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51 days and counting!

10 Nov

First off, yes, I suck. I haven’t posted here in a very long time. Between school, work and Book Riot responsibilities, I’ve been a neglectful blog owner. So my apologies. Some of you still visit me, so I hope you’ll forgive the absence.  In completely related news, I haven’t really read much since the read-a-thon, and I’m going through serious withdrawal. I did go on a cross country flight last weekend, but because I’ve been horribly sick with a death cold, I spent most of the flights sleeping or reading for school. ::Sigh:: is it a normal response to grad school to want to quit because you miss your books? That happens right?

I have been posting on Book Riot:

  • First a look at how chick lit is changing (or dying) in the recession age.
  • I also posted a reading pathway to one of my favorites, John Irving. Want to work up to A Prayer for Owen Meany? Follow this guide.
  • In honor of the beginning of Movember, I posted a list of the best literary ‘staches.
  • And today, one I’m particularly proud of, The Write Stuff, a look at presidential campaign books.

But back to the topic at hand!

There are just over 50 days left in the calendar year. I know, right? Where did 2011 go??

But it also means that the major book sites are starting to post their Best of 2011 lists. While I think it’s a bit premature, even though they’ve read all the pre-release galleys for anything coming out in the next 50 days, I’m gobbling up the lists, anyways. I likely won’t publish my own “best of” until Christmas time. Though knowing my schedule around the end of the year, it might even be after the New Year that I get around to it. I finish classes and school work for the semester in mid-December, but I’m already figuring out the best use of my reading time from now until 2012. I’ve got to read 15 books by the end of the year to make my goal of 60. I don’t anticipate that being a problem, but it’s going to be a race, that’s for sure.

I’m actually really tempted to draw my last 15 books (well, 14 – I’m almost done with Practical Jean by Trevor Cole) from Amazon’s Best of 2011 list. As much as I dislike buying from Amazon, the list isn’t off the mark at all and I could easily pull my last 14 reads from books I already own. How’s this list sound for a final push toward 2012? (And yes, I’m linking to Powell’s no Amazon. It is #IndieThursday after all.):

And then taking into account the books I don’t own but want to buy:

That’s 15 books. And about a million pages. Okay actually, according to Goodreads’ page counts, it’s 7,007 pages.  Someone send reinforcements. Or liquor.

Must-Read: The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

12 Oct

How is it possible that not long ago in this country the deaf were considered “feebleminded?” Or that those we now consider developmentally delayed or mentally challenged were institutionalized in facilities that employed people more like prison guards than caretakers? How is it that these people were treated so poorly, not so long ago, and considered so much less deserving of personhood to be denied the simple right to love? Rachel Simon’s novel The Story of Beautiful Girl not only asks these questions, it asks much smaller ones too. Ones about love and parenthood and loyalty and promises.

It is 1968. Lynnie, a young white woman with a developmental disability, and Homan, an African American deaf man, are locked away in an institution, the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and have been left to languish, forgotten. Deeply in love, they escape, and find refuge in the farmhouse of Martha, a retired schoolteacher and widow. But the couple is not alone-Lynnie has just given birth to a baby girl. When the authorities catch up to them that same night, Homan escapes into the darkness, and Lynnie is caught. But before she is forced back into the institution, she whispers two words to Martha: Hide her. And so begins the 40-year epic journey of Lynnie, Homan, Martha, and baby Julia-lives divided by seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet drawn together by a secret pact and extraordinary love.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact that this book had on me. Not only is the opening scene of the book captivating – Simon sets the tone of the book beautifully – but the suspense factor of the book completely sucks you in – will this family ever be reunited? It’s a question that drives you through the story, as it takes turns you don’t expect and travels decades beyond the moment of surrender in Martha’s farmhouse. Under the surface, there’s always this force propelling you to the end; that not knowing gives the novel more suspense than many traditional thrillers or crime novels. Because in those genres, the expectation is usually that the story ends well, the good guy triumphs, and the bad guy loses. But The Story of Beautiful Girl doesn’t have a good guy or a bad guy and because it’s literary fiction, there’s absolutely no guarantee there will be a happy ending – or even an ending that wraps up neatly. So you keep turning pages hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

Each of the characters could easily become one-dimensional, particularly Lynnie and Homan, who are defined by the world in terms limited to their disabilities. But Simon deftly transfers the narrative point of view and gives each character an equal part in telling the story. And because we get first person POV from every major character, not only does the story come together in a really rich way, the narrators are deeply wrought and complex in their actions and emotional portrayal. My heart broke for Lynnie and Homan – and Julia. Like, I had my hand on my chest at points, holding my breathe, waiting for something good or something bad.

