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Archive for October, 2012

I really want to thank everyone who has read & commented on my preceding post. However, I have been overwhelmed with responding to comments & would just like everyone to know that I will no longer be approving comments that contain alternative arguments. I will continue to approve comments which are supportive, but will not be responding to them.

It was never my intention to turn my classics book blog into a place for political argument. My blog is essentially nothing more than a place for me to chat with other readers and to post my thoughts about books and communicate with other readers about books. I have never received as much traffic as this post has generated, and I never expected to get the kind of traffic that this post has generated – I am accustomed to site views per day in numbers far below 100, and that particular post has generated site views in the thousands per day.

So, having said that, do not attempt to post comments complaining that I have not left open a place for an alternative viewpoint. They will not be approved and they will be deleted. This is my blog. If you want to generate an argument/discussion, you can start your own blog, or you can log on to one of the many places on the internet where those sorts of discussions regularly occur.

Again, thank you to everyone who has read and commented on this post. I really don’t like the place it has taken my blog and will not be doing it again. If you followed my blog in the hopes of seeing more posts along these lines, I encourage you to unfollow, unless you enjoy reading posts about The Hobbit, Frankenstein, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charles Dickens.

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I apologize in advance, because this post has nothing to do with books, classics or otherwise.

But I’ve been watching a lot of Republican candidates for federal office saying a lot of stuff about pregnancy and rape, and pregnancies resulting from rape, over the last several weeks, and I am simply unable to keep my mouth shut any longer. Because as all of my friends know, I’ve been prosecuting rape, child abuse and homicide for over a decade and a half, and this is a subject that I happen to know quite a lot about. And I am deeply disturbed by the personhood movement, by the idea that there should be specified exceptions to a blanket criminalization of abortion, and by the fact that the group of mostly men propounding this policy seem to have absolutely no FREAKING idea what they are actually trying to do here. Since I think that my perspective as a prosecutor might be relevant, I intend to provide it. Read on if you want to hear it. Skip this if you don’t.

First off, I want to talk about an abortion ban that leaves exceptions in place only for instances of rape, incest or life of the mother. The first thing that I want to say about this policy is this: this is a pro-choice position. The proponents can call it whatever the hell they want, but the bottom line is that this position is pro-choice. A person who takes this position is acknowledging that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy. What we are actually quibbling about here is who gets to decide when the woman’s reason is good enough. With the classic pro-choice position, the person who gets to decide if the woman’s reason is good enough is the woman. Herself. The rape/incest exception people – their position is that they get to decide if someone else’s (i.e., some other woman’s) reason is good enough. I am pro-her-choice. They are pro-their-choice.

In addition, however, to the extraordinary presumption and paternalism inherent in the position that you – whoever you are – should have more control than the pregnant woman over her reproductive future, is the absolutely, unequivocally impossible enforcement situation that this policy would create. So, we criminalize abortion but leave in place exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. As a policy matter, what does this mean?

Well, it involves me. That is pretty much a certainty, because I am a prosecutor and I prosecute people accused of crimes. So if we find ourselves in a situation where women who get abortions that don’t fall under one of those exceptions have committed a crime, then I’m going to be the one making the decisions about what happens next. That’s my job. And I have to say, I am more than a little bit uncomfortable about being legally mandated to prosecute other women because they have terminated a pregnancy when it is a bunch of non-pregnant people – many of whom are men who can’t even become pregnant – who don’t think her reason was “good enough” to be “legal”.

But, please, enlighten me. How do I decide if prosecution is warranted? And, by the way, how does a woman who qualifies for one of these exceptions go about availing herself of the exception? Are we going to take the pregnant woman’s word for it that she was raped (somehow I suspect that the answer to this question will be “no”)? Is there going to be a form that she has to fill out? Will she be placed under oath? Will there be post-abortion investigations by the police to ensure that she was truthful when she said that she was raped? If we aren’t going to just take her word for it, what will be the mechanism for fact finding we will use?

