Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Coffee: Where I Am

The first week of school is over, and I can take a breath.... sort of.

Things really could not have gone better. My students are great, and that energy and excitement is there--now I remember, quite clearly, why I love my job! Although, in the midst of summer, I forgot.

Two things:
My feet really, really hurt at the end of the day.
I'm exhausted, as is every teacher I know. That first week really knocks it out of you.

This week I found out how much my creative writing students love to write (a lot). And I began anew my lifelong crusade to turn students into readers (of course, many students come to me with a love of reading already).

I've discovered Penny Kittle's wonderful book Book Love. I read Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer over the summer. It is an excellent resource for any teacher who wants to begin an independent reading program in the classroom. But Penny Kittle's book is more applicable to my high school classroom--and her book is written in an accessible and eloquent voice.

As the school year continues, I'll be posting more about my classroom, and about what my students are reading. Here begins the emptying of my wallet directly into my classroom. I'm definitely going to be applying for some grants for books for my classroom library.
Here's a view of my classroom the weekend before school opened. As you can see, I have begged, borrowed, and bought a large number of books for my classroom. But, here's the thing: I need the books my students will actually read, those unputdownables. I can hand a kid a book, but it really has to be a book that will engage him or get her so engrossed that she forgets she doesn't really like to read.

I'm still working on East of Eden, so my post for the read-a-long will be a bit late. So you have that to look forward to....

Where I am right now is the local bookstore, with a stack of books I'm about to buy. Incorrigible!
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

What's everybody else reading?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Coffee: Back to School


Penny Kittle's Book Love
John Steinbeck's East of Eden
Susan Campbell Bartoletti's They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

Thinking About....

Ferguson, Missouri

Getting Ready for....


Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Classics Club Spin #7

The Classics Club

The Classics Club Spin #7:
List twenty books from your Classics Club list (that you haven't read yet), and on Monday The Classics Club will post a number--that's the book you will read!

1. Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann.
2. Stoner by John Williams.
3. Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner.
4. Go Down Moses by William Faulkner.
5. Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope.
6. Another Country by James Baldwin.
7. The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos.
8. Paradise by Toni Morrison.
9. The Street by Ann Petry.
10. Stories and Occasional Prose by Flannery O'Conner.
11. The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima.
12. Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
13. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
14. A Death in the Family by James Agee.
15. Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall.
16. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.
17. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
18. Mother's Milk by Edward St. Aubyn.
19. An Autobiography Anthony Trollope.
20. He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope.

East of Eden: Discussion #2.... Birth, Death, and OMGCathy/Kate

The East of Eden Read-a-long July 21-August 18 
The Estella Project

Steinbeck considered East of Eden to be his big book. The Grapes of Wrath is a great book, but East of Eden is personal: Steinbeck is telling the story of his family (the Hamiltons), and he insinuates himself into the novel ( we finally find out that the narrator is John Steinbeck, Olive's sone and Samuel's grandson.
Question #1: What do you think of the characters' growth and/or development?
So much happens in this section! We find out that Lee is an intellectual, a philosopher, and a good mother. Good thing too, because Adam is a mess, and Cathy has the mothering instincts of a serpent. Samuel is the storyteller and the moral core of the novel. He may die, but his spirit endures.

Okay, I have to admit that I adore the character of Cathy/Kate. She absolutely luxuriates in her evil--she's like Milton's Satan! 

