Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration

I have decided to join Serena's challenge as I am in the midst of reading The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, an anthology of poems edited by National Book Award finalist, Kevin Young.  I am also reading Lord Alfred Tennyson's epic poem In Memoriam A.H.H., written over a 17-year period in memory of his best friend and fellow poet, Arthur Henry Hallam

The rules are to complete one or a combination of the following: 1) read and review up to 2 books of poetry this year; 2) participate in at least 3 Virtual Poetry Circles or 3) sign up to feature poetry in April's National Poetry Month.

Poetry, a newly found genre, is becoming an important part of my grief journey, so I am desperately trying to self-educate.  I am excited to learn from others who are participating in this challenge.

I've been writing posts on Josh's blog and will post the links here.

Initial thoughts on TAOL and an original poem, "Silence is the Answer"
Initial thoughts on In Memoriam A.H.H
A.H.H. Canto IV - "deep vase of chilling tears"
Original poem: "Over and Over Again"
Epilogue by John Berryman and A.H.H. Canto V
Thoughts on "why poetry?" and original poem: "No Answer"
Prose poems - "The Dead" by Billy Collins and original poem: "Where He Lay"

Challenge: Reading Shakespeare - A Play A Month in 2012

After participating in Allie's Shakespeare Reading Month (see below), I've decided to jump in with both feet and join Risa's challenge of reading a play a month.  She has created a blog just for this challenge - click here.

"The Plays of Shakespeare" by Sir John Gilbert (1849)

The plays that we will be reading are:

January — A Midsummer Night’s Dream - scroll down this post to see my short blurb
February — Macbeth - see my post
March — Henry V
April — Much Ado About Nothing
May — Antony and Cleopatra
June — Richard III
July — As You Like It
August — King Lear
September — Cymbeline
October — Twelfth Night
November — Othello
December — Pericles

In my local Barnes & Noble, I have found the No Fear Shakespeare editions which I plan to use.

After some hemming and hawing, I have decided to participate in the Shakespeare Reading Month challenge hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.   The rules are pretty simple:

  • Read anything Shakespeare
  • Comment on Allie's master post saying you want to participate
  • Link to the master post with any individual posts related to the challenge
I have been intimidated by Shakespeare and figure this will be a great way to tackle some plays and learn from others.  I will be reading A Midsummer Night's Dream.  If this goes well, I may commit to the "Reading Shakespeare: A Play a Month" challenge.

January 14, 2011 update - scroll down this post to see my short blurb on A Midsummer Night's Dream

Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 2012 Books and Audiocourse

This post will be updated throughout the month as I finish books and write the mini review.

Anne Frank: The book, the life, the afterlife by Francine Prose
Published: 2009
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
Prose decided to re-read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as research for her new novel whose narrator would be a 13-year old girl.  While reading she came to believe that this was "a consciously crafted work of literature" showcasing Anne's prodigious talent: "her technical proficiency, the novelistic qualities of her diary, her ability to turn living people into characters, her observational powers, her eye for detail, her ear for dialogue and monologue, and the sense of pacing that guides her as she intersperses sections of reflection with dramatized scenes." This is amazing - don't most people go to writing classes to learn how to do this?

I enjoyed the chapters that elaborated on why Prose made the two statements quoted above and skimmed over those which dealt with the drama surrounding the subsequent movie and theatrical productions. The chapters that covered the few short months between the last diary entry and Anne's death were tough.  Like Prose, I also marveled "at the fact that one of the greatest books about the Nazi genocide should have been written by a girl between the ages of thirteen and fifteen."

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Published: 2009
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
Author web site
I saw this book soon after Josh's death, and knew that I would want to read it as the story is about a girl hovering between life and death.  At the time, I was probably reading survivor of suicide and parental bereavement books.  At this point in my grief journey, I am fascinated with questions about death: what happens up to the point of death, what happens afterwards, can my Josh see or hear me?  And since no one knows, fiction is the genre in which this topic can be explored.  As morbid as it sounds, it is what I want to read.

Found in the inner flap is the summary: "While in a coma following an automobile accident that killed her parents and younger brother, seventeen-year-old, Mia, a gifted cellist, weighs whether to live with her grief or join her family in death."  The author handled this "in-between" state, the thin line separating life and death in a realistic and believable way.

