2012: In Review, Or, Statistics Reveal My True Nerdiness

In which I reveal my true nerd cred by not only poring over the numbers and data points in my reading-tracking spreadsheet, but then develop my own infographic based on the numbers:

2013 Tournament of Books: Finalists and Judges Announced!

It's here! It's here! Well, ok, it's actually four months away, but this year, the Tournament of Books announced the finalists early to give us all a chance to catch up on some great reads we may have missed in 2012. I definitely missed a lot of them, sad to say, so I have my reading cut out for me...
PLUS: A Pre-Tournament Playoff Round
Of these, I've read Gone Girl, and I own The Yellow Birds. I've never heard of HHhH, How Should a Person Be? or Ivyland. The only one I'm not particularly interested in picking up is May We Be Forgiven, but that's mostly just because I heard some booksellers at a store I love and respect discussing it and it did not sound promising, so maybe I need to keep a more open mind, yes?

A Thank You to My Teachers

One of the items on my 26 by 26 list (for which I have less than a year to complete, as of this writing) is to write thank-yous to my teachers. None ever hid me in a closet and told a crazed gunman I'd gone to the gym, and none used her body to block bullets from hitting us as they whirled through the most unexpected of rooms, the classroom, for which I am eternally grateful, but they are still heroes in their own way, each teaching me to learn, to question, to invent, to write, and to read--and for that, I thank them.

Thank you to the pre-school teacher who let us spend December 6th shoeless, with our tiny sneakers lined up outside the classroom door to receive candy from St. Nick.

Thank you to the Kindergarten teacher who encouraged me to read Hop on Pop to the class, even though it was longer than everyone else's selected books. I've had a thing for thick tomes ever since.

Thank you to the fourth-grade teacher who showed me that it is ok to want to learn more than what is being offered up in class, and that extra math homework is not always a bad thing.

Thank you to the fifth-grade teacher who taught us about attitude, and how to have it, and how it's not ok for kids to have it when speaking to adults.

Thank you to the sixth-grade English teacher who assigned The Golden Compass, even though, let's face it, she must have known some parents were going to take issue with that.

Thank you to the seventh-grade Geography teacher who made us memorize all of the countries of Europe, Africa, and Asia--and their capitals. I only wish we'd had to learn the United States, too.

Thank you to the eighth-grade English teacher who first assigned me Shakespeare, and helped me appreciate all the humor and wit and amazement that Shakespeare's works contain.

Thank you to the ninth-grade Latin teacher who clarified verb conjugations for me, along with the declination of nouns. I went on to read The Aeneid and Harry Potter in Latin, and though I couldn't do it now if I tried, that Latin knowledge has shaped my understanding of English vocabulary and grammar more than I could say.

Thank you to the junior-year English teacher who said, and I quote, "But in French, 'tu' is the personal form of you," when reading Julius Caesar, teaching me that not all teachers are infallible, after all.

Thank you to the senior-year English teacher who required that we underline at least one sentence per page when reading, which sparked in me a life-long love of marginalia.

Thank you to the senior-year Calc teacher who told me to stop asking why, because some things like trignometric theorems are best taken at face value.

Thank you to the French teacher I had during my semester in Paris, who helped me learn a language I needed more than I could understand. Thank you to the Irish teacher I had in college, because he taught me to love a language as much as one does a culture and a place.

Thank you to my elementary school gym teacher for teaching me the Electric Slide. Thank you to the Headmaster at my high school for offering his support in college applications, even if I was too proud to accept it. Thank you to my middle school music teacher for putting me on stage the first time, and for my high school drama teacher for putting me on stage for four years after that. Thank you to my school librarian, who pronounced the "h" in "who" and "what" and "where" and probably knew more than I ever gave her credit for, and for all the teachers who had lives outside of school that I could never see and knowledge I could never reach.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Audiobook Review: The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

My, but Glen Duncan can write. The Last Werewolf is a testament to that skill, with sentences that dazzle and a storyline that captivates and just enough imagination to make us stop and reconsider if certain things--like werewolves--are really so impossible, after all.

The novel, narrated on audio by Robin Sachs, centers on Jacob Marlowe, who learns early in the book that after centuries of flight from those hunting him and his kind, he is, in fact, the last remaining werewolf. Unfortunately, his pursuers realize it as well--and also realize that they have worked themselves out of a job in the most fundamental way possible. Without werewolves, there can be no werewolf hunters.

From this foundation emerges a complex, gruesome tale of loneliness and death and killing and independence, as we dive into Jacob Marlowe's past and present and longed-for future. Marlowe is not exactly a sympathetic character, but Duncan's storytelling is so complete that the novel works even if we aren't exactly rooting for the protagonist. Or quite against him either.

All sounds good, right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, Duncan seems to know that he can write (see opening sentence), and as a result, often gets in the way of his own story. Constant contrasts between Marlowe's tale and what would happen in the Hollywood version are witty at first, but begin to dull after overuse. A few coincidences early on we can forgive, because, after all, this is a novel about werewolves walking around in modern-day London, but when the entire story seems to rest on unbelievable turns of events, we start to lose faith in the concept as well as the plot.

And the sex. Oh my. I don't mind a little hanky panky in my novels, no sir, but after a while the graphic and often violent sex scenes served little purpose other than to shock, and after that, just felt gratuitous.

And so, on a scale of one to five:

5 stars for imagination, wit, humor, and a well-conceived story idea.
3 stars for too many coincidences and unbelievable plot points.
1 star for the overuse of the word "anus".

Summation: I'm not good at math, but somewhere around 3 stars, I think. A good choice on audio, as Robin Sachs embodies Jacob Marlowe's first-person narration near perfectly; his crooning British accent doesn't hurt either (plus it's fun to hear him speak "American" for certain characters, when required).


The Last Werewolf | Glen Duncan, nar. Robin Sachs | Audio CD | July 2011 | Buy from an independent near you

Thoughts: Emma, by Jane Austen, and A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz

I'm ready to duck from flying tomatoes after this next sentence, but I have to be honest. I've never liked Jane Austen. Granted, until recently I'd only read Pride and Prejudice (once in high school as required reading, and once again after graduating college as pleasure reading, because I don't believe in forming final opinions of a book assigned to me). I didn't like it either time.

Sure, I appreciate Austen's wit, and her humour (so much so that I was inclined to spell the word the British way when typing, and don't intend to change it), and her intelligence. But appreciating and enjoying are two very different adjectives, aren't they?

