Willa Cather

Paris

Paris

Willa Cather

Behind the arch of glory sets the day;
The river lies in curves of silver light,
The Fields Elysian glitter in a spray
Of golden dust; the gilded dome is bright,
The towers of Notre Dame cut clean and gray
The evening sky, and pale from left to right
A hundred bridges leap from either quay.
Pillared with pride, the city of delight
Sits like an empress by her silver Seine,
Heavy with jewels, all her splendid dower
Flashing upon her, won from shore and main
By shock of combat, sacked from town and tower.
Wherever men have builded hall or fane
Red war hath gleaned for her and men have slain
To deck her loveliness. I feel again
That joy which brings her art to faultless flower,
That passion of her kings, who, reign on reign,
Arrayed her star by star with pride and power.

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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?

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:

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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Kurt Vonnegut

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

“You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”

It is amazing to me that I can still pick up any Kurt Vonnegut book and find something thrillingly new and yet wholly familiar. He is one of my favorite writers for many reasons, but the most significant of these is because he somehow manages to maintain his sense of humor while exploring the human condition (a depressing exercise in futility, for the most part). Vonnegut does not have much hope for humankind, and yet, the spark of something remains and shines through in each of his pieces; there is always that one last glimmer of possibility.

Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes writes in his lyrics to the song “Poison Oak,” that “the sound of loneliness makes [him] happier.” There’s something of a philosophy, there, and it is in Vonnegut’s worldview. Timequake is a paradox of memoir and fiction, starring Vonnegut and his long-time fictional stand-in, Kilgore Trout. It is a beautiful elegy, wholly unique, and filled with humor and wisdom. 

In the “story,” the universe suffers a kind of existential “crisis in self-confidence.” The narrator describes this as the universe asking itself, “should I go on expanding indefinitely? What’s the point?” This momentary self-doubt from the mind (soul?) of the galaxy causes a time-loop on Earth. Everyone on the planet is forced to go back in time 10 years and to relive every moment of those 10 years over again, without the ability to change a single thing, and always knowing what is coming.

Imagine knowing the moment you or someone you love is going to die, and not being able to change it. Imagine knowing that you do something to harm someone, regret it for 8 years, and then are forced back in time to do it again. Imagine knowing you are going to be injured, hurt, poisoned… living each minute of each day up to the point of injury, entirely helpless to protect yourself. 

In other words, history repeats itself. We know what we are doing. We know where we have been, how we have hurt others and ourselves in the past. And we know how to prevent these things in the future. But we refuse. As a people, a society, a race, we refuse to learn from our mistakes and we continue to make matters worse for ourselves and others, all the while asking, “why, why, why?” This is dark comedy at its best, and its worst. If you pay close attention, you realize that Vonnegut is painfully right about us, and that things have only gotten worse in the 20 years since he published his lament. 

Vonnegut is our modern-day Cassandra. Always right, but never heard.

So it goes. 

Notable Quotes:

“Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

“I am eternally grateful for my knack of finding in great books, some of them very funny books, reason enough to feel honored to be alive, no matter what else might be going on.”

“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”

“That there are such devices as firearms, as easy to operate as cigarette lighters and as cheap as toasters, capable at anybody’s whim of killing Father or Fats or Abraham Lincoln or John Lennon or Martin Luther King, Jr., or a woman pushing a baby carriage, should be proof enough for anybody that being alive is a crock of shit.”

“But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture, and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes, and then our minds and souls, in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.”

Timequake is Book 3 for my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge

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The Folio Society

Folio Friday: If Not, Winter (Fragments of Sappho)

Over the next four weeks, I’m excited to share some selections from the The Folio Society‘s spring catalog! As many of you know, I’m a devoted fan of The Folio Society editions of classic literature, and the three I received so generously from the publisher last month have done nothing but encourage my adoration. Today’s featured edition is IF NOT, WINTER: FRAGMENTS OF SAPPHO.

I’m always drawn in by the incredible cover art and interior illustrations that The Folio Society are known for, and one  thing I truly appreciate about their editions is the thought and design they put into their sturdy slipcovers.

The London Review of Books writes of this translation, “Carson loves the spaces almost as much as the words . . . a haunting translation.” This description of the text is equaled in the design and presentation of the edition’s cover and slipcase, both of which are softly beautiful and expertly crafted to reflect the beauty and craft of Sappho’s remarkable work.

