Sunday Post #15: Wuthering, Wuthering Heights

Sunday PostWhat has been happening this week? It’s been crazy busy. I haven’t had a ton of time to read, so I sat down and read most of today (with the exception of doing a little bit of work and washing the dishes). I have been spending most of the day wandering the moors, reading The Annotated Wuthering Heights. What a great addition to my library. I am truly enjoying it. Each time I read Wuthering Heights, I notice something I didn’t pick up on last time, and this time, it’s how horrible Nelly Dean is. I mean, I have often thought of her as mostly a reliable narrator, and because of her, I have really disliked Catherine. Heathcliff is just plain hard to like, no matter what. As soon as you start feeling sympathy for him, he goes off and kills lapwings for no reason or hangs a dog. Perhaps because I’m reading an annotated version, I am noticing so many more things than I ever have before. All the birds, for one thing; I’m sure I noticed that before, but even though the annotations don’t discuss the birds in a great amount of detail, I think my antennae are up, so to speak, and I’m noticing the symbolism more than I usually do. And there are birds just everywhere in this book. Another thing I am seeing are the close connections to the Romantic poets. The annotations help there, and I am really pleased I chose to read this one for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Hope I can finish it in time! Even if I don’t, I definitely want to finish reading this lovely annotated version. I realize a lot of people hate this book, but I think if you peel it apart and and see what makes it work, it is genius. I am especially enjoying the nuances I am noticing in Nelly’s character this time around.

I finished reading Pleasantville by Attica Locke and wrote a review for the TLC Book Tour this week as well. A good read. I am also still working away on Katherine Howe’s Conversion on audio. The reader for that one is really good. I recommended it to a bunch of my students this week when I saw it was one of their choices for a summer read.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was top ten favorite authors of all time. You know, I am actually liking the idea of saving these for my Sunday Post instead of doing them on Tuesday. I just have less time to write during the work week. To qualify as a favorite author, I decided that I needed to love multiple books by the same author. So I didn’t count authors who have only written one novel. I also didn’t count authors if I had read only one of their works (even if I loved it). So here is my list:

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Jane Austen
  3. J. K. Rowling
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Diana Gabaldon
  6. Ernest Hemingway
  7. Sharyn McCrumb
  8. Jasper Fforde
  9. Neil Gaiman
  10. Judy Blume

Who would be on your list?

Authors whose work I love, but whom I didn’t count because of my self-imposed rules are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Emily Brontë.

Some links I enjoyed this week:

Here’s a bonus for you:

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For the record, I have always believed it really was Catherine’s ghost who disturbed Lockwood early in the novel.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #10: Sweet Sunday

Sunday PostAh, sweet Sunday, about halfway through my spring break. I’m curling up with a glass of wine at the end of the day. I usually try to write my Sunday Post blog earlier in the day.

This week, I finished and reviewed two books: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli and Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. I absolutely loved The Lotus Eaters; it prompted me to want to learn a little bit more about Vietnam. I’ve been watching a documentary on Netflix. I feel the documentary is barely scratching the surface. More reading might be necessary. You know, I have a clear memory of General Westmoreland visiting my high school in Anaheim. It must have been 1987 or 1988. We had some sort of assembly, and he talked to us. I had the distinct impression he was trying to defend himself, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had no idea who he was, really. I wonder why in the world he came to speak at my school?

I started reading three books this week as well: Candide by Voltaire, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (audio book narrated by Stephen Fry), and Pleasantville by Attica Locke (TLC Book Tour; galley copy). I know what you’re thinking: you haven’t read Candide? You haven’t even read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Nope, I haven’t read either, but I’m fixing it. I am really enjoying Hitchhiker’s Guide. Stephen Fry is a perfect narrator.

Isn’t it nice to be on spring break? I have all this time to read and watch documentaries on Netflix. I have been making a lot of soap this week, too. Most of it is for a wholesale customer, but I made a batch of Cedar & Saffron for my store. It smells great. Quite masculine. Those are safflower petals on the top. It won’t be that pretty shade of yellow, sadly, once it hardens up. It will turn a brown color due to the fragrance. I hope it will be pretty.

