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Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. 1932. 268 pages. [Source: Bought]
A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.
Did I love Brave New World? Not exactly. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Brave New World is a classic dystopian novel. The first half of the book seems more focused on world-building, on providing the reader with all the little details that make this future world so horrific. Not much happens but world-building. Readers meet a character or two, sure, but mostly description and information. The second half of the book, in my opinion, is where the characters become more developed. The basic premise: children are no longer born. No more mothers and fathers. No parenting. Children are "hatched." Sometimes several thousand at a time--all identical, I believe. Conditioning begins early in an artificial womb of sorts. Every single little thing is planned and accounted for. Nothing really left to chance. The conditioning continues through childhood. Even at night. Different classes are conditioned differently, of course.
In the second half, Bernard and Lenina go on vacation together to a reservation in New Mexico. They'll get a chance to see savages first hand. They meet two savages that interest them very much. For one is a woman who grew up civilized. (Her name is Linda). She was on vacation when something happened--she became separated from the group and was left behind. She's gone native--forced to go native. She's even had to--shudder--become a mother and raise her own child. His name is John. Though, for most of the book he is simply Savage. They tell their story to Lenina and Bernard. Bernard seeks permission to bring the two back with him. All four head back to civilization--back to London. But how well will John cope with civilization?
Brave New World is both strange and thought-provoking. Also depressing. The world-building was nicely done, I believe, but I would probably need to reread it a time or two to "catch" everything and fully appreciate it. There is plenty to 'shock' that's for sure. Some scenes are just disturbing--and are meant to be disturbing or disorienting at the very least.
I did like the second half more than the first half. It's not that the second half was less disturbing--it wasn't--but the fact that the focus was more on the characters. I can't say that I "liked" or "loved" any of the characters. I pitied John the most because he felt so out of place on the reservation and so out of place in civilization. John wasn't the only memorable character either.
I can see how Brave New World inspired other writers through the decades. Anyone who reads modern dystopian novels--there are so many I could list--should consider reading this one.
"I don't understand anything," she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. "Nothing. Least of all," she continued in another tone, "why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be so jolly. So jolly," she repeated and smiled..."
The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.
Welcome to The Midnight Garden discussion of Tuck Everlasting, which is posted to coincide with the 40th Anniversary Blog Tour. This book has been a special favorite of mine since one of my best friends pressed it into my hands in 5th grade. At the tender age of 10 fiction suddenly posed me with the question: “What if you could live forever?”Â There is suchÂ Â a unique relationship with stories you loved specifically as a child. I’m so glad I read this at the age of 11 when the magic of the book couldn’t escape me. But we certainly hope to hear all of manner of opinions about this book! We’re also so excited to be giving away a beautiful hardcover of the special anniversary edition, which includes a foreward by Gregory Maguire. Did you know that this book has never been out of print in all that time? Let’s discuss why... Read more »
There are thirty-one short stories in this L.M. Montgomery collection. There are some great stories within this collection. There are some not-so-great stories within this collection. The quality definitely varies story to story. But if you already love L.M. Montgomery, it's well worth reading. If you're never read her, however, this may not be the best introduction. True, you'd probably find something to like, to enjoy, maybe even love. But would it persuade you to seek out EVERYTHING she's ever written because she's oh-so-amazing?! Probably not. It's good to keep in mind that these short stories were published several years before her novels. (Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908).
Trifles. A Play in One Act. Susan Glaspell. 1916. 20 pages. [Source: Read online]
Who killed John Wright? Was it his wife? If it was, what was her motive? If it wasn't, how could she have possibly slept through her husband's murder? Wouldn't someone entering their bedroom and slipping a rope around his neck and killing have woken her up? It doesn't help that there was no signs of forced entry. Mrs. Wright is in custody when the play opens. A handful of people are at the crime scene: three men and two women. (County Attorney, Sheriff, Mrs. Peters (the sheriff's wife, Mr. Hale (who reported the murder), and Mrs. Hale. The men, of course, are looking for evidence and facts and something to make a story of. The women, on the other hand, are "merely" looking at "trifles." They've come to pick up a few things to take Mrs. Wright. She's asked for her apron, among other things. She's also most concerned about her preserves--with good reason.
At the start of the play, the focus is on the crime. Plenty of facts uncovered by Hale and the Sheriff and the County Attorney. But the women don't follow the men upstairs to the bedroom to the scene of the actual crime. They remain below, and that is where the focus remains. Let the men do the hard work of crime-solving, right?
Much is revealed in Trifles. There is a good reason why the short story adaptation was titled "Jury of Her Peers."
The play is great--very interesting and quite memorable. I am not going to share the details in my review because this one is best read unspoiled.
It may seem strange perhaps to post a book on Rosa Parksâ act of defiance on December 1, 1955, to honor Martin Luther King on his national holiday, but as so many other events in history, they are interlinked. When Rosa Parks defied the Montgomery, Alabama city code that required them to not only sit in a separate section of the city buses, but to give up their seats if white passengers boarding, could not find seating in the all white section! Young readers need to be reminded how life was for many of our citizens in the not too distant past. And that is what âBack of the Busâ helps to achieve in telling the Rosa Parks event through the eyes of a fictional black child and his mother seated on the bus that day.
Aaron Reynolds fills his book with small events to portray the small boy as just a child riding the bus with his mom as an everyday event in his life; a day just like any other except it turned out to be a defining moment in history he chances upon. He takes out his bright, shiny marble, a tigerâs eye, and rolls it. As the bus slows, it follows the law of gravity away from him and rolls right into the hand of Rosa Parks who rolls it back with a grin. More passengers get on.
Then it happens. Mr. Blake, the driver growls out, âYâall gotta move, now.â Some people do get up and move, but the bus is at a dead standstill. Somebody is speaking up. But the words of the bus driver carry to the back of the bus, âIâm gonna call the police, now.â
Whispers fill the halted bus and the boy can see from his perch at the back of the bus that the speaker was Rosa Parks.
She doesnât belong up front like that,
and them folks know it.
But sheâs sittinâ right there,
her eyes all fiercelike a lightninâ storm,
likemaybe she does belong up there.
And I startthinkinâ maybe she does too.
Words may be instructive as we parents know, but I still think example is the strongest teacher. And in Ms. Parks her subsequent arrest and fine because of the violation of Montgomeryâs city code was a watershed event.
The boyâs mother placates him with the words, âTomorrow all thisâll be forgot.â Though his mother says the words, he too takes note of the new âlightningâ stormâ in her eyes. And instead of feeling afraid, he feels a new strength.
Taking out his tigerâs eye marble from the tightly closed fist, instead he holds it up to the light with a new pride. I love the illustrations that seem a bit out of focus and muted until Rosa Parks takes her stand. The defining lines and shapes seem dim with everything hazy and unclear, including the people on the bus. Mr. Cooperâs artistic technique changes with Ms. Parksâ refusal. Images are sharp and clear. People, including the young boyâs mother are drawn with clear and delineated thoughtful feelings of emotion at what has happened. Art and narrative blend beautifully to display the change that is afoot.Â
Where does Martin Luther Kingâs life intersect with Rosa Parks? Following this event, the Mt. Zion Church of Montgomery spurs the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, lead by Martin Luther King. Their initial goal is to effect change starting with the very segregation bus code effecting Ms. Parks. The MIA organizes a very successful boycott of the buses for 382 days with some 40,000 black riders cobbling together alternate means of transportation to get to work. They included walking, carpooling, riding in African-American operated cabs. Martin Luther Kingâs home was attacked in the ensuing violence the boycott began.
