A Glance at 2013…

I managed to read 22 books this year … over 7,700 pages. This might not seem like a very respectable number to some of you, but considering I am in the midst of raising toddler twins and a teenager, I consider it a win. I didn’t accomplish much as far as my “classics” and related projects are concerned, but I feel like I stepped outside of my box as a reader and that was just as valuable an experience. Some highlights:

1. I discovered that although I love to make reading plans and lists, I cannot stick to them because I am too often drawn to a book not on my list. And so, I only read 5 of the 12 books on my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge List (hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader). I seem to be more suited for the random read along rather than the more structured challenges.

2. I read and enjoyed my first graphic novel … The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

3. I read some great YA titles like Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Perks was so good I actually read it twice this year!

4. I dipped into the “Jazz Age” with books like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night along with Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. I discovered I am fascinated by Zelda Fitzgerald. Tender is the Night comes in as my least favorite book of 2013, but The Great Gatsby was a different story. Although I wasn’t necessarily blown away at first, I still find myself thinking about that novel … it sort of haunts me. It becomes greater and greater in my mind as time goes on and I will probably re-read it at some point.

5. I re-read A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. And this, my friends, is of course my favorite book of 2013. If you haven’t read it, you must. It can be slow in places, but it is so, so worth it in the end. There is no other character in literature like OWEN MEANY! He will get into your head. He will make you feel things that you weren’t expecting. He will stay with you for weeks and months to come.

6. I started Rowling’s Harry Potter series for the first time. I understand I may be the only book nerd left on earth who has not read this series, but I had some sort of unexplainable aversion to these books for as long as I can remember. And then, after all these years, they called to me for some reason and I am really enjoying it so far. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will be seeing me into the new year.

Cheers to 2014!

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The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

TTOTS*This post contains spoilers.*

This novella was on my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge list, an event sponsored by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader, and it seemed like a good next choice to read as I have been craving “creepy” for the fall season. This was my first experience with Henry James and unfortunately I wasn’t impressed. Much of the turn off was the undecipherable “wordiness” of the writing.  For example: “That reminder had as little effect on my practical certitude as I was conscious – still even without looking – of its having upon the character and attitude of our visitor. Nothing was more natural than that these things should be the other things that they absolutely were not.”
Henry James, what are you saying??? There were sections where James wrote in a much clearer style, but he would constantly veer back to “long-winded” ground. Perhaps this would have worked better as a short, short-story rather than a novella.

The “wordiness” issue might have been worth it if the story itself had been spectacular, but it was just so-so for me. Although an excellent example of an unreliable narrator, I could not stand the governess. Here is a lady who thinks she sees an intruder in a tower at the house and initially tells NO ONE and does not even investigate the house herself. Come on. Of course, come to find out later she is the only adult in the house who can see this guy: “It was the dead silence of our long gaze at such close quarters that gave the whole horror, huge as it was, its only note of the unnatural. If I had met a murderer in such a place and at such an hour, we still at least would have spoken. Something would have passed, in life, between us; if nothing had passed, one of us would have moved. The moment was so prolonged that it would have taken but little more to make me doubt if even I were in life.”
I get that this is a psychological thriller. I understand that James wanted to leave the reader wondering if the governess was just crazy or if the ghosts were real and they had possessed the children. But here’s the thing, the ending was completely unrealistic no matter which of these was the case. Although I didn’t see that end coming, it was still a bit of a let down somehow.

There are many classics that still hold their power in 2013, but perhaps this is just a case of one, published in 1898, that does not hold up as well. Or, maybe it was just me. Have you read The Turn of the Screw? What did you think of it?

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

tgg*This post contains spoilers, so if you are one of the few who have not read this classic, skip this post. 🙂

The Great Gatsby, published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was my fourth read for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge sponsored by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader. I had never read this selection, not even in high school. I really had no idea what to expect. Fitzgerald’s writing – the language … the words …the sentences –  were fabulous, but I found the story, the plot, to be a little lacking for some reason. The action starts slow and ends with a bang, but perhaps I found it too predictable. Perhaps I was having a hard time trusting the narrator, Nick Carraway after he says: “Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

But, isn’t it Gatsby we aren’t supposed to trust? Jay Gatsby … the ultimate American self-made man, right down to his name. I adored him. Something about the mystery, sadness, and darkness that surrounded him really appealed to me. Then there is Daisy. I don’t think I have disliked a character the way I disliked her in a long time. Fitzgerald says: “Her voice is full of money.” So shallow … there was nothing to her, like she was a wisp that could just blow away with the slightest wind. Choosing wealth, security, the easy thing at every turn. What did Gatsby see in her? Why would he have gone to such lengths to bring her back to him? And for her to not even acknowledge his death … his blood that was ultimately on her hands … I could not fathom. It was so sad that no one came to his funeral, but I should not have been surprised. None of those “friends” ever really knew him. They were just fascinated with the idea of him, with what he represented, with what he could provide them. Fitzgerald’s words about Daisy and Tom not only describe them, but most of the people who had surrounded Gatsby in West Egg: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

f. scottFavorite quotes:

* “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.”

* “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

* “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.”

* “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Early on, Fitzgerald foreshadows how things will end for Nick and Gatsby’s friendship: “When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” Much like Gatsby was “borne back ceaselessly into {his} past” with Daisy, I assume it may have been the same for Nick with Gatsby … that he was haunted by him. Although the story may have been lacking for me somehow, I find that I am still thinking about this little novel, days later. Perhaps I am also haunted just a little bit by Jay Gatsby.

This is certainly a cautionary tale about the carelessness that seems to be a fixture of the Jazz Age. The 20s have never been one of my favorite periods in history, maybe because I do not know a lot about this period. It is growing on me though, as I begin to explore the writers and literature of this age.

2013 TBR Pile Challenge

1608f712ceffe9aee0c57f5173546389One of the reasons I originally started my reading project was that I wanted some motivation to read the classics I already had on my book shelf. However, the project ultimately led to my book collection expanding and now my “TBR pile” is larger than ever. So, I have decided to join Adam’s 2013 TBR Pile Challenge. I think I should be able to manage 1 book a month even with the twins. And if not…so it goes! The following is my list: (Some of the selections are from my reading project and some are not.)

1. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
3. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
5. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
6. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
7. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
8. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
9. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Judy Blume
10. The World According to Garp, John Irving
11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
12. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer