Sunday, March 29, 2015


(I am stealing this meme from bt, by the way, because I cannot resist a good book meme.)

bt's post about the "unread books" meme that went around in 2008 jogged a vague memory for me. That was not too long after I joined facebook & several of my bookish-type friends had posted it, and while I was well and truly over all the quizzes that purported to tell me Which Backstreet Boy's Left Nut I am, I was kind of into this.

The idea is that someone had made this list of the top 106 books listed in Library Thing as "unread," and then you go through & annotate the list as follows:

  • Bold any books you've finished.
  • Italicize any you've started but not finished.
  • Underline any you read as a school assignment (optional - I did not because what difference does it make).

bt made an updated list for 2015, and going through the list to mark up my progress was way more satisfying than it had any right to be:

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (262 times). Loved this book! But, it is long and not exactly a page turner, so I'm not totally surprised it tops the list.
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (254 times). Just read this last year & enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (227 times). On my list for this year.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (222 times). Just read last year; didn't love.
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (193 times). Just read last year. Glad I read it, but in the tasty vegetable salad way, not the ice cream sundae way. Funny but a tough read in places.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (190 times). Uggghhh I just cannot muster enthusiasm for this book.
  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien (183 times). Read in college. Meh. I think you have to be a die-hard Tolkein fan to love this book and I'm not, really.
  • Ulysses by James Joyce (181 times). On my list!
  • War and Peace by Léon Tolstoï (178 times). People keep telling me how worth it is but man, I just can't get up the enthusiasm.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fedor Mikhaïlovitch Dostoïevski (173 times). On my list.
  • The Odyssey by Homer (168 times). Middle school.
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (162 times). 11th grade.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (159 times). I actually read this in Spanish when I took AP Spanish. I doubt I could now.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (157 times). This book does not call to me.
  • The Iliad by Homer (157 times). 9th grade. Loved way more than I should have, I think.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (154 times). Happening this year!
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (147 times). Meh.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel (146 times). 2010, I think? Weird.
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (146 times). Just read this past year. Not that bad, actually.
  • Love in The Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (145 times). I am not yet ready for more of the strange, strange jelly that is GGM.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville (143 times). Another one that just does not call to me.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (136 times). College.
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (135 times). This year!
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (133 times). 2005. One of my favorite books ever.
  • Emma by Jane Austen (133 times). #parlorbook
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (129 times). #parlorbook
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (129 times). 2006. Fantastic!
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (126 times). I know I read parts of this in high school but I don't remember whether we read it all or not.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (126 times). Spring of my senior year, so not shocking I don't remember much about it. I should probably read it again sometime.
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (125 times). #parlorbook
  • Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (125 times). I've read this pretty reliably once ever five years or so starting in the 8th grade (when it made *NO* sense to me whatsoever). In fact I'm probably about due for it.
  • The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (125 times). On this year's list!
  • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (121 times). Just finished a few weeks ago. Didn't love every bit of it (a tough read in places), but really good.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (121 times). On the list to be read at some yet-to-be-determined point in the misty future.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (121 times). High school. I read all those creepy dystopian books.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot (120 times). On the list.
  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (120 times). #parlorbook
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (120 times). AP US History.
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (120 times). 2006ish? LOVED.
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (119 times). 11th grade.
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (118 times). I actually only read this for the first time a few years ago.
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (118 times). Ugggh I can't get into VW.
  • The Inferno by Dante Alighieri (117 times). I went through a very academic snooty literary phase in high school & fancied this was how I would spend my summer. Hahahaha no.
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (117 times). This has been recommended to me so many times but the description/blurb/thing always bores me.
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (117 times). Not calling to me.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (116 times). I know the basic gyst but I'd be kind of curious to actually read it. There are some, um, interesting connections to Lululemon, though. (Quotable quotes: "I was so shocked by being handed this bag today at your Portland, Ore., store that I literally WALKED BACK to return this horrific bag." True story.)
