My Challenges (timed)

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Completed 8 of 9

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Completed 2 of 3

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Completed 2 of 4

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Completed 71 of 81

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Completed 9 of 10

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Completed 34 of 50

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 5

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Completed 3 of 5

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Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

See my list of stories read here

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See my list of books read here

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See my list of books read here


New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Friday, August 29, 2008

Book Giveaway by Dewey

Dewey over at The Hidden Side of a Leaf is giving away books again! See her website for details on how to enter. She'll be giving away 5 boxes of the 10 books pictures and described below:

1. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World By Vicky Myron , Bret Witter ISBN: 0446407410 $19.99 Audio book, eBook, large print also available

2. The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning

By Peter Trachtenberg ISBN: 0316158798, $23.99 eBook also available

3. Say You’re One of Them By Uwem Akpan ISBN: 0316113786 $23.99 Audio Book, eBook available

4. Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership By Bo Schembechler , John Bacon $13.99 ISBN: 044658200X Audio book, ebook also available

5. Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience By Fr. Thomas D. Williams $19.99 ISBN: 0446582018 eBook also available

6. Titanic’s Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler By Brad Matsen $27.99 ISBN: 0446582050 Audio book, ebook also available

7. A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative By Roger von Oech (25th Anniversary) $16.99 ISBN: 0446404667

8. Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know By John Maxwell $9.95 ISBN: 0446578096 Audio book, Audio book, ebook also available

9. The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance By Polly Young-Eisendrath $25.99 ISBN: 0316013110 Audio book, ebook also available

10. Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey By William Least Heat-Moon $27.99 ISBN: 0316110256 Audio book, ebook, large print also available

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lit Flicks Challenge -- Sept 1 thru Feb 28

What a great idea for those of us that can't choose between books and movies -- do both!!

1. Challenge runs from September 1, 2008 to February 28, 2009.
2. Read 5 books/pieces of literature that have been made into movies.
3. Then watch at least 2 of the movie adaptations of the works you read.
4. Your list may change at any time and may include overlaps with other challenges.
5. Sign up after you’ve posted about this challenge using Mr. Linky on the website here.
6. Check in around the first of each month to find activities and giveaways for participants.
7. Link to your reviews and posts using the second Mr. Linky on the website here.

My list:

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan
2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
4. Howards End by E. M. Forster
5. The World According to Garp by John Irving

Monday, August 25, 2008

Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938 by Blanche Wiesen Cook

Title: Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938

Author: Blanche Wiesen Cook

Publication Date: 1999

No. of Pages: 704

Synopsis (from B&N and Amazon): "[This volume] chronicles Roosevelt's first six years as America's most controversial first lady [and] maps her contributions to the New Deal. [The author] takes readers through the tumultuous era of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the gathering storms of World War II, the years of the Roosevelts' greatest challenges and finest achievements.

In her remarkably engaging narrative, [the author] gives us the complete Eleanor Roosevelt: an adventurous, romantic woman, a devoted wife and mother, and a visionary policymaker and social activist who often took unpopular stands, counter to her husband's policies, especially on issues such as racial justice and women's rights. A biography of scholarship and daring, it is a book for all readers of American history."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: This is the second volume of Cook's biography; volume one covered the years 1884-1933. I found both volumes very informative and highly researched. The author had access to a great deal of Mrs. Roosevelt's correspondence and made much use of it, often quoting from letters and speeches to support her conclusions. Mrs. R was definitely her own person and never shirked from what she saw as her duty to others, even when that meant disagreeing publicly with FDR. She also had a complicated private life, and the author devotes equal time and researach to both private and public lives. Overall, an enjoyable book, and I'm hoping that volume three is in the works.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes.

Challenges: None, but it does count toward my 101 Things in 1001 Days project.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Title: Life of Pi

Author: Yann Martel

Publication Date: 2002

No. of Pages: 336

Synopsis (from Amazon): "Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he [practices Christianity, Islam, and Hindu simultaneously]. Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat's sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I loved this book! There are so many layers, so many times I would stop and reread a passage to make sure that I got all the things the author was trying to say, or would just stop to reflect. But at the same time, I wanted to not stop, to keep reading, just to find out what happened next. I loved Pi -- he's written in a way that you can't help but relate to him and root for him. And I even found myself liking Richard Parker and hoping nothing bad happened to him.

