A Year of Themes: Stuff Read in 2006

  1. January: Canadiana

  2. Green Water, Green Sky by Mavis Gallant
  3. Opening Line: "They went off for the day and left him, in the slyest, sneakiest way you could imagine."Synopsis:Detailing Flor's descent into madness through the perspectives of others.Source: university magazine
  4. Rating: 3/5
  5. Guyana Betrayal by Norma DeHaarte
  6. Opening Line: (Prologue)"When Phyllis Barnes finally decided to get out of bed, it was five-thirty in the morning."Synopsis:A family becomes closer with major civil strife as the backdrop.Source: amazon.com based on stuff I've rated
  7. Rating: 1/5
  8. The Book of Secrets by M G Vassanji
  9. Opening Line: (Prologue)"They called it the book of our secrets, kitabu cha siri zetu."Synopsis: Following a British officer's diary and those connected to it. Source: university magazine
  10. Rating: 2/5
  11. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
  12. Opening Line:"Out of the gravel there are peonies growing."Synopsis: The story of celebrated murderess Grace Marks.Source: I like Margaret Atwood's writing
  13. Rating:4/5
  14. Not in theme:
  15. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  16. Opening Line: "First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys."Synopsis: Two young boys and their father battle against the mysterious October carnival. Source: I liked Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
  17. Rating: 2/5
  18. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling
  19. Opening Line: Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive."Synopsis: Harry Potter's second adventure, in which he once again solves a mystery, battles Voldemort, and wins the house cup.Source: Little sister
  20. Rating: 2/5
  21. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  22. Opening Line: "Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die."Synopsis:A guy and his "friend" start a phenomenon called Fight Club, where guys beat the hell out of each other. Somehow this progresses to anarchy.Source: my to-read list
  23. Rating: 4/5
  24. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  25. Opening Line: "When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her."Synopsis: A birthday party for Mr. Hosokawa, complete with famed opera singer, becomes a hostage situation for months on end.Source:TPL monthly magazine
  26. Rating: 4/5
  27. February: Reality Literature

  28. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
  29. Opening Line: "She picked up four packs of sleeping pills from her bedside table."Synopsis:Veronika's failed suicide attempt and its consequences, set in Slovenia.Source:Judy
  30. Rating: 3/5
  31. Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber
  32. Opening Line: "The crash of glass made her head throb." Synopsis:The true story of a woman having 16 different personalities.Source:First year Psychology course
  33. Rating: 2/5
  34. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
  35. Opening Line: "I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin." Synopsis:The 'true' memoirs of a deeply addicted man, who overcomes those addictions with million-to-one odds.Source: Judy
  36. Rating: 0/5 , never again to enter my home
  37. Not in Theme:
  38. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
  39. Opening Line: "Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways."Synopsis: The third in the Harry Potter series, in which Harry meets his godfather, learns some serious magic, gets into trouble and almost expelled, wins the House and Quidditch cups, and basically saves the day.Source: little sister
  40. Rating:2/5
  41. Confessions of and Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
  42. Opening Line: Prologue: "Hobbling home under a mackerel sky, I came upon a group of children."Synopsis: The "true" story of Cinderella. Source: my to-read list
  43. Rating: 2/5
  44. House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
  45. Opening Line: "While entusiasts and detractors will continue to empty entire dictionaries attempting to describe or derride it, "authenticity" still remains the word most likely to stir a debate. Synopsis: A story about a documentary of a house, nested inside the story about Zampano, the writer, and Johnny Truant, nested inside another editorial perpective... Complete with 500 some footnotes. Source:my to-read list
  46. Rating:3/5
  47. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  48. Opening Line: "Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York." Synopsis: The events of Francie Nolan's childhood in pre-WW1 Brooklyn. Source: my to read list
  49. Rating: 5/5
  50. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
  51. Opening Line: "The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it the Riddle House, even though it had been many years since the Riddle family lived there." Synopsis: An interesting addition to the Harry Potter series, which (ignoring the popularity of the series) could easily serve as the final installation. Harry Potter battles his usual demons and saves the day, but what about the Quidditch Cup and the famed House Cup? Source: little sister
  52. Rating: 3/5
  53. March: Plays

  54. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
  55. Opening Line: "Master: Boatswain! Boatswain: Here, master! What cheer? Master:Good, speak to th' mariners! Fall to't yarely, or we run ourselves aground! Bestir! Bestir!." Synopsis: Prospero the magician and his daughter Miranda are stranded on an island, banished from their rightful positions in Milan as Duke (and daughter?). As luck would have it, a boatload of the people who exiled them turns up, and mischief and mayham ensues. Source: Reading list
  56. Rating: 2/5
  57. Tartuffe by Moliere (Richard Wilbur trans.) Opening Line:Madame Pernell:Come, come, Filpote; it's time I left this place.Synopsis: Orgon, a wealthy noble, is taken in by Tartuffe's pious act. Although the rest of the family knows Tartuffe is a sham, Orgon won't listen until he sees the truth for himself. As luck would have it, the king saves them all. Source: Reading list
  58. Rating: 4/5
  59. The Taming of the Shrew by William ShakespeareOpening Line:Sly:I'll pheeze you in faith. Hostess:A pair of stocks, you rogue!Synopsis: A wealthly lord amuses himself by setting up a drunk to think he's a lord. They watch a play about wealthy Italian gentlemen chasing and taming their wives. Source: Reading list
  60. Rating: 2/5
  61. Not in Theme:
  62. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
  63. Opening Line: "The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, squat houses of Privet Drive." Synopsis: Harry finds himself in a very frustrating year, hounded by a new teacher, and actually guesses wrong at a crucial moment! Source: little sister
  64. Rating: 3/5
  65. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling
  66. Opening Line: "It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slippinh through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind." Synopsis: Harry's 6th (and final to this date) adventure where he finds a girlfriend, makes his first major steps towards beating his archenemy, and some other stuff too. Source: little sister
  67. Rating: 3/5
  68. My Friend Leonard by James Frey
  69. Opening Line: "On my first day in jail, a three hundred pound man named Porterhouse hits me in the back of the head with a metal tray." Synopsis: James Frey's second novel, detailing his post-rehab life. Source: Judy
  70. Rating: 3/5
  71. April: Short Stories

  72. Beyond Armageddon Edited by Walter M Miller Jr.
  73. Synopsis: A collection of short stories written by various authors, all relating the a megawar in which humanity is mostly or entirely destroyed. Source: Third year English course
  74. Not in Theme:
  75. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
  76. Opening Line: "The temperature hit ninety degrees the day she arrived." Synopsis: Tracing the lives of three women in their quest to the top of the entertainment industry. Source: word-of-mouth
  77. Rating: 3/5
  78. See Jane Run by Joy Fielding
  79. Opening Line: "One afternoon in late spring, Jane Whittaker went to the store for milk and eggs and forgot who she was." Synopsis: Jane desperately works against her so called loving husband to find out what really caused her amnesia. Source: Judy
  80. Rating: 2/5
  81. Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho
  82. Opening Line: "Once upon a time there was a prostitute called Maria." Synopsis: Maria is desperate for love, and through her adventures (from Brazil to Switzerland) learns about herself, life and others. Source: Judy
  83. Rating: 4/5
  84. May: Finish that damn Edgar Allen Poe...

