Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Yellow Wallpaper

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I was not prepared for this book. Not prepared for the story, the symbolism, the sadness, or the size. The story, itself, is only 25 pages long. It was published in 1892, overlooked for some 50 years and then republished by The Feminine Press.

I don't want to give away anything about the story. I knew nothing of it when I started and feel that sometimes it's nice to approach a book or movie without any preconceived notions. Giman's writing is rich with symbolism. Her portrayal of the main character's situation is masterful. This is a book I will think about for years to come. It is not a happy story, but it is meaningful.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sendak and Seuss

I chose a few children's books for my Banned Book Challenge: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

In the Night Kitchen has been banned by many schools due to the nudity of the main character who is a young toddler named Mickey. Some librarians have reportedly used black marker to draw shorts on him and others have used white-out to draw diapers.

Searching the internet, you can find out all sorts of symbolism attached to the images and activities. Some are pretty far out. I thought it was an okay book, nothing great. If you are looking for male nudity in a kids book, my suggestion for a delightful story is Tub Toys by Terry Shannon and Timothy Warner, illustrated by Lee Calderon. The grandkids love it and Papa, Grandma and all the aunts love reading it to them.

I was really on a speed-reading roll today, so I went ahead and read The Lorax, too. I was really pushing myself, I know! The Lorax was banned in the Laytonville, California School District on grounds that this book "criminalizes the forestry industry." This cautionary tale chronicles the plight of the environment against the greedy Once-ler who cuts down all the Truffula trees to knit Thneeds from their soft tufts. Originally published in 1971 it's the only Dr. Seuss banned from school curricula across the US. Of course, as the country became more environmentally-friendly The Lorax has been incorporated into many lesson plans.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Hat Full of Sky

by Terry Pratchett
I absolutely love this series about a young (11-yr-old) witch-in-training and her wee little friends the Nac Mac Feegles. This sequel to Wee Free Men takes place 3 years later when Tiffany Aching leaves the Chalk where she's spent her whole life to go live and train with Miss Level as an apprentice.

Miss Level is a single person with 2 bodies and she has a terrible time keeping apprentices. Tiffany is a bit annoyed that Miss Level doesn't dive right into teaching magic lessons, but over time, Tiffany learns the most important lesson about witches - duty. Tiffany realizes that her duty is to protect others, even at the cost of her own life.

Pratchett's skill with developing his characters is such that even if the story weren't gripping (which is it), the reader would still want to learn more about the characters' growth and their interactions with each other. The characters are quirky and lovable.

This series is aimed at juvenile readers but can be read and enjoyed by adults, who might sense some more of the humor in the situations and characters than younger readers will. I think my teenage daughter would love these books - hope I can figure a way to get her reading them.

Pratchett says important things but you never feel like it's preaching because he says it in such humorous ways.

One of my favorite parts of the novel was towards the end of Ch 1 when Jeannie was teaching her husband, Rob Anybody how to write. "The Nac Mac Feegles of the Chalk hated writing for all kinds of reasons, but the biggest on was this: writing stays. It fastens words down. Ya might as well nail a man's shadow to the wall." The clan watched in fascinated horror as two of Rob's brothers pushed him (sweat dripping off his forehead) towards the paper pinned up on the chamber wall. This little scene goes on for pages as Rob learns to write his own name, starting first with the fat man walking - the letter R.

This is my first book for Carl's Fantasy Challenge.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Flowers for Algernon

by Daniel Keyes
This is my 1960's Decade Challenge book. I've wanted to read it ever since 1968 when I saw the movie Charly that was based on this book. The movie starred Cliff Robertson in the starring role as Charly Gordon, a mentally retarded man in his 30's. I thought Robertson did an awesome job. Now that I've read the book, my next movie from Netflix is Charly. It will be interesting to see how the movie and book compare. My gosh, the movie was nearly 40 years ago (and I'm only 28. How does that happen?!)

Charly has an IQ of 70, but he is anxious to learn and works very hard in his classes for the mentally retarded. He has a job at a bakery running errands and cleaning. It's a job he loves and there are people there who are his friends. All this is about to change when Charly is selected for an experimental operation that may raise his intelligence. The same procedure has been very successful when tested on a lab mouse named Algernon.

The book is written as a series of Project Reports by Charly himself, starting before the operation and continuing for 7-8 months afterwards. The first entries capture Charly's innocence and fear and his desire to be smart. The entries are fraught with misspelled words and reveal Charly's low intellect. As the operation proves to be a success we follow Charly's rapid rise in intelligence. He peaks with an IQ of 185, above that of the scientists behind the experiment.

