Have Child, Plant a Tree, Write a Book

May 6, 2014 at 5:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Then it came to me: Zola had said: ‘To have a child, to plant a tree, to write a book.’ That, he said, was a full life!” – Betty Smith

a tree growsWhat I love about being a book reviewer is the constant discovery of new things.  Picking up books I may have never had the opportunity to read, and learning from those books – not how to write better necessarily, but – what kind of writer I want to be.

Book reviewing has also required me to read things more closely, not just the way I would for school, but in a more personal way as well.  It’s not just about finding the literary value, it’s not just about liking or not liking, it becomes more and more important to be able to people and my readers why I loved a book.  What moved me to passion? What is so relevant about this story to my own life? In doing that, it makes me dig deeper into myself, deeper into my library, and deeper into the art of research.

I’ve slacked off the last few weeks about publishing a literary journal post, but I haven’t stopped reading the literary journals.  I meant to write this yesterday, it’s been dancing around in my head the last few weeks as I’ve alternated between picking my way through McSweeney’s issue 18 and researching to see if anything was written about Betty Smith.  I’ve been scouring the internet for evidence of things written about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or perhaps a long buried article or story she may have had published before infamy.  I didn’t know a lot about her, so it’s been an educational endeavor.

I started with what was available in the back of the Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition that I read the book from.  The little extras this edition provides are wonderful, including the first piece Smith ever published: a bit of prose called “Winter” when she was 8 years old and still in grade school, under the name Elizabeth Wehner.

I enjoyed reading the article from This Week that she wrote called “Fall in Love With Life.”  It’s a beautiful glimpse into her mind and life and what led her to know that she had had a full and marvelous life.  It was refreshing to read, after feeling like a failure on most days, knowing I’ve had a child, planted a tree, and written book, changed my outlook on my life at 30.

Of course, the research continued and in my searching I found this: http://web.njit.edu/~cjohnson/tree/context/context.htm

I also found this and am pretty disappointed that I can’t find a copy of “On Discovering Thomas Hardy” anywhere: http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/s/Smith,Betty.html

If anyone knows of any publications or articles written on or by Betty Smith, please share.  I’d like to discover them too.

a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn

 

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My 2013 Life in Literature Meme

November 10, 2013 at 8:47 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , )

Last year I stumbled across a fun little activity on Becky’s Book Reviews blog.  I’m in the mood to do it again today… My 2012 Life in Literature Meme.

Using only books you have read this year (2013), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe yourself: The Year of Magical Thinking – Didion

How do you feel: If These Walls Had Ears – Morgan

Describe where you currently live: Eden’s Outcasts – John Matteson

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Over Sea, Under Stone – Cooper

Your favorite form of transportation: Born to Run – McDougall

Your best friend is: The Wild Girls – Murphy

You and your friends are: The Immortal Class – Culley

What is the best advice you have to give: Love is a Choice – Minirth

What’s the weather like: Going Native

You fear: The Distant Hours – Morton

Thought for the day: Don’t Die By Your Own Hands – Holmes

How I would like to die: Surprised by Joy – Lewis

My soul’s present condition: The Evolution of Jane – Cathleen Schine

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My Rundy

September 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm (Education, The Whim) (, , , , )

my-antonia-willa-cather-paperback-cover-art

(This is supposed to be a review of My Antonia, HPB Humble book club selection for September’s discussion.  But it’s not.)

With every book I read, I miss my high school English teacher more and more.  I’m nostalgic by nature, so this should not be misconstrued as any overly dramatic longing.  I only regret the times I was too exhausted to stay awake in class.  I want to hear him talk about something I’m currently reading that wasn’t part of the curriculum ten to fifteen years ago.  I feel desperate to hear his literary thoughts.

I miss Mr. Rundell – casually referred to in the classroom as Rundy – I miss conversations we never had.  Which is ridiculous.  Who misses their high school English teacher so much?

Sadly, it’s because somewhere in my seventeen year old brain, I was convinced that when I was a grown up, Mr. Rundell might be my friend – join my book clubs – hang out.  I always thought that if he hadn’t been the teacher and I hadn’t been the student we would have been friends.  I think everyone thought that about him.  He was so cool, but super nerdy.  He made being a little bit geek look fun.

At seventeen I was also convinced that I would never marry or have children.  I thought this because the love of my life had me pretty convinced we were never going to be anything other than platonic.  Now, we’ve been married for seven years and have a daughter.  The point? What I thought at seventeen turned out to be pretty irrelevant.  And the love of my life finally did fall in line with all of my heart’s desires.  So why can’t my old English teacher?

I want to hit him up on facebook like I do my old college professors.  Discuss random things that pop in my head as they come up organically.  Why shouldn’t I? I’m still paying for the degree that’s sitting in my closet with a dog chew tear in the corner of what was probably meant to look like very expensive paper.

Selfishly, and a bit stalker-like, every few years I start googling him to see if I can hunt him down.  Last time I was dying to discuss East of Eden (we read Grapes of Wrath for school) with him over a whiskey.  Now, it’s Willa Cather’s My Antonia.

I watched the new Gatsby movie with a friend the other night and all I could think was, “I would have loved to see this movie for the first time with Rundy.”  Even if it meant I had to sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair bolted to a crappy desk to do so.

People shape our lives in ways we do not expect.  I was always a reader, I always loved literature.  He did not ignite something in me that wouldn’t have already been there.  But the man knew how to balance that fine line between teacher and friend.  Teenagers really need to feel like someone is on their side sometimes, and Rundy had being on our side down pat.  There was a rapport that made us desire his classroom and approval alongside a pure, true teacher student ambiance.

I knew he was one of my favorite teachers then and there, but I never expected to actually wonder what he was up to or hear half his lectures in my head when I re-read old classics.  I especially didn’t think that I would feel the absence of his lectures when reading a title I didn’t even know about at age seventeen.

So this is not so much a review as an ode to my favorite English teacher of all time.  The tall, lanky, hunched-over-geek that sat on the bottom of his spine as he leaned awkwardly into the stool beside the podium.  The guy who had us write essays on Pink Floyd and Army of Darkness.  The man who arched his eyebrows at my best friend and me when I told him we were just friends and said, “Sure.”  I think he was the first person to get me wondering if I had a shot with the boy who swept me off my feet and became my husband.

This is an ode to the guy that made us think.

 

As for Cather’s work, I nearly died at a quote on page 187 by Lena: “[…] I don’t want a husband.  Men are all right for friends, but as soon as you marry them, they turn into cranky old fathers, even the wild ones.  They begin to tell you what’s sensible and what’s foolish, and want you to stick at home all the time.  I prefer to be foolish when I feel like it, and be accountable to nobody.”

I laughed and laughed at this.  Oh, Lena, how I thought that too!  But that post is for another day.

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My Classical Re-Education Part 2

February 14, 2013 at 5:56 am (Education) (, , , , , , , , )

Kiddo and I started the year reading The Confessions over breakfast… we got caught up in The Magic Tree House Adventures and that got put on the back burner, but I intend on putting a good dent in this list this year, so we need to get back on it. Feel free to join me.

well

The Story of Me: Autobiography and Memoir

PART TWO of The Well-Educated Mind

Augustine – The Confessions
Margery Kempe – The Book of Margery Kempe
Michael de Montaigne – Essays
Teresa of Avila – The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself
Rene Descartes – Meditations
John Bunyan – Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners
Mary Rowlandson – The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration
Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Confessions
Benjamin Franklin – The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
Harriet Jacobs – Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself
Frederick Douglas – Life and Times of Frederick Douglas
Booker T. Washington – Up from Slavery
Friederick Nietzche – Ecce Homo
Adolf Hitler – Mein Kampf
Mohandas Gandhi – An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
Gertrude Stein – The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Thomas Merton – The Seven Storey Mountain
C.S. Lewis – Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
Malcolm X – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
May Sarton – Journal of a Solitude
Aleksandr I. Solzhenistyn – The Gulag Archipelago
Richard Rodriguez – Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez
Jill Ker Conway – The Road from Coorain
Elie Wiesel – All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs

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Poetry Nights at Half Price Books

January 8, 2013 at 8:11 pm (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Make time in your life this Spring for student led Poetry Nights at Half Price Books in Humble.

Poetry night

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Best Book Boyfriends of 2012

December 30, 2012 at 12:32 am (The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

love-books-hearts-600x337

I avidly read The Lit Bitch and a recent post included a top 12 book boyfriends list: http://thelitbitch.com/2012/12/29/top-12-in-2012-book-boyfriends/.

Cute concept, fun blog idea, but as I scrolled through my 74 books of the year, I realized that I didn’t read a lot of books in which there were boyfriends to pick from.

I started out with How to Buy a Love of Reading, and I think Hunter set me into a mood that I just couldn’t get past.  There are other boyfriends I read through the year, but I barely remember them.

I don’t recall the characters in The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.  Regardless of what I thought of the book when I read it, no one in it made a lasting impact on me.  I actually had to refer to my own review to remember Seldon’s name.

The Great Gatsby is a fantastic novel, one of my favorites, but Jay Gatsby is not someone I’d put on my list of literary love interests.

jace_wayland_by_sallysalander-d4wi4bgI did read The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series and there are plenty of boyfriends to be had in those books, and they are lovely, and romantic, and intense; but none of them lived up to Hunter.

I did read Inhale, the first of a series called Just Breathe, which is an urban fantasy erotica piece, but the characters there are what the genre calls for: super sexy, the end.  Don’t get me wrong, sexy is nice, I think my husband is one of the sexiest, but I need more out of a character I’d want to put on a boyfriend of the year list.

RoryRory Williams, for instance, the man who waited, the Roman centurion, one-half of a couple known as The Ponds on Doctor Who… he could go on a boyfriend of the year list.  He’s just heavenly, and wonderful.  But this is about books, not TV shows.

I read a lot of Agatha Christie this year, and she’s all mystery and not a whole lot of romance.  Although a love story emerges here and there, it’s rarely more than a motive or plot device, therefore how can anyone in her books make the list?

On the other hand, I read cozy mysteries too.  I like Cleo Coyle and her coffeehouse series.  Cozy mysteries almost always have a boyfriend, but with there always being a boyfriend, I don’t often get the chance to delight in any of them.  They are there to make the protagonist feel good or bad, have a romantic scene of some sort, and then on to the next guy.  In real life, I’m morally opposed to most of the relationships that pop up in cozy mysteries.  But, I figure it comes with the territory when reading about murderers and investigators.

Scrolling down my list of books read this year, I come to Karleen Koen’s Through a Glass Darkly.  Sorry girls, I can’t recommend Montgeoffrey to anyone.  He is the basis of all Babara’s pain… a ladies man, a cheater, and ultimately also gay.  How many strikes can you add to a relationship before I’m just really tired of the guy?  It makes the heroine incredibly interesting, but I can’t let Montgeoffrey anywhere near my book-boyfriend list.

So it comes down to the fellows in A.S. Byatt’s Possession, the cutie-patootie Sam in Michael Grant’s Gone, and Hunter of HTBALOR.

Byatt’s romances in Possession are powerful and intriguing, Sam Temple in Gone is a cute kid with the potential to be an incredible man when he’s all grown up, but I have to hand it to Hunter – he captured my heart.

Hunter is intelligent, sweet, broody, keeps a journal, and sadly is also an addict.  Reading the conclusions of my own blog post, I find myself in disbelief… what does this say about my taste in men that I want to pick the suicidal one as book-boyfriend of the year?  And that Marius of Les Miserables didn’t even make the short list of final contestants?

Who is on your list?

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HPB Humble Spring Book Club Picks!

December 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm (Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

HPB Humble Spring Book Club Picks!

January – A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg (cooking/memoir)
February – March by Geraldine Brooks (fiction/literature)
March – Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed (business/economic history)
April – On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (fiction/literature)

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The Ultimate Possession – a book by Byatt

November 4, 2012 at 3:57 pm (Reviews) (, , , , )

Title: Possession

Author: A.S. Byatt

Publisher: Random House

Length: 555 pages

Nothing can make you feel so inadequate as a writer as when you read a piece of such perfection that your own work cannot but pale in stark comparison. It’s possibly something like being the mediocre gymnast addicted to watching the Olympics, knowing that the athletic achievements they witness will not and cannot be their own reality.

Someone can write and write, practice with diligence, read, and surround themselves with excellence of the craft – but there is an element of giftedness that can only be handed down by the command of God.

A.S. Byatt is such a person graced with immense giftedness.

Possession is overwhelmingly and alarmingly riddled with her talent and sheer genius for the craft.

Prose, poetry, storytelling, she has it all and shares it with such ease. Nothing is forced, everything unfolds with the exquisite engineering of a flower in bloom, or a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.  Intricately beautiful.

How can a person contain so much talent?

I imagine hundreds of years from now archeologists and scholars will discover a copy and upon inspection will accuse the author of not being a lone writer – but a pen name used for a collective.  They will say the book is a collaborative effort between several poets, a journalist, a researcher, and possibly a novelist.  Someone would be supposed to offer their services as the voice of Christabel LaMotte, another as R. Henry Ash.  They may even miss the point altogether and believe it to be an actual account on a literary discovery, or a novelization of a literary discovery.

I think of myself as a writer.  I have unfinished stories, a three-quarters written novel or two.  I even used to attempt to write poetry – that was eons ago.  None of it is really any good.  I love words, but do not have the grasp and understanding of them to put them to proper use.  I do not have the finesse of a linguistic artist.  The words just linger muddled and puddled in my brain and sometimes my journals, fragments of fragments end up on this blog.  I always tell myself that I’ll be better when I’m older, but I never am.

The only thing I can claim with absolute truth, is that I am a reader.  As one reader to another, I must tell you, anyone who makes that claim cannot go through life without having read Possesssion.

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My Classical Re-Education

May 15, 2012 at 6:21 pm (Education) (, , , , , , )

As some of you may know, I am a sucker for the classics.  I’m also a sucker for lists.  In addition to that, I plan to homeschool my daughter.  What better books for me then are those of Susan Wise Bauer?

“Using the techniques and systems of classical education, this new guide will give you greater pleasure in what you read, and greater understanding of it.” – from Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind

I am a college graduate who has had the pleasure of working for a bookstore for some years now and doesn’t want my “education” to end with a Bachelor’s degree in Business.  I want to go through Bauer’s list while I pay off my student loans before going back to school. Bauers covers five genres worth of lists of books that people need to read to be fully and classically educated.  Many of these a lot of us have already read, and many of these we’ve always heard referenced and talked about reading but have never actually done it.

Lately, in the blog world, I’ve been coming across a Classics Challenge, and was reminded of the fact that there may be others out there who would like access to this list and discussions where other people are reading these books.

For the last few years I have been leisurely strolling through her list provided in The Well Educated Mind: The Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. Because I’ve been reading through it in order at a snail’s pace, I’m still in the first list of books – novels.  (The other lists are included in the Shelfari group: http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions.)

I am also the admin of a Shelfari Discussion Group called Classical Re-Education and I post reviews and commentary on my reading in that group, links for each book discussion are provided.  Of course, I also share my reviews here on my blog.

Cervantes – Don Quixote

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/89445/Don-Quixote—Cervantes

Bunyan – Pilgrim’s Progress

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/90600/Pilgrim-s-Progress—Bunyan

Swift – Gulliver’s Travels

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/91884/Gulliver-s-Travels—Swift

Austen – Pride and Prejudice

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/96506/Pride-Prejudice—Jane-Austen

Dickens – Oliver Twist

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/98621/Oliver-Twist—Charles-Dickens

Bronte – Jane Eyre

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/102210/Jane-Eyre—Charlotte-Bronte

Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/104538/The-Scarlet-Letter—Nathaniel-Hawthorne

Melville – Moby Dick

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/105905/Moby-Dick—Melville

Stowe – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/121736/Uncle-Tom-s-Cabin—Stowe

Flaubert – Madame Bovary

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/148024/Madame-Bovary—Flaubert

Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/165633/Crime-and-Punishment—Dostoyevsky

Tolstoy – Anna Karenina

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/212374/Anna-Karenina—Tolstoy

Hardy – The Return of the Native

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/233628/The-Return-of-the-Native—Thomas-Hardy

James – The Portrait of a Lady

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/239963/Portrait-of-a-Lady—James

Twain – Huckleberry Finn

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/319203/Huckleberry-Finn—Mark-Twain

Crane – Red Badge of Courage

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/319206/Red-Badge-of-Courage—Crane

Conrad – Heart of Darkness

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/324295/Heart-of-Darkness—Conrad

Wharton – House of Mirth

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/324297/House-of-Mirth—Wharton

Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/324292/The-Great-Gatsby—Fitzgerald

Woolf – Mrs. Dalloway

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/420041/Mrs-Dalloway—Virginia-Woolf

Kafka – The Trial

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/435148/The-Trial—Kafka

Wright – Native Son

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32384/discussions/443717/Native-Son—Wright

Camus – The Stranger

Orwell – 1984

Ellison – Invisible Man

https://anakalianwhims.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/blasted-book-bouncing/

Bellow – Sieze the Day

Garcia Marquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

Morrison – Song of Solomon

Delillo – White Noise

Byatt – Possession

https://anakalianwhims.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/the-ultimate-possession-a-book-by-byatt/

As you can see, I just recently finished Kafka’s The Trial and will soon be starting The Native Son.  I’d love for others to join me.

Have you read any of these lately?  Which were your favorites? What would you add to the list if your goal was to walk people through the History of the Novel, as Bauer’s has done?

P.S. Susan Wise Bauer will be lecturing at the  Texas Home School Coalition Southwest Convention The Woodlands, Texas, Thursday-Saturday August 2-4.

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House of Mirth a House of Love, Scruples, or Selfishness?

January 10, 2012 at 4:38 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The House of Mirth

Gillian Anderson in the 2000 Major Motion Picture of The House of Mirth

Author: Edith Wharton

Publisher: Barnes & Noble

Genre: Classic Literature

Length: 277 pages

Buy A Copy

My all time favorite questions when reading literature are: What is this character’s perception of love? What is the author telling us their own view of love is? And after reading this how do you view love? To quote Moulin Rouge: “Always this ridiculous obsession with love!” But it drives so much, and please forgive the pun, it is truly at the heart of every matter. So in reading The House of Mirth, my driving questions throughout the book have been: What is Lily Bart’s perception of love? What is Wharton trying to tell me about her own worldview concerning love?

Truth be told, I’m not sure what the answer is. She and Selden seem to have this constrained but meant-to-be-doomed-so-impossible love affair. “Ah, love me, love me—but don’t tell me so “? she tells him. She refuses Rosedale and all his money because she doesn’t love him. A lesson in morality from the beautiful Lily Bart? I’d say yes, except that she doesn’t run into the sunset with Selden when offered because he can’t support her lifestyle and she also seems to enjoy stringing Rosedale along, “the first sincere words she had ever spoken to him” not being voiced until very near the end of the book. So what is it Miss Bart? Money or love?

In the end, I have to say I think Lily is truly attempting to stand her moral ground but endlessly falls short via her own selfishness. Wharton would have you believe that this is an early stage of love, as she described Selden’s “impassioned self-absorption that the first surrender to love produces.” However, by the definition taught to me, selfishness is the direct opposite of love. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 tells us,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Neither Lily nor Selden seem to manage to maintain, much less attempt, these characteristics.

The dichotomy of Lily Bart is a fascinating one, probably one of the many reasons this book has been deemed a classic. One essayist wrote: “Lily’s distinction lies precisely in her ability to transcend such crude ambitions” as using her beauty to marry for money (Lahoucine Ouzgane). Wharton herself writes,

And was it her fault that the purely decorative mission is less easily and harmoniously fulfilled among social beings than in the world of nature? That it is apt to be hampered by material necessities or complicated by moral scruples?

Many believe this to be a tragic love triangle between Selden, Lily, and the nature of capitalism. Some people believe the work is Wharton making a statement about love, the nature of her own marriage, and the internal struggles she herself felt during the age. But what is The House of Mirth to you? Read it and find out. No matter what you discover of Lily, you won’t regret the experience, Wharton’s prose is lovely.

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