Friday, September 30, 2016

Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham

Of Human Bondage
Title: Of Human Bondage
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Publication Date: 1915
Pages: 684
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 8/26/16

Summary: The novel follows Philip Carey throughout his life as he searches for satisfaction.

What I Thought: Ultimately, for me, this falls into the increasingly broad category of bland English novel. In many ways, I feel as this genre has been the one to suffer in my esteem because of the 100 Best Novels challenge. It's a type of novel I used to enjoy so much, and I now I am finding them so homogeneous and even a bit insufferable at times. 

Of course, Of Human Bondage probably never would have completely fit the mold of the English novels I loved. The main character of Philip is hardly one which endears himself to readers. I found him prone to whining and fickle in his ambitions and feelings.  Really, the book is chronicle of how Philip cannot control his own urges - physically or emotionally. While Clyde in An American Tragedy is a perfectly awful person, he really commits to it. His character feels consistent and on a consistent moral slide for the duration of the novel. Philip cannot seem to make up his mind as to what he wants from life and what he's willing to do to achieve it. He's a better person than Dreiser's Clyde, but not a better character.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Under the Volcano - Malcolm Lowry

Under the Volcano
Title: Under the Volcano
Author: Malcolm Lowry
Publication Date: 1947
Pages: 432
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 8/24/16

Summary: Alcoholic Geoffrey Firmin serves as British counsel in a small Mexican town. His marriage is crumbling and things are looking generally awful for him.

What I Thought: I'll be the first to I sit down to write this review, I can barely remember what the book was even about. That's not a great sign, since I only finished it a week ago. I'm in a slump with the 100 Best Novels list. I'm aching for another Angle of Repose or Main Street. At least this one broke out of the crushing pattern of early twentieth century English literature. 

The book's setup is interesting. It consists of twelve chapters, each representing one hour on the Mexican Day of the Dead. The consciousness shifts between characters for each chapter, which I always find a little confusing. In this case, it made me feel as though I was jumping in and out of different stories. I could never quite tell who was talking; this was particularly exacerbated by listening to audio book format. I accept responsibility for that choice. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hamilton - Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter

Title: Hamilton: The Revolution
Author: Lin-Manuel Miranda & Jeremy McCarter
Publication Date: 4/12/16
Pages: 288
Genre: Play / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm in love with the show.
Date Completed: 8/23/16

Summary: The "Hamil-tome" includes thoughts on the making of the hit musical, behind the scenes info and stories, beautiful photos, and the complete libretto with Miranda's notes.

What I Thought: I'm obsessed.

I never thought I would say that in regards to a hip hop musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton. I mean....seriously? History and musicals...I'm great with both of those. Wouldn't have necessarily put them together like this, but you could have convinced me there. But the hip hop? That's not my style. I was skeptical. Just like you are now if you haven't already listened to the Hamilton cast recording. If you haven't, may I politely suggest you stop reading this, block out a few hours, and listen to the album in its entirety. It's on Spotify. In fact, let me make it easy for you. Here it is. The whole album. Stop before reading on and at least listen to the first song...

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
Author: Marie Kondo
Publication Date: 1/15/11
Pages: 213
Genre: Self-Help / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Everyone is talking about this book
Date Completed: 8/15/16

Summary: A plan to organize, purge, and tidy up your home.

What I Thought: This book has gotten so. much. buzz. It's insane. It was everywhere I looked there for a while. Nothing says first world like everyone buying a book to teach them how to get rid of stuff. 

Kevin and I are currently (slowly) working our way through a little purge of our own, just in an effort to get rid of things we don't need or want. Not inspired by this book, I swear; Marie Kondo would have some serious judgement about our methods. It was complete coincidence that I got my hands on a copy of this book in the midst of our fall purge. 

