osprey_archer: (books)
I finished The Things They Carried a couple of days ago, and with that, I have finished my 2016 Reading Challenge. Hooray! I feel all accomplished now. Particularly about finishing War and Peace, although just in general, too.

For your edification, a list of the categories and the books I chose:

- a book published this year: When the Sea Turns to Silver
- a book you can finish in a day: Last Stop on Market Street
- a book you've been meaning to read: The Things They Carried
- a book you should have read in school: All Quiet on the Western Front
- a book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller: Welcome to Night Vale
- a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF: Lud-in-the-Mist
- a book published before you were born: Winona's Pony Cart
- a book that was banned at some point: Lady Chatterley's Lover
- a book you previously abandoned: A Girl of the Limberlost
- a book you own but have never read: Madensky Square
- a book that intimidates you: War and Peace
- a book you've already read at least once: Caddie Woodlawn

I liked this challenge because it offers so much room for choice. Only one of the challenges is actually entitled "A book you've been meaning to read," but actually I ended up reading books that fit that description for half the categories: having the challenge gave me a reason to read books like A Girl of the Limberlost or All Quiet on the Western Front now, rather than just "well, maybe someday..."

In fact I liked this challenge so much that I went searching for a 2017 challenge, and found this Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges, although unfortunately none of them seem to offer the same mix of specificity and open-endedness that I got from last year's challenge. But perhaps the website where I got my 2016 challenge will post one for 2017 later in December.

I've also discovered that I really enjoy reading books with people, and also that it brings an extra and deeper aspect to the book to have someone to discuss it with - I think particularly with Lady Chatterley's Lover and Atonement, I got a lot more out of them because [livejournal.com profile] evelyn_b and I were reading & discussing them as we went along.

(And this has been a useful safety valve as I have read The Count of Monte Cristo. Sometimes I just have to yell "THAT PLOT DEVELOPMENT, DID YOU SEE IT?" Speaking of which - the latest developments with Caderrouse!!!)

In fact I'm thinking of suggesting a dual read to my mother, if I can just think of the perfect book for it. It looks like we can both get D. E. Stevenson's Listening Valley from our respective libraries, and I know she enjoyed Miss Buncle's Book, so perhaps that?

I have also decided that 2017 is going to be The Year of Reading the Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey Novels, provided of course I can track down a copy of Have His Carcase. I have the other three in the sequence! This is the only one that eludes me!
osprey_archer: (books)
"So too in history what is known to us we call the laws of necessity; what is unknown we call free will. Free will is for history only the expression for the unknown remainder of what we know of the laws of human life."

Tolstoy comes to a perfectly good ending halfway through his epilogue (which is of course a hundred pages long), but he just can't help himself: he tacks another twelve chapters on just in case we haven't quite understood his theory of history yet, and indeed it does clarify things, because it is only in this last section that he comes right out and says that he thinks the whole idea of free will is bogus, an illusion that masks the fact that history works out according to the ineluctable workings of natural laws.

In a way I admire him for sticking to a theory that he knows is going to be dreadfully unpopular (he compares it to Copernicus's theory that the earth revolves around the sun), but at the same time I wish he would have done it elsewhere. A pamphlet perhaps. Or he could have started his own magazine to expound on his theory of history. He's a count, he has the funds.

...I was going to go on a bit more about the goofiness of Tolstoy's theory of history - he seems to be singularly naive about how power works, for instance - but then I decided that it had probably all been said before and I didn't care enough to reread any of it in order to refute it.

So let's talk about Tolstoy's characters! Princess Marya manages to marry Nikolai Rostov, yesssss! I'm not convinced it's the best match ever - I don't think Nikolai has it in him to understand her, although to be fair Nikolai knows this and admires her fine qualities the more for it - but Princess Marya always wanted to get married and have children and has at last been granted this earthly happiness and I am happy for her.

It occurs to me that both of the big matches at the end of the book involve one partner who is more spiritual and intellectual and one who admires that quality from afar while being too down to earth and focused on the here and now to really understand it. Princess Marya and Nikolai Rostov, Pierre Bezukhov and Natasha Rostov.

In fact in a way both the Rostovs seem oddly diminished by their marriages; I noticed this more in the case of Natasha, because she goes all Happy Housewives in the epilogue (she doesn't sing anymore! Why doesn't she sing anymore?) but they both seem to have become more firmly staid and practical and, well, boring in their marriages than they ever were before.

