Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Visit to Appleton: Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle

She loved the look, the heft, the weight, the smell, and the fact of books—all those miniature embodiments of other lives, other times. Thoughts and dreams preserved for posterity, to be summoned back to life through the act of reading. [pg 37, Silver Bough]

Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle
Bantam, 2006
Fantasy; 337 pgs

Started: 01/17/2007
Completed: 01/26/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: Ashley Kaldis leaned her head against the cool glass and gazed through the bus window at the Glasgow streets.

Reason for Reading: I requested Silver Bough from a long list of possible books to review for Curled Up With a Good Book. I have The Mysteries sitting on my TBR shelf and have wanted to try something by the author for a while now.

Comments: Once a prosperous coastal town in Scotland, Appleton was a magical place. Famous for its apples and its traditions, Appleton has slowly been declining over the years. The orchards are gone, the tourists are fewer, and people are more likely to leave than move in.

For three American women, however, the town is exactly what they are seeking. There is nineteen-year-old Ashley Kaldis, a young woman who seeks some sort of peace and direction after the death of her best friend. She sets out to Scotland from Texas to trace her roots, learning more about her grandmother, Phemie, who fled the small town so many years before, a woman whose origins were a tightly guarded secret until her death.

Kathleen Mullaroy is recently divorced and Appleton’s new librarian. She is a take charge person who has dreams of bringing the library into the 21st Century. Kathleen takes great comfort among the books and the mysteries of the library and museum, a landmark of a building created by the town’s own Alexander Wall. The charm of the town and library drew her right in.

Nell Westray seeks refuge in Appleton after the death of her much loved husband. She and her husband had once spent some of their happiest moments in the coastal town. Nell finds comfort in her garden and among her apples, keeping to herself mostly, afraid of getting close to anyone.

When an earthquake causes a landslide on the only road into and out of town, the visitors and residents of Appleton find themselves cut off from the rest of the world. Suddenly things around Appleton begin to change; myths become reality and the ancient magicks of the area reclaim the land. Ashley, Kathleen, and Nell have front row seats to the events that are about to unfold in the lazy coastal town of Appleton. The fate of the town lies in the destiny of one very special golden apple.

From the very first moment the bus drove into Appleton, I was ready to quit my job, pack my bags and move to the quaint little coastal town. Lisa Tuttle has painted a charming and magical place with her words. The setting itself is perhaps the strongest and most well developed character. At times it overshadows the characters themselves. Appleton is a place that will draw readers in and mesmerize them. The history of the fictional town itself is fascinating. The author draws on Scottish folklore to help tell her story.

The more minor characters, although not really minor at all, make the novel even more intriguing. There is the young Mario whose family sent him to Appleton to escape his past; Graeme, the town’s postman, whose knowledge of the coastal town is boundless and whose curiosity about it is insatiable; Dave the songwriter who is the town celebrity; and the mysterious and sexy traveler who has come home after years of being away.

The magic begins in a very subtle way and gradually builds as the novel goes on. The author deftly introduces it both to the readers and her main characters, and the climax will not disappoint. Whether a reader connects with one or all of the characters in Silver Bough, there is something for everyone in this enchanting fairy tale. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2007

Favorite Part: As mentioned above, I just loved the town of Appleton. I would love to wander the stacks in the library, browse through the museum and take in all the mysteries it holds. And who could resist being right on the coast? Appleton sounds like a wonderful place to settle down—if only it was real.

Note about the Author: American author Lisa Tuttle lives in Scotland with her family. In 1981, Ms. Tuttle was the first and only author to decline a Nebula award for her short story, "The Bone Flute." She had withdrawn her story before the winners had been announced (before she even knew her story would win) as a protest to the way the Nebula Awards were run and the winners selected.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. - from Catch-22

"Every writer I know has trouble writing." - Joseph Heller

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Simon & Schuster , 1994 (Originally Published: 1955)
Fiction; 453 pgs

Started: 01/26/2007
Completed: 01/29/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: It was love at first sight.

Where Book Came From: TBR Shelf (since 03/2005)

Reason for Reading: This is my third selection for the Winter Classics Challenge.

Synopsis From the Publisher: At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war. His efforts are perfectly understandable because as he furiously scrambles, thousands of people he hasn't even met are trying to kill him. His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he is committed to flying, he is trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.

