Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Boston Girl

I've read a couple of books by Anita Diamant (The Red Tent, and The Last Days of Dogtown), but her most recent, The Boston Girl, is by far my favorite. I listened to the audio version read by Linda Lavin, who was absolutely perfect doing the first-person narration.

Addie Balm is the daughter of Jewish immigrants, born in 1900 in Boston. She relates her life story focusing on her teen years and early twenties, basically from the onset of puberty to her marriage.

I loved hearing about life in Boston in the first decades of the 20th century, particularly the Saturday Club, where daughters of various immigrant groups came together to recreate, relax, form friendships, and try out leadership roles. I also loved learning about Rockport Lodge, where young women could spend a week relaxing and learning about nature and the world outside of the city.  I read an article about the book and it seems that Rockport Lodge was the inspiration behind the novel, which makes perfect sense to me.

And, of course, I loved hearing about Addie's work as first a typist, then a copy editor, then a writer for a magazine.  One of my favorite books is James Thurber's The Years With Ross, about Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker. While the publication Addie worked for is no New Yorker, the vibe of the newsroom brought back fond memories of Thurber's memoir.

The characters in The Boston Girl are marvelous--the contrast between Addie's two older sisters, Betty and Celia, is interesting to think about--both were immigrants like their parents--one embraced the new world and the other couldn't. Addie's parents, her brother-in-law, and especially her friends are complex, interesting, flawed, and very real. And then there are her mentors--the women who invest their time and money into helping younger women find a way out of poverty and powerlessness so they can live rich, fulfilling lives. Addie's own mother was an  anchor, and not in a good way, but Addie found surrogate mothers who showed her that she had talent and worth and helped her at key points in her life.

Finally, the historical events and how they shaped lives were fascinating to read about--the sweat shops, the Great War, the Spanish flu, prohibition--they all are a factor in Addie's life.

Wonderful book--one of my favorites so far this year. It is full of energy and hope, tempered with pragmatism. Addie is a heroine that reminds me of Francie Nolan, of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Corinna's Going a-Maying

Happy May Day!

I recently started reading Caroline Kennedy's poetry anthology She Walks in Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems and read this one last night and thought it would make a perfect May Day post.

Corinna's Going a-Maying

by Robert Herrick, 1591 - 1674

 Get up, get up for shame! The blooming morn 
    Upon her wings presents the god unshorn. 
    See how Aurora throws her fair 
    Fresh-quilted colours through the air: 
    Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see       
    The dew bespangling herb and tree! 
Each flower has wept and bow'd toward the east 
Above an hour since, yet you not drest; 
    Nay! not so much as out of bed? 
    When all the birds have matins said 
    And sung their thankful hymns, 'tis sin, 
    Nay, profanation, to keep in, 
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day 
Spring sooner than the lark, to fetch in May. 

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen 
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green, 
    And sweet as Flora. Take no care 
    For jewels for your gown or hair: 
    Fear not; the leaves will strew 
    Gems in abundance upon you: 
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept, 
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept. 
    Come, and receive them while the light 
    Hangs on the dew-locks of the night: 
    And Titan on the eastern hill 
    Retires himself, or else stands still 
Till you come forth! Wash, dress, be brief in praying: 
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying. 

Come, my Corinna, come; and coming, mark 
How each field turns a street, each street a park, 
    Made green and trimm'd with trees! see how 
    Devotion gives each house a bough 
    Or branch! each porch, each door, ere this, 
    An ark, a tabernacle is, 
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove, 
As if here were those cooler shades of love. 
    Can such delights be in the street 
    And open fields, and we not see 't? 
    Come, we'll abroad: and let 's obey 
    The proclamation made for May, 
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying; 
But, my Corinna, come, let 's go a-Maying. 

There 's not a budding boy or girl this day 
But is got up and gone to bring in May. 
    A deal of youth ere this is come 
    Back, and with white-thorn laden home. 
    Some have despatch'd their cakes and cream, 
    Before that we have left to dream: 
And some have wept and woo'd, and plighted troth, 
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
    Many a green-gown has been given, 
    Many a kiss, both odd and even: 
    Many a glance, too, has been sent 
    From out the eye, love's firmament: 
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick'd: yet we're not a-Maying! 