Also I feel bad for poor Sonya, who is stuck living in her former betrothed's house as a sort of spinster aunt for his children, forced to watch Nikolai and Princess Marya be happy together and endure the fact that Princess Marya doesn't much like her. I don't even blame Princess Marya really - it's an impossible situation; of course there's friction - but still. Poor Sonya.

And she doesn't even have the solace of her best friend! Natasha has transferred her allegiance to Princess Marya, to whom she comments apropos Sonya, "She is a sterile flower, you know, like a strawberry blossom. Sometimes I feel so sorry for her, and at other times I think she doesn't feel as you or I would feel."

Well, that's a nice way to wash her hands of the matter. Poor Sonya; but then, she doesn't really feel anything, does she? At least it would be very convenient for everyone else if she didn't. Can't they at least try to marry her off to someone else?
osprey_archer: (books)
PETYA. PETYA NOOOOOOO.

Approximately 75% of Book 4, Part 3 involves Tolstoy expounding his theory of history, which he has already shared AT LENGTH in other parts of the book. And unlike Hugo, who often thoughtfully sets his digressions aside in their very own sections of the book, Tolstoy mixes his in with everything else, so you can’t skip anything without the concern that you might in fact be missing important parts of the story.

I mean, sure, if you skip the whole Waterloo section in Hugo, you would miss the two sentences at the end where Thenardier saves Marius’s father, thus setting off a chain of obligation that binds Marius to his worthless carcass forever after. But Hugo goes on to explain all of this at length later on, so it still wouldn’t matter really if you missed it the first time around.

Whereas if you skipped Book 4, Part 3 in War and Peace, you would get away from a lot of tiresome historical theorizing… But you would also miss the five Petya chapters sandwiched in the middle. And that would be a great loss.

The book has been so intent on explaining why history happens as the result of the concerted action of masses of men driven along by great historical laws, as opposed to as a result of world-historical genius, that we haven’t visited many of the characters in quite some time. No news on how Natasha is holding up in the aftermath of Prince Andrei’s death; nor is there any news of Princess Marya and Nikolai Rostov’s possible impending nuptials.

I’m also not sure Princess Marya knows her brother is dead, which I suppose is yet another thing that might get in the way of her wedding to Nikolai Rostov. I have become disturbingly invested in this marriage and therefore increasingly convinced that it will never be.

Oh! But we do know something about Pierre! After being imprisoned by the French army and then marched halfway to Smolensk, he’s been rescued by Russian forces. One can but hope he will get to go back home to St. Petersburg and nurse his battered feet back to health.
osprey_archer: (books)
I’ve reached the final book in War and Peace! We’re on the home stretch!

In other news, after two false starts Tolstoy finally succeeded in killing Prince Andrei, which seems a bit unfair, frankly. He nearly dies at Austerlitz, then he nearly dies at Borodino, and then he meets Natasha again and they’re reconciled and he seems to be on the mend and then… he just loses the will to live! That’s it! That’s what killed him.

I expect that Tolstoy is saying something deep here about the nature of life and love and something something, but mostly I’m just put out.

On the other hand, it does leave the door wide open for Princess Marya and Nikolai Rostov to get married (which they could not have if their siblings Prince Andrei and Natasha Rostova married, because of how Russian marriage laws worked), so I guess that’s some consolation. If Tolstoy actually lets them get married. I have lost all trust in him!
osprey_archer: (books)
I've passed the thousand page mark in War and Peace! There are only...four hundred more pages to go...

As I suspected, reports of Prince Andrei's death were greatly exaggerated. I strongly suspect that he is Emma's favorite character, after whose second death she quit reading the book - no other characters have fulfilled the requisite criteria of dying (well, having their deaths reported) twice - and I am wondering if there is some way I can gently hint at his continued liveliness.

He's lying in a wagon in the Rostov's baggage train. Natasha doesn't know about it yet, and I strongly suspect that she's going to come upon him by accident and nurse him back to health and thus undo the damage done to their romance by that snake Prince Anatol. Or maybe not? What a missed opportunity if not.

I thought the whole sequence where Natasha convinces her family to leave most of their baggage behind and take wounded soldiers instead was rather splendid.

