Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Top 10 Books I Want to Reread

I'm participating again in Top Ten Tuesdays, there are so many great topics coming up.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books I Want To Reread. This is easy for me, as I want to reread every book that I've ever really loved. I haven't been focusing on re-reading much lately, but I'll list the books that I would most like to re-read in the near future.

1. Emily's Climb and Emily's Quest by L.M. Montgomery

I already talked about how the TV series sparked my interest in going back and re-reading the books, and I can always use some L.M. Montgomery to make me feel better.

2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

I wanted to re-read these as soon as I read them, but I was too swamped with reading for school back then. Now, I have a new reason to re-read them-I'm taking the GRE Subject Test in English Literature fairly soon.

3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I know I read it very recently, but I want to read it again right before the movie comes out in March 2012.

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

I've wanted to re-read this since I got back from Spain, I have a feeling it will mean a lot more to me after that experience, especially the way the characters speak.

5. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

I really enjoyed Moby-Dick the first time I read it, for a class, but I want to savor it more slowly.

6. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

My professor told me this is a good book to read at every stage in your life, and I think I've reached a new stage.

7. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox

I think reading this in conjunction with Don Quixote and building on everything I've learned since I read this book could be a very fun experience.

8. Anna Karenina

I need to read Anna Karenina again. There is nobody like Tolstoy.

9. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I want to go through The Idiot more slowly and get more out of it.

10. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Because it was just so good.

There are plenty of other literary canon type books that I need to re-read or partially re-read soon, like Paradise Lost, Gulliver's Travels, the Aeneid, the Iliad...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Festivals in DC/Baltimore Area

This weekend is a bonanza for book lovers in the Washington DC/Baltimore region. Three book festivals were/are going on this week and weekend.

The Fall for the Book Festival
, sponsored by George Mason University and The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, among others, had events all over the DC area this week.

I attended the event with Amy Tan on Tuesday. It was a long drive for me, but well worth it. She read from her new book, The Valley of Amazement. She spoke in the voice of her character, an aging courtesan speaking to a younger virgin courtesan that she is training. It was as if the character took over her body, she assumed a tone of instruction, "I may be old, but remember, when I was 19, I was one of the ten beauties of Shanghai..." She kept glancing significantly at the audience. The older courtesan warns the younger that if she does not want to "wear out her insides," she will learn a song for every suitor and how to play on the emotions of every type of man. It's definitely a departure from her earlier work in terms of raciness, as she admitted, but it's actually inspired by her grandmother, whom she believes may have been a courtesan. I got my copy of The Bonesetter's Daughter signed and I told her it was "awesome." I feel really silly about that. I mean, yes the book was good, but "awesome" is not the right word and doesn't in any way convey what the book meant to me. I was thinking about how there isn't time at these things to say anything significant. I might as well not have met her at all. I think next time (as in, tomorrow!), I'll write a letter and give it to the author. That way, I don't take up any time and they can read it later if they want and know how much they meant to me. I don't know if I'll actually have time to fulfill this meaningful intention though.

The Baltimore Book Festiva
l, which unfortunately I won't be able to attend at all is going on today Sept 23-Sun Sept 25.

This weekend, I'll be at the National Book Festival both days. I've never been able to make it before because I've been in Boston. I'm so excited for the lineup, I will definitely be catching Toni Morrison, Gregory Maguire, and Margaret George, whose book I'm reading right now, and there are so many other good authors to choose from. I might also join the LibraryThing meetup.

If you're in the DC/Baltimore area, check these out this weekend!
43. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Inheritance Quartet (formerly Trilogy). On the one hand, there's something there. There are interesting characters, a classic fantasy plotline, and a clear interest in exploring fantastical cultures like those of Dwarves, Elves, and "Urgals," a less sinister stand-in for Orcs or Trolls. On the other hand, a lot of it is obviously derivative (of Tolkien in particular) and events feel contrived to an extreme degree. I read Eragon after the movie came out in 2006 and liked it enough to read Eldest. I thought Eldest was much better in terms of language and organization, and I enjoyed the inclusion of Roran's story and point of view. Then, Brisingr came out in 2008. I went to the store and bought the book the week it came out. I started reading. I put it down. And I haven't picked it up again until now. I got through about the first third of the book and it just wasn't holding my attention. This time was better and I got through the whole thing, but there were definitely moments when I was just like "All right, I'm not really enjoying reading this right now."

Our orphan/under-dog/misfit hero, dragon rider Eragon, his cousin Roran, and dragon Saphira open the book on a quest to rescue Roran's beloved Katrina and slay the evil Ra'zac, who killed Eragon's uncle and Roran's father,Garrow, and Eragon's mentor, Brom. Meanwhile, Nasuada, leader of the Varden, the resistance against evil king Galbatorix, moves to consolidate her position and begin the war against Galbatorix with an unsteady alliance of Dwarves, Elves, Urgals, and Men. One thing that can be said for Paolini is his book is almost aggressively egalitarian; Nasuada is female, as is Queen Islanzadi of the Elves, Urgal women hold power over the men, and some of the Dwarf clan chiefs are women. When Katrina is rescued, she is described as a strong woman who looks capable of rescuing Roran if their situations had been reversed, but unfortunately her character is not further developed beyond being the object of Roran's affection. Saphira, of course, is the best developed female character in the book and I think Paolini's best and most unique feature. In this book, he speaks from Saphira's point-of-view, which, while it seems to be interjected randomly, he at least does a convincing job of. Although, I think he characterizes Saphira well enough in her dialogue with Eragon and he should keep that up.

One of the reasons I might be more critical of Paolini than other authors is that I consider him a contemporary, I'm only a few years his junior, and we were clearly raised on the same diet of fantasy literature. So, I'm going to pretend I can speak to him directly.

The "Beor Mountains" and the "Strait of Melian"? Come on, Chris, your homage to Tolkien is glaring. I like that you had the idea that Orcs can be people too, I really do. I like your version of the Dwarf clans But does everything really work out that neatly? Really? I get that we need another father-mentor figure sacrifice, goodness knows we haven't had as many as J.K. Rowling, but reversing a revelation from another book? Not cool. Contrived. That's the only word for it. You could have done something really cool with what you had, instead you backtrack. The new revelation? Awesome, except I'm confused. I thought when humans died, their dragons died too, but not vice versa? But now this book makes it sound like it's only "likely," not always. Check into it. You've got to re-read your own backlist.

This book is teeming with so many obvious hints of what's coming next, but all of the fragments just don't hold together that well. I get that there's another book coming and you need to make references to all these random strangers, but Eragon's quota of chance encounters is definitely overdrawn. Angela is my favorite. I love her, I really do, and I love that she's based on your sister (although how that could be scares me a little). But she needs to take a front-and-forward role, right now. Stop dancing around it. She better be Galbatorix's sister or something and know how to defeat him. And yes, Elva scares me, are you happy now? Because who knows if she's going to be a friend or foe-oooo what now.

Final comments: Cut the random skipping around of viewpoints. If you're going to use different viewpoints, use them regularly and with purpose. I don't care how often Roran and Katrina cuddle. Watch the run-on sentences. Eragon and Arya-build it up more, give them more than one scene, not just snippets. I don't see how you're going to pull this whole mess together in just one more book, but good luck.

Recommended to fantasy readers, other readers should probably leave it alone, there are much better representations of the genre.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 9/16-9/19

Book Blogger Hop

This week's Book Blogger Hop question is:

“As a book blogger, how do you introduce yourself in your profile?”

My Answer:

I like to stick to the essentials so that people know the important things, but don't have to spend forever reading my profile. I mention my credentials (I'm a BA in English), a couple interests I have outside of books (travel and friendship) and my favorite types of books, so readers will know what type of books I am likely to review. I really am all over the place, but if I focus anywhere it is on 16th Century Brit Lit, 19th Century Brit Lit, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. I think it's better overall to err on the side of less information than more, because if anyone wants more, they can ask and I'm happy to answer!

Emily of New Moon and Portrait of the Artist as a Child

42. Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

Recently, I discovered on Netflix that Canadian TV had produced a television series of Emily of New Moon. I had gobbled up the Anne of Green Gables books as a child and when those were done, I turned next to the Emily trilogy. What a treat! If Anne was exquisite, Emily was divine. Anne and Emily are both aspiring child writers growing up on Prince Edward Island, but the Anne stories are really about Anne's adventures and friendships more than her writing. Not so with Emily. While there are still delightful childish adventures, Emily is very much a book and a trilogy about a writer coming of age. Some chapters are written entirely in Emily's voice, in her Jimmy-books, notebooks given to her by her cousin Jimmy in defiance of her tyrannical Aunt Elizabeth. We get to see some of her poems and hear about the stories she is writing. One can only imagine that the more subdued Emily is a closer portrayal of L.M. Montgomery's own development as a writer, especially since they share many of the same flaws, including overly "fine" descriptions and a prolific use of italics!

