Monday, January 31, 2011

January in Review

As always I borrowed the month in review post from Lily's Bookshelf, because she's awesome. 

Books Read:
The Imperfectionists - Rachman (review)
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - Sedaris (review)
The Crying of Lot 49 - Pynchon (review)
The Winter Ghosts - Mosse (review)
The Odyssey (abridged) - Homer (rant about wishbone)

Total Number of Books Read This Month: 5

Total Number of Books Read This Year: 5

Books Unfinished:
Clara & Mr. Tiffany - Vreeland (still reading)

Most Anticipated:
The Crying of Lot 49

Biggest Let Down:
The Imperfectionists

Favorite Read:
This wasn't a really great reading month for me, but if I had to pick one I liked best it would be Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk 

Overall Reflection:
Over the past few years January has been a very lazy month for me, and this year was no different. I wasn't very motivated to read this month, and the things I did end up reading weren't all that fantastic. 
I just started my last semester as an undergrad last week, and my classes seem both intense and amazing. As I mentioned in a post earlier this week I'm taking a class dedicated to Harry Potter. The other class I am really excited about is Bookbinding for Beginners. So in addition to a lot of Harry Potter rambling, which I'll try to keep down after months of nothing but Potter last summer, I'll try to post about the books I'm making. 

Oh, I also found a bunch of Wishbone episodes on Youtube yesterday, so I think I know how I'll be spending some of my free time in February. 

What have you been up to in January? Read any really fantastic books? 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Wishbone Lied to Me

This semester I am taking a class that is based exclusively around the Harry Potter series. Despite meeting on Friday's, it promises to be one of the best classes I have ever taken here at Columbia. Our first day was spent praising JK Rowling and talking about the hero's journey. In order for us to understand the hero's journey better, she assigned half the class an abridged version of the Arthurian Legends, and the other half The Odyssey.  It would appear luck was not on my side this past Friday, and I was given a shotty looking copy of The Odyssey to read over the week.

Now, this marks the 4th time I've been required to read the Odyssey in my educational career. Each time I thin k it's going to go better. Maybe I'll like Odysseus this time? Maybe the journey will be more interesting, or at least less irritating? Of course, this never happens. I spent the past two days grinding my teeth and reading Odysseus heroic, and really very pompous journey from island to island. The two most common thoughts I had while reading this classic were "This isn't a good story at all. Odysseus is probably pretty smelly and his crew keeps dying. Why hasn't someone, like Poseidon, killed him yet?!" and "WISHBONE LIED. THIS ISN'T HOW I REMEMBER THE ODYSSEY OF MY DOG BASED CHILDHOOD"

While I have spent a good portion of today being upset that my memories of the Wishbone episode Home Sweet Home (which is up on Youtube, in case anyone is interested) always trick me into think I'll enjoy The Odyssey, I have also come to this conclusion - without Wishbone I wouldn't have much knowledge of quite a few classics.
As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I am not a fan of Charles Dickens. However the few novels of his I am really familiar with come from hours of watching Wishbone at my grandmothers house. The same with Don Quixote, I have no interest in picking it up, but I remember the cute little Jack Russel Terrier fighting a wind mill and laughing.  I've always been impressed by the stories the producers decided to tell, surely Homer, Dickens and Goethe are all over the average 7 year olds head. Even so, these episodes still exists, and remain the ones that come to mind first when I think of the show.

So that's the story of my never-ending experience with The Odyssey, how Wishbone tried to trick me into liking it, and how, eventually I decided to forgive the cute little puppy that exposed me to Literature before anyone else did.

The Winter Ghosts - Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse
To Be Released February 3rd

Freddie is haunted by the memory of his brother George, who lost his life during World War I. After years of sadness and a brief stint in a sanitarium Freddie journey's around France. When a snow storm leaves him with a broken car and lost in the mountains he winds up in the village of Nulle, Freddie  finds a girl with a similar past who leads him to a monumental historical discovery.

The Winter Ghosts is a quick read, which is good because it will distract you from the lack of story it has. Mosse took an interesting subject, the Cathars, and made it dull, and ultimately unimportant in her story. Freddie himself, goes from being a character one can pity and really root for to an annoying babbling crazy person.
A big part of the problem is that the story Mosse is trying to tell isn't big enough for the 250 pages she has written. A lot of mindless descriptions and musing happen, and the story moves at a snails pace.
The actually story of the Cathar's is interesting, but as it is told as an unbelievable dream and in short bursts near the end, it felt more like a plot device than a historic even important to the actual story.

Overall The Winter Ghosts wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible, and if nothing else it was a quick read. If you think you can stomach Freddie's whining, you might actually enjoy it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Crying of Lot 49 - Pynchon

If you look back a few entry's, you'll find a list of books I aim to read this year. On this list between Ayn Rand and Atonement you'll find a little book by Thomas Pynchon called The Crying of Lot 49. Not being a fan of post modern lit, I knew this was going to either be a great eye opening experience, or turn into another Sarah Throws Books on the Floor at Barnes and Noble problem.

