Showing posts with label Classics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Classics. Show all posts

Monday, June 15, 2015

Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy

This ended up being such a lovely book.  I was a little afraid that it would be a gimmicky way for a writer to make money off of another wildly successful author, but it ended up being a wonderful idea.

This book (the full title is Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird) is a compilation of various famous people, mainly authors, writing about their experiences and memories of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Everybody from singer Roseanne Cash to Mary Badham (the actress who played Scout), to Jon Meacham was interviewed in this book.  There were moving stories and anecdotes, reflections from people who knew Harper Lee, and thoughts on why To Kill a Mockingbird has been such an influential, lasting book in so many people's lives.

Mary McDonagh Murphy, a director and writer, was heavily influenced by To Kill a Mockingbird and decided that having lots of people's reflections on what this book meant to them would be a good way to honor and celebrate this book. I think that she was successful.  

I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time when I was 12.  I don't remember how I got my hands on a copy, but I can still see the beaten up cover of that book from the library.  I remember that feeling of being absolutely sucked in and absorbed, so absorbed that I couldn't possibly go on living my normal life.  I did nothing but read that book.  I remember it was summer, which meant garden season, when I read it and, like it was yesterday, I remember carrying that book down to the garden to read while I weeded.  Once I came up for breath, I remember that empty feeling of realizing that I had just finished one of the best books I would ever read.  I couldn't bear to completely leave Scout and Atticus and Maycomb quite yet and so I just left the book out to thumb through it every once in a while and remember that glorious experience.

Since that day, I don't think I've ever read anything quite so enthralling.  Of course I went on to read many wonderful books that meant a lot to me and were very interesting, but nothing ever took the place of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I think that Scout, Atticus, and Boo succeeded in what its goal-to celebrate a wonderful book, while not stealing its thunder, to inspire people to think about their own experiences with this book.  This is definitely a book to seek out, if only to skim.  I read it cover to cover, however, and found it perfectly delightful.  

What are your memories of To Kill a Mockingbird?  Was it an influential book for you, or did it not make a big impact?  

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Month of Short Stories: Day 2

daThis morning I got to read two lovely short stories that I really enjoyed by two early American female authors.  I had heard of neither-a sad example of the general state of literary equality.  Both were so well written that I am definitely going to do some research on these authors and see what else they wrote.

Caroline M.S. Kirkland

The Schoolmaster's Progress by Caroline M.S. Kirkland

This story is set in the early 1800s in the "New Country" (meaning the West/Midwest of United States) and revolves around the mishaps and romantic entanglements of the new, local schoolmaster.  After finally gaining respect from the community, he begins to fall in love with a young woman who always wins the spelling bees.  When a woman with all kinds of airs and graces (and year-old French fashions, our author notes disdainfully) comes condescendingly to a spelling bee, she sees that it would be easy to trick the schoolmaster.  In a series of tricky ruses, she begins to write him letters, pretending to be the woman he admires, Ellen.  Of course, Ellen finds out about this and the the whole thing literally comes crashing down during the school's reenacting of David and Goliath.  That description of the fake letters falling down on David's head made me laugh out loud.  The two-Ellen and the Schoolmaster-live happily ever after, while the scheming city woman returns to the city.  

I wouldn't call this laugh out loud hilarious-it's better.  Kirkland's humor is the American west version of Austen.  It is nothing but sly, funny jabs and commentary.  The section on the bumbling, incompetent exam writers made me laugh out loud (apparently the ridiculous bureaucracy surrounding exams is older than I thought).

The other thing that impressed me about this story was the universality of it.  I was not alive in the American west in the 1800s, but I could perfectly understand, nay, recognize, those situations.  Yet Kirkland so perfectly wrote about these dramatic events that a reader today can still understand and empathize with the story.  That is a sign of excellent writing.  I also thought it was interesting how group dynamics and the kinds of people described here, the challenges and dramas they face, really haven't changed that much in the past 200 years.  
Eliza Leslie is most well-known as a cookbook writer.

The Watkinson Evening by Eliza Leslie

Another very funny story.  This one is about a snobbish widow and her son and daughter, who go to New York with letters of introduction (an interesting phenomenon I had not read about before) in the hopes of meeting all sorts of distinguished people.  They are first invited by a Mrs. Watkinson, who tells them that they must respond at once.  Of course they respond in the affirmative, feeling that they are very wise to go to so influential and wealthy a lady.  Minutes later, a woman whom they all instinctively like, invites them to her grand ball, full of famous people, including an ex-president.  With regret, they stick with their first invitation and come to the Watkinson's house to find it all dark and the family sitting dully in the cold drawing room.  The evening is disastrous and our main characters leave feeling very sorry for themselves.

This short story is of the type of humor that recounts a series of disastrous events to great effect.  I laughed and laughed (and cringed a bit, too) at the silly protagonists and their even more ridiculous hosts.

Both of these stories were fantastic.  I hope that you can find copies of them somewhere, because they are definitely worth a read.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Month of Short Stories: Day 1

Last night I curled up and got to read the humorous short stories collection I got in yesterday's haul.  I only read two, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading these stories and then analyzing to no end.  So without further ado, here are my reviews of the two short stories I read last night.
From Barnes and Noble website

1.) The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots by George Pope Morris

I had never read anything by George Pope Morris and this was the first story in the book, so I quickly picked it to read.  The story reminded me of a children's fable, with a bit of a moralizing tone.

The editor writes of this story in the introduction, "'The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots', the first story in the present volume, is selected not because Morris was especially prominent in the field of short story or humorous prose but because of this single story's representative character."  I'm not sure I'd say this story is worthy of being in a book of best American humorous short stories.  At best, the story was silly, at worst, flat-out racist and classist.  Monsieur Poopoo (yes, that is his name) spends all his money that the saved from running a toyshop for years on a piece of property.  He attains this property from a swindling man who sells him a piece of property that is now covered in water.  At the end of the story, he stomps home to France, bankrupt because he spent all of his money.  The opening quote says, "Look into those they call unfortunate, And closer view'd, you'll find they are unwise.-Young".

I went back and forth with this story for quite a while.  Should I take this at face value, assuming that we are to laugh at the silly Frenchman (he does have the condescending "little" at the front of his name)? Or is Morris making a commentary about how French people were treated and the myth that all poor people are poor because they are incompetent?  After read and thinking for awhile, I have come to the sad conclusion that we are to take this at face value.  The story, I think, is meant to be a mild and silly story about a stupid Frenchman.  One of the first things that tipped me off to this was the way the Frenchman's broken English was played up.  Part of the reason that this was so difficult for me to analyze was that I don't know the author at all.  Apparently he was best known as a publisher and poet and didn't do much short story writing.  For instance, if this was written by Mark Twain, I would know in an instant that this story was sarcastic commentary.

For any of you who have read this, what did you think of it?

2.) The Angel of the Odd by Edgar Allen Poe

This story was actually really enjoyable.  In the beginning, a pompous, very drunk man sits reading the paper.  He reads of an odd mishap in which a man sucks a needle down his throat and dies.  He scoffs at the idea of mishaps and strangely unlucky events, when, all of a sudden, the Angel of the Odd descends.

Yet again, we come across awful accents and broken English-this time German.  But this time, I really wasn't offended by it.  I'm not sure why.  The Angel of the Odd is very offended that our nameless protagonist really does not believe in odd accidents.  After an argument with this angel in which the angel becomes thoroughly angry, our protagonist is subjected to a semi-lucid night of mishaps, involving having his clothes stolen, being stuck in a hot air balloon that has had the balloon cut off, and falling off of a ladder, to name a few.  At the end of the night, our protagonist acknowledges that odd mishaps and misfortunes really do happen.

