Wednesday, February 28, 2007

March: A Month of Paddys (Paddies?)

As our first two reads/discussions come to a close (and keep tossing topics for discussion for either VS or Pi if you feel inspired!) it's time to gear up for March. I'd like to nominate Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under by Michael Patrick MacDonald. I read All Souls, his first memoir, a few years back and quite enjoyed it, well, as much as one can enjoy a true story about organized crime, racism, rioting, poverty, and the horrendous deaths of four of his siblings. I watched The Departed this weekend and the experience bumped Easter Rising to the top of my book queue.

Discussion will follow Paddy's day by a bit... most likely the 29th of March.

Anyone else interested in joining me?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Outside Reading: Lamb

So I am about 1/4 of the way through Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.

I have another online book club that I belong to and these other women (it's through a mother's group) raved about Moore. I'm not so sure.

I've already read "A Dirty Job", and while I appreciate blasphemous humor as much as the next atheist, I think the dialogue is a little bit too witty for my taste. I don't mean to say that I don't appreciate wit, I really do. It just seems like the dialogue is overwritten. You know, like the 5th season of "The West Wing".

I don't know if that even makes sense, but I just feel like he doesn't have to hold my hand and explain all of his jokes. I've read The Bible. I get the references.

I guess I just feel sort of guilty not enjoying it. I really like black humor and I feel like Chris Moore should be my kind of author. He is supposed to be hilarious. Maybe it's just with the whole "DaVinci Code" crowd, but still...

Should I just stop reading it now, or should I stick it out and see if it gets better? I so love the idea of a smart-ass disciple that they left out of The Bible because he was such a dick, but this just isn't doing it for me.

- Sarah

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Life of Pi: The Better Story

Against all odds, I managed to start AND finish Life of Pi this weekend. My house is on the market and my mind is pre-occupied with things like SELL FOR THE LOVE OF GOD THE CLOCK IS TICKING, but I found myself at the gym with no desire to have sweaty headphones upsetting the balance of ear cleanliness I've become accustomed to, on top of the irrational pressure I've placed on myself to participate in this (very patient and lenient) book club I've joined... and suddenly Life of Pi was my treadmill distraction.

I'll admit that I've never been a member of any book club, let alone an online one. I've held back for so long that I've seen enough other members admit to the same thing to put me at ease about this sad fact. Notice I'm still mentioning it, though... take this all with a grain of salt, I guess is my point. Also, I'm trying to say that I'm not exactly positive how to start a discussion on a book with as many layers as I detected in Life of Pi.

***WARNING: Possible Spoiler Ahead***

Luckily for me, there is a nifty Reading Group Guide in the version of the book I bought. It has a series of thought-provoking questions, all of which are equally as profound, I'm sure. I'm going to pick one that works for focusing on what to me is the crux of the book: #22, Which story do you believe, the one with animals or the one without animals? I'm not sure I can directly answer this question, but I will say this: I read the first two parts of the book without questioning any of the "facts." When I got to the third part and Pi was pressured to tell a different story, I was pretty unhappy. I clung to the animal story with all my might. I wanted it to be true, as harrowing as I'd thought it was originally. I might have actually felt angry at the investigators from the Japanese Ministry of Transport for pressuring Pi to come up with something different. Like Pi, I had become attached to Richard Parker, that wild, dangerous, dependent, unpredictable killer companion. When the animal characters were replaced with human ones, when Pi explained in human terms what he'd endured for months at sea, it felt remarkably more unbearable, and to my chagrin, remarkably more believable.

Throughout the re-telling of Pi's experience, he makes reference to imagination, belief, and the role of the story in one's life. He accepts what most people would classify as three conflicting religious belief systems when he simultaneously practices Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. When confronted on this and told he must choose only one faith, his response is "I just want to love God." Pi simultaneously accepts the frameworks he's given, no matter how contradictory, no matter how unpalatable, and molds them to what he views as a universal expression of gratitude for life. He accepts atheism as a belief system, but rejects agnostic doubt as a potential life-long philosophy, claiming that doubt is not a habitable realm, but one that must be visited temporarily and later abandoned for more solid ground, "the better story."

Life is ultimately only relatable by the story-telling of our own experience. Pi's two stories begin and end identically; the differences between the tellings come down to character details, but those details profoundly alter the reader's view of the experience. The Japanese investigators ultimately have to choose which story they'll tell, and even after their significant and vocal doubt surrounding Pi's first telling, ultimately the one they pass on in official record is "the one with animals," which they deem in irony, emotional self-defense, or spiritual respect, the better story. This surprised me, until I realized, as I tried to describe the book to my husband, that I was telling Pi's first story as the story, the "real" one.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Virgin Suicides

Let the discussion begin

First question -- thumbs up or thumbs down, and why?

