TSS: 29 November 2009

Good morning, Sunday Saloners!  I hope you had a fabulous holiday, if you are the Thanksgiving celebrating type, or just a fabulous week.  I spent my week spending time with my family and friends, reading Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe and doing some Christmas shopping.  I bought books for the holidays, especially books that I want to read!  For my little sister K the older, who is 14, I got Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater and Liar by Justine Larbalestier.  K the younger is 11 and she will be receiving How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle .  My dad will be getting Under the Dome by Stephen King.   Don’t tell them!  I’m still not sure what I’m getting my youngest sister, C (10), but I’ll think of something.  For my mom and step-dad I got specialty salsa and a signed Paula Deen cookbook.

This week I reviewed Hate List by Jennifer Brown, The Compound by SA Bodeen and Genesis by Bernard Beckett, & Man in the Dark by Paul Auster.  I featured poet Mona Van Duyn and her poem “Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri” on this week’s installment of Poetry Wednesday.  Up next for review is The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud.

I still haven’t read the second part of Kristin Lavransdatter, because I left it at home.  I’ll start reading it as soon as I get back and hopefully won’t  be  too late again.  Still reading Brave Story, it’s good, but I just haven’t had an uninterrupted reading time to really get into the story.  Which is difficult when the book is over 800  pages.  It would be really nice if I could finish it and start another book this weekend!  We’ll see.

I might be on the quiet side in the coming two weeks because it is exam time.  I’ll be busy writing papers and doing research, but I will miss you dearly, I promise.

What are you reading today?

YA Reviews – Hate List, The Compound, Genesis

I have three very different reviews for today: Hate List by Jennifer Brown, The Compound by SA Bodeen and Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

This book is told from Valerie’s perspective, the girlfriend of Nick who opened fire on the crowded high school cafeteria.  Valerie, shocked by what her boyfriend was doing, ran to stop him when he shot her in the leg and then shot himself.  Valerie is either vilified or declared a hero by her classmates and community, but she is neither.  She was terrified, and she didn’t set out to be a hero, but she never thought about killing the people on her Hate List.  She might have said she wished they were dead, but she didn’t mean it, no more than anyone means it when they say that kind of thing.  But Nick meant it.  I felt so bad for Valerie and I applaud Brown for not making Nick into a purely evil villain.  He did a horrible, evil thing, but he was kind to Valerie and he was a good boyfriend.  The bulk of this book is told in flashbacks, with Valerie remembering the morning of the shooting and trying to survive at school the next fall.

I admit, I almost put this book down when I saw the Nickelback song quote at the beginning, and I thought that it dipped into the cheesy at some points, but for the most part I thought this was a really great YA novel that deals with an unbelievably difficult topic.   We don’t often hear the people like Valerie’s story, the people that loved the murderers, before they were evil, before they crossed that line.  Try to not cry when you read this book, just try.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: Steph  Su Reads, Early Word, A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy, Presenting Lenore, GalleySmith, Life in the Thumb, My Friend Amy, Linus’s Blanket

Anax is preparing her final exam to enter the Academy, all about Jasper Forde.  The  entire book is this exam and we discover more and more with each question that the examiners ask her about her world, one that is very different from our own.  Plus, this book has an ending that will absolutely knock your socks off.  Overall, I thought it was successful, but I thought that there were some parts that just didn’t make enough sense in an effort to keep the secret.  When I first finished this book I was prepared to give it a slightly better review, but I’ve thought about it some more and I’m just not completely convinced.  I had really high hopes for this one, and though I still enjoyed reading it and was really surprised by the ending, it didn’t quite live up to them.  This might be one that I revisit in the future, though, to see if I like it better on a second reading.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by:  Steph Su Reads, A Chair, A Fireplace, A Tea Cozy, I was a Teenage Book Geek, Presenting Lenore.