Charly's emotional growth does not keep pace with his intellectual development. Memories from his childhood were now accessible to him in vivid detail and he has to try to deal with them. There are other things he's not emotionally ready to handle, such as relationships, especially those with women.

I'm glad I read Flowers for Algernon and highly recommend it. If you're looking for a mild science fiction that's interesting and quick to read, with emotional charge, this is a perfect choice.

In addition tocounting for the By the Decades Challenge, Flowers for Algernon also counts for the Banned Books and the TBR challenge.

Monday, March 26, 2007

An Intervention Program is Needed

I know you are all sure that I'm totally addicted. I'm started to get a bit worried, as well. I think Piksea is working on an intervention program for me to cure me from my challenge addiction. (see comments on last post)

The point is - I've joined another challenge. And yes, it's going to be great fun. The latest is the Once Upon A Time Fantasy challenge sponsored by Carl V. I'm calling it a fantasy challenge, but it really encompasses 4 genres: fantasy, mythology, folklore and/or fairy tale. Carl has designed four 'quests' we can choose from to complete this challenge. I am going with quest 1.

"Quest One: Read at least 5 books from any of the 4 genres." I have chosen the following books for this challenge. My list of possibilities was so long and each title so tantalizing that I had a difficult time whittling it down to five.

1. Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor (I first heard of this book from Carl. I was reading Through the Looking Glass for the Classics Challenge and thought it would be fun to read this one afterwards. I bought it and it's been sitting on the shelf for a couple of months. It begged to be read for this challenge.)

2. Dreams Underfoot by Charles deLint (I've read a couple of books by deLint. He is an amazing storyteller who uses vivid imagery. It's hard to pick favorites, but he may be my favorite fantasy writer.)

3. Something Rotten by Jasper Fford (I've read the first three in this series and enjoyed them immensely, so I'm really looking forward to this one.)

4. A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (The sequel to The Wee Free Men which I read a couple of weeks ago. Absolutely delightful.)

5. Princess Bride by William Goldman (I'm reading this book for the By the Decade Challenge (1970) and the Spring Thing Challenge. Uhhhh, triple duty! I'll get to scratch it off 3 lists - what fun!)

*Bonus Reads*
6. Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett (I went to the library to check out Moving Pictures, which was the book I originally planned for this slot. Wyrd Sisters grabbed my attention first, however. As I read the back cover and found out that it featured Granny Weatherwax, who also plays a large role in A Hat Full of Sky, there was no decision to make. I did leave Moving Pictures on my By the Decade Challenge.

7. Of Mice and Magic by David Farland (suggested by Framed and Alsyon from Fifty Books)

8. A Book Without Words by Avi (I saw this on Jenclair's list and since I love Avi's books I decided to add it to my list.)

Post Script - added on Mar 28 I was looking over some of the lists from others joining the Fantasy Challenge and discovered on Chris Howard's list a book by Orson Scott Card that I had not heard of - Hart's Hope. I'm adding it to the bonus reads and will keep my fingers crossed that I have time to fit it in.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spring Reading Thing

Lest you think I can't resist a challenge, let me reassure you that I can stop at any time. I'm not addicted. I choose to join just about every challenge I come across. Besides, they're reading challenges. They're good for me. Besides, look at this cute button and tell me how anyone could resist?

The Spring Reading Thing is hosted by Katrina at Callipiddar Days, a delightful blog. You need to check it out if you haven't already. I appreciated her explanation for "Why Callipidder Days" for her blog title, especially the last paragraph.

The Challenge is not about pressure, but about goals. Each participant decides how many books to read between March 21 and June 21. The reward is the satisfaction of completing some of those delicious, enticing books from our lists/stacks. (Plus, their are prizes!)

My lists consists of a few books I'm reading for other challenges. I'm finding the joy of reading one book and crossing it off 2 or more challenge lists is just too exhilarating for words. I've chosen books from my TBR list and my stacks and books that reflect the feel and idea of spring: light, flowers, brides.

1. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance by, who else, Jacques Lusseyran

2. Slowing Down to the Speed of Light by Richard Carlson & Joseph Bailey (One of those dreaded self-help books - but this one sounds pretty good.)

3. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (Loved the movie and Cliff Robertson, who played Charlie.)

4. The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber (1st in a series for which I've read many rave reviews)

5. The Pea Blossom by Amy Lowry Poole (A children's book based on Hans Christian Andersen's "Five Peas from One Pod."

6. A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist (The setting is the Virginia colonies in1643 and it has one of those covers that I talked about in a previous post.)

