23 December 2009

In the Woods

Tana French's debut novel is well-written and grabs the reader, but the storyline leaves something to be desired.  The story of Rob Ryan is intriguing, but ultimately left me feeling a little unsatisfied with the ending. His relationship with his partner, Cassie Maddox, runs a different course than expected and starts to take the principal narrative spot.  As the narrative unfolds, the crime becomes more engrossing but French does not allow the reader to be sucked into the crime the way the protagonists are; rather, she insists that the reader focus also on the relationship between Ryan and Maddox.
In the end, neither the arc of their relationship nor the outcome of the case end well, and the book leaves the reader questioning both.

I don't know if I would go out of my way to recommend this book to a friend, but I would tell them that I enjoyed reading it, for sure. It was an easy read, I read the majority of it in one day of cross-country travel, and the story is quick-paced enough to keep the reader engaged in the story throughout.

In The Woods, Tana French (2007)
Writing: 9
Story: 8
Overall: 8.5

21 December 2009

An Echo in the Bone

Honestly, I don't even know where to start in this review.  Diana Gabaldon is one of my all-time favorite authors, and her Outlander series is one of my favorite book series of all time, if not my favorite. I could read her books again and again, and the sheer volume of the books is not a deterrent.

An Echo in the Bone is the seventh book in the series.  The saga of Claire and Jamie, as well as Bree and Roger, really grabs the reader and brings you into their story, which by now is in the middle of the Revolutionary War. Gabaldon clearly does her homework, as is evident by the fact that there usually elapses about three years between each book and also by the number of historically accurate nuances throughout it.  She is a researcher, after all.

Clocking in at over 800 pages means that the plot is too involved to discuss, and I wouldn't want to give anything away. But, as I was finishing the last hundred or so pages while my students were taking a final exam, I found myself about to cry more than once, and had to remind myself that I was in public.

The book ends on a note that basically ensures there will be another book in the series.  Even if I have to wait for three years, I'm happy to do it with characters like these ones and a story that is completely brilliant, unique, and well-developed.

An Echo In the Bone, Diana Gabaldon (2009)
Writing: 10
Story: 10

16 October 2009

where i hope technology fails...

That sounds like a really negative post title, doesn't it? Well, I don't hope that technology fails, completely. I think that technology is amazing. In fact, yesterday I got an iphone (it was a wedding gift) and I kind of, sort of love it. I don't completely love it, yet, but I think that's because I don't completely know how to use it, you know?  I was just figuring out how to get the most out of my blackberry, and then I suddenly have to change technologies, and carriers, all for a family plan... just kidding. I'm sure it will be worth it. I've been coveting them for quite a while.

But where I (not-so) secretly hope that technology fails us is in the Kindle. I wasn't so opposed to the success of any other forms of technology.  But something about the Kindle just, well, sucks.  One of the best things about reading is the activity behind it.

Going to the bookshelf. Thumbing through all your books to see which one asks you to read it. Holding the weight of the book in your hand. Turning the pages, physically. Feeling like arriving at page 300 is a serious accomplishment, because you gauge how far you've come on this journey with these characters. Being able to, if the mood strikes (or you're reading for serious purposes and not for unabashed enjoyment), underline something. Or make a (sometimes not-so) witty comment, in pencil, that you can erase when you've gotten past your joke. Writing your name inside the book when you're finished.  Finding its home again, next to the rest of these books, all of which you have shared similar experiences with. 

Something about the Kindle really irks me, though. The tablet. The pages that "mimic" turning, the way that the digital cameras make the "click" sound that is just to try to make people feel more involved. The difference, however, is that most people didn't develop their own pictures, or physically imprint the image onto the negative.  They enjoyed them afterwards, and sharing photos between people was exponentially better with digital cameras. 

With digital music, you can still share it really easily with friends. Can you share kindle books? 

I can tell you the physical difference between holding something epic like Ulysses or War and Peace and something like A Christmas Carol (which I love, but I'm just trying to explain the difference in size, so...). Reaching that last page can really feel like an accomplishment. What would I do with a kindle? Set it back on the shelf where I got it? Upload another book? Also, what about crack screens? Or reading a kindle near the beach? If water splashes on a book, the page gets all warped, but does an electronic even survive?

And what about first editions, that have been loved and cherished and used as investments over a long period of time? Is there a "first edition" e-book? I mean, I can see reading a kindle for newspapers, since they use so much paper and they are relatively obsolete the next day. And even for magazines, for the same reason. But books? Come on, people.

12 October 2009

Library Crisis 2009

So, we're moving from Madison to Orange County at the end of the year, because my husband (which still feels really weird to day, since we've been married less than a month) got a job, which in this economy is nothing to shake a stick at and, theoretically, at least, I can dissertate from anywhere. And since my department currently can't offer job security, and even if they could I still exist below the poverty line. So, he took the job offer, which puts him on the career path, and that's great.

But I've been having a lot of anxiety about the move. I think that most of it stems from my fears about leaving the liberal, academic bubble (having gone from Berkeley to Madison has really kept me in that world), and not having a world completely structured around those things that I do.

Especially the fact that I can't get to a library. I like to think that is my biggest problem, because getting a book from another library could be my demise. So I was talking to my advisor about it, and she reassured me that my anxiety was a productive one and gave me a whole list of things to do to inquire about getting borrowing privileges elsewhere. And it made me feel a bit better.

The good, even great news? I went to my campus library's main circulation office and they let me know that since I'll be paying dissertator fees and doing independent study, I'll still be a student and therefore I can use "distance services," something that is FREE and will deliver any book to my house, including a pre-paid return envelope, for free. AND I can request article delivery electronically. And they said that, as far as ILL (inter-library loans) services, our library let's anyone who lives in the area pay like $30 to use the services, so I should be able to find something comparable at the university libraries in the area, at the very least.

And so it made me feel a lot better. Even though I know I'll have to be a lot more disciplined, but I am just relieved to know my options.

- Blogging from BlogPress on my iphone.

03 October 2009

so many engines...

As the internet tries to be more all-encompassing, it forces people to make decisions and selectively include themselves in some networks while simultaneously excluding themselves from others.

for social networks, it started with friendster, myspace, facebook and linkedin. i avoided friendster, then joined the next two and have since all-but-abandoned myspace in favor of facebook. finally, a friend recommended using linkedin as a more professional network, but since i'm not quite into the professional realm yet my profile just sits there, waiting to get hired.

and then cam twitter. which, along with facebook, kind of took over the socially networked internet. then facebook started to change its interface to resemble that of twitter, which i didn't really understand but it's still fine.

now, i've just been on blogger for a while. but there is also wordpress, which is similar but different. and then there is tumblr, which I just discovered and is sort of like a cross between blogger and twitter.

so, in an effort to stay up-to-speed with technology i've joined that as well.
i think i prefer blogger, because it's more of a blogging site, with actual entries and everything like that. but tumblr could also be fun. and they have awesome layouts.

(un)luckily, graduate school really begs for me to procrastinate as often as i can, so i do my best to hold up my end of the bargain.

01 October 2009

Best investment - ever! (and I got married!)

 So, I got married over the weekend. Which is one of the «many» reasons that I haven't had anything to say about any books lately. And it was a glorious weekend.

We made the bouquets ourselves

Brett and I are most likely wrapping the bouquets in wire at this point. Rachael, Brett and I headed to the Farmer's Market early in the morning, bought many flowers and then assembled the bouquets in the hotel room. They lasted through the pictures, and some through the reception. Which is what they're supposed to do, right?

We got married by our friend, Monica

Of course, she also brought wine to the hotel room for the "getting ready" portion of the day.  Monica did a fantastic job, and I'm so lucky that she was willing to get ordained for this day. There were spices of humor in the form of asking me to repeat, "I Nicole, take you Sean, to be my wife" - hilarious! And it was super meaningful, because she's great.
Thanks, Monica!

And there was much more. BUT the Best Investment of the wedding was BY FAR the photo-booth.

It was the only real "splurge" of the wedding, because we were trying to keep it pretty low-key and affordable because, at the end of the day, it's a day. It's a party. I wouldn't go bankrupt over a party, I wouldn't ask my parents to do so, either.

Like I said, we made our own bouquets (and boutonnieres). We printed (though printable press designed) our own invitations. I designed and constructed (with the help of friends, particularly Rachael) the programs, place cards, centerpieces (thanks for the help on that one, mom), and favors (our kitchen turned into a bakery the week of the wedding - and then there was the Great Macaroon Incident of 2009).  And I think that, overall, it made the experience really personal, and I hope that people knew the personal touches were so that we made them feel connected to us, and we felt connected to the day, because it really helped keep everything in perspective when I thought about it from the point of view of, "well, do I want ___ enough to do it myself?"

And, honestly, I couldn't have been more pleased with the way the wedding went.

So, the photobooth. Amazing. It let everyone show their own personal style. Do what they wanted to do. Be silly. Memorialize themselves in their best and worst moments at the same time. And it was a huge success.  I would DEFINITELY recommend using the traveling photobooth for any event, not even just a wedding. We got a Guest Book out of it: each trip into the booth produced two strips - one for the person to take home as a souvenir, and one was stuck into the guest book, where they could write a message and make it something personal. And the day after, it was SO MUCH FUN to look through all the pictures and have a laugh at the faces, and enjoy the words of wisdom. Which sometimes are just inside jokes, but still amazing.

I've always wanted a photobooth in my house. This really solidified that for me.  I'll try to update with some more photos of the details, and when they arrive, the pictures from the wedding. But for now, I guess it's back to business as usual.

29 September 2009

Review: The Good Thief

Hannah Tinti's writing style in her first novel has been compared by many to Charles Dickens, but what really struck me was the cover. I was in the airport and I was completely taken by the cover. Even though was mid-book and had another with me in the airport, I couldn't resist and just bought it. And I started reading it as soon as I got home.

