Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Change is good

For several years I have been participating in lots of reading challenges. I scaled back a little this year, but I still did quite a few, plus a goal for total number of books read, and an ongoing challenge or four.

I have decided that 2017 is going to be the year of no challenges.

For the first few years the challenges were good. They pulled me out of my box and got me reading different things. I broadened my taste and regained the ability--after the mommy years--to read hard books. I read some things that I wanted to read, but had put off.

This year, the challenges felt like a straight-jacket. They have started to take away my enjoyment of what has been my favorite pastime since I was a small child. Part of it is that I have read a good portion of the books that everyone is "supposed to read." I have developed a pretty broad taste in books, and so I end up with a lot of things that I want to read that don't fit any challenge. When I go through stressful times and just want brain candy, it stresses me out that those books don't fit my challenges.

 And, as a fairly well-read woman of 50+ years,  I no longer feel like I need to prove anything, even to myself. So the coming year is my year to read for the pure joy of it again.

I am going to post a couple of suggested reading lists that I will check off if I read the books. One will be a selection of the 2016 Goodreads Choice winners. I have found these books to be almost universally enjoyable. But this isn't a "read-ten-of-these list." It's a "these-books-look-good" list. I will keep a list of everything I read, but only because that has been an enjoyable thing. (As well as being useful!)

I will continue with the ongoing multi-year challenges, but only if they incidentally work with the books I'm reading. (I do have a few must-read books that I still must read: Les Miserables, Don Quixote, War and Peace. . . .

Reading shouldn't feel like one more chore to finish.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review: Spoon River Anthology

WHEN I Discovered This Classic I found an illustrated 1915 edition of this book in a used bookstore.

WHY I Chose to Read It I needed a break from Midnight's Children, and this was a nice break.

WHAT Makes It A Classic I think that there are a couple of things that make this book a classic, but mostly the unique form. The book is a collection of poems, each of which is the epitaph of one of the denizens of the town cemetery. Woven together they tell a story of the town and it's inhabitants over time.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I enjoyed it. I will probably read it again.
WILL It Stay A Classic
I would guess so.
WHO I’d Recommend It To
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy poetry, words, and who would enjoy the challenge of piecing together the story from the many bits of information.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Book Review: The Good Neighbor

The Good NeighborThe Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was so dreadful. I got it for free on Amazon, and I started reading it one night when I wanted to use my Kindle so my husband could sleep. At first I thought that the writing was just very simple. Sometimes, with good plotting and characters, that works. But this didn't have any of that. Just over halfway through I got to a section that was so badly written, that if it had been a book, and not my Kindle, I would have thrown it. Why, oh why, Amazon reviewers, did this have four stars? Abandoned, unfinished.

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Books to read again

My blog seems like as good a place as any for a list like this. I keep thinking of books that I want to read again; and want to capture those thoughts.
Some I have read once, and some many times.
Some have been brought back to mind by seeing someone else reading the book.
Some have been discussed in something that I have read recently.
Some want to be reread now, at a different time in my life than when I first encountered them.
Some I just love so much that I know they need rereading.

My plan is to try to read at least a few of these this year, and when I do write a reflection on the rereading. I will be adding to this list over time.

-Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
-The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon
-Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
-Bird by Bird by Anne Lamot
-Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
-. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmeyer

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Review: Gone With the Wind

So my April classic challenge read was Gone With the Wind. I need to answer the following questions about it:
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
WHY I Chose to Read It
WHAT Makes It A Classic
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
WILL It Stay A Classic
WHO I’d Recommend It To

Like most people, my first exposure to GWTW was via the movie. I had not ever really thought much about the book, but it kept popping up on various  lists of books that should be read, great books, etc., so I added it to my Filling in the GAPS Challenge list. I love historical fiction, and Margaret Mitchell was removed enough from the time period of the novel that it qualifies as historical fiction. Also, as a history major, I became very interested in the experience of the Civil War in the south and the difficulties of reconstruction.
I think that the timeless themes that GWTW deals with are part of the reason it's a classic. Survival, adaptability, love--of people, land, money, a way of life, are among the major themes of the movie. . In addition, the writing is good, and the story is compelling. The novel Vanity Fair is subtitled "A Novel Without a Hero," and I felt that that would have been a very appropriate subtitle for this book.  I kept feeling echoes of other women in literature who were the strivers, schemers, or the ruiners of their own happiness. In different ways I found Scarlett to bring to mind Rebecca Sharp, Lily Bart, Emma Bovary, & Anna Karenina. The characters are flawed, but real. (With the exception of Mammy. Mammy is awesome.)
This book left me with such mixed feelings. I enjoyed the story and the writing, but it is difficult to read such a rose-colored view of slavery. Yes, some slaves were well-treated, and some did choose to stay with the families who had owned them after emancipation. Some were nearly family, being freed and left property, etc., but even the most well-treated were property. And many more were not treated well, were brutalized, hunted, etc.
It will be interesting to see what happens with GWTW as a classic. There are those who are trying to erase from history or culture any indications that the Civil War had issues and causes aside from slavery. There are those who deny many of the realities of the reconstruction era, the Democrat political background of the KKK, and the way that racism was propagated and enshrined in law up through the Jim Crow era. There has already been a published call to ban it, from a writer in the NY Post. This book doesn't hew to the ONE RIGHT WAY to look at history, so who knows how long it will last.
I would recommend this to people who like long books and historical fiction, don't mind reading a book in which they don't really like most of the characters, don't need a happy ending, and can look at a variety of viewpoints on history to try to understand the motivations and thought of the people at the time, without trying to retrofit modern attitudes to another time and place.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is the March entry for my Classics challenges, and I will answer these questions about it:
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
WHY I Chose to Read It
WHAT Makes It A Classic
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
WILL It Stay A Classic
WHO I’d Recommend It To