Emma was my attempt at keeping an open mind, trying a second Austen novel--and one praised as one of her finest, no less. Sadly, it met the same fate as Pride and Prejudice. I finished it, but I never liked it.

But then, maybe Emma is not a book that Austen actually intended us to like. Emma herself is a perfectly disagreeable character, and most of the people around her are trivial and insipid and shallow and vain, and nothing particularly interesting happens to any of the characters until the story is wrapped up in a neat little package with a cherry on top. William Deresiewicz argues in his essay on Emma in his recent book, A Jane Austen Education, that is precisely the beauty of Emma--the simple, dull, and the mundane are, in fact, what real lives are made up of; to spend an entire novel--or, if you will, an entire life--waiting for something riveting to happen, you miss out on what is actually happening in front of you.

Deresiewicz's essay is what I wish introductions to classics could always be: insightful and informative without ever spoiling the story to come. He reveals enough detail to lay forth his argument without assuming the reader is familiar with the novel being discussed, setting us up for a richer, more refined reading of the book whether a first or twelfth or twenty-fifth read. 

I'm glad I read Emma, glad I gave Austen a second chance (though I haven't truly changed my opinion), and glad I started this read with Deresiewicz's essay (even if I can't pronounce his name). It's one of those must-reads I firmly believe should remain a must-read, though maybe not a must-like; A Jane Austen Education, too, is a must-read for anyone setting out to read an Austen novel (or, for those unlike myself, anyone already well-versed in the author's major works).


Emma | Jane Austen | Penguin Threads Edition, Paperback | 400 pages | Buy from an independent near you

A Jane Austen Education | William Deresiewicz | Hardcover | 272 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Bond. James Bond.

This post originally ran in the Tuesday, November 13th issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. There's also an interview with Sir Roger Moore in that issue...

Nearly 60 years after the publication of Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, Casino Royale, James Bond has become the epitome of the secret agent. Featured on the big screen in 23 movies, the Bond film franchise is one of the longest-running in Hollywood history--as well as one of the most profitable--from the original 1962 adaptation of Dr. No, featuring Sean Connery as Bond, to the release last week of Skyfall, with Daniel Craig as the most recent Bond actor.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this epic film series, DK Publishing has published a collection of the Bond movie art: James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters. This book is a film-by-film guide to the artwork and photography surrounding the series, and includes several rare posters, a collection of unused concept artwork, and teasers and lobby cards from Bond movie screenings around the world.

In The Music of James Bond (Oxford University Press), author Jon Burlingame looks at the sounds of James Bond, from the last-minute creation of the now-famous "James Bond Theme" in Dr. No to the trend-setting music found in later films. Burlingame devotes a chapter to each of the movies, exploring how modern technology influenced the scores; the decades-long controversy over the authorship of the original Bond theme; and how Amy Winehouse nearly co-wrote and sang the theme for Quantam of Solace.

For an even deeper dive into the Bond movies, go to The James Bond Archives (Taschen). Eon Productions (the production company behind all 23 movies) opened its archives of photos, designs, storyboards and production materials to editor Paul Duncan, who has compiled this wealth of primary research into an account of the making of the series, including the spoofs of Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983). With stunning imagery accompanied by oral histories collected from more than 150 cast and crew members, The James Bond Archives is a comprehensive tribute to the legendary superspy of the British Secret Service.


James Bond: 50 Years in Movie Posters | DK Publishing | Hardcover | 304 pages | Buy from an independent near you

The Music of James Bond | Jon Burlingame | Oxford University Press | Hardcover | 293 pages | Buy from an independent near you

The James Bond Archives | Paul Duncan, ed. | Taschen | Hardcover | 592 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Childish Reading

I was a nervous kid. I was scared of pretty much everything, when I think back on it, especially anything that involved dangerous behavior or breaking the rules. I was actually convinced, at one point, that my parents would go to jail for getting a parking ticket. I clearly didn't understand the gradients of rulebreaking and adventure-making; it was all terrifying to me. 

This fear stretched over into my reading life, where I made all kinds of rules about what I could and could not read. No books with thunderstorms. No books with swords on the cover. And so on.

Which, let me tell you, ruled out a lot of books--especially those my dad really wanted to read to me. He made it all of a paragraph into Treasure Island before I made him stop; that clunking peg-leg spoke of danger and I'd have none of it.

Looking back, I don't remember too much of what I read during that period, though one book stands out: the little-remembered but incredibly beautiful Baby, by Patricia MacLachlan. It was a simple story of a local family living on an island popular with vacationers; when the last ferry of the season left and took with it the screaming children and sunburned noses and folding chairs of summer, a child was left behind with a note asking the family to care for her. Sophia. 

Baby was--still is, I suppose, as it does not appear to be out of print--a story of elegance and beauty, a slow-paced but enthralling tale of family and the power of love and a lot of things that, in hindsight, were way over my eight-year-old head. 

Looking back, I'm convinced that this one book that stands out so vividly among so many others (I had a lot of reading rules but that never stopped me from reading--a lot) formed my adult reading self. Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and its partner novel, Home, are similar to Baby in their simple beauty and their dealing with the grief and love and happiness of everyday things; they also happen to be among my favorite contemporary novels, heartbreaking and hopeful all wrapped into one. I can't help but think back on Baby as I work my way through The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I'm currently adoring).

I eventually learned to break my own reading rules (a habit I try to continue in my current reading adventures), but those early years never quite left me. I don't believe I'm reading childishly, but I do maintain that my childish reading has never truly left me.

Do you find that you are still drawn to the same types of books--if for a different age group--as you were as a kid? Or have you departed completely?


Baby | Patricia MacLachlan | Yearling | 1995 | 160 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book That Go Together

Does it ever happen to you that while you read one book, you find your thoughts constantly returning to another? Sometimes it is an obvious connection -- a sequel, for example, or a continuation of a series. Sometimes it is less obvious but still understandable, like two books by the same author (I'm thinking particularly of Mary Roach, whose books always remind me of each other in the best of ways) or two books on the same subject.

Every once and a while, I find myself reading one book and constantly reminded of another, though the connection is not always apparent. The Casual Vacancy and Emma are one such pairing; for me, a result of reading them at at the same time, but also, I believe, because they dealt with the similar if era-disparate topics of small town gossip, romance, and the neverending wheel of boring, mundane, everyday life.