The premise of this book makes it seem like something that might be somewhat scary, and the style would fare well being read aloud. However, overall the book left me underwhelmed. I liked the story, but the characters were not particularly likable. Some of the episodes were enjoyable, but did not lead to me feeling connected or interested in the characters in the novel.

As the book ended, I wasn't sad or disappointed that I would be leaving Ren and the rest of the characters; I wasn't happy about it, either, but I could have taken or left the story.  Tinti's writing, however, was really good and I really enjoyed her writing style. I think she just fell into some first-novel hiccups, and I look forward to her next effort.

To sum up, I would not recommend this book to a friend who was looking for an excellent book, but I would probably recommend it for a teen reader or someone who wants an easy read.

Boycott, anyone?

Does anyone remember back a couple of years ago when the media -- and by "media" I mean gossipy media that starts to even creep into the regular media -- offered people an option to boycott Heidi & Spencer because they were EVERYWHERE and no one really liked them or understood why... and SO MANY people voted to have a "Speidi-free" online media area for a couple of weeks that their stranglehold on my ears was finally lessened? It was glorious!
So, I really wish they would do that with Jon and Kate Gosselin. Who cares about them? I mean, obviously their families care about them, and I think it is really sad that they are going through this awful divorce and everything, but can you just please step out of the media already? I just read that TLC announced they're changing the show to "Kate plus 8" and it had a survey that asked if we would watch the show. The choices were, "Yes, go Kate!" and "No, Jon needs to be part of the show." Where is the option that says, "No, they should not have a show at all?" I just can't handle them and their petty divorce; I even think they are worse than the Hills clan, because at least it's relatively obvious that the Hills is not reality, and they are all consenting adults who just want to find fame. I try to ignore Jon and Kate. I refuse to watch anything they are being mentioned/interviewed on, I won't read any articles about them, I won't buy a magazine with them featured on the cover. But it doesn't seem to be enough, because they are everywhere. So, let's just all agree to not discuss them and treat them like the child throwing a tantrum: ignore them and let them work it out on their own, get it out of their system.
Is anyone with me?

18 August 2009

After modern.

NOT to be confused with postmodern, which is a bit different.

I took my modern exam yesterday, and I was really surprised with the exam.

First of all, they changed the format of the exam, something that I wasn't expecting them to do and something that they hadn't done for at least 7 years, from what I can tell from old exams.

In preparing for exams, I prepared myself to answer in the fashioned that I described below: 4 short answers comprising about 1 hour total, betwen 1/2 to 3/4 of a page each, followed up with 2 long answers, each being about 1 hour.

So, they pulled a fast one on me, getting me to read that whole entire huge list because I was really nervous for the short questions (the long questions too, but especially the short questions for some reason), and they got rid of the short questions!

I was left with answering 3 long questions, the first being a pair of two questions and choosing one, and then choosing two out of a group of four.

The choices were, basically (I won't write out the whole questions because I don't think that anyone actually reads this blog and even if they do, I don't want to completely bore you):

A. women or partisan's in Calvino's Sentiero dei nidi di ragno
B. Discuss the malessere of Zeno and his triumphs and/or defeats.

A. Pirandello's use of the play-within-a-play in Sei personaggi...
B. Discuss Ungaretti's L'allegria as "lirica nuova".
C. Discuss Visconti's Ossessione as an anticipation of neorealism.
D. Compare and contrast Croce's idealism to Gramsci's marxism.

The first choices surprised me because I thought that Calvino wouldn't come up on this exam since I'm writing my special topic exam on him (tomorrow--ugh) and we just completed a class on Calvino. And Zeno is such a huge milestone on the list, I thought that it would at least be one of his other works. Needless to say, I was happy to choose option B, because I love Svevo and his malessere for all it is!

The second four choices honestly surprised me even more, because I couldn't believe that Pirandello's Sei personaggi actually came up. I mean, I'm thrilled it did because, well, it's awesome, well-known, and there's plenty to say about it. And Ossessione? Really? Again, plenty to say about it. So those were the two questions I answered, but not just because I had plenty to say, but when you look at the other two options, HELLO! Ungaretti? Poetry? My biggest fear--skip! Croce and Gramsci? The other part of my worst nightmare? Theory? No brainer! Skip!

If my professors are reading this blog, I promise I'm working really hard on finishing up my preparations for Prelim #2 this week, and I'm really looking forward to starting my dissertation even more. I'm pretty sure they aren't reading it, since I'm pretty sure that no one is. But still.

But for now, Thank you. Thank you for throwing all of us a bone.

