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I made it

I crawled over the finish line. early this morning I finished book # 52. That’s right. I actually reached the goal I set for myself at the start of 2011. A book a week.

I was frantically reading as I finished up the semester, graded exams and final papers, finished committee work, visited my parents and cooked for a small army (my family.) thus I had no time to post. So here are the books.

# 45 Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith

# 46 The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory

# 47 The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

# 48 Spying in High Heels  by Gemma Halliday

# 49 Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

# 50 Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Freidman

# 51 The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton

# 52 The Hunger Games  by Suzanne Collins

Its quite a mix of non-fiction with trashy (really trashy) mysteries, romance novels and historical fiction. Plus a great classic along with a popular YA book. Yeah. This proves that I real read just about anything (I have never been a book snob) and that I love certain books (I re-read Wharton’s novel every Christmas. It is a favorite– a masterpiece of characterization.)

I read a book a week, although admittedly there were weeks when I did not read at all and weeks when I read four books in a row. But I did read a heck of a lot this year.

This whole undertaking did change me. I now read like I used to when I was younger and I have rediscovered the joys of the public library.

Other things have developed over the year and I will reflect on that more in my next post, along with what will happen to the blog now that the project is over (no, its not going away- it will just change a bit.)

But hey- I managed to keep my New Year’s resolution of 2011 all the way to the bitter end. Or at least until 2 am of Dec 31, 2011  (That’s when I finished book 52.)

Happy New Year’s everyone. Its been a fun ride.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C

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Catch-up

Oh Boy.

I have been reading but not blogging. Am seriously, majorly behind on the blogging and realized that as my one-year book experiment is coming to an end that I need to catch-up NOW.

So unlike many of my previous posts, this one is going to really just be some quick thoughts on all the books that I have read recently.

The first two are Young Adult books, the start of a series written by Michelle Cooper. The first book in the series is called A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile. The books create a sort of alternate history within history– they focus on the children of the royal family of Montmaray (fictional)– an island between England and France, in the run-up to WWII (non-fiction). In doing this, they place the children smack in the middle of real historical events.  Told by the younger sister Sophie, the books capture both the importance of the historical events unfolding around her and her siblings, as well as the fantasy world of the made-up Montmaray island. The books are romantic (in the true meaning of the word) gothic, clever, and at times very funny and outlandish. The FitzOsbornes are quite the family, complete with a mad uncle (the King) and illegitimate offspring (the best friend of the Crown Prince.) While the books are in some way, a fantasy, they are in other ways, highly relevant– they show how WWII was a watershed moment for many of the smaller European royal houses, which did not survive the war. Loved both these books, savored reading them, and recommend them highly, for both adults and teens.

Next– I read two memoirs by people who grew up in religious sects.

The first is by Mary-Ann Kirkby, entitled I am Hutterite

Mary-Ann grew up on a Hutterite colony on the prairies of Canada. Hutterites are often confused with groups like the Amish, and while they are an Anabaptist group (like the Amish) they are very different. Hutterites hold everything in common– they are a sort of Utopian Anabaptist group. And I mean everything– everyone works on the common farm, eats in the common kitchen, etc, etc. While they dress “plainly”- it is distinct from Amish and Mennonite styles, the style of worship is different and they use modern conveniences like farm equipment, trucks and electricity. Anyway, Mary-Ann’s book is a beautiful memoir– she goes into great depth to help you understand her family’s history as Hutterites, the Hutterite lifestyle, her Hutterite childhood, and how eventually struggles over power (and to some extent, family) forced her parents to leave the colony– never having lived on their own in the real-world (like never having owned anything of their own, not even knowing the specifics of what a bank account is, etc.) The book is beautifully written, beautifully realized, and insightful.

The other book is Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler- also a memoir of life in a distinct religious group.

On the whole, I like the book but perhaps its title should be “Leaving the Amish” because it really focuses on Wagler’s tortured young adult days and the multiple times he left and then ended up coming back to the Amish. Although Wagler’s character is well-realized, I feel like his family isn’t (unlike in Mary-Ann’s book, where you get a tremendous sense of family and community. In Wagler’s book, you don’t, which is strange given the sort of community he grew up in). I had no sense of his father other than he was a strict man who was trying to hold his family together, and no sense of his mother other than the fact that she was clearly a long-suffering woman. I wish he had spent more time delving into his parents’ characters– to make them more multidimensional. I will give the author credit for being brutally honest– even when it did not paint him or his choices in a very good light.

I have two more books to catch up on, but that will be another post….. see what happens when I get behind?

