Saturday, October 24, 2009

24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Update the Second

24 Hour Read-a-ThonI'm in the midst of my eleventh hour of the read-a-thon and have just now started to feel somewhat tired. I finished Graceling at the end of the tenth hour, and I absolutely loved it. I wish I had Fire by Kristin Cashore, because that would be my next read for sure. I was a bit wary to read a book of Graceling's length (just under 500 pages, though I'd read about 100 pages prior to today) for the read-a-thon, but I was so engrossed in the story that it felt like a much shorter book.

I took a break during my eighth hour of reading (8 PM since I started late) to make cornbread. This turned into a small odyssey when I discovered that there was only one egg in the house (the recipe calls for two) and it had expired over a week ago. Culinary disaster was saved by my mother, who went to a nearby convenience store -- in the pouring rain -- and picked up a fresh carton of eggs. As mothers go, she's rather awesome, but this was above and beyond the call of duty.

And now, it's back to more reading. I won't make twenty four hours, I know that, but I'm pretty sure I have few more hours in me yet. My cold hasn't proved to be much of an obstacle since my last update. I think I've successfully bombarded it with orange juice.

Time Spent Reading Since Last Update:
279 minutes
Pages Read Since Last Update: 318
Time Spent Blogging: 20 minutes
Total Pages Read: 577
Total Time Spent Reading: 479 minutes
Total Books Finished: 2
Currently Reading: Torchwood: Almost Perfect by James Goss

24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Update the First

Books and Orange JuiceMy first 24 Hour Read-a-Thon got off to a bit of a rocky start. I had been feeling like I was getting a cold for the past few days, but I was hoping it would hold off until after the read-a-thon. Unfortunately that was not to be. I woke up this morning feeling as though I'd been hit by a freight train. I went back to sleep and slept through most of the morning, and after a lot of orange juice and throat lozenges, I finally started my reading just before 2 PM. I'm feeling better now, thankfully, and plan to rest and read for the remainder of the day.

I finished my first book, the graphic novel Persepolis, early in my second hour of reading. This was really my first foray into graphic novels (other than occasional Star Wars or Doctor Who trade paperbacks, which I can't put in the same class as Persepolis) and I enjoyed it immensely.

I'll post periodic updates throughout the day, probably when I feel like I need a break from reading. I may update more frequently on Twitter than I do here.

Time Spent Reading: 200 minutes
Time Spent Blogging: 20 minutes
Total Pages Read: 259
Books Finished: 1 (Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi)
Currently Reading: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Friday, October 23, 2009

24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Reading List

24 Hour Read-a-ThonAfter wistfully sitting on the sidelines for the last 24 Hour Read-a-Thon back in April, I'm very excited to be able to participate in tomorrow's event. I saved two books that I bought as a direct result of Dewey's reviews (The Uncommon Reader and Paper Towns) for this read-a-thon and will be reading them in memory of Dewey.

Since this is my first time doing the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, I have no clue what to expect, so I'm not setting a lot of goals for myself. I would like to surpass the 585 pages I read as part of the 12 hour Mystery Read-a-Thon I participated in during the summer, though. Other than aiming for that, I'm just going to focus on reading and having fun. I haven't done as much reading as usual since I moved, so it's nice to know that I have tomorrow completely set aside as reading time. I also haven't blogged much since the move. Hopefully posting updates throughout the day will get me back into the habit of blogging regularly.

Right now my tentative reading list looks like this:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (re-read)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Paper Towns by John Green
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (re-read)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I may also pull out some of the Doctor Who and Torchwood novels that I've been wanting to read. I think they would be perfect for fun, fast reads since I'm already very familiar with all of the characters and the world-building in the Who/Torchwood universe.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review & Giveaway: The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl

The Last Dickens
Author: Matthew Pearl
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (Oct. 6, 2009)
Trade Paperback, 416 pages, $15.00
ISBN-10: 0812978021
ISBN-13: 978-0812978025

Despite literary talent such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Boston-based publisher Fields & Osgood is facing economic catastrophe. The publishing house’s survival may depend on their shining star, celebrated British novelist Charles Dickens. As Dickens’s only authorized American publisher, Fields & Osgood hope that The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens’s first novel in five years, will bolster sales enough to avoid financial ruin.

