Sunday, October 30, 2016

Nonfiction November

I've really gotten into reading nonfiction so I'm always looking for an excuse to blog about it! I looked back at last year's post for Nonfiction November and I've actually finished a couple of the books I planned on reading (though I didn't actually blog about them). I already do have two nonfiction books that I've been reading in bits in pieces, so hopefully I'll finish them in November:

Millions Like Us: Women's Lives in War and Peace by Virginia Nicholson. I always love reading about the war on the home front. I've barely started this one so I hope to get back to it soon and really make a dent. I loved Nicholson's book Singled Out which I read a few years ago for the TBR Pile Challenge. 

In Morocco by Edith Wharton. I do love travel writing and Edith Wharton is one of my all-time favorite writers. I'd never read any of her nonfiction before but this is available for a free e-book download so I've had it on my phone for awhile. I started reading it the other day while on line in the post office and it's very good. I've always dreamed of visiting Morocco so this should be a win-win. I only wish there were images of her travels! 

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This is the November selection for a book group I recently joined at my library so this fits in well with my fall reading plans! I really want to read this one because I have not finished the last two book selections for the group -- I fear I may get kicked out if I don't finish the next one!

Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich by Alison Owings. I found this on the the shelves of my library over a month ago and haven't touched it. Our library doesn't have a huge selection but there's a lot of books about WWII. This would be a really nice contrast to Nicholson's book about the British home front.

The Art of the English Murder by Lucy Worsley. There are few things I love more than a great murder mystery, and the English do it so well. Sounds perfect for reading on a chilly November evening. 

Of course I have lots more nonfiction books on the TBR shelves (and my TBR list!) but if I get all five of these read in the next month I'll be really pleased with myself. 

Bloggers, anyone else reading nonfiction in November? What are you reading? And do you recommend any of these? Please let me know in the comments!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The reason I really started reading classics about ten years ago was because I realized there were so many authors I'd never read -- I managed to graduate from high school without ever reading anything by Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, or Hemingway! (Though in my defense, I did read War and Peace.) One of the few classics I did read in college was Jane Eyre, which I absolutely loved. It's also one of those books I turn to for comfort during hard times. This summer I had a tough move from Texas to Germany, and Jane Eyre was there for me when I needed something familiar.

I'm sure most everyone knows the basic story, but without spoilers, here's the setup: orphaned Jane Eyre lives with her horrible aunt and cousins until they send her off to boarding school, which also starts out horribly, but gets better. Eventually, she becomes a governess for the ward of mysterious Mr. Rochester at Thornfield Hall. She falls in love with him (naturally) but things are not as they seem.

It had been several years since I'd read Jane Eyre, and I still loved it this time around, but there were parts of it that I didn't like as well as in my youth. I still love Jane, but I found myself much more critical of Rochester and his behavior -- he was really manipulative and dishonest and some of the things he did to Jane were pretty unforgivable. Of course there are amazing coincidences, which are present in many Victorian novels so I feel as though that's to be expected. I did find parts of the story dragged, and there's a sub-plot about another possible romance for Jane that made me want to throw the book across the room.

I first read this book as part of a literature class my first semester in college, and it's been so long that I hardly remember what all the metaphors were. I realize the book must have been ground-breaking for its time regarding the portrayal of women in Victorian times, and that Jane is a symbol of empowerment, but some of the symbolism is a little over the top for me.  And I'm sure I find it less romantic than I did years ago. I suppose it's inevitable that books affect you in different ways once you get older. 

If you've read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, it's pretty obvious that she was influenced by Jane Eyre (though apparently she claims she wasn't; if anyone has evidence one way or the other, please let me know in the comments.) I've read Rebecca many, many times and it's one of my all-time favorites. I'm sure this may cause outrage but I honestly think I actually prefer Rebecca! In fact, it might be time for another re-read since it's October and I always want to read mysterious Gothic literature this time of year. 

Bloggers, do you prefer Jane Eyre or Rebecca? And how do you feel when you re-read books you loved when you were younger? Do they stand the test of time? 

