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Sunday Salon: the Bridge Post

January 4, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comSince this week bridged 2008 and 2009. :)  I read a ton this week; it’s not normal, and I know how crazy it’s going to seem! But I promise I did things other than read-I spent New Years watching movies with my parents (we’re all feeling sick, lol, so we were lame), shopped quite a bit, had a doctors appointment, hung out with friends, spent every wakingmoment with my niece and sister until they left on the 29th…you get the idea. I promise I have a life. ;)

First off, I finished up two classics I’ve been working on for awhile: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I very much enjoyed them both: I’ve talked about them both in past weeks.  But I do have to add that there’s an absolutely incredible chapter in Seven Gables, which goes on for too long to quote, when the story’s narrator mocks a certain character that is so satisfyingly vicious and pitch-perfect it gave me goosebumps (I’m sure those who have read it know which part I’m talking about…it’s chapter 28 “Governour Pyncheon,” which is pages 817-835 on the free copy available from Google Books-but don’t let those page numbers fool you, the book isn’t nearly that long…it’s something weird withthe reader). Anyway, I’ll just leave the classics by saying I highly recommend them both!

The GiverAfter that, I reread one of my childhood favourites to finish up the Mythopoeic Award Challenge: Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  It’s a quick read, but I’m amazed by just how wonderful it still is, uncounted rereads later.  It tells the story of Jonas, a young man on the brink of adulthood, and his community.  Lowry steadily builds up a feeling of unease, and the turning point is masterful.  The ending is one of those ambiguous ones, but I love it just the same.  If you haven’t ever read this, you should: not only does Lowry create characters you care about, but she touches on important things like choice, utopia, whether we need pain and suffering, and so much more.  All in a book that can be easily finished in one sitting.

flapperWhile blogsurfing, I read about Flapper by Joshua Zeitz on Danielle’s blog. A nonfiction look at that poster girl of the 20s, it seemed like fun so I ran over and got it from the library. It turned out to be a mixed book. I’ve never read nonfiction about America in the 20s before, so I enjoyed learning so much. But at the same time, it seemed like a rather superficial, fluffy account-Zeitz tries to cover so much he simply doesn’t have the space to closely examine anything. I found myself often thinking “but wait! can we talk about that a little more?” All in all, I think this New York Times review puts it well. It did inspire me to look up more nonfiction about the twenties, so that’s good.

tothenorthCraving some 1920s, and suddenly realising I’d only completed three of my ten 1% Well Read Challenge picks, I grabbed To the North by Elizabeth Bowen off the shelf. This book is wonderful, and really deserves its own review, but I promised myself I’d start 2009 with a clean slate. So, it’s about two women-Cecilia and Emmeline-and how they each handle life and love as moderately upper-class, independent young British women in the interwar period. There’s something so delicious-and complicit-about Bowen’s writing, it just immediately draws you in. I can’t express how much I loved this one, and I really think Bowen could easily become a new favourite author of mine. :)

blondeInspired to keep going down my 1% Well Read list, I picked up Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. This huge book (surpassing 700 pages) is a fictional autobiography/biography of Marilyn Monroe. I bookmooched it after reading one of Oates’ stories long ago: “Three Girls.” In the story, two college women run into Marilyn Monroe ‘off-duty’ in a bookstore. It was adorable and charming…and everything the book wasn’t. I enjoyed about 150 pages towards the end (starting around page 500), but the rest of the book was complete, utter misery for me. I hated the way Oates switched narrative styles constantly. I hated the amount of sexual exploitation and crudity involved. I hated the language and the images it brought into my head. I’m not going to lie, I pretty much hated it all. That being said, I can see why Oates is an honoured modern author. Just not for me.

ledivorceInterspersed with dragging myself through Blonde, I also read Le Divorce by Diane Johnson. My sister got me this for Christmas, since I love the movie. I’d been wanting to try it out, but unfortunately this is one of those circumstances where the movie was much better than the book. I didn’t actually like any of the characters in the book, so I couldn’t bring myself to care much about what happened to any of them. And the narrator’s-Isabel’s-transformation from American to Parisian chic is better portrayed on the screen than in a few little words. Oh, for those who don’t know, the story focuses on Isabel-a young Californian who moves to Paris to help her older sister, Roxy, who’s pregnant with a three-year-old when her French husband suddenly walks out. While Roxy’s life slowly falls apart, Isabel finds herself by adapting to such a new environment. All of that being said, there were some funny parts that made me smile, if not precisely laugh out loud.