Beyond the emotional factor, the social commentary behind the novel is astounding. And that’s the part, I think, that has stayed with me most. The voices of the characters are fantastic, but the time and situation they are forced to cope with – no, not cope with – survive is harrowing. I knew that our country’s history of institutionalization was not good (understatement of the century), but I don’t think I really grasped what it was like, looking from the inside out. It was scary, plain and simple. Simon has some clout when it comes to the subject matter: she wrote a memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey, about her mentally handicapped sister’s struggle with every day life. Lynnie’s voice – perhaps because of Simon’s personal experience – is nothing if not authentic. I really believed her narrative, and that belief lent weight and legitimacy to the rest of the story. (As as side note, I also loved, loved Kate’s voice as well. She’s an employee of the institution where Homan and Lynnie escape from, and I was rooting her on in her mission to end the injustices put upon the “inmates.”)

Lest you think me nothing but a fan girl, I had just a few issues with the book, namely in terms of the plot staying on track. There are a few places, particularly later in the timeline, that I felt the plot went off kilter and I wasn’t sure entirely how the jaunt related to the larger story. Also some of the timing, particularly with ages, threw me a little. But none of these concerns were enough to dissuade my adoration for the book by the time I was done.

As a final note, one of the themes that carried throughout the book was that of storytelling and books. I loved this quote in particular:

A book wasn’t something you could open anywhere and then flip to anywhere else. You opened it at the front and went forward, and the pages went from one to the next, each adding to the last, and the story grew more exciting with each page. It was like the way corn grew from the seed that got planted in spring to the tall rows you hid inside in the fall. A story grew.

Highly recommended.

Around the corner…

12 Nov

2010 is almost over.

And by almost over, I mean, we officially have fewer than 50 days left in the year.

I know, it’s a little surreal isn’t it?

I took the opportunity of the impending new year to look at where I’ve gotten in the modest goals I set for 2010. And I’m not even going to link back to any of those posts because I’m so embarrassed by how poorly I’ve done. I just this morning updated my Books Read in 2010 page (which I hadn’t done since MAY!!), and was woefully disappointed in the number. I almost don’t want to admit it, because it’s so low, but since you all are perfectly capable of clicking on that little link up there and counting for yourselves, I’ll just admit it out loud.

Sigh.

40 books.

That’s it. That’s less than one book a week, which feels really dismal. I know that some of you might be shaking your head at me, going, “Rachel. Are you serious? I’d be thrilled to have read 40 books in less than a year. Shut up.” But for me, it doesn’t feel like much at all. Some weeks I read two or three books, and then there are months like this one, where I’m reading a chunkster (The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer) that is science-y and slower, and it’s taken me two weeks to get just over halfway through it. But I thought, I’d read more than 40 this year. I really did.

You’ll also note that, in that list of books I read in 2010, most of them are not hyperlinked to my review of them. Because I didn’t review them. Which is probably what I feel worse about, worse than the lack of reading is the awful lack of posting and reviewing.

You didn’t realize you were walking into a self-pity party, did you?

Well it’s not all doldrums and dead daisies around here. I’m setting some goals for the last seven weeks of the year, both reading- and blogging-related.

Reading Goals (I take myself much more seriously when there’s bold involved) (and numbered lists)

  1. Read nine more books, to get to 50 books for the year. This is just a bit faster than my average pace, but the holidays and a long plane flight are coming up so I’ve got some time to get this accomplished.
  2. Read East of Eden. It’s been on my TBR pile so long that it’s starting to scare me. But I’m dying to read it. So I just will.
  3. Reach 250 points in the Fall Seasonal Reading Challenge. I am currently at 145 points.

Blogging Goals

  1. Post 15 reviews, in addition to other related blogging.
  2. Write at least twice a week.
  3. Start working with a designer to revamp the blog.

So. I’m not being unrealistic in my goals, right? I think I can feasibly stick to this plan. It’s also something I’ll need to keep in mind come January 1st, and I’m setting 2011 goals. Maybe year-long resolutions don’t work for me. Maybe I’m a baby steps kind of goal-setter. Either way, I’m back on track.

And if I forget about this post, someone please smack me/send me an email and remind me, ‘kay?

Linen-white Pages

12 Oct

I am reading David Nicholls’ One Day and completely loving it. In fact, I’m loving it so much, that I’ve actually highlighted passages and quotes, inserted mini Post-its to keep track of pages I like, and basically done a lot of book abuse that I never would condone otherwise.

But there’s a fantastic quote that I just have to share because I know I relate to it, and I bet a bunch of you book lovers and writers can relate too.

She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationary.

WINNER! Come Sunday by Isla Morley

22 Sep

I love weeks where I do nothing but give away books 🙂

So without further ado, the winner of Isla Morley’s Come Sunday is…

Alyce

 

Thanks to Picador for providing this giveaway. If you didn’t win, you can purchase your own copy (highly suggested ;)) by clicking on the cover below. And don’t forget to check back tomorrow and Friday for more giveaway winners!

Absence makes the heart…

7 Sep

grow fonder…. Right?

This is how I’m justifying the impromptu blogging break I took. My apologies for not giving any warning whatsoever. I didn’t really realize how long it had been myself until I check the site and looked at the date of the last post. My bad, guys. My bad.

