Friday, January 31, 2014

American Author Search.

I'm in need of some help.

My culminating project in my American Literature classes is a research unit (we introduce them to the skills as sophomores and as juniors they write a full research paper). The first year I did it, I did it on a current event or "problem" that existed in the U.S. It went smoothly, but really didn't connect to the content of the class. Then we switched it over to focusing on American authors. With another teacher, we came up with a list of "classic" American authors that we hadn't studied over the course of the year. As part of the requirement, we had the students read a set of poems or a short story by the author first, then launched into research.

Last year (my first year as an official teacher), I revamped the project yet again and required the students to find a social issue from the time period and connect it to the story they read (I got rid of the was too difficult helping them analyze the poems on their own and I found that the short stories worked better overall). I really liked the addition of the social issues, especially considering that I always relate the literature we read to what is going on in America at the time of publication. Literature reflects life, right? The projects were excellent last year, but the biggest problem I had was when their chosen social issue wasn't evident in the piece I gave them to read.

This year, I want to revamp the project, yet again. First, I'm including more writing into their final product, and more creativity. I'm actually turning the project (which usually consists of an outline, works cited page, powerpoint, and presentation) into a blended genre study of their author and chosen social issue. I'm still requiring the same pieces (have to because it's a common assessment for the district), but they also have to find/create other pieces that reflect their research-pieces of art, photographs, original pieces they wrote, etc (you can find more info about blended genre projects here if you're interested).

So, here is where I need your help.

First, I'm looking for a more comprehensive list of contemporary American authors. I have a lot of "classic" writers down (for example, Twain), but I really want some newer writers for the kids to research. In particular, I'm looking for writers that definitely talk about social issues and ideas prevalent in modern-day American society. If you have some names for me, that would be lovely.

Second, I'm trying to decide how I should approach the issue of each author's work. In the past, I assigned the kids their author based on interest, then found a story for them, copied it, etc. All they did with it was read and summarize-seemed a touch pointless to the final project. But I think it would be difficult for them to find their own piece. We have limited do I bother? I'm not sure how to tackle that issue.

Third, I'm open to any other ideas on how to increase the creativity for this project. If you have any ideas for other products they can produced for their genres, I would love more ideas. I want to give them plenty of options and examples-they are sophomores and some of them struggle with the whole self-motivation business. Some of the ideas I already have include:
  • newspaper articles about their authors
  • letters
  • pictures (that they drew or that they found)
  • "Found" poems that they create from a piece of text by their author
  • a short biography of their writer (I think I'm making this a requirement)
  • journal entries
  • song lyrics that might connect to their writer or social issue
As you can see, the products can be varied-both things that are "found" in their research and things that are created based on their research (I'll be setting a limit for how much they "find" versus how much they "create").

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave them below! And please leave author names!

Thank you in advance!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser.

“When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse."

After finishing 2 books off my TBR Challenge list relatively early in the year, I wasn't sure if I was ready to tackle another just yet. So, I stood and stared at my shelves for a bit in hopes that something would jump out at me. And while Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie didn't jump at me, I felt compelled to pick it up and flip through it. It was after looking at it that I decided there would be no better book for me in that moment.

And how right I was.

In short, Sister Carrie seems like a relatively simple story.  A young girl, Carrie Meeber, finds her way to Chicago to live with her sister and her husband in hopes of finding some work. On her journey into the city, she meets the handsome Charles Drouet, who will change her life and fortune in the future. Once in Chicago, she finds herself in a small apartment with her poor relatives. She finds a job working int a shoe factory, but after falling ill and losing her position, she determines to leave for home...and then Drouet enters, offers to buy her new clothes, find her rooms, and her life changes. Because while Drouet does many things for her, and has pulled her from poverty, it isn't enough for Carrie. She continually wants more from life-more wealth, more possessions, more happiness. So when other opportunities present themselves, she goes along with it. In the end, Carrie is left with the fortune and fame she always wanted, but her one real wish-to be happy and content with herself-isn't there.

This is the kind of novel that I always seem to gravitate towards. A woman out in search of something greater, but she never quite manages the happiness that she craves (The House of Mirth and The Portrait of a Lady share many of these qualities). Carrie, however, is a bit different than the other women. Whereas many "fallen" women force themselves into their circumstances, Carrie just kind of...goes with it. She protests going along with Drouet when he wants to buy her clothes and rent her rooms (she insists on returning home for quite some time), but after trying on a beautiful coat, she consents to hear him out. She does as he bids and allows him to dress her up and give her money to fulfill her whims. Eventually, that isn't enough and an even wealthier man, Hurstwood, enters the picture. Unlike Drouet, Hurstwood is married and as his own fascination with Carrie elevates, he loses all reason to be with her.

Again, Carrie doesn't necessarily force her own hand. She is hesitant to give into Hurstwood, but once she does, she goes along with it. At no point does Carrie actively make decisions to change her future. And after Hurstwood makes poor decisions and must flee, Carrie is "tricked" into fleeing to New York with him to avoid the problems.

It is only once the two of them are in New York that the novel really begins. It is here that the reader sees Hurstwood's fall from great heights. In Chicago, he was wealthy, well-known and respected, but after throwing that away to chase after Carrie, he's no one. He struggles to find work and loses it. And soon he spirals down into nothing but a man who sits at home readings the papers and pestering Carrie. It is also in New York that Carrie finally makes the one decision to change her fate. After Hurstwood loses everything and begins his downward spiral, she must search for work for herself, landing a small role on Broadway. It is only when her career begins to rise that she makes the decision to abandon Hurstwood in his poverty and seek out wealth for herself.

In the end, she has what she so desperately went to Chicago for-wealth, pretty clothes, fame-but no happiness. In the end, she's unhappier than she ever was before, having used and set aside the men who helped her get there.

That ended for Carrie was certainly sad, but nothing in comparison to what happens to the men in her life. After leaving Drouet in Chicago for Hurstwood, nothing changes in him. In fact, he is very much the same person he used to be, only more in love with Carrie when they reunite in New York because she is everything he cannot have.

And Hurstwood? For me, he was truly the "fallen" character in this novel. His whole life spiraled downward after meeting Carrie and falling for her beauty. He lost his wealth and his connections and near the end, is homeless and begging on the streets of New York. There is one scene where he corners Carrie outside the theater to beg for money to eat because she "owed it to him." There is also the tragic scene where he finds a room in a hotel very near the end of the novel...yes, he falls from great heights into something truly tragic. He, unlike Carrie, truly loses everything.