Upon discovering the TV series, I had to watch it. And upon watching the TV series, I had to reread the books. Within one week, I had watched more than half of the 13-episode first season and re-read the first book. I am now in the middle of the second book, Emily Climbs, which has been a more daunting proposition for me as I don't actually own it. I remember procuring the second and third books from the library as a kid, but the library near me doesn't seem to have it anymore, so I am reduced to reading it online. Thank goodness for Gutenberg Australia, who seem to love L.M. Montgomery as much as I do. I am happy to report that the TV series sticks very close to the spirit of the books, and while it does take liberties in embellishing stories from the book or inventing its own stories, the story arcs fit in almost seamlessly with Montgomery's style and themes. The characters and overarching plot remain the same.

All this brings me to my central question. What should the childhood of an author look like? Emily is relentlessly fanciful and invents all kinds of imaginary friends, like the Wind Woman, and assigns personalities to trees and houses. Imaginary friends and anthropomorphizing nature are also elements of Anne's character. Both girls are orphaned and oppressed by uptight, domineering women, though Aunt Elizabeth is certainly more formidable than Anne's Marilla. Emily is forever scribbling, she describes a sense of rapture that she calls "the flash" that occurs when she views a particularly beautiful natural spectacle or meets someone fascinating. She writes poetry and epics, favoring absurdly romantic plotlines. [Aside-While L.M. Montgomery's style of writing could certainly be called romantic in its emphasis on sensitivity to nature and beauty, she writes about the ordinary life she must have known, not the knights and ladies, priests and nuns that Emily invents. In that way, she learned well the lesson that Emily's mentors try to teach her, though it looks like she never could curb all of the "fine" detail. It's funny, because in some ways I do consider it a weakness in her writing, that she has to describe every sunset and every field, on the other hand it's as if the text itself is aligned with the mood of the characters.]
Emily's gift in writing is acknowledged repeatedly throughout the book by characters who know what they are talking about; Emily's father, a failed journalist, a Catholic priest she encounters, a family connection and older friend Dean "Jarback" Priest, her friends Teddy, Perry, and Ilse, and of course Cousin Jimmy. What I wonder is: did Lucy Maud Montgomery believe that only fanciful, sensitive children could be writers? Did she believe that suffering in childhood was necessary to a budding writer? Did she believe that writers were born and not made?

Another interesting angle to explore is another author's portrayal of a young writer's childhood; James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stephen is shown as unusually impressionable and sensitive, and the book ends with writing from his journal. Stephen does not consciously scribble like Emily, but the thoughts in his head often sound wild and romantic. He is obsessed more with the sounds and sensations of the city of Dublin than those of nature, but that reflects his urban upbringing. Why did both authors seem to arrive at the conclusion that sensitivity is intrinsic to the nature of the artist?

As an aspiring author, I've often compared myself to Anne and especially to Emily and fallen short. While there are numerous childhood scribblings, none of them, I feel, have really any merit whatsoever. In recent years, I've barely written anything creatively and what I have is mostly drivel. I have lots of ideas, but not the time or patience thus far to put them into practice. Was I sensitive as a child? Yes, but in a way that simply resulted in me being very hurt all the time and no good poems to show for it. I was less tuned in to people than I was terrorized. As I got older, I developed a rather thick skin, which I think has been very good for me. However, I do very much admire L.M. Montgomery and consider her a model for things that I would like to write someday. I hope my lack of a tragic, overly imaginative childhood hasn't doomed me.

What do you think a writer's childhood should look like? Do you agree or disagree with Montgomery's portrayal?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

I know, I've really been getting on the book-meme train here. I'm going to try out Top Ten Tuesdays from The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's top ten is in honor of Book Blogger Appreciation week:

Top Ten Books I Read Because of Another Blogger

My Answer:

I think quite a lot of books I've read or want to read are because of other bloggers, but I'm not as good at keeping track of where these recommendations come from. Some aren't necessarily from the blogger I was reading, but from someone else in the Comments section or a link I followed. So, I'm only listing books I definitely know I read because of another blogger.

1. The Believers by Zoe Heller

I know I read this because of the review I read at a Commonplace Blog.

2. A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

I continued reading A Song of Ice and Fire after Biblibio assured me it gets better. While I found the style similar, it was enjoyable to get to know the characters better.

3. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

I read about Cranford on Wuthering Expectations and I am very glad I did. I was very pleased and more Gaskell is definitely on my list.

