Thursday, January 30, 2014

23 Books you didn't read in high school but should have.

List is from BuzzFeed. Click the link for the article online.

How many have you read? I put my own comments under each.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A love story within a love story. It takes the American dream, amplifies it, and then tears it apart in every way possible.
Carmen: Hated it.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It blends innocence and triumph in a way that makes you learn something without actually feeling like you’re learning. Also, you will fall in love with Atticus Finch.
Carmen: This is a must read!

3. Night by Elie Wiesel

Night by Elie Wiesel
The Jewish author was sent to Auschwitz at 15-years-old. This is his story of personal struggle, heartbreak, and passion. At barely 100 pages, you can’t afford to not read this book.
Carmen: Read the book, and listened to the audio. Heartbreaking.

4. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Lord of the Flies reveals the true nature of humans and will even make you question your own morality.
Carmen: It's been a long time, but I remember it as being entertaining, if not a little sad.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
This novel is the inspiration for Apocalypse Now. Need I say more? (The answer to that question is no.)
Carmen: Really a short story, or novella, it is, indeed, dark.

6. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The protagonist’s fear for adulthood will make this one of the most relatable books you will ever read.
Carmen: One of the most overrated books by one of the most overrated authors of all time.

7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
It gives new meaning to the American dream, focusing on power and a friendship that will enrage you with jealousy (but in a good way).
Carmen: Frankly, I don't get the hubbub about this one. It was easy to read, but I didn't see the hidden jewel.

8. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
This novel will scare the crap out of you, and you will love it. Besides, Big Brother is watching, so it’s not like you even have a choice now…
Carmen: Full of imagery, metaphors and lessons for every generation.

9. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
It incorporates time travel and porn stars. Enough said.
Carmen: Another one that I just don't get.

10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley bet her husband that she could write a better horror story than him. She did.
Carmen: Never read this one.

11. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Because everyone’s in need of a good cry.
Carmen: Never read this one, but it would be worth it just to find out exactly what black people mean when they call someone an "Uncle Tom".

12. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell
This book is basically a satirical puppet show about a revolution. If anything, you should read it for this quote: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Carmen: Creepy as hell.

13. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
It’s a play about two characters who wait for something that never comes, but it’s never dull, just thought-provoking.
Carmen: This one is on my list to read.

14. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf will show you how disconnected you are from society, and you will thank her for doing so.
Carmen: Never read this one.

15. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Because you’ve always wondered what the world would be like without religion.
Carmen: Never read this one, but the above comment intrigues me. Because, yes, I have wondered.

16. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Everyone in this novel is pretty messed up, and that’s refreshing. Also, James Franco is releasing a film adaption of the book, so you have to read it before that comes out, too.
Carmen: Have never read this one, but it sounds like a real downer.

17. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
This is the only book that will make you feel OK about American politics. It’s basically a novel version of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Carmen: Never read this one, but (again), the comment above intrigues me.

18. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
It uses literature’s greatest heroes and villains to make you question authority, freedom, and reality. And Ken Kesey is an LSD-tripping, counter-cultural genius.
Carmen: Hated almost every page of this one, but couldn't put it down. Beautiful writing.

19. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Its bleak honesty and dark humor will teach you to not sweat the small stuff.
Carmen: I thought this one was a self-absorbed, drug-laced, non-story. If Sylvia hadn't killed herself, this one would probably not be on the list.

20. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Miller uncovers the reality of the American dream in a way that will make you question your own desire for success.
Carmen: Never read it, but am curious to do so. Have read other Arthur Miller works and have found them all to be well-written glimpses of Americana.

21. Beowulf by Anonymous

Beowulf by Anonymous
Action, adventure, monsters, dragons, heroism, fame.
Carmen: Not really for me.

22. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
It will single-handedly change the way you treat people.
Carmen: Have always wanted to read this, and is on my list; however, reading "Naked Lunch" by William S. Burroughs damaged me enough to put this one off.

23. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
It will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about love.
Carmen: One of the best books ever written. Should be read again and again.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fun Pics!

I stumbled upon this website of people reading in NYC, and love it!

Underground New York Public Library

Here is what the site says:

The Underground New York Public Library is a visual library featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC subways.

