Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books Bought in Nov and Dec, 2011

The following books have been added to Mount TBR due to a November trip to UVA to visit my daughter and a very recent trip to the local Barnes and Noble.

There must be a lot of bookish people in Charlottesville, VA to support a relatively large number of used bookstores.  That makes sense for this picturesque place is where Thomas Jefferson built his home, Monticello and founded the University of Virginia.  He is responsible for one of my favorite bookish quotes:  "I cannot live without books".   In fact, we learned while on a tour of his famous home that he had three extensive book collections in his lifetime.  The first burned in a fire.  The second was sold to the government and became the nucleus of the Library of Congress.  With the money made from the sale, he immediately began buying books again (of course) for his third collection.

Listed by genre and author:

  1. Austen, Jane - Northanger Abbey
  2. Dumas, Alexandre - The Count of Monte Cristo
  3. Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
  4. Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
  5. Fitzgerald, F. Scott - Tender Is the Night
  6. Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
  7. Forster, E.M. - A Passage to India
  8. Hemingway, Ernest - The Sun Also Rises
  9. James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw, The Aspen Papers and Two Shoes
  10. Jeroux, Gaston - The Phantom of the Opera
  11. Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  12. Nabokov, Vladimir - The Gift
  13. Richardson, Samuel - Pamela
  14. Scott, Sir Walter - Waverly
  15. Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet
  16. Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
  17. Waugh, Evelyn - Brideshead Revisited
  18. Wharton, Edith - The Age of Innocence
  19. Wharton, Edith - Ethan Frome, Summer, Bunner Sisters
  1. Forman, Gayle - If I Stay
  2. Morrison, Toni - Beloved
  3. See, Lisa - Peony in Love
  1. Beaty, Jerome - The Norton Introduction to Literature
  2. Roberts, Edgar and Henry Jacobs - Literature: An Introduction of Reading and Writing
  3. Rosenfeld, Jordan - Make A Scene
  1. Kincaid, Jamaica - My Brother (3)
  2. Jong, Erica - Fear of Fifty
  3. Lezine, DeQuincy - Eight Stories Up: An Adolescent Chooses Hope Over Suicide
  4. Rosenblatt, Roger - Making Toast
  5. Struss, Darin - Half Life
  6. Szabo, Ross and Melanie Hall - Behind Happy Faces
  7. Wright, Norman H - Recovery From Losses in Life
  1. Tennyson, Lord Alfred - In Memoriam A.H. H.
  2. Young, Kevin ed - The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing - I have been looking for something like this since Josh died. 
Christian Apologetics:  The Signature Classics of C.S. Lewis
  1. Mere Christianity
  2. The Screwtape Letters
  3. The Abolition of Man
  4. The Great Divorce
  5. A Problem of Pain
  6. Miracles
  7. A Grief Observed

December 2011 Books

December has been a productive and thought-provoking reading month which is setting me up for the New Year.  I plan to continue with the monthly posts but will make a slight change - I will publish as soon as the first mini review is written and will update as I go along.

Anne of Avonlea (#2) by L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1909
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
In order to continue the series, I bought the ibook, The Essential Works of L.M. Montgomery for $5.98.  In this book, Anne is working as a schoolteacher at her old school and living at Green Gables with newly widowed Marilla Cuthbert.  New characters are introduced and in Anne's interactions with them, we see a more mature, but still highly likable Anne.

Anne of the Island (#3) by L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1915
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
Anne takes the opportunity to go to Redmond College.  The book spans the four years that she is there in which new friends are made, marriage proposals are rejected, the "tall, dark and handsome" man of her dreams appears and at the end, Anne finally realizes who she really loves.  So far, my second favorite book in the series.

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
Published: 1990
Rating: 5
List: 1990 Man Booker winner
Goodreads review
Awesome - I loved it!  A challenging book to read which I tackled by taking notes on each chapter (setting, character, technique, etc).  By technique, I mean them all.  Byatt uses the 3rd POV limited, 1st POV and at times, the narrator's own voice is prominent.  She also uses letters, journal entries, poems and short stories to tell this literary mystery.  The story moves between two different time periods and is described as a Romance by the protagonist Roland Mitchell - first a Quest, then a Chase and finally, a Race.

