Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Today's Pretty

This was passed along to me by a friend a few days ago and I wanted to share it quickly here. I am currently in love with it. You know how sometimes you just find an image and a quote that work so well together that you want to hang it on every wall of your apartment? This is currently mine.

Decided to live my life like a foreign film

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Poetry and I (or is it Me?)

Poetry has never really been my thing. I've tried goodness knows. So many of my favorite literary heroines have adored it; Anne Shirley being the one who comes to mind first. I tried to read Tennyson in 6th grade because of her. It did not go well... But every once in awhile I try again to figure out what is so great about poetry. My latest attempt came to me at the book sale for the library this past summer. I found two old copies of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish and Other Poems and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems. I knew the titles and figured, I should read these! They've sat on my shelf until this past week when they came up first on the queue for my reading project. One good thing about poetry, once I sit down to read it, it doesn't take too long for me to get through it.

I started with Longfellow. I knew he was an American poet, one of the Boston Brahmins (thank you Matthew Pearl) but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Oh, I knew he'd written "The Song of Hiawatha" too (thank you Disney!). So I went into these poems not knowing much. I must say I enjoyed "The Courtship of Miles Standish" though the title doesn't exactly make sense. Standish never goes to court Priscilla, instead he sent his best friend John Alden to court for him. 25 years of romantic comedies told me before I got three stanzas in how well that was going to work. Still, I liked the story itself. Longfellow kind of lost me when Standish goes off to fight the Native Americans. A war story girl I have never been. The other poems included in the collection were interesting though nothing caught my fancy. I read through them and promptly forgot them. Clearly, a lover of poetry I am not meant to be.

Next came Coleridge. A man I knew even less about than Longfellow. Once the introduction to the version I had explained a bit about his relationship with Wordsworth and the Lake School I had a somewhat better idea of where he fit. A lover of Austen I am and thankfully Marianne in Sense and Sensibility was in love with Cowper (even though that may or may not have been her downfall, I've never quite decided). So once I had that in my mind, his poetry wasn't surprising. It fell right into how I expected him to sound and act. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" was interesting and slightly creepy at times, the premise is fascinating if nothing else. The Mariner must wander the world in search of people to tell his tale to in order to give penance for murdering the innocent sea bird. Of course, I also enjoyed the lines I recognized from other stories and movies over the years. My favorite was "Water, water, everywhere, /Nor any drop to drink. (lines 121-122)" I could just hear Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka in the Fizzy Lifting Room when I found that line.

I will say I enjoyed "Christabel" thoroughly and wished Coleridge had finished it. I like a story, even in my poetry, and Christabel's story was shaping up to be a wondrous tale of good and evil, with the damsel being saved by her belief in her dead mother's protection. In that it reminded me of medieval tales and the original versions of Cinderella where there is no fairy godmother. Instead it is Cinderella's mother who provides her with the means to attend the ball. In fact, it was shaping up to be an interesting take on Cinderella even though that wasn't the intent of the writer. What I could have done with that in my senior thesis! An unconscious re-telling of the Cinderella myth. It's fun to think about anyway (the perils of being an English major never really leave you just so everyone knows).

With that, another shelf is completely read! Woohoo! I might make my end of the year deadline at this rate though I have some long reads coming up. And some ILLs from the library to read by November 13th. Those will have to be tackled first!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Looking Backward

Now that my mysterious illness has taken a hike, I was able to finish Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. I've always had a soft spot for dystopian novels. They are the equivalent to me of horror novels. Never been much for blood but give me an evil government to thwart and I am riveted by the story. There is something about them that is just fascinating. You root for the underdogs, the ones who know in their bones that there is something wrong. Or they terrify you when those underdogs fold. Seriously. The ending of 1984 freaks me out to this day.

What I haven't read too many of is the utopian novels. The stories where human have miraculously figured out how to solve all of humanity's problems. One, they are often less interesting. After all, no conflict would exist in an utopian society and where is the story without conflict? Two, we don't seem to write them very much, especially these days. Dystopians are more fun (See: the latest love for Hunger Games, an awesome dystopian trilogy. I recommend); the evil government, the crazy rules and regulations, the fly by the seat of the pants escapes and near misses. Great storytelling if handled right. However, Dystopians and Utopians have a problem. They tend to be long-winded, in love with themselves and in general, way too heavy on the explanations on how everything works. For the dystopian example, I read Atlas Shrugged this year. It had been on my shelves for years after I fell in love with Ayn Rand's Anthem in ninth grade. I finally got around to reading it this summer and realized it wasn't only the length of the book that had intimidated me. Rand is long winded, preachy and boring. The famous speech of John Galt is over 100 pages long. I lost interest after six. Not to mention, Rand and I had a philosophical disagreement halfway through the novel and aren't really on speaking terms anymore. Though my yearly read of Anthem is coming up, perhaps we'll make up in time for me to go in search of the word "I" again.

