Monday, November 30, 2009


Don't forget to enter the Vonnegut 'Look At The Birdie' give away.  It's a great chance to read a great author! Just follow the link on the sidebar, become a follower of 'One Hundred Books', scroll down post and enter a comment! Easy Easy!!

Currently I'm reading A Passage to India (#25 on the list)  and Howard's End (#38) by E.M. (Edward Morgan) Forster. I have not done this kind of thing before.....said the little lamb.....No, I mean reading two books at the same time! Get your mind out of the gutter! But I'm giving it a whirl to do a bit of comparative reading.  So far I am way more into Howard's End, but we'll see what happens.
 E.M. Forster was born January 1, 1879 and lived to a ripe old age dying June 7, 1970.  His father died when he was young and he lived with his mother, in London, until her death in the 1940's.  He won countless awards for his writing and turned down a knightship in 1949 (probably due to England's Imperialistic policies).  After reading several different small bios and factoids on Forster, the preeminent feature of his life and writing seems to have been making a stand against Imperialism, racism, homophobia, and sexism.  He did this by having the characters in his novels embody different elements that would clash to reveal an inner truth about human nature and enlightenment.  
His last novel A Passage To India is drawn from his time spent there in the 1920's where it is believed he had an on-going relationship with an Indian man.  I'm sure the injustice of Imperialism and racism was cause for his spot lightening the English attitude toward Indians in their own country.  Also on the top 100 list is A Room With A View (#79). 

Thursday, November 26, 2009


This is too cute.  It looks like my Uncle Herbie (God rest his soul).  Happy Thanksgiving to all those happy book bloggers out there that have shared so many good (and sometimes not so good) books and their insights, recommendations and humor.  I'm thankful I've actually made some unexpected like-minded friends by creating a "book blog". 
I was thinking last night about the learning curve of creating a book blog.  At first, I just thought I'm going to read these top 100 books, which I've always wanted to do.  If I create a blog maybe someone will read it and it will create an embarrassment factor if I give up!  That is literally how my sick mind works, disturbing yes!  Then I met some wonderful people and started enjoying their blogs and then discovering more blogs through their blogs.  
But then a whole new set of issues inadequacy issues!  "Hold the phone, WTF is a widget, winky, Mr. Linky, RSS feed, tweet-twitter, google reader, html codes, site meter, follower, gadget gobble, gobble gobble-de-gook?  Then I somehow ended up following myself not once, but twice and didn't know how to get myself off there until Stephanie at Misfit Salon took pity on me!  How embarrassing! And, Cara from Oh...Books tried to help me out as well with 101 Blogging, but I'm too challenged.
Then if all this weren't confusing enough, I started worrying about this phenomena "blog etiquette" and wondering if I had maybe done anything to offend another blogger or didn't comment enough etc.  Now at this juncture, neurotic would be an appropriate diagnosis.  As one may notice, I still have the most basic of basic blogs for fear of messing anything up beyond repair.  So for now I just have to stick with enjoying books and ruminating about them using all my "quotation" marks and lots of !!!!! and endless (parenthesis) because I always enjoy sharing internal monologue (see below).
Well off to engulf some turkey and the trimmings until I fall into a gelatinous mass on the sofa all drugged up on tryptophan (which I think is literally being sold on an infomercial now) As if I need to buy something that makes me more lethargic!
Happy Thanksgiving Uncle Herbie!!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Again, I love Kurt Vonnegut! I had a smile on my face after reading "Slaughter House Five" and internally noted, "yes, this is why I'm reading all these novels!!"
So imagine my delighted exuberance at opening my favorite obsession "Vanity Fair" and seeing that there was an on-line exclusive on a never released short story by Vonnegut! 
"Kurt Vonnegut may have died in 2007, but his brutally witty fiction lives on.  Read "Shout About It from the Housetops" a never before published story from his upcoming posthumous collection, Look at the Birdie, at"

