Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blogversary Giveaway #4: Willa Cather.

Once more, I am giving away books to my wonderful readers in celebration of hitting two years into my project.

Today's giveaway is one that I am especially excited about. You see, the first time I read Willa Cather, I was a high school student and I absolutely hated it. I'm sure the dramatics of high school played into that feeling as well. But when I reread her a year and a half ago for THIS project, I just fell in love. She is great at capturing the American spirit.

So here is what's for grabs:

The set includes two vintage books (Death Comes for the Archbishop and Sapphira and the Slave Girl) as well as a copy of My Antonia.

Here are the rules/requirements for entering:
Here are the rules:
  • The giveaway ENDS Saturday, September 3rd at 11:59 EST.
  • You must be 13 or older to enter.
  • You must live in the U.S. (internationals, I am hosting another giveaway just for you!)
  • You can only enter once.
  • You do not have to "follow" or subscribe (but do if you so feel the desire)
  • You must leave your e-mail in your comment so I can contact you if you win.
  • If you win, you have 24 hours to respond or I will choose a new winner.
  • In your comment/entry below, answer the following question: What ONE quality defines Americans the most?
  • Winner will be chose randomly using
Good luck!

Book 108: Finished.

"You are Joseph the dreamer of dreams, dear Jude. And a tragic Don Quixote. And sometimes you are St. Stephen, who, while they were stoning him, could see Heaven opened. Oh, my poor friend and comrade, you'll suffer yet!"

Had I read this novel at the time of publication (1890s), I probably would have been involved in the outcry in some way. This novel was often referred to as "Jude the Obscene," which in my 21st century reader mind, I find a little exaggerated. But, had I been a normal, everyday reader in Hardy's society, I would have been shocked at the turn of events that take place in the second half of the novel.

Where the first half of the novel meandered through the beginnings of Jude's life and his troubles, the second half rages on, throwing Jude, Arabella, and Sue into a whirlwind of dramatics and intrigue. The pastoral descriptions of the landscape and cities seems to disappear as the characters begin and continue to push the boundaries of acceptability in their communities.

It is hard to talk about the ending of the novel without talking about the shock value Hardy seems to employ. And while I do think he pushed his characters and their situation to the edge and beyond of what was deemed acceptable for society, I don't think he did it just for shock value. I believe, based on my readings of The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure, that Hardy simply does what his character desire him to do. In Mayor, he has a man sell his wife in the opening pages. But that is what is needed to propel that character forward into the actions later on in the story.

So when Hardy pushes the limits in regards to marriage, sex, class, and society in Jude the Obscure, he does it because it fits the characters. Jude is a poor man who works for everything he does have. And in that time period, class mattered when it came to religion, education, and societal views. I really do believe that as a person in the lower class and in poverty or slightly above, you are looked down on MORE for doing things against societal norms. But that also ties in issues of education and opportunity as well.

But as an individual on the bottom tier of society, and for being slightly different, Jude has to battle things that others in wealthier positions do not. He must also battle the negative legacy of his family. And I strongly believe that Hardy knew that. He had to create a character that had demons to fight, as well as a man who would push the boundaries of societal expectations because in his heart, he felt it was right to do so. This is where the novel excels. Not only does Hardy show a man purposefully going against what society wants and demands, he does it with the knowledge that he is right in doing so. That is powerful, especially for a novel written in the 1890s.

As for the two female characters, I feel the same way. While I really cannot stand Arabella, she is necessary to Jude's development. How else would he push the boundaries of marriage if his first hadn't started in a sham and ended so ridiculously? It had to be so for Hardy to explore what would happen to Jude later on. Sue, on the other hand, is so much like Jude. I really loved her, but her decisions drove me crazy throughout. As a female, she had more to deal with than Jude. When she was kicked out of school for not sleeping there one night, you have to think about the double standard that would exist (and does so prevalently today).

However, more than anything else in this novel that pushes the boundaries, it is what happens in the last 50 or pages or so that led me to finishing the book with my mouth gaping open. While I would love to just discuss it, I know I can't because you need to experience the sorrow with the characters. I was shocked. It also broke my heart. The complete meltdown of will simply shock you.

I finished this book with a sense of awe and respect for Hardy. I can certainly understand why after the public outcry of this novel he wouldn't write novels any longer. I can imagine how his readers in the 1890s would have felt getting to those last pivotal scenes. I can imagine how they would have felt to read about different attitudes towards marriage, love, and happiness. Overall, though, I left feeling like I completely understand the need to let characters experience and live in the way they needed to. Jude had to live his life in a certain way, and Hardy fully accomplished letting Jude do so.

More than anything, I really want to pick up another Hardy title off my shelf and dive in (although, I honestly don't know if any could beat this one). In fact, I want to read all of his novels, to savor his words and the way he constructs such marvelous stories. I think it might be safe to say that Hardy is a new favorite. :)

"But no one came. Because no one ever does."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blogversary Giveaway #3: For International Readers ONLY.

I know I have a fair amount of international readers, so I definitely wanted to make sure that you were not left out of the celebrations going on here. So, I made this giveaway JUST for my international readers (anyone who lives outside the U.S.).

So what is up for grabs in this giveaway?

Your choice of one of the beautiful Penguin Clothbound series of classics. The full list of titles includes:
  • Little Women
  • Emma
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Jane Eyre
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Woman in White
  • Inferno
  • A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings
  • Great Expectations
  • Oliver Twist
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
  • Cranford
  • Tess of D'Urbervilles
  • The Odyssey
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover
  • Shakespeare's Sonnets and A Lover's Complaint
  • Treasure Island
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Middlemarch
  • Tale of Two Cities
  • Dracula
  • Gulliver's Travels
I adore this series, and you all know that I try to give one away every opportunity I can. So here is what you need to do to enter...

  • The first thing I want you to do is check this list to make sure The Book Depository delivers to your country (it delivers to a GREAT deal of them, so check!). If for whatever reason they don't deliver, still enter and we'll figure something else out if you win. :)
  • In a comment below, leave the following information for me: 1. the country you live in, 2. your e-mail so I can contact you, and 3. the title of your favorite classic novel!
  • You can only enter once.
  • You do not have to "follow" or subscribe (but do if you so feel the desire)
  • If you win, you have 24 hours to respond or I will choose a new winner.
  • Winner will be chosen randomly using
  • This giveaway will end on Friday, September 2, 2011 at 11:59 PM EST.
Good luck!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Are On The Top Of My TBR List For Fall.

I am excited about this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic. For those of you unfamiliar with Top Ten Tuesday, it is a meme hosted by the wonderful people over at The Broke and the Bookish where bloggers create their top ten lists in the week's chosen category!

This week's topic is "Top Ten Books That Are On The Top Of My TBR List For Fall." I don't know about you, but I have a lot of books that I have been meaning to get to, but just haven't this year. I am also due for another pile to land on my nightstand (books on my nightstand mean they are being read sooner rather than later). So without further ado, here are the titles I am looking to read this fall, in no particular order:

1. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens: Reading this one would serve two purposes. First, it will count towards Adam's TBR challenge (which I am woefully behind on), and second, it will knock another Dickens title off my list. I am intimidated by the length of this one. At just over 800 pages, it will take me a bit to get through it, but it needs to be done.

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker: I am planning on bringing back a few readalongs, with some alterations, this fall, and Dracula is one of those titles I need to read with someone else. I have read it once (way back in high school for a class), and I think it will be the perfect read in October.

3. Walden and "Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau: I have been meaning to read both of these for quite some time. In fact, I think my volume that contains this has the record for being moved to my nightstand, back to the bookshelf, and back on the nightstand. But with Transcendentalist Month coming up in November, I know I'll get through these with some great company (and you should join the fun!).

4. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James: This is another title for Adam's challenge, as well as one that has been picked up and moved quite a few times. I really enjoy James, but for some reason, this one frightens me. I, of course, have no idea why, it just does. Again, it is a little on the lengthy side, but who really cares?

5. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyon: I have toyed with reading this one ever since finishing Little Women back in March 2010. I also think it'll be a great title to read with the coming holiday season.

6. The Divine Comedy by Dante: This is another title I have been avoiding, since the collection of three titles is REALLY LONG, but spread over three months, I think it is completely doable. Anyone want to join in? ;)

7. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk: I had the HARDEST time finding a copy of this novel, but I scooped it up at Borders a few weeks ago. I really love long war-based epics, so I think this is something I can really sink my teeth into as the weather begins to turn.

8. Shakespeare: I am leaving this one broad. I told myself that I would read more of his plays this year, and guess how many I have read? One. I read Romeo and Juliet back in February (my upteenth reread) and have avoided the bard ever since. I do have two plays on my nightstand (Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra), but I am avoiding them. I actually think that I am going to read ALL Shakespeare for the upcoming 24-hour readalong. Doesn't that sound FUN?

9. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: I have been wanting to read this for months, so I should probably just do it. I think people are of two minds about this one, so I am hoping I fall into the "love it" mindset. Otherwise this one might be a little torturous.

10. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells: It isn't that I want to read this one. I have not-so-good memories of my first attempt a few years ago. But since reading my first Verne novel a month ago, I want to give the other old sci-fi master a chance at redeeming himself. And I might even watch the awful Tom Cruise version of the film again (I laughed in the theater when we saw it at inappropriate times. This is why my husband doesn't take me places).

As you can probably see, I am in the mood for some long, epic-style novels. I have been sticking to short pieces during the summer months, and I do believe it is time to switch it up. While I do love short little reads, I am craving something to sink my teeth into.

What are your reading plans for fall? Any similar to mine?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book 108: Meandering...

I am at the halfway point in Hardy's Jude the Obscure, and I feel like I have been on a trip. Hardy just seems to be meandering along, and I am going with him. Together we have seen the beginnings of his title character, and we have watched as things go awry.

The novel begins with its central focus on Jude. We meet him as young boy saying farewell to a teacher who is leaving town. Jude idolizes this teacher and one day wants to be come a scholar in the town of Christminster. But as someone who will have to work to support himself, it seems as if Jude has a hard road.

The beginnings of the novel paint out Jude's life clearly. He works part-time in his aunt's bakery, and it seems as if the other townspeople mock him. There was a scene where he was harassed for reading while making deliveries. It seems as if his dream to be a scholar is not well-supported. But you do have to admire someone who, at such a young age, sends away for grammar books in Greek and Latin to learn from, and who study every night by candlelight.

And when Arabella Donn has her sights set on Jude, it all seems to fall apart at the seams. I think it is obvious to the reader that Arabella really doesn't love Jude. I mean, I believe she wants to love him, but really, she is just using him because she thinks he is a good fit. Clearly, he is not. And when she wants to speed things up a bit to get him to commit, she does.

*this next little section may contain spoilers, but it is only for the first 100 pages*

I can see why Jude following her upstairs would have outright shocked readers back then. Obviously he doesn't give us details, but we all know why kind of evil shenanigans Arabella is up to when she leads him up. And then she pretends to be in the family way. Reading this as a modern-day reader, I wasn't shocked at all. I had to check myself and remind my 21st century mind that this book came out in the 1800s. Men and women having sex outside of marriage and children born out of wedlock were ostracized. It just didn't happen. There would have been an uproar (today we all seem a bit lax, don't we?).

And of course Jude HAS to marry her to save face, and it is only once they are married that she pulls a "just kidding" card. What a manipulative girl! I was shocked by her manipulations and they only seem to be getting worse as the story progresses.

*end of spoilers*

When his marriage begins to fall apart, we also watch Jude meet Sue, his cousin. I don't want to say more, since I am still in the middle of their little saga. But I know that Hardy is going to throw me for a loop eventually. I know that things will not end well for Jude or Sue, and that manipulative Arabella will be back to ruin everything.

However, before I end this first post on Jude the Obscure, I have to comment on the fact that I really think Hardy is a delightful writer, whether he meanders or not. I love that he is drawing me in slowly to his characters and story. He really takes the time to let me know their true characters before pushing them forward. I miss that kind of skill in many modern-day novels. I think that too often authors are worried that they need to tell rather than show. So I will continue to let Hardy hold my hand and guide me through Jude's life.


Blogversary Giveaway #2.

This week is my two-year blogversary here at A Literary Odyssey, so I am taking the opportunity to pass along some wonderful reads to my readers.

Now, while I am currently only focusing on the classics, I have soft spots for a lot of different things. Growing up, I loved a lot of the traditional children's books. As a teen, I explored science-fiction and fantasy, as well as Young Adult novels. A lot of those titles have stuck with me, even through this process of reading Dickens and Faulkner.

I want to share two books with this giveaway's winner that I absolutely adore. Earlier this year, the author of these, Diana Wynne Jones, passed away. And I think that someone else out there needs to discover the amazing worlds she has created.

Pictured above are volumes 1 and 2 of the Chrestomanci Chronicles. Each volume contains two smaller novels, so really, you're getting four books here. :) They are fun, inventive, and highly addicting. And I sincerely hope that you'll love them as much as I do.

Here are the rules:
  • The giveaway ENDS Wednesday, August 31st at 11:59 EST.
  • You must be 13 or older to enter.
  • You must live in the U.S. (see above internationals!)
  • You can only enter once.
  • You do not have to "follow" or subscribe (but do if you so feel the desire)
  • You must leave your e-mail in your comment so I can contact you if you win.
  • If you win, you have 24 hours to respond or I will choose a new winner.
  • In your comment/entry below, answer the following question: What was your favorite book or series as a child? Why?
  • Winner will be chose randomly using
Good luck!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blogversary Giveaway #1.

To celebrate two years of blogging insanity, and not giving up on my project, I am hosting a series of giveaways this week here at A Literary Odyssey as my way of saying thank you to my readers. Some of the books are brand new, some are slightly used, and some are vintage and fun. Either way, my husband is a happy camper when he sees books leaving, not entering, the apartment. :D

In any case, I have giveaways scheduled for every day this week, so check back in to enter. I do want to say upfront that these are U.S. only. I will be having one that is INTERNATIONAL ONLY, so check back in for that one if you live somewhere outside the U.S. :)

Alright, so here is what is up for grabs today:

Above is a Penguin Clothbound copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula (and my dirty desk. I need to dust). I have the full set of clothbounds and I absolutely adore them. Any opportunity I have to give one away, well, I jump all over it.

I am especially pleased to give this one away, since I will be reading it in September/October, and I hope the lucky winner will read along with me.

Here are the rules:
  • The giveaway ENDS Tuesday, August 30th at 11:59 EST.
  • You must be 13 or older to enter.
  • You must live in the U.S. (see above internationals!)
  • You can only enter once.
  • You do not have to "follow" or subscribe (but do if you so feel the desire)
  • You must leave your e-mail in your comment so I can contact you if you win.
  • If you win, you have 24 hours to respond or I will choose a new winner.
  • In your comment/entry below, answer the following question: What is the scariest thing you have ever seen or done?
  • Winner will be chose randomly using
Good luck!

Weekly Wrap-up for August 28, 2011: On BBAW, Blogversaries, and Giveaways.

