osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Pierrepont Noyes’ My Father’s House: An Oneida Childhood, which I liked very much; although of course I would, being fond of a) childhood memoirs (I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis that “I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting”), b) memoirs about cults (really anything about cults), and c) the nineteenth century.

But even if you are interested in only one of those things, this is an engaging book; much recommended. The one thing it will not give you is a clear description of the Oneida Community’s collapse: Noyes was ten at the time and found the whole thing ominous but fuzzy.

I also finished rereading A Wrinkle in Time. I’m glad I reread it because I no longer feel that vague gnawing sense that I just didn’t get it - but at the same time, it’s a bit sad to reread it and realize that I’m just never going to love that book the way that some people do.

What I’m Reading Now

Kidnapped! I only intended to begin it, but somehow I ended up halfway through the book already. It’s such a cracking good adventure yarn, it’s very hard to put down!

I have begun Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope! It’s early days yet, but I have high hopes that it will live up to the other books in the series - or at least the early books in the series; I hold a real grudge against Time Bike for being so dreadful that it stopped my exploration of the Hall Family Chronicles, even though I adored both The Diamond in the Window and The Fledgling. But fortunately the good books in the series are the kind that are just as good if you read them first as an adult.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Railway Children, which I also intended to read next last week, but I bought Noyes’ memoir at the museum and it simply had to take precedence, so… But this week I am quite determined! Railway Children or bust! Unless I find something simply irresistible in Amherst.
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I finished The Count of Monte Cristo! Confetti falls from the sky, trumpets blast, we all slam down our glasses like Thor and shout, "Another!"

Well, maybe not another just yet. But now that I've discovered Dumas, I would like to read The Three Musketeers in the not-too-distant future.

Spoilers for all of Monte Cristo )
osprey_archer: (books)
I'm racing toward the end of The Count of Monte Cristo! Only about a dozen chapters left now - and so many threads to wrap up!!!

How will the Count manage it all??? )
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We are racing swiftly toward the end! It's been so hard to limit myself to one chapter a day this week, what with the whole story coming together the way it is.
osprey_archer: (books)
OH MY GOD THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO IS GOING TO KILL ME WITH SUSPENSE AND FEELS AND ALL I WANT IS MORE. All of the Count's plans are coming together ALL AT ONCE and it's so exciting and also MERCEDES.

osprey_archer: (books)
We're moving right along in The Count of Monte Cristo! I'm about two thirds of the way through the book, and the plot-nooses are tightening around the necks of Dantes' enemies...

Spoilers! )
osprey_archer: (books)
I have been zooming through The Count of Monte Cristo this week! The wheels in the Count's plans are beginning ever so slowly to turn and it's gotten ever so much more exciting; it began to drag a bit there during the interminable section in Rome.

A few more thoughts! Helpfully arranged in a list, because the plot has grown so diffuse that I'm not sure how else to organize them.

Spoilers, of course )
osprey_archer: (window)
The Count has made it to Paris! The story is still staying firmly out of his POV, though, which disappoints me. I realize this makes it easier to hide the specifics of his plans for VENGEANCE, but I want to get back in his twisted angsty head!

Also, let's be real, I'm kind of sorry that the dungeon section wasn't longer. I am all about the dungeons.

BUT THERE ARE COMPENSATIONS. In these last few chapters, Dantes has at last spoilers! )
osprey_archer: (books)
The Count of Monte Cristo continues to reach new heights of delicious giddy absurdity. And there are still eight hundred more pages to go! How will Dumas continue to top what has come before? I'm not sure, but I'm sure he'll find something.

In any case! As of the end of Chapter 25, Dantes is ON A BOAT. Admittedly, he has been on a boat for the better part of the last five chapters, but now he is on a yacht of his VERY OWN which he purchased for a slightly absurd sum of money because now he has an entire chest full of gold ingots and precious jewels. YES! THE TREASURE WAS REAL! Now we've got some avenging to do!

