May 23, 2011

Moving Day...Important Update!

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Hey all ... just a note to let you know that my blog has moved to WordPress:

Please be sure to update my new address in your list of blogs you follow!

Process details (for any who are wondering): I went to export in Blogger - settings, saved the export file to my computer, created my WordPress account, went to import in WordPress - tools, and imported my saved file ... and Presto Change-o ... there were all my posts with text, text color, spacing, pictures, comments, etc all in tact! My sidebar widgets and pages did not transfer, but I was able to set them back up with minimal pain. However, I was not able to keep my custom theme. requires that you purchase a CSS upgrade to be able to use custom themes while it was free at Blogger ... bummer! And, of course now I am in the process of updating all the links within my posts/pages because they still link back to the Blogger site ... which is painful ... lol! I think the dashboard will take some getting used to, but overall I think I will be very happy with the move (if not I can always move back to Blogger). There are certainly some much cooler features at WordPress!!

May 19, 2011

Checkin In...Bookstore Adventures...The Wilder Life...

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I am currently reading Anne Sexton's biography. At times, I have felt a little bogged down (specifically at points when the author analyzes various Sexton poems and I am reminded of how much I have to learn about the mechanics of poetry), but overall it has been very interesting so far. Of course, I am a fan of books that deal with psychological issues. I am glad that I started with her letters as I already have a little sense of her background and a sense of her voice as I read through her more detailed story. I am equally glad that I decided to read her biography prior to delving into her poetry and would recommend this to anyone else interested in taking a look at her work.

Last weekend I picked up a few selections at the book store:

Next, I plan to read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys since Jane Eyre is still fresh in my mind from last month. I picked up The Wilder Life on a whim because I was such a fan of the Little House series as a child and it appeared so was the author, Wendy McClure. I finished this book in a few sittings and found uncanny glimpses of myself in Wendy as she detailed how this series affected her as a girl, as an adult, and as she detailed her quest for "Laura World" while visiting the various Ingalls/Wilder sites around the country. I am still not sure I understand what Wendy was really searching for within herself on this journey, but this was an entertaining read never the less.

While reading other blog posts over the recent weeks/months, I have been contemplating what I am really searching for in my own reading project/blog journey. And...I have no idea really. I just know it is leading me somewhere. I sometimes question my style of writing posts (specifically those that relate to my thoughts after reading a project book), so I am wondering (in connection with my recent contemplation): What do you all feel my style actually is? What do you think about that style?

Hope you are all having a fabulous week!!

May 6, 2011

Becoming Carrie Bradshaw...Summer in the City: A Carrie Diaries Novel

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I did not enjoy Candace Bushnell’s book: Sex and the City. It was a rare example of a book that was NOT better than the movie (or TV series in this case).  However, I am a huge Carrie Bradshaw fan, so when Bushnell began publishing a YA series about Carrie’s younger years I was willing to give her another try. This week I picked up the second book in the series: Summer and the City and finished it in one glorious sitting. The book detailed Carrie’s first summer living in NYC after her high school graduation and explained how she became friends with Samantha Jones and Miranda Hobbes. I enjoyed it, although I kept thinking that I should have written this book. Why didn’t I think of this?
The (slightly weird) truth is that I wish I was the fabulous Carrie Bradshaw rather than the ordinary Carey Ruscitto. I live in NY State, but I have only been to NYC twice: once on our senior class trip and once for a concert at Madison Square Gardens. I wish I would have had the courage to leave my small town for the big city. I wish I would have spent my first summer after graduation taking a writing class, shopping in vintage clothing shops and at the Strand bookstore, and going to fabulously exciting parties.
I wish all of this had eventually led me to writing my own column at my desk in front of my window in Carrie’s exact apartment, to a love affair with shoes, the NY Public Library and John Preston (AKA Mr. Big). Maybe someday I will at least travel to the city for my own private vacation in Carrie Bradshaw’s world…I long to do this, especially after reading Summer and the City and re-watching the Sex and the City movie for the 10th plus time. The book was certainly not close to the caliber of the classics I have been reading, but it was a delightful light read!

April 30, 2011

Why Don't We Write Letters Anymore? Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters

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I consider the extinction of letter writing one of the great downfalls of technological advancement. I love reading journals and collections of letters. I recently picked up a very nice hard cover edition of Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters for less than $5 at a used bookstore. Anne Sexton wrote and published poetry in the 1960s. A suburban housewife and mother, she began writing poetry as a form of therapy. Anne, along with other poets such as Sylvia Plath, is often referred to as a confessional poet. This kind of poetry deals with intimate, and sometimes painful, details of the poets life such as mental illness, marriage, divorce, and sexuality.
Born on November 9, 1928, Anne was actually my grandmother’s age. Sadly, after a life long battle with mental illness she committed suicide in 1974, shortly before her 46th birthday. Her letters paint an interesting picture of the roller coaster ride she lived on. Through her written voice, the reader can tell when Anne is feeling “normal”, manic, disjointed, needy, depressed, and medicated. I have always felt that there is a thin line between genius and insanity. So, the fact that so many famous writers seemed to have suffered from mental illness, most commonly bi-polar disorder, absolutely fascinates me. Anne’s case is no exception.
She corresponded with many different individuals over the years including other writers and, even, a monk. It seems that many of these exchanges started out with an intensity on both sides, but inevitably the “friendship” would slowly dissolve as Anne became too needy. She expected these individuals to be her therapist, poetic sounding board, and lover all via a letter exchange.
Her letters were often witty, passionate, and raw. Anne was a horrific speller, used unconventional punctuation and typed most of her letters. In a letter to Tillie Olson, another writer, she says: I wish my letters could look like a poem…your writing is so tiny and perfect that it looks as if a fairy with a pink pen and rubies in her hair had sat down to write to me. And I…I must look like a rather stout man who sits by a very respectable black typewriter.”
Some of my other favorite excerpts:
“I wish I were nineteen. Not that it’s better or worse to be me at 36 but it gives you so much more time to grow. Inside I’m only thirteen and outside I have wrinkles and a family and many who depend on me.”
 “how does one go to sleep without pills? how does one live with the knowledge that death, their special death, is waiting silently in their body to overtake them at some undetermined time? how can this be done if there is no God? how does one not get struck by lightning when everyone knows it could and just might strike YOU? or tornadoes that suck you right up into a cloud?
Sleep without pills? impossible. take pills! death? have fantasies of killing myself and thus being the powerful one. God? spend half time wooing Catholics who will pray for you in case it’s true. Spend other half knowing there certainly is no God. Spend fantasy time thinking that there is life after death, because surely my parents, for instance, are not dead, they are, good God!, just buried. Lightning? wear sneakers, stay off phone. Tornado? retire to cellar to look at washing machine and interesting junk in cellar.”
* Oddly enough, Anne’s advice on lightning was exactly that of my Grandmother’s … which cracked me up!!
A Self Portrait Rendered by Anne
“Your traveling Button will now walk somehow down the stairs and out of her tears.”

"Lonliness is a terrible thing and to be alone with people can be pretty horrible."

On suicide: “There are those that are killed and the few that kill and then the other kind, those that do both at once.” At one point in a letter to Anne Clark, a friend who was also a therapist, she is again writing about the concept of suicide and then suddenly says: “Sandy and Les are coming over for a drink. I shall now go out to new kitchen and prepare shrimp and cocktail sauce.” What a contrast.
In a letter to her daughter Joy she says: “You went to the library yourself. Gee whiz I am happy … now you will be free in a way you have never been free. I mean now you can go to the library and find a friend anytime … long ago, when I was your age, I loved most to go to the library alone. To me it is one of the most important steps in growing up. JUST as special, I think, as getting breasts and all that kind of thing.”
“I hoard books. They are people who do not leave.”

 “Letters are false really-they are [sometimes] expressions of the way you wish you were instead of the way you are…(poems might come under the same category).”

"Oh, I really believe in God - it's Christ that boggles the mind."

“But you got only praise. But I know, praise can be heavy too. Yes. I understand.”
The collection was edited by Anne's daughter, Linda, and Anne's friend, Lois Ames. Between letters some biographical information is provided to allow for better comprehension of the letters, but I am still left wanting to know more details. I plan to read her biography and then after that I plan to examine her poems. I think it important to have an understanding of Anne the person before delving into her poetry since her style is so autobiographical in nature.

April 26, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte...Final Thoughts...

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*This post may contain spoilers for those who have not read the novel, although, from what I can tell, there does not seem to be many who have never read Jane Eyre. J

Oh Jane Eyre (first published by Charlotte Bronte in 1847 under the pseudonym Currer Bell) even now I am not sure that I completely understand what all the hype is about. The novel did become much more interesting after the first third. I liked the book. It was certainly better than I had expected it to be, but I am still not sure if I can list it as one of my absolute favorites. However, it goes without saying that Charlotte Bronte was a talented writer.
Some thoughts:
1.      Did anyone else have a hard time picturing Jane as just an 18-19 year old girl? She seemed to resonate in my head as more of a contemporary of Mr. Rochester’s generation and I had to keep reminding myself how young she really was.

2.      I really enjoyed the scene where Mr. Rochester posed as the fortune teller! I also liked how interested Jane seemed to be in "signs" and the meaning of dreams and such. For example: “When I was a little girl, only six years old, I one night heard Bessie Leaven say to Martha Abbott that she had been dreaming about a little child: and that to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to oneself or one’s kin.”

3.      It surprised me that Jane would travel back to see Mrs. Reed on her death bed. I am not sure that I would have been able to turn the other cheek and give the woman any satisfaction.

4.      Beautiful foreshadowing for what is about to happen to Jane and Rochester on their proposed wedding day: “It was not without a certain wild pleasure I ran before the wind, delivering my trouble of mind to the measureless air torrent thundering through space. Descending the laurel-walk, I faced the wreck of the chestnut-tree; it stood up, black and riven: the trunk, split down the centre, gasped ghastly. The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below; though community of vitality was destroyed-the sap could flow no more: their great boughs on each side were dead … as yet, however, they might be said to form one tree-a ruin, but an entire ruin.”