More recently, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and The Power of Habit seem inextricably linked in my brain; as I read Mastermind, I keep thinking back to all the brain-learning I did while reading Duhigg's The Power of Habit (both, for the record, are excellent books). I suppose both are about recognizing the patterns of one's own thoughts (and then training them so you can do things better), but  beyond that they really are not the same at all. 

Or are they?

Are Gone Girl and The Likeness different (because really, they are), or do they remind me of each other because they are both psychological mysteries that tip readers on their heads every few hundred pages? Are Live by Night and North River linked because they both have urban settings and gangsters? Because in fact, they are very different in theme and scope and purpose; but the two are intertwined in my brain. Same with Forever and Winter's Tale, both striking novels of New York City dealing with a suspension of disbelief and introducing magical realism to a city we all know is magic. But are they really so similar? Why can I not read one without thinking of the other?

Other pairings include Shine Shine Shine and Packing for Mars (both have spaceships, beyond that they could not be farther in subject), Revolutionary Road and Why Have Kids? (parenting, perhaps?), Let's Pretend This Never Happened and Running With Scissors. The Thirteenth Tale and Shadow of the Wind. The list goes on and on and on.

This is one of my secret joys of reading as widely and as much as I do. I suppose it is what makes recommending books enjoyable to those of us who do it (constantly); if you like this, you'll like this. Or, these two may not seem similar at first blush, but they really are a good pair. 

Some books just go together, even if it is only in the mind of one reader. Does anyone else have book pairings that just seem to go together?

Dennis Lehane + HBO

To follow up on my review of Live by Night from earlier this week...

Looks like someone at HBO read -- and liked -- the novel, too. According to the Boston Herald, Lehane has now signed on as a writer and "creative consultant" for the 4th season of Boardwalk Empire. Apparently Lehane also contributed to a season of The Wire.

Who knew?

News via Shelf Awareness Pro, Wednesday, November 28, 2012.

Slump, Slump, Slump

Guys, I have hit a slump. A reading slump. A writing slump. A reviewing slump. Nothing I pick up to read seems to satisfy whatever it is I am looking for (not that I could define that for you if I tried). Nothing I start to write seems to take shape. Nothing I try to review seems to make sense.

I've tried coffee, I've tried tea. I've tried re-reads, fantasy novels, big historical clunkers of nonfiction. I've tried watching television (that lasted about as long as it took to finish folding the laundry before I got antsy). I've managed to keep up with my review commitments outside of this blog, but I haven't found the magic solution to my slumps outside of that. Any suggestions??

Disclaimer: I am partially hoping that I just need to force myself to write more posts to get my groove back. Let's see if this post helps. Or hurts. Or does absolutely nothing at all!

Audiobook Review: Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane

I have long been a fan of Lehane and his ability to craft well-written, enticing mysteries that embody their settings and bring to life deep, seemingly real characters. It's an art form, and one under-appreciated in a world of thrillers and Patterson mysteries. Live by Night is no exception to the rule of great reading that Lehane has created with his work. Lehane introduces us to Joe Coughlin in 1926 Boston, and then follows this shady but not altogether evil character up nearly every rung of the ladder of organized crime, from lackey to jailbird to crime boss in Florida to fugitive in Cuba. The story is expansive, taking on a world of gangsters and prohibition, drugs and alcohol, sex and romance with a noir flair I've yet to encounter outside of Hollywood (I've also never read The Godfather, so bear with me).

Tight storytelling and well-crafted (if not always well-intentioned) characters make appearances at every stage of Coughlin's adventures, keeping this story moving along at a clipped, steady pace. Live by Night boasts impressive writing and an almost unbelievably simply transportback to a particular time and place, and a stellar narrator on the audio edition, but unfortunately is never quite as gripping as it feels it could have been. Coughlin is likeable but not entirely loveable; Coughlin's world is understandable but not entirely relatable; Coughlin's story is enjoyable but never truly engrossing. That said, however, a less-favorite Lehane novel is still a Lehane novel, and thereby excellent in its own right. I look forward to the next in Lehane's planned Coughlin family trilogy (of which The Given Day was, apparently, the first book).

Oh, and this may also hit the big screen with some Ben Affleck involvement. Get into it.


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Book Riot: Buy, Borrow, Bypass
Beth Fish Reads


You might also like:
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
Phantom by Jo Nesbo
North River by Pete Hamill


Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing a digital audio copy of this title to review.
Live by Night | Dennis Lehane | HarperAudio | October 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti

I picked up a copy of Why Have Kids? after reading The Book Lady's Blog's excellent review. Feminism, mothering, parenting, and social norms, all wrapped into one well-designed package? Count me in.
"In 2006, The Washington Post coined the term "pre-pregnant" in response to a report from the Centers for Disease Control recommending that all women of childbearing age care for their pre-conception health. The agency wanted all American women--from the time they have their first period until they go through menopause--to take folic acid supplements, not smoke, not 'misuse' alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, refrain from drug use, and avoid 'high risk sexual behavior.' The CDC was asking women to behave as if they were already pregnant even if they had no intention of conceiving in the near--or far--future. For the first time ever, a U.S. government institution was saying what social norms had always hinted at: That all women, regardless of whether or not they have or want children, are simply mothers-in-waiting." (3-4)
So begins Valenti's introduction to Why Have Kids?, in which she explores the social and cultural norms around parenting--specifically, mothering--in 21-st century America. I have to admit, when I first read that paragraph, I actually had to flip back to the first sentence to confirm that it was, in fact, a CDC recommendation from 2006, because my natural assumption was that this was an out-dated recommendation dating back to the 1960s. Or '50s. Or even '20s. But the 21st century? Do we really still think of women as little more than child-bearing vessels?

Sadly, in an age where British health ministers are recommending similar reproductive health tactics to all women of "childbearing" age; in which we continue to argue the rights and wrongs of Marissa Meyer's maternity decisions; when powerful women still can't have it all; and where reproductive rights have become, yet again, a central point in American political debates, it seems that that is, in fact, still the case. Though we may have become more accepting of single parents, divorced parents, children born out of wedlock, etc., the key word there is "more." Everything is relative. As a society, we are still uncomfortable with family structures that do not look like the "normal" family model we have grown up with on TV--and that includes women and couples who choose not to have children as much as it does gay couples who choose to have children.