I'm counting this as my Classic Re-Read from School for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Only three books left to go!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Back to the Classics 2016: Challenge Wrap-Up Post

Have you finished the Back to the Classics Challenge?  Congratulations!  This is where you'll link up to your Challenge Wrap-Up Post, after you've completed a minimum of six different categories from the original challenge post.  This post is only for Challenge-Wrap Up Posts.  If you do not have a blog, or anywhere you post publicly, please write up your post-challenge thoughts/suggestions/etc in the comments section.  Please read the directions carefully. 

By linking or commenting here, you are declaring that you have completed the challenge; that each book reviewed fits the correct definition of the category, and was published before 1966 (except for posthumous publications); and that your reviews for each category are linked to the correct post. If I cannot find links to your reviews, I cannot give you credit and thus enter you into the drawing.  THIS is where I will look at the end of the year and randomly choose the winner for the bookish prize. 

Please remember to indicate within THIS post how many entries you have earned for the prize drawing and include links to your reviews. If you do NOT include links to your original reviews IN THIS POST, I CANNOT ENTER YOU INTO THE DRAWING.

  • If you've completed six categories and you get one entry.
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries.
  • Complete all twelve categories, and your name is entered into the drawing three times!
  • Thank you again for participating, and congratulations again for completing the challenge!

    Tuesday, October 18, 2016

    Back to the Classics Challenge Check-In

    How is everyone doing with the Back to the Classics Challenge? This is just a quick reminder, there are about 10 weeks left of the year to finish the challenge (I can't believe it's almost over!) I've finished nine of the twelve categories and posted eight reviews so far, so I need to buckle down and finish up! Remember, you only have to have read six classics to qualify, and they can crossover with other challenges you may have signed up for (just not within this challenge). 

    Also, I wanted to let everyone know that I'll be posting a page where you can link your Wrap-Up Posts. Remember, you need to write a short post with links to all your reviews -- if I can't find all your reviews, I won't be able to enter you into the drawing! You don't have to read books from all 12 categories -- a minimum of six books and you'll be entered! 

    And if anyone is wondering, yes, I will be hosting the challenge again in 2017! I have some fun new categories that I'm very excited about and I hope everyone will like them! 

    Has anyone finished the challenge yet? Which books did you like so far? And is everyone still interested in the challenge for 2017?

    Saturday, October 15, 2016

    The 1947 Club: Sisters By a River by Barbara Comyns

    In honor of The 1947 Club I bought not one, not two, but three books published in 1947. I hope to complete all three of them this week, but let's start with Sisters By a River by Barbara Comyns.

    Sisters By A River is a semi-autobiographical story narrated by the middle of the sisters growing in a rather odd household. They live in a country house near the River Avon, in the early part of the century, I'm guessing between the wars though it never really specifies. Their father is quite a lot older than their mother, who married him quite young and then went deaf when the girls are fairly young. There are a succession of servants and governesses, but overall these children seem to run quite wild.

    It's not so much a story as a series of vignettes about their lives as seen through the eyes of a child, with all the misunderstandings and misspellings you'd expect if she was telling you her life stories in bits and pieces. Many of the tales are just a couple of pages long, and some of them start out as amusing stories but wind up finishing with a sentence that's quite dark and sometimes unnerving. I couldn't figure out the point of the book until after I'd finished it and went back to read the introduction, which I normally leave until last for fear of spoilers. It all made sense when it explained that this is based on her own life; hence, the lack of plot. It also mentioned that Comyns was a terrible speller in real life (obviously due to her sketchy education) and the publisher left that in and even added to it to make it seem more childlike. 

    Sisters by a River is Comyns' first novel, but it's the fourth of hers I've read so far. I think it's safe to say her novels could be described as quirky.  All of her books are quite short, and some of them have surreal elements. I think I've read all of them simply based on recommendations from other bloggers, mostly Simon of Stuck in a Book and Thomas from Hogglestock. So far my favorites by Comyns were Our Spoons Came from Woolworths and The Skin Chairs. I've also read The Vet's Daughter which is definitely surreal, but I didn't like it nearly as much as the others since it has a much darker tone.

    With the exception of The Skin Chairs, those books are all still in print, but it's not difficult to find Comyns' other books online as some of them were published by Virago. She wrote eleven books altogether and I'm definitely hoping to read more of them, though it might take a little searching.

    Bloggers, have any of you read anything by Barbara Comyns? Which do you recommend? And are you enjoying The 1947 Club? 

    Wednesday, October 5, 2016

    Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum

    On my recent visit to London, I was fortunate enough to visit a whole slew of bookstores. I saw this brand-new edition of an NYRB Classic: Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum. It ticked off a lot of boxes for me:
    • Nice cover
    • Set in a hotel -- so lots of characters thrown together 
    • Woman writer
    • Translated into English -- I'm always trying to widen my literary perspective
    • Set in Germany
    • Between the wars -- one of my favorite time periods

    So, basically, this was a no-brainer -- I had to buy it. It took a couple of chapters to get into it, but once I got started it was great. Set in 1929, it's the story of a different guests at the posh Grand Hotel in Berlin: the aging ballerina Grusinskaya, who is worried that she's losing her appeal; the sexy playboy Baron von Gaigern; the tragic Dr. Otterschlag, whose face was destroyed by a bomb during the Great War; Herrr Preysing, the director of a family firm who's desperate to secure a manufacturing bid; and the meek clerk Kringelein, who's worked for thanklessly for years for Preysing's firm. He recently had a terminal medical diagnosis and has decided to spend his last few weeks enjoying life. Some of the characters have a slight connection, like Preysing and Kringelein, but after a few days in the same hotel, their lives interconnect and are changed forever.  

    I really enjoyed this book. I love how Baum intersected all the characters' lives, and I thought the plot was great and the ending well done; however, I think the strength of this book was the character development. I do love any book that has a variety of characters -- I'm particularly fond of books set on trains and sea voyage (I think it started with my love for Murder on the Orient Express.) In this book I was concerned at how many characters Baum, was going to introduce, but it was easy to keep them all straight. I do wish there had been a better ratio of female to male characters (there's also a beautiful young stenographer who shows up about halfway through the book) but Baum made a point with both of the women about the limited choices they had during the time period. 

    I also found the writing to be very insightful. The whole book is full of great quotes that I kept marking with little scraps of paper as I read. Here's one of my favorites:

    Then the doors closed throughout the hotel. Everyone locked himself in behind double doors and each was left alone with himself and his secrets.

    And here's Dr. Otterschlag using hotel as a metaphor for life:

    The whole hotel is only a rotten pub. It is exactly the same with the whole of life. . . . You arrive, stay for awhile, and go on again. Passing through. Isn't that it? . . . and what do you do in life? A hundred doors along one corridor and nobody knows a thing about his next-door neighbors. 

    Originally published in German as Menschen im Hotel, this was an international best-seller and was adapted as a stage play and an Oscar winning movie in 1932, starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and Joan Crawford -- it's the source of the famous Garbo line "I want to be alone." I've never seen it but it's available on Netflix so it's at the top of my DVD queue.

    Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. She just wants to be left alone .
    Vicki Baum wrote about 50 books altogether, some in German, some in English after she left Europe during WWII. As an Austrian Jew, her books were banned by the Nazis, so I'm counting this as my Banned or Censored Classic Book for the Back to the Classics Challenge

    Tuesday, October 4, 2016

    Classics Spin Pick

    The Classics Spin has revealed my next read from my Classics Club and it is. . . . #1. So here's what I'll be reading:

    A Dance to the Music of Time (First Movement) by Anthony Powell. It's fairly long because it's the first three volumes of the twelve book series -- 718 pages! However, the print isn't too tiny and the margins are fairly large, so I don't think it will take me the entire two months! I'll be posting my review on December 1. I'm hoping to finish three or four of the last books on my Classics Club list by the end of the year, so this should help keep me on track.

    Bloggers, did you sign up for the Classics Spin? What books did you get, and how do you feel about them?