Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Summer I Spent with Jane Austen by Tamara of Traveling with T

Today we welcome Tamara of Traveling with T!  Austen is one of my fave authors so this post thrilled me!


A couple of years ago, I confessed a huge #literaryconfession: I had never read a book by Jane Austen. Oh, I knew the basic plot line of Pride and Prejudice (having watched bits and pieces of the various movie adaptations) and I knew Mr. Darcy’s classic lines. But, the actual sitting down and holding the book in my hand, I did not know.

Cue Twitter: I virtually met this great group of people on Twitter who were HUGE Jane Austen fans. The more I talked to them, the more they encouraged me to give Jane a chance (but they were totally not judge-y of the fact that I had not read ole Jane). So, finally- I sat down and pulled up Jane’s Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle and began to read. And read. And read some more.

At one point, in the book, I believe I hollered out “Jane, ole Jane, did you not have an editor? Did someone not think that removing some of these pages would be a good idea?” (I’ll pause while you get your smelling salts). I considered sitting the book down several times. I may have even muttered sentences such as “This is why I don’t read classics. It takes me too long to get into the flow of the language.” At less than 300 pages, I figured it would not take me that long to read ( I read 300 page books ALL THE TIME!) But the language, gee good golly, the language- I just wasn’t taken with it.

Until I was.

I finally get to the part of the book where Darcy proposes to Elizabeth- and from then on, I’m loving it. I’m interested. I want to know what happens next.

By August, I had finished Pride and Prejudice (not reading all the time- I did set the book aside several times to pick up other books that were tempting me with their luscious covers) and I began to think about Jane and all that she was saying in Pride and Prejudice. And, truly, how universal the themes of Pride and Prejudice are- love, secrets, betrayal, and family.


In the end, even as I bemoaned Jane and the so flowery language of her time- I was a better person for sticking with the book and spending my summer with Jane. 



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featuring: Eric of Frodo's Blog of Randomness

Today please welcome Eric, who blogs at Frodo's Blog of Randomness.

What's the meaning behind the name of your book blog?
I've been a fan of Lord of the Rings since I was little, back when the movies were still coming out in theaters. I joined a LotR chat and used frodoscompanion as my handle, and when people there shortened it to frodosco it stuck, so that's been my nickname for over a decade. I figured Frodo would be easier to remember.


How long have you been blogging?
I've been blogging since September 2012.


Tell us a bit about your book blog. What makes it unique?
What I believe makes it unique is a few features that I came up with, my own brand of humor, but mostly that I review any and all genres and age ranges of books.


What genres do you write about most, and why?
Well, I write most about all genres that are within the YA age range, but specifically contemporary, fantasy, dystopian, and horror. I feel like Young Adult authors speak to me in a way that Adult ones never have, and it hasn't mattered what genre specifically, because (generally) their tone and characters are easy to connect with.


Every blogger feels pressure at some point. What's something you feel pressured to do or not do on your blog? How do you deal with it?
For a while I was able to afford to buy most of the new releases that interested me, but I did feel pressured to quickly read and review them so that the posts would be as relevant as possible. However, that is no longer the case, so the pressure is off, unless I receive ARCs, but I'm always happy to review those in whatever window is best for the author.


Writing in books: Yes or hell to the no?
I don't personally write in books, and I wouldn't be happy with anyone doing so if I gave them one to borrow, but I don't cringe when I hear people say they do. The only time I write in books is if they are textbooks, and even that is sparingly.


What's your favorite place to read or blog?
As lame as it might sound, my bed is my spot to do both. I don't really have a standard desk, or anything nearing a professional setup, but I do have my laptops and that makes it easy to blog or read via Kindle. My books are always nearby for easy grabbing, or just gazing longingly at the adventures I have yet to experience.


Is Amazon.com the evil empire? Discuss.
Amazon isn't anything close to evil. They are a very successful business that has used it's higher success areas to branch out as much as possible, and I don't think anyone should find fault in that. Do I want them to have a monopoly on what books are sold? No, I don't. However, that is up to other companies and stores, to provide an experience or environment that makes customers willing to spend there, and often times, spend more.


Do you judge a book by its cover, or its lover?
I try not to judge a book by anything but the words on the pages, but I do know that I haven't bought certain ones because of how bad the cover was. If I can't bear to have it on my shelves, I'm certainly not going to buy it. If it is one I was really interested in, though, I'll get it as an eBook and skip that first page.


One book you like that no one else seems to, or vice versa?
Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, and I was not a fan at all.


To DNF or not to DNF?
To DNF sparingly is my best answer. I'll give a book a minimum of 100 pages (longer if the book is quite lengthy) and if I can't stand it then I won't read any more. I know authors put an incredible amount of time and effort into their work, and I want to give them a chance, but there has to be a point where I draw the line, and 100 pages is it for me.


How about non-book related hobbies? What do you do when you don't feel like reading?
I have too many hobbies it would seem. I'm really into sports so a lot of my time is devoted to that, plus I blog about that too so I'm writing quite a bit. Video games are another hobby of mine, both playing and watching, and I have a YouTube channel devoted to that. I like to dabble in a lot of things, so I stay busy, but it always comes back to books.


What's your favorite book to movie adaptation?
My favorite has to be Lord of the Rings, they did an amazing job with those movies, and I couldn't have asked for more. My least favorite is easily Eragon, from the Inheritance series, that was one of the worst movies I've seen in general, and it didn't stay true to the books whatsoever.


What are 3 favorite posts or reviews you've read by other book bloggers?
"Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen" @ Fiction Freak
"Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge: Requesting ARCs" @ Doing Dewey
"How Well Do You Market Yourself & Your Blog?" @ Nose Graze


What is your reading personality? (via quiz at http://www.bookbrowse.com/quiz/)
The Involved Eclectic


Thank you for joining us today, Eric!
Remember to check out Eric's blog, Frodo's Blog of Randomness, and leave a comment or question For Eric below!!

Monday, July 21, 2014

History, Novels, and the Historical Novel by Rachel of Bookishly Witty

Today please welcome Rachel of the blog Bookishly Witty!  Rachel is going to attempt to get you to read an author most frown at the thought of reading.  She just might succeed!  Check it out:


Guess the following author:

He was a successful poet before embarking on a sweeping literary project that spanned many volumes. He drew on such sources as Shakespeare's plays and medieval and Renaissance verse and romance for inspiration and insight. And he changed the way we think about "The Novel" forever.

That's right, I'm talking about Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Now, whenever I mention this name, there's bound to be someone within earshot who rolls the eyes and sighs "booooooooooring," or looks confused and says, "hrnhh?" And to be honest, both of these reactions pain me, pain me deeply. For Scott didn't just write a few books about Scotland, based on some old tales and historical scraps. No indeed. He gave us a detailed, imaginative chronicle of a people that transcends time and space. In the characters of the Waverley novels, we see those fears and desires that drive people around the world to reach back into the past for a sense of community, which tends to get lost in the chaos of swift technological and social change, especially in the 19th century. And it is for these (and many more) reasons that Scott had such a profound influence on such writers as Leo Tolstoy and George Eliot.

But what, after all, is historical fiction? At first glance, it is simply the blending of historical events and fictional narrative. Since no one can really know what a former time-period was like, though, we must guess at the thoughts and feelings of historical figures, from queens and innkeepers to lawyers and artists. When a writer chooses, for instance, to write a story about a past event or person, they must decide how much liberty to take with the subject matter. After all, inhabiting a famous person's brain and making them say things of which there's no record takes courage and imagination.

We see this in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (1999), in which such towering historical figures as Alan Turing and Douglas MacArthur are made to speak and interact with fictional characters, all in the service of Stephenson's story about encryption and codes during WWII and our own time. Ultimately, writers like Stephenson, James Michener, Geraldine Brooks, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others ask us to acknowledge that, no matter how objective-sounding and fact-filled a history textbook might be, it can never truly express all facets of life during a time-period far removed from our own. We might learn who fought in which battle, but only the historical novel can take us into the minds of specific soldiers or enable us to feel like participants in a certain historical moment.

