Monday, November 25, 2013

Top Ten Things I am Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesdays is a feature of The Broke and the Bookish.

Books- Of course!  I am thankful for the opportunity to live more than one life and to connect with people (fictional and factual) whom I have never met, but who changed my life.

Family- This goes without saying.  I am so blessed to have a family who has instilled positive, life-giving values, and which encourages open dialogue on the matters over which we disagree.  Not to mention the people who can make me laugh the hardest. Irreplaceable family, I love you.

Kindred Spirits- There are friends, and then there are kindred spirits.  Those people with whom you just connect.  We get each other even when words are insufficient.  In a great lonely world it is heartening to know there are souls cut from the same fabric.

Health- Being related to someone with serious medical conditions, I am acutely aware of my body as a vessel; the clean air in my lungs, the strength of my legs to carry me, my clarity of thought.
Opportunity- I’m a woman who can wear what she wants, live by herself, choose the person she marries, earn her own living.  Basic human rights not observed in all the world.

Music- Lisztomaniac. That’s me.  Now imagine back in the days pre-recorded music.  All those fantastic voices lost to history.  That night at the music hall that you can never hear again.  It makes me deeply grateful for my iPod that I can bring music with me everywhere, and have my favorite voices at my fingertips.

My Junior High English and Language Arts Teacher- Mrs. M., I owe so many “A”s on papers to you!  You gave me such a solid foundation in grammar and creative writing, I still think about you eleven years later.

Seasons- I love New England.  Even when it’s cold and blustery, I love that within the course of a year I can experience the crisp smell of autumn, cuddling by a window as the snow falls in winter, warm picnic nights in summer and a much earned springtime.

Windows-  A strange choice, perhaps, but there is nothing that can improve my day such as sitting by a window.  Imagine how awful life would be without them.

Gratefulness- Thankful for gratefulness?  Yes, that’s what I said.  I’m thankful I have the ability to feel how lucky I am, to feel a deep appreciation for my life and everything in it.

Being as there are millions of things to be grateful for this season, I'm looking forward to reading your lists!


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Top Seven Books I Can't Wait to Get My Hands On! Or, Seriously, Publishers & Library, HURRY

Brought to you in conjunction with The Broke and the Bookish

Just One Year by Gayle Forman
I’m just diving into this volume after having devoured Just One Day.  Gayle Forman, you build some really awesome characters.

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Princess managed to deliver (boy did it!) even when I was certain it would crush my soul.  I have every hope City of Heavenly Fire will give me equally as emotional and satisfying an experience (Magnus + Alec 4eva).

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Many of you have probably already snagged a copy and know the ending (lucky!!) but I am patiently waiting for my library to tell me it’s my turn!  The world building seemed implausible to me, but I’m totally committed to Tris and Four.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
I’m currently reading Lola and the Boy Next Door, which isn’t really my jam, but I loved how real Anna and the French Kiss felt- Perkins really captures the confusion and awkwardness of first love.

The One by Kiera Cass
While I have expressed my mixed feelings on The Selection series, I need to know what happens to Max.

Champion by Marie Lu
The third and final installment of the Legend Trilogy.  While I know June and Day have to end up together, I have grown a fondness for the Elector.  

Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
THIS BOOK CANNOT COME SOON ENOUGH!  It was due out this October, only to be moved to June 2014 (NOOOOOO!).  There’s no point in even trying to write a reasonable paragraph for this one- there is too much unresolved mystery and tension wrapped up in this series.  I’m desperate to finish it out.

I know I’ve cheated with only 7 picks, but these are the only series I’m in the middle of right now!  I look forward to seeing your lists for inspiration of other series and sequels I should be reading!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Top Ten Character Names, or, These People Would Smell No Differently If Named Steve*

*Referring, of course, to Juliet's lament in Act II Scene I

This feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish!

I imagine that authors agonize over names for their characters- what name will embody the person they are putting to paper? Below are 10 characters whose authors totally nailed it.

Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride by William Goldman
The name that changed the “Hello, my name is” stickers.

Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
A name as spacey as the character.

Thank you, Cinderella in Combat Boots!
Augustus Waters from The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Names and what someone is called has a lot of significance to Augustus in this book.  I like that.  And that he calls Hazel “Hazel Grace.”

Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Forever associated with “Bitch, I’m gonna get my way even if I have to walk through you” and a charming southern smile.
√Čtienne St. Clair from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Maybe it’s because I have trouble pronouncing this name, but somehow it really added to this character’s appeal in Anna and the French Kiss.

Even in your strange leather hoodie,
you can't hide your beauty
Edmond Dantes, alias Count of Monte Cristo, alias Abbe Busoni, alias Sinbad the Sailor, alias Lord Wilmore from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Good heavens this man has a lot of aliases!  I think Edmond Dantes is my favorite.

Jean Valjean, alias 24601, alias Monsieur Madeleine, alias Ultime Fauchelevent, alias Monsieur Leblanc, alias Urbain Fabre from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
What is it with the French and multiple secret identities?

Not to much fan-art
of old men, apparently
Leo Gursky from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Such a perfect old man name.  He warms my heart, this character, he does!

By Happiness-in-Misery
Will Grayson and Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
One name, two boys.  And Tiny Cooper.  I LOVE Tiny Cooper.

Mara Amitra Dyer and Noah Elliot Simon Shaw from The Mara Dyer Series by Michelle Hodkin
Because I love clever authors, and I adore that their names together spell MADNESS.

What made your list?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Top Ten Books I Was Forced to Read (and Ended Up Loving!)

This feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish

There are some books I never would have picked up on my own without prompting (and by prompting, I mean begrudging whining) but end up learning a lot and thinking much about. Below are 10 such books.

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
I've mentioned another of my favorites by this author, and I have to give a shout-out to my 6th grade teacher for making us read such fantastic books. Seedfolks is a short book about a community garden in urban Cleveland, OH and the characters' different motivations for contributing to the plot.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing
Do you like inspiring true tales about leadership? Endurance is the real-life story of Ernest Shackleton, the captain of a ship that became crushed by an iceflow during an expedition to Antarctica in 1914. Despite unlikely odds, Shackleton ensured the survival of his entire crew for TWO YEARS in the antarctic with minimal supplies, suffering no worse injuries than frostbite until their rescue.

Handbook of Epictetus
During a year long undergrad course in philosophy, Epictetus became my favorite philosopher. While I don't let his worldview guide my life, I really enjoyed his ideas that unhappiness is caused by focusing to much on what we cannot change and neglecting the things we do have influence over. He also promotes happiness through caring for the well-being of others. These are ideas I can really get behind!

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher Browning
Half history, half psychology, this book explores what made ordinary family men murder an entire village of Jews in WWII. You may have noticed I have an interest in WWII history, and some of the questions I often meditated on were "What made people go along with this? Why did people commit such atrocities? Would I be capable of committing these crimes?"

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
While I had read Of Mice and Men, it wasn't until this book that I fell in love with Steinbeck and resolved to visit Monterey and Salinas Valley someday.

Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
For the majority of this book I was unenchanted, but when I read the end, after the horrible event happened, and all that emotionlessness that Hemingway is known for broke into the desperate pleas and bargains with God, it took my breath away. One of the best chapters I've ever read, anywhere.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
A heartwarming tale of bunny rabbits. THINK AGAIN. These are bad-ass waring bunnies who are searching for a new home and war with other warrens. I read this in 8th grade and was impressed by the characterization.

