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Results 1 - 25 of 435
1. Legal order: lessons from ancient Athens

How do large-scale societies achieve cooperation? Since Thomas Hobbes’ famous work, Leviathan (1651), social scientific treatments of the problem of cooperation have assumed that living together without killing one another requires an act of depersonalization in the form of a transfer of individual powers to an all-powerful central government.

The post Legal order: lessons from ancient Athens appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Is Robert Pogue Harrison the most significant writer in the humanities?


Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age explores the history of culture, from antiquity to the present, in order to frame how neotony, the retention of juvenile characteristics through adulthood, has become central to our youth-obsessed, yet historically entrenched civilization. Mired in the past, and at the same time, forced to look forward, the way in which we frame life and death errs heavy on the side of protracting the cusp of adulthood. “While genius liberates the novelties of the future,” Harrison writes, “wisdom inherits the legacies of the past, renewing them in the process of handing them down.”

From the Southern Humanities Reviewwhich considers Harrison one of our foremost academics working today:

Robert Pogue Harrison, an intellectual steeped in the philosophical and literary traditions of the Western world, may be the single most significant writer in the humanities today. In three of his previous booksForests: The Shadow of Civilization, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition—he developed a particular style of writing that takes readers on a journey through time, tracing a particular concept or trope as it manifests itself in a wide array of literary and philosophical works. . . . In each of his books, Harrison demonstrates that responses to the most fundamental human questions often appear in the most unlikely places and that it takes a formidable intellect and an Auerbach-like memory to be able to discern a particular thread that runs through the tradition. To read Harrison, therefore, is to be reminded of texts that you may have read years ago, or the texts that you may be studying or even teaching at this time, only to discover that you have never carefully read them.

And, as the SHR piece concludes:

In Juvenescence, Harrison fashions himself as a type of philosophico-literary renouvelant, a young adherent to a long tradition, one who affirms his faith in the meaning-producing capacities of texts that are both all too familiar and long forgotten. In doing this, Harrison has written a book that enacts what it describes, one which boldly explores new ideas through revitalizing the past.

To read more about Juvenescence, click here.

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3. Heidi

Heidi. Johanna Spyri. 1880/2009. Puffin Classics/Penguin.  320 pages. [Source: Bought]

I enjoyed reading Heidi for the third time. I really did. I definitely think there is something timeless about this children's novel. Why do I like it so much?

Well, I like Heidi herself, of course. I love her actually. Like isn't strong enough a word for how I feel about her.

I also love the developing relationship between Heidi and her Grandfather. I do. I really tend to love books that highlight the special bond or relationship that exists between grandparents and grandchildren, or, even between the generations, such as Heidi and "the Grandmother" (Peter's grandmother). Heidi values--loves unconditionally--these two so very much. And I have to admit I love them too.

I enjoy reading about Heidi's time with Peter. Peter is such an interesting character: at times very naughty and so stubborn. Yet there is something joyful about him too. Even if he is a bit difficult to get along with at times. Heidi never gives up on Peter, she keeps pushing him to be better and better.

I like that the book does have flawed characters. Characters like Peter and the Grandfather. Now, I suppose, one could argue that Heidi is too good to be true, that she's not flawed enough. I don't have a good answer for that, other than the fact that in this case, it doesn't bother me. Perhaps because Heidi is clueless as to how good she is. Heidi isn't proud or snobbish. Far from it.

I like the morals of the book. I really do. There is just something incredibly wholesome about this one. One of the 'morals' of this one is the providence of God. Heidi may not understand just why she's torn away from Grandfather and forced to go away and be a companion for Clara, but, she later comes to realize that it was God working all things for good. While with Clara, she not only makes a good friend, but she learns to read, she meets Jesus, she makes other friends whose lives she will without a doubt change for the better. Because she's met Jesus, when she does eventually go back to Grandfather, she is able to tell him about Jesus, and he comes to Christ as well. Heidi touches many lives besides the Grandfather and Grandmother, she also helps Clara's doctor reconcile with God. And, then, there is, of course, the obvious, Clara's coming to visit and learning to walk again. The book has some good-and-wise things to say about life, prayer, and God. This focus on the spiritual life may make the book seem old-fashioned to some readers perhaps. And may even be unwelcome by some today. But. I think Heidi has that something special that more modern books lack at times.

There is something sweet about the book that leaves you with a satisfied feeling. Not every book does you know.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Notting Hill Mystery

Notting Hill Mystery. Charles Warren Adams. 1862/2015. Poisoned Pen Press. 284 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Dare I say that I enjoyed The Notting Hill Mystery at least as much as Wilkie Collin's A Woman in White? What if I say I liked it even more?! Granted, it has been a few years since I've read A Woman in White. But Notting Hill was such a surprisingly wonderfully old-fashioned mystery, and, with good reason, I suppose, since it was published in the 1860s!

If you enjoy sensational Victorian novels, this one proves a satisfying treat. The "hero" of the novel has collected all the evidence he can about a certain case. He's not positively sure it's a murder case, because if it is murder, it's far from straight-forward. The less you know, the better the novel will read, in my opinion. But it involves TWINS and mesmerism and poison.

At first, I thought this one would be a slow read, since the evidence consists of letters, diaries, interviews, etc. But I found it an entertaining and satisfying read.

It is easy for me to recommend this one. I think mystery lovers will appreciate it. And if you have a love for all things Victorian, then you may really, really LOVE it, just as I did.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857)

The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1857/1975. Penguin Classics. 623 pages. [Source: Bought]

I should have read it years ago. I really should have. I simply loved, loved, loved Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte. Yes, it's packed with information on the Brontes. But it's more than that. It's how this information is conveyed, it's how the story is written that makes it a compelling read. Not many biographies are impossible to put down. This one was. Gaskell, in many ways, let Charlotte Bronte speak for herself by sharing so many letters or excerpts from letters. One really gets a sense of "knowing" from reading it. And that isn't always the case with biographies, though it is sometimes the case with autobiographies. I appreciated Gaskell's narrative voice very much. It was a real treat. Anyone who loves Victorian literature should read this one. Or anyone who loves Jane Eyre or any other Bronte novel.