Rosa Parks single act of defiance with the words, âI donât think I should have to stand up,â was the catalyst for change. Books and the ideas they foster have done the same thing for people with each turn of the page. And for your young readers, âBack of the Busâ may not only provide a look back in history at a single and seminal act of defiance that changed an unjust law, but a model for a way to stand up for something they believe in when the still, small voice in each of us tells us to do so.
In the matter of Jezebel's Daughter, my recollections begin with the deaths of two foreign gentlemen, in two different countries, on the same day of the same year. They were both men of some importance in their way, and both strangers to each other. Mr. Ephraim Wagner, merchant (formerly of Frankfort-on-the-Main), died in London on the third day of September, 1828. Doctor Fontaineâfamous in his time for discoveries in experimental chemistryâdied at Wurzburg on the third day of September, 1828. Both the merchant and the doctor left widows. The merchant's widow (an Englishwoman) was childless. The doctor's widow (of a South German family) had a daughter to console her. At that distant timeâI am writing these lines in the year 1878, and looking back through half a centuryâI was a lad employed in Mr. Wagner's office. Being his wife's nephew, he most kindly received me as a member of his household. What I am now about to relate I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. My memory is to be depended on. Like other old men, I recollect events which happened at the beginning of my career far more clearly than events which happened only two or three years since.
Did I enjoy reading Jezebel's Daughter? Yes!!! I enjoyed it very much! David Glenney, is the nephew of Mrs. Wagner. He is also a clerk in [the family] business. The Wagner family welcomes Fritz Keller, the son of a business partner, into their home. He's been sent away from home because his father doesn't like the woman his son has fallen in love with. Fritz tells David all about his one true love: Minna Fontaine. She's perfect in every way imaginable, at least Fritz thinks so, but, Minna's mother, Madame Fontaine, rubs some people the wrong way. There are some who love and defend her, but, more often than not, most tend to think she's really 'a Jezebel.' Fritz receives a letter from someone sharing good and valid reasons why the mother may be pure evil. Fritz dismisses it, of course, and David doesn't know why it's any of his business when all is said and done! (Soon David will meet Minna and Madame Fontaine and form his own opinions. As will his aunt, Mrs. Wagner).
So. After Mr. Wagner died, he left his wife his business. And she's determined to do a few things. One to employ good and honest women in the business. And. To help rehabilitate a man from bedlam. His name is Jack Straw. And he plays a very big role in the book! Eventually all the characters will come together under one household...and then there's DRAMA and excitement. Jezebel's Daughter could definitely be classified as a sensation novel.
Is Madame Fontaine 'a Jezebel'? Is she evil? Is she a murderess? Is she a schemer? Or has she been falsely accused?
Will Fritz and Minna's romance prove true? Will they be allowed to marry?
Can Jack Straw be rehabilitated and cured of his madness?
Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. 1937. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]
Ships at a distance have every manâs wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now women forget all those things they donât want to remember, and remember everything they donât want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1)
I've read Their Eyes Were Watching God a handful of times now. (I first read it in college.) This book by Zora Neale Hurston is just beautiful and compelling. Every time I reread it I'm reminded just how beautiful and how compelling. I never quite forget, mind you. But every time I pick the book up, I'm swept into the story and experience it all over again. (The best kind of book to reread!)
Janie is the heroine of Their Eyes Were Watching God. There is a framework to the story that allows the reader to come full circle with Janie. Readers first see Janie through an outsider perspective, a gossiping group.
So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead... The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1)
One from the group is Janie's best friend, Pheoby, she leaves the group after a few pages, and goes to her friend bringing a much welcomed plate of food. Then, together, they talk. Janie tells her friend her story--her whole story--framing things just so, explaining and justifying as need arises. It's honest and emotional.
Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches. (8)
To keep it short: Janie was raised by her grandmother; when she came of age (16 or so), her grandma arranged a marriage for Janie to an older man; when that marriage failed to bloom in love and happiness, Janie is swept off her feet by a traveler passing by; she leaves her first husband and is married to a second; the two settle in Florida and are influential founders of the black community; after the third husband dies, Janie finally, finally, finally falls in love, but, is Tea Cake the love of her life perfectly perfect?! Of course not! Pheoby knew her when she was married to the second husband, when she was Janie Stark. Now, she's come back to that community without Tea Cake, and everyone wants to know EVERYTHING that has happened in the past two years.
'Dat's you, Alphabet, don't you know yo' ownself?' (9)
Oh to be a pear tree--any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made. (11)
Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman. (25)
Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them. (32)
It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. (43)
Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the twon to the sun. (51)
Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never fidn them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them. (72)
All next day in the house and store she thought resisting thoughts about Tea Cake. She even ridiculed him in her mind and was a little ashamed of the association. But every hour or two the battle had to be fought all over again. She couldn't make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom--a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God. (106)
The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the other in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. (160)
No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep. (184)
Have you read Their Eyes Were Watching God? What did you think?
As I pack away my Christmas tree for another year, I took stock today of my Christmas haul of books.Â I’m planning on reading more classics in 2015 and was fortunate enough to receive a few beautiful clothbound editions for Christmas.Â I hope you too were lucky enough to receive a book or two at Christmas time, […]
Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847. 300 pages. [Source: Own]
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
Can a plain, orphan governess find true love and a happily ever after? Yes, if she's willing to speak her own mind, stay true to herself, and fight for the one she loves. Jane's journey to her happily ever after certainly wasn't easy or typical.
I have many, many posts about Jane Eyre. But surprisingly, only two book reviews! I first reviewed it--for the blog--in September 2008. My second review is from December 2011.In 2012, I reviewed ten film adaptations of Jane Eyre. Each film got its own review, but I then wrote up a post analyzing them all.
It had been a few years since I'd last read Jane Eyre. After watching it so many times, I needed to take a break. But I knew that I would want to include the book in my year of rereading. It is just wonderful to revisit Jane Eyre again and again and again.
Do you love Jane Eyre too? Do you have a favorite scene? a least favorite scene? What is your favorite adaptation? What scenes do you find essential in an adaptation?
Some of my favorite quotes:
He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his physiognomy. âYou examine me, Miss Eyre,â said he: âdo you think me handsome?â I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was awareââNo, sir.â âAh! By my word! there is something singular about you,â said he: âyou have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?â âSir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little consequence, or something of that sort.â âYou ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear! Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray? I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?â âMr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it was only a blunder.â âJust so: I think so: and you shall be answerable for it. Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?â He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen. âNow, maâam, am I a fool?â âFar from it, sir. You would, perhaps, think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are a philanthropist?â
âYou looked very much puzzled, Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those searching eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.â With this announcement he rose from his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the marble mantelpiece: in that attitude his shape was seen plainly as well as his face; his unusual breadth of chest, disproportionate almost to his length of limb. I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much ease in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that, in looking at him, one inevitably shared the indifference, and, even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence. âI am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night,â he repeated, âand that is why I sent for you: the fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company for me; nor would Pilot have been, for none of these can talk. AdĂšle is a degree better, but still far below the mark; Mrs. Fairfax ditto; you, I am persuaded, can suit me if you will: you puzzled me the first evening I invited you down here. I have almost forgotten you since: other ideas have driven yours from my head; but to-night I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what pleases. It would please me now to draw you outâto learn more of youâtherefore speak.â Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either. âSpeak,â he urged. âWhat about, sir?â âWhatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.â Accordingly I sat and said nothing: âIf he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person,â I thought. âYou are dumb, Miss Eyre.â I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes. âStubborn?â he said, âand annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I donât wish to treat you like an inferior: that isâ (correcting himself), âI claim only such superiority as must result from twenty yearsâ difference in age and a centuryâs advance in experience. This is legitimate, et jây tiens, as AdĂšle would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one pointâcankering as a rusty nail.â He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so. âI am willing to amuse you, if I can, sirâquite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them.â
Besides, I know what sort of a mind I have placed in communication with my own: I know it is one not liable to take infection: it is a peculiar mind: it is a unique one. Happily I do not mean to harm it: but, if I did, it would not take harm from me. The more you and I converse, the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me.â
The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint: the friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him. I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master: yet he was imperious sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way. So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine after kindred: my thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled up; my bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength. And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it. Though I had now extinguished my candle and was laid down in bed, I could not sleep for thinking of his look when he paused in the avenue, and told how his destiny had risen up before him, and dared him to be happy at Thornfield.
