Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Clarissa Group Read: January Update

This month we embarked on a yearlong project to read Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. The epistolary novel, published in 1748 and purported to be one of the longest novels in the English language, contains 537 letters written over the course of a year. The goal is to read the letters around their corresponding dates and discuss our progress at the end of each month. Terri and I will alternate monthly hosting duties.

Visit Tip of the Iceberg to leave your link and find collected January posts.

Plot summary:
There are six letters written in January - all between Clarissa Harlowe and her dearest friend, Anna Howe. The first correspondence, initiated by Miss Howe, expresses concern for her friend over a recent incident that has wreaked havoc within the Harlowe family and incited public discussion. Miss Howe asks for a complete account of events from her friend's perspective. Clarissa obliges with a series of five letters.

Mr. Lovelace is presented to the Harlowe family as a suitor for Arabella, the elder daughter, but appears to show no real interest in her. He even takes her "consenting negative" as a final rebuff. Within a couple of weeks, his attention shifts to Clarissa. While Mr. Harlowe does nothing to discourage the match, Clarissa's older brother, James, arrives from Scotland and voices an intense dislike of Lovelace. He holds a grudge dating back to school days and has threatened to disown Clarissa if she marries Lovelace. Meanwhile, rumors of Lovelace's "faulty morals" abound. Clarissa claims she will not allow a relationship to divide her family.

Tensions escalate until James and Lovelace end up in a sword fight, with James sustaining a nonfatal injury. He will recover fully, but cannot rest until Clarissa is safely married. James bullies his father into discouraging Lovelace's advances. It is decided to send Clarissa to Miss Howe for a visit.

A Quote: 
from Clarissa's final letter to Miss Howe:
"Will you engage, my dear, that the hated man shall not come near your house? - but what an inconsistence is this, when they consent to my going, thinking his visits here no otherwise to be avoided! But if he does come I charge you never leave us alone together."
Thoughts and Impressions:
Although I'm still getting used to the language, Clarissa is much more readable than I expected. Starting with just six letters in the first month has been a nice way to ease into our project. The stage is now set... I'm anxious to see where things go from here.

Can Lovelace really be as bad as James thinks? And what about Clarissa? Will she abide by her family's wishes, or do I sense a streak of independence... and possibly deception?

The most important development this month was on a personal level. After reading these first six letters, it became obvious that my huge paperback poses a problem. Not only is it cumbersome, but the print is very small. To top it all off, I realized the pages are yellowing.

I took my Christmas gift certificates to Barnes & Noble and purchased a NOOK Simple Touch. I can't wait to read February's letters now!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sunday Salon: TBR Double Dare Strike Out, New NOOK, and Zelda Update

Not one strike, but three. Twenty-nine days ago, I took up James' dare to read from my shelves for three months. Today, I admit defeat.

Strike #1:  My library hold of The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright arrived. The plan was to read a few pages, send it back, and check it out again after the dare. I read the whole book.

Strike #2:  The Odds by Stewart O'Nan, pre-ordered months ago, appeared in my mailbox. I will start reading it this afternoon.

Strike #3:  I bought a NOOK Simple Touch and downloaded Clarissa for our group read (not technically a strike since the book is already on my shelf). Then, at Sandy's suggestion, I impulsively downloaded a sample of 11/22/63 by Stephen King... it's only a matter of time before I click 'buy now'.

So much for the TBR Double Dare. But, early dropout status notwithstanding, I will still continue to read from my shelves as much as possible.

The new NOOK:
On the plus side, I love my NOOK Simple Touch! It's very lightweight and easy on the eyes. I'll never try to read a book on my iPad again. Just looking at the pink case makes me happy, but will I need a 'wardrobe' of them?  Kate Spade has some very attractive, albeit pricey, offerings.

I've had great fun exploring the Girlebooks link Audrey sent. Lady Audley's Secret  by Mary Elizabeth Braddon was my 'practice download' and there are several others that caught my eye, including Selected Stories by Katherine Mansfield.

Are there any other websites I need to know about? Or NOOK tips in general?