I read for the same reason that I ate or drank; because it was a real craving of nature. I wrote on the same principle as I spoke--out of the impulse and feelings of the mind; nor could I help it, for what came, came out, and there was the end of it. ~ Charlotte Bronte in a letter to Mr. Wordsworth, 1837
It is very edifying and profitable to create a world out of your own brains, and people it with inhabitants, who are so many Melchisedecs, and have no father nor mother but your own imagination. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1840
Some of my greatest difficulties lie in things that would appear to you comparatively trivial. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
Write to me often; very long letters. It will do both of us good. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
If I could, I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
They wanted learning. They came for learning. They would learn. Where they had a distinct purpose to be achieved in intercourse with their fellows, they forgot themselves; at all other times they were miserably shy. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell about Charlotte and Emily going to Brussells 
Any one who has studied her writings,—whether in print or in her letters; any one who has enjoyed the rare privilege of listening to her talk, must have noticed her singular felicity in the choice of words. She herself, in writing her books, was solicitous on this point. One set of words was the truthful mirror of her thoughts; no others, however apparently identical in meaning, would do. She had that strong practical regard for the simple holy truth of expression, which Mr. Trench has enforced, as a duty too often neglected. She would wait patiently searching for the right term, until it presented itself to her. It might be provincial, it might be derived from the Latin; so that it accurately represented her idea, she did not mind whence it came; but this care makes her style present the finish of a piece of mosaic. Each component part, however small, has been dropped into the right place. She never wrote down a sentence until she clearly understood what she wanted to say, had deliberately chosen the words, and arranged them in their right order. Hence it comes that, in the scraps of paper covered with her pencil writing which I have seen, there will occasionally be a sentence scored out, but seldom, if ever, a word or an expression. She wrote on these bits of paper in a minute hand, holding each against a piece of board, such as is used in binding books, for a desk. This plan was necessary for one so short-sighted as she was; and, besides, it enabled her to use pencil and paper, as she sat near the fire in the twilight hours, or if (as was too often the case) she was wakeful for hours in the night. Her finished manuscripts were copied from these pencil scraps, in clear, legible, delicate traced writing, almost as easy to read as print. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell about Charlotte Bronte's writing habits
Even at the risk of appearing very exacting, I can't help saying that I should like a letter as long as your last, every time you write. Short notes give one the feeling of a very small piece of a very good thing to eat,—they set the appetite on edge, and don't satisfy it,—a letter leaves you more contented; and yet, after all, I am very glad to get notes; so don't think, when you are pinched for time and materials, that it is useless to write a few lines; be assured, a few lines are very acceptable as far as they go; and though I like long letters, I would by no means have you to make a task of writing them. . . . ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1847
If "Jane Eyre" has any solid worth in it, it ought to weather a gust of unfavourable wind. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1847
If I ever DO write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama;' I think so, but I am not sure. I THINK, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes,' 'to finish more and be more subdued;' but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which becomes their master—which will have its own way—putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new-moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1848
Every one has a right to form his own conclusion respecting the merits and demerits of a book. I complain not of the judgment which the reviewer passes on "Jane Eyre." Opinions as to its tendency varied then, as they do now. While I write, I receive a letter from a clergyman in America in which he says: "We have in our sacred of sacreds a special shelf, highly adorned, as a place we delight to honour, of novels which we recognise as having had a good influence on character OUR character. Foremost is 'Jane Eyre.' ~ Elizabeth Gaskell on book reviews
I wish you did not think me a woman. I wish all reviewers believed 'Currer Bell' to be a man; they would be more just to him. You will, I know, keep measuring me by some standard of what you deem becoming to my sex; where I am not what you consider graceful, you will condemn me. All mouths will be open against that first chapter; and that first chapter is true as the Bible, nor is it exceptionable. Come what will, I cannot, when I write, think always of myself and of what is elegant and charming in femininity; it is not on those terms, or with such ideas, I ever took pen in hand: and if it is only on such terms my writing will be tolerated, I shall pass away from the public and trouble it no more. Out of obscurity I came, to obscurity I can easily return. Standing afar off, I now watch to see what will become of 'Shirley.' My expectations are very low, and my anticipations somewhat sad and bitter; still, I earnestly conjure you to say honestly what you think; flattery would be worse than vain; there is no consolation in flattery. As for condemnation I cannot, on reflection, see why I should much fear it; there is no one but myself to suffer therefrom, and both happiness and suffering in this life soon pass away. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1849
You say that you suspect I have formed a large circle of acquaintance by this time. No: I cannot say that I have. I doubt whether I possess either the wish or the power to do so. A few friends I should like to have, and these few I should like to know well. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
I have read Tennyson's 'In Memoriam,' or rather part of it; I closed the book when I had got about half way. It is beautiful; it is mournful; it is monotonous. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
It is my intention to write a few lines of remark on 'Wuthering Heights,' which, however, I propose to place apart as a brief preface before the tale. I am likewise compelling myself to read it over, for the first time of opening the book since my sister's death. Its power fills me with renewed admiration; but yet I am oppressed: the reader is scarcely ever permitted a taste of unalloyed pleasure; every beam of sunshine is poured down through black bars of threatening cloud; every page is surcharged with a sort of moral electricity; and the writer was unconscious of all this—nothing could make her conscious of it. And this makes me reflect,—perhaps I am too incapable of perceiving the faults and peculiarities of my own style. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
You charge me to write about myself. What can I say on that precious topic? My health is pretty good. My spirits are not always alike. Nothing happens to me. I hope and expect little in this world, and am thankful that I do not despond and suffer more. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1851
Even if it should turn out reasonably well, still I regard it as ruin to the prosperity of an ephemeral book like a novel, to be much talked of beforehand, as if it were something great. People are apt to conceive, or at least to profess, exaggerated expectation, such as no performance can realise; then ensue disappointment and the due revenge, detraction, and failure.~ Charlotte Bronte, 1852

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Liz’s Summer Reading Pick

Time of Wonder

 by Robert McCloskey

           How could I begin my Liz’s Summer Picks with any other book than Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder?  Winner of The Caldecott Medal as “The most distinguished picture book of 1958,” it is a classic picture book, if the word classic still has meaning in this genre. His observations of one matchless summer season in the islands in and around Penobscot Bay in Maine are evocative, beautifully illustrated and reflective as the moods of the seasons and the sea he describes through the eyes of two children.

Out on the islands that poke their rocky shores above the waters of

Penobscot Bay you can watch the time of the world go by from minute

to minute, hour to hour, from day to day, season to season.

           Whether diving off rocks on the island’s point made by glaciers eons ago into icy cold water, sailing among the islands where mother seals nurse their babies in Swain’s Cove Ledges, watching porpoises at sunset “puffing and playing around your boat”, days build with a lazy momentum. It captures the pulse and promise of life lived by this family of four that is unhurried enough to savor the moments. But these small moments of discovery build to a sense and signal that the winds inevitably change to something quite eventful. Nature can change in a moment with a sudden ferocity coming ashore, blowing the cozy cabin door open sending people, Parcheesi boards and papers flying.

            There is gentleness to McCloskey’s book that gives the eye and ear time to sense and explore with the children the feeling of this island respite in Maine. And there is a sweet sadness at its close as another summer ends and school beckons with the quickening pace of life off island. The time you and your children will spend there is time lived fully and intimately with nature and the natural pace she sets. It is a time of wonder you will long remember and savor with your child again and again.

