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I’m writing ’bout the Book I read

January 7, 2010

The talking heads (famous for this ridiculous song) singing about reading books! I got bored and searched “books & reading” on youtube and got some VERY interesting results.

Anyways, I have started “The Earth Hums in B Flat” by Mari Strachan. I bought it last year because the quotes on the back of it seemed SO influential at the time. So many people saying they loved it, using adjectives like “gorgeous, blessedly unsentimental, quirky and charming.” What strange words for a book, right? I don’t think I have really anything to do today besides pack to move into my new apartment and read, so hopefully this will be done by tomorrow.

Also, today officially marks the FIRST WEEK of my book project. I’ve been thinking a lot of how to restructure the way the blog works…I want to encourage people to read along with me, even if its not at the same rate. Would it be helpful if I made a list every months of the books I intend to read? Should I do that on a weekly basis? Thanks to the few of you who are avid readers already, I’m still figuring this whole thing out so bear with me.

Cheers, Christine.

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Day 6: “Es muss sein!”

January 6, 2010

I finished up “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” today. Oof. I had heard such amazing things about it but I just couldn’t get into it. Even when I told my boss what book I was reading, she raved about it. I just don’t get it. I understand that it is a philosophical novel…It’s purpose isn’t to make you warm and fuzzy but instead to challenge what you think and even the way you think. While I appreciated, the brief passages where the author departed momentarily from the story to talk about philosophy, I just don’t understand how Sabina, Tomas, Franz and Tereza are used as tools to demonstrate the philosophy. Perhaps it is because I cannot fathom the life that the majority of the characters live. It’s filled with infidelity, compromise (and not in a good way), despondence and apathy. They go from event to event in their lifetime with no real cause or direction. Tomas and Tereza were especially frustrating for me because neither of them were happy or satisified with the other, yet they would follow each other to foreign countries and tolerate infidelity. Not in the cute, “I’ll sacrafice my life for you because you are everything” sort of way…But in a begrudging manner. Since yesterday, I have only forced myself to read the last third of the book because, well, of this project. Not because I was in any way invested in the story itself.

I think, actually, I can pinpoint the part in the novel where I checked out. Tomas realized that Tereza’s feelings about his many illicit affairs was consuming her life, that she could not put it out of her head and couldn’t lie in bed next to a man that smelled like another woman. Instead of attempting to conceal his adultery or even stop to prevent hurting her, he tells her “I have taken care of everything” and sends her to the top of a hill…. Where there was a firing squad. He sent her to her death! And while she planned to follow his orders and waited for her end to come, she suddenly cannot go through with it and she felt ashamed that she couldn’t follow Tomas’ orders.

…What?

I guess, in an attempt to cling at the silver lining, I really did like some of the deeper philosophical questions that Milan Kundera brought forward through the narrative. I think my favorite concept of his was that of “poetic memory,” which he defined as a special area in our brain that records everything that charms and touches us and that makes our lives beautiful. There is our normal memory: it allows us to record the normal and inconsequential incidents that happen on a daily basis. But a poetic memory holds those instances where something really moved you.

(Unfortunately, Kundera, your book will not be stored in my poetic memory).

I feel like I am being very quick to critique the book when in fact there are a lot of passages that really touched me. And it did make me question a lot of my thought processes. Perhaps I should read it again when I have experienced a bit more of life and can better appreciate the actions of the cast without immediately being appalled.

The Tally!
Days left: 359
Books Read: 3

Day Books vs. Night Books

January 5, 2010

So I am making progress with “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” however, not as quickly as I had with my first two. I think that something is preventing me from really getting into it–it might be the complete lack of dialogue or that the characters are always merely described from a third-person point of view…Something about them is so guarded by the author. And while I usually can flip through pages quickly without losing the story, I haven’t been able to do that with Kundera’s story.

So even with my lack of any real progress, I wanted to post something that I found interesting within the novel. It’s nothing of real consequence to the plot or the characters themselves, but something that a woman states at a dinner party one evening: ‘

“Really, there are books meant for daytime reading and books that be read only at night.”

I wonder if anyone really reads that way (or maybe I’m the only one who sits down in the early afternoon for a few chapters and wraps them up as I am falling asleep at night). Would you start a night book and not read during the day? Or just have two books being read concurrently–during their allotted time, of course–constantly? I don’t know if I could handle that. In addition to having overzealous reading goals and being an obsessive worker (my slowdown in books these past 2 days might be because I started back at my job a week early), I am a musician. Not a bonafide concerto performer or anything, but I have played piano since I was about 5 and even though there is no remote chance that I would ever use it in my career, I still enroll in music classes every semester at school.

I only mention this seemingly irrelevant fact because it demonstrates very well how my brain works. I play one piece at a time, no matter the difficulty of it. Whether its a study in fingering that takes a day to memorize or a 17-page masterpiece, I play one at a time. This might be a weakness of mine, but after the first few times playing it, I stop reading the music and stop thinking about it and let my fingers and hands play what they already know. When they know too many things, they can’t perform.

I think I’d be the same way with books. When I read a book, I try so hard to relate to the characters. I put myself in their position, attempt to anticipate their actions, feel what they feel in their relationships. If I were to read two books simultaneously, I think I might just have an empathy overload.

Maybe I’ll try it later on this year, re-reading a book I have already known while also reading a new, lighter novel. I’ll make one my day book and one my night book and report on whether this is actually something that anyone should do. Tonight, I’m going to put off sleep and continue to read. For now, its my night book.

Cheers, Christine.

The Unbearable Catastrophe of Being a Used Book

January 4, 2010

After finishing “Everything is Illuminated,” and without a clear structure to this project as of yet, I began hunting for my next read. Luckily, I didn’t have to search too hard. In my mailbox was a package with a book I had ordered, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera. I was all ready to spend my free afternoon on the sofa, alone with the book.

Now, let me tell you something about myself.

I am not a book snob. I don’t need a hard cover, first edition, brand-spanking-new book to enjoy it. However, I’m wary with buying used books because I don’t like other people’s reading habits (which is just a euphemism for “really annoying ways to violate the pages”). See, I have reading habits of my own: I always have a pen when I am reading tend to fill the margins with notes. I have a folding system–if there is a quote or passage I especially like, I dog-ear the page from the top. If I merely stop reading for a moment and shut the book, I dog-ear it on the bottom. And I sometimes put a post it in the back of the book just in case I need to write something I do not want permanently etched into the sidelines of the story. My own reading habits are quite enough damage¬† for a single book.

The one that was sent to me (I bought it in “Like New” condition for this very reason) is definitely, positively, ABSOLUTELY not Like New. It is decrepit and aged and falling to pieces. That’s what I get for buying it online. But even as a book deteriorates, I will read it and fill it with my little notes and dog-ears and post-its.

This particular one must have belonged to someone who also had an abundance of reading habits, underlining words that they wanted to look up in the dictionary (they marked: sublime, protuberant, inanity, irreparable, and mitigating. I think after the first chapter, all of two pages, they gave up). And when the cover fell off as I turned the third page, I momentarily gave up.

But with the help of some packing tape, I’m back on track. If you want to read along with me, go to your local used book store and pick out the crappiest available copy of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” That’s what I’ll be reading.

Cheers, Christine.

Day 4: Everything is Sunflowers?

January 4, 2010

Jonathan Safran Foer

I just finished “Everything is Illumated” about 30 seconds ago, and I’m not quite sure what I should even say. It’s beautifully written, the botching of the language reminds me a bit of “A Clockwork Orange” but the story is rather dark and sad. If you are going to read it (which I highly recommend you do), don’t be discouraged within the first few pages. Until about 30-40 pages in (maybe even more…), I had no idea what was going on–there are several different stories going on and I couldn’t seem to get my bearings. Even when I was over halfway through, I was trying to piece the three different stories together in a way that made sense, but forcing it didn’t help. It comes together beautifully at the end, I was torn and sad and appreciated how amazing it was all at once. I don’t want to say anymore in case anyone wants to read this, but its not a predictable book and there is enough foreshadowing that you get easily drawn in.

Part of what made me fall in love with this story is how simply everything is stated. The characters are complex, dynamic and have intricate back stories. But the way they speak is so direct, so factual, like there is no possibility that what they say cannot be true. And as lame as it sounds (I realize it does sound lame, make note of that), I ended up underlining a lot of text that somehow said something to me. My favorite?

