Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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100 Books by 40: Middlemarch and Pillars of the Earth

In my quest to read 100 books by 40, I have learned that the 30’s are the land of 1000-page books. Between Middlemarch, David Copperfield, and Pillars of the Earth, I feel like each book is taking weeks. I feel that way, because they are. When I download them on my Kindle or pick them up at the library, I find myself groaning at the size of them.

My original intent was to write two separate entries for Middlemarch and Pillars of the Earth. Since I was reading them simultaneously, I was inadvertently comparing them. Both are epic in scope, covering large swaths of time. With Middlemarch set in 19th century England, and Pillars of the Earth set in The Middle Ages, both are narrating an existence that I find remote. Both books are around 1000 pages.

That’s were the similarities end. Some have suggested that Middlemarch is the best novel written in the English language. Pillars of the Earth? Not so much. Pillars of the Earth seemed like a children’s book by comparison. George Eliot carefully crafted characters full of good intentions who all fall victim to their own limited perspectives, experiences, and unacknowledged expectations. She does an incredible job of describing the space between expectations and reality being the canyon that separates a person’s happiness from disappointment in marriage and relationships.

After reading that paragraph, you might think that I enjoyed Middlemarch. I did not. I was scratching my head over Middlemarch‘s reputation through the first half of the book. Clearly, Eliot is a master of the craft of writing gorgeous sentences and paragraphs, but I didn’t really connect with the characters until the last half of the book.

*******Minor Spoiler Alert********

The thing that hooked me was the troubled marriage of Tertius Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy. The way Eliot describes how their relationship decends into dysfunction is stunningly relevant. I think she’s summarized why marriages dissolve for the last two centuries. Eliot’s observations on how we relate to each other is timeless. This discovery made wading through the first half of the book worth it.

Pillars of the Earth then. Ken Follett has a thing for cathedral architecture. He spends many paragraphs talking about building methodology, and cathedral parts like tranceps, celestories, naves, ect. I enjoyed none of that. Not only are his descriptions difficult for me to visualize, but I simply don’t give a shit about cathedrals. Sorry about it, Europe.

On top of this, Follett’s characters are as shallow as kiddie pools in comparison to Eliot’s. I finished the book at a bar. The patron next to me said reading the book was on his bucket list. Thinking that a literary perspective on Pillars of the Earth might make me more positive about the book, I inquired why it was on his bucket list. He proceeded to say that it was important. I asked in what way. I legitimately wanted to hear some explanation for why the book is great. I realized too late that he was manswering. (Manswer – when a man presents something as fact that he’s only deduced or has limited to no knowledge of. This habit seems to come on the dad gene.) I accidentally backed him into a corner where he had to admit that he didn’t know why the book was important. I immediately felt bad for making things awkward.

I do have a new appreciation for inherent political instability of The Middle Ages. But even in this respect Pillars of the Earth holds up poorly against Middlemarch. Eliot had the benefit of writing in the time she lived, so her descriptions of the political environment and social class as actors on the characters resonates where Follett falls flat.

Net Middlemarch, yes. Pillars of the Earth, no.

In closing, here’s some stellar quotes from Middlemarch.

We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, ‘Oh, nothing!’ Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts―not to hurt others…

I am not magnanimous enough to like people who speak to me without seeming to see me…

For my part I am very sorry for him. It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self–never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dimsighted.


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100 Books by 40: Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented

I am starting with an aside. I don’t watch much TV, outside Mad Men and Breaking Bad. I was watching Fringe. I just started back up with Dexter. I feel like I have gone from drinking a 20 dollar bottle of wine to a 50 dollar bottle of wine. Dexter is a great show. I dropped off after the Julia Stiles season; I hate her. And that season was such a disappointment after the John Lithgow season. So far Colin Hanks is a vast improvement over Stiles.

Now then Tess, this was a great book. It is set in 1870’s England. The book primarily tells the tale of what happens to women as a result of sexual indiscretion as opposed to men. Things have changed little from the time of this novel to today. Men are still easily forgiven if not encouraged to express themselves sexually, and women are still penalized. Sure the consequences have changed, but the overall practices are quite similar. Girls who claim rape are bullied on Twitter (thanks Stubenville rape case). Women who advocate for accessible birth control are called sluts (thanks Rush Limbaugh).

The author was very sympathetic to Tess. The author seems to argue that sexuality, particularly female sexuality is natural. There is one bit that I didn’t enjoy about the book, and discussing it requires a spoiler alert.

*********************SPOILER ALERT**********************************
Tess ultimately murders the man who took here virginity. There are many things that lead to this which makes the reader sympathetic to Tess’ actions. She flees with the man who she actually loves; she is apprehended while sleeping on the altar of Stonehenge. This metaphor for nature being sacrificed at the altar of convention and religion was a bit too much for me. I felt like this bit was heavy-handed. Otherwise the book was really great.


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100 Books by 40: The Hobbit

I finished reading The Hobbit this week. And I’m nearly done with Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I started this project 12 months ago, so this is a great time to check my progress and evaluate my reading pace as compared to my goal. If that last sentence felt controlled, you should know that I manage multi-million dollar projects for a Fortune 50 company. Charting progress against a measurable goal is like breathing to me. Sorry about it.

