I originally picked this book up at the library because I had fallen in love with How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster; that bo...moreI originally picked this book up at the library because I had fallen in love with How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster; that book changed the way I read, and it made me want to read more on the artistry behind reading and writing. The text started off at a crawl, the reader has to want to read this and plug through the dense language to get at the important message and value of this book. This is not dissimiliar to Smiley's works of fiction, as they generally start off slow, use dense paragraphs, stretch the reader's vocabulary to its sheer limit, and end up a satisfying read once completed.
Smiley challenges the readers of this book, among whom she assumes are aspiring authors, to understand the novel as a piece of art, as a social document, and a work of fiction that should inspire, educate, and entertain readers. She details how the novel has evolved throughout history from its earliest beginnings as fables and story cycles to its current position as a (somewhat) esoteric element of the cultural elite. Smiley makes repeated references to the fact that true literary fiction (exluding all types of genre fiction in her analysis) is generally reserved for a small segment of society, the large majority of which are women; however, she doesn't find this to be a negative mark against our culture and doesn't urge authors to pander to the masses--there are plenty of authors already doing that with their series of light romances, mystery thrillers, and the other types of genre fiction.
As the book blurb from the jacket mentioned, Jane does do a wonderful job on sharing the secrets of her writing process--the process that has led her numerous times to best seller's lists and won her a Pulitzer Prize (A Thousand Acres). The best part about this is that Smiley provides these insights in the final chapters, before she begins her discussions of the 100+ books she read, after she has taken you on a journey to develop your love and admiration for the novel and the writing process. She inspires you to want to write and contribute to the greater body of literature, the "world's big library" as she calls it.
In regard to her review of the 100+ novels, therein lies the only mark against her which reduced her rating to an A, rather than an A+. Smiley read every book with a (seemingly) open mind, providing a summary of the plot, an analysis of the writing, and an assessment of the work's contribution to society (both the society contemporary to the author and our current culture). Her numerous glowing reviews open the reader to discover lots of literary gems they likely would have overlooked, and expands their "to be read" list exponentially. The draw back is that numerous times she references other books she reviewed in the list, and the reading got a bit tedious. It would have been preferable if she had (when finding works and/or authors that fit within a similar canon) to combine these entries and/or shortened her summary/analysis significantly. By around book review #76 the reading got repetitive and tedious, with many of the books running together in the reader's mind, and this could have been avoided if she had reduced or eliminated redundancies.
All in all, a good book--definitely should be read by anyone who loves reading, writing, or the idea of reading and writing.(less)
Summary: Dr. Smarty Pants (aka, the down-to-earth Jack Murnighan) gives you a low-down on 50 of the world's greatest books. He tells you wha...moreRating: A-
Summary: Dr. Smarty Pants (aka, the down-to-earth Jack Murnighan) gives you a low-down on 50 of the world's greatest books. He tells you what's sexy, what's skip-able, and why this book will rock your world if you'll just give it a chance. He aims to bring the lofty and esoteric of literature down to the huddled masses of the world so we can enjoy it too.
Review: I do admit that I have a fondness (and maybe a little bit of a crush) on this author. I mean it, let's get real, what guy was born a Hoosier, has a PhD in Medieval Literature from Duke, has read the Bible of his own free will (more than once), and writes insanely interesting and sexy articles for Nerve.com? I'm pretty sure you can't find that combination anywhere else on that planet. (Plus, the guy's an involved donor-dad and not bad looking to boot. Too much.)
But lest you think I gave this guy an above-average grade just because I've got the hots for him, let me clarify: this book is really, really good.
Here's why this book is good: it does what it's supposed to do. Accomplishing your objectives goes pretty far in my opinion. Did I agree with everything he said? No way. Do I think at times his irreverence can go a bit far? Sure. Does that make this a bad book? Not too much.
Here's how I approached this book (which I don't think should be read as a cover-to-cover read... let it be your guide): 1. I started out by reading the intro (which is generally a good place to start); this let me get a feel for his style, his writing, and his take on literary things in general. Up to this point, I was with him. 2. Next, I checked out a couple of chapters on books I'd previously read (including, but not limited to, Pride and Prejudice, Beloved, and The Bible--Old and New Testaments--all of which are books that I have loved reading at one time or another); this gave me a frame of reference for his views on literature a little more specifically as I compared and contrasted with my perspective on things. 3. Finally, I read a couple of chapters on books I had wanted (but been reticent) to read (Don Quixote, Wuthering Heights, Paradise Lost, and Middlemarch) and decided to test his opinions in real time.
I picked up a mega-used copy of Middlemarch at my local 1/2-Price Books retailer and set about to read it in a matter of months over the summer. I was persuaded to participate in this little experiment because of the associated B on the B Summer Reading Challenge hosted at Books on the Nightstand (because the idea of challenges with no rewards gets me excited).
Let me say this: I believe with fervent conviction that, had I not read the Middlemarch primer in Beowulf on the Beach, I would have had a ridiculously hard time enjoying this book. But, since I did pre-read the B on the B cheat sheet, I loved (loved, loved, loved) this book. This is earning a spot on my all-time-faves list. Beyond my heart-felt adoration of Ms. George Eliot (for publishing a "woman's book" in a man's world), this book knocked my socks (and shoes) off. I didn't start out loving Dorthea (and the idea that she was going to be a primary protagonist made me put the book down for about a month), but by the end she was gorgeous. She didn't change significantly; rather, the situation around her became more accomodating to her personality and I began to see that her beauty was really beauty and not posturing.
And speaking of personalities, there was plenty to go around. I did put this book down for a month, but when I came back (because the lure of no reward at the end of the challenge pushed me to do it), I picked right back up and the characters were all still vivid. The way that Eliot populated an entire city, letting you peek at the high and the low, was phenomenal. I think that my favorite character was probably Farebrother--his sacrifice for the youthful (and enduring) love of Fred Vincy and Mary Garth actually brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.
But getting back to Murnighan and B on the B, I didn't give my current-author-crush a perfect grade because I didn't think he was perfect. In the example of Middlemarch, I think his assessment of Mr. Casaubon was off (he was being a little too 21st-Century American in his critique, I think). In the example of The Bible, I think his assessment of the book (in general) was off. Sure, The Bible is a piece of literature, but it's also a sacred text, and he didn't treat it as such (the snark got to be a bit much and dumbed down the actual review of the texts, in my opinion).
Now, I'm not so naive as to assume that everyone who comes from Indiana is a Christian of some stripe, but to be more balanced, I'd like to have seen him review texts from other faiths, just to see if his cynacism is directed specifically at Judaisim and Christianity, or if it's more generally applied to all religions. I'm sure that neither The Book of Mormon nor The Qur'an has risen to the level of The Bible (in terms of generally-accepted literary opinion and/or general readership), but his slights of The Bible were something that made me wonder (and put a grain of salt in how blindly I accepted his opinions on other books). And lest you think I'm just a religious nut, check out this quote as evidence that I'm not alone in this opinion.
"Many of Murnighan’s conclusions are off-base (see, for instance, his chapter on Balzac’s Père Goriot). But as with the collected writings of Pauline Kael, disagreeing with the critic can be more fun than turning to the work itself." --Very Short List (June 1, 2009)
Recommendations: If B on the B seems like something you'd like, check out other great books that help reading the classics become more fun, such as How to Read Literature Like a Professor and 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel.(less)
First Line: "If anyone had ever told me I'd leave my big-city job and suburban home for rural country living, I would have declared them a f...moreRating: D-
First Line: "If anyone had ever told me I'd leave my big-city job and suburban home for rural country living, I would have declared them a few bristles short of a brush," (Author's Note, p. xi).
Review: I'm having a hard time writing this negative review because in the last chapter of this book, McCorkindale writes about how she wants to be the next Nora Ephron (not the highest of literary heroes, but to each his own) and what rejection is like. I wish she hadn't written that--and made herself "human"--because I wanted to rip this book to shreds. Instead, I'll just point out, semi-analytically, why I didn't like this book.
I didn't appreciate this memoir because it failed to achieve any discernible mission. There was no direction to the book. In her defense (and in lambaste of her editor), McCorkindale started this venture as emails to her friends back in New Jersey and then branched into a blog which was the genesis for this book. And it read like that. A collection of stories, humorous at times, but without a plot arc. For example, she had one chapter, "Down the Rabbit Hole," that was about her depression (and treatment). It was in no way related to the chapter preceding, "Meet the LOB Squad" (about her friends who share her distinct lack of good breeding), or following, "Jersey Girl" (about her love for trips back to Jersey to reclaim big hair and kitschy gifts). It's just random.
The book starts out, as stated above in the first line that was quoted, with Susan talking about how she was moving to Virginia reluctantly. And you assume, or at least I did, that she'd eventually come to embrace her farming life. And, in her defense (and in lambaste of her editor), there is a tiny shred of that--roughly five pages worth of material out of 300+--but it's definitely not enough to substantiate the premise of this book. Additionally, there wasn't even many stories about how her New Jersey upbringing got her into farming faux pas; mostly it was her complaining about the cows (aka, "the girls"), the chickens, her husband, her sons, and the farm smells (and dirt/mud). There are times when some of her writing is funny, but I don't need to read more than one passage dedicated to her search for the perfect push-up and/or her complaining about her cleavage curse.
Her writing style relied upon two things:
1. Alliteration and/or "Catchy" Turns of Phrase: "Together we replaced the perch, and I went back to the piano, but only after carefully... digging out the livestock detritus packed between my piggies," (pp. 247-8). That was her way of saying, "After I cleaned cow manure out from between my toes." Either way, it's not that interesting of a side note. My advice: Make the story interesting and then the writing. One is not a substitute for the other. Just tell us interesting stuff, don't try to be clever. Unless, of course, you are clever, but 99% of the time writers aren't nearly as clever as they think they are. I know I'm not.
2. Lists: "True, I'm free of the sight and smell of the pigs that whizzed wherever they pleased during my morning and evening commutes, but they've been replaced by bulls. And cows. And deer. And dogs. And groundhogs. And foxes. And horses. And hens," (p. 212). Yeah, we get it--lots of animals pee on farms. Dial it back.
Recommendation: Skip this book. Instead, if you want your rural fix, read a piece of good literature that is set on a farm (perhaps A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley).(less)
So, I had planned to read this book for last year's Modern Classics challenge, but never got around to it. Then, after my sister incessantly berated m...moreSo, I had planned to read this book for last year's Modern Classics challenge, but never got around to it. Then, after my sister incessantly berated me, I picked it up. It started kind of slow, as did Into the Wild (one of Krakauer's other books), but it got really good.
Krakauer has this way of telling a story where you already go in knowing what happens; seriously, he tells you in the preface notes that a bunch of people died in a horrible storm, but you still keep reading.
Probably because in the "tedious" set-up of the book, he has laid out the meticulous nature of these guides (whom you know end up dying in the end) and you ask yourself, "What went wrong?"
The only problem is that you can't really read this book if you're looking for answers--there aren't any. Sometimes accidents happen and the people who were in the position to anticipate and/or prevent the "accidents" are all dead, so we can't know their motivations or thought processes. Also, the people who are still alive sometimes have conflicting accounts of their own experiences.
None the less, the book does open up discussions for interesting topics such as, "If there's a point on the globe that's so high that it's nearly impossible to reach it without compressed air or the assistance of hard-working, and perhaps under-paid, sherpas, should we be going there?" Granted, there are a handful of people who have summited Everest without using canned air or the assistance of sherpas (one guy in 1996 did it... he's an all-star in my book), and maybe this mountain (a sacred part of Himalayan culture) should be left alone except for the truly exceptional people. Who knows? That's not necessarily for me to answer, but I've definitely been thinking on this for a couple of days now.
This book was so fantastic that I'd recommend for everyone I know to read it (with the up-front disclaimer that it's worth plugging through the "tedious" part so you can really get it in the end). Also, several other people who were on the trip have written their own accounts (my sister read Beck Weather's book, Left for Dead, and I'm intrigued beyond belief to read this, also Mike Groom, a guide from Scott Fisher's team who lived wrote a version based on his recollection).
