Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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100 Books by 40: THE THORN BIRDS

Catholics. They love their guilt. I don’t know what to think of this book. I’m trying to procrastinate thinking of the book by considering the made-for-tv miniseries. It was the second-most watched miniseries coming in behind Roots. I am sure it was considerably less difficult to get such an audience back in 1983, when there were only three TV stations to choose from. TV producers had it easy.

SPOLIER ALERT

The book describes the lives of three generations of women. The book was published in 1977, but the books starts of in 1915. The book focuses on a forbidden romance between a priest and an Australian rancher’s daughter. Shenanigans ensue. Shenanigans like the woman gets pregnant but hides the pregnancy from the priest. The woman feels victorious in that she’s stolen a child from the priest. Years later victory is snatched from her with her son chooses to enter the priesthood. Victory is stolen from everyone when the young man dies in a swimming accident.

I think the author wants me to feel bad for the woman. I don’t feel bad for her. I do, however, feel bad for the way in which most of the characters failed to connect with each other. The woman gets angry at the priest for choosing his career/calling over her. She marries someone out of spite. Is it really a wonder that it didn’t turn out well? Characters withhold information from each other with alarming frequency. Should we be surprised that the relationships suffer from a lack of authenticity?

This plot comes straight out of a soap opera. The deception and ulterior motives all say Guiding Light. I can’t connect with characters like that. I did like reading about Australia though. So, yeah, I won’t be reading this again. I might be watching the miniseries, mostly because I don’t understand how Richard Chamberlain got cast as the incredibly attractive priest. Should you read this book? If you love soap operas, have at it.


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100 Books by 40: A SUITABLE BOY

Wow. I really didn’t enjoy this book. It seems like the BBC editor that put together this list might have added some tokens. Token non-British writes to assuage any guilt, he or she might have felt at their very, very white list of authors.

The book is 1400 pages. Clearly the author’s real passion was discussing post-colonial India. The plot and the characters are all in service to discuss and explore that cultural environment and political challenges.

The lack of character development is enough to turn me off, but the author is also obliviously sexist. The female characters seem to have zero thoughts or conversations about anything outside their husbands, sons, fathers, or future husbands. The men have thoughts and conversations about religion and politics. The author seems completely unaware that he’s created such one dimensional female characters. I realize that this was supposed to be written in the 50’s. I also realize that feminism is a bit behind the curve in Indian culture. But, really?

Sexism is what made me hate this book. Honestly, I skimmed once I discovered how lacking the female character development was.

Here’s an update on my reading list.
Reading now:
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
67. The Magus, John Fowles

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
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
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
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
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
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
53. The Stand, Stephen King
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
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.
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
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:
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
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
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: ARTEMIS FOWL

I listened to this as an Audio book. It’s about trolls and twelve-year old villains. The book explains that this boy has been left unattended due to his mother’s hysteria over his father going missing. This boy is a genius, and attempts to trick fairies out of their gold.

I’m glad that I listened to this book. As stated in other blogs, I don’t enjoy children’s books for the most part. Half-listening while cursing the rolling-speed-bumps on the highway couldn’t have been more perfect. I get why the boy’s autonomy and hired help would appeal to kids. There’s so much of their lives that they can’t control. It’s probably a shared childhood fantasy to have control. Isn’t that the main reason we long to grow-up?

But as an adult reader, I just find the boy’s behavior so implausible. One would think that I would say the same about the fairies. They are less obnoxious, as they are wholly fictional entities. I know twelve year-old boys. I don’t know any fairies. Fairies have flying suits? Sure. Twelve year-old boys are genius criminal masterminds? Not so much.

Had I found this book as a child, I would probably like it. As an adult, I notice that the best developed characters are the non-human ones. I won’t ever read this again, but I would be happy to suggest it for anyone under the age of fifteen.


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100 Books by 40: THE MAGIC AND FARAWAY TREE

Kids books. I’m not that into them. I don’t have kids, and I am thirty-eight. I’m not going to have kids. I have no reason to be into kids books. The Magic and Faraway Tree is a kids book.

They climb through the trees. They see magical lands. They get into scrapes.

This book told me nothing useful about life. it’s cute, but wholly useless. There’s a lot of things like that. Cute but sans use. Do I suggested it? Not really. Will I read it again? Certainly not.


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100 Books by 40: MORT

I read this book while very sleep deprived. I was on a twenty-two hour train ride. The more fantastic aspects of the plot just rolled over my sleepy brain.

The story takes place on a planet other than Earth. A hapless apprentice is take by death for training. You read that right, Death. It’s what you think. He’s a skeleton and rides a horse.

