Welcome to my bookshelf


I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Count Your Blessings

Currently Reading: Band of Angels

As I sit here now typing on my wireless keyboard, connecting with my beautiful iMac via high speed dataflow, under the glow of an electric lamp with a potty just across the way, I am struck by how fortunate we are to live in the times that we do with all these wonderful conveniences. This book takes place in the 1850s and follows the journey of one of Florence Nightingale's nurses as she heals and comforts British soldiers in Turkey. The conditions are horrific to put it nicely. No water, edible food, hay for the horses, bandages, you name it. Men are dying left and right not because of their wounds, but due to the byproducts of these disgusting "hospitals". Two of my students did their scatterplot project on the year and the number of deaths for a number of wars. They were totally convinced that they would see a positive correlation due to all the advances in war technology. What was interesting though, was that they actually saw a negative correlation in the data. This was not due to lack of injures in modern warfare, but rather due to advances in medical care given to the soldiers. We can now keep so many more young men alive simply because we have sterile instruments and more humane ways of practicing medicine. Now I for one and not saying we should go out and have more wars. This book just solidifies my belief that war is a wrong and completely unnecessary evil brought about by men who have no idea of what actually occurs on the battlefront and just have visions of grandeur in their heads. What I am merely pointing out is that we should be grateful each day to wake up to a warm shower and steamy cup of coffee as we head out to work in our fancy little cars. Remember, at one point, these were not things to be taken lightly. So thank you to all the smart men and women who imagine all these fantastic conveniences for us and keep up the good work!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Lure of Other Lives

Currently Reading: The Jewel Box

I have not been myself lately. No wait, I have been too much myself lately and I do not like it. I think and say some pretty nasty things and then pretend like it doesn't matter. Where do all these thoughts and words come from? I don't know, but it has to be from me. My inner self or something. Perhaps that is why I read so much. It allows me to step into someone else's shoes for a bit and live life through their experiences. I absolutely loved this book and I wasn't entirely sure why. It is not my typical thing. The main character is a witty socialite, flapper really, in the 1920s. So not something I can relate to, but again, that may be the appeal. I enjoyed living vicariously through Miss Diamond Sharp's story telling. Who knew that one could experience such emotions and events? She is a charming narrator, even though this is a third person tale, and I was rooting for her through and through. In the end everything works out fantastically. It wasn't the exact ending I was expecting, but just as pleasing. I guess this is the purpose of books and movies. They allow one to escape for awhile and become someone new. Sometimes we don't like the characters, but it is still something different from our own hum drum existences. I know that I need to work on my own faults and make my own tale more palatable, but in the meantime, I will continue to enjoy all the magical stories out there for our enjoyment and pleasure. Who knows? I may actually learn a thing or two that I can apply to my own life. The vivacious flapper and the timid math teacher did end up having a few things in common after all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Men...ugg

Currently Reading: All He Ever Wanted

Golly I have been a busy girl! It is winter break and I have finished most of the school stuff I can possibly do over the break and so reading is #1 on the agenda. I also went to the library today and had to actually restrain myself from borrowing all the books I wanted to. They will be there for me next time.

So onto the book. Why is it that men are always in charge? And why do we always pander to their wishes? It seems that in this age of feminism and whatnot, we ladies should have more of a say in how are lives are run. Now of course, this one takes place in an earlier era however I do not find myself felling so sad for the wife in this tale. She is loved voraciously by a man for who she does not feel the same passion. So what does she do, she accepts his proposal and makes his life miserable. Now granted he tells her he will be miserable without her, but really. It is her decision that makes her life, his life, the lives of their children, and the life of another man suck. Instead of being all demure and whatnot, she should have stood up for herself and said no! This was not one of my favorite Shreve books, but an interesting one nonetheless. Written from the husband's perspective many years later, we are given a skewed view of the actions. There are a few letters interspersed as well, but I will admit, he biased me. Ah well. Onto the next one.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oops! and Be Forwarned

Currently Reading: The Handmaid's Tale

The subject is oops since I called it the wrong thing in my last post. So crazy! I figured out what the names all meant for the handmaids. They are all Offred or Ofwarren or Ofglen. What it actually means is of whoever their commander is. This just shows how much they are treated as possessions rather than individual people. What is never really explained is why they need breeders in the first place. I mean there is no way all of the Wives are barren, but I think it may have more to do with sex itself. It is a taboo thing to have lust or passion. By making sex a task rather than a pleasure, the community has supposedly solved the problem with mankind. The funny part is that there are still dens of sinners and Offred's commander actually dresses her up and takes her to one. It is all OK because it is practiced by all the leading men. This is just another case where a few guys determine what is good for a society and then break their own rules because they can. It is so frustrating, but all too common. We see it in many conservative groups where a few decide for the many and are trusted to do so. Why do we continue to allow this to happen? The most frightening thing is that we are seeing this trend creep into our political arena today. More and more rules are pushed on women regarding their bodies and what they can and cannot do with regards to their own reproductive systems. And yet there are no rules for the men. What gives? Ugg. No more politics. Back to the book. The coolest part of this book is that at the end there is a notes section. It seems that we have really been listening to tapes recorded by Offred after she escapes from Gilead. She relates her story and scientists and academics in the future are trying to piece together the actual events from this unknown time. It seems that not all of America was immersed in the battle and the rest of the world was free as well. Even these men and women are baffled by the events related by Offred. The notes section makes the whole tale seem more real and plausible. Let's hope this thing never actually occurs. But again, I can't help but see a few blossoming parallels in our lives today.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Where are they?

Currently Reading: The Handmaiden's Tale

I am just starting this one and it is proving to be interesting. It seems to take place in a possible future where conservatives have taken control and America has become no longer a land of freedom, but a place where people are oppressed and forced to follow ridiculous rules and customs. It is funny because parts of it remind one of olden times in Japan and China, but the Japanese tourists in this book are the "racy" ones who are amused by the provincial ways of the Americans. You have to be told that it takes place in America otherwise you would have no idea. I will admit that I haven't gleamed everything about the new world order yet. (My mind has been on systems of equations.) It is proving to be something expected from Margaret Atwood as it is so unexpected. I have read several books of hers and they are all different. This is reminiscent of Oryx and Crake (although perhaps that should be the other way around due to publication dates). In both, we are taken to an imagined future where there are some familiar things, but the overall mindset of the people is completely foreign. One thing that is consistent in her books though is critique of conservatism in both religion and politics. Perhaps a reason why she is one of my favorite authors. I promise there will be more on this one once I get further into the story.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Smokin'

Currently Reading: The Runaway Jury

Just when I thought I had it all figured out, a twist. This is something I enjoy about the few Grisham books that I have read. His stories are obviously well researched and full of believable action, yet are never boring. He lays out all the facts, or at least most of them, allows you to come to a conclusion and then whammo! Something new to consider. Another fun thing about his stories, is that even though there is a lot of information, the are still character driven. You get to see the inner selves of both sides and decide who you relate to or can sympathize with. I am torn on this one. It is about a trial between the big tobacco companies and the widow of a man who died from lung cancer. I don't know how I would vote on this one and can understand why the jury is having trouble (of course they are also dealing with bribes and coercion and whatnot). On one hand, you have these billion dollar corporations who are well aware of the damaging effects of their products, but on the other, you have a thinking human being who make a choice. Sure smoking is bad for you, but did the big guys really put the cigarette in your mouth? I have a hard time sympathizing with someone who makes a conscious decision. Yes they are addictive, but so are a lot of things. I am a compulsive eater. Should I bill Frito-Lay for my psychiatrist sessions? Should they have to pay for my ever increasing sized clothing? They have tasty adds and colorful packaging, but I put the Cheetos in my own mouth, not them. I don't know. This is something to think about and I believe that each person's experiences determine their own opinions. In this case, I can point to many family members who have suffered due to addiction to smoking. Should I automatically hate the tobacco companies? Part of me things I should, but again, I can't help thinking about free will. Much pondering ensues. What is your take on this issue?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Out of Her Hands

Currently Reading: The Center of Everything

I haven't posted in what seems like forever. Busy I guess. So this one is fun because it takes place in the late seventies and early eighties. Not a time period that many contemporary books focus on. The narrator and main character is a girl who lives with her (basically deadbeat) mom and has no idea who her father is. He does not play a large part in her tale though. It is more of an after thought for Evelyn. She is a fun narrator because she really tells thinks like she sees them. I feel bad for her since she is so smart and not really able to reach her potential. It is amazing how much parental support can alter a child's future. There are a lot of brilliant children out there who never get to make their mark due to circumstances outside their control. It makes me think of two things. First, the book Outliers. That one talks about how it is almost opportunity more than innate talent that causes certain people to excel. Bill Gates lived next to a computer lab. So did Steve Jobs. Certain athletes were born at certain times of the year and so stood out on their team, chosen by birthday. Evelyn is granted no opportunities. Her mother can't even drive her to the state science fair and her community is full of Bible toting people who alter her curriculum at the underprivileged school she attends. The other thing I think about is something that is a prominent issue today. Evelyn did not ask to be born. Her birth causes her Grandpa to cut off her mom and also causes her mom to cut off her own potential. Why should Evelyn be blamed for this and ultimately be the one to face the consequences of other peoples' decisions. So sad. Today we hear all about how there are so many students failing in school and starving and having all sorts of other troubles. They are being punished by the elite in government who say we should not be giving support to their pathetic parents. All we are doing is harming the kids. Again, they did not ask to be born in the circumstances that they were. Why are we punishing them? George Bush just got lucky when he was born into a wealthy, white family. His policies and the policies of his peers are punishing the unlucky. I didn't know we could do that. I do know that we should not do that. Jerks. That what it makes them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who dun it?