This humor reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse in many ways-a strong sense of the ridiculous and silly, humor in the most ludicrous of situations, and a little bit of sarcasm.  So fun to read after the not-so-wonderful previous short story.  I laughed and laughed through this book and definitely want to look for some more of Poe's humorous short stories (apparently he wrote quite a few).  This is a new side of Poe-and one I enjoyed reading!

So that was my short story reading for today.  I'm really excited about this and look forward to hearing from my readers about their short story experiences.  If there are any of you who would be interested in challenging yourselves to read more short stories, feel free to join in!  I'll be reading and reviewing short stories all through the month of June.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

And here it is!  The Don Quixote post!  In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have written as much about reading it as I did, because I probably set all you readers up for a good analytical post, when I definitely don't have that in me.  Still, here is a post about my thoughts on Don Quixote.

So, Don Quixote.  I'll admit that I had my doubts.  It was long and I wasn't in the mood for a tome when I started it, but it's one of those classics that I really wanted to approach again for Classics Club-a wonderful motivator for this kind of thing.

Most people know the basic plot of Don Quixote.  However, here it is.  Don Quixote is divided into two parts-the first one being tales of his escapades and stories of the people around him.  The second is, well, I didn't love it.  I'll say more later.  Don Quixote is a fairly wealthy man living in La Mancha.  He adores exciting adventure stories full of chivalrous deeds.  And this, according to our narrator, is his downfall.  The books, or so we are told, turn his brain to mush so that he sees everything as part of his fantastic stories.  So, he proceeds to try to live his life as much like a chivalrous knight-errant.  He helps all the poor and needy, tries to win his love (a woman he barely knows), and perform brave deeds.  He takes along his trusty steed (a frail horse) and his side-kick (Sancho).

This part of the book was so fun-adventures and thrills, dangerous quests.  And, through it all, I began to see his world as Don Quixote did.  This is the part of the book that includes the famous windmill story.  For the first 1/8 of the book, I laughed at Don Quixote, with his silly adventures and his delusions.  I identified with Sancho, although at times I wondered why he didn't just leave Don Quixote. And then, something clicked.  I realized why Don Quixote was doing what he was doing.  I started to see a method to his madness.

By the second part of the book, things start to change.  Sancho is now tricking and lying to Don Quixote (for reasons that confused me for awhile, but that became clear later) and there are a slimy Duke and Duchess in on it.  They have convinced Don Quixote that his love has been put under an enchantment and that only he can perform all kinds of deeds to save her.  And so they cruelly send him on task after ludicrous task, which he performs tirelessly.

His imagined events become more and more insane, but, strangely enough, that actually made me empathize with him even more.  His imagination is a reaction to the world in which he is living.

This is where I grew sick of the book and went from smiling complacently to close to outrage.  The tormenting, the joy that all the people around him were getting out of tormenting him sickened me.  The brutal behavior displayed by so many people made me ache for Don Quixote and, all at once, I realized something.

Now, I know that this is not a new statement and that plenty of people have made this observation before.  But, I still was so struck by it. Don Quixote is the one in the right.  In the first part of the book, we are the complacent villagers watching his insanity, wondering why he can't just settle down and do things like everybody else.  By the end of the book, we are supposed to have realized that Don Quixote  is demonstrating the need for, and lack of, chivalry.  His willingness to do anything to help people, however deluded those actions may be, is admirable.  And we, the readers, are supposed to empathize with that.  Cervantes is making the observation that, in his culture, chivalry was being lost.

In the final chapters, Don Quixote is alone, exhausted, and sick.  It is in these final moments that he realizes that chivalry is dead, that his efforts have been in vain.  And then, he dies, leaving the reader to be brought back to reality by the narrator.

While this book often gets labeled as comic, I definitely didn't see it that way.  Well, maybe for the first section, but after that, I was left feeling melancholic and slightly wrenched by Don Quixote's life events and his last moments.

And that, I think is the sign of a wonderful writer.  I have almost no knowledge of 1600s Spain. And yet, Don Quixote speaks to our human condition-our desire for chivalry and bravery, though none of us would say that we particularly are longing for those things.  Cervantes's use of words and poetry and imagery brought goosebumps to my arms multiple times.

The translation I had was fantastic and I think that made a huge difference.  If you're interested in getting a copy of Don Quixote, I highly recommend the one translated by Edith Grossman.  She did what all good translators do-kept her voice in the background and Cervantes's in the front, simply giving the reader the impression of an enhanced view of the original author.  And then she had all kinds of fascinating notes at the end, which I really appreciated.

Do, please go read this book, if you're in the mood for a long classic.  It was worth all those days spent slogging through chapter and after chapter.  Now, on to Frankenstein!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Here's an interesting book that I just recently finished-and really enjoyed.  Philosophy is something to which I would devote copious amounts of time, if I could.  People endlessly debating?  Yes, please!  Probing theoretical questions that, pragmatically, aren't going to matter, yet give deep insight to what it means to be a human?  Of course!  I picked this book up about two years ago and it, along with so many other books, just never made it onto my current reads pile.  I ignored it and ignored it and let it drop to the very bottom of my list.  Then, in a fit of responsible readership, I decided I was going to pick something that had been on the bottom of my list for ages.  I book I felt sorry for, if you will.  And Sophie's World, it was.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder is an interesting book.  It's very much a work of nonfiction, yet it also is a novel.  I think that it's technically a YA book, but it doesn't read that way at all.  Sophie's World is really an introduction to philosophy.  A Philosophy 101 course of sorts.  However, it's also an engrossing, well written novel.

Sophie is a fourteen year old girl who starts getting regular letters from a mysterious pen-pal, a philosopher.  The first letter asks, "Who are you?" and from there, the questions in the letters grow more and more complex, introducing all the great philosophers in Western culture along the way.  Sophie is instantly captivated.  But there is more mystery.  Sophie keeps getting mail written to a girl named Hilde-somebody that she's never heard of before.

I think that "charming" is really the best adjective for this book.  It is fresh and interesting and like no other book I have ever read.  Unlike so much young adult fiction, there weren't these dark, complicated layers.  No dramatic family situations.  No near-death incidents.  In so many ways, it read like a 50s novel, except that there was something more to it, a wiser sense that isn't present in so much of fiction from the 50s and earlier, a lack of naiveté.  Hard to explain, but enjoyable to read.

After musing on this for awhile, I think that this may be a perfect example of post-postmodernism, sometimes referred to as the New Sincerity movement.  Here's a very interesting article about it from The Atlantic.  And a useful Wikipedia article.  In summary, it is a rejection of cynicism and irony delivered in large amounts and a return to sincerity.  However, it differs from the modernism of the 50s and earlier in that it acknowledges the progress that we made in boycotting a lot of the problems of modernity-the patriarchy, the racism, the inability to question some things (I'm not saying that these things aren't a problem any more, but we at least have started to acknowledge them).  Post-post modernism takes the best of both modernity and post modernity.  In the Atlantic article I linked above, the author writes, "Across pop culture, it's become un-ironically cool to care about spirituality, family, neighbors, the environment, and the country."

And I think that, in some small way, that was what I saw in Sophie's World.  A new kind of sincerity, with nods to post-modernity and what it gave us, particularly in regards to the philosophical world.  Maybe I was completely reading into it because I happen to be interested in the idea of this new movement (although it really isn't that new).  At any rate, I have been bitten by the philosophy bug.

