Best 100 Novels

I’ve been on this audiobook kick lately. 

As a working mom, I’m basically obsessed with packing as much as I can into any given moment.  I’d mentioned to a friend that I wished I could find something productive to do with my 30 minute commute home every night at midnight.  Yes, I know, I should relish in the opportunity to relax and decompress.  Sometimes I do.  But lately I’ve found that I hear the same old songs and think about the same old things.  I started thinking that I should get a voice recorder so I could talk to myself and throw out ideas for my blog.  However, I’ve been doing well working on my blog at other times (I can neither confirm nor deny the theory that I do much of my writing at work).

There was a forward going around Facebook a month ago with a list of the 100 Greatest Books.  You were supposed to mark the books you’d read and post it for all of your friends to see.  They would look at your list, see how brilliant and well-read you were and repost the list with THEIR books marked (probably bumping it up just a bit to feel superior to the friends who’d already participated).  I’d read 21….not too shabby compared to others, but pathetic when you consider that these 100 books are the GREATEST books that EVERYONE should have already read.  So, as a result, I decided that I need to read more classics.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I decided that maybe I’d try to listen to these classics on CD while driving home.  I wasn’t quite sure how it would work.  I had visions of driving off the edge of I-20 and crashing after being lulled to sleep by a reader’s calm voice.   Luckily, it worked out better and I found that it was extremely relaxing (but not TOO relaxing) and decompressing to be read to.

My local library is pathetic and the Audio Book selection is even sadder.  Well, the CD section is sad…..if I had a cassette player in my car, I’d be golden.  However, there are a lot of books that  I have yet to read, so it’ll do for a while.  I can also request audiobooks from other libraries if I can get organized enough to plan ahead.  I miss out on the fun “browsing” element, but I guess you do what you’ve got to do.

So far I’ve listened to Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (read by Obama.  seriously the best way I can imagine to “consume” this book.  completely amazing).  I’m currently listening to Night by Elie Wiesel, which is one of those classics that I just never got around to reading. 

Because books aren’t that plentiful at my library, and there are so many books that I should read, I figured that I should have a list to work off of.  First I printed the list from Facebook, but then I started wondering if this was really the “Official” list.  I found that there are a million lists of “The 100 Best Books of All Time”, and the selections really don’t vary that much, so I just picked one.  Conveniently, it’s from a website called www.best100novels.com/.  It sounded good to me.  I printed the list and carefully went through and marked the books I’d read   Somehow 1 of my books was lost in the move and now I’m at 20 books read.  There are a few that I know that I have read, but I have no recollection of them so I didn’t count them.  Others are listed as entire series and I counted them if I’d read at least one and had no interest in continuing (I won’t mention names, but I’ll go on record as saying that I don’t particularly like fantasy books, no matter how much money the blockbuster movies make).

Here’s my list so far.  I’ll try to keep this updated…..

1.                   1984 by George Orwell

2.                   To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3.                   The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

4.                   The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

5.                   Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

6.                   The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

7.                   Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

8.                   Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

9.                   Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

10.               The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

11.               The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

12.               Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

13.               Ulysses by James Joyce

14.               Lord of the Flies by William Golding

15.               Animal Farm by George Orwell

16.               Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

17.               Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

18.               Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

19.               Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

20.               The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

21.               Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

22.               Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

23.               East of Eden by John Steinbeck

24.               One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

25.               The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

26.               Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

27.               Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

28.               A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

29.               War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

30.               The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

31.               Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

32.               The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

33.               The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

34.               The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

35.               Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

36.               The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

37.               A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

38.               The Stranger by Albert Camus

39.               The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

40.               A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

41.               Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

42.               One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

43.               The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

44.               Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

45.               The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

46.               Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

47.               Moby Dick by Herman Melville

48.               The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

49.               Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

50.               Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

51.               Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

52.               The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

53.               On the Road by Jack Kerouac

54.               Watership Down by Richard Adams

55.               A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

56.               Life of Pi by Yann Martel

57.               The Stand by Stephen King

58.               Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

59.               His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman

60.               Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

61.               A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

62.               Middlemarch by George Eliot

63.               Dracula by Bram Stoker

64.               Dune by Frank Herbert

65.               Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

66.               The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

67.               Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

68.               The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

69.               The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

70.               Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

71.               Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

72.               Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

73.               Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

74.               The Trial by Franz Kafka

75.               Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

76.               Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

77.               The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

78.               To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

79.               David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

80.               The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

81.               For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

82.               The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

83.               Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

84.               Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

85.               Atonement by Ian McEwan

86.               I, Claudius by Robert Graves

87.               Persuasion by Jane Austen

88.               A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

89.               The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

90.               The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

91.               Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

92.               The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

93.               Beloved by Toni Morrison

94.               The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

95.               Emma by Jane Austen

96.               As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

97.               It by Stephen King

98.               Light in August by William Faulkner

99.               Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

100.            Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

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Memories from a year ago…..

One year ago I was gigantically pregnant.  I was still the mother of one and I had no idea what it would be like to have a son.  I was nervous about childbirth and praying with all of my might that I would have a successful VBAC.  At this point in my pregnancy, I was trying to find a good way to induce labor.  As you’ll see below, extinguishing lawn fires is NOT an effective method.

***************************************************

3.28.2008    38 weeks pregnant

Okay, I’ve tried all the tradition home methods for starting labor. I’ve decided that it’s time to move on to more “unique” methods. For example, yesterday afternoon I put out a fast moving grass-fire.

I stopped to pick Amelia up from our friends Avery & Jasmine’s house. Jasmine runs a small in-home daycare. The only kids there were Amelia and Jasmine’s daughter Makayla, so they were in the cul-de-sac riding their bikes. We all went into the house to get Amelia’s bag and I needed to make sure that Amelia went potty before we left. While we were in the bathroom Jasmine went outside to get the bikes and ran back in screaming that there was a fire in the neighbor’s yard and it was coming toward the house.

For a few minutes (maybe a minute) we tried to slow it down by using pots and pans to throw water on it, but it was just moving too fast. They just moved in and haven’t gotten a garden hose yet. Jasmine was talking to 911 and still throwing water and I ran outside and started knocking on doors. Her neighbor had a hose so I turned their water on and started spraying. By this time the fire was right up to the walls of 2 houses (the house right next to Jasmine’s and the next one down). At some point the woman whose hose I was using came out and started helping. I ran around to the back and got the hose from the next house down and kept spraying. Meanwhile Jasmine had moved on to dumping water on the neighbor’s front yard because the fire was right up to their door. We’d taken care of most of the fire when the Fire Dept got there and put out the hot spots.

When all was said and done, the entire lawns of both houses were completely burned, as were the front hedges of the house next door. Buckets, gutters and a couple fire hose holders were completely melted. Luckily, none of the houses were dramatically damaged and nobody was hurt.

It amazes me how lucky the situation was. That Jasmine only had 2 three year old there (that she hustled to the house across the street at some point)….she usually has 2 toddlers and an infant there too. That I happened to be there picking Amelia up and hadn’t left because I was trying to get Amelia to go potty. That the fire got right up against the parts of the houses that were made of brick. That the woman 2 houses down (who came out to help) happened to get out of work early today. Wow…crazy.

After the fire dept left I went inside to get a drink. When I came out the people next door were standing there (they’d JUST gotten home…can you imagine????) and the lady said “You must be the pregnant lady who put out the fire!” It wasn’t all me by any means, but it was sort of nice to be treated like a hero.

By the way….I’m still not in labor. I guess I’ll need to go out and find more excitement today.

I am a Writer

Okay, this is weird.  First a little back-story….

 

I’ve always fancied myself a writer.  I like to read things that I’ve written.  I feel like I can string words together in a way that makes sense and sounds okay.  Punctuation is always a little cagey, but it’s because I write exactly how I would speak.  Come to think of it, it would probably be even better if I occasionally threw in photos of my face or hands so the reader could get the FULL effect. 

 

I remember getting a good grade in ninth grade Spanish class because I wrote a book about my favorite athlete (Mogul skier diva Donna Weinbrecht).  The teacher said  that I’d done so well because I wrote exactly what would have said in English and then just translated it, instead of writing based only on the words that I’d already learned.  That’s what made sense to me.

 

I’ve found that the only downside is, like a said, the question of punctuation.  That and the fact that I will too often begin a paragraph with “So…”.

 

So….(hehe, I did that on purpose)…I majored in Professional Writing.  That sounds impressive, but all it means is that I went to Carnegie Mellon University without the ability to excel at anything technical or artistic.  I got the degree, but I don’t think I’ve ever quite convinced myself that I deserved it. 

 

Here’s the thing….I’m from Vermont, where we’re known for speaking simply.  And as we’ve established, I write exactly how I speak.  So, I’ve got a pretty straight-forward, simple way of writing.  I don’t cloud my writing with a bunch of unnecessarily large words.  I HATE the word ‘juxtaposition’.  I like how I write, I think it suits me.  Still, I get completely intimidated when I read another writer’s more verbose prose.  I figure “oh, well there’s a good writer.”  The exception to that is when the writer is TOO verbose, especially when they use too many adjectives.  Oh yeah, that bugs me.

 

I suppose my main point here is that I let my insecurity keep me from writing.  This blog isn’t even something that I tell people about.  None of my friends or family have ever read it.  I figure that when I have a good chunk of posts, I’ll go public.  But damn, who knows?  And how will I know when I have enough?  And when I tell people about the blog, will I delete this post?

 

And now to the ACTUAL main point….in the last 3 days, I’ve had three very different people mention in passing that they enjoyed my writing.  One read a story that I’d written previously about something crazy happening.  Another based her opinion on my story about the lady running across our lawn.  The third just said that she finds me funny and that loves my Facebook updates.  All three told me that I should, to some degree, try to pursue it.  I like to think that I’m not a huge attention whore, bringing constant attention to compliments I’ve received.  I hope that people don’t think of me as a braggart.  But DAMN, did those compliments feel good!  I made a point to tell each person that I really, really appreciated them saying what they did.  It literally gave me a warm feeling in my heart.  It made me smile.

 

I’ve had a few ideas about writing.  I want to continue expanding a blog….perhaps start another blog about parenthood.  I’m working on an idea for a children’s book.  I recently found an ezine for hip parents that I hope to eventually be cool enough to contribute to.

 

This morning I read an article in my CMU alumni magazine about Zachary Quinto, a fellow alum, who’d now on a top rated TV show and starred in a film that will definitely be a blockbuster this summer.  Once he decided that he wanted to be cast as Spock in the new Star Trek movie, he made it public knowledge.  He told interviewers that he was going for it.  It inspired me…a lot.  This is a guy who came from same place I did, and now he’s taking over the world.  For too long I’ve let my insecurity hold me back from trying things, or even admitting that I wanted to try things.  From now on, I’m going to just declare my aspirations.

 

I am a writer.  More to come….

The Order of Disorder

I’ve been weirdly productive lately. I guess I shouldn’t complain. Somehow I’m accomplishing a lot and feel like everything else in organized in a way that indicates that it WILL be done soon. In the last 3 days, I cleaned out the refrigerator, cleaned the kitchen & dining room, picked up every room upstairs (still need to vacuum), went through all of Z’s clothes and brought out the next size up, organized the hand-me-downs to give to 3 different friends, bought supplies for & planted a potted herb garden, bought a carseat for our nephew, renewed a magazine subscription & mailed a birthday card to a friend (on time!). I also took the kids to the library, bought 5 really cool books at the book sale, found a book on CD and loaded it onto my Itunes (which I’ve been listening to for the last day). In the next few days, I plan to grocery shop (to restock the fridge), vacuum the upstairs, clean the garage a bit & go to the aquarium with a friend. I’d also like to go to Kohl’s to use a giftcard and buy some makeup and perhaps a flashy outfit for a dinner out this weekend. How did I suddenly become so efficient?

Ironically, I think it’s all because I’ve been reading this book about how a bit of mess & disorganization can be good. A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, how can you not love that??? It seems counterintuitive, but the book’s main point is that keeping things in a perfect order, keeping things organized and having a plan, wastes time and energy, thereby making it difficult (or for me, impossible) to ever get anything done. You could say that I’ve found my bible.

When I found the book on the Clearance table at a Barnes & Noble in Burlington, I thought it would be a funny book to have on my bookshelf. You know, among the mess. I loved the cover with its slightly askew lampshade. It was marked down to $5.95, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose.

