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:


Thursday, March 3, 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - The Picture of Dorian Gray



It's Thursday! And I'm sitting at the library, hoping to get some work done for work...and also some Project 84 work done. I always seem to work better in a neutral setting, without the distractions of my house.

That being said, there is a local opera company about to perform 25 feet away from me...so it's safe to say I only have about 18 minutes before the lack of distraction idea becomes moot.

Opera is sort of a fitting backdrop, however, for today's #ThrowbackThursday post. For today, I'll be taking you back to the late 1800s. To a time of dandys and fops, a time of Victorian idealism and aestheticism (wasn't sure if that's a word, delighted to discover it is)...

And, in my life, it takes me back to being 16-years-old, ready to devour anything and everything even somewhat intellectual. I'm delighted by varying philosophies, still trying to figure out my own opinion, and I pick up a book that would change a lot of things for me: The Picture of Dorian Gray.



Every Literature student is drawn to the subject for a different reason. We all love to read, of course...but there's always that one author, that one inspiration that made you want to dive into that specific course of study. For some, it's Charles Dickens...others, Jane Austen (God knows why)...others, Shakespeare..

For me, it was Oscar Wilde. (And Shakespeare, but that's for another blog post...)

It started for me at 16-years-old when I picked up the movie Velvet Goldmine from my local Blockbuster. (Yep.) I had heard about it as "the movie where Jonathan Rhys Meyers gets naked with Ewan McGregor", so it wasn't a tough choice for me...

It's hard to explain the brilliance that is Velvet Goldmine if you haven't seen it. It's a movie about glam rock and glitter, about being young, about being yourself. It's strange and beautiful...one of my favorites. But this post isn't about Velvet Goldmine...it's about a little, 150 page novel that plays a small, tangential role in the movie. But it was this quote, spoken halfway through the film, that inspired me to pick up the novel:
"The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history."
Oh, this book...it's hard for me to speak of it without just gushing and being ridiculous, but it's the kind of book that inspires you to do that.

The plot is simple on the surface: a young man, Dorian Gray, wishes that a portrait of himself would age while he can remain the same. As Dorian travels on a path of hedonism and violence, he remains young and beautiful, while the painting becomes increasingly deformed and ugly with his horrible deeds.

So why do I love this book? It's tough to explain... It's beautifully written, so there's that. Everything Wilde is beautifully written. But there's a complexity to this book that I still haven't managed to resolve over 12 years later. It's always been tough for me to figure out what the point of this book is. At it's surface, it's a sort of morality tale...but knowing Oscar Wilde the way I now do, it's hard to believe he would write a true morality tale. Quite the opposite, most of me thinks that Oscar wrote to glorify Dorian, not condemn him...which brings up the ultimate question that led me down my literary path:

Do the effect of a piece of writing and the author's intention need to be synonymous?

If I hadn't chosen my more lucrative profession, I probably would have spent my 20s buried in Irish libraries writing a dissertation on the Aesthetics and Oscar Wilde...instead, I chose a career in sports journalism, and my fascination is relegated to #ThrowbackThursday posts on my literary blog.

If you haven't read The Picture of Dorian Gray, I can't recommend it enough. Read it, and then read everything else by Oscar Wilde. I'm biased, I know it, but I can't help myself. It's in my top 5 books of all time (probably top 2), and it's one of those novels I can read over and over again and always find something new.

Now, the opera's 10 minutes into their performance, and I should probably find my way to the library exit. Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

10. I Hate Myselfie

It took a couple days longer than I thought it would to get this blog post out in the world. So many days that it's a whole new month from when I thought this would get posted. But I've always thought of you, my dear readers, as the forgiving sort. And if you're not, well...I'll try to do better next time.

I've been working hard trying to get my reading done. I'm stuck on a few books from 1001 Books to Read Before You Die that are just...hard to get through. I actually really like two of them, so it's not as if I'm suffering through bad books, there's just something about the writing style and the narrative that can feel like slogging.

I'm going to get there, though. And, dammit, I'm going to blog about it.

So without further ado, Book 10 of Project 84 is...

I Hate Myselfie
I Hate Myselfie
By Shane Dawson

This is yet another book that comes with a story.

