Monday, January 14, 2019

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Title: Sense and Sensibility
Author: Jane Austen
Pages: 367
Finished: January 13, 2018

First Sentence: The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex.

Summary: A tale of two sisters, each who love a man and deal with their disappointments in very different ways. Elinor, all sense, takes care of her suddenly impoverished family and protects their feelings even at the expense of her own. Marianne, on the other hand, feels everything as acutely as possible to the point of endangering her own life. As with any Austen novel, all turns out all right in the end. Both get their man, both learn a bit more about the other, and everyone who deserves happiness gets it!

Thoughts: In the past, out of Austen's six main novels, I've ranked this number 5. I'm curious to see if my rankings change in the course of this reread.

Let's start with the characters. Elinor is really quite amazing. She's so incredibly mature that it's hard for me to believe she's only 19. Of course, I'm thinking of 21st Century 19-year-olds who are still adolescents instead of adults. But with everything we know about brain development now, it still rings hard for me to believe. (It's also the reason I don't have an issue with Emma Thompson playing her, because Elinor reads as 30 years old to me instead of 19...) Anyway. Even though this wasn't my favorite Austen novel, I did like Elinor for many years and strove to be like her. Her ability to govern her temper, to feel her feelings but not inflict them on everyone was very admirable to me. Even while reading it now, I found her very admirable. Sure, it's okay to feel your feelings, and it's even okay to let other people know you feel your feelings, but I like that she never was a woe is me type.

Marianne on the other hand... Marianne is who I always was. Maybe not to that extent, but I did and do tend to be reactive. While reading through this time, Marianne absolutely read like a 16-year-old to me. Impetuous, selfish, and only aware of her own feelings. I tried to cut her some slack because she was 16, but if she was viewed as an adult by her peers, it was hard to reconcile that with how she acted. (This is why I teach preschoolers instead of teenagers!)

The rest of the cast is you standard affair. Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrers are more complex then then rest as they are our leading gentlemen, but the rest of the cast falls into the various comfortable roles of social foibles. Mrs. Jennings and Sir John Middleton are ridiculous and rude though it can be excused because they are of society. John and Fanny Dashwood are absolutely mean (seriously, Fanny Dashwood is such an awful woman. Obviously learned from her awful mother.) Willoughby is a cad, and even when he tries to explain his reasoning for doing as he did, he still comes across as horrible (though he won over Elinor). Again, that's possibly the 21st century feminist in me talking. I just hate the way he explains why he did what he did, and while he explains it basically shows that he's just as bad as he was. And he gets excused because he really did love her? Blech. The Steeles? I love to hate on Lucy. She's so underhandedly malicious and contriving.

The social commentary was way more prevalent to me than it was the last time I read this. Which was about five years ago. I think that's what I love about Austen. Everytime I reread her novels, I discover more than was there before. Her characters are so real that I can name them in other people. Lady Middleton who only talks of her children. We STILL have that issue today. In fact, my entire generation is the result of overindulgence - something that is somehow blamed on us even though we're not the ones who overindulged ourselves. Mrs. Jennings as the woman who has to interfere in everyone's business. I certainly know a few people who live for the drama and help in the most unhelpful ways possible. The whole Fanny Dashwood bit at the beginning... well... let's just say I'm intimately aware of that whole thing. Even at what seems like it should be ridiculousness, these characters are so completely connected to people I know.

I enjoyed reading this, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the next one.

As I've yet to read any other Austen novels this year, I'm ranking this as #1. Will change as I read more.

Read for the Austen Challenge. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 Reading Goals

I'm very excited for the various challenges and other goals I've set up for myself this year! I have at least six goals, and I'm sure more will develop as the year goes well.

