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It seems that San Diego is paying tribute to Dickens on his birthday–it is as gray and rainy today as the scenes he described in Bleak House. I can almost see Lady Dedlock, staring out my window at the passing traffic on this rainy evening, muttering “I’m so bored.”

To celebrate Dickens’ 200th, I completed this little meme on my experience with Dickens. Thanks to Yet Another Period Drama Blog for posting it and Jillian at A Room of One’s Own for directing me to it!

How were you first introduced to Charles Dickens?

I was first introduced to Dickens via Mickey’s Christmas Carol. It was my favorite holiday movie every year!

Which Charles Dickens novels and stories have you read? Which are your favorites?

Unfortunately, I’ve only read

– A Christmas Carol

Great Expectations

and last month

Bleak House

But, I own David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, and A Tale of Two Cities, so hopefully I’ll rectify the problem!

Which Charles Dickens novel(s) do you most want to read?

I really want to read David Copperfield, as it is considered to be his greatest masterpiece. I also want to read Nicholas Nickleby as I think it is rather comedic.

What are your favorite Charles Dickens quotes (up to three)?

My favorite quote from Bleak House was from John Jarndyce to Richard:

If you had the abilities of all the great men, past and present, you could do nothing well, without sincerely meaning it, and setting about it. If you entertain the supposition that any real success, in great things or small, ever was or could be, ever will or can be, wrested from Fortune by fits and starts, leave that wrong idea here… (218)

That is some of the best advice I’ve read since Polonius’s farewell tips to Laertes in Hamlet! If some people I knew in real life would take this advice, they would save themselves a whole lot of heartache!

Who are your Top 3 favorite Dickens heroines? and why?

Dickens isn’t known for writing great heroines, so I don’t have any yet, and I doubt that I will.

Who are your Top 3 favorite Dickens heroes? and why?

From Bleak House: John Jarndyce is an amazing man. I also really liked Mr. Boythorn and Mr. Bucket, though neither could be considered heroes really.

Which three Dickens villains do you most love to hate?

Ebenezer Scrooge, Estella, and Mr. Tulkinghorn

Which Dickens characters (up to three) do you find the most funny?

Absolute favorite is Mr. Guppy. I “hoorayed” whenever he appeared on the page.

If you could authorize a new film adaptation of one of Dickens’s novels, which would it be and why?

Great Expectations, although I haven’t seen all of the current adaptations.

If you could have lunch with Charles Dickens today, what question would you most like to ask him?

Would you read aloud for me? Some good, comical scene please. Maybe one with Mr. Guppy or Mr. Boythorn.

Have you ever read a Dickens biography or watched a biographical film about him?

I read Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin in January.

How many Dickens adaptations have you seen?

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1982)

Oliver! (1968, starring Ann Margret and my boyfriend Jack Wild, of Pufnstuf)

Scrooged (1988, starring Bill Murray in the Scroogish role)

A Christmas Carol (1984, starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge)

– The Muppet Christmas Carol  (1992, starring Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge)

Great Expectations (1998, starring Ethan Hawke as Pip, Robert DeNiro as Magwitch, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Estella)

Nicholas Nickleby (2002, with Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Nathan Lane, and Anne Hathaway)

Bleak House (am currently watching)

Which Dickens adaptation is your favorite?

So far, it’s Bleak House. It’s perfect!

Have you seen multiple versions of A Christmas Carol? Which version is your favorite?

Yes. Probably the George C. Scott version.

Who is your favorite Dickens villain and (if applicable) who does your favorite portrayal of them?

Mr. Tulkinghorn, played by Charles Dance and Bill Sykes, who was frighteningly played by Oliver Reed

Have you seen any musical adaptations of any of Dickens’ stories? If so, which is your favorite song from it?

Umm yeah! Consider Yourself, sung by the Artful Dodger, as played by my childhood musical boyfriend Jack Wild (he had the best name!)

Enjoy!

Happy birthday, Mr. Dickens!

Thank you for all of your wonderful stories, characters, and the important changes you instigated in our world!

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Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire TomalinClassic Authors: They’re Just Like Us! (if we’re best-selling novelists, that is)

or What I Learned about Charles Dickens, the Novelist

from My Reading of Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Part Two:

As I discussed yesterday, I am not writing a review on Claire Tomalin’s biography Charles Dickens: A Life for various reasons. If you want to know why, read yesterday’s post. Instead, I am reflecting here on what I learned about Charles Dickens the novelist from Tomalin’s book. This is part two of the post.

