January 30, 2013

100 Best Novels: A Farewell to Arms

In my quest to read the 100 best novels, I decided that my next venture would be A Farewell to Arms. Truthfully, I did not expect to like it all that much. I tend to fall for flowery descriptions and gripping tragedies, and while Ernest Hemingway could hardly be called a comedic optimist, my memories of joylessly reading The Old Man and the Sea in middle school left me thinking that Hemingway just couldn't capture my love the way that Fitzgerald does. I opened up my battered library copy of A Farewell to Arms, sighed, and reminded myself that if I didn't like it, I could just stop reading it.

Then I didn't put it down.

The thing about Hemingway is that he is deceptively simple. By that I mean that his writing can at first seem terse and even dispassionate at times. It's easy to interpret this as being boring and basic. However, after a few lines, something strange starts to happen. Those basic sentences, despite their brevity, start to change shape and describe very intense situations and emotions. He just hints at what is happening beneath the surface, but if you're listening, you soon have a sense of the fuller emotions and turmoil. As I read more and more, I found myself being sucked in to the story of Frederic Henry, an American fighting for the Italians in World War I.

Spoilers below!


This novel follows Henry as he meets Catherine Barkley, an English nurse, and kind of sort of falls in love with her. At first their interest in each other seems to be driven mostly by a desire for distraction,  and their interactions seem rather superficial. As Henry recovers from a brutal injury and spends more time with Catherine, however, I got the impression that maybe they really did need each other to find solace from the war and from the memory of Catherine's late fiancĂ©. Catherine becomes pregnant, and Henry has to leave to return to the front, leaving the reader to wonder just what will become of the both of them.

The descriptions of the front are quite memorable, not necessarily because they bring to life what it was like to be fighting in the army, but because they highlight the emotion of the war. Throughout the book, soldiers are debating when the war will end, and the men seem so detached from the fighting. They are tired, and they have little more to give. The most powerful moment for me was when Henry and his men get separated from the rest of their unit, and their ambulance is stuck in the mud. Two men refuse to help get the ambulance out of fear of staying in the area for too long, and as they run away, Henry shoots one of them. His fellow solider, the ruthless Bonello, shoots that man in the head, and they leave his body on the side of the road. As they finally rejoin the rest of the troops, the Italians are retreating, and officers are being executed by other soldiers for seemingly meaningless reasons. Henry manages to escape and find his way back to Catherine.

The violence of those scenes really stuck with me. Any rationale for the war that might have lingered was by now long gone. Violence, it seemed, was inevitable, including from Henry, but it was also a violence that had the distinct air of desperation and confusion. Nobody wanted to be fighting anymore, yet they were trapped to continue to do so, anyway.

The true tragedy comes in the reunion with Catherine. Henry is facing arrest for deserting the army, and the two of them manage to escape to Switzerland. By now Catherine is nearly ready to give birth, and they start to construct a fantasy life in the mountains. However, as Catherine nears the end of her pregnancy, she is overcome with a sense of dread about their fates. Sadly, their child is a stillborn, and Catherine dies soon after from complications. The final scene of Henry walking alone in the rain back to their hotel stabbed me in the heart. After all of that, after all they had been through, Henry ends up alone. There is no happy ending here. Death is inescapable, whether on the front or in private lives.There is no hope, no permanent solace from the elements.

A Farewell to Arms was an easy, quick read, and I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. It is a sad story, but one that I think is important for how it portrays how people try to make sense and escape from violence and death. It is ultimately heartbreaking, for the characters never truly experience any relief or solace. There are no answers, just the sense that this uneasy tension will continue to persist. It's uncomfortable and sad, and that is what makes this novel an unforgettable one.

"Maybe... you'll fall in love with me all over again."
"Hell," I said, "I love you enough now. What do you want to do? Ruin me?"
"Yes. I want to ruin you."
"Good," I said. "That's what I want too."

