Bookends: October 2018

October brought cooler weather and a much-needed readathon, which helped me make a good dent in my Cavalcade of Classics list. My goal was to read at least one title from my list each month, and this month I read four. Starting strong and hopefully not burning myself out too quickly.

Regular TBR reads (including those that weren’t on my TBR until I picked them up):

New Boy by Tracey Chevalier (audio)

The Traveling Bag by Susan Hill

The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín (audio)

Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff (read-aloud)

Ghostland by Colin Dickey

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

From my Cavalcade of Classics:

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (audio)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (audio)

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (on audio)

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Currently Reading:

Gilgamesh Among Us by Theodore Ziolkowski

The Ramayana by Vālmīki ( I’m working on the shortened modern prose version by R. K. Narayan. I can’t tell if it seems weird because it’s just weird or because it’s from a mythology that’s unfamiliar to me or if it’s just the version I’m reading. I might try another version to find out.)

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (audio)

To-Read in November:

November is going to be a challenge. I decided at about 2:00 pm on October 31, to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo. I reached the 50,000-word goal in 2010, attempted but didn’t reach it in 2011, and haven’t tried since. A friend is participating this year, and I figured this would be a chance to show her some support and to try to get something down from a novel idea I’ve been poking around at for a few years.

I figure it could go one of three ways:

  1. I write a lot and meet my daily word count goals and don’t have time to read, or
  2. I read a lot to distract myself from the fact that I’m not meeting my daily word count goals because I’m reading, or
  3. I really nail time management, make the most of the extra hour the end of Daylight Saving gives me, and meet both my reading and my writing goals.

Anything’s possible, but there’s precedent for only two of those possibilities.

Reading goals for November, in addition to completing the books I’m currently reading:

The Odyssey by Homer (Emily Wilson translation)

Circe by Madeline Miller

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What books have your read recently that speak to you? What books are you excited to read in November?

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

13784569I listened to this on audio, and I have to admit, the first few hours were pretty brutal. I listened to the first three hours while taking a long walk and nearly cried from the boredom (it wasn’t all the audiobook’s fault, though; I’d picked a particularly blah section of suburban sidewalk along which to amble while listening). But as I stuck with the novel (at 1.5x) it grew on me. Dreiser brought things together in a satisfying way towards the end, allowing Carrie to grow and change throughout the novel and dealing with his characters with compassion even when it was clear that he didn’t approve of their actions.

I kept forgetting that this novel was written before the stock market crash of 1929, before both world wars, even before the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. I need to look back at this time in U.S. history for more context.

I’m definitely getting this one in print so I can read more deeply—and underline. There are some parallels between themes in this book and other books I’m reading/have read recently, and I need the book in front of me to catch them.

This is another title from the second round of my Cavalcade of Classics. Here’s a view from my otherwise boring walk during the first hours of the audiobook. Not so bad when I look back on it now.


The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

22890386A letter from an old friend and the opportunity for a road trip leads Mr. Stevens, a career butler of the Downton Abbey era, to reflect about his life and his actions both past and present, and Ishiguro brings us along on both this literal and figurative journey with skill and precision. Mr. Stevens may be one of the most authentic, realistically written characters I’ve read in a very long time.

I’ve never been a butler for one of the distinguished old houses of pre-war Great Britain, but I can very much relate to Mr. Stevens’s habit of revising and reframing memories of his actions that don’t fit with his image of himself. It’s the kind of story crafting that we all do, I think, whether consciously or not, as we try to assemble a narrative for our life that is consistent with how we want to view ourselves.

One thing that seems to elude many authors is the art of showing character development over time, but this is something else that Ishiguro does with quiet finesse in this novel. Mr. Stevens’s evolution is subtle but significant. At the beginning of the novel, he holds firmly to his accustomed way of remembering his actions in the best possible light, brushing aside the reactions of others that might provide evidence that his way of looking at the situation isn’t consistent with how it actually happened. As the novel—and the road trip—progresses, we see Mr. Stevens begin to question himself and to confront the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of some of his actions.

This is the first book in a long time that had an ending that felt satisfying to me. By the end of the novel, Mr. Stevens hasn’t sloughed off all of his old habits, but he’s much better able to look at himself more realistically and more holistically, admitting his shortcomings with fewer rationalizations and excuses. His transformation isn’t dramatic—there’s no Extreme Makeover for this butler—but it’s rather the kind of slow opening of the eyes that one hopes life has in store for us before night falls.

This novel I hope to revisit as a masterclass in character development and in the crafting of language that is subtle, economical, and powerful.

This is the first title from the second round of my Cavalcade of Classics that I’ve completed. I listened to this novel on audiobook during one of my weekly Epic Walks around San Diego. As a result, below is one of the sights I now associate with this novel. That and mountain bikers playing “American Woman” as they nearly mowed me down.


Bookends: March 2016

Like February, March was a lighter reading month for me. I didn’t even manage to finish this month’s SBC selection (The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford) before April 1. I do have some decent excuses, including volunteer work, a family wedding out of state, and my son and I each getting the flu (although being bedridden for two full days actually helped me finish two books that I might not have finished otherwise; I was surprised to find it easier to read than to watch Downton Abbey while I was sick, perhaps because I was at the Spanish Flu episode), but I hope that April proves more read-y for me.

Here’s what I read during March:

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Bookends: February 2016

A strange thing happened this month: Halfway through February I lost interest in reading.