  85. June: Science Fiction

  86. Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin
  87. Opening Line: "I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination." Synopsis: Genly Ai is an Envoy, acting as the first announced alien on the planet. His mission is to convince the inhabitants to join the Ekumen, a task which may take his entire life. Source: Hugo Award winner
  88. Rating: 4/5
  89. Towing Jehovah by James Morrow
  90. Opening Line: "The irreducible strangeness of the world was first made manifest to Anthony Van Horne on his fiftieth birthday, when a despondent angel named Raphael, being with luminous white wings and a halo that blinked on and off like a neon quoit, appeared and told him of the days to come." Synopsis: God died, and his bodey is floating in the ocean. Before the heavenly host dies of grief and empathy, they commission Captain Van Horne to tow the 2 mile long body to the Arctic, where the body can be preserved in a hollowed-out iceberg. Source: english course suggestion
  91. Rating: 4/5
  92. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin
  93. Opening Line: "The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mileabout the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards." Synopsis: Ged defeats his childhood shadows and becomes a powerful and wise wizard, along with the help of his friend Vetch. Source: highly acclaimed Le Guin novel
  94. Rating: 3/5
  95. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress R A Heinlein
  96. Opening Line: "I see in Lunaya Pravada that Luna City Council has passed on first reading a bill to examine, license, inspect--and tax--public food vendors operating inside municipal pressure." Synopsis: A lowly computer tech Manuel--descendant of some criminals shipped in exile to the moon--plays a key role in a revolution, with the help of his trusty friend "Mike". Source: to read list
  97. Rating: 4/5
  98. Not in Theme:
  99. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  100. Opening Line: "The boy's name was Santiago." Synopsis: Santiago follows his dreams and the advice of some very wise people across oceans to find both himself and his promised treasure. Source: acclaimed as "best" of Coelho's novels
  101. Rating: 4/5
  102. Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe
  103. Opening Line:(found in Hans Pfall) "By late accounts from Rotterdam, that city seems to be in a high state of philosophical excitement." Synopsis: All of the works ever penned by the infamous Poe, including book reviews, numerous short stories like Pit and Pendulum and Tell-Tale Heart, and of course his poetry. Source: my to-read list
  104. Rating: 2/5
  105. July: Classico

  106. The Iliad by "homer"
  107. Opening Line: "Sing, goddess, the wrath of Alchilles, Peleus' son, the ruinous wrath that brought on the Achians woes innumerable, and hurled into Hades many strong souls of heroes, and gave their bodies to be a prey to dogs and all winged fowls; and so the counsel of Zeus wrought out its accomplishment from the day when first strife parted Agamemnon king of men and noble Achilles." Synopsis: The story of the Trojan War, sort of. Source: James Joyce thinks everyone should read and appreciate this.
  108. Rating: 2/5
  109. Not in Theme:
  110. How to Write a Winning CV by Alan Jones
  111. Opening Line: "Job hunting is a serious business, but if it were a game it might be described as follows:..." Synopsis: A guide to writing a professional CV and cover letter, and also tips on where to find that job. Source: library suggestion
  112. Rating: 1/5
  113. August: Bildungsroman

  114. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  115. Opening Line: "On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore, or Blackmoor." Synopsis: The story of Tess, a pretty country girl with the misfortune of an ambitious family. Source: my to-read list
  116. Rating: 4/5
  117. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
  118. Opening Line: "I live with my father, Ray Nichel, in that low brick bungalow out on highway number twelve." Synopsis: Nomi's development as a person after her mother and sister leave their family and Menonnite community. Source: I liked the cover art (/fickle)
  119. Rating: 4/5
  120. The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  121. Opening Line: "For the first fifteen years of our lives Danny and I lived within five blocks of each other and neither knew of the other's existence." Synopsis: The end of Reuven's childhood, where he meets a lifelong friend in the disguise of an enemy and learns more than he imagined, with WW2 as a backdrop. Source: suggested to me?
  122. Rating: 4/5
  123. Not in Theme:
  124. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  125. Opening Line:"The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest." Synopsis Marlow journeys into the depths of unknown Africa to find ivory... or something. En route his mission becomes the resuce of renown and highly esteemed Kurtz.Source:my to read list.Rating 2/5
  126. September: Finishing David Copperfield, and some random stuff if it will fit

  127. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  128. Opening Line:"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody ele, these pages must show." Synopsis David Copperfield's autobiography, detailing the innocent struggles of a naive and trusting man in a hard world. Source:my to read list.Rating 4/5
  129. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  130. Opening Line:"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since." Synopsis Nick moves to Long Island, where he becomes acquainted with his high-society neighbour Gatsby. Gatsby has ulterior motive for all his actions, and the story unfolds almost like an account of a movie... or train wreck. Source:my to read list.Rating 3/5
  131. October:Random Bedside Books

  132. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally (also called Schindler's Ark)
  133. Opening Line:"In Poland's deepest autumn, a tall young man in an expensive overcoat, double-breasted dinner jacket beneath it and--in the lapel of the dinner jacket--a large ornamental gold-on-black-enamel Hakenkreuz (swastika) emerged from a fashionable apartment building in Straszewskiego Street, on the edge of the ancient center of Cracow, and saw his chauffeur waiting with fuming breath by the open door of an enormous and, even in this blackened world, lustrous Adler limousine." Synopsis The based on a true story novel about a German factory owner who played the system and saved thousands of Jewish people in the second world warSource:my to read list.Rating 4/5
  134. Dawn by Elie Wiesel
  135. Opening Line:"Somewhere a child began to cry." Synopsis A continuation of Mr. Wiesel's life story. After the war, he ends up in Palestine as a terrorist, and this story deals with one particularly long night.Rating 5/5
  136. Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
  137. Opening Line:"Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend--the weekend of the Yale game." Synopsis An intricate and thought provoking study of Franny's nervous breakdown, and the family that supports her. Rating 5/5
  138. Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  139. Opening Line:"On the morning the last Lisbon girl took her turn at suicide--it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese--the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope." Synopsis The "year of suicides" of the beautiful and indistingishable Lisbon girls, as told through the observations and recollections of a group of teenage boys (now middle age men). Rating 3/5
  140. November:A Month of Writing Papers and Midterms

  141. Howard's End by EM Forster
  142. Opening Line:"One may as well begin with Helen's letters to her sister." Synopsis Helen and Margaret, two sister of upper class London, are surprised and sometimes frustrated as their lives constantly intertwine with the strict and upright Wilcoxes. Rating 2/5
  143. December: Finally Some Vacation Time and a Few American Novelists

  144. Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes
  145. Opening Line:"Even Grade walked past the spot on the bridge were Canaan caught the bottle with his head and saw the blood mark was still there, but just barely." Synopsis Set deep in Mississippi when civil strife seemed most poignant, Valuable and her best friend Jackson have an unbreakable bond. In other, more "colourful" circles, Even Grade and his best friend Canaan finally find the women for them. As the action increases pace in both worlds, they remain seperate until the very end. Rating 2/5
  146. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  147. Opening Line:"I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there more than fifteen years before." Synopsis The story of Phineas and Gene, best of friends and worst of enemies, and their struggle to come to terms with the war and the end of boyhood. Source:Oprah's book club, also a $1 sale findRating 4/5

Finished Something Wicked on Jan 2

I think the story is interesting because it's a coming of age for both the boys and the father. All learn about themselves when the mysterious carnival comes. The story also investigates the duality of human nature through the dark versus light and especially youth versus age.The carnival and those who came with it represent the dark side of human nature, but I think they specifically represent the dark side of the protagonists. One of the most interesting characters is Mr Dark, tattooed with everyone he has tricked. Is he really an evil, ancient person or really a representation of Mr Halloway's dark secrets and desires? The circumstances and settings make me wonder, after it all, was this a dream?
Good Compantion Reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Finished Green Water, Green Sky on Jan 3.