howardsendAnd that’s how I finished 2008-granted those last two books weren’t the best, but before that I’d had a good year. ;) And 2009 got off to a great start. Inspired by the Bowen, I picked up Howards End by E.M. Forster (another one of my challenge reads) and loved it, as you can read in my review. Then, once my library reopened and I could pick up my holds, I turned my attention to the Japanese literature challenge. It’s ending this month, and I hadn’t read any of my original choices! So, I blazed through Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto in one sitting, and have already wrote about how much I loved it.

Since I finished listening to The House of Seven Gables, my new audiobook has been The Thirteenth Taleby Diane Sutterfield. I’ve already read it in print, so it should be neat to listen to it. So far, I’m enjoying it, but after listening to Possession earlier this year as a reread as well, it doesn’t seem quite as good. But I’m still on the first CD, so hopefully I’ll get more sucked in as the story progresses. ;)

talesofmoonlightandrainI just finished up Tales of Moonlight and Rainby Akinari Ueda-an eighteenth century short story collection. I didn’t adore it, but I did appreciate it, as you’ll see when you read my reviews of three specific stories tomorrow. What kept me from adoration was the overt sexism, and my lack of emotional connection to any of the characters. That being said, the style was strong-classic without being dull-and the stories all brought bygone Japan to life.

In between my fiction scramble into the new year, I’ve been enjoying two nonfiction reads: The Story of Artby E.H. Gombrich, which is my first Art History selection and such a readable survey of Western art history that I’m past page 500 already (it’s a little over 600 pages total) and My Life With the Saintsby James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit priest’s memoir that I saw at Borders and promptly went and got from the library. I’m only a quarter of the way in (just started it on Saturday), but so far it’s as erudite as I expected and more charming in the bargain! ;)

And that’s been my week in reading! This is almost always my busiest reading time, probably because I’m usually on vacation from school and feeling inspired by the deadlines of a year ending and the hope of a year beginning. :) Is there a time of year when you read the most? The least?

Notable Passages From Books Talked About

Flapper by Joshua Zeitz
A survey of Muncie’s high school students in the 1920s revealed that the five most frequent sources of disagreement between teenagers and their parents were, in order: (1) “the number of times you go out on school nights during the week”; (2) “the house you get in at night”; (3) “grades at school”; (4) “your spending money”; and (5) “use of the automobile.”

In fact, Scott’s short stories-and the movie rights associated with them-would always be the major source of his income. This Side of Paradise was regarded as a great success, but its total sales by the end of 1921-49,075 copies-didn’t earn the book a spot among America’s top ten best-sellers. By comparison, Sinclair Lewis’ runaway success Main Street, also published in 1920, had sold 295,000 copies by the following year.

The message was simple: To be a success in the modern world, it was essential to have fun. To have fun, you had to buy something.

Whether to acknowledge her flamboyant disdain for Prohibition, or in general recognition of her libertine sensibilities, the noted New York City socialite Barney Gallant invented a new cocktail, “the Lipstick,” popularly advertised as “sweet but with a wallop.” [Lois] Long’s signature combination called for two parts champagne, one part gin, one part orange juice, a dash of grapefruit juice, and a trickle of cherry brandy.

A study of fifty women conducted in 1887 revealed that the corset forcibly contracted their waists by anywhere between two and a half and six inches. The pressure it applied to women’s bodies averaged twenty-one pounds but could reach as high as eighty-eight pounds. Tight-lacing was thus aking to crushing oneself slowly from all side.

But as working men and women lost control over their political and economic lives, they flexed their muscles in the purchase of siny new things, an activity that seemed to hold out the promise of anew brand of “democratic” citizenship. Upward mobility was redefined as the right to dress like the Rockefellers rather than earn like the Rockefellers; the ownership of commodities replaced the ownership of labor as a mark of social achievement. More and more, the personal became political.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
But the most conspicuous difference was the books. In his own dwelling, there were the necessary reference volumes that each household contained: a dictionary, and the thick community volume which contained descriptions of every office, factory, building, and committee. And the Book of Rules, of course.
The books in his own dwelling were the only books that Jonas had ever seen. He had never known that other books existed.
But this room’s walls were completely covered by bookcases, filled, which reached to the ceiling. There must have been hundreds-perhaps thousands-of books, their titles embossed in shiny letters.

To the North by Elizabeth Bowen
“What is the matter, Emmeline?” said Lady Waters.
Nothing was the matter, but Emmeline found this too difficult to explain, so she looked mildly at Lady Waters out of the corners of her shell-rimmed spectacles, and said nothing.

Cecilia did not, however, care much for Peter, who looked, she said, rather too Peter-ish.

She longed suddenly to be fixed, to enjoy an apparent stillness, to watch even an hour complete round one object its little changes of light, to see out the little and greater cycles of day and season in one place, beloved, familiar, to watch shadows move round one garden, to know the same trees in spring and autumn and in their winter forms.

Surprised, she said: “What is the matter, Markie? Is this your conscience?” Though she had never met Markie’s conscience she had heard it sometimes, creeping about the house.

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson
Strange to say, the Thursday of our parents’ arrival-in my mind the beginning of the end-was the very same day I understood what people were saying in the metro. It was like the moment in some magic tale, when you find the ring, or swallow the potion, and you can suddenly understand what the birds are saying.

Nor did she notice the beautiful old bedroom wallpaper of birds and vines, and she took offense at the bidet, which she at first took to exemplify French sexism by being a toilet without a seat, just for men.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2009 9:30 am

    Great Post. I read The Giver for lit class last year and found it to be very interesting and thought provoking book. I’m unofficially working on reading books from the 1001 books and discovered that I currently have 1% of the books on my shelves. Such as Les Miserables. However, my hubby bought me War and Peace for Christmas so that will be the big read for this year.


  2. January 4, 2009 9:30 am

    Congrats on finishing Les Mis–that’s great! :) I knew the Flapper book would be a chatty sort of history–a general overview rather than any sort of in depth study, but that’s okay with me. I sort of like reading something general on the period and then later picking and choosing something more specific to learn about. I’ll have to check out the NYT review.

  3. January 4, 2009 10:00 am

    That is a lot of reading!

  4. January 4, 2009 10:07 am

    To the North sounds like a very good read and worth checking out. Thanks for posting all that you’ve been reading — I love posts like this!

  5. January 4, 2009 11:02 am

    I pretty much hated it all. That being said, I can see why Oates is an honoured modern author. Just not for me.

    That was exactly my reaction to BLACK WATER. It’s made me really, really hesitant to pick up any more of Oates’s work. I can see how groundbreaking she is, but I really don’t care for her style.

  6. January 4, 2009 1:06 pm

    Wow, you got loads read. I recieved Blonde in 2007 for Christmas and still haven’t got to it. So far I have only read one Oates book I didn’t enjoy and that was Rape: A Love Story. The best book I have read by her so far has to be We Are the Mulvaneys

  7. January 4, 2009 1:36 pm

    Wonderful post! I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like Blonde. I haven’t read that particular one yet, but I’ve enjoyed some of Oates’ other stuff. I’ll read some of my others hovering on the stacks before I try it.

    I’m particularly interested in My Life with the Saints now! I hope my library has it. Sounds fantabulous. This time of year is usually a winner for me in the reading department. So far in the new year I’ve been spending time with the Boy rather than reading, but he’s got a 6-day work run soon, and I expect I’ll suck down plenty of books in that time.

  8. January 4, 2009 3:07 pm

    Wow that’s impressive, you got so many done in just a few days! I haven’t read any one of these but from your post I’m intrigued by The House of Seven Gables.

  9. January 4, 2009 3:18 pm

    Eva- that is soooo many books! Holy Cow!

    I love the Giver, it is one of my all time favorites.

  10. January 4, 2009 3:30 pm

    Winter is one of my best reading times. There is nothing like wrapping up in a warm quilt and reading on these chilly days.

  11. January 4, 2009 3:55 pm

    I know exactly the chapter of the Hawthorne you are referring to, and I feel exactly the same. Masterful! Thanks for the reminder. Will go back and re-read. And Elizabeth Bowen is among my favorite authors but I have still yet to read this one. Lots of food for thought her today, Ms. A Striped Armchair!

  12. January 4, 2009 4:37 pm

    Robin, thanks! Hope you enjoy War and Peace-you got the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation right? It’s wonderful! :)

    Danielle, the Flapper book was great at the general overview-I hope I didn’t come off too negative in my discussion of it. :( Whoops!

    Alyce, yep!

    Michele, thanks-I’m glad! And To the North is definitely worth checking out. :D

    Memory, I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    Katrina, maybe I’ll give We Are the Mulvaneys a try. Once my wounds from Blonde are healed.

    Andi, thanks! It benefited from my new policy of actually proof-reading my posts, lol. My Life With the Saints is definitely fantabulous! I’m happy you have a Boy to be spending time with. :D I had one in CA, but now that I’m in CO, I’m single again. *sigh*

    Claire, thank you! House of Seven Gables was pretty awesome, as long as you’re ok with almost no plot. :)

    Jessica, me too-I still have the copy from my childhood, with my name written in bubbly handwriting on the title page! :)

    Debbie Nance, I agree. Especially with tea or hot chocolate!

    Frances, wasn’t it just the best?! And listening to it being narrated, the reader got just the write snideness in there. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  13. January 4, 2009 4:39 pm

    I read Les Miserables several years ago and totally loved it, too. It was a major project but it was worth it. :)

  14. January 4, 2009 7:21 pm

    Good lord, that’s a lot of reading!! Les Mis is one of my very favorite books! One that I will certainly reread one of these days. I loved The Giver too. I haven’t read Blonde, but I’m not a huge fan of Oates. I just don’t think I “get” her. So I’m not sure I’d be up for 700 pages!!

  15. Gavin permalink
    January 4, 2009 7:38 pm

    I am very new to blogging and a bit nervous about it. I like the fact that you quote passages from the books you have read or are reading. That’s something I’m trying to do with my reviews. Thanks for the welcome message!

  16. January 4, 2009 8:44 pm

    Good lord Eva! You amaze me with the amount of reading you do, lol!

  17. January 4, 2009 9:33 pm

    Lizzie, glad we’re in agreement! :)

    Stephanie, yeah…Blonde was really painful. :( But glad to meet another Les Mis and Giver fan!

    Gavin, no problem-welcome to blogging. :) If you add your url when you comment, your name will link through to your blog and it’ll be easier to visit you. ;) I quote the passages mainly for me (it always surprises me when other people read them! lol), so you should definitely do the same!

    Chris, I kind of thought about not talking about all of the books I read this book, because there were so many and I was a little embarassed, lol.

  18. January 5, 2009 3:12 am

    Eva, sweety, thats way too many books to read in a week, maybe audio books help? I will be happy if I can read so many in a month, maybe even 2 months :)

  19. January 5, 2009 7:33 am

    Good heavens, girl…I NEVER have a reading time that is anywhere near that productive!

    Sounds like there were some ups and downs there, huh? But that’s one happens when you’re adventurous in your reading choices…and I think that certainly has to make for a more rewarding experience overall.

  20. January 5, 2009 10:25 am

    I’m dumbfounded. Good for you!

  21. January 5, 2009 10:41 am

    I must reread the Giver too! It is just wonderful!

  22. January 5, 2009 2:58 pm

    Violet, lol-audiobooks are good. But in my defense, two of the books were almost done before the week started, several of them were short, and I didn’t finish the nonfiction. :p

    Debi, that’s because you have children and a house!! I’m SURE I wouldn’t read as much if I had more responsibilities. I agree-being adventurous is rewarding, even if there’s the occasional flop.

    Care, lol! :)

    Rebecca, it is wonderful. :D

  23. January 6, 2009 4:41 pm

    The movie is rarely better than the book for me, but it does happen from time to time. I’m not familiar with Le Divorce the book or the movie – sounds like I should skip the book and rent the movie.

  24. January 12, 2009 12:08 am

    BermudaOnion, definitely!

  25. July 30, 2009 6:11 am

    I just finished reading Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars”, 1990 Newberry Award Wiinner. it is a wonderful and gently inspiring story of the Rescue of a Jewish family in WWII Denmark. It was a completely enjoyable book. I will be reading “The Giver” in August.


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