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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Years Resolutions and the First Book of 2015

Happy New Year, everybody!  I had a lovely, fairly low-key little party last night and now I'm full of plans to sit by the fire and read any number of books.  My first read is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  I'm actually really enjoying the dramatic, yet surprisingly unsentimental account of passionate love on the barren moors.  I'm reading this as part of a book club, so I'll be writing a nice long analysis very soon.  Just 100 more pages to go!

My copy is a very ratty, beaten up one with some college notes in it.  Interesting, but not the most beautiful copy.  Anyway, that's my first read of 2015.

My reading resolutions are as follows:

1.  Better balance between blogging and reading.  It's easy to read a whole bunch and then get completely lazy and not feel like writing about the books.  Or, to spend too much time focusing on the blog and not enough on the books.  So my main goal this year is to focus on finding that balance.

2. Join Classics Club.  I have heard so many wonderful things about this great club, including the facts that it is fairly low-maintenance, gets you to read some great literature, and you can connect with others also reading classics.

3.  Read through more books that I own and stop checking out ones from the library until I've made a serious dent.  I do love the library.  I think it's probably one of the greatest civic institutions.  But I have books at home that I really, really need to read.  This resolution was inspired by Lory's great challenge for January.

4. Read some nonfiction!  I want to branch out in my reading.  I am normally a strictly fiction reader and I want to change that a bit.  I've started by reading What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.  It's a fun, quick nonfiction read and I'm really enjoying it (and I own it!).

My resolutions aren't huge, but I'm hoping to follow through with them.  I wish you all a very, very happy 2015 with lots of good reading!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Read in 2014

I read a lot this year.  I think I read so much because I had this blog that was quietly tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to take the time to read and write on my blog.  Yes, there was my (brief) hiatus from blogging, back in the fall, but I could never completely leave this blog and, so, I'm committing to a brisker blog schedule and even more reading this year!  I thought I would compile a list of what I read this year.  I was so pleased, readers!  The list starts in March because that was when I started blogging and, honestly, I have absolutely no memory of what I read before that.


The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (And my first blog post!)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Still one of my favorite works of fiction)
The Penderwicks Books by Jeanne Birdsall
Two Sherlock Holmes Books
Canterbury Tales
Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery
Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes
Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier (NOT a hit!)
The Beginning of Flavia de Luce
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays
The Life of Pi

Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by L.M. Alcott

This is a book that is neglected and forgotten about all too frequently.  We've all read, or at least read part of, Little Women and maybe and Old Fashioned Girl or Eight Cousins, but most people haven't ever read An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, unless they know of it from the smarmy, schmaltzy tv movie that was done in the early 2000s.  Just in case you were wondering, that movie has absolutely nothing to do with the book by Alcott except for the title.

This book was also made into a picture book at some point, but this was a short story written by Alcott around the same time that she wrote Hospital Sketches.  In this story, the Bassett family is bustling around, getting ready for a big Thanksgiving feast when a carriage comes up to the gate, bringing word that grandmother is desperately sick.  The mother leaves, putting her 7 young children in charge of cooking the Thanksgiving meal.  There are all kinds of funny upsets and mishaps, including stuffing the turkey with truly nasty herbs (can't remember what they were....catnip, maybe?).

This book was been rather overlooked because it's not very long and it's very easily cute-ified, something that can very easily happen to holiday stories.  I think that Alcott originally wrote this as a children's short story, but I really enjoyed it, just as an Austen fan.  This was really very well written and gently funny.

There really isn't much else to say about this book.  It's got a lovely atmosphere about it and is, really, still very contemporary, as we could all imagine having an adventure like this.  Although can you even imagine leaving your 7 kids, all under the age of 16 at home to make Thanksgiving dinner?  Whew!

If you have any children in your life, go ahead and read this to them.  If you don't, but you're an avid Alcott fan, then go ahead and read this, too.  I think you'll enjoy it.

So there's my Thanksgiving post for the year.  I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving week!   I gathered with lots of extended family for lots and lots of good food.  It was lovely and now I'm ready for a normal week ahead and, hopefully, a few blog posts!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain

My latest read was Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain.  Of course, I laughed my head off because it's dear Mark Twain.  I do love Mark Twain's writing style.  I'm in a bit of a dry spot, reading-wise and I've been aimlessly wandering around both my personal library and the public library feeling sorry for my book-less self.  Mark Twain stepped in and is helping me through this little bump and, oh, am I grateful to him.

This book is just a compilation of shorter writings that Twain wrote over the years.  In it is Letter from Carson City, A Dog's Tale, Story of the Bad Little Boy, and more.  The writings are contemplative, sarcastic, witty, biting...pretty much any descriptor that you could use for a book you could mention here.  And that's why his writing is so brilliant.  The skill of being able to effortlessly change tones and settings is something that few authors have mastered.

I have been reading Mark Twain since a little girl, but I never read this book.  Actually I was unfamiliar with a great number of the writings within this.  A lot of these writings are more obscure things that are not handed out to the average reader very frequently.  I felt like I got to know Twain in a new way as I read through this book.  My favorite was An Encounter with an Interviewer.  Twain managed to portray himself and the young interviewer in a sarcastic, hilariously funny light.  I have never read a piece of writing quite like this.  In this story, Twain is interview by a, "nervous, dapper,'peart' young man" who proceeds to assist him in holding a completely botched up interview.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Take this excerpt:

"Q. How old are you?
A. Nineteen, in June
Q. Indeed!  I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six.  Where were you born?
A. In Missouri.
Q. When did you begin to write?
A. In 1836.
Q. Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?
A. I don't know.  It does seem curious somehow.
Q. It does, indeed.  Who do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?
A. Aaron Burr.
Q. But you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only nineteen years-
A. Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?"

When you're done reading that (and have spent a good 5 minutes laughing), flip back a few pages and turn to The Story of a Bad Little Boy That Bore a Charmed Life.  And you will have had your amusement for the day.  I guarantee it.

Go read this book, dear readers.  You will quite enjoy it and you will be left feeling refreshed and ready to conquer any book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Great Divorce

My latest read has been The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  I grew up with C.S. Lewis (particularly the Chronicles of Narnia, but other things as well, such as Screwtape Letters), so his writing is not new to me, but for some reason I had skipped this book.

The Great Divorce refers to a book called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  C.S. Lewis is replying to the assertion that parts of Heaven and Hell should be combined to make earth and instead calls for "a great divorce between heaven and hell," a return to an either/or stance rather than a both/and stance.  The story is an allegory, a sort of reflection on the nature of heaven and hell and how people participate in both realms on earth.  The story starts when the narrator boards a bus in a strange land where it is always grey and drizzly.  He goes on an incredible journey through heaven and hell with his complaining, griping, unsatisfied fellow travelers.  Lewis sums up the moral of the story in the introduction, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."

It is no secret that Lewis is a highly revered writer and thinker, but this was especially impressed upon me in this book.  The way that important truths are presented in an unassuming, yet poignant way is impressive.  And it isn't every writer that can write a pressing allegory without it become a diatribe or a long-winded sermon.  I was encourage in my own faith by this book, but I was also challenged and convicted by it.  I think it's a good idea to read a book that makes one ever so slightly uncomfortable (in a good, spurring-on kind of way, of course) every once in a while.

I'm going to include a quote from the introduction of the book (which really was a sort of interpretation for the whole allegory).

"You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind."

I really enjoyed this book.  As you long-time readers know, I read a lot of lighter-end fiction and so it was quite refreshing to get out of a bit of a reading grove.  This book also has the advantage of not being a tome-like book.  It's something that can be read over a quiet weekend and the reader will be left with a refreshed, thoughtful feeling.  Of course, this is a Christianity-geared book, however, if you are a thinker and enjoy contemplating, I would highly recommend this book.  I really liked it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen

This is a book that I have owned for years.  The title pretty much sums up what the book is about- letters that Jane Austen wrote throughout the years, most of them to her beloved sister, Cassandra.  Penelope Hughes-Hallett did a beautiful job of compiling these letters and introducing them.  Her voice comes through gently, without taking away anything from the beauty of Austen's writing.  So here, quickly, are some of my observations about this book:

  • I met Jane Austen in a new way while reading this book.  So often, we only read about Austen through somebody else's eyes.  Here, we can see Jane Austen herself, without any other author's interpretations or editing.  It's so refreshing!
  • The illustrations!  They are truly one of the highlights of the book.  I found that I am still a sucker for pretty pictures in books.  The illustrations are varied, from portraits that Cassandra, a budding artist drew, to little humorous sketches published in newspapers at the time to beautiful watercolor sketches done by famous people.  
  • The social rules fascinate me.  What accomplishments were expected of ladies, the proper way to accept a dance...the rules go on and on.  It's interesting, because Jane Austen, of course, accepts the rules as just the way things are.  So the reader picks up those social rules along the way through reading Austen's writing.
  • I am glad I don't have to wear regency dress.  I look at those pictures and hear Jane mention certain things about their clothes and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I am a dress-uppy kind of girl, but those teeny-tiny little plunging bodices and skirts that appear to be constantly sticking to ones legs does not sound pleasant.
  • For the first time, I got a very clear picture of the Austen family as a whole.  I have read biographies about Austen before, but this one is so interesting because it is Jane, herself, talking about her family and all of the little quirks that make up everybody.
  • Jane Austen was an observer, rather like me.  She writes to Cassandra all of her observations about people and the funny, strange, and interesting things that they do.  I think it's part of what makes her such a brilliant writer...that ability to observe something interesting, stow it away for future use, and then pull it out again and incorporate it into a novel.
This book was so wonderful, readers.  I think it was my favorite of my Austen in August reads.  I highly recommend it to any Austenites.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Old-Fashioned Girl

