Book Challenges and Read-a-thons Fall 2016

I have been book blogging one year today! It is a remarkable community to learn and share with. One of the ways I have benefited personally is having joined book challenges and readathons where I have discovered new authors and titles. I had no idea of the diversity and number of these. In fact, I think there must be a challenge or readathon for every taste or genre or event imaginable!

When I first started blogging last year I discovered R.I.P. too late to join and totally missed Banned Books Week, but kept them in my sights for this year. Like I need another challenge or 5 with all I have to do in my life, I did indeed sign up for 5.

Even if you are not a book blogger, but like to read these group events are a wonderful way to find people you may have a lot in common with and books you might otherwise have never heard. That was certainly true for me as I was researching titles for the 1947 club. Yes, a book challenge of reading books published in the year 1947. I told you 🙂

I may not get through all the books, but here is my wishlist for these challenges: Click on the hot links for more information and to sign up!

R.I.P (R.eaders I.imbibing P.eril) XI, September 1-October 31 2016.
Read horror, ghost, vampire, mystery, thriller. Multiple levels of participation. Read one book or lots. Watch movies or read short stories.

~The Case of Charles Dexter Ward-HP Lovecraft
~Frankenstein-Mary Shelley
~Several short stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, including Carmilla, Green Tea, Schalken the Painter
~Elizabeth Gaskell, The Old Nurses Story
~Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children-Ransom Riggs
~The Haunting of Hill House-Shirley Jackson. One of my favorite films (the original, of course), which I will watch again. I have never read the book.
~I discovered I have a copy of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula which I will also watch

Banned Books Week, September 25-October 1 2016
Celebrated internationally, read or become familiar with titles that have been banned in the past or are being challenged now. I am participating in an event hosted by Little Book Owl.

~The Witch of Blackbird Pond-Elizabeth George Speare
banned for promoting violence and witchcraft
~A Wrinkle in Time-Madeleine L’Engle
one of the most frequently banned books of all time
~The Giver-Lois Lowry
banned for violence, language, objectionable themes. From an adult point of view, without taking into consideration the point of the book at what happens in a society without choices in life.
~Bridge to Terebithia-Katherine Paterson
banned for language, religion, sad ending (“the idea that a book is depressing or upsetting is often used as a rationale for wanting a book banned. “)

The Literary Others: An LGBT Reading Event during LGBT History Month October 1-31 2016. Hosted by Roof Beam Reader. Fiction, nonfiction, sci fi, poetry, plays, audio books. I’m reading a mix of fiction and non.

~Well of Loneliness-Radclyffe Hall
~Santa Olivia-Jacqueline Carey
~Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home-Leah Lax
~Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How it Can Revitalize Christianity-Rev Elizabeth N. Edman
~The Picture of Dorian Gray-Oscar Wilde

The 1947 Club October 10-16 2016
Hosted by Stuck in a Book read anything published in 1947!

~A Girl in Winter-Philip Larkin
~One Fine Day-Mollie Panter-Downs
~The Slaves of Solitude-Patrick Hamilton
~Final Curtain-Ngaio Marsh

Witch Week October 31-November 6 2016
Hosted by Lory at The Emerald City Book Review, read about witches or anything magical or fantasy. And enjoy a group reading of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

~Something Wicked This Way Comes-Ray Bradbury
~Witch of Blackbird Pond-
Elizabeth George Speare
~House Witch-
Katie Schickel
~Girl who Drank the Moon-
Kelly Regan Barnhill

Ok, bye. I’d better get a crackin’ 🙂

 

 

What I am Reading in March (and it’s not what I thought)!

Two things happened over the last week that completely derailed my carefully planned out reading life for the next several months: I wrote up my review of L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, and had to admit the pull of images and text from my reading of The War of the Worlds has not and will not stop.

