November Reading Update

It’s been a long time since I last posted. I started grad school, which hasn’t allowed much time for independent reading or for writing. I am trying to find a balance because reading is really important to me.

I am taking a breather to post some quick reviews of some things I’ve read since my last post.

Remarkably, given how little reading I’ve been able to do over the last two months, I’m just two books behind in achieving my goal of reading 50 books this year. I might still pull out meeting this goal.

The last book I reviewed was Blind Spot in August. Since then, I’ve read four more books.

Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage is an interesting exploration of the effects of incarceration. Roy and Celestial are newlyweds when they travel to his hometown to visit his parents. They make the fateful decision to stay in a hotel for some additional privacy. Roy helps a fellow hotel guest with the ice machine, and later, she accuses him of raping her. Celestial knows Roy can’t have done it because he was with her at the time, but he is sentenced to twelve years in prison. Jones explores the effects of Roy’s imprisonment to both Celestial and Roy as well as their marriage and the broader repercussions of mass incarceration in the African-American community.

Rating: ★★★★½


My husband and I listened to Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology as read by Gaiman himself. I always recommend Neil Gaiman’s audio books because he is an excellent reader.

Gaiman draws inspiration for this collection from a variety of sources in Norse mythology. His stories retain the humor of the myths, but they feel re-invigorated in his hands. This collection is a must-read for anyone who enjoys mythology, or Neil Gaiman, or good stories in general.

Loki, in particular, is a nuanced, complex, and interesting character. Tom Hiddleston would be proud.

Rating: ★★★★★


I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the RIP Challenge (more on that later in the post). This novel is the story of Mary Catherine “Merricat” Blackwood and her sister Constance, the town recluses who live in a large empty house with their Uncle Julian, who is compiling his memoirs about the poisoning murders of the rest of the Blackwood family some years earlier.

Eh. I finished it. It was okay; not great, not horrible. I understand a lot of people find the character Merricat Blackwood interesting. I guess I am not among their number. I guessed what was supposed to be a big surprise ending pretty early on; I’m not bragging because I’m usually terrible at guessing the surprise ending in thrillers. I also didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House, which a lot of people love. I think I’m just not into Shirley Jackson. I do love “The Lottery.”

Rating: ★★★☆☆


José Olivarez’s poetry collection Citizen Illegal was a hit with my students. I bought it on the recommendation of some teacher friends on Twitter. The collection explores Latinx identities, including the tension of being a first-generation American of Mexican parents who came to America as undocumented immigrants. He explores issues of language, culture, race, gender, class, and immigration with a fresh, engaging voice. Many of the poems stand out, particularly the series called “Mexican Heaven.” The opening poem “(Citizen) (Illegal)” might be my favorite.

I participated in a Twitter chat about the book with some of the teacher friends who recommended the book, and the poet himself chimed in. I love reading living poets!

Rating: ★★★★☆


I didn’t make it through the RIP Challenge. RIP the RIP Challenge, I guess! Grad school interrupted my flow. I still have time to complete the other challenges that run until the end of December, but some of them are not looking likely at the moment.

I’m going to try to carve out more time to read and reflect on my reading here. I can tell a difference when I don’t sit down and write about a book right after finishing it. I had to look up the names of the characters in An American Marriage because I had read it so long ago. Unsatisfactory!

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, widely regarded as one of the finest scary stories ever written, is the story of Dr. John Montague, who brings together guests Theodora and Eleanor along with the home’s future owner Luke in the hopes that they can help him in his quest to find scientific evidence of the supernatural. Theodora and Eleanor are invited because they have experienced the paranormal before; of the many guests Dr. Montague invites, they alone accept. The guests quickly begin experiencing terrifying events, and Eleanor seems to be an especial target of the house. But is she becoming possessed by the house, or is she the cause of all the supernatural events herself?

I found this book a little difficult to get through because I didn’t really care for the characters. I think because Eleanor clearly has some psychological problems, and the third-person limited narration seemed to focus on her point of view, it could be difficult to tell what was really going on, and what Eleanor imagined. For instance, she has quite a few arguments with Theodora, and I’m still unsure all of them weren’t in her mind. She isn’t a very likable character—a sort of child. On the other hand, the writing is superb in some places, and Jackson has an excellent aptitude for evoking mood and describing setting. She is wonderful at characterization. Mrs. Montague and Arthur were hilarious. Even Eleanor is well-drawn in her way, but I’m wondering about Jackson’s attraction for grown women with child-like minds—We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which I never finished, has one, too. In the end of the book, it’s unclear exactly what happened, and the reader is left to interpret events. I will give this book a higher mark than I ordinarily give a book I kind of had to slog through simply because the writing was brilliant. I just really need a reason to care about the characters if I am going to enjoy a book, and I didn’t find one in this book.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Reading Update: November 14, 2010

Autumn leaves

I drove around a bend on the Interstate yesterday and the beauty of the golden, orange, and red leaves on the trees near the road arrested me. I love fall.