Cedar & Saffron SoapAnother thing I did this week is make a digital story about my grandmother, who taught herself to sew in the 1950’s and established a nice sewing business in her home. You can watch the digital story here if you like.

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I ordered this copy of Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr’s Wayfaring Strangers this week as well.

Wayfaring StrangersThe book comes with a CD of music that includes music from artists on both sides of the Atlantic, including Dolly Parton and Dougie MacLean. I’m excited to dive into that one. I am particularly interested in the migration of music from Ulster and Scotland to Appalachia. I have ancestors that I’m quite sure were Ulster Scots, Irish, and Scots, and in some branches of my family, a strain of music runs in a thread in nearly every generation. I’m a musician. My uncle is a musician. My grandfather was a musician. His grandmother played the organ, as did her mother; his grandfather played the fiddle. My grandfather’s grandmother had an ancestor who also played the fiddle. Perhaps this musical thread is one reason why I connected so strongly to Sharyn McCrumb’s novel The Songcatcher. I am certain it’s why I connect so strongly to Celtic and Appalachian music.

So that was my week. How was yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Review: Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman

I listened to Neil Gaiman’s latest short story collection, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, on Audible, mainly because I know that Gaiman is quite a fantastic reader (not all writers are). Unfortunately, that also meant that I didn’t have a real sense of the way in which the collection might hang together as a whole because I listened to it mostly in bursts as I cleaned house or made soap. As such, I can only really recall my favorite stories with any clarity, and I don’t have a print book to examine in order to refresh my memory, so I skimmed what pieces I could find in Amazon’s preview and Google Books. Finally, I found this review, which discusses each piece with a rating out five stars. I won’t discuss each story. Just the ones I liked or remembered better than the others.

“The Lunar Labyrinth” is the first story in the collection (following the poem “Making a Chair”). This story made me think of American Gods, and given that I knew the collection had an American Gods story in it, I assumed it would be this one. It wasn’t. Still, the story does nod toward the American Gods concept that those silly roadside attractions are more than they seem.

I liked the story “The Thing About Cassandra” quite a bit. How would you feel if you made up an imaginary girlfriend, and years later your friends and mother are insisting they ran into her?

“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” reminded me of straight up fantasy. It’s a little bit Tolkienesque, but doesn’t quite make it.

“Orange” story told completely as answers to questions the reader doesn’t hear. Humorous and a little scary at the same time.

“The Case of Death and Honey” is a Sherlock Holmes story about Holmes’s quest to solve the ancient question of how to live forever. I quite enjoyed this one as both a story and a contribution to the Sherlock Holmes repository.

“The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is a poignant comment on loss of memory as well as a love letter to one of Gaiman’s favorite authors.

“Nothing O’Clock” is a Doctor Who story. As I listened to this one, I kept wishing it had been filmed. It would have made an excellent episode. It’s set during the time of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion Amy Pond. The Doctor and Amy land on Earth in the TARDIS to discover that no one exists, and a voice insists they’re trespassing.

“Black Dog,” as it turns out, is the American Gods story, and I didn’t like it. As with American Gods, I could see that Neil Gaiman was doing something interesting with the idea of ancient gods in modern times, but in the end, I just wasn’t into it.

The other stories and poems didn’t leave enough of an impression on me to merit discussion here.

I thought the collection as a whole was a bit uneven, despite moments that I absolutely enjoyed. The individual stories I mentioned in this review are worth seeking out (with the exception, in my opinion, of the last. As much as I did enjoy Gaiman’s reading, I don’t think I’ll listen to another short story collection on Audible. I can’t recall enough of the individual stories, and there is not an easy way for me to glance back at the book again. I was tempted to give this only three stars, but the truth is, when the stories are good, they are really good.

Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Sunday Post #9: Spring Break!

Sunday PostMy spring break started this weekend. More time to read! I didn’t have a lot of time to read this week, so unfortunately, I didn’t make a whole lot of progress to report about.

In my last post, I reported I was about an hour away from finishing Neil Gaiman’s short story collection Trigger Warning. I still am. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it at all this week. I also haven’t picked up Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser in the last week. However, I did start Candide by Voltaire for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Well, I read the introduction, at least.

