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!


Sunday, May 31, 2009


by James Joyce

According to Jack Murnighan, author of Beowulf on the Beach, and I'm paraphrasing here, James Joyce was far too intelligent for his own good and puts it on gaudy display in Ulysses to the point where he might be the only one who actually gets all the jokes. I have no reason on earth to dispute that conclusion. Thankfully, my goal was not to understand the book, but to get a feel for it. I wanted to have a "big picture" when I was finished and an idea as to whether or not I would like to potentially revisit the book in more detail sometime in the future or if a passing familiarity is good enough. I've waffled between both of those answers a number of times during the book, but I believe I will ultimately come back to Ulysses in the future. It's a weird piece of work, no doubt about it. However, even though large portions of it were lost on me, I think I can see why it has attained the place it has in the world of literature. It will never be my favorite classic, but I respect it. And if the truth be told, I liked it in a currently-inexpressible kind of way.

It was a lot like reading The Faerie Queene in that I had times of complete lucidity and I was thinking, "Wow! This is really good!" Then all of a sudden I was mired in long passages where I had no clue at all what was going on. As long as I stayed focused on my goal of "the big picture", I was good. I do admit to serious frustration during some of the more difficult chapters. Remember the episode of I Love Lucy when she went to work in the chocolate factory?

That was how I felt sometimes. The thing was just getting away from me. But then the chapter (aka "Episode") would be over, I'd read more Sparknotes, I'd get a fresh grip, and I did okay. My method was to read the Sparknotes for an Episode before the actual book so I had a preview of what it was about. That was the correct way for me to handle it. It gave me the ability to pick up bits of the story even in the midst of utter confusion.

It's difficult to know what to say about Ulysses, what other potential readers may be curious about. In light of that, here are a few of the random notes I jotted during the reading:

Do you ever starting thinking about one thing, then minutes later you're thinking about something completely different and wonder how on earth you got to that subject? Ulysses is just like that!

Keeping track as well as you can of which parts of The Odyssey Ulysses is paralleling does help with the more difficult episodes. They didn't make a ton more sense, but at least I felt I could understand why they were presented in the manner they were. The Sparknotes Reading Guide was very helpful with this.

(Thoughts From Episode Six: Hades) I loved all the distracted thoughts during the funeral! Unless the deceased is someone close, I'll bet that's what's going on in most of our brains during funeral services.

I didn't realize that Ulysses was written in so many different styles. For example, I knew about the stream-of-consciousness aspect that permeates the entire work, but there is one episode written in a manner that follows the development of the English language beginning with early English and ending with what at the time was modern slang. Another is written entirely in "question and answer" format.

If any of you have a question about reading Ulysses, please ask! I'll answer the best I can. This was the book I feared above all others, and maybe I can make it a bit less scary for other readers. Maybe. :-)

Friday, May 29, 2009

LLP: June 2009 Monthly Plan

I'm opting for summer vacation! Sort of. :-) This month I will focus on my reading challenges, especially the Countdown Challenge and the TBR Challenge, other random reads that I've had waiting around on shelves at home, and requests that come into the library. I have some ideas fluttering around the edges of my subconscious regarding the "book about books" I keep blathering about writing, so I also want to spend some time seeing if I can mold them into anything concrete.

Beyond that, I make no plans or promises other than to dutifully report on all I discover. Happy reading, everyone!

Back to 2009 Second Quarter Goals
Back to 2009 General Concepts
Back to Lifetime Learning Project Personal Mission Statement

Thursday, May 28, 2009

LLP: May 2009 Wrap-Up

I know May isn't quite over yet, but I've got a busy weekend of sitting on my behind on the patio looking at all our new flowers and reading planned. Therefore, I'm getting this out of the way now. :-) Looking at the plan for May, it appears as if I didn't do very much. However, in addition to all the other books I read this month (list at the bottom of my blog), I finished The Faerie Queene and I'll be finishing Ulysses tomorrow, so I feel like I've had a smashing month!