Now then, The Hobbit was such a pleasant romp as compared to Gone with the Wind. Unlike my sequence of book-reading vs movie-viewing for The Lord of the Rings booksI saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before I read the book. Having finished the book, I can say dividing the book into tree movies was a poor choice. The book has a nice brisk pace to it; it’s exciting to read. The first movie was a total snooze in comparison. I enjoyed this book very much. Don’t let the movie dissuade you from picking it up.

I have been reading for 12 months. With seventeen books under my belt, I have averaged 1.42 books read per month. Since I have 30 months remaining and 67 books left to read, I will need to increase my pace to 2.23 books read per month.  That’s a 36% increase. While that’s nothing to sneeze at, I did read other stuff this year. I browsed my subscriptions to the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist. On top of that, I read I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, What do Women Want?,  and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop TalkingThese books were great for very different reasons. I didn’t write about them here, mostly because they aren’t on my list.

I am thinking that if I cut out that other reading, I should make my goals. It’s just tough to keep at that list. Most of the books are pretty tough reading and cover emotionally difficult subject matter. The Grapes of Wrath is coming up, for example. I am sure I will learn a lot from that book and value my experience reading it. But let’s be honest, if we all wanted to live in the reality of The Great Depression wouldn’t we have chosen to stay there? Exactly. I need to stop writing and read…


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100 Books by 40: Great Expectations and Birdsong

I am reading Little Women right now. I hate it. I am not very keen on romance novels. This particular preference becomes important later when I write about Birdsong and Great Expectations. So Little Women has that strike against it. The author is so heavy-handed in her moral lessons, I can barely stand it. I will hold off on ranting more until I actually finish the book. On a bright note, I am liking Gone With the Wind so far.

Great Expectations wasn’t that great. I don’t know what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it. Here’s what I did find interesting about the book. The episodic writing that Dickens employs is reminiscent of TV show plot lines. I’ve read Dickens before, but I learned just prior to picking up Great Expectations that he was often writing chapter by chapter for publication in periodicals. I enjoyed the short story arcs to keep readers coming back mixed with the broader story arcs. Seriously, TV writers could take a lesson.

As mentioned earlier, I don’t really appreciate romance. So, the Pip/Estella story line was less than enthralling to me. The setting, 1800’s England, was super cool. The descriptions around the ambient culture was also super cool. Would I read it again? No. Would I suggest that others read it? Only if they want to write TV scripts. Would I read other novels by Dickens? Probably.

Birdsong. This book bounces across different times starting prior to WWI and ending in the 1970’s. This is a romance novel. By now you should know how much I appreciate that. The storytelling in this book was well executed. Some pivotal plot points hang around the characters and their relationship to WWI. There are several scenes in the book that describe WWI battles. I loved the WWI parts of this book. LOVED THEM. The large story arc is about a women getting to know more about her grandfather and learning about herself in the process.

*****SPOILER ALERT***** Do not read on if you want to read this book.
I was ok with the romance driving the book. Then I got to the end. The end of the book has the main character giving birth in a farm house. Pure cheese, I wanted to punch the book. After the bloody chapters describing WWI, this ending felt really trite. This woman who was seeking herself could only be found by becoming a mother? Like adding that complication is going to clarify what one wants out of life. I would have not started the book had I known how aggravating the ending would be. Would I read it again? NO! Would I suggest that others read it? If the person in question loves romance novels. Would I read other novels by Faulks? NO.

And since I haven’t provided you with an updated reading list in a bit, here it is.

Reading now:
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Finished reading:
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier – this will need to come from the library or second hand books
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger – – this will need to come from the library or second hand books
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
53. The Stand, Stephen King
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.

Pending reading:
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie


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100 Books by 40: Jane Eyre

I’ve made it past the Brontës. I have also made it past the top 10 books. I will recap my feelings about the top 10 after I comment on Jane Eyre. **SPOILER ALERT**I WILL TALK ABOUT THE END OF JANE EYRE**SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU PLAN ON READING IT** With Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice I learned that I enjoy Brit Lit. I liked Jane Eyre for all the gymnastics my brain did to keep up with the use of the language, but I didn’t care for the story that was told nearly as much as I enjoyed Wuthering Heights. The ending of Jane Eyre was just a little too tidy. I was already felt a little sick from the sweetness of Jane returning to Mr. Rochester but his sight returning really amped up my tummy ache. If his physical condition was the price he had to pay to relinquish his pride, I think he should have kept his handicaps. Otherwise, I enjoyed Charlotte’s us of the English language.

I unequivocally suggest reading every book in the top 10 with the exception of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I am certain that I didn’t enjoy Hitchhiker’s because I typically don’t enjoy Sci-Fi. The other nine books are as wonderful as they are different. Enjoying great books isn’t the only benefit that I’ve noticed since starting this challenge. My ability to concentrate for long periods of time has been improved, and I am certain that I am reading faster than I did at the outset. I tested myself at eyercize.com. I can comfortably read at 400 words a minute. Average Americans read around 250 words per minute. Net, thus far, this challenge has been amazing. I am already happy with the time I have invested in it.

I am only at the beginning of all three of the books that I am reading. Thus far I am loving Catch-22. More on that in my next blog.   

Reading now: 11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Finished reading:
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
53. The Stand, Stephen King
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.

Pending reading:
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks 
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger – – this will need to come from the library or second hand books
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie