NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Class Notes: Writing About Literature

I spent my early afternoon with Writing About Literature: Step by Step by Pat McKeague. The first chapter is titled "The Elements of Literature", so I probably don't need to tell you I spent some time with a worksheet writing definitions. :-) She also discussed mental operations we engage in when we think and learn (Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation and Problem Solving), and ways to practice those skills while reading (keeping a journal, making lists of phrases, formulating your own questions, concept mapping, etc.). I took pages of notes! I can feel my brain cells multiplying already!

The information I thought would be the most fun to share was the list of approaches to analyzing literature. "Meaning is one of the primary reasons for reading literature. It helps us clarify our own values and attitudes toward life." (p. 2) In searching for meaning in our reading, we tend to approach it in one of the following ways:

Historical Approach -- Seeing a work as a product of a certain period in history.
Societal Approach -- Seeing a work as a product of a certain set of social standards and conventions.
Biographical Approach -- Seeing a work as the product of the writer's personal attitudes, conflicts or concerns.
Psychological Approach -- Analyzing the motivation of the characters or the author by applying specific psychological theories.
Archetypal Approach -- Analyzing literature by noting the recurrence of certain types of characters, situations or symbols that appeal to our unconscious mind in an instinctive and intuitive way.

Seeing a list set out that way drove home the point that a single piece of literature can be seen many different ways, some more effective than others with regard to a specific work. Also, some approaches are simply more interesting to individual readers, which can effect his or her enjoyment. I know if I go into a read with the wrong attitude or specific ideas of what I want to get out of it, I tend to be disappointed. I'm trying to teach myself to open each new read with a blank slate -- tabula rasa, so to speak. It's hard to do when we have so many preconceived notions about books we've been looking forward to -- or avoiding!

Is there an approach on the list you consciously find yourself usually adopting when you read? Is there a book you didn't enjoy that you may have found more interesting if you had approached it differently?

Friday, February 27, 2009

2009 1% Well-Read Challenge

Yay! With all the classics I'm reading this year for my "classes", this should be a breeze! There are three choices for participation, and I'm going for Option Three: Thirteen books from the combined lists of the original and 2008 editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. So, will that make me 1.3% well-read? :-) I won't make my list now but will fill it in as I go along.

Complete: 13/13 as of Aug. 10, 2009

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
3. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
4. Survival In Auschwitz by Primo Levi (Original title: If This Is A Man)
5. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
6. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
7. The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius
8. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
9. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
10. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
11. Ulysses by James Joyce
12. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
13. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Check out the rules and sign yourself on up here.

Class Notes: Introduction To Narrative

It looks like people want to read the composition assignments when I get to them, so post them I will! I'm excited people are interested, but it also makes me nervous. What if you hate them? It will be good to conquer that fear, right? Thanks in advance for helping. :-) I don't know when I will get to the first one, but when I do I will name the posts in a manner that readers will be able to tell what it is. Most likely something clever like "Composition". (I crack me up!)

This, however, is the first "Class Notes" post in which I will share all the fun things I learn while I read my textbooks. I've only taken two college literature classes in my life and those were many years ago. Much of what I'm reading in these texts are things I either never knew or never really thought about. I'm surprised I'm not keeping people awake with all the light bulbs going off over my head!

The chapter I read last night was "Narrative and Life" from The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. In the book, "Narrative" is defined as "the principal way in which our species organizes its understanding of time." (p. 3) "Narrative time" differs from "clock time" in that clock time relates only to itself and is marked off in regular intervals, be it seconds, hours, days, moons or seasons, etc. Narrative time relates to events or incidents and is not necessarily any time at all.

Those definitions got me thinking about Anne Rice. I get lost in her writing sometimes because she'll spend five pages during which time someone will have walked a city block, then two sentences later a year has passed. That's not a complaint about Anne Rice. It's just an example of the fluidity of narrative time in the hands of an author and the power to mold time to his or her desires. Very cool!

The other interesting bit I had never considered before was how we tend to look for narrative in nearly everything in our lives, consciously or unconsciously. We see a sneaker laying in the middle of the road and wonder how it got there. We look at a painting or a photograph and we create narratives to explain what we're looking at. The more difficult it is for our minds to explain, the more impact the image tends to have. I especially liked one of the examples he used. This is "Dr. Syn" by Andrew Wyeth:

I'll bet some interesting narratives popped into your head to explain that one! What are some of the things you see that you find yourself creating stories around?