But back to good ol' Walter Scott. How did I become so interested in him? Well, we were assigned Ivanhoe in middle school, and I read it without understanding much of it, but it stayed with me. I tried again in high school, and enjoyed the frank, energetic prose that marks Scott's style. I was also intrigued by the fact that Scott dealt with such issues as the plight of Jews in 12th-century England in a work otherwise focused on the monarchy and shifting political allegiances. And then...while at my in-laws' house several years ago, I noticed a beautiful collected edition of Scott's works (over 40 volumes)- you know, the kind that was published a century or so ago, with delicate pen-and-ink illustrations sprinkled throughout. I guess my jaw was kind of scraping the ground, because my in-laws wound up giving me the entire collection when they were doing some spring cleaning. They knew I would read it, and it would have a home amongst my hundreds of other well-loved and cherished books. And they were right.

   

Scott's tales of Highlanders, doomed lovers, and monarchs set within their specific historical contexts (and with appropriate dialect) have provided a powerful blueprint for how a historical novel might be crafted. His Bride of Lammermoor was even turned into an opera, which in turn was worked into various late-19th-century American novels interested in questions of class, culture, and art. Scott's extensive knowledge of literary forms, classic texts, and the history of his own people inspired him to launch a new kind of novel. So, off you go- grab yourself a copy of a Scott novel, if you've never read him before. And enjoy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Falling Hard for Thomas Hardy One Overly Tragic & Dramatic Page at a Time by Becky of One Literature Nut



Becky R. from One Literature Nut is here today to explain why she gives much literary love to Thomas Hardy.  She makes an excellent case.  Excuse me while I run out to grab some Hardy novels...


Some authors are, plain and simple, rock stars of the writing world to their readers—and for me, one of the greatest classical writers in that rock star pantheon would be the rock star, Thomas Hardy.  Often mentioned among other classical writers that came before him, Thomas Hardy is considered a later 19th Century writer; however, his writing stands solidly with classical authors like Dickens, Bronte, Shelley, and Austen as the British “canon”.

As an English major, I had to read The Mayor of Casterbridge during my 3rd year of college.  I can’t say that it particularly stood out to me, nor that my teacher highlighted anything in particular about the author Thomas Hardy, although I do remember thinking, “Wow, this book is messed up,” as you are often prone to do with a Hardy novel.  When that happens, I wonder why I don’t ask more about the author.

The truth is, it wasn’t until about seven years ago, as I was just coming out of graduate school with an MA in English, that I was getting ready to teach an AP English Literature & Composition course online and being asked to teach Tess of the D’Urbervilles that I REALLY fell hard for Thomas Hardy.  I sat down with the novel, started reading in earnest, and literally couldn’t stop.  Who was this Tess girl, and why in the world did everything bad happen to her?!?  What was up with every man in the book being deceptive and full of crap?  Why did society not understand the trap they put around women at that time?  Oh, and WHO is this author who could be so forward in his writing to create a character and ideals so completely ahead of their time?  (Granted, I had focused more on contemporary authors in my own graduate work, but damn was this author good!) In short, I flipped to the front of the book and read about Thomas Hardy, and then stopped and read everything I could about the man who wrote that book!  I learned that Tess was his favorite character he ever created, and that in writing her, he pictured her the “Pure Woman” of the secondary title he gave that novel.  His aim in writing that novel was not merely to write a story, but it was to create a long-lasting social commentary that spans into today.  I challenge any reader to dive into that novel and not see haunting critiques of our own values echoed in its pages.

