Monthly Archives: May 2011

My Choices

Subject to change:

The goals to complete:
A Banned Book – Farenheit 415
A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war) — Farewell to Arms
A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up – TBD
A Children’s/Young Adult Classic – TBD
19th Century Classic – First Love
20th Century Classic – Doctor Zhivago
A book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic – TBD
Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes – A Separate Peace

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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in American Lit, Children's Lit, classic



Dreaming in Chinese

I feel rather privileged to get an advanced copy of Deborah Fallows’ Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Languagevia my friend Sally’s relative who works at NPR. (Talk about a dream job.) Fallows describes her various efforts to learn Mandarin interspersed with her experiences in China over the years. She includes both linguistic loves and characteristic Chinese moments. It’s a fun and quick read for a Sinophile. There weren’t any lessons in Love as in romantic love. That’s a tease in the subtitle.

Yet others might not enjoy it that much. They might not care about some of the facets of Mandarin and wish there were more stories about life in China. A reader who has studied Mandarin could find this too basic.

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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


2011 Reading Challenge

I’ll take a stab at this:

The goals to complete:
A Banned Book
A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war)
A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up: a list can be found here
A Children’s/Young Adult Classic
19th Century Classic
20th Century Classic
A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic
Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes

Feel free to use books in this Challenge toward other challenges as well (I know I will be), but please try to choose 8 different books for these goals.

Anyone else game?

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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


Anne of Green Gables

From the ethernet:

Last month’s book club choice was Anne of Green Gables, which I’d never read before. I expected it would be too corny for me, but I actually liked it. Anne is a cheerful, innocent girl, whose appeal as a character is saved by her mischief and her status as an orphan who’s had to put up with a lot of ill treatment. So I was rooting for her.

Marilla and Matthew take her in, though they wanted a boy and by accident get a girl. They have the a rural stoicism that often conflicts with Anne’s dreaminess, but comedy is the result.

Anne really did grow on me and I’d read more. It was a good choice after reading about poor Tess in September and October.

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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Children's Lit, classic



From Today’s Writers’ Almanac

Studs is a favorite of mine. His writing was so vibrant and true. He knew how to get to the heart of things. I used to listen to replays of his interviews on WFMT, but they’ve stopped them. It’s too bad. Now I’ve got to content myself with his books and the few recorded interviews I’ve got.

It is the birthday of writer and broadcaster Louis “Studs” Terkel (books by this author), born in the Bronx, New York (1912). His family moved to Chicago when Terkel was 10 years old and his parents ran rooming houses. Terkel remembers all different kinds of people moving through the rooming houses — dissidents, labor organizers, religions fanatics — and that that exposure helped build his knowledge of the outside world.

In 1934, he attended the University of Chicago and graduated with a law degree. But he soon fell into radio broadcasting, working first on radio soap operas, then hosting news and sports shows, and ultimately landing his own show, where he played music and interviewed people.
He is best known for his powerful interviews of ordinary people, which became a series of successful books, including Division Street: America (1967), Hard Times (1970), Working (1974), and Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It (1995). His last book, PS: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening, was released just after Terkel’s death in 2008. He was 96.

Terkel said: “Why are we born? We’re born eventually to die, of course. But what happens between the time we’re born and we die? We’re born to live. One is a realist if one hopes.”

And, “With optimism, you look upon the sunny side of things. People say, ‘Studs, you’re an optimist.’ I never said I was an optimist. I have hope because what’s the alternative to hope? Despair? If you have despair, you might as well put your head in the oven.”
And, “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence — providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.”

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Posted by on May 16, 2011 in American Lit, essay, history


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She Stoops to Conquer

I finished my May classic for my book club. We’re reading Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, an 18th century comedy. Well, it was pretty good, though I think dated. The plot hinges on mistaken identities and there’s some romance, but really if the couple hadn’t gotten together that would have been fine and the humor wasn’t that great. I liked it better than Misanthrope, but that’s not a ringing endorsement. If I were giving a course on British drama or even 18th century literature, this would not be required reading. Perhaps I’m change my mind after the online discussion.

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Posted by on May 14, 2011 in British Lit, classic


I’ll Race to the Library

Monday I’m going to get this from the library. It sounds great. A recommendation from Citizen Reader.

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Posted by on May 7, 2011 in contemporary, graphic memoir



Witches of Eastwick

Since I really enjoyed the movie version of Witches of Eastwick, I decided to read Widows of Eastwick. But I couldn’t read Widows of Eastwick without having read Witches of Eastwick first.

The book and movie are vastly dissimilar. That I found this surprising is surprising. I mean, I’ve read enough books after seeing the movie adaptations to be well acquainted with the fact that the book and the movie are often vastly dissimilar. But I was surprised.

What I also found surprising is how intriguing I found Updike’s prose. I read novels for plot. I skim the extraneous details, the superfluous descriptions. If it doesn’t move the plot forward, it doesn’t hold my attention.

And yet, Updike’s prose grabbed me in spite of myself. Yes, even the ridiculously lengthy recitation of Jane’s middle of the night cello concert kept me, if not engrossed, at least paying attention.

I enjoyed the story told by the movie better, especially the end but on a more superficial level. I found the book’s story deeper, more conflicted, more unapologetic about its main characters’ amorality.

Now, on to the Widows . . .

by Bridget

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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in American Lit, contemporary, fiction


Catcher in the Rye

From the archives

My online bookclub’s May (2008) book was The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve read it twice before and wondered before I started it this time whether I’d think it was as good. It was. Salinger really captures the world of the prep school kids and their affluent and not so affluent parents. Holden is so observant, witty, sensitive, flawed, and even phony himself. (He lies to so many people unnecessarily and KNOWS it’s unnecessary.) All these dimensions and those that he notices in others make this a book I recommend to anyone.

It’s so funny and real. The characters’ dialog and behavior are absolutely on target. Salinger really gets us inside Holden’s head and keeps us there through the whole book. It presents this real problem of how is Holden supposed to survive in these social environments that he finds so offensive. Readers can completely see his predictament and are engaged in wanting him to find a solution, for someone to find one, yet one knows that’s unlikely. The other people in his life just don’t worry so much about living in a world where gas mileage is a big topic.

Some might think that the kids are too smart. Phoebe can correct Holden on his misquote of “Catcher in the Rye” but I just met a woman who works at a private school here and all the kids in kindergarden can identify the painter of works like “American Gothic.” Salinger captures this society precisely.

Sadly, I thought if Holden were around today, and we do have Holdens out there, he’d be put on medication early on. We want to solve our problems by medicating the people who notice that we should care about things other than then mundane.

I kept wondering if this could be made into a movie. I think it shouldn’t because all the interior comments as voice overs would just be annoying. Giving him a sidekick is out because the problem is with Holden is that he doesn’t have a peer who shares his point of view. I think as long as Salinger’s alive there won’t be a movie, but I do wonder if there’s some family member out there who’d want the money after he’s gone. Seems Salinger, whom I imagine is in a cabin where there isn’t so much contact with the banal must be an awful lot like Holden. (I know one shouldn’t expect it to be mainly autobiographical). I also wonder if this 89 year old recluse doesn’t have a cabin full of manuscripts that we’ll one day see – an American “In Search of Lost Time” perhaps.

Below I’ve added a link on the attempts to film this. Salinger did discuss it and wanted to play Holden himself. Billy Wilder tried to get the rights as did Spielberg. Imagine.

The jacket of my copy said that it took Salinger 10 years to write this. So he clearly rewrote and rewrote till he got something that seems like pure teen dialog, like a real kid telling us what happened before he went to the hospital or institution he’s in. It’s interesting how some information like where he is and what exactly led him there shortly before he arrived. Because when he’s at the carousel with Phoebe he seems to be getting better able to cope. He thinks it’s okay that kids “fall”.

Online the group discussed how this book is so often banned. I wouldn’t ban it, but I do see that since there’s prostitution, homosexuality, inappropriate affection between a former teacher and Holden, abusive bullying that leads to suicide, underaged drinking and a mental break down that some parents and adults might have their own (midguided or just different?) take. I know that I’m not likely to imitate all literature I read. I do think this would be a good book to read to examine morality with young people.

I thought a lot about Mr. Antolini and how complex that character was. On the one hand, as Holden noticed he was the one guy to run to help the boy who committed suicide after some boys molested him and he offered Holden wisdom that seemed the sort of advice that really could help Holden, if anything could. Yet Salinger did add in the scene when Antolini starts patting the sleeping Holden on his head. I think Holden’s instincts to get out of there were right. It’s what we’d tell kids to do today. So this adult who Holden was wise to go to for help turns out to be someone Holden should listen to, but also, just to be safe, keep his distance from. Then afterwards Holden still sees the good in his old teacher and evidently forgives him. Few writers would have one character be both these things.

I did see that Catcher in the Rye has not gotten dated. It teaches writers so much about characterization. It reminded me a bit of Ordinary People in that the parents weren’t “bad” nor was the son. Life just puts some people at odds with others, even those who try to help them.

It rains a lot in this book and one thing I was wondering about was why Holden even gets “rained on” by the radiator in the hotel bar before he goes home and sees Phoebe. It must have some significance because when he’s on his way home he comments on his hair getting icy.

A Link: one person’s assessment of the Bible’s influence on Salinger

On film adaptation attempts: Attempted_film_adaptations

Is Catcher in the Rye Really Unfilmable?

The Burns poem:

Coming Through the Rye
by Robert Burns
Coming thro’ the rye, poor body,
Coming thro’ the rye,
She draiglet a’ her petticoatie
Coming thro’ the rye.

O, Jenny’s a’ wat, poor body;
Jenny’s seldom dry;
She draiglet a’ her petticoatie
Coming thro’ the rye.

Gin a body meet a body
Coming thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body –
Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Coming thro’ the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body –
Need the warld ken?

It’s like a foreign language to me.

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in American Lit


New Essays on Catcher in the Rye

I just can’t stop thinking about Catcher in the Rye so I picked up New Essays on Catcher in the Rye at the library. It’s an intelligent collection of essays (not too pedantic or snobbish) that helped me get even more out of this classic.

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in American Lit, essay