7. Princess Bride by William Goldman (I've heard it's even better than the movie!)

Thanks, Katrina, for the inspiration for this challenge. I'm looking forward to it with gusto.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Pardonable Lies

by Jacqueline Winspear
This is book 3 in the series starting with Maisie Dobbs, followed by Birds of a Feather. I think the series gets better with each installment. Maisie is a former nurse who served in France during WWI. She has her dragons that are kept at bay through her hard work at her own detective agency, but in this book she is forced to face them as she travels to France on an assignment.

Pardonable Lies is set in England and France in 1930. Part of the magic of this series is that you feel like you are in the same time period while you are reading. Winspear captures the mood of the age through her description of fashion, decor, and through the dialogue spoken between the characters. You really get a sense of what is 'proper'.

Another reason I enjoy this series is the well-written, tightly woven mystery. Maisie works on 3 separate assignments in this story, but each provides insight that helps solve the others. On a more personal level they provide Maisie with important lessons in settling the past and moving on with her life.

Maisie mentor, Maurice, is present more in this book than the last two. At one point he gives Maisie the following advice: "(There is) the task that we are all sent to accomplish in each other's lives. It is a task of which we have no conscious awareness, but it is there all the same."

More advice from Maurice: "Consider your discomfort and welcome it as the ache necessary for you to become more deeply attuned."

Again, from Maurice: " As time passes we find that the clothes of the past do not fit, do not serve us anymore. As you grew, as you matured, the cloak of recovery ceased to coveryour pain, your guilt at survival."

I liked the imagery of this passage: Maisie turned her thoughts to her investigation, which was proceeding like liquid in a funnel, pouring toward an ever-narrowing point until captured in the cup below.

Just one more passage that caught my attention: Talk went back and forth in such a way that an observer might have been reminded of a tennis game on a summer's day, played not for a wager, or particularly to win, but for the pleasure of connection.

I felt pampered as I indulged myself in reading a mystery after so many months on classics and other pursuits. It was truly a pleasant pastime.

Monday, March 19, 2007

2007 Tournament of Books

The Morning News is conducting a Tournament of Books sponsored by Powell's Books of Portland, Oregon. The Morning News is an online magazine that publishes weekdays and has been online since 1999.

If you click on the poster, you'll be directed to the current match off.

On this page the left sidebar list the sixteen books picked (by readers, I think) for the tournament. Round One ended today. Next up is Round Two followed by the Semifinals, the Zombie Round and finally the Championship Round. Each match has a different judge. The Championship Match winner is determined by ALL the judges.

At the bottom of the page is the Peanut Gallery where you can vote if you agree with the judge's decision or not. There also a link to a commentary from 2 contributing writers for The Morning News. They don't always agree with the judge.

There's even a bracket you can download that shows which books go against each other. For those of us who love books and enjoy a contest this is great fun. I've only heard of a few of the books, but it's still fun to watch the tournament and see which book takes the Rooster Award. Will it be Half of a Yellow Sun, The Emperor's Children or Firmin? Look the challengers over and let me know what your pick is.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving
Some books are harder to read than others; some books have a bigger payback than others. Even though it took me 15 days to read this book and there were times I thought I'd never finish, I really enjoyed A Prayer for Owen Meany.

The main character, Owen Meany, is unforgettable. Everything about Owen grabs your attention: his size, HIS VOICE, his determination, his faith, his life and his death. Owen's best friend, the narrator, plays a supporting role in the story and, even though he seems bland, he is very necessary to the story and to Owen's life and heroism.

This book has 'classic' written all over it. Irving is an excellent writer. At one point in the book Owen tells his best friend, ". . . any good book is always in motion - from the general to the specific, from the particular to the whole, and back again. Good reading - and good writing about reading - moves the same way." Irving writes like that. From the first sentence we know that Owen was instrumental in his best friend's mother's death. The specifics come later. Early on we learn that Owen Meany is going to die, but we don't learn the specifics until the last few pages of the book.

A few passages that I made note of. There are quite a few. Don't feel like you have to read them all. I write these because I want to read over them again someday, not to bore people.
We don't enjoy giving directions in New Hampshire - we tend to think that if you don't know where you're going, you don't belong where you are.
Your memory is a monster; you forget - it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you - and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you.
Mr. Merrill was most appealing because he reassured us that doubt was the essence of faith, and not faith's opposite.
Rev. Mr. Wiggin's sermons were about as entertaining and convincing as a pilot's voice in the intercom, explaining technical difficulties while the plane plummets toward the earth and the stewardesses are screaming.
They were a couple with a theme - sadly, it was their only theme, and a small theme, and they overplayed it. (we all know people like this, don't we?)
What do Americans know about morality? They don't want their presidents to have penises but they don't mind if their presidents covertly arrange to support the Nicaraguan rebel forces after Congress has restricted such aid; they don't want their president to deceive their wives but they don't mind if their presidents deceive Congress - lie to the people and violate the people's constitution!
This is a NY Times Newspaper heading, May 30, 1987.
Reagan Declares
Firmness on Gulf;
Plans Are Unclear
Thanks to my daughter, Alyson, for recommending this book. It took me a while, but I finally got to it. I can see why it's your favorite - so much symbolism, foreshadowing, meaty characters, and very good writing. There is a lot to think about with this book. And I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