17 August 2009

judgement day, part 1.

so this is it. the day i've been preparing for all summer, all winter, and all spring. not in that order, obviously. but still.

the exam is structured così:
6 ID questions, worth 1 hour. answer 4 of the 6 briefly but pertinently.
2 pairs of long-answer questions, 1 hour each. answer 1 of 2 for each pair.
1 hour of revising. which can at times also be used to fill in the gaps where they were before.

i should be done with this first exam in about 4 hours, tops. well, i have to be done in 4 hours. 



this is my mantra.

15 August 2009

it's going to be a long one.

day, that is.

i'm less than 48 hours from starting the exam portion of my summer, and i couldn't feel more conflicted. I mean, i've been preparing for this all summer (okay, it's actually been a lot longer than that) and i feel relatively prepared. looking over past questions, i feel like i can answer most of them.

but there are some things on the reading list that i just can't answer to. please cross your fingers that i'm not given a choice between answering on le mosche del capitale and la chimera. because then i would cry. luckily, if that does happen, i have a room to myself for the exam, so no one else will have to witness the breakdown.

13 August 2009

outside the gate.

Okay, so I'm moving back to the west coast after five years of grad school in about four months, because I'm going to be a dissertator and I don't have a job guarantee and my soon-to-be-husband already has a job lined up (because accounting is something that happens regardless of the state of the economy and the enrollment of students in foreign language classes) and, well, I can write a dissertation from anywhere. Especially somewhere that below zero sounds like a make-believe temperature, right?

Except I'm really nervous. It's not a new place to live. I grew up in the same area where we'll be living, so it's not a matter of feeling out of place physically; maybe I would prefer that, though, because I felt out of place when I experienced my first real winter and realized I didn't actually know what a coat was. But there was an easy enough solution for that -- buy a coat where the weather is cold, because they'll sell something much more weather-ready.

So it's not that.  It's just that, well, I've been in academia for a while and I'm nervous that I will feel completely out of my element, without people to make erudite academic jokes and to discuss research or dissertation woes...am I being ridiculous? I've got loads of time to worry about this, and I should be worrying about the 125 item list looming in the ever-nearing future.


So, I really like reading, and if I could par-lay that into a full time (or part-time, let's not kid ourselves, I'm not going to be picky) job that would be amazing.  I'm worried, of course, that my reading is too analytical, and that I don't leave my academia at the door quite as much as I need to. Which is good, for the academic world, but not so good for the nonacademic one.

4 Days to go!

Well, technically, I won't be completely done with the exam process for two weeks, assuming everything goes well. I'm in the process of typing up my notes and, to be perfectly honest, it's probably better I haven't been posting them to the blog since they would most likely make little to no sense to anyone, since they are not in one consistent language, complete sentences or even complete thoughts, some of the time.  However, I am GOING to weigh in on at least the personal highlights of the reading list for me, and I'm going to do it soon! Like, tonight, when I've typed up notes for at least 1/3 of the things on my list, but hopefully 1/2.

01 August 2009

T minus 16 days.

So I'm 16 days from the first of two written exams, and I've got plenty more than 16 things to read, plus I'm taking two graphics classes and have other non-academic commitments. But it's okay. I'm going to get through this. With a little help from coffee (which I hadn't been drinking at all this summer).

I'm getting closer to the end of the list, but there are other lists and other things to read right around the corner.

and no one reads this, anyway, right?

15 July 2009


Maybe it's because I'm currently re-reading a plethora of these books for my prelim. Maybe it's because I'm, at the heart of it, the biggest bookworm I know. Maybe I'm just procrastinating. 

Okay, it's likely a combination of all of those factors, if I'm being perfectly honest with you (and with myself).  But, in an effort to keep my wandering mind somewhat focused on the task at hand -- Gadda's Quer pasticciaccio in Via Merulana (That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana) -- I just read a really insightful article on Newsweek again, by David Gates, about the "Pleasures of Rereading."  

You can read the article here.

There are some books I have read over and over, sometimes for enjoyment and sometimes because multiple classes assign the same books from semester to semester. But really, what is the harm in that? I learn something different each time I pick up Gadda (begrudgingly) or Svevo (happily); each class offers new insight, each professor offers a new point of reference for the book, and I'm learning to appreciate books more on the second time around. Besides, some books can only be re-read, like Ulysses. Which is amazing, the second time.

Review: Girl in a Blue Dress (Gaynor Arnold)

I decided to just copy my LivingSocial review for this book, because I took more time to write it than I have right now to write another review. Let me just say, I really really enjoyed this book and I am really glad that I read it. And I think you should read it, too.

There seem to be a lot of books out right now about Charles Dickens: Drood and Lost both come to mind, but I think that Dickens, in general, is very in vogue in the fiction world.  But this book looks at the Dickens story from an entirely different point of view, from that of his cast-off wife, Catherine, who in this book is Dorothea "Dodo" Gibson, the wife of Alfred Gibson (the fictionalized version of Charles Dickens).

Also, before I get into the review, I think that one of the most powerful aspects of this book, of the story in general, is the weight placed on written letters. Sure, we are able to communicate more efficiently and more quickly than ever before with the use of the Internet, but the experience of the tactile quality of letters is really special, and something that this book champions through the weight that Dodo places on the love letters she received as a young girl, that she continues to cling to even though everything around her is completely different.