Currently Reading: The Bone Collector

I have been into detective an mystery novels lately. I love having a puzzle to figure out and enjoying following the main characters as they follow the clues and try to solve the mystery. It is fun to have a common goal with the characters of a novel and although these usually aren't the most literary of books, they are entertaining and keep my mind engaged. This is one of several books I have read by Jeffery Deaver, but I think it is one of his more popular novels. It is interesting because it takes place before some of the others I have read and so I am learning about the origins of characters have have met before. Not all of his books deal with Lincoln Rhyme, but many of his most read ones do. This is one where is popular side kick enters the scene and I am enjoying discovering her integration into his life. Another thing that I like about these types of books is that they deal with science. Rhyme is all about the physical evidence at a crime scene and so there are tons of cool gadgets and tools that he employs to solve the case. Right up my alley. His opponents usually have a psychological angle as well and so this adds to the intrigue. Entertaining and fast paced. Enjoyable for when you mind is elsewhere most of the time. (Ugg, grad school.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sanity or lack there of

Currently Reading: Lust for Life

Van Gogh goes crazy!! It has been very enlightening following this master along on his journey through his artistic development. I am learning so much not only about Van Gogh, but all his contemporaries as well. The ear incident has come now too and it seems (at least according to Stone) that the whole thing has been romanticized and exaggerated over the years. I am not quite finished, but it seems like Van Gogh is finding a place where he can practice his craft and at least find some semblance of peace. There was one thing that I need to check on though. A woman appears who has apparently been following Van Gogh around for several years and is in love. She predicts his future success and acceptance by the public. Then she sort of disappears. Like I said, I'm not done so she may come up again. In the meantime, I am off to Wikipedia. Conclusion: Another great tale.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I didn't know that!!

Currently Reading: Lust for Life

What do you know about Vincent Van Gogh? I thought I knew a little bit, but apparently not so much. This is a biographical novel about the master's life from his twenties and on. Did you know that he was originally all set on being a preacher? He of course does not fit in with the traditional clergy and ends up in this horrible mining town. He is altruistic and caring and this gets him in trouble with the higher ups and though he experiences incredible hardships, they kick him out and he goes on to find some other path. He went through many career changes before finally finding his calling, but even then, he can't sell a think. I hadn't realized how much he depended on family support. His little brother basically pays his way for years. And love. Oh my goodness, what a trail of woes there. I am loving learning all these new things. Irving Stone gets into his character so thoroughly that you feel like you are in their minds. Van Gogh's tale seems to be a cross between Stone's story of Darwin and his tale of Michelangelo. The artist experiences so many setbacks and it is hard to keep this straight when you consider how beloved he is today. How can they not see his genius? I wish that I could reach into the story and let Vincent know that everything will be OK. People will love him, but alas, I feel that many more hardships are in store before he becomes a household name. I highly recommend this one for all art lovers. Stone tends to take a realistic approach to his characters' lives and doesn't romanticize anything be it Van Gogh's relationship with a prostitute or his struggle to be accepted in the art world. There will be more as I progress further. One thing that is common amongst all of Stone's books is that they truly are epic tomes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Forgive and (possibly) forget

Currently Reading: Vortex

Yes, a Star Wars book. I love catching up with my pals. But I am going to talk about the book I just finished, Faithful Place. Murder and intrigue, but in a very literary manner. This is the third book I have read by Tana French and never cease to be amazed how she creates such real and believable characters that are so easy to relate to even though they all hail from Ireland and are immersed in the current culture there. This book focuses on family and the main characters relationship with his kin. He had separated himself for many years, but is pulled back home by a ghost from his past. As the mystery unfolds, he discovers more and more about not only his family, but himself. He also has a young daughter. He tried to hide his family from her, but she ended up being pulled in anyways. She doesn't understand why he doesn't interact with his family. It is sad when reading about his conflicting emotions regarding his past and future. Needless to say, he did have reason for protecting his daughter, but it raises questions. Do your experiences define the experiences of others. Can someone's inner nature truly change? These struggles are truly the heart of this tale, the murder just the catalyst that gets things moving. Definitely recommend this one. Even if you feel like you don't like murder mysteries, I think that you'll find that this is not your typical thriller. An emotion packed, thoughtful tale of loss and redemption.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tough Love

Currently Reading: I'll Go to Bed at Noon

Alcoholics. People on their way to becoming alcoholics. The innocent family members. The not so innocent family members. It is so sad. This is a story about a family that has been torn apart by alcohol. There is a history of the disease within the entire family. The mother is in denial. The father barely drinks at all. Two children have no alcohol problems, but one is married to an alcoholic. The oldest son is completely gone and the youngest is on his way down the path. Uncles have died. Horrible. This is a disease that so many people suffer from, but so few people really understand. In essence it is really about the addiction. It is so easy to say "Just don't drink". But to an addict, it is so hard to abstain, particularly when it is part of one's everyday life. Through my own experiences with AA type programs, I have come to have a better appreciation for what these people go through. My situation is a bit different, but when reading this book, I am equally appalled and sympathetic. I have seen alcoholism hurt people in my own family and almost feel helpless. What can you do to change a self-sufficient adult? When is it crossing the line? So far, the oldest son has now been kicked out of the house and not allowed to return. His mother had such a hard time with this, but the father is standing strong. Is this a mother thing? Ugg. So many thoughts are coming, but so few answers. There isn't enough space to share all my experiences and questions. I guess from this story, I am seeing that we are not alone and sometimes the hardest choice to make is the correct choice. I am interested in seeing how the story ends and what the characters eventually decide to do with their lives. Will the succumb to the drink or will they become strong and overcome the addiction? Will their success or failure give us any answers? We shall see.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Copies of copies

Currently Reading: The Sorceress

He who must not be named. Swords (or wands) with torrid pasts. The chosen one. A sage mentor. Attempted conversion by the evil side. Unique relationships between brother and sister. I could go on and on. All these are present in the fantasy epics that have become popular over the past several decades. This series is ripping off Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia. Harry Potter ripped of The Lord of the Rings. I'm not going to even get into the Twilight saga. Who was the original? I of course cannot help but tout the wonders and creativity of Tolkien as the leader of this genre, however even he can be said to have taken ideas from the Arthurian stories as well as even older epics like Beowulf. Now I am not saying that these are not good books. I will forever be looking for more fantasy and sci-fi series that hold my attention and send my mind to far off places. It does seem thought that there comes a time when I find myself being able to predict the outcome long before the final book. (I have a feeling Flamel will die. It has to happen.) What I should be focusing on is the fact that this type of story is still engaging to youngsters and that people are still writing these even in the face of literary critics. I still am wanting an original tale to sink my teeth into. I have never read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books yet, but I can't help but feel that I will find the same thing there too. (Any guidance of whether these books would be worth it would be much appreciated.) So I guess what I am trying to say is that if you want a unique story about wizards and heroes, you may find yourself wanting. If you simply want an engaging escape, by all means. Pick this series up.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No Winners Here

Currently Reading: The True Memoirs of Little K

Forget the naysayers! I loved it, but am dismayed by how little I new about the Russian revolution. Whenever we hear Russia these days, all we think of is Stalin or Lenin or Communists. But how did they become so prominent in the first place? It is something we should all consider. Again, just like in the Josephine books, I found similarities to things that are happening today in our country as well as other countries across the globe. When I was reading Little K's tale, so much of it sounded exactly like what Josephine had said years earlier. It seems that none of us learn from history. Or perhaps it is just that we ignore it. So enough about politics and back the book itself. Little K most certainly is a haughty old women, but a lot of her complaints are justified. I'm not sure that I could survive in a world where appearances, proper procedures and birth rights were so important. Tick off the wrong person and it is over for you. And then it seems that the soviets felt the same way. The saddest part of the story is the way the soviets decided to take control. It wasn't enough to simply remove the tsar from power. He and his family and anyone remotely connected to him had to be executed and left to rot in an open grave. It speaks to the fear and childishness that was prevalent throughout the leaders of the revolution. Of course you do have to remember that this story is told from the point of view of someone who enjoyed the royal set up and did not want things to change. She almost makes you sympathetic towards tsarist Russia. Still...now I am all confused. Who should we have rooted for? My answer is none of the above, but in politics, that can never be an answer. This period of time requires more investigation.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Old Women

