Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What's On My Nightstand? November Style

I thought I would do my "What's On Your Nightstand?" post for November with a Thanksgiving theme... now I just have to decide whether that means it'll be related to what I'm thankful about in regard to my recent reading or food.

The first question to answer in this post is to address what books you hope to read in the upcoming month. My pickings for December are kind of cafeteria style (Can you tell which Thanksgiving focus I picked?). I desperately need to finish up the graphic novels that have been languishing from the library--V for Vendetta, Marvel's 1602, and the book Everything You Need to Know About Graphic Novels. Secondly, I need to crack away at the rest of the books on my reading list for the Modern Classics challenge--The Poisonwood Bible, Into Thin Air, Watchmen, and four others. I have Christmas break (December 19 - January 4) off of work, so I'm hoping to eat my way through a good chunk of that.

The other item to include in this post is a look back at what I've digested in November. (Get it? Digested? Funny, right?) I only got three book reviews up this month: Practical Magic, Chasing Windmills, and The Corrections. Two out of three of those books were delicious... the other just left me feeling empty.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


In the spirit of the retail season, I'm recommending you all put The Customer is Always Wrong: The Retail Chronicles. Check it out on where you can read part of the first chapter, "Sears, Sbarro's, Sayonara" by Wade Rouse. It's 100% entertainingly funny.

Teaser Tuesdays

Tuesdays are the days for sharing a snippett of the goodies inside your current read. Typically you let the book fall open and pick a two-sentence quote from somewhere between lines 7 and 12; however, this week I'm reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta, so I'll pick some content from within the top row of frames.

"V: Five years ago, I too came through a night like this, naked under a roaring sky. This night is yours. Seize it. Encircle it within your arms. Bury it in your heart up to the hilt... Become transfixed... Become transfigured... Forever."
This book is pretty much amazing... if you've ever read anything in the dystopic genre (one of my personal favorites), you should expand into graphic novels and take a look at this book.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book Review: The Corrections

Title: The Corrections
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: A

Abbreviated Summary (from Inside Flap): After almost fifty years as a wife and monther, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives... Stretching from the Midwest at midcentury to the Wall Street and Eastern Europe of oday, The Corrections brings an old-fashioned world of civic virtue and sexual inhibitions into violent collision with the era of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental health care, and globalized greed.

Review: Have you ever read a book that so thoroughly underscores the frailty and fallibility of human existence that you found yourself moved to the point of tears at the ending? If your answer is "No," then it's because you haven't taken the time to read The Corrections. Granted, this tome (at 560+ pages) takes a lot of time to read, I think I was irritated that it took me three weeks rather than the three days I'd been averaging on my reading, but some of that might have been the fault of writing simultaneously. None the less, this book is worth the investment.

Franzen is evocative (and provacative) in his writing--there's no shortage of sensory awareness in his style (the story about Chip putting an expensive fish in his pants is worth all the time in the world). Additionally, his diaglogue is enormously successful. You'll find in reading that the prose:dialogue ratio is high, although not Spartan, but what the characters are saying is exactly what you wish you would have said in a similiar situation (Gary's conversation at the medical supply store regarding the utility of the shower stool in hanging oneself, later ironic, is beautiful).

I found myself fully immersed in the book, there were only a couple of paragraphs that I skimmed because Franzen gets a little olfactory crazy (and I think he's really trying to do something thematically with the sunlight, but it got tedious, in my opinion, but that's probably because I'm not someone who is a great lover of nature and the what-not). This minor issue, which was managed through my selective skimming, is the only factor that caused me to reduce the rating from an A+ to an A.

Please (please, please) read this book. I came away gripped by the enormous influence that fallible humans have on one another's lives. Also, I really thought about the loss of power we experience as we age. The closing pages about Alfred's waning months and days were tragic (not farce, as Franzen references twice throughout the book), but truly heart-breaking.

Friday, November 21, 2008


21: Days in November
25: Chapters
273: Pages
81,803: Words
Me: Done!

Yeah! Dance around and kick up your heels, chickies. This first draft is "in the can." (Although, I wonder if with books in the age of computers if the phrase should be "on the flash drive.")

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm a Stinking Stinker...

... Who has been neglecting her blogs.

I can admit that I have been avoiding you guys which helps you feel less neglected, right? A little bit? Not at all?

Alright, I confess I have been ignoring the loyal readers of "What Was I Reading?" because I've been working on my novel, Freshman Failures. (Which you'll notice via the handy-dandy thingamajig on the right-hand sidebar that my word count is above 60K... it's higher than that now, I just haven't updated that in a bit. Also, my current page count is at 227.)

So, I thought I'd share a breif (albeit, incredibly unedited) excerpt for you guys. Read it and let me know what you think... questions are at the bottom of the excerpt.


EDIT: I've removed this excerpt. For an excerpt (that's a little bit more edited... not too much though), check out my website.


Having read that, are you less jealous or more jealous about my protracted absence from the blog? Hungry for more? Bothered that you spent 3-5 minutes reading it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Noontime Book Chats: Chasing Windmills

Sorry, I'm getting this up a little late--I was conducting some interviews (none of you are looking for a job as a research tech in Indianapolis by the way, are you?).

My question/comment/thought for discussion today is in regard to the depth of the love between Maria and Sebastian/Tony. I don't think I've ever had a love experience that was that deep--before you even know someone's name you're willing to chase windmills out to California with them.

Had you ever had an experience like that? How did that affect your reading of the story? Did you feel it increased the "fantasy-like" aspects of their relationship? Did it make them seem more or less sympathetic?

Discuss, ladies. Discuss.

