Saturday, January 30, 2010

In Honor of J.D. Salinger

The one and only time I read The Catcher in the Rye was in high school. I was in Mr. Walchanowicz's sophomore English class. The 15 or so of us in that class were the only ones in the school who got to read it. The rest of the 10th grade had some other teacher. Mrs. Whoever – I don't remember her name. But her reading list was awful. That class spent time slowly reading Julius Caeser aloud in class while we were mulling over The Crucible and Antigone and Catcher. Being randomly selected for Mr. Walchanowicz's class was one of the luckiest things that happened to me that year.

I won't say I was some disillusioned, disaffected adolescent for whom The Catcher in the Rye was some kind godsend. I personally didn't get Catcher. I still don't really, though I realize it is brilliant and different and new, even by today's standards. It just didn't resonate with me, even though I had seen enough of the world to know that most people were horrible phonies and that adults never knew what was really going on. I guess I was a happy child, even a happy high schooler, if there is such a thing. So it didn't make sense to me that Holden Caulfield was so angry about everything, about the state of the world. I was angry too, but I wasn't going to fall to pieces about it. Now, as an adult, I see that that is just the way of some people.

I didn't love Catcher, but I loved getting to read it. I was told that the book was the second most taught in high schools around America, and so I wondered why the little group of us were the only ones getting into this large literary club. Why was it a "banned book" in some areas? Why wasn't it on the 10th grade curriculum? Why didn't everyone else get to revel in the glory of Holden discovering the word "fuck" written on that wall? Hmmm... maybe that was why. When we came to that passage at the end of the story, Mr. Walchanowicz informed us that he thought we were mature enough to discuss it like adults. So we proceeded to have a conversation about what we had read without ever uttering the word aloud. Though, I presume, if we had, there would have been no recourse.

When my mother saw me reading the book at home one evening as homework, she said to me, "That's my favorite book. You'll have to let me read it again when you're finished." I didn't know what to say. I was not the kind of person who liked The Catcher in the Rye, but, as it turned out, my mother was. She never really told me why she loved the book so much, and I never asked. I only formed quiet mental pictures of her as a brooding, disillusioned teenager, and compared that to the woman she had become.

These are the little things I remember about The Catcher in the Rye and being 15 and high school. The book did not change my world, but it did give me a whole handful of little moments that did. These are the moments that make reading a joy and an adventure. Thank you, J.D. Salinger, for what you wrote, and what you gave so many of us in so many different ways.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

#4 - The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones
By: Alice Sebold
328 pages
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0316666343
My Copy: Mooched via PaperBackSwap

This book was the first pick of the year for my book club. Did I mention I have a book club? Well, I do. This is our third year of getting together. Right now, we have about 8 members and meet every 6 weeks on a Wednesday night at my house. That means we will be reading 8 titles total this year (each member picks one and then leads a discussion on it). It is a wonderful group of ladies and I really enjoy having everyone over to snack and discuss literature. In fact, I got the idea to read 100 books this year from one of the other book club members, Cassie. She did the same thing last year and I thought, "hey, I'd like to try that, too!"

We only read contemporary fiction, so selections have to be from that pool. Kelly picked The Lovely Bones, which was a timely choice because of the movie coming out. I really enjoyed the book. And I can see why it is very popular with book clubs - we had a very lively discussion! There's a lot going on in the novel, so it is great for a small group to chew over.

The novel centers on the rape and murder of 13-year old Susie Salmon. Susie narrates the entire book from heaven, where she watches and observes the lives of her family members, the people in her town, and her murderer. It raises a lot of questions about healing and forgiveness after tragedy. Without giving too much away, I loved the growth of the characters in the book and how the author takes a book about one thing (the rape and murder of a young child) and moves it away from being predictable or trite.

As I found out after reading the book, Alice Sebold was herself raped as a college freshman and so I'm sure a lot of her own experience of coming to terms with a horrific event has informed the book and, I think, given it authenticity and depth.

I would heartily recommend the book to other book clubs or to friends who want an interesting read.

My Rating: B+

PS - We are all going to see the movie together, so I'll post a review of that once we see it!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Harry Potter Reading Challenge

Okay, this one is pretty straight-forward. Read all seven Harry Potter books!

1. Sorcerer’s Stone
2. Chamber of Secrets
3. Prisoner of Azkaban
4. Goblet of Fire
5. Order of the Phoenix
6. Half-Blood Prince
7. Deathly Hallows

The challenge will run from August 1, 2009 to July 31, 2010.

