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Forum nameReading Challenges, 2010
Topic subjectAlissa's 2010 Book List
Topic URLhttp://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=505&topic_id=6
6, Alissa's 2010 Book List
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Dec-16-09 04:20 PM
Aiming for 25 50 75!

The dates in parentheses indicate when I finished each book. Books with an asterisk beside them are re-reads.


1.Tortilla FlatJohn Steinbeck1935(1/3)
2.King LearWilliam Shakespeare1603-06(1/11) *
3.Mr Midshipman EasyCaptain Frederick Marryat1836(1/18)
4.The Taming of the ShrewWilliam Shakespeare1590-94(1/20) *
5.Households and HolinessCarol Meyers2005(1/24)
6.Awakening Genius in the ClassroomThomas Armstrong1998(1/28)
7.Titus AndronicusWilliam Shakespeare1592-94(1/30) *
8.With Christ in the School of PrayerAndrew Murray1828-1917(1/31)
9.Gulliver's TravelsJonathan Swift1726(2/5)
10.Music as a Way of KnowingNick Page1996(2/8)
11.Confessions of a ThugCaptain Meadows Taylor1839(2/8)
12.The Merchant of VeniceWilliam Shakespeare1596-98(2/9) *
13.And Sarah LaughedJohn H. Otwell1977?(2/11)
14.The Interesting NarrativeOlaudah Equiano1789(2/12)
15.The Merry Wives of WindsorWilliam Shakespeare1602(2/18)
16.Drama as a Way of KnowingPaul G. Heller1996(2/21)
17.SheH. Rider Haggard1887(2/22)
18.Measure for MeasureWilliam Shakespeare1603-04(3/1)
19.Dance as a Way of KnowingJennifer Donohue Zakkai1997(3/10)
20.The Story of an African FarmOlive Schreiner1883(3/16)
21.All's Well that Ends WellWilliam Shakespeare1601-08(3/17)
22.Guanya PauJoseph J. Walters1891(3/18)
23.Releasing the ImaginationMaxine Greene1995(3/18)
24.Heart of DarknessJoseph Conrad1902(3/30)
25.Hard TimesCharles Dickens1853(3/31) *
26.Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo RajahElizabeth Hamilton1796(4/7)
27.Between the ActsVirginia Woolf1941(4/10)
28.PericlesWilliam Shakespeare1608-09(4/12)
29.Visual Arts as a Way of KnowingKarolynne Gee2000(4/18)
30.The Missionary: An Indian TaleLady Morgan1811(4/20)
31.The Book of LeviticusGordon J. Wenham1979(4/21)
32.CymbelineWilliam Shakespeare1609-10(4/22)
33.Walk Leviticus!Jeffrey Enoch Feinberg, Ph.D.2001(4/23)
34.Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafeFannie Flagg1987(4/27)
35.The Real Me: Being the Girl God SeesNatalie Grant2005(5/13)
36.The Winter of Our DiscontentJohn Steinbeck1961(5/18)
37.Arrow Book of PoetryAnn McGovern1965(5/21)
38.JoshuaJoseph F. Girzone1983(5/21)
39.How to Search the ScripturesDr. Fuchsia Pickett1999(5/26)
40.Paths of GloryHumphrey Cobb1935(5/28)
41.SkateMichael Harmon2006(6/5)
42.The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck1939(6/10) *
43.Let Me Out! I'm a Prisoner in a Stained-Glass JailWally Armbruster1985(6/14)
44.Under PressureFrank Herbert1956(6/17)
45.The Lonely NowNicky Cruz1971(6/23)
46.A Child is BornLennart Nilsson1977(7/1)
47.Fallen AngelsWalter Dean Myers1988(7/2)
48.The Harvest GypsiesJohn Steinbeck1936(7/2)
49.A Hilltop in TuscanyStephanie Grace Whitson2006(7/10)
50.Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck1989(7/20)
51.The Screwtape LettersC.S. Lewis1961(7/20) *
XX.3 Charlie Brown comicsCharles M. Schulz1957-60(7/21)
XX.The Authoritative Calvin and HobbesBill Watterson1990(7/31)
52.No Plot? No Problem!Chris Baty2004(8/11)
53.Scottish Highlanders in Colonial GeorgiaAnthony W. Parker1997(8/30)
54.Death in VeniceThomas Mann1912(8/30)
55.The White PlagueFrank Herbert1982(9/5)
56.The Oresteia of AeschylusRobert Lowell1978(9/13)
57.To Teach: The Journey, in ComicsAyers & Alexander-Tanner2010(11/19)
58.The RainmakerJohn Grisham1995(12/9)
59.The Saga of the Seven Suns: Hidden Empire (Book 1)Kevin J. Anderson2007(12/19)
60.For Whom the Bell TollsErnest Hemingway1940(12/27)

Well, I made it to 60 books this year! I'm pleased with that.
35, 1. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Posted by alissaameth, Sun Jan-03-10 05:46 AM
Fiction, 154 pages.

This is the fifth Steinbeck book I have read during the Christmas break, in my new found enthusiasm to read everything he wrote. The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite novel (I have read it three or four times and want to re-read it soon), and almost everything else I have read by Steinbeck crowds up to the top of my "Favorite Books" list, too.

The first sentences of the novel are: "This is the story of Danny and of Danny's friends and of Danny's house. It is a story of how these three became one thing..." The paragraph goes on to compare the house to the Round Table and Danny's friends to its knights. Once these friends are introduced to the reader, the humor in this becomes clear. (Their behavior would not generally be considered knightly!) Danny and his friends are paisanos who live in Tortilla Flat--a place near Monterey, in California. (My geographic knowledge of California comes entirely from Steinbeck's books, so I am not 100% where places are in relation to each other.) There is mild swearing and vague allusions to sex.

Each chapter of the narrative describes an adventure of theirs. Most of these episodes center around obtaining wine, love or money (usually for buying wine). The blurb on the back of the book claims that it is Steinbeck's funniest, but I would disagree and say that Sweet Thursday is even funnier. However, Tortilla Flat is still hilarious! The humor is a little coarse sometimes, but not offensive (to me).

I think the strength of this novel is its "voices," if that makes any sense. Not only are Danny's friends strong characters with funny and clever lines, but the omniscient narrator is very distinct while at the same time matching the tone of the characters perfectly. I think Steinbeck was particularly good at this. I also think he had "a way with words" that makes me stop and think about the smallest things in his writing. (The first example that comes to mind is the description: "dusty dew drops." Who would've thought to describe water as dusty? But it gives an extra flavor that works.)

I would say its weakness (in my opinion) would be the plot, honestly. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but because I wasn't particularly engaged by what the characters did. The parts I enjoyed most were their conversations with each other in between things, and Steinbeck's descriptions.

It is not one of my favorite Steinbeck novels, but--as a rabid Steinbeck fan--I still really enjoyed reading it just because it showed me another style of his writing (which is more varied than I previously realized). It's witty, short and full of character.

(My favorite character is Jesus Maria, who is often described as a humanist. "Together with his capacity for doing good, Jesus Maria had a gift for coming in contact with situations where good wanted doing." - Chapter 10. His kindness is often pretty funny, too!)
133, 2. King Lear by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Tue Jan-12-10 03:37 PM
Play - Tragedy, 145 pages.

The first time I read this play (maybe four years ago), I hated it because I thought it was boring, difficult to understand and... I don't know--long-winded, maybe. (It was the first time I didn't love something by Shakespeare, so a dislike of the style wasn't the problem.) I read it in a high school class and just didn't enjoy it. This second reading was much more enjoyable! I was pleasantly surprised, and now I'm not sure why I didn't like it before. I expect that it has something to do with my own growth as a reader, since the text obviously hasn't changed. There are still tricky passages that are harder for me to understand, but it didn't stop my enjoyment of or involvement with the story. In fact, I expect to read it again.

Just as I did four years ago, I still think King Lear is an annoying and deranged character. I am not sympathetic for him at all. Fortunately, despite the fact that he's the title character, the play is more about the people around him.

The play begins with King Lear's intention--having grown old and weary--to divide his kingdom among his three daughters according to their eloquence in professing their love for him. The first two daughters please him with their words, but the third disappoints him when she "...cannot heave/{Her} heart into {her} mouth" (I.i.93-94). The angry king banishes her and divides the kingdom among the older two sisters and their husbands. As it turns out--according to actions and not words--it is the third daughter who loves him the best.

The sub-plot: One of the king's earls has two sons: one legitimate and one bastard. The illegitimate one conspires against his brother and father in order to reach a status of power and recognition that the circumstance of his conception denies him. He involves himself in the political and military going-ons of the rest of the cast and (seems to) be successful in shutting his brother out. The sub-plot starts off seeming entirely separate from the main plot, but the two become more and more intertwined until a final show-down in which all the plot threads are tied off together. Very satisfying!

I love Shakespeare's use of language and how he manages to tap into emotions. I could hear the characters expressing themselves--generally in such strong terms that I could almost feel them shaking. For instance, even though the illegitimate son is a villain, I couldn't help but root for him because I felt that his passion should count for something even if his deeds were wrong. He might actually be my favorite character.
179, RE: 2. King Lear by William Shakespeare
Posted by RavenCorbie, Thu Jan-21-10 09:27 AM
I didn't like it myself when I first read it, and, for me, it was how depressing it was. Yes, it's a tragedy, and tragedies aren't supposed to be happy, but it was just a downer (emotionally) all the way through--rather than a book with a more positive feel during the beginning that culminates in tragedy. It was just too bleak to me. And I liked Edmund and didn't want him to be evil.
198, RE: 2. King Lear by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Jan-23-10 10:08 PM
I'm trying to think back if I thought it was depressing the first time, too, but I can't remember. I didn't think that this second time reading it, at all. (I tend to like the tragedies more than the comedies, although I enjoy both.) I can see your point about there not being much positive about it. Cordelia's good nature is positive, but it seems like nothing comes of it (she's banished and then, when Lear realizes that she loved him, it's too late).
162, 3. Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat
Posted by alissaameth, Mon Jan-18-10 01:04 PM
Fiction - Nautical, 344 pages.

First published in 1836, this novel is set in the same time as the Napoleonic Wars and focuses on the adventures of "our hero," Jack Easy. The story begins like this: "CHAPTER I - Which the reader will find very easy to read." I burst out laughing when I read this, and can say that I was similarly amused by the whole novel. It is written in a whimsical style that includes references to the reader (e.g. "the reader will remember that..."), humorous understatements/overstatements, ridiculous circumstances and a large quantity of not-so-subtle but very amusing puns. For instance, after the hero has literally fallen into a well: "...all's well that ends well; but how the devil am I to get out of the well?" (Chapter 6). I suspect that this is a brand of humor that many people would find stupid, but I still giggled and chuckled a lot.

The basic essence of the story is that Easy gets into a ton of scrapes, gets out of them and has a bunch of arguments about morals with almost everyone he meets. "We shall argue the point" must be the phrase that he repeats most often. I found this repetition funny, rather than tiresome! In short, Easy can out-wit most anyone he meets and is loved by everyone who he hasn't chosen to humiliate. He's a sort of rascal that can get away with anything because he commands peoples' favor, including his commanding officers who tolerate more bad behavior than they should.

Humorous entertainment is the novel's strong point. The weakest point was plot, I would say. As I mentioned before, the plot consists of one adventure after the next, with a little breathing room in between. The novel is set during the Napoleonic Wars, but I couldn't tell. (Granted, I know next to nothing about the history of this period.) It seemed to me that all of Jack's adventures were isolated events because I never got an understanding of the context. This didn't bother me very much, though.

There is a heavy-handed theme of "equality" throughout the entire novel--and I say heavy-handed meaning that the author is very obvious about it. In Chapter XXI, Marryat breaks the narrative to say: "And now we must be serious. We do not write these novels merely to amuse,--we have always had it in our view to instruct, and it must not be supposed that we have no other end in view than to make the reader laugh." He describes novel-writing "...as a channel through which we may convey wholesome advice in a palatable shape." (I find authorial asides like this very interesting in the context of fictional literature, and will be writing a paper about this soon.) The problem is, I am not sure what Marryat intended to teach with this. The literary criticism I've read on this so far (not much) holds that Marryat is promoting imperialism by arguing against equality and human rights. However, because the whole story is so farcical, I have a hard time taking it at face value.

"Equality Jack's" father taught him all he could about equality and the rights of man. In the beginning, Jack spends his time asserting his rights by stealing and trespassing, and arguing the point with anyone who would confront him. He goes into the service teaching people around him about equality, but he comes out of the service almost four years later arguing the opposite side. He returns home briefly: only long enough to declare his father insane, take over the estate through power of attorney and then leave after his father's accidental death. The purpose of this brief episode seems to be the final show-down with his father, in which Jack wins the argument by pointing out how the father's ideas of equality have led to waste and squander because none of his tenants pay their rent, none of his servants are obedient, etc. However, I can't help but feel that Jack's argument undermines itself in some spots, especially since he only wins because his father is portrayed as feeble and unwilling to argue against his son.

