Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I hope I don't get fired for posting this from work, but I just couldn't wait.

I know that some might find this hard to believe, but I have not always been such a "serious" reader. Yes, I used to read trash, lots of trash, and I enjoyed it. :-)

This morning on the way to work, I heard that the author Sidney Sheldon had died. The NPR story highlighted his writing for I Dream of Jeannie. However, when I hear his name I think about all the excellent trash that he wrote and that I gorged myself on in the 80s and early 90s. His books were page-turners, full of love, lust, sex, intrigue--soap operas in print. As a teenager and a twenty-something, I loved his novels like Bloodline, The Other Side of Midnight, Rage of Angels, and If Tomorrow Comes. His trash took place on a grand scale, all over the world--a world that a girl from a small East Texas town couldn't possible know except through books. His books were a great vehicle when I needed an escape from the mundanity of my life. And any miniseries made from his books were just as tasty and even less intellectually nutritious. What fun!

While I don't read this kind of novel anymore, I do sometimes long to escape into formulaic, mind candy, but my brain just won't let me enjoy it anymore. The closest I can come is to read some kind of mystery or suspense novel, and those have to be better than the formulaic ones produced by most of the writers whose works can be found on grocery store and Walmart shelves and even on today's bestseller lists.

On a poignant note not related to Sheldon's novels, the newspaper article that I read to remind myself of the titles of some of his novels included a mention of The Patty Duke show that he produced and wrote. I'm too young to have watched the show when it aired originally, but I do have some fond memories of watching it on Nick at Night with my dad. He really liked to watch those old sitcoms. In the show, Patty called her dad Pops, and I used to call my dad Pops too. My dad was a great Pops! :-)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Winter Stacks Challenge

Over a week ago, I finished Pale Horse, Pale Rider, a very short novel by Katherine Anne Porter. Last October, I posted about hearing about this novel on NPR's You Must Read This. As planned, I only read the one short novel in the from the book of the same name that contains three short novels. It was my third book in the five-book Winter Stacks Challenge.

The novel is set during World War I and an influenza epidemic--fear is pervasive, which makes this book very relevant today. The main character Miranda, a reporter, has fallen in love with Adam, a soldier waiting to be shipped out. She fears that he will never return from the war, but she is stricken with the flu, and he nurses her until she can get a room at one of the overcrowded hospitals. Porter's descriptions of Miranda's delirious thoughts are amazingly unsettling. I will have to find the time to read more of Porter's novels in the future, especially the other two in the book Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

I have started Snow by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who won the Nobel Prize this year. If the blurbs on the back cover and inside the front cover are accurate, I should enjoy this book immensely. It is a political thriller, and I usually like those kinds of books. So far, I have found it very interesting, but I have not found enough time to read it--work and now grad school are keeping me too busy.

I spent a solitary Monday, grading papers for hours, and I am still not caught up. I have much reading to do between now and Wednesday, when I have to submit a response to my reading before midnight. I haven't even started on the assignment that is due next week, and, unfortunately, I have to go to work the rest of the week. I can't call in sick every day, but I wish I could.

I guess I better go to bed now though. It's late, and I can't be late in the morning. Maybe I can read a page or two of Snow before I go to sleep.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Silly Teenage Boy!

Because of my library science classes' face-to-face meetings and my unwillingness to brave the cold on Wednesday, I only worked two days last week. I seldom have to truly battle discipline problems in my class; I have a reputation for not putting up with students' bullshit. However, I do occasionally provoke students' ire with my "dark sarcasm in the classroom" (any Pink Floyd fans out there?). Friday was apparently one of those days.

One of the boys, let's call him STB, in my class got pissed off about my answer to his very stupid question (yes, there are stupid questions) and walked out of the room without permission. I didn't even react except to quickly fill out a discipline referral that I would turn in later in the day. I proceeded with the class as if nothing had happened. Except that when I looked for the paper that he had turned in, the only student in three classes who didn't follow my written directions, I made a smart-ass comment about how odd it was that the sub had told everyone to turn in the assignment, but he was only one who did. The class laughed and another boy volunteered that he had refrained from saying to STB that he didn't hear the sub say to turn anything in, but he decided to stay quiet--not sure of his motivation. So the class progressed through the vocabulary check, did our fifteen minutes of silent reading, and started on the main assignment for the day.

Later in the class period, the guidance office called my room and requested that I send another boy (AB) to see his counselor, which I did immediately. AB wasn't gone very long, but when he returned, he had a vocabulary workbook in his hand. I asked if he gone to his locker and retrieved his workbook, which he had not had when I checked vocabulary work earlier in the period. He said in a rather sheepish voice that STB had asked him to bring his workbook back to class and ask me if I would check it for him. I wasn't able to hide my mirth from the class, many of whom joined me in amusement. Of course, I am not a total bitch of a teacher, and I did check his vocabulary work, and I will collude with him tomorrow to act like nothing happened on Friday. Too bad, teaching doesn't amuse me everyday. :-)

