Wordless Wednesday: American Players Theatre Stage

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Silk screen shielding the audience from
the sun at an outdoor theater in Wisconsin.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

When You Reach Me

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

I heard way too much about this book before I read it. Going into it I thought it was a novel about a time-traveler that flashed back and forth between the 1970s and another time. Yes, there is time-travel, but it’s actually a rather small part of the story, which in this case worked really well.

The main plot focuses on Miranda and her single mother. Miranda is a sixth-grader and she’s helping her mom train for a game show that she’s going to be on. I love the details that Miranda shares about her everyday life in New York. Her character felt very real to me.

Sal, Miranda’s best friend, is the victim of a seemingly random act of bullying and afterwards the two friends drift apart. Then Miranda begins to receive some strange notes from someone who seems to know the future. The plot, which at first seems disjointed, all comes together by the end of the book.

One of my favorite parts of the story is Miranda’s constant references to her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. She carries it around with her and describes it to others. I absolutely remember feeling that way about certain books when I was growing up. I felt so attached to them. I wanted everyone else to read them and I couldn’t help applying their plots to my own life. 

Though this isn’t one I’d probably re-read, I really enjoyed it and it made me want to re-read A Wrinkle in Time.

For a few more thoughts on this book, check out the reviews at…
Stainless Steel Droppings
Fluttering Butterflies
Seaside Book Nook

Mini Reviews: Pairing Books with Movies 2

Monday, February 27, 2012

The God of Small Things 

by Arundhati Roy


I really wanted to like this one. In fact, when I started the book and it was incredibly slow going, I decided that no matter what, I was sticking with it to the end. At times it felt like I was trying to run on a beach, the faster I tried to read the more exhausting it was. The book is set in India and tells the story of a set of twins, one male, one female and their complicated family.

My problem with the book lies mainly with the structure. It jumps back and forth in the timeline with no real warning. First we learn about the twins as adults, then as kids, then about their mother’s life as a young woman, then about her relative’s childhood, etc. It’s hard to follow where you’re at in the tale and whose story is being told if you have to pick it up and put it down a lot. 

The names made it more difficult as well, though that’s not the author’s fault. I wasn’t sure whether some of the names, like Aleyooty Ammachi, Velutha and Estha, were masculine or feminine at first. I figured it out quickly, but it was one more element to juggle. 

The novel feels incredibly ambitious. It deals with India’s political climate, the caste system, cultural and ethical taboos, molestation, religion, family dynamics, incest, guilt. I feel like it might have been more powerful if the story was a bit more focused on a smaller number of issues. 

I will say that my favorite part of the book was the descriptive passages. The author has a beautiful way of phrasing things….

“Margaret Kochmma’s tiny ordered life relinquished itself to this truly baroque bedlam with the quiet gap of warm body entering a chilly sea.”

…but that beauty wasn’t enough to make it work for me. I’d love to hear someone’s opinion on this one that’s familiar with Indian culture. I wonder if some aspects would have worked better for me if I knew the culture better.

Pair with a viewing of Monsoon Wedding

Black and Blue 

by Anna Quindlen


Fran has been the victim of domestic abuse for years. She’s built a life around the lies she tells her family and friends when a new bruise appears. Her husband, a New York cop, intimidates and threatens her into feeling helpless. 

Finally, she’s had enough and decides to take her young son and leave. With a new identity and very little else, she starts a new life in Florida. But even a new home and friends doesn’t help her shake the constant feeling of fear she’s grown to live with. Every new stranger talking to her son is suspicious and each wrong number leaves her shaking. 

I don’t know why, but I always seem to lump this author into the same group as Jodi Picoult, Anne Tyler and Anita Shreve. I don’t read much from any of those authors, so I tend to confuse them. I think I enjoy Quindlen more than the rest, but I’ve only read a few things by her. 

This book made me feel so grateful for the men in my life. My husband, father, brother, etc. are all wonderful men and I have never ever had to live with the fear of being hit. I think it’s easy for people who have never been abused, like me, to wonder why the women stay or go back to the men. This book helped give me a better understanding of their point-of-view and how hopeless those situations can feel. Quindlen did a great job portraying this without painting Fran as only a victim. 

