Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Thirty-Eight - The Shell Seekers - Part One

What is a basket chair? This book, published in 1987 and set in England, mentions basket chairs a lot. I Google-imaged but am confused!

And OMG I am SO loving this book! I don't want to stop reading for pesky things like eating and working and sleeping. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Thirty-Seven - The Alchemist

Paulo Cohelo

I took a break from The Shell Seekers (which I'm thoroughly enjoying) to read this month's book club selection, The Alchemist. Oh my goodness, Mr Cohelo, you sure know how to tell a story.

I read it in two days. I do love a quest, and the protagonist of this book is on quite the quest. He's an Andalusian shepherd boy and I experienced his journey, his highs and lows, his passions, and his joy along with him. He's way more mature than I am, though. He has a sense of self that never seems inflated; he takes a noble journey without setting out to change the world. All of it and none of it is about him.

We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it's our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.

The Alchemist is a very spiritual book but it is never preachy - or so it seems to me. It might be interpreted differently by one who has rejected religion and/or  spirituality of any sort. Yet the questions are universal and so I think even someone who disagrees with the main premise (see above quotation) will find merit in the boy's quest. 

The author has a video on Amazon about this book - he enjoys reading the reviews!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Thirty-Six - Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Well I got through the first part anyway. The first part is called "The Maid" and since it was written in the Victorian era, you just know that title doesn't have anything to do with scrubbing floors. Tess was so wishy washy! She was like a freshly caught fish flopping around in a boat, turning first this way and then that. Not that I'm any great fisherman, mind. I like the sitting in the boat part and the casting part, but I believe that the killing and the cleaning are best left to professionals. Anyway, Tess was sort of like that fish out of water, not fitting into her new situation. There are so many things she could have done to make it better! I know she was young and conflicted even before she got there, but she recognized a snake and didn't move away from it. She should have allowed the snake to inhabit his own territory while she went the other way. (Got kinda an animal thing going on here, don't I?)

I didn't feel like I got enough description from Hardy. There was a brief mention about Tess' living quarters when she moved but what was it like? What did it look like? Was it comfortable or simply tolerable? Reading Tess felt like an assignment, as if someone told me to elaborate on the symbolism. Symbolism schymbolism, why didn't she tell that woman the truth? It couldn't all have been about her "place" in society. Tess was educated. She must have learned about other people and other ways of life when she was in school.

I won't be finishing Tess, invoking rule #2.

The next book I'm reading is The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. It was published in 1987 and all I know is that it is about a family. I hope it's something I can love! The time before I start a book is always filled with promise.

I chose The Shell Seekers because it jumped off the shelf at me. I'm speaking literally: as much as a book can talk, this one said, "Read ME!" as it fell to the floor in front of my desk. For several months it's been sitting on the same shelf as a dozen other to be read books and yesterday it apparently decided it was tired of waiting. I just love it when a book speaks to me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Who's With Me?

I'm considering reading Gone With The Wind next. Anyone want to join me??? Should be a delightful 1472 pages, and I hope to discover what was appealing about Ashley. Oops, spoiler alert!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


George Eliot
Finished. Finally.

It isn't as though I hated it. It got better toward the end but it never got really good. I should have trusted my earlier instinct about it. Finishing it seemed like a chore and that is not why I read.

One quote I enjoyed -
But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
Amen to that. And Amen to Middlemarch!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Middlemarch Progress Report & Heroes

Middlemarch finally got good! This is probably because I’ve been dedicating more time to it lately, though I do believe one reason it’s improving is because xxxxx died. (Name withheld to protect the unread.) The author has just introduced new characters, however, and I have less than 400 pages to go! There are so many people it’s like I’m reading Tolstoy again but without the depth of character. I think she may have done better with fewer characters and more character development. At this point in the book I should be able to guess how the main characters will behave. I have been enjoying the story so much, though, that I quit listening to the audio book and started reading again – I can read faster than I can listen, apparently.

The other day I happened upon a list of Great Books. Homer and Sophocles and Aristophanes, oh my! I’m so glad I’m doing the BBC list instead. I enjoyed Medea in grad school, but I suspect a little of that sort of thing goes a long way.

I’ve also been listening to the audiobooks of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I hasten to add that I was not cheating on George Elliot because I’ve only been listening to the tale of Lyra and Will on the way to and from work, something I could not do with a digital copy of Middlemarch. (I could but I don’t have the right equipment.) I read the books about a decade ago so I knew what was going to happen, but that didn’t prevent me from crying the last two days as the story ended. I was so consumed by the characters that now I’m a little bit lost. Where are they and why aren’t they with me anymore? Can you imagine a world in which your favorite book characters live near you and you can visit them any time? ‘Twould have to be a large neighborhood.

Lyra and Will got me thinking about heroes and The Hero’s Journey, especially the young hero. After everything The Hero has been through -  the pain, the desolation, the never knowing if he’s going to survive the next ten minutes, the loss, the exhaustion, the betrayal – how messed up is this person as an adult? How can he just come home from that journey and live an average life? Do those memories get sublimated or does The Hero come to terms with what he faced? Did he live up to his potential or peak in adolescence like the uncle in Napoleon Dynamite? How many nights did Harry Potter wake up from a nightmare? Did he eventually have so much pent-up aggression that he became violent and roughed up a Death Eater? Did he get hooked on butterbeer?

You know what, I don’t want to know. The Hero’s Journey should inspire, and if we knew the rest of the story we would know the Hero is a mere human. Look at poor Arthur, losing Guinevere to his BFF! Dude, that’s harsh. We wind up pitying Arthur in the end as his dream melts like the Wicked Witch of the West after a bucket of water. (I hope that simile gives you a smile even though you’re depressed thinking about your favorite hero and how much the rest of his life sucked -- kinda like Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump before Forrest rescued him and stuff, though I've always thought the shrimp were the deciding factor in that particular scenario.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Middlemarch Again

So I'm listening to the audio book and wondering why I didn't trust my instincts when I put the book down the first time. I started at the beginning and am now on part 2 of 5, and the things that bothered me before bother me now. I don't like the narrator stepping out of 3rd person point of view to 1st person to provide information and opinions. I want to get lost in a book and it's difficult to do that with someone telling me stuff. It's jarring. And isn't it sort of cheating? Shouldn't we learn/decide the theme of the novel without being told directly in practically every chapter? Is it literary blasphemy to say these things of the great George Eliot?

Middlemarch includes a character like Mr Micawber in David Copperfield and Richard Carstone in Bleak House. He expects that something wonderful will simply fall out of the sky onto his feet. If only!

I will probably finish listening to the book because I'm both stubborn and parsimonious enough not to have spent $7.50 for nothing.

George Eliot

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Great Expectations on Masterpiece

Saw part one and loved it! Miss Havisham is so spooky! Much more so than the way I read her. Joe Gargery is lovely - I'm glad they got that right. Pip is lovely, too. The child playing child Pip did a wonderful job. His looks and movements were perfect. He communicates so much through body language, and it must be hard for a child to act on that level. He does it well. Can't wait for part two!

If you're in the US, you can see it here until May 1st.

Miss Havisham
:cue ghostly music:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prepare Ye The Way Of The George

I experienced Reader's Remorse. I should not have given up on George, so I repented and bought the audio book. Unabridged! I'll be listening for weeks! I'll be all, "Wow, that 35 hours and 40 minutes just flew by, didn't it?"

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sorry, George & Other Things

So I’ve given up on Middlemarch. Actually, I gave up on Middlemarch ages ago but kept telling myself I’d get back to it. It isn’t that I disliked the book, but the 229 pages I read (of 1227) obviously didn’t capture me. Middlemarch started to feel like an obligation, and I'm doing this for fun. I may get back to it someday, though I'm not counting on it.

In the meantime I’ve been reading books loaned to me by members of my book club. Seriously, what am I supposed to do when someone hands me a book and says they think I’ll like it? Why, if I didn’t hastily read the book I should seem ungrateful, and I am all about the manners. One of these books is Sarah's Key--read it in two days. Now that's what I call captivating. I'm also listening to the audiobooks of the His Dark Materials trilogy. It's been some years since I've read them so I'm enjoying them all over again.

Birdsong (book club selection for this month!) is going to be a miniseries. Of course, I’m already concerned about what they’re going to do to it. I suspect Elizabeth is out altogether. Eddie Redmayne is playing Stephen and Clémence Poésy is Isabelle. It airs in April on Masterpiece. In fact, here’s the Masterpiece link with info on all the goodies. They’re also showing two new BBC productions, Edwin Drood and Great Expectations! In news unrelated to the BBC Big Read list, Shirley MacLaine is going to be in series 3 of Downton! She’ll be Lady Grantham’s mother. Boy, that’s going to be fun. Prediction: catfight. That’s all I’m saying.