Jostein Gaarder is a good writer, too, which made this book even more enjoyable to read.  Writing the voice of a 14 year old girl must not be an easy feat and he very successfully writes in Sophie's voice.  I admit to devouring the book easily within 2 days.  In addition to this, this book definitely made me want to read Sartre and Aristotle and everything in between.  I do think that I am going to add some philosophy classics to my Classics Club list, though.

This is one of those truly good books.  A nourishing book.  I spent a good portion of the book taking plenty of notes and underlining because there were so many things to remember, but then I became so engrossed that I forgot to take notes.  All this to say, this is a book that is definitely worth your time.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Classics Club Spin #9

I haven't forgotten about Classics Club, I promise.  It's just that I've become entrenched in Don Quixote.  I'm enjoying it, but it is a long process.  Anyway, I decided to add another book to my plate and join the Classics Club Spin last week, completely forgetting to blog about it (we're going to blame flu brain).  So aaanyway, this was the list I made:


1.) Paradise Lost
2.) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
3.) Don Quixote
4.) Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
5.)  The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper
6.) Something by Emerson…haven't nailed that down yet
7.)  Something by Dickens that I haven't read…
8.) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
9.) A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstencroft
10.)  Poems by Tennyson
11.)  One of Alcott's earliest writings that
12.) How Like an Angel Came I Down by Bronson Alcott
13.)  Brave New World by Alduous Huxley
14.) The Wind in the Willows (This is going to be my children's classic for the year)
15.)  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
16.)  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
17.)  Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
18.) Watership Down by Richard Adams
19.) The Frogs by Aristophanes
20.) Lady Susan by Jane Austen


So that's the list!  Number 2 was drawn (thank heavens.  I was praying I wouldn't get Paradise Lost).  So now I am embarking on Frankenstein as well.  I think that it'll be an interesting read.  I'm mostly posting this just to keep me accountable in my classics club challenge.  I'll be checking in May 15th with a post about Frankenstein and, hopefully before that, I'll have finished Don Quixote and written about it as well!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Little Women Read Along Chapters 9 and 10

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Chapter 9-Meg Goes to Vanity Fair

Poor, poor Meg.  This is the chapter where all her vanity comes crashing down.  Meg is invited to spend a fortnight devoted to shopping and parties and dances and dressing with a wealthy friend of a friend.  What fun the Marches have, packing up dresses and ribbons and what little elegant clothes they have.  But when Meg gets there, she realizes that all is not as perfect as it seems.  All the girls (and their mother) are intent on pairing Meg with Laurie.  And when Laurie sends flowers, the following conversation occurs, "Mrs. M. has laid her plans, I dare say, and will play her cards well, early as it is.  The girl evidently doesn't think of it yet," said Mrs. Moffat.  "She told that fib about her mamma, as if she did know, and colored up when the flowers came, quite prettily..."  The fortnight ends with a party in which Meg agrees to wear an immodest dress and then proceeds to drink and flounce about and generally create a spectacle, quite shocking Laurie, who has attended the party.  Like many of the previous chapters, this one ends with a lovely sermon from Marmee.
Meg, 'fessing to Marmee-Credit: Project Gutenberg

Thoughts:

  • Here we see a very firm lesson on the dangers of vanity, as seen by L.M. Alcott, and Meg learns some very hard lessons.  She desperately wants to fit in with the elegant crowd, but can't for the life of her, seem to get rid of that little niggling conscience in the back of everything.  And, when she finally gives in to being "rigged up" and tries to enjoy herself, she sees that such pastimes can be very unpleasant.  Again, poor Meg.
  • I actually appreciated Mrs. March's lecture in this chapter.  Preachy?  Oh, yes.  But I still think that some of the things that she said in that little lecture are applicable to young women today.  The message of "better to be a happy old maid than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," may sound archaic, but I still think that it's a message that might be valuable for many.
Questions:
Did you enjoy (enjoy is the wrong word...find interesting/valuable?) Marmee's lecture?  Do you agree?
Do you think you have some of Meg's fault?

Chapter 10-The P.C. and the P.O.

After many chapters of learning lessons and preaching, we finally come to an enjoyable chapter, full of fun and entertaining pursuits.  The Marches have a newsletter called the Pickwick Papers, based off of Dickens's book (which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is in my reading stack).  I always laugh and laugh reading the copy of the paper included in the chapter.  And then, much to Meg and Amy's shock, it is revealed that Laurie wants to join their society.  Of course, he is admitted and more fun begins, starting with the installation of a mail box, set between the two houses.
Jo, leading the Pickwick Club-Credit: Project Gutenberg

Thoughts:
  • I had a similar paper when I was young and, in retrospect, I think it was inspired by the Marches, though I never really thought of it.  I love the work and joy they put into that paper and I think that this chapter paints such a lovely, clear picture of the March family and their happy, cozy little world.
  • I love this quote at the end of the chapter about the post office box.  "The P.O. was a capital little institution, and flourished wonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it as through the real office.  Tragedies and cravats, poetry and pickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread, rubbers, invitations, scoldings, and puppies.  The old gentleman liked the fun, and amused himself by sending odd bundles, mysterious messages, and funny telegrams; and his gardener, who was smitten with Hannah's charms, actually sent a love-letter to Jo's care.  How they laughed when the secret came out, never dreaming how many love-letters that little post-office would hold in the years to come!"  (Hint. Hint. Foreshadowing left and right.)
  • Reading this chapter has bumped The Pickwick Papers right up to the top of the list, so once I finish my latest book-a very funny book by Beverley Nichols that will get a review on Monday, Pickwick Papers will definitely be my next endeavor, thanks to the Marches.
Questions:
Have you read the Pickwick Papers?  If so, did you like it?  I think it looks much more promising than the other oft-mentioned book in Little Women-Pilgrim's Progress.
Did you ever have a paper you wrote?  What about a secret post office?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Little Women Read Along Chapters 7 and 8

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Hello, dear readers!  I'm back with another long, Little Women-filled post.  I am having so much fun in this read along!  

Chapter 7-Amy's Valley of Humiliation

The chapter starts out with Amy asking Meg to lend her a little money to pay for the latest school fad-pickled limes.  Meg, being the doting big sister, agrees, little knowing all the trouble this simple gesture is about to start.  The foreshadowing of what is to come begins as Amy's friends start to cluster around her, knowing that she has a big package of limes.  We also know that Mr. Davis is in a heinous mood and has firmly outlawed all sharing of limes in school.  You can guess what happens next-Amy gets tattled on and is humiliated in front of her whole class.  The chapter ends with Mrs. March writing a firm letter to Mr. Davis and pulling Amy out of school for good.
Image Credit: Project Gutenberg's free online edition of Little Women

Thoughts:
  • I admit to having a very hard time sympathizing with Amy in this chapter.  While I had several unjust teachers whom I very strongly disliked, for some reason, Amy's plight with Mr. Davis does not stir me at all.  I have never sympathized with Amy's whiney, youngest-child, princess-like behavior and I especially don't in this chapter.  
  • This quote always makes me smile a little, "Just before school closed, Jo appeared, wearing a grim expression, as she stalked up to the desk, and delivered a letter from her mother; then collected Amy's property, and departed, carefully scraping the mud off her boots on the door-mat, as if she shook the dust of the place off her feet."  Dear Jo.  Even thought she and Amy have had their tiffs, she has true sisterly loyalty in Amy's time of need
Questions:
Do you sympathize with Amy in this chapter?
Have you ever had a Mr. Davis-esque teacher?

