Wednesday, December 31, 2008
We begin with King Lear, which I suppose doesn't really count as a book; it's a play, written by a nice fellow you may have heard of. I read it mostly because the third season of Slings and Arrows sees the New Burbage Festival putting it on, but also because I am on quite the Shakespeare kick. I watched the BBC's Derek Jacobi Hamlet yesterday, which was quite good (though ridiculously long, at three and a half hours). I had not been previously acquainted with the story of King Lear, apart from a vague recollection that oh, yeah, that's the one where they pull the guy's eyes out. Anyway, it was very enjoyable, and I was rather surprised to find several very familiar quotes in it ("O, reason not the need"). Apart from that, it got me thinking about how susceptible I am to dialect in books and films. I don't know if it's more than most people, but every time I watch Monarch of the Glen I start thinking in Scottish, I watch Torchwood I think in Welsh (not the language, obviously). Reading Storming Heaven, or The Beans of Egypt, Maine, I started thinking in those dialects to a rather alarming degree. I read Shakespeare or watch it, and for about twelve hours afterwards can't stop my syntax from going Shakespeare, or my word choice. Funnily enough, I watch a film with English dialects, I don't usually start thinking in English. I think it's because I watch so many English things (very nearly to the exclusion of all else) that it sounds almost completely normal to me.
Discussing the various essays I wrote for college applications with my Senior Lit teacher, she mentioned that the way I write is very distinctly influenced by Victorian literature. I know this is true, especially in writing a formal essay, and frankly I rather like it. It would be interesting, I think, to compare how much literature has influenced the way I write and speak with how it has influenced someone else.
Yesterday, I got The Tales of Beedle the Bard from the library, J.K. Rowling's new book. On one glance at the margins I said to my mother, "I'll have this finished in an hour," and I was almost exactly right. It was very short, but rather pleasing, and the stories all rang true as proper fairytales--it is possible to write a fairytale and have it come out sounding like something else.
I've been reading Five Children and It for months, on and off, ever since I brought it home from the free book table at school, and just today have I finished it. The funny thing about reading E. Nesbit is that I never read her as a child, but I did read Edward Eager, who is so alike E. Nesbit, but who came after her. In my mind Edward Eager came first, but I feel as though actually I did read E. Nesbit just because I might as well have. I have the same sentimental attachment to her writing as I do to books I read when I was young despite having never read her, because she's so like other books I did read, Edward Eager's and even to some extent Arthur Ransome's, which all epitomized what I always wanted my childhood to be like. I wanted to be an early 20th century English child, with about three siblings. I still want that. It's a lovely book, anyway, because it plays to everyone's childish wishes; even adults still subconsciously wish for all the sorts of things the children ask of the Psammead.
This was a very rambling post; I shall now end it.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I've started reading Someone at a Distance, which is another of those published by Persephone Books. I had never heard of it before, but Ducky asked me what books I wanted for Christmas and for once I thought of an answer, so I told him Persephone figuring they'd all be good. It looks very likely to live up to my expectations. The back of the book calls Dorothy Whipple the "literary heir to Mrs. Gaskell" which is very interesting. I love Elizabeth Gaskell entirely, and I don't quite yet understand the comparison but can see how it could be true.
As for what I've been reading over Christmas--I've had an awful cold all week, and what with that and the snow I haven't been able to go anywhere, so I've been doing quite a bit of reading. I finished Emma, which I was surprised to find is now battling it out for my favourite Jane Austen novel (along with Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion, which have all been battling for ages with no results). Emma is an extremely well-crafted novel, the characters all develop very naturally and very pleasingly. I expected to find Emma herself annoying, but she's so human and so well-intentioned that I never did. This book is somewhat more class-conscious than the others are, which is a little weird, but it's not too hard to look past that. It was an extremely satisfying novel, and I love it very much.
I also finished The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute, which is a Senior Lit book that has been getting pushed out of my view by Emma for ages. I read it in rather odd clumps, with a fair amount at once and then none of it for a week, although I don't think that hurt it particularly. The Beans are a family of the poorest class, not always with electricity, not always (or ever) what is usually called couth, but always rather interesting. It's a strange little book, but the writing is very interesting. I enjoyed it, even though I was never really into it because I always wanted to be reading something else.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
-How many books read in 2008?
63, so far.
7 Non-fiction, 56 fiction
31 male (some counted twice because I read more than one book by them), 35 female
-Favourite book read?
See this post.
Probably March by Geraldine Brooks. I couldn't stand the character; he never changed at all, and the writing felt very forced and falsely 19th century. I could mention American Orientalism, which was incredibly dull, but that was for a class (well, so was March, but a different kind of class).
-Oldest book read?
Lysistrata takes the cake, written by Aristophanes in 411 BCE. It just beats The Bacchae, which is from 405 BCE.
Endymion Spring was read in advance proof, but it was probably published by the time I read it. There might be one newer.
-Longest book title?
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Just as predicted.
Jane Austen's Emma.
-How many re-reads?
Just one--Tam Lin, which I read at least once every year.
-Most books read by one author this year?
I didn't read more than two by any one author, but I did two of Khaled Hosseini, Nancy Mitford, Connie Willis, C.S. Lewis, and Justin Richards.
-Any in translation?
3--The Summer Book, Lysistrata, and The Bacchae, so far as I am aware.
-And how many of this year's books were from the library?
17. Far less than usual, because of all the Senior Lit books got from school, and the fact that I've been reading a lot of things I already own.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Old Books, Rare Friends by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern - I made mention of it here, but I guess I never got around to writing up anything definitive about my thoughts on finishing this book. Originally I had planned to choose the best book overall of the year, and this one did spring to mind, but then I decided there were too many good books to just pick one. I loved it, because it smelled of books and history and other lovely things, and I had to force myself to read it slowly.
Fiction (in backwards chronological order)
Grendel by John Gardner - This was read for my Senior Lit class, and I hear a lot of the people who read it for this class have hated it, but I loved it. It sounded of Beowulf, it rolled like Beowulf, it was cold and ugly and sometimes beautiful, and it made me think. At some point I'll write up a full post about it.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson - I know it's been said, but this book is lovely. I posted about it here.
Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina - This was also read for Senior Lit, and was one of those books that I never would have read otherwise. It's historical fiction, but not just in the sense that it's set in a historical time period--it is also based on very particular historical events. I loved it for the balance between the fictional characters' stories and the real events, and there is a post about it here.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer - I suspect this is cropping up in lots of "Best of" lists, but at least it really is deserving. I made a not terribly coherent post about it here, but it combined many of my favourite things--letters, books, history, quirky goings-on, and romance--to be very nearly perfect.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice - I read this before I started blogging, so my initial thoughts about it are not preserved, but I loved it entirely. It looks from the cover rather unfortunately like chick lit, and in some ways it is, but I know there are men out there who would enjoy it. It is not, at least, as frilly as chick lit usually is. It is set in England in the 1950s, just as Elvis Presley is beginning to make his mark on the world, and includes the usual crumbling old mansion, all sorts of lovely characters, and a lot of other things. It does a fabulous job of capturing youth, and will probably become one I'll reread more than once.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore--
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.
In other news, there is enough snow outside that the bottom step of the porch has disappeared.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I didn't read, but I did watch a fabulous tv show and make a lot of paper chains. The tv show is Slings and Arrows, which is a Canadian series from a few years ago about a theatre company. It's very well acted, is often shot in an interesting manner, has loads of Shakespeare and theatre references that make my inner Shakespeare geek wriggle with glee, and is altogether a lot of fun. Plus, the first season is about the company putting on Hamlet. You know how I feel about Hamlet. Also, it has the best theme songs ever, which have been completely stuck in my head for the last two days. It's funny how I came to watch it--I was at my best friend's birthday party last weekend, where of the thirteen or so people only one of us was not a theatre geek, and we were all telling theatre stories and talking about how we really wanted to see this show. And then I came home and there it was sitting by the tv. It was quite a fabulous coincidence.
So now I'm looking up what plays are on at local theatres.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I love snow, too. In my entire life I've never seen the snow last so long; Seattle is never this cold for this long. And it's supposed to snow more tonight and tomorrow, too, and next weekend. I have to admit I'm kind of hoping tomorrow is a snow day, despite the fact that I just went on a spiel about who much I love school. I can't deny I'd like to spend the day lying around my house watching the snow, drinking tea, and reading. I've got Grendel to read, and The Beans of Egypt, Maine, and Emma. Plus all my DailyLit books, This Side of Paradise, The Awakening, and Sonnets from the Portuguese. Not to mention all the books floating around that I'm in the middle of--Five Children and It, Letters of Virginia Woolf, A Book of One's Own, Mansfield Park, and no doubt countless others. There should really be more hours in the day.
I am essentially finished applying to college, apart from the actually submitting (and paying fees) of the applications. That is rather excellent.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I'm not entirely sure I've ever actually read Winnie the Pooh, but I may have to do so. I found "Mr. Pim" charming, clever, and socially interesting, despite the fact that I disagree with his excessive stage direction. I really can't tell you what it's about without giving the plot away, but I will say that there's a lot of very interesting stuff in here about marriage. The play was written in 1919, and there is a lot of discussion of what is morally the right thing in terms of love and marriage, and a discrepancy between the what the older generation and the younger believe is right. I found that particularly interesting. There are only a few characters: George, his wife Olivia, his Aunt Julia, his niece Dinah, her fiance Brian, Mr. Pim, and the maid. They are all sorts of fun. Also, Olivia is so delightfully scheming (only for nice things, I promise) that reading it made me feel rather gleeful. I'd love to see it produced (or do it myself); I'll have to keep an eye out for it.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Anyway, in recognition of the snow, I thought I'd go through the list of books I've read the past two years and pick out the ones I think are best read on a snowy day.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I can't recall that there's much snow in this book. I feel like there is, but I may be wrong. Even if it doesn't have the snow, it does have a certain element of warm fireplaces and really solid, paper smelling bibliophilia. It is a rather dense sort of book, and I always feel like dense books warm you up, which makes them rather good for winter. It's like the fact that they have a lot of plot amounts to insulation.
The book tells the story of a writer, Vida Winter, who invites a young, rather obscure biographer named Margaret Lea to her house in Yorkshire to write her biography. Through the years, every time a journalist has ever asked for her life story, Vida Winter has told them something different, and now that she is dying she wants to tell the true story at last. The book flickers between the story of Vida Winter's childhood and Margaret Lea's discovery of it, and it never quite reveals the whole story at once until finally it all comes to you in a whoosh. There's a lot in this book about families, and especially about twins, and generally I think the fact that I read it over a year ago and the details are still almost entirely clear in my mind says something for it.
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Have I enthused about Tam Lin here before? It's my very favourite book, although not necessarily the very best that I have ever read. It's the sort of book that I want to foist upon everyone I meet, except that I couldn't stand it if they didn't like it so I have to pick and choose carefully who I foist it upon.
It is based, obviously, on the Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, only it is set on a Minnesota liberal arts college campus in the early 1970s. Our heroine is Janet, who is rather frank and thoroughly bookish, and an English major. My favourite part about the book is the way the fantastical elements are so perfectly woven in with the scenes of ordinary college life. It's not just the story of Tam Lin, either; there are other bits of fabulousness thrown in there.