So, Jack seems to be converted from one who believes in equality to one who believes that each man is awarded his share according to his own abilities (citing the story of the ten talents in the Bible). The question is, is the reader supposed to agree with him at the beginning or the end? I have to think about it more, but I might argue that the novel portrays a reality of inequality and injustice that doesn't necessarily rule out human rights as the ideal standard.

As you can tell, I find this novel very thought-provoking even though I spent most of the time laughing mindlessly while reading it. I only wish that the theme wasn't so heavy-handed--that is the part that grew a little tiring after Jack's seventeenth (I didn't really count) confrontation about equality. The ending in particular was unsatisfactory in terms of the theme, but still entertaining.
217, RE: 3. Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat
Posted by Stavechurch, Tue Jan-26-10 05:43 PM
What a fascinating and strange book!

Is it possible that Marryat is making his aside about edutainment to legitimise the fact that his book is primarily amusing and perhaps deliberately ambiguous? Is he parodying other works which profess that goal? Or do you think he is deadly serious but just so far removed from our viewpoint that he is hard to fathom? As a medievalist, I have studied some texts which make legitimising statements which are in fact quite the opposite of true; for example, saying their story comes from 'olde bookes' and is not just made up, usually in sections which do appear to have been made up! It's too many years since I studied them to be more precise off the top of my head, but it did make me wonder. Authorial asides can be very interesting, I'm sure you'll find it a fun paper to write! (as far as writing papers is fun, with all the nitpicky exactness required in referencing...)
262, RE: 3. Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Frederick Marryat
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Jan-30-10 09:35 PM
>What a fascinating and strange book!

I agree!

>Is it possible that Marryat is making his
>aside about edutainment to legitimise the
>fact that his book is primarily amusing
>and perhaps deliberately ambiguous? Is he
>parodying other works which profess that
>goal? Or do you think he is deadly serious
>but just so far removed from our viewpoint
>that he is hard to fathom?

You know, I think it's hard to tell. However, I do get the sense that he's pretty serious. He goes into a case (that I assume is fact and not fiction, but I could be wrong) about how a scene in a novel improved the military. (The specific example is that a novelist once wrote about an admiral who wouldn't punish anyone before 24 hours had passed, to make sure his punishment wasn't too severe because of emotion. Apparently someone read this, thought it was a good idea and then made it a rule.) However, since he seems so serious about it, I would expect him to be less ambiguous! (For instance, the main character commits mutiny but is never punished and what he does is never seen as wrong, no matter how mischievous he is.)

>As a
>medievalist, I have studied some texts
>which make legitimising statements which
>are in fact quite the opposite of true;
>for example, saying their story comes from
>'olde bookes' and is not just made up,
>usually in sections which do appear to
>have been made up!

That's neat! That reminds me of authors writing "biographies" of their main characters, as if they were real people and the authors literal biographers. Although I figure almost all characterizations are meant to give the impression of real people, I think this is an interesting technique.

>Authorial asides can be very
>interesting, I'm sure you'll find it a fun
>paper to write! (as far as writing papers
>is fun, with all the nitpicky exactness
>required in referencing...)

I agree! I mostly do enjoy writing lit papers, but it's less fun when I don't give myself enough time. ;) Last year I wrote a paper about the authorial asides in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. That one is peculiar, compared to her other novels!
175, 4. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Jan-20-10 04:14 PM
Play - Comedy, 148 pages.

I don't feel like I have much to say about this play. I first read this at about the same time I first read King Lear--about four years ago. I didn't like it. After reading it a second time, I understand it much better and appreciate much more of the humor, but I still don't really like. I don't dislike it, either. It really is funny, but... I don't know. Maybe it's the theme of taming one's wife that bothers me.

There are two sisters: the youngest is portrayed as an angelic woman, while the oldest is a hot-tempered shrew. The youngest has many suitors, but the father has decided that no one may marry the youngest daughter until the oldest has been married off. The suitors despair, because they don't think that any man would ever want to marry the shrew. When Petruchio comes into town and hears of this situation, he takes it upon himself to marry the shrew (and tame her).

I think I feel somewhat indifferently about this play because I can't sympathize with either of the main characters. I don't understand why Katherine is so mean-tempered, and I don't understand why Petruchio wants to marry/tame her. The witty jokes, the disguises that various characters take and the verbal jousting are all funny and entertaining, but in the end I don't identify with or even care about any of the characters.

(Now, in terms of literary analysis, I like this play because there is a lot to discuss--in particular, gender roles. This is why I'm a literature major: I don't have to like it to enjoy analyzing it!)
180, RE: 4. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Posted by blzrgurl71, Thu Jan-21-10 04:21 PM
This is actually one of my favorite plays by shakespeare. Kate is a very angry girl because her family doesn't appreciate her. Her sister Bianca is her father's favorite and everyone knows it. Bianca is believed to be a sweet-tempered girl but Kate knows better. She knows that Bianca just plays sweet to get everyone's admiration. As we see at the very end Bianca is quite ill-tempered and bad-mannered, she has just hidden it until she could "catch" her man. Kate knows this and it makes her cranky, also she feels like her family should love her for who she is. In the end we see that Kate is really just looking for someone to love her best, no matter how cranky she is, and when someone does love her best... she rewards him with docility and loyalty. The only real gifts she can give him.
197, RE: 4. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Jan-23-10 09:52 PM
I think that's one way of looking at the play, but I think it can be interpreted in other ways, too. (That's part of what I do like about it.) For instance, if Kate was just looking for someone to love her, why did Petruchio need/decide to starve her? Personally, I kept changing my mind about the play's message about Kate & Petruchio's relationship, as I read each new detail.
206, 5. Households and Holiness by Carol Meyers
Posted by alissaameth, Sun Jan-24-10 09:14 PM
Paper - Religion, 105 pages.

The full title is "Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture of Israelite Women." It was originally a paper written for and delivered at the XVII Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, and was subsequently published by Fortress Press for a wider audience.

It was an interesting read, but I didn't find the argument to be completely convincing. (However, that may be because I haven't read any of the literature she cites in support of her argument, so I really can't say.) The study is based on archaeological evidence, ethnographic data and both biblical and non-biblical texts. The main thrust of the paper is that women's religious practices centered on fertility (conception, pregnancy, nursing, etc.) and that their household practices (and thus the women themselves) were more important in ancient Israel than scholars believe. She emphasizes the importance of studying not only beliefs, but every-day practices. She also discusses Israelite women's use of magic--protective amulets, clay figurines, saying spells and the like. This is the part that I didn't really know what to make of. I'd have to look into the research she cites to see where she's coming from.

Her conclusions were that: 1) There existed "...a substantial body of knowledge" that made women professionals--such as midwives, necromancers, sorcerers and diviners. 2) Many rituals were performed by "...groups of female kin and neighbors," which led to a strengthened social network for women. 3) These practices should not be viewed as marginal, but empowering. 4) This women's culture, just as male religious culture, had its own hierarchies within it. "The gendered spheres of Israelite society, as grounded in household life, are thus best considered complementary rather than hierarchical." She uses the term "heterarchy."

I was expecting to read at least something about how women practiced the religion of the Old Testament (i.e. the Torah/Pentateuch), but there wasn't a word about it.
255, 6. Awakening Genius in the Classroom by Thomas Armstron...
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Jan-29-10 08:11 PM
Education, 70 pages.

This short book operates on the premise that "every student is a genius" and that educators need to encourage genius both in their students and in themselves. Armstrong defines "genius" as "giving birth to one's joy." He lists 12 qualities of genius (without claiming that it is an exhaustive or definitive list): curiosity, playfulness, imagination, creativity, wonder, wisdom, inventiveness, vitality, sensitivity, flexibility, humor and joy. The first part discusses the nature of genius and these qualities. The second part outlines how genius is stamped out by homes, schools and media; and the third part calls for teachers to make their classrooms genial, to re-awaken the genius that everyone has.

I agree with pretty much everything Armstrong says, but I found the book neither practical nor inspirational. Some of my teaching textbooks are extremely helpful when it comes to details and concrete examples; some of them do not pay attention to details but are inspiring in that they make me want to become the best teacher I can be. This book doesn't fit into either category, for me. I don't think it was a complete waste of time, though. It served its purpose in making me think more about classroom environments and the kinds of work that goes on in classrooms. I may refer back to the "12 qualities of genius" in the future.
261, 7. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Jan-30-10 08:28 PM
Play - Tragedy, 106 pages.

This is probably the 4th or 5th time I've read this play, which is the most I've re-read any of Shakespeare's writing. I know that critics/scholars generally consider Titus Andronicus to be Shakespeare's worst play, but I really like it. I read criticism that said the mismatch between the play's brutality and the characters' poetic verbosity creates a distance between the reader and the play. (The main scene that illustrates this is when one character finds a woman who has had her tongue cut out and hands chopped off. He goes into a long speech bemoaning her ravished state, while she's presumably bleeding to death in front of him.) While I agree that the characters' actions don't always seem logical or realistic (and therefore I feel that the characters are rather flat), this doesn't make me hate it.

The story is about... families, revenge and general evil-doing, perhaps. The play begins when Titus Andronicus and his sons return from fighting the Goths with prisoners of war (Tamora and her three sons, plus Tamora's lover). The Andronicus family sacrifices one of Tamora's sons to the memory of their fallen brothers on the battlefield, which makes the prisoners even more bitter towards their captives. Upon their return to Rome, the people want to make Titus their new emperor, but he persuades the people to choose Saturninus, the late emperor's oldest son. Tamora ends up marrying him and becoming the Empress of Rome. From this point on, Tamora's family and the Andronicus family trade acts of revenge. These include exile, rape, mutilation, murder and cannibalism. Yes, the action is pretty brutal... so I don't know how I would feel about the play if I actually saw a staging of it.

My interpretation of the play is that it is essentially about families and familial obligation--which might be an unfortunate way of looking at it, since almost everyone in both families ends up dead by the end. There are more themes at play, though, and I started thinking about them more during this re-read. The play is full of classical references (e.g. to Ovid and Horace), which I hadn't paid much attention to before. Today I read an article arguing that the play is about the degeneration of Rome: the fact that the people are educated (by the classics) but that they learn evil from them (repeating and "improving upon" past crimes) instead of the morals of the stories (e.g. don't rape because you won't get away with it). I thought that was an interesting take on it.

My favorite episode of the story is when Aaron, Tamora's lover, defends his baby from being killed. (He is a Moor--so when the Empress delivers a dark-skinned baby, she knows she's in trouble because people will know that the Emperor isn't the father. Therefore, she wants the babe to be killed before it's discovered, and replaced with a white baby.) Aaron refuses to allow this to happen--and his fierceness in protecting the child is, for me, one of the most touching parts of the play. This makes me feel conflicted about Aaron--because otherwise, he's the most despicable character in the play.
265, 8. With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray
Posted by alissaameth, Sun Jan-31-10 06:56 PM
Religion, 249 pages.

This book has made a big impact in my life during the past month. It's divided into thirty-one "lessons" that each take a statement that Jesus made about prayer and meditate on putting those words into practice in one's own prayer life. Each lesson is about 6-8 pages long, with a short prayer at the end. While each lesson is bite-sized (I read one each morning), they are dense. And I don't mean dense as in, "I'm lost in a dense jungle," but as: "Wow, I need to stop and think about that sentence some more." It's definitely thought-provoking, and required me to slow down to take it all in. I'm sure there's more for me to take in, though, so I'm putting this on my list of books to re-read. The writing style is very... formal and almost academic. Here is the first paragraph of the first lesson:
The disciples had been with Christ, and seen Him pray. They had learnt to understand something of the connection between His wondrous life in public, and His secret life in prayer. They had learnt to believe in Him as a Master in the art of prayer--none could pray like Him. And so they came to Him with the request, 'Lord, teach us to pray.' And in after years they would have told us that there were few things more wonderful or blessed that He taught them than His lessons on prayer.

Throughout the book, Murray focuses on three principle ideas: 1) that Jesus Christ is the best teacher of prayer, 2) that abiding in Him--and Murray goes into detail about what that means--gives us power in prayer and 3) that prayer should be powerful in Christians' lives and that Christians should believe the promise of receiving what they pray for. (Murray dwells on the fact that this doesn't mean God is like a vending machine!)

The most encouraging part of the book, for me: "He that waits to pray, or loses heart in prayer, because he does not yet feel the faith needed to get the answer, will never learn to believe. He who begins to pray and ask will find the Spirit of faith is given nowhere so surely as at the foot of the Throne" (page 82). I found that encouraging, because I've often felt like I "lost heart" in prayer and just quit. I think the most important lesson I took away from this book at this stage in my life is that prayer strengthens faith, which then strengthens prayer, which then strengthens faith. :)
293, 9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Feb-05-10 09:55 PM
Fiction, 310 pages.

I think this might be one of the strangest books I've ever read. I'd always heard of Gulliver's Travels, but I never really knew what kind of a novel it was. I knew that it was about a traveler who discovered new places and new creatures, but I didn't realize that it has such a... such an opinionated view, or agenda. That's it! I didn't realize that it was a story written with an agenda that had a lot to do with Swift's personal views and England at the time. I don't know all that much about the time period (it was published in 1726), but the notes in the back of my edition helped me out.

