Top Ten Tuesday: Classic Books

For today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, I am going to offer up five answers to the following questions: What classic books do I most want to read? and What books do I hope become classics in the future? So without further ado:

Five Classic Books I Want to Read

Catch22.jpgCatch-22, by Joseph Heller. I’ve read so many modern American classics, and somehow this one always slips by me. I’m sort of surprised that it wasn’t required reading for any of the many English classes I took through undergraduate and graduate school. I imagine that this would have been a better option than some of the books I was required to read (I am looking at you, A Confederacy of Dunces).
Middlemarch, by George Eliot. I’ve gotten about a third of the way through this one on two different occasions. I failed at both attempts because I was tempted by another book (probably for the blog), I am sure of it. I am not one of those people who can read more than one book at a time. If I were, I would have finished many a chunkster by now.
My AntoniaMy Ántonia, by Willa Cather. I am surprised I didn’t read this book when I was a young teen, because this would have been right up my alley given my love for books about the American West. I won a copy of it several years ago, and it’s been gathering dust on my shelf. I have no excuse.
A Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell. This is another one I’ve started a few times (well, the first volume, anyway). I know I am going to love it but I just cannot commit the time. I think we are all seeing a pattern here. I am going to have to learn to read more than one book at a time, aren’t I?
The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. A few years ago it seemed that one could easily lose one’s blogging credentials for not having read any Wilkie Collins. Besides that, pretty much every mystery writer I admire lists The Woman in White (or The Moonstone) as a must read. So, there you have it: I must read it.

Five Books I Hope Become Classics

Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. This tale of friends and family in a small Colorado town has always seemed timeless to me in that way of great classic literature. Haruf also has a clear, simple writing style that never gets in the way of the story but illuminates the smallest detail.
Never Let Me Go: A Novel CoverNever Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. I thought this book was very good when I first read it, but it has continued to haunt me in many ways that make me realize its power as a story. I think about it more often than I ever would have imagined.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro. Okay, Munro is my favorite writer of all time. You knew I’d have to include one of her collections. This one is my favorite, but Runaway or Too Much Happiness could also make the cut.
Just Kids CoverJust Kids, by Patti Smith. As memoirs go, Smith captures so much more than her own story. She offers up an important time in American art and music through a personal lens, and in flowing, poetic prose she tells what is really the timeless story of being young and in love with art, music, other people, and with a magical place.
A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. This sad and lovely book follows the lives of four characters: Dina Dalal, Ishvar Darji, Omprakash (Om) Darji, and Maneck Kohlah. The main part of the story takes place in Mumbai, India during The Emergency, a period from June 1975 to March 1977 when Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi suspended civil liberties and elections and established rule by decree. As difficult to read at times as it is to put down.

And just for the hell of it, here are five of my favorite classics:
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Lawrence Sterne*
The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

*Actually planned to write my dissertation on that one. A narrow escape for academia and British Lit scholarship in general.

Freestyle Friday: 6.27.14

Happy Friday, friends! This week was so crazy, I had no time to post anything. I was excited about this week’s Tuesday Top Ten topic, which was what we like or dislike about book covers. I really wanted to do a “YA Then and Now” post for that, comparing recent YA book covers to our old-timey YA book covers from the late 1970s and early 1980s. One thing that hasn’t changed is that YA marketers are very aware that young girls are their target market, so it’s interesting to me to see the way they’ve changed these covers to appeal to girls then and now. So I suppose I’ll just save it for a later Top Ten.

I spent the first part of my week in New York for a conference. Words cannot express how much I love New York (although the garbage is overwhelming). I had hoped to have time to see one of my best friends from college, I had hoped to have time to walk around and take some pictures, but those things didn’t happen this trip because I was traveling with a group. We did stay at a great concept/boutique hotel in Manhattan called citizenM. (What follows re: hotel is not sponsored/affiliated—just my opinion) It’s a Dutch company that also has hotels in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Rotterdam, and Glasgow. The rooms are modern and minimal, which I really liked:

IMG_20140623_203836 IMG_20140623_203958 IMG_20140623_203947 IMG_20140623_203921 IMG_20140623_203853

It was quiet and comfy and the staff was upbeat and friendly. It doesn’t offer room service, but it provides food and drink (including some good coffee) around the clock in an area of the lobby, which is also interesting and well-designed:


The price was very reasonable for midtown Manhattan and I would definitely stay there again if I were traveling alone. Although the bed was a nice size, the room itself would be a bit small for two people. I also sometimes like to workout in my room, but between the hard floors and minimal space, it would have been difficult to do anything more than some yoga poses or other minimal moves like squats.

