Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"April Twilights and Other Poems" by Willa Cather

I always try to read a collection of poetry in April, since it's National Poetry Month here in the US.  And how could I resist a book with April in the title?  It was too perfect to pass up when I spotted this at the library earlier this month.

According to the foreword, Cather originally published a collection of poetry called April Twilights in 1903.  She later revised and republished it.  In this volume, you get the revised versions of those poems, and also a lot of unpublished poems and some early, uncollected poems she wrote before 1903.  I actually liked more of those early poems than her later ones, as they were more playful and spontaneous.  But I did like a great many of her poems -- I marked ten poems to re-read, altogether.  They were "Shakespeare," "Bobby Shafto," "In the Garden," "Broncho Bill's Valedictory," "The Namesake," "Sonnet," "L'Envoi," "The Swedish Mother," "A Silver Cup," an "Remembering is Like a Crimson Rose."

Of those, I think "In the Garden" was my favorite.  Certainly it was the most timely, as I read it only a day or two after Easter, and it concerns Mary Magdalene going to the tomb with spices to embalm Jesus' body, only to meet him alive there.  Here's the middle verse, because it's so lovely:

She found Him in the garden, 
   Before the morning broke.
From out the night above the grave 
   He came -- ah, God! -- and spoke.
Walked as of old His garden, 
   Where sobbing night winds yearned,
Where trembling lilies waited 
   And pale narcissus burned.

The imagery there really struck me, the way she's naming flowers and talking about light and wind, using them to represent the emotions of Mary and the other believers.

Cather wrote about a wide range of subjects: immigrants, cowboys, children, the elderly, romance, grief, and so many other things.  I think her finest poems were the ones where she spoke about life on the prairie and in the wilderness.  Some of the others come off as affected attempts at what poetry "ought" to be like, and I'm guessing those are some of the ones she liked less when she got older.

This volume also collected many of Cather's letters that discussed poetry and writing.  I didn't find them nearly as interesting as her poetry, but a fan of hers probably would enjoy them.  I've been trying to like Cather for a long time, and I'm happy to say she's slowly growing on me.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Nothing scandalous here.

This is my eight book read and reviewed for my second go-round at the Classics Club.

Happy Poetry Month!

Friday, April 21, 2017

I'm an INSPYs Judge!

I screwed my courage to the sticking place a few months ago and submitted an application to judge the INSPY Awards for 2017.  And they accepted me!  

If you don't know what the INSPYs are, they're "The Bloggers' Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature."  If you visit the official site here, you can see the post that welcomes me and the other 2017 judges, and learn more about the awards as a whole.

I'll be judging the Mystery/Thriller category, and I'm so excited about this whole process!  I get to read the five short-listed books in that genre and then work with two other judges to determine which one was The Best.  It's certainly going to be an adventure.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend" by Glenn Frankel

The subtitle of this book makes it sound like this will be 340 pages about how the 1956 movie The Searchers was made.  But actually, only the last few chapters are about filming the movie.  Instead, the book begins by trying to sort fact from fiction regarding the real-life abduction by Comanche warriors which inspired the book that was in turn made into the film.

On the cover, you see a picture of John Wayne from the movie on the left.  On the right is a photograph of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by the Comanche as a girl, and who lived with them for more than twenty years, married one of her captors, and bore several children with him.  She was then recaptured by white people and returned to her relatives in Texas, but she was not happy living with them and died a few years later.  One of her uncles tried to find her for many years, which is what eventually inspired a writer named Alan LeMay to write a book about an uncle relentlessly seeking his abducted niece.  And that's the book that John Ford turned into a movie.

I happen to be quite fascinated by stories of people being raised in cultures far different from their own, as well as stories of people trying to survive on the frontier, so the book as a whole kept me quite interested.  If you only want to learn stuff about the movie, then skip to part IV, called "Pappy and the Duke."  You'll learn a ton about the careers and friendship of John Ford and John Wayne, especially how those informed the making of the film.

I learned so much from this book, not just about the making of The Searchers, but about the history of Texas, the endless problems when two disparate cultures rub up against each other, and the way people tell stories to suit their own agendas.

Particularly Good Bits:

Whatever the particular plotline, the Western was grounded in the enduring foundational myth that the American frontier was an untouched, pure new world, and a place to test one's mettle and faith.  The land was a metaphor for the mission:  taming the savage wilderness, after all, meant taming one's own soul (p. 186).

Frank Nugent said he learned a lot from John Ford.  "Character is not shown so much by what is said as by what is done," Nugent wrote when he first started working with Ford.  "Characters must make decisions" (p. 255).