Come, let us go, while we are in our prime, 
And take the harmless folly of the time! 
    We shall grow old apace, and die 
    Before we know our liberty.
    Our life is short, and our days run 
    As fast away as does the sun. 
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain, 
Once lost, can ne'er be found again, 
    So when or you or I are made
    A fable, song, or fleeting shade, 
    All love, all liking, all delight 
    Lies drown'd with us in endless night. 
Then, while time serves, and we are but decaying, 
Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Scapegoat - Daphne du Maurier

I stumbled upon a movie version of The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier a few years ago and was fascinated by the story. So, of course, I got a copy of the book, which I hadn't read when I watched the movie, and it sat on my shelf until the GoodReads True Book Talk group read it in March.

Once again, Dame Daphne didn't let me down. The Scapegoat was a classic DMM thriller. Basic story is that a boring British academician (John) whose specialty is French history meets his doppelganger, a roguish French count (Jean), in a bar and Jean tricks John into changing places with him. Very much a Prince and the Pauper story that Mark Twain played around with, and Dickens had a go at in A Tale of Two Cities.

In The Scapegoat, Jean has made an utter mess of his life, his family business is going under, his daughter is flighty and quasi-suicidal, his sister is a religious fanatic who hasn't spoken to him for 20 years, his mother is a morphine addict, his brother hates get the picture. He tricks John into being his scapegoat - assuming his identity so he can disappear without causing a manhunt. John also feels he has made a mess of his life and is headed to a monastery to try to find a reason for living.

Matthew Rhys played John and Johnny in the British movie based on the novel.

Incredibly, John is able to step into Jean's shoes--they are identical, and John's French is perfect. It was fun to read about how he managed to figure out all the various threads of Jean's life, and wonderful to see how he was able to mend the family and the business. John is definitely the hero of the story.

The book and the movie differed most in the ending, although the movie is set in England not France, and Jean became Johnny. The book turned out to be very positive and life-affirming. The movie version took a much darker tack. I ended up rewatching the movie after finishing the book and really wonder why the film makers choose to go dark instead of light with their version.

The Scapegoat was first published in 1957, making it one of DMM's later works. It was tightly written, really interesting, especially since WWII and the French occupation and resistance is still very fresh in people's lives, and well worth reading.

This novel is part of my Classics Club first 50--I'm closing in on getting this challenge done this year!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Classics Club Spin #20

The spin # is 19 - huzzah! I started Song of the Lark this morning...set in my home state of Colorado.
Since I'm closing in on finishing my list this year, I will commit to the Classics Club Spin #20--the spin # will be revealed on Monday, April 22, and the completion date is May 31.

I have six books left to read, so I have repeated them twice with two getting on the list three times.

Truthfully, I am hoping for #1, #7, #13, #19 as I really want to read Song of the Lark next, but these are all books I really want to read, so I cannot lose!

  1. Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
  2. Daniel Deronda, George Eliot
  3. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  4. Can You Forgive Her?, Anthony Trollope
  5. Roughing It, Mark Twain
  6. The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton
  7. Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
  8. Daniel Deronda, George Eliot
  9. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  10. Can You Forgive Her?, Anthony Trollope
  11. Roughing It, Mark Twain
  12. The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton
  13. Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
  14. Daniel Deronda, George Eliot
  15. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
  16. Can You Forgive Her?, Anthony Trollope
  17. Roughing It, Mark Twain
  18. The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton
  19. Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
  20. Daniel Deronda, George Eliot

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

War and Peace

The obvious greatness of this book notwithstanding, what did Tolstoy have against historians?

I just finished this marvelous book, all 15 books plus 2 epilogues, all 1082 pages not counting notes and comments, and despite the wonderful story of Natasha and Pierre, Nicholas and Mary, Prince Andrew, the completely weird Kuragin family, the completely lovable Rostov family, Dolokov and Denisov, and the comet of 1812, Tolstoy choose to end his tome with a diatribe on how “modern” historians are completely wrong with their view of history as a chronicle of how “great men” (notable example being Napoleon) actually have very little or nothing to do with how events actually unfold.

It seems that Tolstoy got completely fed up with the conventional wisdom that Napoleon was a great leader and a military genius and that the Russian winter was the only thing that could defeat him (prior to Waterloo). The result of that rage against Napoleon became War and Peace, in which Tolstoy vindicates the Russian military leadership (at least Kutusov) and shows how the occupation of Moscow by the French was but a momentary setback and not a capitulation of Russia.

Like the vast majority of readers of War and Peace, I much preferred the story part, even the battle scenes, over the philosophical ramblings. There are a vast choice of topics to cover, but what struck me near the end is that Natasha can be seen to represent Tolstoy's view of Russia, she's Mother Russia. I think this can be illustrated by the men in her life.

Note - I am using the names as they were presented/translated in the version I read. It seems that there are lots of variations on the names in various editions and film versions.

*****Spoilers ahead*****

The first time we meet the Rostov family is on the occasion of the name day of Natasha and mother--she is young, full of spirit, and irrepressible. She loves life and loves the idea of being in love, and fancies herself in love with Boris Drubetskoy, son of a social climbing, ambitious mother who in turn ruthlessly pursues wealth and social standing. At the beginning of the 19th century (the story begins in 1805), Russian society was undergoing shifts as was most of the rest of European society--Boris and his mother seem to be distantly related to everyone and have to clutch and grab to keep from slipping into oblivion.

The Rostovs are an old titled family with old money that Natasha's father has managed to squander by living beyond his means and being generous to a fault. The Russian aristocracy is on shaky ground.

Next, Natasha captivates and falls in love with Prince Andrew Bolkonski, son and heir of an old tyrant. He is a born leader of men and loves being in the army, but can be cold and unforgiving. Because his father dislikes the match, Natasha and Andrew must wait a year before they can marry, during which time Natasha becomes infatuated with Anatole Kuragin--a worthless pretty boy who is only out to seduce Natasha and doesn't have a ruble to his name. When she learns that he is already married, she tries to commit suicide and spends much of the rest of the novel atoning for her sin of being faithless to Andrew.

When the French invade Russia in 1812, Andrew is mortally wounded, and is reconciled with Natasha, who nurses him until he dies.

Finally, Natasha falls in love with and marries Pierre Bezukov, Andrew's best friend, whose story is too long and complicated to tell here, but Pierre sees in Natasha a purpose for his own life. She becomes his guiding light and together they form a union that is fruitful, positive, and joyful.

Natasha evolves from lively and spirited to self-destructive to repentant to motherly. Married to Pierre, she finds her real identity as a mother, nursing her babies when a woman of her station in life at the time would never do this. The narrator says that "she lets herself go," meaning that she no longer cares about fashion and beauty and fun for herself. She is finally content with her role as mother and in her relationship with Pierre.

Through Natasha's story, Tolstoy tells the story of the Russia that he loves--Russia as exuberant but naive; Russia enthralled by the French and lulled into thinking they could be French, sacrificing their country and heritage for a culture they deem more civilized than their own; Russia committed to fighting and glorifying their army; Russia abandoning Moscow but never surrendering; Russia embracing itself and nurturing its people and their own vigor and life force.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Classics Club - 50 Club Questions

Since I still haven't finished War and Peace--I'm getting close---so I decided to take the Classics Club 50 Question survey

It's long but was fun to revisit my blogs since joining the club almost 6 years ago. I am not quite done with the 50 books I selected to read in 5 years, and to be honest I've done some substituting along the way, but here goes (dividing the 50 questions into more manageable 5 sets of 10):

Set 1
  1. Share a link to your club list.
  2. When did you join The Classics Club? Almost 6 years ago - April 27, 2013 was my first blog post on it. How many titles have you read for the club? 42 out of 50
  3. What are you currently reading? War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  4. What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it? I read Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey in January--I know I'm in the minority but Anne is just not a writer of the same caliber as her sisters Charlotte and Emily.
  5. What are you reading next? Why? Song of the Lark, by Willa Cather - two birds with one stone, it will be my book set in a place I have read for Back to the Classics Challenge, 2019
  6. Best book you’ve read so far with the club, and why? East of Eden, by John Steinbeck - technically it was a reread as I read it in high school but I reread it a couple of years ago, and then listened to it on a road trip to CA, where we visited Salinas.
  7. Book you most anticipate (or, anticipated) on your club list? Of my remaining titles, I think The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton has me most excited--I saw the mini-series decades ago and finally got it on a reading list.
  8. Book on your club list you’ve been avoiding, if any? Why? The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy - he can be so depressing!
  9. First classic you ever read? Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  10. Toughest classic you ever read? Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy - I disliked all the characters, found the story insipid, and the rambling annoying.