After I finished, I immediately starting reading others' reviews and comments because I wanted to see the book from as many different angles as possible. I didn't always agree with what others had to say, I think because this is a book that requires you to look beyond the literal story being told, and because the book deals so closely with faith and so a person's reading can't help but be colored by their own faith. But to me, a great book is one that makes people feel strongly and makes them think, and this one does both.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Absolutely!

Challenges: 1% Well-Read Challenge; 10 Out of 100 Out of 1001 Books Challenge; Book Awards II Challenge; Complete Booker; Man Booker Challenge; Orbis Terrarum Challenge

A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz

Title: A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life

Author: Jon Katz

Publication Date: 2006

No. of Pages: 256

Synopsis (from B&N): "People who love dogs often talk about a ‘lifetime’ dog. I’d heard the phrase a dozen times before I came to recognize its significance. Lifetime dogs are dogs we love in especially powerful, sometimes inexplicable ways.”–Jon Katz

"In this gripping and deeply touching book, bestselling author Jon Katz tells the story of his lifetime dog, Orson: a beautiful border collie–intense, smart, crazy, and unforgettable.

From the moment Katz and Orson meet, when the dog springs from his traveling crate at Newark airport and panics the baggage claim area, their relationship is deep, stormy, and loving. At two years old, Katz’s new companion is a great herder of school buses, a scholar of refrigerators, but a dud at herding sheep. Everything Katz attempts– obedience training, herding instruction, a new name, acupuncture, herb and alternative therapies–helps a little but not enough, and not for long.

While Katz is trying to help his dog, Orson is helping him, shepherding him toward a new life on a two-hundred-year-old hillside farm in upstate New York. There, aided by good neighbors and a tolerant wife, hip-deep in sheep, chickens, donkeys, and more dogs, the man and his canine companion explore meadows, woods, and even stars, wade through snow, bask by a roaring wood stove, and struggle to keep faith with each other. There, with deep love, each embraces his unfolding destiny."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: This is so much more than just a story of a man and his dog. Katz was completely committed to Orson, in a way that we don't often see a person being committed to either an animal or even another human being. It's heartwarming to read about a person who has deep feelings for another and is true to them, staying with their loved one through thick and thin and doing whatever is necessary to make that loved one's life as good as possible, even when doing so is inconvenient, expensive, or emotionally draining. The fact that the loved one in this case was a dog doesn't detract from the commitment a bit. This is the third book I've read by this author, and while this one wasn't as lighthearted or funny as the others (see The Dogs of Bedlam Farm), this one got closer to documenting the depth of mankind's attachment to dogs. In doing so, it also helps reflect on those things that make us human.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes, along with the author's other works.

Challenges: What's in a Name? Challenge

Friday, August 15, 2008

This blog has received the official seal of approval

My friend Stephanie over at Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic recently presented this blog with 2 lovely awards:

Thank you, Stephanie!! I'm very touched. And thanks to anyone reading my blog. I don't post as often as many do, but I promise that I will continue trying to improve.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Title: Brideshead Revisited

Author: Evelyn Waugh

Publication Date: 1945

No. of Pages: 368

Synopsis (from B&N): "In this classic tale of British life between the World Wars, Waugh parts company with the satire of his earlier works to examine affairs of the heart. Charles Ryder finds himself stationed at Brideshead, the family seat of Lord and Lady Marchmain. Exhausted by the war, he takes refuge in recalling his time spent with the heirs to the estate before the war--years spent enthralled by the beautiful but dissolute Sebastian and later in a more conventional relationship with Sebastian's sister Julia. Ryder portrays a family divided by an uncertain investment in Roman Catholicism and by their confusion over where the elite fit in the modern world."

Fiction or Nonfiction: fiction

Comments and Critique: This is one of those books that I'm lukewarm about. I enjoyed it, but don't know that I'll ever bother to read it again. I like Waugh's writing style and the story moves right along. But I didn't feel anything much one way or the other about the characters -- no strong likes or dislikes, just kind of "whatever." I think I like it better in its TV miniseries version than as a book -- I want more of an emotional commitment when I read and I didn't have it here.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes, but not strongly.

