Thursday, October 23, 2014

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, by Maureen Corrigan
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: September 9, 2014
Category: Nonfiction
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

From the second I saw the title and cover art of So We Read On, I had to have it. I requested it past the publication date, so when NetGalley approved my request (quickly, thank God), I pushed aside all other reading to dive in. My students were to start reading The Great Gatsby the following week, so I'm glad I did.

Part of the book reads at a slower pace because it is meant to be read carefully, but that is to be expected. It is informational, not a fiction story. If you are a Fitzgerald, Gatsby, and/or literary Jazz Age fan, then the pace doesn't matter because you will want to soak in any new insight on these topics. I was particularly interested to see whose side Corrigan would take: Team Scott or Team Zelda. After reading Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Ann Fowler last year, I made the jump to Team Zelda. Corrigan takes up with Team Scott, but at the same time, does not excuse his possible part in Zelda's lifelong problems or his own.

My favorite thing about this book is that it focuses on The Great Gatsby. Corrigan's look into the Fitzgerald's life correlates to the writing and events of The Great Gatsby. Sadly, like Edgar Allan Poe, Fitzgerald's work is enhanced by the sad events of his life, both in the actual writing and in the knowledge of his background. My students are always enthralled with Poe's life and look forward to his life story as much as his writing. This year, as I've read this book, I've been able to point out how pieces of Gatsby and its characters are from Fitzgerald's life, and my students' interest level has risen.
For example, when Daisy tells Nick she hoped her daughter would be a "beautiful little fool," we discussed why she'd say that in the context of the 1920s. When I told them Fitzgerald didn't write these words, but took them from his own wife's journal about their own daughter, that hit home. It's one thing for a male writer to write such things based on a time period and another to know an actual woman living in that time really thought such things due to society, life experience, etc.

Also, sadly like Poe, Fitzgerald would not see an acknowledgement of his success, nor the slight after fame, in his lifetime. This constitutes the other piece of Corrigan's research: what contributed to the revitalization of Fitzgerald's work in the years after his death.

I enjoyed So We Read On, the title so cleverly mimicking the famous last line of The Great Gatsby. It would be awesome to see more of such books discussing other highly famous titles and the authors. And I guess there are quite a few out there, but I liked Corrigan's accessibility and passion. Especially her passion. I could tell she was completely committed to her research and analysis of Fitzgerald and his work. Passion is contagious.

Which famous title/author would you want to see a book about?

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Life We Bury

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Publication date: October 14, 2014
Category: Mystery/Thriller
Source: I received the e-galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon came just in time! I was behind on a couple reviews and it was the first weekend I didn't have school work to do. I decided to start fresh with one of the books in question, The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens. I started it around 11am and finished by 11:30pm...that included eating, doing laundry, tweeting with other readers, and blowing my nose through a box or two of tissues. First time I ever finished a whole book during a readathon!

The Life We Bury is the story of Joe Talbert, a young guy with a rough childhood and a haunting guilt. Joe's life presents complications at every turn, the least of which is paying his way through college, hoping for a better life. Joe knows college is his ticket to that better life, and strangely, it all starts with an English assignment to write someone's biography. When he interviews a random elderly man, Carl Iverson, at a local nursing home, Joe finds himself involved in a 30 year-old murder case that unravels at every turn. Add to the mix Joe's drunken mother and autistic brother, and it becomes clear Joe has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The question is: will he shrug it off or will it come crashing down on him?

I don't read many mystery/thrillers, but I liked this one. Perhaps the ending would be considered a bit cliche for those more familiar with the genre, I don't know, but I liked it just fine. The story kept me reading and guessing at the truth. I even guessed correctly at one point and then changed my mind! A book that keeps you guessing!

Read any good thrillers recently? 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Readathon Begin the Week with Words

Part of my Saturday (yesterday) schedule cleared out at the last minute and then I woke up sick and my whole day cleared out because there was no way I was going anywhere. Luckily, I felt okay enough to read, so Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon was still in the mix once I drank up some DayQuil! I didn't start right at 8am and did some laundry in between (even sick, it still needs done), but still managed to read one entire book over the course of the day, which I've never done during a readathon before. I always had other things to do or distractions. I was so excited! So today's Sunday Sentence comes from the one book I read from start to finish, The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens.

