21 November 2014

On Hating and Re-Reading

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness stands out in my memory as being one of a handful of books that I truly hated reading:

  1. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (HoD)
  2. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (TJ)
  3. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (RBC)
Yep. That's my list. Three books that I read in their entirety and actively hated (well beyond a disliking). HoD and RBC and I read and despised in high school; TJ I read and despised during college. There have been other books I did not enjoy reading, that I disliked, but these are the only two that are burnt into my mind as books I really and sincerely hated. Why you might ask? Well, let me tell you.

Why I Hated RBC
The specifics of hating this one escape me except for a general sense of BLAH BLAH WAR BLAH BLAH MALE BLAH BLAH. If I am remembering correctly, the writing was pretty terrible; although I can't remember why. When I was in high school, someone told me I probably didn't like it because it was a war book and I was a girl. Hello sexism. I like war books. I just didn't like this one, and if I am perfectly honest, I am not exactly sure I read the whole thing back in high school when it was assigned to me.

Should I/Will I Re-Read RBC
I have absolutely no desire to read this one again. The other two on my list are a maybe and a yes for reasons listed below; however RBC is a 99% no way in hell will I pick this one up again.

Why I Hated TJ
For those who don't know TJ is Upton Sinclair's portrayal of the horrors of the meatpacking industry in Chicago during the early 1900s. It primarily focuses on immigrant workers and their exposure to massive and terrifying health and safety code violations while working in the remarkably unsanitary factories where the city's meat was packed and shipped off. It's IMPORTANT and REVEALING and BORING. Boring. Yep, I said it. I was bored. And I should not be bored while reading about the harsh reality of poverty and the disgusting horror of what went into that meat. Gross. Truly gross. I think my main problem was that the book was so amazingly preachy (as I remember it), and as a college student, preaching meant boring. 

Should I/Will I Re-Read TJ
Probably. This is a book I should love. Supposedly it is a shocking expose from a muckracking author. The issues of social class fascinates me; and I do so love the nastiness of unsanitary food processing (it's like watching a train wreck). I can't decide if I actually will re-read it though. 

Why I Hated HoD
Ambiguity. WTF is the book even about? That's what I remember thinking. I can distinctly remember finishing the book and having absolutely no idea what happened, why it happened, or who it really happened to. Everything felt dark and slow and blah. I know Marlowe heads into the Congo in search of a man he just really, really wants to meet; then he meets him for like five seconds; and then...eh, who knows.

Should I/Will I Re-Read HoD
Yep. I have to. It's one of the books I have to read for my graduate course in Literary Theory (oh joy). I am trying very hard to go into the book with an open mind - but this is very difficult all things considered. I'm wondering if I might research the beejeesus out of the book before reading to set me up for a more positive experience.

Your Opinion
So what do you guys think? Should I re-read these books? Do you like them? Do you see any value in re-reading books you hated upon first read?

19 November 2014

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I picked up Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden for three reasons:

  1. I came across a very, very cheap copy
  2. I needed a fast read
  3. I remember this story fondly
For those of you who have never read this, it is the story of a young orphan girl, Mary, who becomes a ward of her absent, morose uncle. After hearing a story about her aunt's demise in a since locked up garden, Mary sets out to find the garden and succeeds. Keeping it a secret from most of the adults, she invites in a local boy, Dickon, and her sickly, spoiled cousin Colin into her garden and the three kids find the magic of nature and friendship can be healing.

The story is remarkably simple and sweet. While part of me wishes the story was more fleshed out, I appreciate the easiness of the story as it is told. Basically the story shows Mary's growth from a sickly, spoiled brat into a young girl who can teach another sickly, spoiled brat how to be better. And apparently this rather dramatic change is accomplished by nothing more than being outside and the influence of a friend from the lower class. I may be oversimplifying a bit here, or even sounding condescending, but as I said this is a remarkably simple story.

