Saturday, December 24, 2011

Coming up... in 2012

     I started 2011 with just about 2 posts on my blog and no idea how this whole blogging thing worked. Over the course of this year I’ve read a lot of books and read about a lot of books on the hundreds of amazing blogs I follow. The book blogging community has been such a nurturing and friendly place for a bookworm like me. Thank you all for reading my blog, following, commenting, appreciating and disagreeing. It’s been such fun so far and I’m certain it’s going to be even better in the New Year.

   While I didn’t do any challenges in 2011, I did enjoy being a part of the odd blog hop or taking part in an event or meme as and when my schedule allowed. In 2012, I intend to get my reading and blogging a bit more organised. That is the plan at any rate; we’ll see how it actually plays out :)

   There are so many great challenges and memes happening out there, it’s tempting to take them all on but I’ve tried to keep things (more or less) sensible. So here are all the challenges, memes and events that I plan to do in 2012.

  A Classics Challenge hosted by November’s Autumn.

The goal is to read 7 classics in 2012 with no more than 3 being re-reads. A very interesting spin on the challenge is a blog hop which will happen on the 4th of each month where participants can answer a prompt regarding the classic they are reading. Sounds like fun. I will do the blog hop as often as I can and also do book reviews although that isn't a requirement. The classics I plan to read are:
  1.  Animal Farm by George Orwell
  2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  3. Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
  4. Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster
  5. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  6. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
  7. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
 Shakespeare Reading Month: January 2012 hosted by A literary Odyssey

I've read most of Shakespeare’s great tragedies and histories but sadly have had very little acquaintance with his comedies. I hope to remedy that by reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I also want to re-read some of his sonnets that I read ages ago and maybe some that I haven’t read yet. You can also read any works about Shakespeare so maybe I’ll check out something in that vein. 

    Greek Classics Challenge 2012 hosted by Howling Frog Books.

I've already posted about this here but I thought it bears repeating. I've modestly chosen the challenge level Sophocles ie. 1-4 books. So far I've acquired Antigone by Sophocles and Republic by Plato. I’m going to try doing 1 or 2 more if time isn't my enemy.

Agatha Christie Reading Challenge

The idea is to read a Christie a month and link up here. I have been doing this on and off in 2011, I hope to be more regular in 2012

 Short stories on Wednesday hosted by Risa at Breadcrumb Reads

This has been a great reason to read more short stories and has led to me discovering so many new authors (and some new blogs too). It’s going to be even more exciting in 2012 in its new and improved version. I’ll be joining in as often as I can.

       I also want to try and read some Irish stories for Irish Short Story Week over at Mel U’s The Reading Life. I have no clue where to even begin though. Suggestions will be much appreciated.

     So, that’s the lot I think. Reading back over this list is making me sweat a bit right now because I have no idea how I’m going to do all this with a house move coming up, weddings in the family and several trips planned in 2012. But I’m an old hand at over-committing so I won’t be deterred. My only hope is that I’m left with enough space and time to read books that I feel like reading even if they aren't a part of any of the challenges.
    Now all that’s left for me to do is to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. See you in a bright and sparkling 2012.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesday: Jazz Age Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories have been on my must-read list for a long time now but I never got around to it. Last month I read Hemmingway’s A Movable Feast which shows Fitzgerald in a rather comedic and mostly unflattering light. But even Hemmingway has nothing but praise for Fitzgerald’s body of work. So I was wondering where to start when I stumbled on to Laurie’s blog Fitzgerald Musings and saw that she had mentioned stories that she thought were Fitzgerald’s finest.  Since Laurie’s blog is named after, and dedicated to F. Scott Fitzgerald, I figured I could do no better than to start with her recommendations. I’m glad I did. Onto the stories.

Winter Dreams
Dexter is an enterprising and sensible young man. Except when it comes to Judy Jones the beautiful heartbreaker. The story itself is a familiar one; we’ve all heard, read or seen it before. The beauty lies in the telling. I’ve heard it said that this story was sort of a test drive of the Great Gatsby idea. In any case it was a very well told and memorable story. Here it is if you'd like to read it online.

Bernice Bob’s Her Hair
Bernice is a well bred but socially inept young girl who’s visiting her cousin Marjorie who is hugely popular. Marjorie reluctantly gives Bernice a mini-makeover and suddenly Bernice starts to get a lot more attention from the guys. It’s all going great until a miffed Marjorie calls her bluff. I really liked the way Fitzgerald constructed Bernice’s character. I find it rare that a male author can describe a female mind without it sounding fake or stilted. Fitzgerald really nails it here. Check it out online.

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz
This is such fantastical tale, sort of Arabian nights meets a Rider Haggard adventure. John T Unger is visiting his friend Percy Washington. But Percy is not from a run-of-the-mill wealthy family. For one, they live on a giant, hidden diamond and do bizarre things to keep it hidden. As much as this is thrilling and hilarious it is also a satire on the isolation and the ethical void that the very wealthy seem to live in. You can read it here.

