Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. After North and South, I've gone straight on to another Elizabeth Gaskell novel that's been on my TBR shelf, Mary Barton. Unfortunately, my puppy got to it before I did, but despite that, I've been enjoying it so far. It was the first written of the novels of hers I've read, and it feels like the most honest and--I think--the best.

2. I'm listening to the audiobook The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory. It's about Henry VIII's sixth wife, Katherine Parr, the one who survived. However, I realized that the title makes it sound quite more salacious than it is, and I wonder what people passing by, who see the case on the seat in my car, think. So far, I'm enjoying it, but I dislike that Gregory credits Parr with giving Elizabeth the "woman with the heart and stomach of a king" line.

3. Also, it is hard to read historical fiction in a time period you've studied--so far, in Taming of the Queen, there's an inaccuracy when Parr talks about how she can't publish under her own name as a woman, but would proudly do so as a man--without getting too far into it, it wasn't seemly for a gentleman to publish either, and Parr did eventually publish religious texts under her own name, the main kind of text it was socially acceptable for anyone genteel to publish.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Top Ten Books That Have Been On My Shelf Before I Started Blogging That I STILL Haven't Read Yet

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Since I've been blogging for eight years, I'm happy to report that most of the unread books on my shelf since then are gone. I read some, and the rest probably left with my KonMari book purge of almost a year ago. There are only two still left, one of which I'm currently reading.

1. The Templars by Piers Paul Read

I know I bought this (at Borders, RIP), after my first trip to Israel, and I'm finally reading it after my third trip. It's not a hard read, but it is nonfiction, and until recently, I've had a vast preference for fiction (still do, it's just not SO vast). To be fair, this isn't the first time I've started it, but will hopefully be the time I finish!

2. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Also one I've started before, but never finished. No plans to get to it anytime soon. It's been on loan from my uncle for probably some 15 years at least. He said I could keep storing it for him.

Conclusion: Give me another eight years, and I'll have completed (or donated) everything on my current TBR shelf!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Books Finished in July

37. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

A less sparking, more thoughtful Pride and Prejudice. I've discussed more of my thoughts here. For those who wish Jane Austen was more political.

38. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

The third installment in this character-driven detective series finally focuses purely on the detective, Cormoran Strike, and his assistant and would-be co-detective, Robin Ellacott. The novel gets into some interesting disability politics, and of course many shades of evil, and will thoroughly break the hearts of Strike/Robin shippers.

39. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (audiobook)

I'm glad I read this, because I was familiar with Gloria Steinem's name linked with the feminist movement, but not much else. Now, I feel like an expert! Her memoirs about all the places she's been cover her childhood, and many of the momentous occasions of her adulthood. I feel like I have a much better idea of what an activist actually does, and it was very exciting to listen to her travels, especially during my commute! I also thought the vocal actor, Debra Winger, did an excellent job. And it was hard to tell her voice from Steinem's (Steinem narrates the introduction herself).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Top Ten Books Set in the 19th Century

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Some of my lesser known (but still, let's be honest, pretty well known) favorites set in the nineteenth century. Some are contemporary, but some were written more recently.

1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

2. Mr. Darcy's Daughters by Elizabeth Aston

3. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

4. Persuasion by Jane Austen

5. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

6. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy

7. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

8. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

10. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Reflections on North and South

As I commented before, North and South is like a less sparkling, more political Pride and Prejudice. Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton are more muted, but also more thoughtful, characters than Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. While Jane Austen concentrated on her "little bit of ivory," Gaskell tackled social inequalities head-on, and through her characters, expresses the disparate political opinions of poor and rich, and ventures to propose compromises between them. It's really quite revolutionary work, and I wonder if anyone at the same time was writing anything quite like it. 

I've also read Gaskell's Cranford, which similarly exposes social inequalities, but although it's possible to sympathize with the ladies of Cranford, one always feels they are being mocked almost as mercilessly as those who oppress them. Margaret and Mr. Thornton, however, are real people, not caricatures. Although North and South does take a more conventional romantic plotline, it seems hardly the point. All the action of the book is about religious, financial, and political tensions--Gaskell doesn't even bother to end with a marriage. 

It is the reality of this book that gets to me. There are some lines that ring more true than almost anything I've read. For example, when Margaret contemplates her proposal experiences (to which, she does not react as violently as Miss Bennet), "Margaret began to wonder whether all offers were as unexpected beforehand--as distressing at the time of their occurrence, as the two she had had." This seems like a natural wonder for an inexperienced young lady of the time. 

Later, after Margaret has had to spend much time caring for her father after her mother's death, she feels relief when he goes to visit a friend: "It was astonishing, almost stunning, to feel herself so much at liberty; no one depending on her for cheering care...she might be idle, and silent, and forgetful,--and what seemed worth more than all the other privileges--she might be unhappy if she liked." This seems such a natural feeling for someone who has had to care for others after a loss, yet it is not one that many would either want to express or be able to express as fully as Gaskell does here.

For thorough explanations and thoughtful reflections on what it means to be rich and poor, and how industrialization affected those dynamics, wrapped up in a compelling narrative and character arc, I highly recommend North and South. And now I can get around to watching the movie(s). 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Top Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do or Learn About After Reading Them

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Made me want to read The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich.

2. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Made me want to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was even better.

3. Don Quixote

Made me want to tilt at windmills =P...more seriously, made me want to travel around Spain.

4. Jane Austen books

Make me want to visit Bath.

5. Little House on the Prairie books

Made me want to pickle and can, make maple syrup candy by dripping hot syrup on snow, and grind wheat in a coffee mill.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Books Finished in June: Part II

33. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

I read Uglies a while ago, and ran across this at the library. I like the concept of the series--a world where everyone is cosmetically and neurally changed/enhanced--but I can't bring myself to care that much about the characters. I may or may not pick up the rest of the series at some point.

34. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights Salman Rushdie

My favorite Salman Rushdie so far. Also, totally contradicts the assertions of my fiction workshop leader that the intrusive nineteenth century style third-person narrator is dead. "They" are very much alive in Rushdie's book, written from the perspective of the future of tumultuous years in their past (and our future). There are jinn.

35. All the Queen's Players by Jane Feather

Found this in an antiques shop, and they gave it to me for free. It skews more toward romance than historical fiction, but actually an interesting perspective on the Babington plot.I enjoyed it for its view on a slightly less-fictionalized aspect of Elizabeth's reign. Recommended for fans of the Tudors who don't mind some romance.

36. The Silkworm (audiobook) by Robert Galbraith

More intricate plot than the first book, and we get to know Cormoran and Robin even better. I also can't help thinking J.K. Rowling is having her fun mocking old-school white male authors. Overall, showcases her strength of plot and character, though I wasn't as impressed with the language as in the first book.