit-and-miss for me.
Rank:  (C)- Just okay











Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

Titus Andronicus
I hadn’t heard of this one before and it turns out that Anthony Hopkins starred in a film adaptation of it. A rather sinister ending that questions the quality and definition of justice.  It's the most violent written work I've ever read.
Rank:  (B)- Recommend







Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
King Lear
Sadly, I can’t remember much about my reading experience with this one. I do think it exudes sympathy for Lear and his relationship with daughter Cordelia is rather emotional. I will have to reread this…ack, more TBR material :oD
Rank:  (A)- Highly recommend







Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Cymbeline
Like Measure for Measure, I hadn’t heard of this play before taking the course. It has similar themes to most of Shakespeare’s tragedies and comes across like a combination of Twelfth Night (female-male cross dressing) and Othello (claiming a false affair & plotting to kill for revenge).
Rank:  (B)- Recommend





Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters

The Tempest
I enjoyed this one and thought the use of magic was a new idea that hadn’t been explored in as much detail in Shakespeare’s other plays, drawing some ideas from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I remember watching the BBC version of this play and we all thought the actor playing Caliban was completely off the wall!
Rank:  (A)- Highly recommend






Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Twelfth Night
I had already read this in high school & was excited to read it again.  It is a very sweet, likeable play that is the best Shakespeare play to start reading as its language isn't too difficult to grasp.
Rank:  (A)- Highly recommend







Studies in American Literature
Theme: hard-boiled detective fiction!  This was a fun theme to study and turned out to be a more complex genre than I thought it would be.


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
The Big Sleep- Raymond Chandler
Chandler is best known for writing the character of Sam Spade, brought to life on the screen by Humphrey Bogart. I would have preferred to read The Maltese Falcon, which we watched scenes of in the Bogart movie (one of my favourites). The novel’s ending was confusing and I remember having to reread at least 1-2 times to have some idea of what happened. The movie with Bogart and Bacall was pretty dull. I preferred To Have & Have Not, though that one is also not as good as Maltese Falcon.
Rank:  (C)- Just okay



Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
The Thin Man- Dashiell Hammett
Nick & Nora Charles are classic characters, played by the often-paired William Powell & Myrna Loy in 6 films, though there was only 1 novel. Hammett mixes humour with hard-boiled mystery, making women more prominent characters in the stories, instead of reducing them to femme fatales, like other such writers (i.e. Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane). Again, I found some parts confusing to follow, but overall it was a more enjoyable read than Chandler.  Haven't seen the movies yet but they are supposed to be even better.
Rank:  (B)- Recommend


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Fearless Jones- Walter Mosley
Mosley is best known for his series starring Easy Rawlins, a black PI, played by Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress (though Don Cheadle stole the movie in one of his earliest roles) the only film adaptation of Mosley’s books so far. Fearless Jones is the first of a separate, smaller series. His style of writing urbanizes the hard-boiled genre, which made the story more relatable and more contemporary. It made me think of how Sam Spade could be written as a black character…Forgot how great this cover is, resembling the pulp fiction serials of the hard-boiled mystery genre.
Rank:  (A)- Highly recommend


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
Motherless Brooklyn- Jonathan Lethem
This novel features most unique mystery character ever: Lionel Essrog, a detective with Tourette’s syndrome, who adds self-deprecating humour that goes deeper than but is nonetheless inspired by Hammett. Actor Edward Norton has spent several years trying to bring this story to the screen and is set to adapt, star & direct the film version. I think he is just the right guy to do it.  I enjoyed the characters more than the story.  The mystery is not very complex, lending more space to Lionel & his quirks, such as a love of Prince, whose music he equates with his tics so much he once thought Prince had TS as well!
Rank:  (A+)- Excellent


Purchase:  Amazon | Chapters
A is For Alibi- Sue Grafton
The first in her Kinsey Millhone series. I enjoyed it thoroughly and liked having a female detective written in a grittier, contemporary style that puts forth women as more than the femme fatale or the helpless victim. The ending was sudden & heart-stopping. The first of her anticipated 26-book series for each letter of the alphabet (she’s up to U is for Undertow, and has the title set for the last novel (Z is for Zero) is a twisty, observable novel that puts to rest any notions of “girls playing detective” to give Kinsey a strong hold on a male-dominated role. The series is on my TBR list.
Rank:  (A+)- Excellent

Coming soon...Year 3.

