Tag: reading autobiography

Umm Eww

I saw a TV commercial for Audible.com today. If you are unfamiliar with Audible, it sells audiobooks. The thing in the commercial that caught my attention, though, was one of the books mentioned: Fifty Shades of Grey. Hence my disgust in the title of this post.

I can’t imagine anything ickier than listening to the audiobook of Fifty Shades of Grey. (Full disclosure: I read the book last year.) Reading the sex scenes was bad enough; I can’t imagine how I’d keep a straight face while listening to them. To be fair, though, the non-sex parts are pretty laughable as well. The narrator is boring and yet feels compelled to share every second of every day with the reader; it’s exhausting (and not in a good way).

The other title featured in the commercial I saw was The Hunger Games. Now that is an audiobook I would listen to. But if I ever join Audible (and that’s a big if) I’ll skip right over Fifty Shades of Grey.

Until tomorrow.

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Distracted

Crap, I hadn’t realized how late it was. That’s what I get for deciding that I must finish Fifty Shades of Grey tonight, I guess. But I did finish it, so mission accomplished.

So, yeah, I caved and read the first Fifty Shades book. How could I resist something with that much buzz? And I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Hell, I enjoyed it more than I should have, given how incredibly bad it was. And I’m not making a moral judgment when I say it was bad; I’m making a literary judgment. The glacial pace. All the inner goddess/bitchy subconscious crap. The first-person narrator who was dull as dirt. (Sure, there were interesting parts, but they’d be followed by page after page of boring Ana.) And what kind of English major in 2011 has a negative attitude towards computers? Calling her MacBook a “mean machine,” really? Gah.

The worst part is that I’m tempted to read the next book. But maybe if I sleep on it, it will pass.

Until tomorrow.

How Could I Forget This?

I spent some time at The Atlantic Wire this morning after my personal cheerleader sent me a link to this article about the best girl-power books. I agreed with a bunch of the selections, but more importantly I started following links.

That’s how I found this article about re-readable books. I’m a big fan of re-reading books, so it’s no surprise that I was drawn to that link. There were quite a few books listed that are high on my re-reading list, so that made me happy (especially the Betsy-Tacy shout out).

But the thing that really struck me was the mention of Christopher Pike books. I freaking loved Christopher Pike when I was in middle school and I’m so upset that I completely forgot about him! I owned a bunch of his books and read them a lot. (Although I had a hard time picking out any of the titles from the list on his Wikipedia page. So maybe his books didn’t have as big of an impact as I’d thought they would at the time. But I am pretty sure that I had the Final Friends Trilogy and at least one book from the Remember Me series. But I had so many more than four books and it’s bumming me out that I can’t remember anything else.) I have this really strong urge to read Christopher Pike now. Which would present quite a contrast to Jane Austen. I may have to get over to the Brandon Library to see what Christopher Pike books they have, because I really don’t feel like buying any.

Seriously, brains are so weird. Middle school me is horrified that I ever forgot about Christopher Pike because she didn’t think it possible. But then just reading the name (in a non-Star Trek context) immediately reminded me of how much I loved him and made me want to read him again. And YA horror/thriller books are not generally my thing.

It really would be something to revisit. I’m taking a YA books course next semester, so maybe I can justify it that way.

Until tomorrow.

Fantasy? No Thanks!

It’s so funny to me now, but when I was a kid I really didn’t like science fiction or fantasy.  I wanted my stories to take place in the real world, thank you very much.  This anti-fantasy bias most often showed up when I was deciding what to read, but it wasn’t limited to books.  No, I refused to like Star Wars and Star Trek for a very long time as well.  (Yes, I like them both.  Call the sci-fi fandom cops.)

In retrospect, a lot of the “normal” stuff I did like growing up had a bit of a fantastical element to it.  I mean, the members of the Baby-sitters Club never aged.  That’s weird.  And really, even Jane Austen’s stories of Regency life are fantasies for so many modern readers (this one included).  Don’t believe me?  Check out Austenland, a novel about an English resort that caters to Austen-obsessed women and their Regency fantasies, or perhaps you would prefer to watch Lost in Austen, a British mini-series about a modern Janeite who ends up switching places with Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

The first fantasy novel I remember reading was a Stephen King book called The Eyes of the Dragon.  I read it in seventh grade because my friend pretty much made me.  (Looking back on it, I guess I didn’t really have to read the book just because he lent it to me.  But at the time, I felt like he had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Not in a mafia way, though.)  I remember almost nothing about the book (including the title until about 20 minutes ago when I searched Amazon), but I do remember that I liked it.  I hadn’t expected to like it, and I was probably kinda annoyed that I did, but I did.  In fact, I want to look for it at the library some time.

