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The Next Chapter

Dear Reader,

Thank you for coming on this journey with me.  I learned a lot, read a lot, and I think I'm getting better at blogging in a more "professional" way (psh, who am I kidding, ya'll know my life story or at least stories about me that are only the most barely related to the book I'm reading).

I read amazing fiction books the likes of which I had not devoured since 4th grade.  I waded through memoirs, young adult novels, oldies but goodies, and essay collections.  I waited until the last minute to review my last book and I felt like I was back in college, writing under the deadline. I read through bus stops, elevator floors, work days, long nights, early mornings, plane rides, and trains to the suburbs.  I joined a book club at work and I read for potluck club.  I swapped stories with my mom and asked just about anybody who would listen to tell me what they were reading and then I ran to the library and checked it out.  I ran up my tab at the library at least another 20 dollars.

But I'm so glad I did.  And I miss reading this year.  I want to have something that keeps my mind engaged.  I hope to pursue reading at my own pace this year, and focus on the classics.  And I don't feel smarter but I do feel more... well rounded.  Elitest.  Whatever.

Thanks, Pajiba.  You made me remember what it's like to be a reader, and I am happy to have had the chance to reconnect with that side of myself for a good cause.

Love and bookmarks,

reading_fiona
The Great Gatsby is on every high school reading list known to man, and it regularly topped the "Favorite Books" section of Facebook when that existed (am I dating myself yet? What is this new fangled timeline thing? It makes it awfully hard to stalk people, and that's about all I know) but personally for the life of me I could really not remember what was so impressive about this book.  I remembered the vague outline of what had occurred, the green light at the end of the dock, the valley of the ashes, Owl Eyes, Myrtle, Tom and Daisy, "I do not even faintly resemble a rose"... but why does this book come back up in the conversations of learned hipsters, and become ranked on the same level as Catcher in the Rye or 1984 or To Kill a Mockingbird?

I picked up the book this afternoon out of sheer desperation to finish CBR III and I sit here, a few hours later having completed the book and so not wanting it to end.  The prose is beautiful, the book transported me so thoroughly I missed my train stop, I left a party early to read it, and I gladly let my bf play video games for the last hour I read.  It's so good.  The main story itself I won't go into because as I said I'm sure we've all read it.  But the passages describing the scenery took my breath away.  I put the book down several times and just closed my eyes and meditated on the wonderment.  The character development was perfect, flawless even, and I really felt that the characters were believable and real.  The book felt more like an actual chronicling of events rather than a fictional book, and Nick Carraway is F. Scott Fitzgerald and the roaring twenties so perfectly.  

I hate to sound so cliche but there's a reason this book is a classic.  It deals with the human emotions of love, loss, longing and trying to reclaim the past.  Those themes would be applicable in any decade or century.  The feelings Gatsby has for Daisy can be translated to any language and they still resonate.  The trappings fade and the band may not play swing anymore and the champagne will probably not be served in fingerbowls, but the main themes are still there and they resonate as strong as ever.  Tom Buchanan's outburst about how civilization is in decline is just as applicable now as it was in the 1920s.  (Tea Party, anyone?)  Mistresses are still a major part of the wealthy's lives.  And Nick is the perfect, passive narrator, watching the madness unfold.  Nick's own characteristics of being impartial and "there but not there" as a fly on the wall really play into our modern sensibilities and desires to observe others' lives without being expressly involved.  (Facebook, anyone?)

This book was so good it made me almost regret not doing Cannonball Read again this year.  But instead of busting my hump to get books in, I think 2012 will be the year I revisit the classics and sound like a more informed version of who I really am :)

If the last time you read The Great Gatsby was also around the same time you were going through puberty, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy and try it again.  Particularly if you saw (and loved!) Midnight in Paris.


Inspired by Never Let Me Go, I picked up my second Ishiguro book in short order.  Once again, the subject matter was sad and subdued and once again the imagery from his narrative was stunning.  But while the previous novel had moved quickly and covered a lot of ground over many years, this book was mostly set in the past as the main character obsessed over moments that had occurred many years prior.  The main action in the book really only took place over about a week, but due to the various flashbacks and reminiscings by Mr.Stevens, it seemed like much longer.