As Kondo notes, we have all heard and even adhered to dozens of organizing tips over the years. This idea is nothing new. We have too much stuff and getting rid of it can be so freeing, if not just downright necessary. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne

The Irresistible Revolution
Title: The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
Author: Shane Claiborne
Publication Date: January 2006
Pages: 367
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've been aware of Claiborne's work since college, but never read any of it.
Date Completed: 8/9/16

Summary: Claiborne reflects on his life as an ordinary radical. He is pursue and proclaiming a lifestyle driven by the most basic messages of Christ. It is counter-cultural in extreme ways.

What I Thought: Back when I attended a conservative Christian college for my undergrad, Shane Claiborne was invited to speak in one of our chapel services. I'm not exactly sure what all went down, but my guess is the conservative board of trustees caught wind of his planned attendance and felt him too liberal to be speaking to students. Claiborne was dis-invited. A local church then invited him to speak there instead. Many students ended up going and hearing him speak. At the time, I had only a loose understanding of what was going on. I did not go hear him speak and I didn't think much about the whole thing.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Ugh. Am I that old? I'm finally picking up Claiborne's book and reading those messages that were deemed to controversial for my little baby student ears. I have a much different understand and perspective on the world these days. It makes me wish I had gone to hear him speak back when I had the opportunity. It makes me wonder if listening to him speak about living as an ordinary radical would have pushed some of my worldview growth along a little faster.

Ahem. Rather than spending a post pondering the maturation of my faith and worldview, let's actually talk about the book, shall we?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies
Title: Fates and Furies
Author: Lauren Groff
Publication Date: 9/15/15
Pages: 390
How I Found It: I've been wanting to read a Groff novel for a while now.
Date Completed: 8/2/16

Summary: Fates and Furies tells the story of Mathilde and Lotto. First, with Lotto as hero and playwright extraordinaire. Then, focused on Mathilde, her dark history and the differences between who the world sees and who she really is.

What I Thought: I have to start this post by admiring Groff's writing skill. It's where the conversation about this book must start. Just read those quotes below. I loved them for reasons other than their literary beauty, but they serve as lovely examples all the same. Groff's writing is so polished. It's how I want to write, how things sound in my head and never quite make it to paper. On nearly every page, I marveled at her skill and command over words. Certainly, the end product we see comes after much blood, sweat, and tears. Every once in a great while, I write one sentence of which I am incredibly proud and which utterly exhausts me. To write a book full of such writing.... I am in awe.

I say all this fully knowing that Groff's style isn't going to be for everyone. Yet, she writes in a voice so close to the one I would love to cultivate.

I cannot believe I haven't read a Groff book before. She's been on my radar for years, but I had never actually picked one up until this summer. Fates and Furies has gotten a lot of online buzz in the year since its release. It seemed about time to pick it up and find out for myself.

Friday, September 16, 2016

1984 - George Orwell

Title: 1984
Author: George Orwell
Publication Date: 1949
Pages: 268
Genre: Classic / Dystopian / Political / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 8/1/16

Summary: The year is 1984 and civilization has descended into a dystopian state. Big Brother is watching everything.

What I Thought: I had read this before. Back in high school, I believe. I liked it then and I really liked it now. Particularly after enduring so much bland British literature on this 100 book march, this was a nice diversion.

Plus, I like dystopian literature and this is basically the original. I mean, it's not really if you look strictly at literary history, but it definitely had a big role in kicking off the influx of dystopian literature we see in the modern market.

Reading it this time around, I had much more of an understanding and appreciation for the genre. I was able to follow Orwell's technique and recognize his skill more so than I could have as a young student. Another enhancement in the experience also comes with age: I now understand how truly terrifying Big Brother is. Certainly as a teenager, I grasped the basic concept of eradication of privacy and government control. As an adult, however, I know a lot more about the realities of the world and how tangible this fiction could be with just a few small steps - at least in some countries.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop
Title: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author: Willa Cather
Publication Date: 1927
Pages: 297
Genre: Classic /Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 7/29/16

Summary: Commissioned to serve the distant new Western territories of the United States, Father Latour faces a myriad of challenges as Catholic leader of New Mexico and beyond.

What I Thought: This is one of the 100 Best Novels I knew virtually nothing about before beginning it. I went it nearly blind, with only a modicum of excitement due to the rare presence of a female author on the list. I came out delighted.

