Sunday Salon: Post Read-a-thon Thoughts

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Because it was my most successful read-a-thon ever, and I went to bed at 3:15 for the first time since college, I didn’t go to church this morning. My husband is greeting the people at the sanctuary door without me; perhaps they have found someone else to stand by his side as it gets rather crowded around 9:00.

And I, feeling a bit selfish, slept in late and then determined to read the Word at least in my own living room. It comforts me.

As for the 24 Hour Read-a-thon…oh, my! I did complete one book, and began another. But, reading was not the highlight. It was reconnecting to old blogging friends via Twitter. Terri, Trish, and the unconquerable Andi, were in a flurry of tweets with me in the wee hours of the morning. It was so much fun to revisit friendships established in 2006.

Now I face a week with my husband’s birthday, report cards to prepare, and Halloween activities to do with my class. I look forward to it all, but doubt it can come to quite the heights of the past twenty-four hours.

Thank you, Andi, and thank you Heather, for all you did.

24 Read-a-thon Update #3

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The slippers are on, the husband’s gone to bed, and Samantha the kitty was just climbing up to read with me when I tried to snap her blurry picture.

Here’s a better one:

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And this, of a poor, bored kitty with nothing to read…

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It’s a good thing this is a read-a-thon because I’m reading a book which seems it will never end! I’m ready to abandon it for something translated. (i. e. more interesting)

24 Hour Read-a-Thon Update #1: “Give The Lady What She Wants”

johnjosephbaker.netThose words have more to do with a very famous man in Chicago’s history than they do with the read-a-thon taking place today.

For before Macy’s became a poor replacement for Chicago’s favorite department store, Marshall Fields was the quintessential place to shop.

If my mother didn’t sew my clothes herself, of a quality which would be hard to replicate, she bought them at Marshall Fields. We made a day of it, going to the State Street store, with layers upon layers of floors and departments. There was anything available to buy that anyone could ever want, from French perfume to evening dresses to mattresses. There was even a notions department, for sewing things, and a foundations department for lingerie.

There were men running the elevator, dressed in red coats and white gloves, turning a brass wheel when you entered, and asking, “What floor, please, Ma’am?”

And Christmas wasn’t complete until we had dined under the enormous Christmas tree in the Walnut Room after viewing the windows on the streets. Each window fit a theme for the year, perhaps Cinderella, and the windows told the story in successive rows with mechanical figures doing, or making, something to fit the theme.

When Macy’s came, my sisters-in-law and other dear friends, cut up their Fields’ credit cards vowing never to return again. And really, though I still have mine for a store now defunct, the trip to the store on State Street is no longer worth the effort.

So why this tale of shopping? Because I am reading What The Lady Wants by Renee Rosen, and it is bringing back such happy memories as it tells the story of Marshall Field and his (previously unknown to me) extramarital affair with Mrs. Arthur Caton. Perhaps the book dwells a bit too much on Delia, but I am fascinated in learning more about the man who established this magnificent Chicago landmark. One which is missed to this day.

A proper review will be forthcoming when I finish the novel.

Eagerly Anticipating The 24 Hour Read-a-thon

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I could begin with Book Three of The Century of Giants trilogy by Ken Follett, which Dutton sent me to review before its publication on Sepetmber 16, 2014…

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Or, I could read the three novellas by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya which “tell disquieting and extreme stories of family that for almost two decades were censored by the Russian government,” sent to me this week from Penguin.

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Or, I could finish this book by Renee Rosen which tells of Marshall Fields’ life, because it brings me so utterly back to my youth in Chicago.

But no matter which book I choose, it will be a glorious celebration of Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, an event I remember celebrating with her before she passed away many years ago.

In between reading, and writing comments for those readers on Team Hughes (as I did sign up for “cheerleading”), I will lead a discussion for our book club on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And I will undoubtedly write what will prove to be a long string of posts for the event.

Happy reading, fellow ‘thoners.

An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James (And, While We’re At It, Let’s Discuss Gothic Literature)

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“Well,” I thought to myself as I opened this novel, “I don’t usually read Gothic literature.”  But then I found myself enjoying the eerie escape on a cold, October night. I also found myself remembering Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, both of which I have read at least twice because they so captured my interest.

