Thursday, December 2, 2010

Literary Blog Hop - Poem

Literary Blog Hop

The latest Literary Blog Hop by The Blue Bookcase (link on image above) poses the question, "What is your favorite poem and why?"

I have to confess to not being much of a poetry reader. Perhaps, in my little exercise of reading more widely I need to include poetry (?). On top of that, every time I answer this question (it comes up in discussion with other readers), I always feel like I'm answering with some very 'pop' answer. As if I'm answering "Fallingwater" as my favorite piece of's not by the way, though it's pretty awesome. So, um yeah, my favorite poem -

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

Why? The closing lines.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Those lines speak to the romantic, the idealist, the non-conformist, and the seeker in me. Even recognizing that I am none of those things as much as I would like to be, those lines still speak to me, and inspire me to maybe be more of that person.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday

This week Broke and the Bookish asks which fictional characters you would like to be friends with.

1. Sam Gamgee, Lord of the Rings. Is there anyone who thinks Sam wouldn't make a great friend?

2. Jean Valjean, Les Miserables. Valjean's persistence in becoming a "good man" makes him an ideal candidate for a good friend.

3. Sancho Panza, Don Quixote. He pretty much stuck with a total lunatic. I think he would stand by me.

4. Oedipa Maas, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. Ok, she probably wouldn't have my back when the chips were down, but her persistence in looking into the mysterious kind of makes her a kindred spirit. Plus, she basically is the reader.

5. Vince Camden, Citizen Vince by Jess Walter. He's a low-level criminal with a heart and a desire to change his life and the world just a little bit.

6. Lacey Rawlins, All the Pretty Horses. This dude will cross the border with you with hardly a penny to your names, go to prison with you, and stand by you while you keep making mistakes which threaten to put you back in prison...all because you are friends.

7. Rorshach, Watchmen by Alan Moore. Someone's killed an old "friend", and it looks like you and some of your other old friends might be next on the list. Nobody else seems to care...but Rorshach does. Just don't have him over for Christmas dinner.

8. Sal Paradise, On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Ok this may be stretching the term "fictional", but that's ok. Wouldn't it be cool to make some of those road trips with Sal and Dean? And I think Sal would make a better friend than Dean, who is more flighty.

9. Ree Dolly, Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Ree is an individual, which may make it difficult to see her as a friend, but as we get to know her, we find that there's more to her search for her dad than survival, than securing her ability to move on with her life...there's her love for her family and the family name. Ree is honorable, and that is perhaps the greatest quality in a friend.

10. Andy Dufresne, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King. Confession...I haven't read this novella. But if Andy is anywhere close to being accurately depicted in the movie, how could he not be awesome?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

This is my first time participating in the Lit. Blog Hop, courtesy of the Blue Bookcase (clicky on photo above). I love the idea of this hop, as it focuses sharply on blogs that I'll be more interested in. I'm glad there are a lot of YA/Paranormal blogs out there for readers of this genre, but the literary blog often seems like an ant in the woods for all of these blogs out there.

The question this week is What piece of 21st Century literature do you think will still be read in the 22nd century?

Tough question. I haven't read all that many books first published this century that seem to carry the "timeless" cross. I'll go with The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I think a century from now McCarthy will be our era's Melville, and The Road seems to be more of a keeper than No Country for Old Men. I realize that the verdict is split on the novel. I know many people who HATE it. The people who love it, really LOVE it though. I fall into the love category. I think in The Road, McCarthy has produced a beautiful, if dark, story of fatherly love. The images of the Father resting his hand on the Boy's chest to feel his failing breath will not soon leave me. It is the fatherly love theme, and not the post-Apocalyptic setting that will keep this book in readers' hands a century from now.

What about you? What books written in the last ten years do you think will still be around 100 years from now?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Anthony Hopkins as "Mr. Stevens" in the film

The Remains of the Day is a Booker Prize winner by Japanese/British author Kazuo Ishiguro.  It is another novel about the upper crust British class.  (Why do I keep reading these?)  This on the surface does not sound like anything I would be interested in.  A movie was made of the novel starring Anthony Hopkins.  It looked very snooty.  So I’ve steered clear of it.  However, if your interested in books at all and contemporary fiction especially its hard to avoid the critical praise heaped upon Kaz Ishi.  So I caved in and read his most famous title.  I’m happy to report that it is a good book.

“The Remains of the Day” is structured around a road trip taken by Stevens, a butler at the famous Darlington House in England.  During this road trip, Steven reflects back upon his career of servitude.  It is through these flashbacks that the narrative of Stevens’ life is told.  Perhaps Ishiguro’s greatest achievement is how well he is able to leave things untold and the reader is still able to fill in the gaps, and the full picture is revealed…somewhat.  For instance, Stevens’ comes to realize that perhaps Lord Darlington isn’t the great man he always thought he had served – in fact he was likely a Nazi sympathizer.  But the complete nature of Darlington’s failings is never told.  Ishiguro could have double the size of his book simply by telling the whole story.  It probably would have been easier. But the story is stronger for what is left out.