I won’t give anything away about the ending, except to say it really surprised me. I was expecting something much more predictable and instead I think it was much more realistic.

Pair with a viewing of Enough and Sleeping with the Enemy

Reading the States: Delaware

Friday, February 24, 2012

- The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani
- Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
- Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton
- The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
- Fight Club* by Chuck Palahniuk

- And Never Let Her Go by Ann Rule
- Unlikely Allies: Fort Delaware's Prison Community In The Civil War by Dale Fetzer
- Promises to Keep* by Joe Biden   

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Howard Pyle
- Robert Montgomery Bird 

Great Bookstores in the State:

*Books I've Read
Photo by moi.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

by Maggie Stiefvater

**There are no spoilers for this book, but if you haven’t read the rest of the series, I would skip this review**

Forever was one of those perfect quick weekend reads. I needed a break from Bleak House and Moby Dick and this was the perfect solution.

I thought it was a good ending to the series. It’s not one of those addictive books that will make me want to reread the whole series again, but it provided good closure for all the characters.

I liked how in the final book we look at some of the moral issues in the characters’ lives. Flawed parents are a running theme throughout the series, but this book forces us to examine the issue a little more. Sam realizes that his idol, Beck, who raised him, may not be the perfect person he thinks he is. Beck’s action are not motivated purely by selflessness, they sometimes come from feelings of grief or anger, which means they might be bad decisions. Grace and Isabel also had to come to terms with their parents. Even if the parents aren’t making good choices for their kids, they are still acting out of some kind of love and their kids try to understand that.

Cole and Isabel’s relationship is interesting because there are no clear-cut boundaries. They are attracted to each other, but they also realize they aren’t really healthy for each other. Cole is a fascinating character because he’s incredibly self-destructive throughout the series. Then in this book he begins to make some good choices, but it’s almost impossible for everyone else to see that because of the way he acts.

If you’ve read the first two books, definitely finish the series. It’s not a favorite of mine, but it was a great palette cleanser when I need a break from the chunksters.

“I spent so much time alone with Sam that other people’s reactions to him and us together always seemed to come as a shock. It was hard to imagine how one guy could elicit so many different responses from other people. It was like there were forty different versions of Sam. I’d always assumed that everyone took me at face value, but now I wondered – were there forty different versions of Grace out there, too?”

Wordless Wednesday: Trevi Fountain in Rome

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trevi Fountain in Rome

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books I'd Save If My Home Was On Fire

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Top Ten Books I'd Save If My Home Was on Fire. I picked books that I love for both their content and sentimental meaning.

1) Jane Eyre – I have a copy from 1943 with wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg that my best friend gave me for my birthday last year. I love it.

2) The Book Thief – This one has been “loved.” It has been highlighted and cried on and I’d hate to lose it.

3) Pride and Prejudice – My beat up copy has my underlines and highlights from the different times I’ve read it. I love seeing what
stood out to me each time.

4) Travels with Charley – A lovely old edition that my Mom gave me before she died.

5) A 1945 edition of Winnie the Pooh that I bought in England.

6) My 1960s copy of To Kill a Mockingbird

7) My Mom’s Bible – Being able to read her notes when I can’t talk to her makes this the most valuable book in my library.

8) My signed copy of The Giver – I loved Lois Lowry’s books so much when I was young and going to hear her speak was such a treat.

9) My signed edition of Looking for Alaska – I loved being able to meet John Green almost as much as I love his books.

10) A Room of One’s Own - I bought this paperback from the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore in Paris.

Photo from here.

The Liars’ Club

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Liars’ Club
by Mary Karr

I’m not a big fan of memoirs, but this is one of those genre defying books that I’m so glad I read. The Liar’s Club is the true story of Mary Karr’s childhood. From a small dusty town in Texas to a mountain home in Colorado, Karr and her sister grow up with their rough father and glamorous mother; both of whom are usually too focused on their own lives to bother with their children much of the time.

Some of Karr’s descriptions are so visceral. I felt like I could smell her grandmother’s bad breath and feel the anxious fear she had when something bad happens. Karr has a way of crawling in under your skin and making you feel everything along with her.