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (115 times). This is probably not happening, ever.
  • Lolita (115 times). Vaguely curious because it's so iconic.
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan (115 times). Trailers for the movie made me depressed so I doubt I'll be reading this any time soon.
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (114 times). Maybe? Someday?
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (114 times). High school, but I barely remember it so should probably read it again.
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (113 times). I got this book as a gift & probably would not have picked it up otherwise. It was a tough read & didn't really call to me.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (112 times). This year!
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (112 times). Maybe some day.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (112 times). 9th grade. A literary highlight at that point in my life. And probably still, actually.
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (111 times). I do want to read this because it's been recommended by so many people with good taste.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (111 times). I'm trying to work up the fortitude to put this one on my "to read" list.
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (110 times). I guess I should read the book having watched the movie, but it just doesn't seem urgent.
  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (109 times). Anansi was my least favorite character in American Gods (LOVED) so I am somewhat unfairly biased against this book, I suppose.
  • The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (109 times). Just read this past year, AMAZEBALLS.
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White (109 times). On my list.
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (107 times). 2008 maybe? Fantastic!
  • The Aeneid by Virgil (107 times). Not really a priority.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (106 times). This one I have never heard of.
  • Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (105 times). Two words: Dog torture.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (105 times). The marketing blurb for this book made me want to shoot myself in the face so that was a big fat nope.
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (105 times). Someday!
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (105 times). 2010, when I was way too old to appreciate it.
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen (105 times). #parlorbook
  • Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (105 times). Not bad but not obsessed either.
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (105 times). Uggggh VW.
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare (104 times). To quote bt: "Who does this? The COMPLETE WORKS? Pick some works!"
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (104 times). 11th grade. Should probably reread.
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (103 times). See "Atlas Shrugged" above.
  • The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (102 times). I guess I should probably read this at same point as it's just not all that long.
  • Dubliners by James Joyce (102 times). Not too familiar.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (101 times). Meh.
  • Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (101 times). 12th grade
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (101 times). Ohhhhh so good.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (99 times). Meh, doesn't call to me much (though I luvs me Kerouac cocktail).
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (99 times). Never been much interested in Stevenson.
  • The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (98 times). Same with Defoe.
  • The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (98 times). No strong compulsion to read this one.
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (98 times). In 2010 in Alaska. AMAZING!
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (98 times). This year!
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (97 times). #parlorbook
  • Possession by A. S. Byatt (97 times). Not familiar.
  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (96 times). This year!
  • Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (95 times). I read this when I was like 12 so I should probably reread it.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (95 times). Another one I feel like I SHOULD read but just not that interested in, frankly?
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams (95 times) A couple of years ago. Did not really speak to me.
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (95 times). This whole trilogy is amazing, READ IT!
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (93 times). In college, in one sitting.
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence (93 times). I'll admit I'm vaguely curious.
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (93 times)> Meh.
  • The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien (92 times). I tried. I tried so hard.
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy (92 times). Another one I keep skipping over because it sounds so damned depressing.
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo (92 times). Not familiar.
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (92 times). Not interested. At all.
  • Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (91 times). A tough one, but hilarious in parts.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (90 times). Maybe someday?
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (90 times). I want to read this one someday.
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond (89 times). I feel like having read "Guns, Germs, & Steel" & attended college, I could probably predict a solid 85% of this book.
  • The Idiot by Fedor Mikhaïlovitch Dostoïevski (89 times). Not familiar.
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (89 times). On my list.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015: The Classics