Really, it's my book of all seasons. It covers almost four years, so you get a little of everything, and I've read it four or five times in seasons as widely varying as November and June. It is an eminently rereadable book--there are so many well placed and often hard to pick out literary references, and every time I read the book I'm able to find and understand a few more of them. But I doubt I will every get them all. There is definitely snow here--what stands out to me is sledding down hills on cafeteria trays.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Need I explain this one? People call the film versions Christmas movies, even though they're not Christmas movies in the same sense as Rudolph or Frosty the Snowman. Warm fireplaces, mittens, and cold snow, plus one big generally happy family. It's a good snow book. I am making myself want to reread it.
Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
This is one I read a little bit randomly last January, because my mother brought home an advance proof and it looked interesting. I have to confess my memory of it is slightly muddled, but I know I enjoyed it a great deal. It involves old books, Johann Gutenberg, a couple of modern kids, and Oxford. There's some switching around of time periods, jumping from the story of an apprentice of Gutenberg to the two modern kids discovering this story, getting into trouble, and trying to keep a certain very special book from getting into the wrong hands. The book definitely has fantastical elements, and I suppose it's technically a kid's book. But it's very good, often exciting, occasionally creepy, and throws in some nice historical tidbits. And I do recall some 16th century German snow.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Pursuit of Love also comes to mind--everyone knows it's pretty heavily based on the Mitford family. I'm looking forward to reading The Mitford Girls, to see how much they relate to each other.
And anyway, all fiction has hints of autobiography. There are people I won't show my writing to, not because the story is particularly autobiographical but because I feel like the story will say who I am--and if it didn't say something about me, it wouldn't be any good.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
One person writes a short story (a paragraph or two), or finds one. They send it on to someone else, and this person translates it into another language. That person then sends their translation on to someone else, who translates it into another language and sends it on again. You keep sending it on and translating it into different languages, until eventually someone translates it back into English (or whatever the original language was), and you see how much it's changed.
I've done this sort of thing just using Google Translator and a random paragraph, but I think it would be more interesting if you're really translating it properly. The whole thing is especially interesting to me as I have vague career plans of becoming a translator, and translation in general is rather interesting. Word play doesn't translate, but maybe in translation new word play will appear. Cultural things don't translate well--like the Russian word for the main meal of the day, which would probably be translated as lunch but which is more important than lunch, or Finnish "sisu," or German "fremdsprachenfeinheitseifersucht" which as I understand it means basically "envy of a language that has a word as cool and completely nebulous as this word" (that last one totally convinced me I should learn German).
I've read three things in translation this year. The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson (of Moomin fame), translated from Finnish, and two Greek plays--Lysistrata and The Bacchae. I suppose technically I've also read part of another book in translation--Harry Potter, only in French. That was by far the most interesting experience with this. I know Philosopher's Stone pretty much back to front nearly by heart, to the point where I anticipate words really accurately, so despite the fact that my vocabulary in French is iffy I hardly ever had to stop and look things up. There were some interesting translations though. Snape is called Rogue, which struck me as rather too obvious, Draco Malfoy has become Drago Malefoy, Filch is Rusard and his cat Mrs. Norris is Miss Teigne (why did she stop being married, I wonder)--it's interesting how titles aren't always translated. Nearly-Headless-Nick is Nick-Quasi-Sans-Tete, which I like. The four Hogwarts (Poudlard) houses are Choixpeau (Ravenclaw), Gryffondor, Poufsouffle (Hufflepuff), and Serpentard.
I would love it if someone would tell me why French lemon drops are lemon Eskimos.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
I've already seen the film of Miss Pettigrew, for which I'm somewhat sorry. The mood of the film is quite the same as the book, but the progression of events is really rather different. I can't help thinking the movie is put together more roundly--Miss Pettigrew running into Michael, meeting Joe before she's been prettified, the entire running gag of her not quite getting anything to eat. I suppose, really, it's more theatrical. This definitely works for the movie, but I think the fact that the book isn't like this does more for the book. It enhances the feeling of the events hurtling onward--someone will ring the doorbell and a whole new adventure will step inside.
I love Miss Pettigrew. I think she's someone that absolutely everyone identifies with in some way, and we all want to be her without being really envious of her. She's the perfect main character, in that way. And she's so quietly gleeful.
The descriptions are not vivid in the way some books are, the clothes are described from Miss Pettigrew's view of not knowing one fashion designer from any other, and with the kind of frank prose that is used through the whole book. Still, it made me desperately want to be wearing some lovely '30s or '40s clothing and have my hair curled. That's probably why I went shopping, yesterday. Books are a dangerous thing!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
There is a reason I've been avoiding pants shopping. I found no jeans, but two pairs of other pants which was exactly what I was not looking for. I also found an utterly fabulous black velvet extremely Audrey Hepburn-ish hat, lovely shoes, a very nice blue wool coat, a teapot of utmost bizarrity, and a book. You know me. I can't not look in the book section.
The book was Mary S. Lovell's The Mitford Girls. It's an enormous book, 600 some pages, but after all it does chronicle the lives of six women, so that's rather to be expected. I saw the BBC miniseries of Love in a Cold Climate ages ago, and then last summer read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, which I liked very much. I didn't go into those books knowing anything about the Mitford Family, and I think the books are probably the best introduction to them, since reading a biography out of the blue without knowing why the people are interesting tends not to work. I can't make any judgments yet about how the biography is, but I'm very much looking forward to reading it
I am rather curious why the book has two different titles. It's also called The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family. My first thought was that mine was the American edition (I hate how they always change titles), but that can't be the case as the price is written on the back in pounds. Oh well.