I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
âHe is not to them what he is to me,â I thought: âhe is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;âI am sure he isâI feel akin to himâI understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. Did I say, a few days since, that I had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands? Did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as a paymaster? Blasphemy against nature! Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have gathers impulsively round him. I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me. For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract; I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him.
Did I enjoy reading Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford? Yes. Did I enjoy all three books equally? Probably not. Did I enjoy any one book as much as I loved the TV adaptation? Probably not. Lark Rise to Candleford is an omnibus edition of a trilogy: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.
The first book in the series is Lark Rise. What I liked about Lark Rise was the fact that it had a cozy yet realistic feel to it. The chapters capture what life was like in a specific time and place, a particular part of the country in the 1880s. Rural vignettes. The book is rich in detail and description. Nothing happens but description. A sampling of chapter titles: "A Hamlet Childhood," "Men Afield," "At the 'Wagon and Horses'," "Callers," "Country Playtime," "School," "May Day," "To Church on Sunday."
The second book in the series is Over to Candleford. This book is definitely more personal in nature. For the most part, it focuses on one young girl, Laura. Readers see Laura at home, at school, at play, at church, visiting cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. It is still rich in description and detail. Even though it is a more personal look at life in the country in the 1880s and 90s, it is still heavier on the descriptions than the action. This isn't a book that focuses on stories and storytelling. The book ends with a young Laura--perhaps twelve or thirteen--getting an apprentice job in Candleford Green with the postmistress Miss Dorcas Lane.
The third book in the series is Candleford Green. The book opens with Laura leaving home. She's excited and timid. The book will see her established in this new life. She'll be meeting new people, living in a new place, experiencing new things, growing up into a young woman. I was disappointed with this book. I haven't decided if I'm disappointed because it lacks characterization and plot in general OR if I'm disappointed because it lacks the characterization and plot that the television adaptation brought to it. The book's strength is in description and vignettes. The book's weakness is that there are not really any connecting stories or plot sequences. People are mentioned by name, perhaps, but in a very superficial just a few paragraphs way. The characters lack depth. A sentence or two here and there does not make good characterization. If the heroine, Laura, was fully developed and the chapters worked as a personal narrative capturing her experiences, thoughts, and struggles, then I think it might have worked better for me. But there was no person to connect to, no connecting-story to follow. It was just one description after another. There were passages I enjoyed reading. Laura does like to read! But nothing about it that made me LOVE it. I liked it well enough.
Itâs nearing Christmas in a winter white forest and the animals, like their human counterparts, are awaiting the arrival of St. Nick. In conversation, Big Snowshoe, the white hare, imparts to his brother, Little Snow, the tradition that all animals of the wintry wood know – the animalsâ Santa comes on Christmas Eve!
But just Whooo IS this Santa? Just dropped a big clue, readers.
No one has EVER seen the jolly old elf, if elf he be, but one thing is surely known, the animals find plenty of evidence that he exists in the presents found on Christmas Day.
Each of the forest friends tell Little Snow the proof of the Animalsâ Santaâs appearance in descriptions of the gifts found in years past. From the prickly porcupineâs hearing of a ding-dong, ding-dong accompanying the delivery of HIS Christmas bell, to the raven twins seeing a puzzle toy for this duo suspended from their tree branch, to the arctic foxâs gift of a brush to âfluff my beautiful tail, to the squirrels finding a sack of tasty nuts, evidence of the animalsâ Santa presence via presents fills the forest!
Jan Brett has a tremendous talent to draw young readers into her picture books through delightful narratives year after year, but most especially in her artistry lovingly detailing each character in this winter wonderland of animals awaiting the arrival of this most famous giver of gifts.
Jan Brettâs bordered book artistic renderings are iconic. Here, they span the sides of each page with backgrounds formed of almost pale birch-like wood, festooned with small drawings of woodland family members. Amazing! Each of her books has a sense of its own identity and freshness that is distinctly Brett and NEVER boring.
Guesses abound as to exactly WHO in the forest may be the secret Santa! My favorite guess, though wrong, is the bedecked badger in snow shoes and trimmed Scandinavian coat, covering his fur.
Jan, how did you know that Iâve been looking for exactly this coat for years!
Other guesses include a Norwegian sweater clad polar bear, a gaily Christmas harnessed moose and an arctic fox complete with a cap and stitched leather and woven cloth saddle bags.
Little Snow is quite an ingenious hare and decides on a plan to discover the identity of the animalsâ Santa. Tying delicate sheets of ice with strands of hedge grass, he attaches them to tree branches. Why? In the stillness of a quiet winter night, they do not move, but when stirred by the wind of someoneâs arrival, the ice chimes ring out and will herald the arrival of you know who!
Itâs finally Christmas Eve.They ring and Little Snow dashes to find a neatly tied bundle of clover left for him and piles of other gifts have fallen from the sky from…. No, I canât spoil the ending of this Christmas picture bookâs bright, white and shiny ending by unmasking Santa. To find out his identity, do read Jan Brettâs âThe Animalsâ Santaâ with your little ones. I can promise the revelation is amazing and this Santa DOES fly too!!
With the arrival of the celebration of Hanukkah, I wanted to revisit a special book I have spoken about before; Hanukkah at Valley Forge. In 2007 this book received The Sydney Taylor Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries given in recognition of picture books and also those for teens that authentically reflect the Jewish experience. Here, the bookâs vivid watercolor illustrations coupled with Mr. Krenskyâs fictionalized retelling of a historically researched anecdote come together for what I think is a powerful picture book.
Stephen Krenskyâs book, Hanukkah at Valley Forge, combines history and holiday in an interesting way. The parallels of American and Jewish history intertwine on a bitterly cold winter evening at Valley Forge. Faced with increasing uncertainty and mounting odds, General George Washington meets a Polish immigrant observing the first night of Hanukkah with the lighting of the candles there amidst the fading hope of Washingtonâs ragtag colonial army.
Common themes of manâs need to hope in the face of increasing despair and the price of libertyâs cause, echo in the meeting of these two men at a pivotal point in our nationâs early history. Some historical accuracy was apparently discovered in the research of the book, and it is left to the reader to wonder if chance meetings sometimes turn the tides of men and war.
Les Miserables. Victor Hugo. Translated by Isabel Florence Hapgood. 1862/1887. 1232 pages.
This book is a drama, whose leading personage is the Infinite. Man is the second.
