Tuesday, March 22, 2016

15. Story of O

Where have I been?!?!

I know, that's totally what you guys have been asking, right? Well, March Madness got me, and then work bogged me down, and reading and blogging both fell away, as usual. It really does seem like they're the first to go (well, maybe after house cleaning). But I'm back now, and I'm ready to buckle down again. You all have faith in me, right?

You might lose it after we get into this week's book. It's an erotic novel I mentioned a couple weeks ago in my Sunday Update, and I'm finally getting around to blogging about it. It was an...interesting read, to say the least. One that made me both uncomfortable and intrigued at the same time, as seems to be the way of the erotic novel. This is not a review for the faint of heart...and mom, I apologize in advance.

With that being said, book 15 of Project 84 is...

Story of O
Story of O
By Pauline Reage

This was a complicated book.

It doesn't look like a complicated book. It's 198 pages long, and reads quick for the first few pages...but then you get slapped in the face by a line like this:
"'As a matter of fact,' the other voice went on, 'if you do tie her up from time to time, or whip her just a little, and she begins to like it, that's no good either. You have to get past the pleasure stage, until you reach the stage of tears.'" - Pages 9-10
And you start to realize we're not in Kansas anymore.

OK, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with the plot. The book begins with our main character, O, getting into a car with her "lover". Her lover, Rene, makes her take her panties off, blindfolds her, and drives her to a chateau called Roissy. At Roissy, we discover that Rene is part of an elite club, and he spends two weeks "training" O to serve all the men of the club.

The "training" involves whipping, blindfolding, chains, branding, and piercing...as well as servicing any member of the club who wants her. Once she leaves Roissy, her training is put to the test as she's introduced to men including Sir Stephen, who becomes her new "master".

The entire book is about confusing love, passion, and pain, and the way those three intertwine to create truly toxic relationships. At least...I think the relationships are supposed to be toxic.

It's tough to follow the thread of this book. On the one hand, it seems like we're supposed to understand O. She seems happy with her situation, and seems comfortable in her relationships with Rene and Sir Stephen. She seems to accept the fact that to love them means to submit to them, and in many ways, she seems happy about it.
"She did not wish to die, but if torture was the price she had to pay to keep her lover's love, than she only hoped he was pleased that she had endured it." - Pages 25-26
But, at the same time, she seems to understand she's property, and that this is not a healthy relationship...
"that ring was the sign that she was a slave, but one who was common property." - Page 117
It's that confusion that tears me away from the book. Am I supposed to feel sorry for O? Is she a tragic figure? If so, then I get this book, and I maybe even enjoy it, for all it's faults.

But if I'm supposed to support O's choices...if I'm supposed to accept that this relationship is the way of the world...then I'm completely disengaged, and this isn't the book I thought it was.

Similarly, if this book is really just about reading explicit, sexual content, and there's no real point at all...then this also isn't the book for me.

So do I recommend Story of O? I guess my ultimate recommendation is try it out! Read it. It's quick, it's easy to read, some of it is eye opening. And then tell me what you think, because I have no idea what I was supposed to learn from this tale. Because I prefer to like things, I'm going to say this is a tragic tale about a woman who just wanted to be loved...and for that, I suggest you give it a shot.

***
The book was a lot more uncomfortable to read than it was to write a blog post about, which surprised me. I'm glad this one is done, though, and I can move on to books I enjoyed more. I have a few more reviews coming this week, and more next week, assuming I can get a few books done this "weekend".

I hope you're enjoying the recent blog posts. Please let me know if there's anything else you'd like to see more of on this blog, and happy reading!

Next Review: The Nightingale By Kristin Hannah (Posting Date: Thursday, March 24th)



**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of Story of O, published by Ballantine Books in 2013**

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

14. The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee

Is Daylight Savings Time kicking anyone else's ass?

Oh, man, it has killed me the past few days at work. I'm so glad it's finally my Friday, and I can get some sleep, focus on my reading, and get a few blog posts in. I'm also catching up with my roommate (he's lived here two weeks), which is making my blogging go slower than I want it to.

