Tag Archives: literature

Literary Diet: How Do You Measure Up?

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Recently, I’ve had ample opportunity to consider my reading habits because my laptop committed hari kari and our desktop caught the swine flu or some such virus.

I was feeling a bit Amish without internet or television–all that was missing was a barn-raising, a horse and buggy in the driveway, and some pastel dresses and bonnets in my closet.

With so much time on my hands, I started thinking about the genres of literature I read.  My literary diet is varied, but does it measure up to the USDA’s ubiquitous Food Pyramid (in MY day is was a circle!)?

Behold,  The Food Pyramid!

pyramid

Now, the fun part–assigning literary genres to correspond to the pyramid levels.  This is just for fun so please don’t get your knickers in a twist at my genre placement.

  • Bread and Grains = classic literature, poetry, drama, contemporary prose
  • Veggies = nonfiction, non-celebrity bios and memoirs
  • Fruits = Sci-Fi, Fantasy, graphic novels, et al
  • Meat = historical fiction, detective fiction, women’s fiction
  • Dairy = chick-lit, YA, romance
  • Sweets = celebrity bios/tell-alls, trashy novels

During the school year, a good chunk of my reading time is spent on Bread and Grains–teaching the classics.  On weekends, I venture into Veggies and Dairy.  I do enjoy some of the genres in the Meat category but am sorry to say that I have little to no experience in the Fruits.  As for Sweets?  Well, summertime is the PERFECT time for some light and fluffy reads!

So, why don’t you weigh in and tell me all about your literary diet.  Are you a vegetarian, vegan, or carnivore?  Did I miss your favorite genre?

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Blinded By the (Reading) Light

Recently, my husband was flipping through a catalog and came across a clever gadget for the bookworm in the family: a “Book Torch”.  The torch, a reading light that clips onto a book cover, was touted as a lamp that provides ample wattage for nighttime reading without disturbing anyone in the vicinity.  All this for the bargain price of $29.98, plus shipping and handling.

book-light

Based on the image that accompanied the copy, I thought the book light could, in a pinch, double as a beacon for ships trying to pilot into a foggy harbor from rough waters.

If only Captain Smith would have had this handy book light on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, disaster could have been averted and countless lives saved.  To my untrained eye, the book torch looks like it’s part of the position lights on a taxiing 747. 

Can these book lights really be so effective?  I thought the whole point of them is to allow your bed partner to slumber on without interruption while you do your nighttime reading.  If I fired this sucker up after crawling into bed, I’d not only singe my husband’s retinas, but most probably blind any and all neighbors in a 2-mile radius.

They say it’s your birthday…

shakesbdayToday, April 23rd,  is  recognized as William Shakespeare’s birthday.  Baptismal records at Holy Trinity parish church in Stratford show an entry on April 26, 1564 and it is generally accepted that he was born three days prior.

In honor of William’s 445th birthday, I’d like to know how many of his 37 plays and/or 154 sonnets you’ve actually read.  While in college, I had an opportunity to study his works for three semesters with a terrific professor.  As a result, I navigated about one-third of the first folio.  

Despite what my students think, I don’t often curl up in a leather club chair near the hearth with a dusty tome of Shakespeare’s works–nor does my husband join me, donning a smoking jacket, deerstalker cap, and pipe.  The plays were written to be performed and as much as I enjoy reading them, they really come alive on the stage. 

So, what Shakespeare have you read?  Did you leave him safely behind you after school or do you check in with him every once in a while?  Have you seen any of the plays performed live?  I’ve seen a few performances at Shakespeare in the Park–free summer performances in Central Park–and a few of the plays at other theaters.

Turtle or Hare: How does your reading speed compare?

Over the weekend, I bounced from book blog to book blog, cheering on participants in the read-a-thon.  As I went along, I was struck by how fast people were chewing up the pages. 

To be honest, I thought I was a quick reader.  My parents always commented on my reading habits and  I can polish off a book in a day or two and still remember it a few weeks down the road.  After reading some of the updates from read-a-thon participants, I began to have my doubts.  Some bloggers were finishing two or three books in a 24-hour period.

During a normal week (including a weekend), I can get through two or three books. 

Do people who read five and six books a week ever sleep?  Are their laundry hampers spewing forth dirty clothes that threaten to overrun the house?  Do they serve frozen pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  How can they manage to get everything done and still have time to zip through War and Peace and five other tomes in seven days? 

How many books do you read in a typical week? 

Share the trade secret, friend;  I want to be a reading savant too!

Review: The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard

seamstressTitle: The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard

Author: Erin McGraw

Genre: Fiction; 384 pages

Publication Date: August 1, 2008

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company

Rating: 2.5 Bookmarks

Based on the author’s grandmother’s life story, this novel tells the story of a young woman who flees her husband, two young children, and ranch life in Kansas in hopes of a second chance at life as a seamstress in Hollywood, only to find it complicated by the family she thought she left behind.

