Reading Meme

30 01 2008

Danielle at A Work in Progress posted Eva’s Reading Meme that has been making the rounds and left it open to everyone so I thought I would give it a go.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? A tricky one right at the start. There’s not much that I cringe away from reading. I suppose it would have to be Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which makes me cringe every time I see it on the self, but that’s more because I have started it twice and wish I never bought it. Getting off topic already, have I mentioned that Richard B. Wright’s Clara Callan has the opposite effect on me? Every time I see it in a bookstore I almost reach out to grab it and run to the cash, even though I’ve read it and wasn’t particularly fond of it. And yet, everything time I see it I just have this urge to buy it.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

First I would probably go with Alexander Perchov from Everything is Illuminated because I’ve never laughed so hard in my life as I did reading the first few chapters he narrated. Second, David Sedaris is already alive and not so much a character, but there might be quite an entertaining conversation between him and Alex. And finally, Anne Elliot from Persuasion as I feel a kinship with her – I had to pick someone from Austen 🙂

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): You are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. What book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

I’d probably have to go with The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence. It has been by far the most painful reading experience I’ve ever had and would not like to re-visit it anytime soon.

Come on, we’ve all been there. What book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I’ve never actually done this. Even in school I read everything that was assigned. Yes, I was that kind of student.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book you really thought you had read only to realize when you read a review about it/go to “reread” it that you haven’t? Which book?

Not that I can remember. I’m pretty good at keeping track of which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t. I’m bad though at remembering which books I’ve bought and are at home on the to-be-read shelves. That’s how I ended up with two copies of Clara Callan. Considering the impulse I talked about in question one, it’s surprising that I haven’t ended up with about ten copies of it.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Adviser to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (If you feel like you have to know the person, go ahead and personalize the VIP).

That’s a tricky one. I recommend books occasionally, but usually I know a bit more about the person and what they might like. I recommend The Book Thief to everyone so I’ll say that would be my answer.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

I think I would probably go with French.

A mischievous fairy comes and says you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Persuasion by Jane Austen. Or maybe The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

I know the book blogging community, and all its challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one “bookish” thing you discovered from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art – anything)?

I think the types of books I read are still fairly much the same.  I’ve found reviews of a lot of interesting books and my to-be-read list grows every time I read the book blogs.  I think I’ve discovered a bit more about writing about books.  Sometimes I still find it challenging to write about a book that I’ve read that maybe someone else reading the book hasn’t read.  There’s the challenge of not giving too much away, but also of talking about the book and how it has affected me and making that understood by someone who hasn’t read the book yet.  I’m mainly used to talking about books in an academic setting where there is – or there should be if everyone has read the book – a shared knowledge of the book and I’ve found it can be quite challenging to talk about how good or bad a book is without giving too much away or too little.

The good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leather bound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favorite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead – let your imagination run free. 

My dream library.  All wood, built in book shelves floor to ceiling and a ladder.  Yes, most definitely one of those bookstore ladders that slides across all of the bookshelves.

I think most of the blogs I read have done this already, but if you haven’t and are keen to give it a go, I’d love to see your answer!


Worst Case Scenario

28 01 2008

If things go poorly on the first day of my new teaching assignment, I think I might run away to the Scottish Highlands.

I’m sure the weather isn’t as nice as when this was taken (August), but I’m sure it will be just as peaceful.

Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

27 01 2008

I’ve been reading a few chapters of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo and illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline each night before bed, but last night I just had to finish it, so engrossed was I by the journey of this china rabbit.

Here’s a brief overview of the plot.  The central character in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a somewhat proud – and dare we say haughty – china rabbit named Edward Tulane, who is owned by a little girl named Abilene.  She absolutely adores him, but Edward, more concerns about his clothes than his owners, does not yet understand what it means to love.  After being lost at sea, Edward journeys through several different owners and meets a series of joyous and dreadful events.  It is through these trials that he learns the true meaning of love.

