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

Holly Webb’s Return to the Secret Garden, which has a charming premise - evacuee children during World War II sent to Misselthwaite Manor! - and proceeds to use it to make the our beloved Secret Garden characters heirs to all the miseries of history.

No, I did not want to read about Dickon becoming a grumpy old man because during World War I he got facial scarring so severe that children flinch away from him. Nor did I want to read about Colin Craven dying at Dunkirk in World War II. No! The fact that it was a heroic death does not make it better! COLIN CRAVEN IS NEVER SUPPOSED TO DIE, DID YOU NOT EVEN READ THE SECRET GARDEN.

I have never been fond of “major character death” fic and the fact that this is professionally published does not make me like it any better.

What I’m Reading Now

I read a lot of books by women because generally speaking I find them less likely to be misogynistic than books by men. But there’s generally, and then there’s Edna Ferber, whose writing I don’t remember being nearly this soaked in misogynistic tropes in Dawn O’Hara. Maybe she soured as she got older, soured by her life as a ~failed spinster~ - spinsters being, in Ferberville, by definition failures. As are wives if they’re too conventional. And women who sleep around if they sleep around too much.

Pansy Deleath has just gone to the Klondike with a troupe of dancing girls, and Ferber takes every opportunity to remind us how silly they are and how much better and more solid and less slutty Pansy looks by comparison. She may end up being Vaughn Melendy’s mistress for the next fifty years, but that’s because it’s TRUE LOVE, not for base mercenary gold-digging reasons like those ~other girls.

Ugh. I’m going to finish the book because it’s part of the Unread Book Club and I intend to finish them all, but UGH.

In cheerier news - well, cheerier is the wrong word. But in more pleasurable if somewhat soul-destroying reading news, I’ve started Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, which is beautiful and wonderfully observed (and a good example of how to write a story set in a deeply sexist culture without making the story itself sexist, so TAKE THAT, Edna Ferber) and weirdly engrossing. I meant to do other things yesterday evening and instead gulped down the first half of the book.

What I Plan to Read Next

My reading challenge for September is “a book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author.” I was already planning to read Ashley Bryan’s Freedom Over Me, which won a Newbery Honor this year (also, I just looked Bryan up, and he’s 94 years old. Ninety-four and still winning book awards! I find it strangely inspiring), and also Jewell Parker Rhodes Bayou Magic, which looked intriguing when I found it at the used bookstore… although upon looking it up online, it looks like it’s the third in a trilogy, so maybe I ought to start at the beginning?

Upon further inspection, it looks like a rather loosely knit trilogy, so probably I can start with Bayou Magic and go back and read the others if I like it. I was planning to find a third book to make it a hat trick anyway - if I don’t like Bayou Magic enough to want to read the rest of that series, then maybe Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Mighty Miss Malone.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
Yesterday I posted about a list of nonsense words that I'd found tucked into my copy of The Motor Girls of Crystal Bay. The list is

Mrtaia
Fdera
Ktea
Croa
Bses
Belel
Ltoite
Balnha

I found them flummoxing, but [personal profile] lost_spook figured them out! They're ANAGRAMS!

Mrtaia = Marita
Fdera = Freda
Ktea = Kate
Croa = Cora
Bses = Bess
Belel = Belle
Ltoite = Lottie
Balnha = still not sure about that one. Anagrammers of the world! Any idea about early 20th century girls names that would fit? The book was published in 1914.

Except for Kate and the mysterious Balnha, these are the names of the main characters in the book. I can but presume that Kate is my ancestress's OC, who in my mind is a girl with flashing dark eyes and a perhaps slightly anachronistic bob, who meets the Motor Girls when their car breaks down during a storm and helps them out when they are In Peril, and therefore gets invited along for the adventure...
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

The long voyage, with its comparative peace, was behind them: ahead was only war, and all that it might mean to the boys. The whole world suddenly centred round the boys. London was nothing; England, nothing, except for what it stood for; the heart of Empire. And the Empire had called the boys.

A quote from Mary Grant Bruce’s From Billabong to London. I don’t even believe in the Empire and this gave me goosebumps; I can only imagine the effect it must have had on readers in 1914 for whom the Empire seemed a great and glorious thing.

I also finished The Chestry Oak, which really was not that harrowing after all. Of course it’s not a walk in the park either - it is set during World War II - but Seredy skips over most of the really harrowing bits. In fact I was disappointed, which is really quite unfair of me given that I put off reading the book on account of the harrowing possibilities - but it does seem a bit like cheating to simply skip from Michael’s birth family to his adoptive family and leave out his year as a displaced child almost entirely.

And also The Motor Girls On Crystal Bay. The most exciting thing about the book was finding a long-forgotten piece of graph paper - left there no doubt by one of my ancestors - containing a string of nonsense words. What do they mean?

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve started Edna Ferber’s Great Son, which is going on tiresomely about spinsters - which is especially irritating as Ferber was a spinster herself. For goodness sake, Ferber, show some solidarity.