Let me be very clear about this……I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK.

It’s smart and logical and cites numerous sociological studies. It refers back to brilliant people through history and illustrates the “habits of highly effective people” (literally). It’s a book that I find myself exclaiming “Yes!” while reading. As I read it, I think about how much the theories really do relate to me….not in an ignorant “I need an excuse” way, in a calm “I’ve finally found my bee people” way. Basically, if you stop trying to “order” everything, and just let things go a bit, an organic order will develop….and it will fit better with YOUR system and nature….thereby making your work more efficient. This has to do with tasks, objects, schedules…even thoughts.

When people see the book or hear me talking about it, they roll their eyes and say something cute like “Oh, does this give you an excuse?” Well, luckily, they don’t need to read it. All I know is that instead of spending the weekend constantly cleaning the living room, which immediately gets messed anyway, as I usually do, I accomplished everything else.  I accomplished things that I didn’t even know that I had to do.

How can you argue with that?

Brain Injury

When I was applying for colleges and planning my future, my dad would always joke that I should be a brain surgeon because eventually he was going to need one. He said that he’d like to be able to get a discount. Fifteen years later, I’m thinking that he had a good point.

Between my dad & my sister, my family has a bit of brain injury. I’m not sure what the “normal” amount of brain injury is. In a person’s life, it’s reasonable to expect that there might be a little. Figure 4 people in a family…all living nice long lives…all being fairly physical and getting the occasional bump on the head….there’s bound to be a blip here or there. Head injuries are cumulative, you know. Still, I think that my family may be a bit above average.

My dad sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury is a motorcycle wreck in 2002. He went through months of extensive therapy (physical, occupational & speech) and years more of hard work trying to get back to “normal”. Six years later, I would estimate he’s at 85-90% (taking into consideration that he’s also aged in that time). He only occasionally gets mistaken for drunk. My sister started having seizures when she was in college. After some testing by doctors (and some worry by family), it was discovered that she had a small abnormality in her brain. Was it an injury? Probably. Where did it come from? Who knows….possibly a skiing accident she had in high school. She fell, got up, skied down the rest of the mountain & when she got back into the lodge she had no idea where she was. At the time, everyone figured it was just a concussion. And maybe it was. Like I mentioned before, head injuries are cumulative. That’s why some hockey and football players are “encouraged” by their doctors and coaches to retire at the end of a rough career.

So, brain injuries are scary. I’d imagine they’re scary for the injured, and they’re definitely scary for the people around that person. A brain injury can rob a person of their memories, their emotions, their ability to function. It could heal itself and “go away”…..or it could lie dormant, hitting the victim just when they think that they’re okay. There’s no way to understand or predict what will happen in this sophisticated little computer. Will the connections grow back? Is something bleeding? Will it even matter?

So, yes, this post was inspired by the passing of Natasha Richardson. What an unspeakable tragedy. What a nightmare for her family. I’ve been mulling it over for days now, I’m so glad that I wasn’t at work when the news crossed the wires that she’d died. I needed a few minutes alone to process it all. Honestly, how am I supposed to feel about the fact that my dad walked away with seemingly more severe injuries a little worse for the wear when this woman DIED? How am I supposed to feel about the fact that Richardson’s accident was very similar to a situation that my sister has been in? Hell, MANY people I know have had the same experience. I don’t care that it may have been avoided if she’d been wearing a helmet. I don’t care that she might have been saved if she’d had medical attention earlier. Thousands of people fall every day on ski slopes not wearing helmets….and they ski on and don’t think about it again. Frankly, I’m surprised that the ski patrol checked her as much as they did. (For the record, I think that helmets ARE a good idea for skiing. God knows I’m an advocate for motorcycle helmet laws. But there IS a difference between skiing on a bunny slope and riding a motorcycle.)

Selfishly, after the news of the accident broke, but before the news of her death, I thought about how beneficial it would be to have Natasha Richardson as the “face” of Traumatic Brain Injury. She would show the world how easy it was to be injured, but how possible it was, with proper funding, to learn how to treat it. (We have thousands of young men & women coming back from war with TBIs and very little is known or understood. Some of these people won’t know for years that something is wrong. This is a soapbox for another time…) But, alas, it was not meant to be. My thoughts are with her family. What a loss the world has suffered.

The ultimate irony of this entire horrible situation is that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Protect your head and hug the ones you love.

Belly Envy

I’m going to start off by admitting that this is not my proudest moment. 

So, there’s a baby boom going on around me.  Everyone is pregnant.  Everyone.  And I’m totally jealous. 

I had 2 fantastic pregnancies. I felt good, I looked good, I had the cutest, quirkiest maternity wardrobe ever.  I’d flaunt my belly, talk to my belly….if I could have kissed my belly, I would have.  When Z was born, I very confidently said that I wasn’t done.  However, in the last 11 months things have happened that make me feel like maybe we’ll be a family of 4.

Childcare sucks.  It’s easily the worst part of being a working mother.  I can’t tell you how frustrating and exhausting it’s been to have to find childcare for 3 hours a day.  It would make no sense to put the kids in full-time daycare, but it’s impossible to find somebody who’s willing and able to watch kids for 3 hours in the middle of the afternoon.

Jason & I work opposite schedules and we’re both constantly exhausted.  We never see each other and we’re both caring for the kids alone.  As my friend Michelle once said “at least single parents get a weekend off once in a while”.  Because of this, our house is constantly messy.  It’s impossible to clean anything up while you have a baby getting into everything and a 4 year old doing everything herself (ie making a mess).

Most significant, I’m just not sure that I want to split my love among more than 2 children.  I know that I WOULD be able to do it…and my love would grow, blah, blah, blah…but it was hard for me to adjust to Z.  Amelia was my girl for so long…we had such a profound connection.  It took me much longer to feel that “love of a parent” the second time around.  (I feel it now.  Don’t worry.)

So, for the most part, I’m happy with 2 kids.  I love my two kids.  If you’re to believe the random ladies at the supermarket, we’ve got the perfect family having one of each.  Still, every so often I’ll hear a pregnancy announcement and it’ll just cut into my heart.  The worst is when I feel like the parent-to-be doesn’t deserve a child.  I know, horrible, but there are people who just don’t need kids (or MORE kids).  I’m not saying that they’re bad parents….they just probably don’t need more kids. 

I think that a lot of the time it’s that I feel jealous that they GET to have another baby.  They GET to be pregnant again.  As somebody said today, I COULD have another baby.  The thing is…I don’t feel like I could.  The stress, the money, the time.  I walked away from this friend muttering “yeah, sure I could have another baby….if I didn’t have to work and if I had a cleaning lady….”.  So, maybe it’s just my jealousy that I DO have to work and I DON’T have a cleaning lady.  Maybe it has nothing to do with babies at all.

Like I said…..not my proudest moment.

Bow to the Street Captain

So, after the situation on Tuesday, I wrote to the president of our HOA.  I just wanted to touch base and express my concern that our street is such a hazard.  Really, I just wanted to take the opportunity to get involve a little in my community.  Our subdivision desperately needs some “community feel” and for residents to take some ownership of, and pride in, their community.  I always have big thoughts and then, be it my strange work schedule or commitments to my family or fear that nobody will follow me, I always sort of back off.  This time I went ahead and connected with somebody who could help.  The response was fine, just a “thanks for writing.  you’re absolutely right, something needs to change”.  But there were no solutions, no action.  I thought that maybe I’d try to get the people on my street together (an idea I’ve been toying with)…..you know, sometime.

Today I checked my email and I had a message from the HOA president.  It said (basically) “I’ve been thinking about your email and your offer to help, and I was wondering if you might consider being Street Captain…..”

Street Captains are a concept they introduce last year to get each part of our giant subdivision to have some community spirit.  I think her offer to me came from my mention that I’d like to get everyone together to meet, get a dialog going and come up with some ideas about how to slow down traffic.  I guess I can see the connection.

So, after a little thinking (I know it’s going to come with some drama), I decided to go ahead and give it a try.  After six years living on this street, I’ll finally have a legitimate reason to knock on my neighbors’ doors and introduce myself.  And, quite frankly, I’m ready to get people together to do something other than complain.  So, I’m offically a Street Captain.  How very suburban of me. 

I have to admit…I’m a tiny bit drunk with power.