Yes, this was a novel that suited me perfectly and had me anxious for more time to read. It reminded me greatly of some of my other favorites and is a book I will certainly reread again at some point in the future.

“How true it is that words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.”

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines -- it's hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”

This is a book that I picked up over my winter break. It came home with me after I grabbed it randomly off the school shelves (it did make me a little sad to know I was the only one to check it out). It was a good choice and offered me a fun little excursion away from reality.

Clay Jannon has been laid off from his recent media job and goes in search of employment on the streets of San Francisco. He stumbles across Mr. Penumbra's bookstore and sees a sign looking for a clerk to work the nightshift. After going in and applying, he becomes the new night-clerk.

Mr. Penumbra's store offers Clay with enough to divert him from his unhappiness over a lack of career. Mysterious customers come in to check out books from the "Waybacklist," a series of books that take over the tall shelves lining the back of the store. They return and check out books without paying anything, and Clay is required to jot down everything about their appearance and state of mind in the store ledger.

As Clay's curiosity is spiked, the mystery begins. Who are these odd book readers? What is Mr. Penumbra hiding? What is in the books in the Waybacklist? Who started all of this?

Clay begins to uncover the secrets, pulling in friends from set designers to a Google genius to crack the mystery and code of the books.

This was a fun book. Not a book that challenged me, but something fun and fast and adventurous. It is a book that contains a lot of bookish love, with beautiful descriptions of tall, dusty shelves, the scent of paper, and the feeling of a good book in your hands.

 “Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.” 

It's a book that is very much about the enduring power and meaningfulness of words and stories-how they capture us and become a part of us. It made me want to work in a bookstore and touch the spines of books that have been there for years and wonder at their stories.

This was very much a book for readers and about readers, which we need more of today. So, this is definitely a read for a good diversion from the usual-from the heavy and dark and droll.

“After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for January 26, 2014: On the Cold, A New Semester, and Whitman.

I've been so absorbed in finishing up some prep work that I almost let the whole day go by without posting! Whoops!

I guess my schedule is a little off because we had Friday off (a cold day....). And while I would like to say that I was super productive this weekend...I wasn't. I've been feeling pretty achy, so I took the time to relax a bit, organize some things around the apartment, and do hardly anything. :) It was lovely.

There is talk that we may not have school tomorrow because of the cold....if so, that will be our 5th day off from school since we returned in January! eek! We're also at that point where we're "out" of snow days and any more means we'll make it up in June. And, if that happens, it means our last two exams will be pushed back AGAIN. I feel for the kids-to prepare and be ready to take exams on Friday, and then to have them looming all weekend? Eek. No thank you. I guess we'll have to see what happens.

Truth be told, I honestly don't mind the cold or snow. I actually quite love it. My only complaint is that since trading in my Jeep last winter (last March I think!), my new car, a 300, is TERRIBLE in the snow. It's days like today that I miss my Jeep ever so much. :/ At least our lease is up in just one more year-I'm definitely getting another Jeep! I miss the way it just ran through everything!

Anyway, assuming I go back to school at some point in January, we'll be starting a new semester. I'm excited to have my kids mixed up (my classes stay the same-they just move around a bit to accommodate some of their other classes). I need the change, and so do they! I'm also getting a few new kids. Last year, because I gained new sections of classes, I had a LOT of new names to learn second semester. This time, I have 10? That should be easy! I guess I'm lucky to have pretty much the same kids-we've really connected this year, so we can continue on that route!

I did find out that both of my American lit (sophomore English) classes are huge-36 kids each. I'm not entirely thrilled with those numbers, especially since second semester is a little more intense than first semester in terms of projects and grading. I guess I'm going to have to get more creative.

Besides schoolwork and cleaning, I've spent some time this weekend revisiting some favorite poems. There's something about the cold that pulls me to poetry. This morning I settled in with Whitman's "Song of Myself" and was reminded of just how much I love it. I think I'm going to put Whitman beside my bed for some nighttime reading this week.

I'm also in the middle of Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy. I'm hoping to finish it early this week since my grading will be light. I'm not sure what might be next...perhaps the next in A Song of Ice and Fire? Or any other suggestions?

Have a wonderful week and happy reading!

Friday, January 24, 2014

On Finding Balance.

We had a "cold day" today when wind chills were at -25 this morning. That marked the 4th day we've had off from school since school "restarted" on January 8 (I say it that way because we had the 8-10th off for snow/cold days). It was also a big bummer because we were scheduled to have a half-day today for the last day of exams (5th and 6th hour). So, instead the kids got an unexpected 3-day weekend and a random half-day on Monday for their exams. I'm grateful they gave us the half-day, so I can get all my exams graded and entered before we're required to report grades on Tuesday morning.

But the whole situation threw a wrench into my plans. Since the phone call to cancel school came rather late last night, I was a little hazy on exactly what was expected of me this morning. I was pretty sure I heard that buildings would be open for the staff, but after reading my e-mail this morning, I saw that I was mistaken and only the elementary buildings were open. So, my plans to go in and work in my quiet classroom were thrown out the window and I was stuck here at home all day.

I took advantage of the quiet this morning and settled in to finish Sister Carrie-thoughts coming next week. And after that? I putzed around, not sure what to do and avoiding my grading pile. Truth be told, I'm quite sick of grading and need a little break!

So, I settled in to straightening up the never-ending clutter and my bookshelves.

In the months I was away from blogging, I did read, but it was minimal and rarely something already on my shelves. I think I was pretty anti-reading, to be honest, and when the mood struck, I felt like getting something new-nothing appealed to me that I already owned. The result was that after reading these new books, I would just set them anywhere, rather than putting them on the shelves were they belonged. A good example? Matt and I went on a little vacation in northern Michigan in early July, and I just found that stack of books sitting on the floor in our office (which is still a disaster that I'm going to attack later). In that pile were some good books-The Bell Jar, The Grapes of Wrath, and A Farewell to Arms. I never read the Hemingway, and I don't think I even blogged about the Steinbeck, which I loved.

I think that tells you about the mental state I was in and how I felt about this space. I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again: I began to realize that blogging and my online presence was becoming less important to my sanity.

So what's changed?

I guess you can say that I have "returned" to blogging. I've been reading a little more diligently-returning to taking notes and marking places to discuss in blog posts. I made challenge lists. I revamped the look of my online space, crafted a new identity for myself, and I'm slowly working my way back to other blogs to read and comment. So how does that all connect to my sanity?