In fact, there is a rather long list of literature in this genre that I have read with great pleasure:

  • The Pit and The Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Bleak House and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

So what categorizes a novel as Gothic literature? The following elements precisely:

  • a virginal maiden
  • an older foolish woman
  • a hero
  • a tyrant or a villain
  • a stupid servant
  • clergy which is ineffective or evil
  • and the setting as a character itself, usually a building with secrets of its own

That said, I hardly expect Gothic literature written today to meet the glorious drama of classics in the past. But An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James has been a fun treat this Halloween season. If you are interested in a story which takes place in a haunted, English village, with a maiden who is trying to calm the ghost of Walking John while discovering the cause of her Uncle’s death, and an Inspector with whom she falls in love, this would be just the ticket.

You can also read about it here at A Work in Progress, and here at Indextrious Reader, two blogs I admire.

Thoughts On A Quiet Sunday Evening

If you’re on Twitter at all, even once every other day would be more than I, you’ll see all kinds of new tweets from me. Only, they’re incorrect.

In the switching of platforms from Blogger to WordPress, my imported posts somehow became all smooshed: the text is cramped, the pictures are off to one side or another, and I am in the process of editing over 1,100 posts. When I click “update”, it sends out a tweet that I’ve posted something new when I haven’t.

So that’s been fun.

In other news, I’ve been preparing for German Literature Month this November. I have on my side table a slim volume of Thomas Mann’s book, Black Swan. It apparently “reveals his (Mann’s) mastery of psychological analysis and his profound perceptions into the mysterious realm where the physical and the spiritual meet.”  I’m also reading Cornelia Funke’s book, Inkheart, to my class. It is a read-aloud in which they are fully absorbed.

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But, what I really want to discover is Buddenbrooks. 

First published in 1900, when Thomas Mann was twenty-five, Buddenbrooks is a minutely imagined chronicle of four generations of a North German mercantile family–a work so true to life that it scandalized the author’s former neighbors in his native Lubeck. As he charts the Buddenbrooks’ decline from prosperity to bankruptcy, from moral and psychic soundness to sickly piety, artistic decadence and madness, Mann ushers the reader into a world of rich vitality, pieced together from births and funerals, weddings and divorces, recipes, gossip, and earthy humor. (Vintage back cover)

I’m wondering if any of you would care to read it with me? We could take all of November, and I would love to share the experience with reading friends.

So tomorrow, thanks to Christopher Columbus, will be a day off of work. A day to enjoy pumpkin pancakes and pork sausage with apples, a day to read by my front window ’til dark.

I am already relishing the time…

BBC National Short Story Award

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How I would have loved to attend the ceremony for the BBC National Short Story Award. When I received the invitation earlier in September, my husband and I contemplated buying tickets from Chicago to London. We weighed the cost and effort against our jobs, but sadly, there was no way I could leave a school year just begun.

However, I watched eagerly from the sidelines, and am delighted to show you the collection of short stories which made the 2014 shortlist, published by Comma Press:
BBC Short Story anthology

The five stories included in the 2014 National Short Story Award short list are:

Find it at Waterstones and Comma Press. Or, you can listen to five of the top UK actors, including Carey Mulligan, read them (for the next fifteen days) on the BBC website here.

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Coming soon: a review of each short story included in the collection.  For more information about the award follow @Booktrust and #BBCNSSA on Twitter.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett (and give-away)

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…I cannot help but be reminded of the dangers that befall those who succumb to their first impressions.

Sometimes, first impressions can be a good thing. I remember reading of Charlie Lovett’s book, The Bookman’s Tale, on Nadia’s blog and being delighted to win a copy of it for my own. When the chance to read his latest book, First Impressions, came my way I eagerly accepted this book based on my first impression of hearing about him months ago.

Even when Jane Austen warned readers long ago of the fallibility of first impressions; how wrong we can be when we trust our initial reaction.

This charming novel depicts a relationship between Jane Austen and a clergyman of 80 years of age. Theirs is a tremendous friendship based on literary pleasures. They love to read to each other, and they love to share in the development of characters Jane created in her books Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and most importantly, Pride and Prejudice.

Balanced against this picturesque tableau is the present day life of Sophie Collingwood, a bibliophile of the first order. When her beloved Uncle Bertram is found dead, Sophie is thrust into discovering the true cause of his death as she cannot believe that he simply fell down the stairs outside his home. It is a home which had been stacked from floor to ceiling, on every conceivable horizontal surface, with books. These were the treasures that he shared with Sophie all her growing up. They were to become her own library in due time.

But when she takes residence in her uncle’s apartment, which had been left to her, she discovers that all the furniture, and worse, all the books, have been sold. More distressing than that is the way that she has received requests from two men, each of whom want a second edition of the book which had been written by Jane Austen’s friend.

Sophie embarks on a quest to answer the question of why “the second edition of a painfully dull book of allegories merited all this cloak and dagger intrigue.” For she is seduced by a handsome man named Winston, while fending off threats from another man named Smedley, and wondering how much a third man, named Eric, really means to her.

This is a book which imagines a thrilling scenario behind the story of Pride and Prejudice, casting doubt on Jane Austen as the true author, while immersing the reader into the lives of fellow bibliophiles all the while. One feels at home in the company of Sophie and her uncle, Jane and her friend, and the old book shops filled with dust motes and musty smells. One longs to reread a favorite Jane Austen novel upon finishing this book which has fleshed her out so well.

Penguin books has given me the opportunity to give away this book, plus a classic copy of Pride and Prejudice, to one reader (U.S./Canada only, please). If you would like to enter in the give-away, simply leave a comment with your favorite Jane Austen novel.

To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

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I had to read this book when I saw that it was one of the contenders for the Man Booker Prize, by an American author no less.

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The first thing I did to this library book upon opening it, however, was to correct the epigraph in pencil.

Do not tell me, Mr. Joshua Ferris, that you expect readers to believe a verse in Job, of the Old Testament, says merely, “Ha, ha.” It smacks of atheism.

But, wait. That is exactly what you are addressing, with a plethora of other issues, in your fascinating book about a dentist named Paul O’Rourke in specific, and our American culture in general.

At first, I found Paul terribly funny:

Ignoring the poignancy of everyone’s limited allotment of good mornings, I would not say good morning. Or I would in all innocence forget about our numbered opportunities to say good morning, that horrifying circumscription, and simply fail to say it. Or, I would say good morning sparingly, begrudgingly, injudiciously, or tyrannically…What was so good about it anyway, the too-often predictable, so-called new morning? It was usually preceded by a long struggle for a short drowse that so many people call night. That was never sufficiently ceremonial to call for fresh greetings.

But, by page 200 or so of this sharp wit, one tires of such groaning. One realizes that there is very little that will appease Paul’s  humour. His days consist of attending to his patients, wishing that his ex-girlfriend, Connie, would still love him, and lamenting his life. Not to mention the lives of those around him.

I was not going to spend my Friday night being gawked at. My Thursday nights never caused me any troubles. It was always my Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights that caused me troubles. On those nights, I was reduced to eating and drinking. The city (Manhattan) had almost nothing else to offer, and if this great city had almost nothing else to offer, imagine what it was like in lesser cities, or the suburbs, or the small rural towns where so many people are clerks and farmers, and you will understand, finally, why this country has become a nation of fat alcoholics and the nurses and therapists who tend to them.

Paul makes astute observations on those around him, specifically how people (including himself) are obsessed with their “me-machines”, constantly checking them for emails, texts, updates, or even to Google a certain topic. Here is a passage of the very clever dialogue he writes in a conversation with his hygienist:

…she’d say, “Oh, for goodness’ sake. Put the phone away once you enter the street and take a look around you. Why must you always be reading your phone?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “If you know it is merely a distraction from the many things you don’t want to think about, why let yourself be a slave to it?” I’d tell,  her, she’d say, “That is the most blasphemous thing I have ever heard. A little technology could never take the place of the Almighty. We are talking about the Almighty, for heaven’s sake. Mobile phones or no mobiles phones, we still have the primal need to pray, do you we not?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “Sending and receiving email and texts are not a new form of prayer. Do you not understand that that little machine, by taking your attention away from God and the world He created, is only increasing your despair?” I’d tell her, she’d say, “I don’t give a fig for the world it’s created. It will never rival God’s.

And now we come to the heart of the book, for ultimately this is a book about faith. Or, about being Jewish. Or, about not having any faith at all.

When Paul discovers an unknown source has put up a web site in his name, and is delivering emails to his box, he is most disconcerted. They are very personal, and they are very insightful about who he is as a person.

I know it must be uncomfortable for someone to pop up out of nowhere and diagnose your troubles with pinpoint accuracy. I don’t think you’re an animal in a cage-far from it. You’re the full measure of a man, thoroughly contemporary, at odds with the America dream of upward mobility and its empty material success, and in search of real meaning for your life. I should know, Paul, I was there once, too. In fact, you might even say that you and I are one and the same.

The rest of the novel takes us through Paul’s effort to discover the source of these emails, and in so doing examines the role of the believer. It is a powerful book, which has given me much to think about. If this is truly how the majority of Americans think, we have become a lost nation.

I don’t know how To Rise Again At A Decent Hour will fare in the Man Booker competition, but I think the original, creative writing of Joshua Ferris deserves to have brought it to the short list so far.

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