Books

May Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Welcome to the 5th checkpoint for our annual TBR Pile Challenge! I hope you are all making good progress and enjoying yourselves (and your reading selections! We have 169 reviews/check-in posts linked up already, with 7 months to go, and I think that’s beyond awesome! Way to go, you all! 

I’m pleased to report that, in this 5th month of the challenge, I have read 5 of my 12 books! That puts me right on pace, with summer freedom (ha!) coming up. I hope to get a little bit ahead during the summer months, so this actually puts me in a good place. The only problem is that I’m behind on reviewing — I have to get some thoughts down for the last two books I’ve read for this challenge. I’ve been in a bit of a blog-writing slump, to be honest, so we’ll see if I can kick that soon.

Progress: 5 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

As you can see, I need to write reviews for Letters to a Young Poet and for We, and then link them up. I think the next book up from my list might be Gemini (1998) by Michel Tournier, which I’ve wanted to read for a long time; I’ve held off on it so far this year, though, because it is very long and I wanted to make sure I had enough free time to devote to it. In other words, I needed this semester to end! 

Books read:

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2 WINNER: Linday from Three Good Rats! 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

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2019 TBR Pile Challenge, Books

April Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

We have made it to the First Quarter mark of the TBR Pile Challenge! We already have more than 140 reviews/checkpoints linked up on our Mr. Linky, which is pretty great! Well done to all of you! 

As for me, I’ve made the tiniest bit of progress since last month, which is that I actually managed to read and review one more book. I’ve read another 3 books that were not on my list, so my actual reading consumption has been pretty good so far this year. I think I’m ahead of my Goodreads goal pace. 

Progress: 3 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read and reviewed 3 of my required 12 books, which puts me just slightly behind schedule. I’m about to start reading book #4, LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET, so if I can get that review posted before end of April, that will allow me to hit 4 books in 4 months, which is right on pace! I’ve got summer break coming soon (6 weeks!), during which time I hope to read at a steadier clip and get myself ahead of the curve. My plan all along has been to read all 14 of the books on my list, and I’d like to do that by the December 15 final checkpoint so that I’ve got everything posted before the challenge ends. But, as always, this is T.B.D. 

Books read:

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2:

As we celebrate this 25% milestone for 2019, I introduce you to our second Mini-Challenge. Here’s all you need to do: Comment on this post with a book review WRITTEN BY ANOTHER CHALLENGER that you would recommend we read. So, yes, spend a little time visiting our fellow readers, maybe even say hello while you’re on their blog, but then come on back here and comment with a review you really enjoyed or appreciated in some way. If you can tell us why (briefly), all the better!

You can find a list of everyone who has linked-up reviews so far by clicking on the “LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS” text below. Remember, you should also be posting your progress points there, too, so that you’re collecting entries toward the big $50 grand prize at the end of the year. Good luck to you all! Happy reading and happy blog hopping!

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

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Books, Non-Fiction, writing

Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is a fantastic writer. I thoroughly enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea (it was the University’s common read a few years ago. I really should read more of the series!) and have always wanted to read more of her work. So, last year, I picked up a couple of her books on writing, including this one and Conversations On Writing. I haven’t read the latter, yet, but I’m looking forward to it after having finished Steering the Craft.

The title is of course a metaphor for writing. Le Guin approaches the writing process with a wonderful sense of humor and beautifully helpful analogies to life and other messes, er, situations. What I find most helpful about the book is its design. First, each chapter is a distinct topic, important to the writer (the writer of fiction, primarily.) Unlike some fiction writing guides, however, Le Guin does not focus on the big-ticket items, like character. Instead, she moves in on things like grammar, voice, and point of view. Then, within each chapter on a single topic, she breaks things down into a few components: A) thoroughly enjoyable narratives on what she means by the topic, including definitions and her own explanations plus relationships/experiences with the topic; B) helpful examples from excellent sample pieces, like Jane Eyre, that help her illustrate what she means and gives the reader-writer a better idea of how someone does “this thing” well; and C) one or more practice exercises so that the reader-writer can test out their new knowledge in a practical way, and get to doing the work of writing, which is why she should be reading the book in the first place.

So, the book is not just a guide to a writing, but it is also a prompt for writing, too.

