Books I Read This Month - November 2011

I made it to my 100-books-in-a-year goal one month early! Here are the books I read this month.

All the Rage – F. Paul Wilson
Next book in the Repairman Jack series. Um. Yeah.

Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
An asexual female bookworm falls in love with an older married woman. Told from the perspective of the girl’s male best friend (who happens to be in love with her), this is a great book. I could really relate to the narrator character, and I found the other characters to be very well developed. Another good book by the great Haruki Murakami.

Making History – Stephen Fry
Here is Stephen Fry, English genius, being quite English and quite genius. This science fiction novel is about a history scholar who discovers a clever way to make sure Hitler was never born. It’s funny in parts, moving in others, and well-written throughout. I’d recommend this book to people who enjoy science and history (of course) and to people who are passionate about, or at least interested in, human rights (religion, sexual orientation). This is an intriguing read, and an interesting and creative topic.

The Princess Bride – William Goldman
I’ve seen the movie numerous times and loved it, of course. I only just this year discovered that it was a book first. And what a wonderful book it is! If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do. And/or see the movie. It truly has something for everyone: fantasy, adventure, comedy, and romance, all rolled into one.

Mr. Peanut – Adam Ross
Interesting and disturbing picture of marriage. I thought it was really good, but sometimes the characters did not seem very realistic. I’d recommend it if you like dark humor. Or just dark.

Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

This is my 100th book of the year! And it was a good one too. Over 900 pages long, this semi-autobiographical novel, I believe, qualifies as an epic. The author was born and raised in Australia, but became a drug addict and armed robber in his young adult life, ending up in prison. He escaped prison and traveled the world, settling down in Bombay, India. There and then is where and when this book takes place, from the moment he stepped off the plane in Bombay, to… well, for about two or three, maybe four years. Sometime after that, which is after this book ends, he was arrested in Bombay and served out the rest of his sentence. Afterwards, he returned to Bombay, opening up a free medical clinic for the slums, and is now a full time writer. There were so many parts of his life that he could have written about (being a drug addict and thief, being in prison, living in Bombay after his release from prison) but he chose to write about his time in Bombay while a fugitive. There are very few flashbacks; he remains mostly in the present (well, past, since it already happened to him) and, told in first person, we are in his head, looking at Bombay through his eyes, the entire time. And I loved it! His descriptions are beautiful! His word choice is perfect. And he’s got all the emotions right there on the page. I cried at least twice. You read it, and you’ll know where. He wrote this book while he was serving his full sentence after he was caught, and you can just sense the blood, sweat, and tears that literally went into every page. I highly recommend this book. Even though it is long, it is worth the read! The message is beautiful and perfect.

Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry
This is Stephen Fry’s memoir of his youth. A rowdy kid, a genius, and a pathological liar, this is a great coming-of-age gay story that pretty much any would enjoy. It’s funny is places and sad in others, but it’s a great read throughout.

Dance, Dance, Dance – Haruki Murakami
Quite weird. A writer’s girlfriend of sorts goes missing, and he ends up babysitting sort of for this psychic thirteen year old girl. There are prostitutes involved. It’s an interesting book, but weird. Haruki Murakami is pretty weird, I guess.

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
Also weird, but pretty good. It’s about a college-age boy discovering women. I suppose that’s the best way to put it. Most of Haruki Maurakami’s books involve people of this age, in situations much like the one in this book. But each one his books is unique in its own way. He’s a great writer. But weird.

Othello – William Shakespeare
This was the blog book club book for the month of November. Here is my post about it.

The Marriage Plot – Jeffery Eugenides
What a great book. A realistic and intricate picture of bipolar disorder, as well as what it’s like to be in love at that turning point in life, early twenty-something, just out of college. Beautiful writing.

Othello by Shakespeare

This month, November 2011, the theme of my blog has been Shakespeare. While I did not post nearly enough about him and his works to reveal this about myself, I am quite interested in Shakespeare. He was one of the most influential writers ever. I’m not a great fan of reading plays, since they were written to be portrayed on a stage, but Shakespeare is one of the few playwrights whose work is enjoyable when read as much as it is when watched. I have never seen Shakespeare on the stage, though I have seen The Tempest film (2010), which was beautiful, and, uh, I think that’s the only one I’ve seen, actually. I have read many, many of his plays, both at school and in my own time. I have read Romeo and Juliet, of course, King Lear, MacBeth, Richard III, and now Othello. I am planning on reading others in the future, and it’s on my Bucket List to see a Shakespeare play performed live by actors on a stage.

There is some controversy about Shakespeare and his works. There is evidence that he was not the writer of all the plays that have been attributed to his name. A movie entitled Anonymous was recently released, but I was unable to see it because it was not showing in my area. I don’t think who wrote the plays matters so much as the content and message of the plays. Who the author is does not detract from the cultural and literary significance of the plays.

Shakespeare lived in the 1500s in England. I don’t know much else about him really, but I am going to be taking an entire course on Shakespeare at my college in the spring. So look forward to more posts about him and his works in the future. Perhaps I should have waited on the Shakespeare theme until the spring when I knew more about him and had read more of his plays, but I was just way too excited for the Shakespeare sonnet contest I had planned to wait. REMINDER: the deadline for submissions to this awesome contest is Sunday 4 December 2011. Here is the link for more details. Please participate! I’m super psyched to read your sonnets! Seriously I am! If I get enough submissions, there is a chance for a second and maybe even third prize as well, so I, and other submitting writers, would be ecstatic if you would participate!

Alright. Othello. Taking place in Venice, the play begins with Iago and Roderigo discussing how much they hate Othello. Othello promoted someone over Iago in the military. He tells Roderdigo that he is going to plot against Othello by making it seem like his wife Desdemona is having an affair. Iago also dislikes Othello because of his race, which by the description we can assume he is African. Throughout the play, Iago is two-faced, convincing Othello to trust him while he plots his downfall behind his back. Iago is the main driving force behind the plot.

While Iago portrays Othello as a corrupt man, when Othello enters the stage, he is entirely the opposite of what the audience is expecting. Shakespeare even compares him to Jesus Christ. This juxtaposition really accentuates Iago’s racism.

A major theme, besides racism, is the conflict of love and war. Othello is a military hero, and he finds it difficult to keep him marriage to Desdemona intact. In fact, when he believes she had an affair, he murders her. Finally, after Othello learns that Iago tricked him, Othello kills himself, unable to deal with his evil deed.

I’d say this is not particularly one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays, but it was still pretty good. I won’t go into much more detail about the plot and characters and themes, for fear of sounding unintelligent, uninformed, or preachy, because the language of Shakespeare is difficult for me to understand, and the themes were what I read out of this play the most. Besides, I want to hear what you guys have to say!

If you have read it, what did you think of Shakespeare’s Othello?

Peace, Aimee

Hamlet's Speech

Hamlet’s speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is probably the most famous soliloquy out there. It’s been analyzed and torn to bits all over the place. Having read Hamlet, I have to agree that this is one spectacular piece of writing. It portrays a young man’s contemplation of suicide as he is faced with a disintegrating family and a bleak future; however, he is plagued with worry that suicide will land him in hell. It’s well-written and full of emotion.

My favorite line in the speech is my favorite line in the whole play and, dare I say it, is perhaps my favorite line in anything I’ve ever read ever. It’s this: “conscience does make cowards of us all.” Ah, how better can you phrase such a brilliant, controversial, and philosophical idea?

What is your favorite line in Shakespeare?

And why do you think Hamlet’s speech is so famous?

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause – there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.”

Peace, Aimee

P.S. Remember the Shakespeare sonnet writing contest! Ends 4 December 2011, and the winner receives a 2500 word critique of their manuscript! Details here.

And the Winner of the Dinosaur Writing Contest Is...

Michael Ermitage!

Congratulations Michael! You can email me your 2000 word excerpt to be critiqued as your prize. Email me at whenever you’re ready.

And here is Michael’s winning dinosaur tale:

Nine years. Thirty seven days. Fourteen hours. Eleven minutes. That’s how long I’ve been waiting for this moment. My 150,000-volt stun rifle rests on my shoulder with my finger wrapped around the trigger. The cross hair target is centered on the beast’s torso. Its small head swivels on its long neck as if it senses I’m near but I keep the rifle aimed directly at its ostrich-like midsection. She wears a smirk and I can’t help but smile. She’s most definitely a modern-day Ingenia, but I’ve spent so much time researching her that I just call her Jean. Fossil records date her lineage back 70 million years. Most paleontologists, especially Dr. Zhang of the Evanston Paleontology Society, will tell you that Jean is extinct. They’ll tell you this specimen sitting not 10 yards from me is just an exceptionally odd bird and not a dinosaur. In fact, Dr. Zhang would precisely say, “Only a fool would spend even a dime to travel to southeast China to track down a silly bird.” If Dr. Zhang where here though, sitting next to me, nervously adjusting his oversized glasses every twenty seconds or so like he always does, he’d surely agree that the animal’s strong, wiry hands were more dinosaur than bird. He’d have a hard time differentiating this animal’s long, toothless beak from the one sitting on the counter next to Dr. Zhang’s unwashed coffee cup.

I wish my daughter was sitting next to me. A believer from day one, she’d let her jaw fall agape in wonderment in its presence. Truth be told, the money earned from such a discovery could pay for her college tuition three times over.

At nine years old, dressed in a striped long-sleeved top and blue jeans, my daughter pointed at a picture of a bird on my coworker’s office wall and said, “What kind of dino is that?” I had heard that question hundreds of times from between the thin lips she inherited from her mother but this was the first time I did not have an answer. I made up an answer. “Oviraptor,” I said. She nodded.

When my co-worker returned to the museum’s office, I asked him, “What the hell is that thing anyway?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I snapped it when I was in China on the Zhang dig.”

I asked him if I could borrow it and I took it back to my office. For weeks, I promised I would spend some time researching the bird just to satisfy my curiosity. Time, though, was fleeting and elusive, and slipped between my fingertips with every phone call and email. Finally, on one New Year’s Day, as I nursed my bleeding hangover with water and a bottle of Aspirin, I came upon the picture of an Ingenia. Uncommon in the North American fossil record, I had spent little time researching them. Seeing the image sparked an epiphany; one so powerful that when I stood to grab the picture from my desk drawer, my legs wobbled and my horizon filled with tiny, moving stars. I blinked. I scoured the web for more images and with each one I found, I discovered more similarities. Similar bone structure. Identical beak. Exact same splayed toes.
Watching Jean now, those first computer images come rushing back. Jean yawns and nestles. Her dirty white feathers brush the ground. As long as a car, she manages to curl herself up in a neat ball. I imagine her caged, the verifiable DNA evidence tucked behind a glass display.

I brought my initial findings to Dr. Zhang. He invited me into his office and I carefully laid out my case. I’ll never forget his furrowed brow. It crinkled in increments, like a pop can under a stack of heavy books. I was waiting for it to implode. Dr. Zhang picked his head up from my research, cleared his throat, and narrowed his eyes.

“Son,” he said, “you have a vivid imagination. Spunk, even. But this is not the work of a serious professional. I’ll pretend I never saw it.”’

I adjust the rifle and reaffirm my grip, preparing to fire. Jean stares straight ahead. I allow myself a moment to picture Zhang’s jealous eyes, myself on the Tonight Show, and receiving the Nobel Prize in Science. These images flash before me like a slide show from heaven.

Jean picks herself up from the ground and stretches her long legs. She takes a step and I steady my finger on the trigger. Then I hear a noise, a baritone squawk. It reverberates through the forest. My eyes follow the noise to Jean’s feet and there stand two young Ingenia. They prance around her bumping into each other. Jean lowers her head and nudges them back into her makeshift nest.

The bane of paleontology is that you never work with live animals. Nothing moves. Nothing breathes.

I watch Jean pick up one of the babies and drop it back into the nest. The baby gives out a feeble squeak of protest.

I center the cross hairs on Jean’s midsection. I inhale. My finger rubs the trigger. I do not shoot. I let the rifle fall to my side and I watch Jean and her family. I don’t even snap a picture.

Shakespeare Writing Contest

I am really, really excited for this contest!

For this contest, write a Shakespearean sonnet. For those who need a refresher, here are the parameters:

1. Shakespearean sonnets are 14 lines long.

2. Shakespearean sonnets follow the a,b,a,b, c,d,c,d, e,f,e,f, g,g rhyme scheme.

3. Shakespearean sonnets are in iambic pentameter, meaning there are ten syllables per line.

I know that a lot of people (me included) are participating in NaNoWriMo this month, and since Shakespearean sonnets are a bit tricky to write, I am going to give you guys a little more time. Please send your sonnet to by Sunday 4 December 2011.

I will announce the winner on Wednesday 7 December 2011. The winner will receive a 2500 word critique of their manuscript (or whatever they want critiqued) by me! That’s about ten pages!

I would love it if you word spread the word about this fun contest on your blog or on twitter. Thank you so much! Good luck, and I seriously can’t wait to read your sonnets!

Peace, Aimee

P.S. If I get enough submissions, there may be a chance at a second and/or third prize of a 1000 word critique! So please participate! It'll be fun and totally worth it! :)

Blog Book Club November 2011

Over the course of November, read Othello by William Shakespeare, then on Tuesday 29 November 2011, post about it on your blog or join in on the discussion in the comments of my post!

Peace, Aimee

Theme of November 2011: Shakespeare!

According to Wikipedia, “William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616)[nb 1] was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist.[1] He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon".[2][nb 2] His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays,[nb 3] 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.”

The theme of November 2011 is Shakespeare! I hope you’re excited for what I have in store! I know I am!

Peace, Aimee