The main characters of “Day” are Stevens, of course, Miss Kenton, and Lord Darlington.  Stevens is not a likable guy in my opinion.  He sees his complete, unwavering servitude as “dignity”.  He has deluded himself into thinking this way because of a similar quality in his father told through another memory.  In which, his father’s loyalty to his master is tested and his father does not waver.  Later, when the father health is failing Stevens sees his commitment to his duties over attending to his ill father as ‘dignity’.  Literally his whole life is serving Darlington

Darlington is a minor character in that he is somewhat shrouded in mystery.  We don’t really get to see much of his true character, because all of his time on stage is revealed through Stevens’ delusions.  In this way, however, he serves the story well, as it illuminates for the reader this major failing of the main character.  As for Darlington’s character, he is perhaps best described by a young visitor to the house…the younger Mr. Cardinal, a friend of the family through his deceased father.  Cardinal describes Darlington to Stevens as being an old fashioned, noble gentleman who believes too much in being a sympathetic winner.  This led him to believe that the resulting Treaty of Versailles after Germany’s defeat in WWI was too harsh.  The Germans in convening years have exploited his kindness and have used him as a pawn.  Darlington himself is deluded by “gentleman” qualities.

Miss Kenton is a housemaid at Darlington House, who is the only person that is really able to speak with and relate to Stevens in such a way that he actually seems human.  Yet, even these conversations are few and far between…yet, they are the chisel that breaks through the harsh fa├žade Stevens’ has constructed.  Miss Kenton’s obvious feelings for Stevens and his obliviousness to them is further illustration of Stevens’ delusion.  Stevens’ road trip includes a visit to the now married Miss Kenton.  It is this visit in which Stevens begins to come to the revelation of one of the book’s major themes, the idea that one must stop looking back, and must stride forward.  An encounter with a stranger in the park after this meeting with Miss Kenton reiterates: (Paraphrasing)  “Most people consider the evening the best part of the day. Why not kick your feet up and enjoy it?”  Stevens begins to question what he will do with the remains of his day…

I didn’t like Stevens, until perhaps the very end and even then he can’t completely break free of his delusions, but I did like his story.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - Villains

I'm back.  A nice topic for the Top Ten Tuesday this week.  Villains.

1. Sarumon The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.  Maybe the big baddy was Sauron, but who can relate to him/it.  Sarumon on the other hand was a despicable traitor.  We've all come across our own Sarumons, maybe they weren't about world domination, but that doesn't make our very own Sarumon less of a prick.

2. Humbert Humbert Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  Maybe my favorite novel, partly because of the character of Humbert, the ultimate unreliable narrator.  He makes your skin crawl on one page, and you catch yourself sympathizing with him on the next.  I can think of no better way to illustrate Nabokov's mastery than this.  He evokes sympathy for a pedophile in the reader.  Are you kidding me?

3. Tony Cardo A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke. Robicheaux goes undercover and finds himself living under the roof of mob kingpin Tony Cardo.  Cardo is pretty much your run of the mill mafioso, except that he has a paraplegic son, whose love is constantly pulling him apart at the seams.  The father-son relationship here also has Robicheaux conflicted. The book is the best of the Robicheaux series because Cardo is Burke's greatest character.

4. Judge Holden Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.  I should point out that I'm just writing these as they come to me, so they aren't in any order of "bad-ness".  I point this out now, because the Judge should top any of these lists if you've read Blood Meridian.  He's an enormous, hairless, white (Moby Dick white) man of elite intellect that is totally committed to violence and basically thinks it is man's nature to kill one another.

5. Terry Lennox The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler.  As is usually the case with Chandler, the whole cast comprise a great villain.  Lennox stands out in particular, because it is a drunken Lennox that we are first introduced to in the book, and Marlowe for some reason sees him as a wounded bird and helps and befriends him.  And the reader totally buys it, because Lennox is THAT good.  It is Marlowe's friendship with Lennox that sends him circling around the bowl.

6. Javert Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  Has there ever been a more obsessed villain?  This story is as much about Javert's conviction that the law is always moral slowly eroding away, as it is about Jean Valjean's search for redemption.

7. Patrick Bateman American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.  I hated this book.  I hated Patrick Bateman, the yuppy serial killer that is the main "protagonist".  I also happen to think this reaction is exactly what Ellis wanted.  I'll probably never read another Ellis book again (I've read Rules of Attraction as well), so it may have been a bad marketing move...HATE Bateman.

8. Gutman The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  He is sort of a lovable villain.  There's something romantic in his obsessive pursuit of that black bird.  But don't be fooled he's also a devious S.O.B.

9. Veruca Salt Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  Of all the bratty kids that accompany Charlie to the chocolate factory, she's the one who has stayed with me all of these years.

10. Lady Macbeth Macbeth.  by William Shakespeare.  Willie's best femme fatale (?).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Top Ten Books I'll never read

Another Top Ten from the Broke and the Bookish.

1-4 -  The Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer.  My wife adores the books.  I even went to one of the movies with her.  I picked up the first book, opened it up, and didn't get more than a couple of pages in before I put the thing down FOREVER.  I've heard enough about these books to know that I just don't care. 

5. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown.  So many people have told me that it is poorly written that I don't want to find out.