Another helpful element is the appendix, where Le Guin gives all sorts of useful advice about how to form and run and participate in a writing group, be it in person or online. She outlines some of the most helpful guidelines and articulates some of the problems and pitfalls, too. This might not be necessary for everyone (many reading are probably solitary writers, although, as Le Guin makes clear, that’s a habit worth breaking), but even if the reader-writer is already experienced in writing groups and/or has no current interest in them, they might find helpful information for themselves, here.

Finally, Le Guin is just fun. She’s brilliant and entertaining. She treats the reader-writer like a peer, not a customer or some “noob” to the scene. Reading the section on “the sound of your writing” and realizing that Le Guin has her audience in mind, just as she encourages the reader-writer to have his audience in mind, is a great way to begin, as it demonstrates her ethos in the most effective way. She tells, shows, does, and then asks the reader-writer to do the same. This is a teaching method I’ve been practicing myself for years, and it was seriously comforting to see a master writer doing the same. I’m eager to get back to her fiction, but also, especially, her Conversations On Writing.

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2019 TBR Pile Challenge, Books

March Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Welcome to our third checkpoint for this year’s TBR Pile Challenge! We already have more than 110 reviews/checkpoints linked up on our Mr. Linky, which is insane! Well done to all of you! I hope you continue to read and share and discuss all your favorites (or least favorites) from this challenge.

As for me, I’ve made the tiniest bit of progress since last month, which is that I actually managed to write my thoughts for Book #2, and those thoughts go live on March 17th. I’ve read another 5 books (and written reviews for most of them, too!) but, unfortunately, none of the selections were on my TBR Challenge list. Whoops. 

Progress: 2 of 12 Completed / 2 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 2 of my 12 required books. I do plan to start Book 3 very soon, and I plan (really, I do!) to read all 14 of the books on my list this year, the main 12 plus my 2 alternates, so getting a jump-start on this list before spring semester began was important. I think I’ll read something non-fiction, next, since I’ve read two novels already. Perhaps Light the Dark, to help re-ignite my writing as well. Then again, I’ve really been eyeing Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet the last few days, and I also have found myself in a bit of a reading rut, comparatively speaking, so I’m thinking Vonnegut might be a good choice (he’s always a knockout for me.) What to do!? 

Books read:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2 is coming next month! 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

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Books

End of An Era: Call for Moderators!

The Classics Club

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 7.52.02 PM.pngHello, Clubbers!

After six incredible years, your Classics Club moderators (Adam, Allie, Melissa, and Sarah) are ready to move on to other projects and are in need of a new, passionate, motivated crew of moderators to take over The Classics Club for the next generation.

Are you one of these select few?

What you need to know: The Classics Club is a large community. We have the blog here, of course, but also a Goodreads page, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. We also have a busy e-mail (Gmail) account to keep up with. Ideally, or so far as we discovered, what works best is to have a group of folks who can work on different elements of the blog: each person responsible for a specific monthly feature post, for example; a person who updates the book list; a person who reviews membership requests and updates…

View original post 362 more words

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2018 Bible as Lit, Books, Events, Read-Alongs, Reading Event, Religion

2018 Reading the Bible as Literature Event

Welcome to the Sign-Up Post for the 2018 Reading the Bible Event!

About the Event: The Christian bible is one of the most influential texts in western literature. As someone who reads literature for pleasure/edification and who teaches Literature in English at the college level, I frequently re-familiarize myself with many historically rich texts from a variety of mythologies and cultures.

As such, I’ve read the Christian bible many times, but only twice from cover-to-cover. I usually revisit specific passages depending on what I’m working on at the time, or which political/philosophical debate I’m getting into, etc. For 2018, I thought another cover-to-cover read through, with company this time, would be helpful and fun!

As a special note, I will be reading the bible as literature and crafting my posts as such. This challenge is not specific to nor exclusively meant for Christians; instead, it is for readers who are interested in learning more about a very important text in the western canon. As such, I invite anyone and everyone to participate, regardless of faith or lack thereof. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, Hindu, Agnostic, Mormon, Humanist? Come along!

What I would love is a lively and spirited discussion of the stories, philosophies, history, and cultural issues. We might discuss allegory, parables, comparative religion, metaphor, and symbolism to name just a few topics. The text will be treated respectfully and the discussions will follow in that same spirit — disparaging remarks about anyone’s beliefs will not be tolerated (and therefore all comments will be moderated). We’ll do our best!

