Books

Readerly Rambles

I’ve finally accepted the fact that I was not meant to be a book blogger.  I keep trying to move towards more bookish blogging, but, frankly, it seems like such a chore.  I’m lucky if I get to read 5 book a month (I collect hobbies like I collect tattoos).  I’ve hated nearly every ARC sent to me.  I don’t give a damn about hosting book giveaways — especially book giveaways that are thinly masked marketing ploys —  and I am incapable of writing a well-thought out interesting review.  Books are my first passion.  Okay, my family is my first passion, but books are a close second.

I’m a nerd with a blog.  Not a book blogger.  Just a sorta blogger who loves books.  Given that I lack the ability/inclination/time to write stunning book reviews, I’m just going to pop-on and occasionally ramble about what I’ve read.  I might even have sentence fragments or lack transitions or *gasp* say nothing of value.  Whatever.  There are books to be read and no time to dither about structuring elegant prose.

What have I read?  Not much.  I’ve read about half the number of books I read by this time last year.  Hummmmm…. I wonder why… oh, yes…. Atticus.  Atticus is only my rolypoly baby boy for a tiny window of time and my books will always be there on the shelf.  I can read when he is older.  I will say that what I have read has been CRAZY good.  I don’t think I’ve read a single sucky book.  Yay!

Some of these books I’ve already discussed here, but for OCD’s sake, lets just run down the list starting with…

Silent Woman:  Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm:  I thought about writing a long post on Malcolm’s book about attempting to write Plath’s biography and dealing with issues of literary estate, memory, and point-of-view, but…… I didn’t.   This book is interesting if you are a Plath-fiend, but this book is less about Plath and more about writing biography.  I would teach it in a creative non-fiction class and not in an American lit class.  A very interesting book that will have your brain mulling over interpretations of the past for weeks (months!) afterwards.

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers:  meh.  This is the first Lord Peter Wimsey and I do plan on reading the others despite my lukewarm reaction to the book.  A murder mystery involving a body in a bathtub and a bevy of British characters (caricatures) this book was okay in the mystery department, but I was annoyed by the foppish behavior and speech.  I think I had high expectations for this book and was disappointed.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens:  I’ve already blogged this book, but let me express, once more, that I freaking loved it!  Easily my second favorite Dickens’ novel.

Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation by Noel Riley Fitch This book took awhile to finish as it was so dense.  I really loved this book.  More than a biography of Sylvia Beach, this book has so much about Paris and the Lost Generation.  Fans of Joyce, Hemingway and other ex-pat writers will enjoy how Fitch immerses the reader into the streets, bookshops, and cafes of Paris.

The Queen’s Man by Sharon Kay Penman:  A historical mystery series in the time of Eleanor Aquitaine written by Penman.  Need I say more?  A definite win.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain:  This novel concerns Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Hemingway.  It took me a bit to get into the novel, but after about 50 pages I was hooked.  This story is heartbreaking and no, I still don’t feel sorry for Mr. Macho Hemingway.  Being a damned good writer is no reason to be a selfish prick (cough Ted Hughes cough).  I highly recommend this novel, but only if you are in the middle of a healthy marriage.  I imagine this book may be disheartening to single-folk and dismal for miserable married-folk.  Luckily, I read and thanked my lucky stars that Sam is hugely talented as an artist and devoted to me.

Not much reading, but it has all been pretty solid.  Right now I’m reading a book for work about Interlibrary Loan Best Practices (for work, duh) and I’m consumed by an Edna St. Vincent Millay biography.  Hopefully, I’ll ramble in a readerly-fashion at least a few times a month.

My Vacation Readathon

This upcoming week I work Monday, Tuesday, and a half-day on Wednesday and then I’m taking some days off until next Tuesday.  That gives me 5 1/2 days off in a row.  Ah, bliss.

Atticus will still be going to daycare for the week (although I’ll be picking him up early).  First off we paid for it and secondly I’m going to spend some time with Hope.  We have summer clothes shopping to do and a few awkward and necessary  discussions to have as she approaches middle school.  She is also having her future aunt spend the night (Hope is BFF with my brother’s fiancée’s younger sister) and that means hanging out with two very giggly little girls.  We’ve also decided to spend sometime having our own little readathon as part of our vacation.

