Happy Birthday, Hemingway

It's no secret I've got a thing for Hemingway. Not only was he a brilliant writer, but he is also one of the sexiest authors there ever was. He was a man's man

Born on July 21st, 1899 he would be 112 today had he not shot himself passed away shortly before his 62nd birthday. His obituary, which ran on the front page of the New York Times states his wife claimed he "accidentally shot himself" while cleaning this gun.

In honor of Hemingway's birthday, I invite you to read an interview of his over at the Paris Review, circa 1958. It details his writing process, habits and hesitation to discuss writing.

Book Lust by Nancy Pearl

Back in May Thomas at My Porch had a Book Lust Giveaway - to my elation I won and received Book Lust in the mail the following week. I've been reading through it casually for the last couple of weeks, noting titles to add to my TBR.

Nancy Pearl is a reading rock star. She has worked as a librarian and bookseller, is a regular commentator on NPR, won the Women's National Book Association Award and exudes an unmistakable enthusiasm for books. In Book Lust: Recommended Reading For Every Mood, Moment and Reason, Pearl breaks down her recommendations by category, making it easy to peruse based on one's literary taste. Such lists include grit lit, les crimes noir, first novels, food for thought, Russian heavies and New York, New York. She features a nice variety of both fiction and non-fiction topics.

What I like best about this book is that it will remain a reference point for me when I want to step out of my reading comfort zone and try something new. I especially will use when I am in the mood for non-fiction, as I don't often get non-fiction recommendations. Thanks again Thomas for this great book. I will continue to go back to it for recommended reading.

Publisher: Sasquatch Books, 2003


Books I Believe Should be Required Reading for Teens

Let me start by saying that I don't read YA fiction. (Save the Harry Potter series that I read when I was a YA.) So, this list are my top ten choices from the literary cannon that I believe are important to read before you graduate from high school.

1. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945): An allegory, a dystopian and a critique of socialist regimes. It doesn't get much better than that.

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925): The great American novel. Enough said.

3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884): I didn't read this one until college and I wished I had read it sooner. Despite the controversy earlier this year, it actually seeks to purge racial prejudice.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960): One of the best classics that emphasizes racial and social tolerance.

5. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987): This book is heartbreaking, but as far as Toni Morrison goes, this is her best one yet. It explores what it means to be a slave and what how far one will go to escape it.

6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958): I read this one in high school, and have reread it since. There is a lot to learn from it and offers a unique viewpoint: an African detailing the colonization of his homeland.

7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813): I'm not the biggest Austen fan, but I do think her work is important and this is the best one to start with (although, not my favorite).

8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954): This one examines some relevant subjects for children to understand, or at least think about: consequences of war, man vs. nature and the implications of rules in civilization.

9. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007): I started this series when I was 12 and thought they were fantastic. I think every kid should read them while they are still a kid. (Even though they are good for adults as well, I think it's best to read them for the first time as a child.)

10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969): A heavy coming of age story for a kid, but this one suggests that strength in character can help you through anything.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

After reading a slew of classics I needed to mix it up with something lighter. This book did the trick. It was intelligent, somewhat depressing, but overall it was a quick and enjoyable read. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a conceit of the idea that prime numbers are a lonely thing; it can only be divided by one and itself, never fully fitting with another. Taking this idea one step further, twin primes: "pairs of numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from touching." Alice and Mattie represent those twin primes, developing a life-long friendship, drawn together by their tragic pasts; two people isolated from the world, but destined to find each other.
If you have the patience to go on counting, you discover that these pairs gradually become rarer. You encounter increasingly isolated primes, lost in that silent, measured space made only of ciphers, and you develop a distressing presentiment that the pairs encountered up until that point were accidental, that solitude is the true destiny.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers examines what it means to be lonely and the complexity of human relationships. While it's themes are heavy and on the depressing side, it's tone is compassionate and unassuming. It's not a life-changing, must-read book, but it's touching and engaging. If you are a human who has ever felt alone, you will be able to relate to this book.

Publisher: Penguin, 2008


I'm a sucker for coupons.

Remember my book-buying ban that I broke because I received some awesome Half Price Books coupons in the mail? Well, I didn't break it with the coupons, I broke it because I knew that I'd have to use the coupons before my ban ended (my goal was August 1st) so I bought a book that I decided I just had to have.

Well, I got the chance to use those evil coupons and I couldn't be happier.

The goods (sorry for the hasty iPhone photo):

Paolo Giordano/ The Solitude of Prime Numbers (reading now)
Eudora Welty/ The Optimist's Daughter
Meg Wolitzer/ The Wife
Elie Wiesel/ Night
Mary Roach/ Packing for Mars
Garth Stein/ The Art of Racing in the Rain
Joshua Ferris/ The Unnamed
Margaret Atwood/ Alias Grace

Total after discounted coupon: $40.84 - not too shabby!


Paul Auster: Why Philip Roth Is Wrong About the Novel

This video was posted back in 2009, but it seems particularly relevant after Roth's controversial Booker win and later statement that he's "stopped reading fiction".

Paul Auster knows what's up, and this video makes me happy.


Howards End by E.M. Forster

I picked up Howards End shortly after I bought Zadie Smith's On Beauty because Greg from The New Dork Review of Books told me that in order to fully appreciate On Beauty, I should read Howards End first. I've got to be honest, I am a little burnt out on the classics. This book probably wasn't the best choice considering the timing - I just finished the Back to the Classics Challenge at the end of June. I was a little cranky toward this book, mostly because I wanted it to end. But please know, my opinion of this novel is a bit apathetic simply because lately, my reading diet has been overwhelmed with too many classics.

Howards End examines the Edwardian era, when the class system in England was disordered and allowed for social upheaval. Forster reflects on these subjects through two different families: The Wilcoxes and the Schlegels. Forster also highlights a shift of interest in women's suffrage, characterized by the liberal and idealistic Margaret Schlege. Each family, while of the same class, maintain very different values and connect in a way that exposes both their successes and their failures.
Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as the generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some quietly, but to an after-life in the city of ghosts, while from others from others - and thus was the death of the Wickham Place - the spirit slips before the body perishes. It had decayed in the spring, disintergrating the girls more than they knew, and causing either to accost unfamiliar regions. By September it was a corpse, void of emotion, and scarcely hallowed b the memories of thirty years of happiness.
The novel is full of political symbolism and nuanced social views. It examines an array of human emotions and the inevitable conflicts they cause. Howards End really is a work of art and I'm happy to have read it. I just wish I would have read it at a different time. I think this was a case of right book at the wrong time.

Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classics, 1910


Top Ten Authors I Would Die to Meet

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, asks which authors I'd die to meet, living or dead.

1. Kurt Vonnegut: I find Vonnegut to be one of the most interesting people of the 20th century (not just including authors). Through his literature he explored metaphysical themes and in person, he seems like a hilarious man.

2. Anne Frank: I developed a deep respect for Anne Frank when I studied her diary in a history class in college and later was lucky enough to see her annex in Amsterdam. It would be amazing to meet this young girl, and even more amazing to think of what she could have accomplished had she had the opportunity.

3. Margaret Atwood: Atwood is one of my favorite living authors and yes, I am jealous of everyone who got to meet her at BEA this year.

4. George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans): I've read just about every novel Eliot ever published and if I got the chance to meet her, I think we'd have a lot to talk about.

5. Maya Angelou: Maya Angelou has such an interesting history, both professionally and personally, and as one of the most unique voices in contemporary literature, it would be an honor to meet her.

6. Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens): When I think of the great american novelist, I think of Mark Twain. Considered a "father of American literature," I don't know how he couldnt' make this list.

7.Ernest Hemingway: It's no secret that I have a thing for Heminway. He was a very interesting man (not to mention quite handsome) and I think he'd make fantastic company.

8. Jonathan Safran Foer: Foer is probably my favorite author of my generation. I absolutely loved Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, one of my all-time favorite novels.

9. Jhumpa Lahiri: Lahiri won the Pulitzer in 2000 for The Interpreter of Maladies, but I went head over heals for The Namesake. She is a very talented author who offers a unique perspective into the lives of Indian Americans.

10. J. K. Rowling: I started reading the Harry Potter series when I was 13 and basically grew up with Harry. It might seem cliche to have Rowling on a list like this, but she is arguably one of the most influential writers of my generation and I think it would be pretty great to meet her.


I read because...

Reading has always brought me pure joy. I read to encounter new worlds and new ways of looking at the world. I read to enlarge my horizons, to gain wisdom, to experience beauty, to understand myself better, and for the pure wonderment of it all. I read and marvel over how writers use language in ways I never thought of. I read for company, and for escape. Because I am incurably interested in the lives of other people, both friends and strangers, I read to meet myriad folks and enter their lives- for me, a way of vanquishing the “otherness” we all experience.
 -Nancy Pearl, Book Lust


Book-Buying Ban Fail

On May 31st I decided to try and make it 60 days without buying any books. Mostly because my TBR pile was getting out of control, and partly because I wanted to see if I could do it.

I made it to July 7th (37 days).

What made me give in? I received a 7-day shopping pass in the mail from Half Price Books.

Coupons include $5 off a purchase of $20 or more and $15 of a purchase of $50 or more for the week of July 11th - July 17th. But I only made it to July 7th. This is because I knew I wouldn't make it to August 1st (my 60 day mark). These coupons are just too good not to be used and, well, when I found myself at the mall yesterday to get a new Brewers shirt (big game tonight!) I walked by Barnes and Nobel and told myself there was no harm just looking. Needless to say looking turned into my walking up to the cash register, book in hand.

What did I chose?

them by Joyce Carol Oats, winner of the 1970 National Book Award.

Synopsis from the back of the book: Joyce Carol Oates’s Wonderland Quartet comprises four remarkable novels that explore social class in America and the inner lives of young Americans. As powerful and relevant today as it on its initial publication, them chronicles the tumultuous lives of a family living on the edge of ruin in the Detroit slums, from the 1930s to the 1967 race riots. Praised by The Nation for her “potent, life-gripping imagination,” Oates traces the aspirations and struggles of Loretta Wendall, a dreamy young mother who is filled with regret by the age of sixteen, and the subsequent destinies of her children, Maureen and Jules, who must fight to survive in a world of violence and danger. Winner of the National Book Award, them is an enthralling novel about love, class, race, and the inhumanity of urban life. It is, raves The New York Times, “a superbly accomplished vision.”

So, the book-buying ban is over. I did ok, but next time I'll set a more realistic goal. At least I know I can make it a month.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Even though The Bell Jar deals with subjects that I typically find unsettling, I really enjoyed this novel. On the surface it explores a girl's decent into insanity and the harsh treatments she underwent in an attempt to bring her back to normalcy. The Bell Jar critiques the expectations placed on young women in 1950's and early 1960's America. It also highlights the social and political unrest that was prevalent throughout the decade.
So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.
The reason The Bell Jar works is because Plath subtly introduces the onset of Ester's mental breakdown and then presents it in a way that makes it seem logical. We aren't watching a girl's decent into insanity from the outside, but rather following her through it. Maybe Plath is able to achieve this point of view since for her, this is not a fictionalized account of a girl going mad, but rather a semi-autobiographical take on her own insanity. (Plath committed suicide one month after The Bell Jar was published in the UK.)

Ester is one of the most honest, self-deprecating narrators I've read in a long time. There are many passages one could quote from this book, but I prefer to take it in as a whole; The Bell Jar examines the influence gender roles and their expectations have on one's identity, and the downward spiral that can ensue when those expectations contradict one another.

Publisher: Faber Firsts, 1963


Reading in Review: June

June was a good month for me. I jumped out of a plane, visited some friends out of state and read some great books.
Books read: 5

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (2004)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (2006)
The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster (2006)
Passing by Nella Larson (1929)

Challenges completed: 1/ Back to the Classics Challenge

Favorite June read: The Brooklyn Follies

Authors of color read: 40%

Non-fiction read: 20%

Non-American authors read: 40%

Books read that are older than me: 40%

I've also managed to stick to my 60 day book-buying ban for a solid 31 days. I didn't think I could make it a whole month. Let's see if I can continue through July.

photo via Pretty Books