6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Here is where I admit my prejudices.  I've tried reading the influx of Scandinavian crime authors ...Arnaldur Indridason, Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum, Henning Mankell...and I just haven't really cared for ANY of them.  Being of Swedish descent, you'd think I'd have some interest, but nope.  I have seen the movie, and I kind of liked it.  Unfortunately, though, it reinforced my belief that I just won't like this book.  I don't care for serial killer stories.

7.  Vanishing Point by David Markson.  I read Wittgenstein's Mistress, and it was the most painful read for me in 30+ years of reading.  No desire to ever read Markson again.

8-10 and beyond.  I've left these for last, so I could give room for other books, and also so readers would read the rest of the post before sharpening their pitchforks.  Any of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling.  There is one exception here (and we have all of the books - wife again), and that would be if my son asked me to read them to/with him, in which case I would gladly read the entire series.  Other than that, sorry I'm just not interested.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I haven't disappeared.  Today's top ten courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish is favorite authors. I'll do no particular order and just come up with names quickly, so as not agonize over picks because then I will just lament going over the list at a later date wondering why I left an author off.  Who am I kidding?  I'll still do that but, yeah, ok here goes:

1. James Lee Burke -  He is sort of a hero for me.  Burke published a handful of books in the 60's that were fairly well received critically.  He wrote stories of down on their luck folks looking for redemption.  They were essentially the same types of stories that he writes now, but they were classified as literary fiction.  Despite this modest early success, however, Burke went unpublished for nearly a decade.  His novel, "The Lost Get Back Boogie" spent eight years circling the publishing houses and received over 100 rejections.  Finally, Louisiana State University Press, published it, and it was nominated for a Pulitzer (I'm not really sure what that means).  Burke on the advise of Charles Willeford, then took on the crime/mystery genre.  He created Dave Robicheaux and basically continued to tell the same sorts of stories he always had except with a recurring character -- a police detective.  He is now a bestselling author, and a two time Edgar Award winner and a Mystery Writers of America grandmaster.  He also writes some of the most violently, beautiful prose this side of Shakespeare.  As someone that fancies himself a part time writer, and holds the dream, occasionally, of someday being read outside of immediate family, James Lee Burke's story of persistence is particularly inspiring.

2. Ernest Hemingway - In music, sometimes the beauty is not in the notes played but in the space between the notes.  In architecture, it is often the space between the elements rather than the craft lavished upon the elements.  In literature, sometimes the beauty is Hemingway and not everyone else that came before him.  He is the master of the unsaid.  Plus he writes about slaying big fish, bullfighting, climbing mountains, war...c'mon, what's a guy not to like.

3. Walter Mosley - He writes about a world I have never known (post WWII black L.A.), and makes me feel as if it is my own.

4. Vladimir Nabokov - I've read ONE book by him, and it's enough to make room for him on this list.  Anyone that can make the reader sympathize with a pedophile is masterful. 

5.  Charles Dickens - yes, it all seems dated and long winded. But the stories, my god, the stories.  Great Expectations is probably my favorite "assigned" book I've ever read.  Freshman year, high school.

6. John D. MacDonald -  he is a man of his times, and to enjoy him perhaps you need to give him a mulligan on that, but he was also ahead of his times in other regards - his thoughts on the environment seem particularly relevant today.  I discovered him on my dad's bookshelves one weekend when I was visiting him, and read that book ( "Nightmare in Pink" ) in one sitting, and was forever hooked on his Travis McGee books.  Part of the allure was McGee's adventures were set in Florida and having lived there all my life the locales were familiar to me. Just writing about him has me wanting pull one of the ratty paperbacks out of my collection.

7.  Cormac McCarthy - my first exposure was "The Road".  It was, maybe, the most powerful book I had ever read.  McCarthy's ability to portray one driving image throughout the length of the novel was reminiscent to me of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea".  I have since read most of his other books.  Most of them more than once.  McCarthy is one of the few authors that hold up to re-reads for me.  I alway find greater appreciation the second time through.  This was especially the case with "Blood Meridian", McCarthy's opus. A very disturbing look at America's lust for violence and expansion.  I often catch myself telling people McCarthy is my favorite author, though I'm not sure if that is true or not.

8. William Shakespeare -  C'mon, really, has there ever been a greater storyteller?  I love him on the page and on the stage. I love him writing sonnets.  Hell, I even love the stuff he is said not to have written...

9. Raymond Chandler - As a mystery writer, his plots aren't the greatest.  He leaves his share of loose ends, and the whole thing kind of meanders all over the place...from one kick ass scene to another...from one colorful character, like no one you've ever seen, to another.  And that, not the metaphors, is what Chandler brought to the detective genre.  His voice is more compelling than Dashiell Hammett's, which for me, makes him the King of the hardboiled.  His 'The Long Goodbye' should be read by everyone in my opinion.  It is his most literary achievement.

