Summer Reading: The Good, The Bad, and The Meh

Summer is my favorite reading season.

First, I’m a teacher, which means that I have two months of unemployment(10 month employee=2 months unemployed, summers off are a myth). Instead of letting this get me down, I use my summers to recharge, relax, and read. I don’t want to brag, but there is something luxurious about spending an afternoon reading or forgetting what day of the week it is.

Secondly,  I live in the South, and summer is too hot and humid for tons of outdoor activities(except the beach and pools and the lake and camping). This means that staying inside and reading is the best option. Believe me, I finished several books in one sitting. It was delightful.

Today, I wanted share what I have been reading this summer. I promise NO SPOILERS! Just short little reviews of what I pulled off my bookshelf or bought.

The Good:

Rabbit Cake by Annie Harnett: If the cover doesn’t make you buy this book, the quirky narrator and authentic first person voice should. The novel touches on some tough topics like grief, the death of a parent/spouse, and moving on past tragedy. The narrator must learn how to deal with a sleepwalking sister  and a father who wears his deceased wife’s robe and lipstick. Funny and warm and well-written.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: In this novel, Saunders pushes the novel form into a cross between a play and stream of consciousness. The best way to describe this book would be if Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury had a baby. It would be this novel. A word of advice, this book needs to be read in print.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: Every summer, I read Faulkner. This was the most challenging novel that I read. Imagine the first 95 pages as a stream of conscious foray into the mind of a mentally challenged adult. With each new section, a new narrator begins sharing his or her experiences, and the novel ends with a broadening from 1st person POV to 3rd person POV.

 

The Bad:

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer: I received this book as part of a book swap. This book combines things I usually love: coffee, YA, and hints at Jane Austen. This was the worst book that I have read this summer. First, there is no conflict. Everything goes according to plan for the main character, and when there are minor obstacles, like a mean girl in her high school, the tension never increases. Secondly, the characters are cliche. I liked the narrator, but every character was typecast and played the part too well. Plus, this writer uses so many adjectives.

 

The Meh:

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly: I loved the premise of the book. Eclipse chasers being hunted down by someone they tried to help. I found this recommendation from The Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide 2017 .  Usually, I love Anne’s thoughtful suggestions, but this book fell flat for me. Three quarters of the way through the book, I just skimmed because the plot began feeling contrived, and the ending was too gimmicky for my taste.

What have been some of your good, bad, and meh summer reads? Tell me in the comments.

A Reader in Search of a Book Club

I’m certain that I have been a reader my whole life.

So much so, that I also became an English teacher who will enter her 10th year of teaching this fall. I’m still not sure how I have survived in the classroom THAT long, but I have. Here’s a good year 10.

2017 is my year to savor things, and over halfway through the year, I’m not doing well savoring the good things going on around me. I should look forward to my evenings when I can read, but instead I find myself wasting time and not fully living out my One Word for 2017.

But this post is about books and reading and life.  

Sometimes, life happens. I don’t always read like I want to read during the school year. I mean, my reading life goes something like this:

4:30pm: Come home and take the dogs outside for a run(they run, I don’t)

5:00pm: Think about dinner and throw open the cabinets and find something to cook(chances are it will pasta, tacos, or chicken and rice)

5:30-6:30pm-ish: Cook dinner and eat

7:00pm to 8:00pm: Brain off time or sometimes prepping for the next day school by reading what I assigned.

8:00-9:00pm: Brain off time which is usually me zoned out watching reruns of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown(makes an excellent bed time story cause I fall asleep to one of the episodes on Netflix every night) or Big Bang Theory.

9: 30pm: Bed time

Not exactly the reading life I want.

But this summer, I have had some time to think about how I use my time in the evening. Do I really need to watch reruns? No, I can quote almost all of the Big Bang Theory episodes.  What I need is to read. Actually read books that I want.

And this is why I need to find a book club.

I don’t do well if I am left to my own devices. As I typed out my school year evening schedule, I realize I have a lot of time that I waste on TV.  I need people to kick my ass into gear when it comes to reading books.