The personality changes - the kids' and the adult's - may be a bit unbelievable, but there is something sweet and innocent about these transitions, and it is fitting considering the intended audience for the book - NOT a mildly cynical woman in her 30s.

What I find most interesting in this book is the issue of class. Both Mary and Colin are the children of absent, well-off parents. They are left in the charge of servants who give the children anything they want and put up with their tantrums and fits and that horrid tone of voice a spoiled kid can get that makes you re-think your no-spanking-children stance...okay, that last part may be invented by yours truly, but I think it can be reasonably inferred from the details in the story. Not only does this bring up many, many complications arising from positions of power in what is, in essence, parent-child relationships between servants and masters, the story also has a brother of a servant as the model for the ideal child. A Marxist theorist could go crazy with this story.

While I wouldn't urge you to run out and buy this, if you do come across it, it's worth the very short time it takes to read.

17 November 2014

Nonfiction November 3: Diversity and Nonfiction

Week 3 is hosted by Rebecca at I'm Lost in BooksDiversity and Nonfiction: What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background? What countries/cultures do you tend to enjoy or read about most in your nonfiction? What countries/cultures would you like nonfiction recommendations for?

To answer this prompt fully would require an entire essay - much too long for a mere blog. It is such a hot topic in the blogosphere with many more qualified and more articulate bloggers weighing in on the issue that I feel overwhelmed even thinking about writing some sort of comprehensive theses or manifesto on my relationship with diverse reading. So instead of doing so, here are a few random, under-developed ideas about the issue:

  • For me, reading about diverse subject matter is more important and interesting than reading books by "diverse" authors. You can read five YA romance novels by 5 completely different authors (gender, race, age, etc.) that all pretty much reveal the same themes and ideologies. If, however, you read about different ideas/people/places in different genres, you are more likely to learn something about people who are not you...IN MY EXPERIENCE.
  • Diversity is so focused on race/ethnicity that I think we miss out on a giant chunk of diverse reading. IN MY EXPERIENCE, great social dividers have more to do with economic class than race or ethnicity. This may be in large part due to where I live but that's why I have the "in my experience" disclaimer. And even beyond economics, we have stories about people with disabilities, non-hetero sexual orientation, non-Christian-Muslim religions, older people (which in current trends could really be anyone over the age of 30), and so on.
  • I do not feel that people should be required to read diversely, regardless of the definition. I do not look down on bloggers or people in general who read only books about white upper middle class people written by white upper middle class authors. Reading is a personal pleasure, not a learning experience for everyone. That being said, I really do think people are missing out if they don't read diversely. IN  MY EXPERIENCE, reading only one type of story is remarkably boring and neither satisfying nor edifying.
  • The white men who wrote all of those canonical books kicked ass and not reading those classics because they were written by privileged white dudes is doing yourself a disservice IN MY EXPERIENCE. Seriously Shakespeare, Homer, Dickens, Doyle, Twain, and so on rocked. But you also shouldn't miss out on the Brontes, Austen, Harper Lee, Hurston, Woolf, Achebe, Morrison, Du Bois, and the such not because they rocked too.
  • If you really want to read diversely, read some Ancient Lit. IN MY EXPERIENCE, it's awesome and we have amazing works from a variety of cultures. The Upanishads, Ramayana, Hammurabi's Code, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Panchatantra, I Ching, Art of War, there is just a ton of work to peruse and learn from.
So those are a few of the thoughts I have on diversity in reading. I would like to point out that every bullet point has the words "in my experience" within it because I recognize that a question like this (as with so many important questions) is answered from the particular point of view of the answerer.

15 November 2014

Victorian Literature

Ah, Victorian Literature, term so many people know - even complete non-readers. As with all literary modes and traditions, tacking down the time and place of Victorian Literature (hereafter VicLit) is difficult. We are roughly talking about literature written by mainly white people in the mid to late 1800s. To give you an idea, here are a few of the major writers of the Victorian period:

The Brontes, Matthew Arnold, Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lewis Carroll, William Butler Yeats, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Oscar Wilde and honestly the list cold go on forever. Much of the popular classics we read are from this period.

Thematically, VicLit runs the gamut: propriety, morality, social advancement and inequality, civility, gender roles, evolution, colonialism and colonization, industrialization, and on and on. Clearly over such a long time, roughly 70 years, times and tastes and trends change and so did the literature.

I have quite a bit of VicLit on my shelves- roughly 90 books - either waiting to be read or re-read or even re-re-read. Here are a few of the VicLit books I have on the shelves by author:

  • Wilkie Collins - The Moonstone, The Woman in White, No Name,
  • Elizabeth Gaskell - North and South, Mary Barton, Cranford, Wives and Daughters, Cousin Phyllis,
  • Charlotte Bronte - Villette, Jane Eyre,
  • George Eliot - Adam Bede; Silas Marner; The Mill on the Floss; Middlemarch; Daniel Deronda, Scenes of a Clerical Life, Romola, Felix Holt,
  • Samuel Butler - Erewhon,
  • Charles Dickens - Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities,
  • Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Bram Stoker - Dracula
  • Robert Louis Stevenson - The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon - Lady Audley's Secret, Aurora Floyd
  • William Makepeace Thackeray - Vanity Fair
  • Arthur Conan Doyle - The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  • Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
  • Anne Bronte - Agnes Grey
  • Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
  • Thomas Hardy - Far From the Maddening Crowd
  • Lewis Carroll - Through the Looking Glass, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  • Anthony Trollope - Barchester Towers, Lady Anna, Rachel Ray,
  • John Stewart Mill - The Subjection of Women,
  • H.G. Wells - The Island of Dr. Moreau

The ones I have reviews for have links, and the ones I've read but haven't reviewed are italicized. As you can see, I have A LOT of VicLit to choose from if I wish to participate in the Victorian Literature in November event.

As it stands, I have so many books going right now, and I'm participating in Nonfiction November, so I'm not sure I will get around to any of these. Fingers crossed though.

If I do decide to pick one up, which one do you recommend?

13 November 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle is one of the best YA series I've read. In my review of the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, I said the book is "wonderfully mystical, artfully written, and full of unique characters." That works for the whole series. In my review of the second, The Dream Thieves, I said "I am ready to believe Stiefvater can do no wrong." Yep. I'm completely there. I very rarely follow an author, but I'm putting her on my to-read list, and I'm going to start reading everything the woman has written.

So you probably would like me to talk a bit more about this specific installment instead of just gushing like a fan girl. Blue Lily, Lily Blue moves our characters more firmly into their magical journey, and simultaneously progresses their relationships in a gorgeous, subtle, inevitable way. Everything about this book is emotional, moving, poignant, and yet it never feels overblown. The delicate line Stiefvater walks in her writing is artful. Her plot lines are complex without being convoluted. Her characters are deep without being pretentious, unique without being showy. Seriously, Stiefvater's writing is some of the best I've seen in YA.

Her books have soul. There is something alive about the stories; the worlds and the people who inhabit them are so believable and likeable and magical. What stands out the most to me about this cast of characters is their love for each other. They are - self-acknowledgedly - bound together.

My only problem with the book is the lack of answers at the end. Things wrapped up a bit too quickly, in that they really didn't wrap up. This installment felt less contained then the first two which annoyed me a bit, but it does lay out all the ingredients for a quite amazing final book. Plus, I think the faster pace and increased action may be part of the buildup to the fourth book. Upon reflection, my annoyance may be entirely due to my very, very strong desire to NOT have to wait for the last book.

And when oh when will that fourth book come out? Waiting is torture.

11 November 2014

The Search for Fairy Tales (Experts)

Week 2's Nonfiction November prompt is hosted by Leslie at Regular RuminationThree ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

While my original "Expert" post for this week focused on Freak Shows, I also have long been fascinated with Fairy Tales, so I thought I would take this opportunity to research some books which will:

  1. Provide me with the ORIGINAL iterations of fairy tales
  2. Compare the originals with the "softer" versions we have today and hopefully expound upon the socio-cultural shifts which necessitated those changes
  3. Analyze the importance and effect of fairy tales on both children and adults

This was most definitely not as easy as I thought it would be. Trying to find a collection of original fairy tales - which are actually the originals - is proving quite difficult. The Grimm Brothers certainly collected the original tales; however they had to tone down the tales they collected for their entirely unintended young audience. As such, some of the anthologies claiming to be the "original" stories are actually just the first sanitized versions.

Charles Perrault, the Grimm Brothers predecessor, never, I believe, sanitized the tales he told, so it's quite possible that books by him, like Perrault's Fairy Tales, do have the originals. If any of you have read books that are the actual original fairy tales, please let me know in the comments!

For information on the differences between the original tales and their current versions, there's a ton of articles and sites you can find online. For example, we have a Huffington Post article about the real life origins of some of our most famous fairy tales, and here's another from Huffington about the original iterations of a handful of fairy tales. In the Books section of the UK's Stylist, we have an article listing the 8 Darkest Fairy Tales along with their original authors. Any other online sources you find useful on this topic?

Fairy tales themselves are classified as nonfiction, but I wanted some secondary sources as well, and these are the most interesting sounding ones I have found so far (summaries from GoodReads):

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers by Marina Warner: In this landmark study of the history and meaning of fairy tales, the celebrated cultural critic Marina Warner looks at storytelling in art and legend-from the prophesying enchantress who lures men to a false paradise, to jolly Mother Goose with her masqueraders in the real world. Why are storytellers so often women, and how does that affect the status of fairy tales?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales by Kate Bernheimer: A collection of original essays by leading women writers, including Margaret Atwood, Anne Beattie, Julia Alvarez, Joyce Carol Oates, A. S. Byatt, Rosellen Brown, and many others, explores the various fairy tales that have shaped their lives and their work.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim: The famous child psychologist, explains how fairy tales educate, support, and liberate the emotions of children.

The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meanings of Fairy Tales by Sheldon Cashdan: In The Witch Must Die, Sheldon Cashdan explores how fairy tales help children deal with psychological conflicts by projecting their own internal struggles between good and evil onto the battles enacted by the characters in the stories.

If you have any other suggestions, please let me know!

10 November 2014

Nonfiction November 2: A Freak Show Expert

Week 2's Nonfiction November prompt is hosted by Leslie at Regular Rumination. Freak Shows are about to (re)become remarkably popular due to the release of the newest American Horror Story - Freak Show. I am no exception. No matter the "correctness" of it, I am fascinated, and so for Nonfiction November's Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert I thought I would look up - and hopefully read - some of the top books on Freak Shows.

First, the prompt:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I started an Essentials List on Barnes and Noble for all the books I found. Here are a few of the most promising, whether due to subject matter or price (it's crazy how expensive some of these books are!):

Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit
Robert Bodgan, 1990
Robert Bogdan's fascinating social history brings to life the world of the freak show and explores the culture that nurtured and, later, abandoned it. In uncovering this neglected chapter of show business, he describes in detail the flimflam artistry behind the shows, the promoters and the audiences, and the gradual evolution of public opinion from awe to embarrassment. I read this one last month and put up my review last week.

Jay's Journals of Anomalies
Ricky Jay, 2003
The multitalented Ricky Jay (sleight-of-hand artist, actor, author, and scholar of the unusual) wrote and published a unique and beautifully designed quarterly called Jay's Journal of Anomalies. Already coveted collector's items, the sixteen issues are now gathered here in a complete set, with significant new material and illustrations. A brilliant excursion into the history of bizarre entertainments, the journal was described inThe New York Times as "beautiful and elegant...a combination of rigorous scholarship and personal rumination."

