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.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Here's Hop-pin'!!

I'm a little late to the party, but better late than never! For those of you stoppin' by from the Crazy-For-Books Book Blogger Hop, welcome! We're all about the Modern Library's Top 100 Board's list from the last century...we're working our way up from the bottom of the list, and we're not stopping til we reach the top!

I'm about two weeks away from celebrating my blog's 1 Year Anniversary. Hard to believe I've been at it a year now! When I first began my blog, those of you die-hards that have been around for a while might remember that my initial quest was to read these 100 books in a 100 week time span. That lasted about three months! A remnant of this quest remains as my URL, since I am not computer literate and don't know how to change it :) While I'm sure my initial idea was logistically possible (as long as I didn't eat, sleep, or leave my house), I realized that classics could not be speed-read and enjoyed at the same time. So I opted for enjoyment, as life is short and reading is meant to be enjoyable. It might take me about three more years to finish the list, but I think I'll survive! It's been fun so far, and I have come across some amazing books I would never have picked up otherwise! Check out the reviews of the first 30 books on the left side of the screen.

Crazy-For-Books asks us this week how many blogs we follow. At this point, I'm following about 40 blogs religiously, most of which are other classics blogs that I've found on the Hop or by recommendations on other sites. The list is growing quickly, though....half the fun is tracking down other bloggers out there who are doing what I'm doing. I've learned a lot and even have to thank one of my new favorite blogs for the suggestion to implement the new commenting system we're using here now, which hopefully won't make you type in weird words like "zygreft" and sell your first-born just to leave a comment (which I hope you will...leave a comment, that is!).

Thanks for coming by! Hope to see you back soon!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Great Posts on Reading Classics

I've found a couple of really great blog posts on some of the blogs that I follow that talk about reading classic novels and some of the challenges that come with them, as well as suggestions on how to tackle them, if you're trying to encourage yourself to read one. Here they are, in no particular order:

1) Desert Book Chick has a great posting on How to Read a Classic at her site. She was recently trying to motivate herself to read Anna Karenina (a GREAT book if you've never read it!).

2) Dead White Guys is putting together a series of articles on reading classics. The first one tackled becoming BFF's with the author; the 2nd talks about getting to know the author's intent. They are super funny and very enlightening.

3) Page Turners did a guest posting for Desert Book Chick on what defines a classic, and why we should read them.

Check these postings out. They are very encouraging and inspirational!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ranking the 3rd 10 Books

Thanks to the Alexandria Quartet, we actually had 14 books in this group!

I was surprised when I went back to look at the grades I gave the last ten books I read to see how many were in the A/B range. There were only a couple in this group that really blew me away...the rest were really just okay for me, dawg. Besides maybe the first two, there aren't any others in this group I see myself picking up and reading again in the future. The overall themes of this 3rd group were darker. We had the kids that lost it on the pirate ship, the teacher who wanted to take over the lives of her kids, the seedy side of Hollywood, and people under house arrest. It would be nice if the next group of books was more upbeat!!!

Without any further ado, here's this group's breakdown, from 1 (best) to 14 (worst).
1) A House for Mr Biswas
2) A Farewell to Arms
3) Scoop
4) Balthazar
5) Justine
6) Mountolive
7) A Room With a View
8) Brideshead Revisited
9) A High Wind in Jamaica
10) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
11) Kim
12) The Day of the Locust
13) Finnegans Wake

#70....The Alexandria Quartet....Clea

"I began to see too that the real 'fiction' lay neither in Arnauti's pages nor Pursewarden's--nor even my own. It was life itself that was a fiction--we were all saying it on our different ways, each understanding it according to his nature and gift."

Clea, the fourth and final installment of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, attemps to wrap up the lives and destinies of the characters we've grown to know, love and/or detest during this series. Darley is asked to return to Alexandria to drop off Nessim and Melissa's kid with Nessim, and while doing so, hangs out with all of his wacky buddies to see what they've been up to since he took off to be a hermit on the island. Here's the breakdown of what's been going on in Alexandria:

Nessim and Justine: after their little illegal weapons caper, they're under house arrest.
Scobie, the dead cross-dressing secret agent: after his homemade liquor killed a whole bunch of people, and touching his bathtub made a bunch of women get pregnant, he's now revered as a quasi-saint by the locals.
Capodistria: actually not dead as was once thought. The guy everyone thought was him floating in the water at the duck hunt was someone else. He lives in Greece now.
Pursewarden: still dead. As far as I know.
Clea: she's apparently still painting, but she hooks up with Darley for much of the book and kicks him to the curb by the end of it. She also has an unfortunate boating accident that changes her career.
Mountolive: he's getting married to Pursewarden's blind sister Liza. He's still PO'd at Nessim.
Pombal: he hooked up with a married lady, who gets sick and dies.
Balthazar: he fell in love with a guy and went psycho. He's recovering now though.

And that's it. Clea reads like the high school reunion you'd never want to attend. After how much I liked the first three books, particularly Mountolive, this book fell very flat for me. I wanted, and to be honest, expected everyone to have more dramatic life changes, like Nessim going in front of a firing squad or Justine dying of the clap. Durrell had created a world where nothing was really outside the realm of possibility. So I have to say I was surprised that he went this direction. The story just kind of fizzed out for me like one of those sparklers on 4th of July.

In closing, I'm not sorry I read this series. There were some shocking revelations throughout, which kept you guessing what would happen next. By the time I finished Mountolive, I was used to drama and misunderstandings and 'a-ha moments'. Clea was different from the other three books in that it was the only one of the books that went into fast-forward. Nothing new and amazing was revealed in Clea like in the other three books, and maybe that was why I didn't like it as much?

Durrell showed us there are always different angles, different views, different takes on any one situation, and it was like peeling back the layers of an onion. That was the take-home message for me from this series.

Grade: C+

Friday, August 13, 2010


For those of you joining us from the Crazy for Books Book Blogger Hop, welcome! Glad you're here. This site is your oyster...crack it open and take a look! It goes great with a good Pinot Grigio! I've dedicated myself and my reading free time, foregoing anything involving vampires, zombies, shopaholics and Stephanie Plum, to reading the Modern Library's Top 100 Board's list from the last century. We've been at it almost a year now, and I'm about thirty books through. So at this rate, by the time I'm done, the Modern Library will probably have put together their Top 100 list from this century! Right on!

The question the book blogger folks ask us this week is, how many books are on your TBR shelf? What a great question. When I first started the blog, I refused to go out and buy the next book on the list until it was time to read it, so that I wouldn't get all freaked out when I read the back cover and dread reading it. Well, that went by the wayside long ago when I realized half the books on the list aren't readily available at my neighborhood Barnes and Noble, and basically have to be exhumed from someone's basement and sold on Thanks to the internet, and my newfound worship of Half-Price Books. I currently have 18 books on the shelf ready to go.

