Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading Update

It's looking like I'm not going to get any more books read this year, though I'm working on two right now. The last two books of the year were Ophelia, by Lisa Klein, and The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver.

Book #58, Ophelia, is billed as a YA title, or at least that's where it was in the bookstore. I thought it was for people a little older than my middle schoolers. I am always intrigued by retellings of stories that I know well. This one takes the story of Hamlet and tells it from the point of view of Ophelia, a character whom Shakespeare leaves frustratingly nebulous. I enjoyed her version of events.

And the last book of the year, book #59 - I really thought I could make it to 60 - was Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, The Lacuna: A Novel. Kingsolver is such a wonderful writer and can make any subject interesting - look at what she did for vegetables in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This book tells the story of Harrison Shepherd, a character who, the book jacket tells us, is "pulled between two nations." (Favorite theme alert!) At the beginning of the book he's a child in Mexico, living with his Mexican mother, who has left his American father. Later in the book he returns to the United States, but he is always a foreigner everywhere. He falls in with various famous people, namely Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Lev Trotsky, but unlike some books, his story doesn't feel like an excuse to tell theirs. Shepherd's life story, spanning the 30s, 40s and 50s, is richly detailed, and yet there is always a lacuna, for "the most important part of a story is the piece of it you don't know." At the end of the book Shepherd falls afoul of the "Committee on Un-American Activities," as did so many writers and artists of the period. I couldn't help but wonder whether the injustices done to Shepherd were in some way informed by Kingsolver's own experience with the type of criticism she has faced, as she too has been called "un-American" because of some of her writing questioning the status quo. I loved this book and I found it well worth waiting for. But I hope Kingsolver will write another one soon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Book #57

After the heavy lifting (both figurative and literal) of War and Peace, book #57, That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo, felt as light as a piece of fluff. Still, there was something wonderful about reading a book in a couple of hours and not having to contemplate free will and the law of necessity even once.

Jack Griffin, a protagonist who will seem quite familiar to readers of Russo's other books (of which I am one), is a retired screen writer who now teaches screen writing. He's followed his parents into an academic career, but his memories of his parents and his childhood are mostly negative. He's trying to write a short story about a summer the family spent on the Cape while he was a boy. He's going to weddings, including his daughter's. He's dealing with his marriage to Joy.

I didn't enjoy this as much as I have others of Russo's books. (For some reason I kept thinking of Anne Tyler the whole way through - the characters had her kind of whimsical feeling to them.) Usually Russo writes much more evocatively of places and his books have more depth to them than this one. But maybe I'm just comparing him to Tolstoy!

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Finished War and Peace!

At long last, I finished reading War and Peace! All 1386 pages. It's Book #56 of the year.

I both loved and hated this book. The parts about the characters were wonderful. Tolstoy writes great party scenes and great domestic scenes and great battle scenes. His descriptions and dialogue are vivid. His characters are completely believable and complex (reportedly he based them on his friends and relatives).

Unfortunately, Tolstoy fills hundreds of pages with his musings - mostly about history. Why Napoleon and other leaders aren't as important to events as they think they are, or as most historians think they are. How free will works. What an idiot Napoleon is. Why the Russians are superior to all other peoples. Why Russian peasants are superior to all other Russians.

Then there will be another couple of hundred pages of gripping narrative.

And then back to more about Napoleon and free will and history and the Russians.

It's not that what he writes in this vein isn't interesting in itself, but it slows down the story to a halt, and honestly by the third time I read his theory of history, I wasn't at all interested any more.

When I finished the book, I started reading A.N. Wilson's introductory essay to the Modern Library edition, and while I haven't finished it yet, I have learned that Tolstoy's wife copied out the whole book no less than seven times in longhand. A moment of silence for her, my friends. This woman was a true saint. (She also bore thirteen children.)

I'm glad I read this book, but I don't think I will be rereading it any time soon. In its own way, though, it is an unforgettable novel. Marya, her father, Pierre, Natasha, and poor little Petya will stick with me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Poetry Friday: War and Peace

So I've been reading War and Peace as long as I can remember. Actually it's only two months but that's a long time to be reading the same book. I WILL finish it. I've read a thousand pages and I only have three hundred left.

I don't know of any poems about that particular book, but Billy Collins' poem about Anna Karenina seems appropriate.

On Closing Anna Karenina
by Billy Collins

I must have started reading this monster
a decade before Tolstoy was born
but the vodka and the suicide are behind me now,
all the winter farms, ice-skating and horsemanship.

It consumed so many evenings and afternoons,
I thought a Russian official would appear
to slip a medal over my lowered head
when I reached the last page.

Here's the rest of it.

For the record, I liked Anna Karenina. I even like War and Peace, at least large chunks of it. It is just so endlessly long.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup, at Susan Writes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to Remove Staples from your Feet

This is important information. Well, it could be. Should you have staples in your feet. That need to be removed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poetry Friday: Nostalgia

I have been looking recently at some old photos of my children, and feeling nostalgic over the sweet babies they were. It's probably a common feeling this time of year, as we look at photos of first Christmases and take out ornaments which have survived, somehow, from those years. How easy life seems back then, back when I could meet their every need, when I always knew where they were, when they wore whatever I put on them.

Of course, I'm conveniently forgetting the inexplicable crying of a pre-verbal child who couldn't tell you where it hurt, the sleepless nights, the days of limited interaction with another adult.

Nostalgia is that way, and Billy Collins has written several poems about it. One is entitled "Nostalgia," but the one I was thinking of this week is the one excerpted below:

Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles from Tintern Abbey

I was here before, a long time ago,
and now I am here again
is an observation that occurs in poetry
as frequently as rain occurs in life.


...the feeling is always the same.
It was better the first time.
This time is not nearly as good,
I'm not feeling as chipper as I did back then.

Something is always missing -
swans, a glint on the surface of a lake,
some minor but essential touch.
Or the quality of things has diminished.


And when we put down the book at last,
lean back, close our eyes,
stinging with print,
and slip in the bookmark of sleep,

we will be schooled enough to know
that when we wake up
a little before dinner
things will not be nearly as good as they once were.


Nothing will be as it was
a few hours ago, back in the glorious past
before our naps, back in that Golden Age
that drew to a close sometime shortly after lunch.

You can read the whole poem here.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Random Noodling today.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Yet Another Twilight Article

This one is by a teacher who loved the Twilight series and suggests ways to use it with students. You can read it here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

How Far Does God's Love Reach?

This morning in church we sang "The Love of God" and it made me think of my post about the words here. During this Advent season I am glad that God's love reaches all the way down to where we are, however low and far off from Him that is. "There is," after all, "no such thing as a God-forsaken town."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Poetry Friday Yesterday

Here's yesterday's Poetry Friday roundup. School is crazy right now, with the end of the quarter coming and today's all-day Christmas event. I am just trying to get through it all without losing my mind. Maybe after it's over I'll be able to come back and read some of the postings!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I'm A Tale of Two Cities

Hmm, don't know about this one. I haven't even read this book, and now apparently it represents me. Some of this is true but I don't distrust the French.

You're A Tale of Two Cities!

by Charles Dickens

You find it challenging to be unequivocal, often tempering your
statements with contradictory or mitigating concepts, just to be sure. Nevertheless,
it's clear that you live in remarkably extremist times and have seen some rather
dramatic things transpire. You are particularly distrustful of the French. While you
find it difficult to part with things, you would gladly sacrifice a carton. Sewing
makes you very nervous.

Take the Book Quiz II
at the Blue Pyramid.