Another Excuse to Read All Weekend

It’s time for another Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathonreadthonreader

Saturday, October 21 @ 08:00 (EST) through Sunday, October 22 @ 07:55

http://www.24hourreadathon.com/

What is Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon? For 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs, Twitters, Instagrams, Litsy, Facebook, Goodreads and MORE about our reading, and visit other readers’ homes online. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October.

It was created by the beloved Dewey from The Hidden Side of a Leaf (her blog is archived at the Wayback Machine). The first one was held in October 2007. Dewey died in late 2008. We’re still saddened by her absence, but the show must go on. The read-a-thon was renamed to honor its founder in 2009.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon has been hosted by Heather of My Capricious Life and Andi of Estella’s Revenge, with help from scads of volunteers since 2013.

There’s fun, there’s games, and yes, there are prizes! AND LOTS OF READING! 🙂

Prepare your TBR, or just wing-it as it’s looking like I’ll be doing since I can’t seem to make up my mind about what I want to read, brew some tea or coffee and join in!

Happy Reading!

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REVIEW: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

It happens gradually. So gradually you don’t think to protest until it’s too late. One by one rights diminish, disappear. It’s for your protection, for the security of our great nation. Surely you want to be safe?

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred tells us the story of exactly what happens when citizens in a democracy stop paying attention, stop protesting, let their fears overtake their humanity. Freedoms are the first to go. And you think, as cherished as those freedoms are in a democracy, that just wouldn’t happen. But you’d be mistaken: internment camps, McCarthyism, the Patriot Act, TSA, DHS, and other “security measures” prove otherwise.

I first read Atwood’s book in the early 90’s. It won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes, and the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It’s also a banned book. It had been so long since I read it, that I wanted to read it again for this year’s Banned Books Week and before watching the recent Hulu series based on it.

Gilead is a dystopian society where fertile women serve as surrogates for the barren wives of powerful men. This is what it is to be a Handmaid. The other options are death camps, servitude, prostitution or execution, unless you can escape to the free north with the aid of underground rebels. Offred becomes a Handmaid to most powerful Christian in Gilead and his wife Serena Joy. She remembers life before Gilead, her husband, her child, before she was just a vessel for childbirth.

Atwood’s writing is prose at its finest and she skillfully lets Offred tell her story in a way that never reads as science fiction, but as possible reality. A way of life let go through inaction, through complacency to a new way of life as sheep to slaughter.

She loses her job. All women do. Women need to be at home protecting the children. She loses her bank account. Don’t worry your pretty little head, her husband will handle the family finances and she’ll be taken care of. People turn on each other instead of organizing to combat the piling injustices. Secret police are everywhere. Under his eye.

The last chapter of the book is an anthropology conference where PhDs are discussing Offred’s found record of what happened when America became Gilead. It is a chapter read with a mix of relief that humanity prevailed and despair that life could all too easily be discarded long enough to destroy generations. We can believe she escaped and lived to tell her story.

Women’s reproductive rights, the Tea Party, religious fanaticism, racial intolerance, terrorists so branded because of a belief in a different prophet. Do you see warning signs? Are you awake? Do you feel safer? Protected? Isolated? Angry? Decide while you still have choices, options, a vote. Praise be.

And always read banned books. Words are freedom.

REVIEW: Early Warning by Jane Smiley

This is the second book in Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy and I enjoyed being back on the Iowan farmstead with the Langdon clan for the weekend.

It’s 1953. The kids are grown and have kids of their own. Most have left Iowa and are scattered across the country from Washington DC to California. The book begins with the family having gathered back in Denby for patriarch Walter’s funeral and we’re given a refresher of where each family member is now and what they’re doing.

Frank is still occasionally helping Arthur in his work with the CIA, but mostly climbing the ladder in the defense industry. His wife is distant and his children troubled. Joe is still farming, mostly successfully, slow and steady. Henry has come into his own and found companionship. Claire has found her backbone. Lillian worries about her husband, her siblings, her mother, her children, her nieces and nephews and welcomes them all with food and comfort.

We follow the various family members through the AIDS crisis, the Kennedys and King assassinations, the Vietnam War, the Reverend Jones mass suicide, the Iran hostage taking, the Civil Rights Movement and the rapid rise of real estate prices.

Smiley’s characters are so warm and real that we feel we know them, we care for them, their children, their lives. They bring the news headlines of our past back to recent memory. We know the future so to speak and we worry while watching them head into a tragedy we know is coming.

The Golden Age is next up, the final book in the Langdon trilogy. I’m going to miss feeling like a part of their family.

REVIEW: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Jackson’s Gods in Alabama was another of my 24in48 readathon challenge picks. In preparing for the challenge, I thought it might be easier to read for 24 hours if some of the reads I chose were light, brain candy books. I did read for 24.5 hours so perhaps the strategy worked, but much like regular candy, the enjoyment was fleeting.