So, I’m starting my search for a book club.

I will (hopefully) put up a weekly post about the books that I have read or currently reading. Maybe, we can create a book club feel right here on this blog. Join with me as we discuss books and everything in between.

What would you want from a new book club member? Tell me in the comments.

A No Reading List Summer

Every summer since I had mine own library card, I have had a summer reading list.

Until now.  IMG_1011

Summer 2014 began, and I meant to cull together the books I wanted to read. To have some order, some purpose to what I pulled off of my bookshelves. But it’s July, and no reading list ever happened. For a moment, I panicked a bit–what if my lack of a formal reading list means that I don’t read as much? what if I get sucked into those terrible summer reality shows? what if, what if….

But most of the time, all of those what if’s really don’t come true. Unless by summer reality shows, you lump in anything on HGTV and I’m hopelessly going to watch. But I always read during the commercial break.

But not having a formal summer reading list taught me a few things about me and writing and this blogging life:

  1. Just because other bloggers have their lists doesn’t mean you need yours. Fine, I’m also hopelessly addicted to any reading list on the web–academic books, beach reads, literary fiction, sci-fi–you put a book in a list, I will peruse the list. I don’t have to follow the crowd. Most of what I like to read isn’t very beach friendly (I read a Faulkner novel for fun. Nothing about that screams beach read). Plus, summer is when I escape the well-ordered world of the classroom for a bit.
  2. Getting that GoodReads Currently Reading List under control. I admit to reading several books at one time. If you don’t believe me, there is quite an impressive Jenga-like tower next to my bed threatening to kill me in my sleep.  Right now, my currently reading list is somewhere around 7 with more being potentially added. I started all of these books with good intentions of reading them all, but oh look, another shiny new book or Kindle deal and another book on the list. Slowly, I have been finishing those books that I started and trying hard not to add too many more before I am done.
  3. Remembering why I love binge reading. This summer, I have been trying to make it a habit to read before bed rather than watch a rerun of The Big Bang Theory or the late news. Of course, TV shows have a definite end, but books have these magic chapters and you just have to read one more. Of course, it soon becomes 1am, and you finish said book knowing the next morning will require extra coffee. But there is nothing better than soft, cool sheets and a good book especially in the summer. It is the best magic in the world.

So, do you have a summer reading list? If so, share what’s on it in the comments.

For the Infinite Collector of Books

Somewhere on my resume, I should have the title: Infinite Collector of Books.

I really also should be in some 12 step program for this literary addiction. 

If you were to visit my home, you couldn’t help notice just how many books I have stacked and double-stacked on sagging bookshelves. I prefer the term collector rather than hoarder, but really there isn’t too much difference. IMG_1009

I set up alerts in my iPhone for the Dollar Days sale at the used book store.

I know what time the nearby Barnes and Noble closes, the aisles and genres in Ed McKay’s, and the fastest way/cheapest way to get the most out of my Amazon Prime membership.

Lest I should forget, the library located down the street from my house and the wonderous thing that is InterLibrary Loan. As if the title of poet/writer didn’t clue you on my love of the written word, let me just spell it out for you:

I’m a bibliophile, and I love books.

But even good things, like books, can turn into a wretched white elephant if we’re not careful. Because I could/always will be able to justify used books or the occasional new book, I accumlated more books faster than I could read the ones that I had already bought. See the problem? Lots of books+ More books= a reader with shelves of lovely short stories, poems, memoirs, novels–ALL UNREAD.If you follow me on GoodReads, I even created a whole shelf for books that I own, and most of them fall under the category of “to read.”

As cliche as it sounds, part of the solution is admitting that I have a problem.

But the other part of the solution is doing something about it! While it will break my heart and help my wallet, I’m giving up buying books for awhile or even checking books for myself at the library.  I need to read what I own before I parade any more writers, novelists, poets into my house to sit upon those tired shelves.

Beginning today, I’m giving myself a bit of a summer reading challenge.

