Archive for category Book Tips

Literary Missteps: Also Go See Les Miserables

Do you ever stick your foot in your mouth regarding literature? Do you know what I mean? Like, you always assumed Evelyn Waugh was some old lady or you mistakingly thought the title of that novel was Tequila Mockingbird? Maybe you tried to pronounce Fyodor Dostoevsky in conversation and your tongue crashed and burned in complete betrayal.

In honor of Les Miserables showing in a theatre near you, I decided to confess one of my biggest literary missteps. Back in 2000, I toured England for six weeks through a program sponsored by the campus ministry at my university. Our group could spend two free days in London, and one of the “must do” items on my list was to see a performance of Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre because anyone who heard about my free time in London insisted I go. They could barely speak of the show without crying, adding how my life wouldn’t be complete until I had seen it.

I actually knew very little about the musical. I thought it was something about the French Revolution (Literary Misstep #1). I had only heard one song from the entire show, “On My Own,” because I had a roommate obsessed with Dawson’s Creek, and she made me watch a scene where Joey (Katie Holmes) sings it for a beauty pageant, finally getting Dawson to look at her as a girl. You can find it on YouTube. I won’t provide the link because it’s painful.*

So, anyway, my friends and I are up at the very top of the Palace Theatre, super excited about the idea of seeing Les Miserables IN LONDON. (Something about saying IN LONDON after everything makes it that much cooler. Bag Pipes IN LONDON. McDonald’s IN LONDON. Pigeons IN LONDON. Wearing pants IN LONDON) The music starts, and I’m instantly enchanted. The rotating stage. The gorgeous score. Everything. However, before we even hit intermission, I’m suddenly lost in the plot. Based on very little context, I had convinced myself that at some point two men, who look exactly alike though are not twins, switch places to save one from returning to jail, awaiting eventual execution. Right? Was I missing something?

I kept expecting a man to come out, looking exactly like Jean Valjean. You might also consider: 1) we sat at the very top of the theatre, 2) all of the actors sang every line of the entire show, and 3) all of them had British accents, so understanding the nuance of the plot was difficult.

Not until several days later did I realize why I was so confused. I mixed up the plots of Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables. Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton switched places to save one from the guillotine and save the other man’s soul through ultimate sacrifice during the best of times and the worst of times. Not Jean Valjean and, you know, some other guy in France with a British accent. Jean Valjean offered grace to his most hated enemy as he heard the people sing, singing the songs of angry men. In my defense, Valjean hid his identity to keep from going back to prison, plus the France thing, and the battle thing with French uniforms. It’s all very understandable. Right?

I’m the weirdest and dumbest person ever.

Moving on, we saw Les Miserables over the holidays with my husband’s family. We loved it, except for the hot mess performance of Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway was amazing, and Hugh Jackman could sing to me any day of the week. Lovely man. I still recommend one of the Broadway recordings for your listening pleasure, but the movie pulls out emotion and depth you can’t really see from the nosebleeds at the Palace. So, spill it.

When have you been most embarrassed in literary circles?

*Okay, okay. Here’s the link to the “Someone-sings-a-song-from-Les Miserables-worse-than-Russell-Crowe” video. Watch at your own risk.

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Reading Goals for 2013

Something About The Way It's Written
Yesterday, I outlined most of my goals for the year for my different roles in life. I have also made some reading goals for the year to inform you, Dear Reader, about quality books and to keep track of my progress throughout the year. And, as always, “to improve my mind with extensive reading” (anything for you, Mr. Darcy). So, here we go. Reading Goals for the Year:

1. I have joined Jessica from Quirky Bookworm with her quest to read some classics in her “Classics Catch-Up Challenge.”

2. I want to be more accountable with my reading, so I am going to track the books I read through GoodReads and Pinterest. I will also add a tab on the blog of my reading for the year and give you guys a quick way to access my reviews.

3. As far as number of books, I don’t even know where to start. I’ve never been good at keeping up with what I have read, so this year is going to be more of a benchmark year – just to keep track of my progress and then set the bar higher or lower from there.

4. As a general rule, I want to incorporate more reading aloud time with my children. I tend to get lazy about this, so reading aloud is going to be the focus of our homeschool this semester.

Here’s a List of Books in my “To Read Pile” for now:

Classics for the “Classics Catch-Up Challenge” for January-February:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Spiritual Non-fiction Reads

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

Love Does by Bob Goff

General Fiction

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Children’s Fiction

The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales by Beatrix Potter

On Writing

How to Become an Online Writer by Ruth Pound

Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers by Kate Hopper

31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo by Bryan Allain

Other Non-Fiction

One Bite at a Time by Tsh Oxenreider

Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider

*photo credit

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Get Pocket: A Great App for Book Lovers and Twitter Addicts

Do you guys know about Pocket (formerly known as Read Later)? It’s a favorite app on my iPhone. With Pocket, I can save links to articles, video, and photos from all across the web in one place. With Pocket, I can line up a queue of interesting articles to browse while I’m out and about or winding down at the end of a long day. It’s like having my own personalized magazine.

To use, first, you download the free Pocket app on your phone. Then, you go browse the internet or check your Twitter feed. I’ll walk you through how it works:

Let’s say I check my Twitter feed and see an interesting book list.

Using Pocket, I can simply swipe my finger to the left on a tweet,

click on the ellipses, and then click Read Later.

Then, when I have more time to read, I can open my Pocket app (or go to getpocket.com on my laptop) and read everything I saved. The interface is clean and super easy to read both on the phone and on the laptop, even more so than going directly to the sites themselves. See?

I also use the Pocket button on my internet browser to click and save things I want to read.

I previously used my Evernote account or Pinterest to save articles; however, I like using Pocket because it is simply a consumptive tool for reading. I use Evernote as my second brain (my children stole my first one), so I don’t like clouding up my brain with articles, videos, blog posts, etc. Pinterest is mostly something I use for ideas.

So far, I have only seen one drawback. I cannot use the swipe feature on my Facebook feed when I am on my phone. Other than that, it’s a great tool to use for people who are on the internet all the time!

Disclaimer: Pocket doesn’t know who I am. They are not paying me to say nice things about them. I simply love this little app and wanted to tell my friends!

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The Case of the Missing Library Book

A Fine of Two Cents

My kids and I headed out to the library not long ago, mostly because I had a load of books a day past due. Of course, prior to leaving for the library, I had to turn the house upside down, looking for one remaining Berenstain Bears’ Early Reader book – the same book I renewed twice already because I had misplaced it. Of course, in the search for the rogue early reader, my 6 year old discovered a missing Biscuit book – the book I was just about to cough up twenty bucks to replace because it had been missing so long. Anyone else have this problem?

Our library books have a designated spot in our home, but the thing about books is, which is a good problem I guess, my kids tend to read them. They look at books all over the house, so they end up all over the house. What’s a girl to do? Nixing the library is just out of the question. Fewer books is not really an option either because we actually do read most, if not all of the books I check out of the library. So, the only option I came up with for now is fewer books but more frequent trips to the library. I had been going once every two weeks. We’re looking at once a week from now on, which is a tragedy really, because it means I have to leave the house. As a general rule, I really don’t like leaving the house unless we are 1) out of food, requiring a trip to the grocery store or 2) taking up someone’s offer to feed us.

As for me, I picked up Salman Rushdie’s new memoir, Joseph Anton and two John Green books. Have you guys read him? (I know, I know. All of my YA reading friends are coming up with YA-related, “Does the Pope wear a funny hat?” jokes.) Anyway, he writes contemporary YA literature, and I especially like how he creates voice. He knows how smart high school kids should talk (I should know seeing as how I was a smart high school kid). You know, kids who interweave allusions to the River Styx while playing video games and eating Cheetos. It’s awesome. His latest book The Fault in Our Stars is supposed to be the best book ever, but I’m staying away from it for now because I know it addresses cancer. Since I’m addressing cancer in real life, I’d rather stick to non-cancer related novels for now. I also picked up My Antonia, which, I don’t think has cancer references, but you never know. My friend Jessica from Quirky Book Worm comment-screamed at me first on the List of Shame post, so I promised I would read Willa Cather next.

Which reminds me…

I wanted to give some shout-outs to some of my favorite blogs:

1. Jessica from Quirky Bookworm is a great book blogger, and she’s been so kind to me during my fledgling attempts at blogging. She did a 31 days series in October, where she highlighted different kids’ books every day. She introduced several I have never read, and I am anxious to add to our library list (and then, apparently, lose).

2. Johanna from My Home Tableau is a blogger whose words consistently resonate with me. She frequently comments on this blog, too, and her thoughts are always encouraging and helpful.

3. Anne from Modern Mrs. Darcy writes about being a Jane Austen woman in a modern world. Her posts are practical and original, and she has a way to spark great discussion in her comment section.

4. Lauren from The Housework Can Wait is a friend from college. She’s a YA Lit. reviewer, and her posts are always insightful and hilarious.

5. Book Riot: This blog is made for book nerds. They point to book-related news and happenings, all while writing about why Ron Weasley should have died, what characters from different books should hook up, or how the best advice about life comes from Calvin and Hobbes. It’s great!

I hope you guys have a great week! Please reassure me that I’m not the only person who pays ridiculous amounts of money in book fines. Right?

*photo credit

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Confession: My “Reading List of Shame”

341/365 Outdoor reading

I know every self-proclaimed literary person has The List. When you want to writhe in self-loathing, you pull this list out, read over it, and call yourself a hack. Then, you go to the fridge and grab a can of whipped cream. You eat it straight from the spray nozzle while watching The Notebook or something equally horrible. Why? Because the books on The List haven’t been read. And those books are, roughly:

The most influential books of all time, and every person on earth has read them, like with awards and everything.

I keep a running mental list of all the important books I’ve never read. You know, the books considered essential, classic, and important. I even have a degree in Book-Things, not just an undergraduate degree – no, no – I am a Book-Things Person, M.Ed, and there are piles of books deemed “important” that I have never read. Important-Book-Things People even took the time to make a separate list from the last hundred years or so to say which books are important. This does nothing but further build my sense of inadequacy as a Book-Things Person, M.Ed. (In reality, most people don’t care one bit. Even the Important-Book-Things People know you can’t read every book ever. It’s hard to convince my brain of this.)

For the record, my list includes: Moby Dick, Catch 22, Invisible Man, Lord of the FliesThe Catcher in the Rye, My Antonia, Brideshead Revisited, Lolita, The Old Man and the Sea, any novel by Henry James, and many more. 

So, why do I feel the need to obsess over unread books and measure my credibility based on my not reading these books just because other people think they are important? Well, the thing about the books on The List? You can’t get away from them. I see references to these books everywhere: blog posts, NPR segments, Final Jeopardy, movies, even old episodes of Dawson’s Creek. Seriously. It becomes embarrassing and annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, there are books I have never read, deemed “essential” by those cursed Important-Book-Things People, and yet I don’t really care that much to put them on The List. Like Ulysses by James Joyce. I respect this book and recognize it as an important work, and I know it’s huge in terms of the canon and all, but meh. I just don’t care. I’ve read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners, and I loved them both. Anyway, I feel satisfied with my Joyce quota, enough to feel legit but not too much to seem pretentious.

Still, The List eats away at me and every so often, I get the urge to conquer it. I feel a call to action, and I decide to knock out some books on The List. So, this past week, I picked up On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

All I can tell you so far is that these books were on The List, and I’m checking them off very soon! Victory.

Also, I really miss girls. I took on too much maleness in one fell swoop. My book-reading week could only have been worse had I added the entire collection of Ernest Hemingway, along with attending a gun show or one of those war reenactment things or a spitting contest or something. So, after my list-tackling feelings wane, I need to hear a girl talking again – a girl who isn’t a prop. Don’t get me wrong, I like male writers. I can read war stuff and bomb stuff and sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll stuff. I’m just saying I miss the girls. But I also have to conquer The List.

I might need some sort of book-related therapy.

OK. So I’m curious. What’s on The List for you? Come on. You can tell.

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The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction: A Guest Post

Hey friends, this is my friend Lauren. We go way back. We talk books, coffee, and our children’s weird habits. She’s hilarious, and we’ve both been reading YA dystopian lately. She has a ton of recommendations for you. I’m excited.

Hello! I’m Lauren, and I blog over at The Housework Can Wait. I’ve known Kelly since college, but we actually became friends on Facebook after we graduated and moved to opposite ends of the country. Isn’t life weird?

Kelly asked me a few weeks ago if I would be interested in writing a guest post on dystopian literature, and why it tends to appeal to us grown-up types. Of course, I agreed. Not only would I get a chance to address Kelly’s lovely readers, but that also gave me an excuse to read ALL THE DYSTOPIANS. Which I attempted valiantly.