Thank God Adam gets some testicles! About time!
Question #2: Lee's insights, his thoughts on language and ethnicity...
Steinbeck is brilliant here. His development of Lee's character upends the stereotypes of the time, and defies the reader's expectations. Of course he is still the wise spirit guide that Adam and the boys need. Is that still a stereotype?
Question #3: the Cain and Abel story....
I'm glad Steinbeck spends so much time on the significance of this story. Lee's obsession with the meaning of specific words in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel forces the reader to really think about the story very deeply. And Steinbeck makes this story part of a family pattern: the first pair of brothers, Adam and Charles, have the same rivalry that will be repeated with Aron and Cal. Cal seems to be frighteningly like Cathy. We still don't know whether Adam or Charles is the father of the boys...'and neither does Adam.
Question #4: How do you perceive Samuel now that he's gone?
I think Samuel is extremely important: he is the moral core of this novel. I think one thing Steinbeck was  doing with the character of Samuel was showing his sons where they came from. The novel was a story Steinbeck urgently wanted to tell his sons, one he hoped would be universal.
Question # 5: Cathy/Kate: expound.
Oh her vicious little sharp teeth! Her sadism! Her desire for revenge! She is a cold murderess, a plotter and a little actress. Yes, OMGthatwoman... Nothing Cathy/Kate does will be boring!

So: this book just keeps getting better and better.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review: The New Men

The New Men
Wayzgoose Press
303 pages
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

What I look for in a novel is a cast of characters who are real to me, enough craft that reading is a pleasurable experience, and that immersive feeling of sinking into a good story. It's an added bonus when the narrative is one that tells me something surprising and new about a time or place. The New Men, Jon Enfield's debut novel, does all of the above.

Set mostly in Detroit, The New Men is narrated by Tony Grams (who was Antonio Gramazio of Ghilarza, Sardinia). The newly named, newly American Grams family settles in Detroit at the turn of the century, and Tony ends up with a coveted position with Ford Motor Company. His job is to help create the "New Men," Five Dollar Men who will be accepted into Ford's profit-sharing program--but only if they pass the investigation conducted by men like Tony, from Ford's Educational department.

This is a period in history that I haven't studied much. Henry Ford had radically changed manufacturing, and he offered a chance at a new kind of life for his workers. But the price paid by the workers was allowing an intrusive and paternalistic employer unbelievable access to the most personal areas of their lives.

Tony Grams is intelligent, devoted to the care of his family, responsible for the welfare of his mother and siblings. He is also flawed, both physically and morally, which makes him an interesting narrator. As a child, he hangs monkey-like from rafters or anything else he can reach, trying to straighten his spine, or at least relieve the pain. As a young man, he is excruciatingly conscious of his small size and his slightly warped physique--but this doesn't prevent him from falling for Thia Mueller, a wealthy, sad widow involved in many social causes. Always aspiring, and only sometimes ridiculous in his aspirations, Tony is a sympathetic character, despite the moral ambiguity of his actions.

The New Men spans the rise of Socialism and Communism, World War I, racial bigotry and unrest, and women's quest for the vote. It was a time of excitement and change, and a time of suppression and violence, and Enfield expertly draws the reader into the time period, while continuing to tell the personal story of Tony.

It's hard to fathom just how easily a powerful company intruded in and manipulated the lives of its workers. Tony becomes drawn into more and more unsavory aspects of this intrusion; in the end he is both guilty and redeemed.

The idea of "New Men" being manufactured like new cars, through character-molding interference from their employer seems more shocking than it really is. Somehow it fits in with the Puritan ideals of the first settlers, who envisioned a "city on a hill."

I thoroughly enjoyed The New Men for its craft, and for the insight into a time and place I never knew much about. This is the kind of stuff that isn't in your high school history book. I highly recommend The New Men for readers of historical fiction who might be ready for something a little different, and for anyone who enjoys the play of big ideas and fine writing.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is the top ten books you would recommend to people who haven't tried historical fiction.

I'll skip over bestselling titles like Orphan Train--those are books that have already found their readers. Here are books--some newer, and some you may never have heard of--that fall into the historical novel category. Each of the books below enthralled or entranced me in some way.