Bookish Mad Libs

Found this cool meme at The Bookworm & thought I'd give it a try. I have to cheat a little though--you're supposed to fill in books read in the last year. Since I've read mostly teacher resource books, I think I'll stretch it out to any books that make me look good :oD  Authors are in ( ).

In school I was:  Nervous Conditions (Tsitsi Dangaremba)
People might be surprised I’m:  Me (Katharine Hepburn)
I will never be: Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
My fantasy job is: The Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong Kingston...on TBR list)
At the end of a long day I need:  The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler...not that I want to be dead :oD)
I hate it when:  Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)
Wish I had:  A Room With a View (E.M. Forster)
My family reunions are:  High Fidelity (Nick Hornby)
At a party you’d find me with:  The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
I’ve never been to:  House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros)
A happy day includes:  A Midsummer Night's Dream (Shakespeare)
Motto I live by:  The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)
On my bucket list: A Map of the World (Jane Hamilton)
In my next life, I want to be:  One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey)

Granted, some of these make no grammatical sense, but you get the idea.  I think this is a fun little game to play!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers

Came across this list on Literary Menagerie, which is originally from the College Board.  Love the idea & wish I had tried this the summer before starting university.  Oh well... 

I've read 12 titles and approx. 7 other titles by authors in the list (Shakespeare's works I've counted as 1 title).  Most are on my TBR list already.  I've never heard of some, which I've highlighted in yellow.  Can anyone fill me in on them?  Are they worth reading?

The titles I've read are in bold and if I've read a different title (or more) by an author, the author is in bold (but not the title).  Clear as mud?  :oD  Plus, I added a little commentary here & there in ( ).

--, Beowulf (This was on a course reading list, but I dropped it & never read it)
Achebe, Chinua- Things Fall Apart
Agee, James- A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane- Pride and Prejudice (sooooo embarassing...!)
Baldwin, James- Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel- Waiting for Godot (I read Endgame in university--quite unique)
Bellow, Saul- The Adventures of Augie March
Bronte, Charlotte- Jane Eyre (ouch, another one I'm ashamed to say I haven't read)
Bronte, Emily- Wuthering Heights (ditto above...TBR)
Camus, Albert- The Stranger (TBR)
Cather, Willa- Death Comes for the Archbishop (My Antonia- TBR)
Cervantes, Miguel de- Don Quixote (on TBR list)
Chaucer, Geoffrey- The Canterbury Tales (TBR)
Chekhov, Anton- The Cherry Orchard (Chekhov's Selected Stories- TBR)
Chopin, Kate- The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph- Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore- The Last of the Mohicans  (TBR)
Crane, Stephen- The Red Badge of Courage
Dante- Inferno
Defoe, Daniel- Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles- A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor- Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore- An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre- The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George- The Mill on the Floss (Scenes From a Clerical Life in university)
Ellison, Ralph- Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo- Selected Essays
Faulkner, William- As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William- The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry- Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott- The Great Gatsby (in high school)
Flaubert, Gustave- Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox- The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von- Faust
Golding, William- Lord of the Flies (in high school)
Hardy, Thomas- Tess of the d’Urbervilles (TBR)
Hawthorne, Nathaniel- The Scarlet Letter (TBR)
Heller, Joseph- Catch 22 (TBR)
Hemingway, Ernest- A Farewell to Arms (TBR)
Homer- The Iliad
Homer- The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale- Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous- Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik- A Doll’s House
James, Henry- The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry- The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (on my nightstand, TBR)
Kafka, Franz- The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong- The Woman Warrior (was on a course list but never read it)
Lee, Harper- To Kill a Mockingbird (in high school)
Lewis, Sinclair- Babbitt
London, Jack- The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas- The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia- One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman- Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman- Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur- The Crucible (Death of a Salesman in high school)
Morrison, Toni- Beloved
O’Connor, Flannery- A Good Man is Hard to Find
O’Neill, Eugene- Long Day’s Journey into Night
Orwell, George- Animal Farm (in high school)
Pasternak, Boris- Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia- The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allen- Selected Tales (The Raven is one of my favourite poems)
Proust, Marcel- Swann’s Way
Pynchon, Thomas- The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria- All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond- Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry- Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D.- The Catcher in the Rye (a classic favourite of mine)
Shakespeare, William- Hamlet (read in high school & university; my favourite tragedy)
Shakespeare, William- Macbeth
Shakespeare, William- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William- Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard- Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary- Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie- Marmon Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander- One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles- Antigone
Sophocles- Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John- The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis- Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher- Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Swift, Jonathan- Gulliver’s Travels
Thackeray, William- Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David- Walden
Tolstoy, Leo- War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan- Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (university- children's lit)
Voltaire- Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr.- Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice- The Color Purple (university- women writers)
Wharton, Edith- The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora- Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt- Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar- The Picture of Dorian Gray (The Importance of Being Earnest)
Williams, Tennessee- The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia- To the Lighthouse (A Room of One's Own)
Wright, Richard- Native Son

