50 Books- The Wind in The Willows

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The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Where did I get this book and how many pages?

I read this book on Oyster, where it is listed as having 176 print pages.  I like the addition of the number of print pages on oyster.  While I know that technically it would very from different page sizes, the inclusion of illustrations, or any number of other differences, I can pretend it is a standard size.

Have I read this book before?

No.  Never even crossed my mind.

What do I already know?

There is a Disney movie based on this book and sharing a name.  There are talking animals, most notably Mr. Toad, who would go on to inspire Mr. Toads Wild Ride at Disneyland.  I know I have seen the movie, but all I really remember is a vague image of a toad in a waistcoat in the dirt saying in an awed voice, “A motorcar.”

What do I think now?

This is an odd book for children.  I know it was written in 1900, which would make some of the standard ‘kids book’ things different than they are now, but still.  Mr. Toad is a horrible person.  Seriously.  He is in seven car accidents, all totaling his cars, before he is put on house arrest by his friends as they attempt to conduct an intervention.  Then he breaks out, steals a car, wreaks the car and is sent to jail for 20 years.  No worries though children, he is going to break out and along the way he will continue to insult people and cause large amounts of damage to personal property.  I mean, really, Mr. Toad is horrible.  I get that I am supposed to root for him, but I don’t know why.

The story of Mr. Toad, while odd is at least engaging.  The rest of the book is filled with random, slow, and unclear moments that I am not sure what they are doing.  Mr. Rat, Mr. Mole, and Mr. Badger are all much kinder characters, but their weird interspecies love for each other is slightly confusing and provides little to no action along the way.

Should you read this book before you die?

I am honestly not sure why this book is on the list.  It is far from the best children’s book I have ever read. It is not excessively good writing or storytelling.  For the most part, I have thus far been able to pull one thing from each story that allowed me to pinpoint why it was on this list; some it is all good, once it was the ending, another time it was writing itself.  This story made me wonder why it was on the list, but try as I might, I have yet to find a copy of this list that includes any explanation as to why each individual book was selected.  So maybe that is the reason to read this book before you die; to try to find something that stands out and makes this book worthy of the list.

My next book was going to be The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, however, I decided to put that one off for a couple of weeks.  The reading of the book was going to fall during holiday travel, and it was a much longer book than I remembered it to be.  Instead, I will move on to Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway followed by Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Happy Reading everyone!

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50 Books- A Christmas Carol

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Merry Christmas everyone!  What better book to discuss on Christmas than A Christmas Carol?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Where did I get this book and how many pages?

This book is available on a free book app, and clocks in at 113 pages.

Have I read this book before?

No.  Our family did more Christmas movies than calm readings on Christmas Eve.  There were too many kids jumping around waiting for Santa to expect to get through any readings in our house.  The closest we came was watching the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas cartoon.

What do I already know?

I think I know a lot.  Ebenezer, Tiny Tim, three ghosts, redemption.  I’ve seen the play a time or two.  The story is fairly famous, and there are many, many, many movie versions out there.  I have a particular fondness for the muppet version; I know Charles Dickens did not look like Gonzo the Great, but wouldn’t it be fun if he did?  Besides, I can’t help but cry every time I hear the song, ‘The Love is Gone.’

What do I think now?

It is amazing how many lines from The Muppet Christmas Carol were actually accurate to the book.  Considering the story involves a frog Bob Cratchit, you would think it would not be as close to the real story as it was.  There were no real surprises, but I still don’t understand how Scrooge changing his ways effected the health of Tiny Tim.

Should you read this book before you die?

This is one of the few times when I am not certain someone needs to read the book.  It is good, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.  Sure, everything happens around Christmas, and discusses keeping the holiday season within a certain spirit, however the idea transcends the season.  It is about being a good person, and accepting that karma will come around; if you are a jerk, no one will want to come to your funeral.  However, this story is so huge, and generally accurate, I’m not sure how much more a person will gain by actually reading the book.  I thought I would learn a lot of new facts and details, or see where things were changed, but it would appear that this book has the respect of the literary and entertainment community. People don’t want to change it, so there is not much new to be gathered by reading the book.  Of course, on the other hand, it is only 113 pages, so it’s not like it will be taking you far out of your way.  Go for it.

Up next in the new year, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame followed by The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.  Merry Christmas everyone, and if I don’t see you next week, Happy New Year.

50 Books- The Color Purple

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

This book was available on Oyster, a subscription book reading service.  It didn’t show how many pages were in the book very well, but the internet says 305 pages.

Have I read this book before?

No.  I have heard it mentioned many times, but never had a copy and the inclination to read at the same time.

What do I already know?

Very little, which may have had something to do with the lack of inclination.  Most of the time when I have heard it mentioned it was considered a great American novel for people of color.  It was advertised to me as a story about race, something that isn’t normally high on my list for book subjects.  I’m pretty sure Oprah was in the movie.  (She was.)

What do I think now?

This was a great book.  I can definitely see the race issue that many people would identify with, however I didn’t see it as the largest part of the book.  Maybe this is due to my personal history, but I think looking at this as a book about race is undervaluing it.

For many years I knew about this book, but it was always a book for other people.  No one really recommended I read it, because I was not considered to be part of the target audience.  However, when I read it anyway I loved it.  This isn’t a book that is strictly about poor colored people, or the decedents of slaves; this is the journey of a scared and abused girl to a strong and independent woman.  It is a story about finding love, and loving yourself.  This is probably the most feminist piece of literature I have ever read.

Outside of that message, whatever it was to whomever is reading, the writing was very compelling.  Every time I would begin reading, I would not want to stop.  Celie is not always a strong willed character, but she has a strong voice.  She pulls you into her story and makes you desperate to read more.  You want to know what happens to her because you want something good for her, for once something good for her.

Should you read this book before you die?

Yes.  Read this book to see what you get out of it.  I know what I took was completely different from what many people have seen in the past.  What you will take may be completely different.  But what you take may also be exactly what you need.

Continuing on, next week we will be hearing about A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, followed by The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahams.

50 Books- Moby Dick

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Moby Dick By Herman Melville

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

I bought the book from Amazon for this challenge, and it clocks in at 589 pages.

Have I read this book before?

No.  This is one of those books I have kept in the back of my mind to read eventually. but had not gotten around to it.  It isn’t exactly a short book, so I have put it off until now.

What do I already know?

Moby Dick is the name of a great white whale, who is being chased down by a very obsessive Captain Ahab.  The opening line is one of the most iconic, in spite of it’s simplicity.  It does not have a happy ending, unless you are viewing it from the perspective of the whale.  Additionally, this book is considered to be filled with homosexual metaphors and symbology and is part of the evidence presented to indicate that Melville was bisexual.

What do I think now?

This book has some amazing writing.  The homosexual undertones are generally subtle in my opinion; I didn’t see the instant penis metaphor in the great white whale.  Maybe there is still some innocence left in me after all.

The biggest thing that struck me was the difference in publishing from when Moby Dick came out to now.  While the writing was good throughout, and there are interesting and compelling characters, if this book was published now, much of it would be cut.  There was no technical need for the book to have many chapters on the anatomy of a whale, or the random tangents that are not really related to the action of the story.  Realistically, I would imagine at least two hundred pages of this would have been cut before it would be published now.  Wouldn’t that have been a shame to lose?

The industry has changed and there is little that highlights that so much as reading books that were published a long time ago.

Should you read this book before you die?

I didn’t think I would care too much for a book about whaling.  I’m not much for fishing, or boats.  I was slightly afraid that even reading the book would make me seasick.  However, I fell in love with this book at the end of Chapter 13 when Queequeg, the lovable cannibal, says, “We cannibals must help these Christians.”  It was a sign that this book was much more than a simple book about a whale.  There would be greater stories, and symbolism involved.  Events would have greater meaning than the simple words and the stories.  Homosexual symbolism and penis metaphors or not, it would be something better than expected.  If that wasn’t clear, I would answer, yes read this book before you die.

Moving on to the next book, I will be reading The Color Purple by Alice Walker followed by The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Happy Reading!

50 Books- The Bell Jar

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Note to self- when things are crazy and life looks down, Sylvia Plath should not be the source of your comfort.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Where did I get this book and how many pages?

I ordered this shiny 50th anniversary book with 244 pages from amazon.  There were an additional 20 pages detailing the life of the author and some of her other works, which I read about half of.

Have I read this before?

No.  Sylvia Plath is not someone I have encountered before.

What do I already know?

Not a lot.  I had heard the phrase ‘living in a bell jar’ a few times.  It seemed to indicate a suffocating situation; something where you were almost on display, and losing oxygen.  It wasn’t necessarily spelled out, but it made sense.  When you think of catching bugs in a jar and not poking holes for oxygen, that is what you have.  the bug is being watched, but it is also slowly dying.

Bell jar was also a Bangles song which I enjoyed when I was younger.  (I’m not sure why the video is like this.  It was where I found the song.)

What do I think now?

Wow.  I read a little of the front flap, telling me the main character would go a little crazy, but I still didn’t really see it coming.  She isn’t necessarily the good girl that others think she is from the beginning.  You can see signs of her being a little sensitive.

The sad truth is, many of the signs of her insanity were completely relatable. She was frightened about what she was going to become, frightened that she would lose the successfulness of her school days. She didn’t want to be the boring housewife, successful only because she chose a good husband.  She wanted something of her own.  And who doesn’t?  When she sees that going away, she gives up.  She doesn’t want to continue to do the repetitive task of showering and getting dressed.  Sleeping and eating become impossible.  The book is about her becoming insane, but I see a person who is depressed.  A person who is not as far from me as I would like.  Of course, I am not a doctor.  I am not reading looking for the symptoms of a diagnosable condition.  I am reading her thoughts and wondering if I should worry that we have shared some of the same feelings.

Should you read this book before you die?

Yes, but do not read this book if you are on the edge of insanity or depression.  The portrait of emotional distress is so beautiful.  For those who have never felt anywhere close to this, they might understand others a little better.  For those who feel like this more often than they would like to admit, this might help them feel slightly less alone.  However, when you are on the edge, you should not chose a piece of work that is just as likely to push you over as pull you up.

I’d like to say I am moving onto lighter fare, but alas no.  There does not seem to be much chosen for it’s comedic timing.  It’s time to work through another large piece of work, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, followed by The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

I’m already regretting a little of the order I have selected.  I am having a serious Jane Austen craving; I’m wishing I could turn back and read Pride and Prejudice again.  Sigh.  Oh well.  Time to keep finding new favorites.

50 Books-Hamlet

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I have a confession to make, one that may forever change the way you feel about me.

I hate Shakespeare.

All right, I don’t hate him, but I am not really a fan.  I like the sonnets just fine, and I have an affection for Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night.  But I have no love for, or desire to read the tragedies.  Maybe it is the sadness, maybe it is the overblown enthusiasm of many people who do not seem to understand them. Maybe I just don’t really understand them.

I can say with absolute certainty, a large part of the blame comes from Romeo and Juliet, a story that is billed as a tragedy, works as an old cautionary tale, and has been deemed a romance by the rest of the world.  I suppose disney ruined me, but I fail to see romance in the story of two spoiled teenagers who are willing to kill themselves over someone they just met.  It’s a different world now so I can’t help but think of many, many, many other solutions to their problems that are all infinitely better than suicide.

Whatever the reason, Shakespeare tastes sour to me.  It is perhaps one of the reasons I was not necessarily looking forward to this book.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

This 151 page version of the play was available on a free book app for my iPad.

Have I read this book before?

I am honestly not sure.  Maybe?  Shakespeare is the one area where my high school did not fail me.  I know we studied the sonnets, Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and Macbeth.  We may have also done Othello and Hamlet, but I cannot remember.  It all gets a little fuzzy over time.  Additionally, I went through a phase in high school somewhere in my sophomore and junior year where I read a lot of Shakespeare.  I know, it’s a bit of a turn around from my feelings on the subject now, but at the time I was tired of being thought of as a dumb blonde.  I felt reading Shakespeare all the time, and in public, would make me seem smarter.  In retrospect I should have expanded the collection to other classics I would actually enjoy, but I was young and searching.

What did I already know?

I am fairly familiar with the story, which is one of the reasons I am not sure if I read it. Hamlet’s father is dead, his uncle killed him with ear poison and married his mother.  The old king haunts the castle, telling Hamlet what happened.  Everyone thinks Hamlet is going crazy and it ends with everyone dying.  Clearly a cheery tale of family fun.

What do I think now?

I knew it was one of the more quoted plays, but I missed exactly how quoted.  I had either forgotten or not realized how many of the Shakespearian quotes come from this one play.  The story is not bad, as far as a tragedy goes. No one is really innocent or a good guy, so you don’t feel too bad for them when they start dying.  Mostly it seems strange because you realize how much of this tragedy came from one idiotic grasp for power.

Should you read this book before you die?

I think for the most part, Shakespeare is not for me.  I can appreciate it for what it is, a tragedy, but at the same time I get little to no joy out of reading it.  I think everyone should try Shakespeare at some point in their life, even if it is only to understand what the hype is about.  I personally would recommend a comedy, but if you must try a tragedy, this is as good as any other.

All right, if people are done scoffing and/or preparing the lynch mob for the person with no official literary credentials who insulted Shakespeare, I hope you will allow me the benefit of my own opinion as we move onto the next books.

I am reading one more shorter book before tackling another longer one, which will give us first Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, followed by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  If you are still with me after this post, I hope you are ready for more!

Happy Reading!

50 Books- Catch-22

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I feel like I am finally gaining traction on this challenge, though I am not entirely confident I will make it on time.  It seemed so easy at the beginning.  I know I read more than 60 books a year normally.  Hmmm.  Perhaps I need to keep better track after this and see how much I am really reading.

Catch-22 Joseph Heller

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

I purchased this book before I began the challenge when a new batch of classic books arrived at my local PX.  It clocks in with 453 pages of actual book, and an additional 80 or so pages of historical context and study materials, which I skipped.  I was reading for fun, not education on this one.

Have I read this book before?

No.  I am ashamed of my high school now.

What do I already know?

I have heard situations described as ‘a catch-22’ for many years of my life, and I am pretty sure I have even described them that way in the past.  Generally speaking it describes an impossible situation, something you absolutely cannot win.  You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of situation.  Assumedly not every situation where it is used is an instance of correct usage.  I would guess it is similar to people describing unfortunate circumstances as ironic; 90% of the time people use the term they are incorrect and not aware because it is close enough to correct they cannot see the subtleties that make them wrong.  This is the reason why I purchased the book to begin with, and made a conscious choice to not say ‘catch-22.’  I did not want to be making a mistake using a common phrase incorrectly when the information on how to use it was easily available to me.

I also learned when reading the front cover this is a book about war.  I suppose I should have already known that, but oh well.

What do I think now?

There seems to be a rhythm to this book, one I did not get into right away.  You are thrown in immediately with a group of pilots, navigators, bombardiers, doctors, a chaplain, and commanding officers in Italy during WW2.  People and events are referenced often, even though they have not technically been introduced.  For the first several chapters I felt as though I was struggling to keep up with who everyone is, and what was going on.  Quite bluntly I thought they were all crazy, and I wasn’t sure any of it was going to make any sense.  After I caught on I realized, they were all crazy and it wasn’t going to make any sense.

This was the beauty and the semi-accuracy of this book when it references fighters in war.  (I only claim semi-accuracy because I have no firsthand experience, having never fought in a war.)  What it comes down to is this; the commanders want more out of those running missions.  Their reasons will vary, but the result is the same.  We need more.  The fighters, whatever their position, will have mixed feelings about this. Some will be happy to continue and have their own reasons for doing so.  Others will hate every minute of it and want to go home.  Naturally, the majority will probably have both feelings at one time or another; I want to go home, but I understand and will do this important job because I see how it needs to be done.  In such a charged situation, there will be many reasons to want to do many things, and people’s individual actions may not always make sense.  Additionally, government is notorious for slow and, well, unusual, paperwork practices.  Some of the paperwork related situations made me amused in a way that may say something about my mental state.

As to the phrase, catch-22, I’m not sure as many people were using it wrong as I had assumed.  In the beginning the rule known as catch-22 was very simple.  If you are crazy, you cannot be sent to fly a mission, and therefore you are able to stay grounded; if you request to stay grounded, you are sane and must fly the mission.  Only a crazy person would want to fly the missions, but only a sane person can.  It sounds pretty close to damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  No matter what you do to try to do to prove you shouldn’t be able to fly, you are probably proving you should fly.

This sounds slightly narrow, however as the book progresses, there are other instances were it is referenced simply as an excuse to keep someone from doing something.  Towards the end of the book there is an indication that catch-22 might not be an actual official rule so much as an excuse to do and say whatever seems necessary in the moment.  In this more broad context, almost everyone who uses it as a saying would technically be right.

I only have one problem with this book. I am beginning to feel a theme in these readings; the book does not end.  At least not in anyway I would consider an actual ending.  I’m inserting a spoiler alert, but I’ll try to keep it from ruining your experience completely if I can.  The main character (or one of them) is a bombardier by the name of Yossarian.  He is almost always trying to get out of the war, and does his runs most unenthusiastically.  As the book is ending, he seems to have finally made the mental connections necessary to go home, but has also ticked someone off.  He knows what he needs to do and where he needs to go and is off to go take care of it.  Someone tries to stab him, and he dodges.  The end.

I mean seriously?!  Is my book missing a few hundred pages?  I don’t feel like a book has to have a happy ending to make me happy, but it should end.  What happened to the person trying to kill him?  There was an indication that they were gone, but then they are brought back.  I could learn to deal with the inconclusiveness of Yossarian getting to where he was going and just chalk it up to reader imagination.  The exact phrasing of the end left me feeling it was too open, with too many possibilities.  It did not completely ruin the book for me, but it did leave a sour aftertaste.

