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, May 22, 2016

Sunday Salon: The Comfort of a Long, Complex Book

Dear Reader,

It is the end of a long school year, a year full of changes and challenges. And more than ever I appreciate the special solace of a long and complex book.

I've been reading classics and complex books as an escape--it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works for me.

I finished reading Jane Eyre (I wish I could remember if it was my third or my fourth time around) last week. Charlotte Bronte was a genius. I just adore this book, more than ever. This book will definitely get its own post, but suffice it to say that I am completely enamored of Charlotte Bronte's brain, and her brilliant heroine.

Bronte's story pulled me in at a time when I was struggling every day on the job. Teaching is mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically demanding, and I was exhausted. Reading Jane Eyre filled my spirit and gave me strength in a way that a shorter, less complex and demanding book just couldn't. Something different happens in my brain when I am reading a classic book, one that is demanding, complex, and works on many levels.

Then I picked up Arcadia by Iain Pears on a whim. It had just arrived in our school library, and even though the last thing I have time for is a 509 page book, I found myself totally immersed and loving it. There were a couple of times when my attention flagged, but I stuck with this behemoth, and I'm glad I did. Replete with literary references for the English major/teacher nerd, Arcadia tells several stories at once, and at times the reader is unsure which, if any, or the narratives are "real." This book will definitely not be for everyone, but I found it rewarding. Last semester my creative writing students and I read Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," a short story about time travel. This led us all down the rabbit hole of the physics of time travel. Would traveling back in time allow someone to change the course of history? Or are there endless possible parallel universes? That little research project came in handy as I read Arcadia, which features a psycho-mathematician, Angela Meerson, who has invented a Narnia-like time/world travel machine which she stores in the basement of an Oxford don. A teenage girl named Rosie ends up stepping through the curtain of Angela's machine and entering a world created by the don, Henry Lytton, who has been plotting a novel in his spare time. This world, Anterwold, is peopled by Lytton's characters. There's also a dystopian world that Angela has escaped from, where a few powerful men control the lives of the vast majority of humans.

Arcadia is not a perfect book, but it was the perfect book for me this week. It distracted me from my crazy week at school, and I'm still thinking about it. I scanned some of the reviews in major papers, and they were a little "meh." But I think for the right reader it is engaging and thoughtful.

As the school year comes to an end I am already looking forward to next year. I'm building my summer reading list based on the classes I'm teaching next year, and giving myself a heavy dose of the classics right at the start. What's next:

Swan's Way by Marcel Proust (a new translation by Lydia Davis)
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I'm sure I'll read some shorter works in between, but right now long, complex, demanding books are hitting the sweet spot.

What do you look forward to reading as summer approaches?

Anyone else like those long and complex books? What are your personal favorites?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: Father's Day

Father's Day
Simon Van Booy
hardcover, 304 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

     Father's Day, Simon Booy's newest novel, tells a deceptively quiet story of the love between a father and daughter. The reader will want to go back to the beginning of the book, and reread the first few chapters (I did) to fully appreciate the simple yet profound beauty of this book.

     Van Booy is an artist of the swift glance into a human heart. His style is unadorned yet lyrical, and the writer's focus on his subject is almost hypnotically intense. In Father's Day, Harvey, a young girl (my Spidey sense tells me this character name comes from the Jimmy Stewart movie about a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit) lives with her loving parents, and a doll named Duncan. She doesn't know it, but she is creating memories out of simple experiences like dropping a mug of hot chocolate in the snow, or pressing her hand into the earth while gardening with her mother.

     When Harvey is six, her parents die in a car crash. A social worker, Wanda, brings Harvey and her uncle, Jason, together; Harvey and Jason have never met. Harvey has heard of Jason through her father, but the two brothers were estranged. Despite Jason's past as a convicted felon, his physical disability (he has a prosthetic leg), and a long list of traits that make him an unlikely father figure, Wanda gently urges the orphan and the felon to adopt one another--which they do.

     The narrative shifts back and forth between past and present (or I should say pasts, because both Harvey and Jason have more than one past). The present-day Harvey, an artist/illustrator living in Paris, plans a special visit for Jason, whose trip coincides with Father's Day. She gives Jason a series of gifts, each of which evokes a particular memory, all of which lead to the revelation of a long-held secret.

     The flashbacks into the past show Jason's struggle to become a person who doesn't explode in anger, who knows about things like dentist visits and Polly Pockets--not the angry, lonely man who once got into bar fights and worse.

     Van Booy casts his characters in a cool but compassionate light. Jason is never a perfect father; at times he he much less than perfect. But together he and Harvey create a life, and he succeeds in his ultimate aim--to teach Harvey to be a good person.

     Father's Day is a book about darkness, terrible mistakes, and the ultimate redemption, the saving grace of love. It's a beautiful book that surprises the reader in the end, in ways that are best left unexplained.