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7. Classic MG Discussion: Trixie Belden #1

Jeepers! It’s time to discuss The Secret of the Mansion, the first book in the classic Trixie Belden mystery series from the 1940s. As always, we do these discussions with the hope that you’ll check out these classics for yourself even if you didn’t have the chance to read them with us, but do be aware that there are spoilers in the chat below. Wendy: I loved Trixie as a kid, so I was very eager to revisit these. I distinctly remember my grade-school self daydreaming about having an almost-twin and wanting desperately to be in a club with secret signals. Kim, I’d forgotten you aren’t a big mystery fan, so I appreciate your forbearance with the occasional one I slip into these readalongs! Kim: I had literally never heard of Trixie Belden before it was suggested for our readalong! Wendy, no worries! I am not usually a huge mystery person but this... Read more »

The post Classic MG Discussion: Trixie Belden #1 appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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8. At The Back of the North Wind (1871)

At The Back of the North Wind. George MacDonald. 1871. 346 pages. [Source: Bought]

I HAVE been asked to tell you about the back of the north wind.

Do you enjoy reading children's classics? Or enjoy reading children's fantasy novels? There's a chance that you may love George MacDonald's At The Back of the North Wind. I won't lie. It is a good, old-fashioned story packed with morals and symbolism. So maybe it won't satisfy every single reader. Still there is something about it, even if it is is too wholesome for some.

At The Back of the North Wind is Diamond's story. Diamond is a young boy who is completely good and rather odd because of it. He is a bit of an angel, always doing the right thing, always saying the right thing. His intentions are always as pure as can be. But he isn't smug or arrogant. And he does genuinely care for others. So I do not personally see him as being self-righteous or obnoxious. One of Diamond's friends is the North Wind. The first half of the book focuses on this dream-like relationship. At night, he sometimes accompanies her on her journeys. Eventually, he does find his way to the back of the North Wind. The second half of the book focuses on Diamond's family and his personal relationships with his family and friends. The family situation definitely changes throughout the novel. And Diamond's life isn't an easy one. He is an optimist, a dreamer. But the family's struggle is very real and a definite concern to him.

One of Diamond's friends is the kind-hearted Mr. Raymond. Mr. Raymond has a heart for children, especially for poor ones, and he does what he can to help everyone. He is also a story-teller. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Mr. Raymond's story called "Little Daylight." Even if you're not interested in reading the whole novel, even if it doesn't sound like your kind of book, you should make time to read this one stand-alone chapter. Especially if you LOVE fairy tales. (And who doesn't love fairy tales?!) I think Little Daylight would make a lovely picture book adaptation.

So I definitely enjoyed this one. Perhaps not as much as The Light Princess. But at least as much as the two Princess books (Princess and the Curdie, Princess and the Goblin).

At the same moment, a peal of thunder which shook Diamond's heart against the sides of his bosom hurtled out of the heavens: I cannot say out of the sky, for there was no sky. Diamond had not seen the lightning, for he had been intent on finding the face of North Wind. Every moment the folds of her garment would sweep across his eyes and blind him, but between, he could just persuade himself that he saw great glories of woman's eyes looking down through rifts in the mountainous clouds over his head.
He trembled so at the thunder, that his knees failed him, and he sunk down at North Wind's feet, and clasped her round the column of her ankle. She instantly stooped, lifted him from the roof—up—up into her bosom, and held him there, saying, as if to an inconsolable child—
"Diamond, dear, this will never do."
"Oh yes, it will," answered Diamond. "I am all right now—quite comfortable, I assure you, dear North Wind. If you will only let me stay here, I shall be all right indeed."
"But you will feel the wind here, Diamond."
"I don't mind that a bit, so long as I feel your arms through it," answered Diamond, nestling closer to her grand bosom.
"Brave boy!" returned North Wind, pressing him closer.
"No," said Diamond, "I don't see that. It's not courage at all, so long as I feel you there."
"But hadn't you better get into my hair? Then you would not feel the wind; you will here."
"Ah, but, dear North Wind, you don't know how nice it is to feel your arms about me. It is a thousand times better to have them and the wind together, than to have only your hair and the back of your neck and no wind at all."
"But it is surely more comfortable there?"
"Well, perhaps; but I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable."
"Yes, indeed there are. Well, I will keep you in front of me. You will feel the wind, but not too much. I shall only want one arm to take care of you; the other will be quite enough to sink the ship."

"You never made that song, Diamond," said his mother.
"No, mother. I wish I had. No, I don't. That would be to take it from somebody else. But it's mine for all that."
"What makes it yours?"
"I love it so."
"Does loving a thing make it yours?"
"I think so, mother—at least more than anything else can. If I didn't love baby (which couldn't be, you know) she wouldn't be mine a bit. But I do love baby, and baby is my very own Dulcimer."
"The baby's mine, Diamond."
"That makes her the more mine, mother."
"How do you make that out?"
"Because you're mine, mother."
"Is that because you love me?"
"Yes, just because. Love makes the only myness," said Diamond.
"What are you reading?" I said, and spoke suddenly, with the hope of seeing a startled little face look round at me. Diamond turned his head as quietly as if he were only obeying his mother's voice, and the calmness of his face rebuked my unkind desire and made me ashamed of it.
"I am reading the story of the Little Lady and the Goblin Prince," said Diamond.
"I am sorry I don't know the story," I returned. "Who is it by?"
"Mr. Raymond made it."
"Is he your uncle?" I asked at a guess.
"No. He's my master."
"What do you do for him?" I asked respectfully.
"Anything he wishes me to do," he answered. "I am busy for him now. He gave me this story to read. He wants my opinion upon it."
"Don't you find it rather hard to make up your mind?"
"Oh dear no! Any story always tells me itself what I'm to think about it. Mr. Raymond doesn't want me to say whether it is a clever story or not, but whether I like it, and why I like it. I never can tell what they call clever from what they call silly, but I always know whether I like a story or not."
"And can you always tell why you like it or not?" "No. Very often I can't at all. Sometimes I can. I always know, but I can't always tell why.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Ross Poldark

Ross Poldark. (Poldark #1) Winston Graham. 1945/2015. Sourcebooks. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

It was windy. The pale afternoon sky was shredded with clouds; the road, grown dustier and more uneven in the past hour, was scattered with blown and rustling leaves.

The novel opens* with the book's hero, Ross Poldark, returning to Cornwall in the fall of 1783. He's returning from war, learning that his father is dead--and that his father hasn't left him much money to work his estate (Nampara) with--also that the woman he thought was his one true love is engaged to another man--Ross' cousin, Francis. But Ross Poldark is resilient--stubborn--someone who knows what he wants and has the gumption to fight for what he wants. Mainly, he will not give up on his home and his mine to try to find a life elsewhere. He may be tempted to want to "fight for" Elizabeth. But mainly the battle is internal: more of a fighting to get her out of his mind and heart.

