War and Peace Readalong: Vol 2

Monday, January 31, 2011

This is my second post (here's the first) for the War and Peace read-along hosted by A Literary Odyssey.

The book really kicked into high gear for me in Volume II, particularly in Part 2. There's dancing at balls, attempted suicide, engagements, scorned lovers, financial problems, even a duel. Thank goodness Tolstoy didn't try to cram all of that into the title (see Better book Titles version below).

Pierre finds his life in chaos after rumors about his wife prompt him to duel Dolokhov. The duel solves nothing for him, because it leaves him feeling more bereft than ever. I loved the description of Pierre's thought process during this time. It was just perfect to me...

"It was as if the main screw in his head, which held his whole life together, had become stripped. The screw would not go in, would not come out, but turned in the same groove without catching hold, and it was impossible to stop turning it." (p.347)

That chapter goes on to describe Pierre's meeting with a Freemason and his religious conversion. For some reason this chapter just hit the mark for me. Between Pierre's despair, which becomes religious fervor, and the Freemason's descriptions, I was captivated.

"The highest wisdom and truth is like the most pure liquid, which we want to receive ourselves. Can I receive pure liquid in an impure vessel and then judge its purity? Only by purifying myself inwardly can I keep the liquid I receive pure to some degree." (p.352).

Outside of Pierre's world much is happening. Prince Andrei and Natasha get engaged, but his father insists on a year apart before they can wed. Left alone, with her family, Natasha is seduced by the vapid Anatole, who convinces her to elope (after failing to get Marya to marry him). Luckily Sonya, seeking only Natasha's happiness, thwarts their plan and Pierre (unexpectedly) shows Natasha a sweet affection.

I was thrilled when Nikolai finally got his act together and realized that Sonya was what he wanted. That sweet moment, when they run to each other, it reminded me of the final scene in When Harry Met Sally, only better, (There's got to be some rule about comparing Russian literature to Meg Ryan rom-coms, but oh well).

Obviously it's not a perfect book. I think I zone out a bit during the battle scenes, the characters seem to fall in "love" with someone new every five minutes, etc., but I'm loving the book and 600 pages in I'm excited about the rest.

Top photo by moi, bottom from Better Book Titles.

Harry Potter Challenge

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I read the first book in the Harry Potter series in 2001, when I was a senior in high school. The first movie was about to come out and I'd been ignoring the series because of the hype. I finally read it because I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie. 300 pages later I was completely hooked and in a week I'd read all the other books that were out at that time. For the final 3 books I pre-ordered each one and read them as soon as I had them in my hands.

There is so much to love about the series. Rowling created a new world where wizardry made just about anything possible. She also created characters that you care deeply about. Some of my all-time favorites, like Dumbledore, come from the series. She balanced a good vs. evil plot with the drama that comes out of regular life. There are family problems, bullying, sibling rivalries, homework, sports teams, first crushes, etc. all while our favorite trio battles bad guys.

So as worldwide Harry Potter love culminates this summer, when the final movie is released, I will be re-reading all seven books. I'm sure I will re-read them in the future, but this does feel like an era is truly coming to an end. Daemon Books is hosting a read-along and here are the details if you want to join...

The Books and Schedule:
1. January 1-31: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
2. February 1-28: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
3. March 1-31: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
4. April 1-30: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5. May 1-31: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
6. June 1-30: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
7. July 1 – August 31: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Note: The last book will be read over two months in case some people (me included) would like to see the final movie before re-reading the book.

How To Participate Each month:
Step 1: Read the assigned book for that month (see schedule above)
Step 2: Write a review or opinion piece about the book on your blog
Step 3: Starting February 1, 2011 and at the beginning of each subsequent month we will have a post up for you to share links to your reviews, opinion pieces or to write comments (designated comment section). This will count as proof of your participation.

Librarian for a day

Friday, January 28, 2011

(My library)

This past weekend I played librarian and finally had a chance to organize my entire library at home. My husband and I got married in Oct. '09 and moved out of apartments and into a house. For the first time in my life I was able to set up a real library, but in the midst of moving/getting married, etc. I didn't set it up quite how I wanted to.

