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.
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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.

October Book Swap

For about two years (wow!), I’ve been participating in a private book swap with about 15 friends/participants. The host schedules about 3 swaps per year, so every few months we get a new partner, time to shop, and time to ship. I have participated in every round so far because it is just so much fun to shop for books and personal gifts for someone who loves these sorts of things just as much as I do. Something I’ve neglected to do, though, is share my own gifts from others (except in our private group page where we all talk.) I would like to change that from now on!

This swap, taking place in October, was a fall/Halloween theme. Now, Halloween is my favorite holiday – my husband and I even got married on that holiday! I’ve been lucky to get swap partners in the past who have been thoughtful enough to think about not just me, but my anniversary. This year, as you can see, I got an awesome framed decorative “skeleton couple,” which I have set out for the season (but to be honest I’ll probably keep it out all year). In addition, I receive three awesome books from my wish list: Thank You for Arguing; Tropic of Capricorn; and Poe: A Life Cut Short. I’ve already read the Poe book, and it was good! It put me in the mood to see The Raven, John Cusack’s film from about a decade ago. I usually watch it once per year, around Halloween of course.

I also received two cool bookmarks, one from Iceland (along with Icelandic chocolate!) and one of a young Kurt Vonnegut, along with a Kurt Vonnegut doll. As plenty of people know, Vonnegut is one of my all-time favorites (he and Poe are probably my two favorite male writers). I’m so grateful for all these gifts, plus a pumpkin candle that smells absolutely incredible (we have been watching Halloween-themed movies since October 1st and light it for the viewings — atmosphere!), and a personalized drawing from my swap partner’s  daughter (which is now hanging up in my office, using the little Poe magnet I also received in this swap! See it sitting there on the Ackroyd book?) And of course, the card is perfect. 

When people ask why book blogging is so great, why I continue to bother with it, this is a great example. It’s not about the gifts (although giving and receiving are both great); it’s about the community. I’ve known some of these folks for almost a decade, now, and whether or not we’re all still keeping up with our blogs isn’t even the point. Wherever we are in the world, and we are everywhere, the connections we first made through our love of books and writing about books has gone so much farther and deeper than that. It’s not anything I ever expected to happen, but I’m sure grateful for it.

The Folio Society’s New Northanger Abbey!

As you all know, August was the month of all things Austen! While running the event and moving across country, I somehow managed a re-read of Northanger Abbey, which was even better and funnier than I remembered. I hope you all enjoyed the annual Austen reading event, whether you were a participant or an observer. But, it’s now confession time.

The Folio Society, a wonderful publisher of exquisite editions, and made up of some really awesome people, gave me a head’s up on a new Austen edition that would be coming soon. (Of course, they also stopped by and offered up a giveaway again this year, which was amazing!) While reading my old, dusty copy of Northanger Abbey, I got a sneak-peek at The Folio Society’s brand new, stunningly beautiful edition! Now that the book has become available, I finally get to share!

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

Introduced by Val McDermid and Illustrated by Jonathan Burton

‘Jane Austen is the pinnacle to which all other authors aspire’- J. K. Rowling

Crumbling castles, ghostly skeletons and innocent maidens in the gravest of danger: the tropes of Gothic romance fill the mind of Catherine Morland. Venturing from her country parsonage home to delight in her first season in Bath, the Austen’s naive heroine must navigate the more prosaic hazards of female friendship and undesirable suitors to secure the affection of eligible Henry Tilney. But when she is invited to Northanger Abbey, the Tilneys’ ancient stately home, Catherine’s love of sensational stories fires her imagination, and threatens to destroy her future happiness. The last of Austen’s novels to be published, appearing posthumously in 1818, Northanger Abbey was the first to be completed, written when Austen was in her early twenties. Simply told in lively and elegant prose, this is her most playful work. But the tongue-in-cheek tone that characterizes the story belies the skill of a truly great writer flexing her creative muscles. Just as Austen’s talent for satire exposes the failings of the overwrought gothic novels of the age, her subtle, beautifully observed portrait of Bath society reveals the real value of fiction: its power to convey ‘the most thorough knowledge of human nature’.

