Monday, November 28, 2011

Classics Challenges 2012

Challenge Updates June 2012:

Off the Shelf : Added the challenge June 16, 2012. My books for the challenge are listed at the bottom of this post.

2012 A Classics ChallengeStill no books finished yet for this challenge. For some reason I just cannot finish Villette. But I am not giving up on it I am determined to finish that book this year.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2012: I am getting ready to start Little Women this month. Hopefully I can finish it this month and then I will have two of my 9 books read for this challenge. 


The Classics Club:I really need to pick up the pace on reading these classics or I may be left having to have a reading marathon towards the end of the challenge. So far I have only read one book of the 50. I am hoping this month to finish Great Expectations and  Little Women. Still reading and setting aside Villette. I have no idea why I cannot get into the book. It is somewhat interesting.

Mixing It Up: I really got ahead with this challenge in April and then May seem to come and go and I read nothing from the list. I am hoping to get at least one book read for this challenge this month. Not sure which one yet. 

Summer 2012 Book Challenge: I have made some really good progress on this challenge. I read the following for my list below this month:
  • The Savage Grace by Bree Despain (The Dark Divine Trilogy) (Finished "Read a Trilogy")
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Finished "Read a Book You Heard Bad Things About")
Total points so far: 15 + 25 + 25 +30= 95
 A Victorian Celebration This challenge just began this month so I am getting read to start reading Great Expectations.


Challenges:
Those titles highlighted in yellow have been read.
Those titles highlighted in green are currently being read.


As a student of literature it is not uncommon for me to have a number of “classic” novels in my reading queue. I have to admit though 2011 has been a little sparce in the classics department. That is why when I stumbled onto two classic reading challenges from fellow book bloggers I signed up without hesitation. 2012 will be a year to reconnect with some old favorites and read some classics that I just never got around to reading. Below are the challenges that I entered along with my projected book lists for each challenge. Unlike the last time I joined in on a classic reading challenge all the books below will be read on my Nook and my Kindle. If you are participating in either challenge and want to share your lists please feel free to do so… I love lists. J


2012 A Classics Challenge:

Challenge Update June 2012: Still no books finished yet for this challenge. For some reason I just cannot finish Villette. But I am not giving up on it I am determined to finish that book this year.

Dates: January 1-December 31 2012

Description: This challenge is hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read 7 classic novels in 2012 and participate in the 4th of the month writing prompt at November’s Autumn.

Book List:  (some of these books are also on my Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 list)
1. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
2. Women In Love by D. H. Lawrence
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
4. Grimm's Tales for Young and Old
5. Tom Jones: The History of a Foundling by Henry Fielding
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
7. Emma by Jane Austen


Challenge Update June 2012: I am getting ready to start Little Women this month. Hopefully I can finish it this month and then I will have two of my 9 books read for this challenge. 

Dates: January 1- December 31, 2012

Description: Sarah of Sarah Reads too Much set up the reading challenge in which we are to read one classic for each of the following categories:
  • Any 19th Century Classic (Category 1)
  • Any 20th Century Classic (Category 2)
  • ReRead a Classic of your choice (Category 3)
  • A Classic Play (Category 4)
  • Classic Mystery/Horror or Crime Fiction (Category 5)
  • Classic Romance (Category 6)
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language into your native language (Category 7)
  • Classic Award Winner (Category 8)
  • Rea­­­­d a classic set in a country that you will not visit in your lifetime (Category 9)
Book List:
Category 1: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott published in two volumes 1868 and 1869

Category 2: Women In Love by D. H. Lawrence - initially banned, published in 1920

Category 3: Tom Jones: The History of a Foundling by Henry Fielding the 18th Century English novel that was the subject of my Masters in Literature thesis

Category 4: Hamlet by William Shakespeare READ MAY 8, 2012

Category 5: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde enchanted portraits and overindulgence who could ask for anything more.

Category 6: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë so much in love that it carries over into the grave.

Category 7: The Inferno by Dante Alighieri first written in Italian and then eventually translated into English

Category 8: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1940.

Category 9: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is set in nineteenth century Russia, a place that I cannot foresee myself visiting in my lifetime.

Speaking of lists... here is a great list of 100 classic books  from Wikipedia that might interest some of you. 


Challenge Update June 2012: I really need to pick up the pace on reading these classics or I may be left having to have a reading marathon towards the end of the challenge. So far I have only read one book of the 50. I am hoping this month to finish Great Expectations and  Little Women. Still reading and setting aside Villette. I have no idea why I cannot get into the book. It is somewhat interesting.

The Classics Club is the creation of  Jillian at A Room of One’s Own. The idea is to create a list of at least 50 classics that you want to read between March 2012 and March 2017. I have set my personal deadline for May 2013. If you so choose you can add incentives to give yourself after finishing a book or a number of books. To me the best incentive is the fact that I have read books from my list of books I have always wanted to read so there will be no incentives on my part.  

Below is my list of 50 classics. I have chosen books that I have not read and those I have not read in such a long time I cannot remember if I liked them or not. They are in no particular order and as I read them I will highlight them and place the date finished behind them.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
2. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
3. Women In Love by D. H. Lawrence
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
5. Grimm's Tales for Young and Old
6. Tom Jones: The History of a Foundling by Henry Fielding
7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
8. Emma by Jane Austen
9. Hamlet by William Shakespeare READ MAY 8, 2012
10. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
11. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
12. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
13. The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells
14. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
15. Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
16. The Touchstone by Edith Wharton
17. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
18. Vanity Fair by William Mackepeace Thackeray
19. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
20. Ulysses by James Joyce
21. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerlad
22. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
23. Middlemarch by George Eliot
24. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
25. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
26. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
27. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
28. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
29. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
30. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
32. Absalom! Absalom! By William Faulkner
33. Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
34.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
35. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
36. A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain
37. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
38. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
39. Amelia by Henry Fielding
40. A Bundle of Letters by Henry James
41. Dracula by Bram Stoker
42. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
43. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
44. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
45. Persuasion by Jane Austen
46. Bel Ami: The History of a Scoundrel by Guy de Maupassant
47. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
48. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
49. Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
50. The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura




Mixing It Up

Challenge Update June 2012: I really got ahead with this challenge in April and then May seem to come and go and I read nothing from the list. I am hoping to get at least one book read for this challenge this month. Not sure which one yet. 

Mixing it Up is an interesting challenge that I ran into in April and joined up. It is hosted by Musing of a Bookshop Girl. The idea is to choose one book from the categories below and there are levels of participation. The challenge runs until December 31, 2012.
Here is my list and below you can find all the categories and the levels of partipation:
I am participating in the Cupcake Mix level in the following categories with the following books:

  • Classics- Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • Biography-  The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman
  • Modern Fiction- Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka 
  • Romance- The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks READ APRIL 30, 2012
  • Travel- Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Children’s and Young Adult- The Hunger Games bySuzanne Collins READ APRIL 4, 2012


THE CATEGORIES
1. CLASSICS
2. BIOGRAPHY
3. COOKERY, FOOD AND WINE
4. HISTORY
5. MODERN FICTION
6. GRAPHIC NOVELS AND MANGA
7.  CRIME AND MYSTERY
8. HORROR
9. ROMANCE
10. SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
11. TRAVEL
12. POETRY AND DRAMA
13. JOURNALISM AND HUMOUR
14. SCIENCE AND NATURAL HISTORY
15. CHILDREN'S AND YOUNG ADULT
16. SOCIAL SCIENCES AND PHILOSOPHY

LEVELS OF PARTICIPATION
MEASURING JUG: Playing it safe with 1-4 categories
CUPCAKE MIX: Livening things up with 5-8 categories
MIXING BOWL: Branching out with 9-12 categories
TWO-TIER CAKE: Getting ambitious with 13-15 categories
ALL THE TRIMMINGS AND A CHERRY ON TOP: Going for gold with the full 16!


Summer 2012 Book Challenge

Challenge Update June 2012: I have made some really good progress on this challenge. I read the following for my list below this month:
  • The Savage Grace by Bree Despain (The Dark Divine Trilogy) (Finished "Read a Trilogy")
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Finished "Read a Book You Heard Bad Things About")
Total points so far: 15 + 25 + 25 +30= 95

The Summer 2012 Book Challenge runs from May 1, 2012 through September 1, 2012. One of the big requirements of this challenge is the no books be re-reads... all new to you books. Also each book must be at least 200 pages. And you are competing with others by obtaining points based on the guidelines below (my reads are in bold and []):

5 points: Read a book chosen for the 2012 World Book Night. [Zeitoun by Dave Eggers]


10: Read a book you were supposed to read in school, but either bailed on or Cliff-Noted. [Moby Dick by Herman Melville]


10: Read a memoir or narrative nonfiction book. [The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman ] 


15: Read a book in one day. (Must be at least 150 pages long.) [100Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life READ MAY 5 2012]


15: Read a book that you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to yet. [The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde]


20: Read a pair of books that have antonyms in the titles. [Water for Elephants by Sara Grun and The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus


20: Read a book that is set in a place you've never been but want to visit. [Every Day in Tuscany by Frances Mayes]


25: Find a book written the year you were born that was later made into a movie. Read the book and watch the movie; compare. Or find a movie released the year you were born that was based on a book. Do the same thing. [The Shining by Stephan King] Read MAY 17, 2012


25: Go into a bookstore or library. Pick any bookshelf. Read the third book from the left on the fourth shelf from the top. [French Lessons by Ellen Sussman]


25: Read a book about which you’ve heard bad things. [The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides] READ JUNE 13, 2012


30: Read a trilogy. Total page count for all three books together must be at least 500 pages.  [The Dark Divine Series- The Dark Divine READ MAY 15, 2012, The Lost Saint READ MAY 20, 2012, The Savage Grace READ JUNE 5, 2012]



A Victorian Celebration

Challenge Update June 2012: This challenge just began this month so I am getting read to start reading Great Expectations.

During the months of June and July readers are gathering up their favorite Victorian novels for two months of enjoyment. There are no minimums or limits to this challenge, the only two rules are that you read a Victorian novel and that you read them in the months of June and July. Below are the novels that I will be reading for this challenge.


Reading List for A Victorian Celebration:
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Challenge Update June 2012 Added the challenge June 16, 2012. My books for the challenge are listed at the bottom of this post.
The idea of this challenge is to read books that have been on your shelf for a while (no books can be acquired in 2012). The challenge runs from January 1- December 31, 2012. Since I have lots and lots of these I decided to take on this challenge. The books read can be print, ebook or audiobook. There are a few levels of participation that you can choose from:

1. Tempted- Choose 5 books to read
2.Trying- Choose 15 books to read
3.Making a Dint- Choose 30 books to read
4. On a Roll- Choose 50 books to read
5. Flying Off Choose 75 books to read
6. Hoarder- Choose between 76- 135 books to read
7. Buried Choose between 136-200 books to read

I have decided that I will be "Trying" and choose 15 books to read from my TBR shelf. While I could very well be "Buried" in my TBR shelf I wanted to be realistic in my reading goals here. Some of the books I have on my list for this challenge are books from other challenges as well. 

1. Emma by Jane Austen
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
4. Persuasion by Jane Austen
5. Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka 
6. Water for Elephants by Sara Grun 
7. Yoga Bitch by Suzanne Morrison READ JUNE 13 2012
8. The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides READ JUNE 13 2012
9. Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
10. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
11. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananada
12.The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
13. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
14. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
15. Definitely Dead by Charlaine Harris

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the GreatThe Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have to admit that there is nothing like the drama of palace life that intrigues me. The gluttony, the power hungry willing to do anything… when done right it can create a real pager turner. That is why this reader very rarely turns down the opportunity to read a historical fiction novel especially one set in the 18th Century. The only downside to fondness for such literature is that there are many such novels out there and not all are worth the read. The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak is worth the read.

Varvara the daughter of a bookbinder from Poland is an innocent girl who believed that the word of the Empress was truth that could always be depended on. After the loss of both her parents Varvara, was taken to the palace where she believed the Empress would care for her because after all the Empress did give her word to her father. She was disappointed to find that she was just another ward who was invisible to everyone because she was considered a no one. It was not until she learned to see what others would not see and listen to the words meant to be kept secret that she rose through the ranks.

Completely satisfied with being a tongue for the Empress Varvara’s (Barbara’s) only wish was to be at the Empress’s side just as she had promised her father before his death. It was not until Sophie a young countess brought to marry Peter III did Varvara ever feel the need to protect someone other than herself and began to question the cruelty of palace life. Together Sophie, later to become Catherine the Great, and Varvara took a small girl and made her Empress of all Russia.

The story of how Catherine the Great rose to power is not that unusual in the historical fiction world. What makes The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great stand out however is the choice of the protagonist. Varavara is the only character we hear from in the book. It is through her eyes that we watch the fall of old power and the rise of new power. It is through her that we discover just how far people are willing to go for power.

This book is a great read for those who are interested in 18th century historical fiction and Catherine the Great. Heck if you just want a good read and are not really interested in either you will enjoy this book. As I mentioned earlier in this review it is a page turner. The only thing that I was disappointed with was the ending. I do not want to spoil the novel for anyone so I will not go into great detail about the ending but let me just say that I felt there were loose ends that needed to be tied up at the end and the ending felt somewhat abrupt and not as satisfying as I hoped it would be. All that said, it is a fantastic book worthy of at least one read.

As a side note I would just like to express my extreme pleasure at how prominent books were in this novel. Any bibliophile would adore this novel simply for the descriptions of the books that surrounded Varvara and the power that storytelling alone had on everyone in the novel.

Publication of this novel is scheduled for January 2012.

Note: I was given this book for review. In no way does that fact effect what was written in this review.


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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Zen Meditations


After posting a little post here on Weekly Zen about how to meditate I started to receive emails requesting more information. In particular people wanted to know more about Zazen. After gathering my thoughts about what I know about Zen meditations and doing a little additional research here is a brief outline about the different types of meditations that Zen practitioner’s use.

First let’s start by defining in simple terms what exactly Zen is. Zen is simply meditation or a meditative state. Often people may also think of it as some sort of Nirvana. You may also hear many people refer to Zen as a life full of simplicity. Any of these ideas can portray what Zen means because all will bring you wisdom or enlightenment if you spend time with them.

As far as the history of Zen goes, it is complicated and somewhat incomplete. What is known (or is widely accepted) is that it was founded by the South Indian Tamil Buddhist sage Bodhidharma. It was first documented in 7th century China and from there was said to have spread to Vietnam, Korea and then Japan.  The word Zen itself is the Japanese version of the Chinese word Chan which was derived from the Sanskrit word Dhyana. All mean the same thing and can, if you choose so, be used interchangeably.
Now that we have a little history under our belts in regards to Zen let us turn our attention to how you can enter into Zen. There are many paths to wisdom but here are the most common techniques used in Zen Buddhism.

1) Zazen: Zazen is what is often depicted when one thinks of meditation. It is sitting . When you sit you are working on regulating your mind. A technique to regulate your mind can be as simple as counting your breath. How you sit is somewhat important but can be modified according to your body. As was mentioned in my previous post on meditation there are many great tutorials out there with pictures that show you how to sit (at the end of this post I will list several great resources for you). Often people will sit in full Lotus or half Lotus, but any type of sitting in which your back is straight and your airway is not restricted is fine. The most important thing to remember is that the aim of Zazen is to be aware of the stream of thoughts that flow through your mind and allow them to continue their flow. Except them as they are and if you wish let them stay present in your mind. I do this but I like to clean up my thought stream every once and awhile and allow some to be filed away, so they are always there but not always in the forefront.

2) Sesshin: Sesshin is group Zazen and it is often done in monasteries by monks for hours every day.

3)Koan: Koan practice is an inquiry that can take place during Zazen, walking mediation or in your daily activities. Koans are stories that are related to Zen or Buddhist history. They usually take the form of anecdotes that involve a Zen teacher and practical demonstration of their wisdom. They are used to test you and your Zen practice and are meant to encourage the truth to reveal itself. You should let go of conceptual thinking and logical constructions of the world around us so your creativity and spontaneity can bloom in your mind.  Here is an example of a Koan:

A Cup of Tea
Nan-in received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he could restrain himself no longer. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup", Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"


4)Mantras: if you get books or look at Zen meditation websites not all of them will list mantras as something that Zen Buddhist’s use but they are useful. When you sit in Zazen instead of counting your breath or using visualizations you may repeat any mantra to yourself. The number of times depends on you and your beliefs. You may have seen mala beads and have heard that you should repeat a mantra 108 times. You can if you want to but the main idea behind it all is that you repeat the mantra enough until it is all that is left in your thoughts.  Here are some of the general mantras that I have found in my readings that you may consider using…

Clear mind, clear mind, clear mind... Don’t Know
The above can be used when you have too much on your mind and would just like to quite some of the noise.

gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, bodhi svaha
translation: “gone, gone, gone beyond; opposites disappear, absolute appears”

Namu–de–bang–kwang–bul–hwa–um–gyung
Helps to make our minds strong and complete.

Om
The universal mantra of truth. This is used in many different traditions. It is even used in yoga. It is said to be able to take everything away.

Om–chi–lim

Protects your body from bad energy. When you are feeling sick or need energy this is a good mantra to use.


Om–nam
The mantra of purification. Use this when the place you are in seems to have bad energy attached to it.



Additional Readings:
Here is a list of things you can read to broaden your understanding of the topics discussed above. As always if there is anything you would like to add or you have any questions about this discussion please email me at amanda@amandasweeklyzen.com or comment on this post.

Zen Readings:
http://www.zenguide.com/ : a great website for everything Zen

Zazen Readings:
http://www.meditationquotes.com/index.htm : a great website for meditation quotes and some beginner tips (its focus is general meditation)

http://www.mro.org/zmm/teachings/meditation.php : has a great tutorial on how to sit

http://www.zenguide.com/zenmedia/books/chapters.cfm?t=zazen_meditation_guide : a Zazen guide that can be downloaded into a PDF

Koan Readings:
http://www.nozen.com/index.htm : a great little place that offers different Koans for study. It also has a great mobile site.

Mantra Readings:
http://zenmirror.blogspot.com/2009/03/mantra-practice.html : a comprehensive list of Zen Mantras





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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Be Empowered! Eat Chocolate with Breakfast by Jan Bethancourt


Be Empowered! Eat Chocolate with Breakfast by Jan Bethancourt is a delightful little book that is best shared with others. It is not the type of book that you need to sit down and read in order. Flip to any page and you will find something not only relevant to your day but also uplifting and inspirational. So what is Be Empowered! Eat Chocolate with Breakfast? It is a collection of original sayings and watercolors that are designed to make women feel empowered, confident and happy. Lots of smiles in this book. It was started as email messages that Bethancourt sent to her daughter while she was in college. All were designed to make the daughter feel worthy and encouraged.

The entire book is built around the metaphor of chocolate (alas she is not really advocating the eating of real chocolate for breakfast… but this reader is! J ) Chocolate is Bethancourt’s metaphor for confidence, courage, and compassion. It is not really clear why she choose chocolate to serve as those ideas but it fits this collection. It is cute and delicious. The metaphor of chocolate comes up often with beautiful little sayings and every once in a while a cute little watercolor heart jumps into the conversation to visually remind you that you are loved.

I am not sure if the book “unleashed my inner self worth” but it did make me smile. As I mentioned earlier in this review this is a book that means more when it is shared. Since I cannot share the entire book with my reading audience (here though I encourage you to run out and buy or download your own copy) I want to share a few of my favorite tidbits…

 “You do not have always have the luxury of choosing your journey. You do have the freedom to choose your path.”

“What if?” won’t change your past. “What now?” will change your future.

“Appreciate where you have been. It takes you where you are going.”

This book would be appreciated by readers who are women, readers who want a little smile and readers who want to appreciate simplicity. Smile dear readers and eat some chocolate with your breakfast!


Note: I was given this book by the publisher for review, in no way did it effect what was written in this review.


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