Saturday, July 24, 2010

An Original Review

I just finished Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I....didn't get it. Occasionally there would be a section that I'd be like, "Hey! I think I know what he's talking about!" and then it would lapse back into Greek and my eyes would glaze over and I'd fall asleep. Which is why 86 pages took me about 2 weeks to read.

But! My edition includes some of the poem's original reviews from 1855 when it was first published, both the positive and the not so positive. I read this one and laughed out loud:

It is impossible to imagine how any man's fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid filth, unless he were possessed of the soul of a sentimental donkey that had died of disappointed love. This poet (?) without wit, but with a certain vagrant wildness, just serves to show the energy which natural imbecility is occasionally capable of under strong excitement.
-Rufus W. Griswold


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

From Goodreads:
This extraordinary work chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful - but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time. Step by careful step, Sylvia Plath takes us with Esther through a painful month in New York as a contest-winning junior editor on a magazine, her increasingly strained relationships with her mother and the boy she dated in college, and eventually, devastatingly, into the madness itself. The reader is drawn into her breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is rare in any novel. It points to the fact that The Bell Jar is a largely autobiographical work about Plath's own summer of 1953, when she was a guest editor at Mademoiselle and went through a breakdown. It reveals so much about the sources of Sylvia Plath's own tragedy that its publication was considered a landmark in literature. 

To be perfectly honest I fully expected to loathe this book.  It sounds so horribly depressing and I much prefer sunshine and rainbows.

And then I read it in one day (almost to the neglect of my children) and LOVED it.

Esther's descent into madness, to me, didn't feel dark or depressing or horrific. The way she tells her story feels a bit like someone telling you about their recent vacation. It's sort of a personal narrative with feelings and whatnot but without the darkness and dramatics you would expect from someone falling into serious mental illness.

What I really loved, though, is that Plath brought her poetry into her writing. She is probably mostly remembered for this novel, but she was first and foremost a poet and it shines through in her prose. There were a few bits I read over and over just because I loved the wording or the imagery. One of my favorites:

Marco hooked an arm around my waist and jerked me up against his dazzling white suit. Then he said, "Pretend you are drowning."

I shut my eyes, and the music broke over me like a rainstorm.

I LOVE that.

Well played, Sylvia Plath. Well played.

The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child by Linda Dobson

From Goodreads:
Are you considering homeschooling for your family? Today, many parents recognize that their child's school options are limited, inadequate, or even dangerous, and an increasing number are turning to homeschooling. But where do you start and how do you ensure the highest-quality educational experience, especially in that pivotal first year?
This comprehensive guide will help you determine the appropriate first steps, build your own educational philosophy, and discover the best ways to cater to your child's specific learning style, including:
·When, why, and how to get started
·The best ways to develop an effective curriculum, assess your child's progress, and navigate local regulations
·Kid-tested and parent-approved learning activities for all age levels
·Simple strategies for developing an independent child and strengthening family and social relationships 

I have been waffling about possibly homeschooling my kids since before Wes was born. My biggest problem is just that it's overwhelming. There are so many different philosophies and curriculum and STUFF. I couldn't figure out where to even start.

I happened to grab this book just because it was there while we were waiting to watch a movie at the library. As it turns out, it was a perfect starting place. It lays out the different basic homeschooling approaches and gives an example of a day in the life of each. It's also incredibly reassuring and filled with blurbs from homeschooling parents who share their, "What I wish I had known"s. It sets realistic expectations and discusses socialization at length, which is one of my major concerns.

I was worried I wouldn't be able to read straight through since it looked like it might be exceptionally boring, but that wasn't a problem at all. As soon as I finished it I put her other book about homeschooling in the early years on hold at the library.

I did notice a bias toward the Unschooling philosophy, though, which is not necessarily a direction I'm leaning. I would have preferred a more unbiased approach but I still found this book incredibly helpful and reassuring. It's a great resource for those who are considering giving it a go and need a little help finding some direction.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Throwing in the Towel: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I put Jude the Obscure on my 2010 Classics To-Read list mostly because, for a couple months during my pregnancy, I was working really really hard at getting Aaron to get on board with Jude for Baby 2's name (still love it but Aaron just couldn't do it. Too much like Judy, which is a word he occasionally uses for a certain female body part).

I have been trying for weeks to read this book. I have renewed it from the library as many times as I'm allowed to but you know what?

I hate it. I gave it an honest try but it has killed my will to live and I am giving myself permission to just give up on it and return it to the library and never think of it again.

Apologies to Thomas Hardy and my friends who actually really like this one. I can't do it! I'm moving on.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

From Goodreads:
This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali.

As the book is divided into three parts I will likewise divide my review in three.

In theory Elizabeth went to Italy to eat herself silly and pursue pleasure for 3 months. I was hoping this section would be like Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life where she'd be like, "This thing happened, and I felt like this, but there was food! Let me tell you all about the food!" and you get to vicariously eat amazing things. Instead, Gilbert spends much of the first third of the book telling her back story and being like, "blah blah divorce, blah blah depression, blah blah loneliness." Every once in a while she'd delve into a glorious description of the FOOD and I'd perk up and be like, "FINALLY! Tell me alllll about the pizza! And the pasta! And sweet heavens, please describe the desserts!" And then she'd go back to whining.

Eat: FAIL.

However, I loved the following concept from the Italy section:
"...every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people's thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be--that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don't really belong there."

The man who explains this concept to her says that Rome's word is SEX. The Vatican's should be FAITH but instead it is POWER. They decide New York's word is ACHIEVE and LA's is SUCCEED. I loved pondering this concept, trying to come up with words for my city, my family, and my self.

The Italy section took me several days to read but the India section I easily plowed through in one evening. It was easily my favorite part of the book. I absorbed her talk of Yoga, enlightenment and meditation like a sponge, comparing and contrasting to my own faith and beliefs. I was completely fascinated and surprised by how much was compatible with my own belief system. I'm still not real tempted to run off to an Ashram, but I was fascinated nonetheless.

I especially loved when she discusses the concept of the turiya state, which is a state of constant bliss. She says,
"...most of us have been there, too, if only for fleeting moments. Most of us, even if only for two minutes in our lives, have experienced at some time or another an inexplicable and random sense of complete bliss, unrelated to anything that was happening in the outside world. One instant you're just a regular Joe, schlepping through your mundane life, and then suddenly--what is this?--nothing has changed, yet you feel stirred by grace, swollen with wonder, overflowing with bliss. Everything--for no reason whatsoever--is perfect."

As I read that I went, "I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT SHE'S TALKING ABOUT." And that made me happy.

This is also the section of the book where Gilbert stops feeling sorry for herself, and I always like when that happens.

Pray: WIN

This section was just sort of...there. She was supposed to spend her time in Bali discovering how to balance the things she learned in the previous two countries and I suppose she did but I was just kind of bored by it all. At this point I was plowing through just to finish. Also, file under Things I Never Never Never Needed to Know About Anyone: the things you fantasize about while taking care of your own business. She mentioned Bill Clinton and I wanted to vomit.

However, I did love the description of the "baby ceremony." Apparently the Balinese revere babies under 6 months of age as minor deities and therefore do not let them touch the floor. At six months they hold a fancy little ceremony where the baby's feet are finally allowed to touch the ground and they are "welcomed to the human race." It's such a sweet idea and Gilbert describes the ceremony in wonderful detail.

Love: EH.

So we've got one Fail, one Win, one Eh. If I could give half stars on Goodreads I'd give it 2 1/2 out of 5 but I can't so I was nice and gave it 3 instead. The whole idea of the book really appeals but I felt like, aside from the India portion and the parts I mentioned liking, it generally fell flat.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Second Quarter Books

Oh my, another quarter already? My reading is...kind of sad. Only 11 books. Yikes. I'm halfway through the year and only just over 30% done with my to-read list. It's not looking good, folks. I just don't have the time for reading that I used to!

*Starred books are from my 2010 to-read list of classics.

17. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit*
I hate to say it but I kind of liked the movie better

18. The Lions of Lucerne by Brad Thor
So fun. As are all his novels.

19. Run for Your Life by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
Standard James Patterson with a little added light heartedness courtesy of the main character's TEN children.

20. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
Fun historical chick-lit

21. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw*
I so love this.

22. An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde*
I just love his plays. This one was no exception.

23. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Wow, I REALLY loved this.

24. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell*
Pretty much my new favorite book.

25. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle*
I was surprised by how much I loved this. I'll probably pick up the next one at some point.

26. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde*
I wish I could have known Oscar Wilde. His plays are so witty and fabulous and I just love them.

27. One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
Looooved. Criiiiied!