Comments: Where to begin? Or better yet, what can I say to best sum up my thoughts about this quirky, hilarious, and yet disturbing novel? Heller presents a colorful cast of characters that at once touch the heart and yet at the same time make a person shake his or her head in dismay.

I never had the opportunity to read Catch-22 when I was in school, but for some reason decided it was a classic I needed to read at some point. The Winter Classics Challenge was the perfect excuse to give it a try. I admit that my enthusiasm for the book, despite my husband’s insistence that I would love it, waned when several fellow booklovers expressed their dislike over the book. And so, it was with a bit of reluctance that I stepped into the past, joining the U.S. Army Air Force in Mediterranean during World War II. The more I read, the more it became clear just how well my husband knows me—and my sense of humor.

It was impossible not to laugh at the circular arguments some of the characters got into, the dilemmas they created for themselves, and the off the wall antics of some of the eccentric characters. The names of T.S. Eliot and Washington Irving will have a place in my memory for a long time, no doubt. While the story and characters themselves were not exactly what I would call realistic, they did fit the story well.

The novel was not all laughs, however. There were many darker moments as well, especially the deeper into the novel I read: reminders of the hardships of war, the fear that grips a soldier’s heart with each new mission, the longing to go home, and the unavoidable causalities that will inevitably hit close to home. My heart ached for the injustice faced by several of the characters as well as the confusion and the fear that wouldn’t leave them.

There are many interpretations out there of the message behind Heller’s novel, whether it be about the military and the political establishment, bureaucratic operation and reasoning, patriotism and honor, or the spiritual debate. Regardless of what a reader takes away from the novel, it is a book that has stood the test of time because people can relate to it at varying levels. Absurd much of the time with over the top characters, Heller ‘s Catch-22 is satire at its finest.

Favorite Part: While my husband’s favorite character in the novel is Major Major, mine would probably be Orr. Orr was Yossarian’s roommate for much of the novel. Orr is a bomber and was very good with mechanical things. He liked to walk around with crab apples or horse chestnuts in his cheeks.

Least Favorite Part: The timeline in the novel flucuated and was a bit confusing at times. One minute I would be in the “present” and the next I would be in the past with no warning. It took a second or two for my brain to catch up when that happened.

Note about the Author: Joseph Heller’s novel is the basis for the commonly used phrase, catch-22. The novel originally was titled Catch-18, however it’s been said that the title was changed when Leon Uris’s novel Mila 18 was published, sharing a military theme but little else.

Miscellaneous: I had to play nurse to my overly curious dog last night. He came away from his unexpected encounter with who knows what with scratches, a possible bite and a strained front leg. His vet recommended rest for the next 10 days along with his prescribed medication. My dog, rest? Haha! This will be a challenge . . .

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My First Book Meme

I have not jumped in on the fun of memes but this one caught my fancy, and so I thought I would give it a try. Many thanks to Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings for giving me this opportunity.

Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror?
Fantasy. Although I enjoy reading all three genres, I most often read fantasy in all it's varieties, whereas I am much more selective when it comes to the type of science fiction and horror I will read.

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?
I like Trade Paperbacks best. I love the look and feel of them. They are easy to hold and fit in my purse nicely. Frankly though, I'll take my books just about any way I can get them.

Heinlein or Asimov?
I would have to go with Heinlein, in part because I don't think I have ever read anything by Asimov. I am quite smitten with Heinlein's work though--at least what I've read.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?
While ordering books online is easy and convenient, there is nothing that compares with walking into a bookstore and being able to browse the shelves, pick up books at random, and savor the atmosphere.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
A year ago I would have said Barnes and Noble without hesitation, however, Borders has taken the lead. The customer service is awesome at Borders and that's really what puts it over the top for me. It helps that it is closer to my house too.

Hitchhiker or Discworld?
I have several of the Discworld series books in my TBR room, but I have not yet read even one. So, by default, Hitchhiker wins. I enjoyed the Hitchhiker series quite a bit--it's a fun series.

Bookmark or Dogear?
Bookmark, definitely. It's very rare that I will dogear a book, but if I'm desperate, so be it. That's only after I have exhausted all other resources from bookmarks, receipts, sticky notes, scratch paper, clips, or anything flat that will fit in a book to hold a place.

Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random?
Alphabetize by author. I used to work in a library. And besides, my husband would do it if I didn't (he worked in a library too).

Keep, Throw Away or Sell?
I'm definitely a keeper. I do trade occasionally, but overall, I keep. For now.