On the downside, my eyes got bigger than my free time at the library, so I had to take back 18(!?!) books without reading them. Bummer, because I really wanted to read them all. I added them back to my library wish list, so hopefully I'll get to them eventually.

I'm going to use this evening to decide what my goals will be for June. I'm leaning toward a "summer vacation" and spending the month reading whatever looks good at the moment. (Like I haven't been doing that anyway. Ha!) Maybe I'll modify Andi's plan and read off my own shelves for a few weeks. I'll think of something, have no doubt! :-)

Back to 2009 Second Quarter Goals
Back to 2009 General Concepts
Back to Lifetime Learning Project Personal Mission Statement

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


by Dan Smith

"This series of State of the World atlases, which was initiated in 1982, and of which this is the eighth edition, has endeavored to present the provisional facts about key world issues in a way that is reliable, digestible for the non-expert, and oriented towards revealing the larger picture. These books do not offer -- and do not claim to offer -- the only definitive world view. They simply offer to help you see the broad outlines, the context for deeper knowledge on specific issues." (The Penguin State of the World Atlas, pg. 13)

For someone like me who is not well-versed in world issues, this was an amazing book! Filled with colorful maps illustrating easily understandable statistics, it includes issues such as military spending, refugees, human rights abuses, malnutrition, biodiversity, waste and many, many more. (If you click through to Amazon, you can use the "Look Inside" feature to see how beautifully the material is depicted.) Each issue is presented at a very high level, but it is unintimidating and enough to open the reader's eyes to problems he or she may or may not have been aware of. I found a number of areas into which I have every intention of delving more deeply and learning more.

If you want to learn about some of the major world issues we are currently facing but you're not sure where to begin, this is a perfect book. There are also others in this series that I intend to look into such as The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World. I'll keep you posted as I find them!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


by Gustave Flaubert

"Emma Bovary, the beautiful young wife of a French country doctor, yearns for romance with such fervor that she is willing to risk anything for its magic. Bored by her provincial life and the clumsy attentions of her husband, she is drawn toward a more sophisticated world, developing desire that will ultimately command a terrible price." (From the CD container)

Madame Bovary reminded me a lot of Anna Karenina, even though it's been many years since I read the latter. Like 20 or there about. I would be willing to bet there have been reams of scholarly papers produced comparing Emma and Anna. I'd like to go back and read Anna Karenina again with Madame Bovary in mind.

That little observation aside, I have to say I was not bowled over by Madame Bovary. Somewhat like when I read Wuthering Heights, I thought Flaubert's writing was absolutely gorgeous, but I didn't care for a single character. I didn't detest them all the way I did Heathcliff and company. I simply didn't have any feelings for them, good or bad. Except maybe for Emma. I thought she was a whiny simpleton whom I badly wanted to slap on numerous occasions. (I am detecting anger management issues. Hmmmm . . . ) Yes, I am aware that I completely lack that girl-bonding thing that drives women to feel empathy with Emma Bovary and many other classic heroines. I need to work on that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


by Dave Barry

"Did you ever wish that you really understood money? Well, Dave Barry wishes that he did, too. But that hasn't stopped him from writing this book." (From the front jacket flap.)

Let me make clear right out of the chute that there is not one ounce of actual financial advice in this book. It's a satire, a joke. It makes fun of financial self-help books. Why do I say this? Because it got a whole bunch of 1-star reviews on Amazon from people who were beyond PO'd when they thought they were getting a serious finance book. If those people read the entire title and/or a single page of this book and still thought it was going to assist them on their road to riches, they possibly need more help than simply financial. You really should go read those reviews. They're almost as funny as the book itself.

And Dave Barry's Money Secrets: Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar? is funny! I'm talking laugh-out-loud-until-you-cry kind of funny. This was exactly what I needed coming off a string of way-too-serious books. Before there was David Sedaris, there was Dave Barry, and Barry still holds the title for Author of the Funniest Book I Ever Read In My Life, Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys, where I learned about things like urinal etiquette and man clubs like Mountain Men Anonymous who go camping together, get drunk, and try to shoot beer cans off each other's heads with bows and arrows. Trust me. It's hysterical! And so is this one. When you need a laugh, pick either one up. You can thank me later. :-)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Giveaway and A Challenge

I posted about Beowulf on the Beach the other day, but I neglected to tell you where I heard about it!

