Thursday, September 6, 2012

RIP 2012

Once again, I have signed up for the RIP challenge -- R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril.  Participants read books or watch movies that are ghostly, ghastly, gothic, suspenseful, or sufficiently moody for the season.  Even though it's September, it's not even remotely close to fall weather in Texas, but his will help me pretend we actually have seasons (oh, who am I kidding?  It's going to be 100 degrees today!)

But back to the books.  I've signed up for Peril the First, which is four reads over two months, which is quite manageable.  I have a lot on my TBR plate at the moment, so this year I've really narrowed down my RIP reads.  But I also got smart -- three of my four book group reads for September and October qualify -- probably because I chose all of them for the group.  I wasn't thinking specifically about RIP months ago when I made the schedule, but I did think it would be fun to read something a little creepy.

First, the September read for my afternoon book group:

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris.  Not sure if it fits the challenge exactly, but it has some kind of mysterious element, so I'm including it for now.  Been wanting to read this one for quite awhile

Then, selections for both book groups for for October:

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  This has been on the TBR list for awhile, plus it's on my Classics Club list.  I really liked We Have Always Lived in the Castle which I read for RIP VI.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  I have selfishly reserved every copy in my library system for our book group.  (Well, if people want to read it, they can join the group, right?) It's short, and I might even work up the nerve to watch the movie adaptation, which looks really creepy.  I just hope it's not too scary for the group members -- oh well, you can't please everyone.

And I'll have to choose at least one more read to complete the challenge.  I have this stack of mysteries, gothic novels, and short stories from my TBR shelves.  (Quite a few of these were on the pile from last year's challenge):

Just in case you can't make out the titles, here's what's in the photo, from top to bottom:

The Doll and Other Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier
The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark
The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Margaret Oliphant
The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsey Ashford
A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier
The Uses of Enchantment by David Liss

Any recommendations from the pile?

Has anyone else signed up this year?  What are you planning on reading?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

I've been in a bit of a blogging slump lately -- all has been resolved with Blogger and the hijacker, and many thanks to everyone for the encouraging words -- and to the good folks at Blogger for taking care of it so promptly. And hopefully I'll never have to think about it again.

Anyhow. . . . I've been reading a lot but not terribly inspired to blog much lately. But I did manage to finish another of the books from my TBR Challenge list, which pleases me greatly. This one is The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather, one of five Cathers on my Classics Club list, and my fifth book by Cather overall.

The Song of the Lark was published in 1915 and is the story of Thea Kronberg, a girl growing up in a very small town in Colorado. Thea is one of about seven children, the daughter of the local minister.  Since she was a small child, she's been mentored by the town doctor and everyone has recognized her musical talent. The reader follows her development, growing up in a rural community and finally going away to study music in Chicago, where her piano teacher realizes her true talent lies in her singing. It's about her struggle to rise from her humble beginnings and become a great artist.

This book is divided into various sections, based on times in Thea's life. By far my favorite sections were set in Colorado, during her childhood. There are a lot of short chapters with vignettes from her life, almost like interrelated short stories about the people that shape her character and her life, from the beloved town doctor to her rivals at the annual music festival, and the railwayman who hopes to marry her when she's old enough. I loved Cather's descriptions of the town, its inhabitants, and its surroundings. I've never been to Colorado though I've seen the Rocky Mountains in Montana as a child, so I can only imagine it. Detailed descriptions of settings sometimes bore me, but Cather does it really well.

I absolutely loved the first half of this book. The beginning really reminded me of two of my previous Cather reads, O Pioneers! and My Antonia, because they're about living in small Western towns. It also had little elements that I remembered from The Professor's House (1925) and Death Comes From the Archbishop (1927). Thea takes a break from her singing studies and travels to the canyons of New Mexico, and Cather's love of the southwest really emerges in this book. For me, this is a sort of transitional book between her Midwestern and Southwestern books.

About halfway through the book, Thea goes to Chicago to study music, and I loved that part too, partly because I spent ten years of my life in the Evanston/Chicago area, and for four of those years I lived very close to where Thea lives, in a Swedish neighborhood called Andersonville which is still there (and where you can get the best cinnamon rolls I've ever had). She also goes to the Symphony and the Art Institute, which is one of my favorite places in the world.

However, the last quarter or so of the book kind of went downhill for me. Thea becomes a very successful singer and, honestly, kind of a diva. The focus changes from mostly her point of view to that of Dr. Archie and of Frederick Ottenburg, the man who falls in love with her. There's a lot of talk about The Artist and what makes her so, blah blah. I admit it, I am not an opera fan so I didn't get a lot of it (and I'm looking over my shoulder for lightning as I write this, since I have a sister and brother-in-law who are classically trained singers).  I just found Thea to be really self-centered and unlikeable at this point. Having grown up with a sister who's a performer, I know creative people have to believe in themselves and their talent to survive all that criticism, but I just didn't like Thea anymore.

I have heard that this is one of the more autobiographical of Cather's works. I'm sure she's making a point about how hard it is to be An Artist, but I just didn't get it. However, I am going to send this to my sister, the professional singer, and hopefully she'll like it and maybe she'll get more out of it that I did. I do have several more by Cather on the TBR shelf, including a 1931 edition of Shadows on the Rock, a historical novel set in 17th century Quebec.

I've now finished nine of the twelve reads on my TBR Challenge list, so I'm averaging one a month and I'm on track to finish by the end of the year. I'm getting really gung-ho about reading books off my own shelves -- my goal this year is choose 50% of my reading material from my own shelves, and I'm pretty close. The shelves still seem to be just as full but I am making progress, however slow.

How are you doing with your Classics Club challenges, bloggers? And how about that TBR Challenge?Anyone finish it yet? And what other books do you recommend by Willa Cather?