Is the novel a romance? Yes and no. Yes. Ross Poldark thinks he's madly in love with Elizabeth. And yes, the novel does chronicle his romance with Demelza towards the end. But in many ways, it is not a romance novel. Readers meet dozens of characters from all social classes, and, we follow their stories. For example, the dramatic relationship of Jinny and Jim Carter or Verity and Captain Blamey. Readers spend a lot of time with the lower classes, seeing the effects of poverty up close. And there is a sense of injustice at times at how they're treated and the very lack of opportunities that keep them trapped right where they are. At times--in certain situations--Ross is understanding and becomes something of their champion. (Not that this becomes his full-time job, righting the wrongs, fighting injustice, giving voice to those without. It doesn't. But he is a hard worker; he does dirty his own hands and work alongside others.) The more he "becomes one of them" the less his own class wants to do with him--or so it seems. There are always exceptions!

Ross can be impulsive in his wanting to do the right thing. For example, when he brings home a thirteen-year-old Demelza to be his servant. Does the girl desperately want to escape her own miserable home life where she's often beaten? Yes. Very much. Once Ross sees the scars on her back and learns her story, he wants to protect her. So he offers a job. But how will everyone else respond? Will her father let her go without a fight? without trouble? Not likely! And what will his own class think of this decision? They find it strange and unusual!

Readers get to spend a lot of time with Demelza, Jud, and Prudie. (And I was pleasantly surprised to find that Prudie and Jud actually like Demelza in the book and aren't trying to rid themselves of her every five minutes.)

(The novel closes in December of 1787). 

Do I have favorite characters? Yes. I really LOVE Verity. And, of course, Ross and Demelza come to mind as well. If I didn't care about them, then I couldn't like the book overall. And I definitely liked it. I loved, loved, loved some scenes of this one. I didn't love every single scene, every single chapter equally. But there were places I just adored this story.

*The first chapter opens with Ross Poldark returning. Technically, the book has a prologue which introduces readers to Joshua Poldark, Ross' father, who is dying.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. What Is It? Fables & Parables For All Readers

Today I thought I’d take a closer look at the differences between fables and parables and come up with some recommendations for readers of all ages who enjoy a little learning with their leisure. A fable is: a short story that conveys a moral to the reader, typically with animals as characters. A parable is: a short story designed […]

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11. The Silmarillion (1977)

The Silmarillion. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1977. 386 pages. [Source: Bought]
 There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony. And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.
I loved reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion. That doesn't mean I found it easy the first time I attempted it. Or even the second. I do think you have to be in the proper mood to fully enjoy it--to appreciate it. There is a beauty to it, a certain grace to the language. Something that you don't see all that often. Something that brings to my mind--at least--the beauty and grace of the Authorized Version of the Bible (KJV). But with that beauty and grace there is a certain strangeness, a foreignness. Something that puts distance between the book and the reader. It's all about the world-building.

The Silmarillion is divided into several sections:
Each section is unique, has its own style or tone. The longest section is Quenta Silmarillion. The section probably with the most reader appeal is Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age.

So is The Silmarillion similar to his other works? Yes and no. There are orcs, dwarves, elves, eagles, dragons, balrogs, wolves, giant spiders, humans, and wizards. And certainly much of The Silmarillion concerns the battle between good and evil. The two main "bad guys" are Melkor (Morgoth) and Sauron. And the book is about greed, ambition, honor, love, and friendship. There's plenty of action, and even some romance. The book features origin or creation stories. So there's a good chance that you can learn more background for putting The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into context. But it does require some patience perhaps. For example, people rarely have one name--they may have up to a dozen! Turin Turambar comes to mind. I wish I'd known about the family trees at the end of the book while I was actually reading it!

Yes, The Silmarillion is beautifully written. But that isn't its only strength. The world-building is incredibly detailed. Its also packed with stories and interesting characters.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. The Semi-Detached House (1859)

The Semi-Detached House. Emily Eden. 1859. 172 pages. [Source: Bought]
"THE only fault of the house is that it is semi-detached." "Oh, Aunt Sarah! you don't mean that you expect me to live in a semi-detached house?" "Why not, my dear, if it suits you in other respects?" "Why, because I should hate my semi-detachment, or whatever the occupants of the other half of the house may call themselves." "They call themselves Hopkinson," continued Aunt Sarah coolly.
I very much enjoyed reading Emily Eden's The Semi-Detached House. This Victorian classic is fun, lively romantic comedy. Readers get to know Blanche, the heroine, and her neighbors well. What do we know about Blanche? Well, she's relatively newly wed--she's expecting her first child--and she's a little too imaginative for her own good. She's always worrying about a thousand things that might go wrong. Her husband will be away from her for three months or so--and she's distraught, as you can imagine. (Having her sister, Aileen, live with her will help.) She knows nothing about her neighbors, and, her neighbors know nothing about her. They will suffer through false impressions at first before becoming very close friends. What do we come to learn about their neighbors? Well, it's a mother and her two grown-daughters. (The daughters are Janet and Rose). (The father, I believe, is a sailor so he's often away at sea.) They are also raising a little boy (grandson, nephew). They still are in very close contact with the boy's father (the son-in-law/brother-in-law) who is a widower "lost" in grief. (His name is Mr. Willis). He's one of the comic figures of the book.  Readers also become acquainted with the neighborhood or community...

"Then the girls have won," said John, "for you are certainly going–I promised Arthur that I would bring you." "Oh, John! How could you? I can't dine out, I'm so fat." "Well, my dear, you can hardly expect to be as slim as you were at seventeen, but you are not half the size of your friend the Baroness; and this one dinner, unless you eat very voraciously, will not make you much fatter." This idea threw Mrs. Hopkinson into one of her most comfortable fits of laughter. "
The idea of Willis making the best of anything was so startling, such a very astonishing novelty, that this announcement was received much as the intimation of a great misfortune would have been from anybody else.
The Baroness wore a gown of such very bright yellow that the sun was affronted and went in.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

When the news of a long-hidden sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird was announced, we decided to reread it together as a refresher before Go Set a Watchman is released. Please join the discussion below!Our backgrounds with the book Wendy: I loved this book when I read it in high school, though I have to admit that in the years since, I associate it strongly with the film. It’s one of those cases where the movie captured the ideals and feel of the source material so well that I think of them almost interchangeably. And with this re-read, I listened to the audiobook performed by  Sissy Spacek, which was wonderful! So now I’ll forever remember all three things as perfectly complementary. Layla: I … don’t think I’d read this book before! Which is weird, because I felt like I had at some point, but then, as I was reading this, recognized... Read more »

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14. G+D Vintage Books: The Animals' Vacation and Mr. Wishing Went Fishing

Growing up in the 1970s, I was well positioned to enjoy picture books from my mother's childhood and, along with Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight's Eloise, Little Golden Books were always a favorite of mine. When my two oldest children were little, it was hard to find the classic Little Golden Books that I remembered, but in 2001 they reissued many of the vintage titles that I had been missing.