I didn't really enjoy reading this, and I'm trying to figure out why. I enjoy all the creative descriptions and events that Swift comes up with that I never would've thought of. I also enjoyed reading the many conversations about topics such as proper education, the usefulness (or uselessness) of science, government, the law and war in society. I was interested in trying to tease out what statements Swift was trying to make. I was not interested in Gulliver himself--but I don't think the point of the novel is to make the reader like him, it's to make the reader think about the things he says and the things he learns from his experiences and encounters.

Have you ever felt like a book was good but you just weren't in the mood for it? I think that's why I didn't enjoy reading this much. It is just so bizarre, and I don't think I was in the mood for that. For instance, the long passages where Gulliver explains to us how he manages his bodily functions when he's away from toilets (well, not toilets, but whatever the civilized English people used in that time). Or the passages where he describes being put on a giant woman's nipple. These are just not pictures I feel like getting in my head from my reading, right now. Still, on the whole, I think it is a good book--especially if you're reading to analyze an argument.

The book is divided into four parts, with each part detailing a voyage that takes him to a strange, new place. (He doesn't spend much time at home!) Invariably, something happens to his ship and he ends up alone in a new land, where he's discovered by the natives. He spends a lot of time learning about the natives' society and telling them about his own. When the time comes for him to leave and go back home, he lives for a while as if he were one of the creatures he just met. (E.g. after he comes home from visiting the little people, he keeps looking down as if the people around him are tiny. When he comes home from the horse-like people, he only talks to horses.)

The book is very satirical, although some parts seem sincere. (Sometimes I can't tell which is which.) My favorite parts were the conversations between Gulliver and the rulers he met. Typically, he would tell them about England in all it's glory (being very ironic--i.e. describing how wonderful soldiers are for being willing to kill those who haven't wronged them personally), and they would point out all its flaws, from their points of view. I like the back-and-forth of ideas.
295, RE: 9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Posted by RavenCorbie, Sat Feb-06-10 12:10 AM
Yeah, I know what you mean. I feel a lot the same way about Gulliver's Travels. I really like a lot of his argument, but there are times that I just don't enjoy myself as much as I think I do, if that makes any sense.

If you read some of his poems (The Lady's Dressing Room and Description of a City Shower, for example), it's clear he has a bit of a fixation on excrement and the ugliness of women, as you can also see in Gulliver.
303, RE: 9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Feb-06-10 10:14 PM
Those... aren't great fascinations, in my opinion! I didn't know he wrote poetry.
308, RE: 9. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Posted by RavenCorbie, Sun Feb-07-10 01:41 PM
I agree -- it kind of put me off Swift, but I read the poetry before I read Gulliver's Travels, sort of. I read Gulliver's Travels when I was in Russia and had no other English books, which is when I had the "why am I not enjoying myself more?" feeling. That was back in 1999.
318, 10. Music as a Way of Knowing by Nick Page
Posted by alissaameth, Mon Feb-08-10 08:23 PM
Education, 76 pages.

This book is part of a series published by Stenhouse. I'm almost done reading "Visual Arts as a Way of Knowing," and will soon be reading one about Dance and one about Drama. The focus of this series is how regular classroom teachers can incorporate the arts into their classroom. Each book in the series is written by a different author. (The book about Visual Arts is written very well--I'll be reviewing that one later.)

This author, Nick Page, seems to be very inspired about his teaching of music, but I feel that most of this short book is fluff. (I was disappointed by this. I'm a musician, so I was hoping for a better treatment of one of my favorite subjects.) The fluff is the repetition about how good music is for your brain. He does offer some very good concrete tips and examples, so I'm not completely dissing it. I guess it just left me wanting more on the subject: both breadth and depth. (Especially after reading the Visual Arts one, which made me want to draw! And I don't even like drawing much.)
326, 11. Confessions of a Thug by Captain Meadows Taylor
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Feb-10-10 04:03 PM
Historical/Crime Fiction, 338 pages.

This turned out to be a fascinating novel, despite being written in a boring and slow manner (in my opinion). I think what might have been my main problem was the plodding pace from one event to the next with little variation of tension or conflict. It seemed like every page was about the same. Because of that, I felt that I had to slog through each chapter even though the material was interesting.

The story is about a man named Ameer Ali, who is based on an Indian man that the author knew. It is the story of Ameer Ali's life as a member of the Thuggee cult in India and it is written as if the author were taking a dictation of the man's oral story. (With rare interjections from the narrator, acting as a biographer.) This is another thing that I feel distances me from the story--it is a story told to someone who is telling the story to me. However, for the most part, the narrator is pretty transparent and we see events through Ameer Ali's memory ("I did this; I did that.").

Thuggee was a cult that worshiped Kali, partly by strangling and then plundering people--mainly travelers. Groups of Thugs would go out together, fall in with a group of travelers (that often agreed to join them, thinking that they would find safety in numbers on the road), travel with them for miles as they got information from them, and then spring on them when the time was right. Kill them all, then divy up the plunder.

As you can guess, Ameer Ali is an anti-hero. That is why I find the novel fascinating. He commits all these terrible murders, yet I felt terrible for him when he lost his wife and daughter, for instance. I felt sympathetic for him when he was put into prison and not fed well. (I didn't think that he deserved to be out of prison, but that he still should've been treated humanely.) Since it's told from his perspective, the reader sees him as he sees himself. Yet I think the reader can pick up on contradictions that Ameer Ali is either blind to or ignores. For instance, it is acceptable to strangle someone when it is part of your plan but it is not honorable to, say, kill someone out of anger because they're in your way. The former is not murder; the latter is.

At the end of the day, I think it's fascinating because it's horrifying and complicated. How could someone do such things? It didn't appear to be difficult for Ameer. Would it be difficult for me?
327, 12. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Feb-10-10 04:13 PM
Play - Comedy, 129 pages.

It's been about five years since I read first this. Unlike the other Shakespeare plays I've re-read so far this year, I liked this one less the second time I read it (instead of more, like the others). I do find the characters and their situations fascinating, but I didn't really enjoy reading it. I feel like I didn't understand very much, or that I must've missed something--which is certainly possible, since I read it in somewhat of a rush for class. I tend to enjoy his tragedies much more than the comedies, though. (Well, that applies to my tastes in all entertainment, actually. I don't generally watch or read much comedy.) Not that The Merchant of Venice is particularly funny--though I may have missed the jokes!

The "pound of flesh" scenario, in particular, catches my attention. On the one hand, I feel that Shylock is justified because it is a legal agreement (and Antonio can blame himself for being a fool). On the other hand, it is ridiculous that Antonio should have to die. I do think Portia's solution is clever (and good), but I still end up feeling a little bad for Shylock.
339, 13. And Sarah Laughed by John H. Otwell
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Feb-12-10 07:00 PM
Religion, 194 pages.

The full title of this book is: And Sarah Laughed: The Status of Women in the Old Testament. The author's aim was to look at every mention of women in the Old Testament and "re-evaluate" their status. He comes to the conclusion that, contrary to the picture many people/scholars have, women were highly regarded and as valued as men were. I thought a lot of his arguments were very insightful and made a lot of sense to me, although a few of them seemed like a stretch or based on too little evidence. (Of course, I haven't read all the material he cites, so I'm probably missing part of the picture he's looking at.)

Each chapter dealt with one "aspect" of womanhood by first presenting textual examples of that aspect of women and then the author's interpretation. For instance, the first chapter was about creation. The second was about sexual attraction. Other chapters included motherhood, widowhood and so on. It is written in a very academic, detached style that doesn't get into any kind of religious debate. (Well, it is offering a thesis that women were respected, but it never reads like a diatribe.) While it is written in an academic manner, it isn't dry or boring. I won't claim that the author is unbiased, but he does seem to approach the material with a level head.

I recommend it!
340, 14. The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Feb-12-10 07:12 PM
Auto-biography, 201 pages.

The full title is: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. It is a fascinating first-person account of Equiano's life and complex identity (as an African, as a slave, as a freeman, as someone who comes to identify with English culture, as a missionary, as a man, as a Christian, as a traveler). Equiano tells what he remembers of growing up in Africa, and how he was taken away from home when he was eleven or twelve years old. After that, he traveled extensively (in slavery) and eventually was able to buy himself out of slavery. (Though, of course, that doesn't mean that he felt any safer than before.) He describes sights he sees around the world, behaviors he observes and of his own feelings. There is a strong abolitionist current, as well as an evangelical focus after his conversion to Christianity.

It is a relatively quick read, despite the several four-page paragraphs that I usually lose my place in. I enjoy the author's narrative voice. It's straight-forward and honest-sounding. (In class, we are in the middle of discussing the arguments that some scholars have made that Equiano was actually born in slavery in South Carolina and not in Africa. If that were the case, his narrative wouldn't be particularly honest! We're also discussing arguments against such claims.)
373, 15. The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Thu Feb-18-10 06:48 PM
Play - Comedy, 150 pages.

I read Acts I-III yesterday and IV-V today. Yesterday, I was sure that this was my least favorite Shakespeare play (that I have read so far). Our discussion about it in class (including acting out a few scenes) helped me get a better grasp of it, so I no longer think it's terrible. I still don't particularly like it, though. These are the main things that I had a hard time with, in no particular order:

1. The two characters with accents (French and Welsh)--I could read their dialogue, but it slowed me down.
2. The content matter. After our discussion in class today I see more of the humor than I did before, but I still don't think the plot is very interesting or entertaining.
3. Too many characters! I don't know if this play actually has a larger cast than his others, but it felt like it. (The list in the front is not much longer than typical, though, so this might be my fault. I read it really quickly, so I didn't stop to check and re-check who was who like I usually do.)

However, I did find a few scenes really funny--especially towards the end.

The play is about a man with financial troubles who plans to "woo" two different (married) women in order to get money from them. He sends them both the same "love letter" (which is a hilariously bad letter) and they find out about this and determine to trick him.
410, 16. Drama as a Way of Knowing by Paul G. Heller
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Feb-26-10 12:42 PM
Education, 78 pages.

This book was more helpful than the one I reviewed about music, but not as inspiring as the one about art (which I have yet to review--I haven't finished the last chapter). I am generally unfamiliar with the art of acting, so I enjoyed the author's informal "everyone can do it for enjoyment" approach. I also liked the concrete suggestions for how to use it in the classroom, where the emphasis is on learning and not necessarily performance.
411, 17. She by H. Rider Haggard
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Feb-26-10 12:54 PM
Fiction - Adventure, 323 pages.

I enjoyed this novel, though I ended up skimming towards the end because I was in a rush to finish it before class. (I'm sure I would've enjoyed the ending more if I'd given myself more time for it.) There is a lot to discuss and analyze (as is usually the case!) The issues that we focused on in class were gender, race and its imperialistic themes. (It was published in 1865.)

I don't have much time right now, but the gist of the story is this: the narrator takes custody of a five year-old boy when the father dies, and the boy is accompanied with a mysterious case that is not to be opened until his turns 25. When he turns 25, they open the case together to find ancient artifacts that supposedly prove his ancestry all the way to at least 200 B.C. Together, the two of them travel to Africa and end up meeting an immortal white woman who rules over a tribe of Africans. It turns out, she has been waiting for her true love to return to her, and she's positive that it is the 25 year-old, who is the reincarnation of her ancient lover.
513, RE: 17. She by H. Rider Haggard
Posted by tianne, Wed Mar-24-10 08:25 AM
I read this at an impressionable age, and really enjoyed it. Who wouldn't want to be an immortal, timelessly beautiful woman who does the mad scientist thing (though Haggard doesn't get into that much) in her spare time?
515, RE: 17. She by H. Rider Haggard
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Mar-24-10 06:49 PM
You've got a point, there! :D
430, 18. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Mon Mar-01-10 08:49 PM
Play - Comedy, 102 pages.

Of the comedies by Shakespeare that I've read, this is one of the ones I enjoyed the most! The plot was not difficult to follow, but it wasn't predictable, either. (At least, not to me.) I didn't get the characters mixed up with each other--unlike Grumio and Gremio in The Taming of the Shrew, and Solario and Solanio is The Merchant of Venice...

In a nutshell, the story goes like this: a man has had premarital sex with his betrothed. The justice, who is serving as the Duke's substitute while he's away (secretly in disguise among his own subjects), sentences him to death. The condemned man's sister entreats the justice to take back the harsh sentence, but he will only agree to this if she does him a sexual favor. The Duke (in his disguise) gets involved in order to bring about justice, measure for measure.
511, RE: 18. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
Posted by tianne, Tue Mar-23-10 08:09 PM
I just watched an oldish BBC production of this, with Admiral Piett from Empire Strikes Back as the Duke, and liked it better than I expected. Interesting play.
461, 19. Dance as a Way of Knowing by Jennifer Donohue Zakka...
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Mar-10-10 02:11 PM
Education, 138 pages.

