Victorians, and Patriots, and Knitters! Oh My!

Now that the kiddos are older, and I’ve finished my second foray into college, I wanted to try and read more books for the mere enjoyment of it again. Unfortunately, I have a hard time breaking old routines and needed a little incentive. My incentive was to sign on to the Goodreads 2012 book challenge and then write about the books here. I challenged myself to 35 books this year. That seemed like a reasonable amount to start with. According to Goodreads, I’m right on track with the reading part of my challenge but not with the posting part of the challenge. I’m 3 books behind in that aspect. Rather than write 3 separate posts, I decided to combine them all into one post. It’s an eclectic list of books to review; I’m a bit eclectic in my interests, but maybe that means there is a little something here for everyone. I can’t be the only knitter in the world who is also interested in history and Victorian literature.

Victorians: I heard about this book, Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, on NPR in the car one day and it piqued my interest. It sounded silly and light and it did not disappoint. It’s a short little book, written in 1889, about three men and a dog on a boat trip down the Thames. The travelogue is interspersed with funny anecdotes about packing, camping, ladies fashions and river rage (which sounded an awful lot like modern-day road rage). Be cautious when reading this book in public because you will laugh out loud. I didn’t take this into consideration when I decided to read it during my kids’ Tang Soo Do class. Needless to say, I may have embarrassed them when I erupted into fits of laughter while reading about how Uncle Podger hangs a picture.

Patriots: The Whites of Their Eyes by Jill Lepore was recommended to me. It is definitely a timely read with the pending election, the rise and dwindling of the Tea Party, and the GOP’s apparent nod towards insanity. I highly recommend it to anyone who would like some perspective on events past and present. It is a short book and very quick read that is full of thoroughly researched content written in an almost conversational tone. It does not get preachy or reveal any political agenda.

Each chapter switches between the current Tea Party movement, defining moments of the American Revolution, and the Bicentennial Celebration. The juxtaposition of all these stories shows how all sides have misused history to fit their needs. Unlike other books focusing on the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers, Lepore doesn’t romaticize them or try to claim them for her purposes. She lets the founders speak through their letters and other writings. And there are some wonderful quotes, and other little nuggets in this book that often get ignored because they don’t fit with the current narrative. For example, there was one nugget about how Francis Bellamy (the author of the Pledge of Allegiance) once gave a sermon titled “Jesus the Socialist”.

The most important point I took away from the book is that historical fundamentalism and originalism are not solid foundations to govern from. And we must be careful not to commit the error of “historical presentism” by asking what the founders would do because it’s impossible to insert ourselves into their time and have any kind of meaningful insight. Our values are different today; the world is a very different place, and to think that we can relate our values and experiences today to the values and experiences of our founders is faulty logic.

Knitters: I picked up Rachael Heron’s, A Life in Stitches from Amazon during their January Kindle specials. I’ve never read her blog before this book, but I’ll definitely check in on it from now on. The book was a light and easy read. Each essay stands on its own, which makes it a nice book to pick up when you don’t want to, or don’t have time to commit to an entire novel. My only criticism was that I would have liked some of the stories to go into a little more depth. Some of the stories had so much potential, but I felt they stopped as soon as they got interesting. Her blog is also mentioned a lot in the second half of this book. Since I was unfamiliar with her blog when I read the book, I felt like I was missing parts of the some of the stories. (I know that was 2 criticisms.) I enjoyed it and I’d probably recommend it to some of my knitting friends.

Counting Anna Karenina, I’m 4 books into the Goodreads challenge with 31 to go. Tonight I plan on starting The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I’ve been wanting to read this one for awhile.

Anna Karenina: A Review of Sorts

I finally finished Anna Karenina! There were times when I wasn’t sure that was ever going to happen, and not just because the book has a lot of pages. I had high hopes for this novel, especially since so many have declared it the best novel ever written. And the first sentence – “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – may be one of the best sentences ever to begin a book. Unfortunately, I found the rest of the book long, verbose and tedious at times.

Anna Karenina was not a typical choice for me. However, I’ve been trying to catch up on all the “best ever” books that I seemed to have missed out on during my school days. I decided on Anna Karenina because a friend of mine was reading it. She read me some passages from the book and it sounded interesting, so I downloaded the free version for my Kindle. I’ve been told this was my first mistake. Translations are important I know, but I had already spent more than I should have on yarn and couldn’t justify the extra book expense right before the holidays, so free version it was.

