Wrap Up: TBR Double Dog Dare

tbr-dare-2014To get straight to the point, I failed the TBR Double Dog Dare. I managed to avoid bringing home any books from the library (with the exception of those I needed for book club) for about six weeks. Yet, in mid-February, an opinion piece in the local paper referenced David Kirby’s Death at SeaWorld, which I then had to read, and in March I came down with such an awful cough and cold that all I wanted to read were graphic novels and memoirs. So I broke the dare and went to the library. Whoops.

Of the thirty-one books I read between January 1 and March 31, ten books were print copies from my physical to-read pile (nearly all of which found new homes via PaperBackSwap upon completion), nine were audiobooks on my iPod loaded back in 2014, and seven were from the library for book club meetings. The rest were from the library for the excuses explained above.

So, yeah, I failed the dare. But looking at the glass half-full — ten books off my shelves and nine off my iPod is great progress in culling down Mt. TBR! In that regard, the TBR  Double Dog Dare was a success. Plus, I have two more print novels and an audiobook in progress that will also help to create more space on my shelves for all the books I’ll buy or receive for my upcoming birthday.

If I can continue with finishing roughly three books in print a month for the rest of the year, I’ll only have seven books in my physical TBR pile left at year’s end. And, if I can’t keep that momentum going, hopefully James Reads Books will choose to host the dare again in 2016.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Fiction – audiobook. Read by Ariadne Meyers. 6 hours, 27 minutes. Library copy.

Seventeen-year-old Cadence is a Sinclair. This singular fact is the probably the most important aspect of Cadence’s life as it explains her privileged upbringing on a private island near Martha’s Vineyard, her mother’s constant admonishment for Cadence to “get it together”, and why Cadence, her teenaged cousins, and a family friend named Gat call themselves “the liars”.

Now, during “summer seventeen”, Cadence has returned to the island with no memory of “summer fifteen” when she went swimming alone resulting in an unspecified brain injury. No one knows why Cadence was swimming alone; no one will tell Cadence what happened during “summer fifteen”.

Her mother claims the doctors told her to stop telling Cadence about what happened because Cadence forgets it anyways and needs to remember on her own. And, besides, Cadence’s mother and aunts – Penny, Carrie, and Bess – are seemingly too busying fighting over who will inherit the fortune and all the things purchased with it that Cadence’s grandfather amassed to bother with Cadence, Gat, or her cousins, Johnny and Mirren.

The four teenagers, therefore, spend much of summer seventeen talking, drinking, and gossiping as much as Cadence’s memory loss and blinding migraines will allow. What the “liars” won’t do is tell Cadence what happened two years ago forcing her to work through her fractured and missing memories until she remembers.

At the very beginning of the novel, Cadence recounts the moment when her father left her mother and shot her in the driveway. It takes a moment to realize she means figuratively and not literally – a moment where my breath caught in shock – but this the great example of both Lockhart’s writing style and the unreliability of the narrator. People don’t cry; they melt into puddles.

I love this descriptive style of writing, and it was particularly enjoyable to experience in audiobook format as I imagined people doing the unimaginable before mentally rewinding and reimagining the scene in the “correct” way. The style and narrator were very reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle while the conflict between the sisters was, clearly, influenced by William Shakespeare’s King Lear.

And now this is where spoilers for this novel begin because I’ve read numerous reviews praising the ending of this novel and, I have to say, I wasn’t at all surprised by the conclusion. Nearly everyone in my book club was shocked to hear me say this asking when exactly I figured it all out.

Yet it wasn’t so much that I figured out exactly what Cadence, Gat, Johnny, and Mirren planned. More that I picked up almost immediately that Cadence is the only living member of “the liars” because she is the only one who talks to Gat, Johnny, or Mirren. And, while on the phone with a younger cousin, Cadence asks to speak to Mirren to which her cousin replies in a manner that suggests Mirren is one of the dead things people are always talking about. Yes, there is one moment where one of the aunts asks where Johnny is, but I figured it was because she was expecting to see him because she always saw he on the island in the summer and asked before she could remember.

