Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections 2010

Looking back, 2010 was a very satisfying reading year - no challenges, top priority to book club choices, and scaled back commitments. While my 'numbers' are far from impressive,  I enjoyed the books I read more than ever. 2010 will be remembered as a year of group reads and read-alongs, and the year I  tackled some classics and made new friends in the process.

The year began with Woolf in Winter and a personal victory. After three failed attempts, spaced over 25 years, I finally finished Mrs. Dalloway - and loved it! But instead of continuing To The Lighthouse with the rest of the group, I chose to reread The Hours by Michael Cunningham.  Perhaps I will return to Woolf, and To The Lighthouse, this winter.

Next, I joined my first read-along. Jill from Fizzy Thoughts lead us through Wuthering Heights, which was far from the love story I was expecting. The book proved to be just okay, but the read-along group was the best - definitely a highlight of my year!

An unplanned French fixation developed around the same time. It began in March with Julia Child's My Life in France, continued through Emile Zola's The Ladies' Paradise (read for The Classics Circuit), and culminated with Paris in July.  I read short stories by Guy de Maupassant and Zola, and Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette. Finally, there was Frances' group read of Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert and Lydia Davis' gorgeous new translation.  I'm not finished with the French... there will be more Zola and Colette in the near future.  Davis' translation skills even have me considering Proust.

Completing Bleak House was the biggest accomplishment of the year. Although it started out as a read-along, I fell behind almost immediately and continued at my own pace. At 989 pages, this was my longest book of the year. It was a combination book/audio for me, and I learned that I especially enjoy listening to Dickens' novels.

Finally, on to my favorites...


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis
The Group by Mary McCarthy
The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola
Doreen by Barbara Noble


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My Life in France by Julia Child


Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck

"A Lovely Time" by Dorothy Whipple
"A Doll's House" by Katharine Mansfield
"Good Neighbors" by Jonathan Franzen
"The Name of the Game" by Colm Toibin
"Why I Live at the P.O." by Eudora Welty
"Farewell" by Guy de Maupassant

And just for fun...

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 
The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Summer by Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton


Mariana by Monica Dickens
Summer by Edith Wharton
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden


The Group by Mary McCarthy
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck

And there it is, 2010 in review.  Thank you all for reading this blog and sharing the ongoing book discussion. It's become an enjoyable part of my life, and I look forward to more book talk in 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Twas the day after Christmas, when all through the house....

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse hound.

Christmas 2010 is now a happy memory. A lazy, quiet day followed... other than a little reading and a brisk walk with my husband (it was too cold for the dog), there was minimal activity.  A couple of the girls never took off their new jammies. Zelda, like the rest of us, relaxed in a favorite chair, but she was the only one willing to be photographed.

My main accomplishment was finishing Freedom. What an amazing book! Franzen's writing has left me utterly in awe. I plan to gather my thoughts this week.  A few other reviews need some attention before the end of the year, too.

This is also the time for tallying stats, sharing year-end lists and observations, and planning for the year ahead. I have a couple of posts in the works, but my main focus this week will be on helping Daughter #1 prepare and pack for her semester in London. Weather permitting, she leaves January 5.

Tonight I'm trying to decide what to read next: one last library book (The Doctor's Wife) before the TBR Dare begins, or Major Pettigrew's Last Stand for my January book club meeting.  First, I'll catch up with some of your blogs.  How have you spent this 'day after'?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let the holidays begin...

We are five again. Daughter #1 came home on Friday and our holiday preparations began in earnest. Saturday we baked...

...and began decorating the tree.

More baking and decorating is on tap today.  Yes, there are still reviews to finish and year-end lists to compile, but Lakeside Musing will be quiet this week.  My days will be less hectic after Christmas and there should be plenty of time for reading and blogging then.

Reading notes:

I finished Pavilion of Women on audio and am in awe of Pearl S. Buck's understanding and portrayal of life, especially for women, in China.  Now I want to reread The Good Earth and continue with Sons, the second book in the trilogy.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is still my current read.  It's taking a long time, but is well worth it.  I love Franzen's writing and shared a quote earlier this week.