Mr. Stevens is the droll main character.  His British accent dripped from each page and I had a snooty voice in my head the whole time, narrating his life.  He was a butler in service to Lord Darlington, and he chronicles his life, no matter how boring as a matter of pride and perfunctorily.  Lord Darlington, as it turns out, was actually something of a Nazi sympathizer, and for many years since the war, there have been no visitors coming around, no great discussions as in the days of yore, and no other butlers visiting to keep Mr. Stevens company.  What struck me most about Stevens' recollections of himself and the other butlers in the "glory days" was the caste system to which they all belonged to and that no one even questioned.  Clearly to me, both Lord Darlington and Stevens are both men and neither one should have any more importance than the other.  But both Darlington and Stevens accept Stevens' lower position so much that it seems "natural" and I found myself agreeing to it before i went back and really thought about it.  The idea of butlers and other house servants today is outlandish, but it was such a common practice even up to a mere century ago and that kind of recent history really stuck with me.

Stevens decides to take the car when his new employer, Mr. Farraday, will be out on business. He decides it's a perfect time to reconnect with some of the old servants with whom he used to work, including Ms.Kenton who lives quite a few days' drive away.  Stevens is excited to see her again (as excited as an old, droll, British butler can possibly muster through text) but due to the tone of the book, whether or not he hopes to rekindle a relationship with her (one never seemed to exist in the first place...) it was hard for me to see that as a viable option.  As the book goes along, Stevens' intentions become clearer and he reflects on the "good times" they shared and some of the bad times as well.  His obsessive attention to detail while missing the main big picture almost paints a picture of a mental disability such as Asperger's.

Upon meeting Ms.Kenton the two exchange words and we find that Ms. Kenton's version of events differs greatly from Mr. Stevens'.  She sees Lord Darlington for who he really is (or was) and tells Mr. Stevens she does not have feelings for him, and that if he was so interested in her, why didn't he ever tell her?

Like the last book the one ends on more of a silent, somber kind of thing, more than just flat out sad.  The oppressive tone of Ishiguro's books have the ability to silence and stun you, but not go so far as though you will be in a depress-o funk for a while (not that i know from experience ;)

I learned of this book through Pajiba, as I mentioned way back in the beginning of this here blog thing.  I was looking forward to the movie based on pretty pictures and Kiera Knightly (who I don't really like) and Andrew Garfield (who I love).  I was smart though, and read the reviews on Pajiba first and the general consensus was that the movie did not even come close to doing the book justice and so I vowed to read the book first.  Of course, and as it usually is, the book was so good and the movie did so poorly that it was out of theaters by the time I got around to thinking I would see it and by the time I was done reading.  On the upside I didn't have to see a book I loved so much become a dreary movie that wouldn't have even been saved by the amazingness of Andrew Garfield.  Positivity, people, catch it!

This book was really beautifully written.  I felt like when I was reading it that I was having a dream.  The way the words on the page sounded in my head were almost better than watching a movie, and I really got a good sense of how Ishiguro writes and feels.  I felt the beautiful landscape of Hailsham like I had been there myself.  I felt the slow, weird, strangeness of the students' situation, and I felt the anguish of the teachers that knew and cared for them and how something was just not quite right about the whole situation.  I thought Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were remarkably life-like for being just words on a page.  In short, this book transfixed me almost as fully as Neverwhere (my great favorite).

I avoided as many spoilers as I possibly could with this book even though I began to get the sense of organ donation.  I was really shocked as things progressed at exacctly how deep the situation was.  Hearing the Ruth and Kathy argue amongst themselves about who they really were and why they were "created" was probably the most jarring.    Their innocence was so preserved and lauded and extolled throughout the book it was hard to wrench away from the thought they were just like children.  They were adults, learning, growing, at a slower rate but nevertheless developing.

While this book was ultimately depressing, I felt really amazed after reading it that was able to draw me in so thoroughly.  I appreciated the tone and somber nature of the book and though it dealt with heavy topics I felt more of a calm than a sadness at the end of it all.

So we're back into the category of life-changing books. This one is a little more substantial than the other books I claim to be life changing (Neverwhere stands out as one that I made such claims about).  This book is more true to life than that.  It's about growing up as a Catholic woman and an intellectual, and finding the space to be both.

