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?! 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 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 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?) 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'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 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 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 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 can blame me ;)

Happy reading!!