5.      If you were Jane, what would you have done upon the discovery of Mrs. Rochester? Would you have escaped in the night to nothing and no one or would you have stayed with Mr. Rochester, your love, although marriage was no longer an option? “What is better?-To have surrendered to temptation; listened to passion … fallen asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern climate … to have been now living in France, Mr. Rochester’s mistress … or to be a village schoolmistress, free and honest, in the breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?” I would have stayed with Rochester.

6.      Grace Poole…uh, how the heck did this woman retain her own sanity while being cloistered on the third floor providing care for a lunatic such as Mrs. Rochester? Wasn’t she scared out of her mind that she was going to end up dead herself? I don’t blame her for her propensity to drink gin in the evenings!

7.      Did I find any more similarities to Rebecca as I read on? Well, Grace Poole is odd, but she is definitely no Mrs. Danvers. There are many obvious plot differences and the more passionate love story of Jane and Rochester. Thornfield burns to the ground like Manderlay, but ultimately, Daphne du Maurier’s work felt much darker…it was much heavier on the “eerie” factor…much more suspenseful. Some of this was no doubt because Manderlay itself became a character, taking on a life of its own, while Thornfield remained just a setting and because Jane Eyre simply contained a much more hopeful tone than Rebecca.

8.      Did I find that Jane returned to her former feisty glory? Not exactly in the bold way that I had hoped for, but a certain fire laced with grace remained. Actually, I quite liked it.

Charlotte Bronte
 Favorite Quotes:
“The waters came into my soul; I sank in deep mire: I felt no standing; I came into deep waters; the floods overflowed me.” – Jane Eyre
“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” – Jane Eyre

April 22, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte...Initial Thoughts...

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I have read about a third of Jane Eyre, the classic I never intended to read, and so The novel opens with Jane looking back on her life at age 10. Her parents are deceased and she has been living in the home of her Uncle Reed who, on his own death-bed, forced his wife to promise to continue to look after Jane. She is provided with material comforts, but is treated cruelly and starved for affection. She is reminded each and every day just how unwanted she is in the Reed's world. Ultimately, she is shipped off to a school for orphans. At least here, Jane meets companions and receives an education; however, the girls are often literally starving and there is a typhus outbreak that results in the death of many students. Eventually, the conditions at Lowood are exposed and improved. Jane excels academically and at age 18, she joins the cast of characters at the home of Mr. Rochester as governess.

Initially, I fell in love with Jane's feisty character (the scene where she stands up to Mrs. Reed!!!), but her time at Lowood appears to have dampened some of her original fire. Perhaps this is just a natural maturing. I became bored by much of the story in this first third. I was struck with a "blah" feeling that reminded me of Jane's simple, "blah" appearance. Is this where the term "plain Jane" originated from? However, things seem to finally be picking up. Someone has tried to burn Mr. Rochester alive by setting his bed on fire and there is much mystery surrounding one Grace Poole. The mention of Poole brings me to one of the reasons why I decided to read this novel in the first place: I had heard that it held similarities to Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. I found they both start rather slow, involve a mansion shrouded in mystery with an eerie portion of the home that isn't used and include a whack job character on the house staff. Also, in both cases, the narrators are reflecting on their past. Will the similarities end here? Will Jane return to her former feisty glory? Ok, I am intrigued enough to read on...

March 31, 2011


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Since starting this blog (as a reading journal of sorts), I have been contemplating keeping a personal journal as well. I kept a diary at different times in my youth. As an adult, I often wanted to start journaling again, but all the thoughts that swirl around in my head never seem to make it to paper. I get lost in the details of this idea. I like the idea of a regular pen and paper journal, but I hate my handwriting. Should I keep my journal on my laptop because there will be spell check and an orderly font? Will someone betray my trust and help themselves to my private thoughts (which happened to me as a child)?

Do you journal (outside of your blog)? Do you keep a notebook, a fancy cloth bound journal, or a computer document?

March 30, 2011


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Poetry. I do not know much about the various mechanics involved in poetry. Reading poetry scares me and often makes my head hurt. In truth, I have not read much poetry, but I hope to eventually change this. In The Vintage Book of American Women Writers anthology, edited by Elaine Showalter, I found "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed" by Edna St. Vincent Millay to share:

What my lips have kissed, and where, and why
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

What is your favorite poet? What is your favorite poem?

February 26, 2011

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee

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From 1966 movie adaptation of the play
starring Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton.
Initially, all I could think during and after reading Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a 1962 play by Edward Albee, was “What the hell?” George and Martha, a long married couple, return home from a university faculty party and the sparks begin to fly…sparks that are definitely not of the good variety. George and the reader learn that the young new biology professor, Nick, and his wife, Honey, have been invited over for some post party cocktails by Martha. It is after two o’clock in the morning and George is pissed. More sparks fly and the fighting continues to escalate right in front of the company. These two were making me incredibly uncomfortable, to say nothing of Nick and Honey. By the end of the play, the situation has gotten completely out of hand. I went from initially thinking that George and Martha were just acting like loons because they were drunk to thinking that perhaps they (or at least Martha) were mentally ill.