     In one scene near the end of the book, Harvey and Jason visit the Louvre. This painting by Sir Henry Raeburn is mentioned:

     I love the open, direct expression on the little girl's face. It is a simple, beautiful painting. Father's Day is beautiful in just the same way. 

     Readers of Simon Van Booy's other novels and stories ( Tales of Accidental Genius, The Illusion of Separateness, Love Begins in Winter, and others) will naturally want to read Father's Day. Readers who love stories about humans will want to read this and other works by the author. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction Picks

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is the best nonfiction for every X to read. This is where my lack of breadth might just come out to embarrass me, but let's see....

1. For every aspiring writer: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg's book, which combines writing prompts and thoughts on writing practice with meditations on Zen Buddhism, first came out in 1986. Shambhala Library has published a beautiful, nearly pocket-sized new hardcover edition.
2. For anyone who wants to remember to value the present moment: Everyday Matters: A Memoir by Danny Gregory. Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, Danny Gregory convinces the reader that one of the best ways to slow down and savor the daily experience is to really pay attention--by drawing. Written in the form of a visual diary/graphic memoir, Everyday Matters is unexpectedly moving and inspiring.
3. For thinkers, philosophers, nature-lovers, and minimalists: Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau. Most of us couldn't live the way Thoreau suggests--even he couldn't do it all the time. But this classic book will make you think about how you live and why.
4. And more of the above: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer tells the story of what happened to Chris McCandless when he tried to live as Thoreau did, but with disastrous results. Absolutely riveting.
5. For a little history and a little murder: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The story of the Chicago World's Fair and a serial murderer.
6. Still the best book on Columbine: Columbine by Dave Cullen. The place to start if you want to understand what happened.
7. If you can't get enough of The Great Gatsby: So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and How It Endures by Maureen Corrigan.
8. For those who are obsessed with Our Author (Anthony Trollope): Oxford Reader's Companion to Trollope edited by R.C. Terry. I got my edition from a used bookseller. I love it, and it is an indispensable part of my library. I consult it every time I read Trollope, or when I am reading about him.
9. Introverts and seekers of solitude. Most readers probably know about Susan Cain's Quiet, but you might not be familiar with May Sarton and Journal of a Solitude. The diary of a highly creative woman (novelist, poet, and nonfiction writer), Journal of a Solitude is a beautiful meditation on the necessity of solitude for the artist.
10. For the aspiring poet, seeker, or for anyone who questions how to move forward in life: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Do you have nonfiction recommendations for a certain kind of reader or a certain situation? Share in the comments section--I'd love to know what you're thinking....

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Spring Break

It's Monday, and for once I slept way past 5:00. That's because I'm on Spring Break!

This meme was hosted by Sheila at Book Journey for the longest time, and now Kathryn at Book Date has taken over. I can't seem to get myself together to post on the weekend, so here's what I've been reading, and what I'm reading now.

Most of my reading has been driven by my teaching, so I've been reading YA books like Red Rising by Pierce Brown (a dystopian world set on Mars--a great book for male readers), and professional reading such as:

Teaching Arguments by Jennifer Fletcher
They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

And for review:
Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracey Chevalier (a collected of short stories inspired by Jane Eyre)

Now, while I'm on break, I really want to read just for myself. Right now that means classics: I'm thirsting for the deepest literature. So I've been reading short stories by Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories. It is just what my soul needed. Next up: Death in Venice and Other Stories, by Thomas Mann--and then I'm rereading Jane Eyre (that story collection made me want to reread Charlotte Bronte's classic novel).

A little ambitious, I'll admit, but I think I can do it.

It's Monday, what are you reading?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Review: Reader, I Married Him

Reader, I Married Him
Edited by Tracey Chevalier
paperback, 304 pages
William Morrow
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

     Reader, I Married Him has everything I love in a book. Let's start with the premise: the title for this short story anthology comes from Charlotte Bronte's classic novel, Jane Eyre. This is like saying the premise for the collection is a line from a letter written by a beloved friend. Edited by Tracey Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Reader, I Married Him is comprised of twenty-one stories by widely varied and wildly talented women writers. Each story uses Jane Eyre (and this famous sentence from the novel) as a starting point, but the stories range from close variations on the original novel to barely connected spin-offs.

     Amazingly, there is not one inferior story in the whole bunch.

     Helen Dunmore retells Jane's story from the point of view of Grace Poole, characterizing the small, plain governess as "a snowdrop pushing its way out of the bare earth." Grace Poole's secrets give the reader and entirely different perspective on Mr. Rochester.

     In "Since First I Saw Your Face," Emma Donoghue turns to historical fiction to comment on the bonds of marriage and the passions of female friendship. This beautiful story tells of a passionate and loving relationship between two women, one of them married. And in "To Hold," by Joanna Briscoe, a woman marries, more than once, all the while maintaining a secret and fevered love affair with a female colleague.