I think that anyone who has spoken with me, written to me, or read my words knows that I am a very passionate and dedicated teacher. I love my job. For me, I gain satisfaction from watching my students succeed and prosper. I love being in my classroom, interacting with teenagers and watching them discover literature and history in the way I did when I was their age. Teaching truly fulfills me.

For awhile, the blog filled that whole, then I got that fulfillment from school. But in diving into school with 100% of my being, I burned out personally. After realizing that I was sick last year and coming to terms with the extent of my diagnosis and what it means for me now and in the future, I had to take a break.

It took until the fall to realize that I needed to rebalance my life. I'm a person who will dive into something with everything I've got...and I will pour myself into it until I burn out. I'm pretty sure that's what happened with blogging. And I'm pretty sure my attention and 100% devotion to school led to some of the massive Lupus flares I had last year (I feel like I need to explain what I mean by my crazy addiction to school-grading for hours and hours after school, editing students papers before they turned them in, creating everything from scratch even though I had other resources, checking my school e-mail constantly when at home on weekends in case a student asked a question-all great things, but too much).

I had a chat with my doctor in early summer, after a nasty flare leveled out and when we made the determination to put me on Humira injections in addition to some of my other medication, about taking care of myself. In this conversation, we talked about my interests, my passions, and my work. He stressed to me then that I had to find a balance between my own life and my life at school. I had the summer to think it over, to try to find that balance and come to terms with what changes I needed to make to find myself in a happy place.

And for some reason, when school started, I found myself in a happier state. I was prepared for my classes and while certainly swamped with grading at times, I felt much lighter than I did the year before. I kept bracing myself for a nasty Lupus flare and it never came (I'm currently closing in on 8 months without a severe flare. I've had bad days, of course, but never the weeks of pain and sickness that I had before). I'm sure a great deal of that had to do with my medication finally being figured out, but I think a larger part of it came down to being okay mentally. To setting time aside for myself-to watch TV, crochet, be with my husband, go out with friends, read a book, write a poem, etc.

And guess what....I'm a far better teacher this year than I was when I was throwing my entire being into work. My students' test scores are way higher than they were last year (yes, some revised tests, but I'm also teaching much more effectively), I'm having more fun at work, and I'm enjoying the fact that I can be okay with leaving work at work a couple times a week. I'm sure that many other people had this figured out a LONG time ago-it just took me awhile.

So today, when I was shelving books and spending all this time thinking to myself about all of this, I thought that perhaps that same thing applied here-to blogging. I think I've found a balance here as well. Of course, it's hard to get back into the swing of things, but I'm happy with where I am, where I'm going, and the decisions I've made. Like teaching last year, I threw myself into blogging and reading only the classics. And I burned out, HARD. Now that I have rebalanced myself, I feel much better about making this into a space that truly reflects me, my personality, and the dusty shelves that are home to so many stories I have yet to read.

I finally feel excited about blogging again-in the same way I did way back in 2009 when I had this crazy idea in the first place. It's a good feeling.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” 

I'll be honest and say I don't know a great deal about Hemingway, and I probably should. I definitely know the basics and have read a couple of novels (The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms) as well as a few short stories (I actually use "A Soldier's Home" in my American lit class). He's one of those figures in American literature I tell myself to read more of, but never seem to find the time. Then I had my experience with The Paris Wife over my break (post here) and found myself quite fascinated with Hemingway and his work.

This title had been sitting my shelf for quite some time, so I knew it would become a part of my TBR Challenge for this year, as well as a jumping off point for some further exploration of his work. And, so enthused by my recent reading of The Paris Wife, this become book #2 that I finished in 2014.

It was fabulous.

From the very first chapter, I was taken in by Hemingway's writing and transported back to his years spent in Paris. Through his recollections, I also got to meet some great literary figures-Stein, Pound, Ford, and Fitzgerald (all of which I should also explore at some later date). His gossipy chapters about their lives and his writing and his experiences on the streets were vivid and simple and complex all wrapped up in succinct observations. It was beautiful.

His observations of his fellow writers was both entertaining and heart-breaking. In particular, his chapters on Fitzgerald and his decline broke my heart, perhaps because I just finished teaching The Great Gatsby to my sophomores. Through Hemingway's eyes, I had to see Fitzgerald as weak and unsure...and a captive to his alcohol. But I also got to see him through a friend's eye-not just as someone I've admired from years away and based solely on his writing. I found that to be a bit of a profound experience. I mean, I love writers and their products and while I love to research their lives and experiences, I don't always get to see them in such a raw way. Hemingway's observations made that come to life.

However, my favorite parts where Hemingway's musings on his craft. His words about making stories appear, and living through them, was also raw and emotional. He took his writing seriously and set rules for drinking around his writing (interesting, right?). He also mentioned the devastation of losing his early work when his first wife, Hadley, was bringing it to him (it was stolen on her train). The idea of losing my own work, as unimportant as it is, breaks my heart, so I can imagine that he truly did feel lost when it was gone. Like myself currently, Hemingway had a real connection to his words. It was beautiful to see that passion and drive come through even as his reflection.

In all, I found this memoir to be inspiring. To know that he often felt discouraged and hopeless, that he and Hadley lived in tiny apartments cramped with books and was a bit soothing to tell the truth. It was all they really needed to be happy.

I'm curious to read more about hie life and more of his work. And by reading something that came out after his death. I think I can read his work with a new perspective-see his mind working away at crafting enough work each day. I'm so tempted to craft another author study for him, but I know I should finish those I've already undertaken.

And if you haven't read this and are looking for a way to introduce yourself to Hemingway, why not start here. It's a great recollection of his days in Paris before truly "making it" as a writer.

“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things on my Reading Wishlist.

Hi everyone!

It's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the lovely folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is about the Top Ten Things on our Reading Wishlist-those characters, settings, themes, trends, etc that we want more of in our reading!

I had a lot of fun thinking about this list. Please let me know what things would be on your reading wishlist!