It’s a good opening line, “There are gods in Alabama… I know. I killed one.” But from there the story felt somewhat forced and the characters not fully developed. Arlene Fleet, the heroine, is living in Chicago having fled Alabama in her school years promising God never to return if she didn’t get caught for the murder.

Of course, she ends up being pulled back and that’s when we slowly learn what actually drove her to leave. There are moments when Jackson appears to try to add depth to the novel – Arlene has an African-American boyfriend she takes home with her so racism is touched on, religion to some extent and a rape that is glossed over – but nothing very deeply and almost as afterthoughts. The story winds back and forth and the ending isn’t quite what is expected. Not necessarily in a good way though, it actually made Arlene seem more foolish, less sympathetic as a character.

I haven’t read any of Jackson’s other books. I have Between, Georgia on my TBR shelves, another holdover from this reading challenge. I just have no desire to pick it up after this one.

REVIEW: Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg

In my Southern-themed stack for July’s 24in48 Readathon was Fannie Flagg’s first novel, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man. I overestimated how many books I could read in 24 hours, then got side-tracked by other reading challenges and finally read it last month. It’s a quick, easy enjoyable read full of lively characters as one has come to expect from Flagg’s books.

The story is told in diary format by 11 year old spunky Daisy Fay Harper. She shares her insights on daily life growing up on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast in a small town full of colorful people where something crazy is pretty much always happening. Her daddy’s a drinker and a dreamer, her momma’s just about had it, her teacher takes a shine to her and her junior debutante leader isn’t quite all there. This all makes for laugh out loud passages as well as those that can bring tears to your eyes or warm your heart.

Seven years later Daisy Fay makes it out of small town Mississippi by winning the Miss Mississippi pageant and leaving to compete in the Miss America pageant.

Flagg is an iconic Southern writer of all that is stereotypically Southern. There’s always an eccentric, a small town, and a huge heart in her books. It’s fun to drop in once in a while and escape a world that seems so far from that these days.

REVIEW: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It’s hard not to already know Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The story at least, even if you’ve never read the book, what with all the mini-series, movies, even spin-offs so popular recently. Though movies are never the same and for readers, the book is always better. There is a reason the novel has been told so many times, in so many ways – it’s good and its tale is timeless.

“Any man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife” is as memorable of an opening sentence as “Call me Ishmael” or “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” The stories and the beautiful writing in these books continue to draw fans decade after decade.

Beautiful Jane Bennett is 22 years old and in early 1800s England, that’s time to marry. Jane’s mother takes on the project of seeing that each of her five daughters is married off to a fine gentleman that will secure their future.

The story then revolves around these matchmaking efforts, but more famously the love that slowly blossoms between Jane and Mr. Darcy, one of the richest men in Derbyshire. It is the classic drama of together, not together, together again – soul mates that are destined despite the odds. But the surrounding tales are comical. Snide, witty remarks abound and everyone’s general lovingly. laughable way of regarding Mrs. Bennett in her endeavors to find the perfect man for each daughter makes for enjoyable reading.

My daughter loves this book and I sheepishly admit that this is my first time reading it. As mentioned before, romance novels just don’t appeal to me, but the writing itself won me over so despite those prejudices, I’m actually glad I succumbed and finally read it.

REVIEW: House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

I read House of Mirth shortly after Pride and Prejudice and for most of the book i found myself bored with it. It felt so similar – another society girl in need of a rich husband, wealthy circles of New York – wealthy circles of London, ho hum.

29 year-old Lily Bart is arm candy in need of a husband to secure her future. Her small fortunes are slowly dwindling and she’s getting older. She knows this, her patronage aunt knows this and her society friends know this. But Lily also wants a happy marriage, a marriage of love. Sadly her wants and her needs don’t ever match up for her.

She fails to secure a good prospect, loses most of her money, has her reputation tarnished by gossip and develops an addiction to a sleeping narcotic. She takes work as a milliner’s apprentice and is outcast by her former friends.

She begins to live away from high-societies clutches and enjoy her work, even acknowledging her love of a kind man previously thought not rich enough for her. Just as she makes up her mind to tell him, she overdoses on her sleeping liquid. The gentlemen in question arrives at her small apartment to tell her of his own love for her only to find her dead.

The romance genre of literature is my least favorite and I have a tendency to not trust books with happy endings, hence my lack of enthusiasm for Austen’s novels. I was not at all prepared for Wharton’s ending and it was that last chapter that endeared this book to me. Because life doesn’t always come neatly wrapped with a pretty bow. Sometimes by the time you figure it out, it has moved past you or taken a turn you absolutely weren’t expecting. That’s what makes it interesting. And that also makes for a great read.