Will there be some sort of hearing, in a public courtroom, before a judge, where a woman is required to prove that she was raped? How much humiliation will we require the woman to endure during this hearing? Will her attire at the time of the “rape” be relevant? How about her reputation for chastity? Will Rule 412 apply? Will she be subject to cross-examination? Will she have the right to counsel, court appointed if she cannot afford to her own lawyer? Who will represent the interests of the state/fetus? Will it be someone like me, with a similar job title? What will the burden of proof be for the hearing? How will we expedite the hearing so that the abortion can occur within the appropriate time frame, given that there is a window of opportunity that cannot be missed? Will there be an appeal process? Has ANYONE who wants to criminalize abortion while leaving open some exceptions spent even seven seconds considering any of these questions?

But wait, there’s more! What about statutory sex crimes involving children? What if the “woman” is really a child of 11, and the perpetrator is a 35-year-old predator who met her on the internet, groomed her, and then had sex with her? Is it still a rape, even though he didn’t use force to compel compliance? Who gets to decide if the child victim should be permitted to have an abortion? If you are her parent, do you seriously think that some pro-life, conservative Christian judge should be empowered to tell you what is in the best interest of your eleven-year-old, 75 pound, emotionally-ravaged baby girl’s health and welfare? How about some jackass who just happens to be the duly elected Senator from Indiana, but who has absolutely no credentials related to mental health or pediatrics or child development? Where does that guy get the authority to tell you that this pregnancy is what God intended, and that therefore you are going to spend the next eighteen years raising the child of the man who raped your fifth grader while he spends the next quarter century enjoying three hots and a cot courtesy of the taxpayers and the Department of Corrections? And what if your daughter dies in childbirth? Will you be expected to take solace in the fact that, according to the likes of Richard Mourdock, this was all a part of God’s great plan for your family?

Oh, and, what if the rapist denies that it was a rape (rapists do this, sometimes. This may come as a shock. I am sorry to destroy your illusions)? What if I – the prosecutor – determine that there is insufficient evidence to charge the defendant with the crime of rape. Criminal charges require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That is a really high burden. What if I believe it happened, but I don’t think that I can prove it. Does that mean the woman wasn’t raped for purposes of the rape/incest exception?

This is what happens when we start second-guessing reproductive health decisions being made by pregnant girls and women. We wade into a thicket where, suddenly, lawyers and judges and police officers are making decisions that we are so incredibly ill-equipped to make. Where people like me end up telling pregnant women, “hey, what happened to you wasn’t horrifying enough for ME to allow YOU to terminate this pregnancy. Sorry. But remember, this is all part of God’s plan for you.”

And then, to take it one step further (and I apologize, because I know this is really long and if you haven’t stopped reading by now, you undoubtedly really want to) what happens if there really is a law that declares a cluster of cells moments after the joining of the egg and the sperm a person? What does that mean?

Well, what it potentially means under the law of my state is this: any person who intentionally causes the death of a person under the age of 14 years has committed the crime of aggravated murder. A person is defined as a human being who has been born alive. But if the federal government changes that definition, then well, does that make abortion a potential death penalty offense?

So, personhood for a cluster of cells means that abortion could equal aggravated murder. Really, do Republicans want us prosecuting girls and women for the aggravated homicide of their zygotes? Is that the plan here? Do they actually want to impose the death penalty, or will life in prison be sufficient to satisfy their pathological need to punish women for the crime of being sexually active? Of course, if the woman is guilty, so is the man who facilitates her in procuring an abortion – boys, if you take your girlfriend to Planned Parenthood for an abortion, we’re going to imprison you both for murder. It’s called a “conspiracy.” In case you were wondering.

But if that isn’t their goal, if they would say “of course we don’t want that,” well, then, I have to ask, “what the hell do you want?” Because if you actually believe that a zygote is a person, then how can you demand anything less than justice for the murder victim? Acceptance of less than full accountability means that the zygote has less meaningful protection for its personhood than other persons. And if you can accept this, then it must mean that you don’t actually think it is a person, because we don’t have degrees of personhood in this country. If it is a person, then it absolutely must enjoy the same rights and protections of every other person. So, if you aren’t actually prepared to deal with the consequences that flow from granting it those rights and protections, then you cannot justify calling it a person. Words have power and meaning, and if even you don’t really think it is a person, then what the fuck are we all having this discussion for?

