The First 200 Pages of The Count of Monte Cristo

I’m doing it, friends! I’m finally reading this book!

And it’s terrific.

I’ll be posting informal reading updates every 200 pages or so. These are not going to be in-depth lit-crit examinations of the book but more like a reader’s journal. Reading about 100 pages a week works for me, allowing me to continue reading other books and making progress on my other reading goals. I’m pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and easy to read this is. I don’t know what I expected, but I suppose I thought it would be harder going than it has been so far. Where do we get these notions of “classic” novels, that they should somehow be like work?

9780141392462Anyway, the book. Do you guys know how the plot gets rolling? There’s this young sailor, Dantès, who’s virtuous and upstanding, well-liked by his men. He’s about to be married to his true love, the beautiful Mercédès.  He does an errand for his dying Captain, delivering a letter to Elba, where the deposed Napoleon is exiled. Upon his return, and about the become Captain of the ship, he is accused of treason for his errand. How did this devastating turn of events come to pass? Three men, jealous of Dantès for different reasons – Danglars, Caderousse, and Fernand – have conspired to frame him.

The villains are villainous, although I suspect one of them may have a change of heart at some point. One of them I absolutely hate. (Guess which one?) Mercédès is pretty much a non-entity at this point; I get nothing from her except she’s awfully blind to Fernand’s true nature. Dantès’s father is a heartbreaking case.  The injustice of the whole thing propels the plot along. I want to keep turning the pages because I want Dantès to get his revenge! And I know it’s coming, but as I have 1200 more pages to go, probably not for a while. 🙂

Then there’s the whole Villefort/Noirtier side plot, the thing that takes the accusations of the three conspirators to the next level and gets Dantès imprisoned. I’m not sure what to make of Villefort yet  – he’s selfish and conniving – but the meeting with his father was certainly a dramatic moment.

I LOVE that Dantès has found a pal in prison! And they’re doing all sorts of fun prison break stuff together! The Abbé is practically MacGyver (do people remember that show?) He’s made pens out of fish bones, paper out of hankerchiefs, and ink out of soot and blood.

“There is one thing puzzles me still,” observed Dantès, “and that is how you managed to do all this by daylight?”

“I worked at night also,” replied Faria.

“Night! – why, for Heaven’s sake, are your eyes like a cat’s , that you can see to work in the dark?”

“Indeed they are not; but a beneficent Creator has supplied man with ability and intelligent to supply the want of the power you allude to. I furnished myself with a light quite as good as that possessed by the cat.”

“You did? – Pray tell me how?”

“I separated the fat from the meat served to me, melted it, and made a most capital oil; here is my lamp.” So saying, the abbe exhibited a sort of vessel very similar to those employed upon the occasion of public illuminations.

“But how do you procure a light?”

“Oh, here are two flints, and a morsel of burnt linen.”

“And your matches?”

“Were easily prepared, – I feigned a disorder of the skin, and asked for a little sulphur, which was readily supplied.”

I love how nonchalant the Abbé is about the whole thing.

81lq9cbf+sl._sy445_Are there classic novels you’ve put off reading for one reason or another? What’s been stopping you from getting to them? Is the movie version of this book any good? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

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Thoughts on Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (#CCSpin #19)

And the darkness of John’s sin was like the darkness of the church on Saturday evenings; like the silence of the church when he was there alone, sweeping, and running water into the great bucket, and overturning chairs, long before the saints arrived. It was like his thoughts as he moved about the tabernacle in which his life had been spent; the tabernacle that he hated, yet loved and feared.

510dFZyJmyL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I feel like I got way with something by reading Go Tell It on the Mountain for the latest Classics Club Spin. We were supposed to be reading one of the longer books on our lists, but I only put ten “big books” on mine, and the spin result happened to be Baldwin’s 1953 first novel. The one I borrowed from the library clocked in at 291 pages. Oh well. Those big books are still waiting for me.

This is a challenging books to write about. It’s a family story and a coming of age story. Goodreads says it’s semi-autobiographical and my copy’s jacket flap quotes Baldwin himself as saying, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” I’ve now read three of Baldwin’s books, and I’ve seen the exquisite documentary about him, I Am Not your Negro, but I do want to read a biography about him or at least do some more research into this life.

Not only is this book challenging to describe but it was challenging to read as well, because I felt so bad for the main character, the young teenager John. His family lives in 1930’s era New York City, and his cold and critical father Gabriel is an associate pastor of a very Evangelical type of church. His world seems pretty sheltered and restricted, and you can feel John wanting to break free and explore the variety of experience that New York offers.

He stood on the crest of the hill, hands clasped beneath his chin, looking down. Then he, John, felt like a giant who might crumble this city with his anger; he felt like a tyrant who might crush this city beneath his heel; he felt like a long-awaited conqueror at whose feet flowers would be strewn, and before whom multitudes cried, Hosanna! He would be, of all, the mightiest, the most beloved, the Lord’s anointed; and he would live in this shining city which his ancestors had seen with longing from far way. For it was his; the inhabitants of the city had told him it was his; he had but to run down, crying, and the would take him to their hearts and show him wonders his eyes had never seen. 

Gabriel and John do not get along, and we come to find out that John is Gabriel’s wife Elizabeth’s son by another man. Gabriel becomes a bit more humanized and sympathetic as we delve into flashbacks of his story, and we come to understand in flashbacks how and why Elizabeth married him as well. The last section of the book is John’s feverish, nightmarish religious experience (salvation? conversion?) with an ambiguous ending.

Did I enjoy this book? Enjoy is not exactly the word – it was a surprisingly page-turning read. Some parts were more engaging than others, especially the back stories of John’s aunt Florence and mother Elizabeth. But I gave it four stars because of the beauty and precision of the language and the challenging spiritual imagery.

Time was indifferent, like snow and ice; but the heart, crazed wanderer in the driving waste, carried the curse forever.

Have you read this? If you’ve read Baldwin before, what is your favorite of his books? Are you interested in seeing the new film If Beale Street Could Talk (based on Baldwin’s 1974 novel?)

 

 

Totally Achievable Reading Goals for 2019

I was really excited to formulate my reading goals for the year. You all may know that I am a reader and blogger who dislikes sticking to lists and needs a lot of freedom in my book choices and in my blogging life. So I don’t make formal monthly TBRs because I know that just doesn’t work for me. But the goals I am aiming to achieve this year are so viable and doable – I am already getting started on them!

Goal #1: Read more books from the New Books shelf at work. I work in a small public library branch (actually, I just got a promotion, more about that later!) My regular patrons are always asking me, as they stand in front of the New Books shelf, “What have you read lately that’s good?” And of course, I immediately blank out and have to scrounge for titles. This is partly because I read so many backlist titles and also because my reading tastes don’t exactly line up with the tastes of many of my patrons. To that end, I am committing to reading at least 6 books from that range of shelving – and to trying some genres that I normally don’t read, like Inspirational (Christian) fiction, Romance, and gentle “Women’s” Fiction. (I don’t really like that genre title, and I don’t know if it’s a valid designation, but it seems to fit a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience that makes up a large portion of my regular patrons who need recommendations. Maybe I should call it “fiction centered on women characters.” That’s kind of wordy. Anyway, you get my gist.)

41tj7urm1sl._sx323_bo1,204,203,200_Goal #2: Read The Count of Monte Cristo – finally! So I’ve already started on this one! I’m at page 100 of this 1400+ page behemoth. And guys, I’m really enjoying it! It’s so readable. My way of reading this while also reading other things is to read 100 pages a week. I’ll knock it out in a few months, and I’ll write some reader’s journal-like impressions of each section I complete.

Goal #3: Read more poetry. Last year I started off dabbling in some poetry, but I didn’t finish a whole collection the entire year. Sad face. If I can read 4 books of poetry this year, I’ll be happy.