I have now read Les Miserables three times. This will be my second review of Les Miserables on my blog. My first review was in April 2013. I love Les Miserables. I do. I think I love it more each time I read it. The book has depth. The story it tells is memorable and emotional. It is a book you EXPERIENCE. I love so many things about it: the depth and quality of the writing, the characterization, the narration, the themes.
There are many words that could be used to describe Les Miserables: compelling, political, spiritual, philosophical, dramatic, romantic. It is just as concerned about politics and social justice as it is romance and family. It touches on the subjects of education, crime, poverty, and injustice. It's a novel where ideas matter just as much as characters.
It's also a novel heavy on details. When it's good, it's REALLY good. But at times some of the details are too taste-specific. In other words, some of the details weigh the story down. At times Les Miserables is boring. It's worth reading. It is. It's worth pushing through to the end. It's okay to skim certain sections, in my opinion, because it is one of the most satisfying reading experiences overall. Not that I LOVE the ending, though I think I may have made peace with it this time around.
Who are some of the characters? Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Inspector Javert, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Enjolras, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier, Mabeuf, Monsieur Gillenormand, and Gavroche--just to name a few. I don't know if I can say I have a favorite. I know which characters I don't like. But I really just like all of them--no matter their strengths and weaknesses.
Do you have a favorite character? a favorite scene?
One of my favorite scenes is early in the novel when Jean Valjean meets Bishop Myriel (Bienvenu). He is an ex-convict who has just been released. He's seeking a place to stay for the night. It is not going well.
"I have knocked at all doors." "Well?" "I have been driven away everywhere." The "good woman" touched the man's arm, and pointed out to him on the other side of the street a small, low house, which stood beside the Bishop's palace. "You have knocked at all doors?" "Yes." "Have you knocked at that one?" "No." "Knock there."
This meeting will change his life. The impact of the Bishop on Jean Valjean is huge. And this scene is just the beginning.
In writing this review, I discovered two books releasing in 2015, that I really, really WANT to review--NEED to review. Both are February releases. Candlewick Press is releasing Marcia Williams' retelling of Les Miserables. Penguin is releasing a NEW translation of Les Miserables by Christine Donougher.
I could not possibly share every quote I loved from the book. There are hundreds. But I will share some with you.
True or false, that which is said of men often occupies as important a place in their lives, and above all in their destinies, as that which they do.
"Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."
Teach those who are ignorant as many things as possible; society is culpable, in that it does not afford instruction gratis; it is responsible for the night which it produces. This soul is full of shadow; sin is therein committed. The guilty one is not the person who has committed the sin, but the person who has created the shadow.
The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved; loved for one's own sakeâlet us say rather, loved in spite of one's self.
To make the poem of the human conscience, were it only with reference to a single man, were it only in connection with the basest of men, would be to blend all epics into one superior and definitive epic.
Diamonds are found only in the dark places of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him, that, after having descended into these depths, after having long groped among the darkest of these shadows, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he now held it in his hand, and he was dazzled as he gazed upon it.
If you wish to gain an idea of what revolution is, call it Progress; and if you wish to acquire an idea of the nature of progress, call it To-morrow. To-morrow fulfils its work irresistibly, and it is already fulfilling it to-day. It always reaches its goal strangely.
Man lives by affirmation even more than by bread.
Peace is happiness digesting.
The bourgeoisie is simply the contented portion of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste.
True history being a mixture of all things, the true historian mingles in everything.
Of all the things that God has made, the human heart is the one which sheds the most light, alas! and the most darkness.
A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil.
Civil warâwhat does that mean? Is there a foreign war? Is not all war between men, war between brothers? War is qualified only by its object. There is no such thing as foreign or civil war; there is only just and unjust war.
The right to the alphabet, that is where the beginning must be made. The primary school imposed on all, the secondary school offered to all, that is the law. From an identical school, an identical society will spring. Yes, instruction! light! light! everything comes from light, and to it everything returns. Citizens, the nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy.
Everything can be parodied, even parody.
He sleeps. Although his fate was very strange, he lived. He died when he had no longer his angel. The thing came to pass simply, of itself, as the night comes when day is gone.
Miracle on 34th Street. Valentine Davies. Illustrated by Tomie de Paola. 1947/2001. HMH. 136 pages. [Source: Library]
I have almost always loved the movie. I can now say that I love the book. If you love the movie, and, if you love to read, then, you should consider reading Miracle on 34th Street. True, it is not substantially different from the movie. But there are subtle differences, I found. I liked these differences small as they may be. The book is sweet and charming in all the right ways. I liked spending time with Kris Kringle, Doris and Susan Walker, and Fred Gayley. The book moves quickly, from scene to scene to scene. The book may not be as detailed and descriptive as a typical novel; it still has a movie-feel to it: going from scene to scene without pausing to ponder or describe. If I read the book first, would I get a sense, true sense, of the characters? I'm not sure. I'd like to think so. But it's hard to come to this story new. I know this story. I love this story.
A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]
MARLEY WAS DEAD, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
I have watched A Christmas Carol more times than I've read it, and I've read it two or three times at least. The story is oh-so-familiar; the phrasing is oh-so-familiar. It's a book that has an old-friend feel even if you haven't read it dozens of times. There are scenes and descriptions that just feel incredibly right and familiar. For example,
Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didnât thaw it one degree at Christmas.
âA merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!â cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scroogeâs nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. âBah!â said Scrooge. âHumbug!â He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scroogeâs, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. âChristmas a humbug, uncle!â said Scroogeâs nephew. âYou donât mean that, I am sure?â âI do,â said Scrooge. âMerry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? Youâre poor enough.â âCome, then,â returned the nephew gaily. âWhat right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? Youâre rich enough.â Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said âBah!â again; and followed it up with âHumbug!â âNephew!â returned the uncle sternly, âkeep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.â âKeep it!â repeated Scroogeâs nephew. âBut you donât keep it.â âLet me leave it alone, then,â said Scrooge. âMuch good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!â âThere are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say,â returned the nephew, âChristmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come roundâapart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from thatâas a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!â
Other details, I've found, are less memorable perhaps.
âForgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,â said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spiritâs robe, âbut I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?â âIt might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,â was the Spiritâs sorrowful reply. âLook here.â From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. âO Man! look here! Look, look, down here!â exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. âSpirit! are they yours?â Scrooge could say no more. âThey are Manâs,â said the Spirit, looking down upon them. âAnd they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!â cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the City. âSlander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!â âHave they no refuge or resource?â cried Scrooge. âAre there no prisons?â said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. âAre there no workhouses?â The bell struck Twelve.
I don't recall thinking much of the two children Ignorance and Want, of thinking about what message Dickens was sending. But when I was reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, Standiford stressed their significance. (Standiford called A Christmas Carol, "a bald-faced parable that underscores Dickens's enduring themes: the deleterious effects of ignorance and want.") Why had I not noticed them before? I can only suppose that I've been rushing through the text looking for what was familiar and beloved, not really considering the book as a whole.
I like A Christmas Carol. I don't love, love, love it. I have found it to be a Christ-less Christmas story. A book that doesn't really focus on the Savior--newborn babe or risen Savior--so much as it focuses on humanity improving and changing and saving themselves. The message to Scrooge isn't, you're a bad man; you need a Savior; consider your eternal soul. The message is whether that even Scrooge, as horrible as he was, can change; he can change the way he lives; he can become a good man, a great man. He can avoid after-life horrors by changing his behavior. That isn't a Christian message.