Challenges: 1% Well-Read Challenge

Weekly Geeks questions:

Tiny Little Librarian said, "I've always meant to read Brideshead but can't seem to commit to it because it seems so "classicy" - would you recommend it?"

The British aristocracy and its continued place in the world is one of the central themes, but the book also addresses theological issues (acceptance of one's faith v. turning away from it). That 2nd theme is not overpowering; it's presented and you can focus on it or not. As for the aristocracy theme, I'm intrigued by the topic so I enjoyed it, but I could see where others wouldn't.

Bibliolatrist asked, "In honor of the film version of BRIDESHEAD, which should be out soon: if you were to cast the film version, who would you put in the leads and why?"

Great question, but tough - my memory is terrible on these kinds of questions. Plus, the TV version in the 80's was so perfectly cast that I can't think of anyone better. My favorite British actor is Colin Firth but I can't see him as one of the characters. I could envision James McAvoy as Charles, but no idea on who should be Sebastian. I'd love to hear what other people think on this.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

2 challenges completed!

Woohoo, I finished 2 challenges yesterday!

I try to alternate fiction and nonfiction reading to keep things interesting, so this challenge fit right in.

For this one, I finished the 5 I picked plus 2 extra. I may still read the 3rd extra, we'll see how it goes. You can see my original list here.

I also finished up this one, which consisted of 4 books that I had started but never finished. See my list here. I really liked this idea because it allowed me to accomplish 4 of my 101 in 1001 days goals (see my list in the side panel).

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Title: The Great Gatsby

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Publication Date: 1925

No. of Pages: 192

Synopsis (from B&N): "Many consider The Great Gatsby the closest thing to the Great American Novel ever written. First published in 1925, it is the timeless story of Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy Buchanan. Inseparably associated with a point in history he claimed to despise, F. Scott Fitzgerald is both the quintessential Jazz-Age writer and perhaps the era’s harshest critic. However, the complexity and sheer timelessness of classics such as The Great Gatsby has ensured that Fitzgerald’s work will never be regarded as mere period pieces."

Fiction or Nonfiction: fiction

Comments and Critique: I loved this book and will definitely read it again. I'd love to read it with a group, as I think I'd get so much more out of it. There are numerous layers of thought and feeling, and I know I missed a lot on this first reading. I'm also going to check out one of the movie versions and see if I get anything extra from it.

As a side note, this is one of the books discussed in Reading Lolita in Tehran, and the discussion of it in that book further helped my understanding. I highly recommend reading RLIT in conjunction with Gatsby, as it will greatly add to the experience. Also, I found a very nice article about Gatsby in the Washington Post. Click here if you're interested.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Absolutely! I loved this book and am only sorry that I waited so many years to read it.

Challenges: 1% Well-Read Challenge; Banned Books Challenge; Orbis Terrarum Challenge; Wind-Up Book Challenge

Weekly Geeks questions:

Chris asked: "At the end of The Great Gatsby, what were your feelings towards Gatsby? What about Nick? Did your feelings change throughout the book?"

My feelings towards both Gatsby and Nick, as well as Daisy, did change throughout the book. Probably the only one toward whom my feelings didn't change was Tom -- they intensified but didn't essentially change. The only way I can describe my early feelings about Gatsby is star-struck. He seemed attractive, the kind of man that others look up to and admire, and I could feel myself reacting the same way. But over time, my admiration changed to pity, the kind you feel for someone going through something you've gone through but moved past, outgrown in a way.

As for Nick, I liked him less than Gatsby, but never felt an active dislike. He struck me as a person essentially without integrity, without a strong sense of self.

Joy Renee asked about the technique and art of storytelling. She asked a number of questions, but for this review I'm only going to focus on theme.

I checked out a number of study guide-type websites when I was thinking about this, and I have to say that I think a number of them miss the point. One central theme that many seem to agree on is the death of the American Dream, but the common idea seems to be that the American Dream centers on money. I don't agree with this. Yes, America is and always has been about making money, but the money was generally a means to an end, not the end itself. To me, the American Dream is about freedom -- freedom to love who we want, to live where we want, to dream and hope for what we want. Money is important only insofar as it allows us to do and strive for everything else. Gatsby didn't make his fortune for the sake of being rich, but for what else it could give him -- his dream of Daisy.

Notice I said his dream of Daisy, not Daisy herself. To me, this is the real theme of the novel -- our illusions, and the loss thereof. SparkNotes does a better job of commenting on this than I could, so I'll just direct you there. I know that this doesn't come close to doing justice to either the book or Joy Renee's questions and for this I apologize. I'm going to try to make notes as I read in the future so I don't have to rely solely on (often faulty) memory.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Title: A Short History of Nearly Everything

Author: Bill Bryson

Publication Date: 2003

No. of Pages: 560

Synopsis (from B&N): "[I]n [Bryson's] biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand -- and, if possible, answer -- the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us. To that end, he has attached himself to a host of the world’s most advanced (and often obsessed) archaeologists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, travelling to their offices, laboratories, and field camps. He has read (or tried to read) their books, pestered them with questions, apprenticed himself to their powerful minds. A Short History of Nearly Everything is the record of this quest, and it is a sometimes profound, sometimes funny, and always supremely clear and entertaining adventure in the realms of human knowledge, as only Bill Bryson can render it. Science has never been more involving or entertaining."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: What can I say about a Bryson book? The man can do no wrong. Okay, that's a little over the top, but not by far. His books are always great. Here, he really made a potentially difficult subject accessible. Science is not my thing, but I'll be reading this one again.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes! And if you can, try and get the special illustrated version. It's beautiful.

Challenges: Book Awards Challenge

Weekly Geeks questions:

Stephanie said, "I'm just now reading Bill Bryson. Did you like The Short History of Nearly Everything? Is it what you expected it to be? Did you Learn anything??"

First, let me say that I'd the back of a cereal box if Bryson wrote it -- he is one of my all-time favorite writers (my husband has dubbed me a Brysonette; apparently I've become a book groupie). I've read a number of his books and have not been disappointed yet, this one included. That said, if you're looking for humor like that in his other books, you won't find it here (much). The subject matter just doesn't allow it. This kind of disappointed me, but I got over it. I'm not scientific-minded, never have been, but I understood pretty much everything he described. So no, it wasn't what I expected, but yes, I learned a lot. I think that this is the type of book that a person would learn something with each reading.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Title: Fingersmith

Author: Sarah Waters

Publication Date: 2002

No. of Pages: 592

Synopsis (from B&N) : "A spellbinding, twisting tale of a great swindle, of fortunes and hearts won and lost, set in Victorian London among a family of thieves.

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby's household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves-fingersmiths-for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives-Gentleman, a somewhat elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud's vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be left to live out her days in a mental hospital. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways . . . . But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and surprises."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I love suspense stories and this one is a great modern example. There were a number of times throughout the book when it took a turn or twist that I hadn't seen coming, and it really kept the story moving along. For other comments, see my responses to the Weekly Geeks questions below.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Absolutely.

Challenges: 10 Out of 100 Out of 1001 Challenge; Complete Booker; Man Booker Challenge; Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Weekly Geeks questions:

Joy Renee asked about the technique and art of storytelling. Some of her questions included:

How was Point-of-View handled? Was there a single POV character or did it alternate among two or more. Was it always clear whose eyes and mind were filtering?

The author alternated POV between characters and this use added to overall feeling of the book. The alternation only happened a couple of times and so it wasn't difficult to keep up with who was telling the story. I wonder if it wouldn't have been more effective to switch POV more often, but maybe the author considered that and discarded it.

How was language used to set tone and mood? Was the prose dense or spare? Were sentences generally simple or complex?

Sentences were generally simple -- there was never a time when I found myself wondering what the author meant or feeling that I had missed something. Given that the story is set in Victorian times, I do think the author didn't quite get the conversational tones just right. At times, it seemed that the characters spoke in too modern a tone, using terms that we use now but people probably didn't then.

How does the title relate to the story? Was it fitting?

From what I can gather, a "fingersmith" is a thief, so I'd say that the title was fitting. The term doesn't show up in either the OED or the American Heritage Dictionary and I'd never heard it before, so I wonder if it's slang that Americans had never been exposed to?