Circus and Carnival Ballyhoo: Sideshow Freaks, Jabbers and Blade Box Queens
A.W. Stencell, 2010
Here is the history of the North American side show at circuses and carnivals, along with the stories of freaks and other side show acts in other venues such as dime museums, store front shows, in vaudeville, on movie theatre stages — and even at touring whale shows. The book follows the development of the circus side show with interviews and stories from side show workers that explain the role of freaks, working acts, managers, and talkers — and explores how important grift was to circuses and how it became located inside the side show.

Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body
Rosamarie Garland Thomson, 1996
The book's essays fall into four main categories: historical explorations of American freak shows in the era of P.T. Barnum; the articulation of the freak in literary and textual discourses; contemporary relocations of freak shows; and theoretical analyses of freak culture. Essays address such diverse topics as American colonialism and public presentations of natives; laughing gas demonstrations in the 1840's; Shirley Temple and Tom Thumb; Todd Browning's landmark movie Freaks; bodybuilders as postmodern freaks; freaks in Star Trek; Michael Jackson's identification with the Elephant Man; and the modern talk show as a reconfiguration of the freak show. I'm reading this one right now. 

Freaks: We Who Are Not As Others
Daniel P. Mannix, 1999
Another long out of print classic book based on Mannix's personal acquaintance with sideshow stars. Read all about the notorious love affairs of midgets; the amazing story of the elephant boy; the unusual amours of Jolly Daisy; the fat woman; the famous pinhead who inspired Verdi's "Rigoletto"; the tragedy of Betty Lou Williams and her parasitic twin; the black midget, only 34 inches tall, who was happily married to a 264-pound wife; the human torso who could sew, crochet and type; and bizarre accounts of normal humans turned into freaks-either voluntarily or by evil design!

I also have a few online resources if you are interested:
There is, of course, A LOT more out there on this fascinating, taboo, socially and culturally relevant topic. I highly recommend reading about this controversial piece of history.

I couldn't settle on one topic for this prompt, so tomorrow I have a post going up about the original fairy tales; be sure to check it out!

09 November 2014

Currently | 9 November

Eating and Drinking // Hazelnut Cappuccino and Banana Bread. Yum.

Doing // Today I am cuddling with the Goose who has a cold; then I am cleaning out the spare bedroom (soon to be Baby #2's room). We have been using the room for storage as, up until this Fall's garage construction, we had no attic. The room is a hot mess of garage sale items, baby stuff, clothes that no longer fit, books, and the such not. Also, I have been using that room's closet as a second closet for me as the one in my room is just too small to contain all of my clothes. My purses are also in that closet, along with picture albums and books (books are everywhere in my house).

Blogging // I'm loving Nonfiction November, and the event has certainly upped my post count. This past week, I shared my love of the book Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit and reflected on my non-fiction reading so far this year. I also participated in Top Ten Tuesday with a list of books I want to re-read, which seriously for me is pretty much All The Books as I love to re-read.

I know, your're thinking that three posts in one week is not much, but seriously for me lately, that's a lot. Plus I have more posts already scheduled. Nonfiction November week 2 for me has a post on Freak Shows and a post on Original Fairy Tales. Next week I also have my review of Blue Lily, Lily Blue ready to go and a look at my Victorian Reading possibilities for Classics Club.

In the coming weeks, I have reviews of Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members scheduled along with Nonfiction November weeks 3 and 4 posts. Plus, I just finished Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and I'm almost done with The Martian by Andy Weir (ON AUDIO CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?).

Anticipating // The countdown has begun for the start of my Graduate Studies in Literary Theory course and since they released Week 1's Module, I've of course already started - finished the reading and jotted down some notes for the assignment. If i get awesome, which I hope to, I will be posting my (mildly formalized) notes and thoughts about course content here on the blog.