16 December 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2014

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.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Warrior Women by Jeannine Davis-Kimball
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater: The Raven BoysThe Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Pilgrim's Wilderness by Tom Kizzia
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
The Martian by Andy Weir

Okay, maybe I cheated a bit by including three books and counting them as one, but hey, I tend to think of series as one long book.

What are your favorite books of the year?

10 December 2014

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley's Beauty is, as its subtitle states, a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. This new reading stays close enough to the original to feel remarkably authentic while changing enough to make it relatively refreshing.

Fascinatingly - to me at least - much of the story takes place before the Beast is even mentioned. Beauty is a three part story, and it isn't until part 3 that Beauty goes off to live with the Beast. Before Beauty is imprisoned - in a beautiful castle where her every need and want is catered to - she is the bookish daughter of a wealthy merchant living in the city; then she is the daughter of a ruined merchant working in the country. This shift in status and her sisters' love lives are told in the first two parts of the story - perhaps as foils for Beauty's love story in part 3?

Speaking of the sisters, I love their relationship. Grace, Hope, and Beauty (Honour) are so wonderfully distinct and so beautifully connected to each other. Neither of Beauty's sisters is developed enough to truly stand out as a complex character; and yet both of them have enough characterization to evoke sympathy and provide a sense of familial camaraderie.

In this version of the tale, the Beast makes a bargain with Beauty's father: give me one of your daughters or die. Creepy. The father, at Beauty's insistence, agrees. Creepy. Then from day one, the Beast asks Beauty to marry him after dinner every night. Creepy. Despite the creepy, I did appreciate Beauty's slow acceptance of the Beast and her even slower fall into love. Her realization that she is in love with the Beast comes late in the game and has been described by some as underwhelming; this doesn't bother me. Actually I kind of like it that Beauty doesn't crash into love with a big bang and fireworks and sudden, shocking awareness. Sometimes realizing you love someone comes softly, easily, it calms rather than excites.

Unfortunately, I'm not entirely convinced of their love. The Beast's need for a woman to marry him, and his apparent "love" for Beauty from day one seems very unbelievable. Then again, the story seems to hint that the Beast knew of Beauty and her family prior to when we, the readers, believe the actual meeting occurred.

This ambiguity is not confined to the Beast's love. There were pivotal moments that seemed undertold, without the necessary in-the-moment detail and without the background information needed. At times, it felt like the generic idea of "magic" could account for a bit too much. At other times, including the ending, it felt like the generic concept of "fairy tales" could justify events with no true cause-and-effect or reasoning.

I have heard wonderful things about McKinley, so I am making it a point to not let this book turn me off. Any advice on which of her novels I should read next?

09 December 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: New Authors in 2014

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.

This week's Top Ten is about Authors that were new to me this year. Clearly I'm supposed to list the top 10, but seriously ten is about all I have.....still, I read some good ones! 

Vladimir Nabokov  Read: Lolita     Next Read: Pale Fire

Jeannine Davis-Kimball  Read: Warrior Women     Next Read: This may be her only book.

Jay Asher  Read: 13 Reasons Why     Next Read: The Future of Us

Rainer Maria Rilke  Read: Letters to a Young Poet     Next Read: Sonnets to Orpheus

Maggie Stiefvater  Read: The Raven Boys, Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue, The Scorpio Races
Next Read: Advice?

Rainbow Rowell  Read: eleanor & park     Next Read: Advice?

Julie Schumacher  Read: Dear Committee Members     Next Read: The Book of 100 Truths

Andy Weir  Read: The Martian     Next Read: This may be his only book

Robin McKinley  Read: Beauty     Next Read: Deerskin

Tom Kizzia  Read: Pilgrim's Wilderness    Next Read: The Wake of the Unseen Object

05 December 2014

Thoughts on Audio

Audiobooks and I have never been copacetic. I can count on one hand the number of audiobooks I have tried, and it takes very few fingers to count the number I enjoyed. For the most part, I find audio too slow (I can read 10 times as fast as someone can speak); I am rarely in a position where I can listen to audio, meaning it takes even longer to finish the book; I can't stand not being able to easily flip back and re-read a section or knowing how much of the book is left; and I am easily distracted when listening.

I listened to Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen years ago when I was on one of those working out sprees, and while I didn't particularly enjoy it, I did manage to  listen to the whole thing. I think this happened well before my blogging days (which is saying something since I've been blogging for 7 years) so I don't have a review of it. I can remember being rather annoyed with how long it was taking me, so I started reading the book when I was at home and listening at the gym. Going back and forth like that was a giant pain in my ass, and despite my desire to just read it, I forced myself to listen. And I was bored. I ended up reading the book after I'd already listened, and the difference in enjoyment was tremendous.

Next I listened to Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman. I did enjoy this one, but it was designed to be a play for radio, so the experience was a bit different. After that I remember starting a YAL scifi audio - the name escapes me - but I didn't make it very far before giving up.