But that could also be because book 14 isn't exactly my favorite of Project 84. It took me about a month to get through, which is already not a great sign, and then at the end I was left with a sort of 'what the hell just happened' feeling. But, I shall review it all the same.

And with that in mine, Book 14 of Project 84 is...

The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee
The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee
By Matthew Stadler

I'm not even sure where this book came from.

That's a weird way to start, I know, but it's true. It feels like this book just appeared on my book shelf, calling to me to read it. But it still took about 5 or 6 years for me to get around to reading it. And now I know why.

The book means well...it's the story of a middle-aged man named Nicholas Dee, who is a professor at an American college (neither the college nor the city are ever named). He is visited by a female dwarf, who leaves him pages of a mysterious work of fiction, centering on a young street urchin named Oscar Vega. Through a series of events, Dee comes to find out the dwarf was his father's lover, and that Oscar is a real person, and his connection with him (as orchestrated by the dwarf) forces him to flee to the Netherlands with Oscar, the dwarf, Amelia, and her young son Francis, who was fathered by Dee's father, and who Dee had a relationship with through a colleague. The trip brings him closer to Oscar, closer to the subjects of his research, and closer to his father, who had died not long before.

Trust me, I condensed that to sound much more cohesive and sensical than it actually does.

The book is a collection of Dee's story, his scholarly writings, and sheet music of 'The Tempest' by Henry Purcell (I can't, for the life of me, explain to you why, other than Dee likes the music). The narrative becomes confusing almost from the beginning. I can't figure out Dee's relationships with the people in his life, and what exactly his research is about, other than an old, Dutch opera house.

Any attempts to figure out Dee's character ended in frustration on my part. I know he's neurotic and infatuated by boys. And herein lies the struggle. The way he describes Francis and other boys he comes in contact with comes across almost sensual, and in a way that makes me uncomfortable. But then as I read it, I think Stadler was only trying to convey a fatherly affection from Dee to Francis. However, when Oscar is introduced...it is definitely sensual, though he is only 15-years-old.

Am I supposed to think that a relationship between a 15-year-old and a middle aged man is appropriate? Is this supposed to make sense to me?

The ending of the book was almost incoherent, the characterization was confusing, and I couldn't understand the reasoning for including all the superfluous scholarly writings and sheet music.

Perhaps I'm not smart enough to read this book. Perhaps it's Stadler's opus, and one that speaks to people in a way that it didn't speak to me. I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I can only speak from my personal experience. It made me confused and uncomfortable, and I left the book more baffled than when I began reading it.

So, no, I wouldn't recommend this book. I'm glad I got through it...if only so that I can say I read it, and put it aside on the bookshelf. Don't bother with this one. There are plenty of other great things you can do with your time.

***

This was a more scathing review than I've written in a while, but I couldn't help myself. I spent a lot of time reading this book, and it, unfortunately, felt like a waste.

Luckily, the books I'm reading now are much more compelling and coherent, and will end in some nice recommendations for you, my fine readers. Stay tuned for my #ThrowbackThursday post in a couple days (I'm going to write about my favorite contemporary book, you won't want to miss it), and come check out my Goodreads page if you want to stay up to date on where I am in the reading process.

Happy reading!

Next Review: Story of O by Pauline Reage (pseudonym for Anne Desclos) (Posting Date: Saturday, March 19th)




**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee, published by Grove Press in 2000**

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Update - March 13th

It's Sunday, and can we talk about Daylight Savings?! I'm not sure I can truly explain the level of anger that comes with waking up at 3am after springing forward. I realize this is a first world problem, but explain that to my headache and exhausted body! It was a rough morning.

Suffice it to say, I'm behind on my reading. Again. I'm hoping to catch up this week, especially on my off days, and hopefully finish a couple more books. It's going to be hard to keep to the new posting schedule if I don't have any completed books to post about! But, luckily, I have enough for a while, and I have plenty on my shelf just waiting to be opened. So don't give up on me just yet.

