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 lover...lol!

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!
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