Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Cranford Read-Along Post 2: Chapters 9-16.
Those participating made their first posts two weeks ago and I think there was a general feeling of enjoyment on part of everyone who posted and commented. However, I did find that many of us felt that the book was a little scattered and it didn't seem to have an overarching plot in the beginning.
For me, the book definitely took off in the middle. The story seemed to pull together in a couple different ways. The focus shifted permanently back on to the character of Miss Matty. While there were some side stories, like that of "the panic," the novel was essentially about Miss Matty's role in this town, and how the people perceived her.
In fact, the whole book is about perceptions. The women all saw Lady Glenmire as this woman they needed to impress, but ultimately, she was just like them. The explosion of gossip after they found out she was engaged was hilarious!
"'What do you think, Miss Matty? What do you think? Lady Glenmire is to marry-is to be married, I mean-Lady Glenmire -Mr. Hoggins-Mr. Hoggins is going to marry Lady Glenmire!'
'Marry!' said we. 'Marry! Madness!'
'Marry!' said Miss Pole, with the decision that belonged to her character. 'I said Marry! as you do; and I also said, What a fool my lady is going to make of herself!'" (135).
They also give off the impression of wealth and grandeur, but some make their own party trays and refuse to buy new fashions. They all want to give off this image of something they really aren't. And the funny thing is, everyone KNOWS everything anyway! It is not as if they are really hiding anything!
That's why when Miss Matty goes bankrupt and it forced into making some hard decisions, the ladies of Cranford touched my heart. Miss Matty was a woman who worked hard to maintain an image and a standard that she believed in. She didn't want anyone to know her struggles, but all of the women chipped in to help her maintain the life she had.
"Every lady wrote down the sum she could give annually, signed the paper, and sealed it mysteriously. If their proposal was acceded to, my father was to be allowed to open the papers, under pledge of secresy," (162).
The good will and charity of the ladies towards one of their own melted my heart. While these women may gossip, they truly care about each other, and when one of their own needed aid, they chipped in.
I was also happy to see the return of Miss Matty's brother, Peter, and the reconciliation and hope that resulted from his return. It was the perfect ending to this delightful little novel and I cannot wait to see what else Gaskell has in store.
"Ever since that day there has been old friendly sociability in Cranford society; which I am thankful for, because of my dear Miss Matty's love of peace and kindliness. We all love Miss Matty, and I somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us," (187).
If you have your post up, please leave a link here so that I may update this post throughout the day to show everyone's posts! Come back to check, and to visit other participants to see their thoughts!
Gulliver's Travels Read-Along Part Four: A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.
If you are interested in seeing our thoughts on the other sections, here are the links for you:
Gulliver is again too antsy for his own good and travels by sea. This time there is a mutiny and he is ultimately abandoned to a boat and set to drift towards an island. Upon landing, he immediately sees creatures similar to himself, but much dirtier and covered in hair. Thinking they are human or native, he cries out, only to be swarmed by them. Luckily, a large horse comes to his rescue. Gulliver eventually realizes that in this land, the horses or Houyhnhnms, are in charge. The people-like figures he saw are to the Houyhnhnms what horses are to the English. The people figures are called Yahoos.
Gulliver begins to befriend the Houyhnhnms and become acquainted with their customs and beliefs. They are wary of him at first and consider him a Yahoo, but they eventually realize he is capable of thought and reason.
One of the reasons I really enjoy this part of the book is that it is much more fantastical than any of the others. This is the first time that the race is not humanoid that Gulliver comes into contact with. It probably took the reader in 1735 (when this was first published) a lot of effort to see the horses as a legit race of people. For that, I have to commend Swift. He has allowed his story and the thoughts of Gulliver to come out in a much more significant way than if the land of the Houyhnhnms had been another human-like race.
Anyway, while Gulliver is with these people, we see a lot of change in him and how he views his own society. The Houyhnhnms don't have a large amount of emotion or attachment. When they pick a partner, they think of it logically. If a couple loses a child, another couple with two of the same sex can "donate" their child to fill the void. It is an odd society.
It is also a society without lies. The Houyhnhnm in charge of Gulliver often accuses him of telling "the thing that is not" when Gulliver explains his travels. Honesty and loyalty are high virtues in their society. You can see that Gulliver begins to be influenced in this section, and certainly he rags on certain professions (mainly lawyers) for the things they do,
"I said there was a Society of Men amoung us, bred up from their Youth in the Art of proving by Words multiplied for the Purpose, that White is Black, and Black is White, according as they are paid. To this Society all the rest of the people are Slaves," (241).
Gulliver eventually becomes so in tune with the wisdom of the Houyhnhnms that when he returns home, he cannot stand human society any longer and spends hours talking to his own horses. Essentially, his adventures have finally driven him over the edge.
When I read this section before, it was definitely the most profound. Swift is making large efforts to point out the faults in English society, as he does in all of the sections and voyages. But here, Swift really drives home his point that all society is not perfect, and while we may wish that things were different and done differently to some other extreme, there will always be something lacking. There has to be a limit. Too much knowledge can be detrimental to the lower classes. No emotion can lead to a boring existence. Being prone to war can drive people away. And exploitation of oddities can hurt those who are different.
In sum, society must find a balance between everything. Too much progress can be harmful, just as staying still can be harmful as well.
For me, this re-read was a lot of fun. This is a novel that was way ahead of its time and it was great to be reminded of why I loved it so much. I hope that those of you who made it to the end felt the same way!
If you have your post up, please comment here with a link so that I may put a link in on this post. Check back throughout the day to visit other bloggers to see their thoughts about dear old Gulliver and his travels to other places!
