February 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

February has been mostly dedicated to Charles Dickens and Edwin Drood. I’ve read two novels by Dickens and one about him – sort of – as well as watched the new BBC adaption of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and a Doctor Who episode featuring Dickens.

And look how pretty my Reading Challenge Goal looks. 2 books ahead! Yay me!

So again this month I’ve read some pretty awesome books. All 5 were actually really good. Two 5-stars read, 2 4-stars read – and The Mystery of Edwin Drood would have gotten more stars if it had been finished.

  1. Terry Pratchett: The Unseen Academicals. Oh, I loved this. Funny funny read. The Wizards of Unseen University has to play football – of course everything goes wrong in exactly the right way. 5 stars.
  2. Charles Dickens: Hard Times. So good. Dickens completely nails these characters – especially Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. 4 stars.
  3. Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I loved this – but it’s only half a book and the action was just getting started when it ended. Would have loved to read it in it’s entirety. 3 stars.
  4. Dan Simmons: Drood. This was amazing! Simmons has a lot of knowledge about Dickens, Wilkie Collins and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and he manages to create an extremely exiting novel that I absolutely adored. 5 stars.
  5. Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaneys. How much does it take to break a family? Get the answer in this awesome book by one of my favorite authors. 4 stars.

I’ve read 2068 pages this month as well as a e-book: The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. So a little less than last month but still good. The longest book I’ve read this month was Dan Simmons Drood with it’s 775 pages.

I still think I’m doing good on my challenges. I read three more books for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012 as well as two for the Chunkster Challenge 2012 (as well as a bonus chunkster). I’m also right on track with the Clarissa read-a-long and I love it! With regard to my own personal challenge, I need to read about 2 books a month from the list and I have – this month it was Terry Pratchett: Unseen Academicals and Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaneys.

I have a list of books I really want to read in March. In fact, I want to read them all right now – but since I can’t read them all at once, I’ll try to read them as quickly as possible. So these are the books, I really want to read in March:

  1. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. After reading Drood, where Wilkie Collins was the narrator, I really wanted to read some of Collins’ own works.
  2. Marisha Pessl: Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I bought this a while ago but recently read a review where it was compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History which I read earlier this year and loved.
  3. Jonathan Carroll: The Ghost in Love. I’ve been wanting to read Carroll for a while and this one sounds so good. It’s about a man who falls and dies – but doesn’t die. There’s a ghost who was supposed to take his soul to the afterlife, but since the man didn’t die, the ghost has to stick around a bit. Of course, the ghost falls in love with the man’s girlfriend – and then things get complicated …
  4. Matthew Pearl: The Last Dickens. Matthew Pearl wrote the introduction to my version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Dickens, and since I’m still on a bit of a Edwin Drood craze, I’m really looking forward to hear what Pearl has to say about Dickens’ last work.

Joyce Carol Oates: We Were the Mulvaneys (review)

For the Mulvaneys were a family in which everything that happened to them was precious and everything that was precious was stored in memory and everyone had a history. (p. 5)

What if you had it all? Would you dare to just sit back and relax and enjoy it or would you constantly fear that something would happen that would take it all away? If you had the perfect family, what would it take to break it all apart? Well, unlucky for the Mulvaneys, they live in a Joyce Carol Oates novel so of course they are going to find out just what it takes to break their family apart.

Corinne and Michael Mulvaney live on the beautiful High Point Farm just outside Mt. Ephraim, New York. They have 4 gorgeous children – Michael Jr. (the jock), Patrick (the nerd), Marianne (the beautiful and popular only girl) and Judd (the little brother). The parents still love each other, the dad runs his own successful business and the kids are doing good. They are happy, the family get along with each other, everything is right. The farm is wonderful, the kids each have their own horse as well as a lot of dogs and cats and other animals. Everything is just perfect.

But then – something happens. Something happen to Marianne. On Valentine’s Day 1976, Marianne is what we now will call date raped (probably). When dad finds out, he hurries off to the home of the alleged perpetrator where he slams the boy against the wall as well as bruising his ribs. The two families agree not to press charges against each other – something Marianne in particular is happy about since not only does she want to protect her father, she also feels like the date rape was her fault since she got drunk.

But how do you move on after something like that? What do you do when your daughter and sister has been date raped? Michael and Corinne is trying desperately to get it all together – but especially Michael is failing, and when Corinne is realizing how far out Michael is and that she has to take care of him first, they decide that Marianne has to go away.

How had she been blind for so long, these weeks? – how had she missed understanding? – here was her first love, her firstborn. The others, the children born of her body, even Marianne, were hardly more than dreams, ripples on the surface of a dark impenetrable water. From this man, from his body, their bodies had sprung. He was her first love. (p. 185)

So Marianne is shipped off to live with some relative, Michael Jr. has joined the Marines and Patrick is away at college, leaving Judd and his parents to try and figure out how to move on with their lives. Michael Sr. is pulled down into alcoholism, trying to get lawyers who will sue … everybody almost and he starts getting violent. Corinne tries desperately to keep it all together and Judd is the one really experiencing the family falling apart, the less frequent phone calls, the not inviting Marianne to holidays, the selling of the family home.

Oh  my, this is a depressing novel. It’s wonderful and awesome and so well-written in the familiar JCO style, but it’s so sad. I have read it before and back then, I think I was only concerned with ‘what happens next?’ and ‘how is this all going to turn out?’ – but this time, I was more concerned with the why of the parents’ seemingly rejection of their daughter. (Spoilers ahead!) And the answer is simple, but powerful, I think. As Patrick states frequently throughout the book, they are casualties too. They don’t know how to handle the situation. The father wants to find someone to punish, he’s desperately trying to make his world make sense again. But can’t. The mother is so in love with the father that she is ready to do everything to save him – including sending her daughter away. I think the father’s actions make sense – he lost himself when his daughter was hurt. He lost his sense of self, his idea of the father being the protector of the family. And he couldn’t handle it. He couldn’t deal with being reminded of it every time he saw her. In the end, it has always been Marianne who was the favorite child and the failure to protect that special girl from harm, destroyed him and destroyed the family.

I’m less sure about the mother’s action though. She has to choose between the husband she loves and one of her children. An impossible choice, yes, but one she has to make. And she chooses the father – thereby causing Marianne, the real victim, to be sent away. Is it the right choice? It’s impossible to say. Michael Sr. never gets over what happened. We have no way of knowing if he would have gotten over it if Marianne had stayed. I think she made the wrong choice – I think I would have tried to heal the family. She still lost her husband. But maybe her choice kept more harm from being done. There’s no way of knowing.

I think that’s one of the things Oates does best. She takes a situation, describes it somewhat but  not completely, she leaves it to the reader to fill out the details and that way, you as the reader become more engaged in the situation the characters are in. And I really like that there’s a brief essay by Oates in my edition, where she states that she probably wouldn’t have made the same choice as Corinne.

I keep thinking that it’s devastating how little it takes to break a family. Of course, I’m not insinuating that date rape is a small thing. What I mean is, that something taken only a tiny bit of time can have repercussions for so many people for so long. It completely changes their lives, neither of them are ever the same again. It’s shocking how quickly your life can change. And how little you can do about it.

As parents we do our best to give our children the tools to navigate the world with. But in some situations, we’re all lost. You have the dream, but dreams shatter. And what are we left with? Memories of better times … and the hope that some day, it will all be all right.

What is a family, after all, except memories? (p. 4)

  • Title: We Were the Mulvaneys
  • Author: Joyce Carol Oates
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • Year: 2008 (original 1996)
  • Pages: 453 pages (this edition comes with 17 pages P.S. with info about the author, recommendations and more)
  • Stars:  4 stars out of 5

Bookshopping in Paris (part 4)

Finally, the last installment in this short book shopping guide to Paris. On our last day, we visited the most commercial book store – which was also the store where I bought the greatest number of books. I do feel a bit bad about this since I prefer supporting the smaller bookstores which aren’t part of a chain but it just happened that this bookstore had a lot of books that I wanted. Also, this was the last bookstore so I knew I had to get everything I wanted here or I wouldn’t get it.


The bookstore I’m talking about is the WH Smith which is situated beautifully on the Place de la Concorde. I didn’t take any pictures of the outside since it’s exterior isn’t as interesting as the other shops (or more correctly, I was carrying a lot of books and just forgot…). I picked up 10 books in this store … and I could have bought even more but it was getting a bit hard carrying my stack as well as looking at more books.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander 2)

I read the first of the Outlander series in 2010 and although I liked it, I never got around to picking up the next volume. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how much they love these books so I figured I needed to read a bit further in the series and see if the like will grow to love.

Robin Hobb: The Assassin’s Trilogy

My best friend Henrik has talked about this for years. He always says that I’m going to love it – but that I will bawl my eyes out because there’s parts of it that I’ll find very very sad. I hate reading about anything that hurts animals and there’s some of that in these books. At the same time, there’s amazing bonding between animals and humans and I hope that will overshadow the sad parts.

Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Winner of the 2011 Pullitzer Prize for fiction. I heard Jennifer Egan read a part of this book on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. She read a chapter where a woman is a public relation advisor for a dictator. She advises him to wear a light blue knitted cap – but he wears it the wrong way and everybody thinks he’s dying of cancer and it’s a mess. When she gets him to wear it the right way, everyone suddenly thinks he’s adorable and he gets the Nobel Peace Prize … It was so funny to hear and I can’t wait to read this!

Howard Jacobson: The Finkler Question

Winner of the 2010 Booker Prize. I kind of have an idea about wanting to read the Booker Prize winners. So far, I’m not doing very good on that. But first step is to get the book and now I have this one, last years winner. It sounds kind of funny so I think it’ll be a good read. I really liked Skippy Dies by Paul Murray that was on the long list that year so hopefully, this will be even better.

A.S. Byatt: Possession

I’ve written before about how A.S. Byatt intimidates me (here). But after having finished one of her novels and having watched the movie version of Possession, I wanted to read it even more so here it is.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude

I’ve read Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez and loved it, and this should be just as good or even better. I almost got Memories of my Melancholy Whores instead but I think I’m going to be glad that I picked this one.

Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind

I’m just so excited about this trilogy. The second volume was one of my most anticipated of the year, even though I haven’t read the first one …! I so think it sounds so so good. It doesn’t hurt either that this edition looks so amazing!

Joyce Carol Oates: We were the Mulvaney’s

Well, JCO is one of my all-time favorite authors. I just love her. I think this was the second novel I read by her (the first being Blonde). It’s been several years and I really want to re-read it.

So there you have it. This was the last Paris update. So the books featured in these 4 posts are some of the books you’ll get to see reviews of on the blog in the future. I think I did pretty good on my book shopping – at least I’m very happy with the books that came home with me. Of course, I could have easily bought more…