Friday, April 26, 2013

My Twenty-Five Favorite Authors

As promised, another list of my book-related favorites!  

Interestingly, this one is inspired by the WXROZ blog as well, and a discussion Danielle and I were having about authors that I like and she hates, hee.  You'll notice that most of the authors on this list have books featured in the list of my favorite books, but they're in a dramatically different order here.  For instance, you'll notice that my favorite author of all, Raymond Chandler, doesn't have any books in my top twenty!  Because I love his writing, but I have a hard time choosing a favorite book, and my favorite of his tends to just be whatever I've read most recently.

I was considering dividing these up and doing a list of my favorite novelists, favorite non-fiction authors, favorite children's authors... and maybe I'll do lists along those lines another time.  But here are my favorite authors, spanning all genres except poetry, which I'll do another time.  They are all authors whose books I will try for no other reason than that this person wrote them, regardless of their subject.  That doesn't mean I like everything they've written, or have even read everything they've written, but it does mean their name on a spine makes me pick up a book.

(I've linked each name to the author's official website or other good site about them.)

1. Raymond Chandler

2. Thor Heyerdahl
3. Laurie R. King
4. Ernest Hemingway
5. Rex Stout
6. Rudyard Kipling
7. Jasper Fforde
8. Damon Runyon
9. Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Marguerite Henry
11. Jane Austen
12. Ray Bradbury
13. Arthur Conan Doyle
14. Louisa May Alcott
15. Jim Kjelgaard
16. Jan Burke
17. Robert McCloskey 
18. Patrick O'Brian
19. Rev. W. Awdry
20. James Herriot
21. Laura Ingalls Wilder
22. James N. Frey
23. Mark Twain
24. Alexandre Dumas
25. F. Scott Fitzgerald

(EDIT:  I added Fitzgerald to the end because I realized I love his writing, even though I don't love his books, but the same goes for Hemingway, so on Fitzgerald goes!)

How about you?  Have you read anything by these authors?  What did you think of them?  And who are your favorite authors?  Please share, either in the comments here, or do a post on your own blog and leave me a link -- I love learning about other people's favorites!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Wishes, Lies, and Dreams" by Kenneth Koch

I fell in love with Kenneth Koch's poetry during my sophomore year of college.  A few years later, my parents gave me this book for Christmas, and I read it once, then set it aside.  But now that I am homeschooling my kids, I pulled it out again to see if maybe I could put some of his advice to work. Plus, April is National Poetry Month, so I felt sort of obligated to read something poetry-oriented.

The book is based on Koch's experience teaching grade school kids how to write poetry back in the '70s.  He explains the different things that he found worked well or worked badly, and he also includes a LOT of the poems written by the kids he taught.  They're exuberant and imaginative, not stilted or hesitant.

Koch found that most kids have an aptitude for writing poetry if you don't try to make them adhere to things like rhyme and meter, which tend to overwhelm and squelch them.  Instead he would give them a subject (wishes, lies, dreams, colors, sounds...) and a bit of form (start every line with "I wish" or include a color in every line, etc), and the kids would take it from there.

I helped my kids (ages 3 and 5) write  poetry on the subject of wishes last Friday, and they loved it!  In fact, my 5-year-old asked me to help him write a poem about recycling yesterday.  I'd say Koch's ideas work :-)

Also, if you're not a kid, but you're looking for a jump-start to your own poetry writing, his ideas work really well for adults too.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read this once before, probably about ten years ago, when I'd been out of college a couple of years and was catching up on all the things I felt I should have read, but hadn't had time for before.  I didn't care for it.  At all.  But I think that's because I'd read that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were friends, and so for some weird reason, I thought it would be kind of like Hemingway's books.

Silly me.

If Hemingway's writing is a pair of worn leather work gloves, then Fitzgerald's is a silk evening dress with a long train.  Hemingway's writing is solid, grounded in reality, sometimes brutal in its honesty.  Fitzgerald's is ethereal, concerned with how things are and aren't and should be, and full of wistful longing.

This time around, I knew more of what to expect.  This time around, I really dug The Great Gatsby.