There were actually times when I had a hard time putting the book down. The characters were interesting and written in such a way that they seemed very real. I could identify with most of them and found myself interested in their lives and struggles. I also think it was a good study of class struggle, relationships, and the hypocrisy and narcissism that often plagues us humans.

But there were also parts of the story that were dull and pedantic. Tolstoy gave such a long description about farming techniques and peasants that I found myself, after about 3 pages, wondering what it was I had just read. Even worse, these ramblings were not necessary for advancing the plot. Once I figured out I could just skim these parts, the story moved along a little quicker.

The end was disappointing. I will try my best not to spoil it for you. While I was sympathetic to Anna’s struggles with her reality (partly self-created and partly a consequence of the era she lived in), hers seemed too typical and easy an end.  I was very unsatisfied with the way Anna and Vronsky’s story ended – not necessarily in the how, but in the way it was written. It left me wanting more.

I could not relate to Levin’s conflict in the end at all. It seemed to come out of nowhere and his conclusions attained abruptly. This was the most disappointing for me since for most of the book I felt like I identified with him the most, as he was the character who saw through all the nonsense and hypocrisy. I felt both the main characters took the easy way out in the end at the expense of the story. I say this because I think Tolstoy provided each of them with false choices and it left me feeling let-down. I’ve read that Levin’s struggle at the end mirrors Tolstoy’s own struggle with religion and meaning of life, but I found myself actually arguing with him that he was missing the larger point, or maybe I was missing the larger point. If Tolstoy were alive today and in Indiana, or Levin was real, we could have had a lively discussion that day.

I know I did not choose the best translation. I don’t know if reading a better translation will change my view of  the story. It will be a long while before I test that theory.

Reading List

Books

I’ve been meaning since the last post to start this blog going again, but I always have trouble with beginnings. I never know exactly where to start. Especially now, because I’m starting in the middle – or restarting, so-to-speak.

Then yesterday morning, I received a box full of new books to read. I get a new box every new year, courtesy of the gift card to Barnes & Noble that my Mother-in-Law sends me for Christmas every year.  I figured books would be a good place to start.  Although, I’m unsure of which book in this stack to start with.  I’m leaning towards The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (The Public Square). With all the historical fundamentalism and revisionism that has been happening lately, I think that might be an interesting and timely read.

But before I can start a new book, I must first finish Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. My husband got me a Kindle for my birthday last October and I have been taking advantage of all the free classics that come with it. Somehow, I’ve managed to avoid reading most of them. I loaded up on science and math classes during my school days, so I guess I never needed to read them. Now that I’ve reached a sort of mid-point in my life, I feel as if I’ve missed out. Now is my chance to catch up. I’m enjoying Anna Karenina so far (according to my Kindle, I’ve finished 75% of the book), but it does get a bit long. I find the relationships fascinating and engaging, but sometimes it gets a bit wordy and mundane. I get impatient for the story to move along. I’m even more impatient now that I have a whole stack of new books waiting for me.

Speaking of Kindles….of course I had to make mine a custom sleeve.  I wrote up a tutorial on how I made it.  I will post it soon, hopefully next week.

Look What the Sewing Fairy Brought

Japanese Sewing Books

I ordered some Japanese pattern books from YesAsia.com and they arrived today, along with a whole bunch of fabric (lots of florals, polka-dots, stripes and reproduction prints).

The dresses in the Stylish Dress Book look so comfy and perfect for spring, which is probably about the time I will get around to sewing any of them. And the kids are pouring over them, completely fascinated by the Japanese writing. I will carve out some time to sew soon. And I will post reviews and the results when I do.

My Reading List

Stack of Books

Here is the stack of books in my “waiting to be read soon” pile.  One of my favorite parts of the new year is diving into the stack of new books I get at the end of every year.  They make the cold, winter months go a little bit faster.

A few – 1491, 365 Tao and Buddhism Plain and Simple – are left over from last year, but either need to be finished or, in the case of 365 Tao, are used daily on an on-going basis.

I’m almost finished with In Praise of Slowness. Now the question becomes, which book to read next…..