My goal is to read 24 hours over the course of my vacation.  This means spending roughly 4-5 hours a day in readerly pursuits.  Of course, this has presented the perfect opportunity to grab a little notebook out of my stash for tracking this here readathon.  I’ll be noting the time I start and end, my location, what I’m reading, and how much reading I’ve completed.  No promises, but I’ll try to update my reading progress at least once a day.

This little challenge will help me in several ways:

  1. I hope to whittle down my towering TBR pile and finish several library books
  2. I hope to become more aware and appreciative of the time I have to read.  I do a lot of reading while nursing, waiting in line, cooking (much to the detriment of my cooking), and yes, even in the bathroom (mom’s will understand that sometimes the bathroom excuse is the only way to be left alone).  I’m always lamenting that I don’t get CHUNKS of reading time, if I was more aware that all of those little bits do add up, then I might feel a bit better about my reading.
  3. I’ll have an excuse to read!
I’ve assembled a little book pile to get me going:
Wish me luck!  Anyone else planning Memorial Day Weekend readathons?

The Classics Circuit: Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Hi, folks!  Welcome to my tardy Classic Circuit post on Charles Dicken’s rags-to-riches-to-rags novel Little Dorrit.  I think this may be my last post for the Classics Circuit.  I love reading along and I love expanding my literary horizons, but for the life of me I can’t seem to finish a book and post on time.  Letting folks down isn’t cool, so in the future I’ll read-a-long and post at my own pace (i.e. I won’t “technically” be a participant).

I adore Charles Dickens with Bleak House being my most favorite novel.  Little Dorrit now stands as my second favorite novel.  The usual Dickensian elements are at work: a large volume containing a multitude of characters (some earnest and good, some nefarious, and some comical) and a main plot with several side plots that all seem to connect at the end.

This is the story of Amy Dorrit, a small, quiet, young woman born and raised in the Marshalsea debtor’s prison by her father — William Dorrit.  She works as a seamstress for a very Miss Havisham-type woman, Mrs. Clennam.  When Arthur Clennam returns from sea bearing the news that his father has died and left him with the cryptic task to remind his mother Do Not Forget.  This sets off a chain of events that will propel Amy and Arthur to riches and poverty, illness and loneliness, and — ultimately — happiness.

Charles Dicken’s masterful writing is at his best in this novel.  The conversations are full of life and true to his characters, there are beautiful descriptive passages setting mood and place, and his wit is razor-sharp.  I found myself vacillating between hope, sadness, laughter, suspense, and certainly enjoying every page.

I hate to say it, but — although I adore Jane Austen — I find that Charles Dickens has thoroughly whopped her butt in the literary arena.

The kids are alright…

World War II child evacuees

In April I read two books back to back that I assumed would be vastly different.  I was surprised by how much the books had in common.  The books in question are Saplings by Noel Streatfeild and Room by Emma Donoghue.  I read Saplings first and the book haunted me through my entire reading of Room.

First, some background on these seemingly disparate books.  Saplings was published in 1945 and concerns the four Wiltshire children:  Laurel, Tony, Kim, and Tuesday.  The Wiltshires — Alex and Lena — are financial comfortable and assisted with the child rearing by Nanny and a governess — Ruth.  Alex is certainly the more “hands on” parent and Lena sees her identity primarily as a wife, but she does love her children.  All is well until World War II when Alex is killed during a shell attack in London.  This tragic event is the catalyst for the demise of the happy family.  The novel is primarily told from the perspective of the children and it is quite illuminating to see war and “grown-up” problems from a child’s perspective.

Room is a 2010 short-listed Man Booker novel by Emma Donoghue.  This story is about Jack — a five year old boy who lives in captivity with his Ma.  Kidnapped as a college student, Ma has been kept in an 11×11 shed by her kidnapper, Old Nick.  Jack is the product of sexual assault, but nevertheless Jack is the one source of hope and joy for Ma.  This book details their lives imprisoned in the shed and what happens after their escape.

