Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pygmalion Watch-a-thon: The Pygmalion of Ovid and Shaw

Welcome readers to the first installment of the Pygmalion Watch-a-thon series, where I break down adaptions and interpretations of George Bernard Shaw's famous play, Pygmalion. In past versions of this series, I didn't give much introduction to the works of literature themselves, which makes the assumption that you have either read the work in question or have at least heard of it. Here, I want us to start on almost the same playing field, or as close as possible.

That means before we can start watching some movies and tv shows related to Pygmalion, we need to talk about two topics: Ovid's "Pygmalion" and Shaw's Pygmalion. Since we must start at the beginning of all this, that means breaking out my copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses (a book I've referred to, but never read all the way through. Shame on me!). Here is one of the first prominent narrative iterations of the Pygmalion mythology.

In the narrative poem, Pygmalion is a sculptor disgusted with the "shameful lives" and "vices" present in all of the women around him. Basically, none of them meet his standards of behavior, so he chooses not to have any sort of involvement with women. Instead, he devotes himself to his art and makes "...an ivory statue,/As white as snow, and gave it greater beauty/Than any girl could have...The image seemed/That of a virgin, truly..." (Ovid's Metamorphoses. Translated by Rolfe Humphries. Page 242).

Pygmalion and Galatea II: The Hand Refrains by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones 
You've probably noticed with words like "ivory," "white." and "virgin," Pygmalion's ideal version of beauty involves the purity he finds lacking in the flesh and blood women. Naturally, he falls in love with his own creation and treats the statue as if it were a real woman. He lavishes gifts and attention on the statue, but, of course, it's still just an ivory statue.

When a festival for Venus/Aphrodite arrives, Pygmalion makes an offering to the goddess and wishes that his future wife be like his statue. The goddess recognizes that Pygmalion's true wish is to have the statue as his wife. When Pygmalion returns, his touches and caresses appear to bring the statue to life, whose "...eyes open/At once on lover and heaven..." Notice how the two of those seem to exist on the same plane.
Pygmalion et Galatée by Jean-Léon Gérôme
The two conceive a daughter named Paphos and that's all Ovid writes. Later iterations of the myth give the statue/woman a name: Galatea. It's important to note that she doesn't have a name, or really any identity except in the eyes of her sculptor/lover. She doesn't just magically come to life all at once; it takes the attentions and ministrations of her creator to turn hard stone into yielding skin.

Shall we talk about George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion?

Many people are only familiar with Shaw's play through the lens of the Broadway play or the movie, My Fair Lady. In fact, the two are quite different. Summary time!! In Act I of the play, we are introduced to a rainy scene where all types of Londoners are gathered under a portico to seek shelter from the downpour. Amid the crowd are a mother and daughter waiting for the son to get them a taxi. In his rush, he collides with a flower girl, who berates "Freddy," about not watching where he's headed. Turns out the son's actual name is Freddy and the mother pays the Flower Girl to tell her how she knows her son's name. She doesn't know the son because Freddy is just a slang term for a man. It's important to note the slovenly appearance of the Flower Girl as well as her Cockney English.

Meanwhile, a gentleman arrives and the Flower Girl tries to get him to buy some of her wares, but a bystander tells everyone to be careful because there is a man writing down what everyone says. The Flower Girl freaks out thinking the man is a policeman and that she is under suspicion. Turns out "The Note Taker" is just interested in phonetics and places everyone's hometowns based on their speech. The Note Taker makes an outlandish claim that he could pass the Flower Girl off as a duchess under his phonetics expertise. The Gentleman and the Note Taker share this interest in the art of speech and decide to spend supper together, but not before the Note Taker gives the Flower Girl some of the coins from his pocket.

Around this point our cast of characters are better identified. The Gentleman is Colonel Pickering, The Note Taker is Professor Henry Higgins, and The Flower Girl is Eliza Doolittle. 

In Act II, the play intros with Higgins and Pickering, who are interrupted with Eliza's arrival. She has come to request lessons from Higgins because she hopes speaking in a more genteel manner will help her establish a flower shop rather than selling on street corners. At first, they seem resistant to the idea until Higgins and Pickering place a bet with each other that they can pass her off as a duchess at the Ambassador's upcoming party. This exchange is peppered with a number of insults lobbed at Eliza by Higgins, whereas Pickering treats "Miss Doolittle" with a modicum of respect. After a bit of hesitancy, Eliza agrees and the housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce takes Eliza upstairs for a bath and a change of clothes. 

Meanwhile, Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle makes an appearance. He sees an opportunity here to make some money and requests 5 pounds from the men for his cooperation in their bet. Alfred makes it a point to note that he isn't looking to use the money to better his social position. He just wants it to spend aimlessly on food and alcohol. Higgins is immensely intrigued by the man's rhetoric and gives him the money. Eliza returns downstairs after her bath and her father doesn't even recognize her. Shaw ends the Act with a small scene revealing the type of training that Eliza receives under Higgins' tutelage. That is to say Higgins' impatience and rude demeanor make it difficult and tear-filled for 

In Act III, Higgins decides to have a test run with the newly trained Eliza at his mother's "At-Home Day." Mrs. Higgins rejects this idea because Professor Higgins always seems to upset her guests with his poor manners, not to mention she has some qualms about this bet. At this point, Mrs, Miss, and Mr Eynsford Hill arrive effectively silencing Mrs. Higgins. The three of them are identified as the same family from Act I and Eliza engages them in conversation. Despite having near perfect pronunciation, Eliza tells a rather uncouth story about how her Aunt died of influenza, but the family circulates rumors that she may have been killed. In this moment of hilarity, it's revealed that Eliza needs a bit more training, but Freddy is inexplicably enamored by her. Meanwhile, Mrs. Higgins again voices her reservations about the men treating Eliza like their "living doll" and inquires what should happen to Eliza after this experiment is over.  

Next we fast forward to the party, where the bet is won or lost. The trio run into one of Higgins' old pupils, Nepommuck, who uses his phonetics knowledge for his own gain by blackmailing those who wish to keep their backgrounds a secret. Eliza seems to impress everyone and the hostess tasks Nepommuck to find out who Eliza is. He insists she speaks English too perfectly to be an Englishwoman and proclaims that she is a Hungarian Princess. With this triumph, the trio leaves the party.

On to Act IV! When the three return, the two men pride themselves on their success and talk about how relieved they are that the experiment is over. They give no praise or attention to Eliza and she silently gets more upset as the conversation continues. The two retire leaving a very hurt Eliza behind. When Higgins returns looking for his slippers, she flings them at his face. The two get into an argument where Eliza reveals that she's worried about her uncertain future. Now she is no longer fit to run a flower shop and has no place now that the bet is finished. She almost regrets the whole endevour. After Eliza asks if the clothes are her's to keep, Higgins returns upstairs for the night, angry and upset. Eliza collects her belongings and leaves, but, in the process, she runs into Freddy, who reveals his feelings for her. The two leave together in a taxi.

Now time to finish everything up in Act V. Higgins and Pickering return to Mrs. Higgins' residence upset at the realization that Eliza went missing/ran away in the middle of the night. The group is interrupted with the arrival of Alfred Doolittle, who is a changed man thanks to the casual word of Higgins. Turns out Higgins mentioned Alfred to a millionaire trying to form moralist reform societies, calling Doolittle, "the original moralist." As a result, the man left Doolittle a living with the stipulation that he give lectures. Now family have come out of the wood-works after Doolittle's money and he will shortly be getting married, much to his displeasure. 

It turns out that Eliza has been at Mrs. Higgins' all along. She reveals herself to the men and thanks Pickering for the respect he has shown her throughout the experience. She and Higgins subsequently get into another argument. He wants her to return and live with him, but she refuses. She points out that he's consistently rude and doesn't treat her with any respect. Instead, she prefers the kindness and respect that a life with Freddy might offer her. After Eliza stands up to Higgins, they all leave to attend Alfred's wedding and the play ends with Higgins telling Eliza to pick up some items before she returns. Then he laughs over the thought of Eliza marrying Freddy. The play ends ambiguously with no outright indication whether Eliza will marry Freddy or return to Higgins.

Whoa! I think it's time for a break after that.

Now that I've had a mental break and some snacks, it's time to tackle some important themes as well as talk about how Shaw's play re-imagines the Pygmalion myth. Right from the beginning of Act I, you can tell that Shaw's play has a social critique built right into it. Our characters are not immediately identified by their names, but by their social positions. Not to mention that society places you in your social class based on wealth, behavior, and, most importantly here, appearance. 

From the get go Shaw makes sure you know that the unnamed Flower Girl's clothes and hair are dirty and that she is in bad need of a dentist. Mrs. Eynsford Hill is quick to give Eliza money after she uses her son's name because she's worried that her son might be associating with the lower classes of society. Such an association would damage her position as well. That same social critique continues when you learn that Mrs. Eynsford Hill keeps up the appearance of a wealthy existence, but behind that facade, the family is actually not that wealthy anymore.