Mainly, I have been reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. Fantastic so far. I find sometimes I have to put it down for a while almost because it’s too much sensory input. I am not sure if that makes sense, but the descriptions are so vivid, and given it’s a book about Vietnam War photojournalists, it’s quite intense. I have always felt sort of a weird connection with that war, as though it somehow defined the world in which I grew up. I guess it did. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born, and in many ways, it didn’t seem over. I remember the Vietnam vets and the controversy over the Vietnam Memorial. It was as I was growing up that artistic media like movies and TV seemed to be exploring the war for the first time. The book is so fantastic that I really wish I had a book club to discuss it with. I wonder if I can convince my book club to read it. I did talk them into reading Wolf Hall, and I’m not sure I get two turns in a row, or that folks will want to read two historical fiction novels in a row. The Lotus Eaters is reminding me a lot of Hemingway—not so much stylistically, but perhaps the poetic way in which Soli describes war. If any characters might see poetry in that situation, it might be combat photographers. I don’t know.

The journalists were in a questionable fraternity while out in the field, squabbling and arguing among themselves, each sensing the unease of the situation. No getting around the ghoulishness of pouncing on tragedy with hungry eyes, snatching it away, glorying in its taking even among the most sympathetic: “I got an incredible shot of a dead soldier/woman/child. A real tearjerker.” Afterward, film shot, they sat on the returning plane with a kind of postcoital shame, turning away from each other.

In terms of the present moment, they were despicable to the soldiers, to the victims, to even themselves. In the face of real tragedy, they were unreal, vultures; they were all about getting product. In their worst moments, each of them feared being a kind of macabre Hollywood, and it was only in terms of the future that they regained their dignity, became dubious heroes. The moment ended, about to be lost, but the one who captured it on film gave both subject and photographer a kind of disposable immortality. (111)

 

Pictures could not be accessories to the story—evidence—they had to contain the story within the frame; the best picture contained a whole war within one frame. (118)

Exquisite.

So that was my reading week. How was yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #8: Reading Challenges Update

Sunday PostMarch 1 seems like a good time to reflect on how I’m doing with the various reading challenges I’ve taken on this year. As of today, I’ve completed nine books. The goal of the Outdo Yourself Challenge is to read more than the previous year. So far, I’m on track with that challenge. I don’t think I have ever been in the position of having read nine books at the beginning of March before.

I’ve read four books for the Historical Fiction Challenge: Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel; The Wolves of Andover aka The Traitor’s Wife, Kathleen Kent; The Fiery Cross, Diana Gabaldon; and The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore. I committed to reading ten historical fiction books for the challenge. I’m currently reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. I’m only a little over two chapters into it, but wow, what a beautifully written, gripping read so far. I have to read it in small sips, put it down and think about it, and plunge in again when I’m ready. I got a pencil and went back over the two chapters I had finished and underlined my favorite parts.The Lotus Eaters

This is how the world ends in one instant and begins again in the next.

It seems early days to be predicting this will be my favorite read of the year, but perhaps not. It is gorgeous so far.

I’ve read three books for the Reading England Challenge:

I committed to reading twelve books for this challenge.

The Literary Movement Challenge involves reading at least one book a month for that month’s movement. So far, I’ve read one selection each for the Middle Ages and for the Renaissance: The Lais of Marie de France and As You Like It by William Shakespeare. I committed to reading twelve books.

The Back to the Classics Challenge involves reading classic selections from various categories. I committed to nine books and have read two:

This week I posted reviews for As You Like It by William Shakespeare and The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am about an hour away from finishing Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning.

One last glimpse of The Lotus Eaters before I go.

The Lotus Eaters

 

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Sunday Post #7: Forest and Fen

Sunday PostI finished up two books this week, but I am waiting to review both of them. The first is William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which I had never read before, but had decided to read way back when I read A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (review). It was during that year that Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. I liked it, though not as much as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, but I wanted to watch a movie version of it so I could review both the play and the movie version together. Unfortunately, Netflix is being extremely slow about sending it along.

The other book I finished just today is The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am reviewing this book as part of a TLC Book Tour this coming Friday. The book has an interesting premise regarding the after-effects of a heart transplant, and it did get me thinking quite a bit, but more on that this Friday.