The conference was at the Midtown Hilton. I’ve never been inside that hotel before, so when I caught my first view of the conference area:


I immediately recognized it from this:


I had to keep myself from yelling out, “Michael Clayton!” I am pretty sure my co-workers would have cared less, and if I’d said anything it would be one more reason for them to mock me (add to doesn’t eat meat, drives an electric car, and, apparently, talks “like someone on NPR”—which my boss does an imitation of that I have never heard), but I immediately messaged my husband to tell him. Also, despite hanging around in the lobby for pretty much the entire conference, I never did run into George Clooney or Tilda Swinton. I guess they never hang out there in real life, or at least not during corporate conferences about customer experience. What a waste.

Speaking of New York, last weekend I found this web series called city. ballet. about the New York City Ballet. Produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, it offers a glimpse inside the dancers’ lives. I watched the whole thing in one sitting (the videos are between four and eight minutes each, so not a huge time commitment), and it brought back the ballet-obsessed nine-year-old in me. I’ve been doing pliés all week, when no one is looking. Yes, I will be watching it again, I am sure.


On the reading front, I finished rock journalist Lisa Robinson’s memoir There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll and Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted. Look for reviews of those next week (and a playlist to go with Robinson’s book, of course!). I’m at a loss what to read next (something from this list), but I’ll probably try to read a physical book because after next week I will be traveling a lot and I don’t like to carry books with me.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Freestyle Friday: June 20, 2014

This was a week that should have been “easy” compared to the weeks ahead, but it felt especially draining. I remember an interview with Sarah Waters where she said that she is such an introvert, if she has an evening appointment it ruins the entire day for her because she spends most of her day trying gear up for the event. That’s exactly what this week was like. I won’t go on about it, though. Yesterday I saw this tweet from author Chuck Wendig:


Yes. I must focus on being a fountain. I love my husband, my cats, my family, my friends, books, music, running, writing…I don’t need to give any more time and energy than is absolutely required to things I dislike. So let’s do this.

  • All week you’ve probably (not) been wondering about how the running is going. Well, Sunday was good, Tuesday was less than okay, and yesterday I completely crapped out and didn’t run at all. The next four weeks include a great deal of travel, so sticking to a program will be next to impossible, (fountain…fountain) so I will probably just be running whenever I can. I also got a subscription to YogaDownload so I am hoping I can try that out in the hotel(s). (As I write this, RunKeeper just notified me that IT IS TIME TO RUN NOW YOU LAZY HUMAN. Not today, RunKeeper. Not today.) On the positive side, I am trying out new shoes! That will keep me excited about running for at least a few weeks.
  • I’ve pretty much come to grips with the fact that I am never going to write a review of The People in the Trees. Instead, I will simply point you to reviews by two of my favorite bookish enablers, Jenny at Reading the End and Teresa at Shelf Love. They are the reason I read the book in the first place, and they say it all.
  • Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness has another, more in-depth post about book blogging and review copies. This is timely because I received an email from NetGalley this week telling me (in a nutshell) that I haven’t reviewed enough books and so have not been approved for anything new. The email also mentioned that I might want to take some course they offer on doing a better job at this. In her post, Kim mentions an excellent point made by Teresa that using the word exchange (as in, “I received this copy in exchange for a review”) implies a payment of sorts, or that someone is owed something. I never thought about it that way, and I am guilty of being one of the people who use that term. Clearly, I do not feel obligated to review all of the books I get through NetGalley. Sometimes I request a book I think I will like and after I’ve read some of it I find it doesn’t appeal to me at all. I don’t think it’s fair to the author for me to rate or review a book I haven’t finished. In this case it would be easier if there were a “Revert Request” button, so I could “return” the book. In a few cases, I’ve finished books I didn’t like much. That’s what happened with Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys, and I did post a review. But I also didn’t care for Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Possibilities, and I chose to post the review only at NetGalley and to leave it off the blog, because for the most part, I really do not like to write negative reviews (FOUNTAIN!), especially of brand new books that haven’t found an audience yet.
  • I am a little more than halfway through Lisa Robinson’s There Goes Gravity. So far I’ve read chapters about The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Ramones, Michael Jackson, and U2, among others. Some of it is fascinating, but it takes some time getting used to her…style. She writes without any sort of narrative line, including a lot of (snarky) asides and non-sequiturs. She also likes to name drop. All the names. A lot.
  • Is anyone else sad that Fargo is over? That show could have gone either way but I thought it was terrifically well done. We’ll probably finish up Orange Is the New Black this weekend as well, as we only have two episodes left to watch. On Sunday the last season of True Blood begins, and we are going to see it through, even though the last few seasons were…not up to par.