Firstly, I just have to know more about the woman, L. M. Montgomery. While I enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series, The Emily books really struck home for me. But there is something about The Blue Castle that is calling me to learn more about Montgomery herself. So, I decided I will read one more novel, The Story Girl, since she said it was her best work (and although she was still a fairly young writer when she said that, I wonder if she ever changed her mind?). Then I will spend a month, either April or May, concentrating on her letters and journals and maybe a biography or two. I am not sure what I am looking for, but this desire to know more has become too insistent to ignore.

Secondly, more H. G. Wells? This attraction totally blind-sided me. Although The War of the Worlds is on my Classics Club reading list it wasn’t something I planned on reading so soon after joining up. It happened to fall on my list as the January Spin #11. And if they had chosen another number….?!

But I loved it! I can honestly say I was enthralled, sucked in, drawn along with the Narrator in each twist and turn of his journey. The narrative was so good, the social commentary on how a catastrophe affects people, fascinating. The scenes of Martian destruction created pictures in my mind I can’t forget. So, yes, I decided to read more this month. I never considered myself to be a science fiction kind of a gal…I blame good writing!

My projected reading list for March, which I am declaring “My March Month of (Mostly) Sci Fi” looks like this:

H. G. Wells:
The Invisible Man
The Time Machine
The Island of Dr. Moreau

About Wells:
H. G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, by Michael Sherborne
Aspects of a Life, by Anthony West (Wells’ son)

Jules Verne:
Journey to the Center of the Earth (Wells’ contemporary)

(And thank you to Jo Wass for suggestions for this reading list).

Little Women, because I must stay on some kind of track for the Classics Club and to better participate in Susan Bailey’s wonderful blog, Louisa May Alcott is my Passion. I have a feeling somewhere down the road I will have a Louisa May Alcott month, but let’s stay on the topics at hand for now 🙂

I am also reading some nonfiction as well as one book each for my reading challenges, which I am behind on. Can I catch up? Can I do it all?

March will be a verrrrry interesting month!

 

A Separate Peace, John Knowles (1959)

My Edition:separatepeace
Title: A Separate Peace
Author: John Knowles
Publisher: Bantam Books
Year: 1975, text of the original 1959 edition
Pages: 196
Synopsis: Goodreads
 

 Finney never left anything alone, not when it was well enough, not when it was perfect. “Let’s go jump in the river,” he said under his breath as we went out of the sunporch. He forced compliance by leaning against me as we walked along, changing my direction; like a police car squeezing me to the side of the road, he directed me unwillingly toward the gym and the river.[i]

 My Thoughts

This was my first reading of a book many read as teenagers. The novel is told as a flashback when Gene Forrester comes back to his prep school alma mater, the Devon School in New Hampshire 15 years after he graduated. He has come back to make peace with the disastrous events that occurred in his last year of school. As he walks through the campus he feels the same sense of fear as he did when he entered as a boy and frankly, this feeling of something bad or ominous in the making lurked through each page I turned.

…. like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn’t even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence.[ii]

 The story begins during the summer of 1942 and continues through the academic year of 1942/43, a time of world war that factored into the minds and hearts of the boys who knew their immediate future after graduation would include military service. For Gene and his best friend Phineas (Finney), this is a tragic year.

“I don’t really believe we bombed Central Europe, do you,” said Finney thoughtfully.

 …Bombs in Central Europe were completely unreal to us here, not because we couldn’t imagine it—a thousand newspaper photographs and newsreels had given us a pretty accurate idea of such a sight—but because our place here was too fair for us to accept something like that. We spent that summer in complete selfishness, I’m happy to say. The people in the world who could be selfish in the summer of 1942 were a small band, and I’m glad we took advantage of it.[iii]

Against the backdrop of WWII, Knowles effectively creates an insular sense of boarding-school life; that even though the world was deep into the war the boys’ world was concerned with their athletic prowess and academic victories, their complicated and confusing relationships with each other, secret societies, and the rule-breaking of boys living so intimately with each other.

As someone who attended a large public college, I have always been fascinated by small eastern schools. I fantasize about the ideal setting, atmosphere, students and course work. But I have never come up with such a notion as the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, where Gene was forced by Finney to start each meeting by jumping off a tree branch into a river.