Please feel free to contribute even if you haven't finished reading -- or if you aren't an official member of the club.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Safety in Numbers..... or Maybe Not.

I don't want to give too much away for those still reading, but..... I've been thinking about the Virgin Suicides recently, probably because I can't seem to get into Pi -- and because we're supposed to talk about it here (that's what book clubs do -- especially the supercool ones, right?).

Something about it reminds me of a psychological phenomena (shut up, I was a Psych major) that maintains that the more witnesses there are to an accident, the longer it takes for the victim to get help. It's really just a form of transference -- the gist of it is that if there are a lot of people around, witnesses tend to transfer responsibility to help the victims to the next guy, assuming that they must be more qualified to help. Whereas, if you are the only witness -- you know it's up to you to help -- there's nobody else who can.

An entire community witnessed the undoing of these girls, yet nobody stepped in. Initially, the neighbors and a priest tried to intervene -- but that was it -- they gave up. I wonder, would the outcome had been different if somebody (friends, neighbors, personnel at school, family members) had tried harder or done more.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Why does hate me?

Okay, so... College student here. Resident procrastinator. I ordered my book (I picked the Virgins) off of Amazon three days ago.

My book is lost.

They speculate it is, perhaps, in Minnesota.

I'm not sure why, but I think it's very cold there.

It's much warmer in North Carolina...

Is anyone else as far behind as I am?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Aint it the truth

A line that struck me as I read the Virgin Suicides the other night.....

From Chapter 3
" At that moment Mr. Lisbon had the feeling that he didn't know who she was, that children were only strangers you agreed to live with, and he reached out in order to meet her for the first time."

I think that we can all relate to that on some level, whether it be as a child or as a parent.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Jesus H.--I'm Behind Already!

I was just sauntering over to check out the site, and POP! There's a cool banner! And people are already intelligently writing about books! CRAP! I thought I was doing well because I had started reading PI and was so pleased that I found his writing clever. I haven't even GOTTEN to the boat part yet! CRAP!

I am heading to Vegas on Thursday for a long weekend and I will finish my PI on the plane. Wait--who am I kidding?! I will be busy reading this and this because I hate flying and I can't focus on any actual reading in case I hear any noises that are out of line during a regular flight. And yes, I can still hear the noises through my iPod. If the flight goes smoothly after an hour or so, I may be able to focus long enough to finish my January issue of this, but I make no promises.

It is my hope that I will come back from my weekend away with something more interesting to say about the book other than the fact that the writer is clever.

The Lay's Potato Chips of the Literary Set

I wrote in an e-mail to the Super Coolest Book Club, EVAH! this morning that I have read The Stand six times and The Talisman (Stephen King and Peter Straub) five times. I'm not sure why, really. I think it's probably for the same reasons people read Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe multiple times: they capture our imaginations and we find ourselves wanting to get lost in those worlds if only for the time it takes to read them.

I also included on this list The Sound and the Fury and how I have read it four times (I've also read As I Lay Dying three times, as well - what the hell is it with Faulkner? F'in stream-of-consciousness). And I qualified that by being more specific: I've read it three times normally and normally being from front to back. I've also read it once starting with the last section and moving my way backward: Dilsey, Jason, Quentin and finally Benjy. Those of you who have read it may understand the method in the madness in this approach. Most readers, when confronted with Benjy's 30-year time-tripping narrative, are instantly put off and never pick it up again. By starting with Dilsey, you can get a "top down" look at the Compsons so that each previous chapter makes more sense (and makes reading the novel a tad easier).

All this is a long way of getting to: what books have you read multiple times? I have plenty of things that I've read twice - I want to know what people have read more than that; the ones they've read so many times the spine of the book is broken.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

I Should Be Drinking Beer Right Now

I decided to use the kids' naptime today to try to add a new header to our site. Apparently I forgot HOW TO DO IT (even though I managed to add a clickable header to my own site). I'm going to start Superbowl prepping and simply can't look at the HTML anymore. If anyone else wants to give it a shot, please do!

P.S. Please let me know what you think of the pic.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Notes from the Shameless Self Promotion department

My post over at Lara's site has been nominated as a best of Blog Exchange for this month. It's a trunkated (because it had to be reasonable length for a post on another person's site) version of a story I've had brewing for a while. It is germane to the bookclub and shows the world of my soft white underbelly of geekdom, but I hope you'll check it out. If you like it , I'd appreciate your vote. Thanks!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Virgin Post

My name is
Mrs Big Dubya, and I volunteered to facilitate a discussion about Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides. I've never facilitated such a discussion before -- so, please be gentle with me.

Some housekeeping....
Who else is reading it?
How much time do you think is reasonable?

I plan to read it pretty quickly and pass it off to Hubby so that I can start reading the other book.... from what I can tell, it's about Lions and Tigers and Bears -- Oh My!.