Ann and Michael from Books on the Nightstand not only let me know about this great new book about books, but they are hosting their first ever reading challenge and giving away FIVE SIGNED COPIES!! The challenge only requires you to read one book from the list, but you can read as many as you feel up to. So head on over to Books on the Nightstand, sign up the challenge so you can play on the newest fun list with the rest of us, and enter to win a signed copy of the book. You can't go wrong! :-)

Friday, May 22, 2009


by Alessandro Baricco

If you want to read the story of the rage of Achilles but you're not quite up to Homer, Alessandro Baricco's An Iliad is just what you're looking for. A slim volume of 158 pages, An Iliad is made up of seventeen short chapters each told by a different character from the saga. Helen, Agamemnon, Nestor, Hector, Priam, Andromache, Achilles and more all are given the opportunity tell parts of the story from their unique point of view.

Baricco does not venture far from the original. He removes the gods as characters, but otherwise follows the action and dialog of The Iliad quite closely. Where he does insert his own spin, it is written in italics so there is no question. He also includes the story of the Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy at the end to wrap things up, which many may not know is not told in The Iliad. (You have to look to Virgil's The Aeneid for a really great telling of the Trojan Horse!) He begins the book with an introduction telling why and how he wrote An Iliad, so the reader knows precisely what s/he is getting into.

I would have really liked the book all on it's own, but Baricco finishes with an essay on war that elevated it to another level. The messages of The Iliad and its timeless characters took on deeper meaning for me, and not only will I most likely be purchasing a copy of this book to add to my permanent library, I am most anxious to revisit its predecessor. I will leave you with a small excerpt from that essay:

"[T]oday, the task of a true pacifism should be not to demonize war excessively so much as to understand that only when we are capable of another kind of beauty will we be able to do without what war has always offered us. To construct another kind of beauty is perhaps the only route to true peace. To show ourselves capable of illuminating the shadows of existence without recourse to the flame of war. To give a powerful meaning to things without having to place them in the blinding light of death." (p. 157)

Peace to all who come here ~

Thursday, May 21, 2009


by Jack Murnighan

We list junkies adore books like this, and this one is brand-spankin' new! For each of the 50 classics that Jack Murnighan has chosen to highlight in Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits, he "reveals how to get the most out of your reading and provides a crib sheet that includes the Buzz, the Best Line, What's Sexy, and What To Skip" (from the back cover). He tells you the boring parts to skip! Cool! I personally wouldn't do that, but it's nice that he lets me know what's not so good, at least in his opinion.

I've thumbed through the entire book, read sections here and there, and Murnighan makes me want to sit down and read each and every one of the books he talks about. So what's a girl to do but list them all out and get to work! It will be a long-term project of course, but eventually I'd like to have each one not only read, but I'd like to have a post written about each one, with the possible exception of The Bible. (I think I'd feel too weird "reviewing" the Bible.) That means a few rereads somewhere a long the way. And that's OK! Man, I love this stuff!!!

Books in bold I have read, but they are not talked about on this blog. Yet. :-) Books I've posted about are linked.

In chronological order:

The Iliad -- Homer
The Odyssey -- Homer
The Old Testament -- The Bible
The New Testament -- The Bible
The Aeneid -- Virgil
Metamorphoses -- Ovid
Beowulf -- Anonymous
Inferno -- Dante Alighieri
Paradiso -- Dante Aligheiri
The Decameron -- Giovanni Boccaccio
The Canterbury Tales -- Geoffrey Chaucer
The Faerie Queene -- Edmund Spencer
Hamlet -- William Shakespeare
King Lear -- William Shakespeare
Macbeth -- William Shakespeare
Don Quixote -- Miguel De Cervantes
Paradise Lost -- John Milton
Tom Jones -- Henry Fielding
Faust I & II -- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Eugene Onegin -- Alexander Pushkin
Pere Goriot -- Honore De Balzac
Jane Eyre -- Charlotte Bronte
Wuthering Heights -- Emily Bronte
Moby Dick -- Herman Melville
Bleak House -- Charles Dickens
Great Expectations -- Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary -- Gustave Flaubert
Crime and Punishment -- Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers Karamazov -- Fyodor Dostoevsky
War and Peace -- Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina -- Leo Tolstoy
Middlemarch -- George Eliot
The Wings of the Dove -- Henry James
Remembrance of Things Past -- Marcel Proust
(My thoughts on Swann's Way)
Ulysses -- James Joyce
The Magic Mountain -- Thomas Mann
The Trial -- Franz Kafka
To The Lighthouse -- Virginia Woolf
The Sound and the Fury -- William Faulkner
A Farewell To Arms -- Ernest Hemingway
Tropic of Cancer -- Henry Miller
Native Son -- Richard Wright
The Man Without Qualities -- Robert Musil
Lolita -- Vladimir Nabokov
Giovanni's Room -- James Baldwin
One Hundred Years of Solitude -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gravity's Rainbow -- Thomas Pynchon
Blood Meridian -- Cormac McCarthy
Beloved -- Toni Morrison

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


by Edmund Spencer

Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds,
Am now enforst a far vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds,
And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds;
Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.

"The Faerie Queene has proved one of the most influential poems in the English language. Dedicating his work to Elizabeth I, Spencer brilliantly united Arthurian romance and Italian Renaissance epic to celebrate the glory of the Virgin Queen. Each book of the poem recounts the quest of a knight to achieve a virtue: the Red Crosse Knight of Holinesse, who must slay a dragon and free himself from the witch Duessa; Sir Guyon, Knight of Temperaunce, who escapes the Cave of Mammon and destroys Acrasia's Bowre of Bliss; and the lady-knight Britomart's search for her Sir Artegall, revealed to her in an enchanted mirror. Although composed as a moral and political allegory, The Faerie Queene's magical atmosphere captivated the imaginations of later poets from Milton to the Victorians." (From the back cover of the Penguin Classics edition.)


Make no mistake, reading The Faerie Queene in its entirety is no small undertaking, but it sure feels good when you're finished! There were many moments of, "Holy cow, will I ever finish this?" The language can be a bear, but I got used to it after a while. Despite my reading guide, there were a lot of verses that went by without my really understanding exactly what happened, but I was able to grasp the overall picture as the tales unfolded. And what tales they were! Knights and damsels, witches and monsters, gods and men, good and evil -- they're all here. I'm not saying it was all fun and games, but looking back over my time with this book I find it was a difficult endeavor that I'm very glad I saw through to the end. I can say I've read The Faerie Queene, and I can honestly say I liked it.

Maybe taking on the whole book does not appeal to you (and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't), but you'd like to at least try a part of it. Of the seven books that make up The Faerie Queene, some are more fun to read than others. The first was my favorite with the seventh coming in a very close second. You could read either one without feeling like you're missing anything.

I believe Book One is the one most commonly read in literature classes and for good reason. I felt it was the most accessible and most exciting of all the books. It tells of the Red Cross Knight and his quest for Holiness, which includes lots of battles and dragons and other fun stuff. Book Seven is very short. It is only 3 cantos long as opposed to the usual twelve because it is unfinished. The incompleteness, however, does not detract at all from the reader's enjoyment. That book tells the story of Mutability (or Change) who feels she should be the queen of the gods, because everything in the world is subject to Change. She goes on trial before Nature to make her case and receives judgment.