Hello, friends! Welcome to this month’s classics readalong discussion, where we’ll be gleefully chatting about Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For those new to the series, this is a standalone historical fiction novel based on true people and events, written by the author about her husband’s boyhood on his family’s farm in the late 1800s. A reminder: You have ONE MONTH left to finish your classics readalong challenge for this year! Have you read and reviewed 8 books yet? Are you going to be able to? A little more on that below, plus info on the December/January books. We have so much pie to eat talk about, though, that we should just get started on our discussion! Wendy: I wanted to do this one for our readalong because itâs a nice standalone–plus itâs my favorite of the series! (Followed by The Long Winter, but for very different reasons–this oneâs... Read more »
Fade in on the Mission Dolores, the fictional gravesite of Carlotta Valdes in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. One block away, two writers with their first jobs teaching creative writing (okay, it was us!) decide to collaborate on a book of short stories that respond to classic and cult movies. We try — and fail — to [...]
In AD 14, two thousand years ago this summer, the emperor Augustus, having dominated Rome for over forty years, finally breathed his last. The new emperor was his step-son Tiberius. While Augustusâ achievement in ending civil war and discreetly transforming a republic into one-man rule provokes grudging admiration even from those who arenât keen on autocracy, Tiberius has very few fans. Suetoniusâ biography, the third in his twelve Lives of the Caesars, offers some intriguing insights into why this might be.
Descended from one of Romeâs most noble families, Tiberius, in his mid-50s when he came to power, had led a series of enormously successful, if unshowy, military campaigns, securing Pannonia (roughly modern Hungary) in the east and doing much to stabilize the troublesome area around the Rhine in the north. He loved literature, philosophy, and art. He was just the kind of man who had dominated the senior echelons of the senate under the republic – a very traditional kind of Roman leader, it might seem.
But among ancient commentators only Velleius Paterculus, who wrote during his reign, has much good to say. Suetonius, in his biography, and Tacitus, in his Annals, offer a litany of damning criticisms. Tiberius, himself a great respecter of tradition, a stickler for proper procedure, seems to have found his position – as not quite fully acknowledged autocrat, expected to exercise personal dominance through what purported to be the old republican framework – deeply uncomfortable. Unlike Augustus, he had no desire whatsoever to develop a warm relationship with the common people of Rome. (Suetonius makes clear his total lack of interest in the games – a telling indicator.) No money was spent on public works. He veered between insisting the Senate behave independently and dropping cryptic hints as to how he wanted it to vote. Yet his chief crime, in the eyes of some ancient critics, was deserting Rome.
In 26 AD, twelve years into his reign, Tiberius withdrew to the island of Capri, never to return to the city. Was this meant to look like a return to senatorial government? For the next eleven years, imperial control was exercised remotely, for the most part through Sejanus, prefect of the praetorian guard. Among the many prominent Romans convicted of treason in those years were members of Tiberiusâ own family, including the widow and two elder sons of his nephew Germanicus. Eventually Sejanus, too, ended up a corpse in the Tiber, taking with him as he fell many who had hoped to profit by associating with the emperorâs henchman. This bloodbath reflects Tiberiusâ innate cruelty, as well as his insecurity – but Suetonius highlights other vices, too.
His biography begins with some family history – a mixed bag of earlier Claudians, male and female, some famous for their virtue, others notorious for their arrogance and depravity. Suetonius then charts Tiberiusâ early life, his distinguished military career, his accession and the largely positive measures he undertook in the early years of his reign. But chapter 33 hints darkly at the character assassination, which is to follow: âHe showed only gradually what kind of emperor he wasâ. This move prefigures the comments Suetonius makes in his Lives of Caligula (ch.22: âThe story so far has been of Caligula the emperor, the rest must be of Caligula the monsterâ) and Nero (the end of ch.19 prepares the reader for âthe shameful deeds and crimes with which I shall henceforth be concernedâ). For Suetonius, character, though it may be temporarily masked, is not subject to change or development.
Suetonius does note that Tiberiusâ withdrawal meant provincial government was neglected but stories of the emperorâs depravity get much more attention. Once on Capri, Tiberius âfinally gave in to all the vices he had struggled so long to concealâ. His drinking was legendary, his sex life exceeded the worst imaginings. Surrounded by sexually explicit art-works, Tiberius was addicted to every kind of perversion, with boys, girls – even tiny children. The accusations relating to oral sex would have aroused particular loathing on the part of Roman readers. Tiberiusâ appetites were hardly human; âpeople talked of the old goatâs den – making a play on the name of the islandâ. What did Tiberius really get up to? Stories of this kind were part of the common currency of Roman political discourse. Suetonius devotes similar space to the sexual transgressions of Caligula, Nero, and Domitian – such behaviour is to be expected of a tyrant. The remoteness of the emperorâs residence itself must have fuelled the most lurid imaginations back in Rome. Emblematic of Tiberiusâ impossible position is his relationship with his mother Livia. Had she not been Augustusâ wife of many decades, Tiberius would never have succeeded to power. Suetonius repeatedly underlines Liviaâs key role in promoting her son. She persuaded Augustus to adopt him, following the deaths of his two adult grandsons. She helped to ensure a rival candidate was eliminated. Even after Tiberius succeeded to Augustus, Livia remained a force to be reckoned with: âhe was angered by his mother Livia on the grounds that she claimed an equal share in his powerâ. Yet we should perhaps be just as wary with regard to these stories as with those about Tiberiusâ sexual tastes. What better way for Tiberiusâ critics to undermine him than to allege this experienced military man in late middle age needed advice from his mother? Such claims would perhaps have been especially offensive to someone of Tiberiusâ ultra-traditional outlook. The senators who proposed to honour him with the title âSon of Liviaâ knew how to torment the emperor. Indeed Suetonius reports stories that the main reason Tiberius left Rome for Capri was to get away from his mother.
Image credits:Â (1) Siemiradzki Orgy on Capri by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1881. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons (2) Tiberius Claudius Nero Caesar (42 BCE – 37 CE). From: H.F. Helmolt (ed.): History of the World. New York, 1901. University of Texas Portrait Gallery. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1854/2003. Bantam Classics. 382 pages. [Source: Bought]
I didn't love A Tale of Two Cities. Or should I say I didn't love it as much as I hoped I would OR even thought I would. A Tale of Two Cities is definitely a subject-driven novel. The focus, I would even say sole focus, is on the French Revolution. We meet individual characters within that setting, to make the French Revolution more personal, perhaps, but, in my opinion, Dickens characterization is not as strong in A Tale of Two Cities as it is in some of his other novels. That doesn't mean his characters are not memorable. In fact, I imagine that there are at least two or three characters in this one that are very memorable indeed. A Tale of Two Cities is also a very heavy novel thematically. It's just dark and oppressive. Dickens won't be bringing any smiles to readers in this one. Personally, I love it when Dickens makes me laugh!
The novel begins with a reunion. A daughter, Lucie Manette, learns that the father she has long presumed to be dead is, in fact, alive. His existence seems to be news to quite a few people. Lucie Manette and Mr. Jarvis Lorry travel to France from England to meet him and bring him back. The name of this section is "Recalled to Life." And it's a very fitting title, in my opinion. Lorry and Lucie never really learn the whole story, all the ugly details of the past. Seeing Lucie with her father reminded me--in a good way--of the relationship between Jean Valjean and Cosette.
The second book, "The Golden Thread," introduces readers to Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. These two men become very well known to Dr. Manette and his daughter. Both men love and admire her, as you would expect. But she can only love one of them, and, her heart belongs to Charles. Of course, this is a very simple summary!
The third book is "The Track of A Storm." Let's just say, Dickens can do bleakity-bleak. This book follows Charles Darnay into France during the early days of the French Revolution. I had a hard time reading this section, because I didn't want to experience it. Darnay is NOT alone in France. And he's far from forgotten. Dr. Manette and his daughter and granddaughter are there, for one, and so is Sydney Carton. Of course, there are others as well to round out the plot.
Throughout all three sections, readers have also followed a few people from France, mainly Monsieur Defarge and his not-so-lovely wife, Madame Defarge. I'm not sure I've ever hated a character more. I am sure that I have. Probably. Still, this book made me so very angry in places!!!
I won't talk about the ending. I won't. I don't want to. I probably don't even need to. A Tale of Two Cities left me needing a comfort read as a follow-up.
Dancers in Mourning. Margery Allingham. 1937. 337 pages. [Source: Bought]
When Mr. William Faraday sat down to write his memoirs after fifty-eight years of blameless inactivity he found the work of inscribing the history of his life almost as tedious as living it had been and so, possessing a natural invention coupled with a gift for locating the easier path, he began to prevaricate a little upon the second page, working up to downright lying on the sixth and subsequent folios. The book appeared at eighteen-and-sixpence, with frontispiece, in nineteen thirty-four and would have passed into the limbo of the remainder lists with thousands of its prototypes had not the quality of one of the wilder anecdotes in the chapters dealing with an India the author had never seen earned it a place in the news columns of a Sunday paper. This paragraph called the memoirs to the attention of a critic who had not permitted his eminence to impair his appreciation of the absurd, and in the review which he afterwards wrote he pointed out that the work was pure fiction, not to say fantasy, and was incidentally one of the funniest books of the decade. The public agreed with the critic and at the age of sixty-one William Faraday, author of Memoirs of an Old Buffer (republished at seven-and-six, seventy-fourth thousand), found himself a literary figure.
I was disappointed with this vintage mystery. While I absolutely loved the opening pages, by the end I found the whole book to be a mess. I admit it could be a mood thing. As much as I wanted to like it, even love it, perhaps I didn't have the patience to remember the large cast of suspects. Or perhaps the problem is that the characters aren't well drawn enough, aren't unique enough, to distinguish between. There were three or four characters that I could remember. But for the others, it was who is she again? who is he again? how does he fit into the group again? where did she come from?
Albert Campion has been invited into the inner circle of Jimmy Sutane and his friends. Sutane is in show business--the theater. Uncle William is, I believe, a mutual friend? Regardless, Uncle William is one of Campion's closest friends in the book. Anyway, Sutane invites Campion to his country house. There are many, many people there. Mostly his guests are in show business too--in the same currently running production. But a few are in his employ or in his family. By the end of the day, tragedy will strike and one of the guests will be dead.
The main reason I found this book to be a complete mess is Albert Campion. He is a horrible detective in this one. Why? Because at the party, he falls madly, deeply in LOVE with Jimmy Sutane's wife. He believes that they share a meaningful moment. In fact, he gets so swept up in the moment...he finds himself almost rushing across the room and taking her in his arms. At least he doesn't do that. But. Regardless. His inappropriate interest in Linda--Jimmy's wife--keeps him from using his brain for hundreds of pages. He doesn't want the murder to be solved just in case the murderer is someone that she cares about, just in case bringing the murderer to justice would make her feel bad. It's RIDICULOUS.
Almost every time I read it, I focus on something new, something that I might have missed, something that I hadn't considered before. I thought I would share my observations with you instead of a traditional review.
Stories. Frankenstein is a story within a story. But it's more than that. It's a text that utilizes stories and storytelling even within that framework. The first story, of course, is the one Robert Walton is communicating to his sister, Margaret, through letters. After the first few letters, Walton stops being so introspective and focuses on telling someone else's story. Victor Frankenstein's story. This is written in the letters in first person, as if Victor himself were telling the story--sharing it. Within that big story, are dozens of little stories. The story of how his parents met. The story of his birth and childhood. The story of how Elizabeth was adopted. The story of how he became interested in science. The story of his mother's death. The story of his going away to university. The story of his madness--his obsession--and how he came to create life. The story of his sickness and recovery. The story of his learning about his brother's death/murder. The story of Justine. You get the idea. Each story is crafted and shaped. These stories are how he sees himself and the world, his place in it. Some of the stories are personal and a vital part of the plot. Other stories are more like asides. But this isn't Victor's story alone. Midway through the book, readers learn the creature's story. Even though this is written in first person though the eyes of the creature--the monster--the words are for better or worse being filtered through Victor Frankenstein's memory. He's telling what the monster said. He's telling what the monster heard. And Robert Walton is then passing along Frankenstein's story of the events and conversations. The creature is a storyteller as well. He recalls his life, his memories, his desires and needs. But he also focuses in particular on one family, one French family living in exile. This section has multiple stories. Including one focusing on a young woman. Though it may seem like an aside to readers, the stories matter very much to the narrator, the creature. The stories are providing for him a framework of the world, of how it works, of what life and love are all about. The stories resonate with the creature. He has seen love. He has seen family. He has seen fellowship and community. Because he has seen this, he feels the lack of it in his own life. But it isn't just the unfolding story that he personally witnesses. He is also shaped by the stories--the words--in the books he oh-so-conveniently is able to read. Words and stories matter. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the stories we share with others, they all matter. For example, I think the story the creature told himself over and over and over again was it is all Victor's fault. He made me. He gave me life. He made me this ugly, this revolting. He made me this large and strong. He left me--he abandoned me. He didn't love me. He never loved me. He rejected me. He made it so everyone would reject me. Why does everyone reject me? It's his fault. It's all his fault. He made me have killing-hands. He made me have killing-thoughts. He didn't show me a better way. He didn't teach me. He didn't raise me. I had to learn everything all by myself. It is his fault. I'm not responsible. Why would I be? It is his fault! If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be so miserable, so alone, so full of angst. I wouldn't feel pain or hunger or thirst. I wouldn't feel at all. The monster has his Job moments. One last thing, Victor Frankenstein speaks of the power of words, of persuasion. He warns that the creature has a way with words, that he can manipulate people by his persuasiveness. He warns Walton not to let himself be manipulated by the creature's story--his words and pleas. Is there any truth to this? Is the creature trying to masquerade himself as an angel of light? His actions say one thing: he's a killer, a murderer, he premeditates at least some of his crimes. His words say another: no one loves me, everyone runs from me, it's all HIS fault.
Questions. It's hard to read Frankenstein without questions. Who is the real monster? Who should be held responsible? Is there anyone who shouldn't be held responsible? Why is human life valued so little by ego-obsessed people? Why does Walton idolize Frankenstein?
Victor Frankenstein, Robert Walton, and the creature share a few things in common. They are introspective, moody, obsessed, and lonely. True, there are differences in their obsessions. Robert Walton is obsessed with glory, with adventure, with discovering the Northwest Passage. Walton has spent years if not decades obsessed with the North Pole, with the arctic regions. This started as a boy with books, with stories and words. His dream shifted slightly for a brief period of time when he wanted to be a poet, but, ultimately he came back to his first love. He didn't give up his poetic personality/nature however. Victor Frankenstein is first obsessed with science, with electricity, with creating life. This playing God leads to no good--it leads to madness and murder. I believe the madness started long before he was successful. I have never understood how he could piece together this creature--this eight-foot creature--and it is only when he is alive that he realizes that it is monstrous and ugly and unnatural and threatening. Why make it eight-feet? Why make it so unhuman? Regardless, having created life, he then becomes obsessed with destroying it--with murdering his demon-creation, his monster. His only reason to live is to track down and kill the monster. The monster's obsession? Well, he's driven by anger and pain. He wants to HURT Frankenstein. He is acting out, having murderous temper-tantrums all to get the attention of the one who gave him life, his father, his creator. He wants what he can't have. He wants love and acceptance. He wants to belong. He wants companionship and family. He wants to be happy. He wants to be treated fairly and humanely. He doesn't want to be judged based on appearances. He taunts and haunts his creator. He wants Frankenstein to be just as miserable and desperate as he is.
