Friday, September 30, 2011

September - This Month in Reading

Dear readers, this month it is time for some confessions. :-( 

Confession 1 - Remember back in January when one of my goals was to read the books I had lying around, and thereby declutter as well as read? Well, I'm sure you have noticed that I am an incurable cheap-book buyer, and I have a tendency to take a chance on a cheap book. So all along, I have been taking in random 50 cent Library Sale books here and there, which I shouldn't have done, but in the words of Oscar Wilde, "I can resist anything but temptation." So I have to confess that more books have been coming in than going out. Sigh. 

which brings me to.....

Confession 2 - I kind of went nuts during the last days of Borders closing. Like, I had a totebag stuffed full of books and my arms full of books and couldn't stop grabbing them nuts. But this was during the very last days, when all books (what was left there, anyway) were $1 or less (all books were either 90% off or $1, so if a book was originally 5.99,  a buyer paid 60 cents; if a book was originally $10 or more, a buyer paid $1). Seriously, how could I resist that???? In 2 days I brought home about 75 books. On the plus side, I will not need to go to the library any time soon.... and I didn't break the bank or anything. And many (if not all) of these books will be donated to a good cause once I have read them, so they will be read and enjoyed (I hope) by many others. But yeah, it was a little nutty. 

Confession 3 - this is probably something of a let down after that last one, but this month I officially invoked the "Life's Too Short" Principle and gave up on a book. I don't like to do that, and I make every effort to finish a book I've started, but this one just got me at the wrong time and it is making me twitch with irritation on every page, so I think it's best for my blood pressure and sanity if I just give it up and set it free to find a reader that appreciates it. Because of Confessions 1 and 2 I have too many other books waiting to be read and I can't justify slogging through something annoying instead of reading one of the bazillion books I have accumulated. 

Now on to the positive stuff! 

I didn't get to read as much as I wanted to this month, but I did read a total of 15 books, so I was OK with that. I had also set a goal of trying to read one book for every challenge, and I did not quite make that goal but I came close, reading at least 1 book for each challenge except the Haruki Murakami Challenge. I did manage to stay away from the library, which was good. I am still behind on the War and Peace Challenge but I did get a little father ahead, so there is hope. 

One positive result of my Borders spree is that it made me feel conscious of the books that are already on the designated to-be-read shelves, so many of my reads this month were from those books, and I feel good about finally getting through some of those books. 

For October, aside from enjoying autumn/fall at all times, I would like to read more than 15 books, read at least one book for each challenge, and catch up on War and Peace, no ifs, ands, or buts. I am going to create a separate post to use to keep track of the challenge reading for October, as that seems to work well for me. 

How was your reading for September?

Someone Killed His Boyfriend - David Stukas

I finally find a nice, light, quick read after trying a couple times recently and I get to count it for the GLBT Challenge - hooray! This was a fluffy book that had a decent murder mystery, and I liked the main characters. And yes, as with all books, there were a few typos here and there, but fewer than a lot of other books I have been reading, so that was good. Apparently there is at least one sequel and I'd definitely read it for a fast, light read (rather than trying another chick-lit book, I think I have learned my lesson!).

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/TGIF

Happy Friday everyone, it's a beautiful, cool, autumnal Friday where I am, I hope it's a great day where you are! Welcome to my blog!

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question is a really great one:

In honor of Banned Books Week, what is your favorite “banned or frequently challenged book”?

My response: Before I even looked at this year's list, I knew that one of my favorite books of all time, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, would be my response. I do have to say that one of the more recent editions includes some passages that I think Anne herself would be horrified to know were published for all the world to read - they were intended to be private and I'm sure she never wanted others to read them. But that does not take away from the value of this book in making the Holocaust accessible to young people. I went on to read a lot about the Holocaust because of this book, and to try to understand how it happened. It made me think and feel and sparked research - exactly what literature has the power to do!

And because I can never give one response to any question, I have to add that I also loved The Hunger Games, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, and Push, among other books on that list I have read. I'm surprised the Harry Potter books aren't on the list this year, I guess because the series is complete the people who like to ban books have moved on to other issues. 

This week's question:

What book that hasn't been turned into a movie (yet) would you most like to see make it to the big screen, and who would you like cast as your favorite character?

My response: This is really difficult to answer. I'd love to see Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde made into a movie, but I have no idea who to cast! 

This week's question:

Banned Books: How do you feel about the censorship of the freedom to read? Do you think the education system needs to be more strict on what children are exposed to in books?

My response: I believe in freedom of speech, and that extends to a freedom to read books that might have "controversial" content. In fact, I find that some of the books on the ALA challenged/banned list are banned because one person is upset by the book - but the problem is, each person's idea of what is upsetting is totally different. If we banned a book because it upset one person, there would be no books in the library at all. I am sure I could find something to be upset about in every single book I have ever read. Literally. It could be a word I don't like, a typo, an idea that I think is upsetting, whatever. 

A good example of what I am talking about is the book Water for Elephants. I read this a couple years ago and I found that the animal cruelty in the book upset me quite a bit. (This did not, however, make me think that other people did not have the right to read this book and have their own opinions.) I accepted that it was part of the story and was probably (unfortunately) true to the time period in which the story is set, so I dealt with it. When I saw this book on the ALA list for this year, I assumed that animal cruelty would be mentioned as a reason for banning it, but no - it was the dreaded S-E-X, which is funny to me because I don't even remember that aspect of the book! So you see, every single book can be upsetting for someone. Banning books is not a solution, as there are always more books and more reasons to get upset about things. 

As for schools, this is tricky, because once again, it's hard to choose materials that won't upset someone. I guess the schools just have to do the best they can to screen materials for age appropriateness if they are to be used in the classroom. Life is not all roses, and should not be portrayed that way, and kids these days are WAY more exposed to adult-level ideas through TV, movies, video games, etc., so "protecting" them from things like bad language is often a case of "too late." I say this with certainty because I was a classroom teacher for a couple years, and many of my seventh-grade students were watching "South Park" and every R-rated movie you could name (often on cable TV), and all with their parents' permission, I  might add. So allowing kids to discuss a book that spoke to them, or that presents an idea that is uncomfortable, in a guided classroom setting is a good thing if done well. 

I think very controversial issues might be better used in high school, where older teens could probably form more mature opinions, and using "controversial" books (such as Brave New World and some of the others on the list) might open students' eyes to issues in our society. If parents have a legitimate complaint, it should be listened to, but no school should allow one parent with an agenda to dictate what every student is allowed to read in the school. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Anglophile - Laurie Gwen Shapiro

When will I stop impulsively buying chick-lit type books just because they are on the Library Sale shelves and only 50 cents? Once again I was hoping for a light, pleasant, fast read and instead got... well, not a book I disliked, but a book that just puzzled me. Like Elegance, the main character behaves in a way that makes no sense quite a bit of the time. At times, it seemed like there were things that happened just for the sake of having some sort of conflict rather than any logical reason. And there are strange/incorrect turns of phrase here and there that left me wondering why an editor hadn't corrected them - are there no editors anymore? Don't books get edited or proofread before publication these days? One interesting aspect of this book was an (apparently real) constructed language called Volapük that was intended to be used for international business in the late 1800s. I had heard of Esperanto but had never heard of Volapük so I found the (too few) parts of the book that dealt with that interesting.

The Bastard of Istanbul - Elif Shafak

This was an enjoyable novel about a Turkish family and an Armenian family, and how their lives intersect. There was a touch of magical realism here and there that I thought very much enhanced the story. I liked the characters, even the less lovable ones, and reading about Istanbul, especially because I took a Turkish language class last spring so it was nice to blend what I learned with reading about the people and country. It did make me hungry for Turkish food though, luckily there is a place near my house that serves many of the things talked about in the book so I think I will be having some delicious börek or kofte for dinner tonight!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

What an amazing surprise this book turned out to be for me. I picked it up from the Library Sale book shelves for 50 cents a few years ago, but put off reading it for fear that it would suffer from what I call "Charles Dickens Syndrome" - it would ramble on and seem boring to me. I added it to my TBR Pile Challenge list and STILL put it off until I needed a book for the Color Coded Reading Challenge and this would work for both.

I can't believe what an idiot I was! I loved this book! It kept me in suspense and I just wanted to read it and discover all the solutions to its mysteries. I had a hard time putting it down. It was anything but boring, rambling, or repetitive and I fully enjoyed it. I will definitely be reading other books by Wilkie Collins, particularly The Moonstone, but that might have to wait a while as I have a lot more books currently piled up needing to be read. Highly recommended.

Follow Friday/TGIF

Hello everyone, and thanks for coming by my blog! One note, if you have come here before and followed me and I have not followed you back, it's probably because the follow feature wouldn't show up for me when I went to your blog. If this is the case, please let me know in the comments so I can follow your blog. And now on to the Friday fun!