My Mom's Post
Gulliver's Travels Part 4: Guest Post from my Mom!
Book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels takes him off again, this time as a captain of a merchant ship. He hires replacements for his crew who became ill and they turned out to be pirates and organize a mutiny on his ship. They end up setting him free on the
Here the Houyhnhnms are horse’s who run the
The slaves are human creatures called Yahoo’s. They are filthy and smell. They eat meat and garbage. He sees them as vulgar and they throw their excrement at one another. He compares the two and places himself somewhere in the middle. His clothes are what makes him different from the Yahoos and helps the Houyhnhnms accept him as different. Gulliver tries to become more like the horse and not like the human Yahoo’s.
Gulliver explains his society and war and the reasons for it. He basically is explaining the justification of reasons countries go to war, take over land and its people. He also explains how lawyers use laws and reasons to justify their means. Gulliver goes on to explain how money can corrupt; how the rich can buy gourmet food and then become unhealthy.
Gulliver lives with the Houyhnhnm’s for three years and he starts to imitate the horse by walking, speaking and acting like them.
The Houyhnhnm hold an assembly every 4 years, which shows that they have no problems living peacefully together. The horses become frightened with Gulliver trying to be like them, he is more a Yahoo and they want him to leave.
They help him build a boat and he ends up eventually being taken aboard a Portuguese ship where the captain convinces him to return home to his family.
His family is happy to see him again, they thought he was dead, but he cannot stand the sight or smell of his Yahoo-wife and children. He sees himself in the worst way and his pride is in disarray. Over time he reasons to change his thinking and starts to come back to normal.
Gulliver swears he’s telling the truth about his journeys. Are countries, politicians, authors telling the truth? The end comes down to Gulliver’s pride, just as those he mocks throughout the book.
This book makes you stop and think about ourselves, our own society, country and world. He takes a look at himself in different situations throughout the book where any one of us could see ourselves dealing with moral, political and societal issues today. The truth and pride we each have is what Gulliver himself is struggling with in his adventures.
In the end, I really like the book. It was thought provoking. You can read it for the enjoyment of the story as it is, but when you look at what issues he is raising, it also becomes much more, which I am sure is what he wanted.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2010.
Actually, no. I am really excited to read through posts that highlight the best of the book blogging world. I know that the way I view my own reading and free time has changed since starting my blog and challenge back on September 1, 2009. So this seems to be a perfect way of sharing my challenge and what I have accomplished with others in the book blogging community. I just want to say that I feel slightly uncomfortable entering myself, so please don't assume that I am trying to toot my own horn.
Anyway, there are two categories for nominations, niches and features. I am submitting my blog for one in each. Let's start with the niche category.
Best Literary Fiction Book Blog
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
On Personal Reading Experiences (The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow)
On Racism and History (Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)
I am also entering in the featured category.
Best New Book Blog
The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
The Beginnings of "A Literary Odyssey."
Thursday Treat: A Man Without a Country
Book 46: Finished.
That is the case for me with Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Perhaps I am just in a book funk recently, but this little novella did nothing for me. I took nothing away from my reading and I was super disappointed in what I thought was going to be a great book.
The story follows a group of girls, the Brodie set, who are highly influenced by their teacher (Miss Brodie). The story is not told linearly, but rather as reflections and memories. It tells of how the girls were influenced and changed by the unorthodox teachings of Miss Brodie and how ultimately, one of them betrayed her.
Perhaps it was the manner of telling the story, and the way Spark set it up, but nothing about her characters or the plot had any effect on me. I was bored with Miss Brodie and the girls. I felt as if the characters were one dimensional and I was so annoyed that I read the book in one sitting, hoping to pull some kind of value from it.
I ended up being angry when I closed it, and I felt extremely let down. Maybe it was a combination of a bad mood and being tired, but I just didn't get it. Sometimes a book just doesn't work for me and I think that was the case here. Moreover, I couldn't find anything in this slim volume to find it up to the level of some of the other things I have been reading recently. Maybe it is not fair to compare this to something like Gone with the Wind or As I Lay Dying, both of which had a profound impact on me.
In any case, I didn't take anything away from this novel, which is a huge shame. That has only happened two other times so far in this process (The Stranger by Albert Camus and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck), but it is disheartening all the same.
Has anyone else read this? What were your thoughts?
Sunday, June 27, 2010
One Hundred Years of Solitude Read-Along Sign-ups.
If you are unsure if this is the book for you, here is a synopsis from BarnesandNoble.com:
"One of the 20th century's enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement in a Nobel Prize–winning career.
The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.
Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility -- the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth -- these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.
Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race."If you are interested in joining up, all you need to do is comment here saying that you are signing up, and I will make a link back to your blog to show your participation! It would also be helpful and wonderful if you would make a post, or mention it somewhere on your blog. That way we can generate more interest in the read-along. Read-alongs work best when there are a number of people participating, so spread the word and link it back here!
My edition of the novel is about 450 pages long, but I think it is best to split it into two posts, about halfway through. I am reading from the Harper Perennial Classics edition, and I have a chapter break at page 218. That is where I am planning on cutting it in half, but if you are reading from a different edition with different page numbers, you can make your best guess!
There will be two post days and they will be the following:
- Post 1 on first half of book: July 17
- Post 2 on second half of book: July 31
Again, if you are interested, comment here and I will begin making links!
Weekly Wrap-up: June 27, 2010.
Both of them are adjusting well and seem to be bonding with both of our cats. Hemi, who is 3, was the last to come around. She really isn't a big fan of other animals on her turf, but she took to the kittens in only 2 days, which was a lot quicker than she did when we brought Sparty home. She is still a little wary, but its fun to watch her watching the kittens.