     One of the best books I have read this year, I applaud the strong characters, the story that is simultaneously heartbreaking and endearing, and the well-crafted prose that make this book unforgettable. Gaynor Arnold does something that hasn't been done, giving a voice to a woman largely forgotten, who feared that she would be a mere footnote in the life of her husband, and gives her the chance to be her own person and tell her own story. All of the characters are believable, from the larger-than-life, charismatic Alfred Gibson (Charles Dickens) to his precocious children and his wife, who in her grief is both silent (publicly) and outspoken (privately).
     Arnold's fictionalized version of the story Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine seamlessly becomes the heart-breaking story Dorothea "Dodo" and Alfred Gibson. Written from the cast-off wife's perspective, Dodo draws the reader in from the very beginning of her story, one which is largely unrecognized by a Public that hangs on every word of her husband. Over the course of their lengthy and secretive courtship, Dodo kept every letter written to her by her future husband, and over the course of the ten years between her 'banishment' and Alfred's death, she continues to re-read the letters and relive the love as it was in the beginning. When Alfred dies, Dodo must cope with her deep loss yet again, as she is not welcome at the funeral; it is here that Arnold's narrative begins, immediately following Alfred's death.
     One of the most compelling aspects of the story is Arnold's strong characters. Dodo's hopeful love, her desperate attempts to keep her marriage alive, and the anguish she feels following the death of her one true love are all expressed in completely honest, believable and heartfelt. It is clear that Arnold spent much time painting the portrait of Dodo, but she did not neglect the important supporting characters, composed of her servant Mrs. Wilson, her loyal friend Mr. O'Rourke and her children, particularly her daughter Kitty. The mother-daughter relationship is as well-crafted as that between husband and wife, and much of the tension the between all the children and their mother expresses, from the first moment they interact, the underlying love that will ultimately cancel out all of the uncomfortability of the situation. Dodo's love, which persists even in the wake of scandal and heartbreak, champions the power of language and the ability to love someone unconditionally.

14 July 2009

Newsweek's "50 Books for Our Times: What to Read Now and Why"

I'm all for lists (see my first posts to this blog - what an extensive list those are).  Best-of lists are particularly interesting, however, because they try to cut through all the excess for people who only want to know the best things to read, the most pertinent and important works that they will get the most benefit from reading.  And I think, sometimes, that is problematic, because sometimes you have to read the not-so great or influential books in order to really appreciate a work of genius or importance when you read it.  And just because something wasn't extremely influential does not mean that it is not extremely enjoyable, you know? So, take lists with a grain of salt, and remember that, ultimately, they are composed by people who sit in a room and make up lists of the best books. Those people probably also really enjoyed other books, but they did not consider them to be the most important books, so they fall by the wayside. And these lists have definite trends, so that must be considered as well.  

But that's not the point. This list by Newsweek was actually very good. A web-exclusive, it lists a variety of books--modern, victorian, ficiton, nonfiction--and tries to stray away from the books that typically makes these lists.  

You can read the whole article, and see the whole list (plus even a review by ME on the LivingSocial reviews for #37-Persepolis) here.

12 July 2009

Neither Reading NOR Writing.

I've been blog-browsing lately, trying to update the blogs I read regularly (they always provide a nice distraction), and I find myself continually wanting to be more graphically minded. I'm going to take a Photoshop workshop, and I would love to learn how to do something like these people, for instance, but I have a feeling I'm not quite artistic enough for it. We'll see what happens with it, of course, but I just wanted to point that out.

I think that when I see something that really intrigues me, my initial reaction is "I want to do that!" Does that happen to everyone? Sometimes the thought fades relatively quickly, and sometimes it stays for a while.  

25 June 2009

Two things

1. Shelfari update: I haven't used it since I posted about it, so I guess it's not the most efficient of the network places.  I use the "Visual Bookshelf" application on facebook really regularly, though. I've just completely forgotten about shelfari's existence since then, so. Not completely, since obviously I'm talking about it. But you know what I mean.

2. With all the time that I spend reading, I've spent very little time blogging about that reading, so I'm going to work on blogging about it more regularly. Both academic/required reading and the rest of reading.

That's it for now. I'm going to put off the blogs a bit longer.

25 April 2009

Types of Reading

I put the things I read into three categories.
1. School / research reading: this takes up about 90% of my reading. If it is assumed that I read 8 hours each day, more or less, then about 7:15 of those 8:00 are dedicated to the courses I'm taking and the lists below.
2. Bedside reading: this is, on the nights I don't pass out immediately, about 30 minutes of reading. Usually, this book is the one that takes me the longest to finish, since most nights I fall asleep in less than 5 minutes.
3. Morning reading: since I dry my hair upside down, I get extremely bored with my head hanging towards the floor looking at wood. So, I always keep a book handy. The best books for this type of reading are books without extremely intricate plots, since I spend about 10 minutes reading these books at a time.  I finish these books much more quickly than bedside books, because I read every time I dry my hair.