  1. Read 52 Books - I consistently hit 52 books every year. Last year, I tried to stretch myself to 70 books in a year. I didn't make it. 52 seems doable.
  2. Finish my Lord of the Rings in Chronological Order project. - A couple of years ago (and by a couple, I mean at least seven) I stumbled across this site. I was already thinking about rereading the core four books, but reading everything chronologically excited my orderly brain. I bought editions I wouldn't mind writing in, plugged them all into the calculator, set up my books, and read through the entire First Age of Middle Earth. And then I put the books down in favor of something else. I think it's time to finish this project.
  3. Back to the Classics - Hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. This is my most favorite challenge. I love reading classics, and I especially love trying to fit classics in with the categories. I hope to read all twelve of the categories this year. Link to the challenge sign up here
  4. To Be Read Challenge - Hosted by Adam at RoofbeamReader A new one for me. I don't have a back log of physical books simply because I don't keep a lot of books in my house. I've always made use of my library, and now that I work at a library, I have even more resources to get the books I want. That being said, I always have plenty of books I want to read. My goal is to read all twelve with a potential of adding the two alternatives. Link to the challenge sign up here
  5. Newford Part 1 - I love Charles De Lint's writing. I also discovered that his books about Newford all have a vague chronology to them. They don't really need to be read in order, but they can be. So of course I am reading them in order. There are 23 books that take place in Newford. I plan on reading the first twelve.
  6. Austen Challenge - My most favorite author. It's about time for another reread. This time I'm adding her unfinished works and her juvenile works as well.
  7. Year of Wonder - This is a multimedia challenge. While waiting in line at the coffee shop in my place of employment, I saw a new book we put on display. It's called Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day. Basically, it's a book full of classical music to listen to each day. I was a music ed major in college, I love classical music, and it's been a while since I seriously listened to it! I think this could be a fun exercise. 
All together, this comes to about 46 books. If we add the various children's books I'll be reading for work and the books I read for my family book discussion, I'll reach 52 with absolutely no problem. I'm really looking forward to this year in reading.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

Title: The Prince and the Pauper
Author: Mark Twian
Pages: 296
Finished: December 30, 2018

First Sentence: In the ancient city of London, on a certain autumn day in the second quarter of the sixteenth century, a boy was born to a poor family of the name of Canty, who did not want him.

Summary: This is one of those books that everyone seems to know the skeleton plot of. Pauper Tom Canty switches places with the Prince Edward Tudor by accident. They live the other person's life for a few weeks, and then manage to switch back where they learn how their experiences changed them.

Thoughts: Like my poor summary above, I knew little about this novel other than the switch. Again, like many classics, most of my knowledge comes from the Wishbone adaptations. (Thank you PBS and Wishbone!) The first thing I noticed was the fact that the prince in the novel was Prince Edward, son of King Henry VIII. I had assumed it was a fictional prince, but this is actually a piece of historical fiction with real historical figures!

The novel itself is an interesting novel to read. I've read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn numerous times. In high school, I even wrote a paper on why Huck Finn is one of the best pieces of American Literature. So I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked this novel up. While it has plenty of Twain's sarcasm and irony, there's a very different feel to the novel. One of the main differences is the historical setting and subject matter. I always knew that the second half of Henry VIIIs reign was a brutal one, but I never realized how brutal. Of course, the novel may have taken liberties as it's clear Edward needed an example to move against as he grew up. Still, it was brutal, and we know that Henry the VIII executed plenty of people.

I noticed that this book didn't read as quickly as I expected it to. I was excited to have a sub 300 page book. I was especially excited to read a sub 300 page book written by Twain because I've flown through his novels before. I found myself finding excuses to NOT read when I had a chance. For whatever reason, the story just didn't grab me as much as I would have hoped. And I can't even figure out why.

Mark Twain considered this his best novel. I think I have to reread Huck Finn (It's been over a decade) to see how I feel.

This was my Classic Club Spin #19. My list is now halfway complete!

Yearly Wrap Up

I'm pretty proud of my reading this year.

Back to the Classics: I finished this challenge with ten days to spare. I stuck to my list fairly well, only changing out one book from the original list. As I look over the list, I find it's hard to pick which was my favorite. I enjoyed so many of the books I read for the challenge this year. I disliked Murder on the Orient Express, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Wide Sargasso Sea. I was fairly apathetic about Song of the Lark. But I relatively enjoyed all the others. I'd say 8 out of 12 is pretty fantastic!

Personal Reading Challenge 1: I made a goal for myself to read all of David Mitchell's novels in order because he considers his novels to be part of one Uber Novel. This was a very interesting exercise. Overall, I was underwhelmed while reading most of his novels. But when I finished the latest novel, I had the urge to go ahead and reread most of them over again. Maybe not Black Swan Green. That one was super dull. But Ghostwritten and Jacob de Zoet both need a reread, as I think a lot of stuff in those came back around in Bone Clocks.

