Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Update: October 19, 2014

It's Sunday and it's snowing. Seriously. Temperatures are in the mid-30s and the rain has turned to wet, white flakes. They're saying it's "lake effect" and only coming down in higher elevations, but still... Can I go to Florida now?

For such a short week, it seems like last Sunday was a month ago. We had a wonderful drive through the southern Adirondack Park on the way to visit my FIL on the Vermont border. The sun was shining, the leaves were spectacular, and we got to spend several hours chatting with him and wandering around outdoors before heading back home. I posted my view from his window as a wrap-up to my #100HappyDays on instagram.

Twin A drove back to school on Tuesday and, for whatever reason, the rest of the week just dragged.  There were all the usual activities, plus a doctor's appointment, issues with one of the cars, and to top it off, my washing machine died.

Needless to say, there was not much reading going on and I didn't finish a thing. I abandoned Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury at the 40% mark. I hate not finishing readalong books (like book club selections) and even turned to the audio version for help. In some ways, that made things even worse. I guess Bradbury is not an author for me.



Current reading//



I'm halfway through Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton. Like his latest novel, Florence Gordon, there isn't much action... but getting to know and understand his characters more than makes up for it.

Listening to//


Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal...  a coming of age story set in New Orleans in the 1960's and I love it!

Up next//


My library hold of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters came in. It's a mystery how you can go  from #19 to the top of the list overnight, but I'm not complaining! The book is almost 600 pages long and might be a good candidate for a read/listen combination, especially since Juliet Stevenson narrates the audio version.

Also under consideration are Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (with Bellezza) and a group read of Elizabath Bowen's first novel, The Hotel, which I learned about from Ali.

On the blog//
The Classics Club: A Midpoint Report
Review:  Breakfast at Tiffany's  by Truman Capote (audio)
Tuesday Intro:  Starting Out in the Evening  by Brian Morton

In the kitchen//
I spent most of last Monday in the kitchen, not at the mall as planned. I wanted to stock my daughter's freezer for the rest of the semester and we made lasagna, a couple of casseroles, and a tortilla pie.

Today I'm making Tuscan Bean Soup for lunches this week and more lasagna to bring to a family dinner later today. We will be celebrating my twin sisters' birthdays.


Sometime this week, I will make the above Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Crispy Panko Topping, a lightened up version of a favorite comfort food. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Today//   I'm going for a walk (after I find my hat and gloves!) so I can listen to more of Dollbaby. Then I'll make the soup for lunch, put the lasagna in the oven, and hopefully read for an hour before we head to the birthday celebration. If I'm lucky, I'll even get to the New York Times  tonight.

How was your week? What are you reading today?

This post will link to It's Monday, What are you Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.





Friday, October 17, 2014

The Classics Club: Midpoint Report


It's been two and a half years since I joined The Classics Club on April 15, 2012. My goal at that time was to read 50 classics in 5 years. I made a list of 50 books plus 5 personal challenge books, and figured one every month or so should do it. Complete details can be found on my Classics Club page.

To date: I have read 25 of 50 books

Brontë, Anne - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Brookner, Anita - Hotel du Lac
Buck, Pearl S. - Imperial Woman
Calvino, Italo - If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
Capote, Truman  - Breakfast at Tiffany's
Christie, Agatha - And Then There Were None
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Eliot, George - Middlemarch
Gaskell, Elizabeth - North and South
Greene, Graham - The End of the Affair
Jackson, Shirley -  The Haunting of Hill House
James, Henry - Washington Square
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hemingway, Ernest - The Old Man and the Sea
Plath, Sylvia  - The Bell Jar
Pym, Barbara - A Glass of Blessings
Pym, Barbara - Some Tame Gazelle
Stewart, Mary - The Ivy Tree
Strachey, Julia - Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
Tanizaki, Junichiro - The Makioka Sisters
Thackery, William Makepeace - Vanity Fair
Thirkell, Angela - High Rising
Wharton, Edith - The Age of Innocence
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, John - Stoner

Surprisingly I am on track, yet my reading has not been entirely consistent.

  • 2012 - 6 classics (in 8 months)
  • 2013 - 13 classics, a banner year
  • 2014 -  6 classics to date

I'm willing to cut myself a little slack this year since two of those six books were 800 pages or more, Middlemarch  and  An American Tragedy. 

Additionally, my male/female author ratio is 11/14, but nearly all authors are British or American.

An interesting observation: 12 of the 25 books read have involved other readers. This includes 6 read-alongs or buddy reads and 6 Classics Spins sponsored by The Classics Club.

My conclusion: Classics are better with friends!

Moving ahead: My original list is now fluid, or evolving. When a book interests me, I add it to my list. Also, I need to get to those non-American/British authors on my list.

And of the books I've read...

Most Anticipated:
An American Tragedy  by Theodore Dreiser - It had been on my shelf for nearly 35 years.


Most Beautifully Written:
Stoner by John Williams

Most Disappointing:
The Bell Jar  by Sylvia Plath - I should have read this book in my 20's.