Sorta feel like I should talk about Toddlers and Tiaras now, just to balance out the highbrow. Toddlers and Tiaras is a dreadful reality show which beautifully fulfillls its purpose, that of making us look at the TV and say, "I can't believe she just did that!" It's fascinating. There, I've admitted it. Judge me if you will.

For the second year I'm watching the Decorah eagles. I can finally tell the mom and the dad apart! They're currently nesting with three eggs. Such magnificent creatures. Sometimes when I can't watch them I just listen to the sounds. Yay for bird watching via the interwebz!

This is the male

This is the female

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Thirty-Five - Middlemarch - Part One

Isn't the English countryside beautiful? This is my desktop background at work.
Not that I'm writing blog posts at work. That would be wrong.
Middlemarch, an early 19th century English town, contains quite a number of interesting characters. A few snippets for your enjoyment -
A man's mind—what there is of it—has always the advantage of being masculine,—as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm,—and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality.
Hence he determined to abandon himself to the stream of feeling, and perhaps was surprised to find what an exceedingly shallow rill it was… he concluded that the poets had much exaggerated the force of masculine passion.
I am not a fan of these stereotypes. If we dislike being considered as a stereotype ourselves we can hardly stereotype others. Besides, I've known men who are vapid and women who are vapid; men who are brilliant and women who are brilliant. I don't believe we need to keep having this discussion, yet I still frequently hear stereotypes of one gender or the other. There now, my political rant for 2012 is over.

Middlemarch includes a letter of proposal which pales in comparison to Frederick Wentworth’s. Just a snippet of this one –

For in the first hour of meeting you, I had an impression of your eminent and perhaps exclusive fitness to supply that need (connected, I may say, with such activity of the affections as even the preoccupations of a work too special to be abdicated could not uninterruptedly dissimulate); and each succeeding opportunity for observation has given the impression an added depth by convincing me more emphatically of that fitness which I had preconceived, and thus evoking more decisively those affections to which I have but now referred.
My, my dear sir, I do believe you have hidden a compliment in there somewhere. Was it intentional?
Not he! Humphrey finds everybody charming. I never can get him to abuse xxxx.* He will even speak well of the bishop, though I tell him it is unnatural in a beneficed clergyman; what can one do with a husband who attends so little to the decencies? I hide it as well as I can by abusing everybody myself.
Spoken by the wife of Humphrey (the poor dear). Sounds like a Mrs. Norris, doesn't she?

We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, "Oh, nothing!" Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts—not to hurt others.
I like the sentiment but am not a fan of the narrator suddenly stepping out of the scene and speaking to the audience. 

… for we all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.
This struck me but I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

Re: medical standards -

Also, the high standard held up to the public mind... did not hinder quackery from having an excellent time of it; for since professional practice chiefly consisted in giving a great many drugs, the public inferred that it might be better off with more drugs still, if they could only be got cheaply...
Aren’t we the same today? We want a pill for everything and I’m no different. I do not understand why, in the 21st century, a drug has not been invented to prevent my hair from becoming gray. I got my first gray hair at 25 and it's only gotten worse since then. Do you have any idea how much time and money I expend to keep my hair its natural color? It’s absurd. Give me a pill, someone. I’ll even be involved in the clinical trial. 

*Name removed to prevent spoilage

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Birdsong & Great Expectations - New BBC Productions!

Birdsong is one of the best books I've ever read and it's finally being made into a movie! The female lead is Clémence Poésy (Fleur in the Harry Potter movies) and the male is Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Wraysford (I'm unfamiliar with him). It also features Matthew Goode who I saw in Imagine Me and You, a most excellent movie. The new Great Expectations production is directed by Mike Newell (another HP movie connection) and stars Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham (I cannot wait to see her take on this character!), Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Jaggers, and Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Joe (she was Anne Elliott in the 2007 adaptation of Persuasion).

PBS' Masterpiece Theater will air both Birdsong and the new Great Expectations! I don't know about you, but I need something to look forward to. January is always difficult - there's a let down after the holidays and the new year looms large. There are indeed great expectations in January.