Now, after all that hoopla, switching jobs, vacations, holidays, and more, I finally had a whole day to devote to the project.
I have one more bookcase in our guest room that's filled with children's books, but I didn't mess with that one. My nieces and nephews tear it apart when they come over (which is good, that's what kids books are for) so I didn't want to alphabetize them.

(Travel guides and travel memoirs)

I took all of the books off the shelves, stacked them by category and finally added them back to their bookcases in alphabetical order. The only thing I still need to figure out is how to label the categories... or maybe I don't need to. I haven't decided yet.

(Plays and Classics)

The categories I chose are: nonfiction, poetry, plays, classics, sci-fi/fantasy, religion, travel guides, travel memoirs, fiction, young adult, mysteries, short stories and audiobooks. Tell me if you guys think of any I should add.

(My favorite books that I've already read)

It took a total of 7 hours, but I couldn't be happier with the result. I tend to read multiple books at a time and I love the fact that now I'll be able to go straight to the category I want and pick out my next book. Life is good.

Photos by moi.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

by Susan Cooper

This is the third book in the Dark is Rising series. It introduces thesiblings from the first book (Over Sea, Under Stone), Barney, Simon and Jane, to the main character from the second book (The Dark is Rising), Will Stanton. I loved watching them meet and seeing the series begin to flesh out. The first two books seemed so disconnected to me and this one really brought it all together.

The kids are all around the same age, (except Barney, the youngest), but as we learned in The Dark is Rising, Will is actually the last of the Old Ones. His character must maintain a delicate balance of appearing to be a normal kid, while at the same time working with the other Old Ones to keep the Dark from rising. I loved his sweet interactions with Jane.

All around, this is my favorite book of the series so far. It wouldn’t be great as a stand alone, but as part of the series I’m now invested in all of the characters and I felt like this book gave me a chance to get to know them better. I especially loved the fact that Jane takes center stage in this book.

The Cornish setting doesn’t hurt either. I’m a sucker for anything dealing with the Arthurian myths and this series provides a great twist. As he was in the first two books, Merriman Lyon remains one of my favorite characters. He reminds me of Gandalf from LOTR. He’s wise and mysterious, while at the same time always providing a sense of security for his friends.

I will absolutely be reading the final two books of this series.

Wordless Wednesday: Fish Market

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Lexington fish market in Baltimore.
How weird is it that they have muskrat and squid?

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

One Year Blogiversary

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Yes, the photo is my sorry attempt at creating a number 1 out of books. It's my one year blogiversary today! I just want to tell you all how grateful I am for this wonderful community of readers. 

It's been so rewarding to discuss books and get recommendations from all of you. I can't believe it's only been one year.

Thank you guys for commenting and following and making blogging so much fun.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: The World More Full of Weeping

Monday, January 24, 2011

World More Full of Weeping
by Robert J. Wiersema

This creepy little book is part horror story and part fairy tale. A divorced dad, Jeff, lives with his 11-year-old son Brian in rural British Columbia. Their home sits next to a forest which Brian spends all of his free time exploring. One day Brian goes missing and from that point forward we see the story from both Jeff and Brian’s points of view.

I knew almost nothing about this book when I picked it up. The cover is gorgeous and the title comes from William Butler Yeats' poem "The Stolen Child." In high school my best friend gave me a picture she had drawn of a fairy (below). On the drawing she had written these lines from Yeats’ poem,

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.”

Because of that, the title of the book immediately caught my attention and I knew I had to read it. I won’t give a single thing away about the plot, because what I enjoyed the most about it was not knowing where the story would end. I will say that Wiersema maintains a tense suspense throughout the story. It’s easy to picture yourself in the shoes of both the curious young boy and the terrified father. This is a quick read, but definitely worth it.

“You never really get a look at your own life, until you’re showing it to someone else.”