It shows their pics, and tells what they are reading. Again I say: FUN!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

UnSouled by Neal Shusterman

UnSouled (Unwind, #3)Summary:
Proactive Citizenry, the company which created Cam from the parts of unwound teens, is planning to mass produce rewound teens like Cam for military purposes. And below the surface of that horror lies a sinister layer of intrigue: Proactive Citizenry has been suppressing technology that could make unwinding completely unnecessary. As Conner, Risa, and Lev uncover these shocking secrets, enraged teens begin a march on Washington to demand justice and a better future.
But more trouble is brewing. Starkey’s group of storked teens are growing more powerful and militant with each new recruit. And if they have their way, they’ll burn the harvest camps to the ground, and put every adult in them before a firing squad—which could destroy any chance America has for a peaceful future.

My take: 3.5 looks
Very nicely done! This is the third book in the series,and I am already looking forward to the next one.

It had been a while since I read the second, UnWholly, and the characters were a little fuzzy to me. Shusterman masterfully integrated past action and events for those like me, without being pandering to those who read these books in quick succession. It was just the right amount of memory-triggers. The characters were more fully flushed out, which makes for a very satisfying story. Risa was a minor character in this one, but was robustly written. Connor and Lev, as well as Cam and Roberta, were very nicely rounded out. The addition of Argent and Grace were welcome, and didn't take away from the story (as is apt to happen when it gets character-heavy).

The books ends at a nice stopping point while preserving a palatable cliffhanger. It will be a long wait until the release of UnDivided, the last in the series, October 2014.


Monday, January 20, 2014

J. D. Salinger - My View

I watched an American Masters episode on PBS last night about J. D. Salinger. Not sure why the timing, since he has been dead three years, and his additional work is not scheduled to be released until 2015. Maybe it was just scheduled randomly.

Here is what I walk away from after watching: Salinger was a spoiled, self-absorbed, borderline pedophile whose only great work was a thinly-veiled autobiography.

That pretty much sums up this "reclusive genius". It is my opinion that he has used his reclusiveness to his advantage in that it perpetuated a persona that would never have been available to him had he not done so.

Let me explain. I think he knew that with Catcher in the Rye he shot his proverbial wad. There was one book inside him because he WAS Holden Caulfield. There wasn't anything else. There was perhaps a great desire for something else, but all he could manage was incident-after-accident of the Glass family. He continued to write short stories after the book was published, and a number of them were rejected. Now, what does that tell you?

He had one good story - his own. He was born to and raised in privilege. He went to private schools until his father decided that he needed more structure and discipline, and was sent to Valley Forge Military Academy. Holden was tall for his age, and if you have ever seen a photo of Salinger, you know that he was long and lean. Holden makes an appearance in another work that indicates he is lost in action during the war. Salinger's time during the war took an enormous toll on him, perhaps making him feel as if the young boy had been lost, with another one emerging after the liberation of concentration camps.

It all parallels very nicely. Does he look like a recluse to you? Not when it came to young, hot girls.

Salinger was ill-at-ease with people, unless they were young girls. He visited Daytona Beach regularly after the war and seemed to seek out teenage girls of about 14 years old. Her name was Jean Miller and, at the age of 20, finally had sex with Salinger. He dumped her shortly after. His second wife, whom he met with he was 34 and she was 19, was rejected after giving birth to their daughter. He no longer saw her at the lithe young teen that attracted him, but a mother. He wrote copious amounts of letters to Joyce Maynard. They ended their affair when she was 19.

As he aged, at least my paramours were fully-grown women (in body, at least). When he was 62, his interest was 36 (Elaine Joyce). Salinger married Colleen O'Neill when he was 69 and she was 29.

Aside from his questionable taste in the age of his love interests, he was smart enough to work the media. Surely he made the decision to become a "recluse" to those who sought him for his work. He had nothing to give. For those whom he thought may interest him, entertain him, or allow him to show his obvious disdain, he was readily available.

Great writer? Questionable.

Teaser of media? Sure.

Master manipulator? Definitely.

On my reading list? Nope.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald. Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life. Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

My summary: 3 looks

My F2F seems to love reading books dealing with WWI and the holocaust. This book, however, was different in that it dealt with the German side of the equation. What did the Germans go through and tolerate who were left in the cities that the Nazis decimated? To what lengths would they go to in order to feed their families and protect their children? This book tells the story nicely.


However, I wanted more resolution at the end between the mother and daughter. I wanted to know why Anna refused to talk to Trudy. Why did Trudy change the spelling of her name? Would she ever know truly who her father was and what happened to him? Why did the townspeople dislike Trudy so, even to the point of disgracing her after Jack's funeral? What happened to the cameraman after the project was complete?

This book could almost have a sequel, for all of the unanswered questions. However, there isn't enough story left to justify another book; just may unanswered questions.

With that in mind, my rating is 3 instead of 4 looks. It was a very enjoyable book, but I could have used about 50 more pages to tie up loose ends. Recommended.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni

angelopolis zps8fdfabc5 picture
Angelology unfurled a brilliant tapestry of myth and biblical lore on our present-day world and plunged two star-crossed heroes into an ancient battle against mankind’s greatest enemy: the fatally attractive angel-human hybrids known as the Nephilim. With Angelopolis, the conflict deepens into an inferno of danger and passion unbound.

A decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her new wings a betrayal that haunts him still. Now an elite angel hunter for the Society of Angelology, he pursues his mission with single-minded devotion: to capture, imprison, and eliminate her kind. But when Evangeline suddenly appears on a twilit Paris street, Verlaine finds her nature to be unlike any of the other creatures he so mercilessly pursues, casting him into a spiral of doubt and confusion that only grows when she is abducted before his eyes by a creature who has topped the society’s most-wanted list for more than a century. The ensuing chase drives Verlaine and his fellow angelologists from the shadows of the Eiffel Tower to the palaces of St. Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast, where the truth of Evangeline’s origins—as well as forces that could restore or annihilate them all—lie in wait.

Conceived against an astonishing fresh tableau of history and science, Angelopolis plumbs Russia’s imperial past, modern genetics, and ancient depictions of that most potent angelic appearance—the Annunciation of Gabriel—in a high-octane tale of abduction, treasure seeking, and divine warfare as the fate of humanity once again hangs in the balance.

My take: 4 looks
As a sequel to Angelology, this picked up where the last left off. It would have been much smoother if I had read them closer together. The book is relatively character-heavy, and attention to lineage is a must to keep the story straight. Verlaine and Bruno, the elite angel hunters are very likable and sympathetic. Their loyalties are torn between their desire for a good and thorough job, and their infatuation (to the point of love) with the female angels they both hunt is palatable.

The angels are less sympathetic to me. They seem to be single-minded: to take over earth. I know that this is probably not exactly true, but their ruthlessness to kill humans and their disdain for all things mortal is evident in their actions and internal monologues. Because of this, it is hard to feel anything positive for the angels, with the exception of Evangeline, who is struggling with her own identity.

The book ends in a formal cliffhanger, ready to slide seamlessly into the third book. I am looking forward to the release and recommend this series.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reader's Lament

When I was in high school, I was very active in the choir. I was in the women's ensemble, mixed choir, and what we called "Show Choir", which was a precursor to musical theater. I sang alto, which is the lowest voice range for a female. Altos usually since harmony to the soprano's melody, and I still sing this counter part to Christmas music and some musical songs (especially "One", the finale from "A Chorus Line").

With that said, we sang a song during these high school years that has stuck with me, "The Alto's Lament" by William Bowlus. Here are some lyrics:

Why do altos always seem to get
Stuck with all the crummy parts?
One or two or three delightful notes
That we call the counter part.
We have had our fill of
Singing"ahhs" and "ooohs".
By now you'd think the altos
Had paid all their dues.

You get the idea. It's a fun little song, and puts to music what most of us have said at one time or another.

I have now stumbled upon a reader's lament that has come from belonging to a book club: slowing my reading pace.

I know, I know. Sounds like a stupid thing, but hear me out.

I am a fast reader. If I book grips me, and is 400 pages or less, I can read it in two days. It's what I will do with my free time instead of watching television or listening to music. This kind of intentional reading can really knock books off of that ever-growing TBR list.

When you belong to a book club that reads one book every two weeks, but meets weekly, you have some adjustments to make. For example, we are reading "Those Who Save Us" by Jenna Blum. We agreed to read 1/2 of the book for discussion one week, and discuss the entire story the next week.

The book is rather gripping, however, and I had to make myself put it down at chapter 24, the closest I could come to the middle and still finish a chapter. I went through my days thinking of the book and wanting to know what happened next. I had to start another book to keep myself from reading the rest of this one. The issue now is, will I be able to compartmentalize these two stories, since I am not used to reading multiple books at once?

And what is the harm in reading the entire book? After all, they won't know if I don't tell them. Well, to me, it defeats the spirit intended, which is to put all of us in the same spot at the story, the tension, the apex. Also, there is no alarm that a spoiler will be mistakenly announced if no one knows the spoilers.