In essence, Thomas Hardy has fascinated me ever since I read, devoured, loved, and taught Tess of the D’Urbervilles, now over 5 times.  Because of that love of Tess, I’ve gone on to read Jude the Obscure, Far From the Madding Crowd, and purchased and read a large number of his nearly 900 poems.   Although an established writer of his day, Thomas Hardy was not exempt from extreme criticism and scrutiny.  His novels severely criticized the law, the church, and the basic ideals of society—sex and the family.  All of his main characters try to be upstanding people, but are often driven by something bigger than themselves, whether that is love or duty.  And Hardy, as a naturalist writer on the cusp of the Modern era, his writing tended to be stark and full of tragedy.  (I get it.  Sometimes today, we don’t like to read about forests, but stick with it!  That forest might foreshadow something that’s going to happen to the character!)  Mix the two together and—BOOM!  You have all the trappings of a perfect dramatic story.

I’ve always said that if you want to read something that reads like a soap opera, but is a classical novel that is in your face, filled with forward-thinking modern social issues, then Thomas Hardy is the perfect author to get lost in.  His novels have been made into amazing films, and in May of 2015, Far From the Madding Crowd will be coming out with Carey Mulligan as the starring role. 

Truth be told, Hardy is not for the weak of heart.  If you’re not ready for his message, then his novels will feel boring and dry.  However, if you understand the direction he’s headed and the critique(s) he’s making, the power of each line and story can be completely overwhelming.  Dig deep with Hardy, and his novels and poetry continue to have much to give to contemporary readers who are there to listen and understand.   In simple terms, he rocks hard!  He writes women like no ones business, and characters so flawed that our minds are reeling for days.  In my estimation, no one compares to Thomas Hardy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Listening to Classics with Chris from Chrisbookarama

Hello Book Bloggers International readers! This is Chris from Chrisbookarama guest posting today about classic books, in particular audio books.
If you already enjoy listening to audio books, you know how convenient they are. You can listen while you drive, jog, clean or whatever. Your hands and your eyes are free to do what you need them to do, but you still get the joy of reading- with your ears.
Listening to audio books is a great way to introduce yourself, if you haven’t already, to some of the greatest books ever written. It’s also a way to tackle some of the more difficult classics you’ve may want to read. For example, I am not a fan of Henry James’s writing style; I cannot pay attention to his run on sentences, but I listened to the audio version of The Turn of the Screw and I actually liked it.
So where do you find classic audio books? There are some excellent resources for free audio content. Yes, FREE!
(Note: I listen to audio books on my Apple device. All app examples will refer to the ipod version.)
LibriVox: LibriVox recordings are narrated by volunteers. All are in the public domain. There are thousands of free books available, from the most popular to the obscure. The recordings can be downloaded onto a computer, a device, or burned onto a CD. LibriVox is powered by volunteer readers, who themselves choose what they record. As a result, you will find a variety of accents, and reading quality. Some readers are better than others. The volunteers could be regular people like you or me, or sometimes actors practicing their craft. One of my favorite narrators is Elizabeth Klett who recorded the book Lady Audley’s Secret.
Because of the volunteer nature of the program, recording quality also varies. Sound quality of recordings can be very good to fair. Often there is background noise (sirens, doors slamming, cats meowing), but this usually doesn’t bother me. One of my pet peeves, however, is a switch of narrators partway through the book. I try to check first if whether or not the book was a solo recording. This information is available on the website.
Audiobooks App iTunes or Google Play: The Audiobooks App includes the LibriVox catalogue of books. This is how I prefer to listen to LibriVox recordings. The free version of the app has ads but they’re just banner ads. The Premium version is 99cents. Audiobooks also offers a Plus version of some of the books. These are a selection of the best LibriVox recordings and have been edited. It’s 99 cents per book or $7.99 for all 263. Also available are Professional Audiobooks, these vary in price.
Each audio book in the library includes a cover and a brief description. The description often doesn’t include whether the book is a solo or multiple narrator recording. I usually check out the LibriVox website before downloading if that information is missing. There is a Sample option available, so you can check out the narration before you download the files. The app has several ways to search for books including duration and narrator.
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Lit2Go Lit2Go is a project of the University of Florida funded by grants. Lit2Go purpose is to provide professional quality audio books for K-12 classrooms. The books available are the sort taught in the American school system. While originally meant for students, the books are available to all through the Lit2Go website or iTunesU for free.
Sidenote: If you own an Apple device and haven’t checked out iTunesU, you really should. There are a multitude of university courses available for free (some have to be purchased). One course that caught my eye is Zombies! The Living Dead in Literature. I’m going to have to check that one out.
I’ve listened to a couple of Lit2Go books, including The Count of Monte Cristo. If I decide to read Moby Dick this summer, I’ll use Lit2Go.
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For more ways to listen to free classic audio books try Books Should Be Free (available as podcasts on iTunes too) or your local library. My library uses OverDrive and has many audio books (in wma and mp3 formats) available that can be downloaded from home. Contact your library for more information.
Thanks for reading! I hope this post has been helpful. Happy listening!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What Makes a Classic a Classic?