This tear-jerker, told from Mia's point of view, was a quick read.  The following quotes made me stop and think:
I realize now that dying is easy.  Living is hard.  
I've heard people talk about the sleep of the dead.  Is that what death would feel like?  The nicest, warmest, heaviest never-ending nap?  If that's what it's like, I wouldn't mind.  If that's what dying is like, I wouldn't mind at all.  
I don't know if once you die you remember things that happened to you when you were alive.  It makes a certain logical sense that you wouldn't.  That being dead will feel like before you were born, which is to say, a whole lot of nothingness.
After finishing, I wanted to read the sequel right away so used an iTunes gift card received at Christmas to download it - then stayed up until the wee hours reading.  After I woke up, I grabbed my iPad and finished.  Isn't technology wonderful?

Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Published: 2011
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
In the sequel, Forman chose a different narrator to tell the story: Adam Wilde, Mia's emotionally scarred and vulnerable ex-boyfriend, whom we met in the first book and is another likable character.

The story picks up three years later and is told in present time and in flashbacks.  The writing is simple, direct and powerful.   The books are seamlessly tied together and the ending is extremely satisfying.

On Forman's website is a link to her blog on which the posts are candid and honest, giving a window into the life of a novelist.  The post where she asks readers to comment on whether or not a third book should be written and the one where she compares the launch of her two books are especially interesting.

Pamela by Samuel Richardson
Published: 1740
Rating: 5
Lists: 1,001
My review

The Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis by Professor Louis Markos
Audiocourse from The Teaching Company
Rating: 2

While I learned some interesting things about C.S Lewis (he was never given full professorship at Oxford University despite teaching for thirty years) and bought an anthology of his apologetic works, I found the professor to be a bit preachy and did not finish the lectures.  I did, however, find a gem in the bibliography where Prof. Markos referenced Tennyson's epic poem on loss and grief, In Memoriam A.H.H which I am now slowly reading.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Published: 1595
Rating: 3
Goodreads review

I read this for the Shakespeare Reading Month Challenge hosted by Allie at Literary Odyssey.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well I could follow along (only had to check out Wikipedia once and that was in Act 2, Scene 1, to figure out who Oberon and Titania were) and how quickly the story moved along.  When Helena told Demetrius, "And I am sick when I look not on you", I was reminded of what Mr. B said about Pamela, "This lovely creature is my doctor, as her absence was my disease."   I believe that authors write their masterpieces on the shoulders of previous literary giants.  I look forward to making more connections as my foray into the classics continue.

The Giants of Russian Literature: Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekov by Professor Liza Knapp
Audiocourse by The Modern Scholar
Rating: 3

The lower rating has more to do with my unfamiliarity of these author's works than of the course itself for I found the three lectures on Anna Karenina, a recently read novel, to be quite interesting.  The professor notes that not all translations are the same and suggests Constance Garnett or the husband/wife team of Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky.  She also points out why several names exist for one character, consistent with Russian culture but confusing to many readers.  She gives detailed background on the historical time period of these authors, their own backgrounds, how and when they intersected and what they thought of each other's works.  She also reflects on the following questions: What makes Russian literature unique and timeless and what was its impact on literature from other countries?  

I have been a bit intimidated by such tomes as War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Fathers and Sons but after listening to these lectures, I look forward to tackling them.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published: 2006
Rating: 3

I'm having a hard time rating this book, alternating between a 2 (it was okay) to a 4 (really liked it) so have settled on a 3 (liked it).

Why the 2?  Overall, I found this to be a heavy, dark and depressing book which could only be read a few sections at a time.  But upon closer reflection, this is not the reason for the low rating. Now that I am working on being a more discerning reader, I find myself reacting to certain things such as 1) uncharacteristic behavior that moves the plot forward but is unbelievable (I am thinking of when Hans does something very impulsive and stupid which puts his whole family and Max at risk); 2) when Death, who is constantly portrayed as a sympathetic character, finds Liesel's book and does not return it to her, an unsympathetic and therefore inconsistent action and 3) when the ending, as an attempt to tie the plot lines together, is too neat and therefore unsatisfactory.

Why the 4?  1) I found the author's choice of Death as the narrator to be interesting and his observations of human behavior, running the gamut from extreme cruelty to kindness, thought-provoking. 2) The character development of Rosa Hubermann was well done, a very round character, to use the definition put forth by E.M. Forster in Aspects of The Novel.  3)  Of course I loved the protagonist, Liesel Meminger, a spunky girl who works hard to overcome her illiteracy, becoming an avid reader and writer.  Because she is a book lover, and can only obtain them by stealing, she becomes a thief, preferring to steal books over food.

There is a character who commits suicide.  Death's comment about him and all those who chose to meet him in this way is haunting, but rings true.
"Have me," they said, and there was no stopping them.  They were frightened, no question, but they were not afraid of me.  It was a fear of messing up and having to face themselves again, and facing the world, and the likes of you.
There was nothing I could do.
They had too many ways, they were too resourceful - and when they did it too well, whatever their chosen method, I was in no position to refuse. 
Would I recommend this book?  It depends on who was asking and I would only do so with some caveats.

