A Random Recap of 2011

I realize this is unrelated to literature or reading, but I promise I’ll sprinkle some literary aspects throughout. I just feel like, with it being the last day of 2011 and my first year writing a blog, I should make some sort of list to reflect on where the heck this year went. Just to warn you, it’s kind of long.

January

What did I do in January? Gosh, that was so long ago. I moved into a different dorm room (up three floors, away from one problem roommate and into another, even though I didn’t know the second roommate was crazy at the time!). I realized that two of my best friends had the same birthday. I’m terrible at remembering birthdays. I finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and felt that emptiness that all readers feel when a series suddenly ends.

February

Hm, I don’t think anything significant happened here.

March

Skip?

April

I know I have something interesting here! I went on tour of the midwest with the band (that is so not as cool as it sounds, I play the flute in a Wind Ensemble) and reread Pride and Prejucide for the…sixth?…year in a row. I always read P&P over my spring break, so I read it over tour week. It never fails to amaze me how deeply I get drawn into that story when I read it. Romance, gossip, balls – what more can I ask for? I read Everything is Illuminated on that trip too. I remember finishing it and immediately texting the friend that had recommended it to me. I think my text read something like “olaewd;lkjfa;lk. WOW.” I also remember I read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence for a project and loved the subtle irony she used to critique society.

May

So, my college does this weird thing called May Term. We have one class, every day, for three hours. I signed up for a “Writing Metropolis” class that ended up going to New York City for ten days. Before the trip, I don’t even know how much we read about the city. So much. We made it through the entire Writing New York anthology. I also frantically read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss before we went on the trip, because we got to hear her read at Hunter College. I got her to sign my copy of The History of Love, but was disappointed her husband didn’t attend the reading too. What kind of husband doesn’t support his wife by attending her reading and therefore disappointing dedicated college groupies?

(I’m not that obsessed, I promise. I just think they’re both brilliant and that it’s unfair that they get to be married to each other.)

While in New York we also got to talk with Zoraida Cordova, who has her first book coming out in March. Before talking with her, my dream of writing was waaaay in the back of my head, but after meeting and talking with her, I realized that it is possible to write books while still in school, with lots of dedication. We also talked with Benita Hussain who writes for Matador Sports and Travel and a few other fantastic people. New York City got in my blood when we were out there, I can tell you that for sure.

June

New York obsession continues. Jonathan Lethem, more Nicole Krauss, Hubert Selby… I also became an intern at the fabulous Coffee House Press here in Minneapolis and read lots and lots of good and not-so-good work while starting to seriously write stories of my own.

July

I ran my first 5K! Which is significant because I have asthma and never knew I could run three miles without dropping dead.

August

My internship ended, my soccer season ended (the team I coached took first place, woo!) and my online class ended (note to self: never take an online class again). Suddenly I had free time.

September

I moved back into college, this time with two great roommates, and began to read a lot of memoir for my nonfiction writing class. I also read way too much Camus and Sartre and Neitzsche for my taste in my modern fiction class. Also, lots of Chaucer and Spenser and Herrick and so many names I can’t remember for British lit.

October

I went back to New York City. And I also started this blog. So I’m not going to report what I read, because hello, go back to my October archives. Oh, and I read the Hunger Games series which led to one of my roommates pulling an almost-all-nighter because I convinced her to read the books too.

November

Also an extremely significant month in my life, not just in 2011. My only grandpa passed away from a heart attack. He had COPD from smoking. So, if you smoke and you’re reading this, QUIT NOW. I read an insane amount of free romance novels on my Nook because I needed to be distracted. Nothing was particularly good…in fact, I don’t remember what I read at all. Doesn’t say much for the quality of free romance downloads, does it?

Side note, I don’t read a lot of romance. I can’t handle it most of the time. But it’s quick and easy (pun intended?) and takes your mind off things.

December

Aaaaand here we are. I went back to CHP for a couple days a week over break, so I’ve read a few more hopeful manuscripts. I also have been reading a lot more political articles on nytimes.com in hopes to save myself from becoming an ignorant voter next year. Those are not so much fun. Currently, still reading Middlesex, and also just started Juliet by Anne Fortier, you know, on the side.

There were, of course, many other things that happened in my life in 2011 that I don’t quite feel like sharing, but overall it has been a good year. I really dove into the literary world, what with my internship, blogging, and my own fiction writing. Hopefully, your year has been pretty good too, and I haven’t made you yawn while reading this post (I really am sorry that it’s so long).

See you in 2012!

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A New Year, A New Appearance?