Friday, December 5, 2008
I am also reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which is entirely enjoyable.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I've finished reading Bastard Out of Carolina. I'm really not sure how I feel about it. I guess I don't really dislike it, and the writing is often excellent. But it's not something I would ever read again. It's too uncomfortable (not shocking--I'm not easily shocked) a book for that. It's worth reading but that's not why I read, really. I read to make myself think, and I can't even really think about this book so it kind of defeats the purpose. But it's a very good book, so I'm glad I read it. I guess that's the difference--I'm glad I have read it, I'm glad it's over.
And it's only Saturday! I have a whole day tomorrow left of my weekend! And three whole days before I have a new Senior Lit book I have to read. I don't know what the next one is, but in the meantime I'm going to read all the fun stuff I can. I'm still working slowly on Five Children and It (which should go fast, it's only 170 pages), and I started reading The King of Elfland's Daughter, by Lord Dunsany, which is lovely although I'm not sure it's what I really want to read right now. I'm sure I have all sorts of other things to read, too.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
On the very tail end of my childhood, I started reading a series of books beginning with Pure Dead Magic, by Debi Gliori. It's pretty much the only ongoing kid's series I still follow, and since I had such a day yesterday I stopped by the library to find a good kid's book, and found the latest one of them. Or at least, the latest that I haven't yet read, since there were two new ones. After Pure Dead Magic comes Pure Dead Wicked, Pure Dead Brilliant, and Pure Dead Trouble, and the one I'm reading now is Pure Dead Batty. It's about a family consisting of parents, 13-year-old son, 10-year-old daughter, and two-year-old daughter (named Damp). Plus their griffin, crocodile, dragon, yeti, some spiders, some rats, and a bat or two, the cook (who can't cook), the butler, and their nanny, Mrs. McLachlan. They all live in a big crumbly sort of castle in Scotland, which sits next to Lochnagargoyle, and magic and oddity abounds. It's all a great deal of fun. I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for kid's books (for Christmas or such like), but also just to read, because they're a lot of fun and a good short read sort of thing. All the blurbs on the back of the book describe it as a cross between Mary Poppins and the Addams family, with Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket thrown in, which is pretty accurate.
Anyway, enjoy your turkey.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
It was lovely, the sky and the trees next to the sky and the fact that I couldn't see where I was going through the sun reflecting off the brick sidewalk outside SCCC. It was colder than its been so far this year, and I was early and the bus was late. Which kind of sums up the day.
The Seattle public school district is relocating several schools and closing their buildings, and mine is one of them. We're being moved into a middle school building and cohabitating with another program. The structure of a middle school (long, thin, windy hallways, the possibility of actually getting lost) is so contrary to the entire fundamental existence of Nova, and the whole idea that we will not be in our building next year, which has our murals on the walls and our love in all its (many, many) cracks, is so strange. The building is an extremely important part of Nova. But we have to move. We do, however, have some control over where we move, at least so far as we can talk to the school district and negotiate and see what we can come up with. So that's what we were doing all day--figuring out what we want and how we want to convey that to the district.
I have to say that I have never seen that many boys get teary all over one thing all at once. Nova is an enormously, impossibly powerful entity. People's love for Nova comes from a very, very deep place.
Mark, the principal, kicked us all out at 3 because its the day before a holiday so we all had to leave early, and at 2:55 I was still running around rather frantically trying to get the last of the paperwork for my UW application (which is due Monday) all sorted out. Beverly and I decided to be spontaneous and go to Pike Place Market. We had $1.87 between us, and we asked the guys at the donut place how many plain donuts they'd give us for that much. We attribute the fact that we wound up with seven donuts to the fact that we are female, and the donut guys were male, given that it's $1.85 plus tax (and tip) for six plain donuts. So we ate donuts and watched the sun set over Elliot Bay an incredible orange (it matched Beverly's Malvolio garter, which I was wearing), and good grief on toast, I can't comprehend the fact that I will probably not be in this city next year.
And then I got on the bus on the way home and realized my mp3 player is broken. Which is nothing in comparison with everything else, but which really sucks and which was a really great topper to the day [note sarcasm].
I'm lucky I take things so philosophically. But an empty room in Nova is still going to make me want to cry for months to come.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I have to admit that NaNoWriMo has fallen entirely by the wayside. I got to 22,000 words a week ago and then stopped entirely. I have too many other things to do this year that are much more important, and the novel was just not holding my attention. I didn't plan it well enough, and so fell back on the default sort of thing I write if I don't think about it. I lacked a theme, and therefore have stopped. There's too much homework to do, and applying to college is far more pressing. Hopefully next year I'll manage to finish. I would do another July novel next summer, but I think I really ought to stop writing them and sit down and edit one. Probably last July's, which is my favourite.
Next semester I'm planning on taking a class on Jane Austen, which I'm looking forward to immensely. I'm supposed to read all her books before the class starts, so I'll be reading the last of those over winter break. The only ones I haven't read are Mansfield Park and Emma, which are the ones that have always appealed to me the least. I've started Mansfield Park, though, and I'm sure I'll enjoy it.
Now I'm rambling, and should go do my homework.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
After I finished Storming Heaven last weekend I needed a book to read until I got the new Senior Lit book, so I picked up Old Books, Rare Friends, by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern. I haven't finished it yet, but I find it extremely and unfailingly pleasant, interesting, and thought-provoking. The authors are friends and partners in the rare book business, and this is their combined memoirs, both of their lives and of their adventures in books. I've decided I have to read more biographies of people in the early to mid 20th century, because it's a fascinating era to me, and it becomes even more fascinating when I have a particular person to view it through. Plus, I adore any books about books, and this definitely qualifies. Also interesting is the fact that these are the women who originally discovered Louisa May Alcott's pseudonymous penny dreadful stories. Over all it has points that make me think (in somewhere about the middle of my torso) of 84, Charing Cross road. I suppose it helps that they went to 84, Charing Cross Road on their first book-buying trip to London, but apart from that it's a bit of recognition--two more people who also love books.