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15. Redefining beauty in the suburbs of Victorian London

The British Museum’s current blockbuster show, Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art, amasses a remarkable collection of classical sculpture focusing on the human body. The most intriguing part of the show for me was the second room, “Body colour,” which displays plaster casts of several Greek sculptures brightly painted in green, blue, yellow, red and pink. The press has not known what to make of “Body colour.” It has been met with surprise, sneers, or been entirely ignored in otherwise glowing reviews.

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16. Classic Readalong Discussion: Hatchet

In the first chapter of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, 13-year-old Brian is the only passenger in a single engine plane when the pilot has a heart attack and dies. 7000 feet above the wilderness and wildly off course, he eventually crashes into a lake..and must find a way to survive. On his own. Without food or shelter. Believe it or not, the stakes only get higher from there. Let’s begin! (Beware spoilers, as usual.) Wendy: I’m a big fan of survival and naturalistic stories, having loved Sign of the Beaver and The Yearling and Where the Red Fern Grows as a kid. But somehow this one passed me by, so I’m glad Kim suggested it for our classics series. Kim: This was one of the few offerings in my 5th grade classroom’s “library” that actually interested me, and holy hell did little Kim devour it. I like survival fiction because of... Read more »

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17. Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales

The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth. Translated by Maria Tatar. 2015. Penguin. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I loved reading this collection of newly discovered fairy tales. Franz Xaver Von Schronwerth was a contemporary of  the Grimm brothers. His fairy tales were collected in the 1850s in Bavaria. His manuscripts were recently rediscovered--or discovered--and translated into English.

The book is divided into six sections: "Tales of Magic and Romance," "Enchanted Animals," "Otherworldly Creatures," "Legends," "Tall Tales and Anecdotes," and "Tales About Nature." Some sections have more stories than others.

Most of the stories tend to be short. How short is short? Well, the shortest in the collection are just one page. (Plenty are three pages or so.)

Commentary is provided for each story at the back of the book. The commentary provides context for the story, often describing the type of story it is, and what other stories it's like. 

I found the book to be a quick read and a delightful one. I enjoyed reading all the stories. It was a fun way to spend the weekend.

Is it for children? No. Probably more for adults. But I think that's a good thing. Adults need treats too.

The Turnip Princess
One day a prince lost his ways in the woods. He found shelter in a cave and slept there for the night. When he woke up, an old woman was hovering over him. She had a bear by her side and treated it like a pet dog. The old woman was very kind to the prince. She wanted him to live with her and become her husband. The prince did not like her at all, but he was unable to leave. (3)
The Talking Bird, The Singing Tree, and The Sparkling Stream
A nobleman had three daughters, each more beautiful than the next. One day the girls were sitting in the royal gardens, chattering away about their wishes and dreams. The eldest wanted to marry the king's counselor, the second hoped to marry his chamberlain, and the third declared that she would be quite satisfied with the king himself. It happened that the king was also in the gardens, and he overheard the entire conversation. He summoned the three sisters to ask them what they had been talking about in the garden. The first two confessed everything; the youngest was less eager to do so. But then all at once the king declared: "Your three wishes will be granted." (71)
The Three Spindles
A young farmer's daughter got herself in trouble, and her parents threw her out of the house. She wandered around aimlessly until finally, in desperation, she sat down on a tree stump with three crosses carved into it. She began to weep. Suddenly a wood sprite raced toward her, pursued by a group of frenzied hunters. The girl jumped to her feet to make room for the sprite, for she knew that it would find safety there from what where known as the devil's hunters, hordes of demons that rode in with the winter storms. (107)
The Mouse Catcher, or, The Boy and the Beetle
Once there was a village so badly infested with mice that no one knew what to do. A stranger arrived in town and told the farmers that he would be able to get rid of the mice. They promised him a generous reward in return. The stranger pulled out a little whistle and blew into it. All the mice in the village ran after the man, who took them to a big pond, where they all drowned. The stranger returned to the village and asked for his reward. But the farmers refused to give him the full amount. The man blew into another little whistle, and this time all the children in the village came running after him. (175)
The Talker
There once lived a couple, and they were both stupid is as stupid does. The wife ruled the roost, and one day she sent her husband to the marketplace to sell their cow. "Whatever you do, don't sell it to talker," she shouted as he was going out the door. "Did you hear me? Don't sell it to talker." Her husband promised to do just as she had said. (187)
Sir Wind and His Wife
The wind and his wife were both present at the creation of the world. The two were overweight, and on top of that, Sir Wind had a long beard that wrapped around his body three times. Still, both were able to pass easily through a mere crack in a wall, or any opening at all, for that matter. (205)
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

A Ring of Endless Light is a book not as many readers seem to be familiar with, even though the author is so well known for A Wrinkle in Time. We’re trying to help change that! This book is realistic fiction with an element of science fiction, and even if you weren’t able to read along with us this month, we hope that the discussion below encourages you to check it out in the future. As always, there will be some spoilers, however. Wendy: I’ve loved this book since I was a teenager, but it’s been years since I read it. To this day, I still think of “resilient pewter” whenever I see a dolphin! And it’s also why I was veering between marine biology and paleontology for a long time. (Spoiler alert: I went into neither. Alas.) Kim: I had never read it before! A Wrinkle In Time is the only other... Read more »

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19. Ayala's Angel (1881)

Ayala's Angel. Anthony Trollope. 1881. 631 pages. [Source: Bought]

I love, love, love reading Anthony Trollope. So is anyone surprised that I loved Ayala's Angel?! Probably not. It's almost a given with me. Still Ayala's Angel came highly recommended to me by my best friend, so that's one of the reasons why it made my 2015 TBR Pile challenge list. This one will also count towards my Victorian Bingo challenge and my Victorian Perpetual Bingo challenge. I'll talk more about the Victorian Bingo challenge later.

Ayala and Lucy are the young heroines of Ayala's Angels. These two are sisters; they are orphans. One aunt and uncle are wealthy. (Sir Thomas Tringle, Lady Tringle). They've agreed to take one of the sisters, Ayala. She is selected by Lady Tringle because she is oh-so-remarkable and oh-so-beautiful. The other aunt and uncle are poor. (Reginald and Margaret Dosett). They've agreed to take the other sister, Lucy. (Lady Tringle insisted on having first choice. In all honesty, Mr. and Mrs. Dosett don't care which girl they get, they don't have a favorite niece.) Readers spend time with both sisters during this adjustment period. I believe readers first spend time with Lucy. Lucy struggles with her new home. She wasn't a big spender or socialite before, but, her new life leaves something to be desired. It's all work, work, work, talk about work and duty. Next readers spend time with Ayala. For better or worse, it's all: Oh, poor me, boys keep falling in love with me! Men falling in love with me at first sight is too big a burden for me to bear! I'm oh-so-miserable! Pity me, please!!! I exaggerate slightly. Still Lady Tringle notices that Ayala is something of a problem. How will she marry off her own daughters with Ayala around?! (Augusta and Gertrude definitely notice that Ayala gets all the attention. Augusta and Gertrude are lesser heroines of the novel. They have their own stories to a certain degree. Particularly Gertrude).  Something must be done!!! Especially when it comes to her notice that her very own son is IN LOVE with Ayala. This simply won't do at all. Ayala must go. Let the girls switch places again. How will Ayala cope with poverty and boredom? How will Lucy cope with society and expectations?

