Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Some Belated Thoughts on Anna Karenina

Remember last fall? Maybe you're thinking about apple orchards, Saw marathons and crispy leafs? That's normal. However, for me, the Fall of 2012 can be summed up with 2 words. Anna Karenina. Starting on September 1st I willed myself to finish the lesser of the two Tolstoy Tomes before it's new movie came out.  I finished with time to spare, but that didn't change the fact that for two whole months I was consumed with Russian love triangles and politics.

In case you've never read, or seen, or saw a reference to Anna Karenina here is a quick rundown. There are Four couples. Anna and Alexei are unhappily married. They have a son that Anna's crazy about. Alexei is REALLY dull. Stiva and Dolly are married and have a small army of children. Stiva can't keep it in his pants. Levin and Kitty are in love but then she turns him down because she thinks she'll get to marry the very pretty Vronsky, but then she doesn't and everything sucks for a while. It's okay though, they end up mostly happy. Anna and Vronsky are crazy about each other and ruin each others lives. Oh, they have a kid too, but Anna doesn't love her nearly as much as she loves her son with Alexei.

A few weeks ago I posted a list of the characters I found most frustrating in all of literature. Both Anna and Alexei Karenin/a made that list. It was because of them that it took me so long to wade through the novel, and why I had to set myself a daily page goal. My annoyance for Anna and Alexei made every chapter about their relationship a struggle. This was only improved upon when Anna's lover, Vronsky was involved. I loved Levin and Kitty's story, sans farming, and Oblonsky's ignorance and natural charisma made him hilarious.
If these names are confusing you, I made a chart. I am a master in MS paint.
Anyways, I really enjoyed about 2/3 of the book. The problem was that the third I wasn't thrilled with involved the titular Anna, her spineless lover and her dead fish of a husband. 

Reading is rarely a challenge for me. Maybe (probably) it's because I shy away from difficult books. I'll never read Pynchon again and I have no desire to force my way through Ulysses. After finishing Anna I've decided that Tolstoy is really about as much work as I plan on putting into a book for a good while. It wasn't even that Anna Karenina is a difficult read. Truly the thing that makes it complicated are all the repeated Russian names, and I've had a love affair with Historical Fiction since it was age inappropriate for me to have one so repetitiousness names don't really cause me issue.  My only honest problem was the length. Anna isn't so much an epic as it is a massive character study, so when the plot only makes minor progression over hundreds of pages I get antsy, and then bored, and then I want to throw my kindle against a wall, and then I get to a 40 page section on farming and I fall asleep. Maybe if it had been faster paced I would have enjoyed my time reading it more. 

I might come across as whiny but in hindsight I really enjoyed Anna Karenina. I won't be rereading it for a while, if ever. However I am very happy I finished it, I really enjoyed the movie and now I know what I'm in for if I ever give War & Peace a try. 

Apparently this post has been an experiment with run on sentences. Sorry guys!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Top Ten Authors I Autobuy

Top Nine Authors I Autobuy

JK Rowling
My love for all things Harry Potter is no secret, especially not on this blog. I was up early to get a copy of The Casual Vacancy when it came out last year and as long as Jo keeps writing I'll keep buying. With that said, please keep writing Jo.

Jonathan Safran Foer
I've owned two copies of Everything is Illuminated, my battered edition of Extreamly Loud of Incredibly close is very dear to me and I went out of my way to get my hands on (an albeit) borrowed copy of Tree of Codes. Foer is perhaps my favorite contemporary author and I can't wait to see what he does next!

Nicole Krauss
JFS wife, for those of you not in the know, and just as prolific a writer. The History of Love remains one of my favorite books and Great Houses proved to me that she is worth the hardcover bucks.

Phillipa Gregory
Given my list last week you probably deduced that I'm a big fan of historical fiction, so when an author is able to come out with compelling, if a bit underwhelming books about eras I love year after year I'll be first in line to pick them up, and then devour them that day.

