Saturday, May 30, 2009

Book Challenge

On March 28, 2009 I decided I would collect all of the books I had holed up in my room which I hadn't read yet and set myself a challenge. To read 20 of these books by February 1st, 2010. This is how I've done thus far...

Bold books are ones that I have read since 3/28/09

So here is the list!
The Hobbit
The Silmarillion
Out Stealing Horses
Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star
Cold Mountain
Memoirs of a Geisha
Mermaids in the Basement
Son of a Witch
Life of Pi
Dragonfly in Amber
Great Expectations
The Chimes
The Cricket on the Hearth

Women in Love
The Red Badge of Courage
Mansfield Park
Jane Eyre

6/22 isn't half bad! And I also read some other books during this period of time that weren't on the list. I might take a brief break from reading any of these books for a bit only because I'm just not in the mood to read right now. This happens every now and then, I'll get out of my bookish spirit for two weeks or so then hop back into my appetite for literature for months on end. 

A post about The Cricket on the Hearth will follow sometime soon. Until then you can scroll to past entries to see my posts about the books I've read!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Chimes

I've grown up surrounded by A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and the movie versions of this story. As a child, I avoided reading Dickens unless it was a school assignment and even then we were every only required to read ACC so I never had experience with any other works of his.

This past Christmas season I was struck by the urge to purchase as many classical pieces of literature as I could while I had an employee discount through Borders. I bought a book that was a combination of three of Dickens Christmas based stories. A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth were all featured in this book.

Picking up The Chimes today was more then likely due to the fact that it was cold and rainy. I felt like a reminder of the warmth of the holiday season so this was what I went to.

The story reminds me of It's A Wonderful Life despite that this was of course written long before that holiday classic movie was made. The story of a man who has his doubts on the world and seems to have lost all forms of happiness. The goblins who exist within the bells of a church, by each chime, shows the man how the lives of his loved ones could be in the future if he were to continue on with his jaded life.

He see's all of this as a ghost, unable to contact his loved ones, and it isn't until his daughter is about to commit suicide that he 'see's the light' so to speak and changes his mind- reverting back to the very night where this insane dream began: New Year's Eve.

The holiday season is always filled with stories that push people to think more morally and live their lives better. It's a shame that this moral obsession isn't pressed upon people more during the rest of the year.

I enjoy how Dickens has a tendency to talk to his audience as if he were telling you the story at that very moment. He's been dead and gone for years and yet I see it as just that, he were sitting beside me taking a heavy sigh and saying, "Let me tell you a story."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mermaids in the Basement

I have never read Michael Lee West's books before and I can't base my opinion on any of her other books. But I'll bring up my opinion based solely on what I read and thought which is this: I loved the book.

The story follows the main character Renata as she is exploring her past while dealing with issues that might affect her future. Her mother, who was much like her best friend, is dead and gone and through the book she is only beginning to know who her mother was and what her mother did in her life.

Her father who is more or less emotionally detached is another mystery whom she slowly begins to understand through all that is unearthed. From cover to cover the course of events are leading towards these two people going from relations to an actual father and daughter.

There is dry humor and banter amongst the grandmother and her friends that keeps the book light and fun even when it's at it's most serious. The descriptions of the homes, gardens, and general southern area and attitude.

I was looking for a book that embodied spring and summer. Something warm and with flowers and this book certainly achieved my craving.

The only issue I had with the book was that every chapter would hop from one characters point of view to another's and they all had the same stylistic voice. It would take me a page or two before I could figure out who was speaking. I've always been told to to make my characters voices distinct so that if I were to change the point of view you would know, before someone called that characters name, who was speaking. But I felt that West lacked in that department.

It's a small annoyance but her descriptive writing and interesting story overall brushes that issue aside. I intend on looking into more of this woman's books and possibly buying a couple of her other works.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Red Badge of Courage

This book by Stephen Crane I have owned and had on my bookshelf since I was in Middle School. I already had the intention of reading it but I always ended up reading something else instead. Finally with my determination to read all of the books I own this book was in my sight.
I picked it up and at first began to read it faithfully and excitedly.

The story seems to hail true to what I've been told of the Civil War. So many young men wanted to prove their loyalty and join the military movements. Many found it to be exciting- to fight, to shoot a gun, to travel and be involved in a war. It seems that, sadly, the mindset is still very prominent in the world. I know many people who have joined the military with the same excitement to 'go to war'.

The main character quickly finds that being in the military isn't all it's cracked up to be and neither is war. But past that realization the books got boring for me. It continued with his eternal freak outs and moments of wanting to be in the war and then sudden moments of wanting to go home just as badly. Back and forth, back and forth, I grew weary and tired right away.

I feel that Crane did write truthfully about the feelings of the young male character because he himself was young (dying at the young age of 28). He wrote fabulous dialect during the few conversations he held but I felt it was either strongly about the main characters freaked out thoughts or going overboard with conversation- all in that strong dialect which I never got used to reading.

