Thursday, March 20, 2008

Once Upon a Time II

Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings has not disappointed his legions of blogging fans, and has challenged us again to explore the fantasy genre and to share our adventures with our readers.

It's been a year since I joined my first reading challenge (this one), and I'm now set up to begin Quest 3 (6 books total, read by the Summer Solstice). Here are the paths I've mapped out for the next 12 weeks:

Fairy Tale-- Grimm's Last Fairy Tale (Haydn Middleton) and
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (Bruno Bettelheim)
Folktale-- Folktales of the North American Indian [originally The Indian Fairy Book, published by Stokes]
Mythology-- Myths to Live By (Joseph Campbell)
Fantasy-- Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (William Shakespeare)

I'll be using only the Bettelheim book to fulfill another challenge (Awards), and if I find that other books (in the fantasy genre, obviously) I come upon would be of interest to other questers, I'll add those links to the review site.

I'll start reading tomorrow (the official start of the journey), and will try and do a better job (than of late) of staying current with the reviews.

ETA: it's taken me a while to get here, but this is my 100th post! Yay me!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (Canon book group)

I’m sure we didn’t mean to do this, but our book group mananged to choose 2 in a row that dealt with upper-class culture. Not only did we read The Great Gatsby last month, but Catcher actually refers to it. The last time I read this book (mumbledy-something) years ago in high school, I found Holden to be quite the angst-monkey (although I’m sure I used some other term for it), and my opinion didn’t change this time around. At the time, I couldn’t dredge up much sympathy for someone whose family had the means for boarding school, not to mention leather suitcases. Holden’s heavy preoccupation with sex was also less-than-endearing.

Aside from the obvious changes in teenage slang, and the range of sexual behavior that more young people are doing (and at younger ages), and the falling age of when children lose their innocence (on one of many levels), the basic story and themes alienation and self-protection, growing-up pains, phony adults) still hold true for the youth of today.

There was one passage toward the end of the novel that I found noteworthy: “...educated and scholarly men, if they’re brilliant and creative to begin with--which, unfortunately is rarely the case--tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative. They tend to express themselves more clearly, and they usually have a passion for following their thoughts trough to the end.” [Holden’s former English teacher is trying to motivate Holden through the rest of his educational years]

This reminded me of the many self-help books (and some other non-fiction subjects) that are being published today--and they have readership--by people who are not necessarily experts in their field. Not to say that “home-grown” advice isn’t helpful, but I think that some authors put far too much credence in their claims.

[finished 2/17/08]

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle (Canon book group)

I first read this book back in 1978 or9, when I’d received it for Christmas. When our Canon book group chose this for our December read (because who wants to read something too complicated during such a busy month?), I came to find that my original copy could not be found. There’s a slim chance that there’s a box of unpacked books hiding somewhere, but I knew I couldn’t count on that. So, I picked up a copy from my local library and took a few hours to read it.

I know that most people treat this as a purely science fiction work, but I found many elements of fantasy throughout: the 3 entities who come across very witch-like, Meg’s coming-of-age choice at the end, the “waking” of Meg’s father, and so on. Of course, the scientific and religious elements were very important, but it was the “fairy tale” that stood out for me (and don’t forget the romance between Meg and Calvin).

I’m pretty certain I didn’t pick up on this when I first read Wrinkle, but L’Engle certainly referenced quite a few notable authors within the story; I can’t help but wonder if she was purposefully introducing these to young readers before the current education system ruined Einstein, Shakespeare and Euclid for them. I do wish that the slang weren’t so outdated.

Noteworthy quotes:

“There hasn’t been anybody, anybody, in the world I could talk to. Sure, I could function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn’t me.”

“The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.”

“... we can’t take credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

“There will no longer be so many pleasant things to look at if responsible people do not do something about the unpleasant ones.”

“You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”

[finished 12/16/07]

I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron (audio)

Ephron touches on several topics in this collection of essays: physical and mental aging, housing in New York, death, gourmet cooking, and JFK are a few. Her brand of humor is of the depressive sort, and some of the topics probably don’t garner much empathy from less-privleged[sp?] For example, she has to have her roots and highlights dome every 4 weeks? Oy, cry me a river, says I, who hasn’t had scissors nor hair color touch my locks for over 2 years now. These essays show a descriptive slice of life of the moderately rich-and-famous, so it’s perfect for those who like their celebrities intellectual.

As this was an audio “read,” I wasn’t able to jot down any worthy or especially funny quotes. Maybe when I’m old enough to better appreciate her angst, I’ll find a hard copy and give it a re-read. I suppose this book would also be good for those who can read it and feel grateful for not being in Ephron’s stage of life.

[finished 12/11/07]

February reading

Amazingly enough, I managed to finish 8 books, even though I slacked off terribly the last two weeks. I'm not going the thank the flu that waylaid me for several days (I'm not that forgiving), but all that reading was the best I could manage, productivity-wise. Of course, I haven't posted any reviews for any of these, I suppose I'll backdate them and try to get current somehow. If I think about it, I can edit this post, and link the reviews later. Here's the list:

9. Death at Devil's Bridge (Robin Paige) *counts toward Victorian series
10. Downsizing Your Home With Style () *Harper Collins review book
11. Gods of Fire and Thunder (Fred Saberhagen) *finishes Masks of the Gods series
12. 12 Sharp (Janet Evanovich) *counts toward Plum series
13. The Last Wolf of Ireland () audio
14. The Strange Files of Fremont Jones () *starts series and counts toward Award Winners Challenge
15. S is for Silence (Sue Grafton) *counts toward Millhone series
16. Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) Canon book group

I had been hoping to finish at least 2 other audiobooks, but they aren't crucial to any challenge or specific goal, so I don't feel badly about pushing those forward. In fact, one would have started a new series, which I really shouldn't be doing.