Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

May 15, 2010

I created this post just about a month ago, when I first finished reading this lovely novel. But for some reason, I never had too much too say about it. Perhaps I’ve read so many gushing reviews that I didn’t feel like I had much to add to the conversation. I do feel like I could talk for a bit about some particular things, but all of that required some spoiler-filled sentences, and I usually don’t like to do that here. However, since it seems like so many bloggers have read this one, I’m going to go ahead and write about the ending of the book. So if you haven’t read Brooklyn yet, please go read one of the million other excellent spoiler-free reviews!

I loved this novel–right up until the last 40 pages or so of the book, the part titled “Part Four,” but more likely remembered as the part of the book when Eilis returns to Ireland after the death of her older sister. One of the things I liked best about the book was watching Eilis (by the way, I seriously wonder how one is supposed to pronounce her name. I feel like I should know, having a Gaelic name myself, but unfortunately I have no idea) develop her self confidence as she spent time in America. It was so heartwarming to watch her grow up, take classes at night school, start to seriously date somebody, and finally feel comfortable talking with the other boarders. She really did become more independent and more confident as she was forced to make her way in America. But then, when she returns to Ireland, she seems to have entirely lost that confidence. Once again, I felt frustrated by her interactions with her family and friends. She lets so many people push her around. And when she started to become intimate with that boy, I was so angry! It felt as though she was doing that just because it was what was expected of her. I wish that she had the courage to use her newfound independence and confidence even while she was living in her old surroundings! In the end, I’m glad that she decided to return to her life in America, because she seemed so much more comfortable there, even if it did take her quite a while to adjust to it at first.

Of course, the very reason that I feel such intense happiness when Eilis changes for the good when she arrives in America (and such intense concern and frustration when she returns to her old self when she returns to Ireland) just demonstrates what amazing characters Toibin has created in this novel. A review on the back of my edition calls Eilis “one of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature”, and I wholeheartedly agree. Sometimes I feel like she was actually one of my friends that just moved away, to Long Island, and I have this catalog of memories of her. It’s weird. But wonderful. This is definitely in the top few books I’ve read so far this year.

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Teaser Thursday

April 15, 2010

That post title is entirely made up, but since I don’t have a great review planned, I thought that I’d share a fun passage from one of the books that I’m reading. Right now, I’m reading short stories from one of Joyce Carol Oates’s books called The Female of the Species. One of the things I love about Oates is how perfectly she captures the voices of the different characters in her work. Here’s a passage from the first story in the collection, “So Help Me God.” It’s a story about a woman who married young and is at home alone when she starts receiving curious phone calls. Here she reminisces about how she met her husband in high school.

Andrea had more household chores than I did and my bicycle was newer and faster than hers and I was the one who got restless and bored, so it was usually me on my bicycle, slow and dreamy and coasting when I could and not paying attention to cars and pickups that swung out to pass me. It was late August and boring-hot and I was wearing white shorts, a little green Gap t-shirt, flip-flops on my feet. I wasn’t so young as I looked. My ash-blond ponytail swept halfway down my back and my toenails were painted this bright sparkly green Daddy insisted I had to cover up, wear socks or actual shoes, at meal times.

I love this description, because it really does sound like something that would come straight out of the main character’s mouth. I haven’t finished the story yet (I’m about halfway through) but I know for sure that I won’t be reading it tonight, as I know too well how creepy Oates can be. I don’t want to be up wit nightmares all night!

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The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

April 7, 2010

A few weeks ago, during a cold and rainy weekend, I felt like I needed to get out of the house, go somewhere cozy, and start a good mystery. The only problem was that I didn’t have many modern mysteries sitting around the house unread. So I walked across the street to the local bookstore, and with Karen’s recommendations in mind, perused the mystery section  until I settled on Barbara Vine’s The Minotaur. I then walked over to a great cafe, ordered a warm sandwich and then basically didn’t put this book down until I finished it a day or so later.

Barbara Vine is one of the pen names of Ruth Rendell, who is considered one of the best modern mystery writers. Before The Minotaur, I hadn’t read anything by her (under either name), so I can’t compare how her Vine books compare with her others. I will say that although this book was published by “Vintage Crime,” I haven’t the slightest idea why this book would really be considered a mystery or even a crime novel. Yes, someone dies. No, that doesn’t make it a mystery. Why this book with a death in it is considered anything other than literary fiction is really the only mystery to me. There are so many “literary” books published every year that are not nearly as well written, have worse character development, and contain fewer psychological insights than this novel does. I would say that The Minotaur is a suspenseful piece of literature that happens to have a murder in it.

