14

A Summer thing that I’m doing

If Laura @ Reading in Bed is like “hey, come read this mammoth book with me this summer” I seem to be unable to say no. This summer, she is hosting a read-a-long of War and Peace!

If you’ve always meant to read it but haven’t found a reason to, maybe this is your reason? This read-a-long is geared towards Tolstoy newbs, so don’t be intimidated. There’s totally still time to join – reading officially started July 1st! Check out Laura’s blog post for the schedule to get started.

Before we start to get into the nitty-gritty reading, Laura set up a short little book tag to introduce ourselves. So here we go:

  1. Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace?

Sure have. I even wrote about how that went (spoiler: not good). I haven’t ever finished it though!

  1. What edition and translation are you reading?

Vintage Pevear & Volokhonsy translation, physical book only (I already regret this, mofo is heavy!)

  1. How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc)?

It’s funny, even though I read most of it that one time, not much! I clearly retained almost nothing and even the 70 or so pages I’ve read this weekend, haven’t made much of an impression on me.

  1. How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

I am doing absolutely nothing? Maybe the more that I get into it, the more I will want to learn about the War and Peace universe. For now, I’m content to just read it.

  1. What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

Finally getting it actually read all the way through! This book has haunted me for years because I couldn’t finish it. And then of course, the bragging rights that come with having actually read War and Peace. I look forward to the days of casually dropping into conversation my having read War and Peace (like an a-hole).

  1. What are you intimidated by?

The sheer length of this book! I do appreciate the schedule – I’m hoping that breaking it up will make it more manageable. I’m also having a hard time keeping the characters and their relationships straight…

  1. Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

No, but if it gets really boring, I just might. I remember that I was actually pretty invested in some of the war parts the first time I tried to read this. And I totally skipped like 80 pages of farming in Anna Karenina and I feel really OK about it.

There we have it. All set to finally read this monster. Anyone else joining in? Thanks to Laura for hosting!

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11

Literary Wives: The Awakening

Today is my first review for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening!

Ariel @  One Little Library
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink
TJ @ My Book Strings

The Book

awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin was published in 1899 and apparently shocked readers with it’s honest portrayal of female infidelity. Edna Pontellier lives a conventional life: she manages her family’s home, she is married to a man concerned with appearances, and has two small children that she’s not really very interested in. In the summers, the Pontelliers go to Grand Isle, a popular vacation spot for wealthy Creole families like hers. This is where she meets Robert Lebrun and begins a flirtation with him that changes the way she sees herself and her relationship with her husband, Leonce.

Not only does Edna flirt with Lebrun, she kisses him, and later, moves out of her husband’s home when he leaves town where she has a physical relationship with another man!

Ultimately, Edna realizes that she is too changed by her affairs and will never be able to find any kind of satisfaction in the life expected of her. She returns to Grand Isle one last time, finds it too has changed in the off season, and walks into the water one last time.

My Thoughts

Anyone who has visited this blog before knows how I feel about heroines calling their own shots. I was thrilled to read a book from 1899 where a female character was given the autonomy, despite the consequences.

Instinct had prompted her to put away her husband’s bounty in casting off her allegiance. She did not know how it would be when he returned. There would have to be an understanding, an explanation. Conditions would some way adjust themselves, she felt; but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.

Edna understands that what she is doing is different, that it sets her apart, that people will talk about her. But her own happiness, getting to know herself as Edna, not her children’s mother or her husband’s wife matters to her. In 1899, this would have been so radical and I loved it.

In the end, its a completely tragic story but it felt like an important milestone in women-centred literature.

What does the book say about being a wife? 

At the time the book was published, a woman would have been expected to submit herself completely to the desires of her husband. She would have become a mother and would always come last. Edna isn’t content to relinquish herself in service of the needs and desires of her family. She wants to be her own woman, her own person with ideas and thoughts and wants of her own.

The Awakening doesn’t allow a woman to have both herself and her family. Edna must choose. In this way, the book is very much a product of its time.

She thought of Leonce and the children. They were a part of her life. But they need not have thought they could possess her, body and soul.

This book shows us that, in order to be happy and satisfied in the role of a wife (and mother in this case), one must have something that is entirely one’s own. That solitude and introspection, a creative outlet and maybe even physical space is necessary to be able to give so much of ourselves in marriage.

15

Childhood favourites: A Little Princess

It’s rare for me to re-read anything that doesn’t involve Hogwarts or wasn’t written by Jane Austen or one of the Brontes. There are just too many books that I want to get to before I die.

But.

There’s something to be said for re-reading a book that you love. And in the present climate, I make the case for embracing those little things that bring you joy.

Enter: A Little Princess.

little-princess

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1905 book about a little girl at a boarding school who suddenly finds herself an orphan bereft of her fortune was a delight the first time I read it. I will admit freely that the 1995 movie has always been a favourite too – that rare bird that captures the essence of a great book (despite the liberties they took with at least one major plot point).