In this masterpiece, Byatt is both a novelist and a poet.  I love what her character, Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash says about the two forms:
What makes me  Poet and not a novelist - is to do with the singing of the language itself.  For the difference between poets and novelists is this - that the former write for the life of the language - and the latter write for the betterment of the world.
There is another passage in which the narrator speaks of the various kinds of readings.  I LOVE this quote and have put it on my list of bookish quotes.
Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark -  readings when the knowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or satisfactorily, runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how.  In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to be wholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sense that it was always there, that we the readers, knew it was always there, and have always known, it was as it was, though we have now for the first time recognized, become fully cognizant of, our knowledge.  
This is a perfect description of when writing illuminates the truth, and of the experience when the reader stumbles upon this truth.   It is THE reason why I read.  Now, after Josh's death, after my life has changed irreversibly and irrevocably, I read to understand, comprehend and discover - what do I feel about death?  About what happens after?  About grief, pain, suffering, loss and guilt?  About losing a child?  About suicide?  About surviving?

I couldn't turn the pages fast enough at the end.  The surprise ending was immensely satisfying as poetic justice prevailed.  I have to admit to skimming some of the longer poems which I must make myself tackle upon a re-read.  I highly recommend.  I watched the 2002 movie version with Aaron Eckart and Gwyneth Paltrow and would also recommend but would suggest reading the book first.

Anne's House of Dreams (#5) by L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1917
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
This is the fourth book that Montgomery wrote but is the fifth in the events chronicled.  Our heroine is now Anne Blythe, happily married to her childhood rival, Gilbert who is now a doctor.  They move away from quiet Green Gables to Four Winds Harbor, a busy port town where Montgomery introduces us to another group of interesting characters.  I miss the Anne of the previous books, where her stream of consciousness chattiness revealed inner thoughts, making her so endearing.  For example, I would like to know how she felt about her marriage, the birth of her children and some of her losses.

Anne of Windy Poplars (#4) by L. M. Montgomery
Published: 1936
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
Interestingly, this book is the 4th in the series chronologically but was published 21 years after the third book.  The story is told primarily through Anne's letters to Gilbert so we once again are seeing life, people and events through Anne's eyes.

The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
Published: 2007
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
A friend gave this book to me after Josh's death but I did not feel ready to read it until now.  It is the story of a father's struggle with faith after the abduction and brutal murder of his young daughter, Missy.   The narrator calls the father's grief, The Great Sadness, which "draped itself around Mack's shoulders like some invisible but almost tangibly heavy quilt.  The weight of its presence dulled his eyes and stooped his shoulders.  Even his efforts to shake it off were exhausting, as if his arms were sewn into its bleak folds of despair and he had somehow become part of it."  It is an accurate description of my grief - especially in the first months.

The author attempts to answer age-old, difficult questions such as why do bad things happen to good people, why doesn't God intervene, how can we trust God when bad things happen, etc.  The book has made me think about my own faith in the aftermath of our tragedy.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Published: 1843
Rating: 4
Goodreads review
I confess to having a "Dickens aversion" based on a thoroughly unenjoyable Great Expectations assignment in high school.  These days, I much prefer seeing the made-for-TV versions of his novels such as Bleak House (2005), David Copperfield (1999) and Little Dorrit (2008).  But after listening to Dickens scholar Prof. Tim Spurgeon's two audio courses, The Art of Reading and The English Novel, I feel sufficiently motivated to try one or two Dickens novels in 2012.  This short story was a good starter.  Already I can see that Dickens is a master of description.  I love this passage about Scrooge:
"Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.  The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.  A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.  He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas."     
Shakespeare: The Seven Major Tragedies audio course by Prof. Harold Bloom
Rating: 2 upgraded to 4
This low rating is more a reflection of me than of the material or the professor's delivery - I understood about 50% of the content.  One thing I will say, these tragedies are truly tragic - full of murders and suicides.  I know Shakespeare's command of the English language has set a standard so high, few can reach it.  In fact, I wrote a post on a simple quote that really spoke to me: Give sorrow words.

Therefore I feel as though I could gain a tremendous amount upon reading the plays myself, so will plan to tackle at least one in 2012.

Feb 2012 update:  I need to update the rating from 2 to 4 as in retrospect, especially having read two plays so far, his knowledge and delivery of the material was very good.  I plan to eventually read all 7 tragedies discussed in this audio course after which I will probably re-listen to the lectures.