With that complaint out of the way, I’m sure that by now most of you can tell that I loved this book. The story centers around a Swedish nurse, Kerstin, who takes a job as a nurse at an old English country house in the 1960s. As time goes by, Kerstin begins to know the family–a mother, three daughters, and a son–and their eccentric ways and relationships. She also learns about the funny little town they live in and the people who live there. The interesting thing about this book is that there isn’t a single bit of coincidence or sleuthing–instead, it’s all about the psychology of what makes people act the way they do. The events of the plot occur not because someone has a crazy motive or because something unexpected happened, they occur because of the natural tensions that arise out of complex and convoluted personal relationships. For that reason, The Minotaur was unlike any other “mystery” book I’ve read, and now I understand why Vine/Rendell is considered a master of suspense. I can’t wait to pick up another one of her books!

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Returning

April 5, 2010

I know it’s been nearly a month since  my last post, but I just couldn’t help but start writing about books again. I don’t know why I was gone for so long–I had plenty of reading to talk about! I was just in a bit of a writing rut, actually. I couldn’t think of what to say about the books I had finished reading. Let’s just dive right in now, though. Instead of feeling overwhelmed about all the books that I finished, I’d rather just chat about what I’m reading right now. I’m so excited about each and every one of these books!

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín: This book is everything I expected it to be and more. I am so thoroughly involved in the main character’s life that I find myself doing whacky things like missing train stops. In fact, sometimes I don’t pick up this book if I know that I only have a little while to read because I have such a difficult time putting it down. I like the writing style–it’s pretty straightforward and simple, but the tone and emotions described managed to grab you. I find myself so immersed in the story that I sort of forget the writing and the author. Definitely a winner.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: I’m so glad that I convinced myself to sign up to read this for the classics circuit! After reading the first fifth or so during a long plane flight this summer, I unintentionally let this book sit around without finishing it. I’m glad that I picked it up again! More to say about this next month when I write about it for the circuit.

Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman: I received this as a gift this weekend (yay!) and of course started reading it as soon as I had a chance. Wow, this really fits in with my year of Austen perfectly. It has a tiny bit of biography at the beginning, which is perfect. I still haven’t decided if I want to do a full blown biography read or not; this amount of info I think will be just fine for my purposes. So far, it seems seriously well researched with loads of footnotes, yet very conversational in tone.

Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum: This is as excellent as I thought it would be, even if it does make me think more than any of the other three books that I’m reading right now. I think this may be more of a long term read; perhaps I’ll try to read one chapter a week. I love Blum’s take on science, and how she’s not afraid to fault scientists when necessary without faulting science itself.

Sorry for the image-less post and for the rambling discussion without any in-depth serious reviews. I’m starting blogging slowly, I guess!

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Some Random Bookish Thoughts

February 4, 2010

1. Does it seem like the whole world is currently reading The Girl Who Fell from the Sky? Or is it just me? This week, I’ve seen the book twice during my commute, then it also showed up on NPR’s “What We’re Reading” site. I haven’t seen much chatter about this book in the blogosphere, so I went poking around to see what I could find out about it, and the nice folks at Algonquin are providing a little online preview of the first chapter. It seems like an interesting book. May also be a way to diversify my reading this year.

2. I finally started by Complete Austen in 2010 project, beginning with Lady Susan. That is really just flying by! Which is good because I distinctly remember disliking this story when I read it the fist time ages ago. I’ve never read a story told entirely in letters (an epistolary novel), and frankly, I don’t have a great track record with books with letters in them. I think that I put Possession down right around the time when the story dissolves into a series of letters. But Lady Susan and her friends have captured my attention. More to come soon once I’ve finished it. Next up will be The Watsons. I figure that these are two of her shortest works, and here it is already February! So I need to get through those quickly.

3. I haven’t made any progress on my James Family project. I’ve been in the mood for The Turn of the Screw recently, though, so that may change soon.

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A few random bookish thoughts

January 10, 2010

1. Well I must admit that I finished North and South ages ago, so that sidebar is definitely not current. I put off writing a review of it at first, because I wanted to read the introduction. Then, I wanted to copy out some notes in my journal about quotes that I flagged. Then, well I ran out of excuses. My main problem is that this book really floored me–I loved it way more than I expected to. I just can’t find the words to express everything that made it such a fantastic book, so I’ve been intimidated by the review.

2. So I what am I reading right now? For a while, it was the Wharton stories, then I read a quick thriller by “Richard Castle,” based on the TV series, Castle. I know that sounds corny, but it truth it was a fun book to read while I had a stuffy nose and it was ten degrees outside. (Also, I love the show, and the premise of a fake author writing a real book that made it to the NYTimes bestseller list intrigued me.) I keep looking at The Name of the Rose, and thinking about picking that up. But at this point, I think that I will need to start from the beginning again, even though I’m about 60% of the way through! This time I will keep notes on characters’ names. I’m currently rushing through the latest Rhys Bowen mystery–Royal Flush. I picked that up today because I was in the mood for British royalty.

3. Why was I in that mood? All because of a fantastic film that I saw last night called The Young Victoria. Everyone should rush out and see this movie before it leaves theaters! Even though I consider myself to be quite up-to-speed on all things Victorian, I must admit that my image of Queen Victoria was entirely based on her constant state of mourning and her love of all things proper. I had never stopped to consider what she might have been like in her twenties when she fell in love with the husband she missed so much. Very well acted, with great scenery.

