Monday, February 28, 2011

Hatin' on Wang Lung

Today begins our next-to-last week of discussion of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth over at The Classic Reads Book Club! If you want to join us for some Wang Lung hatin', come on over and join the partay! :D

I have to say, I've had SUCH a good time leading this discussion! It makes me all the more excited for
  • The March 14th BookClubSandwich discussion of The United States of Arugula  by David Kamp.
  • The Affinity Readalong coming up on March 28th!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Sunday Salon - In the Middle

Happy Sunday Salonning, everyone! It's a quiet morning in my house. Greyson is gone to his G-Mama's house for a few days. Chuck and I are trying to catch up with school work and work work. I'll wake him and the kids up for church soon, but for now I'm lounging on the couch watching Rachael Ray's Week in a Day, enjoying a cool breeze from the open patio door. After church, my day will be filled with grading essays and discussion forums for my online classes. The best part about that: I'll be grading at the library! My 'brary recently got a subscription to Overdrive, so now I can download e-books to my Nook and audiobooks, too! I'm really excited about it, and I already have a wishlist of books I want to download. More on that later...

Right now I'm in the middle of several really fantastic books.


Y'all already know about my Affinity Readalong. I'm on page 50ish of this book, and I'm nothing but impressed with Waters thus far. The book is atmospheric and I'm already intrigued by the Millbank prison setting. With my influx of historically-based fiction lately, I'm doing lots of Googling. I was fascinated to read about the history of the now-destroyed Millbank prison. One of my favorite factoids I learned in grad school was about philosopher, Jeremy Bentham's, principles of the Panopticon. A panopticon is a prison just like Millbank: a central tower with surrounding wards. Within each ward there would've also been a central area. The idea is that if prisoners think they're being watched by someone in the central space (even if they aren't really), they're more likely to self-regulate. Same concept behind our contemporary traffic cameras. :D

Next book on the docket is The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp. I've never read anything of Kamp's and only realized his existence when Kim suggested The United States of Arugula for our next BookClubSandwich discussion. Kamp is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and GQ, and he's quite the funny, passionate guy! I'm not too far in, but so far I like the premise of this book. He plans to cover the "American food revolution" from the 1930s to the present day. He posits that Americans have vastly more choice and variety in their food these days and that we are more sophisticated and informed in our food choices. While he doesn't deny that processed, packaged, and fast foods are a problem, he chooses to focus on the people who have made the food revolution possible: James Beard, Julia Child, Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, and a slew of others. I'm still in the Introduction, but I can't wait to dive in some more once  these papers are graded.

Finally, I got back into Siri Hustvedt's new novel, The Summer Without Men because my Nook wasn't charged. :) Some of you may remember that I worship Siri Hustvedt. I absolutely loved her "big three" as I call them: The Blindfold, What I Loved, and A Plea for Eros: Essays. I'm still on the fence about The Summer Without Men. It's about a woman whose husband bails out after many years of marriage, and she returns home to Minnesota to hang out with her mom and her very spunky, aged friends. It's not a new premise, and I'm not sure what Hustvedt will bring to it that's new. We'll see. The writing is still lovely, but the premise of this one concerns me a bit.

What are you reading today? One book or the masses? Required or for pleasure only?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Atonement by Ian McEwan

What's to be written about Atonement that hasn't been said or written before? Probably nothing, but I still had to throw my hat into the ring on this book.

First, an admission. It's been sitting on my shelf unread for something like seven years. I was neck-deep in Yahoo book discussion groups when the buzz about this book came around. I specifically remember Les talking about it, and while I wanted to read it, I haven't actually plucked it off my shelf until now. It's almost a shame to have waited so long, but then again, by not flowing with the hype at the time, I came to this novel with something of a fresh outlook. I still had expectations and I was interested to see where I would fit in the love/hate continuum, but there wasn't too much pressure to read it or love it. This one seems to be quite the polarizing novel with polarizing characters.

