January 2008 archive

Sunday Salon – January 20, 2008

January 20, 2008

6:00 PM

What is it about classics that we tend to romanticize? I always envision myself curled up beneath a warm blanket in front of a glowing fire with a cup of herbal tea at hand. Kristen at Delightfully Dawgmatic got me thinking about this with her wonderful post about reading Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. She found her romantic vision of the book shattered when she actually sat down to read it. I must admit to a similar experience.

I picked up Great Expectations to read for My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge (being hosted by the women of Estella’s Revenge). I looked forward to becoming entrenched in the book, my husband unable to pull me from its clutches. But, reality is that I’m struggling. I find my eyes drooping after only a few pages. I’m constantly doing the math to see how many more pages I must read to get me to the end. I  re-read the same paragraph over and over with the dull realization I’ve stopped paying attention.

I want to love this book – it’s a classic! It’s Dicken’s, for goodness sake. Who doesn’t love Dickens? I remembering reading and loving A Tale of Two Cities in high school. Why can’t I remember reading Great Expectations way back then? Is it possible it was entirely forgettable?

Perhaps I am just not in the mood for Victorian era fiction; maybe if I read this six months from now it would fascinate and bowl me over. Maybe not.

Lest you think I just can’t stomach a good classic – let me share with you a book I read earlier in the week. So Big, by Edna Ferber (read my review) is one of those classics that I adored. Rich characterization, a strong lead female character, beautiful setting, and a story that will never grow old. Now that’s a classic I can recommend!

Thank you to my Blogging Friends…

This week my blog celebrated 25,000 visitors since last February. It boggles my mind. I never dreamed so many people would care about what I have to write – and I am very thankful to my blogging friends who have loyally visited and left comments.

Many thanks to Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time AND Raidergirl at An Adventure in Reading…both of whom honored me with the Mwah Award this month!  The purpose of the award is: “…to hand some of that love and kindness back around to those who have been so very, very, very good to me in this bloggy world. My hope is that those who receive this award will pass it on to those who have been very, very, very good to them as well. It’s a big kiss, of the chaste platonic kind, from me to you with the underlying ‘thanks’ message implied. I really do appreciate your support and your friendship and yes, your comments. … Mwah!”

So, I am supposed to choose some bloggers and pass the award on. What a dilemma! I can’t only choose a few of you. I’d like to give it out to ALL my wonderful friends including:
1. Those who have been insane enough to follow me into challenge mania by joining my Yahoo Group – A Novel Challenge.
2. Those whose reviews I trust and use to form my endless TBR  wish list.
3. Those who frequently drop by my blog and leave their wonderful and uplifting comments.
4. Those who keep coming up with more Yahoo discussion groups, challenges, and reading related events…completely enabling my book obsession.

You know who you are – I love you all…and I give you a giant MWAH!!!!

2008 Banned Books Read

Banned Books Read in 2008

Last year I tracked the banned books which I read, and I’ve decided to do the same thing in 2008. Why? Because I strongly believe in our right to read freely. Throughout history, books have been banned, challenged, censored, and burned. Many authors have been jailed or forced to leave their countries because of protests about what they have written. Typically books are banned for religious, political or social reasons. In the USA, children’s books come under strong attack for a number of reasons.

I am the owner of a Yahoo group which reads banned and censored books, as well as books written by banned or censored authors. Anyone is welcome to join us.

Here is my banned books list for 2008:

1. The Giver, by Lois Lowry (read January 1, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)

The Giver is one of the most frequently challenged and banned books in middle schools across America. It has been referred to as “the suicide” book by some groups because it portrays a Utopian society that relies on euthanasia and suicide to create the perfect community. Read this article published in 2001 by USA Today. Despite the controversy, this is a beautifully written and conceived book. My view was that rather than support euthanasia and suicide, it shows the horror and devastating results of those acts. This is a great book for parents to discuss with their children.

