Standalong!

When Trish first suggested reading The Stand, I wasn’t convinced. Not because I wasn’t interested in reading The Stand, but because it is so long and I have a horrendous track record with readalongs and books I “have” to read. But it’s been a long time since I successfully read a Stephen King book. If you had asked me when I was 14 who my favorite author was, I most likely would have answered Stephen King. (Or if I thought you weren’t the kind of person to judge me, I would have most certainly said JK Rowling, because Harry Potter wasn’t cool yet and I was still hiding my fan fiction and obsession binders under my bed.) I tried to read Under the Dome when it came out, but I was underwhelmed and never finished that beast of a book. So, I thought, it’s probably time to try Stephen King again.

The thing about reading an author that you once loved unconditionally is seeing their flaws for the first time. I don’t know that, as a 12-14 year old, I was reading anything critically. I just read voraciously, anything I could get my hands on. I also traveled a lot and Stephen King was the only thing that I found worth reading in most gas stations.

This isn’t to say that Stephen King isn’t a good writer, because he is. Sometimes, he’s a downright brilliant writer, and I live for those amazing moments when you realize how good he is. This also isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying The Stand, because I am. Even though it’s one of the longest books I’ve read in a long time and I have barely read anything else for the entire month of June. There is no getting around the length of this novel. It will take you a good chunk of time to read and, since I’m only about 60% of the way through, I can’t quite yet tell you if it’s worth it.

With a book this long, sometimes I forget how much I really loved the beginning, despite how horrifying it was. Essentially, a government-created flu begins infecting people in Texas. It’s the end-of-the-world type flu. A flu that leaves everyone dead, except for one or two people in each town. The people who are left begin traveling and trying to find each other, which becomes much easier when they all start dreaming of Mother Abigail, an elderly black woman who knows that she has been chosen by God to lead the “good” people to Colorado.

The thing is, they’re not only dreaming of Mother Abigail. They’re also dreaming of “the dark man,” named Randall Flagg. People are gathering around him, too, but they are the least savory sort of folks: escaped convicts, drug addicts, and the technically inclined.

So, I just looked up what year this was published to try and figure out what decade it was so I could say, “Look it was the _____. Having a well-rounded cast of characters that didn’t perpetuate stereotypes wasn’t the norm yet.” Or at the very least, you probably weren’t being called out for it by every reader with a blog. I had no idea that The Stand was originally published in the 70s and then rereleased in the 90s and King changed the dates of the novel. What a strange decision! And, finally, it makes sense that the characters were saying “You dig?” and expecting me to really believe that relatively hip people said that in the 90s. Because they didn’t. I’m assuming. I was young then.

The way Stephen King approaches race has been addressed again and again. I think this article by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu about the presence of “the magical negro” in King’s books is a really great place to start. Like me, Okorafor-Mbachu is a fan of Stephen King, but it’s important to point out the flaws in the things you love.

Right now, I’m grateful for a little break from The Stand. I’ve been reading it with no breaks since the first week of June and I’m about 800 pages in, so I’m a little ahead for the readalong. I don’t want to be sick of this story, so I think that it will be good to take a short break and come back to the story excited to finish and eager to get back to the story.

(Also, I have told so many people that I’m reading The Stand and all of them have kind of given me this look, one eyebrow raised, and said, “Really? You?” To all the people who think that I think I am too good for reading The Stand: You have no idea how many really cheesy YA novels I read. Not that The Stand is a cheesy YA novel, but that is just an example of how non-snooty my reading choices are. If I had said I was reading Nicholas Sparks, then that reaction would have been acceptable.)

 

Moby Dick — Conquered! Chapters 94-Epilogue

One day last week, while riding the subway home from work, I finished Moby Dick. I wanted to turn to the stranger next to me and say, “Look! I finished this book! I read it!” I was proud and excited and, if I’m honest, a little relieved.

What a strange thing to be so pleased that a book is finished. Is it strange to feel like a better person for having read a classic like this? A classic that is so important to contemporary literature? American literature? I feel more complete, like I’m one step closer to understanding the beast that is American literature.

As I mentioned, my only hope was to finish Moby Dick feeling like I had read a book that, for the most part, I enjoyed. That did happen. The last twenty chapters or so were enthralling. My heart was racing and I couldn’t read fast enough. I had to know what happened to Ahab and his crew.

I thought finishing Moby Dick would provide me with some sort of insight into everything I highlighted, but I’m not sure it did. I’m still left with a lot of the same questions that I had at the end of the first section. Why is religion so important? Why are the details so important? Why are there hundreds of pages in the middle of this book with little to no plot development? Why is Ahab so obsessed with finding the White Whale?