I think this book is most interesting because it plays out through the perspectives of people who aren't really even that close to Flor. I suppose this is done on purpose, so we don't realize right away that her strange behaviours are symptoms of mental illness. But if you think about it, no one is really close to Flor, so everyone has the same casual-acquaintance perspective.
But then again it also makes you wonder how much of the strangeness is really just a headstrong teenage girl? At what point do the quirks become symptoms? What actually drove her to madness? There are some key factors:
i) gypsy-style childhood with no real home
ii) overbearing mother, more of a cling-on than anything
iii) semi-annual meetings with relatives reminding her of what she doesn't have (father, home, connectedness with family)
The story is also funny because it seems like one long proverb: The grass is always greener in someone else's yard.
Companion Reading: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
actually.... anything by Virginia, because the prose seems very similar (though the theme matches best with Mrs Dalloway)

Finished Harry Potter # 2 on Jan 6.

It's strange to me that although both of the Harry Potter I've read books seem very formulaic, they are still interesting. In every book there's a mystery, Harry comes up against Voldemort, he almost gets expelled, and his house wins the yearly competition. They all mention his horrible summer at the start, and end with him returning to the real world. But each seperate instance is so unique, and the story is so simple yet intricate that it's amazing. Frankly, I'm still not a huge fan after reading the first two, but I can appreciate that it takes an inventive mind.
Good Companion Reading: The rest of the series, because they're difficult to put down! Also J R R Tolkein's works, which seem like a more adult version.

Finished Fight Club on January 10.

Sort of a rush-job of reading, because I picked up too many library books at once and can't renew some of them.

Anyway, I find this book fascinating. First of all, after you know the big surprise ending, and you go back and reread (or watch the movie, but in this case the book is far better) you see that the author never once mislead you, but that it was you misreading. It's crazy how certain diction can mean two entirely opposite things. An example? "I know this because Tyler knows this."
Then there's the introduction, written by the author. I think it's the best intro I've ever read, and it shows how his idea of the fight club becomes a massive thing both in the story and the real world. You'd like to think that it's just a story, that it could never really happen, but through the introduction you realize that the real-world following mimics the story to such an extent it's scary.
I like how Tyler rejects the material world in his search for the father/God (which isn't such an epiphany, considering many religions call God the father). Damn that IKEA! Damn that crappy job you have to do because you're scared of instability! He raises some interesting points about how we equate our worth with our possessions. I wonder how well this translates to other cultures, these seem like entirely Western viewpoints being rejected. Are buddhists thinking to themselves "Duh."?
And another thing. The author often uses the pronoun "you", which I've heard is one of the most difficult pronouns to use in writing. It's impossible to make a good story detailing "your" exploits. But in Fight Club it works. Not only does it flow off the tongue like in everyday speech ("you know?") but it also forces us to take on the role of the crazy anarchist leader/soap maker.
I love it.

Good Companion Reading: Chuck Palahniuk suggests in the introduction that Fight Club is a slightly modernized Great Gatsby (though I'll take his word for it for now)
Good Companion Movie: The Anarchist Cookbook for the way things deteriorate around the climax

Finished Guyana Betrayal on Jan 16.

This book had promise, but I feel like the writer was too green and trying to accomplish too much with one piece. It lacked the cohesiveness that I find most good books have. For one thing, we start off with Phyllis and her family, then switch to her girlhood (which focuses mostly on her friend) then switch back to adulthood. Why did we learn so much about Pat, who really is unimportant to the rest of the story? I'm also confused by what happened in Guyana; were the people happy or sad at the end? What was the big deal about voting? Why all the violence, when the book clearly stated everyone was done with violence? Why do we follow Hoffman at the beginning, but then he becomes a backdrop too? The diction also makes the book very difficult to read.
I feel like two different people tried to write a story together.
There were some good scenes, like when Hoffman gives one of his first speeches. Very powerful. Or when the girls are joking around with each other. But overall a very poor piece.
Good Companion: "The Warriors" for that scence where Sirus yells "Can you count, suckers?!"

Finished Book of Secrets on Jan 23

The book won the Giller Prize back in 1996 or 1997. I think one of the most interesting parts is the mixing of cultures; the British colonialists, the native Africans, and the Indians. I find the story so real that it's more of a memoir than fiction. The novel is strongly based on storytelling, and how the past is viewed and remembered through various viewpoints. I'm really unsure where it was set, since Uganda and British East Africa don't appear anywhere on my maps... so the story takes on a surreal quality. I think this is fitting, because the mysticism of those cultures combined with the unknown of the African continent (at least at that point in time) match the main theme. I feel like I've been having a conversation with an historian while sitting around a campfire in the middle of the wilderness.

Finished Alias Grace on January 27

Right when I started reading the story, I wondered if Mary was a second personality. Especially when the blank periods of her life started becoming more frequent, it became a more likely possibility. The validation in the climax was nice, but I would have liked to have Miss Mary make an appearance in the "happy ending". I was actually wondering if it was Grace who married Jamie, or if it was really Mary. Grace never seemed able to control her fits and fainting, and yet the Grace who leaves the prison did on a few occasions. The idea of split personalities lends the same sort of intrigue to her story that "celebrated murderess" lent back then.
Another interesting aspect of the story was Grace being interviewed by Dr. Jordan, who seemed crazier than she ever was. A dash of irony, mixed with juxtaposition. It sort of makes us laugh at the whole idea of sane and insane in that period, doesn't it?
I would certainly like to read this book many times over, because it seems like a richer and more well-planned story than many of the other Atwood pieces I've read. I think a re-reading will give more depth to understanding what she was trying to tell us.

Good Companion Reading: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, for reasons discussed in the spoiler.

Finished Bel Canto on January 30th (just in time!)

I ended up requesting a bunch of books from the public library system because, judging by the demand it would take months to get them. Apparently I guessed wrong, which is part of the reason I've read so many non-Canadian books this month. How can you let so many good pieces of fiction pass you by?

Now about the book. Very good. I never would have thought that the refined quality of opera would combine so well with terrorism. It shows us how very different the two ends of society's spectrum are. At one end we have the terrorists, children straight out of the jungle that hardly speak Spanish. On the other end we have the elite; famous opera sopranos, chairmen and women of major corporations, and other well-to-do richies. After spending so much time together, the two ends start to blend and show us how close together they really were. Perhaps the spectrum is more of a circle that we realize.
One thing I don't understand: I've heard that people either love opera or hate opera, so how did we just happen to haev 58 people who absolutely love opera? And how can love be present in so many versions in that situation?
I really liked the pathetic fallacy. It's a mode of expressing feeling that doesn't appear as much as it should.

Good Companion: who knows? I'm no opera buff. Maybe a real-life story about hostages, because I think this one downplayed the situation quite a bit.

A quote:"Who knew that being kidnapped was so much like attending university?" 249

Finished Harry Potter 3 on Feb 1

I think this is a much better book than the first two. It seems like the author has really gotten into her groove, and if I were her I would turn out a bunch of these stories quickly, because she's certainly at the top of her game.
The sad part is although the story was much better written and the characters had depth and developed relationships, the plotline was weakened so I knew what was going on from the start. The beauty and the drawbacks of her writing are the little plot hints she drops, making Harry Potter that much more appealling to children, and less appealling to adults. Or maybe, after three, I'm just a much better guesser.
I was anti-Potter for a long time, but my sister finally got me to cave in. Also, the Harry Potter series is on a list I'm working through. I can't say they've really grown on me, but I certainly want my future children to have them.

Good Companion Reading: Is there a movie for this one? If so, then the movie would be good for comparison purposes. If not, then... CS Lewis, which I would consider a forefather to this type of writing.

Finished Confessions on Feb 4

I think that Gregory Maguire writes amusing and easy-to-read stories in general. There doesn't seem to be a real depth to the stories, but they are perfect to read in situations where your reading is often distracted. He twists the most well-known fairy tales just enough to make them interesting and new. I also think his works are well suited to young people, or adults, who have lapsed in reading. They're easy to access and enjoy.
In this particular example of his work, he uses Holland and its rich history of painters as a background of the fairy tale. A cute little twist at the end, but I don't find myself admiring his wit. It's almost like hearing a pun, when what you really wanted was a clever riddle. I think the biggest problem with his writing is that he is writing himself out of work, there being a limit on the number of fairytales commonly known.

Good Companion: Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, so that one could compare the original with the modern.

Finished House of Leaves on Feb 9

(It's due today so it was a rush job, to be sure)

I'm not too sure how I feel about this book. To start with, I gave it a 3/5 because I find this book really in a class of its own. It's unique, with nothing else that properly compares, so who am I to say it's a good or bad example of that style of writing?
One thing that drove me nuts were the numerous and pointless footnotes (reviewing my entry, I notice a common trend...). I feel like the book is making fun of the academic practice of referencing and cross-referencing. Other points about the story continue this ridicule; his mother sounds like a well-read though insane genius, Johnny himself is reputed to be a smart guy, etc. As I consider this facet of the writing a little more, I realize that as an academic the book is poking fun at me, and remember that it's good to be able to laugh at yourself. It brings introspectives, epiphanies, etc.
Another interesting fact is Johnny admitting he is an outrageous and compulsive liar. Does this mean he made the whole thing up? Was there a Zampano, and why did he create a nonexistant documentary about a nonexistant house? Also, is Johnny really just succumbing to his predisposition for schizophrenia, which is reputed to be hereditary?
This book is far too complicated to analyze in one little paragraph, but I do feel it is worthwhile to read and reread a few times. I think it would be interesting to seperate out the parts and read each one in entirety, but just that part.

Good Companions: House on Haunted Hill (William Malone, 1999) and The Haunting (Jan de Bont, 1999) for the actual qualities of the house, "Naked Lunch" by William S Burroughs for the style of Johnny Truant's narration (and also the whole book in general), anything by Virginia Woolf for the crazy mom, who influenced her crazy son, and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett for the post-modern style, and let's not forget Salvador Dali, Irvine Peacock, MC Escher.

Finished Veronika on Feb 11

I tried to highlight the title in my list, so that the "new" stuff would be recognized as such, but it messed up the count. So I'll take that off...

I liked the story, but I felt like something was missing. For one thing, the religious stuff was sort of boring, like the author was reaching for an epiphany but never quite getting there. Or the way dreams feel, that you've come to a realization but can't recall what it was. I find this book has that sense of almost-but-not-quite.

I really liked the discussion about sanity and insanity, one of the main ideas in the book. It was well developed both by action and dialogue. I think it might help people who feel marginalized or stigmatized become less so. I really think this would be an excellent high school english novel. It's short, but filled with depth and meaning. The characters have dimension and can be related to. It's a good piece, and I'm interested to read more by this author.

Good Companion: Girl, Interrupted (haven't read the book yet, but the movie has good relation to the themes presented here)

I chose a rating of 3 because although I see the value in the book, I can't directly relate to it at this time. I think the best pieces can be read and reread at different periods in life while remaining valuable and new.

Finished A tree Grows in Brooklyn on Feb 17.

The story was so well written and inspiring that at times I had to go call my mother, or hug my boyfriend. The characterization is very good, the plotline is interesting, and the subject matter remains relevant despite being close to 70 years old. This is a definite 5/5, a really great American novel lacking the respect it deserves.

Good Companions: Angela's Ashes by Frank McCormick

Finished Sybil on Feb 21.

This book was fascinating in its subject matter, but I don't think it was especially well written. While I'm sure it is difficult to properly explain a story from so many perspectives, the actual writing seemed fragmented, and often lost its sense of purpose. The composition focused too much on less important aspects, which I feel prevented the reader from really becoming involved in the story.
I also found the story deeply disturbing, to a point where I'm not sure I can believe the cruelty 'Sybil' experienced. How could they know her hymen was ruptured as an infant, and what responsible doctor would ignore this glaring accusation? I'd be very interested to see the film version, as I think the story lends itself more to visual explaination. And who better than Sally Fields to play the main character(s)?

Good Companion: The film version Sybil. Also perhaps Valley of the Dolls

Finished Harry Potter 4 on Feb 24.

I find this book to be the most interesting yet, because JK Rowling finally broke out of the formulaic Harry Potter mould. I was beginning to wonder about the basis of popularity for a series that I found too formulaic; what does it say about our children that they always want Harry (aka the 'good') to win all the prestige and honours, in a story that always begins shortly slightly before the conclusion of summer break, and ends with Harry's return to the vile Dursleys? Gladly, although the story followed her predictable timeline, there were enough twists to keep things interesting. Lord Voldemort's return, the withholding of the Quidditch season, and the lack of a House Cup all add a dash of originality. I feel that the characters were all better developed, displaying growth and interests that were true to their ages. The 'love interest' hinted at in this edition will likely take a more prominent role in future books.

Continuing along the series, I can't help but wonder where the author will take us once Harry has finished at Hogwort's? Considering that each book coincides with a year of school, and Hogwart's is 6 years in total, she's rapidly writing herself out of known territory. The story leads us to believe Harry has potential in a variety of careers; Quidditch player, Teacher at Hogwart's, maybe something at the Ministry? In all likelihood, Harry will enjoy each of these professions while defeating Lord Voldemort and... winning the World Quidditch cup.
But then, how would you top that?

Finished A Million Little Pieces on Feb 28.

I thought this book was terrible. The words "shock tactics" come to mind. Mr Frey seems to have thrown in just enough disgusting scenes to horrify his audience, and make them empathize.

I don't think this would be inspiring even if all of it were true. I think it's foolish to try and convince other addicts that there are other ways to survive than AA. That program has helped millions of people, people who would not haev survived on sheer will alone. Is the author telling everyone that they can do the same thing he has? His counsellors in the book know what they're talking about, and the chances of anyone else getting along with the same philosophy he uses are in my opinion more than 10^6 to 1.

This book gives a false sense of hope to people.

Good Companions: Little Orphan Annie, for Daddy Warbucks, Cinderella for the Fairy Godmother

I have decided to re-rate this book, and place it as number one on my list of books that will never again enter my home. I find the story disturbing on multiple levels, from physical disgust at the images, to anger at the false pathway he's trying to lead other recovering addicts down, and most importantly disbelief of everything written in this book.

This is an example of what Oprah and bestsellers can lead the world into (not that I have a problem with Oprah or her bookclub, no one is infallable in their judgement or tastes)

Finished Harry Potter 5 on March 6

This 700-some-page novel was practically impossible to put down. It's a good read; thrilling and funny and again we see huge development in characterization.

I was slightly amused at one point in the book not by the plotline but by the writing. Harry started having dreams about a long corridor with a locked door at the end. Symbolism, in a children's novel? Well done! He feels trapped... it was in keeping with the current events. However, this little bit of realism (where dreams are based on conscious experiencs) was actually a vision, so my praise was unfounded.

Good Companions: (really, how many do you expect me to come up with?? There are billions of books in this series!)

Finished Harry Potter 6 on March 16.

It's almost as if a different woman is writing these past few books. They're much better written, and done in a way that appeals to a wider audience than her original target.

It's also interesting that she writes as if she doesn't expect to get another book deal after the last one; although the books all connect back to each other, she is slowly expanding and adding things to the previous entries. I kept finding myself wondering why she didn't mention certain facts at previous points, and then I understood. I think that as she continues to write in future, she should try for a more cohesive collection.

I also hope that she doesn't allow the series to stretch past 10 books. I think that within one or two books she should wrap up the whole thing, otherwise I think the writing will get a little poorer, or the audience will lose interest. Perhaps, if she continues to feel the need to write about the wizard world, she could write from different perspectives, acting as supplements to the main story.

Good Companions: 3 or 4 hours without interruption, because that's all it takes to get through this one.

Finished The Tempest on March 16, too.

I was a little disappointed. The intro says this was his last play, and that it was more simplified than many of his others (without the grey areas that made characters both good and bad in plays such as Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear). I also miss the presence of characters like The Prince, jesters, and the witches. They add more interest to the plays, and give us a better perspective of the events we're witness to.

Also, nothing really interesting happened. Miranda and Ferdinand didn't get it on behind Dad's back and break their promises, Ariel was released from duty, and Prospero got his Dukedom back just by asking for it. I mean, he was a magician... why couldn't something more interesting have happened?

Good Companion: Harry Potter, because he's a wizard who really knows how to stir up some excitement!

Shakespeare's last play. Last. He could "hear time's winged chariot hurrying near" - to quote a marvellous poet born five years after he died. The backgrounding (not absence) of the princes, witches and jesters is precisely in line with the point this play. It is about profound loss, and equally profound discovery - both lightened with the Bard's real strength: not comedy, but irony. Prospero the loser is yet a powerful magician - he can call up tempests. Eventually he discovers that he can permit himself to "drown his book". And his daughter Miranda discovers a "brave new world, that has such people in it" - the people being in fact less splendid than they appear. The Bard was a Catholic forced to suppress his religious heritage. Perhaps toward the end he rediscovered it.

I thought that Henry The VIII was his last play.

If it wasn't then I have just one more issue with my Grannie. She once (and that's the best thing I can say about the experience) drove me to Stratford on Avon to see a production of Henry the VIII. On the way there she would talk to me and gesture with her hand. We were weaving across the narrow roads as if oncoming traffic would recognize her car and respectfully pull over until she passed. I'm actually surprised that they didn't.

The production was horrible. What a piece of propaganda. I desperately tried to stay awake but, undiagnosed as I was, I had no idea that the harder that I try to stay awake the sleepier I get. Fortunately the terror of the ride home was quite bracing.

Later I would try to sleep in the front room. My grandmother had thoughtfully left the door open in order to air out the room and allow the moths unimpeded access to the overhead light. I swear that there was a moth the size of a rat who kept skimming across the ceiling. He was probably the King Moth. I know that he had his own processional and recessional music.

Who's counting? It was certainly towards the end. Curtain. No encore.

Thanks for sharing about Granny, Dozey, and the Monarch of Moths - I'm sure *that* had a point :-)

I just looked it up and there was a mention of some controversy and a general concession that John Fletcher wrote a large amount of the play. It certainly seemed as though the Royal Fletcher Company was responsible for the production.

No mention of my Grannie much less the performance of Othello, the Moth of Venice.

I really love Miranda's lines (that you mentioned) but I still find the whole play anticlimatic.

I haven't seen many plays, so I wonder if it would translate better that way. Maybe I'll go to the Stratford Festival this year.

Finished My Friend Leonard on March 20.

I really liked this book. I think that James Frey is a great author, and the subject matter he chose really complemented his style. I didn't like the first book as much, and I feel that was mostly due to the scandal, and his desire to try and shock the audience.

Sometimes he wanders from being brutally "honest" to just giving too much information. I didn't find that nearly as much in this book. I can't understand how one person can have such an extended bad period in his life, and still write so cheerfully and enjoy life so fully. And really, how can you dislike a guy who loves dogs?

Good Companions: The Godfather

Finished Tartuffe on March 23.

This play was excellent. In the introduction, Wilbur discusses how he thinks Orgon is really the main character, especially since Moliere chose to act this part instead of Tartuffe. I like how the play was written to be performed for a king, and the king (apparently omniscient) saves the day and sets everything right. The characters are so one-sided it's either ironic or a parody (not having been part of the French court back then).

The edition I chose to read has side-by-side bilingual text, so you can compare the French and English. My French is fairly rusty, so I didn't get to compare much.

Good Companions: perhaps another Moliere piece, because he certainly seems a clever playwright.

Finished Shrew on March 27.

I found this play to be full of clever jokes, but the content was a little off. I was also confused as to why the play ended without returning to the first characters.

Finished Beyond Armageddon on April 10.

The collected works in this book:
Salvador by Lucius Shepard Synopsis:Follows the war through a jungle, mostly focusing on the war itself.Comments Not my favourite, didn't seem as cohesive as other stories in the collection. Rating:**
Lot by Ward Moore Synopsis: Mr Jimmon tries to rescue his family from the city, in the classic role as Lot. Comments: Well written story, very realistic. Rating: ***
Day at the Beach by Carol Emshwiller Synopsis: A family trying to lead a normal life after all the destrustion. Comments: One of my favourite stories in the collection. But why name your child Littleboy? Why not a normal name? Rating: ****
The Wheel by John Wyndham Synopsis: After the way people return to a simpler way of life, and abhorr any signs of technological progress (obviously blaming it for the past) Comments: I think this is the most true-to-life story in the collection. When people are scared, they do stupid things. Rating: **
Jody After the War by Edward Bryant Synopsis: A quick blurb about a relationship between two people after the bombs have dropped. Comments: I think this piece tries to tell how dreams die after such a war, because Paul so desperately wanted to have a family and normalize afterwards, but his partner Jody is s survivor and entirely against reproduction. Rating: ****
The Terminal Beach by J G Ballard Synopsis: A man returns to the island where nuclear weapons testing happens. Comments: A strange story, and I'm still not really sure of its purpose. Rating: *
Tomorrow's Children by Poul Anderson Synopsis: The US trying to rebuild itself must deal with racial cleansing on top of all the other hardships. Comments: I think the author only had a small understanding of the way mutations and genetics work. I also find it funny that during the post-WW2 period people still thought that the worst outcome of radiation exposure was horrible physical deformities to their subsequent offspring. Rating: **
Heirs Apparent by Robert Abernathy Synopsis: Set in Russia somewhere, explains how the human struggle has receded back to one between civilazation and nomadism. Comments: I'm not entirely sure that nomadism is a poor choice in a post-nuclear planet. I think it might actually be beneficial. Rating: ***
A Master of Babylon by Edgar Pangborn Synopsis: An aging pianist lives out his life alone in a partially submerged museum. Rating: **
Game Preserve by Rog Phillips Synopsis: In this world, the mutants created by the nuclear war have been sequestered into colonies on a reserve where they live like animals. Rating: **
By The Waters of Babylon by Stephen V Benet Synopsis: Another anti-progress civilization formed after the war. Rating: *****
There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury Synopsis: The technology had become so advanced before the war that it carries on without its masters. Rating: *****
To the Chicago Abyss by Ray Bradbury Synopsis: An old man recalls all the material objects that were available pre-war, and feels it is his duty to share these memories with the other survivors to remind them of all they once had. Rating: ***
Lucifer by Roger Zelanzy Synopsis: A man finds happiness in re-powering the city he lived in for a few short seconds. Rating *
Eastward Ho! by William Tenn Synopsis: The first nations have taken over North America, forcing the descendants of European settlers back into smaller and smaller areas. Rating: ***
The Feast of Saint Janis by Michael Swanwick Synopsis: After the war the government micromanages all aspects of life, including a surgery-engineered Janis Joplin copycat to lull the masses. Rating: **
"If I Forget Thee, O Earth" by Arthur C Clarke Synopsis: A colony is left on Mars after the total destruction of the Earth's population. Rating: *
A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison Synopsis: The world has become such a strange place that humans can only survive in well-secured colonies underground, or with the help of intelligent dogs. Rating: *****
My Life in the Jungle by Jim Aikin Synopsis: A former professor of math finds himself sudden a monkey in a jungle, who with the help of other bands of monkies proceed to destroy all the banana stands and in turn the entire jungle. Rating *****

Did you read the Clarke story? It's set on the moon, not Mars, and it's worth more than one star. You should know also that Ballard's "The Terminal Beach" is generally much more highly regarded than your rating would suggest. Okay, these are your personal first reactions - but may I suggest that you are failing to apply historical and cultural perspective to your reading - you can't fairly rate all stories as if they were written this year in the U.S.

You know, the Clarke story never actually says where the colony is located, so I assumed it was Mars. But of course now that you point that out, I see you're absolutely correct, so thanks! However I disagree that it's worth more than one star. The idea he had was poorly executed; I've read and enjoyed a few other Clarke pieces, but I feel in this instance he's focusing too much on the drive away from the colony than the really important bits. And like you said, it's a personal opinion.

Frankly I don't care how other people have rated Ballard's work. I'd rather think for myself, and reason out my own opinions. I find his writing confusing and at points nonsensical. Perhaps you're correct; I'm ignoring the historical setting, but how can I pretend to understand a mindset from more than 50 years ago? It's entirely impossible to ignore what I know about the world when I critically analyze things. But aside from that, I feel that the message of this story as I understand it is a weak one and should never have been included in the collection. However, I would be interested to discuss in further detail. Why do you think it's so worthwhile? What am I missing?

A good piece of writing is able to survive through the years because it remains applicable. The messages are still things that we need to know or are interested in. So, if I can't apply my perspective to the story and find something valuable in it, then it isn't a good story.

First let me say that I admire what you're doing with this list and the effort you are making to do it. If I didn't admire you I wouldn't bother to offer you criticisms.

Okay, it might have been a bit unreasonable of me to expect historical and cultural perspective from you if you are young and still have a way to go in your formal education. But I hope you will look to gain those perspectives and not just accept the confining outlook that limits your evaluations to your personal, individual and local experience.

Having said that, I have to admit that I have come to believe that although evaluations of art that are historically and culturally informed are better than those that are merely based on personal experience, even they are not the best evaluations. There are not two but three tests of a work of art. One is the test you are applying, which amounts to a test of popularity and is measurable by poll or by success in the market. The second is the test of educated opinion, which as I said, is better, and is also measurable by poll and by what what the educated in fact buy. And third, and best of all, is the test of time. This is the test of survival of the artwork over stretches of history and in other cultures than that of its origin (e.g., Shakespeare is both historically and transculturally successful). This test is best because it transcends individual opinion, poll and market. Sure, even works of art that are historically successful can fall out of favor, but they are usually eventually rediscovered and regain their success.

But back to specifics. The Clarke story is what's called a 'rite of passage' story. It is part of the boy's transition to manhood that his father takes him out onto the moon's surface and shows him the dreadful spectacle of the place of origin of his race rendered uninhabitable by a catastrophic nuclear war. It is deeply affecting, to me, that part of the ritual is the renewal of hope for return to the Earth after the thousands of years it will take for the radioactive contamination to decay and the home environment to become humanly inhabitable again. That sentiment makes the story special, I think. At least it is worth more than your first reading has given it, and I hope you will read it again and find more in it then.

Appreciation of the Ballard story, is perhaps hampered by the author's very idiosyncratic style. Unlike the Clarke, it is not to be taken literally - it makes no sense taken literally. It is the expression of a nightmare blend of horrors from, mainly, the Pacific [irony] theatre of WW2, the islands where so many died evicting the Japanese, some of which islands (like the Japanese home islands) were later to be used as the locations of above-ground experiments with nuclear weapons - experiments now outlawed by international treaty. This story is a brilliant (and depressing) work of art, full of psychologically penetrating imagery and wonderfully horrifying turns of phrase. It is primarily about the self-destructive impulse in human psychology, secondarily about WW2 and the Cold War, and, on the surface, about the fear, a fear that has these days unwarrantedly subsided, of WW3. Here's one of my favorite quotes from The Terminal beach:

"...the associations of the island with the period of the Cold War - what Traven had christened 'The Pre-Third' - were profoundly depressing, an Auschwitz of the soul whose mausoleums contained the mass-graves of the still undead."

The problem with historical and cultural viewpoints is that I really have no interest in studying that dry background. My life is virtually consumed with learning (which I enjoy), I really can't bring myself to read about WW2 or WW1 for pleasure. Maybe someday when I'm older, with more time. I do appreciate your advice, and I agree entirely.

I don't like the Clarke story as much as you because I have read much better coming of age stories, even in that collection, with the same message. The father is giving his son a reason to keep living: to get back to Earth. I think it's unreasonable for a person to have one purpose in life, and putting such a depressing task on a young person is cruel.

As for Ballard, he writes too "science fiction-y" for my taste. I can handle odd writers (I love Kurt Vonnegut Jr) but why the random ghosts? And bodies? Why not just throw in some aliens and be done with it? He's trying so hard to be intellectual that the message is muddled.

Finished Valley of the Dolls April 13.

The story was so captivating that I actually had a dream about it. I like how the message "money can't buy happiness" is epitomized in the book. I knew that eventually Anne would get into the dolls, but I was still upset when it happened. Anne was an excellent character that an audience can really relate to and like, despite her seemingly easy life. I also like how the male characters are treated and portrayed throughout, as weak and dependant, even needy. I'm sure when introduced this book made quite a stir in the world.

Finished See Jane Run on April 16.

A quick read thtat was difficult to put down, it really didn't have the depth that great books always have. I'm also not sure that someone would go to such lengths as the doctor did to protect his image.

Finished Eleven Minutes on April 20.

I really liked this book. The writing was so warm and honest and different from anything I've read before. I'm astounded that a man can write about the life of a woman, and seem so sincere. Maria's occasional diary entries are profound and really make me think about the real world. This book has so many good qualities that it really would be an excellent addition to any collection.

Finished Left Hand of Darkness on june 4.
(will make an entry later... too sleepy now)

I liked that this wasn't too off-the-wall; I found all the scientific portions conceivable. It was interesting that they chose to attribute to their ancestors the coincidence of so many humanoid life forms.

The only thing that really threw me off was the benevolence of the Ekumen; if it were real, that power would be abused like crazy, because that's what people do with power.

Finished Towing Jehovah on June 8.

This was a great book! First of all, the premise is interesting enough to make anyone take a second look. God is dead? Why? And why tow the body? And what about the Church?
James Morrow is an amazing author, because while this story could have turned preachy, or overly religious, the balance of two rough and gritty sea captains was perfect. He even managed to throw in a few days of hedonism without losing the big ideas in the story.

I would suggest anyone and everyone pick this up, because it's a quick and amusing read, with Morrow-style depth.

Good Companion Reading: I think he wrote a few more in this "series", so those would be appropriate. Also "This is the Way the World Ends" which maximizes on what I will call teh "odd" factor inherent in Morrow's stories.

Finished Wizard of Earthsea on June 10.

I've definitely read this before, and I realized it right away. Regardless, this is a great read even the second time through because it's engaging, and exciting, and certainly well written.

And I don't even like fantasy stuff...

Good Companions: Harry Potter

FINALLY Finished Complete Poe on June 28.

Why did it take me so long? 1000 pages of tiny writing, many boring and nonsensical stories, and an author who takes description to a whole new level of boring. Given that most of the book is short stories, I should have been able to pick the book up at long intervals and sped through one or two tales. However, out of the 73 short stories there were possibly 5 that I found well-written and interesting enough to speed through. The rest referenced too many things; greek, latin, possibly italian, as well as current events, and since I can't speak all languages of the world, and was not alive in the 1800s, these stories totally confused me.

Admittedly, there is some awesome stuff in there, but I would never buy this collection, or read most of it again. I really wish he stuck with only poetry, because it's obvious he excels there.

Yup, I'm still working on Poe. I'm switching between that and the Bible so it makes for pretty dry reading.

I sincerely wish you hadn't added the Bible, Koran and Torah to the list, because I have zero interest in reading them. "so and so begat so and so, who married so and so and begat so and so..." ugh. (obviously only speaking for the Bible, as I'm Catholic). I don't find them to be good pieces of writing. I can't speak for the other two, but the Bible was written by numerous people, then edited, and copied by hand for so many years I don't even want to think about all the mistakes and additions and falsifications... it's like the world's oldest and most treasured version of broken telephone. Some of the stories are good, but there's a lot of filler, and a lot of anti-female tendencies that I find upsetting, annoying and boring respectively.

The reason I added them is because I think it's important for people to be informed about world religions, especially ones that aren't their own. There have been so many wars and bloodshed fought over religion that I think a little understanding is in order.

But the aim of your list is to become well-read, not to gain empathy or understanding.

I think reading the religious works of world religions is part of becoming well-read.

Another thought: it's redundant to have both the bible and the book of job on the list, as the bible contains the book.

Finished The Moon is a Harsh Mistress on July 4.

What an interesting book!! I would reccomend it to anyone, especially those who don't enjoy SF because it really is entertaining. I would love to see a movie version of this. Written in 1966, the books takes place in the present century on the moon, which has become what Australia was to the past (a penal colony/dumping ground for convicts). I like how the problems of the past (ie colonialism) are taken to the "futuristic" setting and given a modern perspective. I like the references to the past that continue the duality, such as the david and goliath project. My biggest disappointment was instead of creating a whole new constitution, the author chose to use the American one. To the letter. How can such a creative guy become suddenly lost at such and important juncture? He must have been some die-hard American patriot.

Good Companion Reading: the tale of David and Goliath (I have no idea where to find this) also 2001: A Space Oddyssey (for Hal)

Finished Iliad on July 27.

(just in the nick of time!)

I hated this book. For one, I'm not overly interested in war stories or movies or whatnot. It isn't my cup of tea. For another, the language was difficult to follow. I found it funny that the real people attributed so much to the gods and goddesses... "Oh I lost that race because Aphrodite made me slip in the ox blood..." "Apollo saved me from your spear!" yada yada yada
I don't know what the title means, not being familiar with Latin I wonder if it's a different form of Ilios or something? I wish it was called "All About Achilles" or even "How the Trojan War was Won" or even "Trojans gone wild!"
I could have done without the descriptions of all the different ways that people were killed. It's a war, and people die, I get it, however I don't need to read how their eyes fell out when they were it with a rock (anatomically impossible, their being attached to optical nerves. They would just dangle)
I was disappointed, because I thought there would be more of those traditional stories you hear about, like how Achilles was dipped in the Styx, or how awesome Helen was to make so many people fight over her or something. Nope, just straight up battles and funeral games and stuff.
Despite my complete and utter dislike of this book, I'm very happy to have read it because I can now complain about how terrible I found it. Like when you vote just to have complaining rights.

Good Companion: A pot of coffee, because it's boring beyond measure. Or an entire month of leisure in which to read. Ok, how about one of those books that explains line-by-line what the authors actually meant, like this. That would have come in handy

Finished CV on July 28.

Waste of my time. Good thing it was such a short book, because I kept reading hoping for something useful. I have a friend whose job is to help students write their entry-level resumes, and she gave me more information than this book.
I found that the author tried too hard to be general and help too wide a range of job hunters, while at the same time limiting himself to the British readers. His examples were poor, and his exercises to improve were useless.

Finished Tess on August 6 (in the middle of my camping vacation!!)

I really liked this book. It was like a less tragic Bronte piece, because everything sort of turned out in the end. Things weren't perfect, but at least they weren't terrible.

I found the ending anticlimatic, but I've noticed a lot of works from the Victorian period have that type of ending. I thought that the rest of the story was so strong, a quiet ending worked.

I seriously couldn't put it down.

Good Companion Reading: Wuthering Heights, because it has many similar aspects. Also perhaps A Time to Kill, for a modern perspective.

Sorry for commenting on this so long after the event, but I've only just come across your (very fine) list.

I'm a bit puzzled by It was like a less tragic Bronte piece, because everything sort of turned out in the end. Things weren't perfect, but at least they weren't terrible. Tess kills a man, and is executed for it in the final chapter - surely it's a stretch to see that as not terrible?

Tess' life could have gone two ways. At the beginning, when she's dancing with the other girls and Angel sees her, that's the "good" way. It's a glimpse of how things would have gone if she hadn't been raped. Instead, she has a miserable life, and she's not really living but just following orders. When Angel comes back and she decides she'd rather have some of that happy life than continue miserable, she kills to have a chance at it. There was never any question that she would die at the end, because this is a tagedy and she is the "miserable" character. The reason her death isn't terrible is because a) it was expected, b) she got to live the way she should have all along, happy with Angel, and c) her sister is protected against the same miserable life. And (this is just an idea)after knowing that she could have been wonderfully happy, she's peaceful because she knows the world isn't such a bad place after all and it giver her hope for her sister.

Finished A Complicated Kindness on August 8.

I suppose this was a bildungsroman, because it was about a young girl and her struggles with the community, her father, her mother, her boyfriend, and herself. The book is a lot of Nomi thinking to herself, which is sad. She seems like one of the loneliest people, and everyone she reaches out to ignore her.
I liked how there were periodical jabs at the Menonnite religion, because it showed how she was developing. I also liked that it was based in Manitoba, because there aren't many books from that neck of the woods.
Note to Self: Find more Manitoba-based stories.

Good Companion Reading: Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret

Finished The Chosen on August 13.

My boyfriend is gone for a week, so I have nothing to do but work and read.

I liked this story; it gave me insight into the Jewish world (assuming the information was accurate). I was right in there with the plotline; wanting what Reuven wanted, feeling what Reuven felt. Very well written!

Good Companions: The Making of the Modern Jew by Milton Steinberg and The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uzziel by Samson Raphael Hirsch, as both were mentioned in the text as good Jewish histories.

Finished Heart of Darkness on August 24.

My thoughts to come... but... did they steal some of this for Apocalypse Now?

Finished David Copperfield on Sept 25.

Good grief! That book could have been about 400 pages shorter, and you still would have had all the good bits in there. Merely taking out half the descriptive euphamisms and speeches would have save innumerable pages!

I liked the story itself, but I'm not fond of Captain Prolific and his team of descriptive words.

A good quote: "trifles make the sum of life" 724

Good Companion Reading: Nothing, because you won't have a chance to sneak anything else in there. Personally, I was reading textbooks at the time, so I've been bored to tears for more than a month now!

So this is my second Dickens novel. The first, Great Expectations, is one of my all-time favourites. This one I could really do without. So far I'm a Dickens fence-sitter.

Finished Gatsby on Sept 27.

Was it a great book? Not really. Was it a terrible book? No. So this unfortunately popular book falls into the mediocre category (for me). I don't really have anything to say about it, except that it reminded me a lot of Catcher in the Rye. Is Nick poor Holden, all grown up? They both seem disconnected and lost.

Good Companion Reading: Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Finished Schindler's List on Oct 9.

The story itself is so fanstasic that it perfectly incorporates itself into a work of fiction. Men like Oskar Schindler do not live in the real world, they live only in the pages of a good novel. Or not, since this man was real, and however much the legend has been embossed and the memories of his actions softened, he really did a great thing. It sort of gives you hope, doesn't it? If such a man could exist in such a time, then perhaps anything is possible.

I really enjoyed Thomas Keneally's style of writing. He can turn a phrase to give you shivers!
"the oxygen which by rights belonged to the veins of his face had for years gone to feed the sharp blue flame of all that liquor." (19)
"he could sometimes be discovered wearing the smirk of his unexpected power like a childish jam stain in the corner of the mouth." (98)

I also think the ending was perfect. He could have left off with the end of the war, but we ended where we began, with Schindler. I think his grittiness and poverty at the end makes the story more real. The thing happening during the war were fantastic, and now the war is over things are normal again, and there is no more room for men like Oskar.

Good Companions: Anne Frank's diary, biography of Schindler

Finished Dawn on Oct 18

I liked how this novel had the feel of a short story. It was concise, it was meaningful, and it was portioned to be taken in small gulps. There were periods of action, background, and dialogue, and there were periods of reflection. The story felt very cohesive, which I like, but it still left loose ends and questions, which I like more.
Night was an outcry against the holocaust, a raw and brutal explaination. Dawn is the introspection afterwards. Despite being 18, he is still a child trying to find himself. You can hear the pain in his words, and the sense of loss is tangible. Night made me cry openly. Dawn makes me mourn inside.

Good Companions: Clearly, the two novels are a pair, and should always be together. These two are often published with a third book, The Accident, but I don't see how anything could further complete the pair.

Finished Franny and Zooey on Oct 17.

I absolutely hated Catcher in the Rye. If there's anything that I hate, it's a book that's gotten more hype than it's worth. In my opinion there are oodles more books about coming of age that are better written and more entertaining(Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz being my personal favourite).

As it turns out, JD Salinger isn't a terrible writer after all! F&Z seems like a more complete piece that Catcher. The themes are similar, the period is similar, and of course the writing style is similar, but there's a more polished quality to F&Z. Not as in a commercial sense, but as if the author really knew what he was trying to say about his themes. He took several ideas (religion, knowledge vs wisdom, etc) and combined them into an intelligent argument. I could sympathize with Franny's frustrations with the world, where Holden just left me cold.

I liked the added dimension of Zooey, who was almost like the angel to Franny's devil. I felt the background history of the family made their behaviours more understandable.

I think this is a sorely underappreciated novel, the one that should have gotten the spotlight.

Finished Howard's End sometime in Nov.

It was really hard to read, and I didn't enjoy most of the book. The main theme seems to be one needs money to survive in the world. I often found the story difficult to relate because it doesn't transcend the classes for the most part. The characters are upper class and so are their thoughts and concerns, and they rarely take a step beyond that to consider the rest of the world. However, I thought the ending was perfect and it speaks of a more transcending theme of familial love and sisterhood. Perhaps even maternal instinct, because Margaret is mothering both her sister and husband, as well as the new child and the house.

It seems hardly anyone knows about this book. Amazon only had a few entries, and most of them were Coles Notes type books.

Finished Mother of Pearl Dec 23.

I found it confusing that most of the story dealt with these two groups of characters seperately, and there was no connection other than their living in the same town. I also didn't enjoy the mysticism; I found it too over-the-top so that it just seemed ridiculous, like Joody was the jester stuck in for comedic relief. I also think the author worked very hard to develop some characters for no reason, because she just sent them away right after we were starting to understand the "why" of their actions.

For a story about black/white relations, as well as dealing with femininity and motherhood, I think there are better examples out there. If I hadn't only paid $1 for this, I would likely regret its purchase.

Finished ...Peace on Dec 27.

Beautifully written. The diction is almost haunting, which suits Gene, the protagonist. Despite attending a school that sounds very exclusive, the experiences of the boys are not unique and carry a resonance for perhaps every young person faced with the prospect of war.

My favourite part was when Gene pushed Finny out of the tree. The reason is never really explained, allowing the audience to interpret as they will. Unknowingly, this push saves both boys from the war.