Ayala's Angel is all about courtship and marriage. Young women and men are expected to marry well, to pair off with the approval of all concerned. Love may have little to do with it. Money may have a lot to do with it. Ayala is firm--if she ever marries, it will be the man of her choosing. Or, perhaps, the ANGEL of her choosing. For no mere mortal will do for Ayala. Her fantasy is over-the-top. She knows exactly WHAT she's looking for in a husband.

I've shared a bit about the women in the novel. But what about the men?!

Tom Tringle is in love with his cousin Ayala. He is madly in love with her, persistently making declarations and offers. He wants EVERYONE to know how SERIOUS he is about Ayala, how she is the ONLY ONE he could ever love, ever.

Captain Benjamin Batsby falls in love with Ayala quite quickly. But, unlike dear Tom, he takes Ayala at her word after several rejections. Ayala may be beautiful enough, he supposes, but the only girl in the world she is not!

Colonel Jonathan Stubbs is in love with Ayala. In his favor, perhaps, is the fact that Ayala can stand being in the same room with him. She isn't repulsed by the idea of talking with him, walking with him. But he's not an "angel" so he won't have an easy job getting Ayala to say yes. 

Frank Houston is one of the few men in the novel NOT in love with Ayala! One of the reasons might just be that he is looking to marry a WEALTHY woman, and Ayala is decidedly not. He has a plan to marry Gertrude if and only if he can persuade Sir Thomas Tringle into "blessing" the marriage. Another good reason that he doesn't fall for Ayala is that he's already in love with his cousin, Imogene Docimer.

Isadore Hamel is another young man NOT in love with Ayala. He's Lucy's forever-love. It's easy to respect him because he isn't silly or mercenary.

Septimus Traffick. I couldn't help liking him a little bit. It probably helped that I kept imagining him as being played by Ben Miles! Sir Thomas Tringle and Lady Tringle approve of him for their daughter, Augusta, primarily because he's in parliament. In truth, he's not got money of his own. And he seems to plan to live off the Tringles forever. Not just living off the money he's given his daughter, but, to live with the family.

So most of the book is focused on who will end up together...

I loved this one. I didn't necessarily "love" each and every character. But I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I really did love a few of the characters. (I was cheering for Colonel Stubbs!!!)

So where do I count Ayala's Angel for the Victorian Bingo?!
  • male author
  • Anthony Trollope
  • book that you wish had been adapted into a movie
  • book published in the 1880s
  • book over 400 pages long
  • book with a name as the title
  • book set in England

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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I guess you know I'm not a "real" old-school Science Fiction person - "real" Science Fiction people can make it through H.P. Lovecraft. I can't. I've tried. It's not his labyrinthine sentence structure and 19th century word choices - I've read a lot... Read the rest of this post

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21. Guess How Much I Love You Celebrates 20 Years

This year, Sam McBratney’s timeless, endearing story of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare, Guess How Much I Love You, turns 20!

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22. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic

Hansel and Gretel

By The Brothers Grimm; Pictures by Eloise Wilkin

A Little Golden Book


I venture to guess most, if not all, of the Baby Boomers that are now grandparents, grew up reading these books.

Starting in 1942, they originally sold at the ginormous price of 25 cents! Yes, for one quarter of a dollar, your child could read the likes of “The Pokey Little Puppy”, “Tootle the Train”, “Scuffy the Tugboat”, “The Saggy Baggy Elephant”, “The Shy Little Kitten”, “The Tawney Scrawny Lion”, “The Little Red Caboose”, “Mother Goose”, “Prayers for Children”, “Three Little Children” and a slew of other initially published titles.These small books soon found their way into households, hands and eventually the hearts of young readers everywhere. And they have stood the test of time, with the authors and illustrators whose artistry created them. That is my definition of a classic picture book read and Little Golden Books are classics.

Their lure was not merely their attractive price, but their writers and illustrators were the likes of Garth Williams, illustrator of “The Little House on the Prairie” series, “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little”, Margaret Wise Brown of “Goodnight Moon” fame, Richard Scarry, Trina Schart Hyman, James Marshall, and Alice and Martin Provensen to name but a very few.

These people made artistry and great narrative available to every child that had a quarter. That, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing.

Guess the reason I keep bringing these classic books forward in the Way Back Wednesday segment of The Snuggery is that I firmly believe their artistic value needs to be brought forward again and again so a new generation can see them and hopefully love them as we Boomers did.

I had a first hand experience of the impact they had on one child now grown to be an artist that did covers for Penguin paperback books. Bill had, as a child, a well loved copy of “Scuffy the Tugboat.” It somehow was lost in the passage of time. When he spoke of this book, and its story and art, you could tell it had affected his life, AND maybe even his future profession as artist.

So I made up my mind to find an original of this Little Golden Book. It took a while, but I did it. Wish you could’ve been there when I put the book in his hands. It was really something to see him gently thumb the pages of a book he had treasured as a child and could practically recite as a adult.

Books DO affect young readers for a lifetime.

So, why not perhaps revisit YOUR journey with these wonderful Little Golden Books and launch a new discovery, via your own grandchildren, children or a young reader you know?

Please go and rediscover a Little Golden Book with your little ones. It’s way past time!

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23. Celebrate the Brothers Grimm

Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version

By Philip Pullman


A picture book author friend of mine put me on to this title. I’m pretty excited to share it with all of you parents, grands and just about any one that reads to children.

Just a thumbnail sketch of who the author is might read that Mr. Pullman’s previous “Dark Materials” is a three book trilogy.

The first book was made into a movie in 2007 called “The Golden Compass”with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Did not do so wonderfully well at the box office here, and, in an article I read as I was writing this piece, indicated the less than stellar box office performance was due in part to a reaction from some people’s concerns that it might be anti-Christian in tone or promote atheism to children. That said, here is his book on fairy tales that is great.

Did you know that we celebrated recently the 200th anniversary, of the first volume publishing of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s book called “Children’s and Household Tales?” That event provided the impetus for this book, in fact.

Our imaginations have reveled in these tales for two hundred years. And here, Mr. Pullman takes 50 of his favorites and retells them. One of its highlights are the “Commentaries” he includes at the end of each tale. These are small gems that provide a window into the tales’ sources, their various forms over the years and why their appeal has lasted. Have my own ideas on that topic, too. Fairy tales are not just entertaining. They allow children to confront unconscious fears they cannot name, but only imagine.