I was so distracted by their behavior that I originally missed much of the symbolism and intention of this work so, I actually had to give this play some extra thought. Albee certainly succeeded in creating an interesting character study. I would really like to see this on the stage. I think that it is important to remember that this play was originally being viewed by individuals who were just leaving the warm clutches of the wholesome 1950s. A time when shows like Leave it to Beaver depicted the "white picket fence" American family on TV. A world where everything was all “golly Wolly” and “geez Beav” and June and Ward were all smiles even during the rare disagreement. Albee was perhaps trying to expose this as a fa├žade. That many Americans did not necessarily have their polite “telephone voices” turned on all the time. That life was gritty, complicated and imperfect and that for those that were hiding behind the facade ultimately illusion was a dangerous game. Albee is scrutinizing not only how some people project false images in public but also how this occurs in more intimate relationships such as between husbands and wives. Albee also explores how the frustration of the lack of children, the lack of career success for a man, and the unavailability of career options for women during this time can affect marriage. The image of the ideal successful American family required that certain expectations be met. A family required the perfect working dad, house wife and mother, children, house, and car. One must keep up with the Jones next door. This play reminded me in some ways of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road which is a haunting tale of the dangers of chasing the idealistic American dream. I think it would be interesting to explore these two works together in an upper high school English class. Ultimately, I think this play is something that must be experienced live rather than read.

February 25, 2011

More Bookstore Adventures...

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My daughter is on winter break this week. Today the snow is flying, but yesterday we made it out to lunch and a movie and stopped in to the only used book store in my area. I had 5 selections that I had decided to trade in and we came home with 6 new selections with $0 spent! I found clean, like new copies of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (which was my favorite find of the day), The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (because it was such a nice used copy and Allie has such good things to say), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Exciting, but perhaps it is time to stop adding to the TBR pile and start reading!!! :)

February 22, 2011

Checkin In...Bookstore Adventures...

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Well, the cold, hideous winter weather has returned. I am wondering if the weather could account for so many bloggers being in a reading rut...myself included. I know that my OCD need to finish one book before I begin another is playing a role for me. I was keeping a pretty good pace with War and Peace, but am having a really hard time finding the necessary motivation to finish the last section so I can officially move on. So, tonight I decided to move outside of my box and just go ahead and start something else...something lighter (at least compared to War and Peace) to get me back on smoother reading ground: Edward Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I picked the play up today along with Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men and East of Eden (I seem to have lost my other copy and I feel a re-read coming in my future...), The Color Purple by Alice Walker and a collection of short stories including The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I was thinking about reading a "non-classic" to bring me out of this slump, but that didn't really appeal to me either. I am hoping that snuggling up with this play in my freshly cleaned bedroom (with my stylin new curtain rods) will do the trick.

February 18, 2011

Heat Wave Hits Upstate NY :)

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Ahh, it has been in the high 50s two days in a row here in my part of NY and it feels like a summer heat wave! Isn't it funny how 50s at the end of winter are warm and 50s at the end of summer are cold? All I can hope is that flip-flop weather will be fast approaching...cuz I love flops and cuz I want to show off my newest tattoo!

Yes, I am a weird mix of tattoo lover and book!

February 10, 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Like I have said before, a few of the selections on my project reading list are future classic hopefuls, in other words contemporary books that people may still be reading 50 or 100 years from now. I recently added The Book Thief by Markus Zusak to the list under this very premise and I am very glad I did. I will not bore you with another plot summary of this book, but I must say the following:
First of all, the narration in this book is genius. Who knew Death could be so insightful, so sensitive, so humorous…so human?  Death as the narrator is not creepy at all, but really rather beautiful.
Second, Zusak’s use of descriptive language in this book is simply dazzling. He describes things in ways I had never thought to describe them before and yet it seems as if there could never have existed any other possible way to depict them properly.
Here are some of my favorite examples:
1.      “The buildings appear to be glued together, mostly small houses and apartment blocks that look nervous.”
2.      Describing Liesel upon her arrival on Himmel Street: “Coat hanger arms.”
3.      “The soft-spoken words fell off the side of the bed, emptying to the floor like powder.”
4.      “They could hear nothing, but the manner in which Hans Junior shrugged loose was loud enough.”
5.      About Max: “Everything was so desperately noisy in the dark when he moved … he felt like a man in a paper suit.”
6.      About Rosa: “One or two gasped at the sight – a small wardrobe of a woman with a lipstick sneer and chlorine eyes. This. Was the legend.”
7.      “His eyes were the color of agony, and weightless as he was, he was too heavy for his legs to carry.”
8.      “As she crossed the river, a rumor of sunshine stood behind the clouds.”
Third, this book provides a different perspective than many examples of Holocaust related YA literature. The reader understands how WWII also brought hardship to the German people under Nazi rule. Granted, the hardships could not compare to the horror facing the Jewish population, but I think it is important to know that the Germans also went hungry and faced loss, etc.
I am not Jewish (in fact I have non-Jewish German ancestors and my grandmother has always been quite proud of her German heritage), but I have always felt like I carry a small piece of the souls of those Jewish people who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazi party with me somehow. I have dark hair and eyes…it could have been me. It is so important that we never, ever forget.
“On June 23, 1942, there was a group of French Jews in a German prison, on Polish soil. The first person I took was close to the door, his mind racing, then reduced to pacing, then slowing down, slowing down…
Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last, gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and freed them from their fear…
Sometimes I imagined how everything looked above those clouds, knowing without question that the sun was blond, and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye…
They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.” - Death