The Offshore Pirate
How often have you read/seen/heard a romantic comedy which was equal parts romantic and funny without the extreme cheesiness that so often plagues the genre? Fitzgerald shows us how it’s done in The Offshore Pirate.  It about an obstinate and free spirited young girl who falls for a mysterious pirate. I don’t want to tell you anymore about the story because it would ruin it for you. Read it here and enjoy.

The Rich Boy
Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created — nothing.” When a story begins with a line like this, you know it’s going to be good. For some reason that I cannot adequately explain in a few sentences, this struck me as a really sad story. Not because anything bad happens but because the gradual decline of Anson Hunter, the protagonist, is almost like watching the slow decay of a magnificent edifice. Funny when you think about it because Anson is a privileged man, adored by women, genuinely loved by at least two of them; hardly an underdog. He is in fact the sort of arrogant, spoilt, rich kid you should hate instantly. But you don’t. It’s amazing. Read it here.

I’m not for a minute suggesting that these are Fitzgerald’s best stories. For one, I haven’t read enough of his stories to judge and for another, I don’t believe you can rank and grade stories. What this list does, however, is to give you an idea of the amazing range and variety of Fitzgerald’s work. No two stories are alike but they’re all really satisfying.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

When I first decided to read Nathaniel Hawthorne for the ongoing Transcendentalist month (hosted by Jillian of A Room of One’s Own), I was thinking of reading The Blithedale Romance which, I believe is an openly anti-transcendentalist work and based largely on Hawthorne’s interaction with the transcendentalists (Nice review of it here). However, The Scarlett Letter has been on my TBR for ages now so I decided to give that a go first. I found that while it doesn’t mention or discuss Transcendentalism and its principles, it does take a diametrically opposite view of the human condition. While the transcendentalists believed in the inherent good in every human being, Hawthorne stresses on the heart of darkness that lies within every seemingly pure human. He implies that each of us is bound by the time and society that he/she is a part of and an individual cannot possibly transcend that. Hawthorne also mentions his time at brook farm in the introductory Custom-House Sketch and he clearly thinks the transcendentalists he encountered at the farm were well-intentioned but deluded.

The Scarlett Letter is set in a village in Massachusetts in the 17th century. Hester Prynne, a young woman bearing an infant, is charged with adultery and is condemned to wear her shame in the form of the scarlet letter A on her bosom for the rest of her life. She refuses to name her partner in crime although the identity of the culprit is made obvious to the reader quite early on. There is also Hester’s wronged husband who conceals his true identity and torments his wife’s lover.  The product of the adulterous affair is a little girl named Pearl who is the personification of the scarlet letter, her mother’s shame and punishment.

There is an unrelenting pathos to the story that never lightens. All three of the principle characters are bound by their guilt, hating and pitying each other by turns. Hawthorne keeps redemption out of their grasp at all times. Even the child is almost used as an instrument of torture, tormenting her mother and even her lover. The atmosphere of the story is consistently grey and grim mirroring the sternness and joylessness of the puritanical society that it is set in. This is not to suggest that the book is boring. Never that. The characters and their internal conflicts are fascinating, as is the descriptions of 17th century Massachusetts under the puritans. It’s an age and society that I haven’t read much of and I enjoyed this peek into it.

Hawthorne’s attitude towards women is very puzzling. On the one hand he does invest Hester with strength, capability and good sense and on the other he seems to reinforce the stereotype of an immoral Eve leading a virtuous Adam to sin and his ultimate downfall.  Still, Hawthorne was a product of a different era and it would be unfair to judge him by modern standards. Bottom-line is, he tells a powerful story and he tells it very well.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Dec 1-4

Literary Blog Hop

It’s time for the monthly Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase.  This blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion. This month’s question is:

What work of literature would you recommend to someone who doesn't like literature? 

I generally tend not to recommend literature to those who have no interest in it.I think people should just  read what they like. Read and let read. However, there’s nothing wrong with nudging someone towards literary fiction if the person is looking to explore different genres. I can’t think of any one book that would fit the bill since ‘literature’ is a very general term, encompassing so many different types of books. I think I’d recommend books based on what the person already likes. So, for a friend who reads a lot of romance novels, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters would be good picks while still keeping within their comfort zone. For someone who loves dystopian fiction I’d recommend Orwell’s 1984. If horror is your choice then I’d steer you towards Edgar Allen Poe and all those who find literature too ‘serious’ should definitely check out some of the great humorists like Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. Lastly, when I run into anyone who wants to try literature but is intimidated by huge tomes, I always recommend they try out some short stories which are an easy and painless way to test the waters.

So that’s my two cents. I’m eager to read everyone else’s take on the subject. Happy Hopping people.