It has been another snowy week. Schools were delayed (or closed), Christmas concerts and games were cancelled. Over 70 inches of snow has made this the snowiest December in history. Another seven inches earns the title of snowiest month ever and, with 12 days left, this seems highly probable. Good Morning America was even filming weather segments in the area.  It's hard to believe the official start of winter is still a few days away!

Best wishes to all for a very Merry Christmas...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quote of the Week: Freedom

"While the rain lashed and the sky flashed, he tried to fill her with self-worth and desire, tried to convey how much he needed her to be the person he could bury his cares in.  It never quite worked, and yet, when they were done, there came a stretch of minutes in which they lay and held each other in the quiet majesty of long marriage, forgot themselves in shared sadness and forgiveness for everything they'd inflicted on each other, and rested."  (page 330)

by Jonathan Franzen

It's taking forever to read this 562 page book. The characters aren't especially likable, but they are so real. I love Franzen's writing, and it seems there's a sentence on every page that begs to be read several times. This one is from last night's reading.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TSS: A Snowy Week

Good morning, and welcome to my Sunday Salon week in review.  The SNOW took center stage as a four day "lake effect" event left us with 49" on the ground! Schools were closed Monday and Wednesday, and weather records of all kinds were broken. I posted a few pictures for Wordless Wednesday and also updated my header photo. Today it's raining, but we're being told to brace ourselves for more lake effect this week.

Since there was not much time in the car, I'm still around the half-way point of Pavilion of Women, but enjoying it very much. I listened to Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton indoors on my ipod instead. Although I've read the book a couple of times before, the audio experience added a new dimension.  It was also interesting to listen just a few months after reading Summera book Wharton referred to as 'hot Ethan'.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is my current book. At page 300, I can heartily agree with what many bloggers are saying - if you loved The Corrections, you'll love this, too. I need to finish soon... look for it on my year-end list!

My book club met Friday to discuss The Group by Mary McCarthy.  Most members really liked it, primarily for the social history. I'm working on the review, and will be sure to include more about our discussion.

Finally, although 2011 will be a challenge-free year, I've decided to accept the TBR Dare at Ready When You Are, C.B.  In the sign-up post I mentioned an exception for book club selections, but I won't need to make use of that in January.  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, a book already on my shelf,  was chosen.  The TBR Dare is off to a good start!

Today we have decorating and wrapping planned, then a birthday party for my brother-in-law. The baking will have to wait until next weekend when Daughter #1 is home. Later this evening, I'll have time to spend with Freedom. Are you busy with holiday activities today? Will you carve out some time to read, too?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Will you take the dare?

Have you heard about The TBR Dare?  James from Ready When You Are, C.B.  says:
"This is not a reading challenge.  It's a dare. 
I dare you to pledge you will read only the books in your TBR (To Be Read) stack for as long as you dare starting January 1, 2011.   
One hour, one day, one book, one week, one month, or until the dare ends on April 1.  (I never make open-ended New Year's Resolutions.  Every goal should have a end date.)"

I've accepted the dare.  A goal has been set -  read from my shelves until April Fool's Day(!). There are surely enough books to last the entire year, and this is only three months...  I can do that, right?

Exceptions will be made for book club selections (unless I can convince the group to read what's already on my shelf) and I will continue to use credits for audiobooks already purchased from

Will you accept the dare?  Details can be found here, then click over here to sign up.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On this day...

... in 1873, American novelist Willa Cather was born in Back Creek, Virginia. Today's Writer's Almanac featured an interesting piece on her life.