Witness the story of “Hansel and Gretel.” Here the fear might be called abandonment or a loss of one’s parents. The tales are both entertaining AND therapeutic in a way!

Mr. Hoffman has included the popular favorites such as “Cinderella”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”and “Rapunzel.”

But, I was excited to see some of the lesser known titles that I remember were included in a book with golden imprinting on the front and a red binding that my mom gave us. I still have it and it too had some of the lesser known tales Mr. Hoffman includes here: “Jorinda and Joringel” “The Shoes that Were Danced to Pieces”, and “Bearskin.”

The American poet, James Merrill is quoted in the introduction to this book. He discusses two characteristics of the fairy tale: the “serene anonymous voice”that relates the narrative and the collection of stock characters that inhabit the tales.

Perhaps you might try a bit of an experiment with your young readers. I am planning to do the same with my story time 3-5 year olds. Ask them to “imagine” the story! Ask them to picture the setting, characters and action in their minds. Perhaps start off with the shorter tales and move on from there.

I’m convinced young ones need small, continual doses of this kind of reading. Their world is literal and very visual. The technology that floods their days, while admittedly amazing, and a continuing part of the world they will grow up in, may not allow the time or leisure to build the imaginative mind nor their attention span.

This book, I believe, is a way for your child to build BOTH.

And there is an extra bonus here. You, too can be re-enchanted as you read some favorites from your own childhood and discover some new ones from the brothers Grimm.

Do you remember the phrase “spinning a yarn” that refers to telling a story? Well, what miller’s daughter, do you remember, spun straw into gold and was backed into a bargain by a tiny man with a silly name?

Did you know that having a mate that could spin was a much prized skill set in a wife in days gone by? And, if she could spin AND produce gold, so much the better. So, the king in “Rumpelstiltskin”  must have thought he was receiving a very worthy prize by marrying the miller’s daughter, no? Bet HE couldn’t spin worth a dime! Found these pieces of info in the “Commentaries” following each tale.

Spin your own straw into gold by reading the pages of this wonderful book to young readers on these rainy spring afternoons and evenings. Transport both of you to a compelling and pretty complete collection of Jacob and Wilhelm’s tales.

Celebrate their storytelling anniversary that’s lasted 200 years and counting….and still continues!






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24. A Blast from the Past: Big Little Books®...

Growing up, I remember having a good chunk of my bookshelf filled with Big Little Books®. Titles like Black Beauty, The Last of the Mohicans, Ivanhoe, Robin Hood and other classics entertained me throughout the late 60s and well into the 70s. They were the coolest books that snuggled nicely into the palm of my hand, and gave me such pleasure as a child. I literally lost myself in those books. Swimming with these nostalgic thoughts and feelings got me wondering how these fascinating and unique books started out. So…I did a little digging.

During the 1930s, as movies, radio, pulps, and comic strips developed, the Big Little Books® appeared on the scene. The product was small, stubby, thick, and inexpensive. The books drew much source material from motion pictures, radio, and comic strips and successfully competed with pulp magazines and comic books until the end of the decade. They served to promote films and radio programs and were produced in such quantities that they could be sold for a dime.

In 1932 the seemingly paradoxical term Big Little Book® was given to certain books published by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. The term promised the buyer a great amount of reading material and pleasure (BIG) within a small and compact (LITTLE) book. These Whitman books set the standards for similar books, and Whitman's copyrighted description has become popularized in a generic way to umbrella similar books.

The first BLB, The Adventures of Dick Tracy, came off the presses just before Christmas in 1932. It
preceded the first true comic book by a year, and the subsequent BLB production spanned more than a half century. Within the span, there are historical patterns which clearly define three major periods of publication.

The Golden Age (1932 to mid-1938) is a description reserved for the most interesting, influential, and memorable production of the books. These were the true Big Little Books®. During this period, the effects of the depression were still being felt, and numerous publishers besides Whitman produced inexpensive BLB-type reading materials of great variety. In mid-1938 the two major companies, Whitman and Saalfield, made major changes in their trademarks (Whitman's Big Little Books® became Better Little Books® and Saalfield's Little Big Books® became Jumbo Books®).

The Silver Age (mid-1938 to 1949) produced a less innovative set of books. Their production was influenced by the growing comic book market and paper shortages during WWII. The number of competitive companies diminished. Only Whitman maintained a continuous output of books through the war years. It used the "flip-it" feature extensively to attract buyers, and as these years went by, the books gradually contained fewer and fewer pages. In 1949, the last Better Little Book®, Little Orphan Annie and the Ancient Treasure of Am (288 pages) was published.

The Modern Age (1950 to the present) is characterized by more than 40 years of sporadic and short-
lived attempts to revive the books in different forms and with different content: New Better Little Books® (1949-50); BLB TV Series® (1958); the hard cover 2000-Series (1967-68); the soft cover 5700-Series (1973-present). During this period, Whitman became subsumed under the auspices of the Western Publishing Company.

So if you’re wandering through a garage sale or flea market and happen to spot a Big Little Book® in a pile of dog-earred novels, do yourself a favor and buy it. It just may be the start of a beautiful relationship between a child you know, and the written word.

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25. Miss Marjoribanks (1866)

Miss Marjoribanks. Margaret Oliphant. 1866. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Miss Marjoribanks lost her mother when she was only fifteen, and when, to add to the misfortune, she was absent at school, and could not have it in her power to soothe her dear mamma's last moments, as she herself said. Words are sometimes very poor exponents of such an event: but it happens now and then, on the other hand, that a plain intimation expresses too much, and suggests emotion and suffering which, in reality, have but little, if any, existence.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Margaret Oliphant's Miss Marjoribanks. Within a few chapters, I was going Why did NO ONE tell me how absolutely, wonderful this book is?!  Even before I finished it, I  had decided that I would NEED to read more Oliphant in the future. A lot more. (Which book should I seek out next?!)

Lucilla Marjoribanks is the heroine. She's clever and stubborn, more than a little ambitious, and manipulative but well-intentioned. I also want to add that her manners are phenomenal; she's a proper lady. Readers meet plenty of characters: men and women of all ages, both upper and lower class.

So the novel opens with Lucilla learning of her mother's death. She resolves then and there to be a comfort to her father. Her father wants Lucilla to stay in school, and, later go on a tour of Europe. But when Lucilla is nineteen, it is inevitable that she will return home to Carlingford and start being a comfort to her dear father. He's hesitant at first, as is his cook, but within a day--or two at most--she's got them both. They love and adore her. Her reign has begun without a bit of resistance.

Lucilla has plans. Not just for her father and the household (a new makeover for various rooms). But for Carlingford. She wants to make a great society. She'll host her Thursday Evenings, and the town will be changed for the better, for the most part.

