Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday #3

  Welcome to Ulysses Wednesday, where I track my progress reading James Joyce's tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom.

  Status: on page 162 of 783

  Nothing of interest has happened since my last update.  Bloom and his fellow pallbearers continue to the funeral and burial, socialize, and then Bloom goes to the newspaper office where he sells advertising -- in this chapter Joyce uses bold-print headlines to break up the action, even though (to me) the headlines don't relate to what is happening. 
  I probably should look for a good reader's guide to help me through; I'm hoping that this is just a dull section because I didn't get anything out of it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's Monday - What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.
  A fairly productive reading week for me, though I only finished two books:
 Books (still) in Progress:

I'm not sure what I'm going to tackle on the to-read pile this week -- lord knows I have plenty to choose from.  There is a long weekend coming up so I'm looking forward to some bonus reading time.  Happy Canada Day and Happy Fourth of July to everyone!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday #2

  Welcome to Ulysses Wednesday, where I track my progress reading James Joyce's tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom.
   Status:  on page 97 of 783

   It doesn't seem like much, but I am rather impressed by my progress in the first week.  I can follow what is going on in the story, though I have had to read several passages more than once to fully understand them (or better understand them), and - dare I say - I'm almost enjoying it.  I was surprised to see that Leopold Bloom, the novel's main character, does not appear until the fourth chapter (which aren't labelled as such).  I'm not quite sure what the point is of the first three chapters:
  • A few men are eating breakfast in what seems to be some type of monastery tower on the Dublin seaside, then they go down to the sea to have a bath;
  • Stephen Dedalus (a character in other Joyce works) is teaching a classroom of schoolboys
  • Stephen is wandering around Dublin
but perhaps this is laying ground for something that happens later on.

  So when we meet Bloom, he is off to buy a kidney for his breakfast.  While at the butcher, he is in line behind a young maid who is buying sausages for her masters and becomes quite taken with her; he tries to follow her but loses her in the crowds of the Dublin street.  Upon returning home, he prepares the kidney while also making breakfast for his wife, Molly.  After breakfast and a visit to the outhouse (yes, it's described), Bloom begins walking to a funeral of an acquaintance, stopping on the way to pick up a letter at the post office addressed to "Henry Flower", stop at a Church to hear Mass, order some lotion for Molly and buy soap at the chemist's, and have a bath at the public bathhouse.  When I leave Leopold, he is in a carriage with the coffin of the deceased and a few other men (pallbearers?) heading to the cemetery.  As this novel is set in one entire day, and the funeral was to begin at eleven o'clock; I'm going to guess that I am now somewhere between noon and one o'clock in the afternoon.
  What has struck me most about what I've read is not the story, but Joyce's play with the English language.  He uses alliteration (".. scanned the shore south, his feet sinking again slowly in new sockets." ), and rhyming ("Met her once in the park.  In the dark.  What a lark"); and he seems to have invented various words & phrases with no apparent meaning ("nebeneinander"??) which with me had the effect of paying close attention to the words surrounding it.  His descriptions can be quite vivid, and at times stomach-churning; when describing Bloom's preferred breakfast food, he says:
Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
Tasty, no? 

 Joyce also uses a lot of foreign phrases -- French, Italian, Latin -- and because there are no annotations one can be at a loss in comprehending these passages (thankfully I know some French).  Joyce must have been incredibly intelligent, and he seems to want to give his readers credit for intelligence as well (either that, or he wanted to scare them off).

  I do hope the story takes off, but I am quite content reading Ulysses just to appreciate Joyce's writing. 


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me -- by Ariel Leve

  Ariel Leve lives in both New York and London. She seems to be successful in her career.  She is well-travelled.  But she is also anti-social, a hypochondriac, and in my opinion not someone with whom I would want to spend a whole lot of time; at least that is how her essay collection, It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me, portrays her.

  Loosely grouped into sixteen sections, Leve discusses topics ranging from doing nothing ("People with "nothing to do" have no options.  People with "no plans" have the world as their oyster - they just haven't decided yet what they're going to do") to trying new things ("Why would I try new things when I have more than enough trouble getting by with what I've got?") to maintaining friendships.  She is about my age, yet definitely curmudgeonly. 

  And I think that is where the problem lay (lied?) when I read this book.  I could definitely relate to some of the things she spoke about, but I found the anti-social nature of most of the essays to be an overall downer.  Which perhaps was the point of the book and its title? 

  The essays are all rather short (most less than two pages in length) so it is an easy book that can be picked up for short reading intervals.  Perhaps read in this way it might be more enjoyable; for me, taking it all in at once was too much.

(Disclosure:  copy of book received from the publisher, Harper Perennial)

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  I did a good amount of reading last week, despite the fact I got pretty sick mid-week (which may or may not be a Ulysses curse).  Thankfully I feel much better.