Anyway, the copy I have is 5 chapters, 249 pages of fairly large print. I'm on chapter 3 already, so..... I think we can get through it fairly quickly. Today is Friday, February 2nd.... Can everyone have Ch's 1, 2 &3 read for the 9th and the rest for the 16th? That's a total stab, so if people have other ideas..... please pipe in.

Thoughts on Chapters One & Two:
Not entirely deep or literary (my thoughts, not the book), the first two chapters really make me think about what goes through a town's collective mind when tragedy strikes. The kids, the neighbors, the clergy -- even within the family there seems to be a loss on how to offer comfort.

I'm also constantly reminded of Great Expectations -- not sure if it's the ratty wedding dress, the filth of the house or just the madness of grief. (My high school English teacher would be so proud!).

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Outside Reading - Nonfiction

Before I start reading one of the two options for this month’s book (no, I haven’t decided which one I am going to read just yet), I wanted to add another book review to the ever-growing list of outside reading reviews.

For Christmas, one of my Aunt’s (knowing what a reading-nut and rhetoric-nut I am) gave me the book The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words by Ronald White.

In the book, the author (who also wrote a tome entitled Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural which examined the second Inaugural) looks at the progression of Lincoln's thoughts and the growing prominence and articulacy of his speeches during his presidency by examining 11 of Lincoln’s speeches individually while also looking at their relationship to one another and how they all tie-in or, in the author’s words, how they are like a “string of pearls” that come together to make something incredible.

The author traces Lincoln's ever-evolving rhetoric over the course of his presidency in what can best be described as a series of critical essays.

(It should also be known that White puts an emphasis on how much presidential power can emanate from “rhetorical leadership”, something I wrote a lengthy essay on, from a Platoism perspective, when I was an undergrad)

In many of the speeches, White shows that Lincoln always left the audience with thoughts and ideas (which any good speech professor – such as me – will tell you is one of the goals of speechmaking) that will be picked up on in a later speech and which have developed more fully over time as Lincoln’s thoughts on those particular subjects have grown.

Now, enjoy an excerpt:

Lincoln’s farewell address at Springfield, IL. February 11, 1861

My friends.

No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe every thing. Here I have been a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be every where for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

Abraham Lincoln arrived at the small brick Great Western Railway station in Springfield on February 11, 1861, prepared to travel to Washington and his inauguration as the sixteenth president of the United States. The day dawned cold and miserable, with intermittent rain dripping from the low-hanging clouds. Parked at the station was the Presidential Special, a train consisting of only two cars, an ordinary passenger coach and a baggage car, standing by to receive the president and his party. Both cars were painted a bright yellow. The grand locomotive-the L. M. Wiley, brasswork gleaming, with its huge balloon stack-hissed at the ready.

Lincoln had decided beforehand that he would offer no remarks, and the press had been so informed. After the many farewells of recent days, Lincoln believed there was no need for any more words. Newspaperman Henry Villard, a twenty-five-year-old German immigrant posted to Springfield in November by the New York Herald to report on Lincoln's daily activities after his election as president, captured a remarkable scene. "The President elect took his station in the waiting-room, and allowed his friends to pass by him and take his hand for the last time."

Villard observed that Lincoln's "face was pale, and quivered with emotion so deep as to render him almost unable to utter a single word."

On the Kemp scale of 1 being a piece of crap and 10 being TKAMockingbird-esque, I give this book a seven.

Herding Cats

We're now up to 13 members and I've had requests from two more bloggers who want to join but who I need to check out. Anyone reading this who wants to read along with us and comment is more than welcome. We're all very nice people, well all except for Arwen. She's mean to people in bakeries. And Melissa once hit me over the head with a tap shoe but I think she was four at the time so I've forgiven her. I mean SURE she SEEMS nice now, just be on your guard around her is all I'm saying.

Here's my attempt to kill the "what book are we reading first?" question once and for all. As we've all proven our staggering literacy I figure it will be tough for the first few months to find ONE book that none of us has read so we all have the option of reading Life of Pi and/or Virgin Suicides. Next month we'll choose two of the many excellent choices suggested so far.

As for admin stuff, I'll continue to do the basic housekeeping around here. Does anyone want to step up to facilitate the Pi and VS discussions? Basically, it will involve keeping the dialogue going and setting dates for completion and discussion and the shape that the discussions will take for one book. We can share facilitator roles so everyone has a shot at moderating discussion.

In the meantime, keep the posts and comments coming! Thanks to Kemp for the JK Rowling scoop! Let's put that on the table for summer discussion!

Book News

The new Harry Potter book has a publishing date.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment of the boy wizard's adventures, will be published and released at 12:01 AM on July 21st, according to author J.K. Rowling's website.

While I won't be in line to buy it at midnight, I will be buying it shortly after its release.