Which Austen Heroine Are You?

This is enticing me to get cracking on those TBR Austen novels!  A fun quiz, though my result doesn't strike me as being entirely accurate!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Harking Back...Part III: University (Year 1)

“Time it was, and what a time it was
It was a time of innocence
A time of confidences…”
~ Simon & Garfunkel, “Bookends”

To give you an idea of my background, I started my first year at university taking about 1-2 courses from different humanities departments, plus a stint in psychology (don’t know what I was thinking there?!?). I soon realized that my original goal of going into communications & multimedia was not working for me and I soon discovered what I had known all along: I ought to be an English major. This explains why Year 1 only has one course in English lit, but soon it became the most comfortable arena of my 4-year experience.

My memory of Years 1 & 2 are sketchy as I had some growing up to do and became more dedicated to succeeding in my courses. Plus, I got a full-time spring/summer & part-time fall/winter job at the campus library, and volunteered in a Gr. 4 class in my 4th year to apply for teacher’s college, so I learned a great deal about balancing schoolwork with everything else life throws your way. It was the best time of my life so far and I’ll always think of it as the beginning of my bildungsroman.


Longer Genres
My one & only English course of my 1st year was a focus on modern novels & plays.  I would have gotten more out of this course as a 3rd or 4th year student. It’s too bad in a way as I had a wonderful, passionate professor and I was lucky to have her again in a 4th year seminar when I was more dedicated, but the material was (overall) quite challenging at the time for me.  Here's what I remember reading:


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High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
This was a brilliant novel to start a 1st year English course with as it appeals to young adults and makes many references to music & movies in popular culture. Hornby is one of the best contemporary British writers around and has great admiration for musical taste without hesitating to criticize the mundane. I’ve gone on to read About a Boy and enjoyed it equally. He makes excellent contrasts between vapid, self-centred protagonists, their strange & sometimes bitter friends, and the free-spirited, admirable strangers that are gradually accepted despite and because of their flaws, ironically by the most flawed individual in the story.
Rank:  (A)- Highly Recommend


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The Concubine’s Children- Denise Chong
A memoir about the generational gaps between a Chinese-Canadian family prior to, during, and after immigrating, and the divisions between cultures. I could not get into this book, but don’t remember my reasons. Ironically, I wrote an essay on a book with similar themes (see Year 4) in Balzac & the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, which I enjoyed much more.
Rank:  (DNF)- Did Not Finish, Don't Recommend



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Running in the Family- Michael Ondaatje
This became a notorious bane of the course. Nobody seemed to understand this novel. I may try it again down the road but I had a much better experience with In the Skin of a Lion. Have yet to read The English Patient, but the movie version bored me, so I may need a lot of convincing to try it.  The only vivid image I have of Running is a woman holding onto a handrail bannister during a hurricane.  It's an unforgettable image.  Enough to get me to try, try again.  Maybe...
Rank:  (C)- Didn't Finish, Just Okay