Chapter 8-Jo Meets Apollyon

Ooooh, this chapter.  The one that makes me ache and cringe and wish I didn't have to read it.  Meg and Jo are leaving for a play which Laurie invited them to, when Amy comes up and demands that they take her with them.  Jo is rather rude and says that Laurie wouldn't want Amy tagging along.  Enraged, Amy calls, "You'll be sorry for this, Jo March!"  And Jo is sorry, for when she returns home, she discovers that the little book that she had written just for father, and only had one nice copy of, was burnt by Amy.  She is, justifiably, horrified and angry and "shakes Amy until her teeth chattered."  Poor, poor Jo.  But then it gets worse.  Jo and Laurie go ice skating and Amy tags along.  She begs Jo to wait for her, but Jo, who is still very angry, ignores her and doesn't bother to let her know that the ice is rotten in the middle.  Amy falls in, Laurie and Jo rescue her, and the chapter closes with a sisterly kiss and a sermon from Marmee.  
Image Credit: Same as above

Thoughts:
  • Can you tell that I definitely side with Jo in this chapter?  What on earth possessed Amy to do such a thing?  And I think that Amy's temper is a lot worse than Jo's.  It just so happened that the time that Jo displayed her fault, it was nearly fatal and the time Amy displayed hers, she got lucky.  Had Amy's temper appeared in other circumstances,  I think the results would have been much worse.  So then why does Jo get the motherly, 2-page lecture with nothing for Amy?  Now, I understand that everybody was terrified and didn't have the heart to scold Amy after she nearly drowned, but she was just asking for a long lecture before the events surrounding the skating event happened.
  • Now, this is not to say that I don't think Jo has a fault in need of correcting!  No, indeed!  I just think that Amy would have benefitted from having a little more of a scolding and Jo would had benefitted from a little more sympathy.  In fact, I wonder if Jo would have been a little quicker to forgive and forget, had she felt that Amy had been called out for her temper and Jo's loss acknowledged.  I think some if it is the time period.  Jo's writing was seen as a cute project rather than something bigger. 
  • All that said, people are more important than the greatest piece of writing and Jo did deserve that sermon at the end.  
Questions:
Do you sympathize with Amy or Jo more in this chapter?
Have you ever lost something that you worked on for a long time and forgot to have a back up of?

And thus closes two of my least favorite chapters in Little Women.  I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on chapters 9 and 10 and then I'll be caught up!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Little Women Read Along-Chapters 4, 5, and 6

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Chapter 4-Burdens

Oh, this chapter!  You can just feel the whole mood of the book dropping from the high of Christmas excitement to the low of everyday work.  Meg has to work with some very spoiled children who make her wish for pretty things more than ever.  Jo has to go to her grumpy Aunt March's to be her assistant.  Beth must return to her daily housework and her shabby piano.  And Amy must go back to her school filled with richer girls and a mean teacher.  After a very trying day, they are refreshed as they all gather around Marmee as she comforts and inspires them with stories and just a wee bit of preaching.

Thoughts:
  • Alcott's preaching thinly veiled in the form of Marmee really doesn't bother me.  I know that it gets on some people's nerves (and I'm not very far into the book…perhaps I will dislike it later on).  In fact, there are plenty of times where I think that Alcott has very valuable things to say, even for today's readers.
  • "Meg was Amy's confidant and monitor, and by some strange attraction of opposites, Jo was gentle Beth's.  To Jo alone did the shy children tell her thoughts; and over her big, harum-scarum sister, Beth unconsciously exercised more influence than any one in the family."  I love this quote.  Especially because I have seen this phenomenon so many times in real life.  
  • And the quote that made me laugh the most in this post?  "'My only comfort', she said to Meg, with tears in her eyes, 'is that Mother doesn't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'm naughty, as Maria Parks' mother does.  My dear, it's really dreadful; for sometimes she is so bad, her frock is up to her knees, and she can't come to school.  When I think of this degerredation, I feel that I can bear even my flat nose and purple gown, with yellow sky-rockets on it.'"
Questions:
Whose burden do you think is the greatest to bear of the four sisters?  I must say that I really do pity Meg, but what do you think?

What did you think of Marmee/Alcott's preaching in this chapter?  Do you think it detracted from the story, or was it a useful addition?


Chapter 5-Being Neighborly

I dearly love this chapter.  We finally get a good look at Laurie and there is a nice little adventure in the middle of the chapter.  The story starts with Jo setting off on an adventure to try to talk to "The Laurence boy".  She succeeds and even gains entrance to the elegant house.  After a long, cozy chat with Laurie, who is recovering from a cold, she retires to the a lovely library, while Laurie has a doctor's appointment.  There, to her shock, she meets the stern, foreboding Mr. Laurence, Laurie's grandfather who Jo is just a little afraid of.  However, she makes a good impression on Laurie's grandfather, who likes her at once, and she stays to tea.  All in all, this has to be one of the happiest chapters in the book.

Thoughts:

  • There is quite a bit of girl-boy friendships discussions throughout the chapter.  I think it's quite obvious that Alcott knows that she is going to shock and ruffle feathers.  Laurie pays Jo a very nice compliment, which Jo does not even know is a compliment.  Afterwards, when Jo is telling about it, Meg says, "'I never saw such a girl!  You don't know a compliment when you get it, said Meg with an air of a young lady who knew all about the matter.  'I think they are great nonsense, and I'll thank you not to be silly and spoil my fun.  Laurie's a nice boy, and I like, him, and I won't have any sentimental stuff about compliments and such rubbish.  We'll all be good to him, because he hasn't got any mother, and he may come over and see us, mayn't he, Marmee?'"
  • "And, having pulled the boy's hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on…"  I think it is very interesting that Alcott took note of this.  I'm quite sure that paternal interaction like this was the norm and I think it's very interesting that Alcott notices, and disapproves, of this.  
  • After reading about blanc mange in this chapter (and then reading the discussion in the comments on this blog), I decided to do some blanc mange research.  I didn't find a good blanc mange recipe, but I did make panna cotta, which is basically the same thing-cream, sugar, gelatin, and then other add-ins.  Basically a custard with gelatin.  And it was very delicious!  I made a grapefruit and vanilla bean panna cotta.
Questions:
Have you ever had blanc mange/something similar?  If so, did you like it?

Chapter 6-Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful
This is the chapter that alternately makes me melancholic knowing that this won't last and happily cooing over Beth and Mr. Laurence's relationship.  Beth discovers that there is a beautiful piano at the Laurence's, but she is far too timid to play it.  Mr. Laurence gets wind of this and comes over to quietly encourage her to come and play the piano, assuring her, through Marmee, who he is ostensibly talking to, that she will not have to cross paths with any people.  So Beth ventures over.  But then it gets sweeter.  Mr. Laurence actually gives Beth his dead little daughter's piano for her very own, a little bit of heartbreaking foreshadowing that only those of us who have read the book 8 million times will notice.  I almost wish I didn't know what was coming.  And the chapter closes with Beth and Mr. Laurence walking home hand in hand after Beth gives him her personal thanks.  *Sniff*  Excuse me while I leave to blow my nose.

Image from: Pinterest

Thoughts:
  • I often fall into the camp of people that think that Beth is terribly one-dimensional and too good for words.  And then I get to this chapter and I can't help but completely understand Beth in this chapter, though my personality has never been like hers.  I think this is the chapter that redeems Beth.  She has a problem, overcomes it, and makes a new friend, all in about ten pages.  What could be better?
  • I am really wishing I had the time to read through Pilgrim's Progress (or that I had the attention span to read through what I remember as being a very, very dry book).  The constant references are just a little bit confusing.  I mean, the references aren't bad enough that this book makes no sense without prior knowledge of PP, but I think it would be helpful.  Maybe some day…
Questions:
Do you think that this chapter makes Beth more understandable and easier to identify with?
Have any of you read Pilgrim's Progress and, if so, what did you think of it?