The Crying of Lot 49

Thomas Pynchon

Oedpia Mass is to be the executor of her ex boyfriend's will. With no legal knowledge, a very shady therapist and a husband that is in his own world, Oedpia starts the task of breaking up Pierce Inverarity's massive state and discovers a postal conspiracy years in the making.

Why, oh why, did I think this was a good idea? Pynchon is the king of the run on sentence. Sometimes going on for two pages! In a book that is only 152 pages, sentences like that become a problem. There is also the issue of the names. While I liked Oedpia as a name, everyone else had weird names like Dr. Hilarious and Mike Fallopian that I couldn't take seriously and had a hard time processing. This all pales to how little I liked the story. I had a really hard time following what was happening with the Trystero stuff. I'm still not entirely sure if everything about the postal system was real or not, or if it was an elaborate joke or Oedpia going crazy or what. Regardless, I have never had such a hard time finishing 150 odd pages. I was really tempted to just set it aside and never come back, but the year is still young, so hopefully I'll be able to make up for the lost week I spent staring at the stupid cover and wishing it would burst into flames, or magically turn into Harry Potter.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Literary Hop - Unloved Literary Works

Literary Blog Hop
Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university.  Why did you dislike it?
I've really loved the Literary Hop questions lately, and this week is no exception! 

I took a class called 19th Century British Novels my sophomore year of college. I was really excited for this class, since I'd never really read Jane Austen, any of the Bronte's or anything by Dickens that I liked (I was still hopeful hear. I promise this isn't another Dickens rant). While I ended up enjoying almost everything I read for the class, I came out with a deep hatred for Elizabeth Gaskell's North & South.

I know plenty of people who love Gaskell and this book, but reading it back to back with Pride & Prejudice really ruined it for me. I could see nothing but the similarities between the two, and while I loved Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, I hated Margaret Hale with a passion.  I've written here a few times about how I need to have a character I like,or at least identify with to have a really enjoyable reading experience, and that's what I was lacking here.  

Of course, I also had major problems with the story. Ok, my real problem was that I thought it was dull and that Gaskell's sole purpose was to irritate me. I know I argued in class about Elizabeth's odd, out of period attitude and anything else that might have irritated me. 

Even now I know my reasons for disliking North and South really aren't fair, and aren't very objective, but that's what I really like about literature. Something can be well written and well received, and still people can dislike it and have an argument against it. 
Thinking back I did really like Mr. Thornton.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - Sedaris

David Sedaris

Every wonder how Squirrels date? What about how farm animals do secret Santa? If so, this is the book for you. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a collection of shorts stories, and some beautiful illustrations about animals acting like humans. The 16 stories are each solid, and easily readable in a short sitting. As always, Sedaris's humor shines through, and even the pretty gruesome tale of rabbit who takes the security of his forest to far is funny. 

If you're a fan of Sedaris, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is definitely a good investment. I just wouldn't recommend reading it to small children.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Bookish Resolutions

I still have a little less then two weeks of break and have been very lazy lately. Really, like sleep is the only thing that matters lazy. So i'm hoping to end on an upswing, and I'm going to start by actually blogging!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists over at The Broke and the Bookish. I'm sure they'd love to share your lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten list.
Today's Topic is
Top Ten Bookish Resolutions

1. Write - I try my best to write every day, even if it turns into a slight 'dear diary' situation at times. I have a livejournal that I do update daily, that is often a list of things that I've done that day, or musings on what I'm reading. I keep telling myself I should actually try my hand at fiction, or at the very least creative non-fiction, on top of the small amount of screenwriting I do. Also, I need to pay Loving Books more attention, and probably give it a little face-lift. 

2. Broaden My Horizon's- I'm a relatively eclectic reader. I can read Gaiman, Foer and Gregory back to back, but I still have my comfort zones. I really like historical fiction, and things set in Europe, or at least in the Midwest US states or New York. Really what I'm saying is I read about things I know about. I really want to broaden my world view, and get outside of my comfort zone. Dystopian literature seems to be a good place for me to start. And I want to read at least a novel by a South American, African and Asian author this year. 

3. Join More Meme's - Top Ten Tuesday and the Literary Blog Hop are usually the only meme's I participate in with any sort of regularity.  I'd really like to find more that I look forward to join each week, or maybe coming up with one myself.

4. Shakespeare - I've read about a third of his plays. Every year I tell myself that this will be the year I read the rest. At the very least I want to read The Tempest, since I never have. 

5. Review Everything - I'm usually pretty goo about reviewing everything I read, but sometimes if I really didn't like something, or don't really know how to classify I put off reviewing it until I forget about it. The reason I started reviewing books was so I'd remember my feelings on them, so I'm just doing myself a disservice when I this. You hear that, Me. Disservice. 

6. Use Goodreads- I like goodreads, even if it's just to figure out how far, percentage wise I'm into a book. I want to organize my bookshelf and join groups and things. 

7. If I Don't Like It, Put It Down - I'm one to suffer through books. Actually, I am suffering through a book right now. So when I was reading today and getting distracted by thoughts like 'I want pita bread' and 'This isn't my favorite pillow' I knew I had a problem. I like to finish books, and to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, 2011 needs to be a year where I allow myself to put things back on my TBR shelf after starting them. It's a waste of time to spend a week reading a 150 page novel, and I could spend this time better reading things I actually enjoy

I only have 7 for you today, but really these are my major general resolutions. Can't wait to get around to all of yours!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Imperfectionists - Rachman

Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists chronically the lives of the journalists working for an American News Paper in Rome. Each story follows a different person as they work, play, mourn and more often then not contemplate a life outside of journalism. The stories themselves are connected by two or three pages at the end of each chapter that show the progress of the paper from a chance to be close to a former love, to a financial almost success, to it's failure.

I've been struggling with this review for a few days. I like The Imperfectionists, but I think a lot of my enjoyment was more centered around it being my first e-book then on the stories I was reading. The chapter/story titles were intriguing, and often the thing i was looking most forward to.

I'm starting to really have a problem with collections of short stories being marketed as novels. Just by putting in a few pages of back story after a completely unrelated chapter doesn't give you a novel. In fact the back story with the Ott group completely put me off. There wasn't enough time devoted to it in the beginning to really care about it, then I just came to dread there irrelevant appearance.

It's not that I didn't like The Imperfectionists, it's just that I liked it just enough for it not to be mediocre. I don't usually give out real ratings, but if I did, this is a perfect example of 3.5 stars. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but it left me with nothing, not a character to haunt me, or a storyline to continue to think about. I put my kindle down and was done.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Literary Hop - Back to the Start

It's time for another Literary Blog Hop. As always it's hosted by The Blue Bookcase
Literary Blog Hop

I really love this weeks question. 
"How did you find your way to reading literary fiction and nonfiction?"

I know a lot of people grew up in households where reading was key, with bed times stories that grew as they did to children's series, young adult and then eventually literary fiction playing huge roles in their lives. While I'm sure my parents red to me as a very small child, neither of them are readers and I had to find my way to the world of books by myself. 

It wasn't till middle school that I really started reading on my own, I tackled books that seemed interesting, but not always age appropriate. I read A Walk to Remember, and without more guidance and no other books at my home I ended up reading a large amount of Nicholas Sparks, and other similar books. It wasn't until high school that I became aware of more literary titles, and another two years until I started trying to read them on my own. It helped to have older friends who were English major's. One in particular introduced me to Nicole Krauss, Tim O'Brien and a lot more.  As I look back I'm figuring out that I needed someone else in my circle of friends that wanted to read as avidly as I did, and upon finding that person I was able to have real discussions and find some real gems. 

If you haven't been around Loving Books lately here's what you missed!

Other Posts:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - 2011 Resolutions!

A new year is here, and that means new book goals. Luckily the ladies over at The Broke and The Bookish read  my mind! This week's Top Ten Tuesday Topic is -
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists over at The Broke and the Bookish. I'm sure they'd love to share your lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten list.

Top Ten Books I resolve to read in 2011!

1. Anna Karenina/War & Peace (or both) - Leo Tolstoy - I generally like Russian Literature. Well, I guess I say this more speculatively then factually. I like the idea of Russian Literature, and the parts of Anna and W&P that I have read I have enjoyed. I'd be lying if I said the size of these works didn't intimidate me a little. I just downloaded War & Peace to my kindle, so maybe now that I always have it on me it'll get read.

2. Bastard Out of Carolina - Dorothy Allison - Okay, so I don't actually know what this book is about, but last fall my roommate lent it to me along with Running with Scissors (which I did read) and insisted I read it. It's been on my bookshelf ever since. Since she's a pretty awesome roommate I trust her judgement and vow to get her book back to her read and hopefully enjoyed.

3. ALL OF THE BOOKS I GOT FOR CHRISTMAS - This year I got Distant Hours, Neverwhere, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, Kelland, Black Swan Rising, Wolf Hall, Innocent Traitors and The Matchmaker of Periord (also Holiday's on Ice and The Shadow of the Wind, but they are now irrelevant to this point). Last year I also got a sizable number of books, and to my dismay I only got through 3 of them before I got distracted and/or bought other books. This year I want to prove that my eye's weren't bigger than my stomach and make a sizable dent in this list by my birthday in July.

4. The Virgin Widow - Anne O'Brien - I got this as an ARC several months ago, and I'm pretty sure it's already come out. I feel pretty bad about this, since I did start it, and enjoyed the few pages I did manage to read. You know the rest of the story - life happened, got distracted, took a bad lit class, had homework blah blah blah. I really do enjoy historical fiction, and I like the idea of a story told from Anne Neville's perspective. Now I just need to buckle down and read it.

5. The Fountainhead/Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand - I kind of want this to be a big year for classics. 2009 was a big classic's year for me, and i discovered wonderful books like Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights. I know this will be a completely different experience, but I want to expand my horizons. The word 'classic' encompasses so much, and I'd like to take my literary education into this direction.

6. The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon - I don't remember how I learned of Pynchon's existence, but I know it was sometime in the last year. When I learned about him and his books, I set myself a mental challenge. I said "Sarah. You will read one of these books. You probably won't like it. You will probably be unhappy with past Sarah while it is happening, but you will do this". After asking around and a little research on Wikipedia, I decided The Crying of Lot 49 was the place to start. It's possible I'm using Pynchon as an excuse not to start Infinite Jest, but either way I'll be an experience

7. Atonement - Ian McEwan - I really want to like McEwan. My only other attempt at his work was with his novel Saturday. I didn't like it, I thought it was dry with not much happening and didn't end up finishing it. I enjoyed the film for Atonement. I haven't heard much mention of how close the book stays to the film, but I've already got a copy on my shelf, and I think ever author deserves a second chance.

8. White Teeth - Zadie Smith - Remember how I said every author deserves a second chance? That's also what I'm doing with Zadie Smith. I read Autograph Man in high school and from what vague memory I have of it, I enjoyed it. Next were several attempts at On Beauty. All of them kind of went to hell around the 100 page mark and ended with me getting bored and hiding the book somewhere on my bookshelf. I figure if I really want to judge Zadie Smith, I should read her best known novel. This will be that attempt.

9. 1984 - George Orwell - Back when I read Brave New World I had every intention of reading 1984 next. Again I got distracted, and started to read something else instead. Honestly, I feel a bit guilty because I know I use lines from 1984 in everyday life, and it just feels wrong that I haven't read it.

10. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley - I was supposed to read this for a class my first year of college. The class ended up deteriorating into an hour discussion on corn each week and we never got to Frankenstein.

The Shadow of the Wind - Zafon

Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The night 10 year old Daniel Sempere can't remember his mothers face his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he will make a discovery that will change his life - The Shadow of the Wind. Armed with nothing more then the authors name - Julian Carax - and a desire for another enchanting novel Daniel finds himself knee deep in the tragic, and misunderstood life of Julian.

There are many ways to categorize The Shadow of the Wind, it is at once part love story, a mystery, historical fiction with a dash of horror mixed in. Amongst all of these genre's the thing that stands out is that Safon wrote a book for book lovers. Of course, a book for book lovers must come with an engrossing and powerful story, and  this is where The Shadow of the Wind really shines. This isn't a typical A leads to B leads to C story, and for me the characters read more real then I had expected upon opening the book. Both Daniel's life and the live's he discovers while searching for Julian are fleshed out.

My only issue with Shadow of the Wind is it's length. It reads like all of it's 487 pages are present. Though I have noticed this in quite a few books about books. The Thirteenth Tale, People of the Book and  The Forgotten Garden are all slightly more lengthy then a less book oriented story.  I'm not saying Shadow of the Wind was to long, or was slow, it just didn't read as quickly as I would have liked.

Overall I loved The Shadow of the Wind. This is going to be a story that will stay with me for a while.  I'm looking forward to making Zafon's prequel, The Angel's Game one of my first gift-card purchases of the new year.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holiday's on Ice - Sedaris

David Sedaris 

Holiday's on Ice is a compilation of, you guessed it, holiday themed stories. These stories include Sedaris's short career as a Macy's elf, his sisters surprising friendship with a lady of the night and several fictional pieces. Several of these stories have been published in Sedaris's other collections, but come together here to create a fun, festive read.

Holiday's on Ice reads, mostly, like everything else I've read by Sedaris. I love the cynical tone he takes while writing about his life, and how he takes situations that to the average person would just be a family antidote and makes them into a laugh out loud essay. I've never been very impressed with Sedaris's attempts at fiction. Especially those in Holiday's on Ice. They read kind of flat, and while the Christmas letter was enjoyable, it was long and lost it's steam before it got to it's shocking finale.

Overall Holiday's on Ice was exactly what I wanted it to be. Holiday stories that made me laugh and reminded me that things could always be weirder then they are at my home. Isn't that what we're all looking for during the holidays? To know that we're not the only crazy ones?

Now that my love for Sedaris has been rekindled I can't wait to start Squirrel Seeks Chipmonk, maybe it'll change my mind about his fictional pursuits!