Why don't I just read one book at a time and finish it more quickly? Well, I obviously don't read school books when I get in bed or when I dry my hair because I have to actually focus on these books. It only took me four years to realize that I would get a lot more out of a book for school if I read it diligently and closely. And, of course, I need a pencil (preferably, but a pen will work in a pinch) when I read for serious purposes. And I don't want to read either my bedside or my blowdry books too quickly, because I try not to stockpile more than 4 books at a time.

11 April 2009

yet another social networking site... or is it?

So, I was recently procrastinating, as I am wont to do with those large lists looming below and in front of me, and my fiancé recommended I look at the site shelfari. 

Shelfari is basically a book-networking site, rather than a social networking site. Each member has a bookshelf holding all your books, and you label each one as "plan to read" or "reading now" or "I've already read". You can review books and everything as well.

Facebook has an application that is basically the same as it, under the social-living category called "virtual bookshelf". I think it's great for people to share their books and their opinions about recently read books, but the best part of the facebook feature is that it also tells you which of your friends have read the book in question -- I'm sure that Shelfari does this too, but since I just joined and I'd never heard of it before, I don't have a very large network of people to browse.  

I'm willing to give shelfari a shot, because I think that any platform for getting out the word on books is a great platform. But I find myself wondering what the function of a site like this is. Its biggest draw is that there are "book groups," which basically function to give people a way to link up with one another based on a variety of topics, such as "Twilight movie and books," "1001 Books to Read before you die," and a variety geared towards high schoolers and younger readers to give them ideas of books to read. 

If you're interested in trying out shelfari, the link is www.shelfari.com and it's a pretty easy platform to use. Maybe you already use it, and I just don't know about it.

15 March 2009

SPECIAL TOPIC: Italo Calvino between the modern and the postmodern

In addition to taking an exam on 20th century literature in August, I also take something called a "Special Topic" reading list.  Formed in conjunction with my advisor, this list is supposed to theoretically help me prepare for writing a dissertation. Sometimes the exam list can go on to be a chapter or part of a chapter of the dissertation.  

When I was thinking about what would be the most beneficial way to approach the exam, I decided that the best thing to do would be to kill as many birds as possible with the fewest number of stones.  One of my courses this semester, which I love, is a seminar on Italo Calvino, one of the more internationally famous Italian writers.  So, of course, he seemed like a good choice for a special topic.  

Here is my reading list:
Primary books
Calvino, Italo. Sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1946) - Path to the spider's nest
Calvino, Italo. Ultimo viene il corvo (1949) - 
Calvino, Italo. Il visconte dimezzato (1951) - The cloven viscount
Calvino, Italo. La formica argentina (1952) - The argentine ant
Calvino, Italo. Il barone rampante (1957) - The baron in the trees
Calvino, Italo. La speculazione edilizia (1957) - A plunge into real estate
Calvino, Italo. La nuvola di smog (1958) - Smog
Calvino, Italo. Il cavaliere inesistente (1959) - The nonexistent knight
Calvino, Italo. La giornata di uno scrutatore (1963) - The watcher
Calvino, Italo. Castello dei destini incrociati (1973) - Castle of crossed destinies
Calvino, Italo. Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore (1979) - If on winter's night a traveler...

On its own, this list actually is really doable. I've read most of the books, and I feel like I could definitely use some of them in a dissertation.  But, wait for it. The secondary list is the theory, criticism and otherwise much more dense and difficult section.  

Secondary sources
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations
Bové, Paul A. Early postmodernism: Foundational essays
Calinescu, Matei. Five faces of modernity: modernism, avant-garde, decadence, kitsch, postmodernism
Cannon, Joann. Postmodern italian fiction
Hutcheon, Linda. selection from Poetics of the Postmodern
Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism
Luperini, Romano.  selections from Allegoria del Moderno
Markey, Constance. "Calvino and the existential dilemma"
Markey, Constance. Calvino: a journey toward the postmodern
McHale, Brian. Postmodernist fiction
Pacifici, Sergio. selection from From Verismo to Existentialism: essays on the modern italian novel
Robbe-Gillet, Alain. For a new novel--essays on fiction
Todorov, Tzvetan. The fantastic: a structural approach to literary genre
Vattimo, Gianni. The end of modernity: nihilism and hermenetics in postmodern culture
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. selection from Philosophical investigations

Honestly, I was relieved that the list was finally approved and has been filed away into my personal database of things that I need to learn between now and August. It felt really good to go in with a list that I felt would be useful and was also not too daunting and hear "You know, you have too much criticism. But I'm very pleased with this list." What a feeling!