Both books allowed me to explore two counties in the Reading England Challenge. The Forest of Arden in As You Like It was in Shakespeare’s own home county of Warwickshire. Sadly, I discovered, not much of it remains aside from a few very old trees. The Tell-Tale Heart is set in some smaller towns around Cambridge in the Fens in Cambridgeshire. Both books relied a great deal on setting in the stories to the extent that moving them might change the story quite a bit, especially in The Tell-Tale Heart.

I am still reading Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I will probably take up a new paperback today since Marie Antoinette is on the Kindle and Trigger Warning is an audio book. Some weeks ago, I was feeling in the mood for The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born. He left when my mother was, I think, about six months pregnant with me. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set there. I have several students from Vietnam. Last year, one of my Vietnamese students used to have really interesting conversations with me about the differences between our countries.

I am still waiting for The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan and I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira to arrive in the mail, though I’m really looking forward to reading those books. I did order them from third-party sellers, so shipping is not the quick Prime shipping I’m used to from Amazon. I think I have decided to read Hilary Mantel’s massive French Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety as well. I am not sure when I’ll get to that one, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I’ll likely get that on the Kindle so I don’t have to try to hold it up.

In case you missed it, I posted my review for Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice this week. I haven’t written any other reviews this week, nor have I started other books.

Given how much snow we’ve had, I suppose it’s logical that I have been able to do so much reading. I think I’ve read more so far this year than I can remember reading in the same time period… ever. Also, my kitchen scale broke, which is a necessity for soapmaking, so I wasn’t able to make soap this weekend either. It’s sad because I have a few wholesale orders and a custom request as well as some spring soaps I want to make up. It will have to wait!

In other bookish news, I have a book club! I am an idiot and somehow missed the memo about the book we were supposed to read until it was too late for me to finish before the meeting, but I did go, and we did talk about the book, and it was wonderful. For the record, the book I was supposed to read (which is on my list, though I didn’t get to it this time) was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. We are reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for next time, so I should be in good shape for that meeting at least.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #6: A Year in France

Sunday PostIt’s been a quiet week. We had more snow over this weekend, but I’m not really sure how much. Did you know we are the snowiest city in the US? I’m sure you’ve heard a great deal about all the snow Boston’s been getting, but her lesser-known neighbor to the west, which is, after all, the second largest city in New England, has had hardly any mention. My children have a winter break this week, but I just have Presidents Day off. I hope the streets are plowed before I have to go back to work Tuesday. I can’t remember the last full week of work I had. I think it might have been before MLK Day.

I’m still reading the four books I started last week:

I have read three acts of As You Like It. I will probably finish it this week. I have listened to several stories from Trigger Warning. At this stage, much as I like Neil Gaiman’s reading, I am wondering if I did the wrong thing by listening to it on audio instead of reading it. The stories are not similar at all, but I have no sense of them as separate and will not be able to remember their titles without help when I review the book. The book I’m most enjoying at the moment is Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette. She emerges as quite a sympathetic character, which I understood was the case with this biography before I started reading it. I can definitely see how Sofia Coppola used it in her movie (which I discussed last week). One of the ways I can tell I’m interested in a book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, is when it prompts me to start looking things up. In the case of this book, it’s the labyrinthine French aristocracy that is more than a little difficult to keep up with (and the helpful family trees at the beginning of the book don’t show up well on the Kindle). There are a lot of folks to keep track of.

I was also trying to figure out who might be the King of France today if the Revolution hadn’t happened. Folks, the answer to that question (besides being moot because the Revolution DID happen) is a rabbit hole you might not want to go down. I was going to try to summarize it, but I can’t. Suffice it to say, there ARE royalists who want a monarchy, despite France being pretty proud of being a republic and celebrating Bastille Day, and they are basically split three ways, so there are three Pretenders to the French throne (four, actually—and that part is complicated). Who knew? You can dig into it starting here if you like. You were warned, though.