I think that word is key: obsessed. Obsession is the heart of Moby Dick. There is, of course, Ahab’s obsession with finding and exacting his revenge on Moby Dick, but there is also Ishmael’s obsession with the details, with the need to know and explain everything about whales and whaling. Ahab is emotionally exhausted of trying to defeat the whale, but he is inseparable from the fight. He knows nothing other than whaling and eventually he even, literally, becomes one with his ship when the carpenter makes him a leg out of his wrecked whaling boat. There is no turning back at that point. Starbuck asks him to stay, but he knows his fate.

“For the third time my soul’s ship starts upon this voyage, Starbuck.”
“Aye, Sir, thou wilt have it so.”
“Some ships sail from their ports, and ever afterwards are missing, Starbuck!”
“Truth, sir: saddest truth.”
” Some men die at ebb tide; some at low water; some at the full of the flood: — and I feel now like a billow that’s all one crested comb, Starbuck. I am old; — shake hands with me, man.”
Their hands met; their eyes fastened; Starbuck’s tears the glue.
” Oh, my captain, my captain! — noble heart — go not — go not! — see, it’s a brave man that weeps; how great the agony of the persuasion then!” (543)

As much as Ahab would like to listen to Starbuck and simply give up the chase and return home to his family, he cannot. Starbuck tells him it is not really his destiny, it is his choice. Ahab always had the choice to turn around, but he is never stronger than his obsession.

I’m not sure Moby Dick is something I’ll be obsessed with any time soon, but I’m so glad I read it. I kept finding things within Moby Dick that I had seen elsewhere: lines or phrases or images that had really been in allusion to Moby Dick. Now Moby Dick seems to be everywhere. I opened a book of poetry and read Robert Lowell’s “The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket,” a poem all about The Great White Whale. This is why we read classics, to know a little bit more about ourselves and our world.

Thank you to the women over at The Blue Bookcase for hosting this readalong! I don’t know that I would have finished without someone else reading along with me.

January Roundup — Read More/Blog More Poetry Event

I’m thrilled to announce that we had an excellent turn out for the first month of the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event! I’m so glad that everyone took the time to participate in this month’s event and it was amazing to see so many people posting about poetry on their blogs. I just can’t stop smiling! Part of the goal of this event is to make the blogs that are posting about poetry more visible, so my lovely co-host Kelly and I decided to do a detailed roundup of all the participating blogs each month!

Hosts

Kelly went through some of the poems on the list that started it all and talked about each one. I loved reading her reactions!

I chose the first month of the event to talk about why poetry is so important to me.

Participants

Lizzy Siddal @ Lizzy’s Literary Life shared the poem ‘The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered’ by Clive James. He is an Australian author that also tied in with Australia Literature Month.

Serena @ Saavy Verse & Wit shared the Naked Muse 2012 Calendar. It is a great way to see poets for who they really are.

Jeanne @ Necromancy Never Pays shared the poem ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’ by Wallace Stevens.

Jillian @ A Room of One’s Own wrote all about Emily Dickinson. She considers Emily her favorite poet to-date and shares a biography and a list of poems she has read by her.

Julie @ Read Handed decided to share her favourite poetry books in her post.

The Parrish Lantern shared the book The Best British Poetry 2011 and the poem ‘Three Wishes’ by Kate Potts.

Unfinished Person shared a poem she wrote herself, simply titled ‘Poem.’

Care @ Care’s Online Book Club shared a poem that she wrote herself that is about her day and bread baking.

Gavin @ Page247 posted the poem “A Note” by Wislawa Szymborska, who passed away on February 1, 2012.

Snowball @ Come, Sit By the Hearth shared some of her experiences taking poetry classes in graduate school.

Carrie @ Books and Movies reposted a review of Wendell Berry’s Collected Poems.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity responded to all my prompts. Impressive!

Debbie @ ExUrbanis posted about Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

kaye @ The Road Goes Ever Ever On posted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride.

Sara C @ Wordy Evidence of the Fact wrote a review of Kingdom of the Instant by Rodney Jones.

Josh’s Mom/Sue @ Grief Journey to Reading Journey wrote about how poetry helps her process her grief. She shared a poem she wrote called “No Answer.”

Thank you so much, everyone, for participating! See you in February! The Mr. Linky will be hosted by Kelly and we will be posting on February 28th.

January — Read More Blog More! A Poetry Event

Since it is officially Tuesday, January 31st somewhere, I’m going to go ahead and publish this post now. I accidentally scheduled two posts to go up on the 31st, so I apologize in advance if you had any difficulty finding your way here! For this first month of the Read More/Blog More Poetry Event, I wanted to share with you why poetry is so important to me.

