Sunday, May 30, 2010

Out with the old, in with the...newer

I've been on a bit of a classic novel kick lately. With the exception of Catcher in the Rye, the last several books I've read were written in the 1800's. In the first half of my list I only have one or two books checked off so it's obvious that I am neglecting the more contemporary books so I decided I needed to start showing the novels of the last few decades a little more love.

I think that a lot of it comes down to hype. The last several books I've tackled were books that are very well known. Books that are synonymous with classic literature. So, when I've been wandering the aisle of the book store, those titles stand out as safe. They've been read and recommended thousands of times, so I feel I'm almost guaranteed to enjoy them.

Fall On Your Knees (Oprah #45)Yesterday after finishing Little Women, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I choose to read an unknown (to me) book and a contemporary one at the same time. Broaden my horizons a bit, you could say. I went through the list and picked 4-5 books that sounded interesting to check out at the book store. Then, once I got there and realized that the store had very few of the books on my list in stock, I decided to read Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Apparently, it was an Oprah book club choice at one point, but as I don't watch Oprah, I still had no idea what to expect.

The summary states that it's about a family in Nova Scotia in the early 1900's and the secrets and lies within the family. So the setting is still a bit older but the writing is contemporary, plus, it sounded juicy, which is always a draw for me. What can I say? I'm a girl, we love drama, even when we claim we don't.

So, I immediately dove into the book last night and ended up consuming 70+ pages in no time. When the main character is a grown man who runs off with, and marries, a 13 year old girl in the first chapter, you find yourself compelled to see where this is all going to go, especially since you know it won't be pretty.

One of the main things I noticed while reading, is the difference between the recent book and the 150 year old classics. The writing is so different, like night and day. The older books tend to be a bit more wordy, and sometimes harder to read since I'm not accustomed to the language of the time. I'm able to read a lot faster because I'm not re-reading sections, trying to figure out what is meant by a word or phrase. Also, the more recent books often seem to get to the point quicker. The writing isn't as flowery or as overly descriptive. Although there is something to be said about the beauty and the rhythm of some of the older books. 

I think, despite my natural inclination towards the more classic books, it was a good idea to take a break from them and head back into the last 50 years. I was beginning to get burnt out on the 18th and 19th century. I think I'll stick around here for awhile and check off a few more books in the top half of my list.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

#14 Little Women

It took me a few days longer than I thought it would, but I finally finished Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I am actually a bit surprised that in my 28 years as a woman, I never managed to read this one, especially in my younger years. Of course, it's reputation as THE must-read for teenage girls is probably the number one reason I never picked it up at that age since I was the kind of girl who refused to do anything she was expected to do.
Little Women (Signet Classics)
Now that I've finally read and finished it, I think it would have done me a lot of good to read it back then. I could have learned a lesson or two from the March girls about listening too and respecting their mother and also about working hard and not being idle. The March girls are the model of perfect daughters, even with their very few faults. They are loving, good, respectful, grateful, and mild-mannered. My one major problem with the book is that it's hard to read page after page of  perfection. Even when trouble arises they still act perfect and as expected. The few times one of them does something less than ideal it only takes but a few minutes for them to be remorseful about it. It's their perfection that bothered me the most. I am a very flawed individual as are most people. It gives you character and makes you more interesting to learn about. There are no surprises with perfect creatures. You know exactly how they will react and what they'll do in any situation and I think it even makes them less likeable. Have you ever met someone who an do no wrong? After a while it starts to drive you crazy and you find yourself just praying for them to lose it and start screaming at someone. That's what I was waiting for. Having seen the movie, I knew it wasn't going to happen but I was still hoping for an argument, or some drama.

Of course this could just be a sign of the times. The book begins near the end of the civil war and at the time it was expected of women to be perfect and angelic creatures who dream of nothing but serving others and being agreeable and good. So in that time, I'm sure the few instances of the girls being less than perfection probably stood out a lot more. Also, since Louisa May Alcott used her own family and sisters as her inspiration for the story, perhaps she wanted to paint them all in that kind of light as a tribute to them. I know that if I wrote a story about my own family I would have a hard time focusing on their faults as well and I can't blame her for wanting to portray them in a positive light.