The unexpected death of Charles Dickens in June of 1870 leaves The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished. James Osgood entrusts Daniel Sand, a young but industrious clerk, with the task of retrieving Dickens’s final, incomplete manuscript as soon as it arrives in Boston. But when Daniel is found dead -- without the manuscript in his possession -- is his death simply a tragic accident or something more sinister?

With the fate of the publishing house very much in doubt, James Osgood and Rebecca Sand, Daniel’s sister and a bookkeeper at Fields & Osgood travel to England to see if Dickens left any clues as to how his final book would end. Osgood and Rebecca soon find that they are not the only ones looking for Dickens’s last work, and there is much more on the line than just a manuscript. Events that were set in motion two years earlier during Charles Dickens’s American reading tour will provide surprising answers and provoke new questions. Their journey will take them from the Dickens family home, Gadshill Place, to the opium dens of London and finally back to Boston in a deadly game of literary cat-and-mouse.

I greatly enjoyed the characters of James Osgood and Rebecca Sand but my favorite parts of the novel were the flashbacks to Charles Dickens’s American tour. Dickens is described as “a man with exclamation points for eyes” and that bubbly vitality was present in Pearl’s characterization of Dickens. There’s something universal about Charles Dickens. The endurance of his works are perfect evidence of this. I thought Matthew Pearl expressed the reasons for Dickens’s continual appeal exceptionally well in this passage:

“Dickens alone, among all the writers of popular fiction of the day, could employ wit and discernment, excitement and sympathy, in equal parts in each one of his books. The characters were no mere paper dolls, nor were they thinly veiled extensions of Charles Dickens’s own persona. No, the characters were utterly themselves. In a Dickens story, readers were not asked to aspire to a higher class or to hate other classes than their own but to find the humanity and the humane in all. That is what had made him the world’s most famous author.” -- p. 33

During most of the book, the story alternates between two main storylines: that of Osgood and Rebecca and that of Dickens’s American tour. There is also a third subplot involving Frank Dickens, the son of Charles Dickens, in India. The two main storylines come together well by the end of the novel, but I felt that Frank Dickens’s storyline needed a clearer resolution. And, while I liked Rebecca as a character, I wondered more than once if she came across as a bit too modern for the time period. If I had to sum up The Last Dickens in one word, it would be subtle. It’s a book that rewards the patient and observant reader as the story progresses. Major revelations are presented without fanfare, and somehow seem more powerful for it.

Some readers may wonder how The Last Dickens compares to Drood by Dan Simmons. If not for the common theme of Charles Dickens and his last work, I think it would be almost unfair to compare the two. They are two very different stories. I enjoyed both of them, each for their own reasons, and I can’t say that I preferred one over the other. My favorite aspect of Drood was how Victorian London came fully to life, almost as though it were a character in itself. I didn’t have the same sense of time and place with The Last Dickens, even though Boston and London were both well-portrayed. The Last Dickens shows Charles Dickens in a kinder and more objective light than the reader receives from Drood’s narrator, Wilkie Collins. I suspect that The Last Dickens will have more mass appeal due to its less intimidating length and more likable characters. Both are worth reading for anyone who enjoys literary fiction. Both are must-reads for anyone with an interest in Charles Dickens.

This was my first experience with Matthew Pearl's writing, but it most certainly will not be the last.

The Last Dickens was released in trade paperback yesterday. Visit Matthew Pearl's website for more information.

Book Giveaway:

Thanks to TLC Tours and the publisher, I have a copy of The Last Dickens to give away to a lucky reader. U.S. or Canadian residents only, please. I'll announce the winner a week from today. Please include a valid e-mail address so I have a way to contact you if you win!

Edit: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner, BermudaOnion!