It's the birthday of novelist Willa Cather, (books by this author) born Wilella Cather in the village of Back Creek near Winchester, Virginia (1873). The Cathers had a hired girl named Margie, and when Margie would go home to visit her mother, Mary Ann, she would bring young Willa with her. Mary Ann was illiterate, a "hill woman" from Timber Ridge, a stretch of the Appalachians. Willa soaked in the stories that Mary Ann told — the gossip, family feuds, stories of lovers and murderers and legacies from the Civil War. Many years later, Willa Cather said that this was the beginning of her life in storytelling.
Cather's family had a tense relationship with many of their neighbors. Willa Cather was the fifth generation of Virginian aristocracy. They lived in a large, elegant farmhouse. Even worse, her father's family were known supporters of the Union during the war — her father and uncle had crossed the border into West Virginia to avoid being drafted, and people suspected her grandfather of being a Union spy. The year that Willa was born, her uncle moved to Nebraska to homestead, and her grandparents soon followed their son. Willa's parents wanted to stay in Virginia and keep farming sheep. However, a few years later their four-story sheep barn burned to the ground, and there were rumors that it was an act of arson by resentful neighbors. The Cathers took that as a sign and headed off to join the rest of their family in Nebraska.
So in 1883, Willa, her three brothers and sisters, her parents, Willa's grandma on her mother's side, two of her cousins, their hired girl Margie, and Margie's brother all set off together for Nebraska. They took a train to Red Cloud, then a covered wagon out to the precinct of Catherton, which her relatives had named after themselves. She wrote later, "That shaggy grass country had ripped me with a passion I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and the curse of my life."
After a childhood on the prairie, growing up with immigrant pioneers, Cather went off to college at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, intending to become a doctor. But after one of her professors sent in an essay of hers without her knowledge and it was published, she decided to become a writer instead.
She had a stint working for the Nebraska State Journal, then moved to Pittsburgh and ended up with a job at the Daily Leader. Crawford Peffer was a law student and friends with Edwin Couse, the editor of the Daily Leader. Peffer wrote: "I often went to his office at the close of the day's work, about 4 p.m. One day I found a young lady with flashing blue eyes, sitting opposite him at his large flattop desk, whom he introduced to me as 'Miss Cather, my new assistant.' […] Miss Cather was unconventional in both dress and conversation. She wore skirts much too short for that day and mannish looking shirtwaists. Soon we were calling her 'Bill,' a name she seemed to like. Bill Cather was the most argumentative person I have ever met. She disputed any subject that Couse or I brought up." That was in 1898. In 1906, she moved to New York to work on the editorial staff of McClure's. But the prairie remained her inspiration. She serialized her first novel, Alexander's Bridge, in McClure's in 1912. Her second novel, O Pioneers! (1913), was her first book about Nebraska — it was published when she was almost 40 years old. She wrote to a friend, "I wanted to let the country be the hero."
O Pioneers! begins: "One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them.”
She quit her job at McClure's to write full time, and her many novels include The Song of the Lark (1915), My √Āntonia (1918), One of Ours (1922), and Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927).

Over the past several years, I've enjoyed two of Cather's novels and a few of her short stories. Three years ago, my book club chose My Antonia as our annual classic selection. It received a unanimous thumbs up. The following year, I read O Pioneers! and loved it. Since then, I've purchased a few more of her novels and consider myself a fan.

The TBR Dare, sponsored by James at Ready When You Are, C.B. begins January 1 and offers me the perfect opportunity to return to Cather's work. I will choose from:

Death Comes For the Archbishop
A Lost Lady
The Professor's House

Have you read Willa Cather? Can you help me decide which book to read next?

Monday, December 6, 2010

"A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote (reprise)

A month of Christmas Short Story Mondays was planned for December, but my copy of The Virago Book of Christmas has yet to arrive from The Book Depository. Over the weekend, I reread Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory". It's my favorite Christmas story, and this post is a rerun from last December.

Originally posted 12/6/09:
After a couple of decidedly untraditional stories, Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory", set in the depression-era rural south, had me sighing with relief at the end of the first paragraph.
"Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar."
This house is home to several members of a family, including an old woman and a young boy (our narrator) she calls Buddy. The two friends obviously have a very special bond.
"It's always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: 'It's fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.' "
The boy's memories of the season follow. On the first day of "fruitcake weather", the two gather 'windfall pecans'. The second day finds them buying the rest of the necessary ingredients, with money that has been carefully saved all year. On the third day, the baking commences.

The fruitcakes (as many as 31) are given to people that matter to the old woman and boy. Some are people the two barely know - like the bus driver that waves as he passes by every other day. One is even sent to President Roosevelt at the White House, and the old woman imagines him enjoying it on Christmas morning.

The boy shares the adventure of cutting down the Christmas tree:
" 'It should be, muses my friend, 'twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can't steal the star.' The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we have the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree's virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on."
The making and giving of homespun gifts is also described. The entire story is beautifully written and a joy to read.