These positions are based upon a certain religious perspective. I have one of those, too. In my world, God is never present at the scene of a rape. And, unless you’ve been raped, you cannot understand what it is like to be raped, and you should shut your effing pie hole about it. You do not tell a pregnant victim to make lemonade out of lemons. Having a daughter who is an unwed mother is not like having a daughter who was raped, nor is it like being a woman who was raped. There is no biological imperative that prevents a woman who was raped from becoming pregnant. And your belief in your God has absolutely nothing to do with my, or anyone else’s, decisions about reproductive health or family size or status.

And all of this chatter and talk is offensive, it is demeaning, it is patronizing, and it is unconscionable. As someone who has worked with rape victims – including some who were pregnant, some who were children, and some who were pregnant children – for over a decade, I would strongly suggest that you all think a little harder about what you really want here and about what you are really proposing. And then, when you’re done with this thinking process that you should have engaged in BEFORE you started shooting your mouths off, please do me the courtesy of leaving me (and the critically important work that I, and people just like me, do every day to advance the causes of justice and public safety in our communities) the HELL out of your overweening compulsion to control the lives and pregnancies of a bunch of girls and women you have never met and will never meet.

And one more thing. Stop with the pandering bullshit about “small government.” Because no person who seeks to require government officials to be involved in litigation over the fertility of the uteruses of all of the women who reside in their jurisdictions can credibly claim to be a proponent of small government.

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According to dictionary.com:

streak: noun
1. a long, narrow mark, smear, band of color, or the like: streaks of mud.
2. a portion or layer of something, distinguished by color or nature from the rest; a vein or stratum: streaks of fat in meat.
3. a vein, strain, or admixture of anything: a streak of humor.
4. Informal .
a spell or run: a streak of good luck.
b. an uninterrupted series: The team had a losing streak of ten games.
5. a flash leaving a visible line or after effect, as of lightning; bolt.

Therefore, the phrase “reading streak” could fairly be defined as: an uninterrupted period in which I and my son have read together on a daily basis, so far lasting for more than one year.

Why a reading streak? My son, Nick, is 12 years old, and was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. He was 11 when we began the reading streak, and he is a reluctant reader at best. It is more accurate to say that he is not a fan of reading, which is what he would tell you if you had occasion to speak to him. But he does love stories. A year or so ago, I read an article on NPR about a book written by a young woman named Alice Ozma called “The Reading Promise” which described her father/daughter reading streak that lasted over 9 years.

To say that this inspired me is an understatement. I’ve always read aloud to my kids, but I can’t say that we had done so with that much consistency. My daughter, age 15 at the time, was much too busy to make a commitment with me. But my son, not only was he young enough to still enjoy reading aloud, he struggles with reading. I felt that I could really benefit him, his skills, his vocabulary and his language, by making this commitment to read together every single night for a year. And so, beginning on October 1, 2011, we started our reading streak.

In that year, we’ve read The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth Speare, Bull Run, by Paul Fleischman, The Tower at the End of the World by Brad Strickland, and then, we made what felt like an ambitious decision to read the entire Harry Potter series aloud. All 4,500 or so pages of it. And so we did – we read our way through the shorter three books fairly quickly. At some point during the series, it became almost one long book for me as I, again, read the books that I have loved for so many years, this time sharing them with Nick. I cackled like Bellatrix, and spoke in a motherly tone as Molly Weasley, and he suffered – mostly without complaining, although not without laughing – with my often inconsistent and semi-ridiculous attempts at a British accent. As we drew nearer to the end of The Deathly Hallows, we both started feeling a bit sad that the experience of reading the series together was coming to a conclusion. We finished the series on Saturday, September 29, almost a year to the day after starting our reading streak. This has literally been an experience I will never forget.