I am really sad that August is coming to an end. It feels like I didn't have much of a summer, so when it hits September 1 this week, I may have a mini-meltdown. It certainly doesn't feel like fall is around the corner!

I spent only two days this week working, and took Wednesday through Friday off. I had some things around the apartment to get done, as well as stuff for school. I only semi-accomplished my goals, but I have this week off as well to get more complete (only 2 days required for being at the school).

One big highlight from my week was waking up to a most glorious e-mail on Monday morning. Someone, or someones, nominated my blog for the Best Classics Book Blog for BBAW! I am truly honored and touched, so THANK YOU. It means a lot.

This coming week is a big one. I am celebrating TWO YEARS into my project, and while I am not as far along as I wanted to be, I am proud of where I am and the goals I have achieved so far. I have read some scary books, but I know I have some scarier ones ahead. :) There will be more posts on my blogversary this coming week, including a recap of the past year of my project, much like the recap post I did last year.

I am also planning a number of giveways (seriously, I am giving away quite a few things). I'll have a new giveaway up every day, including one JUST FOR INTERNATIONAL READERS, so stay tuned in! ;) I love giving books to fellow readers!

Anyway, I want to cut this short this week. Happy reading!!!

Friday, August 26, 2011


I am in a funk tonight. I know why, but it is hard to express here. I don't want to always be in a mood, but I think with school coming up in a week and the hiring season coming to a close...well, it happens.

Anyway, I turn to poetry a lot when I am feeling moody, and tonight I had to reread one of my favorite poems of all time. I know I have posted this poem here before, but I just love it so comforts me, even when I don't know why.


I need no assurances, I am a man who is preoccupied of his own soul;
I do not doubt that from under the feet and beside the hands and
face I am cognizant of, are now looking faces I am not cognizant
of, calm and actual faces,
I do not doubt but the majesty and beauty of the world are latent in
any iota of the world,
I do not doubt I am limitless, and that the universes are limitless,
in vain I try to think how limitless,
I do not doubt that the orbs and the systems of orbs play their
swift sports through the air on purpose, and that I shall one day
be eligible to do as much as they, and more than they,
I do not doubt that temporary affairs keep on and on millions of years,
I do not doubt interiors have their interiors, and exteriors have
their exteriors, and that the eyesight has another eyesight, and
the hearing another hearing, and the voice another voice,
I do not doubt that the passionately-wept deaths of young men are
provided for, and that the deaths of young women and the
deaths of little children are provided for,
(Did you think Life was so well provided for, and Death, the purport
of all Life, is not well provided for?)
I do not doubt that wrecks at sea, no matter what the horrors of
them, no matter whose wife, child, husband, father, lover, has
gone down, are provided for, to the minutest points,
I do not doubt that whatever can possibly happen anywhere at any
time, is provided for in the inherences of things,
I do not think Life provides for all and for Time and Space, but I
believe Heavenly Death provides for all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book 108: Jude the Obscure and Book Stats.

Title: Jude the Obscure
Author: Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

First Published: 1895 (in complete book form; it was serialized originally)
My Edition: Nook Book :)
Pages: 485 (or so Homer tells me...)

Other Works Include: Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of D'Urbervilles (1891), The Well-Beloved (1897)

Thomas Hardy is one of the many reasons I am glad that I started this whole shebang. I had never heard of him (I know, crazy!), and I read him for the first time just over a year ago. I picked up The Mayor of Casterbridge on a whim and really just sank into it.

I have loved this process of re-discovering the Victorians. I have always loved George Eliot, but I have strayed away from her contemporaries. I think, because of my negative experiences with Dickens, I used to see them as wordy snobs. But I have really come to realize that they really give depth to their characters and stories. And yes, Dickens is still too wordy for my tastes.

With my first Hardy experience, I was really drawn to the characters. Hardy was an experimental writer, and that really showed in The Mayor of Casterbridge. I am curious to see how this one compares. From the little that I have discovered, I know that this was Hardy's last novel. And like Mayor, I am expecting a lot of social commentary. I am also expecting it to be on the depressing side (Mayor was slightly sad, and I have heard that this one is exceedingly so). Nevertheless, I am sure it will be a great reading experience.

I am also reading this one on Homer. I do have a paperback version, but I think mixing it up won't hurt, and Project Gutenberg has seriously become my best friend. Knowing that I am reading this on Homer, I know it will take me a little longer-Homer wears out my eyes a lot faster. This will be my second Nook reading experience!

If you are interested, here are the three posts I wrote on The Mayor of Casterbridge:
I feel I should also point out that I still have a number of Hardy novels on my list: Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of D'Urbervilles, and Return of the Native.

What experience do you have with Hardy? What other Victorians do you love or hate?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book 107: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (Art of the Novella Challenge).

When Frances first posted about her "Art of the Novella" reading challenge, I was completely shocked by her goal. I mean, 42 novellas in one month? Amazing. Then people started to join in, and I did as well.

I was aiming for three titles, but right now, I've only read one-The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy. I have been eying this one ever since the beginning of my little project. It was in the first big stack I had on a my nightstand, but reading it then (the fall of 2009-right before my wedding), just never seem to fit. I mean, death and weddings shouldn't really go together, right?

I am glad that I waited. After all, I have already tackled one of the big Tolstoy titles on my list (I am speaking of War and Peace of course), so a small foray into Tolstoy was perfect. I already knew a bit about this writing style, so I knew what i was getting myself into.

And I have to say, I really enjoyed the shorter version of Tolstoy. The Death of Ivan Ilych is about death, but also about redemption. Ivan Ilych is a man who has only lived for himself. He does things throughout his life to please what he enjoys and likes. He pays little attention to his wife, spends well beyond his means, and seems to form few lasting relationships with those around him.

He ends up banging his side as he is decorating, and soon falls ill. The doctors cannot fix him, and it soon becomes clear that Ivan is dying. As the reader sees Ivan on his death bed, it doesn't seem like he has learned anything. You would think that the knowledge of an imminent death would have some kind of profound impact on a person, but it doesn't. Instead, he rails and screams-rejecting the notion that his life will soon be over.

But it is really in the last few pages that the reader sees the truth in Ivan. Face to face with his end, he begins to feel. He realizes just what is being left behind and what the impact of his death will most certainly be to those around him. Ivan also begins to realize that one should not fear death if one has lived a great life. In the end, it almost seems as if he embraces death and what it brings him.

For such a short little piece, The Death of Ivan Ilych, packs a profound punch. Of course mortality has been addressed countless times in literature, but I enjoyed the intense focus on Ivan and his ordeal with death. And while I don't think Ivan is someone I necessarily sympathize with, I had to admire the grace he had at the end. I mean, I won't lie, I fear death. But as I write this, I am 26, happily married, and focused on achieving many more things in my lifetime. I hope, that by the time death comes for me, I will be able to face it with as much grace as I can. I don't want to fear death because my life was not what I wanted.

I definitely believe this is a title I will return to countless times in my life. It was emotionally stirring, passionate, and very real. I also think it was a great small chunk of Tolstoy's writing, and I would definitely recommend it if you are scared of conquering one of his larger works. This might be the small introduction you need!

What did you think of this one?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book 106: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams (Finished).

"In memory, everything seems to happen to music."

The more plays I read, the more I realize that I know nothing about drama. I wish I would have taken a course in it in college, but at the time, plays really didn't interest me.

I do know that Tennessee Williams is one of the big ones, one of those playwrights most people have at least heard of. In addition to this play, I have A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof left on my list. And if they are even half as good as this play, then I am in for an amazing treat.

The Glass Menagerie is a play that should probably be seen rather than read. It is full of musical cues and lighting to emphasize different aspects of the play and characters. What I love best, however, is that the play is performed like a memory. The music and lighting are the products of Tom Wingfield, our narrator and leader through the production.