The writer's primary job, he adds, is simple:  "To look long and hard at his story and see whether it can be reduced to terms of the upsetting of the status quo" (p. 256).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for many, many discussions of violence and rape, and some language.

This is my second book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"Wizards, Hobbits, and Harry Potter" edited by Mark Whitlock

This book was not exactly what I was expecting.  I thought it was going to be all about the bad and evil things contained in fantasy fiction, and why we should stay away from them.  The subtitle of "What Your Family Needs to Know" certainly made it sound that way.  But actually, it was a thoughtful discussion of what the Bible says about magic, the power of storytelling, and also how to read fiction in a discerning manner.  My copy also includes a CD of an audio discussion of these same topics, but I haven't listened to it yet.  

This book also discusses the first four Harry Potter books, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Narnia series.  It gives a summary of each book, questions to think about or discuss as a family, and Bible verses that relate to various issues faced by characters in each book.  

I thought I was going to read through this quickly, then put it in the box of books I'll be selling at my yard sale.  Instead, I want to share the discussions of Narnia with my son, as he loves those books, and I know I'll be using some of the questions about LOTR next fall when I read through those books with my niece for her high school lit class.

This is my fourth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge 2017.

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Something Rich and Strange" by Ron Rash

It took me a verrrrrry long time to read this book, considering it's only 434 pages long.  That's because most of the short stories included were, well, rich and strange.  I would read one a day, maybe.

I absolutely loved that nearly all the stories took place in the mountains of western North Carolina.  Them's my stomping grounds, folks.  Many stories mentioned towns like Boone and Blowing Rock that I have spent many happy hours in (including my honeymoon).  Some involved actual places like Mast's General Store that I have also been to.  And one took place in a fictionalized version of Tweetsie Railroad, this wonderful wild-west-themed amusement park that I went to many times as a kid, and now go to with my kids and my parents whenever we visit down there in the summer.

I did not love all the stories, though.  I wasn't meant to.  Most of them involve harsh things like drug use, poverty, and death.  He seems to be saying that life on the edge of existence is not very pretty.  But neither is it always ugly.  

Rash's writing is vivid and thought-provoking.  I was continually amazed at how much character development he could pack into just a few pages.  I read this collection as much to study his writing as to enjoy the stories he told.

My favorite stories are all ones with happy endings:

"Lincolnites," in which a young mother whose husband is away at the Civil War encounters an enemy and triumphs over him.

"Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes," in which some old coots obsessed with catching an enormous fish actually do, but can't prove it.  That one reminded me of "The Old Man and the Sea," but humorous.

"The Dowry," in which a pastor takes his role as servant and protector of his flock very seriously, and makes a great sacrifice for two of his church members.

"Twenty-six Days," in which two parents work two jobs each to save up money so their daughter, who is away on a tour of duty to Afghanistan, can go to college when she gets home.

"The Harvest," in which people secretly harvesting cabbage's from a widow's field turn out to not be stealing them, but harvesting them for the widow without her having to tell them thank-you.

Particularly Good Bits:

Easier for the victors than the vanquished to forgive, Pastor Boone knew (p. 230, from "The Dowry").

The young could believe bad times would be balanced out by good.  They could believe the past was something you could box up and forget (p. 328, from "Last Rite").

Fog could stay in our valley for days.  It was like the mountains circling us poured the fog in and set a kettle lid on top (p. 383, from "The Harvest").

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  either a hard PG-13 or a soft R.  There's a lot of drug use, mostly meth, always portrayed in a very negative way.  There are some sexual situations, none detailed.  There's some bad language.  There's some violence.  Individual stories would probably mostly be PG-13, but a few instances might bump that up to R.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tag -- I'm It!

The two books I'm reading right now are loooooooooooooooooong. Long in pages, and long in time it takes to read them.  Which means I've been neglecting this blog dreadfully. I was just thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice if I had a bookish tag sitting in my drafts I could finish off?" And I didn't, which made me frowny. But then I was playing catch-up on reading the blogs I follow, and look what I found on Flowers of Quiet Happiness! Kara was so kind as to tag everyone in the blogosphere, which includes me, so... here we go!

RULES: You must be honest. You must answer all the questions. You must tag at least 4 people.

1. What book has been on your shelf the longest?  If I'm not counting children's picture books, junior fiction, or middle grade fiction, then it would be my copy of Robin Hood by Henry Gilbert.  I bought it at a rummage sale when I was 7 or 8, too young to quite read it, but so fascinated with Robin Hood that I tried anyway.

The binding was already messed up when I got it, and my fervent loving didn't help it any.  There's actually no copyright or printing date inside!  Just says "Books, INC. Publishers, New York."

2. What is your current read, your last read, and the book you’ll read next?  I'm currently reading Something Rich and Strange by Ron Rash (a collection of short stories) and The Searchers:  The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel.  The last book I finished reading was The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson.  And if I ever finish the books I'm reading right now, I'll start Hood by Stephen Lawhead.

3. What book did everyone like, but you hated?  Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  I don't so much hate it as have a great distaste for all but one of the main characters.  And I know a lot of people who love it.  I refused to see the movie for years, but finally got persuaded to watch it, and whaddaya know?  I loved the movie!

4. What book do you keep telling yourself you'll read, but you probably won't?  Oh, probably something by Charles Dickens.  I tell myself I will read all his books, but there will probably be one or two that I just die without ever getting around to.

5. What book are you saving for retirement?  Possibly Don Quixote or Moby-Dick.  Or War and Peace.  I've been meaning to read those for years and years, but haven't gotten to them yet.  I certainly hope I'll read them before I'm retirement age, but at this rate....

6. Last page: read it first, or wait 'til the end?  Wait for the end!  On the very rarest of rare occasions, I will skip to the end -- I can remember doing this once in the last forever.  I did flip to the back of And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field to be sure that it would end basically the way the movie did, because if it didn't, I would be angry.

7. Acknowledgement: waste of paper and ink, or interesting aside?  Um, yeah, I tend to skim or skip.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?  Dr. Watson!  I would LOVE to be Sherlock Holmes' trusty sidekick, chronicler, and friend.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life? (Place, time, person?)  So many!  I attach memories to objects, so most of the books I own hold some kind of memory for me.  To pick one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King reminds me of several specific VeggieTales songs (and the songs remind me of it) because, when my son was very young, I would let him watch five Silly Songs a day on YouTube, and he picked the same ones over and over.  I would sit by the computer with him on my lap and read while he watched.  "Monkey" and "The Biscuit of Zazzamarandabo" are particularly linked to that book in my head.

10. Name a book that you acquired in an interesting way.  Hmm.  Um.   Hmm.  I think I've acquired all my books in pretty normal ways -- by buying them or getting them as gifts.  I've never stolen a book, or had one sent to me by a secret admirer, or found one on a train.  Oh!  I know!  When we were little kids, we used to get books from our church's library, and when my little brother was like two, he scribbled all over inside one of the books.  And got in biiiiiiiiiiiiig trouble, believe you me.  So my parents bought a replacement copy for the church library, and then we got to keep the ruined one, only they didn't want to give it to my brother because that would be like a reward for being naughty, so they gave it to me.  Which means I have a copy of this book because my brother vandalized it:

11. Have you ever given a book away for a special reason to a special person?  Yes.

12. Which book has been with you most places?  Every book I got before the age of 4 and still own has gone from Iowa to Michigan, to North Carolina, to Minnesota, to Wisconsin, to Connecticut, to Virginia.

13. Any “required reading” you hated in high school that wasn’t so bad later?  Not exactly.  I didn't have a lot of "required reading" in high school -- I was homeschooled, and my mom basically gave me this list of great books and said, "Read at least half of these over the next four years."  So I did.  But I got to pick and choose.  There were books I read that I disliked -- especially Lord of the Flies by William Golding and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- but I disliked them so much, I've never felt the urge to re-read them.

However!  There are two books that are often "required reading" for people who are in high school that I first read after I was already done with high school and really disliked.  They're The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  First time I read them, blech.  Second time, wow.  In fact, I like them so much now that I lead a read-along for Old Man a couple of years ago, and I'm leading a read-along of Gatsby in June.

14. Used or brand new?  Both!

15. Have you ever read a Dan Brown book?  No.  What a weirdly specific question.

16. Have you ever seen a movie you liked more than the book?  Inkheart, but I said that already.  Oh, I know!  North and South.  I like the book, but I love the movie way more.  This is almost entirely Brendan Coyle's fault.

17. Have you ever read a book that’s made you hungry, cookbooks included?  So many.  Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Lizzy & Jane and A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay.  Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.  And don't get me started on cookbooks :-9

18. Who is the person whose book advice you’ll always take?  My mom.  If she says I'll like a book, I pretty much always do.

19. Is there a book out of your comfort zone (e.g., outside your usual reading genre) that you ended up loving?  Okay, so... I read almost every genre.  I've even dipped a very hesitant toe into horror.  I've never read a bodice-ripper, though I did read a couple of Victoria Holt books in college that got way more swoony than I needed.  So what is my comfort zone?  I mean, mysteries are my favorites, and I love historical fiction and classics.  But I'll also read fantasy and sci-fi and chick lit.  Hmm.  And it has to be one I ended up loving.  Hmmmmm.  I guess I'll go with the Harry Potter books, because I didn't like the first one when I read it in college, but then I tried them again a few years later and, once I got past the first book, started really getting into them, and now I love the series.  Does that work?

I hereby tag:

Abby P. at Lavender Spring
Kathryn at The Language of Writing
Oliva at Meanwhile, in Rivendell...
Meredith at On Stories and Words
Miss March at Sunshiny Corner

Play if you want to!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Fandom-onium

Today's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a "fandom freebie."  I'm choosing to focus on ten literary worlds that can count me as a devoted fan.

I'm thirty-six, so I tend not to use the term "fangirl" to describe myself.  But I absolutely use the verb "fangirling" to describe my behavior at times -- I can act all fangirly even if I'm not exactly a fangirl.  Just drop a character name or quote a line, and *boom!* I'm ready to discuss, dissect, drool, or daydream.  Also bounce and make happy noises.  Pretty much this:

I belong to a multitude of fandoms, both literary and filmed, but today I'm going to limit myself to talking about my top ten book fandoms because, after all, this is my book blog.  And I have to draw the line somewhere, or we'd be here all summer.

1.  Sherlock Holmes

I'm a Sherlockian.  Or a Holmesian -- I'll answer to either :-)  I first started reading his stories in my early teens and have grown to love the canon dearly.  I also love Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels by Laurie R. King, the Granada Television show starring Jeremy Brett, and much of Sherlock.  But the canon is the best.

2.  Lord of the Rings

I came to LOTR backwards.  My college friends dragged me to the theater to see The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001, and I bought a copy of the books that same week.  I've read the trilogy six times, and am calling 2017 My Year in Middle Earth because I'm reading it again, and digging into several other books about Tolkien or Middle Earth as well.

3.  Anne of Green Gables

I've been an Anne fan since one of my mom's friends introduced us to the books when I was probably seven or eight.  We watched the movies over and over as I was growing up, but I like the books best, especially Anne of Green Gables, Anne of AvonleaAnne of Windy Poplars, and Anne's House of Dreams.  I dream of visiting PEI one day.

4.  Raymond Chandler

My absolute favorite author.  I've read all his novels and short stories numerous times, and re-read one now and then just for the pure delight of soaking in his amazing descriptive power.  People ask me what my favorite Chandler novel is, and the truth is, I don't truly have one.  My favorite tends to be whichever one I read the most recently.

5.  William Shakespeare

This one's pretty obvious, given that I've taken my blogging name from one of his plays.  I love Hamlet the most, and also Much Ado About Nothing and Taming of the Shrew, but I get a lot of joy from many of his works.

6.  Jane Austen

Ahh, the divine Jane.  I prefer being called an Austenite rather than a Janeite, but either way, I'm a fan.  She makes me laugh, she makes me think -- it's all good.  I love Persuasion the most <3

7.  Nero Wolfe

I came to Rex Stout's mystery series backwards too -- first, I started watching the A&E series starring Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin and Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, then I found some of the books at the library and tried them.  How I love those books!  They're my bookish version of comfort food.

8.  Robin Hood

I've been a fan of Robin Hood in books and on film since I was very tiny.  It started with the Disney read-along book that came with a record, which I totally still have -- my kids listen to it now.  I've had to tape the cover of the book back on like three times.  Then I progressed to the Great Illustrated Classics version, which I wore out.  Except the last chapter.  I never read the last chapter in any Robin Hood retelling that is going to involve Robin Hood d-y-i-n-g.  If I don't read it, it doesn't happen.  Just the fact that the chapter is titled "The Death of Robin Hood" or something equally dismal doesn't make it so, as long as I don't read it.  My favorite book version so far is definitely Howard Pyle's, which delights me to no end.

9.  Harry Potter

Yup, I'm a Potterhead.  (Is that still what HP fans get called?)  My favorite characters are Sirius Black, Severus Snape, and Ron Weasley.  My favorite book is Prisoner of Azkaban.  I like some of the movies too.

10.  Jack Aubrey & Stephen Maturin

I read all 20 of Patrick O'Brian's naval novels more than a decade ago, before there was a movie, and I have been itching to re-read them.  Maybe I'll dedicate the next two years to them or something.  I love hanging out with those characters!