Life and Read-A-Thons

As many of you know, I spent my weekend in LA begrudgingly. Jimmy’s sister was getting married and it may have been the strangest wedding I’ve ever been to. If you follow me on twitter, you understand. Having been to LA several times now, I can honestly say it’s just not a city that impresses me at all. I’m so glad to be back home on the east coast where I belong.

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Because I was out-of-town, I missed out on the read-a-thon which had me super bummed. I spent most of Saturday staring at twitter longingly wishing I was reading alongside everyone else. I’ve vowed to take an active role in October’s event and I’m already counting down the months. To hold me over, I’m going to have my own little read-a-thon starting this morning and going through Wednesday. The Hubs will be in Louisiana so it’s the perfect time. Can’t wait to dive in!

On the job front, things have taken a slightly downhill turn. I didn’t receive my final paycheck because the company couldn’t afford to pay us. That puts an extreme financial strain on Jimmy and me. Hopefully, I’ll find another job very quickly so things won’t get out of control. The world is such an uncertain place. Glad to have an interview lined up for Thursday. I also spent a few hours this morning sending my resume out to more companies. (EDIT: Got my paycheck in the mail!!!)

In happier news, I have two packages arriving today. One is my very own copy of The Silver Linings Playbook film (YAY!) and Lauren Graham’s first novel – Someday, Someday, Maybe.

I hope everyone is having a fantastic week!

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Heft by Liz Moore

14582156At the recommendation of many lovely bloggers, I listened to Heft on audio. I am now going to spew my own recommendation to those of you who haven’t experienced this wonderful book yet – audio is the way to go! Both narrators are fantastic and make their characters come to life with an ease and elegance that I’ve rarely found in the world of audio.

Heft is hard to summarize and for that reason I’m borrowing a short synopsis from Goodreads.com: A 550-pound former academic, Arthur Opp hasn’t left his house in a decade. Seventeen-year-old Kel Keller is the poor kid in a rich kids’ school striving for a baseball career. When Kel’s mother, a former student of Arthur’s, unexpectedly calls, it transforms both men’s lives.

In many ways that summary sounds dreadfully boring and was one reason I failed to read this sooner. But please don’t be dismayed. The characters in Moore’s novel are fantastic. She writes people filled with a gritty humanity that makes you yearn for a happy ending. Kel and Arthur go through so many trials and push through so many obstacles that you barely understand how they are still surviving. But they are surviving and it is spectacular.

I loved the push and pull between the two narratives – Kel’s and Arthur’s. It always felt like once man’s struggle was easing while the other’s only beginning. That waxing and waning made the flow work marvelously, but also takes you on an emotional roller coaster of epic proportions. I also particularly enjoyed having two male protagonists at such differing points in their lives. I liked how many similarities they had despite their extreme differences in situation. Liz Moore has won a fan for life. I will read everything she writes.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Heft was how easily I overcame a rather odd stigma or prejudice I have towards reading about morbidly obese people. I wasn’t even aware that such a character would turn me off until I read this synopsis. And I am embarrassed to admit that I initially cringed at this particular subject matter. I think I was just apprehensive to read a book that reflected something I find unattractive in myself (While not obese, I’ve never been the skinniest of women), but this book helped me confront my issues and learn from my own prejudices and grow. And that’s what great literature does. It offers up a mirror to confront ourselves – our ugliness and our brilliance.

Highly recommended!

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

6534328Another Classics Club choice moved over to the read column! As always, I enjoyed my time spent with Gaskell and her characters. My edition is the Penguin Clothbound and I’m in love with the green end papers. I now want something in my house that is exactly that shade of green.

Cranford is the story of Cranford. Ha! Cranford is a small town in England with a mostly female population. And as with most Victorian literature, there is a lot of society gossip, money, and class discussions. Each chapter relays a town anecdote, particularly those events which surround Miss Mattie – an old maid and a delightfully endearing lady. Our narrator, Miss Smith, is reliable, witty, and someone who adores Miss Mattie just as much as her readers.

Being that this was my third Gaskell, I was immediately comfortable with her writing style and still think she writes some of the most accessible Victorian literature. Cranford’s story isn’t deep with any symbolic meaning and is often light, funny, and just plain enjoyable to read. The tribe of female characters we get to know range from catty to completely selfless and realistically reflect the many kinds of women who exist in any town in all the world. At roughly 190 pages, Cranford is a novel you visit briefly and hope to one day return to.

What was most appealing to me was Gaskell’s humor. I smirked often at some little bit of hilarity and laughed out loud more than once at some biting turn of phrase. Gaskell is such a keen observationist (not a word, apparently) and gifted storyteller. You often believe you are looking directly through her eyes at the goings on. Her talent makes her humor all the more effortless and genuine. Plus, it never hurts to root for the happiness of a book’s main characters and to laugh alongside them in their many trials, tribulations, and joys.

I don’t think Cranford will ever be my favorite Gaskell novel, but I still enjoyed my time and reading experience. And I’m sure I’ll find myself deep within its pages in another few years when I’m feeling an itch for lighter Victorian fare. Wives and Daughters might always remain my favorite – most likely due to its luckiness at being my first Gaskell. If you haven’t read anything by Gaskell, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Add something of hers to your classics list today!

Bonus:

Gaskell is often compared to Austen and with Cranford the comparisons ring very true.

Tuesday Talk

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I haven’t finished a book in time to post a review this week. I hope to finish three or more in the next few days so hopefully this dry spell won’t continue long. Sunday was book club and we discussed The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I’m pleased to report that everyone really seemed to like and appreciate the novel. Some had a harder time getting into the story in the beginning, but eventually were able to overcome that obstacle.  We talked at length about the time period and what we thought of May, Ellen, and Archer. I’m just glad that everyone seemed to enjoy Wharton and I hope they give her other works a chance in the future.

Jimmy had his wisdom teeth out yesterday morning and he was the worst patient ever. He wanted to break all the rules and pretty much did which angered me off and on all day. I’m also in a state of anxiety over the disappearance of my job. I’ve applied several places and hope to hear back soon. I’m going to be putting in more applications this week. Fingers crossed that something positive happens soon!

In the meantime, I’m reading, cleaning, and hoping to spend some time in the sun this week. Friday Jimmy and I are flying to Los Angeles to attend his sister’s wedding on Saturday. It will be a busy weekend.

I’ve watched a few movies lately that I really enjoyed and want to recommend. End of Watch was such a well done and brilliantly acted cop movie. Depressing though. Gone Baby Gone was also superb – Ben Affleck is just an awesome director and Dennis Lehane provides excellent source material. But without a doubt my favorite film recently was Safety Not Guaranteed. So good. A little sci-fi, romcom indie film. Stream it on Netflix. I was smiling so hard it hurt by the end!

Tonight’s World Book Night! Have fun if you’re participating. I can’t wait!

Edith Wharton at Home by Richard Guy Wilson

13330391My second Wharton post takes a look at a non-fiction book dedicated to the house she lovingly designed and built called The Mount. Located in Lenox, Massachussetts, Wharton lived here from 1902 to 1911 when she permanently moved to France. The Mount was her first full scale house project overseen by her from the ground up. And what a beauty it is.

I love houses and interior design so I was very pleased to discover that Wharton had passions for both subjects as well. In fact, her very first published book was on the art of interior decorating. How many people knew that? I didn’t. She also wrote books on garden design and loved traveling to such places as France, Italy, and England to draw inspiration.

At Home documents Edith’s early childhood briefly before delving into her first house projects – those homes she occupied during the beginning of her marriage in Newport, RI and New York City. The novel quickly moves on to the first design ideas of The Mount and the chaos involved in building such an estate. The reader also gets quite an impression of the ‘gilded age’ with all its splendor and money. Several famous architects are discussed as well as first hand anecdotes of the society that visited Edith in her many homes.

Stepping inside The Mount once it’s finished is breathtaking. The pictures throughout the book are stunning – some literally taking my breath away. I cannot imagine living in such monstrosities and was amazed to learn that Wharton’s house was built on a rather narrow budget!! I also adored thinking of her sitting in The Mount’s corners, writing away at Ethan Frome.