I have always loved Louisa May Alcott's writing.  Like so many little girls, I was introduced to Little Women by my mother early on.  We read the book together and laughed over the adventures and felt sorry for Laurie and wept over Beth.  After that introduction, I adored everything by Alcott.  I went on to read Little Men and Jo's Boys and all of the lesser-known books, like Under the Lilac Bush and Hospital Sketches.  However, my favorite is An Old-Fashioned Girl.

An Old Fashioned Girl is the story of Polly, a shy, smart, highly spirited girl.  She goes to visit a friend, Fanny, who lives a cosseted life with her wild brother Tom, her whiny, spoiled little sister Maud, her distracted businessman father, her self-absorbed, hypochondriacal mother and her lonely grandmother who disapproves of the whole family.  Into this scene full of ennui and dissipation comes a breath of fresh air in the form of young Polly.  She, a country girl from a countercultural family that reminds me of the Marches,  is shocked by the city life so full of problems and trouble in spite of the wealth.  She is introduced to Polly's shallow friends and she begins to work change in the family and she begins to see the real sides of her hosts.

The book is spread over a time period of about 10 years.  By the end, there is a charming suitor, Mr. Sidney, and Polly has grown in wisdom and maturity and has become an even more well-rounded character.  Polly is living in a little apartment and keeping house for herself and giving music lessons to support her brother in college.  Then the unthinkable happens-Polly and her family lose all of their money in some banking crises.  And…well, you'll have to read this wonderful book to find out what happens!

The domestic descriptions are unbelievable cozy, particularly when Polly moves into her own house.  It's one of the lovely bonuses of this book.  I couldn't find the particular description that I love, so you'll just have to read the book and find it for yourself.
I sat down with a delicious slice of peach upside down cake made with roasted cornmeal,
hot peppermint tea, and An Old Fashioned Girl (rereading for the millionth time).
It was so pretty, I decided to take a picture-yes, I've become one of those bloggers who takes
pictures of her food.

Even though Polly is a Victorianly good character, there is nothing saccharine or fake about her goodness.  She has her struggles, very much like the March sisters of Little Women.  She has troubles and setbacks just like all of us, but she has a loving family base that is helping her along as she sees new, tempting, strange things.  The old-fashioned in the title is from when Fanny and her friends refer to Polly as "old-fashioned" and "little-girl-ish" because she doesn't behave the way Fanny and her friends do.

Polly's family is not portrayed as a demon-family, but simply one that has become distracted by worldly things and in the process has forgotten the family.  Polly is simply there to remind them of the importance of each other.  The books is not explicitly Christian, but there is that undertone, much like the undertone in Little Women.  I think that also has a lot to do with the way that Polly and her family behave.
Finished!  (Does anybody else prop their books against
their tea pot?  It makes the perfect hands-free reading!

Polly reminds me of Meg March is so many ways.  If L.M. Alcott were to write a story just about Meg on her own in a strange city, you would get this book.  I've always identified with Meg in Little Women.  I do not have that willful, passionate Jo March streak, goodness knows I'm not like saintly Beth and I hope to goodness I'm not like the spoiled, vain Amy.   Meg's calm, practical nature, in spite on her own personal temptations resonated with me, which is part of the reason I identified with Polly.  

The ultimate message of this story and the whole story in general are really timeless.  There is nothing archaic or old-fashioned about the writing or the story.  Louisa May Alcott did it again-she wrote another wonderful book about lovable characters that you are sure to remember for years after you read this book.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Evelina by Fanny Burney

This book was a lot of fun to read.  Surprisingly, it was a very easy book to get into and strangely light. So I'm going to give my reflections on this book in a slightly different style than I usually do:

Evelina, written in the 1700s, is about a young girl with a rather sad past that is kind of too complicated to explain.  To make a long story short, Evelina's mother was disowned by her rich husband, she was heartbroken, died, and left her baby Evelina in the care of a guardian, Mr. Villars.  When Evelina reaches 16 (I think that was the age), she goes to do some broadening travel under the care of the matronly Lady Howard.  She has all kinds of adventures along the way, most of them of the romantic sort, and eventually ends up with the guy who we knew was the hero from page 20 on.  That's a gross oversimplification and the story was really very well-written.  I had fun reading it and Fanny Burney did an excellent job.