10. J.R.R. Tolkien - "The Hobbit" was assigned to me in 7th grade, and it was the first fictional book that had really caught my attention since the Roald Dahl books I had read in elementary school.  I had spent the prior five years or so reading books like, "Greatest Halfbacks of the NFL" and an untold number of Mickey Mantle biographies. About the time I read "The Hobbit", I was also playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, so the adventures of Bilbo Baggins held an additional appeal in that regard.  Of course, I went on to read LOTR, and even dabbled in some of the mythology reading parts of The Silmarillion and other works.  I think Tolkien is most impressive in this regard - the detail involved in his mythological history.  As a storyteller, though, I don't think he ever surpassed "The Hobbit."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - Favorite Book Quotes

Another Top Ten Tuesday.  List requested today by Broke and Bookish is favorite book quotes.  I'm not very good at this, because I have terrible memory.  But I do have SOME favorite opening and closing lines.  Also I have been highlighting some favorite passages as I read Les Miserables, so I will toss out some of these.  (Oh and I'll skip Call Me Ishmael...that's too easy)


1.  We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge. Darker than Amber by John D. MacDonald. Yep, that will keep you reading.

2. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.  Neuromancer by William Gibson.  It's unfortunate that generations of readers won't really get this..."you mean sky was blue?"  But for those of us living and reading at the time this book was written it is a near perfect image.

3. It was Wang Lung's marriage day. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.  Such matter of fact way to start this story of one man's epic journey from a poor, single farmer to successful family businessman.  This books was assigned in my English 101 class freshman year of college.  I don't remember much about the plot (I remember enjoying the book), but the first line is unforgettable, despite seeming like such a throw away line.  I probably need to re-read this some time.

4. My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.  Great Expections by Charles Dickens.  Another favorite book that I need to re-read.  This opener to me is astounding in it's ability to illuminate the character of Pip (uncertainty) in so few words...and right at the beginning of the book, no less.

5. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Every time, and I mean every time, I hear somebody getting all negative and critical of somebody else this line comes to my mind.


6. "Isn't it pretty to think so?" The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.  This is impotent main character Jake's response to Lady Brett's comment that they could have been so good together.  It's just so Hemingway.

7. I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler.  The irony of this line is that Marlowe would be perfectly just in not wanting to see ANY of the characters populating this novel again, yet he almost laments the fact that these people are gone from his life.

Les Mis

8.  Some people are malicious from the mere necessity of talking. Their conversation, tattling in the drawing-room, gossip in the ante-chamber, is like those fireplaces that use up wood rapidly; they need a great deal of fuel; the fuel is their neighbor.  I don't know about you but I know a few of these people.

9. In vain we chisel, as best we can, the mysterious block of which our life is made, the black vein of destiny reappears continually.  A neat metaphor of fate.  I like how he bookends the line with vain and vein.

10. One can no more prevent the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore. In the case of the sailor, this is called the tide; in the case of the guilty, it is called remorse. Another neat metaphor from Hugo.

Ok, that wasn't so painful.  So, dear reader, what are some of your favorites?

Addendum:  a #11 because I can't believe I forgot it, and because it totally encompasses the first 25 years of my life.  This would fall under the "Closers" category.

11. You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. Ball Four by Jim Bouton. My favorite sports book.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Hop Friday

Book Blogger Hop
It's hop time courtesy of Crazy-for-Books.  Today's task is to honor our favorite book bloggers.  I'm going to go with:

Dead White Guys A blog written about the classics that doesn't take itself too seriously.  I disagree with her frequently, but she writes a good, humorous review.  This blog is fun.

Roof Beam Reader He's another male book blogger.  Them's hard to come by.  Plus, the blog has a cool, literary name.  Plus, he writes great reviews.  And he has a cool weekly feature on censorship. What's not to like?

Ok, there goes...if you're stopping by on the hop.  Say hi...let me know what other blogs are kicking maximus.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - 10 Books I'm Dying to Read

I like lists.  So, this meme over at The Broke and the Bookish is something I look forward to.  This week's list is Top Ten Books I'm Dying to Read.  Now c'mon, if I was really dying to read them, they would probably already have been read, no?  Unless, of course, we're talking about books with upcoming releases, and (with few exceptions) I'm just not enough of a fan boy to follow books soon to be released.  Anway, here's some books I look forward to reading at some point --

1. The Financial Lives of Poets - Jess Walter

Jess Walter's "Citizen Vince" is one of my favorite books of all time.  It's crime fiction, sort of, but I think it appeals far beyond genre readers.  I don't even know anything about "...Poets", as far as story goes, but it has Jess Walter's name on the cover, and that is enough for me.

2. Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

Flynn's debut novel "Sharp Objects" was a surprising 'hit' with both the masses and me.  Flynn basically writes about women being a bunch of evil bitches, which sounds really shallow and silly, but it's actually kind of refreshing.  Flynn goes beyond femme fatales and manipulative women and tells stories of women doing the kinds of things we generally expect only out of men...actually Flynn's women are even worse.  Anyone who has spent any time in the high school cafeteria knows where these characters come from and why they ring true.  It's not only the men who are pigs.

3. Redemption Street - Reed Farrell Coleman

Another crime novel,  and series book no less.  Coleman's series is somewhat unique in the crime genre in that the series is a story arc (similar to the trilogies you see in sci-fi and fantasy), rather than just a series of books using the same characters in un-linked stories.  The interesting thing, to me, is that I've read the series out of order and can still :  1) appreciate the books on an individual level  2) appreciate the overall story arc of the series.  The story arc btw isn't so much a mystery/crime story, it's mainly a story of family conflict.  This is the 2nd book in the series...I've read #1, #3, #4.  There are five books.  The other I need to read is "Empty Ever After".

4. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison

I've read Morrison's debut "The Bluest Eye", and I have her so-called masterpiece "Beloved" at home.  I enjoyed "...Eye" more than I thought I would.  "Solomon", not "Beloved", is the book Harold Bloom claims is Morrison's opus, and Bloom's opinions have served me well in the past.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

This book was on my prior Top Ten list of books I haven't read.  This makes me wonder why these two lists aren't more similar? Hmm...

6. The Postman Always Rings Twice

This is the classic noir novel.  No clue why I have yet to read it.  The Italian neo-realist film Ossessione is one of the best pictures I've ever seen. It was based on the novel, and is superior to the American noir film that carries the Cain title.

7. Barabbas - Par Lagerkvist

This one is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and came up on a random number search of  that list, and I became intrigued by it's story of the man pardoned to "make room" for Christ's crucifixion.  I like intelligent biblical stories, and this appears to be one.  Lagerkvist is a nobel laureate.

8. Veronika Decides to Die - Paolo Coelho

I've never read Coelho.  I've heard him referred to as simplistic.  I find beauty in the simple.  Plus, I picked this book up at the Big Ass Book Sale, and on the cover it says it's a Novel of Redemption.  I like redemptive stories.  Win?

9. Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

I have to confess to having picked this book up more than once, and being turned off by Stephenson's writing style.  I'm not even much of a sci-fi guy, but I do LOVE Gibson's Neuromancer and people are always telling me how great this cyberpunk novel I want to read it and I want to like it.  Unfortunately, that can be a bad combination.  High expectations and all...

10. I don't know.  You tell me.  What book should I be dying to read?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An Update on Les Mis

As I mentioned at the end of my review of "Decline and Fall",  I am currently reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.  This was one of the books on my Top Ten Books I've never read.  I'm only about 200 pages in.  It is going slow for a number of reasons.

One, I am married and have a son and work full time and, right now, I'm in one of those periods where I have so many balls up in the air that I cannot think straight.  I usually read on average fifty pages per day, and have for years.  It's not something I set out to do. It is just something I have noticed over the the end of the day, most any day, I will have read around fifty pages.  I've been reading about ten pages per day lately, because I am so exhausted that I can only prop my eyes up for that long before drifting off to sleep.

  Two, this book is intimidating in its heft.  At well over 1000 pages, it is like reading a marathon and I think my subconscious mind is slowing myself down to a trot for the long haul.

  Finally, it was written something like 200 years ago (not quite) and whenever I read a book written so long ago, the style seems to make me read slower to appreciate it.  This happened somewhat with Sister Carrie, which was written at the turn of the 20th century.

I am enjoying the book.  Valjean is becoming one of my favorite literary creations.  The bishop, though he only makes a brief appearance, is a wonderful character - love his dialogue with the dying man.  The book is like a conglomeration of my favorite themes.  I just wish I wasn't so tired all the time, and could make some more headway on it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - Words

Another Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish. Today's top ten list is ten favorite words. This will be a reach, as I can't say I give this much thought except for #1, which has been my fave word for many years and will remain so for years to come.

1. Copacetic - Very satisfactory. The word was used in many of James Lee Burke's early Robicheaux novels. It was also featured heavily in Local H's one hit wonder "Bound for the Floor." It is the most copacetic of words.

2. pronate - a word I heard many times when working on my mechanics as a collegiate pitcher. One of the more technical sounding words I heard come out of my pitching coach's mouth. He tended towards four letter ones. It rolls off the tongue. For a pitcher it meant the palm, with ball in hand, and forearm should face backwards (i.e. opposite direction of target) at the point in the rotation that the pitcher begins his transition towards the plate.

3. whim - can you even say this word without smiling?

4. ambiance - just sounds better than atmosphere, and I have a friend that overuses the word and it's funny.

5. existential - it's a word that can either lead to a lot of conversation or someone just looking at you like you have two faces. So it is good to use the word early on in a conversation to see who you're dealing with. FWIW, I am no expert on existentialism, but I do like hear people talk about it and try to explain it to me.

6. podjo - okay, so it is slang. It's basically the same as buddy, and can sometimes be heard in south Louisiana. Another word that frequents James Lee Burke books. It's also what I call my son.

7. serendipity - sounds better than luck or fate or good fortune. Has almost a staccato sound coming out of your mouth. I have a crush on Kate Beckinsale.

8. honor - I would be doing a disservice to this word if I tried to explain it or justify it's inclusion here.

9. love - see honor above

10. teabagger - not to get too political, but this just seems such a perfect label for the fringe element of the tea party movement. Note I say fringe element. If you don't know what I mean by that, you're likely just not paying any attention (completely justifiable) or you are one yourself (which is really unfortunate).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hoppin' on Friday

Book Blogger Hop
Another Friday, another Book Hop from (Link on the Image up there^).  Today's question is "Do you ever judge a book by its cover?"

Well, yeah. On so many levels, though, and perhaps not exactly what the question is going for.  Let's start with the obvious.  There's some important info on the cover.  Stuff like - Title, AUTHOR, and usually a synopsis, of sorts.  I often prejudge a book on this info alone.  Ok, so mainly the author's name, but still.  Example?  If a cover has the name David Markson on it, I'm going to cringe.