This is the last installment I'll be reading in the "...as a Way of Knowing" series--I don't know if there are any others or not. It was a well-written book and both inspired me with the educational value of dance (which I didn't recognize before) and gave me some concrete examples and ideas. I'm not sure the material was organized in the best way, though. The drama book defined one "branch" of drama and then outlined its developmental stages within a chapter all about that branch. So, one chapter was about pantomime and another about improvisation.

This book had three chapters of developmental stages (natural, creative and aesthetic) and traced each of the "branches" of dance within those stages. On the one hand that might be good when I know where my kids are developmentally, but it'll make it hard to go back and find a specific part that I remember reading. For instance, what I read about children's appreciation of the qualities of energies might be found in one of three chapters. I think the problem with organizing it by developmental level is that it assumes that kids are all at the same level in all the same elements of dance, which isn't going to happen unless it's a small, homogeneous group.

On the whole, though, it was a good book. The chapter about planning lessons (chapter 6) was particularly useful.
491, 20. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
Posted by alissaameth, Tue Mar-16-10 09:45 PM
Fiction, 278 pages.

I enjoyed this novel, but I would need to read it again (at a slower, more thoughtful pace) in order to appreciate it fully. I rushed through it for a class and missed several important parts. For instance, at one point I realized that I hadn't read about a certain character in quite a while. I had to backtrack to find out how he made his exit.

The story is set in South Africa, on a farm during the time of the British Empire. The story focuses on Em and Lyndall, who are cousins, and a boy named Waldo. Part One takes place when they are all children and Part Two tells about them as young adults. The book has a feministic thread (espoused by Lyndall) and an athiest thred (discovered by Waldo). It is basically a story of their lives... I'm trying to think of a better way to describe it. There is a lot of philosophy, many long conversations and poetic descriptions of settings and events in the natural world. (How the farm animals are behaving, or what the sunrise is like, for instance.) I think it's beautifully written. Definitely not a fast-paced or action-packed story. Although I disagree with atheism, I think a lot of the points made in the story ring very true as far as "human experience" goes. I think it's insightful.
492, RE: 20. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
Posted by RavenCorbie, Tue Mar-16-10 10:16 PM
I read it for my Victorian Lit class a year or so ago, and I liked it as well. Definitely a nice, leisurely read.
493, 21. All's Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Mar-17-10 05:53 PM
Play - Comedy, 110 pages.

Again, I'm not a big fan of Shakespeare's comedy plays. (I know I was reading this way too fast for me to pick up on any word plays or anything, but I really didn't see any humor this time.) I also prefer reading his poetry over his prose, and this play is largely prose with passages of poetry scattered throughout. Having said that, I didn't find this work boring or uninteresting. Just not my favorite. I am reading this for my "Shakespeare & the Folktale" class, so I am studying it in the context of folktales. That by itself is enough to interest me. Not necessarily because of the folktales themselves, but because I like studying stories and plots and characters!

A very sketchy description of the premise: Helena agrees to heal the King of his fistula, provided that he will allow her to marry a certain man of her choosing. When the King is healed, she reveals that she wants to marry Bertram and the King (Bertram's guardian) hands him over in marriage. Bertram, however, wishes that he had been consulted (understandably!) and resolves to go to war instead of consummate the marriage. He tells her that she'll have to meet two conditions before he'll consummate their marriage: 1) she must bring him his ring that never leaves his finger and 2) she has to birth a baby that is his.

I think it is worth reading just to know how the story ends, although, as I mentioned, I personally wouldn't classify this as a comedy.
496, 22. Guanya Pau by Joseph J. Walters
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Mar-19-10 07:41 AM
Fiction, 112 pages.

This was an easy, fast read. It's a short novel (novella?) with a lot of short chapters that don't dally. The authors style is very straight-forward and, in my opinion, not all that engaging. It is told in a light-hearted way, which makes the ending a big surprise. (I appreciate the whole story more after reading the ending.)

The full title is "Guanya Pau: A Story of an African Princess." Guanya Pau is in love with a man named Momo, but finds out that her parents betrothed her to another when she was still a young child. To avoid marrying this unknown man, she and her friend run away. On the run, they travel from place to place and experience how women are treated poorly everywhere they go. That's the gist of the story line.

It isn't a bad story. If I could ask for more from it, I would want more character development, especially for Guanya Pau. I don't feel like I know her and I don't care about her. (And if he's writing about women's rights, perhaps getting us to like the women in the story might be a good start?) The story is sparse on all kinds of description, actually, which is just a stylistic thing. I would've liked to know more about the setting, too, but I don't think that's as essential to me as character development.
505, 23. Releasing the Imagination by Maxine Greene
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Mar-20-10 09:01 PM
Education, 200 pages.

The full title of this book is "Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change." There are some great strengths in this book, and some great weaknesses--in my opinion. The biggest thing that drove my crazy was the author's extensive reliance on literary sources. I know that sounds like a funny thing to say, but I hadn't read any of the books she was referring to and they made no sense to me. Her reference list at the end is super-long, and most of them aren't scholarly research articles. They're novels, poems, etc. that she quotes in support of her arguments. Only, I can't tell how well the passages show her argument because they're out of context.

That said, she does makes some perceptive statements about the nature of education, the arts and social change. (It's fairly clear where she stands in politics, which was a little annoying. I think you can be a good teacher whether you lean one way or the other.) The first three chapters/essays in particular were really thought-provoking.

Overall, I think it was worth my time to read this, but I wish I'd been familiar with the literary sources she's constantly quoting and discussing. I feel like I missed a big piece of the picture.
551, 24. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Mar-31-10 09:41 PM
Fiction, 77 pages.

I didn't know whether to count this, since it's so short, but I figure it doesn't matter. Wikipedia calls it a novel, the introduction to my edition calls it a novella and my professor says it's practically a short story. I wonder which it is!

Again, I read through this too quickly to really appreciate it. (I'm seeing a trend here, and I don't like it. I clearly need to make more time for my reading.) However, I know that it is definitely a story I would like to re-read! The style it's written in is very... dense and moody, I would say. By "dense" I don't mean that it's difficult to read (although some of the paragraphs are mighty long, which I don't like so much). I thought the first person narrator sounded very real, so it was easy to imagine him speaking these words.

Honestly, part of my reason for wanting to re-read it is because I did notice how well-written it is, but I didn't pay as much attention to what it's about or what actually happens in the story. (I know, that's a big piece to miss. This isn't the book's fault--it was me reading too fast.) It's a rich text.
554, 25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Mar-31-10 10:12 PM
Fiction, 217 pages.

Hard Times, one of Dickens's shorter works, tells about a few key people who live in Coketown--a factory town, a place of Fact. The Gradgrind family is raised by the father's philosophy of education: Fact, Fact, Fact, and don't you dare think of Fancy. Similarly, the "self-made man" Mr. Bounderby, a friend of Gradgrind's, dismisses Fancy because it never helped him when he was growing up in the gutter. The story essentially tells about the consequences of this ideology on the children who are raised under it. (E.g. the "dumb" girl that was raised in a circus is the most compassionate and warm, whereas the Gradgrind kids have had all happiness sucked out of them.) There is a sub-plot about one of the factory Hands who seeks a divorce, but finds that only the rich can afford divorces. This sub-plot becomes more and more integrated with the main plot as the story goes on and the characters cross paths.

Some themes: education, Fact vs. Fancy, childhood, unhappy marriages, factory work (and unionizing)... It's a rich book, and makes me think about many different subjects as I'm reading. Since I am studying to be a teacher, I was particularly interested in its portrayal of education.

This was my 3rd or 4th reading of this novel. I absolutely love it! I'll probably re-read it again in the future. When I was reading it this time, I came across several sentences that I remembered reading and loving before, and they still tickle me. The first one comes in early on, in the third chapter: "If the greedy little Gradgrinds grasped at more than this, what was it for good gracious goodness' sake, that the greedy little Gradgrinds grasped it!" People that I read this to don't seem to think it's good art, but it's so funny! Of course, the whole novel isn't written like this. (Though there are a couple of characters with difficult-to-read accents.) The second sentence that I remembered vividly is: "There was a piece of ornamental water immediately below the parapet, on the other side, into which Mr. James Harthouse had a very strong inclination to pitch Mr. Thomas Gradgrind junior..." It's funny!

However, one thing I admire about this novel is that it is humorous, but it is also heart-breaking. Look at the title! There are two unhappy marriages in it. Louisa Gradgrind, one of the main characters, is a tragic figure. Her brother, though portrayed less sympathetically, also breaks my heart. When the father realizes that his children never had a childish childhood, he regrets what he's done. So while some parts of it are written with a somewhat flippant (and charming) air, I never get the sense that the narrator is just trying to think of clever rhymes. Rather, there is a gripping substance to the story itself, that isn't lost by introducing a sentence with 15 alliterative Gs in it.

Towards the end of this novel, I was thinking about how I could see Dickens using different literary techniques. For instance, at the very end he tells the reader what ends up happening in the characters' futures by saying something along the lines of: "...and so-and-so thought about futurity. But how far ahead could he see? Could he see that he would one day bla bla bla...? It would be so." I found myself thinking, "Maybe this is something I could use some time." I don't mean this in a demeaning way (because I love the novel), but I think the mechanics are more readily noticed. Some stories I read and think "how did the author do that!?" But in this one, I could pinpoint more. (However, that might be because I've read it 3-4 times, and studied it twice in different classes. I see more in it every time.)

This is the only work I've read by Dickens. Since I love it so much, I think I should read more of his work! In my British Literature class right now, I get the sense that many of the students don't like this novel because it's "slow and boring." It's not a super-fast paced adventure novel, but I never feel like it's stuck in one place, personally. I love the characters, and will definitely be returning to them in the future. Yes, I really must read more Dickens.
635, RE: 25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Posted by tianne, Fri Apr-16-10 09:51 AM
I always found this to be one of his shorter, "tighter" works, and felt that it worked better for me than some of his other stuff. The other Dickens I've enjoyed at diff. times in my life were Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations (Christmas Carol is also interesting, but after about the 500th adaptation even the original wears a bit thin).
646, RE: 25. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
Posted by alissaameth, Sun Apr-18-10 08:29 PM
Without having read any of his other work, I think Hard Times works very well. :) Thank you for the recommendations!
599, 26. Translation of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah by Eli...
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Apr-07-10 05:32 PM
Letters, 270 pages.

The book is Volume I of these letters, and I am actually curious about what happens in Volume 2. (I'm assuming there is one--I haven't checked.) This book turned out to be much more interesting than I thought it sounded, and much more interesting than the first ten pages of the first letter led me to believe. (I skipped the "Preliminary Dissertation" because it looked boring, but I might go back and read it, now...)

There are three writers of eleven letters in this book: the Rajah referred to in the title, his Zimeendar friend and a Bramin who is a mutual acquaintance of theirs. In the first (long) letter, the Rajah tells the Zimeendar about a British man that he happened to meet, who was a Christian. He is enamored with what he's learned about this new faith, telling his friend how things are done in England. The Zimeendar responds with great concern, and also writes a letter to the Bramin sharing this concern. The Bramin writes back about wanting to open the Rajah eyes to how he has been deceived by the English man he met. And so it goes back and forth. Common themes: religion (mostly Christianity and Hinduism, but also Islam), women (rights, agency) and friendship. The volume ends with the Rajah writing a final letter informing the Zimeendar of his plan to travel to Europe. I want to know what he thinks when he gets there!

While there were things I didn't understand (Hindu terms, or references to their scriptures), it wasn't hard to read. I started to get a feel for each of the authors and was interested in each of their points of views.
643, 27. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf
Posted by alissaameth, Sun Apr-18-10 03:28 PM
Fiction, 221 pages.

This is the first thing I've read by Virginia Woolf, and I really liked it. It is definitely on my list of books to read again now, because I think I'll get more from a second reading than the first. This is a difficult novel to describe, especially since I'm not used to reading modern/experimental fiction (if that's how to describe it). I can't say that I understand it (which is why I want to re-read it), but I did enjoy reading it and never felt like I wanted to put it down. Her linguistic style is beautiful, and I would like to read more of her work!
644, 28. Pericles by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Sun Apr-18-10 03:39 PM
Play - Tragi-Comedy, 104 pages.

I really enjoyed this play, even though I think it's pretty ridiculous. I would love to see it staged. The part that I find ridiculous is the ending, where three people are re-united in a very convenient and unlikely way. (For "Prison Break" fans, it's like the first episode of season four, when maybe four of the ex-cons happen to get arrested for various totally unrelated crimes in different parts of the country, all within ten minutes and are all brought to the same place. I love "Prison Break," but that was just ridiculous.)

Pericles is a king who experiences various misfortunes, most of which pertain to his family. His wife dies in childbirth, his daughter disappears later and he is left alone. He is shipwrecked at least once and there is another king that wants him dead. This play also features pirates! I never knew Shakespeare ever wrote about pirates, so I found that amusing. There's a happy ending, even though it's considered a tragi-comedy. I'm not exactly sure why, because it doesn't end tragically, although it does dwell on Pericles's misfortune.

All in all, it's an adventurous tale that I enjoyed.
645, 29. Visual Arts as a Way of Knowing by Karolynne Gee
Posted by alissaameth, Sun Apr-18-10 03:47 PM
Education, 168 pages.