Tracy Chevalier
Tracy Chevalier was my first favorite author, and with that comes the compulsion to buy everything she writes. My copy of The Last Runaway just came in the mail yesterday and while i'm not as excited for it as I have been for some of her previous books I'm sure it will be just as delightful.

Neil Gaiman
I know I'm not the only one excited for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It doesn't matter if Neil is giving a commencement speech, writing a comic or heading up an episode of Doctor Who, I'll give anything he writes a chance.

David Sedaris
Everything Sedaris puts out is funny and heartwarming and worth immediately driving out to your nearest bookstore to get.

Carol Goodman
A few years ago I got REALLY into Carol Goodman. Her novels are really formulaic but they consistently feature boarding schools, fairy tales and interesting characters. I always look forward to the new things she comes out with.

J.D. Salinger
Hey, a girl can dream right? We know that even though he didn't publish anything after 1965 that he continued to write for the rest of his life. I live in hope that someone will pull a Kafka and I'll get to read more of one of my favorites!

and one author I never plan on reading/buying
EL James.
Because if I want fan fiction I can find better stuff on the internet.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Classics I Regret Reading Young

I'm kind of pretentious. Not dressing for dinner and turning down cheap wine kind of pretentious, but must watch all the Oscar nominee, talks a lot about Mad Men and wears a necklace with a Fitzgerald quote on it pretentious. I'm a culture snob and I'm really okay with this self knowledge. I've been this way since at least middle school and as a result have read a lot of Classics. Some are ones that my parents would have probably taken away had they been readers themselves, or really even monitored what I was reading (thanks Parental's!), some I probably should have waited a few years on. For Instance:

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
I was in a magnet drama program in high school and the year before I started they had done Les Miserables. Everybody RAVED about it. Constantly. It was like gossip you couldn't escape. As I can't sing and wasn't there to have worked on this legend of a show I took to reading the book. I gave myself one month to finish it. And finish I did. I was so happy to have read such a tome in such a short amount of time that I let the content fall to the wayside. To this day I can barley recall anything from the book, aside from realizing that the Abridged version has a one page chapter on Waterloo and my doorstop version has about 40 pages. Maybe if I had read it later, or waited until I was actually interested I would have retained more, or been able to think more critically about it.

Ernest Hemingway -
I wanted to be a romantic and decided, at the tender age of 15, that A Farewell to Arms was the quickest way to get there. Clearly this is a very skewed notion of romance, and after all of Arms and the majorty For Whom the Bell Tolls I lost interest, even if I proclaimed my love for Hemingway all through high school.  Even with a renewed interest in the Lost Generation and repeat viewings of Midnight in Paris I can't seem to finish another Hemingway novel.

Catch 22 - Heller
Another book I read in high school, only I read it with a friend (really, I think I was assigned maybe five classics to read all of high school.) and was able to at least think about the world Heller was creating. I loved Catch 22, I thought it was funny and deep and very important. I felt cool for being able to quote the titular passage. Into college I would still site Catch 22 as one of my favorite books until I realized all I really cared about was the memory of reading it. I remembered very little of the actual plot and while I liked sounding smart and well read it felt more like an act to continue siting it as one of my favorite books.

The major theme that shadows all of my high school "pleasure" reading is that I can't seem to bring myself to read these authors, or works again. I can't get more than 4 pages into Hunchback of Notre Dame, the last time I picked up Catch 22 was to find a passage I highlighted 8 years ago and even though I bought a copy of A Movable Feast in a fit of jazz age love, I found it dry and it joined the rest of my unfinished Hemingway books. Maybe I should have waited until I found my own bookish style, or more likely I should have been more concerned about content than what ever made up prestige I thought I would get. In the end it was a determined to myself.

Am I the only one who has done this? Did you speed through anything at school at you wish you hadn't? Let me know!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Trouble With Audiobooks

Last fall I really wanted to get back in shape. Spoiler alert - I didn't. Instead I took a trip to Cleveland and ate every pastry I came across. Realizing that this was a fast road to become Gilbert Grapes mother I thought, hey, we have a treadmill, I should probably use that. Not being one to spend half an hour exercising in silence i perused the iTunes store looking for an acceptable audiobook. It was a great idea! A book, self improvement, perfect!
In my mind all pastries are created equal. Unless they're Bear Claws. Bear Claws are clearly the best.