The book starts just before the beginning of World War II (and was written in 1945), and has already set up a quartet of Japanese characters (the family servants and their two children, who are studying at the University of Washington) and a German Jewish refugee girl who I’m pretty sure the son of the house has just fallen for - so I’m curious to see how that develops. Total trainwreck or actually pretty good? We’ll see!

What I Plan to Read Next

Two books arrived from [personal profile] evelyn_b! Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain and Death in a White Tie. My next day off will be dedicated to at least one of these beauties.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle, which is rather in the same vein as D. E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book, although less funny. Which I guess means it isn’t in quite the same vein after all, really. They both write about spinsters and quiet English country villages, but Stevenson is writing comedy and Pym has, to my mind, a slightly tragic vein to it: all these people living their quiet faintly claustrophobic lives where nothing ever changes and no one seems particularly happy, although they are perhaps contented with their discontent, if you will.

Possibly it’s meant to be funny. Certainly there’s some humor to the ironic bits where Belinda says something like “one didn’t want to be snobbish, but - ” followed inevitably by something quite snobbish. But the limitations of their lives, not just the outward limitations of circumstance but the inward limitations of timidity, or lack of education (Belinda thinks a number of times about her lack of a classical education), or simply lack of cleverness - anyway it all seemed faintly sad to me.

I also finished A Bride for Anna’s Papa, which is pretty mediocre, unfortunately. Anna has mixed feelings about her father’s new bride, which sounds interesting but never gathers much emotional force - and then bam, it’s the last chapter and there’s a big fire and suddenly Anna is reconciled to the fact that the bride is part of the family now. I realize that disasters can have this epiphany-forcing effect, but I would have liked some kind of emotional arc leading up to it.

What I’m Reading Now

The Motor Girls at Crystal Bay, which was published in 1914 and ne’er, so far as I can tell, saw the hand of an editor. The author keeps fumbling which characters are speaking to each other in a conversation. Oh dear. Why did you keep this one, my great-great-aunts?

And I have nearly finished From Billabong to London - which, coincidentally, was also published in 1914. As I write, the Billabong crew have just been stopped on the HIGH SEAS by a GERMAN WARSHIP, and Jim and Wally are about to be taken prisoner for their part in arresting a German spy. Will rescue arrive before the Germans drag them away into the darkness???

The next book is called Jim and Wally, so nothing too fatal can befall them, although I suppose it could concern Jim and Wally’s daring escape from a German prison camp. But really I think they are going to be saved in the nick of time by a dashing British destroyer.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Disaster Artist! The library came through for me and I am PRETTY EXCITED.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished reading A. T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which is one of a series of sports stories that I inherited from my great-great-uncles. (In fact I believe it’s the last of the series. I am not sure why I read it first.)

It’s moderately amusing if you’re interested in books from the early twentieth century, but in the end I think my great-great-aunts had better taste in literature: they received the Little Colonel series for their Christmas presents, and not only can I reliably tell all the characters apart (by no means an assured feat in A. T. Dudley), but I have strong feelings about many of them. My mother and I once got into a shipping argument about Lloyd’s eventual paramour, who is eminently suitable - I cannot argue that he’s not suitable - but it’s just so bloodless: she chooses him by gazing at him and totting up all his virtues that would make him a good husband.

But at the same time there is not really another contender - they have been knocked out by going on a gambling spree, falling in with Demon Alcohol, or being kind of controlling - and Lloyd’s vocation is clearly to be a great hostess and leader of society, for which one needs a husband, so there you are.

This idea of vocation is actually quite important in these books; the main characters discuss it seriously, and they end up with a wide range: Lloyd is a hostess, but there’s also an illustrator, a writer (Johnston’s readers seem to have identified her, semi-correctly, as a self-insert), a social worker, and a homemaker (which is a distinct calling from hostess: it implies less wider responsibility). I liked the range, and the fact that all these vocations are treated as fine and noble callings (not all women need to follow the same life path!), and the fact that many of them don’t get married and that’s just fine. In fact there are important single women throughout the books - and important married women - plenty of female mentors for these girls all round.

I could have written so much more about these books in my senior thesis had I but thought of it at the time.

I really think the Little Colonel series might have the same kind of continued popularity as the Anne of Green Gables books - except that they’re so darn racist. And not in the way where the author used a racial slur or two but the book would be fine if you cut a couple lines. The racism is baked into the premise: there are scenes and thematic points that revolve around it. The glowingly patriotic take on the Spanish-American War is irremovable.

It’s a crying shame that Johnston could be so thoughtful and compassionate about some things and so completely wrong on others, but so it goes, I suppose.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished The Railway Children! [personal profile] asakiyume had acquired a copy of the most recent movie for us to watch, which gave me extra impetus, but it was a real pleasure to read so I probably would have galloped through it anyway. Highly recommended if you like early twentieth-century children’s books.

Also highly recommended: the 2000 film version of The Railway Children, which is quite faithful to the book - it cuts a couple of scenes (and one of the cut scenes is the one tragically sexist scene in the book, which is otherwise so good about letting the girls be just as heroic as their brother) but doesn’t add much, which IMO is generally where adaptations go wrong, adding in scenes that don’t suit at all. The biggest addition, I think, is that the film draws out some of the stuff about class relations which is latent in the book - but it doesn’t become overbearing or anything; it’s still quite secondary to the fun adventures.

Also Jerry, by Jean Webster - who is most famous for writing Daddy-Long-Legs - and this is definitely a case where I can see why that’s the book she’s remembered for, although Jerry is not without charms. A young American man - and, as a side note, his name is Jerymn, which I have never seen before and would be inclined to take as a misspelling of Jermyn except Webster spells it that way every single time. Has anyone else run across this name? How do you pronounce it?

Anyway, Jerry - to give him his easily pronounceable nickname - Jerry is vacationing in a dull Italian country town when he meets a beautiful American girl. To get closer to her (and enliven his dull days), he masquerades as an Italian tour guide. She sees through him at once, but doesn’t let on, and the rest of the book consists of the two of them gleefully upping the ante of the masquerade.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m almost done with Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope, which sadly I think is not nearly as good as either The Fragile Flag or The Fledgling, although also not nearly as bad as The Time Bike. A good middling Langton! And I will continue to search for The Swing in the Summerhouse, which is about, I think, a magical swing, which I think is just perfect and delightful and I hope the book lives up to it.

There are also a couple of post-Time Bike books in this series, but I am a little leery about reading them. Still, if I do run across them…

What I Plan to Read Next

My next reading challenge is coming up! It is “a book published before you were born,” and the only challenging part of this will be fixing on just one. The library has kindly purchased Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak for me (this is the first time I have made a purchase request at a library! I feel so powerful!), so perhaps that; but there is also the possibility of reading more Nesbit...
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Sun in the Sky, about which I felt pretty meh all the way through the end. I won the book as a prize, so a part of me doesn’t really want to part with it; but I also can’t really see myself reading it again, so there’s no reason to keep it.

I also read Theresa Tomlinson’s The Forestwife, which appeals to many parts of my id all at once and therefore filled me with great fondness. Rather than focusing on Maid Marian as the sole woman among the Merry Men, here Marian lives in a forest glade with an ever-growing band of outlaw women - although I think outlaw might give the wrong impression; they’re not robbing the rich to feed the poor, but feeding the poor with the fruits of the forest and healing them with their herb lore. Eventually they are joined by a band of renegade nuns.

As if this weren’t enough - loads of women working together! Herb lore! Renegade nuns! - there’s also a scene where Marian has to save Robert’s life by climbing into his bed to warm his fevered flesh with her own body heat. Yessss.

Spoilers )

What I’m Reading Now

I’ve been reading Albertus T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which I inherited from my great-great-uncle. In fact I have a whole set of A. T. Dudley’s books, given to different great-great-uncles over the years, as one aged out of the Dudley bracket and another grew into it.

This one is from 1910, and moderately amusing, although let me be real I was hoping for excessive wholesomeness a la William Heyliger, whose characters think things like “The patrol leader, [Don] thought, should be a fellow who was heart and soul in scouting - a fellow who could encourage, and urge, and lend a willing hand; not a fellow who wanted to drive and show authority."

THE SHEER BEAUTIFUL EARNESTNESS OF IT ALL. I have the feeling that Mr. Heyliger must have a deeply slashy novel somewhere in his immense oeuvre, if only I can find it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’m heading out on my road trip today, so it’s TIME FOR DOROTHY SAYERS’ STRONG POISON!!! I hope I haven’t overhyped myself about it at this point.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

David Blaize, an early-nineteenth-century English boarding school story that is EXACTLY as slashy as everyone always promised me it was, God bless you all, absolutely everyone is in love with David and at least one boy swears that he has been saved from vice (read sodomy) by that love, which is probably the most Edwardian thing ever to Edwardian except perhaps the interminable cricket matches. You would think that at some point, in between all these school stories and Lagaan and Dil Bole Hadippa! I would begin to get a hang of what's happening, but no, I still have no idea.

But at this point I actually find the incomprehensibility part of the charm, along with the hero worship and the boys gazing starry-eyed at the members of the cricket eleven. And David Blaize has the added charm that it is also a voyage of intellectual discovery - David discovers Keats, and learns to find beauty in the text of what he previously considered endlessly tedious Greek translations.

There is also a really splendid chapter where David and his friend-who-is-totally-in-love-with-him-even-though-David-is-tragically-straight, Maddox, go swimming in the sea and read poetry in the beach grass after. Just really lovely atmosphere.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m plugging along in Miriam Bat-Ami’s Two Suns in the Sky, which I am very glad I did not read when I got it, because I would have been Very Displeased by the soppy romance of it all. Now that I am older I can appreciate a bit more what Bat-Ami is trying to do by focusing on the romance - they're bridging cultural divides and stuff! through love! - but it cannot be denied that I would be way more interested if the book either focused entirely on the refugee experience or was about young American Christina Cook's intense friendship (possibly romance? I'm not sure this wouldn't be over-egging the issue pudding in a book set in the 1940s) with a refugee girl.

What I Plan to Read Next

I am trying to resist the siren call of Dorothy Sayers until I've actually begun my road trip (July 5th! Just a week now!), so it's all a bit up in the air until then.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished Sara Jeannette Duncan’s A Daughter of To-Day nearly a year ago, and have been meaning to write a review of it ever since, although I have been scuppered by the fact that there are too many things I like about it. It’s a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl book, and it meanders a bit at the beginning - in fact for about the first third; but when our heroine Elfrida meets another young girl artist, Janet, the book snaps into gear.

I’ve rarely seen a portrait of a friendship between two girls as well done as this one: they admire each other, they’re very fond of each other, and yet their understandings of art and human relationships are so at odds that despite their affection, their friendship is difficult and painful for them both.

At one point, for instance, Janet goes on holiday in Scotland, and they agree to exchange letters with each other. Elfrida writes marvelously artistic letters - when she feels like it; “when she was not in the mood she did not write at all. With an instinctive recognition of the demands of any relation such as she felt her friendship to Janet Cardiff to be, she simply refrained from imposing upon her anything that savored of dullness or commonplaceness.

So the fact that she sometimes writes just three lines, and sometimes doesn’t write for three weeks, is meant to be a tribute to Janet as an artist: they’re both above such conventionalities as writing regular missives.

But Janet, although she is just as talented as Elfrida (and I think one of the triumphs of the book is the recognition that the difference here is not one of talent but of temperament, or perhaps upbringing), can’t understand this: She wished, more often than she said she did, that Elfrida were a little more human, that she had a more appreciative understanding of the warm value of common every-day matters between people who were interested in one another.

In Janet’s eyes, their friendship demands a willingness to exchange exactly the sort of commonplace news - and to see it as interesting, rather than dull - that Elfrida feels they ought to be above.

Inwardly she cried out for something warm and human that was lacking to Elfrida’s feeling for her, and sometimes she asked herself with a grieved cynicism how her friend found it worth while to pretend to care so cleverly.

And Elfrida - although the book, which is almost entirely in her point of view in the first half, has moved out of it by this time - clearly feels a sort of mirror image of the same thing: Janet is too bound by the conventionalities to enter into Elfrida’s conception of art; she may be fond of Elfrida, in her way, but to Elfrida there’s always something lacking in that friendship, always something that Janet is reserving. They like each other - like may not even be a strong enough word; they are charmed by each other, enchanted by each other - but they can’t quite approve of each other.

And it is this, more than anything else, that destroys their friendship - although of course Kendal, a young male artist of their acquaintance, also plays a role. It is apparently impossible to write about girls’ friendship without having them both fall for the same boy at the same time, or at least without Elfrida falling for the idea that Kendal is bewitched by her and Janet falling for him.

But even this subplot has its compensations.

Once when Kendal seemed to Janet on the point of asking her what she thought of his chances, she went to a florist’s in the High, and sent Elfrida a pot of snowy chrysanthemums, after which she allowed herself to refrain from seeing her for a week. Her talk with her father about helping Elfrida to place her work with the magazines had been one of the constant impulses by which she tried to compensate her friend, as it were, for the amount of suffering that young woman was inflicting upon her - she would have found a difficulty in explaining it more intelligibly than that.

I have done this - not in exactly the same situation, but still, the same idea, trying to assuage my conscience by doing something nice for someone I am angry at because I know my anger is not exactly fair. I'm not sure I've ever seen this portrayed in a book before.

But getting back to things that bother me about this book, there’s the ending. Spoilers, if anyone cares about spoilers for a 123 year old book )
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Carl Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, which is so good, you guys, I am resisting the urge to walk around thrusting it into people’s hands crying “Read it! Read it!”

I mean really, just look at this quote: “The three peaks in brain size on planet Earth belong to whales, elephants, and primates. Life has not selected one smartest line with humans as the be-all (though we may yet be the end-all).” THE BURN IS VISIBLE FROM SPACE.

I also really liked this one:

We’re obsessed with filling in the blank for a Mad Libs line that goes: “_____ makes us human. Why? Scratch and sniff the "what makes us human” obsession and you get a strong whiff of something that could fit into that blank: our insecurity. What we’re really saying is “Please tell us a story that distances us from all other life.” Why? Because we desperately need to believe we are not just unique - as all species are - but that we are so very special, that we are resplendent, transcendent, translucent, divinely inspired, weightlessly imbued with eternal souls. Anything less induces dread and existential panic.

What I’m Reading Now

[livejournal.com profile] littlerhymes and I have begun The Second Adventures of Nora (also known as Mates at Billabong). Norah is to be SENT AWAY TO SCHOOL, which filled me with excitement because there is nothing I want to see more than Norah playing cricket and interacting with other girls, but alas I think that if the books cover this period of her life at all, it will be in the next book, because this one is going to be all about the visit of Norah’s cousin Cecil, the lavender-wearing dandy.

I predict that by the end of the book Cecil will do something heroic, probably while wearing mud-spattered overalls (do Australian ranchers wear overalls? Something manly and completely un-dandyish, anyway), cured of his effete ways by the magic of Billabong.

What I Plan to Read Next

In the process of sorting out my book collection, I have discovered that I have a huge pile of unread books, so probably some of those.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I spent most of Monday afternoon sitting in my chaise in my sunny room, drinking a cup of tea as I read Charles Finch’s latest Charles Lenox book, The Inheritance, and this is just about the best use of an afternoon that I can think of. This series is a gift that keeps on giving: I love Charles Lenox and his ever-so-slowly expanding group of family and friends and their affection for each other and even the infodumps, God bless Finch’s enthusiasm for weird bits of historical trivia. Obviously what this book needed was a page-long digression about why American drive on the right while the British drive on the left.

This book also includes lengthy flashbacks of Lenox’s schooldays at Harrow during the early Victorian era. YESSSSSS, this is everything I never knew I wanted from a Charles Lenox book! (Also I love that Charles’ older brother Edmund was kind of obnoxious and full of himself when they were at Harrow together. People grow and change!)

Also: DALLINGTON D: D: D:

In other news, [livejournal.com profile] littlerhymes and I read Mary Grant Bruce’s A Little Bush Maid, the first book in the classic Australian Billabong series, which has all characteristic strengths of early twentieth century children’s fiction - breathless adventure! entertainingly unlikely coincidences! delicious food description! delightful landscape description! modern fiction could really stand to include more descriptive passages - and also the characteristic weaknesses, which is to say racism.

In this case, it’s not only racist but actually at the more racist end of the “how racist is this book?” spectrum of its time period, and the spectrum is pretty racist to begin with.

We’re still going to read the next book, though, just to see how many more ways our heroine Norah will save the day. In book one alone she saved a) an entire flock of sheep from a bushfire, b) a lion tamer from his lion, and c) a mysterious hermit from typhoid or typhus, I can never remember which is which. Is Norah the first Australian superheroine? Stay tuned to find out!

What I’m Reading Now

I’m allllmost done with Rob Dunn’s Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future, which is terrifically interesting in “World-wide famine indirectly caused by agribusiness is not an apocalyptic scenario I had previously considered” kind of way, although unfortunately not quite so interesting on a page by page level.

What I Plan to Read Next

I still need to read The Things They Carried.
osprey_archer: (books)
I went to the used bookstore today and GUESS WHAT I FOUND! The third book in Pamela Dean's Secret Country trilogy, The Whim of the Dragon! Which means I only need to find the middle book in the trilogy and then I can read it!

I mean, yes, technically I could just order it from somewhere, but that takes all the thrill of the chase out of it. I'm also forever keeping my eyes open for Dorothy Sayer's Have His Carcase and Busman's Honeymoon, which are the two books in the Harriet Vane/Peter Wimsey sequence that I haven't got yet, and I would also really like to find Joan G. Robinson's When Marnie Was There (which the Studio Ghibli movie was based on - have I written about that movie? I really liked that movie, which somehow seems to make things harder to write about sometimes) - but I'm not sure that one was ever published in the United States.

They also had a couple of D. E. Stevenson's that I haven't read, which I looked at longingly, but on second thought D. E. Stevenson is an author whose books I enjoy but don't really reread, so I didn't get them. But then! Then I realized that moving means that I have a WHOLE NEW LIBRARY SYSTEM to check out, and WHO KNOWS which D. E. Stevenson novels they might have!

Have hied myself to the library catalog and discovered they have The Listening Valley, Celia's House, The Four Graces (set during World War II! Featuring sisters!)... Lots of choices!

I must check out their selection of Stella Gibbons and Rumer Godden too. Oh, and Ngaio Marsh. And of course Rosemary Sutcliff!

OH OH OH AND I JUST CHECKED AND THEY DO HAVE WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE! It's probably better to read it before I buy a copy anyway...
osprey_archer: (books)
Finally getting around to answering the questions for this book meme! First, for [livejournal.com profile] evelyn_b. (Actually this is only the first of the questions you ask, but the answer grew so long I thought I should probably do the other two separately.)

2. What’s the worst book you’ve ever read, and why?

In terms of social message, it’s probably Elsie Dinsmore. Poor Elsie is meant as a model for young girls; the narrative reminds us that Elsie is “not yet perfect,” but she’s clearly approaching perfection asymptotically. At eight years old, she’s naturally beautiful, musically talented, rich, with a “lovely and well-developed Christian character” and deep emotionally sensitivity. She’s so upset by the idea of seeing a slave whipped for allegedly stealing a pocket watch that she offers to buy a new one out of her own pocket money, for instance.

And, although the narrative insists that she’s completely average, she’s also brilliant. She’s eight years old and she can not only quote reams of Bible passages, but she understands them so well that she can successfully argue Biblical interpretation with adults. And also she has a well-developed Christian character and loves the Bible so much that she gets up early every morning to study it.

Actually, in between the emotional sensitivity and the brilliance, I think you can make an argument that Elsie is a profoundly gifted child, and it would probably be a really interesting textual interpretation. But it’s probably also completely maddening for any slightly less gifted eight-year-old who is being compared to this unattainable example - especially given that Elsie is described as average, as if beauty and brilliance and passionately intense empathy were available to any everyday eight-year-old who just wanted them enough.

And even the rare child who could live up to Elsie’s example is probably going to end up totally fucked up by it, because all of Elsie’s gifts are purely secondary: what she’s meant to be modeling for us is self-abnegating obedience to authority, particular to one’s parents, most particularly to one’s father. (Elsie’s mother is conveniently dead, presumably because she might occasionally be nice to her child.)

Except of course when Elsie’s father orders her to disobey Holy Writ! Then she steadfastly refuses, even to the point of nearly dying of a fever brought on by despair because her father has shunned her for months because she refused to sing him a secular song on the Sabbath.

We are supposed to be rooting for Elsie and her father to patch their relationship up, rather than hoping that he will die of fever instead, although I was certainly on Team Elsie’s Father/An Early Grave. (There’s also a definite creepy quasi-incestuous vibe to Elsie’s relationship with her father.)

In any case. Suicidal despair is apparently also a sign of a lovely and well-developed Christian character. The thing about Elsie Dinsmore is that ultimately what these books are teaching is self-loathing and depression, and in the books it’s all cured in the end by the fact that Elsie’s father converts (he’s won over by Elsie’s near death, of course) and promises to love Elsie properly forevermore, but, well, that’s in the books. Most nasty fathers don’t learn their lessons like that, and even if they did that’s not necessarily enough to save their sad little girls.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

My favorite of the books I read this week was Ngaio Marsh’s Night at the Vulcan, another one of her charming theater mysteries. And! There is a guest appearance by Mike Lamprey, the eleven-year-old son of the family in Surfeit of Lampreys, who was an important witness in the case and liked it so much that he conceived a desire to join the police. Which he has now fulfilled! And thereby become the first Lamprey to engage in remunerative employment probably ever.

I suspect that at the yearly Lamprey Christmas gatherings the other Lampreys treat him like a war hero for his dash and bravery in getting gainful employment. Mike enjoys it but is also ever so slightly embarrassed.

I also finished up Robert A. Gross’s The Minutemen and Their World, which was interesting although not particularly enlivening. Gross is interested mainly in the men of the town, which is his prerogative of course, but I would have been more interested if there had been more about the women.

I was interested to learn that it was quite common for young women to be pregnant on their wedding day - for couples to in fact use pregnancies as a way to force their parents’ hands in allowing a marriage. This might be useful in a historical romance.

And lastly, I read Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, the first book in the Melendy quartet. I found this book when I googled “books like Betsy-Tacy.” It’s cute enough, but it has not captured my heart like Betsy-Tacy, so I probably won’t read the others. Unless someone else has read it and believes fervently that the later books in the series are marvelous?

What I’m Reading Now

Still Sara Jeannette Duncan’s An American Girl in London, although I am creeping up on the end. Oh no! Whatever shall I read on my lunch breaks next?

Actually I have a bunch of other books on my Kindle, but I feel that none of them will quite live up to this in sprightliness and local color.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’m heading to Bloomington on a road trip, and in keeping with my usual practice I am taking along a Mary Stewart novel: Touch Not the Cat this time. It should be fun! Mary Stewart usually is.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Ngaio Marsh’s Killer Dolphin, which is a cracking good read despite the lack of murderous cetaceans. It’s one of her theater mysteries, which always seem to be excellent (Marsh was a theater director when she wasn’t writing mystery novels), and this one is set in a lovely atmospheric old Victorian theater to boot.

It’s also the first Marsh book I’ve read with a gay character who is not a walking bundle of stereotypes, so that’s nice.

What I’m Reading Now

Sara Jeannette Duncan’s An American Girl in London, which is about, well, an American girl in the late 19th century visiting London, and as such a gold mine of fascinating detail about English life and manners at the time (and also, in a sideways sort of way, about America: it’s always interesting to see what Duncan chooses to comment on). Duncan is a delightful and sprightly writer, and I’m very much enjoying it.

What I Plan to Read Next

I put Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on hold, but as I’m forty-eight on the holds list, it’s probably going to be a while...

I’ve also realized that I will in the not-too-distant future finish reading War and Peace (!!!), so I’m going to need a new book for bedtime reading. I contemplated diving into The Count of Monte Cristo, because it’s also a million pages long and after all reading War and Peace each night has proven a successful strategy to get through it. But the thought made me feel tired, so I think I’ll do a shorter book for a breather. Perhaps Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan? It’s been sitting on my shelves, waiting to be read.
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)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I am still chewing over a few days after finishing it. There’s a lot of stuff in this book and I don’t think I can really do justice to all of it (I’m not even sure I could summarize all of it in a reasonably-sized post, let alone offer my opinions on it). But one thing it really drove home for me is the massive hypocrisy of federal healthy eating initiatives, given that the federal government’s approach to agricultural subsidies is pretty much the reason that American eating patterns are so completely messed up in the first place.

Like, seriously. If the government stopped subsidizing corn on such a massive scale, it might not solve the obesity/heart disease/type II diabetes/every other diet-linked health issue caused by the mainstream American diet. But it would help a lot more than nitpicking about school lunch guidelines and whether there ought to be soda machines in schools.

What I’m Reading Now

I asked one of my grad school friends for book recommendations about daily life during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately I think something was lost in translation, because he recommended The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, which is interesting if you want to know something about the political motivations of the common man in Boston or the way that the public memory of the Revolutionary War changed in the later decades (did you know the Boston Tea Party wasn’t called that till the 1820s?), but not so useful if you were really hoping for something about, say, what people ate for breakfast in the years around the Revolution.

I’m also trundling along in Louisa May Alcott’s Moods, and have become unexpectedly caught up in it. Our heroine Sylvia married a man she likes but doesn’t love, because she thought the man she did love had married another… Only it turns out he didn’t! And never sent her a letter or anything, because they gazed deep into each other’s eyes one time and of course after that he was sure she could never even think of marrying someone else. He has been bitterly disabused of this illusion.

And now he’s paying a visit to Sylvia and her husband, because of course he is, and they’re all having an amiable chat about the morality of divorce in cases of marital incompatibility. (I feel kind of sorry for the husband here. He has no idea that he may be talking his lady love into leaving him.) Is Alcott going to end up writing an argument for divorce???

This seems so unlikely - I really think it’s more likely that Sylvia’s husband is going to conveniently die in battle or something - AND YET. I’ll keep you posted on how it all pans out!

What I Plan to Read Next

You guy, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna read all the Caldecott winners. I found a printable list of Caldecott winners (it’s made to be colored in as you read each book! How cute is that?), and also I checked and the local library has all but two of the Caldecott winning books. So OBVIOUSLY I have to do it.

Plus, the 2016 winner is Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, about the origins of Winnie the Pooh. Obviously I can’t pass that up!
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I already posted a review of Paradise Now, and nothing since then.

What I’m Reading Now

Louisa May Alcott’s Moods, and I have to say, I can totally see why posterity ignores this book in favor of Little Women and Alcott’s other children’s books. Alcott preferred writing about men (she mentions this numerous times, sometimes within her own books for girls), but most of her guy characters are sooooo booooring in comparison to the girls. (I make an exception for Laurie. He’s practically an honorary Marsh sister anyway.) Moods features a lantern-jawed paragon of manly self-reliance whose name I can’t even recall.

I’m also reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which I am enjoying very much, insofar as one can enjoy a book that makes one look with distress at the entire contents of one’s refrigerator because most everything in it is the product of our remarkably broken industrial food system. It’s certainly compelling.

I’m not sure about Pollan’s choice to give the plants’ point of view, though. I suppose my resistance to anthropomorphizing plants might be just as much a result of prejudice as the slowly-crumbling resistance of many scientists to admitting that non-human animals have feelings, but... plants. Do they have opinions? Do they make plans? Even if they do, how would we possibly know? Plants are the true alien life form, more utterly unlike us than anything in a science fiction novel, and I’m not sure we can bridge that gap to communicate with them.

What I Plan to Read Next

Paradise Now has reminded me that I’ve long wanted to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, which was based on his time at the commune at Brook Farm. The only other Hawthorne I’ve read was The Scarlet Letter, for ninth grade English, which did not leave me with a high opinion of Hawthorne, but surely he cannot fail to make a book about Brook Farm charming.

Paradise Now also reminded me that I’ve always intended to read Thomas More’s Utopia, but that is more along the lines of “a book I plan to read sometime in the future” than “a book I plan to read next.”
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Anne! Yes, I am free of this book forever! Actually it became much less irritating later on; or maybe I just became inured to it through long exposure?

It’s very telling about the book’s priorities that the big climactic moment between the two main female characters is related only in flashback when it becomes important with regards to the man that they both love. Like, dude, I for one was interested enough in their friendship that I would have liked to read about that moment as it happened.

I also finished Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire - the first volume of it, I mean. There are apparently two more, but I barely slogged through the first one so I won’t be reading them. It’s too bad in a way; when I was a kid, I really liked the Junior Jedi Knights and Young Jedi Knights series, but somehow none of the adult Star Wars tie-in novels that I’ve read have ever worked for me.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m still reading Christopher Benfey’s My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson, which is annoying me by briskly dismissing the very idea that maybe Emily Dickinson might have been a little bit into women. For goodness sake, she just wrote her future sister-in-law envisioning a future where they would be buried side by side in the church graveyard! Side by side like a married couple! That sounds at least a little bit like romantic love!

I don’t require that Benfey buy into the idea entirely; Emily Dickinson was gushingly passionate about everything, but also oblique enough that it can be hard to tell exactly what her feelings were (not just romantically, but in general). But I think there’s enough merit to it that Benfey should at least give it some consideration rather than just brushing it aside.

I’m also continuing in Chris Jennings’ Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism, and I think I have identified what I find frustrating about this book - God, I’m just frustrated by all the books this week - which is what I find frustrating about most of the books I’m read about utopianism, actually, which is that they rarely seem to give much feeling for what it was like to actually live in one of these places. What did the Shakers eat for breakfast? Did the people in Robert Owen’s New Harmony do anything but infight all day long? These are the things I want to know.

What I Plan to Read Next

The next book I have queued up on my Kindle is Louisa May Alcott’s Moods, so definitely that. And after that - well, that’s the last unread book I have on my Kindle! Clearly it’s time to go on a Kindle spree!

And of course I am going to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover for the May book challenge. Are you ready, [livejournal.com profile] evelyn_b?
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Gene Stratton-Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost, which I actually quite enjoyed! Given that my last experience with Stratton-Porter was Her Father’s Daughter, this surprised me, but I think Stratton-Porter didn’t get on her racist eugenicist hobbyhorse until she moved to California.

A Girl of the Limberlost is quite a bit pre-California. Our heroine Elnora Comstock lives on the edge of the Limberlost Swamp with her mother, who is still wildly pining for her husband who drowned in the swamp soon after Elnora’s birth (sinking into the bottomless deeps of a pool while Mrs. Comstock stood on the edge, watching but unable to help - there is a certain melodramatic pulpy quality to all this, it’s great) and resents Elnora because she believes Elnora, I am not certain how, prevented her from saving her husband.

Mrs. Comstock is an arrestingly terrible mother. She is an unpredictably terrible mother, so sometimes she makes Elnora a delicious lunch with spice cake and cured ham and Elnora peeks at it repeatedly on the way to school because she believes that here at last is some concrete proof that her mother loves her at least a little (ELNORA I WANT TO HUG YOU), and sometimes she sends her daughter to her first day of high school in an outdated calico dress without warning her in advance that she’ll have to pay fees for her classes and school books, because she figures that humiliating herself in front of her classmates will teach Elnora a good life lesson about... I don’t know. Not trusting her mother?

Fortunately, Elnora is a budding young naturalist who has been collecting moths for years, which she sells to a local collector - the Bird Woman - and thereby funds herself through high school. The naturalist sections are really well done (Stratton-Porter herself wrote natural history articles for magazines); I kind of want to read a book about moths now.

What I’m Reading Now

Still working on Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Anne, which looks even worse in light of A Girl of the Limberlost. Stratton-Porter is sufficiently confident in Elnora’s excellence that she can surround her with interesting female characters; she even has sympathy for Elnora’s eventual romantic rival. Woolson has so little faith in Anne (who, poor child, is not allowed to have opinions or faults or much emotion at all) that she seems to believe she can only sell her as a heroine if she constantly runs down every other woman in the story and also women in general.

Women, it seems, are essentially creatures of vanity and whim: “A man, however mild, demands in a home at least a pretense of fixed hours and regularity; only a household of women is capable of no regularity at all, of changing the serious dinner hour capriciously, and even giving up dinner altogether.”

I strongly suspect that the reason men invariably demanded a fixed dinner hour, at least in houses with women present, is that the dinner hour was not their responsibility. They just had to wave a hand and demand it, and huff and puff and blow the house down if it wasn’t done.

I’ve also continued Black Dove, White Raven; it turns out (of course) that I quit right before it got interesting the first time I tried it. War looms with the Italians! And I am really enjoying all the detail about Ethiopia - it’s sort of humbling to realize how absolutely nothing I know about it.

Plus, Elizabeth Wein always has gorgeous descriptions of flying.

What I Plan to Read Next

Oh my God, ALL MY HOLDS came in at the library all at the same time. Carney’s House Party (a Betsy-Tacy companion novel), A Tangle of Gold (Jaclyn Moriarty’s latest book), In the Labyrinth of Drakes (the latest Isabella Trent novel), AND it turns out the library has Glimpses of the Devil, which is the book where M. Scott Peck finally reveals all the details of the exorcisms that he alluded to with cruel vagueness in People of the Lie!

I WANT TO READ ALL THESE BOOKS SO MUCH THAT I CAN’T DECIDE WHERE TO START. Although probably it should be Carney’s House Party because that’s an interlibrary loan and therefore really needs to go back on time.

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