In addition to the novella, the book also contains an essay about fictionalizing real places when you write. It was a really interesting to read about the thin, but essential, line between an author’s hometown and the nonexistent setting in his novel. Even though the places may be indistinguishable, Wiersema stresses the importance of always recognizing the difference between them. The author needs the freedom to imagine whatever character or events they want and if they see the place as real they won’t allow themselves to do that. Fascinating, no?

Second image drawn by my friend.

Laptop Case

Sunday, January 23, 2011

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was a new laptop messenger bag for my MacBook. Since I started blogging I have wanted to get a better bag to carry my little laptop around. I wanted something simple and light that could be expanded or squished into another bag easily. This Built one is perfect! It's soft and light and even has an extra pocket on the outside for a notebook or papers.

What do you guys use or where do you normally blog from? I blog mainly from home, but I love going to a coffee shop or Panera Bread for some uninterrupted work.

Photo from Amazon.

Better Books Titles

Friday, January 21, 2011

Have you guys seen the website Better Book Titles?
It's hilarious! It takes famous books and gives
them titles that are more fitting for the story.

A few of my favorites are their version of
Sherlock Holmes and The Very Hungry Caterpillar (top)
and Remains of the Day and Macbeth (bottom).
Sometimes you need a good book related laugh.

Book Reviews: The Virgin Suicides

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Virgin Suicides
by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Lisbon family is made up of five teenage daughters, a mild-mannered father and an extremely conservative mother. When the youngest daughter, Cecilia, commits suicide at the beginning of the novel, the family is thrown into a painful year of grieving. Their quiet life in a
Detroit suburb becomes claustrophobic as they slowly retreat within themselves.

We watch their story unfold from the outside view of the neighborhood boys and because of this we never truly understand all that the girls go through. The reader is left wanting more; more information, more interaction with the Lisbons, just more. I think that Eugenides intended this, because he wrote the book from the point-of-view of outsiders who were themselves, left wanting more. That is a double-edged sword though, because while the novel is strangely fascinating, it also keeps the reader at a distance. We hear about events that have already happened and we receive little explanation for them. It’s hard to become too involved, but it’s also a tribute to Eugenide’s skill as a writer that he can give the reader so little and yet hold their attention.

It’s a beautifully written debut novel and I’m glad I read it, though I might have held him to a higher standard with this novel, because I knew what he was capable of. In the writing I recognize the style that I loved so well in his second book, Middlesex. This book’s somber tone failed to capture my love in the same way his later novel did.

Wordless Wednesday: Dachau

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dachau in Germany, a horrible reminder of what
humans are capable of doing to each other.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: Shades of Grey

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shades of Grey
The Road to High Saffron
by Jasper Fforde

In this dystopian future world, color equals status. The Colortocracy is based not on skin tones, but instead on what shades of red, blue, purple, yellow, etc. that an individual can see. People are judged by what color they can perceive and in what saturation.

Fforde has created a complicated and fascinated society. Instead of money, people have merits. When they become difficult they are sent to Reboot to be reprogrammed to behave better. All of this takes place after “The Something That Happened,” though no one knows what exactly that was. The new world is set up with a strict rule structure that must be blindly adhered to. Here’s a great example, for years parents follow the rule “Every child should receive a glass of milk and a smack in the afternoon.” Finally someone realizes that this is simply a typo and should be “snack.” After loads of paperwork and the careful navigation of loopholes the rule was changed.

The book, the first in a series, follows Eddie Russet and his father (a Chromaticologist, who heals people of their maladies using color swatches). They travel to East Carmine, far from the busy city they’re used to. There they meet a “colorful” cast of characters including the prickly Jane Grey and the nonexistent Apocryphal man.

Just like Fforde’s Thursday Next series, the reader must be willing to suspend reality and be swept along in the flood of his intellectual imagination. His writing is clever and provides a constant stream of witty twists and dialogue. If you’ve read his work before and loved it, this is more of the same, unique, hilarious and wonderful. If you haven’t liked his writing in the past, this won’t change that. I am firmly in the loved it camp and will continue to read everything he writes.