I have to say it's a good book to read alongside Bastard Out of Carolina. Not that they have the least bit of common ground, but that Old Books, Rare Friends is so pleasant and Bastard Out of Carolina is so unpleasant. I have to admit I don't like Bastard Out of Carolina very much. It's not to do with the subject matter, really, or even the fact that it's not a very comfortable book to read. It's also not to do with Dorothy Allison's writing, which is really very good. It just doesn't have the same resonance for me that other books have--though it has certain elements of autobiography about it, which intrigued me in The Kite Runner and in The Things They Carried, it doesn't pull me in like those books did for that reason. It doesn't have the sense of being epic that, for example, Storming Heaven had, and which is one of my favourite qualities in books (the epic parts are the only parts of books that ever make me cry, and I can't really explain what I mean in this case by epic). Neither did it have a good sense of being completely ordinary (because it's not). Over all, though it is interesting, it has not managed to convince me that what it's saying is something I want to be reading. Anyway, I am kind of underwhelmed, while simultaneously being a little overwhelmed by what it is saying. If that makes any sense.
I'm going to start work on my Senior Lit essay, which has suddenly become very difficult because I have two different ideas I want to write about. Am I a ridiculous overachiever for really wanting to write both?
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Four different people tell the story--Rondal Lloyd, a coal miner and union organizer in West Virginia; C.J. Marcum, who I think is Rondal's uncle, or at least related to him somehow, the mayor of a town nearby; Rosa Angelelli, an Italian immigrant; and Carrie Bishop, a Nurse from Kentucky who gets rather tangled in it all. Each of them has a very distinct voice (it's written in first person), both in personality and in manner of speaking. All of them speak in dialect to a greater or lesser degree, Rosa most notably since her English is quite weak. I liked reading Carrie's sections best, because I liked the way she describes things--she's the most poetic, but one very definitely feels all her descriptions to be utterly true.
It's a very character driven novel, yet still it tells the story of a real event and it definitely has a strong plot. The whole book leads up to the Battle of Blair Mountain, in 1921, which was basically the explosion of the tension over attempting to unionize West Virginia coal mines. It fascinates me that these characters are fictional, yet so powerful and real even against the backdrop of true and rather terrible events, which almost seem like they should overwhelm the book. But they don't overwhelm the book, and that makes them more powerful.
I picked up a book of three E. Nesbit novels off a table of free books at school the other day, so I'm reading Five Children and It as I have time. I'm very fond of E. Nesbit--I'm sorry I didn't read more of her when I was younger, but even so her books kind of have the same feeling for me as do Arthur Ransome's or Edward Eager's.
The next Senior Lit book is Bastard Out of Carolina.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I love that I've now seen enough plays to begin seeing actors more than once and recognizing them. Shawn Law, who I saw as Hamlet last summer, was Rochefort, Cardinal Richelieu's rather bumbling sidekick, and a woman whose name I don't remember, who I saw a year ago in Twelfth Night (also by Seattle Rep), was Milady, the rather evil minion of Richelieu.
I have never read The Three Musketeers. I've read The Count of Monte Cristo, and it's one of my favourite books, but for some reason The Three Musketeers never quite appealed as much. I suppose I'll get around to reading it eventually. Maybe some day I'll read it in French.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I'm still only really reading things for school, so I'm in the middle of Storming Heaven, by Denise Giardina, which is mostly about coal miners in West Virginia and Kentucky in the early twentieth century. Its very good, though interestingly in first person (by four different people) and written in very often very heavy dialect. I'm definitely enjoying it, anyway. I wish I had more time to read it.
I'm also reading the Iliad, but I've had even less time to read that since its second on the priority list of reading and very low on the big priority list. I love epic poetry, though, so I really want to finish it.
I have to write an essay for Senior Lit (which is what I'm reading these for), and I have to pick a topic for it soon since the rough draft is due the beginning of December. The theme this semester with all these books seems to be war, so I'm thinking I might contrast the grand widespread wars in the books with the small, domestic sorts of wars. Which ones are more important to the novels? Which ones say more about the characters? That's what I'm thinking, anyway.
I am home from school for Veteran's Day, which is terribly exciting because it means sleep and time to write and do homework. I love my house on quiet rainy days.
Now I really ought to toddle off and write another three thousand words on my novel, and then I'll actually be up to speed with it.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I've got about 100 pages left to read of The Things They Carried. I'm enjoying it quite a lot, but it hasn't completely captured my attention as it's really a collection of short stories, which I always have trouble concentrating on. I'm also reading Arthur Miller's play, All My Sons, which I don't know how I feel about. (From a theatre perspective, his excess of stage direction bugs me.)
The other day I read the first chapter of the most recent novel by Jose Saramago, Death with Interruptions. I've never read anything by him before, but I really liked that first chapter, and at some point I think I'll read the rest of the book. The premise of the novel is that, as of midnight on the first day of the new year, in a certain unnamed country, death takes a holiday. Suddenly, no one is dying. Of course, people still get ill, so the hospitals begin to fill up, the insurance industry encounters rather a lot of problems, funeral homes are getting no business, what happens to the Church if there's no death--it means there's also no resurrection. It's an interesting idea, and I'm kind of surprised it hasn't already been done to death (pun totally intended). So I'm looking forward to reading more of that.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
There is nothing the least bit complicated about the plot, though things do not always come in quite the right order. There are a series of rather strange characters, but unusually they are strange in a very normal way--not at all over the top, not even especially vivid, just strange. It's written in an unusual style, though I don't mean the writing, I mean that it doesn't quite flow. It is definitely put together deliberately, but not in the usual method of a novel. It has no concrete beginning, and the end is extremely abrupt, although not without managing to wrap things up well. It is simply a cutout of these characters' lives, just episodes put together, sometimes with no apparent relevance to the plot (assuming there is one).