After finding out how expensive audiobooks are (YIKES) I settled on Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. It ended up being a fantastic choice for trying out this new medium. Robin Solan really meditates on the combination or old world knowledge and new technology in Penumbra and listening to talk of medieval manuscripts and the ever powerful Google was really an interesting experience.  I was so engrossed in the story that i'd was hard pressed to put my iPod down, and found that i especially enjoyed listening to this book while i rested my eyes. Only this lead to multitasking, or at least trying to. Cooking dinner, texting, except once I added in another activity I couldn't focus on what was being read to me. While reading a physical, or electronic book I'd never really been pressed to multitask but something about having the majority of my senses free compelled me to make the most of my time, and clearly walking on a treadmill wasn't going to cut it.

On top of having troble focusing because my eyes and hands weren't glued to pages I found I really didn't like seeing how much more time I'd have to put into this book. Don't get me wrong, I was loving the story and couldn't wait to see what happened, but I'm of the tumblr generation, and i could have a degree in fangirling. For me that mean's I wholeheartedly believe it is worth the effort to watch a 45 minute episode of Doctor Who in the 15 minutes I have before I have to be at work. It's irrational, I know, but when I see time I see a challenge. Pages don't challenge me. I've even come to love the percentage bar on my kindle. I just couldn't get over seeing 6 hours and 12 minutes flashing across my screen, though. In general I don't care how long it takes me to finish a book, but I found I really hate having a timer.

What I've found is that while i loved listening to Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore (someone should really find a rational way to abbreviate that title) was that my brief enjoyment of audiobooks was a fluke. Since then I have tried listening to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and have been stuck somewhere in the middle of it since last December. I'd had an even harder time staying focused when I wasn't as invested in the story, and not even Neil's soothing voice could keep me cultivated.

What about you- Do you listen to audiobooks? What are your experiences like? HOW DO YOU STAY FOCUSED?! Seriously, I really don't get it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Top Ten Favorite Characters in Historical Fiction

Today's topic was Top Ten Favorite Characters in X genre  and since there isn't a genre i read more than historical fiction it was the obvious choice.

Lavina Waterhouse - Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
Back when I was in middle school and still trying to figure out my reading style I happened upon Tracy Chevalier. The girls in Falling Angels were around my age, and while I related more to Maude, I was envious of Lavinia. She fascinated me and even looking back now she remains one of my favorite characters of any genre.

Anne Neville - The Kingmakers Daughter - Phillipa Gregory
Anne Neville isn't remembered very glamorously  As wife of Richard III (that dude they just found under a car-park in England ) she is often portrayed as frail, dumb and tragic. In The Kingmakers Daughter Gregory creates an Anne that fights for her place, defending her position and eventually becomes the first lady in the land. She really is awesome.

Hadley Hemingway - The Paris Wife - Paula McLain
I'm not a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway as a writer, but as a person he is fascinating  Well, at least he's like reading about a really awful train wreck. Hadley is his first wife. She gets the years of struggling before Hem makes a huge name for himself.

Griet - The Girl with the Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
Above I talked about Tracy Chevalier, and Girl with a Pearl Earring was the first novel of hers I read. Griet was fascinating. A Protestant in a Catholic house. A maid in the Vermeer house. She's clever and ever so slightly tragic. She's fascinating and I love how Chevalier imagined the origin of the most memorable of Vermeer's works.

Anne Boleyn
It doesn't even matter who's writing Anne Boleyn. If she's there, I'm probably going to read it.

Zelda Fitzgerald - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald - Therese Anne Fowler
I just finished Z and Fowler's portrayal of Zelda Fitzgerald was outstanding. She's strength and wisdom, but bound by her love for her husband, a love that will be the downfall of both of them. She truly is America's First Flapper and her story is one to rival some of her husbands works.