Zelda update:
Zelda is not happy wearing the dreaded Elizabethan collar, but her paw is finally beginning to heal. This week she started to put a little weight on it... very tentatively, of course, but a good sign. The vet has prescribed another two weeks of antibiotics and we'll reassess the collar in another week. It looks like Zelda is going to make it!

I finally decided to visit the doctor this week, too. Antibiotics are helping some with the sinus infection and bronchitis, but the killer cough lingers. It looks like another day on the couch for me - reading, blogging, and drinking tea.  Are you up to anything exciting today?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Author Birthday: W. Somerset Maugham

Yes, I know today is Virginia Woolf's birthday and she will no doubt receive the greater amount of attention, but W. Somerset Maugham  was also born on this date.

From today's Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of W. Somerset Maugham (books by this author), born in Paris (1874). His father was in Paris as a lawyer for the British Embassy. When Maugham was eight years old, his mother died from tuberculosis. His father died of cancer two years later. The boy was sent back to England into the care of a cold and distant uncle, a vicar. Maugham was miserable at his school. He said later: "I wasn't even likeable as a boy. I was withdrawn and unhappy, and rejected most overtures of sympathy over my stuttering and shyness." Maugham became a doctor and practiced in the London slums. He was particularly moved by the women he encountered in the hospital, where he delivered babies; and he was shocked by his fellow doctors' callous approach to the poor." He wrote: "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief; I saw the dark lines that despair drew on a face; I saw courage and steadfastness. I saw faith shine in the eyes of those who trusted in what I could only think was an illusion and I saw the gallantry that made a man greet the prognosis of death with an ironic joke because he was too proud to let those about him see the terror of his soul." 
When he was 23, he published his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, about a working-class 18-year-old named Liza who has an affair with a 40-year-old married man named Jim, a father of nine. Jim's wife beats up Liza, who is pregnant, and who miscarries, and dies. The novel was a big success, and Maugham made enough money to quit medicine and become a full-time writer. For many years, he made his living as a playwright, but eventually he became one of the most popular novelists in Britain. His novels include Of Human Bondage (1915), The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), and The Razor's Edge (1944).
Somerset Maugham said, "To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life."

Maugham's The Painted Veil was the first book I reviewed on this blog back in 2008. It was also one of my favorite books that year. I've read a few of his short stories and have Of Human Bondage waiting on the shelf. Have you read Somerset Maugham?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuesday Intro: The Forgotten Waltz

"I met him in my sister's garden in Enniskerry. That is where I saw him first. There was nothing fated about it, though I add in the late summer light and the view. I put him at the bottom of my sister's garden, in the afternoon, at the moment the day begins to turn. Half five maybe. It is half past five on a Wicklow summer Sunday when I see Sean for the first time. There he is, where the end of my sister's garden becomes uncertain. He is about to turn around - but he doesn't know this yet. He is looking at the view and I am looking at him. The sun is low and lovely. He is standing where the hillside begins its slow run down to the coast, and the light is at his back, and it is just that time of day when all the colours come into their own."
The Forgotten Waltz
by Anne Enright

I picked this book up on Friday intending to read just a page or two, but was entranced by Enright's writing and ended up at page fifty before realizing I'd actually decided to start the book. Does the first paragraph appeal to you?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"The Geranium" by Flannery O'Connor

 "Old Dudley folded into the chair he was gradually molding to his own shape and looked out the window fifteen feet away into another window framed by blackened red brick. He was waiting for the geranium. They put it out every morning about ten and they took it in at five-thirty. Mrs. Carson back home had a geranium in her window. There were plenty of geraniums at home, better-looking geraniums. Ours are sho nuff geraniums, Old Dudley thought, not any er this pale pink business with green, paper bows."
From these opening lines, it's easy to surmise Old Dudley isn't very happy in New York City.  He agreed, in "a moment of weakness", to leave his home in a southern boarding house and move into the apartment his daughter shares with her family.
"The apartment was too tight. There was no place to be where there wasn't somebody else. The kitchen opened into the bathroom and the bathroom opened into everything else and you were always where you started from. At home there was upstairs and the basement and the river and downtown..."
Now Old Dudley is lonely, isolated, and intimidated by the city. He resents the relaxed racial attitudes of the north and struggles with the fact that black people live in the same building as his daughter. The geranium's appearance on the windowsill each morning is the single constant in his life... until one day when it is no longer there. The ending is very moving.