Anyway, I enjoyed it very much, since it appealed to my love of reading about Oxford and Cambridge and their whole culture. I'd quite like to read more of Penelope Fitzgerald's books.
Next up on the reading list is The Things They Carried by Tim Obrien, and also the Iliad.
Monday, October 13, 2008
I got home early today, which was really nice as I managed to finish all my homework by the time I would usually be getting home. I'm finally starting to feel like I have a little bit more time on my hands, which is extremely pleasant. I'm sure I won't feel like this by Friday, but it's nice while it lasts.
Look at that. It's fall.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I have to make a Renaissance costume for a ball in a couple of weeks, so I've spent most of the day sewing, fiddling with patterns, getting frustrated with patterns, and pricking my fingers sewing trim over all the seams. With any luck I'll get that mostly done this week, as it's really just adding to my to-do list, and though I enjoy it I'd love to not worry about it. Fortunately next weekend looks like it's free also, so this should get done then.
I'm looking forward hopefully to December. I'm very sick of having no time, being underslept and overworked, and not reading anything but what I have to read for school. But by December my community college classes will be over, and that will probably free me up greatly. Plus, by December I should be pretty much done with college applications, so while I won't have quit worrying about it at least it won't be on my to-do list. And apart from all that, it's one of my favourite months. It's winter at its best, before it gets grey and soggy and long.
I'm still reading Johnny Got His Gun. It's fascinating how much plot one can get out of a guy who has no limbs and can't see, hear, taste, smell, or speak.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
The book we're now reading for Senior Lit is Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. It's very interesting, if rather disconcerting, also. It's a World War I novel, written and originally published not long before World War II, and banned for its anti-war sentiments. The style reminds me a lot of Virginia Woolf, and the subject matter reminds me of Mrs. Dalloway (which I still haven't finished). I may read that as a sort of tie in.
I've got a lot of homework at the moment. My only other reading is my US History textbook.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Khaled Hosseini is a wonderful storyteller. He's not the best writer, but I couldn't tell you what I don't like in his writing style because the story and the characters are so overwhelming. I think that's probably what defines most of the really popular books these days--J.K. Rowling, for example, is not that great a writer (some writers of fanfic are better at romance than she is), but she's a great storyteller, and is therefore loved.
One has the sense, in both these books, that the author knows exactly who his characters are. He knows who they are and what they want and what all their faults are. That last is especially true of Amir, in The Kite Runner, and Baba too.
The Kite Runner is more satisfying in terms of a well crafted plot coming together. A Thousand Splendid Suns is more satisfying in terms of the characters and their interweaving lives. The Kite Runner is simply so perfectly circular. Everything has its consequence, and the consequences are often played out in ways that are really very ironic. It has a good sense of poetic justice. That was what impressed me most about this book. The thing I spent the whole book wondering was how much of it was autobiographical. I'd be interested to learn a bit more about Khaled Hosseini's own life.
I didn't much like the structure of A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was too broken up--first the entire long section about Mariam, then the long section about Laila, and there weren't enough hints that their stories were going to come together. (That's something I've noticed generally about this author--I never expect what's coming.) That said, I loved these characters. Mariam not so much until she was older, but Laila always. I'm a hopeless romantic, so I was always rooting for Laila and Tariq. All the characters go through so much, the entire goal of the book has to be to make things come out more or less all right, and that's what keeps you reading.
Reading these books has made me much more aware of the fact that all the cultures of the Middle East are really very fascinating, and I was especially interested in all the hints of the languages.
Anyway, I'm glad to have read them. Next I'm reading Mansfield Park. Now for something completely different.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I sort of have to remind myself that it's not real, because it's so much grounded in history and so completely real. I can't think of any other book I've ever read, though I'm sure they exist, that has struck me as being so totally true to life. All the characters are believable and understandable, without being boring, the way they interact very realistic, and their quirks also very real, since few people have none. Even the stranger occurrences, like locking Billee Bee and the parrot in the smokehouse, seem completely possible.
It's written in letters, which I always love (and which I'm planning to do my NaNo this year in), and they do a good job of telling the whole story and not leaving anything out. Plus, I can never resist a book full of so much book love.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
I read my first Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies, an utterly bizarre and rather circular little thing. It was quite enjoyable, really, though something one only wants one of at a time.
I also finished Three Men in a Boat, which I've been working on from DailyLit for ages. That was lots of fun.
I'm working on The Kite Runner and Don Quixote, both for classes, and just this evening I started The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer). I already love that one. It reminds me a lot of 84, Charing Cross Road, only wonderfully fatter! I can already tell I'm going to positively guzzle it down. If it's sunny tomorrow I'll sit outside, and probably read the whole thing at once.
The Kite Runner is interesting. While I do like it, I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss is about. It does have some very pretty moments, and some very sad ones, but I remain solid in my opinion that a good first person novel is extremely difficult to pull off, discounting ones in diary or letter form. I rarely truly like them. And I do like this one, but the fact that it's written in first person is a huge drawback, which keeps me from loving it. Anyway, I don't really see why it's such a big deal, apart from the topic.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Fanny kind of reminds me of me. She's got my distinctly romantic sensibilities, and is a bit shy, but overall she's really very sensible and plain. This particular combination makes her very likeable. One doesn't have to be frustrated by her being stupid about things (if she were really the main character that wouldn't be possible--she would be boring), because she never quite is, but she's still got her views on things and she's still silly about things.
