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Archive for the tag “Elizabeth Gilbert”

2014 Book Challenge Results- 50 Books Read!

I did it! I met my goal of 45 books read in 2014 and went ahead and read 5 more. Actually, I’m glad I over shot my goal because there were a few books I couldn’t (and refused) to finish.

At the bottom of the post is my reading list for the year, but I wanted to take a moment and point out some highlights from my year of books.

BEST OF 2014:

  • Outlander, Diana Gabaldon. I know, I know. I’ve talked about this book quite a bit. It made me fall back in love with books. After a long slump of reading ho-hum fiction, along comes this sweeping epic that truly moved me and sparked my imagination into high gear. What more could a reader want?
  • The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert. Give Elizabeth’s fiction a chance. This is one mother of a book. Gilbert’s astounding attention to detail and research is mind-blowing. She is an excellent storyteller. And while the book does have its slow (and even slower) moments, I really appreciated the main heroine and all that she stood for.
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe. Why, you might ask, is THIS book on a list? Let me tell you that I was skeptical, too. I thought I was in for a juicy and gossipy light-hearted ride, but instead was treated a tender and insightful memoir that was actually quite inspiring. I have to hand it to Rob Lowe, he’s incredibly intelligent and hardworking. I’m almost ashamed that I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt before I read his book.

WORST (or most disappointing) OF 2014:

  • Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin. Could be one of the most pretentious, overblown, and dullest novels I have ever not finished. I usually finish all of my book club picks, but this one was next to impossible to see all the way through. I nearly fell asleep on the road while listening to it, and so the book became a dangerous driving hazard. I know there are folks out there who rave about this novel but not me.
  • The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian. So disappointing. He’s normally such a beautiful writer, but his latest book fell flat with a thud. Read his The Skeletons at the Feast in place of this novel.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple. God, such a turgid book. I don’t even know where to start with how much my expectations were destroyed after reading it. Marketed as somewhere between a humorous satire and (supposed) tender look at mental illness, the novel just comes off as mean-spirited and trite. A complete disappointment.

BIG SURPRISES:

  • The Fault in Our Stars, John Green. Well, the joke is on me. I went on to read this book fully expecting to hate it. I was curious as to why the novel was garnering so much attention that I had to read it, but as I’m not a huge fan of YA novels I put my snob face on. The snob face was promptly wiped away. This is a sneaky book. While it’s not the best piece of literature out there and features some fairly unbelievable characters, it’s a heartbreaking and ultimately well-written story about kids with cancer. And one I think most teens would benefit from reading.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt . A reread that I’m glad I reread. For a true crime novel, it reads more like a biting and zesty article in a gossip rag. Better the second time around.
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I think everyone should reread this novel every ten years. Its tone and imagery evolves as one matures. I love this book so much, and I can’t wait to read it again and again. It’s lost none of its charm since I first read it in high school.

AUTHOR OF THE YEAR:

  • Ms. Gillian Flynn gets my vote for one of the best mystery/thriller writers out there, especially in the female writer category. She is unapologetically gross- and not for the shock value, either. Flynn captures the dirtiness and scumminess of human society in the most realistic way. Her heroines are anything but heroic, but nor are they tragic figures. They are raw and flawed women with scratches and scars, yet are somehow at the same time likable and repulsive characters. I can’t wait to read more of her stuff.

LESSONS LEARNED:

  • I’m glad I gave myself permission this year to not finish books that didn’t speak to me. I saved a lot of precious time.
  • I need to be more discerning about choosing audio books. Some of the narrators are just awful and do not do the books any justice.
  • I will not do any reading challenges in 2015. While I do like to see how many books I can read in a year, and I love discovering new authors through a variety of challenges, I find that time-wise I become almost maniacal about getting through a large amount of books in short time periods. I don’t think I enjoy the books as much. Plus I want to finish some of my longer series, such as Outlander and Game of Thrones, and those hefty novels take up so much time.

Behold the 2014 book list! Here are my categories:

  • YES: This book changed my life in some way and hopefully it will change yours. Or I just really enjoyed it.
  • VACATION READ: We all need books that can sustain us for long periods when we are sitting on a beach or in front of a fire in a log cabin. These are not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, but will hold your attention for more than a few hours, while still allowing you to relax. (I may even put YES and VR together, mean yes it’s great AND good for vacation).
  • NO: I just didn’t like it or it wasn’t worth my time. Doesn’t mean someone else might not love it, but I would never hand this book to another and say “You gotta read this!”