"We are surrounded every day by the wonders of life, wonders beyond comprehension that we simply take for granted. I decided that day that I would live my life—not simply exist. If I died and discovered heaven on the other side, well, that’d be just fine and dandy. But if I didn’t live my life as if I was already in heaven, and I died to find nothingness, well . . . I would have wasted my life. I would have wasted my one chance in all of history to be alive.” The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Student Spotlight: Cierra L.

Hi! Welcome to the first Student Spotlight on My Life in Books. Today's featured student writer is Cierra L. She is a talented 9th grader, whose class just finished reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Reading this book was simple comprehension-wise, however, Cierra and her classmates also studied Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" alongside of the reading. In addition, each student completed his or her own character study on a character of their choice. This was perhaps the first time they were not given an actual prompt from which to write. Based on the information they gathered about their chosen character, each student had to completely create his or her own thesis. This was a challenge, but they were up for it, and did well overall. Here is a sampling from Cierra! Enjoy!

Welcome Cierra!

The Great Lion
The lion, the most regal and magnificent creature to roam the Earth, is often referred to as the King of Beasts. In mythology, lions are often portrayed as wise, selfless and devoted to a cause. Aslan, a character is C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, possesses all of these traits, including the fact that he is a divine being. These characteristics lead up to Aslan being ultimately just, the True King of Narnia.
Aslan, the Great Lion, was many things, including a seasoned warrior. At the Stone Table, before sacrificing himself to save Edmund, Aslan shared his wisdom with Peter: explaining battle plans, systems, and strategy. Narnia’s king also demonstrates his superior knowledge when speaking of the Deep and Deeper Magic. The law of Narnia states that “...every traitor belongs to [the Witch] as [her] lawful prey and that for every treachery [she has] a right to kill.” Of course Aslan knew this, so he understood the Witch had a right to Edmund, and wanted his blood. But nobody in all of Narnia knew what Aslan knew: if an innocent victim, who committed no crime (treachery, in this case) willingly died in place of the traitor, the Stone Table would crack and Death would work backwards. 
Not only was Aslan wise, but he was also completely selfless and devoted to his kingdom. After Peter, Susan, and Lucy Pevensie went to the Stone Table to ask Aslan to save their traitorous brother, he strikes a deal with the White Witch. Aslan offers to sacrifice himself to save Edmund, even though he has never met Edmund, and the boy really didn’t deserve it. The True King of Narnia goes to the White Witch willingly, knowing he will be tortured, disgraced, and murdered. Why? It was not only for Edmund’s sake, but also his kingdom’s. As mentioned earlier, it was said that Aslan was completely devoted to his kingdom of Narnia. Aslan was not only the king of Narnia, but other countries as well. He comes back to help restore peace to Narnia because, as Mr. Beaver stated, “she’d made it always winter and never Christmas.” His people needed him, and he came back to help guide them out of their terrible predicament. This desperate situation calls to action Aslan’s strong qualities of both selflessness and devotion.
The main thing that separates The Great Lion from every other character in Narnia is the fact that he is a divine being. Aslan was so great, so “terrifying, magnificent, and beautiful” that even the Witch was afraid of him. He was an unconquerable and had known of Narnia since “the stillness and darkness before time dawned”. Clearly, Aslan was anything but ordinary. But  perhaps the greatest demonstration of Aslan’s divinity is the effect he had on creatures he’d never even met. The Pevensie children had only been in Narnia a short time, and barely knew any of the customs or history of Narnia. But upon hearing Aslan’s name horror, adventure, peace, and excitement were instilled instantly inside them.
It is clear to see that Aslan was incredibly wise, demonstrated by  his invaluable intelligence in the art of battle and his supreme intelligence while saving Edmund. He also possesses the qualities of selflessness and extreme devotion while restoring peace to Narnia. Perhaps the largest and most important characteristic Aslan possessed was his divinity. All of these qualities made Aslan an ultimately just being, the True King of Narnia.

So, what do you think readers? These Freshmen have it going on! Looking forward to their future endeavors.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Four quotes today (including the image above)! Boy, are you all getting spoiled these past couple weeks of Sunday Sentence! These three pieces of wisdom, all from Lysa TerKeurst's new book The Best Yes, speak to decision making. What happens when we don't think through decisions, big and small, first? In the least, we can get overwhelmed. In the long run, it can change us into someone we never wanted to be. So it is wise to save your "yes" answers for the best possible yes. (There's much more to this, which you will hear about soon!)

"You make your choices and then your choices make you." 

"Today’s choices become tomorrow’s circumstances."

"After all, remember the decisions you make determine the schedule you keep. The schedule you keep determines the life you live. And how you live your life determines how you spend your soul."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Five Books I'll Probably Never Read

A few weeks ago, the Top Ten Tuesday everyone posted was about books they didn't think they'd ever read. I wrote the idea down, knowing I had a few titles that fell under this category. So today, for the heck of it (and coincidentally on a Tuesday), here are five books I don't think I'll ever read.

1. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Despite it's famous first line, "Call me Ishmael," nothing about this book attracts me. Even ignoring the comments I've heard about the extensive descriptions (after all, that doesn't bother me in Dickens or Hugo's work), the synopsis doesn't even grab my attention.

Moby Dick also has the distinction of being the one book, of all possible books, my husband picked to read when we were dating. I had talked him into reading a classic - anything he picked - and I would even buy it for him. He picked Moby Dick and I knew nothing about it at the time, so didn't warn him. Neither of us made it past the first page and it took me years to get him to read a book at my suggestion again. I hold a grudge Moby...

2. Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce. Ummmm, it's not even real words.

3. Don Quixote, by Cervantes. I was supposed to read this as an undergrad. I tried, but it just didn't gel. It could've been the professor, I suppose, or my age, but I still don't see myself ever getting around to it.

4. Lord of the Rings trilogy, by J.R. Tolkien. At this point, I probably won't read these because I've seen the movies. Even the movies I had to watch a few times before I liked them. Not my thing, despite all the wonderful allegory, symbolism, etc.

5. Fifty Shades of Grey, et al., by E.L. James. Ah, you thought these would all be Classics or heralded literature. I admit, those come to mind first, even though I love Classics. I won't read Fifty Shades because it is nothing but gratuitous sex. I'm not discriminating here. I read books with sex scenes in them, but if you've read enough of my reviews, you've noticed that any book with gratuitous sex in it takes a hit on my appraisal of it. It crosses a line for me and quite honestly, at some point (like when the book is nothing but...), it's pretty much porn.

And you, reader? What book(s) are you most likely to not read?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

This is a simplified version of the Hero's Journey**

My ninth grade Honors English class just finished studying Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, which I took from The Hero With a Thousand Faces. What a great study, showing how all stories connect to each other and ultimately to our lives. To do this we read an easy comprehension text, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. The storyline was easy, but the thought processes were not. Tracking a 17 step journey took some extra attention. We then watched Bruce Willis's movie, 16 Blocks. Not only did I randomly watch the movie years back and realize it fits the Hero's Journey perfectly, but it also has an amazing quote in its alternate ending that is the epitome of the Hero's Journey:

“When man faces destiny, his destiny ends and the man becomes who he really is.” Andre Malraux

I had chills when I heard it. The Hero's Journey completely embraces the idea of becoming a better person, or becoming who you really are. Also, my point of connectedness between text and life was made so well, so crystal clear. Also in the Hero's Journey, the hero has a point of realization where the world he left and the world of his journey are connected in some way. It's not that he needed the new place or new landscape necessarily, but that he needed new eyes to see what was before him all along. 16 Blocks is a cop chaser movie, there's no mythology, so Bruce Willis stays firmly planted in New York City on the planet Earth. And yet, the journey he goes through makes him see the world around him gives him new eyes.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Who says fiction doesn't teach us about life? Fiction is life's Hero Journey.