Then there's the aesthetic thing.  Sure I judge a book by it's cover's aesthetics.  This doesn't really have a thing to do with what I think about the story/prose/poetry/whatever.  But it still means something.  A good book with a good story AND a good cover just pleases the book lover in me more than a good book with a good story and a crap cover.  When I went to the Big Ass Book Sale, I found different copies of books.  Don't think I didn't pick out the books with cooler covers.  I even revere a cool cover book over the book with more commentary, annotations, etc.

This all leads to another thing.  Digital books vs. 'real books'.  The cover is really part of the 'packaging'.  I own a nook, but I still would choose a real book, partly because the real book just looks and feels nicer.  On my nook,   I always use the feature where I can view the covers in my library over just list form.  Despite the fact, that these 'covers' are so small that you cannot make anything out...I still prefer seeing the cover.

One other thing...If the cover has a Fabio look alike nibbling on the neck of some woman pouring out of her top, I'm going to judge that book. It's a book I'm generally not going to be interested in reading. Also, there are the self-published books you see now with covers that are really cheap looking and fuzzy, like some non-professional graphic designer booted up his/her pirated copy of Photoshop. Judged.

What do you think? Does the cover mean anything to you?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reading Challenge

Alright, so I"m going to give this a try.  Here's the challenge:

1. Read a book outside your comfort zone
2. Read a "chunky book" 500 + pages.
3. Read a book with the letter "S" for September in either the title or the author's name.
4. Read a book that is part of a series.
5. Re-read a book that you consider an old friend.
6. Read something "Spooky" for halloween.
7. Read a book that was recommended to you by a friend.
8. Read one of the books that's been on your TBR the longest.
9. Read a book by a debut author.
10. Read a book with a "fall" theme
11. Reader's Choice
12. Read a book by an author that you love

I'm waiting to hear back if this is actually 12 separate books.  For instance, my current read Les Miserables could knock off numbers 1-3, I suppose.  I suspect I'll end up trying 12 separate reads though.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday - Heroines

It's Top Ten Tuesday (and my ninth anniversary) again from the Broke and the Bookish.  And this is tuff.  Top Ten Heroines.  Ok, remember this blog is chronicling my exercise of reading more widely. And this...this here is what I'm talkin' bout.

No, I cannot give you a top ten list of heroines.  Here's a few off the top of my head:

1. Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.  Two words - Pelennor Fields.

2. Dolores Price from She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb.  Perhaps it could be argued that she isn't a true heroine.  I think she fits.  She has a ton of shitty things happen to her.  Her life seems to be one bad decision after another.  And quite frankly she isn't very likable.  Until, she comes out on the other side a better person for it all.  Kudos to Wally Lamb for writing a great, believable female character.

3. Camille Preaker from Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.  Dark subject.  Love it.  Camille Preaker is f'ed up.  She's not just a cutter.  She's a literary cutter, carving words into her flesh one blade at a time.  In Flynn's debut thriller, Camille returns to her hometown and messed up family as an investigative journalist covering the murder of a child.  It's a study of how evil women can be, and somehow Camille, f'ed up as she is, faces down her dysfunctional family, and rises above the bitches (it's the word that works here) inhabiting the pages of this book.  Props to Flynn for not turning Camille into a "series" character after the success of this book.

4. Um, yeah this is going to be a problem...

Any help here?  I haven't read any Austen or Bronte sisters, that is coming though.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Decline and Fall" by Evelyn Waugh

EVELYN Waugh was a dude!

It's true. Now, I've learned this stunning fact a number of times. Yet, somehow when I, at last, came to read one of his books I was shocked to learn this again. He also was born into a snooty upper class British family, but was snubbed by said class because of a brother's indiscretions. If that sounds ridiculous, it is nothing compared the ridiculous comedy of errors that is his satirical novel "Decline and Fall", which, get this, makes fun of the snooty upper British Class.

The story is circular, with main character Paul Pennyfeather ending up where he began as a theology student. Everything in between is the meat of the story as Paul begins the story being expelled from college for indecent exposure - an unfortunate consequence of a hazing incident. He then moves directly to a job as a schoolmaster of a boarding school for boys. This despite being honest about his reason for being kicked out school. Yes, this is the kind of humor that permeates "Decline and Fall". He will move onto engagement with a super rich widow, and a prison sentence for trafficking prostitutes. All before finding himself right where he started.

All of the characters are literary constructs. Pawns on the board for Waugh's comedy. In this way, they remind a great deal of Flannery O'Connor's grotesques. Even Pennyfeather is but a piece. For the most part he serves the role as camera lens. He is the reader's lens to view all the bizarro workings of the rich. Pretty much everything in the novel happens to him. The same could be said of most every character.

Another unfortunate bit on the characters is that book is populated with tons of characters with long,strange, humorous names like Clutterbuck and Bret-Chest-Wynde, etc. I don't even know if I got those right, and that's my complaint. It's difficult to keep track of them all.

The book is very funny providing many laugh out loud moments. I did appreciate the character of a pompous ass architect (being one myself - an architect, not a pompous ass), who played the role of the misunderstood artist in over the top hilarity. This character even provided some of the most interesting insight into the human condition near the end of the novel, when describing Pennyweather as a static personality (kind of like a camera lens, you know).

