Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I've Beaten the BBC!

I found this meme on Kerri's site and just had to brag... I mean, try it. :)

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions: Copy this into your blog. Look at the list and put an (X) after those you have read. Pass it along to other book lovers...

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (X)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (X) -- Does writing a thesis on this get me extra points??
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling - (X)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (X)
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (X)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell (X)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman -- I've read 2 of the 3... Doesn't count for a whole one!
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Total: 6

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott (X)
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (X)
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (X)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (X)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (X)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (X)
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot (X)
Total: 7

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (X) -- Only about a dozen times!
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (X)
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh (X) -- Ahh, how I miss Oxford!
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky -- Never finished it in HS
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck -- Never finished this one in HS, either
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll - (X)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
Total: 4

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (X)
34 Emma - Jane Austen (X)
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen (X)
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (X) -- Uh, this is part of the Chronicles...
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
Total: 4

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell (X)
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (X)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy (X)
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood (X)
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (X)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
Total: 5

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (X)
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (X)
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (X)
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Total: 3

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Total: 0

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (X)
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante (X)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray (X)
80 Possession - AS Byatt
Total: 3

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (X)
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White (X)
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (X)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
Total: 3

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (X)
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (X)
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (X)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (X)
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Total: 4


My Favorite Books of 2009

For some reason, I didn't keep a list of all the books I have read this year. I'm not quite sure why, I just didn't.

So, I'm going to be dredging up 10 of the best books I read this year, inspired by Jenners' post on Find Your Next Book Here. Several were published this year, but some weren't. I'm also going to give you a little bit of my opinion on each because, well, this is my blog and I can do that.

In no particular order, here are my 10 favorite books of 2009:

1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Even though I said I wasn't going to rank them, this book is at the absolute top of the list of books I have read in at least the last five years. It is that good. Funny, poignant and very, very smart, this is one book no one should miss.

2. Blindness by Jose Saramago

This book made me think a lot about the human condition and the brutality of men (In the way that Lord of the Flies makes you think). I watched the film shortly after reading the book and, although I thought the movie was fairly faithful in its rendering, I liked the book better. This was one I couldn't put down.

3. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I absolutely adored Morton's debut novel, The House at Riverton, so when this one came out, I had to read it. The thing I love about Kate Morton is that she gets you thinking you've solved the mystery, but she throws in enough red herrings along the way to make you re-evaluate your analysis every so often.

4. Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos

The concept of this book sounded interesting, so I picked it up. Although it seemed a little hard to fight through near the middle, the payoff is well worth the wait. This is realistic fantasy at its finest.

5. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

I adore Philippa Gregory's historical fiction, and I was glad to see her begin to tackle the Plantagenets in another series. This is one of those books in which so much happens, you don't think anymore could possibly happen, but then you notice you're only halfway through the book.

6. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This is one of those books that I recommend to every kid that walks through the door of the library. It is imaginative (But when are Gaiman's books not imaginative?) and poignant, and they exist on a level that not only speaks to kids without talking down to them, but also to adults without boring them.

7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

No one's list of great novels is complete without this monster. I loved how Tolstoy rendered not only the decadence of the upper classes realistically, but also that of the lower classes. If you'd like to read more about my debate over which character I actually liked, click here.

8. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

This book took me the longest to read of any this year, partially because of personal circumstances, but also because Rushdie can be really difficult to read at times. This book is audacious, though (If it weren't Rushdie wouldn't have spent a decade hiding because there was a fatwa out against him), and it presents a very interesting view of religion.

9. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Roth gives a very interesting re-imagining of the 1940s in which FDR is defeated in the 1940 election by Charles Lindbergh. What results is a much less violent anti-Semitism than was seen in Nazi territory, but something very disturbing nonetheless.

10. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I couldn't believe it had taken me 24 years to finally read this book. It is so beautiful I was in tears most of the time. This is one that definitely transcends the boundaries of juvenile literature to present something that can speak to adults.


I seem to have forgotten two books that I read this year which should be on this list!

11. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This book won the Pulitzer for a reason. It's hard to tell if you like Olive or hate Olive, but she is definitely one of the most interesting, well-rounded, vital characters I've met in a long time.

12. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

At first, I didn't want to read this book because it was all over blogs and lists of "recommended book club reading," which is kind of like Oprah's Book Club and the NYT Bestseller list in terms of turning me off. But, I'm glad I did. In a fairly simple epistolary novel, the authors show the power of reading and books in the lives of an island ravaged by war.

PS -- Thanks to martine frampton for mentioning both these books on her blog. You made me realize I had left out some great books!

Some runners-up:

1. Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
2. House of Night series by P.C. and Kristin Cast
3. Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead
4. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
5. The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O'Rourke
6. The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman
7. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
8. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
9. Open House, Home Safe and Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg
10. Super-Toys Last All Summer Long: And Other Stories of Future Time by Brian Aldiss

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review: Rabbit Redux by John Updike

Book: Rabbit Redux
Author: John Updike
Pages: 368

From Wikipedia:

Rabbit Redux finds the former high-school basketball star, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, working a dead-end job and approaching middle age in the downtrodden and fictional city of Brewer, Pennsylvania, the city of his birth. When his wife leaves him for another man, Harry and his 12 year old son are at a loss, and the chaotic state of the nation circa 1969 finds its way into Harry's home.

Updike's recurring themes of guilt, sex, and death are joined here by racism, as Harry plays host to an African-American named Skeeter, a cynical, drug-dealing Vietnam vet who engages Harry in debates about the war and race relations. A wealthy white teenager fleeing suburban Connecticut, Jill, enthralls both Harry and his son, and the four of them make a scandalous household emblematic of the Summer of Love's most confusing implications, culminating in a house fire that kills Jill. Harry and his wife are finally reconciled at book's end.

My two cents:

I thought this book was terrible. Ick, ick, ick.

I read Rabbit, Run back in college and must have enjoyed it enough to warrant the purchase of the entire Rabbit quartet (It was five years ago and there have been a lot of books since then... I can only remember certain images from Rabbit, Run and the overall impression that I liked it a lot). I felt compelled to read the other three books when Updike passed away earlier this year (Obviously, it's taken me a long time to get there), and now I kind of don't want to press on to the final two books.

I got the impression of Rabbit, in this novel, as one of those creepy guys standing around the mall in their windbreakers (In the middle of July, no less) staring at all the teenage girls as they walk by. Sketchy to the max.

He just lets things happen to him, lets everyone decide the path of his life. His wife admits she has an affair, he says, "OK, fine. You can keep seeing him." She leaves him, he doesn't care. He lets a girl half his age move into his house and possibly begin his 12-year-old son's sexual initiation (How creepy is that? She's sleeping with the Rabbit and maybe even teaching his son the ways of the world, and Rabbit doesn't care?). He allows said girl to bring a black man on the run from the law, and a serious drug addict at that, into the home, and he just lights up some joints and reads Frederick Douglass aloud.

Don't get me wrong: Updike is a fabulous writer. The way he has with words is astonishing. But Rabbit is just a boring, awful man.

Since my volume has all four novels in one, it has little blurbs on the back about the quartet as a whole. In one of them, Joyce Carol Oates calls the quartet Updike's "valentine to his country."

If Rabbit Redux is a valentine, I'd be looking for the white powder in the envelope.

My rating: 3/10

Monday, December 28, 2009

Read 'n' Review Challenge

OK, I'm joining another book challenge.

This one, however, doesn't have any above-and-beyond requirements, so it will fit in perfectly with my other challenges and my regular reading.

We'll see how this goes...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Favorite Albums of 2009

In the proliferation of end-of-the-year Best-Of lists (Or, this year, end-of-the-decade), I find myself having one of three reactions: 1) "Why is THAT album on there? It's terrible!" 2) "OK, that album is solid. I agree with that one." or 3) "Where is (Insert album name)? That album was awesome!"

I also find that I leave those end-of-the-year lists with a much longer list of new music to listen to then when I started, part of the reason I've tried to avoid as many of the lists as possible.

As a result, I've decided to list my 10 Favorite Albums of 2009. Many of these were released this year, but some were released prior to 2009 and they just kind of set the soundtrack for my year. They are by no means a "greatest" list, just my personal favorites. Oh, and they're not in order because I really can't make up my mind enough to rank them. Be glad I even cut it down to 10!

1. The Resistance - Muse: Yeah, knock it as electronic prog-rock if you want. This album is great for rocking out in the car. Or at home. Or at the library. Either way, I loved listening to this album if for nothing other than the references to 1984. I am so stoked to see them live on March 15.

2. The Hazards of Love - The Decemberists: The Decemberists have been getting a bad rap for being literarily pretentious just for the sake of being literarily pretentious. I loved this album solely for its audacity: It's a folk opera, for crying out loud! Music has gotten away from cohesive concept albums in favor of stand-alone songs, mostly because of the popularity of iTunes and other downloading services, but The Decemberists brought back the idea of an album as a whole. Oh, the orchestration doesn't hurt, either.

3. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes: Prior to this album, I wasn't a B4L fan. But it converted me. It's haunting and gorgeous and I just love it.

4. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk: A super group of indie hard-hitters (M. Ward of She & Him, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes and Jim James of My Morning Jacket) finally, after a half-decade together, churned out a fun and off-beat album. The individual members' quirks shine through this one. Remember how I said I loved Hazards for its cohesiveness? I love this album because it's not cohesive.

5. Bitte Orca - Dirty Projectors: I really have nothing to say about this album except that I love it. A lot.

6. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust - David Bowie: Yeah, I'm nearly 40 years behind the curve on this one, but I finally listened to Ziggy in its entirety this year. And then I listened again. And again. And again. As odd as it sounds, this album helped me get through a pretty rough patch this fall, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it.

7. Dark Was the Night - Various Artists: This is one amazing compilation album. Seriously. Some of the best writing I've heard all year comes out of this album, made to benefit awareness for AIDS and HIV. Don't believe me? Listen to "Knotty Pine" by Dirty Projectors and David Byrne. Wow.

