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19th Century Wit

 

My book club is reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell for December. I hadn’t heard of Ms. Gaskell before this. I’ve since learned a little about her, including the fact that Charles Dickens liked her work and included some of it in his weekly publication Household Words.

I was reading this while I was at the library bookstore last night. I kept chuckling out loud, although I tried to stay quiet. I had two different customers give in and ask what I was reading. I am charmed by Gaskell’s dry, biting, observant wit.

Cranford is about the “Amazonian society” of aristocratic women who run the small English town of Cranford. The men in their lives have died or are off to sea or away on business or whatever. A few are spinsters. These women have their strict societal rules.

This is one scene that so tickled me last night:

“…I would fain have looked round at the merry chattering people behind me, Miss Pole clutched my arm, and begged me not to turn, for ‘it was not the thing.’ What ‘the thing’ was, I never could find out, but it must have been something eminently dull and tiresome.”

That certainly gave me a good view of the ladies of Cranford.

This book was a miniseries on PBS in 2007. It is being run again on Masterpiece Theater later this month starting December 20th. Since Cranford was chosen back in July, I’m sure whoever nominated the book didn’t expect this scheduling coup. Isn’t it cool when world forces come together (or one saying goes “God works in mysterious ways…”)?

Sagas

 

Do you like to read sagas – the ones that span generations? The ones that take forever to read and no time at all?

On Sunday I flew to Seattle for a few days for work. On the plane I started Hawaii by James Michener. I had gotten up very early that morning, so slept more than read, but hey…

Now I’m working through it. I read it 40 years ago and liked it then. I’m enjoying it again, although I don’t think I’m as enthralled this time. I have a month to read it for my book club. I may need every bit of that month, too.

(Of course I have to finish The Blue Angel by Heinrich Mann, too. It’s a library book, so I didn’t take it with me. Now that I’m home again, I’ll pick it back up.)

Family and Friends

 

Queen of Broken Hearts by Cassandra KingWe were discussing Pride and Prejudice at my book club last night. When Darcy first proposed to Elizabeth, he admitted that she really wasn’t suitable because of her family. But he was prepared to accept them because he loved her.

I’m listening to Queen of Broken Hearts by Cassandra King. Clare, the main character, is a divorce therapist. She also talks about the need to tolerate other people involved with people who are important to us. Clare doesn’t like her best friend’s husband, but has tolerated him for over 25 years because she doesn’t want to lose her best friend.

How often do we find we have to do that in our lives – bite our tongues and accept someone we would prefer not to? My ex-husband had a friend I didn’t appreciate. But I certainly never tried to ruin their friendship. It eventually waned on its own (as did my marriage, but that’s a different story). We often don’t like our children’s friends – but have to accept them anyway, especially if the child is grown.

It’s a good lesson to remember. Learn to accept your loved one’s other family and friends or figure you’ll lose your loved one.

I also learned that Pride and Prejudice was originally named First Impressions. (I’m sure all the Jane Austen fans have known this for years.) That was a good title choice.

Doctor Zhivago

 


My book club read Doctor Zhivago this month (as I’ve mentioned before). We met last night. I finished it Sunday, which gave me time to think about the novel before our meeting.

After listening to the others in the group, I’ve decided one of my problems with the book is because I’m reading a translation and it’s uneven in its flow. Admittedly, the political scenes bored me. The characters, though, are shaped by the politics in Russia at the time, and the story would be very different without the upheaval.

One of our members is a Russian immigrant. She brought the native perspective and talked to us about Russia and Pasternak and the history that lead up to this book. It was very interesting to hear what she said. This is one of her favorite books of all time. It wasn’t allowed to be published in Russia until the late 1980’s. Thanks to her for the lessons that help fill out the book.

It’s Slow Going

 

Call It Sleep by Henry RothFor the past few weeks I’ve been reading Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I interrupted it because I had promised Penguin Classics a review on Call It Sleep by Henry Roth. Then my copy of Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer came in at the library and I had to see what happens to Bella, Edward, Jacob, and their friends.

After finishing that, I returned to Dr. Zhivago. This book is a slow read. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a Russian book or Pasternak’s writing or because I’m not reading it in its native language (I’d never finish it if I tried to read it in Russian!) The language frequently is unwieldy and heavy. The sentences and structure are often clumsy.

The book is interesting when Pasternak focuses on the people in the story. In fact, the first thing I did was make post it notes on the ancillary characters so I could keep track of who is who.

I find some of Pasternak’s descriptions beautiful. When Zhivago and his family are on the train from Moscow east to an old family settlement, there is a description of the water as the snow thaws in the spring. You can almost see the water playfully rushing along as it unfreezes.

But the politics…which is why the book was written, not for the love story between Zhivago and Lara like the movie centralizes. Those scenes during political discussions or when the reader is following the revolutionist army from camp to camp or the battle scenes – those weigh me down.

Book club is Tuesday night and I’m only 2/3 of the way through. One of our members grew up in Russia. She chose this book for us to learn and appreciate some great Russian literature. I hope I finish it…

Who Named JR?

 


My book club is reading Giant by Edna Ferber this month. As I was reading it last night, I noticed the initials of the man throwing the huge party at the beginning of the book. Jett Rink is one of those larger than life Texans. So was J.R. Ewing from the Dallas television series from the 1970’s thru 1980’s.

Tell me – did the creator of the TV series use the initials JR in homage to Edna Ferber’s book?