I watched the recent miniseries a while ago, but didn't find it terribly memorable, so I'm going to watch it again now I've read the books.
Friday, August 29, 2008
I discovered in the course of the trip, much to my delight, that reading in cars no longer makes me ill. Accordingly, I finished Le Ballon Rouge and The Pursuit of Love. The Pursuit of Love was excellent travel reading, as it didn't require too much work but was invariably fun, wonderfully anecdotal, and besides, rather interesting characterwise. Now I've got to read Love in a Cold Climate, as I have them both compiled in one book. I've started it, and so far I'm not sure I like it quite so well, but it may simply take a while to get into it.
Incredibly, I only bought one book in the course of the trip, and it wasn't even in a used bookstore, and it was on the very last day. The Story of French, by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. I started reading it in the car on the last stretch home, and it looks like it'll be really very interesting. I love historical linguistics, and that's a lot of what this is, so I'm sure I'll enjoy it.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Friday we're leaving on a road trip to Oregon and California, and I don't imagine I'll be doing much reading while there, so it'll be a while before I post again.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I finished reading The Enchanted April. It was a rather charming book, though I think it could have used a better editor, and though it has elements of contrivedness it was still really very good. It was tremendously well described, and made picturing everything very easy--except for the gardens, which I can picture but don't feel like I've got quite right. That's probably because I've never been to Italy.
This really was a perfect morning to finish reading this book. It was bright and sunny when I got up, and I got to wear summery clothes, and ride the bus to work in the sun. I kept noticing flowers blooming everywhere.
My next book will have to be Pencillings, since I have that from the library and it's pretty short. After that it'll be either The Pursuit of Love or Villette, since I am determined to do something about that stack of books I bought. I should also reread at some point Jane Eyre, so that I can write a scholarship essay about it.
Apart from the reading, I started editing my novel, just about finished my summer internship at the Seattle Children's Theatre, and have been doing lots of research on college. I'm looking forward to having a couple of days off.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Are there any particular worlds in books where you’d like to live?
Or where you certainly would NOT want to live?
What about authors? If you were a character, who would you trust to write your life?
I'd very much like to live in the Villa San Girolamo in The English Patient. I could do without the mines all over, but the room the English patient lives in sounds wonderful, and the fact that it's all crumbling would just make it better--it would be a bit like living in the past, but with present, living flowers all around you. The world outside the villa, however, not so much. And in reality, of course, I might not like it so much. But for a visit that would be great.
The Oxford of To Say Nothing of the Dog I'd also be pretty keen on, because what's better than living in Oxford and being able to time travel?
I can't actually think of a place in a book that I would really not want to live, although I'm sure such a place is out there. I think I probably avoid books that are about places that I would not for any reason want to live in. There are lots of books that I would not actually want to live in even if there are appealing bits of them, but none that sound wholly unpleasant.
As for an author who I'd like to write my life--overall, I think Pamela Dean could do a creditable job of it, but that's mostly because I like her writing so much. I think if we're talking about my life at present and somebody writing a novel about me as I am now, I'd like Eva Rice to have a go at it. She wrote The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, which was a great book, with a main character who is about my age, and which captures incredibly well being that age. Something in that book, though none of the events or the settings or anything much about it resembles my life, something really reminded me of myself.
I have now moved on to The Enchanted April, which is a pretty little book but not terribly striking, especially as I've already seen the movie and the movie doesn't appear to have changed much. I think now that they've got to Italy it might be more interesting, certainly in terms of the descriptions. It just occurred to me this is the second book in a row I've read that's set in Italy.
At present I am attempting to do some reading and some writing in order to get my novel out of my head so that I can start editing it. I've started a list of things that I already know need writing or adding in or expanding upon or changing, and I'm sure a rereading of it will just add more things to my list. But I'm really looking forward to my editing. I'm attempting to write some short stories in the meantime, but I find short stories way more difficult to write than novels, at least in first draft, and way more difficult to come up with plots for. But I would like to get better at them. I'm looking forward to reading Katherine Mansfield's Stories, since I don't read a lot of short stories and it's probably a helpful thing to do in preparation for writing them.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Smith of Wootton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham (J.R.R. Tolkien), The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate (Nancy Mitford), The Enchanted April (Elizabeth von Armin), Wives and Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell), Stories (Katherine Mansfield), Villette (Charlotte Bronte).
The Nancy Mitford one has been on my to read list for a while, as was Katherine Mansfield, and partially The Enchanted April (I was looking for Elizabeth and her German Garden, but I saw the film of this one a while ago and have been vaguely meaning to read it). I already own Farmer Giles, but not Smith, and it's such a neat little copy of it. Wives and Daughters I've read already and just thought I ought to have, and Villette I definitely want to read, since I love Jane Eyre and I think I've heard people say they like this one even better.
I'm almost done with The English Patient (and loving it), so once I'm finished with it I'll head on to this lot.
In other news, I finished my novel today.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Anyway, I intend to write up my To Read list and take that up there, although it's the sort of bookstore that's better for unexpected gems than for specific goals.
I shall post a record of my purchases when I return.
Friday, August 1, 2008
This is mostly for my own reference purposes, but here is a list of all the books I read in 2007.
Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Brontë)
The Playmaker (Thomas Keneally)
Chocolat (Joanne Harris)
The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde)
Some Tame Gazelle (Barbara Pym)
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)
Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
Good Omens (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman)
Codex (Lev Grossman)
Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions (Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott)
The Mao Game (Joshua Miller)
Gods Behaving Badly (Marie Phillips)
These Three Remain (Pamela Aidan)
Bridget Jones's Diary (Helen Fielding)
The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger)
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Helen Fielding)
Shoe Addicts Anonymous (Beth Harbison)
Tam Lin (Pamela Dean)
Thomas the Rhymer (Ellen Kushner)
Children's Books/YA Books
Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood (Ann Brashares)
Carrie’s War (Nina Bawden)
Tithe (Holly Black)
Pure Dead Trouble (Debi Gliori)
Love Rules (Dandi Daley Mackall)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)
The Railway Children (E. Nesbit)
The Slippery Map (N.E. Bode)
The Secret Country (Pamela Dean)
The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)
The Tempest (Shakespeare)
The Recruiting Officer (George Farquhar)
Our Country's Good (Timberlake Wertenbaker)
As Bees in Honey Drown (Douglas Carter Beane)
Over the Checkerboard (Fred Carmichael)
Twelfth Night (Shakespeare)
The Professor and the Madman (Simon Winchester)
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (Anne Fadiman)
Letters to a Young Poet (Rainer Maria Rilke)
No Plot? No Problem! (Chris Baty)
Rereadings (ed. Anne Fadiman)
The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the
Selected Poems (T.S. Eliot)
Poems (John Keats)
Renascence and Other Poems (Edna
What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?
Well, there are a lot of books that I have favourite beginning lines from--Daniel Deronda, The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, and beginning lines tend to be the better known (maybe because so many people get that far in the classics, but not all the way to the last lines). But I am a total sucker for a good last line, especially in my own writing. I strive to end on something neat and tidy, that says something either witty or meaningful. It tends to wind up curtailing some of my scenes, though I try to avoid that, simply because I can't resist ending the scene on such a good line. I really liked the last line of North and South (which I won't give away), but I can't say it was that memorable--I just looked it up so I would remember what it was I liked about it.
So I guess I really can't say that there's a book that I remember especially for it's last line.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Here are the books I read in July:
- The House With the Clock in Its Walls (John Bellairs), 179 pages,
finished 7/1/08 (Kathryn Davis), 206 pages, Versailles finished 7/5/08
- Doomsday Book (Connie Willis), 578 pages,
- Havemercy (Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett), 388 pages,
- Narrative Poems (C.S. Lewis), 178 pages, finished 7/28/08
Also, during the month, I have started reading The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje), Tales from the Macabre (Daphne du Maurier), Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert), Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome), and The Poems of Oscar Wilde (these last three via DailyLit). I've already talked a bit about The English Patient, and I'm not far enough into the others to really comment on them, except that Three Men in a Boat is most entertaining.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Anyway, that is how I came to pick up The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. I suppose it's one I always figured I'd read eventually. I have read some of his poetry in The Cinnamon Peeler, which I should finish, and I love in that the "Elimination Game," which has such gems as,
"Those who have woken to find the wet footprints of a peacock across their kitchen floor.
Those who have accidentally stapled themselves.
Anyone who has been hired as a 'professional beater' and frightened grouse in the direction of the Queen Mother.
Any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail.
Anyone with pain."
And my favourite...
"Men who shave off beards in stages, pausing to take photographs."
It's not exactly poetry--I'm not sure what it is. A bit of a dedication, I suppose.
Anyway, I have so far read the first chapter of The English Patient, and hearing that the movie was terrible I see why it was, because I can't imagine how you could make a film out of this. It reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale in an odd manner, and it almost serves that desire I had for World War II novels, and it satisfies my fondness for books involving crumbling houses. There are books I've read (not that I can think of an example) where my favourite character is the house they all live in. Anyway, it's lovely, and I am definitely continuing.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Anyway, it gave me a desire to read some good English World War II novels, of which I have not read many (the only ones I can think of involved children during WWII, and thus rather disconnected). I would be partial to ones about the normal life during WWII, rather than any fighting. However, I have just resolved not to read anything but the books I already own, so maybe it'll be a while before I read any.
It also got me thinking about how wars seem to bring out in the English even more than normal that peculiar quality that is Englishness. It's like that story (probably not true), of how after Churchill announced the war (or some similar statement) the power went out all over England, because everybody went to make a pot of tea at the same time. Anyway, I'd like to write an English WWII novel, but it would involve a lot of research--I figure reading some novels about it might be a good start. Who is to say whether this will ever happen.
I have today been introduced to the idea of a verse novel. I find it fascinating, and would like to read one.
Yesterday I picked up again after two years C.S. Lewis's Narrative Poems, which I bought at a lovely little antique shop on Vashon Island 4th of July two years ago. The place didn't have a lot of books, but it had a fabulous collection of all the Inklings' work. Tolkien, Lewis, Charles Williams. So I went for the Narrative Poems, which I like very much and shall endeavour to finish this time. I got through Dymer (which was terribly confusing, though very lovely--I don't know if it would have been less confusing had I not read it in chunks two years apart), and Launcelot. I am now on The Nameless Isle, which I think I like best so far of these, at least in style. Though I was rather taken with the style of Dymer. But I can't help loving that rolling Anglo-Saxon epic poetry, with the profusion of alliteration. What could be better than this?
Then came a turn of luck.
On the tenth evening too soon the light
Over working seas went beneath the sky line,
Darkness came dripping and the deafening storm
Upon wild waters, wet days and long,
Carried us, and caverned clouds immeasurable
Harried and hunted like a hare that ship
Too many days. Men were weary.
Try reading it out loud. That may not be the best example, but it's pretty good.
Here's the beginning of Dymer:
You stranger, long before your glance can light
Upon these words, time will have washed away
The moment when I first took pen to write
With all my road before me--yet to-day,
Here if at all, we meet; the unfashioned clay
Ready to both our hands; both hushed to see
That which is nowhere yet come forth and be.