December 23, 2010

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

December 23, 2010 0
I picked up two more books at the library yesterday: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert (the follow-up of sorts to Eat, Pray, Love). I read Committed in one sitting last night. I really enjoy Gilbert’s writing style. It reminds me of Carrie Bradshaw’s voice from Sex and the City…Carrie is a favorite character of mine. Committed tells the story of how Gilbert makes peace with a necessary second marriage to Felipe (the man she meets in Bali toward the end of Eat, Pray, Love) while taking an interesting look at the history and theory behind the institution of marriage itself. Liz and Felipe have no desire to marry again, although they have committed a lasting fidelity to one another; however, the US Department of Homeland Security has other plans for this happy couple. Here are some of the more interesting thoughts that I came across in the book:
·        People of our generation value our freedom of choice; however, “all these choices and all these longings can create a weird kind of haunting in our lives-as though ghosts of all our other, unchosen, possibilities linger forever in a shadow world around, continuously asking, Are you certain this is what you really wanted?” The consequences born from our freedom of choice are something from which we are never free…how ironic, right?
·        One of Gilbert’s single friends shares this: “Wanting to get married, for me, is all about a desire to feel chosen … that I am precious enough to have been selected by somebody forever.” This is really what relationships, of any kind, are all about…validation of personal worthiness.
·        And my favorite quote from Gilbert: “This is intimacy: the trading of stories in the dark. This act, the act of quiet nighttime talking, illustrates for me more than anything else the curious alchemy of companionship.” I love this because it speaks to how intimacy is not necessarily about sex, but about any of the private moments that any two given people chose to share…to how two people build their own private story that will never belong to any other two people.
Well, enough rambling I suppose…on to reading the Franzen…J

Comments Glitch...

Jillian was just nice enough to let me know that she was not able to leave a comment on my blog because of a problem with the word verification requirement...that I was not even aware that I had set up. I have removed this requirement from my settings and was wondering if someone would do me a huge favor and see if they are now able to again leave a comment on my blog without any issues?? Thanks so much!

December 22, 2010

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

December 22, 2010 3
After finally finishing Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for the first time as an adult, I am feeling rather “bi-polar” regarding my feelings for the book. In turn, it both delighted and irritated me. This was one of my favorite books as a child. In retrospect, I think I found it so endearing because (as the only child living with my grandmother) I longed to be a part of a family like the Marches. As a child, I don’t remember feeling the sometimes over-bearing morality of the novel, but only the lovely warmth exuded to me through the sister’s lives and adventures. At times, I still found this novel comforting. The sort of book that is best read aloud so the words can wash over you as you read. However, at other times I found myself rolling my eyes at the utter “sappiness” of it all. Even Beth’s death was sugar-coated for goodness sake. Perhaps this is just a testament to how times have changed since Book 1 of Little Women was first published in 1868 and Book 2 was published in 1869. After all, it was commissioned as a children’s book and children’s books at the time were mostly morality tales. As Jo says, when first trying to sell her work in NY: “but, Sir, I thought every story should have some sort of moral…” Little Women was also autobiographical in nature and proved a sharp contrast to the more racy adult stories that Louisa had previously been writing for various publications to earn her living. In Harriet Reisen’s biography, entitled Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, Louisa is quoted as having said this about the novel: “Not a bit sensational, but simple and true, for we really lived most of it; and if it succeeds, that will be the reason.” It certainly did succeed.

