18 October 2014

Classics Club Check In

I haven't been very active on the Classics Club lately. Then again, I haven't been active at all, so that's understandable. I have, however, been reading a Classic or two since I joined up in March.

My list of Classics is - rather disgustingly - long, and only gets longer, so "progress" is relative. I have a list of 156 books, some of which have subsections listing the short stories, novellas, and even full length books within the larger compilation.

I've been slowly going through Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Other Stories. Slowly, in part due to my enjoyment but not love of Chopin combined with my exact same feelings regarding short stories. I've read The AwakeningDesiree's Baby, A Respectable Woman, and The Godmother and while I haven't been smacked across the face with awesome, I do like the stories and plan on finishing the collection.....at some point.

I started reading Fardorougha the Miser by William Carlton for a Classics Spin, but I tragically failed at finishing it. It's still lounging on the coffee table next to the couch, but it's a wee bit buried by about six other books at this time.

Right now, I'm in 3 of 5 stories in to In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu which I have already read (but never reviewed) and am reading again as I chose it for my Introduction to Literature course this semester. If you haven't already read this, I highly recommend it. There's monkeys and hallucinogenic tea, footsteps with no feet, a big ole heaping of getting what you deserve, vapid rich boys, and lesbian vampires.

I am - obviously - not as involved as I would like to be, but still I'm doing what I can and I hope (fingers crossed) to have more time to dedicate to blogging in general...or rather less time overall, but I'm working on limiting some other activities in my life that take away from blogging.

Just yesterday I started looking at what I was going to read next. I'm thinking of reading a Dostoevsky. I have Notes from the Underground, The Grand Inquisitor, Poor Folk, and Crime and Punishment on the shelves. Any recommendations?

15 October 2014

Stitches by David Small

I read this too fast. Emotionally smacking me in the face on page 12, Stitches hooked me in and I devoured this intense graphic novel in about 20 minutes. I clearly did not do this book justice, and I will have to read it again more closely sometime.

While - I am positive - all people react strongly to any mistreatment of children, I also believe that parents are more affected, more horrified, and more likely to have bad dreams. In Stitches, the main character, David, lives a nightmarish life in the midst of a neglectful and abusive family. Then at 14, he enters the hospital for a minor surgery and leaves missing his thyroid and his vocal cords. And, of course, he returns to a home life of neglect and abuse until finally escaping and finding his new voice in art.

Bad enough. Then I realize it is a graphic memoir aka totally not fiction - yeah, sometimes it takes me awhile - and my heart practically stops. I have a very strong desire to beat the living crap out of the adults in David's life. Clearly these adults are suffering from their own issues - secrecy, shame, isolation, and some actual crazy - but yeah, I want them punished.

Okay, enough rant, back to the book. In a lovely choice, Small mirrors form and content, using minimal words to relate a story about loss of voice (both literal and figurative). The images really shine here, telling as much of the story, if not more, than the actual text. The use of black and white, sketch-type images fits perfectly, highlighting the bleakness of the story and mirroring the stark portrayal of a complex life.

My only issue was a slight lack of clarity from time to time with the images. I wasn't sure exactly what was happening every now and again, sometimes due to the blending of David's reality and David's imagination and sometimes because the simplicity of the images didn't differentiate people enough for me. Then again, I really think the problem here is that I plowed through this in 20 minutes.

Random thought: I love the rabbit therapist.

I know I'm totally late to the "Stitches is Awesome" party, like 4 or 5 years behind the game I guess, but hey, better late than never, right?

13 October 2014

The Collector by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts and I used to have quite the love affair. I was so obsessed with her books that I printed out her catalog, in chronological and series order, and pretty much used it like a check list. Made it through too. I have read every Roberts book published up to about 6 years ago. I'm only missing a handful of her 150+ collection.

The romance novels of Nora Roberts were my rebellion against the seriousness and difficulty of my undergrad and grad school reading, so I spent about 5 years reading everything I could get my hands on. Then my foray into blogging slowed down the romance novel reading as it introduced me to the new guilty pleasure of young adult paranormal romance. But at the suggestion of my grandmother, I picked up The Collector, a new one from Roberts.

