July 2012 Reads

A lot late on posting this one, but in my defense: these posts take forever to write.

For those of you new to the nest, you’ll need to know that I usually have a neurotic reading process. Each month I read at least part of a non-fiction book, a book about reading/writing/editing/language, and as many books from my color stacks as I can (my books are organized by spine color and I’m going through each color stack, reading every book I haven’t yet read).

I’m forgetting all of that and sticking with just my last few green books though, because on the 19th of April I started the Shakespeare/Poe/Frost Challenge. Jake bet me that I couldn’t read the complete works of each in a month. And he won. I calculated that I’d have to read two hours each day to be able to read all of that in a month. And I don’t have two hours a day to read. But I’m going to abandon my normal reading pattern until I read it all, just to see how long it will take me. So expect to be hearing about this until the end of time.

I’m done with the Frost, and cheated a little bit this month with the books I received for my birthday, but I’m chugging along.

July 2012 Reads

Here are the books I read in July:

EverydayStoryteller

Everyday Storyteller (2012) Jennifer S. Wilson, Ed.

This memory keeping book came out this summer and created a lot of online buzz because of of the impressive list of contributors (including some of my favorite memory keepers: Elise Blaha Cripe and Amy Tan), a clever launch party, a generous affiliate program encouraging people to spread the word (of which I am a part), and the promise of pages filled with practical ideas for memory keeping. I haven’t heard a single negative thing about it, but I’m going to try to honestly review the pros and the cons.

I bought the hard copy, because I love holding real books in my hands, but I wish I had just stuck with the digital version (which comes free in addition to the purchase of a hard copy). The layout padding and margins was designed for the digital version and felt off in the book because of the binding, which drove me nuts (I know that’s being super nit-picky, but I care about stuff like that). The binding also isn’t very strong, and I can tell that I’ll have loose pages by next year. The body of the text didn’t feel right (maybe because it was sans-serif?). I did love the color scheme in the book, but wasn’t impressed with the overall design. It made sense for the PDF, but not always for the print version.

As for content, I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed at first. I flipped straight to the “articles” written by my favorite people, only to find them painfully short. Each article is two pages, mostly dominated by photos, leaving room for about 3-7 paragraphs per person. Shorter than most blog posts I’ve read from these people! I was expecting magazine-article lengths, I suppose (which, to be fair, some of the contributors did write). I was expecting new stuff and new ideas, but I kind of felt like it was regurgitated information that I’ve read from my favorite bloggers before. It’s not really the fault of the book, my expectations were just off. I think I would have liked it a lot more if I didn’t know about all of the hype beforehand.

Feeling a little dejected, I flipped to the front of the book and started from the beginning. And I found that it was the content of the book as a whole and not the individual articles that made it amazing. Sure, I bought the book to read articles by specific people. But the people that I didn’t know had perspectives that I might not have considered. They had outlooks on memory keeping that were useful. I thought of it as an introduction to a bunch of new memory keepers that I should now follow. I also picked up a bunch of new tricks I’ve already incorporated into my routine.

I will also say that this information would be amazing for someone just getting started with memory keeping or someone who feels like they’re in a rut. If you’re a memory keeper questioning the point of it all, this book will give you the jump start you need. The book wasn’t life-changing for me, mostly because it kind of reaffirms the perspective I already have about memory keeping: it’s about documenting life, keeping it simple, finding your voice. The sections of the book say it all: “Capturing Moments” “Telling Stories” and “Creating Memories”. I wish I had this book when I started scrapbooking in 2006 instead of the layout-design focused ones. I wouldn’t have to go back in and add in stories to my old pages that are pretty but don’t say much.

Room for improvement? Yes. Still worth it? Yep.

Quoting the book doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but you can Download the Table of Contents instead.

Poe

Stories from Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Works, Deluxe Edition by Edgar Allan Poe

Still slow with the Poe, though I’m reading it a lot faster now. I think his writing style just took awhile for me to get used to. I’m constantly impressed at the range of subjects and experimental genres Poe comes up with: no two stories in a row are anything alike: the stories go from dark and depressing to light and satirical with the flip of a page (though many stories in his overall works are nearly identical). Here are the stories I read in July:

The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) is a detective-style mystery. The murders that occurred seemed to be paranormal in nature, but the detective figured out a logical explanation Sherlock Holmes-style. (But this is recognized as the first-ever detective story, so it isn’t really correct to say that this is Holmes-style). I don’t love stories that explain backwards without much live action, but the ending was pretty surprising. And the format is so familiar: it seems that pretty much all detective novels afterwards followed Poe’s formula.

A Descent into the Maelström (1841) is a big-fish sort of a tale related from one man to another. The man claims to have survived a whirlpool shipwreck. I was thinking about the climax of the Little Mermaid the whole time.

The Island of the Fay (1841) is an essay contemplating music and nature. It’s sort of meditative, and is a work I’ll need to read again to really soak up the meaning of the allegory.

The Colloquy of Monos and Una (1841) is a dialogue between the spirits of two dead people morning the actions of mankind.

Never Bet the Devil Your Head (1841) is satire; attacking transcendentalist idea that all tales should have a moral. Three guesses from the title as to what happens to the “bad” guy in the end.