Enjoying one fantasy novel didn’t really change my opinion of the genre, though.  I was still pretty much anti.  It was actually television that first started me on a path towards sci-fi and fantasy fandom.  Specifically, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I think I mentioned this before, but I watched “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest” (the two-episode pilot) expecting it to be stupid.  It wasn’t and I was hooked.  From there, it was a pretty easy jump to Charmed to Angel to Alias to Firefly to Lost (you get the picture).  At this point a fantasy element is almost required before I watch a new TV series (which is why I will never, ever watch Friday Night Lights).

The book that really got me to enjoy fantasy novels was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  I was pretty late to the Harry Potter party.  I’d never even heard of the series until Goblet of Fire came out while I was working in a mall record store across from a bookstore.  All of a sudden, though, Harry Potter seemed to be everywhere.  So I decided to buy the first book in paperback to check it out.  I loved it.  I went back to buy Chamber of Secrets in paperback.  Loved it too.  But now I had a problem, I had exhausted the supply of Harry Potter books available in paperback.  I told myself it would be okay; I could just wait until each book was released in paperback.  That didn’t last very long.  After reading Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets several times each I gave in and bought Prisoner of Azkaban in hardcover.  Then Goblet of Fire.  And then I joined the millions of people around the world who anxiously awaited each new release and pre-ordered a copy.  I even considered skipping my cousin’s bachelorette weekend down the shore after it was scheduled for the weekend that Deathly Hallows came out.  (I’m pretty sure I was the only one who cared about Harry Potter of the dozen or so of us who went.  It was weird.)  I also eventually bought Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets in hardcover to complete my collection.  If you’re interested, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite.

One of the things I’m most grateful to the Harry Potter series for is that it got me to stop being a snob about book genres.  Now, I’ll read any book that sounds interesting to me and the list of books I want to read that I keep on my iPhone is proof of that.  Expanding my interests to include sci-fi and fantasy also allowed me to foray into the world of graphic novels.  Not that I’m a big comics or graphic novels person, but I have found several graphic novels that I really enjoy and I never would’ve checked them out 15 years ago.

Until tomorrow.

Meeting Miss Austen

My introduction to my favorite author was not what you would call auspicious.  Far from it. The first time I held a Jane Austen novel in my hands it was a punishment.  (Yes, there’s a story there.)

One day towards the end of school in seventh or eighth grade, my friends and I were being a little overly talky in English class.  (For the record, it annoys me to no end that I can’t remember if it was seventh or eighth grade.  I think it was seventh grade, but there’s no way I can prove it.  The great tragedy of team teaching, at least as it was implemented in my middle school, is that I had the exact same teachers for two years.  At the time I was stoked, because most of those teachers were awesome, but now that I’m 20 years removed from it it’s hard to pinpoint which grade a lot of things happened in.)  I’m sure that Mrs. Geesey, our teacher, told us to bring it in and bring it down a couple of times and we pretty much ignored her.  Eventually she walked over to the bookcase under the window and pulled out six books.  She handed one book to each of us and said that we had to read 20 pages a night until the end of the (school) year.  (I have absolutely no recollection of how we were supposed to prove to her that we did, though.)  When I looked down I saw that I had Pride and Prejudice in my hands.

I still have that copy of Pride and Prejudice.  I never felt the need to buy a different paperback copy.  (Although someday I would like nice, hardcover editions of all six Austen novels.)  Besides, seeing “Geesey” written on the first page serves as a nice reminder of the above story.  Oh, and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t steal it.  I think Mrs. Geesey told us to keep the books when she first gave them to us.