Charles Dickens essentially invented the model of the modern day New York Times best-seller novelist. He created and fit the mold in several ways:

1. He was extremely popular and well-known in his time.

2. He knew the power of public readings.

3. He went on book tours.

4. He tried to change the world around him.

5. He was one of the first Young Adult/Children’s authors.

6. He actively pursued and advocated copyright law.

7. He wrote serials.

8. He wrote for the masses.

9. He was sensitive to criticism.

10. His novels were adapted for the stage shortly after publication.

Napster and Shawn Fanning6. Pirates of the Atlantic: The Curse of the Continents

Before Lars Ulrich and Metallica’s fight with Napster, before torrent sites, and before SOPA, there was Charles Dickens, blazing the trail of copyright laws. Just as his novels were incredibly popular in his native England, they were HUGE in America, and Dickens was barely receiving any compensation for them! In 1842, Dickens sailed to America, and one of his major purposes was to bring about international copyright laws. “Across the Atlantic there was no legislation of any kind covering the rights of foreign authors, and publishers simply took what they wanted and did what they liked with it,” (104).

Upon arrival in America, Dickens was hosted at many gatherings where he would introduce his proposal that something had to be done about copyright in America. His requests were, at first “politely ignored,” then, American newspapers took the view that “he should be pleased with his popularity and grateful for it too, and that it was mercenary to fuss about pirated copies,” (131). As his tour went on, and he continued in his pleas for international authors’ rights, the press remained hostile. Surprisingly, American authors didn’t really take up his cause either. “He complained that he got little encouragement from American writers, although he did persuade twenty-five of them, headed by Washington Irving, to sign a petition for him to take to Congress,” (132).

Eventually, Dickens began to get his rights and compensation as an author on the other continent, as “Tauchnitz, the Leipzig publisher who had been publishing English books on the Continent, had begun to deal fairly and was offering money for Dickens’ work: his edition of the Carol was sanctioned by the author,”(150). However, America did not come around in Dickens’ lifetime, as the International Copyright Act of 1891 was enacted 21 years after Dickens’ death.

7. Waiting on Wednesday: What Bloggers Would Have Been Eagerly Anticipating Every Month

As mentioned previously, Dickens was one of the original YA authors, and like many YA authors, he preferred the series format for his novels. Beginning with The Pickwick Papers, Dickens wrote his novels in serial form, appearing in monthly installments, and would often write two at a time, such as Oliver Twist‘s overlapping publication with Pickwick.

The two serial stories would be running simultaneously for ten months, and Dickens would have to work like a juggler to keep both spinning. He said later that he was warned against serial publications–‘My friends told me it was a low, cheap form of publication, by which I should ruin all my rising hopes’- but whoever these friends were he triumphantly proved them wrong[.] (74)

As Tomalin points out, Dickens accomplished a major and unprecedented feat with the simultaneous publication of his works. Writers of serial novels (and also televisions serials like Lost) are unique in that they have to have much of everything already planned in their head. While Pickwick began as “a series of loosely rambling episodes,” Dickens began to introduce plot and had to take much more care in the set-up:

There was no going back to change or adjust once a number was printed; everything had to be right first time. How different this is from the way most great novelists work, allowing themselves to reconsider, to change their minds, to go back, to cancel and rewrite. Each number of Pickwick and Oliver consisted of about 7,500 words, and in theory he simply divided every month, allotting a fortnight to each new section of each book. (74)

One great advantage of series-writing, as I’m sure any modern-day author and television writer can attest, is the ability to hook an audience. Dickens utilized cliff-hangers at the end of his chapters to leave his audience begging for more. He also paid close attention to his audience, and introduced certain types of characters to increase the novel’s popularity. For example, he introduced Sam Weller, Pickwick’s cockney servant, in June 1836, and “sales of the monthly numbers in their pale green wrappers rose steadily and soon spectacularly, and the critics vied with one another to praise it. The appearance of a fresh number of Pickwick soon became news, an event, something much more than literature,” (67).

Nicholas Cage Ghost Rider

Nicholas Cage IS CHARLES DICKENS

8. Dickens: A Man for the Common Man

Dickens wrote for everyone. He was not, in the least, elitist when it came to his writing. If he were a modern-day actor, he would be Nicholas Cage, pumping out action flick after action flick. Well, if Nicholas Cage made movies that spoke to one’s soul.

He wrote for and about the common man, and “the ordinary people saw that he was on their side, and they loved him for it,” (68). He knew his audience and delivered what the masses wanted. They found truth and cameraderie in his writings, much as the groundlings did with Shakespeare.

Upon publication of The Pickwick Papers, Dickens found his first major success with the masses:

It was as though he was able to feed his story directly into the bloodstream of the nation, giving injections of laughter, pathos and melodrama, and making his readers feel he was a personal friend to each of them. Dickens knew he had triumphed, and this sense of a personal link between himself and his public became the most essential element in his development as a writer.

One remarkable effort that Dickens made to connect with his public was his publication demands for A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most well-known and beloved Dickens tale, annually read at the holidays by people around the world. This was precisely Dickens’ goal when he wrote it, and he made sure that the public would easily get its hands upon a beautiful copy:

Dickens asked Chapman & Hall to publish his little book on commission, as a separate venture, and he insisted on fine, coloured binding and endpapers, and gold letterings on the front and spine; and that it should cost only a few shillings. (149)

The public did indeed buy up his beautiful little Christmas tale, but unfortunately he made very little money from the sales, as “almost all of the profits were absorbed in the expenses of binding, special paper, coloured plates and advertising,” (150). It still was very noble indeed, and A Christmas Carol is still proving to be very popular with the masses.

9. Pay No Mind to the Reviews

Dickens was very popular, and he loved his popularity. But, not everyone is going to love one’s work, even Dickens’ work, and when Dickens received bad reviews, he felt it deeply.

Bleak House received bad reviews both from critics and from his closest friend John Forster:

[W]here it was noticed, although many critics allowed that Dickens was popular and possessed of genius, they also expressed disappointment that he had abandoned humour for the grotesque and contemptible, and that it was ill-constructed. (245)

Even his friend Forster said that Bleak House was “too real to be pleasant,” and that “while Dickens pretended to be indifferent to criticism, he was hurt by it, and ‘believed himself to be entitled to higher tribute than he was always in the habit of receiving,'” (245).

In 1857, Dickens broke his rule about not reading his negative reviews, and was again hurt by an attack on Little Dorritt:

[I]n Blackwoods [a magazine] was an unfavourable view of Dorritt which upset him, appearing just before he began on the last section of the book. He was accused of bad construction, of making an unsuccessful attempt to write on social questions, and of giving ‘twaddle’ to William Dorritt to speak.[…][Dickens] told Forster he was ‘sufficiently put out by it to be angry with myself being such a fool.’ (281).

Not much has changed. There will always be bad reviews, and, as in the case of Bleak House, there will always be bad reviews when you diverge from the simple and easy, and try something different than what is already popular.

10. The Book Was Better!

Before the BBC got a hold of Dickens’ tales, players were acting out scripts of his novels only months after publication. Beginning with Nicholas Nickleby, dramatizations of his works were played in theatres all over England. Dickens loved the theatre, but according to Tomalin, his own dramatized works “caused him some groans” (99). Sometimes Dickens got into the spirit himself, and put on his own theatricals (though not of his own stories). While I’m sure the audience enjoyed the dramatizations of Dickens’ work, as many of his novels are written perfectly for theatrics, I’m sure there was an audience member or two who walked out the theatre muttering, “Meh. The book was better.”

If you’re interested in more about Dickens, check out Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life and/or read my post on Thursday where I will consider Dickens’ views on philanthropy.


Make the Bread Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

• Hardcover: 256 pages

• Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, 2011

• ISBN: 1451605870

• Genre: Cookbook; Foodie Memoir

• Recommended For: Cooks looking to cut back on their grocery store expenses; readers interested in food-related memoirs.

Quick Review: Borrow the Book, Don’t Buy It.

How I Got Here: My husband heard an interview with Reese promoting this cookbook on NPR and knew that I enjoyed learning how to make grocery store staples like chicken stock from scratch. He immediately ordered it off of Amazon and gave it to me for Christmas. Such a thoughtful man!

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

Known to her online foodie following as The Tipsy Baker, Jennifer Reese brings a realistic—and very funny—perspective to the homemade trend, testing whether to make from scratch or simply buy over 100 foods, in what is destined to become the new go-to reference for home cooks.

When Jennifer Reese lost her job as the book critic for Entertainment Weekly, she was overcome by an impulse common among the recently unemployed: to economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for. And so began a series of kitchen-related experiments with the practical purpose of breaking down whether it makes sense to make household staples—or just pick them up at the corner store.

By no means straight kitchen science, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter tells the often funny stories surrounding these experiments and offers a full picture of what is involved in a truly homemade life. On the practical side, Reese asks a handful of questions about each item to decide whether to make or buy: Is homemade better? Cheaper? How much of a hassle is it to make? And what about sustainability and animal welfare—what value should we place on knowing that our eggs came from happy chickens, for example? Is it somehow ennobling to slaughter your rooster yourself? Full of recipes and featuring an extensive chart at the end that summarizes the make-versus-buy status of every food, this eminently practical yet deliciously fun book reminds readers that they don’t have to do everything by hand—and shows how to get the most out of your time in the kitchen.

My Analysis and Critique:

I read this cookbook rather quickly, and it was, indeed, a book to read, not scan. There is as much text space devoted to Reese’s vignettes related to the included recipes as there are recipes, and I really enjoyed each experience shared. Reese is very humorous and is a good storyteller. Reese sounds like the blogger that she is in her writing style, and her stories reminded me a lot of Julie Powell’s of Julie and Julia fame. Yet, after a while, I started to scan through her vignettes, as I was more interested in her recipes and advice on what to buy.

The book is set up like this: 1-2 page story that tells how she got to the making of the food profiled in the chapter (i.e. the eggs chapter tells of her chicken-raising experience and her honey chapter discusses cultivating bees), and then a few recipes related to the focused food with their own anecdote on the experience of making the food featured in the recipe or examples on how or why to use the recipe. Then, each recipe begins with three notes on whether you should make it or buy it. For example, here is the opener to the recipe for bagel chips:

BAGEL CHIPS

If your bagels are getting stale, this extends their life. Bagel chips are great with hummus, or plain, for mindless snacking.

Make it or buy it? Make it.

Hassle: Trivial

Cost comparison: A 6-ounce bag of New York Style bagel chips (they contain both palm oil and sugar) costs $4.39. To make 6 ounces of chips from bagels you’d otherwise throw away: less than a dollar.

At first, this section of each recipe really appealed to me. Reese has done all the research I needed to help me decide what to make myself and what I should just buy! Excellent concept for a cookbook!

But then, I started to notice how wishy-washy her analysis was.

Her vignettes and anecdotes for each recipe can be very confusing. Reese sounds like she’s saying to buy it, as she describes the hassle to make it and/or her family’s poor reaction to the food. But then, the following recipe says “Make it with slight hassle”. Or “Try it yourself and decide”. No thanks, I want you to decide. That’s why I’m reading this book! Why would I make it if it’s as big of a hassle as you’ve described?

Another problem I had with this book was that some of her analysis just didn’t check out with me. She includes a recipe on lemon curd, and states “Make it”. Although it requires hard work, it is cheaper than what you’d buy in the grocery store. Yet, looking at the recipe, I noticed that it only lasts for a week. That’s not cheaper, when the jar at the grocery store lasts a very long time in the fridge. And who uses lemon curd anyway? She uses it in her lemon yogurt recipe, but I’m not even sure if I like lemon yogurt, and even if I do, I know I don’t like it enough to go through a whole container of homemade lemon curd in a week!

Then there’s the problem with wasted space in this cookbook. Reese spends a lot of book space on recipes that she recommends not to make! Why? Meanwhile, there is only one recipe for chicken in her chicken chapter, and she doesn’t even recommend making one’s own chicken stock, one of the easiest and most useful cooking processes ever! I couldn’t relate to her reasoning behind this recommendation, as she states that she doesn’t know what to do with the leftover chicken bones and cooked vegetables, and she doesn’t know how to store the stock. Come on! This is the most useful and resourceful recipe to regular cooks, and you’re not even recommending it! Well, cooks out there, I recommend using your leftover carcasses to make stock, and so does Julia Child. So there!

More on the wasted space: while Reese has only one chicken recipe in her chicken chapter (though you find other chicken recipes sprinkled in other random chapters), she spends lots of space on completely useless topics that also get their own chapters (and more recipes!). Some useless chapters include: honey, duck eggs, goats, and turkey. Come on, now! Where am I going to find duck eggs? I live in the city, so I’m not going to raise my own. Am I supposed to buy my own ducks, goats, bees, and turkeys? Maybe I’m not getting her purpose here.

Finally, there is the major issue: the applicability of the recipes.

I made the eggnog French toast, it was easy and delicious, but it was also a 2 sentence recipe: soak the bread in egg nog, fry the bread in butter.

My next recipe was the Biscuit Pudding. I had leftover biscuits, I love bread pudding, win-win. So, as I began to prep for the endeavor, I noticed a major problem in the recipe. Reese states in Step 2 to melt 4 tbsp of butter. Then the butter just disappears in the recipe. No more mention of the 4 tbsp of butter at all. And that’s a lot of butter! So, I consulted the good old internet, and found a recipe that informed me that I was to mix the butter with the chunks of bread before pouring the custard on the bread. Thank you internet! After reading on with the internet recipe, I decided to hybridize my recipe by adding some internet steps to Reese’s recipe, as well as using an internet recipe for rum sauce. I will share this recipe at the end, as well as a picture of the finished product (it was delicious!).

So, the point of that anecdote was that now I don’t feel that Reese is reliable. If you leave out a step in a 5-step recipe, what else are you screwing up on? And the order of her steps was wrong too, having me make a meringue that would just sit for forty minutes (the actual amount of time it takes to soak up the custard, not the 5-10 minutes that she states) while I waited for the bread to soak up custard. I changed her recipe all around!

On the positive side, Reese’s vignettes and content were interesting and fun to read. I don’t really see it as a cookbook, but more as a foodie memoir that inspires me to cook, like Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence or Francis Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. It will inspire me to try to make certain things, like hummus, yogurt, and hashbrowns, but I don’t think that I’ll necessarily use Reese’s recipes. For this reason, I recommend that this book is borrowed from the library, and not bought.

My Hybridized Version of Reese’s Recipe for Leftover Biscuits Bread Pudding with Light Rum Sauce

Sources: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, p.76 and a couple of different internet recipes

Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

Six 2 ½- inch biscuits (or thereabouts)

2 large eggs

1 cup sugar

2 cups whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

Big pinch of salt

4 large egg whites (save 1 yolk for rum sauce)

Preparation:

1. Generously butter a 1 ½ qt casserole or baking pan. Preheat oven to 325°.

2. Melt 4 tbsp of butter. Break the biscuits into a big bowl in large chunks. Blend chunks with melted butter. Fill the casserole with the bread mixture.

3. In the same large bowl, beat the 2 large eggs with 3/4 cup sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt. Pour this over bread and leave to soak–do not allow bread to float in the mix. Save the leftover custard for later. Allow bread to soak for 40 minutes, and add leftover custard periodically.

4. With a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and whisk until combined.

5. Heap the meringue on top of the bread mixture and place casserole in larger casserole. Fill larger casserole with hot water until it reaches halfway up the small casserole.

6. Bake for 40-60 minutes, until the meringue is browned, and when shaken, the pudding doesn’t quiver too much.

7. Remove from oven and serve just slightly warm with rum sauce on top. To reheat, simply warm up oven to 250 and place casserole in oven for 5-10 minutes, until the meringue is crusty again.

Rum Sauce

Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 egg yolk

1/8 cup light rum

Preparation:

1. Place butter and powdered sugar in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisking constantly, cook until butter is completely absorbed and mixture is thoroughly blended. Do not allow to boil.

2. Remove from heat and beat in egg yolk. Place over low heat and gradually stir in rum until mixture is well blended. Makes about 1 cup.

Notes: If you don’t have rum on hand (as I didn’t), you may substitute Disarrono liqueur for the light rum. I did this, and the almond flavor was quite delightful with the bread pudding.

The Finished Product:

Biscuit Bread Pudding

I know it doesn't look like much...

Biscuit Bread Pudding

but it tastes delicious!

Links:

Jennifer Reese’s Blog: The Tipsy Baker

NPR Interview with Reese

Goodreads Reviews

Weekend Cooking is a weekly feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads. It is “is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. “


Sunday SalonSo, it’s Sunday, the last day of my workless reverie before I start lesson planning this week and return to full-time teaching next week. Boo! Actually, I love the teaching aspect of my profession, I love the kids, but sometimes, collaborating with other teachers (adults) kind of bites the big one. So, I have one more day to pretend that I am blissfully unemployed and can do whatever I want. This is all I’ve been doing for the last two weeks, and I don’t regret it a bit!

So, despite the fact that all I’ve been doing lately is exactly what I want (reading, playing Skyrim, and reading some more), there has been a bit of excitement going on in my life! Here’s what I’ve been up to, and what’s on my mind lately:

Boxing and Muay Thai:

When I went home for Christmas, my sister and I engaged in one of our favorite past times: abusing each other with punches and kicks. We’ve always rough-housed, and our husbands usually look at us like we’re nuts, like we’re the 8-year-old boys that they’ve already outgrown. After one of our little play-fighting stints, I pointed out that we really should use this aggression in a way that would provide us with some much needed exercise. Namely, we should join a kickboxing class.

So, Erika did some research and found a boxing gym near us where we could take a trial class and then decide from there. So, nervously, we showed up to the gym, called Undisputed, with butterflies in our stomach, and signed up for a trial class of Muay Thai. Muay Thai is the formal name for kickboxing. The instructor was intimidating with his tattoos, blue mohawk, and black-painted toe nails. He was also rather gruff in voice. Yet, he immediately took us aside to some punching bags and showed us the correct way to punch, kick, and block. It turned out that he was very friendly and was eager to teach us the proper form and techniques in self defense. By the end of the class, we felt that we had some potential and that this was an instructor who could nurture us to success. We were also very sweaty and bruised!

So, we signed up for the gym, and since then, we have taken a boxing class and have both received a free personal training session with our boxing instructor. I must admit that I am very insecure about how out of shape I am, and am very self conscious when I see my red puffy face in the mirror. But, then I remember that everyone is a beginner at one time, and if I commit myself, I soon will be keeping up and slimming down (more like bulking up). I’m already feeling muscles that I haven’t noticed in a while! Plus, sparring with my sister is pretty fun–we even get to kick each other in the ribs. I know we’re strange, but that’s our kind of fun! I’ve never been the yoga type!

Authors as Trolls?

Yesterday, I was surfing around on Goodreads, and came across a really scathing review of a YA novel, which led to my discovery of a growing issue on the bookish social media site, as well as on Twitter. Apparently, in the last week, there has been quite a bit of tension between a few novelists (some very well-known) and Goodreads reviewers.

In short, there have been a couple of instances where a reviewer has written a negative review of a novel, and then is angrily addressed by the author of the book via a blog post, or by other authors (and literary agents) coming to their defense on Goodreads and even on Twitter.

For a recap of the various instances, see here at Cuddlebuggery.

For a reaction to these instances from bloggers, see Bibliophilic Monologues and today’s post from Chrisbookarama.

For a reaction to these instances from a few authors, see here: Veronica Roth, Phoebe North, and Hannah Moskowitz.

I find this all concerning as a reviewer of books, as I think it is my duty to write honest reviews–both the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m not worried about hurting anyone’s feelings. However, if I don’t like a book, I usually don’t finish it, so I rarely will write a scathing review. However, that could change in the future. Yet, I always will behave as a professional (even though I’m performing this service pro bona, as a hobby), and I would expect the same behavior from the authors being reviewed, who are not performing their services pro bona.

What these authors need to remember is that readers are smart and selective. I find it highly insulting that they would think that one bad review can kill their career, that readers are so easily led that they wouldn’t read between the lines of a review, wouldn’t look at other reviews, wouldn’t read reviews with a critical eye, and would simply not read a book because someone else hated it. Why the hell do I provide links to Goodreads reviews on my own reviews, or more importantly, why do I include links to scathing reviews on my glowing reviews? Because I know that readers are intelligent, that they deserve the opportunity to read my reviews with a critical eye, because they deserve the opportunity to make a choice. Give your readers some credit!

Anyways, that’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last 24 hours…

Downton Abbey Season 2Tonight: Downton Abbey Season 2 Premiere!

Hooray! Downton Abbey returns tonight on Masterpiece Classic for PBS! I am so excited about this, and will probably re-watch the entire season 1 today in preparation for tonight’s episode! If you haven’t checked this series out, I highly recommend it! It is currently streaming on Netflix as well as on the Masterpiece Classic website. Pull a marathon today and watch all four episodes of Season 1 today, and then check your local listings for tonight’s Season 2 premiere! Woo-hoo!

More Books and Future Giveaways

Yesterday, I received more books as I had my last Christmas exchange with my in-laws. I received the following books:

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum

The Iliad by Homer

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Endgame by Samuel Beckett

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I also got another literary candle by Paddywax, this time it was the Oscar Wilde scent!

Because a few of these books were repeats of books I already own, and because my shelves are being overrun by books that I’ve read (or won’t read) that I probably won’t ever read again, I have decided that it’s time for me to start giving them away! In the past, I have always sold them to used book stores, but I’d rather give them to people that I know will appreciate them. Namely, all of you! So, look for updates this week on what books I’ll be giving away. Maybe, I’ll do a book a week? Or a few books per month? I will let you know.

In the meantime, here are a few books that will be up for grabs in the future:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A Visit from the Goon Squad

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Olive Kitteridge

Wicked and Son of a Witch

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

And Then There Were None

And that’s what’s going on with me! What’s going on with you?


A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

• Paperback: 341 pages

• Publisher: Knopf Doubleday, 2010

• ISBN: 0307477479

• Genre: Adult Contemporary Fiction; Literary Fiction; Pulitzer Winner

• Recommended For: Anyone who doesn’t mind exploring the highs and lows of humanity and alternative writing structures.

Quick Review: Egan’s novel is highly relatable and imaginative. It appealed to the rock music lover in me, the jaded listener that I am today, and the avid reader of books like Generation X by Douglas Coupland and Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. If you share my interests in music and alternative writing styles, I highly recommend this book.

However, while I loved this book–5 stars loved it–many readers hated this book. There seems to be no middle ground! So, if you are interested in A Visit from the Goon Squad, follow this special recommendation: if you check it out, read the first three chapters. If you don’t like them, stop. That simple.

How I Got Here: My interest was piqued when I began seeing glowing reviews alternating with seething reviews for it on Twitter. Then, I joined the Award-Winning Challenge, and saw that Egan’s novel was the 2011 winner for the Pulitzer. So, I put it on my wishlist, and voila! It appeared under the Christmas tree!

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

National Book Critics Circle Award Winner

PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

A New York Times Book Review Best Book

One of the Best Books of the Year: Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, The Miami Herald, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Newsday, NPR’s On Point, O, the Oprah Magazine, People, Publishers Weekly, Salon, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, Slate, Time, The Washington Post, and Village Voice

Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

My Analysis and Critique:

Note on my review: This is the first and only time that I have read a book and absolutely had to write a review immediately after! I finished this book on December 27, wrote the review right after, and have been waiting for an opportunity to publish. My point is, I was compelled to share about this book right away–a sign of a good book!

As with all books reviewed, I read Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad without reading any other (full-length) reviews, immersing myself in the book and jotting down notes and connections as I read. Then, upon finishing the book, I hit up Goodreads to read other reviews. Now, as I mentioned earlier, I already knew that Egan’s novel got mixed reviews just based upon comments on Twitter. However, I just can’t believe how expansive the divide is between fans and haters of this book!

So, I’ll start with my feelings on Egan’s novel. I loved this book. Unlike many readers, I connected with all of the characters (and there are many!). This novel spans many generations connected to music: the 1970s gritty punk scene to the modern jaded scene to a future “connected” music scene. Each chapter focuses upon a different character who is somehow connected to previous chapters’ characters, weaving one long narrative on what it means to age and change and be affected throughout the decades. Each character is human and flawed and I could relate to each one. This might be because I’ve known people in my life in some way similar to each character. My parents raised me surrounded by rock music, and I have my own little punk rock past, and I have always been friends with musicians and people who work in the music industry. And, I have always known people who had major flaws and made major mistakes. So, all of Egan’s characters felt like people I might know.

Jennifer Egan's Powerpoint Chapter

The Well-Discussed Powerpoint Chapter

Egan also gets rather experimental with the structure of her novel. Much ado has been made about the PowerPoint chapter, a first person narrative from a 12-year-old girl. Many reviewers see this chapter as Egan being cute, but I disagree. Egan uses this and other chapter formats as a tool to further illustrate who each character is. In this case, it’s a “tween” girl journaling about her family, who, at one point, defends her use of PowerPoint slides in a conversation with her mom:

Mom: “Why not try writing for a change?”

Me: “Excuse me, this is my slide journal.”

Mom: “I mean writing a paper.”

Me: “Ugh! Who even uses that word?”

Makes sense to me! Kids find it “boring” to write formally (ask any of my 12-year-old students learning how to write a thesis statement). Just be glad it wasn’t an entire chapter written in text messaging (although, in the following chapter, it seems that no one feels comfortable conversing, it all takes too much work, so they text each other while sitting/standing with that person right in front of them!). Her other chapters switch POVs, from third person to first person to one chapter being written in the second person (the character feels that he is looking at himself from beyond as he lives life, so it fits!).

Dali's The Persistence of Memory

Egan as Dali?

The way I see it is this: I’m not into art, and yet I am into the art of fiction and narrative. If I want a Michelangelo, I’ll read Shakespeare. If I want a Monet, I’ll read Austen. Sometimes, I’m even in the mood for a Thomas Kincade, and I’ll read a book like The Peach Keeper–lovely, but light. Yet, I can also appreciate the Dalis– the Palahniuk novels, House of Leaves, and Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. This is my art, and I dig it.

Overall, this is a novel about the inescapability of time (the “goon”) and its effect, both positive and negative, on all of us. Oriented around the music scene, it delves into selling out, drugs, disorders, disease, heartbreak, sex, money, truth, family, and love. Yet, without being in the music business, I have, as I’m sure most people have, dealt with all of these issues in some way in my life. In this way, Egan’s novel is highly relatable and imaginative. It appealed to the rock music lover in me, the jaded listener that I am today, and the avid reader of books like Generation X by Douglas Coupland and Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. If you share these feelings about fiction and interests in music and alternative writing styles, I highly recommend this book.

Links:

Jennifer Egan’s Website

Cassie’s Review: “Pissed at Pulitzer” (Although we disagree, she is a damn good reviewer!)

Goodreads Reviews


sacramento
Image Credit: Shook Photos

As some of you might remember, I am at my mom’s house in Sacramento right now. I’ve been up here since Tuesday night. As it is Saturday, the day which I reserve for random, disconnectedness here on the blog, I will share the highlights of my visit thus far.

On My Sister: Erika has really high standards for pretty much everything. It turns out that she doesn’t like The Walking Dead (The characters are unbelievable and cliche. How did Rick find his family so fast?). From this and other critiques, I have determined that Erika is struggling with suspension of disbelief. She has “the Age of Not Believing” syndrome (first diagnosis made by Angela Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks). That must suck.

She also read The Perks of Being a Wallflower on this trip and had troubles with the plot of that one as well. She had a favorite(to poke fun at) line from that book, something to the effect of “at that moment, we were infinite.” Now, everything to Erika and I is “infinite”. As in, our Christmas decorations this year are infinite. We’re having a good time here!

On Our Itinerary: Along with our down, lazy time, Erika and I have squeezed in some infinite events on this trip. I successfully got her and my mom hooked on Mad Men by showing them the first four episodes. Erika, despite her high standards, really liked it, and is also partial to the dual-natured Pete. I’m hoping she continues to like it and finds the plot plausible.