So, every single day – rain or shine, convenient or inconvenient – Nick and I have spent time reading together. There have been days when we knew he was spending a night at a friends that we got up early and read for 20 minutes before I left for work. We have read over the phone when he has been on visits to his grandparent and when I was on my anniversary trip in Las Vegas. We’ve read on camping trips. And this commitment that we’ve undertaken makes it impossible for us to say “not tonight.” Because who wants to break a streak?

We’ve continued the streak, by moving on to Margaret Peterson Haddix’s series about The Shadow Children, and we’ve read Among the Hidden and Among the Imposters. We are taking a break from that series to read The Hobbit aloud in preparation for the Peter Jackson movie to be released in December. I have a number of books planned for the continuation of our streak, which we have extended: finishing The Shadow Children, The Phantom Tollbooth, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and, perhaps The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence, or the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan.

We’re shooting for 1001 nights at this point. Call me Scheherazade.

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This is my second Wilkie Collins, although he wrote and published this book before The Moonstone. The Woman in White is described as a Victorian “sensation” novel, and was written with many twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. It shared the same narrative technique as The Moonstone – that of alternating first person narratives written and provided by different characters. In this book, as in The Moonstone, there was a central female character – Laura Fairlie here, Rachel Verinder in The Moonstone – from whom the reader never directly hears.

I love the alternating narrative format. It provides the reader with excellent insight into what happened through the eyes of the different characters. In this book, my favorite character, by far, was Marian Halcombe, a woman who lacks many of the desirable characteristics of Victorian womanhood. I was surprised by Walter Hartright. I expected a certain type of weak male character, and, instead, was impressed with his fortitude, resilience and intellect.

As in The Moonstone, the female heroine is disappointing. Lady Laurie Fairley is not merely weak, she is also weak-minded and childlike. Her resemblance to the harrowed Anne Catherick ends up being much greater than I would have supposed. She lacked the core of strength that I would have liked to see in a book of this sort.

Nonetheless, this book does entertain. It is swift moving, despite it’s length of over 600 pages, and fairly action packed. Collins strove to keep his readership off balance, and I believe that he succeeded. There are several events throughout the course of the book that do surprise the reader.

There are foreshadowings in this book of many different modern tropes, including: the investigation by the private individual where the public investigators fail. I don’t want to spoil the book for any prospective readers, because this is the sort of book that should be read without spoilers. Overall, though, I very much enjoyed the book, particularly Marian’s character. Collins may not have intended for her to be the books true heroine, but in my opinion, that is exactly what she was.

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for a brief, and probably profane, political rant.

As most of you know, there is an election occurring in my home country of The United States of America that is a mere 20 days away. The two candidates met for their second debate last night. And the takeaway meme is thus:

Binders Full Of Women.

Yes, I know. It’s hilarious. There is an excellent tumblr blog that really encapsulates the abject stupidity of this remark. I wonder if, upon the words escaping his lip, Mr. Romney had a moment of horror where he realized, “oh, god, this is it. Those are the words people will remember.”

But, as hysterically funny as they are, let’s probe a bit deeper about what he said IN RESPONSE TO A QUESTION THAT ASKED ABOUT HIS APPROACH TO INSTITUTIONALIZED DISPARITIES IN WAGES BASED UPON GENDER IN 2012 AMERICA.

Here’s his whole answer:

“And – and so we – we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”

Wait. Let us now cut to film of a man – maybe Steve Irwin (oh, no, he’s dead, gotta find someone else) – dressed in safari gear and wearing a pith helmet:

“We’re out here tonight in search of that rare and elusive creature known as “Female Candidate Qualified for a Cabinet Level Post in the Romney Administration.” We’ll call her “QualiCan”. Now the female QualiCan (Genus Qualificanus, Species Levelus Cabinetae) is a gentle creature, not easily found in QualiCan’s natural habitat, the boardrooms, courtrooms, and corner offices of the private sector.

Perhaps, however, if we are very quiet, we can entice her into showing herself. Shhhhhhh”

Ummm, yeah, how patronizing is that? Really, Mitt, you had to go on a full-scale search for “qualified female candidates.” What, Massachusetts is suddenly Baghdad and all the smart women are in purdah?

In America, women have been nearly half of the graduating classes of medical and law schools for more than two decades. Maybe, just maybe, you couldn’t find any qualified women candidates because your all-male review staff weren’t looking for them – or maybe because they just didn’t want to work for you.

And then, then, he doubles down on his insult to having qualified, accomplished women working for him with this:

“Now one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort. But number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school.”

He continued, saying that his chief of staff couldn’t work late because she had to be home “making dinner” and “being with them when they get home from school.”

Romney said, “Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”

So, let me get this straight, Mr. Romney. Your answer to a question THAT ASKED ABOUT YOUR APPROACH TO INSTITUTIONALIZED DISPARITIES IN WAGES BASED UPON GENDER IN 2012 AMERICA is to tell American women that you’re going to have them home in time to cook dinner for their families? Are there any other household chores you want to put on the list for me to do when I get home from work? Laundry, maybe?

What. The. Hell. No, seriously, what the hell?

First of all, you pompous prick, I guess it’s good that we know what you really think. Women in the workplace need to get the hell out of it so they can get home early enough to do their second full time job, and it is just fine to pay them less while they are there.

And second of all, don’t even get me started on contraception, abortion, women’s healthcare and your stated desire to give a cluster of cells in my uterus exactly the same personhood that I enjoy.

I can’t imagine why any American woman would vote for this clown. Period.

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Jon Stock “tracks down” his one-star reviewers through their email addresses, and then brags about it in a widely read British publication.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9596675/Spy-writer-Jon-Stock-How-I-survived-an-online-literary-mauling.html

In California, a scorned author apparently assaulted a literary agent in her car as she waited to pick up her daughter at school.

And, a website that I will not link here continues to claim that negative reviews constitute “bullying” by the people who write them.

Is it any wonder that it is safer to review dead authors? And, frankly, is it any wonder that I stopped reading books by self-published authors several months ago? Because it just isn’t worth the time or the potential trouble for me to post reviews for new books. And, it has been my experience that even the best self-published books rarely meet the quality standard of the most mediocre of the traditionally published books (in spite of the plethora of five-star reviews that most of them have received), so the likelihood of me giving a glowingly positive review to a self-published book is quite low and the likelihood of me pissing off a self-published author is, conversely, quite high.

Oh, authors love a five-star review. Of course they do. And the reader who posts the five star review of their book, well, that reader is obviously brilliant and perceptive. But what if a reader is a reader like me? A reader who reserves the five-star designation for a book that is not just fun to read, but that I think is something genuinely spectacular. Potentially world-altering. I love the Mercy Thompson series, and think that Patricia Briggs just about walks on water as far as fantasy and urban fantasy go. But dang it, she didn’t write To Kill a Mockingbird, and she isn’t Leo Tolstoy. From what I’ve read about her, she seems to me to be a fairly humble, cool person. I bet she would agree with me.

When I rate books, I rate them relative to everything else that I’ve ever read, which is quite extensive – I’ve been reading for over forty years. So, if I’m going to give a book a five star review, I consider it on par with TKAM in importance, quality, use of language, and characterizations. This is a really high standard – I acknowledge that. But these are my reviews, and I get to use MY standard and no one else’s. I don’t really find most customer reviews that helpful, because it is obvious to me that they are reviewing a book based on completely different standards than the ones I use. I’m not saying that their standards are wrong – they just aren’t very helpful to me. Mine probably aren’t all that helpful to them, either, but I can say with total conviction that I have resisted the pressure to inflate my ratings.

Sometimes I am happy to read a genre romance – something reasonably well-written and fun to read. Maybe something by Lisa Kleypas or Julia Quinn. But Lisa Kleypas and Julia Quinn, in my world, don’t write 5-star books. They write romance of above average quality. This is true of most of the YA that I read as well – it would hover between 3 and 4 stars – Maggie Stiefvater at the high end, other writers at the lower end. Still fun, still well worth buying, but not great literature. Not the sort of book that keeps me up at night, mulling over the characters, reliving moments, wondering about motivations and the thought process of the author.