Have I mentioned that I often dislike science fiction? Yes, well this is obviously science fiction. And I failed to connect with it, as I often do. The characters are never developed enough for me to feel engaged in what happens to them. I was supposed to care about Mort turning into death. I was supposed to care who Mort decided to marry. I know how all of these things ended, but I just didn’t care. The only character that I ended up caring for was death. *****************SPOILER ALERT***************** I love that all death wanted to do was be a short order cook that feeds stray cats. I love that death clearly has a thing for cats and India food. Otherwise, I just didn’t engage with this book. I know I am supposed to be intrigued by the idea of destiny, and if it’s possible to cheat it. I just wasn’t feeling it.

This read was so short. If you like science fiction, read it. If you don’t like science fiction, don’t bother.


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100 Books by 40: THE SHELL SEEKERS

There are books that go down like cough syrup. I gulp the words down knowing that I will emerge from the experience better. The characters and the words will develop and leave me a better person in indescribable ways. The books that I’ve read recently have been of this nature. I can’t say that the books are bad, nor can I say that I enjoyed reading them.

The Shell Seekers was a beautiful escape; I couldn’t find enough hours in the day to lose myself in its pages. The book is about generational differences and family relationships. The time stretches from early 1900’s until 1980’s in various locations, but primarily England.

As usual, I am going to hold off on discussing major plot points to avoid spoiling it for any other readers. However, one of the ideas conveyed in the book spurred further thought. There’s a tension between loving someone as they are, and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships. And this tension exists between family, friends, and spouses especially so. What’s the difference between giving out of obligation and giving out of impulse? When is it appropriate to hold some truth back?

Truth-telling has it’s pitfalls. Yes, that dress makes your butt look big. Actually, with those rings under your eyes, you look terrible. Yeah, you totally botched that meeting. There are times were the unvarnished truth just isn’t kind. And in family relationships, the truth without considering the conclusion can be cruel. I’m not advocating for wholesale lying. If you are an adult human and have successful relationships, you occasionally lie, or omit the truth.

This book navigates these topics. It’s sensitive and beautiful. I highly suggest it.


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100 Books by 40: GOOD NIGHT, MR TOM

Picking up this book was a delightful break from the tedium that was reading The Count of Monte Cristo. The book is a young adult title about a boy that was evacuated from London during World War II. While the writing wasn’t challenging to read, the novel covered some heavy topics.

The boy, Willie, left an abusive mother and taken in by a man that had cut himself off from others after the death of his wife and young child. The story centers around the transformation of the boy and the man. They are wounded souls who find healing in each other’s company.

My facebook feed brings many things to my attention, but I would say the vast majority highlight the negative power that we have to belittle and harm both those around us and ourselves. It’s refreshing to contemplate the best that we can be versus the worst. On the rare occasion that someone shares something positive or beautiful, I feel relieved, but those things fail to over-power the negative emotions that I am often left with.

I know people have either left their facebook accounts or blocked certain posts from turning up in their feed, and I get that. There’s just some stuff that doesn’t add value to your life and only brings up negative emotions. There are moments were we can be constructively challenged, but social media is rarely the space for it.

I’ve already limited my consumption of certain types of news media for the reason stated above. Twenty-four hours news stations were among the first things to get winnowed out of my information diet. I’m considering that facebook might get a similar treatment. I am going to pare back my facebook browsing for a while, and see how that goes.

Mister Tom is a nice, easy read. The characters are charming. The setting reminds me how little Americans have been touched by war since the Civil War. The towns people in the book all pitch in to help with the war effort. Much like Americans accepted rationing and planted victory gardens to support WWII, people accepted a certain level of shared sacrifice for the greater good. We aren’t so far from that time to make it impossible for our culture to value self sacrifice again. In fact, I am sure that millions of people in their own small way are still doing this today. There’s a big world out there full of people who are doing their best, and social media isn’t a great lens to take a look at it.


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100 Books by 40: Persuasion

Before I get into Persuasion, I need to vent about the BBC’s 100 Best Books list. I’ve just discovered that number 59. Artemis Fowl is actually a series of eight books. EIGHT! Between this and the BBC slyly listing Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials as two books (actually six books), I want to start calling the list the BBC’s Best 111 Books. I realize that LOR was intended as one whole book, but conventionally it was released as three. I call shenanigans on the BBC. I will be reading Artemis Fowl for months. At least it is a young adult series; I shudder to think of a Kafka work spanning eight books.

I’m getting lulled into enjoying British Literature, but I would like to follow the BBC’s list with something a little less Brit Lit centered. I might have found that list a few days back. By the time I complete the BBC’s list I will have read about 30 of the books on this list. Blending of fiction with non-fiction feels haphazard. I find that appealing. Some intern just dreamed up this list, and I don’t care.

http://www.businessinsider.in/100-Books-Everyone-Should-Read-Before-They-Die/articleshow/29916032.cms

Now then, back to Brit Lit. I really enjoy Jane Austen. Going into Pride and Prejudice I was prepared to hate it. I don’t like romance. I hate romantic comedies. Reading Jane Austen and George Eliot has given me clarity on why. My romantic media consumption was limited to Hollywood’s interpretation. My partner just watched “Love Actually”, this Christmas season and was enraged by how absurd it was. There are movies that pull the curtain back on real relationships which are most often a balancing between good intentions, false assumptions, short tempers, and the grinding aspects of everyday life. “Blue Valentine” comes to my mind. Lets just say “Love Actually” was not one of them.

