Sunday, September 28, 2008

March by Geraldine Brooks

One of my most favorite books is Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I've read this book probably close to ten times, and I also really love the movie version with Susan Sarandon, Wynona Ryder and Christian Bale. When I first saw the Pulitzer prize-winning book March by Geraldine Brooks in the bookstore, I knew I had to read it! The central character in March is none other than the father of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.

Mr. March (or just "March," as he is called throughout the book) is a man of many principles. He does not eat meat, he does not believe in the institution of slavery, and he does not believe it is ever right to kill another man for any reason. From the time he was 18, and first witnessed the whipping of a young slave woman, March was in strong opposition to slavery. Not only did he preach out against it himself, but he encouraged those with influence to speak and act against slavery. After he married Marmee (Margaret Day), the two of them opened their home as a safe place in the underground railroad. However, when the war begins, March feels compelled to join the army, even though he is against the act of war. He serves as a chaplain to the soldiers of the northern army. What March does not realize when he leaves his home, wife and daughters is that not only will he witness the terrible atrocities of war, but he will be forced to make decisions that go completely against what he believes.

March is obviously written by a different author and for a different purpose than Little Women. From reading Little Women, I imagined Mr. March to be a quietly strong man who is kind and good--much like the male version of Alcott's Marmee. While he does exhibit these characteristics to some extent, Brooks' Mr. March is very flawed. He acts very cowardly and selfishly on several occasions and makes poor decisions that cause harm to those around him. However, if he were perfect, his character would be unbelievable, and in some of the wartime situations he faces, there is no good outcome possible.

Brooks cleverly weaves bits of the stories from Little Women throughout the novel. She also tells of how March and Marmee meet and fall in love. I really like the Marmee of Brooks' imagination. While March narrates the majority of the book, Marmee narrates the last section. She is spirited, intelligent, and passionate about what she believes is right. The younger version of Marmee is a bit too passionate at times, and her temper gets the better of her more than once.

In the afterward, Brooks says that she based Mr. March on Louisa May Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, who was a bit of a radical in his time. I cannot quite make up my mind about Mr. March--I think I am just having a difficult time reconciling the father that I imagine from Little Women, with the man of Brooks' story. Overall, I really enjoyed March. However, if you are looking for prequel to Little Women or more of the same story, I would caution you that the two novels are quite different.

Date completed: September 20, 2008

# of pages: 280

Monday, September 22, 2008

24 Hour Read-a-Thon and giveaways

It is almost time for the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and I'm so excited! The last time Dewey hosted this fun even was in June, and I did not participate, but I was a somewhat unofficial cheerleader. The read-a-thon is October 18th and will be starting at 5 am Pacific (or 7 am for those like me in the central time zone). Besides the fun of participating with other bloggers, there will be mini-challenges and prizes. Click here to read more.

If you are interesting in winning a signed copy of Joshua Henkin's Matrimony, head over to Trish's Reading Nook and Book Addiction to enter their giveaways.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's bestselling novel was the last book I read for the End of the World challenge. I thought I enjoyed reading dystopian and post apocalyptic novels, but after finishing this one, I think it will be a very long time before I pick another one up. While reading this story, I was sucked into the world as it is described by McCarthy, and I had a difficult time shaking the feeling of despair he created even after I put the book down.

Something huge and terrible has happened. Ash covers the ground and floats in the air. Everything is grey, colorless, lifeless. Trees and animals have all died or disappeared. Even the sun can't be seen as it makes its daily journey through the pallid sky. A man and his son slowly make their way to the coast, in hopes of a warmer climate. They have little to no food, no shelter except what they can construct with sticks and an old tarp, and only a sliver of hope that they will make it over the mountains to the coast. If they can make it there, they have no idea what they will find. However, even amid these circumstances, the boy never loses his compassion, and his father does everything in his power to protect and care for his son. McCarthy has written a heartbreaking story about the love between father and son, and how this love can sustain them through the darkness and desperation.

The Road is the first book I have read by McCarthy, and it took me several pages to get accustomed to his sparse writing. I'm not sure if this is his usual writing style, or if he wrote this way to contribute to the tone of the story, but it was definitely effective: "He lay listening to the water drip in the woods. Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void...Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported the ashed air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone" (11). McCarthy does not use superfluous words, and every single word has a purpose and contributes to the story. Though this was an extremely bleak story, occasionally there were little bits of light seen through the boy's tenderness towards others and through his father's selflessness.

Have you read any other works by McCarthy? What do you recommend?

Also reviewed by: Nymeth, Trish, Becca, Raidergirl3, Wendy, CJ (please let me know if I've missed you!)

Date completed: September 9, 2008
# of pages: 287
I sure was cutting it close with this one--I finished it with only a week before the end of the challenge! Thanks to Becky for hosting! Of the three books I read, I think The Road will stick with me the longest, but The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood was also very memorable. Orwell's 1984 was a bit disappointing, but I think I wasn't in the right frame of mind to be reading it at the time.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Meme: Reasons for Blogging

I was tagged for this meme by Becca from The Inside Cover, and what a great way to spend some time on this windy, rainy Saturday (thankfully, Hurricane Ike did not affect Dallas nearly as negatively as was predicted, but I'm hoping everyone in the Galveston/Houston area is safe!)

First, the rules:
1. Write about 5 specific ways blogging has affected you, either positively or negatively.
2. Link back to the person who tagged you (and leave a comment on his/her blog after you do the tag).
3. Link back to this parent post.
4. Tag a few friends or five, or none at all (and inform them about it).
5. Post these rules— or just have fun breaking them.

Not to be a "glass half empty" type of gal, but I thought I would start with the ways blogging has negatively affected me. There are far fewer negatives than positives!

1. I spent A LOT of time at home on the computer. This is a negative because I sit in front of a computer all day long at work, so now I come home and sit in front of a computer as well. My poor eyes!
2. I spend too much money on books. I have developed a terrible addiction to buying books, even if I know I can't read them for a while.
3. My friends and family are now subjected to book/blog talk whether they like it or not. Even though I've always been a reader, I have never been as pumped up about books as I have been lately. I'm sure they all roll their eyes at me when I'm not looking.
4. Even though it is self-induced, sometimes I stress out a bit about finishing challenges, getting behind on reading or writing reviews, and how long it has been since I've posted anything.

Now for the positives!
1. I have been reading TONS more this year than in prior years.
2. Because of challenges, I have "forced" myself to read books I've had on my TBR list for years. Example--Uncle Tom's Cabin--thanks to the classics challenge, I finally read it, and am SO glad I did!
3. I have been reading more critically since I started blogging. When I am reading, I pay more attention to point of view, tone, diction, symbolism, etc., as well as interesting passages, so I can better write a review and discuss the books with others.
4. I have found others who share a love of all things literary. I used to think I was a weirdo because I didn't really know anyone else who liked to read as much as I did, and now--I know I'm DEFINITELY not alone!! It has been really fun "meeting" and "getting to know" other book bloggers!
5. When someone asks me for a book recommendation, I am much more prepared to give them some ideas.
6. Lastly--and this could either be a positive or negative, depending on how you look at it--I have a GIANT list of books that I want to read and I add more every week, based on all the wonderful reviews.

I'm not going to tag anyone specific, but please play along if you are so inclined!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The third book for my IRL book club was Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a non-fiction account Gilbert wrote about her year-long adventures travelling the world. Her year was broken into three pieces, each four months long: Italy, where she ate, ate, ate and learned to speak Italian; India, where she spent her time in her Guru's ashram and learned to meditate; and Indonesia, where she learned to balance "...worldly enjoyment with divine transcendence."

The reason Gilbert decided to take such a trip is because she had just gone through a painful divorce. Many nights, she found herself crying, lonely and depressed. Even though she had a great job and good friends, she just wasn't happy with herself and her life. So she thought that instead of wallowing in despair, she would go in search of happiness.

Reading the first section of the book made me REALLY want to go to Italy! I already am a huge fan of Italian food, but I know it would be a million times yummier in Italy itself! Besides the delicious food, there is the architecture, the warm people, the much to see! This part of the book was very enjoyable to read. Elizabeth simply enjoys everything that Italy has to offer.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book was not as entertaining as the first section. In India, Elizabeth spends her time in an Ashram. She is trying to discover "God," but I could never really understand who or what she thought God was. There is discussion of the divinity and perfection within oneself (which made me roll my eyes), some sort of blue light that you can feel if you are doing the right meditation and are in the right state of mind, and ..."be[ing] a scientist of your own spiritual experience"-which I'm not exactly sure what that means either (164). I tried to separate my own beliefs from what I was reading, and try to understand what exactly Elizabeth was searching for, but I never figured it out. Richard from Texas was a very fun character though!

The last section, in Bali, Indonesia, was less bizarre than the prior section, but I still couldn't understand exactly what Elizabeth was searching for. She said she was looking for balance, but what she ended up finding in Bali seemed to be the total opposite of balance, if you ask me!

Elizabeth Gilbert is warm, funny, and a great writer. There were parts of her book that I really enjoyed, and other parts that I had to force myself to actually read. I would be very curious to see if her year-long journey of self-discovery and her search for happiness and peace have stayed with her through the following years--when she was back to her "real" life. There are so many who just love the book, and though I definitely did not hate it, I am far from an adoring fan.

Read other reviews of Eat Pray Love at: Bending Bookshelf, Age 30 - A Year of Books, Trish's Reading Nook (if I've missed your review, please let me know and I'll add your link!)

Date Completed: September 5, 2008
# of Pages: 331

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Reading and Blogging for Darfur

Natasha at Maw Books has dedicated the month of September to raise money and awareness for Darfur. If you click on this link, you can see the many ways you can get involved. She has included videos as well as recommended reading to learn about the atrocities that are occurring every day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Hot House by Pete Earley

Hands down, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison is one of the most interesting books I have read all year. Also, it is the furthest from my "norm" of books I generally pick up to read. I think it's great to have friends with completely different tastes in books...I gave my friend The Book Thief to read, and she really liked it. To be fair, I had to read one of her books. She generally reads true crime and non-fiction books about prisons--two genres I NEVER venture into. I have had The Hot House for several months, and it took a combination of the looming end of The Non-Fiction challenge as well as a bit of feeling guilty for having the book so long to force for me to finally start reading. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down!

Pete Earley was the first person ever to be given access to a maximum-security prison, and he basically spent two years of his life inside the prison walls. He conducted hundreds of interviews with the inmates and guards of Leavenworth Prison, which is "...the oldest federal prison, and one of the most dangerous in the nation." Why did he want to put himself in such a dangerous situation day after day for two years? I asked the same question before I started reading, and he answers the question very early in the book:

We are all affected by crime, even those who are never directly victims. We avoid walking the streets of major cities at night for fear of attack. We are not permitted to board an airplane without first walking through a metal detector. We awaken in the middle of the night startled by a noise and lie paralyzed with fear that an intruder is lurking in the shadows. Who are these
criminals who terrorize us? (36).

While Earley interviews a large number of inmates, there are six in particular who are willing to be open with him and frequently talk with him. They have a broad range in age, background, crimes committed, and length of time spent in prison. Not all of the inmate had terrible childhoods, filled with abuse and neglect, although many of them did. Several of the inmates mention their principles, and how important it is to stick to them. They know that their values are not the same as most peoples', but they are proud to have stuck with their principles before and while they are in prison.

Some of the inmates describe their crimes, while others tell about their families, what they were like before prison, what upsets them about the prison system, and what survival methods they have learned. Some dream about the day they will walk free, and several have actually escaped and experienced freedom for a time before being caught. The inmates who had absolutely no hope of ever being released had to learn how to spend their days without going crazy.

Earley also interviews many prison guards. I found their stories to be just as interesting as the inmates. Many of the guards grew up in the town of Leavenworth, and it was very normal for them to work at the prison after high school. Prison brutality was common, but many of the inmates would do terrible things to the guards as well. Some of the guards seemed to enjoy the power they had over others, while others wanted to do their jobs well, and believed in humane treatment for the inmates.

In his book, Earley does not have a hidden agenda. He is not pushing for prison reform or arguing there should be longer sentences or harsher treatment of convicted criminals. Instead, he gives an unbiased look into the prison system, and into the lives of the inmates, guards, and prison officials. (Note:Because of the nature of the book, there is quite a bit of language, as well as some disturbing descriptions of events.)

Date Completed: August 31, 2008

Number of pages:441