This scene did bring up a really interesting conversation during my book club meeting about whether or not “the liars” are ghosts or hallucinations. (I fell into the hallucinations camp.) And then we ended up on another long conversation about the believability of fifteen-year-olds thinking it would be a good idea to start a fire on multiple floors, including the basement, which I think soured many people on the book. Personally, I liked the writing style but I found the ending unsurprising and uncovered questionable aspects of the plot that made me glad the novel was as short as it is.

A Day In the Life of the Ardent Reader

Day-in-the-Life-EventToday, Trish of Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting “A Day in the Life”, an event where bloggers are encouraged to document a typical weekday for them. I tend to think my life is pretty, well, boring, but Trish mentioned in her post for the event that she likes having these kinds of posts to look back on and remember how she used to do things. And who knows? Maybe in ten years, I’ll have a husband and/or kids and wonder what I could have possibly spent my time doing before them?

Below is a pretty typical day for me. I ended up having to mash together two attempts at tracking my day after going home sick halfway through one day and then forgetting to track until lunchtime on another. On the two days I supposed to rest from the Couch to 5K program, I’m usually at a meeting for one of my three book clubs or I’ll spend an hour talking to my parents on the phone.

6:36am: Without my glasses, I can’t read the numbers on my alarm clock so on mornings where I wake up before my alarm goes off, I end up reaching for my cell phone to check the time. I once read an article about how terrible checking your email first thing in the morning is — something about starting your day with stress and anxiety — but I’ve never been good at following this advice and lie in bed checking my email and other social media accounts for the next twenty minutes.

7:00am: Alarm sounds. I shuffle into the kitchen to pop a bagel in the toaster and turn on the electric tea kettle. Since I usually think about — if not pick out — my clothes the night before, it doesn’t take me very long to get dressed and I’m back in the kitchen right as the tea kettle shuts off. I prepare a to-go cup of loose leaf tea to take with me to the office.

7:15am: Second alarm sounds. Some mornings I’m not as prompt about getting out of bed when my first alarm sounds so I use the second one on my phone as a back up. I have to root around my bed to find my phone and end up making the bed in the process. Once I’m done, I head into the kitchen to eat my bagel and finish making my lunch for the day, usually while watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” so I can start the day off with some humor.

7:50am: I’m out the door and on my way to work. I’m fortunate enough to live within walking distance of working — so close, in fact, that it takes me about ten minutes, if I don’t time the lights properly.

8:00am: Yay, work! I usually spend the first hour catching up on emails, drafting a to-do list for the day, and greeting my coworkers as they come in. After that, I’m either working on projects alone at my desk or in meetings until lunch.

I work as a computer programmer and data analyst for a small software company. We work on projects around the world so I’m occasionally have to work on datasets (like the one at right) with variables that aren’t in a language I know.

11:30pm: Today’s lunch is homemade chicken curry and rice! I try to avoid going out for lunch as much as possible, and I eat pretty early in the day so I can (a) avoid lines in the break room for the microwave and (b) spend thirty to forty-five minutes of my lunch break getting some exercise. A couple laps around the mall near my office gets me to the halfway point (about 2.5 miles) of my mileage goal for the day.

12:30pm: Back to work. More meetings, more emails, and more independent work at my desk. Depending on the project I’m working on, I can usually listen to about four or five hours of an audiobook in a day. Right now, I’m listening to my book club’s selection for next week’s meeting, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

5:00pm: Leave work. It takes me about 15 minutes to get home because I stop to check my mailbox and pick up a package from the front desk. The package doesn’t hold anything special — a few household items and a cookbook I ordered from Amazon. I dump everything on the counter in my kitchen and head off to change into my workout clothes.

5:37pm: I’ve tried the Couch to 5K program several times before and never finished it, but lately I’ve taken to running along the river and enjoying the scenery. The path is pretty crowded — everyone in this town seems to be a runner — but I listen to my audiobook and try not to focus on how much faster and more suave of a runner everyone else is for the next thirty minutes.