Whew!  And that closes one of my longest posts!  I'll be back tomorrow with more thoughts about Little Women.  I am enjoying this book so much!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Little Women Read-Along Chapter 3-The Laurence Boy

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)


I think that Chapter 3 might be one of the most iconic and remembered chapters of Little Women.  The chapter starts with an invitation from the rich Gardiners to Jo and Meg to attend a dance and supper.  Meg, of course, wants to go at once, but Jo is less enthusiastic.  There are extensive preparations, including a mishap in which Jo burns off Meg's front hair with a curling iron.  When they get to the party, Jo can't dance because of numerous problems with her clothes, so she disappears to a corner to observe while Meg dances.  She bumps into the neighbor boy, Laurie, and thus, we are introduced to one of the most beloved characters in this book.  They have a lovely time together gossiping and peeping until Meg sprains her ankle on too-small shoes.  Laurie offers them his carriage and they return home together, starting a long friendship.

Thoughts and Observations:


  • I always laugh at Jo's blunderbussey ways.  In middle school I had an unfortunate period of extreme blunderbuss and I remember doing so many of the things that Jo does.  Burning hair off?  It's a miracle that never happened.  Jo's dresses are always burnt (including her party dress) because she backs up to the fire-something I did repeatedly.  Actually, I still do that.  *Ahem.*  Anyway, I always laugh and laugh when Jo, who has one glove stained with lemonade, scrubs up spilled coffee with the other one.  Oh dear.
  • I really noticed the commentary on fashions this time around.  I'd noticed it before, but knowing that I was going to be writing about it made me think even more critically.  Jo and Meg's toilet is very detailed and everything from the number of hair pins in Jo's thick hair to Meg's nice gloves is covered.  However, Alcott is definitely critical of the attention and pain given to women's dress.  She writes at the end of the clothing description: 
"Meg's high-heeled slippers were dreadfully tight, and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo's nineteen hair-pins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable; but, dear me, let us be elegant or die!"
  • This quote made me think about women's clothing today.  Have we progressed?  I know that I love clothes and enjoy spending time thinking about what I wear, but I like to think that, should a woman prefer to wear nothing but comfortable clothes, society should respect that.  Which leads me to my second question-do you think that we suffer less pain for beauty now?  However, I am not willing to say that we, as a society, shouldn't have rules about how people dress for different things.   Because wearing jeans to a formal occasion is just not okay.  But I'm also not going to say that women have to wear spandex or high, high heels to said formal occasion.  Anyway, I'd love your thoughts on this.
  • Jo and Laurie's friendship was obviously another place that Alcott was being extremely counter-cultural.  Boys and girls and Laurie and Jo's age would have been thinking of each other only in terms of romance and Alcott objected to that.  Again, I wonder if Alcott would be pleased that men and women can be friends now without raising eyebrows.  And, again, I also see that we have not come as far as we think we have.  Who admits to having even had it cross their minds that Laurie and Jo would make a good couple?  I know I have. Sorry, Louisa.  
  • The other thing that I noticed is that I can't remember what my Book Laurie looked like.  I can remember a time, back when I read the book in, oh, 6th grade, where Book Laurie had a face.  Then, I saw the movie in high school and have always picture Movie Laurie when I read the book.  I can't remember what that face looked like and it's something that makes me a little sad. That's something that I've noticed about seeing a movie after having read a book.  I almost always have clear images of the characters I read about, but once I see the movie, those characters are erased and replaced by the faces of the actors in the movie.  Luckily, I liked Laurie in the movie, so it's not like I have the face of an unbearable character etched in my mind, but it is slightly annoying.
Quote:
"'I don't believe fine young ladies enjoy themselves a bit more than we do, in spite of our burnt hair, old gowns, one glove apiece, and tight slippers, that sprain our ankles when we are silly enough to wear them.' And I think Jo was quite right."

Questions for Discussion:
1.) What do you think about the opposite-gender friendships discussion?  Have we progressed?
2.) What about fashions of today vs. then?
3.) Would you prefer to be like Jo-standing in the corner with a good friend making snide remarks about people-or Meg-out dancing?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Little Women Read-Along Chapter 2-Merry Christmas

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

It's Christmas day and the girls awake to covered books that are never explicitly titled (more on this later).  After reading the little books and being much inspired, they go down to breakfast, only to find Marmee asking them to give their food to the poor Hummels who are starving and freezing.  Afterwards, there are presents for Marmee from the girls-Hemmed handkerchiefs from Beth, A big bottle of cologne from Amy (who exchanges the cheaper bottle for a nice one), Army slippers from Jo, and new gloves from Meg.  And then comes my favorite part of Chapter 2-The play performance put on by the March sisters for some friends, followed by a very kind Christmas gift of a post-supper play, provided by the neighbors, the Lawrences.
I'm going to be including a new Little Women book cover
in my posts for as long as I can keep finding them...

Here are my observations/thoughts for this chapter:


  • The never-titled books are hotly debated over, apparently.  Some people say that the books are Pilgrims Progress, a book referred to repeatedly in this book, and some say that the books are the New Testament of the Bible.  However, it seems quite obvious to me that the books are New Testaments.  Alcott's family was devout Christians, just as the Marches were and it seems that only people unfamiliar with the devotion with which most Christians view the Bible would confused Pilgrim's Progress with the following excerpts from Chapter 2:  
"Then she remembered her mother's promise, and slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book.  She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guide-book for any pilgrim going on a long journey."

"'Girls' said Meg seriously, looking from the tumbled head beside her to the two little night-capped ones in the room beyond, 'mother wants us to read and love and mind these books, and we must begin at once.  We used to be faithful about it; but since father went away, and all this war unsettled us, we have neglected many things."
  • I am so impressed by how gladly the March sisters give up their food for the Hummels.  Even though they are obviously very hungry themselves, they know that there is always somebody else who will be hungrier. 
  • If the Marches are as poverty-stricken as the book portrays them, why do they have Hannah as their servant?  Surely you have to at least be slightly upper middle class to be keeping a servant on to do all the cooking and cleaning?  Or is Hannah just a dearly-beloved friend who also happens to cook all their food?  I feel like this gets explained later in the book, but this does make me curious.
  • I read a biography about Alcott at some time and I remember reading that she and her sisters used to put on many plays for their family and friends.  Reading Alcott's careful descriptions of the acting, the ingenious props, and the sibling interactions shows how close to memory these plays were for her in real life.  
  • My favorite quote from this chapter of the book is:
"A good deal of hammering went on before the curtain rose again; but when it became evident what a masterpiece of stage carpentering had been got up, no one murmured at the delay….A tower rose to the ceiling; halfway up appeared Zara [Amy] in a lovely blue and silver dress waiting for Roderigo [Jo].  He came in gorgeous array, with plumed cap, red cloak, chestnut love-locks, a guitar, and the boots, of course….Then came the grand effect of the play.  Roderigo produced a rope-ladder with five steps to it, threw up one end, and invited Zara to descend.  Timidly, she crept to her lattice, put her hand on Roderigo's shoulder, and was about to leap gracefully down, when, 'alas! alas for Zara!' she forgot her train-it caught in the window; the tower tottered, leaned forward, fell with a crash, and buried the unhappy lovers in the ruins.  
"A universal shriek arose as the russet boots waved wildly from the wreck, and a golden head emerged, exclaiming, 'I told you so!'  With wonderful presence of mind, Don Pedro, the cruel sire, rushed in and dragged his daughter with a hasty aside-'Don't laugh, act as if it was all right!'."  
And then I dissolved into laughter imagining this scene.

Questions for Discussion:
1.) What are army slippers?  Does anybody know about this?  I've been trying to get a mental image and am coming up short.
2.) What do you think about the Bible vs. Pilgrim's Progress debate?
3.) Does this play stick out in anybody else's mind when thinking of Little Women?  Because I think this has to be one of my top 5 favorite Little Women moments.

Monday, March 2, 2015

March with the Marches-A Readalong

Just last month, I discovered the lovely blog, The Edge of the Precipice and have been enjoying looking through her archives and reading her new posts.  I discovered her blog because of a read-along that she is hosting for the month of March (and onward).  Bloggers will read Little Women and then post thoughts and questions for discussion every couple chapters.  You can also check in with other blogs joining the read along and join in in their comments.

Little Women is a book that has shaped my life.  When life is unpleasant or hectic or even dismal, I often pull out Little Women and am comforted by the lovely homeyness and wonderful wisdom of that book.  When life is pleasant and all is right with the world, I still turn to Little Women and am amazed at how much the lives of the March family resound with me.  I love all of the sisters, but especially Meg.  She, as the responsible big sister with a love for clothes and a strong sense of justice and what is right always reminded me of myself.  While I've never identified with Jo very much, most of my best friends over the years have been Jo Marches.  In many ways, Little Women is a picture of my life, though I never had three sisters, nor lived through civil war and death from horrible disease.

And that is why I am so very excited to be exploring Little Women yet again (for what I'm sure is the millionth time) in depth on this blog.  Because it has been such a part of my life, I think that this must be  a book that makes it onto this blog.  I hope you enjoy reading through this book with me, even if the only reading you do is my reviews.  I can assure you that I am going to enjoy it.
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Chapter 1-Playing Pilgrims

This chapter draws you into the world of the Marches from the start.  It is Christmas Eve and the girls are sitting around the fireplace griping about their lack of so many things, until Marmee comes in, bringing a letter from their much-loved father who is away as a chaplain in the war.  Here are a few of the things that struck me reading through again:

  • Even though the civil war is a huge part of their lives (Father is a chaplain and Marmee is doing volunteer work with some soldier's organization), in so many ways it really isn't present.  There are still jobs to be done, chores to do, school to attend, adventures to be had, and the many, many delightful things that the Marches do.  In spite of the very real presence that the war has in the March's lives, it by no means takes the center stage.  
  • I had completely forgotten about the play that the Marches put on in this book and I am already getting excited to read the next chapter, which focuses a lot on the play.  I remember doing just this kind of thing as a child-props and costumes and far-too dramatic dialogue.  
  • This book is just so timeless.  Cliche, I know, but, nevertheless, very true.  While thinking about this, I had a sudden observation that I've never had before-Little Women hasn't been remade a thousand times!  You know how Pride and Prejudice gets remade and remade and remade in every style from zombies to this great fictional vlog (which, surprisingly, I really loved).  But anyway, I'm getting sidetracked.  But Little Women?  Aside from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1990s movies, which were supposed to be true to the book, there haven't been many reimaginings that I know of.  I think that it is because a.) Romance is not the key feature of the book, making it less desirable to many re-writers b.) The book is really more childlike and child-focused and c.) I think that we have Colin Firth and the hype that surrounded that Pride and Prejudice edition to thank for many of the remakes of classic fiction.  Credit for this observation goes to my mother, who I was discussing Little Women with.  What do you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts below in the comments.
Questions for Discussion:
1.) This has been asked other places, but….which character do you identify most strongly with?
2.) What do you think of my observation of Little Women and adaptations?  Why do you think Little Women isn't as adapted as other well-loved classics, such as Pride and Prejudice?  
3.) Have you seen any of the movie versions and, if so, which ones?

So those are some of my thoughts for Chapter 1 of this great book!  If you're interested in blogging along too, please join, and if not, chime in in the comments section!

Friday, February 13, 2015

3 Quick Book Reviews and an Update

Hello, dear readers.  I am still here, lest you thought I was frozen into the side a snowbank, never to appear again.

In spite of my lack of blog activity, I have been up to a lot of things, some reading related.  I have 3 books on the reading pile, two of which I have finished.

1. Don Quixote-
My latest Classics Club read.  It's funny and enjoyable and the translation done by Edith Grossman is great.  I've been enjoying just a few chapters every evening by the fire with hot Earl Grey tea, my new favorite.  I usually make the tea into a London Fog-with lots of steamy hot milk.
But back to the book, there is something so eerily amazing about reading a book that is so old.  I'm quite enjoying it and there will be a full-fledged review, once I've finished it.

2. Small Victories by Anne Lamott-
I love Anne Lamott's writing and this is her latest book.  I have about 5 pages in the book and I can't wait to get a review up about it.  Lamott has had a strange, at times pretty rackety life, but the thing that strikes me reading her books is her incredible grace and wisdom through all kinds of scenarios that I am not entirely sure how I would handle.  If you haven't read anything by Lamott, this is definitely a must-read.

3. The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp-
This is a re-read, but I do love Sharp's incredible sly wit.  The Nutmeg Tree is about a young, irrepressible widow who is left in the early days of WWI with a baby.  After a dreadfully boring stint as a respectable young widow, she leaves the baby with her kindly in-laws and heads to the city. Susan, the baby, grows up dull and respectable, until she falls in love with an unscrupulous man and Julia has to help her get out of the mess.  It's really funny and was a very quick read.

In addition to all of this reading, I'm working and doing as little outside as I possibly can (which usually means just the once-a-day trudge to do the animal chores and then scurrying inside as quickly as possible).  I'm also dreaming of summer through a big stack of summer clothes that I have waiting at the sewing machine.  So see?  I haven't turned into a frozen brick of ice.

Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren

At the beginning of January, I decided that I was going to read a serious book.  A book that would stretch me and make me work on stretching my mind just a little.  I picked up How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren.  It was the beginning of January and I was fresh off of making a good resolutions list and it felt so pleasantly stark and stiff for a gray January.  I finally finished it and I confess to almost dropping the book a few times.  However, I'm glad I stuck with it and I think that I will definitely be glad of a few tips and tricks that I picked up.

How to Read a Book was written in the 40s and was a call to arms for people to return to the serious reading of their forefathers.  This meant intelligent reading, rather than mindless reading, and also reading difficult books, rather than light novels.  In the back is a 30 page reading list of every classic that Messrs. Adler and van Doren believed to be important for the Western reader.

The book reminded me in many ways of The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer.  It had similar themes and, while Bauer's writing style was much more accessible, both Adler/van Doren and Bauer were/are greatly influenced by the Great Books movement.

Not there weren't some problems with the book.  The book recommendations were extremely dated.  Now, before you say, but of course they were dated, we're talking about classics here!  The notion that Classics (with a capital C) are all written by dead, white men is a bit dated and one that I do take offense to.  And it's one of the things that I appreciated about Susan Wise Bauer's book.  She was happy to include Toni Morrison along with Charles Dickens.  Adler and van Doren's list was so skewed that Emily Bronte didn't make it onto the list.