Those of you who are already following us here at Journeys, and are waiting breathlessly for my review of Lawrence Durrell's Clea, I'm about 15 pages from finishing it up. Let me tell ya, I cannot wait to be done dragging around a book that is roughly the size and weight of my car. Although my right arm is looking a bit more toned these days.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Think About It Thursday

1001 Books has started a weekly meme where she'll be asking questions about all things literary. So of course I had to jump on board!

This week's question asks where our favorite literary vacation spot would be. Sadly, she doesn't mean the wonderful beach on the Riviera Maya where you'd love to be lounging on a deck chair in the sun with endless margaritas while you read. What we're looking for is the time period you'd love to visit from one of the books you've read.

I would have to say, hands down, Jane Austen's England. I love, love, love the formality, the manners, the cool reserve. Telling people off with words like "thither". The quid pro quo on that would be as long as I could also somehow transform into Lizzy Bennet, make out with Mr Darcy for a while, and then simultaneously kick the asses of Mr Collins AND Mr Elton from Emma. That would rock.

Head on over and join the fun!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hop, Hop, Hippety-hop

Welcome to all of you stopping by courtesy of the awesome Book Blogger Hop, sponsored by Crazy-For-Books. Feel free to take off your shoes, plop down in a cushy armchair, and take a look around. It is my quest to read the Modern Library's Board's List of the Top 100 Books from the last century. Believe it or not, I am 30 books in, and still alive!

Crazy-For-Books asks us Hop participants this week if we like to listen to music while we read. I used to do this a lot when I was younger. I remember listening to Def Leppard's Pyromania while I was reading Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff in middle school. Don't ask how I came up with that combo. Now as I get older, I've discovered that I am losing the ability to concentrate on anything longer than a segment on TMZ about Snooki from Jersey Shore getting as a result, I can't read, listen to music, pat my stomach and chew gum at the same time anymore. I do, however, get these goofy hairs that sprout out of my chin every now and then, so this getting older thing isn't all THAT bad. :)

Take a look around the site, and I have a question for all of you stopping by. How do you feel about reading the classics, and what is the last classic book you read?

Thanks for coming by!!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

#70....The Alexandria Quartet....Mountolive

"He pondered deeply upon them during those long sleepless days and nights and for the first time he saw them, in the light of this new knowledge, as enigmas. They were puzzles now, and even their private moral relationship haunted him with a sense of something he had never properly understood, never clearly evaluated. Somehow his friendship for them had prevented him from thinking of them as people who might, like himself, be living on several different levels at once. As conspirators, as lovers--what was the key to the enigma? He could not guess."

In Mountolive, Lawrence Durrell's third installment of the dramatic Alexandria Quartet, Durrell takes a different turn from his previous novels Justine and Balthazar. We finally leave behind the whiny, depressed narrator Darley, and switch to an omniscent third person narrator who gives us the skinny on what's REALLY going on behind the scenes. Mountolive might well be called "Nessim", because a good portion of the novel takes place from Nessim's POV...and boy, is he not who you think he is.

David Mountolive, a Britisher who is briefly mentioned during Balthazar, meets up with the same wacky cast of characters from Justine when he spends time at the Hosnani household perfecting his Arabic. He develops a close friendship with Nessim (pre-Justine) and an even closer friendship (with benefits) with Nessim's mom Leila, who is tending her sick husband. We also get to know Nessim's younger, less attractive brother Narouz, who is a couple cards short of a deck, if you know what I mean. Mountolive returns to England, and after years in the diplomatic service is finally given an Ambassadorship back to Egypt. He hopes to hook up again with Leila, whom he has been corresponding with by letter since he left, and whose husband has finally died, but Leila becomes disfigured after a bout with smallpox and is afraid to meet him.

Through diplomatic channels, and thanks to one of Pursewarden's one-night-stands, Mountolive and we find out what Nessim's really been up to all this time. Apparently he's been shipping weapons illegally to Palestine in support of the Jewish cause. Which, if you've been keeping up, explains why he was so hot to marry Justine (she of the Jewish faith). We discover that Justine was sleeping with both Pursewarden and Darley to keep an eye on them in case they knew anything about Nessim, since Pursewarden is in the diplomatic corps and Darley is close to Melissa, who was dating someone who knew all about Nessim. When Pursewarden discovers the truth, he kills himself rather than turn in his friend, but tells Mountolive what he knows before he offs himself. Mountolive has to turn this information over to the British, and starts to see his friend in a whole new light. The Minister of the Interior, Memlik Pasha, is kept quiet by Nessim through bribery, and they both agree that no one need know which Hosnani brother was responsible for the diplomatic melee. So you guessed it...Narouz gets the blame and the gunfire.

There were good and bad things for me about Mountolive. Parts of it bored me to tears. It was way more historical and political than Justine or Balthazar, which were more gossipy and, at times, mopey and sentimental. The best part of the book, for me, happened once everyone started to figure out what Nessim was up to. I could not stop reading. There were a lot of "a-ha" moments....scenes from the first two books suddenly made sense. It made me want to go back and re-read the first two books again so I could put things together, or in case I missed stuff.

I have read that the next book, Clea is actually a sequel, not another POV on the same time period like the first three books, so I will be excited to finally move forward in time and see what happens to everyone.

Grade: B+

Monday, August 2, 2010

July '10's Literary Dirtbag

This month's MLLD award goes to the adorable Emily Bas-Thornton, loving big sister and cold blooded murderer, from Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica. After murdering a Dutch sea captain on board a pirate ship, she sends five innocent pirates to their deaths when she doesn't tell the truth about the murder on the witness stand at their trial. And shows absolutely no remorse for any of it. Emily should be grounded for LIFE.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Welcome All Hoppers!

For those of you stopping by from the Crazy For Books blog hop, welcome! We're about 1/3 of the way through the Modern Library's 100 Best Books from the last century. To get you up to speed on what we're all about, the book reviews for books 100-70 are on the bottom left. We read 'em, review 'em, and move on, and we're not stopping til we get to #1!

This week's Blogtastic question from Crazy For Books is, who is your new favorite author? I have to say that since I began the Modern Library's list, I have really begun to like V.S. Naipaul, who happily has written about a zillion other books besides the ones I have already read. I can't wait to get the ML list done so I can check out the rest of his work. His books always take place in really cool places I would be too chicken to get on a plane and visit...but luckily they are so descriptive it feels like you're there!

Thanks for stopping by!

Libris Interruptus....Books as Inspiration

Books not only entertain us, but sometimes can inspire us to try something we never would have before, or learn something new. What is the craziest/most interesting thing a book has ever inspired you to do, and which book was it? I can't wait to hear your answers!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

#70....The Alexandria Quartet....Balthazar

"'We live', writes Pursewarden somewhere, 'lives based on selected fictions. Our view of reality is conditioned by our position in space and time--not by our personalities as we like to think. Thus every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position. Two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed.'"

Just when you thought you got the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Justine and her wacky crew of friends and ex-lovers in Justine, Durrell turns everything upside down in Balthazar, the second installment of his Alexandria Quartet. Just to see if you were paying attention.