1. My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain. I love, love, love this book. Sadly, O'Faolain passed away, so there will be no more novels by this Irish writer, author of the best-selling memoir Are You Somebody. This is one of those books that goes back and forth between the present and the past. Here, the novel within a novel is about an Anglo-Irish landlord, his English wife, and her affair with an Irish groom. Set during the time of the Irish potato famine.
2. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. A beautifully crafted novel about secrets. Set during World War II, the 1960's and the present.
3. Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar. Set in England, this novel tells the story of Nell Gwyn, who rose from poverty to become a famed actress and the mistress of Charles II.
4. Time and Again by Jack Finney. I don't know if this is really a historical novel--it is more a blend of time travel, historical fiction, and mystery. But the writer brings to life New York in the 1880's.
5. Passion by Jude Morgan. One of the most immersive reading experiences I have had. This novel is about the Romantic English poets. Amazing, lush, gorgeous.
6. Vindication by Frances Sherwood. A novel about Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Vindication of the Rights of Women.
7. City of Light by Lauren Belfer. Set in Buffalo and Niagara Falls in 1901. This was one of the first historical novels I read and enjoyed. Still vivid in my mind, even though I read it more than a decade ago.
8. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. This novel links several time periods and characters from history. Compelling for the beauty of the prose, and for the thematic links between characters and eras.
9. Possession by A.S. Byatt. One of the best novels I have every read. Set partly in the present, and partly during Victorian times.
10. Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub. I'm a huge fan of old movies, so I loved this story of Old Hollywood.

What historical novels would you recommend?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

East of Eden Readalong: Suddenly he knew joy and sorrow.....

East of Eden Readalong: The Estella Project

The Estella Society is hosting a readalong for John Steinbeck's East of Eden.... and it is all part of The Estella Project.  (There are prizes!)....

This post should have gone up on Monday, but this is summer and summer is about no rules!

I first read East of Eden a few years ago, and it immediately went on my list of favorite books of all time.And since I'm an incorrigible rereader, I was pretty excited about this readalong. The first section for the readalong was Part One-the first eleven chapters. This is the pleasure of rereading: I already know these characters and the situation, even though I don't remember every detail of the novel. But the second time around I can really appreciate Steinbeck's brilliance.

I love Steinbeck's prose. His rhythms are reminiscent of the King James Bible, and that's where he got his basic plot: from the book of Genesis. The story is an ancient one: sibling rivalry so deep it evokes a murderous rage. In East of Eden, Adam is the Abel character, and Charles is the jealous Cain. Just as God seemed to prefer Abel's gift over Cain's, Cyrus, father of Adam and Charles, prefers Adam's gift of a puppy to Charles's gift of a pocketknife.

Steinbeck wrote East of Eden longhand in a big black notebook his friend and editor Pascal Covici gave him. He wrote the text of the novel on the right-hand pages; on the left-hand he wrote a series of letters to Covici--that was his warm-up every morning before he worked on his novel. The letters were evetually published, and they are available in a slim volume: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. I plan to read the letters as I read the novel. Already I've gotten some insight into Steinbeck's process. He conceived of the novel as a "letter" to his two young sons, then ages four and six. Interesting, huh? After all, the novel is about Biblical-sized sibling rivalry between two brothers.... Here's a quote from the first letter to Covici:
And so I will tell them one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest story of all--the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness. I shall try to demonstrate to them how these doubles are inseparable--how neither can exist without the other and how out of their groupings creativeness is born. (4)

So Steinbeck created Cathy. She is monstrous, evil, cold, seemingly without a speck of love or goodness in her. When Adam falls for her, the reader is like: Oh no! Don't go into the barn! But you know, in horror movies, the characters always go into the barn, and Adam falls completely in love with Cathy:
Suddenly he knew joy and sorrow felted into one fabric. Courage and fear were one thing too. He found that he had started to hum a droning little tune. He turned, walked through the kitchen, and stood in the doorway, looking at Cathy. She smiled weakly at him, and he thought, What a child! What a helpless child! and a surge of love filled him.
 "Will you marry me?" he asked. (120)
Uh oh!

See you on Monday for the next update.