08 March 2009

Lists, in general

I was listening to “To The Best Of Our Knowledge” today, and the topic was lists. Why do we have lists, 1001 Books to Read/Paintings to See/Places to Visit/Foods to Taste/Wines to Drink/Albums to Hear/Places to Visit Before You Die? What does the creation and publication of the 1001 Books to Read say about the rest of the books, and any books to come after it? What do they do for us?
Having lists creates a vocabulary. It creates a shared experience, or a point of reference that you can have in common with someone else. You’ve both seen the same films, read the same books? Great, you have something to talk about. That’s why you ask people what their favorite things are, so you can cross-list their information to your own and find a way to relate to them.
In daily life, having lists helps us gain control and take the reigns in a situation which might otherwise feel chaotic and without meaning. How great does it feel to cross something off that To-Do List? How accomplished do you feel when you’ve crossed everything off it (though that rarely happens)? How many times have you written something onto that list that you’ve already done just so you can cross it off? I know I have.
In graduate school, lists are simultaneously more and less tangible. They are more tangible because we enter school knowing the list of books we will have to read during our tenure in the program; they are the lists we will be examined on at the various steps in our process. We can see a list online, hold it in our hands, and see what is ahead of us. At the beginning of each semester, we see which books we have to purchase, read and understand throughout the course of the term. When we teach, it is the list of students for whom we are accountable, who we will instruct in the list of beginning grammar - articles, adverbs, present and past tense verbs, object pronouns, etc.
Lists are less tangible in grad school because they only give you half of the information. Your course outline does not tell you which books you should have read sometime in the past and committed to memory (because it seems like some people have, and they like to make it known). It does not tell you if the books will ever arrive from the Internet Book Shop. It does not tell you how many of the books you won’t ever get to, since you will likely always be behind in discussion and you’ll probably find at least one meeting cancelled throughout the course of the term.
Your class roster does not tell you anything about your students except their name and level of study. It does not tell you who will come to class on time, late or sporadically. It does not tell you who is inclined to your subject or who wants to be inclined to your subject but just isn’t. It does not tell you if you will have a successful dynamic during your fifty minutes, or if you will have to make them do the chicken dance to come out of their shells. Hopefully, it will click sooner rather than later.
The least tangible of all lists are the master lists: THE READING LISTS. Sure, you can hold it in your hand and say, “I have to read the following 100 books in the next year,” but it will not tell you that you won’t have time to read any of them during the semester. You can say, “I’m reading a modern list and taking at modern class--yes!,” but the list will not tell you that maybe two of the ten books you will read in that class will be on your list of one hundred. It will tell you which books you may be tested on, but will not tell you that some books appear almost every exam period while others have appeared once in the past fifteen years; what’s more is that it does not tell you that you will more likely be asked about those other, more rare books when you are not ready for it, such as in an oral exam when you’re already sweating bullets trying to remember what seem to be important details that no one cares about.
I decided to use this blog as a way to share what I’m reading, for my classes, for ‘fun’ (though they are fewer than the rest), and also for my reading lists. My last written exams are scheduled for August 17th (20th century) and 19th (Special Topic: Italo Calvino from the Modern to the Postmodern). Hopefully, that will all go well, and then I will get to share my experience as I transition from the reading phase of graduate school (the first 4 years) to the writing phase (the rest). Of course, I’m towards the end of the first phase, but it’s a big end, and it will be a big step.

01 March 2009

Modern Reading List (20th century)

In the Italian department, they divide the reading lists into sections: Medieval (1200s-1300s), Renaissance (1400s-1600s), Early Moden (1700s-1800s), Modern (1900s-present) and Linguistics. You pick 3 exams. You take 2 exams in the first round and 2 exams in the second round (the 2nd exam in this round is your "Special Topic", which is designed with your Advisor). I'm currently studying for my second round, in which I'll take the Modern Exam and my Special Topic (I took Early Modern and Linguistics in the first round back in January). If you're interested in what I'm reading, it's probably from this list. If there is an English translation to the title, I included it afterwards.