Next I went for Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. This was the first book I "enjoyed" listening to, but I couldn't finish it because the seductive quality of Jeremy Irons' voice combined with the pedophilic yuckiness creeped me out too much. Still, it was a step in the right direction.

Then comes Andy Weir's The Martian which rocked my world. I adored it, and while I can't be 100% positive, I am reasonably sure I enjoyed listening more than I would have enjoyed reading. The big question is why. What is it about this particular book that worked so well for me on audio? So I thought about it and here are my ideas:

Possible Reasons Some Audio Work Better For Me (Based on Enjoying Lolita and The Martian)
  • Perfect Voices for Main Characters: Seriously, Irons and Bray did a fantastic job voicing these characters. Their voices are so well suited to the main characters
  • Focus on First-person Narration and Monologue: Both books are primarily first-person narration from the perspective of very unique characters.
  • Modern Speech: It's possible I just don't like listening to books written in old-timey speech.
That's all I've got right now. Honestly, it's hard to pin down. I'm clearly just remarkably picky about audiobooks. When I do like them, however, I LOVE THEM. I'm not even sure what to do with myself while driving now that I've finished The Martian...

...which is why I am begging you to do my thinking for me and suggest some audios you think I will love. What do you suggest based on my (possible) preferences?

03 December 2014

Classics Club 50 Question Survey Part 2 and Giveaway

The Classics Club posted a 50 question survey for participants, and since it sounded like fun, I split the questions in half, then deleted a few of them, and went crazy answering.

Which classic character can’t you get out of your head? Humbert Humbert from Lolita. And his voice is that of Jeremy Irons since I listened to the first half of the book...

Which classic character most reminds you of yourself? I have no clue. I can't say that I've ever seen myself in a character in a novel of any sort, let alone a classic where the characters, especially the female characters, are so remarkably different from me.

Whose advice do you always take when it comes to literature? There are quite a few bloggers who consistently recommend awesome books. Ana from things mean a alot, Amanda from The Zen Leaf, Andi from Estella's Revenge, Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness, April from The Steadfast Reader, I could honestly keep going, and I know I'm missing some really important-to-me recommenders, but I felt I must stop.  

Favorite memory with a classic? Teaching Ancient and Medieval Literature for the first time! I found it so amazingly satisfying to watch a bunch of students enjoy the stories we read, especially because they (and I) were pretty sure they would hate it. 

Classic author you’ve read the most works by? I honestly have no idea. I very rarely read by author and classics are no exception.

Classic author who has the most works on your club list? I have ten books on the list from Wilkie Collins; although I don't know if that counts since quite a few of those books are not polished final drafts...My second place goes to George Eliot with seven books on the list.

If you could explore one author’s literary career from first publication to last — meaning you have never read this author and want to explore him or her by reading what s/he wrote in order of publication — who would you explore? Obviously this should be an author you haven’t yet read, since you can’t do this experiment on an author you’re already familiar with. :) Or, which author’s work you are familiar with might it have been fun to approach this way? I think I would go with Virginia Woolf for this one.

How many rereads are on your club list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy? I have quite a few re-reads (around 15-20) on my list, most of which I read in high school and have almost no memory of. 

Has there been a classic title you simply could not finish?

Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving?
I expected the Dostoevsky to be too ambiguous and complicated and well, the same from Mill's book.

Classic you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

Classic you are NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

Favorite thing about being a member of the Classics Club? I wish I could be awesome and say the people (whom I adore), but for me the Classics Club motivates me to read and that is a wondrous thing.

If you’ve ever participated in a readalong on a classic, tell about the experience? The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde readalong went remarkably well; however I bailed less than halfway through on the Ulysses readalong (as holy heavens was that book just not worth it).

If you could appeal for a readalong with others for any classic title, which title would you name? Why?

How long have you been reading classic literature? I'm not sure when I first started or what my first book was, but I distinctly remember an early on experience with classic literature. I was in grade school, right around fifth grade, and I had just read my first Shakespeare play,borrowed from my school library. I enjoyed it and went to my town's public library to pick up another Shakespeare, When I tried to check it out, the librarian wouldn't let me because I was too young. Completely embarrassed I left the library. And so ended my time in libraries and my money-taking need to buy my books.

What about you guys? I would love to know your answers to any or all of these questions, and to motivate you to answer....a giveaway! You can win any my audio of Lolita, a copy of The House of the Dead, or a copy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by simply answering one of the above questions and letting me know which book you would like to win in the comments.

01 December 2014

Classics Club 50 Question Survey Part 1 and Giveaway

Just for fun The Classics Club put together a 50 question survey. And just for fun I decided to fill it out; although I did not fill out every question, and I separated it out into two posts. So without further ado: 

Share a link to your club list. My Way Too Long List

When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club? I have read 23 of the (continually growing) list of almost 200 classics.