Why has it taken me so long to discover Flannery O'Connor? I recently purchased The Complete Stories and my first inclination was to turn to "A Good Man is Hard to Find", but I decided to start at the beginning instead. "The Geranium" was Flannery O'Connor's first published story. It appeared in Accent: A Quarterly of New Literature in 1946 and was written as part of her six story Masters thesis project. Reading these stories in order will allow me to watch this great talent unfold. I really enjoyed "The Geranium"- you can read it here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vacation Reading: Two Mini-Reviews

by E.L. Doctorow

Ragtime, winner of the 1975 National Book Critics Circle Award, intermingles historical figures with fictional characters to capture the mood and spirit of New York City in the early years of the twentieth century.

The novel opens as Harry Houdini crashes his car into a telephone pole outside a home in New Rochelle. The family invites him in,  and the line between fact and fiction begins to blur. Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, and even Sigmund Freud wander in and out of the story. They cross paths with our fictional family, a Ragtime musician from Harlem, and a poor immigrant desperately trying to protect his young daughter.

The novel was quick reading and entertaining, but the neither the writing nor plot really stood out for me. I ended up leaving it in our rented condo for a future vacationer. My book club's reaction was mixed, too. Eight of us read the book, but only three would recommend it to a friend.

My rating:

Where Angels Fear To Tread
by E.M. Forster

Forster's first novel deals with his signature themes of class, manners, and the collision of cultures.

Plot Summary (from amazon):
 When a young English widow takes off on the grand tour and along the way marries a penniless Italian, her in-laws are not amused. That the marriage should fail and poor Lilia die tragically are only to be expected. But that Lilia should have had a baby -- and that the baby should be raised as an Italian! -- are matters requiring immediate correction by Philip Herriton, his dour sister Harriet, and their well-meaning friend Miss Abbott.

I've read several of Forster's novels and especially enjoyed Howards End and A Room With A View. When Thomas mentioned that reading this novel in the sun would enhance the experience, I decided to bring it to Florida (there is no sun in central New York this time of year!)  Of course, he was right. Reading about the lush Italian countryside while soaking up the sun myself was sublime. Maybe not quite as polished as his later novels, but definitely recommended for any E.M. Forster fan.

My rating:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuesday Intro: Every Last One

"This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-radio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas. My husband stirs briefly next to me, turns over, blinks, and falls back to sleep for another hour. My robe lies at the foot of the bed, printed cotton in the summer, tufted chenille for the cold. The coffeemaker comes on in the kitchen below as I leave the bathroom, go downstairs in bare feet, pause to put away the boots left splayed in the downstairs back hallway and to lift the newspaper from the back step. The umber quarry tiles in the kitchen were a bad choice; they are always cold. I let the dog out of her kennel and put a cup of kibble in her bowl. I hate the early mornings, the suspended animation of the world outside, the veil of black and then the oppressive gray of the horizon along the hills outside the French doors. But it is the only time I can rest without sleeping, think without deciding, speak and hear my own voice. It is the only time I can be alone. Slightly less than an hour each weekday when no one makes demands."
Every Last One 
by Anna Quindlen

I read the first half of this book on our flight home last Saturday, but haven't been able to pick it up since. The characters are all very real, and somehow familiar, to me. From reading reviews, I know something very horrible and violent will occur soon, possibly within pages of my stopping point, and I will need to read the rest of the book in a single sitting - with plenty of tissues nearby.  That will hopefully happen later today or tomorrow.

On a totally unrelated note... Why are UK covers always so much more appealing than their US counterparts? I would much rather be reading this edition.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Of Vacations and Veterinarians

What a difference a day makes. Saturday morning, I woke to the sound of waves and watched the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico. Sunday, it was twelve below zero as the snowplow roared down the road. I'm ready to go back to Sanibel!