Sparty is in his glory. He is 6 months old now, so he almost full grown. But he is loving the fact that he has two new playmates to wrestle with and chase.
The first night the kittens were here was kind of horrible. Both of them were dehydrated and starving in addition to having fleas. Matt's sister Sarah, who is a vet tech, came over to check them out and confirmed that they were both girls. She helped me wash them and get rid of their fleas...which was a horrible experience. I have never felt so bad for an animal before. Especially the gray kitten, who was far more infested.
Since then, they have become more comfortable with us and even affectionate. However, when you reach out for one, they bolt, leading me to believe they were abused, which breaks my heart. But they are very comfortable with us now and love to cuddle.
The tiger looking one we have named "Lou," in honor of the guy who found her. Lou was originally going to keep her, but has asked us to find her a good home. She is super playful and pretty spunky. She actually reminds us a lot of Sparty when he was a little smaller. So, if you know of anyone in Southeast Michigan who would love to take her in, we are still looking for a good home for her!
The little gray one took my heart the moment I saw her, so we decided to keep her. After this, I don't think we can take in any more. And even though we love Lou just as much, we just can't keep both in our apartment.
I decided I wanted a literary name for her (to contrast Hemi and Sparty), and Matt shot down some of my other choices, so we decided on Lily, after the character Lily Bart in one of my all time favorite novels The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. She is a super sweet little kitten and I am love with her adorable little face.
But no more pets until we have a bigger place!
Anyway, moving on from the kittens, I have been feeling super under the weather the last few days. I spend almost all day today, except going to see Toy Story 3, in bed sleeping. I haven't felt like doing much, so our apartment is a huge mess as well. I am hoping I am not seriously ill, but I think it might be mono. One of the girls at work came down with it a month ago and a week before that we shared a drink at the bar. I have some of the symptoms so I am waiting to see what happens.
In reading news, I didn't get much accomplished. I was having a hard time getting into a few of the books I was reading, so I gave up and went on to a Wharton novel the same night we decided to keep Lily. I'm in the middle of The Glimpses of the Moon and loving it. I just wish I had more energy for reading!
I don't have big plans for this week except to get through The Inferno, but if I don't feel better, that might not happen.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Classic Circuits Tour: Imperial Russian Literature and Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
I have very limited experience with Russian literature as a whole. For me, the Russian authors have always been super intimidating. I never had to read any of them in high school or college, and so I built up this mysterious aura around them and their work.
I decided to jump in and read Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky as the second book for my little challenge. Imagine how surprised I was when I realized I was in love with the book after 80 or so pages! I also read The Brothers Karamazov back in April and that too was a book I fell in love with!
While I wasn't ready to tackle Tolstoy yet, I did decide to read Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, an author I hadn't heard a lot about.
And after finishing it, I really am in love with these Russian authors. They have the ability to turn simple stories into great beautiful works that are just so powerful. They just continue to surprise me when I pick up a volume.
Fathers and Sons is a story about the relationships between young and old. The young seek progress and change while the old hold on to tradition and the way things have always been. The main focus of the book is on two young men returning to the Russian countryside from university in St. Petersburg. One of them, Arcady Kirsanov, is slightly more traditional than the other, but finds much to value and love in his friend. Bazarov is an extremely intelligent young man who essentially believes in nothing but progress and straying away from tradition and traditional Russia.
The novel portrays their story as they are thrust back into traditional Russian life and all that it has to offer. Arcady returns home to his father and uncle to visit and explore, and show what he has learned while at university. Bazarov comes with him and immediately sparks ignite as he begins arguments and quarrels against the social conventions of the home.
When Bazarov eventually returns to his home, the reader can see that he did come from a very loving and wonderful home. His parents are overjoyed to see him and almost smother him with their pride and love. Those scenes with his parents are what truly touched me in this novel. Bazarov maintains his somewhat negative attitude and isn't at all grateful for the things his parents are doing for him. Instead, he leaves only a couple of days after he arrives.
I don't want to give any more of the plot away, since it is simply wonderful and I feel like you need to read this one yourself. But I still touch on a lot of the meaning behind this book.
I love how Turgenev shows how at first, progress and change are wonderful things. They bring enlightenment and new ideas. But there is something to be said for tradition. Tradition works for some things, and sometimes, it might be best to keep traditions held tight.
In a larger scope, you can tell that this novel is a reflection of the time period. Since it was first published in 1862 and Russia was going through many changes along with the rest of the world, you can see the reflections in the way the characters speak to each other and interact. It was a time of large change in Russian society. Old traditions and classes were dying and the people of the aristocracy had to adjust. Where Gone with the Wind touches on the changes made here in America, Fathers and Sons touches on the changes in Russia. And it does so with beautiful language.
Some of my favorite lines are the following:
"Time, as we all know, is sometimes a bird on a wing, and sometimes a crawling worm; but men are happiest when oblivious of time's quick or slow pace," (106).
"'I have behind me so many memories: my life in Petersburg, prosperity, then poverty, my father's death, my marriage, my trip abroad, it had to be...There are plenty of memories, but nothing to remember, and ahead, in front of me, stretches a long, long road, but I have no goal...So I have no desire even to tread the path,'" (115).
"'Yes, yes,' Bazarov began, 'let this be a lesson to you, my young friend, an instructive example of sorts. The devil take it, how absolutely absurd everything is! The life of each of us hangs by a thread, an abyss may gape beneath us at any minute, and yet we go out of our way to cook up all sorts of trouble for ourselves and to mess up our lives,'" (131).
As a whole, the novel was very approachable and lovely. It is a story with such depth that I am still thinking about and will continue to. It has sparked within in me a love for the land of its origins, and the courage to try more of these wonderful Russian authors. And for those of you who were just as intimidated as I was, this would be a great place to start!