Alfred Doolittle's transformation illustrates how all of those factors that make up social class are intertwined. As a member of the lower classes, Doolittle relishes the freedom that a poor life gives him. His behavior is relatively ungoverned and the money that he obtains is his to waste. Once he finds himself a moderately wealthy man, now he must act in an appropriate manner befitting that wealth.

The problem with Eliza is that her appearance and manners have been molded to suit an upper class existence. While she had eyes on a middle class living as a lady running a flower shop, she has the comportment of a Princess or a Duchess. Her worry is well founded near the end of the play because this new physical transformation leaves her without a solid place in society. 

The question is how does Ovid's Pygmalion factor into all of this? I mean it is the title of the play. In simplistic terms, Professor Henry Higgins is our Pygmalion equivalent and Eliza is his Galatea. As with great works of literature, nothing is ever that simple. 

Shaw's work seems to hint that his version of Pygmalion, and even to an extent the mythical Pygmalion is flawed. When Higgins is introduced, it isn't a positive portrayal. He's described as an unfeeling and uncaring scientific type and even like a "very impetuous baby." He's a man with a rampant ego and no consideration for others. His phonetics study/art consumes his life. Like our original Pygmalion, Higgins does not have any involvement with women. At one point, the play mentions that any woman he would be involved with could never compare with the paragon that is his mother, Mrs. Higgins. Higgins doesn't treat women as his equals, particularly Eliza. 

While Ovid's Pygmalion doesn't outright claim ownership over Galatea, her very existence is wrapped up in his desire and her position as the object of affection to his devoted lover. Here Eliza is her own independent person and therefore not completely governable by Higgins. He sees her complete identity as a manifestation of his work and tries to claim ownership of her. At one point he argues that he put all the ideas in her head and the words in her mouth. 

In contrast, Shaw shows us that while Higgins may be the Pygmalion figure, he is not the sole creator of his Galatea. First, there is the unquestionable fact that Eliza already has her own established identity before Higgins. Her transformation changes how other people perceive her and was originally intended for her own gain. Let us not overlook the fact that Higgins isn't her only agent of transformation. Mrs. Peace is actually our first Pygmalion figure. She's the one to enact the initial physical transformation by taking Eliza up for a bath and she's the one who attempts to keep Higgins' civility towards Eliza in check. Our other Pygmalion figure can be found in Colonel Pickering, whose money funds this transformation, but also whose courteousness and kindness makes Eliza realize she deserves to be treated with respect. At one point, even Mrs. Higgins points out that part of Higgins' triumph is due to his dressmakers. 

At the end of the play, Shaw's decision to make Eliza's future ambiguous signals that his Galatea has recognized her freedom to choose her future. She doesn't have an obligation to be tied down with her supposed creator. I have a real appreciation for this ending, but it turns out that not many other people who chose to adapt the play did. Here Shaw denies the mythical Pygmalion ending as well as the cliched romantic ending that people come to expect and be comforted by.

In fact, Shaw became so annoyed that his ending was warped to have Eliza end up with Higgins that he wrote an afterward to the play clearing up Eliza's future. So much for that nice ending. There he makes it completely known that it never made sense for Eliza to return to a life with Higgins. Instead, she does decide to marry Freddy and they agree to open a shop together. Turns out all that phonetics training didn't prepare Eliza for the reality of running a business and her and Freddy end up taking business classes. 

Eliza may have ended up trapping herself in a different marriage, but at least it's a life she's chosen for herself. As Shaw puts it most eloquently: "Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable." What a contrast to Ovid's Galatea, who sees both her lover and the heavens as equal.  

After all that, we are finally done!! Everyone still with me?? I hope this rather laborious post gave you a better sense of Pygmalion and of Shaw's play. While this is in no way comprehensive, I think I've created a great starting point for my brand new Watch-a-thon series and it'll make my future posts much more accessible.You know what this means?! It's now time for me break out some popcorn, sit myself in front of the fan, and watch some movies. Now I have an excuse to tell myself when I want to stay inside and be a hermit. See you back here for the next installment in the series! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

New Watch-a-thon Series Announcement!!

Welcome back to another surprise, dear readers! I guess July is the time for announcements apparently, or rather I have the most time off from work this month. I think an increase in the amount of sleep I get reflects in my willingness to blog. So there you go.

For the longest time, I've been leaving vague hints here or there that I would be resuming my Watch-a-thon blog series. It's always been my favorite series on this blog and it was, in fact, the first one that I created. For those who are new to my blog, the Watch-a-thon series is a collection of blog posts where I pick one of my favorite classic works and review existing film/video adaptions of the story. These reviews talk about the faithfulness of those adaptions or how the new interpretations build on the original work.

In the past, I've done Watch-a-thon series on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Both of those works were a joy to review and write about. While they were time consuming in their own ways, I kind of wanted to up the game a little bit and take the series in a more complex direction.

It took me quite a while to settle on another subject for the series. I needed to find a work that I loved, which also found its place in the cultural lexicon. Basically, there needed to be a wide range of adaptions. I played around with the idea of another Austen novel or even a work by a different Bronte sister, but in the end, I chose something I'm quite sure you haven't guessed yet. Have I built up enough anticipation?

The next Watch-a-thon series will feature Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw!!

Pygmalion is perhaps my favorite play, but the jury is out if you include any of Shakespeare's works. My love affair started the summer when I decided to start watching classic movies and came across the gem that is My Fair Lady. I watched that movie and immediately picked up a copy of Shaw's work. I was surprised to find the source material differed in some significant points. My academic mind preferred this version to the film adaption and I've always wanted to explore the story in depth.

What people really don't seem to realize is Pygmalion has a pretty solid and ingrained place in our culture. It just depends on what version of the story you choose to look at, be it the Greek myth, Shaw's play, Broadway's My Fair Lady, or many many more.

For the purposes of this Watch-a-thon series, most of the focus will be on adaptions/interpretations of Shaw's Pygmalion, but I very well might dabble in versions that ally themselves more with the myth than the play. As a note, I won't be including series, episodes, or films that only briefly feature the Pygmalion story. It needs to be the main narrative focus. That means versions like the Classic Alice series on YouTube or that one Simpsons/Disney Channel Hercules episode will not be included. As much as I would love to be comprehensive and include all adaptions, that just isn't possible.

There will be one change from the last Watch-a-thon series that I've completed so far. Before I delve into discussing the adaptions, I will be releasing an overview post that talks about the Pygmalion myth and the play itself. This gives readers who are a tad unfamiliar with the story some basic information and gives us a solid framework to refer back to when discussing themes, plot, and character construction.
That being said, rather intensely if I do say so myself, I'm looking forward to vegging out on the couch with some snacks and watching some great movies. I hope you'll join me on this literary journey!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Penny's Music Recommendations: July 2016

Another summer weekend has come and gone and with it, I've managed to avoid another sunburn. That's a small victory in my book. While everybody else is concerned with trying to pick which Top 40 song deserves the merit of "Song of the Summer," I continue to mine the depths of the indie genre for my next favorite. This month has a mish-mosh of genres, but most of them are artists you've probably heard or read about here. Time to plug in my bass heavy earbuds and get to sharing my favorite songs during the month of July.

  • New Americana by Halsey

Recently, Halsey has gained some pretty big popularity and she has a notable cult following, but for the longest time I resisted. She, like many of the artists I love, is solidly in the electropop genre, but I couldn't get into her music. All that changed this month when I gave her album, Badlands, another listen. Let's just say I changed my mind. There are a couple of songs off of the album that I liked, but "New Americana" is the one that I finally settled on. 

The song is just so catchy and it's one of those earworms that you can't get rid of once you hear it. While some claim this song is "plastic-y" and superficial, I'd hazard a guess that those are the same people that frantically whisper "millennials" under their breath, without unpacking the meaning of the word or their disdain. With the lyrics, Halsey seems to be tapping into the fact that the youth of today is growing up in a different culture altogether, with different influences and different ideals.  
  • Ride by Twenty One Pilots

For the life of me, I swear I've put "Ride" on one of my Music Recommendation posts and after going through my archive, I was surprised to find that it wasn't the case. It's doubly surprising considering this happens to be the second Twenty One Pilots song that has made it onto Top 40 radio. In fact, this is the only song on popular radio stations that I can stand to listen to. I'm going to be honest and say I didn't like this song when I first heard it. I wasn't 100% on board with the band's genre bending sound and the reggae influences put me off. After the third or fourth listen, I was and am still hooked. "Ride" is one of my favorite songs to listen to on the radio and I'm determined to memorize the whole song. All I can say is don't let the song's recent popularity put you off. I say like music regardless of whatever anybody else thinks.  
  • The Arena by Lindsey Stirling

If you've spent even a few minutes on YouTube and haven't listened to anything by Lindsey Stirling, you have no idea what you're missing. While she originally gained mainstream fame with her choreographed violin performances on America's Got Talent, she has a large discography of amazing music on her YouTube channel. 

