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

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!!! :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Surviving Finnegan

"And even if Humpty shell fall frumpty times as awkward again in the beardsboosoloom of all our grand remonstrancers there'll be iggs for the brekkers come to mournhim, sunny side up with care."

Yesterday was one of the happiest moments of my life, when Joseph Campbell's A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake arrived on my doorstep. And not a moment too soon. Ten pages into FW, I'm a little confused....but here's the kicker....not completely turned off to it. I can't explain it. After the lethargic plot of Kim, I'm so grateful to not have to think too much and try too hard to keep up with a plot that just reading words, even nonsense words, is somewhat of a relief.

I've read several blogs about FW over the past few days, all with varying degrees of advice for how to read the Wake. The most interesting suggestion I came across was to read the book out loud. The writer says that since Joyce was Irish, and the Irish tradition of storytelling is oral (think of an Irish pub and all the songs!), the book is meant to be read out loud, and if you do this, it will make more sense. And scarily, he's right. When I started to sound out some of the words I couldn't read, it was then that the syllables turned into something lucid.

Campbell's book so far is very interesting. I've realized there's not going to be much in terms of a plot with FW, but there seems to be so much under the surface that I don't want to miss anything good. Kind of like an archaeological dig. I like riddles and hidden things in literature so this is a bit fascinating to me. The Key is actually very easy to read. Hopefully this open-mindedness will continue.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Surviving Finnegan

"The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian mintrelsy."

Probably the best description of falling down since Eddie Murphy imitated his Aunt Bunny falling down the stairs in Delirious.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

April '10's Literary Dirtbag Award

My apologies for totally forgetting about this, in the wake of bribing myself to finish Kim.

April's MLLD Award goes out to the Russian guy from Kim who smacked the lama in the face and tears up his Wheel of Life picture that the lama worked so hard on. That was just wrong. I was glad when Kim rolled him down the hill and kicked him in the groin. I would have kicked him more than once there. Although in hindsight, I should probably thank this guy for bringing some action to an otherwise action-free novel. :)

The only other character who came close last month was Cecil Vyse from A Room With a View. I didn't think boring characters qualified as dirtbags so I couldn't really nominate him. :)


"I tell you I am fearful man, but, somehow or other, the more fearful I am the more dam-tight places I get into."

I was actually introduced to Kim about twenty years ago without knowing it, when, as a Brownie Girl Scout, we played "Kim's Game". This game consisted of putting several different objects into a shallow box, that is initially covered over with a cloth. The cloth is removed for a minute or so, and your job is to look at everything in the box, try to remember as much as you can about what's in the box and what it looks like, and then write it all down when the minute is up and the box gets covered back up. The more you remember, the more likely you are to win.

Kim's Game is only a small part of Rudyard Kipling's novel. Kim is introduced to us as an Indian orphan who steps up to help a Tibetan Lama, who is on a quest to find a special river. The lama believes bathing in the river will remove all sin. Kim joins his quest, as he is also on a quest to find a red bull on a green background, which his father told him will come to help him. Kim and the lama set out on the Great Trunk Road, which is sort of the Indian version of a superhighway, and along the way, Kim unknowingly becomes involved in some espionage for the British through his horse-trader friend Mahbub Ali. They later stumble upon his father's Irish regiment, the Mavericks....whose flag has a red bull with a green background. Kim is 'adopted' by this regiment when it is discovered that the documents he has always worn around his neck show that he is part Irish. He is sent to a school for white children with the lama's money, where he learns English and is to be trained to be a surveyor. However, Kim is unable to let go of his Indian upbringing, and sneaks off on his vacations to spend time with Mahbub and his friend Mr Lurgan, learning about espionage and spying.

At the end of his schooling, he returns to the lama and their quest to find the river for 6 months before he will begin working for the government. He means to stay as the lama's student or 'chela', but along the way he discovers another spy, Hurree Babu, and saves him from danger. They track two Russian spies, and meet up with them, and when one of them attacks the lama, Babu takes the two men away so that Kim can take their notes, maps and letters. He and the lama continue to look for the river, but the lama becomes ill and so does Kim. At the end, the lama finds his river, Kim turns over the letters and maps to Babu and the government and everyone is happy.

In summary: I did not enjoy this book. There were days when I did not read it at all, and days where I read half a page and that was it. I found myself completely unconcerned with the fate of any of the characters, none of whom resonated with me. If they had all died at the end, I wouldn't have felt bad. Even the background 'spy' story wasn't that compelling, but those sections were marginally more interesting to me than the parts where they were wandering around looking for the river. All of the foreign names of the characters began to blend together; I had to look back in the book more than once to make sure I had them straight.

This was the first book on the list so far where I debated whether or not to finish it. I have to say that feeling was a bit surprising. Before I read Kim, I thought I had read some of the worst books of all time (i.e. The Magus, The Ginger Man, Loving, etc). But oddly, at no point even during the 600+ pages of The Magus did it ever occur to me to stop reading. It made me wonder if the books I had read before that I didn't like were actually all that bad. At least those books engendered feelings (even if it was irritation or hostility) whereas Kim was about as emotionally flatlined as you get. I would have a more emotional experience reading Webster's Unabridged Dictionary than I did reading Kim. :) I guess if there is any positive experience I got out of reading Kim, it would be that I learned something about myself and my reading preferences.

Well, I'm sure Kim will look like a trip to Paradise after I get started with my next epic adventure, Finnegan's Wake. Look out for my new featurette, Surviving Finnegan, premiering this week.

Grade: D