I know, I know, this post is a bit late. So late, in fact, that 1/12 1/6 1/4 of this year's classics have in fact already been read (though none were particularly long).

After far too much synopsis-reading, page number consulting, nail-biting, spreadsheeting, and consulting of tea leaves, bird entrails, etc., BEHOLD! I give to you SF Road Warrior's Classic Novels of 2015:

JANUARY: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. "An American comic masterpiece. John Kennedy Toole's hero is one Ignatius J. Reilly, 'a huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter.' His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans' lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures." This is one of those books that shows up over & over again on "must-read" lists of American literature & I saw it on sale, so I figured what the heck. Review here.

FEBRUARY (Black History Month): The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. "Set in the author's girlhood hometown of Lorain, Ohio, TBE tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, who prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. In the autumn of 1941, Pecola's life does change--in painful, devastating ways. What its vivid evocation of the fear and loneliness at the heart of a child's yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment." I was extra curious to read this book because I recently saw an interview with Toni Morrison about it where she mentioned that she looks back on this book now & sometimes thinks, "Oh dear. There are a lot of things I'd handle differently now." Review here.

MARCH (Women's History Month): A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. "A poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness." It sounded depressing, but considering I made it through Oscar Wao, I felt like it couldn't possibly be worse. Review here.

APRIL: (Women in Science Fiction Month)The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. "The story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose--and change--their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters." Sounds interesting. And bizarre.

MAY: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. "The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko's English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that things can change in a day, that lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river." I started this book in college but now don't remember a single thing about it.

JUNE (Russian Heritage Month): Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "The poverty-stricken Raskolnikov, a talented student, devises a theory about extraordinary men being above the law, since in their brilliance they think “new thoughts” and so contribute to society. He then sets out to prove his theory by murdering a vile, cynical old pawnbroker and her sister. The act brings Raskolnikov into contact with his own buried conscience and with two characters — the deeply religious Sonia, who has endured great suffering, and Porfiry, the intelligent and discerning official who is charged with investigating the murder—-both of whom compel Raskolnikov to feel the split in his nature. Dostoevsky provides readers with a suspenseful, penetrating psychological analysis that goes beyond the crime—-which in the course of the novel demands drastic punishment-—to reveal something about the human condition: The more we intellectualize, the more imprisoned we become."

JULY: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. "In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys – best friends – are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is extraordinary and terrifying."

AUGUST: Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. "Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman's passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed." Fine, I'll read a parlor book. Only one per year, though!

SEPTEMBER (Banned Books Week):The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. "The brutally grim story of a Slavic family who emigrates to America, The Jungle tells of their rapid and inexorable descent into numbing poverty, moral degradation, and social and economic despair. Vulnerable and isolated, the family of Jurgis Rudkus struggles—unsuccessfully—to survive in an urban jungle. A shocking revelation of intolerable labor practices and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards that aroused public sentiment and resulted in such federal legislation as the Pure Food and Drug Act." I can't really say I'm looking forward to this, but it sounds like one of those historical-significance-type books.

OCTOBER: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. "Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, 'a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.' Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment." Sounds kind of spooky, right?

***OCTOBER BONUS READ*** The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde. "Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack's ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack's country home on the same weekend the "rivals" to fight for Ernest s undivided attention and the "Ernests" to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!" It's so short I figured I should just tack it on to Dorian.

NOVEMBER: Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. "In what may be Dickens's best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of "great expectations." In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride." Pretty sure I saw a bad film version of this in high school, but all I remember about it is Miss Havisham & how creepy she was.

DECEMBER: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey. "Tells the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the story through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them all imprisoned." I remember watching the movie & enjoying it, but I don't remember much about the story, so hey! Reading books!

Other Books I'm Planning to Read this Year...

(^ That's where you've give me your recommendations. ;) )

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell

I have a new author crush & his name is David Mitchell. If I have to choose, I liked The Bone Clocks better because I really enjoyed the action & the deeper exploration of the characters (even though the story jumped around between them quite a bit), but I still really enjoyed Ghostwritten as well & didn't want it to end.

It was just as fantastically written and brilliantly creative, with complex, believable characters & dialogue, but the format is quite different. The book is divided into several different sections that are told from the perspective of a particular person & in a particular interesting situation. At first they seem unrelated, but as the book goes on suddenly you start to spot connections (sometimes explicit, sometimes just inferred or hinted at) between the characters and their situations and stories. I naively assumed that eventually it would all come together in some climactic "big reveal" where all the connections are finally spelled out and the actual storyline, the truth about what is Going On, is all explained.

But that's not what happened. There is an ending, but most things aren't fully spelled out. T he reader is kind of left to make sense of all the hints and inferences and put the pieces together as best as she can. In a sense, it was as if Mitchell wrote an entire book, including all the major plot points and main narrative and fleshed it out with fantastic characters and histories and inner monologues and philosophy and sub-plots, and then went back and took the main plot out, leaving you to interpret the negative space outlined by what's left and see whatever you see. A vase or two faces? Old woman or young woman? It's all in how you look at it.

Oh, David Mitchell, you are brilliant. BRILLIANT! Not to mention a hell of a word-wrangler.