Thursday, June 24, 2010
However, a couple of the guys at Matt's work (another park in our city) found two kittens abandoned in the park. Matt and I took them in last night. I spent all of my time yesterday after working getting them checked out and giving them multiple flea baths. They were starved and dehydrated yesterday, but are doing much better today. They are both playing with our two cats and they seem to be eating and drinking!
I will try to get up my Classics Circuit post tomorrow morning, so please look for it!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
July and August Read-Along?
One Hundred Years of Solitude came out on top with The Tempest in a relatively close second. Everything else seems to have been super uninteresting to you folk, so I think we can safely say there was little interest.
I am more than happy to host another read-along, but I am wary to host two at the same time (my current two read-alongs are a little draining and have taken up a lot of posting space on the blog. I try to limit posts to one/day if I can help it and I am backlogged with a lot of other posts). I am willing to host on the winners in July and the second in August. I hope that will work for all of you!
My thoughts are to begin with One Hundred Years of Solitude in July and have The Tempest in August. Let me know if you think this will work out for you and if you are considering joining. I will have official sign-ups on Sunday.
Gulliver's Travels Read-Along Part Three: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan.
Last week, we all posted on the second of Gulliver's travels, to the place of giants. It was great to see everyone's reactions and thoughts on this polar opposite place and experience.
This week, we all read the third of four parts, Gulliver's travels to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan. That's quite a mouthful, isn't it?
Gulliver is at it again. Once more, Gulliver takes to the sea in pursuit of adventure and misfortune strikes. In this case, his ship is not captured in a storm, but caught by pirates. Gulliver is cast off in a boat with limited food. Luckily for him, a floating island appears out of the sky and inhabitants rescue him.
The Laputans are a race that are seemingly obsessed with mathematics and music. Most of them spend a great deal of time studying these subjects, but they aren't put to great use. Instead, their knowledge seems rather silly and isn't put to good use. Gulliver learns all kinds of information about the people and their beliefs, including their refusal to use right angles in anything they build.
The Laputans also seem to be very strict with certain rules. My favorite chapter in the entire section is the third, where Gulliver discusses some of the rules and procedures of the island. When a city is in rebellion, it is common for the island to "hover" above and deprive the city below of sun and rain, forcing compliance. This is definitely an advanced idea, don't you think? What would kings and queens of England have given for that ability during the American Revolution?
You also begin to understand the differences here between the societies that Gulliver has visited. If you look at the first two places he visited: Lilliput and Brobdingnag, the only really differences are due to size. There doesn't appear to be differences in regards to intelligence and advancements. Here, we get the first inkling of something completely different. Those on the floating island, and the "nobility" have more technology than their subjects. They also abuse their technology (like hovering the island over poor farmers), to gain advantages!
There is also a huge difference between those who spend their life studying (the intellectuals) and those who do not (the commoners). It is certainly interesting to think of all of this in today's world and context. Our government certainly has more technology than the everyday person and there are intellectuals who are more concerned with learning than with spreading their knowledge for the well being of the people around them.
After Laputa, Gulliver decides to leave and visits a few other places. Most notably is that of Glubbdubdrib, where Gulliver is allowed to speak to the ghosts of the dead. This section is probably one of my favorites, as Gulliver selects people to speak with. It made me wonder who I would choose to speak with if given the chance (I would probably ask for George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Robert E. Lee, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. Wouldn't that be a lively bunch??).
When Gulliver is finally allowed to go home, he of course finds himself in Japan (I am thinking Swift threw this in as the "Orient" was still quite exotic back then, and to make his satire more realistic).
In all, this section seems to speak a lot more to human desire and want. Sometimes the very things we want are harmful to the society we live in. Gulliver discovers that for himself and criticizes the people he meets for carrying those harmful ideas out.
Anyway, there is only one more section to go, and it is a doozy. Like the first and second sections, the third and fourth play off each other in a remarkable way and I am looking forward to reading everyone's final thoughts on Gulliver's Travels!
If you have your post up, please comment here with a link so that I may put a link in on this post. Check back throughout the day to visit other bloggers to see their thoughts about dear old Gulliver and his travels to other places!
Gulliver's Travels Part 3: Guest Post from my Mom!
Book Three is a lot different from the first two books. Gulliver is once again taken to a different world where he is lifted up to a flying island, Laputa. He goes into detail on how the
He moves on to the other lands of Luggnagg, Glubbdibdub and then onto
I started to think, who would I like to talk to if I could. I think George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin are up there for me. Just to know where they were actually coming from and what our leaders today use in their perspective of what these leaders meant at their time in history, I think would be interesting to talk with them about.
Quite a different book from the first two-looking forward to Book IV.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Book 46: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Book Stats.
Author: Muriel Spark (1918-2006)
First Published: 1961
My Edition: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (seen at left)
Other Works Include: The Comforters (1957), The Bachelors (1960), The Public Image (1968), The Takeover (1976), Loitering with Intent (1981), The Finishing School (2004)
Both The Public Image and Loitering with Intent were shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
When I was compiling the list of books I would read, I looked at a few things to determine which books would make the cut. This book popped up on a few lists, including the AP Literature list, as well as some top 100 lists. And even though I have some other "modern classics" on the list, this one I never heard of.
To be honest, I am really excited for this little novel. It is about a teacher who does things her own way, and that is really appealing, especially since I am a want to be teacher. I hope that it can live up to my expectations!
This will be the only thing by Spark I will read for my challenge and I have never read anything by her before, so we shall see how it goes!
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles.
I am also going to point out one more time that while I am reading all NINE books featuring Holmes, they are only counting as ONE title on my overall list. See my introduction for clarification.
In the last of the middle collections of Holmes' short stories, we discovered that Holmes was resurrected from the dead after everyone believed him to be dead (including the author). This collection of short stories re-solidified Sherlock Holmes as the number one literary detective and brought him back to the forefront of mystery fiction.
The next book in the Holmes collection is The Hound of the Baskervilles. This novel is probably the best known Holmes story, and the one that most, if exposed to Sherlock Holmes, have read. It is also the only novel and/or collection of short stories about Holmes that I have read previously!
In fact, I taught this novel to my ninth grade students during my student teaching. It was the first time I ever taught a novel solo and it was quite the experience. I was reading the novel one chapter ahead of my students, so I was figuring out the mystery right before they were. It was a great novel to begin with and I had a lot of fun teaching it. It has been two years since then, so some of the details were a little fuzzy, but came back as I delved deeper into the novel. I definitely remembered why I loved this and a lot of memories of those kids came back to me as I read!
The novel opens with Watson and Holmes at home on Baker Street. The two missed a visitor and are drawing clues from the walking stick the visitor left behind. In this scene, it seems as if Holmes is a little more pompous than usual and I was a little irritated with him. He seemed slightly cocky, and while he is usually a little arrogant and self-assured, it seemed like overkill in this first scene. Anyway, the two are discussing who their visitor might be when he reappears.
The reader is greeted by Dr. Mortimer, a man who is coming to Holmes and Watson in desperation. He lives out on the moors in the country, and a good friend of his by the name of Baskerville died in mysterious circumstances. He relates the details of Baskerville's death, as well as the legend of the Baskervilles-a story about a legendary hound that stalks the moors after a distant relative, Hugo, kidnapped a girl and she ran screaming over the moors in escape. Mortimer tells us that Baskerville was frightened of the hound and believed in the legend!
Holmes seems not to care about the legend, or the story, until he is told that a distant relative, Henry, will be arriving at Baskerville Hall. But before arriving at the Hall, he will be in London. Sherlock Holmes agrees to meet Henry, and thus, the mystery begins.
What is interesting from the beginning of this are the circumstance around old Baskerville's death. These details don't interest Holmes until he is told that a few feet away from the body, large hound prints are seen, but no marks were on the body.
Another thing that makes this interesting is that Holmes refuses to go out to Baskerville Hall, saying that he has things to take care of in London. Instead, he sends Watson alone to accompany Henry. Most of the middle part of the novel are either letters from Watson to Holmes, or excerpts from Watson's diary. It creates an interesting way of looking at the mystery. We only know what Watson knows and many pages go by without word from Sherlock Holmes. That is drastically different than any of the other Holmes stories thus far.
We also get to meet a lot more characters than we do in any of the short stories. These characters offer a lot more for us to think about and are way more developed than the secondary characters in the first two Holmes novels (A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four). Doyle really takes his time in this mystery to develop each character and show the reader their background. This leads us on a few false trails as we try and solve the case through Watson.
In particular, Doyle does a great job of creating some wonderful villain type characters. You have the Barrymores, who work in the Hall, as well as a few eccentric neighbors. My personal favorite is Stapleton, a naturalist who chases after butterflies on the moor. When I got to the scene where he goes gallivanting off, I remember trying to act that scene out in front of my ninth graders. There were a lot of laughs.
Anyway, some of the other things I noticed in this novel is the discussion of supernatural v. reality. I also noticed this in the last few short stories I read. You can tell from Holmes' personality that he is a person who truly believes in the facts and what can actually happen. He is not a person who can believe in the supernatural. This is a conversation that I think Doyle really wanted to bring up in this novel in particular-by pointing out that there can be a reasonable and exact solution to almost every problem or issue that may arise.
I also have to commend Watson in this novel. Where is really the fall guy, and serves as a great resource for the reader by asking the dumb questions we want answers to, he manages to carry half the novel by himself with no sign of Holmes. This certainly elevates him up in my book, and makes him much more likable. He is no longer a jester for Holmes, but a person who is trying to solve the mystery on his own (Still, you know who DOES solve it, don't you?).
In all this is another great example of a supreme mystery. And so far, it definitely outshines any of the other stories or novels. Doyle does a much better job of keeping the action going and not summing up the case halfway through. Instead, he maintains a level of suspense and intrigue so that you have to keep reading. It doesn't jolt halfway through like A Study in Scarlet did, or go way off track like The Sign of Four did. We get the story as it happens, which I really prefer.
This is definitely deserving of its reign as the best of the Holmes stories and novels BY FAR. If you just want a taste of the famous detective, this is a great place to start!
Next up is the last Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Weekly Wrap-up: June 20, 2010.
Speaking of the break-in, we both wanted to say a huge thank you for all of your kind words last week. We can't get out of our lease until the end of October, but we are definitely moving to another area that is nicer. We're both ready for a change and at least we have learned our lesson about looking a little more closely at location when we rent and buy in the future. I think we were just too excited about moving out and getting a place of our own that we were only focused on the inside of the apartment, and not all of the factors outside.
With the hot weather, work at the parks has been busy, but enjoyable. A lot more people are looking for cheaper options to spend time with their family, so the parks are booming. Our attendance is way up, which is great! In times when the economy is hard, things like public parks get cut and sold off (a very real fear in my city), so it makes us happy when people come out and use the park! The only downside to this weather and working outside is that I am now the proud owner of a glorious farmer's tan. I wear jeans to work (no matter how hot it is) and a t-shirt under my Ranger shirt, so my arms and face are about 10 times darker than the rest of me. I wore a skirt last night and there was a drastic difference!
In book news, a friend gave me a gift card to a bookstore that she wasn't going to use, so I made good work of it and ordered a few more books off my list. Here is what I got:
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. This is actually one of my all-time favorite novels, but my copy was ruined when I lent it out. I decided it was time to replace it and found this edition. I liked the cover far more than any of the other editions (I think it fits the mood of the book better). Sometimes, it IS all about the cover and I am happy with my choice.
Ulysses by James Joyce. Joyce is a writer who intimidates me so I am not sure how soon I am going to get to this monstrosity. I think I might start with a smaller work (The Dubliners) to get myself used to his writing style. I'm not sure why I have this intense fear, I just do. Some writers are just scary. I had this same fear of Dostoevsky, but both of the books I have read so far (Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov), I absolutely loved.
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. After finishing Gone with the Wind, I really feel like I need to read this other famous interpretation of the South. I'm guessing I'll read it sooner rather than later. A huge part of me feels kind of guilty for never having read this before, so I best remedy that!
Pamela by Samuel Richardson. Back in one of my college classes, my professor joked that we were lucky to be escaping Richardson's Clarissa, which he made his previous class read in a week's time. Ever since then, I have been more than a little frightened of his work, but I should probably get it over with. This is the smaller of his two books on my list, so I am hoping (like Joyce) to wean myself in.
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I just LOVE the cover of this edition and imagine my surprise when I saw they have all of the Holmes novels in similar covers. Eventually I am going to have to get my hands on them (I am currently reading from a HUGE collection of all the Holmes stories and it is super heavy). I figured I might just get Doyle's work over with in the near future so it is another author I can cross off my list.
I managed to get through a few things this week! I flew through the last eight chapters of Cranford and I am so excited about the final post for the read-along. I also read the third section of Gulliver's Travels in preparation for the next post. I also read all of Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev for my Classics Circuit post on Thursday. It was a PHENOMENAL book and I cannot wait to gush all about it. I'm just sad that it was his only title on my list. I also started The Red Badge of Courage and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but neither is holding my attention. I think I may have to set them aside and find something else in the meantime.
I am finding that I am loving the Russian authors more than I thoughts I was going to. They just seem intimidating, but they really aren't that bad! Granted, I haven't tried Tolstoy yet, but I think I just need to dive in and see how I fare with him.
This week I plan on finishing up Gulliver's Travels for good. I also need to get cracking on The Inferno. Other than that, I am not sure what I want to tackle. I guess I'll have to see what grabs me!
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Book 45: Finished.
Well, where to begin. I already commented on the racism and historical aspects of the book. Truth be told, the era in which the story is set is one that as a history nerd, I'll never tire of. I love the American Civil War and circumstances surrounding it. It was my favorite unit to teach when I was teaching history.
Then, or course, are the characters. There are so many at first that it was almost difficult for me to keep them straight, but I eventually fell into the flow of life in Tara and Atlanta. I lived with these characters and took on their pain and struggles as if they were my own.
And I completely and totally fell in love with the epic sweep of the novel.
It is hard for me to express why I love it. A small part of me feels like I shouldn't-the novel is overly romantic and dramatic. Some scenes are over the top and excessive. And let's not forget that I really don't find much to admire in Scarlett O'Hara. But I love the other characters to the point that I kind of want to adopt them.
And lastly, there is Rhett Butler. Is he really a man that we, as readers, should fall in love with? At first I was not a fan of his attitude and the way he treated Scarlett. But then again, we don't get to really know him until the last section of the story. And it is hard to hate a man who would treat his daughter the way he did. You also can't forget his line,
"My dear, I don't give a damn," (957).
I seriously wanted to applaud him for finally standing up to her (Scarlett) and telling her that if she acted that way, there would be consequences.
In all, it is a book of epic everything. It captures the South in a way that I haven't seen in other novels (that I have read so far). It has that Southern feeling of grandeur and slowness. It takes its time to unfold and reveal itself as it wishes. It tells us how we should really feel and act in times of crisis as well as shows us a dark and haunting image of our nation's past.
Is it the best book I've ever read?
No, but I find it to be one of the best fictional portrayals of one of the darkest hours of America's history, and for that, I have to commend it, faults and all.
If you haven't read it yet, you must. While it has its faults, it is one of those books you need to read. Not because it is literary genius, but for the fact that it will make you reflect on your own life, your beliefs, and how you treat the people around you.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Book 45: Miss O'Hara.
I don't think I have ever read a book with such a selfish, vain, spoiled protagonist. Scarlett annoys me with her naivety and selfishness. She wants what she wants and will stop at nothing until she gets it. When she sees a boy she wants, she goes full throttle until the poor thing is trembling next to her in hopes she will bat her eyes at him.
She treats her family and those close to her as if they are disposable. She never takes responsibility for her actions and she is simply infuriating. Also, she can be conniving and manipulative to get what she wants and it usually successful. Don't forget that she steals husbands and beaux as if they were going out of style. Yes, there is not a lot to like about Scarlett. She is everything I hope I am not.
But there is something that draws me in to her. Even though she is all of the above things, and many more, I still like and appreciate her spunk. When her family begins to fall apart, she pulls them together. Granted, she's a little rough about it, but she takes care of them the best way she knows how. When the Yankee soldier enters her house and begins to rob them of the few possessions she has left, she takes care of it in the way she has to.
Scarlett has a lot of spunk, desire, and sass, all of which I can appreciate. But I don't have to like her.
Which is why I am glad that there are so many likable characters in this novel. They stand beside Scarlett and showcase her few good qualities (that sass and spunk I was talking about). And they also show the reader someone to root for who is deserving of good things. Above all, I am talking about Melanie who is a staunch Scarlett supporter. No matter what Scarlett does to the poor girl, Melanie sticks beside her and supports her, even when rumors are flying.
It is because of this that the reader can stomach Scarlett. While she is certainly not a nice person, she tries because she wants more. She wants things to be easy for her and those around her. She had to make choices that were difficult, but her family ultimately owes their life to her. Without Scarlett, all of the other characters would have died (except Rhett, but he is deserving of his own post, that's for sure). Scarlett is their center and their pillar of strength, bad person or not.
I am hoping, as I finish this up, that Scarlett will surprise me and make a turn for the better, but I am not holding my breath. I have a feeling I will know how this will end and it will probably end the way it should.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Thursday Treat #21: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Once I grew up a little, my mom would let me read a few of the many romance books on her shelves. Some I really liked and others I didn't care for. I have really different book taste from my mom and while I enjoy a good romance every once in awhile, I crave other things too (like dragons!). :)
But when she recommended I read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, I listened. She told me it had a lot of history in it, and time travel, which surprised me. My mom doesn't usually go for such things. Then I saw the mammoth size of it, but I decided to give it a go.
Well, I was sucked in. I could not put the book down, which was bad, as I was teaching at the time and coming up to the end of a card marking. I decided to wait to read the rest of the series until summer break, which I did at the end of that year. For a few weeks, I was IN the world of Outlander and Diana Gabaldon. I flew through each book and I think it only took me a month to get through all six titles that were out (through A Breath of Snow and Ashes which was the last out at the time) and all 6, 808 pages of my paperback editions (I just went and added them). I will say that out of all of them, this title and the third book (Voyager) are my favorites.
I was in love and I still am. The fact is, Gabaldon didn't just write a romance, she wrote an epic story of love and survival. I was a sucker and I fell for it. While she may be a TOUCH long-winded, I loved every moment of it. She created such a deep, interesting world that I believed everything she wrote and with Claire, I also fell in love with Jaime (if you have read the series, I hope you know what I mean). It is a beautifully crafted story that I really don't want to stop. It weaves in and out of historical fact, blending the romance with drama and intrigue. And somehow, Gabaldon's characters are right in the midst of all of it.
As a fantasy and history fan, I can appreciate the effort it took to create such a believable world and premise. It takes years of research to perfect what Gabaldon created to make it so realistic. When I shut that last book, I knew that that I was going to have to wait patiently for each of the next books to be written and printed. It is a series that will keep on growing and capturing my attention for as long as Gabaldon desires to write it.
Now, if you decide to tackle these books, here is the order: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and The Echo in the Bone (I have not read this one. It came out in September and I had already started THIS blog and challenge).
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Book 45: On Racism and History.
Yes, I am flying through this. I was worried before I began it that this book was going to irritate me. I thought that the author would take liberties with her history, and as someone who has a history degree and knows a lot more than the average person about the Civil War, well, I was worried. But, I am surprised to see that Mitchell does a fair job of keeping things fairly accurate, while giving a great, fictionalized account of the South during the Civil War.
I can see now why many in the South saw this book as their response to Uncle Tom's Cabin (which I read back in college and I am looking forward to reading again). It gives a different view of plantation life and the stance of blacks who were slaves.
The fact that Mitchell makes it clear that there were some plantation owners who treated their slaves more fairly and equally is admirable. But those plantations owners were few and far between. A very, very large majority of slave owners in the South were abusive and not at all like the O'Haras and some of their wealthy neighbors.
You also have to love the fashion descriptions. I mean, I would LOVE to wear those big elegant dresses, corsets and all, if they came back in fashion. And I know I am not the only one.
As for the war events and the plight of those left behind on the farms and plantations in the south when the men went off to fight, well, that's fairly accurate as well. The fact is, with no men left behind, the women and children (and slaves) had to do what they could to survive. When Scarlett crouches in a field and declares that she'll "never go hungry again," there is a lot of power in those words. The few farms and plantations that escaped Sherman's March to the Sea were in control of the Southern, or Northern army. There was NO food for the families left behind. The blockades prevented any food from being imported.
There is also a lot of accuracy when all of the young men around Scarlett's age die in battle. Where the North had a large population of young growing families, the South was smaller in population, and when their men died, they couldn't be replaced.
With all of that being said, Mitchell did a fine job of describing the conditions of those in the South in a believable way. I'm impressed, and of course, eating it all up.
Of course, there is one issue in the book and it is the one thing that a lot of readers find wrong with it. The book is blatantly racist. Now, whether Mitchell was a racist person and believed the things she wrote...well, I don't have the answer to that. And it is hard to say that the book would be better without the racist and degrading statements. If we were to correct it to make it politically correct by today's standards it would ruin all value and power of Mitchell's work in capturing the South as it was during the Civil War.
I don't condone racism, so take all of this that way. But personally, when I read a book such as this, where racism is used as a sign of the times in which the book was written, or as a way of capturing the time period, I have to let it go. Much like Mark Twain's the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the racism that is present in the book is what makes it so powerful to us, in this time period. I have to accept the book, and its racism, as a sign of the times in which it was written. And I have to keep in mind that it is clear the times have changed in that we don't find that kind of language acceptable today. I also know that these kinds of novels and writings have helped us capture history in a way that boring articles cannot convey.
For that, I have to love the novel as it is, racism or no. It adds to the depth and power of the book and without that element, it would be a far different book.
Anyway, I think I have rambled long enough on this topic, but be prepared for a long discussion of Miss Scarlett, of which I have a LOT to say.
But, before I leave, here is a question for you: Would you completely dismiss a novel or piece of writing just for its racist leanings? I'm curious!
Gulliver's Travels Read-Along Part Two: A Voyage to Brobdingnag
In this second section, Gulliver embarks on yet another sea voyage, completely ignoring the fact that the first time he did so, well, it didn't turn out well.
Gulliver and a small portion of the crew travel to a piece of land to scout. Gulliver, being the overly curious man that he is, goes off alone to scout and upon returning to the boat, he sees them escaping a giant in the water and leaving him behind!
He then runs into some friendly giants, one of whom takes him in. Gulliver refers to this man as his master, although it is clear that this man is using Gulliver to make money-showing off poor little Gulliver as if he were a freak in a circus side-show. They slowly make their way to the capitol, where thankfully, the queen rescues Gulliver from the evil man he called master and sets him up as a favorite in her castle.
There is the usual in Swift's humor and awkward situations for Gulliver. From being attacked by a dog in the gardens, to being caught outside in a massive hailstorm, Gulliver's size, once again, allows for some funny situations.
I will say that while Gulliver viewed the Lilliputians as people worthy of learning from, it seems as if the people of Brobdingnag see Gulliver as only a curiosity and they really have no desire to get to know him or his customs very well. It is an interesting difference!
The events here are obviously contrasting what we saw in the first book and Gulliver's journey to Lilliput. If you recall, the Lilliputians are prone to violence and war with their neighbors, wheres as the...Brobdingnagians (?) seem to be a fairly peaceful people, even given their size and strength. Most of all, it was this difference that struck me in this reading.
Given what I know about the political stance around the time that this was written, you can tell that Swift is definitely giving us something to chew on, like he probably did with his readers at the time. The discussion on whether it is better to make up for your country's faults through war, or to refuse to fight and travel is an interesting question.
In particular, there was one passage in this section that really spoke to me. And while it is long, I wanted to share it with you. In this chapter, Gulliver is talking with the King about his own people and that of Europe:
"My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable Panegyrick upon your Country. You have clearly proved that Ignorance, Idleness, and Vice are the proper Ingredients for qualifying as a Legislator. That Laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those who Interest and Abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some Lines of Institution, which in its Original might have been tolerable; but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by Corruptions. It doth not appear from all you have said, how any one Perfection is required towards the Procurement of any one Station among you; much less that Men are ennobled on Account of their Virtue, that Priests are advanced for their Piety or Learning, Soldiers for their Conduct or Valour, Judges for their Integrity, Senators for the Love of their Country, or Counsellors for their Wisdom. As for yourself (continued the King) who have spent the greatest Part of your Life in travelling; I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many Vices of your Country. But, by what I have gathered from your own Relation, and the Answers I have with much Pains wringed and extorted from you; I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffer to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth," (120-121).
I love that Swift is pointing out the faults of his own government, and how others must have seen them. I am one who believes that we need to see ourselves how others perceive us as well as how we might want to be seen. The King also lectures Gulliver on the violence of his people and tells Gulliver that "certainly we must be a quarrelsome People, or live among very bad neighbors," (119). This is another example of Swift discussing politics of his government and the constant need for war in his time period.
In all, I really enjoyed this section. It is far more political and detailed than the first, but I liked the contrasting natures. I remember really digging into this section in college, but not liking it that time. I guess it goes to show you that re-reading can serve a great cause!
I am looking forward to reading your thoughts, as well as getting to the third section. To be honest, the third section is the part I don't remember, so I am hoping that something sparks my memory in a good way!
If you have your post up, please comment here with a link so that I may put a link in on this post. Check back throughout the day to visit other bloggers to see their thoughts about dear old Gulliver and his travels to other places!
Gulliver's Travels Part 2: Guest Post from my Mom!
I really liked Book II where Gulliver finds himself in Brobdingnag and now he is the “small” person with the Giants now 12 times larger than he is, just the opposite of Book I and Lilliput.
He is also repulsed by the human body of the Giants-being able to now look at it up close and the vermin that prey upon the body. So it gives you a perspective of what is really revolting, the Giant people or the vermin who prey upon them, or both. Does this mean the Government and Royalty and then the regular society of people?
Gulliver thinks the society as mostly a moral people with just a few that are jealous or corrupt, the King’s jester, with a little malice at times. Just as Governments and Kings have also been at times.
Gulliver discusses the English society and government with the King and he then gives Gulliver his view and judgment by comparing them to Brobdingnag. This then causes Gulliver to take a different look and view point at the English. So it looks that if you take a step back, or remove yourself from a situation, you just may be persuaded to a different perspective of what you now think is what your government and society really are.
Gulliver is also knocked down literally by hailstones, and a few other things. He is also stripped of his clothes by the maids and is just a plaything to them. He is offended, but the maids do not see him that way and are just curious about him. Then a monkey takes him captive and treats him like a baby monkey. He has been reduced down, is this representing that the Giants are morally superior? Does this also mean that royalty and governments can do what they want, and the people are treated like pets, or do the people become a society where the corruption is low as that of Brobdingnag.
Gulliver escapes Brobdingnag. He is pampered by the royal family, but he is also treated as a pet. He misses being part of a society. He escapes by being at the sea shore in his traveling box and it is picked up by an eagle. An English ship finds his box in the ocean and he is rescued and brought back home. Everyone there now seems tiny to him and he is a giant. How his perspective has changed at first and as time goes on, it goes back to where he started.
I really liked this book. It helped to put both Books I and II together for me. Not having read Gullivers Travels before, it is really starting to come together. Thanks Allie for inspiring me to read this. Didn’t know what I was missing. There is so much you can compare and insinuate in all of his situations he comes into. You can really look at today’s world and put it into this book.