As Val McDermid writes in her introduction – a heartfelt account of how Northanger Abbey has reinvented itself for her with each rereading – Austen unfailingly provides us with the opportunity to investigate our own lives and find surprising truths there.’ Award-winning illustrator Jonathan Burton has created six colour illustrations, depicting both the ballrooms of Bath and the imposing Abbey. Witty, fresh and perceptive, the images perfectly reflect Austen’s wonderfully sardonic novel.

The penultimate edition in Folio’s Jane Austen series, this volume is bound in gold cloth, and the slipcase reproduces the work’s spirited first line. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a Folio Society edition, yet, this is a great place to start. I now have quite a few classics from TFS, and they are quickly becoming my favorite collection.


Product information
Bound in metallic cloth. Set in Baskerville with Trajan display. 232 pages.
Frontispiece and 5 colour illustrations. Blocked slipcase. 9½ ̋ x 6¼ ̋.


For seventy years, The Folio Society has been publishing beautiful illustrated editions of the world’s greatest books. It believes that the literary content of a book should be matched by its physical form. With specially researched images or newly commissioned illustrations, many of its editions are further enhanced with introductions written by leading figures in their fields: novelists, journalists, academics, scientists and artists. Exceptional in content and craftsmanship, and maintaining the very highest standards of fine book production, Folio Society editions last for generations.


Tiny Thoughts on a Bunch of Books

20170404The last book review I posted was for Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, way back in February. Since then, I’ve read “a few” books, but haven’t had time to get my thoughts down about any of them.

This post is going to serve as a very brief, rather frantic “catch-up.”  I want to at least write down reactions to the other books I’ve read so far.  No, these aren’t formal reviews – but something is better than nothing!

So, in order of completion from most distant to most recent:

Half Bad by Sally Green: This is the first book in a planned YA fantasy trilogy by new author Sally Green. I think the premise is interesting and the execution rather good. There is quite a bit in this book which is derivative, owing a lot to other popular YA fantasy series’ on the market; however, that being said, I really enjoyed the story and a lot of what is unique about it. Green builds quite a bit of believable tension into the story, issues between the main character/protagonist and his best friend, his girlfriend, his father, his family etc. I think this is a series worth reading and fans of YA fantasy are likely to enjoy it.

downloadWarlock by Jim Starlin: Adam Warlock is one of my favorite comic book characters and I’m glad to have finally read the complete story in graphic novel form. Some of the more interesting stories (like the Infinity plots) are not present because they are exterior to the original Warlock storyline, but this graphic collection was still fun, dark, and interesting.

Half Wild by Sally Green: This is the second book in Green’s fantasy trilogy and an interesting and improved follow-up to the first in the series. Main characters from the first book reappear and some new ones are introduced. A lot of the tension between the main character and minor ones continues to deepen, and Green takes some very welcome and exciting risks. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series (which, from what I’ve read, will be the conclusion to the trilogy – but you never know with fantasy series’!)

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith: I’m a huge fan of Andrew Smith, and The Alex Crow did not disappoint. This is Smith’s most complex and adult novel to date. It’s not hard to understand the comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut. There have been some criticisms about unnecessary storylines or sub-plots, but I think those critiques are missing the point. The story’s sub-plots work together toward a final conclusion, without one or the other of these storylines, the overall message would not be as profound as it is. Unfortunately, that message seems to be lost on some readers. Still, this book, after Grasshopper Jungle, is resulting in a great deal of critical attention and acclaim for Smith, praise which I think is completely valid.

download (2)Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore: I read this because of Twitter hoopla surrounding gender representations in comic books and the new covers for some classic comics. I’ve never been a big fan of Batman comics (I’ve enjoyed the movies more – and I’m really a Marvel fan, so I haven’t given as much attention to DC stories) but this was a really interesting take on the Joker’s possible backstory. I know there’s a debate as to whether or not the backstory is necessary or helpful – some fans like that the Joker is just innately evil, while others appreciated the fact that perhaps some event triggered that descent into madness. I can understand both points of view – for what it is, I enjoyed this story.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1 by Willow G. Wilson: I think this is an incredibly powerful and long-overdue take on female power in comics. The new Ms. Marvel is young and fierce, filled with good intentions but also prone to mistakes. Volume 1 introduces us to her character, her friends, and her family, all of which adds great complexity and detail to her personality and the possibilities/pitfalls that might be ahead of her. Super cool.

download (1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: I’m so glad I finally read this book, and I’m eager to get on with the series. While I don’t think that Martin is quite the writer or world-builder as, say, Tolkien, his take on fantasy is still refreshing and unique. As Martin has explained, his goal was to place fantasy elements in a realistic medieval environment, and in that I think he is succeeding. The story is dark, dangerous, and rarely redeeming or uplifting, but the times (from a historical perspective) were equally difficult. As a fan of the television show (until this season, where I’m finding much to complain about) I think it’s incredible how closely the show was adapted from the book – but those who have only watched the show are missing some important things, even simple things like the characters’ ages make a big difference in understanding and appreciating what’s happening.