Surprising exactly no one who reads this blog (hi, bf), I am Catholic. I grew up in a very strong Catholic community and almost everyone I knew was Catholic or at least Christian.  I went to Catholic grade school, high school, and college, and since my institutions of learning were Catholic all the way through, I never thought to separate being an intelligent person from being Catholic.  Apparently, I am in the extreme minority, and many people can't comprehend a woman who would be intelligent and feminist and pro-women's rights... and still Catholic.  But to me, the women in my life were all intelligent and all Catholic, and beyond that, they were powerful.  Many of the essays in this book were by women who were attending divinity school at Harvard or other institutions of higher ed.  They would sit back and have to watch their classmates who were not Catholic be able to go on and be received fully into their faith communities as ministers, pastors, priests. To me, the idea of women priests in the Catholic church just doesn't really seem like something that concerns me, because at my schools, the nuns were as powerful if not more so than the priests (who were relegated to the church) because the nuns were actually directly impacting how I learned and viewed them, as the big women in charge.

After reading this book, I was inspired to go to church practically constantly, renew my secret wish to become a youth minister, and seek out religious communities that I had unconsciously been missing since my Grandma died.  In reality what this will translate to is hopefully a more regular mass schedule (anything is more regular than not going), at times accompanied by my bf, and hopefully, if possible, a joining of a church choir.  It also made me see that even if I'm not personally invested in the idea of women priests simply because I do not wish to be a woman priest myself, I can really not justify standing idly by while injustices against women are committed in the name of patriarchy and the church.  Before I knew about white privilege, I really could have cared less. But being informed is half the battle as GI Joe (Jane!) says and now I can't pretend to be ignorant to this case any longer. It's up to me to advocate for  a more equal status of women in the church, and it's up to me to stay informed, stay critical, stay intelligent and stay involved in something that helped create the very core of who I am today.

I don't think Jesus would have had it any other way for me and the young women in the church today.  And that kind of thought makes me more willing to accept religion back in my life.

Ya'll (yeah it's Paula Deen time) I read this book back in July.  Maybe earlier.  I read it around the same time as when I read A History of Celibacy and that was in one of the first ten books I read.  Goodness. I've been holding off on reviewing it on the chance that my mom will read it but at this point, with less than 2 weeks left in CBR III, I  need to suck it up and just review it already.

So this book is by a supposed "good girl" who was once accused by her (ex) boyfriend of being "pornophobic".  "Always up for a challenge" she decided to make a point and prove him wrong, making a list of all sorts of "dirty things" she could explore or do to make herself less freaked out by porn.  Aided by her friends The Naughty Knitters, Ayn successfully does a number of things including but not limited to: visit a strip club, get a lap dance, go to a brothel, host a sex toy party, watch porn, read erotic literature, go to a sex shop, and use a vibrator.  Throughout her journey (surprise surprise) she discovers that porn isn't as evil as she imagined it to be, she has a lot of fun and ridiculous things happen to her, and she improves her outlook to be more sex-positive.

I've been reading another book lately called What You Really, Really Want by sex-positive author Jaclyn Friedman.  I really must confess (if you didn't know already) that I'm pretty clueless when it comes to such things as sex-positivity because sex is always a taboo subject in my house and most of the circles I ran with before college.  Now I have a wide spectrum of friends, and almost all of them are incredibly patient and understanding of my foibles, and I thank them for introducing me to the concept of sex positivity. This concept seemed lost on Ayn at the beginning of the book, considering she was really all up in the Madonna/Whore conundrum and thought you couldn't be a "good girl" and like porn or anything sex related.  I thought a lot of the book felt contrived and her silly situations she got herself into (her mom walking in on her sex toy party and thinking it was a tupperware party, meeting a guy she had a crush on at the sex toy store while wearing a cock ring as a bracelet ((a total accident, of course!)).  But I really felt like she approaches the subject from a better perspective from Friedman because she actually had to go through all these things herself.  I recently went to a talk by Friedman.  The book is designed as a workbook and in the question and answer portion of the talk, someone asked her if she had done the exercises herself.  She responded by saying she'd been too busy with her book tour, but of course she tested all the exercises on her "think tank" and she didn't really need to do it herself.  That kind of attitude rubbed me the wrong way and for all qualms I had with Gailey's book at least she went through it herself in an authentic and genuine way.