100 Best Novels

1. "Ulysses," James Joyce
2. "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," James Joyce
4. "Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov
5. "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley
6. "The Sound and the Fury," William Faulkner
7. "Catch-22," Joseph Heller
8. "Darkness at Noon," Arthur Koestler
9. "Sons and Lovers," D. H. Lawrence
10. "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck
11. "Under the Volcano," Malcolm Lowry
12. "The Way of All Flesh," Samuel Butler
13. "1984," George Orwell
14. "I, Claudius," Robert Graves
15. "To the Lighthouse," Virginia Woolf
16. "An American Tragedy," Theodore Dreiser
17. "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," Carson McCullers
18. "Slaughterhouse Five," Kurt Vonnegut
19. "Invisible Man," Ralph Ellison
20. "Native Son," Richard Wright
21. "Henderson the Rain King," Saul Bellow
22. "Appointment in Samarra," John O' Hara
23. "U.S.A." (trilogy), John Dos Passos
24. "Winesburg, Ohio," Sherwood Anderson
25. "A Passage to India," E. M. Forster
26. "The Wings of the Dove," Henry James
27. "The Ambassadors," Henry James
29. "The Studs Lonigan Trilogy," James T. Farrell
30. "The Good Soldier," Ford Madox Ford
31. "Animal Farm," George Orwell
32. "The Golden Bowl," Henry James
33. "Sister Carrie," Theodore Dreiser
34. "A Handful of Dust," Evelyn Waugh
35. "As I Lay Dying," William Faulkner
36. "All the King's Men," Robert Penn Warren
37. "The Bridge of San Luis Rey," Thornton Wilder
38. "Howards End," E. M. Forster
39. "Go Tell It on the Mountain," James Baldwin
40. "The Heart of the Matter," Graham Greene
41. "Lord of the Flies," William Golding
42. "Deliverance," James Dickey
43. "A Dance to the Music of Time" (series), Anthony Powell
44. "Point Counter Point," Aldous Huxley
45. "The Sun Also Rises," Ernest Hemingway
46. "The Secret Agent," Joseph Conrad
47. "Nostromo," Joseph Conrad
48. "The Rainbow," D. H. Lawrence
49. "Women in Love," D. H. Lawrence
50. "Tropic of Cancer," Henry Miller
51. "The Naked and the Dead," Norman Mailer
52. "Portnoy's Complaint," Philip Roth
53. "Pale Fire," Vladimir Nabokov
54. "Light in August," William Faulkner
55. "On the Road," Jack Kerouac
56. "The Maltese Falcon," Dashiell Hammett
57. "Parade's End," Ford Madox Ford
58. "The Age of Innocence," Edith Wharton
59. "Zuleika Dobson," Max Beerbohm
60. "The Moviegoer," Walker Percy
61. "Death Comes to the Archbishop," Willa Cather
62. "From Here to Eternity," James Jones
63. "The Wapshot Chronicles," John Cheever
64. "The Catcher in the Rye," J. D. Salinger
65. "A Clockwork Orange," Anthony Burgess
66. "Of Human Bondage," W. Somerset Maugham
67. "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad
68. "Main Street," Sinclair Lewis
69. "The House of Mirth," Edith Wharton
70. "The Alexandria Quartet," Lawrence Durrell
71. "A High Wind in Jamaica," Richard Hughes
72. "A House for Ms. Biswas," V. S. Naipaul
73. "The Day of the Locust," Nathaniel West
74. "A Farewell to Arms," Ernest Hemingway
75. "Scoop," Evelyn Waugh
76. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," Muriel Spark
77. "Finnegans Wake," James Joyce
78. "Kim," Rudyard Kipling
79. "A Room With a View," E. M. Forster
80. "Brideshead Revisited," Evelyn Waugh
81. "The Adventures of Augie March," Saul Bellow
82. "Angle of Repose," Wallace Stegner
83. "A Bend in the River," V. S. Naipaul
84. "The Death of the Heart," Elizabeth Bowen
85. "Lord Jim," Joseph Conrad
86. "Ragtime," E. L. Doctorow
87. "The Old Wives' Tale," Arnold Bennett
88. "The Call of the Wild," Jack London
89. "Loving," Henry Green
90. "Midnight's Children," Salman Rushdie
91. "Tobacco Road," Erskine Caldwell
92. "Ironweed," William Kennedy
93. "The Magus," John Fowles
94. "Wide Sargasso Sea," Jean Rhys
95. "Under the Net," Iris Murdoch
96. "Sophie's Choice," William Styron
97. "The Sheltering Sky," Paul Bowles
98. "The Postman Always Rings Twice," James M. Cain
99. "The Ginger Man," J. P. Donleavy
100. "The Magnificent Ambersons," Booth Tarkington

January 28, 2013

Project DC: Eastern Market

This winter has not exactly been winterlike (the past few days aside-- those have been freezing!!). We've yet to have any real snow here in DC, which, as a Northerner, is very disappointing to me. However, as unsettling as it is to have unseasonably warm weather, it's been good motivation to go outside and be active. Weekends are usually pretty lazy for me, and I tend to pad around in my PJs until I absolutely must change clothes and pretend that I am a responsible adult. Last weekend I was mildly surprised when the hubs suggested that we get lunch at Eastern Market and work on my Project DC list, but I quickly got myself together, and off we went!

Eastern Market is a must-do experience for visitors to the city. It's a mix of food market, flea market, and crafts vendors, and the vibrant energy of Capitol Hill makes it a lively scene. On this particular day, it wasn't too crowded, which is always a plus in my book. We decided to pass by the crafts vendors and head directly to the crepes stand for some lunch.

One word: delicious. For about $8 you can choose from a number of gooey, savory or sweet crepes that will satisfy your stomach. Mine had egg, cheese, spinach, and peppers and was exactly what I wanted. Yum!

After we were fed, the hubs and I headed back towards the crafts vendors. There are always a lot of neat things to browse, such a jewelry, vintage goods, t-shirts, and art, but that day we were on a mission to purchase some DC photography prints. There were only a few stands to choose from (I think the vendor presence is more limited in the winter months), but the photographs were all amazing. I knew that I wanted something that represented the spirit of DC but wasn't a generic postcard shot of the White House or Capitol Building. We ended up purchasing three prints from two different vendors, two featuring election posters taken by Joe Shymanski and Scott Henrichsen, and one of the Library of Congress in the snow (I unfortunately have forgotten who this photographer is!). All came matted for an 8x10 frame and were only $10, which I consider a good deal.

I was hoping to practice some photography of my own, but since it was just after noon and unusually sunny for a January afternoon, I was having trouble finding my comfort zone in the bright light, so my photos of the day are limited. The hubs and I ended up just walking around Capitol Hill for a while, and while a few times I got extremely frustrated for not having better control of the camera, overall it was a beautiful day. I may not have Mad Skillz (yet!) in the photography department, but all of this trial-and-error shooting is still fun. If nothing else, I'm going on a few very scenic walks around the city.

Too bright!

Library of Congress

 Library of Congress

Later on, I put the camera away and reminded myself that even if I was no match for the sun glare, I didn't need a camera to see the beauty of my surroundings. Winter or summer, rain or shine, this is a beautiful place to live. My Eastern Market trip was low-key, relatively tourist-free, and I walked away with lovely prints that will hang on the walls of our home and remind me not just of the past five years, but of a very nice, sunny day spent with the hubs.

Thanks, universe, for being so awesome.