I'm not a parent myself--at least not yet. I don't know if or when I may be; at the moment, I'm enjoying my 20s as part of a couple, not a threesome+. But I've been married for two years now, and the number of times I've found myself on the receiving end of the "so-when-are-you-having-kids" question is staggering, astounding, and downright irritating. Why is it that society feels it appropriate to ask about my reproductive plans? What's more--why is it that people assume that now that I am married I will instantaneously start planning for children? Can't I just be me--a full-time marketing professional, wife of an amazing man, book reviewer, sailor-in-training, and obsessive book collector--at least for a little while? Isn't that enough?

These questions lay at the heart of Valenti's excellent book on mothering, parenthood, and 21-century ideals, though her arguments go much deeper than my own initial thoughts had taken me. She tackles issues of breastfeeding (To breastfeed or not to breastfeed? More importantly, why do we care how other people feed their children?); childless couples (Apparently, there are actual support groups for these people, they are so ostracized and misunderstood.); the "myth" that children make us happier (Studies have found that, in fact, the exact opposite is true.); the idea of parenting as a "job" (To work or not to work? See again: Marissa Meyer.); and so on. 

No one person will agree with everything Valenti argues in Why Have Kids?, but, as Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog points out, that is precisely the point. Parenting is tough--whether one chooses to be a parent or not--and no two people will look on it the same way. No matter what decisions we make as individuals, others will disagree with us--and no matter what side of an argument Valenti takes on these issues, others will disagree with her.

But underlying all of this disagreement, Valenti seems to be suggesting that the most crucial thing that we can do, as a nation, is embrace the fact that we will not all agree.
"We need to do away with the idea that there is a "natural" way to parent--whatever way we choose to parent is the natural way... American parents need to support one another..." (167).
Only by agreeing to disagree can we turn our attention to the greater problem: how to ensure that we continue to raise happy, healthy children, without sacrificing the happiness and health of their parents. It takes a village, as they say, but until we can put aside our differences, that village is nothing more than a pipe-dream.


You might also like:
The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Bossypants by Tina Fey


Thoughts from other bookworms:


Why Have Kids? | Jessica Valenti | New Harvest | Hardcover | September 2012 | 178 pages

Way Late and a Dollar Short: Grapes of Wrath Readalong Wrap-up

This is the fourth and final post in Devourer of Texts Grapes of Wrath readalong. It was supposed to go up last Tuesday, but then Sandy came along and took out my power, and then I forgot to write it when my power came back on (a mere 24 hours later, so no complaints there). But better late than never, they say!

So... when we last left off, The Grapes of Wrath was generally sad, depressing, and a bit preachy, with occasional bits of humor and/or hopefulness thrown in. But we all knew all along that those bits of humor and/or joy were just a tease, and things were never going to end well for the poor, kind Joads.

They didn't. As if destitution, poverty, and hunger weren't enough, Steinbeck throws in [spoilers: highlight to read] some serious flooding and a stillborn baby for good measure. Oh, and union strikes and scab workers and the rest of it.

And we're left with an utterly depressing picture of humanity and all of its wrongs, of the big corporations and their desire for profit at the expense of human life, of the power of people when they come together as a group but their utter powerlessness when they focus only on what is best for themselves, of the rights of workers and farmers and farmhands and salesmen and shop clerks and everyone else to make their way in the world.

I didn't think of it at the time, but The Grapes of Wrath proved the perfect pre-election read as things wound up to what culminated in an Obama victory last night. Though, as I've mentioned, Steinbeck can go all preachy-like at times, standing on his workers'-rights-soapbox or his corporations-are-evil soapbox, his less-than-subtle hints at the importance of banding together, and looking out for those less fortunate than ourselves, accepting those not like ourselves, and preserving a sense of human dignity throughout it all were key themes in the 2012 election.

Those messages, sometimes delivered subtly through Ma's strength or Rose of Sharon's naivete or Tom's stoicism and sometimes hammered into our heads with Steinbeck's in-between chapters, are the silver lining here. Through all of the sadness and hardships thrown on the Joads, they can, at the very least, teach us something about ourselves and our country today--a pretty hefty tribute to pay to a seventy-year old novel.


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Devouring Texts
Reading Rambo
What Red Read


The Grapes of Wrath | John Steinbeck | Originally published 1939 | 619 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Why Read Classics?

Oh, the classics. Those tricky books that dominate my to-be-read lists but never my recently-completed lists. The ones that line the shelves in the living room with signs that say, "Read me! Read me!" The ones that I can almost hear sigh with resignation when I pick up Gone Girl or opt to re-read Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.

They are a tricky lot, aren't they? It is nearly impossible to say "I don't like the classics," because really, what are they? The mere phrase 'the classics' is so broad and impossibly defined as to prevent anyone from stepping away from the entire category, and yet, in past years, I find that I have done just that.

This year, I've been making a conscious effort to read more of 'the classics,' beginning to pare down my list of books-I've-always-meant-to-read-but-never-got-around-to. I signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I signed up, more recently, for the Classics Club. And it is working--I have read 14 classics so far in 2012, compared to a mere 6 in all of 2011. I finally read some of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I read Anna Karenina. I re-read Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

But why? Why are the classics so important? Why is it that I feel the need to make an effort to read them, when the shiny new hardcovers at the local bookstore look so appealing in their own right?

In looking back over the reviews and reaction pieces I have written after completing one classic or another, the most common thread I've found is their continued relevance in today's world. Anna Karenina, that daunting, 800+ page novel of Russian aristocracy, made important arguments about the state of marriage and motherhood; hypocrisy; double standards; and class. The Old Man and the Sea is a timeless tale of perseverance and determination and acceptance. Entire passages of The Grapes of Wrath could be taken out of context and mistaken for quotes from modern-day politicians battling questions of immigration and poverty and corporate responsibility.

That, I suppose, is why I read the classics--because they are timeless. That's why we consider them classics, after all, and it is why I think it is important to make a conscious effort to get them into my reading mix. Modern books--be it fiction or non--carry important lessons about our time (or, in the case of histories or historical fiction, a time before), and are perfectly capable of teaching us about our selves and our world, but classics have stood the test of time and continued to do just that for generation after generation.


Answer to the October Classics Club prompt: Why are you reading the classics?

A Room Without Books...

Review & Giveaway: What the Zhang Boys Know, by Clifford Garstang

What the Zhang Boys Know is, as the subtitle suggests, a novel of stories: more than ten interlinked short stories that tell the story Nanking Mansion, an up-scale condo building in a less-than-upscale neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The residents of the building--a lawyer, a painter, a sculptor, a young couple, a widower and his two boys--are generally unhappy with the neighborhood, living on the forefront of gentrification as they do.

