Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's On Your Nightstand?

5 Minutes for Books, a great bookish blog, runs a monthly feature that brings together readers of all shapes and sizes to talk about what (over the past month) they've been reading, why they're reading, and what they're looking forward to reading. The blog master, Jennifer, coined this monthly feature a "carnival of books," which is a pretty apt description.

Some of you who read this particular blog have recently thanked me for giving you ideas on books you wouldn't have otherwise have cracked open. What I've got in store for you is just the tip of the iceberg, you can always slide over to the September "What's On Your Nightstand?" post and join the carnival by checking out what all those other bookish people (45 as of the time of this writing) have put out into the blog-0-sphere in terms of books they're reading.

That being said, let me get started with my official "What's On Your Nightstand" post (sharing my infinite insights with the world ought to be a good way to get this Wednesday started).

Question 1: What books are you in the process of or planning to read?

I try to keep my online Shelfari list pretty ship-shape, and it currently has a combined total of 42 titles in the "I'm Planning to Read" and "I'm Currently Reading" categories. Rather than go into the 38 books on the "Planning To..." side, I'll list the four books I'm currently reading with a little backstory on how they ended up under my nose (See Question #3). [If you're really interested in the long list, click the Shelfari link above for a sneak peek onto my book shelf.]
Question 2: Give a short review of the book (or books) that you've read in the past month.

The books that I've completed in the past month can be found in a little list over on the right-hand sidebar of the blog under the title, "What Are The Last Five Books I Have Read?" Here's what was up with them:

Black, Red, and White (The Circle Trilogy) by Ted Dekker - These set of three books (bound together in one volume) are the first in a trilogy of trilogies by Ted Dekker (to be followed by reading of The Lost Books Trilogy and The Paradise Trilogy); the story is woven throughout all nine books and tells the entire history of mankind in the form of an allegory.

The set-up for these three books is that there is one man, Thomas Hunter, who can move between two alternate realities (one in present-day times when the world is being held captive by a bio-terrorist, and the other in the future times when the world has been ravaged by said terrorist). Thomas must move between realities, bringing knowledge of the future back to present times to save the world. The catch is: when you die in one reality, you die in the other (or do you?).

This was an incredibly engaging story line although, being new to the science fiction genre, I had to keep asking my nephew questions to keep the storyline straight (he had read all three of the Circle Trilogy and was working on finishing up The Paradise Trilogy when I started my reading). In addition to the science fiction story line, there is a theme of ultimate love, expressed through sacrifice and forgiveness--this is a book that brings a message of hope to a world where there doesn't seem to be a lot of that going around. [The Circle Trilogy is also available in graphic novel form.] Check out the website... it has the first chapter of the books available for a preview.

City of Bones (Book 1 of the Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare - This is the first book in a trilogy (books 1 and 2 have been published, book 3 is being released in March 2009) that follow the storyline of Shadowhunters (mortal descendants of angels who slay demons) as they align with other Downworlders (vampires, warewolves, faeries, and warlocks) to keep the balance of order in the world.

The backstory to this novel is that the author, Cassandra Clare is the pen name for this talented writer, was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series and had written a number of famous Draco Malfoy-inspired fanfictions (none of which are now available other than through the Bit Torrent network). The protagonist of the series, Clary Fray, does seem to be a manifestation of Ginny Weasley and her "love interest", Jace Wayland, is clearly Draco Malfoy in sharp-dressed clothing. However, being a lover of Harry Potter imagery, I loved this series because the Jace Wayland character is a much-layered character with a deeply-shaded past that you want to dig into. This book (and it's follow-ups) addresses the questions of how people fit into society and what family and love look like.

Again, being relatively new to the science fiction genre, I think I will need to re-read this because I'm sure there are additional layers to this work that I missed through oversight. Never mind the fact that I read this in about two days, ripping through it whenever I had a spare 2 minutes, because the story line was incredibly engaging and the characters so clearly identifiable. The pacing does waver throughout the story--hitting a fever pitch and then slowing to a crawl throughout the book--which was sometimes frustrating (just when things are getting good, Clare pulls the plug and makes you wait another 20 pages before the action heats back up).

Dead Until Dark (The Southern Vampire Mysteries Book #1) by Charlaine Harris - I know that my mantra of "being new to science fiction" isn't highly believeable (given that all five books on this list deal with fantasy and what-not; however, I only started reading these types of books in early June. Way back three months ago I picked up Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) and fell in love with Edward Cullen. Fast-forward two months (to August) when I found out that Charlaine Harris had written a series of books that had a similiar storyline to the Twilight saga some four years before Meyer even started writing and that said books were inspiring the new HBO series, "True Blood," so I had to read them.

If you're a fan of Twilight and looking for more in that same vampire genre vein (pun intended), then you may want to pick up Dead Until Dark. Warning: The vampires in Harris' books are much more traditional (Stoker would be proud) because they are not chaste (there is a lot of sex in these books, and the resulting television show), and they are used purposefully. Meyer admits that she doesn't write to "teach a message" in her books, but Harris does. She uses vampires the way they are meant to be used--symbolically to represent those who are driven by desire and/or those who are outcasts from society. Both manifestations of vampires are present in her books and she juxtaposes them to address questions of society's expectations/social mores and our judgement of others. Good stuff (if you can look past the occasional explicit scene).