Whichever you would choose -- Book One, Book Seven, or the whole shebang -- my advice is simply to not let it overwhelm you. Take it a little bit at a time. Don't get hung up on understanding every word of every line of every verse. Look up the ones that give you the most trouble (there is a glossary in the Penguin Classics edition and I have included a link to an online glossary in this post), roll with the others. The odd spellings of known words will become easier as you go along. Don't dwell on specifics. As long as you're grasping the general idea, it's still a good read. If you really love it, you can always go back later to the parts you'd like to study more closely. As for me, I need a break, but I can see myself not only returning to parts of The Faerie Queene, but other 16th century poetry. After all, where else am I going to use all the new words I learned? :-)

Over my time reading this book, I've shared a couple of verses that I particularly liked. In closing, I would like to share one more that I marked while finishing the book last night. It may have been written in the 1590's, but we can still use this advice today:

It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill,
That maketh wretch or happie, rich or poore:
For some, that hath abundance at his will,
Hath not enough, but wants in greatest store;
And other, that hath litle, askes no more,
But in that litle is both rich and wise.
For wisedome is most riches; fooles therefore
They are, which fortunes doe by vowes deuize,
Sith each vnto himselfe his life may fortunize.

Wishing you all the riches your mynd can hold~

Resources for reading The Faerie Queene:

Read The Faerie Queene online
Summary of The Faerie Queene
Study Guide from Bookrags
Wikisource glossary for words used in The Faerie Queene
The Faerie Queene at Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Que Up The Theme From Rocky!

I have officially completed The Faerie Queene Challenge!! When I posted yesterday, my plan had been to take a couple of days to finish it off. Turns out I was more impatient to move on than I had anticipated. Peter left me to my task on the patio and kindly planted flowers while I ground out the last 100 or so pages. (Thanks, honey!!)

So that's it! Five and half months, seven books, seventy-five cantos, hundreds and hundreds of verses, one thousand pages. Victory!! I'll be posting my thoughts and a few novice tips for reading it tomorrow, but today I'm basking in the glory of achievement. And bragging. Just a little bit. :-)

Hosted at

Monday, May 18, 2009

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Postings

. . . so I can finish The Faerie Queene. I am on a mission. I'm so close to the end I need sunglasses to ward off the glare from the light at the end of the tunnel!

If I'm not back in a day or two, send in the K9 Search and Rescue Unit . . .

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

Let's see. I've got The Faerie Queene, Ulysses and Madame Bovary all going at the same time. No wonder I've been a little cranky lately. Didn't I say something before about this kind of thing being a bad idea? :-) OK. It wasn't an "idea". It turned out this way due to requests at the library becoming available. Honestly though, I may have to pick up some Dr. Seuss or something. Soon. Before my brain turns to mush. With all due respect to Spencer, Joyce and Flaubert, of course. ;-)

Friday, May 15, 2009


by Julie Otsuka

"Julie Otsuka's commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination -- both physical and emotional -- of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view -- the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family's return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity -- she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times." (From the book jacket, Borzoi Books edition)

This was another book I stumbled across while looking for War Through The Generations Challenge books, and which I read after I had already finished the challenge. I would not gush as much as the writer of the jacket blurb did, but this was a very good little book.

Like many others who forget that WWII consisted of more than Hitler and the Holocaust, I had no knowledge of Japanese internment camps beyond the fact that they had existed, and even that was a point I had forgotten about. The prose of When the Emperor was Divine is extremely sparse. The main characters lack names. Their lives before being sent to the camp are generalized. Provided only the bare necessities, their days and weeks and months pass slowly and monotonously as they wait for the end of the war from behind a wall of wire. Even after release from the camp, they are treated with suspicion. But all of that underscores the point that Japanese Americans were fused into one concept: enemy aliens with no distinction between them. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. And it should bother you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Working on a blog which I am slowly but surely dedicating to my personal education and growth as a responsible and compassionate American and world citizen, I can't help but be inspired by Barack Obama's address to the graduating class of Arizona State University. Love him or hate him, you can't help but think about what he has to say: "[O]ne's title -- even a title like president -- says very little about how well one's life has been led. That no matter how much you've done, or how successful you've been, there's always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve."

Politics aside, he makes me want to be a better person. How can that possibly be a bad thing? Now please excuse me. I have some studying to do!

Class Notes: Introduction To Narrative

Chapter 9: Adaptation Across Media

"Adapters, in other words, if they are at all good, are raiders; they don't copy, they steal what they want and leave the rest." The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, p. 112.

"For a critic, then, to judge a work on the basis of its faithfulness to the original, it is important to determine whether faithfulness was in fact the goal. Otherwise, one should judge on other grounds." Id., p. 113.

When it comes to books, I love adaptations! I love new tellings of fairy tales or classics. I love when the authors get all creative on favorite literary characters. (Well, usually I do.) Even if it's not done particularly well I tend to give the author a little credit for the courage to try. Then, when it comes to movies, I find I tend to not like it when it doesn't stick to the book. I hold them to different standards. And, now that it has been brought to my attention, I have decided that it is stupid for me to do that. It's time for me to watch movies with the same open mind with which I read books. And I think sometime in the future I need to write about some of my favorite book adaptations. I'm putting that on my "ideas" list!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


by Cynthia Ozick

The Shawl opens with an eight page short story about a woman named Rosa who witnesses the killing of her child in a concentration camp. The novella which follows finds Rosa thirty years later in Florida still desperately keeping her daughter alive in her mind while her own life deteriorates.

In her depression, Rosa is an unreliable narrator causing the reader to call into question her version of events, intensifying her grief and denial. Rosa's antagonistic relationship with her niece, who had also been in the camp, provides what may be the truth about the past, but we never really know. In the end, it may be that it doesn't matter, because the future is the only thing Rosa has the power to change.

At only 70 pages, this would be a perfect Read-A-Thon book. While the premise sounds and is somber, the beauty of Cynthia Ozick's writing and the surrender to hope with which the novella ends make it all up to the reader. I had never heard of this author and just happened to find The Shawl while I was looking for books to fulfill the War Through The Generation Challenge. I finished the challenge before I got to it, but I'm most pleased that I went ahead with this read anyway. I will be on the lookout for some more of Ozick's short stories in the hope that she has more of this high caliber for me to discover!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Class Notes: Introduction To Narrative

Chapter 8: Three Ways To Interpret Narrative

"To tell a story is to try to understand it." The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, p. 109.

Author H. Porter Abbott states that there are many ways to interpret narrative, but most of them stem from "one of three fundamentally distinct approaches." (p. 100) They are:

Intentional Reading: The ideas and judgments that we infer from the narrative are understood to be in keeping with a sensibility that intended these effects. For example, the interpretation is drawn from the views of the "implied author", who is not be assumed to be the actual author of the work.

Symptomatic Reading: Interpreting a text as symptomatic of the author's unconscious or unacknowledged state of mind, or of unacknowledged cultural conditions. Deconstructionism is an example of this method.

Adaptive Reading: Adaptive readings range from interpretations freed from concerns for overreading or underreading to fresh adaptations of the story either in the same medium or in a different one, such as film adaptions of a novel. The latter example then leads us to a new version of a previously posed question: At what point does an interpretation cease being an "adaptation" and become an altogether different story?

I have to tell you, I'm really glad I won't be tested on all of this later. I get to enjoy rhetorical questions and let them hang around the periphery of my brain while I read, occasionally conjuring up other rhetorical questions such as: Is Chuck Palahniuk himself a distraught libertine (symptomatic) or is it just his implied authors (intentional)?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Awards 3 Reading Challenge

I'm in! This time it's five books from five different awards from July 1 to Dec. 1, 2009. I recently finished Books Awards II and I still have award winners lined up to read, so I'm ready! I'll fill them in as I go along, because I don't know exactly which ones I want to read. I only know there are a lot!

