Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Blogger Hop, Question of the Week

Book Blogger Hop

This week's Question of the Week from Crazy for Books is: Do you listen to music when you read? If so, what are your favorite reading tunes?

Typically, I can read almost places, public buildings, transportation, parks, etc. I am really good at drowning out noise. That doesn't mean, however, that I purposefully will play music only to drown it out. Occasionally I can listen to music that doesn't have lyrics or is in a language I don't understand, but really, I just prefer silence.

Reading The Count of Monte Cristo now. 120 pages in and loving it!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hollywood Tackles Hester Prynne

I haven't been reading as much lately (bad Melissa), BUT I saw something interesting today as I flipped through the t.v. channels: a trailer for a new movie based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. The movie stars Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) who pretends to lose her virginity in order to advance a gay friend's popularity. Because high schoolers are the MEANEST individuals on earth, they instantly begin to chastise Olive for her promiscuity. Olive combats the harassment by proudly displaying a red "A" on her chest.

...Now, I haven't read this book in about five years, but did I read something different? I don't really think this accurately reflects the plot of The Scarlet Letter even remotely except for the "A" Olive wears on her shirt and the title ("Easy A"--hahahhahahahaa! That's actually quite clever). Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against adapting classics to modern films. I think it's fun and I don't take it too seriously. I like 10 Things I Hate About You, She's the Man, and similar films. But it seems like Hollywood is kind of stretching for this one. I think the adaptation starts out well enough, but what about the ending of the book (if I remember correctly, there is a lot more guilt and a lot less "girl power"). I just don't understand how the themes of The Scarlet Letter can remain intact during its translation into a high-school teen comedy. Does anyone else feel that this classic is a strange choice for this project?

Watch the trailer on the official site.

And because I love this cartoon from The New Yorker, and it's somewhat relevant:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Crazy-For-Books Penguin Giveaway!

Crazy-For-Books is currently sponsoring a great giveaway in honor of Penguin's 75th Anniversary! Winners are eligible to receive any book on this list. Click here to enter!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top Ten Books!

Yesterday many of the book blogs participated in "Top Ten Tuesday" by listing ten books that hold a special place in their heart. I didn't have the time to do this yesterday, so I pushed it off until today. Anyway, here is a careful list of ten of the greatest books I've ever read. I've decided not to include important books from my childhood. Not because they were any less adored, I assure you, but because there is a lot of nostalgia that accompanies my fondness for children's books, and I would feel odd if I lumped them into the same categories of Fitzgerald and Shakespeare. These are not in order. That being said, here we go!


1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I've started to read this book every summer. This is a book that demands to be reread. When I was originally assigned it in a terrible high school English class, I truly didn't like the book. Thank goodness I decided to give it another whirl a few years later because now it is one of my favorite books. The language is just perfect. One of my favorite lines in literature is in this book ("You look so always look so cool"). Gives me chills every time.

2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I am in love with this man. No, really, I am. Except I would never want to marry him and ruin his absolutely perfect marriage with fellow writer Nicole Krauss (she's coming up in a bit) because I love her too. I kind of just want to live with them and their perfect, awesome, literary power family and try to absorb their amazingness. This book is beautiful. Original, but not at all gimmicky, striking prose, inventive story lines. Oscar is one of the best characters in literature and I would like to adopt him.

3. Much Ado about Nothing by William Shakespeare

I have an intense love affair with Shakespeare, and I am often asked what my favorite play is of his. I think I finally have an answer: Much Ado about Nothing. It's outrageously funny, but definitely dramatic. I love Beatrice so much, she is definitely a dream role of mine. I directed this play in high school, so it also is very dear to my heart. This is Shakespeare at his finest. Like Gatsby, I have parts of it memorized that still give me chills.

4. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss is the lovely young wife of Safran Foer, and to be honest, their novels are EERILY similar. They both focus on child protagonists lost in NYC, they both contain elements of magical realism. Even though the two books are bizarrely similar, they both are great enough that it doesn't bother me at all. Though I think Foer is the more inventive writer, I believe that Krauss is perhaps the more gifted. Her sentences are so lyrical, often reading like poetry. "Her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering." Oh lord. Swoon!

5. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I need to read this again. I read it last summer, put it down, and my face was blown off. I really loved the attention to detail, the gorgeous pacing, the eeriness of the whole thing. I read it so fast, though, I need to slow down this time around to pick up more.

6. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I read a lot of memoirs for one reason or another, and this is by far my favorite. Walls' story is incredible. I've been through quite a lot in my life, but I can't even imagine the strength it must have taken to live through her childhood. It's beautifully and bravely written. I was so enthralled while reading this that I actually took it to a party while in high school and read it there. Yeah, I was a real cool kid.

7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I really like everything I've read of Steinbeck. I haven't read this for five years, so I'm reluctant to still include it. However, I am so in love with Tom Joad that I feel he still deserves a solid place on this list.

8. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

What a weird book. Surreal and magical, Bender pushes the limits of dream and reality and creates bizarrely whimsical stories. She isn't for everyone, but I have fallen in love with her. Each story in this collection is a treat.

9. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I. Love. Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five was my first Vonnegut, and I think it remains so, with Cat's Cradle a close second. This book completely changed my way of thinking about time and mortality. I still think about this book often, and it's been over a year since I've read it. A lot of people dismiss this as "just another anti-war book" but those people obviously are missing the entire point. Sure, it's obviously against war. But more importantly it shows that it is inevitable, as is death. So it goes.

10. No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

Another great book of really strange short stories. Not all of them are great, but when July hits the mark, she REALLY nails it. This collection, like Bender's, is heavily surreal and may require the reader to let go of certain expectations. Her stories are truly beautiful and her writing is fantastic. I definitely recommend her.

Honorable mentions: Circling the Drain by Amanda Davis, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Shakespeare's Cannon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Blogger Hop, Question of the Week

Tell us what you're currently reading.

I have about 80 pages left in The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I also need to finish The Liar's Club by Mary Karr--I accidentally lost it when I came back from Philadelphia, but I'm having trouble mustering up the required enthusiasm for the last 100 pages. It is a bit of a disappointment so far. I ended up in Border's yesterday (always a dangerous situation) and had a little shopping spree in the poetry section: I picked up Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Gibran's The Prophet, and I'm really excited to dive into Leaves of Grass as soon as possible.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I’ve decided to take on some of Murakami’s works. I’m really interested in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but it’s just too damn long. I was afraid of such an undertaking considering I’ve never read this author before, so I decided to test the waters with Norwegian Wood, which is far shorter.

The book takes place in Japan during the 1960’s. Toru is a college student who is romantically involved with two very different girls, Midori and Naoko. He has a strange history with Naoko—she dated Toru’s best friend since childhood, but then he commits suicide. Naoko is a character who is "beautifully broken"--mentally fragile, the kind of girl you just want to hold. She is unable to deal with her pain and begins to live in a colony where people try to heal themselves through farmwork, simple routine, and exercise. The patients and doctors are almost indistinguishable from each other. The place sounds like a kind of awesome Utopia. Scenes between this colony and “the real world” with Midori are very unsettling. Murakami plays with the reader’s sense of reality, and at times it is difficult whether things are happening only in Toru’s mind or in actuality.

I particularly liked the book’s characters, especially Midori. She’s an absolute gem. I don’t remember the last time I’ve liked a character so much. Perhaps it was because I loved Midori so intensely, but Toru came off as a bit of an ass sometimes.

I think I will definitely read some more Murakami. I’m always hesitant about reading translations…I know that it’s irrational, that translations are usually good, but there’s always a part of me that’s thinking, “but that’s not the EXACT word the author wanted to use!” However, I have heard that Murakami’s English translations are fantastic, and after reading Norwegian Wood I would have to agree.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Most insane Twilight products

Of course I have read Twilight. As a book fanatic, I simply had to read the series to see what the fuss was all about. I have my own opinions about the series, but these are meant for a longer, far more detailed post when I have more time. But there is one thing I think that we can all agree on: obsession with Twilight sometimes borders on the insane.

Someday I will elaborate on my views towards the series, but for now check out this hilarious slideshow containing the craziest products to come out of the Twilight craze!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, by Anne Carson

"It was the year he began to wonder about the noise that colors make. Roses came roaring across the garden at him.
He lay on his bed at night listening to the silver light of stars crashing against the window screen. Most
of those he interviewed for the science project had to admit they did not hear
the cries of the roses
being burned alive in the noonday sun. Like horses, Geryon would say helpfully,
like horses in war."

Autobiography of Red is unlike any book I've every read. As the title suggests, it is a "novel in verse," but don't shy away from it just because it's poetry (and, for some reason, people are afraid of poetry). Don't feel intimidated or "stupid" if you don't get everything...this is a book that demands to be read slowly, and certain parts may be difficult to grasp, but the poetry is very narrative and arranged in a story arc that is easily understood. It is one of those books that is an experience to read, and throughout the book I was continuously reminded of the joy I feel towards the written word. The novel, in fact, could be considered a celebration of the sounds and poetics of words. This short, stunning book re-imagines an ancient Greek epic as a modern coming-of-age story. It is the autobiography of Geryon, a young boy who is a red, winged monster that lives a troubling life. The writing is rich, shocking, raw, and powerful--just read the above excerpt, and you can see how expertly Carson crafts her sentences. The characters are fully realized, coming to life in only a few verses of her pen. I would highly recommend this book, especially for people who like poetry, but want it presented in a more organized way. That being said, I feel that the structure of the book could have been set up a little better, and the pacing could be a little more even.


Monday, July 12, 2010

New Line of Shoes Inspired by...Hemingway?

Patrick Hemingway has come out with a new line of loafers inspired by his iconic father. Apparently the great literary master had a "great sense of style"...the shoes are handmade in El Salvador using bison and calf hide.

But here is the question: given my love of both fashion and literature, will these shoes prompt me to reconsider my less-than-adoring opinion of Hemingway? Until they make a women's line and lower the price from $235, I'm afraid not. I think I'll just check out his books from the library and buy my shoes from Target.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Neil Gaiman!

Congratulations to Neil Gaiman for recently winning the Carnegie Medal (the U.K.'s most prestigious prize in Children's Literature) for his novel The Graveyard Book. I've heard so many great things about The Graveyard Book, and I'm looking forward to picking up a copy one of these days. The book is about a toddler who wanders into a graveyard where ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
In addition to the Carnegie Medal, one of Gaiman's short stories, "Songs of the Dying Earth" won best short story at the Locus Awards, which is strictly for science fiction and fantasy.
Gaiman has always impressed me with his unparalleled imagination and sheer inventiveness. His ideas may be strange or downright weird at times, but they always challenge the reader's sense of believability in the best way possible. I'm a huge fan of Gaiman's comic books The Sandman series (which, apparently, you can now read on your iPhone using the comixology app...I needed another thing to suck away my life), as well as Stardust and American Gods. He definitely deserves recognition as one of the best children's/young adult authors of our time. Make sure you watch his acceptance speech.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The New Yorker's 20 Writers Under 40

The New Yorker's Summer Fiction Issue features twenty talented young writers who "capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction." You can find the writers here, as well as read their Q. & A.'s and links to their winning stories. I was thrilled to see that both Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Everything is Illuminated, Eating Animals) and his wife, Nicole Strauss (Man Walks Into a Room and The History of Love), made the cut. They are two of my favorite authors, and definitely represent "inventiveness" and originality in their works as well as simply beautiful prose. Strauss' Q.& A. is particularly interesting because she provides some insight into her new book Great House, which will be published this October. Her winning story, "The Young Painters" is an excerpt from this novel. Definitely read it if you have a few minutes to spare!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dreamtigers, by Jorge Luis Borges

"... he thought that the rose was to be found in its own eternity and not in his words; and that we may mention or allude to a thing, but not express it."

After enjoying a few of Borges' short stories, I wanted to read more of him. Dreamtigers was a compulsive buy last week when Andy and I went to Barnes and Noble just as it was about to close. I usually spend a significant amount of time researching and deliberating over a book before purchasing it, but this slim volume immediately caught my eye. Mortimer J. Adler called Dreamtigers "one of the literary masterpieces of the twentieth century," and it is said to be Borges' most personal work.

The book is composed of poetry and short prose sketches (other reviews have called them "parables"). Though these pieces are on a variety of topics, from toenails to Shakespeare, they are unified by threads of Borges' insight. Borges treats this book as a kind of sketchbook illustrating his own philosophical thoughts: time, human nature, and perceptions of self are recurring topics. He also uses this book as an opportunity to engage in dialogues with the masters--comparisons between Homer's blindness and his own failing sight are made, and he also devotes several pieces to Shakespeare and Don Quixote.

I really enjoyed this book, and I'm glad I read it. I'm excited to read more Borges, in particular his master work Ficciones. The prose pieces in Dreamtigers were phenomenal. The poems were interesting as well, but did not illicit the same breathless response. This is when I wish I could read Spanish fluently, as I suspect the poems are better in the original language. The translator kept rhyming schemes intact, and I suspect that this might at times weakened the verse.

At only 96 pages, this is not a long book. That does not mean, however, that it is a light read. What strikes me most about Borges is his ability to pack so much into a single sentence. Every sentence is needed, every sentence has a purpose. The book might be small but it is certainly dense and will have you asking questions long after you finish it.