Some days I'm in the mood for classical music and some days, like today, I'm in the mood for classical crossover. When that happens, I turn to Lindsey Stirling's music. A week or two ago, I was shocked to find this video for "The Arena" in my subscription feed and even more shocked to learn she will be releasing a new album, Brave Enough, in August. I seriously can't wait. This song is currently my favorite song to work out to and for good reason. It combines the classic sound of a violin with the intensity of dubstep, which doesn't sound like it would meld together well, but it does. Trust me and give it a listen.
  • Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It by Stars

Here we are. Back to the indie pop genre again where it feels like home. Periodically, I get the urge to binge watch movies, particularly romantic comedies, so I just type the genre into Google and watch whatever sounds interesting. I've watched some pretty weird movies that way, but there were some gems in the mix. During one of those movie binges recently, I came across this song in the movie "After The Ball" and the minute the movie was over, I had to listen to it all the way through. Stars is a Canadian indie pop/rock band that I'd never heard of before. Again it has this catchy upbeat sound that you can't help but sway along to. It's got this inspirational note to it in the lyrics, but it doesn't beat you over the face with it like other songs.
  • Hell No by Ingrid Michaelson

Why don't we round out the post with another indie pop/folk pick shall we? Ingrid Michaelson is one of those artists that I admit I do really like, but for some reason I never seek out her songs. I don't think I've listened to one of her albums all the way through, but every one of her songs I come across I like. This time I found out about her most recent single, "Hell No," through the popularity of its insipid music video compiled using snapchat filters. I hated it to say the least. When I heard the song again apart from the video, I liked it so much more. The tone of that video just didn't match the tone of the song for me. That being said, it's an upbeat break-up song that you can belt along to.

Those are all of the songs that I've been listening to in July on repeat. They might not be the songs of everybody else's summer, but they're certainly mine and it's been one indie upbeat soundtrack. See you back here next month for some more of my recommendations! 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Summer Read-a-thon 2016: Day 7 and Wrap-Up

Hello readers and welcome to the finale of my Summer Read-a-thon 2016. I procrastinated writing this all day, so much so that it is now after midnight and officially the next day. It was a fun summer day and for once I actually wanted to get outside and enjoy it. Not to mention the fact that it did include some light used book shopping. Nothing like using this challenge to minimize your TBR, only to increase it within the same week. Such is the life of a reader.

I think it's about time to tackle what went on during Day 7. First, I continued to read Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, the modernization of Jane Austen's Emma

I mustered up enough determination to finish this book in a couple of hours, which started off my Day 7 total with 168 pages. Since apparently this was the week for genre hopping, I decided to pick up a completely different book. That book turned out to be the much lauded, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

So far all I know about the book is that it centers on two characters: a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy during WW II. Everything I've read so far seems to be character building and plot set up. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to finish this book before Day 7 was already over. That being said, I did manage to read 123 pages. That brings my overall Day 7 total up to 291 pages!

It's been a great week of reading and I guess now is the time to wrap it all up. 

During the past seven days, I read a total of 2,401 pages and finished seven books in the process! Now time to binge watch tv for a few hours before I start reading again, as per usual.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer Read-a-thon 2016: Day 6

We are almost at the home stretch dear readers and I have to say doing an update every day has made this week seem even longer than usual. Normally the days of summer just seem to fly by me. All I have to say is the weather is working in my favor because it's so hot outside that I have no urge to step outside for any longer than I have to. My pale skin turns me into an even bigger hermit than I usually am.

After the kind of heavy and long winded reading that I experienced the last couple of days with Stiletto, I wanted something a little bit lighter in tone. I didn't have any more ya contemporary books in my TBR that I was interested in, so I decided to pick up Emma by Alexander McCall Smith instead. 

Emma is the third book in The Austen Project series, where authors release modern retellings of Jane Austen's books. As you can probably guess from the title, this is McCall Smith's effort at a modernization of Emma. I tried going into the reading experience with no expectations, which is kind of hard considering an impressive modern retelling of Emma exists on YouTube. I'm, of course, talking about Emma Approved.

Before Day 5 ended, I managed to read 200 pages of this book, which is a fairly average day total if I do say so myself.

After adding that to my overall page count, that brings my challenge total up to 2,110 pages. I think it's time to do some more last minute reading to round out this read-a-thon. I hope you come back tomorrow for the last update of the Summer Read-a-thon 2016.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Summer Read-a-thon 2016: Day 5

Finally my work week is over, dear readers, and before I inevitably collapse on the couch from exhaustion, I think I should probably recap what I read yesterday. It's currently the hottest it's ever been this summer and again I really really regret buying a black laptop. This might end up being the shortest recap of the read-a-thon because the laptop keys are burning hot and I'm sweating just sitting here. This is why I prefer winter.

Anyway, last night I was determined to make some solid progress in my reading challenge despite working the whole day. I resisted the urge to watch YouTube videos all night and finally finished Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley.

I won't say much here because I'm saving my thoughts for the July wrap-up post, but the plot really kind of fizzled out as I got closer to the end of the story. There was one shocking revelation, but it wasn't enough to redeem the whole book. Completing Stiletto started and ended my Day 5 total at 273 pages.

That addition brings my overall challenge total up to 1,910 pages! Now that this update is over, I think it's time to sit in front of the fan and read with a glass of ice water for the rest of the night. See you back here tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Summer Read-a-thon 2016: Day 4

Another weekday come and gone dear readers. On one hand, I'm so incredibly excited that it's one day closer to the weekend. On the other hand, that means this read-a-thon is almost over. Yesterday was the first day that I had to attempt to read during a full work day and boy did that not go over so well.

I never really realized that you can't read much in a half hour lunch period. Not to mention resisting the urge to immediately veg out and fall asleep after work is so hard. That being said I did manage to do some reading yesterday, so how about I stop whining and talk about that.

I started out Day 4 still reading Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley.

For whatever reason, I'm finding that this book is harder to get into the story than the first book in the series. The plot isn't quite as action packed and the characters don't captivate my attention quite like the characters in The Rook. Before Day 4 ended I managed to read 141 pages, which turned about to be all I read yesterday.

Add that to all of the previous day totals and so far my overall challenge count is up to 1,637 pages. Now it's back to the grindstone again and hopefully I'll finish Stiletto tonight!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Summer Read-a-thon 2016: Day 3

Hello readers! Another day in the read-a-thon has come and gone and now I'm exhausted after a solid ten hours at work. Why do holidays like this have to end with fireworks, sheer stupidity, real fires, and lack of sleep the next day?!

Regardless, I am here and ready to talk to you about how Day 3 of the challenge went. Just a side note before then: The updates on Days 4 and 5 of the challenge will be published the following night like today. Sadly, I'm forced out of my night owl tendencies during the work week.

To start out with, after reading a nonfiction book and that wonderful piece of 90's literature, I was in the mood for some light reading. You all know what that means: YA Contemporary. I scanned through my TBR collection and grabbed the first piece of YA Contemporary Romance fluff. That turned out to be My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. 

The book focuses on two families that live next door to each other. The Reeds are a quiet, small family, which includes our protagonist, Samantha. The Garretts, in comparison, are loud, messy, and have plenty of siblings to go around. Since Samantha just lives with her mother and sister, she envies the exciting life next door and watches them from afar. All of that changes when Sam meets the love interest of the story: Jase Garrett. She experiences first love and finally has an inside look at the life that goes on next door.

This was such a fun, easy read that I finished the entire book, which started my Day 3 total at 394 pages. Then I proceeded to enjoy the July 4th festivities and when I decided to pick another book, I literally could not make up my mind. I'm pretty sure I read the first four pages or so of three different books before I finally settled on one. I eventually made up my mind just to continue on with The Checquy Files Series and picked up the second book, Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley.

Stiletto reveals what happens when two rival organizations decide to form an alliance. The Checquy and the Grafters start to integrate under the guidance of Myfanwy Thomas, but old prejudices keep it from being a smooth merger. Now supernatural attacks start popping up all over London, threatening the survival of the public as well as both organizations. 

Before the end of the day, I managed to read 169 pages of the book, which brings my overall Day 3 total to 563 pages. That means it's time for me to break out the calculator in true humanities major fashion and tally up my overall challenge total.

So far I have read 1,496 pages during the Summer Read-a-thon 2016. Now I need to get off the computer and start doing some reading or else Day 4 will be mighty uneventful update. Goodbye!!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Summer Read-a-thon 2016: Day 2

Hello readers and welcome back to another late night post! Luckily, I'm not as groggy as last night, but that might be due to the fact that I ignored my alarm and woke up mid-afternoon. All I can say is I'm so glad tomorrow, or rather today since it's after midnight, is a national holiday in the U.S. I can't imagine forcing myself to go to bed in order to get up at the crack of dawn for work. I'll have that to look forward to later.

 Anyway, I think it's time to let you know what I managed to read today, despite sleeping the morning away and using the afternoon to clean. I picked up right where I left off last night and finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

I spent the late afternoon reading about the impact that Henrietta's cells indirectly had on her descendants' lives and it's relationship to patients' rights to their own genetic material. The rest of the book totaled up to 223 pages.

After that I wasn't really sure what I wanted to read next. Again I took a look at my TBR pile and really wanted something easy to read. It just so happened that in my last book haul I grabbed some books from favorite childhood authors and one of those caught my eye. That book turned out to be Gimme a Kiss by Christopher Pike.