This week's question:

Do you have a favorite series that you read over and over again? Tell us a bit about it and why you keep on revisiting it.

My response: I have to say off the top of my head that I love Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. I couldn't possible do it justice trying to explain what it's like, but it's full of allusions to books and authors and clever wordplay and it makes me laugh while telling a really creative story based around books and reading that I really enjoy. It's fun to reread because I catch more little things I previously missed each time I read.

I also enjoyed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series and have reread that once, I suspect I'll read it again at some point as well. I really like the character of Lisbeth Salander, and I think Stieg Larsson did a good job of making her sympathetic and at the same time prickly and sometimes unlikable. And I wish I had her memory and computer skills :)

And of course I have reread Harry Potter multiple times, it's such an engrossing story with great characters and a wonderful magical world.

Lastly I would probably say I devoured all the Nancy Drew books as a child, and I have a few books from the series that I've picked up in the last few years, and they are fun to reread now and then - partially because they are simple and comforting, I guess.

This week's question:

Reading Challenges: Did you sign up for any this year? How has your progress been?

My response: I can honestly say that this blog began specifically because of reading challenges I signed up for in January. I just wanted a place I could keep track of the challenges and log the books I read. I started with Roof Beam Reader's To Be Read Pile Challenge, and since then I keep finding challenges to join so now I have several, as shown below. The Hogwarts Reading Challenge ended June 30th, and as I reported, I won that challenge - I'm still really happy about that :) 

Overall my progress has been OK so far, I have more or less kept up with all of them except for the War and Peace challenge - I'm still fairly far behind with that one but I hope to catch up. 
  • TBR Pile Challenge - read 6 out of 12 books, and will probably finish a 7th today
  • 100+ Books Challenge - read 130 books so far in 2011
  • The Buck Stops Here Challenge - I am 1 book away from achieving Level 4 (bonus level) - it will probably happen today
  • The Forgotten Treasures Challenge - 6 books away from Level 3 (bonus level)
  • War and Peace One Chapter A Day - very behind on this one, but working on catching up :(
  • The Hogwarts Reading Challenge - completed 30 June, and won :-) 
  • Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge - I said I'd read between 16 - 20 books for this one, and so far I have read 8 books, so I still have some reading to do here
  • The Color Coded Reading Challenge - I have read 4 out of 9 books for this one, and will have another one that I will most likely finish today (and yes, it's one book for multiple challenges)
  • GLBT Reading Challenge - read 10 out of 15 books
  • Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge - read 1 out of 3 books 
It's been really fun to participate in all of these challenges this year, and I have definitely read a lot of books I might not otherwise I have read, which is always a good thing! 

How are your challenges going? 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Jinny Williams Library Assistant - Sara A. Temkin and Lucy A. Hovell

Another discarded book, this one from a county library, that I found on the Library Sale shelves the same day as Miss Library Lady, so of course I had to have this book too. This book was another look into the past, specifically small town New Jersey life circa 1962. I enjoyed it for what it was, and there's not much more to say about it except for this wonderful quote about the library:

"He can't grasp how I feel about books and the library, and the hush and marvel of it . . . everything in the world you want to know, right there between covers! All the wonderful thoughts and beautiful deeds. The old books with their dark covers and thin paper, and the new ones with their bright dust jackets. The people who simply must read all the new books, and the determined old people ... who are catching up and reading all the classics they promised themselves they'd read someday, when they found time. Why can't I make him see?"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Miss Library Lady - Ann McLelland Pfaender

Talk about a forgotten treasure - I think this book is the definition all around. I found it on the Library Sale shelves and was immediately drawn to it, as I love vintage children's books and have a small collection that I shouldn't have, but can't resist having. Then I opened it and saw "DISCARD" written inside and I felt terrible! Seeing a book that was discarded from a library (in this case from a school library) makes me feel so sad! I know that realistically no library can keep a copy of every book ever published, and that older books are not necessarily of interest to kids (and this book was originally published in 1954), etc. etc., but still.... I hate to see a forgotten and neglected book. It makes me wonder about the book - was this some kid's favorite book? Did some child become a librarian because of reading this book? It was obviously read, as it has dog-eared pages and etc., so somebody must have enjoyed it.

I enjoyed it myself, it was a pleasant, light story that went in an unexpected direction that was still enjoyable. It's funny how much the books from this era give one the feeling of nostalgia for a simpler time that probably never really existed. It's nice to visit it for a short time in books though.