Erika and I also squeezed in a trip to our former homes in Vacaville. We ended up driving to our first residence there (the house we lived at when I was 11) and getting out of the car to walk to the park where we used to play. We checked out the bushes where, for one day, we hid our secret club. We also peeked at the creek which formed my visual for the Barrens in Stephen King’s IT (which I read in 1990 when I lived there) and Erika identified the picnic table that was connected to my first fight. Erika, at 9, instigated an arm wrestling match between me and some random boy, and we sat at that picnic table where I ended up beating him. Then, he felt his young masculinity was threatened and wanted to fight me. Reluctantly, I engaged, and ended up fighting him off. No real damage was done as far as I can remember.

On Gift-Giving and Altered Christmas Traditions: Apparently, we have altered our family Christmas traditions. I am happy to say that my aunt and uncle are now joining us on Christmas Eve for our Danish Christmas dinner traditions. We will have a full house tonight at our dinner table with 7 (as opposed to the measly 3 we had for the five years after my parents got divorced). Unfortunately, this caused a complication in our Christmas eve gift-giving tradition–we don’t want our aunt and uncle to have to watch us open our Christmas presents after dinner.

Dodo Ipad Case

Image Credit: FashionHippo.com

So, we decided to open our Christmas presents last night! I am happy to say that I think everyone was excited about the bookish presents I gave them this year! I did good! I got a bunch of really good bookish presents as well! I received: a Dodocase for my iPad from Erika and her husband, which I really wanted as it makes my iPad look like a beautiful hardcover book; the complete Harry Potter movie collection, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and an Amazon gift card from my mom, which were all on my very bookish wish list; and from my wonderful husband who pays attention, I received a beautiful copy of Jane Eyre from Penguin Classics, a Jane Austen candle, a Song of Ice and Fire 2012 calendar, a Jane-a-Day 5 year journal, and in the mail, a cookbook he heard about on NPR. I am so lucky!


A Visit From the Goon SquadOn Reading:Surprisingly, with all of the happenings that go with a visit home for the holidays, I have finished two books already! Upon arrival at my mom’s house, I was halfway done with Divergent by Veronica Roth, and finished and reviewed that on Thursday. Then, yesterday, I began and finished Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville. It was only 100 pages, but that’s still pretty good considering all of the distractions and tasks I engaged in yesterday. The review probably won’t come until 2012, so I’ll just tell you now that I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m now reading book 99 of 2011; I’m two books away from 100 books! I am now reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, and I’m not sure yet what book 100 will be.

Overall: This has been a very good trip! I’m getting in some much needed quality time with my mom and sister and have reconnected with my dad. Now the husbands are here, so they get to partake in our family zaniness too! Today begins Christmas with our Christmas dinner and many libations and then Christmas with Dad tomorrow, which will involve a ridiculous amount of gifts. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday full of good family time and merriment! It’s been infinite here!


This year, I asked for a whole lot of books for Christmas! Mainly, I’m trying to get books for all of the 2012 reading challenges I’ve signed up for. But, there are a few in here that are just for fun, and a few items here are not books, but are bookish! So, here is a list of books I want, and if they pertain to a challenge, I will list the assigned challenge.

The Wise Man's Fear

1. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Not yet assigned to a challenge, but surely can fit some task. Mainly, I just want to continue the series as I read The Name of the Wind in November.

The Iliad

2. The Iliad by Homer

This book goes towards both A Classics Challenge and the Back to the Classics challenge. I love The Odyssey, so I know I’ll enjoy this one!

A Visit From the Goon Squad

3. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This book goes towards the Award-Winning Challenge, Pullitzer category. Heard a lot of mixed reviews on this one, so I’m looking forward to it!

4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

This book also goes towards the Award-Winning Challenge, Pullitzer category. I’ve been meaning to read it for years and am definitely eager to check it out.

Endgame

5. Endgame by Samuel Beckett

For the Back to the Classics challenge and Award-Winning Challenge, Nobel category. I read (and loved) Waiting for Godot in college. Hope I like this one just as much!

The Sound and the Fury

6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Also for the Back to the Classics challenge and Award-Winning Challenge, Nobel category, as well as A Classics Challenge. My past experience with Faulkner hasn’t gone well, but I’m willing to give it the old college try (minus the Cliff’s Notes I used when I read Faulkner in high school and college).

The Forsyte Saga

7. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

One more book that satisfies all three challenges: Back to the Classics Challenge, A Classics Challenge, and Award-Winning Challenge, Nobel category. Am most looking forward to this one as I loved the miniseries and started reading it once and liked what I read!

8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audio, narrated by Wil Wheaton)

Not for a challenge, just really want to read this book! But, it has to be the audio version, because I want to hear Wil Wheaton read it!

Bookish Gifts:

9. Amazon Gift Card

So, I can buy any books that I really need RIGHT NOW in 2012 for my Kindle app.

10. Jane Eyre dvd and Harry Potter Box Set

Love the books, love these movies. Both are MUST HAVES! If I don’t get them under the Christmas tree, I will definitely buy them myself!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.