I am a 28-year-old woman. That isn't really part of the story, but it puts it in context. I remember when YouTube became a thing. It was my senior year of high school. (I also remember when you could only join Facebook with a college e-mail, and not all colleges were accepted, but that's neither here nor there). I'm not someone who does the "I'm so old" thing about technology or things from the past...but going through basically my entire childhood without YouTube meant that I missed the rise of the "YouTube celebrity".

I liked Bo Burnham videos, got a kick out of Grace Helbig when I saw her in more mainstream stuff, and groaned along to "Friday" and "Chocolate Rain" just like the rest of you, but I always sort of envisioned YouTube as somewhat of a niche market. I knew that there were YouTube stars, I knew that they existed, but I always assumed they had a few hundred thousand, maybe a million, followers and made side money.

Boy, I was wrong.

A few months ago, I came across Shane Dawson. I don't 100% remember why I decided to Google Shane... I know I heard him on Grace Helbig's podcast, but I'm not sure if that was before or after my fascination began. Either way, I decided to look him up one day...and discovered he has 6 million YouTube subscribers and nearly 3 million Twitter followers.

WHAT?!

So, naturally, I became curious as to why this would be the case. And after watching a handful of his videos...well...I became one of those subscribers, listened to every episode of his Podcast, and made my way to the library to pick up I Hate Myselfie.

The book is a collection of essays written by Shane about his life. (Actually written. No ghostwriter here!) The stories run the gamut from an embarrassing tale of childhood waterpark shenanigans to waxing poetic on how he got the reputation as a "Shocktuber" (his word, not mine). It's nonlinear, so each essay stands on its own as a self-contained piece, and...I don't know, I really liked this book.

It's more of a complicated book than I thought it would be. Shane is shockingly candid, and very open about both his struggles and his triumphs. He's not afraid to embarrass himself or criticize others, but manages to do it with an undercurrent of empathy and love for both his subjects and himself.

And he's funny. In a self-deprecating and relatable way that I always respond to. An example:
"I've always been a hardworking guy. It's actually one of my downfalls. Well, that and dipping sauces. I can really fuck up the condiments bar at a Fuddruckers. Waitresses always think I'm joking when I ask for a serving tray of different dipping-sauce options with my meal. They laugh and tell me how hilarious I am. I don't laugh and tell them to GET ME A TRAY OF SAUCES." - Page 157
Literally, me tho...

On a more literary note...I also happen to love non-linear memoirs like this one. I find when most people try to tell their story from beginning to end, unless they have a particularly emotional tale, it can get bogged down in uninteresting details. With the essay format, you can contain the stories you most want to tell, and you're not forced to follow chronology. It's one of my favorite formats.

To sum it all up...I would recommend this book. But I also think you should know what you're getting. It's a memoir by a YouTuber about his path to stardom...but it's also relatable, and so well written. In other words...Dad, I don't know if this one's for you. But if what I just said sounds appealing to you at all, I would give it a shot.

***
So book 10 is complete! I have three more ready to be written about, one that's almost done...and then three more I'm slogging through, like I said. But I have nothing but faith that I will get to where I want to go.

If you're someone who found this blog because I tagged Shane in the Tweet, welcome! Come check out my post that tells you what this blog is all about. And feel free to follow me on FacebookTwitter, or Goodreads to get the latest status updates about my progress.

Happy Reading :D

Next Review: If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins (Estimated Posting Date: Friday, March 4th)



**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of I Hate Myselfie, published by Keywords Press in 2015**

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Update - February 28th

I'm baaaaaaaaaack.

It's been almost two weeks, and I've been on vacation!! As I mentioned before I left, part of that vacation was running a half marathon, which is part of why I've been so absent on the blog. I wanted to give that my whole attention.

Well, I did...and it went great...and now I'm back to pour my attention back into Project 84.

Luckily, while on said vacation, I did manage to get some reading done. I have four completed books sitting on my desk just waiting to be blogged about, so I hope you're looking forward to that. However, that doesn't mean I'm completely up to date on my reading (what else is new, right?!). I'm behind, but I'm doing my best to remedy that situation this week. I'll be buckling down to read and blog, and hopefully get this blog moving again!