I enjoyed the novel, more than I expected. I don't tend to gravitate towards stories about the rich. I prefer Everyman stories and those about the poor and downtrodden. But, hey, Waugh was pretty much poking fun at the upper class. The book is recommended for those interested in dark, satirical comedy.

Next up for me Les other words, look for the next review in a few weeks.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Book Blogger Hop

It's book hop Friday again courtesy of Crazy-for-Books. Today's question is:

Do you use a rating system for your reviews and if so, what is it and why?

I've only reviewed one book so far. Look for another over the weekend of Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall." I'm still thinking about a rating system. My last review I just stated I gave it 4 stars, which is what I rated Sister Carrie on Good Reads. I always struggle with rating stuff because inevitably you end up comparing books, and because there has never been two books equally as satisfying in the history of literature, I always end up wondering how I can justify giving a book 5 stars when it really isn't my favorite book ever. If I use that as the measuring stick, I will only have one five star book. I'm leaning towards a fuzzier rating system. Maybe (+) for excellent reads. (-) for crap reads, and (~) for everything in between. Sort of a thumbs up, thumbs down thing.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday

It's Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish. So again first time...Here's my shameful list of books I have never read in no particular order.

1. Hamlet by Shakespeare. I kid you not. I have seen it performed, but forget what I said about "no particular order" this IS my most shameful.

2. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Shamefully, I've never read anything by Faulkner.

3. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. I haven't read Ulysses either, and it scares the crap out of me, but this (I think) is supposed to be Joyce's accessible novel...

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I blame my teachers for this one. Am I the only product of the U.S. public school system that was never assigned this book? The hell of it is I READ all of those books that I was assigned...those other teachers wasted their Mockingbird assignments on a bunch of kids thumbing through Cliff Notes!

5. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I've read much of Hemingway's work, and I would not feel bad about missing this one if it weren't for one little thing. My research paper in English 201, my sophomore year of college, was titled "Symbolism in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms". And I received an A+ on the paper from a teacher who informed us on the first day of class that she doesn't give out A+ grades. I somehow weaved my magic out of a bunch of critical articles on the novel. Shameful. I wish I still had the paper for when I read the book.

6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevski. I'm not looking up the spelling on that name. Shoot me. It looks really long.

7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It looks really long.

8. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It looks really long.

9. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I've always thought the opening lines were cool. No clue why I've never read past them.

10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Seems a favorite novel of many people. I thought Franny and Zooey was just OK, so who knows when/if I'll get around to this.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Hop

Book Blogger Hop

First time doing the book hop put forth by Crazy-for-Books, so my apologies if I screw it up.  The idea I think is to share links to book blogs, so that all of us book lovers have more blogs to read, because there's too much time in the day and we need something else to read besides books.  OK, maybe that's not exactly it.

The question for this week is how many book blogs do I follow.  I'm a newb, so um two.  They are:

Dead White Guys Lit Which is a fun blog about the classics.
Reading  Envy  a newer blog as well, by a local NaNoWriMo friend

There. I hopped. Maybe. Or did I?

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Loved this book.  Let's just get that out of the way.

Theodore Dreiser was one of the main figures of the Naturalist movement.  This kind of scared me. I pictured this dude cavorting around the woods with no clothes on around the turn of the last century.  It's no accident that this post includes no images of Dreiser.  I was too scared to google images of Dreiser.  Of course, it turns out Naturalism (not Naturism) is some literary movement grown out of Realism, which has something to do with us being the product of our heredity, what social class we're subject to, etc.  Predestination, I suppose.  I'm sure I've got it wrong, because that's what I do...misinterpret things.

(possibly spoilers )
The plot and subplots of the book aren't unique (hint: plots seldom are).  The major plot is the Rags to Riches story of the titular character.  The subplots are a love triangle between Carrie, Drouet (a traveling salesman), and Hurstwood (the manager of a Chicago club) and the corruption and ultimate destruction of a man, in this case Hurstwood.  The latter of these subplots is the standard plot of the noir narrative, which it should come as no surprise was the most interesting of the narrative structures for me.  But plot isn't the good stuff this novel is made of.

None of the characters in Sister Carrie are likable.  What? Huh? That's right.  Drouet is interested in upward mobility, and sees Carrie as a nice little feather to put in his cap.  When she is down and out in Chicago early in the book, he puts her up in a nice enough place and takes care of her well enough.  He also leads her to believe that he will marry her, but pushes the future date further away at every mention.  Despite, not wanting to marry her, he tells others that she is his wife, and has Carrie play along with the charade.  To Drouet, Carrie is an attractive possession.  Hurstwood, a friend of Drouet whom is married with children, fall in love with Carrie, whom he thinks is married to Drouet, and plots ways to run away with Carrie, when his wife finds out his hand is pushed and he essentially kidnaps Carrie, and eventually becomes a bigamist.  Carrie is only concerned with having nice things, and uses Drouet and Hurstwood to these means.