Truman Capote wrote this autobiographical story in 1956. It was first published in Madamoiselle and, later, as a book. It was also made into a movie in 1997 starring Patty Duke and Piper Laurie.

An internet search turned up this You Tube video that has Capote reading the story himself. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bleak House Wrap-up

Bleak House
by Charles Dickens
first published 1853
Penguin Classics
989 pages

Blackstone Audio,  2000
read by Robert Whitfield
32 hours 56 minutes

Motivation for reading:
Read-along hosted by Amanda, but I started late and never caught up.

Penguin Classics paperback purchased from B&N. Audio downloaded from

In a nutshell:
Often referred to as Dickens' masterpiece, Bleak House features many characters and multiple plot lines, all connected to the interminable Jarndyce and Jarndyce court case. The novel truly defies summation.

Final thoughts:
Charles Dickens can spin a tale like no other ... and in today's world that may be a good thing. Bleak House is huge in scope and addresses nearly every aspect of life in Victorian England - from social class, the legal system, and politics, to love, marriage, and parenthood. Most 21st century readers are not willing to wade through 500 pages before plot lines begin to intersect. They won't wait 750 pages for that "can't put the book down" feeling. But those who do, will be rewarded.

Reading a Dickens novel is not a decision to be undertaken lightly. Patience, time, and perseverance are all prerequisites.  Dickens is wordy. His prose is often described as 'flowery'. Somewhere around page 400, I wondered where Bleak House was going and whether I cared enough to find out. In the end, I trusted Dickens to make it worth my time and was not disappointed.

A note on the audio:
The original plan was to immerse myself in Bleak House by listening in the car and reading at home. As it turned out, the audio was so well done that I rarely picked up the book. Robert Whitfield's perfectly-paced narration and pleasing voice, which varied with the characters, resulted in a totally engaging audio experience.

When it's time for another Dickens novel, I will definitely seek out an audio version.

Bottom line:
Bleak House was an enjoyable novel that provided a great sense of accomplishment upon completion, but I can only recommend it to die hard Dickens fans. Great Expectations is still my favorite Dickens novel.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: Poetry

The Literary Blog Hop is hosted at The Blue Bookcase. Our question this week comes from Gary at Parrish Lantern:

What is your favorite poem and why?

Poetry intimidated me. In fact, I hadn't read poetry since my high school English classes.  That changed earlier this year when I won a copy of Poetry Speaks Who I Am from Bellezza.  Inside, I found this poem about a kitchen table:

Perhaps the World Ends Here
by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we
must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.
So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the
corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it
means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms
around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-
down selves and as we put ourselves back together once
again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella
in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a
place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to
celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared
our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We
pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,
while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last
sweet bite.

Finally, a poem that spoke to me! "Perhaps the World Ends Here" is the poem that gave me the courage to give poetry a second chance.
Find my complete review of Poetry Speak Who I Am here.

Visit The Blue Bookcase for links to other participants.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November was...

Applications and interviews... college search process winds down
Bleak House finished!
Cooking, cleaning...
Dark at 5PM
Election Day arrives and political ads end
Farmers Market... over until spring
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Hubby's birthday
I love Thanksgiving!
Jonathan Franzen does it again... reading Freedom
Kicking around reading project ideas for 2011
Madame Bovary, elegant Lydia Davis translation
New ovens finally installed
Outlet mall, wineries ... fun in the Finger Lakes
Pavilion of Women on audio
Quick, snap a Christmas photo while everyone's home!
Royal wedding plans thwart trip to London
Shall we go to Florida and relax instead?
Twenty-five years of marriage
Ultimate graduation gift - girls choose travel over party
Veteran's Day
Where's all the snow?
eXtremely thankful for my wonderful family
Year end blog lists coming soon
Zelda feels much better on thyroid medication

On to December....