It begins with Tom explaining that what we are about to see is based on memory-this is what he remembers and finds important for us to see. I love this introduction he gives us,

"Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

It is obvious from the beginning that Tom has left the family. He mentions in a roundabout way that this is how he remembers them, leading us to believe he hasn't been back. But that's okay, because we learn why.

The play only contains four characters, Tom, his mother Amanda, his sister Laura, and a friend from work named Jim. The family was abandoned by Tom and Laura's father before the play begins. And it is apparent from the beginning that Amanda has worked hard to maintain what little they have. But she is obsessed with the past and what she used to have (in one scene, she decks herself out in a silly gown, much to the embarrassment of Tom). It is clear she wants bigger and better things for her children.

Tom seems to have his head on straight. He works hard in a warehouse doing who knows what. He spends his spare time writing and seeing movies. It is clear he wants more than what he is doing, but he seems to be biding his time, waiting for the right moment. We also know, based on their altercations, that Amanda does not approve of his choices. She wants him to continually support herself and Laura. This leads to a lot of uncomfortable moments.

Laura, on the other hand, is an extremely shy and sheltered kind of a person. She stays at home with her mother, plays the piano, and has a large collection of glass animals that she cherishes. It is clear that she just can't function outside the home. But Amanda wants her to marry, to have possessions and a wonderful life, like she once had.

This is where the conflict comes into play, where everything shatters. Amanda convinces Tom to bring a friend home from work to introduce to Laura as a suitor. So Tom does, and Jim arrives at the house for a meal and to get to know Laura. This is where everything breaks apart, the family splits, and Tom eventually leaves.

What stood out to me most in this play was what was said between the lines. Being set in the 1930s, this play definitely addresses the ideas of an American Dream and consumerism. The characters, Amanda in particular, want things that they cannot afford. She continues to dream big, even when it cannot become a reality for her.

I loved this. I loved the way it was written, that it flashes between Tom speaking to the audience and scenes in the home. I love that it addresses issues that are American and universal all at once. Most of all, I loved Laura. I felt for her shy little self as she struggles to voice what she wanted. I felt her pain in the last scenes and understood her in a way that Amanda and Tom could not. It was just a beautiful play, and I know that I must go see it performed. It touched a very human part of myself, as cheesy as that may sound.

But most of all, I can't wait to see what Williams' other plays are like and if they punch as much emotional impact as this one did.

"I didn't go to the moon, I went much further—for time is the longest distance between two places."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for August 21, 2011: A Good Streak.

Life just has this way of going up and down, doesn't it? We can one moment of laugh until your stomach cramps happiness, followed by feeling like you're on the verge of tears. I feel like this past year has been a lot like that-full of ups, downs, and everything in between.

Bellezza wrote a post on Tuesday that addresses this feeling, like one year is coming to an end and another is beginning. I always seen the summer ending and school beginning as the start. And this year has been a lot like the previous. School is starting soon (two weeks). Kids will be returning to their classrooms, teachers prepping classrooms and lessons. The leaves will begin to turn colors, the cider mills will open.

And funnily enough, I am approaching this new beginning on a very "up" feeling. Over the course of this last summer and year, I have just learned to appreciate where I am and what I do have. Of course, I have had moments of complete and total frustration (you were all privy to that a couple weeks ago). I think that's normal. But for the first fall in a few years...I feel okay with where I am. I am completely optimistic. I am ready.

I am ready to put this past year behind me as one of the hardest I have experienced. But it is now firmly in the past and I am looking forward to the excitement of the next couple of weeks. I have one week until I have to be at school prepping for another long-term assignment. I am strangely okay with being in someone else's classroom again. At least I will be teaching (and I am teaching some wonderful literature again).

I am also looking forward to the celebration I will be hosting here. August 31/September 1 marks two years since beginning this process. I have learned a great deal, and while sometimes I wonder why I am still doing this, I know that I have grown exponentially in doing so. Who would have guessed that this place has saved me?

Anyway, I have a lot of plans for my little celebration, including giving away a lot of books to you guys-you people who have stuck by me, inspired me, and pushed me. A few months ago, I told everyone on Twitter that if I ever won the lottery, I would buy all of you a book. By giving away what I can, I am trying to reach that goal. :) That's probably silly, but I really enjoy sharing my love of reading and literature with all of you. In short, look forward to a lot of little giveaways and some reflections. Most likely some of it will be corny, but I think you expect that from me by now.

I also have some great books waiting for their reviews to be posted on the blog. In the last ten books I've read, there has only been one I really didn't like. I seem to be on a good streak, where everything I read completely absorbs me. It is definitely a great feeling, and I haven't had it in awhile. In any case, I have lots of posts drafted and queued for the next couple of weeks. And in the meantime, I am still reading up a storm. I don't know if I am going to hit my "end-of-summer" goal, but I am getting pretty close!

Well, I do believe I have rambled long enough. I should mention that I went book shopping with my mom on Friday and spent WAY too much on books...but really, that's just silly. You all know that I am a book-shopping-aholic, so I can't really hide it. But I have promised my husband that I am on a ban for the next few weeks...and I can't really blame him-his eyes bugged out of his head when he saw the bags (okay, okay, I bought 29 books (at Borders, so they were cheap) but 3 are for giveaways, and I culled books to pass on as well, so really, we're okay. And only 26 books found their way onto my shelves. And now that I typed it out, it does sound bad, doesn't it? Oh well.)

I hope you all have a wonderful week of reading!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Book 105: Sula by Toni Morrison (Finished).

"Lonely, ain't it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely."

My first exposure to Toni Morrison was The Bluest Eye, book 11 off my list. I loved the novel. It captured so many parts of me that I thought about it long after I closed it. It also didn't hurt that if was the first book I read after my torturous reading of Dickens' Great Expectations. But I loved the simple honesty of the story, the fact that Morrison seemed to acknowledge the ugly side of humanity as a fact.

So I was looking forward to Sula. And for such a short read (I believe it took me just after an hour to read it), it packs quite an emotional punch. Sula, the title character, has been best friends with Nel for almost all her life. And while the two characters don't have that much in common, they both betray one another in the end.

Where Nel seems to be sweet and calm, Sula is anything but. Where Nel's mother worries about her daughter's appearance and life choices, Sula's mother sleeps with men throughout her home and often exposes her daughter to the men who tramp through. One is soft, one is hard; one is outspoken, one is calm. It is an interesting juxtaposition, these two characters.

But the story really takes off when Sula and Nel are grown. Through tragedy and lies, they somehow make it to adulthood, and their lives are forever changed. Nel is married, happy. Sula disappeared from town from years, and returns to put herself up to the same mischief her mother did. It makes things awkward and uncomfortable in town. Then Sula crosses the line. She becomes the pariah of the town, unwanted, called a whore by people in the town.

It is an interesting narrative and makes you question why we judge women and men the way we do. Why do we still accept and encourage these kinds of double standards? I got that, the power of that message from Morrison's writing. It make me think. And I loved that.

However, I didn't feel as connected to Sula as I could have been. Perhaps it is because I chose to read this after Ceremony, which is hand's down one of my favorite books of the year. This one, while interesting and provocative, didn't capture my attention the way it should have. I accepted it. Now, that might also be because we HAVE made strides since the time it was published, but shouldn't I have felt more of an emotional impact? It might also be the length. At only 174 pages in my edition, I felt like something was lacking. I wanted more development. It was hard to sympathize with Sula when I didn't really know her, or is that the point?

