Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top Ten Books I Bought for the Title or the Cover

 Check out The Broke and the Bookish every Tuesday for fun Top Ten lists!

   1.  The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin.


      2. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen. 
      Sara and I read this for Book Club of Two and I just thought this was a wonderful cover. 

3.  A Heartbreaking work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. This appealed to my sense of humor. However, I semi-hated this book.
      4. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter. I don’t swear, but ya know, every once in awhile I feel the urge to feel filthy words rolling off of my tongue. So that’s why a book like this is useful. I can just throw this into a conversation: “Right now I’m reading ‘Our Magnificent BASTARD!!! Tongue!’” There. Swearing and yet not swearing, all at the same time. (I do love this title though for other reasons, too… I love the hybrid-ness of English and I love learning about the history of words.  I’m a word nerd!)

      5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre. I have to read this soon because the movie is coming out! I love the rhythm of the words.

      6. Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. In Medieval times, mapmakers wrote “Here Be Dragons” on maps to delineate uncharted territories from the known world.  For all they knew, dragons could dwell there. I just love the romance of that world, when there were still unexplored lands and dragons weren't fantasy. (When I read this, my husband started referring to our cat as “Here Be Dragon-breath.”)

      7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Anything with love in the title probably has my vote. Such a romantic, poetic title. And a great book.
8. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Actually every title by Garcia Marquez. Though I don’t own any other than these two. But I love these titles too: Memories of My Melancholy Whores and The Autumn of the Patriarch
           9. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. See reason for #7. 
     10. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. Hands down, best non-fiction book I’ve ever read.


Sunday, October 16, 2011


I have a low tolerance for museums and poetry, but since we are headed down to Cajun country this week, I wanted to read Longfellow's epic poem. I like some poets, and basically all love poetry (the blushing sensuality of Pablo Neruda, the devotion of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese) because I'm a sucker for love. But in general, poetry elicits the same emotions in me that traipsing through acres of museums do: agitation and impatience. 

Evangeline is set during the displacement of the Acadians from Nova Scotia during the French and Indian War. These French Canadians were deported to far and various ports... but a big clump of them settled in the bayou country of Louisiana and became the ethnic group known today as Cajuns. (Interesting fact: the word cajun is derived from the word acadian.) So anyway, Longfellow's poem follows the deportation of the Acadians, specifically the young maiden, Evangeline. As Evangeline is about to walk down the aisle to marry her lover, Gabriel, the British, in typical red-coat fashion, burst in upon the ceremonies and demand surrender and deportation. The lovers are wrenched apart, the village is burned, and everyone is forced on to ships that will ferry them to ports unknown.

Evangeline spends the rest of her life trying to find Gabriel; she searches the continent "pursuing a phantom," because in his grief at having lost Evangeline, Gabriel wanders aimlessly as a hunter and explorer. They even frustratingly pass within yards of each other on the misty bayous of the south. (Apparently no one ever taught Gabriel that if you get separated, stay in ONE PLACE and let your mom Evangeline find you!)

Evangeline goes to Philadelphia, joins the Sisters of Mercy, and nurses citizens during an epidemic. One patient is an old man, jarringly familiar. It is Gabriel, at long last! They cling to each other and he dies in her arms, unable even to utter her name one final time. 

OK, I wasn't impressed by this epic and popular poem. I liked the first lines: 
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and/ the hemlocks,/ bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in/ the twilight,/ Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic...
I love the word primeval and the comparison of trees to Druids. That really sets the tone for a haunting tale. But it was downhill after that lovely beginning. Maybe that's bad of me: Longfellow was one of the guys on my grandma's wall in a series of portraits called "The Great American Poets." But too bad, Longfellow. I'll stick with your much more entertaining poem "Paul Revere's Ride."

The story is beautiful, and I admit that the ending made me a wee bit emotional. But I think this story would have made a better novel... but of course, I think that a novel would be better than a poem any day.

Grade: 2/5 stars

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

Check out The Broke and the Bookish every Tuesday for their newest "Top Ten Tuesday" list. And you can click here for upcoming questions. 

Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time:

1. Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson.
Full disclosure here. When I saw Dances with Wolves when I was about 13, I didn’t crush on Kevin Costner, but rather, on Wind-in-His-Hair, the fierce long-haired Sioux warrior. As a kid, I daydreamed about being an orphaned pioneer girl who was captured by a party of raiding Indians (I had to pretend I didn’t have a family somehow or else the daydream would be unconscionable... hence my orphan-hood). Then one of the fierce warriors—who could be surprisingly gentle—would fall in love with me and: Happy Ever After. On the plains. In a teepee. With four papooses and a travois. (Hmmm, is this weird?)

So maybe that's why Ride the Wind spoke so powerfully to my 14-year-old heart: it was the stuff of all my favorite Indian warrior daydreams. This novel is based on the real-life story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by Comanche raiders from the Texas fort where she lived. She was renamed Naduah and fell in love with and married a chief. One of their children was Quanah Parker, the "last chief of the Comanche." I’m not gonna reveal what happened to Naduah or her Indian chief husband... because you should find out for yourself. But it was said that when Cynthia Ann Parker died, she died of a broken heart...

2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
Not because I loved it, but because I think I was too young to give it a proper chance. All I can remember is the titillating scene in which Rosasharn breastfeeds a famished stranger. Remember that? Now that will get your attention in the middle of class.

3.  Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
I read this in a passionate fit of reading one summer when I was about 12. I'm going to read it again when we're on vacation Down South in a week or two. That will basically be like reading it for the first time, because 15 years is a long time in between reads, especially since I was pre-pubescent the first time. (Now if only I could delete the image of Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. That has always damaged Rhett for me.)

4. We the Living by Ayn Rand.
Based on the author’s own life during the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. It’s about how the heroine, Kira, maintains her strong sense of Self in an environment that denies Self. It’s a beautiful, beautiful story about love and betrayal and survival and the strength of one girl. And a memorable bad boy: Leo Kovalensky.

5. Mila18 by Leon Uris.
A fictional account of the true story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, during which a handful of beleaguered Jews held off the Nazis for something like 40 days. They know they are going to die, but they are going to die fighting. Another powerful story of the human spirit. Just heart-breaking, profound, amazing, beautiful. Really, there are no words. Knowing that this really happened is just unbelievable.

6. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.
OK, I started reading the Twilight series before Rob Pattinson was cast and forever ruined my image of the dreamy Edward. For those hazy days of August 2007 when I inhaled these books, I was totally in love with Edward. Apparently I had some residual teenage hormones flowing through my system, because Edward made me giddy. Then, as I said, the world went nuts for Twilight, horrible movies were made and those hazy August days were nothing but a memory.

7. Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.
I read these seven novels, which total about 8,000 pages, in a 40-day-frenzy last summer. Um, but maybe I shouldn’t broadcast that. I couldn’t stop reading about/ thinking about Jamie Fraser, the hunky Highlander who captured Claire Randall’s heart (and mine). I attempted a Scottish accent. I burned the candle at both ends. I ignored laundry, meals, and my husband. And then I exhausted the series (don’t worry, world, there’s more coming!) and I mourned for a week. I don’t remember much from that period of my life… there was Jamie and that was all. I’m not sure if it would be a good idea to replicate this period. My husband might be opposed to losing me to another man again, but it was fun while it lasted. I have no regrets. 

8. 9. and 10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
I'm going to lump Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and the Little House books in one entry. My mom read these (and many, many other great books) to us when we were little. These titles captured my imagination because they were about strong, smart, imaginative girls who dreamed and adventured and survived. These are good books to read your daughters (and sons) to show great examples of strong and sassy girls. I'd love to go back in time and observe when my mom read these to us and experience it all over again.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Garden Spells

"She was so Southern that she cried tears that came straight from the Mississippi, and she always smelled faintly of cottonwood and peaches."

Sarah Addison Allen calls her style of writing "Southern-fried magic realism" and it is as delicious as Southern-fried cookin'. Her use of magical realism appeals to the whimsical in me. She creates such beautiful, vivid worlds that make me think that maybe--just maybe--magic could happen in my own ordinary world, too. 

Have you ever seen a low-hanging cloud that inexplicably clings to a hillside or just one end of a street? In Garden Spells, Claire is so consumed by unconsummated passion that when she showers, a fog shrouds her neighborhood, produced by the cool water hitting her heated skin. Now we know what's happening--or not happening--to explain that clingy fog you see sometimes. (Read this book and you will find explanations for other everyday phenomena.)

The Waverley women all possess certain magical qualities. Claire cooks food with her homegrown edible flowers that prompt certain emotions. If you consume her chicken salad in zucchini blossoms, you will possess new understanding. Honeysuckle wine helps you see in the dark, and naturally, also helps you see things in a new light. Bay knows where everything belongs... from socks and spoons to who belongs with whom. And Evanelle has the gift of anticipation. If she gives you a lighter, put it in your pocket, because rest assured that next week you'll need it to light the cigarette of the man of your dreams (don't worry, he's cutting back). And if she gives a child an old spoon, he might use it to dig in the dirt for something shiny, find a quarter, use it to go to the movies and there meet a little girl in pigtails who will become his future wife. And the garden behind the old Waverley home in the mountains of North Carolina produces more than just edible flowers: an emotional apple tree alternately broods and comforts, throws apples and predicts destinies. 

Allen's books are entrancing and fun and I love that the characters she introduces us to and makes us love are in good hands. She takes care of everyone: broken relationships are restored, new friendships are forged, strength is found, love blooms. This book was a treat; I'll definitely read Allen's other two novels. Sara and I read The Peach Keeper earlier this year and it was also delightful, with similar themes of going home, facing the past, and finding love in unexpected places. 

Grade: 4/5 stars

P.S.- Is this cover not gorgeous?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Club of Two: The Winter Sea

Head over to The Librarian's blog today for another installment of Book Club of Two!

And another funny picture from high school... involving sequins and french braids.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

All the King's Men

Reading is kind of like dating. You said 'yes' to dinner, you bought a book. You think: "Looks good." You sniff, (or inhale deeply) and think: "Smells even better." You open the book, you go on the date. You wonder "Will this one be THE ONE?"  

By the end of the date, by the end of the first few chapters, you probably have an idea whether this is the beginning of something special. Or you will donate the book to the Salvation Army's used book sale and give him a bogus phone number and dodge his good-night kiss.

All the King's Men was a blind date for me. I didn't know what I was getting into, but I thought I'd give it a shot. I walked in to the restaurant, saw the guy looking expectantly at the door and thought "Dang. This doesn't look good." I sat down, planning an early escape to the restroom and out the back way, when he pleasantly surprised me. He made me laugh. He held my interest. He made me feel. He used beautiful words.  And I stuck around, wanting more. He was THE ONE. (A fundamental difference between dating and reading is that in dating, hopefully you are only looking for one THE ONE. But in reading, I want every book to be THE ONE. ;) )

The description on the back of ATKM says it is the "finest novel ever written on American politics." Which is kinda a snooze-fest right there. But to me, this book wasn't about politics. It's just the story of two guys: Willie and Jack. In Jack's words: "the story of Willie Stark and the story of Jack Burden are, in one sense, one story." 

Willie Stark was a man who came from nothing, but had a will to succeed, until he was corrupted by the power he had created for himself. He was a faithful husband who hadn't had a drop of liquor in his life. Until he became a philandering drunkard. Willie Stark resembles the whacko Louisiana governor Huey Long, who was also a self-made man who became a dirty politician and was ultimately assassinated.

Narrated by Jack Burden, one-time newspaperman and Willie's #1 crony, we go with them on the back roads of the Deep South in the middle of the night in a black Cadillac with Sugar-Boy at the wheel. The writing is so vivid that I felt like I was making a 3:00 a.m. visit to a judge to blackmail and intimidate. The cigarette smoke was thick and all these guys in Panama hats and suits were looking wrinkled and wilted after the heat of the day and smelling a little funky.

Robert Penn Warren was a poet, aside from being a novelist, and this book is 661 pages of pure lyricism. It was interesting to observe the character development of the two men: one embraced evil and one found goodness. Willie started out good, but entered into a crooked life. But Jack, amoral, cynical, irreverent, became a man of understanding and feeling. Both men were a product of their actions and beliefs. The ending was both suspenseful and fulfilling. 

Grade: 4/5 stars. My newest THE ONE!

My favorite passages: (Love the poetry of his words.)

…and she laughed with a sudden throaty, tingling way. It is the way a woman laughs for happiness. They never laugh that way when they are just being polite or at a joke. A woman only laughs that way a few times in her life. A woman only laughs that way when something has touched her way down in the very quick of her being and the happiness just wells out as natural as breath and the first jonquils and mountain brooks. When a woman laughs that way it always does something to you. It does not matter what kind of a face she has got either. You hear that laugh and feel that you have grasped a clean and beautiful truth. You feel that way because that laugh is a revelation… that laugh cannot be faked. If a woman could learn to fake it she would make Nell Gwyn and Pompadour look like a couple of Campfire Girls wearing bifocals and ground-gripper shoes and with bands on their teeth. She could set all society by the ears. For all any man really wants is to hear a woman laugh like that.

So I pulled the sun screen down and squinted and put the throttle to the floor. And kept on moving west. For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.