I’m still plugging away on The Haunting of Hill House, and I might even finish it today. Not really enjoying it much. Such a short book, and I really had to push to finish it. I just don’t like any of the characters, and it can be hard for me to read books when I don’t like the characters. Wuthering Heights seems to be the lone exception. I think the trick there is that I actually do have a fascination for the characters even if I wouldn’t want to be friends with them. In addition to not liking the characters, if I’m honest, I’m a little unsure about what in the world is going on.

I had a bit of a freak out yesterday when my Kindle‘s battery had absolutely no charge, and I needed to reference a book on it. Then I remembered I do have the Kindle app on my iPhone (and my Mac, for that matter). I think I have mentioned this before, but my NaNoWriMo novel is speculative fiction of the Irish legend of Deirdre. It’s going well. I wrote so much yesterday that I could skip a day now with no detrimental effect on being able to finish on time, but I’m going to try not to do that.

Next week I’ll be seeing some of my English teacher friends in Orlando as I travel to the NCTE conference. I will be presenting a session on authentic assessment in teaching Shakespeare along with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s education department, and I’m finished with writing my presentation. I want to try to practice it and see how it goes.

I listened to Valerie Jackson’s interview of Ken Follett, and doesn’t he sound absolutely charming? I definitely want to read his Pillars of the Earth series.

Ken Follett on Betweeen the Lines

I also listened to her interview of Stacy Schiff about her new book Cleopatra: A Life, and it sounds very interesting.

Stacy Schiff on Between the Lines

Valerie Jackson is a great interviewer. I definitely recommend subscribing to her podcast. It’s a great way to learn about new books.

photo credit: MaxiuB

Reading Update: November 7, 2010

Today was productive. Because of Daylight Saving Time ending, I woke up before 9:00 AM. On a Sunday. I was awake all by myself. I did some work on my instructional technology portfolio. I played around fruitlessly trying to manipulate an image to use as my placeholder “bookcover” for NaNoWriMo. I cooked French onion soup and fixed a Greek salad for supper. I read a little bit of my last issue of Newsweek. And I wrote about 2,000 words of my NaNo novel. You can keep up with my running total in the sidebar to the left (unless you’re in an RSS reader, in which case you can see it if you click over to the site). I have managed to meet or exceed my word count each day, but today’s writing was the hardest. I didn’t think it would be, but my main character went on her first real date with the guy she’s interested in, and they were wrong footed and awkward around each other. I didn’t realize they were going to be so difficult. Still the story is coming together. I am halfway interested in printing it at work tomorrow to see where I am, but I also don’t want to lose momentum.

I’m still reading The Haunting of Hill House. For a slim book, it sure is taking me a long time to finish. Probably because I’m also writing this month. I re-read the story of “The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu,” also known as “Deirdre of the Sorrows” in Early Irish Myths and Sagas yesterday. I downloaded that book on my Kindle because I don’t know where my paperback copy of the book is. Other than that, I haven’t read much this week.

The day has felt off all day because of the time change. I keep looking at the clock thinking it must be later than it is. When are we going to quit changing the time? Doesn’t make sense in our modern times to worry about extending daylight during the spring and summer. Does it? Or am I missing something?

photo credit: karina y

NaNoWriMo Participant

Reading (and NaNoWriMo) Update: October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo ParticipantI’m participating in NaNoWriMo. I decided to just buckle down and make a decision. It should be interesting, as I really have no idea what I’ll be writing about. I have jotted down a few ideas for potential plots, but I haven’t committed to any yet. You can follow my progress here at my NaNo profile, or keep visiting me here to check my status meter.

I began reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson just in time for Halloween. I already love her descriptions and think I will continue to enjoy the book. I also had a change to begin listening to Jamaica Inn in the car yesterday. Du Maurier sure does write a good creep in Uncle Joss, doesn’t she?

Right now we’re putting the finishing touches on Halloween costumes. Maggie will be a black cat, and Dylan will be Harry Potter (again). However, since we only have the glasses and the wand, he’s going to be Harry on the run in Deathly Hallows rather than Hogwarts Harry.

And for Halloween, a fun poll:

What is your favorite Halloween candy?