Well, not quite yet; first Dantes has to find out what happened to all his loved ones. He learned that his father was dead - sadly, we did not get to witness his pangs of desperate agony; he just walked off on the island of Monte Cristo for a couple of hours and then came back, outwardly calm, because of course it wouldn't do for anyone to realize that he felt anything in particular about this old Dantes fellow.

Then again, Dantes is not exactly subtle about his inquiries. He buys his dad's old apartment building (not just the apartment, the whole BUILDING) and moves into the apartment in question. Then wanders around Les Catalans like a ghost asking after the long-disappeared Mercedes. Surely someone is going to say "She disappeared right after her fiance was arrested - Edmond Dantes, that was..." and look at him sharply, wondering how much fifteen years in prison might have changed a man.

Then again, he is so very much changed that they might go "Naaaah, can't be him." But then keep wondering uneasily in the backs of their minds who else would take such an interest in Mercedes and the long-dead elder Dantes.

In any case, there may be some narrow escapes from the law! That sounds like a Dumas sort of thing to do. Although narrow escapes from the law would also get in the way of all the vengeancing to come, so perhaps everyone in Marseilles will just decide that this newcomer is way too rich to be Dantes and the matter will rest there.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I’ve already reviewed it all!

What I’m Reading Now

Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which has just about broken me; it’s so sad I can’t even cry over it. Paul Baumer is an infantry soldier in the German army in World War II, who goes to the front, gets sent back from the front, loses this friend and that friend and a new recruit (the new recruits go down like mayflies), moves through the world like an exhausted ghost. It’s shell shock in novel form and I can only read a chapter at a time because it clings to me afterward.

I’ve also started reading Caroline Winterer’s American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason, which is about the various iterations of enlightenment in eighteenth-century America (and I think also by extension in Europe; the book is about the cross-pollination of ideas between the two continents). So far she has written about eighteenth-century library travelogues - surely the best kind of a travelogue - and learned letter-writing networks, which filled me with a certain epistolary covetousness.

What I Plan to Read Next

One of my friends from Captain America fandom sent me Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding! Which is apparently quite famous in Australia. So probably that; anything called The Magic Pudding has to be a good antidote to All Quiet on the Western Front.
osprey_archer: (books)
After much waffling and repeated warnings not to do it, I have gone ahead and started reading The Count of Monte Cristo. Somehow none of the warnings were as powerful as the fact that I actually own the book and it has been sitting on my shelf, taking up space and waiting to be read.

And also I missed having a lengthy book project to post about every Thursday. This is probably an unfortunate sign of my long slow march toward reading Proust.

In any case! So far The Count of Monte Cristo is all right. Dantes started out on top of the world - about to be made captain of his own ship and marry the girl he loves - and in few short chapters, he has been cast down to the depths of despair, although I think he's still under the impression that he's going to get out of jail soon and go on with his life. Oh Dantes! As if accused Napoleonic conspirators get to go on with their lives.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Zola’s Nana. I rather think Zola intended me to dislike everyone in this book, but in fact I just ended up feeling terribly sorry for them all: they all seem so human and stupid and tragic, wasting their lives and their treasures buying pleasures that give them no happiness. Not that they would be likely to get happiness from anything else, either. Does happiness even exist in Zola’s world? No one got to be happy in Germinal either.

In any case, I really liked the book. It gives such a clear and evocative picture of such an alien world, the nineteenth-century French theater and demimonde, and I think Nana in particular is a wonderfully complex character. (I also think you could probably make a strongly-supported textual argument that she has borderline personality disorder or possibly C-PTSD, which is impressive given that neither diagnosis was even a glimmer in anyone's eye at that point.) But it's definitely not for the faint of heart.

What I’m Reading Now

Nearly done with Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan. Annika has been rescued from the evil boarding school where her mother sent her! (Her mother’s portrayal is totally chilling, by the way, because she’s so good at acting like she has Annika’s best interests at heart: she presents the Evil Boarding School as a lovely surprise that will surely fill Annika with joy.) But will she be able to stay with her adoptive family in Vienna????

I mean, of course she will, because it’s an Ibbotson book, but I’m worried how they’re going to keep Annika’s mother from coming and taking her away again. Unless I’m right and it turns out that her mother is not actually her mother after all? WE SHALL SEE.