Book Reviews: Till We Have Faces

Monday, January 17, 2011

Till We Have Faces

by C.S. Lewis

I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. Lewis’ re-telling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid sounded like something I would love, but it just didn’t work for me. The basic story follows the life of the three daughters of the cruel King of Glome. One daughter (Psyche) is sacrificed to the gods and this breaks the heart of her older sister Orual.

The story is told from the Orual’s point-of-view. She is homely, but brave and has always cared for her two beautiful sisters. As the plot progresses she must question her motivations, is it love or jealousy that propels her to protective nature?

I didn’t like the main character, her actions or her narration. The steady flow of the book falters about halfway through and never regains its footing. I think, for me, it was just a classic case of not connecting with the lead character and never becoming fully invested in her tale.

War and Peace Readalong: Vol. 1

Friday, January 14, 2011

Welcome to my first post for the readalong hosted by A Literary Odyssey. I made it through the first volume of War & Peace (about 300 pages), which I have a feeling was the hardest part. So far I really am loving it.

Tolstoy's writing is wonderful. Using his unique blend of historical fact and complex characters he creates an epic story. In the first volume there's a lot of French dialogue, complicated names, war scene and soirees, but I think that once I'm invested in the book and know who each of the characters are, it will be easier to chug along. I did find myself frequently referring to the family tree chart. The tricky part is that each character is known by about 5 names!

One of my favorite sections is where Princess Marya's father is talking to her about a marriage proposal from Anatole. He says, "I hold to the rule that a girl has the full right to choose. And I give you freedom. Remember one thing: the happiness of your life depends on your decision." (p.230)

I wouldn't have expected that from a male author in the 19th century. But I should have remembered, this is the man who wrote Anna Karenina, the story of a woman who falls in love with someone who is not her stuffy husband. Still, I loved that her father gave her the freedom to choose who she wanted to marry.

On the flip side of that same coin is Pierre. He is sweet, good-natured, etc., but his "falling in love" with Helene made my respect for his character plummet. As he notices how beautiful she has become, he begins to justify his previous bad opinions of her. He tries to get to know her better, but truly learns nothing that should change his first opinion.

"But she's stupid, I've said myself that she's stupid," he thought. (p.207)

"Was I mistaken before, or am I mistaken now? No, she's not stupid; no, she's a wonderful girl!" (p.209)

I understand that he's shuffled into this marriage by those around him, but still, grow a backbone! I'm hoping we'll get the chance to watch his character mature as the book progresses.

So onward through the next 979 pages. I can't wait.

Book Reviews: Snow Falling on Cedars

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Falling on Cedars
by David Guterson

Set on a small island off the coast of Washington, this novel is a murder mystery, tale of forbidden love and war story all rolled into one. A decade after WWII a Japanese man is on trial for the murder of a local fisherman and the tight-knit community must face their own prejudices as he is put on trial. Land feuds and jilted lovers from the past haunt the trial and a snow storm descends on the island as the courtroom heats up.

I really loved the first half of the book, then in the second half dwelled on badly written war scenes and unnecessary sex details. Do I really need to know that the prosecutor on the case is impotent? We know nothing else about his character, he’s mentioned only a few times, but for some reason the author gives a detailed description of his sexual frustration.

Other than that complaint, I really enjoyed the book. If it had been pruned a bit more it would have been great. The story paints a powerful picture of underlying racism and prejudices, demonstrating how dangerous they can be to a society.

There’s one section I found particularly thought-provoking. Two men who played together as children, talk as adults. One is a Japanese-American, the other Caucasian and the white man confesses he has a hard time dealing with the fact that he was trained to fight and kill people who look just like his friend during the war. His Japanese-American friend responds by saying, so did I! I killed blonde Nazi who looked just like you.

For some reason I’d never quite thought about that. American often vilify an entire race (right now it’s Middle-Eastern people) because we’ve fought wars with people from that country. But evil can take on any persona and the Nazis were as lily-white as they come. How interesting that that never seems to bother people.