I can see how critics might see this as a great book. It does have a wonderful edge, to write about the excitement and later on woes of going off to war, the dialect, the vivid descriptions. But for me the book was rather boring and I was quite happy when I was able to mark it off of my 'to read' list.

At Gettysburg; or, What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle

Miss Tillie Pierce was only a young teenager when the Civil War was raging in America. It was during this time, the summer heat heavy upon her now infamous town, that the battle of Gettysburg occurred.

I have always had a fascination with Gettysburg- the town and the battle that took place here- and getting my hands on this book was a great excitement. Years after the war had come and gone Tillie wrote her account of what she saw and heard (as evident from the title) during her time in Gettysburg while the battle raged on.

She writes everything eloquently and gives many details. The amount of mud that sunk the wheels of the wagon she was in. The bits of battle going on all around her. The soldiers who were injured and under her unprofessional care.

The book is under 100 pages long and places in a format of before the war, each day of the war, and after the war. She describes her experiences in detail as she is away with her neighbor with intentions of helping the neighbor while they left town in order for safety. At the time no one knew just how large the Battle of Gettysburg would be and they found themselves at some points in the middle of the battle itself. Later on describes what her family had experienced while they were within the town itself.

It's one thing to visit Gettysburg now as a 22 year old in the year 2009.... a full 146 years after the battle had occurred. But it still stands as the greatest loss of human life on American soil. The bullet holes can still be seen on the sides of the homes in the town itself. The cemetery still has grave upon grave of those who have fallen. It's easy to be told the facts and understand what happened from moment to moment from historical information but it's a completely different thing to be presented with the hands on accounts from someone who was just a little girl when this horrible battle broke out.

What would you do if a battle, killing thousands, broke out in your town? What would you do if you had to hide in your basement during the day so as not to be hit by a stray bullet? What would you do if soldiers would break into your house, demanding food, taking your animals, and quite possibly hurting any soldiers of the opposing side whom you have in the home and are trying to heal?

It's a heavy subject and something most of us, thankfully, have never had the chance to experience ourselves. But this book gives you an idea of what it was like, even if it's a glimmer.

The book isn't regularly printed which I find to be a great shame. I bought it through Dodo Press which distributes books which are out of print or rare. I highly suggest all get their hands on this book and read it. Do it. Even if you are not into war, the Civil War, or personal accounts. It's under 100 pages as I've mentioned but it's worth the read.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Lady Elizabeth: A Novel

While working at the bookstore (before it closed) I kept catching the site of this book on one of the shelves. The cover was simple yet intriguing and the mention of "Elizabeth" plus the garb worn by the woman on the cover gave me reason to believe that the book might just be about Queen Elizabeth.

See, I have an odd fascination of her. I get very excited when I find items involving Queen Elizabeth that strikes my fancy. I picked the book up and discovered to my pleasure that the book was indeed about Queen Elizabeth but pertaining to her childhood. Sitting it back down, knowing my beloved bookstore was going to close and that I would be unemployed, I didn't buy it.

Skip forward four months to when I do have a job and I happily made this purchase! I read the book in about a weeks time which was decent time considering I worked 30 hours, did many errands, went to the gym, and worked on editing my own work. But when I did have the time to sit down and read I would struggle to put it down. While at work I would constantly be thinking of the Lady Elizabeth and the story I was reading.

My impression of the book was of excitement but marked with a few flaws. Do not be mistaken this book is not about Queen Elizabeth but rather the Lady Elizabeth. Meaning this story takes place at the time that Ex-Queen Anne Boleyn was beheaded up to the moment where Lady Elizabeth, in her twenties, is declared queen of England.

The book certainly kept up with events to keep it entertaining and leaving me wanting more. I would end a chapter and immediately want to know what followed. All of this is good, all of this I am sure is what makes this book popular and the reason why I loved it so much.

However I simply cannot read a book without searching for faults.

The book lacked severely in detail of locations, emotions, and feelings. Yes, brief dialogue about feelings and what was around the characters were written, but nothing incredibly detailed. I was left wondering just what the gardens looked like, just what type of flowers Elizabeth saw, just what the throngs of people who cheered her on appeared to look like. It was my biggest dislike of the book. The entire story was told through dialogue with bits of description rather then being shown. Thank goodness there was so much dialogue to write and so many events to happen because if there wasn't... if Queen Elizabeth's life had been a less hectic eventful one... the story would have been dry and boring.

The younger Elizabeth caused me some discomfort also for the fact that she was nearly three years old yet spoke like an adult. If she used more delicate language, that of a child who is well learned but still a child. However, the point where Elizabeth is only a child is relatively brief before she's old enough to be believable to have such dialect.

Despite my complaints of the book I truly did enjoy it. The author wrote many other books from Elizabeth's time and I believe I'll look into them further and will probably read them again. We shall see and if I do, I'll certainly note it!