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday/TGIF

Welcome and Happy Friday! Enjoy your stay on my blog, and if this is your first visit to my blog please leave me a comment so I can follow your blog.

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question:

“As a book blogger, how do you introduce yourself in your profile?”

My response: Not very well, I'm afraid! I first started this blog just for my own purposes, as a place where I could keep track of what I thought was going to be one reading challenge this year (ha!) and also a place to catalog the books I read. As I've mentioned before, I have a bad memory, and although I can usually remember books I've read a couple years ago I got halfway through a book before I realized I had read it before years ago - oops!! So I never thought about this blog as a place for marketing myself, or anything other people would read, etc. Now that I've been participating in blog hops and networking, I guess I better get a better profile up soon!

This week's question:

It's that pesky magic book fairy again! She has another wish: What imaginary book world would you like to make a reality?

My response: Oh, there are so many possible answers to this! I'd love to have Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series come to life and be able to visit books of all kinds. I'd also like to visit any of Haruki Murakami's surreal places in many of his novels. The setting of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream would be interesting - who wouldn't want to bump into Puck at least once? I'm sure there are many more I'm not thinking of, maybe I'll add some later if I think of them.

This week's question:

Book Disappointments: Have you ever come across a book you were so stoked to read, but it failed miserably in your eyes?

Disclaimer: These are my opinions only, and I don't mean to trash these books - I know lots of other people like these books and that's fine, we all have different tastes/opinions! Also - there may be minor spoilers of a sort, so please read my response with that in mind! :-) 

My response: Definitely! One of the main books that comes to mind is The Time Traveller's Wife - I had heard so much about it and was very interested to read it but found it very disappointing. The main character was just so selfish and stereotypically "wet blanket woman," complaining so much and solely focused on having a big wedding and having a baby at the expense of anything else (including her relationship with her love interest) that I just couldn't relate. 

Another such book was The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. I had really enjoyed The Historian so I assumed this book would be as good, but it wasn't. It desperately needed an editor, it was way too long and repetitive, banging the reader over the head with some points, and the payoff was not equal to the buildup.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Elegance - Kathleen Tessaro

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. Maybe I'm just not used to chick lit type books, but for some reason I didn't take to this book as much as I wanted to. I love makeovers and stories about people who are able to change their lives for the better, so I was hoping for a light read about something like that. Instead there is a lot of angst and actual mental problems and illnesses, which I didn't expect at all.

Overall, I didn't dislike this book, but I didn't love it either. I wanted to like the main character but some of things she did in the book were so stupid it just annoyed me - it didn't seem realistic. Maybe the author was trying too hard to create a book that would translate well into a screenplay or something. Also, there were some times in the book that appear to be flash-forwards, but these were done clumsily so that it left me feeling vaguely confused about the time that elapses in the course of the book.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

One of our Thursdays Is Missing - Jasper Fforde

Again, I have to confess to having taken an inordinately long time to read this book despite wanting to very much. As always, it was worth the wait. Now, of course, I want to go back and read the whole series again... but with so many other books piling up, I can't do that in good conscience right now. Sigh. Maybe 2012 can be the year of the favorite book reread! I so love Jasper Fforde. I only recently became aware of the Fforde Ffiesta, held in Swindon, and I wish I could go in 2012... I'll have to see, maybe I can swing it, it would be so incredibly fun.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pardon My French: Unleash Your Inner Gaul - Charles Timoney

I stumbled on this book in a local dollar store, hardback and in perfect condition, and costing, yes, $1.00. It looked intriguing and as I studied French in high school and college it appealed to me as it's meant to help someone understand French as it's actually spoken. I really enjoyed this book, and I think it would be invaluable to a native English speaker who intends to travel, live, or work in France, or if you've studied French and would like to branch out by learning more commonly used words and phrases. The writing is clear and the explanations and examples are sometimes hilarious. Recommended.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation - John Guare

Not sure what to make of this play - I guess because it was originally written and published in 1992, it's about Baby Boomers, and how the way they view the world makes them vulnerable to con artists that approach them just the right way. Also, just as with Less Than Zero, I am never sure what to make of the theme "some really wealthy people are searching for a deeper meaning in life than parties and spending money." If you're that wealthy, JUST DO SOMETHING! What am I missing? It's not like you are slaving away at some 9 - 5 job getting mediocre pay and then have to come home and clean the house etc. - find something meaningful to do with all of your money and time. Or some of your money and time. If I had that kind of money, I could fill up my days with classes and learning and reading and travel and research projects and I could certainly find meaningful ways to spend money for charities I support - even if it was anonymously. Maybe I am missing the point entirely, if so, please enlighten me!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Less Than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis

I first read this book when it was originally published and I didn't remember being impressed with it then, but when I got some books from a neighbor and this was among them I figured I'd give it a read and see if my perspective may have changed. In a word - nope. I guess am missing the Bret Easton Ellis appreciation gene or something - I feel like I can't grasp the point of his writing. On the plus side, the book does mention Tab soda several times, so that made me happy.