While you consider that, I'm going back to my texts to find more light bulb moments. See you tomorrow for more Class Notes!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To Post or Not To Post . . .

That is my question. And I will get to what I mean in just a moment. . .

Wolves lost. Big sigh. I love them anyway. On the upside, season ticket prices are going down for next season. Yippee!!

Before we left for the game, I had a chance to flip through my new text books. I love them! They are exactly what I need to get my composition brain cells back into working order. So here is my question for you: Would you like me to post the results of my composition assignments here for you to read? Peter has graciously agreed to peer review my writings, and if any of you would like to see them for fun and/or commentary, I'd be happy to post them. Or do we think most of the reactions would look more like this:

Let me know what you think!
In the meantime, Happy Reading, Everyone!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rolling Up My Sleeves

So, I've decided to get serious. How serious? This is what I have being delivered to me today:

After checking out the Table of Contents, I thought Writing About Literature: Step by Step looked like the perfect text for my little adult homeschooling project. I can't wait to get my hands on it! We've got a Timberwolves game to go to this evening, so I won't really be able to crack it open until tomorrow. I'll also have my copy of The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative by then, so it will be all about schoolin' myself this weekend. Fun!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


by Kobo Abe

"[T]he story of an amateur entomologist who wanders alone into a remote seaside village in pursuit of a rare beetle he wants to add to his collection. But the townspeople take him prisoner. They lower him into the sand-pit home of a young widow, a pariah in the poor community, who the villagers have condemned to a life of shoveling back the ever-encroaching dunes that threaten to bury the town." (Description from

I wanted to love this. I really wanted to love this. There is so much here to sift through and analyze -- the helpless feeling of being trapped in a life you are forced into, contemplating the meaninglessness of existence even when your labors are sustaining others, alienation, finding reason in absurdity. And that is barely scratching the surface! However, I just didn't connect with The Woman in the Dunes. I had no feelings at all for the man, the woman or the villagers. The only thing that got to me was the descriptions of sand everywhere all the time -- in their clothes, stuck to their skin, in their mouths, in their food and water. It made me itchy. I found myself very impatient to be finished with the book. But in my push to finish, I did find a great quote that I need to write down and frame: "Defeat begins with the fear that one has lost." I need to remember that when I start feeling like I'm not skilled enough to understand deep literature. Like now. :-) I'm just starting though, right? I have time to figure this out.

I can't say I wouldn't read the author again. He is a celebrated Japanese author, and the descriptions of some of his other books are intriguing. Perhaps I just read this one at the wrong time. Perhaps it just isn't my thing.

Monday, February 23, 2009


by Ernest Hemingway

"Honest and hard-working fishing boat captain Harry Morgan is forced to begin smuggling liquor between Cuba and Key West, a necessary action if he is to feed his wife and daughters. Unfortunately, his involvement in smuggling ends disastrously and Harry loses more than he ever bargained for. Despite the blows that life hands him, he perseveres, a true testament to the human spirit." (From the CD packaging)

Hemingway is a macho writer. Violence in the form of bar-fights, murders and a little wife-smacking, liberal use of terms like "nigger" and "chink", and other he-man words and deeds all band together in To Have and Have Not. If this kind of thing bothers you, you might want to pass. According to Wikipedia, Hemingway himself was not fond of this book.

This is only my second Hemingway novel, and I was not sure what to make of it at first. The sections seemed oddly disconnected. Then I found out the book is composed of a couple of short stories and a novella written at different times. That explained that! However, according to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, this novel is "[a]rguably his most socially committed novel", depicting social inequalities of the times as Hemingway saw them. The juxtaposition of the super rich and the exceedingly poor is almost disorienting. I can't say I loved it. I'm not even sure if I liked it or not, but it did make an impression on me. What sort of impression, good or bad, remains to be seen as my subconscious works on it for a while.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Reading Notes

I need to focus! There is so much I want to read and I want to read it all right now. :-) I'm going to finish out this month reading The Woman in the Dunes and The Confessions of Nat Turner and listening to The Woman in White and Misquoting Jesus. After that, I need to buckle down and make a plan for March.