Lila Emerson has an awesome job. She house-sits for vacationing rich people all over the world. How cool is that? She also has an unusual habit. Channeling James Stewart's character from Hitchcock's Rear Window, Lila spends a good chunk of time observing the neighbors....like with binoculars and everything. During one of her voyeuristic sessions, she witnesses a murder. A second body is found in the apartment, and the victim's brother enlists Lila's help to discover whodunit.

As a mystery, the story isn't bad. As a romance novel, the story isn't bad. The problem for me lies in the fact that it's a bit blah for both. I would have rather had a stronger romance or a stronger mystery. More sex or more suspense. A lot happens and a lot of people show up, but there is minimal depth. Definitely not one of my favorite Roberts' stories.

12 October 2014

Currently | 12 October

Time and Place // 9:48pm, on the couch

Eating and Drinking // Pretzels and cheese dip. Yummy yummy.

Reading // In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu - which is, as always, rocking my world. I believe this is the third time I've read the book. I'm also trying to finish up Of Monsters and Madness, but I'm pretty bored with it, so it's languishing on the back burner these days.

Blogging // This past week I've reviewed Melissa Marr's Carnival of Souls and the Veronica Mars franchise (meh and WOOHOO respectively). I also posted my thoughts on the Top Ten about Character-Driven novels, of which Game of Thrones tops the list.

Contemplating // I submitted my application fee, transcripts, and resume for admission into a graduate school. I'm thinking of getting a second Masters; although for now, I just want to take a class or two to see how I feel about the time commitment. Time is so scarce - but man I miss school.

Teaching // Grading. I hate grading. The husband has suggested I stop assigning homework. :) In other teaching news, I'm currently enrolled in a MOOC called Five Habits of Highly Creative Teachers. So far, it's interesting if a bit too reflective rather than active. Have any of you ever taken a MOOC?

Loving // My new stainless steel refrigerator. So much beautiful space.

Hating // My new stainless steel refrigerator. Did you know magnets don't freaking stick to stainless steel? What will I do without my magnets?

Avoiding // I think I should just permanently attach the phrase "grading papers" to this category. I'm surprised by what I will do to avoid grading papers these days. I may have actually found a way to make it more interesting:

I may have to give this a try...

So how are you guys doing today?

11 October 2014

Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

Melissa Marr's Carnival of Souls - don't you love that title? - begins with a rather fascinating premise. For her safety, the daughter of a daimon king is spirited away to live in the human world under the protection of a witch. The truth hidden from her, she grows up ignorant of who she really is and the danger of her future. Back in the daimon world, called The City, Kaleb and Aya fight for power, he to escape the horror of his low social caste and her to escape the expectations of her gender.

The City is a fascinating place. The characters are relatively intriguing; although the wow factor has more to do with who they are than what they do. Outside of Kaleb and Zevi, I cared very little for the characters in this story. Nothing much happens here, and the action that does take place is either repetitive, only superficially related, or summarized as a past event. The story reads like a profile of characters and place, a brainstorm that could form the basis of an amazing story if some action were added in.

I had a few problems outside the lack of action as well. MINOR PLOT SPOILER Earlier I mentioned that Aya is fighting for power denied her because of her gender; however, further reading proves this only half-true. While Aya does seem to desire power enough to help make The City a better place, her real reason for gaining power is so she doesn't have to "breed" (I hate that word but it's what's used in the book and very appropriate here). As a female daimon, she has no real power; she will be sold off married to a male who will own her body and soul, and she will be expected to (forced to) bear children. Aya doesn't seem to mind this so much except that having a child will expose her secret - that she is a half-witch. If she wasn't a half-witch, it seems she wold just go right along with these horrifying gender roles. Not so awesome. END SPOILER

I would like to reiterate though, that despite my serious problems with this book, the world Marr has created here is pretty intriguing. I just wish more happened in that world. It is possible that Marr is using this book as a mere jumping off point for the rest of the series, but making the first book so slowly paced is a real risk. I am not sure if I will bother picking up the next in the series.

If any of you have read further installments, is it worth it?