Weekly Discussion Questions

Before we get to my plan for the week, I want to get into my weekly (ok, semi-weekly...) discussion question! The question from last time is particularly timely, considering the reading I'm doing this week.

Last week's question was: How do you feel about an author writing in a unique dialect?

Ohhhh, this is a tough one for me. You see, this week I just got started on A Clockwork Orange, and it is, for lack of a better word...challenging. I try to be a good English major when it comes to books in a unique dialect. I know I'm supposed to be able to handle them...that I'm supposed to be able to pick up The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn or Everything is Illuminated and take just a few pages to sink into the narration. But I've just never been able to do that.

I don't want to say I dislike those books, because that's far from the truth. In fact, 50 pages in, A Clockwork Orange is already shaping up to be a compelling and interesting read. But sometimes you just want to get lost in a book...and I've never been able to do it with this kind of narration. I can slog through it, and often get something meaningful out of it, but it's just never quite been easy for me. Some English major I am ;).

This Week's Discussion Question
How do you feel about erotic fiction?
(There's a theme to this, I swear...I'm not just being a perv ;) )


Posts to Expect This Week
Busy, busy, busy! I will have a #ThrowbackThursday post this week, plus...

Expected Posting Date: Monday, February 29th

Expected Posting Date: Wednesday, March 2nd

Expected Posting Date: Saturday, March 5th


***
Currently Reading




Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Update - February 14th

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

I hope you all got to spend your Valentine's Day in a fabulous, loving way. Me? I'm saving my celebration for next weekend. I spent today working, then reading, then cleaning, then dying my costume for the race! Basically, a wonderful, boring Valentine's Day, but I still felt the love here!

I'm reading up a storm lately, which is great, because I think that might slow down this week :/. I'm still having fun with it, though, and almost finished with my 11th book! I loved books 10 and 11 (so far), so it should be some fun reviews this week. I'm also hoping that I can catch up on the actual reading over my vacation week, so this blog should be busy once I've completed those 13.1 miles. I hope you're all looking forward to it ;).

Weekly Discussion Questions

My plan for the week is up next, but not before I get to my weekly discussion questions! Still no comments from the peanut gallery, but I won't let that slow me down. You'll still get to read my takes on the questions, which will hopefully entice some of you to give yours this week.

Last week's question was: What book have you "meant to read forever" but you haven't gotten around to yet?

I feel like this is a question I've answered a few times on this blog so far. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass both would have been on that list, as wood The Virgin Suicides. But those got crossed off when I read them, so let's see...books I've been meaning to read, but haven't yet. I'll give you a top 5 (no order):
  1. Catch-22
  2. Requiem for a Dream
  3. The Night Listener
  4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  5. Not My Father's Son
The first three of those are truly "forever" (like, 10+ years of wanting to read them). The second two are more recent, but still books I've been putting off. Unsurprisingly, all five of these books made their way onto my "To Read" list for 2016, so hopefully I can cross all 5 off by the end of this process.

This Week's Discussion Question
How do you feel about an author writing in a unique dialect? 
(Using either real or made up slang or dialect in the narration. 
Examples: The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn, Everything is Illuminated)

(Leave your answer in the comments to start the discussion.
I'll include my answer in next week's Sunday Update!)

Happy reading, everyone! Here's what's on tap for my week:

Posts to Expect This Week
I will have a #ThrowbackThursday post on Thursday, and potentially a review of the Best Damn Book Box.

Estimated Posting Date: Monday, February 15th

Estimated Posting Date: Wednesday, February 17th


***
Currently Reading


Saturday, February 13, 2016

9. Through the Looking Glass

Where have I been?!

...is what you must be asking yourself. I know where I've been. I've been curled up on the couch with a box of tissues and a carafe of tea. See, I had a cold...which turned into a sinus infection...and the head congestion combined with the medication made stringing together words for a coherent blog post nearly impossible.

But I'm better(ish) now, and I'm ready to get back to work! I have two books in the finished column, which is a fantastic feeling, and a ton more reading to do (as per usual). But I didn't want to go a whole week without a blog post.