Currently Reading: The True Memoirs of Little K

I hate it when someone gives a book a bad review prior to my reading it. I always come to the book looking to pick it apart and point out all the flaws. This book is for the "book club" that I am in at school. A few people had already started it and said they were finding it to be written in an off-putting manner. So of course when I finally got my copy (faithfully requested through my public library hooray!!), I was already hating it. Now that I have started, I see where they are coming from, but do not think that what they are saying is making the book bad. I have been comparing it to the Josephine books I read earlier this summer in that they are both from the viewpoint of lovers of high level men. What is so different about the Josephine books is that they are written as a diary. You are with her through every action and experience the emotions she goes through at the time. In the case of Little K, she is relating a story as a very old woman. Of course it is a bit dry. She is crusty and old!! I think this story was intended to be more remote and not allow the reader the intimacy of a novel written in memoir fashion. Perhaps this speaks to the personalities of the two different ladies. We shall see. I am not even halfway through and so will post my final thoughts when I am done. So the moral of the story is...keep your mind open and make your own judgments. Of course the Russians will never be as passionate as the French!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ahhh...

Currently Reading: The Alchemist (not the one you are thinking of)

Since I just started this one, I am going to talk about Jack. Whoa. Talk about a page turner. So Jack finally meets up with his Dad and you are surprised at every turn. The picture that is painted prior to Jack's latest search is completely different from the truth. Jack's father has another family and yet still cannot remain still. The only constants in his life are his tattoos and his organ playing. The novel ends exactly where it started. Jack's father is playing the organ and the audience is enthralled. Even more so is Jack. How exciting that he finally gets the opportunity to know who his father is and where he comes from. It seems like so often people are simply legends. What you know about them, you learn from other people. It is unfortunate for Jack that such an important character in his life is simply a hodgepodge of tales told by people with different agendas. I am happy for Jack. He finally finds not only his father, but another family in which he finally belongs. Jack has gone through so many trials, physically, mentally and most especially emotionally. Abuse of all kinds is a main theme in most of Irving's novels. The moral of all his stories is really that you need to seek whatever method of experience a catharsis that works for you. Jack's final plans may not be what most people would choose and yet you feel satisfied because he is satisfied. And not only that, you are satisfied because the story has ended and you are not feeling abandoned, however you know that the story is just beginning for Jack. I love John Irving.

And now a note on The Alchemist. This is the first in a series for young adults regarding Nicholas Flammel. Think Harry Potter but more goth. I am very excited because several students have expressed a liking for the series. Even some who are not your "typical" readers. This is always a good sign. (Although many of the kiddos did love those Twilight books. Silly little dears.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Update on Jack

Currently Reading: Until I Find You

Just over halfway done. Which is a book and a half in itself. One of the fantastic themes in John Irving's books is that you get to grow up with the characters. Jack was a young boy when we first met him. He manages through his "formative" years and is now a thirty something man. When Jack was younger, we followed along with him and his mother as they followed his father. They end up residing in Canada and Jack has the most interesting childhood. His mother as well as his best friend have now died and Jack is back to the location of his first journey. He is now the follower. Seeking out the truth. It seems that both his mother and his memory blurred the facts of his father. At each stop, we revisit familiar characters and they finally tell the other side of the story. It is an interesting parallel. Jack finds more and more inconsistencies. It is so sad. I suppose I will have more to say as I have much more book to read, but I thought it was about time for an update.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Permanence

Currently Reading: Until I Find You

Jack and his mother are on a quest to find his father who left them before young Jack was even born. His mother is a tattoo artist and is inking her way across northern Europe, following the trail of a man who plays the organ and gets music depicted all over his body. My main question is why? Why is this guy so important to find? Is he really worth all this effort? Many of the secondary characters ask this as well, but Daughter Alice, that's her tattoo name, never responds. I am drawn in already and the tale has hardly begun. When I picked up this book, I was daunted by its sheer size. It is 820 pages of very tiny text. Of course, it is by John Irving, and so I took it on anyways. Now that I have started reading, I find the length is the least thing on my mind. I often find that I don't want his long stories to end and so am grateful for the length. More time to get to know these crazy people. There has been some hinting at getting to know Jack better when he is older (he is only 4 now) and so I am suspecting that this may be like A Widow for One Year with the beginning part taking place far earlier than the bulk of the book. We shall see.

One of the most intriguing parts of this tale is getting to meet all Daughter Alice's customers. The people who get tattoos are such a mixed lot. And their reasons are all different. I have never thought about getting one, nor never will as I think they are a bit tacky. The weirdest part is that most people (in real life too) who get these permanent marks on their bodies are really not very grounded nor sure of themselves as human beings. You make this statement because you are told this is a way to make a statement, but is it really what you will think forever?

Now for my brief religious rant. The mom is a choir girl who is seduced by the organist at their church. Really? And he gets religious music tattooed all over the place. I hate the hypocrisy of the god loving folks!! No, I won't make that generalization. Restate: I have the hypocrisy of most of the god loving folks!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Density

Currently Reading: Great House

I don't get it. I hate it when I don't get it. I know that there are a bunch of separate stories going on and that they are all tied together by this desk and a Chilean man. That's about all I know. I keep getting the narrators confused. Is it because they are so similar? Sometimes even women and men are tough to distinguish. Ugg. I don't like the frustration I am feeling. What makes things worse is that if I am not totally into the book I tend to read extra fast and gloss over certain bits. I never skip whole paragraphs or anything, but I do unconsciously omit certain phrases. This is not good when I am not understanding the book to begin with. I think that this may be one I will keep and try again. I got to the end and it was OK, but still, I feel like I was not able to keep up with what Krauss was saying. Note: this was not a bad book. Just one that takes a special person to get I guess. So if you are looking for a challenge, give it a go. Now I am off to treat myself to a bit of fluff before jumping into Irving again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cliff Dangler?

Currently Reading: Silence of the Graves

Whoa. Did not see that coming. This is fabulously written in that it keeps you guessing. You think you know what the answer is, then he introduces another fact so you change your mind. Then something else comes up and you are forced to alter your thinking again. I loved it. As this is a mystery, the main plot comes from finding the means, motive, and evil doer, however, the people are such a prominent part of the tale. Sure the mystery part of the story wraps up in the end, but what is cool is that the personal story is a cliff hanger. Now you need to read the next one. Not to find out whodunit, but rather to see how the characters react to this final change in their own story. This is such an interesting way to write a series. They are connected and yet separate at the same time. You can read this one without having read the previous, however, it is so much more powerful when you already have a relationship established with the main characters. This allows you to follow their thinking better as well as realize how the mystery plot elements affect them. You can make predictions and judgments in a more appropriate manner. Definitely another one you ought to read.

Next up is Great House by Nicole Krauss.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Familiar Folks

Currently Reading: Silence of the Grave

I love reading books with recurring characters. Maybe not the same story, bu the same main personalities hold force. I think this is one of the many reasons I love all those Star Wars books. I love seeing how the people change and grow. This is the second in a series of books that feature a detective in Iceland. He is not involved in the same case any more, but his personal story overlaps from the previous books. I am enjoying getting to know him better as well as learning what has happened in his life since we last met. You may notice that I am not using names. This book not only takes place in Iceland, but is written by an Icelandic author. The names are absolutely crazy and I cannot get the pronunciation or spelling down. I know that I am probably reading them wrong, but I always find that the story is so much easier to follow when you stick with one pronunciation and then focus on the story. I am not too far into this book so can't say much about the story. I am enjoying the writing style though. His sections move from present time with the detective to a past, back story involving totally different people. I am excited to see how they come together. I'm sure there will be a subsequent post.

One note for those of you who liked the "Girl" books. This is very similar in terms of subject and setting. If you enjoyed those books, look this one up. The author is Arnaldur Indridasson. (See what I mean about the names?)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More Important Words

Currently Reading: Timeline

I cannot resist all this science stuff. And this one combines it with history and so all the better. I went to the library last week and of course got a bunch of fluff. This explains the lack of posting. I am embarrassed to say that I have been embarrassed to post any of the other books. Oh well. This one involves time travel, but not really time travel, more travel between multi-universes. Interesting. They just got back to the past and it is weird. How would you react in such an unfamiliar environment? Nothing is what you expect and nothing is what you are used to. Even the English language was different back in the day. It makes me think about the last posting about how the modern day house was derived. As we change and adapt, our way of classifying, naming, and describing things also changes. The history of language is an incredible tale. Each language started on its own but was influenced by other languages that its speakers heard. It is also influenced by new inventions and ideas. Democracy is a fabulous example. What does it mean to you? What does the dictionary tell you that it means? Sometimes these are two very different things. It is amazing what emotions are evoked when a simple word is brought into play. The experiences that you yourself have had play a large roll in what that word means to you. Religion, for example, conjures up many different thoughts and feelings in whoever hears the word. I know that my thinking heads straight in the opposite direction of others. So sure, they spoke English way back when, but the English is certainly not our English. Objects change too. A belt wore under the clothes? Who'd have thunk it?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's in a Name?