The point is I went into Jane Austen and George Eliot thinking “Pretty Woman”. I came away with appreciation for Austen’s wit. Both writers display artistry with language and acute abilities to tell the truth about relationships. There are beautiful moments along side frustration and disappointment. It’s a continuation of all that you struggle with plus the struggles of another. At its best relationships can drive us to  be our best. But growth hurts. It’s hard.

Persuasion is a great little read. It doesn’t feel as epic as Pride and Prejudice, but I think that’s due to its reduced length. If you want a bit of Austen without committing to Pride and Prejudice or Emma this is the read for you.


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100 Book by 40: Treasure Island and Anne of Green Gables

Who doesn’t like pirates? No one. Honestly, that could be the end of my thoughts on Treasure Island. The book was a fun little romp. The pirates were larger than life. The plot was fun. The book was tolerably short. You should read it.

I could draw a bunch of comparisons between The Pirates of the Caribbean and Treasury Island. But, really, is it any wonder that the plot of a book is better than the plot of a movie? The book was wonderful even lacking a hot Johnny Depp.

On to Anne of Green Gables, I was fully expecting to hate this book. I’ve not enjoyed most of the children’s books that I’ve read on this list, particularly those with female leads. But I got this as an audio book from the library. I loaded up my iPod, and listened as I drove all over Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio this holiday season. I suspect listening to the book made me enjoy this book more than I would have reading it. One of the things that I will pay a bit more attention to going forward is how my experience differs from listening vs reading.

Objectively, Anne was pretty obnoxious character. Because I could tune her out a bit while enjoying the scenery, I found her more tolerable. I am certain that I will never read this book. I am happy that I heard it, mostly for Morella’s character development. Margaret Atwood wrote the intro to my particular copy of the book and suggests that the book is primarily about Morella. I tend to agree with her position. The character that experiences the most transformation is Morella. While Anne transforms from a child to a woman, Morella embraces parts of her self that had lain dormant for years. Technically, I haven’t listened to the last few chapters of Anne of Green Gables, but, as I’ve seen the movie and the f0reshadowing is pretty clear, I will consider this one done in terms of blogging about it. I will listen to the last chapters on my run this week.


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100 Books by 40: DUNE

The last few weeks have felt overwhelming. While I enjoy the time off around the holidays, I don’t enjoy that I am traveling so much. There are many reasons for this. I hate driving. I’ve reached an age where my back appreciates no beds other than my own. My separation from the gym makes my anxiety pool with zero outlets. Eating off my typical diet leads to a 5 to 10 pound weight gain that will need to be addressed come January. Clothes get tighter. I returned from Chicago six days ago. Yesterday I returned from Northern Ohio. Discomfort. That’s a good word to describe my holidays.

As a solid introvert, I lose control of my alone time while traveling. I like people. I like being around people, but it exhausts me. I need little recharging moments throughout my day. I peppered reading sessions throughout my 4-day trip to Chicago. Every day, I would sneak off for a couple of hours and read Dune. I had other books to read, like Treasure Island and David Copperfield. But I always picked Dune. Since my other two reading selections where snug on my Kindle, those books would have been more sensible reading choices. Dune was borrowed from my library was decidedly more bulky and less convenient for taking busses and the train around Chicago.

I picked Dune because it captivated me from page one. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I don’t like science fiction as a general rule. I wasn’t fond of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve struggled to put my finger on why I often don’t like this genre. My least wordy explanation is that lazy writers use the non-realistic setting to enable sloppy plots, although admittedly this wasn’t the problem with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

There were thing things that I loved about Dune. First, there wasn’t excessive creative license around what the creatures and characters looked like. Herbert seemed to save all his creative energies for developing classes of characters that come with specific sets of skills and abilities, the Bene Gesserit are an excellent example of this. I get the sense that sci-fi writers get carried away with describing the strange visuals of their creatures and then fail at adequate character development.

Second, Herbert revealed details around both these classes of characters and context information at an appropriate pace. The novel starts out with little to no description and jumps right into plot. He would mete out details and bits of back-story as he described action. This is one of the best paced novels I have ever read.

Third the political, ecological, and religious themes  are excellent. First, this is one of the first fictional books that I’ve ever read that considers the ecological implications on plot development. The interplay between religion, power, and politics resonates as being in line with our own history books.

I will be reading the sequels to this book. This is one of the few books that I just couldn’t put down once I started. I highly suggest that you give it a read.