Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

"A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it."  -D. H. Lawrence

Well, I certainly don't want to repent, which is why I've been so damn busy living that I haven't been writing. But I resolve to be better about timely blogging. That's my plan for 2013. That and read more. Isn't that an English Major requirement? 

Hold me to it. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Blog-Life Hiatus and the books that happened.

Let me half-heartedly apologize for not posting in quite a while. I went to England, my mecca of English Literature, to explore the world that I've fallen in love with while reading.

For that trip I had to read travel literature A Guide to Dickens' London by Daniel Tyler and Jane Austen in Bath: Walking Tours of the Writer's City by Katherine Reeve. Then, of course, I read Persuasion, Austen's novel about Bath, and I started Dickens' Bleak House, which begins with terrific descriptions of London.

But now I'm back, and fighting the good fight to fit reading time into the sleepy period between my two jobs. Yesterday afternoon I finished A Game of Thrones. I don't warrant it a blog review, because I didn't read it that way. I just wanted to read for reading's sake, and I think it was the perfect book for that. I like it a lot.

Next I move on to three book club picks: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Somewhere in there I would like to finish Bleak House. Lofty aspirations, but I intend to make up for lost time.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Happy Banned Books Week!

I set up a table at work to do a little light educating about banned books. It included a few boxes of cookies, a few Iowa-based banned/challenged book facts, and a list of the banned/challenged "Best 100" classics.

It was a hit! People really enjoyed grabbing their own list and realizing that they've read many of them. "I never knew I was so racy!" said a co-worker. Passers-by were also interested to find out that the last ALA-noted challenged book in Iowa was as recent as 2011. I overheard multiple people asking "I wonder what book that was." I know, it's not big. I know I'm not reaching the entire corporation. But it's something.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lady Chatterley's Lover, D.H. Lawrence (1928)

Gearing up for Banned Books Week, I thought I'd better get to this overdue post on a now-favorite banned book of mine, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

My sorority alumnae book club selected this title--okay, drew it out of a hat (who would have honestly picked this) because I suggested it for the mix--as an alternative to 50 Shades of Grey. It was one of the best book clubs we've had! The conversations were honest and more uninhibited than I would have expected for a group of four women all at very different stages of their lives. 

I wish I had written this post sooner (we met back in May) because we did a great job of discussing the similarities and differences between Lady Chatterley and a lot of other books. Two of us who did read 50 Shades talked at length (ad nauseam, really) about how damned similar we found the title's namesake, Lady Constance Chatterley and the other horrible character, Anastasia. Sadly, I don't remember the legitimate conversations we had other than that. 

There was a lot of talk about social and class commentary, and the differing and frequently changing view points of each character. The book had many characters at various class points--the Lord and Lady, the nurse, the townspeople, the gamekeeper--which created a complex presentation of persons, complicated even further by their altering beliefs. For instance, Connie goes on a tirade about the miners, but then can be very sympathetic and supportive of the little people who work on her estate. Many characters in the book show the same inconsistencies, regardless of their place in the world. I marked page 171, where a deep display of lower-class hatred appeared. The miners are less human and more "creature,"being referred to as "men not men, but animals of coal and iron and clay," the "fauna of the elements" and "weird inhuman beauty of minerals."

Mostly, we talked about how interesting the whole concept of the book is: a novel about sex, 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Watchmen (1986-87)

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

A graphic novel originally published in 12 comic book issues, it is also a movie I saw (and hated) at the midnight premiere my senior year of college. Basically all I remembered was an awkward and seemingly pointless sex scene in a weird machine.

Well, that was in this, too, unfortunately. I just didn't hate it as much this time.

Two close friends of mine said I absolutely had to read this--not only because it's a great book, but also because it's exactly where I should start a dive into comic books and graphic novels.

I hadn't read a graphic novel since my adolescent lit class, and this one was definitely a different experience than even those. There was just so much going on. At some points three stories were happening at once: one in the captions, one in the images, and one in the secondary captions. (Obviously, I lack the proper terminology to discuss this in a scholarly manner.) But I did like it. And although I didn't try to critically read the novel--my film/game/super hero/comic genius friend had all kinds of smart things to tell me about it--I did snag a few bits I really enjoyed.

Love this song reflected in the ad
"The dusk reeks of fornication and bad consciences."

"I like electronic music. That's a very superhero-y thing to like, I suppose, isn't it? [...] Oh, and I've heard some interesting new music from Jamaica... a sort of hybrid between electronic music and reggae. It's a fascinating study in the new musical forms generated when a largely pre-technological culture is given access to modern recording techniques without the technological preconceptions that we've allowed to accumulate, limiting our vision. It's called dub music. You'd like it, I'm sure."

"If somebody wants to call me the world's best-groomed man, then hey, that's okay too."

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes."
[who watches the watchmen.]

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Banned Books Week 2012

September 30 - October 6, 2012 is Banned Books Week - and as an English major and lover of literature, this is a week-long holiday!

My parents have absolutely no idea what it is--why, where, when, and what books have been banned are all unknown to them. Although I could ramble off a list of banned books when they asked me, and talk a little about who challenges books, I'm still no scholar. I'm hoping that my knowledge of the subject will grow (as I hope awareness of the cause will grow, too).

A number of books we consider classics have been banned from, or challenged by, libraries and schools. This list below includes banned books that are currently ranked in the "Best 100" and "Rival 100" novels lists. They're many books that you read in high school and college. Books that you've always said you should read, but maybe haven't. Maybe knowing they have a sordid past will spice them up and peak your interest again. Perhaps enough to read one in support of Banned Books Week.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald 
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger 
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck 
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee 

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker 
Ulysses, by James Joyce 
Beloved, by Toni Morrison 
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding 
1984, by George Orwell 

Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov 
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck 
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller 
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley 
Animal Farm, by George Orwell 

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway 
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner 
A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway 
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston 
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison 
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison 
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell 
Native Son, by Richard Wright 
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey 
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut 
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway 
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London 
Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin 
All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren 
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien 
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair 
Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence 
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess 
The Awakening, by Kate Chopin 
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote 
The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie 
Sophie's Choice, by William Styron 
Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence 
Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut 
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles 
Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs 
Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh 
Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence 
The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer 
Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller 
An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser 
Rabbit, Run, by John Updike 

The books in green are ones that I've read. The highlighted Vonnegut novel is the one I've selected to read this year for Banned Books Week, thanks to Out of Print's book club. 

You can find Banned Books Week on the web via Facebook and at their official site. Visiting will take you to the American Library Association's website with even more links and information regarding the history of Banned Books Week, and the banning of challenging of books in the United States. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reading List: The Summer of Dangerous Reading

"The Summer of Dangerous Reading"
A reading list from More magazine, July/August 2012

1 | Live for Love

[Have an Affair]
Motherland by Amy Sohn

[Follow Your Heart]
The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman
Before the Plan by Luisita Lopez Torregrosa

[Get Out of Your Rut]
The Forever Marriage by Ann Bauer
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

2 | Take Center Stage

[Rub Shoulders with an Icon]
Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews
Marilyn by Lois Banner
Dreaming in French by Alice Kaplan

3 | Rock the Home Front

[Fix Your Family]
The Red House by Mark Haddon
The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

[Rewrite the Past]
Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson
The Secret Life of Objects by Dawn Raffel
Lizz Free or Die by Lizz Winstead

4 | Do a 180 on Your Life

[Switch Careers]
Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

[Indulge in Some Villainy]
I, Iago by Nicole Galland

[Flirt with Disaster]
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Inside by Alix Ohlin
The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams

[Find Your Inner Beast]
The Lion is In by Delia Ephron

Friday, August 31, 2012

Shout Out: Where the Wild Things Are

Unless you had incredibly sensitive, alarmist parents or care providers growing up, I'm pretty sure it was impossible to get through childhood without reading (or being read) Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

Sendak died in May 2012, which lead to a flurry of online postings and remembrances of the rather edgy results of his interviews. He was gruff and sarcastic, and often lacked a filter. 

