Great Expectations

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Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Confessions of a bookworm…

Posted by mandyhuckins on January 12, 2010

In 2006, the first year I really and truly kept track of what I was reading, I read 38 books.  I knew I could do better, so for 2007, I pushed the total to 46.  In 2008, my goal was to read 50 books (a little less than one a week) and I did it by reading 51.  In 2009, I set an ambitious goal of 55 books, but I am sorry to report that I fell far short. I have 51 books in my book journal, but I know that some of them were unfinished.  Here is the list of what I read in 2009:

1.) Hood by Stephen Lawhead

2.) Good to Great by Jim Collins

3.) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (one of my favorite authors and I want to work my way through his oevre)

4.) The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

5.) The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (on my Top 50 Books of All Time list)

6.) Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke (This is one I haven’t finished….yet)

7.) Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

8.) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

9.) My Enemy’s Cradle by Sara Young

10.) The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker

11.) The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

12.) Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

13.) Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber

14.) March by Geraldine Brooks (an excellent read and a Pulitzer Prize winner)

15.) Horseplay by Judy Reene Singer

16.) The Last Days of Dogtown by Anna Diamant

17.) Drood by Dan Simmons

18.) Saddled with Trouble by Michele Scott

19.) The White by Deborah Larsen

20.) Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster

21.) Stormy: Misty’s Foal by Marguerite Henry (disclaimer: a child’s book, but a lovely one)

22.) The Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend

23.) Thief of Souls by Ann Benson

24.) The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller

25.) The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

26.) Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes by Cathy Holton

27.) Watership Down by Richard Adams (this used to be on my Top 50 of All Time Book list, but this time through, I didn’t love it as much.  Isn’t it funny how our tastes change at different points in our life?)

28.) Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

29.) The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

30.) Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

31.) The Gate House by Nelson DeMille

32.) Sea Glass by Anita Shreve

33.) The Highwayman & Mr. Dickens by William J. Palmer

34.) The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson

35.) Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

36.) Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

37.) An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

38.) Courtesan by Diane Haeger

39.) The Starter Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer

40.) The Hounds and the Fury by Rita Mae Brown

41.) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

42.) The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner

43.) Paris in the Twentieth Centrury by Jules Verne

44.) Maneater by Gigi Levangie Granger

45.) The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

46.) Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carol

47.) Neuromancer by William Gibson

48.) Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig (LOVED IT!)

49.) Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen

50.) Eragon by Christopher Paolini

51.) The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

So, as you can see, I have a pretty eclectic taste in reading.  I enjoy switching from more challenging or meaty reads to frivolous “beach” reading.  I want to include a Pulitzer prize winner and a Charles Dickens each year.  All in all, I didn’t do too badly, but better luck in 2010!

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Copper is content…

Posted by mandyhuckins on June 30, 2009

In the photos from yesterday, I neglected to take a picture of the little reading nook in the living room.  Here is Copper enjoying it last evening:

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Sleeping dogs sure are cute!

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Book #3 – Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 17, 2009

I love Dickens and I love the story of Oliver Twist, but I could not remember if I had actually read this novel in its entirety, so I picked it up at the beginning of this year.  I very fondly remember seeing the musical Oliver at the Dock Street Theater in Charleston, but I was a little disappointed in the book.  It was so dreary and sad – very dark in some places.  Of course, as a reader, you find yourself rooting for poor Oliver, who continually finds himself in tight spots.  Just as you think he is going to get himself out of his life of squalor, the bad guys catch up with him again and drag him back.  Although I like the idea of intrinsic goodness overcoming evil situations, it was unrealistic for Oliver, a small boy, to not be taken in by some of the bad things going on in his surroundings.

Great Expectationsby Dickens is on my Top 50 books of all time list, so I hoped that Oliver would measure up, but it lacked the humor and the memorable, likeable characters found in GE.  Dickens is known for what was at the time considered to be a shocking portrayal of city life and he does a decent job here of showing us the lives of criminals.  In modern times, we have become so desensitized to violence and hard crimes that we see Fagin and the gang as petty criminals.  While it might have been shocking to contemporary readers, I thought it lacked the grit and reality of A Tale of Two Cities, for instance. 

On a recent trip to the airport, I found an interesting book while browsing around, killing time.  It is called Drood and it is a novel about an event that happened to Charles Dickens, leading to his authoring The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  I am very intrigued to read both.  Add those to the list…

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Book #2 – Good to Great by Jim Collins

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 10, 2009

When I am cruising around Barnes & Noble (or more likely virtually cruising around Amazon), I would not ordinarily stop and pick up a book like Good to Great.  This was assigned reading for my job.  But, I did read it, it is a book, and I think I am going to need all the help I can get to reach my reading goal for the year (55); so I am counting it and thus writing a review on it. 

The premise of the book is that some companies become uber successful and really stand out from the market in general as well as other organizations within their own sector.  Why?  How does this happen?  Jim Collins and his research team attempt to answer these questions and offer advice to companies wanting to make this jump. 

It is an interesting idea (who doesn’t want to know the secret of becoming great?), but there are a few things I question.  First, the sample pool seems rather small – 11 companies out of the thousands of companies out there.  Next, the success measure is based only upon stock returns from 1965 until 2000.  While stock return certainly is one measure of success, is the only one?  What about organizations, like the one with which I am currently employed, that aren’t publicly traded?  How can not-for-profits measure success?  Also, since the study data cut off was the year 2000, many of the “great” companies included in this study, certainly wouldn’t be considered so in these trying financial times.  Fannie Mae?  Circuit City?  I think some “great” companies are going to be the ones who planned ahead and will weather this current storm.  Right now, many Americans might define a great company as one that is still in business, is honoring its committments and is not laying off all of its workers.

One of the key points the book makes is that a company must have a “Level 5” leader in order to make the transition from good to great.  The research team takes great pains to define a Level 5 leader and outline the qualities and characteristics encompassed by such a person.  One of the major characteristics is humility…so, my question is, what do you do if you don’t have such a leader?  Do you give up? 

Apparently Good to Great has been a very strong seller in the business book market for years.  It is filled with trendy acronyms, charts and graphs.  It has dazzling statistics regarding the rocketing stock returns from the great companies.  But, I just wonder if reading it can possibly make a difference for any existing company…

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Book Review #1 – Hood by Stephen Lawhead

Posted by mandyhuckins on March 7, 2009

The first book of the year was Hood, lent to me by my friend Becky.  As you might infer from the title, it is a take on the Robin Hood saga.  I love historical fiction; it is my favorite genre, but in addition to that, I am enchanted by the legend of Robin Hood.   The summer days of my middle school years were filled with building hiding places in the woods as well as handmade bows and arrows that helped the legend come alive in my imagination as well as those of my playmates.  I believe that I was always Robin – no matter that I wasn’t a boy.  In my mind, Robin was a girl’s name anyway.  Needless to say, this book was perfect for me. 

What I like most about good historical fiction (and this is also true of good science fiction) is that it transports you to another time and another place.  It creates a whole world, much different from your real life in which you can escape.  To that end, Mr. Lawhead does an excellent job.  His descriptions of drafty, cold castles and their roaring fireplaces make your face feel warm while leaving your backside to the chill of the hall.  The characters are not intricate or necessarily well-developed, but the sense of time and place is extremely well done.   There is a particularly fun scene in the forest where Robin’s band has set a trap for soldiers passing through with a wagon full of money.  They devise cunning tricks that make the forest appear to be haunted.  The pictures were so vivid in my mind as I read this – I could see it playing on the movie screen inside my head.

For those of us that have read many different accounts of the “steal from the rich, give to the poor” legend, this one has something a little different to offer.  It is set in Wales for one thing.  The author includes a section at the end of the novel in which he defends his decision to do this (very convincingly, I might add).  So, the story line is different enough to keep the reader guessing and yet familiar enough to have  you saying “ah-ha – here is Will Scarlet” when a likely character appears.

This was a good read – I would recommend it.

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Is the Golden Compass a moral compass?

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 23, 2008

So, I have admit that I watched the movie, The Golden Compass, before I really knew what it was about or heard any of the hype (I know, I know, but I kind of do live under a rock).  I really enjoyed the movie and thought it contained some very interesting, science-fiction type ideas.  I thought it was pretty mature and was surprised it had been marketed to children, despite the fact that the protagonist is a 12 year old girl.  I thought it would be too scary for kids.  But as an adult, I found it intriguing and decided to read the books. 

Then, I heard about the moral debate swirling around the movie and the trilogy of novels written by Philip Pullman.  I did see the anti-establishment theme in the film, but I didn’t think it was particularly anti-Christian.  Yes, the spirits/souls of the characters in this alternate worlds are called daemons, and in our world demons are bad/associated with Satan, but in this alternate world, many things are topsy-turvy.  I thought it might just be an over-reactive, knee-jerk reaction from the church.

So, I checked out books two and three in the series, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, from the library.  The Subtle Knife was pretty good.  It followed the story of Lyra and added a new character – Will – from our own world.  He becomes the wielder of the subtle knife which can cut through the fabric between alternate worlds and allow beings to pass through.  Lyra is weirded out by the fact that in our world humans’ spirits are completely enclosed within their bodies and do not have an outward, physical manifestation in the shape of an animal.  I still found the relationship between the characters and their daemons very interesting – as was the choice of each character’s animal side.  My family used to play a game where we decided which animal each member of the family was most like (my mom thought I was a deer).  It is an intriguing idea – just like the Patronus in Harry Potter where each character can produce a protective charm in the shape of an animal which represents the creator of the charm (Harry’s is a stag – Hermione’s is an otter).  From this second book in the series (which, incidentally, is called “His Dark Materials” – so, that should have given me a clue) was still enjoyable – but, a little more anti-church – the Magesterium is called “church” and high-ranking officials are Bishops.  There was some light criticism which I was able to take in stride and did not find too offensive.

So, I embarked on the third book.  I got 50 or 60 pages into it and have decided to put it down.  It has a decidedly different tone from the movie or the previous novel.  Pullman really gets almost “preachy” with his anti-Christianity platform.  The reader discovers that the children are actually on a quest to kill God.  There are angels – but they are the “fallen” angels – this time recruiting other beings to join them on what will be a successful fight against the “Authority.”  There is even a homosexual pair of angels!  I can clearly see why the church and Christian groups have spoken out against this series.  It does draw you in, you want to keep reading to see what happens to Will and Lyra and it isn’t until you get to the third installment that it becomes nasty and heavy-handed. 

It is incredible that these books have been written for and marketed to children.  They have been given awards and chosen for children’s reading groups.  They are exremely imaginative and well written – they transport the reader to a different world – they are thought provoking and different from other literature, nonetheless, if you are a Christian, or if you think you might be offended by some of the ideas presented, I would advise you to stear clear.

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