Traveling Again

 

An unexpected trip to Ohio came up. I’m going with my daughter for a family gathering. We’ll be flying. I’m packing my normal four books (In the Woods by Tana French, a new mystery in America although it’s been published in England, Giant by Edna Ferber for my monthly book club read, For the Roses by Julie Garwood for the romantic touch, and a fun humans meet aliens science fiction novel by Peter Jurasik of Babylon 5 fame). I don’t know how much I’ll be able to read when I’m there, but I’m prepared in case… I’m also hoping I’ll be able to take a side trip to a favorite used book store, but again, I can’t count on anything outside of family issues.

My daughter, on the other hand, is REALLY prepared. She’s packing eight books. Phew! She says they’re all light, easy reads. She just graduated from college and hasn’t started her full time work yet, so has some extra time. She’s squeezing in as much reading as possible around her shopping excursions and get togethers with her friends. Still, eight books is a lot – her suitcase will be heavy just because of the books…

Just In Time – Middlemarch is Finished

 

Middlemarch by George EliotLast week I thought I had a week and a half to read 350 pages of this very dense book. No, the book club meeting is tonight, not next week. So as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been reading Middlemarch. I was able to finish it at lunch today.

The last third helps make up for the slowness of the first half. I still think Eliot is too preachy in the first half. In the second half she let the characters do more of the proselytizing than the overlooking narrator. That worked better. It was easier to see how self-centered Rosamund actually is – the early third person description didn’t work nearly as well as when her thoughts are revealed later when they are broke.

Of course the biggest issue (which still plagues mankind today and probably always will) is lack of communication. If Causabon had spoken to his wife rather than listened to his own internal pride, he would have known Dorothea only thought of Will as a friend at the time. If she had deeper feelings, they were so deeply buried even she didn’t recognize them. He had not acted on his feelings, either, except the occasional manufactured meetings. The communication lack is true of most of the relationships except Fred and Mary’s. She told him what she expected from him and he tried to live up to it.

There is a line near the end of the book that sums up my feelings about it exactly. Dorothea has learned Will loves her and is waiting around her home trying to keep busy.

“…she found herself reading sentences twice over with an intense consciousness of many things, but not of any one thing contained in the text.”

I couldn’t concentrate on and understand so much of what Eliot was saying despite reading sections two and three times. But it finally came together by the last third, which I appreciated reading.

Mired in Middlemarch

 


Honestly, I am still reading Middlemarch. I’m a little over halfway through. I only have a week and a half to finish 350 pages or so for our book club meeting, sigh. At 10 or 15 pages on a good day, I’m not going to make it.

I keep getting lost in Eliot’s wordy, confusing prose. I’ll read a couple paragraphs – even out loud – and still not know what she was trying to say or proselytize. I’m able to follow the characters’ actions and thoughts, for the most part, but get lost in the additional commentary. Even for a time when authors were paid by the word and there wasn’t any television or movies to distract, Middlemarch still seems to be overblown. So I keep taking breaks for other, modern, quick reads, then return to Middlemarch. Will I finish before our meeting? Doubtful, but sometimes I surprise myself…

Call for Jury Duty – a Good Time to Read

 

Today I sat in the Jury Duty Waiting Room all day. When we first arrived we were told the courts have a full docket and we were all fairly certain to go to some courtroom for the day. But that didn’t happen. I sat reading Sheri S. Tepper’s new novel The Margarets. At lunch I walked down the street about 7 blocks to a favorite used bookstore in downtown San Diego, Wahrenbrock’s Book House, and bought a 20 year old copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard to read for the August Book Club meeting.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldThis afternoon I got into a conversation with a man who belongs to a different book club. He pulled out The Great Gatsby, the book he is reading. We had a great conversation about what we had read for our different clubs. His concentrates on the classics a la the old Great Books book discussions. I already told you about what mine reads. Around 2:30 about half the room was still there. Only 5 or so jury panels had been called. But we were sent home. I guess the other trials couldn’t come to enough agreement to get a jury in the room.

The Fifth Sacred Thing by StarhawkBefore jury duty, I finished an interesting young adult urban fantasy novel, The City Not Long After, by Pat Murphy. In a post plague world, the city of San Francisco protects itself and its artists’ colony from invasion. I couldn’t help compare it to Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing. Both novels deal with approximately the same generation of older people. Both have San Francisco residents sustaining their community without outside help. Both have military type invaders who want to take the city. But the two novels are very different in tone and solution. Both give a fascinating look into a post-apocalyptic world and the reason for the fall.

For you teachers, I have added a review of a book my friend Molly highly recommends. Classroom Under Construction by Rich Grimes is a book that can help teachers do their job effectively. She says she plans to give copies of it to her student teachers.

Rabbit, Run Was the Book my Book Club Read This Month

 

Rabbit, Run by John UpdikeMy public library sponsors a monthly book club. I have gone for two years now. We’ve read books from very good (Gone With the Wind) to so-so (Mother Earth, Father Sky), from non-fiction (The Day the World Came to Town) to sentimental mush (The Five People You Meet in Heaven), and from serious classics (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter) to current best-sellers (we’re going to read Eat, Pray, Love in November).

This month we read Rabbit, Run. I found the book unnerving and unsettling. It maintained my interest in despite the dysfunctional characters. Our discussion tonight helped fill in pieces I hadn’t considered. If nothing else, the discussion helped us mentally keep the book within the right time frame. This novel would be written very differently if it were happening today. I still find it difficult to believe it was published in 1959 or 1960. I didn’t know they could print scenes as risque as some of the ones in this book are at that time in major publications. That’s just a reminder that the Love Children of the 1960’s didn’t have the corner on sex or free love. I’ll probably have to read the sequels even though I don’t like Rabbit, Janice, or their families.

I also added a review for another book Molly read. This one is a romance, Juliette Ascending.