Keep dustjacket or toss it?
Keep it. I cannot imagine why anyone would throw it away unless it's really tattered and torn.

Read with dustjacket or remove it?
I remove the dustjacket when I read a book.

Short story or novel?
I do read short stories now and then, but I prefer novels.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
Harry Potter, most definitely!

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
I do both. I would prefer to stop at chapter breaks, but that isn't always possible, especially if it's a long chapter. I try and find a decent place to stop, maybe a section break if no chapter break is in sight. I'm not always that lucky.

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
"It was a dark and stormy night" seems to be a more promising start for a story I'd want to read.

Buy or Borrow?
As much as my significant other wishes otherwise, I'm a buyer.

Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?
All of the above. Many of the books I chose to read are based on recommendations and reviews by friends, fellow bloggers, or booklovers. I also do a good amount of browsing now and then, drawn to titles and covers that make me want to look inside a book and see if it is something that might interest me.

Lewis or Tolkien?
A difficult choice! C.S. Lewis' stories drew me in when I was young and was probably my first real foray into fantasy novels. Tolkien, on the other hand, his world amazes me.

Collection (short stories by the same author) or Anthology (short stories by different authors)?
Either really. I guess it is like music for me. Sometimes variety is what I crave and other times I like something familiar and consistent.

Tidy ending or Cliffhanger?
I actually prefer something in between. I like a good wrap up, but I also like some things to be left to my own imagination.

Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading?
I like to read every chance I get. I do try to fit in a little reading before bedtime and during my lunch break. I probably do most of my reading on the weekends when I don't have work getting in the way (Oh, to have a job where I could read to my heart's content!)

Standalone or Series?
I enjoy reading both. I like the finality and short committment of a stand alone. And yet I also like the familiarity and comfort of series reading.

Urban fantasy or high fantasy?
I enjoy both equally. Both have their place in my life, depending on what my reading needs are at any given moment.

New or used?
I buy both, but I prefer new.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
I cannot think of a favorite book that somebody somewhere out there has not heard of. The first book that comes to mind is The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter, a childhood favorite of mine, but I know many people out there have read and enjoyed it. Same with Emma Sweeney's Love Always, Jack.

Top 5 favorite books read last year?
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder

Top 5 favorite books of all time? (not including any of the above five)
Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
One Child by Torey Hayden
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

5 favorite series?
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly
Kinsey Milhoune series by Sue Grafton
The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I want to extend many thanks to Orange Blossom Goddess at The Library Ladder for giving me the gift of Charles Dickent's Oliver Twist, which she sent to me in remembrance of her wonderful grandfather. I read Oliver Twist many years ago and fell in love with the story. I look forward to reading it again and again.

An aside: My mother shared with me yesterday that she recently gave her kindergarteners hardbound history readers for their reading lessons. She teaches a kindergarten/1st grade split class and the regular readers used for the 1st graders are not appropriate for the kinders. As a result the teacher decided to use the history readers. My mom was tickled by the enthusiasm the kinders showed toward the hardbound books, each of them not wanting to part with them when it was time for the books to be collected at the end of the day. Each student rushed to stick a piece of paper with their names so that they could be sure to get back the same book the following day.

How young we become attached to our books!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

First TBR Challenge Book: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Little Brown, 2004
Fiction; 310 pgs

Started: 01/13/2007
Completed: 01/17/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: How lucky were they?

Where Book Came From: I first learned about this book through Pages magazine and suddenly was seeing the title pop up frequently this past year in several different online book groups. I purchased my copy of the book in April of 2005, with every intent of reading it sooner.

Reason for Reading It Now: 1st of my 2007 TBR Challenge selections.

Comments: I made the mistake of reading a synopsis of a follow-up book, One Good Turn, while in the middle of Case Histories. Although the synopsis did not give any of the major plot points away in regards to Case Histories, I did discover a couple of extraneous details that might have been better left unknown until the end. Just the same, it did not take away from my enjoyment of this beautifully crafted novel.

Its praises have been sung by many of my fellow booklovers, but I had no idea what I was in for when I began reading Kate Atkinson’s novel. It rose above my expectations. At times comical, while all the while being serious, the novel had an edge to it that I had not anticipated. It was gritty without quite coming off as such.

Jackson Brodie, formerly a police inspector, earns his living as a private investigator in Cambridge, England. When readers are first introduced to Jackson, he is following a woman whose husband suspects that she is having an affair. It’s a typical sort of case and Jackson finds himself pondering his own life, his 8-year-old daughter and his failed marriage.

When Jackson is asked to look into the disappearance of Olivia Land by her two sisters, Amelia and Julia, he does not see much hope in finding new answers. The two women could not be more different from one another. Amelia is the rather plain and more responsible sister while Julia is a bit more reckless and free living. Olivia, a young child at the time, had disappeared one night 34 years ago never to be seen or heard from again. The discovery of Olivia’s favorite toy, Blue Mouse, among their father’s things after his death, raise questions the sisters want answered.

Then there is Theo Wyre, a father who still has not gotten over the death of his youngest daughter ten years before. Hoping to find some resolution, he hires Jackson Brodie to look into his daughter’s murder. On that fateful day 10 years ago, Laura had been starting a new temporary job at her father’s law office. Her throat was slashed by an unknown assailant in a yellow golf sweater. His identity and whereabouts were never discovered.

Shirley Morrison, the sister of a woman convicted of killing her husband with an axe, comes to Jackson in hopes of discovering the whereabouts of her niece, a child she had promised to take care of but had put into the care of the murdered father’s parents because she knew she couldn’t do it on her own at so young an age.

Kate Atkinson pulls all of these stories together in unexpected ways. Her cast of characters are colorful and yet shadowed by their life experiences, making them even more intriguing. The novel did include some backtracking now and then, the author telling one person’s story and then in the next section going over it from another character’s experience so that no parts of the story were missed. It could have been ackward and confusing, but Kate Atkinson successfully pulled it off.

Overall, I found Case Histories to be a delightful novel. The characters came to life for me right out of the pages and the msysteries involving the characters were captivating. I had a hard time setting this book aside for sleep and to go to work. I cannot help by ask myself why waited so long to read this book. I definitely plan to read more by this author.

Favorite Part: Although it’s not uncommon in novels, parents dragging their children along with them while the work for lack of better options, I have to say that I most enjoyed the way Kate Atkinson included Marlee in on the investigation. I quite enjoyed the interactions between Marlee and her father. I was least impressed with Josie, Marlee’s mother and Jackson’s ex-wife, who annoyed me on a couple of occasions during the novel.

Note about the Author: Kate Atkinson's first novel was Behind the Scenes at the Museum which won the Whitbread Prize in 1995, an unexpected winner over works by Salman Rushdie and Roy Jenkins. Kate Atkinson’s Top Ten list.

Miscellaneous: Thank you to Bookfool for the lovely tote! It arrived in yesterday’s mail. For those curious, it is a William Shakespeare tote from Barnes and Noble. You know, the one I’m always eyeing whenever I’m in the store.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

“Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes." - from Fahrenheit 451

“My stories run up and bite me on the leg-I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” – Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Del Rey, 1950
Science Fiction (Classic); 179 pgs

Started: 01/12/2007
Completed: 01/13/2007 (1:18 p.m.)
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: It was a pleasure to burn.

Where Book Came From: TBR Room (since 07/2005 - on the shelf at the local Barnes and Noble before that)

Reason for Reading: This was my second pick for the Winter Classics Challenge.

Comments: Unlike the fireman of today who put out fires for a living, the firemen of Ray Bradbury’s world in Fahrenheit 451 start them. More specifically, when their alarms go off in the middle of the night, they rush to the home of individuals who are harboring and reading books. As the books burn (at 451 degrees Fahrenheit), the owners are arrested. The reading of books is considered a threat to the greater good and is a subversion against society.

Although on the surface books are targeted as the source of evil, it is not the books themselves that the government fears, but the knowledge that people can acquire from reading those books. In fact, all forms of media have been watered down and controlled in an effort to keep the people at peace and without worry or fear. All to the extreme. The society in Bradbury’s world values conformity and to be different, an individual, is considered dangerous.

Guy Montag is a fireman, one who has enjoyed his job for many years, but suddenly he finds himself in doubt. It begins with a girl, “I’m seventeen and I’m crazy” Clarisse McClellan, who he meets one night on his walk home. Clarisse is a curious girl whose questions make Montag question his own life, his own happiness. What Montag finds disturbs him. And from there, his life as he knows it begins to unravel and change. He doubts everything he once valued and held dear; and with these thoughts, he knows that nothing can ever be the same.

It is Clarisse, a horrific tragedy at the house of an older woman whose books must be burnt, and the memories of an elderly professor in a park, that spur Guy Montag into action. He seeks out the old professor, hoping to find answers to his questions. In a world where asking questions and seeking the answers can be fatal, Montag places himself in a very dangerous position.

Fahrenheit 451 is a powerful novel that forces readers to face the extreme of where censorship of not only books, but especially of thought and knowledge, can lead if unchecked. And yet it is also a novel of hope, of the possibility for change, if only a person is willing to remember and learn.

I came away from this novel feeling a little ashamed at my recent thoughts of wanting to keep the world out and only focus on my own life. The stressors of watching and reading the news and keeping those events at arms length, seemed less stressful, less worrisome. It’s easier not to think of that which we can’t control—a way to avoid the fear and worry that can creep in. While these thoughts of mine come and go and are not to the extreme preached about in the novel, it’s a thought worth pondering all the same.

Favorite Parts: I really enjoyed the moments with Clarisse McClellan. Her curiosity and openness, however simple it may have seemed at the time, helped spark Guy Montag into taking a closer look at his life and society around him.

Beatty was an interesting character who made me grateful my copy of the novel included an afterward by the author which explained some of the character’s past. Beatty, although spouting the company line all the while, intrigued me. His knowledge of history and literature seemed counter to the denial and ignorance that society was encouraged to live in.

Note about the Author: Ray Bradbury spent most of his time writing the first draft of Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library, typing away on a typewriter that cost him a dime every half hour. He said that in all, it cost him nine dollars and eighty cents in dimes to complete that first draft.

Read what others had to say:
Melody's Reading Corner
Hello, My Name is Alice

Miscellaneous: Anjin reported that there was snow not too far from his office Friday, an unusual sighting since this part of the state doesn’t often see snow. The animals and I are staying out of the cold as much as I can. Luckily we've got a big stock of hot chocolate in the house.

Friday, January 12, 2007

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. - from Anna Karenina

"If I were told that what I shall write will be read in twenty years by the children of today and that they will weep and smile over it and will fall in love with life, I would devote all my life and all my strengths to it." - Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Penguin Classics, 2004
(Originally published as a serial in the periodical Ruskii Vestnik, 1875 - 1877)
Fiction (Classic); 838 pgs

Started: 01/01/2007
Completed: 01/12/2007 (10:08 a.m.)
Rating: * (Outstanding)

Reason for Reading: Anna Karenina is my first reading selection for the Winter Classics Challenge and the Chunkster Challenge.

Synopsis: Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.

Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society.

From its famous opening sentence--"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"--to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.

Comments: My husband, Anjin, and I talked at length about how I would approach this review. I talked and fretted; he listened and offered support and the occasional word of advice. What do I say about a book that has stood the test of time, that is considered a classic? There was no way I could do it justice.

When I first began reading Anna Karenina, I gave myself permission to read the book as I would any other novel. I would not concern myself with its reputation nor would I approach it as if it was an academic assignment. I selected to read Anna Karenina because it sounded like a good story and because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And so began my journey to the late 19th century Russia.

Setting and plot are vital parts of any story. The characters, for me at least, are the most important part. Set in Russia during the 19th century, Anna Karenina takes readers into the lives of various characters, most of who are among the higher echelons of Russian society. Leo Tolstoy did not miss a beat when drawing out his characters. He captured a side of human nature most people would rather not recognize in themselves. The common trait among them all seemed to be selfishness—egocentrism. The characters struggled to fit in with their peers, be liked, find purpose for themselves, and maintain the relationships with those around them. Misunderstandings and foibles could have easily been avoided had each of them been more honest with themselves and with their loved ones. Even in the most selfish of characters, who wanted to see nothing outside of their own wants and needs, I found myself feeling pity more than any other emotion. Tolstoy brought the characters to life for me, made me feel for them, and care about what happened to them.

The writing in the novel is beautiful. It was surprisingly easy to read. I do not know how much of that can be attributed to the translators, although I am sure they deserve some credit. There were moments when I got bored with the conversations of the nobles, as they talked about philosophy and politics. While some of the discussions were quite interesting and helped set the stage for the time period, at other times it seemed that the arguments went in circles. Perhaps if I approached the novel with a more critical mind or had been more knowledgeable about the time period, I would have better seen the point.

Overall, Anna Karenina was an enchanting and moving novel. It touched upon social and moral issues as well as the subject of love. Tolstoy is believed to have written this novel as sort of a rebellion against the changing tide of values in society during his lifetime. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. I do know that the author was able to get across the subtleness of change over time as well as the more obvious, be it in popular opinion or within oneself.

As for the subject of love . . . Love is complicated; Tolstoy reminds readers of this in Anna Karenina many times over.

Random Thoughts About Some Of The Characters:
My least favorite of the characters was Stepan Arkadyich, or Stiva for short. My impression of him from the opening of the book was not favorable. He struck me as a very selfish with very little concern for others or how his actions affected his family. Of all the characters, he is the one who changed the least over time.

I was also not too fond of Anna’s husband, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, as the story moved along, although I felt great sympathy for him in the beginning. He is not a man who wants to face his demons and as the story goes on, he becomes more and more disagreeable.

Konstantin Dmitrich Levin is among my favorite characters. Although his sullenness did not always make him an endearing character, he was one of the most down to earth characters. He was always a bit of an outsider, not sure whether he wanted to be with the in crowd or keep to himself. Of all the characters, I think he was the one most fleshed out. In the introduction of the novel, Pevear commented that Levin is most like Tolstoy in personality and shares some of the same experiences. Perhaps that would account for how well developed Levin is.

Like many others who have read this novel, I adored Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna (Kitty). She has an air of innocence about her and yet she is an intelligent woman. Like Levin, she struck me as a down to earth woman. Of all the characters, Kitty is the one that I would not mind having as a friend.

Anna Arkadyevna, for whom the book is named, is probably the most interesting of the characters—and the most mysterious. She married young to an older wealthy man. She was a doting mother, popular among society, and well respected. She had a confidence about her that was envied. Then she met Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky whose own love for her swept her off her feet in a way she could not imagine. Anna was tormented by the position she suddenly found herself in—married to one man but in love with another. Anna was not a completely likeable character in my view and yet there was something about her that drew me to her.

Favorite Part: My favorite part of the novel, although by no means the happiest moment, comes in the seventh part. Tolstoy’s writing throughout is such that he had me pulled into the story, feeling what the characters were feeling. That particular part especially held me captive. I felt what the characters felt and shared in their frustrations, doubts, and hopes. To say more would spoil the story.

I was most impressed too with how Tolstoy introduced many of his characters. For me at least, I found myself connecting with them instantly and that helped keep my attention later in the book during the more slow moments. I have to add though that there really weren’t too many of those, or at least they were over so quickly, I hardly noticed.

I especially liked the moments Tolstoy let me spend with Levin on his farm. I felt refreshed there, the tension of being among society falling away. I can see why Levin so much preferred to be at home and working much of the time.

Factoid About The Author: His real name was Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy.

Miscellaneous: I spent $1.26 on books today (thanks to gift cards and coupons). :-) As a reward to myself for completing Anna Karenina, I thought a little trip to the bookstore was in order (Yes, I know, not exactly in line with my #1 reading goal of the year. What can I say? I’m weak.) Here’s a sampling of what came home with me:

Plum Lovin' by Janet Evanovich ($5.49 with all the discounts! That's cheaper than it would have cost if I'd waited for the paperback). I know I’ll be reading Lean Mean Thirteen as soon as it comes out and I can’t skip this in between book.

The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason - I read an interview with Colleen on one of my favorite blogs (Carl V’s Stainless Steel Droppings), and her novel sounded interesting. It's the first in a new vampire series.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters - A recommendation from Find Me A Good Read. I've actually been thinking about this one for a while but with the recommendation decided maybe it would be a good idea to try it.

More Miscellaneous: Anjin and I are began watching the second season of MI-5 on DVD tonight. We have not really been watching movies lately. With the tv season starting up again soon, I imagine movies will be set aside for awhile.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." — Emilie Buchwald

I have been wanting to post to my blog but was not quite sure what to say. Orange Blossom from The Library Ladder wrote a post for her blog this evening that touched me deeply. The following is where my thoughts took me:

Occasionally the question arises among the book communities I am a part of as to the origin of a person's love for the written word. It's great fun to hear the stories that come from that question. Some readers are the only ones in their families who read; others, like me, are a chip off the old block. I often find myself relating my father and mother's love for books, including mentioning my parents' extensive library.

My father's response to many of my questions growing up was to refer me to one of his books. While that did not always make me happy in that moment, I now can more fully appreciate his lesson in resourcefulness.

I remember those friendly summer competitions to see if we could conquer a book a day during the summer months. We'd visit the library a day or two before our summer camping trips, load up on as many books as possible so that we could enjoy reading under the pines with only the sound of the birds and wind in the trees to disturb us.

There were many nights while I was growing up that my mother would knock on my bedroom door and remind me that I needed to get to bed because morning came early. I used to push a towel against the bottom of my door so she wouldn't be able to see any light coming off my little bedside lamp. I don't think I fooled her.

My thoughts often stop there when I think of an answer to the question of where my love for reading came from. And yet it was not just my parents' influence that drew me to the magic of books.

My grandparents loved having my brother and I spend the night. Besides the morning Bible studies, each of us taking turns reading from our designated devotionals, my grandmother insisting my brother and I take our vitamins and drink both our orange juice and our milk at breakfast, I remember settling in for the evenings in the living room at my grandparents' house, not a tv in sight, each of us with our own book to entertain us. My grandparents enjoyed reading and encouraged that in me. I admit that sometimes I just liked to watch them read.

My grandmother mostly read Christian fiction. She was the one who introduced me to C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia.

My grandfather was a journalist at one time. Small time, but still a writer. He loved to write. I always felt a special bond with him because we shared that in common as well as our love for books.

Both he and my grandmother are no longer with us, but a part of them still lives in my heart and memories.

This is just a small glimpse of the happy memories I have that involve books and the written word. I could probably fill pages.

And it doesn't quite end there . . . My husband and I became friends, our first conversation being about our love for writing. I was lucky enough to find a man who shares my love for books and the written word (fortunately for both of us, he is not quite as obsessive as I sometimes can be when it comes to books). He, too, comes from a family of readers. A perfect fit.

Do you have any special memories involving books or reading?

Aside: I must say, I am enjoying reading Anna Karenina very much. I only wish I had had more time to devote to reading this week. Perhaps the weekend will offer more of the chance to immerse myself among the pages. Although it is not a quick read, I am finding it hard to put down in those moments I do find to read. I'm anxious to learn what comes of Kitty. Then there is Anna and Vronsky. And what of Levin? And poor Dolly? I'm afraid her husband, Stiva, hasn't won any of my sympathy yet.

Monday, January 01, 2007

My Journey Begins

It took a lot of effort not to cheat and dive into Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina before the first of the year. I am reading this classic novel for two of the three challenges I am participating in, the Chunkster Challenge and the Winter Classics Challenge.

Although I was having great difficulty keeping my eyes open at 12:30 a.m. this morning, I at least wanted to read the Introduction in the novel. Once I get through the those beginning extras of the novels I read (I read dedications too), I feel I can really start reading.

There have been times I have had to stop reading introductions because too much of the story is given away (like with Bram Stoker's Dracula), but more often than not, I find introductions a great segueway into the novel itself, providing me with the backdrop, the climate the novel was written in and the history surrounding the novel itself.

In the introduction by Richard Pevear to Anna Karenina, I learned that Tolstoy considered this to be his first actual novel, despite having written War and Peace and The Cossacks earlier in his life. The trilogy, The Cossacks, was a semi-fictionalized autobiography and perhaps that is why Tolstoy felt the books could not be labeled novels. As to War and Peace, Tolstoy argued that "It is not a novel, still less it is a poem, and even less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wished and was able to express in the form in which it was expressed." [vii]

I also found quite interesting the evolution of the characters as Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina. They started off as very different characters than how they ended up in the final product. While I am sure that is nothing new in the process of writing, I still find it intriguing.

According to Pevear, Tolstoy was a conservative man. He was disgruntled about the changes in ideals he saw around him. Anna Karenina was, says Pevear, a rebellion of sorts against the people who sought to corrupt the family and social values and traditions Tolstoy believed in (and how relevant in contemporary times!). If this is so, I find it quite ironic that Anna Karenina is listed as a banned book in some parts of the world. I think it was Nazir Nafisi who commented that this novel, as well as Madame Bovary, were better examples of the negative impact adultery can have on people's lives and neither glamorizes such actions as those seeking to ban it argue.

And so it is with these thoughts that I begin my journey into the lives of Anna, Karenin, Stiva, Dolly, Kitty, Levin, and Vronsky . . .