Though it was written after this one, I was reminded so much of The Glass Castle. It shares many of the same themes: bad parenting, having to make the best of what you have, etc. Like that book, this one never feels like the author is whining, though Karr went through more than enough to justify doing just that. Instead it feels as though she is telling a story, but that she’s had to distance herself from the pain in some ways in order to survive.

She is unflinchingly honest about what happened in her life. No matter what sort of light it shines on her family. There were so many parts that left me with my mouth hanging open. I led an incredibly sheltered childhood in comparison and never had to experience any of the horrors described by the author. Yet somehow the book doesn’t just feel like a dinner with Debbie Downer. Instead it’s a glimpse into a foreign land where a gun-wielding mother isn’t too far from the ordinary.

“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.”

A few questions and answers

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I was tagged by Suey at It's All About Books to answer the following questions.

1. You must post the rules.
2. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
3. Tag eleven people and link to them on your post.
4. Let them know you’ve tagged them!

Suey's Questions to Me:

1. Do you bake? What's your favorite thing to make? I don't bake a lot, but I make madeleines for the Huz every Christmas.

2. What's your favorite quote? "The world is a great book, they who never stir from home read only a page." — St. Augustine

3. What's your biggest pet peeve? When people complain about not having enough time and money to do the things they want. You never really have enough time and money to do things, but if it's a priority, you find a way to make it happen.

4. Who's your current favorite TV couple? Anna and Bates from Downton Abbey!

5. Where's the best place you've ever visited? London and Budapest

6. What would you do if you could do anything for a whole day? I can't get too far away in one day, so I'll say read all day, afternoon movie and dinner and drinks with my favorite people at night.

7. Look on the floor by your bed... do you have books there? How many? No books on the floor (I have a dog), but 16 next to the bed.

8. What's the best book you've read so far this year (since January)? The Fault in Our Stars and As You Like It

9. What's your favorite book genre? Classics and literary fiction

10. What are you making for dinner tonight? White chicken chili, perfect for cold days.

11. Why eleven questions? Any guesses? Um, because This Is Spinal Tap is awesome?

My Questions:

1. What's your favorite souvenir you've bought on a trip?

2. How many times have you moved?

3. What movie should win the Best Picture Oscar this year?

4. Do you have a dream job? What is it?

5. Favorite Girl Scout cookie?

6. Guilty pleasure TV show you watch?

7. What question do you hate it when people ask you?

8. Your favorite pet you've ever owned?

9. What's the first book you remember reading?

10. What's your favorite drink?

11. What's one thing on your Bucket List?

Tagged: I'm tagging people who have commented lately and as far as I can tell, have not been tagged yet. If you want to post your answers, please do, but you don't have to.

1) Alex at The Sleepless Reader
2) Nomadreader
3) Teacher/Learner at Whatcha Readin', Books?
4) Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays
5) Cori at Let's Eat Grandpa!
6) Kristi at Kristi Loves Books
7) Kat at No Page Left Behind
8) Ruby at A Thousand Books with Quotes
9) Bybee at Naked without Books
10) Two Biblimaniacs
11) Shelley at Book Clutter

Photo by moi.

Reading the States: Connecticut

Friday, February 17, 2012

- Revolutionary Road* by Richard Yates
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
- The Stepford Wives* by Ira Levin
- Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins
- Nine Stories* (“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”) by J.D. Salinger

- Me: Stories of my Life* by Katharine Hepburn
- Orange Is the New Black* by Piper Kerman
- Lost In Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia by Mark Salzman
- Girls of Tender Age: A Memoir by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Noah Webster
- Suzanne Collins
- Mark Twain
- Harriet Beecher Stowe
- E. Annie Proulx
- Wally Lamb
- Arthur Miller
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Elizabeth Gilbert
- Candace Bushnell
- Wallace Stevens

Great Bookstores in the State:
*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

Cloud Atlas Readalong

Thursday, February 16, 2012

One of the things I love most about book blogging is the discussion that grows when we can all talk about the same book. I've participated in multiple readalongs since starting this blog, but I've never hosted one. So I'm really excited to announce that Care of Care's Online Book Club and I are co-hosting a Readalong this March!

We will be reading Cloud Atlas and it will be a very casual, one check-in at the middle and one at the end. You can sign up below.