It was a very relaxing week. There were walks on the beach and bike rides, but mostly I ate, drank, slept, and read. I finished Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow for book club and Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster. I'm at the halfway mark in Every Last One by Anna Quindlen, read the first few letters in Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, and made a significant dent in the pile of New Yorker magazines.

Everything was perfect until I received a call from the kennel just before we boarded the plane to come home. Zelda injured her paw/pad and they were taking her to the vet. By the time we landed in New York, I had a message from the vet. Thankfully there were no broken bones, but since greyhounds have very delicate legs, there was no extra skin to stitch the laceration together. Her wound was cleaned and covered, antibiotics and pain meds were prescribed, and a plastic boot was fashioned from an IV bag to keep the bandages dry in the snow. Zelda is hobbling around on three legs and we're slated for return vet visits two or three times a week for the next couple of months. We have an appointment later today and I'm anxious to speak with the vet in person. Once Zelda start to heal, I'm hoping they'll show me how to change the dressing. I love our vet, but would rather not visit three times a week all winter. It may be a few more days before regular blogging resumes.

Poor Zelda...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Clarissa Group Read Begins Today!

January 10 
I am extremely concerned, my dearest friend, for the disturbances that have happened in your family. I know how it must hurt you to become the subject of the public talk; and yet upon an ocassion so generally known it is impossible but that whatever relates to a young lady, whose distinguished merits have made her the public care, should engage everybody's attention. I long to have the particulars from yourself, and of the usage I am told you receive upon an accident you could not help and in which, as far as I can learn, the sufferer was the aggressor.

by Samuel Richardson

Our year-long project now underway. Many brave readers have decided to join in as Terri and I  read all 537 letters (1500 pages) around the dates they were written. Full details can be found here and here. Would you like to read along?

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck (audio)

Listening to Travels with Charley reminded me not only of how much I love John Steinbeck's writing, but how much I enjoy travel writing in general. In 1960, Steinbeck was living on the Long Island Sound, approaching his sixtieth birthday, and feeling out of touch with a country he'd been writing about for decades. That fall, he set out with his beloved dog, Charley, in a specially designed pickup truck/camper (named Rocinante after Don Quixote's horse) on a journey across the country. His goal was to rediscover America and reconnect with her people.

Steinbeck's journey took him along the back roads of New England, across the New York State Thruway and into the Midwest. He drove through the Badlands, basked  in the majesty of the giant redwoods, and traversed the desert southwest. After a short break in Texas, Steinbeck was back on the road again and found himself in the midst of a civil rights demonstration in Mississippi. Figuring he'd seen enough, he turned Rocinante north and headed home.

Rocinante, fully restored, at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas

I have read many Steinbeck novels over the years, but in Travels with Charley, it felt like I was meeting 'the man' for the first time, instead of 'the writer'. While listening, it is easy to imagine Steinbeck speaking directly to you. I laughed at his subpar sense of direction and imagined how he would marvel at cars now equipped with built-in GPS systems. I enjoyed his musings on the sense of community among truckers, the 'mobile home' developments springing up across the country, and the impact of super-highway construction.
"When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing." (p.90)
The other star in this book is, of course, Charley. You'll have to take my word on this, but Charley is no ordinary dog. He's a black standard poodle, from France, with a personality as distinct and developed as your or mine. The relationship between man and dog takes center stage in several parts of the narrative. I fell in love with Charley, and think any man who forms such a strong bond with his dog can't be all bad either.

Now I'd like to read more of Steinbeck's nonfiction and a good biography, too. Do you have any recommendations?

Travels with Charley in Search of America
by John Steinbeck
Narrated by Gary Sinise
Penguin Audiobooks, 2011
7 hours and 58 minutes

My rating:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at BermudaOnion's Weblog where we share new or unfamiliar words encountered in our reading.  If you've come across some interesting words this week, feel free to join in the fun.

My words are all from The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, and definitions come from dictionary.com.

susurrus: a soft murmuring or rustling sound; whisper.