P.S. I have a guest post over at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot today. Go check it out if you'd like! I've quickly become a fan of Kristen and her blog, and I'm really excited to be sponsoring and featured today. :D


Want to read more about having fun in DC? Follow along as I embark on Project DC (I've added to the list!):

2. Go for a leisurely hike in Rock Creek Park.
3. Go on a White House tour.
4. Buy DC artwork at Eastern Market.
5. Visit Old Town on a day trip.
6. Take a day trip to Annapolis.
7. Go to the Newseum.
8. Go back to Jazz in the Garden when it starts up again in the spring.
9. Go to the Holocaust Museum.
10. Eat at Ben's Chili Bowl.
11. See the FDR Memorial.
13. Go to the National Portrait Gallery.
14. Go to the Corcoran.
15. Visit the Vietnam Memorial.
17. Go to more embassy events.
18. See a show at Rock & Roll Hotel.
19. See the drum circle at Malcolm X Park.
20. Mini golf at H Street Country Club.
21. Evening drinks at POV.
22. Visit the National Archives.
23. See a Washington Ballet performance.
24. Walk through the National Arboretum.

January 27, 2013

Sunday Currently : 4

This weekend was all about settling back in after many weeks of interview adventures, taking care of myself, and doing pleasant activities. I think I succeeded! There was lots of decluttering, reading, cooking, and seeing friends, all of which make me a very happy lady. On top of it all, there was a light snowfall Friday afternoon, and the sight of those gorgeous white flakes falling from the sky made me giddy and happy for winter. Even if they didn't last, they were much appreciated.

reading : Last week I finished A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and Un Amico Italiano by Luca Spaghetti, the nice Italian guy Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about during her time in Italy in Eat, Pray, Love. The Hemingway was great, and I'll have a post on that later this week. Un Amico Italiano wasn't world-changing fine literature, but it was a lighthearted, fluffy read, and sometimes you need just that. I'm determined to finally finish Those Are Real Bullets but am also eying The Postman Always Rings Twice. Needless to say, I am feeling a bit book-happy. :)

writing :  Pro/con lists for my internship sites. I've got purple Post-Its vertically stuck on the bookshelf next to me to provide a visual for my ranking order. I know for sure that my bottom four will be stay in place, but the top four are agonizingly difficulty to rank. They are all over the country, very different from each other, and each is perfect for me in some way. Making important life decisions is hard, yo!

listening :  To "Breaking Pointe" playing on the TV. I've been feeling nostalgic for ballet lately and remembered that the CW had a show over the summer about Ballet West, the company in Salt Lake City. Is it sensationalized drama? Yes. But the ballet is just so pretty!

thinking :  About priorities. I want my training next year to be excellent, and I want to learn from the best. I also want to be near the people I love, and it's hard to accept that I might not get all of that. Trying to figure out which is most important to me.

smelling :   Green tea steaming from my oversized mug and lavender lotion that I just put on my hands. This might be an odd combo, but it works. :)

wishing :   That Big Life Decisions were easier to make. But I know that isn't the case, so I'm also wishing for some peace and clarity.

hoping :   That I can go up to NYC in a couple of weeks to see friends! Also hoping that my university comes through with providing me some tutoring gigs, as I would really like to have a little extra money.

wearing :   Brown corduroys, blue J. Crew t-shirt, and cream-colored cardigan. Sundays are all about comfort!

loving :   Friends! I had breakfast this morning with one of my very best childhood friends who happened to be in town this weekend visiting her sister for a ladies' weekend. I was reminded of how important it is to nurture friendships with lovely people like her, even when they live in different cities. Good friends are too special to take for granted.

wanting : To be in Barcelona! I did some online shopping this weekend courtesy of my leftover holiday gift cards (thanks, parents!) and keep fantasizing about strolling the streets of Barcelona in my fun new digs. Seriously, May cannot get here soon enough. 

needing :  To get back to work on my dissertation. I kind of want to change my research and use an existing database, which is terrifying to tell my advisor but might save me time in the long run. Blah. 

feeling :   Stressed about school-related things. But also energetic and happy to have gotten up early and spent time reconnecting with my friend.

clicking :   Through the Kennedy Center's list of upcoming performances. It's been nearly a year since I was there, and I'm itching to go back to see something! Ballet, opera, theatre-- I love it all. It's time to have more of the arts in my life!

January 25, 2013


My final interview of the season led me to Indianapolis for a couple of days earlier this week. I was excited for this trip for a few reasons, the big ones being that it signaled the end of my interviews, I loved the site I was visiting, and it meant exploring a new city. However, in the days before I left for Indy, a cold front settled over the region, and I was facing below-freezing temperatures in the single-digits. Yikes! I was determined to still find a way to explore, even if it was bitterly cold, but I have to admit I was a bit nervous.

Things started off a bit rocky. My first flight was delayed due to a mechanical problem on the plane, causing me to miss my connecting flight. The airline worker at the gate desk had no idea where my checked baggage was, so of course I was nervous the entire flight about whether it would end up in the right place. Then, the morning of my interview, the taxi I had arranged to pick me up to bring me to the site failed to actually arrive, making me late for my interview. Uuggghhhh.

But after that, things were good. The interview went well, and afterwards I bundled up to do some exploring. I was staying at an apartment in a cool neighborhood on Massachusetts Avenue, and I wanted to walk downtown so I could see all of the shops and restaurants along the way. It was cold, but not unbearably so, so I wandered around for a while, peering up at the lovely structures around me. I forgot my nice camera back in DC, but my simple point-and-shoot helped me capture some of the scenes.
They just don't make buildings like this anymore! 

 Massachusetts Avenue
Scottish Rite Cathedral
Cenotaph Square

Obelisk Fountain at Indianapolis World War Memorial

Indianapolis World War Memorial

Indianapolis World War Memorial

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Indiana Statehouse

After a while, once the adrenaline from my interview had completely worn off and the cold had made my fingers clumsy, I realized that I couldn't take the cold anymore. This girl needs to invest in some good lined gloves! I headed back to the apartment and promptly set up camp on the couch in my flannel PJ pants and warmed up with hot chocolate and some delicious pizza from a restaurant down the street. Wonderful!

It would have been nice to walk around more, visit the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, and take in the Indy skyline like I did in Pittsburgh, but honestly, I was just too cold and tired. Oh well! Part of me is disappointed that I wasn't able to do more during my visit, but I could also see myself returning to this area. If there's one thing I've realized during my interview travels, it's that there are so many great cities in this country, and I'd really like to make more of an effort to see them. The Northeast will always have my heart, but that doesn't mean I can't also love other places. :)

January 23, 2013

2013 Inauguration

Well, after Monday's post went live, I was prepared spend the morning at home, watching the Inauguration festivities from the comfort of my couch. It was going to be quiet, warm, and simple.

Then I changed my mind.

I don't know if it was a burst of craziness, patriotism, or general enthusiasm, but the hubs and I threw ourselves together and raced out the door around 10:30 that morning, determined to make it to the National Mall by 11:30. Inauguration or bust!

It ended up being a totally different experience this time around. The metro pulled up just as we got down to the platform, and the train was nearly empty-- most of the Inauguration attendees had already packed in hours before. We walked from Farragut North, excitedly shuffling down 18th Street. The crowds were smaller, but everyone was still excited.

We ended up standing in the same general area that I had been in in 2009. The Mall wasn't as crowded so we were able to walk around to get the best view of the jumbotron. People cheered and took photos around us, and everyone just looked around them in awe, as if we were all a little unable to believe we were really there.

It wasn't perfect, of course. Our jumobtron ended up having technical difficulties, and it was impossible to hear most of the Inauguration service, which made people pretty cranky. That was was disappointing, as we obviously wanted to actually hear and see what was going on. Even if that ended up being a letdown, I was glad that we went down there. It was an important moment in our nation's history, and it was fun to spend the morning doing something like that.