Currently Reading: At Home

Apparently a lot. This is a nonfiction tome about the origins of modern home life. I expected it to be about the rooms that evolved into our current vision of an ideal "home", but instead this book is actually about how modern day life came about. Nutrition, clothing, medicinal practice, appliances, etc., all are covered in this weighty tale. Bryson goes behind the scenes to tell the tale of what caused people to develop the ideas that produced such inventions as the sewer system, staircases, and even glass windows. Their temperaments are also explored. It seems that we revere some folks who were quite honestly jerks. I found myself learning a lot. All the words play a large role in this book. Why is it called a cabinet? What is a washroom, loo, or bathroom? It is interesting how people lived in the industrial era and their priorities at times seem preposterous. But that was what was the norm in their time. Over the decades, people's priorities have changed and the modern house is all about comfort now, something unheard of not too long ago. Today we take many conveniences for granted. This book is a good one for showing why and to whom we should show appreciation for the comfort in which we live today. Can you imagine a life without electricity or bras for that matter? All in all, it was a very interesting tale. I will say that it takes a lot of mental capacity to get through and so fluff is needed next.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brother Step

Currently Reading: Lost Boys

Pg 96: "...he hated his life and his job even though he loved his family and his work."

It seems like I haven't posted in forever, but I see from my previous one that it has only been since Monday. I had a hard time picking the last few books I have read. I keep starting and stopping so many. I did read a Terry Pratchett though and may get into the whole DiscWorld thing. We'll see. I know there are tones to choose from.

I have read a ton of Orson Scott Card books, but while perusing my school's library, I stumbled upon a few that I have missed. This one is all about programming, well not all about, but has it in it and I love reading about it. I know that sounds weird, but it is a skill I so desire. My one attempt in college did not go over so well and I have been reluctant to try again. I mean come on! My math brain should get it, but I think part of my problem is that I am not creative enough. The thing about this book that I am not so enthused about is that the main character and his family are hard core Mormons. I just can't get into that. The whole Amish thing I can understand, but this, no way. I am trying to forgive Step this and allow myself to take in the rest of the story. Yes, the main character's name is Step. I guess I can relate.

I included the quote because I felt it was applicable to many of us. I don't necessarily hate my job, but there are times when I wish I could shut the door and live in my own little classroom and focus on only my students. That represents the loving the work part. I am stuck in a rut and making a lot of my decisions based on how they will affect my routine. I love my routine or so I think. I just get all anxious when I don't get to do it perfectly, however, I feel guilt and remorse about turning down so many opportunities and behaving like a pill about change. I know that doesn't fit exactly with the words of the quote, but I think the sentiments hold.

I am so sad for a bunch of the stuff that is happening in Step's life and so annoyed by a lot of the stuff he is doing and totally dying to know how things will progress. These are all things that mark a good book. So even if I don't agree with all of Card's politics, I still enjoy his tale telling. Well, I am off to finish up my grad school assignment so I can really get into this book.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just like us

Currently Reading: Typical American

Is assimilation such a good thing? The main character of this book moves to America to go to school and build a better life for himself. He takes the name Ralph, gets his doctorate. His sister moves with him. He marries a girl also from China. He builds a home, has children, and gets a dog. Then he is swindled and hoodwinked by a Chinese man who was born in America and is totally American and takes advantage of Ralph's naive sense of what is right and normal. This is so sad and so common. Since these immigrants don't know what is usual here, they are bullied and takne advantage of. Now I must say that I am not liking this book so much. Is it because of the slow corruption? I'm not sure. Maybe I just can't relate. We'll see. Right now the characters are in dire straights and horrible things have happened that never would have occurred if it weren't for Grover, the deceptive Chinese American man. Even though I wouldn't probably recommend this book, it still raises some things to think about. Do we American's really have the right idea about how to live and what is right? Maybe we should have listened to and learned from these other cultures instead of focusing on rubbing them out.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Possibles

Currently Reading: Never Let Me Go

I love literary science fiction. Perhaps because it is a blend of what people traditionally view as serious literature and the futuristic, scientific experiences that are seen throughout science fiction. Others who write these types of novels are Margaret Atwood and Mary Doria Russell. Sometimes I feel bad that the science fiction that I so love is not taken are seriously as it should. These are the stories of tomorrow and what our future holds. Of course there are fluff space battles and whatnot, but what genre does not have its fluff? At least with science fiction, there is some basis in fact. Oh well. I will continue to read and enjoy the space.

This book is interesting because it takes the entire book for you to finally realize what is actually happening and what the background story represents. Cloning is the focus here. Children are "grown" to be organ donors. They live at a school of sorts where they are allowed and encouraged to participate in educational programs as well as expand their artistic and creative abilities. The children know what lies ahead for them, but this is simply fact for them. They do not rage against it or try to break out of the system. It is expected of them and they do it. They sometimes look for their "possibles", the people they were cloned from, but this is more of a fun game as opposed to serious searching. Some of the children go on to be carers before becoming donors. This means that they tend to their peers after they have undergone a procedure for ceding and organ. The main character in this book is so good at being a carer that she never moves on to being a donor. While she remains consistent, she watches her childhood friends deteriorate as more and more of their parts are taken. It is sad in so many ways, and yet uplifting in that she is able to provide comfort and familiarity to her friends. There are a couple of people with whom she is very close and as they go through their procedures truths are brought about and apologies are made. These people have such a short amount of time to make amends. They never experience anything approaching an average life. It is an interesting perspective to take and I wonder what the main moral intended by the author. He is Japanese and his narrative from that of a middle aged woman is unique. Apparently it is going to be a movie or something and that would be interesting to see.

Just for thought. The "school" that the children are at is called Hailsham. Is this similarity to Mrs. Havisham intended or not? Am I attempting to read too much into things?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BFF

Currently Reading: The Girls from Ames

These women are so inspiring, and yet the book makes me slightly sad too. They have so many hardships, but deal with them successfully through the support of their friends. What is making me sad is that I have no friends. Seriously. None. These ladies have a bond that has stood the test of time and their lives are so much fuller because of it. Not to mention the fact that the author keeps talking about how much healthier and long-lived people with strong friendships are. What am I supposed to do about this? The book doesn't really give much insight as to how to gain friends. They became friends due mostly to location and just being in the same place at the same time. They became friends at the age when making friends is an everyday occurrence. What about us oldies who have missed this critical opportunity? How do we fix it? I guess I need to step up my game and be more proactive. But how much easier it is to be friends with books. They do not judge you and expect nothing? Can I live up to expectations? Or should I even try? It seems like a true friend would have none, although, as these ladies prove, having high expectations for each other is a healthy thing. Sure they will listen to you, but they will also speak their minds frankly. I am still pondering the implications of this book. Is he telling us that this is how we should be or is he just relating a heartening tale. Either way, I suppose I have some catching up to do.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Selfish Poops

Currently Reading: American Fuji

Pg 176: "The Japanese might be just as prejudiced against the less able, but it was a relief to have it out in the open. They didn't whitewash hardship by calling it "challenges". And they recognized the reality of illness by providing health care to all legal residents regardless of employment or preexisting conditions."

So Gaby, as an American woman residing in Japan, experiences many prejudices due to her nationality and gender, she still remains there because she is ill and wants to take advantage of the health care that is provided. It is a shame that she is forced out of her own country, where she could experience success and fit in, only because she cannot afford to have her particular illness there. Why is it that we are the most prominent among the developed nations and yet we cannot come to terms with an idea that most other developed nations have? We are all humans and we all need care for our bodies and yet the system is totally set up to deny care, rather than provide care. This just sucks. And what is worse, we consider ourselves better because we do not have national health care. This is the stupidest idea I have ever heard. We have a responsibility as a superpower to help those in need. Survival of the fittest is an archaic idea. And here it isn't even the "fittest" who are surviving, it is the richest. Now I have insurance through my job, but know many other hardworking, intelligent and employed people who are not so lucky. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they were provided a choice? No. That would make them the same as the rich. So not acceptable here. In this book, Gaby is OK, but really not in the happiest place and only because of this issue. Her story would be so much different if we were able to get our heads out of the sand and make some changes. This is but one reason why I am going out to vote a straight ticket tomorrow. Someone needs to take a stand. Oh and I used poop in the title since I wanted to be PC and Gaby's illness actually relates to issues with the expelling of waste. I won't go into details.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Unfamiliar Territory

Currently Reading: Room

Pg 138: "I'm not in Room. Am I still me?"