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A Taste of Honey- Shelagh Delaney
I think this was from this course...Controversial at the time, this play featured the interracial relationship between a teenage white girl and a black man, the pregnancy that results, and her friendship with a gay roommate all in 1950s Britain. Being naïve to issues of censorship in decades past, I could not understand the shock value of this play, because I believed in its reality in the present. Delaney was brilliantly ahead of her time, but the play seemed locked in place and was difficult to slog through.
Rank:  (B)- Recommend


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Who Do You Think You Are?- Alice Munro
A short story from a collection of the same name. Munro is revered as one of the greatest Canadian writers in the country’s literary history, but I’ve never been particularly fond of her. I much prefer Margaret Laurence. I don’t remember much about this story, except an unforgettable image of the female protagonist feeling liberated by going topless onstage during a play performance. I’ve since read & reviewed the short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain, adapted by Sarah Polley for the film Away From Her, which I liked much better but I am not likely to read any more Munro.
Rank:  (C)- Just Okay

…Oh dear, there were more texts read in this course but I can’t remember them! I was not the most studious in my first year, though I did find time to reread 2 John Grisham novels…ouch, sorry Professor.

Update:  Thought of one more.  I feel like I just added another coin to my memorybank :o)  I came across Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett in the college-bound list & remembered this one:

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Endgame- Samuel Beckett
We only read Endgame as far as I remember and it is such an unusual, satirical play that you cannot possibly forget it.  My favourite line is the eerie "It's finished, it's nearly finished," the opening line that echoes suggestions of the ultimate "Endgame," whatever that may be.  The play is minimalist in nature: one act, four characters (two of whom spend the majority of the play hidden inside trash cans), and only one of whom is able-bodied, all trapped in the dank basement-like room with a faint orange glow outside, what many critics interpret as the aftermath of an apocalyptic "endgame."  It's a weirdly wonderful play and I highly recommend giving it a try.  If you don't understand most of it, you're not alone, and that is intended to be, in the tradition of Theatre of the Absurd, the penultimate point.
Rank:  (B)- Recommend

Coming soon...Year 2.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Bear Came Over the Mountain- Alice Munro

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Also available for free in at The New YorkerIt prints out to 14 pages.

Published:  1999
Length: 14 pages
ISBN: 9780143055389
Genre:  Short Story, Canadian Lit

Start date:  Aug. 17, 2010 
Finished date:  Aug. 20, 2010

Where from: The New Yorker
Why Read: I thought the film was lovely and was interested in reading the story.

Summary:  A retired professor reflects on the effects of memory loss on his wife of many decades who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and how their relationship changes when she enters a nursing home.

Great Quotation:  "Do you think it would be fun if we got married?"

Review:

I must admit that this short story sat unread on my catch-all table (not even on my nightstand with other TBR books) for a few years before a spring cleaning job reintroduced me to it.  Every time I spotted it peeking out from under other miscellaneous papers, it reminded me of the stark snow-covered ski hills in Sarah Polley's beautifully filmed adaptation and nearly enticed me to read it every time.  Once I cleared off the clutter, it was free to be read.

I had previously read Alice Munro's Who Do You Think You Are? in university and while I found her writing to be admirable and her word choice unique in a tone that only she could create, her characters struck me as rather unemotional and stiff.  I could not sympathize or even relate to the cardboard cutouts I imagined them being in my head.  This story improves on that.

The Bear Came Over the Mountain is an odd title for the story, and I would be interested in knowing what the inspiration was for it, as well as a metaphorical connection I am not catching on to.  Polley's adapted film title works off the beautiful quotation of the storyteller, Grant:  "I wanted never to be away from her," which thankfully appears at the end of the first paragraph, enticing me to continue and changing my mind about Munro's character development.

Grant and Fiona are a love match that is reversed by the sad condition of her memories as Alzheimer's disease forces them apart.  As Fiona moves into a nursing home, away from the house and husband she once knew, she forms a companionate relationship with a considerably weakened resident, Aubrey.  I found it remarkable that the feelings Fiona once showed Grant are remembered but transferred to another man, whom she may be mistaking for her husband.  This circumstance is obviously distressing to Grant, who decides to seek consolation from a similar viewpoint: Aubrey's wife, Marian.