4. I have a couple of books on their way to me–both for February group reads. One is Howard’s End, for my real life book club, and the other is Their Eyes Were Watching God for the next Classics Circuit. I’m looking forward to both of them, but I’m a bit stressed about figuring out how to balance my reading time so that I finish them in time. So that’s what’s coming up here.

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2009: A Year in Review, part 2

December 31, 2009

These questions were borrowed from Simon over at Savidge Reads. I like how they help me write down some qualitative ideas without necessarily making a list. I tried to do that and just kept fighting with myself. So here are some thoughts about all of the books I read this year.

Favourite book of 2009?
The Wings of the Dove by Henry James. This was actually an easier choice than I thought it would be, although it was a close tie with Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. James just does such an amazing job of getting inside people’s heads! This was probably one of my hardest reads of the year, but every minute was well worth it. The best non-fiction book was easily William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism.

Least favourite?
The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. I loved the premise of this book. The book includes an antique copy of a Dumas book, some mysterious deaths, and bizarre characters. However, the ending of this book infuriated me to the point that I specifically sent some emails to friends warning them not to read this book.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
It’s sometimes hard to remember, but so far there are The Brothers Karamazov and The Name of the Rose. I definitely expect to finish those in the first few months of next year. There was also a nonfiction book that is going on its third year in my “currently reading” stack: The Secret Life of Words. It’s just slow going. I may or may not finish that one anytime soon. Of course, there’s also The Count of Monte Cristo, by Dumas, but that’s entirely due to an incident involving a water bottle that I really don’t want to talk about.

Oldest book read?
Virgil’s Aeneid. One of the most beautiful books I read all year, and would have made my top five list if it weren’t for a couple of chapters toward the end that were too war-filled for my taste.

Newest?
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. I loved it. I usually pre-order any new Atwood books scheduled to be published.

Longest and shortest book titles?
The longest is Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling; the shortest is No Name by Wilkie Collins. I didn’t count subtitles or letters after colons.

Longest and shortest books?
This is sort of hard to do without LibraryThing, but my best guess would be that this longest is The Wings of the Dove at 711 pages. The shortest is probably a tie between the two novellas that I read: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett and The Lifted Veil by George Eliot. The Eliot book is about 70 pages.

How many books from the library?
None, although I did borrow one from my mom. I have a thing about owning the books I read.

Any translated books?
Only a few; much less than last year. One was the aforementioned The Club Dumas. Another was of course The Aeneid. The two others were both by Emile Zola: The Masterpiece and Nana.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
This was a tie of six books each by Georgette Heyer and Jacqueline Winspear.

Any re-reads?
Only one, Oryx and Crake, in preparation for the release of The Year of the Flood.

Favourite character of the year?
This is tough. First of all, I adore Maisie Dobbs because for some odd reason I identify with her strongly. However, I also laughed the most at two of the characters in The Moonstone: Miss Clack, with her hilarious lack of self-awareness and her tendency to “lose” religious tracts so that others may find them, and Mr Betteredge, one of the most quintessential British butlers ever written who uses Robinson Crusoe as his guide to life. I also really grew to care for the title character in David Copperfield. A couple of other books had great characters in general, even though a particular one doesn’t stand out for me at the moment: A Room with a View (definitely one of my favorites this year) and The Wings of the Dove.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
This might be my favorite question, even though my answer may be paltry. America, Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, France, Austria (!), Romania, Bulgaria (those two thanks to Dracula), Italy, India. Next year I must get Africa in there. And I don’t know how Russia got left out. I must have out-Russianed myself in 2008.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer, and thus the rest of the Heyer books. These came recommended by a whole host of people, but my coworker Amanda was the one who literally took me into the store and put this book in my hands.

Which author was new to you in 2009 that you now want to read the entire works of?
This will be a long list. Heyer, as mentioned above. Lahiri; I can’t believe I waited this long to read her. Wilkie Collins. E.M. Forster–Howard’s End is my February book club pick, so I’m on my way there. Du Maurier. Kazuo Ishiguro, even though technically the first book I read by him was my last book completed in 2008, it feels like I discovered him this year.

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read?
Oh so many. I wish I had finished The Brothers Karamazov. I wish that I had read Wolf Hall and Brooklyn–two books published this year that everyone is raving about but that I haven’t bought yet. I wanted to read Little Dorrit before watching the miniseries, but I didn’t, so now both are waiting for me. I bought The Way We Live Now, and of course now I’m worried that it will be more like The Way We Lived Last Year. Hopefully not.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?
Yes! The Sound and the Fury, which I got through with the help of a friend reading it concurrently. David Copperfield and The Wings of the Dove were two big books that I’d had on my shelf for ages. All three of these lived up to their expectations.