I wouldn’t recommend At Home to everyone, just those of you would might really enjoy a book devoted to architecture, beauitful stately homes, and Edith Wharton. You get a real sense for who Edith was and how her passions filled her writings. The book reads very easily and didn’t feel dry a single time. The pictures are worth the rather large price tag – sometimes I would find myself just staring at them, wishing I could walk the gardens (which I totally can and plan on doing someday!). Such a gorgeous addition to my collection!

Bonus:

Hearing of Edith Wharton through the words of her great friend, Henry James.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

5246Dear Edith Wharton, I love you. My crush on you knows no bounds and I rank you right alongside Jane Austen. Ethan Frome was awesometacular. Not entirely sure how I will keep myself from living in a Wharton vacuum the rest of the reading year.

Ethan is a guy with a wife. Zeena is that wife and she is a hypocondriac. And just kind of utterly detestable. Zeena has a cousin. Mattie is young, vivacious, and without many plans for her future. She comes to live with the Fromes to help out around the house since Zeena is worthless. Ethan quickly becomes smitten. An elm tree and a sled play large roles.

Ethan Frome is more novella than novel, but still nothing short of brilliant. That ending! I just kind of sat stunned not completely understanding what had happened. So I read the last 10 pages again. And sort of squealed at the ridiculous.

As a character study, Wharton is perfection. I’ve known this some time having reading The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. But as much as I loved those longer novels, I think Ethan Frome has replaced them as my favorite. Which makes me think that Wharton might be even better as a short story writer. This amazes me. I’m crazy excited for her story collections – specifically the ghostly ones.

I recommend this gem to anyone and everyone. It’s so easy to read – give yourself a couple of hours and you’ll knock it out. I’m not sure whether the characters are likeable or even people we should feel sorry for, but I’m still thinking about them nearly 24 hours later. They’ve definitely made a dent in my blackened heart!

And if the characters aren’t enough to entice you or the crazy ending, just know that Wharton’s writing is top notch. Her ability to paint a landscape is genius particularly with so few words. You have nothing to lose here, folks, and everything to gain! Win-Win.

Bonus: 

That pickle holder or whatever it was ended up quite the symbol. Crafty little bugger.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

15507958I guess the first thing you need to know is that I inhaled Me Before You. Once I got started and through roughly 100 pages, I could not put the book down. I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning finishing that sucker, only taking minor breaks to recover from all the crying.

I’m thinking a synopsis of this story will benefit from the less is more strategy. Will Traynor is one of those douchebags who had it all – money, amazing job, blonde leggy girlfriend, and all the adventure he could stomach. His life is changed with he suffers a spinal injury and can no longer move from the chest down. He doesn’t deal well with his new life.

Louisa Clark is 26 and newly unemployed. Her trusty six year cafe job has gone away rather unexpectedly and now she has no idea what to do next. She’s desperate to find work to support her parents, grandfather, sister, and nephew. She takes on the caregiver position for a wheelchair bound man who turns out to be our charmingly snarky Will. There might also be a castle involved.

Me Before You won’t blow you away with its amazing literariness. The writing is fine if rather uninspired, but the story – so good. Moyes impressed me with her characters and her ability to make me care so freakin’ much about what happens to them. She also knocked me silly with her moral confrontations and the questions she demands you ask of yourself.

Will and Lou make such a great pair. You’ll love everything about them, even their faults of which there are many. The side characters are just as brilliant – specifically Lou’s colorful family. You’ll root for their strange little group and wish them nothing but the best page after page.

Finally, this little romance is the one I’ve been searching for – the one that has renewed my faith in love stories. I’m tempted to read Moyes’s backlog in a feverish rush. She doesn’t write an easy book – so please be warned. So many tears – an ugly cry that I haven’t cried in a long time. Her ending is difficult, layered, and will leave at least a tiny hole in your heart, but I never really yearned for a different conclusion. I loved the moral quandaries I battled with and I’m glad Moyes poses them to her readers in such an honest way. I love that the romance of this story rises above ‘cute’ to become something much more candid, serious, and realistic. Highly, highly recommended.

Bonus Points: All the British-isms! I love that you know this book takes place in England without even being told. So many times British novels are watered down and edited to Americanize them which is dumb. I’m glad Me Before You retains its accent!