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vol 3)

Of the three volumes of War and Peace that we have read so far, Volume 3 has been the hardest for me to get through.  I felt really bogged down at times, but there was certainly value to be found here, namely in possibly figuring out part of Tolstoy’s intention in writing this mammoth novel.
“Now all the active figures of the year 1812 have long left their places, their personal interests have vanished without a trace, and only the historical results of that time stand before us.”
Tolstoy apparently went to great lengths to ensure the historical accuracy of the parts of this novel that deal with real people, places, and events from the period in which it is set…historical fiction at its finest. However, it is important to remember how Tolstoy contrasts this with his detailed forays into the lives of his fictional characters. It becomes apparent in Volume 3, through the narrator, that Tolstoy is perhaps displeased with the way history is often remembered:  with emphasis on the big names and events. He appears to feel that the millions of little people and moments (that must have come together exactly as they did for the bigger picture to exist as it did) are sorely overlooked in history. At one point the narrator says: “therefore, all these causes-billions of causes-coincided so as to bring about what happened” and then this: “an action once committed is irrevocable, and its effect, coinciding in time with millions of actions of other people, acquires historical significance.” This is why the stories of the Rostovs, etc. are so important to War and Peace. We get to see the lives of those who were NOT Napoleon or Alexander hypothetically “coinciding in time with millions of actions of other people” to create Russian history. I think Tolstoy may be trying to teach that history must be examined from many viewpoints in order to come closest to the real truth of our past. Consider Pierre in Volume II: “[he] was struck for the first time at this meeting by the infinite diversity of human minds, which makes it so that no truth presents itself to two people in the same way.” I think that this is such an important point. We think there is a universal reality, but in fact there can't be because each person’s reality is slightly skewed by individual perception. What I can’t decide is if Tolstoy believes in free will or providence. Does he think that there is a greater power ensuring that these millions of actions happen to coincide in time to create history as we know it?
I am also beginning to see the discontent among the characters (that I complained about in the post for Volume II) as a necessary device that allows the reader to feel, more acutely, the discontent of Russia as a whole during this time of war and unrest in Europe and beyond. These characters are just a mirror to the greater whole.

I am wondering if it may be beneficial to watch the movie adaptation of this novel. Has anyone seen it? I am thinking this may allow me to connect even further to the characters. What do you think?

February 3, 2011

Bookstore Adventures...Checkin In...

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So, last week I stopped at Borders to purchase that Penguin cloth bound edition of Jane Eyre with my coupon and discount. However, once I got in there I just couldn't decide what to do. Should I get the deluxe edition or go for the cheaper copy because then I could get both Jane Eyre and The Painted Veil for the same price as the deluxe Jane Eyre. My husband finally got tired of watching me stand there with the choices in my hand and I hurriedly opted to get more for my $. Probably I will regret this in the long run, but for now my internal bargain hunter won out. I also picked up a copy of The Heroine's Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore which contains "life lessons" from some of literature's famous heroines such as Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O'Hara, Scout Finch, Laura Ingalls, Jane Eyre, and Jo March. It is a small little book, but I just couldn't resist. Hopefully it is as interesting as it looks!
*I wish my cell phone took better pictures than it does, but this will have to do for now as my camera is broken.* 

In blog related news, I am thinking about adding some new titles to the reading project list. I have also added a section to the blog called Post-It Notes where I can add links to various posts on other blogs that contain things that I just want to note for my reading journal. I also added a boring Disclaimer page to the blog just because many people advise that this is the smart thing to do.

In reading related news, I am currently on page 762 in War and Peace. Only about 450 more pages to go!

January 28, 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vol 2)

