Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Reading Report: November 2011

Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in that House by Meghan Daum
Once upon a time, I took a creative writing class. I don't know if I was good. I know that I've always wanted to write, but I procrastinate and I don't think like a fiction writer. Not bad. Not impossible. Just not right now. I'm at peace with my blog where I spew and some people read. One day, all this typing might shape me into a paid writer, but I'm not honing my craft. ANYWAY, in that class we read My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum who was dating the ex-husband of the professor. They were friends. I fell in love. I could write like that. The prof is now on Facebook; she linked to Meghan's LA Times column; I follow and read occasionally; and I found out her book was coming out. And I had to read it. Result: it's a personal look at Meghan's own experience with the Real Estate bubble, growing, growing, then bursting. She's self-depricating, humorous and understandable. I wouldn't make the choices she did (cause I'm frugal doncha know). But I feel her desire.

The Changing Academic Library
CLASS BOOK. Not my fav, but I did read all of it even though the class didn't require it. (It left off half a chapter!?!) I'm totally an academic librarian. 

Heat Rises by "Richard Castle"
I love Castle. I love Nathan Fillion. And while neither Castle nor Nathan Fillion wrote this book, I still love the meta-ness of reading a book by a fictional author. AND the ghostwriter keeps putting in Firefly easter eggs. Expect little, love much.*

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
I didn't like this book to start. The pictures were creepy and the story was scary. I would read it before bed and then read something else before I actually needed to sleep. But then it got all fantasy and awesome and the pictures made sense and it was really cool. So I say read it, keep reading it, and if you don't root for Jacob at the end, you can hate me. But you should also know John Green wrote the blurb. Squee! I didn't til I had finished the book and realized I should have never doubted.

Then I was sad and read Romance novels.** (They helped. I like happy endings. I really like happy endings that I know are going to be happy. I also like books that I can count in hours not days.)

Contesting the Sacred
And in the middle, I finished one of my pilgrimage/liminality books.*** It was actually pretty cool. One of the chapters was about the people who live and work in pilgrimage sites. They're either really devout or really cynical.

Estrella's Quinceanera
I decided to start working through my Top ____ Books. I recently added the Top 100 YA Books for Feminist Readers, and this was on it. I wish I knew about this book last Spring when I was putting together my Latino book talk. It's such a great look at how we try to escape our cultural identity, but we don't have to deny it to become our real selves. I think that's going to be my favorite Top ____ Books list.

The Handmaid's Tale
This was on the BBC Reads list and seemed familiar. Published in 1986, it's a dystopic novel about a totalitarian society where feminine roles are divided into classes of women: Marthas--the housekeepers, Wives--the hostesses, and Handmaids--the child-bearers. The Handmaids take the name of the man to whom they are assigned; for example, the narrator is Offred. It's a really interesting critique of the backlash against the feminist movement of the 1970s. As someone who gladly claims an identity as a feminist even as I choose to take on some very traditional gender roles, I also found the book unsettling. I'm glad I read it; I'm glad it's over.

Wicked
Mike and I listened to this novel in preparation for seeing the musical after Thanksgiving. I have read the book, but it was years ago and I didn't really like it. Given developed appreciation for books that I don't necessarily like**** (see above), I thought it was worth a new look. And I did like it better. I feel for Elphaba even though she's very hard to like. The love story between her and Fiyero was beautiful. When Mike was driving, I read along with the audiobook on my ipad to help me pay attention and stay awake. (I listen to mildly interesting talk to help me fall asleep--and this fits that category.) I think I'll actually check out the other 3 books in this series.

Book vs. Musical--I like the music of the musical, but I think it changes the point of the book. The musical really seeks to retell The Wizard of Oz so that all Dorothy's characters become Elphaba's characters; the book on the other hand points out that there's a different perspective going on. It doesn't have to all make sense and line up neatly, but recognize your point of view is not the only valid one. I like stories that remind me it's not about me. Or better, I need to hear stories like that. :-)

At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman
Once upon a time, this magical little book called Ex Libris came into my life. I don't remember how or why, but I read it and it was the first time I almost followed through with writing an author. (I have distinct memories of Mike and I trying to find her email address via this new thing called "Google".) I fan-girled hard. While I was doing some research for a class I'm developing, I found out Anne Fadiman wrote a non-fiction book in my field. And that was the end of my research; it went on my syllabus. (I'm still trying to decide--it's huge and the class is only 8 weeks long.) And I once again started googling Anne Fadiman... and discovered she had another book of essays. And this was it. While it wasn't the rush of undying devotion I had with Ex Libris (which was all about booklovers), I still really enjoyed her writing style and discovering the genre of the familiar essay. It's personal yet scholarly and nerdy. I could totally get behind a genre like that. So I definitely recommend Ex Libris and if you fall hard like I did, read At Large and at Small to continue to get your fix. She also edited a book Rereading: Seventeen Authors Revisit the Books they Love. That's going on my list, even though I don't know any of the authors.

And we made it to the end of November. At this writing, I'm slogging through The Adventures of Augie March because I love the name Augie. However, I'm thinking I'll give it to page 100 and then decide if I want to put it down. It's a Top ____ Book (Times Top 111 Books of the English Language), but why read it if I don't like it.

Also for those who care, I'm within 10 books of breaking 200 books read this year. W00T!

*I was going through old drafts and I found this post where I thought I had become a high-brow reader. HA! Double HA! HA! I'm glad I never posted that pretentious thing.

**Told ya.

***Yay! I can read hard things.

****It is worth noting that I did probably start that old post in the sense that I could enjoy reading the non-fairy-tale-ending novels considered classics even though they didn't make me happy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

To tree or not to tree

I may not have a Christmas tree.
Christmas Tree Clipart

The Christmas tree was a big part of my family Christmas celebrations. Early in my parent's marriage, they had saved the trunk from one of their trees and drilled holes in it to make a giant Advent log to light a candle every day from the first day of Advent until Christmas. We ALWAYS cut our own tree, scouring the tree farm for the perfect tree with the straightest trunk, no bare spots, a good height, the right needles. We used white lights, not colored ones--much to my dismay as a child, fortunately Grandma decorated with colored lights. We had handmade ornaments, beautiful ornaments my mom received from her students, and others that we collected over the years, until we had so many that my brother and I used mini-trees for our ornaments.

But then one day-after-Christmas, Mom bought a fake tree just in case. Twenty years of Christmas tree success was bound to run out. And the next year it did. We cut a tree, but somehow missed how crooked its trunk was. It wouldn't stand up straight for all our efforts and we pulled out the fake tree. We might have tried a live tree again, but my brother and I were away at college and beyond, Mom was doing grad school, and things were just easier with a tree that has three pieces and just needs fluffing.

Fast forward to Christmas in my own apartment, creating new traditions with my husband. We're coming upon our fifth Christmas together. The first year, I actually borrowed a tree from my best friend, because I wanted one so badly. The second year, I was taking three classes and was so stressed out I couldn't handle a tree. The third year we put up our own tree decked in blue and silver, and I dreamed up the idea of creating Chrismons for the next year. The fourth year, the Chrismons fell through a bit and we ended up with a red and gold tree which was lovely. And now...

Should I let the practicalities drown out the sentiment? I work full-time, I'm finishing up classes, we won't be around for the two weeks around Christmas. Do I let the tree function as a form of procrastination? You know my list isn't long enough. What does a tree mean in the scope of my Advent preparations? This year, I'm much more excited about the devotion practice I've been cultivating (guilt-free!) over the past year.

I'm conflicted and giving too much thought to my musings. (Ah! Another form of procrastination!) Last night I pulled down my early Christmas box and decorated in about 5 minutes; okay 10 because I kept losing a nail. Maybe over the weekend, I'll find a similar gap of time and just go for it. Christmas will come regardless. We'll celebrate the birth of Jesus, anticipate his return regardless.

This post is part of the blogging adventure Via Scribendi. Check out the blog to read more Christmas Memories.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Reading Report: October 2011

Oh reading reviews! I've gotten woefully behind. This little gem was started 3 weeks ago and it was behind then. So rather than bombard you, I'll divide and conquer. Here are the books I read in October (mostly):Link

Heaven by Randy Alcorn
This non-fiction book is like a reference book for all your questions about heaven. I don't agree with Alcorn's theology; we come from very different backgrounds. However, I appreciated his emphasis on the physicality of Heaven, on the centrality of Christ, and on how much Heaven won't be about me. It provided much to think about.

Entwined by Heather Dixon
An FYA recommendation. When the king institutes a ban against dancing to honor the mourning of their mother (who taught them all a love of dancing), the 12 sisters find a secret passage to an enchanted gazebo. The dance master promises them that they can dance there whenever they want, if they find a way to release him from his enchanted prison. But should they? This retelling of the fairytale, the 12 dancing sisters, was funny and enchanting yet dark. This was my first exposure to the fairytale so more than anything, I want to find more versions to read.

Read purely so I could go see the movie, which I haven't seen yet. It's an interesting story, at turns funny and sad and mildly inspiring. However, I read articles about a claim from the real life Abileen, so the story ultimately left me conflicted. It became more about a white woman escaping the segregated South than about African-American women making a bid for equal rights. Worth reading to be culturally literate. PS: I read this on my nook! Super fun!

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Love! Percy Jackson was great, but some many of my friends who love YA are Romanists. (Why yes, that is a really weird sentence to 99% of the world.) So I am so happy to be able to recommend this new series to them. It's a little disorienting since it's Percy Jackson's world without Percy Jackson, but I love the new characters and he's just as engaging of a writer as ever. If you like the Classics, please check out this series.

I found a couple books on my Madeleine L'Engle permalist on the public library website that are about L'Engle, but not written by her (thus not part of my summer reading). So I caught up. This was a festschrift written for L'Engle's 80th birthday celebrating themes in her writing. My favorite part was reading how the authors first encountered L'Engle's writings. Many were introduced by their children (daughters).

Yes, this is one of my textbooks, but I read it all so it counts. You would not believe how prevalent libraries are in western history. They're all over. And they're affected by all major events in history (poor, poor libraries bombed in WWI and WWII). It was interesting and bland, but as far as class reading goes, not bad.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Yay! Percy Jackson's back, but no he's at the wrong camp. Again great for the Romanist in your life. And if you don't use terms like Romanist in every day conversation, still read this book. You'll still like it.

Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick
In my American Literature class, we read Moby Dick. My professor, in pedagogical brilliance, offered 3 pts extra credit for every week we read 3 chapters and wrote up a brief summary. So I actually read Moby Dick. I answer the question posed in 10 Things I Hate about You: "I know you can be overwhelmed and underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?" The answer is NOT "I think you can in Europe", not the answer is "You can when you're on the high seas!" Vocabulary! That's why you read Moby Dick. Actually Philbrick talks about several themes in the novel that really make it worthwhile to read right after or alongside if you can't discuss the novel with an expert. It's also little so it's not as intimidating as Moby Dick is.

Dahl's History of the Book
Yay! Another class book. This one was devoted to the book in general so we talk about script and illustration, changes in binding over the years, and libraries to a small extent. This was a nerdy book. I would have totally read on my own. And there were some really great Luther quotes. Also these books were written in the '90s so they had some awesome things to say about the Internet. The amazing thing is that they were pretty much on the mark. Much closer than this guy.

The Hangman's Daughter
I thought this would make a good October read because it has to do with a witch hunt. Turns out that it was a Spring book. Oh well. It was still a really engaging mystery that raced against the clock to save the local midwife. It does have The Time Traveler's Wife problem wherein the story is not really about the woman as much as it is about the men in her life. But it's 17th century Germany so one can't complain much. :-)

Suncatcher by Carole Chase
And here's my last last Madeleine L'Engle book. Chase wrote a thematic biography of L'Engle's life that really highlights the loveliness she put in the world. While it's not David McCullough or anything. It's a good summary of her life.

October you passed so quickly. I finished class reading. I read for fun. I read for catch up. I didn't read as much as I'd hoped, but all in all a worthwhile journey. Stay tuned for my review of November reading later this month. Maybe if we're lucky I'll catch up and be ready to start fresh in 2012.