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho

  • Translator and Introducer: Anne Carson
  • Artist: Jenny Holzer

While interpreting her work in the 19th century, translators and writers ascribed derogatory terms to the poet, misconstruing sexual enlightenment for promiscuity, prostitution or sorcery. The snippets of her work were misappropriated and overwritten until it became almost impossible to find the genuine voice of Sappho. [London Review of Books]

Anne Carson’s beautiful, brave and unadorned translation of Sappho’s complete surviving work is printed letterpress throughout to evoke the original papyrus fragments onto which the words were transcribed. In a careful consideration of the text, this large-format edition presents the English translation of each fragment facing the original ancient Greek, each page individually typeset so the spacing and breaks are precisely replicated.

About the Author: Sappho was a musician who lived on the island of Lesbos from about 630 BC until her death no one knows when. She devoted her life to composing songs to be sung to the lyre’s accompaniment. Alexandrian scholars collected her songs in nine books, all of which are lost. Sappho was also a poet. Whether she was literate is not known but the words to her songs were written down during or soon after her lifetime and existed on papyrus by the end of the fifth century BC. Of the nine books of lyrics that Sappho composed, only one poem has survived complete. All the rest are fragments. [Biography by Anne Carson]

About the Publisher: For 70 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.

Book copy and all images are courtesy of The Folio Society. Feel free to visit their NEWS AND BLOGS page for more information. In case you missed them, take a look at my Folio Friday features for Mary Beard’s S.P.Q.R. and other Folio Society books.

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100 Days Journal

The Third 10 Days #100DaysJournal

Hello there!

Here’s another update (my third!) on my 100 Days of Journaling project.

First of all, I cannot believe that an entire month has gone by already. I’ve been waking up an hour or two earlier every day (I’ve been doing this for a few months, actually, but more specifically these last 30-days in order to get my daily writing done), and it isn’t always easy, but so far it has been and continues to be rewarding. It’s nice to know that I’ve already accomplished something for myself before the rest of the days tasks, errands, chores, and responsibilities begin to call my attention.

In my first 10-day checkpoint review, I noted that I’d been doing a lot of self-criticism, and this continued in my second 10-day review, too. I’m a little disappointed to report that these last thirty days were not much different. It seems like, no matter the prompt, a lot of what I do is complain about something. That said, for Day 30, I was intentional about focusing on what I appreciate most in my life right now. I tried to come up with 5 things that I’m actually happy with, proud of, etc. It was a nice way to wrap-up this 10-day period, especially knowing I’d be sitting here writing this little reflection.

So far, I’ve written 50 pages. This is a bit of a slow down, as I was averaging about 2-pages per day through the first 20 days. I’m now getting about one page written, but part of that is due to the fact that, while I’ve still been waking up early, I haven’t been waking up quite as early. Yes, I’ve taken to hitting that snooze button on my phone’s alarm, or waking up in the middle of the night and changing the alarm from 5:30am to 6:30am. Whoops! If I were a better sleeper, I think I’d be better at waking up early, too. Alas.

Here are the last 10 prompts:

  • Day 21: What do you need to do by the end of the year to make this year meaningful?
  • Day 22: The most unfair thing about capitalism is…
  • Day 23: If given the choice, which time period (past or future) would you like to live in and why?
  • Day 24: What (career) advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
  • Day 25: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
  • Day 26: The most unfair thing about socialism is…
  • Day 27: Describe a time you felt lonely.
  • Day 28: What are your views on fame and celebrity culture?
  • Day 29: What traits and habits do your parents have that you don’t want to adopt?
  • Day 30: What do you appreciate most about your life right now? Why?

I can’t believe I’m about to head into a 5th week, and will soon even hit that 50-day mark. What a ride. Onward!

Feel free to follow along with my #100DaysJournal project on Twitter!

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Andrew Smith, Middle Grade

The Size of the Truth by Andrew Smith

I can probably count on my ten little fingers the number of authors whose complete published oeuvre I’ve read. On just one hand, or five little fingers, I can fit those whose books I pre-order as soon as I hear there’s a new one coming. Andrew Smith fits into both of these categories. He is, in other words, a two-handed experience in my reading life. I won’t go so far as to say I’m double-fisting, because innuendo. But you catch my drift.

It is both safe and fair to say that I’ve enjoyed every Andrew Smith book I’ve read, and that would be all of them. When a new one is coming, I know I’m probably going to like it. This is what we call an “informed opinion” based on prior experience. It’s a dangerous thing, though, because, well, what in the world would happen if I were to read a dozen books by a beloved writer, let myself get worked up over a new release, and then find it to be completely disappointing?

What would I do if Andrew Smith let me down?