6:15pm: I usually cook two or three meals in my cockpot on the weekends so dinner is just a matter of pulling something out of the fridge and heating it up. Tonight, I’m having chicken curry with rice and a side of pineapple. I tend to eat dinner in front of my computer while I check the day’s headlines, my RSS reader, and social media sites. When I’m done, I clean up my few dishes, unpack my lunchbox, and load the dishwasher.

6:50pm: One of the items on my wishlist for an apartment was a bathtub because I love unwinding after a long day with a bubble bath. Sometimes I’ll listen to an audiobook played via the iHome in my bedroom; sometimes I’ll soak and enjoy the silence. Tonight, I decided to enjoy a few more chapters of We Were Liars.

7:15pm: I start preparing for bed when I’m done with my bath because I’m twenty-three going on sixty. Taking out my contacts a few hours before I go to bed gives my eyes a break and seems to help me wind down in the evenings.

7:20pm: I settle in on the couch to watch an episode of “Scandal”. I can never stay up late enough to watch the show live on Thursdays, and I usually watch sometime in the following week. I contemplate watching last night’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” before deciding to head off to bed and read, instead.

8:37pm: I’m tucked into bed with a mug of (caffeine-free) tea and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon on my iPad. The second half of the television series based on this book airs beginning a week from tomorrow so I’m trying to finish the novel before then.

9:09pm: Lights out, glasses off, and I’m asleep in a matter of minutes. Seems early, no? It’s a running joke in my family that nine o’clock is my bedtime because I struggle to stay up past then and have since I was a little girl. I’m one of the people who works best with nine to ten hours of sleep a night.

Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson

DickinsonFiction — print. Borders, 2006. 212 pgs. Purchased.

Now acknowledged as one of the greatest American poets, Dickinson wrote over 1,100 poems and only six of those were published — without her permission, too — during her lifetime. This collection arranges over 100 of her poems into four categories — Life, Love, Nature, and Time and Eternity — and includes a longer poem known as The Single Hound.

I don’t consider myself a great fan of poetry, and I find it difficult to formulate and share my thoughts on collections of poems. This may be because I either feel unable to decipher the poet’s hidden message – a problem I blame on an education system that drilled into me that there is always a hidden meaning – or unconnected with the poem itself.

Occasionally, I will come across a poem that evokes such strong emotion or serves as inspiration to my own creative endeavors that I will doddle sections of the poem in my notebooks or share on social media. (Sandra Cisneros’ “One Last Poem for Richard” is a perfect example of this; I would love to own a scarf, a t-shirt, a mug, etc. with lines eighteen through twenty-one printed on it.) And I am so pleased I finally plucked this collection off my bookshelf and allowed myself to delve into Dickinson’s evocative poems with a large cup of tea in hand.

“Remorse is memory awake, her companies astir,–a presence of departed acts at window and at door. It’s past set down before the soul, and lighted with a match, perusal to facilitate of its condensed despatch. Remorse is cureless,–the disease not even God can heal; for ’tis his institution,– the complement of hell.” (pg. 25)

Based on the numerous sticky notes used to flag favorite poems, those poems in the “Life” and “Nature” sections of this collection captivated my attention best. Dickinson seems to possess both a skeptical and religious outlook towards life, and her poems focus on remorse, immortality, longing, and how nature is simultaneously subtle yet powerful.

The poem above was especially thought-provoking for me. This was not only the point where I set the collection aside and began doodling portions of it into the notebook I use for scratch paper, but where I began to feel the urge to pick up my camera, explore nature, and begin a period of self-reflection. And the poem below, which was included in the “Nature” section, shows how difficult it is to categorize her poems — the poem largely focuses on nature, but also speaks to love and the fracturing of relationships over time and eternity.

Surprisingly, I found the longer poem — first published in 1914 — did not evoke the emotions, imagery, and self-reflection as the other poems in this collection and, sadly, ended this collection on a rather mediocre note.