Julian Carax - The Shadows of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A creepy man who is trying to wipe out his own existence? I'm all over Julian and his sob story.

Nell - Exit the Actress - Priya Parmar
Nell is a super cool chick. Her sister ends up a prostitute but Nell gets to be an actress, and then eventually the Kings favorite mistress. She lives through a compelling time and her story is one worth hearing.

Claude Monet - Claude & Camille - Stephanie Cowell
I hate Monet as an artist. I don't care for his waterlily's and I avoid his wing of the Chicago Art Institue at all costs. However, his portrayal in Claude & Camille make me wish that I had a front row seat to the Impressionists club. Him and all of his artist friends invoke in me the same feelings that the Lost Generation does.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Single Girls Guide to a Bookish Valentines Day

It's that day again. That one where there are flowers everywhere and pictures of shiny new engagement rings flooding your news feed. I know the world looks like it's nothing but couples and love poems, so I've come up with some plans for the perfect Single Girls valentines day.

If you're looking to escape romance completely why don't you try:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
It's got ghosts and a little boy being raised in, you guessed it, a graveyard. Adorable, and just the right mix of adventure and growing up with minimal kissing!

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
Chances are you've heard of House of Leaves. The book about the house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? it's strange and a little creepy. The effort of reading it alone should keep your mind completely occupied.

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
The first book in A Song of Ice and Fire is just as bloody as everyone has warned you it is. Try this if you, like me, have had a Kill Bill Valentines day marathon in the not to distant past.

If you're in the mood for a sappy romance:

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
What? You thought I could do a Valentines Day post without mention the mother of all RomComs?

Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding
If you're ready to laugh and swoon and think "this book is really about me" but don't feel like reading a classic

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
There's this girl, Claire, and she's in love with this guy, Henry, who travels through time. It's all warm fuzzies and heartbreaks.

If you're in need of a good cry:

One Day by David Nicholls
It's not all a sob story but i promise you that by the end you'll be sobbing.

The Book Thief by Mark Zuzak
This one you will cry all the way through. A little girl learning to read during the holocaust? Buy tissues.

Of course, if you're like me and are having a particularly trying Couples Awareness Day and need some retail therapy there is always make up inspired by some pretty cool books, cuddly fleeces that display your literary tastes, and necklaces that let you wear your favorite words near your heart.

Have a great Valentines Day!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Top Ten Romances

Top Ten Romances:
(I'm not sure if this meant actual couple pairings or romance novels so I'm going with the former.)
if I misunderstood the assignment, well at least i'm not wearing a giant ball of twine on my head

1. Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger
My original OTP. Their relationship is one of the things that made Harry Potter for me. Well, at least during one of my last read through. He's funny, she's serious. They're just the perfect pair and I love them. Okay? Okay.

2. Elizabeth "Lizzy" Bennett and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Duh. Doesn't every bookish girl go through a phase where she just has to be Lizzy and the guy she is daydreaming about is just so clearly Darcy? I love love love this pair. I love how they don't start out as a perfect couple, that they both need to grow to be good for each other, that they're both quick witted and hard to tame. Jeez, I'm might just have to go and watch Pride and Prejudice right now.

3. Beatrice and Benedict
Remember two lines ago when i said I loved a quick witted couple who needed to grow into each other. Meet the arch-type.

4. Daisy Buchanin and Jay Gatsby
I know this is strange. Especially since Daisy and Jay are never really a couple during the course of Gatsby. However, there back story is so lovely and everything about them as a pair is just so sad that I can't help but want them to escape West Egg and make a life for themselves.

5. James Potter and Lily Evans
I can't think about James and Lily (Jilly. I spend way to much time on Tumblr) without getting a little misty eyed. They were so young, and clearly in love, and I really can't handle their tragic situation.

6. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark
As much as I hate "teams" I was always team Peeta. The sweet baker boy who's greatest flaw was loving a girl he was too shy to talk to. I still find Katniss annoying, but Peeta mellows her out.

7. Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville
Elizabeth and Edward are my favorite royal couple. She's a widow who manages to catch the eye of the new and handsome king and together they are two pretty bada$$ Plantagenets.

8. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald
I got an ARC copy of Z. The new novel about Zelda Fitzgerald. I spead through it and by the end was coming up ideas for what was clearly my new OTP. They're completely tragic, but they are so completely in love.

9. Catherine of Argon and Price Arthur
I really like The Constant Princess,a nd I really like seeing a version of Tudor England where Catherine is the young, beautiful princess and someone who isn't Henry is (sort of, okay not really) in charge.

10. Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy

Friday, February 8, 2013

Beautiful Chaos - Garcia /Stohl

Beautiful Chaos
Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

The world is falling apart, or at Least Gatlin is. Ever since Ethan and his band of magical misfits got back from the Great Barrier, where his Caster girlfriend Lena claimed herself and broke the natural order of the world, both Caster and Mortal, nothing has been the same. Now Ethan is hearing a new shadowing song along with a creepy new voice in the back of his head. Did I mention he can't remember simple thing, like his phone number of that he's right handed? 

Beautiful Chaos is easily my favorite book in the Caster Chronicles series . Chaos has just the right mix of mystery, drama and exposition to make anyone who's stuck with the series this long speed through its pages. While everything in Gatlin is going to Hades in a hand-basket Garcia and Stohl managed to really up the depth and overall complexity of their characters.

Perhaps the thing I was most pleased with was how the authors dealt with the continuing theme of fate. Everything about the Caster Chronicles screams "hey, where do you stand in the fate vs free will debate?!" books one and two are about Lena being subject to a predetermined fate and finally breaking free and claiming herself for what she wants. However Chaos has the perfect blend of rebellion against the tides of fate and blind acceptance that everyone, especially in the Caster world has a story that must play out.

Honestly, I'm having a hard time seeing how Beautiful Redemption is going to be any better than Beautiful Chaos, and that's my only real complaint.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wading Through Bestsellers

At the Beginning of the year I read this post by Catherine McKenzie about how she planned to read to read the Top Seller on the New York Times Best Seller list for all 52 weeks of 2013. I was really interested by this idea, even if it wasn't a challenge I'd want to take on myself.

You see, I'm not one to turn my nose up to best sellers, but I don't seek them out. I don't want to read the latest Tom Clancy or James Patterson and certainly not the new Nicholas Sparks, instead I wait for gems like The Help or The Paris Wife to get some real attention before I give them my time. Really, I'm more likely to read a book based on reviews on goodreads than it's position on the Time's Best Seller chart.

Probably my insistence on  trusting a small amount of reviews in opposed to the masses is a bit snobbish. However, the masses are also the reason the new Dan Brown book will sit atop every list this summer, and the reason i'll begrudgingly read it and remember all over again how I don't like Robert Langdon, or his made up science of Symbolwhatsit and his insistence that there are conspiracy's everywhere.

So I tip my hat to Catherine McKenzie. I hope to find some gems from her reviews.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Top Ten Bookish Memories

Top Ten Bookish Memories:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Midnight Release:
My friend Colleen and I had gotten up ungodly early to wait in a line outside our local Barnes and Noble for wristbands and then after a day of speculating and fangirling and generally acting like a crazy person we went back and hung around the midnight release party till we got our books around one in the morning. I, of course, read through the rest of the night.

2.Neil Gaiman's One Book talk for Neverwhere at The Harold Washington Library:
Twice a year the CPL does this thing called One Book, One Chicago. In the spring of 2011 the book was Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Now I'm obsessed with Neil Gaiman, as much as a person as as a writer and I was so stoked that he was coming to talk about Neverwhere, and life, and a few mentions of his yet to air episode of Doctor Who. It was fantastic and I now have a signed copy of Coraline to show for the night!

3. Johnathan Safron Foer's talk on Eating Animals, also at The Harold Washington Library:
Foer came to talk about his new non-fiction release, Eating Animals. As a non-vegetarian and a picky eater I was skeptical about going, but Foer is my favorite author and I wasn't going to miss a chance to see him speak. I'm still a picky eater, and I never read Eating Animals but it was a lovely talk and a great memory.

4. Becoming BFF's with Jasmyn, and therefor always having a person to have a bookish freakout with:
Jasmyn was one of the first friends I made at college. We bonded over love of Harry Potter, and other books, but mostly Harry Potter. Of course there are other things we have in common, but she remains my one friend that I can always go to with "So I'm freaking out about this book I'm reading."  We also run Camp or Crap together, in case anyone's interested.

5. My first 24hr readathon:
I think it was the fall of 2010. I just remember reading a lot and being very happy. Oh, and trying to get comfortable in a deceptive and dangerous purple chair. I don't think I actually liked anything I finished that day.

6. Starting Loving Books (DUH):
I've always been a big reader but running this blog has turned me into someone that can also think critically and have real, adult discussions about books. I love the bookish community on the internet and trust your reviews and musings. Thanks for letting me be one of you!

7. Reading Ella Enchanted on a Florida vacation:
I can remember being 13 and perfectly happy hiding out on the balcony of whatever timeshare we were staying at and speeding through Ella Enchanted. It was one of two books I bought that trip. The Other was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and I'm pretty sure I dropped it in the ocean.

8. Reading on the Train:
This isn't a specific memory but one of the things I miss the most about living in Chicago is taking the train home to Michigan every few months. I loved curling up against the window and devouring an entire book. It was always a great way to start a mini vacation.

9. Rereading Harry Potter every summer before the next book was released:was released:
I was one of those kids who would read Harry Potter every summer, and if there was a new book coming out later that year you could be sure I was picking over the text with a fine toothed comb. Some of my best summer memories are reading Harry by a lake, or at my brothers little league games.

10. A Very Forced Anna Karenina Readalong:
Readalong is a strong word for this but my friend Kirsten and I had decided at the begining of last September that we would read Anna Karenina. We were to start immediately and finish by the time the movie got it's limited release. I loved Karenina, I hated it, I felt everything in between. In the end it was a good time. I enjoyed the movie, too.

Look forward to seeing all your lists!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Beautiful Darkness - Garcia/Stohl

Beautiful Darkness
Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Nothing has been the same for Ethan Wate since Lena's sixteenth moon. Now she's pulling away from him and the presents of a smart-as-a-whip British blonde isn't helping matters. When Lena finally breaks their connection and goes off with her dark cousin and the mysterious John Breed Ethan will do everything in his power to find and save her.

I may scoff at YA but when I'm hooked on a series I'm hooked. So please bear with me as I go down the rabbit hole that is The Caster Chronicles.. Right now I cannot get enough of Gatlin, SC, and it's inhabitants - both Caster and Mortal! For me, the beauty of a long series is already having an established world, and that's one of the things that makes Beautiful Darkness shine. It's 500 plus pages focus much more on story and character development, and only bring in a few new elements, like the Caster Tunnels and the Great Beyond (both of which were super cool, yo). I loved the back story that was developed for Macon and Ethan's mother.

I was pleased by how much was revealed about the Casters world, which is really the break and butter of the series. There was a lot of exposition about both Dark and Light casters, as well as other Incubuses along with new knowledge about how Mortals can contribute to this "other" world. With these new developments comes a new character, Liv, a keeper in training who quickly became my favorite new addition to Gatlin. Even though Liv introduces a love triangle, it is one that is necessary and came across as very realistic.

Overall I'm very happy I stuck with The Caster Chronicles as a series. The only real issue that I had continue from the first book to the second was Ethan's whiny nature. Oh, and the length can be a bit of a problem.  Beautiful Darkness does drag in part and has very uneven pacing. This didn't end up being a huge problem but if you're not already sold on the series it could put a huge damper on your reading experience.