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A lot happens in Volume 2 of War and Peace, which spans about six years (from 1806-1812). *SPOILER ALERT* Count Pierre Bezukhov survives a duel with Dolokhov (who was rumored to be having an affair with Pierre’s wife), consequently becomes estranged from Helene, joins the Masons, eventually decides to live with Helene again (who by this time has gained quite a standing in Petersburg society), and basically continues to bumble through life until finally appearing to fall in love with Natasha Rostov. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky suffers an injury while serving in the military, returns from the dead, loses his wife during the birth of their son (thank God there will be no more references from Tolstoy to her “little moustache”!), and eventually also falls in love with and proposes to Natasha Rostov. His father does not approve of this engagement. His sister, Princess Marya, refuses the proposal of Prince Anatole Kuragin, as she apparently realizes that he is only interested in her money and is actually keen on her companion Mlle. Bourienne. Count Nikolai Rostov finds a home in military service. However, he is called home to deal with the family’s increasingly dire financial state. He is horribly inept at this task, so his mother tries to convince him to take a rich bride to help the situation, but he insists that he will only marry Sonya. Andrei runs off abroad and Natasha spends almost a year waiting for the return of her beloved. Unfortunately, she meets Anatole Kuragin in Moscow and suddenly falls madly in love with him. She hastily refuses Prince Andrei and agrees to elope with Kuragin, who is actually already married. The elopement is thwarted and Natasha tries to commit suicide. And, of course, the French and Russians reached a truce that now seems to be on rocky grounds. Drama, Drama, Drama...I love it!
I continue to be struck by the absurdity of the courtships and relationships in this novel. All these individuals keep speaking of love, yet I do not find love in any of these associations. Attraction, sure…lust, sometimes, but how can they really love someone they barely even know? It all seems so childish to me in many ways, but I suppose that is a reflection of living in our current times where ideas about relationships and marriage have changed. Although my opinions may change as I read on, I find that Natasha is the only character that I am really fond of. In my mind, there lingers this faint resemblance between her and Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. I also kind of like Dolokhov, but everyone else sort of bores me at this point. Marya’s piousness and insistence on playing the role of martyr really annoys me. I expected so much more from Nikolai’s character and remain disappointed in that regard so far. The man pays absolutely no attention to Sonya when he is around, but still plans to marry her?? And Pierre, for all his attempts at finding himself, still remains lost and a bumbling fool. Andrei reminds me too much of Pierre in some ways, although he plays the role with much more class. Everyone just seems so needlessly restless and lost all the time. Is this a reflection of the times, the social class, their youth, or what? Despite these feelings, I still find myself wanting to know how the story ends for all of these characters...

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (21- )

I think that Wilkie Collins is an admirable mystery writer. I am glad that I read Collins’ The Woman in White. I really liked The Woman in White! And yet, at the end I was a little disappointed. I was swept up by the first ¾ of the book, but then found that the last ¼ dragged on for me. I feel like Collins went to great pains to tie up every lose end possible in the story which I felt was somehow detrimental to the novel as a whole. Nothing was left to the reader’s imagination. There was no lurking shadow of suspense like I still felt at the end of Rebecca. Collins purposely uses the various narrators to bring the reader very close to the mystery and yet doesn't seem to give the reader enough credit for being able to use that technique to solve some things on their own. I was also not fond of the story line at the end that revealed Count Fosco, as I understand it, to be some sort of a mole inside a secret European society. Perhaps this is because I was unpleasantly reminded of certain contemporary authors’ more recent obsessions with these sorts of societies in their writing.
Another observation about English novels from the 1800s: I am bothered by the gentlemen of a certain title or class in this society, like Sir Percival - who appeared to rely on the earnings of his family estate to survive financially, as they frolic aimlessly through life. Why did society not require these men to have a real occupation, especially when they were sometimes facing financial ruin? How could these people occupy themselves day in and day out, year after year? No wonder they designed intricate plots of conspiracy and matchmaking and such…they were no doubt bored out of their minds half of the time.
Favorite Character: Marian!! Her section of narration was also my favorite. She was certainly a woman before her time. I can understand why Count Fosco was so attracted to her. And, I have to say that Mr. Fairlie also entertained me despite his nervous condition having gotten on my nerves.

Wilkie Collins 1824-1889

Favorite Quote: “I left yesterday to decide … and yesterday has decided. It is too late to go back.” Miss Laura Fairlie

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (15-27)

*Warning: this post contains material that warrants a “spoiler alert” for those that have never read the novel Rebecca. J
To say that Rebecca picks up speed in the second half of the novel is an understatement. The suspense was finally killing me, especially after the “OMG” revelation at the end of chapter 19. But, before we get to that: a brief summary of prior events. Since leaving off at the end of chapter 14, we know that the mysterious Mr. Favell is Rebecca’s cousin. The narrator has appeared at her first Manderley costume ball dressed exactly as Rebecca had been dressed at her last…due to the meddling of our eerie Mrs. Danvers. (I knew this was going to happen the moment she suggested a costume to the current Mrs. de Winters.) Then, the following morning the narrator has another fascinating run in with Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca’s bedroom where we learn that Mrs. Danvers had provided care for Rebecca as a child (hence her unusual attachment to the late Mrs. de Winters) and that she was also aware of Rebecca’s infidelity in her relationship with Maxim. The news of Rebecca’s unfaithfulness was interesting, but I did not find the news surprising. During this encounter, Mrs. Danvers also tries to talk the narrator into killing herself since it is “obvious” that Maxim does not love her and she does not belong at Manderley. At this same time, a ship wrecks off the shores of Manderley and eventually a diver is sent down to assess the damage. We learn that Rebecca’s boat has inadvertently been found by the diver and that there is a decomposed body aboard. Could it be one of her lovers?
It is then that Maxim drops a bombshell on his second wife and the reader: “The woman buried in the crypt is not Rebecca … it’s the body of some unknown woman, unclaimed, belonging nowhere. There never was an accident. Rebecca was not drowned at all. I killed her. I shot Rebecca in the cottage on the cove. I carried her body to the cabin, and took the boat out that night and sunk it there, where they found it today.” I have to say, it is not often that something in a novel genuinely surprises me, but this did. Although I suspected foul play in Rebecca’s death, I never for a moment suspected Maxim. I think I may have been suspecting Mrs. Danvers. Immediately, I began to wonder who else may have known. Was Mrs. Danvers aware? Was that why she had expressed such cold, bitter feelings for Maxim to the narrator earlier that day? Did Frank know? Was that why he had been so insistent that he must explain things to the narrator after her breakdown with him on the telephone that morning? It is hard to tell what good ole “Danny” actually knew and when she may have known it as she was so generally unhinged. It seems though, that Frank may have certainly been aware of the true nature of Rebecca’s demise even though Maxim had no idea that he knew.
I found the narrator’s handling of her husband’s admission remarkable. I am not sure that I would have remained quite so calm and supportive. Although I guess one can understand this reaction as Maxim’s confession also brought with it the revelation that he had never loved Rebecca, but had in fact loathed her and their sham of a marriage. The second Mrs. de Winter was, astonishingly, the one and only true Mrs. de Winter. Rebecca had been sleeping around with anyone and everyone including her cousin, Mr. Favell, and appears to have been an all together vile person. But, isn’t it so ironic that Maxim could have saved himself all this misery? He could have saved his Manderley. After all, Rebecca was dying anyway. Now that I think about it, perhaps Manderley was Maxim’s only true love - the only thing he was ever really married to. In any event, I can’t help but feel sorry for the life that the narrator is left with. And, by the way, what was her name??