  1. Strong Heroines: I like a girl with sass and attitude. So give me more of them.
  2. Well-crafted worlds: I started off my year by reading A Game of Thrones, which, let me tell you, takes place in a very well-crafted world. I love being able to disappear into another world like that!
  3. Revenge: I LOVE revenge themes! Maybe a reread of The Count of Monte Cristo is in order!
  4. Victorians: I love the Victorian writers, and it has been some time since I've read one!
  5. Cats who aren't evil: Why are cats always the bad guys? The bad omens?
  6. Redemption: This is another one of those themes that I've been yearning for....
  7. Inventive Fantasy: I see a lot of the same things in fantasy literature....I'm looking for something new!
  8. Better Book Covers: Granted, not a writer driven category, but I really love a book cover and nothing has caught my eye recently!
  9. A non-orphaned hero: I know orphans make things easier for writers, but for once, can we have a hero with both parents? Just once?
  10. No more dystopia: I've read too many of them. I want something else!
Now that you've seen my list, do you have any recommendations for me?

Monday, January 20, 2014

"I Have Been"

This is a little meme that I do from time to time. I don't remember where I initially saw it, but it's a fun little questionnaire that I see making rounds on the blogs from time to time. And since I am procrastinating doing a little more grading tonight, I figured I might as well. :)

I have been:

 I just finished grading a set of essays, so I've been writing lots and lots of comments about writing. I actually had my kids complete their entire essay in Google Docs, so I also typed their rubrics. I think it took a little longer than it does for me to write out comments, but it was easier on my hands (typing hurts a little less than writing when I'm having a flare). I don't know how it'll go over with the kids, but we'll see.
I've been reading Sister Carrie over the last few days and I really want to dive back into it tonight....but to be honest, I'm trying to hold off to get my grading done. I know that as soon as I pick up the novel I'm going to get sucked in.
I've had Pandora on while grading. I like the background noise and my current station of choice is 90s Pop Radio. It's a good trip down memory lane!
We have shows that we like to watch in bed and go through spurts of different shows and seasons. We just finished watching Bob's Burgers last week, so now we're on to That 70s Show. I love mindless entertainment before bed! Besides nighttime TV, I've been avoiding TV to grade and read. :)
...right now I'm looking at my crate of papers to grade. And a mess in my kitchen. The kitchen will definitely get cleaned up before bed. There is also a very sleepy kitten next to me. He's pretty cute.
My teaching certification expires in June and I have a few classes to take online to qualify for renewal. During my earlier procrastination, I took a peek at one of the ones I signed up for related to social studies. There's some crazy awesome documents on there, so I'm excited to dive into it after this semester ends.
A bit stressed.  I have a lot of grading left to do. I'm feeling overwhelmed with papers and not sure where to start to get it all done. While we have half days 3 days this week (our exam days), and the exam time to get things done....I really didn't want to spend ALL that time grading. I have prepping to do! It'll all get some point.
I'm going to California in April (my Spring Break) to visit my sister at Disneyland! She has an internship with them for the next 7 months, so it'll be a fun time! I've never been to that part of Cali. The only other time I've been was to San Francisco.
For my papers to grade themselves, for all my kids to pass and do well on their exams this week, and that I remain flare free for the next couple of weeks.
My students. Bless their little hearts...their e-mails and tweets as they prepare for exams are adorable. I love my job.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for January 19, 2014: Exam Week.

This past week was a long one. Coming off of 2 1/2 weeks off from school (because of our snow days) and a measly 2-day week the week before, 5 days of school was trying for teachers and students alike. But, we managed to push through and now I am trying to avoid a very big pile of grading (I'm not exaggerating, I have a plastic crate FULL of things to grade). And while this coming week is exam week and I know I can use that time to grade, I really need that time to prep and plan for the second semester. As soon as I publish this post, I'm heading over to the library to get some work done. I'm so much more productive when I'm there!

Besides the fact that it was a very long week, I did get a lot accomplished. I spent a good deal of time yesterday grocery shopping and cooking. I've been meaning to make some things to stick in the freezer for those days when I'm not feeling good and don't feel like cooking (more often than not, I pick up food on my way home on those days...which means I'm not eating particularly well...). So, I bought doubles of a few things and managed to double up on some casseroles to shove in our very small freezer. I also bought a rotisserie chicken, which I shredded and turned into a big batch of chicken salad for lunches this week. I often just bring a salad and yogurt for lunch, but I'm getting pretty tired of that and thought that some chicken salad with grapes and walnuts would be a nice change!

And this morning I made up a big batch of broccoli-cheddar soup, so we have that for this week as well. In all, I feel quite accomplished and I'm happy we have some food put away. It's so easy to fall back to what is easy (and crappy) to eat, so now we have some good options waiting for us. It's a good preventative measure, especially if and when my Lupus flares up again.

Besides the cooking extravaganza yesterday, I spent some time organizing a few of our cupboards, including the dreaded tupperware cupboard. I don't know about you, but it always turns into a disaster with lids all over the place and containers shoved every which way. I tossed some that didn't have their lid (or vice versa) and reorganized so we can actually find what we're looking for.

My next big thing to organize is my book closet. I have about 15 boxes of books in my closet, and while I culled them a couple of years ago, I think I need to dig back in and re-cull. I know for a fact that there are a bunch of textbooks in there that I've had since college. I need to just sell them to amazon and get what I can for them to get some more space for storage. I'm pretty content with my collection now. There are quite a few things I wish could be on shelves, but we don't have the room for any more bookshelves. And I know there are many things I will never read or don't want to look at again-why am I holding on to them? I'm hoping to do this in a few more weeks when we have a long weekend.

In reading news, I decided to start Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I adored An American Tragedy when I read it a few years ago, and this title has just been sitting on my shelf. I really didn't want to start another challenge book so soon, so after looking around, this title jumped out at me. As of this morning, I'm on page 314, so you can tell that its going well and that I REALLY like it. I can't wait to see where the story goes, and I can't wait to tell you all about it.

After I finish it, I'm not sure what I'm going to read next. I'm thinking of reading a Thomas Hardy (because for some reason, Sister Carrie makes me want to read him?), so I might grab one of those off my shelf-maybe Tess or Under the Greenwood Tree. I also feel a pull to Vanity Fair, so we'll see what my mood says once I finish Sister Carrie. Any other recs for me?

Anyway, I best be heading to the library before all the good spots are taken. ;) Have a fabulous reading week!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”

I'm not sure I have anything new to say about Gaiman's very recent novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but I'll try and say something new anyway.

First, I should be upfront and admit that I haven't read a ton of Gaiman (American Gods, Neverwhere, Stardust, and Coraline), and I am pretty divided about how I feel about his writing. Sometimes it grabs me, sometimes it doesn't. So, when I saw this out at bookstores, I was incredibly hesitant to pick it up.