Wordless Wednesday: Deer

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This guy has been hanging out right outside my window at work.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: Percy Jackson Series 4 and 5

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

***There are no spoilers for Book 4 or 5, but my reviews assume you’ve read the first 3 books.

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4)
by Rick Riordan

As the fourth book opens, Kronos is still out to destroy Mt. Olympus with the help of the half-blood Luke. Percy and his friends, Grover, Annabeth and Tyson, go on a quest to find the inventor Daedelus in the infamous Labyrinth.

This book felt longer and more creative than the rest of the series. I think that’s because it touched on so many different locations and plots. Percy spends time on Calypso’s island, Camp Half-Blood and Mount St. Helena. He struggles with his feelings for both Annabeth and the Rachel, a human who like his mom, can see through the “mist.” We also see Daedelus’ history unfold through Percy’s dreams.

The book wraps up many of the open plots. Grover’s search for the lost god Pan reaches its conclusion. Nico, Hades son, must come to terms with his sister’s death and decide which side he will fight on. This is a solid addition to the series, adding just as many complications as it eliminates.

The Last Olympian (Book 5)
by Rick Riordan

As with all of the books in the series, we’re thrown into the midst of the action in the first chapter. The Olympians and Camp Half-Blood residents are at war with the Titans and danger is everywhere. When characters are dying, no matter if it’s friend or foe, it lends a somber tone to the story.

Percy really embraces his role as a leader in this book. The half-bloods must band together if they want to save Olympia and the gods. Percy takes and reigns and tries to organize the ranks. He also makes a trip to the Underworld in order to increase their chances.

A lot happens in this final installment and the action is nonstop. I was glad Percy finally got a chance to see his father’s (Poseidon) kingdom. My favorite part about this book was learning more about Luke’s character. I loved that Percy is forced to see his opponent as a fellow half-blood with his own struggles and not just as the enemy. I also loved that Riordan fleshed out the subplot of the gods claiming or not claiming their half-blood children. To me that was the real heart of the series. The kids, whether they are half-bloods or not, just want to be acknowledged and loved by their parents. The lack of attention from the gods was the source for much of the strife throughout the books.

A Few Things I Don’t Love About the Series

1) All of the books are more action driven than character driven. When this is the case it’s hard for me to become attached to the characters.

2) A lot of characters, a little depth. This is a similar complaint to #1. There are so many people/creatures introduced in each book, but very few are given solid back stories. I don’t expect that for every character, but I feel like we could have had a bit more with the main few.

3) Almost a whole year passes between each book. The plots take place mainly over the summer, while the school year passes unseen between books. That seems strange to me, because the characters barely change. Each book feels like a week has past, not nine months or so. The characters show some increase in maturity, but the difference between age 12 and 16 is huge and I don’t think that was shown. I feel like the entire series could have taken place over the course of 1 or 2 years.

A Few of My Favorite Things About the Series

1) The chapter titles, they never fail to make me laugh. They’re always absurd summaries of what is about to happen. For example “I accidentally vaporized my pre-algebra teacher” and “I Drive My Dog Into a Tree.”

2) Percy’s mom, she’s not a central character, but I still love her. She’s supportive and kind and was even willing to marry a truly awful man in order to protect her son. I was happy that she seemed to have ended up with a good guy in the end (we learn this in the 4th book).

3) Being re-educated in Greek mythology in a really fun way. I’ve also been fascinated by the Greek gods and all of the legends that surround them. In college I was one class away from earning a minor in Classical Studies (but really, what would I have done with that?). These books have been a great refresher course, a Who’s Who of Greek mythology.

All-in-all I think this is the perfect series for teenage boys. The action, occasional references to crushes, desire undertake quests and emphasis on loyalty and friendship are all reasons for that conclusion. If you know a 10 to 15-year-old looking for a new book, this is a great choice. Even though I liked some of the books more than others, I rated them all 4 stars. They are solid books, but predictable, fun reads, but nothing I would feel compelled to revisit.

Young Men & Fire

Monday, January 10, 2011

Young Men and Fire
by Norman Maclean

Thirteen young smokejumpers were killed during the tragic Mann Gulch fire in Montana in 1949. Maclean researched every detail of the story, compiling multiple accounts to give a broad picture.