I loved this book. The writing is beautiful, restrained, and thoughtful. The story of Father Latour is so simple and I think that's part of what makes it so lovely. He has been given this rather undesirable territory in which to foster Catholicism. He does his work with dignity and dedication, never complaining or wishing to be given a more plum assignment. 

Each section of the book has a few chapters and tells an almost stand alone story. The book all ties together well, but these individual vignettes would also work well on their own. Each is unique and offers a different insight into life out in the western territory. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hidden Figures - Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures
Title: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Publication Date: 9/6/16
Pages: 368
Genre: Historical / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I received a copy from Harper Collins and TLC Books Tours.
Date Completed: 9/6/16

Summary: Starting during WWII, a group of black women worked in Hampton, Virginia as computers. They ran the most important numbers, doing the leg work that took our pilots and astronauts to new heights.

What I Thought: Along with most Americans, I had never heard anything about these women. The stories history has nearly forgotten never cease to amaze me. 

Shetterly picked up this story because she grew up in Hampton. She knew some of these women. She saw them in the community and talked to them at church. As an adult, she began to realize the immensity of what they did. Not only did these women do important work of national security and advancement, they did so in a time when both being a woman and being black meant being relegated to second class status. They defied expectations and fought for equality with hard work and determination. Despite segregated work spaces, lower pay, and lesser professional titles, they were doing something amazing.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Tiger Queens - Stephanie Thornton

The Tiger Queens
Title: The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan
Author: Stephanie Thornton
Publication Date: 11/4/14
Pages: 486
Genre: Historical / Royals / Fiction
How I Found It: I won it in a giveaway!
Date Completed: 7/25/16

Summary: Genghis Khan is a familiar name in history. But what about the women in his life? The Tiger Queens follows the stories of four different women who lived in the shadow of the Mongol conqueror.

What I Thought: I won this book in a giveaway about a million years ago. A signed copy showed up at my house with a truly lovely note from the author herself. Thus, the fact it has taken me this long to finish and review makes me feel more than a little guilty.

I'm not really sure what happened. Last summer, I flew through the first section. The story of Khan's first wife was very interesting to me. I know very little about that period or place in history so even the small details about housing or daily tasks fascinated me. It looked like I would have the book done before summer's end. Then, I hit the second section and suddenly there was a new voice, a new protagonist, a new host of characters to learn. And I got stalled. Summer ended and the book made its way back onto the physical TBR in my office as school started and things got busier. I would pick it up every now and then and make it a few pages or a chapter. Never far, though.

Fast forward to this summer. As I pulled books to take to the beach, I knew it was time to tackle this one once and for all. Into the bag it went and, after a couple of days poolside, I had finished. I am glad I didn't let this one fall completely by the wayside. It's not a masterpiece, but I did enjoy it. I think my midsection delay really came from the switch of character perspective. I found the first narrator to be the most compelling and the switch to number two really through me off. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sam's Letters to Jennifer - James Patterson

Sam's Letters to Jennifer
Title: Sam's Letters to Jennifer
Author: James Patterson
Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 263
Genre: Chick Lit / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: A friend lent it to me
Date Completed: 7/24/16

Summary: After a devastating tragedy, Jennifer finds herself with only one family member left, grandmother Sam. Thus, when Jennifer gets a call declaring Sam to be in a coma, her world is rocked again. Upon racing to Sam's home, she finds a large pile of letters written to her from her grandmother that could change everything.

What I Thought: I feel compelled to immediately qualify this post with a disclaimer: "I didn't pick this book." It falls so far outside my normal genre selection that it felt weird to even be reading it. As I lay on the beach in Charleston, I couldn't help but clarify to my mom that it was a loaner from a friend. "She wants me to read it so I know what kind of books she likes." A fair request and one I took far to long in fulfilling. The paperback sat on my shelf for nearly a year before I sucked it up and stuck it in my bag for the beach. After all, if you can't read this stuff on the beach, then there is no hope for it at all.