I did just order a couple of Belle Époque novels:

Don’t those books look great? They both feature Edgar Dégas. I read a Kindle preview of the first book, The Painted Girls. It grabbed me. Well written and evocative of the time in just the few short pages I was able to see. The second book, I Always Loved You, is about Mary Cassatt’s relationship with Dégas. One of the reviews I read convinced me to get it.

I’m still looking for more French Revolution books. I’m a bit daunted by Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. It seems to have some mixed reviews, and it’s over 900 pages long. Have you read it? I’d be interested in your thoughts. A book that long is a huge commitment, even considering how much I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. It does look interesting, however, and I’m intrigued that it features Desmoulins, Danton, and Robespierre. So many books seem to take the Royalist perspective rather than that of the Revolutionaries. I read a bit of it as a Kindle sample, and I liked what I read, but I’m still not sure.

This is shaping up to be a French year in terms of historical fiction for me, isn’t it? There are worse things than spending a year in France, I suppose. One of the things I love about books is that even if I can’t really go somewhere, I can go there in a book. And it’s not limited just to place. I can go to any time as well. I suppose that is one reason I like historical fiction so much. I admit, however, I’m starting to get pickier about what I’ll read. I downloaded samples of a couple of other highly-rated books with positive reviews, and deleted them after a page or two. A couple of years ago, I think I might have kept reading.

Coming up this week you can look for my review of The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore (TLC Book Tour). I’m hoping I will also have a review of As You Like It, but I’m not sure I’ll have finished anything else.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #5: History Makers

Sunday PostSince last week, when I mentioned that we have all the snow, I can tell you we probably have five feet on the ground with more on the way tonight and tomorrow. My children have yet another snow day tomorrow. My own school just called me to let me know I also do not have school; however, I do believe I have a meeting via Google Hangout, and I need to make some soap for a wholesale account, so I imagine I will be busy. We have had record-breaking snowfall the last few weeks.  The Sunday Post is starting to sound monotonous with the weather report each time. When you’re more or less snowbound, however, there’s not much else going on.

I finally finished listening to the audio book of Diana Gabaldon’s novel The Fiery Cross this week. I also finished reading The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. Look for the review for that book to be posted on 2/17. I started reading four books this week as well:

The Tell-Tale Heart, like The Serpent of Venice, is part of a TLC Book Tour. I’m reading As You Like It as my Renaissance selection for the Literary Movement Challenge. Finished Act I as of yesterday. I am listening to Neil Gaiman read the short story collection Trigger Warning. After finishing The Fiery Cross, I didn’t want to dive right into another really long Gabaldon audio book right away. I have had Marie Antoinette: The Journey in my Kindle library for a very long time, but I finally decided to read it after watching the Kirsten Dunst film Marie Antoinette, which reminded me how fascinated I am by the French Revolution and all the history leading up to it.

The movie itself, I have to say, was kind of weird. The costumes and sets were gorgeous. The music was strange. Some of the casting was bizarre. The jury’s still out on whether I liked it or not. I searched in vain for a documentary about the French Revolution on Netflix last night, so I decided to start reading the book. Also on my list at some point is Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction set during this time period as well, so let me know if you know of anything. I have previously read Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution (loved!), Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, and Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess. And of course, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. I can’t recall any others, so let me know what I’ve missed. I am not particularly more interested Ancien Régime versus post-Revolution or nobility versus Estates-General. I’m not picky.

I love reading historical fiction, which is one of the reasons I always try to participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, no matter how active I actually am in the challenge. If I had to peg my favorite periods, I would say 18th and 19th century America (particularly New England, but really, it’s all pretty interesting), the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, 18th century France and England, and 19th century England. I do not much like to read WWII historical fiction, which reminds me of a post of Stefanie’s that I read over at So Many Books: “Books I Won’t Read.” I am not going to go quite so far as to say I will not read books about World War II. I really hesitate, though. I find it mentally exhausting and very depressing to read about that war, for obvious reasons. Inevitably, the books are heart-wrenching. I hate to say it feels like manipulation on the part of authors to write about the events of that war, especially when they really happened, but it’s also quite difficult to criticize. After all, anything you say in critique of books about the Holocaust just makes you sound heartless. So, I’m really careful about what I choose to read from that era. If a book has a whiff of cashing in on that tragedy at all, I can’t read it.

So far, I’ve finished seven books this year. I can’t recall ever having read that many at this point in the year. Honestly, I think the goal I set of reading 52 books has been a good motivator for me. I know I’m making more of an effort to read. I think of myself as a slow reader, but it looks like I have managed to pick up speed over time without noticing much. I very rarely can sit and read an entire book all day, and I haven’t tried timing myself to see how fast I’m actually reading. It’s more just a sense I have that I’m able to read books faster than I have in the past.

The biggest news in the book world this week is the impending publication of Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, which will feature an adult Scout Finch. Some speculation in the media has made me wonder if Harper Lee was aware of what her lawyer was doing, but it’s hard to tell. This New York Times story does a fair job discussing the controversy. I am going to read the book. I have actually already selected it for my school summer reading choice. I called dibs the day the announcement was made. I am not going to miss another Harper Lee novel. Am I worried it might not be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird? Of course. It’s natural. But there is no way I’m going to miss it. And while I’m on the subject, I wish Goodreads would stop people from reviewing or rating unreleased books. Or, to be more specific, unreleased books that no one has read yet. I actually find ratings and reviews from folks who had uncorrected proofs or early access through other channels helpful. This book already has a 3.72 rating on Goodreads. Come on.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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R.I.P. Challenge

R.I.P. ChallengeYay! It’s time once again for my favorite reading challenge! I have participated in the R.I.P. Challenge for several years. The idea is to choose your particular peril—details are in this post on Carl’s site—and just have fun reading. Carl also provides a linkup for reviews.

You can read whatever you like as long it fits your definition of creepy, spooky, gothic, scary, etc. The challenge runs from September 1 to October 31. I am a little late in starting it this year. I am not really sure what I’m going to read, but here are some choices:

Neverwhere: A Novel

If you have read any of these books, let me know what you thought of it/them. I am trying to make up my mind.

 

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A NovelWhat  I love best about Neil Gaiman books is that I know they will touch me and make me laugh, have moments of sparkling philosophy alongside excellent descriptions, and have unforgettable characters and places. His latest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception. Many critics are calling this novel Gaiman’s finest, and I have to admit I haven’t read him widely enough to agree unequivocally. I will let you know what I think after I’ve read a few more.

We meet the narrator in his late 40’s after he has just attended a funeral and has come back to the place where he lived as a seven-year-old boy. Sitting by a duck pond on the Hempstock farm, he suddenly remembers Lettie Hempstock and how she used to call the pond, her “ocean.” As he remembers this detail, he starts to remember the rest of the story—how Something dark and otherworldly was awakened when the opal miner who rented a room in the protagonist’s house stole the family car and committed suicide inside it and everything that came after. Did it really happen?

Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is about a lot of things. It’s about the differences between children and adults. It’s about the fuzziness of memory and what’s really real. It’s about nightmares and other worlds. It’s about sacrifice and loss. It’s about friendship. The NY Times review of the novel says “Gaiman helps us remember the wonder and terror and powerlessness that owned us as children.” I think that is an apt assessment, and I think somewhere inside, we all remember those feelings of wonder, terror, and powerlessness. My favorite thing this book is about, however, is books. Gaiman’s protagonist, whom I cannot recall was ever named, is a lover of books, and he makes some very astute observations about them, this observation being my favorite:

I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.

Adult stories never made sense, and they were so slow to start. They made me feel like there were secrets, Masonic, mythic secrets, to adulthood. Why didn’t adults want to read about Narnia, about secret islands and smugglers and dangerous fairies?

He makes this observation after he describes retreating into books to escape his fear. “I was not scared of anything when I read my book.” Since I was the kind of child who read constantly, and since I’m the kind of adult who loves myths, too (including the odd dangerous fairy), I found myself in the seven-year-old protagonist of this novel.

Neil Gaiman has a gift with language. He weaves beautiful sentences together, and I always find myself highlighting more when I read his books than I typically do. He also knows how to create villains right out of your nightmares. But after reading Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and now The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I think what Gaiman is best at is capturing that feeling of what it is like to be a child and to be a child who is scared and alone.

Rating: ★★★★★

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