The book drags in a few parts, but overall it’s a fascinating look at the horrible event. It’s as much a story of Maclean’s research as it is a story about the men. He didn’t begin the book until he was in his 70s, which makes the deaths he writes about especially poignant. When he wrote it he’d already lived a long, full life, something that none of those men were able to do.

The book looses its focus in the second half, drifting a bit into personal feelings rather than facts. Overall, I’d say if the topic interests you read it, otherwise, skip it.

Side Note: The narrator of the audiobook was awful and I almost stopped reading it because of him. I learned later that it was read by Norman’s son, John Maclean, which explains a lot. It’s very rare to find an author or any other unprofessional reader that can do a good job with an audiobook. There are exceptions, like David Sedaris and Neil Gaiman, who are wonderful, but on average it doesn’t work out well.


Friday, January 7, 2011

by Ann Patchett

After trying for years to create a large family Bernadette and Bernard Doyle have only had one child. They decide to adopt two black boys, Tip and Teddy, to add to their small family of three. Then Bernadette dies and the newly widowed Bernard is left to raise his three young sons on his own. The book really kicks into gear when the two adopted sons are in college. One night a stranger shoves Tip out of the way of an oncoming car and he narrowly escapes disaster. This act forces the Doyle family’s world to intersect with the strangers in some unexpected ways.

The majority of the action takes place in a single 24 hour period, though it feels like a much longer stretch of time. Patchett really manages to develop each of her characters, allowing the reader to become invested in their lives. Out of everyone, Tip’s story really resonated with me the most. He’s intelligent and intense while his brother Teddy is endearing and easy to get along with.

This book was all about family to me. It questions what makes someone family and what you’re willing to do for family. It made me think about what creates the bonds between people and how experience or even coincidence sometimes makes strangers become family. It was interesting to read an interview with the author saying that to her the book was about politics. It’s fascinating that books manage to take on lives of their own after they’re written and can mean different things to each reader.

Side Note: If you’re looking for a Patchett book to start with, Bel Canto is my absolute favorite of hers.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

by Dave Cullen

This is the way nonfiction is supposed to be written.

It doesn’t all have to be funny, ala Bill Bryson or Mary Roach, but it should be more than just an informative list of facts. I think that often, nonfiction writers’ greatest flaw is that they try to cram too much into their books. They spend years researching something and they want to squeeze in every piece of information they find, even if it hurts the book’s pacing and flow.

Columbine doesn’t fall into that trap. Ten years after the tragic school shooting in Colorado, Cullen’s book gives us the whole picture without overwhelming us. Even though I knew the outcome going into the book, it still managed to keep me enthralled throughout. The plotting, the information, the descriptions, the balanced views, it was all so well done.

Cullen was a young reporter on the scene when Eric and Dylan, two high school students, opened fire on their fellow students. The author manages to keep his personal experience and opinions out of the book entirely, which can be incredibly difficult when you devote a decade of your life to the material.

There were a few facts that really surprised me. First, Eric and Dylan (particularly Eric) had multiple reports filed with the police because of various crimes or threats they had committed. There was even a drafted warrant for Eric’s home that was never sent to a judge. If someone had looked closer at his life or listened to a particular family that he had been threatening, who knows what might have been prevented.

Second, the “She Said Yes” girl who was killed in the library… didn’t say yes. Cassie’s martyrdom was one of the most enduring elements of Columbine and it turns out that’s not what happened at all. Another girl was asked if she believed in God, she said no, then yes, but she wasn’t killed because something else distracted Eric. Cassie was shot and killed, but no one asked her a question first. It may seem unimportant, but because of this confusion, people thought the girl who was actually asked that question was just copying Cassie’s story and many people didn’t believe her. How awful would that have been?

I was a high school student when the shootings happened and I remember them so well. When I started the book I was dreading it. I’m not a news hound and I didn’t want to rehash the tragedy, but the book doesn’t do that. Instead it clarifies the confusions and explains what happened, both from the killers’ perspective and the community’s. Whether you consider yourself a nonfiction reader or not, Columbine is a powerful book.