I'm already finding myself completely distracted from all the challenges I signed up for and wanting to make my plans around my Teaching Company courses. I've ordered books like The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative and Norton Critical Editions of some of the books to see if I can give my personal studies even more of a "school" feel. I've decided to go with what I'm the most excited about, and if my reading challenges fall by the wayside a bit, it's no big deal. I love the challenges, because they always get me involved in some books I may have never looked at otherwise, but I'm going to try to view them in much the same way I view recommended reading lists -- as a jumping off point. I'm going to let the current take me where it may! I hope you'll hang around for the ride!

Totally unrelated, I updated the photos of Jack, Skye and Max on my blog page. Stop by and take a peek! Also, I haven't been very diligent about my blogroll. If you are a reader of Books 'N Border Collies, please let me know if a link to your blog is not included. I'll get it added right away!

Have a great day, everyone!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

TTC: Classic Novels, Lecture 2

This Teaching Company: Classic Novels lecture was on Moll Flanders. Professor Weinstein discussed a bit of biographical information about the author, Daniel Defoe, who is arguably considered the father of the English novel, and the style of his writing. Moll Flanders specifically is written in an episodic manner rather than having what we would think of as a plot, and the writing is very plain as opposed to poetic. Moll pretty much tells her story like it was -- straight-up without a lot of flourishes.

The quote from the book around which most of the lecture was based was from a scene when she is speaking to a man she loved deeply and had not seen for many years. She asks him, "Do you not know me?" Professor Weinstein used that quote to discuss the many forms of disguise Moll uses at various times in her life, both literal disguises one can see, such as when she dresses up as a boy while thieving, and figurative in the sense that when one lives in a large metropolis, it is easy to become "invisible".

That is still true today. Considering all the people we come into contact with daily, how many of them really know us? How many do we really know in return? Who really knows our past or what our daily lives are like away from places such as school or work? Who knows our hopes, our dreams, or what goes on in our heads? In the book, other characters see Moll doing things such as scheming to get a rich husband or stealing valuables. From the surface she looks to be very shallow and materialistic, but reading her story lets us into her private thoughts and reasonings which reveal a much deeper humanity. However, in our daily lives, we don't get to read people's inner workings. We only see how they act, what they do, and they see the same of us. We can and do disguise our real selves for privacy, for emotional protection, from embarrassment, from a desire to be something we're not, for any number of reasons. Sometimes we disguise ourselves so well that the question becomes not "Do you know me?", but "Do I know me."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Further Thoughts on Moll Flanders and Some Questions

In yesterday's post, I mentioned a discussion I had with a friend regarding Moll Flanders repeatedly abandoning her children to the care of others. Quite a few readers here had some comments on the topic, too! Upon further reflection and discussion, I proposed that considering Moll's situation and her professions of prostitution and thieving, perhaps the children were much better off where they were rather than with her. She always expressed affection for the children she bore and always made sure as she could that they were going to receive good care. Many times, she wanted to be able to see them, but did not want them to see her or to know she was their mother. Because she never knew whether or not she would be able to find a husband/protector or how she was going to survive, I believe it was not selfishness that made her leave her children but love and concern that they have the opportunity, however small, for a better life than what she could offer them.

That, in turn, led me to these questions: Picture yourself as a woman suddenly alone in the 1700's with either no or very little means of support. Could you permanently leave your child or children to be raised by another family if you knew it would spare them a life of severe poverty and misery? What if that child was a brand new baby? What if the child was older, say four or five or more?

Does seeing through Moll Flanders eyes give you any potential insight into the feelings of a parent giving their child up for adoption in modern times? Or is that a completely different scenario?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


by Daniel Defoe

I'll let the original full title sum up Moll Flanders:

"The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who Was Born In Newgate, and During a Life of Continu'd Variety For Threescore Years, Besides Her Childhood, Was Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife [Whereof Once To Her Own Brother], Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon In Virginia, At Last Grew Rich, Liv'd Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums."

I was going to wait until I listened to my Teaching Company lecture for this book before I wrote about it, but I decided to get my initial impressions down first.

I adored Moll Flanders, the woman and the book. She's not a traditional heroine, that's for certain, but she's spunky and tough and did what she had to do to make it in a man's world. While we have come a long very way, there is still a certain stigma surrounding many unmarried women. Some people assume there is something wrong with her or that she is a lesbian or some kind of radical feminist. She herself may fall victim to societal norms and start thinking badly of herself if she does want a husband and can't seem to find one. Even if she doesn't want one, she may start to wonder what is wrong with her that she feels that way!