As with a number of classic books, I have been aware of A Tale of Two Cities since at least high school. I decided to read it because it one of those books that everyone should read, according to numerous lists of such things.
I am truly not sure why this book is a classic. I found the second part better than the first, but was truly not impressed. I have read some Dickens before, with varying amounts of satisfaction, but this will not go high on my list.
Since it has remained a classic for this long, it probably will stay one. I would really only recommend it to those who desire to read as much of the literary canon as possible.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Lord of the Flies

The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, is the second book for this particular classics challenge, and I will answer the following questions about it.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
WHY I Chose to Read It
WHAT Makes It A Classic
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
WILL It Stay A Classic
WHO I’d Recommend It To

The Lord of the Flies is one of those books that I have nearly always been aware of. I can picture the cover on the version that was on the shelves in my house growing up, and which is still floating around here somewhere. When I was in high school there were books that we were required to read, and then a list of optional reading that could be used for various papers, etc. I know this was on there, but I never chose it. I am sure that the fact that it was about a group of young boys probably influenced that.

I chose to read it now because it consistently appears on lists of the best books, and I am trying not to leave any significant holes in my reading.

I believe that it is a classic--and will stay a classic--because it addresses one of the most basic literary themes--man's inhumanity to man--at a basic level. It shows a truth that we all know: Children are not innocent. It affirms what we all know in our hearts, that without civilizing influences and "grown ups" enforcing the rules, there will always be those who will take advantage, take over, steal, murder, etc. But it also allows for some to be guided by a stronger sense of right and wrong, and by the welfare of others, as well as themselves.

I liked this book, although I didn't really expect to. It was well-written. The monsters were an interesting idea. You could feel the tragedy coming from the very beginning, and the book was sad, but somehow not in an overwhelming way.

I would recommend this book to those Pollyanna-ish people who believe in the innocence of children or the ideals of communism. This deeper truths of this book are a perfect illustration of why communism and socialism don't work.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Review: Lukewarming

Lukewarming: The New Climate Science that Changes EverythingLukewarming: The New Climate Science that Changes Everything by Patrick J. Michaels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an extremely readable, well-researched and documented look at the current state of climate science and the politics surrounding it. Because of all of the charts and graphs and pieces of information, I had to read it in chunks to digest the information thoroughly, but I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a better understanding of what is true and what is hype.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016


MeditationsMeditations by Marcus Aurelius
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has taken me a long time to get through. I have set it aside and returned to it a number of times, and I realized today that I needed to just plow through and finish it. I think that I would have enjoyed it more if the Kindle version weren't written in archaic English, with "thees" and "thous" and "hadst" and "shouldst." Even with the benefit of having grown up with the King James Bible and archaic language in church, it still slowed me down.

It was interesting to read the thoughts that this powerful man wrote down almost 2000 years ago. It has been nearly thirty years since I did any formal study of philosophy, but I could pick up his Stoic views in the writings. Ultimately, I am glad that I read it, and relieved to finally check it off my list.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016


It was poor planning on my part reading Faust in January, because it doesn't fit the category for my 12 Month Classics Challenge, because I haven't always wanted to read it. However, it is the first title for my other classics challenge, and for that challenge I have some blogging prompts.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
WHY I Chose to Read It
WHAT Makes It A Classic
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
WILL It Stay A Classic
WHO I’d Recommend It To

I am not really sure when I discovered Faust. I think I heard of Goethe while I was in high school, and I'm fairly certain that my first knowledge of the name "Faust" was because of the opera. At some point in the last few years, as I've been assembling a list of books that are gaps in my knowledge, I decided that Faust was one of them. I saw a review of this particular translation, and it sounded promising, so I ordered it.

I think Faust is a classic partially because the basic story has had many retellings in many forms--including Goethe's own revisions--over time. The poetry was the best part for me. I'm assuming that the translation was really well done, because there were none of the issues that you often run into with translated poetry. It isn't a book that I enjoyed all that much--except again--the poetry, but I'm sure it will remain a classic.

I would recommend it to my daughter and oldest son, especially since they could read the original German, too. And I think they would enjoy it.