It was the cover that first drew my attention and the illustrations in the book are truly lovely, capturing the melancholy whimsy of the story.

It is a story about love.  Edward, the author makes clear, near the start of the story does not truly love anyone or anything.  DiCamillo does this through a story that Abilene’s grandmother, Pellegrina tells to her granddaughter and, more particularly, to Edward.  After she tells the story of a Princess who is turned into a warthog because she cannot name one person ends badly for the Princess, Abilene questions her Grandmother about the ending:

“The end?” said Abilene indignantly.

“Yes,” said Pellegrina, “the end.”

“But it can’t be.”

“Why can’t it be?”

“Because it came too quickly.  Because no one is living happily ever after, that’s why.”

“Ah, and so.” Pellegrina nodded. She was quiet for a moment. “But answer me this: how can a story end happily if there is no love? But. Well. It is late. And you must go to sleep.”

Pellegrina took Edward from Abiline. She put him in his bed and pulled the sheet up to his whiskers. She leaned close to him. She whispered, “You disappoint me” (34).

Pellegrina’s words haunt Edward as he journeys out into the world and learns about both love and suffering.  It is about love, and the importance of love, but it is also about survival and what is really interesting is how those things intersect in this book.

What I found most interesting about the book is how complex Edward’s journey is – not his physical journey, but rather the one he goes through in his mind.  He learns that opening yourself up to love, also means opening yourself up to pain and suffering.  At points in the book, as another terrible thing has occurred, Edward shuts himself off, determined not to feel again, but then he does, and he is loved and he loves again and he hopes again and that is the most miraculous part of his journey.

Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

23 01 2008

Why did I wait so long to read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

I found the book over a year ago our children’s book store. I was immediately drawn to it, but chose not to buy it as it was the hard cover version and I think I was going through one of those “I-can’t-buy-another-book- I’ve-bought-far-too-many-already” phase – those phases that come about once every six months and end up depriving me (as in this case) of a fantastic book.

I finally purchased this novel last week and I read most yesterday – which sitting waiting for the dentist – and then finished off the final section today.

It is a book though that really should be read in one sitting. I think it would be even more powerful that way, and it certainly is quite possible to make it through Boyne’s novel in a couple of hours.

The story is told through the perspective of nine-year-old boy named Bruno. His father is made Commandant of Auschwitz (which Bruno pronounces as “Out-With” throughout) and the story follows Bruno as he discovers a fence and a boy named Shmuel who lives on the other side of the fence.

The story is told quite simply and directly, as The Book Thief was, and it shares another similarity in the child narrator. There is such innocence and naivety about the novel because it is all seen from Bruno’s perspective. Boyne makes a conscious choice to use language itself as a way of revealing Bruno’s innocence, using “Out-With” in place of Auschwitz and “Fury” in place of Fuhrer, and those words create an effective tension between Bruno and the knowledge or context readers bring to the novel.

I don’t want to give too much away, but before I finish I want to include a short passage from the “Author’s Note.” For my graduate work, I worked with theories of witnessing and much of my work was focused on observers, on characters who were distanced from a particular trauma (what I worked with was WWI), but who became consumed by a desire to know everything they could about that trauma. I think that is why this particular passage from Boyne’s “Author’s Note” stood out to me:

“Throughout the writing and rewriting of the novel, I believed that the only respectful way for me to deal with this subject was through the eyes of a child, and particularly through the eyes of a rather naive child who couldn’t possibly understand that terrible things that were taking place around him. After all, only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all” (217-218).

I can think of no better image for where I and many other readers dwell: “on the other side of the fence.” We cannot ever “know,” and yet we must be aware, and that to me is why books like this are so important.

Review: All Passion Spent

22 01 2008

The Artsy Mama read All Passion Spent for a online book club she is taking part in. She passed the book along to me and I started it way back in December. I finally finished it (forced myself to finish it) two days ago.