What are you currently reading?      What did you just finish reading?
Currently Reading                Just Finished

What are you reading next? Why? No Clue. Until my grad class is over, I see my reading limited to the books for the course (the two mentioned in the previous question) and maybe some very light reading material.

Best books you’ve read so far with the club:

Book you most anticipate on your club list?

Book on your club list you’ve been avoiding:

First classic you ever read? No Clue. I started reading classics in grade school.

Toughest classic you ever read? Too difficult to determine and define. Lolita was a tough read, due to content not language. Other classics are difficult because of vocabulary, ambiguity, unknown allusions, etc.

Classic that inspired you?
Written so damn well...

Favorite biography about a classic author you’ve read — or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any? Yeah, I don't really care about authors. Is that bad of me? 

Which classic do you think EVERYONE should read? Why? 

Favorite movie adaption of a classic? Hate the book, Love the movie

Classic which hasn’t been adapted yet (that you know of) which you very much wish would be adapted to film.

Least favorite classic? Why? Ambiguous, racist, sexist, 

Name five authors you haven’t read yet whom you cannot wait to read. Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charles Dickens, D.H. Lawrence, Anthony Trollope, H. Rider Haggard

Which title by one of the five you’ve listed above most excites you and why? 
I want to know her secret....

If a sudden announcement was made that 500 more pages had been discovered after the original “THE END” on a classic title you read and loved, which title would you most want to keep reading? 
Or, would you avoid the augmented manuscript in favor of the original? Why? I would try to avoid it at all costs - especially if I already loved the story. Eventually however, I would cave and read the extended edition.

Favorite children’s classic?

What about you guys? I would love to know your answers to any or all of these questions, and to motivate you to answer....a giveaway! You can win any of the books mentioned above by simply answering one of the above questions and letting me know which book you would like to win in the comments.

30 November 2014

Currently | 30 November

Time and Place // 9:30pm, relaxing on the couch

Eating and Drinking // Just devoured a Smoked Gouda Burger which was delicious

Reading // Things are a bit crazy right now as my reading time is split between reading for my Lit Theory course, reading for pleasure, and reading for parental meltdowns. In other words I'm in and out of all the following books:

Watching // I'm actually not watching anything too seriously at the moment; I am, however, saving up episodes of The Walking Dead in anticipation of binge watching that wonderful show sometime in the near future.

Blogging // Blogging has been rather consistent lately which has me very happy. Recently, I've posted reviews of Dear Committee Members, The Martian, and The Secret Garden. I've also posted about Hating and Re-Reading books since I'm re-reading TWO books I hated the first time around. This week I have three posts scheduled: two answering the Classics Club Questionnaire and one reflecting on Audio books. Soon, very soon I hope, I will write reviews for Beauty, Heart of Darkness, and Turn of the Screw.

Anticipating // Christmas Break! It's coming people. Three more weeks of intense grading, random student requests for extra credit, and last minute efforts to actually teach them something, and I will be done with the semester.

28 November 2014

The Martian by Andy Weir

Oh my god I loved this so much, so very very much.

Andy Weir's The Martian is about Mark Watney, astronaut, botanist, Mr. Fix It, funny man, Martian. Stranded on Mars and thought dead, Watney struggles to survive in what I can say is the most unusual location I've ever read in a survival tale. Watney knows that the next mission to Mars doesn't land for four years. What he doesn't know is how he is supposed to survive that long. But he damn well is going to try.

Through it all, he maintains this beautiful and irreverent sense of humor that I truly enjoyed. His personality is the book. Without it, without his uniqueness, I think the book would have fell flat or at least been overly dry and mechanical. The dude is seriously funny. I laughed. Out loud. Many times.

His personality is really allowed to shine here as the story is primarily told through log entries Watney is recording, so it's Watney's voice and perspective being related to the reader for the most part. We also get the perspective from Earth, including quite the handful of people at NASA, and from Watney's crewmates from the Ares 3 mission, and while these characters are not as well developed or complex as Watney (for obvious reasons), they are each intense, interesting, and distinct.

Due to the circumstances of Watney's situation, quite a chunk of the book relates technical information. But it's presented clearly, and despite my humanities-based education, I felt a-ok listening to Watney talk science and engineering to me. Even in the middle of Watney's in-depth explanations of rocket fuel, oxygenators, water reclaimers, and well, growing potatoes, I was completely engaged with the story, heart-thumping as he tries to jury rig the machinery, the world, around him to stay alive. I was actually rooting for this completely fictional character; I worried, I cheered, I cried - well I got teary-eyed but forced it back as it's just totally ridiculous this crying nonsense.

If you have not yet read this one, you most definitely should, and if you have the chance, listen to it. I'm not an audiobook fan, but this was absolutely excellent. R.C. Bray did an amazing job voicing Watney. Perfect.