Here's the schedule.

MARCH 17: Read pages 1-236 and post your thoughts or join in our discussion at Care's blog.

APRIL 2: Read pages 237-509 and discuss your thoughts here at my blog.

I hope you'll join in, the sign up is below. I'll send a reminder email to everyone who signs up as we start the readalong. I can't wait, I've heard wonderful things about this book!

Wordless Wednesday: Alabama Dock

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Docks at the Bellingrath Gardens in Alabama

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books That Broke Your Heart A Little

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Books That Broke Your Heart A Little. I don’t know how to list these without having possible SPOILERS, so fair warning, if you haven’t read a title on my list, skim the comment!

1) The Book Thief – I love this book. I just love it, but I can’t help myself, I fall apart when I read it.

2) Where the Red Fern Grows – What’s that little boy, you want to get some puppy dogs? Don’t do it!

3) Anne of Green Gables – When Matthew died, enough said.

4) The Time Traveler’s Wife – I know what’s coming, but I still cry every time.

5) Atonement – Ian McEwan is really good at writing sad books, but this one takes the cake.

6) The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Holy depressing ending batman!

7) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – So good, but not a really an upper.

8) Bridge to Terabithia – Teaching kids how to cope with death since 1987.

9) The final 3 Harry Potter books – First Sirius, then Dumbledore, then Hedwig, then so many others. It’s realistic because they’re at war, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

10) The Knife of Never Letting Go –Manchee’s death was such an unexpected blow.

Image from here.

A Passion for Books

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Passion for Books
A Book Lover’s Treasury: Stories, Essays, Humor, Lore, and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring For, and Appreciating Books
Edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan

Every single book lover needs to read this. No, I’m serious, all of you! If you love collecting books, reading books, wandering through bookstores, making lists of books you still have to read, etc. this collection will be a delight. I can’t think of a bibliophile who wouldn’t enjoy this.

It opens with an introduction from Ray Bradbury and just gets better from there. There are bits from Gustave Flaubert, Umberto Eco, Anna Quindlen, John Updike and dozens of others. Obviously every single essay or list isn’t perfect, but the majority of them are wonderful. The editors blended essays, lists of books, book themed cartoons and even a short story or two in the perfect order. There are a few slow pieces (I’m looking at you “Bible through the Ages”), but most are well-paced and quick to read.

There are so many clever book lovers out there and this collection highlights some of their best pieces. It’s a great book to set on your nightstand or somewhere where it’s easy to grab. If you only have a few minutes to read, you’ll find pieces to fill those moments, but then you can set it down easily.

“Dull books soothe only dull brains – a moderately healthy mind will be irritated rather than rested by a dull book.”

“But the vital thing is that you have your own favorites – books that are read and genuine, each one brimful of the inspiration of a great soul. Keep these books on a shelf convenient for use, and read them again and again until you have saturated your mind with their wisdom and their beauty.”

“It could be said that they are still people who consider a bookshelf as a mere storage place for already read books and do not think of the library as a working tool.”

Reading the States: Colorado

Friday, February 10, 2012

- Plainsong* by Kent Haruf
- American Gods* by Neil Gaiman
- The Shining* by Stephen King  
- The Stand* by Stephen King 
- The Song of the Lark* by Willa Cather
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner 

- Columbine* by Dave Cullen
- Centennial by James Michener
- Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
- Whiteout by Ted Conover 

Authors Known for Writing about the State:
- John Dunning 

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Neal Cassady
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Ken Kesey 

Great Bookstores:
*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

Mini Reviews: Pairing Books with Movies

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unfamiliar Fishes

by Sarah Vowell


Sarah Vowell has earned a well-deserved reputation as a historian with a great sense of humor. Her sarcastic jabs are laced in with the facts, giving the reader a history lesson with some serious bite. In her latest book she covers the Americanization of Hawaii and the events that led to its annexation in 1898.

Vowell includes her own experiences as she researches the material. I loved the occasional comments she included from her young nephew, Owen, and his reactions to what he sees. Vowell also makes a lengthy reference to Moby Dick in the book. I happened to be reading that at the same time and so I loved that!

