Friday, January 30, 2009

A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen

The first mini-challenge has been completed! Since the last time I read a play was back in high school, I decided to start with challenge #2 - simply to read a play.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) was a Norwegian playwright often referred to as the father of the modern drama. His play A Doll House (1879) has been characterized as "a scathing criticism of the blind acceptance of traditional roles of men and women in Victorian marriage".

The main characters of the play are Torvald Helmer, a banker recently given a promotion, and his young wife Nora. We quickly gain insight into their relationship as Torvald appears to trivialize Nora by repeatedly likening her to various small animals:

"Now, now, the little lark's wing mustn't droop." (Act One)
"Come on, don't be a sulky squirrel." (Act One)

Torvald also views Nora as his possession:

"Why shouldn't I look at my dearest possession? At all that loveliness that's mine, mine alone, completely mine?" (Act Three)

An incident of threatened blackmail brings Nora to reveal her frustration with the marriage:
"But our home's been nothing but a playpen. I've been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa's doll-child. And in turn the children have been my dolls. I thought it was fun when you played with me, just as they thought it was fun when I played with them. That's been our marriage, Torvald." (Act Three)

At just over 70 pages, this is a short three-act play and I hesitate to reveal much more of the plot. It's pretty mild stuff when measured against today's standards, but it's easy to understand why it was considered scandalous at the time. Reading a play was a welcome change of pace and I will not wait another thirty years before reading another, but they probably won't become a regular part of my literary diet.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

From Booking Through Thursday blog:

Something a little different today–
First. Go read this great article from Time Magazine:
Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature. (Well worth reading.)

Second. Stop and think about it for moment. Computers and digital media are changing everything we do these days, whether we realize it or not, and that includes our beloved books.

To be different, today, I’d love to see a discussion here, in the comments, rather than scattered amongst all our separate blogs. Because this is an issue that affects ALL of us, and I’d really like to see us hash out the merits and demerits of this evolution.
Tell us what you think. Do you have an ebook reader? Do you read ebooks on your computer? Do you hate the very thought? How do you feel about the fact that book publishing is changing and facing much the same existential dilemma as the music industry upon the creation of MP3s?
Sure, feel free to write about this on your blog, but honestly–I’d love to see an in-depth discussion, and you can’t do that by flitting about the internet reading 100 different, individual essays. You can only get that by having the back and forth of conversation

My response:

What a timely topic for today's BTT! After reading the article in TIME magazine, I mailed it off to my college freshman daughter (old-fashioned, I know, but she likes receiving mail). She has dreams of a career in journalism/publishing and earlier this month attended "A Day of Publishing" in NYC. While there, she visited Random House, McGraw-Hill, and Conde Nast Publications.

There is no question that the publishing industry will be changing, but I believe the industry is far from doomed. Connotations associated with self-publishing may also be changing, but I have to believe the success stories mentioned in the article are far from the norm. The rise in the popularity of the Japanese cell phone novels is an interesting phenomena that I'd heard about before. I am struck by the similarities to Dickens serialized novels of the 1800's...a rapidly developing story that quickly reaches its readers and leaves them anxiously awaiting the next installment. It will be fascinating to see how this evolves.

As far as the ebook readers go, I am intrigued with amazon's kindle but haven't taken the plunge and purchased one. Reading on a computer screen hasn't worked well for me. I've attempted reading with DailyLit a couple of times and have given up within a week each time. If I traveled more, I'd probably purchase a kindle, but, for me, there is no replacement for the feeling of holding a book.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike 1932-2009

John Updike died yesterday, at the age of 76, of lung cancer. The New York Times obituary has a brief overview of his career.

Updike was an incredibly prolific author, and one that I always meant to read more of. My introduction to his work came in late high school with a short story or two, but it was 20 years later, in 1997, that I became a fan. With our youngest children off to nursery school, the moms of playgroup decided to become a book club. We chose Updike's In The Beauty of The Lilies as an early selection and I was hooked...the sentences, the vocabulary, the insights. It was one of my favorite books that year.