I am afraid my latest read, and utopian novel, came across the same issues, though thankfully discusses them in 800 pages less than Atlas Shrugged. Bellamy's Looking Backward was a sensation when it was first published in 1889. The novel follows Julian West's adventure in the year 2000 when he awakes after a 113 year old trance. The majority of the novel is spent in long discussions about how everything works at the end of the 20th century. There is one central government, one central employer. Poverty, disease and inequality have been vanquished and everyone is now equal and provided for by the government. I had to laugh when I read after the fact that Bellamy had put in a love story to make the novel more readable. He wasn't joking. The cute but predictable love story was about the only time I wasn't skimming the novel. The long, drawn out explanations about how employment, education, production and distribution worked as well as the long treatise on property ownership were just, well, boring. Impressive in how well though out they were by a late 19th century author, but nothing resembling the 21st century we now know. I think I will stick to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and their ideas of the future. At least theirs were more fun and included men still acting like men. I think this bothers me most about Bellamy's vision. It is strictly socialist for the most part. His logic, while believable, consistently disregards man's nature for selfishness (reason number one socialism doesn't work though it sounds great on paper). He tries to reason that part of our nature away. At least with the corrupted states of dystopias, man's nature is still well intact and acknowledged, even if it's not supposed to exist.

I always enjoy a novel like this though, to spend time wondering "what if?" and to rehash the great dystopian novels and how much they freaked me out as a kid. I mean, to a book lover, can you imagine what Fahrenheit 451 did?!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another novel in which food is prominent

Sorry I have been MIA again. A friend came up from Denver to see me and I didn't have time to plan entries ahead of time. But I suppose that would defeat my purposes here anyway. I like writing my entries right after I finish reading. With movies and TV shows, I like to let them percolate for a bit before I write on them but books require immediate attention.

A few weeks ago now, I wrote about a book on food. That one gave me issues with its format and its less than complete story. Today's book on food, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, gives me issues for another reason. The story follows a girl named Rose who discovers at age nine that she can taste what people are feeling when they make food. It's a talent that tortures her for the rest of her life, or at least until age 22 when the book ends. The cast of characters includes her withdrawn, mysterious brother, a loving but adulterous mother and a disconnected father along with a childhood crush who is the only person who believes her when she tells him of her talent. The book follows Rose and her family as they undergo her brother's increasingly frequent disappearances.

So again, we have a very open-ended ending. We know I don't like those. Contemporary authors seem to love them though. I haven't figured out why yet. I like to know what happens in the end, not this vague, random ending where anything could happen the day after the book concludes. I have real life for that uncertainy; I don't like it in my books.

The character of Rose gave me some issues as well. I wanted to like her; I can't imagine having the burden of knowing what the cook feels every time she ate anything. It bothered me early on that she never tried to cook for herself. I thought maybe her talent wouldn't extend to herself but it does and it is only when Rose is finally brave enough to learn to cook and face her own emotions, does she start to deal with her gift. My problem was it took her forever to come to that conclusion. Rose was not an uplifting character, or even easy to relate to as a reader. She is distant even to the reader, just as she is with her family in trying to hide from them. In that, I enjoyed the writing of Bender. Though the nine year old Rose does not sound or feel like a nine year old, you forgive that in terms of the novel's premise. A nine year old who can taste her mother's despair and longing like a physical ache just by taking a bite of the cake she baked could not remain a happy-go-lucky kid for long.

So, like I said, I followed Bender when it came to Rose's character. It is the people around her that bugged me. Her brother, her mother, her father, George, her brother's friend and childhood crush. The were in Rose's life constantly but didn't seem to pay attention to her at all. They jump in and out of her narrative in a sense. leaving a reader wondering how different the narrative would be if her mother had believed Rose the time she tried to tell her mother or if her brother had just spent five minutes taking his little sister seriously like George had. The book was uncomfortable to read in a sense; it left me feeling angry and frustrated on Rose's behalf but also angry and frustrated at her. It's a novel where you wish the characters would just talk to each other for a minute and maybe then they'd get somewhere. I find this often in modern novels with families. In order to show dysfunction, a writer makes them all strangers under the same roof with only a last name in common. It seems so easy to do and a tired narrative device. Not too mention, why do so many contemporary novels have unhappy families? Is everyone really this miserable? Maybe I've just read too many fairy tales in my life.

Overall, I'm not sure where I stand with this book. It given to me by a coworker at the library because she wanted to know what I would think of it, she was on the fence about it herself. It will be interesting to discuss it further with her and see what I say. I will return to my quest to read the unread on my own shelves now. Not sure what's up next but I'll let you know

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I am alive!

Hello again!

I have survived the month of September. After a symposium, parental visit and professional conference, I have time again to call my own.

I'm going to start slowly. I finished Kate Mosse's Sepulchre and was less annoyed by it than my earlier reading of Labyrinth but I am still having issues with Mosse's character decisions. I feel her characters are inconsistent. Leonie, the heroine of the past time line and Meredith, the heroine of the present time line, are both portrayed as both strong and weak, brilliant and hopelessly dense. It gets frustrating to a reader after a while. In fact, I again had the urge to hurl the book across the room several times during my reading.

That said, her locations continue to draw me in. This story of two women take place in 1891 France and present day France, starting in Paris and ending in the south of France, connecting it her first book of the trilogy. This story had more action and I was more intrigued by the use tarot for this story line. However, the issues I had with her characters again made me like it less than I wanted too.

I was thinking today that most of my reviews of books so far have been negative. I do like books mostly. It's just as I work my way through the books on my shelves, I am realizing there is a reason I haven't read them until now. Buying them seemed such a good idea at the time...sigh.

I should have time to write this week before an old high school friend comes for a visit. All my fall TV shows have started up too (Glee! Castle! Chuck!) and I'm joining a choir on campus as well. I'll be more busy daily than I was when I started writing this summer so I'll be updating less frequently. My goal is at least three times a week. Let's see if I can keep it up!