It’s not my favorite book of Vowell’s, but I’m a fan of her work and I’ll read whatever she writes. I love that she makes me laugh and she teaches me so much at the same time. I knew very little about Hawaiian history and this was a great introduction.

Pair with a viewing of the Oscar-nominated film The Descendants.

Anna and the French Kiss

by Stephanie Perkins


Everyone and their brother seems to have read and reviewed this one, so I’ll keep it short. An American senior in high school is sent to a boarding school in Paris. She falls hard for a cute boy named St. Clair and complications ensue.

The story is well-written and fun. Anna is a movie buff and I adored all the references to old classics. The voices of the teens felt very real and their banter felt familiar. This book was the perfect breath of fresh air after wallowing in Moby Dick for a month. It’s a sweet story, packed with teen angst and hormones. I particularly loved the friendship that developed between Anna and St. Clair. That’s so important in any relationship, but it’s usually not included in books. I also loved all the descriptions of Paris. It made me feel like I was back there exploring it for the first time.

I will note that I think the cover is awful. It’s so cheesy! I never would have picked it up if it wasn’t for all the rave reviews around the blogosphere.

Pair with a viewing of the Oscar-winning film It Happened One Night and Paris Je T’aime (two of my favorites).

Henrietta's War

News from the Home Front 1939-1942

by Joyce Dennys


This was original published as serialized letters during World War II. They are written from one childhood friend, Henrietta, who is married and living in Devonshire, to another, Robert, who is on the front lines. Henrietta paints a sweet picture of the Devonshire community where she lives. She tells him about how the war is affecting them and about the causes everyone is taking up in the war effort.

It reminded me a bit of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It shows what happens to a tight-knit community when it’s thrown into a war. You still have your regular life, but everything takes a backseat to the war. The book manages to find humor in the midst of a serious situation, providing levity in a time that people desperately needed it.

“And then, suddenly, the sheer incredibility of this war struck me, as it does all of us from time to time, like a blow.”

Pair with a viewing of the Oscar-winning film Mrs. Miniver

Wordless Wednesday: Lauterbrunnen Sheep

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sheep grazing in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Have you all watched this animated short film? It's just beautiful! It reminds me of Up, Plesantville and The Wizard of Oz, all rolled into one.

It's an ode to the power of books and if you haven't seen it yet, take a minute to watch it.

Image from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster

I grew up adoring this book. A bored young boy finds a tollbooth in his bedroom when he gets home from school. He then proceeds to travel to a faraway land and go on adventures that teach him lessons and challenge him to grow and mature. It’s a parable about the value of imagination and exploring the world around you. It’s also wonderfully funny and clever.

It taught me to appreciate words and the myriad of meanings that they can have, but also not to use them just to impress people. It taught me the value of a world with that holds math, science, English and art in equal measures. There is no balance without all of those things. The book provided constant reminders about the value of friendship and the importance of surrounding yourself with people who will improve you and not drag you down. It showed me that the true villains in life are self-doubt, idleness and things like that, not the monsters we normally picture. And on top of all of that, the book, so full of life lessons, is accessible to 10-year-olds. Somehow Juster slyly slide those things into the midst of a great story.

Reading my beautiful new Annotated edition was such a treat. Although I’d read and reread the book over the years, I knew very little about the story behind it. Juster was an architect, not an author, but he had a view of where children were headed and it wasn’t pretty. His message, encouraging kids to journey outside the walls of their home, both physically and mentally, is more important than ever in the age of video games and You Tube.

Leonard S. Marcus (a children’s literature scholar) compiled the annotated edition and it’s filled with fascinating trivia and behind-the-scenes tidbits. Jules Feiffer's illustrations, which are such an integral part of the story, are explained in detail, as is the books evolution. I particularly loved seeing all of the lists of possible characters and obstacles that Juster kept.

If you’ve never read the book, start with a regular copy, but if you’re already a devoted fan, the annotated copy is a delight!

"My goodness," thought Milo, "everybody is so terribly sensitive about the things they know best."

"You must never feel badly about making mistakes, as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."