Weekly Discussion Question

I feel like my A Clockwork Orange post taught you a lot about me as a reader this week. But just in case it wasn't enough, I have my weekly discussion question. I really like last week's question, because it allows me to talk more about me as a reader, rather than about the books themselves.

Last week's question was: What's your favorite part of the reading process?

It's no secret that I love reading, but I'm also the prime example of "it takes me a while to get into a book". I know, everyone says that, and it's probably because it's true. Unless it's part of a series, or an incredibly easy read, I always have a tough time getting enveloped into the world and interested in the characters. It's part of why I find good short stories so compelling, because it's hard enough when it takes 20 pages, it's way more impressive with only 3 paragraphs.

My favorite part of the reading process is about 120 pages into the book. I like the part of the process where I'm completely integrated into the world of the characters. At about 120 pages in I want to know more. I need to find out what happens to the characters. I'm in. I'm invested. And then, about 50 pages from the end of the book, I start getting to the "is it over yet?!" stage. Even when I really enjoy a novel, I get to a point where I'm ready for it to be over.

So I like the middle of the process. I like the part where it's just me, the book, and nothing but time.

This Week's Discussion Question
How do you feel about autobiographical writing?
(Either autobiographies or memoirs)
(Please leave your answers in the comments to start the discussion!)

Happy reading, everyone! And here's a look at what's on tap for Project 84 this week.

Posts to Expect This Week
Thursday will be a #ThrowbackThursday post. Plus....

Tuesday Review - March 15th

Saturday Review - March 19th


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Currently Reading

 



Saturday, March 12, 2016

13. A Clockwork Orange

It's a March Madness Miracle! I said I'd post 3 reviews this week and, low and behold, this is my third review of the week. I guess I can do something when I set my mind to it.

I wish the reading was going a little bit better, but I can't really help that. Work and life just keep getting in the way, and I don't know how to change that any time soon. But I finished another book yesterday, am working hard on a second, and I have to get one done for book club on the 22nd, so I think I'll manage. It doesn't mean it'll be easy though.

But what I can do is blog about the books I've already finished. Today's book is probably the best one I've read since starting this project...and no doubt the toughest. If you're a regular reader of my blog, this won't come as a surprise to you.

Book 13 of Project 84 is...

A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange
By Anthony Burgess

(A warning before we get to far into the review: there is going to be a large portion of this review that contains spoilers for the book/movie. I have a certain aspect of the book I want to discuss, and I won't be able to do that without spoiling the ending. I will denote this portion of the review with a big, red spoiler alert. If it's important to you that the ending not be spoiled, I encourage you to read the book/see the movie and come back to the review. Thanks.)

Oh my God, I loved this book.

It shouldn't be that big of a surprise. I love the movie, and have since I was a teenager, but this book was a struggle for me to read.

First, a quick overview of the plot (this isn't the spoiler part). Our protagonist, Alex, is a teenage street tough in England in the near, dystopian future. He goes around with his friends (or "droogs") stealing, beating people up, raping women, and being all around horrible human beings. One night, Alex goes to far, and an old woman dies as he's robbing her house. As a result, he is sent to jail for 14 years. While there, he is told that he can enter into an experimental treatment program that will rid him of his violent impulses, and allow him to return home in 2 weeks (I believe the word "fortnight" was used. Who doesn't love a book that uses the word "fortnight"?).

I know it sounds like a simple plot, but what makes it difficult is Alex's first person narration. He uses the language and dialect of his peer group...a sort of mesh of rhyming slang, gypsy talk, and Slavic language. It is incredibly difficult to follow. It took me 10 pages before I was searching for a dictionary (which I ultimately found here). With the dictionary, I was able to follow the narrative, but it was slow going. If I never hear the word "malchick" again, it'll be a moment too soon.

But if you can get past the complicated narration...it's truly a fascinating, complicated book that I couldn't help but fall into.