Observation: It is impossible to read ALL THE DYSTOPIANS in two weeks. There are just too darn many.

But I did read a bunch, and after receiving a thorough reality check and realizing I did not in fact need to hoard my food because I do not actually live in a dystopian society, I now feel at least semi-qualified to post on this topic.

First off, what is a dystopia? It’s a word that has come up a lot lately, ever since The Hunger Games sent people into a frenzy, but I’m not sure everyone’s using it correctly. So I consulted the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, and here is its definition:

“A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian societies feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, and various forms of active and passive coercion. Ideas and works about dystopian societies often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and humans individually and collectively coping, or not being able to properly cope with technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity’s spiritual evolution. Dystopian societies are often imagined as police states, with unlimited power over the citizens.”

So, to be clear, post-apocalyptic literature is not dystopian. Stories of humans surviving an alien invasion are not dystopian. Stories where the Earth self-destructed and rained down natural disasters upon the characters are not dystopian. Nowadays, people are using the word “dystopian” to describe any kind of negative futuristic scenario, but that’s not accurate. To be dystopian, a story needs to meet the following criteria:

1. Society is oppressed by some form.

2. The oppression is deemed to be “good” for the society, but is in fact bad.

So “dystopian” is a pretty broad descriptor, just not as broad as we sometimes make it out to be. Now, a dystopian can be post-apocalyptic or sci-fi or follow a natural disaster, as long as society has somehow [d]evolved to this state of oppression-for-the-greater-good.

That said, why do the plethora of current Young Adult dystopian titles appeal to me, a 30-something SAHM of two small kids? I can’t speak for all mom-dom, but for me, the answer is threefold:

1. It’s fun. This may seem a cop-out answer, but it’s truthfully my #1 reason. I like books that get my pulse pounding and my imagination churning. I like escaping to new worlds that sometimes only slightly resemble our own. I like the creativity of the authors in coming up with all the ideas of what the future could hold. I don’t get a lot of “me” time after all the kid-wrangling, and when I read, I want it to be fun.

2. It makes me think. Yes, sometimes dystopians are so far-fetched that it seems there’s no way this would ever happen, but other times they hit kind of close to home. The Hunger Games may have been action-packed and teen girls may have been swooning over Gale and Peeta, but Suzanne Collins wove in her own commentaries on reality entertainment, war, and PTSD. Even in the most outlandish of dystopians, there tends to run a grain of truth that keeps me thinking long after the book is over.

3. I love a good underdog. And seriously, dystopians are always about the underdog. One lone person or ragtag group of rebels attempting to change the world for the better. And most of the time, they succeed. And an underdog who wins has always appealed to me, ever since Bilbo defeated Smaug and Edmund destroyed the White Witch’s wand and Charlotte convinced the world that Wilbur was “Some Pig.”

So with all that said, here’s a brief rundown of a few dystopians I’ve enjoyed (other than The Hunger Games and Delirium, which I love, but Kelly has already covered):

1. The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Truthfully, it’s a little bit of a stretch to call this one a dystopian, but I think it still technically falls into the category (barely). I loved the mystery, the suspense, and the breakneck pace of this book. It kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. You can read my full review here.

2. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi. The world of this book is so different from ours, it’s more of a dystopian-sci-fi hybrid. But the world is incredibly unique and interesting, and I loved the unique relationship that evolved between Aria and Perry. You can read my full review here.

3. Divergent by Veronica Roth. This one’s a true dystopian. There’s no weird sci-fi elements. There’s no aliens. There was no apocalypse. Society has simply changed, where people are now divided into factions according to their personality. Divergent is fun and exciting, albeit not too deep. Truthfully, the main reason I’d recommend this one is for the sequel, Insurgent, which I thought was fantastic. Here are my reviews for Divergent and Insurgent.

4. The Selection by Kiera Cass. (Sorry, Kelly told me to highlight two or three books, and here I am listing four. I apologize! All this talk of dystopians has turned me into a REBEL). This book is proof that dystopians don’t have to be dark and violent and action-packed. This book is more dystopian-light. It’s a fun, fluffy romance that is much more Princess Diaries and The Bachelor than it is Hunger Games. I thought this was a light, refreshing read after all the heavy dystopians I’d been reading. You can read my full review here.

And in case you still need more dystopians in your life, here’s my reviews of some others:

Frost by Kate Avery Ellison

The Glimpse by Claire Merle

Glitch by Heather Anastasiu (teaser review)

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Legend by Marie Lu

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

And then here’s some I haven’t read, but I’ve heard are great:

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Partials by Dan Wells

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Starters by Lissa Price

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Kelly! Happy reading, everybody!

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The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction: An Analysis

Hey friends, I’ve been a bit absent from the blog this week. I made a rush down to the Houston area to see my mom who is fighting against forces even more evil than President Snow – Breast Cancer. I should be posting more regularly the rest of the week! Send up all thoughts, prayers, good vibes, and the like for my mom and her healing journey. Thanks!
ain't this a dystopian beauty?

photo via compfight

In this series, “The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction,” I’ve been drawing attention to other novels dealing with a dystopian future (a future based upon the aftermath of some natural catastrophe, nuclear fallout, etc.), where a government takes on an increasingly invasive role in society, and its citizens willingly follow in order to stay safe. On the surface, the society epitomizes perfection and order, yet the cracks in the system soon unravel, revealing the “perfect” society’s flaws.

These types of novels have populated the Young Adult market in recent years; however, the dystopian novel is not exclusive of markets, many adult authors feature these themes as well. However, the Young Adult market (based solely on my keen observations) reveal quite a crossover in readership. I’ve noticed a lot of women my age (and dudes, too) who find these books fascinating and intriguing, and I’ve wondered why.

Last week, I briefly mentioned the time factor: Women and moms my age don’t have a ton of time for themselves. We don’t have a lot of time to read or to find a book. The Young Adult market offers a smaller selection, yet provides options for thrilling entertainment – great writing, depth of theme, and wonderful characterization.

Another factor: Adult post-apocalyptic fiction tends to be more bleak, looking at a world of chaos following a world-wide disaster, ruled by primal instincts or supply-controlling gangs and crime lords. Young Adult fiction imagines a world more controlling and invasive than current teenagers already feel.

Both markets focus on a future of fear – with society completely out of control or completely dominating.

In a February 2011 New York Times article called “Teenage Wastelands,” Charles McGrath proposed this:

“Where grown-up dystopian novels — books like “Oryx and Crake,” by Margaret Atwood; “The Pesthouse,” by Jim Crace; and “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy — lately seem to dwell on a vision of a bestial, plague-ridden world where civilization has collapsed, these new Y.A. books imagine something far worse: a world where civilization feels an awful lot like high school and everyone is under pressure to conform. Another popular series, for example, is Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” books, about a world where all 16-year-olds undergo extreme plastic surgery to adapt them to a universal standard of beauty. And in “The Hunger Games” trilogy, by Suzanne Collins, so far the best of the teen dystopian novels…adolescence is a kind of life-and-death popularity contest.”

What does this say about the adults drawn to these worlds?

Are we just as tormented about fitting in?

Do we have the same fears of an uncertain future? Or, do our current realities offer no diversity or change?

Are we filling the days changing diapers, doing laundry, paying bills or clocking time in career drudgery, therefore, crave an escape where life and death decisions follow our narrator at every turn? Maybe we feel a bit locked into conformity and routine in our current society, too. Maybe our current status in life feels a bit too…predictable?

Another factor to consider: The adult novels entrenched in dystopia hold more of a “Society is changing and you need to keep catastrophe from happening” message. In other words, it’s the extreme in parental warning (“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!!”)

Young Adult novels stick to the story with extreme characters symbolic of our deepest fears and insecurities – played out in breath-catching narrative (Less preachy and depressing, more shoot-em-up, anarchy). Laura Miller in an article for The New Yorker in 2010 says,

“Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that’s routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader.”

Adult novels with similar themes remove all ounce of hope from the story, many times killing the hero, who puts forth a last-ditch effort to save the world, ultimately failing. They tend to bring light to our current mistakes (i.e. trying to cure all disease, invasive technology, global warming).

In contrast, the Young Adult novels bring a rebellious group of misfits together, battling out a fight to the death, looking for the ultimate way to “stick it to the man” and restore hope to humanity.

Perhaps the glimmer of hope keeps those of us who have already grown up coming back to this market. We want a chance to join in the fight rather than bear the responsibility of the current world we are ruining.

Check out the rest of the series here:

The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction (part 1)

The Hunger Games Guide to Dystopian Fiction: Matched by Ally Condie (part 2)

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