Overall this book was quite the companion piece to A History of Celibacy and I will say although it's not erotic literature, reading this book definitely put me better in touch with my feelings around sex and my sexuality.  It helped me to refocus and remain sex positive, and gave me hope that my "time" hasn't passed.

It's also awesome that I'm reviewing this book while I finish up another, From the Pews in the Back, a book about young Catholic women and their views of the church.  Once again, I seem to have a knack for really getting books that just like to be contradictory of one another :) Stay tuned for the next review.

This book was recommended by a Pajiba reader after my review for A Visit From the Goon Squad posted.  I had it hanging around my house for a while before I read it and the subject matter on the back made me a bit nervous.  One of the main characters was named Evie, and I have just made the acquaintance of someone named Eve following some sad circumstances.  So I was less than jazzed to start the book but after receiving an e-mail from the library that my book was overdue, I plunged on in.

The End of Everything was very engrossing.  It read almost like The Lovely Bones or similar books.  The main characters are best friends, they are 14 years old, and one day, one of them goes missing.  The story is told from the perspective of the friend left behind (Lizzie), and she feels so abandoned and confused on a number of levels.  First of all, the girls are best friends in the way that is overly romanticized in these types of novels: inseparable, sharing everything, looking alike, living at each other’s houses (they also happen to live next door to one another).  I have no doubt in my mind that these types of relationships exist-- I myself can clearly recall a summer that my best friend Janell and I spent nearly every waking moment together, the soles of our feet hearty and strong from running back and forth the short block between our homes, eating at each other’s houses, playing outside until we could barely see, sleeping over at one house or the other multiple nights a week-- but it seems to me that in novels the author almost always goes over the top with the clichés.  Add the standard older-sister-who-is-a-mysterious-goddess trope, the distant-quiet-removed-mother trope, and the fun-friendly-crazy father-trope, mix in standard melancholy suburb and you have yourself the standard novel that I’ve been trying to avoid but just can’t.

This book was sad and hard to read because of the girl going missing. The writing, I thought, was superior to Room and I can’t help but compare as they were both in the voice of the children.  What
I didn’t like about this book was how weird it was. Eventually (Spoiler) Evie does come back.  In the meantime we find out all sorts of weird connections between Lizzie and Evie’s dad, Evie’s dad and Evie’s sister, and Evie’s captor and everyone else.   For the most part it’s a lot more twisted and sick than it needs to be, and I disliked the sexual over and undertones.

The End of Everything is at least appropriate in one way: the title.  This book really is the end of everything: the end of the girls’ innocence, the end of their picture perfect life, the end of a family, the end of thinking that everything is perfect and seeing how life really is. I feel like I should have identified with this book more because I too felt a sense of profound loss upon leaving my childhood home and moving to Chicago for school, and then again when my family moved across the country.  But in this story it just felt overwrought and far to sexualized to be realistic.  Maybe I’m transferring some of my anger over from Room but I don’t  know why every book I read has to be so gosh darn sexual and disturbing… Anyway, the book is fine if you like stuff like The Lovely Bones or any other angst filled suburban set novel.

Book Forty-Six: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room has already been reviewed by seemingly scores of other Cannonballers but I wanted to throw my two cents into the ring.  This was another (surprise) book club book and you can tell because it was depressing as all get out.  I fixated on the topic mentioned in (this review) but when pressed as to why I didn’t like the book, my guess can only be is that I didn’t really want to deal with the traumatic material presented, that of someone being kidnapped and being raped repeatedly for over 5 years.

Room is the place where Jack and Ma live.  It’s all Jack knows and the story is --thankfully-- told from his perspective.  The writing is halted in that lovable 5 year old way but it’s also haunting because you know that what Jack is describing is definitely not normal, even though he thinks it is.  Additionally, the first half of the book takes place entirely in Room so it’s even more depressing to think about what was happening before Jack started narrating, and for however many years Ma was alone in the room.

