Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Greek Mythologies and Books About Books

"That's the kind of connection we can form with a stranger--even without their knowing--just by seeing a particular book in their hands. Life happens alongside the act of reading--a story is forever mixed with where were were and what we were doing while we were reading that book."
-Lauren Leto
Judging a Book By Its Lover

I have had the awesomely lucky fortune to have HarperCollins send me several books to review on my blog recently! (Seriously--most awesome thing ever and something you should genuinely be jealous of? Yes.) These books came at a perfect time where I'm just in that mood to sit down and read for hours while biting into a crisp green apple (the joys of which I will not experience this fall due to my current status of "braceface").

And you're in luck too, because the books that they sent me were wonderful and I can't wait to share them with you! So without further ado, the last two books I've read have been:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Do you remember your seventh grade reading class where you were forced (mostly against your will, which is saying something for a nerdy, bookworm-y seventh grader) to read Mythology by Edith Hamilton and pretty much everyone hated it because it was old and "boring" and it was more fun to write notes to your friends about what boys were cute? Then in the 11th grade, you got to take Astronomy because your high school had a planetarium and the whole first half of the class was about constellations? And of course, you devoured The Odyssey in college, not realizing how cool Greek mythology was even though you'd been exposed to it so much.

Right. You know what I'm talking about.

Well, when I saw that the book was The Song of Achilles, I got kind of excited. Since the days when Mythology was a torture, I've come to appreciate the myths in all their awesomeness. And frankly, even if you don't appreciate mythology or know anything about it, The Song of Achilles is an excellent read. The story is told from the perspective of Patroclus who was a prince before he accidentally killed a boy and was exiled to live in Phthia where the prince Achilles took him under his own wing. The two become inseparable and later, lovers. In Greek mythology, Patroclus and Achilles are portrayed as brothers-in-arms, and Miller seeks to develop that story from an intimate point of view. Miller does a wonderful job of getting you invested in the characters--they have flaws just like anyone else though they are royalty and gods, and their love is strong, powerful, and everlasting. By the end of the book, I was in tears (and my boyfriend was sick of me talking about it).

Miller knows her stuff, too--the interactions with the gods, the Trojan war, the details of the stories go to make the whole novel alive and make it feel so very real. The tale is lovely enough, but Miller's telling is especially provoking. Also, if you get the paperback edition from Ecco, there are interviews in the back as well as character glossaries and fun facts. This actually really helps if you read it over a long period of time, though it's a pretty quick and engrossing read, so that shouldn't be a problem! (For a preview of the book and some of the background info on the mythology, see Miller's website here.) 

Judging a Book By Its Lover by Lauren Leto: Confession. I have several loves in my life and one of these loves is books that are about books and reading. The book-world is my world. I belong there, and I love being completely (or mostly completely) in the know when I read a book about how it feels to read and what snobs readers can be  (which I completely understand myself to be). Leto helped to co-found the popular (and hilarious) site Texts From Last Night and this book is basically that kind of hilarity for readers everywhere. Arranged as basically short essays on topics such as how to snag a date at a book store, the rules of reading in public, the lament of the loss of community based on reading that the e-readers have brought, I sincerely laughed out loud (on the Metro, of course, which is one of her "don'ts" for reading in public) because so many of her insights were dead on. For instance: one section is all about what your kid will turn out to be like as an adult if you read them [this book] as a child. My mom read me Madeline (which I loved and is still one of my favorite books of all time). Leto writes that those who are read Madeline as a child will turn out to be "Horrifyingly obedient, to the point where you can be reassured that even if you traveled out of town for a month and left her alone, your teenage daughter wouldn't dare throw a party or look twice at the liquor cabinet." Have you met me?! I mean, this is spot on stuff, here, people.

One of the more meaty and interesting parts of her book is the section called "How to Fake It" where she gives small tidbits that can help you if you get in a jam and feel the need to lie about having read something. Split into "Basics" (info about the author, fun facts), "Essentialography" (the author's most famous/popular books), and "Details" (basically fun facts to impress your friends with), this chapter charms if you've read the author (and lets you feel like you're in on the joke) and has some good information if you haven't (did you know that Kurt Vonnegut called semicolons "transvestite hermaphrodites?").

The book is a very quick read (I read it in 3 days) that charms, even though it can sometimes be a little pretentious. But let's get real here: who doesn't love a little pretention? As a reader, I think that Leto perfectly captured what it means to be a reader, which is being quite unlike anything else. For me, it also made me appreciate the fact that my parents encouraged me (well, they never complained at least) to carry a book everywhere I went, took me to the library when I was a kid, and introduced me to the land of imagination and wonder at such a young age. I am a lucky kid, I can tell you that.

Judging a Book By Its Lover comes out on October 2 and The Song of Achilles is out now! So hit the library or the book store if you're looking for something new to read to start off your Fall right!

Keep Reading!

PS--As a side note, I just have to say publicly, GO NATIONALS!!! :)

Monday, September 10, 2012


"Do you know," he asked in a delicious accent, "what Dom Perignon said after inventing champagne?"
"No?" I said.
"He called out to his fellow monks, "Come quickly: I am tasting the stars."
-The Fault in Our Stars

Have you ever just had a morning where you wake up, and even though you'd probably rather lay in bed for at least another hour, you get up and you know you can handle the day? I had that morning this morning: the sky was perfect, the weather was almost tights-appropriate, I had a good book to start, and my weekly to-do list seemed like it wasn't going to kill me. The only thing that could have made it better was if I had my iPod (which is basically down for the count.. it won't even turn on anymore) for some perfect tune-age. Oh well. But after a lovely, relaxing weekend, I always feel better.

So on this day that started out with me feeling pretty good and ending with me feeling not that different from other days, I wanted to try and recapture that morning feeling by doing several things tonight: 1) Cleaning my room (it was horrible... and I didn't even really clean.. just picked up the piles of clothes and ephemera that have gathered over the past two weeks), 2) Going to the library (duh.), 3) Blogging, and 4) Having what will probably turn out to be one of my last summer beers before fall hits. So that's what I'm doing: I'm recapturing, dammit.

I must say that I've been dying to write about the books that follow for a few weeks now, I just haven't had the time to sit down and actually post. In my last post, I talked about how my reading pile was turning out to be less than fulfilling... well, next time that happens, I'm going to make sure that I post it on the internet--it seems to be the medium the gods use to bless me with great reading! This past month has proven to be one of the better ones.

Without further ado, my recent readings:

-Arcadia by Lauren Groff: Now, if you have ever lived with me, you know that if there is anything about cults, gangs, communes, or serial killers, I will watch it. I am fascinated by all of these things and cannot get enough. So when I heard that Lauren Groff's new book was about a commune, I immediately requested it. The story is narrated by a boy, Bit,  who was born into and grew up in a commune that has (of course) a charismatic, power-hungry leader and that eventually falls apart. The story is broken up into three parts: one where Bit is 5 and observing his surroundings, one where he is a teenager and the commune is falling apart, and the final section is devoted to Bit's life after the commune. The storytelling often reminded me of Room during the parts where Bit is very young. It's definitely a coming-of-age story and in the end was almost not about what I thought it was really about. Wonderfully told and completely engrossing (especially if you're like me!), this is a well done novel that I highly recommend.

