Loving: classic books

I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to read the classics, considering the adorable packaging they come in lately.

Barnes and Noble is selling these leather bound collections of multiple books, including seven Jane Austen books in one.

And of course Anthropologie is selling Penguin clothbound novels like “Great Expectations,” “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre,” a personal favorite.

The best part is they are very affordable and would make great holiday gifts! (The Penguin books are even cheaper on Amazon.)

Book club

I think it was about a year ago some friends and co-workers started up a book club. Originally we thought we would rotate between reading books and watching classic movies, but we bailed on the movie part pretty early on. I guess we are true book nerds.

I’m glad we stuck with books, though, even through a couple so-so reads because having missed out on being an English major in college I am waaaaaayyyy behind on literature, both new and old. I am just now picking up on some great authors (“yeah, I totally know who that is”) and coming to realize that just because something won a Pulitzer doesn’t mean you’ll love it or even like it.

What we’ve read so far (and what I thought of the books):

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver
After reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Fast Food Nation” and having read some of Kingsolver’s fiction, I was curious about this book. I was curious generally about the idea of growing your own food and eating locally, something I am trying to do more of personally. So I loved the concept. The inclusion of recipes was great, and we made many of them for our book club meeting. If you’re not already a locavore I’m not sure this book will change your mind, just because the style of the writing kind of hits you over the head with the idea. In many places it’s hilarious, in others it’s just irritating. I did like this book, but probably liked Pollan’s approach better. I took it as inspiration and hope to have a great garden this year. Fingers crossed.

“The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” by Michael Chabon
I think I appreciated this book much more after we discussed it than when I was reading it. The story he weaves is pretty intricate and somewhat confusing. At first I wasn’t sure whether the Jewish community in Alaska he talks about was real or not, so I had to look it up to make sure (it’s not). Once other people explained some of the confusing elements the story made much more sense, and I liked it. It was a mystery/thriller with some historical elements and a lot of suspense. Good stuff.

“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov
I barely got through the first 50 pages or so before I lost interest. Translated from Russian, the book is thick with biblical references, looooong Russian names and a pretty weird storyline. I missed the discussion, but have since stowed the book in the bathroom and pick it up occasionally. It’s getting better – I think a certain portion of it will just fly over my head, but I’ll have to report back to you on this one.

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
This post-apocolyptic story is dark and really disturbing. I don’t even want to get into how bizarre our discussion turned out. But the way McCarthy writes flows really quickly and you can read this book easily in a weekend. Yes, it’s gimmicky (he doesn’t punctuate correctly or name the characters), but as I’m realizing a lot of beloved books are too. Some parts of the story left me wanting more of a back story, but overall I really liked this one. Just don’t read it if you’re feeling at all sad. Yeesh.

“American Pastoral” by Phillip Roth
I started off really liking the storyline of a middle-aged guy looking back on his grade-school hero and how that guy had turned out to have a real tragedy in his life. But when it turned to that character it just drug on and on harping on the same points over and over. I struggled to get to the end, expecting a big payoff and there just wasn’t one. The Pulitzer committee has me stumped on this one.

“The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz
Others disagreed, but this was my favorite book so far. It’s a bit strange, also gimmicky in parts (he uses a lot of footnotes and switches between narrators), but I love the story of an immigrant family from the Dominican Republic, and how each member went through a coming of age process and a lot of hardship. Diaz’s writing style is very colloquial with a lot of Spanish mixed in. I just loved that it wasn’t too serious, and it was often funny. I was pretty disturbed by the brutality, especially towards women, throughout the book, but I suppose if it’s true to the history, it is. Even if you have trouble following the narrators and the jumps in time, I still think you’ll like this one.

Also, we always caucus to choose the next book, which I probably shouldn’t admit. But hey, we’re Iowans and most of us work at the newspaper where we’re not allowed to caucus for real. Next up? “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Rediscovering: Sylvia Plath

Last weekend “Sylvia” arrived from my Netflix queue. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Sylvia Plath and Daniel Craig plays her cheatin’ husband. It wasn’t the greatest movie ever made, but I did like it, and it did get into how she never really got the help she needed for her depression.

Anyway, it got me thinking that I had a copy of “The Bell Jar” around the house. I must have read it for a class in college, because the copy I have is pretty aged and has one of those ‘used’ stickers on it. But I cracked it open last night and have been enjoying it for a second time. I really like her writing style – she has great descriptions. And the subject matter (working at a magazine in NYC) of course appeals to me.

Brianne also let me borrow a book of poems I had never read.

I was telling Mike that I reread a lot of books – half of them because I never quite got them in the first place (or I read them in 10th grade, long before I could really understand their meaning) and the other half because I just get so much pleasure out of reading them. Some books I could read every week and still be happy; I just tear right through them.

Anyway, if you’ve never read any Sylvia Plath, I would definitely recommend it.