Louisa May Alcott

My favorite character is, as it is for most, Jo March…in who we find Louisa May Alcott herself: literary, unique, sassy, lively, independent, ambitious, yet sometimes low and lonely. Consider the following, one of my favorite scenes in the novel (reading as an adult):
“Jo was alone in the twilight, lying on the old sofa, looking at the fire, and thinking. It was her favorite way of spending the hour of dusk; no one disturbed her, and she used to lie there on Beth’s little red pillow, planning stories, dreaming dreams, or thinking tender thoughts of the sister who never seemed far away. Her face looked tired, grave and rather sad; for tomorrow was her birthday, and she was thinking how fast the years went by, how old she was getting, and how little she had seemed to have accomplished.”
Of course, Louisa never marries and Jo finally does. Although I liked the match of Jo and her Professor (once I got over the shock of her NOT marrying Laurie), I can’t decide if I would have preferred Jo stay unmarried and so more true to the character of Louisa. In this passage I truly sense that Louisa is speaking directly about herself:
“Don’t laugh at the spinsters, dear girls, for often very tender, tragical romances are hidden away in the hearts that beat so quietly under the sober gowns, and many silent sacrifices of youth, health, ambition, love itself, make the faded faces beautiful in God’s sight.”
In Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, we learn that Louisa would have preferred that Jo remain single, but that the demands of the majority won out: “Publishers … insist on having people married off in a wholesome manner which much afflicts me. “Jo” should have remained a literary spinster but so many enthusiastic ladies wrote to me clamorously demanding that she marry Laurie, or somebody, that I didn’t dare refuse, and out of perversity went and made a funny match for her.”

Bronson Alcott

The moral that stands out to me, among the many preached in the novel, is that money cannot buy happiness. Jo says this in the novel after an outing: “I don’t believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burned hair, old gowns, one glove a piece, and tight slippers that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.” Transcendentalism is my least favorite period in literature. I do not find favor in Emerson, Thoreau, or for that matter Bronson Alcott, also a Transcendentalist. He strikes me as a man who meant well, but in truth was selfish and altogether odd. The Alcott family suffered the challenges of profound poverty due to Bronson’s failure to provide for his family and I find myself wondering if Louisa’s younger years could really have been as happy, despite it all, as she depicts them through Little Women or if this was the way she simply preferred to remember it. We often remember the bad with more clarity than the good, but after reading Reisen's biography the opposite seems to be true in Louisa’s writing of Little Women.  Maybe that is the true moral of the story…that we should cherish the good rather than the bad and move forward to even better days.
Abigail Alcott...Marmee

Anna Alcott...Meg
Louisa May Alcott...Jo

Elizabeth Alcott...Beth

May Alcott...Amy

December 20, 2010

January Read-A-Longs...

December 20, 2010 0
Information about Allie’s read-alongs:
"There will be two times to post on the following days:
  • January 14-17, 2011: This post will focus on the first half of the book (roughly 190 pages, or chapters 1-15)
  • January 28-31 2011: This post will focus on the second half of the book (roughly 190 pages or chapters 16-27)"
"There will be two times to post on the following days:
  • January 14-17, 2011: This post will focus on the first half of the book (roughly 300 pages or so)
  • January 28-31 2011: This post will focus on the second half of the book (roughly 300 pages or so)"
"We will have four posts covering the following:
  • January 15, 2011: The first check-in will focus on volume 1. In my edition it is about 295 pages.
  • January 31, 2011: The second check-in will focus on volume 2. In my edition it is about 306 pages.
  • February 12, 2011: The third check-in will focus on volume 3. In my edition it is about 332 pages (the longest section).
  • February 28, 2011: The fourth check-in will cover volume 4 and the 2-part epilogue. These sections are about 282 pages in my edition."

December 14, 2010

Checkin In...Bookstore Adventures...

December 14, 2010 1
“The weather outside is frightful” in upstate NY! It was 12 degrees on the bank clock when I ran out to the library this morning. It is certainly a good time to curl up with a book! Tomorrow, I have to go for my third colonoscopy in four years so the specialists can take a closer look at the current status of my Crohn’s disease. As this procedure requires that my intestines be “cleaned out”, I will most likely be curled up near the bathroom! J At the library, I picked up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot which I have been interested in reading for months now. Some of Henrietta’s cells, now known as HeLa cells, were taken from her cervix without her knowledge and continue to live on by the millions although she passed away almost sixty years ago. These cells have been used to research things such as the polio vaccine, cancer, viruses, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization. Hopefully this book puts a real face to the famous cells and will be an interesting look at the value of ethics versus that of scientific research.
My thoughts about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love have finally been posted. I am not sure that I have done the book justice. I have always been a fast reader, but it seems that blogging about the books I read may force me to slow down and begin reading in a different way. However, I am still struggling a bit with remembering the thoughts I have while reading and then transferring those thoughts into words for the blog. I am also not a multi-tasker when it comes to reading and writing. I really almost never read more than one book at a time. I may have two books listed under my "currently reading" section, but that means I will be reading them back to back not reading from both at the same time. Posting on my blog may be at a slower pace than some are used to because I find that I have to read one book and post on it before I can move on to start reading the next. I have never understood how easy it is for some people to be reading two or three books simultaneously.
Hence, I am really nervous about my plans for January. I am going to be participating in Allie’s read-alongs over at A Literary Odyssey for War and Peace, The Woman in White, and Rebecca. Saturday, we had to travel about two hours for one of Alexa’s indoor soccer tournaments. On this town’s main street, I spotted a charming little bookstore and found a cheap copy of The Woman in White. Sunday, I popped into Borders because I had a 40% off coupon and $15 in free Border’s Bucks. I ended up getting two CDs that Alexa wanted for Christmas and a copy of Rebecca all for $10…what a deal!