In fact, while I was drawn into the story by Knowles’ well-defined setting and characters, the main characters I found hard to like. Finney’s manipulation of the boys, especially Gene and Gene’s inability to stand up for himself against Finney was hard to take. The pall of danger cast over the novel from the beginning made me fear a catastrophe akin to Lord of the Flies might break out any minute.

And when it happened, when a death came, it was almost a relief! I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but I was glad for this break-through in the atmosphere of doom. And as the novel came to a close, I found I liked Finney and Gene better once I understood their story.

I think the dynamics between the students, their idiosyncrasies, their individual perspectives on the world that were so well-defined still makes this a relevant choice for today’s teenage and adult audiences.

Phineas, [said Gene], “you wouldn’t be any good in the war….”

 “They’d get you some place at the front and there’d be a lull in the fighting, and the next thing anyone knew you’d be over with the Germans or the Japs asking if they’d like to field a baseball team against our side. You’d be sitting in one of their command posts, teaching them English. Yes, you’d get confused and borrow one of their uniforms, and you’d lend them one of yours. Sure, that’s just what would happen. You’d get things so scrambled up nobody would know who to fight any more. You’d make mess, a terrible mess, Finny, out of the war.”[iv]

__________

[i] 22.
[ii] 1.
[iii] 22-23.
[iv] 182.

This is my New Hampshire state choice for the Emerald City Reading New England challenge, Back to the Classics and a book for my Classics Club book list.

 

How the Morning Pages Work for Me

artistsway

I have been doing the Morning Pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for many years. I am not a regular, but I go through spurts where I write every morning for many weeks. Recently, as the year was ending and a new one beginning, all that desire to let go of stagnation and the optimism of what to bring in found me at it again.

The style of writing for the Morning Pages is stream of consciousness and thoughts in the moment, as the object is words on the page, not a published-ready piece. The idea being what you put down on paper first thing in the morning will not haunt your thoughts for the rest of the day. And often, in an unconscious way, you will write your way out of whatever is bugging you. Since this often happens to me, I think it must be magic. I will actually move from Point A where I am absolutely stuck to Point B where I have the answer.

And every once in a while, I feel like I am getting guidance when I write; that the words being put down on paper are not my thoughts. This is especially obvious when I find the pronouns change from I/me to you. It is as if someone (me?) is trying to tell me something. It is an odd sensation to feel like the pen is moving at someone else’s prompt. But the words are always kind and encouraging pointing out what I’d forgotten about myself or giving me an idea I had not previously considered.

During these last few weeks I have been burning through the suggested three pages a day

sjcap2
Mission San Juan Capistrano

into four or five and am on my second pen! But each day I shed something: sometimes it’s minor, like rearranging my bookshelves to make better sense or something kind of scary as in reevaluating a relationship. And I am also reminding myself to do more of the things I love: exploring historical sites and writing about them, getting back to baking, trail walking and my Reik practice, for example.

 

I think the Morning Pages work for me because I have been journaling for a very long time and I know when to turn off the logic/researcher part of my brain and allow the dreamer/fantasy side to take over. I need to remember the importance of this balance as I go through the year.

Hey, it is almost the middle of January, I’d better get crackin’!

woodrat1
Not just a pile of sticks. I discovered a rat midden! Mission Trails, San Diego.

 

 

 

“Thanksgiving” from Ceremonials of Common Days, by Abbie Graham (1923)

My Edition:
Title: Ceremonials of Common DaysIMG_3410
Author: Abbie Graham
Publisher: The Womans Press
Year: 1923
Pages: 97

 

On Thanksgiving Day I celebrate the Ceremonial of Being Glad for People. I could be grateful on this day for bountiful harvests and national benefits; but I have other days for those ceremonials because one heart is not spacious enough to hold the full measure of all gratitude. A year is a lean year or a year of plenty in proportion to the poverty or richness of its fellowships.