But now we're back in Moscow with Pierre, who hasn't left the city because he seems to be suffering some sort of nervous breakdown - oddly enough, unconnected with the war; it's everything else in his life that sent him over the edge. A French detachment has just found the house where he's staying, and notwithstanding that the commander has just pronounced Pierre a Frenchman (one can be, it seems, an honorary Frenchman), I feel this will not end well for Pierre.
osprey_archer: (books)
Prince Andrei is ON THE VERGE OF DEATH again! I don't see how he's going to get out of it this time, seeing as he's got a stomach wound and all, but I also read somewhere that he eventually meets Natasha at a ball and she snubs him thoroughly - unless I'm misremembering? - so he can't die just yet.

Tolstoy has actually been quite economical with deaths so far. I think the only named characters who have died were Prince Andrei's first wife Lisa and his father, Prince Nikolai. Either he is saving it all for a big flurry of death in the march on Moscow or he is just not quite as death-happy as Victor Hugo.

In other news, Pierre got curious about this whole war thing and just kind of... rode out to the battlefield to see it. He shows up on the eve of the battle and expects to be shown around and everyone treats this like it's perfectly natural, which I suppose it is, seeing he's a count and all. He can go where he will and see what he wants! I am a little baffled that what he wants is to be nearly mown down by artillery fire, but I guess we all have our foibles.
osprey_archer: (books)
PRINCESS MARYA HAS A SUITOR! PRINCESS MARYA HAS A SUITOR!

Oh, and also Napoleon is invading Russia, and he is coming EVER CLOSER to Moscow (the Muscovites have not yet quite assimilated the fact that their city is about to be invaded, and they're partying), and also Tolstoy is having a jolly good time expostulating on the fact that history happens because... I suppose history forces itself to happen somehow, even against the will of its participants?

I find his theory a bit puzzling. He emphasizes that Napoleon was very foolish to invade Russia at all, or to give battle at Borodino; I'm not sure why he concludes from this fact that the forces of History swept Napoleon along, rather than that Napoleon behaved foolishly and history is often decided by the foolishness of supposedly Great Men.

Speaking of foolishness, Pierre has decided that now is the time to join the army. Oh no, Pierre! Stay safe! I worry about him: he's clever about books and ideas, but otherwise he doesn't seem to have the sense God gave a goose.

But all of this pales in comparison to Princess Marya's happy fortune. After her father's death - the book does not expect us to feel deeply sad about his death, but I think I felt even less sad than I was supposed to; he was so awful - Marya was trapped on her estate by a recalcitrant peasantry, unable to flee as the French army loomed ever closer - and who should arrive but a gallant Russian officer, who saves her from her peril and, in this incomparably romantic situations, falls in love with her! And she, of course, swoons over her knight in shining armor.

The only fly in my ointment is that this gallant Russian officer is Nikolai Rostov, the beloved of Sonya, who is clearly either going to marry him or pine away and die. I am so torn! I want everyone to be happy! But I think I want Princess Marya to be happy just a little bit more, so poor Sonya is just going to have to pine.

Not that my desires are likely to have the slightest effect on the outcome, mind. Nikolai Rostov might get killed in battle at any moment, and then the whole question is moot.
osprey_archer: (window)
Not much progress on War and Peace this week. We've gotten to another war section, which means leaving behind Natasha and Pierre and Sonya and all my other favorites (right when they just suffered some high drama, too!) and following some rando on his mission to convince Napoleon to rethink this whole invading Russia thing.

Napoleon is having none of it. Napoleon is convinced that it is All Russia's Fault that he has to invade, and what can you do with a man like that?

On the bright side, I am now officially halfway through this book! It's taken me a mere two months to get here, so if all goes well I will finish long before my deadline.
osprey_archer: (books)
OH NATASHA NO. I have been screaming this at Natasha Rostova for the last fifteen chapters or so, but did she listen? Noooooo, she went ahead and got infatuated with that cad Anatol, and planned an elopement with him - he didn't bother to tell her he was already married - and probably would have managed it if it were not for the interference of her loving cousin Sonya, not that Natasha's likely to ever forgive Sonya for it.

Poor Sonya. I have heard vague rumbling that happiness is not in store for Sonya (that, indeed, all Sonyas in Russian literature tend to get shafted), so I am worried for her.