In any case, while I can accept its merit and value, it just isn't going to be a favorite of mine. It just paled in comparison to my memories of The Bluest Eye.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book 104: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (Finished).

"But as long as you remember what you have seen, then nothing is gone. As long as you remember, it is part of this story we have together."

This book is a lesson in why you should listen to the recommendations by bloggers you love. Eva reviewed this book back in December. I immediately went out and bought a copy. And the book sat on my nightstand for a few months. Then Christina wrote a glowing post about it in March. I picked it up, read a few pages, then set it back down since I was not in the right mindset to read it.

It has been sitting on my nightstand for MONTHS collecting dust. When I finally picked it up, I simply fell into the book. Falling in is the best way to describe how this book just absorbed every piece of me. It didn't let me go until I closed the back cover. It was beautiful.

Ceremony is the story of Tayo, a young man who has just returned from war and is suffering from PTSD. He is struggling with his return to the reservation where he has grown up, his place in that society as someone who is half-white, half-Native American, and where he fits into the grand scheme of life.

The book just moves you effortlessly through Tayo's experiences. You are there with him as he encounters other war veterans from his reservation. They, too, seem to be struggling, but release a lot of their anger and suffering in violence and hatred. You are with him when he struggles to find a place in a family that doesn't seem to want him. And you are with him when he seeks healing from a medicine man as a last hope.

The story winds between past and present, Tayo's actions and his memories. It flows so well you cannot stop reading, absorbing the life Silko has created from words. It just...becomes a part of you as you read. You are Tayo, experiencing the life around you and the healing he must undertake. It took my breath away, made me gasp for air, and it warmed me to my very core.

It is a hard thing to describe, the power of this story. It winds in and out between different perspectives, thoughts, and emotions, but it does it in a way that makes sense. You would think that jumping forward and backward, in and out of Tayo's narrative would make you go crazy. But it doesn't. Instead, it just feels right. Our thoughts aren't really linear-they flow from topic to topic and wind their way back to where they began. This book felt like that.

(I will say it did not read like stream-of-consciousness if that makes you wary).

What I loved most was the weaving of Native American belief and practices into the realities of Tayo's life in the war and after. It is a perfect melding of two worlds with different beliefs. It made the story alive, real, and touching. It moved me in so many ways. I wish I had the words to describe the pure power and emotion this novel has.

All I can say is go get a copy and experience it for yourself. Fall into it and truly become a part of it. It is beautiful, just beautiful.

"I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.

You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book 103: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (Finished).

"Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it."

Growing up, I was obsessed with Disney movies (still am). And while Peter Pan wasn't my favorite, I still really enjoyed the adventure of it, the scope. It would be fun to live on an island and never grow up!

So going into Peter Pan, I felt like I knew the story pretty well. And I did. Many of the scenes were similar between book and movie and I found myself having fun reading the story. It was very much a children's tale and I was wholly entertained by it. It was fun to see the Darlings on paper as opposed to their animated selves.

The novel is short, and I read it in one sitting. It had me chuckling at many parts, mainly because it seemed a little silly. After all, it was supposed to be fun.

It was only after I finished it, and discussed it with a friend at work, that I began to look past the "childlike" aspect of the story. I mean, sure it was fun and rip-roaring and the children had fun adventures, but there is a much deeper message beneath it all about youth, growing up, and maturing.

The children in the novel almost seem selfish (I believe I told my friend Sarah that Peter was a bit of a tool), but they are children. I know I was selfish as a child, so these children aren't any different. But, you can see the different in the children as they continue to interact throughout the story. The boys, Michael and John, are slightly more immature than Wendy, most likely due to age. You can see it in their interactions with the Lost Boys.

Wendy, however, is a different story. She is a girl on the verge of womanhood. Her mothering and nurturing instinct is because she knows that as humans, we all need to be taken care of in some way. That is why when she arrives at the island, the boys swarm her and insist on protecting her. They cherish her as their mother, their person to come to and lay out all their problems. But Wendy doesn't have anyone. Her few attempts to talk to Peter in a more mature manner just frustrate her (thus, why I called Peter a tool). But Peter is not ready to accept the responsibility and knowledge of getting older. In fact, he refuses. As far as he knows, no one has ever taken care of him. He rejects it completely.

This idea of growing up and accepting adulthood is what I believe drives Wendy back home. She knows that she really can't stay young forever. While certain individuals, like Peter, really do want to stay young and a child, most of us accept that we have to continually move forward. We accept that we have to. And most of us are okay with that.

It makes me sad. I mean, I know the reality of what it is to be human. We have experiences that shape and mold us as children. We continually age, we mature. We find jobs (hopefully), fall in love, maybe have children, work on our education, fight, love, suffer...and then eventually, and hopefully a long time later, we die. And we pass on who we were and what we have learned in our lifetime. Wendy accepts this readily near the end of the novel, but do we all?

The other aspect of this that I briefly wanted to touch on was the aspect of mothering. Wendy serves as a mother to the Lost Boys on the Island. Even Captain Hook creates a scheme to capture Wendy. As a female, as a "mother" figure, she holds a lot of power in the story. Tinkerbell doesn't care for her, the boys cherish her, and the grown men on Hook's ship also seem to love her. We all have a great and lasting respect for mothers. I know I still talk to my mom all the time about the things that bother me, my successes and failures.

But what about the mothers without children? I know Barrie wrote the novel to his own mother, who lost another son at a young age. How she must have grieved for her son. Perhaps this novel really is a testament to that kind of pain and suffering.

In all, I really loved this little novel. I am glad that I was exposed to it at a younger age, so I was familiar with the younger side of Peter. Now that I am older, wiser, and have accepting that I have grown up quite a bit, I can really accept the older, darker side of this novel.

And I cannot wait to read it to my own day far off in the future. I'm not ready for that yet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Classics Circuit: The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck (Book 102).

"I wonder how many people I've looked at all my life and never seen."

I am happy to be a stop today for the Steinbeck Classics Circuit! For anyone unfamiliar with the circuit, it is a way for bloggers around the book blogging community to highlight some classic authors and their works! For a period of time, different bloggers will be posting their thoughts on the works they read. There are new posts every day, so I hope you'll head over to the Circuit's blog to check it out!

I was really excited to see that this circuit was going to be for John Steinbeck! I am relatively new to Steinbeck's work, but I have had a couple of really positive experiences. I am well on my way to declaring Steinbeck a favorite for life.

Since I only had two of his novels left on my list, I feel I had an even harder choice. I decided long ago to leave The Grapes of Wrath until nearly the end of my project (mainly because I feel like I am going to LOVE it), so The Winter of Our Discontent was it for me!

I was unsure what to think going in. Truth be told, when I was making my project list nearly two years ago, this novel was placed on the list instead of East of Eden purely because it is my brother-in-law's favorite by Steinbeck. I was hoping Kyle would have great taste. Turns out, he did.

What Steinbeck does so well is capture the heart and spirit of Americans in different locales. I have found this to be true in the two other titles I've read (Travels with Charley and Of Mice and Men). He takes a small community and truly brings it to life. And while the characters in this one aren't necessarily lovable, he makes them realistic. They aren't perfect and their flaws are what drive the novel. I felt for them with every turn of the page.

Ethan Hawley came from a wealthy family, but the family lost their money years before. Rather than being one of the most wealthy and influential families in town, the Hawley family suffers from some humiliation. Ethan works as a store clerk under a foreigner, his kids want what all the other kids have, and his wife seems to just make do with what she has. Ethan seems to struggle with who he is and where he wants to be. He wants money, assuming that having more of it will make his problems go away.