(I apologize for the format below. I tried copying and pasting from Goodreads, which was a mistake).

Happy reading in the New Year, everybody!

 NO
VACATION READ
YES, VR
NO
YES
NO
YES
YES, VR
NO
YES, VR
YES
VACATION READ
NO
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES
YES
YES
YES, VR
YES, VR
YES
NO
YES, VR
YES (hesitantly)
YES, VR
NO
VACATION READ
NO
NO!!
NO
YES (hesitantly)
YES
NO
YES
YES
YES
VACATION READ
YES
VACATION READ
YES
YES
YES
YES (Hesitantly), VR
YES
YES

 

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

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(SPOILERS AHEAD. Be forewarned…)

Had Jane Austen lived to a ripe old age, I’d like to imagine that she wrote this type of book. It’s a naughtier, wiser, more daring version of, say, Mansfield Park coupled with Sense and Sensibility with maybe a soupçon of Pride and Prejudice thrown in. Not that I’m insisting that Elizabeth Gilbert is the next Jane Austen, mind you, but she comes very close.

This is an exquisitely crafted book. The amount of research and diligence Gilbert devoted to the story is astounding. My experience with Elizabeth Gilbert has been dark and twisty at best. I detested Committed, her follow up to Eat, Pray, Love, and while I did find some redeeming factors in EPL I wasn’t overly fond of its author. Until I listened to a very articulate and funny interview of her with the podcast “Dinner Party Download” talking about her new novel, The Signature of All Things. I love historical fiction, especially those championing women, and the added sinful sex sprinkled into it couldn’t hurt. All in all, it sounded just like my taste in books. To add to my recent “in like” status with Elizabeth Gilbert, I started following her on Twitter and find her delightful.

I’m happy to say that this novel is so dramatically different from her memoirs, and in a good way. Once she gets on the topic of herself she loses me, but as soon as she focuses on another woman’s struggles and desires she absolutely soars. It is, however, easy to see that there is a lot of Gilbert in her main character, Alma Whittaker. Alma is a meticulous researcher; check mark for Gilbert. Alma is a seeker of knowledge, on an eternal quest to know more; another check mark for Gilbert. Alma questions everything. If you’ve read Committed before then you can easily see the author within the pages of her novel. Alma can be frustratingly stubborn, overbearing, generous and selfish all at the same time. I think we might find a little bit of Elizabeth Gilbert in these traits as well. In short, she’s a HUMAN.

But Alma is indeed a flawed human as well, and this is why she works as a protagonist. One of the major complaints I’ve read in other reviews about this book is that the other characters are far more interesting. True, Alma is not the most exciting character in the book, but she is the most believable. Retta, Alma’s childhood friend, is a ridiculous character, who was never fully flushed out enough to stand as a realistic person. I would have loved for Gilbert to explore the sister relationship between Prudence and Alma further and not wrap up their mutual uneasiness with each other through a series of letters. I didn’t particularly care for the love triangle between Retta, Alma, and Prudence with the fellow scientist George Hawks. To me, having all three young women in love with the same man was a literary cop out (and echoes of Elinor in Sense and Sensibility come to mind). Also, I frankly didn’t think he was that worthy of a person especially since he only married Retta, an obviously troubled and mentally ill person, because he couldn’t have Prudence and wasn’t interested in Alma, and then he just leaves her at a sanitarium and probably never saw her again.

The story is slow, but it’s meant to be. Alma is a self-trained botanist who studies mosses and nature and has her own theories on the ebb and flow of time- natural, divine, and human. The pace of the novel mirrors her lifelong journey to understand nature and her place within it. My only irk, my one main complaint with the entire book is the dialogue. While Gilbert is gifted with her use of language and writing about complex subjects in such a beautiful and poignant way, she is terrible at writing dialogue. It hurts me to say this because I did think the bulk of the novel is terrific. But every time there is a scene between two characters and large amounts of dialogue are required, the pacing in the story slows down to a crawl. Examples include scenes between Ambrose Pike and Alma, along with Alma and the Reverend Wells. Each character speaks WAY too much on a subject, and then over explains it nearly every other sentence, just to make sure the reader got the point. We got it. Meanwhile, in the middle of the other character’s soliloquy, Alma has about a page and a half of internal dialogue. Zzzzzzz….