Okay, anyway, The Great Gatsby is about a guy named Nick Carraway who moves into a cheap little house next to a mansion owned by a mysterious guy named Jay Gatsby.  This is in the Roaring Twenties, near NYC, and rumor has it that Gatsby is a bootlegger.  Or a murderer.  Or a spy.  No one knows for sure.  He throws fabulous parties.  He stares across the water at a green light glowing on the end of a pier by the opposite shore.  He befriends Nick, sort of.  He pines for a girl he loved years and years earlier, and thinks that somehow he and she can still be in love and have a life together.  Basically, Gatsby is living his entire life inside a self-created dream, getting other people to dream it with him whenever he can.

Fitzgerald turns out delicate phrases that make me catch my breath.  I had to read parts of this very, very slowly, particularly the first few chapters, sometimes pausing multiple times per page to savor a line or phrase.  I'll list lots of them here, as they're so exquisite I must share them.

Yes, I'm looking forward to Baz Luhrmann's movie adaptation, which opens next month.  I'll review it over on my Soliloquy once I see it.  I just saw the trailer in the theater again this morning, and it looks sleek and glittering, like it should.

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for alcohol use and innuendo.

Particularly Good Bits:  

Instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe -- so I decided to go East and learn the bond business.

I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others -- poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner -- young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

When he realized what I was talking about, that there were twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy.  "What do you think of that?  It's stopped raining."

No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

I was thirty.  Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pass the Parcel

I learned about this fun blog party from Ivy Miranda of Revealed in Time.  I love YA fiction, so couldn't pass up the chance to participate.  Click on the button above to go read more about the game and enter yourself.  You can also go here to learn more about the party, find out what kind of games and interviews are included.

1. Name your top 5 favourite YA authors!

Robert Louis Stevenson
J. K. Rowling
S. E. Hinton
L. M. Montgomery
Lauraine Snelling

2. What's the last YA book you read and what did you think of it?

Pies and Prejudice by Heather Vogel Frederick.  I loved it (read what I thought here), and I want to read more in the series.

3. What's your favourite YA genre? (Dystopian, romance, sci-fi, contemporary, etc.)

Historical fiction.

4. Let's talk characters! Pick a character you love and tell us why?

I love Ponyboy Curtis, protagonist of S.E. Hinton's classic The Outsiders.  He's smart, he's a little shy, and he's loyal -- three things I've tried to be for a long time.  He likes Robert Frost's poetry, and so do I.  I guess I love him because I see a lot of myself in him.

I think I was either Ponyboy's age (14) or a year older the first time I read the book, and my brother and I used to measure our ages by who we were the same age as ("I'm 17, I'm Sodapop's age!"  "I'm 20, I'm Darry's age!" etc) until we were over 20, and then we were older than all the Outsiders, and we were very sad.  (That was only a few years ago for my brother, but 12 for me, sniff sniff.)

5. Top YA villain?

I should probably say Voldemort, but no, I'm going to go with King Galbatorix from Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance Cycle."  He's got more of Darth Vader's swagger and hubris, and somehow, I understand him a little better than Voldy.

6. Top YA couple?

Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from the "Anne of Green Gables" books by L. M. Montgomery.  When I read these as a young girl, I had this sinking feeling that I would end up falling in love with someone who originally annoyed me.  I did.

7. With dystopian on the decline, what do you think will be the next hot-trend in YA?

Shakespeare adaptations!  (I wish.)

8. What's the next YA book on your to-be-read pile?

Eye of the Crow by Shayne Peacock

9. What's the fastest time you've ever finished reading a book in? (And what was the book?!)

One night, so about 12 hours.  Back when I was first married, my hubby and I worked third shift.  When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, I read the whole thing on my night off.  I think that's the first book I've read all in one day since high school, and already then I liked to savor them by stretching them over at least two days.

10. (And now for the burning question) Do you think books should be sorted according to colour or title? (This matters.)

Well, personally (and that means in person), I have mine shelved alphabetically by author, then alphabetically by title if I have more than one by that author, or in series order if they're a series.  So, um, sort of neither, I guess.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"A Distant Melody" by Sarah Sundin

Charity over at Austenitis recommended this series, and I'm so glad my library has them!  I very much enjoyed this book, and I'm definitely going to read the rest of the "Wings of Glory" trilogy.

A Distant Melody revolves around Allie and Walt and their growing attachment.  Allie is the daughter of a rich business owner whose parents have basically arranged her marriage to the manager of their ball-bearing factory, a bore named Baxter.  Walt is an engineer (the kind that designs things, not the kind that drives trains) and an Air Force lieutenant about to ship off to the war.  World War II, that is, which you know is one of the main reasons I liked this.

I'm passionate about the WWII era.  I love learning about it, watching movies and reading books about it, writing fiction about it.  So I absolutely loved all the details about the music and the clothes and the movies and just the day-to-day life of these characters.  Though at times the technical details about flying a B17 felt a little bit much, but that's a minor quibble.

Anyway, Allie and Walt meet at a wedding, and at first they're just friends, albeit friends who are mighty attracted to each other.  Allie's nearly engaged to that Baxter guy, and Walt's about to leave, so they have a lot of reasons not to get serious about each other.  But they begin exchanging letters, and... yeah, they fall in love, you knew that was coming.  But they have a lot of obstacles to overcome, particularly the extreme disapproval of Allie's parents, and this is only the first book, so while you might hear wedding bells pealing madly by the end, they're not necessarily for Allie and Walt.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  The writing isn't brilliant, but it's good. And the characters are rich and complex.  I feel like I'm friends with several of them, which as you know means I'll want to be spending more time in their company.  I'm putting the second book on my to-read list on the library's website!

A lot of Christian fiction suffers from trying to jam as much Christianity into the story as possible, and it winds up feeling stiff and unnatural.  Not so here!  At least, not for the most part.  I myself don't know many people who would ask for prayers from a person they just met, much less from a person they feel a lot of sparkage toward.  Still, Allie and Walt just come across as dedicated Christians, and I liked them.

I also liked how both Allie and Walt are not beautiful or handsome.  They're not ugly either, but they're ordinary-looking, not movie star material.  Books that focus on two people falling in love tend to have the people be very attractive, so much so that it's cliche.  And annoying to a person like me who is just ordinary-looking, neither beautiful nor ugly.  

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG-13 for war-related danger, violence, and wounds.

You might enjoy this if you like these:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer or Shadows over Stonewycke by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"The Sign of Four" by Arthur Conan Doyle

I always get the title of this book wrong and think it's The Sign of the Four.  Probably because, to me, that has a better rhythm to it.  But not my book, so I don't get to title it (alas).

Anyway, this is the second novel starring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.  In it, Miss Mary Morstan seeks Holmes' advice about a mysterious summons she's received.  Watson is smitten by her at their first meeting, and my goodness, that man is a fast mover!  }Spoiler alert!{  By the end of the story, he's asked her to marry him!  And they've known each other for, what, two weeks or something?  Goodness.  But, as a friend of my grandma's once said to me, "When you know, you know."  I guess they knew.

I don't really have a lot to say about this book.  I don't like it as well as A Study in Scarlet or The Hound of the Baskervilles, or even as well as some of the short stories.  It gets a bit long-winded at the end again, like the first novel, with the bad guy taking page after page to relate his history and just why he did what he did.  And I get it mixed up with "The Musgrave Ritual" a lot when I'm trying to remember various Holmes stories.  Still, it's a lively tale, never boring even when it meanders at the end, and the mystery is quite perplexing.  Plus, it introduces Sherlock Holmes' cocaine habit.  Introduces it in the very first paragraph, in fact, which seems bold now, but remember, cocaine and opium weren't illegal (or understood) back then.  Still, Watson clearly disapproves.

Also, I was struck by the fact that Holmes (and Doyle, of course) knows Hamlet enough to near-quote it.  At the end of chapter one, he says, "Was ever such a dreary, dismal, unprofitable world?"  How can that not be an allusion (intentional or not) to this Hamlet line:  "How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable Seem to me all the uses of this world" (Act I, Scene 2).

Particularly Good Bits: 

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

So swift, silent, and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained bloodhound picking out a scent, that I could not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he turned his energy and sagacity against the law instead of exerting them in its defence.

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for a murder and other descriptions of violence.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Want to Join a Virtual Book Club?

Danielle, aka WXROZ, is hosting a book club on her blog -- you can read all about it here.  So far, there are only three of us participating (Danielle, her brother, and yours truly), but if you'd be interested in joining us, come check it out!  We've settled on The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin as our first book, and we're giving ourselves until September to finish it, though I kind of think it won't take that long.  After that, it looks like we might be reading The Lord of the Rings.  I think we'll just be kind of agreeing on another book to read each time we all finish the current one, and leaving ourselves plenty of time to finish things.

So anyway, just wanted to invite anyone reading this to join us if they're interested :-)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"A Room with a View" by E. M. Forster

How is it that I am only now reading this delightful book?  I had always thought it would be kind of... fluffy.  Probably because I saw the 1985 movie back when I was in college and didn't care much for it.  Actually, I only really remember being shocked by three naked men running around a pond, and I kind of confused the plot with Tea with Mussolini (1999) because they both have Maggie Smith in them, they're both about Britishers abroad, and I saw them both while on Easter break at a friend's house.

But anyway, I absolutely loved this book!  I want my own copy.  I want to reread it again soon.  Really, really loved it.  It made me laugh and laugh, with a very similar humor to much of Jane Austen, the soft digs at ridiculousness and foibles and folly.  I'm going to list a whole bunch of Particularly Good Bits because so many things delighted me.

But that's not the real reason I loved this book.  I loved it because Lucy's muddle resonated very strongly with me.  The summer after my freshman year in college, I too "felt irritable and petulant, and anxious to do what [I] was not expected to do."  (Sorry, I forgot to jot down page numbers.  Bad me!)  I embarked on a folly or three of the semi-romantical persuasion, watched a lot of slightly depressing movies, and wrote a lot of poetry.  Call it growing pains or awakening or just a muddle, but there it was, with me trapped in the middle of it.  That was thirteen years ago, but I remember it very vividly, and would not want to go through it again for just about anything.

So anyway, A Room with a View concerns young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch touring bits of Italy with her spinsterly cousin, Miss Charlotte Bartlett.  In Florence, they encounter a group of fellow travelers, among them Mr. Beebe, who coincidentally was soon to become rector of their own parish back in England.  They also encounter Mr. Emerson and his son George, who is going through his own muddle and finds answers in Lucy.  They have a couple of chance encounters, during one of which, George kisses Lucy's cheek unexpectedly.  Miss Bartlett happens to see this and makes a big fuss about it, and she and Lucy run off to Rome as a result.

Back in England, Lucy becomes engaged to this perfect bore named Cecil Vyse.  But when Fate throws Mr. Emerson and George and their mildly unconventional thinking in her path again, Lucy has a crisis, and I zipped through the last few chapters in a perfect torment over how it would all turn out.  I love books that make me do that, don't you?  

This isn't a terribly profound book, nor does it attempt to be one.  It's an exploration of conventions and personal expression and chances seized or ignored.  And a sweet, engaging exploration, at that.  I hope to reread it again soon to study it a bit more thoroughly.

Particularly Good Bits: 

"You must have it," said Miss Bartlett, part of whose travelling expenses were paid by Lucy's mother -- a piece of generosity to which she made many a tactful allusion.

"I am so glad to see you," said the girl, who was in a state of spiritual starvation, and would have been glad to see the waiter if her cousin had permitted it.

Lucy was pleased, and said:  "I was hoping that he was nice; I do so always hope that people will be nice."

Then the pernicious charm of Italy worked on her, and, instead of acquiring information, she began to be happy.

It was one of Mr. Beebe's chief pleasures to provide people with happy memories.

She was like a woman of Leonardo da Vinci's, whom we love not so much for herself as for the things that she will not tell us.

In spite of the season, Mrs. Vyse managed to scrape together a dinner-party consisting entirely of the grandchildren of famous people.

"It is Fate that I am here," persisted George.  "But you can call it Italy if it makes you less unhappy."

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for a bunch of grown men skinny dipping in a pond and getting caught.