December reads? December rereads, more like. Six of the 10 books I read were books I’ve read before … in some cases multiple times. The holiday season is a time for nostalgia, apparently.
The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #5) by Rick Riordan
This completed my 2017 rereading of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I’d forgotten how cleverly done the last book was. The first four draw on Greek mythology in fun and silly ways. The last book uses character development and plot to engage with ideas and questions ancient Greek mythology wrestled with and explored. My favorites: Your fatal flaw can also be your greatest strength. And: Is it possible for heroes to survive their own hubris? Continue reading “Reading Wrap-Up: December Reads”
When I call film adaptations successful, what I usually mean is, they capture the tone, mood, and spirit of what I experience reading. So what does that mean, exactly?
Reading a great book makes me think and create. It invites me to make connections and, from those connections, to make meaning. It allows for ambiguity without confusion. How can film adaptations retain the purposeful ambiguity of great books, the kind that leaves space to interpret?
I suppose if I knew the answer to that, I’d be making great films from great books instead of writing about them. However, I did see one film recently that felt like a great adaptation: Mike Newell’s 2012 Great Expectations.
I wasn’t planning to watch the film. Great Expectations is a book I love so profoundly that I didn’t want anyone else’s creative vision playing Frankenstein against my experience. But I recently watched a video about Newell’s adaptation by Lauren of Reads and Daydreams. She does a series called Page to Screen for which she reviews a range of film adaptations of classic books. Her favorable analysis piqued my interest.
Well, here we are again: on the cusp of a new month and a new year. As it’s my last roundup of 2016, it’s the right time to reflect on my attempt to read my own books this year. It has been the most meaningful reading effort I’ve participated in and one that I’m looking forward to continuing in 2017.
Overall, I would have liked to have done better. Of the 110 titles I read this year, 54 were my own. While that’s close to the 50 percent mark I’d been shooting for, I would prefer to have exceeded, rather than fallen short, of it. More than anything, though, I’m treasuring what I’ve learned through the journey. I covered that here, but a quick recap of the most significant point:
A big part of what appeals to me about stockpiling books is the idea of the books, of what unread books signify: possibilities. In aspiring to do better at reading my own books, I’m aspiring to find possibilities, hidden potential, in the existing rather than in the imaginary. I want to be more mindful and less impulsive, in all areas of my life. Here’s to working on that in 2017!
And now, for the books:
Books I read:
Asterisk (*) signifies a #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks title.
Christmas Carol Murder by Leslie Meier (e-book)
A Lucy Stone cozy murder mystery to kick off the holiday season with a bang … literally: A reclusive, Scrooge-like mortgage company co-owner is blown up with a mail bomb. Naturally, Pennysaver reporter Lucy Stone is on the case. Not officially, seeing as she’s a reporter not a detective. She just can’t stop herself from nosing around.
These fun cozies are set in Maine and depict small-town New England life in all its charming quirkiness.
The Wee Free Men (Tiffany Aching Series #1) by Terry Pratchett (e-book)
I picked this book up after Andi at Estella’s Revenge posted a beautiful quote from the series on social media. Plus, it seemed wrong that I’d never read any of Pratchett’s books. The Wee Free Men is about a girl called Tiffany who discovers she’s a witch. A magnificent, sassy, level-headed hag, as the eponymous Wee Free Men call her. The latter are six-inch high Scottish warrior types who watch out for Tiffany. I loved how funny and poignant the fierceness of these tiny men is. The key lies in the juxtaposition: As full-sized men, their fighting, drinking ways wouldn’t be quite so delightful. I appreciate juxtapositions. They keep me mindful of the contradictions and paradoxes within us all.
I adored this beautiful story about finding the power inside of us. It made me think about the importance of taking care of each other in ways that aren’t condescending of others and that recognize and honor the power within them.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (e-book) *
I don’t remember having had a particular affinity to this novel when I first read it back in graduate school. This was my first time rereading it since then and … well, I can see why it’s not achieved the mythic-ness of a Pride and Prejudice. The story has tremendous feeling, but the men are horrible (more on this here, if you’re interested). I also found the moral overtones a bit stark and unforgiving, especially with how events play out at the end.
