Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid

It's time for another week of Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish, and though I haven't participated in a few weeks I couldn't pass up this week's topic: Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid.  I read a lot of great books as a kid, but there are a few that I never got around to or have heard of since that I wish I had read when I was still a young'un.  I could only come up with six, but I'm sure there are more.

1. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss: I first read this when my high school English class trekked over to the nearby elementary school to read books to kids.  I loved it - a Seussian universe concerned with environmentalism?  Yes, please!
2. The Giver by Lois Lowry: So many people I knew read and loved this that it makes me feel as though I missed out on something.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: I remember my (fourth-grade?) teacher reading us The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but most of what I remember about it is from the movie.  One of these days I plan on reading them all.
4. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: The only reason I have for this choice is that I remember a copy of this sitting on the shelf of my basement playroom's closet for years and always thinking that it was a "boy's book."  I loved my Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley High books, but I wish that I'd ventured beyond them.
5. The Little House on the Praire, etc., by Laura Ingalls Wilder: I read one or two of these but had a hard time getting into the series and barely remember them.  I really loved the semi-fictional spinoff series about Laura's daughter, Rose, but really wish that I had also read the originals.
6. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes: Same reason as The Giver - I always felt as though I was missing out on something, though I don't know why I never corrected that.

What books do you regret having missed out on?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Literary Blog Hop and My Most-Detested Literature

Literary Blog Hop
It's that time again... time for the Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase.  This week's question is:

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university.  Why did you dislike it?

At first I had a hard time thinking of one; not because I loved everything I was ever assigned to read (far from it) but because in high school, I only read what I liked and therefore rarely read anything I was assigned.  I feel bad bashing a book I never actually read the entirety of, so books from high school were out.  In college, on the contrary, I read every word of everything and liked most of it.  Most, I say, because there were two novels that I just despised and I can't decide which one I despised more so I'm just going to talk about both of them.

The first book comes from a class I took in gay literature at my first school.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn't a big fan of most of what we read in this class because most of the novels were more about being gay than about being literary (PLEASE don't be offended by this, I just wanted literariness in my literature and most of the books lacked this quality.  I would have rejected Stephen King or some similarly heterosexual writer on the same grounds).  Anyway.  One of the books we read was Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua.  This may have been the most literary text we read all semester yet was the most hated by me and the reason is right there in the freaking title: half the book is in Spanish!  And this wasn't a language class!  I never studied Spanish, but I did spend hours trying to decipher the thing with the help of my sister's abandoned Spanish dictionary and to absolutely no avail.  I have no idea what it was about except for what I read on the back cover - not even the English parts!  In Ms. Anzaldua's defense, this is probably more of an issue with the professor who assigned it than with the book itself but either way, the whole experience of this book was just miserable to the point that I still cringe whenever I see it.

The second book is a classic well-hated by many: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, which you may remember as a favorite of the March sisters in Little Women.  I had to read it for an 18th century literature class (even though it was written in the 17th century) and oh man was that thing boring.  Okay, granted the whole thing is an allegory and maybe it would be more fair to say that I dislike allegories but as I've read few allegories and all of Pilgrim's Progress, I'm going to stick with blaming Bunyan for this one.  The main character is Christian, a pilgrim on his way to heaven who encounters such potentially interesting and completely disappointing characters as Apollyon, one of the devil's companion archdevils (according to the Wikipedia page) and Giant Despair who is good enough to imprison Christian for us.  The point, obvious from the first page, is that the trip to heaven is long and arduous.  Done.  Now you don't have to read it.

So there you have it: two completely different books that equally earned my wrath.  What do you think of them?!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Edible Woman ~ Margaret Atwood

I like reading about eating.  I also like writing about eating, eating, and eating while reading.  Essentially, I’m a fat kid with a fondness for language.  Thus, the first time I heard of a novel named The Edible Woman, by none other than Margaret Atwood, herself, I knew I had to read it.  Not because I’m into cannibalism or anything; probably because of all the fruit on the cover.

The Edible Woman is a story by and about Marian, a woman who recently graduated college, lives in a cheap apartment above a slightly crazy old lady, works at a job she doesn’t really like, and has an anti-marriage boyfriend, towards whom her own feelings are a bit vague.  In short, she’s not so different than most college graduates.

Of course, part of what I like about The Edible Woman is that it portrays a world at once familiar and strange, remote and not so far in the past.  This is Atwood’s first novel, which she wrote in the sixties, at a time when the debate over whether woman should go to college was still strong and the language used to discuss it was still condescending and acceptable.  There’s this whole passage in which a man talks about how going to college makes a woman feel like she’s a real person, which is made all the worse by the fact that it doesn’t make anybody even flinch.  It’s amazing how far we’ve come in forty years, from a time when women worked but were expected to wear heels to the office every day and were let go when they got married, to a world where it’s acceptable for a woman to be the sole-breadwinner and going to college is a basic expectation of everybody.  We still have a ways to go in terms of gender equality and whatnot, but books The Edible Woman are a welcome reminder that things can change.

Anyways.  This isn’t meant to be a discussion of gender disparities; it’s supposed to be about all the reasons why The Edible Woman is a great book.  So here they are:

The characterization.  There are a good number of regularly repeated characters in the novel and each one is distinguishable (except for the office virgins, who are clearly supposed to be a type, and an unoriginal one at that).  The intricacies and quirks of these characters are all so memorable that I was never once left to wonder who anybody was.  It’s rare to see so many real individuals in novels without having to revert to stock characters.

Marian’s weirdness with food.  There’s a book called The Sexual Politics of Meat that I’ve wanted to read for a while now but haven’t, but I have a feeling that there’s some relation between it and The Edible Woman.  As Marian becomes consumed by the men in her life, she loses her own ability to consume.  The connection is so clever and the moment when she first feels disgust at a piece of meat is just perfect.

