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Archive for November, 2012

It almost seems that amazon has secretly read my 100 books of the 20th century list! On cyber-Monday, I was able to pick up:

Armageddon, by Leon Uris
The Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark
North and South, by John Jakes

All for $2.02 a book! Four books for $8.08, which is less than a grocery store paperback.

And then, just yesterday, Lucky Jim, by Kinglsey Amis, went on sale for $2.02.

I also picked up the four Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane books by Dorothy Sayers for a mere $2.99 each: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and The Busman’s Honeymoon. All of Sayer’s books were on sale for $2.99. I wish I’d had enough money laying around to get them all, since Peter Wimsey and Dorothy Sayers are totally awesome.

This time of year, keeping track of the books that Amazon is putting on sale is a little bit of effort that generally pays off pretty big in inexpensive, well-written, traditionally published fiction.

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This fun meme is offered by http://brokeandbookish.blogspot.com/p/top-ten-tuesday-other-features.html . This week’s  topic is books that we’re thankful for – so, without further ado:

1. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series: I will be forever thankful to Jo Rowling for providing me with endless hours of reading pleasure, and countless shared memories. Both of my children were, and are, Harry Potter fans, and these books have become a part of our family history.

2. Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series: Again, this book series has provided family entertainment over the full five books. We listened to these audiobooks on family driving trips, rainy afternoons in our travel trailer,  and a great deal oof knowledge about Greek mythologythat we would otherwise not have.

3. Frances Hodson Burnett’s A Little Princess: this was a book I loved as a child. It is also the first book that I reviewed on Amazon 12 years ago, and really started me on the process of reviewing books, which has ultimately led to this blog. It also brought me tremendous pleasure. Sara Crewe remains one of my favorite fictional characters.

4. L.M.Montgomery and Anne (with-an-e) Shirley: This is one of my favorite series of all time. I didn’t discover Anne of Green Gables until adulthood, and devoured the whole series in a couple of weeks. I am thankful for Anne – she is dreamy, girlish, kind, generous, funny, a  bit tart, and so open for friendship and love that she is utterly irresistible.

5. Trixie Belden: Trixie Belden got me through the 5th grade, and through my first divorce. I like Nancy Drew just fine, but it was Crabapple Farm and Sleepyside, New York that I loved. My family moved from Nebraska to Idaho before the 5th grade, and reading, and rereading, the stories about Trixie, Honey, Jim, Di, and the whole gang of Bob-Whites is really what made that year bearable. Years later,, after my first marriage exploded, I spent a summer at home with my mom and dad, and my mom had found my collection of Trixie Belden books in a box. I reread them as an adult, and was, again, comforted and captivated by their sweet familiarity.

6. The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss: I stole this off my mother’s nightstand when I was in the seventh grade. It started a life long love of historical fiction in general, and historical romance in particular.

7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: I can’t say enough about how much I love Tolkien’s classic trilogy. I read it for the first time  in high school, and every few years ever since. There is an endless amount of content to this book, and I find something new in it every time I read it.

8. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: This beloved book, along with Trixie Belden, got me through a pretty rough time. There is something about Pilcher’s writing that is comforting.

9. Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz: There just aren’t enough books that appeal specifically to middle grade boys. Horowitz’s series does just this – and has been instrumental in convincing my 12-year-old son that reading can be, indeed, be fun.

10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: All of Austen’s works technically qualify as books for which I am thankful. But P & P is my favorite, and has remained my favorite for nearly 30 years, since I read it for the first time when I was 16 years old.

11. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Yes, I know this is supposed to be a “top ten.” But I reached the end of this post and realized that I had neglected to mention TKAM, which is the one book that I would say literally changed my life. I looked at the world differently after reading it. Thank you, Harper Lee.

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Peter Pan was written by J.M. Barrie, and was published in 1911. I read the Penguin Classics version, which includes Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. This post doesn’t address that story at all, as I have not read it.

So, Peter Pan. Is there anyone who doesn’t know the basic story of the boy who never grew up? Walt Disney adapted it for his famous animated feature of the same name, and the play is frequently performed by Children’s Theaters throughout the U.S. Cathy Rigby made a career of playing the eternally youthful Peter. I had never read the original, and was excited when it was chose for a group read in one of my goodreads classics groups.

