30 November 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - BFFs

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish and these are my top ten fictional characters I would like to be friends with:

10. Babette from Don Delillo's White Noise:  Babette is kind of neurotic, and nurturing, and loving and I can totally relate to her.  I feel like I could sit at my kitchen table, sipping tea with her and unload a whole lot of crap, and she would listen and make good eye contact.

9. Pippi Longstocking:  Crazy fun.  And my real life best friend is a red head, so Pippi and I are meant to be.

8. MaryAnne from The Babysitter's Club series:  I loved these books. Mary Anne was the shy, quiet one and I could relate to that.  I could not relate to sportiness, or popularity.  So, Mary Anne is definitely the one that I would hang with.  I still watch this movie sometimes, for fun.

7. Mary Shelley:  Okay, so she is an author, not a character.  But I would have really liked to hang out with her.  Come on, she wrote Frankenstein, at 19, while pregnant.  When I was 19, I took naps everyday...Maybe I still do.

6. Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream: I'm pretty quiet and mild mannered, but I've always liked trouble-makers.

5. Beth from Little Women:  I don't remember reading Little Women, although I know I've read most of it, but I remember the movie version with Winona Ryder and Claire Danes.  It didn't hurt that I loved Claire Danes at the time, but Beth is totally the kind of fictional character I'm drawn to: quiet, sweet and a bit fragile.

4. Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden: Here is another sickly character, but I was really jealous of that garden.

3. Jane Eyre: Duh.

2. The Merry Pranksters from The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (and of course, real life): Can you imagine?  I mean Tom Wolfe did it, so I could handle it, right?  Not the Hell's Angels though.  I would not want to hang out with them.

1. Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch: She is smart and has lots of drama. 

These are always so much harder for me than I think they are going to be.  I realized that I like shy, quiet friends, and totally insane friends, kind of in equal parts.

24 November 2010

Christmas Spirit

So, I'm trying to do new things, and I'm going to try to do this.  I don't think I've really ever read a "Christmas Book" besides kid's books, and Dickens.  So, I'm going to try it this year by joining the...

Here are the Christmas books I have, which would put me at the Mistletoe Level if I read them:

David Sedaris,  Holidays on Ice (not that uncomfortable with this one)
Dorthea Benton Frank, The Christmas Promise
John Grisham, Skipping Christmas (totally uncomfortable with these).

My Reivew of Catching Fire

First off: SPOILER ALERT!!!

Since this is the second book in a series, talking about it might spoil the first book, The Hunger Games.  There may also be some spoilers of the second book as well.

Catching Fire is the second novel in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series.  After surviving the first Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta, the tributes from District 12, are increasingly made aware that  threatening to commit suicide together at the end of the Games has been interpreted as an act of disobedience to the Capitol, and many of the Districts are beginning to revolt.  Katniss is given the responsibility of convincing the Districts that her actions were out of love for her fellow tribute Peeta as the two go on their "Victory Tour."  Despite her best efforts to convince the Districts of her love, the Capitol continues to see her as a threat, and for the Hunger Games "Quarter Quell" (75th anniversary), the two are required to reenter the arena, knowing that it is unlikely that both of them will survive this time.  Of course, there is a love story here too, as Katniss is torn between the baker's son and her fellow Hunger Games tribute, Peeta, and her longtime friend and hunting partner, Gale.   Her choice of love object does not only affect her, but also the potential status of the revolution.

I really like this series.  I haven't read much young adult literature as an adult, but I've been reading more lately.  I've been doing this because I think that some of the most interesting story lines are in YA books, and I like a good story line and a fast read sometimes.  However, I think I like this series beyond that, and here is why:

1. I have always been a fan of dystopian literature and satire, and I believe this series adds something to both of those genres.  I think that the world of the Hunger Games series is well drawn.  I think that the books also offer a critique of consumer capitalism that rivals many novels for adults.  As a point of comparison, I am currently read Scott Westerfield's, Uglies and I like the book, but I think it's futuristic world and the trials and tribulations of the characters offer not original or genuine critiques of society, but obvious platitudes and lessons in behavior for teenagers.  I don't believe that Collins does this. I mean, come on, it is a book about a revolution, with some great real, history reference points.