Update - I am rereading this review and wonder if it is a bit harsh.  I will leave it for now and see if time makes a difference.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pamela by Samuel Richardson

Pamela by Samuel Richardson
Published: 1740
Rating: 5
Lists: 1,001

This is the first book in my English Novel Challenge and I LOVED IT!  Considered one of the first books written in the novel format, Richardson tells the story through letters that the heroine Pamela wrote to her parents and through her diary.

At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to Pamela, a beautiful, young servant girl of sixteen.  After her Lady's death, she is pursued by the misogynistic unmarried son, Mr. B (Prof. Spurgeon likens him to Mr. Big in Sex and the City) who will not allow Pamela to return home.  While many girls in her situation may have welcomed and accepted being these advances, Pamela has been raised to honor God with her mind, soul and body. Therefore her virtue must be protected at all costs.  This is reinforced by her parents who write, "Arm yourself, my dear Child, for the worst; and resolve to lose your Life sooner than your Virtue."

The constant rejection drives Mr. B mad.  His treatment of poor Pamela worsens until he basically kidnaps and holds her prisoner at one of the family estates with a horrible woman keeper, Mrs. Jewkes.  Pamela's description is priceless and reminds me of Madame Thénardier in Les Miserable.
Now I will give you a Picture of this Wretch!  She is broad, squat, pursy, fat Thing, quite ugly, if any thing God made can be ugly; about forty Years old.  She has a huge Hand, and an Arm as thick as my Waist, I believe.  Her Nose is flat and crooked, and her Brows grow over her Eyes; a  dead, spiteful, grey, goggling Eye, to be sure, she has. And her Face is flat and broad; and as to the Colour, looks like as if it had been pickled a Month in Salt-petre: I dare say she drinks! - She has a hoarse man-like Voice, and is as thick as she's long; and yet looks so deadly strong, that I am afraid she would dash me at her Foot in an Instant, if I was to vex her - So that with a Heart more ugly than her Face, she frightens me sadly; and I am undone, to be sure, if God does not protect me; for she is very, very wicked - indeed she is.
What makes this story so interesting is to see the affect this beautiful but penniless and powerless girl has on others as they come to realize that her outward beauty is not her greatest asset; it is her inner character of virtue, humility, and kindness.  Mr. B comes to appreciate her after confiscating and reading her letters.  Beforehand, he thought she was like other women - rebellious, manipulative and playing games with his affections.  Her letters reveal something else entirely.  Some of my favorite quotes show the progression of Mr. B's realization.
You are possess'd of an open, frank and generous Mind; and a Person so lovely, that you excel all your Sex in my Eyes.  All these Accomplishments have engaged my Affections so deeply, that, as I have often said, I cannot live without you; and I would divide with all my Soul, my Estate with you, to make you mine upon my own Terms.  These you have absolutely rejected; and that, tho' in sawcy Terms enough, yet, in such a manner, as to make me admire you more.
He writes of the willingness to turn his back upon centuries of social expectation to marry beneath his class:
I found the Tables intirely turn'd upon me, and that I was in far more Danger from you than you was from me; for I was just upon resolving to defy all the Censures of the World, and to make you my Wife.
What he says to her on their wedding night:
Your Mind is as pure as that of an Angel, and as much transcends mine.  Your Wit and your Judgement, to make you no Compliment, are more than equal to mine: You have all the Graces that Education can give a Woman; improv'd by a Genius which makes those Graces natural to you.  You have a Sweetness of Temper and a noble Sincerity, beyond all Compare; and in the Beauty of your Person, you excel all the Ladies I ever saw.  Where then, my Dearest, is the Obligation, if not on my side to you?  But to avoid these Comparisons, let us talk of nothing henceforth but Equality; for if you will set the Riches of your Mind, and your unblemished Virtue, against my Fortune (which is but an accidental Good, as I may call it, and all I have to boast of) the Condescension will be yours; and I shall not think I can possibly deserve you, till, after your sweet Example, my future Life shall become nearly as blameless as yours.
What he says unashamedly to his friends as they are introduced to his wife:
My Pamela's person, all lovely as you see it, is far short of her mind; that first impressed me in her favor; but that only made me her Lover.  But they were the beauties of her mind, that made me her husband.
Through Pamela's conviction to live a virtuous and righteous life, Mr. B follows suit and their marriage ends up being fulfilled and happy.  Poetic justice prevails!  I look forward to reading Clarissa, Richardson's tragic novel.