  • Fun size Snickers (43%, 3 Votes)
  • Milk Duds (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Smarties (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Some other kind of chocolate bar (share in the comments if you like) (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Something else (share in the comments if you like) (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Candy Corn (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Sweet Tarts (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Nerds (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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Happy Halloween, everyone!

jack o lanterns
photo credit: St0rmz


New Kindles

KindlePerhaps the biggest book news this week has been the impeding release of the latest generation of the Kindle, Amazon’s e-reader device. The new Kindle will be available in two colors: white or graphite, marking the first time you could get the Kindle in more than one color. The biggest news is that the Kindle will be available in wireless only and wireless + 3G versions. The wireless only version will be an affordable $139. I paid $259 for my Kindle with wireless and 3G in April, but this version of the new Kindle will cost only $189. The new Kindle will also be lighter by about 2 ounces. The battery life has been extended. With wireless off, the battery will now last a month. It will also have double the storage of the current Kindle. The new Kindle is also supposed to have sharper contrast and quieter, faster page-turns. I have to say that had I known this new Kindle was coming down the pike, I would have waited a few months. I’m hoping owning a Kindle isn’t going to turn into the same frustrating cycle as being an Apple customer. Are you planning to get one? They’re sold out for now, but you can put your name on a list. Amazon says as of today that if you order today, you can expect your Kindle on September 4. I think it’s great that Amazon is working to make their excellent e-reader even better.

A lot of my friends have said that they like the feel and smell of books too much to get an e-reader. I have to say that just because I bought a Kindle doesn’t mean I gave up print books. In fact, according to an infographic in the latest issue of Newsweek, only 15% of Kindle users stop reading print books.

In other news, I thought this podcast about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” was interesting. Give it a listen.

Anniversaries and birthdays this week:

August 3: Birthday of Leon Uris (1924), death of Joseph Conrad (1924), death of Flannery O’Connor (1964), death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (2008).

August 4: Birthday of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792), death of Hans Christian Andersen (1875).

August 5: Birthday of John Hathorne, hanging judge in the Salem witch trials and ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, (1641); birthday of Guy de Maupassant (1850); birth of Conrad Aiken (1889); birth of Wendell Berry (1934).

August 6: Birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809); birthday of Piers Anthony (1934); death of Ben Jonson (1637).

August 8: Death of Shirley Jackson (1965).

August 9: Henry David Thoreau publishes Walden (1854), birth of P. L. Travers (1899), birth of Philip Larkin (1922), birth of Jonathan Kellerman (1949), death of Hermann Hesse (1962).

Struggling with Books

I admit I’m struggling to finish a short book. It isn’t that I don’t like it. I just can’t get into it enough to want to pick it up. Worse, I keep thinking about other books I want to read, and then I tell myself I need to finish that one first. The end result is that I’m doing very little reading.

I think I’m going to set aside We Have Always Lived in the Castle for the time being. It’s too short not to finish at some point, but I’m just not that into it for right now. I’ve read too far to give it up completely.

I am contemplating revisiting Diana Gabaldon’s series. She has just published a new one, An Echo in the Bone. I discovered my new department chair at work is a fan of this series, too. She and I are becoming fast friends. We have so much in common from our interests to our philosophies of education. I am so grateful she has come to work with me. It was funny how we discovered we had the fact that we are Diana Gabaldon fans in common: she started to tell me about the books in order to recommend them. And I had to respond, “Oh, I’ve read them!” I would say any of the older fans of Twilight should check Gabaldon’s books out. You won’t be sorry.

On the other hand, I could also read something I haven’t read. I have two Jasper Fforde books on my shelf. I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll stare at the book shelf for a while until I figure it out. All I know is I’m finished with grad school for the semester, and NaNoWriMo is over (and I won!). My novel is called Quicksand. I actually need to tidy up the ending because I wrote more than 50,000 words, which is the requirement for winning NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t finish my book. I also decided to set it aside and revisit it with fresh eyes when its time to revise. However, it has now been a little over a week since NaNoWriMo ended, and I am finding I miss my characters. Some of them became very real to me, and I enjoyed seeing them every day when I came home.

Once finals begins (or ends), and I have a little more time, I should post some excerpts or podcasts about my book. I am really interested in trying to publish it, but I admit the prospect of trying to find an agent is daunting.

R.I.P. Update

R.I.P. ChallengeI am putting Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts aside. It’s not that I don’t like it; I just want to read a novel. This decision means I have to select a book to replace it in the R.I.P. Challenge. I took three books off the shelves and couldn’t decide, so I had Maggie choose for me again, and she thinks I should read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The cover is really cute, and I know she’s a good writer, so I will go with Maggie’s choice. Of course, she may have picked it because the cat on the cover looks just like our Bella.