They are both keeping secrets from each other. I thought about this when you said that Brod, “would never be happy and honest at the same time.

I haven’t picked out my next book, I think I might run to the used book store this afternoon and have an update tomorrow. Any recommendations for a less sad, less death-filled book? I would love to read something a bit less depressing after the last two.

The Tally:
Days Left: 361 days
Books Read: 2 (slowly but surely)

Cheers, Christine

Day 3: Everything is Illuminated

January 3, 2010

I finished Gatsby yesterday evening, and as I suffered through the ending, the plot–which I had long forgotten after reading it 5 years ago–started to come back to me. I still love the book, and I’m glad that I read it again. But the ending makes me uncomfortable. I think it’s the idea of dying alone, of ignorant betrayal and selfishness that made me want to stop reading before I had come to the final pages. I wasn’t able to actually feel for Tom or Daisy or Gatsby–none of them ever showed qualities that were remotely normal or human. But agonizing over Nick’s attempt to pay some sort of honor to Jay Gatzby is heartbreaking. That and I’m a sucker for a love story (you’re reading the blog of a hopeless romantic) and every relationship in this plot ends in death or doom. Note to self:¬† stop halfway through next time.

After finishing The Great Gatsby, I dug around my house to find a book I had not yet read. I bought several books online but they shouldn’t get here for another week or so and I am attempting to not spend any more money until they arrive and I have finished them (And a sidenote here: I love the library, but I feel that books are an investment that I am willing to make. I know I can easily read 99 books this year without a single cost to myself…well, except the inevitable late fee…but I hope when I graduate from college within the next year and a half and move into a tiny apartment of my own, I will have a substancial library to keep me company. It sounds silly but nothing makes me feel more at home than being surrounded by books).

Anyways, I found a book that I had bought from a used book store a year or so ago but never got the chance to read: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. I read another novel of his a few years ago, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which I had enjoyed so I figured this would be a good read (that and my friend, Nasia, had recommended it). So far, so good.

So far, I’m 3 days in and almost 2 books deep. I do not expect that I will be able to keep up this pace once I return to school and classes start. But I’m beginning to actually form a list of books as more people hear about this little project of mine. I keep getting recommendations, and I’m attempting to keep them all straight and read at least one book from everyone’s list of “Books That You Absolutely, Positvely Must Read.”

The Tally (expect this from every post where I actually make progress).
Days Left: 362
Books Read: 1!

Cheers, Christine

Day 2: My Reading List & The Great Gatsby

January 2, 2010

Since I made my resolution (less than a day ago), I have spent a significant portion of my idle vacation time making lists of books to read. I really didn’t set any rules about what 99 books I would select, but I am typically a fan of fiction & literature, sometimes I can even stomach a biography or a book of short stories. And while I am one of those readers who loves to read books 3 or 4 times, I want to read new titles during this project. With a few exceptions…

I have started my first book of the year: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Now, this book is a classic and I would be embarrassed if I had to admit that I have never read it. Luckily, it was required reading in my 10th grade English class, and even then (when the pace was set by my overbearing high school teacher and I was required to write a report on the book every so often), I absolutely loved it. However, I have my copy sitting on my nightstand and I couldn’t for the life of me tell you the plot of the novel.

So this is going to be my first book of the decade. I’m happy with the selection and I’m 150ish pages in so far, hopefully I’ll finish it by the end of the day (is it weird if I go to Barnes and Noble to read it? There aren’t a wealth of normal coffee shops around here so I am constantly attempting to find a quiet and peaceful place where I can sit for a few hours without being disturbed). So far its as great as I remember, and I recall that even 5 years ago I became far too invested in the characters (which is happening again).

Other than that, the project so far is going well. I’ve purchased all the books that I will need for January (and thank God for the Barnes and Noble membership card…However, I have found that buying books online–I used half.com–is incredibly affordable as well. 10 books for $50. I’m hoping that I have enough room to store all these books in my apartment this year. I need to remind myself to invest in a good bookshelf before this thing gets going).

The Tally
Days left: 363
Books read: Almost 1
Pages read (total): 154