-The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: Today at the library, I saw a woman walking out with this book and I told her (because I just can't help myself) "That book was really good, but it messed with my head a little bit" (at which point she told me that she was right in the middle of taking her psych clinical and that was all she needed). But really--I didn't expect this book to make me think so much, but it did. The main plot point is that the Earth has somehow been knocked out of it's normal angle and so days and nights no longer last their 24 hours--there are some days that last 40 hours and nights that last 10. The concept is interesting, and frankly, I found it terrifying. We learn all about this from the perspective of a young girl, Julia, who now has to deal with the craziness of the Earth as well as dealing with the normal things in life. The "slowing" as it's referred to changes all kinds of things: gravity, people's behavior, farming, diseases, and the whole idea was very well thought out but also very terrifying. One of the more interesting parts of the book was the discussion on how some people decided to live by clock time (meaning that they didn't pay attention to light and dark and went by how time had always been measured) and those who lived by when the sun rose and set. It was a great book, but one that definitely kept me awake a few nights!

-Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates: Joyce Carol Oates has always been hit or miss for me, and frankly there have been far more misses than hits (except for My Sister, My Love which I devoured). Mudwoman was a big miss for me. I almost stopped reading it halfway through but forced myself to get through it. The story is about a girl whose mother is mentally ill. The woman has two daughters: one of the daughters, she kills and leaves in a refrigerator, and the other becomes Mudwoman, the one she left in the woods and who was found and adopted. Frankly, the parts of the story that were flashbacks to her childhood and the story of how she was left and found could have been good if they weren't overshadowed by the strange, often gross, telling of the woman when she is 50. Mudwoman is adopted as a young girl by Quakers and grows up to be the first female president of an Ivy League university, but she can't outrun her past and deal with her life. There were parts where my face must have been so contorted in both confusion and disgust that someone on the metro asked me, "Are you okay, miss?" Yeah... I wouldn't recommend this one. Plus it's super long (longer than necessary by at least 100 pages) and took forever.

- Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas: To get over the strangeness that was Mudwoman, I picked up a book that I actually bought my roommate for her birthday. Paris, My Sweet is a memoir of a woman who loves sweets so much that she writes about them as part of her living. She works in advertising and is assigned a project in Paris, which she takes mostly because of her love of France and her love of French desserts. The book was cute, fluffy, fun, and make me long for France (though I've never been). Let's just say that the day after I finished it, I treated myself to Paul, which just opened near work (and will be the downfall of my waist and my wallet). But in all honesty, it made me really want to search for a good bakery in DC and also to go to Paris, which is on my list (of course). A cute, super-easy read!

-The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Please read this book. I know it's young adult, and I know it sounds a little cheesy, but it's not. I promise. The story is about Hazel who is a terminally ill teenager who has a very interesting outlook on life. She meets Augustus who only has one leg because of cancer, which is in remission throughout most of the book. I'm not spoiling anything here by telling you that they fall in love and it is, of course, destined to be doomed. Okay, okay, I know that this is starting to sound like a Lurlene McDaniel book (which I was (ashamedly) obsessed with as a kid), but it's so well written and so beautiful. Hazel and Augustus kind of begin their love affair over a book that Hazel loves, which becomes an important part of their story. I loved the characters and the way that Green portrays them and how I came to love them myself. By the end of the book, I was a mess (warning: don't read this on public transportation... thank goodness I was home when I finished it) but I was so glad that I read it. I feel like I'm not doing the book justice here, but please do pick it up. Very quick and enjoyable read.

And thus ends my summer reading--I think it's officially over now, as I drain the dregs of one of my final summer beers and open my windows to let in the cool air that feels like fall. It's hard to believe it's already fall again, but I must say that I'm ready for sweater dresses, tights, cooking, opening my windows, autumn scented candles, and crispy leaves.

I've started reading The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and I think I'm going to love it! :)

In closing, let me say this: it's hard to believe that as of tomorrow, it's been 5 whole years since I got on my first airplane ever and landed in London to spend  3 months in Canterbury, England. So, to close this post, I'm throwin' it back with one of my favorite pictures ever.

How can anything possibly top skipping down the lane that Maria von Trapp skipped down? I ask you that. :)

I hope that your summer reading has made you feel renewed and ready for the fall!

Read on, friends,