Should you read this book before you die?

Yes.  Read it twice.  The first time to catch the rhythm, the second time to have it from the beginning and look for all the things you missed the first time.  It is an interesting method of writing a story, not exactly in chronological order, and not bothering to explain the time jumps.  It is a strange story, but then, war is a strange business.

Coming up next is Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, followed by The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

In Someone Else’s Words

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I’m having a hard time finding my motivation lately.  It may be the changing weather, as it gets a little colder.  It might be something else entirely.  Who knows?  All I know for sure is I would really like to lay on my couch and fall in and out of sleep as I curl up in a quilt alternately reading books and watching Netflix.  Maybe I am a little lost, but I am still reading, so I can only hope I find myself soon.

50 Books- Pride and Prejudice

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I know, someone out there is thinking, wait a minute, she said she was reading Ulysses next.  It is true, I was (and am) reading Ulysses.  However, due to many factors that I will get more into when I post on Ulysses, I decided to do simultaneous reading with a few books.  Over the last week I read both Ulysses and Pride and Prejudice, however since Ulysses is about 1000 pages, I did not finish that one yet.  Don’t worry, I am not giving up on this challenge yet!

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Where did I get this book and how many pages?

Last week I did post a pretty picture of a nice, hardcover, Jane Austen collection which included Pride and Prejudice.  That copy was purchased at a PX (military Walmart for anyone who is not aware, sometimes also called BX) about a year and a half ago.  The truth is however, while I bought it with every intention of reading all four stories, I have never opened the book.  While it does photograph well, I actually read a kindle copy I have on my ipad that is 253 pages long.

Have I read this before?

Yes, I read this book about a year ago.  I cannot remember exactly when.

What did I think?

There is a lot of hype around Pride and Prejudice.  Mr. Darcy is a bit of a smart girl dreamboat.  It is almost a cliché to have a girl who loves to read and who spends her time dreaming of Mr. Darcy, and wishing to be Lizzy Bennet.  When I read this book the first time, I didn’t have pure reasons.  I consider myself to be decently smart, and want to be well read.  I also wanted to understand the weird references I ran across on the internet. 

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When I finished the first time, I was not as impressed as I thought I would be.  Maybe it was my own high expectations, but it seemed as though this wasn’t the superior love story I have always heard it to be.  Darcy was cranky, Elizabeth was a poor judge of character and a bit cruel, and most of the supporting characters were a bit, well, stupid.  I mean seriously, I don’t think I could have lived with Lydia without giving her a good smack every now and then.  Of course, this might be why I am not invited into fancy society.  I liked it, but it seemed a little oversold.  It just wasn’t as exciting to me as everyone claimed it to be.

What do I think now?

I was wrong the first time.  During my second reading I was able to see more subtle things I had missed the first time through.  The first time through it had seemed as though their relationship had been rushed, almost as if they were just coming to a conclusion in order to give them a happy ending.  But during the second reading, knowing everything I now knew about the characters, I was able to see the relationship progress a little better.  It was much more gradual than it first seemed, and it was a little easier to understand the actions of some characters.  I’m still not sure I would have been able to live with Lydia without giving her a good smack, but then again, I am not exactly a proper Lady. 

This is definitely a book that was better the second time through.  I’m sure at some point there will be a third time through, and I expect it to be even better next time. 

Should you read this book before you die?

It feels like the romantic, overly girly thing to say to say yes, but I like it enough to want to share also.  There is a reason this is a classic romance; the characters are flawed, but come to discover what they can love in each other.  This is the book women can read to see what they are doing wrong in your relationships.  Don’t whine that someone did you wrong; get better at learning the true character of person.  Some people are really just charming bastards dipped in chocolate, and some people are kind and large hearted, with a sour outer coating.  You really need to get to the center to decide which is which.  As much as this is hyped by women, there is lessons to be learned for men as well.  Don’t assume the woman you are insulting is worthless after one glance because there is much more to a person than what is on the surface.  And don’t always go for the outgoing, flirty girl either; sometimes there is nothing to a person but their surface.  You need to look deeper. 

 

 

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If you want to keep reading along, I am still plugging away at Ulysses.  I am hoping to have this one posted next week, but we’ll see how it goes.  This is not a small or easy to read book, so I may need to push it out one more week.  I’m hoping not!

In the meantime, I am going to keep up with some simultaneous reading, starting on the next book so I don’t fall behind.  Next up is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. 

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