Okay, I really thought this book was too ridiculous and totally unbelievable, but I had a ridiculously good time reading it, so they balance each other out.  Eli has been living in the compound with his family for the past 8 years after a nuclear fallout, but eventually things start to get a weirder and weirder as he realizes that his father is lying to him about something.  Dun dun duuuuuunnn!  Other than the complete implausibility, there was a lot to like here.  Eli is a very believable character, who’s just a little bit mean and really emotionally torn up about the loss of his twin brother in the war.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: I Was a Teenage Book Geek, Becky’s Book Review

Did you read and review any of these books?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll link to your review!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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It’s Thanksgiving today, and I know there are so many things that I’m thankful for.  So I’m going to do the ABCs of thankfulness, stolen from Trish.

Aunts.  Some of my best friends.

Books!

Car.  Really, I’m so grateful for my car.

Dads.  They’re pretty cool, even when they make you crazy.

Eating without guilt.  Three days out of the year!  Birthday, Christmas and, OF COURSE, TODAY.  I’ve already had a doughnut and I feel zero guilt.

Family.   I love my family and I wish we were all together today, but even if we can’t be, we’re together in spirit.

Grandpop.  Love ya!

Holding babies.  There are few things in this world that make me happier.  So, hey family members!, have some babies so I can hold them!

Ice.  I really like ice and I like to chew ice.  Which I know is a horrible habit, but I like it.  So I’m thankful for it.

Jabberwocky, the poem.  Because I like it.

Knitting & crocheting (stolen from Trish!)

Love, ’cause I’m cheesy like that.

Mom!

New things.

Oskar, my cat.  She’s crazy, as in clinically insane and probably needs kitty-prozac, but she’s also pretty cuddly when she remembers that she loves me and doesn’t need to attack me.  Which is about 60% of the time.

Poems!

Quidditch!

Roommates!

Sisters.  I’ve got three of them and I love them all, even when they make me angry.

Toffee nut lattes

Umbrellas.  Very thankful for umbrellas.

Virginia.  It’s a pretty awesome state.

Wrinkle in Time, A.  Favorite books!

X-rays.  I’m very thankful for x-rays.  You never know when you’re going to need one.

Yellow coats.  I really like my new yellow coat!

Z!  My boyfriend.  He’s pretty awesome.

Eat lots of food today, even if you’re not celebrating Thanksgiving today.  Because didn’t you know?  Calories don’t count today.

Poetry Wednesday – Mona Van Duyn

I don’t feel like talking about poetry today, I just feel like reading poetry.   So here is a poem by Mona Van Duyn.  Enjoy!

Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri

The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

 

Review – Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

“There’s no single reality, Corporal.  There are many realities.  There’s no single world.  There are many worlds, and they all run parallel to one another, worlds and anti-worlds, worlds and shadow-worlds, and each world is dreamed or imagined or written by someone in another world.  Each world is the creation of a mind.” (69)

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TSS – Epic List of Challenges! 22 November 2009

Good morning!  As you read this I am doing one of four things:

  1. Packing to go home for Thanksgiving
  2. Seeing New Moon
  3. Driving home!
  4. Finishing up my paper on “The House of Bernarda Alba”, which is a great play everyone should see.

I’m super excited for the holidays and looking forward to the break from class.  What are your plans for the holiday?  Anything exciting?  I know that I’m excited about delicious food, like the bbq my grandmother cooks every year.  Mmm.  This week read quite a bit, mostly because I read three YA books that had very similar themes.  I finished Under the Skin, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Genesis, The Compound, The Untelling and The Emperor’s Children.  All of them were very good.  I really didn’t know what I thought of The Emperor’s Children until the very last page, but I’m looking forward to sitting down with the review because it’s going to be an interesting discussion.  Anyone read The Compound?  That books is CRAZY.   Just insane.   The ending wasn’t really shocking, but the whole concept was wild.  I still haven’t wrapped my head around Genesis to write a proper review of it, but it has an ending that will knock you off your feet.

I’m currently reading Man in the Dark by Paul Auster and I really like it so far.  I organized all my books yesterday and they are beautiful.