I discussed this book with a good friend, an avid reader and strong, independent woman herself. She didn't care for it, but her reasoning was interesting to me. Being a mother, it bothered her tremendously that Moll was continually bearing children and leaving them behind, either with the father's family or in other situations where they would be taken in and cared for. I, being only a mother to fuzzy four-legged children, thought that strange behaviour, but considering the times and her situation, I just let it go. Funny how our modern situations can color our opinions of even very old books!

I plan on listening to the lecture for this soon, so we'll see what other observations come to mind when I hear what Professor Weinstein has to say. I'll keep you posted!

Related Posts:

Further Thoughts on Moll Flanders and Some Questions
TTC: Classic Novels, Lecture 2

Other reviews:

Heather at Age 30+ . . . A Lifetime of Books

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Need A Laugh?

OK. Back to the books! :-)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


by Ernest J. Gaines

"And that's all we are, Jefferson, all of us on this earth, a piece of drifting wood, until we -- each one of us, individually -- decide to become something else." Grant Wiggins in A Lesson Before Dying (p. 193)

In a small Louisiana town in the late 1940's, Grant Wiggins, the town's teacher for one of the African American schools, is begged by the godmother of Jefferson, an ill-educated, falsely accused, young black man sentenced to die in the electric chair, to help Jefferson face his death as a man and not the "hog" he was called during his trial.

I am speechless. There is not a solitary word I can utter that would properly convey the majesty I felt in this book. I will be reading another novel by this author soon, and perhaps an opportunity to compare the two will provide a cure for my momentary disability. With time and distance I will be better able to analyze my reaction to A Lesson Before Dying, but until then it has earned a place of honor on my personal list of treasured reads.


by Harriet Beecher Stowe, edited with an introduction and notes by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Hollis Robbins

Uncle Tom's Cabin recounts the fates of a group of Kentucky slaves chosen to be sold to settle their owner's debts.

I had never read Uncle Tom's Cabin before, so my first experience was with this annotated edition. I loved the story, and while I started out loving the annotations also, I became less enamored with them as the book went on. Most of them were interesting, but quite a few were not usefully insightful. I already mentioned in a previous post about the annotations that were simply a note that the person writing the annotations found certain parts of the book boring. "My eyes glazed over" was noted a couple of times. Not to be disrespectful, but so what? One of the sections to which this was referring I actually found to be a fascinating exploration into the heart of Augustine St. Clare, the man who bought Uncle Tom from the slave trader. I wasn't bored at all, and I resented just a little bit the feeling of being "wrong" because I didn't agree with the scholar but I got over it. :-)

The other annotations I would disagree with were ones that pointed out the more awkward scene shifts employed by the author. Granted, they were rarely seamless, but that didn't bother me. After recently reading Richard Wright's Native Son, which provided virtually no tension-relief whatsoever, it was nice in Uncle Tom's Cabin to have those moments of informality after many emotionally-charged passages, to have a chance to exhale and absorb what I just read. If it wasn't written that way on purpose, I hope I someday can write half that effectively by accident!

Those couple of grumblings aside, I enjoyed the annotation experience and will definitely read that way again in the future. The extra factual information added dimension to the story I would have missed otherwise. However, I believe a reader would enjoy the book just as much without it. Whichever way you would choose to read Uncle Tom's Cabin, I don't think you can go wrong making time for this brave and beautiful classic.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

And Speaking of Shania Twain . . .

While I was looking for yesterday's video for my Valentine's Day post, I ran across this awesome video that I had never seen before. I'm not a boy-band fan, never was, but this arrangement of The Backstreet Boys singing "From This Moment On" with Shania stopped me in my tracks. I sang this for our wedding, so it's a song that has deep meaning for me, and this recording is just stunning to listen to. And to watch! Enjoy!

I promise I'll get back to books tomorrow. :-)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day, Sweetie!

Shania was our girl when we met, and it's still her songs that say all the things I forget all too often to say out loud. So, I'll let her do it again. And I found a video of her singing in a nice sexy outfit for you. ;-)

Love you, Peter!

Friday, February 13, 2009


by Richard Wright

In 1930's Chicago, a troubled young black man accidentally commits murder and his life spirals out of control.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, "chilling" and "haunting" are the first words that come to mind when I think back on listening to Native Son. The writing is harsh and staccato, capturing the intensity and impulsiveness of Bigger Thomas. He is not a character that will elicit much sympathy for himself, but his tragic story exposes a sharp knife poised at the soft underbelly of our society. Who provided the weapon and who is holding it?