If that's not enough to whet your whistle, check out the past noontime book chats of Chasing Windmills (Monday at J. Kaye's blog and Tuesday at Naida's blog).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Book Review: Chasing Windmills

Title: Chasing Windmills
Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
Genre: Literary Fiction
Grade: A+

Summary (from Random The subway doors open and close, and in one moment Sebastian’s and Maria’s lives are changed forever...

Both Sebastian and Maria live in a world ruled by fear. Sebastian, a lonely seventeen-year-old, is suffocating under his dominant father’s control. In the ten years since his mother passed away, his father has kept him “safe” by barely allowing him out of their apartment. Sebastian’s secret late-night subway rides are rare acts of rebellion...

Maria, a young mother of two, is trying to keep peace at home despite her boyfriend’s abuse. When she loses her job, she avoids telling him by riding the subways during her usual late-night shift. She knows her sister, Stella, is right: She needs to “live in the truth” and let the chips fall where they may...

When Sebastian and Maria wind up on the same train, their eyes meet across the subway car, and these two strangers find a connection that neither can explain or ignore. Together they dream of a new future, agreeing to run away and find Sebastian’s grandmother in the Mojave Desert. But Maria doesn’t know Sebastian is only seventeen. And Sebastian doesn’t know Maria has children until the moment they leave. Ultimately, Maria brings one child, her daughter. Can she really leave her little boy behind? And, if not, what will it cost her to face her furious jilted abuser?

Review: I got this book from J. Kaye Oldner because she graciously selected me to help her host next week's Noontime Book Chats over on her fabulous blog. I picked the book up yesterday, hoping to be able to read over the course of the next week or so (in order to be reading it and having it done by the end of the book chats next Friday); however, I could not, I repeat could not put this book down. This book was so riveting, the characters so multi-hued, the writing so beautiful, the struggles so real that you simply had to keep reading.

I originally wanted to help lead the book chats on this book because, judging by the title (which isn't necessarily always the smartest way to pick a book), I thought it would be a modern retelling of Don Quixote... I saw "windmills" and thought, "My, that sounds Quixotic." Later, after agreeing to participate, I actually read the synopsis of the book which said it's supposed to be a modern retelling of West Side Story (the re-telling of Romeo and Juliet).

All that to say that, even though there were numerous references to both WSS and R&J in the book, this book was totally Quixotic. More than their shared romance, which was beautiful and earnest, the reader gets totally wrapped up in each individual's quest for self-understanding and learning how to perceive and think about the world. Both of them have moments where they are a modern-day personification of Don Quixote.

Also, I think it's pert near impossible to have major references to windmills (which Chasing Windmills does) without bearing that refence to Cervantes--that's too put into our modern literary consciousness to be over-looked.

I truly came to love these characters and Hyde, who weaves together two first-person narratives, is an amazing writer who was able to easily put on both sets of skin and bring both Maria and Sebastian to life. When she was Maria, I cringed and wrestled with understanding abusive relationships; when she was Sebastian, I wondered at the difficulties of growing up in an oppressive environment. She was spot-on, 100% able to nail both characters.

I can't possibly think of anything I would have changed about this book (which is really saying something for me, I know). You don't get the ending you thought you were going to get, but neither did Sebastian or Maria; however, you walk away having grown to understand their relationship and their love and their world, and you'll find yourself okay with it all.

This book was sensational. I recommend everyone pick up a copy (and join us next week for the book chats... should be good times)!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Book Review: Practical Magic

Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: B-

Summary (from Penguin For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town. And Gillian and Sally endured that fate as well; as children, the sisters were outsiders. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, but all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One would do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they shared brought them back-almost as if by magic...

Review: I picked this book for the Modern Classics Challenge because I loved The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman and thought I'd try another one of her books. The premise of this story was interesting, as are all of Alice Hoffman's; she loves to write about family and community and integrates elements of magic and love into all of her stories. She weaves both of these into all types of relationships--inter-generational, male/female, and especially between siblings.

This particular book fell a little flat for me, compared to other works by Alice Hoffman that I've loved. I enjoyed the story, but I actually loved the guys in the story (the guys who loved the Owens women) more than the women themselves. I think the primary reason is that Hoffman did something unique in the way she told this story--dialogue was really scant and, rather than us figuring out the innerworkings of the characters and coming up with our own conclusions based on what they said and did, Hoffman came right out and told us. This book was almost entirely expository, told in a form of lyrical prose.

Additionally, Hoffman covers nearly thirty years of time in the story (all in only 244 pages), so it's covered at a break-neck speed, which is the likelist reason why Hoffman discarded dialogue and just told you what you needed to know. Another "weird" thing Hoffman did in this book is that it's entirely told in the present tense (all throughout the 30 year time span) rather than having a distinct point of view or being told in past tense (which is much more common); the beauty of the past tense is that you inherently feel that the characters have already experienced the plot and have learned their lessons, that's why you want to hear from them so you can learn too.

Here's an example:

"When evening falls, Kylie still doesn't know what to do. Gillian is at Ben's, but no one answers the phone when Kylie calls to ask Gillian if she thinks it's foolish for her to go to Gideon's. Why does she even want to? What does she care?"
The whole book reads like this "She does X. She is Y." It just makes for a very weird read and makes the characters more distant. I think that's also why I loved the guys more because the author didn't fully understand them and/or write them in a way that it appears she did not fully understood them, so I came to know them myself and had invested in getting to know them personally (rather than being told that I should love them).

That being said, it's a quick and easy read. If you're looking for something that is light and extols the virtues of strong family relationships and the beauty of head-over-heels love, than this book (which earned a B- from me) is a good book for you.