Personal Reading Challenge 2: This is unfinished. I started reading books of of my To Be Read List. And by my To Be Read List, I mean one of my to be read lists, since I have various ones. I'm the type of person that, once I make a list, the chances of me actually reading from it are slim to none. So I started. This specific list is primarily readalikes to a book I read a couple years ago and loved. The first two novels on the list were fantastic! Then the next two books were rough. I didn't finish either of them. The last book I had planned on reading is on my nightstand, but for the moment, I think I'm going to return it and try again next year. I'm a bit gunshy at the moment.

2018 Nonfiction Challenge: My reading challenges seemed pretty light, so I added this one in late January and promptly fell off the wagon. Nonfiction just isn't in my wheelhouse. I'm okay with the fact I never finished it. Some ideas I had for this made there way into other challenges for next year and some are completely gone.

All in all, I feel pretty good about this. Even though I didn't finish all these challenges, I read many more books than were in these challenges. My parents and I did a book club. I read a number of children's novels for work. So I will consider this year a win.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Title: The Woman in White
 Author: Wilkie Collins
Pages: 502
Finished: December 21, 2018

First Sentence: This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.

Summary: Walter Hartright meets a strange woman dressed all in white one night. After unknowingly helping her escape from an asylum, he takes off for Limmerage house in Cumberland to become the drawing master for two young women, Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie. While there, he falls in love with Laura, who as fate would have it, is engaged to be married to an evil man. And somehow, that strange woman in white is connected to Laura's future husband.

Thoughts: This book and the Moonstone by the same author are often considered the first mysteries or detective novels written. I've read both this year. Out of the two, I preferred The Moonstone.

I thought the characterizations were handled well. You can tell that Collins was a colleague of Dickens. Fosco and Mr. Fairlie especially were Dickens-like in my mind. (It's worth noting the book was serialized in a Dickens magazine when it came out.) Mrs. Catherick and Countess Fosco were perfectly odious creatures. Marian was... mostly okay. I disliked the whole constantly being down on her gender, but she was very competent which was lovely to see. Laura fell absolutely short for me, and I just couldn't understand how it was that Walter fell for her rather than the way more competent Marian. But whatever. I felt very sorry for Anne Catherick, and wanted to know more about her. Was she actually mad? Or did she become mad after being placed in an asylum for so long.

The plot started off slowly. Much like the Moonstone, I was wondering if the story was every going to get to a point of interest, but I kept going, and things did eventually pick up.

In terms of the mystery, I was very confused for a while. I'd made the mistake of scanning some summaries of the book. Due to the nature of those skims, I had some weird ideas in my head of what was going to happen. I kept waiting for those things to come to fruition, and I felt rather annoyed when they didn't. Lesson learned, don't read summaries until you finish the book.

All in all, I'm glad I read the book. It was significantly quicker than I expected it to be. I think I'll read more of Wilkie Collins's works in years to come.

Read for Back to the Classics 2018 AND (unofficially) for the current Classics Club Spin

Thursday, December 20, 2018

TBR Challenge

I've always been interested in To Be Read challenges, but I often don't qualify for them. It's not because I don't have a back log of books to read. I have lists upon lists! However, I don't have a pile of physical books. I just don't. I love reading. But I don't have the budget or the space for a ton of books. I have allergies and asthma, so books in my house have to be in good condition. And I work at a library, so I can get anything I want to read in a reasonable amount of time. And many of these types of challenges don't count unless you have a pile of books. I suppose I could take a picture of the library stacks and say, "here you go! Here's my backlog." Anyway, Adam at RoofbeamReader has a to be read challenge that doesn't require a pile! So here I am, and here's my list. This list is comprised of books that are on my various to be read lists, books that my favorite podcast has read that I'd like to read as well, and some productivity books I've been meaning to read but just haven't gotten around to yet. I'm excited for all of them.
  1. Firelord by Parke Godwin (1980) (400 pages)
  2. Beloved Exile by Parke Godwin (1984) (432 pages)
  3. Mosaic by Jeri Taylor (1996) (312 pages)
  4. Rogue Saucer (1996) (271 pages)
  5. Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip (2002) (304 pages)
  6. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2008) (256 pages)
  7. Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (2010) (305 pages)
  8. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (2011) (579 pages)
  9. Swamplandia by Karen Russell (2011) (400 pages)
  10. Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (2012) (310 pages)
  11. Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew (2015) (306 pages)
  12. Deep Work by Cal Newport (2016) (304 pages)
Alternate 1: Articles of the Federation by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Alternate 2 The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Back to the Classics 2019