Have a great weekend everyone. Remember, be a fountain!

Bellagio Fountain

The Fever: A Playlist

While I wThe Fever, by Megan Abbottas reading Megan Abbott’s The Fever, I kept thinking of a particular Radiohead song on OK Computer, called “Climbing up the Walls.” I decided to listen to it, and the next thing I knew I thought of another song, and then another, until this playlist was conceived. I tried to choose songs that would match the sort of sinister, frustrating atmosphere, but that would also match the new, raw power and sexual tension at play in the novel. I’ve done my very best to avoid anything spoilerish in the explanations below. I hope you enjoy it!

“Blasphemous Rumors” – Depeche Mode. “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumors / But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor / And when I die, I expect to find him laughing.” This is possibly the most teen-angsty song of all time: Everyone is struggling to understand what has happened, especially Deenie.
“Teenage Lust” – The Jesus and Mary Chain. “She’s taking hold of her sins now for the first time / Well, she’s been told about sins now but it feels fine.” At the very beginning of the novel, Deenie loses her virginity, and she spends much of the book working through her sense of ambivalence and awakening and how it all relates to the events at hand.
“Call the Doctor” – Sleater Kinney. “They want to socialize you / they want to purify you / they want to dignify, analyze and terrorize you.” All of the high-school girls, afflicted and unafflicted, are subjected to scrutiny after the fever begins to spread. Everything about their lives is analyzed for a root cause. If they are afflicted, they must be to blame. If they are still okay, they must be to blame. It’s a no win situation.
“Climbing Up the Walls” – Radiohead. After the second girl, Gabby, has a mysterious seizure, Gabby’s mother Lara tells Deenie’s father Tom that the world is infused with so much danger that they can never protect their children from. This song is about an actual male predator, but it fits so well with Lara’s view of how sinister everything is: “So lock the kids up safe tonight / And shut the eyes in the cupboard. / I’ve got the smell of a local man / Who’s got the loneliest feeling.”
“Somebody That I Used to Know” – Gotye. I picked this one specifically for Deenie’s parents, Georgia and Tom, who divorced two years’ prior to the events in the novel, but it also applies to Deenie and her mother (they are basically estranged–Deenie’s preference). It also applies to Deenie and Gabby, who has been spending more and more time with another friend Deenie doesn’t like much.
“Do Me A Favour” – Arctic Monkeys. “Curiosity becomes a heavy load / Too heavy to hold, will force you to be cold / And do me a favour, and ask if you need some help! / She said, do me a favour and stop flattering yourself!” Deenie’s brother Eli is worried about his sister, worried about her friends. He’s mystified at how they’ve grown into such unknowable, unfathomable beings, and the fever makes them more mysterious than ever.
“The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden” – Concrete Blonde. “They knew with the dawn / They knew with the day / They knew what they had / Would be young naked prey / And attacked from all sides / By a world filled with / Poison and hate” The fever happens just as spring is beginning to burst forth. On a night when the PTA holds a meeting to discuss the fever and what to do about it, the weather turns strangely warm and the sky takes on a strange glow, and Tom is no longer sure about the town and his or his childrens’ place in it.
“Jealous Girls” – The Gossip. “Jealousy won’t get you anything that you lost / Jealousy it will never be what it was / Jealousy well I’m afraid of what I’ve become / Jealousy it feels like everything’s come undone” Deenie, Gabby, and Lise have been best friends since junior high, but things have changed. The balance has shifted. Lise seemed to become the center of male attention overnight; Gabby has a mysterious new friend she shares her secrets with; and Deenie also has a secret of her own.
“Evil’s Sway” – Japandroids. “A candle’s pulse is no companion / When all you see is sexual red
You burn away your dreams inside a journal / And leave those primal words unsaid” Gabby’s mysterious friend Skye irks Deenie and somewhat fascinates Eli. She talks about energies and spells and incantations and seems immune to any harm.
“You’ve Been a Friend” – The Jesus and Mary Chain. “What if I say / I couldn’t take another day / Aw if I told you would you stay / And I’ve got you / And you’ve always seen me through / Aw if I told you would you stay” Deenie goes to visit Lise, who is in a coma at the hospital. She has to tell her something, something she hopes will wake her up–but that also might mean she will lose Lise anyway.
“Talk Amongst Yourselves” – The Grand National. “So talk amongst yourselves / While I try to figure it out / Figure it out / I’ll let you know in my time” One of the afflicted girls makes a YouTube video where she points the finger at Deenie. Deenie herself worries that she has somehow caused everything that happens, but she’s more interested in uncovering the truth than in anything else.

The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Fever, by Megan AbbottI first picked up a book by Megan Abbott back in 2009. That book was Queenpin, the story of a nameless narrator’s apprenticeship under a 1950s female mob boss named Gloria Denton. I was immediately hooked and went on to read Bury Me Deep, based on the true story of Winnie Ruth Judd, the “Trunk Murderess” of the 1930s who murdered her husband and shipped him from Arizona to California in a steamer trunk. Here’s what I said in my original review of Bury Me Deep: “While fiction hardly lacks for strong female protagonists, one of the things I like about Abbott’s books is that her women are so very pragmatic. These aren’t intellectual heroines, plucky young women defying convention by sneaking into the boys’ club or determining not to marry and instead pursue a life of the mind.” (Always quote yourself whenever possible, people. All the cool kids do. Like Kanye.)

In 2011, when I read about The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, I was excited to see how Abbott’s ability to create such compelling heroines would translate to a more modern, more conventional plot line (let’s face it—many, many novels have been written about missing girls). Sadly, when I read the novel I found it didn’t seem to translate at all. In fact, I felt like I had picked up a book by another author entirely (and maybe in some ways I had). While I didn’t dislike The End of Everything, it lacked the darkness and the gumption of her earlier books.

I hoped for better when I read the blurbs about her 2012 novel Dare Me, which while entertaining enough felt like little more than Mean Girls meets psychological thriller. While she successfully brought back the darker atmosphere of her earlier works, the characters—popular, oversexed cheerleaders with so much raw ambition they make Cersei Lannister look like an amateur—felt like caricatures.

I admit, I approached The Fever with some trepidation. I say some because the truth is, Abbott is a terrific writer with a unique voice, and so she’s one of those writers who will always make me jump at the chance to read what she’s written, even if I’m just hoping for better than last time. Luckily, The Fever did not disappoint—not by a longshot.

In The Fever, Abbott maintains her own unique style while somehow also channeling the empathy of Judy Blume and the edginess of Joyce Carol Oates. Deenie Nash’s best friend Lise is struck by a mysterious seizure at school one morning. The next day, Deenie and Lise’s friend Gabby is also struck by a seizure during a school orchestra recital. As the days go by, more and more girls at the high school are affected by a mysterious illness that includes symptoms such as uncontrollable twitching and violent vomiting. Parents and teachers are panicked, the whole small-town community of Dryden in an uproar.

Only the girls are afflicted. The boys are fine. Some parents believe a (semi) mandatory vaccine is to blame, others believe pollution in the town lake is the problem, while others still blame demonic possession. The book alternates points of view, from Deenie to her father Tom, a chemistry teacher at the school, to her brother Eli, a popular Senior hockey player. This shift is effective because while Tom and Eli are directly affected by the town’s hysteria and their concern for Deenie, their sections provide a broad viewpoint of Deenie and her friends, creating a less insular experience than the ones Abbott created in her previous two novels. Deenie (named for Blume’s Deenie, perhaps?) also has some of the pragmatism and gumption of Abbott’s early heroines. Abbott also does such a terrific job of—how else to say this?—showing what it means to be a girl. Not a cheerleader, not a prom queen, but not Carrie, not an outcast. Just a girl, with all those mysterious feelings about herself and her friends, all the changes taking place physically and mentally, the safety of staying in childhood and the excitement of becoming something more, something else, and how all that shifts alliances and balances of power in relationships that once seemed so easy. “She thinks I need her but she’s the one who needs me,” Gabby says of Deenie. “I make her feel more interesting.”

Abbott does a terrific job of drawing out the suspense and creating a palpable atmosphere of hysteria. Although the subject matter is completely different, it reminded me of an Australian film (from long, long ago) called Picnic at Hanging Rock, a psychological thriller about the mysterious disappearance of several girls and a teacher and the hysteria that ensues. It’s a frightening movie because it never resolves anything, and the audience is left to wonder whether a crime was committed at all, or if perhaps the missing women were simply the victims of an accident while hiking in the rocks. And if The Fever has a weakness, I would say it’s the ending, which is not implausible but perhaps a little too neatly tied off, at least for my tastes. I would have preferred that Abbott maintain the mystery right through to the end. Four out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received my copy of The Fever from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

For this week’s Top Ten hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, we are supposed to share the top 10 books on our TBR list for summer.  My reading seems to have slowed to a crawl, so I’m sure I will be lucky to get through half of these. I’m also typically terrible at sticking to a reading plan, tending to read things on a whim or according to my mood. That’s also how I have typically approached running in the past, but sticking with a plan this summer has actually been quite gratifying, so why why not try to stick for a plan for reading?

So following are the books I’ve selected. I chose some newer books (The Truth about Harry Quebert, The Enchanted), some books that have been on my TBR for a while (Corpus Christi, The Gods of Gotham), a book outside my wheelhouse (Blackbirds), and one I started and got about halfway through but never finished (The Blind Assassin). In addition to these I have a couple of ARCs from NetGalley, in particular Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, that I will also pick up this summer. For links or more details, you can click through the graphic to my Pinterest site where I’ve pinned my list.

  1. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
  2. The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, Jöel Dicker
  3. Bark, Lorrie Moore
  4. Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig
  5. Corpus Christi, Bret Anthony Johnson
  6. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  7. A Man Came Out of the Door in the Mountain, Adrianne Harun
  8. The Gods of Gotham, Lindsay Faye
  9. The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets, Diana Wagman
  10. The Enchanted, Rene Denfeld

Freestyle Friday

Every time I sit down to write one of these “Freestyle Friday” posts, I realize how very bad I am at, uh, freestyling. Oh well. Let’s get to it.

  • Maybe you hoped I wouldn’t, but I’m going to talk about running again. I’ve been very good about sticking to my RunKeeper Sub-65 Minute 10K program, which is a huge deal for me because I am oh-so-very-good at getting in my own way when I try to do things like this. I’ll do a program for a week, and then I’ll decide some little bit needs to change. Just some small thing, ever so slightly. Why not just take the base program and make my own program with that small alteration? But then maybe I should make a few other alterations, too. And that’s how it goes until I’ve basically altered it enough so that I feel overwhelmed by the whole thing and just give up entirely. Not this time, though. Not yet. I just do what the program says, and the only thing I alter is my route. I made this playlist on Spotify that I put on shuffle and just go.

  • I found a terrific excerpt on Runner’s World from Running and Being by Dr. George Sheehan. This is the 35th anniversary edition of this classic book on running, which I have never read. From the excerpt, though, it sounds like a book  that’s about so much more than running:

So each day I take to the roads as a beginner, a child, a poet. Seeking the innocence of the beginner, the wonder of the child and the vision of the poet. Hoping for a new appreciation of the landscape, a new perspective of my inner world, some new insights on life, a new response to existence and myself.

There are times, more often than the good times, when I fail. I never do pierce the shield. I return with a shopping list of things to do tomorrow. The miraculous has gone unseen. The message has gone unheard. I have had one of those loveless days on a lovely day for love.

Still, there is always the chance I’ll have beginner’s luck. And this run, this hour, this day may begin in delight and end in wisdom.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

  • I know I said I wouldn’t buy any books and I would just read what I have but then I broke down and bought We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I bought it in the middle of a particularly stressful work day this week. And worse? It’s a Kindle book. From Amazon. I know, I know. But they just make it so easy. Don’t be afraid to click the link for the book. I am not taking you down with me. It takes you to the author’s website. When I read it sometime in 2016 I’ll be sure and let you know what I think.
  • Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness has a thought-provoking post about book bloggers writing sponsored posts. (The original article appeared on Book Riot.) You may have seen it but if you haven’t it’s worth reading. Many of us sign up for or accept offers of advanced reader’s copies (ARCs) in exchange for our honest opinion. That, my friends, it not the same as writing a sponsored post. A sponsored post is when someone else directs what you can and cannot say, what images you can use, and what the ultimate message should be. This is very common in the beauty, fashion, and fitness blogging world, and I’ve stopped following many a blog in my time when they started to sound like they were more interested in sponsoring/monetizing than grassroots sharing. (And, back in my perfume blogging days, I turned down many offers to review products when they required me to message things a certain way.) I realize that not everyone has the same goals or priorities when it comes to blogging; some people want the reach, attention, and connections that might come with sponsoring posts, and they still find an audience. Me, I’m not their reader.
  • I’m so excited for next week because I get to share my review of Megan Abbott’s The Fever with you. I guess by telling you that I’m excited you pretty much know how it’s going to go. I also made a playlist for it. Total geek fangirl. Fanwoman? Whatever.