Since then, I've enjoyed John Updike's essays and reviews in The New Yorker, but have yet to read another novel. I did listen to Villages on CD in 2004 and was underwhelmed, but attributed it to the audio format. Brazil and Rabbit, Run sit unread on my shelves. In The Beauty of The Lilies is still there, too, awaiting a reread. Additionally, I'd planned to read The Witches of Eastwick last summer, in anticipation of the release of The Widows of Eastwick. At least three more of Updike's novels are on my Amazon wish list. It saddens me that there will be no new novels, or essays, or reviews in the New Yorker, but John Updike leaves behind a body of work vast enough to keep readers reading for a long, long time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
Random House, 2008
270 pg.
contemporary fiction
My rating: 5/5

Publisher's blurb:

In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

Olive Kitteridge. Remember that name...we'll surely be hearing it again. It has recently been named a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist (the full list is here) and I'm predicting we'll also see it on many of the lists we bloggers churn out at the end of the year.

What is it about Olive? She is not a particularly likable character, yet I can't stop thinking about her. Perhaps it's that I see something of myself in her...pragmatic, sometimes impatient and short-tempered, but also compassionate and insightful. The stories follow Olive over time from a young wife and mother to a 70-something grandmother, and evoke a full range of emotions as her character unfolds.

I marked passages in every story, but this is my favorite. From "River", the final story, page 270:

"Oh, what young people did not know. They did not know...that love was not
to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that
got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn't
choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she
had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she
had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously
There were many, many other passages just as lyrical and insightful. I loved this book, beautifully written with such brutal honesty, about what it is to be human.
This will complete mini challenge #1 (read a collection of short stories and blog about it) of the 2009 mini challenges.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What Type Is Your Blog?

This blog is:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Well... maybe, but I'm not so sure about the adventure and risk part.

What type is your blog?

find out here

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Wally Lamb is a master storyteller. Just a few pages into his new novel, The Hour I First Believed, it was obvious that he's done it again.

The novel centers around Caelum Quirk, a 47-year-old high school English teacher, and his third wife Maureen, a school nurse, both of whom work at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Maureen is at school during the infamous shootings of 1999, while Caelum is back in Connecticut dealing with the illness of an aunt who helped raise him. After a brutal description of the shootings, the couple tries to pull their lives back together. Maureen (and Caelum, to a lesser extent) struggles with the effects of PTSD and Caelum uncovers a mystery as he pieces together several generations of family history.

These fictional characters are woven into the fabric of the 21st century (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the war on terror), while Caelum's ancestors attend a dinner party at the home of Mark Twain, are present at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, and take part in the Rheingold Girl competition. Lamb sprinkles the text with e-mails, a medical questionaire, newspaper articles, a dissertation, and many letters as the story moves along. I was also impressed with his ability to shift the narrative voice, so easily and convincingly, to the 12-year-old Caelum in chapter 4.

This novel deals with topics of family relationships and ancestral "pull", psychology, mythology, chaos-complexity theory, as well as strong themes of spirituality. There is just SO much here, that it probably could have been TWO novels. I got a little bogged down around page 400, but that is only a minor complaint. All of the pieces together build to an extremely powerful ending - the first book in a long time that's made me cry.

Here is one quote I particularly liked. On page 717, Caelum talks about teaching writing:

" helps them, you know? Gives them wings, so that they can rise above
the confounding maze of their lives and, from that perspective, begin to see the
patterns and dead ends of their pasts, and a way out."

I have enjoyed all three of Wally Lamb's novels, and hope I don't have to wait ten years for the fourth. My rating for The Hour I First Believed is 4.5/5 .

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Soup for Supper

I've been thinking about soup all week. With today's single-digit temperatures and an overbooked evening schedule, this is the day! Family dinners are important to me, but a big pan of Corn and Sausage Chowder on the stove and a loaf of fresh bread on the counter will be just perfect tonight.

This is a recipe I've been making for years. It's adapted from Thymes Remembered, a cookbook first published by The Junior League of Tallahassee in 1988. I love Junior League cookbooks and have accumulated several over the years. The recipes are well-tested and the collections often include regional dishes. I've tried many and have yet to be disappointed.

Corn and Sausage Chowder

1 pound mild bulk sausage
1 large onion, chopped
3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
2 cups water
1 17-ounce can cream style corn
1 17-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk

-brown sausage in large skillet and put in soup kettle
-saute onion in skillet
-add onions, potatoes, salt, pepper, basil, and water to soup kettle
-cover and simmer 15 minutes
-stir in corn and evaporated milk
-cover and heat thoroughly

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Muffins for a Winter Day

This is comfort food weather. Bone-chilling cold, wind...and snow. We're closing in on 100 inches so far this season, and should surpass our 120 inch average well before the end of the month.

The girls had a late practice yesterday and I was thinking about making them a snack, when Nan posted a recipe for Maple-Oatmeal Muffins. We all love this combination, so I knew these would be a hit. There was a batch in the oven within half an hour.