Short stories are often one of two things: underdeveloped because of its limited length or developed more acutely because the author is aware of the limited space in which to write.  Munro's story is the latter and she gives a sense of dignified grace to the four characters without embellishing the emotions that come with the harsh changes occuring in their intertwined lives.  It is ironic that often emotion comes naturally when it is not presented so obviously.  Maybe this is what I expected of Munro's other work and felt cheated out of being told what the character is feeling.

Munro's style may feel bland to those expecting a rich tapestry of description, but this is not the point of her work.  I recommend previewing Polley's film before reading this story, as having the gorgeous backgrounds of the Canadian winter landscape in mind while reading makes it come alive.

Overall, I still feel that Munro sometimes writes description rather stiffly, but minimally, so she can reflect on how the appearance of surroundings and the perception of events changes a character psychologically, a strength that comes forth in this story necessarily as the relationship between Grant & Fiona is at once weakened by her memory loss but strengthened by her sporadic recollection of beautiful moments they have shared.

Ranking this story is tough, because I feel that simply "recommending" it is a cop-out, but then again, it is not the most life-changing work I've read, so I'm just going to write that you should read it and try not to pass it up, even if it gets buried under a four year mountain of other things to do.

Rank:  (B)- Recommend

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Didn't Think I Was Tech-Challenged Until...

...I started a blog :oP  I could use some input on how to improve the blog's appearance or content.  I'm just getting started but like lots of blog readers, I tend to go back into the archives of blog posts & find topics I'm on back in time when they were current to somebody else.

Anyway...I've spent way too much time searching out book blogs, joining up to follow them, and reading posts and haven't read anything in novel form today...I'm going to squeeze in some time now before I bug my eyes out completely at the vast screen of cyberspace.

Please add any ideas on layout, format, etc.  I've been fiddling with the HTML a little and have made some progress.  Maybe it's transparent, but it's there :oD

~Teacher/Learner~

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

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Published: 2008
Length: 163 pages
ISBN: 978-1439153710
Genre: Humour, Memoir

Start date: Aug. 17, 2010
End date: Aug. 18, 2010 (boy, that must be a record for me!)

Where from: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: I heard it was funny and I’ve always liked Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally… and Star Wars (of course).

Summary: A memoir of vignettes written for a one-woman-show about the trials & tribulations of an actress growing up with famous parents (well, one famous parent anyway) and finding the humour in battles with drugs, bipolar disorder, and Star Wars.

Great Quotation: “I feel I’m very sane about how crazy I am.”

Review:

This was a quick but fulfilling read as many dark moments are shared and dealt with through humour, an attitude that can be awkward for some to accept, but after all, what better way is there to handle such a roller coaster of Hollywood existence?

I loved the hilarious tidbits about the relationship with her mother. Did you know she introduces herself as Debbie when she calls? Too cute :o) The entire book isn’t a laugh a minute and it’s not meant to be, but the scattering of laugh out loud moments make it a worthy read. Case in point: The dubious honour of having apicture of Princess Leia in the bipolar chapter of a psychology textbook.

If you’re looking for a memoir about Carrie Fisher’s film career, this isn’t it. Only Star Wars is considerably referenced (Fisher knows it’s impossible not to) especially concerning its reception in popular culture down to the ridiculous merchandising. The most hilarious entries describe the gross misuse of Princess Leia as a shampoo bottle with her removable head and the Pez dispenser that juts wafers out of her neck.

The chapters are short and breezy (even the less voracious reader may finish it in 1-2 sittings) and stories are sprinkled throughout in no particular order, though dish on the Debbie, Eddie, and Elizabeth love/hate triangle is covered earlier on. The humour is consistently self-deprecating, yet the clarity of her self-acceptance and ability to laugh through her darkest moments is a surprisingly entertaining combination. I think reading this aloud with a friend, as recommended by the EW review on the cover, with a couple of margaritas (hold the amphetamines) would make a hilarious romp.

Did anyone else notice the slanted font of the cover's title ala the scrolling Star Wars openers?  This must be deliberate...or I'm morphing into a fanboy.

Rate:  A- Highly recommend