Adler starts with the premise that there are 3 levels of reading and that we need to be fully using every level or else we will not be getting every bit we can out of the book.  First is elementary reading, which is simply the act of reading that we all learn in elementary school.  Next comes inspection reading, where you systematically skim first of all and then carefully analyze all parts of the book to gain a better understanding of it.  Finally comes analytical reading, the process of which takes up the second third of the book.  It includes pigeonholing the book, x-raying the book, coming to terms with the author, determining the authors message, criticizing the book fairly, agree or disagreeing with the author and then aids to reading are discussed.

Part 3 deals with specific instructions on how to deal with every genre of writing, from practical books to philosophy.  The last part discusses the ultimate goals of reading and ends by summarizing why we should all be reading in this way.

The section on inspectional reading was what fascinated me the most.  I had been taught to scorn the practice of skim reading, but Adler's words completely changed my mind.  He writes,

"Let us assume two further elements in the situation, elements that are quite common.  First, you do not know whether you want to read a book.  You do not know whether it deserves an analytical reading.  But you suspect that it does, or at least that it contains both information and insights that would be valuable to you if you dig them out.  Second, let us assume-and this is very often the case-taut you only have a limited time in which to find all this out.  In this case, what you must do is skim the book, or as some prefer to say, pre-read it."

Now, to be fair, the kind of skimming I scorn is not what Adler and van Doren were referring to and, if the reader determines that the book is worth his or her while, then of course, they will not stop there, but go on to read the book again.

The book really inspired me.  In fact, this book is a large part of the reason why I decided to join Classics Club.  I was so spurred on after reading this interesting book that I wanted to start in on a whole stack of classics!  However, while Adler and van Doren were thinking about classics and meaty books when they were writing this, I don't think that's any reason to not apply these tips to my everyday reading.  After all, don't I do a sped-up version of inspectional reading when I decide whether I want to read a book that looks interesting at the library?  And I'm already starting to apply little bits and pieces of the analytical reading step to my reading-asking myself what the author's message is or what the tone of the piece is.  And I like to imagine that it's helped me become a better, more thoughtful reader.

I really recommend this book and, while the book is thick and pretty tome-like, the writing is not at all difficult and I gleaned so many interesting tips that I think plowing through the book was worth it.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts on Narnia

(Girl With Her Head in a Book did a lovely post on Top Ten Irritating Book Characters.  One of the characters she listed was Susan, the responsible big sister in Chronicles of Narnia.  And that is how this train of thought started.)

Narnia is a series that I remember so fondly.  Throughout my elementary school years, my dad was primarily the evening read-aloud parent and we plowed through so many classic children's books together-Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, A Wrinkle in Time and Meet the Austins, Matilda, and so many more.  And, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia made it onto the list.  I remember loving them.  I wept bitterly through Aslan's death and resurrection and laughed at dear Mr. Tumnus and all of the other wonderful characters.  Narnia is one of those books that will live on in my memory probably forever.  Then I picked up the books again at some point recently (maybe 2 years ago?) and I began to notice new elements.

Of course, by the time I read the books again recently,  I was well acquainted with C.S. Lewis and had enjoyed The Great Divorce and the Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity and all of those books.  And I really do admire Lewis as a thinker and a Christian.  However, I also came to realize that he was very much a man of his time and his opinions come through loud and clear.

Of course, it's a pretty much universally known piece of information that Narnia is one great biblical analogy.  The books are about the Christian story, starting with the new worlds created when Edmund and Lucy jump into the pools in The Magician's Nephew and ending with the Book of Revelation-filled The Last Battle.  Aslan is, of course, Jesus and the four children are everyman/everywoman/other biblical characters as needed.  The evil white witch is, I suppose, Satan.  You could go into a whole analysis of why the representation of evil is a human female and I know that many people have.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The thing that drove me wild while reading these books recently was that C.S. Lewis was sexist as all get out.  I think it's interesting that this came out most in a children's book.  It didn't cross my mind when I was reading, say Mere Christianity, but the message is loud and clear throughout most of the book.  I think that we can say very mildly that Lewis did not, ahem, have a very contemporary view of gender and race.

Susan, in particular, bothered me.  She goes from being the personality-less big sister whose sole purpose in life is being the stable Martha-like (as in the Mary and Martha story) character to being cast out of Narnia because she has become interested in makeup and parties.  This struck me as so strange and I will confess to be annoyed to no end on behalf of all big sisters everywhere. And then there's the white witch and her other evil counterpart who appears in The Silver Chair, The Lady of the Green Kirtle, or the Emerald Witch.  There were some weird comparisons to Eve in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of The Magician's Nephew.  Those are just a few off the top of my head.

The other thing I cringed over was the racism in the Horse and His Boy.  I mean, it was bad enough that I was cringing while reading.  Sheesh, did he really just say that?  And that does make a book uncomfortable to read.  The portrayal of the Calormens is hard to take at best; they are every Middle Eastern stereotype you've ever heard.  And the way that they are constantly contrasted with the fair people of Narnia made me gag.

It gives me a bit of a pang to admit all of this.  See, I still absolutely adore Narnia.  The imagery is some of the best out there, the characters are all lovable and the plot is perfectly crafted.  I would be loath to tell any parent not to read these books to their children.  On the contrary, if I were running the world, I would insist on every parent reading these books to all of their children, simply for the beautiful storytelling.  There are some pretty wonderful truths throughout the books that I think everybody should hear, like sibling loyalty and the importance of a culture and, oh, a thousand things.  I could write a whole series of posts on things that Narnia taught me.

So I wonder, am I overreacting?  Should I treat Narnia like I would any old book-appreciating the good stories and the wonderful things they have to offer, while also acknowledging that we have moved on in some ways in our modern world?  And the thing is, all authors are human and, therefore, all authors are flawed and products of their times and places.  Can any book ever be perfect?

I'm not sure why this book struck me particularly.  Perhaps because it was such a crucial book in my childhood, or maybe just because it's such good writing.  Maybe if the writing were less that perfect, I would be willing to write off the author's flaws more easily.  Is it because C. S. Lewis is such a good, good writer that it is harder to acknowledge his personal flaws?

So those are my Narnia musings, all set off by a simple comment and having read the books recently.  Now, tell me, what are your thoughts on Narnia?  Should it get a free pass on any kind of scrutiny because it is such beloved and wonderful writing?  Should we just throw it out and stop romanticizing over the writing?  Or should we strike some kind of happy medium of acknowledging it's problems while also accepting that this is some of the loveliest children's fiction out there?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

She Stoops to Conquer-Classics Club #2

This is my second Classics Club read, which I think is pretty good, being that it's only January 16th.  This one was a fun read.  It was a running read and so I got to listen to a little every morning.  Hearing plays dramatized is really the best way to experience a play, if you're not going to go see it.

She Stoops to Conquer, set in England in the 1700s is about Kate Hardcastle, a young woman who has fallen madly in love with a young man too shy to court girls of his own class who, instead, spends his time pursuing servant girls and barmaids.  Kate meets this man, Marlow, who is being sent by his father to meet her as a possible suitor.  Kate is infatuated at once but, of course, Marlow is not.

Meanwhile, there's a secondary romance between Kate's best friend, Miss Constance Neville, and Marlow's best friend, Hastings.  In order to win Marlow over, Kate decides to play the part of a barmaid and, sure enough, he falls in love with her.  And then it gets so exceedingly complicated that I'm not sure I could even begin to summarize.  There were so many ruses and double-ruses and all kinds of mistakes of character that I must admit to my head spinning at several moments.