After all my trepidation and delaying tactics, I finished the thing in two hours. Sigh. I should've just done it months ago; then I could've stopped feeling guilty for holding the thing hostage and failing to follow through on a promise to a friend. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Movie Monday: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Book Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Release Year: 2016

Summary: It's a bloody twist on an old classic. The basic story of Jane Austen's novel remains intact, but it now has one important addition: zombies.

What I Thought: I grabbed this one from Netflix because I thought Kevin and I could enjoy it together. About twenty minutes in, I realized that he probably wasn't even familiar with the story of Pride and Prejudice. I was laughing at specific lines which called back to the novel and he was not getting it. Not his thing after all. We ended up going to bed after the first half hour and I finished the movie by myself the next afternoon.

I thought it was great. It's cheesy and ridiculous and so full of troupes, but what a fun crossover between two pop culture worlds. I haven't read the book, but it made me want to a little. The fun here is absolutely that both cultures are being poked fun at a bit.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Golden Bowl - Henry James

The Golden Bowl
Title: The Golden Bowl
Author: Henry James
Publication Date: 11/10/1904
Pages: 591
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 7/23/16

Summary: A daughter, a father, a husband, a wife, former lovers, and new marriages. The all converge in this twisted web of love and deceit. 

What I Thought: When I read James' The Wings of the Dove, I questioned how a novel with such an engaging premise could come across so dry. Here, I pose the same question.

By all accounts, the plot of this novel should be interesting. Just before marrying, Prince encounters an old love affair. Eventually, his new wife, the Princess, sets up this woman with her own widowed father. Thus, it's all in the family when Prince and his former love renew their affections covertly. 

It's a complicated web of relationships. Father and daughter are close and, upon discovering the betrayal, the Princess debates whether or not she should enlighten her father and break his heart as well. Each type of love overlaps with the others and things get increasingly messy as the novel goes on. All of this should make for really fascinating stuff, right? It's a fantastic soap opera premise.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

August 2016 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

August News 

When I said last month that it was time to get back to work, I apparently was not kidding. August has been insane. As someone who both has a mid-August birthday and believes ardently in big birthday celebrations, I was not thinking when I went into the teaching profession. Nothing eclipses a birthday like explaining your course syllabus five times in three days. But, I've made it to the end of the month. This is the third week of school, and I'm feeling relatively in control. It's a good feeling to be having right now. Somehow, I always forget just how hectic and stressful the first few weeks back are. I'm too busy basking in that summer glory to think about it, I guess. Maybe next year I'll remember to have emergency dark chocolate in my purse for the entire second half of August.

As crazy as it is, there's a real beauty to getting back to school. I thrive on consistency. I thrive on a schedule. In fact, this very afternoon, Kevin marveled at how my propensity for planning is even evident in the way I eat my lunch. (This is something I had never really considered before, but I totally do. I very consciously calculate the order in which I eat a meal and save the best bites for last.) So, despite the incredible stress and exhaustion that accompany these first few weeks, it feels good to have consistency and stability after our wonderful, crazy summer.

It's a bit hard to believe, but at ten books, this August clocks in at one of my less proficient reading months this year. I think that this year I've really learned the importance of reading in my life. Not just as an activity in which I love to engage, but as a way for me to unplug and clear my mind. Reading has been a refuge in the midst of uncertainty so often this year and I think that accounts for much of my prolific book count. I actually set out to read less this year, but have easily blown any previous blogging year out of the water. I'm like the Katie Ledecky of least against my own personal records.

I'm particularly proud of my progress on the 100 Best Novels challenge this year. I am sticking to my goal and surpassed the 70% mark this month. I can see the end in sight! This challenge has been...well, a challenge. Worthwhile, but difficult. I can't wait to finish and have some time to digest it all and share my thoughts about the whole thing. Look for that in (hopefully) about a year.

So, let's take a look at just what I achieved in August. At least here on the blog. If I could only show you the hours and hours of work I've put into lesson plans and teaching, I would. For now, though, take my word that, despite what you see here, my recent life has been consumed by my professional pursuits.