2. To further develop that idea: Katniss is a flawed character.  She isn't 100% likable.  In fact, Collins offers Peeta to the readers as a foil for some of Katniss's less endearing qualities.  It would be easy for Collins to write a book about a world that is controlled by a bloodthirsty government who oppresses the rest of the country and uses them for the fruits of their labor and natural resources while they live a life of excess in the capital, and the answer to solving the problems of that world is to be a good person, or to refuse to stop being yourself, or some other platitude.  This is not the answer she gives.  Katniss is driven as often by selfishness as she is by any desire to start a revolution, or bring about peace.  She loves the people in her life and loves them fiercely.  This is a real human characteristic.

3.  It is quite well-written.  As someone who really does value craft and form, some YA novels make me cringe - a lot- while I read them.  They are havens for cliche and purple prose.  This isn't.  I think I only cringed once.

20 November 2010

Back to the Classics Challenge 2011

Here is my first challenge for 2011.  I was just thinking to myself the other day that I wanted to spend 2011 reading classics.  I've read lots of classics, but since I finished my M.A., I've really been concentrating on more contemporary books.  So, I'm excited to go back to the classics in 2011.

To sign up.

Here is my list:

A Banned Book: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
A Book with a Wartime Setting: Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
A Pulitzer Prize Winner:  Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
A Children's/Young Adult Classic: Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
19th Century Classic:  Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
20th Century Classic: Herman Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund
A Book You Think Should Be Considered a 21st Century Classic: David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Reread a Book from High School/College: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

11 November 2010

Literary Blog Hop - Difficult Booking

Literary Blog HopThe literary blog hop is hosted over at The Blue Bookcase and the question is:

What is the most difficult literary work you've ever read? What made it so difficult?

I have three answers to these questions.

1. James Joyce, Ulysses:  I haven't read all of Ulysses, but I have read quite a bit, and I always find Joyce to be serious work.  There is pleasure in the prose in some chapters, but I were ever going to really read it and really finish it, I would do the work and use the Bloomsday book and all that jazz.  That's what makes it so difficult.  I feel like I can't just read it for itself, but I have to prepare for it, and work for it.

2. John Milton, Paradise Lost:  This is probably the most difficult thing I read studying for my M.A. exam.  Moby Dick was also difficult, but very pleasurable for me.  Milton, not so much.  The language is difficult and the complexity and length compound that, especially when I was trying to remember it and try to prepare myself for a discussion of it.  I should add that this isn't my period at all.  I studied 19th and 20th century American lit.  If I studied Early Modern British Literature, I probably would have taken a full semester seminar on Milton.

3. J.G. Ballard, Crash:  This book was difficult in a whole different sense of the word.  It is a quick read and a book that I ended up "enjoying" when I read it as an adult and studied it.  However, the first time I picked it up, I was sixteen years old.  I had been reading books with adult content since I was very young, since I was a very advanced reader.  I had read books with adult sexual content like Louise Erdich, The Beet Queen and Andrew Klavan, Don't Say a Word, when I was in eighth grade. However, this book portrayed humans in a way that I wasn't comfortable confronting at that point in my life.  It was the first book I had read that made me feel physical distress, which is why it was so difficult.  I had to put it down and I felt a twinge in my stomach when I realized that we would be reading it in one of my graduate seminars.  However, I ending up writing on the book, and although I can't say I enjoyed reading it the subsequent times, I did end up appreciating it, and learning from it.

08 November 2010

Mailbox Monday!

This month Mailbox Monday is hosted by Knitting and Sundries:

I didn't get anything in the mail this week, but I did buy quite a few books at the Goodwill 50% off day this Saturday.

Here they are:

Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures

Jennifer McMahon, Promise Not To Tell

Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

Roald Dahl, The Twits

Rebekah Nathan, My Freshman Year

Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger

Sean Wilsey, Oh The Glory of it All

Madeline L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door

I also went to the Scholastic Book Sale at work and bought:
Kami Garcia, Beautiful Creatures
Walter Dean Myers, Sunrise over Fallujah

and some kids' books as gifts.

Finally, I ordered Anne Murphy Paul Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives and it came in, so I have to go pick it up, even though I bought a ton of books this week.

I think I pretty much covered every genre that I read in my shopping this week: Literary fiction, children's books, YA, Memoir, Nonfiction.  Overall, I bought too many books this week, but at least most of them were really cheap:)

05 November 2010

Literary Blog Hop!!!

Literary Blog Hop

I am psyched to join in the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase.

Here is the prompt:
Please highlight one of your favorite books and why you would consider it "literary."

Here is my response:

I think I will highlight my all time favorite book here, since I don't believe I've talked about it on the blog.  That book is White Noise by Don DeLillo.

I read White Noise for the first time in college, in a Satire class.  I was hooked from the first sentence: "The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus."  I love academic novels and I like satire quite a bit, and I knew this book would be for me.  I've read it twice since: once in graduate school and once for fun between graduate and undergraduate. 

Here is the plot in a nutshell: Jack Gladney is a professor of Hitler studies at a small liberal arts college.  He has an "average" American family, although his kids are exaggerations of the overacheiving youngsters that have become so common in my generation.  They travel the world, and complete engineering projects, and study German literature.  Jack is having some sort of midlife crisis that is compounded by an Airborne Toxic Event that hits the small town where they live.  During the 'event' Jack is exposed to radiation and becomes obsessed with his impending death.  This is all very funny and sad at the same time.

Babette-Jack's wife- is one of my favorite female characters in all the literature I've read, which is a very strange statement to make coming from someone who has read many of the great female characters.

I suppose I should talk about what makes it literary, and my initial impulse is to say that it is literary because it was on my M.A. exam list, but that is a cop out.  However, when books are canonized and taught, that is often when they become Literature (with a capital "L").  This book is Literature.  It is commonly taught and considered classic.  Now that I'm on the other side, deciding which books to teach, I realize that choosing what to include in a college classroom, on a syllabus is a complex process that has much to do with individual taste, as well as critical reception, and something called literary merit. It is a game of inclusion and exclusion. 

I think that DeLillo's book has literary merit.  Satire as a form is self-aware, so there is a consideration of the book as Literature, by the author.  Since it is a pre-determined form, to some extent, the author is working within a tradition (one of T.S. Eliot's qualifiers for something being Literature).  There are literary devices, such as literalization of the figurative and exaggeration, that are common in satire. I would also add that a good sign of something literary is the fact that it is politically and socially aware.  Literature is a cultural product, part of the record of our human experiences, and so in a literary work, their should be acknowledgment of social/political/economic circumstances.  This book is all that.

It's also a great read.

Here are some resources for examining how books become Literature:

The Wikipedia entry on the Great Books Curriculum
T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"

Review of This is Where I Leave You

Title: This is Where I Leave You
Author: Jonathan Tropper

This was a recommendation, and I loved it.  The whole time I was reading this book, I could see it playing like a movie in my head, and I experienced the characters like they were real people. 

To summarize: This book is about a man-Judd Foxman- who has just caught his wife sleeping with his boss, and then his father dies.  His sister informs him that his father's dying wish is that his family sit shiva (a seven day period of mourning).  So,  Judd leaves the wreckage of his failed marriage and returns home to Michigan with his sister, two brothers and his mother.  Each of these characters is lively and well-drawn.   Some of my favorites: Judd's younger brother Philip is a screw up, who brings along his therapist/life coach/fiance, who is twice his age, and throughout the shiva,  continues to hit on old high school flings.  There is Horry, the former high school athlete who dated Judd's sister Wendy, who has suffered a brain injury and ended up stuck, living at home with his mother. Then there is the Foxman's mother, a self-help author with fake breasts, a wildly inappropriate wardrobe, and some secrets of her own.  And, of course, there is is Wade - Judd's boss, the radio "shock-jock" DJ, who is sleeping with Judd's wife.

I enjoyed spending time with these characters so much, despite their dysfunction, that I didn't want the book to end.  Sometimes I read a book and I don't like any of the characters.  I read this book, and even though some of the characters had very unlikeable moments, I really liked all of them, and wanted the best for them.  I got the feeling they felt the same way about each other.

There were a couple of things that I didn't like about the book: [SPOILER ALERT!!!]
The most prevalent of these things is an instance between Judd and his brother Paul's wife that I found unforgivable (if understandable) that was like an elephant in the room for me for the rest of the book.

I should also say that this book isn't for everyone.  It is pretty raunchy and adult, so if that's not your scene, this probably isn't your book.

I would read it again.

02 November 2010

Top Ten Books That Made Me Cry - A Visual Edition

Hosted by The Broke and The Bookish
10.John Grogan, Marley and Me

9.  Ian McEwan, Atonement

8. Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper

7. Dave Eggers, Zeitoun

6. Chris Cleave, Little Bee

5. Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones

4. E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

3. John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

2. Cormac McCarthy, The Road

1. T.R. Reid, The Healing of America

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