While Bigger's guilt is unquestionable, the world of oppression and humiliation that produced him and others like him is also suspect. Even members of his own race and class cannot agree if he is wholly responsible for his actions. An argument between two black men overheard while Bigger is on the run illustrates this. One, believing murder is murder and needs to be punished, would turn Bigger in to the police if he saw him. The other would not, for it is essentially only a luck of the draw whether or not anyone living in their circumstances would have done the same as Bigger. The victim had it coming.

At Bigger's sentencing, the impassioned plea of his lawyer to spare Bigger's life exposes the hypocrisy of the charitable acts of some people, which readers will sorrowfully recognize still exist in current business and politics. The victim's father donates millions to help poor black people in the city, but he allows his real estate company to continue to charge black renters more money than white renters and to rent them only shabbily-kept apartments in neighborhoods designated as "black". Despite the shortage of available apartments, however bedraggled, he will not rent to them in "white" neighborhoods, stating he believes that black people are much happier living together in their own place.

I can't say I completely disagreed with the individual fate of Bigger Thomas, but the questions raised in the pages of this book will reverberate for a long time to come.

More thoughts on Native Son:

The Millions

Happy Friday!

I was looking for a cute pic of the boys to post for a lazy Friday, but when I saw this I couldn't quit laughing, so here it is. My sister and her husband at a Halloween Party a couple of years ago:

Did I mention she works for a local billionaire and he's a chiropractor? No, I wouldn't believe it either if I didn't know them. :-)

Love ya, guys!! And Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

TTC: Classic Novels, Lecture 1

Meeting The Challenge of Great Literature

"[O]ur aim is to illuminate some of the most influential works of fiction in Western literature, yet works that challenge our sense of what a novel is, what it does, and why we have it." Professor Arnold Weinstein

The opening lecture of this course had even my husband ready to crack open a classic novel and start reading! :-) Most of the time was spent introducing Professor Weinstein's definitions of "classic", "literature", etc., and giving a broad overview of the books we will be reading and why he chose them. I won't talk about everything the professor covers in these lectures, but I will choose a point or two in each that I found particularly meaningful for me.

One of the questions presented today was: Why do we read novels? What do they do for us? I just had this discussion this past weekend with a friend of mine, a non-reader, who was mystified as to why I choose some of the books that I read. Why would I want to read a book that describes the horrors of slavery in the south? Prejudice in pre-Civil Rights America? Child soldiers in Sudan? A WWII concentration camp? The education of a suicide bomber? I told him it was because it took me out of my comfortable white suburban life and showed me a world completely unlike mine. It shook me out of my emotional and intellectual lethargy and made me think about something beside myself, to consider the wider world beyond my personal experience. It made me think about my daily actions and if they are in line with my true beliefs, and if they are, is that a good thing?

In the words of Alanis Morrisette, "You read, you learn."

Professor Weinstein had this to say: "Reading these books is akin to visiting the storehouse of culture to take nourishment from it. We might think of reading as similar to ancient cannibalism or modern medicine. We 'ingest' the books we read in order to take their magical powers or healing potency into ourselves." (Course Guidebook, pp. 6-7) I loved the cannibal comparison, consuming the remains of the wise ones and powerful warriors to absorb their knowledge and strength. I know it's a little sick, but I can't argue the truth of it!

So, what about you? Why do you read?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Classic Novels: Meeting The Challenge of Great Literature

Remember the cool Teaching Company courses I received as a birthday gift? After much reflection, I decided the best place to start is with Classic Novels: Meeting The Challenge of Great Literature. I haven't listened to any of the lectures yet, but I have started on the first book, Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. In case you're curious, here is the reading list for this course:

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Pere Goriot by Honoré de Balzac
Wuthering Heights by Emily Emily Brontë
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The Trial by Franz Kafka
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
Ulysses by James Joyce
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I have my work cut out for me! I've only read two of them already -- Moby Dick and War & Peace (my thoughts on W&P) -- so I've got a lot of good stuff to look forward to. It's going to take me some time to work through this course as I do intend to read each book before listening to the lecture, with the exception of Proust. I've read Swann's Way (my thoughts), but I will try to maybe read the second volume in the series before the lecture. I won't try to read all seven. I think that would make me cranky. I do want to read them all eventually, just not back-to-back. And I'm scared to death of Ulysses. I see a heavily annotated edition of that book in my future! :-) This is going to be way too much fun!!!