Robert Walton meets Victor Frankenstein:
In the morning, however, as soon as it was light, I went upon deck and found all the sailors busy on one side of the vessel, apparently talking to someone in the sea. It was, in fact, a sledge, like that we had seen before, which had drifted towards us in the night on a large fragment of ice. Only one dog remained alive; but there was a human being within it whom the sailors were persuading to enter the vessel. He was not, as the other traveller seemed to be, a savage inhabitant of some undiscovered island, but a European. When I appeared on deck the master said, "Here is our captain, and he will not allow you to perish on the open sea." On perceiving me, the stranger addressed me in English, although with a foreign accent. "Before I come on board your vessel," said he, "will you have the kindness to inform me whither you are bound?" You may conceive my astonishment on hearing such a question addressed to me from a man on the brink of destruction and to whom I should have supposed that my vessel would have been a resource which he would not have exchanged for the most precious wealth the earth can afford. I replied, however, that we were on a voyage of discovery towards the northern pole. Upon hearing this he appeared satisfied and consented to come on board. Good God! Margaret, if you had seen the man who thus capitulated for his safety, your surprise would have been boundless. His limbs were nearly frozen, and his body dreadfully emaciated by fatigue and suffering. I never saw a man in so wretched a condition. We attempted to carry him into the cabin, but as soon as he had quitted the fresh air he fainted. We accordingly brought him back to the deck and restored him to animation by rubbing him with brandy and forcing him to swallow a small quantity. As soon as he showed signs of life we wrapped him up in blankets and placed him near the chimney of the kitchen stove. By slow degrees he recovered and ate a little soup, which restored him wonderfully. Two days passed in this manner before he was able to speak, and I often feared that his sufferings had deprived him of understanding. When he had in some measure recovered, I removed him to my own cabin and attended on him as much as my duty would permit. I never saw a more interesting creature: his eyes have generally an expression of wildness, and even madness, but there are moments when, if anyone performs an act of kindness towards him or does him any the most trifling service, his whole countenance is lighted up, as it were, with a beam of benevolence and sweetness that I never saw equalled. But he is generally melancholy and despairing, and sometimes he gnashes his teeth, as if impatient of the weight of woes that oppresses him.
Robert shares his big, big dream with Victor:
I was easily led by the sympathy which he evinced to use the language of my heart, to give utterance to the burning ardour of my soul and to say, with all the fervour that warmed me, how gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought, for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race. At first I perceived that he tried to suppress his emotion; he placed his hands before his eyes, and my voice quivered and failed me as I beheld tears trickle fast from between his fingers; a groan burst from his heaving breast. I paused; at length he spoke, in broken accents: "Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught? Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!"
And so it begins...
Yesterday the stranger said to me, "You may easily perceive, Captain Walton, that I have suffered great and unparalleled misfortunes. I had determined at one time that the memory of these evils should die with me, but you have won me to alter my determination. You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been. I do not know that the relation of my disasters will be useful to you; yet, when I reflect that you are pursuing the same course, exposing yourself to the same dangers which have rendered me what I am, I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale, one that may direct you if you succeed in your undertaking and console you in case of failure. He then told me that he would commence his narrative the next day when I should be at leisure. This promise drew from me the warmest thanks. I have resolved every night, when I am not imperatively occupied by my duties, to record, as nearly as possible in his own words, what he has related during the day. If I should be engaged, I will at least make notes. This manuscript will doubtless afford you the greatest pleasure; but to me, who know him, and who hear it from his own lipsâwith what interest and sympathy shall I read it in some future day! Even now, as I commence my task, his full-toned voice swells in my ears; his lustrous eyes dwell on me with all their melancholy sweetness; I see his thin hand raised in animation, while the lineaments of his face are irradiated by the soul within. Strange and harrowing must be his story, frightful the storm which embraced the gallant vessel on its course and wrecked itâthus!
Hello, friends! This glorious day is finally upon us. Today is the day The Midnight Garden discusses Animorphs! We hope you were able to join us in reading Books 1-3. It’s such a lovely sci-fi series full of action, aliens, a diverse truly bad ass cast of kid characters, and spades emotional depth. All three of us ended up loving them; we hope you did as well! Let’s dive in! General Thoughts Layla: This was delightful and I wish Iâd been reading these alongside Goosebumps when I was a baby! Thereâs so much reading I missed out on! On the bright side, Iâm sure my loss was the family dogâs gain; she probably wouldnât have appreciated my attempts to acquire her DNA. Wendy: I never read these either, but man oh man, would I have been all over them as a kid. As I was reading book one, I realized... Read more »
Persuasion. Jane Austen 1818/1992. Knopf Doubleday. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. It just is. I believe this is the third time I've reviewed it. April 2011. January 2008. Out of all of Austen's opening lines, I have to admit that Persuasion's first sentence is my least favorite. Wouldn't you agree?
Opening to Sense and Sensibility: The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex.
Opening to Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Opening to Mansfield Park: About thirty years ago Miss Maria Ward, of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the county of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.
Opening to Emma: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
Opening to Northanger Abbey: No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.
Opening to Persuasion: Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.
I've already summarized the plot twice before, and, the problem with reread posts is that I have to always (try to) find new ways to say what I've already said.
Anne Elliot is the heroine of Persuasion. If you haven't read Persuasion before let me add this, please, don't expect Anne to be Elizabeth Bennet. Just don't. You'll be happier for letting Anne be Anne and not comparing her to Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor, Marianne, Catherine, or Fanny. Plenty of people misunderstand Anne--the top offenders being her very own family--I don't want you to be one of them. Don't let her family persuade you that Anne is someone to easily dismiss, a nobody.
As I was saying, Anne is the heroine of Persuasion. Eight years before the novel opens, Anne fell in love. It was a forever-love. She wanted to marry Frederick Wentworth. He wanted to marry her too. They loved each other very much. But he had no way to support her. It wasn't just that he couldn't support her in style. Her family disapproved. Her friends disapproved. Long story short, the engagement was broken off. Persuasion is all about her second chance. When Anne and Captain Wentworth meet again, eight years later, can these two come together and make it work, can they have their happily ever after? That is the very simplified version, I suppose! Austen being Austen, there are plenty of characters and stories introduced in Persuasion. It is a very enjoyable read. In places, it is quite giddy-making.
Do you have a favorite Austen hero? Captain Wentworth is perhaps one of the strongest Austen heroes. Of course, everyone is familiar with Darcy. But Wentworth has his fans as well! Perhaps in large part due to his letter to Anne:
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. (234)
Personally, I love Henry Tilney, Mr. Knightley, and Captain Wentworth.
Excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste.
No, it was not regret which made Anneâs heart beat in spite of herself, and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy!
She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.