Goal #4: Read more from my own bookshelves. Last year I did a good job of reading my own books, but I kept buying more, so my total number of unread books actually INCREASED over the course of the year. This year I am following along with The Unread Shelf Project on Instagram, where Whitney gives us prompts to get us reading our own books. This month’s is to pick a book off your shelf that you HAVE to read by the end of January or else you have to get rid of it. Motivation! My January book is Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker. I’ve started reading it and so far I like it, yay!a1ndiwiiwql

That’s it. I don’t want to make my 2019 reading feel like homework, so I’m happy with 4 goals. I am confident I can achieve them, and even if I don’t, I’ll at least have fun trying. Hey, if you have any poetry recommendations, lay them on me. I’ve checked out Cape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa. I know nothing about her but Kendrick Lamar blurbed her book, which intrigued me, and it’s one of the newer poetry books added to our library system.

Do you make a list of reading goals for the year? Or do goals just seem like too much pressure? Let me know in the comments.

It’s My Blogiversary!

Four years ago tonight I decided to start Big Reading Life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do here other than write about books and hopefully connect with other passionate readers. I didn’t know if anyone would ever read my blog, let alone comment. It’s been a wonderful experience these past four years! I can’t express how much joy you all have given me simply by reading my posts and reaching out to me. It’s so fun to know I have blog friends all over the globe.

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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

At times this year I’ve wondered if I had anything left worth saying here. But I think I’ve turned the corner on that and have found my spark again! I’m excited about my reading plans and goals for the new year and can’t wait to go on bookish adventures with you all.

To everyone who has read anything I’ve written here, and especially to those that comment, thank you. Let’s keep having fun and reading good books in 2019! Happy New Year!

BRL Best Books of 2018

Some of you may remember that I keep a paper book journal in addition to my Goodreads account for book tracking. When I read a book that particularly moves me I give it a star in my paper journal, which equals a five-star rating on Goodreads. As I looked over my 2018 reading I realized that TWENTY books had rated a star this year! So I had some choices to make as it came time to make my Top Ten List for the year. Without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2018. (Note: I’m a huge backlist reader so not all of these books were published this year.)

In no particular order:

  • The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams (2016). This was a life-affirming, uplifting audio book that truly inspired me. I learned a lot about the friendship between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu, and how each man approaches life’s challenges with grace and equanimity.
  • How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston (1974.) Set in Ireland in WWI, this beautifully written novella explores the growing friendship between a young member of the landed gentry and one of the workers on his family’s estate as they both set off to fight in the war. Truly moving with a devastating ending.
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018.) Just a gorgeous, emotionally probing book about two people who fell in love with the best of intentions – and then life throws them a horrific curveball that reverberates for years. It’s a beautifully told relationship story with well-drawn, believable characters. Unforgettable.
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (2015.) What a surprise! A book that had been on my TBR list for a few years and I’m so glad I decided to read it. It was one of those absorbing reads that made me want to ignore my family for a few days. Linked short stories, all centering in some way around the character of Eva, a young woman in Minnesota with a passion and a gift for cooking. Foodies will love it, but anyone who just wants a good story will enjoy it too.
  • Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016.) The BEST AUDIO BOOK I’VE EVER LISTENED TO. Funny, surprising, illuminating, moving. I learned so much about South African history through this story of Noah’s unlikely existence. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s one I would read (or listen to) again for sure.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956.) This novel is exquisitely written and emotionally tough. A portrait of a man utterly in denial about who he truly is. David, a young, rootless, white American living in Paris in the 1950’s, has a fiancee he’s running away from when he meets a handsome Italian waiter and falls in love. His denial sets off a tragic chain of events for everyone involved. Baldwin is a genius! I intend to read everything he’s written.
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean (2018.) I recently wrote about this one, but it’s just a gem of a nonfiction book, about the importance of libraries today and Orlean’s emotional connection to them through her late mother, as well as a gripping true-crime account of the devastating library fire in L.A.’s Central Library in 1986. Lots going on here, but Orlean weaves all the strands together beautifully.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017.) That rare super-hyped novel that is worthy of all the praise. What starts off as a quirky portrait of a lonely young woman who doesn’t connect well with other human beings becomes a moving and warm-hearted novel about unexpected connections and the capacity for change and growth. A lovely book that I will definitely read again someday.
  • Brother by David Chariandy (2018, first published in Canada and the UK 2017.) Not one word wasted in this slim but powerful novel about two brothers growing up in a poor, multi-cultural part of Toronto in the 1980’s. There is tragedy here but there is also terrific beauty and great love, especially in the character of the boys’ Trinidadian immigrant mother, who works herself to the bone to provide for her sons and tried to give them a better life. I just adored this.
  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton (2018.) Another book I recently read and can’t stop talking about – thank you Oprah! Hinton’s ridiculous sham of a trial for crimes he didn’t commit will make you angry, and his emotional journey living on death row in Alabama for 30 years will move you, inspire you, and make you question your beliefs about the death penalty.

51mPEE0qUtL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Honorable Mention: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (2017.)  Linked short stories, a companion piece to Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. Spare prose and heartbreaking, real characters in small town middle America. Strout is a hell of a writer.

 It’s been such a good reading year. Have you read any of the books on my list? Do any of these pique your interest?

Some Reading Stats and Numbers for 2018

Hey friends! I hope that everyone has been having a wonderful holiday season. It’s that awesome time of the year when voracious readers like us are taking stock of what and how much we’ve read over the year. I’ll post a Top Ten Favorites soon, so this post is purely about the numbers and whether or not I completed any pre-set reading goals. (Note: I’m counting the three books I’m currently reading in my tally, as I plan to finish them before Jan 1.) My numbers come from my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge (which I more than doubled – I deliberately chose a low number.)

img_3346Total Books Read: 118 (This includes chapter books I’ve read with my son, otherwise the total would be lower!)

Fiction: 94

Nonfiction: 24

Chapter Books/Middle Grade/Picture Books: 42 (although I’ve not listed picture books on Goodreads, except for one, and I’ve read a GAZILLION over the course of the year with my son.)

Poetry: 0 (Really dropped the ball this year.)

Mysteries/Thrillers: 13

Romance: 2

Short Story Collections: 2

Graphic Novels/Comics: 3

Audiobooks: 7

YA: 2

Authors of Color: 24 (20% – not good! Although if I only count MY books, not my son’s, the percentage goes to 31%, a bit better. I have to say that I find kid’s books are even more white than grown-up books.)

Rereads: 8

Classics: 12

Goals Completed: You may recall I only made two small reading goals, since I don’t like to read from lists and lots of goals make reading feel like homework to me.

I completed one out of two goals: to read at least 12 of my own books from my own bookshelf! I read 22 books from my own shelf! (The rest came from the public library – either the one where I work or the one in the county in which I reside.)

I did NOT, however, complete the other goal, which was to read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. You may be asking yourself if I really WANT to read this book after all, now that it’s been a goal of mine for two years and I haven’t read it? Well, I’m asking myself the same thing. So my solution is, since I already own a copy, I’m going to start reading it on Jan. 1. It’s so big and intimidating, I’m going to try to read just 3 or 4 chapters a week. We’ll see how I like it. I’ll keep you posted!

Other Blog Happenings This Year:

It’s been a terrific reading year. I’ve got some ideas about how I’d like to shake up my reading a little bit next year. Nothing too crazy, because I am a Mood Reader Supreme. But I’ll post about that early in the new year.

How about y’all? Did you accomplish any reading goals? Anything  in particular you want to do differently next year?

Excellent Nonfiction to End the Year

So far in 2018, of the 114 books I’ve read (which DOES include the chapter books I read with my son at bedtime!) only 20 have been nonfiction. This is pretty representative of my reading habits. I am interested in nonfiction, especially memoirs, but nonfiction takes me longer to read than fiction, which makes me hesitant to pick it up. I keep feeling all those books on my TBR list looking over my shoulder as I take my time with a nonfiction book – on average, I’d say it takes me a good week longer to read one than it does a novel. This is all to say that it surprises me that my last three reads (one of which I’m currently reading) are all five star nonfiction reads, and they’re all published this year.