And thankfully, I still loved the book. I might have loved it more this time. Sara Crewe is so good and her belief that all are worthy of love and respect ripples out towards all she encounters. Her good deeds are multiplied as she inspires others to pay it forward. Even when she is at the mercy of Miss Minchin, who is determined to punish Sara for being left on her hands without a fortune, Sara tries to put on a cheerful face, to look out for those who are worse off than she is.

Sara is never cowed by the bad things that happen to her or around her. She befriends a rat in the cold, bare attic because he’s probably just as scared of her as she is of him. A RAT. When a little boy gives her a sixpence, she keeps it as a talisman to remind herself that there is good in the world, even though she could use it to buy bread when she’s hungry.

I’m not sure that this message of kindness struck me quite so forcefully the first time I read it. I was likely more focused on the romance of a boarding school and the twist that restores Sara to her rightful place as a ‘princess.’ But this time, Sara’s kindness really resonated with me and brought me intense comfort. I admit freely that this little book, marketed towards readers aged 9-12, reduced me to tears in the end.

I so appreciate the simplicity and the purity of a children’s book that intends to show its readers how to be kind. No matter what your circumstances, you can afford to be kind.

If you’re in need of something quick and uplifting, read A Little Princess. It’ll do you good.

20

2016 TBR Pile Challenge: The Custom of the Country

I did not read enough classics in 2015. I read Persuasion again, fell in love with East of Eden, The Woman in White, The Count of Monte Cristo was a 5-month endeavour, and a handful of Agatha Christies if those count.

I hope to make more of an effort classics-wise in 2016 and kicked it all off with Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country, which also happened to be on my unofficial 2016 TBR Pile Challenge list.

When I finally read The Age of Innocence, I was blown away by it. I’m not sure what it was – maybe that a woman wrote so effectively from the perspective of a man? Maybe how scandalous it actually was? I don’t know but I made it my mission to read the Novels of New York.

When I finished The House of Mirth, I cried.

I was very much looking forward to The Custom of the Country.

This one was tough, guys.

Undine Spragg is a small-town transplant in New York City, intent on making her mark. She doesn’t care much for the rules that govern the right New York society – she wants what she wants and she intends on getting it. She immediately catches the eye of Ralph Marvel, the son of one of the ‘right’ families, and he decides to marry her before she is ruined by the society he detests. She thinks he’s loaded but actually she’s married the appearance of money and that won’t do at all.

Dogging her steps are a former flame, a super shady guy called Elmer Moffat. He knew her back home, and has arrived on scene in New York making lots of money for lots of people but never really being a part of the right crowd. Undine, bored with life in New York, aims for Paris where she hangs out with some questionable people and meets a Marquise.

Her flirtation with the Marquise becomes more than than, bringing shame on her husband back home. Eventually she gets divorced and marries the Marquise but even that life isn’t what she thought it would be. She hadn’t bet on spending all year in the French countryside in a rundown, ancient chateau. Just as she chafed against the rules of New York society, so she fails to understand or embrace the rules of French society. Until she does, she will be thoroughly miserable.

I never really liked Undine. I especially disliked her father’s habit of calling her ‘Undie.’ In the end though, I did enjoy it. Undine strikes me as thoroughly modern, even if its not in a good way. She’s the kind of woman that is never quite satisfied with what she gets, even if it’s exactly what she asked for. She’s all about instant gratification but she’s very much hampered by the rules that govern her sex at the time (the book was published in 1912, I assumed the story takes place sometime around then).

Wharton continues to throw obstacles in her heroine’s way right up until the very last page and for that I will love her forever.

5

Children’s Lit: Heidi

I’ve recently discovered that I enjoy reading children’s books. Not the kind with pictures (although if there’s an actual child around to read to, I will totally read those) but the classic children’s books that we’ve kind of forgotten about. Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden etc.

There’s something so perfect about revisiting children’s books, a way to pretend like you’re not an adult for a few hours. I’m constantly surprised at how much it sucks to be an adult considering I wished away huge chunks of my childhood, wanting to be an adult so I could stay up as late as I wanted, eat delicious things and buy all the things. Turns out staying up late makes me really tired, I feel like crap when I eat all the nice things and I can’t buy all the things because all the things are expensive.

Evidently my husband knows this about me because for Valentine’s Day he got me the Puffin in Bloom books. These are the classic children’s books that Anne Rifle Bond of Rifle Paper Co. fame collaborated on. Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess and Heidi all got the most exquisite makeover and I lusted after them for months (if you don’t already know, she’s also worked on a 150th anniversary edition of Alice in Wonderland, so look for that in November) before they were gifted to me. Major brownie points for the husband.

Out of the bunch, the only one I hadn’t read was Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. This weekend I remedied that and devoured this sweet story in a sitting.

heidi

Heidi is an orphan who is delivered to the mountain hut of her grandfather when her aunt can’t look after her any longer. While the aunt goes off to a new job in Frankfurt, Heidi is left to charm her grandfather, who everyone calls Uncle Alp. Uncle Alp was once a big part of his community but long ago stopped caring what his neighbours thought of him and, embittered against God, he retires from village life altogether. He lives at the top of the mountain in a little hut with his goats and that’s the way he likes it. Until Heidi arrives and in her gentle way shows him that there’s more to the world.