His interviews with Stephen Colbert in "Grim Colberty's Tales" are a wonderful example, as is this Buzzfeed compilation of his 20 greatest quotes - including: "Fuck them is what I say. I hate those e-books. They cannot be the future. They may well be. I will be dead. I won't give a shit." Bet'cha didn't expect that from a children's author. 

Perhaps my favorite mashup of Sendak's books and beliefs comes from a reading of Where the Wild Things Are by Christopher Walken (or a very talented impersonator). 

Because we all know Sendak would agree that kids are jerks. And that Max character could use a psychological profile. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Words: ODO addition

Today I read about the latest additions to the Oxford Dictionaries Online, including "lolz"and "soul patch" and a "new sense" of the word "vote" (interesting in an election year... more on that later). When I first heard about this, I complained specifically about the new word "ridic" because it's just a shortened version of ridiculous. The counter argument from my new-word informant was that "memo" was just a shortened version of memorandum, and the only person who still used memorandums just died (Helen Gurley Brown). And then I realized I really do enjoy using "legit" instead of legitimate. But still... who would ever write "ridic?" It just looks ridiculous.

Answer: Stephen King.

"But that was ridic, as the kids said."

hardcover edition, page 330

Monday, August 20, 2012

Moving on from .edu

I recently inherited some motivation - something I was severely lacking most of this year, really until I revamped this blog. But this last week really kicked it into high gear: I started an online book club (fingers crossed that we get it together!) and I am attempting to read The Hobbit in order to join yet another book club that a friend of mine is starting here in Des Moines. But the true testament to my new stimulus is this:

While home over the weekend for my grandma's 91st birthday, I felt compelled to pick up these boxes. They contain a few books and 90% of my notes, research, papers, tests, and other odds and ends from my lifetime of English classes. Seriously, a few things from Heelan, a couple binders from Drake, and a whole box of Tech stuff.

What I've learned is that, even after English majors graduate, it's hard to let it all go--especially after a stint in grad school, even an admittedly a short one. It's hard not to think that maybe I'll need these notes again, that maybe some day I'll have the opportunity to continue research or publish an article, or even that maybe one day I'll want my old tests for teaching my own courses. Basically, it's hard to give up on something you invested so much time, effort, emotion (and money!) into making happen.

When I graduated from Drake, I knew I was going to grad school someday, so I kept everything. Leaving Tech was hurried, and I had mixed feelings, so when I left I boxed up everything English and smacked a big ol' [SUX] on about four boxes, to indicate that those things needn't follow me to Des Moines. Over a year later, I'm ready to peak back at the world I left do a little selective notebook tossing and book selling. I mean, realistically, the notes I took on the math-equation-book-explanations that I can't even remember the name of, are never going to be useful ever again. And, well, I only need so many (zero) books by Jerome McGann.

Although, I do have one entirely open shelf in one of my bookcases... and bibliography was kind of interesting... maybe I can justify A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In the Works

I stopped by the library today and both of the books I had requested were there. This was unexpected-- I didn't plan for either of them to be available for a couple weeks, at least.
But all 1,542 pages were waiting for me.

Game of Thrones and 11/22/63 ... it's on. I bought my multi-colored sticky notes and I'm ready to try reading two beasts of burden at once.

But don't worry! I'll try to post in the meantime. Book club last week has me rarin' to recap, and there is a backlog of books I can revamp and repost from the previous blog setup.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style And Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written, Sterling Archer (2011)

All I can say is that this book is fabulously written in Archer's voice. And if you love the FX show Archer, then the book is worth reading. The selections below are my favorite. They showcase Archer's style, his perpetual fabrication of words and phrases, and his random uses of pop culture references.

Guy's hilarious. Enjoy. Danger Zone!