Images from The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth

Reading the States: California

Friday, February 3, 2012

- East of Eden* by John Steinbeck
- The Graduate by Charles Webb
- Women's Murder Club series by James Patterson
- Tales of the City* by Armistead Maupin
- Gold: The Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter by Blaise Cendrars
- Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
- Cannery Row* by John Steinbeck
- Sideways by Rex Pickett
- The Crying of Lot 49 is a by Thomas Pynchon
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
- The Jane Austen Book Club* by Karen Joy Fowler
- Shopgirl* by Steve Martin
- The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
- Ask the Dust by John Fante
- The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
- The Loved One* by Evelyn Waugh
- The Swan: Tales of the Sacramento Valley by Andrew F. O'Hara
- McTeague by Frank Norris
- Ask the Dust by John Fante
- The Slide Area: Scenes of Hollywood Life, by Gavin Lambert
- The Big Sleep* by Raymond Chandler
- Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
- House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
- The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty
- A Visit from the Goon Squad* by Jennifer Egan
- The Joy Luck Club* by Amy Tan
- If He Hollers Let Him Go by Chester Hime
- Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber

- Freedom Writers* by Erin Gruell
- The Soloist* by Steve Lopez
- A Crack in the Edge of the World* by Simon Winchester
- Baghdad by the Bay by Herb Caen
- The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius* by Dave Eggers
- Wild Yosemite edited by Susan M. Neider
- The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston 

Authors Known for Writing About the State:
- Dashiell Hammett
- Sue Grafton (Alphabet murder series)
- Michael Connelly

Authors Who Lived Here:
- John Steinbeck
- Amy Tan
- Jack London
- Raymond Chandler
- Joan Didion
- Allen Ginsberg
- Octavia E. Butler
- Christopher Moore
- Ursula K. Le Guin

Great Bookstores in the State:
City Lights Books 

Literary Places to Visit:

*Books I've read

Photo by moi.

Moby Dick Readalong: Final Post

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Moby Dick

by Herman Melville

“We do not judge a masterpiece by its flaws, but by its virtues.”

That line is included in the introduction to my copy of Moby Dick and it was an incredibly helpful thing to remember. In my opinion, the book is flawed, of course it is. It’s a massive undertaking that covers many themes, writing styles and subjects. Melville was incredibly ambitious in what he tried to do with the novel and in taking on so many different formats and points-of-view, some of them inevitably failed, but in spite of that, the book has an undeniable magnetism.

At times I felt like I was slogging through chapters. It was a bit like cross country skiing. It’s hard work, occasionally you hit a slick spot a slide along quickly, but mainly you're just pulling yourself forward slowly, with all of your energy and strength. Then the final 20 chapters were like a downhill streak. They went so quickly that it almost made me forget the struggle through the middle section.

I was incredibly glad I read this for the read-along hosted by The Blue Bookcase. Knowing that I had weekly deadlines and discussions was a great motivation to pick it up when I didn’t feel like it.

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.”

The main thing I took away from this book was the beauty of the writing, like the above quote. Sometimes Melville would ramble on about the details of whale anatomy or the perils of the whaling profession, but he does it in such an eloquent way. Every time I got a bit bogged down in all Melville's facts and ideas, his writing grounded me. He has a beautiful way of phrasing things, but it often seemed like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to educate or entertain his readers. In chapters like 32, where he gave a lesson in the different types of whales, I got bored. Then, a few chapter later in 42, he talked about the whiteness of the whale and how that heightens its terrifying nature because white is a color we associate with beauty, innocence, royalty, etc. When that’s paired with a murderous beast it makes it all the more horrifying.

“…that heightened hideousness, it might be said, only rises from the circumstance, that the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence and love; and hence, by bringing together two such opposite emotions in our minds, the Polar bear frightens us with so unnatural a contrast. But even assuming all this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness, you would not have that intensified terror.”

On to some of the specifics in the book, which will include some SPOILERS.

I was really glad Melville explained exactly how they track Moby Dick, because finding a specific whale in a vast ocean seemed far-fetched to me at first. Once he explained how they track the drifting of the whale’s food and the tides it made a lot more sense.

I think the fact that Ahab had a wife and child makes his madness so much more tragic. Towards the end he talks about the fact that he widowed his wife the day he married her. I’ve heard of a book called Ahab’s Wife and now I’m curious if that’s any good. Has anyone read it?