The author...Daphne du Maurier

An older Daphne du Maurier

January 18, 2011

Checkin In...Jane Eyre Read-Along...

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Well, I have to say that I am definitely enjoying my first experience with read-alongs...thanks to Allie at A Literary Odyssey! I love examining the similarities and differences that various readers find in the same novel. I have also enjoyed discovering a variety of new blogs through this process. I finished Rebecca January 4th and The Woman in White January 7th. I am looking forward to when our final posts go up for these two novels around January 28th. Now, I am busy working my way through War and Peace. I am currently hovering around page 400. Only about 800 more pages to go!

As stated in a comments post attached to my original pondering, I have officially added Jane Eyre to my reading list! And, I have decided to participate in a Jane Eyre read-along over at She is Too Fond of Books. Here is the schedule:

March  4 - 18: Chapters 1 - 9
March 18 - April 1: Chapters 10 -17
April 1 - 15: Chapters 18 - 23
April 15 - 29: Chapters 24 - 29
April 29 - May 13 Chapters 30 - 36
May 13 - 27: Chapters 37 - 38 (Conclusion)

Please, join us! I am also happy to report that I have decided to purchase the lovely Penguin cloth bound edition of Jane Eyre since with store coupons and member discounts I can purchase it for under $13! Yippee! Hope you all are having a great start to the New Year!

January 17, 2011

In Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

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A few of my favorite quotes from MLK:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation were they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ."

"We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers. "

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars."

January 14, 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vol 1)

January 14, 2011 3
Leo Tolstoy
I had read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina some time ago and having loved it, decided to purchase his War and Peace. For over a year, this 1,215 page monstrosity has stared at me menacingly from my shelves, too intimidating to actually be read. Thankfully, Allie’s read-along has finally ended the stand-off between War and Peace and I. Despite all the confusing Russian names, the intermittent French, and the extensive footnotes, I have begun to feel at home in this novel. I am reading from the 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which I would highly recommend. Before beginning, I tabbed the list of principal characters and the notes section at the back for easy reference. After finishing Volume 1, I feel as though I am more comfortable with the period of the Napoleonic Wars and, perhaps more importantly, can easily identify each character regardless of which name is being used for them at any given time. Tolstoy’s prose is decidedly easy to read and understand once you find your rhythm. In particular, I was dreading the “war” sections, but I even found some enjoyment here – though not as much as in the other story lines.
While reading the military scenes in Volume 1, I was struck by how Tolstoy had invoked in me a much different perception of the ideas of military and war than that which I usually hold when thinking of these ideas in the context of our modern society. As Shinshin asks, “… what the deuce makes us go to war with Bonaparte?” I refer back to the idea of a certain boredom lingering within a certain societal class that I introduced in my second post for The Woman in White. Although I know it is a little more complicated, it seems to me that in days gone by, war was sometimes waged simply because royalty had become bored and needed a distraction and that many men joined the military for exactly the same reason. You know that old adage: “What should we do today?” “Well, I suppose we could take over the world, Sire.” Tolstoy’s depiction gave me the nagging impression that battles and military service were merely a sport of sorts, while a position in today’s American military is more a true position - a job, a career. The injured, young Rostov seems to echo this sentiment at one point: “He looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family. ‘And why did I come here?’ he wondered.”
I have to say, I really admired Tolstoy’s description of how Pierre found himself suddenly and inexplicably married to Princess Helene, after becoming Count Bezukov. I almost feel the need to quote the narrative from Volume 1, part three, I and II in its entirety because I am so in love with these parts of Tolstoy’s writing. I found that he has somehow managed to perfectly articulate this feeling that I have often felt when reading of courtships and marriages of this time, a feeling that I had not previously been able to put into my own words, a feeling that the idea of a relationship had somehow taken on a life of its own with those around it and had unfortunately swept a dumbfounded couple off to a destination that they could not remember traveling to. Even now, I find it hard to really pinpoint that feeling I am alluding to. I just know that Tolstoy has captured it.
After something as simple as reading a party invitation that mentions Helene, we find Pierre thinking the following: “[he] felt for the first time that between him and Helene some sort of connection had been formed, recognized by other people, and this thought at the same time frightened him, as if an obligation had been laid upon him which he could not fulfill, and also pleased him in an amusing supposition.” And at the party, “She turned, looked straight at him with her shining, dark eyes, and smiled. ‘So you never noticed before how beautiful I am?’ Helene seemed to say … and at that moment Pierre felt that Helene not only could, but must be his wife, that it could not be otherwise … how it would be and when, he did not know; he did not even know whether it would be good (he even felt that it was not good for some reason), but he knew that it would be. That night while going to sleep, Pierre felt a “terror come over him at the thought that he might already have bound himself in some way to go through with something which was obviously not good and which he ought not to do. But while he expressed this realization to himself, on the other side of his soul her image floated up in all its feminine beauty.” Then a month and a half later at another party, Pierre knows he is expected to propose: “And how did it all happen? So quickly! Now I know that, not for her alone, not for me alone, but for all of them, this inevitability had to come about. They all expect this so much, they’re so certain it will be, that I cannot disappoint them.” And then, in the end Pierre never proposes at all, but simply allows Prince Vassily to just announce it for him and another month and a half later is married. I guess this just really spoke to what I sometimes find to be the absurdity of marriages in novels from the 1800s.