The verdict? I LOVED IT. I adored it for many of the same reasons that I was so bowled over by the other McEwan novel I've read and reviewed, On Chesil Beach. I'm hesitant to provide a plot summary for such a widely read book, so if you're looking for a top-notch synopsis and a thoughtful review, go over and check out Ana's writing at Things Mean a Lot. I'll keep it short and sweet when I say that this is a sweeping family and historical drama led by the 13-year-old Briony Tallis, her sister Cecilia, and the family housekeeper's son, Robbie. Briony witnesses a flirtation...the beginnings of something between Robbie and Cecelia, and it sets off a chain of events that are quite like watching a train derail.

What I love most about McEwan's writing, this novel and On Chesil Beach included, is his grasp of the intangible. McEwan manages to put thoughts, emotions, and nuance into words in such a way that it takes my breath away. There were times reading Atonement that I literally caught myself holding my breath because the words on the page were so effortlessly effective. So evocative of the characters' internal lives. The atmosphere and expectations in this book just soar!

This is a short passage, but it was one I took the time to highlight in my manic reading. It's just one in a long line of moments that McEwan grasps the intangible with beautiful words:
Briony slowed to a walking pace, and thought how he must hate her for interrupting him in the library. And though it horrified her, it was another entry, a moment of coming into being, another first: to be hated by an adult. Children hated generously, capriciously. It hardly mattered. But to be the object of adult hatred was an initiation into a solemn new world. It was promotion.
Wow! Right? I just thought to myself, everyone has probably felt this way--this shift--at least to some extent. But I never would've been able to describe it this way, with this much economy and clarity.

For all these years I've managed to avoid spoilers that would give away the end of this novel. I did know there was some sort of twist coming, and I actually guessed the twist, and I want to address it WITHOUT SPOILERS. To be short and sweet about the whole thing: I thought it was fitting. That doesn't make it any less wrenching or affecting, but I thought it was fitting. If you have thoughts about this facet of the book, please share in your comments. Just provide a spoiler warning.

There were times in this novel that I positively wanted to strangle some of the characters (hi, Briony!), and there were times I just wanted to hug some others (Robbie!). Simply put, it's just a breathtaking, finely-crafted, beautifully written novel. In fact, I would count it among my all-time favorites. It was a treat to read this book, and it's certainly one I'll re-read in a few years' time. If you're holding off like I was, I would urge you to go ahead and take the plunge. It's worth it!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Introducing: The Affinity Readalong

After my "Stalking Sarah Waters" post, several of you expressed an interest in a readalong of this book! So, why not?!

The Affinity Readalong will begin on Monday, March 28th. There will be two discussion installments:

Monday, March 28th, Parts 1 and 2
Monday, April 4th, Parts 3, 4, and 5

I could've split this book into more parts, but the truth of the matter is that it's not that long at 337 pages so I'm assuming many of us will read straight through. It's also something of a shot in the dark the way I'm splitting up the parts. One of the downsides of e-reading is that I can't actually flip through to see how long each section is. So, in the grand tradition of adventure, I'm guessing!

For those of you who are on the fence about reading along, here's a blurb to get you interested:

Set in and around the women's prison at Milbank in the 1870s, Affinity is an eerie and utterly compelling ghost story, a complex and intriguing literary mystery and a poignant love story with an unexpected twist in the tale.
Following the death of her father, Margaret Prior has decided to pursue some 'good work' with the lady criminals of one of London's most notorious gaols. Surrounded by prisoners, murderers and common thieves, Margaret feels herself drawn to one of the prisons more unlikely inmates – the imprisoned spiritualist – Selina Dawes. Sympathetic to the plight of this innocent-seeming girl, Margaret sees herself dispensing guidance and perhaps friendship on her visits, little expecting to find herself dabbling in a twilight world of seances, shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions.
Is that enough to convince you to dive in? I hope so! If you'll be participating, enter your information into Mr. Linky below...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cheers to Six Years!

Sorry for the double post today, but I couldn't let six years of blogging pass me by. Actually, it sort of already did, since my actual bloggiversary is February 21st, but close enough! You know what this means, right??? I'm officially an old bloggy lady. OOOOLLLDDDD.