For me, I just kept wondering what the big deal was. It was a good story but I just don't see what makes it as big of a classic as it has become. To me, it was just a nice story about four lovely girls and their fairly simple and unremarkable lives. It was easy to read as each chapter is like almost it's own little short story of some event that happens in the family over the years. However, I just didn't get absorbed into the book, I found it to be a little preachy. Almost, like listening to my grandmother telling me how I should think and act and I got as sick of hearing it from the book as I did from my grandma. Maybe it's just a problem with me though. My husband has three sisters, all of whom will praise this book to no end if you ask them. I do plan on making my daughter read it when she's a bit older though, maybe she'll take the lessons to heart and give me an easier time in her adolescence than I gave my own mother. A mother can dream, right?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The quest for new reading material

So, despite having quite an extensive list of books on my 'to-be-read' list I am, still, forever on the lookout for great books to add to it. I found a great site for book recommendations called Flashlight Worthy and wanted to give them a bit of a shout-out to celebrate them achieving 10,000 twitter followers.

I am a total list maker, so I love the list based format of the site as it helps to find books that are exactly what I'm looking for. They have 383 lists that are so different, and even a little strange sometimes, that you can't help but be pulled in. What a book about mother/daughter relationships? Yeah, there's a list for that. How about Books with Wordless Covers or you can sink your literary teeth into the LOST book club now that the show is over.

Head on over, check it and get your own book recommendations to add to your list.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

#13 The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics)"Revenge is a dish best served cold". Those words could sum up Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo. The story revolves around a young man by the name of Edmond Dantes who is unjustly imprisoned by those closest to him. In the beginning of the story Edmond is just a young man who has everything going for him. He just received a promotion to captain, has a beautiful fiance and a loving father. He's a good man, honest, trusting and full of integrity. Of course those traits help to lead to his downfall.

He has acquaintances who are jealous of his good-fortune and conspire against him. Just before his wedding Edmond is arrested on suspicion of treason. At first it appears that the prosecutor has seen through the lies of his acquaintances and will let him go. However after hearing some of the details, he changes his mind and sends an unsuspecting Edmond to prison. Edmond spends fourteen years in prison before a set of fortuitous circumstances enable him to make his escape.  After his escape, Edmond reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and infiltrates the social circle of his enemies. He works towards gaining their trust and admiration in order to exact his revenge. It's a process that takes him years.

I loved the book.  I hated seeing poor Edmond being betrayed by people he trusted and being locked in a dark cell for so long. One can only imagine what that would do to you as a person. I found myself almost cheering when he got out and tasted freedom again. From there it got a little slow moving as he sets works himself into their society and sets his traps. Maybe I'm not a patient person because I don't think I could integrate and befriend these people who ruined my life long enough to exact revenge. I think I'd be much more likely to run in, guns blazing, and mow them down. However as the story progresses and you start seeing what he has planned for each of them, it becomes much more satisfying. I love watching these people just walk right into their own traps. As my mom says "The best things come to those who wait".

Although as a mother myself, I was a little irritated that the children of his enemies were often central to his plans for revenge. I'm of the belief that you don't bring people's kids into disagreements. However, as a parent I know that sometimes the best way to screw with people's heads and hearts is through their kids. I also respect the fact that despite using the kids to get back at the parents, he never actually set out to harm any of them. He just uses them to lay his traps and he actually develops fond feelings for many of them so I forgave him for using them.

The end was a bit different from what I had hoped would happen but it was satisfying nonetheless. My expectations were tainted a bit because I've seen the 2002 movie adaptation of the book. If you've only seen the movie, I highly suggest picking up the book. They are vastly different and as is the norm, the book is much better than the movie. The movie leaves out or changes so many of the details that they are barely the same story.

I'm sticking with slightly older books for now and am moving onto Little Women. I think I may head back to the more recent books after that one though, just to change it up a bit. The older books are great but I'm getting ready for something more contemporary. I just need to hit up the bookstore again.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Ever since I came home from California I'm finding it's becoming harder for me to sit and read for any great length of time. In the past, when a book really captured my attention I could sit and read for hours, just completely immersing myself in the story. Lately I just can't sit for more than 20 or 30 minutes before I get distracted. I'm halfway through The Count of Monte Cristo and I am really enjoying the story but still just can't find the time to really read it. It seems life just keeps getting in the way. I'll sit down to read and make it through one chapter and then my daughter needs a snack/drink/kiss/attention or my sons will start fighting and I'll have to go break it up. Other times I'll be reading and look out the window and starting thinking through all the yard work that needs to be done or realize that I need to change out the laundry. It's never ending. I'm finding myself carrying the book around with me so I can sneak in a page or two in between tasks but it's very hard to read a novel a couple of pages at a time.