The sewing aspect of this novel interested me because I enjoy sewing simple projects like pillows and window valances.  I’m not a seamstress by any stretch and have never sewed with a pattern but loved reading about the protagonist, Nell Plat, and her ability to create beautiful and intricate dresses from bolts of cloth.

Eight stitches to the inch.  For a skirt: one hundred vertical pleats, twenty-four waist darts, nine curved hip darts and four bottom hem pleats.  Five blouses to a spool of thread…A housedress for Mrs. Cooper.  A trousseau for Mrs. Horne’s oldest girl, though she did not yet have a beau…

On a personal level, I had trouble with the choices that Nell made in the novel.  I recognize that she thought she was going to improve her life by escaping to California, but abandoning two small children and her husband was just inconceivable to me–and I don’t even have kids. 

The novel moved slowly but had some unexpected plot developments.  Despite Nell’s baffling and sad decisions, I became emotionally invested in the story even though I thought she brought most difficulties upon herself with her desire to find professional success.

The book offers a peek into the lives of small-town young women who traveled to Los Angeles at the turn of the last century with big dreams to find success in different fields.  Watching Nell grow up and experience different stages of her life was intriguing, but there were some difficult and painful parts of this novel.

Because it’s based on the author’s grandmother’s life and isn’t straight fiction, by critiquing it I’m essentially criticizing someone’s life choices–something I don’t like to do.  I never walked a mile in Nell’s shoes and can’t imagine how difficult life may have been for her.  This review is purely subjective and though I had trouble with Nell’s decisions, McGraw’s writing style and narrative kept me reading.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t necessarily pass up this novel–it’s a good story about personal reinvention and the pursuit of the American Dream.

Review: American Wife

american-wife1Title: American Wife

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld

Genre: Fiction; 558 pages*

Publication: 9/2/2008

Publisher: Random House

Rating: 2 Bookmarks

Though this book has been in print for a while and reviews abound, here’s my take.

American Wife is loosely based on the life of former First Lady Laura Bush.  The protagonist, Alice (Lindgren) Blackwell, narrates the tome in four segments, each detailing a different era in her life.  I thought that Sittenfeld’s use of street addresses to delineate the sections was clever (ie. Part IV: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).

I’m not sure if it’s my liberal side shining through, but I was really enjoying the book until Alice started showing a serious interest in Charlie Blackwell (George W. Bush).  She was a multi-faceted character with depth who won me over; then she married Blackwell. 

Over the course of the book, Alice is tormented with guilt for causing the death of a classmate (and potential boyfriend/husband), Andrew Imoff, in a motor vehicle accident when she was 17.  Forty-four years later in the White House, she still grapples with the pain and guilt, lamenting the fact that their relationship never had a chance to begin.  Alice’s feelings are palpable–Sittenfeld did an excellent job of conveying Alice’s agony. 

The extended Blackwell clan came off as boorish, racist, elitist snobs and I couldn’t stand reading about them.  The matriarch, ‘Maj’ (short for Her Majesty) was a piece of work who needed to be taken down a peg or two.  The characterization of Charlie’s brothers and their wives spoke to privilege and arrogance.

For me, the book began to drag as Sittenfeld detailed Charlie’s introduction into the political arena.  His depression, fueled by feelings of failure and numbed by alcohol, ultimately led him to God and sobriety.

And on it goes, through Charlie’s rise of political power to the White House via the Governorship of Wisconsin.  I understand that in general, people want to make their marriages a success, but where do we draw the line?  Sittenfeld characterized Charlie as an obnoxious frat boy and abhorrent cretin in general.  Why Alice tolerated his behavior and stayed with him was beyond my comprehension.

American Wife started off strong, with an interesting plot line and a likeable protagonist.  As the book went on and Alice met and married Charlie, it lost some of its appeal and I grew disenchanted with a narrator I initially liked.  That said, I wouldn’t cross this book off your TBR list because it was entertaining and piqued my interest in reading The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush by Ann Gerhart.

* Random House’s website has the book at 576 pages; the ARC I have has 558.

It just makes me sick!

Growing up, my appetite for reading was insatiable.  At night, I read under the cover of darkness with a pen light.  I read while tanning at the beach.  I tried to read at the dining room table during dinner, but my Puritanical father forbade it.  I read during classes, hiding paperbacks in my textbooks, which I kept at a 45 degree angle resting on my lap and desk.

There was only one location where I desperately wanted to read but was physically unable: in a moving vehicle

 Yes, it’s true.  I suffer from debilitating motion sickness in cars, planes, trains, boats, and buses.  If I try to read while in any of these modes of transportation, it compounds the nausea, weakening my already delicate constitution.

The cruel irony doesn’t escape me–I love to travel AND I love to read.  I can’t do both simultaneously without breaking out in a cold sweat, being racked with waves of nausea, and issuing forth a geiser of vomit, much to the pleasure of  traveling companions and others within earshot.

Sadly, Dramamine and other remedies don’t work for me.  Instead, I’ve taken to listening to audio books (when traveling alone) and they have saved me from the plague that is motion sickness. 

How about you?  Can you read in a moving vehicle without dying a thousand deaths?