Although I’ve been keeping this blog for about three months now, I still know very little about how to utilize Word Press. And even though it’s not quite the new year, I decided to switch up myliveread’s appearance a little bit. Kind of freshens it up and gives me (and you) something new to look at. I do that a lot when I get tired of my cell phone and all I can think about is how much I want a new one – change the background, font, ring tone and tada! new phone.

Anyways. If you have tips or think your blog looks way cooler than mine, I’d appreciate some advice.

 

I’m still reading Middlesex. I’m almost (almost!) done with it, and although it’s fantastic, I keep getting distracted with other things. Like hm, messing around on here and changing all my settings, watching season 4 of Big Bang Theory, and making myself lunch. Is there a such thing as reader’s block?

2012 Reading Resolutions

Here comes 2012… it seems like the year went all too fast! What are your reading resolutions for the new year?

Some of mine are:

  • Read the paper more. My college provides the NY Times for free, but I hardly ever pick one up. I want to start reading the paper and keep up to date (especially with an election coming up!).
  • Blog more! My posts are pretty erratic on here, so I want to get better about reporting what I read.
  • Tackle Proust. This is the goal that is most likely to get pushed to the side, but I really want to read Swann’s Way.
  • Read more in general. It’s too easy to let other things take up my time, so I want to make sure I read a little bit every day, even if it’s only ten minutes quick before class.
  • Read more memoir. I think this genre is my new obsession, largely due to my nonfiction writing class! I want to see more of how people express themselves and tell the stories of their lives. Research for my own possible memoir? Maybe 😉

I also want to keep chipping away at my reading list. I add way more books to my list than I can read at one time! That seems like a common problem…

On a different note, I’m still reading Middlesex and absolutely loving it. The narrator is so compelling, and even though I’ve only read as far as Desdemonda’s and Lefty’s life, I can’t wait to hear more about Callie/Cal. No wonder this book won a Pulitzer Prize! More to come about Middlesex, I promise.

New Favorite Book? It’s a Possibility

I LOVE being on winter break. I can wake up, make a cup of coffee, and read for an hour if I want to instead of rushing off to class. So far the reading list is going great! I finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which is absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait for the movie to come out.

I also just finished reading a memoir by Diablo Cody called Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. It might just be one of my new favorite books.

She mentions in the book that she has awesome tattoos…I wonder if she really has one that looks like this!

During my nonfiction writing course this past semester, we had a ‘journalism’ assignment and were given a list of books written in that style to read a synopsis of to learn more about how to write journalistic nonfiction. This book was on the list, and I was finally able to grab a copy from the library to read.

Stuck in a boring job at an advertising agency, Diablo Cody decided one night to sign up for an amateur strip night at a night club in Minneapolis. For a year, she was a stripper, eventually giving up her corporate job. Her boyfriend was supportive and even thought it was sexy that she spent her nights grinding on other guys for cash.
Now, this isn’t the subject material that I would usually read, but I couldn’t put this book down. Diablo Cody is a hilarious writer, and so many scenes that could have been disturbing or uncomfortable were instead written with a humor that left me laughing instead of cringing. It was also interesting to hear her ‘outsider’ perspective on Minneapolis and how she treated midwestern culture. Of course there was a comment about hot-dish…it appears no one can mention Minnesota without poking fun at that phrase.
(Incidentally, my mom was raised in Iowa, so we don’t have hot dish, we have casserole.)
She provided insights into other strippers’ lives, how managers treat the girls (and how they rip them off – sometimes a stripper would have to pay the house if she didn’t make enough money for the night), and what motivates people to strip. She also wrote her own personal reactions and how she felt after nights she did well and nights she barely made enough money.
It was a fantastic book: witty, hilarious, reflective, analytical, hilarious (oh wait, I said that already). Anyways, it was funny and a quick read.
Fun fact: Diablo Cody wrote this book a year before she wrote the screenplay for Juno.
In the meantime, I am starting Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Ernest Hemingway: Short Stories (And also, where have I been lately?)

I am guilty again of neglecting my blog! My excuse this time is finals…the torture designed by higher education to make you vomit every shred of knowledge you amassed during the semester. Usually this vomit occurs in short answer and essay questions, especially in literature classes. So my hand hurt, my mind was tired, and I did a lot of knitting to relax.

Anyways! I’m on break now and I have a very ambitious reading list to tackle.

Recently, I finished a short story collection by Ernest Hemingway. I had already read “Hills Like White Elephants,” which is one of my favorites, but I was also impressed espeically with “Cat in the Rain” and “My Old Man.”

