Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Has “Ulysses” Ruined Me?

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

I have had a terrible time relating to any book since plowing through James Joyce’s masterpiece. Whether fiction, non-fiction, or the in-between historical fiction, I’ve had a hard time caring about — much less enjoying — anything I’ve selected.

Is this the result of stimulating my intellect by reading truly challenging literature? Or complete burn out from reading truly challenging literature? I have no idea, but I’m looking for something wonderful to shake me out of these doldrums.

Any suggestions?

Moby Dick: Caught at Last.

Friday, February 27th, 2015

51XqmA5DY5L._SL75_Ruminations on the Novel by Herman Melville

I approached Moby Dick with great trepidation. After repeatedly hearing how dense it was, how filled with boring whaling information, how plain hard it was to read, I did not know if I was up to the challenge I was setting for myself.

Surprise, surprise! I actually liked it! Yes, it’s dense with archaic language and a lot of information on whaling and whales, but it’s so much more, too. That’s what surprised — and delighted — me.

To begin, I certainly did not expect a profound sense of humor. Who knew I would be laughing out loud at some of Ishmael’s observations? The next surprise was the countless reference to people, places, and things not related to whaling, citing source like ancient history, Shakespeare, the Bible, you name it. Many of these I knew. Many more I wondered about. In a perfect world, I would have been constantly on my iPad researching each one. However, since I did want to finish the book in this decade, I resisted.

The insightful musings of Ishmael on subjects ranging from religion to what we eat were really interesting as well — and often just as applicable to modern times as they were 150 years ago.

Melville does go into great detail about whaling practices, but they usually directly relate to what is taking place in the plot. They enhance the story as well as increase your understanding of the dangers and tasks whalers faced in the 19th century.

That said, it’s not the fastest moving book in the world. My copy has slightly over 500 pages. Moby Dick isn’t even mentioned until page 158. They harpoon their first whale on page 256. The centerpiece white whale chase doesn’t take place until very the last pages. However, when there is action, Melville paints a scene with words like no other.

I’m really glad I read this American classic. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Except, now I’ll worry a bit about grumpy sperm whales if I should ever sail the Pacific Ocean.

Now onto the second book of my reading self-challenge, James Joyce’s Ulysses. Gulp.

Another Year, Another Reading Goal.

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

For 2014, I set a goal of reading 52 books — an average of one a week. I hit 64, but eight were by Roald Dahl, which some people might not consider worthy of an adults list (they would be mistaken). Even subtracting those, I beat my goal by four books.

I know people who read far more than that, but it was a respectable number for me. I didn’t push it, and there are several quite long books among my reads. Strangely, the book that took me the longest to get through was Roald Dahl’s BFG. I just had a hard time getting into it. heh heh.

This year, I’m setting a much more daunting goal — at least for me. I’m committing to reading three particular books that seem to constantly elicit groans of dismay even from avid readers:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Portrait of the Artist a a Young Man by James Joyce.

I’ll start with Moby Dick as soon as I finish trudging through The Winter of the World by Ken Follett. this Follett is really dragging for me. Ken Follett is funny that way. Some of his books just suck me in completely. Some simply bore me. However, there is always something to be learned from historical fiction, so I will soldier on.

I don’t know how many new books these three masterpieces will displace, so this blog may be quieter on that front. I do intend to report on my progress and impressions as I work towards my goal. So many people have said these books are impossible to digest. However after decades of hearing how tough Faulkner was, I found Absalom! Absalom!, which is considered one of his bestnot difficult at all

Who knows what pain or pleasure awaits? At the least — assuming I don’t give up — I’ll have read three books I should have read but have feared to try. There’s something to be said for that.

I’ve Become Obsessed

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

I’ve been reading the first four books of George R. R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice epic fantasy. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I’ve become addicted. And, frankly, I think to call them fantasies is not all that fair. These are not mere genre books. They are simply terrific.

The first four reflect more than 4000 pages of reading (in paperback), so that’s where I’ve disappeared (and I’m now j0nesing for the next one — due in July). More about other books coming very, very soon. I promise.

Congratulations to Jennifer Egan!

Monday, April 18th, 2011

She just won the Pulitzer for her novel: A Visit from the Goon Squad.

I thought it was a terrific book. You can check out my review by taking my little calendar back to September 10, 2010.

Other winners include Siddhartha Mukherjee for The Emperor of Maladies in nonfiction and Kay Ryan for The Best of It in poetry.

http://betterbooktitles.com/

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Super Sad True Love Story

A Facebook friend sent me a link to this fun website and I just had to share it. Different people send in alternative titles and book designs for everything from classic literature to the latest political rant. This was one of my favorites. The new title so describes this book (which I liked and reviewed here, by the way).

There are some funny ones, some rude ones, and some incomprehensible ones, but you’re sure to find at least one alternate title that amuses you.

Check it out by clicking here.

My 2010 Favorite Reads

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

Unlike the lists of respected publications like The New York Times, I don’t claim these are the best books of the year, just my particular favorites. In other words, I might have read more serious and literary books, but these were the most enjoyable — to me. Most were reviewed on this blog. A few were listed on my “What I’m Reading Now” page. And not all are 2010 releases.

So, in no particular order:

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving.

Irving is a long-standing favorite of mine. I love his quirky characters, recurring themes, and his delightful writing. This book seemed his most self-referential yet, but that didn’t hurt it any. Of course, he and his father were never on the run from a violent lumberjack bent on revenge. Go to Jan. 22, 2010 for my original review.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.

I’ve been recommending this book to lots of friends. Its interrelated stories feature people working on a newspaper and cover the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to heart rending. It was thoroughly enjoyable, though I do warn people the first story is a bit of a downer. Go to July 22, 2010 for the review.

Super Sad Super True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Set in the near, highly-possible future, this book is both quite unnerving and wildly funny. People largely interact through what is basically a smart phone on steroids and youth is prized above all, yet somehow a technology-challenged man approaching middle age and a young beauty still connect with each other. More or less. An awesome satire. Go to August 22 for the review.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I expected to be intrigued by this non-fiction story exploring how the cells of a poor African American woman changed medicine forever. Actually, I was wowed. Skloot could have made this a real melodrama, instead it’s a clear-eyed portrayal of accepted medical practices plus the impact on Henrietta’s troubled children when they discovered their mother’s cells are alive and used around the world. Reviewed on March 9. 2010.

A Visit from The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

Another book set in the near future (and the near past), the characters in this novel swirl in and out of the music industry. This book just grows in richness the further you delve into it and the more you learn about each character’s past and future.  Reviewed on September 10, 2010.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell.

With her entertaining yet quite serious exploration of the Puritans who sailed to the New World on the Mayflower, Vowell delivers a deep understanding of her subjects: the highly educated and highly opinionated Puritans.  While her respect is obvious, her witty observations keep this book enjoyable as well as highly informative. Reviewed January 2, 2010.

Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor.

I read this for one of my book clubs and thought it was fantastic. A group of starving Irish immigrants sail to America during the Potato Famine, along with some supposedly wealthy passengers, and one person intent on murder. The events of the crossing are interspersed with backstories about the main characters. This was simply an awesome read.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry.

Another book club selection, this book might be short on plot (in its first half at least) but it is long on pleasure — if you like philosophical discussions, which I do. The central characters are a rich 12-year-old girl bent on suicide and  her apartment building’s old, plain, and secretly intellectual concierge. A lovely and rewarding read.

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir.

Noted historian Alison Weir can weave an outstanding non-fiction tale, too. This novel about Lady Jane, the young girl manipulated by her family in hopes of snatching the throne from Elizabeth Tudor, is far above the usual for this genre. Plus, Lady Jane’s story is as remarkable as it is tragic. With Weir’s impressive body of factual work about the Tudor years, you know you’re getting an accurate description of the times. I didn’t originally review this book, but did praise Weir on July 26. What’s not to love?

The Paris Vendetta by Steve Berry.

This fast-paced thriller deserves to be on someone’s list! Berry’s cunning combination of fact and fiction runs circles around Dan Brown. This outing includes the lost, legendary treasure of Napoleon Bonapart as well as a secret group of international tycoons bent on enriching themselves further by using catastrophes to manipulate financial markets. How can you resist?

So those are my favorites. What were yours?

And, a Happy New Year in books to one and all!

The End Is Near. And Boy, Is It Entertaining.