But they are also unhappy with their lots: a painter who pines for his lover and whose work is not popular; a widower who struggles to cope with his two young boys (the Zhang boys) in the wake of his wife's early death; a young woman who is no longer happy with her long-term boyfriend but does not know how to leave him; a recent divorcee who cannot pay her mortgage, let alone feed herself. In each story, we are treated to a different narrator, getting a glimpse further into a life that was mere backdrop in the stories preceding. In this way, Clifford Garstang reveals the inner workings of the residents of the Nanking Mansion, at once making us know and not know the characters we encounter.

Though there are a lot of characters here -- nearly a dozen narrators and even more supporting roles -- the ways in which Garstang brings them neatly to the forefront and then sets them back again keeps them from ever becoming burdensome. Instead, they are what keep the stor(y/ies) engaging, as characters re-emerge in new lights and from new perspectives. The resulting collection of their tales is at once delightful and haunting, giving readers insight into the myriad lives that can live in one building, so close together and yet so distinct from one another.


Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours, I am able to offer one copy of this title as a giveaway. To enter, simply leave a comment below. +1 for followers, +1 for sharing this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Giveaway closes Monday, Nov 5 and I will announce the winner on Tuesday, Nov 6.


Thoughts from other bookworms (via TLC Book Tours)


Note: Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for the review copy.
What the Zhang Boys Know | Clifford Garstang | Press 53 | October 2012 | 218 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Books Are Mirrors

Audiobook Review: Shine, Shine, Shine by Lydia Netzer

Shine Shine Shine, a beautiful, sweeping debut from Lydia Netzer, is a powerful novel that centers on the question of normalcy (or is it normality? Thanks to President Harding, I'm never sure which is correct). When Maxon and Sunny first met as children, they were both different -- Maxon struggling to relate to the world with normal human emotions and reactions, and Sunny as a beautiful bald child with not a lick of hair on her head or body. Twenty years later, they are married and have a helmeted, autistic son named Bubber and Sunny has taken to wearing wigs to fit in and Maxon has gone to space to start a colony with robots.

Until an accident rips Sunny's wig from her head, and her whole perfect, stuffy neighborhood knows of her secret baldness, and Sunny's world begins to shift. Now she wants Maxon home, she wants to reconcile with her mother, she wants to take Bubber off his personality-stunting medications and let him be his own autistic self. She wants to wear her baldness proudly, but the "normal" life she has insisted on creating for the last decade is in the way.

Shine Shine Shine is charmingly odd from the start, with Sunny and Maxon and Bubber's quirks making them some of the most lovable dysfunctional characters I've ever encountered. Even the story's structure is odd, with flashbacks accounting for what feels like more than half of the narration, but never proving cumbersome or too bulky for the present-day storyline. Lots of things happen to Maxon and Sunny, things that affect them differently, things that do not fit into the equations of life that Maxon is keen on writing out for Sunny. As we learn about these things, we begin to understand both Maxon and Sunny in their own way, in their own fashion, and how perfectly quirkily they fit together, and how hard they have both worked, in their own way, to get where they want to be--or where they thought they wanted to be.

Netzer's imagination has run wild in her debut novel, carried through with strong writing skills that weave multiple stories and multiple time periods and multiple characters together into one seamless novel that will at once make you laugh, cry, and sigh with exasperation and understanding at once.

A note on the audio: Well produced, clearly narrated, with a narrator that sucks you into Sunny's world and keeps you there for days.


Thoughts from other bookworms:

The New Dork Review of Books
Lettore Bella
Book Riot Review GPA


Note: Thanks to the publisher for an e-audio copy of this title tor review, received from my Shelf Awareness editor.
Shine Shine Shine | Lydia Netzer, nar. Joshilyn Jackson | July 2012 | Macmillan Audio | Buy from an independent near you

The Grapes of Wrath Readalong: Part the Third

This is the third post for a readalong of The Grapes of Wrath hosted by Laura at Devouring Texts.

This section contained what might be my favorite scene of the novel so far (except for maybe the turtle, because who doesn't love the damn turtle?P): the scene with the little kids scaring each other about the toilet, not understanding how it works:
"Winfield was embarrassed. His hand twisted the flushing lever. There was a roar of water. Ruthie leapt into the air and jumped away. She and Winfield stood in the middle of  the room and looked at the toilet. The hiss of water continued in it. 'You done it,' Ruthie said. 'You went an' broke it. I seen you.'"
Ain't that hilarious? Can't you just picture the two of them in a room full of toilets, and bossy Ruthie giving Winfield a hard time about the water in the toilet, not understanding? And can you imagine what it must be like to encounter a toilet for the first time, not knowing what it is or how it works?

It's a good thing we get a bit of humor, because the rest of this section felt thick with sadness, as the realization that there really is no work settles down upon the Joads:
"Tom looked about at the grimy tens, the junk equipment, at the old cars, the lumpy mattresses out in the sun, at the blackened cans on fire-blackened holes where the people cooked. He asked quietly, 'Ain't there no work?'"
And even when they find relief in the government camp, complete with running (hot!) water, there is a sense of doom and gloom that seems to hang over the people there, the idea that their stay is temporary, meant to end, and a constant, nagging knowledge that work is not available no matter where they turn.

And the persistent hunger that seems to haunt each family, the hunger that the Joads have not yet known but we are quick to gather they will know, someday not too far away, and Steinbeck's ranting and raving about the food that grows and goes to rot because it cannot be profitable, while not a mile away, children die of starvation and the coroners lie on the death certificates and make up causes of death. Oh, Ruthie and Winfield, I hope you live.

When they do settle into the government camp, fortunate enough to have found a spot after weeks on the road and days spent being mocked and taunted by locals, Ma (still my favorite, really) is able to think, really think, about all that has happened:
"Funny, ain't it. All the time we was a-movin' an' shovin,' I never thought none. An' now these here folks been nice to me, been awful nice; an' what's the first thing I do? I go right back over the sad things--that night Grampa died an' we buried him. I was all full up of the road, and bumpin' and movin', an' it wasn't so bad. But now I come out here, an' it's worse now. An' Granma-an' Noah walkin' away like that! ...I didn't give 'em brain room before, but now they're a-flockin' back. An' I oughta be glad 'cause we're in a nice place."