Duncan.  He reminds me a little of Septimus Smith in that he seems (to me at least) to make apparent Marian’s inner turmoil, even while helping to cause it.  Displacing Marian’s issues make them more open and easier to recognize.  Also, he cracks me up.

Finally, it’s a nice change to read about food issues outside of the “normal” anorexia/bulimia/overeating perspectives.  It’s also sad that I just used the adjective ‘normal’ but again, not the point here.  People’s relationships with food are so complex and range far beyond the commonly recognized eating disorders yet, in my experience, novelists rarely seem to realize that.

I highly recommend this novel to Atwood novices and lovers alike.  It’s the perfect length and goes by at the perfect speed.  Also, there’s cake at the end and that really should be reason enough for you.  (Also, is it weird that I want to try to make that cake?)

PS. This is my first book I've read this year that counts towards one of my challenges!  More specifically, it's the first book in the TBR challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader.  One down, eleven to go!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rebecca ~ Daphne duMaurier

I decided to read Rebecca because I kept seeing mentionings of it in the blog world and thought I should find out what all of the fuss was about.  I was a little thrown off when I first got this chunky little text from the library, due to the little note on the cover: “The unsurpassed modern masterpiece of romantic suspense.”  Romance?  I thought I was reading literary fiction, not veering off into a world of exposed nipples and lame euphemisms.  Yes, I know, romance means more than just that and in literary history has traditionally meant something completely different, but when you walk into the romance section of a bookstore that’s what you find and it scared me.  However, never fear all you who are uninitiated in the ways of Rebecca; there is not a single nipple to be found, except those that are carefully concealed under several layers of proper dress.

There were a lot of things I liked about Rebecca but I’m going to try and keep this short, so here are the highlights:

It’s aptness.  I know I use this word a lot but I assure you that I only use it when I mean it.  The unnamed narrator, Mrs. de Winter the second, admits to a lot of thoughts and mental wanderings that you rarely read about but you (or at least I) always experience.  These are the kinds of thoughts you don’t acknowledge to others.  Mr. D wonders what the servants think of her underpants (I told you so!), imagines lengthy scenarios where her husband dies or she is mocked, and is intimidated by her own home, unsure of where to sit herself in the morning versus the afternoon.

The changing times.  Rebecca is set in a world that is very clearly changing.  Women wear trousers and sail boats but are still subjected to certain expectations left over from Victorian England.  I’ve read a lot of Victorian literature recently but nothing showing what happened socially afterwards, so it was fun to advance into the next century.

The fact that the story doesn’t really start until after the marriage.  My Victorian lit professor repeated a quote to us once that I don’t really remember but was along the lines of, “An Englishwoman’s life ends when she gets married, when a Frenchwoman’s life begins.”  After all the Jane Eyres and Pride and Prejudices and Mary Bartons, it was nice to see what happens after “I do.”  Shockingly enough, getting married does not mean that a woman has to die or become silly.

The writing.  DuMaurier actually often writes in a way that I have been taught to disdain in prose fiction.  Her narration is often filled with stage direction: so-and-so said this, did this, walked there, the other person entered, did this, sat down, ate a crumpet.  It seems a little boring but it worked.  It created tension and made me read on and even though sometimes I wanted to know what Mrs. D was thinking at the moment, rather than her later reflections, it worked for me.  I also enjoyed the initial chapters, which were very different and just kind of floated along.

Complaints?  I probably had some, but nothing that sticks out.  I pretty much just adored this book.  I’m even considering reading the sequel written by Susan Hill, Mrs. deWinter.  Maybe.  I’ll let you know.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011!

I've been a little absent from the blogging world (both reading and writing) for a while now, but I'm not gone!  I've just been super-busy, what with my first Christmas in Wisconsin, being snowed out of New Jersey, a belated New Jersey Christmas, visiting nieces, and a New Years gathering I hosted and only beat my guests to by about twenty minutes (I still pulled off a batch of cupcakes and Mexican layer dip).  Despite my initial stress about said gathering, it was probably one of my most fun New Year's Eves ever - it's never been a holiday I've really understood but we played board games and I ate maraschino cherries and it was great.

So Happy New Years!  A little cheerier than the Merry Christmas I wished you a few days ago.

2010 was probably the best and worst year of my life.  I married my best friend and graduated from college with a pile of honors and a partially completed collection of short stories.  I also discovered that nobody gives a crap about my honors and short stories and watched our savings slowly dwindle away.  My third niece was also born, and she's chubby and has a beautiful smile and smells wonderful.  I still don't get to see her or her sisters (or my own sister for that matter) nearly enough.  I got to meet Margaret Atwood and all I did was stutter awkwardly.  I completed NaNoWriMo and started a blog and got a convection oven.  It was a significant year and a mundane year and a terrible year and a wonderful year.  I do hope that 2011 will be a bit better overall.

What does 2011 have in store for me?  After today, I will be working at least fourteen days straight at three different jobs, which is quite a change from the months of inactivity and unemployment I just experienced. Hopefully these jobs won't just disappear in a month or so.  I will attempt to complete a Tough Mudder race and my short story collection (my two resolutions).  I will be applying for graduate school and working with my husband to figure out the next few steps in our lives together.  I will be reading and attempting to complete the three challenges I signed myself up for.

But that's not until tomorrow.  For now, I'm just going to curl up under the beautiful afghan my mother made for me, make another dent in the 4 lb 10 oz jar of maraschino cherries Santa brought me (apparently Santa shops at BJ's), finish Rebecca, and hopefully have one last cuddle with my sister's three little girls before they board a plane for Texas.  The rest can wait.