Excerpted from Look at the Birdie: Unpublished Short Fiction, by Kurt Vonnegut, to be published October 20, 2009, by Delacorte, an imprint of Random House, Inc. Text © by the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Trust. Illustrations © 2009 by Kurt Vonnegut and Oragami Express.
I read it. I guess everybody in Vermont read it when they heard Hypocrites’ Junction was actually Crocker’s Falls.
I didn’t think it was such a raw book, the way raw books go these days. It was just the rawest book a woman ever wrote—and I expect that’s why it was so popular.
I met that woman once, that Elsie Strang Morgan, the one who wrote the book. I met her husband, the high-school teacher, too. I sold them some combination aluminum storm windows and screens one time. That was about two months after the book came out. I hadn’t read it yet, hadn’t paid much attention to all the talk about it.
They lived in a huge, run-down old farmhouse five miles outside of Crocker’s Falls back then, just five miles away from all those people she gave the works to in the book. I don’t generally sell that far south, don’t know many people down that way. I was on my way home from a sales meeting in Boston, and I saw that big house with no storm windows, and I just had to stop in.
I didn’t have the least idea whose house it was.
I knocked on the door, and a young man in pajamas and a bathrobe answered. I don’t think he’d shaved in a week. I don’t think he’d been out of the pajamas and bathrobe for a week, either. They had a very lived-in look. His eyes were wild. He was the husband. He was Lance Magnum in the book. He was the great lover in the book, but he looked like one of the world’s outstanding haters when I met him.
“How do you do,” I said.
“How do you do?” he asked. He made it a very unpleasant question.
“I couldn’t help noticing you don’t have any storm windows on this beautiful old home,” I said.
“Why don’t you try again?” he said.
“Try what?” I said.
“Try not noticing we don’t have any storm windows on this beautiful old home,” he said.
“If you were to put up storm windows,” I said, “do you know who would pay for them?” I was going to answer the question myself. I was going to tell him that the money for the windows would come out of his fuel dealer’s pocket, since the windows would save so much fuel. But he didn’t give me a chance.
“Certainly I know who’d pay for ’em—my wife,” he said. “She’s the only person with any money around here. She’s the breadwinner.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t know what your personal situation here happens to be—”
“You don’t?” he said. “Everybody else does. What’s the matter—can’t you read?” he said.
“I can read,” I told him.
“Then rush down to your nearest bookstore, plunk down your six dollars, and start reading about the greatest lover boy of modern times! Me!” he said, and he slammed the door.
My conclusion was that the man was crazy, and I was about to drive off when I heard what sounded like a scream from the back of the house. I thought maybe I’d interrupted him while he was murdering his wife, thought he’d gone back to it now.
I ran to where the screaming was coming from, and I saw that an old rusty pump was making all the noise.
But it might as well have been a woman screaming, because a woman was making the pump scream, and the woman looked like she was just about to scream, too. She had both hands on the pump handle, and she was sobbing, and she was putting her whole body into every stroke. Water was going into a bucket that was already full, splashing down over the sides, spreading out on the ground. I didn’t know it then, but she was Elsie Strang Morgan. Elsie Strang Morgan didn’t want water. What she was after was violent work and noise.
When she saw me she stopped. She brushed the hair off of her eyes. She was Celeste in the book, of course. She was the heroine in her own book. She was the woman who didn’t know what love was till she met Lance Magnum. When I saw her, she looked as though she’d forgotten what love was again.
To see the rest of this excerpt visit Vanity Fair on-line!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Brave New Word
Aldous Huxley
Published 1932

"Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I.
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!  How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people  in't" 

Brave New World takes place in AD 2540, where natural childbirth and nuclear families have been abolished.  There is no "God" in this mechanical age; there is "Ford", yes as in Henry Ford ( i.e. "Oh my Ford, you just scared the daylights out of me!!  Apparently Huxley didn't know how badly Ford would be tanking in 2009.) Any of the reasons that are cause for war, crimes, competition and even love have been eliminated because these things cause pain and interrupt production and consumption. The leader of this society (The Controller) Mustapha Mond explains it to a man (John Savage who has come from a contained reservation that is not civilized). 
" Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended.... there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense.  But there aren't any wars nowadays.  The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much.  There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do.  And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed....that there really aren't any temptations to resist.  And if ever, by some unlucky chance anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's  always soma (a drug that is similar to alcohol, heroin, cocaine without physical damage or addiction) to give you a holiday from the facts." 

Some ways of life in the Brave New World (London) are attractive: no illness, no significant aging, no prejudices against sexuality/orientation or religion, no war, no starvation etc.  But the cost of these benefits are high: no individuality,  love,  companionship,  family,  art/creativity,  passion or freedom of choice (self will).  "Everybody belongs to everybody" is a Brave New World mantra.

There are  two main characters in the novel, Bernard and John Savage, who represent a juxtaposition (Bernard being from the Brave New World and John being from an uncivilized reservation, although he has been educated by his mother and has spent years reading an old copy of Shakespeare's works.)  The Brave New World is one of genetic engineering where people are created in a test tube to be either Alphas, Betas, Deltas or Epsilons.  Each person is geared to certain jobs/tasks; in example, Epsilons are the lowest life form and purposefully designed to be of a lesser intellect and physical stature.  Because they are specifically designed for mindless labor the possibility doesn't occur to them to be anything different; therefore, there are no power structure conflicts (they're referred to by Alphas as "Epsilon Minor Idiots". Nice!!)
Bernard (an alpha which is physically and mentally the most superior) finds John Savage on a contained reservation.  John is the product of a women (Linda a Beta) who was lost (on a scientific expedition) while visiting the reservation.  More than twenty years has past when two alphas, Bernard and Lenina (his sexual partner for the trip) find Linda and John who have been taken in by Native Indians.  Because they are considered outcasts by the Indians, they are ostracized and degraded.  Linda (who originally was a fine specimen is now an obese mess with missing teeth, which horrifies the Alphas and the Betas) , is unaccustomed to the concept of motherhood, is at first horrified she is pregnant and by the idea of motherhood (a dirty word).  However, her son John becomes her comfort and connection to "her world" in the midst of chaos.  
Bernard brings them back with him as objects of "scientific curiosity".  Bernard has always been "different" then the other Alphas.  Although Alphas are bred to be similar in every way, there are a few (maybe genetic throw backs) who cannot escape the desire for individuality.  I feel that the novel is more about John's journey in what he has christened the "Brave New World."   Does he embrace his genetic homeland or does he return to savagery  (these are the only two choices Huxley provides)?  
Of course, reading this in 2009 one can see things that are ridiculous like the creation of individuals for mindless labor jobs, where as we know these kind of jobs are fewer and fewer as technology has taken over.  One notices little things like a person assigned to operate the elevator, which would be common in 1932.  To Huxley's credit, many things are accurate,  the obsession with anti aging, drugs for every conceivable problem, fixations on cleanliness,  sexual freedom and secularism.  
It took me awhile to get into the novel due to it being science fiction, not my favorite genre; however, it is a book worth reading.  It challenges the mind to think about issues that we are facing currently in the world and to what ends we will go to for medical advances and global and environmental stabilization.  I think Huxley was brilliant and "Brave New World" is a must read!


Saturday, November 14, 2009


"The Age Of Innocence"
Edith Wharton
Published: 1920
As a history teacher, the enjoyment of this novel was twofold.  The historical element afforded new perspectives and references for life in 19th Century New York; and, the novel was also (although ridiculous by today's standards) worth reading for the characters and their societal, cultural, and emotional involvements. 
I taught a unit on the Industrial Revolution to my students called "Engines of Change" for years as part of the curriculum. The focus predominantly was placed on reformers, inventions and immigration.  I highly recommend "Five Points" by Tyler Anbinder if this era is of interest.  It covers the immigration into New York's Five Points, a chaotic jumble of Italian and Irish Gangs, African Americans, Chinese, prostitutes, drinking establishments, and of course extremely corrupt politicians (Tammey Hall/Boss Tweed).  Conversely, "The Age of Innocence" took place roughly six miles away (5th Avenue), but for all practical purposes it was worlds apart and integration of these worlds was nonexistent.
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was a product of this gilded world.  Born Edith Jones, her family's name literally spawned the saying "keeping up with the Joneses."  Needless to say, she didn't have to spend relentless hours researching for this novel and was an accomplished writer at  a very young age.  Wharton was one of the few that made the journey from high society to intelligentsia and befriended many accomplished writers and artists (Henry James was a close confidant). She also, in 1921, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for "The Age of Innocence".
The novel is reflective in many ways of Wharton's transition between different two different societies and cultures. 
The gradual death of  old world customs and the birth of the modern age (Twentieth Century) is metaphorically represented in the characters of Newland Archer, the Countess Olenska, and May Welland.  Newland Archer, 19th Century metro-sexual, goes through a myriad of changes as he awakens from a life of slavery to conformity to what is truly important in life.  This awakening is caused by his fiances' (May Welland) cousin, the Countess Olenska whose nature is not congruent with Newland's world (a world where a guest could cut off his thumb at dinner with a steak knife and be accused of causing a dreadful scene).  Eventually he is ready to throw it all away, his marriage, fortune and  prestige for Olenska.  This love is vanquished by his marriage and the impending birth of his first child.  Archer steps back into the stifling gilded cage that he so desperately wanted to escape and although not entirely miserable, sleep walks through the remaining years of his life.  His only consolation a few brief moments in time when he could have been a different man who led an entirely different life.

Again, I appreciate this journey because it provided me the opportunity to experience a novel that had been procrastinated!  So life goes....

"The worst of doing one's duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else." Edith Wharton "The Age of Innocence"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Will I make it?  All these books in one year?  Probably not, I have to face the facts.  But, I will do the best I can with the goal of enjoying the novels, not speed reading just to say, "I'm done!!"  After all, the joy is the journey.  

I survived Halloween and my son Domenico's birthday all while living in a studio in Hawaii.  We moved out the beautiful house we were renting, a $2000. rent (YIKES!) And now are in the midst of "What do we do next?"  We camped two weeks on our kid's school vacation.  Then we rented a studio.  Now, we are contemplating a move back to our house in Maine, not the most comforting thought during the winter months.  But, my husband moved here for work and his job was eliminated.  How long can you sit around a place, no matter how beautiful, without gainful employment. Also, our schools have closed every Friday due to lack of money in education (don't even get me started on where the money went!!)
So, what to do, what to do??
This makes it a little difficult to make reading my priority, although I am doing my best in the evenings. One Dr. Kilby came across my site and was certain he had read my time frame incorrectly.  He emailed me to ask, "Umm, are you sure about the 365 day thing?"  (that isn't verbatim).  To which I replied, "No, but I am a person that has to set outlandish goals to accomplish anything."  When I went to graduate school, I had three children, two under the age of two!  My peers thought I was a little crazy, deservedly, given we had to teach full-time, take 33 credit hours, and I also owned a retail business.  But, I'm all for throwing myself into the fire.  
Dr. Kilby is a very well read individual and I thought he had some great insights and ideas to share about many of these novels.  So I'll share them as well......
I read An American Tragedy last year.  It was overly long and kind of a soap opera, but I enjoyed it overall.  He has interesting insights into psychology and our complex motivations, but his writing is downright cumbersome at times.  Like the Studs Lonigan trilogy I just finished, it is on these lists less because it is a “timeless classic of literature” and more because of how it pushed boundaries and was wildly popular in its time.  That’s my opinion anyway.

Gone with the Wind is kind of like that, too (I think it’s on the Time/American list but not on the Random House/British list).  Difficult to rank with the greatest literature on its own merits, but rather because of what it represents historically—like Harry Potter, it revolutionized the reading habits of the entire US (and much of the Western world?), not by changing University reading lists but by capturing the attention of the everyday public.  It’s fascinating that Mitchell and Rowling also each spawned the most critically acclaimed blockbuster films of all time.  There have been attempts at movies relating to Finnegans Wake, Ulysses, and Portrait of the Artist…but they’re not very memorable!   And I’m betting not many mill workers tucked dog-eared copies of these books into their lunchboxes like they did An American Tragedy and GWTW and Studs Lonigan!  (My 13 year old recently snuck and tried to read Ulysses because he heard it had been banned and censored…he reported back to me that “you would have to work pretty hard to get turned on by that book!”  I agree—in this age of free internet porn, it is difficult to imagine the titillation of poring through 100,000 cryptic words in order to uncover something about how eating undercooked kidney ties in with Freudian fantasies of carnal sexuality…)  The memory of Studs Lonigan that will remain with me forever actually comes from the deleted/censored alternative final 20 pages or so…after all his timid waffling about trying to be good and what is morality, etc, he is screaming “F#%$ my mother, f--- the ten commandments, I am the AntiChrist…”  Wow, you can see how that never saw the light of day circa 1934.   