As the back blurb tells us All Passion Spent focuses Lady Slane, a elderly woman recently widowed, who, as a wife to a great statesman and mother of six, has always put everyone else’s needs before her own. As a young woman she harboured a secret desire to become a painter, but gave up her own personal desires in favour of duty and tradition. When her husband dies she final asserts her independence and moves to a tiny house in Hampstead to live out her remaining days.

It wasn’t all bad, no, not all bad, but I found the story went in a direction and I started following it and then it abruptly stopped and veered off leaving me quite displaced. I also expected so much more. The book was full of insights into Lady Slane’s psyche, but I felt there could have been so much more. There is an attempt at closure through youth and the younger generation (not to give too much away), but even that I found somewhat forced and the shifts in perspective jarring.

Perhaps one of the problems is that I had recently finished Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont before originally picking this up and I found the former to be a much superior novel, much more engaging and developed, particularly in terms of the relationship between the elderly and the young.

All Passion Spent left me wanting so much more and while I can see the types of issues and themes Vita Sackville-West was trying to develop, I’m afraid that some of that was done at the expense of the story, and that I had very little patience for, particularly when there seemed a chance for this story to be so much more.

Great Expectations: Final Thoughts

22 01 2008

I finished Great Expectations over a week ago, but time (once again) has got away from me. I’m finding it hard to even know what to say about the book as I’ve finished two more in the meantime and I gave back my borrowed copy so I can’t refresh my final impressions of the book.

There was nothing about the final part of the novel that I found overly surprising, and I did find that Pip redeemed himself to some extent. The ending I found something of a puzzle when I first read it, particularly because I was never sure throughout whether I was in favour of Pip and Estella ever ending up together. But I think I preferred the revised ending (my version had both included) and that there was no definite answer on whether Pip and Estella ever ended up together, though there seemed to be at least more hope of it in Dickens’ revised ending.

I did think a great deal about Miss Havisham – it is that character which has remained most with me – and the way in which she attempts to stop time and in so doing must shut out the world, shut off life, teaches an importance lesson about life and living and not becoming so consumed by the past that you shut out the present and the future.

The experience reading Great Expectations has left me very keen on delving into another Dickens. I have a few unread novels of his on the bookshelf and I think I might try either Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend in the near future. The Masterpiece Theatre version of the latter has been keeping me company today as I recover from my wisdom teeth extraction so that might be the next trip I take into the world of Mr. Dickens.

Blame it on Flickr

19 01 2008

No, actually, blame should be placed on the Artsy Mama’s old digital camera, which is now my new digital camera. I’ve been takin more photographs. It is something I’ve always thought I would like to pursue, for myself, on my own time. And I have been a bit recently with the lull in work. Deciding to back up those recent photos lead me to backing up all my old digital photos using Flickr and I realized there were quite a few shots that might be worthy posting and, occasional, talking about. So this is the first post attempting to do just that. And there might be more of this. Who really knows? I’m quite fickle sometimes.

I don’t have much to say about this picture. It is from a cathedral in Edinburgh. I found myself fascinated with stained glass quite few times on that visit, with the beauty and fragility of it, particularly the shards that clung to ruins of the cathedral in Coventry, though that is for another post, I think.

This picture caught my attention today because of the glimmer of light I caught quite by accident and I have been thinking about light and snatches of light in the air because I’ve just been watching Evening. I can’t say that I really liked it and I found some of the dialogue quite jarring, and yet I found myself starting to cry about half an hour from the end and then being unable to stop, just the glimpses of light and joy and sadness and beauty and family that made up the ending of the film – and, most particularly, a remembrance of stars.

And there was this line the character of Ann says that I think I must try to remember, particularly right now, particularly the very last part of it: “There’s no such thing as a mistake. You get nervous, but you sing anyways.”

And here, as I glanced through my photographs, there was this burst of light that I don’t even remember being in the picture. It must have always been there, but for some reason I didn’t notice. Perhaps the time wasn’t right.