Question #3: What are you reading and why?

Now, we've finally gotten to the conclusion of the answer to Question #1. I am currently reading four titles, and I'll break it down for you why they've ended up where they have.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls. This book was assigned as reading for a composition class I'm taking (however, it's also the December selection for my library's book club, so I'm killing two birds with that one). I didn't think that I would like it (memoirs tend to not be my particular cup of tea), but Walls' writing style is fluid--weaving together rich characterization and vivid settings--to tell a story that you find yourself caring about. In spite of the fact that you've never met these people, you want to hear their story--you want to know why Rex Walls' latest attempt at detox didn't work and how that's going to affect the family as they move to West Virginia.

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley. I recently read How to Read Literature Like a Professor (which was amazing) and have found myself wanting to learn more about the novel (as a form of art) so that I can be a more critical reader and actually get more out of the copious amounts of reading that I do. That being said, I went to the library and did a search for books recommended to people who had liked the afore-mentioned How to Read... . Smiley's writing is complex (understandably so because literature should be complex) and has taught me an immense amount about the shape and form of literary fiction; it has even inspired me to tackle that dream of writing. Smiley is a Pulitzer-prize winning author and knows what she's talking about--definitely worth a read to anyone who loves the idea of literature as much as reading literature.

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier. This is the September book club selection for the book club I attend at my local library. This piece of historical fiction isn't something I would normally have been drawn to, and it took me a little while to get into it, but now I'm hooked. It's clear that Chevalier is trying to make a point about the transition from adolescence into adulthood (she makes a pretty blatant bit of dialogue about how the two sides of a river aren't opposites because in between they meet under the river). However, she does a good job of writing about these characters in such a way that you're watching their completely normal life in London (1790's) and seemingly random events (death of a family member, a fire in town, an off-hand remark) fit together to shape their lives; much the same way that seemingly inconsequential events shape our lives.

City of Ashes (Book 2 of the Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare. As soon as I had the opportunity to return Book #1 in this series to the library, I checked out Book #2. I simply had to know how this story continued (when I had left off at the end of Book #1 it had just been revealed that Clary and Jace had a "confusing" relationship and there was a very unexpected turn of events when the evil Shadowhunter, Valentine, returned to finish what he had previously started... or so people thought). I have to blame the fabulous blogger at The Reader's Quill for getting into this series; she did a review, and I've never been the same.
Question #4: What are your reading habits?

Both 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel and Burning Bright have an inherent deadline in the way I'm reading them--13... is due back at the library on October 4 (and I try to not have to renew books because 3 weeks should be long enough to finish them) and the Burning Bright book club meeting is September 29 (next Monday). That being said, I took the total number of pages needing to be read and divided it by the number of days available to read to come up with a reading schedule. In both books it happened to work out that I needed to read roughly 20 pages per day in each book to finish on schedule. I allow myself to read more, if things are getting really good or I'm at a wonky stopping point, but I cannot fall behind (I'll stay up reading if I have to). I generally do this reading during my lunch break or at night.

The Glass Castle is assigned reading and we're not supposed to be reading ahead (as that will affect our view of the story for in-class discussing and writing assignments), so I'm reading this book in weekly bits. That being said, we generally have about 30-40 pages of reading each week and I knock this out in one day (because the story is that good); it generally gets read on Wednesday evenings, fitting it in with the rest of my assignments for classes, but it is hands-down the most pleasureable part of school.

I fit in my reading of City of Ashes whenever I can (and I really mean whenever). I carry this book with me everywhere and read it any chance I get--I read in the car during my carpool commute to work, I read it at dinner while waiting for my dinner to be delivered (which drives my dining companions crazy). I'll also read this at night after my daily readings in the other deadline-driven books are done (if I'm able to put down those good books). I do try to not stay up too late reading... I'm not getting any younger and need my beauty sleep to be able to not bite people's heads off at work.
Wow, that was an insanely long post. Regular readers, please feel free to comment (or post your own blog on this topic and link it up over at 5 Minutes).

By the by, today's Quote of the Day can be found over on the music-related "What Was I Listening To?" blog.


Jamie Moore said...

You are so organized with your reading! I simply cannot ever finish a book from the library on time....never have done it. I always have good intentions, but I can never ever finish a book. I am currently reading a starwars novel that Kris made me read. It's good, but hardly intellectual. Ah well, who said I was intellectual anyways? ha!

Heather said...

Here I wrote so high and mighty just yesterday and now I'm a day behind in my 13 Ways... reading because I haven't been able to stop reading City of Ashes.

What's the saying? "The road to hell..."

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

What a thorough (and interesting) post!

I absolutely loved the Glass Castle (memoirs -- especially told like that one -- are my particular cup of tea).

Thanks for joining in.

Jennifer (the blog master)

Heather said...

I think "Blog Master" is a moniker that you should cultivate.