But just when the pirates got within grappling-hook range ... bam! Out comes the ol' Jolly Roger, and then the pirates would spend the rest of the afternoon raping the woolen pants off everybody. 10

For a while I tried getting people to say spechnology (a clever portmanteau of "spy" and "technology"), but I couldn't get anybody to get on board for the big win. 27

These locations are normally patrolled by two or more giant and ferocious Rottweilers, which I must incapacitate using "hush puppies" (a combination of knockout drops and bacon)... 30

*38 ... will then provide me with the intelligence I need to keep you safe at home in your cheap, metal-framed bed, in which you're probably lying, right now, waiting for Green Acres to come on so you can masturbate to Ralph. 30

While technically a garment, the Tactleneck(r)---an even cleverer portmanteau of "tactical" and "turtleneck"--is an indispensable piece of equipment, and one without which I would never consider embarking on a mission. [...] And after the mission, I just throw a smart blazer over it and I'm ready for a night on the town. 32

You get to your place just as Big Blowzy does, and before you know it, all three of you are covered in champagne and grape-seed oil and feathers, and blasting form your stereo--at that very moment--is no other than Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison."
And then you die. 44

For reasons unbeknownst to me, an inordinate amount of international espionage is centered around casinos. I would like to believe it's because secret agents ... live incredibly exciting lives [...] But the truth is, it's much more likely because the type of person who is attracted to a career in the clandestine services to begin with--slightly arrogant, somewhat shallow, hypersexual high-functioning alcoholics with incredibly addictive personalites--is really just there for the glamorous ambience, the top-shelf booze, and the world-class hookers. 47-48

However, I think I've also made it pretty clear that I don't like to invite comparison to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. 81
(He is actually referring to James Bond, not Voldermort.)

Gummi Roy: 5 gummi bears, 2 ounces scotch. 79

Pisco Sour: Not to sound like a dick, but except for Paddington Bear (who is totally awesome!!!) Peru has never had much going for it. I mean, even the gruff-yet-loveable Paddington got out of there on the first train he could hop. 87

But instead of a tasteful rendering of a handsome man introducing a beautiful woman to the subtle melange of complex emotions and intense physical pleasure which is anal sex, I get a gingerbread centaur shitting out a soccer ball. 145

Monday, August 6, 2012

Shout Out: Reading Rainbow

I really loved reading as a kid. This included the nighttime ritual of reading with my dad and sponsored reading competitions/challenges (BookIt! Hit the Books!) when I was older, and story time at the local library and "Reading Rainbow" when I was too young to read.

I also grew up only listening to "oldies" music--60s & 70s--thanks to my parents. (And I do mean thanks. I entered the pop music scene just as MMMBop and Spice Up Your Life peaked. I'm sure there was plenty that came before then that I'm glad I missed.)

Those two childhood staples combine in this post-worthy Jimmy Fallon skit: The Doors Sing "Reading Rainbow." God, I love Goodnight Moon.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Art of Fielding, Chard Harbach (2011)

The Art of Fielding is the book my coworker used to explain his "500 list" theory that I talked about in my first revamp post. And his selection was exemplary indeed.

This is the first book in a while that I haven't been able to put down, that I've said, "I want to just go home and read!" when I've been discontent at work. Like my coworker, I can't tell you exactly what had me so hooked or so compelled to keep reading... but I liked it.

The story is about college life and a baseball team and people connected to the team. The appreciated aspect of this obvious setup is that baseball isn't some gross metaphor for life. Well, I am sure that you could easily create a thesis around that idea and this book, but you don't have to, and that's part of the beauty of it. The characters aren't real--I don't really see myself aligning with any of them or their amazing circumstances (super genius, super athlete, super mentor, super gay). But there are parts of all of them--moments and thoughts and ideas and actions--that when combined, feel almost inanely natural and easy and personal. The characters are complex, so complex that by the time I finished the book and went back to gather my quotes, I had already forgotten some of the details of their histories. But I'm not sure that's negative, just a result of how much you learn and experience in 500 pages.

