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.