15 Books/15 Decades

I love challenges - they provide the 'umph' I need to read books other than my beloved cozy mysteries. The most recent challenge that I've committed myself to was originally a personal challenge 3M came up with for herself. Of course, many of us who read her blog asked if we could join with her. Her goal is to read 15 books published in 15 different consecutive decades, but she is very flexible and says you can set our own goals as to how many books you read. You can read her rules and join her challenge by clicking HERE.

I decided I wanted to read 15 books from 15 decades. At first I wondered how I would go about finding when books were published. After a bit of searching I found a very wonderful and easy way to do this: Wikipedia. Go to the opening page and type in the search box the year you are interested in along with "in literature". For example, I searched '1860 in literature' and was shown a page that listed some of the books published in that year. At the top of that page you can click on a link to '1861 in literature'. It took a little time because I wanted to look at every year in every decade. I allowed several days. It was definitely interesting to get a sense of timing for books that were published around the same time.

Luckily, 3M is allowing overlap between this challenge and other challenges you may be involved with. That was the deciding factor in my joining this challenge. I've counted a couple from the classics challenge that I've already read. Here's the books I chosen with the year they were published.

2000 - Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai Aug 2006 Won the Booker Award for 2006. I own this book and need to get it read. Also on my TBR Challenge list.
1990 - Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett Nov 1990 I've read a few of Pratchett's books and liked them. This is another Discworld story.
1980 - A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving March 1 My daughter has been trying to get me to read this, her favorite book, for years. I chose it for one of my Chunkster Challenge selections and also one of my Banned Books.
1970 - Princess Bride by William Goldman 1973 I've wanted to read this since the first time I saw the movie.
1960 - Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes 1966 I bought this book because I loved the movie based on the book. It's also on my Banned Books list and the TBR Challenge.
1950 - The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain 1952 I think I'll need to add this to my Chunkster Challenge - it is over 800 pages.
1940 - First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton 1946 I first heard of Enid Blyton from several fellow bloggers who fondly remember her work from their childhoods. So when I saw this one listed in 1946 I decided to take the plunge.
1930 - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 1936 This was the only book written by Mitchell. It won the Pultizer Prize in 1937. This was also a choice for the Classics Challenge and the Chunkster Challenge.
1920 - Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder 1927 This will reveal my ignorance, but I didn't realize Wilder had written anything more than Our Town. I have heard of this book and the movie. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928.
1910 - The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington 1918 Won a Pulitzer Prize in 1919.
1900 - Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy 1905 I have owned this book for years. It's about time I read it. Also, I love the movie.
1890 - Adventures of the Crooked Man by Arthur Conan Doyle I've only read one Sherlock Holmes novel and since I love Laurie King's Holmes & Russells series, I want to read more from the creator of Holmes.
1880- Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson 1886
1870 - Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll 1872 I read this for the Classics Challenge.
1860 - The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins 1860 I read this one for the Classics Challenge and the Chunkster Challenge.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wee Free Men

by Terry Pratchett

This is the first in a trilogy of children's books featuring Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, and the Nac Mac Feegle, a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch blue men who are as fierce as they are funny.

Tiffany's quest is to find her younger brother after he has been kidnapped by the queen of the faeries. Armed only with a frying pan and the help of the Nac Mac Feegles, Tiffany sets off on her quest. Along the way she learns important things about herself.

The Wee Free Men is billed as a children's book - 6th grade- but it is a tale that can be enjoyed by adults as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to listening to the next two in the series: A Hat Full of Sky and Wintersmith. Stephen Briggs narrates the books and I am in awe of his fabulous Scottish brogue. He can roll his r's like none other.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

More Terrific Challenges

I've had my nonfiction books picked and posted in my sidebar for some time now, but I've been a bit slow writing a post and declaring my intentions to participate.

The Non-Fiction Five Challenge is being hosted by Joy over at "Thoughts of Joy". Between the months of May and September participants read five nonfiction books of their choice. I'm finding that choosing the books is the hardest part of any challenge. After much thought and deliberation I have chosen my five. I tried to pick some from my bookshelves in a small attempt to reduce the number of books I own that I have not read.