I finally caved after seeing so many glowing reviews. I'm glad I did because I thoroughly loved this book.

The novels opens with a man returning home after many years away for a funeral. Stifled by being home after so long, he begins to remember things from his youth and a girl who lived down at the end of the lane. As he sits by her old pond, which she called an ocean when they were kids, he begins to remember things from his childhood.

Now, I could tell you about the story itself, but that would ruin it. Instead, I want to talk about the importance of childhood memories. Because as the man begins to remember his childhood and what happened to him, it brought to mind my own memories. As he struggled with the pretty horrific images from his youth, I also thought of things from my own youth-happy and sad. And I wondered, how well do I really remember things from my past? Has my mind, as I've aged, started to change the way I remember events?

That, I think, is the magic of Gaiman's novel. There is a balance there-between the depth and romanticism of our youth with the harsh reality of adulthood. Because as we age, the horrors and monsters we faced as children become something much more real. And we cannot escape inside ourselves-we have to face those monsters and the evils of adulthood!

Ah, there is so much more I could say about the novel itself, but I don't want to spoil it. It's a magical thing that you need to read and experience for yourself.

But trust me, it's a good one.

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

I absolutely refused to watch the first season of Game of Thrones when it debuted on HBO. While it was something that I knew would be right up my alley, I insisted on reading the books first. So, my husband watched the show by himself. He also bought me a box set of the first four novels in hopes I would pick them up and get to reading...

I ended up binge-watching the first season when it came out on DVD and have since watched seasons two and three with my husband on Sunday nights. It's a show that I absolutely love, since high fantasy is something that has always been near and dear to my heart. The show is also a great escape from my own reality, and for that, I love it.

However, I've been avoiding the novels forever. Usually I'm not afraid of big books, but there is something so overwhelming about this series, and there's the fact that it's incomplete. Generally speaking, I like to wait for big series to be finished before I start reading them (exceptions would be Harry Potter and The Hunger Games), so that was a huge part of my hesitation. It also never felt like the "right time," since they are massive and require a lot of time to read.

But, I caved over break and told my husband I would start reading them. I even put the first title on my 2014 TBR Challenge list. So, it was time. I started reading on New Year's Day, and have been reading in smaller chunks since then. I actually think that seeing the show helped me slow down and hasn't left me super anxious to dive into the next book right away. Instead, I got to savor the writing and characters, since I knew the outcome. There was no mad rush to know what happened next! How interesting!

Anyway, reading the book was a truly a different experience in that I read slowly and savored the story. And while Martin definitely likes some heft to his stories, it was nice to sink into the world of Westeros and the shifting political landscape. I also enjoyed reading his little twists and feeling the shock of them coming alongside the characters.

One of the best pieces of the book was the character development. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, so as the reader, we learn bits and pieces here and there to form the whole story. I was already familiar with the characters from the show, and I was happy to see that my favorite characters were well-translated from the book (Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and of course, Daenerys (she's my ultimate favorite)). I loved seeing the characters leap off the page and felt that Martin did a great job balancing their voice while in their perspective and seeing them from other perspectives. It was an interesting way to see them develop. A great example of this is Lord Eddard Stark, who had a great deal of chapters told from his point-of-view. Not only was he honorable and wise in his own voice, but it was pleasant to see the same kind of perspective from the other characters. Cersei Lannister was probably more evil in the book, as was her son Joff.

In all, the book was evenly paced if a bit heavy in parts (some unneeded description, and let's be honest, all fantasy has little side stories that aren't wholly necessary, but man, they're fun). The characters were developed fully and interesting. And the world is absorbing and mysterious. There were many little secrets Martin released (the bit about the missing black kitten, for example) that go untouched by the show that I could appreciate more during my reading. I also loved being able to understand character motivation a bit more-for example, Jon Snow's attempted desertion of the Night's Watch. Having that extra background information really made the story come alive.

I'm looking forward to eventually diving into the second novel in the series, A Clash of Kings, but I think I'll wait until next month. I'm hoping to finish book 3 by the time the fourth season airs in April.

“When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.”

This is the first book I finished in 2014, and also the first book I read to complete my 2014 TBR Challenge! Go me!

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

“But I tell you one thing, I don't want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you while you stay the same, and that's just sad.” 

In general, the only non-fiction I read includes biographies and histories. Most non-fiction just doesn't appeal to me. However, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a combination of things I'm used to...and not. While it definitely is part biography and part history, it also includes a lot of science and investigative jargon that was a bit outside my element. But I read it anyway, after hearing lots of praise for the book.

This is a book that's hard to describe, mainly because it does so much more than it sets out to.

Henrietta Lacks, also known as HeLa to scientists the world over, was a woman who died from a very aggressive form of cancer in 1951. Shortly before she passed away, doctors took samples of her cells (as was pretty common back then) without her consent. These cells, the HeLa cells, went on to grow and regenerate. They soon became a staple in all laboratories and became the focus of scientific experimentation and progress.

This book not only manages to explore all of the details of Henrietta's life and the immortal life of her cells, but takes it further to the legal and ethical issues surrounding those cells and the lives of Henrietta's children. Much of the book focuses on whether the scientific community had the right to the HeLa cells when they were taken without consent and whether the children of Henrietta Lacks, who help Skloot learn more about their mother, are entitled to some kind of compensation from the success of the scientific community in conjunction with research with HeLa cells.

It's an interesting balance for a book-combining family and personal histories with the advancements of science. It also puts a lot of questions "out there" for the reader to ponder:
  • Did the doctors who took samples of Lacks' cells have the right to do so?
  • Do scientists have the right to sell and distribute cells for scientific research?
  • Who should earn the profit made off of cells like HeLa?
  • How would this situation been different if Lacks hadn't been a poor black woman?
I personally don't have answers for any of those questions. Instead, I'm left pondering the meaning of the book and of where science has brought us.None of us can deny that researching the way cancer works is important! And knowing that HeLa cells have helped scientists understand the workings of cancer (and so many other things) can almost justify what was done to poor Lacks and her family. It's an interesting conundrum, and one that I still don't think I have a handle on.

For me, however, the biggest issues to stand out were those of race and class. How would things have been different if Henrietta had been white? More educated? Made more money? I don't know, but as Skloot reveals, perhaps Lacks was taken advantage of because of who she was. That says a lot about research!