     The writer's in this volume are all at the top of their game, and are some of the most admired literary authors--with plenty of variety of style, tone, and approach. The collection includes stories by Tessa Hadley, Jane Gardam, Tracey Chevalier, Lionel Shriver, Francine Prose, Evie Wyld, and Audry Niffenegger, among others. Each story in some way comments on or connects to Jane Eyre and the confiding statement: Reader, I married him.

     I would recommend this book to any reader, whether or not she has read Jane Eyre. Reader, I Married Him could be enjoyed by any reader, but I suspect this collection will spark an interest in reading (or rereading) Charlotte Bronte's riveting and original classic.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday Salon: Sunday Coffee

It's a rainy Easter Sunday here in South Carolina. This is the week I will finally have a Sunday Salon post, after trying for three weeks without success. 

Life and Teaching

     Change is the theme in my life this year. My school district and my high school switched from year-long classes to the semester schedule this year. This seemed like a good thing at first: previously I was teaching on an A/B schedule, with six sections of students. It was possible to have 160-180 students on my rosters, which is a heck of a lot of grading. But I've found that the semester schedule has its own drawbacks. Then we have had new evaluations thrust on us (without much real guidance), much more documentation of student progress, and what feels like a constantly increasing pressure.

     Then our district made some decisions that will dramatically change life for teachers and students: a new start time for middle school and high school; this will be good for students but a huge adjustment. On the bight side, I will drive to school in daylight! Other changes are probably too complicated to explain well in a short space, but another big change for me is that our principal will be retiring at the end of this year.  

What I've Been Reading

     Despite a crazy busy schedule (tons of grading and deadlines) I have continued to make time for reading; reading just does it for me....it allows me to go to another place, relaxes me, and gives me distance from my day to day problems. Here are a few of the books I've read over the past few weeks that made a deep impression....
The Hot Zone was one of the scariest books I've ever read. Preston is an incredible writer; he kept me on tenterhooks for the entire book. The best part was that I had learned so much science, in such an enjoyable way, by the time I finished the book.

Although I haven't had time to write about it for the blog, The Bone Clocks was one of the best books I've read in a long time. Absolutely loved it, and can't wait to read more from David Mitchell.

Most Recently Read

And So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures by Maureen Corrigan. A love letter to The Great Gatsby, I'm still reading this. Highly personal, and highly recommended for fans of Fitzgerald's best known novel.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I first read this in high school, and it holds up. Disturbing and prescient.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.  This is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy. Weird, absorbing, immersive. Looking forward to the next book in the series (sitting on my desk).

Now Reading

Red Rising by Pierce Brown. My students love this book, so I *have to* read it. They've been using all their persuasive powers on me!

The Kids Are Reading

Both male and female readers in my classes are loving Red Rising and Ready Player One. And female readers are gobbling up Red Queen.

Coming Up Soon

     I really want to read or reread a classic (or more than one). Right now I'm looking at Jane Eyre.

     What's been going on for you, in your reading life or just life in general? I'd really like to know! Hope everyone is having a happy Easter Sunday. Peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Love But Haven't Talked About (Enough)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday--hosted by The Broke and the Bookish--is the top ten books I haven't talked about (enough). This is off the top of my foggy, tired, Spring-Break-is-still-three-weeks-away, fuzzy teacher head.

1-3. Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Every Sarah Waters book I read makes me want to find another reader and talk the book over immediately. Waters is just brilliant, and I love the way she plays with and defies the reader's expectations in the most thrilling ways. Plus: Victorian England (first two books) and Gothic Horror. Love.
4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I was in love with this book every single minute that I was reading it, and for a long time afterward. Reading Gaiman is a tingling, delightful, heightened experience.
5. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Simply extraordinary and unlike anything else I have read. Climate change, androids, everything you could ask for in a futuristic fantasy.
6. The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Which reminds me, Parable of the Talents is giving me the stink eye right now. Why aren't you reading Octavia Butler right now? The woman is a flipping genius. And read Kindred too--it is unlike anything else you have ever read.
7. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. I kept seeing Mieville's name and thinking that someday I would pick up one of his books. Then I finally did it. Mind. Blown. To say fantasy is entirely inadequate. World creation on a whole new level.
8. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I loved this book most when I had no idea what was going on. Which was about the first half of the book. And by then I adored all the characters, so I was in. Plus, I got to see the future.
9. Another Country by James Baldwin. All the pain beauty and love you can handle in one gorgeous and brilliant novel.
10. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. An important book by a great American writer who wondered why there wasn't a Black Dostoyevsky, so he became one.

What ten books do you need to talk about more? Add to this list in the comments. Or agree with me--that would be cool. Peace, book lovers.