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

I’ve recently come across two books that deal with “the end” but are strictly for your amusement — and they both do an incredible job of delivering plenty of entertainment — and something more.


In The Gates, a fairly recent book by John Connolly, the end is coming because the Large Hadron Collider somehow causes a small opening between our universe and the parallel world we think of as hell. And, naturally, the devil is determined as hell to take over here.

The only thing standing in his way of opening up the gates completely in the town of Biddlecombe is a young boy with a different way of seeing things, and some surprising gumption on the part of his neighbors. Suitable for mature tweens, teens, and adults alike, this delightful book celebrates resiliency, bravery, friendship, and many other positive qualities. I absolutely blew through it I enjoyed it so much.


In Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet, the end is coming with the maturity of the antichrist. Unfortunately for doomsday, said antichrist was accidently switched at birth with another child and hasn’t exactly been raised to meet his destiny. Never the less, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalyspe are on their way — on motorcycles no less, and it looks like the end is coming one way or the other.

This book is laugh out loud funny but still manages to keep you in suspense about the end. What surprised me completely is that the end of this totally irreverent and outrageous book includes a highly moving message. Don’t know how that got in there, but it was the icing on a devilishly good cake for  me.

Good Omens was first published in 1990, but reads just as great today. There’s continuing talk of a movie version. We’ll see.

The Gates is Irish crime writer John Connolly’s first book aimed at young as well as adult readers and was just published last year. It would make a terrific movie.

I would be there on opening day for either of them.

When Is a Castle a Rook?

Thursday, September 30th, 2010


These “Richard Castle” books just crack me up. Seriously. If, like me, you’re a fan of the TV series Castle, you can’t help but get a big kick out of these series-related books.

However, unlike most books that derive from television programming (think Star Trek for an especially successful version), these books are not a continuation of the show. Instead these are books that the show’s lead character, Richard Castle, “writes.” Actor Nathan Fillion, who plays Richard Castle, is pictured on the back cover as the author and the back flap bio replicates that character’s TV persona.

In reality, these snappy mysteries are written by one of the genuine, flesh-and-blood mystery writers who have appeared on the show (remember those poker games?). Which one? I haven’t tried to find out but I bet the truth is out there.

The first book, Heat Wave, came out at the beginning of the second season, and was prominently displayed on the show. The synergy must have been pretty solid, because this second book came out just as the third season started. It seems the not-real Richard Castle has to meet the same once-a-year deadlines as real popular fiction writers!

It’s obvious where Castle finds his inspiration: Nikki Heat and her police team from the books are thinly veiled versions of Kate Beckett and her crew on the TV show. Castle re-imagines himself as Jamison Rook (cute name twist huh?), a journalist.

But there are differences, too. And this last book had one revelation about the Rook character that really knocked me out.

They’re fun reads, for sure, but what’s even more fun is the whole idea of real books from a fake writer. You’ve got to love that.

Vacation Reading

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

The first thing I do when we plan a vacation is pick out the books I’m going to take along. Then I change them about a dozen times before settling on a final collection.

I don’t have a particular style of book I want to read when on holiday — I’ve taken everything from Fielding’s Tom Jones to Lee Child thrillers along for the ride. In fact, I like to really mix up my genres. But I do have a fear of not having something on hand to read, so for a two-week trip I’ll usually pack seven books. And I’m often on that very last book on the way home. I sure wish I had that much time to read at home!

My vacation books all fall in the read-and-release category, however. After I finish a book I leave it at the B&B or on the cruise ship or in the airport or wherever. That means I never carry books that I think I might want to add to my permanent library.

Most of my vacation books come from Friends-of-the-Library sales or estate sales. FOTL sales are a great resource for gently used books at bargain prices. I stumbled across my first one in Hot Springs, Arkansas and came away with three boxes filled with books.

What makes these sales extra wonderful is that all the folks there — both volunteers and shoppers — are avid book lovers. That means you can get great recommendations on new authors with ease. The books themselves are usually a combination of library discards and books donated by library patrons. And, since the funds raised go to support the library, you’re doing good while doing pretty well for yourself.

Of course, I’ve gone overboard with these sales and now have a closet literally filled with books to chose from come vacation time. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but when someone recommends a book (and it’s a bargain) I can’t resist picking it up.

Fortunately, one of the best thing about books is that they never, ever go stale.

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