On the surface, these books seem very dissimilar, but — in truth — the books seem to compliment each other.  Both novels are told from a child’s perspective and both novels are filled with well-meaning, but blundering adults.  The Wiltshire children are propelled towards misery by the errant actions of adults.  For example, Laurel is removed from a school she adored because Lena thinks that school has made her moody (in truth it is her mother’s behavior after her father’s death) and Tony is suffering from PTSD while the adults worry that he is merely being a rebel.  In Room, Jack views his prison as home and actually has his mother’s full attention and comfort; once he is free he is overwhelmed by the real world and his mother is interacting with other people and (albeit unintentionally) not giving him the same amount of attention Jack is used to.  The tiny shed represents comfort and the free world leads him to feel alienated.  All so, the relatives that show-up are not prepared for introducing a child to the world (a simple trip to buy a birthday gift proves disastrous).

Another common thread in Saplings and Room – adults think that they know everything about children and children are oblivious to the blunders of adults.  The adults in Saplings are convinced that they understand how children grieve and end up alienating the Wiltshire children further.  In Room, the adults forget that the concepts of freedom, space, individuality, reality, and imagination are lost on young Jack.  He spends most of the novel in confusion and unsure of how to act in the real world.  The children of both novels are continually dismayed by the “badness” of some adults.  The Wiltshire children know of their mother’s problems after Alex’s death, they know they are different, they know that war is ugly and terrible and the false reassurances of adults ring hollow.  They recognize that bad choices by adults are the reason they suffer.  Jack doesn’t understand why adults can be hurtful.  Why would anyone want to hurt his ma?  Laurel best summed up the problem with adults:

I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve not been told things wrong.  I mean, we’re told that children behave badly and grown-ups are always right.  I wonder if we shan’t find that grown-ups do worse things than children (240).”

Saplings and Room are beautifully crafted novels that truly capture the voice and perspective of children.  Still, weeks later, I find myself thinking about both books and wondering about how my children view the world and their mother.

A kid-free 24 hours

On Saturday — at approximately 11:30am — Sam and I had weekend get away.  Although we were gone for only just over 24 hours, I came back relaxed and well-rested.

First we went to our local Michaels so Sam could pick up some new canvases.  Next we were on to the local Thai restaurant; I had a bowl of Tom Ka (coconut soup), a spring roll, and some Masaman Curry.  Sam had the same except he opted for the Yellow Curry.  Then we were off to Athens, Georgia.

We stopped off at a local thrift store, but didn’t find too much.  It was close to check-in time, so we went on to the Holiday Inn.  Then we went our separate ways for a bit.  Sam and I work well together because we both know that we need time alone.  So Sam went to a comic book convention and enjoyed some PBR (ewww) and I went book shopping at my favorite bookshop, Jackson Street Books.

I behaved very well at the bookstore.  I purchased four titles — all Viragos — and then went in search of a coffee shop for some reading.

Sam met me at the coffee shop and we strolled back to the hotel to change for dinner.  It was nice getting all dolled up in a dress, and jewelry, and tights, and boots (because that’s how I roll).

We walked to dinner at this lovely place called Farm255.  They grow their own food and raise and butcher their own meats.  We enjoyed homemade bread, fries, and burgers.  Afterwards we walked to The Grit for coffee and cake.  I had an orgasmically good vegan Death by Chocolate Cake.

With our happy and full bellies we walked back to the hotel.  We showered, hopped into bed, and watched Cupcake Wars until we fell asleep.  OMG y’all, I slept sooooo much.  We went to bed just after 11 and I woke up at 5am and freaked out because I didn’t hear the baby.  Then I remembered that the baby was with the coparent and I was with Sam in a hotel in Athens.  I WENT BACK TO SLEEP.  I slept until 9:30.  It was heaven.

Around 10:45 we checked out of the hotel and went back to The Grit for brunch.  Sam had the breakfast burrito and I had the potatoes and vegetables.  We both had grits, toast, and coffee with our brunch.

After we finished with brunch, we drove back home to the kiddos.  It was a wonderful weekend.  We’re going to a Memphis wedding in August, but we’re hoping to get away for a longer weekend trip in January on our two year anniversary.  Hooray for mini-vacations!

Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation

When I think about the people, and books for that matter, I most admire almost always there is a depth and complexity that stands out.  I’m not only intrigued by the person (or book) but I find myself examining myself and the world.  Great people and great books cause us to think about who we are in the world and what the world means to us; more than just interesting they inspire us to search for meaning in our life.   Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties by Noel Riley Fitch is just that type of thought-provoking book about an inspiring woman – Sylvia Beach.

I’ll be honest, I’m only a quarter through this book but I’m absolutely loving every minute of it.  More than about Sylvia Beach, this book addresses the literary milieu of Paris in the 20′s and 30′s.  I find myself getting sidetracked with side research and looking things up.  I put down the book to revisit the poetry of Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings.  I paused to look up Andre Gide’s work and to discover more about Natalie Barney.  Also, I’ve developed a huge interest James Joyce.  I’ve read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but this book has kindled an intense desire to read Ulysses; Ulysses has always been on my “I should read that” list and has now been moved to the “I want to read that” list.   Obviously, this is a pretty bangin’ book since it has piqued my library nerdness.

But who is Sylvia Beach?  Sylvia Beach was an American woman who made her home in Paris.  After spending much of her young adult life roaming about Europe, learning new languages and holding all manner of odd jobs (for example, Sylvia was once a volunteer farm worker), Sylvia decided to open a book shop and lending library.  Inspired by her good friend and partner Adrienne Monnier’s French lending library and book shop and fueled by her love of literature and language, Sylvia Beach opened up her bookshop and lending library Shakespeare and Company on 17 November 1919.  The shop would be instrumental as a gathering place for the Left Bank expatriates (Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, to name a few) and many French writers and intellects of the day (Andre Gide and Paul Valery, for example).

Probably Sylvia Beach greatest contribution to literature was her publication of James Joyce’s highly controversial novel, Ulysses. Banned in America, Ulysses was desperate for a printer and Joyce was turned down by publishers who feared prosecution.  Sylvia Beach bravely took on the publication and gave Joyce a free hand in the publication process (meaning that he was able to add as many corrections as he wanted to galley proofs).  Because Beach allowed Joyce this freedom many credit her with being responsible for the Ulysses we have today.  Fitch quotes a Paris correspondent of The Guardian, “It was in the exercise of this right that the peculiarities of Joyce’s prose style reached their novel flowering (Fitch 106).”  Not only did Beach oversee the publication of Ulysses, but she also fueled the publicity and did everything she could to financially support James Joyce.

Sylvia Beach was so much more than a bookshop owner and publisher.  She was vivacious, hard-working, stubborn, and a force to be reckoned.  I also like all the side stories about Sylvia Beach.  For example, she once rescued a drowning pet parrot from the Seine by diving in and grabbing up the flailing bird.

I’m truly loving this book and Fitch is a very talented writer.  There is so much detail in this book and yet I never feel bogged down.  I noticed on Good Reads that many people complain that this book isn’t a straight up biography of Sylvia Beach — they dislike the interweaving of life stories and the details related to people who aren’t Sylvia Beach.  I simply think that those haters must have ignored the subtitle; after all, the book is entitled Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: a History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties.  I, for one, enjoy the depth of detail and I’m thrilled with how much I’m learning.  I recommend this book to those interested in the Lost Generation, Paris-junkies, and, of course, anyone with one iota of bibliophilia.

Books: Recent Acquisitions…

Yes, I took advantage of Borders’ demise to profit my book collection.  I’ll confess I didn’t feel the least bit guilty.  About 3 or 4 years ago I was an avid Borders fan, but the past few years have left me feeling lukewarm towards the book chain.  They simply quit being bookish.

I’ve always loved that in addition to books I could find cute notecards, journals, and bookmarks and a few adorable non-bookish trinkets (tea towels and owl mugs, for example).  My antipathy began when Borders began to be more about the non-bookish stuff.  The book collection at my local store seemed decreased by at least half and there were always the same books.  I don’t know, by the end of the local Borders’ lifespan I was decidedly “meh.”

Anyhoo, onto the book purchases:

I think this should do it for book-buying for a while.  My goal is to not purchase more books until my birthday weekend trip.  Sam and I are going to Athens, Georgia for a night (the kiddos will be with the co-parent) and I plan on hitting up one of my most favorite used bookstores!