I am excited to continue on...not because of mystery and suspense that is reeling me in like with the other two read-along novels, but because I long to know more about the characters we have met.

January 12, 2011

Online Book Loot!

January 12, 2011 0

Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis...Greg Lawrence, Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books...William Kuhn, The Collected Poems...Sylvia Plath, Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath...Paul Alexander, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy...Jeffrey Meyers, 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Also:

January 9, 2011

Should I Read Jane Eyre?

January 9, 2011 6
I have a confession. I have never read Jane Eyre and I have never had any desire to. In fact, I purposely left this book off my classics project reading list. I have absolutely no idea why I have always felt this way. This afternoon, Jayson, Alexa and I went to see the movie Country Strong. One of the previews was for the new Jane Eyre movie coming out and it actually looked really good. Now, I am thinking that I should read the novel. What if I am missing out on something great for reasons that I can't even explain? So, I ask you...should I read Jane Eyre?

January 6, 2011

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1-20)

January 6, 2011 21
*I am reading from the Bantam Classic paperback edition of The Woman in White. My edition has around 783 pages, so my half way mark for the sake of the read-along is around 390 pages. As I have stated before, I am posting my reactions to the first half of our read-along assignments as I finish that portion, but I will not be posting my final thoughts until the indicated dates. With that in mind, other readers may want to refrain from reading my post until they have also finished the first half.*
Some thoughts while reading Part 1 of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, first published in 1860:
1.      I often find books written by English authors in the 1800s to have more intricate and rambling prose than I prefer. At times, The Woman in White fits this mold and at other times I find the prose delightfully simple. Oddly enough, I sometimes find myself thinking in the language of the day. Either way, Collins has certainly stirred my curiosity with the mystery and suspense that is developing in the novel. What is the story behind Anne Catherick?

2.      I have read that Charles Dickens was a friend and mentor of Wilkie Collins. I have not yet read any Dickens, but am wondering how their writing compares and who I will prefer. Somehow my money is on Collins, although he is the lesser known.

3.      Mr. Fairlie and his nervous condition have succeeded in getting on my nerves. I can certainly understand the trials of suffering from anxiety, but come on. He is a horribly ineffectual guardian for Miss Laura Fairlie. Also, it bothers me that Miss Fairlie does not have any conversations with this man on her own behalf regarding her money, marriage, or feelings. Does anyone else wish they could just run around this man’s rooms talking loudly and slamming doors for fun…much like Marian does in the following passage: “I dashed into Mr. Fairlie’s room-called to him as harshly as possible, 'Laura consents to the twenty-second'-and dashed out again … I banged the door after me; and I hope I shattered Mr. Fairlie’s nervous system for the rest of the day.”

4.      I find myself feeling so outraged as to the state of women’s rights during this time. Who should we blame for Laura having been compelled to still marry Sir Percival? After all, he did give her the option of ending the engagement. Is it her own fault, her dead father’s, that of Marian’s for sending Walter, her true love, away, or society’s at large? Marian certainly blames herself; an idea I also find disconcerting: “Between those two young hearts I had stood, to sunder them forever, the one from the other-and his life and her life lay wasted before me, alike, in witness of the deed.” I, obviously, lay the blame with society.

5.      What is the deal with Count Fosco? Is it possible that he is the one who actually enticed Sir Percival to marry Laura as a means to recover his wife’s Fairlie inheritance?
Enough writing for now, I must get back to reading the novel. This nineteenth century soap opera has certainly reeled me in. But first, I have to share this: When I went looking for pictures of Collins, I was immediately struck by his resemblance to my own estranged father...weird...very weird indeed. J
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