Of the four "Way of Knowing" books I've read for my "Teaching the Arts" class this semester (Visual Arts, Music, Drama and Dance), this one is by far the best. Not only is it well-written, but it includes both inspiring parts and very practical parts. It made me want to draw/paint/make art, and it made me want to include such activities in my future classroom. That was the inspirational part. The practical part made very helpful suggestions for the classroom, both in terms of how artists work and how teachers can work with their students as artists. The author emphasizes that teachers need to spend time with art--viewing it and creating it--in order to keep their own creativity alive while encouraging students' art. A particularly strong point in this book is that it gave concrete examples of how to integrate visual arts with subject content, such as math or science. The "Teaching the Arts" class I'm taking is geared for regular classroom teachers who want to utilize the arts in their classrooms, so I appreciated the effort the author took to tie it in with the curriculum.

I recommend this book!
653, 30. The Missionary: An Indian Tale by Lady Morgan
Posted by alissaameth, Tue Apr-20-10 03:01 PM
Fiction, 88 pages.

I only read Volume 1 (out of 3) because... this was so overly verbose, and I don't have the time to wade through it right now. It takes 88 pages for a Portuguese monk to go to India and convert a beautiful "heathen princess" to Christianity. Why does that take 88 pages? I feel as if each page could've been reduced to a sentence or maybe a paragraph, without losing meaning.

I might have enjoyed this story if I wasn't reading under a deadline. (I was supposed to read all three volumes, but that's not happening.)

Basically, this holds very little interest for me. The language is beautiful, but that's about it, in my opinion.
655, 31. The Book of Leviticus by Gordon J. Wenham
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Apr-21-10 09:53 PM
Religion, 343 pages.

This is a commentary on the book of Leviticus in the Bible, and is a part of the series called "The New International Commentary on the Old Testament." I recommend this book, for a number of reasons.

1. It isn't dense. (Which surprised me since Leviticus itself is, well, pretty dense.) There is a very informative introduction that focuses on the books structure, sources, authorship and date, the Hebrew text of the book and more. Since I feel that Leviticus is often disregarded as irrelevant, I appreciated the section on "Leviticus and the Christian," because I think the book is in the Bible for a reason. The body of the commentary, past the introduction, isn't dense either, although there is a lot of information to take it. I took it slowly, for that reason. (My main point being that I like his writing style, so it wasn't a struggle to read. I just had to pace myself according to the information presented.)

2. The author's focus in the commentary is on understanding the meanings of the Hebrew words in Leviticus and thus understanding what was being prescribed/commanded/performed. While each section ends with a brief discussion of "x (e.g. Leviticus 26) and the NT"--which often deals with instances where the NT quotes Leviticus--the author steers away from the issue of whether or not these laws should still be followed by Christians today. His issue isn't proving one side or another, but interpreting the text in its context. (This issue is something I've been interested in recently and I've read a lot of arguments on both sides. It was refreshing to read something more balanced.)

3. The organization of the book allows for easy retrieval of specific information. Leviticus is first divided into larger chunks (e.g. the first 7 chapters cover "Laws on Sacrifice"), and then each chapter within each chunk is treated separately. First the chapter is quoted in its entirety, then there is a verse-by-verse discussion of it, with clear headers that tell the verses being discussed and their topic (verses are usually grouped into 3s or 4s). If I wanted information about exactly how the peace offering was supposed to be offered, it would be easy to go back and find.

4. Related to the above point about how easy it is to find information, there are 4 indexes in the back: (1) Index of Chief Subjects, (2) Index of Authors, (3) Index of Scripture References and (4) Index of Nonbiblical Texts.

5. Based on indexes 2 and 4 above, this commentary seems to be well-researched. The author notes many different interpretations for the same things, and states clearly which he finds more reasonable. (But does not necessarily discount other arguments.) The studies that he cites are all footnoted, so it would be easy to look up exactly what the author is drawing on.

In short, I really like this commentary. I may look into other commentaries in this series. I read this one cover-to-cover over a couple of months. (I had to re-check it out of the library a few times.) It took so long partially because I didn't want to overload on info, but also because I was only doing a chapter or so a day in the morning, and also reading a second commentary at the same time. (Which I will finish and post about soon.)
672, 32. Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
Posted by alissaameth, Tue Apr-27-10 10:08 AM
Play - Comedy, 139 pages.

Well, I read through this way too fast to appreciate any of it. It was the last play of the semester to read in this course and... well, that's that. I didn't dislike it, but I was very confused by the large cast. I would like to see this staged--I think it would be easier for me to keep track of characters that way.
673, 33. Walk Leviticus! by Jeffrey Enoch Feinberg, Ph.D.
Posted by alissaameth, Tue Apr-27-10 10:23 AM
Religion, 190 pages.

This is "A Messianic Jewish Devotional Commentary" on the book of Leviticus, as stated on the front cover ("for Readers of the Torah, Haftarah, and B'rit Chadashah). There were several things I liked about this commentary, and several things that I didn't like so much. On the whole, I found it useful and worth reading.

The things I did like. First of all, I liked that it was simple--it sort of broke a lot of the ideas in Leviticus down for you. Secondly, I loved how Hebrew words were introduced into the text and interspersed throughout. I have always been curious about Messianic Judaism, but have found it difficult to read about it because of all the Hebrew. In this commentary, however, certain Hebrew terms are repeated over and over and they are always followed by the English word in brackets. So, if I forgot what it meant, I didn't have to look it up--and by the end of the book, I knew what most of the repeated ones meant. This has in turn helped me with other things I've been reading lately, that don't explain the Hebrew very well. So this is useful as a guide to some common Hebrew terms.

What I did not like... I know I said that I liked that it was simple, but at times it felt too simple. That's why I was reading it at the same time as a separate (more in-depth) commentary (book # 31 on my list). Each portion of Leviticus was matched with corresponding passages from the prophets and the New Testament, and then seven or eight verses were picked out of each section as key themes (most of them from Leviticus). Then there was a single page for each verse that treated the verse as a springboard to discussing the overall picture of the passage it was from. Then, at the bottom of the page, there was a discussion/reflection question. I started skipping these questions because I either didn't understand what it had to do with the passage, or I simply didn't know the answer. (Or where to start.)

So, the most valuable part of this reading experience for me was getting an overview of Leviticus, as well as learning some new vocabulary that I've been wanting to understand.
674, 34. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fa...
Posted by alissaameth, Tue Apr-27-10 10:36 AM
Fiction, 403 pages.

I enjoyed this book just as much as (if not more than) the movie. I didn't know it was originally a book until my roommate told me she read it, so I borrowed her copy. I've been reading snatches of it all semester and finally finished it this morning.

I love the humor, the way the past is told through "episodes" and in snapshots. There are mini-chapters in between most of the longer chapters that are (fictional) "weekly bulletins" published at the time. I like how the stories of the different people intertwined, and how their stories overlapped and spanned from the 1930s (and before?) up to 1986. Just like the protagonist in the book (Evelyn), I liked seeing the stories get closer and closer to my own time. (Didn't quite make it up to my birth year, though, which disappointed me even though I know it's fiction.) The story that kept my attention the most, of course, was everything about Ruth and Idgie. (I feel as though their relationship in the book is less platonic than it was portrayed in the movie... I was surprised by that, and wonder if I'm just reading into it or not. I also wondered about Idgie and Eva Bates.)

I enjoy the author's writing style and, being from the South, I like reading about the South. :) One thing bothered me, though. Her portrayal of black and white people and their interactions... I didn't know what to make of it. At times it was touching, because they would recognize each other as humans. At other times I couldn't tell whether the social situation was just being portrayed as it really was, or if the author was playing into some stereotypes. I can't really put my finger on it. I was just uncomfortable about how "race" was spoken about.

On the whole, I thought it was a good book. It had more details than the movie, of course, but generally I think the movie represents the book pretty well.
715, 35. The Real Me: Being the Girl God Sees by Natalie Gra...
Posted by alissaameth, Thu May-13-10 04:31 PM
Religion, 162 pages.

This book, written by a Christian singer/song-writer, uses the author's past eating disorder (bulimia, borderline anorexia) as a springboard for discussion about girls' self-image, the media's portrayals of beauty and how God views us. The book has some strong points and weak points... Of course, it all depends on what you're looking for. Personally, I felt that the weak points were weaker than the strong points were strong, but it really did grip my interest and kept me reading. Not something I would re-read. (It's a quick read.)

The bulk of the book is the author's explanations of how situations in her life (developing the eating disorder, deciding to get out of it, becoming a professional singer, photo shoots, etc.) have impacted her and how girls shouldn't let the media dictate standards of beauty. I think this is a valuable message, but it read about the same as every other book that tells you the same thing in a not very inspiring way.

Though the introduction and the back blurb makes it sound like it's about her eating disorder, that's actually a relatively minor part (in my opinion). The principles she talks about are just as applicable to other struggles. Also, don't read this if you want to know how to get out of an eating disorder. She actually glosses over that part because she focuses on what drove her to it. She jumps around chronologically, so you don't get a good idea of the events in her life. She goes by theme and pulls in relevant anecdotes, but I think it would be more helpful for me to have gotten a fuller idea of how her journey unfolded, in order to make it more applicable to me.

There are also short excerpts about other girls and women--both historical and contemporary, old and young--which honestly didn't do much for me. I would've rather heard more from the author. Or at least an explanation for why she chose some of them, because I wasn't always sure of their relevance. (Some of them were very good, though. I suspect that such anecdotes can be hit-and-miss... Not every story connects with every reader.)

Short spaces are included for journaling in response to her questions every now and then, which I appreciated. There is a list of additional resources in the back and, my favorite part, a section called "Who God Says I Am." It's a short list of attributes/characteristics and an accompanying Bible verse for each. (E.g. "I am made new in Christ" cites 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

Overall, I wasn't particularly moved by this book, but I did like reading it and I did get something out of it. Even though it's billed as "for every girl," I suspect that I'm not necessarily a part of its target audience. A lot of the journaling questions weren't really applicable to me (not just because I don't have an eating disorder) and a lot of the underlying assumptions she was making about the readers' attitudes didn't fit me well. So, that said, I might recommend this to someone who I thought might benefit from it more than I did. Perhaps someone younger (maybe in their middle-to-lateish teens), who reads beauty magazines and is in a boy-crazy phase. (I'm not saying that those are the only girls with self-esteem and self-image issues, but I think this book addresses those fronts in particular.)

The tone of the book is very genuine.
732, 36. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
Posted by alissaameth, Fri May-21-10 08:50 AM
Fiction, 311 pages.

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It's told by the first person narrator Ethan Hawley, a man from a great family who now works as a grocery clerk in a store owned by an immigrant. His deceased father squandered the family wealth, leaving Ethan and his family worse off than the descendants of other great families in the area. His wife and children wish they had more material comforts, while Hawley often reflects on old family stories (e.g. about a sea captain and his ship, back in the day).

The story is very interesting when it comes to morals. Towards the beginning of the novel, Hawley is approached by various people who want to make shady deals with him, and he's more and more confronted with the idea that "everyone does it." For instance, a competing food supplier says they'll pay Hawley an extra 5% that he can pocket himself, if he'll order some of their food without letting the boss know. Someone else, in the interest of helping Hawley out, drops information about how the boss of the grocery might have some legal problems that could be taken advantage of... Hawley starts to think about these things, and thinks: "...my objective was limited and, once achieved, I could take back my habit of conduct. ... War did not make a killer of me, although for a time I killed men" (p. 226, beginning of Chapter XIV). The objective is to get more money.

The most interesting thing is that I'm not entirely sure Hawley ever commits any specific actions that are wrong or entirely dishonest. It's his thoughts that are dishonest. I can't really discuss this without ruining parts of the plot, so I'll leave it there.

Besides the narrator and his family, two particularly notable characters are Margie Young-Hunt and Danny Taylor. Margie is a mature woman who has had at least two husbands. She lives off of the money that her first husband sends her (based on an agreement at their divorce), and is one of those people that's always around. Most of the men in the town have slept with her, but she isn't seen as a slut. (Maybe the wives disagree?)

Danny Taylor, my favorite second character, is an alcoholic who lives on the street. He's got nothing to his name except for a piece of land that's been in his family forever. He and the narrator are like brothers: they grew up together and have both fallen from their families' heights. Hawley feels terrible every time he passes Danny, and wants to help him overcome his alcoholism. Danny, however, might not want to overcome it.

Overall, loved this book. It was an easy and relatively quick read. There's humor, sadness and moments that make the narrator feel great and moments that make him feel small. The ending was a surprise to me.
733, 37. Arrow Book of Poetry by Ann McGovern
Posted by alissaameth, Fri May-21-10 01:12 PM
Poetry Anthology, 89 pages.

This was a nice little collection! I've had it since I was little, but I never made the time to read it until now. It was a quick read, but I spent more time on the ones I enjoyed the most. They are all short--the longest were only two pages.