Prince Andrei is trying to drown his pain in bitterness, which means that a reconciliation is probably impossible, and his relations are beside themselves with joy at the engagement's dissolution.

I had hoped for better from Princess Marya. But I think that the disappointment of all her own hopes has curdled her religious faith into something cramped and narrow, so I can't blame her too harshly.

In happier (possibly?) news, Pierre has found a new object in life! He had lost his earlier enthusiasm for Freemasonry and was adrift on a listless sea of despondency, but now he's fallen in love with Natasha (everyone is in love with Natasha). I predict that having a new obsession to distract him from brooding will pep him right up.

And now - onward to the invasion of Moscow!
osprey_archer: (books)
At last we've made it through the thicket of the hunting party! And Natasha and Nikolai went to their relative's house and had a marvelous time, although Natasha sank promptly back into despair afterward, musing on the bitter question of whether she will waste her whole life away waiting for Prince Andrei to return. You're only seventeen, Natasha, I think you'll be okay.

Pierre, meanwhile, has sunk into the Depths of Despair. Even his Freemasonry has ceased to help him; he has at last noticed that Masons are just as likely as other people to pay lip service to their ideals while living lives full of hypocrisy and greed, and he just can't stand it. He "had that unfortunate facility common in many men, especially Russians, of seeing and believing in the possibility of goodness and ruth, but seeing the evil and falsity of life too clearly to be able to take a serious part in it... 'Nothing is trivial, nothing important - it's all the same: one should only try to escape from it as best one can,' thought Pierre. 'If only one couldn't see it, that terrible it!'"

I think we're still a couple years out from Napoleon's invasion of Russia, which I imagine might rouse Pierre from his lethargy. But I hope neither we nor Pierre need to wait that long.
osprey_archer: (books)
I left War and Peace behind during my wedding jaunt, which is why I haven't covered that much ground this week. Although this does not mean that nothing has happened!

In the first place, Vera and her new husband Berg have thrown the very most boring party ever, and they are extremely pleased with themselves. Their party was just like every other party they've ever been to, and that means it was the perfect party, right? I actually think they're going to be one of the happiest couples in the book: everyone else may find them dull, but they are clearly extremely well suited to one another.

The same cannot be said of Prince Andrei and Natasha Rostova. They're both totally into each other, or they were when they got engaged, but they haven't announced the engagement yet or seen each other for months and there is, it seems to me, a distance between them. He is literally twice her age and tempered by sorrow, where Natasha is still young and light-hearted and found him frightening until she fell in love. I sense storm clouds gathering.

Princess Marya's new life plan involves becoming a pilgrim and traveling around Russia dressed in rags to visit all the holiest shrines. I think she would enjoy this far less than she thinks, but then enjoyment probably isn't the point, really.

And now the narrative has stopped dead for a few chapters of hunting. I could not care less about hunting and feel rather impatient with this; but then this is one of the interesting things about War and Peace, it's so big and there are so many different things in it that there's something to appeal to almost everyone, but by that same token almost everyone is probably going to have at least subplot that makes them cry "Oh no, not more Napoleon!" (or whatever).

Speaking of Napoleon, he and the Emperor Aleksandr are all buddy-buddy right now. This book has reminded me very forcibly that I know almost nothing about the Napoleonic wars; I hadn't realized that Napoleon and Russia had any kind of peace treaty before Napoleon marched on Moscow in 1812.
osprey_archer: (books)
We are at the ball! We are at the ball with Natasha Rostova - her first ball, and she's practically floating with excitement - and Dramatic Happenings are in the air, although I'm not yet sure what they will be.

Natasha's older sister Vera has gotten engaged to the most boring man in the whole Russian army, but it's beginning to look like the family finances may keep the engagement from coming off. Poor Vera. No one seems to like Vera that much - even her prospective fiance is willing to throw her over if the money doesn't come through - which makes me sad for her, even though at the same time I don't really blame them for not feeling close to her. She's always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and never notices or cares if it hurts people.

Poor Pierre continues to be a failboat at everything. He tries to modernize his estates and liberate his serfs, but he's so befuddled by business affairs that he doesn't make any headway; and then he takes his wife back, and I am pretttttty sure that she's cheating on him again and he's never going to notice because he's so taken up with Freemasonry.