What I Plan to Read Next

Still Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. I meant to start it last week, but then I got sidetracked by Nana.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Fair Barbarian, which is absolutely charming, and includes a scene with an unworthy suitor receiving a resounding smackdown, which I find so satisfying and very rarely see in fiction.

I also finished Ngaio Marsh’s Death of a Fool, which is also charming, although I think that Marsh’s peculiar village books are not quite as delightful as her theater or eccentric aristocrat books. This one reminded me very much of Death at the Bar, even though they’re similar in that both involve villages; I spent a certain percentage of the book trying to recall the other book, in fact, because I didn’t think it was the same book and yet it felt eerily familiar.

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve started Zola’s Nana! Generally speaking it seems rather quaint in nineteenth century English or American books when someone starts talking about the evils of ~French novels~, but reading Nana makes it easy to see why they were shocked. Nana is a prostitute transforming herself into an actress; she moves among the denizens of the demimonde, courtesans and the men who patronize them, and it’s a glittery, hollow, cynical place.

And Nana is of a piece with it. She’s not a prostitute with a heart of gold (something of a relief, really); she’s as hard and cynical as the world she moves in, with a few unexpected soft spots, notably an affection for her little son.

It’s not a book to read if you’re looking for likable characters, but it’s strangely fascinating all the same. The portrait of the world that it paints is so different from anything else I’ve ever read about.

I’m becoming quite concerned for Annika in Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan. I think her so-called relations, who have whisked her away from Vienna to a dingy collapsing castle in northern Germany, have somehow discovered her inheritance and are using her to try to get their grasping hands on it. Of course, Ibbotson being Ibbotson, I think Annika will escape in the end and make her way back to Vienna and probably become a gloriously virtuoso cook, but she’s going to be so sad when she realizes her supposed mother isn’t actually her mother.

Although perhaps by then she will also be a little bit relieved. So maybe she won’t be as devastated as I fear. And of course she can take her newfound friend the stable boy back to Vienna with her, and he can work with the Lippizaners, and all will be well.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’ve decided to read Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front for my next reading challenge, “a book I should have read in school.”
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)

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)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley! Which was good for about a third of the book in the middle there - or perhaps I should say relevant to my interests, as that is the part of the book which is about Caroline and Shirley’s friendship - and then abruptly changes focus to documenting Shirley’s budding romance with her former tutor.

This is necessary for Bronte’s design, which is to end the book with a double wedding (where Caroline and Shirley marry two brothers, no less, and thereby become sisters themselves), but the abrupt shift is not artful. And to add insult to injury - or perhaps injury to insult - I didn’t particularly like Shirley’s relationship with her suitor. It reminded me of Bronte’s other unsuccessful novel, The Professor, which also has a romance narrated in the first person by the man, and in both cases the first person narration made that man seem terribly unpleasant to me.

I also think that Bronte finds “hot for teacher” an irresistibly romantic dynamic in a way that I don’t share, which probably makes me a hard sell when she writes romances of this type. Although I suppose there are elements of this in Vilette, and I really liked the final couple there...

I also read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s In the Closed Room, because it was free on Kindle and written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a combination which made it utterly irresistible to me. It turns out to be an absolutely forgetable ghost story, though - nothing like the power of Margaret Oliphant’s The Open Door (also beguilingly free on Kindle! Much worth reading!).

I find that ghost stories are either fantastic or totally forgettable and there’s not much in between.

What I’m Reading Now

At the Art Institute I found a totally charming book called Chicago By Day and Night: The Pleasure Seeker’s Guide to the Paris of America, which is a reprint of a travel guide to Chicago published just before the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Did I buy it? Of course I had to buy it. It’s just as charming as I hoped, too.

You know what I should write? A Chicago World’s Fair romance. I’ve read so much about it, and so much about the time period, I wouldn’t have to do much extra research, and there’s a built in audience for all things Chicago World’s Fair, thank you Erik Larson.

What I Plan to Read Next

Ngaio Marsh’s Death of a Peer. I much prefer the UK title, A Surfeit of Lampreys, but what can you do?
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)

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.


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