8. Around the Well - Iron & Wine: Returning to his folksy roots, Sam Beam produces another solid, chill album. Don't get me wrong, The Shepherd's Dog is a great album, it's just that I like the chill Iron & Wine better than the flashy pseudo-70's Iron & Wine.

9. New Moon OST - Various Artists: Yeah, mock if you want, but this album has some solid songs written for a terrible movie. This album actually kind of made me like Death Cab for Cutie. Just for a second.

10. Farm - Dinosaur Jr.: I hadn't heard Dinosaur Jr. until this year (Scandalous, I know), but I immediately fell in love with them and listened to the rest of their catalog. I have a warm place in my musical love life for punk-that's-not-really-punk, and Dinosaur Jr. fits right into it.

Honorable mentions:

These Four Walls - We Were Promised Jetpacks
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Far - Regina Spektor
The Fragile - Nine Inch Nails


Thursday, December 17, 2009

I've Done It Again...

I've gone and joined another book challenge. This one sounded like far too much fun to pass up!

It's the Take Another Chance Challenge hosted by Find Your Next Book Here.

The challenge points sounded particularly intriguing, and I've got books for the first nine (of 12) challenges decided already.

Here they are:

Challenge 1: The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
Challenge 2: Push by Sapphire (via Bermudaonion)
Challenge 3: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Challenge 4: The Giver by Lois Lowry (Newbery Medal winner)
Challenge 5: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (5 words)
Challenge 6: Swimsuit by James Patterson (Thriller)
Challenge 7: Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner ("Chick-lit")
Challenge 8: Ophelia by Lisa Klein and Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Challenge 9: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan ("Thief")

I really need to stop Googling "book challenges." This is going to get ridiculous.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Join with Me!

I just officially joined my first online book challenge, and I'm so excited!

I've joined the 451 Challenge.

This challenge, in the spirit of the "book people" from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, presents a list of books which, from what I can tell, provide essential ideas which should be passed down from generation to generation.

From the looks of it, this will be a fairly easy challenge, as the levels are pretty attainable:

Spark - read 1-2 books from the master list
Ember - read 3-4 books from the master list
Flame - read 5-6 books from the master list
Blaze - read 7 or more books from the master list

You're allowed to re-read books and to cross over with other challenges. Judging by this list, I've got a lot of them either on my already read and favorited list on Goodreads, or they're on my to-read shelf and sitting on my shelves here at home.

I can't wait until Jan. 1!


Here's the list of books I either own or have here at the library that I plan on reading (some of them, that is!):

  1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kahled Housseini
  2. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  4. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  5. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  8. Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice
  9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  10. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  11. Night by Elie Wiesel
  12. Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
  13. Sea Glass by Anita Shreve
  14. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  15. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  16. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  17. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  18. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  19. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  20. The Iliad by Homer
  21. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  22. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  23. The Stand by Stephen King
  24. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  25. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Whew! I'm tired just looking at that list!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On "War and Peace"

I did it. I finished War and Peace the other day.

Whew. Talk about a load off my mind.

It was a great book, but one thing's been bugging me ever since.

I can't figure out who my favorite character is, or even if I really liked any of the characters.

Usually, that's a sign of a bad book (A Separate Peace, I'm looking at you!), but I adored W&P. I didn't want to put it down.

Here are some of the characters vying for the "favorite" position, but they all have some pretty big flaws that knocked them out of my good graces at some point or another.

Pierre: He starts out kind of ambivalent: He could be a good kid caught up in some bad stuff, or he could just be a rake. This all comes to a head when he challenges Dolohov to a duel over Helen.

Yeah, not the kind of man I would want to be married to.

Then, he kind of turns it around and joins the Masons, but doesn't really join the Masons. He still tends to act alright, and he's pretty good to Natasha (A character I despised all the way until the epilogue, BTW) and he's a solid friend to Prince Andre.

He does some pretty good stuff -- saving that kid from a burning Moscow -- and becomes a POW under the French. And then he's good again. But, still, something didn't sit right with him in my book.

Prince Andre: Now, here's a guy who started out really awful in my eyes (The way he treated his wife -- his pregnant wife -- made me want to vomit), but then turned it around. He was good to his sister, he was good to his son, he was good to his really nasty father. He even was pretty good toward the peasants on his estate.

Andre also did some valiant things in battle, tried to help the army out, but gave up when things didn't go his way. A quitter. Yay.

He turned out OK, though, even after his falling out with Natasha.

Nicholas Rostov: As sad as it sounds, I don't really remember Nicholas until the war started. And then, he was just kind of there, doing his job. Nothing really spectacular. He did feel awfully obligated to Sonya, which I thought was noble, but kind of foolhardy.

In the end, he turns out to be a really decent, albeit kind of controlling, guy who actually gets in and gets his hands dirty working for the money his estate earns. Unlike all the other men in the book, of course.

It's these differences in personalities, these extra sides to one person, that I think makes Tolstoy's book resonate as "the greatest novel of all time." If everyone was always good or always bad, it would just be Uncle Tom's Cabin on a really grand scale. A classic with memorable characters, but boring.

No one stays the same their whole lives, and since the book spans nearly 20 years in time, it shows how the characters evolve, much like real people do.

For those of you who've read the book, what do you think?
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