Maybe I need to hire a nanny, gardener and housekeeper to take care of all these tasks that keep distracting me so I can enjoy reading like I used to. Yeah, that's really going happen, right after Publisher's Clearing House shows up on my doorstep.

Until then I guess I continue reading one chapter (or page) at a time. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

# 12 The Catcher in the Rye

I spent the last week on a family vacation to Disneyland and so did not have much time to read at all despite having packed several books in my luggage. I was hoping to knock out a couple of books during the 10 hour drive but traveling with two 4 year olds and a 6 year old with extreme ADHD, who are all excited to go to Disneyland, is not conducive to novel reading. The first chance I got to read all week occurred on the drive home when the excitement was gone and the Benadryl kicked in and I had a few hours of silence. I decided to take onThe Catcher in the Rye The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, mostly because it was the smallest book I had with me and the one I figured I had the best chance on finishing. I was right, I managed to knock out half the book while the kids slept and then finished the rest in between restrooms stops and explaining that we still had 4 hours left to go.

I had fairly big expectations for the books since it's so well known and always being touted as a great coming-of-age/ teen rebellion type of book. I really didn't enjoy it that much. As I read I kept thinking that something was going to happen and it never did. I actually got a little sick of listening to Holden whine about 'phonies' or school or whatever. Nothing is ever good enough, or worthy of his time and he thinks he's just the wittiest, smartest, most important thing to ever grace the planet and nothing else can measure up. He just whines through the whole book and I wanted to tell him to just "shut up". It could be that my reception of the book was slightly skewed in that I had spent the last week listening to my daughter, niece and nephew whine and my whine tolerance level had been maxed out but I had a hard time with it. Holden obviously comes from a wealthy family and I hate nothing more than rich kids bitching about being bored rich kids.

I wonder if maybe I missed my time frame for reading this book. Maybe if I had read it ten years ago in the height of my own teenage rebellion it would have had more significance. Now, the mom in me just wanted to tell him to quit wandering NYC by himself and get his ass home. It's winter in New York and he's a kid. GO HOME! Yes, I know, it defeats the great saga of teenage rebellion if you just go home but at some point you have to realize that your safety is more important that 'sticking it to the man' (i.e. pissing off your parents).

I also felt it was a little anti-climatic. As I read I kept thinking that something big/exciting/horrible was going to happen to him and it never did. Sure, a pimp punches him the stomach but it's not like he got his ass kicked. Yeah, a creepy old man patted his head but that's it, he didn't get molested or anything like that. He spends a couple of days drinking and wandering around New York after failing out of school and somehow this lands him in a psych ward? Come on! He's just a lazy, whiny, self-important teenage boy. I can throw a baseball down my street and hit 5 boys just like him.

Overall, it was an okay book but I just didn't see what made it worthy of all the praise it gets. Even the writing bothered me a bit. I get that it was written as if Holden was thinking it, but it drove me nuts. So, there it is, I'll probably be caned for not loving the book but it is what it is. Maybe I'm just a bitchy old woman who "doesn't get it".

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I want to take a quick second to throw a huge 'Happy Mother's Day' put there to all the moms in the world. Whether you gave birth to them, adopted them, took them in, became a step-mom, are a dad playing both roles or even if you gave them up to better their lives, today is about you. As a mom, I do think it's a little bogus that, for all moms do, we only get one day of recognition so make it count. Go do something special for the moms in your life today. Even something as simple as telling her how much you love and appreciate her will mean the world. Just don't forget to tell them on the other days of the year as well.

I have a fantastic mom, a wonderful mother-in-law (seriously!), perfect grandmothers, and even a great woman who became the step-mom to my oldest children after my divorce. She takes care of my boys like her own when they are at her house and I'm very grateful for that. Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 7, 2010

# 11 Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Penguin Classics)I just finished Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. It took me awhile to get into this book. First, because the copy I had downloaded was riddled with typos and strange grammar. Secondly, because I am used to more contemporary novels and it took me a little while to get the hang of the language. I ended up finding a different version of the book online which made reading it so much easier. Once I got past that hurdle, I was able to really get into the story. I really enjoyed the book, despite the fact that I found myself getting angrier and angrier at the circumstances that Tess kept finding herself in.