Now, I’ve already told you that Austen is my favorite author.  Pride and Prejudice also happens to be one of my all-time favorite novels (not to mention my favorite Austen novel).  You’re probably assuming that I became a devoted Janeite that summer.  Unfortunately, you would be wrong.  I stopped reading Pride and Prejudice as soon as school was out.  I was only at page 100 or so, about 20% of the way through the book, and I wasn’t really feeling it.  It sat on my shelf until ninth grade, when I read it for an English assignment.  The assignment was to select a book from the list provided by T. David (my high school English teacher), read it, and then be interviewed as one of the characters in the book.  I chose Pride and Prejudice simply because I already owned it (thanks, Mrs. Geesey).  I’m sure I got an A on the assignment, but I still didn’t really like the book.  I just didn’t get it.

I was in high school in the mid-90s.  Movie adaptations of Austen novels were quite popular in the mid-90s, whether they were straightforward (Sense and Sensibility and Emma) or updated (Clueless).  I saw all three of those movies in the theater.  I also read Sense and Sensibility and Emma before I saw their respective “straightforward” adaptations.  I liked both novels more than Pride and Prejudice.

I remember that when I bought Emma, the cashier at Waldenbooks started telling me about this new book that she thought I would like if I enjoyed Austen.  It was Bridget Jones’ Diary.  I didn’t buy Bridget Jones at the time, but I did eventually and I loved it.  Even if it took forever for me to make the connection to Pride and Prejudice.  I know that seems hard to believe, but I really didn’t get the story in Pride and Prejudice.  How could I have seen the parallels?  And every time Bridget brought up Pride and Prejudice I kind of tuned out.  I just didn’t understand why Bridget (or anyone, for that matter) got all swoony about Mr. Darcy.  I thought he was a huge jerk.  I didn’t understand why Lizzy Bennet married him.

I think I completed my Austen collection in college.  As much as I wanted to love Austen, I didn’t really like PersuasionNorthanger Abbey, or Mansfield Park.

Even though I didn’t love Pride and Prejudice, I wanted to see the movie adaptation starring Keira Knightley that came out in 2005.  I ended up waiting to Netflix it.  But that was it; I finally got it.  I understood that Mr. Darcy was, in fact, a swoon-worthy romantic hero.  I saw that Mr. Wickham was despicable.  I immediately pulled Mrs. Geesey’s old copy off the shelf and this time I loved it.  Once I understood the plot I was able to appreciate the book.

My success with Pride and Prejudice inspired me to re-read the rest of Austen.  That also went well.  From that point on I had no qualms about calling Jane Austen my favorite author.  I now read at least one Austen novel a year and I generally re-read all of them at least every three years.  In case you’re interested, if I were to list the six Austen novels from most to least favorite, it would look like this: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park.

I may be a Janeite, but I am not a member of JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America).  Not yet, anyway.  Nor am I a purist, the kind to get my knickers in a twist about, well, any number of things, really.  Purists derided the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, I love it.  I know there are some who are aghast at the horror mash-ups that started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  As soon as I heard about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies I wanted to get my hands on it.  And I loved it.  I was so impressed with the way zombies were seamlessly blended in to the source material.  I imagine there are those who dislike the ever-expanding array of sequels on the market, but I’ve read a bunch of them that I liked (from the obvious sequels like Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Death Comes to Pemberley to the novels about Janeites like Austenland and Jane Austen Ruined My Life).

Okay, I’m at almost 1,100 words, it’s time to stop.  (Now you see why I kept putting this off.)  And besides, I think you get the point.  I love Jane Austen and I will forever be grateful to Mrs. Geesey for giving me Pride and Prejudice instead of something else.

Until tomorrow.

Betsy Ray & Tacy Kelly

Yesterday I mentioned a (chapter) book series that meant so much to me that it would get its own post.  It was the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Someone gave me a beat up (which I always interpreted as loved), secondhand box set of the first six books in the series (Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Heaven to Betsy, and Betsy in Spite of Herself) when I was a kid and I still have them.  I’ve often wondered why the set didn’t include the last four books (Betsy Was a Junior, Betsy and Joe, Betsy and the Great World, and Betsy’s Wedding), but it didn’t.

Although they’re called Betsy-Tacy books, and Tacy is a key figure in all of them, it’s really Betsy’s story from the first word of the first page of the first book.  It’s a coming-of-age story, spread across 10 books, about a girl growing up in a small town in Minnesota at the turn of the 20th century.