Okay, now for the exciting news: CHALLENGES.  Twitter and all the blogs have been alight with book challenges and it’s so tempting to join them all.  I joined a lot of challenges last year, but was really disorganized and ended up only finishing a few of them.  This year I plan on being much more organized.  Here is a preliminary list of challenges I have joined:

 

Women Unbound: Hosted by the wonderful Eva, Care and Aarti, I finally decided to join the Women Unbound challenge!  I’ve already read one book (The Untelling) and I’m looking forward to all the others.  I am joining the Bluestocking level, which is 5 books, 2 nonfiction.  I’m not sure what I’m going  to read yet, but I will come up with a list soon.

 

 

AtoZChallenge: Last year I joined this challenge and I went for the most difficult level (reading an author  and a book title for every letter of the alphabet) and I ended up just not having enough time/energy to keep up with it.  So this year, I’m going to be a little bit more conservative and only join the A-Z Titles.

 

The Challenge that Dare Not Speak its Name: GLBT Challenge 2010.  The amazing Amanda of The Zen Leaf is extending her GLBT challenge for an entire year and I’m really excited about this one.  I was a little eager and already checked out a number of books from the library, including Geography Club, Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming Out Stories, The Diary of Frida Kahlo, Virginia Wolf, and Bastard Out of Carolina. I signed up for the Pink Triangle level, which is 8 books.  I’ll be doing a post on GLBT poetry for a blog tour for different genres, so keep an eye out for that!

 

Another challenge I’m really excited about is the South Asian Author Challenge hosted by S. Krishna.  I’ve made a list for this one, including Upamanyu Chatterjee, Vikram Chandra, Indra Sinha, Bharati Mukherjee.  I’m reading 3 books for this challenge.

 

The TwentyTen Challenge hosted by Darren of Bart’s Bookshelf is a really fun challenge that I’m super excited to join.  The challenge asks us to read two books in ten different categories.

  1. YA
  2. TBR
  3. Shiny & New
  4. Bad Bloggers
  5. Charity
  6. New in 2010
  7. Older than you
  8. Win, Win! (read books for other challenges)
  9. Who Are You Again (an author you’ve never heard of)
  10. Up to You!

Isn’t that the cutest challenge ever?  I’m definitely excited about this one.

Woolf in Winter Read Along: I’ve already talked about this in the Sunday Salon, but I thought I’d mention it again!

 

 

 

I’d like to do the Dewey Decimal Challenge again, if The Novel World will host it again!  If not, I might make it a personal challenge for 2010.  I didn’t do very well, but one of my goals next year is to read more non-fiction.

Also: I’d like to reinstate my poetry challenge to start over in January (but anyone who has already joined the challenge will get to count their books and can continue with the already established time line if they’d like!).  I am trying to get a little bit more interest, if possible!  I’d love to see more poetry-love across the book blogging community :).  Interested?

Whew, that’s all.  Thanks for sticking around!  I’ll probably be joining more challenges as the year goes on, but that’s it for now.  Have a great Sunday, everyone!

 

Review – The Untelling by Tayari Jones

“I wanted to tell him that I knew how he felt, though I probably did not.  How can you know what another person is going through when your own life is so different from his?  People had done this to me often enough, telling they knew how I felt because they had suffered this or that loss, felt some sort of pain.  The words were in my mouth to tell Lawrence that I knew what it was not to be able to make the family you want to have, not because you are a bad person or because you haven’t tried hard enough, but because you just can’t.  I could predict his response, his words, polite enough, thanking me for my empathy, my generosity of spirit.  And I could imagine his thoughts, that no, I couldn’t possibly empathize.  Our situations were not the same at all.” (215)

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Review – The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

adoration-of-jenna-fox“But with all the scenes, the birthdays, the lessons, the practices, the ordinary events that should have been left alone, what I remember most are Jenna’s eyes, flickering, hesitation, an urgent trying.  That’s what I remember most from the discs, a desperation to stay on the pedestal.  I see that in her eyes as much as I see their color.  And now, in the passing of just a few weeks, I see things in faces I didn’t see before.  I see Jenna, smiling, laughing, chattering.  And falling.  When you are perfect, is there anywhere else to go?  I ache for her like she is someone else.  She is.  I am not the perfect Jenna Fox anymore.”  (109)

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Poetry Wednesday – Louise Glück

This is what poets.org has to say about Louise Glück: “[She] is a poet of strong and haunting presence. Her poems, published in a series of memorable books over the last twenty years, have achieved the unusual distinction of being neither “confessional” nor “intellectual” in the usual senses of those words” (Helen Vendler).  I tried to put something along those lines into my own words, but it just didn’t sound as good, so I let Vendler do the talking for me.  I had a bad day yesterday and this poem spoke to that frustration.  It is deceptively simplistic and haunting, to repeat Vendler’s assessment.