Most Surprising (in a good way):
The Makioka Sisters  by Junichiro Tanizaki


Most Memorable Characters:
Tess and Alec from Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Most Recommended to Others:
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
North and South
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Makioka Sisters

Do you enjoy reading classics? Have you joined The Classics Club?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (audio)


Breakfast at Tiffany's
Written by: Truman Capote
Narrated by: Michael C. Hall
Length: 2 hrs and 52 mins
Publisher: Audible Studios, 2014
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
Golden Globe-winning actor Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) performs Truman Capote's provocative, naturalistic masterstroke about a young writer's charmed fascination with his unorthodox neighbor, the "American geisha" Holly Golightly. Holly - a World War II-era society girl in her late teens - survives via socialization, attending parties and restaurants with men from the wealthy upper class who also provide her with money and expensive gifts. Over the course of the novella, the seemingly shallow Holly slowly opens up to the curious protagonist, who eventually gets tossed away as her deepening character emerges.

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote's most beloved work of fiction, introduced an independent and complex character who challenged audiences, revived Audrey Hepburn's flagging career in the 1961 film version, and whose name and style has remained in the national idiom since publication. Hall uses his diligent attention to character to bring our unnamed narrator’s emotional vulnerability to the forefront of this American classic.

My thoughts:

I am surely the only person on the planet who has never seen the 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn. I do know that the plot differs significantly from the novella and have always thought I should read Capote's words first. Although I've had a beautiful hard cover Modern Library edition (purchased at Border's going out of business sale) on my shelf for years, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to grab the audio when it was offered as an audible daily deal.

I've read Capote before. In Cold Blood  was quite a page-turner and "A Christmas Memory" is one of my favorite short stories, but I felt distanced from this work right away. Maybe it was due to the narration, maybe that was Capote's intent. For whatever reason, it just didn't click. Written in 1958, it also struck me as dated.

As I listened, The Great Gatsby  frequently came to mind. The narrators of both novels are similar in quality and voice, and I liked them much more than the title characters. Holly could have been a female version of Gatsby himself.... not entirely what she seems, not necessarily totally above board.

A quick search of google revealed, as expected, that this was by no means an original thought. The similarity has been been duly noted in The Guardian, and my blogging friend Jane posted on this topic years ago. With these thoughts fresh in my mind, it must be time to reread  The Great Gatsby... yet again.

Strangely, I have nothing further to say about the narration of this audio production. It was fine... distancing as noted above, but otherwise unremarkable.

My rating:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Starting Out in the Evening


1
Heather was wearing the wrong dress. It had seemed like a good idea in the morning - it was a tight little black thing; she'd looked fantastic in the mirror - but now she was thinking that she should have worn something more demure. This was a foolish dress to meet your intellectual hero in. 
Waiting in the coffee shop for the great man to arrive, Heather was squirming with nervousness, and she began to wonder why she was here - why she had gone to such lengths to meet this man, when she knew he couldn't possibly be as interesting in person as he was in his books. She had a wild urge to flee - to scribble a note of apology, leave it with the waiter, and drive all the way back to Providence. But she stayed where she was. She was nervous; she was a little scared; but she could live with that. Fear of any undertaking, to her way of thinking, was usually a reason to go ahead with it. 
The door opened and a man came in from the cold. He was wearing an enormous coat - a coat that was like a house - and a big, furry, many-flapped hat. He peeled off the hat and stopped for a moment in front of the cash register, stamping off the snow. He was wearing galoshes 
They had never met, but he picked her out instantly, and he came toward her, smiling. Old, fat, bald, leaning awkwardly on a cane. The man of her dreams.
Starting Out in the Evening
by Brian Morton

This is actually the entire first chapter of Brian Morton's 1998 novel, and the second of his books I have picked up in as many weeks. I loved his most recent novel, Florence Gordon, and started reading this one just a few days later. I'm only 50 pages in, but love the writing and am enjoying getting to know the three main characters. I think this will be another winner.

Here is a summary from Library Journal:
In beautifully nuanced scenes, Heather Wolfe, a 24-year-old graduate student, forces a meeting with broken-down Leonard Schiller, an out-of-print, sick old writer whose early works, written during the heyday of 1940s and 1950s New York intellectualism, forever changed Heather's life. Targeted as the subject of Heather's master's thesis, Schiller quickly falls under the seductive promise of her admiration, much to the distress of Ariel, his 39-year-old daughter, whose own struggles with failed romance and childlessness derail her energy. Morton demonstrates an astonishingly sensitive appreciation for his characters as he reveals with unnerving accuracy the most private thoughts not only of his women but of the dying old man as well. These mismatched souls gradually realize that their individual journeys, which they thought were drawing to a close, are in fact new beginnings. Morton's respect for his characters and his audience is a quiet literary triumph. Highly recommended.
What do you think of the first chapter? Would you keep reading?


Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekly Update: Columbus Day Weekend

It's Saturday morning...
A long Columbus Day weekend lies ahead and I'm writing my weekly update a day early. Twin A came home Friday night for her fall break and we have a lot planned - typical fall activities Saturday a trip to the Saratoga Springs-area tomorrow to see my father-in-law (and admire the foliage), and hopefully some shopping on Monday. It seems like ages since I've been to the mall!

Currently reading:





For Ti and Sandy's readalong. I'm not much of a sci-fi/fantasy reader and am trying to broaden my horizons. I started reading this book early in the week and wasn't feeling it, so added in the audio on Friday. It has helped, but I'm still not loving it... at least not yet.


Finished this week:




The End of Your life Book Club by Will Schwalbe 

I really enjoyed this audiobook. Will's mother was quite inspiring and I've added several books to my reading list. Review coming soon.


Up next:


I loved Florence Gordon so much, I borrowed this 1998 novel from the library.


New books:


This author will be speaking in Syracuse in the spring. The e-book is free right now if you're interested.


My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
I've been wanting to read Ferrante for a long time. The kindle version of Book 1 of her Neapolitan Novels is currently available for $2.99... and I love the cover.

On the blog:

Audiobook review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Thoughts on Reading An American Tragedy (Classics Club spin)
Tuesday Intro: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

In the kitchen:
We're in full "fall mode" now... soup in the crockpot, a chili-cornbread casserole, and the first pumpkin pie of the season. It's my father's favorite, so I surprised him with it Thursday afternoon.


How was your week?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audio)


Eleanor & Park
Written by: Rainbow Rowell
Narrated by: Rebecca Lowman, Sunil Malhotra
Length: 8 hrs and 56 mins
Publisher: Listening Library, 2013
source: purchased

Publisher's summary:
Set over the course of one school year, in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits - smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love - and just how hard it pulled you under.

My thoughts:
I don't read or listen to much young adult literature, but Rainbow Rowell has been a favorite of book bloggers for the past couple of years and I just had to see what all the fuss was about.

The plot is simple - two misfits thrown together on the school bus stumble upon first love. Eleanor and Park are such wonderful characters separately... weird, quirky, intelligent. And they were great together, too. With such a horrible home life, my heart just broke for Eleanor.

I enjoyed Eleanor & Park  very much, but one thing bothered me. I had a hard time understanding what Park found so endearing in Eleanor... but I suppose that's the nature of love.

Listening to this book was an amazing experience. Any novel told from alternating perspectives begs for dual narrators, and both Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra nail it. A five-star performance from each makes this an unforgettable audio production.

So I agree, Rainbow Rowell is a treasure. Which  of her novels should I listen to next?

Bottom line:
This book took me right back to high school - the bus, the cliques, the social pecking order, the music, the feelings, first love. Listen to this book and let yourself be taken back, too.

My ratings:

story
performance

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Thoughts on Reading An American Tragedy


An American Tragedy  by Theodore Dreiser has inhabited my TBR (to be read) shelf longer than any other book I own. Its occupancy dates back to the 1970s when a favorite English teacher, Mrs. Perretta, placed it in my hands one June afternoon prior to graduation. She said it was a book I would surely appreciate.

After reading The Winter of Our Discontent  by John Steinbeck in her class the previous year, I figured you could actually learn quite a bit about life and how to live it from a good novel. So I'd been one of a handful of high school seniors to sign up for her elective American Novels class that year. We read Tender is the Night, The Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Look Homeward, Angel, and a few others. She probably gave each of us a book for graduation.

All 900 pages of An American Tragedy  traveled with  me to college, then on to my first apartment, and my second, and to the condo we lived in after getting married, to our first house, etc. This spring, some 35 years later, I made a resolution to read it before the end of the year. I was delighted when its number came up for the Classics Club spin.

BUT when I opened the book in August, it was immediately obvious that I could not comfortably read the tiny print of that mass market paperback edition. After decades on my shelf, An American Tragedy ended up in my book sale donation box. I bought the e-book for my kindle and, for good measure, the audio version too and finally began to read.

So about the book...

Written in 1925 and based upon a notorious 1906 murder in the Adirondack Mountains of northern NY (practically a local setting for me), An American Tragedy  "is the story of a weak-willed young man who is both villain and victim (the victim of a valueless, materialistic society) and someone who ultimately destroys himself. "

To me, this novel is the quintessential character study. Clyde Griffiths, the son of street missionaries, aspires to a better life, but how far will he go in pursuit of the American Dream? From a fine hotel in Kansas City, to a Chicago club, and finally to his rich uncle's factory along the Mohawk River in upstate New York, Clyde strives toward a better station in life. He makes some progress financially, but ascending the social ladder proves even trickier. What circumstances could provoke thoughts of murder in such an earnest  young man?

Courtroom drama comprises the last third of the novel. It was riveting.

The audio version, read by Dan John Miller (a favorite narrator), enabled me to keep reading in the car, on my walks, and while doing chores around the house. I just wish he'd checked pronunciations - Raquette Lake is actually "racket" around here. Whispersync is really a life saver when switching back and forth from e-book to audio. Have you tried it?

Overall, I loved An American Tragedy. It was a little too long and some parts were repetitive, but the story more than made up for it. You were right, Mrs. Perretta.

my rating:



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