For me, the pinnacle of Ahab’s madness came in ch.128 when he turns down the request from a captain of a fellow whaling ship (the Rachel) to help look for his 12-year-old son that is on a missing boat. This is the first time Ahab's obsession really hurts someone else. He makes a conscience decision to choose his pursuit of the whale over helping someone in need and to me that proves that he's lost all perspective. He's refusing to help a man find his son, when he is a father and should know how important this is. This is where he crosses the line and he never really returns from that decision. In a strange way Ahab is both the villain and hero of the book. He is admired and feared, triumphant and broken. He has survived a whale attack, but can’t seem to move on with his life. He must have been a good captain at some point to gain the loyalty and respect of Starbuck, but we never really see that side of him.

“For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease.”

I am so grateful for Melville's sense of humor. The book has some wonderful elements, but without a bit of humor I think it would have felt incredibly heavy. The first section is the most entertaining, but Melville throws a few comedic bits in every so often. I thought the section about Queequeg’s coffin was hilarious. The harpooner is near death with sickness and requests a coffin be made for his burial. Then, after lying in it to confirm it will suffice, he miraculously recovers, declaring that anyone can get better if they decide to. Then he uses the coffin to store his belongings in! That wry sense of humor was sprinkled throughout the book, especially at the beginning.

“Heaven have mercy on all of us – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked in the head, and sadly need mending.”

In the end of the story the coffin returns to save Ishmael’s life. How amazing that something created for one man’s death ends up being another man’s salvation. I’m still in shock when I think about what Ishmael experienced when he watched his friends and shipmates die and was then stranded in the ocean, surrounded by sharks, for two days. It seems like madness would be inevitable.

Melville created a wide and strange cast of characters; Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, Bildad, Tashtego, Daggoo, Peleg, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, and all the others connected with the ill-fated Pequod. They grew on me throughout the story, especially Starbuck with his misplaced loyalty to Ahab. He had a lot of wisdom.

“‘I will have no man in my boat,’ said Starbuck, ‘who is not afraid of a whale.’ By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.”

There are so many breath-taking descriptions in this book. The mother whales nursing, the two dead whale heads hanging off the Pequod, the descriptions of whales’ eyes and ears. All of it was odd, but also interesting. Melville brought a foreign world into my home and made me feel like I was seeing these strange new sights along with Ishmael.

The murder of the old whale in ch.81 is one particularly vicious example of this. It shocks not only the reader, but Ishmael too. After pages and pages of hearing about it in theory, to see the kill actually happen is startling and makes it all seem so much more real.

“For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.

As we near the end of the story Starbuck’s desperate attempts to shake Ahab from his obsession are heartbreaking. He tries again and again to make him turn back and drives the point home by saying that Moby Dick is not pursuing Ahab. It’s easy to forget this because Moby Dick is painted as the villain, lashing out against Ahab and taking his leg. In reality, he is just a whale trying to save himself. It’s Ahab’s one-sided fight and his actions have tragic repercussions for everyone else.

When people talk about Moby Dick they always say it isn't really about a whale and I always thought that was silly. I thought, well yes, I get that there are other issues and themes, but really, it is about a whale. But now I understand, the hunt for the whale is part of the story, but it is seriously about so much more than that.

I have always been curious about this book and I’m so glad I finally read it. My curiosity has been sated and it lived up to my expectations. Yes, there are parts that drag. Yes, he talks a LOT about whaling. Yes, there is not a clear A to B kind of plot and the characters fade in and out of the narrative. But as much as Melville meanders and pontificates, in the end he’s created an epic story. It’s about obsession, man’s relationship with nature, revenge, religion, insanity and so much more.

And it is one strangely enthralling tale.

I’ll leave you with one of those amazing lines that made me fall for the book…

“These are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”

Here’s the link to my first post.

p.s. I made one exception to my clothes buying ban to get the Out of Print Moby Dick t-shirt I'm wearing in the pic above. It was my present (to myself) for finishing the book and I used a gift card, so that doesn’t count, right?

Photo by the Huz

Wordless Wednesday: Corn Maze

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Corn maze in Indiana

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.