1. And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance

This astonishing autobiography tells the gripping, heroic story of the early life of Jacques Lusseyran, an inspiring individual who overcame the limitations of physical blindness by attending--literally--to the light within his own mind. Through faith in the connection between vivid inner sight and outer events, he became a leader in the French Resistance and survived the horrors at Buchenwald.

2. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman

My niece and then my sister read this book, so I decided to read it. At this point in my life, I really don't like reading self-help books, so don't be surprised if I change this selection when it actually comes to reading it. On the other hand, I do own it - bookmooched it just for this challenge.

3. Slowing Down to the Speed of Life by Richard Carlson & Joseph Bailey

Carlson, author of don't sweat the small stuff, and co-author bailey offer a slightly different approach to slowing down and simplifying one's life. While other books urge us to reduce activities or drastically alter our lifestyles, this one teaches us that feeling harried starts in the mind. The authors offer simple, effective ways to reorganize our thinking and reshape our experience of living without sacrificing productivity. Oh no, another self-help book and also, one I own!

4. Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs by Ken Jennings

I heard Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy fame, speak at the Salt Lake City Book Festival in Sep. He was quite delightful, personable and funny. He's the type of person you'd like for a neighbor. I'm looking forward to reading his book - and, it's not a self-help book. YAY!

5. Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen.

Lotus Reads' review of this book really intrigued me. Lotus mentioned that there was a chapter dealing with 'green funerals' and I'm hoping it will provide suitable alternatives to the high costs and stupidity of traditional funerals.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

by Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo won a Newberry Medal for The Tale of Despereaux and a Newberry Honor Award for Because of Winn-Dixie. The idea for this book came from a gift and a dream. One Christmas the author received a ceramic rabbit; the next night she dreamed he was laying face down on the ocean floor.

Edward Tulane is a very elegant, ceramic rabbit who belongs to Abilene, a young girl who adores and cares for Edward. When her family moves to America, Edward is lost in the ocean. This delightful, and sometimes sad, book is about Edward's journey and what he learns along the way.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

2007 Winter Classics Challenge Winners

It's so much fun to do drawings and give away fun prizes. Thirty people finished the Classics Challenge and read 5 books. Twenty-nine of those names went into the drawing for the prizes.

3M - 3M's Challenges
Alyson - Fifty Books
Bellezza - Dolce Bellezza
Bookfool - Bookfoolery and Babble
Bookish Lore - Literary Craving
Brandie - A Journey of 1000 Stitches
Caligula03 - Puss Reboots
DJ - Minute Marginalia
Eva - A Striped Armchair
Framed - Framed and Booked
Heidijane - Adventures in Bookland
Henk - Masterpieces
Janet - Joyful Jottings
Joy - Thoughts of Joy
Literary Feline - Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Lotus - Lotus Reads
Mary - Mary's Library
Melanie - The Indextrious Reader
Nessie - The Biblio Files
Orange Blossom - The Library Ladder
Paula - On a Rainy Night
Raidergirl - Book of Books
Rjam - Links and Things
Sarala - Blogaway
Sfp - Pages Turned
Susan - My Reading Adventures
SuzieQoregon - Blogging My Books
Tony - Storyteller's World
Wendy - Caribousmom

Five others finished 4 books.

Melissa - Book Nut
Petunia - Educating Petunia
Shauna - Shaunarumbling
Tanabata - In spring It is the Dawn
Verbivore - Incurable Logophilia

That's 170 classics read during Jan and Feb. Plus several read 1, 2, or 3 classics bringing the total reported to 204. I know that some of you would have read some classics without the challenge, but I would have only read one, The Woman in White. So I think all-in-all the challenge was a big success. Maybe we'll do it again next year? It was fun to host this challenge and I appreciate all those who joined in and made it sucessful. I've met some new bloggers and have enjoyed gettting to know so many of you better.

And now for the WINNERS . . .

Fourth and Fifth Place winners of the Last Line bookmark and some bookdarts are
Petunia and Bookfool.

Third Place winner of a Emerson keychain is Melanie.

Second Place winner of a miniature sheet of British Jane Eyre postage stamps is Lotus.

First Place winner of The Illustrated Jane Eyre is Alyson.

Congratulations everyone. I really hope you enjoy your prizes. I you will each send me your snail mail addresses, I will get your prizes in the mail as soon as possible. Lotus, I know you sent me your address long ago when you won another contest, but I've since deleted it. So please send it again. Thank-you.