So, here I sit, trying to remember where I left the action in the first book, while trying to figure out which one to finish: My book club book, or the book I started so I wouldn't finish my book club book.

Oh! The life of a reader!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lillian Hellman and The Children's Hour

Lillian Florence "Lilly" Hellman (June 20, 1905 – June 30, 1984) was an American author of plays, screenplays, and memoirs and throughout her life, was linked with many left-wing political causes.

I am sitting on the sofa, updating my reading blog and watching one of my favorite movies, "The Children's Hour". The movie is made from one of Hellman's plays written 1934.

The first sentence above indicates that she was very left-wing. The subject of the movie that I am watching is about a children's school which is ruined because one of the young, trouble making students lies about the female teachers engaging in a lesbian relationship.

The movie was made in 1962, when a lesbian relationship was still illegal in most, if not all, of the United States. However, the amazing thing is that the play was written in 1934. Unbelievable!

A half-length portrait of two women, dran in black on a pink background. One woman stands in front, looking to the side. The other woman stands behind her, with her hands placed on the arms of the woman in front. SHe is slightly taller than the woman in front and looks down at her face from behind. Next to the face of the woman in front reads, in white letters, "DIFFERENT...". Below the picture reads "AUDREY HEPBURN, SHIRLEY MACLAINE, JAMES GARNER". Beneath these names reads "THE CHILDREN'S HOUR", with a small sketch of a man next to the title. In a white border to the poster reads the name "WILLIAM WYLER".No wonder Hellman was tagged as a liberal. Who on earth would write about such things when they were still so taboo?

In 1944, Charles R. Jackson wrote a book called, "The Lost Weekend" which contains strong homosexual undertones. However, this is ten years after Hellman's play.

The production of the play of "The Children's Hour" is just as riveting (from Wikipedia, which is never wrong):

This was Hellman's first hit play. At the time, any mention of homosexuality on stage was illegal in New York State, but the play was such a success and so widely praised by critics that the subject matter was overlooked.

After the play was banned in Boston, Chicago, and London, it opened in Paris, retitled Les Innocents (The Innocents), to popular review.

In 1936, the play was made into a film directed by William Wyler. However, because of the Production Code, the story was adapted into a heterosexual love triangle, the controversial name of the play was changed, and the movie was eventually released as These Three. Hellman reportedly worked on the screenplay, virtually all of the play's original dialogue was kept, and she was satisfied with the result, saying the play's central theme of gossip was unaffected by the changes.

In 1952, a revival and revised stage production was also construed as an implied criticism of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

In 1961, the play was adapted, with its lesbian theme intact, for the film The Children's Hour, also directed by Wyler.

That alone with worth a watch of this classic.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beekeeping for Beginners by Laurie R. King

New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King reveals here an unforgettable new twist in the crackling adventure of how supersleuth Sherlock Holmes discovered his first (and finest) apprentice, Mary Russell.

Sherlock Holmes is fending off a particularly dark mood as he roams the Sussex Downs, in search of wild bees. The Great War may be raging across the Channel, but on the Downs, the great detective nears terminal melancholia—only to be saved by an encounter with headstrong, yellow-haired young Mary Russell, who soon becomes the Master’s apprentice not only in beekeeping but in detection.

Holmes instantly spots her remarkable ability, but his sharp eyes also see troubling problems. Why is this wealthy orphan who lives with her aunt so shabbily dressed? Why is she so prone to illness and accident? Is she herself the center of a mystery?

These are questions that the great detective must answer quickly lest his protégée, and his own new lease on life, meet a sudden, tragic end. The tale of their meeting has been told from Russell’s point of view, but even those who have never met the famed Russell-Holmes pair will read this tale with delight—and, as its climax builds, with breathless excitement.

My take: 4 look
A friend of mine has read several of the Mary Russell series, and piqued my interest in them. When I discovered this prequel, I was ready to begin. What a fantastic novella to introduce me to the characters and their quirks, and lay the foundation of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell.

Mary Russell is quick, smart and the perfect apprentice for Sherlock Holmes. I can see trouble brewing between Mary and Dr. Watson, even through they have not yet met formally. The groundwork is there for a formidable relationship.

In this novella, Holmes feels a protectiveness of Mary Russell almost immediately, and when she starts showing up with unexplained maladies and bruising, he feels compelled to get to the bottom of it.

This was written very smartly and whetted my reading appetite for more in this series.