Book 390: The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Plath, Sylvia - The Bell JarThis is one of those books that has so much umph in the cultural milieu that it’s a wonder I’ve never read it before. I squeezed it in just in time this month to get a podcast recorded to be released at the end of the month. If you’re in the Boston area and you want to record one let me know! :-D But, more importantly than podcasting, this book counts as the 43 book of my Classics Club journey. (See, I told you I was still chipping away). I’m so far off target it’s not even funny, but I’m glad that I’m still occasionally reading from my list.

Let’s start with the big to-do about this novel. Maybe it’s not that much of a to-do, but it felt like one. I still don’t know how much of this novel to believe is fiction. It’s very clearly labeled as fiction and yet it is very clearly Plath’s own personal story. I mean her mom wrote a letter to the American publishers saying these are real people and real stories thinly veiled as characters! There is one point where I couldn’t help but laugh because Plath writes Esther, the main character, writing a novel about a character doing the same thing. HOW META CAN YOU GET?! This is the same story being told by three different people all of whom are telling/experiencing the same story.

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Book 291: Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman’s Daughter #2) – Megan Shepherd

Shepherd, Megan - Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman's Daughter #2)It is very rare that a second novel, let alone a middle novel in a trilogy, can surpass the first. In this case, not only has Shepherd done it, she’s surpassed an incredibly well written debut novel with an even more creative, intense and harrowing follow-up. It is NOT a place holder as many middle books are in trilogies and I was incredibly impressed.

Whereas H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau inspired The Madman’s Daughter, took her inspiration for this novel from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and I CANNOT wait for the third novel, thankfully it give me time to read the book it’s based on, but I won’t tell you in case you want to read it as it’s revealed in the final pages of this novel.

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Book 288: Veronika Decides to Die (And On the Seventh Day #2) – Paulo Coelho

Coelho, Paulo - Veronika Decides to DieI had a copy of The Devil and Miss Prym and planned to read it, but when I pulled it off the shelf I found out it was the part of the And On the Seventh Day trilogy after By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, which I’d read already, and Veronika Decides to Die. This is hilarious, because I definitely wrote about the trilogy in December of 2012, but either way I picked this up from the library earlier this week.

As I said last time, and I will probably say again, it’s been far too long since I last read anything by Coelho. I somehow let myself forget how beautiful his writing is and I can’t help but wonder how beautiful it must be in the original Portuguese! These are the same thoughts I think whenever I read Murakami, just imagine how beautiful it must be in the original language and credit clearly is clearly due to the translators! I can’t remember what author said it, but someone said that a work of translation is a different work and is just as artistic and I truly believe it with these two authors.

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Book 180: Mickelsson’s Ghosts – John Gardner

Gardner, John - Mickelsson's GhostsThis book is definitely a reader’s book, or maybe a writer’s book? I’m never really sure what the difference is, but either way it’s a tome that really pushes you to focus on what you’re reading as there are quite a few heavy philosophical arguments and references within the novel, and it pushes you to question what is and isn’t real with the protagonist acknowledging that he’s had previous stints in a mental institution and the varying ‘ghosts’ to which the title refers.

I bought this book in 2011 at the Boston Book Festival and it’s just sat on my shelf since. I’m glad I read it, but at the same time I’m not sure why I bought it at the time as I’m terrified of ghost stories, but you’ll have to read on to find out how this one affected me. Since it’s been on my shelf for almost two years it counts for my Mount TBR ‘extra’ challenge. It took nearly two weeks to read and that’s from the denseness of the book. seriously, scroll down and read the first line—it’s a PARAGRAPH—or any of the quotes for that matter!

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Book 170: The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Wilde, Oscar - The PIcture of Dorian Gray WARNING and APOLOGY: this post starts with a rather long tangent about literature, art and people. (Sorry! Probably should be two posts, but I’m lazy.) If you don’t really want to read it (but you should there are a few great quotes) skip to after the third block quote. And to get it out-of-the-way, The Picture of Dorian Gray is the January read for my books into movies book group at the local library and conveniently appears on my Mount TBR (extended) list and my Classics Club list!

Now for my tangent, I’ve noticed as I read a wider variety of literature that the authors I’m drawn to have a lot to say about books, reading and writing. I have a lot of respect for authors who are able to reflect on writing, books, and literature within their own books and stories. In his forward to The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes the below quote.

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” (4)

And I can’t help but appreciate how incredibly insightful and powerful this is. Imagine if all the people threatened by books, who’ve burned books, who attempt to ban books, and those who just refuse to read certain books actually understood this. I love this quote so much it’s my new email signature and I’ve added it to the great book quotes on my sidebar (only the third)!

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Book 147: Other Voices, Other Rooms – Truman Capote

After putting this book off for more than a month so that it would fit within The Literary Others reading event and after it sat on my shelf since I purchased it from the 2011 Boston Book Festival I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not really sure if it was worth the build up to keep putting it off, but it was an interesting read. In addition to being a part of The Literary Others Event it also counts towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge (23/25)!

This is only the second Capote work I’ve read and it was very different compared to In Cold Blood, which I read before I started this blog. Other Voices, Other Rooms is Capote’s first published novel and is semi-autobiographical. You can definitely see the personal influence from the effeminate young boy to the faded rich southern decadence you catch glimpses of throughout.

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Book 138: Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago counts for three challenges, and actually wraps up one of my 2012 Challenges! It counts for the Back to the Classics Challenge (6 of 9), The Classics Club (12 of 100), and is my final book for the Tea and Books (8 of 8) challenge! I will do a wrap up post for the Tea and Books challenge early next week. For the Back to the Classics Challenge, this book was the novel from a place I realistically wouldn’t visit. After reading Doctor Zhivago and Anna Karenina I can say my aversion to visiting Russia is less, but I still would list it as not likely to travel to.

One thing I’ve learned that is vitally important when reading a classic novel is that you have to read the introduction. Sure it might tack on 20-30 extra pages, but they are there for a reason and they reveal so much information that is incredibly useful when reading a book, not to mention they give you a head’s up of what to look for as you read. For example, in the introduction to Doctor Zhivago, the following quote points out how the novel is written.

“Pasternak’s vision is defined by real presence, by an intensity of physical sensation rendered in the abundance of natural description or translated into the voices of his many characters.” (loc. 146)

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