Spoiler alert: Before I round out this post with some passages, I wanted to talk about the book broadly. That includes the ending, so be warned.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming (1953)

It was this book that made me want to start this blog again. And it seemed like a fitting first post, combining two of my passions: James Bond and literature. I've always been into Bond films, but the books are a new to me. Something I really want to read, so I can more intellectually and adequately talk about the movies.

Casino Royale is the introduction of James Bond. Although I am interested in discovering more of the textual history of this and Ian Fleming's other Bond works, I know little about how the characters and plots came to exists. What I do know is that Fleming supposedly based the series off of his wartime naval adventures and people/spies he worked with at that time.

Of the many accolades regarding the new/current big-screen Bond, Daniel Craig, one of the biggest arguments I hear in his favor is that he is a "more human" Bond. I don't know about that cinematically, I do feel that the Bond written by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale is more human than any of the film portrayals. Because the films are presented in the third person the viewer is immediately less connected to the character of Bond (not that his womanizing, sexism, racism, and lifestyle don't do that on their own). I'm sure some kind of deeper depiction of Bond could have been considered, but for the first 20 movies, it wasn't. The medium of the book, however, allows the reader to know what the character is thinking through the omniscient narrator's descriptions. It's an extremely effective method without creating what would be an off-putting first-person story.

I've flagged some of the passages that struck me as particularly humanizing, or indicative of Bond's character, or that simply showcased brilliant and enticing writing on Fleming's part. In the films we see Bond's actions as a manifestation of his thoughts on women and work, but here we actually find what's driving those actions. It's fascinating. In some instances, he thinks everything as we would expect--and actually more so--while in others, we find the iconically confident, strong character has doubts we would never have imagined. Reading Bond gives us the opportunity to experience his character in a more emotional and contextual way, from knowing his exact thoughts to gleaning them from the words of the surrounding text.

Unfortunately, I did not track page numbers when I saved these quotes--the English student in me is furious. There will be more of these, I'm sure, as I look back through my saved notes from the last two years.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Making the Most of It

The morning after I started revamping the design of When English Majors Graduate, a coworker proposed a very interesting concept to me.

At this point in our lives, we are able to read roughly one book a month. That's 12 books a year until we die. If we're blessed with a long life, that's a fairly decent number of books. Yet, the number of books a booklover yearns to read grows exponentially year after year, while the number of readable books is still pretty finite. 

I'm banking my eyesight and mental capacity last until I'm 80. Do the math, and that means, starting this month (I'm barely 26), I have 54 years left to read. That's 648 books. Sure, that's a lot. But it's only 648 books. Now, I've never really been one to turn down a book. I've certainly read some stuff I never wanted to read. But, realizing that my list has a definite end--and, God willing, I ever get married or have children, I forsee a lot of noveless months--I should definitely be more selective. Or at very least, more strategic with the pecking order.

Now when someone suggests a book, my brilliant coworker explains his theory and asks if the book should be in his 500. I'm not sure I'm ready to cap suggestions just yet, but I think it's high time I got serious about literature again.


This blog started in the summer of 2009, right after I graduated with a BA in English. A peer of mine, Kristin, and I missed having classes and discussing books. By our senior year, we learned the benefit to critical thinking when reading. In fact, we found it almost impossible not to read like an academic. So rather than schedule our own syllabus and class times, we setup shop on the newfangled blogdom and gave ourselves a place to share.

Since then, Kristin went back to school for a Masters in Education. She's now a full-time high school teacher (English, journalism, writing--hooray!) and coach. I tried to get a Masters in English (Victorian Literature), but I left school to pursue a job in journalism. Kristin and I keep in touch, but our lifestyles are leading us down different literary paths. I really enjoy YA (young adult lit) and hope to add a few books to my list based on Kristin's suggestions.

But, for now, my literary clock is ticking, and I'm looking forward to tackling what I left behind when I dropped out of school, the quarterly book club requirements, my lifetime must-reads--and all the 500-worthy recommendations that come along the way.