In all, I found The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to be one of the best books I read in 2013. It's a book that I wish more people in my life have read, so I can talk their ear off. It's also opened my eyes to reading more non-fiction in my future, including subjects that are out of my comfort zone. How else do we learn but by pushing ourselves?

“She's the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother is so important to science, why can't we get health insurance?”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for January 12, 2014: A "Snowy" Week and Getting in the Groove.

How is everyone doing this fine Sunday morning? I'm typing this up quickly before packing up and heading to the library to get some work done! I find that I get a lot more done when I step away from the distractions of cuddly kittens, books, and a comfy couch.

This week was supposed to be our first week back at school, but we were hit with that nasty weather that plagued the Midwest starting on Sunday. We ended up having three snow days! It was a bit crazy, but I was glad for the first couple. I came down with another case of walking pneumonia (which I think I mentioned last week), so I would have been home Monday anyway). Having some extra time off allowed me to rest and relax a bit more from the safety and warmth of our apartment.

The weather was definitely COLD. It read negative 35 here at points, and the snow was crazy. The roads were still horrible when I finally left the house on Wednesday to escape to my mom's for a few hours. Thursday morning also was a bit of a harrowing drive, since there was still a lot of ice! But, I got a lot done in those 3 days, and it was nice to only have 2 days back before this weekend. :)

The kids were happy to be back, but with finals coming up in just another week, we're all feeling a bit pressured to get things done and get to review. I'm also excited to get to second semester content in my American lit class because I have a lot of fun things planned for them. I've been working all year to revamp some lessons and pull in some fun activities, and the kids are truly enjoying the class. AP U.S. is getting closer to their exam and my co-teacher is nearing her due date. She'll be leaving me in early April, so the last month before the exam will be spent with a sub!

In any case, I still have a lot of school work to get done before the semester ends and not enough time to do it. I'm only slightly regretting my super relaxing Christmas break, but I really did need that time off to recharge. My work will get done when it gets done. :)

In terms of reading, I finished A Game of Thrones yesterday morning. There is a post scheduled to go up on Wednesday. It's the first book I finished for the year, and it was a doozy. I also moved on and started A Moveable Feast by Hemingway last night, inspired by my reading of The Paris Wife. I'm not far into it, but I'm enjoying it.

Anyway, I best get to the library to get a good table. I hope you had a wonderful week with great reading!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Room by Emma Donoghue.

“People don't always want to be with people. It gets tiring.”

I was living under a rock when this novel came out and people told me to read it. Generally speaking, I avoid books that come out with a bang (example: The Hunger Games. I refused to read it when it first came out and started getting press). You would think I would learn my lesson. It's my inner book snob.

In any case, I was wandering the shelves in the media center before I left for our Winter Break when this one jumped out at me-it was mishelved. I grabbed it to put it away, but read the back cover and decided to bring it home with me, just in case.

So, over break, I happened to finish another book (Champion by Marie Lu) and wasn't quite tired yet. After reaching into the bag filled with books from school, this one found it's way into my hand. And I started reading...

3 hours later, I finished it. That should say something. I mean, you know when people say that they couldn't put a book down, and you're like, "No, you probably did put it down to go to the bathroom." Nope, I waited until I finished it. It drove my husband nuts.

As for the actual content of the sucked me right in. 5 year old Jack has always lived in Room, along with Bed, Wall, Egg Snake, and a host of other objects and locations in the small room he shares with his mother. It is the only place he has ever known-he was born in the room and has never left, or seen the outside (there is only Skylight in Room).

The narrative starts on Jack's birthday and tells the story of how Jack and his mother decide to escape after a series of events, their rescue, and their rehabilitation into society. And while I certainly enjoyed Jack's description of Room and his life there, it was the second half of the novel that really grabbed me.

Because once out of Room, Jack has to come to terms with the fact that everything he has been taught his entire life wasn't completely true. He has to learn how to interact with people who aren't his mother, understand their emotions, and how things work in the real world. There was a scene where he was at a bookstore and saw HIS book-Dylan the Digger-and decided to keep it without understanding that there could be more than one. It was that kind of scene that really grabbed me.

I think Donoghue really excelled at capturing that kind of confusion and loss. Repeatedly Jack asks to go back to Room-not because he necessarily loved it there, but because it was what he knew, it was what he knew to be safe.

“The world is always changing brightness and hotness and soundness, I never know how it's going to be the next minute.” 

The result is a book that sucks you in-you have to know how Jack will handle the world around him. And how his mother will adjust to being back in the world after being gone so long.

It was a beautiful and haunting book that I really want to read again and soon. And if you brushed it off like I did, you should really give it a chance.

“In Room me and Ma had time for everything. I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there's only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit....”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Revising Old and New Reading Projects.

One of the things that prevented me from returning to the blog for weeks at a time was that I felt very stilted in my reading project (my list of 250 classics). I was struggling to keep going since the original purpose was so far removed from me, and the project was too big to begin with. That's not to say I won't ever read those books in the future, but more that there were other reading projects calling for my time and attention. And I was sick of feeling guilty for picking a book to read off a list other than the 250 list.

My first venture out was my list for the Classics Club. I should have thrown that 250 list out the window then, but I held on to it. And the Classics Club has been great in regards to opening my eyes up to more and more classic work to some point in my life. I don't feel as much urgency to complete that real long list of books...mainly because I consider it to be a lifelong goal.

However, I needed to officially break away from my 250 list of books, and I think I've finally done it. That list is now buried in draft on my blogger dashboard. And while I will probably read from the list and finish it, I'm not going to worry about it. I'm sure I will check it from time to time so I can see what's left, but I'm no longer focusing on it. And that's a HUGE relief.

Instead, I'm focusing on reading freely-classics, YA, some science-fiction and fantasy, non-fiction, etc. I want to be free to grab what I'm interested in at any time and not feel like I am cheating on my poor book list. That being said, there are some author studies I've been longing to do, as well as some other projects.

Over the course of the last week, I've been revising the pages on my blog. If you look at the lovely bar across the top, you'll see quite a few new projects. The first is my link to my Classics Club list, which needs a bit of maintenance and revision (folding my remaining 250 books into my larger list). The Classics Club will remain a focus for me. Because while I am reading a little more diversely, I still have mad love for the classics.