Set 2
  1. Classic that inspired you? or scared you? made you cry? made you angry? In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote - scared me because the story was real not fictional
  2. Longest classic you’ve read? Between Dickens and Tolstoy, who knows? Longest classic left on your club list? Either Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot or Can You Forgive Her, by Anthony Trollope
  3. Oldest classic you’ve read? From my list, The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith Oldest classic left on your club list? Probably Can You Forgive Her, by Anthony Trollope
  4. Favorite biography about a classic author you’ve read — or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any? Jenny Uglow's biography of Elizabeth Gaskell is absolutely first rate--comprehensive, charts her progress as an author, her motivations, and great lit crit on the novels themselves.
  5. Which classic do you think EVERYONE should read? Why? I personally love Middlemarch, by George Eliot. To me, it is about forgiveness and recognizing that we are all weak in different ways and to be compassionate.
  6. Favorite edition of a classic you own, if any? A two-volume, hardbound complete works of Jane Austen. I bought it at a used bookstore for $13 when I was 13. The first books I bought with my own money.
  7. Favorite movie adaption of a classic? North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell - one of my favorite books and adaptations of all time.
  8. Classic which hasn’t been adapted yet (that you know of) which you very much wish would be adapted to film. Sylvia's Lovers, by Elizabeth Gaskell - the setting (north Yorkshire coast during the whaling days) and a classic lover's triangle, would make a terrific video
  9. Least favorite classic? Why? There are some I have no interest in rereading (Anna Karenina, Vicar of Wakefield, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), but none I would consider a waste of my time to have read.
  10. Name five authors you haven’t read yet whom you cannot wait to read. Victor Hugo, William Faulkner (except for 1-2 novels in high school), Flannery O'Connor, Kate Chopin, James Baldwin

Set 3
  1. Which title by one of the five you’ve listed above most excites you and why? Les Miserables for the very obvious reason that I love the musical.
  2. Have you read a classic you disliked on first read that you tried again and respected, appreciated, or even ended up loving? (This could be with the club or before it.) Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton - was unimpressed in high school, but loved it when I read it a few years ago.
  3. Which classic character can’t you get out of your head? Roger Hamley from Gaskell's Wives and Daughters - I love that he was modeled on Gaskell distant relative Charles Darwin; he is kind and gentle, loving and honest, and grows in self-realization in the course of the story.
  4. Which classic character most reminds you of yourself? I have always identified with Dorothea Brooke of Eliot's Middlemarch
  5. Which classic character do you most wish you could be like? Sophie Croft in Austen's Persuasion - practical, pragmatic, warm, compassionate
  6. Which classic character reminds you of your best friend? Roger Hamley of Wives and Daughters reminds me of my husband and best friend ever.
  7. If a sudden announcement was made that 500 more pages had been discovered after the original “THE END” on a classic title you read and loved, which title would you most want to keep reading? Or, would you avoid the augmented manuscript in favor of the original? Why? Gaskell's Wives and Daughters - she died before finishing it, and while she left notes, another 500 pages of Roger and Molly would be such a gift.
  8. Favorite children’s classic? Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne - my father read this as well as Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows to me repeatedly, and I love them all but Pooh most of all.
  9. Who recommended your first classic? My mother bought me a copy of Pride and Prejudice, and shortly after that my older brother Mark gave me a copy of Jane Eyre to read. I've been reading the classics ever since.
  10. Whose advice do you always take when it comes to literature. (Recommends the right editions, suggests great titles, etc.) My brother Mark, my friend Maxene, and my sister Frances.

Set 4
  1. Favorite memory with a classic? I've read The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens at least three times, and I enjoy chatting with my brother about this because it is one of his favorites too.
  2. Classic author you’ve read the most works by? It has to be Dickens, just because he wrote more novels than did Austen. But, I've read all of Austen and Gaskell, and still have a few titles by Dickens before I have read the lot.
  3. Classic author who has the most works on your club list? Dickens (some were rereads)
  4. Classic author you own the most books by? I own more books by and about Austen, with Shakespeare, Dickens, and Gaskell nipping at her heels.
  5. Classic title(s) that didn’t make it to your club list that you wish you’d included? (Or, since many people edit their lists as they go, which titles have you added since initially posting your club list?) I'm ready to dive back into Mark Twain and Bernard Shaw.
  6. If you could explore one author’s literary career from first publication to last — meaning you have never read this author and want to explore him or her by reading what s/he wrote in order of publication — who would you explore? Obviously this should be an author you haven’t yet read, since you can’t do this experiment on an author you’re already familiar with. ðŸ™‚ Or, which author’s work you are familiar with might it have been fun to approach this way? I did this with Gaskell, and have been working my way through Eliot (Daniel Deronda will finish Eliot for me), but I would really like to get a handle on Barbara Pym and read her books in order and read about her as an author.
  7. How many rereads are on your club list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy? 9 of the 50 were rereads - I enjoy rereading favorites or revisiting books I was ambivalent about when I read them at a young age. Since I have been reading classic literature for almost 50 years, sometimes rereading a book from my teenage years is like reading it for the first time!
  8. Has there been a classic title you simply could not finish? I have tried on at least three occasions to read Ulysses, by James Joyce, and give up by about page 100.
  9. Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving? War and Peace - so much better than I expected. One of my all-time favorite reads.
  10. Five things you’re looking forward to next year in classic literature? 2020 means that books published in 1970 are now officially classics: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Sophie's Choice; Burr; Centennial

Set 5
  1. Classic you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year? Leaving my comfort zone and reading classics from Latin America.
  2. Classic you are NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year? Anything by Dostoevsky.
  3. Favorite thing about being a member of the Classics Club? Inspiration to explore classic authors/titles I haven't heard of.
  4. List five fellow clubbers whose blogs you frequent. What makes you love their blogs? Karen at Books and Chocolate (her love for Emil Zola inspired me to read Germinal), Margaret at Books Please (very eclectic--from classics, to mysteries, to non-fiction, to travel), Adam at Roof Beam Reader (extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking posts), Fanda at Fanda ClassicLit (she is very ambitious and dedicated when it comes to selecting what to read next--inspiring), Joann at Lakeside Musing (our tastes align so well--if she recommends a book, I read it!)
  5. Favorite post you’ve read by a fellow clubber? Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis (reviewed by Karen of Books and Chocolate) - I remember seriously not liking this book when I read it as a teenager; Karen has inspired me to give it another year!
  6. If you’ve ever participated in a readalong on a classic, tell about the experience? If you’ve participated in more than one, what’s the very best experience? the best title you’ve completed? a fond memory? a good friend made? I read A Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins as a read-along by someone who posted the serialization according to the original schedule, but 150 years later. It was awesome to read it like this.
  7. If you could appeal for a readalong with others for any classic title, which title would you name? Why? I would do a reread of War and Peace as a read-along. So much to talk about in that book!
  8. How long have you been reading classic literature? My dad read classic children's lit to me from infancy. I graduated to grown-up classics at about age 11, and have had a steady diet of classics for the past 50 years or so.
  9. Share up to five posts you’ve written that tell a bit about your reading story. Reviews, journal entries, posts on novels you loved or didn’t love, lists, etc. Elizabeth Gaskell compilation of posts; Breakfast at Tiffany's: The Great Gatsby reimagined; Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday; Back to 1599: Looking at Henry V in Context; The Invisible Woman: the Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens
  10. Question you wish was on this questionnaire? (Ask and answer it!) What makes a work a classic? Older than 50 years and still in print or reasonably available and still relevant. Except for the age criterion, it's really a judgement call.
That was fun - I look forward to reading fellow Classic Clubbers answers as well.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday - Books on my Spring TBR list

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

The topic for today is books on my Spring TBR list.

Assuming I finish War and Peace this month, and it's highly likely as I am beyond the point of no return (aka past the half way mark), here's what I am looking forward to reading:

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier - the GoodReads group True Book Talk is reading this in April, and I am thrilled. I watched the movie a few years ago and loved it, and got a copy of the book and it has sat on my shelf since then. The movie is set in England, while the novel is set in France, but I think the plot is pretty much the same.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver - I'm a Kingsolver fan and have heard good things about this novel.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon - another bookclub book, this time with the JASNA Denver/Boulder reading group.

Before I Grow Too Old: A walk from John O'Groats to Land's End by Pat Jilks - my daughter read this, enjoyed it, and lent it to me as she knows how much I want to do this walk and how much I love reading about walking journeys.

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman - my husband just read this, and recommended it. We are celebrating our 35th anniversary in May with a trip to a birding festival, and this will be perfect prep for the vacation. Incidentally, we had planned to go to Lake McConnaughy in Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration, but cancelled because of the Bombogenesis storm that knocked the socks off of Colorado and is causing massive flooding the Midwest. 

Song of the Lark by Willa Cather - speaking of Nebraska and eastern Colorado, I am eager to read this classic and hope to get to it this spring.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

February - it's a wrap!

Wow, only one post in February. It's not that I haven't been reading, but I write so much in my day job that I need a break from it.

Nevertheless, blogging is a habit I'm not ready to break.


I belong to the fabulous Denver/Boulder region and our February meeting was devoted to discussing two books we decided to group read. I read both before the meeting, and it was such a treat to return to my beloved Austen world.

What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, by John Mullan - really enjoyable, although the title is a bit misleading. It's not that Mullan explains twenty plot issues that have puzzled readers. Instead he answers the question, what matters in Austen, with the simple declarative, Everything! In other words, whatever Austen takes the time to describe matters in terms of understanding how the novel and its themes and characters and worldview work. The weather matters, the distance between place matters, the complexion of a woman, the cut of a man's coat. Unlike most authors, Austen's details aren't there to help fill in a world, they are there to communicate important information about that world and its stories. I gave this book five stars--loved it and will reread it. Here's a short interview with the author, who is as charming as the book he wrote.

Jane Austen at Home, by Lucy Worsley - also very enjoyable. Essentially a bio of Austen, but with an emphasis on where she lived and what it was like to live where she did and what it meant about her family's socio-economic status at any given time to inhabit the houses, rooms, neighborhoods that they occupied. I've read a fair number of Austen bios so the most interesting part of this book for me was the time she spent in Southampton after her father died and before she went to Chawton. The cramped quarters, the damp, the near squalor were eye-opening to me and this is a time in her life that is often skimmed by. At one point, she was in a household of 8-9 women, including servants, with barely enough beds for everyone to lie down at night. Another excellent book and one I'm glad I read.

Our JASNA region is starting up a bookclub that meets on alternate months from our regional meetings, so I have a lot of Austen/Regency books to look forward to in the coming months.

Audio Treats

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail, by Ben Montgomery - I heard about this book on the wonderful blog Shelf Love, and knew I had to read it. Thankfully my library had an audio copy that I downloaded. I love to hike and walk and have dreamed of hiking at least part of the Appalachian Trail since the first time I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. 

Emma Gatewood, at age 67, became the first woman to through hike the 2000+ miles from Georgia to Maine. She did this in sneakers, without a backpack or sleeping bag, and minimal provisions. She sought shelter in farms and houses along the way, but occasionally ended up sleeping rough on picnic tables, haystacks, etc. Not only that, she hiked the AT two more times, and walked the Oregon Trail from Independence, MO to Portland, her early 70s. She received incredible notoriety, and helped establish hiking trails in her home state of Ohio.

Montgomery does an excellent job of telling Emma's story and backstory and I liked the idea that he ultimately gave to her desire to long-distance hike alone--it was her way of taking back and owning her life. As an abused wife who nearly died at the hands of her horrible husband many times, when she finally broke free she was determined to live life on her terms. Truly inspiring.

I just got a guidebook for the Harper's Ferry section of the AT and am hoping to visit next year for a week or so to hike and explore the part of the AT that most appeals to me.

Boar Island, by Nevada Barr - I'm about 10 minutes away from finishing the audio book of another Anna Pigeon, NPS ranger, mystery. I have been reading Anna Pigeon mysteries for decades now, and enjoy them so much. This one takes place briefly in Boulder, CO - my stomping ground - and Acadia NP in Maine, which is near the top of the NPs on my bucket list. It's good, interesting, a bit coincidental at times, but still a fun book.

War and Peace

I decided in December that 2019 was going to be the year that I finally read War and Peace, by Leo TolstoyThe idea initially was to read two books per month and that would get  me through most of the year. The problem with that plan is that it is so good, I just cannot stop. Now, I'm thinking that I can finish it in March and then treat myself to the Andrew Davies mini-series in April.

The battles are a bit challenging to read about since I know virtually nothing about the Russian part of the Napoleonic Wars, so I have to keep on referring to Wikipedia for info on places, people, events, etc. Luckily I am reading the Norton Critical Edition, edited by George Gibian, whose notes are exceptionally good and relevant with regards to history and Tolstoy. And they are at the bottom of the page so I can read them and not have to flip to the back.