One small update: I mentioned earlier this week that I would be reviewing Dear Mr. You by Mary Louise Parker. Well...I couldn't do it. I made it about 50 pages in and decided I had better ways to spend my time. I retooled my list and moved onto the next book, but if you were really looking forward to Dear Mr. You, I fear I'm going to disappoint.

However, that's not what this post is about. This post is about a book that's over 100 years old. A book that's a sequel to my last review, and another that I am shocked I haven't read. Book 9 of Project 84 is...

Through the Looking Glass
Through the Looking Glass
By Lewis Carroll

It's hard to believe a book from 1865 has a sequel. But here it is, plain as day: Through the Looking Glass.

Much like Alice in Wonderland, I have always intended to read this book. Unlike Alice in Wonderland, I had no idea what this book was actually about. I had assumed it was Alice returning to Wonderland and going on another adventure. And it is...sort of...but also not at the same time.

Instead of going down the rabbit hole to Wonderland, Alice goes...wait for it...through the looking glass (her mirror) and ends up on a chess board with the Red Queen. She travels her way across the chess board, encountering various eccentric characters along the way. Each character has a poem, of sorts, which seems to be the thread that holds them all together, and they all play into Alice's journey.

It's strange to say, but I'm not sure whether or not I enjoyed this book. I know that I didn't enjoy it as much as Alice in Wonderland, but then I have to address the question of why? Is it just because I already knew the story of Alice in Wonderland, so it was easier to read? Is it because the characters in this one seem almost too absurd to understand? Or, is it simply because Alice in Wonderland has a more cohesive story, whereas Through the Looking Glass is a bit more absurdist?

Whatever the reason, this book wasn't as compelling...but I did enjoy reading the book. I think. It's strange...there's not really a plot. The characters drag you from point A to point B for no real purpose other than to move the story along. However, once I'm there, I'm fascinated by who the characters are.

And the new characters Alice approaches are familiar. Tweedledee and Tweedledum actually show up in this book, as does Humpty Dumpty. We hear "The Walrus and the Carpenter" and "The Jaberwock" for the first time, which I knew but had not associated with Through the Looking Glass. All of that gave the book a familiarity and nostalgia that was part of what I loved about Alice in Wonderland.

However, the story is a little weaker. The characters, while interesting, fall away as soon as Alice leaves them. In Alice in Wonderland, there's more of a cohesive thread. This book, while beautiful, and the characters and poems interesting, doesn't have that same gleeful story that moves the book along.

So, would I recommend this book? Ultimately, yes. I love the way Lewis Carroll writes. I love the carefree, fun style, and the feeling of reading a childrens' book...but one with more substance than the books we see today. I recommend you pick up BOTH of these books (they often come in one volume, so that makes it easy ;) ) and read them the way I did. It could shine a new light on a childhood favorite.

***
This week is going to be crazy. I am one week away from running a half marathon at Disney World (!!!!!), so I'm pretty sure I'll be spending the next week freaking out about that! But I'll try to get a little reading and some blog posts done before I leave next Friday. I then have a week of vacation to catch up on all this stuff!

I will have a regular Sunday Update tomorrow, so you will all have an idea of where I'm at in the process.

Happy reading!!



**Through the Looking Glass is in the public domain**

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Update - February 7th

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, everyone! I hope you're all enjoying a party somewhere :) I am sick as a dog, and thus am watching it on my couch with tissues and a bowl of chicken soup...but, hey, at least it's a close game so far!

But right now it's halftime...so I thought I would take a few minutes to get this Sunday Update out in the universe so that my faithful readers will have an idea of what they're looking forward to this week!

As far as reading goes, I'm about 450 pages behind. Not the best, but certainly far from the worst. I'm hoping to knock about 100 off of that list today, which should put me in a good place to get some posts out and catch up. Like I mentioned yesterday, this crazy, frenetic posting has actually been fun recently. It's allowing me to keep in touch with all of you on a daily basis, and is also forcing me to get this reading done, which has allowed me to lose myself in some very worthwhile books.

Weekly Discussion Question

Before I get to my plan for the week, I want to get into the weekly discussion question. The comment section has still been pretty quiet, but that doesn't mean I won't be answering the questions. If nothing else, this gives you all a bit of insight into me as a reader, and into how I approach the world of books.

Last week's question was: Who is your favorite fictional literary character?