We all live in our own little worlds, but what if that was all there was? In this book, poor little Jack and his mother are held captive in a shed. This is the only world that Jack has known since he was born there and lived out his first five years within those four simple walls. This is a painful tale where not only are the characters isolated physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. When we travel to a foreign country, we feel out of place and uncertainty. For Jack, when he finally escapes Room, the entire world is new and uncertain. He doesn't understand what to do and what to say. His normal routine is not consistent with the way that Outside works. The saddest part of this story is that his mother was content with the way things were when they were stuck in Room, but once they are out, she is familiar with the way things are and cannot understand Jack's inability to adjust. They are really both children in the world. Neither one is comfortable, but at least Ma has a source of reference. Will Jack ever become comfortable with Outside? Will his mother be willing to work with him and allow him the time he needs to adapt his norms? She is impatient with him and it reminds me of when we are impatient with those who just can't understand where we are coming from. Maybe we should cut people more slack. Sure we know what we are looking for and what we want, but that doesn't mean that it makes sense in someone else's world. For example, I am stuck in weird routines and other people cannot understand why I freak out if the routine is messed up. And of course, I do not understand why they can't understand. We all have our own idea of how things should be. The problem is that our ideas don't always match. Read this book.

Oh and thanks to Kathy for the fabulous suggestion.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Roughage

Currently Reading: The Road to Wellville

Dr. Kellogg runs a "spa" for wellness in the early 1900s. There he preaches the methods of living a healthy, toxin-free life. Do not eat meat, drink alcohol, take daily enemas, etc. Oh and don't forget to eat your corn flakes. Does this work? For some, it seems to be the cure, but for others, it is just a depraved life. Why do we focus so much on what we eat? Sure it is our fuel and we cannot survive on nothing, but seriously, it is the most prominent thing on most people's minds, myself included. We hear from doctors and nutritionists about what we are supposed to eat. We hear from ads and commercials about what is yummy and fun to eat. Chefs tell us what is "good" to eat and what is unami. Why can't we just eat what we want? Because we don't know what we want. We wait for someone to tell us what to do whether it is Atkins or Frito-Lay. We give others this life altering decision. I for one feel it is easier to have someone tell me what do eat. Therefore I cannot berate myself for making an inappropriate choice. I have read several nonfiction books about purity and reverting back to the ways of our ancestors, as in the original hominoids. But then again, how can we deny ourselves processed goodness? It is hard to escape the fake food and only focus on the natural stuff. Not to mention the fact that we have become accustomed to man-made foods. I would die without my processed sugar. Of course, that is an overstatement. Now I really have no conclusion to add to this post. I don't have the answer. In fact, I have no answers. It is still something to think about. But don't be too much like me and dwell on it. Have you ever heard the saying "do what you like and the money will follow"? Well I wish I could say, eat what you like and the results will follow. Obsesity or anorexia. How did we get to this state? There is no in-between for so many of us. If you have the whole food thing figured out, I envy you. Oh and I don't think Kellogg has the "answer" either. Enemas? really?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

He's so weird...or am I the weird one?

Currently Reading: House Rules

"But for the record, I personally subscribe to the belief that normal is just a setting on the dryer."

How true. I deal with this sort of thing everyday and I think that most people do. We strive so hard to be normal and fit in, and yet all we are doing is denying ourselves to simply be ourselves. How wonderful the world would be if we all were simply true to ourselves. I am who I am. Now this doesn't excuse erroneous behavior, yet it does allow us to be responsible to ourselves and make sure that we are doing things to the best of our ability. I used to wish I was "normal", but what is normal. It is whatever we define it to be for ourselves. So from here on out I pledge to not seek normal-ness, but rather Stephanie-ness. It will be a challenge, but if I just continue to be myself and not try to adapt my circle peg to fit into the square hole, I will be happier, healthier and better able to be there for others.

On another note, I was right about the story. I am getting better at this whole deduction thing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Aha!

Currently Reading: House Rules

So I am only about halfway through the book, but I have figured it out already. I am very pleased with myself. Usually I don't solve the mystery until much closer to the end, but this time I think I have it. I like trying to figure stuff out. It makes me feel like I am a player in the story. Now I am dying to see how long it takes the characters to figure it out too. They are not as savvy as I am I guess. In response to something I mentioned in the previous post, there are more points of view than just the three I mentioned. What is kind of cool about this book that Piccoult didn't do in her earlier books is that each character has his or her own font. You always know who is talking based on the type. Of course the styles are different too, but I like the extra touch. This is one of the details I always pick up on. Small changes. This also leads back to my previous post in that I am very aware of weird formatting and details like that. I think that this trait is another one that points to the whole Asberger's thing. Maybe Piccoult did this on purpose. Man she is a devious one. Well I am off to see if anyone else solves the mystery too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Questions

Currently Reading: House Rules

Is it possible to have a touch of Aspergers? I think I may have a bit. I literally just started House Rules by Jodi Piccoult and the young boy who has it lists some of the things he really can't stand and I share several of them. Here they are.

Certain sounds
Too much noise or flashing lights
Having plans change (this kills me!!)
Loose hair (and really hair in general)
Being touched by someone I don't know

Now he has some that I have no problem with, which leads me to my question, is it possible to just have a wee bit of the disorder? Is it even a disorder? This is something that I need to research more. This is especially important for me since as a teacher, I have students who actually have Asbergers. I need to make sure that I am more well informed about the nuances of this unique type of person. See, this is what I like about reading. It opens your mind to new ideas and places as well as types of peoples and feelings. I read about stuff that I have never experienced in my own life, but this way I now I have a better idea about what it was like for someone else. I know that a lot of what I read is all made up, but still, the idea had to come from somewhere. Jodi Piccoult always does her research which is one of the things I like about her. The other thing I like is that she always shows all sides of the story. I know I have said this before since I've been reading a lot of her lately. In this book, each chapter is from a different person's point of view. One is the boy in question, one is his mom and one is his younger brother. I haven't gotten very far and so there could be more. I am interested to see where this ends up as I didn't actually read the jacket, but know that most of her books revolve around some sort of courtroom drama. We'll see. I'm sure there will be more posts as the book progresses, not to mention the fact that I seem to have some extra time on my hand. Easier assignments for grad school this week.

On another note, my blogger dashboard informed me that my last post was my 100th and so this is 101. Wow. I can't believe I wrote so much. This blogging has been a very fun experience for me. Here's hoping I make it to 200!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Connections

Currently Reading: Hard Laughter

Pg 3: "...the dictionary defines a "lagoon" as "any small pond like body of water, esp. one communicating with a larger body of water"."

I love Anne Lamott. Everything I have ever read of her's has been fantastic. This is her first novel and it was great to see that it was as fantastic as her last (that I have read, as I have not gotten to her latest one). Now this is not saying that she hasn't developed as a writer or anything, I'm just saying that it really enthralled me. The reason that I chose the quote is that this is a theme that Lamott typically uses in her stories. There is definitely a "main" character, but this character is still connected to so many other people in her life. I think that this is true of all of us. I think about the quote "no man is an island". It seems that we are all lagoons. Still our own people, and yet connected to the ocean of our community and the world itself. I find myself emulating a lake most of the time as I am very insular and don't interact with people as often as I should. Although I am definitely a loner, I am still affected by and truly affect other people in my life. I need to pay more attention to these connections and give them a larger part of my life. It is hard sometimes to be so alone, and yet I find that I love my loneliness. And I wouldn't even say that I am lonely, but I am aware that I need to branch out a bit more and allow more people into my life. As Lamott makes clear in this book, it is our relationships that actually define us and how we choose to acknowledge and develop these relationships really tell a lot about who we are. Will you be kind, empathetic, critical? All these are just a few of the ways that we connect to others. Just like the connections in any network or machine, it is important to keep the connections open and alive so that we can develop and grow as human beings. That is my goal for the moment. Improving connections.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Really and truly

Currently Reading: Airframe

I love books that are based in facts like historical and hard science fiction. This one is about an airplane malfunction that caused some deaths and injuries. It is not a crash or anything, but there is an investigation in progress and so many technical details. I think that I read about this incident in Outliers, which is about extraordinary people. That book was discussing pilots and how sometimes the culture that a pilot comes from, affects his or her decisions in the cockpit. Now these are commercial pilots, not fighters, a while different beast. It seems like many Asian pilots were steeped in tradition and cultural norms and so mistakes by the pilot were accepted by the "lesser" staff. I think that pilot error is going to be one of the underlying causes of this accident. It is funny how we spend so much time trying to lay the blame on someone or something else rather than properly analyzing the situation and finding a remedy. There is corporate intrigue as well as greed at the bottom of this story. Using shoddy parts just because they are cheaper is no reason to play with people's lives. This happens all the time when it is the bottom line that is important rather than the people involved. My mom recently made a post on her blog about tainted eggs. That was another case of managerial error that critically affected the public. Why do we allow these mistakes to happen? Why do we give free reign to people who are thinking only of how to better their own situation? We do this in politics as well.