And now for my reflections:

  • Evelina is a very interesting heroine to me.  We are so used to the spunky, can-do-anything, strong-willed heroine in our modern fiction and movies (and, really, it's not a new innovation...think of Lizzie Bennet).  In contrast, Evelina's most used descriptor is 'angelic'.  She is described as this gorgeous, faultless, innocent creature who charms and thrills everyone who she comes into contact with.  Surprisingly, this didn't drive me crazy, I think because I don't read about a lot of heroines like this.  And luckily, Evelina did have personality beyond her perfectness, which definitely helped.
  • In spite of my toleration of Evelina's perfection, I am annoyed by how overlooked Maria, her best friend, is.  Maria appears to exist simply to give Evelina somebody to talk to while she isn't dancing with countless suitors and to provide transportation for Evelina in the form of her mother's carriage.  Maria deserves her own personality and a few of her own suitors, bless her heart.
  • This book is supposed to be satirical.  I was surprised that I picked up some of it, such as the jabs made at the ridiculous head-gear of the time.  However, I am sure that there is stuff that I am missing. Of course there are the extensive footnotes, but it gets exhausting flipping back and forth.  
  • I am sometimes mortified for Evelina because of her naiveté and slips simply to lack of understanding.  Eeek!  *Cringe*  Evelina is supposed to be a simple country girl with a definite lack in refinement and this shows in many of her interactions in the first half of the book.
  • Okay, now for the hero analysis.  What is it with heroes?!  They are either stiffly, perfectly perfect, an absolute gentleman, and spinlessly bland, or the racy bad-boy portrayed in so much of fiction starting in the late 1950s.  Lord Orville, the hero, falls into the former category.   I'm calling for a hero reform.  We need heroes that are fully human, of course still attractive and mannerly, yet faulted, like all of us.  Heroes deserve rounding out, just like all characters do.  No wait, there are some human heroes.  The most famous one is Darcy, but I know there are others, just let me think...
  • The book's epistolary form is very enjoyable to read.  I felt just like I was looking over Evelina's shoulder as she wrote her letters to her beloved guardian.  Writing an epistolary book is a fine line to walk and I have to hand it to Fanny Burney, she did a very good job.
  • And finally, I loved this book.  If you are in need of a good summer classic, this is the one to choose.  I sped through it in just a couple days and was on to other things.  It's not preachy or dry and it's fun to read.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fahrenheit 451

Whew!  This book was good, but kind of overwhelming.  Well, that's very strong, but it was definitely a grim read for the first part of the book.  So here are my thoughts about it.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is one of those books that, apparently, everybody except me read in late middle school/early high school.  I managed to never pick up that book, but now I finally just did.  It's a dystopian novel written in the 1950s before dystopian novels were written en masse.  It is about a world where a select few live with all of the privileges that include walls of their houses completely converted to screens so that the people can "live" with their movie characters.  Books are burned by firemen because they encourage critical thought and keep the people from being perfectly placid.  The story is told by Guy Montag, a firefighter who suddenly starts to feel bad about burning all these books.  He meets a teenaged girl, Clarisse, who is like no other person he has ever met.  She spends time outside and thinks and mentions talking to her family instead of watching the walls, like most people.

Later, Montag is stunned when Clarisse is killed and he becomes disillusioned with his work of burning books.  Along with a team of old English professors, writers, and avid readers, he sets to work, smuggling books and saving them from the burning piles.

So first of all for the part I didn't like-The conversations between Clarisse and Montag were weirdly stilted.  Ray Bradbury's writing gift is obviously not conversations.  In fact, most of this short novella is descriptions and passive rather than active voice.  Every writer has it beat into his or her head at some point that passive voice must be actively avoided (haha).  Yet Bradbury skillfully uses passive voice without it becoming dry or poorly written.  I was impressed.

I was amazed by how much I loved this book.  It's a very dark book, but the end message (I'm not going to give away the ending to you) is one of hope and reconciliation.  Sure, great damage had been wreaked, but there was ultimate hope.  The other thing I found enjoyable about the story was how pro-books it was.  Of course, most books are "pro book", but this was was quite explicit about the need for reading in society.  As you can probably imagine, I very much appreciated this.

...And now I will stop procrastinating and work on bag packing.  I'm off for a trip that will take me away from this blog until next Sunday.  Until then, I hope you all have a lovely week.  The side bar with archives is there, as always.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay

This is a book I read a while ago, loved, and then forgot about because I wasn't blogging yet.  I pulled it out again today and realized what a wonderful book it is and how much it needs to be talked about.  Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough is the story of two friends in the 1920s from rather upper crust backgrounds who travel Europe together after they leave Bryn Mawr. This book is so wonderful because it perfectly captures the utter innocence of these two post-college girls traveling through an unfamiliar part of the world.  The book has the added benefit of being hilarious.  It's a different kind of hilarious from A Girl Named Zippy, but it's still quite funny.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach ached.

The book says that it is written by both Emily Kimbrough and Cornelia Otis Skinner, but all of the writing is told from Cornelia's point of view, so I'm not sure what Emily was doing.  However, the writing is brilliantly done and does not appear to need any added input from anybody.  Each chapter follows some part of the girls' travels.  I am amazed at all of the details remembered after such a long time (1942).  There is nothing vague and fishing through memories about the writing.  It is told as though each event happened yesterday.  From a disastrous tennis game (This is story I cried with laughter through) to buying two little dogs that proceed to pee on chairs in the Ritz Hotel, every single story is captivating and most of them are very funny.

I really have no complaints about this book, other than I laughed too hard.  There are some mildly racist remarks made about Italians for about 2 pages, but definitely not strong enough to make any huge difference in the book.

The illustrations are fantastic.  They are all pencil drawings, done of various events throughout the book.  They had the added bonus of being very funny and perfectly mirroring the writing style of the authors.  Here's an example of what they look like:
A picture taken shamelessly from Flickr.
I wish I could force everybody I know to read this book.  If you are in need of a little reading pick-me-up, or if you aren't, you simply must read this book.  Each anecdote is told at a crisp pace, filled with hilarious events that sound almost as if they were made up.  If you only can read one memoir for the rest of your life, this is the one you should choose.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday- Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR List

(Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly link-up from the blog The Broke and Bookish.)

This week, The Broke and Bookish is asking about the top ten books on your summer TBR (to be read) list.  I had a really hard time with this question, not because I don't have a huuuuge TBR list, but because I have so many to choose from!

1.  The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyzewski- I already read this, but it was most definitely on my to-read list!

2.  The Mary Stewart books-I had a goal of reading all of them this summer, but now I'm second-guessing my abilities to read about 10 of her books along with everything else.

3. Gone With the Wind-After this was mentioned on the blog Girl With Her Head in a Book, I decided that I needed to get over my aversion to this book and read it this summer

4.  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis-My dad read this recently and told me that it was fantastic, so I'm going to hunt this out and read it.

5. Evelina by France Burney-This was something that was on my Library Loot post about 4 weeks ago and I checked it out of the library, then forgot it, then considered checking it out again, and then forgot.

6. The Baker Street Letters- A book that the library annoyingly refused to put on hold because it was on the new book shelf.  I requested it again and I'm getting it soon

7. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman-A book that, apparently, inspired some kind of controversy (must read up on it).  I saw the movie when it came out and really loved it, so of course, I must read the books.

And then I've discovered a new genre: memoirs that I actually like!  Remember how a couple of weeks ago I had about 3 memoirs on my Library Loot pile?  Well, one of them went missing on the hold shelf and the other just wasn't available, even though it was on the library website (grrr).

So, 8, 9, and 10 are all memoirs that I want to read.  I can't remember all of the titles.  The one I just got in the mail (you know that happy feeling you get when you see that brown, book-sized box?) is called Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire.  It's a fabulous, pretty light book and I'm really excited to read it!

I have to mention as a side note, this is my 100th post!  Yippee!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, Or, An Old Favorite

After reading this post and thinking about my own experiences with Daphne DuMaurier, I thought I would write a post about Rebecca.  I've had some duds with DuMaurier (remember this post?), but Rebecca is one book that I really enjoyed.  I first came across the book when I was pretty young-10 or 11- and my mother gave it a glowing recommendation.  I eagerly started the book and was instantly drawn into that world so different from my own.  It's the story of a young, nameless woman who lives her life a nobody.  Then, she marries a rich, haunted man and goes to live at his romantic, English estate, only to discover that he has a dead first wife whom everybody still reveres. Rebecca is the title of the story and the name of Mr. Dewinter's first wife.  Her presence surrounds Manderley and haunts all of the people that live there.  For an 11-year-old, this was the epitome of romantic adventure and I was thrilled by the grown-upish-ness of the story.  I think I read it in one or two sittings.

I still love the story, but I have no idea why.  Sure, it's thrilling and an exciting (though extremely improbable) romance.  However, it's not exactly the sort of thing I normally read.  I like cozy, non-tortured, traditionally happy endings.  Rebecca has none of these, yet it continues to stay with me as one of the best books I've ever read.  Why?  Well, after some musings, I think there are several things that make this book so exceptional that even I would love it.

First of all, the mystery is so convincing.  It just pulls and pulls at you until you find yourself having to know what happens, no matter what.
From the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Second, the characters are quite well, and creatively, drawn.  Well, except for the nameless main character, who is so obviously missing from the action.  But that's on purpose, so that doesn't really count.  But other than her, the characters are all interesting, exciting, and quite 3-dimensional.  The most exciting of the characters is the evil Mrs. Danvers, who ends it all (that's all I'm saying and if you've read the book, you know what I mean).

There is just enough redemption to redeem the story (if that makes any sense).  There is an end to the bad characters and the good characters, more or less, end up happily.
The second Mrs. Dewinter and the creepy housekeeper,
Mrs. Danvers.

And finally, Rebecca is such a character unto herself, even though she is quite dead.  This makes the story so irresistible.

So, those are my thoughts about the book Rebecca.  Tonight, I'm considering watching the Alfred Hitchcock movie....

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Room with a View

This is one of those books that stays on my to-read list; not because I don't want to read it, but because it gets surpassed by more flashy books.  It seems that, the longer it stays on the list, the less likely I am to read it in the future.  However, I finally checked out A Room with a View and heartily enjoyed it.

It is the story of young Lucy Honeychurch, a very proper Edwardian everywoman who goes to Italy with her overbearing older cousin as a chaperon.  However, her life is changed forever when she gets to Italy.  She finds herself falling for an unsuitable match: the melancholic and mysterious George Emerson.  First, she falls into his arms in a dead faint after seeing a man murdered.  Then, Mr. Emerson most improperly kisses her behind a row of bushes, seen only by the Italian taxicab.  Charlotte, her chaperon, warns her to tell nobody.  Back home, Lucy is forced by her mother and Charlotte to marry the highly eligible bachelor Cecil Vyse.  Mr. Vyse is a dull, oppressive force in Lucy's life and she works her hardest to love him, but finds herself continually thinking about the fascinating Mr. Emerson.

I found myself gripping this book and reading slightly obsessively until the book was finished.  The main idea of this story (girl torn between true love and obviously-awful-but-really-eligible guy) has been done many times, but it was interesting to read one of the "originals".  I also love events unfolding simply by smart conversation and hidden meanings in every word that someone says.  Sometimes I wish that people still had that skill.

I think that I'm going to have to read more of E.M. Forster.  And I'm definitely going to watch the 90s movie that was done that stars Helena Bonham Carter.  I recommend this for anybody who loves a good, smart romance with a side of social commentary.

Friday, April 11, 2014

My First Poetry Reading Finished

The first book I turned to in my poetry reading month was a beautiful old book of poems by Longfellow.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, in large part because I am such a romantic and this poetry is nothing if not romantic.  Each morning, I sat down with a hot cup of something and read a few poems.  I was amazed how quickly I read through the book.
This isn't the edition I have, but it's all I could find.

I started with the first section, called Voices of the Night.  The poetry, mostly concerning nature, was so  pleasant to read.   The second section was my favorite.  It was poetry written by Longfellow when he was 19 and younger.  The poetry is so joyful and full of energy, and the tone is somewhat simpler than the first section, which was written when Longfellow was older.  It was interesting to see his writing progress.
As I read through this poetry book, I kept turning to the front, musing
about this picture of Longfellow's face.  Does he look
grandfatherly, or does he look stern and forbidding?  I can't decide.

I skipped over two ballads that Longfellow translated.  Next up was the Lord's Supper.  Since we are in Lent right now, it seemed especially fitting.  I might even pull it out again later on next week before Easter.  The other two pieces of poetry that I read were ballads.  The first, Evangeline.  I have a fondness for Evangeline because Anne of Green Gables makes reference to playing and reading Evangeline.  My last selection was The Song of Hiawatha.  I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it.  While I was reading it, I kept thinking, "This seems so familiar.  Why do I recognize this?"  Then I realized, I read this in 8th grade and remembered enjoying the tale put to poetry.  This morning I finished up by reading a few poems at the back of the book titled, "Miscellaneous".
Longfellow as a young man.

I'm starting a new book today, which seems fitting, as I'm starting a new year.  My birthday was yesterday.  I'd love to share pictures, but there are so many faces in them, that I think I shouldn't.  I will just say that it was a lovely birthday and, if I can find any food pictures, I'll post them.

Monday, April 7, 2014

An April Day

We took the first walk in our woods yesterday!
                                                       When the warm sun that brings
                                                seed time and harvest, has returned again, 
                                                   ' tis sweet to visit the still wood,
                                             where springs the first flower of the plain.

                                                          I love the season well,
                                     when forest glades are teeming with bright forms, 
                                         nor dark and many-folded clouds foretell
                                                    the coming-on of storms.

                                               From the earth's loosened mould
                                     the sapling draws its sustenance, and thrives; 
                                    though stricken to the heart with winter's cold, 
                                                    the drooping tree revives.
                                                         The softly-warbled song
                                    comes from the pleasant woods, and colored wings
                                                 glance quick in the bright sun, 
                                             that moves along the forest openings.

                                                    When the bright sunset fills
                                   the silver woods with light, the green slope throws
                                          its shadows in the hollows of the hills, 
                                                and wide the upland glows.
                                                  And, when the eve is born, 
                                       in the blue lake the sky, o'er-reaching far, 
                                    is hollowed out, and the moon dips her horn, 
                                                  and twinkles many a star.

                                               Inverted in the tide, 
                          stand the gray rocks, and trembling shadows throw, 
                                 and the fair trees look over, side by side, 
                                          and see themselves below.
A beautiful green fern growing in a bank.
Spring is here, folks!
                                      Sweet April! -many a thought
                              is wedded unto thee, as hearts are wed; 
                           nor shall they fail, till, to its autumn brought, 
                                        life's golden fruit is shed."
-An April Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from my poetry reading this morning.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

This week, I discovered a wonderful book!  I wasn't expecting it to be wonderful, but I checked it out of the library anyway.  It was Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte.  I originally checked the book out because I felt sorry for it.  Now, this may sound strange, but sometimes when I come across a book that looks neglected and like it hasn't been checked out for awhile, I'll check it out.  I had read books by both of the other Bronte sisters: Jane Eyre (too brooding and dramatic for my taste) and Wuthering Heights (brooding and dramatic with the added edge of hysteria).  But I'd never read anything by Anne Bronte. So, I checked out Agnes Grey.

Agnes Grey is the largely autobiographical story of a young woman who, upon the sudden poverty of her father, agrees to go as a governess to make money for her family.  She first works for a dreadful family with unruly and hateful children.  After a year of futilely trying to teach such awful children, she is fired by the cold, domineering mother.  Next Agnes goes to a family of four children who, while shallow and cosseted, are much easier to work with.  After the two boys go to school, she becomes friends with the two girls: the pretty and flighty Rosalie and her tomboy-ish sister, Matilda.  While working in this position, she falls in love with the kind and worthy curate.  But, she must be separated from him when she returns home after a family tragedy.  The book is quite short; only 198 pages.

I loved this book so much because it was like a breath of fresh air after the other two Bronte sisters' novels.  Agnes is a basically happy character with a functional family.  The book has a nice happy ending and the heroes/heroines basically triumph at the end of the book.  I enjoy books like this where the problem is solving something, instead of the trouble being the hero living a troubled and tortured life.  I think I sense another post about happy endings...

Before I started the book, I read reviews on Good Reads and most of the reviews rated the book as average to strongly disliked.  The reviews complained that the Agnes was too goody-goody and a 2 dimensional character.  I disagreed after reading the book.  Agnes is a very Victorian character with strong morals and a definite sense of right and wrong.  She occasionally gives lectures about morality to her charges, but it is nothing spectacular for the time period.  Agnes has inner turmoil and debates with herself about what she should do in certain scenarios.  So I would say she is not at all 2-dimensional, but rather very typical of her time period.  I highly recommend this book to anybody who likes classics and hasn't bothered to read anything by Anne Bronte.

Friday, April 4, 2014

National Poetry Month

So I'm not really into the themed month thing (Oh look!  National Broccoli Month!  Notepaper Month!  Light Socket Month!)  So, I exaggerate, and, in its defense, the themed month phenomenon has given awareness to many good causes.  However, I saw that April is National Poetry Month on a blog and though, "Hey!  I need to read some poetry!"  I read voraciously, but for some reason, poetry just never makes it onto my list.  Poetry requires reading in completely different way from books.  It requires full attention and the willingness to not always "get" what the point is the first time.  However, poetry is beautiful and I can't remember the last time I picked up a book of poems.  So, here's the list of books that I'm going to read.  I own all of the books, so this goes into my goal of reading more books that I own.  At the end of the month I'll write about how my poetry reading experiment went.    

1.  Collection of Poems by Maya Angelou
This isn't the edition I have, but this is the only picture I could find online.
2.  Poems by Longfellow
Just a boring modern edition.  I have a gorgeous old edition
that smells delightfully musty.
3.  Selected Poems by William Butler Yeats

4.  Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson

5. Poetry by Robert Frost

6. The Apple that Astonished Paris by Billy Collins
And that concludes my poetry list for April.  I've decided to do my poetry reading first thing in the morning over breakfast, starting with Longfellow.  I'm looking forward to my month with the poets!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Farm

I've been gathering my thoughts for about a week now to write about this book called The Farm.  The first page had me hooked.