1403190609407R48R5tYI’ll be reading from The Holy Bible: King James Version (KJV), illustrated by Gustave Doré and published by Barnes & Noble, but you can feel free to read any version you’d like. There are many newer editions that are much more “readable,” in my opinion. Keep in mind, of course, some textual changes have resulted in meaning changes as well, and of course the contemporary versions lose some of the poetic qualities.

 

The Reading Plan

  • January: Genesis 1 through Exodus 40
  • February: Leviticus 1 through Deuteronomy 4
  • March: Deuteronomy 5 through 1 Samuel 17
  • April: 1 Samuel 18 through 1 Chronicles 2
  • May: 1 Chronicles 3 through Esther 10
  • June: Job 1 through Psalms 89
  • July: Psalms 90 through Isaiah 17
  • August: Isaiah 18 through Ezekiel 8
  • September: Ezekiel 9 through Zechariah 14
  • October: Malachi 1 through Luke 18
  • November: Luke 19 through 1 Corinthians 8
  • December: 1 Corinthians 9 through Revelations 22

Details:

I will be reading the above list of titles during the months given. Furthermore, on the last day of each month (so, beginning December 31st 2017 for January 2018), a list of passages will be given for daily reading. This is really just to make it easier on myself; I find I can keep up with reading the bible, especially the rather dull bits, if I do a little bit every day. So, I’ll share this list with all participants every month & will base my weekly and monthly check-in posts on those daily goals.

Every Sunday: I’ll post my thoughts on the passages that I read that week, with some discussion questions, favorite quotes, questions, literary references that come to mind, etc. I hope these Sunday posts will encourage discussion among those who are also reading along at a similar pace.

Month’s End: I will post an update with the books/verses that I read during the previous month and list the readings (chapter and verse) for the upcoming month in a “readings per day” format. My goal is to read about the same amount each day, week, and month, but you can do whatever you want! I hope these monthly posts will be another place for everyone to discuss their experience with the readings.

Details:

  • Comment on this post if you’d like to join in.
  • Read along with me in a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule (whatever works for you) and participate in discussion as much or as little as you like.
  • Post your thoughts on the bible readings somewhere on your blog, Tumblr, Goodreads account, or in the comments on any given post.
  • To share on Twitter/Facebook/Insta, etc, please use: #2018BibleRBR
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Atheism, Biography, Books, Contemporary, Dan Brown, Fiction, Hillary Rodham Clinton, History, LGBT, Lisa Williamson, Literature, Memoir, Peter Ackroyd, Politics, Religion, Science-Fiction, Thriller, Transgender, Willa Cather

5 Mini-Reviews: From Willa Cather to Hillary Clinton

I’ll never catch-up on all the reviews I need to write for books I’ve read in the last 5 or 6 months. That’s that. But, I am going to make an effort to catch-up on the recent and then stay current moving forward. I do not intend to write a full review for every book that I read (I just simply do not have the time for that, and sometimes I don’t think the book needs it). Instead, I might write mini-reviews, like the ones below, so that I’ve at least shared some thoughts about my recent reading with you all and so that I have some record for myself, which was the whole point of beginning this book blog almost a decade ago! So, that being said, onto my thoughts for these three most recent reads:

Origin by Dan Brown: 3.0 out of 4.0

Origin is the latest in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series, following Angeles & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, and Inferno. I really enjoy this series. The premises are usually clever and interesting, and of course I love the way the stories are steeped in history (apocryphal or not) and often pit science versus religion. There’s just something fascinating about that seemingly eternal struggle and the lengths to which some people will go to protect their particular worldview (or, in the case of this series, eliminate the “competition” altogether).

That being said, I think Origin is my least favorite of the series. It seemed to me to be trying too hard, and the plot spent a long time stagnating (the “big mystery” is built up for something like 200 pages before going anywhere). This is also the rare instance where I knew from the first few chapters both what the secret was and who the villain was, which made the unfolding of it all rather anti-climactic. I did want to love this book because the topic itself is certainly timely and relevant, but I think that was also part of the problem. It was, for me, too current. It seemed like the imaginative leaps Brown had to take in previous books were unnecessary, here, so the thrill was gone. 

There were some things I did enjoy, though. Brown rather sensitively treats a non-traditional romance, for one, and he also incorporates some interesting thoughts from people like Sam Harris. On page 290, for example, he writes: “The term ‘atheist’ should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘nonastrologer’ or a ‘nonalchemist.’ We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive, or for people who doubt that aliens traverse the galaxy only to molest cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” This particular passage triggered a thought experiment that I haven’t had nearly enough time to ponder; it made me wonder about the natural state of human existence and whether, if left to our own devices, separate from a social environment, would individuals default to religious belief to explain things like thunder, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc? Historically, we know that many cultures have created gods to do just that, but is that a social construct or an innately human one? Dan Brown’s Origins, in this way, did leave me with plenty to think about.

Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd: 3.5 out of 4.0

I received this little gem from Melissa, who knows I’m a fan of Poe. To be honest, I didn’t even know this book existed! Peter Ackroyd is a world-class biographer who has won awards for his work on figures such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and William Blake. I was curious to see what he would do with a figure like Poe, whose life and times are much more a thing of legend than fact. There are so few extant (that we know of) factual records about Poe’s life, and much of what we do know has been exaggerated over the years, in keeping with the gloomy and mysterious aura surrounding the man. The first major post-Mortem written about Poe, for example, was a scathing, hyperbolic account of his personality, addiction, and talents, written by a man whom Poe had eviscerated in the press (as he did so often, to so many). The majority of that “biography” was wildly inaccurate and totally vindictive, and yet it is on this account that many have continued to base their opinions of Poe.

Ultimately, Ackroyd relies heavily on Poe’s works and letters to attempt to uncover the “real” man, beneath the facade. He also uncovers other written accounts of Poe, testimony from people who knew the author at various stages of life, such as former teachers, lovers, school “friends” (that term used loosely because Poe really did not get very close to many people, as he so often reminded everyone), and colleagues. The problem with these records is two-fold: first, that there are so few of them; second, that they are often contradictory. Some were even written or recorded well after Poe’s death, at which point time, distance, and the fact of Poe’s celebrity would all have influenced people’s perceptions. Was the myth making the man, or the man making the myth?

This little book of less than 200-pages is divided into 11 chapters, each focusing on a particular time period in Poe’s life. With titles like “The Victim,” “The Bird,” and “The Women,” it is clear to see that Ackroyd did uncover certain themes and momentous occasions which help to explain who Poe was, what was important to him, and how he became the legend that he is today. By all accounts, Poe was very well-regarded by the literati and critics alike. He was considered, even in his time, as the father of American literature, the first true “American” voice of the new continent, wholly distinct from our British forebears. So, where does the idea come from, that Poe died forgotten, under-appreciated? Well, as Ackroyd explains, Poe himself had a whole lot to do with that final assessment. Ackroyd’s biography is, I think, a must-read for any true Poe fan. Still, someday, I dream of discovering a cache of Poe history that will help illuminate so many of the unexplained questions about Poe, his life, and especially his final days.

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton: 4.0 out of 4.0

Is my affinity for Hillary Clinton coloring my review? Probably, in part. I admire this woman, I always have, and I found much to connect with and appreciate in her latest memoir about the 2016 election. But, there is so much more to it than the title suggests, and much more than the “liberal media” (ha!) suggested in their never-ending attempts to stir the pot and grab the ratings. It’s pretty disgraceful, really, to think about the way they treated the release of this book, but it’s also completely unsurprising considering the way they have treated Hillary Rodham Clinton for the last 30 years, since she first entered the spotlight as First Lady of Arkansas.

Clinton covers a number of topics in this book, things that are important to her and which should also be important to us. She has a chapter on “Perseverance,” for example, which outlines the long and arduous process of deciding to run, and run again, when she may have much preferred to stay at home with her grandchild and garden. There’s a section on women, including historical influences and current issues for women in politics. There are thoughtful, painful, crucial explanations about how our election process has been compromised by domestic and foreign influences, and warnings about the continuing danger of big money influence in our politics. She talks about the very real divisions in our country and shares some of her thoughts as to why and how these things have come to be, and how we need to self-assess before it is too late.

Finally, though, she ends with a section titled, “Resilience.” She writes about Love and Kindness. She writes about her faith and her continuing attempts to grow and evolve and do better. And she ends with a chapter titled, “Onward Together,” wherein she asks all of us to keep going and keep trying, even when all seems lost, even when we are at our lowest, because that’s when the world needs it most. She closes by quoting Max Ehrmann, who said, “Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul” (468). I think Clinton is trying to do just that in writing this book and inviting us into what must have been a terribly difficult time and process.