****SPOILER ALERT****SPOILER ALERT****SPOILER ALERT****

Alright, now we get to the good stuff. I assume if you got this far, you know how at least the movie ended. Alex gets out of the treatment program, and though sickened by the thought of violence, feels like a complete shell of his former self. After falling in with a man whose wife he once assaulted, Alex is tortured to the point of jumping out a window. The impact of the fall jars his brain and reverses the treatment, allowing Alex to return to a life of crime.
As he puts it in the last line of the book:
"I was cured alright." - Page 199
But is it the last line of the book? Here's where things get complicated...

There is actually another chapter after this one. In other words, there's a completely different ending from the way Kubrick decided to end his movie. In the last chapter - chapter 7 - an older Alex begins to see the error of his violent, childish ways. Longing for a wife and family, he chooses to put "childish things" (in his case, horrible violence) away and, for lack of a better word, grow up. This chapter ends on a slightly more positive note:
"But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal (shit)." - Page 212
Here's my dilemma: these are two completely different books. In the one that ends on page 199 - the one which I'll call the Kubrick version - the book is an indictment of the idea of reforming criminal behavior. It touts the importance of free will and self reliance, and shows the error of trying to force someone into a box we've created for them. It's dark, and poetic, and sad.

In the one that ends on page 212 - the real version - the book becomes somewhat of a coming of age tale. It's more of an allegory about growing up and finding ways to put the mistakes of our youth behind us. It's about how we learn to really be ourselves.

Evidently, what happened was that when Burgess tried to publish his wildly popular book in the United States, the US publisher said the only way that it would sell is if it ended on the dark Chapter 6. Apparently, the metanoia of Chapter 7 wasn't compelling for US audiences (Kubrick called it "inconsistent" with the rest of the narrative). The full version wasn't published til 1986.

So there's my dilemma. What's one to do?! I think the Kubrick version is more powerful and jarring, though the real version is more psychically satisfying. I think I need to find a way to reconcile both in my head. They both fascinate me in their own, unique ways, but they evoke completely different emotions. So what's a girl to do?

It's also possible that the two endings make it a better book, and one that will stick with me longer. That's a thought.

****SPOILERS OVER****SPOILERS OVER****SPOILERS OVER****


The answer is unequivocally YES, you should read this book. Find a Nadsat dictionary, curl up on the couch, and prepare to be blown away. It's disturbing, it's dark, it's bleak, and it's just an incredible piece of literature. Please read this book.

***
So, there you have it! My favorite book of Project 84 so far. But I do have lots more to go - 71 books, to be exact - so we'll see if it stays number one for the rest of the year!

I will have a Sunday Update up tomorrow, so you can see what's to come for the rest of the week. Until then, I'll bid you farewell, dear readers. Have a great Saturday night!



**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of A Clockwork Orange, published by W.W. Norton & Company n 1995**

Thursday, March 10, 2016

12. The Safety of Objects

It's Sunday! Ok, not for the rest of the world, but for me it's my Sunday. I've spent most of it trying to finish up Story of O and going to the movies, and now I'm settled in, ready to write about another strong Project 84 book.

Book 12 came right off my father's shelf. He often sends me books he's read that he thinks I'll like, and I love that. The unfortunate part is that they often end up sitting on my bookshelf for months because I have so many others on tap for either the blog or just for fun. So, I have no idea when this book came into my possession - I think a few years ago - but I'm so glad it did.

Book 12 of Project 84 is...

The Safety of Objects
The Safety of Objects
By A.M. Homes
I've always been a big fan of short stories. Perhaps it's because it's the only format in which I've been able to have some writing success. Perhaps it's because it doesn't take long to read them. Perhaps it's because there's a unique talent in making someone care about your characters in 20 pages or less. But whatever it is, I'm a fan of short stories.

And The Safety of Objects is a stellar collection of short stories.

The book is short - 173 pages - and written by a graduate of my alma mater, New York University (Go Violets!). The collection consists of 10 stories that run the gamut in terms of subject matter. In one, a married couple uses a week their children are away as an excuse to go on a crack binge. In another, a mother deals with the aftermath of a horrible accident that left her son brain dead. In the final story, a young boy enters into a sexual relationship with his sister's Barbie doll.