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Quote of the Week: Pavilion of Women

"Madame Wu rose from the chair.  She was ready for this day. A women's fortieth birthday in a rich and old-fashioned family was a day of dignity.  She remembered very well when her husband's mother had passed such a day, twenty-two years ago.  On that day Old Lady had formally given over to her son's wife the management of the big house with its many members.  For twenty-two years Madame Wu had held this management in her own hands, skillfully maintaining its outward habits so that Old Lady did not notice changes, and at the same time making many changes."   (page 4)

Pavilion of Women
by Pearl S. Buck
first published in 1946

Madame Wu has plans for her fortieth birthday, too, but she will not relinquish management of the big house. Instead, she has decided to give her husband a concubine.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

TSS: Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

I love Thanksgiving. As as kid, it signaled the beginning of the Christmas season.  As an adult, it's every bit as special as Christmas... but without the pressure to find the perfect gift!  I enjoy the planning, cooking, and baking, and it was truly a blessing to have 18 family members at our dinner table on Thursday.

Our Friday family gathering (which included two sisters who spent Thanksgiving with in-laws) turned out to be a surprise anniversary celebration.  How in the world did they pull that off? My husband and I will mark our 25th wedding anniversary on Tuesday. It sounds like such a long time, but often seems like yesterday.  We were planning a trip to London in late April.... then the royal wedding was announced.  R had arranged coverage, but tickets were not purchased.  Suddenly prices are higher and we're wondering if that's really the best time to be in London anyway. We may head to Florida instead and try to get to London during the winter.

Yesterday featured more family togetherness, and today there is even talk of cutting the Christmas tree before Daughter #1 heads back to college.  We usually wait until she comes home for winter break, but there's snow on the ground now, so we may get into the holiday mood early!

Although I wasn't blogging last week, I did read.  Holidays on Ice is classic David Sedaris. I think audio is the best way to experience his books but, since I have his voice in my head, this is still very funny.

I also started Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections has long been a favorite and I have high hopes for Freedom, too.  The New Yorker magazine ran a short story "Good Neighbors", excerpted from the novel, earlier this year.  You can read it here.

Finally, Pearl S. Buck's Pavilion of Women is wonderful.  I won this last month from Oasis Audio as part of the Friday Reads twitter meme. There was a snag this week when disk #3 was actually from a different book, but I borrowed a print copy from the library, read the missing section, and am ready to move on to disk four.

I hope you're enjoying the weekend.  What are you reading today?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TSS: A Big Finish

It's a cold, sunny morning in central New York. A snowy Thursday reminded us again that winter is on the way.  Zelda, our greyhound recently adopted from Florida, was shivering despite her new coat. It was an effort to get her out of the house. What will we ever do in February?

A huge sense of accomplishment highlighted my reading week as I finished Bleak House - all 989 pages and 26 CDs! Dickens is an amazing storyteller. I'm gathering thoughts for a final post later in the week.

If all goes well, I will also finish The Group by Mary McCarthy today or tomorrow. The book follows the lives of eight Vassar graduates, class of '33, as they make their way in the post-collegiate world. It is fascinating reading.

On audio, I've started Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck. This was a prize from Oasis Audio won through The Book Maven's Friday Reads (or #fridayreads) twitter meme. Buck's The Good Earth is a favorite of mine, but this was an unfamiliar title. I initially thought the reader was too slow, but adjusted quickly. The story drew me in immediately.

What to start next? After several long books, a short work is in order.

Verity piqued my interest when she wrote "Another book I'll be getting out of the library is The Virago Book of Christmas which is an anthology of writings about Christmas by over 50 woman, including many famous names. It sounds like it could be something that I might want to dip into on each day of advent."

The Virago Book of Ghost Stories was excellent, so  I have high hopes for their Christmas book. Unfortunately, my library does not own a copy and amazon's delivery time was 5-7 weeks. Luckily, The Book Depository came to my rescue. An order was placed and the book has already been shipped (free postage, as always).

Another possibility is Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. I'm a big fan and this one is both timely and short.

Also on the immediate tbr pile is Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. It's long and has gotten some very mixed reviews. Both my mother and sister panned this one, but Wendy's review has given me hope. Besides, I loved The Corrections.

It may get quiet at Lakeside Musing this week as our house fills up for Thanksgiving. Today I'm going to read for a little while, then it will be time to get organized with meals plans, grocery lists, and a master cooking schedule for the holiday. Last, but certainly not least, there's a Syracuse University basketball game.

How will you spend the day?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: Non-Fiction

It's time for another Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase. If your blog features reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, or general literary discussion, then grab the button, answer the question, and hop along!