Monday, January 15, 2007

2 Books Down & 3 to Go

On Saturday, I finished the second book on my From the Stacks Winter Challenge list. Moral Disorder is Margaret Atwood's latest book of short stories. Until a couple of years ago, I seldom read books of short stories, but then I read and loved Jumpher Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. Since then, I have tried to keep a book of short stories going while I read a novel. It's hard for me to read more than one book at a time, but if one is short stories, I don't feel like I'm neglecting one for the other. I wouldn't want to hurt a book's feelings. :-)

Okay, enough babbling. I was not surprised to find Moral Disorder an enjoyable read. I am a big Atwood fan. The Handmaid's Tale is one of my all-time favorite books, a book that I push on students every spring. Moral Disorder is a book of connected stories that tell the story of a couple's relationship. It begins with old age, goes back to the woman's childhood through adulthood and their relationship then ends with old age and childhood. All of these stories have Atwood's very enjoyable and intelligent biting satire.

Ultimately, this book of short stories is about how our lives are stories and, sadly, all stories and lives end. This passage is at the end of one of the later stories in the book: "But what else could I do with all that? thinks Nell, wending her way back to her own house. All that anxiety and anger, those dubious good intentions, those tangled lives, that blood. I can tell about it or I can bury it. In the end, we'll all become stories. Or else we'll become entities. Maybe it's the same." In the final stories of the book, Atwood shows vividly the effects of aging on our life stories. The main male character in the book's stories has had a stroke and his daughter, the narrator of his final story, tries to read him a story, but for him, "Stories are no good, not even short ones, because by the time you get to the second page he's forgotten the beginning. Where are we without our plots?" Such a simple question, but if you equate plots with life, that simple question becomes extremely poignant. I think Atwood has explored a relatively new theme--loss of identity through aging--or maybe it's just one that I noticed more because of my father's recent passing and his condition for the last few years of his life. The last story in the book is so sad. A mother, bedridden, deaf in one hear, is in the final pages of her life story and all that remains of her younger self is some remnants of stories that she told her daughter. Her story is ending as the book is ending.

Some miscellaneous passages that I liked:
  • In one of the early stories, the main character, a young girl, said, "We read detective stories and bought women's magazines, which we leafed through in order to rearrange ourselves, though only in theory." In this sentence, Atwood has definitely captured the appeal of women's magazines.
  • "She'd been in love, a state of being she thought of as wiping the mind clean of any of the soothsaying abilities or even ordinary common sense it might otherwise have had." I just love Atwood's humor, especially when it bites perfectly.
  • In one of the later stories, Atwood introduces Lillie, a real estate agent who seems to become a mother figure to her customers. The narrator of one story shares this about the way Lillie thinks: "Dead was not an absolute concept to her. Some people were more dead than others, and finally it was a matter of opinion who was dead and who was alive, so it was best not to discuss such a thing." Lillie is very much alive in this page. She is a great character!
I know that my review is not doing this book justice, but I really liked it and recommend it, especially if you like Atwood's other works.

Hopefully, I will be able to finish at least two other books on my Winter Stacks Challenge list. My grad school courses started this week, so I probably have no chance of getting all five done, but I will try.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Last weekend, I finished the first book on my From the Stacks Challenge list, but the business of starting back to work kept me from finding time to post my review of it. Well, here it is.

The Night Watch
begins just after WWII in 1947 then goes back in time to 1944 then goes further back to 1941. While I enjoyed some of the characters and the stories of their relationships, I was not satisfied by the outcome of this book. Usually when a story is structured in reverse chronological order, there is some significant event in the present of the story that is explained with the past events. I didn't feel that the past of these characters and their relationships lived up to the promise of the structure of this novel. I thought the past left too many questions in the present unanswered.

While I wasn't impressed with the plot of the novel, I was extremely impressed with the mood of the novel. I felt the uncertainty and fear of living in a war zone with the very real threat of being killed by a bomb night after night. The description of the devastation to people and buildings is particularly vivid.

I have never read any of Waters's other novels, and I am not a big fan of historical fiction, but I don't think either of these facts are what kept me from being satisfied with this novel. I never felt drawn in enough by the characters or events. Maybe the distance was intentional or necessary to create the fragmentary feeling of living in a place literally being torn apart by war. Except for the 1947 section, most of the events of the novel occur at night, hence the title, and I think that might have had something to do with the distant feeling, but I can't quite articulate why.

I have read a bit more than half of the next book on my challenge list, Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood. I hope to be finished with it in a day or two and be faster with my review of it.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Beautiful Beginning to a New Year

I hope today's weather is a good omen for the year to come. It is absolutely gorgeous!--55 degrees, light wind, clear blue sky. If I had a patio with a chaise lounge, I probably would have donned a light sweater or jacket and read all day long. Instead, I did laundry and read some blogs, semi-watched a couple of movies. I did all this in my living room, which does have a big picture window, so I kind of feel like I'm out on a patio with the blinds open and the sun shining in.

I finished one of my Stacks Reading Challenge books yesterday, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. I'll post a review tonight. I might also post about moviest that I have seen during my holidays, which haven't been as many as I had hoped to see. I'm off to see Dreamgirls now. I wanted to see it on Christmas day, but it wasn't showing at the my East Texas hometown's local theater or the closest larger theaters.