It's printed by Scholastic, so its target audience is younger. A lot of the poems were charming and fun. Some of them were ho-hum, in my opinion. There was a good mix of authors. There were some famous ones (Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings) and some that I'd never heard of--however, I don't read a whole lot of poetry, so I wouldn't necessarily know.

The poems are all pretty lighthearted and playful. They're grouped into themes by chapter, with some about animals, some about weather, some about cities... etc. Oh, and I also wanted to mention how the book is actually printed. The ink is all a dark green instead of black, which gives it a different feel, and there are illustrations (all in green ink) that more-or-less go along with the poems. I love it! :)
734, 38. Joshua by Joseph F. Girzone
Posted by alissaameth, Fri May-21-10 01:30 PM
Fiction, 273 pages.

I really disliked this book. There were two different levels to it: I hated the writing and I felt uncomfortable with the subject matter.

The subject matter: I read that someone called it a "what-if" scenario: "What if Jesus came back to Earth in human form again?" It is set in the 1980s, in a small village in Georgia. Joshua (the Jesus figure) moves in, and all the small-town people are super-curious about him. He works as a wood-carver, and it soon becomes clear that he is not just a carver. (In fact, someone makes a remark about this in almost every chapter, but that point belongs in the writing paragraph.) Basically, Joshua gets to know the townspeople, captures their hearts and then leaves to take on a big challenge. His role is to get religious leaders (of all churches and denominations, whether Catholic, Jewish or Protestant) to remember what Jesus actually taught. (Hint: he didn't teach that leaders should profit financially from their congregation.) I agree with the idea that not all churches and not all leaders live out Jesus's teachings, but I disagree with Girzone's... I don't know, his way of "taking on" the challenge of writing about Jesus reincarnated? It's hard to explain. I just feel like he doesn't have the writing skill to tackle that and pull it off well. To me, it was melodramatic fiction interspersed with essay-like speeches from Joshua where Girzone vents his thoughts. That's how I took it, anyway. I think he would've been better off writing an essay.

The writing: I read reviews on Amazon.com that praised it for its "simple and profound" writing style, but it fell completely flat for me. All situations where Joshua performed miracles felt contrived: oh look, he's on a boat during a storm. Guess what he does! The characters are all flat and even stereotypical--honestly, if I lived in a small village, I'd be offended by his description of the "simple" "what you see is what you get" people. Similarly, the Jews are always described as more sophisticated. What does that mean? So, not only are people as a whole stereotyped, but the ones that we're introduced to just aren't really people.

The characters aren't my only complaint, but I think they're the most important one because I've enjoyed books I thought were poorly written before--IF they had interesting people that I wanted to know more about. These people were not interesting, including the main character. Aka, the guy who is supposedly Jesus. That should be interesting! My main other complaint about the writing is the repetitiveness. From characters making the same wondering remarks about the mysterious Joshua, to Joshua explaining the same things about churches in two hundred different ways to thirty different people. (I'm exaggerating. I didn't count.)

The only reason I finished it was for the religion aspect: I was curious about Joseph Girzone's idea of what Jesus was like. Now I know that if I want to read about Jesus, I should read the Gospels. :)
739, 39. How to Search the Scriptures by Dr. Fuchsia Pickett
Posted by alissaameth, Wed May-26-10 01:15 PM
Religion/How-To, 182 pages.

Perhaps less in-depth than I hoped it would be, this book was still interesting and more informative than some other "how-tos" I've read about studying the Bible. This book itself isn't a study, although the author does end each section with a "Quick Quiz," and I answered the questions in addition to taking notes. (I borrowed the book, so I wanted to get the info I'll be likely to look back at.) The author also provides quick examples of the types of study that she discusses (e.g. synthetic, inductive, by biography, by topic, etc.), but I didn't find them very helpful because they were so brief and cursory. (I understand that she didn't have the space to include full-on studies, but I would just as soon skip the examples.)

What I liked about this book: it's clearly organized, and the content isn't just fluff. All books about studying the Bible say "Bible study is beneficial," but this book talks more about why and gives concrete suggestions, ideas and methods about how to make that happen. It is easy to read, not too long and the author presents her materials very clearly. I appreciate how she breaks processes down into steps and includes short lists of things to look for.

I'd recommend this book if you've wanted to study the Bible but feel either overwhelmed or too disorganized when you sit down to do it. I enjoyed it.
759, 40. Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Jun-04-10 02:23 PM
WWI Fiction, 306 pages.

I absolutely loved this book--it's a new favorite that I'll definitely re-read in the future. First of all, I have to say that I fell in love with the actual book (the physical object) before I read it. Its shape is more square than typical paperbacks, the paper is thicker and the cover is good. (I realize that's a vague and subjective thing to say. I just liked the cover!) Anyways, this edition is a reprint by The University of Georgia Press, with an afterword by Stephen E. Tabachnick. All that to say that I might have loved this book no matter what it said inside.

Luckily, I loved what was inside, too. I'm not giving away anything when I say this is "the story of three men executed to save a general's dignity." That's quoted from the first sentence on the back of the book. It's based on real events in the French army during WWI. In an author's note at the end, Cobb points to several reports (mostly in French) that detail actual occurrences that I can't believe actually happened.

Part of the power of this story is that you know what's going to happen (though you're not sure exactly how) from the get-go. Especially if you read the blurb on the back. You know that three men are going to be killed for absolutely no reason at all, and you have to watch it happen. It's like investing yourself in a relationship that you know is going to end very soon. The thing is, I liked getting to know these guys. I didn't feel like it was a waste of time. And of course, I was curious to learn how/why they would be executed. There are a few twists along the way, so it isn't entirely straight-forward. At the beginning of the novel, we have no idea who the three men will be. As the novel progresses, the possibilities narrow and the reader has to watch the traps around them tighten as their escapes are closed shut. It's painful.

Another part of its power is its simplicity. The afterword said that the novel fell out of popularity fast, partially because it was considered too simplistic. Yet I really feel as if it accomplished more by understating what was obviously senseless killing. Not only the executions, but also all the numerous casualties along the way. The violence is described as if it were commonplace because it is commonplace--in war. You can tell me "his head exploded" and I'll get the picture and find it horrifying. You don't have to spend a page describing metaphors of what it looked like to make sure I understand how terrible it is. (Though that's a valid technique, too!) So, the simplicity of the story, in my opinion, lends it credibility and also anchors it in reality. There aren't a million metaphors (though there are plenty of good ones in there), but there are realistic-sounding descriptions that simply bring the violence into focus without commenting on it. I think it would be over-the-top if it were more dramatic.

While reading some parts, I wished that I had a better understanding of military strategy and terminology. It didn't push me out of the story, but sometimes I wasn't sure exactly what had just happened. All I knew was that something had gone wrong and now a bunch more men were dead. Similarly, I got confused about rankings. E.g. how high up is the Captain compared to X? These things didn't bother me much. I kept reading.

One thing I enjoyed was the narrative bird's eye view that managed to show the chain of events unfolding in different locations (among different ranks) without seeming too jumpy, abrupt or disorienting. There was a time for being inside a specific man's head, and there was a time for being a fly on the wall listening to two officers discussing serious things. Cobb shifts between the two with clear sentences that let the reader know where he's going.

My favorite character was Didier, an excellent scout who seems to have a very grounded personality. He usually does what he's told to do, but he isn't a mindless warrior-machine and he doesn't spout self-assuring propaganda about the glory of war. On the other hand, he doesn't sit around and mope about violence. He's doing what he has to in order to survive in a terrible atmosphere.

Excellent book! I'm so glad I picked it up. Because I was so impressed with it, I read the afterword, which had some helpful information in it (e.g., a chart of the units in this particular corps). Mostly, the afterword was a defense of the novel's literary credit--which I wholeheartedly agree with. I'm looking forward to re-reading it with more writerly eyes.
776, 41. Skate by Michael Harmon
Posted by alissaameth, Thu Jun-10-10 03:42 PM
Young Adult, 242 pages.

This isn't a genre I read a lot of, but I enjoyed this book. It isn't what I would call a top-knotch book, but it was compelling enough to make me finish it in a hurry. (To find out what happens to the main character--not because I wanted it to be over fast. ;) )

The story is about two brothers: fifteen year-old Ian and ten year-old Sammy. Ever since their father left them with their drug addict mother, Ian has been taking care of Sammy. (He picks him up from school, helps him with his homework, forges the mom's signatures on papers that get sent home, scrounges for their dinner...) When Sammy has a problem in school, his teachers talk to Ian because the mom is impossible to get a hold of. She's not home very often, yet Sammy checks each room every day when he comes home from school. Ian, on the other hand, has given up on her a long time ago. When she does come home, she usually has a new (drug-dealer) boyfriend with her. They're never friendly. On top of all this, Ian has his own problems at school. He's an outsider among his peers (a skater with "punked hair" and earings) because he doesn't want to fit in with them and he doesn't care about the sports program. He's been flagged by the administration as a problem kid, and knows that the majority of the faculty wants him gone. When he gets into trouble, he knows he can't afford to be arrested--he doesn't want Sammy to be placed in foster care. So, the two set off on a journey to find help.

I kept reading because I just didn't know how the story would end. I could imagine several possibilities, but I really couldn't tell until it happened. In that sense, this was really good story-telling. I didn't find it predictable. Yet at the same time, it wasn't a deus ex machina ending--it didn't come from nowhere. There were parts along their journey where the story sagged. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe a tad bit monotonous? I can't put my finger on it. I just read through those parts faster. This is a quick read, anyways.

I think the author did really well with characterizing the brothers--especially Ian, who is the 1st person narrator. If anything, I would've liked to learn more about Ian's life and the things happening to him, especially a little bit of what happens after the ending. (But I can see why the author doesn't include that. The story has to end sometime...) Ian has attitude/anger problems and expresses himself with violence too often, but his commitment to his brother is very real. Sometimes Sammy hates him, because Sammy thinks he's just trying to take him away from their mom. At times, Ian lets this get to him, and other times he doesn't. They have their fair share of fights (both being put into situations that demand more maturity of both of them than they have). Ian learns some lessons along the way, but it isn't in a condescending way.

In the end, I enjoyed this story but probably won't re-read it. If the author wrote another story about Ian, I'd read it! (I'm assuming he hasn't already, I haven't checked.)
777, 42. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Posted by alissaameth, Thu Jun-10-10 04:22 PM
Fiction, 581 pages.

I don't even know where to begin. This is the 3rd or 4th time I've read this novel, and it is my absolute favorite. I've never read anything I've loved so much. It's comfort reading, but it's also still challenging every time I read it. Today, I read the last chapter while following my mom through aisles in a store. She teased me: "Did it end differently this time?" Haha, no, but I noticed new things about how awesome of a writer Steinbeck is. One of them being that he can write a book that doesn't get old.

Over-simplified story re-cap: When tenant farmers' crops fail and they are pushed off their land by more efficient tractors, they head West in hopes of finding work and better lives in California. This story focuses on the Joad family from Oklahoma, near Sallisaw. (Side note: almost everything I know about geography West of the Mississippi, I learned from this book, and Steinbeck's others.) Set in the early 1930s, the narrative begins shortly after Tom Joad (Jr.) heads home after being released from prison. He arrives just in the nick of time, because his family is ready to head West. The big family packs everything up and hits the road. To make a long story really short, they make it to California, but find that their expectations are completely shot down as they are forced to live poorer lives than they had in Oklahoma. They have to scramble for work, and fight to keep fed. There is definitely a heavy tone to the whole ordeal, but there is also hope and a strong sense of humanity and the belief that it always overcomes.

I can't think of anything in this book that I don't like. It's a huge dose of realism. The way people talk, act and think--I recognize these things in people I've known, and situations I've been in. All the characters (especially the Joads) seem like real people. They all stay in character and their relationships function accordingly. If I had to choose favorite characters, I would have to say Tom Joad and his brother, Al.

I'm also fascinated by Steinbeck's pacing in this novel. About every other chapter is long, and the ones in between are short. The short ones speak of whole masses of people at a time, while the long ones zoom in to focus on the Joads. It's incredibly effective. On the one hand, you get the context of what's going on... the magnitude of the problems. On the other hand, you see the effects of this on one family. This brings it home and makes it personal. If we read that "a bunch of people are starving," we aren't as emotionally involved as when we read that little Winfield (the youngest Joad) is sick because they can't feed him nutritional food. So, having shown a family's private tragedy, Steinbeck zooms out again to show you that every single family is going through something like this. The tone of the shorter chapters is tangibly different from the tone of the Joad chapters, which I think is important.

I'm taking my senior seminar this Fall, and I'll be writing my thesis paper on this novel (which is why I just re-read it). I'm super excited about it. My idea is still vague, but I know this much: I'm going to focus on Steinbeck's stylistics. Diction, grammar, accents, the different between the long/short chapters, repetition, register, active/passive... Etc. When I was talking with my advisor, he said that a lot of the criticism on this novel focuses on its social justice themes and sort of assumes that the themes alone bear the brunt of the novel. (I haven't read this criticism yet. That's next on my list.) My idea is that it isn't just the fact that the social themes are compelling--it's because his writing is compelling, which contributes to how people perceive his themes. Something along those lines!

