Happy Banned Books Week!

Every September, I tell myself that this year is going to be the year that I’ll finally sit down and write the perfect, awesome, emotional, and overly informational post on Banned Books Week. But every September, I lose track of the days, or something comes up, and before I know it the fourth Sunday comes right around the corner and I’m just sitting there, palm to face, muttering variations of “Not again ” and “I’m such an idiot.”

Spilled milk aside, I do want to at least TRY to talk about literary censorship within the United States. As fun as it is to stick it to the book-haters revel in the mass enthusiasm that the book community is generating over this annual event, I think it’s important to understand WHY this event is happening. And I want to explain why I choose to participate.

But it’s already past midnight where I’m at, and while I’m not exactly Cinderella I need some semblance of a full night’s sleep if I’m to be expect to be a functioning human tomorrow morning. So I will leave aforementioned dream post to another day. Hopefully a day that happens to fall within this week.

In the meantime, I want to wish all of my fellow Stateside bookworms a very, very happy Banned Books Week!

Happy reading,

Jen

P. S. – What are you guys reading for Banned Books Week? I’ll be reading Joseph Heller’s classic, Catch-22.

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Summer 2014 reading list!

I mentioned previously that I made it my unofficial summer goal to read more classics. But then That Slate Article went live, and for a moment I contemplated pushing the classics aside to read exclusively YA because I was seriously bothered by the article and really wanted to do something in the spirit of protest. But then I knew that if I did do that, I would regret the loss of an opportunity to play catch-up with the classics. So now I’m compromising by deciding to do BOTH. I haven’t decided if this is yet another one of my have my cake and eat it too moments, or a genuinely good idea. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here are the books* that I’m planning to read:

Young Adult…

  • Proxy, by Alex London
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina
  • This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales
  • The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer
  • Beastly, by Alex Flinn
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  • The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
  • Wonder, by R. J. Palacio

Classics…

  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • The Bluest Eyes, by Toni Morrison
  • Othello, by William Shakespeare
  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury [not pictured above]

*I would like to thank my housemate and fellow bookworm, whose generosity in granting me free rein of her personal library made the majority of this reading list possible.


Readers — What are you planning to read this summer?

SNIPPETS : “Misery made me a fiend”

I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king, if thou wilt also perform thy part, that which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other, and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember, that I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Every where I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.

— The unnamed monster, from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I’m rereading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in preparation for the upcoming adaptation by Pemberley Digital and PBS Digital Studios. (Cue the excited screaming!) This is my first time back in this book since college, and a part of me is kicking myself for having decided all those years ago to toss out my lecture notes because I’m really curious as to how my professor analyzed and interpreted this book. (I can’t remember a thing. Ugh, count on me to forget.) But I do remember—however vaguely—the famous speech that the monster delivers to Frankenstein, his creator, a portion of which I chose to post for this week’s edition of Snippets. I was intrigued by the monster’s claim upon Frankenstein, and how he repeatedly references Adam’s relationship to God. I was also struck by what he said towards the end: “Misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” One of the major questions that the book brings up is nature vs. nurture. Are we who we are because of genetics, or an inherent, predetermined nature? Or does circumstance mold us into the people that we are? The monster believes it’s entirely nurture, but I think his “fiendishness” and “virtue” aren’t so much sides of his moral nature as it is behavioral reactions to how people treat him. If they’re good to him, he’ll return in kind. And likewise with those who mistreat him. His moral nature is actually very human—he gives what he gets.

New old books II

I can’t believe it has been FOUR years since this happened. And until this past weekend, I haven’t gone back once. (ALL THOSE WASTED OPPORTUNITIES JENNIFER LOOK AT YOUR LIFE LOOK AT YOUR CHOICES.) But in all seriousness I am grateful that I was able to catch the sale this year. It was fun browsing the tables and observing trends amongst the different genres. In the fiction section for instance, there were quite a lot of copies of Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as Toni Morrison’s Paradise. In the mystery section, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was popular, along with The Girl Who Played With Fire. (Although interestingly enough, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was nowhere to be seen.) I found a near-pristine hardcover copy of David McCullough’s John Adams in the history section, and was seriously this close to buying it—IT WAS GOING FOR $2 YOU GUYS—but decided to be reasonable and left it for somebody else to enjoy. I have a copy, my dad has a copy … I even have the HBO miniseries on DVD. We really don’t need another copy.