Completed: 5/5 as of September 29, 2009

1. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (Pulitzer Prize)
2. Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee (Nobel Prize)
3. Finn by Jon Clinch (Athenaeum Literary Award)
4. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (PEN/Faulkner Award)
5. In The Country of Men by Hisham Matar (Commonwealth Writers' Prize)

Don't miss this mini-version of the Book Awards Challenge! It will make a good training run, because next year Michelle will be upping the ante. Fun! Sign up here!


by Chuck Palahniuk

"Tender Branson -- last surviving member of the so-called Creedish Death Cult -- is dictating his life story into the flight recorder of Flight 2039, cruising on autopilot at 39,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. He is all alone in the airplane, which will crash shortly into the vast Australian outback. But before it does, he will unfold the tale of his journey from an obedient Creedish child and humble domestic servant to an ultra-buffed, steroid- and collagen-packed media messiah." (From the back cover of Survivor, Anchor Books edition.)

Survivor provides a good example of Chuck Palahniuk's bizarre humor and dry wit without making you feel like maybe you should be wearing latex gloves while reading. Contained here are his trademark quirky characters and off-the-wall scenarios with only a smattering of the blatantly offensive.

I still have the majority of his bibliography to read, but at this point I would say that this book, one of his first, does not yet have that sharpened "compassion factor" present in his later work which makes the freakishly weird almost endearing. However, one can see the beginnings of it here.

It's not a book I'd recommend to Mom or Grandma, but someone who has been interested in giving Palahniuk a whirl but didn't think a book about six hundred dudes and one porn queen was a good place to begin might want to check this one out.

Passing thought -- I wonder if the myriad cleaning tips he gives throughout the text are true. For example: how to polish chrome with club soda, how to clean the ivory or bone handles on cutlery, how to get the shine of a suit, how to stop silk flowers from fraying, how to pick up broken glass from that jimmied bedroom window or smashed highball, repairing stab holes in nightgowns and removing blood from an oriental carpet. Part of his characterization of Tender Branson could have originated from thumbing through some depraved version of one of those "How to Clean Anything" books.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


by Philip Roth

"What if Charles A. Lindbergh, a noted isolationist and anti-semite, had defeated Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election?

When aviation hero Lindbergh wins on the Republican ticket, fear sweeps across America and into the homes of every Jewish family. In Newark, the Roths wonder what Lindbergh as president will mean to them. Before being elected, he had publicly lambasted the Jews for selfishly championing the war against Nazi Germany -- and now he's agreed to a 'nonaggression' policy with Hitler. Things take an even darker turn when all Jewish American communities are targeted for separation and relocation." (From the CD container)

The Plot Against America made me uneasy, because parts of it reminded me of things that were seen and heard during the last presidential election. If someone believes things like this could not happen in our more enlightened modern society, he or she may have to think again after reading this book.

As seems to be the case with most of Roth's work, the obvious concept is not the only one at work in the novel. The Plot Against America is often less about politics and more about overcoming personal fears, about the dynamics of family and community, about helping those who are in need no matter your own situation. If you've never read Philip Roth, this would be a good place to start.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


by Gregory Maguire

"The Cowardly Lion looks to Yackle, a dying oracle, for answers about the Wicked Witch of the West, but there's a price to pay for the information he seeks." (From the CD container)

What I'm discovering when it come to the work of Gregory Maguire is that, with the exception of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister which I loved, I am more attracted to his style of writing than to his stories. There are individual sentences, entire paragraphs here and there I think are brilliant, but I'm not terribly interested in the book as a whole. His Oz series reminds me of when I read The Coachman Rat, minus the intense perturbation. It takes a beloved childhood story and turns it into a darker, more unsettling tale. Normally this would be a huge plus for me, but for some reason I can't seem to put my finger on I'm very lukewarm about these books. What bothered me most about A Lion Among Men was that he took my favorite Oz character, the Lion, and turned him into someone who I didn't particularly like despite the occasional bouts of sympathy I had for his treatment. Then, once again, the larger picture escaped my interest while I dwelled on a couple of more engaging details such as the characterization of Yackle. Her, I liked. A lot!

And if you want to take a chance on the story of Cinderella creeping you out for the rest of your existence, see if you can get your hands on a copy of The Coachman Rat. It's freaky.