Monday, March 29, 2010

Literature through Time: Valuing the Classics?

As I prepare to write my Master's Thesis, I've begun to question literature in a new way.  I have my BA in English, and I read a heck of a lot to get there, but this is a whole new experience for me.  I've started to understand literature in the sense and scope of time, rather than just the intellectual understanding that classics are such because they're old.   This, of course, has me thinking about the value of classical literature to modern audiences.  More specifically, do classical tragedies, allegories, parodies and the like have any substantial meaning to modern audiences?

In other words, do they translate? And, if they do, then how?  If not, then how will our literature affect or translate to future generations?

Personally, I think something is lost, there's no way we can truly put ourselves in the shoes of those who first saw the work.  We can understand their societies from am intellectual distance, but there's no way we can experience them.  In that vein, though, modern readers and scholars are able to extract from classical works their larger meanings and themes and apply them to modern society in creative ways.  We understand their themes and purposes, but we do so in a way that's unique and different from audiences contemporaneous with the work.  We get something completely different form it, on a personal and social level, than did the first audiences.  Yet, in this way, we are able to understand literature in a way that it's first audiences could not, we can understand the work's affect on the ages, something contemporary audiences could never have foreseen or understood.

Through classics, modern readers are able to touch a time in history they couldn't otherwise know.  The lengths of our imaginations are extended to the written word and we are able to vicariously live through the works of Euripides or Jane Austen.   Classical literature is a sort of time machine through which we are able to live the lives of Helen of Troy, Beowulf, and Don Quixote.  There's a magic in that that I hope will extend from our modern authors to future generations in a meaningful way.

So let me ask you, what do you think of classical literature?  Does it have value to modern audiences?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Free Books

I took a trip to California for my spring break and had a really nice time, but I didn't manage to get a thing read.  I have reading for my grad classes, and books for the two challenges I joined, but I didn't think I could cart them to California without a hassle, let alone have time to actually read them.  What I did manage to get, though, were three new books!  One in California and two by mail while I was away, the best part being that I got them all for free!  As a book junkie, any book I can get my paws on for free is fine by me.

My sister gave me her copy of The Spark by Chris Downie.   The author is also the founder of SparkPeople, a website that's helped millions of people around the world meet their weight loss goals in a healthy way.  I love SparkPeople, though I've fallen off the wagon more times than I can count.  Every time I do, I cancel my account with SparkPeople, and every time I decide to give it another try, I resubscribe.  I'm hoping that being able to read the book will help to motivate me to change my life.

When I got home, yesterday, there was a package from the UK in the mail.  I knew it was a book the second my husband pulled the envelope out of the mailbox, but I had no idea what it was.  The book is Random by Craig Robertson and came by way of Royal Mail from Simon & Schuster UK, enclosed with a note that said, simply, "with compliments."  I must tell you, I am so thrilled to get this book because it's the first ARC I've ever received.  I got it when I signed up for the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge at Book Chick City and plan to push it to the top of my casual reading list.

The third book came today.  It's called Plain Paradise by Beth Wiseman, about a woman who gives her child up to an Amish couple and then wants to reconnect with her after 17 years.  I ordered the book from BookSneeze, but realized today that the book is Christian Romance, which isn't something I normally read.  I'm going to read it, and do the review, which is the terms by which I came by the book in the first place, but I'm also going to watch BookSneeze for anything that's not strictly Christian, as I don't like to delve into religion.  If it turns out BookSneeze is a religious program, I'll likely cancel, even though they give out free books.