This is the only challenge I am worried about not finishing. I've read each of these books several times and I don't know if I can go through all of them yet again. I know I'll crack open some of them, but only time will tell if I can make it through Chamber of Secrets again!

Jane Austen Reading Challenge

Ah, the reading challenge I was born to partake in! The rules and then some musings:

1. Anyone can participate.

2. Levels:

* Newbie 2 books by J. Austen and/or 2 re-writes, prequels, sequels, or spoofs (by other authors)
* Lover 4 books by J. Austen and/or 4 re-writes, prequels, sequels, or spoofs (by other authors)
* Fanatic 6+ books by J. Austen and/or 5+ re-writes, prequels, sequels, or spoofs (by other authors)

3. Challenge books can overlap with other challenges.

4. Any format counts: bound book, e-book, audio book, or any other thing you can think of.

5. Challenge runs January 1st 2010—December 31 2010.

If I'm being honest (which, naturally I am) I will have to read at the fanatic level. The problem won't be reading more Jane Austen, it will be finding the books to read. I've read every scrap Jane has ever written, and I quickly lost patience with all the sequels and spoofs. Perhaps some nice biographies of Jane? Maybe I will try this list:

1. Pride and Prejudice
2. Mansfield Park and Mummies
3. Becoming Jane Austen
4. Jane Austen's Charlotte: Her Fragment of a Last Novel
5. Selected Letters of Jane Austen (1796-1817)
6. Northanger Abbey

Two of those are re-reads (P&P and NA), but I doubt I would have made it through the year without putting them on anyway!

Here's what I actually did:

1. Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14
2. Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict by Laura Viera Rigler

Young Adult Reading Challenge

Another challenge! Thanks again to J. Kaye's Book Blog! I love reading YA books, so this should be fun! I'll list all the books I've read so far in this post. Here are the rules:

1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. There are four levels:

* The Mini YA Reading Challenge – Read 12 Young Adult novels.
* Just My Size YA Reading Challenge – Read 25 Young Adult novels.
* Stepping It Up YA Reading Challenge – Read 50 Young Adult novels.
* Super Size Me YA Reading Challenge – Read 75 Young Adult novels.

3. Audio, eBooks, re-reads all count.

4. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

5. Challenge begins January 1st through December, 2010.

I think I will be reading at the mini level, but I may be able to get close to the 25 required for Just My Size. We'll see.

My books are:

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
2. Stargazer by Claudia Gray
3. I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It by Adam Selzer
4. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
6. City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
8. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

100+ Reading Challenge

I just signed up for J. Kaye's 100+ Reading Challenge and discovered that there are a whole lot of people trying to read 100 books or more this year (I was, like, number 646 to sign up. So yeah). Ah, solidarity. Now I just have to check out all their blogs (just kidding!).

I also like the rules a lot (I think I will adopt these as my new rules!):

1. The goal is to read 100 or more books. Anyone can join.

2. Audio, Re-reads, eBooks, YA, Manga, Graphic Novels, Library books, Novellas, Young Reader, Nonfiction – as long as the book has an ISBN or equivalent or can be purchased as such, the book counts. What doesn't count: Individual short stories or individual books in the Bible.

3. No need to list your books in advance. You may select books as you go. Even if you list them now, you can change the list if needed.

4. Crossovers from other reading challenges count.

5. Challenge begins January 1st thru December, 2010. Books started before the 1st do not count.

Friday, January 22, 2010

#3 - Style

By: Kate Spade
112 pages
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0743250672
My Copy: Borrowed from library.

There's not much to say about this book. It was okay. It didn't really help me hone or improve my style (which, I suppose, was my goal in reading it). There are some fun quotes inside and some interesting discussions, but overall it felt very much like I was reading a very elementary book about Kate Spade's style rather than something about how to create my own style.

The text is a mixture of lists, facts, and little snippets from Andy and Kate Spade. It appears to me that someone just interviewed Kate and her husband about "style" and then positioned quotes from her inside and slapped her name on the cover. The style tips are kind of half-hearted. There is a section on fashionable books and movies, a chapter all about colors, and information on caring for your clothes (which was helpful, but I'm not going to care for all my clothes at that high level, they're just not nice enough). Much of the information on care and cleaning could be found online or in other books. Lists of fabrics and patterns and their definitions have had better treatment in other books.

So, yeah, it was okay. I wouldn't say it was a waste of a few hours, but it didn't enlighten me either.

My Rating: C-

Friday, January 15, 2010

#2 - Stuff White People Like

Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions
By: Christian Lander
224 pages
Published: 2008
ISBN: 0812979915
My Copy: Borrowed from friend.

