The Sunday Salon: A Late-November Interlude

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Today has already proved to be quite the dreary, cold, blustery day, and to be honest I can’t think of an environment more friendly to a day of solid reading! I’m so woefully far behind on my Goodread’s classics bookclub’s reading of Swann’s Way by Proust that I think I’m just going to have to throw in the towel on this go-round and add it to the list of classics I’m planning on reading in 2012. The book is beautiful and sweeping, but my interest and attention span just don’t seem to be on board with reading it right now.

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While I’m not exactly succeeding with Swann’s Way, I’m actually cruising along at a rather surprising pace through Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth. The sprawling story is, as might be expected, rather operatic and soap opera-esque but for some reason it’s working for me at the moment. I don’t necessarily understand much of the cathedral construction terminology, but the opportunity to get lost in the sprawling kingdoms and political intrigue of the Middle Ages has been a rather wonderful distraction from the mundane task of mass job-applying that’s been on my plate lately. I’ve still got about 400 pages to go (it IS a 1000 page book, after all) but I’m hoping/excited to finish before I leave Wednesday for T-Givings. I’ll have a much more in-depth review later, but for now let me say that I adore Philip and Aliena and can’t stand the rapist William Hamleigh.

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As much as I’m loving Pillars of the Earth, I’m feeling like I need that extra little confidence boost of actually finishing a book, and as I’ve delayed my reading of Little Women until after the new year, I’ve decided to satisfy my classics craving with Bronte’s Jane Eyre (and a HUGE cup of coffee with caramel macchiato creamer, as you can see in the picture above). This is a re-read of one of my favorites, one I haven’t visited for the two years or so since my British literature survey course, and I’d almost forgotten how much I love dear Jane. I’m barely started – I just got to the part where John pulls Jane from behind the curtain in the study, and Jane is unfairly sent to the red room – and already I’m remembering my dire urge to punch Jane’s pseudo-siblings in the face! They’re such miserable little brats, and it just makes it that much easier to sympathize with Jane.

All in all, I’d have to call this one of the best reading Sundays I’ve had in quite some time, and I hope that whatever yours is stacking up just as well. Happy reading!

Because I Want to Make Sure They’re Mentioned…

You guys know how summer is! At least, if your summer is anything like mine. The summer starts, and the days stretch out before you, and you go check out a pile of library books and open one and then…something happens. The great summer time suck, and suddenly it’s August and the books are way-overdue and you’ve read about 1% of all the great books you wanted to read. In order to try and keep this from happening this year, I wanted to make sure I mention all the books I’ve had the chance to start but, because of the very nature of summer, might not actually finish. I want to disclaim up front: NOT ALL OF THESE BOOKS ARE BAD!!! Some of them are great! I haven’t even officially abandoned all of them, but just want to guarantee at least a blog mention. So with that, here’s the books so far this summer I haven’t finished yet but really hope I do!

So far so good on my first Allende novel. I wanted to start with Eva Luna but this is what my library had and so, here we are! I’m only about 30 pages in to this one, and one of the central characters -a slave girl named Tete, has just made her first appearance. That’s not to say it’s been slow till now, though! We’ve met Toulouse Valmorain, his prostitute/companion, and the woman who is to become his future wife, a Cuban. The novel takes place in Haiti right before the Haitian revolution, and promises to span decades and distance, from Haiti to New Orleans and beyond, before the book is done and I can’t wait! The book is translated, which I always fear takes away a small bit of something, but short of becoming fluent in Spanish, I’m loving it so far! 4/5

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town is the first book I’m reading for my public library’s armchair explorer adult summer reading challenge. Paul Theroux, who has spent a number of years of his life in the African wilderness teaching English to various tribes, decides he wants to go back to Africa, one to write a book about it and two because he just plain wants to travel. I find this honesty refreshing – it’s not often you’ll find a travel memoir written based on the premise of simply wanting to travel! I haven’t gotten much farther in to this one, so I’m hesitant to give judgment, but based on that premise and the fact that it’s in Africa, I feel comfortable making at least a slight leap of faith: 3/5

I mentioned Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals at the end of a recent review, and I can promise you this is one I’ll definitely be finishing! In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that this book will be making the “Most Important Books of My (and Probably Your) Life” list. I’m only about 30% of the way through, though, which is why I’m not giving it it’s full review quite yet. The book, inspired when Foer realizes he’s going to be a daddy and wakes up to the fact that food is important if he’s going to be giving it to his children, focuses on a number of things. At the heart of the book is an expose on factory farming and mass agriculture, and this part is full descriptions of the horribly, filthy, degrading and cruel things humans do to animals. This part gets my goat, and if you ever want to get in to it with me, lets debate factory farming. But Foer also focuses on how important food is to storytelling (and storytelling to food) and the fact that farming and food haven’t always been like this in America/the world. This part was perhaps the most refreshing, and I can’t wait to finish this book so I can give you guys the full word! Major5/5

This one might just have to be my first official abandon of the summer. And it’s not for lack of being awesome. The writing is casual enough to read like a story, and the history (medical, cultural, literal and artistic) of cancer is absolutely fascinating. But this book is ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE! Seriously, I’m 200 pages in and only in the early 1900s of the history. That means another 110 years to go. Damn. And it’s just too hard to stick with it, knowing that, when I have all the great books above to get through as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back to this one, but here’s hoping 4/5 (although abandoned).

What’s your summer reading like? Do you find yourself suddenly without time? What books do you have to abandon, despite how good they might be?

Review: Look Again, Lisa Scottoline

¬†I was assigned Look Again by Lisa Scottoline for an English class on recent popular literature – a class I dropped after the first 15 minutes of the first lecture. If I wanted a Garrison Keilor on quaaludes experience, I’d stay home and dope up to A Prarie Home Companion, not pay for the credit hours of sitting in this class. I tell you this because, regardless of this less-than-ideal class experience, I was determined to get through the books on the syllabus anyway. I mean, I had already bought them – a lot of them on Kindle, so I was carrying a number of them with me at once – so I might as well finish them, right? Wrong.

Look Again started off all well and good. Journalist Ellen Gleeson is very much so in love with her adopted son, Will. She adopted him years ago after doing an in-depth profile on him as a story. Will was a sickly child, and he met Ellen when she did a story on his pediatric¬†cardiac care unit. Fast forward three years, and a photo turns up on Ellen’s desk that looks exactly like Will, only it’s not Will. It’s a time-progressed photo of a boy who was kidnapped right around the time that Ellen began to get to know Will and adopt him. Suddenly, Ellen’s whole world is turned upside down when she’s forced to face the thought – what if her adopted son Will is actually the kidnapped Timothy Braverman? Things start to get even more suspicious when Ellen learns that the family of the adoptive mother had no idea she’d given up the baby, and the lawyer handling the case commits suicide. Ellen decides then and there to take it upon herself to find out exactly who her son is, and where Timothy Braverman went. All of that sounds like an amazing premise, right?! Right! That’s exactly what I thought to. Unfortunately, for me at least, the premise just stopped working about half of the way through.

I don’t entirely know what the problem was. Maybe it all just got too far-fetched and extreme for me. I can understand the curiosity, and even the pressing nature of not being able to rest until you know. But Ellen is willing to throw away a relationship, a job, and even time with her son in order to answer this question. Perhaps its just that the writing was a bit doltish, which I was willing to go with while the plot kept pace, but then that started to go downhill too. Right about the time that Ellen takes off to drop in on the Bravermans, everything just started moving too slowly. Passages discussing the law were intermixed with repetitive passages about how worried Ellen was, and WHAT IF, and…well, I’m sure you can imagine. And it’s not that these questions and concerns aren’t valid. It’s that they’re repetitive. Excruciatingly so.

That being said, I really did love Ellen as a character. I thought she was a great literary example of the love that inhabits a person that makes them willing to adopt and love as their own a child who’s creation they had no part in. I’ve a number of friends who either have adopted or were adopted, and I’ve always been a little curious as to what made them/their parents decide to open their homes and hearts to make a family kind of like a patchwork quilt. I know part of it may have to do with reproductive issues, but clearly that can’t be the whole story. But it always feels a little awkward to ask those questions point blank, so I felt like Look Again did a good job of providing possible insight and answers.

This book is probably right up some people’s alleys. I should mention that I’m not the biggest fan of crime mysteries (I’ll read them and enjoy them, but they’re rarely a go-to genre choice) so that might have had something to do with my reaction to this book. I also want to say that, while it may be slightly unfair to give the book only 2.5 stars, as I didn’t even manage to get through the whole thing, that rating applies only to what I did read, that being the first 50% of the book. I think it’s fairly telling, though, when the reader just stops caring about the answer to the question that is driving the whole of the novel. And that’s exactly what happened with Look Again.