So. If you've never read this novel, I really think you should. I understand that not everybody likes Steinbeck (though I always try converting...), but I seriously think that this novel is an interesting study in terms of craft. He plays with language, and he's good at it!

ETA: I forgot to mention this. I wanted to write a note about the edition I read... There were a lot of really bad typos toward the beginning of the novel. (I didn't notice any after the first 100 pages or so.) A couple of names were misspelled, for instance, and a lot of other random words. Sometimes two on a page, even. I just tried searching for a picture of the cover to show you, but can't find it. (In case typos kill you, steer clear of this edition!) It's a penguin edition, but that's not specific enough, because I've read a different penguin edition that was fine. Anyways, this cover is pale yellow, with a picture of a farmer and his wife, plus 4-5 kids in the background. (The other penguin edition that I read was light gray, with a picture of red land.)
807, 43. Let Me Out! I'm a Prisoner in a Stained-Glass Jail ...
Posted by alissaameth, Mon Jun-14-10 01:26 PM
Religion, 126 pages.

I really liked this book, for two main reasons: 1) layout and 2) content. (There isn't much more to like, huh? :) )

Layout - It looked boring from the outside, but when I picked it up and looked inside, I knew I would have to read it. It's printed like poetry: some words are printed bold, bigger/smaller, in all caps, underlined, etc. It is laid out on the page very intentionally, with some lines centered, others flush left, others indented... He also makes use of white space, especially to add pause for thought. (E.g. two pages facing each other that each have one line on them, asking the reader a question.) I love experimenting with placement of words on the page, and I love reading works that do this successfully. What I described above about bolding etc. might sound cluttered or overwhelming, but I didn't feel like it was too much. It put emphasis in all the right places.

Also, there are pictures here and there that match the words and add more creativity to the layout.

Content - The book is designed to get you to think about your role in the church and the church's role in the world. There's a lot about not being a Christian only on Sundays, and not making Sundays a boring chore, either. Different sections address different occupations and try to inspire ways that they can involve God in their lives and be involved in the church and its outreach. Though I'm soon to be a teacher by profession, I found the section for "you people in the arts" the most thought-provoking.

What I like best about using such a non-conventional layout for this content is that it made it easier to digest. If the author had written an essay on this, it would be easier to not think. It would be easier to let certain parts skim by, because no single part is emphasized (visually). With this format, the author puts the emphasis right where he wants it, and even the parts printed in a smaller font size receive a whisper of emphasis that makes it all the more important in the contrast. There are several questions posed, and the white space encourages you to stop and think about it. It was still a quick read, because of the formatting. (I also liked that part!)

I recommend reading this. Absolutely loved it, though there were a couple of spots where I wasn't sure if I agreed with the author or not. It certainly gave me plenty to think about, and thus achieved its purpose.
815, 44. Under Pressure by Frank Herbert
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Jun-18-10 01:44 PM
Science Fiction / War / Psychology?, 220 pages.

Originally titled: The Dragon in the Sea.

This was a pretty decent read--I really enjoyed parts of it, and those parts made it worth the time spent. (It's a quick read, though.)

The story is set in a future America (past 2021, at least) that is in a prolonged war with Russia. (Now that I think about it, I'm not actually sure if Russia was spelled out, but it's obvious.) New submarine technology has developed, producing subtugs: submarines that sneak into enemy territory to drill for and steal their oil. That's where the war part comes in, but it really isn't the focus of the novel. I think the war backdrop is there to set a sense of paranoia and danger.

Each subtug is manned by four men, and the military has had trouble with these men going insane. The main character, John Ramsey (a psychologist), is assigned to a subtug to find out why. He's trained in a hurry to be an electronics officer, and is to replace the electronics officer who went mad aboard the Ram. He is briefed about his new crew-mates: Captain Sparrow, First Mate Bonnet and Engineering Officer Garcia. (Garcia is, by far, my favorite character.) His job is to monitor Captain Sparrow's sanity, and to keep an eye open for a spy among the three. The Russians have been gaining an upper hand, and the Americans (especially the submariners) need a morale boost. Therefore, Ramsey is charged with making sure that this mission succeeds and that its members pull through without cracking.

I'll start with what I thought were weaknesses.

1. It took 30 pages to hook me. Once it got to that point, I actually wanted to know what was going to happen. Until then, I was just reading because I have the time. The beginning consists largely of set up on land: Ramsey's called into a meeting, briefed on the situation and given his orders. He trains for weeks to get ready. His department head comes and talks to him a lot... Pretty boring. I don't think it's necessarily about the content, though. (I mean, half the movie Batman Begins is set-up for becoming Batman, and I wasn't bored by that.) I think what made it boring was that I just didn't care for Ramsey, the main character. (I warmed up to him towards the end of the book, but how he was portrayed in the beginning just didn't interest me.)

2. The last 5 pages. I think the story itself ended well (as far as how everything turned out), but the last five pages were so boring. Stuff on land again: Ramsey returning to his department head and having a chat. Gah! It could've gone out more powerfully... Somehow.

3. At times, the writing seemed very... simplistic? Choppy? Abrupt? Something along those lines. This surprised me, because I love his Dune series. (The reason I read this book was because I wanted to see how some of his stand-alone books compared to the Dune books. Now I want to re-read those and see what I think of the writing, rather than just the story. Which is awesome. :) )

Now, for the positives! Though I probably won't read this again, the positives did really outweigh the negatives, in my opinion.

1. The four crew members. I didn't like Ramsey so much, but once he was in close quarters with these three other guys in the subtug, things became much more interesting. The interactions between these four--dynamics, suspicions, jokes, etc.--kept me turning the pages. Ramsey was told that Garcia is suspected of being a spy, so there's that situation to keep an eye on. Then there's the fact that the three of them are unsure about Ramsey--is he a spy? Is he Security auditing them or something? They know that something's up because they can tell that he's not really an electronics officer, but they don't know what it is.

2. Themes! I don't know why the title was changed, but I think "Under Pressure" is a good, representative title. Pressure is definitely a theme--how much pressure the subtugs can take and how much pressure the men running them can take. You take these four guys--with all the interesting relations between them--and stick them together under the ocean and send them on a dangerous mission. It's a tense atmosphere. Then there's the sanity/insanity theme: one of my favorite passages is when Captain Sparrow tells Ramsey his definition of sanity. (It may sound boring, but I was interested!) There was an underlying current of psychology... not using any jargon, but just the idea that Ramsey is always analyzing the three he's with, as well as himself. (How he responds to pressure, among other things.) Religion was also a theme. Garcia was Catholic, Sparrow and Bonnet Protestant and Ramsey a psychologist. ;) (No harm meant! I'm just joking! But it's clear that he interprets the others' religions in more "scientific" terms.) The role religion played in the story was interesting. It wasn't didactic at all.

3. How the story played out. I'm never the kind of person who knows what's going to happen before it happens, or who has the bad guy pegged from the beginning. I just see what happens... and this didn't disappoint me. I was scared of how it would turn out, and who would be the spy--I didn't want any of them to be the spy! Also, I was interested in seeing how he would deal with Garcia, since he's flagged as a possible spy from the beginning. The way I saw it, there was either two ways to go: either he was the spy (and he gave it away at the beginning and we wouldn't be surprised), or he was not the spy (and the statement at the beginning would seem like a cheap red-herring). I didn't think either option would be good for the story, but Herbert ended up picking one of them but circumventing the negative outcome I imagined. Good!

So, I enjoyed reading this book. I do recommend it if you're interested in psychology or the idea of four guys trapped with each other for over a week in a small space. I don't recommend it if you're looking for a gritty war story, a lot of intrigue or a lot of action.
829, 45. The Lonely Now by Nicky Cruz
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Jun-23-10 03:02 PM
Religion/Drugs, 143 pages.

This was a quick read--the majority of it is letters sent to Nicky Cruz along with his responses to them. "The Lonely Now" is what he calls the young people who turn to drugs, sex and other things because they're looking for something filling. He begins the book with a couple of chapters explaining how this book came about. He was back in New York, talking to a couple of guys he used to be in a gang with. (Nicky Cruz used to lead a gang, but left that lifestyle when he accepted Jesus, starting with turning all his weapons into the police. A book called Run, Baby, Run tells his story. I haven't read it, but I've heard parts of it.) The guys comment that things have changed since their younger days, and the younger and younger kids are getting hooked on drugs. Apparently, Cruz gets a lot of letters from young people and parents alike asking for help, so he decided to compile a lot of the letters (some anonymous that he couldn't answer by mail) so that more people could benefit from them.

It was a sad read, but also uplifting in his hopeful responses. He ends the book with a chapter about "turning the world upside down" and not settling for anything less than God and not giving up.
848, 46. A Child is Born by Lennart Nilsson
Posted by alissaameth, Thu Jul-01-10 08:51 AM
Photography / Anatomy, 160 pages.

I love this book! I read my mom's copy, which has been around since before I can remember. I've looked into it before to see the pictures, but now I've actually sat down and read through it. (And looked at the pictures!)

This particular version is the "Completely Revised Edition," but I don't know how up-to-date it is. The subtitle on the bottom of the cover says: "Dramatic Photographs of Life Before Birth." (There are also some photographs of the actual birth and right after the birth.) The book offers a light version of the biology behind the conception, growth and birth of a baby and also goes into things like prenatal care, delivery and recovery for the mother.

Still, though the text was interesting--not too full of jargon and not too dumbed down--the pictures are the best part. They document the growth of the baby from conception through to the end in chronological order, showing close-ups of different parts in various stages (ears, eyes, hands and feet, and so on). It's amazing how we grow from tiny cells.
859, 47. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Posted by alissaameth, Mon Jul-05-10 01:09 PM
Young Adult / Vietnam War, 309 pages.

Excellent book--I never wanted to stop reading. (I stayed up super late one night to finish it, because I couldn't put it down.) It's told from the 1st person point of view of Richard Perry, a guy who has just joined the army straight out of high school and is sent to Vietnam towards the end of the Vietnam War. (But not close enough to its end for his liking.) He joins the army because he realizes that he'll never be able to afford college, and decides that he has to get out of the poor neighborhood he lives in (Harlem, if I remember correctly).

The story follows his experiences in Vietnam, with his squad and Peewee (his new best friend). Reading this, I felt like I was right with Perry during the whole story, seeing everyone through his eyes and getting to know them. Some of the best passages were descriptions of what the guys did in the hooch when they were waiting for the next assignment--their jokes, their worries, their letters from home... It all seemed very real. (There was some military jargon, but it wasn't alienating or hard to follow.)

Just an amazing story.

I'm trying to figure out what makes it so good. As I was reading, I was thinking about the plot. Unless I'm thinking inside the box too much, I can't see a traditional arc of rising tension and then a climax and then a falling-off. The beginning launches the story and the ending wraps it up, but the middle is just a string of events in the war that Perry witnesses. So? What keeps the reader turning the pages? I recently criticized The Bourne Supremacy (the movie) because I was annoyed by the fact that I didn't know where it was going. (As a viewer, I didn't feel like I was in Bourne's head, and he was the one determining where things went. I didn't know why he did what he did until much later.) Similarly, Fallen Angels never has a defined direction. Of course, the circumstances are different--Perry isn't setting the course; his superiors are. Still, though, the only goal of everyone involved is to stay alive. There is no end to look forward to (e.g. the completion of a quest or the resolution of some problem). So why read to the end, if it's basically more of the same?

The only reason I can come up with--and it's a good reason--is that the author has succeeded in making the reader care about the main character and his new friends. Heck, I would read anything told from Perry's point of view, because I love him. He reads like an authentic character telling a real story as an actual teenager would. So, besides being real (because I've read realistic characters I didn't care for), how does Myers get me to invest in Perry? I don't know, yet. I'm definitely keeping this novel and will re-read it at some point to try and figure that out.

Highly recommended!
860, 48. The Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck
Posted by alissaameth, Mon Jul-05-10 01:14 PM
Non-Fiction - Newspaper Articles, 62 pages.

This is a collection of seven articles that Steinbeck wrote about the situation of the migrant workers in California, that became the basis for his novel The Grapes of Wrath.

It was an interesting read, though the articles didn't go as in-depth as I expected them to (and would've liked them to.) He explains the historical context of Californian agriculture, explains why the migrants came to California, what their difficulties were, what kinds of conditions they were forced to live in and makes recommendations of how their conditions should be improved.
879, 49. A Hilltop in Tuscany by Stephanie Grace Whitson
Posted by alissaameth, Mon Jul-12-10 01:09 PM
Christian Fiction, 301 pages.

I didn't like this book at all, but it isn't necessarily a bad book. The thing is, it's a book that I would never ever in my life pick up at a bookstore thinking, "Maybe I'll like this!" It's just not the kind of thing I like to read. I decided to read it because I want to read more Christian fiction and I'm reading anything that I happen to see on my mom's shelf while I'm at home for the summer. It was a quick read, so I don't feel like I wasted too much time on it...

Note: This is a sequel, but it stands alone. I never once felt like I was missing any information or back-story.