I’ve selected 11 books from my own library that I will read. In order to bring any more books to my loving home, I have to finish all 11 books. Now, I’m not setting a timeline or some due date because I already have a long wish list/library list of books waiting for me. Throughout the summer, I will blog about my progress through these books. How much I love/hate/apathetic toward these books…there could also be some wailing and gnashing of teeth…

IMG_1010

The Read Your Shelves Challenge:

  1. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
  2. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
  3. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
  4. Sinners Welcome: Poems by Mary Karr
  5. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  6. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
  7. The Writing Life by Annie Dilliard
  8. Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
  9. A Year in the Life of Shakespeare by James Shapiro
  10. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  11. Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

What books on your shelves need to be read before you get new ones? How many do you have unread?(I can neither confirm or deny that I have A LOT)

10 Books a Week: To Read

On Monday, I shared my 10 books of faith.

On Tuesday, I shared my favorite poets.

On Thursday, I shared my favorite novels.

Today,

I am sharing my 9 books on my to read list…

Yes, I know there should be 10, but here are my To Reads for a long while.

  1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: I put off reading this book to focus on the darker mash-ups for Austen novels. Now, it is time for the real thing.
  2. The Scarlet Pimpernel by The Baroness Orczy: I saw the movie in college. I liked it. I hope the book is better.
  3. Middlemarch by George Eliot: If I finish this book, I deserve a medal.
  4. Grace (Eventually) Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott: I adore everything she writes. Enough said.
  5. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis: My college professor raved about this trilogy. I only cared about what was on the test. Time to remedy my ignorance.
  6. Confessions by Saint Augustine: The time has come to make peace with this misogynist. Perhaps, reading his whole work will lend a bit more context to his narrow views on women.
  7. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: My blogging friend Alise will be thrilled, and I bought it to read too.
  8. Wicked by Gregory Maguire: I love the musical and hoping the book is better. Although, it would be nice to have the musical score play at the appropriate times in said book.
  9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: Don’t take away my feminist card just cause I haven’t read this book yet. See it’s on my list (grasps feminist card firmly).
  10. ____________________________?

What book should fill in the #10 spot? Share your suggestion in the comments. 

Check out Sarah Bessey’s blog for her reading suggestions this week!

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10 Books a Week: Novels

On Monday, I shared my 10 books that changed my faith.

On Tuesday, I shared with you the poets who have specifically influenced my poetry.

Today, I am sharing my current favorite novels…

Be reminded that this list changes sometimes weekly, daily, or yearly.

What you may see this year could shift again….

8 out of 10 novels…I can’t remember which “safe” place I put the other 2

Without further eloquence—

10 of my favorite novels

  1. Pride and Prejudice: If you think that this book is only at the top of my list for Mr. Darcy, you are quite mistaken. Darcy is a bumbling ass, and he needs Elizabeth Bennet to temper his pride. A strong woman and strong man make this my favorite novel.
  2. Frankenstein(not pictured): I adore Mary Shelley’s work, and this book discusses the idea of God, creation, and humanity better than any other novel. It begs the question–who is truly the monster?
  3. Jane Eyre(not pictured): I put off reading Jane Eyre far too long. But thanks the urgings of my lovely, non-jerky college friend, I read it and loved it (of course, I’m still waiting for her to read #6 at my urging).
  4. Fahrenheit 451: I read this book in one day, and when Bradbury passed this year, I felt like an old friend died.  Of course, we never met. The scene discussing who is which book haunts me.
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness: I read this SciFi novel in May/June. It raises interesting questions about power and sexuality. What if we didn’t possess a specific gender until we needed to mate? How would that change our views of gender politics?
  6. The Hobbit/ Lord of the Rings: Growing up, my mother told me to read these books. I balked. Mother was right(again and again).
  7. Madame Bovary: While I am not always so insistent on whose translation to read, you MUST read the Lydia Davis translation. Unlike other translations, hers captures Flaubert’s sentence structure, nuances of language.
  8. Tess of the D’Ubervilles: I love how this book evokes so many emotions and doesn’t require a happy ending to do so. Of course, I’m not sure any of Hardy’s books really have a happy ending.
  9. The Phantom of the Opera:Not the musical, the novel captures my imagination and heart. The nuances, the characters, the beastly goodness of the Phantom, beautiful in every way.
  10. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: My senior year of undergrad, I was supposed to read Cancer Ward for a research project. But laziness and the shortness of this book overcame my lofty ambitions. It is gritty and hard, but what do you expect from a Russian novelist who spent time in the Gulag?