I have to admit, this was a tough one for me. I've mentioned before that I am a fan of deeply flawed protagonists, so I couldn't decide whether to go in the direction of the character I most enjoy reading about (which may not be someone I emulate), or the character I'd most want to hang out with, grab a glass of wine with, that sort of thing.

If I went into the character I most enjoy reading about, I would have to go either Cathy Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights or Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (I said "deeply flawed!"). There's just something so complicated about those characters. Cathy with her selfish motivations, but still desiring love. Patrick with his...well...murderous motivations... They're both complicated, to say the least, and also people who could severely destroy my life if I actually knew them in person, but I probably find them the most fascinating to read about.

If I went with the character I like the most, I'd choose Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He's one of the few truly sympathetic characters that I've enjoyed over the years, and probably the one who can make me cry the fastest just thinking about his story. While I'm ok with Cathy or Patrick getting what's coming to them, so to speak...all I want for Charlie is for everything to be ok.

This Week's Discussion Question
What book have you "meant to read forever", but haven't gotten around to it yet?

(Leave your answer in the comments to start the discussion.
I'll include my answer in next week's Sunday Update!)

Happy reading, everyone! And, as promised, here's what's on tap for this week!

Posts to Expect This Week
I will likely post a review of the January Best Damn Book Box on Wednesday.

Estimated Posting Date: Monday, February 8th

Estimated Posting Date: Tuesday, February 9th

Estimated Posting Date: Thursday, February 10th

***
Currently Reading (the same 3...)


Saturday, February 6, 2016

8. Alice in Wonderland

3 posts in 3 days. I told you I could do it ;) I admittedly need to buckle down if I'm going to get 4, 5, and 6 done as well, but I'm expecting big things from myself, haha.

Before I get into review number 8, I want to talk about a weird coincidence that happened today! So, as the title gives away, today's review will be of Alice in Wonderland. I'm now reading Through the Looking Glass, so it's been a Carroll-centric week for me! I am also a subscription box lover...and I currently receive a subscription box called The Best Damn Book Box, which is amazing.

So...I come home from work today, and my January box is unexpectedly sitting on my front step. And what's the theme of this month's box? Alice in Wonderland, of course! What a weird coincidence! The box is awesome...maybe I'll take time on Wednesday to do a bonus post and show you all what's came inside, because it's probably something readers of this blog would be interested.

All that being said, I have a review to get to! As I mentioned a few moments ago...book 8 of Project 84 is...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
By Lewis Carroll

It's hard to believe that I have never read this book.
I love the story of Alice in Wonderland. I love the Disney movie. I used to watch the Disney Channel TV show. I even liked the Tim Burton one a few years ago (I refuse to be ashamed of that). I also must have had a short storybook version of it as a kid? Though I might be making that up...
But, for some reason, I'd never read the original. And I was missing out.
I don't feel like I really need to go into the plot of Alice in Wonderland. At this point, if you're not sure of the plot, you've been making a conscious choice not to find out and, thus, would probably not read this post. I'll write for the other 99% of people.
Instead of the plot...I want to talk a little about the history of Alice in Wonderland. While doing a bit of research to flesh out this post, I came across the real story of how Alice in Wonderland came to be. Evidently, Lewis Carroll was on a boat trip with 10-year-old Alice Lidell and her family (including two sisters). Alice asked Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) to tell her a story...and thus was born Alice in Wonderland.

The story itself is a sort of nonsense tale that I found appealing as a child, and am still drawn to today. I like when I a story makes no sense when you apply wordly logic to it, and only works within the internal logic of the story. Alice's fall down the rabbit hole, her interaction with all the characters (I, personally, always found her conversation with the caterpillar most enthralling), the ultimate realization that it was "all a dream" (or was it?)...it may not make much sense if we transplanted Alice into our world, but within the world of the story it all seems to work.
Since I spent most of my last post complaining about the writing style of The Shipping News, it feels only right to praise Lewis Carroll's brilliance. I don't know why I was surprised...perhaps because I'd never read anything of his before...but I responded so strongly to his imagery and storytelling. No wonder this book is such a classic, it's absolutely beautiful.
A personal favorite passage, which somewhat illustrates my point:
"'Come, my head's free at last!' said Alice in a tone of delight, which changed into alarm in another moment, when she found that her shoulders were nowhere to be found: all she could see, when she looked down, was an immense length of neck, which seemed to rse like a stalk out of a sea of green leaves that lay far below her." - page 45
There's so much going on in that passage that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what I respond to so fervently, but it's somehow also a perfect example of what made the book so amazing.