I found a love of poetry the way most high schoolers do: by writing it. Yes, my high school poems were angsty. I’m the first to admit that. They were often about who didn’t ask me to Junior Prom and family drama and all sorts of things that I’d probably be embarrassed to share with you now. Each year that I wrote poetry, from age 13 on, I also read more poetry. I read more poetry by other teenagers who were writing it, I read more classic poetry, I read more contemporary poetry. I was obsessed with it, and I still am, though perhaps not as fervently as I was in high school.

In a lot of ways, it’s difficult to explain what about poetry makes me so obsessed. There is, of course, the use of the English language in unexpected and clever ways. That is certainly part of it. There are the poems that describe something in a way you’ve never thought of before. I do enjoy that. Then there are the poems that tell a story and I love those as well. None of that, though, really describes what it is about poetry that I love so much.

It’s hard to get into a discussion of poetry without falling into the trap of comparing it to other forms of literature. Poetry is not like a short story and it is not like a novel. It is the concentration of story, language, mood, theme into a small package. Let’s forget about epic poems right now and just think of poetry being everything that a novel or short story is in only a few lines. There are whole stories behind poems, but the poet only lets us glimpse this tiny peek. How much of the whole story we are able to glean from those sparse words is totally up to us and what the poet will let us see.

More than anything, poetry has always been a kind of therapy for me. Reading it, sharing it, writing it has meant a lot to me over the years, through moments of great happiness and sorrow. Reading poetry can often be like recognizing yourself in a character in novel, but instead between the lines of a poem. It’s a way to feel like you are part of something.

Poetry can be beautiful, it can be bad, it can be life-changing. If anything I hope this project will bring people who are already avid readers of poetry closer to the poems they read and I hope it will bring those who are trying to read more poetry the same kind of life-changing connection that reading an amazing book can.

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Thank you for reading and, hopefully, participating in today’s Read More/Blog More Poetry Event! Please link to your post using the Mr. Linky below.

Moby Dick Readalong Chapters 27-93

I made it!

I am so surprised that I actually got through chapters 27-93. I was so excited to be reading Moby Dick, because I was actually enjoying it. I’d only heard about how boring the novel was, but I found the first 26 chapters to be engrossing and, actually, hilarious. Then chapters 27-55 happened.

I missed last week because I just couldn’t catch up. I had my book club meeting, which meant a lot of time I usually would have spent reading Moby Dick was spent reading How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I finally caught up this week, though. Those hour-long subway rides are good for something. Mainly making yourself read something that makes you want to fall asleep. Not that I haven’t fallen asleep on the subway before, but still.

That’s not to say that all of those chapters were dull, because they weren’t. I enjoyed some parts and still did quite a bit of highlighting and laughed a few times, but for the most part, Moby Dick lost a lot of its charms for me. There was so much information dumping and so little character development, it was difficult to keep my attention for long stretches of time.

Like I said, though, there were a lot of things I did like. The descriptions of whaling were particularly interesting, especially since you’re taught from a very young age that whales are practically sacred. I loved Free Willy when I was a kid. Whales and dolphins and manatees are animals that you just want to save, so reading about how to kill them and how to take them apart bit by bit was unnerving. As boring as some of the discussions on whaling could be, I was also fascinated by them. Ishmael’s obsession with whales and whaling brings you out of the narrative completely. The story seems to have little meaning anymore; the only thing important is describing the whale as completely as possible before continuing with the actual plot. Every inch of the whale is discussed. Every known type of whale is detailed. Drawings of whales are described and critiqued. If not necessarily the most entertaining, the structure of Moby Dick is interesting. I can see why, as our hosts pointed out in their introductory post over at The Blue Bookshelf, Moby Dick has been described as the first modern novel. It really does incorporate many different styles and techniques.

At the same time, I desperately missed the Ishmael I had come to love, prone to long rants about religion, yes, but also focused on describing his surroundings and moving the story forward. Up until the last ten chapters of this big chunk, it felt like the plot was going no where. That’s a lot to read without really learning much about the characters or the story.

My favorite quote from this section actually comes from the very end of chapter 93:

“[…] and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.”

There’s the Ishmael I missed from the first section! At this point, though, I’m not sure I feel comfortable talking about what anything means. I have to get to the ending first. I have to see what happens.

And that’s all I really have to say about this section. I’m hoping that there’s a little bit more action in the last 150 pages and I hope I connect with Moby Dick more than I did in this middle section. I want to finish Moby Dick feeling accomplished, but also like I read a classic that I was surprised to find I really enjoyed.

To think! This time next week I’ll have finished Moby Dick. That’s awesome!