Three Sundays a Week (1841) allowed a dude to marry his cousin, because his uncle said that they could be married when there were three successive Sundays. So he found world travelers that had “gained a day” or “lost a day” due to time changes going around the world. I found out after reading this that this story inspired the plot device at the end of Around the World in 80 Days (which I read January 2011). Apparently Poe’s the grandfather of practically everything (you have him to thank for science fiction, too).

Here’s a quote from The Murders of Rue Morgue:

“Keeping now steadily in mind the points to which I have drawn your attention–that parculiar voice, that unusual agility, and that startling absence of motive in a murder so singularly atrocious as this–let us glance at the butchery itself. Here is a woman strangled to death by manual strength, and thrust up a chimney, head downward. Ordinarily assassins employ no such modes of murder as this.”

*You can read all of Poe’s work online (legally) for free. Check out this Wikipedia article for all of the links.

Shakespeare

Plays from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare

Now I’m done with the comedies and I’m working my way through the histories:

Antony and Cleopatra (1601-1608) I’ve been reading the Shakespeare plays in the order they appear in my book, but I skipped ahead a bit to A&C because I planned on going to see the play live and didn’t want to go without having read it. We DID go to Midsummer Night’s Dream (which I talked a bit about in this Randomly Right now post and this Project Life post), but it ended up being too hot for A&C (we’re wimps, I know).

Here’s what I thought (SPOILERS!!!):

I will say that the motivations of the characters in this play make absolutely no sense to me. Antony and Cleopatra are having an affair (when did she fall out of love with Caesar? I know he’s dead, but still. I’ll understand better when I re-read that one. I should have read them both.) Antony is one of Rome’s triumvirate and is ignoring the problems in Rome in favor of Cleopatra’s bed in Alexandria. He doesn’t even seem to be bothered that his wife was killed in a rebellion against one of the other members of the triumvirate (Octavian). But hey, pirates, that warrants a return to good ‘ole Rome. Antony there marries Octavian’s sister to form an alliance, and then proceeds to directly cheat on her with Cleopatra. What did you expect to happen, Antony? He’s an idiot. Then there’s a war (of course) and Cleopatra tries to get a reaction out of Antony by pretending she’s dead. So he commits suicide, for real. What did you think was going to happen, Cleopatra? These people have no foresight. Octavian captures her, and becomes the first Roman Emperor, and she commits suicide (for real, this time). The bad guy wins, the protagonists die because they’re incredibly stupid. Classic Shakespearian tragedy. (I make it sound like I don’t love it, but I do.)

King John (written in 1590s, published 1623) is pretty much Game of Thrones, which is a funny coincidence, because I also read that this month. The heir to the throne is contested, there’s a war with France, everybody dies, and John forgets to sign the Magna Carta (which Shakespeare didn’t include, for some reason). The end. I thought the histories would be boring, but I’m loving them. They’re much more akin to the tragedies (my favorite) than the comedies (which I could do without). If all of them are as action-packed as this one, I’m going to have no trouble breezing my way through.

I also started King Richard II, but didn’t finish it until August.

Here’s a quote from Antony and Cleopatra, as a character describes why Cleopatra is addictive to Antony:

Domitius Enobarbus: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women clay
The appetites they feed; but she makes hungry
Where she most satisfies: for vilest things
Become themselves in her; that the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.”

Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) (1996) by George R. R. Martin

Jake and I found ourselves completely obsessed with the Game of Thrones television series this summer (he watched both seasons in TWO DAYS), so Jake bought me the first three books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series for my birthday. The show is so true to the book that it reads like a transcript.

This book transcends the fantasy genre. I love a good fantasy novel: If you put me on a desert island with nothing but Tolkien, R. A. Salvatore, and Robert Jordan, I’d be just fine. But the fantasy is so light and in the background, you don’t have to be over the line to the serious nerd side to like these. It’s all about the characters: you’ll fall in love with them. It’s about human interaction, the struggle for power, and the consequences of having a realpolitik society.

The series shifts perspective from character to character, which allows the reader to be in multiple places in the world at once. The narrating perspectives are, for the most part, sympathetic characters. It’s hard not to love them, but they often have conflicting interests. It makes it hard to know who to root for sometimes, because if one character gets a leg up, another character you love might die. And die they will; Martin is not afraid to kill off characters. I love that, though, because it makes the series unpredictable. Like many seasoned readers, foreshadowing sticks out like a sore thumb to me: I almost always know what direction a book will take. Not so with this! Every time I think I have a plot line figured out, a giant curve ball comes my way. I’m going to be so sad when I finish the fifth book and have to wait on the edge of my seat for the sixth (it’s being written now).

CALLING IT: For you Game of Thrones nerds, I’m making a prediction. I think that Jon isn’t Ned’s son; he’s Lyanna’s and Rhaegar’s. Ned covered it up so that Robert wouldn’t kill Jon, at Lyanna’s bequest. It’s much more keeping with everyone’s character, don’t you think? I made this prediction while watching the show, but little tidbits here and there in the books are working to confirm my suspicions. (If I’m right, you must all shower me in complements pertaining to my brilliance).

Now for a quote:

Tyrion: “A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

ClashofKings

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) (1999) by George R. R. Martin

I started (but didn’t finish) Clash of Kings in July. I’ll save the full review for the August Reads post, but just know that I read it, in all of its 1000 page glory, in three days. It was physically impossible to put down!

July 2012 Reads

You can see all of my other reads posts here.

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Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are you reading lately?