Although he seems to be growing ever so slowly disenchanted with the Masons, so perhaps he is due for another conversion? Although unless it's a conversion to the mysteries of double-entry bookkeeping and the joys of intense management of one's own estates, I'm not sure that it's going to help him in his heartfelt but wholly inept desire to help his serfs.

He did manage to convert Prince Andrei, not to Freemasonry, but to the idea of trying to do some good for his serfs, and Prince Andrei (a much more practical fellow than poor Pierre) has already emancipated the serfs of one estate. I have become fond of him despite everything; of course it doesn't hurt that he feels simply terrible about the way he treated his poor wife.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished Lady Chatterly's Lover, and I have such mixed feelings about this book, you guys.

Spoilers )

This all is sounding less and less like mixed feelings and more like a condemnation of the book. I suppose the writing rather blinded me while I was reading?

And I think this is also very much a case where Lawrence was writing something daring and avant garde for his time - it wasn't published in full until thirty years later - and, as often happens when people try to shuck off the old morality and cut a new one from whole cloth, Lawrence sometimes ends up standing there in the emperor's new clothes.
osprey_archer: (books)
Lady Chatterley's Lover is such a different book than I expected. Not that I walked into it with very firm expectations, but I had the vague idea that it was like 80% sex scenes with perhaps some linking descriptions of English wildflowers.

In fact, it's more like one part sex scenes and one part wildflowers to three parts EXISTENTIAL DESPAIR. Industrialization has ruined the world and almost all of the people in it and probably within a hundred years humanity will have lost the last vestiges of its goodness and slaughter each other to extinction in an orgy of industrialized violence.

(Lawrence wrote this in 1929. We have twelve years left to go to before we can say he was wrong.)

Really I just want Connie to be happy, but that's looking less and less likely as the book goes on. Connie and Clifford have grown ever farther apart, and the more we know about Mellors the less he seems like an antidote. The main thing he and Connie seem to have in common is their despair, and I have become increasingly convinced that if Mellors and Connie run away together, they'll sink into an abyss of utter misery as soon as the first flush of honeymoon sex wears off.

I mentioned to [livejournal.com profile] evelyn_b last week that what these characters really need is a visit from Flora Poste, of Cold Comfort Farm, who would set them all right with firm good sense and cheerfulness. She could give Sir Clifford a pamphlet about ways to sexually satisfy his wife despite his impotence, whisk Connie off for a refreshing vacation in Venice, and... Well, I'm not sure how she could help Mellors. He doesn't like his dog! What kind of human being dislikes his own dog?

Flora could bring up Mellors' hang-ups about mutual orgasms, perhaps. Until Connie, Mellors has never managed to have a mutual orgasm with any of his partners, and he thinks that this is a sign that womanliness has been utterly undermined by the industrialization that is crushing the human spirit and slowly killing us all.

Like, dude. Maybe you're just not that good at sex, Mellors, did you ever think of that? Maybe women are a diverse population with different desires and physical sensitivities and you could try to make your peace with that instead of obsessing about how your lack of mutual orgasms is a sign that the world is in a ghastly state of degradation and decay.

I think if Flora tried to suggest any of this to Mellors, he'd probably just dismiss her as a meddling female, though. He might prove too tough a nut for even Flora Poster to crack.
osprey_archer: (books)
I've just finished chapter 6 of Lady Chatterley's Lover; I could be going faster, but I'm finding it rough going. Not the writing, the writing is lovely, but emotionally speaking: one gets the feeling that World War I gave the entirety of England shell-shock, or possibly that Connie's husband Clifford's shell-shock reaches out malignant emotional tentacles that wrap around everyone around him.

Not because of any malignancy on his part, but because the shell-shock is a parasite that has hollowed him out and now is looking for someone new to eat.

And they're in the coaling country, so the air always smells of sulphur, and the sky is gray with ash, and it always seems to be raining, although that at least is probably not the result of the coal; and Connie has concluded that all there is to life is nothingness, except for money, and even money is important only because you need it to fulfill the bodily necessities of your unfortunate carcass so you can drag it through the grim, gray, rainy days.

All the great words, it seemed to Connie, were cancelled for her generation: love, joy, happiness, home, mother, father, husband, all these great dynamic words were half dead now, and dying from day to day. Home was a place you lived in, love was a thing you didn't fool yourself about, joy was a word you applied to a good Charleston, happiness was a term of hypocrisy used to bluff other people...