2.  Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison (read February 25, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)

Banned and challenged due to “language degrading to blacks,” violent imagery, sexually explicit and profane language and depictions of sexuality. Has been accused of promoting a “homosexual agenda”.

So Big – Book Review

“How big is my baby?” Selina would demand, senselessly. “How big is my man?” The child would momentarily cease to poke plump fingers into the rich black loam. He would smile a gummy though slightly weary smile and stretch wide his arms. She, too, would open her tired arms wide, wide. Then they would say in a duet, his mouth a puckered pink petal, hers quivering with tenderness and a certain amusement, “So-o-o-o big!” with the voice soaring on the prolonged vowel and dropping suddenly with the second word. – From So Big, page 2 –

Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel – So Big – is a superbly crafted novel and one I could not put down for long.

When Selina Peake’s father is murdered, the teenager is faced with fleeing from the bustling streets of Chicago to Vermont to live with her stuffy aunts; or to strike out on her own to seek a life of adventure.  She chooses a life of her own which takes her into the insulated farm country south of Chicago to live with Dutch farmer, his wife and three children. There she discovers the simplicity of farm life while teaching the young children of the community. Selina is brilliantly portrayed – a delicately boned, strong willed woman with sparkling eyes who sees beauty in everything – including the purple and green cabbages which provide sustenance for the hard-working farmers and their families. Even after marrying the solid and reliable Pervus DeLong and finding herself working long and difficult days as a farmer’s wife, Selina never loses her vision of beauty.

There was born in Selina at this time a feeling for the land that she was never to lose. Perhaps the child within her had something to do with this. She was aware of a feeling of kinship with the earth; an illusion of splendour, or fulfillment. Sometimes, in a moment’s respite from her work about the house, she would stand in the kitchen doorway, her flushed face turned toward the fields. Wave on wave of green, wave on wave, until the waves melted into each other and became a verdant sea. – From So Big, page 84 –

Ferber’s novel is not just about Selina’s voyage through life – her struggles and dreams, challenges and triumphs – but it encompasses a larger theme…namely that of living a life of beauty and joy vs. a life of material success. Selina’s enduring spirit and vision of life never fails her throughout the story. One of the most memorable scenes for me was when Selina is widowed and facing the failure of her farm. She does what a woman of her community had never done – she drives a team of horses to market on the streets of Chicago.

“Never in my life did I hear of such a thing!” Selina turned the horses’ heads toward the city. “You’d be surprised, Jan, to know of all the things you’re going to hear of some day that you’ve never heard of before.” – From So Big, page 115 –

Selina’s son, Dirk (aka: Sobig) represents the flip side to the life she has chosen. By all definitions, he becomes successful – holding down a high paying job and living among the wealthy. But, Ferber carefully and succinctly shows the reader why this kind of success does not necessarily lead to happiness.

Ferber’s novel has rich characterizations and a strong sense of place. Exquisitely crafted and lovingly plotted, it is story that is worthy of the Pulitzer. I will be reading more of this amazing author’s work in the future.

Highly recommended.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist Book Review Published…

All this week, my review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist may be found at The Piker Press – a wonderfully eclectic weekly ezine. I encourage you to check it out and let them know Wendy sent you! They publish cartoons/graphics, photography, short stories, serialized novels, and an array of non fiction articles.

My review may be found here.

Have You Found Her: A Memoir

And every week there was the unspoken question behind it, the one I did’nt know enough to ask myself – Have you found her yet? The one who reminds you of you? -From Have You Found Her, page 22-

Janice Erlbaum is in her mid-30s and decides to volunteer at a shelter for homeless girls – the same shelter she lived in almost twenty years before. She doesn’t fully understand her motivations, and she immediately breaks the rules for volunteers by choosing favorites, giving gifts and eventually befriending the troubled Samantha. Have You Found Her is Erlbaum’s story of that year and what she discovers…not just about Samantha (who is more ill than anyone can imagine), but about herself.

This memoir is a disturbing read, and ultimately one which is heart breaking. Erlbaum is a talented writer, slowly revealing Samantha’s problems and her (Erlbaum’s) underlying issues about motherhood, co-dependency and escapism through drugs. She builds tension with some subtle foreshadowing and the book unwinds with a sense of doom. Long before the final secret is revealed, the reader knows to expect disaster. Luckily, the sadness is balanced with a sense of fulfillment which Erlbaum finds with her domestic partner, Bill – a man who shines between the pages as a person of hope and stability in an uncertain world.

To say I enjoyed Have You Found Her seems inappropriate – who could enjoy the gradual unraveling of a young girl’s life, the sense of futility and lost hope that invades the prose? But despite this, I couldn’t put this book down. I felt compelled to turn the pages, to understand the despair which drives mental illness, to find out how it all would end.

Janice Erlbaum has written a memoir which will stimulate discussion among parents of teenagers, and those who work with disturbed or drug addicted children. Brutally honest and revealing, this is a book I can recommend.

Sunday Salon – January 13, 2008

January 13, 2008

11:20 AM

I’ve been puttering around this morning – picking up the clutter, playing with the cats, making chicken stock for the soup I plan to prepare later this afternoon, baking bread. Not reading – not yet. But, I’ve been thinking about what I read and why. 

Earlier this week, on one of my many Yahoo book groups, someone posted that a friend of theirs thought reading fiction was a waste of time. This caught my attention…fiction is my overwhelming choice when it comes to reading material. When I chose non fiction, I tend toward that which ‘reads like fiction’ or memoirs, or crime stories which focus in on the people (characters, so to speak) and their motivations. I dislike dry histories or political exposes; I have to force myself to read professional journals.

I love historical fiction, or fiction in translation, or fiction which explores another culture. I fall into literature with rich, complex characters. Recently I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid (read my review). This book is being discussed at the 21st Fiction Yahoo Group. The discussion is fabulous – making me look more closely at American politics and foreign policy and our place in the world; forcing me to examine my biases and beliefs about a culture very different from my own. Certainly, this fiction is not a waste of time.

Looking back on 2007, scanning the nearly 100 books I read (85 being fiction), I find only a handful I would categorize as ‘a waste of time.’ The vast majority gave me reason to pause; to think about bigger issues; to examine my feelings about war, discrimination, interpersonal relationships, equality, religion and racism. Because a book is fictional does not mean it doesn’t contain reality or philosophy about the issues in our lives. I love connecting to fictional characters who are given permission to explore the world unencumbered by political correctness or adherence to the ‘facts’ per se. Not that fiction doesn’t contain real life events…we all know it does…but it is more about the exploration of ideas than about events. And this may be why I prefer it. I don’t want to just learn about an event and when it happened…I want to understand the individuals behind the event – their motivations, their thoughts, their moral dilemmas. Fiction feeds this need.

What do you think? Would you rather read fiction or non fiction? Have you thought about why you might prefer one over the other?

5:00 PM

Just so you all don’t think I completely blew off my reading today, I thought I’d give you a final update. I’m currently reading an early review book from Random House: Have You Found Her, by Janice Erlbaum. This is one of those memoirs that reads like fiction – a disturbing, yet compelling book about the author’s experience (obsession) with a drug addicted, homeless teenager she meets while volunteering at a shelter. The book has a sense of doom about it…I’m half way through…and I’m nervous about how it will end. As memoirs go, this one fits the “genre” – lots of horrible childhood memories and how the author overcomes them. I don’t mean to sound overly negative. It’s a good read so far.

Until next week…Happy reading fellow Saloners!

Magazine Reading…

I am a subscriber to Country Home Magazine – and have been for quite some time. I love getting their magazines, which are glossy and filled with beautiful photos and ideas. But, I must admit that it often takes me a long time to sit and read the articles. So when I began developing the mini challenges for my yahoo group – A Novel Challenge – I incorporated magazines into it.