Almost done with the second season of Medici - I had watched the first couple of episodes of season 1 last summer on the way to Paris, and then devoured it when we got home. So, I rewatched season 1 before embarking on season 2. I have to say, I think season 1 was the better of the two, but I just cannot get enough of the Tuscan countryside, the Duomo, and seeing the Renaissance art being created before my eyes. Definitely a fun way to get through the final (I hope) days of winter!

Happy March--looking forward to warmer days (it's been snowing all day today!), budding trees, crocuses, daffodils, walks after dinner and before breakfast, and lots of great books!

Sunday, February 03, 2019

January Reading Wrapup

Cold winter months mean lots of reading time. When the trails around my house are icy and snowpacked, the garden is tucked away, and night comes early, I love curling up by the fire and reading.

Here's a look at my January books.

Circe, by Madeline Miller - absolutely wonderful. I loved Miller's Song of Achilles, and this was also terrific. The story of the witch/goddess Circe, daughter of Helios, one of the Titans and the sun god of Greek mythology. I loved so many things about this book, starting with the gossipy world of the gods, their jealousies, rivalries, passions, and pastimes. I loved how Circe was born immortal but had to learn witchcraft--I loved how she was able to use her magic to protect her son, her island, and their lives. I loved seeing Odysseus and his odyssey through her eyes, and that of Penelope.

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography by Marion Meade - another winner. I have long admired Eleanor and reading a complete bio of her was a treat. It was both scholarly and easy to read, not a mean feat. Having been published in 1977 it's a bit dated. How I wish one of the many cable/network companies would make a mini-series of her life. We're saturated with the Tudors, although I do plan to watch The Spanish Princess on Starz, about Katherine of Aragon. How could I not?

Transcription, by Kate Atkinson - Atkinson is fast becoming one of my favorite contemporary authors. This novel is about Juliet Armstrong, a woman typist who works for MI-5 in London during WWII, helping them spy on the British who were Nazi sympathizers or collaborators--she types up the transcriptions of the meetings that MI-5 tapes.  After the war, she works for the BBC Radio, and her past comes back to haunt her. Such a fascinating story, giving me a view into an aspect of the war that I knew nothing about. Atkinson is incredibly skillful in building the tension of the story, as she oscillates between two primary time period, giving clues and building tension with each transition. The ending really walloped me--I did not see it coming.

 O Pioneers, by Willa Cather - tremendous, an instant favorite, and first in the Great Plains trilogy

Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte - a disappointing classic but my first book in the 2019 Back to the Classics challenge.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

I know so many people absolutely love Anne Bronte and Agnes Grey in particular, but sadly I am not one of them. I am a fan of Victorian literature and have been reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights for decades, but I was bored by Tenant of Wildfell Hall and annoyed by Agnes Grey.

Here is what I didn't like about Agnes Grey.

I found the first-person narrator to be sanctimonious and self-righteous without a spark of humor. I always assumed poor Agnes to be forced to become a governess, but this was entirely her choice. Yes, her father risked and lost their meager family funds and they were strapped financially, but her parents and sister repeatedly told her she needn't go off and be a governess since they could see she wasn't well-suited to it. But, she spent years miserable, lonely, and bitter about the thankless job. She was very snarky and judgmental about the children she was employed to teach and their parents, and I have to believe that she set herself up to be marginalized. I know I am not being fair, but the constant sniping by Agnes got on my nerves.

Anne Bronte didn't tell a very compelling story. The characters were either good or bad--that is, Agnes and her parents and sister and Mr. Weston, the curate she falls in love with, were all good, and the children and parents and their friends were uniformly bad. No shades of gray, no backstory to explain the manifold flaws of the gentry Agnes forced herself to work for, and definitely no growth. I was hopeful that Miss Rosalie would show some growth after she came back into Agnes's life as a married woman who regretted marrying for money alone, but no, she was still selfish and deceitful. And the main character showed absolutely no growth or development or enlightenment in the course of the story. She had no personal hills to climb, she had only to endure being around people she didn't like and who didn't like her.

So the plot was non-existent, the characters were cardboard, and the tone was supercilious. Why then did I give it three stars on GoodReads? Good question--I think I was swayed by the lovely description Bronte gave of the sea coast where Agnes and her mother go to live at the end of the book. I am always a sucker for good nature writing, and this stole my heart and made me want to return to the Yorkshire coast again.

Not the best classic to begin my Back to the Classics 2019 challenge, but now I have a check mark next to Classic by a Woman Author category.