I always felt a special connection to Betsy, from the gap between her front teeth (mine was eventually fixed through years of painful orthodontia) to her love of writing (though her goals were loftier than mine).  Unlike Betsy, however, I didn’t have a Joe Willard in high school.  And, special connection or not, I can’t really explain why I still go back and re-read the entire series every few years.

Like I said, I was only given the first six books in the series.  For years, those were the only books I could get my hands on.  It didn’t matter where I looked, I couldn’t find any of the last four books.  They weren’t in the Oxford Public Library, they weren’t in any stores (and I went to Borders a lot when I was in high school).  I once found a copy of Betsy and the Great World at a library in Wilmington, DE before one of my trips abroad in high school.  You can bet I took it on the trip with me, and rejoiced at having found one of the four books I’d been looking for for years, but I was also bummed to be reading it out of order.  (As I recall, none of the other three books was listed in the library’s catalog, or else I would’ve kept trying my luck there.)

All was not lost, however.  I eventually found the last four books in the series when I was in college (sophomore year, I think).  Unsurprisingly, I loved them too.  Someday I would like to get a matching set of all 10 books, but in the meantime I’ll keep my mis-matched set.  Actually, I’d also like to eventually give all 10 books to each of my little cousins (technically my first cousins once removed), but I’m afraid that it will be hard to find the books.  And there’s no way I’m giving up my beloved copies, no matter how cute my little cousins are.

So there you have it.  Unlike all of the books I mentioned yesterday (with the exception of Little Women, which I am overdue to re-read), the Betsy-Tacy books are the only books I read in elementary school that I was still reading in high school (and beyond).  The Betsy-Tacy books are definitely comfort food for me, though I don’t only reach for them when I am sick or stressed.  In fact, the last time I read any of them was last year when I had a random urge to read Betsy’s Wedding.  Good times.

Until tomorrow.

Chapter Books

Y’know, when I wrote Monday’s post my intention was to do at least a week straight of reading autobiography posts.  But then the conference call from hell happened and then it was Ash Wednesday and those seemed like more pressing blog post topics.  But I’m back on track today.  Hooray!

Today I’m going to talk about some of the chapter books that meant a lot to me when I was little.  I know I said this on Monday, but man, do you remember how big of a deal it was to read chapter books?  Chapter books were awesome because a) they were so much longer than the books you used to read and b) there were hardly any pictures – it was just page after page (and chapter of chapter) of words.  Just words.  And you could read them.  It was amazing.

Side note: Does anyone remember when they stopped referring to chapter books as “chapter books?”  I don’t (and not because I still use that phrase).

Some of the first chapter books I was really into were mysteries, especially Nancy Drew books.  I devoured every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on, from the original run to the new books “Carolyn Keene” kept on churning out in the 80s.  I used to have a couple of box sets of new Nancy Drew books that featured our heroine in totally rad 80s looks (complete with big hair).  I wish I still had those books.  Okay, per Wikipedia the box sets I had were actually of the spin-off The Nancy Drew Files because I definitely had the book pictured here.  But my very favorite Nancy Drew book was actually the second one, The Hidden Staircase.  Interestingly enough, I remember nothing about it now, but I know I read it more than once.  I should check it out from the library some time.

Those Nancy Drew Files box sets weren’t the only book box sets I got as a kid.  I had secondhand sets of all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (which I don’t have anymore) and another series that means so much to me that it will get its own post (unsurprisingly, I still have those books).

I wasn’t only a fan of series that were given to me in large chunks, though.  Nope, like every other girl I knew, I was a huge fan of The Baby-sitters Club.  I even had the movie on VHS. For the record, Mary Anne was my favorite member of the BSC.  I also read some Sweet Valley High books, but I was never that into them.

It’s funny, writing about The Baby-sitters Club movie reminded me that I received that movie and the 1994 Little Women for Christmas one year.  Little Women is another book that meant a lot to me growing up.  In fact, I loved all of Louisa May Alcott’s books about the March family: Little WomenLittle Men, and Jo’s Boys.  The 1994 movie also meant a lot to me growing up and not just because it made Christian Bale my favorite actor.  (He remains my favorite actor to this day.)

Okay, I think I’ve hit the high points (including some important books I’d completely forgotten about).  These were the books I was reading a lot in elementary school, with one exception.  But that exception is a subject for another day.

Until tomorrow.