October (Section 1)

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body
rescued, wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted–

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound
what it sounds like can’t change what it is–

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

What immediately strikes me about this poem are two things: 1) the progression and 2) the structure.   First, the progression of the poem from a seemingly incredulous tone about the passage of time (a common theme in the poems that are appealing to me lately) to something larger and somewhat more sinister.  I love the confusion of body and earth that happens toward the middle of the poem.  Every line here can be read as simply a discussion of the changing of the seasons, but it is also obviously more than that.  There is oppression in this poem, a kind of suffocation between what is said and what is not said, literally (“I can’t hear your voice[...]//I no longer care/what sound it makes//when was I silenced”) and also within the poem itself.  There is a lot left unsaid here and a lot left up to interpretation.  I’m also very intrigued by the fact that every single line is a question, but there are no questions in this poem.  Instead every line is declarative, adding to the frustrated and angry tone.

The other interesting thing about this poem is that it is part of a series, but I have not read the rest of the series.  We talk about this a lot in class, when writing a series, how important is it to maintain stand-alone quality to the poem?  I think that there is a lot of information that could be gained from reading the other poems in the series, but there is also a wonderful ambiguity when it is alone.

What do you think of Louise Glück’s poem “October (Section I)”?  Are you intrigued or put off by the ambiguity?

Review – Under the Skin by Michel Faber

under the skin

“Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her.” (page 2)

Under the Skin is about Isserly, a woman who drives around Scotland looking for hitchhikers.  She will not pick up a woman, only men.  They must have plenty of muscle on their bodies and no family.  Isserly herself is a strange looking woman, but the men she picks up can’t help but notice how disturbingly erotic she is.  Under the Skin is strange and suspenseful, every page reveals something else about Isserly’s unusual existence and her mission.  Each turn is as unexpected as the last.

This novel is bizarre.  Everything about it is odd, but it’s also wonderful.  The ending was pitch-perfect and every page before that expertly crafted.  This novel, in the hands of a less skillful author, could have taken a turn for the worse.  Faber, however, has created a novel that is so unique, I’m can’t think of anything I have read that is quite like it.

Faber reveals just enough information about Isserly and the strange company she works for too keep you interested and guessing, and when the truth is revealed, slowly, page by page, you go from curiosity and suspicion to pure horror.  There is allegory, commentary, and suspense.  It’s violent and there are gruesome scenes throughout this book, so be warned, but don’t let that turn you away from the book, because that is one of its strengths.  The gruesome nature of the prose is well-done and necessary.

Under the Skin is on a lot of must-read lists and it’s easy to see why.  This book is one that is dying to be discussed and talked about.  Please pick this one up so we can talk about it!  There’s so much here that I haven’t included in the interest of avoiding spoilers, because this is one you have to discover on your own time.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Other reviews:

Erik is (so not) Dead! (Contains spoilers, but I had so many of the same questions!)

Did you read and review Under the Skin?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll link to your review.

TSS – Mini Reviews, Woolf, Holiday Book Swap!

TSSbadge2

Hello!  I apologize in advance for the lengthiness of this post!  I just have a lot to say because last weekend I sadly missed the Sunday Salon, but for a good reason.  I was celebrating my birthday and all the wonderful birthday comments just made my day!  Thank you everyone who left me a message :)  There are just a couple of outstanding reviews that I’m having trouble finding inspiration for, so I am just going to do a few mini reviews to catch up.