This week's question:
Is there such a thing as literary non-fiction? If so, how do you define it? Examples?

My answer:
Of course literary non-fiction exists... and I love it! Defining it, however, is difficult. My attitude tends to be 'I know it when I see it' but, if pressed for a definition, it would be one of exclusion. It's far easier to talk about what literary non-fiction is not.

Literary non-fiction, in my opinion, is the polar opposite of a textbook. It's purpose is not solely to impart fact upon fact. The writing style is not dull, dry, or boring. Instead, the topic is explored in a style worthy of the best novelists.

My favorite literary non-fiction works include:

by Rebecca Skloot
a favorite this year

by Anne Fadiman
an all-time favorite

by Erik Larson
an audio favorite

by Truman Capote
a classic

My nonfiction tbr list is sure to grow over the next few days as I visit other participant's blogs. If you're not 'hopping', please share your favorite title in a comment. Reading more non-fiction is one of my goals for 2011.

Links to more posts on this topic can be found at The Blue Bookcase.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Quote of the Week: The Group

"Publishing's a man's business.  Book publishing, that is.  Name me a woman, outside of Blanche Knopf, who married Alfred, who's come to the top in book publishing.  You find them on the fringes, in publicity and advertising.  Or you find them copy editing or reading proof.  Old maids, mostly, with a pencil behind their ear and dyspepsia"
(page 254 - 255)

The Group
by Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy's 1963 novel provides a fascinating look at the post-college lives of eight Vassar  graduates, class of '33.  I cannot put this book down.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese
Vintage Books, 2010
658 pages
source: purchased

In a nutshell:
Set in Ethiopia and New York, Cutting for Stone is a moving and unforgettable story of the bond between twin brothers, their fascination with medicine, love and betrayal, and the meaning of family.

My thoughts:
Cutting for Stone was the book I most regretted not reading in 2009, so I was thrilled when it was selected by my book club. From the opening pages of the prologue, to the dramatic conclusion some 650 pages later, I loved every word. Unfortunately, a reaction like that often causes serious problems for me when it comes to writing a review.

How can I possibly do justice to this extraordinary novel? Quite simply, I can't.  So instead, here are a few lines that cause me to pause and think.
“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?”
“The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.”
"I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in the art..." (Hippocratic Oath, intro to Part Three)
As you may guess from the Hippocratic Oath quote, there is a lot of medicine and surgery in this novel. Verghese is a medical doctor, and it shows. If you are not interested in the long, detailed descriptions of various surgeries, it will not detract from the story if you simply skip or skim them. I, however, found them fascinating.

My rating:

Bottom line:
Quite possibly my favorite book of the year

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: Hard Times?

It's time for another Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase. If your blog features book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion, go ahead and answer the question, grab the button, and hop along!

This week's question:
What is the most difficult literary work you've ever read? What made it so difficult?

My most 'difficult' literary works have been read on my own (too much chemistry and not enough lit in college) and by choice.  I won't shy away from reading a 'difficult' book but, if it doesn't offer a sense of personal satisfaction or enjoyment, I won't hesitate to put it aside either.

What might make a book 'difficult' for me?  Several ideas came to mind:
  • length... can be daunting, but doesn't mean difficult (Bleak House)
  • long, convoluted sentences (Henry James)
  • flowery, long-winded description (Dickens, again)
  • historical setting where my knowledge is a little thin (Les Miserables)
  • language or dialect
  • obscure symbolism
  • novels of 'ideas'
  • magical realism
  • extended passages in verse

Finally, it hit me - stream of consciousness. Novels featuring stream of consciousness have always been difficult for me to follow.  They seem to demand more from the reader.

Earlier this year, as part of Woolf in Winter, I decided to give Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf one more try.  After two previous failures, not only did I make it to the end, but I enjoyed every page! It has even given me the courage to attempt To The Lighthouse this winter.

 My thoughts on reading Mrs. Dalloway are posted here.

Visit The Blue Bookcase for links to other Literary Blog Hop posts.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

The Irresistible Henry House
by Lisa Grunwald
Random House, 2010
407 pages

motivation for reading: book club selection
source: borrowed from the library

In a nutshell:
The Irresistible Henry House, set in the mid-twentieth century, focuses on the life of a 'practice baby' raised in a university home economics program.