July is Classics & Historical Fiction Month here at BBI!   I want to start off the month with talking about the age old question - What makes a classic a classic anyway?

Defining what makes a novel a classic is a subject a bit debatable.  How far back do you need to go in time?  Does it matter how many people have read it?  How do you measure the breadth/scope of a classic?  And how do we move past the old cliche "It stands the test of time"?

Some of the classics in my house.

A classic says something about the human condition
These novels touch something deep and almost basic inside the reader - themes of grief, mortality, prejudice, guilt, shame, love, hope, fear, longing, a need for connection.  They claw raw emotional responses from us and leave us changed for the reading of it.  

Think of the emotional response you immediately get from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee or The Diary of Anne Frank.  Sometimes the emotional response sneaks up on you like it does in 1984 by George Orwell or Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier.  However they do it, and with whatever emotions they employ, by the end, you are left hollow from all you've just experienced.



A classic is open to modern interpretations
Whether you sat through Shakespeare's Othello in the early 17th century or you are reading it today in 2014, you are making a real-life connection to it.  It's plot and themes (if not it's language) is as applicable to readers today as it was when it was first written four centuries ago.  

You can share your tattered copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger or Persuasion by Jane Austen or Dickens' Oliver Twist with your children or grandchildren or students and find they may love it as much as you did when you read it.  Each subsequent generation can relate to a lost, rebellious soul like Holden Caulfield (even if they don't like him) or to the orphan Oliver who endures the hypocrisy of adults.  What woman can't identify with Anne Elliott, who falls in love with a man deemed "not suitable" because of an arbitrary status?  These situations still occur today and can be understood by new generations of readers.


A classic is universally relatable
It doesn't matter if you are a 90-year-old grandmother from Sicily or a 25-year-old man in finance from Indianapolis, you will be able to get something out of most of the classics that you read.  Chances are you will find common ground in the pages of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  

Classics translate across not only generations, but political lines, geographical lines, racial lines, gender lines, economic lines.  I feel as much affinity for Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart as I do for Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Maybe you love The Brothers Karamazov as you do for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  If a book can be both universal AND relatable (which denotes specificity), it is destined to become a classic in literature.  


What do you think constitutes a classic novel?
What are some of your favorite classics?
Share in the comments!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Burned Out On Blogging?

closed laptop
Today please welcome Jessica Tripler, who blogs at Read React Review. Jessica has a very successful romance blog, which she revitalized after taking a break from blogging. Today she's here to talk about her experiences during her blogging break and to offer some advice for when you start to feel burned out on blogging.

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In August 2008, I started my first blog, Racy Romance Reviews. I was at a point in my life where I actually had time to read for pleasure, and I had just discovered romance novels. When I first started blogging, I alternated reviews with more thematic posts about romance fiction. Pretty soon, I started feeling restricted by the blog name. In February 2010, I changed it to Read React Review, so I could feel less guilty about the non-romance posts. That same year, I moved my site from a free platform, Wordpress.com, to non-free Wordpress.org, and hired a web designer for a new look. I told friends and coworkers about my blog, and stopped trying to be even semi-anonymous. I got business cards and attended my first book conference, RomCon in Denver, CO.  In May 2012, I attended Book Expo America with a press pass. But somewhere along the line, I stopped having fun. I struggled to post all through the summer of 2012, feeling dissatisfied with everything I wrote. Then, in September 2012, fours years after I started blogging, I put Read React Review on a hiatus.