Oh the 90s! What a time to be alive and write books apparently. Would you look at that cover. I bet you're all dying to know what it's about. The story starts out with Jane, just your average high school girl. She gets decent grades, has good friends, and is in a happy relationship with her boyfriend. Everything changes when everybody at her school reads one of her juicer diary entries. Rather than brush the incident off, Jane sets her mind to revenge, the kind that might involve murder. 

Since this was a pretty small book, I finished it all on Day 2, which added 152 pages to my total. It was already midnight before I got the chance to move on to a different book, so that's all I read this day. That means the complete total for Day 2 is 375 pages. Now time to reveal the running page total for the challenge.

 So far I've read 933 pages during the Summer Read-a-thon 2016. Now I think it's time for me to decide what to read next. I think all book lovers know what a hard decision that will be.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Summer Read-a-thon 2016: Day 1

Welcome readers to the first recap of the Summer Read-a-thon 2016. I may be tired, nay slightly exhausted, but I'm determined to maintain high levels of excitement. I'm ready to make this week one of the best reading weeks of the year. I started out Day 1 of the challenge determined to read as many pages and books as possible.

Before the reading challenge started, I was already in the middle of two books and decided to finish those off before starting a new one. The first book that I read during the read-a-thon was The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.

Originally, I had this book on my June TBR list, but didn't manage to finish it before the month was over. The book is about a man named Jean Perdu, who runs a bookstore in a boat, which he calls a literary apothecary. He gives people the books he thinks will cure whatever emotional ailment they might suffer from. When a newly heartbroken woman moves into an apartment next to Jean, she discovers a letter from his lost love that he's avoided for years. She convinces him to read the letter, an action that forces Jean to confront his past while traveling to the south of France.

I finished this book well before Day 1 of the read-a-thon was finished and it started my challenge total at 138 pages.

The next book that I started before the challenge, but decided to finish was The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. 

The story begins with the main character, Myfanwy Thomas, returning to consciousness with no recollection of her past. Immediately, she has to fight for her life and discovers that the previous Myfanwy knew she would lose her memories and left letters instructing her new personality. Myfanwy works as a Rook in the Checquy, a secret organization that protects Britain from supernatural phenomena. A large portion of the organization is run by people with extraordinary powers, one of those people being Myfanwy herself. Now, she has the challenge of running an organization with no recollection of her life while also trying to determine the identity of the traitor that wiped her memories clean.

This book kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time and I completely finished it on Day 1. In total, I read 262 pages of The Rook during this challenge.

For whatever reason, I've been the mood to read more nonfiction lately and when I took a look at my huge TBR stack, the one book that grabbed my attention was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

Despite the fact that this is a nonfiction book, it only took a couple of pages before I was hooked on the story. Skloot presents readers with the life of Henrietta Lacks, a woman who receives treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital for cervical cancer. This event leads to the creation of the infamous HeLa cells that scientists used to develop a polio vaccine as well as many other scientific research and discoveries. Those so called "immortal cells" were taken from Henrietta without her knowledge and Skloot shines a spotlight on Lacks' life, her influence on the scientific world, and the fall-out that the Lacks family had to endure because of it. 

I didn't get a chance to finish this book before the end of Day 1, but I did manage to read a total of 158 pages. All I can say is I'm looking forward to starting off Day 2 learning more about Henrietta's life.

Now it's time to tally up all of the pages that I read during Day 1. 

My page count for Day 1 of the Summer Read-a-thon 2016 is 558 pages. Not too shabby for someone who just about hit a reading slump last month. Now I think it's time to get started on Day 2 or maybe go to sleep. Who am I kidding!? Of course I'll be reading after this! Don't forget to return tomorrow night to see how I fared during Day 2 of the challenge. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

June 2016 Wrap-Up

Hello readers and welcome to another monthly wrap-up. This time we tackle the month of June with it's promise of summer, and vacation for those lucky enough not to have a full time job (or is it really that lucky?). Anyway, in the hope of being proactive and clearing my schedule for the week long Summer Read-a-thon 2016, which you should totally follow, I decided not to wait until mid-July to release this wrap-up. June wasn't a particularly successful reading month. I didn't read as many books as I usually do, not to mention the books that I was reading bogged me down. At one point I felt the reading slump start to settle in and I took a break. I'm rambling now and it's time to start the reviews.
  • The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken


For a while now I've been toying with the idea to give up reading ya sci-fi/dystopia because the genre is over flooded now. I decided to give The Darkest Minds a chance since so many people said fantastic things about it.