It seems like I have gotten off topic a bit. Factual fiction is what I was really going to talk about. I believe that it makes the story so much more believable and so much easier to relate to. The book I read prior to this one was a Margaret Atwood book. Her stuff always takes place entirely in an environment created by her unique mind. While I find her stuff amazing, it just never seems as relevant to me and I have a harder time getting into the story. When there is something I can hold onto, such as a fact or a setting that I know, I can get more out of the story. Sure we always need a brief escape every now and then, it is nice to get a jolt of reality sometimes too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Teenage Angst

Currently Reading: The Tenth Circle

Pg 117: "Even though parents don't want to admit it, school isn't about what a kid absorbs while she's sitting at a cramped desk, but what happens around and in spite of that."

This book hits home with me on a couple of fronts. First, as a high school teacher, I know all too well the drama and really trauma that kids go through each day. It is so sad to see such promising kids compromising themselves in the name of popularity. Why is it so important for them to be accepted by people who are actually not worth the effort. I so wish I could explain to them how so much of this won't matter in the future, but it is so hard to convince them of that. They are definitely creatures who live in the moment and focus on instant gratification. Speaking of instant, this is why I hate the Facebook so much. It is just another way to instantly accept and reject people, not to mention be accepted and rejected yourself. I have seen so many kids come to school in tears because of something someone said or posted on their page. Come on! When all you have to do is click and make something instantly public, way too many things that should have been kept quiet, are published for the world to see. So sad.

The other way I can relate to this book is that the main adult character in it is an illustrator and writer of graphic novels. My brother does this for a living and I also am a fan and so I could relate to Daniel as he went through his creative process. A neat thing that Piccoult does is that throughout the book, we see pages from Daniel's own graphic novel and see how the events in his personal life are shaping the storyline of his own book. It is really quite an effective story telling method.

I'm not sure why, but whenever I read Jodi Piccoult's books about a conflict between two teens, I always find myself on the side of the boy. Is this because I don't like "girl" girls very much, or do I just find them unbelievable? As usual, Piccoult does a fantastic job of showing everyone's point of view, but readers always find themselves rooting more for one or the other. I am interested in seeing the final outcome. I already know a few things that blew my mind, but as usual, I don't want to ruin any surprises.

On a general note, hooray for having read so many great books in a row!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Impressions

Currently Reading: Fever Dream

This isn't about the book, but I had a thought today and just wanted to share it with the world. I was thinking the other day how over the course of five years teaching, I have personally affected the lives of over 500 kids. Wow. Then today I got my hair cut and went to Target. At both places I saw kiddos who knew me from school, but who hadn't actually been in my class. I am affecting even more than just the kids in my class. I am all powerful! Whoa! It makes me pause when I think that just how I have been personally integral in many of these kids lives. This is why as teachers we need to be careful in not only our actions and words, but our thoughts and subconscious messages as well. How impressionable these young people are. Can you remember the name of your favorite teacher? How about that teacher who hated? Did they both affect you in some way? We need to be more diligent about making sure kids only have favorites to remember.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Much to Share

Currently Reading: Testimony


So this is going to be a long one. Sorry, but I have a lot to talk about. Prior to this novel, I read Jonathan Franzen’s newest book, Freedom. It was not my favorite of his books, however, it was quite an interesting read. I found myself both appalled and sympathetic for the characters throughout the entire, humongous thing. What I fin most interesting about Franzen’s tales is that his characters seem to mirror him in so many ways. I have read all his books, include the essay/memoir thing. In his earlier books, his main characters are mainly young men full of angst, basically what I imagine him to have been as a young man. As he has aged over the years, it seems his characters have too. This book is focused on middle aged people filled with angst. It makes me wonder a bit about his mental state. Is he really so unhappy? There seems to be very little happiness experienced by the characters in this novel. Even when they are doing something that you’d think would make them happy, having affairs and whatnot, they are still mired in their sadness and seem to find no solace no matter what the activity. I do like the perspectives he used throughout the book. You were really able to get into the souls of all the main characters. I appreciate that intimacy and it makes me care more about people who on the surface I would probably hate. The way the book starts, you really get a different picture of what one of the main characters, Patty is like. As you learn more about her throughout the story, you create a whole new picture of what she is all about, although I will say that I ended up liking her sad little husband more. Another cool thing about the book is that it treats current events in a realistic manner. They reacted to it similarly to normal, everyday people. The book goes through Vietnam drafts, the September 11th attacks, the real estate boom and fall, not to mention our past few presidents and legislatures. I felt like I was reading about someone on the street, although there was a bit of unbelievably. It is a novel after all. So overall, it was certainly not ground breaking, but good all the same.

Now onto Testimony. I just love Anita Shreve. She is so able to bring you into the characters and always writes from an interesting perspective. Just like Jodi Piccoult, you always get the full story, not just as it seemed from the viewpoint of one character. It allows you to come to your own conclusions about the situations and experiences in the book. In each chapter, the particular character is actually giving his or her own testimony about the main conflict in the novel, a gang rape of a young girl. It is unknown to the reader how willing the girl was and what the exact circumstances were. This definitely ups the suspense level. I am not quite done, but am truly engrossed. The most annoying thing is that there was another person filming the event, but no one seems willing to divulge the identity. I am hoping this will come out in the end. We’ll see.

On of the things that both these novels had in common is that they both mess around with time a lot. There were places where I found myself thinking, “Wait, didn’t that already happen?” or “Why doesn’t he know about this yet”. It was frustrating, but I guess part of the story telling process as both these novels tell a tale that takes place both in the present and in the past. Overall, lots of good reading over the past week. I love it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Now I'm Just Mad

Currently Reading: How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex

Pg 100: "Emergency contraception was available in other countries long before it broke into US religious politics."

And herein lies the problem, religious politics. Why do we Americans insist on bringing our religion into politics when we were founded on the separation of church and state? And now we are bringing it into other countries' politics as well. This is just not right. Too many people are sticking their noses in places where they simply do not belong. Where do we draw the line? As a woman, educator, and all around intelligent person, I am completely and totally embarrassed by the state of our union when it comes to stances on the issue of abortion and contraception. These are two separate things that have been combined into one big fight. While they are related, someone who uses contraception is not committing an abortion. In fact, it is the exact opposite. They are preventing the need for another abortion and yet our political (or should I say religious) leaders are saying that they are the same thing and leaving our young people unprepared to face the realities of being a human. We all have sex (for the most part). As a high school teacher, I am all too aware of the fact that teenagers are sexually active. Abstinence education has been proven ineffective, however this is what everyone is saying is the solution to unwanted pregnancies and STDs. I am not going to go into all the details and highly suggest this book to everyone be they pro-life or pro-choice. The author has scientific backing for every assertion and really is just stating facts. It is amazing what people can convince themselves to believe. Please read this book and please allow women to be the masters of their own fates. I cannot state the arguments better than Cristina Page and so will not go into all the details here. Seriously, read this and educate yourself. If not for your own education, for the future of our children. Why not seek ways to decrease pregnancies rather than decrease the availability of knowledge? Allow each person to make their own decision. Don't make them for others who you do not know or understand. I mentioned in a previous post how it seems we always know what is best for someone else. How can you know what is best for the single working mother who is living below the poverty line? I can't, but maybe she has a better perspective of her situation. Isn't it better to avoid having one more needy child growing up in an unfortunate environment. Ugg. I am just mad and not making any sense. Please, please read this book and educate yourself on the truth of the matter.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I, we, he...which one to use?

Currently Reading: Prey

Pg 106: "There's one problem with all psychological knowledge - nobody can apply it to themselves. People can be incredibly astute about the shortcomings of their friends, spouses, children. But they have no insight into themselves at all. The same people who are coldly clear-eyed about the world around them have nothing but fantasies about themselves."

I am probably the most guilty of this practice. I have all the answers for everyone else, and not a one for myself. It is so much easier to focus on the flaws of others and then just ignore the flaws of yourself. You always know what is right for someone else, and that is fine. Maybe you have solved that problem in your own life, or maybe it wasn't a problem for you at all. At the same time, you have to be able to take advice from people who have solved your problems in your own life. At least if you want others to listen to your advice at all. Still, it would be best if we just focused on fixing ourselves. If everyone spent as much time solving their own problems as they do solving the problems of others, we would all be perfect. Just a thought.

Now onto literary thoughts. How do you decide to write your book in first person or third person? This one is a first person narrative, but I have read other Michael Crichton books from a third person point of view. I guess it depends on how personal the story is or whether it is a memory or simply a relaying of activities. If you want the reader to sympathize with the main character and really see into their mind, you probably stick with first person. If the plot itself is more important than individual feelings, then you should tell the story from a third person point of view. I suppose this harks back to the first "books" or rather oral stories. If you were relaying something that happened to you, you spoke in the first person. If you are telling a tale about someone else, it would obviously be told from a third person point of view. This is an interesting idea and I am sure that there have been papers published about the reasoning behind authors and their perspective choices. I may have to research it further.

On a side note, how crazy that I go from a book about an immigrant family struggling to make their way in Canada, to a story about replicating nanotechnologies. See, I'm a weird one. I still love the diversity. How boring if you just stuck with one genre. I'm not done with this one yet, however I do know that nonfiction is next on tap. Just to keep you on your toes.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Now I'm Just Sad

Currently Reading: Midnight at the Dragon Cafe

So the secret it out, but true to tradition, it is not discussed. How sad for little Annie. She is forced to grow up in such a closed family. How can one develop emotionally when emotions are supposed to be felt and not seen? I know that I am not the most emotive of people, although others may argue that statement. I am guilty of keeping it all locked up inside until I explode. I wish that the story of Annie continued into her later years so that I could see how she ends up coping with these emotions and whether she ends up OK. While the story is told from her memories, there is no mention of what her life is like now. I guess from this we can take away the idea that she still dwells in the past and that it has truly influenced her future. Perhaps even causing her to not truly have a future at all. Life is just carried out in her memories. This was a fantastic read an I highly recommend it to all.

Mmm...dim sung

Currently Reading: Midnight at the Dragon Cafe

I love books that have modern Chinese, or other Asian background, women sharing their stories about growing up with traditional parents stuck the old country. These women have to translate for their parents, hide their emerging Americanism, and basically have unique childhoods that few of their peers have. I enjoy reading about how they are forced to live two lives, one at home and one at school, and how these lives inadvertently intersect. A common theme in these stories is don't ask, don't tell. This one has a doozy of a don't tell. And of course, I am not going to. I am about half-way through, but am intrigued to find out what happens when someone does tell. How hard to be growing up in a place where women are typically valued, appreciated members of the community, but having to succumb to a domineering father and husband. I will write more as the tale progresses, but I wanted to make a post as it has been like forever!

And yes, I'm sure I managed to spell something wrong in the title.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Family Ties

Currently Reading: The Librarian

But I have been meaning to post through several books now (school is keeping me way too busy) and so I am going to talk about a theme I saw throughout Plain Truth and A false Sense of Well Being. Family. It is amazing how the simple comforts of home can make us feel so much better. Even if home is not the best place in the world, it is still comforting to go back to where you know things are going to be the same. The predictability of our childhood homes, even if that predictability is actually chaos, it is wonderful to know what to expect and what is expected of you. In Plain Truth, home is an Amish community where family is key. The characters strive to live up to the expectations of home and these expectations dictate many of the actions taken. The main character, a girl accused of killing her newborn baby, cannot imagine doing something that her family would not approve of. She makes ridiculous decisions based on this and never thinks of herself first. In A False Sense of Well Being, the main character is experiencing uncertainty and woe in her marital home and heads home for a break. Here she gets what she expects and is soothed by the usual antics of her parents. Once she is back in a safe and familiar place, she is able to make sense of what she has been feeling and manages to come to a decision. Family is so important and often our American culture puts it in the background. As a teacher of a multicultural bunch of kiddos, I see how important family is to other groups. Is this a strength or weakness? Americans tend to celebrate the individual, but we would never be the individuals that we are without the experiences we had at home. I am lucky that my childhood provided me with such a strong foundation on which to excel and grow. I know that I do not focus on this boon and regret not voicing my appreciation more. So thanks mommy and daddy. I need to take more time out of my crazy life to appreciate the constants. Family.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Themes

Currently Reading: The Mermaid Chair

I just finished this one which was recommended by one of my reading buddies at school. She thought it was amazing, so I was surprised when one of my other reading buddies, my mommy, said that she didn't like it. Of course I was part way through it at that point and enjoying it, but I found that after hearing her opinion, I was suddenly suspecting everything I read. It is amazing how much the opinions of others affect our own opinions and thoughts. I tried not to let this change my own thinking, and can honestly say that in the end, I generally liked the book. I will say though that I didn't care for the ending. I am interesting in reading The Secret Life of Bees now though as my mom said she loved that one, a sentiment shared by my other reading buddy too. Catholicism was a main theme in The Mermaid's Chair. That and mermaids. Odd combination, eh? I'm not going to get into how destructive religion can get (as I do that all too often), but it does seem that the opinions of religious leaders are the ones that we revere more than anything else. Are we living up to the standards as listed by our religion? I think it is easiest to do this in the Catholic religion as they have such a giant list of dos and don'ts. Unlike these new made up Bible churches where all you have to do is say, "I love God!!" and hooray, you are saved. Part of me likes the structure of the Catholics. It is much more suited to my personalities. No choices. Of course, that is one of my main beefs with religion in general. Ahh! I said I wasn't going to do this. Back to the book. Religion does dictate the actions of one of the characters, but not the main lady, Jessie. What I enjoyed the most about this book was how many different themes and motifs were intertwined throughout the tale. I love finding these and figuring out all the underlying thoughts. But it is the most fun when you get to decide for yourself. In high school English they usually tell you what you are supposed to be seeing, but I hated this. If I didn't feel the theme for myself, I just didn't get how it could be a theme. I think we all have our own ideas of what is being depicted in a story and our own personal experiences cause some things to be more important than others. In my grad school class right now, we are constantly talking about how to use students' prior knowledge to help build the foundation for a new lesson. It is so important to know where your audience is coming from. That's why the Twilight books appeal to young girls and romantics and not so much to level headed adults. She is definietly aware of her audience. Sue Monk Kidd is enjoyable in that she is writing for woman, clearly, but I feel like there is a wide enough variety of subjects that all types of women can get something from the book, even if it is not the same thing. To each his own, right?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Really? Him again?

Currently Reading: How to Talk to a Widower

I'm sorry, but although his books are generally entertaining, Jonathan Tropper writes the same thing over and over again. I have tried several of his books, and yet am never surprised. They are always from the viewpoint of a Jewish twenty or thirty something male. He has relationship issues and there are usually several characters with drug/alcohol problems. He is always quick-witted and clever, yet oh so misunderstood. His family is crazy but he deals with it and usually manages to solve a problem for one or two of the members. I have even found that orphans appear quite often. There is very little literary complexity and all allusions are references to pop culture. This is all fine and good, but really, would it hurt him to step outside the box and try something new? Maybe he is incapable of it, just like Janet Evanovich is incapable of writing realistic characters. Now I'm not saying that you should shun all of his books, but don't expect anything prolific or unique. Now I am off to read something that is turning out to be quite the opposite of this predictable and trite tale. The Mermaid Chair. At least I can relate to the Catholics better than the Jews. Maybe that's why I don't get Tropper's stuff (although I really think not).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Illusions

Currently Reading: The Edible Woman

Or rather allusion in this case as it may be. As the main character is meeting these crazy people at their disheveled abode, she is inundated with their graduate school opinions on all the underlying messages in Lewis Carroll's Alice stories. One of the men is making dinner for them and as the night progressed, what actually came to mind was the Mad Hatter's tea party. It was funny because they were talking about it and emulating it at the same time, although totally unaware it was happening. I wonder if Atwood was thinking about this when she wrote it. One of the best parts about being well read is that you get all the literary allusions in other books and movies. Of course the fact that you are reading again probably causes these things to happen more often. Still, it makes me feel smart.

I think that Atwood is probably the lone woman on my all time favorite author list. I love everything I have ever read by her and was actually amazed when I found out that this was her first book. It was so good!! One of the best parts of her books is that she is totally honest about her characters and all their flaws. It seems like female authors either make their characters too perfect, or they have those flaws that you expect and aren't really flaws such as being a hopeless romantic or slightly overweight. Atwood's characters are real. Not fake real, but real, real. I love it. Mariam is a women who is being devoured and yet at the same time is losing her ability to devour anything at all. It starts with meat and continues from there. It seems like she is unable to find what she needs to be satisfied. She tries different things and interacts with different people, but nothing seems to work. In the end, there is a very symbolic moment that several of the main characters participate in. Usually these types of moments seem cheesy to me, but it works in this case. Sometimes we need a concrete way to deal with our inner demons. I have tried several techniques and some work better than others. Drawing and painting, music, photography, yoga. These are just a few possibilities. It is amazing how powerful just seeing and interacting with a physical form of your mind can be. Does Mariam find total peace? I don't think so, but I do think she found some solace and comfort and I wish her well.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Swept Under the Rug

Currently Reading: Sarah's Key

Pg 5: "As we waited for the elevator, my mobile phone chirped out the Darth Vader theme."

OK. This book has to be good.

Now on a more serious note, this is a fantastic tale that switches between the horrors of Paris in 1942 to the present day. A young girl and her family were taken from their home in the middle of the night by the French police to be brought to concentration camps in the area. I am not going to go into too much details so as not to ruin the story, but I will do a bit of a synopsis. The present day character is a journalist who stumbles upon the terrible night during which the French police, not the Nazi's, rounded up the French Jews to be taken away. She is having a hard time finding more information about this event as it has basically be covered up and forgotten by the French people. This reminds me a bit of the Japanese internment camps that were here in the US during WWII. We rarely hear about this part of our history and it is glossed over in social studies class. We are ashamed, and so should be, but that doesn't mean it never happened. We need to start acknowledging the truth. Throughout this story, people are scandalized by the desire of Julia, the main character, to want to uncover the truth. They say that things should just stay in the past. But how are we going to learn from mistakes in the past if we never study them and see what decisions led to the circumstance at hand? In the end, when the truth comes out to all the characters involved in Sarah's, the young girl, life, they are happy to finally know the truth. Yes, it was difficult to accept and come to terms with, but it is always better to know than to be left in disillusionment. At least that is my humble opinion. And now back to the initial quote. I did dog-ear it initially because I just thought it was so cool, but as I thought about it, Star Wars is another place where we can see atrocities that mimic the holocaust and Japanese plight. The Empire came in and took over. Prejudice against non-humans was rampant not to mention the whole killing off of the Jedi. The Emperor used Wookie slaves to build his Death Stars and his storm troopers were basically just brainwashed young men. Initially they were actually specifically grown clones! Their name even comes from the SS of WWII. We need more Jedi like Julia to be brave and tell the truth as it is. It hurts, but we must pay attention and learn. Humans are well, humans (gasp). They make bad decisions that often affect many people and instead of just going with the flow, we need to call these people out, especially when in a position of power.

Again, in a nutshell. Read the book! It will make you sad, but also cause some excellent self-reflection.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Soap

Currently Reading: The Cider House Rules

OK. I changed my mind. I want to soap box a bit. The secondary character, Dr. Larch is so passionate in his beliefs that women should be able to choose that he has gotten me all riled up. So here is my main beef. If we make the women have these babies, we often cause the amount of people living under the poverty line to rise. The kids have terrible situations and often are behind in school and so they have to be cared for through state support. The people who want the babies are the same people who want to cut federal funding for the unfortunate. So they want more unfortunates and yet don't want to pay for them. Maybe if they let people have abortions in such dire circumstances, then we wouldn't need as large welfare and other type support systems. Now I'm not saying kill all the babies, however I know that I for one would not have wanted to be born into a life where I was not wanted and where I was a burden on those around me. What kind of life is that? All these bible toting pro-lifers should be the ones to adopt and care for the unwanted children. Then I may be OK with the whole thing. They'd be well cared for (and get some sweet tax breaks). Of course now I am just asking for more Republicans and preachers!! What am I saying?!?! Really though, we need to allow this decision to be made by the mother and those close to her. Who are we to decide what is right or wrong for a total stranger? If you make a decision, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. If that decision making power is taken away from you, then those who took it should be responsible for the consequences. OK. I'm stepping down now.

Read this book. It gives all perspectives and tackles a very touchy subject. And while getting an education in orphanages and abortions in the mid 1900's, you get an amazing story about incredible characters and it is a worthy journey to take. Man, I am so crazy about all this stuff that I may have to turn to fluff next. Give my mind a break. And yet, part of me has truly enjoyed the challenges that this book poses.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Choices

Currently Reading: The Cider House Rules

Pg 375: "These same people who tell us we must defend the lives of the unborn - they are the same people who seem not so interested in defending anyone but themselves after the accident of birth is complete!"

There is more to follow this quote, but it basically expresses the same idea. Those who profess to love life and think that women shouldn't have the right to choose are the same people who encourage war, gun rights, the death penalty and heath care for only the elite. It is such a contradiction of beliefs that it makes me sick. What makes one life better than the other? I could go on and on, but this blog is supposed to be about the books and not the politics and so I will not bore you with my political and moral beliefs (for the moment).

So I am again on my travels through John Irving's works. I have put off reading this one as it seemed so different from the others and the main thing I remembered from the movie was cutie patutie Toby MacGuire, so I never gave it the time. It is of course turning out to be an excellent read. Irving creates such wonderful characters and his third person writing is so incredible that you find him authentic no matter who's point of view we are reading at the moment. His main character is again a sort of out there young man, but again I find that he does women so well too. I want him to write more from the point of view of a woman like A Widow For One Year. Another thing that I keep finding in all his books is interesting names. This is all about Homer. Just like Owen Meaney, Garp, Piggy Snead and others, he continues to give his characters such appropriate and unique names. How does he come up with these? I always think of Joe and Bob and whatnot. I guess that is why Irving is the bestselling author and I am a mere math teacher. Anyways, read this one too. I am anxiously awaiting the outcome of the novel and find that I have been too busy to read as much as I want. The main theme of this book revolves around orphans and abortion. It is interesting because we see the results of a choice. We see the women who abandon their children before birth and those who leave them on the door step afterward. Homer has a very interesting position regarding this subject. As an orphan himself, he believes that unwanted children can still find a place in the world, but through his experiences, he finds that he still believes women should have this choice. He was fortunate to have a place to grow up and learn. All too often children are born into circumstances that are horrible and their lives are terrible, filled with pain and wanting. At the end of the day it comes down to choice. And what a personal choice it is.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Truly Epic

Currently Reading: The Thorn Birds

I love epic tomes. Yes, they take forever to read and there are an impossible amount of characters, but they really allow you to immerse yourself in a whole new world. This is a tale about a family in Australia in the early to mid 1900s. I have never read anything is this setting before and am discovering much about what life was like there. It has an amazing history. I didn't realize what the people went through and what a prominent part of life the environment was. It could ruin everything in a minute.

This book reminds me a bit of The Pillars of the Earth and also Jame Smiley's The Greenlanders, not to mention all of Taylor Caudwell's books. These are all so amazingly research and so authentic. While I find myself drawn towards the future, it is important to know where people come from. Our pasts define us. And not only our individual experiences, but those of our ancestors as well. It makes me want to look up more of my family history. I am only really aware of as far back as my grandparents. It seems like our culture doesn't focus as much on family history as others. You don't often hear Americans going on about their lineage or anything, but this is very important in other places. Perhaps it is because we are such a young country. A lot of people who came here were escaping unfortunate experiences and wanted to start over. Perhaps this is why family history is so unimportant to us. It is our own person who defines us. This is a very American belief.

Nevertheless, this book was highly recommended to me by the super-awesome librarian at my school. It is thanks to her that I have read some fantastic historical novels and I am appreciate of the opportunity to step out of my traditional comfort zone and try something new. Very good stuff.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Decisions, decisions

Currently Reading: The Diagnosis

This is starting to be a good one, but I'm not far enough into it to talk much. I'm sure I will have further postings once I get into the meat of the story. It certainly deals with social issues in our world today.

So instead I will talk about one I read just a bit ago, but never posted on. School (work school) is about to start and school (grad school) is still in full swing. I am a busy lady. What I wanted to talk about was some connections between literary devices and things that are used in making movies as well. Jeffery Archer's Sons of Fortune was really an epic tale about two twins who were seperated at birth, but their lives parellel each other so much that they end up back together again at the end. It was interesting, but hard to keep track of who was who in the beginning. The end of the book deals with a vote between the two brothers who are running against each other for governor. It is so close that the tie is supposed to be decided by a coin flip. The coin is tossed and one of them, we are never told who, calls heads and that is the end of the book. Talk about suspense. Archer leaves the ending up to us and let's the reader decide who won. Of course in my mind the Democrat totally gets it, but from allusions to calling heads earlier in the book, it was probably the Republican. Although, maybe not even Archer could decide who would win. Sometimes authors become so enamored with their characters that it is hard to make rational decisions about their futures. This ending was interesting because it came just after I had seen the movie Inception. I will try not to spoil anything for you, but at the end of the movie, it appears that all is well. However, there is a spinning top and the deal is that if the top tips over and stops spinning, you are in the real world. If the top continues to spin forever, you are in a dream. The camera focuses in on the top, it wobbles a bit, but still keeps spinning. Then run credits. Ahh!! Why do they do this to us? Is poor little Leo stuck in a dream or has he finally found happiness? The world may never know.

While these techniques can become frustrating to us as readers and movie goers, it seems that they are really used to allow us some autonomy when it comes to taking meaning from the story. We are left to construct whatever outcome we would like for the characters. Sometimes I like having this decision making power, but at others I just want to be told what to think. It even ties into my grad school stuff. Do we simply lecture to students or do we allow them to create their own meanings and understands based on experimentation and observations? Is it OK to be wrong in the course of discovering what is right? Can we each take away something different from the activity and still find understanding? Something to think about.