As I was reading, I thought about what makes the stories so profound, and of course it’s Hemingway’s writing style, which has been analyzed and critiqued up to here (I just put my hand way above my head). I wanted to spout my opinion now on why Hemingway’s prose is so elegant and his stories so meaningful.

He writes with such a simple style, and I think that is really what makes the stories come alive. He can capture a wide range of emotion – although most of his characters are sad – and can accurately portray the desperation many of his characters feel in that moment. I think the simplicity of the sentences allows the reader to imagine depth and background in the stories, because Hemingway doesn’t explain a lot of history or motivation for the character’s actions. He just drops you right into the scene, which is often right in the middle of a character’s life. His writing is descriptive and to the point. I think part of the reason why I love his writing so much is that he writes in short scenes, which is how I like to write short stories.

I look forward to reading more by him, but for now I’m moving on to my next book!

Escapist or Literary Fiction?

I thought of this while in class today and decided to blog about it – what makes a book literary as opposed to just escape fiction?

When I was in high school we read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and had a discussion about whether or not it was literature or escape fiction. If I remember correctly, I took the side that it was literary.

That brings about this important question…what about A Thousand Splendid Suns? It has many of the same plot elements and themes although it is a different book entirely. I was sort of reflecting on this last night as I was writing my post about rereading it, because I found it really hard to describe the plot. I simply wanted to discuss the themes, but forced myself to lay out the events of the story. Does that make TSS more literary than escapist? I’m not sure.

On the one hand, it reads like escape fiction. The book draws you in and forces you to keep turning pages. You’re engaged the entire time you’re reading it. Now, those aren’t qualities that can’t be in literary fiction…but I think the book also had some qualities that can’t be found in escape fiction only. TSS tackled some huge themes and issues and basically gave a history of Afghanistan from the 1960’s to present-ish (it was published in 2007). It discussed the chaotic political structure (if that’s the right word to use) that the country experienced, brought up issues relating to domestic violence, caputred the destruction and devastation of war, and emphasized the power of friendship. These are all things that really make you think and reflect as you read, which are aspects not found in most escape fiction.

So I guess the argument can be made either way. I think I lean more toward the fact that TSS is literary fiction, although it has qualities of both.

What do you think? What makes a book an escape as opposed to a literary experience? Is it easy to draw a defining line between the two? Are there qualities of one or the other that can’t be found in the opposing type of book? Interesting things to consider as you read.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A beautiful jacket design my David Mann

I recently read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, who also wrote Kite Runner. This is another fantastic piece of literature by Hosseini. I originally read this book some five or six years ago, so I wanted to reread and experience the world Hosseini creates for a second time. Just enough time had passed that I remembered only the basic plot, so I was still surprised and touched at different moments of the book. This may have some spoiler alerts – it’s impossible to describe the plot without giving some things away!

This book focuses mostly on Miriam, and later Laila. Both are women that are thrown into unfortunate circumstances and forced marriages, but they find comfort and strength in each other. It opens with Miriam, describing her childhood as an outsider. She was born out of wedlock and her and her mother live far outside the city in a small shack built by her father. After her mother commits suicide, Miriam is married away when she is 15 to a man about 40 years her senior, Rasheed. When she fails to deliver a son, he becomes abusive.

The book then switches and describes Laila’s childhood. She was raised to believe she could acomplish anything despite the circumstances, and is devastated when the developing war prevents her from attending school. Her relationship with her close friend Tariq develops until one day his family leaves the city for a safer country. Laila’s house is later hit by a bomb, killing her parents. Rasheed takes her in and forces Miriam to heal Laila. Later, Rasheed marries Laila and, she gives birth to first a baby girl and then a son. However, there is a secret about the little girl’s real father, and when Rasheed discovers it he explodes. He is abusive toward both women, but Miriam and Laila bond and are brought together in strength. Tariq returns one day and promises to take them away. What happens next can only be described as an explosive climax to the book, leaving Rasheed dead, Miriam arrested for murder, and Tariq, Laila, and the two children fleeing the war-torn country.

This book is haunting and beautiful. The friendship between Miriam and Laila is incredible and delicately written. Hosseini captures exactly the bonds between friends, mothers and their children, and families in a touching way. I cried again when I read the ending (I remember crying the first time I read it). The book ends with hope for the future, and provides a unique perspective on what happened in Afghanistan pre- and post- 9/11. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in dramas about family and relationships, different cultures, or anyone who just wants to try something new. It’s a fantastic book, and I definitely enjoyed my experience rereading it!