Dreiser talked about the same themes that great literature has for centuries—struggles to overcome social stigma, the inability to rise out of your social caste, the consequences of unbounded ambition, etc….But he faced it head-on in a way that Victorian writers never would have dared…(Shakespeare was more likely to tell it like it was than most of the writers for the next 200 years that followed, wasn’t he?): ”What if your sister was a prostitute and had to go hide in a dirty motel to have a baby out of wedlock?  What if you were tempted to murder an innocent woman in cold blood in order to continue a meaningless affair with a well-to-do society girl?” 

I have not read Sister Carrie—it’s one of the next books on my list.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Slaughter House Five" 
Kurt Vonnegut
Published 1969  
I know this a long review but please read it because I highly recommend this book!! And this is why I chose to read the top 100 novels because I wouldn't have had this experience otherwise. 

What can I say, I love Kurt Vonnegut!  His frank, dark and often self deprecating humor causes a desire in the reader to literally ingest "every word".  It truly is a 2 a.m. book that is put down when your contact lenses are burning and you're out of eye drops.   Vonnegut uses his past in WWII as a p.o.w. in a German Camp and the bombing of Dresden as one of the many dimensions experienced by Billy Pilgrim (the protagonist).  
Billy Pilgrim is an ordinary man from Iliad, New York.  He's a scrawny pipe of a guy, weak, weary and prematurely gray/bald in his twenties.  His time traveling starts during the war, as he has crossed enemy lines with 2 scouts and a pain in the ass named Roland Weary who is described by Vonnegut as eighteen and from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  "He had been unpopular in Pittsburgh.  He had been unpopular because he was stupid and fat and mean, and smelled like bacon no matter how much he washed.  He was always being ditched in Pittsburgh by people who did not want him with them. When Weary was ditched, he would find somebody who was even more unpopular than himself, and he would horse around with that person for a while, pretending to be friendly. And then he would find some pretext for beating the shit out of him."  

When Billy is about to be 'done in' by the bloated Roland, Germans come along and capture both of them sending them to Dresden where they are housed in "Slaughter House Number Five".  Billy time travels to all different points in his life.  
The Tralfamadorians  (aliens) show up at a certain time in Billy's life and kidnap him to guide him through his  fourth dimension experiences.
Billy can visit any point he would like to in his life. The Tralfamadorian view of life can be described as such: 

"All moments past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.  The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance.  They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them.  It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.  When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.....So it goes." 
I like that! 

Billy can be riding in the train as a p.o.w and the next moment he is visiting :
*His forties as a successful Optometrist.
*His marriage to the Senior Optometrist ample daughter Valencia.
*Different points in his children's  lives.  
*Visiting an impatient mental institution reading Sci-Fi novels by Kilgore Trout
*Has an airplane accident
*His wife dies of carbon monoxide inhalation
*Starts going on radio talk shows revealing his times as a captive of the Trafamadorians.  When he was kept naked in a Zoo.  

He had to be kept in a Zoo, where the conditions of earth were simulated.  He was naked at all times, but his Zoo environment was quite nice with furniture and modern appliances stolen by the Tralfamamdorians from 'Sears and Roebuck'.  At all times he has a Tralfamdorian audience, which at least leads Billy to finally have 'body confidence' because they think everything he does is just the most spectacular thing they've ever seen (especially when he uses the bathroom).  But just Billy isn't enough, so the ever considerate and accommodating Tralfs provide Billy with a partner to mate with, Montana Wildhack (a B movie actress), "and so it goes".  

This novel was so enjoyable that I was laughing aloud or shaking my head every few pages.  But on the flip side, it demonstrates the inhumanity of war/life in it's harshest form:  
"I myself have seen the bodies of schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were proud of fighting pure evil at the time.  This was true.  Billy saw the boiled bodies in Dresden.  And I have lit my way in a prison at night with candles from the fat of human beings who were butchered by the brother and fathers of those schoolgirls who were boiled.  Earthlings must be the terrors of the Universe!"
"Slaughter House Five"......Read It!