1. Pascoli, Myricae
2. Pascoli, I canti di Castelvecchio
3. D’Annunzio, Il trionfo della morte (Triumph of Death)
4. D’Annunzio. Alcyone
5. D’Annunzio, Il piacere (Child of Pleasure)
6. D’Annnzio, La figlia di Iorio (The Daughter of Jorio)
7. D’Annunzio, Poema paradisiaco:Alla nutrice.
8. Croce,Breviario di estetica (Breviary of Aesthetics)
9. Croce, La poesia (Poetry)
10-14. Pirandello, from Novelle: La giara; Ciaula; Tragedia di un personaggio; La cariola; Ieri, oggi, domani. (Jar, Ciaula, Tragedy of a character, Carriola, Yesterday, Today Tomorrow)
15. Pirandello, Il fu Mattia Pascal (The Late Mattia Pascal)
16. Pirandello, Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author)
17. Pirandello, Cosí è, se vi pare (So it is, if you think so)
18. Pirandello, Enrico IV (Henry IV)
19. Aleramo, Una donna (A Woman)
20. Deledda, Canne al vento (Cane in the Wind)
21. Svevo, Senilità (A Man Grows Older)
22. Svevo, La coscienza di Zeno (Zeno’s Conscience)
23. Gozzano, Le poesie (Poetry)
24. Corrazzini, Poesie edite e inedite (Poetry edited and unedited)
25. Marinetti, selections from Teoria e invenzione futurista (Futurist Theory and Invention)
26. Marinetti, Manifesti del futurismo (Futurist manifestos)
27. Campana, Canti orfici (orphic cantos)
28. Saba, Il Canzoniere (Collection of Poems)
29. Ungaretti, L'Allegria (Happiness)
30. Ungaretti, Sentimento del tempo (Snetiment of Time)
31. Ungaretti, La terra promessa (The promised land)
32. Montale, Ossi di seppia (Cuttlefish bones)
33. Montale, Le occasioni (Occasions)
34. Montale, La bufera e altro (The storm and others)
35. Montale, Satura (Satura)
36. Montale, Diario del 71 e del 72 (Diary of ’71 and ’72)
37. Montale, Auto da fe
38. Tozzi, Il podere
39. Gramsci, Letteratura e vita nazionale (Literature and National Life)
40. Bernari, Tre operai (Three Workers)
41. Buzzati, Il deserto dei Tartari
42. Banti, Artemisia
43. Betti, Corruzione al palazzo di giustizia (Corruption at the Palace of Justice)
44. Gadda, Quer pasticciaccio brutto in via Merulana (That Awful Mess on Via Merulana)
45. Gadda, La cognizione del dolore (Cognition of Pain)
46. Moravia, Gli indifferenti (The Indifferent Ones)
47. Moravia, Agostino
48. Moravia, La noia (Boredom)
49. Vitorini, Conversazione in Sicilia (Conversations in Sicily)
50. Vittorini, Uomini o no (Men and Not Men)
51. Pavese, La casa in collina (The House on the Hill)
52. Pavese, La luna e i falò (Moon and the bonfires)
53. Morante, La Storia (History)
54. Pratolini, Metello
55. Quasimodo, Tutte le poesie (All the poems)
56-67. Dalla scelta di Mengaldo, Poeti italiani del Novecento: Palazzeschi, Gatto, Luzi, Penna, Sereni, Pasolini, Fortini, Zanzotto, Pagliarani, Sanguineti, Porta, Rosselli.
68. Ginzburg, Le voci della sera (Voices of the night)
69. Ginzburg, Lessico famigliare (Family Sayings)
70. Ortese, Il mare non bagna Napoli
71. Bassani, Cinque storie ferraresi (5 Stories of Ferrara)
72. Bassani, Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (Garden of the Finzi-Continis)
73. Lampedusa, Il gattopardo (The Leopard)
74. Pasolini, Ragazzi di vita (Boys of Life)
75. Sciascia, A ciascuno il suo (To each his own)
76. Calvino, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The path to the Spider’s nest)
77. Calvino, Le cosmicomiche (Cosmicomics)
78. Calvino, Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore (If on winter’s night a traveler)
79. Fo, Selections from Le commedie (the Comedies)
80. Malerba, Il serpente (The Serpent)
81. Manganelli, Nuovo commento (New comment)
82. Manganelli, Centuria (100 Ourbouric tales)
83. Consolo, Il sorriso dell'ignoto marinaio (The smile of the unknown mariner)
84. Celati, Le avventure di Guizzardi (Adventures of the Guizzardi)
85. Volponi, Le mosche del capitale (Flies from the capital)
86. Eco, Il nome della rosa (The name of the rose)
87. Tabucchi, Notturno indiano (Indian nights)
88. Tondelli, Camere separate (Separate bedrooms)
89. Del Giudice, Atlante occidentale (Western Atlas)
90. Maraini, La lunga vita di Marianna Ucria (The silent duchess)
91. Vassalli, La chimera (The chimera)
92. Capriolo, Il doppio regno (The double-reign)
93-120 Selections from M. Cucchi, S. Giovanardi (a cura di), Poeti italiani del secondo Novecento, 1945-1995, Milano: Mondadori Editore, 1996.: A. Bertolucci, M. Luzi, G. Carponi, V. Sereni, P. Pasolini, F. Fortini, R. Roversi, L. Erba, R. Scotellaro, M.L.Spaziani, A. Merini, A. Zanzotto, E. Pagliarani, E. Sanguineti, A. Giuliani, N. Balestrini, A. Porta, A. Rosselli, G.Giudici, G. Raboni, C. Viviani, P. Cavalli, V. Zeichen, M. Cucchi, M. De Angelis, G. Conte, V. Magrelli, Patrizia Valduga

Visconti: Ossessione (Obsession)
Rossellini: Roma città aperta (Rome open city)
Pasolini: Accattone
Fellini: 8 1/2
Antonioni: L'avventura
Bertolucci: Il conformista