The book centers on a world in which a mysterious disease infects children before puberty. Many of those children die, but those that live develop extraordinary powers. The government deems these children dangerous and rounds them up into camps. The protagonist of the story is Ruby, a girl placed in Thurmond, a "rehabilitation camp." After escaping the camp, Ruby is on the run with a group of other gifted children, all trying to sort out their lives.

The first 25% of the book is very promising. I enjoyed reading about Ruby's early childhood with her parents in comparison to the horrible conditions of the camp. The premise was an interesting one and I was excited to see what Bracken would do with the world. Sadly, the story devolves into an uninteresting road trip play by play and I had to motivate myself to continue. When I made it through that part of the book, I came across the hint of a love triangle. I was about ready to set the book down and move on, but I stuck it out until the end.After I finished the last page, I realized that I wasn't that invested in the characters and the plot didn't grab me enough to convince me to pick up the sequel. All in all, it was an average read,
  • The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

I've been interested in Ancient Egyptian culture for the longest time and it's always been my favorite subject in history class. In my free time, I love to watch documentaries about Egypt and it's there that I learned about Hatshepsut and wanted to know more about this female pharaoh. So many of the books that I read only addressed her in passing and when I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it.

Cooney tries to present you with as linear a narrative as possible. The problem is so little is known about her youth and the exact particulars of that time period that it's important to note that a good portion of this book is conjecture. Every reader that picks up this book need to recognize that Cooney makes guesses and assumptions about details of Hateshepsut's life. Granted, they are educated and well researched assumptions. You shouldn't take everything in this book as truth, but in all honesty, this may be as close as we can get.

As for the reading experience, I was captivated the whole way through. I think if you enjoy Ancient Egyptian culture, you will enjoy this book. Cooney's writing is never stuffy, her authorial voice isn't too vocal or distracting, and the linear narrative lets you connect with Hatshepsut just like you would with any fictional character. Should Cooney choose to write any more nonfiction, I would read it in a heartbeat.
  • Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project #2) by Val McDermid

Northanger Abbey is the second book in The Austen Project series, which is a project where a select number of authors modernize all of Jane Austen's books. Last month, I read and loved Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, which is the modernized version of Pride and Prejudice. Naturally, I sought out the modernized version of Northanger Abbey because it's tied with P&P as my favorite Austen novel. If this tells you anything, I based my final Senior Seminar paper on Northanger Abbey.

While I was a bit wary to see how the story would be modernized, I threw myself into the book with no expectations and hoped for the best. Let's just say by the end, I was disappointed. When an author makes a conscious decision to take a work of literature and modernize it, I expect that author to do something creative with the story and adapt it in a meaningful way.

Cat Morland in this novel lives a marginally sheltered life in a small town. When the Allens invite her to attend a festival in Edinburgh, she jumps at the chance. There she meets the Thorpe siblings and Henry Tilney. Now she has to juggle new friendships and a potential romance.

Rather than adapt the book in such a way that plays off the themes and develops the characters even further, the author chose to stick with the exact same story. It seems like all she did was insert the modern equivalents in the appropriate slots. Instead of Tilney joking with Catherine about how girls journal the events in their lives, here Tilney tells Cat that girls always use social media to document everything. This modern Cat doesn't read Gothic novels. She reads vampire novels. So much more of the plot needed to be altered and adapted. Austen's story set in the 1800s does not directly translate well in an assumed 21st century world. These 'modernizations" just don't cut it. The characters came off as one dimensional, the plot was clunky, and the ending was ridiculous. I'm still determined to read every book in The Austen Project series, despite this book.  

  • Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales


Now on the the classic pick of the month, or rather two consecutive months. It took me such a long time to get through this behemoth, which I really didn't expect when I made up my mind to read it. When I bought this collection, I was under the impression that this book had all the fairy tales I was familiar with, just presented in a darker fashion. A few of those tales were, in fact, familiar. That included Snow White, Cinderella, and Rapunzel.

What you need to recognize if you make up your mind to read this book is that it has more than 200 short tales and not all of them are gems. Many of the collected tales are the same stories, just told in a slightly different manner.

Am I saying this is a bad read? Not at all. Most of the stories were engaging, presented a thoughtful moral, and even made me chuckle now and then. My recommendation is that you make this one of the books you casually peruse on dreary days. Don't assume you can just read it straight through like I did.

Those are all of the books that I read during June. There might not have been many of them, but I'm proud of what I did manage to accomplish. Now I think it's time for me to put the computer away and get started on Day 1 of the Summer Read-a-thon 2016 challenge. I hope you will come back tomorrow night for those updates!