Tag: woolf

2013: The Year in Books

Here we are, at the end of 2013.  It’s time for my Grand Book List, which I skipped last year (as I skipped reading for the most part, but that’s a long story). I’ve read more this year than I have in the past several. It’s possibly the most I’ve ever read. I’m not quite sure how it happened since I have a job, and such. Palmer says reading is a waste of time and a way for unhappy people to forget that they’re unhappy, but I don’t think it is. I’ve had a good year, all told. There is, of course, the Elephant in the Room, which makes everything difficult, but I’ve been dealing with it long enough, now, that it’s not that big of a deal. Reading does help me forget about that, sometimes, which is both good and bad. But I digress. Here, by the way, is an excellent article from Slate about the psychological and moral benefits of reading. So there.

For the past three years, I’ve set a quota for myself: 50 books. I started because, at the end of 2010, I realized that I’d only read about twenty books, which seemed ridiculous. I thought that if I set a goal, I could get my reading back on track. And I did! I squeezed in at the wire, but I did, and I was very proud of myself. In 2012, I set the same goal, but I didn’t even get close. I blame the Elephant – I was sick, my vision was blurry, and I was exhausted. After July of 2012, my world stopped for a while. This January, I decided I could no longer use ye olde Elephant as an excuse, so I jumped in for another fifty. If you pay any attention to my blog, you’ll know that I easily surpassed that number this year. I’m not sure why or how, especially since so many of thee books I read were huge.

Which leads me to a title for 2013: The Year of Long Books. Until this year, I hardly read books over three or four hundred pages because I didn’t think I could get through them. Jumping into A Game of Thrones and getting hooked cured me of that, I think, and I think I’ve decided that I love long books the best because I can get more into them without feeling rushed. That’s not always easy to do with this quota, though.

So here’s my list. Yes, it’s long. I’ll use the same system I used for my 2010 and 2011 lists: Bold means I really liked it, and italics means I really disliked it. If it’s neither of those, it was good enough.

So there you have it. I read some pretty good books this year. But which one is the best? In 2010, the prize went to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and in 2011, One Hundred Years of Solitude won. Last year, there was no winner, as, well, you know. Elephant. What could I possibly have chosen this year? Drumroll please…

stoner

Yep, Stoner. If you read this blog regularly, you probably saw it coming. Stoner is the best, most amazing novel I’ve read in years. It’s perfect on just about every level. I was crying and entirely speechless by the end of it. Oh, so good.

But Stoner wasn’t the only good novel I read this year, so I’m adding a couple of runners-up. I liked these novels almost as much, though they weren’t quite as mind-blowing as our winner.

orlandoericocean

First, there’s Orlando, which is hilarious and fantastic and addictive. I want to read it again. After some reflection, it definitely wins my top spot in the list of Virginia Woolf‘s novels. I know that a Discworld novel, of all things, probably doesn’t fit in too well, but I absolutely adored Eric, and I can’t help myself. It’s definitely my favorite Discworld novel so far. There’s also The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is no my favorite of Neil Gaiman‘s because it’s an overwhelming fairytale that I couldn’t quite have understood when I was a child. This one qualifies as mind-blowing, too. I’ll make myself stop there, though I’m having a hard time not adding more.

2013 was definitely a good reading year. So many books make for so many interesting experiences, most of them good. Next year, I’ll do the same, and it’ll be especially pleasant because my super-awesome husband made me a library out of what had been a storage-bedroom in our house. It’s beautiful, but I still need to clean up a bit and hang art before I post official photos. I’ll be spending lots of 2014 curled up in my papasan, feet propped up and reading. I can’t wait.

2013 Book #53: Jacob’s Room

jacobsroomI should probably preface this post by noting that Virginia Woolf is one of my Very Favorite Authors. I’m a huge fan. But 50 pages into Jacob’s Room, I was bored to tears. I even read a few reviews on Goodreads to help figure out if the story would ever start. The answer is no.

That’s the thing with Jacob’s Room: there’s really not much of a story. It’s generally about the life of a young man named Jacob, but it’s mostly told by people around him, and even then, he’s only on the fringes. It starts when he’s a child, his father has died, and his mother finds him irritating. And so on. There’s not really a plot.

What I did figure out from the Goodreads reviews (and our old friend Wikipedia) is that this is Woolf’s third novel, and it’s experimental. Not that that’s a bad thing: The Autumn of the Patriarch is most certainly experimental, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s fantastic. And wouldn’t you call The Sound and the Fury experimental, with its weirdo stream-of-consciousness-I-can-only-half-understand going on for the first quarter of the book? Experimental is interesting! Except when there’s so much experimenting that the story is totally forgotten. It’s kind of in the style of To The Lighthouse, which is fantastic, but minus the story. It’s nothing like Orlando, which I read fairly recently.

And that’s all I really have to say about Jacob’s Room. I didn’t like it because it was so boring. The language is especially beautiful, though, so if you’re willing to trade story for style, by all means, jump in. I’ll stick with all of the other Woolf novels I’ve read and loved – you know, the ones with plots.

2013 Book #3: Orlando

I thought I hated Orlando. I took a Gay and Lesbian Lit class in college, and the professor assigned it. I think I got through about a third of it and quit because I thought it was crap. I think the problem was that I didn't think I'd like Virginia Woolf and didn't want to give her a chance. But, then again, my literary tastes were weird: the same professor assigned The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, and I loved it. No one likes that novel. I didn't know what I was missing in Orlando (or Virginia Woolf, for that matter).

Here's the gist: Orlando is a young English aristocrat who has a very adventurous life. He doesn't really age (like other random characters in the novel), and he lives through several centuries. At some point, he finds himself an ambassador a long way from home. He wakes up one morning, and discovers that he's turned into a woman. Then she goes back to England and spends the rest of her life as a woman.

As much as I thought I hated this novel when I was in college, I loved it now. I loved every minute of reading it. It was hours and hours of joy. I'm pretty sure that Orlando is my new favorite Virginia Woolf novel. The others that I've read (I've read quite a few) aren't much like this one – for that matter, there aren't many novels like this one. The message, here, is that though there are differences between the sexes, Orlando remained essentially the same person, whether male or female. Which goes along with “A Room of One's Own,” and the like. I'm still not sure why I was so convinced that I'd hate it. I almost want to read it again right now.

2011 Book #17: Crime and Punishment

crime-and-punishment.jpegSo. I read Crime and Punishment and liked it, though not as much as I thought I would when I was halfway through. At one point, I thought it might trump One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it didn’t. I’m not going to summarize it here because everyone is familiar with it. The funny thing is that I had no idea how it ends. I knew, going in, that Raskolnikov kills someone and then suffers because of it. I didn’t know that he, in fact, kills two people, though the second person, I guess, doesn’t really matter. (I felt better when neither Jacob nor Palmer knew about the second, either.)

My only problem with the novel is the end. I was disappointed that it ends relatively happily under the circumstances, that Raskolnikov sees the light, so to speak. It’s hopeful. I’d braced myself for a depressing, pessimistic ending, and I was disappointed because it wasn’t the life-changing end I’d expected. Crime and Punishment is, after all, considered one of the best novels ever written. My expectations, I guess, were too high.

This novel got me to thinking, though. The main reason I’d never read it is that I wasn’t assigned it in college. Granted, I don’t think I ever took a class that involved Russian lit of any sort, beyond a modern lit class in grad school, and even then it was Notes from Underground, which is very short. Professors don’t assign long novels anymore. I’ve heard many times things like “I assigned such-and-such, but I’d have assigned such-and-such instead because it’s better, but it’s sooooo long.” I think My Antonia, The Well of Loneliness, and Orlando might have been the longest novels I had to read in college, and they’re all significantly shorter than Crime and Punishment. And the same professor assigned all of those novels.

I often feel shorted in my English degree, though UNO had a really good English department back in the day. And I’m not sure I’d have read a long novel if I was assigned one, though I think I read all of those three. I don’t think I got all the way through Orlando, though I put in a good effort. It sucks that professors have become so cynical that they assume students won’t read long assignments. Not that students help, of course. I read my share of Cliff’s Notes.

As disappointed as I was in Crime and Punishment, (and, to tell the truth, I wasn’t all that disappointed) I can easily recognize that it’s a Great Novel and that anyone with a lit degree should have read it. I remember a professor assigning a short Dickens selection and claiming that a whole Dickens novel would be too much. I read A Tale of Two Cities right after I graduated and was angry that I hadn’t read it earlier. I have too many holes in my English degree, and I think it’s because professors are caving in to students’ laziness. I slipped through college with mostly As and didn’t do a quarter of the work I should have had to do to get them, and now I regret it. And I went to a good school. Sometimes I’m amazed that LSUS English graduates are even literate.

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