Saturday, March 19, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Readalong--Part I

Atlas Shrugged has been on my TBR list forever, so when Allie of A Literary Odyssey suggested a readalong, I knew I had to join in.  Work was super crazy, and I ended up behind schedule.  I was only around page 50, and I was worried I wouldn't finish on time.  Once I got going, it was difficult to put down.  I read the majority of the first part (312 pages with teeny-tiny print) in two days.

As you can see, I'm enjoying the book.  After I finished the first part, I was nervous to share my feelings about it.  This book is divisive as Rand's intention was to share her ideology through this novel.  I really want to avoid a political debate so I'm going to try to focus on it as a novel.

What I Liked

  • I felt like I could relate to Dagny Taggart as I also am a woman working in a man's world.  As a professional working in business, I understand that feeling of not fitting in the "boy's club."  It's difficult at times to be taken seriously and not have men want to question your judgment.  It's so condescending when they have to run it by a man.  Dagny fought her way to the top with tenacity and hard work, and I loved that about her.
  • Henry Rearden is a tough character to like, but you have to admire his willingness to take risks.  He worked his way up from nothing.  He had no advantages in life, but he had the confidence to build an incredible empire.
  • The underdog story of the triumph of the John Galt Line was great.  I always want to cheer for a cause where there is so much fighting against it.  I found myself flipping through those particular pages quickly because I wanted to see them succeed against so much adversity.

What I Didn't Like

  • I think the good and the bad are characterized as black and white.  I don't think that it should be that extreme.  I do believe in the free market, but I don't think that it means that you have to be completely objective and lack compassion.  It's important to be self-interested to an extent because your business wouldn't function otherwise, but it doesn't have to be to the exclusion of the human element.  It doesn't have to be all about the buck to be successful.
  • Henry Rearden is so cold.  He seems to lack an ability to make a human connection.  I don't think that example of a businessman should be held up as ideal.  His treatment of women is abhorrent.  They're almost like possessions to him and that is wrong.
  • I really felt a strong connection to Dagny Taggart, but I lost some respect for her character in how she deals with her personal life.  For someone who is unwilling to back down in the boardroom against powerful men, it's shocking how she allows herself to be treated in her relations with men.  Both men she has been with so far treat her as if they own her and that intimacy is owed them.  Where is your self-respect Dagny?

I'm still enjoying the fast pace of the story, but it sometimes gets bogged down by Rand's attempts to support her ideology.  I understand that it was her purpose in writing the novel, but for me it screws with the pacing a bit.  I'm curious to see where the storyline of Francisco will go.  His abrupt change in lifestyle is an enigma, but I'm sure all will be revealed at some point.  I still don't know who John Galt is, but I'm certain I'll find out by the end.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bargain Book Bonanza

Lesa, of Baja Greenawalt's Cozy Book Nook is starting a new linky party for those of us that love bargain book hunting.  Stop by to see all of the participants and their bargain book finds.

I'm not a book buyer.  Up until the summer, I lived in San Diego and had access to a wonderful library system.  I could reserve any book I fancied and it would be delivered to my local library for free.  It was rare that I had to wait more than a couple of weeks for a book.  In addition, they had an excellent collection of classics so if I was still waiting on a reserved book, I could always find something to read.

This past August we moved to a little village in Scotland.  The entire library is about the size of a large living room.  No joke.  I can go to the library on any given day and not find a single thing I would want to read.  Not very many classics.  There is a reservation system, but it costs 37 pence (not a big deal), and I often have to wait several months.  I have also found that there are some books that I'd like to read that are not available at any of the libraries in my area.