Not only is the dialogue slightly painful to get through at times, much of the conflict that arises between these characters could have been easily solved if only Alma just asked the one damn question she couldn’t bring herself to ask. In this way, the novel reads like an episode of “Three’s Company” set in the Victorian Age. It’s unbelievably frustrating but, I will grudgingly admit, probably realistic for the time Alma was living in. It must have been so incredibly exhausting to be polite and proper all of the time! Cue Jane Austen in her later years: I’m sure she would have LOVED to yank off the white gloves and let loose.

I realize that this novel is not going to appeal to everyone, but I really enjoyed it. I respect the time and thoughtfulness that Gilbert took to create it. In fact, Gilbert could have created 5 separate novellas with nearly all the characters if she wanted to. Not an easy breezy read, but a worthwhile one in the end.

Booze and Books, Troubled Libraries, and more Physical Book woes

I just can’t seem to comment enough on the ongoing physical book dilemma happening all over the world. Here are a few highlights from the past few weeks:

Booze and Books: British pubs to feature in-house libraries

Sadly I can’t find the link to this story, but a few weeks ago I read that a few pubs in England are experimenting with housing small libraries, or operating as a local book-share for the community. At first glance this might seem like a silly idea. Who bellies up to the bar with a pint and settles down for a cozy evening with Crime and Punishment? After all, pubs are thought of as social gathering spots; a place to chat with friends instead of reading by one’s lonesome. But after contemplating this idea for a while, a pub as stand-in library makes perfect sense. Think of all the cafés in Europe circa the Belle Époque and beyond, and the writers (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kafka, Ibsen and Keats, just to name a few) who sat there penning their greatest works with a glass (or 5) of wine in hand. Heck, J.K. Rowling reportedly wrote most of Harry Potter book 1 in a pub.

The café and pub scene would be an ideal place to discuss books, hold a book club, or stop by on your way home from work to unwind with a beer AND pick up a book for the evening. I applaud pub owners for at least thinking outside of the box. Serving books along beer not only draws clientele, but it promotes reading and keeps the physical book in circulation. We shall see how this will catch on in the future!

In troubled library land:

I knew I liked this guy: Stephen King supports his local library

Talk about giving back. Kudos to Stephen and Tabitha King for keeping a library alive and thriving.

And in other news, libraries are getting creative. I love this photo. Keep ’em coming.

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What to do with your physical books? Organize them as a psychological profile:

I’m scared as to what my book profile might look like. Do all my books, if any, define me or just a select few?

If I take a glance right now at one shelf closest to me, without any rearranging- exactly as the shelf stands- this is what I see:

  • Light in August William Faulkner
  • Murder in Marais Cara Black
  • A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire George R.R. Martin
  • Kick Me Paul Feig
  • Time and Again Jack Finney
  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne David Starkey
  • Restless William Boyd
  • Hawaii Lonely Planet Guidebook

(Actually, this list does look a lot like me).

And lastly, I again lost the link but there is a debate out there claiming that we need to abandon “tough” fiction and that no one has the time anymore to read verbose literature.

Malarkey!

If we don’t have time to read potentially long and dense fiction we probably don’t have time to read anything, period. Granted, everyone- including myself- enjoys a fast read now and again. But there are joys to be had in reading the long and artfully created novel. I’m currently reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, which gets heavy into botany and philosophical discussion at the half-way point. It’s thought provoking and yes, time-consuming stuff, but what else will I do with my time? I’m learning something here, and it’s enjoyable too. So why not devote some free time to opening my mind rather than turning on the TV? Book lovers are going to read the “hard” stuff (think Moby Dick and War and Peace) at some point and we may not even like it, but I don’t think this style of intense and deep literature should be abandoned just because we are now tangled in a social media and technology driven web.

That’s me on my soap-box for this week! Share your thoughts here.

I am a writer.

Lover her or hate her  (I happen to secretly love her), I adore the following quote by Elizabeth Gilbert. Rings true to me!

I am a writer

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