As part of her project, Lucilla "rescues" Barbara Lake from the lower class (she's a drawing master's daughter) to sing duets with her on Thursday evenings. Barbara doesn't exactly like "being a project" of Lucilla's. Part of her hates the idea of a rich woman condescending to her and elevating her position--once a week--for entertainment purposes. On the other hand, she does love to sing. And one of the men who attends is quite swoon-worthy, and he flirts with her. So the evening isn't a complete waste.

The book is essentially two stories in one. The first story occurs when she's nineteen and just getting started with her Carlingford project. She's young, beautiful, smart, ambitious. And most everyone is of the opinion that she will soon marry. Despite her protests that she will not marry for at least ten years so that she can be a comfort to her father. A handful of neighbors introduce various young men to her. One of the eligible suitors is Mr. Cavendish. (Cavendish is the one who can't help flirting with Barbara Lake). The other two "eligible" suitors don't seem all that interested in Miss Marjoribanks. (One (a general) falls in love at first sight with Barbara's sister, Rose, who happens to be visiting Lucilla because she's worried about her sister. The other (Archdeacon Beverley) coincidentally is the first-lost-love of one of Lucilla's friends--another project of sorts, her name is Mrs. Mortimer.) The second story occurs when she's twenty-nine. It mainly centers around Miss Marjoribanks schemes to get Mr. Ashburton elected to parliament.

The book is part romance, part comedy, part drama. I LOVED everything about it. I loved the characterization. I loved the narration. I loved the plot. I loved that it wasn't predictable--at least not to me!

There are people who talk of themselves, and think of themselves, as it were, under protest, and with depreciation, not actually able to convince themselves that anybody cares; but Lucilla, for her part, had the calmest and most profound conviction that, when she discussed her own doings and plans and clevernesses, she was bringing forward the subject most interesting to her audience as well as to herself. Such a conviction is never without its fruits. To be sure, there were always one or two independent spirits who revolted; but for the crowd, it soon became impressed with a profound belief in the creed which Miss Marjoribanks supported so firmly.
At other times she had been a visitor; now she had come into her kingdom, and had no desire to be received like a guest.
But it was only in the morning that Lucilla unfolded her standard. She was down to breakfast, ready to pour out the coffee, before the Doctor had left his room. He found her, to his intense amazement, seated at the foot of the table, in the place which he usually occupied himself, before the urn and the coffee-pot. Dr Marjoribanks hesitated for one momentous instant, stricken dumb by this unparalleled audacity; but so great was the effect of his daughter's courage and steadiness, that after that moment of fate he accepted the seat by the side where everything was arranged for him, and to which Lucilla invited him sweetly, though not without a touch of mental perturbation. The moment he had seated himself, the Doctor's eyes were opened to the importance of the step he had taken. "I am afraid I have taken your seat, papa," said Miss Marjoribanks, with ingenuous sweetness. "But then I should have had to move the urn, and all the things, and I thought you would not mind."
The Doctor's formidable housekeeper conducted her young mistress downstairs afterwards, and showed her everything with the meekness of a saint. Lucilla had won a second victory still more exhilarating and satisfactory than the first; for, to be sure, it is no great credit to a woman of nineteen to make a man of any age throw down his arms; but to conquer a woman is a different matter, and Lucilla was thoroughly sensible of the difference. Now, indeed, she could feel with a sense of reality that her foundations were laid.
Lucilla, who was liberal, as genius ought always to be, was perfectly willing that all the young ladies in Carlingford should sing their little songs while she was entertaining her guests; and then at the right moment, when her ruling mind saw it was necessary, would occur the duet—the one duet which would be the great feature of the evening. Thus it will be seen that another quality of the highest order developed itself during Miss Marjoribanks's deliberations; for, to tell the truth, she set a good deal of store by her voice, and had been used to applause, and had tasted the sweetness of individual success.
There is nothing one cannot manage if one only takes the trouble.
"I am always afraid of a cousin, for my part," said Mrs Chiley; "and talking of that, what do you think of Mr Cavendish, Lucilla? He is very nice in himself, and he has a nice property; and some people say he has a very good chance to be member for Carlingford when there is an election. I think that is just what would suit you."
Thus all the world contemplated with excitement the first Thursday which was to open this enchanted chamber to their admiring eyes. "Don't expect any regular invitation," Miss Marjoribanks said. "I hope you will all come, or as many of you as can. Papa has always some men to dinner with him that day, you know, and it is so dreadfully slow for me with a heap of men. That is why I fixed on Thursday. I want you to come every week, so it would be absurd to send an invitation; and remember it is not a party, only an Evening," said Lucilla.
It was when she was in this unhappy humour that her eye fell upon Mr Cavendish, who was in the act of making the appeal to Lucilla which we have already recorded. Barbara had never as yet had a lover, but she had read an unlimited number of novels, which came to nearly the same thing, and she saw at a glance that this was somebody who resembled the indispensable hero. She looked at him with a certain fierce interest, and remembered at that instant how often in books it is the humble heroine, behind backs, whom all the young ladies snub, who wins the hero at the last. And then Miss Marjoribanks, though she sent him away, smiled benignantly upon him. The colour flushed to Barbara's cheeks, and her eyes, which had grown dull and fixed between fright and spite, took sudden expression under her straight brows. An intention, which was not so much an intention as an instinct, suddenly sprang into life within her, and, without knowing, she drew a long breath of eagerness and impotence. He was standing quite near by this time, doing his duty according to Miss Marjoribanks's orders, and flirting with all his might; and Barbara looked at him as a hungry schoolboy might be supposed to look at a tempting apple just out of his reach. How was she to get at this suitor of Lucilla's?
As for poor Barbara, she is only a little shy, but that will soon wear off. I don't see what need she has to talk—or to move either, for that matter. I thought she did very well indeed for a girl who never goes into society. Was it not clever of me to find her out the very first day I was in Carlingford? It has always been so difficult to find a voice that went perfectly with mine."
"I always make it a point never to shock anybody's prejudices," said Miss Marjoribanks. "I should do just the same with them as with other people; all you have to do is to show from the first that you mean to be good friends with everybody. But then I am so lucky: I can always get on with people," said Lucilla, rising to greet the two unfortunates who had come to Colonel Chiley's to spend a merry Christmas, and who did not know what to do with themselves.
It was rather vexatious, to tell the truth; for to see a man so near the point and not even to have the satisfaction of refusing him, is naturally aggravating to a woman.
If there was one thing in the world more than another which contented Lucilla, it was to be appealed to and called upon for active service. It did her heart good to take the management of incapable people, and arrange all their affairs for them, and solve all their difficulties. Such an office was more in her way than all the Archdeacons in the world.

For even the aid of Miss Marjoribanks was as nothing against dead selfishness and folly, the two most invincible forces in the world.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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