Honorable mentions: Dracula, A Tale of Two Cities, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Villette, Persuasion, Harry Potter Years 1-7, Gilead.

Be sure to check Sarah Bessey’s choices(from whom, this wonderful book listing venture hath come).

What novels would make you favorite novels list? Don’t worry, I won’t hold to your list if you won’t hold me to mine.

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10 Books a Week: Poetry

Yesterday, I gave y’all my 10 Books a Week that influenced my faith. Today, I’m deviating from Sarah Bessey’s Parenting books(sorry, most books written specifically about step-parenting should be ignored–the most wretched parenting advice ever) or her lovely Canadian books to read(I suppose I could do a series on books by Virginians or North Carolinians, but not today).

Today is for poetry that has influenced me–the poet writer, the beauty seeker, the truth teller.

 Ten Poets who Influence my Poetry:

  1. Geoffry Chaucer: Perhaps, this poet/writer is a bit of a shock. What NO Shakespeare? As a poet, I find Chaucer’s banter funnier and more engaging than The Bard…but what do you expect from a Medievalist?
  2. Irish Ballads and Folk Songs: In high school, my closest friends and I were in a huge Irish phase. Now, my family did come from Ireland before the Civil War which somehow cemented my need to connect to my Irish heritage. The myths are bare and lovely. The songs sad, a bit tongue in cheek at times. But then again, so am I.
  3. William Butler Yeats: Oh look, another Irish poet. I adore Yeats’ complexity, his cyclic poetic nature, his Crazy Jane poems(somewhere, I have a lovely 20 something page grad seminar paper on these poems…never to see the light of day again). I see his quirky way of seeing nature, characters, and god, and this is poetry that I want to write.
  4. Sylvia Plath: Her poetry isn’t full of fancy words, but neither is mine. I love her choice of simple, plain words to convey the image, the feeling, the moment. Her poem Mirror still haunts me.
  5. English Romantic Poets: William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge: In order to understand Yeat, I needed to read Blake. His Innocence and Experience poems probe many of the questions about faith and God that I find in myself. And in my poetry. Coleridge is merely sentimental albatross. I love his poetry, but he doesn’t play a large part in what I write.
  6. English Victorian Poets: Gerard Manly Hopkins and Christina Rossetti: Despite the overly flowery nature of Hopkins poetry(try reading The Windhover without getting your tongue tangled), I love his representations of God, God’s nature in nature…Pied Beauty represents some of the most lovely of Hopkins’s works. Then, Christina Rossetti, her poetry has some of the best representations of faith. Of course, who doesn’t adore Goblin Market?
  7. Emily Dickinson: She was the first American poet that I read and adored. Her abstractness appealed to me in way that other Americans from the 19th century just didn’t.
  8. William Carlos Williams: Simple images, plain language, image is the key. Like many, I got hung up one red wagons, ice box plums, but then I looked and read closer. The image pulses with life that Williams didn’t need so many words…just the image.
  9. T.S. Eliot: Oh look, Eliot returns again to my lists. I’m drawn to his poetry during the latter part of this life. His Ariel poems, his Four Quartets, his Hollow Men. I don’t see him so much in my poetry, but I feel his influence every time I read him. Odd as it may seem, his poetry is my go to for solace and comfort.
  10. H.D.: Another Imagist, her poetry moves and breathes and makes my head swim with its loveliest. She is the most influential when it comes to my poetry. I adore her.

Honorable mentions: William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Bishop, Dante, Ted Hughes, e.e. cummings, John Donne, Basho

 

What poets do you enjoy reading? Share in the comments.