It’s hard to communicate how strong my negative feelings were for RRR when I quit. I don’t really understand it well even now. In January of 2012, I had published a post on Fifty Shades of Grey that was (like anything anyone posted about that series) hugely popular. It is still the post that won’t die. I would look at my stats and see a high level of traffic, but most of it was coming from search engines, and visitors hit that one page and bounced away. Also, I had all of these ARCs, constant emails from publishers, multiple commitments I shouldn’t have made, and the whole thing just felt 100% unfun. The constant hype from authors, publishers and yes, even other bloggers, felt deafening.

But even when I didn’t want to blog, I missed blogging. So in February 2013, I started The Hypeless Romantic, because I still wanted to talk about books. At the same time, I also reached out to Natalie Luhrs at The Radish, because she was doing some really interesting things with politicized critiques of SFF and romance, and she gracefully allowed me to write a few guest posts.

Finally, in September 2013, I moved Read React Review to Wordpress.com, redirected The Hypeless Romantic posts to it, and have been happy ever since.  So, I ended up taking a year hiatus my main blog. During that year, I posted about once a month, but I wasn’t paying for self-hosting, so it didn’t bother me.

I think the time away and the journey through other blogs was really, really good for me.  Much like travel in real life, being away from home helped me return to it with fresh eyes. Here are a few things I learned during my hiatus:

1. You do not need a reason or an excuse to take a break from blogging. If it isn’t meeting whatever need you hope it will meet, take a break. I had a few ARCs I wasn’t going to be able to review. Nobody cared.

2. Leave things open ended.  Nothing is worse than a bridge-burning declaration to have to address if you want to start things up again.

3. Do not, under any circumstances, delete your blog. Close comments, take it off your bookmarks, and for God’s sake if you had a Google alert deactivate it. Set it to private if you must. But leave it there. Your blog may not seem consequential to you, but it is part of a complex network that includes other people’s memories, experiences, conversations, and, less esoterically, links. To delete it creates a tear in the history and meaning of that network.

4. Few of your regular readers will leave your blog even if you take a long hiatus. You won’t be forgotten, especially if you still read and comment on other blogs, Twitter, or wherever you feel like hanging out.

5. Listen to your inner voice. Just because everyone else is doing it one way doesn’t mean that way is right for you. I can enjoy contests, author interviews, cover reveals, listicles, GIF-posts, podcasts, and vlogs, but I don’t have to do them myself.

6. Consider guest posting. Writing for a new audience can help you see yourself in a new way. I started writing for Book Riot this year, and I really enjoy the challenge of writing short and writing for a large and diverse audience. Working in the company of so many other contributors helped me to see how lonely solo blogging can be, and so today I’m not hard on myself if I don’t post a lot, or get into controversial topics as much as I once did.

7. Don’t think of “not blogging” in totally negative terms. While you are “not blogging” you are probably doing a lot of positive things. On my hiatus, I personally spent time focusing on a different kind of writing (my academic writing). You can think of it as a time to re-learn how to read for fun, without feeling the need to highlight or find great quotes. You can think of it as re-charging your creative batteries. The massive amounts of energy that went to blogging are still there, just redirected in some other way.

8. Don’t feel you have to pick up where you left off. Personally, I became sick unto death of the review format. I don’t like writing them, and to be honest I hardly read them. So what? I’ve found new ways to engage with books that work for me. I had a few regular features that I no longer do. And I post less frequently now. Again, nobody minds (are you sensing a theme here?).


Taking a break from regular blogging helped me to rediscover the joys of blogging and to brush off the small stuff. I feel satisfied with my current blogging goal, which is just to share my thoughts about books and communicate with a small number of like-minded readers. After a year of wandering the internet, I came back to my own doorstep, and I’m happier blogging now than I have ever been. Feel like you need a blogging break? I highly recommend you take one.




Thank you for joining us today, Jessica! Remember to check out Jessica's blog, Read React Review, and leave a comment or question.