Our depressed hermit friend Darley sends his copy of his memoirs of his days in Alexandria and his love affair with Justine (basically the manuscript of Justine) to his buddy Balthazar back in Alexandria. Balthazar shows up on the island not only with the manuscript full of commentary, but corrections. Apparently, boy did Darley have a whole bunch of things wrong. "A diary is the last place to go if you wish to seek the truth about a person. Nobody dares to make the final confession to themselves on paper: or at least, not about love," Balthazar states. So everything Darley wrote about his memories of Justine are either wrong, skewed, or incomplete. By the end of Balthazar, even Darley is doubting his reliability as a narrator. And so was I, big time.

The magic of Balthazar is that Durrell makes discovering these inconsistencies and gaps in Darley's story interesting. It's like seeing a house painted a cool color, and then finding out the owners had to mix four different paints to get it. It adds dimension and layers to the essentially one-sided story we're presented with in Justine. We learn, for example, that the secret agent Scobie is a cross dresser. We learn about Nessim's reclusive family, and how Nessim got Justine to agree to marry him in the first place. We learn why Justine ever got started with Darley in the first place....and boy, does THAT revelation hit Darley hard.

There are always two sides to every story...all of us know that. Durrell touches on this several times during Justine. But what really captivated me about Balthazar is how futile, how subversive a search for truth can be. Do any of us ever have a chance of finding out what's really true about anything? As humans, we cling to certain memories, block other things out, and color the way we remember things all the time. If you told the story of how you met your significant other to someone, and then had your significant other tell their side of the story, certain facts would be the same....but you'd have a whole other dimension to the story you were lacking before. Which one is true? Aren't both true, even though both stories have different information? You can start to see how the search for pure truth has captivated generations of philosophers.

This was the point that blew me away about Balthazar. We're tempted as readers to throw Justine in the trash and take Balthazar's account as the 'real' story...but knowing what we now know about individual truth, can we do this? Durrell masterfully not only discredits Darley as a narrator...but at the same time discredits everyone else. We learn that we cannot rely on anyone's individual chronicle as pure truth. Their stories fit together like pieces in a puzzle, but as stand-alone stories do not represent the whole truth.

As a disgusting side note, I got to experience the icky moment of seeing whoever owned this book before me writing the word "ME!" next to the sections where Pursewarden is described as picking his nose and taking his shoes off under the table in restaurant. Awesome. Excuse me while I go look for the Clorox wipes now.

Anyone looking for deep thoughts should check this one out. You really do have to read Justine first, though. Sorry.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#70...The Alexandria Quartet...Justine

"Far off events, transformed by memory, acquire a burnished brilliance because they are seen in isolation, divorced from the details of before and after, the fibres and wrappings of time. The actors, too, suffer a transformation; they sink slowly deeper and deeper into the ocean of memory like weighted bodies, finding at every level a new assessment, a new evaluation in the human heart."

How much can we rely on memory as truth, and how well can we really ever know another person? Lawrence Durrell tackles these questions in Justine, the first installment of his four-part Alexandria Quartet. Set in the ancient city of Alexandria, Justine is primarily the memoir of an unnamed man and his affair with a beautiful married Jewish socialite. Because of a horrifying incident in her past, Justine finds herself unable (or unwilling?) to be monogamous and so flits from affair to affair. Although her husband Nessim is presented with strong evidence of her affairs over the years, he is unable (or unwilling?) to believe it, until Melissa, the girlfriend of the narrator, comes to Nessim with her knowledge of the affair. Thinking two wrongs make a right, Melissa and Nessim begin an affair, which results in a child. When Nessim finally takes his revenge on the man who hurt Justine, Melissa dies, and Justine inexplicably flees her life in Alexandria for a Jewish kibbutz in Palestine, the narrator adopts the child and retires to a remote island to write about his memories of Justine.

Durrell uses two very unreliable sources of information to define Justine: memory, and the stories of her discarded lovers. Before we judge her as readers, we have to take this into account. As anyone knows, the further away in time an experience is, and the more wrapped in feeling it is, the more likely our memories of the experience will be skewed. Justine's previous husband wrote a book about her, but admits that his memories of their time together may not have been completely accurate: "Did this sort of thing happen so often or is it that my memory has multiplied it? Perhaps it was only once, and the echoes have misled me." The quote from the beginning of the post also emphasizes the deceptive truth of memory. We also have to account for the bias that results from the memories of past lovers. I would never want one of my ex-boyfriends to write a book about me and have people accept that as how I am. The narrator says it best: "How much of him can I claim to know? I realize that each person can only claim one aspect of our character as part of his knowledge. To every one we turn a different face of the prism." I think most of us agree that the part of the prism that would be reflected by an ex-lover might not be the most flattering picture in the world.

Durrell also challenges us to define love. Can you love someone when being unfaithful to them? Can you love someone through an intellectual avenue rather than just purely sexually? Can you really love something without a desire to possess it? My definition of a love relationship would be monogamy and commitment, which is the more conventionally accepted format...and clearly, Justine's definition is 180 degrees different from that.

I ended the book wondering why Durrell would want us to feel so negatively about Justine. Maybe it is my personal experiences and values that turned me against her.

I liked this book. It started a bit slow but grew on me. Happily I am not as turned off about reading the next three books as I was during the first few pages of Justine.

Grade: B+

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blog Shoppin'

I "heart" used bookstores, especially since I started this blog. I have to give a shout-out to Half-Price Books for their great selection (even if I have to drive 20 minutes one way to get there) and to my husband, who unquestioningly indulges my book-buying sprees. :)

Here are today's finds, all upcoming for Journeys....

Light in August, William Faulkner
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
Go Tell It On the Mountain, James Baldwin
The Rainbow, DH Lawrence
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
Deliverance, James Dickey
Women In Love, DH Lawrence
The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

And here's the fun part...I got all of these books, in really good condition, for $38. Which averages out to $3.80 a book. Beat THAT, Barnes and Noble!!!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

#71....A High Wind in Jamaica

"Grownups embark on a life of deception with considerable misgiving, and generally fail. But not so children. A child can hide the most appalling secret without the least effort, and is practically secure against detection. Parents, finding that they see through their child in so many places the child does not know of, seldom realize that, if there is some point the child really gives his mind to hiding, their chances are nil."

There were several take-home messages Richard Hughes passes along to us in his 1929 novel, A High Wind in Jamaica. We'll kick off this review with them right now.

1)Children can be more devious than adults.
2)Not all pirates are bad guys (something Disney took to the bank with their Pirates of the Caribbean movies).
3)Parents and other adults are clueless about the true nature of children.

The five Bas-Thornton children (ranging from ages 3 to 12) aren't like normal kids. They live in the ruins of an old sugar plantation in Jamaica, and are basically running wild. They spend their time hunting, climbing trees, playing with sticks and old bottles for toys, and torturing animals, until one day a freak hurricane blows away their house. Their parents decide to send the kids back to England since Jamaica has proven unsafe, but en route, their ship is boarded by pirates. These pirates are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. They take all five children onto their own boat as a way of inducing the captain of their ship to produce money. The captain mistakenly sees the pirates throw things overboard, and assumes he has drowned the children, so they quickly leave the scene. The pirate captain is now stuck with the children, whom he never intended keeping.

The kids adjust quickly to life aboard the pirate ship, and Stockholm syndrome kicks in. The pirates are never overtly cruel to the children and pretty much allow them to do whatever they want, and a quasi-attachment is created between the kids and several members of the crew. When the kids are taken to an entertainment while on land, the oldest boy falls and breaks his neck...but astonishingly, the children don't seem to be very upset about this development and don't show much interest in his fate. The pirates board another ship, and take the captain hostage. The oldest girl, Emily, is stuck in the cabin with the bound captain, and when he makes a move to try to escape, she stabs him repeatedly, and he later dies of his injuries. Again, very little remorse is shown on Emily's part. In fact, another girl, Margaret, is blamed for the incident, but is thrown overboard. Luckily she is rescued.

The novelty of having kids swarming all over the pirate ship wears off, and the captain, Jonsen, finds another ship and makes up a story about rescuing the kids. The kids are taken onto the new ship, but Emily tells the people on the ship what really happened. The pirates are hunted down and charged with murder of the missing captain and the older Bas-Thornton boy; however, without actual bodies, the eyewitness accounts of the children will be necessary to convict them. The kids are reunited with their parents, who also left Jamaica, and a lawyer tries to get the true story of what happened with the dead captain out of Emily, who won't talk. The other kids hardly remember what happened. When Emily is put on the stand at the trial, she tells of seeing the dead captain, but not why he died. Everyone assumes since pirates are bad that the pirates killed him, and they are all hanged. Emily goes back to her regular life, seemingly unaffected by everything that has happened.

I have mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, it was very interesting to read an adult's account of the thought processes of children. It was interesting to see what Hughes felt would hit the radar of a child. For example, at the beginning of the book, two incidents occur that Emily, the oldest girl, ruminates about for much of the book: an earthquake and the violent death of their pet cat during the hurricane. These seem to be logical, traumatizing events that might upset most kids. However, what was disturbing to me is what DOESN'T seem to upset them. The children don't seem to be very fazed by the terrible storm during the hurricane and the subsequent loss of their house and most of their belongings. They don't seem upset to be set adrift on a boat without their parents, aren't upset about being shot at and taken onto a pirate ship, and don't seem to miss their brother when he dies. Whether this is a commentary on the adaptability of children, or their inherent selfishness and lack of attention, I'm not sure. Maybe a little of both.

Something else I found interesting was the unreliability of children as witnesses during a trial. Hughes notes that "the children listened to all they were told, and according to their ages, believed it....Who were they, children, to know better what had happened to them than grownups?" Basically, the difficulty of getting children to tell the truth, when they are heavily influenced by grownups, makes them difficult witnesses. The lawyer has Emily memorize answers to questions he'll ask her, which she does with no trouble...but never does she seem to question their truth or validity. After the lawyer interviews all the children (which is basically a joke, as the kids can't stay on the subject and are making stuff up), the lawyer admits to their father that "I would rather have to extract information from the devil himself than from a child". Emily's testimony, while accurate, describes the death of the captain, but does not tell the whole truth. This is enough to convict the captain and crew.

Overall, it was not my favorite book, due to its dark, foreboding feel, but the ending was good and there was suspense and momentum to the plot.

Grade: B

Doin' the Hop

For those of you stopping by from the Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books, welcome! We're a little over 1/4 completed on our journey through the Modern Library's Board's List of the Top 100 Novels from the last century. New to the area? No problem.... we'll get you caught up in no time. Reviews on all the books we've read are on the left. And there are lots more to come!

The Crazy for Books crew have asked us to name our favorite 5 books, as a way of getting your attention as to what we're all about here at Journeys. Although I have TONS of favorite books, I will list the top 5 books I've read on my quest so far...just so you can see what you've been missing.

1)A House for Mr Biswas, VS Naipaul. Don't let the boring title fool you. The Nobel Prize people sure didn't when they handed Sir Naipaul the award in 2001. An epic novel spanning the life of a man whose quest for independence, respect and autonomy will captivate you.

2)Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner. Another wonderful family epic that takes you through the rocky marriage of a miner and an artist. Very moving and beautifully written.

3)Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie. Don't worry, the Ayatollah won't put a fatwa out on you for reading this. It would be worth it even if he did. A compelling epic set during the birth of Indian democracy, dream-like and hilarious.

4)Sophie's Choice, William Styron. Clearly there's no happy ending to this book. But it is emotional, moving and heartrending...and worth every tear you will shed.

5)The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett. Another gem of a book unfortunately trapped beneath a mundane title, it is the story of two sisters and their parallel lives during the early 1900's.

Lots of other treasures too on the list, but I only got to name 5. Hopefully that gives you some idea of what goes on here! Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

June '10's ML Literary Dirtbag

Clearly, between Soccer Madness 2010 and the holiday weekend, I dropped the ball on nominating last month's Literary Dirtbag award. As tempting as it was to give the award to the entire cast of Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust, I managed to narrow it down to one: Tod Hackett, the daydreaming rapist. Here's a quote, if you're unconvinced:

"If only he had the courage to wait for her some night and hit her with a bottle and rape her."

Congratulations Tod! I'm glad Faye gave you the Heisman.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

#72...A House for Mr Biswas

"Then one evening a great calm settled on him, and he made a decision. He had for too long regarded situations as temporary; henceforth he would look upon every stretch of time, however short, as precious. Time would never be dismissed again. No action would merely lead to another; every action was a part of his life which could not be recalled."

VS Naipaul's wonderful epic novel, A House for Mr Biswas, chronicles the life of Mohun Biswas and his quest to have a house of his own. Born inauspiciously to lower-class parents in Trinidad, Mr Biswas' life seems to be one catastrophe after another. Thinking Mr Biswas has drowned, his father searches a lake for his body, only to drown himself. When his family relocates, Mr Biswas is taken into training as a pundit, and when one day he steals a couple of bananas from the pundit, is forced to eat the rest of the bunch, which results in Mr Biswas' ongoing stomach problems throughout his life. His sign-painting business results tangentially in meeting his wife Shama, and her crazy family, the Tulsis. A love note sent to Shama is discovered by Mrs Tulsi, her mother, and he is then recruited by her family to marry her. Upon his marriage to Shama, Mr Biswas discovers that he is expected to assimilate, uncomplainingly, into her family. This includes living in a huge house teeming with children and all the other members of the Tulsi family, and submitting to their rules and expectations. Mr Biswas' independent streak collides with the communist society of the Tulsis, where no one is allowed to do anything differently or have anything better than anyone else. Children inevitably are born, and when Mr Biswas tries to build a house of his own, it is destroyed in a storm. His subsequent mini-nervous breakdown puts him on the road to Port of Spain to find a new job. He lands a job with the Sentinel, a newspaper there, and he moves his family there to get his children better schooling.

