Redeeming Words

I get roughly two hours a day to myself. One hundred and twenty obligation-free minutes that must be spent well. There are times when I do opt to watch a movie or a couple of episodes of a television show, but more often than not, I spend that precious time with a book (usually with a baseball game on in the background).

Everyone knows that reading is certainly better than binge watching or losing endless hours in front of a video game console, but not all reading material is created equal. And, in this day and age, how we read matters just as much as what. I’m not against popular fiction mind you; my bookshelves and my library card will attest to the fact that I’ve consumed my fair share. However, I read it for an altogether different reason than I do a solid piece of non-fiction or a “classic” work.

When I was an English major, I read with an attention to detail that would impress a ship-in-a-bottle enthusiast. Pen, highlighter, and page flags at the ready, I attacked a work of literature or critical theory ruthlessly. I highlighted passages, wrote reference notes in the margins and on the blank pages at the back. Basically, I did what Billy Collins said all students do, I beat it “with a hose / to find out what it really means.”

I have neither the time nor the inclination to read in such a way these days. I want to experience the books I select and enjoy them for what they are, but I also don’t want to lose the ability to read critically and with attention to detail. I want to investigate language and understand how words work together.

Apparently, I’m in the minority.

According to this article by Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA, “skim reading” rather than “deep reading” is the new normal. In her research, she’s discovered that, “Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with students’ ‘cognitive impatience,’ however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.”

I’ve noticed this cognitive decay happening with people I love. Those who once read books now spend all their free time staring at and swiping on iPads and phones, and over the years, their ability to concentrate has been whittled away. I don’t know if they’re even aware it’s happening, and, sadder still, I’m not sure they care.

Hundreds of studies have been done about the impact of technology, and most of the research isn’t good. According to doctors and researchers, we’re miserable and lonely. Our kids are pretty much wrecked and suffer from anxiety and depression because they’re always connected. We bemoan the lack of civility in our culture and the fact that thoughtful debate seems to have gone the way of the Dodo, yet we won’t put down the things that make us reactionary rather than thoughtful citizens.

When it comes to books, however, the research is all positive. Reading—especially fiction—allows us to take Atticus Finch’s advice and “climb inside [another person’s] skin and walk around in it.” Through reading, we gain empathy. Immersing ourselves in good books makes us smarter. It keeps our minds sharper and helps us be more relaxed.

For this reason, I read at least fifty books per year (both in hard copy and audiobook form when I’m driving), and ten of them must be classics. In addition to a dozen works of non-fiction, some poetry, and a couple of graphic novels, I’ve read Invisible Man, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, A Raisin in the Sun, Candide, A Moveable Feast, and, most recently, Crime and Punishment.

I have thoroughly enjoyed each of these books, and I’m looking forward to finishing a few more before year’s end. However, good as Dostoyevsky’s novel was, I could feel my mind wandering in parts of Crime and Punishment. I tuned out during a few long descriptive passages, and my eyes glazed over more than once when the story seemed to rewind and repeat itself. Twenty-five-year-old me wouldn’t have done that. That version of Jamie would have read it with laser precision (though with less joy, I think) and analyzed everything about the diction and syntax. She would have marked any instance of symbolism and every allegorical reference (of which there were many). Don’t take that to mean forty-year-old Jamie is a slouch though. Whenever I caught my eyeballs getting loose, I stopped. I re-read and re-focused. I kept a pen in my hand to underline sentences I enjoyed and make observations and predictions.

All the other moms at taekwondo practice (and their kids) may have spent 45 minutes on electronics, but I spent that time in St. Petersburg, Russia wrestling with some thorny moral questions. I’m not judging, believe me. I’ve spent many an hour scrolling social media, but I’ve made the decision to severely curtail my use of those platforms in order to make room for other things. Better things. More filling and rewarding things.

Reading Crime and Punishment expanded my knowledge of Russian history and geography. I even gained a little linguistical wisdom. Take the protagonist’s name for instance. Rodion comes from Rhodes, a Greek island, and Raskolnikov derives from the Russian raskolnik meaning “schismatic.” He is worthy of such a name, for he spends much of the story isolated and of broken because he is of two minds.

Spending time with characters like Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is well worth the time and effort it takes to read their stories. Being inside his head as he wrestled with an ethical dilemma allowed me to experience it up close and personal too. I had to ask myself some hard questions about the value of human life and where I stand on punishment and redemption. I was forced to re-examine my thoughts on morality and the power of God’s grace.

And beyond that, there are the soaring phrases that I will keep with me always:

  • “Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.”
  • “To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s.”
  • “The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
  • “We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”
  • “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”
  • “There is nothing in the world more difficult than candor, and nothing easier than flattery. If there is a hundredth of a fraction of a false note to candor, it immediately produces dissonance, and as a result, exposure. But in flattery, even if everything is false down to the last note, it is still pleasant, and people will listen not without pleasure; with coarse pleasure, perhaps, but pleasure nevertheless.”

Spending an hour on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram seems so paltry, so insufficient when there are words like that out there to feast on. And yet, many of us choose technology instead. We use it to escape reality, to numb our brains to the world around us (especially when it’s unpleasant and we “can’t even”), but what we really need to do is lean in.

In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, John the Savage (so named because he’s grown up outside of the World State’s influence) says of mosquitos and flies, “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. [You] neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy….What you need…is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”

Like John, I want to know the world in all its beauty and savagery. I want to pay the cost required to live well, to know true pain as well as joy.

Near the end of her article, Maryanne Wolf states, “The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the unintended ‘collateral damage’ of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false information and demagoguery.”

The last sentence makes it obvious why deep reading essential (and why our culture is the way it is today). I’ve studied far too many dystopian works to claim ignorance. They’ve shown me what a world without thought looks like, and it is a terrifying prospect. I don’t know if the predictions of Orwell, Huxley, Lewis, Atwood, Dick, Burgess, or Bradley will ever come true. I cannot tell if our world will one day resemble the ones they created as a warning. What I do know is that our minds cannot be spent frivolously. They are precious gifts we must defend at all costs against a world eager to consume them.

 

 

The Books of 2014

Another year and another reading challenge have passed, and while I didn’t spend as much time between the covers of books as I would have liked, I’m happy to say I made my goal.

Of the 40 books I read, 16 were consumed via unabridged audiobook. I say that counts due to the insane amount of time I spend in the car getting to work and back again. And I can honestly say that there is something lovely about a well-done audiobook. For instance, I might never have gotten through the entirety of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child in hardback form. The thing is an absolute doorstop! But the narrator of the audiobook did a lovely job presenting quotes from Julia’s letters and books in that familiar, loopy voice, which made me feel like I was getting it from the horse’s mouth. (On a related note: I’m currently listening to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury on audiobook, and it’s a totally different experience than reading it in print. The lyrical element of his prose really comes through when you hear it!)

So, of the books I consumed in 2014, here are my top ten. Rather than do a straight list, I thought I’d create some categories and let you decide for yourself which, if any, you might like to peruse!

Best Fiction: Joyland by Stephen King

King really tells a great story. Joyland is just that. With its well-drawn characters and interesting plot, it carried me along and kept me in the car a lot longer than I should have been some days. He injects just enough horror to give this book zing without overpowering the narrative he established (a la Revival). Highly recommended.

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Best Non-Fiction: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

I love learning about history–especially things that I knew little to nothing about before I started reading. There were so many amazing people that made the Chicago World’s Fair possible, and it brought about so many inventions and innovations that it’s beyond belief. Did you know it spawned the Pledge of Allegiance? That it made the Ferris Wheel possible? Plus, you get a little history on one of America’s first serial killers in this gem. A fun read!

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Best Christian Work: Yawning At Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck

I read a lot…and I mean A LOT of Christian books for my job. With many of them, I scan a few chapters to see if the author might be a good fit for the magazine. Others I disregard outright because the material is trite, totally overdone, or terribly pedantic. Drew Dyck’s work is none of those. He takes a topic that has been discussed before (the awesome majesty of God) and makes readers consider it from an entirely different point of view.

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Most Overrated: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Okay, I may be the only person who read this book and didn’t enjoy much of it at all. I liked several of the characters (especially Hobie) and the emphasis on Dutch masterpieces like The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritus. But much of the book felt ponderous to me, too full of itself and overburdened by melodrama. Characters like Boris felt more stock than unique, and while it was a solid book, I hardly felt it was worth the effusive praise heaped on it by many critics.

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Most Underrated: The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game by Edward Achorn

There are a lot of books about baseball. Player bios, books about certain franchises, books about the history of the game, statistical reference books, instruction manuals, the list goes on and on. This one is very niche; it tells the story of the 1883 pennant fight between the St. Louis Browns and Philadelphia Athletics and the many colorful men who helped create the game we all know and love. If you like baseball, read it. If you like history books, read it. If you like biographies, well…you know what to do.

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Most Surprising: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Someone recommended this book to me a long time ago, and I never got around to reading it until I found a copy of it on audiobook in my local library. It’s a fun read to be sure, a quirky blend of literary nerdiness, wit, and surreal science fiction. Essentially, people can walk into copies of their favorite books and interact with the characters, but if you enter the original text, be careful! You can actually change the plot! Think The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets a fun whodunnit.

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One I’d Recommend to Others: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

We all know Robert Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling…and that this woman can write! Seriously, anyone who can create an entire magical universe like Harry Potter and then turn around and write a pretty amazing character study (A Casual Vacancy) as well as a piece of hard-boiled detective fiction like this one is an author who’s worth reading. The first in this series (The Cuckoo’s Calling) was also a great read.

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One I’d Beg Others Not to Read: The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Thank goodness I only paid $1.99 for this on Kindle. The cover is great and the idea is solid, but I don’t have many nice things to say beyond that. The rules of the magical universe are left largely unexplained, the characters are very one-dimensional, and the plot is uneven. It was a good idea poorly executed, which is a real shame. A good editor could really have made something of this.

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One That Should Be Turned Into A Movie: Dr. Sleep by Stephen King

Yeah, King made the list twice. So what? 🙂 This is the sequel to The Shining, which I had to re-read before embarking on this book. It was fun to see how Danny and the other characters turned out, to see what kind of gifts the kid really had and how he put them to good use. It was a great read on its own, but when you pair it with the first work, everything comes full circle rather nicely. A little strange (it is King after all), but the booga-booga factor on this one is great. Super creepy in all the right ways. And it would translate into a great film with the right director and cast. 

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One I Wish I’d Written: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Apparently everyone and their drunk uncle has read this book, but I just now got around to it. And let me tell you, I am never going to complain about my life again. You want to talk about challenges, pain, suffering, and trials? Louis Zamperini experienced them all and came through it all. The man hit bottom, met Christ, and crawled out of a PTSD-induced hole I can’t even imagine, and become a true servant of God. And now his life is ours to learn from. I wish I could have met him in person before he passed.

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Okay folks, there you have it. Ten books I read this year and thought I’d pass on. Tell me what books you loved this year and if you think I’d enjoy them. I’m always looking for something new and — if you’ll pardon the pun — novel to read.

One Bookworm’s “Rotten Apples”

Okay, it’s been forever since I did a book blog, but I swear I have a good excuse. I’m working to fill two roles at work (Content/Copy Editor and Managing Editor of the magazine), buying a house, and joining The Southern Order of Storytellers. Add health concerns and family issues into the mix, and I’ve been one heckabusy gal!

However, this one sounded like a fun (and comparatively short) book blog, so here we go. The lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish want to know our shameful little secrets, our private penchants, and our otherwise bizarre bibliophilic behaviors. So, ladies and gents, I give you my Top Ten Bookish Confessions!

1. I sometimes fall asleep while reading in the bathtub and drop my book in the water—This has happened more times than I care to admit (though never with my Kindle thank goodness!) The most memorable victims were my first copy of Dracula, a friend’s copy of Black Beauty (which I replaced), and Moby Dick (which I found deliciously ironic.)

2. Until the fourth book, I scoffed at the Harry Potter series—However, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, I was in college studying to be an English teacher. I was taking a class in middle school literature and recognized I would have to know something about what my future students were reading. So I checked out the first book from the library and fell promptly in love. So much so, in fact, that I picked up my copy of book seven at midnight wearing my house colors! Ravenclaw rocks!!!

3. I sometimes skip words when I’m reading really exciting scenes just to see what happens—Granted, I always force myself to go back once I recognize that I’m doing it, but it’s still sad to find yourself skimming glorious words. I remember gliding over a certain chapter in The Scarlet Pimpernel just to see if Marguerite would make it to Sir Percy Blakeney in time.

4. I’ve always wanted to name a kid “Atticus”—No lie! I’ve admire the noble protagonist of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird so much that I’ve almost thought about about adopting a boy just to name him Nathaniel Atticus Hughes. The first name, naturally, is borrowed from another great love of my life, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

5. I utterly loathe James Joyce’s Ulysses—I can’t remember if I’ve ever admitted this before, but it’s true. I’m a confirmed connoussuer of literature who loves obscure books and chose to read Anna Karenina at the beach one summer, but I’m at a loss when it comes to why this book qualified as “The Best Book of All Time” in some circles.