Based on the website of the same name, this book is pretty funny. I had read many of these entries before on the site* (and you can too when you look in the archives), but the book has a couple of brand new entries and extras, like a chart telling me what I, as a white person, should name my child (I got Emily, which is pretty close to my actual daughter's name, Elizabeth, so well done, Christian Lander).

Throughout reading I fluctuated between thinking "Oh, yeah, white people are so pretentious! They do love organic food and film festivals!" to "Hey, wait... but I like writer's workshops and Arrested Development, and public radio. Does that mean I am a pretentious white person?" Yeah, it's kind of like that. In the end, according to the book I was 40% white, meaning I "liked" about 50 of the 150 total items listed. Of course (or so I told myself) who doesn't like stuff like The Simpsons and the Toyota Prius? But maybe that just something a boring white person like me would think!

The book is a fun joke read, be prepared to feel a little bit squirmy when going through it. I also kind of feel iffy about people take free content from a website and turning it into a book we are supposed to pay money to read. If you are already a fan of the site, there probably isn't any point buying this book (though I'd recommend borrowing it from the library if, for nothing else, the new content). If you aren't familiar with the concept, reading the website gives you pretty much the same experience, so you might be better off checking that out.

* I just looked over the site again. Re: entry #131: Now loving Conan makes me a pretentious white person? Ugg!

My Rating: B

Sunday, January 10, 2010

#1: Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14

Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14
Adapted from stories by: Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and Myla Jo Closser
144 pages
Published: 2007
ISBN: 0978791908
My Copy: I own it. Bought it online.

The first book of the year and it's... a graphic novel. And an adaptation of the works of others at that. Does this even count as a book? It fits within the rules, so I say yes, besides, this volume was too wonderful to pass up.

Being that I am a hopeless Janeite and that Northanger Abbey is my second favorite Jane Austen novel of all time, when I happened to read about Gothic Classics on my favorite Jane Austen fan site, Austenblog, I could not resist immediately visiting the publisher's website and buying a copy.

I was not disappointed. The book features adapted, comic versions of Carmilla, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Oval Portrait, and Northanger Abbey, among others. Of course I loved the version of NA, but I also thought Carmilla was particularly eerie and well done. I am assuming the full-length story could only be better, so right now I'm on the look out for the full text of Le Fanu's vampire novella (which apparently predates Dracula by 25 years as far as vampire (I mean, vampyre) stories go).

I was also not familiar with Poe's The Oval Portrait, but this short piece is exceptionally well done, and the illustrations are perfect.

Any fellow Janeite would love this book as the Gothic tales will root you firmly in the world of the romantics and allow you to better understand the works Jane alludes to in Northanger Abbey.

If you, like me, bought Udolpho thinking you would make it through its 600+ pages, then the Gothic Classics version, though obviously not as satisfying as reading the entire novel, will tide you over for now.

Maybe this book will inspire me to go on a seventeenth century Gothic reading kick? I've been itching to read Dracula. Or The Monk. Or The Italian. Could more Gothic horrors be in store for me?

My Rating: A

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why Read 100 Books in One Year?

Because I love to read.

I love books. I love collecting books. I love reading them and re-reading them. I love writing. I love learning to be a better writer through reading. I love learning new things from books. I love traveling someplace fantastic in my mind.

Books are both wonderful old friends and exciting new acquaintances. For most of my life, I've turned to books for comfort, companionship, and knowledge. I have a wonderful husband and daughter, but there are so many other things I've never seen or done or experienced. In books, I can see all this. When Catherine Moreland tells Henry Tilney that gazing upon Beechen Cliff in Bath always puts her in mind of the south of France, a place she had only read about in The Mysteries of Udolpho, I know exactly what she means. There are people and worlds we will never meet, yet books can take us there.

I also love being a reader. I want to be a better one. As it is now, I read a fair share. Last year, I may have read 30 or 40 books. This year I know I can do better. I want to do better. After all, if the former president of the United States can do it (and I'm not entirely sure I believe he did, the position seems like it would leave very little free time for reading), then anyone can.

Other folks have done it before me. This nice lady for one. And others.

I love to read. Do you? Then join me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Rules

* Books can be fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, or collections of short stories in any genre.

* Books must be at least 100 pages long.

* Can re-read books I have already read (I don't know that I could make it a whole year without cracking open Pride and Prejudice or a Harry Potter book).

I can better define any other things that come up as we go along.

Happy New Year

And so the year begins. Time to start reading.