I may have done some experimenting with a permanent marker... :)

When we got home, we snuggled on the couch as originally planned, ate cupcakes, and watched The West Wing until parade coverage started. This Inauguration might not have had the tears and manic excitement of President Obama's first inauguration, but it was exciting nonetheless, and I'm glad that we decided to join in on the fun.

January 21, 2013

Inauguration Memories

I decided not to head down to the Mall today for the Inauguration. I'm disappointed about this, but ultimately, I didn't want to brave the crowds and the cold on my own, so this year I'll be watching the shindig from the comfort of my couch.

The past few days have brought back a lot of memories about my first year in DC. It was 2008, a big election year, and as I adjusted to this strange new place, I was surrounded by a palpable surge of energy in the air. It seemed that everywhere I turned, people were passionately, intelligently debating politics. Everyone had an opinion. It was thrilling for me, especially coming from the jaded, esoteric atmosphere of New York City. Here, it seemed, people experienced politics and world events at a higher level, and they weren't afraid to show it.

It was never a question of whether I would go to President Obama's inauguration. I had to. The city was alive with the promise of hope and of change, and hundreds of thousands of people flooded the city just to witness the swearing in of a new president. I remember waking up so early that morning and watching the news on my tiny TV in my Connecticut Avenue studio apartment and seeing reports of people waiting to take the first metro trains of the day from the ends of the lines just so they could be the first to take their place on the National Mall. I peered out my window and watched people walking down the street, making the long walk downtown in the dark, bundled up in multiple layers to try to combat the cold.

I put on three pairs of socks and wore a pair of tights under my pants. I wore four shirts underneath my winter coat. Under my mittens, I had on a pair of gloves. Satisfied, I waddled down the street to the metro station and waited. Several trains passed, stuffed to the gills with smiling, cheering people. I thought it would be impossible to board a train- they were all so full! Finally, I spotted a tiny free space on a train and squeezed in. If it were a regular work day, people would have been cursing and sour-faced at how packed the train was. Instead, people were laughing and joking about it. There wasn't space to fit a slip of paper in between the passengers, but it didn't matter. We were all just so excited.

I got out at Farragut North to meet my friend. We still had a decent walk ahead of us, but we didn't care. We were so proud to live in the District, and we were so excited to be attending a presidential inauguration. It was so cold outside. We tried to walk briskly, but my fingers turned numb anyway. The sidewalks and streets were crowded with people, all of us heading for the Mall. As the Washington Monument came into sight, the cheers grew louder. We had to walk in roundabout ways, as many streets were closed and being guarded by police. No matter! We cheerfully took the detours and walked on.

Finally, we arrived at the Monument. It was still a few hours until the inauguration began, but already half of the National Mall was full. We couldn't see the Capitol, but the jumbotrons that lined the Mall ensured that we would all get a view. Around me, people stamped their feet, trying to regain feeling in their toes and blew on their gloves, trying to warm their fingers. Again, it was so cold. The insides of my ears hurt, and my hands felt useless. Still, we waited.

It was worth it. I cried when I saw President Obama's face on the screens. The rest of the crowd cheered, cried, sang, and did about just about anything they could to try to express how moved they were. This was a day of hope, and we were there. We were there.

We laughed when the specific words of the swearing in were fumbled. We took photos of the screens and tried to text our friends and families, though it would be another hour before any messages could be sent. There were just too many of us. There were so many of us.

Afterwards, frozen to the bone, I made the six-mile walk home, stopping in Dupont Circle to get a box of cupcakes. No inauguration, I thought, should pass without a cupcake. When I got back home, my entire body hurt. I couldn't move my fingers. I was so tired. I was so cold. So I wrapped myself up in a blanket on the couch, reached for a cupcake, and watched the parade on my TV. Fatigue took over, and I eventually drifted off into an exhausted sleep.

That was my Inauguration memory. Today, somebody else will make theirs. Today, I am proud to have made DC my home. I am proud to have I was there memories of so many moments over the past few years.