Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Reading Journal: Post-semester reading

This past semester I took a class on the short story with Alan Cheuse. I learned so much about the short story, and I’m grateful to Cheuse for that, HOWEVER the man is crazy. He assigned us close to 20 books asking us to read all of the stories in each book. Even for me—this was a very daunting assignment. I tried very hard to read them all, but I wasn’t always successful. (One can only read so much Hawthorne before one wants to throw oneself off a roof.) We followed the progression of the short story from the early French and Russian writers (de Maupassant, Flaubert, Chekhov) to modern writers (and post-modern if you aren’t a Cheusite—he doesn’t believe in post-modern) and the evolution was exhausting. By the end of the class, a part of me never wanted to see a short story again. But I think I’ve gotten past that now. I’m SO SO glad I took the class because I feel like I’m in a much better position to review short stories on this blog, which is a direction I’ve been wanting to take for some time now.

By the end of the semester, I couldn’t read anything but the books for class as I had gotten way behind after my move (oh PS I moved into a one-bedroom apartment!!! My first time living alone). I was really excited to finally have some time to read something of my own choosing. My friend Katie, of The Bitterness Blog, gave me an early Christmas present of Scott Spencer’s Endless Love--with the note that this was her favorite book of all time--and I dove in quickly right after I was finished. (Ok, I might have taken a peek before I was actually finished with my papers.) I can definitely attest that this is an excellent book. The jist of the novel is David's obsession for Jade Butterfield. One night, soon after being banned from the Butterfield home, he sets a small fire on their porch and--much like his love for Jade--the fire ends up burning completely out of control, destroying not only the Butterfield home but eventually the family as well. The thrust of the novel is centered around that moment, but the pull is Spencer's description of David's longing, lust, and love for Jade. Years in a mental institution and serious therapy do nothing to dispel his love for Jade. He is sure they belong together and he risks everything and turns his back on his family to be with her. In one of the most erotic scenes I've ever read, Jade and David's reunion is traumatic, defenseless, hopeless, hopeful, and covered in menstral blood--a dark foreshadowing of the destructiveness of their relationship. It's a long read, close to 450 pages in trade paperback, but Spencer so clearly illuminates reckless, hopeless longing, passion, and madness that I didn't want to the book to end. David's longing for Jade is so powerful it ignites the same furious nature in the reader--beware to those who have had a relationship that even barely approaches this madness--you'll find yourself reliving it in David's story.

After this I decided I needed something lighter and I started the first in one of Diana Wynne Jone's series, Howl's Moving Castle. It was an enchanting book, with a nice little romance mixed in. I read it in one day (while I was snowed in); I couldn't put it down. I plan to read the next books in the series as soon as I can get my hands on them. I also read The Arctic Incident, the second in the Artemis Fowl series. There was some character development in this book, which seems promising. This series isn't my favorite of the YA fantasy series that are out there, but I have them all and they are still enjoyable reads and I think I'll eventually plow my way through the series.

While I was at my parents for Christmas, I picked up The Dark Lord of Derkholm, the first in another series by Diana Wynne Jones. I LOVED this book. The premise is that a Mr. Chesney (presumably from our world) has captured a demon which allows him to control a magical world, and, essentially, he has turned it into a theme park. He requires the leaders of the various areas and species to pay tribute and join in the "pilgrim parties" and each year a magician is given the job of Dark Lord and is required to fulfill certain duties and let groups of these pilgrims kill him. (None of it is real of course, it is all done by illusion.) But this year, the leaders of this magical world have started a plan to stop Mr. Chesney and Derk and his son are thrust into the middle of it.

I also read the National Book Award shortlister American Salvage and I just now finished Black & White & Dead All Over, which I plan to write about in a later post.

Damn! It feels so good to read freely again!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2010 Reading and Blogging Goals

2009 was a rough blogging year for me. I got bogged down in the 9000 challenges I signed up for and rarely completed any of them. I LOVE these challenges, but I think I need to try a different approach this year. So, here are my goals and I hope they will be more conducive to me actually posting regularly on my blog.

Reading Goals:
  • Read at least 130 books, 50 of which should be adult novels.
  • Read 50 individual short stories (unrelated to a collection) and post.
  • Finish reading the Canongate myths series, and other seek out other myth-related books.
  • Read the shortlists for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and National Book Award.
  • Read 30 books I already own.

2010 Graphic Novels Challenge

I'm going to go for the intermediate level (3 to 10), as I ran this challenge last year and didn't even finish!!! Thanks to Nymeth and Chris for taking over. They've got some great things planned for this challenge so please please please join up!

The Outlander Reading Challenge

Not only has my boss recommended this series to me, but it seems as though all the bloggers love it too! So I have to find out what it's all about! I'm probably going to read these on my Kindle so I don't break my back getting back and forth from work.

  • Outlander
  • Dragonfly in Amber
  • Voyager
  • Drums of Autumn
  • The Fiery Cross
  • A Breath of Snow and Ashes
  • An Echo in the Bone

The Chunkster Challenge 2010

I've got a few big boys on the shelf I've been wanting to get to, so I'm going with the Chubby Chunkster level (3 books over 450 pages). Here's a list of choices:

  • Bleak House
  • Middlemarch
  • The Quincunx
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Middlesex
  • Great Expectations
Other goals:
  • Take written notes for books so I don’t forget things as quickly
  • Post Reading Journal entries that discuss the stylistic merits of the book as well as why I liked/didn’t like it (ie don't focus so much on a formal review)
  • Participate in It’s Monday! What are you reading?, WWW, Short Story Sunday and Monday, and Wondrous Words Wednesday
  • Keep up with a new post: Potent Quotables (on Fridays)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reading Update: The Snowpocalypse of 2009

It has officially stopped snowing. I don't know the official inch count, but just looking from the window I'd say a foot or a little over. That's pretty much unheard of here. It's pretty now, but I'm not looking forward to the melt-freeze-melt-refreeze.

I read Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones and watched the movie Clue. Howl's Moving Castle started off a little slow, but once it picked up, I couldn't put it down. My sister couldn't believe I finished it as she was reading Twilight and hasn't come close to finishing it. What can I say, once I get started--if it's good--I don't want to stop! I wish I had the next books in the series!

If I can keep my eyes open, I'll try to work on The Ring but I don't know if I'll be awake much longer.

Reading Update: The Snowpocalypse of 2009

I'm snowed in right now, in what looks to be about a foot of snow, which might as well be the end of the world for the DC metro area. So I'm having a bit of my own personal read-a-thon right now.

I'm currently in the midst of The Ring (the Japanese book the movie was based on), Lie Down in Darkness by Styron, and Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. When I manage to make it outside, I'll try to take some pictures so you can all see how ridiculous this snowstorm is.

I haven't seen snow like this since 2003 when I was snowed into my dorm room for 5 straight days. And before that, I'd never seen snow like it!