So, there you have it.  I also signed up for the Library Thing Early Reviewers program and have signed up to receive some ARCs.  Crossing my fingers I'm lucky enough to win one.  There are a few on the list that I've requested that I really would love to have.   Until then, I have Broken to keep me company.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010

Though it's starting to get a bit late in the year, but I'm always looking for new reading challenges that might interest me.  Last night, I found one and signed-up straight away!  It's called the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge and is being hosted by Book Chick City.  I signed up last night and for me this is a way to explore new lit that I'd probably not have chosen otherwise.  I enjoy thriller and suspense, even horror, but when presented with two choices, I almost always choose fantasy, classics, or historical fiction.  I've taken this as an opportunity to invest myself in dabbling in thriller/suspense and I'm really looking forward to it because reading challenges help to motivate me, in a whole new way, to do some thing I already love.

My list (so far):

  1. The Lost Symbol (Dan Brown)

  2. The Rule of Four (Caldwell & Thomason)

  3. Shutter Island (Dennis Lehane)

  4. A Reliable Wife (Robert Goolrick)

  5. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)

  6. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafón)

  7. Under the Dome (Stephen King)

  8. The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)

  9. The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)

The Rules:

  • Timeline: 01 Jan 2010 - 31 Dec 2010

  • Rules: To read TWELVE (12) thrillers in 2010

  • Add the button to your sidebar

  • Write about the challenge, with a link back, so others can join

That's it.  Simple right?  When you sign up, use the Mr. Linky on the site to add yourself then send the girl hosting the challenge your name, address, URL, and participant list number and she'll send it along to Simon & Schuster UK, who will send you a shiny new ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of one of two novels.  It is starting to get late in the year, so I'm a little unsure whether the ARC's are still available, but I sent my information along anyway and am waiting to hear back from Book Chick City.  My fingers are crossed!

Now, go and sign up and join me in this challenge.  Happy Reading!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Penguin's Got You Covered

It may come as no surprise, if you're an avid reader and book lover, that Penguin Classics is responsible for some of the most beautiful book covers on the market over the last few years.  I am absolutely in love with many of the Deluxe Edition covers, particularly those designed by Cuban artist Ruben Toledo, which include Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, and Wuthering Heights.

Aren't they stunning?  I love the surreal feeling of these covers.  So much so, in fact, that I recently purchased this edition of Wuthering Heights and let me tell you, the cover is more breathtaking than this image can express.  I've been taken with it since the first time I saw it and I'll likely buy a used copy of the book, with a different cover, when it comes time to read it because I'm not certain I can bring myself to mar this one--I'm not particularly gentle with books, you see.

Recently, it would appear that Penguin's at it again, producing yet another round of stylish covers.  Teaming up with (RED), the yet to be released (RED) Series covers are as stunning as they are human issues conscious.  The idea, of course, is to produce beautiful covers that bring the classics to modern audiences while benefiting (RED)'s partners, such as The Global Fund, in the fight against AIDS.  The covers aren't available yet, but according to RobAroundBooks' Cover Love column, the first eight books will be available May 20th.  Sadly, I have a sneaking suspicion that that is a European release date, and so can't promise that they'll be available in bookstores in the US on that date.

Of the covers, all of which are typographically interesting, my absolute favorite's have to be Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, and not just because I love that book --and I do, by the way, love that book-- and Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin.  Both covers are eye-catching, while being relevant to the work they represent.

With The House of Mirth and Thérèse Raquin, the other six titles available in the first release will be Anna Karenina, Dracula, Great Expectations, Notes from Underground, The Secret Agent,  and The Turn of the Screw.  Though the covers have fallen under scrutiny by Forbes as pretentious, I feel that they may have missed the irony in some of the cover designs -- they point, for example, to The House of Mirth cover's girlish fonts as a negative, when in fact it is Lily Bart's value as a woman of beauty, and her unwillingness to settle because of it, that leads to the novel's tragedy.

Ultimately, these covers will likely have the effect of bringing younger audiences to these classical novels, while supporting a very real threat in the world in a fresh new way.  You simply can't miss with that combination and I applaud Penguin's efforts in this endeavor.  I can't wait to get my paws on this edition!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Book with Character

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time two years ago, for a Woman's Lit Genre Studies class.  I loved the class and I loved the book, and since then, I've not been able to get enough of either Austen, or Pride and Prejudice!  When we discussed the book in class, my professor drew us a short example character map to show how the character's interact and since then, I've always been fascinated with the interconnection the character's share.  So, while surfing around the net looking to feed my Pride and Prejudice obsession, I found this awesome character map and thought I'd share for the benefit of my fellow Austen fans.