I would give my thanks for the people whom I have but glimpsed in passing: children watching at windows; those who sell flowers, especially little boys who trust me to buy their violets or dogwood branches; porters on trains and in hotels; post office employees who make letters possible; people in trains; nurses in hospitals; makers of music; those who sit in church with me, whom I “silently rejoice to be with.”

There is gratitude for the people whom I pass each morning and evening: children on bicycles; those who go and come from work; and for the people whom it is not given to me to see,–for those whom I know only through the printed page, for those who have designed certain buildings and parks and monuments, who have constructed roads, for those who sit in offices and plan for the well-being of the world, for the people around the world who work that I may have the necessities of life.

And there are other people who bring to me joyous delight on this day. To them I write letters—to the old friends and the new. For Thanksgiving is an articulate season, a time for expressing the unspoken things of the heart.

The Ceremonial of Being Glad for People was the initial ceremonial. Because of it, the other ceremonials were made necessary.[i]

abbiegraphm3

 

Abbie Graham (1889-1972) was a writer of nonfiction on many topics including spirituality, race relations, travel and most notably on the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. This is a little book of beautifully simple celebrations of life. Arranged by seasons it gives tips that the reader can use to plan her own personal special days.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! May we remember and be grateful for those precious in our hearts and may we reach out to those we do not know.

____________________

[i] 91-93.

Who Left the Sun Inside this Book?

Have you ever found something extraordinary or intriguing tucked inside the pages of a book?

I have found grocery lists for elaborate meals and medical appointment cards forgotten as bookmarks in the public library. In the university library I have come across notes taken for classes or lists of books for term papers, which always brings a familiar pain; all that time and research for nothing.

Once I found a tirade detailing the transgressions the letter writer felt someone committed against her. After reading a few embarrassing lines I stuck it back in the book. Yikes!

My greatest find was also a picture stuck between the pages of a book I picked up in a university library:

Sun.jpeg

Incredible detail and technique! But what was the inspiration? Boredom? Soothing nerves before a midterm? Or just the desire to create? The medium is black ink on a napkin: restaurant, coffee house, bar? And why was it left? Using the napkin as a place-holder while studying and forgetting about it? Or, shoved inside and left on purpose? A frustrating mystery.

But here is the bigger mystery: This is my symbol. I have been collecting, imagining, wearing and enjoying sun and moon images for decades.

Sometimes I like them together:

sun2.jpeg

Sun3.jpeg

And sometimes I like them alone:

Sun4.jpeg

This crescent I wear almost every day:

moon.jpeg

I consider myself mostly a moon person, as I love the night and darkness. When the crescent moon appears each month it is a joy to see and acknowledge. The crescent is an expectant symbol of newness, promise and hope.

I found the napkin in 2002 and have moved house several times, each time making sure to take it with me. All this time it has had a prominent place on my altar:

Altar.jpeg

O Unknown Artist…I thank you!

What have you found stuck in a book?

My Past in Books

I ride public transportation regularly.

During my time in Seattle and Chicago and back here in Southern California, I spent countless hours reading in buses, trains and planes and while waiting for them. I sometimes reconstruct my life by what I was reading when.

For example, thoughts of the New Yorker magazine take me to my 5 years in 1990s Chicago and my morning commute from the North Side to the Loop. I missed my stop several times, because I was engrossed in one article or another. I also re-read Jane Eyre while traveling on the ‘L’ and realized how differently it read as an adult than when I read it as a teenager.

While in Chicago I also became acquainted with author Nora Zeale Hurston,

in Pandora's Box
in Pandora’s Box

actress and writer Louise Brooks and the philosophy of A Course in Miracles all of which changed my life in unique and permanent ways.

oldebb
Early location, Elliot Bay Books

In Seattle, I mark my year-long stay not only by the books I read, but in the glorious bookstores of the town. I found The Varieties of Religious Experience at The Quest Bookshop. At Elliot Bay Books I met my Great Aunt Dorothy regularly where we first ate their delicious soup before exploring the stacks. I strolled through Bailey Coy on Broadway often and gained inspiration from Red and Black Books. And the countless second hand bookstores gave me treasures that helped me through that dark and difficult winter.

And in Iceland, or seriously, ‘Bookland,’ since everyone reads and writes, though I didn’t know the language, the bookstores felt familiar with their floor to ceiling shelves and table-laden books, coffee, pastries and conversation.

anneggMore recently my commutes to work have been marked by L.M. Montgomery, or I should say Anne Shirley as the bus powers down Pacific Coast Highway. Lost in the magic of Anne’s Lover’s Lane, the Haunted Woods and the fixes Anne and her friends fall into, I am absorbed into the early 19th century Canadian past.

I have always loved to read. And it is obvious to me how much reading has affected my life and helped construct me as a person. Who would I have turned out to be without this love?

Thankfully, I will never know, because I will always have something to read!

livingroom

Putnam’s Minute-a-Day English for Busy People, Edwin Hamlin Carr (1921)

Or “Let me give a Resume of the Subject” [i]puts12

My public library is one of my favorite places to buy used books. In a large area of the lobby, there are rows and rows of books spanning all categories. My favorite is the one they call ‘vintage.’ Mostly acquired from estate sales these are books published around the turn of the 20th century through the 1930s, which is MY time. Not that I lived then, a sorry turn of fate, but it is a time that has always felt familiar. I regularly find something that excites me.

puts6My latest find is called, Putnam’s Minute-a Day English for Busy People, published in 1921 . Like many popular grammar and English usage books of the day, it is a call, a method, a philosophy to get Americans on the same grammar/word-usage page. Because “someones” have decided that certain language constructions ain’t correct any longer or that we all must get clear on the same pronunciation of words. The word baptize, for example, was sometimes pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, bap tize’, instead of the more modern bap’ tize. (Although a little later in time, in the 1947 film, Life with Father, William Powell as Clarence Day, uses the former pronunciation throughout as he tries to make up his mind on whether or not to get bap tized’).

An example from Putnam’s:

Articulate the a???
Articulate the a???

Edwin Hamlin Carr wrote Putnam’s, not as a serious, laborious tome, but for ‘supper-table fun; language games for school and home….” [ii] Through the “laws of association” where only the correct forms are presented, he uses poems, ditties, rhymes and brief stories from newspapers and magazines to illustrate the issue at hand. Think Grammar Girl, 1921! Here’s an example (click on all the photos for an enlarged view):

'Halloo' is out and 'Hello' is in
‘Halloo’ is out and ‘Hello’ is in
'ear-a'? Really?
‘ear-a’? Really? And not ‘air-a’?

For me, Putnam’s is at once an early 20th century American English grammar concerned with correct syntax and pronunciation for English speakers and perhaps emigrants as well as a historical document of early 20th century American cultural self-expression.

puts10
Carr wants you to know umbrella is 3 syllables, not 4
puts11
“Supper-table fun” for sure, after a few drinks!

puts9

Carr believed that following his method of association would give the interested person “an accurate and effective form of English expression…if he will give to the task at least one minute a day.” [iii] And due to the fact that my copy had written notes throughout, in that old-fashioned cursive reminiscent of my grandparents, makes me believe that Carr’s purpose in writing the book was taken seriously, at least by the previous owner of my book.

To give a little context, William Strunk, self-published his ‘little book’ in the late teens and wrote it specifically for his college students, whereas Putnam’s was written for the home and family. Project Guttenberg has this original text if you would like to read Strunk before White got involved and it became Strunk and White’s Elements of Style!

I have to admit that as much as I have enjoyed reading this from a historical perspective, as a sort of primer on the issues and questions plaguing American language critics of the time, it is also an enjoyably useful book for those of us who could use a little nudge in the right grammatical direction!

From chapters on grammar and pronunciation to spelling, syllabication and “suggestions for party games,” I hope you find these examples fun and enlightening. And remember,

“A bit of correcting every day,
Drives the wrong syllabication away.” [iv]

puts7

And how did I do with this ‘resume’ of the book? Was it a decent summary? And did you pronounce it ray zu may’ ? Maybe something for YOUR next supper table!

____________________

[i] p. 17.
[ii] p. iii.
[iii] p. iii.
[iv] p. 261.

Reading Children’s Classics as an Adult

I think an angel walks over the world after the sun sets . . . a great, tall, white angel, with silvery folded wings . . . and sings the flowers and birds to sleep. Children can hear them if they know how to listen. Peter Irving, 10 years old. Anne of Avonlea

During the Spring of 2014, I was running late for the bus and remembered I needed a ‘bus book.’ So I grabbed the first unread book I saw on the shelf: The Hobbit. As I read on the way to work day after day, the intrusion of strangers and smells of the city bus left me and I was securely encased in fantasy land. I had always loved that experience. But why did it end?

And I remembered I stopped reading fantasy and sci/fi when I went to graduate school….

So I spent most of last summer in used bookstores shoring up my bookcases with books by authors I recalled from the past along with new authors. I read The Golden Compass and all of His Dark Materials, I reread some Marion Zimmer Bradley and discovered sci/fi and fantasy author Lisa Goldstein and several others.

I was on a roll when I walked into a favorite San Diego bookstore last summer to continue my quest. With my arms full of fantasy and sci fi books, I headed for the cash register, but something caught my eye. I saw this bright green book cover with a dancing toad in the middle. It was The windwillows.jpegWind in the Willows and I realized I had never read it though I knew it was a well-known children’s classic. As I looked through the titles of the children’s section, I saw so many time-honored books I had never read.

How did I miss The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows? How come I never read the Anne of Green Gables series or Stuart Little? As I thought back, 12 was a pivotal reading-year. I somehow moved from the Nancy Drew mysteries and “Little House” books to A Journal of the Plague Year and On the Beach. At that age, who wouldn’t want to read about the terrors of the Black Death and nuclear annihilation?!

secretgarden.jpegSo that day, I bought The Wind in the Willows, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, even though I wondered if they would have any meaning for me or would they be a waste of time for an adult?

I need not have worried.

Each is so rich in the details of its surroundings and descriptions of characters, with plots and subject matter that are complicated and mature. They are like historical documents in disguise giving me a view of their time period by word choices, societal consciousness and world view.

What drew me to books at a very young age, draws me still: a good story with Anne of Avonlea.jpegcharacters I can see and hear and whose conflicts and resolutions are relatable; and with a little magic and fantasy thrown in like talking animals, personified Nature and extraordinary images and ideas of life.

What stays with me is the beautiful simplicity in the writing, the stunning portrayals of time and place, the universal spirituality found in Nature and the images and impressions that follow me long after I have finished the book.

I am moved, too, because I am reminded these creative and fantastical images are missing in my life. Adults, after all, are supposed to ‘grow out of it.’ There are so many of these children’s classics I have yet to read, yet I still feel tentative in pursuing them.

That is until just this week when I saw this quote by Albert Einstein, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

And if you want to stay intelligent, read fairy tales as an adult!

Old Books….

I’ll let you define “old book” for yourself. For me, it is anything before the 1950s.

I am not sure why I am drawn to old books, although I do have a historical sensibility about things in general. When I am interested in something I go back to the source, the foundation, the original. I am often surprised by its relevance. The New Age, the Modern Age is really the Old Age gussied up with contemporary lingo and sometimes we don’t even know the idea is not new.

I read classic literature almost like primary source documents. I am pulled into its time and sensibility, the social and political atmosphere, its cultural context, even its gastronomic display. I’ve been reading like this since I can remember. My surroundings fade and I fall through the rabbit hole of the past.

I am not an obsessive-compulsive reader. And while I often have more than one book going at a time, I don’t hurry the process. I think about what I am reading. Books affect me and I am often in a state of that affectedness. I love when that happens; when a writer, living or dead, has caused me to pause, to feel, to learn. I am grateful to have been so changed.