Proof by David Auburn
Possibly my favorite play (and a great film adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal) I love the double meaning of the title. Catherine was the caregiver of her mentally ill father who has recently passed. When a student of her father goes through his office and finds a very difficult mathematical proof and Catherine claims it is her own, she begins to worry she is following in the footsteps of her father not only in her mathematical genius, but in mental illness.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller
What really drew me to this play was the idea of having a good name, of standing by the truth, of knowing that integrity is too high a price to live. I was really moved by John Proctor's dilemma to lie and live or keep his self respect and die. Regardless of what others think, you have to live a life wherein you can respect yourself, even if you've lost the esteem of everyone else.

The Massacre at El Mozote by Mark Danner
I read this for a course on Liberation Theology, focusing on El Salvador and their recent civil war. I knew very little about El Salvador, but was about to visit one of my friends who had moved there to work with the poor. This was one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. It is not for the faint of heart. Told by the sole survivor of the El Mozote massacre, this book will go into graphic and gruesome detail of the genocide in this small town.

Have you read any of these?  What made it onto your lists of begrudgingly read books that you had to turn and thank your teachers/friends/family for introducing you to?


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Snips & Specs and Tchotchkes

I never thought I'd say this, but Facebook ads have finally shown me something I actually love and might buy.

I just discovered Litographs, a company that creates art from books we love! Generally they're able to include the full text of the work, in very very tiny font, printed on a t-shirt, a tote bag, or my favorite, an actual canvas to be hung on like, probably every wall of my little apartment.

I'm obsessed with these prints not just because I love the idea of reworking a book as a visual art object, but also because the art itself is so lovely and spare and elegant.

Here's a few of my favorites, although there are so many more! Check out the actual website for some cool close-ups of the text that makes up the prints, since that's half the fun.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

So which of these prints do YOU covet, either for yourself or a book-loving buddy?  Are there other books-as-art ideas out there that I should know about so I can continue to overcrowd my apartment with tchotchkes?? Let me know in the comments!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review of A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen Or, Take That, Torvald!

Sometimes it takes a second read to really appreciate a book.  I’m no stranger to book re-reading.  I may or may not have just finished A Room With a View for the 4th time.  I may or may not have read Anne of the Island every autumn of high school and college.  If you go through my bookshelf you’ll notice most of my books are dog-eared, bookmarked, and self annotated.  Most books get better with age and multiple readings.  Some books, regretfully, fall by the wayside on a closer read (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, alas!).  And then there are the books I gave a cursory read, did my duty, checked it off my list, discussed in class, forgot about until years later when I suddenly realize what a goldmine I passed by.  Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is one such read.
While I haven’t read a lot of plays, the few I have are generally one-setting plays, little glimpses into the private home, deep insights into the human psyche.  
Doll Houses then...
... and now
I read A Doll’s House for my theatre class in college and somehow it only earned 3 stars.  After having just read it again, I was blown away by how ahead of it’s time it is!  I would have loved to meet Mr. Ibsen and chat with him over tea about his thoughts on society and gender roles.   Originally written in Norwegian, and premiering on the stage in Denmark in 1879, A Doll’s House is a short play showcasing a pivotal moment in the life of Nora Helmer and her relationship with her husband, Torvald.  Nora is a doting and dutiful wife except for one very important secret that she has kept from her husband.  When this secret is in danger of being revealed, Nora desperately tries to find a way to protect her family from the inevitable consequences.  

What an interesting dichotomy this play reveals about gender roles! Nora is Torvald's little songbird, little squirrel, little sparrow. She is flighty and irresponsible and simply there to bring light and comfort to the home. All this we are told by Torvald, and even from Nora. But what a contrast from the actions we see. Nora who has no head for business, has kept an excellent account of all her records, hired herself out to make the money she needs, painstakingly saved money from her own allowance. Nora, the flighty delight of the household in action is mired in desperation and despair over the choices she has made. She contemplates taking her own life to solve her troubles. Does this sound like a thoughtless woman? And Torvald, always exalting his love for his wife, longing for a way to spare her life in exchange for his, falters and fails with hypocrisy. Nora, in the best scene of the novel, calls him out on it.

This is the moment Nora realizes they have never known each other, and she has never known herself.  Nora is heartbroken, but her eyes are opened.  The end of this play is one of the most satisfying pieces of writing I have ever read.  Nora speaks to Torvald as if they had “passed through the grave” as Jane Eyre would say.  Until this point Nora has always believed she was just a decorative piece of Torvald’s home.  She was simply a doll for him to manipulate.  What an ending! "I have another duty- equally sacred. My duty to myself... First and foremost I am a human being."

In summary: Torvald, what a hypocritical bastard!


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Monday, September 30, 2013

Review of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

I know what some of you might be thinking. “Another vampire book?” But trust me, Holly Black’s latest novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, should not be missed.

After a typical night at a sundown party with friends, seventeen-year-old Tana Bach wakes up alone in a bathtub, hungover and confused, with the sense that something is very wrong. Her fears are confirmed as she discovers someone left a window open during the party – and something came in. In spite of the garlic hung on the lintel to ward them off, vampires crawled through the window in the middle of the night and massacred every one of Tana’s friends -- except, she discovers, her charming, immature ex-boyfriend Aidan and mysterious the vampire Gavriel, both of whom have been tied up and need Tana’s help to escape.

The only problems with this mad plan? Well, Gavriel, while handsome, is dangerous, secretive, and slightly - or more than slightly - unhinged, and Aidan has already been bitten by a vampire and is turning Cold. On that note, this is one of the best descriptions of vampirism I’ve encountered in fiction, not only the change from human to vampire, but also the hungry, insatiable nature of vampirism itself.

Once a human is bitten by a vampire, they turn Cold (infected with vampirism) and bloodthirsty. If they drink human blood, the transformation will be completed and they will die to rise again. But it is also possible to stave off the change, if one is strong enough to resist the siren call of blood for long enough (about 88 days). Officially, the government requires people to report all cases of infection so that those who are Cold can be quarantined, along with vampires, in their local Coldtown, to prevent the further spread of vampirism. Yet those who enter Coldtown almost never leave, so many families attempt a self-quarantine of infected family members. Tana knows what it’s like to try to restrain the Cold – when she was a child, her father locked her Cold mother in the basement, and the consequences were tragic.

That’s why Tana and her two companions embark on a journey to "the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown."
Holly Black, I'll allow a smirk since you wrote another kick-ass book.
 Are you hooked yet? I was! The Coldest Girl in Coldtown grabbed hold of me and would not let go till I was done. The plot is non-stop action (I mean it, like, when does Tana sleep?), and Black offered up a few plot twists that surprised me in their cleverness. After being involved with a string of series this year, I also appreciated that this novel works nicely as a standalone. The novel was jam-packed, for sure, but every moment was necessary to the unity of the whole, and by the end of the book, all plot threads were concluded to my satisfaction.

Part of the reason why this story about vampires doesn’t feel tired is because Black brings a peculiar, unexpected modernity to it. So often, vampires are portrayed as quaint and old-fashioned, given their eternal lives. But in Black’s vision, American pop culture is perversely fascinated by vampires; reality TV series follow vampire bounty hunters and broadcast feeds of Coldtown’s never-ending party for vamps and vamp wannabes, the Eternal Ball. Tana’s friends speculate about her disappearance by Twitter and text message and a reporter offers her money for an exclusive story. And at various times, Tana questions the justice of the Coldtown system that is willing to lock people up and throw away the key, simply for the sake of convenience and the illusion of safety for those on the outside. It reminded me uncomfortably of Japanese internment camps during WWII or the forced relocation of Native Americans. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown offers what feels like a realistic look at what would happen if vampires stepped into our world today.

No sparkling here, gents!
Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a not-to-be-missed, highly original vampire story that offers up some wickedly dark, scary, sexy moments at a pace that won’t give you a second to catch your breath. It uses the vampire theme to ask some important questions about the nature of identity and paints a compelling portrait of how our modern American life, even without vampires, may not be so far distant from Coldtown already.



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