I was lucky this year. I had a good catch. Lots of the books that I found and purchased were ones I was specifically hunting for.

  • The Call of the Wind and White Fang, by Jack London
  • Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (the 1818 text)
  • Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
  • Paradise, by Toni Morrison
  • Othello, by William Shakespeare
  • Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

A lot of classics, as you can see. Which is perfect, because I’ve made it my unofficial goal this summer to read as many classics as possible. In talking to my reader friends over the years, I noticed that I actually haven’t read all that many classics. True, I’ve made old friends out of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and John Steinbeck, but I’m practically strangers with the likes of Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury … pretty much the canon of American Literature at large. Even within the scope of British Lit—which was the apple of my academic eye in college—almost anything past the moors in Wuthering Heights, or the cobbled streets of Sherlockian London is unfamiliar territory. I have never read anything by George Eliot, and have only just made headway with Dickens. And let’s not even begin to talk about my unfamiliarity with minority literature. It’s about time I started catching up, and I hope to do lots of that this summer.

Readers—What are your reading goals this summer? Bought any new books recently?

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.”

Mary Badham and Gregory Peck on the set of To Kill a Mockingbird. *

I had never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church—was it then I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoelaces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory, listening to the news of the day, Bills to Be Enacted into Laws, the diaries of Lorenzo Dow—anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

— Scout Finch, from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I’m re-reading To Kill A Mockingbirdagain, ha—and loving every minute of it. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I just love Scout. She’s a girl after my own heart with her scrappy, tomboyish ways, her intelligence, and especially her love of reading. I’ve no doubt that it’s to do with what I’ve read and learned from Proust and the Squid, but I’m only just now realizing how reading is nothing short of a miracle. For most of us, reading is so second nature, so instinctive. And yet it’s crazy to think back to a time when we actually had to be taught how to do it, when written words—and even letters—were foreign concepts to us, just funny squiggles on a page that only grown-ups knew how to decipher. Reading is such a huge part of my life now, that I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I never learned how to read. So much of who I am as a person is thanks to the books that raised me. They taught me about life, how to deal with difficult situations, what is right versus what is wrong. They challenged me to think, and led me into worlds and lives I would have never had access to otherwise. And they almost always came into my life exactly when I needed them. They still do.

* I can’t seem to find the original source for the above image. The best compromise I can provide is this post from the blog Awesome People Reading.

Of grapes and oranges

Pardon the photobombing by my new Arya figurine. She arrived from Westeros yesterday and is still acclimatizing to our world. Yes Arya, this is a phone. Yes Arya, I am taking a picture with my phone. Yes Arya, there’s a camera IN my phone. OKAY OKAY I’LL LET YOU PLAY WITH IT LATER JUST LET ME TAKE A PHOTO OF THESE BOOKS FIRST.

+ +

Huzzah, I’ve finished two books! But alas, I’m writing on them briefly because  I have several more posts queuing in my drafts folder, and I want to get them out by next week, so without further ado, let’s get cracking.

Five Quarters of the Orange and I got off to a good start. Harris’ prose was fantastic—lean, descriptive, and oh so lyrical. And the premise seemed interesting, the reading experience promising. Young Framboise, with all her wild tomboyish ways, was an easy drop in the bucket. I love spirited heroines, and I warmed up to ‘Boise perhaps all the more quickly for having a stubborn, difficult, embittered mother who was as frustrating as she was tragic. I enjoyed her romps through the countryside, the frankness with which she, now as an old woman, looks back at her escapades. Children are cruel, she admits, and I nodded in agreement, thinking back to my own childhood and the stuff we did. But about halfway through the book, my patience began thinning exponentially. There was no growth in the characters, little variety in the message that old Boise wanted to get across. I get that Boise had a difficult mother, that her mother had chronic migraines and a hatred for oranges that bordered on paranoia. But dang it Boise, DID YOU REALLY HAVE TO GO ON ABOUT IT I GOT IT LIKE A HUNDRED PAGES AGO. Last night, I ended up skimming the last few chapters—the chapters that I wish Harris had fleshed out because dang it, it was interesting. Way more interesting than the repetitive flashbacks we were saddled with. (Also, who doesn’t like a revenge tale between elderly underdogs and douchebaggy relatives?) But to its credit, Five Quarters made me ponder—about my own childhood, my own complicated relationship with my mother, about children and mothers in general, and how the past has a tendency to repeat itself.