I've been afraid Ma would break, and now I'm even more afraid, that after all of the hardness and meanness she and the Joads have seen in the people around them, she will break under the sadness of the world and of her broken family. But then Pa steps in and they remember together and Ma snaps back to herself and makes "somepin nice" for the family and probably helps Rosasharn stop crying (again) and everything else she does.

Is anyone else struck by the continued importance of the issues that Steinbeck raises, albeit not-so-delicately at times? There are certain parallels that one could draw between the small farmers and the big corporate farmers of the 1930s with the small businesses and the big corporate businesses of 2012. And though we may not like to admit it, the Californians fear of the "damn Okies" doesn't sound so far off from the issues of immigration we face in the United States today.

And so, on to the last quarter of the book. I'm still scared of what is going to happen to the Joads, with the threat of violence and hunger and otherwise painful deaths in the air. Don't worry, I have ice cream and tissues at the ready.


Thoughts from other bookworms:

Devouring Texts
What Red Read


The Grapes of Wrath | John Steinbeck | Originally published 1939 | 619 pages | Buy from an independent near you

On Reading Anna Karenina

I went into Anna Karenina expecting the worst, though I'd be hard-pressed to explain what, exactly, I meant by "the worst." Difficult sentence structure? Long, rambling paragraphs? Unnecessary chapters? Impossible-to-navigate plot?

Imagine my surprise, then, when Anna Karenina turned out to be relatively... simple? Yes, it's long, weighing in at 800+ pages, and yes, there are some long rambling paragraphs and one entire section that felt dedicated to Levin and his damn farm theory, but the novel itself did not prove difficult in any particular way. I actually found it took more brain power to read a paragraph of Emma than of Anna Karenina (apparently I'm on a books-with-women's-names-as-the-title kick), though I ultimately enjoyed Anna Karenina more.

For those who don't already know, Anna Karenina centers on--you guessed it!--Anna Karenina, a married aristocrat who finds herself taken with a young Russian soldier and quickly becomes the talk of the town. But then in addition to this story, there is Levin, a stumbling gentleman who is hopelessly in love with Kitty (for reasons I can never understand, because I found her perfectly annoying throughout the entire novel). There are several other side stories as well, with brothers and brothers-in-law and sisters and friends and I think an aunt and maybe some cousins?

But the main beauty of Anna Karenina, and perhaps the reason it has persisted so long in our American awareness, is its continual importance despite the changing times. Tolstoy raises crucial questions about the education of the lower classes, the importance of government programs, the corruption of government offices, the rights of women, and--perhaps most important in Anna Karenina's sad tale--the hypocrisy of society in its treatment of men vs. women.

There is not much I can say about Tolstoy's great work that has not already been said; scholars far more dedicated and educated than myself have spent entire careers studying the work. But for those intimidated by its size, or its length, or its reputation, I can say this--don't be. Read it. Read it and you will find that not only are you struck by how accessible the story truly is, and how relevant even in modern times, but you are touched by the poignancy with which Tolstoy writes of love and regret and pain and joy and the kindness and cruelty of individuals to one another.

But don't read the introduction first, even though it is in the beginning of the book, especially in this edition, because it will give away the entire story without you even knowing what's happening.

So... who's excited for the movie?


Thoughts from other bookworms:

Loving Books
The New Dork Review of Books
James Meek: Re-reading Anna Karenina


You might also like:
Why Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina transcends the ages
And it pains me to link to Oprah's Book Club, but: Your Guide to Understanding Anna Karenina
War and Peace


This marks one more book for the Classics Club, as well as a book translated from its original language for the 2012 Back to the Classics Challenge.


Anna Karenina | Leo Tolstoy, trans. Richard Peaver & Larissa Volokhonsky | orig. published 1877 | 817 pages | Buy from an independent near you

The Grapes of Wrath Readalong: Part II, A Day Late

This is the second post for a readalong of The Grapes of Wrath hosted by Laura at Devouring Texts.

Spoilers may (definitely do) follow.

Ho boy. I knew after reading the first 150-or-so pages of The Grapes of Wrath that Steinbeck was setting us up for some sadness, but he really did start to lay it on thick in these next 150-or-so-pages, didn't he? We went from one BIG happy family rolling along in a homemade truck towards California to two big happy families rolling along in a homemade truck and a broken-down car (yes, a car, right?) towards California.

But then there is some serious sickness going on and some pain and then the family is slightly less big. And then less big again.

And suddenly there is no more Grampa with his silly off-buttoned pants and his rants about never leaving his home, because really he died when he left his land, they say, and then Granma dies of... a broken heart? And Ma, the greatest woman of all time (and one who flies in the face of the traditional sexism of the time, yeah?), just lays up on the mattress with dead Granma so that the family can keep moving and your heart just breaks a little bit and you have to pause because it's just too much to keep reading all at once. Or at least that's how it was for me.

Then there is Chapter Seventeen, which for some reason really got under my skin. All these poor people building a new life every night, and breaking it down every morning:
"Every night a world created, complete with furniture--friends made and enemies established; a world completed with braggarts and with cowards, with quiet men, with humble men, with kindly men. Every night relationships that make a world, established; and every morning the world torn down like a circus."
I cannot imagine such a journey, such an undertaking, rolling on day into night into day into night, based on nothing but the hope of something better in the future. Steinbeck addresses this, of course, with the simple idea that a tough life isn't so tough when you consider the tougher alternative that you've left behind; it's as much a matter of what you're running from as what you're running to. But still. That's hard living, especially when people start to tell you that what you are running to is really not all that great. Or even worse than what you ran from.
Go home.
I do find there are some places--particularly the in-between chapters--where Steinbeck hits us over the head with sadness and heartache and general rants about the evils of the banks (Steinbeck really hates him some banks, don't he?) and how the migrants should all team together and stick it to the man but they don't because they are fending for themselves.

But I am willing to forgive all of this because he also makes us feel all the things, so many things, and because the scene in Chapter Fifteen with the little kids eyeballing the candies and the tough old diner lady caving in and giving them two candies for a penny even though they are nickel candies.

All the feelings.
Also, what's with all the people so avidly running over animals in their cars? Anyone?

Halfway point summation: I really like this book, although I am glad to be reading it interspersed with other things because there is a lot of feeling happening. And animals (and people) dying. And kids starving.


Thoughts from other bookworms:


The Grapes of Wrath | John Steinbeck | Originally published 1939 | 619 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy, by JK Rowling (and Readalong, Part II)

This is the second of two readalong posts for The Casual Vacancy Readalong over at Literary Musings and co-hosted by Beth of Bookworm Meets Bookworm.