  Anyways, here are the books I finished reading:
  Books in Progress:
.... and then I'll see what lighter fare I have on my shelf to cleanse the palate ....

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday - #1a

  So is there a Ulysses curse or something that I need to know about?
  Yesterday, day 1 of my Ulysses reading project, I thought I was doing well -- I wrote a post in the morning and scheduled it to post later in the day, and I was actually excited about doing this.
 Then the rest of the day began --
         At work my computer got infected with a virus and it took over two hours to clean it. 
         I wasn't feeling well most of the day, and on the way home, I got very very sick.  In the car.  In rush hour traffic.  Suffice to say that it was not pleasant.
  Hopefully the duration of this project will not be as troublesome.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday - It Begins!

  Happy Bloomsday everyone!  This day in 1904 is the day described in detail in James Joyce's epic novel, Ulysses, and on this Bloomsday I have chosen to begin my quest to read it; ideally before next Bloomsday (hey, I just thought of something -- maybe I could spend next Bloomsday in Dublin! But I digress ....).  I plan to read a little bit every day and each Wednesday write about my progress here:  a) To prove to you that I am actually reading it; and b) to encourage others to read along with me.
  So the edition I am reading says that its the complete and unabridged text "as corrected and reset in 1961".  One problem though:  it is not annotated, so I am going to be using the web (and other readers) to help me along.

  Ready?  Let's go!

      Today I did dip my feet into the novel and made it to page 23.  It is morning, at a tower on the sea-side of Dublin; and Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus are preparing breakfast.  It sounds to me like it's some kind of monastery - they describe a tower - but I can't be sure.  They are joined by an Englishman, known only as Haines, and after breakfast the men all go down to the sea to bathe.  Not much, really, but I am already enjoying the way Joyce uses witty dialogue (though sometimes it is difficult to tell who is speaking) and his descriptions of the sea-coast are quite lovely:
Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet.  White breast of the dim sea.  The twining stresses, two by two.  A hand plucking the harpstrings merging their twining chords.  Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.
  We'll see how the day progresses .......


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True - thoughts

  A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka is a novel with two stories told in alternating chapters; the stories are set about fifty years apart but linked by family and by the city of Krakow. 
   The first story takes place in the time between the late 1930s and late 1940s -  before, after and during, World War II.  A young man, known as Pigeon, sees a lovely young girl, Anielica, and rather than overtly courting her he offers his services as a carpenter to her father, restoring their home and winning the affections of both Anielica and her family.  As Pigeon had eight sisters, he felt he had some insight into the mind of girls such as Anielica:
... a woman's heart is not bought by the currency of a man's emotion for her.  A woman's heart is won over by her own feelings for herself when he just happens to be around ...
The war of course puts everyone's life in the town of Half-Village into turmoil and no one is immune to its tragic effects.  Once the war is over, Pigeon and Anielica, along with Anielica's brother Wladislaw Jagiello, his wife Marysia, and their young daughter Irena, move to the city of Krakow with hopes of a better future.

  The second story is set in the 1990s, after the fall of Communism in Poland.  Pigeon and Anielica's granddaughter -- called Baba Yaga through most of the book -- has also moved from Half-Village to Krakow with hopes for a better future, but with less certainty as to what her future may be.  She lives with Irena - her grandparents' niece - and her daughter Magda, and works a few jobs, but aside from movies does not have any real passion in her life. 

  When I first saw the title of this book, I thought of a fairy tale; and in some ways that is what this novel is.  It it is at times a wonderfully romantic love story, an unspeakably tragic one, and also comic.  Whether there is a true "happily ever after" ending I will let you decide for yourself, but you will not be lacking in an emotional reaction.
 The city of Krakow plays a central role in this novel and I definitely would like to visit one day; but for now I will be happy with Brigid Pasulka's rich descriptions of the city as it was then and now:

(signed at the Printers' Row Lit Fest in Chicago)

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Monday - What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading?  is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  It looks like I had a slow week last week as I only finished one book - A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka - but it was worth it.  I'm trying to put my thoughts together about it so I can write a post about it -- in the meantime, check it out, you will be glad you did.

 Books that I've started last week and carry into this week:
This week, I begin my insane quest to read Ulysses - watch for my first post on Wednesday (aka Bloomsday, June 16th); and if I am able I'd also like to start on The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, which is for a non-fiction reading group at my library that I think I will finally be able to attend.

Before I forget, I'd like to thank Christina at chrisbookarama who generously sent me a copy of The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  I am a mail geek as much as I am a book geek, so seeing the package in my mailbox was a doubly pleasant surprise.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Printers' Row Lit Fest

I'll say it up front -- I'm a dork.

One of the highlights of the summer for me is the Printers' Row Lit Fest in downtown Chicago, which was held this weekend.  Despite a bit of rain and cooler than expected temperatures, it was a wonderful day for books and the authors who write them.