Ciao for now,

Bookish C

 

 

 

World War II on an Island…

Today’s book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann  Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

I had heard about this book quite a few times, so after end-of-the-semester grading was finished I curled up with it and indulged.  The book is written in a unique format– through letters between the main character, a writer named Juliet, and her friends. It is set just after World War II, Juliet lives in London and is searching for a new book to write. She is a single, unmarried women in her thirties, without any family.

At first the book seems confusing, because you have to keep track of the letters, and puzzle out the relationships between the characters. There is Juliet’s editor, the editor’s sister (and her best friend) and then an interesting cast of characters arrives on the scene: That would be the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. This occurs by happenstance– a pig farmer named Dawsey buys a book of Juliet’s from a used bookseller, and he contacts her about the book. Dawsey happens to live on the Isle of Guernsey, which is an island in the English Channel, between France and England (it is closer to France than England) and after Juliet makes contact with Dawsey, a remarkable story flows forth.

Guernsey, as many may or may not have known, was the only English territory to be occupied during WWII. The islanders lived not only under German occupation, but also horrible deprivation and completely cut off from the rest of the world (as the Germans confiscated their radios, did not let them have access to newspapers, etc).  This deprivation included turning over the majority of the island livestock over to feed the German army (thus leaving the people to starve.) The literary society came about because of a lie that a group of islanders told the Germans because they were trying to cover up an “illegal pig” (a hog kept by an island woman who had been slaughtered and enjoyed by her neighbors.)  It turned into an actual literary society after the lie was told (so to not blow their cover) and it is this group of islanders who begin to get in touch with Juliet about their story.

What comes out is the story of strong friendships, humanity and joy that is laced with deep darkness, heartbreak and the scars of war. The islanders who Juliet comes to know and love, survived harrowing times, and depended upon each other to do so. Their circle revolves around an islander named Elizabeth, who loved greatly, and sacrificed much, ending up in a German concentration camp for defying authorities, and who left behind a daughter for her neighbors to raise.

Juliet finds herself, well, trying to find herself, and in the process becomes far more deeply enmeshed in the lives of the islanders than anyone could have imagined. The tone of the book is remarkable. Somehow the two authors managed to develop different voices for each of the characters in ways that were not contrived or precious.  The book alternates between a light, playful tone, and a more  somber understanding and it is this alternating between darkness and light that can sometimes send a punch to the gut to the reader before you realize it. In many ways, the characters show the versatility of humanity– even during the darkest of times, people hang on, and even find joy. The book also is really a meditation on friendship and community. So many of the characters lost their families during war in ways that were profoundly painful, but their friends, their community, their family of choice, is what kept them going despite it all.

I really enjoyed this book.  Beware, in the first few pages it seems all light and frothy, but it will have you gasping in horror as you get into it, and into the lives of the islanders who survived hell on earth. But the book shows that the human spirit somehow always find a way to keep going, a way to heal, and a way to love.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C

Welcome, New Readers!

Wow.  When I accepted my co-blogger’s invitation to join her on this whacky New Year’s resolution, I thought maybe some of my friends would occasionally click over here from facebook.  I never expected to have a blog post “freshly pressed” (didn’t even know what that meant), much less to have this kind of traffic!  To be honest, I had kind of hoped the blog would remain in relative obscurity – part of the goal was to spend less rather than more time on the Net.  Nevertheless, I appreciate all the visits and comments, and I’m heartened that others are thinking about the question the last post dealt with.

I suspect readership will drop off in a couple of days once the post is no longer freshly pressed.  In case any of you do stick around for the ride, though, I wanted to let you know my new parameters for comments (if I should ever write another post that gets flooded with comments).  In the future I intend to read and respond to comments only twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.  Responding to the comments on the freshly pressed post, I noticed the very things Carr describes in his book, and I’m trying to get away from this pattern.

To find out more about the nature of this blog, see the About section and the links to the first two posts there.  Thanks for stopping by!

-J

52 weeks, (at least) 52 books?!

It all started with a seemingly harmless facebook post.  I clicked on a link posted by a friend of mine from grad school describing her New Year’s resolution and was immediately intrigued by the idea – so much so that I expressed jealousy at not having thought of it myself, and even a faint desire to do something similar.  A few facebook exchanges later, I found myself in a role I never thought I would take up: a new contributor to this strange and vast world known as the blogosphere.

Why the rash decision?  I suppose there are a number of reasons, but mainly it’s to recover a skill and a joy that I once had and now long for with nostalgia.  Like my co-blogger (boy, that sounds weird to me), I was an avid reader growing up.  Sure, it was often second or third-rate fantasy or sci-fi books, but I would plow through those books like a beaver through wood.  Later I switched genres to non-fiction, but at more or less the same pace.  Somewhere along the line, though, I began slowing down, eventually to the point where if I read two or three fun books in a year, I was doing well.