A week ago, I wrote about the Suck Fairy, a name for that sad experience that occurs when we re-read a book we liked quite a lot sometime in our past and find that it now sucks. There could be all kinds of reasons this could happen, all of which could come under the umbrella of the Suck Fairy visiting the book while we were gone and filling it with suck.
But what about when we re-read a book from our past, one that we weren't all that crazy about, and find that somehow it has improved? Did the Good Reading Fairy come while our backs were turned and fill that bad puppy with reading goodness?
I thought of this after reading Why Everyone Should Re-read the Books You Were Forced to Read When You Were a Teenager at The Owl's Skull. Jessica McCort recalls reading Huckleberry Finn as a junior or senior in high school. She says she hated "this book with every single fiber of my being. ... I didn't understand its humor. I didn't understand much of the political environment in which it was embroiled. I hated the fact that women/girls didn't seem to come off extremely well... I thought Huck was a pretty horrible character, and Tom Sawyer ... don't even get me started on him."
She re-read it during her junior year of college. "...on the second go around, I loved the book. I thought it was uproariously funny. I was pierced by both its humor and its humanity (I still hated the last several chapters, I have to say, but for very different reasons than why I didn't like the book when I was in high school. And I still didn't like Tom, but I came around to Huck)."
Jessica then offers a list of books she didn't care for in the past and that she'd be willing to give another shot. They all appear to be classics. And, as she said, they were all assigned reading.
Jessica's post led me to mull on a couple of points.
Somewhere in my reading these last few months (I apologize that I cannot recall where) someone raised the question of what society gains by forcing teenagers to read classics they are known, as a group, to dislike. I focused on Jessica's Huckleberry Finn example because I've heard before that it's not embraced by teenagers. I didn't care for it much, myself, when I had to read at least part of it as a teenager and can recall some scenes I enjoyed when I was older, but even then it's one of those books that I'm glad to have knowledge of because of its impact on what came after it, but that's it. In fact, I wonder if Twain/Clemens isn't an author who is beloved these days more because of his reputation than because of enjoyment or real knowledge of his work. And, let's be honest, was my son the only teenager who spent all his freshman or sophomore year of high school dreading having to read Shakespeare in the spring? No, Shakespeare didn't end up becoming a favorite writer.
When as an adult we re-read a classic we disliked as a teenager, was the first reading and probably instruction a factor in the Good Reading Fairy experience? Or is it simply that at that later time of life we were experienced enough to appreciate the book, period, whether we had some earlier knowledge of the book or not? The earlier reading was meaningless, maybe worse than meaningless since disliking a work at fifteen could mean we won't even consider reading it at twenty-five or thirty or fifty-five.
Twelve or thirteen years ago, I attended a symposium I remember nothing about except that the professor explained that until the end of the nineteenth century literature was not part of a standard American school curriculum. Rhetoric, the study of speech and writing, was more common. Literature became part of the "English" curriculum in order to assimilate children of foreign families, to teach them to value what Americans valued, the works of authors writing in English. (This knowledge left me a little horrified about having been an English major in college, but let's not get into that.)
What's the point of "English" class these days?
Is it to insist that young people read The Odyssey, Julius Caesar, Moby Dick, or any of the classics Jessica McCourt recalls reading and disliking? Should we be holding up the works of dead, white, English speaking writers as having some value above all others? And if we should, is forcing adolescents to read this stuff working?
Is it to encourage life-long reading so that young people become literate citizens capable of understanding writing in all fields of study, thus making them better able to make decisions affecting their lives? Will the works of dead, white, English speaking writers achieve that end?
Those people who believe knowledge of the classics is essential may fear that if young people aren't forced to read them, whether they're at an age when they can appreciate them or not, they risk never being exposed. There's no knowing what they'll study in college or be attracted to as adults. But if pre-eighteen-year-olds just can't recognize the wit in Huckleberry Finn and how it fits into the historical context in which it was written, or have enough reading background to recognize its influence on American literature, will their exposure to it do them any good?
How many people who disliked Huck in their youth go on to read it again? The Good Reading Fairy can fill classics with all kinds of reading goodness. If we never re-read those books we didn't like the first time around, we'll never find it.
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Is He Popenjoy? Anthony Trollope. 1878/1993. Penguin. 632 pages. [Source: Bought]
Like so many of Anthony Trollope's novels, Is He Popenjoy? is a novel essentially about marriage and relationships. Just because it's about marriage and relationships doesn't mean it is about love and romance and happily ever after.
Lord George and Mary Germain are newly married. Mary Lovelace was not exactly his first choice for a bride. (His first choice was in fact a woman named Adelaide. She too is recently married. She is Mrs. Houghton now.) The two are in the getting-to-know each other stage. Yes, they are married. But they weren't madly in love with each other before they married. Only time will tell if they will fall in love with each other afterwards. She is thoughtfully examining herself for signs of love, and she's looking closely at her husband as well. Do I love him yet? How about now?
The couple lives with his family, with his mother, with two of his older sisters. George is content with the arrangement. After all, most of the adjustment falls to Mary as it now stands. Mary is the one who has to come into a house with three older, opinionated, slightly critical women. Mary is the one under examination, under trial, not George.
But. One of the conditions for marrying Mary was arranged by her father. George must be willing to get a house in London and they must reside there several months each year. This puts George very much out of his comfort zone. It thrills Mary, of course, as her father knew it would. In London, Mary has the freedom to relax and be herself.
Complications. Mary is introduced to Adelaide Houghton's cousin, Jack de Baron. Adelaide is hoping that Jack will flirt with Mary. That Mary will flirt right back. Mary and Jack do become friends, good friends. But it is friendship, nothing more, nothing less. Adelaide. What can I really say about her?! She infuriated me. She throws herself at Lord George time and time and time and time again. She is desperately in love with him now and not a bit discreet about it. She must tell him explicitly how much she NEEDS him and how he was always, always the one she wanted most of all. It's a pitiful sight when all is said and done. George. Well. George listens again and again and again and again. He's always open to hearing her declarations. Even if he's embarrassed and ashamed afterwards. As he walks away from and her and heads back to his wife, he's left feeling icky. Yet. For some reason, he sees it as his job as a gentlemen to remain friends with Mrs. Houghton, that he is being kind when he visits her at her request. He doesn't want to be RUDE to her after all.
More complications. George's family is completely dysfunctional. His older brother is a twisted mess. He's got no manners, no heart, no conscience. He's spent almost all his adult life living abroad in Italy. After learning of his younger brother's marriage, he writes to let his family know that they have to leave HIS house, and that under no terms are they to remain in the neighborhood or community because he doesn't want to see them. He has decided to come back. He is bringing a wife. A wife and a son, an heir. Never mind that he never communicated to his family or his lawyers that he married or had a son. True, he is the heir and the house is technically his to do with as he sees fit. But who throws their own family out without at least making some assistance towards finding them another place? The family manage to stay in the neighborhood against his wishes. And their brief encounters together are super awkward and humiliating. He wants nothing to do with anybody. Not his family. Not his former friends. Not his neighbors. Not the clergy in the area. NO person is welcome in his house. Mary's father advocates that something is obviously wrong here. Perhaps his brother has some secrets he wants to keep hidden. Perhaps his brother's son is not legitimate? Perhaps his wife is not really his wife?
Taking sides. Relationships get ugly and messy and twisted in this one. Accusations for just about everything abound. Ultimatums are given. All relationships will be tested. Can love bloom between two stressed individuals in these horrible conditions?
I didn't love this one. I didn't hate it, mind you. I didn't even dislike it exactly. It's just that there were more characters that I hated than characters that I liked in this one.