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I know I heard about The Hunger Games on a blog, but I can't remember where I heard about it first. I feel like all the YA blogs were buzzing about it around the time Mockingjay came out.

5. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

I did know about this book before, but I definitely decided to read it sooner rather than later after I read Litlove's review.

That's my half of a Top Ten Tuesday!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

I've been trying to read more book blogs lately and I ran across the Book Blog Hop. This looks like a great idea to me and it will be a good way to find new blogs every week.

Book Blogger Hop

So here's the link for this week's Hop and this week's question is:

“Many of us primarily read one genre of books, with others sprinkled in. If authors stopped writing that genre, what genre would you start reading? Or would you give up reading completely if you couldn’t read that genre anymore?”

My Answer:

I wouldn't say I primarily read one genre of books, unless you count a category as wide as "fiction." I definitely read way more fiction than nonfiction. Other than that though, I read contemporary fiction, literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, classics, fiction from different periods and cultures, and occasionally drama and poetry. Once in a while I read nonfiction on a topic of scientific or sociological interest, or a biography. The only books I really don't read are mysteries and thrillers and I have read a few of those. So....if writers stopped writing fiction, well, I'd just read the backlog! But if there were no more fiction, I would read significantly less. If people stopped writing science fiction, I would be sad, but there's so much other stuff out there that it probably wouldn't slow my pace.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

41. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

As you know, I've been looking forward to this one for a while, especially after I snagged it recently in a bargain bin. Sittenfeld's Prep was a book that made a big impression on me and made me vow never to be like her passive-aggressive protagonist, Lee Fiora.

American Wife has a much more likable protagonist in Alice Blackwell,the fictional counterpart of Laura Bush. The novel chronicles Alice's life at four addresses, her childhood home in Riley, Wisconsin, her bachelorette pad in Madison when she works as a school librarian and meets husband-to-be Charlie Blackwell (fictional counterpart of George W. Bush), her home with Charlie and their daughter in a Milwaukee suburb when she considers leaving him, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when she's re-considering her choice to stay silent on issues where she disagrees with her husband the President. Like Prep, this novel is written in retrospect and often re-counts events out of order. While I enjoyed the thoughtful commentary this enabled, and these comments were often the best part of the book, the continuous switching back to an earlier time or explanations of the past to make sense of the present were jarring. I think there could have been a much more linear storyline without sacrificing the retrospective commentary.

I think Sittenfeld manages here to create a complete and complex character in Alice Blackwell, someone who, if not entirely representative of Laura Bush, is reflective of certain characteristics of some American women and wives of the elite in particular. Alice is quiet, bookish, and not particularly political, but she has ideas, passions, and priorities of her own. She falls in love, really in love with Charlie Blackwell, and the portrayal of their courtship is achingly sweet and real. She does assert her opinions to Charlie in private, though she agrees never to contradict him in public, a deal that she is comfortable with for a long time. Sittenfeld delicately inserts into the storyline issues like homosexuality, abortion, religion, racism, sexism, and class privilege, but these themes make sense within the context of Alice's fictional life and seem to arise naturally. This is not a black-and-white story, and Sittenfeld understands that, although perhaps she makes Alice Blackwell a little more conflicted than she might actually be.

The line that I think best sums up the complications of Alice Blackwell and perhaps of a segment of American women is; 'If I am diffident, then my diffidence stems in part from my aversion to arriving hastily at decisions. (519)" She continues, "During the lead-up to the war, I sincerely didn't know what I thought the right course of action was; I read articles for both sides and I found convincing arguments in each." If Charlie Blackwell is confident, if he is naive, simplistic, pigheaded, his wife is too thoughtful to go ahead with such momentous decisions. I think this might partially be how we socialize boys and girls, where boys are encouraged to be impulsive and girls are encouraged to consider everyone's feelings. There are still some even older ideas that women concern themselves with private, domestic life while men concern themselves with public life. Add to this the particular circumstances of Alice's life and it's no wonder she feels the way she does. I can't fault Alice in this book and even Charlie is charming in his love for his wife. Sittenfeld reminds us again that people are people and nothing is as plain as the news media would have us believe.

Recommended to fans of literary, character-driven fiction , although it may be more palatable to those of a liberal political persuasion.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Which Austenian Heroine Are You?

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

I think perhaps I am most like Elinor, though I'd rather be an Elizabeth Bennet or an Anne Eliot. What Austenian heroine are you?