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10 Books-a-Week: Faith

This week, my blogging friend Sarah Bessey will be sharing her bookshelves with us. And I love the idea of lists, of books, of books and lists together.

 

Yesterday, she gave her books of faith books that have moved her forward in her spiritual journey. Today, I shall share mine.

  1.  The Bible: I suppose it should be a given since it is MY primary faith text, but for years, I satisfied myself with what others said about this book. I no longer let scholars or those who can give me lengthy dissertations in Greek origins form my entire opinion. I read and search for myself, and this has changed my thinking.
  2. C.S. Lewis Til We Have Faces: The myth of Psyche and the strangling love of her sister Orual. I adore Lewis’s retelling, his emphasis on the growth of love from selfish love to a purer love.
  3. L.E. Maxwell Embraced by the CrossThe entire book focuses on the cross and its relationship to Christ, to us, to others.  Written by a Canadian(extra points from Sarah Bessery who is Canadian herself), he delves with grace into Scripture. Beautiful writing, enough said.
  4. Christine de Pizan The Treasure of the City of Ladies: I first read this book in a graduate seminar Feminist Rhetoric and Pedagogy(no, not all feminist courses deviate from faith or even the Christian faith. In fact, feminism brought me back to Jesus). Pizan wrote several conduct manuals for women, men, knights. And served on the king of France’s court. And supported her family without a husband. And did ALL of this in Medieval France. She is considered to be the world’s first professional woman writer. In this book, she guides women in how to behave. She emphasizes that women should love their husbands, their maid servants and the poor. This is the treasure of ladies. Of course, her instructions for harlots should not be missed either.
  5. C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce: After reading Love Wins, I read this book. Lewis discusses the idea of hell and purgatory that challenges how I perceive what these two places could be. I’m not sure that I would fully embrace this whole construction, but it made me think more closely about my faith in the afterlife.
  6. Rachel Held Evans Evolving in Monkey Town: When I read this book, I felt like she had written about my life except I grew up in Lynchburg, VA not Dayton, TN (another center for the religious right). She expresses beautifully the struggles of growing up fully engulfed in faith and asking questions about our faith. I can’t wait for her next book coming out in October.
  7. Anne Jackson Permission to Speak Freely: I love the whole premise of this book…what would you say in church if you could speak freely? I haven’t figured what I would say out yet, but the book is beautifully written and worth reading.
  8. Lauren Winner Girl Meets God: The first spiritual memoir that I ever read. I love Winner’s writing style, her faith. It felt like a breath of fresh air for one choking on the bitter tonic of conservative evangelicalism.
  9. T.S. Eliot Complete Poems and Plays: Of course, a poet must have a book of poetry. I love reading Eliot because I can see how his faith strengthens throughout his poetry. I adore Ash Wednesday.
  10. Anne Lamott Traveling Mercies (not pictured because I don’t own a copy. If anyone is feeling generous, I would love one): After reading Bird by Bird, I picked up Traveling Mercies. She approaches faith and Jesus from a completely opposite point of view and writes about her journey so candidly. I also have several more of her books on faith too…just waiting for the time to read them.

What books have changed your faith? Share in the comments!

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Wrong Answers

I just finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s sci-fi novel The Left Hand of Darkness

I’m struck by ways that she presents gender, sexuality, and race(this book would be a fantastic example of Judith Butler’s performativity theory). Here’s one quote that still has me thinking:

“You don’t see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practiced Foretelling?”

“No–“

“To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”

 

What do you think? Do you agree? What books are catching your fancy this week?

 

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Happy 6 Days til Christmas and a Giveaway!

Happy 6 days till Christmas!

Today and this week, my newest collaborative project The Dark Jane Austen Book Club will be featuring a series of guests posts and a few awesome giveaways!

For those of you who don’t know, the Dark Jane Austen Book Club delights in the adaptions of Ms. Austen’s works with such things as zombies, vampires, and sea monsters. We will be giving away a copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters to one lucky reader.

So, why not head over to The Dark Jane Austen Book Club, and enter to win this book giveaway?