09 October 2014

TV, Movies, and Books Oh My: Veronica Mars

So Anna over at things mean a lot wrote a post mentioning the awesomeness that is Veronica Mars, and then Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness mentioned the show, and since she had gushed over Friday Night Lights - a show I devoured on Netflix - I figured she knew what she was talking about when it came to tv shows. Then I fortuitously got sick and was able to watch the entire first season of Veronica Mars on Amazon Prime (I say fortuitously because being sick meant my mom let Madinut spend the night and day with her and I got to binge on tv). I loved it - despite the sickness, and over the next few weeks, I finished the series, watched the movie, and read the book.

The tv show follows Veronica as she investigates various cases for her classmates (episode conflicts) while simultaneously investigating the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane (series conflict for first two seasons). Originally a social outcast in school due to her family's loss of status after her father placed blame on Lilly's father, Veronica slowly eases her way back in to the social sphere through her investigations for her classmates. Friendships and romances blossom - and except for one sub-plot involving child abuse, unwanted pregnancy, and a not-quite-kidnapping - I loved the story so much it hurt. This sub-plot reminded me of the Tyra-rape sub-plot in Friday Night Lights; it was an aberration that seemed sensational rather than substantive and was my one big disappointment with the show. Still, unlike Friday Night Lights (and Glee and many, many other teen-based tv shows), my admiration for Veronica Mars even survived high school graduation. I liked this show until the bitter end.

The movie picks up a few years after the show fell off. Veronica returns to her hometown to help an old friend and easily falls back into her role as private investigator. Logan, Veronica's high school ex, is the prime suspect in the murder of his pop-star girlfriend Bonnie, and Veronica must find the real killer fast. Many of the characters from the tv show joined the cast, and in an interesting twist, they were the victims and the suspects in this murder-mystery rather than just side characters. What also interested me were the changes - and lack thereof - the characters underwent over the years. Sometimes changes to a character's personality distance me, but in this instance, the changes were so appropriate to that particular character's growing up that it all felt very natural, organic. The ending was also highly satisfying, nicely wrapping things up while simultaneously leaving the door open for more.

And then comes the book. Picking up exactly where the movie ended, The Thousand Dollar Tan Lan has Veronica running Mars Investigations while her father recuperates. When a young Spring Breaker goes missing, Veronica is called in to a dangerous investigation with mafia-type criminals and secrets from her past. While still just as witty and quirky as the tv series, my only complaint was wanting more of the regular characters. It was very strange to have an MIA Logan for a Veronica Mars story. Veronica, as a character, still gets my independent heart all aflutter. I love that she's choosing what she loves for her career instead of what would please her father, make her money, etc.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that more books and more movies are coming as I am most definitely not ready for this world to end.

07 October 2014

Top Ten Character Driven Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. To learn more about Top Ten Tuesday or see the list of future topics click here.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: Not only is this a character-driven novel, it is a holy-shit-that's-a-lot-of-characters character-driven novel. Fully developed characters really make a book for me. I like realistic, flawed, complicated, contradictory, human characters in my reading, and this book is so damn chock full of them, it's a bit difficult to keep everyone (and their motivations) straight.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie BarrowsMy neighbor Evangeline Smythe is going to have twins in June.  She is none too happy about it, so I am going to ask her to give one of them to me.  This is one of many little quirky comments Juliet. Enough said.

will grayson, will grayson by John Green and David LevithanI was really impressed while reading with the depth and complexity of the characters. Even while reading about Person 1 at Event A, I knew that Persons 2-5 were busy elsewhere, living even when I couldn't "see" what they were doing. Hmmm...I hope that made sense. It's not often that I feel the "realness" of characters quite so much.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon: Definitely ranks up there on a list of character-driven novels as the story is narrated from the point of view of an autistic 15 year old boy. I fell in love with the main character, Christopher; his not-quite-perfectly logical nature, obsession with math, desire to be a detective, and bravery combine to create a personality that is simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: How can it not be character-driven when our unreliable narrator, Humbert Humbert, is narrating his romantic (?) relationship with a 12 year old girl? The way Humbert speaks (aka the way Nabokov writes) is ingenious. He artfully plays with words, the structure of sentences, the use of allusion, the creation of new words. Humbert's voice is everything in this novel. First of all because he is the one telling the story. Second because it is so appealing. Seriously appealing.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness: In a world where all of the men hear each other's thoughts in a continuous, unavoidable stream of Noise, character is quite at the forefront. Knowing a person becomes so important in the book, and the knowing between Todd, with all his noise, and Viola, who has none, illustrates an important part of what it means to be human and unique. Add in the fact that these are unique, interesting, and growing characters and you have a book that is remarkably character-driven...and awesome.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Just a taste of the characters in this one: Aziraphale and Crowley, an angel and a demon who quite like it on Earth and despite orders are trying to prevent its occurrence. Anathema Device, descendant of Agnes Nutter a prophetic witch who actually got it right. Newton Pulsifer, a member of the Witchfinder Army who has only two nipples. Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order of Nuns. I could keep going.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Narrated by the intersex granchild of Greek immigrants, this story  is the immigrant experience, the transition from female to male, and the saga of family. The characters, their struggles, their experiences, their transitions, are everything. Even plot shifts and subplots revolve around the specific actions of people, how a person is, in part, the result of individual choices made by others.

Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello: The characters in this play each have competing views of the reality of their drama, just as people in real life have differing views of the same event. "But only in order to know if you, as you really are now, see yourself as you once were with all the illusions that were yours then, with all the things both inside and outside of you as they seemed to you - as they were then indeed for you. Well, sir, if you think of all those illusions that mean nothing to you now, of all those things which don't even seem to you to exist any more, while once they were for you, don't you feel that the very earth under your feet is sinking away from you when you reflect that in the same way this you as you feel it today - all this present reality of yours - is fated to seem a mere illusion to you tomorrow?"

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins:  A whodunit of grand proportions, The Moonstone includes an intelligent, eccentric detective, a gem stolen after a party in a country manor, and of course opium. But it isn't the original plot that captivated me; it is the characters. The Moonstone contains some of the most intriguing characters I have ever read. From the humble servant Gabriel Betteredge to the prissy and self-righteous Drusilla Clack to the opium-addicted Ezra Jennings, these are people you want to know about, and they speak directly to you as The Moonstone is an epistolary novel with multiple characters recounting firsthand events in their unique tone of voice.

So what other character-driven novels are out there that I should read? 

05 October 2014

Currently | 4 October

Time and Place // 9:21pm, on the couch

Eating and Drinking // not a thing...it's almost bedtime for old folk like myself

Reading // Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday, and I must say I'm not impressed so far. The amount of missing information is overwhelming. I think Verday withheld information with the intention of increasing suspense, but in fact, all she has done is limit readers' knowledge and interest in the story. Should I keep reading?

Watching // Big Love. I've only seen about 9 episodes and I haven't been really and truly hooked by the show, but it is still interesting enough to keep my watching. Just maybe not at the break-neck pace I sometimes plow through seasons. I did recently watch season 1 of Reign which I loved.

Listening // Frozen. All I get to listen to every is the soundtrack from Frozen. My daughter - only 2 mind you - is obsessed. I know almost all the words to every song in the movie. I must admit that my true annoyance, though, comes from the fact that I find myself singing and NOT horrified by how much I'm enjoying myself.

Blogging // I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, so in the past week I've posted why I've been so absent and a review of eleanor & park by rainbow rowell. Coming up this week I have a discussion of the Veronica Mars franchise, a Top Ten Tuesday on character-driven novels, and two book reviews - Nora Roberts' The Collector and Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr.

Teaching // We are finishing up the Ender's Game unit in my Intro to Lit course and about to start a unit focusing on Sheridan LeFanu's In a Glass Darkly. I'm still not 100% on what we will be doing with that collection, so any ideas are much appreciated. Film class is moving from The Usual Suspects to Pan's Labyrinth. In English II - advanced composition - we are writing papers on human/robot interaction from the perspective of each student's field of study. This is a first for that class, so I'm excited to see what they come up with.

Avoiding // Grading papers. Seriously need to get on it though before my students mutiny.

Anticipating // Halloween. I love it. I can't wait for it. M and I are going to find our costumes this week. When asked, she has responded with all of the following as her intended halloween costume: Daniel Tiger, Queen Else, a witch, the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk, a monster, and a pirate. I don't think she realizes yet that she can pick only one.

So how are you guys doing?