It's back! My most favorite challenge, Back to the Classics, is back for 2019! And the categories are really interesting this year! I had picked out a number of books I wanted to read for the challenge this year before the categories came out. It was a mix of books from my Classics Club list and others that had crossed my path and I wanted to make sure I got to them this year. I was able to fit almost all of them into this list! And without further ado, my list for the next year.

1. 19th Century Classic: Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1897) (660 pages)
A continuation of my desire to read Dickens's novels in the order he published them. If I read this one, I'll be able to cross this off my Classics Club list as well as my Dickens list. 

2. 20th Century Classic: The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsanay (1925) (301 pages)
I'm not sure how I found this one, but it came up in a list of readalikes for something I read recently. The title is intriguing, and one of the latest editions has an introduction by Neil Gaiman. The brief description I read makes this book seem like it's right up my alley! I'm very excited for this!

3. Classic by a Female Author: Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876) (800 pages)
I remember watching an adaptation of this on Masterpiece Theatre when I was a teenager. Hugh Dancy was the main character and I was very attracted to him. The miniseries stayed in the back of my mind, and I came across it again while making my Classics Club list two years ago. I don't plan on watching it until I read this novel, and I'm very excited to do so! I've never read anything by George Eliot before.

4. Classic in Translation: The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (1883) (100 pages)
Original language is Italian. I'm a children's librarian, and one of my favorite things lately has been reading children's classics and comparing them to current children's literature. My only experiences with Pinocchio are the traumatizing Disney movie, the Pinocchio from Once Upon a Time, and a retelling of the story that I read from work called Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince. I'm curious how the original holds up. Another crossover with my Classics Club.

5. Classic Comedy: Emma by Jane Austen (1815) (495 pages)
Jane Austen's novels quite often make me laugh out loud. In public. I've been wanting to reread all her works for a while now, and this year will be the year.

6. Classic Tragedy: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847) (450 pages)
I'm just going to say, I have not liked this book in the past. I don't like Cathy. I don't like Heathcliff. And yet, people I know and respect say this is their most favorite book ever. So I've read it multiple times to try and figure it out. Last time I read it was in my early 20s, so we'll see if any of it grows on me in my early 30s. I also had the other Bronte sisters on my Club list, so I added Emily Bronte to round the list out. 

7. Very Long Classic: East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) (601 pages)
This is one of my dad's favorite books. I've enjoyed the Steinbeck novels I've read in the past, so it seems time for me to read this one. At 601 pages, it certainly fits (though so do at least two other novels on my list this year. Crossover with my Classic Club list.

8. Classic Novella: Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (1958) (152 pages) 
Do you ever watch a movie that everyone says is amazing and feel underwhelmed? That was my experience with Breakfast at Tiffany's. Still, I always wonder how book versions will fare. So I'm willing to try this... particularly since it's under 200 pages. Crossover on classic club list.

9. Classic From the Americas: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967) (416 pages) 
This was on my list last year and I just never got around to it. My reading got stalled somewhere. Hopefully this is the year! This is a crossover with my classics club list.

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania: The Memoirs of Lady Hyegy┼Ćng: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea (1805) (372 pages)
Picking one for this category was difficult. However, these memoirs look really interesting. I'm curious what I'm going to learn from this.

11. Classic From a Place You've Lived: The Adventures of Augie Marsh by Saul Bellows (1953) (586 pages) 
I wasn't sure how broad or narrow to go. In the end, I decided to go by city. I'm from Chicagoland area so it's definitely something that will work. (I'm also a little annoyed that I read Song of the Lark last year because it totally would have fit here.)

12. Classic Play: The Winter's Tale by Shakespeare (1623) (300 pages)
This is on my Classic Club list, so it seemed fitting to add it here.