J.M. Barrie’s use of language is exceptional and delightful, and his imagination is incredible. There are a few aspects of the book that are jarring, especially his treatment of Tiger Lily and the Native Americans, which he often refers to, derogatorily, as “pickaninnies.” Were he writing today, I am sure that he would write these sections differently. This part of the story also jars a bit when watching the Disney version.

Barrie does pull his punches, but he also doesn’t shy away from danger and death, as in this passage:

The rock was very small now; soon it would be submerged. Pale rays of light tiptoed across the waters; and by and by there was to be heard a sound at once the most musical and the most melancholy in the world: the mermaids calling to the moon.

Peter was not quite like other boys; but he was afraid at last. A tremor ran through him, like a shudder passing over the sea; but on the sea one shudder follows another till there are hundreds of them, and Peter felt just the one. Next moment he was standing erect on the rock again, with that smile on his face and a drum beating within him. It was saying, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

Peter Pan is, above all, a book about childhood and imagination. Barrie’s children are childlike, but they are not necessarily idealized, being occasionally savage, self-centered and heartless. The three Darling children leave their mother and father without a backward glance. Wendy is christened the “mother” of the Lost Boys, and Peter assumes the role of “father” but they are clearly doing nothing more than playing a game. There is an odd, slightly discomfiting, tension between Peter and Wendy. Peter, as the boy who will never grow up, has rejected growth. Ultimately, he is the only character who makes this decision not to grow, not to progress, and to remain as he is forever.

Wendy was grown up. You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than the other girls.

All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worth while saying anything more about them. You may see the twins and Nibs and Curly any day going to an office, each carrying a little bag and an umbrella. Michael is an engine driver. Slightly married a lady of title, and so he became a lord. You see that judge in a wig coming out at the iron door. That used to be Tootles. The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children was once John.

Leaving aside the beloved status of Disney’s Peter Pan, the 2003 Peter Pan starring Jason Isaacs and Jeremy Sumpter is much truer to the book. Much of the language and narration contained in that version is taken directly from the book. I highly recommend this version for fans of Peter Pan – it is worth finding and watching.

The book ends with the following paragraph, which is bittersweet and lovely:

As you look at Wendy, you may see her hair becoming white and her figure little again, for all this happenned long ago. Jane is now a common grown-up, with a daughter called Margaret; and every spring-cleaning time, except when he forgets, Peter comes for Margaret and takes her to the Neverland, where she tells him stories about himself, to which he listens eagerly. When Margaret grows up she will have a daughter, who is to be Peter’s mother in turn; and so it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.

Peter Pan has provided inspiration for many, many retellings. As part of our group read, we decided to read some of them. I am hoping to read (posts to follow):

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The Hobbit was initially published in 1937, and was subsequently revised in 1951 – with some significant changes – to bring it into consistency with the events that occur in The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was my introduction to Middle Earth, an introduction that occurred approximately 34 years ago when my mother read it aloud to me and my brother. I remember that I loved The Hobbit, but I didn’t fall in love with Tolkien and Middle Earth until years later, when I read The Lord of The Rings.

I am a self-described Tolkien nerd. I have read the Silmarillion, and I have listened to Professor Corey Olson’s podcasts on Tolkien and his works. I know a lot about Middle Earth for a 46-year-old married mother of two. I love the Peter Jackson movies, and am unashamedly excited about the adaptation of The Hobbit that is scheduled for release on 12/15.

In honor of that release, I decided to re-read The Hobbit. Since I had previously read it aloud to my daughter, my son, Nick, previously mentioned in a post about or reading streak, had to be persuaded that we should read it together after finishing Harry Potter. He was a pretty easy mark, though, to be honest.

So, my most recent re-read of The Hobbit was a read-aloud. It took about a month for us to read it. In preparation for writing this post, I asked him a few questions about it.

Me: So, did you like The Hobbit?

Nick: Yes, I liked it a lot.

Me: What was your favorite part?

Nick: The part where the dragon got killed!

Me: Which character did you like the best?

Nick: I liked Bilbo, but I thought that Gandalf was really cool. I wish I could do magic.

Me: Would you rather hang out with elves or dwarves?

Nick: Dwarves. Because Thorin was the king under the mountain and they had lots of treasure.

I have to admit, I was surprised by the dwarf answer, since I’ve always considered the elves to be clearly superior (I suspect that Tolkien did, as well). But, I suppose it makes sense for a 12-year-old boy to be attracted to a short, bearded, axe-wielding dwarf as opposed to the pretty-boy elves who shoot arrows and sing. He did like it, though, even the parts where I sung Tolkien’s songs to my own, undoubtedly terrible, tunes. He provided back up drum sounds, which may in fact have been intended to drown out the singing. He’s not telling.

Anyway, I hear that there are people out there who haven’t read Tolkien. Start with The Hobbit. It is a wonderful story, full of wonder and beauty, some vanquished trolls, a shape-shifting bear, goblins and wolves, giant spiders who will suck the juice out of a man, harrowing adventures, narrow escapes, great battles, and a dragon who sleeps on a bed of gold and jewels. Seriously, who wouldn’t love that?

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The legend of King Arthur has provided literary inspiration for more than 800 years. One of the earliest was Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, originally published in 1450. I have not read Malory’s compilation, and unless I find myself taking some sort of a medieval lit course, it is fairly unlikely that I will ever read this one.

I am going to largely ignore the more modern retellings to mention three here that I highly recommend as having stood the test of time:

First, we have T.H. White’s 1958 classic The Once and Future King. I first read this book as a child, when I checked it out the library, and again, as an adult when I, yes, checked it out of the library for my daughter. I remembered that I had loved it, and brought it home for her when she was in around the fifth grade. She was completely uninterested in it. I, on the other hand, settled in for a long weekend of rereading the classic tale of Arthur and Merlin. This is the version that the Disney used for it’s adaptation The Sword in the Stone. This is the classic childhood tale of Arthur, Merlin, and Guenever. It tells the story of the education of Arthur, known as Wart, by his mentor and teacher Merlyn, and includes the scene where Arthur pulls the sword from the stone and proves himself worthy of the kingship. This is a child’s book, but it is complex enough to engage and enthrall the adult reader.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, published in 1970, is the first book of her Arthurian Saga. This was followed by The Hollow Hills in 1973, The Last Enchantment in 1979, The Wicked Day in 1983, and The Prince and the Pilgrim in 1995. This series is told from the perspective of Merlin, or Myrddin Emrys. The first book deals primarily with Merlin’s childhood through young adulthood. Stewart’s saga starts out strong, but really loses steam after the third book. Until I started writing this post, I wasn’t actually aware that she had written a fifth book. For kindle owners, the four book series is available as a bundle for only 6.99. Mary Stewart was primarily a romance novelist, was a darned good writer, and these books are a great read, especially at that price.

Finally, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon is a bit of a feminist classic, being told from the perspective of the women who are the supporting characters in a male-centered mythology, particularly Morgaine. I had to try to read this book a few times before becoming deeply immersed in the world. It is long, clocking in at 876 pages, and is a worthwhile read. Zimmer Bradley did extend this book into a series, but I haven’t read any of them, and they have gotten mixed reviews as near as I can tell.

There are some other, modern retellings that I will just mention in passing:

The Hollick and the Cornwell books are historical fiction, both setting Arthur in medieval England. I have read the first two of Hollick’s books, and they are not for the faint of heart – chock full of unadulterated historically accurate death, destruction and betrayal. The Cornwell book has been recommended to me, I have read other books by Cornwell and thoroughly enjoyed them, but I haven’t read this one. Of all of the retellings mentioned in this post, this is probably the most male-reader-friendly version, as it was recommended to me by a male friend. The Queen of Camelot by McKenzie is thoroughly enjoyable, well-written, and is suitable for older young adults. The Lost Years of Merlin is a middle-grade series by T.A. Barron, and is also quite fun.

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November Classics Club Meme Question:

What piece of classic literature most intimidates you, and why?

This is a great question! My initial impulse was to go with War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. But I’ve been reading Anna Karenina, and I’ve read other works of classic Russian literature, so, in spite of the Russian naming conventions that make those books somewhat of a challenge, the piece of classic literature that most intimidates me was not written by Tolstoy. Nor was it written by Eliot, Dickens, or any of the other Victorians. And, no, not Hugo, either, since I am very much enjoying Les Miserables, another long book that much intimidated me before I started reading it.

No, the classic that most intimidates me is James Joyce’s Ulysses. As for why, I have three words: Stream. Of. Consciousness.

I struggle with this particular narrative form. Faulkner makes me nuts. Thomas Pynchon, in spite of his – probably – deserved reputation as a master of modern language makes me want to, erm, do violence to myself. I tried reading Gravity’s Rainbow several times. I think I remember something about a banana plant growing under a sink that occurred early in the book. I’m not sure I ever got beyond page 25.

In spite of this struggle, as someone who likes to consider herself rather well-versed in modern literature, I felt like I should read Gravity’s Rainbow. I hauled it from pillar to post, through no less then ten moves, before I finally acknowledged that there was no chance I was ever going to read it and I sold it back to a used paperback store. Last time I was in that store, my copy was still sitting on it’s shelves after approximately seven years. It seems that people do not go to used bookstores for the purpose of buying semi-impenetrable, post-modern tomes.

So, yes, Ulysses. That’s the one that most intimidates me. It might take me a couple of years to work up the energy to give it a go.

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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is subtitled “A Novel In Eight Parts.” I am reading the Deluxe Penguin Edition, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky.

A brief note on translations: when reading a book that has been translated into English, choosing a translation can be absolutely critical to the enjoyment of the book. A poorly translated edition can ruin the reading experience. When I decided to read Anna Karenina, I did some research on translations. Generally, in the case of classic literature, the best translations are not available as free kindle versions.

The translation that is available for free is typically the Garnett translation. The reviews that I read reflect that this is not the best translation of Tolstoy’s masterwork – readers often complain that Garnett has taken a book written by a Russian novelist and somehow trransformed it into a book that sounds like it was written by a British Victorian author

Having said that, I have really enjoyed parts 1 & 2 of Anna Karenina. These two sections focus on two female characters: Anna herself, and Kitty. Anna is married to Alexei, a prominent figure in St. Petersburg society. Kitty is an unmarried girl living in Moscow. Both of these characters end up involved with the unmarried Vronsky.

Anna is portrayed at the beginning of the book as a a young, married matron who is beyond reproach. She is popular in society, and is quite pretty and vivacious. Kitty, on the other hand, is on the hunt for a husband

This book is full of glittering despair. The role of women in Tsarist Russian society is primarily decorative, and feels arid and unfulfilling. Anna is tirelessly pursued by Vronsky, in spite of the fact that it is her character, not his, that is going to suffer if the relationship develops into an affair. There is a sense of futility in Anna’s behavior.

There were some quotes I really liked:

“That which for almost a year had constituted the one exclusive desire of Vronsky’s life, replacing all former desires; that which for Anna had been an impossible, horrible, but all the more enchanting dream of happiness – this desire had been satisfied. Pale, his lower jaw trembling, he stood over her and pleaded with her to be calm, himself not knowing why or how.”

This is how Tolstoy tells the reader that the affair has been consummated. It is impossible not to read a certain amount of despairing foreshadowing in this passage. The simultaneously occurring events where Vronsky essentially rides his mare to her death and has to put her down during the race, which occurs during the time that Anna becomes pregnant and tells her husband that she has been unfaithful, feels, as well, like a parallel to this relationship that is destined to end badly. Vronsky makes a careless mistake in jumping the horse and the horse is lost and must be euthanized because of his lack of attention to it’s welfare.

I just finished the section where Anna tells Alexei that she has been unfaithful, her desperation palpable:

“No, you are not mistaken,” she said slowly, looking desperately into his cold face. “You are not mistaken. I was and could not help being in despair. I listen to you and think about him. I love him, I am his mistress, I cannot stand you, I’m afraid of you, I hate you . . . “Do what you like with me.”

So, does Vronsky love Anna, or is she merely a toy, to be discarded as broken?

One final note – I’m not having nearly as much trouble with the Russian names as I expected.

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