Moby Dick Readalong – Chapters 1-28

Whoa, there, guys. If someone had mentioned that Moby Dick was both hilarious, insightful, blasphemous, and beautiful, I would have picked this book up a lot sooner. All I’d really heard about Ishmael was that he was a long-winded, confusing narrator, but the truth is, I absolutely adore him.

I think a book like Moby Dick comes with a lot of preconceptions and I spent most of Chapters 1-10 unpacking them. Here’s a list of everything I knew to be true about Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is “Call me Ishmael,” because that’s the line Matilda read.

3) It’s an allegory.

4) There was someone named Captain Ahab in it.

5) As ridiculous as this is, I may or may not have thought Ishmael and Captain Ahab were the same person. You know, he was just getting friendly at the beginning of the book. “Oh, don’t bother with that silly Captain business. Please, call me Ishmael.” Why thanks, Captain Ishmael Ahab, I will!

Here is what I now know to be true of Moby Dick:

1) Matilda read it at the end of Matilda, the movie.

2) The first line is not “Call me Ishmael,” it’s “The pale Usher– threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. Was he ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.”

3) The religious metaphors and references are fascinating.

4) There is someone named Captain Ahab in it and he is Mysterious with a capital M.

5) Ishmael and Captain Ahab are most certainly not the same person.

All joking aside, I was not prepared for how much I would truly enjoy Moby Dick. It’s a fascinating novel so far, that has never felt too wordy, difficult or boring. Ishmael is a hilarious narrator, but Moby Dick is surprisingly beautiful. Take this passage for example:

Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to  sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. (3)

I found myself with highlighter ready, marking up every page with funny, beautiful or possibly important lines. I remembered why people carry a pen with them when they read in the first place. I know I keep repeating it, but I just had no idea. What other classics are sitting on my shelves that I haven’t picked up because I think they’ll be boring? If nothing else, the classics I have read recently have shown me that I love reading them. So why don’t I read more classics?

Anyway, back to Moby Dick. I am a fan of short chapters! And really, who isn’t? Is Moby Dick the first postmodern novel? I don’t know about that. Plot-wise, Herman Melville does a lot of interesting things, but I’m not sure the right word is postmodern. It’s difficult to really form any opinions after only 120 pages. There is still so much to come! They only just got on the boat after all.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the narrator’s religious opinions. I know that religion and religious imagery will play a large part in Moby Dick, but I don’t know how, exactly yet. I’ve managed to stay quite ignorant of the classics I haven’t read. I hate spoilers. I know some people don’t mind them, but I like to come into a story with nothing but myself. I prefer having no expectations. I mean, you saw the kind of expectations I had going into Moby Dick: they were almost all wrong. Anyway, I don’t know how Moby Dick is going to play out, though I imagine there’s a whale in there somewhere. All I do know is right now, our friend Ishmael says some very interesting things about religion. This is one of the most interesting quotes:

“All our arguing with [Queequeg] would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (79).

The relationship between Queequeg and Ishmael was also very interesting to me. It just never played out exactly like I expected it to. While there are definitely aspects of his portrayal that border on caricature, his description as a cannibal and a savage for one, he is also a very interesting character and Ishmael shows him genuine respect. Their relationship often leads Ishmael to discuss religion, and I fear that this may be his primary importance. I wonder if he’ll still be as important a character once Captain Ahab and the great white whale take over.

Moby Dick continues to be a very enjoyable read and it is never quite what I expected. I’m excited to keep reading and I’ll see you back here for a discussion of chapters 29-55 on January 19!

This Moby Dick readalong is being hosted by The Blue Bookcase. I will be updating this page with links to fellow participants blog posts this evening. 

A Moby Dick Readalong for Your Winter Blues

So when I posted my TBR Dare/Challenge post, I cheekily listed Moby Dick on there, thinking there was little chance I’d actually read it. But then so many people commented saying that they loved Moby Dick and that I should start of 2012 with that particular novel. Of all the books I listed, more people mentioned Moby Dick. Then it seemed to be everywhere. People were writing blog posts about it, saying how much they loved or hated it. Finally, I just decided that Moby Dick will be one of the first books I read in 2012. Someone (Jillian, perhaps?) pointed me toward the Conquering Moby Dick Readalong by The Blue Bookshelf and I’m thrilled to join in.

I’ve already started reading and let me just tell you, I love it so far! It’s so interesting and actually funny in some parts, though I’m not entirely convinced it’s supposed to be funny. Most of all, though, I love the narrator and his voice and I think there are some truly beautiful passages about the sea. I can’t wait to keep reading more. So if you think you might like to join in, the first post goes up on January 12! I know it’s soon, but I’m surprised how quickly I’ve been reading Moby Dick. We’ll see if I still feel the same way when I’m 200 pages in, but so far, so good.

Thanks for convincing me to read Moby Dick, y’all!