Our book club (okay, half of it, the other half was meeting down where were supposed to meet but half of us didn’t get the memo… oops) all agreed that Ma was very inventive, creative, and good at thinking of things for her and Jack to do, especially considering she had absolutely no me time while in captivity.  I mentioned that some of the moms I babysit for seem to simply be running out of the house as soon as I arrive to go to yoga, meet with friends, have date night or what have you.  And they are fully free to do that.  Another book club member pointed out that if the only people in your life were your child or your kidnapper/rapist, you’d probably love your kid a whole lot more than usual… still…

I read this book while babysitting a small baby and I can’t imagine what raising a child in captivity would feel like.  I stand by my original hypothesis that I didn’t like the book because I felt like it was far too traumatic a subject material and it was really hard for me to wrap my mind around.  But making me feel comfortable isn’t really the point of all the books in the world, especially the ones I choose to read.  So there’s one life lesson learned from Cannonball, at least :)

I just was about to post I've finally passed the mark when I have ten books to go but actually... There are 52 weeks in a year, not 54, so! I only have 7 books to go!!!  Woo! I hope I'm able to finish them all before the end of the month, but I'll let you in on a little secret, I've actually finished another book or two that I haven't put up here yet, and I'm about 1/3 of the way through a third that I just started this morning and am having a hard time putting down.  That puts me at four more books after that, and I have a long plane ride awaiting me next week and then two glorious weeks of absolutely nothing, so I think I got this!  I don't want to speak too soon though, so after this self-congratulatory paragraph I will go back to normal book reviewing.

So... Harriet The Spy.  We meet again, many years after I have first read you, and look at you, all grown up and with a movie (that admittedly came out in the 90s, but no matter!).  I shy away from reading books of my childhood because I fear they will not be as majestic and magical as they were when I was younger.  Ella Enchanted was my all time favorite book of all time (sorry, Kanye moment) but I did not see the movie and I haven't read it since.  I'm worried that it will be somehow less magical, and I will be sad saying that it was my favorite book.

Harriet the Spy did not disappoint.  It was just as delicious and wonderful (if not more so) than I remembered.  Harriet is actually kind of an angsty kid.  She has problems, she's a huge snoop, and she gets way too invested in other people's lives, so much so that she is completely flabbergasted when her classmates steal her notebook and shun her completely.  She's totally out of touch with reality and the book is written from her perspective which makes it all the more awesome.  She says how she feels about grown ups with little to no remorse, and it shows.

The book was a fast read, which I appreciated.  It had a happy(ish) ending, which I also appreciated.  I appreciated it so much that I actually recommended it for my work book club, even though they most definitely will not pick it, but because it was so much more uplifting than what we usually read.  So here's to hoping.

*Note: I might go back and reread some childhood faves while I'm home.  It's only fitting since every time I'm out there I feel like I'm in fourth grade: no friends to see, no car to drive, nowhere to go, me and my family, 24/7 :)

So here's to my second humor authored book of the year:  Mindy Kaling.  I've stopped watching The Office for a whole host of reasons, none of which are any good, but mostly revolving around the fact that I don't currently live with a television (for over a year now!) and also that I'm too lazy to do past season catch up, and most definitely because Pam became a huge b*word when she was pregnant and I was so turned off I never went back.

This book, much like Tina Fey's book, attempts to chronicle how Mindy got her acting fame and fortune.  But more so than Tina, this book had a very chronological story line and actually revealed a lot to me about how Mindy thinks, feels, and has really come into her own.  I finished Bossypants feeling like I knew even less about Tina Fey than when I started, but I finished Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me feeling much more informed about how Mindy is in real life.  One thing I couldn't quite shake was that although Kaling wants us to know that she's not Kelly Kapoor, I couldn't help but read the whole book with Kelly's ditzy, silly, girl voice in my head.  I was happy to hear that the reason we don't see as much of Kelly as we could is because Mindy is actually more of a writer and producer/director.  I think her ability to write quality sketches translated well into a good book, like Tina Fey, but I also believe that her limited screen time, or having to prove herself through her words made the book more palatable and personable.

Kaling talked in her book like she was talking to a friend.  She didn't try to hide behind her fame or have to be mysterious on purpose, like I felt Fey felt she had to be.  There was talk of her childhood, her college besties, the hard times they had in New York City before becoming famous, and then suddenly, crazily, they just were.  She makes no bones about being lonely in Los Angeles after moving out there all by herself, talking on the phone to her mom and friend for hours, loudly and obnoxiously, in diners.  She just felt like a friend I could have had if time and space aligned differently.  And while I didn't laugh as hard as I did when I was reading Bossypants, I felt more connected and drawn in by the question Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? because that's actually how I feel most of the time :)

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