The one that I found the most jarring was a story in which a young boy is kidnapped and, when he fails to live up to his kidnapper's expectations, is returned home. I found myself crying at that one. Anyone who knows me can tell you that disappointed kids are not my forte.

I think what I liked most about these stories was the candid authenticity of the characters. Like I mentioned earlier, the toughest part of a short story is managing to get the reader connected with the character in such a short amount of time. You don't get to write 50 pages of exposition introducing your protagonist, you have, at most, a sentence or two to make your reader care.

A.M. Homes is exceptional at quick character building. The story about the mother, for example, is just 9 pages long. But I feel for her. I care about her. I want to know more about her life. Some of the characters I pity. Some of them I downright loathe. But I care about them, and that's the most I can ask from a story.

In addition to the characters, I really responded to Homes's writing style. It's conversational, but descriptive and creative. She focuses more on painting a picture than on dialogue, and while sometimes I find that tedious, it just wasn't in this case. It was refreshing and delightful, and made the book a pleasure to get through.

So would I recommend this book? The answer is categorically yes. It's not a tough read by any stretch, but there is quite a bit going on behind the surface that makes it a worthwhile read. It can be disturbing in parts, and isn't for the weak of heart, but it's one of my favorite short story collections I've ever read. Thanks, Dad :)

***
The Thursday review is in the books! I really like this system of deadline reviewing, where I have to write something four days a week. Today would have been one of those times I would have put the review off til tomorrow (did I mention the amount of reading I have to do?!), but I'm really glad I didn't. Now, the review is done and shared with the world, and I can still focus on the reading to come.

Stay tuned for your Saturday review in just two days! Happy reading, everyone :)

Next Review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Posting Date: Saturday, March 12th)




**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of The Safety of Objects, published by Perennial in 2001**

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

11. If You Only Knew

Guys, I finished A Clockwork Orange!! No, that's not what this post is going to be about, but it's really exciting for me. It's probably the book I struggled with the most so far, though I also ended up loving it, so there's that. I promise, I'll have much more info about that when I write the actual post, but I wanted to share my excitement with the class.

I'm working hard to catch up with my reading schedule, and to keep with my new posting plan. And that's where today's post comes in! The first official "Tuesday Review" of the new posting schedule. It's a fun book this time, a book club book, and one that goes a little "off brand" for me.

The eleventh book of Project 84 is...


If You Only Knew
If You Only Knew
By Kristan Higgins

I talked a bit about my book club in my post about A Darker Shade of Magic. Well, it's still going strong, and for February, I made the suggestion that we read a romance novel for Valentine's Day. The leader of our group picked out If You Only Knew, by a local author named Kristan Higgins.

We met at my house this time to discuss, and we all agreed that this probably wasn't really a "romance novel", at least not in the traditional sense. But it's definitely "chick lit" with a happy ending, and that was exactly what we needed for a New England February. Across the board, people seemed to like it.

And I was no exception.

The book is mostly plot and dialogue driven, so, as usual, we will start there. The book centers on two sisters - switching point of views for each chapter. Jenny is a newly divorced wedding dress designer, who moves home to upstate New York from the city in order to open a boutique and start a new, single life. Her sister, Rachel, is happily married with two daughters...until she discovers a dirty picture from a female coworker on her husband's cell phone.

While Jenny begins to move on with her life, and even start a hopeful flirtation with her landlord, Leo, Rachel feels like her whole world is coming apart, and she struggles to pick up the pieces.

That's probably the easiest plot summary I've written in the history of this blog, and there's probably a reason for that. This book is, for lack of a better word, fun.

I don't read a ton of fun literature. If anything, I should probably read more fun literature. But most of the books I gravitate towards are heavy, complicated stories with complex narrators that leave me more or less wrecked at the end. This was so far from that, and it's part of what makes my book club for fun. They pick books that I would never choose to read on my own, but then I end up loving them far more than I expected.