So Ethan makes some phone calls and has some conversations that change his life dramatically. In the end, he gets what he wants. But, as the reader, and being inside Ethan's head, I had to ask myself for him, "was it worth it?" The fact is, Ethan does things to set his life in motion, at the expense of others. He gets what he wants by doing some pretty underhanded and immoral things. How could he possibly enjoy his new lifestyle?

It is an interesting question Steinbeck poses. You can tell that throughout the novel Steinbeck has a very specific purpose in mind-to explore the moral degradation of America and her citizens. We all know that the American dream is to climb as high as you can on your blood, sweat, and tears, but it also comes with a price. Ethan Hawley seems okay with the price he pays (I wouldn't be).

I was reminded a bit of The Great Gatsby when I read this. In Fitzgerald's novel, he also explores the American Dream and the rise to the top. He also shows the fall. Steinbeck and Fitzgerald both show how sometimes to get to the top, things have to be done. People have to be hurt. They both come to different conclusions, but the moral seems the same.

In the beginning, I felt for Ethan. As someone who also works in a pretty crappy job, it is hard to keep your chin up and eyes focused on being okay with your status in life. But, as Ethan began to explore a seedier lifestyle, all similarities stopped. He seemed unfazed in hurting those around them or watching them fall.

You have to wonder, how many people have done the same?

Do they think it was worth it?

Anyway, this was a fast read that kept me on my toes. It also makes me yearn for more Steinbeck, but I'm going to be strong and hold out.

How many of you have read this one? Love it, hate it? What other Steinbeck novels should I read in the future?

Monday, August 15, 2011

What I have Learned from Park Patrons (Reflections on being a Ranger).

I began working for my local city's park system the summer after my freshman year of college (this would be in 2004). My brother was the one to tell me about the job. He had worked for the city as an engineering intern for a couple summers, and suggested that working at the park might be a fun time. I applied and was surprised to get an interview, then hired in.

The first park I worked at was one of the busier parks. It had a 40 acre lake, playground, soccer field, boat rentals, concession stand, etc. On hot days in the summer, the beach would be PACKED. I really liked working there, but as a lowly park attendant, I didn't get paid the big bucks. After four years, I interviewed for a position as a Summer Assistant aka Seasonal Park Ranger, and landed the position at the park I currently work at (only a few miles north of the other).

The park I currently work at is a more traditional park-picnicking, hiking, mountain biking trails, etc. It was originally a Michigan State Park, but was bought by the city in the late 1980s. The park was constructed all the way back in 1924 and has a building built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) from the Depression era.

Needless to say, the parks system I work for is great, and I love being able to work outside in the summer. Since I am ending my eighth summer season with the parks department (I have also worked MANY fall, winter, and spring seasons), I thought it would be fun to fill you in on some of the fun and random things I have learned about people while being a park employee. Enjoy! :)
  • People Litter...A LOT: One of the things that constantly annoys me is the amount of litter. I don't understand it and never will. We have MANY trash cans in the park and sometimes when a group leaves, there is trash everywhere but IN the can. We have one sports group who will leave their water bottles on the ground just inches from the trash can. I don't get it. I am anal about picking up trash and I have been known to scoop up garbage when I'm not at the park. Seriously, find a trash can.
  • Women are messier than men: Probably one of the most surprising things about cleaning up our shelters and bathrooms is the difference between men and women. You would think men would be messy. No, it is definitely the women. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of disgusting trash I have picked up in our women's bathrooms.
  • People continually surprise me with their...quirks: After 8 years, 4 being a Ranger, I think I have seen it all. But I really haven't. People have some of the most ridiculous requests when it comes time to be in the park. I have another post in the works about this, but to give you a teaser, I once had to lecture a large group of men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s on how to share. Seriously.
  • People think nature = garbage: Nothing is more irritating to me or my staff than going to change a trash can to find NATURE in the garbage. Please explain to me why you are throwing sticks and branches into trash cans? hello? You are in a PARK. You are OUTSIDE. Nature is not trash! Leave the sticks on the ground!
  • People do not know how to flush toilets: Every night that I close the park, there are 27 toilets I have to clean (some nights only 20 as we don't always open one of the shelters). Every night we have to make sure the toilets are clean and pretty and every night I go in to find that someone has not flushed the toilet. I don't understand why this is so difficult. I understand you might not want to touch the handle. You can kick it with your foot (I do!). Just flush it, please.
  • People have misconceptions about their tax money: The biggest complaint we have at our booth is why people must pay to come in to the park. Since we are a city park, how we operate might be different than larger park systems. Yes, we do get SOME tax money. But keeping a parks system operating is expensive. We have to pay for supplies, employees, maintenance fees, etc. We charge because otherwise, we would be a very big and expensive drain on the system. I don't think our daily fee is absurd, and it gets everyone all upset when a patron comes in and says, "well I pay taxes so I should get in for free." Sorry, doesn't work that way.
  • People freak out when they see females driving big trucks and vehicles: We have a number of vehicles that we drive around the park, including two large white pick up trucks (and I mean LARGE. I have to hop to get in them), a gas powered cart (think golf cart on steroids-super powerful), and a tractor. I drive all of these things. It always makes me laugh when people look shocked to see a female driving huge vehicles. Yes, sometimes it offends me. There are instances where it makes me super uncomfortable (the other day an older man asked one of my male employees why "the woman" was driving him around), but I try and ignore that.
  • People are wasteful: We have very busy weekends, with our shelters rented for reunions, parties, and celebrations of all kinds. And it never ceases to amaze me how much food is thrown away. It makes me sad that it isn't taken home. Instead, it inevitably finds its way into our dumpster.
  • Wild animals are wild, not cute furry things for your child to pet: We have a lot of wildlife in the park, including deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, feral cats, birds, frogs, turtles, snakes, hawks, coyotes, woodchucks, gophers, etc. And our public seems to think that these animals are to be petted and fed. Sadly, we have way too many raccoons (people catch them by their homes then release them in the park, which has ruined our ecosystem), so our raccoons are pretty friendly. That doesn't mean that it is okay to allow your child to try and feed it. Never feed a wild animal.
  • Smiles are better used when talking to someone who is upset: I have had my fair share of altercations with angry patrons in the park. And while I do get upset in return, I have learned that it is better to keep smiling and upbeat when dealing with someone who has lost their cool. Something about seeing a smile calms down even the angriest patrons and they do eventually apologize for calling me all sorts of nasty names. :) So smile. It helps.
  • People are friendly and grateful for small kindnesses: We have a lot of regulars that come into the park. I know most of them by name and while the staff has nicknames for many of them, I do try and take the time to say hello to those I see on a regular basis. They are our support system and help keep the park open. On this past Easter Sunday, I was working and we had a rental. The woman who rented the shelter was sad I had to work, so she left the park to go buy me a present. Her small Easter basket filled with candy was her way of saying thank you. It truly touched me! People are grateful for kindness, so I try and smile even when I don't really want to. :)
  • The park is a great place for family events: I have witnessed a lot of things in my eight years at the park. I have seen weddings for young and old, graduation parties, first birthdays, family reunions, and memorial services. What I try to remember each day is that it is significant for someone. I am glad that our park has served as a backdrop to these significant moments. And while I don't know about the parks in your area, we appreciate and love the fact that we are chosen to host these events.
Anyway, I know there are more things I have learned, but these are probably the most important. I work with different people every day, and each day at a park brings a new challenge. I have seen things and done things I never would have had I never gotten that job 8 summers ago. I keep joking that I want to be done working at the park, but secretly, I still kind of love it. It gives me great stories to tell, and I continue to be shocked by the constant insanity of the people around me. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up for August 14, 2011: Whirlwind.

I have never been so glad to be done with a week before! Starting with my emotional outburst last Sunday, to getting the results of my FIL's biopsy, to a migraine that lasted three days, to no internet for two days, to stress at work, I am completely wiped out. And I am writing this at 6 in the morning because I have to be to work by 7. Yeah, this was a miserable week.

But you know, it is weeks like this that really put things into perspective. I was pretty down last weekend, and I sincerely appreciate every one of the comments I got on that post. I am normally a pretty happy person, but I have found myself slipping into anger and sadness a little too much recently. I think the face that school will be back in session shortly, as well as the ending of another hiring season, puts me into a grumpy mood.

I am feeling much better about everything. Again, THANK YOU for all of your support. In my heart, I know it isn't me-it is the craptastic economy and circumstances out of my control. But in the meantime, I can continue doing things to better myself and explore other options.

As for my FIL, the biopsy results came back. He was officially diagnosed with follicular lymphoma. They have some more tests to run to determine his stage, etc. No matter what, he will have to go through chemo, so we are bracing. My FIL is pretty young (47), so this is kind of a shock. (I should probably clarify-the man I call my FIL is actually Matt's step-dad. Matt has no relationship with his real dad, and I don't consider him my FIL. Don married Matt's mom when Matt was 8, so Don is really the only father figure Matt has had). We are all praying and hoping for the best.

In reading...

Like I said, I had a nasty migraine that lingered for nearly three full days (even now I can still feel knots in my neck). I haven't had one that bad in a long time! It really knocked me out and obviously, no reading was accomplished. I did manage to finish Jude the Obscure last night, so that's something! :)

I do have to say that I have loved both Hardy novels I've read so far. New favorite? Most likely.

This week I'll have reviews up for Peter Pan, Ceremony, and Sula. Again, they will be in one post format. They are from the few weeks where I was reading so fast, I didn't have time to do multiple drafts like I usually do. How do you guys like the one post formats? I don't mind them, but I miss spreading my thoughts out!

I'm not sure what I'll pick up next. I discarded Kim by Kipling after it didn't catch my attention in the first few pages. I'll get to it eventually. I still have A Lesson Before Dying in my purse. I am also in the mood for something fun, so I grabbed Treasure Island to start during my lunch break. You guys have any other suggestions?

I better cut this short-need to get to work and finish putting up some swings! (Oh, I have a few fun park-related posts in the works. Hopefully they make you laugh).

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book 101: Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (Finished).

"There are all kinds of truth ... but behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there's no truth."

I have always been intrigued by O'Connor's work. I'm not sure why, since I have had absolutely no exposure to any of her writing, but it was always there. Something mystical and special.

She is one of those American writers that I think captures a piece of America so well. Like Steinbeck and others, she is able to give voice to certain groups of Americans in a realistic way. After all, we are a country that is divided into regional beliefs and ideals, so the ability to focus on that is great for an American writer (and you can totally disagree with me if you'd like-I just feel that we are somewhat defined by where we are geologically). In any case, O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood, really does focus on a certain group of Americans.

Hazel Motes is a war veteran who is returning home after his time abroad (the reader is not given specifics). He is traveling by train and is repeatedly told he looks like a preacher. This irritates him because he hates preachers and religion. He feels as though religion has failed him entirely and determines that the only way to be free from sin is to also be free from his own soul. He ends up in a city and meets a traveling preacher and his daughter. Inspired, Motes creates the Church Without Christ and begins preaching.

No one really follows his teachings, and it seems that Hazel is lacking in purpose. But he continues to preach that the only way to be free from anything is to believe in nothing. Through a long course of events, he learns that the preacher he first met when he entered town was a fake. Some other things happen and his life takes a drastic turn.

I don't want to give away the last half of the book. It was grotesque, but fitting in some kind of twisted way. I mean, I didn't like Hazel Motes. I couldn't relate to him or his ideas at any point in the narration, but I did feel like I was pulling for him to "get it together" eventually. I don't know if he ever did...but the novel discusses his views on religion and what it means to have faith in different ways. It also points out that some religion is false-in the characters of the false preacher and his daughter. It actually says a lot of things about religion, around religion, etc that I had a hard time keeping straight. Most of all, I think the novel just pointed out that religion is personal-people believe in different things for different reasons. And that's okay.

I should be honest and say the story didn't grip me until nearly the end. The first half I was plodding through, unsure of just what exactly I was reading. It wasn't until Hazel loses it against an impostor that I was hooked. I will say that the writing style was phenomenal and for that alone, I know I am going to read more of O'Connor's writing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book 100: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (Finished).

"The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and life-giving. It is an immense desert place where man is never lonely, for he senses the weaving of Creation on every hand. It is the physical embodiment of a supernatural existence... For the sea is itself nothing but love and emotion. It is the Living Infinite, as one of your poets has said. Nature manifests herself in it, with her three kingdoms: mineral, vegetable, and animal. The ocean is the vast reservoir of Nature."

I am not as well-versed in older science-fiction as I ought to be. I mean, I declare a fierce love for modern science-fiction, so what makes me wary of the old stuff, the original?

Perhaps I owe that impression to my first read of a Wells novel, The War of the Worlds, when I was back in college. I read it on a whim and hated it. It was boring, moved way too slowly for my liking, and wasn't as exciting as the more modern pieces I was used to reading.

When I was setting up a small science-fiction unit to do with my sophomores in April, I realized I should probably know a bit more about some of the pioneers in the genre-namely Wells and Verne. I tried, at the time, to get around to reading something by Verne, but just lacked the opportunity to do so. So I knew that I needed to read something this summer so I wouldn't feel as guilty about addressing it with my students. :)

Verne is very different from Wells. Where Wells seems to promote the idea that too much progress is bad for society, Verne seems to encourage progress. More progress equals better things for humans. This is one of the things I continually ran across in my research, and now that I have finished Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, I agree. Verne does seem to promote progress and expansion.

For anyone unfamiliar with the novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea opens with a small amount of mystery. There have been a few incidents in the ocean of a large sea creature. In a couple cases it was simply spotted, but in another, it significantly damaged a large ship. The world is in an uproar since a creature of this magnitude hasn't been seen before! An expedition is started in the United States, and the famous Professor Arronax joins last minute (he is an expert in sea life, etc).

What the expedition soon finds out is that the creature is not a creature, but a large submarine, captained by Captain Nemo. Arronax and two others are captured and spend the next few months aboard the Nautilus exploring the oceans of the world.

This novel is FASCINATING. For being published in 1870, the descriptions and ideas are remarkable. You can tell from the beginning that Verne had a great imagination and background to write this kind of tale. The descriptions of the ship, the technology, and the way of life aboard the ship shows the amount of research and planning Verne had to do before even attempting to write this. It makes the whole thing plausible, which really is the basis of any good science-fiction.

*side note* The easiest way to tell fantasy and science fiction apart is by asking what is plausible. If it has any kind of scientific background, any kind of "possibility," it is most likely science-fiction. Fantasy is usually based in the magical.*end side notre*

The scenes from around the world really captured my attention. Verne did a great job of showing different places and climates through his words, as well as giving insight to the creatures of the deep. This is, however, my one big critique of the work. Half the time, when he was describing creatures and fauna, I had NO idea what he was describing. There was a lot of scientific jargon and classifications that went way over my head. Sadly, I skimmed a lot of sections. I just couldn't picture the animals in my head. So I used my imagination instead. Hopefully Verne would be proud. :)

As for the characters, I loved that Verne kept an aura of mystery around the figure of Nemo. We learn bits and pieces about this past throughout, but we are never given answers to everything. I bet this would be frustrating for many, but for me, it added to the excitement of the adventure. Arronax is a little annoying when he rambles on about the creatures (see above), but he is an honest narrator. As a scientist, he often presents the facts to the reader before giving his own emotional spin. I also really loved Ned Land, and felt for him dearly (you'll have to read it to see why).

