Favorite Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Least Favorite: Suite Francaise
I’ve been delving into more “classics” of late, due to the fantastic collection of public domain work on archive.org. Books here are free to read, and audiobooks are free to listen to. And I’m finding listening to these stories very enjoyable. So far I have listened to The Woman in White, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Daddy Long Legs, The Turn of the Screw, and currently Jane Eyre. I thoroughly enjoy letting my eyes rest while still getting to experience great literature. I also think I am understanding some of the more dense novels, or at least staying more focused on the more long-winded passages, better than if I was reading it to myself.
That being said, Henry Jame’s The Turn of the Screw has been my least favorite of this recent spate of classic literature. I have read one other short story of Henry James, in a collection of horror, and did not find it satisfying either. So perhaps Mr. James and I just aren’t meant to be.
A quick summary for those unfamiliar with the basic plot:
A Christmas Eve is spent spinning ghost stories in front of a fire with a group of companions (side-note: for a great book that starts this way read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill). And our storyteller says, well if one child haunted is frightening, imagine the terror of two young ones haunted by two different specters. And so begins his tale of the governess and her two young charges. It is clear from the beginning that the children’s uncle does not want to be bothered by any goings in the house. And so when the governess begins to see ghosts, and the house staff wont tell her the house’s secrets, she is on her own to protect the children who are the focus of the hauntings. The question becomes whether the children are aware of these ghosts, or is the governess a little off her rocker?
The mood is dark and the tone is ominous. The setting is, appropriately, a dark, secluded estate. James’ ghost story is about the corruption of innocence, not just by the evil of the haunts, but also by the suspicions of the governess. The obsession of discovering the truth behind the ghosts also drives a wedge between her and the children, leading to the final terrible outcome. All together it sounds like a pretty decent ghost story. Perhaps it was just a bit to old-fashioned, although there is a strange sexual undercurrent as well. And to explore this taboo theme, James of course had to beat around the bush a little bit, considering the time period he wrote. So some passages become long, sentences tangled, meanings hidden. And this lessens the fear factor a bit, and make the story drag as well. I will say that I was surprised by the ending, bravo on that Henry James! A must read for horror aficionados, but I don’t believe James is my favorite Victorian author.
Looking for the perfect little book, which is simple, sweet, and goodhearted? It wont take you long to read, but it will make you smile. Daddy Long Legs, written by Jean Webster in 1912, is the story of Jerusha Abbot, a young woman living in an orphanage and pondering her future. A nameless benefactor wishes to send her to college in the hopes that she will blossom as an author. The catch? The trustee wishes her to write a letter each month to address her progress at school, and he will NOT reply to these letters. Jerusha refers to him as Daddy Long Legs, and through her letters we see her grow from meek Jerusha to Judy Abbot, the collegiate, the author, and the woman.
This story was obviously written in a different time. But how refreshing is a book that is wholesome and simply written well. I am not usually a fan of the epistolary style, but Jerusha is such a gem it works perfectly. As does watching her develop a loving relationship with a nameless trustee despite his lack of response. The end ties up very neatly, and is not really a huge surprise, which would normally bother me a bit. But it just seems how this little book is supposed to be; it ends as nicely as it started.
So take a sunny day and read Judy Abbot’s letters!
Favorite Book: Cutting for Stone
Least Favorite: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
I’m a little behind the times.
Least Favorite: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (but still highly recommend! I just read three classics this month!)
Can I tell you to read this book? Because I’m going to. Please read this book. It is beautiful. Sometimes you forget that books can be beautiful. And I know A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving has been around for a while, so many of you probably have already experienced it. And I know it has already been made into a terrible movie adaptation. And I know the novel itself is considered controversial, but what great literature isn’t controversial in some way? It is not suspenseful, actually it is rather plodding. And you wonder why Irving made it plodding, but when you read the last several pages, you realize that plodding was actually perfection. It is not a quick read, each page is purposeful, each sentence of vital importance to the impact of the story. When was the last time you read a book and were convinced that the author planned carefully each sentence, phrase, and word? This book gave me chills, and I think it will do the same for you too (and Stephanie H. if you are reading this I MEAN YOU).
So the summary (I’m not sure if this can properly be summarized):
Owen Meany is an itsy bitsy boy who grows into an itsy bitsy man, and he has an itsy bitsy voice. And he is an instrument of God. For reals; he is not delusional. And he kills his best friends mom with a baseball. And subplots abound. And you question why they abound. And then you are thankful. And we watch the entire life of this little man.
It’s been called a Christian mystic novel. And as a nonbeliever, if religion was really this cool I might have to sign up (well, probably not, but still). I suppose strict believers in Christianity could be offended by the different interpretation and usage of the Christian faith, but this is set in England, and I am not sure but I feel like the English have different perspective on all this business.
And it is just a good story.
So why not 5/5? Hmmm. The narrator is John, and John is really just a vehicle for telling Owen’s story. He is more of an observer than a participant, and while he serves his purpose well, I occasionally felt that he needed to react with more emotion to the events of their lives, because his life is inescapably intertwined with Meany’s. Also, you have to suspend your belief in order for this story to be magical, but I guess why not suspend your belief for a couple of hours each day while reading a good book.
Let’s start with the summary this time:
Joanna is 30, and on the edge of true adulthood (whatever that means). Her closest friends are her Oxford besties from the good-old college days. Her closest of her closest friends is Lucas, who just inherited a Manor house from his uncle, who committed suicide. The uncle was the only family Lucas had, and Lucas is devastated by his sudden death. Now the closest friends get to spend the weekends at the Manor and the weekdays at their burgeoning careers. Lucas and Joanna forge a romantic relationship, and instead of getting closer (word of the post!) they find themselves at odds with their feelings and desires. Joanna begins to feel that the manor is playing a role in the destruction of their tight-knit group. Does the house hold some ominous power over them, and for that matter Lucas’ uncle and parents lives before their own?
First of all, I liked Joanna reasonably well. She seemed to have a decent head on her shoulders. But Lucas was whiney and naive, and most of the other characters were one-note. They never learned from any of their mistakes or mis-assumptions, and they were all very self-indulgent. I had little to no empathy for any of them except Joanna. The house is supposed to be intimidating and sinister, but this falls flat. I believe the author, Lucie Whitehouse, wanted the Manor to be a character in its own, but there was only suggestions to its “power” and no real evidence. I really enjoy gothic novels, but this tried too hard (and failed) to be gothic. It had none of the subtlety, the suspense, or the intrigue of my favorite gothic fare. That being said, I got it on clearance at Borders, so hooray for that!
Well, my TBR list has surpassed 300. This disgusts me. But here are the new books I’ve added and am pretty excited to read. . . probably 2 years from now.
Has anyone else been seeing this book, The Weird Sisters, promoted everywhere? Sounds interesting though, I think it will make a good book club choice. And Here’s the Amazon blurb:
There is no problem that a library card can’t solve.
The Andreas family is one of readers. Their father, a renowned Shakespeare professor who speaks almost entirely in verse, has named his three daughters after famous Shakespearean women. When the sisters return to their childhood home, ostensibly to care for their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds and bury their secrets, they are horrified to find the others there. See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much. But the sisters soon discover that everything they’ve been running from-one another, their small hometown, and themselves-might offer more than they ever expected.
The man and I are Vonnegut fans. He’s just too smart and weird not to be loved. And coming later this months is a collection of unpublished short stories from Vonnegut’s early writings, called While Mortals Sleep. Should be an entertaining jaunt.
The Sherlockian by Graham Moore is marketed as “historical suspense” and as a fan of Conan Doyle and Mr. Holmes, this looks like an interesting read. I like an intelligent mystery, and I look forward to this one.
Ready for another ‘best of” list for 2010? Yes you are! My list of the ten best books I read this year. Not all have been reviewed yet– I’m working on that part. Enjoy!
10. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
6. Room by Emma Donague
5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
3. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
2. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Happy New Year, hope it is filled with many good books!