The Grapes of Wrath reminded me of The Jungle—a family of honest, hardworking folk trying to make ends meet in a barrage of unfortunate events inflicted upon them by a force outside of their control. But unlike Jurgis and his family, whom I felt were unnecessarily victimized by their author, the Joads are strong characters who met each disappointment and trial with dignity and perseverance. No matter what happened they pushed forward, not allowing themselves to wallow in self-pity. I wouldn’t say this book is inspirational—it was intended to be a scathing critique of corporate greed, of the economic inequality in American society. But I do admire that family. And I love Steinbeck. I loved the prose in Grapes, how it’s so matter-of-fact, yet lyrical. The first chapter, when the narrator describes the condition of the parched land and the hard-pressed farmers, rings of epic poetry like The Iliad and Beowulf. I also appreciate Steinbeck’s frankness in his depiction of the harsh realities of the time. What happened to those tenant farmers was terrible: the banks seizing their land, kicking them off. Doesn’t matter that they lived and died on that land, worked the land, raised families on that land. With the foreclosures that happened only a few years ago, it makes me wonder if things haven’t really changed.

To Kill A Mockingbird — Banned Books Week edition [Day 1]

Before I launch into Mockingbird: Banned Books edition, I want to say a few things. Firstly, apologies for not being on schedule. I came down with some food poisoning on Monday, and have only just felt well enough to return to this little project. I was hoping to finish the book by Saturday, but I don’t think that’ll happen given that I’m way behind schedule. I’ll do my best to finish as much of the book as I can, though.

Secondly, I want to clarify what I meant by “live-blogging.” I won’t be updating this blog with real-time reactions in the same manner as, say, a live tweet session. While I could, I don’t think I’d have the energy to keep it up. Plus, real time blips seem better suited for Twitter, and I want to do something more bloggy than Twittery. What I plan on doing is posting each evening, from now till Saturday, with a summary of my thoughts and reactions to the chapters that I’ve read so far. Something like my posts on Jane Eyre. [1 & 2] I’ll try not to be too revealing with story details, but given the nature of these posts some spoilers will be inevitable.

With that said—onwards! And SPOILERS AHOY!!

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To Kill A Mockingbird. I haven’t touched this book in a looooong, long time. I’ve read through the first five chapters, and I’m a bit embarrassed to say that almost nothing is registering as familiar. Except for some of the names: Jem, Scout, Atticus, Boo Radley…

Speaking of Boo Radley, I think it’s interesting how Jem and Scout see Boo as this boogeyman figure.

Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in at windows. When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work.

from ch. 1

“He goes out, all night, when it’s pitch dark. Miss Stephanie Crawford said she woke up in the middle of the night one time and saw him looking straight through the window at her … said his head was like a skull lookin’ at her.”

from ch. 1

Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.

from ch. 1

Come fall, the children go to school. Poor Scout, though, has a rough time with her teacher, a newcomer named Miss Caroline Fisher. Not only does Miss Caroline disapprove of Scout already knowing how to read—which I find bizarre—she sees Scout’s efforts to help her understand her more peculiar students as insubordination. Deflated, Scout later asks Atticus if she could skip school altogether. Atticus gives a pretty awesome response.

[…] “Do you know what a compromise is?” he asked.

“Bending the law?”

“No, an agreement reached by mutual concessions. It works this way,” he said. “If you’ll concede the necessity of going to school, we’ll go on reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain?”

“Yes sir!”

“We’ll consider it sealed without the usual formality,” Atticus said, when he saw me preparing to spit.

As I opened the front screen door Atticus said, “By the way, Scout, you’d better not say anything at school about our agreement.”

“Why not?”

“I’m afraid our activities would be received with considerable disapprobation by the more learned authorities.”

from ch. 3

Parenting done right, amiright?

Speaking of Atticus and parenting, let’s talk about Atticus and his children. Jem and Scout seem to genuinely respect and look up to him. And I love that Atticus maintains a balance in their lives, allowing them to roam and play—as children ought—and yet making sure that they’re getting a good education, both in school and out. I also love that Atticus encourages Scout to read, doesn’t chastise her for not being girly or proper … and heck, uses her boyish nickname. In his conversations with Scout, Atticus appeals to her like an equal, reasoning with her instead of telling her to do what he says because he’s the adult. He also understands people, and cares about them.

Stopping this here, because I should be in bed and I can’t think straight anyway. I’ll add more to these thoughts in tomorrow’s post.