I still crave books. I still get excited about picking them up from the library and adding them to my wish list (and even buying a stack, which I hardly ever do). I just don’t really feel interested in actually reading. I’ve even listened to two audiobooks with my kids (Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George and The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall—I only just now realized they’re by women with homophonous first names) and only rarely tuned in enough to pay attention to be able to say that I’ve “read” them this month.

It could be because I’m super busy doing volunteer stuff or because I’m focusing a lot of attention on healthful living (exercise, nutrition, sleep) or because I’m spending so much time on home repairs/improvements. Or maybe it’s just the ebb and flow of my reading life. Maybe I’ve just got spring fever.

What am I doing besides reading? That is a very good question. I’m really not sure. I know I’m not watching movies/television shows because I’m not interested in those either. My house is clean, so maybe I’ve been housekeeping.

Whatever’s going on, hopefully I’ll feel more like reading in March. I miss enjoying reading.

Here’s what I read during the non-blah half of February:

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Bookends: January 2016

Did you all know it’s February?

Turns out it is, and it has been for nearly five days now. And I totally missed posting my Bookends post for January on February 1!

Part of this is simply losing track of time in the midst of all of the other things I’m doing, but part of it is related specifically to my being consumed with trying to organize my books and tags to make LibraryThing more usable for me. Although I find Goodreads more intuitive to use and more visually attractive than LibraryThing, I’m not keen on the Amazon/Goodreads connection (why must everything I do become a means for promoting someone else’s wealth?). I have a sense that Goodreads is better as a social network for readers while LibraryThing is better for cataloging books, but many people happily use LibraryThing for both. Knowing there are so many people who love LibraryThing, I’m trying to really dig in and see what I can do with it myself.

This digging into my library is rather distracting and is another part of why I lost track of where I was in the calendar and didn’t post my Bookends according to the schedule I devised for myself.

Oh, well. Late > Never. Or so they say.

Here’s what I read during the first month of 2016:

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2015: My Year in Books

In 2015, I read 105 books, consisting of a total of 30,038 pages (I stopped reading two of these books before finishing them; the page total does not account for this).

The average (mean) books read per month was 8.75, and the average (mean) per week was 2.02.

Of these, 75 were fiction (including children’s books), 8 were memoirs, and the remaining 22 were other nonfiction.

I read 3 books from my Cavalcade of Classics list during 2015. To date, I’ve read ~20% of the 89 classics on my list. If I’m going to read all of them by 2017, I’ll need to average nearly 7 classics per month from here on out. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this just isn’t going to happen.

So many of the books I read this year were awesome, but my favorites were probably Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, and Lila by Marilynne Robinson.

Christmas Gifts

Christmas Gifts

I am currently reading The Histories by Herodotus (not ready to give this one up yet even though I’ve been reading it since March 2015) and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy, which is one of five books my spouse got for me from the library for Christmas. The other four books are Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson, No Time to Lose by Pema Chodron, Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich, and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li. I’ve also got one whole shelf of books I’ve acquired over the years that I hope to finally read and clear out. I vow not to enter any ARC giveaways until this shelf is empty. (And of course, there are those seven classics a month I need to read, and I’m stupidly busy with volunteer work until May, and did I mention that I homeschool my kids? 2016 does not look good for reading. *sigh*)

Below is the book list for 2015, by the month I finished each book. Read More

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stowe seems to have two main goals in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The first is to demonstrate that slavery as an institution is wrong. Buying and selling human beings is abhorrent, and arguments about how well slaves are treated are missing the point.

The other goal seems to be to humanize slaves of African origin, especially for those in the North who might oppose slavery but still retain a feeling of prejudice against people of African origin. In large part, Stowe does this by showing how slaves can act just like white people if they are taught and treated like white people.

She offers this as proof that Black people are just as human as white people are, but this is troublesome because it offers a very narrow scope of behavior. Stowe goes to lengths to show that those slaves who lie or cheat or act brutally are doing so only as products of a system that treats them as subhuman. She offers a similar explanation for the behavior of white people towards slaves: they are products of an abhorrent institution as much as the slaves themselves are. (Of course, the difference is that white people don’t need to prove their humanity through their actions; their humanity is a given no matter how inhumanely they act.) This is a reasonable hypothesis, but the way that Stowe presents it seems to suggest that the goal is for all people in the United States to act the same, or rather, for all people to act white, which is very limiting to people who are not white.  Read More

Bookends: November 2015


November was a whirlwind of a month. I read bits and pieces of multiple books, but only managed to finish the kid books (including an impromptu Lois Lowry marathon two weeks ago). Ah, well.

For December, I’ve committed to spending less time online, so hopefully that will translate into spending more time reading. But then, if I spend so much time reading that I don’t get online at all, how would the world know how much I’ve been reading? It’s a dilemma.

In any event, here’s what little I read in November…

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Bookends: October 2015


Last night, I strapped glow sticks to my wrists and took my kids around the neighborhood begging for candy. Now we have enough sweets to carry us to Easter (and beyond, if I don’t start throwing the candy away piece by piece).

Now it’s November, and I have only a little more than a month until I’m 39. It’s strange: this is the first birthday that’s snuck up on me. I’ve been so comfy being 38, and now all of sudden I have to say farewell to that age. Thirty-nine’s an okay age, though, I think. Thirteen times three and all. All the same, I think I’ll try to really enjoy what’s left of 38.

In any event, here’s what little I read in October…

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