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan: I finally took the plunge and started this series. Everybody talks about it, and now I know why. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a comic so much since Blankets (which, admittedly, is completely different and not actually a comic – it’s a long graphic novel). Anyway, Saga is narrated from the future by the protagonist who is, in the first comics, just a newborn baby. We learn about her parents and their worlds & the war they’re engaged in. The comic is rated “M” for good reason – I wasn’t expecting some of the graphic sexual situations and violence, but the great thing is that it’s not at all gratuitous, it’s just a part of the world. I’ve got Volume 2 sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, and I haven’t been so anxious to get to a read, especially a comic, in a very long time! Loving it!

Also read but not reviewed:

download (3)The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan (4 out of 5, Read May 2014)

Bertram Cope’s Year by Henry Blake Fuller (5 out of 5, Read June 2014)

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (3 out of 5, Read June 2014)

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (4 out of 5, Read June 2014)

The Dog Star by Donald Windham (3 out of 5, Read June 2014)

Messenger by Lois Lowry (4 out of 5, Read June 2014)

The Madness of Lady Bright by Lanford Wilson (4 out of 5, Read July 2014)

Son by Lois Lowry (3 out of 5, Read July 2014)

download (4)The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley (3 out of 5, Read July 2014)

Totempole by Sanford Friedman (5 out of 5, Read July 2014)

The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren (4 out of 5, Read July 2014)

The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer (5 out of 5, Read July 2014)

Lemon Sky by Lanford Wilson (4 out of 5, Read July 2014)

Invisible Life by E. Lynn Harris (2 out of 5, Read July 2014)

Letters to Montgomery Clift by Noel Alumit (5 out of 5, Read July 2014)

Sons of the Prophet by Stephen Karam (3 out of 5, Read August 2014)

51Be-zEhd7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (4 out of 5, Read December 2014)

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee (3 out of 5, Read December 2014)

Halfway Home by Paul Monette (4 out of 5, Read December 2014)

Revival by Stephen King (4 out of 5, Read December 2014)

Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers by Steve Berman (3 out of 5, Read January 2015)

What Marriage Really Meant to the Women of Austen (#AustenInAugustRBR)

Hello, Ladies & Gents! Today’s guest post is all about marriage (that inescapable theme) in the works of Jane Austen.  It comes to us from the wonderful Sarah of The Every Day Reader. Please give her a warm welcome!


Austen’s major works have many commonalities, but there is one glaring similarity that stands out above the rest: Marriage. All of Jane’s heroines begin their stories unmarried and end it married to a man they not only love, but who are an advance in social status and/or wealth.

Why was marriage so important to them? The heroines of Austen are strong women, who face trials that we would today see as completely unconnected from the marriage institution. Yet, marriage was important enough that Charlotte Lucas accepts Mr. Collins. Why? Because for them, marriage was more than a love match. It was their salvation.

Financial Security: Austen lived and wrote in a time without pensions, unemployment, health insurance or social benefits. Women also had extremely limited opportunities for independent employment and those they did have, such as being a live in governess, were not well-respected or well paid. Mrs Elton in Emma expresses her surprise that Emma’s former governess is ‘so very lady-like.’ Marriage to a wealthy (or at least financially secure) man was the dream, because it gave Austen’s heroines their only realistic chance at a secure life. Austen knew what a strain financial insecurity could be, spending several years traveling between relatives and friends with her mother and sister after the death of their father.

An Escape from their Family: It would have been unheard of in Austen’s time for a woman to live alone, or with friends. Family, or family approved guardians were the only options. Jane Austen herself would have known the reality of such a situation, never leaving the companionship of her family. Austen was blessed with a family that she enjoyed the company of, but if a woman of her time wasn’t so blessed, marriage would be her only permanent escape. Imagine Elizabeth Bennet’s reaction if she had to resign herself to spending her life in the company of her mother!