The Casual Vacancy was panned by most of the big critics, with some reviews (NYT, I'm looking at you) bordering on downright cruel. So I went into this readalong with more than a little bit of apprehension. As I mentioned last week: WHAT IF I DON'T LIKE SOMETHING ROWLING HAS WRITTEN!?

Which is precisely the wrong way to go into this book, because it is not like anything Rowling has written before. In that it has no pointy hats, no wizards, and no clever and convenient spells to make real life--or real wizarding life, at least--just a little bit easier.

Nope, this is a book of real life cast in the harshest and most unforgiving life, focusing on the small town of Pagford and the far-reaching consequences of a local Parish Councilor's premature death. Through Pagford, Rowling presents a scathing portrait of the small-town rumor mill, the destructive power of gossip (and of secrets), and of the often devastating consequences of meddling in others' affairs--be it through local politics or public shaming or illicit romances.

The world of Pagford residents is mundane, bordering on banal, but to me, that is precisely the beauty of The Casual Vacancy. Thought epic fantasies (yes, insert inevitable Harry Potter comparison here) can teach us a lot about ourselves and human nature and the forces in our real lives, so too can the most boring of everyday details: the bully at the local high school, the anxieties of an insecure wife, and the family struggles of a single mother raising two children in deep poverty. Are these the most fascinating of subjects? Perhaps not--but they are important, nonetheless.

Similarly, Rowling's characters at first seem overdone, perhaps characterizations of themselves--but just as the characters in the office are far-fetched and yet reminiscent of real co-workers in real offices, so too are Rowling's characters far-fetched and yet familiar.

Perhaps it is merely a question of timing, because I started reading Jane Austen's Emma while also reading The Casual Vacancy, but I found unmistakable parallels between the two novels. They are set in different time periods, and are written in completely different styles (there's no chance of one mistaking Rowling's pen for Austen's, of course). But they do so in a way so subtle that only those that can see past the "blah-blah-so-and-so-said-to-so-and-so-and-Jane-Fairfax-wrote-a-long-letter-and-Barry-Fairbrother's-wife-is-sad" retellings that can appreciate the art of what both Austen and Rowling have done: highlighting the most important social issues of a time and place through the most normal characters one can imagine.

I'm not saying that Rowling is on par with Austen--that's a literary argument I am not prepared to make or defend--but I really did enjoy The Casual Vacancy and the questions it raised as I read it. Rowling's depictions of the hypocrisies of adulthood, coupled with the stumbling, idiotic, but often well-meaning attempts of adolescents to find their way into that grown-up world, is at once poignant and important; if you can manage to forget that Rowling also wrote Harry Potter, and embrace the sex, cruelty, and drugs in her first novel for adults (key words: for adults), this should be one you can enjoy.

P.S. I'm sorry that this is less a review and more a defense of The Casual Vacancy. Except I'm not really sorry, because I'm really disappointed to have seen/heard so many people questioning it before reading it based solely on the initial reviews, which still feel completely unwarranted to me. It may not be the Greatest British Novel of all time, or even of 2012, but it is, in fact, a solid, well-written, and thoughtful book. [Steps off soapbox.]


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Book Jay
Book Riot Review GPA
Bookworm Meets Bookworm


The Casual Vacancy | JK Rowling | Little, Brown, and Company | Hardcover | 512 pages | September 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

The Grapes of Wrath Readalong: Part I

I apologize in advance for this post, because I have just taken NyQuil and am writing with only one eye open and one functioning nostril. TMI?

My first pass at the first section of The Grapes of Wrath and all its grapey wrathful dustiness was the perfect reminder of why I really do love Steinbeck, leaving me with tons of underlines and a bagillion dogeared pages and a few pages with dogears on the top and bottom. That good. (For directions on how to dog ear a page, click here. PS -- I have no idea why that article needs to exist. Dogearing pages is not freaking complicated, even if it is a polarizing topic.)

I did not read the introduction, despite being tempted to do so in order to put this oh-so-important title into its proper context. I read the introduction to Anna Karenina and it GAVE AWAY THE ENDING so never again, I tell you, never again.

So I started with Chapter 1, and was blown away (pun!) by all the dust. Dust everywhere, coating everything, lots of crop failures, dust, dust, dust.

And then we meet the truck driver and the hitchhiker and are left to wonder for a bit which of them is the important one, or if they both are, until the hitchhiker is dropped off and meets the preacher (ex-preacher, I suppose), and suddenly people have names and the truck driver is gone. But not before we meet the turtle.

The first part of this book is not depressing, except for the bits that are (the slimey car dealer and the ongoing churnings of the man, and the forced departure from the land they've lived in all the while), but I can tell that Steinbeck is about to take us on a crazy up-down ride of emotions, no? These poor people, the Joads and their neighbors and even Muley, are so damn hopeful and adamant in their decisions, so dependent on things turning out ok in the end, that it is like Steinbeck has hung a sign on the first page that says: Caution. Sad ending ahead.

Part of me knows this gif doesn't belong here,
but a larger part of me thinks it is too fun not to include.
There's also the incredibly heartbreaking scene(s?) where the Joads pack up their things, and all of the bits that make up a life--and makes you think about all of the STUFF you know you own, and what you'd take with you vs. what you'd burn (because obviously burning things is the most practical solution here)--and all of memories that are inherently tied to a place, to an object, to a thing:
"There's a premium goes with this pile of junk and the bay horses-so beautiful-a packet of bitterness to grow in your house and flower, some day." 
"How can we live without our past lives? How will we know it's us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it."
There's a lot more here, but NyQuil is making me stop now. I promise I'll be better next week. For now, though, I can just say I really like this book. So far. And I haven't cried. Yet.

26 by 26 Update: I Ran 3.11 Miles!

One of the items on my 26 by 26 list (on which I have not made nearly enough progress, folks!) was to run a 5K (3.11 miles), and this past weekend, I did it!

Pre-race (I was freezing!)
I don't have any finish-line photos because my husband's phone died while I was running.
Cross another one off the list, and call me crazy, because I just signed up for a half-marathon this winter.

The Casual Vacancy: A Readalong, Part I

This is the first of two readalong posts for The Casual Vacancy Readalong over at Literary Musings and co-hosted by Beth of Bookworm Meets Bookworm.

