Drama 101

Newberys Read This Year: 15

Newberys Left for Goal: 0

Newberys Left for Total: 14

 

Book: How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Audience: G-U

Genre: Nonfiction

RatingOne Book.jpgOne Book.jpg

When I read nonfiction, I tend to read about English royalty, the American Revolution, women’s history, and reading itself. This is the second book about reading that I read this year, and, sorry to say, both were a disappointment.

Samantha Ellis is a British playwright who grew up with a rich tradition of reading. She and I loved some of the same books (Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind, to name a very few) and took great joy in immersing ourselves in the stories. So this book exploring her relationships with the heroines of these books should have been a slam dunk for me.

Yet it so was not.

In retrospect, I should have been on my guard, at least, seeing the name Cathy Earnshaw in her list of chapters. I suppose I figured that we are all entitled to our guilty pleasures, so I just let it go. Now I see that I should have viewed it as foreshadowing.

There was trouble in paradise early on in the book. In chapter 2 titled “Anne Shirley”, Miss Ellis rejoices in the spunky, unconventional spirit the child Anne embodies. She goes on to express her disappointment in Anne as she grows up throughout the 8-book series. Miss Ellis laments that Anne gave up pursuing a career in writing to become a wife and mother, that Anne loses her penchant for romance and drama, and that Anne becomes a background character. To all this, I say, “Miss Ellis, did you actually read the books or are you relying on the Megan Follows televised series?” because Miss Ellis is either flat-out wrong or totally misses the point.

In the books, Anne does not express a desire to have a career as a writer, something that occurs in the television version. The written Anne ventures a few times into the world of publishing with varying degrees of success. She is crushed by her rejections and elated by her successes, and she enjoys writing, but she never is determined to pursue writing as a career. As for Miss Ellis’ assertion that Anne’s character changes, I couldn’t disagree more. Anne matures as she ages. She always has a romantic nature and is always quite different from other people in general. She grows out of her slight drama queen existence, but her essential character remains intact. Yes, she does become a background character, but Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote for child audiences. Her protagonists needed to be children. Kids don’t really want to read about adults, so Miss Montgomery connected new kid characters to a known and beloved one who grew up. Besides, if all the adventures Anne’s children and their friends experienced had been given to Anne (on top of her own), she would have lost her believability and authenticity.

In that same chapter about Anne, Miss Ellis rips apart another childhood heroine we share, Jo March. The short version of her complaints are that Jo gave up writing to marry and run a school and that the March girls in general buckle under and give in to the contemporary expectation that wifedom and motherhood were the highest ambitions for women. Miss Ellis spends considerable time and energy denouncing the March sisters (and their creator, Miss Alcott) as non-feminists. I think that, again, Miss Ellis misses the point. She needs to recall that the March sisters were products of the 1870s, not the 1970s. Jo leaves home and seeks adventures and writing opportunities in New York. Miss Ellis doesn’t see that as a woman doing what she wants instead of what society expects? Marmee, who doesn’t have the unlimited time and resources of a rich woman, devotes her time to social causes. This was common in American Victorian society? Meg refuses to make a rich match that will ensure her family’s comfort in order to marry a man she loves. That conformist! Miss Ellis makes the mistake of viewing the March women with modern eyes and therefore out of context.

She also makes the mistake of confusing the characters with their writers. Anne and Jo were certainly inspired by the lives of their creators, but they are not literary versions of Maud and Louisa, respectively. It is an error to see Anne of Green Gables and Little Women as romans à clef; an error often made and incidentally repeated by the producers of the Winona Ryder version of Little Women.

And all this was in Chapter 2. Things tended to get better for me, as far as Miss Ellis’ analyses of her heroines, although in her discussion of Scarlett O’Hara I once again wondered if she was referring more to the movie than the actual book. But things got worse for me the more Miss Ellis talked about her own life—a natural thing for her to do since the book was about how the heroines influenced her. But as I learned more about Miss Ellis, the more I realized that I didn’t like her. Turns out she is a self-confessed, full-fledged drama queen. And as I have no patience or respect for drama queens, it was also a natural thing that I quickly grew disenchanted with Miss Ellis. (Side note, this was the same reason why I didn’t care for that other book about reading, The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller—I didn’t like the author who was writing about his own life.) The only positives I got from finding this out about her was that it explained a couple of things—why she was disappointed when Anne Shirley grew out of her slight drama queen ways and why Cathy Earnshaw was on her heroines list.

So in Miss Ellis we have a drama queen who confuses print stories with visual stories, who doesn’t want to see characters mature over time, who refuses to see characters in the context in which they were written, who blurs the lines between author and character, and who admires both Cathy Earnshaw and her romance with wife-beater Heathcliff. Small wonder that I, who prefers to live in a drama-free zone, was not enamored of Miss Ellis’ work.

The Awful Truth

Newberys Read This Year: 13

Newberys Left for Goal: 2

Newberys Left for Total: 16

 

Book: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Audience: G-U

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Rating: One Book.jpg

You might think that as a Lifetime member of JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America) I love all things Jane Austen. You would be wrong.

I certainly love all her works. I own all her novels—multiple copies of several of them. I have read many biographies and commentaries. Some I loved, some not so much. I have JA figurines, salt-and-pepper shakers, T-shirts, puzzles, games, and cards among other things (again, don’t question the crazy). I have seen and/or own several movie adaptations, again, loving some and not quite feeling the love for others (BTW, this spring’s Love and Friendship was phenomenal!). I have encountered several modern retellings of her works (Clueless, great; Bride and Prejudice, OK; the very loosely-based Bridget Jones’ Diary, hilarious). This retelling, however, of the best of Miss Austen’s works, was just plain awful.

Awful.

Did I mention that it was awful?

While reading this book I struggled with the reasons for my dislike. Did I abhor it so intensely because it did terrible things to my favorite book, or did I just think it was an awful book? Turns out, I despised it for both reasons.

At first, I didn’t like what Miss Sittenfeld did to the characters, particularly the Bennet sisters. Again, I am an extremely character-driven reader. One of the biggest reasons I love Pride and Prejudice so much is because I totally love Elizabeth. She’s intelligent, witty, intrepid, and spirited, but she is also very flawed, willing to acknowledge when she is wrong, and willing to change. I admire her because I want to be Elizabeth Bennet. Short of that impossibility, I’d love another impossibility and have her as a friend. She’s the type of person you like despite her flaws, such as being judgmental and holding a grudge.

I so did not want to be Miss Sittenfeld’s Liz Bennet. I found her gossipy, mean-spirited, rude, and extremely judgmental. Not to mention that her affair with a married man totally made me lose respect for her. Toward the end of the novel some of her better qualities came through, but not to the extent that I could overlook the so many things I dislike about her. I also didn’t like Miss Sittenfeld’s re-imagination of the other Bennet sisters. Her Jane was too wimpy, her Mary too prickly, and her Lydia and Kitty downright gross.

So initially, I didn’t like how Miss Sittenfeld made the characters almost unrecognizable from Miss Austen’s work. I certainly expected changes, but these were so extreme. Then I realized that it wasn’t just the fact that the characters changed so tremendously, it was the fact that the characters we ended up with were just so unlikeable. What I’m trying to say is that if I read this book without having ever read Pride and Prejudice I would still have thought it awful since the so many of the characters were so dreadful.

And it’s not just the characters who were so disagreeable. I also didn’t like how hard the author worked to write a contemporary novel. There were so many “trendy” topics covered in the story, such as a fiancé who turned out to be gay, pregnancy by artificial insemination, eating disorders, Cross-Fit, interracial romance, paleo diet, transgender characters, and reality television just to name some. None of these elements on their own are off-putting to me in a book (with the possible exception of the reality dating show), but all of them? It’s like Miss Sittenfeld thought, how many ways can I show that this is a 21st century novel? When you can see the effort the author puts into the craft it draws attention away from the actual story she is trying to tell. Maybe that was what Miss Sittenfeld was going for since the actual story is not hers. At any rate, I can honestly say that this objection has nothing to do with the Pride and Prejudice connection: again, I would hate the book for the extreme contemporizing even if I had never read the original. What is ironic, though, (and just like another book I commented on a few weeks ago, not in the good Jane Austen way) is that by throwing in so many en vogue issues, Miss Sittenfeld created a very dated retelling of what is actually a timeless classic.

I had other problems with the novel, but I have to admit, I’ve had it with this awful book.

Did I mention that this book was awful?

Professional Courtesy

Newberys Read This Year: 13

Newberys Left for Goal: 2

Newberys Left for Total: 16

 

Book: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

Audience: C

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: One Book.jpg

The celebrity culture we live in today is a pretty sorry thing, in my opinion. Sometimes it can be rather innocuous, such as populating cooking shows on my beloved Food Network and Cooking Channel with celebrities rather than professional cooks. Sometimes it can be rather terrifying, such as having a misogynist, racist, uninformed, egomaniacal celebrity bully as a major political party’s nominee for president (yes, my Republican friends, I’m taking a swipe at Donald Trump) rather than someone who understands the political process. Sometimes it’s merely frustrating, such as when celebrities without a gift for writing get published rather than people who actually know how to write.

This final example is, of course, what I’m talking about with this book. Chris Colfer may be able to sing beautifully, and maybe he did a great job on Glee (admittedly, I lost interest in the show after the first season), but he is not a writer. At least, he is not a skilled writer of children’s books.

His premise for this book is intriguing. Twins Alex and Connor have recently lost their father in a car accident, and as a result spend little time with their mother who must work double nursing shifts to make ends meet. Alex is a whiz at school, reveling in reading, especially her beloved fairy tales. Connor struggles in school, but more due to lack of interest rather than poor ability. After a disappointing birthday, Alex becomes intrigued with their gift from their grandmother, The Land of Stories, a book that is a collection of fairy tales. Much to their surprise, the kids literally fall into the book. They meet several fairy tale characters as they collect items for The Wishing Spell, the only way they can get back to their own world.

Interesting premise aside, the execution is rather abysmal. When I first began reading it, the word that kept coming to my mind was amateurish. You know, not bad, but just not polished. By the time I was done (and I was so thankful to be done with this book) I knew it was worse than that. It was just bad writing.

How do I dislike thee? Let me count the ways.

First of all, there is the description. There is entirely too much of it. Not that there are long, flowery passages, but rather just about every thing and every action has a modifier. This is actually what made me think the work was amateurish. At first the over-description was annoying, then tedious, and finally just plain awful. Most people do not think and talk with so much attention to detail, so reading writing like that made me think that too much effort was put into the how of the writing than the actual storytelling.

Speaking of too much attention to detail brings me to my second point. There is also too much attention to time. What I mean by that is that it seems like just about every waking minute of the main characters’ time is accounted for. We as readers don’t really need to know every action the kids do, especially when the actions don’t advance the plot or character development. Edit, people! All that results is a book that is much too long, much too tedious (again!) and much too fussy.

And that fussiness brings me to my next point. Kids, in general, are not fussy. They’re messy, they’re disorganized, they’re off-kilter in many ways. Neither Connor not Alex are like that. How they speak and act do not resemble, well, any kids I know. The adults in the story are also just off-balance when it comes to the way that most grown-ups act, especially when dealing with kids. The thought I kept having was that the author either doesn’t really know kids, is not comfortable with them, does not really spend much time with them, or some combination of all of these. This may not be true of Mr. Colfer, but that is the way his writing comes off. Mr. Colfer chose a third-person unlimited point of view to tell his story. Usually, when an author does this the reader still gets the feeling that the “narrator” is a part of the story. Here, I felt that the narrator was detached. That is not the best way for an author to engage readers in his story, particularly child readers.

I suppose what Mr. Colfer does to engage his readers is to try to submerge them with exciting action. Except if that is what he was doing, using such a plethora of television/movie clichés might not be the best way of going about it. There are so many that I cannot recount them all, but the two that stand out most are the tree-trap and the underwater drama. You know, the tree trap. You’ve seen it hundreds of times when the good guys are walking through a forest, step on something, and trigger a huge net to sweep them up and leave them hanging from a tree. And the underwater drama—when two characters are trying to sneak somewhere by swimming, dive under some type of barrier, and one of them gets caught on it and is saved by the other just in the nick of time. These are images we’ve seen over and over and get another opportunity to experience them in Mr. Colfer’s book.

Side note—I mentioned that the clichés are from movies and television. Because of this, I felt like I was watching the story rather than reading it. Certainly when I read I visualize the story, but it doesn’t feel like I’m watching TV program. I consistently had that feeling when reading this book. I did not enjoy the juxtaposition of media.

The final point I want to make about my dislike of this book is its take on bullying. This has become sort of a hobbyhorse of mine, and I don’t mean to harp on it, but bullying is so prevalent in kid society, and when I see what is likely well-meaning writing that inadvertently adds to the problem I can’t seem to keep quiet. The Evil Queen, unsurprisingly, is a bully. After an intense conversation (a conversation in which she imprisons, tortures, and manipulates) our main characters feel sympathy for her. They realize that she had to deal with some horrible things in her past which caused her evilness. This was even foreshadowed in the prologue of the book. I get it. Bullies are often made. But in the real world, simply having sympathy for a bully doesn’t undo the pain and humiliation they cause. Ideally, showing sympathy and compassion for a bully will lead to the bully having remorse and deciding to change her ways. When writing for kids, you need to represent life like it is and realistically model what it can become. This has the potential for such power when dealing with bullying. But here, the bully shows no remorse. The fact that she physically cannot (she turned her heart into stone many years ago) does not matter to me. A huge takeaway from this book about bullying is: victims, feel sorry for your tormentors and bullies, we know it’s not your fault so it’s OK. However, it’s not OK. Whatever horrible things have happened to you does not excuse the choice you make to take it out on others. If it were OK, in our stories why don’t our good-guy characters who are bullied (who have horrible things happen to them) end up as bullies themselves? Right—because it’s not OK.

Okay. I’m getting off the hobbyhorse and getting out of this review. This is a terrible book. It’s amateurish, cliché-ridden, and has a horrible message. It only got published because the author is famous. The publishing profession does not have the courtesy to care more (or at least equally) about the quality of its products than the quantity its profits.

Rude.

Misnomer

 Newberys Read This Year: 11

Newberys Left for Goal: 4

Newberys Left for Total: 18

 

Book: All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

Audience: G-U

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating: One Book.jpgOne Book.jpg

 

Before I read this book, when I saw this title and read the blurb, it spoke to me. During my reading of this book, as a single lady I expected that it would also speak for me. After I had finished this book, I sadly realized that while at times it did, overall it did not even speak about me.

First of all, this book, in general, was not what I anticipated. I thought this would be a look at single women through history and their accomplishments. Indeed, the beginning of the book did touch—briefly—on that. But overall, this book was about the increasing number of single women in America, some of the reasons why that number is on the rise, and how society traditionally and contemporarily looks at single women. After reading it, I came to see this book as a work in defense of single women, celebrating the choice to remain unmarried and leading an untraditional yet full life.

Yet the title itself seems to oppose this mission of the book. It’s highly likely Mrs. Traister chose the title because its connection to the Beyoncé song will attract readers. Admittedly, that’s how the book came to catch my eye. Yet the lyrics of Mrs. Knowles’ song are about a woman who is out of a relationship because it did not lead to marriage (“Cuz if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it.”). The song’s narrator is single because her man would not commit to the traditional relationship, not because she chose to be so. While reading the book I felt that at least part of the author’s purpose was to empower single women, but Mrs. Knowles’ song (one I totally enjoy) is not about the empowerment of choosing to be single. The narrator’s power comes from making the man regret what he gave up, not from choosing her own destiny, rendering the title ironic. So Mrs. Traister resorted to a marketing tactic to make her book sell. I’m not disappointed in myself for falling for the tactic, but I am disappointed in Mrs. Traister for stooping to it.

But the irony doesn’t stop there. In fact, I found this book to be chock full of irony, and not in the good Jane Austen sense. In addition to the title reference being ironic, so is the title itself: All the single ladies. This book does not represent all single women. As I mentioned, this book is an advocate for women who choose to be single or to delay marriage. I do not actively choose my long-time singleton status, it’s just the way my life has unfolded thus far.  So this book really doesn’t represent me. The book seems to define single women as those who have never married. My good friends D and R are each divorced. They certainly consider themselves single, but apparently Mrs. Traister does not, so this book does not represent them. Another good friend of mine, N, has never married. She has been in a long-term, (more than 15 years) committed relationship with her boyfriend J. She does not consider herself single, but Mrs. Traister would. In addition, Mrs. Traister dwells a bit on single mothers—unmarried women who have given birth, in her definition. What about women like my friend D who chose to be a single mom through adoption? I’m well aware that it would be impossible to give equal time to all the ways of being single, but if you are going to write about all the single ladies, spare a little more time and ink for those beyond your main focus group.

So what does Mrs. Traister spend her time and ink on? For one thing, a plethora of statistics: the average age for first marriages among all women, among white women, among black women, among college graduates, among those with incomes above a certain amount, among those with incomes below a certain amount; single women in serially committed relationships, in short term relationships, in casual relationships, in encounters that cannot really be considered a relationship of any kind; single women who have children early, who wait to have children, who freeze their eggs, and the varying degrees of fertility of some of these groups. I won’t go on, but the book does.

The thing is, in the words Mark Twain famously popularized, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” All those numbers didn’t impress me. Anyone can find numbers to strengthen the points she wants to make, and rather easily so in this highly digital age. Mrs. Traister herself points this out. She reveals that the long accepted and “oft-cited” statistic that 30% of women between 30-35 will get pregnant after trying for a year comes from French birth records spanning over a hundred years  from the 17th to 19th centuries. With all those numbers, isn’t it likely that she uses at least some of them to support her point of view rather than for the purpose they were intended? To her credit, she does provide notes and a selected bibliography so anyone could research her original sources and see the actual context for her statistics. But she could be doing as Mark Twain did actually say, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” Mrs. Traister’s excessive use of numbers likely had the opposite effect she intended—they turned me off and made me question the authenticity her of claims.

Mention of her claims leads me to another issue I had with this book. Now I realize that this is ultimately a work that justifies Mrs. Traister’s opinions concerning single women. And as such, her personal bias and conclusions she has drawn are de facto elements of the book. It’s just that when she draws rather outrageous conclusions that I have to pause. For example, Mrs. Traister presents excerpts from a speech President Obama made in which he commented about having an absent father. He scolded men who abandon their duty as fathers, and he stated that single mothers need support. He opined that the best kind of support is “another parent in the home.” Mrs. Traister then states that “Obama is not alone in his conviction that single mothers are bad for kids.” So thinking that being raised by two parents is best for kids means that you think single mothers are bad for kids? Did I miss something? That’s like saying since I think chocolate peanut butter ice cream is the best that must mean that I think chocolate ice cream is bad. That’s ridiculous, as is the conclusion that Mrs. Traister drew from Mr. Obama’s comments. When she leaps from A to B to J she flies in the face of logic and makes me question her credibility.

I also question the quality of her equality measures. Mrs. Traister spends a bit of time addressing hooking-up culture: men and women connecting simply for sex. She compares the traditional view of this phenomenon (boys will be boys and the sluts they bang) with the contemporary view (boys will be boys and the maybe-they’re-not-quite-sluts girls who have sex with them). She states that more women engage in this behavior, making it more socially acceptable, making slut-shaming on the decrease. The change in this view is of course supported by some of her many statistics. She lauds this as a step toward equality, and I suppose quantitatively it is, but I find it rather depressing from a moral point of view. I do believe that men and women who engage in hooking-up culture should be viewed equally, and that slut-shaming needs to be eradicated from society. I find it disappointing that as a society women are sinking to the level of men to close the gender equality gap, rather than men rising to the perception of women.

So with her surfeit of statistics (in overkill mode), her illogical conclusions, her discouraging moral outlook, and her irony without humor, Mrs. Traister (and how is that for irony?) failed to gain my admiration for her book. I admire her purpose, but not her book. I suppose in the end I am glad that Mrs. Traister misnamed her book. If this how she thinks of single ladies and how she supports their cause it’s a good think I am not a part of the all.

True Colors

Newberys Read This Year: 2

Newberys Left for Goal: 13

Newberys Left for Total: 27

 

Book: The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Audience: G-U

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating: One Book.jpgOne Book.jpg

Apparently, I am not a middle-aged British man, either.

I don’t know if I would have to be in order to enjoy this book, but I have to admit I, a middle-aged American woman, was quite disappointed in it. I daresay the author would likely agree with the points I am about to make, but believing that he and I share similar opinions is not going to change how I feel about his book.

It started out well enough. Mr. Miller had created a List of Betterment—a list of books he fashioned out of a sense that he was approaching middle age and needed to do something worthwhile. That something turned out to be reading books he was ashamed that he had not read. The list originally consisted of 10 books, then expanded to 13, and eventually to 50. I liked Mr. Miller’s honesty about how he chose his books, and I liked his honesty in discussing them. As you might be able to tell, his honesty is one of the strongest features of his book. It is unfortunately that honesty that eventually made me eager to be done with it.

I’m not talking about the books he selected.  I was familiar only with 28 titles on his list, so it’s safe to say that my List of Betterment would differ significantly from his. I’m totally fine with that. Everyone has their own taste, their own idea of what makes a book great, and what makes a book something one should read. No, his honest list wasn’t my problem.

I’m not talking about his opinions of the books he selected. Out of the 28 titles with which I was familiar, I can’t say I’ve read many of them, so I don’t really know how often our opinions would be similar. I do know that he and I are poles apart on two books that are rather significant to me. He admired Jane Eyre, a book I despise. I not only loathe the work itself, I am also appalled at the fact that so many people (especially women) seem to love it. He did not admire Pride and Prejudice. I don’t think I need to say anything else about that. But I respect our dissimilar opinions on these two books. I am perfectly willing to agree to disagree. No, his honest opinions weren’t my problem.

I give Mr. Miller credit for being a very honest writer. In being so honest, he revealed much about himself. This is where I had the problem.

Since this is ultimately a memoir, Mr. Miller is the main character. I am a very character-driven reader. And eventually, I came to dislike Mr. Miller as a character. This is where I had the problem.

He certainly seemed nice enough at first. He’s British, with a British sense of humor. He loves both books and reading. He has worked in a bookstore and a publishing house. He is devoted to his wife and son. These are all good things and points in his favor. But as I read on, more of his personality, his true self, was revealed, not only in his book choices and his opinions, but in the way he expressed them. His character was also revealed when he related some stories from his youth or young adulthood, and when he shared his thoughts about a variety of subjects (all related to his working his way through the List of Betterment). And the further I got on, I more I kept having a rather disturbing thought: Dude, you’re a, well, let’s just say the word that kept coming to mind was a nickname for 3 British kings and one American president. It’s kind of hard to like someone like that, and even harder for me to like a book someone like that has written about himself.

I also want to say that I don’t believe that Mr. Miller was dishonest at the beginning of the book, because I liked him then and grew to dislike him. Rather, the more time I spent with him (in a literary sense) the more I got to know him better; the more I got to know his true self, good points as well as characteristics I don’t care for.

To be honest, if I were to say my abovementioned disturbing thought (complete with the word I chose to be euphemistic about) to Mr. Miller, he would likely not be offended. He would also likely agree with me. That might make me like him more, but it does not make me dislike him less.  I can appreciate the journey he took going through these 50 books, I can appreciate the challenge he took on to write about it, but I cannot appreciate him or this particular book. I suffer no Richards.

Amy the Done

Newberys Read This Year: 2

Newberys Left for Goal: 13

Newberys Left for Total: 27

 

Book: How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Audience: C

Genre: Fiction

Rating: One Book.jpgOne Book.jpg

Vikings. Dragons. Potty humor. What more could an 8-year-old boy want?

I am not an 8-year-old boy. Enough said.

OK, I will say one thing. I did think the illustrations of Toothless the small dragon were cute, but that’s it. There are other books in this series, but I am content to leave them unexplored, the occasional cute illustration notwithstanding. This dragon series? Done.

What’s Love Got to Do with It

Book: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Audience: G-U

Genre: Fiction (Classic #6)

Rating: One Book.jpg

The World Health Organization describes cholera as “an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated.” If we define love by the actions of Florintino Ariza, pedophile, rapist, and sociopath, I just might prefer the cholera.

I absolutely believe that when reading works that portray a time in history the reader needs to view the thoughts, words, and actions of the characters in their historical and cultural context. However, whether it is modern day USA, turn of the twentieth century Caribbean island, or any time or place, a 70+ year old man having sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl is pedophilia. That same man assaulting a house servant is rape. That same man feeling no guilt when that 14-year-old commits suicide over the failure of the affair or when he forces a marriage between the house servant and someone else to release him from the appearance of paternity for his bastard child is sociopathy. None of it is love.

The review stops here. This book is not worth any more of my time or effort.

Despite my intense abhorrence for this book, I don’t regret reading it. It is through reading the excellent, the dreadful, the mediocre, and all shades therein that we cultivate our tastes, our imaginations, and our discernments. I appreciate how this book assisted me in these areas, but it will never be found on my shelves.

Mais Pas Pour Moi

Book: Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant

Audience: G-U

Genre: Fiction

Rating: One Book.jpgOne Book.jpg

I really do need to keep track of the books I choose based on my Goodreads newsletter. So many have been duds. Add this one to the list.

This collection of short stories is not about Paris, which I believe I may have thought. According to the front matter, these were written in Paris by. Mlle. Gallant. I’m thinking that having a European author may have contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for this book.

I haven’t seen many foreign films, but the few I have share a similar quality, once which I can only call disjointedness. This anthology, chock full of stories, was also chock full of disjointedness.

I’m not even talking about a disjointedness between stories. All but 2 of the stories were discrete. No, what I’m talking about was a lack of connection within a single story. I would be reading along and all of a sudden I would find myself saying, “Huh? Where did that come from? Who is this person? When did that happen?” I do wonder if some of this lack of cohesion is due to translation, but honestly, whatever the reason, it made for confusing reading.

In addition, it was frankly depressing reading. It reminded me a bit of the Virginia Woolf book I wrote about a few weeks ago. No one was actually happy, no one seemed to like anyone else, no one seemed content. Yes, conflict drives stories, but a little happiness here and there goes a long way to making reading the joyful experience it usually is for me. I was, in fact, reading this book at the same time I was reading To the Lighthouse. Thank God I was also rereading my Anne of Green Gables series at the same time, otherwise I might have sunk into a depression myself.

So, chalk this one up to once again reading a summary that turned out better than the book. Yet, I still use my Goodreads newsletter as source of book ideas and hope for a better result. I guess even after all my disappointments, I am still ever the optimist. How un-European of me!

In the Dark

Book: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Audience: G-U

Genre: Fiction (Classic #4)

Rating: One Book.jpgOne Book.jpg

When I was coming up for my list of classics to read this year, part of what I wanted to do was to read authors I had never encountered before. Last fall I read Susan Branch’s delightful book about her trip to England where she visited the home and garden of Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf. Branch’s descriptions of the home and her thoughts on the sisters made me decide to include a work by Miss Woolf in my Classics list. I had heard about Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway (thanks to the movie The Hours), but for April decided to go with one I had not heard of before but was on multiple must-read classics lists, To the Lighthouse.  After reading it, all I basically have to say is: I don’t get it.

OK, I have a bit more to say than that.

Essentially, the story centers on the Ramsay family. In the first section, the family stays at their Scottish summer residence. Mr. Ramsay is a professor and his wife busies herself with entertaining for him and raising their 8 children. Over the course of the summer, they play host to other academics, artists, and locals. One of the younger sons, James, expresses a wish to go to the nearby lighthouse tomorrow. His mother is willing, but his father arrogantly predicts that the weather will be prohibitive. Most of the rest of this section focuses on the rest of the day and evening before the proposed trip, which does not occur as Mr. Ramsey prognosticated.

The brief second section focuses on two Scottish women who live in the summer residence town. The main purpose of this section seems to be to advance the story several years while seen through a new perspective.

In the final section, Mr. Ramsay (now a widower who has also seen the death of two of his children) brings James and one of his sisters back to Scotland with the intent of making that long-promised visit to the lighthouse.

This was my first experience with a stream of consciousness novel. I did not realize when I chose the book that Miss Woolf used this technique. However, as I read and realized that the reader was pretty much in the minds of the characters and that their minds went to all sorts of unexpected places, I figured that this must be an example of stream of consciousness. Ever the librarian, I researched the book and found I was correct. I also found that I don’t care for the technique.

I can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into creating this type of novel, but I can’t appreciate the novel itself. Yes, our thoughts often take Byzantine turns and we end up far away from where we started. It’s confusing enough for me to get lost in my own mind—I don’t need to get lost in someone else’s, especially when there are several someone elses involved.

Another issue I had with this book is the lack of action. I’m not sure if that is typical of a stream of consciousness novel, but it certainly was present here. The characters just seemed to think, not do. I don’t consider myself a “plot junkie” as my friend the reading specialist so eloquently puts it, but it is far more interesting to me to have characters actually do things, not just think about doing things and whatever other random thoughts come into their heads.

That leads me into the characters themselves. As I’ve said many times before, I am a character-driven reader. There was not one character who truly seemed to like any other characters. In this, I was united with them. There was no one with whom I identified, no one I liked, no one I found the least bit interesting. No wonder I had trouble caring about this book.

So we have no real plot, no real action, and no engaging characters. Just mostly non-pleasant thoughts about what was wrong with everyone and everything. I suppose I gave Miss Woolf credit for working with an unusual style of novel, but it’s not the style for me.  Guess I won’t be reading Ulysses anytime soon!