Wordless Wednesday: Ljubljana

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A dragon bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top 2010 Reads

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's been a wonderful year for reading. I've read a total of 208 books. This is the first year I've ever blogged about reading and though I've found out it's a lot of work, it's also incredibly rewarding. I find myself doing in-depth analyses of what I’m reading and thinking critically about why I am reacting the way I am to the material.

Here’s my complete list of 2010 books and my ratings.

For the record, I don't count children's book. I don't count individual short stories, but I do count short story collections. I definitely count plays, because I've found that a book like August: Osage County can pack more meaning in a single line, than a 600 page novel can in three chapters. They’re also provided some of the most powerful stories I read all year. I read classics, histories, new releases, dystopias, mysteries, YA series, literary fiction, graphic novels, nonfiction, and more. If this year taught me one thing it was that a brilliant story can come in any package.

I don't read to hit a number or complete a single list (though I do love lists). I read voraciously because I can't wait to find the next author or character that makes me fall in love. I want to find books that stay with me, adventures or struggles that resonate for years to come and 2010 was a treasure chest for all of those things.

So here's to 2010, a year rich with reading, and to 2011, hoping it’s just as full.

Top Five Nonfiction Reads

Columbine by Dave Cullen
The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Top Ten Fiction Reads

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman
O Pioneers! By Willa Cather
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Honorable Mentions:
City of Thieves by David Benioff
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
Briar Rose by Janne Yolen
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Room by Emma Donoghue


Monday, January 3, 2011

by James Joyce

James Joyce has always been a very intimidating author for me. His books Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are infamous for how difficult they are to read. I decided to start with Dubliners and see how that went before diving into another one of his and I’m glad I did. Even though I approached it with trepidation, I really enjoyed it.

I’m sure I’m not supposed to say this, but Dubliners reminded me of Maeve Binchy’s short story collections. Her books, The Return Journey and London Transports, give glimpses of the lives of Irish and English people going about their daily lives and this book does the same. Both Dubliners and Binchy’s collections give readers well-written characters that they care about by the end of the story. The difference, of course, is that Joyce’s writing it much more poetic, but still, they have a similar feel.

It’s odd to think about how controversial this book was when it was first released. Its content seems so tame compared with today’s standards, but at the time publishers were turning him down because it was too “lewd” because there were references to drunks, etc.

I think my two favorites in the selection were “A Little Cloud,” a grass-is-always-greener story, and “The Dead.” To me, Joyce managed to blend the three vital elements of a great short story: good characters, an interesting look at their lives and beautiful prose.

Here are a few examples of Joyce’s wonderful way with words…

“A dull resentment against his life awoke within him.”

“But we are living in a skeptical and, if I may use the phrase, a thought-tormented age: and sometimes I fear that this new generations, educated or hyper-educated as it is, will lack those qualities of humanity, of hospitality, of kindly humour which belong to an older day. “

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

If you’ve been thinking of trying this author out, but aren’t sure where to start, I’d pick this one up and go from there.

War and Peace Readalong

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'm officially in. I've been on the fence about joining this readalong, hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey, but a Barnes and Nobel giftcard from my mother-in-law (yeah, she's awesome) made up my mind for me. I bought the translation we are reading (I know it didn't have to be that one, but I had heard great things) and I just got it in the mail. Here's the reading schedule...
  • January 15, 2011: The first check-in will focus on volume 1. In my edition it is about 295 pages.
  • January 31, 2011: The second check-in will focus on volume 2. In my edition it is about 306 pages.
  • February 12, 2011: The third check-in will focus on volume 3. In my edition it is about 332 pages (the longest section).
  • February 28, 2011: The fourth check-in will cover volume 4 and the 2-part epilogue. These sections are about 282 pages in my edition.
So I will be diving into this massive book and hopefully loving every minute of it. If any of you want to join in, visit's Allie's blog for more details.

Photo by moi.