Enter the charity shop.  I had mentioned at The Avid Reader's Musings that I hadn't been able to get my hands on a copy of The Remains of the Day.  She suggested I check out thrift stores.  The thought had never occurred to me.  So I did.  My village happens to have one on the main street so I took a little stroll and was surprised to find such wonderful books.  I visit weekly, and I have found some great books in excellent condition.  All paperbacks are 5 for £1 (about $1.50), and children's books are 10 pence (about 15 cents).  It works out that it costs me less to buy books I'd like to read at the charity shop than to request them from the library.  Here are a few that I have found.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier--I've been wanting to read this for a while.  It's on my list for the What's in a Name 4 Challenge hosted by Beth Fish Reads, so I was really excited to find it.  (20 pence)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett--I have heard wonderful things about this book from many bloggers.  I was already planning to read it for Jenners' Take A Chance Challenge 3.  I found it at the perfect time.  (20 pence)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith--I was attracted to the cover of this one.  It doesn't show as well in the photo, but it is gorgeous.  It also says on the cover that it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.  That sure helped its cause.  (20 pence)

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery--I never read this as a child, but as a mom, I always keep a look out for books that I think my kids will enjoy.  While my 3 year old daughter isn't ready for it yet, some day I hope she'll read this one.  (20 pence)

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame--I have been wanting to read this one to my kids as a bedtime story ever since Kathy at The Literary Amnesiac mentioned that she had.  My kids are animal lovers so I thought they would love this one.  (10 pence)

Captain Courageous by Rudyard Kipling--I loved the Just So Stories as a child, so I thought I'd give this one a try.  I figured it might be a good one for my boys.  (20 pence)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott--This has been on my TBR list forever.  I'm not loving the movie tie-in cover, but that's okay.  (20 pence)

These aren't all books that I will keep, but any that I don't love will go back the charity shop to find their way into another bargain hunter's home.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Books as a Reward!

Last week I received some fantastic news--I got my CPA License!  It took me much longer than most because I chose to work part-time so that I could stay home to raise my kids (not a dig on anyone--just what works for our family).  It took me five years to get my one year of work experience, but I finally finished!

As a reward for myself I decided to buy some books.  The accountant in me makes me a bit of a tightwad, so it's kind of a big deal when I buy new books.  Here is what I purchased.

I'm in love with the Vintage Classics books.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde--I've been wanting to read this forever, and I've read wonderful things about it on so many blogs.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell--I've read some raving reviews of this one (and a few that disliked it). I have yet to read anything by Gaskell, so I thought I'd give this one a shot.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith--I think this was one of the most frequent books on blogger's "Best Books of 2010" posts.  I saw it everywhere, and from what little I know about it, it sounds like something I'd love.

I think I'm last person on Earth to read these books.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins--I have heard such wonderful things about these books.  When Amanda of The Zen Leaf mentioned that she'd read them multiple times, I knew I'd have to get my hands on them.  I don't like buying modern books unless I've already read them, but my entire library system only had book 1 and 3.  Crazy, right?  Oh well.

Have you read any of these?  Which book should I read first?

This was a total splurge for me, which I'm sure sounds weird.  I've learned that I'm an anomaly--a non-book-buying freak of the book blogging community.  I'm okay with that.  It's okay to tell me how strange I am.  How often do you buy books?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

War and Peace Final Thoughts

Sorry for two posts in a row, but I finished!  It feels like such an accomplishment because the book is so MASSIVE!!  If you had told me a year ago that I would ever read this behemoth book, I would have called you nuts.  I'm glad that I gave it a chance because it was so worth it.

The last section focused on the wrap-up of the war and the wrapping-up of everyone's story.  The war sections were interesting when they focused on familiar characters, but the general philosophizing got a bit tiring.  Particularly, the end of the epilogue seemed to reiterate many times over, many of the points that Tolstoy had already made about war, individual will, and historians (of whom he doesn't seem to have much respect).

I, sadly, already knew the marriages that would happen in the epilogue because someone had posted a chart to help with names.  I was a bit bummed when I saw it, but I was surprised by how the marriages came about.  I assumed that they would be dynamically much different and that they were entered into for different reasons than actually happened.  I was pleasantly surprised by the happiness of the characters at the end.  They seemed perfect for each other and you could feel the passion in their marriages--as it should be.

I'll keep this brief for now.  I'll try to do a complete review soon.  I'm just glad I'm actually posting on time!  In short, I really enjoyed the experience of reading War and Peace.  I'm amazed at Tolstoy's ability to weave such an intricate, epic story.  Although I've loved it (overall--not the sluggish parts), this is not one that I'll read again.  It's simply too time-consuming and I have so many more wonderful books I have yet to read.