But overall, I was impressed with the scope of this novel. Again, for a novel published in 1870, I was amazed by the level of science and imagination. I think that this has stood the test of time and would truly capture anyone's imagination.

A Couple Other Things to Note:
When I searched for images to accompany my little review, I was floored by all the lovely images. Go do a Google search-so many wonderful covers!

Walt Disney World used to have a ride based on the book. It closed in 1994. How amazing would it be to have a theme-park based solely on novels? Here is more information about the ride.

This is the first full novel I read on Homer, my NookColor. It was a great reading experience. I will say that my eyes tire faster reading on Homer-mainly because it is backlit (because of the color option).

This is BOOK 100 off my list! Hurrah!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Thank You.

I wanted to say thank you for all of the wonderful comments and e-mails I received on my last post. Book bloggers are a wonderful and supportive community. I felt truly loved and respected today when I read all of your comments.

I am normally a happy-go-lucky, optimistic person by nature, so when I get down, I get REALLY down. Last night was one of the those nights (which I have been having a little too frequently) and I felt that rather than tossing and turning in bed, writing it all out would be better for me. I was right. I felt better about everything once it was out, and your loving advice and encouragement has made me feel a million times better.

Thank you.

I always believe that we should acknowledge the things that don't go quite right, be mad for a few moments, accept it, and move on. Sometimes I lose sight of that, but I feel like I am back on the right track. :)

I feel better about everything-life, the blog, and this insane project I am still plugging through. If anything, I feel renewed and ready to take on the world and Ulysses (I jest, no more Joyce in the very near future).

Thank you all again. If any of you ever need ANYTHING, you tell me and I am there for you. Promise. :)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Period of Frustration.


I'm not sure what my intentions are in writing this post. I don't know if I will have a point or a purpose, but I am hoping that I can come to some kind of conclusion for my own sanity.

I am approaching two years into this project. This seems incredibly significant in some way, but I am at a loss as to why. Last year, I was just plain excited to have gotten through a year without any breaks. I was proud of what my blog was and the friendships I was beginning to form. I felt like things were getting better for me professionally and that I was on my way to...something.

But now I am approaching year two and I am asking myself, what have I really accomplished? I go back to that night when I feverishly typed out my plans for what this space would become. I wanted to get over a period of depression that I was in and accomplish something that would matter. And while things have changed in these last almost two years, I still don't feel like I have done anything of value for myself or those around me.

Sure, I have read a great number of books by the great authors. I met and conquered some of my most intimidating writers: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens, Cooper, and more. I have visited old friends and remembered why I called them friends. I am learning more and more about the worlds these writers lived in, their lives, and what outside circumstances have altered their view of the world and shaped their novels. I think that I have improved both in my writing and my reading abilities. And I feel like I am still missing something, some key that connects all this together and makes meaning.

I wanted to start this to give me a chance to improve myself. When I wrote that first blog post two years ago, I was frustrated with my job search. At the time, I had been done with school for nearly two years. I thought that I would have had a job, that I would be in a classroom. And that didn't happen.

Here I am, nearly two years later, and how much farther have I really come? Not far. I still work at the parks during the summer. And it isn't that I want to work there, it is because I have to work there. I have bills to pay! I still don't have a permanent teaching position. It has been a long and rough road. I have traveled hours for interviews where I thought the job was mine, only to be sorely disappointed hours later. I have subbed and networked and worked my butt off to prove myself to the schools that I have been in.

But I am still in the same place. I have made no forward progress. I haven't gained anything.

I won't even talk to Matt about it anymore. When the conversation comes up about getting a permanent position, I just shut down. After so much rejection, it is hard to continue to hold your head up and say, "That just wasn't the right position for me. I just haven't found the right school." After a while, you just have to think, "What's wrong with me? Why will no one give me a chance?" It is hard, frustrating, and even typing this out brings me to tears.

More than anything, though, is how embarrassed I feel. I am ashamed of the fact that I am not where I want to be. I always told myself in college that I would be the one to get a job right away. I never thought that I would be where I am now. I'm 26 and don't have a permanent job. I make do with what I have.

How much longer can I continue to plug away, never making forward progress? When do I finally say, "enough is enough" and give up? Next year, will I find myself writing the same things?

I am at a loss. I thought, two years into such a project, two years further into my life, I would have some answers. I would know something of value. I would mean something. Instead, I just find myself growing more and more frustrated with what my life has turned into. I lay awake at night and think about the decisions I made when I planned this future. I'm not sure that I regret my choices, but perhaps I could have made better ones. Perhaps I would be happier working a brainless job in an office all day. I could type out reports and that nonsense easily.

But I so desperately want to be inspired, which is why I chose this path. But the longer I continue to go forward with no real direction, the more hopelessly lost I feel. Even attempts at branching out are unsuccessful.

I just feel...lost. I have felt this way for so long that it is starting to feel normal. Of course I discuss this with Matt, but I just need to get it out, acknowledge it in the open, and try to move forward. I don't want to feel this way. I don't want to get upset thinking about the fact my life has been at a standstill for so long. I want to more forward, but I am stuck.

Again, I don't know if I have a point, or even know why I am posting this here. Perhaps I will regret it later, but right now, this is what I need.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book 99: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (Finished).

"Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested."

In one word? Amazing. Or maybe...phenomenal.

Really, this is one of the craziest and most dramatic plays I have ever read. I would kill to see this performed. It is violent and raw and so unbelievably in your face the entire time. I found myself flipping pages at a frantic rate because I just had to know how it would all end.

The play centers on four characters: George, a university history professor; Martha, his wife and the university president's daughter; Nick, a new faculty member; and Honey, his somewhat...dimwitted wife. The four find themselves at George and Martha's home after a party where absolute insanity begins and ends.

From the beginning, you know that George and Martha have an interesting marriage. And with company over, you would expect for them to be a little more...cordial to one another. But the play simmers with rage and violence beneath their exchanges and while at times I laughed, you have to wonder what kind of things they have been through to hurl such words at one another.

"I said I was impressed, Martha. I'm beside myself with jealousy. What do you want me to do, throw up?"

As the play progresses, George and Martha continue to make their guests drunker and more uncomfortable with their interactions. It is then that I, as the audience, became aware of the parallels and differences between the two sets of couples. There are obvious tensions between George and Martha, as he did not live up to what she wanted him to be. Nick and Honey seem like a younger version of them-happy on the outside, but there is turmoil beneath.

That is what makes this work. Since the reader is inside the house with these four characters, we are seeing a side of humanity and marriage that is usually glossed over. On the outside, George and Martha must seem like a couple who has it all. Secure jobs, a son, a marriage of 23 years....but as their games progress over the course of the night, it is evident there are so many problems between the two. Anger. Resentment. It is as if Albee is uncovering a dark secret.

And while the play is funny (at one point George calls Honey "monkey nipples"), it is also squirm in your chair uncomfortable. And it is meant to be. People don't laugh and joke about their serious problems this way, do they? And they certainly don't air their dirty laundry in front of people they just met....or do they?

The result is a play that had me reading until late at night, desperate to reach the final page and the ending that shocked me. By that point, each character had reached their limit-their true, raw self that they could no longer hide behind pretensions and false images. By the end, everything was in the open and on the table, whether it should be or not.

Hands down, one of the best plays I've read. And you better believe that I am going to get my hands on a copy of the film version as soon as I can (1966-Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor).

I also want to point you in the direction of Adam's review. He is much more eloquent than I am. :)