"Johnny's earliest memory of the Farm was filled with snow and the sound of sleigh bells.  Riding through the soft-falling drift of white, he could see the fat rumps of the horses which drew the sleigh and the steam which rose from their wet coats as they plunged forward to drag it up the steep rise in the lane beyond the bridge over the brook...Then the sleigh came to a halt beside a white picket gate beneath the drooping black branches of the Norway spruce...Out of the house came a tiny old lady and three or four enormous people, and Johnny was swept in through a hubbub of greetings and noisy kissing into a room which was warm and had a delicious smell compounded of coffee and sausages, roast turkey, and mince pie." 

This lovely description had me all ready for a pleasant, cozy read about a boy growing up on a farm.  Instead, it was the history of an old farm and the author's family history as it tied into this midwestern America farm.  In the second chapter, I yawned and thought about stopping reading, but I kept going because that first page had been so good.  I'm glad that I kept reading.  It is a good author that can make their personal family history interesting to the general public.  Stories of all the family from the stern Colonel, the family patriarch, the vivacious grandmother, Maria, and the author's mother kept me interested until the very end.  

So, overall, this is a good book with well-developed characters and interesting, everyday adventures.  Although the writing style is pretty slow and I kept it for reading when I was fully awake, I am really glad that I stuck with this book.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays

This was my latest classic read.  Next up is a collection of Shakespeare.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed these plays.  The plays were well written, though of course, archaic, and it was fun to read a slightly new take on classic Bible stories that many people know so well.  Part of the reason I was so eager to read these, is that these plays are credited with being the sort of plays that would have inspired Shakespeare.
This is the edition of the book from which I read.
I also was interested in this book in light of Russell Crow's new Noah movie (I haven't seen it, but apparently it was very good).  The story of the flood is one of the plays included in this book and the take on the story, and the medieval exclamations that biblical characters made such as, "Ye gads!"  made me laugh.  It just goes to show that people have been changing and reinterpreting bible stories to suit their particular life experiences for a very long time.  What doesn't change is the attraction to the stories.  

The majority of the book is taken up with plays written about bible stories.  Most of the major stories in both the new and old testament are included.  Then, the last 30 pages are the Everyman play.  The Everyman play is the story of Everyman, an average human.  God says that people have become too obsessed with money and power and that they need to be taught a lesson, through Everyman.  So, God sends Death, the reaper, to bring Everyman to eternity, never to return to earth.   Along the way, Everyman makes a friend, called Fellowship, who promises to stay with him forever, until he realizes that Everyman is summoned by death.  Fellowship leaves.  A similar situation happens with Kindred and Cousin.  Next, Everyman turns to Goods (inanimate objects, representing worldly stuff), which does not comfort him. Finally, Everyman meets Good Deeds and others like him, has his soul purged of sin, and goes with his new friend, Good Deeds, to heaven to meet God.  This story reminded me very much of Pilgrim's Progress.

So, overall, I recommend this book.  I think it's a great place to start in reading medieval plays, because it shows the play-watching background that so many famous playwrights would have had.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Reading Classics and The Well-Educated Mind

Here's another thinking-about-books post.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for classics and wish that they would be read more for interest and less "just because it's a classic".  There are some pretty obvious exceptions (600 pages of the Greek, The Histories by Herodotus, anyone?), but there are many classics that are quite enjoyable just for themselves.

If you don't know where to start in reading classics, I highly recommend Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well-Educated Mind.  She breaks down classics into several categories: Novels, Poetry, Plays, etc., covering one section in each chapter.  Then, in each category, she lists the most well-known classics and gives a summary, ISBN number, and her favorite edition.  She also includes a set of discussion questions for each category.  The discussion questions are in three sets: Grammar Stage (simply reading through and making notes on what the book is about), then Logic Stage (answering questions about things like structure and style), and finally Rhetoric Stage (what do I think about this book?).
My next read
I have really enjoyed reading the books that she recommends.  I am going through by historical periods, starting by reading all of the ancient writings and now working through the medieval/renaissance books.  I have read everything from Oedipus Rex to The Koran to Dante's The Divine Comedy.  I have learned so much about reading and about history through these wonderful classics.  Not everything is wonderful, but I've been surprised by some very good writing, like the time I read The Birds and laughed my head off.  I have also learned that, with very old writings, translation can make or break a book.  By using Wise Bauer's recommended editions, I've been able to better comprehend and enjoy the writings.
My most recent read
I think that The Well-Educated Mind deserves a place in every home library.  It's a fascinating read if you just want to sit down and read through the whole thing like a novel.  Or, if you have a goal of reading some great books, this book is the first step to reaching that goal.