If you've not read Pride and Prejudice, I highly recommend it.  Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition has a beautiful new edition, but I've always preferred the Norton Critical Pride and Prejudice for it's annotations and footnotes, as well as critical essays.

Next up on my reading list Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

Bound By Honor

Edited and cross posted from my personal blog, Pretty Pessimist.

I sat down to read Colette Gale's Bound by Honor last night and couldn't put it down. I read the first 190 pages before 1 a.m. rolled around and I had to go to bed. The first thing I did when I climbed out of bed this morning, after getting cleaned up, was to pick up the book and finish reading it. I absolutely loved this book!

So, onto the review, shall we?

From Amazon:

"Maid Marian, now Lady of [Morlaix], is sent to the court of Prince John-not to take part in the debauchery of his Court of Pleasure, but to spy on him for his mother. Little does she know that her secret mission will thrust her into a whirlwind of intrigue, terror, and carnal temptations.

At court, Marian is torn between her duty to the queen and her desire for two men: one, the mysterious highwayman the peasants call Robin Hood, and the other, the dark, cold Sheriff of Nottingham. Given an impossible choice, she must submit to the carnality of Prince John's court in order to fulfill her duty and maintain her honor. But in the end, there is only one man for whom she will risk her life and give her heart."

My Review:

From the very beginning, I felt like I was reading historical romance. Gale has excellent historical voice, while leaving enough room for modern understanding. The familiarity of the characters renders this novel comfortable, and Gale expertly takes an original turn on the whole story that left me extremely satisfied. The subtitle, "An Erotic Novel of Maid Marian" is very much the truth. This is Marian's story, not Robins of Locksley's and not William de Wendeval's (Sheriff of Nottingham). There is no mistaking this novel, however, this book is very much erotica. There is explicit sex involved and if that's not your thing, this is not your book. For those who enjoy it, or are at the very least not offended by it, Gale has sensuality down to an art.

The narration is third person and jumps around frequently -- following Marian, Robin, Will, and Alys. Still, it's extremely easy to follow and lends a multi-dimensionality the story couldn't have had, had it followed Marian alone. It allows us to understand all of the characters and how they feel, which is important to how the story turns out in the end. Had readers not been able to see things from more than Marian's perspective, the way things unfold simply wouldn't have worked as well as it does.

I simply cannot say enough good about this novel. I found myself smiling like an idiot more often than not, and when I closed the back cover, the smile didn't go away. I love that this story isn't traditional, that it's not predictable, and that the characters are original despite their historical relevance. Unfortunately, to say too much more would utterly and completely give the story away which is simply not something I would want to do. I recommend this book, but only to adults, and only those who don't get insulted by erotica. While the book is technically considered historical fiction, it skirts all the way to the brink of what's allowable as romance.

When I bought this book, I also got Master: An Erotic Novel of The Count of Monte Cristo by Colette Gale and after reading Bound by Honor: An Erotic Novel of Maid Marian, I simply cannot wait to pick that one up and see what Gale does with it, too!! If I like it, I'll be getting her first historical romance, Unmasked: An Erotic Novel of The Phantom of the Opera.

Bathory: Memoir of a Countess

Edited and cross posted from my personal blog, Pretty Pessimist.

Rather than doing homework last night, I decided to curl up with a book and while the night away. Very irresponsible! I could have been writing my Gatsby paper, which is due tonight, or reading Euripides' Helen for Thursday's class, but I couldn't bring myself to do either, preferring instead to escape the chores ahead of me with A. Mordeaux's Bathory: Memoir of a Countess. I read the entire thing, all 232 pages, in about four hours.

At this point, I'd like to preface my review by saying that ever since I discovered and ordered the book on Amazon, I've been very eagerly awaiting its arrival. When I got half of my shipment from Amazon early and this book wasn't in it, I was really disappointed, and when it finally did come, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was able to put off reading it in favor of finishing Kushiel's Avatar, Sappho, and Gatsby, but only barely. I've been looking for a good book about the Blood Countess and this one seemed like it might be just what I'd sought after, so I was eager to devour it.

I've never been so disappointed by a book in my entire life.

From Amazon:

"The legend of Elizabeth Bathory has captivated generations, but her true persona eludes many. She has been called the most renowned serial killer of her time, accused of torturing and murdering more than 600 people. Conflicted, wanton, and sadistic in nature, was Elizabeth the result of generations of inbreeding? Was she a twisted byproduct of an archaic environment? Or was she merely a victim of a political conspiracy? Travel back in time and explore her story, told in her own voice, and discover the many facets of Countess Elizabeth Bathory."

This is the product description, not a review, but it helps to put things into perspective. Elisabeth Bathory was a murderess of the highest caliber, believed to have bathed regularly in the blood of both servant and aristocratic virgins to sustain her youth. She wasn't just a killer, she was a sadistic torturer, as well. This is not a sympathetic character, though she is a fascinating one. So, if anything good could be said about this book, it's only that the story is interesting, but is a story not of the authors devising. History gives us this character and her tale.

**Includes spoilers beyond this point**

Kushiel's Avatar

Edited and cross posted from my personal blog, Pretty Pessimist.

I spent the afternoon reading the last 200 or so pages of Kushiel's Avatar, the first book on my Busy Bookworm Challenge list for the year. I know, I know, I'm just now finishing the first book! Shame on me!! In my defense, I can say only that it's 750 pages and not a particularly quick read, and also that it's not the only book I've finished this month (as in, January, not February, not yet!). I also read The Great Gatsby and The Complete Poems of Sappho.

Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey is Book 3 of the Kushiel's Legacy series, preceded by Kushiel's Dart and Kushiel's Chosen, in that order. For this reason, this review will be extremely thin on specifics, so as not to include spoilers that might ruin the books, Avatar included.

From Amazon:

"Terre d'Ange's inhabitants are the descendants of angels, a race of breathtaking beauty whose highest law is Love as Thou Wilt. Extraordinarily skilled as a courtesan as well as in diplomacy and espionage, Phèdre nó Delaunay has risen to be a queen's companion and peer of the realm.... Peace and her life were bought with the sacrifice of her friend Hyacinthe, who assumed an ancient, eternal contract as apprentice to the master of straights. Phèdre [then] vowed to free him, and has finally discovered how. She must speak the true name of God, which will banish the embittered angel Rahab, who controls Hyacinthe's fate. To discover the true name, Phèdre journeys to distant lands and dangerous places.... For Phèdre is the only living anguisette, chosen by the god Kushiel to experience pain and pleasure as one, and to maintain divine balance in the world. At the hands of the insane warlord[...], Phèdre learns what true horror is, nearly losing her soul to keep the covenant with Kushiel. As her spirit and strength drain away, the love of her life, Josceline the Cassiline warrior priest, must stand by. Carey's lush, sensuous prose again makes her heroine's story a savory feast for mind and heart."

My Review:

I chose this particular summary from Amazon, by way of Book List, because this one sums it all up without giving away too much. A huge number of people who read this book enjoyed it, myself among them, though there are some reviewers (on Amazon, not professional reviewers) would have potential readers believe it's filled with depravity when it certainly isn't. There is sex, and if that offends then this book (indeed, series) is not for you, and there is some element of torture but there isn't anything too horrible or graphic that it can't be taken in context. I was certainly moved by the horror at times, but only when it was appropriate and not overly taken aback. Amazon's review calls this adult fantasy, which for me summons up images of romance, and though it's not exactly that, this book was certainly not written for children.