All in all, this is a dynamite, fantastic, should be read by everyone in the entire world kind of book. (I only marked it down from A+ to an A because I would have preferred the "tedious" part to be a little less tedious, but I'm not entirely sure that's possible.) (less)
I read The Glass Castle as assigned reading for a composition class, so my take on the book was more critical than normal (I know it's hard to believe...moreI read The Glass Castle as assigned reading for a composition class, so my take on the book was more critical than normal (I know it's hard to believe) because I knew I was going to have to write a summary/strong responses to one of the themes in the work. However, I truly enjoyed reading this--Walls is a master writer. Jeannette Walls uses plot, setting, character, and theme harmoniously and, at times, ironically to captivate you and lead you to understand the inner workings of this idiosyncratic family.
One key component in the book is the parents' perspective on life and their nonjudgmental attitude, a theme that is so deftly drawn out that you find yourself being compassionate and empathetic toward nearly everyone (maybe not so much Erma Walls and Uncle Stanley, but you realize that even the darkest of people have had experiences that have shaped who they are). As a young child Jeannette was drawn to stories of suffering and triumph (i.e., A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and she sought out experiences with others in her community that created a broad landscape of understanding hardship, suffering, coping, and survival.
The dedication of the book is probably the most succinct expression of this book's intended message, "To John [her current husband:], for convincing me that everyone who is interesting has a past." Jeannette uses her life experiences to teach readers to appreciate life, understand the impact that we have on others, and the value of love and family. Walls does a good job of weaving in the experiences of her sisters, brother, and parents to compare/contrast and create a rich tapestry of life and understanding.
This book is an excellent example of writing--watch for how their homes and the various settings used throughout the book serve as symbols of their greater life experiences--and provides a great jumping-off point for exploration of other topics in modern culture such as voluntary homelessness, the effects of alcoholism, social responsibility, coping mechanisms, etc., etc., etc.
This book is destined to be an enduring work, a time capsule of life in the 1960's for the low income and rural residents of the United States. The work is clear, easy to read, and engaging. I only marked the book down slightly (from an A+ to an A) because of my skepticism of the truthfulness of the dialogue and adult motivations as interpreted by a 3-year-old. All in all, a great work and a great testimony to the capacity of the human spirit.(less)
Review As you can tell by the F rating, I didn't finish this book. I read approximately 190 pages of the book, and had to quit.
This was my book club's April book selection, we don't typically read non-fiction, but the story line seemed quite interesting, and it was--the story line, I mean. However, the writing was so awful, it read like a 2nd-grader was telling the story in a stream of consciousness, that I quit.
Having read well over half the book I got the idea: Life in the FLDS community sucks. Carolyn escaped (she told briefly about that in the very opening of the book). The escape and her efforts in acclimating herself and her numerous children to life outside the community was what I wanted to read about, but she spent 180 pages (plus more I didn't read) telling all about her life in the FLDS. I got it, move it along.(less)
Review: This is your typical short story collection. Some good, some bad, some redundant.
My favorites were: -"Bad Reputation," by Cecil Caste...moreRating: C-
Review: This is your typical short story collection. Some good, some bad, some redundant.
My favorites were: -"Bad Reputation," by Cecil Castellucci (with implications regarding the influence of friends on the kissing dynamics); -"Yeah, I Know," by Jon Scieszka (a down-to-earth guy's perspective that tells it like it is... smelling rubberbands?); and -The she said/he said, "Our First Kiss (with each other)" by Shannon and Dean Hale.
There were two other good stories, but (because they were so similiar), they cancelled each other out. Both "Pashin' or The Worst Kiss Ever" (by Justine Larbalestier) and "Lips, Tongues, and Dr. Pepper" (by Lauren Myracle) were cute to read (because they were so cringe-inducing), but they had the same theme. And, unfortunately for Myracle, Lauren's came later and seemed unnecessary. This showed that the book could have used tighter editing. Larbalestier (who is a really good author) didn't even write regarding her own first kiss--it was a friend's--so Busby should have worked to get something original and different (to give Myracle's room to breathe).
A good number of the other contributions were of the same theme: if you haven't kissed someone by 15, then you're destined to be a spinster. Therefore, do everything in your power to get that kiss under your belt. Not the best message in the world to be sending. Over and over again.
I did appreciate that they mixed it up with graphic contributions ("The Third First Kiss" by Amy Kim Ganter was my favorite of this group) and some in verse.(less)