Things finally seem to get better for the unlucky Mr Biswas in Port of Spain. His newspaper job requires him to visit the poorest people there, to see who qualifies for a monetary prize as "deserving destitutes". His son Anand does well in school and gets private tutoring for his writing ability. When the Tulsi clan relocates to an estate in the middle of nowhere, the Biswases go with them, only to regret their decision and move back to Port of Spain. Unfortunately, the Tulsi widows send their children to the Port of Spain house too, to get better schooling, and the previous quiet and peace of the house is destroyed, as the house is overtaken by children. Anand wins a scholarship to college, and Mr Biswas is offered a job with the government, which allows him to begin saving money for his house. An opportunity drops into his lap at the end of the book, and Mr Biswas finally gets his house....but circumstances intervene to prevent him from enjoying it.

I loved every page of this book. Mr Biswas is an independent, comical character who refuses to submit to the expectations of the Tulsi clan. After all of the bad luck that comes to Mr Biswas, you want things to work out for him in the end. His ironical humor lights up the book and there were sections where I laughed out loud. His fears of having the Tulsi pundit, Hari, come to bless any special occasion in their family was hilarious, as were his descriptions of the 'readers and learners' in the Port of Spain house and the familial practices of the Tulsis. I respected him because unlike the rest of the Tulsi sons-in-law, he resists the inertia of mooching off the family and doing nothing. He goes out and finds a lucrative job, and despite the free room and board, works hard to save money to get his family a place of their own.

It was a bit startling to read about the social and economic differences between what we have here in the US and what Mr Biswas accepted as normal in Trinidad. Wives and children were beaten regularly, and these 'floggings' were actually sources of pride to them, and were treated humorously by Naipaul. By the middle of the book, I found them slightly amusing, since no one seemed to mind them and it happened so much. Mr Biswas was a bit different from the rest of the Tulsis, as he did not seem to beat either Shama or his kids with any regularity. The houses that they lived in sounded like little better than shacks or huts. Tree branches provided rafters, and corrugated iron provided roofs. I could completely understand why he wanted a good quality house, and I really appreciated mine after reading about how they lived.

This book is yet another reason I am glad I began reading the Modern Library's list. I would never have picked this book up had it not been on this list, and it makes me sad to think I might have missed it. I was very sorry it ended, as I wanted to know what happened to Mr Biswas' kids when they grew up. A big, chunky read at 564 pages, but one I enjoyed immensely.

This book is my third book for the Chunkster Challenge 2010.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Surviving the Soccer Season...and Reading

Tonight is our final soccer game of the summer season....WOOOO HOOOO!

I wanted to give an update on the absolutely fantastic read I've been working through: the wonderful A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul. This is a big, chunky read but it is so engrossing. It is about one man's quest to be self-sufficient and obtain (for him) the end-all, be-all of independence...a house he can call his own. Unfortunately, this quest is thwarted by his very controlling and communist in-laws, the Tulsis, who are a Trinidadian version of the Kennedys. Luckily Mr Biswas keeps his sense of humor and his wits about him, and finds small ways to rebel against their emotional terrorism. There are some very humorous parts, and the repartee between Mr Biswas and his wife Shama I find very humorous, as neither will back down from the other. I've also enjoyed reading about the Tulsi family and their very weird ways. They make my in-laws look tame, which (trust me) is a tough gig.

I'm a little over 2/3 of the way through it (the book weighs in at 564 pages) but it's gone very quickly. Should have a review for you soon.

Monday, June 21, 2010


I'm knee deep in soccer right now, as we just spent an entire weekend down in Rochester for a tournament (we got 2nd place!) and Aves has four games this week plus another tourney next weekend. But no worries! I am on the sidelines and chillin' in the hotel room happily devouring V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. I feel a good review comin' on!

Hope everyone else is staying busy and enjoying their summers!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

#73...The Day of the Locust

"But either way she would come out all right. Nothing could hurt her. She was like a cork. No matter how rough the sea got, she would go dancing over the same waves that sank iron ships and tore away piers of reinforced concrete. He pictured her riding a tremendous sea. Wave after wave reared its ton on ton of solid water and crashed down only to have her spin gaily away."

In the celebrity-obsessed society we have become in the last near-century, I am sure today's movie stars long for the days before paparazzi cameras relentlessly followed them into Starbucks to get their no-fat caramel latte in their sweatpants, or People magazine showed them busting out the cellulite in a too-small bikini on some remote island. I have always struggled to understand how people can wrench enjoyment from watching people's privacy get invaded, but I think most of us would agree that celebrities exist on a different plane than the rest of us. You make 50 million dollars a movie? You pay the price in other ways. Losing your privacy is just one of them.

For every famous actor or actress in Hollywood, you know there have to be somewhere in the vicinity of hundreds of people who don't make it, whose only aspiration is to be on TMZ in their underwear. In case you ever wondered what all of these unfortunate wanna-be actors and actresses do in their spare time to keep busy and/or how they cope with their disappointment, Nathanael West helps us out with that in his gritty, macabre novella, The Day of the Locust. West began his career as a novel writer, but when that didn't work out so well, he turned to Hollywood and screenwriting before his untimely death in 1940. West was therefore in a privileged position to see what happened to those unlucky folks who made it out to the promised land with their dreams in their hands, but then were chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine. Like West, Tod Hackett is a screenwriter and sometime painter in Hollywood. His particular interest is searching for people who "had come to California to die"--people who came to Hollywood for fame and fortune but didn't make it and became embittered and angry because of it. Tod wants to paint them into his masterpiece which depicts angry mobs and the burning of Los Angeles. When he's not out scoping for subjects (and I guess screenwriting, although it's never really mentioned) Tod hangs out with the wanna-be starlet Faye Greener, whom he secretly dreams of violently raping since she won't give it up to him. What a class act, right?

Well, in terms of stand-up human beings, Tod's not alone in Locust. West's novel overflows with the underbelly of society....dirty, violent, and angry characters, like the belligerent midget Abe Kusich, the cockfighting Mexican Miguel, and the cowboy with suppressed rage, Earle Shoop. All of the men lust after Faye, who sleeps with a couple of them and refuses to sleep with the others. Only one character stands out as somewhat decent; the goodhearted Homer Simpson, who comes to California because of his health, but ends up going crazy after his involvement with Faye and her weird collection of friends. The book ends with starstruck fans lined up at a movie premiere losing it and forming the mob that Tod has envisioned from nearly page one of the book.

This book, to me, was wall-to-wall crap. I have no idea what this book is doing on a list of the 100 best books. It's too horrible to even be on a list of the 100 worst books. It was dark, dirty and depressing, and I hated every page of it. I hated the cockfighting sequence so much I almost didn't finish the book (you know how I get with animal cruelty). I cared nothing for any of the characters, even Homer, whose character was the Biggest Doormat of All Time and therefore unworthy of respect or even sympathy. I kept waiting for something important to happen, like someone getting some self-esteem and deciding they needed better friends than that sorry group of people, or getting famous and getting a life, or one of them going psycho and killing everyone, but no one did. I guess I've never really been curious about what these wanna-be actors did to keep busy while they were waiting for their big break, or what they did once it became clear their big break would never come. Unfortunately, now I know.