The Casual Vacancy, that long-awaited, uber-secret book of JK Rowling's, has been on sale for a week now. Time flies, don't it? Reviews started flooding in the morning of the release, and critics, in general, were not particularly fond of the novel. Some were even downright cruel. And so when I started The Casual Vacancy, it was with more than a little bit of trepidation. Was it really as bad as all that? Was I setting myself up for disappointment? WHAT IF I DON'T LIKE SOMETHING ROWLING HAS WRITTEN!?

Luckily for me (and for everyone within earshot while I was reading this), I could not disagree with the critics more. The novel does start off slowly, introducing new characters every couple of pages, but this feels both necessary and intentional; Rowling, yet again, has imagined a complex world that requires some settling in.

We learn first of Barry Fairbrother's early death (that's not a spoiler -- it happens on about page 3), and then are left to watch the rest of the small town of Pagford hear the news for themselves, the story rippling through the town from one ear to the next. And Pagford is the epitome of a small town, practically a characterization of itself: every one knows every one else, and the daily grind of the town seems based on gossip and hearsay and that ever-churning rumor-mill. Something like the death of a Parish Council member is big news, folks.

What I found most touching about the first half of The Casual Vacancy is the skill with which Rowling captures the far-reaching impact of Fairbrother's death, ranging from those who long for his seat on the Parish Council to those who are forced, of a sudden, to question their own mortality. The funeral scene, which does not come until we are 150 pages into the novel (despite the dude dying on the aforementioned page 3), is at once absurd and heartbreaking, laughable and sad:
"Two pews back, Colin Wall was sobbing, with small but audible gasps, into a large wet handkerchief... Tessa [Wall] was scared of what the loss of Barry Fairbrother would mean to the man beside her; scared of how they would manage to accommodate this huge, ragged absence... And all through Tessa's anxiety and sorry was threaded the usual worry, like an itchy little worm: Fats, and how she was going to avert an explosion, how she would make him come to the burial, or how she might hide from Colin that he had not come--which might, after all, be easier."
Rowling's language is simple and plain, but with her words she manages to convey big truths about everyday life: what is it to be an adult driven by greed and self-interest, or an adult driven by love and passion; what it is to love and what it is to hate; what it is to grow up and try to understand the crazy, fucked-up world we live in. One of the biggest criticisms of the novel was it's obsession with the mundane, but to me, that's what's made the book so interesting so far--like life, it is full of the mundane (I'm also reading Emma at the same time, so perhaps I'm just particularly drawn to life's little details at the moment).

I'm move on with great hopes for the second half of the book. Have you read it? Agree with the critics? Disagree? Like it? Love it? Hate it?


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Literary Musings
Book Riot Review GPA
The Blue Bookcase
The Book Case


The Casual Vacancy | JK Rowling | Little, Brown, and Company | Hardcover | 512 pages | September 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Pseudo-Review: A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

First Edition in Annual Cover 1887, from Wikipedia.
From A Study in Sherlock to the Robert Downey Jr. depiction of the detective in the recent movies to the modernization of the stories in BBC's adaptation, "Sherlock," there are as many versions of Sherlock Holmes as there are original stories--and that's no small number. Holmes (and his dear sidekick, Watson) has probably been riffed more than any other character in literature (a claim I make with absolutely no evidence, factual or anecdotal, to back it up).

A Study in Scarlet marks the very first appearance of the now-renowned detective, originally published as a novella in 1887. The story introduces Holmes as a strange guy with even stranger habits, ranging from the quintessential violin plucking (I can't even imagine how annoying that would be to live with, Watson) to his somewhat obnoxious tendency to run off mid-sentence, swept into action by his thoughts before he is able to put them into words. A Study in Scarlet also introduces Dr. Watson, who quickly falls in with Holmes as flatmate, friend, and accomplice.

The short novel weighs in at only 121 pages in my edition of the collected Holmes stories, but even at that short length, it really contains two stories in one: first that of a murderer on the streets of London, and then one of love and revenge in Mormon-settled Utah. Despite the seeming disconnect between the two stories (the jump from London to the cliffs of Utah is pretty jarring at first), they are, in fact, intertwined--you just have to be patient enough for the brilliant Sherlock Holmes to get to the explaining bits.

Because that's Sherlock Holmes in a nutshell: master of deductions, discoverer of invisible connections, postponer of explanations. While his explanations and rationales border on the absurd, they are also so simple as to prove perfectly reasonable. We as the reader struggle along just as Watson does, trying to keep up with the inimitable mind of the great consulting detective while he remains a steady three paces ahead of us. When we finally catch up, it is one part I CAN'T BELIEVE IT and one part BUT OF COURSE!

funny gifs

Despite his genius, though, Holmes is also somewhat of a pitiful figure: lonely, distracted, hyper-focused to the point of ignorance (at one point he admits to Watson that he knows nothing of the workings of the solar system, as he did not deem it worthy of his attention). His inability to socialize with those around him is at once a blessing and a curse: it allows him to see what others miss, operating for no motive other than pure knowledge, but it also isolates him from what everyone else experiences.

It is easy to see why the Holmes presented in A Study in Scarlet captivated readers as he did, proving to be a character unique and mysterious enough to leave us longing for more tales of his adventures, despite the rather neat conclusion at which A Study in Scarlet arrives. I know I'm looking forward to the second novella of Holmes and Watson, The Sign of the Four, followed by a re-read of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and other stories in the canon.


You might also like:
Sherlock Holmes, the Complete Novels and Stories Vol I, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Sherlockian, by Graham Moore
A Study in Scarlet, ed. by Laurie King & Leslie Klinger

The Grapes of Wrath Readalong: One Part Crazy, Another Part Thrilled

Yesterday, I stumbled into a Grapes of Wrath Readalong over at Devouring Texts, and even though the sane part of my brain said not to, I decided to join.

I am one part this:

And one part this:

The Grapes of Wrath is on my list of potential books to read to complete one of the final categories of the Back to the Classics Challenge, and there are some really great participants... so how could I say no? It's like it was destiny.

The only Steinbeck I've read that I actually remember is East of Eden. I know I read Of Mice and Men in middle school (high school?) and that it was sad. Really, really, really sad. But this is my first pass at Grapes of Wrath, and despite the fact that it is one of Steinbeck's most famous novels, I'm ashamed to say I know very little about it. Except that the dude on the cover of my Penguin edition is kind of a stud, and that the book is set during the Great Depression, and therefore I expect it to be great and depressing.

Forward, ho! Reactions to Chapters 1-11 to come next week.