I went to a few author events:
       Barbara Ehrenreich
       Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who after signing my copy of Half of a Yellow Sun was gracious enough to write down a few names of other modern African authors:

        Brigid Pasulka, Dan Chaon, and Katharine Weber - an interesting discussion on how identity played a role in their novels.
      After the author events I purchased a few books that I didn't already own or haven't read:
     (I've read Chaon's Await Your Reply and have You remind me of me on the to-read shelf; I just finished Pasulka's A Long Long Time Ago & Essentially True which was fantastic (review soon!);  I've also read Ehrenreich's Bright-sided)

      In addition to the author events there are many used and new booksellers and publishers with tables along a few blocks of South Dearborn Street (the historic Printers' Row of Chicago) selling books.  Thankfully most of them only take cash, and I bring only a budgeted amount, so I only bought two more books:
     I keep telling myself that I should stay the weekend in Chicago and take in the Sunday programs as well, and one year I will do that.  Anyone interested in joining me?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - thoughts

Let me just say this -- Lisbeth Salander is not a likeable person, but I so want to be her.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third installment in Stieg Larsson's trilogy featuring this amazing character, is another exciting read from start to finish.  I don't want to reveal too much about the book in case anyone hasn't read the first two books (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Girl Who Played with Fire) - and I think you do need to read them before starting on the third - so I'll just say that the story picked up quite seamlessly from the end of the second book.  In this novel, the focus wasn't so much on Mikael Blomqvist, the quirky journalist; but rather on Salander and several other very strong female characters:  Erika Berger, Blomqvist's colleague; Annika Giannini, Blomqvist's sister and Salander's attorney; Monica Figuerola, a police officer aiding in the investigation; and Susanne Linder, an employee with the security firm for which Salander did some consulting work.

But it is Salander who just makes the book for me.  She has been through so much - well, CRAP - in her life so her reluctance to speak to anyone in authority is well justified; but it is the way she finds ways to stick it to those who have wronged her that just make me wish that I could have her strength and assertiveness (and her computer smarts) even for a little while.

It is unfortunate that Larsson passed away before he was able to bask in the amazing success of this series.  I would love to see where he may have taken these characters, and what other stories he had to tell.

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading

It's Monday -- What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila to let book bloggers share what they are reading and find some new books as well.

Last week I finished the following books:
     A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (thoughts here)
     The God of Animals by Aryn Kile
     The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (awesome!!!)

And this week I'm reading:
    A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
    Driftless by David Rhodes
    Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac

This weekend is the Printer's Row Lit Fest in downtown Chicago and I am looking forward to hearing some great authors speak and picking up a new book (or two, or ten......)

What are you reading?

We have a winner!

Congratulations, Lisa!  You have won my giveaway for The Knife Sharpener's Bell.
I will be sending an e-mail shortly.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Week in December - thoughts

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks is an interesting novel.  Set in present-day London, it is about the loosely and not-so-loosely connected lives of a number of the city's residents -- among them a financier who can't make enough money, his wife, their teenage son, an impoverished solicitor, a Tube driver, a young Muslim man and his parents, and an extremely cynical book reviewer.  The novel is a bit of a send-up of modern life: greed, social interactions, reality television and even terrorism. 

I enjoyed reading this book, not so much for the characters - none of whom I found particulary likeable - but for the way Faulks altered my perceptions of who and what is good or evil.  What looks one way at the beginning of the novel doesn't always seem so clearly defined at the end.

The only other novel I've read by Faulks is Birdsong, the story of which is very different from this recent book.  I'm impressed with his ability to write so well of such different periods. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June's Reading List and Extended Giveaway

Ok, in my attempt to get slightly more organized with my reading and blogging habits I am going to post my monthly "required" reading (for book groups, challenges etc) so that I can be held publicly accountable for what I've committed to read!

My big "project" for June (and July, August, probably September....) is to read Ulysses by James Joyce, beginning on Bloomsday (June 16th).  I am going to read a little bit (at least 20 pages) every day and blog about my progress each week.  If anyone is crazy enough interested in joining me please do!  If I can figure out how one of those linky things work I will put one up on my first post; otherwise I'll just look forward to your comments on the posts. 

Here is the rest of June's reading list:

For Book Groups

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
Driftless by David Rhodes
Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac

For littlereader's Readalong

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

I also am trying to find a book for June's World Party but this month's stop is in Liberia and the pickings are slim.  Any suggestions?

Of course I have several (hundred) books on my shelves to choose from in between all of these ones.

Now if I can only figure out a way to read while at my desk at work .....

Extended Giveaway
   In my post reviewing The Knife Sharpener's Bell (here), I offered to give away my copy of the book to a random commenter.  I kind of forgot that with BEA and the Memorial Day holiday those people with lives were not hovering around their computer so I am extending my offer to a random commenter to this or the original post (please include e-mail address) until June 7. 
  I was very excited to see that the lone commenter to the review post was the author herself so I did not feel too neglected .....