What most impressed me was how skillful the novel is in eliciting a particular response, especially through character development. Bronte is masterful in using description and telling details to evoke in the reader (well, me, anyway) the feelings Jane experienced. I love when a novel can make me feel, viscerally, what a character feels. My heart races, constricts, or hurts parallel with the character’s. How Bronte achieves this is definitely something I want to think more about.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas (e-book)
I’ve not read much Dylan Thomas. This book, which I discovered through Words of a Reader, made me want to. It’s a short, lovely story of a young boy’s Christmas memories in Wales (obvi). The language is luxurious and startling in its freshness, like a new coat of snow. I downloaded it for bedtime reading, and it was perfection. Though I’d recommend acquiring the paper version: The edition I read had original woodcuts by Ellen Raskin. The e-book can hardly do them justice.
Back in January, I wrote about my pilgrimage to The Morgan Library in Manhattan to see Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The book I’ve reread more than any other. The book I’ll be rereading again in approximately two weeks. The book that’s my favorite holiday reading tradition because it moves and inspires me each time as if I were reading it for the first time.
Meantime, I’m rereading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for the first time since graduate school. Translation: I’m reading it for myself, for my own benefit and enjoyment. No essays, tests, or anxiety required.
You know what isn’t surprising at all? It’s rather more fun this way. More relaxing. I can let myself be carried about by the soothing rhythms of her language. I can delight in the portraits and set pieces. I can marvel at and be inspired by the novel’s fierce, intelligent heroine. And that’s just my experience of the first 200 pages.
Between you and me, I don’t remember loving Charlotte Bronte’s writing as I do at this moment. This is a topic I plan to revisit. For now, I want to tell you: I wouldn’t have thought to reread Jane Eyre were it not for the Charlotte Bronte exhibit currently on display at The Morgan Library. My parents, who live in Manhattan, invited my sister and me to view it with them back in September. I love exhibits of this kind as I love experiencing the homes and towns of authors and literary characters who have moved me. Artifacts can connect us across time. Besides the thrill of imagining an author writing that letter or sitting at that desk, artifacts tap into our common needs and discrete ways of solving them. They reveal how we negotiate challenges and restrictions with our human spirit and imagination. Continue reading “Literary Places: Charlotte Bronte Exhibit at The Morgan Library”
One reason (among many) I enjoy reading classic literature: It’s a finite world.
Having gone on to claim their “celestial rewards,” as Charles Dickens put it so elegantly (Pickwick Papers, I think, or maybe Hard Times?), authors are safely out of the picture. Therefore, they can’t get into Twitter wars with critics over how their work has been interpreted. They can’t reveal appalling personal views after I’ve already fallen in love with their work. They can’t continue releasing more and more information about characters or stories that obliges me endlessly to reframe the original. They can’t write sequels, disappointing or otherwise.
To be clear, I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with the above. In fact, I love attending author talks and hearing what inspired a story I enjoyed. I love being able to say to an author, “Thank you for this experience. Thank you!” I love knowing Nick Hornby and Haruki Murakami and Zadie Smith are still alive and well and hopefully, if I’m lucky, writing more books. Continue reading “Why I love reading classic literature”
February delivered what feels suspiciously like a reading slump, but not exactly. I say “not exactly” because I’m still reading (what else is there to do? I have few other interests, really). But I’m distracted and a little bit restless.
#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks felt like my anchor and inspiration this month. When I struggled to focus on what the heck I wanted to be reading, I turned to the books that, at some point, felt like must-reads. That’s why they’re on my shelves, right? Some of them I read completely. Almost as many, I read only in parts. Continue reading “The unabridged list of what I read in February”
I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to figure out which Gilmore Girls episode features The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby’s delightful collection of book pieces.
Music by The Polyphonic Spree is featured in “Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller” (season 5, episode 1), but I have yet to find a reference to Hornby’s book. Was its inclusion on the official Gilmore Girls reading list a mistake, or does the book appear without a verbal reference? I dunno, but if you do, you are cordially invited to enlighten me.
Do spoilers ruin a reading experience or just change it? Does knowing what’s coming in a story put one off reading it?
Thinking about these questions reminds me of something one of my favorite professors once said. It was during a Jane Austen seminar, and we were discussing Austen’s endings. “Reading a Jane Austen novel is like listening to a Mozart sonata,” he said. “You know where it’s going. The fun is in getting there.” His obvious point was that knowing the outcome doesn’t spoil the experience of reading her.