But I have a reason. Which actually leads me to my topic for the day:

Does your mood affect the kinds of books you read? And similarly, will you not enjoy a book as much if you’re in a different frame of mind than the book?

This is why I ask: I checked out The Good Son by Michael Gruber from the library a few weeks ago. I was entirely expecting to love it. It’s a smart, fast, twisty thriller — exactly the kind of book I like to dig into when I want to use my brain, but not all of it.

But I could not, for the life of me, get into it. It’s not as if it’s a bad book. In fact, it’s very well written, and in different circumstances, I’m sure I’d be raving about it. But my mood does not match the book. Take a look at the review given by Publisher’s Weekly:

Bestseller Gruber explores America’s political involvement in South Asia and the bloody religious and ethnic fanaticism associated with the region in his superb seventh novel. Sonia Laghari, a Pakistani-American writer and psychologist, sets up a conference on peace in Kashmir, ‘the most terrorist-infested place on earth,’ only to have her and her small group of pacifists abducted and held captive by terrorists, who may or may not be manufacturing nuclear weapons. All but doomed to a public beheading, Sonia uses her familiarity with Islamic doctrine as well as her knowledge of Jungian psychology in an attempt to enlighten her deeply conflicted captors. Though the numerous bombshells at the end may strain credulity, the brilliant character development and labyrinthine plot line, not to mention the absorbing history of modern jihadism and the U.S. war on terrorism, make this a provocative thriller that readers won’t soon forget.

It’s a little dark, a little too real, which normally I would love. But this time, I could only make it 150 pages in before giving up. Why? Because my mood is…not to oversell it…a little more sunshine-and-flowers right now. I don’t want to get into all the nitty-gritty, but let’s just say…there’s a boy. And I kinda like him a lot. I’m not really in the mood for psychological, international spy thrillers. I’m just not.

So…does this happen to anyone else? Can you separate yourself from the books you’re reading? Or do your books have to — if not match — at least not work against your mood? I’m sure I’ll pick this one up again. But not in the near future. It’s got to go back to the library, and I haven’t found a place to fit it into my Fall Challenge anyway.

For an actual review of The Good Son from someone who isn’t all starry-eyed, check out Greg’s most recent post at The New Dork Review of Books.

Fall Seasonal Challenge 2010

27 Aug

Last summer, before I started my Children’s Lit certificate, I participated in the the Summer Seasonal Challenge with the Seasonal Reading Challenge group on Goodreads. Basically the gist is that this group creates reading challenges that are based primarily on the season. So there are four a year, and the Summer challenge runs from June 1 – Aug. 31. The Fall challenge then obviously starts Sept. 1 and runs through Nov. 31. Since I finished classes, I decided I wanted to kick start my reading in a big way. I’ve been reading, don’t get me wrong, but not a lot of substantive literature. And I like accumulating points 🙂 — who doesn’t?

So the basics are this:

There are tasks created from a variety of people — some are from the moderators, some were suggested by challenge participants, some were earned based on points or tasks from the last season’s challenge — and there are different point levels based on how difficult a task is to complete. The tasks call for you to read a book or books that fit within its boundaries (you’ll see what I mean in a second), and most of the tasks are seasonally relevant. That’s it in a nutshell. The complete task list for the Fall Challenge is here: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/385219-fall-challenge-2010-tasks (The rest of the 20- and 25- point tasks will be filled in as people complete the Summer challenge and created their tasks).  Some of these tasks I’m really excited about, like

  • 15.4 – FALL EQUINOX — Read two books that have the same number of characters in their titles. Spaces do not count as characters.

I’m choosing a couple of chunksters for this one, even though its only 15 points: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes  and East of Eden by Steinbeck (10 letters each). Together they equal EXACTLY 1200 pages. Just for one task!! I swear not every one is as ambitious as I am. But both of these have been on my TBR list for sooooo long that I had to work them into this challenge somehow.

Check out the task list if you’re interested and then check out my plans HERE – as I update my plans, that spreadsheet will be updated.

There are few empty spaces right now. One of the tasks I’m having a particularly hard time with: 25.1 — And the Story Continues… The task calls for me to read two books, totaling at least 400 pages, that are 9th, 10th, or 11th in a series (to correspond with the months of Sept., Oct. and Nov. of the challenge). There are no series I’m reading that are that long, nor do I want to try to fit in books any where else in the challenge that I don’t really want to read, just to meet this task. So I’m looking for books that would fit this task, but that can be read out-of-order — in other words, books that don’t require me to have read the previous 8 books in the series in order to follow what’s going on. I’m not too particular in terms of genre, but crime/thrillers seem to fit this best. Greg at The New Dork Review of Books suggested Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series, which look good. I’m also wondering about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series — for this, the ninth book is Eric, the tenth book is Moving Pictures, and the eleventh book is Reaper Man. I could read Moving Pictures and Reaper Man, but do I need to have read the previous books to get these? Any help would be appreciated!!

What are your favorite looooong series? Are you participating in any good challenges this Fall?