Over a susurrus of awed mutterings, he told us that Robson had been cut down in the flower of youth, that his demise was a loss to the whole school, and that we would all be symbolically present at the funeral. (p.13-14)

nonpareil: having no equal; peerless.
(it's always meant small sugar pellets used for decorating cookies, etc. to me - definition number 3)

Also between Veronica and Brother Jack, whose life and deportment she clearly regarded as nonpareil: he was the appointed judge when she asked publicly of me - and the question gets more condescending with each repetition - "He'll do, won't he?" (p.47)

solipsistic: of or characterized by solipsism,  or the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist.

My first reaction was, I admit, solipsistic. (p. 150)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tuesday Intro: Arthur & George

A child wants to see.  It always begins like this, and it began like this then.  A child wanted to see. 
He was able to walk, and could reach up to a door handle.  He did this with nothing that could be called purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy.  A door was there to be pushed; he walked in, stopped, looked.  There was nobody to observe him; he turned and walked away, carefully shutting the door behind him.
What he saw there became his first memory.  A small boy, a room, a bed, closed curtains leaking afternoon light.  By the time he came to describe it publicly, sixty years had passed.  How many internal retellings had smoothed and adjusted the plain words he finally used?  Doubtless it still seemed as clear as on the day itself.  The door, the room, the light, the bed, and what was on the bed: a “white, waxen thing.”

Arthur & George
by Julian Barnes

I enjoyed The Sense of an Ending so much that my first instinct upon finishing was to turn back to page one and begin again. While that reread is still a possibility, I decided to explore more of Barnes work instead. Arthur & George was the only other novel available at my library.

But... We're off to Florida in a few days and I hate traveling with library books, especially hardcovers. And the TBR Double Dare is now underway, too. The first thirty pages convinced me to return to Arthur & George in a few months. In the meantime, I will begin our next book club selection (Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow) and choose a couple books from my shelf for the trip.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"An English New Year" by Henry James

"It will hardly be pretended this year that the English Christmas has been a merry one, or that the New Year has the promise of being particularly happy. The winter is proving very cold and vicious - as if Nature herself were loath to be left out  of the general conspiracy against the comfort and self-complacency of man."

More of a letter or essay, Henry James wrote "An English New Year" during the economically unstable 1870's. He was 35 years old, living in England, and the piece was published in The Nation on January 12, 1879. It later appeared in his Collected Travel Writings: Great Britain and America.

James talks of the general gloom prevalent throughout the country. As London is mired in fog and snow (described in in prose reminiscent of  Dickens), he hopes to recover his 'nervous balance' with a brief escape to the country.

"Of all the great things that the English have invented and made part of the credit of the national character, the most perfect, the most characteristic, the one they have mastered most completely in all its details, so that it has become a compendious illustration of their social genius and their manners, is the well-appointed, well-administered, well-filled country-house."

James is invited to accompany the lady of the house on a charitable holiday visit to a workhouse where she is to distribute toys to the children. The dispatch ends abruptly as he is reminded of Oliver Twist.

"An English New Year" is this week's Library of America Story of the Week and includes drawings by Joseph Pennell. You may read it here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Sunday Salon: A Look Ahead

Happy New Year 2012!

And so we begin another year. While mulling over resolutions for 2012, I realized that slight changes made in 2011 have added to my overall enjoyment of reading and blogging, so I will continue on this path for another year.

My top goal for 2012 is to keep pressure and stress out of blogging. I will not necessarily review every book I read. If I don't have much to say, a one paragraph book note with a few basic thoughts will suffice. I will participate in events and group reads, and continue to limit challenges and commitments. 

Co-host a 2012 Group read. Interest in our Clarissa read-along project has been overwhelming! Terri and I will begin the year-long effort to read the 537 letters (1500 pages) roughly on the dates written. Our 'real time' read will last into December. My invitation post is here, but the page is still under construction.

I will return to my stacks in 2012. I loved the TBR Dare last year and plan to do it all again with the TBR Double Dare. Although it ends in April, reading my own books will continue to be a priority throughout the year.

Go back for seconds. Many of my 2011 favorites were written by known and trusted authors. I will read their work more deeply.

Resume the short story habit. Sometime over the summer, short stories vanished from this blog. I will try to participate in Short Story Monday at least semi-regularly.

Finally, thank you to all who read and comment here. I appreciate your feedback and friendship, and look forward to another year of book talk.


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