There's not a whole lot to say about this book. It wasn't complicated, it wasn't really challenging. I went through the entire book without writing down a single quote, which is rare for me. I usually have tons of page numbers to choose from, and to remind me of what I enjoyed. This wasn't that kind of book. I got through it quickly, smiled through most of it, and didn't get bogged down in the specific things I wanted to remember.

That's not to say it was badly written. Far from it. The characters were round and interesting. The dialogue and emotions were real. And, perhaps most importantly, the plot was compelling and didn't seem contrived, despite being a happy ending. I often find that well plotted and happy ending are, unfortunately, mutually exclusive, but that was not the case here.

Obviously, I would recommend this book. It's good! It's fun, and light, and I could see many of my friends picking this one up and enjoying it. It's not a complicated book. It won't change your life or affect your view on the world. But it will give you some fun for a week, and, really, what else do you want?

***
So, my first Tuesday review is a success! As I have mentioned several times, I have a stack of books ready to be blogged about, so I have no intention of slowing down. Stay tuned for my Thursday review, and, if you're looking for something else, go get involved with my weekly discussion over in the Sunday Update post. I'd love if we could get those more active in the future.

Happy reading!

Next Review: The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes (Posting Date: Thursday, May 10th)



**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of If You Only Knew, published by HQN Books in 2015**

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sunday Update (and New Posting Schedule!) - March 6th

It's Sunday, and it feels like it completely snuck up on me this week! I'm not sure if it's because of work, or the reading, or just that it's March and my brain wants to be barreling to spring, but this week seemed to fly by.

Speaking of reading, I've hit a snag in the process by the name of A Clockwork Orange. It's a great book...but MAN it's hard to read. I usually average about a page and a half a minute...quicker if it's a page turner type...but this one I'm lucky to get a chapter done every 30 minutes. It's so difficult to read, the dialect is complicated, and I feel somewhat dumb the entire time I'm reading it, haha.

But I'm slogging through. I think once that book is in the "read" pile, the rest of the books I need to catch up on will go a bit quicker.

Now, I mentioned that I have a new posting schedule starting this week! Basically, I'm finding that not keeping myself on a strict schedule is allowing me to use too many excuses when it comes to blog posts. As a result, I will be sticking to a four day a week posting schedule:
Sunday: Sunday Update
Tuesday: Review Post
Thursday: Review or #ThrowbackThursday Post
Saturday: Review Post
If I don't have any books to review, I will replace that day with some other fun post. Either a subscription box review, or a discussion post, or a poll. Something fun to keep the Project 84 discussion going! So look forward to my first try at this schedule this week.

Weekly Discussion Question

I'm really starting to have fun with these weekly discussion questions, even if they aren't getting quite the response I would like. I'll keep giving my answers, and maybe one of these days I'll get some comments from you guys about your thoughts!

Last week's question was: How do you feel about erotic fiction?

Alright, this may not be the best one to entreat people to get involved, but there's a reason for it! Last week, I started reading The Story of O, which is one of the few erotic novels to make an appearance in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I'm enjoying it, sort of, but it got me thinking if there has ever been an erotic novel that I enjoy...

And I don't think there has been. I'm not a prude, far from it, and I get optimistic every time I pick up the latest hit (50 Shades of Grey, the Sylvia Day books...), hoping for a fun, dirty love story. But I never seem to get one, and I think it comes from the style itself. It's as if when someone focuses on detailed, intricate erotic scenes, the rest of the story seems to fall to the wayside. It's either a cautionary tale (I haven't finished The Story of O, but I think it's headed in that direction), unrealistic drivel (sorry, Sylvia), or just plain poor fiction (I'm looking at you, 50 Shades).

All that being said, I'm open to explore. Do any of you have an erotic novel I should give a try?

This Week's Discussion Question
What's your favorite part of the reading process?
(Take this as you will! And give your response in the comments)

Now that I have an actual posting schedule, my post expectation portion of my blog should be a little more fun. Check it out!

Posts to Expect This Week

Tuesday Review - March 8th

Thursday Review - March 10th

Saturday Review - March 12th


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Currently Reading: