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Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

• Hardcover: 279 pages

• Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 1984

• ISBN: 0671530518

• Genre: Historical Fiction

• Recommended For: Readers interested in World War II, particularly the war in the Pacific. Anyone interested in viewing war through the eyes of a child.

Quick Review: Earns an 88 %, or 4.4 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Empire of the Sun Rubric

An important novel, Empire of the Sun provides insight to what it’s like to experience war through the eyes of a child, and gives readers an excuse to educate themselves on the war in the Pacific during WWII.

How I Got Here: Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun has always been a favorite film, and I have been meaning to read the book for years. One of the tasks in The Seasonal Reading Challenge required reading one of the “Best War Novels”, so I jumped at the opportunity to cross this one off my TBR list.

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, tells of a young boy’s struggle to survive World War II in China.

Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.

Shanghai, 1941 — a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war…and the dawn of a blighted world.

Ballard’s enduring novel of war and deprivation, internment camps and death marches, and starvation and survival is an honest coming-of-age tale set in a world thrown utterly out of joint.

My Analysis and Critique:

Empire of the Sun is an important book, both as a historical work and as an example of a child’s experience in war. Immediately when I started to read it, I thought that it is a work that should be taught in school, right alongside The Diary of Anne Frank, as it provides insight into the World War II Pacific experience. Yet, it would be a pretty hard read for youth readers, as, at times, it was a pretty hard read for me. Certain parts of the plot were hard to follow, and this is why Empire of the Sun doesn’t earn 5 stars with me. This is also why I could say what I never say: the movie was better than the book in a few ways.

What Worked:

-Imagery and setting: WWII Shanghai came to life via Ballard’s writing. The descriptions of the city, the people, and the experiences were very vivid, and most often were shocking. I saw the city before Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese occupied Shanghai, but allowed the residents to live and work pretty much as they always had before. Yet, this city is already a wasteland of poverty and death:

Refugees from the towns and villages around Shanghai were pouring into the city. Wooden carts and rickshaws crowded Amherst Avenue, each loaded with a peasant family’s entire possessions. Adults and children bent under the bales strapped to their backs, forcing the wheels with their hands. Rickshaw coolies hauled at their shafts, chanting and spitting, veins as thick as fingers clenched into the meat of their swollen calves. Petty clerks pushed bicycles loaded with mattresses, charcoal stoves and sacks of rice. A legless beggar, his thorax strapped into a huge leather shoe, swung himself along the road through the maze of wheels, a wooden dumbbell in each hand. He spat and swiped at the Packard when Yang tried to force him out of the car’s way, and then vanished among the wheels and pedicabs and rickshaws, confident in his kingdom of saliva and dust.  (12)

This is the world Jim, the protagonist, grows up in, and once Pearl Harbor is attacked, the city spirals into mass confusion, and Jim is caught up in the middle of it, surrounded by violence and death. As Jim moves from war-torn Shanghai to an internment camp, Ballard expertly illustrates what it was truly like, through the eyes of a child.

-Characterization: Jim is a sad, strange boy dealing with his world turned upside down and inside out. Early in the novel, he is reading Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and it’s immediately clear that his experiences will be very Alice-like. Ballard’s Jim is a very needy boy–he is starving for attention from his parents, and once he is separated from them, he is starving for attention from any and all adults around him. Jim is also a survivor–he does whatever it takes to get through his experiences, whether it means cozying up to the Japanese enemy, offering up whatever he has or could get to the morally-corrupt adults, or manipulating whatever system is in place so that he can get what he needs the most.

All of Ballard’s minor characters come to life via his descriptions and dialogue. Jim encounters a variety of people during his war experience: Chinese street thugs, Japanese soldiers and officers, British elite trying to cope with their new limited circumstances, and American con artists, to name a few. Everyone he sees and encounters comes are realistic and true.

-The Book as History Lesson: I learned so much from this book, and what it didn’t tell me, I sought out via my husband (a history buff) or the internet. This is my favorite kind of book, the kind that drives me to seek knowledge. I feel now that I understand quite a bit more about the war in the Pacific, and what it was like to experience the war in Shanghai. Most likely, I will seek further information on this area and period of history because of my reading of this book. This is one of the greatest achievements of any book: the ability to spur on the reader to seek more.

What Didn’t Work:

-Plot Development/Writing Style: So maybe I’m not a good reader, or I just didn’t get a few of the scenes, but at times the plot just doesn’t make sense. For example, young Jim thinks he’s responsible for starting the war after watching a Japanese cruiser fire upon a British ship in the Bund river. I know, from having watched the movie, that the Japanese ship is making use of a signal lamp and that Jim, having some childish fun, uses his own lamp to signal back to the ship. Right after this, the ship fires upon the British, causing Jamie to think he might’ve mistakenly signaled something that caused the Japanese aggression. Yet, in the book, all I see is Jamie banging on the window while he watches the Japanese signaling, the Japanese firing on the Brits, and then, while battle ensues, Jim sits on the bed thinking he started the whole thing:

Jim watched them somberly. He realized that he himself had probably started the war, with his confused semaphores from the window that the Japanese officers in the motor launch had misinterpreted.   (28)

So, apparently the Jim’s lamp signaling happened, I just never saw it.

This kind of reader confusion happens a couple of times in the book, and I blame Ballard’s awesome use of imagery. His descriptions are so good that somehow they actually hide the plot. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t, what was happening and what was simply in Jim’s head. My husband thinks this confusion might be intentional on Ballard’s part, to truly illustrate the confusion of a child in war. This could most likely be the case, but it’s somewhat hard on the reader.

Empire of the Sun Christian BaleBook vs. Movie:

This is one of the most rarest of occasions, as I’m going to say that in a lot of ways I preferred the movie over the book. Of course, the movie doesn’t quite bring to life the characters, particularly Jamie, as well as the book, and I didn’t get all of the cultural and historical background that I got in the book. Yet, as a story, for me, it worked better. I wasn’t confused by plot that was made ambiguous by creative narrative styles and imagery, and I preferred the ending. The movie did cut out a good chunk of Jim’s post-war experience, which I was fascinated by, but still, as a story, I preferred it. I really can’t believe I’m saying that–I never say that. But, I definitely recommend the book alongside the movie for a very educational and moving experience.

Links:

Goodreads Reviews

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It's a chilly morning in San Diego...

So, February is just flying by! It’s the last Sunday of the month, and I thought I might write a little about what I’m up to/been up to lately.

Today:

• On the Blog– I think I might change up the theme on the blog and add some copyright info, as well as my affiliate listing disclaimer (I’m simply going to imitate what I see on some other blogs). I’ll also update my Reviews page and Challenges page so that they’re all caught up with where I am.

The Wise Man's Fear

• Reading– I am back in the world of Kvothe, fully engaged in my reading of The Wise Man’s Fear. This book has picked up right where the last one left off (Duh, Mandy, it’s book 2 in a series.) and I am enjoying being back at Kvothe’s University, watching him expertly play his lute on the stage for his adoring audience at the Eolian, and waiting to see what hijinks he’s going to get into. Right now, his nemesis has poisoned him with a drug that turns off his “inappropriate” filter–he doesn’t know what he shouldn’t say or do. Thus, he told a female friend of his that he would like nothing better than to see her with her clothes off and he had to be coaxed out of murdering another student. It’s a lot of fun to see Kvothe letting loose, even if it’s under the influence.

• Watching– Tonight, I will be watching The Walking Dead (unfortunately, no more Downton Abbey until next year). In Walking Dead news, one of the top theories about The Governor has been disproven via the announcement that The Governor has been cast. For those of you who haven’t read the graphic novels, be prepared for the introduction of one of the most interesting and disturbing bad guys to the show. He’s definitely one of my all-time favorite villains! I, along with many other internet theorists, had guessed that Darryl’s brother Merle would make his return on the show as The Governor. Apparently, Merle is dead, or up to some other mischief. Fine by me!

