The Quest of An Everyday Soccer Mom to Read the Modern Library's 100 Best Fiction Books of the 20th Century.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We've Moved! The New Home of Journeys

Hi Guys!

For those of you who are still adding yourselves as followers to this blog...thanks, but we've moved! Come visit our new home over at

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's My Blogoversary!!!

I would have posted about this earlier, but I've been busy fighting off Respiratory Hell Virus 2010. Seriously, it's the kind of virus where your hair hurts and you feel like you've been run over with a semi. So bear with me. :)

A year ago today I posted the first review for my blog, #100, The Magnificent Ambersons. 31 books later, I'm still having fun and am still as motivated as ever to make it through the list.

This blog was born out of the need to have a positive, fulfilling goal in my life, and it has definitely been that, and more. Here are just some of the ways this blog has changed my life.

1) Barnes and Noble and Half Price Books LOVE me!!!

2) I don't hate Hemingway (as much) anymore.

3) I always have something to read.

4) Best of all....I've met a whole bunch of really cool book bloggers and discovered some great book sites. You all have been very inspiring and encouraging! Thanks to all of you who comment on my stuff and keep me motivated.

Many more journeys to come! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

#69....The House of Mirth

"In whatever form a slowly-accumulated past lives in the blood--whether in the concrete image of the old house stored with visual memories, or in the conception of the house not built with hands, but made up of inherited passions and loyalties--it has the same power of broadening and deepening the individual existence, of attaching it by mysterious links of kinship to all the mighty sum of human striving."

Edith Wharton's beautifully crafted and passionate 1905 novel, The House of Mirth, poignantly depicts the hypocrisy and superficiality of upper class Old New York. Edith Wharton, raised as Edith Newbold Jones in the old-money New York family that spawned the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses", knew well the strictures and dissimulations of high society, and so was able to write about life among the glitterati with a 'been there, done that' ironic detachment that brings home to us how empty and despondent living that life must have been.

At the beginning of Mirth, Lily Bart's only desire is to marry well and live a life of luxury like that of her wealthy New York friends. Lily's father lost all of his money on Wall Street when she was young, and since then, Lily has sought to recapture the feeling of security that money once provided for her. As a single, beautiful socialite, Lily is constantly called upon by her richer friends to their luxurious country homes to fill a place at the card table, to help entertain, or to distract spouses from covert affairs happening right under their noses. As we discover, the rich of old New York have no scruples. They cheat on their spouses, borrow money from friends, amass gambling debts which send their less fortunate relatives into poverty, and backstab each other with heartless regularity.

Lily's desire to be as wealthy as her friends and live a life of ease is taken advantage of by her society friends, and it leads to her undoing. She is tricked into believing Gus Trenor's offer to invest money for her, only to discover later that he was giving her money, not investing it...with definite strings attached. Whoops. Lily is later thrown under the bus by another of her friends, Bertha Dorset, when she accuses Lily of having an affair with her husband George...when in reality Bertha had asked Lily along on the trip to keep George's attention away from her own extramarital affair. Thanks to this scandalous and untrue accusation, Lily is written almost completely out of her wealthy aunt's will and is left only enough money to pay back what she owes Gus Trenor. When society cuts Lily, she discovers that she does not have a friend in the world except her cousin Gerty Farish, an independent working woman, and Lawrence Selden, an attorney who falls for Lily but is rejected by her because he is not wealthy. They both try to help Lily imagine and create a new life outside of society, but this is unsuccessful, as Lily discovers that she is unfit for any life besides that of the affluential. But even the horrors of a dismal, 'dingy' life do not turn Lily to the Dark Side. When she is given a chance to get even with Bertha Dorset, which might have led to a triumphant return to society, she doesn't take it. An accidental overdose of sleep medication prevents us from ever knowing if Lily would have been strong enough to survive outside of the society spotlight. I am torn as to whether or not Lily would have made it.

This was my third re-read of The House of Mirth. The first time I read this book, it was as a disillusioned college junior, trapped in an English class I hated, with a professor I hated MORE. The second read was on the heels of my enthusiastic read of another of Wharton's books, The Age of Innocence, which I loved. I remember liking Mirth more than I had the first time. This third time was my most emotional and involved reading of this book, and was actually the first book on the ML list that engendered such emotion. I immediately empathized with Lily, who was only trying to recapture the questionable security of her own childhood by seeking wealth and stability, and was cast out onto an island without a friend and with nowhere to go as a result of her quest. I felt Lily's pain at being alone and rejected and misunderstood and lied about, probably because I had been in Lily's shoes at one time or another since I first read the book.

It was amazing to me, even though I knew what was coming in the plot and how the story would end, how involved I became in this story. I think it only proves that Edith Wharton knew well the harshness and heartlessness of the society she wrote about, and probably witnessed its woundings first-hand. I can completely understand why she would eventually leave her wealthy husband and New York for writing and Europe.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday

Ah, another Tuesday arrives, and with it another visit to The Broke and The Bookish, who ask us this week who our top ten fictional heroines are. This should be fun!

1)Katniss Everdeen. I love her sassiness, her fearlessness as she hunts illegally to support her starving family and how she steps in for her little sister to go to the Hunger Games, knowing she could possibly die. Plus she gets to make out with Peeta...he sounds super hot. No one puts Katniss in the corner!

2)Elizabeth Bennet. I know she will be on everyone's list, but how can you not love a woman who would rather die an old maid than marry someone like Mr Collins, someone brave enough to stand up to mean old Lady Catherine, and hot enough to have Darcy pining away after her?

3)Melanie Hamilton. I know most people will say Scarlett O'Hara, but I loved Melanie and her persistence in believing only the best of people and being consistently loving even when people were trying to steal her husband.

4)Hermione Granger. Like me, a devoted bookworm and cat lover, but is also super smart, a hell of a witch and she has a great right hook. She also loves to show people up.

5)The Brass Monkey. From Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. She reminded me so much of my daughter, always getting in trouble and breaking stuff. I seriously laughed every time she appeared in the book.

6)Mia Thermopolis. The Princess Diaries series is one of my guilty pleasures. I love Mia's character, how even though her grandmother tries hard to turn her into royalty, she always remains true to herself, proving that tiaras go GREAT with Doc Martens and overalls.

7)Lily Bart. She refuses to marry someone she doesn't love in order to get out of money trouble, and even though people throw her under the bus, she resists the temptation to do the same, even if it meant regaining her place in society. She doesn't sell her soul to stay popular.

8)Susan Burling Ward. She was born wealthy, but gave all that up to move out West and rough it with the man she loved. Plus she found a way to bring her beautiful surroundings to life in her illustrations, at a time when women really didn't work.

9)Sophia Baines. Like Susan, she was born well-to-do, but when a quasi-elopement goes south, rather than running home to mommy and daddy, she puts on her big-girl pants and starts up her own pension to keep herself going. Also at a time when women were supposed to stay home and raise kids (like her sister did).

10)Celie from The Color Purple. Although she has a rough childhood and marries a total jerk, she finds strength in her women friends and turns it around by starting her own business making very comfortable pants. Plus she leaves the jerky husband and he comes back nice to her.

Can't wait to read all of your choices!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Having the End in Sight

Okay, people. I have a confession to make. I had to take a break from The House of Mirth. Here's why.

1)This is my third re-read of this book. It's my first re-read on the entire ML list. Amazing that I've had to get 31 books in before there was one that I read. So I already know the ending, and because of that I'm not particularly motivated to finish it.

2)Even though I've read this book twice before, AND know the ending, I am more emotionally sucked into what is happening in this book than I've been both times before, AND more so than I have been with any other ML book. Every time Lily gets her heart stomped on and people are mean to her, mine is stomped on too. It hurts. I wonder why this is? Maybe it is because Edith Wharton really is that amazing!

So, I decided to give myself a break from Lily and the ML for a week or so. I've decided to toughen myself up emotionally by reading (gulp, I can't believe I'm admitting this out loud on a classics blog), The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I figure nothing should thicken my emotional skin more quickly than reading about a bunch of teenagers ruthlessly hunting each other down and killing each other.
  • Those of you who wonder if I am turning to the Dark Side by reading a YA novel on a classics blog, have no fear. This is a one-time deal and should show you just how badly I need to clear my literary palate right now.
  • Those of you who think less of me for this literary faux pas clearly haven't read The Hunger Games. It's amazing, and for those of you who loved the Harry Potter series, in terms of action, Hunger Games blows them away.
So, back to the main topic of the posting.....I wondered how many other readers out there feel about knowing the ending to a book, and how that makes you experience re-reading the book, or if knowing the ending makes you decide whether or not you want to re-read it. Do any of you out there ever read the last page of a book before you finish it? Come on, we've all done it once (or twice, or a my case. I admit it. I am a last-page readin' junkie). Can't wait to see what you come up with! And I seriously hope the odds are ever in Katniss' favor, because I like her.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

10 Books I Haven't Gotten Around to Reading

The Broke and the Bookish hosts a great weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday. This week's Top Ten list subject is books that I can't believe I haven't read. In the past, once I've encountered an author that I have really hated, whether it was after one page or an entire book, I've kicked them to the literary curb.Forever. Kind of harsh, I know!

The ML list has been great because it has forced me to overcome some of these deep-seated literary prejudices and get out of my comfort zone. Best example: Hemingway. After struggling through The Sun Also Rises approximately 200 times during college, I vowed never to read one word Hemingway wrote ever again. Even if it was the word "and" or "chapter". And I did well keeping that promise until a couple months ago, when I read A Farewell to Arms and was forced to eat my words since I absolutely loved it.

Here are 10 books I have never gotten around to reading, in no particular order:

10. Great Expectations. I admit it. I have never read one word of Dickens. I can't tell you why except that the mood has never struck me. Seems like you would need a cold night and a roaring fire.

9. Lady Chatterley's Lover. I have never read any D.H. Lawrence either. From the looks of it, I'm going to be reading his entire repertoire by the end of the ML list. I have two books upcoming.

8. The Alchemist. Everyone says how fabulous this book is. I have picked it up at the bookstore about 200 times. Still haven't gotten around to it.

7. Jane Eyre. This is one of those books that you almost feel like you have read, because you've heard so many people talk about it that you even know the basic plot. I should still read it, just in case they were all wrong.

6. The Wings of the Dove. Or for that matter, anything by Henry James. I think we had to read Daisy Miller about five times during college and I was bored. Like crumbling into dust bored. Mr James will get the chance to redeem himself (or not) sometime soon on the list, as I believe the ML has his entire catalogue as well.

5. The Grapes of Wrath. Not a big Steinbeck fan after Of Mice and Men or East of Eden.

4. Northanger Abbey. I've read every other Jane Austen book like ten million times. No idea why I've never made it to this one.

3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Just to see what all the hype is about. Plus I sometimes feel like I am the only person in America that hasn't read it.

2. The Book of Mormon. Before you say this is weird, realize that I lived in Salt Lake City, UT, for three and a half years and was the recipient of about six Books of Mormon while I lived there. What are the chances that if you got the same book six times, you wouldn't ultimately crack it open, just to see if you were missing out on something?

1. The Scarlet Letter. The whole idea of punishing women for stuff men do all the time really ticked me off. Maybe this is another example of me thinking I know the plot?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Update on "The House of Mirth"

For those of you who have had the pleasure of reading Edith Wharton's wonderful The House of Mirth before, you probably understand why I am totally horrified by the backstabbing and double standards of old New York. This book is like watching a car crash: you don't want to keep reading, but you can't put the book down.

Lily Bart has got to be one of the most tragic of heroines in 20th century literature. She is caught between two worlds: the world of the rich and carefree, which is the world she was raised to be part of, and the world of the less-rich and less-carefree, which she disdains as "dingy" even though she secretly envies her cousin Gerty's independence. It is an age where a woman's marriage determines who she will be and what she will have, and one almost never marries for love. She knows that marrying well will end her money troubles and society's whispers, but even though she has offers she still cannot bring herself to marry someone just for money. Nor will she marry someone who doesn't have money, because she cares so much for luxury and things that are beautiful and would hate someone who could not give them to her.

The only society Lily has ever been a part of is full of morally bankrupt individuals who scorn real friendship and admire only wealth and pleasure-seeking. Married women and divorced women with money are able to do what they like, but Lily, who is unmarried and not wealthy, is subject to the severe scrutiny of her peers for every move she makes. Double standards run high in Lily's circle. Her friends know she is not wealthy, yet she is expected to gamble at the same stakes they play at. She cannot be seen going into Selden's apartment without scandal, but her married friends conduct affairs that are barely concealed from their spouses and are well-known throughout society. It's just wrong!

I would not have lasted ten days in this time period. Women were not encouraged to be unique or let their true personalities shine through. Everyone 'conformed' or were cut by society, which was the kiss of death back then, and no one could ever say what they really thought. Spending time in the company of people as fake, vacuous and two-faced as Lily's 'friends' are described would have sapped my will to live. She had no one to turn to except Selden and Gerty. I cannot imagine a more lonely existence than Lily must have had, and Wharton does such a great job of garnering the reader's sympathy for Lily. I want to jump into this book and beat everyone that has been mean to her.