Taggart - Louis L'Amour

Here's a book I read just for the Read Outside Your Comfort Zone Challenge. I was lucky and found a few westerns on the free book exchange shelves at the office, and I'll be honest, I chose the book with the fewest pages. This book wasn't bad, I can see why he is a best-selling author - this would be a good book for someone who is not a big reader. Like the characters in the book, it carefully rode through my mind and left no real trail behind it. It wasn't as bad as I was afraid it was going to be, but it wasn't a book I am likely to read again or think much about now that I've finished it. I enjoyed it for what it was and it satisfied my needs for both the challenge and as a reader.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch - Alison Arngrim

This was an enjoyable, fast read. Like most people of my age, I watched Little House on the Prairie as a kid, and it was interesting to read about what things were like on the set. Apparently Alison Arngrim does standup comedy, and now I think I'd like to see her show.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Blue Boy - Rakesh Satyal

I stumbled on this book while making yet another trip to Borders and thought it looked intriguing, and I was right. This was a well-written coming-of-age story about the titular boy. I enjoyed the narrator and in some ways could identify with his feelings of being alone in the world and not fitting in anywhere. There were some very funny moments, balancing the sad and bittersweet moments. It was interesting to be able to learn about Indian culture as well, although all the talk of curry and saag and paneer and etc. made me crave murag makhni and saag wala gosht. I would love to read more about the title character, which is the mark of a good book in my mind. Recommended.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

This graphic novel made a strong impression on me - I really felt that the art style enhanced the story, and in fact I would not want to read an all-prose, novel version of the events depicted - I think this format told the story in a very powerful way. Now I just wish I had the second book so I could continue my reading right away. I keep thinking about the events depicted and the characters and they are really alive in my mind. Highly recommended!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Blogger Hop/Follow Friday

Another Friday means more blog hopping/following goodness! If you're a first time visitor, welcome! My reviews are deliberately short because I try to avoid spoilers and giving away too much about the books I read whenever I can. I love to read and will read anything interesting and I'm always looking for recommendations of good books! If you've visited here before, welcome back and thanks for stopping by! :)

Book Blogger Hop

This week's question is perfect for me!

“What are you most looking forward to this fall/autumn season – A particular book release? Halloween? The leaves changing color? Cooler temperatures? A vacation? (If your next season is other than fall/autumn, tell us about it and what you are most looking forward to in your part of the world!)”

My response: ALL OF THE ABOVE!! As I have mentioned before many times, in fact in the last post I made, autumn (fall) is my very favorite season. I truly love everything about it! I love the cooler temperatures (summer is too hot for me), I love wearing sweaters and jackets and the beautiful mittens/gloves my pal E.D. has made me, I love the beautiful fall colors, I love to see the trees with their incredible red, yellow, orange, and gold leaves. I am a little bit obsessed with pumpkins and I love going to an actual pumpkin patch to pick some out for jack-o-lanterns around Halloween, and I adore Halloween (although I don't usually dress up and go out, which is sad because every year I want to!). I'm also a little obsessed with acorns and they are all over the place in fall and that makes me really happy. My favorite national holiday is Thanksgiving and that's coming up soon now. I'm also planning a vacation for later this fall, but I don't want to talk about it in case I jinx it, as the planning has been going very slowly :)

In a book-related fall happening, I can't wait to get a real copy of Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman on September 6 (just a few days away!). I LOVED this book when I found it on NetGalley and I'm dying to get a real copy so I can read it again. If you are a fan of the paranormal you might love this book too, you should check it out!

This week's question:

If you could change the ending of any book (or series), which book would you choose? Why and to what?

My spoiler-free response: I'd change the ending of The Kite Runner - not so much what happens, but I'd cut the book short. I think the book goes on a bit too long and it would work better as an ending if it were cut shorter. I wouldn't make the ending "happier," just stop the story at what I think is a more natural point.