I must confess that I have cheated a bit and read the first few chapters of Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, out of curiosity. Although I am sure that the writer is using a technique to build suspense, I find it troubling that we know so little about the narrator (Mr. de Winter’s second wife). We don’t even know her name and I am having a difficult time picturing her in my mind’s eye.
For the rest of December, my only other plans are to finish up Little Women. I hope you all are having a happy holiday season!

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In choosing my reading list for my “classics” project, I wanted to explore not only standard adult and children’s classics, but also a few contemporary books that I hope may be read years into our future … “pending classics.” Eat, Pray, Love fits into this category for me. Eat…Pray…Love…three ways in which we are nourished. Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, her honest yet humorous voice is nourishing. It reads like a novel even though it is a non-fiction selection. In some ways this is a chronicle of a spiritual journey, but the reader does not ever feel “preached at.” The book is well written, smart, funny and insightful. It causes one to contemplate one’s own life journey.
Liz really starts this journey on her knees, on her bathroom floor, praying to God. I have been on that bathroom floor. I find myself identifying with this woman immediately. If only I could back out of my life for a year and travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia looking for my authentic self. After being depleted by a divorce, an ill-fated love affair, and depression Liz begins healing in Italy. She will spend four months there contemplating pleasure: the pleasure of eating delicious food with no feelings of remorse or guilt, the pleasure of learning a beautiful language for no reason other than just because. I took five years of French in school and thought it was the language of love, but I was mistaken…Italian is that language. There is something very seductive about Italian.
Although Liz is certainly keen on Italy and has an amazing experience there, she feels as though there is something about herself that does not quite fit with the city of Rome (where she actually lives during her stay). One of Liz’s Italian friends proposes the following interesting concept: “Every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be-that is the word of the city. And, if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don’t really belong there.” What is your word? I am still contemplating mine…
Next, Liz travels to India to an Ashram to contemplate devotion, mostly through the art of meditation, for four months. There she meets Richard from Texas…a brash man who says what he thinks when he thinks it. He doesn’t have a whole lot of tact, but he is full of interesting insight. I especially like the advice he imparts on Liz regarding the idea of soul mates: “Your problem is you don’t understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit … but a true soul mate is a mirror … the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life … they tear down your walls and smack you awake … but to live with a soul mate forever … too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave … your problem is, you just can’t let this one go." I think Richard is her true Guru; not the woman whose Ashram she is visiting.

Finally, Liz travels to Bali in Indonesia to search for the balance between worldly pleasure and spiritual devotion. There Liz spends time with an old Balinese medicine man: Ketut Liyer…a man who seems like the little, old grandpa for the entire world; a man whom I would love to meet. Although I was fascinated by all of the people Liz meets while traveling, Ketut is my favorite character in this story. I love his mind, his insights, his toothless smile, his broken English, the was he pronounces "Liz" as "Liss." She also meets Felipe and eventually falls in love. This is the first time that Liz is able to indulge in a relationship without completely losing herself…her identity. She is no longer broken and can give of herself as a whole, balanced woman.
Although the book is almost always better than the movie, Eat, Pray, Love the movie lands a close second. I read the book and watched the movie at the same time and recommend anyone do the same. The movie brings the different cultures and people from the book alive in a very enhancing manner.
Favorite Quote: “We have hands; we can stand on them if we want to. That’s our privilege. That’s the joy of a mortal body. And that’s why God needs us. Because God loves to feel things through our hands.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

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