If you're like me and never got around to reading this book, now is a great time to pick it up. It's not long - my version was about 110 pages - but there's so much going on. So much intrigue and fascinating characters that it would be hard to find something to dislike in this book. I would recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it (and who doesn't have an Alice in Wonderland aversion). It's a great read.

***
Another happy post about a 1001 Books to Read Before You Die book. I confess to including a few books on my list that are easier reads...but part of the deal is that nothing will be shorter than 100 pages. Alice in Wonderland slides in right where I need it to.

Over the next few days, expect more posts...including a Weekly Update tomorrow that will outline everything that's coming this week. Until then...happy reading!



**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, published by Penguin Classics in 2003**

Friday, February 5, 2016

7. The Shipping News

When I said that you'd be getting a new post every day until next Tuesday, I wasn't kidding. I have two books in the "read" column, a weekly update ready for Sunday, and a couple more books I'm nearing the end of. So the blog should be active, for lack of a better word, for the next several days.

I'm working hard to catch up to my reading schedule. The books are still getting finished on time, but the goal is to only need to read 80 pages a day. Right now, I'm reading at a much higher daily rate, which, of course, is fine...but it's taking over my life a little bit more than I'd like it to. Is that important for you to know? Not really, but it might give you a better sense of what my process is. The blog posts aren't really the hard part of Project 84...it's the reading that gets me behind.

And it doesn't help when the books are tough to get through...which brings me through my latest contribution to the Project 84 anthology. Book 7 is...


Shipping News
The Shipping News
By Annie Proulx

Oh, where to start. This was a tough book to get through...

It's a Pulitzer Prize winner! So, I think part of me expected that to mean I would fall in love with this book quickly, and have no problem getting to the end. What it actually meant was that I found the prose unnecessarily complicated, and much of the imagery and artistry of the writing seemed to go right over my head.

The plot of this novel really wasn't the issue. The plot is pretty compelling: it centers on an American journalist named Quoyle (last name, but we never learn his first). Within the first 40 pages, Quoyle's parents commit a joint suicide, and his awful, adulterous wife dies in a car wreck while trying to sell his two daughters to what we assume is a pedophile.

Yes, you heard me. That happens in the first 40 pages.

After that, Quoyle, his daughters, and his aunt move to the family home in Newfoundland, where Quoyle finds work at a local paper, writing about the "shipping news". The town is full of fascinating, robust characters...like Jack Buggit, the owner of the paper, who spends all his time fishing. Or Nutbeem, who writes about foreign news...and sexual abuse stories...for the paper.

The story is compelling, the characters are round and unique, and there is nothing I didn't love about this plot.

No, my problem is centered on one specific issue...the writing.

I admit, I can be a bit hypercritical of writing style, especially considering my own often contains many of the things I rail against in others. But this book won a Pulitzer Prize, that cannot be stated enough, and I found the writing almost unreadable.

It's pretty clear to me what Annie Proulx was trying to do. She was adopting a "style". The sentences are choppy and jarring. Some sentences are missing subjects, others objects, others verbs...quite a bit of the reading process is tied up in trying to figure out to what exactly she was referring.

I have no inherent issue with stylistic writing, but this should be the writing process: decide the story you want to tell, decide your genre (maybe, this isn't even necessary), and write. The style comes from who you are, from how you write. The style shouldn't be disingenuous, it shouldn't be invented...it should come from who the author actually is. Another options would be if it's intentional...if the style is meant to bring out something in the story...choppy sentences in a story about a choppy sea, for example...(not the case here, for the record).

Maybe I'm wrong, Maybe Annie Proulx is, in her soul, someone who hates full sentences, and this is how she naturally writes. Maybe her style was intentional, and it just went over my head (this isn't a joke...in fact, there's a good chance this is true ;) ). But none of that is how it came across to me. It came across like Proulx was trying to be clever, like she was trying to do affect a particular, unique style, rather than let the style reveal itself. I didn't respond to it. And, more importantly, it made the book touch to read.