Oh, they were delicious! Perfect with a cup of tea on a cold winter's day. This is a recipe I'll make over and over again. Thanks, Nan! Now I'm thinking about a hearty soup, or possibly macaroni and cheese...

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Pile of Classics

Does this happen to anyone else? Over the past several years, I have read many classics with a Yahoo reading group. After voting on the selections, a reading schedule is set and the book is discussed in segments throughout the month. Occasionally, a real chunkster is chosen and the schedule becomes a bit more demanding. Unfortunately, I got into a pattern of falling behind schedule and then setting the book aside (even though I was enjoying it) in order to start the next book on time. As a result, I have accumulated six classics with bookmarks stuck somewhere in the middle and they are now languishing on my shelves:

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (pg. 327, started 10/08)
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (pg.157, started 9/05)
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (pg.353, started 7/05)
Middlemarch by George Eliot (pg.490, started 2/07)
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (pg. 188, started 1/06)
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (pg.265, started 8/06)

I intend to finish all of these books. My dilemma is to figure out the best way to accomplish this. Since I just started The Way We Live Now in October, I'll finish that first. Should I continue reading a chapter or two every few days, or perhaps designate one day a week as my "classics day"? I'll try both and see which works better. The other books pose a different problem. What if I can't remember what Becky Sharp or Dorothea Brooke have been up to? I'm afraid I may need to start skimming those from the beginning. Well, at least I can be assured this pile will not grow - I'm no longer active in the group.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

One final Christmas book

There was a package from England waiting for me when we got home from Maine last week. I won a copy of The Secret Scripture from Lynne (and Rocky) at dovegreyreader scribbles! Sebastian Barry is an author I've been meaning to read for some time. The Secret Scripture was at the top of my Christmas list, and Annie Dunne and A Long, Long Way are both on my wish list. Now I don't have to wait any longer. Thanks, Lynne!

Monday, January 5, 2009

My First Challenge

I've been cautiously eyeing the many challenges swirling around the internet the last few weeks.
Since my 2008 resolution was to take the pressure out of reading, I hadn't signed up for any. My only real challenge, or commitment, has been to read all the books for my f2f group.
2009 will be different! I have signed up for Wendy's (Caribousmom) 2009 Mini Challenges.

Here are the 12 challenges:

1. Read a collection of short stories and either blog about it, OR tell the group about what you read. completed 1/27/09

2. Read a play. Blog about it, OR tell the group about your experience.
completed 1/30/09

3. Read a nonfiction book; write a review on your blog or post it to the group. completed 6/12/09

4. Read 2 essays from the same collection; write a review on your blog or tell the group about what you read.

5. Go to a book event; blog about it or tell the group about it. completed 10/11/09

6. Borrow a library book, read it and review it on your blog (or tell the group about it).
completed 2/6/09

7. Read a book by a new to you author. Do a little research on the author…do they have a blog? How many books have they written? Have they won any prizes? Where do they live? etc… Blog about the book you read and the author OR tell the group about them. completed 10/23/09

8. Make a donation. You can either donate to an organization that supports reading OR make a physical donation of a book (or books) to ANYONE. Blog about it or tell the group what you did. completed 7/09

9. Promote literacy. This is wide open - use your imagination. You could give a child a book, or read a book to someone who cannot read, or volunteer at an event which promotes literacy, or donate to your local library, or write something on your blog with a link to a group which promotes literacy, or anything in between. The only rule with this one is that you must PROMOTE literacy in some way…

10. Participate in a buddy read or Group discussion. This can be a face to face group, an on-line group or a one on one discussion with a friend who read the same book. Either way, blog about your experience or share with the group. Did the discussion give you greater appreciation or insight into what you read? Completed 3/3/09

11. Read a book outside your comfort level or from a genre you don’t normally read. Blog about it, or tell the group about it. Completed 5/1/09

12. Read a classic (defined as anything published before 1970). Tell us why it fits the category of being a classic. Write a review or tell the group about the book. completed 4/8/09

As I complete each challenge, I will add a link to its corresponding blog post.

Thanks, Wendy!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2009 - Books Read

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Fire In The Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

2008 - Books Read

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
Fingersmith bySarah Waters
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Run by Ann Patchett
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilmore
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle
The Sea by John Banville
The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
La Cucina by Lily Prior
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
Deafening by Frances Itani
The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black
Woman of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through Pages of a Lost Journal by Lily Koppel
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
China Road by Rob Gifford
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day by Winifred Watson
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer


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