push

Push (Precious) by Sapphire: I saw the trailer for the movie “Precious” a couple weeks ago and really want to see the movie.  I picked this up at the store and read it in one sitting (yes, I confess, I’m one of those people that sits in bookstores and reads!  I can’t help it).  It’s part poetry, part narrative about the life of Precious, a teenager who is pregnant for the second time by her father.  Her mother, also physically and sexually abusive, claims the children for her own to get more money from the government, but does nothing to help raise them.  Precious, overweight and 16 years old in the 8th grade, is kicked out of school for being pregnant.  But the guidance counselor, feeling guilty for robbing Precious of her education, leads her to a special school for people who need help learning to read to get their GED.  There she is inspired to not only learn to read, but write about her life.  Push is what she writes.  It’s a really moving and upsetting novel, but one that everyone should read.  Highly recommended.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

ash_malindalo_500

 

Ash by Malinda Lo is another book that I read a while back, but never got around to reviewing.  I really enjoyed it.  Ash is a retelling of Cinderella in which Ash, as she is called, does not fall for the handsome prince, but his beautiful, strong-willed Huntress.  The fairytale is extended even further than that to create a world that is unique and well-formed.  Ash’s desire to be with a woman and the reciprocation of that desire is not perceived as abnormal in this world, it is accepted and approved of.  It is a hopeful look at what our own world could look like one day, maybe without the fairies and huntresses and kings and princes.  Though I wouldn’t mind some fairies.  Lo had me convinced from page one, and I think this is a great read.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

dead I read and loved Life as We Knew It, the first book in the Moon Trilogy by Susan Beth Pfeffer a few months ago, so I was really looking forward to reading The Dead and the Gone.  Well, I would start it, and then I would put it down.  Then I would pick it up again and give it another shot, but I never did get into it.  Finally one day I sat down and made myself finish it.  It was… okay.  The things that were re-hashed from Life as We Knew It felt just like that, instead of feeling new in a different setting.  Everything was the same, but not as good.  I think that the diary format worked really well, and I would have liked to see that again.  Though perhaps it would have seemed even more repetitive.  The characters were particularly unmemorable and I didn’t understand them.  I did appreciate a broader look at the situation and a different religious reaction to the event.  There were things that I seemed to remember happening to New York in the first book that didn’t happen in the second one.  I might be making that up, but I had that sense the whole time.  Overall, I was disappointed, but I’m still going to read the third one in the series.  It was not an awful read and it was a decent continuation of the series.  I find that the second book is usually my least favorite (exception: Chamber of Secrets), so I’m still looking forward to number three!

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

sloth

There are just a few words to describe this graphic novel: weird, mind trip, bizarre, strange, maybe-awesome.  I say maybe, because I honestly have ZERO idea what happened here, but I think I liked it.  Plus, I really can’t wait to read more Gilbert Hernandez.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

 

 

 

ask-and-answer

The only reason that I’m not doing a full review of this book is that I read it during read-a-thon and I just don’t think I could do it justice!  It was awesome, amazing and an excellent follow-up to The Knife of Never Letting Go.  I really really really really really (5 reallys, at least) can’t wait to read the next one.  Thank you Patrick Ness, for creating this world.  It’s wonderful and I love every minute of it.  But MAN, everyone in this book made me want to climb in the pages and give them a good face slap for being STUPID.  It was realistic and I can totally see how they would have made the mistakes they did but I must have screamed, out loud, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” several times.  Making She jump and stare at me.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

 

WHEW.  Glad I got those off my chest!  Hope you found something good there to read!

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winterwoolf

In other news, Frances of nonsuch book and Emily of Evening All Afternoon have announced Woolf in Winter, a read along where we will be reading four Virginia Woolf books in January and February.  Hello!  Isn’t that the most beautiful button you’ve ever seen?  I can’t wait.  I’ve already put all of the books on request at the library, one on audio, and I might add in a reading of A Room of One’s Own because I happen to have it and want to add it to the list.  Here is the schedule:

  • SarahMrs. Dalloway (January 15)

    “Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking toward Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely? but that somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself.”

  • EmilyTo the Lighthouse (January 29)

    “So now she always saw, when she thought of Mr. Ramsay’s work, a scrubbed kitchen table. It lodged now in the fork of a pear tree, for they had reached the orchard. And with a painful effort of concentration, she focused her mind, not upon the silver-bossed bark of the tree, or upon its fish-shaped leaves, but upon a phantom kitchen table, one of those scrubbed board tables, grained and knotted, whose virtue seems to have been laid bare by years of muscular integrity, which stuck there, its four legs in the air. Naturally, if one’s days were passed in this seeing of angular essences, this reducing of lovely evenings, with all their flamingo clouds and blue and silver to a white deal four-legged table (and it was a mark of the finest minds so to do), naturally one could not be judged like an ordinary person.”

  • FrancesOrlando (February 12)

    “But, above all, he had, he told Orlando, sensations in his spine which defied description. There was one knob about the third from the top which burnt like fire; another about the second from the bottom which was cold as ice. Sometimes he woke with a brain like lead; at others it was as if a thousand wax tapers were alight and people were throwing fireworks inside him. He could feel a rose leaf through his mattress, he said; and knew his way almost about London by the feel of the cobbles. Altogether he was a piece of machinery so finely made and so curiously put together (here he raised his hand as if unconsciously and indeed, it was of the finest shape imaginable) that it confounded him to think that he had only sold five hundred copies of his poem, but that of course was largely due to the conspiracy against him. All he could say, he concluded, banging his fist upon the table, was that the art of poetry was dead in England.”

  • ClaireThe Waves (February 26)

    “I shall walk on the moor. The great horses of the phantom riders will thunder behind me and stop suddenly. I shall see the swallow skim the grass. I shall throw myself on a bank by the river and watch the fish slip in and out among the reeds. The palms of my hands will be printed with pine-needles. I shall there unfold and take out whatever it is I have made here; something hard. For something has grown in me here, through the winters and summers, on staircases, in bedrooms. I do not want, as Jinny wants, to be admired. I do not want people, when I come in, to look up with admiration. I want to give, and to be given, and solitude in which to unfold my possessions.”

I might not finish them all, but I can’t wait to dive right in.  Thank you for organizing this!  I love you all!  (I might just have huge, secret blog-crushes on ya.)  That I guess aren’t so secret anymore?

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bbhs_teaser_smallI’m sad I didn’t get the information about the Book Blogger Holiday Swap out sooner, but I wanted to send a thank you to all the organizers and participants for all the hard work you’re doing!  Thanks so much guys, I’m super excited!

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Well, thanks for reading all that, kids.  I know it was a long one!  Today I’ll be reading Under the Skin, The Pluto Files and some stuff for school.  What will you be reading?

 

 

Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset, Simone de Beauvoir

Kristin LavransdatterI am, unfortunately, very late to the Kristin Lavransdatter party.  I finished the first book a few weeks ago, but did not have any inspiration for what to post about.  The Wreath was a well-written medieval tale that made that the time period come to life unlike any book I’ve read.  I fell in love with the setting and enjoyed the story, but outside of that, I didn’t quite know what to say.

On Tuesday, inspiration struck during my literary studies class after we read and discussed “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir and it put a completely different spin on The Wreath.  More or less contemporaries, there are certainly similarities to be found.

But it’s an artist that I want to be, a woman artist, and not a pen-wielding lady.

Undset wrote those words in a correspondence with her friend.  I think she lived up to that.  Kristin Lavransdatter is nothing short of an epic, that not only brings into question what it meant to be a woman during medieval times, but what it meant to be a woman in the 20s.  I can’t speak for Undset, obviously, and her intentions, but whether the reflection of her own tumultuous, post-WWI Europe in the medieval was intentional or not, the similarities are impressive.  There are frequent references to the changing times in Norway that breeds an ominous tone throughout the whole first book.

But, the first thing that struck me about the novel was the sheer beauty of the description in conjunction with the simplicity of the language.