The best thing going for it was that it was a quick read, only 202 pages. All I have to say is, thank God!!! If reading about what happens to people and how they cope after their dreams get crushed underfoot is your thing, you will love this book. I didn't.

Grade: D-

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

#74...A Farewell To Arms

"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

Ernest Hemingway (that's him on the left) brings his real-life experience as an Italian ambulance driver in WWI to life in A Farewell to Arms, a bittersweet story about love and war. Frederic Henry (we don't even find out his name until page 84!) is an American fighting with the Italians in the mountains of Italy. His doctor friend Rinaldi introduces him to Catherine Barkley, a British war aide, and they immediately fall in love. When Henry is wounded in the leg by shrapnel during an attack, he is sent away from the front for convalescence, and Catherine is there to help him after the knee surgery. She becomes pregnant with his child, but refuses to marry him, insisting that they are already married to each other in spirit.

When Henry recovers and is sent back to the front, the Italian war effort is weakening. During a retreat from the Austrians and Germans, Henry becomes separated from his unit (he is a lieutenant). When the Italian army begins to turn on itself and starts assassinating its officers for 'deserting their units' out of fear that the Germans have infiltrated their army, Henry escapes the firing squad, deserts the army, finds Catherine, and they take off for neutral Switzerland by boat, where they remain happily awaiting the birth of their child. Unfortunately, Catherine and the baby both die in childbirth, and Henry is left alone.

I did not expect to like this book. In fact, I was fully prepared to hate every page for the reasons I elucidated in my last posting about Hemingway. That being said, I was completely shocked and awed by how good this book was. It wasn't the most upbeat story in the world, but what it lacked in a happy ending, it made up for in momentum. It just rolled downhill like a rock, and like I said last night, I could not stop reading. I just knew there was going to be a bad ending, though. It's foreshadowed throughout the entire book. It feels like we spend nine months in the autumn/winter rain and cold; I was at a loss to remember any time in the book where it was sunny. Many characters close to Henry die or get hurt, and he ruminates often on death and what it means, which makes complete sense in a novel about war.

I was also shocked about how much drinking went on in this novel. Wine, vermouth, whiskey, you name it. Nurses sneaking alcohol up to patients in the hospital? Catherine drinking during her entire pregnancy? Ambulance drivers and soldiers drinking? Seriously, people! I guess Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and DWI's weren't hot topics back in the 1910's. As I mentioned in my last posting, I was also not pleased with Hemingway's wimpy female characters, except maybe Fergy, who really gave it to Henry about getting Catherine pregnant. While I can appreciate the role of women back in that era, it makes me very glad those days are over.

A great book and one I am glad that I read.

Grade: A

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My first blog award!!!

Many thanks to Ilona over at The Friande for passing along to me my very first blogger award! I am so excited!!!

There are some quid-pro-quos for getting this award. They are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave you this award
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic!
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked and let them know about the award

So in addition to displaying my horrible bookshelves last week to all of you, I need to come up with seven more unknown facts about myself that hopefully won't embarrass me too much. Here we go.

1)I met my husband on EHarmony five years ago. Those sites really do work!

2)I have lived in 13 of the 50 states.

3)I have a bachelor's degree in Biology from UNC, and a master's degree in Audiology from the U of Utah.

4)I have an incurable fear of flying, drowning, and clowns.

5)In my erstwhile teenage years I once drove into a cornfield. Don't ask.

6)My 12 year-old daughter is actually taller than me already.

7)I am a sports fanatic. I love to watch football, baseball and professional soccer.

So here are the lucky sites I have grown to know and love over the past 9 months I feel are worthy of such an honor. I'll be adding more as I discover more sites that I love. Keep it up guys!

Kristin's Book Blog

The Modern Library List of Books

Our Year in Books

100 Books

Dead White Guys

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


"He sat at the table, stood up, sat down again, stared gloomily at the wall for some minutes, lit his pipe, and then, laboriously, with a single first finger and his heart heavy with misgiving, he typed the first news story of his meteoric career. No one observing that sluggish and hesitant composition could have guessed that this was a moment of history--of legend, to be handed down among the great traditions of his trade, told and retold over the reeking bars of Fleet Street, quoted in books of reminiscence, held up as a model to aspiring pupils of Correspondence Schools of Profitable Writing, perennially fresh in the jaded memories of a hundred editors; the moment when Boot began to make good."

Have you guys ever seen the Naked Gun movies with Leslie Nielsen, where he plays the bumbling cop Frank Drebin? Drebin is the worst cop imaginable, but somehow he always seems to be in the right place at the right time, catches the bad guys almost by accident, and comes out looking like the hero at the end. The Naked Gun movies are exactly what Evelyn Waugh's Scoop reminded me of when I began reading it. Waugh's hilarious and goofy hero, William Boot, wants nothing more than to live quietly in the country with his extended eccentric family and servants at his home, Boot Magna, writing a small nature column nobody reads called Lush Places. When another writer named John Courtney Boot's name is dropped by a local politician for a foreign correspondent job at the Beast, the job is mistakenly given to William, who only takes the job because he figures it is his punishment for the mistakes he made in his last article. Hilarity ensues as the clueless, gullible Boot is sent off to war-torn Ishmaelia, a fictional country in Africa. Arriving in Ishmaelia with a herd of seasoned foreign journalists and a hysterical mound of luggage, he is the only one of the journalists to resist being sent out of the Ishmaeli city of Jacksonburg on a wild goose chase and is therefore in the right place at the right time to get the uncontested scoop on the Soviet military coup no one saw coming. Suddenly William Boot's name is on everyone's tongue...but the last thing William wants is to be famous.

I thoroughly expected to plow through another dry Waugh book like Brideshead Revisited (see my review here), but was completely and happily disappointed in this when I read Scoop. I loved it. As he did in Brideshead Revisited, Waugh peoples his story with unforgettably unique characters, like the gold-digging Katchen, the stuffy, self-important Lord Copper, the obnoxious Uncle Theodore, and the passive-aggressive editor Salter. The part where Salter goes to Boot Magna in an attempt to drag the reticent William back to London for his award banquet is about the funniest thing I have read in a long time. The book wraps up with a section dedicated to the future of all of the characters, which was also quite humorous.

After the dark comedy of Jean Brodie and the nonsensical ramblings of the Wake, this book was much appreciated, and much enjoyed.