I sat down this morning with the December 2007/January 2008 edition of Country Home and quickly became immersed in it. The first article I read was a regular feature – a column written by Karen Weir-Jimerson who writes warm and funny articles with country based themes. Her December/January column is entitled: Chiming In, and is about the multitude of clocks in her home and the idea of marking time.  I loved how she described the constant tick-tock and the various chimes which sing out every fifteen minutes within the cozy walls of her home. I was fascinated in her description of an old-fashioned coper-clad Chelsea ship clock which measures sailor’s watch hours rather than traditional hours. As in all her columns, Weir-Jimerson leaves us with a reminder of the bigger picture in life: “It’s the sound of life moving forward – slow, measured, true.” For a treat, visit the author’s blog here. I guarantee you will be entertained.

The second article I read was about a family who bought a old barn on 22 acres in Wisconsin and converted it to their home. With its 33 foot high ceilings and original plank walls, the barn needed a great deal of work (including shoring up the foundation and installation of insulation) before it could be remodeled. The photos of the home are amazing – and inspiring. The family installed a gorgeous stone fireplace (using the fieldstones from the property), a loft for bedrooms and master bathroom, and an all white kitchen with granite countertops. Having just remodeled my own house, I can respect the amount of work all of this entailed.

There are some other fun articles in this particular edition of Country Home. Every year I consider letting my subscription lapse because I have so much reading material already – but after spending a little time flipping through pages, I always decide to keep the magazine coming each month!

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Book Review

But surely it is the gist that matters; I am, after all, telling you a history, and in history, as I suspect you – an American – will agree, it is the thrust of one’s narrative that counts, not the accuracy of one’s details. -From The Reluctant Fundamentalist, page 118-

Changez is a Pakistani man, educated at Princeton, and brilliant enough to be chosen as one of the few to work at the prestigious New York firm of Underwood Samson. But, all changes after the attacks of 911. Changez tells his story to an unnamed American while they dine in a Pakistani marketplace several years after that fateful day. The reader is introduced to several intriguing characters, not the least of whom is the damaged Erica – Changez’ love interest – whose mental stability is shaken by the terrorist attack on America and who slips into a more gentle world of her own imagination.

It is not Changez’s story per se which drives the narrative of this compelling novella, but the tone of his voice. Hamid has created a tale which is disturbing and thoughtful, one which questions our national loyalties and examines the distrust which has grown between the Middle East and the United States.

When Changez talks of his attempt to assimilate, the reader is struck by the dishonesty of that attempt:

I attempted to act and speak, as much as my dignity would permit, more like an American. The Filipinos we worked with seemed to look up to my American colleagues, accepting them almost instinctively as members of the officer class of global business-and I wanted my share of that respect as well. -From The Reluctant Fundamentalist, page 65-

Later, Changez seems to recognize, for the first time, how ineffectual his efforts are:

Then one of my colleagues asked me a question, and when I turned to answer him, something rather strange took place. I looked at him – at his fair hair and light eyes and, most of all, his oblivious immersion in the minutiae of our work – and thought, you are so foreign. -From The Reluctant Fundamentalist, page 67-

Hamid’s prose is exacting and filled with a subtle and disturbing tension. Through Changez’s point of view, he reconstructs the anxiety and patriotism following the 911 attacks and provides a view of the United States which is less than flattering – an empire, of sorts, where financial and political concerns outweigh the personal. Changez’s place of employment becomes symbolic of a greater force – that which forgets the past and focuses only on a future of wealth and personal gratification.

But, the reader should not be fooled by what appears to be initially an anti-American view of the tensions between the United States and the Middle East (specifically Pakistan).  Hamid’s message is broader – questioning the essential mistrust on both sides; and providing us with a glimpse of the misunderstandings between governments, as well as people of different cultures.

Mohsin Hamid has constructed a novella which is unsettling in this uncertain time of terrorist threats and the gloom of war in Iraq. It is not a book which is easy to toss aside…but, rather is one whose message should be considered deeply.


A Little Bit of Both…

You Are 50% Left Brained, 50% Right Brained
The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you’re left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you’re right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.

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