6. I sometimes judge books by their covers—At times, when I don’t have a particular book in mind to read (which is rare), I actually roam the hallways of a bookstore just looking at covers. If it looks interesting or does something novel (HA! Pun!), I read the back matter. If that’s worth the cost, I usually buy and read it. That’s how I discovered books like Knick Knack Paddy Whack by Ardal O’Hanlon and Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter.

7. I get high on “old book smell”—When I travel home to Jacksonville, I try my darndest to stop in and shop at Chamblin Book Mine. The place is a gloriously messy place, a group of buildings and rooms cobbled together and stuffed to the rafters with used, new, and rare books. It’s a beautiful fire hazard I’d take pride in going up in like some nerdy Viking. I’ve gone in there and lost hours at a time as I search through stacks looking for books to fill the shopping bags I just traded in. Seriously, if I had just a little less dignity, I’d roll on the floor like a dog does when he finds something he likes.

8. I buy books I know I will likely never read—There’s something about empty bookshelves that unnerves me. I want them filled with colorful spines galore, titles that just beg people to take them off the shelves and give them a go. Also, I like it when people come into the house and remark about how many books I have. I guess it’s the same way a hunter feels about putting the heads of his kills on the wall over the mantelpiece.

9. I firmly believe the movie is NEVER better than the book—Let me put it to you this way, I was the ONLY person who walked out of the Jim Caviezel version, for lack of a better term, spittin’ mad. Everyone else loved it, and all I could think about was how the ending ruined the overall theme of revenge and made it too “neat.”

10. I once tricked my students into turning on one another like rabid dogs to get them to read literatureNothing was off limits when I was in the classroom. If it would get “non-readers” to open the book, I was game. To get them interested in The Crucible, I set up a scenario where one half of the class was going to get in trouble for something the other half did. They flipped on each other like mid-level mobsters. I also once filled a cauldron with hot water and dry ice and impersonated a witch to teach Macbeth and made my students write papers entirely in Newspeak to prove that language matters. It was doubleplusgood.

Feeling Fine and Bloggy

Do you dream of being rich and famous? Do you want your name to be known all over the world? Do you want people to hang on your every word and fall at your feet?

Image from paxtonholley's flickr account.

Well, writing a book blog is not a way to fulfill all those narcissistic desires. However, it is darned fun to do, and you have the chance to meet with folks who geek out over books as badly as you do. You swap recommendations like you once did Garbage Pail Kid cards, discover authors you might never have had the privilege of reading otherwise, and you’re compelled to spend time even more time in bookstores and combing your own shelves looking for unique books to up your blogging cred.

This week, the geniuses at The Broke & The Bookish thought outside the box and asked us to list our Top Ten Tips For New Book Bloggers. I’ve only been posting book blog posts for a few months, but here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up in that short stretch of time.

1. Use Goodreads—I had an account on this page for a long time before I really put it to good use. Now, I can’t imagine how I ever kept track of my reading habits without it. If you’re like me, you skim a book in the store but don’t have the money to buy it, so you put it down and promptly forget the author and/or title. With Goodreads, you can put it on your “to read” list (which can be sub-categorized into lists you design). Download the free app, and you can add books instantly using information or by scanning bar codes with your smart phone. When the time comes for a new list or selecting a new read, you’ve got plenty to choose from. There’s also a reading challenge you can enter and a bevy of widgets to use on your blog!

2. Incorporate images, videos, and photos—Books are about words, sure, but when it comes to blogs, sometimes a few visuals can go a long way and help your words be more engaging. For instance, one book list I did recently was about books you’d recommend to people who say they don’t like to read. Rather than pick ten books, I chose one central theme—my husband (who doesn’t like to read). Being a good sport, he was willing to pose for photographs to go along with the blog, which made it fun for me to write and for my readers to see. I highly recommend an account on Photobucket or a similar site to keep your photos and images safe and orderly. Three great blogs that do this almost exclusively with Microsoft Paint are Hyperbole and a Half, Fathertrek and Live, Nerd, Repeat. I laughed so hard at Hyperbole and a Half’s post “The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas” I almost hyperventilated.

3. With lists, always write a short paragraph about each work—Whenever I do my top ten lists like this one, I always try to give my half dozen readers more than a sentence or two. If you recommend a book and only tell people, “It was really good. I enjoyed it so much!”, you’re not really giving them much to go on. Tell them about the engaging characters, the airtight plot, or the highlights that made it enjoyable (or awful) for you. Authors only make money if folks read their work, so I make sure to tell people about books I stumble across that are worth the read by showing why I enjoyed them.

4. Read book blogs others have written for ideas—Not only do you find great books to read, but you can also can borrow other bloggers’ ideas for your own future book posts. For instance, I’m always inspired by the posts I read over on Never Done It That Way Before and The Warden’s Walk. As a teacher, I lived by the C.A.S.E. model (Copy And Steal Everything). You don’t always have to spend all your energy dreaming up new ideas; use that time to craft your own version of theirs. Trust me, they’ll take yours and return the favor in kind.

Image from http://aptdesignonline.com

5. Write honest reviews for the books you read— When it comes to book reviews, honesty is indeed the best policy. I can say with 99.9999999999999% certainty that no one is paying you for your writing. Therefore, if you didn’t enjoy a book, tell your fellow readers why. You could save them some heartache and cash! For instance, everyone I knew waxed poetic about Eragon, comparing it to Lord of the Rings (not even close) and other fantasy classics. I was sorely disappointed by Mr. Paolini’s work, and I was out the cost of a hardback book because no one was willing to be frank. If more folks who disliked it had come out, and folks who had been on the fence had been more honest, I could have saved myself the time and trouble of reading it.

6. Vary your diet—Writing a book blog is a great way to make you read outside your “comfort zone.” If you tend to read only fiction, use the blog as a reason to explore memoirs or even something like graphic novels. You can choose books that are on the same topic you enjoy but that explore it from a new angle. For instance, if you normally love CSI-type fiction, you could broaden your horizons and go for the classics (Sherlock Holmes) or non-fiction (Stiff: Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach). Biographies about famous criminals, detectives, and mysteries are also great.

Image from goodreads.com

7. Explore the edges—You don’t just have to write about books. You can explore anything and everything beautiful and bookish. For instance, maybe you want to talk about great places to sit and enjoy a book in your area. You can do a how-to blog that teaches readers how to make handmade bookmarks. You can write profiles about your favorite local bookshops or even local authors. I highly recommend the blog For the Love of Bookshops if you’re looking for a good place to start. You can even write reviews of films based on books you’ve read.

8. Write consistently—One thing that’s great about The Broke & The Bookish meme “Top Ten Tuesdays” is that it happens each and every week. That means I’m guaranteed a writing topic at least once a week. Typically, I get at least one new follower or reader per book blog, and every little bit of notoriety helps. I don’t have to exhaust my brain thinking of a topic, only the books I want to put on that list. If I can’t think of anything, I do skip that week or make up my own, but doing these posts has compelled me to blog more consistently, and not just about books.

9. Don’t give away too much in your reviews!—Yeah, I know this contradicts what I told you back at number three on this list, but there’s a slight difference. I once had a professor who said that a book is like a virtuous girl; it doesn’t give everything up on the first date. He also advised that an essay (or, in this case, a blog) should be like a girl’s skirt—long enough to fully cover the topic but also short enough to be interesting. (He really isn’t a creeper. These two quotes weren’t so odd when they were in context.) Suffice it to say, you shouldn’t rob your readers of their fun by telling them too much before they read the book. I know how you feel; you’re excited and want someone to talk to about this amazing read. You’ll just have to wait. Telling someone about the plot twist in the middle (even if you don’t tell what it is) robs them of the surprise. Sometimes, the moment when a book slaps you in the face like is the best part.

Image from http://blogs.edweek.org

10. You have a personality. Use it!—Sure, you’re writing about things that other people have penned, but there’s no caveat that says you can exercise your writing chops when you’re talking about books. I try to write in such a way that my voice comes through. What I say is important, but how I say it is also key. People like people who are like them, so finding new word nerd friends and devoted followers means you have to show them the goods. If you’re humorous, let that come through. If you have a great vocab, use it to your advantage. Teach people, engage them on a personal level. You’ll find that you are also a writer who is worth reading. Who knows? Someone may be blogging about one of your books one day!

Joey Chesnut Ain’t Got Nothing On Me!

This book blog topic makes me want to cry a little because, well, I rarely have the time to do it anymore. Yes, yes–adulthood can truly stink up the joint sometimes. The big blue meanies over at The Broke & The Bookish have asked us to share our list of “The Top Ten Books to Read in a Day.”

There is something wonderful about staying in your pajamas all day long, curled up under a cozy blanket (which is even better when the rain is pouring down outside), getting lost in the pages of a book with a mug of tea or hot cocoa steaming on the bedside table. Here are ten books that I remember completing in a day (or just a tad over), and you can see by reading over it that I’m not choosy when it comes to gorging myself on words like it’s some literary variation on the Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest!

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins—I did read this one over the better part of an afternoon and evening. It’s quite simply the best book of the trilogy. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that had they trimmed Mockingjay and tagged it onto the back of this one, the entire series would have been much better for it. Full of action, drama, and true surprises, this is one book I can’t wait to see make the transition to film!

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig—I am embarrassed to say I read this book. (In fact, I guiltily gobbled it and two or three other books in the series down like a binge eater, crying in shame and shoveling it down at the same time.) My only excuse was that I was going through a Scarlet Pimpernel kick at the time, and this book provided access to the world in an obtuse sort of way. I mean, Sir Percy was an ancillary character in the first book. Essentially, this is chick romance/action at it’s best and worst, and until an intervention took place, I was entrenched in it.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket—I’m not ashamed to have read this book, or any of the twelve others in the series. If you’ve not read the Lemony Snicket books, you’re really missing out. Daniel Handler has a wicked sense of humor, and his knack for storytelling is off the charts. This was “kid” fiction written with adults in mind. The books were fun to collect, like little pocket-sized crime novels with uneven pages and old-school illustrations. Just fun, fun reads. My friends and I used to wait until the new ones came out and host parties where we’d take turns reading using Tim Curry’s voice from the audiobooks (which are FABULOUS if you’ve never heard them.)
 
Frankenstein: Prodigal Son by Dean Koontz—The series took a weird turn or two that I wasn’t expecting, and I wasn’t totally thrilled with the ending. However, the first book in the Frankenstein series by Dean Koontz was fabulous! It totally changed up the monster narrative we all know and love. The “creature” renames himself Deucalion and devotes his long (if not eternal) life to destroying the master who built him and who is, several hundred years later, as power hungry and maniacal as ever. Set in New Orleans with two wise-cracking cops, this was a fun and wild read I tore through in one day on a particularly long car trip. 
 
Common Sense by Thomas Paine—I don’t know about you, but if I’d read this work sooner in my life, I might have been much better off. It is truly an amazing work, one that riled a sleeping collection of colonies and made them a national force. It’s an example of great writing as well as how words are indeed more powerful than the sword. Paine is really an uncredited founding father, and you’d do yourself a favor reading the work where amazing quotes like this reside:
 
“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
 
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar—My graphic novel inclusion for this list is an alternate-universe three-issue series that explored a simple idea—what if Superman’s capsule had landed on a collective farm in Soviet Russia instead of the Heartland of America? What would have been different in the DC universe (and the world at large) if he fought not for “truth, justice, and the American way” but “as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.” A fascinating read with great art and a tight narrative.
 
Cry to Heaven by Anne Rice—I read this when I was living on my own in a crappy efficient apartment during my first semester in college. I curled up in my Murphy Bed and read until the sun came up. I was so fascinated with the concept of the Italian opera starts know as the castrati that I did hours of research (the old fashioned way—with books, a card catalog, stacks, and microfiche!! There were fewer academic wimps back in the day.) I wrote my ENG 1101 research paper on them and argued that they had played a larger role in the development of Italian opera than had previously been recognized. My professor said it was a welcome change from the papers on legalizing pot, gun control, and animal testing.
 
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern—I was hooked by this one and read it in just a shade over a day. There was something magical about it, something otherworldly that just sucked me in. I was like the circus devotees, and I wanted to spend my life finding it and spending time within it. Morgenstern may not be the best writer in the world, but she’s a darned good one who isn’t afraid to color outside the lines to create compelling characters and an engaging story that, despite being impossible, makes you wish it was altogether real.
 
Passing by Nella Larsen—I read this one in grad school and loved it. We were supposed to read it over a two week period, dividing it in half, but I couldn’t wait. This one tells the story of Clare and Irene, two African American girls who were friends but lost touch after Clare’s father died. She went on to live with her two white aunts who let her “pass” for while and marry a white man who also happens to be a raving racist. Irene lives in Harlem and is committed to fighting for the cause of equality. The books is wonderfully ambiguous and lets readers interpret the actions in whatever way they choose. I wouldn’t want to rob you of the joy of it by telling you what I thought. Go pick it up!
 
The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) by Patrick Rothfuss—I’m putting this here. It took me longer than a day because it comes in just a bit under 700 pages in length. I’m a very quick reader, but even I had to take a break and sleep a little rather than risk choking myself on this tome. If you enjoy fantasy novels, I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I shot through it and book two, The Wise Man’s Fear, in under a week and regretted it terribly because I now have to wait until 2013 to see how the story ends. Rothfuss places readers in a world that is both recognizable and altogether foreign and crafts a tight plot free of holes. Kvothe for President in 2012. That’s all I have to say about that. 🙂
 
**For the record, I have no clue why the font on this post went “straight to plaid” as they said in Spaceballs—single spaced and italicized. What I do know is that I’m too lazy to do what it takes to fix it.** 
 
How about you all? What books did you indulge in for a full twenty-four hours? Is there a book you’ve been wanting to lock yourself in an attic with dripping candles and an apple to read?
 

Books I’d Fake the Plague to Read

For this Tuesday’s Top Ten List, The Broke & The Bookish folks are asking us to be unproductive citizens by listing our “Spring Fever Book Lists” otherwise known as the “Top Ten Books I’d Play Hooky With.” Like Skyline Chili, I decided to go three different ways with this one! After all, why indulge in literary “what ifs” if you can’t glut yourself every portion of the fantasy!? So, without further ado, here are the books I’d be willing to pull a Ferris Bueller for in order to have more time to read.

Books Due Out This Spring

Insurgent by Veronica Roth—I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed Divergent, the first book in this series. It’s a lot like The Hunger Games, another dystopian teen novel, but for some reason, those always serve as nice time fillers for me. Easy reads that are purely escapist romps for me, I usually don’t turn one down—especially if it involves a trilogy and possible film deals.

Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore—Another teen book I’m embarrassed to say I’m looking forward to. The other two in this series, Graceling and Fire, were actually very well written. They were a little too mature for teen readers in my opinion, but good nonetheless. This one goes back to the original story in Graceling to complete the tale of the young princess Bitterblue and her gifted companions.

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King—If you want to know how excited I am about this book, I’d rate it somewhere between “I’m about to pee my pants” and “Shia LeBouf is tied up in the soundproof room. Here’s your crowbar.” Seriously, I’ve been longing for a new Dark Tower book for some time, but I never thought he’d actually go back and revisit the universe, much less go for material in Roland’s past like he did with my favorite book, Wizard and Glass. I can’t wait to spend a day reading this one cover to cover.

Popular Books I’ve Been Wanting to Read But Haven’t

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness—This is one of those books everyone talked about but I never went in on for some reason. I don’t have a good reason as to why. Scholarship, magic, intrigue, vampires, and all that—you think I would have been instantly sold. But no, I held back. I should make up for this egregious oversight before the second book comes out.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett—I know it makes me a nerd sicko, but I love it when I see a book is so large it could double as a doorstop at Fort Knox. This book is one of those. Granted, most of Mr. Follett’s books are large enough to serve as blunt force weapons, but this one is extra beefy. Even in the paperback form, it’s cumbersome and contains a daunting grand total of five interconnected story lines. Books or boys–if it’s complicated, I’m in. 🙂 This one should make due for a long car ride or vacation book….if I ever get a vacation that is.

The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell—I need something to fill in the gap now that the long wait for new books by Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin has begun. This is the first of three beautiful, five-hundred-page novels I can use to scratch my itch for sword fights, epic drama, and world building. Plus, it’s about King Arthur. Bonus!

Classic Works I’ve Never Read

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway—I watched the Bogey and Bacall film version of this last week (and I’ve started to feel that I want to be Lauren Bacall when I grow up. So amazing…) I bought this book when I was at the Hemingway House in Key West a few years ago, put it on the shelf, and forgot all about it. I think a little “spring cleaning” is in order to get books like this one read.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins—I loved The Woman in White, and this one is another popular detective piece from an author who spins a good yarn. If you like murder mysteries centered on a a giant diamond and all other manner of cloak and dagger goodness, I’m thinking this one might fit the bill.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez—For some reason, I could never bring myself to read this. I know it’s a great book; I’ve heard it from more than one reader I trust. For some reason, however, I just don’t know if I can stand 200 pages of lovers separated by time and custom. I suppose I should just wait until we get a nice spring downpour, curl up with it and some Goobers, and just be done with it.

Completely Random Pick

Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid by Simon Pegg—Of all the genres I frequent, biographies and autobiographies are the least popular. When I do read them, I’m  the “egghead” type and normally choose presidents, random moments in history, or other books that might help me win at a game of Trivial Pursuit. I rarely read them books about celebrities who are still alive…much less so if they were written by the celebrity him or herself. However, I really like Simon Pegg; I have since Shaun of the Dead. And I was thrilled to see him getting bigger and better parts in films like Star Trek and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. This is his “life story” as it were, focused mainly on how a “funny kid” used what he loved to become who he is today. I’m thinking this might be a fun pick in a category I don’t often visit.

Everything’s Better With Dogs…and Bacon

Ooooh, a challenge this week to be sure! The Broke & the Bookish has tasked bloggers to select a top ten list in any genre we choose. Anything from biographies to graphic novels is fair game. Basically any list is fair game so long as the ten works are in the same sphere.

I thought about romances, swashbucklers, books made into films, fantasy, and any and every other kind of list out there, but all of them led me to the same twenty or so books. Naturally, I couldn’t turn in pablum for this week’s list, so I thought I’d try something different. Ladies and gents, I give you my top ten list for this week…

The Top Ten Books Featuring an Animal


Watchers 
by Dean Koontz—You have to love a book featuring a Golden Retriever that can talk and is being followed by an evil genetically enhanced monster who seeks to destroy him! I bet I’ve read this book five times in my life, and it still makes me giggle in places. Many of the dog’s lines are classics, and our family passes them around like candy corn at Halloween.


The Metamorphosis
by Franz Kafka—“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.” One of the best opening lines in fiction. He has a family who treats him like garbage, and when they’re asked to care for him the way he had for them, they show that they are the true low-life vermin. Such a heartbreaking piece…

Animal Farm by George Orwell—The first time I read this, I nearly lost my mind when Boxer died in the harness for a dream that was never intended for reality. Part political commentary, part Juvenalian satire—Orwell’s brilliant use of anthropomorphism is still unparalleled by any other work of fiction. It takes a harsh look at fascism in a way that makes it immediately accessible to younger readers.


Watership Down by Richard Adams—I’ll have to admit that I’ve never read this one in its entirety. However, I have taught snippets of it in creative writing classes and AP Literature test prep courses. It is quite literally on EVERY “animal book” list out there, confirming what I already know. I’ll likely be diving into this one before the month is out. (Hey! This will help me meet my “three classics quote” for the year!!!)
 

The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis—I cannot tell you how many times I got in trouble for reading books from this series underneath my desk when I should have been learning unessential stuff. You know…like math and geography. I hold Lewis responsible for my inability to complete algebraic equations or to find Ghana on a map. However, I can tell you anything you want to know about fauns, satyrs, centaurs, and any and all talking “normal” critters.
 


Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes—I actually read this one for the first time a few years ago before I taught it to middle schoolers. It’s a sad work to be sure, but man can it generate a great discussion about genetic manipulation, the right to life, individually, being made the way God intended, and other important topics. The students who read it with me were deeply emotionally impacted by this work; it made them more kind to others and more cognizant of how they treated people.


Cujo
by Stephen King—I’ll be the first to say that Stephen King’s epic works (The Stand, Cell, The Dark Tower), the ones that are vast in scope are my favorite. However, they are not the most terrifying of his works. The small scale horror pieces, usually the ones that could plausibly take place, are the most unnerving. I’m thinking works like this one (normally gentle giant dog turned hound of hell), Misery (crazed fan controls you in total isolation), and The Shining (father hits rock bottom with alcohol in a nearly abandoned hotel) are truly gut wrenching.


Old Possum’s Book of Practical 
Cats by T.S. Eliot—There’s something so appealing about this little tome. Perhaps it’s because most of Eliot’s work is heavy and ponderous, caught up in the darker half of humanity, but the rhyming whimsy of this piece always makes me smile. It was Eliot who told us, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter, / it isn’t just one of your holiday games; / You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter / when I tell you a cat must have three different names.”


Black Beauty
by Anna Sewell—Every girl, for some inexplicable reason, goes through a horse phase. For some, the period only lasts a few months while others try to learn how to draw them as well as ride them as well as collect Breyer figures. (Guess which category I fell into?) This one was unlike all other horse books at the time because the pony in question gets to tell you about how it feels–how nice a nosebag of oats is and how hard life in front of a cart really is. For some reason, I adored this book as a little girl, but I doubt I’d feel the same about it as a grumpy thirty-something. 🙂


The Glass Menagerie 
by Tennessee Williams—Who says inanimate animals can’t qualify a book for this list? The fragile crystal collection is poor Laura’s only source of friendship and understanding. Like her favorite unicorn, she doesn’t quite fit with the rest. The symbolism of this play makes it like that little shelf of knick knacks–perfectly balanced, breathtaking, and multifaceted.