People who already like Hillary Clinton are bound to like this book, and to experience the deep pain of her loss all over again. But they will also be reassured that their vote was the right one, and in more ways than most of us could have realized in the first place. People who don’t like Hillary Clinton probably won’t give this book a chance; but if they did approach it with a truly open mind and sense of fairness, I think even they would come to see that what she writes about is true and honest, that she admits to many of her failings while raising the alarm about many of our failings, and that it is indeed possible to do both of these things at the same time.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson: 3.0 out of 4.0

I’m so thrilled to be seeing more and more diversity in YA literature, and especially titles with main characters who are transgender, bisexual, and persons of color. Philip Pullman called this one, “a life-changing and life-saving book,” and I can see what he means. For a lot of people, especially young transgender teens who are beginning to understand what their feelings mean and to articulate to themselves just how they are different, books like this are incredibly important. Representation, feeling like you are a valid and “normal” person, rather than some bizarre aberration, can certainly be more than affirming, it can be everything.

Everyone thinks David Piper is gay. He is effeminate, he likes to wear girls’ clothes, he enjoys doing stereotypical girl things. Only his two best friends realize, though, that while David does like boys, he is not gay: he is transgender. When a new kid named Leo shows up to their private school, David feels an immediate affinity for him but can’t explain why. He’s not really attracted to him, and yet he can’t seem to shake the feeling that they share something, that they should be friends. Soon enough, David (and the readers) learn that Leo is different in his own way, too.

The novel is narrated from the perspective of both David and Leo, some chapters being told from one point of view, and some from the other (conveniently labeled “David” or “Leo” to let us know). While I appreciate the subject matter and Williamson’s smooth narrative style, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing, here. I think the goal was to suggest some of the very real struggles that transgender people face in their daily lives and in the transition process, while maintaining an uplifting tone and commitment to a positive and affirming message. This makes complete sense to me, but it seemed to get in the way of the story-telling, somewhat. David and Leo have their struggles, there are definitely some dark elements and disappointments, but for the most part, the characters seem constructed to fit a role rather than to develop a story. I just couldn’t connect with David or Leo, and most of the secondary characters (parents, friends, siblings) seemed there only because they needed to be there (because people have friends and families, so it’d be odd not to write them in?).

The Art of Being Normal is a quick and easy read, oftentimes sweet and sometimes maddening, and it is an important addition to the YA LGBTQ+ library as well as the YA offerings more generally. But it’s not something I would read again.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather 3.5 out of .0

Oh, my dear, sweet Willa Cather. How do I love thee? Okay, pardon the sap. I do enjoy Willa Cather so much, though. This novel was the September selection for the Classic Book-a-Month Club. I have to say, I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. I always enjoy Cather’s writing style, and this time was no different. She somehow combines naturalism with a rare, auditory elegance. Her descriptions of the land are beyond compare, so much so that her characters almost always come second to the landscape. I enjoyed this one in particular because it is set in the American southwest, a region that I love and that I just recently moved to myself; there was much to relate to. 

On the other hand, the story itself felt extremely distant this time. I just couldn’t connect with it, though I recognize it was beautiful and recounts an important history. At the center is the story of two Catholic priests who come to minister to the native people of the greater-New Mexico area. They must learn how to communicate with Native Americans and Mexicans, to tame the land, and to respect local customs while fulfilling their roles as missionaries. The book is split into nine separate sections, each with a particular focus, so that the novel reads more like an extended play with nine acts. To some extent, I appreciated this because it allowed me to focus on each individual scene, beautifully crafted, and to try to appreciate the purpose of that scene as I was experiencing it; on the other hand, unlike the dichotomy set-up by the structure of Cather’s A Lost Lady, for example, I did not find these segments particularly helpful in telling the priest’s story. And maybe that’s my issue. If I were to go back and read this again, I think I would approach it as a story about the land, and not a story about the Archbishop.

The narrative digressions, flashback recollections, and fictional accounts of actual historical figures and events added interesting context and complexity to an otherwise leisurely Cather work. I find in Cather’s works that she wants, more than anything, to tell the tale of a land, a time, and a people, and that is certainly the case here. The Hopi and Navajo people are treated sympathetically, and the recounting of the “Long Walk of the Navajo,” is both important and brave. Cather does not dull her criticism of the American government and rightly calls them to account for the way they treated our native populations, shuffling them around from one increasingly barren and uninhabitable region to the next. She also makes suggestions about the intimate and powerful relationship between religion and politics. Ultimately, I think I’m going to have to read this one again to fully appreciate it, preferably during a break when I can really sink into it.

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