The Governor Walking Dead

Drive Ryan Gosling – Also, it should be noted that I watched Drive last night and loved it. The acting was perfect, the story was solid, and I need to download the soundtrack right now, as I loved the music throughout. It’s weird how I haven’t noticed the absence of a score in most movies until I watched this movie, which uses music perfectly to set the tone. I think movie directors are really forgetting what a useful tool music can be to add to the story of their films. Hitchcock knew it, and Bernard Herrman’s scores for his films always added a great deal to his films. Would the shower scene in Psycho really have hit us without Hermann’s screeching violins? I don’t think so!

• Writing– I am planning on writing at least two of my posts for this week in advance. This week you can expect to see a review of I Want My MTV and a fun post that is tentatively titled “Punk Rock and Classic Literature”.

• Other Stuff– Might as well share that I will also be grading about 60 persuasive essays and doing some laundry today as well.

Winner of A Discovery of Witches!

Yesterday was the last day to enter to win A Discovery of Witches, and a winner has been selected! With the use of a random number generator, SJ of Snobbery has been selected! I will mail out her copy of A Discovery of Witches this week! Meanwhile, a new book giveaway should be announced at some point later today. I’m thinking that it will be a signed copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. Keep your eye out for the announcement!

2012 So Far: January and February

• Number of Books Read: 10

• Number of Reviews: 7

Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Locke & Key, vol. 1-3

The Drawing of the Three

The Gunslinger

Bleak House

Charles Dickens: A Life (not really a review, but a reflection)

A Discovery of Witches

• Number of Pages Read: 4, 226

• Favorite Book of 2012: Bleak House

• Challenges Completed: 1 (Charles Dickens Month)


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!


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.


Sunday Salon

I return to work this week, dragging my feet, and so my life goes back into hectic mode as I will try to balance all the important parts of my life. Shifting gears between delivering a quality education to underprivileged teens, to sweaty boxing and Muay Thai workouts, to daily blogging, to spending attentive time with my husband and friends will require some real strategy. Plus, don’t forget reading and gaming and cooking and cleaning and correspondence with my long-distance family. There’s a lot to be done! But, I’ll put my game face on and try to not have a total meltdown!

So, here’s what’s been and will be on my table:

A Dickens of a Time: I am totally engrossed in Dickens! I’ve been continuing in my reading of Bleak House (my goal is 250 pages per week) and absolutely loving it. This week, I wrote about Dicken’s masterful use of characterization in Bleak House with lots of examples showing how he uses characterization as a tool to accomplish other literary goals.

Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

I also snagged a copy of Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin at one of the San Diego libraries. This book has been in high demand as it was only just published in October, and I was thrilled when I saw it was available on Tuesday afternoon at a library 20 minutes away in Carmel Valley. I fought traffic to get there and grabbed it from the New shelf before anyone else saw it. So far, it is very good, which is surprising for me as I usually detest biographies. But, I’m reading it in hopes of understanding his opinions on philanthropy (my Tuesday Dickens post will be on Dickens and philanthropy). So, between this book and Bleak House, I am having a very Dickens week!

Chuckles: I had some chuckles last night as I watched two very amusing videos with my husband in a cozy evening at home. We watched

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

killer klowns from outer spaceKiller Klowns from Outer Space~ his pick! It was his turn to pick as I forced him to watch the last two episodes of Downton Abbey season 1 last week (he doesn’t usually go in for period pieces), and I have to say that I loved this terrible “horror” movie from 1987. Now, I have to admit that I love really bad movies (see my discussion on bad movies here) and this one was right up my alley with bad music, bad acting, and terrible writing. Plus, it starred one of the two girls from Weird Science (the blonde one), and that’s one of my all-time favorite ’80s movies. There was also an actor who just cracked me up with his melodramatic reactions to everything and his soap opera style (he kind of reminded me of Dean Winchester from Supernatural, whom I didn’t realize had such a soap opera style of acting too. But, I love precious Dean!). So, as always, my husband chose well in the movie category.

He also introduced me to a YouTube video of Tebowie, Jimmy Fallon performing as a hybrid of Tim Tebow and David Bowie on his Late Night show. It was hilarious as he performed his own version of Space Oddity with new lyrics- “Ground control to Jesus Christ…”. I highly recommend it to all of you who are watching playoffs today.

A Return to Lectures and Research? I’m thinking that I want to go back to school and finish my MA in English Literature at SDSU. I started the graduate program in 2006, and then, after one semester, I switched over to the credential program in hopes that I could finish my MA while earning money as an English teacher. Now, it’s six years later, and my one semester is still hanging in limbo. I’ve put it off, thinking that I couldn’t handle it on top of my ever-precarious position at these schools where I always get laid off in the Spring. But, look at all of the difficult reading I have been doing, for fun! I think I could handle it, and am thinking even of taking an Open University course this semester, or at least in the Fall. Then, though, begins my debate on what my focus will be–British Lit. or American Lit.. I’ve always thought British Literature was my thing, and it is, but I wrote a really extensive annotated bibliography on The Grapes of Wrath and the Dust Bowl that my professor wanted me to publish, so that makes me lean towards an American Literature thesis. Well, one thing at a time, I guess.

On My Doorstep:The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

I went ahead and purchased all of the remaining bookish items from my Christmas wish list with an Amazon gift card. So, midweek, I added the Oxford World Classics copy of The Forsyte Saga to my TBR shelf. This completes my collection for all of my reading challenges–I now own all of the books that I am setting out to read this year!

I also bought the 2011 Jane Eyre movie! I loved this movie when I saw it in the theater, and I already loved Mr.Rochester (my top book crush, as he pushed Mr. Darcy to number 2), but Michael Fassbender really made me swoon as he played Rochester. He’s now my number one hottie actor as well! Highly recommend this movie to fans of Jane Eyre and period piece movies in general.

Downton Abbey Tonight! Downton Abbey Season 2

I was very pleased with last week’s two hour premiere, so I’m looking forward to tonight’s episode. Mathew’s engaged, Mary is flirting with disaster with tabloid publisher Sir Richard Carlisle (played brilliantly by Iain Glen, whom I love from the Wives and Daughters miniseries and as Ser Jorah Mormont in Game of Thrones), and yet again, we’ve lost Mr. Bates to his past. So much drama, and Maggie Smith continues to steal the show as the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Love this show!

Howard's End by E.M. ForsterFor those of you looking for books similar to Downton Abbey, check out Dana Huff’s list of books at Much Madness is Divinest Sense, as well as this article at The New York Times. As mentioned earlier, I, like Dana, will be reading The Forsyte Saga this year, and am also planning on reading Howard’s End by E.M. Forster.

Upcoming Posts:

Monday: Review of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Tuesday: Two posts! My Top Ten List of Classic Novels (as requested by Ankit the Reviewer)

and an analysis on Charles Dickens’ views on philanthropy

Thursday: Review of Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (? if I finish in time)

Have a good week!


Please note: This list is compiled in no particular order. It is simply a list of my favorite books for this particular genre read in 2011.

Science Fiction

On the Beach

On the Beach by Nevil Shute (Post Apocalyptic)

A very realistic, adult dystopian novel. Published in 1957, an era of living with “the bomb”, Shute explores life (or the lack thereof) after World War III. The radioactive cloud hasn’t hit Australia yet, so the last of the world’s survivors cope with their impending deaths in the coming months. What do you do when your clock is ticking? Some party it up, some buy race cars, and some continue in their social traditions of country clubs. But, death is coming, and it is heartbreaking to watch the well-developed, diverse characters succumb to this fact. Highly recommended along with the excellent film version starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Post Apocalyptic)

Another good adult dystopian novel imagining what humans are capable of when there is absolutely no hope. This novel is very bleak and somewhat depressing, but so well done. The world is dead and burned, but a father and son push on, trying to find salvation, though they are constantly plagued by the danger of murderous, desperate outlaws and starvation.

Under the Dome by Stephen King (Dystopian)

While King is known as the Master of Horror, I definitely would categorize this under science fiction. It reads like an extended Twilight Zone episode. Here’s my review.

11/22/63

11/22/63 by Stephen King (Time Travel)

Another great science fiction novel by King, written in the vein of The Bachman Books. Highly recommended! Here’s my review.

Rant by Chuck Palahniuk (Never sure how to categorize Palahniuk, that’s why he’s awesome)

I am still reading this one, the last book of 2011. However, it is definitely good. Highly recommended to those who don’t mind alternative writing styles or gritty realism and enjoy thinking. I tend to cogitate over each of Palahniuk’s sentences like lines of poetry, just considering how it will connect to the final turning point. Every line counts! I love Palahniuk.

Fantasy

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (Mythology)

Kind of a spin-off of Gaiman’s excellent American Gods, Anansi Boys tells the story of Fat Charlie, a regular guy who is the son of Anansi, the African spider god and brother of Spider, who is dashing, charming, and magical. Spider decides to infiltrate Fat Charlie’s life and all hell breaks loose for the poor protagonist. Very humorous and well-written, I highly recommend it!

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (Epic)

So, I re-read almost all of the books in the series this year, and loved them almost more having all of the background knowledge gained from last year’s readings. Here are quick reviews for each that I read this year:

A Game of Thrones: Re-read this novel as I watched the HBO series. This is the set-up novel that hooks us all. Martin throws you right into the action with little back story, so if you feel overwhelmed, just keep going! It will pay off and you’ll be thankful that he didn’t bog you down with lots of exposition!

A Storm of Swords: Skipped A Clash of Kings and went straight to this, the third book of the series. Had to re-read this novel as it was the last time I saw most of the characters featured in A Dance with Dragons. This is my absolute favorite of the series! Full of action, twists, intrigue, shocking deaths, and a major cliff hanger ending. Love, love, love this series!

A Feast for Crows: In this novel, Martin focuses upon about half of the main characters, leaving the other characters’ stories to be told in A Dance with Dragons. There was some major politics and deception in this novel, as well as some surprising twists and, of course, a major cliffhanger for one of my favorite characters.

A Dance with Dragons

A Dance with Dragons: As I was expecting only the stories of the characters left out of A Feast for Crows, I was delighted to find that Martin included most of the characters of his series in this book. This book was excellent and had the best epilogue I’ve ever read (So that was his hidden motive!) Can’t wait for the next book to be published (please don’t wait five years, Mr. Martin!).

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Time Travel)

Loosely do I place this in the fantasy genre, as it more often feels like historical fiction/adventure. I really enjoyed this novel and hope to read the next book in the series in 2012. Here is my review.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Epic)

I really enjoyed this novel by Rothfuss and am planning to read the next book, The Wise Man’s Fear, early on in 2012. Here’s my review.

Horror

Nightmares and Dreamscapes (Print and Audio, read by various) by Stephen King (Short Stories)

Another great collection of short stories by Stephen King. I really enjoyed the audio version, although I read about half of the book in print as well. Here is my review.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic/Gothic)

I loved this novel by Jackson. It was an excellent kick start to my readathon in October. Here’s my review.

Horns by Joe Hill (Supernatural/Fantasy)

This is another novel that is loosely categorized, as I never found it particularly scary. However, I did really enjoy it, particularly for Hill’s masterful characterization. Here is my review.

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch (TV spin-off/Paranormal)

I loved the TV show Twin Peaks, and this is the fictional diary of one of Twin Peaks‘ most important characters. One of the scariest books I read all year. Here is my review.

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead series (Graphic Novel) by Robert Kirkman (Zombies/Post-Apocalyptic)

This graphic novel series is unique in its unflinching depiction of a group of survivors in a world decimated by zombies. Kirkman has no problem killing off favorite characters in the most heartbreaking ways, and that is one reason why this series is so amazing.

Tomorrow’s Post: No more lists! My 2011 in Review: Stats, Challenges, Blog Events, etc.


Please note: This list is compiled in no particular order. It is simply a list of my favorite books for this particular genre in 2011.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (20th Century American Literature, Novel)

This is my favorite Steinbeck, full of lively characters and touching scenes. There are few characters in literature as well-written as Mack and his gang of hobos. The town of Cannery Row comes alive in Steinbeck, and is, itself, a wonderful character full of life and sorrow. I read this novel in college and was pleased to find that I enjoyed it even more on my second reading this year.

Persuasion by Jane Austen (19th Century British Literature, Novel)

A so-called old maid’s second chance at long lost love. An absolutely lovely novel that shows the consequences of letting one’s family get in the way of your own desires. Another classic Austen.

Who's Afraid

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (20th Century American Literature, Play)

George and Martha. Sad. Sad. Sad. This classic play doesn’t pull any punches when showing the destructive nature of George and Martha’s marriage and their attack on a young couple in wild night of drinking and revelations. Highly recommended along with Mike Nichols’ film adaptation starring another doomed married couple, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (Audio, read by Gary Sinise) (20th Century American Literature)

Another wonderful novel by John Steinbeck. I had seen the masterful movie adaptation starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich 20 years ago, so I was delighted to listen to Sinise reading the novel in its audio version. Heartbreakingly sad story. I love Lennie and George.

Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 by William Shakespeare (16th Century British Literature, Play)

I’ve read almost all of Shakespeare’s dramas and comedies, but shockingly had never read any of his histories. I’m seeking to remedy this maladie (Shakespeare’s spelling) and began with Henry IV. I was a little rusty in my Shakespeare dialect, but after a half hour, my pace picked up, and I was right back into reading between Shakespeare’s lines. Falstaff is as amazing as I’ve heard, and this play lived up to its reputation. As with all Shakespeare, highly recommended!

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (20th Century American Literature, Novel)

Quick read that I really enjoyed. Was a bit tragic in its depiction of a love affair between a married country man and the young cousin of his wife. The resolution was surprising, I never saw it coming, and it proves to be one of the most honest and pitiful endings I have ever read!

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (20th Century British Literature, Novel)

The first of two Ishiguro novels I read this year, both wonderful. Marukami shows the life of the downstairs help of a turn-of-the-century estate through the narration of a classic butler who reflects upon his life on a drive to visit the former housekeeper of the house. Beautifully written and surely an inspiration to one of my favorite movies, Gosford Park and the television series Downton Abbey.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (19th Century British Literature, Novel)

The best book I’ve read all year! I can’t believe I’ve been sitting on a copy of this for 10 years. Loved the plot, loved the characters. One of the finest novels I’ve ever read. Just received a beautiful hard cover copy from my husband for Christmas, so I’m itching to read it again!

Wives and Daughters

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (19th Century British Literature)

This might be my #2 favorite book of the year. Very amusing classic written in the vein of Austen. The characters are excellent, the plot is solid, and I laughed out loud numerous times. I highly recommend this novel to fans of classic novels.

A Room with a View

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (20th Century British Literature, Novel)

Really loved this classic. Read my review here.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (20th Century British Literature, Novel)

I absolutely loved Rebecca. I had never seen the movie, but had a slight knowledge of the plot as the film is regularly listed in “Best” lists. The novel proved to be even better than I expected, offering intrigue, mystery, malicious characters, and a love story. Very much highly recommended!

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (19th Century British Literature, Novel)

This is an excellent novel, though I despised most of the characters. Heathcliff is one of my top literary bad guys, and Cathy wasn’t much better. However, I do consider this a must-read, even if the love story it depicts just incited my fury. I’ll never forget it, and that’s what makes it good.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (20th Century British Literature~Mystery, Novel)

The best of the best in mystery. I ate this book up! Here is my review.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (19th Century British Literature, Novel)

Oh, how I love those Dashwood sisters! And Willoughby, that rogue. I don’t hate him, he is just lily-livered. You must read this book. It is essential.

Bartleby the Scrivener

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville (19th Century American Literature, Novel)

Have not yet reviewed this quirky story, but I will next week. I’ll just tell you right now that I couldn’t stop commenting on it to my family as I was reading it, and it was like nothing I have ever read. Highly recommend this novella!

Tomorrow’s Post: Top Adult Contemporary and Young Adult Fiction Read in 2011