Just when everyone gets used to this new way of living, with Heidi visiting Peter-the-goatherd’s grandmother as much as possible while she convinces her grandfather to start looking after his neighbours, everything changes. The aunt comes back and says that Heidi must come back to Frankfurt with her, that she has found a place for her with a wealthy family who is looking for a companion for their invalid daughter. Heidi is taken from everything that she loves to start a new life mostly alone.

The book is basically split into two parts – the first when she is taken to live with the family in Frankfurt and then after she finds her way back and changes the people she knows at home with what she’s learned in that strange other world. While away she learned to pray to God and tell Him all her troubles and to have faith that He will help her when He has decided she is ready. Perhaps a little evangelical for our modern sensibilities but I actually found it a really lovely little reminder that we can’t do everything ourselves. For some of us that means looking to a higher power, for others it means leaning on their families or their communities.

It’s a simple little story but sometimes that’s just what we need. I found Heidi’s desire to be helpful and good to be refreshing. I totally teared up reading this (happy tears) and I’ll definitely read this story again someday – until then this edition will look lovely on my shelves.

16

Finally Read: Rebecca

Aside from having a weird habit of asking for murderous books for Christmas, there’s nothing I like better at this time of year than curling up with a book that takes place at an English manor house.

I had the luxury of of a few days off ahead of the holidays this year. Once the presents were wrapped, the place was clean and we just had to wait for Santa to head this way, I decided that the time had come to read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

The kind of opening line that is immediately familiar even if you’ve never read the book before, that sends a delicious chill down your spine because you know good things are coming.

It’s hard to explain this book to the uninitiated. It’s one of those books that is so much better if you know next to nothing about it going in. Du Maurier lays the groundwork from the beginning, delighting in red herrings and confusion caused by the social cues of the day and the lack of any sort of communication. But make no mistake, the lack of communication doesn’t make what’s actually happening any less sinister.

A young woman is learning to be a professional companion in Monte Carlo when she meets the recently widowed Maxim de Winter. When Mrs Van Hopper becomes ill, the young woman is left to her own devices and finds her time taken up with driving excursions with Mr de Winter. At the end of two weeks she becomes engaged and after an Italian honeymoon, she travels back to Manderley as the second Mrs de Winter.

Once they get back, she is thrown into a lifestyle that she certainly didn’t grow up for. She’s now in charge of a grand old house, an entire county is looking to her to provide the kinds of entertainments that the former Mrs de Winter made the estate famous for. She has to deal with the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers who was completely devoted to the first Mrs de Winter and delights in undermining the new one.

Oh this book. I don’t want to say much more – if you haven’t read it, you should remedy that. If you have, you know what I mean. When you read the first line, you know it’s a big one but it isn’t until you finish the book that you realize how big that line is.

Rebecca is now most definitely on my list of all time favourite books. I can’t wait to read this again one day.

9

Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley Is No North and South

I’m working my way through Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley right now. It’s been a week; I’m starting to get antsy.

Reading Shirley is reminding me of forcing my way through Daniel Deronda. That story doesn’t have a happy ending. I mean the story of me reading the book – taking three weeks to slog through those 700 pages has long been blamed for only managing to read 64 out of a planned 65 books that year. The actual story…I can’t remember the ending.

The funny thing about Daniel Deronda is that every time I go back and read a summary I’m like that book sounds awesome! Why didn’t I like it? But despite my love for Middlemarch (by the same author), Daniel Deronda just didn’t work for me.

And I fear that the same thing is happening with Shirley. Is Charlotte Bronte a one hit wonder? You may recall that I didn’t have a lot of love to give for Villette. With Shirley, I swear I run in and out of consciousness; I read without realizing it and that is no way to read.

It should be good. It reminds me a lot of North and South which I loved so much. But there’s no Mr. Thornton to love. Robert Moore is kind of a dick and he can’t make up his mind between lovely, sweet, thoughtful Caroline Helstone and temperamental, generous, wealthy Shirley Keeldar. I have no idea how this is going to go down – Caroline probably dies of consumption.

It took 200 pages to even meet Shirley you guys. Two hundred pages of leg work to meet the title character. Not even a whisper of her before that. It’s all Caroline. Which would be fine except that the people in Caroline’s life spend an awful lot of time talking about how feeble women and Caroline are.

The dialogue between the women is strong, I’ll give it that. I just read a delightful scene where Caroline is visiting Robert Moore’s sister who is being visited by Mrs. Yorke, the town matron. Mrs. Yorke sermonizes at Caroline about this, that and the other, being a general pain in the ass, and Caroline, soft-spoken, shy Caroline, totally gives it back to her. I’m enjoying the discussions on the place of women in society, seeing how far we have come and yet, how much is sadly similar.

But I’m still waiting for the magic. I’m still waiting to be swept up in dramatic Yorkshire.

I hope there’s a payoff waiting for me. Have you read Shirley? Is it coming?