My thoughts:
The opening sentence grabbed me right away:
"By the time Henry House was four months old, a copy of his picture was being carried in the pocketbooks of seven different women, each of whom called him her son."
Who knew there was such a thing as a 'practice' baby? A photograph of one such baby, supplied by a local orphanage to Cornell University's Home Economics Department 'practice house', inspired this novel. At Cornell, students learned various homemaking skills, including mothering. Babies were 'started' at the practice house and returned to the orphanage around the age of two ready for adoption.

Adopting a baby prepped at the university was considered eminently desirable. Cornell's program began in 1919 and continued until 1969. Other programs of this type existed at colleges and universities all over the country.

When Henry's practice baby days come to an end, Martha, the department chair, decides to raise him as her own son instead of sending him back to the orphanage. Henry moves upstairs with Martha, while a steady rotation of 'practice mothers' and 'practice siblings' continues downstairs. By the time Henry is in nursery school, he is aware that his life is unusual.
"As he knelt in the small space behind the couch in the nursery school, turning the page of We Come and Go, he allowed himself to imagine that he belonged in a place like Dick and Jane's, where when people left they came back, and they pretty much stayed the same." (page 80)
Eventually, Henry comes to resent Martha and their troubled relationship will continue into adulthood.
"Whether practice mothers or practice babies, everyone Henry loved eventually left and Martha - in a way that would take Henry years to see - seemed to gain strength from these departures and the role they gave her in his life." (page 103 - 104)
Henry leaves the practice house and enrolls in a boarding school for troubled children. Later he lands a job as an animator for Walt Disney, and eventually heads to London to work on the Yellow Submarine movie. Throughout this time, Henry continues to have difficult personal relationships.
"He wanted to have no one. If he had no one, he figured, he would have no one to lose." (page 319)
"Henry was looking at Peace and finally seeing the unaffected indifference, the strident autonomy, the inability to trust in one person; seeing, unavoidably, the absolute worst in himself." (page 385)
I really enjoyed the historical details in this book. The Disney section had all sorts of interesting anecdotes on the making of Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. Martha was given the opportunity to meet and converse with Dr. Spock at a conference. The 60's scene in London seemed very well done.

My Rating:

Book club reaction:
There were just six of us at the meeting, and only four finished the book. I seemed to be a little more enthusiastic than the others, maybe because this was such a nice change of pace from the classics I have been reading lately. I really thought there would be more of a discussion than we were able to muster... we seemed to have a hard time staying on topic.

Bottom Line:
The Irresistible Henry House is a well-written novel with a fascinating premise that hasn't gotten as much attention as it probably deserves.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Literary Blog Hop

Have you seen this?  I missed it yesterday, but The Blue Bookcase is hosting a Literary Blog Hop "open to blogs that primarily feature reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion."

The prompt:  Please highlight one of your favorite books and why you would consider it "literary."

To begin, my over-simplified definition of literary means a novel that offers more than plot. A literary novel features great writing, character development, themes or ideas that cause you to think, or any number of other elements we all learned about in high school English classes.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner is one of my all-time favorite books.  This was his last novel, written in 1987, and comes to mind every time I hear the words "character development".

The novels follows two couples, who meet in the 1930's at a university faculty party in Wisconsin, through decades of friendship and marriage.  Larry and Sally Morgan, just starting their lives together, are thankful for the new teaching position. Larry dreams of becoming a writer and Sally is pregnant. Charity and Sid Lang seem to have it all - money, social status, and two children, with a third on the way.

The premise of the novel may not sound exciting, but the characters, and the settings, are remarkable and true.  The story of  their friendship and marriages is powerful and beautifully written.

From amazon:
"Crossing to Safety is about loyalty and survival in its most everyday form--the need to create bonds and the urge to tear them apart. Thirty-four years after their first meeting, when Larry and Sally are called back to the Langs' summer home in Vermont, it's as if for a final showdown. How has this friendship defined them? What is its legacy? Stegner offer answers in those small, perfectly rendered moments that make up lives "as quiet as these"--and as familiar as our own."

Visit The Blue Bookcase for links to all participating blogs.


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