Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Million Little Pieces - James Frey


I started the week with a post about my new challenge, but for those uninterested in my reading aspirations (although I can't imagine why you would be reading this blog if you were completely devoid of interest) I did not want to leave you without a book this week.  And not just any book - a highly controversial one at that.

Any fan of Oprah's Book Club knows about the debacle surrounding James Frey's "memoir" A Million Little Pieces.  Oprah awarded the book with a prestigious place in her club in 2005, two years after its release.  As with anything given Oprah's Midas touch, the book garnered immense public recognition and profit.  It topped the New York Times Best Seller list and became the best selling paperback on Amazon.com.  Fame, however, came at a price.  Frey, it turns out, fabricated much of the story he had claimed as truth.  I picked up this book knowing its controversial history and read it with the understanding that it could be classified as neither truth nor fiction (You'll notice I tagged this post as both "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction" to appease both sides of the aisle.).

Monday, February 25, 2013

A New Challenge

After completing the 52 Book Challenge in 2012, I found myself on the lookout for a new, different challenge.  I loved reading so many books in one year and felt an immense sense of satisfaction in doing so.  However, I wanted a new adventure, one directed more toward quality than quantity. 

As a byproduct of all the reading I do, I am often reminded how many "classics" have yet to hit my bookshelf.  Books like Reading Lolita in Tehran only aggravate this feeling.  I want to continually expand my literary horizons, especially as I look to graduate school in the near future.  A list of the greatest novels of all time should do that, right?  After spending several hours perusing various websites and searching for a definitive list, I have settled on one which was compiled by Modern Library in 1998.  It is one of the most prominent lists of its type, as evidenced by its exposure through The New York Times.  While Time Magazine also compiled a list, their list only includes works which have been published since the conception of the magazine.  Drawing the line there leaves out the critically acclaimed work Ulysses by James Joyce.  This work has been touted by many as the best novel of all time, so it hardly seemed right to not include it in my endeavor.

I do still have some hesitations about the Modern Library list.  For one thing, I immediately noticed the glaring lack of female authors.  This definitely bothers me.  It also startled me how many books on the list I did not recognize at all.  I consider myself fairly well read and have had an excellent liberal arts education.  Yet, there I still see more than a dozen novels of which I have never heard.  I suppose since my intent is to expand my education and knowledge, I should view this as a positive.  Still, I was hoping for a few more, well, classic classics.  Does that makes sense?  I am already ruminating about tackling the Radcliffe's Rival 100 Best Novels List after I complete the Modern Library one.  The lists contain some overlap, which would speed the process of the second list.  Also, the Radcliffe list has more familiar works and a few more works by women.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  First, the task at hand.

And a large task it is.  I do not expect to finish this list in a year - or perhaps even two.  I want to take my time and appreciate these works fully.  If these novels are truly the best ever written, they deserve to be read with an attentive and discerning eye.  As always, I will keep you updated on my journey!  You can track my progress in the new tab at the top of the page: 100 Best Novels.  And, never fear, if classics are not your thing, I will still be reading plenty of other books as well.  Not even the best classic could keep me away from a good young adult dystopian novel or an in depth non-fiction look into a historical guilty pleasure topic.  I will continue to read the wide variety I have over the past year with the hope that anyone could find something enjoyable to read here.

What's the best novel you have ever read?  Not necessarily your favorite, but the best written.  Is it considered a "classic"? Should it be?  Is it at least worth putting on my ever expanding to-read list?  What makes it the best?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Anne of Windy Poplars - L.M. Montgomery


Rereading L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series has been a bright spot in the middle of the dreary winter weather.  Despite her aging, Anne remains young at heart and full of endless positivity.  Anne of Windy Poplars captures her over the course of three years.  She has procured a position as a principal while Gilbert, to whom she is now engaged, works his way through medical school.  Montgomery broke the book into three sections, one for each year of their separation.

The first year consists mainly of letters written by Anne to Gilbert describing her new home in Summerside, PEI.  While the second and third years also have some letters, they are mainly Montgomery's traditional prose.  It is unclear why she chose to write the sections in such different ways, aside from providing a change of pace.  The letters and the prose both describe the colorful characters and situations for which we know and love Anne Shirley.  In many ways, I saw Windy Poplars as a sort of series of vignettes about life in Summerside.  The pages fill with gossip about these fictional characters; Anne delights in inputting her helping hand in situations where she can, to both positive and negative results.

For lovers of Green Gables and the Avonlea citizens, there is sparse mention of them in these pages.  To me, Windy Poplars is a transition novel for both Anne and Montgomery.  Anne has grown up and with adulthood comes the gradual movement away from her childhood home and into a life of her own.  Montgomery has given significant pages to the people of Avonlea and certainly felt ready to explore new faces and scenery.  Still, to skip over Anne's holidays at home nearly completely left me missing the people there.  

One particularly interesting part of reading Windy Poplars was comparing it to the movie Anne of Avonlea with Megan Follows as Anne.  The movie takes story lines from Windy Poplars, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne of the Island without much dedication to accuracy.  The movie twists the plots and characters to make it a more cohesive story.  While I understand the need to make a more viable screenplay, and while I still love the movie as an independent piece, I do still wish there was a well done movie series following the Anne series which stayed true to Montgomery's words.

Do you have a go-to feel good book or series?  When authors of long series bring in new characters and settings, is that something you enjoy or detest?

Pages: 268
Date Completed: February 1, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In the President's Secret Service - Ronald Kessler


When I read Nancy Clarke's memoir about her years running the White House flower shop at the end of last year, it sparked my interest once again in the behind-the-scenes of that great house.  Ronald Kessler's expos√© certainly fills that appetite.  Kessler's book mixes the history of the Secret Service with old-fashioned White House gossip.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Stolen Innocence - Elissa Wall


Stolen Innocence is another one of those books I picked up on a second hand spree while in Michigan over Christmas.  I have always had an interest in the FLDS, but have never read much about them.  When I saw this first hand account of Elissa Wall, whose testimony helped to convict Warren Jeffs, priced at only a couple of dollars, I could not turn it down.

Members of the FLDS community answer to "the prophet."  From 1986-2002, Rulan Jeffs led the church as the prophet.  Upon his death, his son, Warren Jeffs, assumed command and eventually declared himself to be the new prophet.  The community, which resides in several isolated communities in the Western United States and Canada, broke off from the mainline Mormon church when they outlawed polygamy in the early 1900s.  Polygamy has remained an important tenant of the increasingly strict FLDS community.