Social Status: Connections-connections-connections. Life then, as is now, was just as much about who you knew as what you knew (in fact, perhaps even moreso than now). Advancing up the social ladder was also far more difficult than it is today. Men could do so by earning a fortune through trade or being promoted within the military, though would still be looked down upon by those who hadn’t had to earn it. For women, advancement was through marriage. Making a fortuitous connection not only immediately advanced their own status in society, but meant their children would likely have opportunities that they had not.

A House of their Own: The importance of this factor can not be underestimated and goes far beyond escaping family or having financial security. Being able to manage their own home was a woman’s greatest chance at independent action. These were the days before vacuum cleaners, online shopping, Chinese made clothing and disposable lifestyles in general. Managing the household, especially a large one, was a career in itself. Even Elizabeth Bennet would have found a match for her quick mind in the management of Pemberly and indeed, it is seeing the estate which first makes her rethink her attitude to Darcy.

From Jane Austen’s point of view: It is well-known that Jane Austen never married, despite having at least one serious offer (and another mutual attachment that was never acted upon because of that darned financial insecurity). It’s nice to think that by marrying off her heroines Austen was giving them the future she never secured for herself. Although she later expressed relief at having avoided the pitfalls of married life (especially the risks of childbirth) her heroines still all hit the jackpot. They have everything that could have been desired in a late 18th century marriage and something more besides. They had love, which Austen believed to be the most important factor of all. Indeed, many scholars believe was the true reason she never married. Marriage was important to Austen not only because of societal constraints, but because of the relationship that it represented in its best manifestation.


Thanks, Sarah, for these great thoughts on Marriage in Jane Austen’s books!  What do you all think?  Have you noticed anything similar in your reading this month?  How do the Austen works (or reimaginings) that you’ve read this month, or are reading now, treat marriage?  Are there any differences in the marriage of Austen’s works versus marriage in the more contemporary remakes?  Let’s discuss!


TKAM Read-Along: Part 1 (Ch. 1-11) (#MockingbirdReads)

pp-mockingbird3Hi, Everyone!

This is the first check-in post for our read-along of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In this post, we cover chapters 1-11 (or “Part One” of the book).

Check-in #2 will cover chapters 12-21 and will go live on Thurs., July 25th.

Check-in #3 (or final review) will cover chapters 22-31 and will go live on Weds., July 31st.

If you want to link-up your own thoughts, your answers to my questions (below), or, eventually, a review of the book, you can do so at This Post. You can also still sign-up to join us in this read-along by visiting This Post

Participation is totally voluntary, of course. Linking-up to your check-in posts and “registering” is just a way for those of us who are reading the book to visit one another, see what we all think, and engage in some fun conversations about this piece of classic American literature.  I’m sure we’ll all have different experiences with this one, and I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Summary of Part One:

At the beginning of the book, we meet our narrator, Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch, as well as her older brother, Jeremy Atticus (“Jem”) Finch.  Scout is entering the first grade and her brother is almost ten, but they seem to be close friends and playmates, despite the age difference and differences of temperament. Scout is a tomboy who does not take kindly to be called a “girl” and Jem seems to be something of the All-American boy type.  He respects his father, Atticus, immensely, and wants to be a gentlemen, just like his dad.  We also meet their friend, Charles Baker (“Dill”) Harris, who stays with his aunt, Miss Rachel.  We later learn that he might not have much of a permanent home at all – he is creative, dramatic, and imaginative, and he becomes obsessed with the mystery of Scout & Jem’s neighbor, Arthur “Boo” Radley.

In this first part, Jem and Scout (and sometimes Dill) are at the center of the story.  We readers see much of their world, Maycomb, through their eyes – but we see more clearly the racism, myths, and legends than they do, and particularly more than Scout as she is so young and in many ways quite naive. The child’s play (and especially the presence of Dill) seems to be the central focus – youth, innocence, and playfulness.  There are hints, as the chapters go along, of darker things to come – which leads me to believe that this will be a coming-of-age story for both Scout and Jem.

Some of the other interesting interactions include Scout’s relationships at school, both with her classmates and with her teacher.  Scout shows herself to be quite bright, thanks to instruction from her father, but the teacher is clearly threatened by her intelligence and her ability to read.  Jem is balancing between childhood and adulthood, viewing his father in ways that Scout can’t, yet.  He still grasps childhood in many ways, as demonstrated by his playtime with Dill and Scout, but he longs to know more about and be more like his father, Atticus. 

The mystery of Boo Radley is dangled in front of the reader in many ways, but mostly through a child’s somewhat mystified view.  There is no clear reason given to us to fear Boo Radley, but his private nature, the history of his father and family, and the supernatural wonderment of childhood in general all help to construct an eerie, ominous aura around his character.  Some of the more clear-headed and just adults, like Atticus and Miss Maudie, try to help guide the children toward compassion and hint at deeper troubles in the Radley family’s past. 

Near the end of Part One, a fire takes Miss Maudie’s house and threatens the entire neighborhood.  Though Miss Maudie takes the events in stride, this fire seems to be a turning-point of sorts.  Immediately afterward, Scout  begins to learn more about what her father does for a living, and about the troubling case he will soon be involved with (as a lawyer).  People’s darker natures – racism, bigotry, and ignorance- begin to show, and in such a way that Scout, who is growing up, can begin to comprehend and feel threatened by it.  The trial of Tom Robinson is clearly going to change Scout’s world forever. 

My Thoughts:

Well, the first eleven chapters cover approximately two years, which is already a departure from what I remembered of my first read, years ago. I thought the entire book took place during one summer.  Oops!  I also remembered the book being narrated entirely from a child’s (Scout’s) point of view, but while it is Scout’s POV, the narrative voice seems to fluctuate between adult, past tense, and childlike in-the-moment, such as in dialogue.  This is interesting – it really does make it feel like an adult’s recollection of her childhood, which is exactly what the narrative is. 

I’m also enjoying the narrative structure more than I remembered (or perhaps more than I was able to appreciate the first time).  The use of ellipses in Scout’s tales of Boo Radley, for instance, create an interesting sense of positive mystery.  We learn that Boo is probably the one responsible for doing nice things for the kids, such as mending Jem’s pants and creating soap figurines of Scout and Jem, but this is never implicitly stated.  It adds a complexity to the story, a sort of guessing game that makes us sympathize with Boo (in a way that Atticus and Miss Maudie probably do) without even having met him, yet.  

Finally, I really enjoy the gothic elements of this story.  It was not something I remembered at all, and I rarely see it talked about.  We get the sense of the gothic from the legends and secret tales of Boo Radley (all great gothic stories have ancient and scary word-of-mouth tales at their core), and also the superstitions that fill Part One.  These are all childlike in nature, so it may be something that fades away in the rest of the book, but I enjoy it here.  The gothic mood is intensified with the extraordinarily cold temperatures and snow that arrive in Maycomb for the first time in anyone’s memory (an exhausted technique, but still wonderful!), the fire, and the mad dog (which reminded me of something out of E.A. Poe).  All of this, I think, leads up to the danger that will be Tom Robinson’s trial.  

Overall, I’m enjoying To Kill a Mockingbird quite a bit – much more than I did when I read it the first time, about 5 or so years ago.  I still find the prose somewhat dry, but I love the characters and I’m interested to see how the rest of the book will compare to this “Part One,” which is clearly constructed to present a childlike “before” picture to what will be happening “after.”  

Questions:

“When we were small, Jem and I confined our activities to the southern neighborhood, but when I was well into the second grade at school and tormenting Boo Radley became passé, the business section of Maycomb drew us frequently up the street past the real property of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose”  (114).

1. What are your impressions of Scout as narrator?  We know she is young, but clearly the narrative voice is quite sophisticated. Do you see any conflicts or problems with this?  Or do you find it effective?


“[Miss Caroline] discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste.  Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading” (19).

2.  This book, though perhaps most widely known for its statements about equality and civil rights, also clearly has something to say about education.  Given what we know about Scout’s “learning,” her teacher’s reprimands, and the state of children such as the Ewells, what does To Kill a Mockingbird seem to say about education? What are the other (higher?) priorities?


“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (32).

3.  And, just for fun:  Who is your favorite character so far?  Least favorite?  Why?