51LSDwIJIUL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_First up, The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton. I LOVED this book. Mr. Hinton spent 30 years on death row in Alabama for crimes he didn’t commit. The police and prosecution shamefully railroaded him in a sham of a trial and his court-appointed lawyer was disinterested at best. He only came up on the radar of the police because of an old grudge by a man who’d been interested in someone Hinton had dated. On Death Row, initially angry and with a heart full of vengeance at the injustice of the world and his situation, Hinton had an epiphany while hearing another man on the block crying in the night.

I didn’t know his story or what he had done or anything about him that made him different from me – hell, I didn’t know if he was black or white. But on the row, I realized, it didn’t matter. When you are trying to survive, the superficial things don’t matter. When you are hanging at the end of your rope, does it really matter what color the hand is that reached up to help you? What I knew was that he loved his mother just like I loved my mother. I could understand his pain.

… I realized the State of Alabama could steal my future and my freedom, but they couldn’t steal my soul or my humanity. 

This book not only taught me about the power of forgiveness and the indomitable human spirit, it also made me question my thoughts on the death penalty. To Hinton, every man on death row with him was a child of God, and was not only the worst thing he ever did (or didn’t do, as his case showed.) He showed up for every man he watched walk past him on the way to the electric chair over the years by banging the bars of his cell and yelling, as did the other men in the block. It was a way to show them that in their darkest moment they weren’t alone, no matter what horrible action or circumstances led them there.

They called all of us monsters. But I didn’t know any monsters on the row. I knew guys named Larry and Henry and Victor and Jesse. I knew Vernon and Willie and Jimmy. Not monsters. Guys with names who didn’t have mothers who loved them or anyone who had ever shown them a kindness that was even close to love. Guys who were born broken or had been broken by life. Guys who had been abused as children and had heir minds and hearts warped by cruelty and violence and isolation long before they ever stood in front of a judge and jury.

There are so many parts of this book I made notes on, so many quotable passages. The story of his legal battle to freedom takes many twists and turns and kept me turning the pages just as his struggle to remain sane and humane on death row did. Eventually he ends up being represented by Bryan Stevenson, who wrote the bestseller Just Mercy and heads the Equal Justice Initiative. While in prison, Hinton forms a book club as a way to gain some mental freedom for himself and his fellow inmates. Funnily enough, the first book they choose is James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain, which is my current Classics Club Spin pick! I just loved this book and I feel like it deserves a wide audience. If you have any desire to read books about social justice issues, the persistence of the human spirit, or just a page-turning memoir, please give this one a try.

51wZq9rEc8L._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_My next five-star nonfiction read was Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. This is a far-reaching book, part true crime, part memoir, part history, part exploration of the role of the public library in today’s society. It was fascinating! Starting from the event of the largest library fire in the history of the United States, the devastating 1986 fire at Los Angeles’s Central Library, Orlean branches off from there to discuss her own history with public libraries and the special connection to her mother who always brought her there growing up. She investigates whether or not the main suspect in the fire, Harry Peak, actually started it. (I admit that by the end of the book, I couldn’t decide!) She delves into the formation and colorful history of the L.A. library system, and follows current department heads today to see how the library is impacting the community right now. All these strands are braided together beautifully. Anyone who cares the least little bit about public libraries should read this.

In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his or her library burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of  life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it – with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited – it takes on a life of its own.

9781524763138_p0_v6_s550x406And last, I’m currently reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and I’m confident it will also earn five stars from me. Not surprisingly, she’s a beautiful writer. I’m about 130 pages in, or a third of the book. She’s dating Barack and they’re starting to realize just how serious the relationship is. I loved reading about her childhood growing up on the South Side of Chicago, her steady, loving parents and her close relationship with her older brother. I loved reading about her shy, buttoned down personality and her growing sense of confidence in herself. One tidbit I found fascinating is that in her kindergarten class picture, it’s about 50-50 black and white kids, but by fifth grade, it’s all black kids. She grew up right in the heart of the “white flight” of the 1960’s. I have enjoyed her reflections on her extended family and their journeys from the South to Chicago during the Great Migration. I’ve also liked getting to know our former president a little better, her first impressions of him and what drew them together. I admire her vulnerability and openness in this memoir and can’t wait to read more.

What was your favorite nonfiction book of 2018?