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

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.