You probably already know the story, if you've been following for a while, but this blog did not start off with books. For a couple of years it was a place to vent while I was in graduate school. I cursed a lot. A LOT. I was also coming out of a failed relationship, I boozed it up with friends, generally went through my adolescence at 25, did some intellectual and spiritual exploring, and came out on the other side a reasonably well-rounded adult.

So, yeah, I'm more mature now. For the most part. I turned to books when I realized I was tired of seeing myself type unhappy-mid-20s stuff. It's been smooth sailing ever since!

I don't have any big giveaways because this sort of snuck up on me with all the goings-on in my daily life as of late. I don't have any cool pics to post. I don't even have a vlog (which I've wanted to put together FOREVER). All I have is my sincere gratitude that I have visitors who are smart and cool and love books as much as I do. Readers who take part in my everyday heartaches and victories with kind words and virtual hugs. I cherish y'all as a part of my everyday life, and the sense of community in the book blogosphere still overwhelms me.

My greatest wish: six more years (at least) of blogging with you all. Thanks for being here.


Stalking Sarah Waters

So maybe not stalking exactly, but I've become highly interested in Sarah Waters' work all of a sudden. Several weeks ago, I discovered that B&N has a video podcast I can access through Apple TV, and I watched an interview with Waters dealing largely with her latest book, The Little Stranger.

To preface this post a little more, I've heard NOTHING but really wonderful things about Waters' work. I really have no frackin' clue why I haven't read any of her stuff beyond the fact that her books are ALWAYS checked out of my library. ALWAYS. It's crazy to me that years-old books still have holds on them. It must be proof positive that I'm missing something really good.

Now that I've decided to read Waters' work, I'm torn as to how I want to go about it. Should I be systematic and start from the beginning? Should I jump into the book that appeals to me most?

Looking over her catalog of material, Affinity definitely grabs me the most. Of course, I've been bowled over by all the praise for Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet, but from a purely premise-based judgement, I REALLY wanna read Affinity. The very short blurb that grabs me by the hair:
From the dark heart of a Victorian prison, disgraced spiritualist Selina Dawes weaves an enigmatic spell. Is she a fraud, or a prodigy? By the time it all begins to matter, you'll find yourself desperately wanting to believe in magic.
 Right ON! Sounds creepylicious and intriguing. Furthermore, I admit to having sort of a fascination with prisons. While that sounds completely weird, it's just true. Old prisons, new prisons, open prisons, derelict prisons. If there's a prison show: Ghost Hunters investigation, National Geographic expose, I'm there. When I was watching the Waters interview and heard "prison," my ears perked up. A Victorian women's prison??? Even better! How often do we get to read about those!

I suppose my fascination with prisons comes from a long line of movies and TV--some fiction, some non. While prisons hold the seediest, most dangerous members of our society, they are a mixed bag of evil and kindness, deprivation and rehabilitation. Movies like The Shawshank Redemption have certainly had some bearing on my fascination. Beyond that, documentary series like National Geographic's Lockdown have also fed my interest in recent years.

At this point I think I've pretty much talked myself into purchasing Affinity for my Nook, but I still want to know which of Sarah Waters' books would you recommend to start?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Personally: A Belated Love List

Hey everyone, and a happy belated Valentine's Day to you all. I was busier than a kitty in new litter at work yesterday, so I didn't have a chance to post any thoughts, feelings, or ponderings for the day.

This week and last have truly been some of the most personally trying days of my life. I'm having lots of anxiety and complicated grief issues after the recent death in our family, and if I ever sleep a solid night again, I think I might jump for joy. I keep telling myself these feelings are normal, and reading on grief forums that I'm normal, and talking to Chuck about how we're normal. But I don't feel normal yet. Every day is a little better, but it's a significant road ahead.

This weekend I attended church for the first time in a long time. I'm not proud of having been out of the Christian loop for years on end, but it's a personal process, and to be very honest, I think I lost my faith for a long time. At a time like this when I'm feeling rather empty, it was humbling to be in a place full of caring and compassion and purpose. In short, it just made me feel better. It made me feel like I did before I lost my way.

There hasn't been much reading going on at my place--often too brain-fried and sleepy to focus. BUT, I did want to make up a love list--things I adore--to celebrate Valentine's Day and give a nod to those things that help me feel like myself and provide joy on a regular basis.

  • My family--Chuck, the Rockets, Greyson, the dogs, my mom and my extended family
  • Good movies. I watched The Social Network this weekend and thought it was one of the smartest, funniest movies I've seen in a long time.
  • Sunlight, open windows, and pleasant weather.
  • Work for keeping me busy and giving me good friends who are supportive.
  • Greyson's little quirks that make me laugh every day. He has a "bobble head" thing he's doing lately that cracks me up every time.
  • Long drives in the car
  • Bookstores and cafes
  • Kind strangers who just want to help 
I could go on forever, but in the last weeks these have been constant.

Thanks to all my bloggy friends for your kind words and support. I love y'all. :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Trying to Get Back to Normal

Hey y'all.

I'm back on the blogging scene. A little earlier than I actually expected, but the Dallas area is once again covered in snow and ice. The kids and I are off today, and Chuck is catching up on some lost sleep.

Sadly, it was not a positive event that kept me away from the blogosphere. I won't go into detail for purposes of privacy, but we did lose a close family member, and it's taken quite the toll on everyone.  If my family feels comfortable, I may share more later, but for now, that's all I'll divulge.

The weather is stressing me out for maybe the first time in my life! Dallas was snowed in from Tuesday to Saturday of last week. I missed ALL WEEK of work. I took a personal day on Monday, and then we were off the rest of the week. I took the first two days off this week, and now we're out of school again. By law, career colleges in Texas have to make up every minute of missed time. That means a lot of extra administrative work and oversight on my part to keep my department running correctly. I'm actually looking forward to going back just so we can get this mess straightened out.

In the meantime, my reading has taken a bit of a dip, and understandably so. I've been looking for mindless fun to keep me occupied, so I've become addicted to Bakery Story and Restaurant Story (apps on the iPhone). They're both simulation games, kinda like Farmville or the like. I have to say, my bakery and my restaurant are both kicking ass.

It looks like it'll be an uneventful day around here. Work has officially called off day classes, and they're supposed to make the call about the night sections before 2:00. IF I have to go in, it'll be from 2:00-8:00. We'll see. In the meantime, Rocketboy, Greyson, and I are watching stuff on Apple TV. So far we've indulged in several songs by The Wiggles, and now we're watching snippets from Pee Wee's Playhouse. Greyson is eating a remote control and dancing. Rocketboy is doing the same (minus the remote). Rocketgirl is upstairs working on a project. Puppies are sleeping.

I hope you're all having a good week so far. I've missed you.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Unexpected Hiatus

An unexpected blogging break. We're all fine, but I just need to be gone for a bit. Less than a week is my estimate, but we'll see since I wasn't able to post much last week either. I hope you all have happy days.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Clearing My Reading Shelves

Sometimes I'm such a waffler. I've had several books going, and I don't seem to be making any headway! This is usually a symptom of my reading cravings not being met. In the past I might've endured a book that just doesn't blow my skirt up, but in the spirit of keeping my reading fresh and myself happy in 2011, I've cleared out! I'm laying aside The Sugar Mother and will come back to it later. I'm also suspending my Harry Potter re-read. I will continue chipping away at The Woman in White.

My main read of the moment is now Atonement by Ian McEwan. I've had this book on my shelves for years and all of a sudden it started calling to me. I haven't walked past the shelves. I haven't read up on McEwan. For some reason, though, it popped into my head and won't go away.

My only experience with McEwan has been On Chesil Beach. I listened to it on audio in 2008 and instantly fell in love with it. You can read my Bibliobuffet review of it here. His language was rich, his atmosphere thick and clingy. Awesome, awesome book. And somehow I've never had more than a passing interest to read Atonement.

Today is an ice day here in Texas, so I'm home watching movies with the kids. I also finally indulged Atonement and picked it up from the shelves. I'm only on page 13, but I'm almost certain this one will grab me and suck me right on in. For all the years that I've read reviews of this book, I've managed to sidestep spoilers, and maybe my luck will hold out for a few more days.

I can't wait to see what all the hooplah (and occasional outrage) has been about.

What's been calling to you lately?
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