From here on out this post could be filled with spoilers, so consider yourself warned. It broke my heart that this  poor girl was never able to catch a break and she was taken advantage of by almost every person she meets, including her parents. First her parents send her away so she can claim some supposed, ancient, familial claim that they are sure will better their circumstances. In doing that she is exposed to Alec, who also takes advantage of her innocent nature in the worst way before she is sent back home, in ruin. Back at home, her parents seem to just hold her in contempt because she wasn't able to come home with a 'proper' husband, just an illegitimate baby. It seems that the baby inherited his mother's luck and becomes deadly ill soon after birth. The whole scene where Tess is trying to get her baby a baptism before he dies, only to be refused by her father is heartbreaking. I could feel her desperation when she takes it upon herself to baptize the baby and then asks the priest if it's 'just as good'. When she meets Angel you hope that finally she'll be able to have something good in her life, something she actually deserves, and I really hoped Angel would forgive her for her past, especially since she was taken advantage of. However, Angel disappointed me more than everyone else, including Alec. He was a hypocrite and to treat her the way he did after confessing that he'd committed the very same sin was just beyond cruel.

I'll admit that when Alec came back into the picture I really held onto the hope that he was sincere in his approach to Tess. That he really felt remorse and was trying to earn redemption for his act. As the story progressed you could see that it was not the case. He was back to his old self, lying and manipulating Tess to get what he wanted from her and I was mad that she fell for it, again. I wanted her to be older and wiser but in the end she fell right into his plot and it led to her ultimate downfall.

So, I liked it, despite being incredibly angry and sad about the outcome. Not everything has to have a happy ending and I'm finding that the ones that don't are usually the ones I like the best. That's just me though, maybe I'm too old for fairytale endings.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Project Gutenberg

A few days ago I was informed of a fabulous collection of free ebooks called Project Gutenberg. They have a collection of over 30,000 books available to read online or download in several formats. Did I mention that these 30,000 books are available for FREE? Who doesn't love that? These are older books who are available because their copyright has expired, so you won't be finding the latest best-sellers but you will find many, many older classic books. I've been using it to read Tess of the D'Urbervilles since the free copy I had found was littered with typos. Their copy was fantastic, no typos or missing quotations marks. So, I just wanted to pass along this information to any and everyone because I think it's just a marvelous resource.

I'd like to give a huge shout-out to Jump_Raven for filling me in on it.  Thanks a ton!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Getting what you pay for (or don't)

I was ecstatic a few days ago when I discovered that I could download at least 35 books from my list for free to read on my desktop e-reader (I don't have a portable e-reader, yet, so I'm stuck reading on my laptop). When I finished Through the Looking Glass, I decided to try out one of these free e-books. I settled on Tess of the D'Urbervilles, having heard about the book but never actually read it.

The copy I downloaded for free was digitized from a 1921 volume. When I downloaded it I thought nothing of this. Words are words, the story will be the same, as long as it's typed it'll be no different than one being printed today. Oh, how wrong I was. Apparently spell checking wasn't used much in the 20's. Neither was proof-reading, either that or something went seriously wrong during the process of digitizing the book. In the first several pages the mistakes were enough to drive a person mad. In the middle of a sentence it'll cut to a new paragraph, like someone accidentally hit the 'Enter' key and didn't bother to fix it, just kept on typing. Quotation marks are very much nonexistent so it's hard to tell what a person is saying out loud or just thinking. The misspelled words are in overabundance, including the names of the main characters, and some to the extent that I can't tell what it's supposed to say. Yes, I realize that the process of printing books was much more difficult in the 20's than it is now so I'll forgive it, but it's incredibly frustrating.

However, it was free, so I have very little room to complain too much. You get what you pay for and I didn't pay anything, so I should be grateful to get anything at all. As I read more it's becoming less noticeable to me and I'm quickly picking up where the quotations should be so it's becoming easier to read. Plus, I'm very thrifty so I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. If I want something for free, I'll have to live with the imperfections.

Monday, May 3, 2010

#10 Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking - Glass and What Alice Found There: With Fifty IllustrationsI finally managed to get some quiet time last night after my daughter went to bed. I took a long bath and finished off Through the Looking Glass. I loved Alice's Adventures in Wonderland so I figured I would love this one too and I enjoyed it but not nearly as much as the other. It was fun and silly and easy to read but I'm not sure if I was rhymed out or just tired but I was having a hard time getting as engaged in the story as I did with Alice in Wonderland. It just didn't draw me in and I found that my mind would wander to other things as I was reading. It's OK though, I still really liked it and I'm sure I'll come across many books on the list that I really don't like, probably even a few that I downright hate.

I'm hoping to move right into a new book today, though I have no idea which one yet. I'll have to go through what I have available and pick one a little later today. I have a paper for my English class tonight that needs to be attended to first as well as reading a few scenes of Streetcar Named Desire for the same class. I hate leaving it to the last minute but I need to decide on a controversial topic for my paper and I can't pick one. I better get on it, class starts in 6 hours.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Happy Discovery!

Before starting this journey I was very anti the e-reader trend. I'm still not 100% sold on the idea of e-readers like the NOOK  or the Kindle but I'm getting real close. I just really love the look, feel, smell of a real book, or dead-tree books as I've seen them be called. Maybe I'm a little old school but I like to snuggle into a chair with a book and can't see the e-reader being able to replicate that feeling. Not to mention that the idea of a massive library of books being replaced by one little electronic device just breaks my heart. However, when I started this journey it dawned on me that 1001 books is quite a lot, especially when it was my intention to buy more often than not because I love buying books and having them at my disposal. Now I'm met with a few conundrums. First, is that 1001 books takes up a fair amount of space, which I don't have a ton of. I could borrow from the library but like the idea of building up a family library of books for my children to be able to access as they grow older. My second, and probably more important, conundrum is that 1001 books actually costs quite a bit of money, something else I don't have a ton of. Of course, I'm not buying them all at one time so it's much more manageable but it's still a concern.

So, getting back to the e-reader debate, I had the idea of e-book downloads brought up to me by a friend. I sort of blew off the suggestion because of my e-book prejudice but the idea simmered in my head for a few days. This weekend while sitting home bored I began looking up the specs and reviews on the different kinds of e-readers, trying to keep an open mind. I do love the idea of having so many books, so easily at my disposal, especially on vacations or long car rides. As I researched them I find that the idea is becoming more and more tempting.

While checking out the Nook on the Barnes and Noble site I found that they have several classics available for free download. That was enough of an incentive for me to download their desktop reader to my laptop to check out. Today I searched the free e-book selections for anything that may be on my 1001 list and found 35 books easily! I downloaded those immediately and added them to my 'to be read' list. It was like Christmas or my birthday come early! 35 free books and more possibly to come when I look harder. YAY! Now the idea of buying an e-reader is becoming much more appealing since I don't want to read all those on my laptop, I may go blind staring at my screen for that long. So now I need to ask around for opinions on the different kinds of e-readers for pros and cons of each kind. I have plenty of time since my disposable income is limited and it'll take me awhile to save up enough for one. At least I have plenty of free reading material now so I can put my book money towards my e-reader fund.

I still kind of feel like a dead-tree book traitor.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lazy, cold Saturday

Well, it's May! My favorite month of the year and not just because it includes the day of my birth. May is like the gateway to summer, a promise that it's just around the corner. However this week has been full of snow, rain, hail and other general unpleasantness so my May day is a little overcast and a tad chilly. I am not pleased.

So here I am, on what should be a nice warm day, stuck inside with nothing to do and a whiny four year old. I should be out playing in my yard, or laying on the grass finishing my book. Nope, not going to happen today. To top it off I just paid rent and am saving for a vacation we're taking next week so I lack the funds to go out and do anything as well. I could (and should) finishing cleaning the house but there's really no fun in that. I also have several recipes that need typed up for my class on Tuesday but again, where's the fun in doing homework?

I attempted to read but the aforementioned child kept climbing on me and nagging for juice every time I tried. I'm feeling like this day is destined to be spent on the couch, watching crap on TV and generally doing as little as possible. Actually now that I think about it, that doesn't seem like too bad of a plan.
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