The main characters are Liz and Mary Davis--daughter and mother, respectively. Their father/husband died a while back and Liz in particular is still recovering from the loss. She inherited her father's big business and runs it efficiently. Her mother, who is now freer than she's been in years, as moved to Paris and rediscovered Liz's true birth father.

As Liz keeps the company running, deals with family crises and prepares for her upcoming wedding, things start falling apart. Things get bumpy between her and her fiance, and she starts to wonder if there'll be a wedding. Mary, her mother, has her own troubles. She's been reunited with her old French sweetheart, but finds herself attracted to his Italian friend. She doesn't want to hurt either of them.

I'm interested in the less traditional use of POV and tense. (Nothing radical, but it still surprised me.) All the scenes from Mary's POV are written in first person present. Scenes from anyone else's point of view are written in third person limited, in past tense. It took half the book for me to get used to this--I wanted to read through Mary's portions as fast as possible because I didn't like the narration. (I also didn't care much about her as a character, either, which didn't help.) However, by the end of the novel I was used to it and it didn't really bother me.

There were two scenes where the point of view failed completely: 1. When Liz and Mary were together by themselves, talking things over. Usually when we read about Liz, it's from Liz's point of view and in past tense. Usually when we read about Mary, it's in first person and present. So hearing about Liz from Mary's point of view seriously went against the grain. My brain kept trying to pull into Liz's point of view, and then I'd get confused when Mary referred to herself as "I." 2. I can't remember... Drat. If I remember it, I'll edit and add it.

Anyway. I learned two important things from this book. (Other than what subject matter I personally don't want to write about.) One: I learned more about how you can include God in novels without preaching. Christians are people, too. Two: I learned more about some point of view pitfalls. (I'm not sure why Mary's portions are in first person and present, other than to be different. I don't think the book would lose much if it was all 3rd person past.)

Overall, I thought the book was too dramatic over too small things. (I realize that if I were about to call off a wedding, that I wouldn't think it was small. It's just the kind of drama that I'm not interested in.) And the mother's dilemma between the two men... give me a break. (That plot line in particular was wrapped up too neatly, anyways.)
887, 50. Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath b...
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Jul-21-10 01:19 PM
Journal, 180 pages.
Edited by Robert DeMott.

This is the journal that Steinbeck kept while writing the first draft of The Grapes of Wrath, from 1938 to 1941. (It starts before he started the novel, and ends after he finished the draft.) The book includes a pretty thorough introduction by the editor and extensive annotations at the end, referred to by asterisks throughout the text. There are some pages in the middle with pictures on them: where he lived when he wrote the novel, pictures of his hand-written manuscript pages, and some typed-up pages, etc.

While the journal will be of no help to my senior thesis on The Grapes of Wrath because it isn't particularly specific, I found it extremely interesting from a writer's point of view. At some points he tries to evaluate his writing, and thinks it's no good. At other times, he writes about how much he loves it. He mentions a few parts that particularly pleased him: one is chapter 3--the one about the turtle crossing the road. (I love that chapter, too.) He wrote the draft in 100 days or so, usually taking Saturdays and Sundays off. For work days, he set the goal of two whole pages (about 2,000 words), hand-written. Then his (first) wife typed them up. When starting a session, he began by writing in the journal, then wrote the pages, then usually wrote "finished" or "made it" at the end of the day's journal entry.

I'd say the journal is mostly writing-related, but there's a good number of personal references (who they went to visit, who called just then, etc.). Those I weren't quite as interested in.

On the whole, a recommended read if you're interested in Steinbeck and how other authors work. I would've liked for him to go into more detail about his writing, but the broad strokes show exactly how he approached the work (in terms of attitude). It gets a bit depressing at times... but all through it you sense his drive to get the novel done.
888, 51. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Jul-21-10 01:26 PM
Christian Fiction - Letters, 172 page.

This is my second time reading the letters, and they were well-worth re-reading. They're chock-full of intelligence--definitely not the kind of reading I could focus on when I'm tired before bed.

The letters are all written from Screwtape, a mature tempter, to his nephew Wormwood, whose work in tempting his particular human assignment isn't up to scratch. Therefore, Screwtape gives him advice about how best to pull the human away from "the Enemy" (God). The letters are often humorous, in a sharp-witted way. Lewis makes so many true observations about human nature in here--and most them aren't all that flattering.

I highly recommend this book! I love it because it shows me how fiction can be written in different styles (and still be published). I have a dream of being able to mix academic writing and fiction writing styles in my work, and Lewis seems like a good model to look at.
889, XX. 3 Charlie Brown comics by Charles M. Schulz
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Jul-21-10 01:29 PM
I'm not counting these for the challenge, but I still want to record that I read them. :) These are the three little books I read today and yesterday:

You're a Winner, Charlie Brown!
We're on Your Side, Charlie Brown!
Let's Face It, Charlie Brown!

They're fun and enjoyable. Linus is definitely my favorite character!
913, XX. The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Jul-31-10 04:19 PM
Comics, 253 pages.

This collection includes cartoons from Yukon Ho! and Weirdos from Another Planet!.

Calvin and Hobbes is definitely my favorite cartoon series. I read all of this book out loud to my five year-old little brother, and he loved it, too. (My brother so happens to be inseparable with a stuffed tiger, too, so it's perfect. Though sometimes I think it might be giving him ideas... ;) )

Fun reading!
939, 52. No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
Posted by alissaameth, Wed Aug-11-10 09:33 PM
Writing, 176 pages.

This is written primarily for NaNoWriMo (www.nanowrimo.org) participants, and is written very humorously. For all the humor, however, it wasn't as helpful as I was expecting it to be. After seven years of doing NaNo, I felt like I'd already heard of everything in that book and already knew which parts work for me and which parts don't. For instance, all the advice about just letting go and going wild. Not worrying about quality yet, etc. That's all over the NaNo forums in November, as were most of the tips and strategies in this book.

I enjoyed reading it just because it was funny, but didn't find it particularly useful from a writer's perspective. Just a good reminder that trying something and finishing it is important, if it's important to you.
985, 53. Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia by Anthony W. Parker
Posted by alissaameth, Thu Sep-02-10 01:45 PM
Non-Fiction - History, 182 pages.

Full Title:
Scottish Highlanders in Colonial Georgia: The Recruitment, Emigration, and Settlement at Darien, 1735-1748

This book deals with exactly the place and time that I'm setting my next novel in! I loved reading this book. It was informative, engaging and brief. (I read a few reviews in historical journals that complained of the brevity. The actual text is 99 pages long and the rest are notes, appendixes, etc.) I can understand that historians doing research would want more information, but I found that it suited my purposes splendidly.
986, 54. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Posted by alissaameth, Thu Sep-02-10 01:49 PM
Literary Fiction (?), about 70 pages.
Translated from German. (I have David Luke's translation.)

This is a novella that is written pretty densely, but I really liked it. It may be a little disturbing, though--it is about an aging author who becomes infatuated with a fourteen year-old boy while he's on vacation. The language is written beautifully, and I enjoyed the style of it. (Much more than I enjoyed the content.) There are long passages about the nature of art and writing and creativity. Those gave me a lot to think about, but they were the most dense, so it took some time.

In short, it was worth reading (in my opinion) for the beauty of its language. However, if the story had been much longer or more graphic, I wouldn't have finished reading it.
998, 55. The White Plague by Frank Herbert
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Sep-17-10 08:13 PM
Science Fiction.
502 pages.

It took me a long time to finish this book, and I had a like-hate relationship with it the entire time. However, I think a huge part of the problem was a mismatch between what I wanted (and expected) the book to be and what Herbert actually wrote. I don't mean that he failed to make good on his promises to the reader. I mean that I had preconceived notions about how I thought the plot would be handled, based on reading a summary of the book elsewhere.

The story is about a man who is in Ireland for research purposes (he's a biologist/scientist of some sort that I forget). One day, his wife and children die in a terrorist attack that somehow involves the Irish, Great Britain and Libya. The scientist, driven mad by this loss, designs a plague that kills only women and then distributes it to punish the people that took his woman from him.

Now, here's what I expected, largely because I attend a women's college. I wanted to see how women would be treated. Would they be hidden away by resourceful men? ("Don't worry, honey, I'll save you.") Would they be kept isolated, or sent away? Would they have any agency at all? In addition to that, I was just expecting an entirely different protagonist. Perhaps the main characters would be a family that struggles through this time, when women are dropping like flies.

Imagine my surprise to find that the main character of the novel is the scientist, the Madman. Huh! It's clear that Herbert is interested in psychology, because he spends a lot of time talking about the Madman's mind and portraying the Madman's own journey through Ireland after the plague has begun. (Ireland is hit the hardest.) See, I don't think that's a terrible idea. It just isn't the story that I wanted to read... So I spent the first half of the novel wishing for less of the scientist and more of... anything else!

(If you were curious, there are very few women in the novel at all. Two researchers and "The One that Survived" are the only ones I can remember. The one who survived was preserved because her then-boyfriend put her in a tank right when the plague broke out, in which they lived together for months. We don't see much of this. The little that Herbert writes about them portrays the woman as very petty, whiny, needy and testy. Maybe I would feel that way if I were living in a tank, but the semi-feminist side of me was banging its head reading this.)

Another problem (in my opinion) was that the story in general was too distant from its circumstances. (It was certainly close to the Madman--and that was good writing, in my opinion. You really get into his head, and it's fascinating.) Now, the story starts with the terrorist attack that kills the wife and children. Then it follows the Madman making the plague. And then, once he's FINALLY perfected his virus, he distributes it.

Cut to politicians in Washington DC. The next 100 pages are about politicians and committees talking about the plague. Talking about it. Mentioning how women are dying left and right, mobs are breaking out everywhere, countries are racing to find cures first to gain more power, etc. Herbert goes to great lengths to impress upon the reader how BIG this thing is... but the reader never SEES any of it. It's all hear-say through politicians, until Herbert turns his focus back to the Madman walking through Ireland. Still, he's on the outskirts of most of the action.

So, there are good and bad things about this book. I was irked by the bad things so much that I almost didn't finish it. However, I would still recommend the book to others, as long as they didn't have the same expectations I had.

In summary, I thought it was too distant as it wrote around the action. The unexpected focus on the Madman didn't match my expectations of some kind of feminist treatment. (I should've known this wouldn't be feminist-ish, after reading Under Pressure. The MC's wife is lame.) However, Herbert does a great job following the Madman and getting the reader to KNOW him. There are two other characters who associate with the madmen who are interesting characters, too. I wish one of them had gotten more treatment, but I guess you can't write everything.

Last note: all pros and cons aside, I definitely think the book is about twice as long as it needs to be.
1023, 56. The Oresteia of Aeschylus trans. by Robert Lowell
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Oct-02-10 03:32 PM
Play - Greek Tragedy, 129 pages.

This is the first translation of a Greek tragedy that I've read, and I really enjoyed it. However, it was all very foreign to me and it took me a while to realize what was going on. (It's research for my senior thesis, part of which is about similarities between Greek chorus and The Grapes of Wrath.) The Oresteia is actually a trilogy of three plays.
1070, RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List
Posted by Erin_M_H, Fri Nov-19-10 09:06 AM
What a delightfully eclectic collection of books! Good luck hitting your 75.

-- Erin
1072, RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Nov-19-10 05:51 PM
Thank you! I won't be disappointed if I don't get to 75, since I don't see that happening. I'm happy with the amount I've read! (Though more reading time would be fun.)
1099, RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List
Posted by bpratt, Sun Dec-05-10 06:12 PM
Very impressive and motivating! You have done a great job this year. I hope to get closer to 50 next year.
1102, RE: Alissa's 2010 Book List
Posted by alissaameth, Tue Dec-07-10 09:28 PM
Thank you! Good luck, and I hope you find a bunch of treasures in your reading. :)
1071, 57. To Teach: The Journey, in Comics by Ayers & Alexander-Tanner
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Nov-19-10 09:38 AM
Education, 125 pages.

William Ayers (author)
Ryan Alexander-Tanner (artist)

I enjoyed this book. It has a lot of good points in it about ways for teachers to approach their profession. There was some idealistic fluff (not saying that those aren't ideals, but that it didn't give any concrete suggestions for attaining them). But it was inspiring, and I think that that may be its main purpose.
1111, 58. The Rainmaker by John Grisham
Posted by alissaameth, Thu Dec-09-10 10:35 PM
598 pages.

This book was entirely too long and slow. It's written in first-person present, which took some getting used to but eventually worked okay. The narrator is a whiny jerk, in my opinion, but I did like him a little better at the end than I did in the beginning. I enjoyed the last 150 pages much more than the beginning.
1128, 59. Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Jan-01-11 08:06 PM
Science Fiction.
600 pages or so.

This is the first book of the series "The Saga of the Seven Suns."

I love this book! It's the first sci-fi I've read in a while, and I was glad to come back to it. It's a pretty big story, and I'm looking forward to the next book.
1129, 60. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Posted by alissaameth, Sat Jan-01-11 08:09 PM
507 pages.

I loved this! It felt slow, but that's because I started it in August and finished it in December. (Not because it was boring, but because I only read pages here and there because of school work.) The characters kept me captivated.