On a side note, it is interesting to see passages that remind me of other works.   When Pamela is imprisoned, she thinks about escape.  "But let Bulls, and Bears, and Lions, and Tygers, and what is worse, false, treacherous deceitful Men stand in my Way...." Did the Wizard of Oz's "lions, tigers and bears, oh my!" come from this, I wonder?

When Pamela sees that plans are moving forward for her upcoming nuptials with Mr. B, she writes, "He was so good as to tell me, he had given Orders for the Chapel to be clear'd.  O how I look forward with inward Joy, yet with Fear and Trembling!"  This reminded me of Jane Eyre's overflowing happiness when she prepares to wed Mr. Rochester, the first time.  I wrote in the margin, "too good to be true?"

Challenge: "The English Novel"

The English Novel  by Professor Timothy Spurgin
Audiocourse by The Great Courses
Rating: 5
Listened:  November 2011

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.

In 2012, I have challenged myself to read half the novels in the course.  The number in parenthesis is the rating given to the book.  I use the GoodReads system. 

1 - didn't like it
2 - it was ok
3 - liked it
4 - really liked it
5 - it was amazing

Here is the list:
  • 1719 - 1720 - Love in Excess by Eliza Haywood
  • 1740 - Pamela by Samuel Richardson - read January 2011 (5)
  • 1747 - 1749 - Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (divided into 9 ibook volumes)
  • 1749 - Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  • 1759 - 1767 - Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  • 1778 - Evelina by Frances Burney
  • 1794 - The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • 1813 - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - read a while ago (5)
  • 1814 - Waverley by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1815 - Emma by Jane Austen - read in Feb 2011 (4)
  • 1826 - Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (American)
  • 1836 - 1837 - The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • 1837 - 1843 - Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac (French)
  • 1847 - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - read in Nov. 2009 (5) 
  • 1847 - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • 1847 - 1848 - Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • 1849 - 1850 - David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  • 1851 - Moby Dick by Herman Melville (American)
  • 1852 - 1853 - Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • 1857 - Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - read in May 2011 (3).  My dislike for M. Bovary affected how I felt about the book. I could appreciate the literary style but did not like the story. 
  • 1860 - Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  • 1860 - 1861 - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • 1865 - 1869 - War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • 1871 - 1872 - Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • 1875 - 1877 - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy- read in Sept 2011 (4)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Recap of 2011 and Looking to 2012

It has been interesting to surf around the book blogging world to see the Top 10 lists of other bloggers.  My list is going to be a bit different as I am in the 33rd month of my grief/reading journey and want to think about the continued significance that books bring to my recovery. 

These candid memoirs by accomplished writers have been very helpful:
Tandem memoirs - I've read two sets. one by a father/daughter and one by two friends.  They really should be read one after the other. 
  • Darkenss Visible by William Styron and Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron
  • Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy and Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
I've read a number of books that support the Thomas Jefferson quote: I cannot live without books.
I've gotten into the habit of listening to audio courses while in the car and have completed the following classes.   The bibliographies have greatly added to my Wish List and Mount TBR.
  • The Art of Reading by Prof. Timothy Spurgeon
  • Classics of British Literature by Prof. John Sutherland 
  • Foundations of Western Civilization II by Prof. Robert Buckholz
  • The English Novel by Prof. Timothy Spurgeon
  • Shakespeare: The Seven Major Tragedies by Prof. Harold Bloom
Books that have profoundly affected me:
Books that I REALLY liked:
I have participated in one read-a-long which was an enjoyable way to read a long book:
What do I look forward to in 2012?
  • Participate in another read-a-long and become more involved in the book blogging world
  • Tackle Shakespeare
  • Slowly read through a newly bought anthology of contemporary poetry on the subject of grief and healing
  • Read half the novels in Prof. Timothy Spurgeon's The English Novel.  The time period he covers is from 1740 to WWII.  I will star the ones that have been read.  Here is the list:
1740 - Pamela by Samuel Richardson
1747 - 1749 - Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
1749 - Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
1759 - 1767 - Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne
1778 - Evelina by Frances Burney
1794 - The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
1813 - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen*
1814 - Waverley by Sir Walter Scott
1815 - Emma by Jane Austen*
1826 - Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (American)
1836 - 1837 - The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
1837 - 1843 - Lost Illusions by Honore de Balzac (French)
1847 - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
1847 - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
1847 - 1848 - Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
1849 - 1850 - David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
1851 - Moby Dick by Herman Melville (American)
1852 - 1853 - Bleak House by Charles Dickens
1857 - Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert*
1860 - Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
1860 - 1861 - Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
1865 - 1869 - War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
1871 - 1872 - Middlemarch by George Eliot
1875 - 1877 - Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy*