R.I.P Challenge VI

Woohoo! The R.I.P challenge has arrived! This is my favorite challenge of the whole year, probably because autumn is my favorite season and Halloween is my favorite holiday. Anyhow, it begins September 1st and ends October 31st. To participate, you can read books that fall in the genre of: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, Gothic, horror and supernatural. As always, there are multiple perils. I am going to participate in Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (my very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

If you are interested in checking out what I read for the challenge last year, you can find that here. Tentative titles for this year include:
  • Untouchable by Scott O'Connor
  • The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
  • In the Woods by Tana French
  • Pussy, King of the Pirates by Kathy Acker
  • I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti
  • Night Waking by Sarah Moss
  • The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  • The Prince of the Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • The Collector by John Fowles
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimen


Books at the top of my Fall TBR

1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides: I would kill for a ARC of this one, but since I'm not that cool I am counting down the days until October 11th when Eugenides latest is released.

2. Untouchable by Scott O'Connor: This was a gift from a friend and since I read this review I've been waiting until Fall to pick it up. It sounds like it will be a good fit for the RIP challenge - my favorite challenge of the year.

3. 11/2/63: A Novel by Stephen King: I will admit, I have never read any Stephen King. I've been told The Dark Tower series is one of his best and I hope to get to it someday, but in the meantime I've got my eye on his new release. But I'll have to wait until November 8th.

4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I don't think it's a coincidence that this one will be released on my birthday, September 13th - ok it's very much a coincidence. But either way, I can't help but be excited about this one; circuses, magicians, greed and love sounds promising to me.

5. Them by Joyce Carol Oates: I bought this one in July and it's still sitting on my TBR. I'm thinking Fall will be the season to read it.

6. Night by Elie Weisel: Another dark and horrific book, only this one isn't fiction. Night is about a teenager who struggles to survive in a Nazi death camp.

7. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer: I can't remember where I read this review for this one, but it sounded amazing and I bought it a few weeks ago. A tale of "witty disillusionment," this one also sounds quite promising.

8. Surfacing by Margaret Atwood: I've only read one Atwood so far this year, which is somewhat out of character for me. This was has been looking at my from my TBR for a few months now and I can't wait to tackle it.

9. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach: I enjoyed Stiff very much, and I've heard Roach's latest is just as interesting.

10. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris: This is another that has been hanging out on my nightstand waiting to be read. I enjoyed Then We Came To An End and this one sounds even more interesting.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish


Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury

"Because growing old isn't all that bad. None of it is bad if you have one thing. If you have the one thing that makes it alright."

I picked this up at Half Price Books at the beginning of the summer after I noticed it on the staff recommendations shelf. The last time I did that at B&N, it ended badly. However, I figured (a) I can always trust Ray Bradbury and (b) I trust the people over at HPB over Tom and my local B&N. I wanted to save this book until the end of summer was nearing - for obvious reasons - and I'm happy I did. It turned out to be a beautifully written, unique meditation on time and aging. 

During an Indian summer in the Midwest a group of boys organize a small civil war against the older adults in their community to "keep living" and resist growing old. Soon the boys realize it's not their elders who are the enemy; it's time itself. In an effort to stop time, the boys plan to destroy the clock at the heart of the city, convinced this will keep time at a standstill. What ensues is an understanding of life and time, aging and dying, and how our outlook of it makes all the difference.
The clock moved silently. And now he knew that it had never ticked. No one in the town had ever actually heard it counting to itself; they had only listened so hard that they had heard their own hearts and the time of their lives moving in their wrists and their hearts and their heads.
Bradbury conveys the point of view of the young boys with accuracy and whimsy. It didn't feel contrived or overwrought, but unique and nostalgic. Farewell Summer examines our reluctance to grow up and let go of our childhood, regardless of the fact that we don't really have a choice. The novel also suggests that while it's meaningful to remember your past, it's important to understand the future holds just as much promise.
'It's all how you look at it,' said Tom. 'My gosh, think of all the things you haven't even started yet. There's a million ice cream cones up ahead and ten billion apple pies and hundreds of summer vacations. Billions of things waitin' to be bit or swallowed or jumped in.'
This is why you can never go wrong with Bradbury. I enjoyed this novel to pieces. As it turns out, this book is part of a trilogy, which I didn't discover until I was 50 pages into the book and didn't want to stop. So I've got to track down Dandelion Wine (1957) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). Also, thank you to the HPB staff member who brought this book to my attention, and I'm sorry I didn't catch your name.

Publisher: Harper Voyager, 2006


Books I Loved That I Never Reviewed

Compared to a lot of other book bloggers, I haven't been reviewing books for very long. I started this blog a year after I graduated from college, so that leaves many books that have gone unmentioned here. Below are some of my favorites that I read pre-blogging:

1. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868): This is for sure my all-time favorite detective novel (not that I have read very many) that was so much fun to read. A very well-written page-turner full of colorful characters that you shouldn't pass up.

2. White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985): Still my favorite DeLillo, if you are going to read one book about the 20th century, I think this one should be it.

3. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1993): This one is pretty dark but if you can make your way through, it's worth it. At it's core, it examines race relations in post-apartheid South Africa.

4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2004): Confession: I have read this book three times and I love it even more with each read. It is a romance novel with a dose a sci-fi, but still smart and and I love it. It will always be a book that I won't hesitate to pick up and reread when I need a good love story in my life.

5. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (2007): This is a truly heart-breaking read that examines a subject I feel is important for those removed from it to learn about: child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

6. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860): This is my all-time favorite bildungsroman (yes I like it more than Jane Eyre) and if you are interested in Eliot I think this is a great place to state.

7. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature by Steven Pinker (2007): I think this is the most interesting of Pinker's books I have read. He combines his vast knowledge of language and human behavior to examine what the words we use say about ourselves.

8. Alphabet Juice by Roy Blount Jr (2009): This is a hysterical and intelligent look into specific words in our ever-changing vocabulary. It reads like an amusing dictionary. If you are a nerd about words, this is for you.

9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884): A children's classic that I read as an adult, this novel is about the nature of freedom and the meaning of human connections.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish
photo via Pretty Books


On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I bought this novel at the end of spring without knowing much about Zadie Smith or her novels. I knew On Beauty had been shortlisted for the Booker and won the Orange Prize, but aside from that I didn't know what to expect. After I posted about my book purchase back in April, Greg from The New Dork Review of Books commented that "On Beauty is very good, but it's even better if you have a working knowledge of Howards End by E. M. Forster." Well, I don't typically ignore that sort of advice, especially when it comes from someone whose literary taste I trust. So I went out and bought Howards End and then I read it aaaand while I won't go down in my top ten list of classics, I could not be happier that I listened to Greg because my understanding of Howards End contributed quite a bit to my understanding of On Beauty. Not only that, but Smith's reworking of the classic novel left me in awe.

So the first thing I will tell you is if you want to read this book you should really take Greg's advice as well and read Howards End. The two books are similar in themes and structure, but then again they are really very different. Forster's novel examines two interconnected families who exist in the Edwardian era; a time when the class system in England was so disordered that social upheaval ensued. Smith's work examines a different pair of conflicting and interconnected modern families who hold opposing values but exist under the same community, that of the fictional Wellington college. While the reworked implications of Smith's novel are anything but subtle, they function in a unique and contemporary way that leaves much to think about.
Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful...and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.
At its heart, On Beauty examines the cultural implications of modern-day diversity as well as the heavy complications that result from human emotions. Smith identifies and explores contemporary feminist anxieties and while she doesn't offer any concrete solutions, she does imply its future is hopeful. We are introduced to vivid characters, each with a distinct voice that Smith conveys in a humorous and compassionate tone. Above all, Smith explores our ever dynamic and diverse ideologies in regards to politics, family life and our connections with others. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton ,2005


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I read Middlesex earlier this year and it quickly became one of my favorite books. It's no surprise that Eugenides won the Pulitzer in 2003 for this grand narrative that weaves together the story of three generations Greek-Americans and explores, among other things, the idea of splits and divides within our identity, our desires, our families and our place in the world. Middlesex was so amazing that it took Eugenides nine years to finalize his follow-up, the much anticipated The Marriage Plot. I couldn't wait until October 11th to buy Eugenides latest, and I also couldn't shut up about it. Then the lovely and generous librarian Melissa Rochelle from Life:Merging came to my rescue and offered to mail me her ARC, which basically made my week.

The Marriage Plot has been dubbed a "romance," but I wouldn't let that classification deter you from this book if it's not your thing, because it really is so much more than that. On the surface it is a love triangle, but it also examines the confusion and angst of early 20-something college graduates; the uncovering of identities and the difficulties of deciding what direction your life will take, when you don't even know exactly what you want to get out of it. This novel, among other things, explores exactly how we get where we do, even when we aren't planning on it. As Eugenides explains, "People don't understand their lives or what happened to them; they only think they do." One of my all-time favorite bands, The Talking Heads, has a popular song that Eugenides quotes in his epigraph: And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?/And you may tell yourself,/This is not my beautiful house./And you may tell yourself,/This is not my beautiful wife. I think that epigraph really captures the ideas Eugenides takes on in The Marriage Plot.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be done with it? To be done with sex and longing? Mitchell could almost imagine pulling it off, sitting on a bridge at night with the Seine flowing by. He looked up at all the lighted windows along the river’s arc. He thought of all the people going to sleep or reading or listening to music, all the lives contained by a great city like this, and, floating up in his mind, rising just about the rooftops, he tried to feel, to vibrate among, all those million tremulous souls. He was sick of craving, of wanting, of hoping, of losing.
I should also mention the plethora of bookish details and our lead character, Madeleine, an English major who is writing her dissertation on the marriage plot; the plot device that characterized the Victorian novel, whether or not the hero and heroine would get married. Eugenides takes 19th century notions of love and compares them to our modern day counterparts. Can we have a modern-day love story that is just as romantic and unforgettable as Wuthering Heights or Daniel Deronda despite the complications of prenups, gender equality, sexual liberation, and divorce?
The novel had reached is apogee with the marriage plot and had never recovered from its disappearance. In the days when success in life had depended on marriage, and marriage had depended on money, novelists had a subject to write about. The great epics sang of war, the novel of marriage. Sexual equality, good for women, had been bad for the novel. And divorce had undone it completely.
Well, in my opinion, I don't want a retelling of the marriage plot. I want a reinvention of it, something equally as satisfying, but post-modern, which is exactly what Eugenides delivered. I adored this book. Eugenides prose is just as beautiful and detailed as it was in Middlesex, and his characters just as memorable. The plot maintains a steady pace, even as the characters develop and change. Upon finishing the book, I gave it a big hug, because it has one of those endings that you can't help not to hug it. As I mentioned in some post-reading thoughts, this book had the most satisfying ending of any other book I've read this year. I'm so tempted to share a passage from the ending (if you've read it I'll bet you know the one!), but I'm worried it would be a spoiler. So instead, I'll tell you this one is well-worth the read. You can buy The Marriage Plot at bookstores everywhere today. A big thanks to Melissa for lending me her ARC.

If you're interested in learning more, I'd like to direct you to Nymeth's review of The Marriage Plot.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011


My summer so far, according to my iPhone

deep fried butter at the Wisconsin State Fair
running through a sprinkler with my neice
dairy cow at the Wisconsin State Fair
Batch 19 at the historic Pabst Brewery

pool party at the bf's house
Milwaukee sunset
big bang fireworks at Summerfest

30-team beer pong tournament
skydiving in Chicago
reading at the lake house
bloody mary at The Nick


Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Nominations for Book Blogger Appreciation Week end August 13th, so if you are interested in nominating some of your favorite blogs, make sure to scoot in before Saturday! Categories include:

Best Written Book Blog
Best Author Interviews
Best New Book Blog
Best Book Blog Meme
Best Book Blogging Event
Best Book Blog Feature or Series of Posts
Best Eclectic Book Blog
Best Kidlit Book Blog
Best YA Book Blog
Best Nonfiction Book Blog
Best Speculative Fiction Book Blog
Best Literary Fiction Book Blog
Best Classics Book Blog
Best Romance Book Blog
Best Historical Fiction Book Blog
Best Mystery/Suspense/Crime Book Blog
Best Horror/Thriller Book Blog
Best GLBT Lit Book Blog
Best Cultural Book Blog
Best Graphic Novel Book Blog
Best Publishing/Industry Blog
Best Published Author Blog
Best Spiritual, Inspirational, or Religious Book Blog
Best Audiobook Blog
Best Poetry Blog
Best Bookstore Blog
Best Bookish Miscellaneous Blog

Of course you don't have to nominate one blog for each category, just fit the ones you like in a selected category. Winners will be announced during book blogger appreciation week, September 12-16. Check out the 2011 Awards Process to learn how to nominate a blog.


Top Ten Underrated Books

un·der·rate (verb/ˌəndə(r)ˈrāt/) : underestimate the extent, value or importance of someone or something.

1. The Story of a Modern Woman by Ella Hepworth Dixon (1894): Hepworth Dixon is one of my favorite Victorian writers, but she doesn't get much recognition. I highly recommend The Story of a Modern Woman if you are interested in lesser-known late-Victorian lit.

2. Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye is undeniably Salinger's most popular work, but for me, Franny and Zooey is his greatest.

3. "Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan (2009): Ok so this is a short story, but it's fantastic and you can read it in it's entirety for free right here. If you liked Shadow of the Wind, I think you'll like this short story as well. Sloan's website also informs me that Mr. Penumbra is going to be a full-length novel published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I'm pretty excited about that one.

4. The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (2007): If you've read Shriver, you've probably read We Need to Talk About Kevin. But don't miss The Post-Birthday World, a book that examines how one moment can dramatically alter our life.

5. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie (1990): This is a children's novel, but it's still fantastic to read as an adult; both whimsical and relevant.

6. In An Antique Land by Amitov Ghosh (1994): An in-depth look into the life of an Indian salve in Egypt.

7. The Street by Ann Prety (1946): A novel of the Harlem Renassance, The Street examines the hardships of single motherhood.

8. Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2009): So this one isn't underrated by any means. It has actually been talked about quite a bit. This is just my way of saying if you haven't read this, you should.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish


Making time for reading, rest and relaxation

I'm headed out of town tonight to spend some time relaxing with friends at a lake house. Since I haven't had much time to read in the last two weeks, I'm looking forward to hitting On Beauty hard and maybe even tackling another book. I'm going to use this time to "unplug" so it's going to be slow around here for a little while. We'll see you next week.

Image via weheartit


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Earlier this year I picked up Alexandra Horowitz's nonfiction book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. Horowitz is a cognitive scientist and explains why dogs act the way they do, essentially creating a road map to better understand how dogs think and perceive the world around them. I found the book very interesting and when I came across The Art of Racing in the Rain, it sounded like if would be a fictionalized version of Inside of a Dog. Narrated by Enzo the dog, the novel is told through his point of view, which offers an honest look into the lives of his family. It is less about Enzo and more about the turbulent life of his owner, Denny, a race car driver, and his wife and child.

This is the first "dog" novel I have read. I picked it up in an effort to lighten my reading diet after I was a bit nauseated from too many classics all at once. It worked. The novel is straightforward and charming. Stein uses Denny's passion of racing cars as a metaphor for the quickness and difficulties of life. I did roll my eyes a few times, as the use of this metaphor became cliche and the voice of the narrator sometimes felt contrived, but overall it was a quick and enjoyable read. The author takes great liberties as to what a dog can actually understand, but if you can be open minded to the premise, I think you will enjoy the novel well enough.
So much of language is unspoken. So much of language is compromised of looks and gestures and sounds that are not words. People are ignorant of the vast complexity of their own communication.
With that being said, I did have one gripe; the narrator didn't actually sound like a dog. If a dog were narrating, I would expect it to sound more excited, perhaps more disjointed than the voice Stein created; a stream of consciousness of sorts, a "I'm so happy to be here but my mind moves a mile a minute" sort of voice. I think if Stein had made our narrator sound more like a dog and less like a human, I would have enjoyed this novel more. It is a pleasant read, but for me it didn't move any mountains.

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2008


Reading in Review: July

July was a super social month for me. Parties and get-togethers and cookouts and bonfires and festivals - all fun things that didn't leave a lot of down time for reading. I'm hoping August is less busy for me because I've got a wonderful stack of books waiting for me. Anyway, July stats:
Books read: 5

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) (review coming soon)

Favorite July read: The Bell Jar

Authors of color read: 0%

Non-fiction read: 20%

Non-American authors read: 40%

Books read that are older than me: 40%

Photo via Booklover