Sunday, December 4, 2011

November 2011 Books and Audiocourse

It is now December 4th and with the addition of the books/course below, I am just eight books away from reaching one hundred in 2011.  I have never come close to reading this many books in one year - ever.  This underscores how vital books have been to my grief journey.  I am in full agreement with Thomas Jefferson's famous quote: I cannot live without books.

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner
Published: 1983
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
I would like to be a more discerning reader so have collected a number of books such as this one - books that describe how fiction works.  I also have some story ideas percolating in my head, that one day I may try to write.  For the more experienced fiction/creative writers, this may be just what you are looking for.  But for me, the ultra novice, "don't know what I am doing" wanna-be-writer, it was difficult to get through.

Blue Nights by Joan Didon
Published: 2011
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
A short memoir by a well known author who has suffered multiple losses within a short period of time.  On December 30, 2003, while her adult daughter Quintana was in the hospital overcoming a life-threatening infection, her husband died from a sudden heart attack.  Then on August 26, 2005, the proverbial "other shoe" dropped as her daughter, who suffered complications from the initial infection, died.  In October, 2005, she published a moving memoir about her first loss, The Year of Magical Thinking - reviewed in this post.

It is evident that writing Blue Nights helped Didion process her daughter's death.  She asks many unanswerable questions. She thinks of other friends who have died. She reviews specific memories and ponders their significance.  Why does she remember these and not others?  She allows these memories to trigger others and so leads the reader down a meandering path of events that occur in real time, the recent past and the way, way past.  She ponders aging and dying.  A quick and moving read.

On a side note, this is the first book that I read on my new iPad and loved the experience.  I like the large screen and the highlighting and note-taking capability.

My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid
Published: 1997
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
I bought this book from a public library book sale in Charlottesville, VA while visiting my daughter.  Kincaid is another writer who has penned a memoir about loss - her brother who died of AIDS in Antigua on January 19, 1996.  This memoir chronicles a complicated grief because she has a very angry, hateful and unresolved relationship with her mother which gets in the way of her feelings for her brother.  Her thoughts stream together in long sentences which I sometimes found difficult to follow but at other times, were beautiful and brilliant.  She has unique thoughts on death that has made me think.

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
Published: 1981
Rating: 3
Lists: 1,001
Goodreads review
I bought Kincaid's book at The Book Rack, a used bookstore in S. Yarmouth, MA this past summer and decided to read it after finishing her memoir, My Brother.  It is a short book, only 148 pages, which I read in one day.  It is a coming of age story - about an only child, Annie John, born to a beautiful mother whom she first adores and then comes to hate/love - sound familiar?  Telling quote: My mother would kill me if she got the chance.  I would kill my mother if I had the courage."  Yikes!  The consequence of this dysfunctional relationship is severe as Annie suffers from deep depression and what I would call a breakdown.  My unhappiness was something deep inside me, and when I closed my eyes I could even see it....It took the shape of a small black ball, all wrapped in cobwebs."   It was painful to read about a love-hate relationship between mother and daughter again.

Anne of Green Gables (#1) by L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1908
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
This has been sitting on my bookshelf since January 2011 when I bought it at a local library book sale.  I was looking for something light and fun to read after finished some pretty heavy books and this did the trick - I loved it!  For some reason, I was ready to fall in love with Anne Shirley, eleven-year old orphaned girl who went to live with an older spinster couple, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert on their farm, Green Gables located on rural Prince Edward Island, Canada.  At the end of chapter 8, about 20% into the book, I wrote down the following reasons of why Anne was such an engaging character:  innocent, vivid and real imagination, curious, gumption, honest, love of life, she sees beauty in nature that is missed by others, bright and articulate, unpretentious, a reader and a true romantic.  The book follows her many adventures and was so successful with early 20th century readers that Montgomery ended up writing a series, which I happily plan to read.  UPDATE:  I watched the 1985 made-for TV movie starring Megan Follows in the title role.  I loved it so much that I have watched both sequels.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Published: 1817
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
Jane Austen web site
Jane Austen Society of North America
I decided to read this in keeping with the unplanned "Anne" theme as I've  recently read Anna Karenina, Annie John, Anne of Green Gables - why not another book featuring an Anne?  I initially gave it a 4 (as how could any book match the beloved Pride and Prejudice), but changed it to a 5 because after finishing, I didn't want the story to end.  So I researched what good sequels were out there, found one by Amanda Grange (below), paid full price ($12.99 for the ibook), downloaded and read in one day.  I also rewatched the movie with Rupert Penry-Jones as the handsome and dashing Captain Wentworth and Sally Hawkins as the heroine, Anne Elliot.  I look forward to reading Austen's other three books: Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.  A Google search shows numerous sites created for Jane Austen fans and a Society called the Jane Austen Society of North America or JASNA - who knew?

Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange
Published: 2007
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
Author's web site
Authors's Goodreads blog
Grange has written a number of Austen male protagonist diaries, starting with Mr. Darcy's Diary (2007).  See this interesting online interview on her decision to do so.  I found Grange's version of when Anne and Frederick Wentworth initially fell in love completely believable.  It is a satisfying companion to Austen's original.

The English Novel  by Professor Timothy Spurgin
Audiocourse by The Great Courses
Rating: 5

Borrowed from the library, I had high hopes for this course based on his other course, The Art of Reading.  I listen to the CD's while driving so one requirement is that they are interesting and this did not disappoint. This course begins with what is typically regarded as the first English novel, Pamela (1740) by Samuel Richardson and ends with notable contemporary works by Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith.  18th century books such as Tom Jones (1749) by Henry Fielding, Tristam Shandy (1759-1767) by Laurence Sterne and The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe have been added to my TBR pile.  Works by Sir Walter Scott (Waverly 1814) and Henry James (The Portrait of a Lady 1881) join other 19th century "to-be-read" authors: Austen, Bronte, Dickens, Thackeray and Eliot.  In Spurgin's discussion of a particular novel, he not only talks about the work itself, but spends time on the author's biography and the time period in which he/she wrote.  He ties in critical historical and social events that influence the writer and the work.  His love for literature is evident and so each lecture was a pleasure to listen to.  I would highly recommend.

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