Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads!

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As always, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that is hosted by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish.  To join in, head on over to their link-up page.

The theme of this week’s Top Ten list is beach reads!  Now that Memorial Day has marked the unofficial start of summer, it’s time to start thinking of those books that make for great summer reading.  These are the books at the top of my list:

luckiest girlgirl on the trainme before you

we were liarswhere'd you go bernadettethe notebook

Top Ten Tuesday! Books I Feel Differently About After Time Has Passed

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Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the bloggers behind The Broke and the Bookish.  To join in on all the Top Ten Tuesday fun, link up over at their blog.

This Tuesday’s post is about books that have caused a change of heart after some time has passed.

pride and prejudice

I have always loved Pride and Prejudice.  Despite my first reading of it having been assigned in a high-school English class, I loved it.  (For me, there is nothing like having a book assigned that can guarantee it won’t be enjoyable – but despite that, this one was.)  But, over time, and perhaps two or three more readings, I have come to love this book even more.  I seem to notice more and more nuance in each re-reading, and it seems to mean something different to me at each stage of life that I’ve read it in.  And for me, that is the mark of a truly great book.

bridget jones

As such a huge fan of Pride and Prejudice, when I first read this modernized update of the novel, I really liked it.  But then the sequel came out, and I started to see Bridget in a different light.  While at first she had seemed to be the first chick lit heroine, I started to view her portrayal as more of a farce.  It almost seemed as if Helen Fielding was poking fun at Bridget, as well as her fans.  To be honest, I haven’t bothered reading the third book in the series – and I’m not sure I ever will.  Although, I have to say, I will always appreciate Bridget for introducing me to the chick lit genre.

forest of hands and teeth

I really enjoyed this book.  I thought it would be the first in a long series of “zombie apocalypse” books that I would read and enjoy.  But the second book in the series, The Dead-Tossed Waves, wasn’t nearly as engrossing, and I couldn’t even make it through the first third of the next book in the series, The Dark and Hollow Places.  It made me feel differently about the whole series, unfortunately.

babysitters

So, as a middle-grade reader, The Baby-Sitter’s Club books were my go-to reads for any and every occasion.  Oh, how I loved Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey.  And I eventually came to love Dawn, Mallory, and Jesse, too.  After a decades-long hiatus from keeping up with the girls and their baby-sitting adventures, I picked up one of these cherished favorites at a library I was working in at the time.  And, it just wasn’t the same.  Reader beware: much-loved childhood favorites sometimes look different when viewed from an adult perspective.  

julie of the wolves

I remember reading this book in elementary school and really enjoying it.  Years later, I read it for a children’s/YA literature course in college, and was shocked by the rape scene at the end of the book.  It flabbergasted me that it was virtually hidden in the pages of a children’s book – it obviously went right over my head as a younger reader, as I’m sure it did for many others.  But it forever changed the way I look at this book.

An attempt at blog resuscitation; Book Review: Carrie

Carrie

My relationship with Stephen King began oh, I don’t know, about twenty years ago maybe, when I mistakenly read The Shining while on a cross-country road trip with my parents.  Up until that point in my reading life, I thought it was impossible for a book to scare me.  As a middle-grade reader, I had been a huge fan of Mary Downing Hahn’s spooky ghost stories, and then moved on to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series and Christopher Pike’s seemingly endless array of teen horror stories.

So, I thought I was ready for something a bit more, well, adult.  I thought I was ready for Stephen King.  And maybe I would have been, had it not been for the circumstances surrounding my initiation.  I have a distinct memory of checking in to a hotel in a room number of great significance in The Shining and outright refusing to even enter the room, which was the source of great hilarity for my parents.

Needless to say, it’s been a little while since I’ve felt the urge to pick up another King novel.  But boy, am I glad I did.

Goodreads summary:

Carrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed… But one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction…

Carrie is King’s first published novel, although I’ve recently discovered that it was actually the fourth he wrote.  It is written in an epistolary form, with the narrative interspersed with many (fictional, I hope) scientific articles, news reports, and snippets of memoirs written by significant characters.  While I must admit that this style initially took some getting used to, I ultimately feel the non-fiction flavor that these excerpts create contributes greatly to the overall impact of the novel.  While I was of course aware that I was reading fiction, the sense that King’s style gave me is of having read something that actually happened – or could.

I have to admit to having some idea of the plot of this novel prior to reading.  I think this is just one of those stories that has become so much a part of pop-culture that it’s almost impossible to avoid spoilers in one form or another.  The cover of some of the books and film adaptations certainly contribute to this, as many of them depict the climax of the book – Carrie drenched in blood.

What I didn’t expect to experience was a sense of sorrow, pity, and even empathy for Carrie.  She is constantly bullied, teased mercilessly, and at the hands of a religiously fanatic mother who has controlled and sheltered her all her life.  Were it not for the actions she takes at the Prom, Carrie would have been entirely a sympathetic character.  And were it not for the relentless bullying, perhaps Carrie’s telekinetic powers could have made her a Matilda-type character, straight out of one of Roald Dahl’s childhood favorites.

While Carrie is certainly of the horror genre, I read it ultimately as a great tragedy.  Carrie is a lost and lonely girl, whose only influence in life is her overbearing mother.  She is taught that her body’s changes through puberty are a result of Eve’s sin, the same sin that she was conceived by.  Carrie has no friends, and even the authority figures at her school – namely Miss Desjardin – are at first disgusted by her.

When Carrie discovers her telekinetic powers, it is as if she is first realizing that she herself has some control over her world.  She doesn’t need to subject herself to her mother’s punishments and control over her.  In fact, when she re-discovers her powers at puberty, her mother begins to fear her.  So when she is asked to go to the prom with Tommy Ross, she is first able to assert her independence from her mother.

Oh, and how she asserts her independence!  I’m glad I read this book.  I’m glad I’ve rediscovered my love of horror fiction (thanks oodles, Stephen King!)  And I’m really glad I resuscitated this little book blog.

Guest Post: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

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So, it’s no secret that I’ve neglected this little blog for awhile now.  I have been reading, but not really feeling the urge to post anything.  Perhaps in an effort to get me back into blogging, or perhaps even as an attempt to see how he feels about starting his own blog, today I have a guest post by my husband.  We read this book together, and then watched the movie.  Here are his thoughts:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a book perhaps more notable for the circumstances surrounding its writing than its contents. Almost entirely paralyzed by a stroke at the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby dictated this work by blinking his left eyelid to indicate the letter of his choice as an assistant cycled through the alphabet. Letter by letter, word by word, he built this book, part memoir and part philosophic meditation.

Perhaps it would be unbecoming, in light of the monumental difficulties faced by its author, to enumerate the faults of this book. But, as the book itself provides an unflinching examination of the truth, so too should a review avoid pulling any punches. The book is very short. But brevity is the soul of wit; and nobody can accuse the author of laziness. The composition is fragmentary and quite disjointed. There are no major upheavals of established doctrines or new schools of thought founded. But these things are rare in any book, and at least the author does not retreat into platitudes.
Instead, Bauby describes his routine at the hospital, his incremental steps towards rehabilitation. These alternate between harrowing and hopeful. He is wide awake as a doctor sows shut his paralyzed right eyelids to prevent scarring of the cornea; later, with great effort, he is able to regain the ability to move his head, to open his mouth, to grunt the melody to a song. He enjoys watching television, but if the wrong channel is on, it can be hours before he can signal to have it changed. The most compelling thing, however, is his descriptions of the mental strategies he employs to cope with his condition. Like one-eyed Odin, he dispatches the ravens Thought and Memory to survey not Midgard, but his own mind. Trapped in one room, he recalls his travels across the world. Inert, he recounts his defeats and his triumphs. Sustained by a feeding tube, he imagines elaborate banquets. Motionless, his mind makes measureless journeys through time and space.
And so, here is the fulcrum upon which the tale is balanced. The book’s title seems to imply that the delicate butterfly of the spirit is encased in the formidable diving bell of the body. In reality, the feebleness of the body is insufficient to contain the indomitable strength of the spirit.  At the end of the book, Bauby wonders if there are “keys for opening up my diving bell”, seemingly unaware that he has found the key within himself. He concludes, “We must keep looking. I’ll be off now.” And after writing those words, he departed his diving bell forever. A few days after the book was published, Bauby succumbed to pneumonia.
The book, by virtue of its mere existence, stands as a call to action. Who, with ten fingers, has written less than this man has with one eyelid? Who, with two legs, has travelled less than this quadriplegic? Who, with their full body, has accomplished less than this man did with a fraction of one? And so, Babuy’s work transcends biography and becomes a testament to the power of the human mind. Faulkner, in his Nobel acceptance speech, said that literature “need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” Jean-Dominique Bauby, laid low by illness, built this pillar to elevate himself above his circumstances. And now it is up to us all to climb it and survey the world he revealed. I’ll be off now.
This entry was posted in Reviews.

Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

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So, I guess I really have decided to make this “The Summer of Sarah Dessen,” as I’m going to (try to) read all of her books.  Whether this will actually happen is pretty up in the air at this point, though…I’m not always the best at actually keeping the reading goals I set for myself.

Goodreads summary:

Colie expects the worst when she’s sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television informercial, tours Europe.  Always an outcast – first for being fat and then for being “easy” – Colie has no friends at home and doesn’t expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina.  But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Cafe and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship.  Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along.

This book was, unfortunately, a bit of a miss for me.  When I first picked it up, I was really excited about it.  I loved the premise – Colie’s journey towards self-acceptance and empowerment after a significant weight loss, overcoming bullying, etc.  But somehow, it just didn’t live up to the expectations I already find myself having for a Sarah Dessen book.  My experience with her other books, by the time I first put it down, after around 50 or 60 pages, I find myself thinking about the characters, their situations and relationships.  I didn’t feel the same connection to these characters.  While they had all of the quirky attributes that I normally enjoy, I found them to fall sort of flat for me.  And the book’s message, which I would characterize as something along the lines of “girl power,” is certainly one that I could have really enjoyed in the right packaging, but which sort of missed its mark for me in this book.

So, while I can’t NOT recommend this book, especially to well-established fans of Dessen’s work, I would recommend this as an introduction to the author.  Someone Like You would be a much better choice, in my opinion.