I also have a link to my progress for my Willa Cather Project, which I abandoned last winter when guilt from my other commitments stepped in. I've already made a lot of progress for that project, so I'm hoping to pick it up again in the very near future. I think it's perfectly doable to pick up one Cather title/month, since most of her work is on the slim side. This is a project I'm very excited to get back into, so look forward to lots of Cather posts in the future!

Now, on to the new projects!

Back in January 2012, I hosted a Shakespeare Reading Month, and it remains as one of my favorite reading events (A Victorian Celebration is a very close 2nd-look for a reboot coming in a few months!!). I have been thinking about launching into a Shakespeare focus ever since that event took place, and I've finally taken the plunge.

Similar to my Willa Cather Project, my Shakespeare Project is a way for me to dive into an author study by completing his/her complete works. In the case of Shakespeare, I want to finish reading all of his plays and poetry. On the page linked above, I've listed everything known to be written by the bard, as well as links to posts I've written about each piece. For now, I'm going to work towards reading and writing about the pieces that don't already have a dedicated post (even though I've read more of the plays than it seems). After I've completed that, I'm sure I will reread a few (especially from my early days of blogging). I'd also like to make it a point to read more information about the Bard himself, so links to biographies, etc will also be forthcoming. I've also added links to some of my Shakespeare focused posts on that page as well! Some of those posts remain my most popular blog posts!

The second new project I'm launching focuses on Charles Dickens' Major Works. This is something I've been toying with for quite some time (I was initially going to do this last year as opposed to Willa Cather).

For this project, I'm looking to read (and reread) the 16 major works of Charles Dickens. I've read about half of his work, but some of it was very early on in blogging and some begs for another reread (hello David Copperfield, how I LOVE you!). So, unlike Cather and Shakespeare, I will be setting out to reread initially. I'm not sure if I'm going to read in publication order, but that is something I'm toying with.

I'm also hoping to read a little more about Dickens. I already have the Tomalin biography on my shelf, as well as the lovely Dickens Bicentenary that I referenced while reading his work before. I imagine I'll add to those two as I move forward in this project, so if you have a title to suggest, please do!

Lastly, I'm hoping to add a lot more rereading to my life with my Rereading Project.This was very much inspired by o at Behold the Stars, so all credit goes to her genius!

I think that as bloggers, we always feel pressured to read things that are new to us, but like many of you (I'm sure), rereading was a huge part of my reading persona prior to blogging. I miss rereading, so this just serves as a way to bring that back into my reading appetite.

This project requires that I try and reread 15 books/year, which isn't an overwhelming amount. Considering that I read 65 books last year (and 80+) in the years before, that doesn't even come close to have my reading diet. I also think it'll be interesting to see how books stick out in my memory from my early days of blogging (or, alas, pre-blogging years!). And while I've made a tentative list of 15 books (which happen to all be books from that 250 list) to get me started, I'm not holding myself to any list for this! This is my chance to stare at my shelves and reread as I want-classic or not! I really think this is a great way to bring me back to a sense of normalcy in my reading...and help me remember that reading is for pleasure, not work.

There you have-some revisions to old projects and quite a few new ones! I still have some ideas for other things to tackle-further author studies, time period studies, etc, but for now, these are enough to keep me entertained and busy. I'm hoping that working with open-ended goals provides me the intellectual stimulation I crave and the ability to abandon at will. :)

How do you feel about reading projects? Do you have any of your own?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Goals and Resolutions for 2014.

It's Tuesday, and that means it's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I can't remember the last time I did one of these, but this week's topic is too perfect and I'm excited to share this list with you all!

My list is a combination of bookish and non-bookish, so I've kept it divided for you.

The Bookish Goals:
  1. Read 75 books this year. I used to read 100/year easily, but in 2013, I only read 65. I'm okay with that, but I think 75 is a comfortable number for me!
  2. Blog regularly. I don't really know what that means....but I think it means more than once a week.
  3. Complete my challenges. I only signed up for 2 reading challenges this year, but I think both are perfectly doable!
  4. Finish my Penguin clothbound collection. Those pesky people at Penguin keep releasing titles....and since I own almost all of them, I should just own ALL of them, know what I mean?
  5. Continue to read without boundaries. Deciding to break away from my strict list has been a good decision. I'm going to continue reading a variety.
  6. Book Purge. Okay, SAD, but I need to have another go at the books in boxes in our spare closet.
The Non-Bookish Goals:
  1. Buy a house. We just celebrated our 4-year anniversary after Christmas and have decided it's time we need more space (for puppies! Okay...and maybe babies). This is the year we're going to buy a house (probably late summer/early fall).
  2. Take Sewing classes. I got a sewing machine for Christmas, so learning how to sew is high up there! I've always wanted to learn, so I'm going to do it!
  3. Clean out our storage unit. While I deep-cleaned much of our actual apartment over the summer, I didn't touch our storage unit in the basement (SPIDERS). There is stuff down there that needs to be tossed. We haven't used it since we got goes.
  4. Stay healthy! This is something I've been really working on with my doctor. I've been lucky to not have had a full flare in months, and I think that's because I'm making it a point to really take care of myself. That will continue!

What goals do you have for this coming year?

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

“It gave me a sharp kind of sadness to think that no matter how much I loved him and tried to put him back together again, he might stay broken forever.” 

I'm not all that familiar with Ernest Hemingway. I've read some things by him-A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and a few short stories-but nothing that really sticks out in my memory. I know that I never studied him in depth while at college, and I only have faint memories of my tenth grade English teacher telling me to give him a try.

What I do know is intriguing. I know that his style is simple in that he tries to remove emotion so that the reader can form their own opinions and thoughts about the action. I also know he was a bit of an alcoholic, married a few times, and committed suicide. I also know that Hemingway spent a lot of time in Michigan as a youth (we visited one of his favorite bars in Petosky this summer-I sat in his chair).

But really, that isn't a lot to know about him. And while I know that The Paris Wife is a fictional account of his first marriage to Hadley Richardson, it made me want to get to know Hemingway on a more intimate level this coming year (thus, why A Moveable Feast, a book lingering on my shelf for years, is on my TBR Challenge list).

So, The Paris Wife is mainly told from Hadley's point of view. It starts with her as a 28-year-old first meeting the younger Ernest Hemingway before he published much of anything. They fall in love, get married, and move to Europe. It is only once they are in Europe that Hemingway begins to write in earnest (no pun intended....okay, maybe a little) and starts to make connections with the literary greats of the era.

I loved those portions of the novel-the characters meeting figures like Fitzgerald and his wife, Gertrude Stein, Pound, and more. It brought to my mind all their wonderful work, but also reminded me of the importance of connections in the literary world.

However, it wasn't just those literary figures that made the book work. It was the fact that Hadley's love for Ernest was just so raw and real. Hadley truly understood Ernest's passion and desire to write and fully supported it. She left her home and family to live with him in Europe and continually put his desires above her own.

“Why is it every other person you meet says they're an artist? A real artist doesn't need to gas on about it, he doesn't have time. He does his work and sweats it out in silence, and no one can help him at all.” 

The novel unfolds as they deal with challenges to their relationship from within and the influence of those around them. As Ernest starts to gain success, he pulls away until his inevitable affair.

The last 50 or so pages of the book were probably the most interesting of all. I knew, prior to reading the novel. that Hemingway had a series of wives, so of course, it was to all crumble. And crumble it did. And while McLain explained in a series of questions I read online, no one really understood why Hadley let what happened....well, happen. So, McLain's take was insightful.....and I don't know how true it is, but it fit the character of Hadley that McLain constructed.

In all, The Paris Wife was a beautifully written book. The bits about falling in love and being in love resonated deep with me. I've also got spiked interest in reading some of Hemingway's other work in the future, so it was inspiring on more than one level. This is one I definitely recommend!

“Books could be an incredible adventure. I stayed under my blanket and barely moved, and no one would have guessed how my mind raced and my heart soared with stories.”

*I'm still getting in the habit of writing again. Forgive me if I'm awkward for a bit!* 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up for Janurary 5, 2014.

It feels really good to be back to blogging. In many ways, I've felt that a piece of me was missing as I dove into my job. I'm glad to be claiming a bit of me back. :)

This week was my last week off over our winter break. I'm set to go back to school tomorrow, assuming that "snowpocalypse" isn't too insane tonight. We're also supposed to get some negative temps, so we'll have to see if I'm back in the classroom tomorrow. To be honest, I wouldn't mind another day off. This break has been anything but restful!

We had a lot of family parties leading up to Christmas, as well as activities on Christmas Eve and Christmas. Then it was our anniversary and a trip up north from last Sunday through Wednesday. Mixed in there after Christmas came a day bogged down by a migraine, then a cold, which developed in walking pneumonia. So when I say I won't mind another day, I really won't mind it.

In any case, there was also a lot of reading done and a resurgence of ideas and effort put into my blog. I'm happy to be writing again, but it takes me a lot longer and I don't feel as comfortable. Oh well, it'll get better in time.

For the rest of today, I'm going to set up camp at our kitchen table to work on some items for school-some grading, but mostly planning. I'm also hoping to read a little more of A Game of Thrones, which is moving quickly considering that it's a brick of a book.

I hope you all have a lovely week!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Making Changes.

Since the calendar has flipped and we are in a new year, it seems pretty logical for me to launch 2014 with a series of changes on the blog. You might notice that the blog's look is new. I was tempted for awhile to change the name. Part of me feels like I want to pull away from the identity I first established here back in 2009, but after meddling with the layout and template, I decided to keep it. While my little odyssey is quite different now, it's still an odyssey. I did, however, change the tagline for the blog-there will be more here than just the classics.

Speaking of the template, I'm not sure I'm entirely thrilled. I needed a change for my own sanity, but I'm not completely tech savvy. I've considered switching over to Wordpress for a long time...perhaps that will be something else in the works.

I've also hid quite a few pages-many of which fell into disrepair over the last year. I've left a few, but they will be revamped in the upcoming weeks as I revise my plans, lists, and goals. Most noticeably, you should notice that my original 250 list is gone. I'm not sure I will bring it back since I rolled it into my Classics Club list. Ideally, I still want to finish it, but I think I'm revising it a bit. Once that decision is made, I'll let you know.

In any case, I wanted to stop in and say hello. Getting back into this is hard, and I'm definitely not good at it anymore, but I'll improve with practice.

I'm just looking forward to chatting books with you all again.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2014.

I am officially signing up for the second of the two challenges I am taking on for 2014-the Back to the Classics Challenge. In 2013, most of my reading veered away from the classics. I read a LOT of YA lit. And while I enjoyed it, I really miss my classics. This is a great challenge for me to dive back in to the books that I love.

For this challenge, there are categories that need to be fulfilled. The first set is required to complete the challenge. The second is optional, and while I am definitely hopeful to give it my best shot, it won't be a focus for me.

I should also point out that for this challenge, Karen (our lovely hostess this year) has established that classic only refers to a book published prior to 1964 (so anything older than 50 years). I made sure to take that into account when I made my list.

Anyway, here are my challenge books for this challenge!
  1. A 20th Century Classic: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)
  2. A 19th Century Classic: Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy (1872)
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author: The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather (1915)
  4. A Classic in Translation: Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (1927-translated in 1929)
  5. A Classic About War: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862)
Optional Categories:
  1. An American Classic: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
  2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
  3. A Historical Fiction Classic: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
  4. A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)
  5. Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4:  I have a couple of options for this-BBC adaptation or film...I'll decide later!
 Let me know if you're also participating in this challenge!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge!

Since I'm still failing at this whole "blogging" thing, I knew that this challenge would be one to churn things up a bit. This is easily my favorite challenge....even though I fail at it every year (ha! I really do!). So, I am officially announcing that I am participating in the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge!

I'm taking this challenge on with a different approach. In years past, I focused on pulling books that had been lingering on my reading list for far too long. I did try and help myself out-books I wanted to read, books I was dreading....and well, you can see how that went (my aforementioned failure). This year, I'm pulling books from everywhere and pretty much ALL of them are books I want to read....not just books I'm making myself read because I "should."

In any case, I'm excited by my list and already started the first book (I started it on January 1, so that's not cheating, right??).

Onward to the list!

12 Titles:
1. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (quite honestly I'll probably read all of them, but that felt like cheating. So book 1 it is).
2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
3. Tess of D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
4. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. John Adams by David McCullough
6. Truman by David McCullough
7. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
8. Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin Replaced with The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier (I realized I had already read the Franklin autobiography. Whoops!)
9. Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin
10. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham
11. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
12. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

13. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
14. Beloved by Toni Morrison

So, there you have it, the 12 books I am determined to read (I would really like to read all 14, but we'll see).

Let me know if you're signing and leave a link to your list-I'd love to take a look!