“A murmur in the trees to note, not loud enough for wind; a star not far enough to seek, nor near enough to find; a long, long yellow on the law, a hubbub as of feet; not audible, as ours to us, but dapperer, more sweet; a hurrying home of little men to houses unperceived,–ass this, and more, if I should tell, would never be believed. Of robins in the trundle bed how many I espy whose nightgowns could not hide the wings, although I heard them try! But then I promised ne’er to tell; how could I break my word? So go your way and I’ll go mine,–no fear you’ll miss the road.” (pg. 75)

I have heard, repeatedly, that Dickinson utilized capitalization and punctuation at whim; she was particularly liberal with her use of dashes. Unfortunately, this collection does not seem to persevere this aspect of her poetry. A cursory glance at poems published in this collection yet available from academic sources online suggest the editor or compiler substituted her dashes with commas and semicolons. While this may have assisted in the readability and flow of her poetry, I wish her peculiar style would have been maintained.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

His Own Man by Edgard Telles Ribeiro

Fiction — print. Translated from the Portuguese by Kim M. Hastings. Other Press, 2014. 341 pgs. Purchased.

“Writing a country’s history may be difficult, but tracing a man’s story presents its own challenges. For a country, there is a vast array of information in the form of books and treaties, maps and images, leaders, legends, and archives. But a man? What kind of history does he have? Where would his secret maps be found? Or his boundaries? What might be hidden beneath his façade or detected in his page should he give in to temptation and study himself in the mirror one night?” (pg. 1)

And so begins Riberio’s novel featuring an unnamed narrator (whose initial, N, is revealed at the end of the novel) fascinated by the personal history of a member of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry named Marcílio Amsrade Xavier. Rechristened Max by his American ex-wife,  the diplomatic attache appears to hold himself to same ideals of democracy as the narrator only to unexpectedly align himself with the military officers who carry out a coup in 1964.

“But for me, fear had a shape, which at times seemed so dense as to be almost tangible. Like a thick fog, the kind that leaves us feeling clammy and makes our clothes cling to our bodies.” (pg. 81)

N seems to idolize Max from their first meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 1968 as both men work for the Foreign Ministry and share similar interests in philosophy and literature. While the rest of the country is plunged into darkness and choked by fear of persecution, N struggles to find a position after the regime change and Max manages to scale his way to the upper echelon of the Foreign Ministry earning himself prominent positions in Uruguay and Chile.

During this time period, the military regime Max represents is working in collusion with the American CIA and the British MI6 to prevent communism from spreading to the countries of South America from Cuba. Both Uruguay and Chile experience military coup during Max’s tenure as a diplomat, and N becomes obsessed with the idea that Max’s presence in these countries was influential in toppling Uruguay and Chile’s previous, leftest regimes.

Decades later, N’s obsession with Max’s activities in the 1960s and 1970s compels him to conduct a series of interviews with those around Max during this time period – Max’s ex-wife who remains estranged from the couple’s two children in 2003, a Brazilian colonel who worked closely with Max, and a retired CIA agent living in La Jolla, California who explains how and why the United States was willing to work with the shady character they codenamed “Samuel Beckett”.

Ribeiro’s novel was originally published in Portuguese five years ago and has the distinction of being one the  of the most superbly translated novels I have stumbled across. The author’s descriptions of human action are evocatively and beautifully rendered, and I am so pleased that Kim. M Hastings was able to preserve this aspect of the novel. I found myself reading a sentence, pausing, and then reading it once more in order to savor the turn of phrase and the intricacies of Riberio’s writing.

South America is, sadly, a region I rarely visit via books, and Riberio’s novel is centered on both a region and a piece of history I am not all too familiar with. Of course, the Americans and the British are complicit, if not active, in the brutal torture of millions of people denying people the ability to participate in their own governments due to their fear of communism and their preference for controllable, mailable regimes. But the novel also focuses on the influence Brazil has on its neighbors, on the conflict between serving the interests of the individual and the collective as experienced by members of the Foreign Service. (Riberio is a career diplomat turned writer from Brazil.)

That said, I found myself reading the novel in fits and spurts setting it aside after a few pages because I either needed more time to process the story or found my imagination and attention failed to be captured. The narrator is telling us a story and maybe it’s not the story, but I never felt compelled or, better yet, unconvinced by N’s story. Riberio’s writing makes a compelling case for picking up another one of his novels, but I find myself hoping this one is not the cream of the crop so I might find one to fall in love with rather than pass along to a friend with muddled feelings.