Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Bell for Adano by John Hersey

Of all the books I've read this year, I think this one is the most satisfying.  Partly because I really enjoyed reading it, but mostly because this is one of the books that has been on my shelves, unread, for the longest.  I know where I bought it, though not exactly when.  However, I can tell you that this book has been packed and unpacked at least ten times.  It's been in three different houses in Florida, three in Texas, one in Nebraska, an apartment in Chicago, and in storage with the rest of our household goods while we were stationed overseas in Japan.  Does that give you an idea of how long I've owned this book?

I am delighted to report, also, that it was a really good book.  A Bell for Adano is a Pulitzer Prize winner, which doesn't necessarily guarantee I'll like it, but I think that's the reason I never chucked it into the donation bin during any of my moves.  I finally started it the other day when I was looking for a good audiobook and realized that the library owned it -- I could listen to it on my commute to work, which would speed things along.  But after a few minutes, I really didn't like the narrator, so I picked up my own print copy and gave it a try.

Happily, I was rewarded for all my tenacity.  This book is really a charming story.  Major Victor Joppolo, the American child of Italian immigrant parents, is put in charge of an Italian town called Adano after the Italian surrender during WWII.   Major Joppolo has to deal with military bureaucracy, cultural differences, and the looming threat of the Germans as he tries to get the town running smoothly again after years of wartime shortages, fascism, and corruption.  One of his goals is to replace the town's treasured bell, a 700-year-old relic that had been taken by the Fascists and melted down for bullets.  

Honestly, I don't know why I put off reading it for so long.  It's not a very long book, and it's not a difficult read.  I'm not a huge fan of war stories, though I do enjoy reading about how everyday people deal with wartime on the home front.  A Bell For Adano isn't exactly a war story, since the war is mostly over when it starts, so in essence it is about the war at home for the Italians.  Parts of it did remind me a little of Catch-22, because it does poke fun somewhat at military bureaucracy.  It's not making of fun of the military per se, though it does satirize all the ego-massaging that has to go on in a big organization, which I'm sure isn't exclusive to the military.  

I did really like the characters and the story, though I did find the ending a little abrupt -- it really left me wishing I knew what happened to all the people.  Parts of it are very funny, and parts were sad and made me tear up.  I did end up reading most of it in one day because I got so engrossed in it.  It was quite uplifting after some of the terribly depressing books I've read recently.  

I am thankful for Roofbeam Reader's TBR Pile Challenge for inspiring me to finally get around to reading this book -- it was one of a dozen books I promised myself I'd read this year, and I've now completed eight of them -- one a month, right on schedule.   It's really inspired me to keep reading the books from my own shelves, and I've already started my list for the 2013 TBR Challenge.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Blogging Dilemma

I could not decide on an appropriate image for this post.
Hopefully I'm not violating any copyrights with this one. 

I've been a bit behind on book reviews lately -- had a long stretch of work (7 days); and on Friday morning, an unpleasant discovery.   A friend emailed that she had found a blogger who was lifting exact copies of my blog posts and publishing them on Blogger under a different name.  Word for word, images and all.

Well, I was dumbstruck, then furious.  Seriously, who'd want to copy my blog?  I don't have that many followers or that much traffic.  I'm not particularly witty or insightful.  I don't make money off my blog, and I sincerely doubt I'll ever get a book deal.  I don't post a lot of personal stuff.    But I do put effort into my posts.  I know some bloggers can just sit down and type something interesting right off the top of their heads.  I am not one of those.  I start writing thoughts and then I have to edit -- a lot.

So who is this blogger?  Well, I don't even think I want to dignify this person by mentioning specifics -- why should I increase traffic on her blog?  All I know is that she's on Blogger and that since February, she has posted every single one of my postings going back to 2010, and she has about FIFTY other blogs -- I'm pretty sure she's stealing all her content for those from other bloggers as well.  A google search of her name showed she's been stealing from blogs all around the country, personal stuff as well as book reviews.  I wonder if she even reads what she's copying -- how could a person have 50 simultaneous blogs and write about 50 different places at once?

My one consolation is that the only comments on her blog are from me, telling her to cease and desist.  She's in a foreign country (if I am to believe what she posts about herself on the internet -- I don't know what to believe) -- and hopefully few of her countrymen care enough to read it.  And I'm not alone -- other bloggers have complained about her, but no results so far.

I'm trying to think of ways to prevent blog plagiarism, but I honestly don't know if it's possible.  I've heard you can insert code into the blog settings to prevent cut and pasting, but I don't know if that would work.  I could cut off my RSS feed, but why should I cut off all my legitimate followers?  And now I'm also wondering if I've technically plagiarized anyone else myself -- not my writing, but I have lifted the occasional image from the internet.  Mostly it's book covers or images from film and TV adaptations of books, but once in awhile I use a graphic or image without attribution.  If I've stolen anything from anyone, I apologize profusely -- please let me know and I'll take it down or give credit immediately.

It's making me think seriously about giving up blogging altogether.  What's the point if some jerk is just going to copy my stuff and pass it off as her own?  It's very discouraging.

I wonder if she's going to steal this post as well.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Classics Club Meme: My Favorite Classic Novel

For the first meme of the Classics Club, we've been given a question to answer:  What is your favorite classic novel.  Seriously, how does one pick?  The one I've read the most times?  If so, I'd have to choose this:

Beloved by many, Pride and Prejudice started my obsession with all things Jane Austen.  I'm now a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and I'm already planning my third trip their Annual General Meeting (this year it's in New York City!) 

Or how about the one I've loved the longest?   Which would be this one:

Jane Eyre, the first classic I read in college, which started my love affair with Victorian literature.  It's definitely a candidate. 

Or, depending on your definition of a classic, it could be this one: 

I loved this story after watching at PBS Mystery! adaptation when I was in the eighth grade.  I've read the novel many times, listened to the audio, and watched pretty much every adaptation since.  But is it really a classic?  Most people wouldn't consider it literature, but it has endured.  

If that's your definition of a classic, then I'd also have to consider this one:

I read this for the first time in the sixth grade.  I think it was about the same time the movie aired on television, I can't remember if I saw the movie first.  Probably.  Of course a lot of it went right over my head but I still loved it.  I think I finished it in two days.  (I'm a fast reader). 

Again, many people don't consider it a classic because it doesn't have any metaphors and it isn't really taught in schools.  

And I can't forget another candidate:

This is the book that started my love affair with the works of Charles Dickens.  He's definitely over the top sometimes, but this novel has everything -- romance, mystery, satire, social commentary, and so many enduring characters.  If I had to choose only one book to take into exile, it would probably be this one.  

Which is my favorite?  I have to say all of them -- it just depends on the day and my mood.  It's like choosing a favorite food or a favorite child.  I love them all, plus a whole lot more -- I haven't even included anything by Maugham or Trollope or Steinbeck or Edith Wharton. . . . I could go on for days.   Well, that's why I started blogging!  

What do you think, bloggers?  Do you have ONE favorite classic novel, or are you like me and refuse to make that decision?  Which are your favorites?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

East of Eden by John Steinbeck


East of Eden is one of the books I've had on my to-read list the longest, ever since I started on my quest to read more classics back in 2005.  Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school and college without reading a single word of Steinbeck.  When I started to read classics as an adult, I knew I'd finally have to read his books, and at first I was very apprehensive -- Grapes of Wrath sounded so dire.  But I joined an online classics group and one of the first books I read with the group was Travels with Charley, which I absolutely loved, so I became a Steinbeck convert.

I bought my copy of East of Eden at a library sale about four years ago, and I've packed and unpacked it in three different houses.  For about three years now, it's been the book I most wanted to read off my TBR shelves.  It was my daughter's assigned summer reading for her high school English class next year, so I decided to read it along with her.  And it was really worth it.  Why did I wait so long??  Was I saving the best Steinbeck for last?   

It's kind of hard to describe this book.  It's long and sprawling, and spans about 50 years, from just after the Civil War to World War I, and the story is covers American coast to coast  from New England to California.  Inspired by the Genesis stories of Cain and Abel and Adam and Eve, it's the story of the Trask family, about sibling rivalry and fathers and sons.  It also contains some of Steinbeck's best characters, including what is probably one of the most evil characters in American literature.  

Though it's Steinbeck's longest work at 600 pages long, I raced through it in just a few days.  The plot and the characters are really compelling.  It starts out with two half-brothers in New England, Adam and Charles Trask, who are competing for their father's love, living on a farm after the Civil War.  Just like Cain and Abel, their father favors one son over the other, and the less-beloved son takes his jealousy out on his brother.  

In this story, there are two sets of brothers, and love for a woman also fuels the rivalry.  I don't want to give too much away, but Steinbeck weaves together Biblical allusions and California history in a masterful way.  He also incorporates characters based on his own ancestors.  Adam Trask moves out to the Salinas Valley, where Steinbeck grew up.  There's a lot of local color with a delightful Irish family, the Hamiltons, and a faithful family servant, Mr. Lee, who starts out as a cook but becomes much more to the family, a tutor, nanny, and he's basically the one holding the family together after things start to fall apart.

I loved this book although I did find some flaws in it.  Steinbeck is pretty heavy-handed with the Biblical allusions -- not only are there two sets of brothers (with initials beginning with C and A) Steinbeck spends paragraphs with characters philosophizing about the Bible and Cain and Abel, just in case the reader didn't get it.  Also, Lee is sort of an amazing wise Oriental sage, spouting wisdom -- he's just too good to be true. But there is so much great stuff in the novel that I can overlook the parts that bothered me.  

After finishing it, I really wanted to discuss it with someone else who was reading it with me -- my daughter is plodding along with it, but there's so much in it that I don't think she'll understand; in fact, I'm not even sure why this was assigned to high school sophomores!  I really wish I had chosen this instead of Tortilla Flat for my library's book group -- it's longer, but there's so much more in it and it's so much better!  It's more than twice as long but it's a far superior novel.  If you're interested in Steinbeck at all, do yourself a favor and don't bother with the shorter works.  East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath are absolute masterpieces and everyone should read them at least once.