Grade: A-

May '10's Literary Dirtbag

Since I have no idea if there were actually people in Finnegans Wake (and I was tempted to nominate James Joyce, believe me!!!), this month's Modern Library Literary Dirtbag Award goes to Teddy Lloyd from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Mr Lloyd definitely goes above and beyond all of the the required dirtbag qualities: married with kids, but having an affair with Miss Brodie and then having an affair with one of his teenage students. Plus I didn't like when he told Sandy she was ugly. I bet one of his past mistresses cut off his missing arm. :)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

This Week's Blog Hoppin'

A big welcome to those of you stopping by courtesy of The Book Blogger Hop, which I am loving more and more every weekend I check it out. There's nothing better than realizing I am probably the only person in the universe not currently reading and blogging on YA books. :)

Through the Hop I've found a couple of really great sites which continue to inspire me and crack me up. Our Year in Books inspired me to put my hideously embarrassing bookshelves on display, and if you haven't checked out The Friande's review of Winnie-The-Pooh, you need's classic. I am also loving Dead White Guys...before I found her site, I had never realized how much of last century's best were written guessed it...dead white guys. Plus I end up laughing every time she posts. :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

#76....The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

"For those who like that sort of thing," said Miss Brodie in her best Edinburgh voice, "that is the sort of thing they like."

The age-old concept of 'teacher's pet' runs amok in Muriel Spark's novella The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a short and enjoyable read. The liberated, outspoken and self-obsessed Miss Brodie is a teacher in her prime of life at a girls' school in 1930's Scotland, where she selects six impressionable ten year-old girls to be part of her 'set'. Instead of teaching them the usual school subjects like math and social studies, Miss Brodie tells the girls about her love affairs, her support of Fascism, and her conflicts with the other teachers at the school, which as you can imagine goes over very well with the conservative school administration. It is hinted at several times during the book that the principal, Miss Mackay, is looking for a reason to get rid of Miss Brodie, and hopes one of the six girls might provide her with that reason. The story follows Miss Brodie's continuing attempts to control the lives of her girls into their teenage years, trying to make them fit the roles she has cast them for even after she is no longer their teacher. The plotline moves seamlessly back and forth from the present time into the future, so we can see how Miss Brodie's girls 'turned out'. None of them really seem to become the 'creme de la creme' that Miss Brodie was grooming them for.

The six girls are typecast from almost page one. Rose Stanley is 'famous for sex', although she never does it. Monica is well-known for doing math in her head and getting pissed off. Mary is picked on constantly as the scapegoat. Eunice is the athletic one. Jenny and Sandy, best friends, write fictional tales about Miss Brodie's romantic escapades. We are told that one of these girls eventually betrays Miss Brodie to Miss Mackay, which results in Miss Brodie's firing and eventual downward spiral.

Miss Brodie also makes the mistake of getting involved with a teacher at the school, a one-armed art teacher named Mr Lloyd, who is married. His frustration in not being able to be with Miss Brodie results in his becoming involved with the six girls by painting them (all with Miss Brodie's face). Miss Brodie selects Rose to begin an affair with Mr Lloyd, but he chooses instead to become involved with Sandy, which goes against Miss Brodie's evil plan. Because Miss Brodie cannot have Mr Lloyd, she begins an affair with another teacher, Mr Lowther, whom she does not love but who loves her. When he cannot have her, and their affair becomes public knowledge when she leaves her nightgown under his pillow and it is discovered by the maid, he marries another teacher at the school.

I liked this book, but was sort of disappointed in the ending. The front cover of my book says that this book (printed in 1970) was now a "devastating movie". So I guess I was expecting Miss Brodie to do something dramatic and self-serving like shoot one or all of the girls, shoot one of the male teachers and/or herself, or blow up the school, especially after she tells the girls that the only way the school will get her to leave is if they assassinate her. They did keep mentioning that jar of gunpowder in the science room....hmmm. Maybe I have too vivid of an imagination. :)

A quick, quirky read with some slightly humorous parts. Recommended if you have nothing else on your TBR list.

Grade: B

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Birth Year Reading Challenge

I've decided to join Hotchpot Cafe's Birth Year Reading Challenge to see what other greatness the year 1972 might have produced besides me. :) The challenge has no limit for the amount of books to read, but you get a candle for every one you finish. Here are the books I've chosen:
The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy
The Water Method Man, John Irving
Green Darkness, Anya Seton
On the Night of the Seventh Moon-Victoria Holt
The Boys of Summer-Roger Kahn

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Library Link-Up

I like the idea that the gang over at Our Year in Books came up with so much that I am willing to put my two completely disorganized shelves of books up on the internet for all to see. The first pic is my is my shelf in the computer room. The middle two shelves are dedicated to the Journeys quest.

The next pic is the seldom-visited Scary Basement Shelf. Which as you can see holds my complete collection of Dave Barry's books as well as all of my boring graduate school books that for some reason I am too afraid to part with on the off-chance one of my professors shows up at my work with a quiz (I won't mention that I got my degree ten years ago). I am seeking help for this paranoia. :)

My Library Link-up refreshment? Vodka shots for everyone. Or at least, after looking at how awful my shelves look compared to everyone else's, maybe just one for me. Plus I would also make Chex School Fuel as it is the snack that rocks the universe.

10 Things I Hate about "Finnegans Wake"

I am about a page and a half away from giving up on this book, folks. I thought I might share some of the reasons why, and those of you literary purists out there who will say that I didn't read ALL of the Wake and therefore can't have read the entire ML list will need to get over it. :)

10) When I stop reading it, and come back to it, I have absolutely no idea where I left off. I have probably re-read page 94 five times.

9) The actual main characters (if there are any) are never mentioned. Or if they are, he's given them twelve different names.

8)No plot whatsoever. I know, I know....that was a cop-out. Yet it's a LEGITIMATE cop-out.

7) All of the made-up words. If Dr Seuss didn't get his inspiration for all of his books from Joyce, I have no idea what a better source would have been.

6)The fact that I could probably open up the book and start reading at any point, and be able to understand what's going on just as well as if I started on page one.

5) I could also read every other chapter, or the book in reverse, and get the same result.

4) Six hundred pages of sentences like "Augs and ohrs with Rhian O'kehley to put it tertianly, we wrong?" It's enough to make you drink.

3) The embarrassment of carrying this book around for the last month and having people ask me what it's about, and I have to blither like an idiot about the fact that I have no idea.

2) When cleaning the catbox, going for a run, or dealing with the craziness at Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon seems like a better deal than reading this book, that's not okay.

1) It has taken me almost one month to read 100 pages. At this rate, I'll finish the book somewhere around my golden wedding anniversary.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Book Blogger Hop

Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books came up with the awesome idea of the Book Blogger Hop, where you can list your blog if you have one and also find lots of other book blogs and bloggers on any literary genre out there! If you haven't been there already, go check it out! The couple of blogs I've linked to from her site are amazing, and I can't wait to find more. :)

It's a great way to meet new people and check out what others are reading. The Book Blogger Hop lasts from Friday-Monday every week, so spend a bit of time on your weekend hooking up with other bloggers who love to read!

"The Color Purple"

"You saying God vain? I ast.

Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."

Alice Walker's The Color Purple is a wonderful story about two sisters and their separate travels through life. Celie and her younger sister Nettie are African-American women who endure violent and abusive childhoods at the hands of their stepfather. Celie ends up having two of his children, who are taken away from her. When a callous local widower, Mr _________ (or Albert as he's known later in the story) is refused by Celie's sister Nettie, Celie is married off to him instead to help raise his bratty children. When Albert continues his advances towards Nettie and she continues to rebuff him, he sends her away from their house, and Nettie goes to live with an African American missionary family who are unknowingly bringing up Celie's children. She writes Celie a series of letters about her travels with the missionary family to Africa, which Albert hides from Celie.

Celie meets up with two very strong African-American female role models while married to the unfeeling and bossy Albert: Shug Avery, an independent singer and sometime-mistress of her new husband, and Sofia, the wife of her stepson Harpo. Both women are resistant to the efforts of men to put them in their place. Despite her relationship with Albert, Shug and Celie become the best of friends. Shug and Celie find the hidden letters from Nettie, and this discovery, along with Shug's money and encouragement, prompts Celie to leave Albert and start her own successful small business making very comfortable pants for everyone to wear.

Eventually Albert comes around to realizing what a good thing he had with Celie, and learns to respect her and love her. Nettie makes it safely back to America with Celie's grown children, and all are reunited happily at the end.

I loved this book. It switched seamlessly between the uneducated rural African-American dialect of Celie, and the articulate, educated voice of Nettie. The love these women are able to feel for each other, along with Celie's loving relationship with Shug, is inspiring after all of the hardships they have endured. Being raped by a stepfather, married as a child bride to a cold and uncaring man, and being separated from children would be experiences that would embitter even the best of us. But Celie manages to show strength of heart and spirit, as well as courage, despite this.

The typical polarities of white vs black, women vs men, Christian vs heathen, and traditional vs modern roles for women are all portrayed well and with sensitivity. There are some truly humorous parts to this story, which I didn't expect but thoroughly enjoyed. Never once did I feel that Walker was proselytizing me into a corner with her views. The passages about God in particular were simple and beautiful.

I was truly amazed and sorry to see that this book wasn't on the Modern Library list. I enjoyed every page and wished there was more at the end, which I really haven't for about the past five books I've read on the ML list. It was truly deserving of both book awards it received.

In closing, I would probably read more Pulitzer Prize winning books than I would National Book Award winners, based on my experiences from the Battle of the Prizes (American Version) Reading Challenge. I loved Angle of Repose, but wasn't that crazy about Augie March.

Grade: A+

Friday, May 21, 2010


I have a confession to make: I've been cheating on Finnegans Wake.

Rose City Reader's Battle of the Prizes (American Version) Reading Challenge tasked me with reading three books: a Pulitzer Prize winner (I read the wonderful Angle of Repose) and a National Book Award winner (I read the long-winded The Adventures of Augie March), and a book that won both awards. Unfortunately (and inexplicably), none of these 'double dippers' were on the ML 100 list, so I had to read one that wasn't on the list. I chose Alice Walker's The Color Purple.

I have to say I am indebted to Reader for creating this challenge so I would find this book. It's fabulous. I cannot comprehend how a list of the Top 100 books of the last century could include banal tomes like Loving but not include a book this good. It's just not right.

I'll be posting my review of The Color Purple either later today or tomorrow. And then it's back to Finnegan. Sigh.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Literary Smackdown: "FW" vs "A Skeleton Key to FW"

Heading into Chapter 4 of the Wake, I wanted to relay my experiences thus far with reading both FW and the Skeleton Key, in case some of you might have a little too much to drink some night and consider reading the Wake yourself.

What I have been doing thus far is reading the Key's summary of the chapter first, and then reading the corresponding chapter of FW, hoping against hope the Key's explanation will help me make sense of FW.

Here's an example of how that's gone down:

The Key's Chapter 2 Summary: From what I read, this chapter is supposed to deal with the effect of gossip on the destruction of HCE's reputation after he exposes himself to the two girls in the Park.

Makes sense, right? (Right?) Okay! So now I'm ready to plunge into Chapter 2 of FW, hopefully armed with some sort of a clue as to what might be happening.

FW Chapter 2 Summary: ?????????

Seriously, Joseph Campbell is amazing for even finding some sort of a storyline in the maelstrom of words that is FW. There were, at most, a couple of sentences, maybe even a couple of words in the whole chapter, that were even remotely related to Campbell's summary. They actually bust into song at the end of Chapter 2, a whole song that is devoted to HCE and his downfall. Believe it or not, that was the only section of Chapter 2 that made any sort of sense to me. This was alarming. :)

And so it goes. Onward ho!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Surviving Finnegan

My Top 5 Favorite Insulting Names HCE was given after people found out about him and the girls in the Park (see pgs 71-72 for the complete rundown):

1)Hooshed the Cat from the Bacon
2)Sickfish Bellyup
3)Delights to Kiss the Man Behind the Barrel
4)Swad Puddlefoot
5)Hoary Hairy Hoax

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Surviving Finnegan

A great article about a guy in San Francisco who read the Wake out loud on a street corner last September.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Surviving Finnegan

"There exists, of course, no substitute for the richly rewarding experience of plunging headlong into the Wake and wrenching loose some trophy of meaning from its still-unexplored depths."
The above sentence is, of course, from Campbell's Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, and not from the Wake itself, evidenced by the fact that there are no bizarre words like 'pthuck' or 'mumper' present and the sentence makes actual sense.
Anyone remember the urban myth from twenty plus years ago, about how if you played the Beatles' A Day in the Life backwards at a certain section, you were supposed to be able to hear "Paul is dead"? That kind of creepy stuff kept me up nights as a kid. Reading the Key is giving me the same sort of creepy feeling I got trying to play that record backwards. Campbell finds lots of hidden meanings and things buried in the Wake that I would never have noticed had I not read his book. Does it help me understand what's going on? To an extent. Does it still make much sense? NO.
When I finish each chapter (a Herculean effort in itself) I will be offering out my hypotheses of what I thought happened in each chapter. People out there have devoted entire academic careers to speculation over what the hell Joyce might be trying to say, so feel free to disagree with me. You're probably right.
Pam's Hypothetical Synopsis of FW, Chapter One: Everyone wants this guy named Finnegan to stay dead, because he's already been replaced by another guy, named HCE, who has a wife and family and is apparently some sort of pedophile. There were also a couple of museum tours in there, I think.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Surviving Finnegan

"The babbelers with their thangas vain have been (confusium hold them!) they were and went; thinggging thugs were and houhnhymn songtoms were and comely norgels were and pollyfool fiansees."

FW Fact: Scholars estimate Joyce worked between 60-70 different languages into the Wake. Just some of the languages used are Dutch, Norse, Lithuanian, Czech, Ukrainian, and Polynesian.

Fun FW Tip of the Day: Type the above FW quote into a Microsoft Word document and watch your Spellcheck freak out!!! :)