Now the tough part...would I recommend this book? Ultimately, it was a tough read for me, and I would think that would be an across the board issue. If you're willing to give it a couple hundred pages and really become invested in the characters, then I would give it a shot. Otherwise, I think you're fine skipping this one.

***
7 books down! Four 1001 Books to Read Before You Die books, and three other books. Not bad for February 5th!

I really hope you guys are enjoying the blog so far this year. I've been wrapped up in it much more than in the past, and I'm proud of how the blog is coming together. If there's anything you'd like to see more of, feel free to put it in the comments of this or any post...and stay tuned for LOTS more content over the next few days!

Next Review: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Expected Posting Date: Saturday, February 6th)



**All page numbers and annotations refer to this version of The Shipping News, published by Scribner Book Company in 1992**

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - Middlemarch


It's #ThrowbackThursday!! If you haven't figured this out by now, I will be posting a #ThrowbackThursday post every other week. I probably should have pointed that out earlier...but I didn't. With all the reading, every week is a little much for me...and I'm not sure I have 52 books with interesting enough background stories to make these interesting blogs. So every other week it is!

A quick update: I'm still on track to post all the blogs I mentioned in the Sunday Update, so stay tuned! If all goes well, you should have a new post every day from now until next Tuesday...which I hope is as exciting for you as it is for me, haha! Yay reading!

But I digress...let's get back to #ThrowbackThursday. For this one, I'm going to take you back to my sophomore year of college. Picture this...I'm a young English major, and I enroll in a class called The English Novel in the 19th Century. It's a bit of an oxymoron (English majors should be laughing hysterically right now)...but Jane Austen wasn't on the syllabus, so I figured I'd give it a shot. And, about halfway through the class, we were handed the book Middlemarch by George Eliot.



When you take a class on 19th century English literature, a side effect is that you end up reading a majority of novels by realistic authors. (If you want a deeper look at my thoughts on realistic authors, I encourage you to read my review of Lady Chatterley's Lover from the first incarnation of Project 84.) As a result, the first 6 or so books we read were marked by great characters, complicated dialogue, and a lack of one magical word: plot.

Middlemarch was the first book we picked up during that class that had an actual, definable story. And it was a huge topic of conversation. It's safe to say that the presence of a definable plot in Middlemarch was abnormal for the time period.

I spent 15 minutes trying to find a way to succinctly summarize the compelling plot...but couldn't figure out a way to do so that didn't go on for pages and pages. The plot centers on the residents of Middlemarch, a fictional town in England, and entwines several concurrent stories. If you really want to know the details...Wikipedia did a pretty good job, haha, so I recommend that.

The main reason this book makes my #ThrowbackThursday list isn't the plot, but the author. For those not up on their esoteric British literature..George Eliot is nom de plume for Mary Ann Evans. She published under a man's name for all the obvious reasons...the same given by the Bronte sisters and many other female authors of the time period. By the time of this book, people didn't read books by women not named Jane Austen, so instead they pretended to be men. Pretty simple. (Alright, it's more complicated than that...but I don't know if I want to get into sexism and female roles in the late 1800s...)

George Eliot is not like Jane Austen.

I'm sure there are many for whom this is not a positive trait, but it sold me. I love the way Eliot writes her characters, not focusing just on the female characters, but also on rounding out the rest of the townspeople. I enjoy the way she deals with relationships and responsibility, and how her third person narrator seems to tell the story with a glint in its eye, a sort of nudging "isn't this ridiculous" attitude that I really appreciate.

Middlemarch is one of those books I mention and it gets a vague "oh, yeah, I think I know what you're talking about"...but the amount of people I know who've actually read it is small, and mostly full of people who took this class and my friend, Kat, who reads everything. But I really love this novel. I've read it more than once, I recommend it to everyone, and it's the type of book I feel smarter for having read.

So many of these #ThrowbackThursday posts are going to be centered on unexpected classics...but Middlemarch is a classic across the board, and one I think most people would enjoy. Pick it up, give it a try. If you hate it...you can blame me ;)

Happy reading!!