I'm hoping that Lady Chatterley finds her lover soon. I am also glad that the cover copy informs me that her lover is a human man, and not the sweet oblivion of Death.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Quite a lot of things! I have allergies or possibly a cold, and therefore have spent as much of the week as possible reclining on the sofa and reading.

First, though, a book I dropped: Victoria Thompson’s Murder on Astor Place, a murder mystery in turn-of-the-century New York. How could that go wrong, I thought? But I thought it was too info-dumpy and simultaneously too modern-sounding. I could buy a turn-of-the-century midwife recognizing postpartum depression, but I very much doubt she’d use that term for it.

But I probably could have worked with all that, except… then our heroine, midwife Sarah Brandt, meets police sergeant Frank Malloy. They hate each other on sight in that “s/he’s soooo annoying, but what an amazing body” way that suggests they will be dancing around their attraction for the next ten books, and ugh, this is my least favorite romantic dynamic of all time.

And now for books I completed: Marie Brennan’s In the Labyrinth of Drakes, which I enjoyed very much! Brennan has gotten much better at skipping directly to the action as the series goes on. In the first book, it takes nearly half the novel for Isabella to even leave Scirland - I for one could have done with a much more cursory sketch of Isabella’s unhappy girlhood trying to quash her interest in dragons and be a proper young lady; I’ve read that story before, I can fill in the blanks - but by this fourth book, we’ve left that far behind, and there’s scarcely a chapter of set-up before Isabella’s heading out on her dragon-studying expedition.

I also read Maud Hart Lovelace’s Carney’s House Party, which is a companion novel to her Betsy-Tacy series, about how one of the characters in that series broke up with her high school boyfriend (who moved to California when they were halfway through high school) and ended up with the man she eventually married. It’s... not bad, but it’s probably my least favorite of Lovelace’s books that I’ve read, probably because in between breaking Carney up with one boy and engaging her to another, there’s not much time for anything but the romance.

And lastly, I read Kent Kiehl’s The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without a Conscience, which is very interesting, although marred by Kiehl’s forays into autobiography. Some authors can make their search for the information just as interesting as the information itself, but alas, Kiehl is not among their number.

Aside from that, though, it’s a fascinating book. Kiehl argues (backed by piles of brain scans) that psychopathy is caused by a malformation of the paralimbic system, which means that psychopaths don’t process emotions the way that the rest of us do and are physically incapable of learning from punishment.

This leads to a chapter about a program in Wisconsin which treats psychopaths entirely through positive reinforcement: patients are rewarded for prosocial behaviors with candy bars and video games. It’s clearly not a perfect treatment (but then, what is?), but it did lead to a 50% reduction in convictions for violent crime as compared to inmates who weren’t part of the program, so clearly it’s an avenue worth more investigation.

Although given that many people think our prison system is too cushy already - you have to wonder what sort of prison these people would approve; would the prisoners lie on piles of rotting straw as the cold rain dripped on their faces through the stainless steel bars on the windows? - it doesn’t seem too likely to me that this approach will take off in the near future. But then, stranger things have happened.

What I’m Reading Now

Still more of Constance Fenimore Cooper’s Anne. Anne has signed up to become a Civil War nurse. I’m hoping that this will lead to a dramatic scene where the unworthy man that she loves dies in her arms, or possibly just before she arrives at the hospital - yes, I think this has more dramatic potential - just before she arrives at the hospital, so she is there just in time to see his waxen face and his dead, staring eyes, and know she is too late.

I’ve also begun reading Christ Jennings’ Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopia, which I all but pranced over to the library to get as soon as I heard of its existence. Unfortunately, I can only really recommend it if you share my fascination with nineteenth-century American utopian communities, because so far the writing has been pedestrian at best.

What I Plan to Read Next

The challenge for next month on the 2016 Reading Challenge is “a book that has been banned,” so I’ve been contemplating various lists of books that have been banned over the years. Should I finally bite the bullet and read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or The Things They Carried? On the one hand, I’ve meant to read both of those books for years; on the other hand, I have avoided actually reading them for years because I know they’re both super hardcore.

Maybe I should finally take this opportunity to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. One of my friends is a big D. H. Lawrence fan (although I’m not sure if that extends from his poetry to his novels). Or maybe Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which I - enjoyed doesn’t seem like quite the right word; but it’s different than anything else I’ve ever read, with a very distinct style (Chandler looooves his metaphors), and I want to read more of it.

I’m not sure I exactly like the way he writes women, but his women characters are more vibrant than most of the men. I kept getting his men characters confused. Which one is this? The police officer or the dirty crook? Although possibly that confusion is part of Chandler’s point.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m almost done with Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and the Great World, the tale of Betsy’s months traveling around Europe in early 1914. Except for a few dramatically ironic comments about how there will never be another war in Europe - oh Betsy! - there’s almost no attention paid to the fact that World War I is going to start happening any moment now: it’s all about Betsy’s wonderful adventures making friends with her fellow pensioners in Munich, and having a brief beautiful almost love affair in Venice, and visiting the town of Sonneberg to see the place where so many dolls are made.

And actually, that makes the impending war more poignant, because I can absolutely see why Betsy thinks there will never be another European war. The societies she’s visiting seem so stable and cosmopolitan - oh, not without their problems of course (Betsy notes the prevalence of child labor), but not teetering on the brink of disaster. Of course she and her Bavarian friend Tilda feel perfectly comfortable making plans to meet up again in 1917. Why should they believe that this peaceful, stable world is about to come crashing down?

I’m also reading Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, on the recommendation of a friend. I need to stop taking recommendations from this particular friend, because we clearly have very different tastes in books; none of the others she’s recommended to me have clicked either. And she only gave Code Name Verity three out of five stars. Three out of five! How is that even possible?

But because it is a recommendation, I probably will finish this one even though it hasn’t clicked for me so far.

What I Plan to Read Next

It’s almost April! Which means it’s time for the next challenge in the 2016 Reading Challenge: “a book you previously abandoned.”

I’m spoiled for choice on this one, but I think I’ll probably go with Career of Evil. Although I’m not sure I should count it, given that I’m planning to skip most of the serial killer POV? Maybe I should just make this the month of reading Books I Have Previously Abandoned. I could read Elizabeth Wein’s Black Dove, White Raven too.

And of course I’ll be moving on to the final Betsy-Tacy book: Betsy’s Wedding. It will be the end of an era! (Only not really, because Maud Hart Lovelace wrote three other books set in Deep Valley, so of course I must read those too…)
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Betsy In Spite of Herself, which is just as good as all the other Betsy-Tacy books. I feel like I’m becoming a Betsy-Tacy evangelist. One of my high school friends is a Betsy-Tacy friend and I struggle not to bombard her with texts like “OMG BETSY BAGGED PHIL BRANDISH, THIS WILL END BADLY.”

Phil Brandish is a handsome classmate with a red auto. Betsy is more in love with the auto than Phil, but as she’s only fifteen I think she’s not quite aware of that until they’ve actually been dating for a while, at which point she realizes that Phil is a pill.

One thing I love about these books is that when Betsy decides that she wants a boy, she goes after him - to the point that she actually asks Phil Brandish out (after setting up a Leap Year Dance to make this socially acceptable, of course, February 29th traditionally being the one day when women can propose to men). Even in modern YA books, it doesn’t seem to be all that common for the heroine to pursue her desires so straightforwardly (or sometimes even to know what her desires are), so it’s a nice contrast to read a book that’s practically a step-by-step manual on “This is one way to get what you want, and get rid of it when you find you don’t want it anymore.”

I also finished David McCullough’s 1776, which was interesting, although McCullough is not answering the ranks of my must-read nonfiction writers; of course this is partly because he writes military history, which is not high on my list. Mostly it made me aware just how little I know about the American Revolution.

What I’m Reading Now

Betsy Was a Junior, in which Betsy sets her sights on Joe Willard… only to discover that he’s been snapped up by another girl! Oh well, I’m sure she’ll have a delightful junior year despite this setback. Betsy generally seems to have a talent for finding the fun in whatever’s going, even if it isn’t going quite how she wished.

I’ve also been reading Henry Beetle Hough’s The Country Editor (a memoir about being a newspaper editor on Martha’s Vineyard), because it was mentioned in When Books Went to War as a book that World War II soldiers particularly enjoyed, and I liked one of their other favorites, Chicken Every Sunday.

The Country Editor isn’t quite doing it for me, though. It’s very episodic - not that I mind episodic, but it’s so very episodic that it feels like it doesn’t quite come together at all. But I’ll keep on a bit longer and see if perhaps I start feeling better about it.

What I Plan to Read Next

Eva Ibbotson’s Madensky Square, for the 2016 Reading Challenge “a book that you own but have never read.” I should note that I am totally failing at the challenge “a book that intimidates you.” This may have been the wrong year to try and tackle War and Peace.
osprey_archer: (books)
Last Stop on Market Street is the picture book that won the 2016 Newbery Medal. The fact that it's a picture book gave me some pause - nothing against picture books, but you really can't pack the same complexity into a few hundred odd words as you could into a novel - but once I read it, I quite liked it, and it certainly deserves awards even if it seems like a somewhat odd fit for this particular award.

It's sweet without being cloying, which is an achievement with such a small word-count, and there's some nice images in here, too, a sense that the book is almost free-verse poetry (with occasional dips into rhyme). It starts out, for instance:

CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps.

The outside air smelled like freedom,
but it also smelled like rain,
which freckled CJ's shirt and dripped down his nose.


A vivid scene in just a few lines, and I particularly like the use of the word freckled here - the image is clear, but the word usage is unusual enough to give pleasure in itself.
osprey_archer: (books)
”A woman’s work is something fine and noble to grow up to, and it is just as important as a man’s. But no man could ever do it so well. I don’t want you to be the silly, affected person with fine clothes and manners whom folks sometimes call a lady. No, that is not what I want for you, my little girl. I want you to be a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind. Do you think you would like to be growing up into that woman now? How about it, Caddie, have we run with the colts long enough?”...

Suddenly Caddie flung herself into Mr. Woodlawn’s arms.

“Father! Father!”


When I was a little girl, I was convinced I was a tomboy, despite the fact that I didn’t like sports, physical exertion, boys, or pretty much any of the other things that young tomboys are supposed to love. Mostly I just wanted to sit around and read all the time, but in between the Little House books and Caddie Woodlawn, my reading led to the conclusion that girls were supposed to be tomboys.

I should perhaps put “supposed” in quotes, because these are books at war with their own subtext. On the one hand, the explicit message - and this is especially clear in Caddie Woodlawn, which spells its message out the passage I quoted above (which is one of the few parts of the book I remembered all these years later) - is that tomboys have to grow up, and put aside childish things, and become good quiet housekeepers who learn all those girly things they’ve scorned.

But on the other hand, and all words about “fine and noble” callings aside, man does Caddie Woodlawn make proper ladyhood look unattractive. Caddie’s older sister Clara has been so subsumed by ladyhood that she barely has a personality. She’s the only one in the family who votes to go to England when her father inherits an estate, because only she is blinded by the glitz of the English peerage to the true beauty of the rough frontiers of America.

(Clara does not lose her entire family to a train accident, but nonetheless I think she and Susan Pevensie have something in common.)

Who wouldn’t rather be a tomboy? Tomboys are honest and brave and true and have their own opinions about things rather than just parroting out of the Godey’s Lady’s Book.

I loved Caddie Woodlawn as a girl, and I still love lots of it - there’s a marvelous scene where Caddie tries to fix a clock, for instance, and ends up getting taken under her father’s wing as his clock-fixing apprentice. The nature descriptions are marvelous. (The Indian plotlines are of their time - neither particularly noxious nor particularly progressive for the the thirties, but uncomfortable reading today. I’m sure someone has written about this at length elsewhere.)

But reading it now, what it really draws out for me is how two-faced our cultural vision of how girls are supposed to be is. For a long time, the explicit message - the conduct-book message, one might call it - was that girls should be quiet and polite and thoughtful and ladylike, while the message in books (Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn) was that ladylike girls are the most boring thing to ever bore, and girls ought to be exciting and sprightly and tomboyish.

And at some point (gradually, although it was quite common in books I read growing in the nineties), that implicit message became explicit. Girls should be tomboys. They should be fearless! and feisty! and loud! and able to keep up with the boys.

Or - if it’s a story that isn’t specifically aimed at girls - maybe only almost able to keep up. Not too fearless. Not too loud. Not so set in their opinions that it’s annoying, and God forbid not right.

Pretty much the only thing on which there is cultural consensus is that girls had damn well better be pretty.

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