The answer: I have no idea, because it still hasn’t happened.

The Size of the Truth is Andrew Smith’s first middle grade novel, and what an achievement it is. The book itself stands out to me as one of Smith’s best, even without taking into consideration that he has shifted from a young adult to a middle grade audience. That said, I’m beyond excited that a new demographic of young reader is about to be introduced to one of today’s finest contemporary writers, and that these readers will have such a catalog of options available to them as they get older and discover Smith’s other works!

For those familiar with Smith’s catalog, you might be excited to know that The Size of the Truth takes us back to the world of Winger and Stand Off. It is in effect a prequel to Stand Off, in that its protagonist is a younger Sam Abernathy, the precocious, dorky, adorable, troubled younger roommate to Ryan Dean West of Winger/Stand Off fame. What Smith does so well in the earlier novels, he continues and even builds on in this one.

Friendship and family, masculinity and identity, coming-of-age and coming into one’s own. These are, as always, the core themes in Smith’s new novel; but in this case, these themes revolve around a mysterious trauma, a mistaken memory, and the biggest question of all: what is true? In other words, how do we find the courage to acknowledge painful and difficult realities, ones that we might not even fully comprehend?

This kind of exploration, this kind of wonderment about life and dreams and passion, is the kind of thing Andrew Smith does in the most paradoxically unique but ubiquitous ways, in the most timeless but timely fashion. That he follows this path with Sam Abernathy, of all characters, is testament to just how deeply Smith think about the world and how seriously he takes the joys and pains of growing up, the sorrows and brilliancy of simply being in the world – an individual in the chaos.

Truth – like love, like fear- is one of the most elusive concepts I can think of. The idea that it can be described or narrated, illustrated or made universal, would have been, just a week ago, almost laughable. But as Smith introduces us to young Sam Abernathy, the boy in the well, and we witness how this boy deals with his trauma, how he builds troubling friendships with armadillos but avoids meaningful ones with the real life humans around him, we begin to understand the size of the truth and to experience what it feels like to discover the meaning of it for one’s self.

Middle grade? Young adult? Retiree? Much like little Sam Abernathy’s well, with its winding tunnels and ancient mysteries, The Size of the Truth is big enough for us all.

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Bill Konigsberg, LGBT, Young Adult

The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg

Bill Konigsberg’s THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS takes its name from a Seamus Heaney poem, titled “Song.” In the final couplet of that poem, Heaney’s poet tells of, “that moment when the bird sings very close / To the music of what happens.” And, in a nutshell, this is the same song, the same spirit, at the heart of Konigsberg’s surprising young adult novel. 

I was not prepared to enjoy this new release as much as I did. Indeed, about 60-pages into the book, I wondered if it and I were ever going to “click.” And then something very strange began to happen. I started picking up the book more frequently. I started refusing to put it down again. I started sneaking in bits of reading between grading papers, running errands, or watching news segments, muting commercials so I could read for 90-seconds before Rachel Maddow popped back onto my television screen. The beauty of an experience like this is that it feels so natural. Without realizing it, I was myself immersed in the music of what happens in Max and Jordan’s lives, in their bumpy relationship, in their sometimes cozy but sometimes horrid home worlds, and in the circles of their friendships, which sphere separately and then converge. 

The two protagonists take turns telling their parts of the story, in an intercalary format that has become ubiquitous in the YA genre. Max is a handsome, popular, masculine latino teenager who seems to have everything going for him. He is gay but only selectively out. Jordan is quieter, a poet. He is gay and more openly out, though as an introvert, he doesn’t talk to many people besides his two best friends and his problem-ridden mother. They come from very separate households and backgrounds, but the magic of a 1980s food truck brings them together, and the rest is the music that develops as their two souls and experiences meet. They learn from each other; they learn how to be with each other and they learn to bring their two worlds into harmony. Like all good stories, and good romances, though, there are struggles along the way. Max must deal with an absent father and a painful secret. Jordan must deal with a single mother who acts more like a child, and with worldly inexperience that leaves him possibly unable to help Max when he needs it most. 

Race, gender, masculinity, friendship, family, economics, sex and romance, sex and assault, first loves, first jobs, first times. I’m not sure what else a novel could tackle, but this one seems to do it all. Yet, far from being overwhelming or overstretched, Konigbsberg allows Max and Jordan the time and space, the introspection and extroversion, needed to experience, process, and grow from all of these experiences. It’s a near-masterful coming-of-age novel in this way, and an equally delightful romance. A book I will hang on to, to learn from and to enjoy again someday. 

 

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