There are other characters involved in the plot, too.  There is Mrs. Hardcastle, the miserly mother of Kate who is forcing Constance (who, by the way, is her niece) and her nasty son Tony (whose tricks are part of what make the whole plot so convoluted) to marry.  There are Constance's jewels, which Tony wants to steal and Hastings wants to use so they can elope.  There is Mr. Hardcastle who is the main deciding factor in whether or not Kate will marry Marlow.   And there is a whole host of bartenders and sneaky servants who fill the pages and add to the general confusion.

I had a lot of fun reading (er, listening to) this.  I'm always surprised when I read a book this old and find myself laughing out loud like I would at modern comedy.  I think we as a modern culture have a bit of a representation of literature and culture at this time period as being stiff and boring and completely lacking in any kind of emotion.  And so, when something proves us wrong in that assumption, we are completely surprised.  This book was like that.  It proved that, no, people did like a good joke, even back then, and they actually laughed at most of the same things we do today.

The story in itself is very good.  It's not a well-known classic in the sense that all high schoolers read it, so if you didn't study theater or English in college, it's probably not something you would have come across.  I hadn't read the book, but had heard it mentioned in passing several times.  I'm so glad I picked up this book.  It was a really fun read and a great way to start out my year of Classics Club.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Classics Club 2015

So I decided to join Classics Club!  It was on my to-do list for this year and I'm ready to start on the challenge.  I really love reading classics and so I'm quite excited to start this.
So here's my list of classics I'm going to read in 2015:

1.)  Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte-Technically, already checked off
2.)  She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
3.) Paradise Lost
4.) Don Quixote
5.) Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
6.) Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
7.) The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper
8.) Something by Emerson…haven't nailed that down yet
9.) Something by Dickens that I haven't read…
10.) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
11.) A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstencroft
12.) Poems by Tennyson (I want to work on poetry reading this year
13.) Poems by Poe
14.) Poems by Keats
15.) One of Alcott's earliest writings that, according to many people, were terrible…I'm still curious
16.) How Like an Angel Came I Down by Bronson Alcott
17.) Brave New World by Alduous Huxley
18.) The Wind in the Willows (This is going to be my children's classic for the year)
19.) North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
20.) Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
21.) Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
22.)  Probably something by Wilkie Collins
23.) Watership Down by Richard Adams
24.) The Frogs by Aristophanes
25.) Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Classics Club has a rule about reading at least 50 books in at most 5 years.  I'm not going to do more than 25 this year, so next year I'll read the other 25.  I'm still debating about the other 25 and which ones I'll be reading…so I'll let you know after I've thought about it for awhile.

What about you, readers?  Is anybody else participating in Classics Club this year?  What books are you planning on reading?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wuthering Heights-Book Club Review

Well, here's my Wuthering Heights book review, finally.  Just as I had an influx of books to review, my laptop crashed.  Gah.  So it's in the shop, but that means that I am computer-less, except for the slow, old computer up in the chilly attic that is Strictly For Work.  So I caved and went up to the freezing attic, because I absolutely have to write this post.

A few weeks ago, Girl With Her Head in a Book asked me about participating in a Wuthering Heights book discussion, hosted by Kirsty, from The Literary Sisters.  I readily agreed, even though Wuthering Heights would probably never make it onto my TBR list.  And, much to my surprise, I enjoyed it much more than I ever thought I would.

Wuthering Heights is something that pretty much everybody reads in school at least once and, many times, loathe to the end of their days, or, in other cases, love and remember fondly to the end of their days.  I was one of the former.  I don't like being wrenched and feeling as though I am being emotionally manipulated every second of a book.  I thought the characters were ridiculous and emotional to the point of unbelievability.  But then I picked up this book and my perceptions started to change.

First of all, the narration of this book is fascinating.  It's somebody telling a story about somebody telling a story about somebody else.  So this is 3rd-hand news, in other words.  It reminded me of those pictures you see of somebody taking a picture in a mirror and having it reflected in multiple little mirrors in the picture (did that make any sense?  I have an image in my head).  I was especially struck by the amount of error that could have occurred in the tellings and, indeed, Emily Bronte leads us to believe that all kinds of information is being shifted, nay, lied about.  The narrators are Nelly Dean, who leads us and the other narrator, the foppish and pompous Mr. Lockwood to believe that she is a pious and righteous woman, never prone to any kind of mistake or problem.  In her eyes, she is the warm and kindly housekeeper who can do no wrong.  And yet, brilliantly, Emily shows us how wrong Nelly can be.

The narrators also interested me because both of them are so unlikeable.  It's not a new phenomenon to have plenty of unlikeable characters in a book, but for the most part, the author writes the narrator as a sympathetic character with whom the reader is supposed to identify.  But not Lockwood and Nelly Dean.  The only reason they aren't as despicable as Heathcliff is because they haven't the imagination or the tortured personalities.

Actually, there's nobody to like in the whole book. Heathcliff is purely awful, his wife, Isabella, is spoiled and weak, Cathy is tempestuous and headstrong and decidedly selfish, exactly like her mother, Catherine, Hindley is despicable, a gambler, and slightly insane, the servants are pretty bad, too...Hareton is the closest any of the characters come to being likable.

And then there's the chain of characters that confused me until about halfway through the book.  The inbreeding is ridiculous.  Luckily, in the front of my flimsy little edition was a family tree with notes about who married whom.  Thank goodness for that, because I would have been lost without it.  Here's the family tree, which is very similar to the one that was in my book, linked from this very interesting website.
Photo Credit:
http://www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/genealogy.php

This time around, I was impressed by how actually reserved this book is.  The writing is surprisingly unflowery and dramatic.  Sure, the plot line is pretty intense (like Cathy being locked into Heathcliff's house until she agrees to marry his wormy little son, Linton), but the writing in and of itself is very withdrawn and calm.

I would love to know what experiences Emily drew from when writing this tortured novel.  The type of secluded life she lived was not exactly conducive to lots of adventure and experience with people.  Was it purely imagination?  Inspiration from other books of the time?  There is an innocence in the way she writes about such characters as Heathcliff.  They are simply bad people, but not bad in complicated ways or for complicated reasons.  And how was Isabella really dashing around the moors, supposedly pregnant by that time with Linton?  Emily doesn't appear to have wondered.  The innocence, yet the incredible understanding of human nature fascinated me in this book and that, in and of itself, was enough of a reason to read this book.

For instance, Catherine and Heathcliff's intense longing and love, mixed with loathing was written so believably.  This is the quote that so many people bring up when talking about Wuthering Heights, but I think that it really does perfectly depict Catherine and Heathcliff's intense, tortured relationship.

“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” 

The story was really gripping.  Each morning, I'd plow through a couple of chapters over breakfast and then in the evenings I'd tell everybody to stop talking to me so I could read Wuthering Heights.  I was drawn in and spent more time than I thought I would thinking about the characters and wondering what was going to happen next.

Would I recommend reading this book?  Oh, yes!  I recommend keeping a large-ish slip of paper in your book as a bookmark.  I then wrote notes and thoughts on it as I was reading the book.  I think a lot of observations and general notes about the characters would have been forgotten if I hadn't been writing them down.  So I think that, if you were like me, one of the people that scoffed at Wuthering Heights, turn to this book again and give it a second chance.  I think you won't regret it.  I'm certainly glad that I cracked open the pages of Wuthering Heights again.

Other posts about this book:

http://girlwithherheadinabook.blogspot.com/2015/01/readalong-review-wuthering-heights.html?showComment=1420820338260#c5963247034216209094

http://theliterarysisters.wordpress.com/2015/01/06/blogging-book-club-wuthering-heights-by-emily-bronte-classics-club-93/

http://www.emeraldcitybookreview.com/2015/01/back-to-moors-wuthering-heights.html