So, I like to think of my posts as discussions, and I am increasingly hesitant to give star ratings. I quit reviewing on amazon, even though I enjoyed it, and received good feedback on my reviews. I still post reviews on goodreads, and I plan to continue to do so, although I only review a small percentage of the books that I read on GR. But I am more and more convinced that star-ratings are worthless, whether they are mine or someone else’s. And the possibility of being online stalked tracked down by a disgruntled author or his or her rabid fans is sufficiently off-putting that I’m just not willing to expose myself to that kind of crazy.

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Kim by Rudyard Kipling


According to wikipedia, in 1901, when Kim was published, the first Nobel Peace Prize was given to French poet Sully Prudhomme over Leo Tolstoy, a decision that many people considered outrageous. Anthropologist Margaret Mead was born, and Johana Spyri, author of Heidi, died. Other notable works published in 1901 include My Brilliant Career, by Australian author Miles Franklin, Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, and Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.

This was my first book by Rudyard Kipling. Mr. Kipling was born in India in 1865 to a British mother and father. He lived in India until he was five, when he was sent home to England, as was the custom in British India. There has been criticism of Kipling’s “imperialist” viewpoint as relates to India. Nonetheless, Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907.

I found Kim to be both a bit of a struggle and occasionally transcendent. I love reading about British India – there is something so exotic about that time period and place, with its pageantry and intrigue. The culure and geography of India is endlessly fascinating. Much of what I loved about Kim was the way that Kipling described India. For example:

The Grand Trunk at this point was built on an embankment to guard against winter floods from the foothills so that one walked, as it were, a little above the country, along a stately corridor, seeing all India spread out to left and right. It was beautiful to behold the many-yoked grain and cotton wagons crawling over the country roads: one could hear their axles, complaining a mile away, coming nearer, till with shouts and yells and bad words they climbed up the steep inclined and plunged on to the hard main road, carter reviling carter. It was equally beautiful to watch the people, little clumps of red and blue and pink and white and saffron, turning aside to go to their own villages, dispersing and growing small by twos and threes across the level plain. Kim felt these things, though he could not give tongue to his feelings and so contented himself with buying peeled sugar-cane and spitting the pith generously about his path. From time to time the llama took snuff . . .

and, also:

Thus, after long hours of what would be reckoned very fair mountaineering in civilized countries, they would pant over a saddle-back, sidle past a few landslips, and drop through the forest at an angle of forty-five on to the road again. Along their track lay the villages of the hill-folk — mud and earth huts, timbers now and then rudely carved with an axe — clinging like swallows nests against the steeps, huddled on tiny flats halfway down a three-thousand-foot glissade; jammed into a corner between cliffs that funneled and focused every wandering blast; or, for the sake of summer pasture, cowering down on a neck that in winter would be ten feet deep in snow.

Kim is a picaresque novel of the main character’s adventures in India. He is an orphan of a British soldier who grows up on the streets of Lahore. He meets and becomes the disciple of a Tibetan lama, and he is recruited to carry a message to the head of British intelligence in Umballa. He is educated in an Indian school for British boys, and is ultimately recruited into “the Great Game” or into the intelligence service of the British raj. He is chameleon-like, able to take on new identities convincingly and easily. The book ends before Kim’s twentieth birthday, when he is barely out of childhood, before he has decided which path he will take – will he continue to seek enlightenment with his lama, or join the Game?

Kim himself often shows much confusion over his own identity. Near the end of the book, he cries out:

“I am Kim. I am Kim. And what is Kim?” His soul repeated it again and again.

He did not want to cry, — had never felt less like crying in his life, — but of a sudden easy, stupid tears trickled down his nose, and with an almost audible click he felt the wheels of his being lock up anew on the world without. Things that rode meaningless on the eyeball an instant before slid into proper proportion. Roads were meant to be walked upon, houses to be lived in, cattle to be drive, fields to be tilled, and men and women to be talked to.”

Overall, I enjoyed Kim. Kipling is sometimes considered a children’s author, and Kim is sometimes considered a boy’s adventure novel. This is a multi-layered book that “presents a vivid picture of India, its teeming populations, religions, and superstitions, and the life of the bazaars and the road.”*

*”Kim”. in: The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online.

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