The story is very tightly woven, with no discernible loose ends to be tied up. Carey is meticulous in making sure that every thread is secured and follows through in a way that leaves readers satisfied. Further, as the last book in the first trilogy of a series, it ties up not only it's own loose ends, but all of the loose ends left as plot threads from the two previous books in the series. I was left only with the grim satisfaction that always finds me at the conclusion of a really satisfying book/series.

It's also of note, where this book and series are concerned, that the characters mature in such a way as to be believable and sympathetic. I can see, quite clearly, every single character and how they interact. The cast is somewhat large, but they're vivid, each with his or her own personality and style. And, so as not to get lost, there's a "Dramatis Personae" in the beginning of the books that helps to keep everyone in perspective. Although, it's really difficult for me to say that having read about half of the "Wheel of Time" where there are droves and droves of characters to be followed.

Anyhow, after a bit of a lull where the second book in the series is concerned, this book reignites the spark kindled by Kushiel's Dart (Book 1) and has left me wanting more. Thankfully, there's more to be had since there's a second trilogy in the series! Still, If I had to say anything was amiss with this book, I would say that at times it can be a bit melodramatic and that the story takes us so far away and to so many places it's sometimes hard to know how they've gotten to where they are. She follows the characters on their long trek across the world and, much to my chagrin, all the way back. I felt a bit like she could have skipped the details, either coming or going, and not lost anything but pages for the mercy. Ultimately, almost every scene added to the story in some meaningful way, making the excess in description tolerable and at times charming, especially with the inclusion of one Imriel de la Courcel, a Prince of the Blood, and a fantastically energetic young character.

Imriel is of particular note because, as it turns out, he is the narrator of the second trilogy of the Kushiel's Legacy series. Imriel, having grown by then to young adulthood, narrates books 4-6. Of this, I was particularly wary as when I get attached to a narrator, I want to keep them! I wasn't sure how I would feel about the change, from Phèdre to Imriel, but having finished Avatar, I feel like I'm going to really enjoy the next 3 books. I'm even wondering why I ever doubted it at all! Besides, who can really resist a name like Imriel?!

So, there you have it and though I think this goes without saying, I highly recommend this series to everyone over the age of 18! I loved it, it's one of the most beautifully written trilogies I've read in a very long time. Jacqueline Carey is amazing in her ability to form prose that make your heart ache for their beauty! To say she's eloquent seems an injustice, but will have to do. I simply cannot wait to start the next book, and perhaps the next after that!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Welcome to 'A Turn of Page'...

I'm glad you stopped by!

I always have trouble with inaugural blog posts, sad but true.  Starting a new essay or paper never phases me, starting a short story or even a novel has never been this much trouble, but blogging gets me every time!  I suppose what comes now is a little bit about myself, the blog, and why I decided to open it in the first place, so here goes.

My name is Kristyn and I'm a bibliophile -- I love books!  I live in a tiny little town in central Texas, where there's nothing to do and no distractions, and where reading is my singular getaway from the monotony of small town living.  My husband, Matt, and I moved here in the summer of 2004 to attend a small local university, from which I graduated in December 2009 with my BA in English.  I'm currently working toward my MA in English at the same university, while working as a freelance writer.  If you're interested in knowing more about me, see this blog's about page, or find me at Pretty Pessimist, my personal blog.

The blog is, not surprisingly, about books!  As someone who appreciates literature, this blog will be my place to discuss everything literary.  Book reviews will abound, but so too will information about book genres, book releases... well, pretty much anything and everything bookish!  After giving this project a good deal of thought, I finally decided to open this blog because books are important to me and I want to share that with you.  Simple as that.  Until now, my book reviews have been appearing at my personal blog, but I feel like this is a subject deserving a blog unto itself.  So was born 'A Turn of Page.'

I hope you'll stay a while,  enjoy what I have to offer, and come back again!