One of the reasons for this is similar to C’s: in our line of work, it often seems like all we do is read, and really, who wants to do more of that at home?  But, perhaps a bit ironically given my new blogging habit, I think the other, more nefarious culprit in my fall from the state of reading grace has been these here interwebs.  The nature of hypertext-based media seems to generate, or at least reinforce, ADD.  Where once I could easily sit down for hours on end with a book, I now sometimes struggle to sit still for even fifteen minutes at a time.

I have lamented this condition for some time, but have failed to do anything about it – until now.  This blogging project seems like the perfect way to rekindle my long lost love of reading, and at the same time to begin to fill in some of the huge gaps in my education.

One reason I’m excited about this idea is that reading only for work has left me feeling narrow and myopic.  Again, when I was growing up, I felt like I knew a lot about everything.  These days, I feel like I know practically nothing about anything outside my field – and even that’s a bit hazy. 🙂  Some of that is the wisdom and humility that growing up and a lot of education provide, but it also reflects the very narrow range of most of my reading material.  Ironically, I think that focusing solely on my academic reading will actually make me worse rather than better at my job.  It’s hard to relate one’s subject matter to other fields or literature if one knows little to nothing about them.  I hope this project will help me remedy this situation.

I don’t have a list, or at least not a very long one, of the books I plan to read at this point.  It will most likely be a very eclectic assortment.  I had originally planned to take a Great Books approach – read some of the classics of western civilization that I should’ve read a long time ago.  I most likely will still do some of this, but I’ll also vary things quite a bit to keep things interesting.  I particularly look forward to writing about these reads, as it will a) keep me accountable (hellooo, grade school book reports!) and b) instill the habit of writing as well as that of reading.

Like my co-blogger (slowly getting used to that phrase), I plan to post once a week or so about what I’ve been reading, with the occasional reflective post on the project as a whole.  I’m less optimistic about doing more than one book a week, but I hope I’ll be able to meet the minimum.  Whatever happens, it should be a fun ride – hope you enjoy it, too.

P.S. I promise I’ll try to make future posts less long-winded. 🙂

Books

It really is that simple.

Books.

I was an avid (and some would say obsessive) reader as a child. You could always find me with a book in my hand. Books were my friends (as they often are for the bookish child.) I read books like people eat meals. Books were my life.

And then I became an adult.

Well, not really– college happened. During my breaks from school I continued to read, to drift off in a fantasy world that expanded beyond my real world.  But reading became work, and as I entered a graduate program and obtained a PhD in a humanities field, reading lost its luster for me.

I read every day. Often for hours, because it is my job. But I have struggled to read anything that is “fun.” And as the years went by I began to profoundly miss reading. I love to read, but I feel that it has been stolen from me, by the very profession that one enters because they “love to read.” Oh the irony.

A few days ago I was at a New Years Eve party. My friends were standing around talking about book clubs and how they had little time to read, etc, when one of them asked me “Do you read? And if so, what do you read?”

I responded that of course I read, and we discussed some books I had read recently. That was when I realized that many of my colleagues were just like me –they did not read for fun anymore. I also realized that despite the fact that I had always thought of myself as a reader (and indeed I am sure that I read more than the average American), that in fact I was no longer reading with the speed and sense of fun that I had enjoyed as a child.

My discussion with my math colleague made me realize that I wanted to read more. I missed reading—my life felt empty, raw, and lonely without reading.

So last night I went online and read through several “best of” lists of books from the last year. I wrote down the ones that looked interesting and created a list (I love lists.) Then I sat back and took stock. There were an awful lot of books on the list.

And in that moment I made a New Year’s resolution. (Something I never, ever do, by the way.) I decided that I would read at least a book a week this year. Note that I say at least, because I am a fast reader and really, I am curious as to how much I can actually read in a year.  So then I decided to keep myself honest and post to a blog, my thoughts about the books, about reading and writing. Because to become a better writer one must read, and to read is to open one’s mind.

My goal is to post at least once a week, with my thoughts on what I have read. I may post more, who knows, but at least once a week seems like a reasonable goal for me. And I hope that this year will help me re-affirm my reading habit (the idea if for this not to just be a one-year experiment, but rather to re-form my childhood habit.) I plan to read all kinds of books, I will put no style or page limit on the project. (I read everything from literature to pure trash, and plenty in-between.) I plan to just read.

I started last night on a book that was sent to me by an old college friend. More on that later, but for now I am taking suggestions. I have books in mind (my list) but always like to be clued in on what else is out there.

That’s all for now,

Bookish C