Day After Night by Anita Diamant
Published: 2009
Rating: 2
Goodreads review
I enjoy historical fiction, especially when about courageous women and so was disappointed when this did not live up to my expectations, especially when I liked Diamant's The Red Tent.  Upon reflection, I think it was hard to tell this particular story from the viewpoint of four women who came from very different backgrounds and whose experience of the Holocaust was so varied.  I felt the author just scratched the surface of their stories and as a reader I wanted more.  When I read their names on the page, I couldn't "see" them with my reader's eye.  The women were not distinct enough and I had a hard time keeping them straight. Others may have better luck.

Anne of Ingleside (#6) by L.M. Montgomery
Published: 1939
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
Anne has faded to the background, becoming "Mother, Mummy or Mrs. Dr." The stories now center around the adventures of her six children.   I miss Anne's point of view and wish Montgomery had continued to show life through her eyes, perhaps via letters or a diary.  This is why the rating has dropped to a 3.  That said, this was a nice series to read at the end of the year.

Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
Published: 1947 (posthumously by her father, Otto Frank)
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
Wow.  That is all I can say about this incredibly moving diary from a precocious, highly intelligent, adolescent girl written from June 1942 - August 1945, during the German occupation of Holland in which she and seven other family members and friends hid from the Nazis in what she called Her Achterhuis or The Secret Annexe.  Her writing is so descriptive; one can see and smell her small world.  She is reflective and introspective - well beyond her years.  My favorite examples are in the following two passages:
I have one outstanding trait in my character, which must strike anyone who knows me for any length of time, and that is my knowledge of myself.  I can watch myself and my actions, just like an outsider.  The Anne of every day I can face entirely without prejudice, without making excuses for her, and watch what's good and what's bad about her.  This "self-consciousness" haunts me.... July 15, 1944 
I am guided by the pure Anne within, but outside I'm nothing but a frolicsome little goat who's broken loose.  August 1, 1944.  This was the last entry before they were turned into the Gestapo 3 days later and a mere 9 months before the end of the war.  
In an entry dated April 4, 1944 she writes about her love of writing and prophetically says that it will keep her alive after her death.
I am the best and sharpest critic of my own work.  I know myself what is and what is not well written.  Anyone who doesn't write doesn't know how wonderful it is.  I used to bemoan the fact that I couldn't draw at all, but now I am more than happy that I can at least write.  And if I haven't any talent for writing books or newspaper articles well, then I can always write for myself.......I want to go on living even after my death!  And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.
The group of eight were one of the last Jews sent to Auschwitz and all perished except for Anne's father, Otto.  Anne's mother died in January 1945 while Anne and her sister, Margot died a couple of months later in another camp, Bergen-Belsen.  Anne was fifteen years old.

She should have survived - to fulfill her dreams of going back to school and becoming a famous journalist or writer.  She should've been allowed to grow up, fall in love, get married and have children.  She should've been able to revise and edit her diary, be involved in its publication and witness the worldwide impact of her story.  She should've been able to see the plays and movies spawned from the book.

I live in the Washington DC area and have never visited the Holocaust Museum.  I need to go.  I have avoided books/movies like Sophie's Choice or Schindler's List because the horror was too much; I did not want to read or see such disturbing images.  But now I am intimately familiar with death, grief, sorrow and pain, and therefore do not shun such topics.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Theme Thursday: Happy

Theme Thursdays
Theme Thursdays is being hosted by Reading Between the Pages and is a fun weekly event that will be open from one Thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:

  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post.
This will give us a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors.  This week’s theme is to symbolize the month of December and festivities..   HAPPY

I have just finished reading Possession by A.S. Byatt, a challenging but thoroughly rewarding read.  My quote: 
"Roland stared at sleek Val, who had the shine of really expensive and well-made clothes, and more important and unmistakable, the glistening self-pleasure of sexual happiness.  She had had her hair done in a new way - short, soft, shaped, rising when she tossed her head and settling back to perfection.  She was all muted violets and shot-silk dove-colours, all balanced and pretty, stockings, high shoes, padded shoulders, painted mouth.  He said, instinctively, "You look happy, Val."

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.