I disagree with the notion that you must find a character to like for the novel to be any good.  I wouldn't want any of the people populating the main narrative of Sister Carrie as friends.  I do, however, empathize with all of them.  Just about any American has dealt with the desires of material goods to some degree or another.  So Carrie's fascination with nice things is an easy relation.  She changes, as all good characters should, and comes to see the emptiness of consumerism.  Again, empathy.  Hurstwood is the character destroyed in the novel.  When he runs away with the woman he thinks he loves,  he is leaving behind his successes, his children, and his self esteem for a life on the run.  When he finds that he is unable to rebuild his career in New York his downward spiral begins and he is immobilized by depression and fear.  If the reader can't feel for Hurstwood during his fall from grace, he/she needs to check their heart.  It may be a size or two too small.  Drouet is the most difficult to empathize with, and he doesn't really change.  However,  most any man can relate to being captivated by a beautiful woman.  It's not much, but it is how the reader, at least the male one, will connect to the character.

In a sense all of these character are villains used to display the main theme of the novel, which is the emptiness and corruptive quality of American consumerism.  How's that for universal?   I often felt I was reading a novel of contemporary times, until someone rode by in a horse cart.  The novel works best when the story of these characters illuminate this theme through their stories.  Dreiser often appears at the beginning of chapters as the omniscient narrator to explain what the following scene will mean.  It's not a method I'm often fond of, but it works better than it would seem when first encountered.  It's also one of the perks of reading a classic.  That the author hasn't been exposed to workshops and endless how-to writing books.  The rules are broken, and often things work just fine.

So what about this Naturalism?  Carrie came from nothing and still made it.  Huh?  How does that work into the whole born into your situation, predestined by heredity, social class, etc.  And then there's Hurstwood, who has nearly everything before his fall for grace.  It baffled me.  Then I realized how very little of the changes brought about in Sister Carrie were actively brought about by the characters. Carrie's success as an actress is entirely depicted as natural  talent.  Hurstwood's fall can be traced back to an incident that leads him into running away with Carrie, against her wishes.  Specifically, a theft from the club he managed.  This could almost be explained away as fate, too.  The safe accidentally closed, with Hurstwood handling the money and he having no way of opening it.  Finding himself in a desperate situation, imagining himself charged with the theft regardless, he made a whole slew of bad decisions, before coming to his senses too late.  This is pretty standard of the noir character as well.

So I loved the book.  I gave it four stars.  It only missed the rarefied air of the five star novel due to Dreiser's prose which isn't as beautiful as say Nabokov's.

The Take

OK, the Big Ass Book Sale has come and gone.  My take wasn't huge but I did manage to get books that I wanted and I managed to do it without reaching the point of wanting to open fire on the human race.  So, that's a plus.  The take:

Decline and Fall - Evelyn Waugh
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Keep the Aspidistra Flying - George Orwell
The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain
Veronika Decides to Die - Paolo Coelho
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
The Alchemist - Paolo Coelho
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Really Big Ass Book Sale

Our local Literacy Association has a huge, huge, HUGE book sale every year for a fundraiser.  It's unbelievable.  Anyone who questions Americans' interest in reading needs to attend this event.  Something like 20,000 people show up every year, which makes shopping the sale a yeoman's effort.  I have a love/hate relationship with the thing.  I hate dealing with the crowd, but it warms my heart.

In past years, I haven't really made out that well at the sale. I get a handful of books for dirt cheap, but I don't really get a truckload of stuff that I want...because I'm never prepared.  Alas, this year I have a list of about 40 books, plus a handful of books for wifey, and a long list of books for my son.

They are also allowing early entrance this year for a fee, and I'm going to give that a try...unless it already looks like sheer madness at 7am (and it might), in which case I'll just wait for regular entry, and fight the crowd. I'm 6'4, 250lbs.  I'm kind of hard to push around.

Really Big Ass Book Sale, Here I come.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


First post.
Why am I doing this?
I don't know.  Ok, maybe I do.  I'm trying to read more widely.  For years I have almost exclusively read crime novels, and even more specifically hard-boiled crime novels - think Chandler and Hammett over Christie (who I actually like OK, too) and the woman that writes all those 'Cat' books.  After all those years, I finally did start seeing some of the limitations of genre and I came to loathe series books, which seemed to nail down even more formula within the genre.  So, I've started to look elsewhere, and this is where I will chronicle my search of elsewhere with the occasional diversion into my old comforts.  I can't abandon the genre entirely, if for no other reason than I, on occasion, write stories of my own in the genre.
Who is Mr. Jones?
He is somebody who has been through all of F. Scott Fitgerald's books and is very well read.  Yet is still completely oblivious.  He's also probably not a big Bob Dylan fan, because the bard didn't have many nice things to say about him. Which leads me too...
Who am I?
I'm a father to a beautiful seven year old boy named Dylan (and before you ask the answer is yes).
I'm a husband. Happily married 9 years this month.
I design churches for a living.
I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan.
I'm a former professional baseball player.
My favorite book is in constant flux. Currently I'm leaning towards Lolita
I'm currently reading "Sister Carrie" by Theodore Dreiser. So look for the first 'real' post to be about this.
I've not been through all of Fitzgeralds books (I've read Gatsby), and I'm not very well read (that's the point of all this), but I AM oblivious.  Just like Mr. Jones.