The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Lately I have been trying my best to shorten my TBR pile. The Magicians has been sitting on it for a good six months, if not longer. It was one of those books I bought on a whim because I thought it sounded unique and then I lost all interest. Well, it turns out I lost interest for good reason, because for me this novel just didn't work.

The premise is HarryPotteresque, but the writing is bad. Certain phrases felt out of place which made it feel awkward and clichés are overused. Not only that, the book lacks substance and underlying ideas. It's very one-dimensional and all in all, not a good read.

Publisher: Plume ,2009


Top Ten Authors That Deserve More Recognition

Alison Bechdel

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Let me start by saying I don't read as many under-the-radar authors as I should. The majority of authors that I do read have already received a lot of recognition and are known world-wide. So, I am going to highlight a list of authors that you may not have heard of, or you have heard of in passing but have yet to read any of their works.

1. Alison Bechdel: Cartoonist and author of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, check out Fun Home

2. Simon Rich: The youngest writer ever hired on SNL, check out Free-Range Chickens

3. Ella Hepworth Dixon: British Victorian author, check out The Story of the Modern Woman.

4. Denise Duhamel: An American poet with a feminist take, check out Kinky

5. Nella Larson: Author of the Harlem Renaissance, check out Passing

6. David Malouf: Australian novelist, short story writer and playwrite, check out Remembering Babylon

7. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum: Named one of the top 20 authors under 40 by The New Yorker, check out Ms. Hemple Chronicles

8. Merle Hodge: Caribean author, check out Crick Crack Monkey

9. Leila Ahmed: Egyptian American writer on Islamic feminism, check out A Border Passage

10. Françoise Sagan: You can learn about her from my post Françoise Sagan, My New Favorite that I wrote back in July. Check out Bonjour Tristesse


A Room of One's Own by Viriginia Woolf

and I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in...

Virginia Woolf died 60 years ago today, which coincidentally fell on the same day of my review of her extended essay A Room of One's Own. The essay explores women and writing; if women were offered the same opportunities as men could they write in equal quality? Were financial limitations the only thing that held them back? And if so, why are men offered more opportunity than women?

Woolf explores these questions and their implications and then goes on to encourage an integrated humanity, one where writers (women and men alike) can write without any hindrances. The title of the work comes from Woolf's assertion that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Overall I found the book to be a little dry, but full of interesting ideas. If you are interested in women and writing, this text is a must-read. But it's more than that. A Room of One's Own explores the relationship between gender and socioeconomics throughout history and ends on a hopeful note. These essays are based on a series of lectures that Woolf gave to women's colleges at Cambridge University. What a lucky group of students.

Publisher: Harcourt, 1929


Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

I'm a big fan of Atwood. She had me at The Handmaid's Tale and has been captivating me ever since. In Cat's Eye, Atwood details the life of a reclusive painter Elaine Risley, with a focus on her disturbing childhood filled with bullying and manipulation at the hands of 9-year-old girls.  It's not wonder that as Elaine grows older she struggles with her femininity and the company of women.
I remember thinking when the girls were born, first one and then the other, that I should have had sons and not daughters. I didn't feel up to daughters, I didn't know how they worked. I must have been afraid of hating them. With sons I would have known what to do... As for girls, my girls at any rate, seem to have been born with a protective coating, some immunity I lacked.
This book is about growing up and going back home. Per usual, Atwood includes elements of social and feminist comment in her work, exploring the idea of adulthood and questioning whether one can ever truly grow up. She also implies a sense of disillusionment in adulthood - that it is filled with greed and selfish motives, an evil children share as well, but don't expect to be prominent in their adult lives. 
The world is being run by people my own age, men my age, with falling-out hair and health worries, and it frightens me. When the leaders were older than me I could believe in their wisdom, I could believe they had transcended rage and malice and the need to be loved. Now I know better, I look at the faces in newspapers, in magazines, and wonder: what greed, what furies drive them on?
She also highlights the relationship between the past and the present, and the overwhelming influence our history can have over our everyday life. She interweaves the past and present - both in the plot and in her structure to suggest time has a shape "like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of the other."

Of the Atwood I have read, this one is especially heavy in feminist themes. Cat's Eye explores women's relationships with one another, specifically the repression we inflict on one another. The novel is preoccupied with the question of when a girl can call herself and woman and the implications of these distinctions. Cat's Eye is a side of Atwood I hadn't yet read and I enjoyed every minute of it. She is a master of language and relates the story of a dysfunctional life beautifully.

Publisher: Anchor Books, 1988


To read or not to read: Eating Animals

I really like Jonathan Safran Foer. I absolutely loved Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and I very much enjoyed Everything is Illuminated. I am interested in reading his non-fiction work Eating Animals, but I am hesitant to do so.

In my second year of college I took a contemporary moral issues philosophy course and one of the moral issues we covered was animal rights. I had to watch a horrific video made by PETA that detailed the cruel conditions associated with the meat market in the US (for those of you interested it's called Meet Your Meat). After I watched that video I didn't touch a piece of meat for three years.

After the sting wore off I began eating meat again. I've never been a big meat eater - I typically avoid red meat and eat poultry in moderation - but I do enjoy the option. Being a veggie was hard - not for me but for the people in my life. I always felt like a burden going to a friend or relative's house for dinner. Splitting appetizers while eating out didn't work out well for me, as the vegetarian apps were generally less appealing to my carnivorous friends. All in all, I felt like a liability whenever I ate with people.

I'm 95% certain that if I read this book I will go back to being a veggie, as it details the ethical issues involved with eating animals. I don't want to be an uninformed eater (which I don't think I am, especially after reading Skinny Bitch a few years back - a Nazi diet book whose agenda is to make you a vegan), but on the other hand - pardon the cliché - ignorance is bliss. Revisiting these horrendous topics will undoubtedly upset me and propel me into an indefinite state of vegetarianism and I'm just not sure I'm reading to do that again. So, to read, or not to read?


Bookish Pet Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

1. Dog-ears: Nothing annoys me more than readers who dog-ear their books. I find it disrespectful to the text.

2. Small trim size: I don't know what it is about my eyes, but it's hard for me to read books with a very small trim size. For this reason I enjoy UK editions - their trim size is usually more appealing.

3. Annoying and contrived characters: Ehhhm Holden Caulfield.

4. Formulaic endings: Endings that are too predictable or annoyingly simple are no fun. I like an ending that makes me think.

5. Stickers: I love (lightly) used books but I hate when they have stickers that don't come off, or leave a sticky goo after you peel them off. My favorite used bookstore - Half Price Books - has price stickers that come off clean and quickly. Yet another reason I love them.

6. Cheesy covers/Movie covers: I wanted to read Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply but didn't end up buying it because the cover reminded me of a cheap Harlequin romance. I hope to someday find the hardcover edition.

7. Errors: This should go without saying, but I hate any sort of error in a book, be it grammatical, spelling, printing or otherwise.

8. Inked-up pages: Whether it's highlighter, marker or pen, I don't like writing in books unless it's in pencil.

9. Endnotes: It is so much easier to read footnotes than endnotes.

10. Quick endings: Sometimes it works, but other times it annoys me when everything is wrapped up in one final chapter. It feels rushed.


Another belief of mine...

This goes along with another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.

-Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye


Falling Man by Don DeLillo

He stood and felt something so lonely he could touch it with his hands.

Don DeLillo is one of my favorite postmodern writers. He portrays modern-day America in a way that makes me question our priorities and culture. He plays with themes of consumerism, mass media, interconnectedness and the human ability to create meaningful relationships. Falling Man explores post-9/11 New York. The title refers to the image of a man who fell from the twin towers (an image that is also used in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). In DeLillo's novel we see a performance artist who mimics this pose as he dangles from a harness around areas throughout Manhattan. Of course the image of the falling man gives those who see it a feeling of unspeakable dread:
There were people shouting up at him, outraged at the spectacle, the puppetry of human desperation, a body's last fleet breath and what it held. It held the gaze of the world, she thought. There was an awful openness of it, something we'd not seen, the single falling figure that trails a collective dread, body come down among us all.
As this image repeatedly inserts itself into the lives of New Yorkers, the novel follows two narratives; one of a family who is trying to rebuild their lives after the attack and one of a 9/11 terrorist who prepares for the attacks. The post-traumatic recovery of this family is almost as heartbreaking as a glimpse into the life of a terrorist. The family struggles to make sense of their new world just as they struggle to understand one another.
But then she might be wrong about what was ordinary. Maybe nothing was. Maybe there was a deep fold in the grain of things, the way things pass through the mind, the way time swings in the mind, which is the only place it meaningfully exists.
DeLillo's poignant novel implies that we will continuously have to recover from the attacks as they will haunt us forever. Just as the falling man's image will continue to resurface, so will the memory of the atacks. However, rather than focus on the attacks themselves, DeLillo explores how they changed America and the daily lives of Americans. He draws significant comparisons to the "before" world that we knew to the "after". Just as 9/11 itself was chaotic, so were the lives of many American's after that day and for years to come. People struggled to understand the event and then struggled to understand themselves.
I don't know this American anymore. I don't recognize it. There's an empty space where America used to be.
DeLillo builds many layers into this story which makes it seem disjointed and fragmented. I think this structure serves to reinforce the emotions and understanding of the attacks and it's aftermath: haunting, confusing and utterly heartbreaking.

Publisher: Scribner, 2007


Orange Prize Longlist Announced

The Orange Prize has become one of my favorite literary awards. One that I follow closely, as it "celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world".

The Guardian quotes judge Susana Reid who says, "There is a scope to this list. If anyone has a preconception about what a woman writes about, or what a woman's novel is, I think that this will blow it away. These novels cross continents, cross generations, cross decades, and there is no subject that these writers are not willing to tackle."

The 2011 longlist is as follows:

Leila Aboulela - Lyrics Alley
Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie
Emma Donoghue - Room
Tishani Doshi - The Pleasure Seekers
Louise Doughty - Whatever You Love
Jennifer Egan - A Visit from the Goon Squad
Aminatta Forna - The Memory of Love
Tessa Hadley - The London Train
Emma Henderson - Grace Williams Says it Loud
Samantha Hunt - The Seas
Joanna Kavenna - The Birth of Love
Nicole Krauss - Great House
Wendy Law-Yone - The Road to Wanting
Téa Obreht - The Tiger's Wife
Julie Orringer - The Invisible Bridge
Anne Peile - Repeat it Today with Tears
Karen Russell - Swamplandia!
Lola Shoneyin - The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
Roma Tearne - The Swimmer
Kathleen Winter - Annabel

Classics Challenge Check-In

I didn't even think about it until Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm posted her check-in, but today is the half-way point for the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much (if you are sticking to the original end date of June 30th, like I am).

Finished: 4 of 8 books

A banned book: Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence (1928)
A Pulitzer Prize winner in Fiction: The Old Man and The Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1951)
19th Century classic: The Age of Innocence (book one) (book two), Edith Wharton (1920)
20th Century classic: The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thorton Wilder (1927)

In reviewing these titles I realized that I failed to actually chose a 19th century classic for the 19th century classic category. I don't really know what happened there, and I'm not sure why no one pointed it out to me when I posted my Classics Challenge breakdown. So, I'm going to scratch The Age of Innocence from my list (sigh) and seek out an actual 19th century classic. I'm thinking Thérèse Raquin by Zola since I've already got it on my shelf.

Of the four classics I have read so far, my favorite one was Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's fantastic and I plan on incorporating more D.H. Lawrence into my reading diet.

The other 4 (or now 5) titles I've got left to read:

A book with a wartime setting: Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
A children's classic: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1868)
A 19th century classic (grrrrr...): tentatively Thérèse Raquin, Émile Zola (1867)
A book I think should be considered a 21st century classic: Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
A reread from highschool/college: The Awakening, Kate Chopin (1899)

If anyone sees any discrepancies in the titles I've yet to read, please let me know!

Book characters I'd want for family members

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

1. Oskar Schell from Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Because he is awesome - an inventor, jewelry maker, and coin collector among many other things, Oskar's brilliance and sensitivity would make him an interesting little boy to have around.

2. Minerva McGonagall from The Harry Potter Series - A wise, wise woman that would make a terrific grandmother.

3. Harriet M. Welsh from Harriet the Spy - She'd be a fun little sister - a little crazy, super curious and very smart, she's a very honest and precious little girl.

4. Sally Jay Gorce from The Dud Avocado: Hilarious and tough - Sally Jay Gorce would be the best twin sister ever.

5. Anne Frank from The Diary of a Young Girl - So she isn't a character per se, but I think she was such an interesting, intelligent and unique girl.

6. Anne Eliot from Persuasion: I think Anne would make a great sister. Despite her isolation and loneliness, she never seems bitter. I could learn a lot from Anne.

7. Santiago from The Old Man and The Sea: One of the most endearing old men ever, Santiago is both a dreamer and a realist - a man that would make a fantastic grandfather.

8. David Sedaris from Me Talk Pretty One Day: Another character who isn't fictional, I consider Sedaris to be one of the funniest writers out there. I'd love to have him around as a brother or a cousin.


A trip to Madison and some new books.

I'm a University of Wisconsin alumnus and with the political mess that is Wisconsin right now I took a day trip to my old campus to do some bar-hopping protesting, and visit the University Bookstore, of course.

And the books:

Chuck Palahniuk, Snuff
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Shirin Ebadi - Iran Awakening
Jhumpa Lahiri - Interpreter of Maladies


The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea was Hemingway's last book published in his lifetime. It is much different than his earlier works and details an old fisherman's three-day battle against a giant marlin. Hemingway's simple language and plot make this novella accessible. On the surface it's almost too simple, but after considering its ideas for a bit, themes of man vs. nature, humanity and compassion, allegories about the animals that live in the sea, and biblical imagery make this novel more complex.

After the old man hooks the giant marlin that is larger than his boat, it's a great struggle to bring the fish close enough to harpoon. The feat suggests the ability of man to overcome hardship and suffering in order to triumph. Hemingway also emphasizes the moral implications of killing or destroying nature, and whether or not the idea of the survival of the fittest holds it's weight:
You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?
This isn't my favorite Hemingway, but I can appreciate the importance of the novel. Hemingway might be the only writer who can hold my interest through a chapter-less book about fishing.

The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1952. Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954.

Publisher: Scribner, 1951


Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

I can't wait to get a dog. I love dogs. I love puppies. I've wanted a dog for as long as I can remember. My mom was allergic to dogs growing up, so I never had a dog to call my own. Now that I'm older I plan on getting a dog for myself - an English bulldog to be exact - but I am waiting until I'm not working full-time so the pup doesn't have to be alone eight hours a day. Until then, I will read about dogs so I am prepared to welcome a canine into my world.

I found Inside of a Dog an interesting read. It is not a guide to training your dog, but more of a road map to better understand how they think and perceive the world around them. Horowitz, a cognitive scientist, explains why certain dogs act the way they do and what an owner can learn from their everyday actions. She also examines how a dog perceives certain concepts: time, right vs. wrong, emotions and themselves. I found Inside of a Dog to be a nice starting point to learning about dogs' perceptual and cognitive abilities, but it is by no means a comprehensive volume. If you have any sort of background or experience studying animal behavior I would skip this book, because most of the information it contains will be obvious to you. But it does work well as an introduction to the subject, regardless of its occasional repetition.

Horowitz highlights a few ideas to keep in mind when trying to better understand your dog. First, forget what you think you know about your dog. Secondly, if you want to understand the life of any animal, you need to know what things are meaningful to it and how it acts in reaction to those things.

I enjoyed the anecdotes Horowitz included with every chapter - an instance when her dog, Pump, exemplified an action that Horowitz goes on to examine. I also found the chapter on how a dogs vision works particularly interesting. Not only do they perceive colors differently than humans, but they also have a higher flicker-fusion rate than humans (the number of snapshots of the world that the eye takes in every second). It is for this reason that dogs can actually see a thrown frisbee's or ball's new location a fraction of a second before humans do. Also, when dogs see an image on the tv, the image stream is not fast enough for a dog's vision - they see individual frames and the dark space between them too. In other words, the image on a tv does not look real to a dog.

All in all, this was an interesting read that I am going to push onto my dog-owning friends. It has also made me even more excited for the day when I can bring home my own puppy.

Me and my old friend, Lola

Publisher: Scribner, 2010


Mumford & Sons - Bookshop Sessions

I love Mumford & Sons and recently came across a bookshop edition of "White Blank Page" - which means it's officially book-related and I can post it here.



You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.

"I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket."

-Ray Bradbury

Photo via LA Times


The Age of Innocence: Book Two

The Age of Innocence read-along is hosted by Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm. Today we are posting our thoughts on Book Two and the entire novel overall. You can read my thoughts on Book One here.

Oh Edith Wharton - she is truly fantastic. Prior to The Age of Innocence, I had only read Ethan Frome, which I liked very much. Wharton has now established herself to be a master in relating a tortured love story. But it really is much more than that. I think one of the things that makes The Age of Innocence so powerful is Wharton's ability to impose the character's emotions onto the reader. Book One concluded with the announcement that Archer's wedding had been pushed forward. We still weren't sure what would happen with Ellen and I wondered whether or not Archer would go through with the wedding. Book Two opens on Archer's wedding day. Wharton throws her readers into the event - highlighting the haste and slight confusion Archer himself undergoes. Wharton also does this to the reader in the end when we jump forward many years to learn about May's death, the birth of Archer's children and his son's engagement to Fanny Beaufort. There is a disconnection between Archer's life as we left it and the one that we now learn about.
Nothing could more clearly give the measure of the distance that the world had traveled. People nowadays were too busy - busy with reforms and "movements," with fads and fetishes and frivolities - to bother much about their neighbors. And of what account was anybody's past, in the huge kaleidoscope where all the social atoms spun around on the same plane?
In my post on Book One I mentioned that this book is almost a work of observational anthropology, critiquing our inherent societal values and rejection of the unusual. These ideas are true throughout Book Two as well. Wharton further examines Old New York society in Book two by considering its gender relations. In Book One we are lead to believe May falls short of average intelligence, but in Book Two we see her "blue eyes wet with victory" when Archer knows he must stay with her and let Ellen go. I think Wharton is highlighting the underrated astuteness of the girl who plays dumb, and the true potential they hold to get exactly what they want. Wharton also touches on the double standards of an affair and then examines them backward, insisting that a woman is prone to changing her mind and acting impetuously, and it's the man who should be at fault for adulterous actions. I found Wharton's examination of gender relations in Book Two both interesting and witty.

When reading books I am usually hesitant to believe two characters in a novel are truly in love. The author really has to show me this emotion and make it unique - in The Age of Innocence, I never doubted Archer's love for Ellen. Wharton really pulled at my heart strings when Archer picks up Ellen at the train station and states,
Do you know - I hardly remembered you?
Hardly remembered me?
I mean: how shall I explain? I - it's always so. Each time you happen to me all over again.
Now, a discussion of the ending (spoiler alert). I think Wharton really does this entire novel justice when Archer walks away from Ellen without even saying hello years later. I don't think this novel was ever just a love story, which is what it would have been had Archer and Ellen ended up together. I think this is a story about a life of regret. I think this is a novel that articulates the importance of timing in life and the mutability of of our everyday world. It's about doing what's best for those you care about and stifling selfish motivations. It highlights the repercussions of the choices we make and the inability to go back and do things differently. I think it's about understanding societal constraints and despite a yearning for something more, facing the inability to break free of those constraints. All in all, the ending as it was made me think about the book as a whole more than I would have had Ellen and Archer lived happily ever after. Well played, Edith Wharton. Well played.

The Age of Innocence won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

Publisher: Macmillan, 1920


Books I Just Had To Buy That I Haven't Yet Read

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday is a fun one: Top Ten books I just had to buy that are still sitting on my bookshelf.

Most people who know me know that I can't manage to walk into a bookstore without buying something. The books I just had to have, but are still sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read months later are as follows:

1. Rabbit, Redux - John Updike

2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers

3. Middlesex - Jeffery Eugines

4. The Suicide Index - Joan Wickersham

5. Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood

6. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

7. The Man of My Dreams - Curits Sittenfeld

8. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

9. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

10. The Prince and the Pauper - Mark Twain

I am going to get to a handful of these in the next few months, and I do plan on reading them all at some point, but they are the stragglers on my TBR bookshelf. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Reading in Review: February

February flew by. Of course it's the shortest month, but I also was pretty busy. Here is my February monthly reading wrap up:

Books read: 6

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (1969)
The Namesake - Jumpha Lahiri (2003)
The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton (1920- read-along with Bookworm Meets Bookworm)
Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris (2000)
Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
Black Water - Joyce Carol Oates (1992)

Favorite February read: The Namesake

Authors of color read: 33%

Non-fiction read: 33%

Non-American authors read: 0%

Books read that are older than me (published before 1985): 16%

My reading resolutions for 2011 were to read more worldly authors, more authors of color and more non-fiction. In February I failed to read anything by a non-American author, which is something I'll work on for March.

image via weheatit.