There were forest-clad mountain slopes below her in all directions; her valley was no more than a hollow between the enormous mountains, and the neighboring valleys were even smaller hollows; there were many of them, and yet there were fewer valleys than there were mountains.  On all sides gray domes, golden-flamed with lichen, loomed above the carpet of forest; and far off in the distance, toward the horizon, stood blue peaks with white glints of snow, seeming to merge with the grayish-blue and dazzling white summer clouds.  But to the northeast, close by – just beyond the pasture woods – stood a cluster of magnificent stone-blue mountains with streaks of new snow on their slopes.  (pg 13)

Though there is beautiful language throughout The Wreath, there is also a darkly ominous side to it.  I was surprised by that dichotomy that was present as soon as the first chapter.  The relationship between young Kristin and her father is lovely, but there is always that underlying knowledge that there is going to be the betrayal later on, that Kristin will go against her father’s wishes.  There is so much foreshadowing in the beginning of Kristin Lavransdatter.

Good days can last a long time if one tends to things with care and caution; all sensible people know that.  That’s why I think that sensible people have to be satisfied with the good days – for the grandest of days are costly indeed.  They call a man a fool who fritters away his father’s inheritance in order to enjoy himself in his youth [...] But I call him a true idiot and fool only if he regrets his actions afterward, and he is twice the fool and the greatest buffoon of all if he expects to see his drinking companions again once the inheritance is gone.  (49)

At those times when one needs either prayers or advice one usually has no mind to learn or understand. (49)

There is a lot of mention of Catholicism and religion in this novel, but also of paganism.  More duality!  What stood out for me was the constant referral to woman as witch, or the “mysterious woman” that de Beauvoir talked about in “The Second Sex”.  Undset outright contradicts this assumption: “It could be that the woman knew more than was good for the health of her soul – and yet one should not forget that ignorant people often spoke of witchcraft as soon as a woman showed herself to be wiser than the councilmen”  (55).  

These “ignorant people” that Undset refers to are the “masculine hearts” of de Beauvoir’s essay.  She says:

Few myths have been more advantageous to the ruling caste than the myth of woman [...]  Of all these myths, none is more firmly anchored in masculine hearts than that of the feminine “mystery.”  It has numerous advantages.  And first of all it permits an easy explanation of all that appears inexplicable; the man who “does not understand” a woman is happy to substitute an objective resistance for the subjective deficiency of mind; instead of admitting his ignorance, he perceives the presence of a “mystery” outside himself: an alibi, indeed, that flatters laziness and vanity at once.  A heart smitten with love thus avoids many disappointments: if the loved one’s behavior is capricious, her remarks stupid, then the mystery serves, then the mystery serves to excuse it all.  (1409)

Simone de Beauvoir wrote critically about it and Undset wrote it into her novel.  It did not necessarily seem to be Kristin that, thus far, has given anything to contradict the tendency for the representation of women in literature, but rather Aashild, her Erlend’s aunt.  I wonder if Kristin will continue to act this way or if she will change with the rest of the novel.

But what all of this boils down to is that I just don’t know what I think of Kristin and Erlend.  Yes, Kristin follows her heart and gets what she wants, but at what cost?  Is there irony here?  That for all of her forward-thinking, Kristin falls into the same trap as all the other women?  She frequently talks about how little she wants to be intimate with Erlend, but allows him to.  I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to think about this couple and I’m torn between believing that Kristin is an independent woman ahead of her time to thinking that she gave up one kind of servitude for another. If only she’d stuck with Arne!  He was the one and it ended in tragedy.

Now she felt that she had grown up from maiden to woman.  This was not just because of the passionate, secret caresses she had received and given.  She had not merely left her father’s guardianship and subjected herself to Erlend’s will.  Brother Edvin had impressed on her the responsibility of answering for her own life, and for Erlend’s as well, and she was willing to bear this burden with grace and dignity.  (159)

I’m not too worried, though, Kristin has plenty of time to prove herself as a strong woman as the story continues.  I’m looking forward to getting back to the medieval world of Kristin!

Thanks to Richard and Emily for hosting this read-along!  Other participants: kiss a cloud, She is Too Fond of Books, nonsuch bookpage 247, 5-squared, Rhapsody in Books, Save Ophelia, what we have here is a failure to communicate, Fizzy Thoughts, tuesday in silhouette, Life Is A Patchwork Quilt, This Book and I Could Be Friends.

See you again at the end of the month for Part II!