That Reading Life

My favorite books to read in spring

Spring (aka second winter) has descended on the Midwest, which means wildly unpredictable weather.

One morning it’s snowing and that same afternoon it’s 50 and we’re drinking wine on the porch. It’s…a lot…for a person to handle.

Exhibit A: Some gorgeous daffodils on the university campus where I work

Exhibit B: We took an urban hike to this cool historic cemetery in our city and it straight up hailed on us.

But my favorite thing about spring, aside from the fantastic flowers, is reading spring-y books. I’ve found it the best way to combat the blues that hit along with second winter.

Thus, I give you my list of faves to reread in the spring.


Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

You know by now that I am obsessed with this book. If you like a little feminism and humor thrown in with your garden reading, this one is for you.

Duh…The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I need hardly go on about this one. It’s obvious. I like to read the book, then watch the 90s film adaptation, one of my personal childhood faves.

The Enchanted April by–who else?–Elizabeth von Arnim

I mean, she’s just so good at spring. Read this and then watch the 90s film adaptation. The film is a bit slow, but I honestly don’t care since the characters I love so much come to life in it.

Here they are in their 1920s glory:

Any Gardening Book at All

This is my recent haul from AbeBooks. Don’t sleep on used books from Abe–I got all of these for $12.

Jane Austen–Preferably Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion

Then, of course, watch the movie adaptations. I just watched the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version for the first time a couple of weeks ago! I know I’m late to the party, but most definitely better late than never because this is a classic for a reason.

Sigh…

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Ahhh, pure comfort reading. I relax just thinking about this one.

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Hah! Snuck in some contemporary fiction on ya’. I read this for the first time last year and really fell for Waxman as a writer. She writes stories about women in many difficult situations (single mothers, widows, women looking for love, etc.). The protagonists feel contemporary, as if your best Millennial friend was really going through something and you’re along for the ride.

This one, about a woman who’s lost her husband and has two children, centers on the creation of a garden and the strangers who become a family because of it. It’s also a story of loss with a hopeful ending. Hope is an excellent theme for spring.

The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

And here’s some incredible poetry for you. I haven’t finished reading this one yet because every poem kills me and I have to take them in very slowly. Gluck writes with a theme of flowers and begins with the flowers that bloom in early spring. Many of the poems are from the perspective of the flowers themselves. Divine.

Anne of Green Gables, Jane of Lantern Hill, The Blue Castle

Really, read any L.M. Montgomery in spring and you won’t regret it.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

I love Wohlleben as a writer. His books are bound to become classics of nature writing, as I’ve said before. This one, about trees, is my favorite.


I’ve just realized that this list doesn’t include a single author that isn’t white. I will work on that for my spring reading in general.

Do you have a list of books, or just one book, that you like to read while the snow and sun and hail and flowers fight for precedence? Do tell!

Meanwhile, I am going to work on my summer list. Stay tuned for all of Edith Wharton. ūüėČ

I leave you with a bad picture of a gorgeous magnolia on campus.

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What Shannon Read

What Shannon Read: March 2022

March was a thing that happened. It had nowhere near the pizazz of the February baby shower or Vegas trip, but it happened.

There were a few sunny days that allowed for some porching and drinking of drinks. And, thanks to Fall Shannon, there are about 50 tulips (and lots of daffs) coming up this month. No blooms yet. You know I’ll keep you posted.

That is my somewhat boring life update. Chugging along. Nothing new.

To the books!


Some Notes:

I read 10 books this month, including one reread and four—count ’em four!—books that count toward my 2022 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Whoop! Here are some thoughts.

The Secret Wisdom of Nature

Peter Wohlleben’s books are bound to end up classics of nature writing. I loved listening to the audiobook version of this. Lots of fascinating stories about plants and animals.

Washington Black

This is my entry for the 2022 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge category “adventure book by a BIPOC author.” It’s fantastic and heartbreaking and deserves all the hype it gets.

The Genius of Birds

More wonderful nature writing. This book lulled me to sleep each night for a week as I listened to interesting stories of robins, jays, corvids, and so much more.

Boy of the Painted Cave

I ordered this via interlibrary loan from my library because I’m pretty sure it’s the book my sixth grade teacher (oh hey, Mrs. Czynowski) read to my social studies class. I fell in love with it as an 11-year-old and found it just as good as a 41-year-old. Was it written for children? Absolutely. Did I get absorbed in the hunting and cave painting adventures of a prehistoric boy just as much as I did when I was a child? Absolutely.

The Bookshop on the Corner

I can’t help myself. I love Jenny Colgan. Her books are comfort reads for me. This one, which fits the Read Harder Challenge category “Read a book set in a bookshop,” was no exception. After being let go from her library job, a woman moves to Scotland, fixes up an old van and turns it into a roaming bookshop, and falls in love. This may read like a Hallmark movie, but it couldn’t be more on brand for me.

Maybe I’m being unfair though. Colgan is a talented writer who does more than scratch a character’s surface (as in a Hallmark movie). There is depth to her characters if not to her plots. Regardless, I love them as they are.

Beast

This is my entry for the Read Harder Challenge’s category “Read a queer retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, folklore, or myth.” I don’t like retellings. Fairy tales and related fantasy stories are not my jam. But I boldly searched through many of the selection at my library (I tried to start five other books that would fit this category) and eventually settled into this one. I’m glad I did. I think I liked it because it was a realistic retelling with no elements of magic or magical realism in sight. I liked that.

If you like YA and themes of identity around sexuality and just in general, you may like this one too.

The Fire Never Goes Out

This is my choice for the Read Harder Challenge category “Read a nonfiction YA comic.” It’s a wonderful memoir in graphic format which explores issues of gender identity, creativity, and young-adulthood.

The Benefactress

Elizabeth von Arnim has quickly become one of my favorite authors. After I first read Elizabeth and Her German Garden about two years ago, it became one of my favorite books of all time, and then I snagged her complete novels on Amazon.

The Benefactress explores that relatable topic of a woman’s lack of options back in the days when women were raised solely to become wives and mothers. What happens when a woman doesn’t become a wife or mother? What happens if she doesn’t become either and also has no money?

Here is one option according to the story of a woman with a generous uncle and peculiar ideas about helping others like her. It was fascinating.

The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology

I very much enjoy reading books about alternative ways of living and this one was excellent.

The Maid

This book is home to one of my favorite kinds of protagonists: undeniably quirky and a flauter of social conventions. There is a good mystery too.


And that’s that! I had the pleasure of reading some great books this month and I look forward to an equally fun April, after which I also hope to report the arrival of a grandchild! Woo!

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2022 Read Harder Challenge, That Reading Life

I decided I need a challenge…

January garden…apropos of nothing

…and the 2022 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge seems to fit the bill.

I debated about doing the Classics Challenge and the When Are You Reading Challenge, but neither suited my mood this year.

With classics, I’d rather just see where my natural impulses take me. (So far, they’ve taken me to The Women of Brewster Place, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Barbara Pym.)

And, with historical fiction, well, I read a lot of it last year and I’ll probably continue reading it this year, with no prompts needed. It is one of my favorite genres after all.

I decided I wanted to break out of my usual genres/themes and also learn a little more about contemporary fiction.

The Read Harder Challenges seems to offer some new-to-me types of categories and I will definitely enjoy looking for books to fit them.

All that said, here’s the list for the Read Harder Challenge and my best laid plans. We all know what happens to those. ūüėČ


Read a biography of an author you admire.

Harriet Jacobs - Yellin, Jean Fagan

Read a book set in a bookstore.

Read any book from the Women’s Prize shortlist/longlist/winner list.

Read a book in any genre by a POC that’s about joy and not trauma.

Read an anthology featuring diverse voices.

Read a nonfiction YA comic.

Read a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40.

Read a classic written by a POC.

Read the book that’s been on your TBR the longest.

Read a political thriller by a marginalized author (BIPOC, or LGBTQIA+).
I hate political thrillers, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.

Read a book with an asexual and/or aromantic main character.

Read an entire poetry collection.
I’m already rolling on this one because I received this for my bday last year. It’s becoming one of my favorite books of all time. I have to read it slowly because every poem kills me. Right in the feels.

Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author.
Cool, I was planning to read this anyway.

Read a book whose movie or TV adaptation you’ve seen (but haven’t read the book).
This is a tough one for me because I usually read a book then look for and watch the adaptation. Just me? Welp, maybe this is the year I finally read the books made into Merchant Ivory films. Howard’s End perhaps? A Room with a View? Maybe…

Read a new-to-you literary magazine (print or digital).
After I stopped submitting my poetry to them (with middling success), literary mags pretty much fell off the map for me. This looks like a good list though.

Read a book recommended by a friend with different reading tastes.
That’ll be easy. I don’t know anyone who has the same taste as me. I’ll ask Ben and see what he picks for me.

Read a memoir written by someone who is trans or nonbinary.
I just like the cover.

Read a ‚ÄúBest¬†_¬†Writing of the year‚ÄĚ book for a topic and year of your choice.
I’m not looking forward to this. I can’t seem to get through these contemporary anthologies.

Read a horror novel by a BIPOC author.
Can’t resist a creepy/haunted house story.

Read an award-winning book from the year you were born.
1980, here we come?
Actually, this is post-WWII literature. But it won the National Book Award in 1980.

Read a queer retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, folklore, or myth.
Definitely don’t like retellings. But, sigh, we’ll giver her a whirl.

Read a history about a period you know little about.
I rarely read histories focused on time periods. Rather, I read histories of specific people. It’s hard for me to look at a straight history book and be like, yes, that’s the one for me. I’ll give this one a whirl.

Read a book by a disabled author.
Torn between this and Hellen Keller’s autobiography.

Pick a challenge from any of the previous years’ challenges to repeat!

I think I’m going with “Read a book that takes place in a rural setting.” That leaves the field pretty open for me.


Are you doing the Read Harder Challenge this year? Or, do you have any books to recommend for these specific categories? Let me know!

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2019 Classics Challenge, What Shannon Read

Slammin’ the Classics (A 2019 Wrap-up Post)

BTCC Berlin BooksTime to report in on my 2019 classics challenge! As you may know, I started 2018 with grand intentions, but ended up reading about 6 of 12 classics.

And I guess I’m going for incremental improvement because in 2019, I completed seven of Karen’s 12 categories (visit her initial post for a breakdown.)

Oh what a long, strange trip it’s been…

Here are the books I completed for each category of the challenge with links to my reviews.

2. 20th Century Classic: Theater by W. Somerset Maugham
4. Classic in Translation: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
5. Classic Comic Novel: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
6. Classic Tragic Novel: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

Parting Thoughts

I like to make plans. But I don’t like to follow them. I will spend hours concocting all sorts of plans that sound great (heyyy every diet I’ve ever started), but inevitably, the execution is where I falter. I lack follow-through. So for me to say “I want to read more classics,” then sign up for a classics challenge is normal, something I would do in a heartbeat. Actually reading those classics then becomes a struggle against my own rebellious heart.

For this reason, I’m calling seven out of 12 a win. Up until 2018, I probably read about three classics a year, so anything more than that is broadening my reading horizons.

This year, I conquered two big ones on my TBR list: Anna Karenine and Madame Bovary. Also, I read authors I wouldn’t otherwise have read. That’s where the real sense of pleasure is found‚ÄĒin discovery. I most enjoyed new-to-me authors Barbara Pym, Henrik Ibsen, and W. Somerset Maugham.

So, seven classics and an overall feeling of victory going into 2020. I don’t see an announcement from Karen about whether she’ll be hosting a 2020 classics challenge, but if she does, I’m in!

 

 

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2019 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Excellent Women

29927840I had a blast the past two weeks listening to the audiobook version of Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, narrated by one of my favorite voice actors, Jayne Entwistle.

I only learned of Pym’s existence in the past year, having come across her novel Quartet in Autumn via a list of books about friendship on Five Books (such a great rabbit hole of a website, btw!).

As Excellent Women is a “high comedic” novel, I thought it’d make a great choice for the Comic Novel category in the Classics Challenge. It did not disappoint.

Protagonist Mildred Lathbury is a mild-mannered spinster in post-WWII England. A now-orphaned clergyman’s daughter, Miss Lathbury is one of society’s “excellent women,” those helpful, supportive types who live heavily tied to their duties toward their families, neighbors, and parishes.

The novel follows Miss Lathbury as she welcomes new neighbors to the flat above hers, a couple that includes a hopelessly sociable and handsome flag lieutenant husband and a stylish wife who is an anthropologist pursuing a love interest outside her marriage.

Miss Lathbury quickly gets pulled into their affairs, including the wife’s relationship with her love interest, a rather stiff and stoic fellow anthropologist bearing, I am delighted to report, the name “Everard Bone.” Pym excels at naming characters.

Miss Lathbury is also a very active member of her parish and, before widow Allegra Gray moves into the neighborhood, is somewhat expected to marry the local vicar Julian Malory. Malory, who has remained single into his 40s, lives with his sister Winifred, who has taken on the role of vicar’s wife in the parish. His life, it seems, depends on the excellent women around him.

Each of these relationships has its little dramas throughout the novel. Through it, we watch Miss Lathbury come into her own somewhat, as she becomes fed up with people’s expectations that she involve herself in their unnecessarily complicated romances and relationships.

I enjoyed the whole romp. The village itself reminded me a bit of Middlemarch with its quirky characters and tedious dramas. I loved Miss Lathbury too, especially when she becomes irritated with the people around her and starts laying down boundaries. I loved that she gets annoyed with being the kind of woman who’s always making a cup of tea in a crisis. And , moreover, that she lives a quiet life with which she’s quite happy. There are lots of charming comments on domestic life.

‚ÄúMy thoughts went round and round and it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the ‘stream of consciousness’ type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink.‚ÄĚ ¬†

I can truly relate to that.

Would love to know your thoughts if you’ve read this one!

P.S. As stated, this is my entry for the Comic Novel category of the 2019 Classics Challenge.

 

 

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2019 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

The King’s General

6349535Raise your hand if you read Rebecca like six times as a teenager. Just me?

The movie adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s best-known novel, Rebecca, was released in 1940. It starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and somewhere in the 90s ended up on AMC where little Shannon watched it probably on a sick day.¬† I had strep throat a lot as a kid.

All that was my introduction to Daphne du Maurier. As a grown-up I read Rule Britannia and, in honor of the classics challenge this year, I plowed through The King’s General, her novel set in Cornwall during the English Civil War.

It was…interesting.

The story centers on narrator Honor Harris, who tells us about her childhood, betrothal to a gentleman scoundrel (my favorite character – think Rhett Butler), and, sadly, her loss of the use of her legs in a riding accident on the eve of her marriage.

What I Liked:

  • The gentleman scoundrel: Richard Grenvile is your classic spoiled rogue. His life revolves around being a badass soldier, swindling relations out of their fortunes, and scandalizing the county with his carousing. Like any good romantic hero, he also possesses a tenderness reserved only for the heroine. In other words, he’s a Blanche in the streets and a Dorothy in the sheets. ūüėČ
  • Honor’s personality: She’s a bit rebellious herself and, because she’s a “cripple,” her family attributes her with a certain amount of wisdom she doesn’t necessarily possess. But she admits that right away, is amused by it, wields it to her advantage, and thus shows a certain endearing self-awareness.
  • The house: Menabilly is an actual estate in Cornwall and du Maurier lived there and restored it while writing this novel. It is also the house where Rebecca is set, though it’s, of course, called Manderley in that story. You get a real sense of Cornwall and of the estate in this book. There is lots of sneaking around secret passages and the like.

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Menabilly gatehouse via Wikipedia

What I Didn’t Particularly Like:

  • The pace: This story began to drag about halfway through. When the war reaches the doorstep of Menabilly, where Honor and some of her relations are holed up waiting out the fighting, things get interesting. But when the parliamentary army leaves again and Honor and her associates are no longer prisoners in a mansion, the trickle of action slows to a drip. I got bored and had to really focus to plow through.

A tidbit: This novel reminded me very much of, well, every novel I’ve read from, say the 18th-19th centuries, in that its characters and the situations were somewhat typical. By situations, I mean the situations in which characters found themselves and the ways in which they reacted.

So, Honor loses the use of her legs. She then considers herself a burden, doesn’t want to burden the man she loves (Richard Grenvile), and also doesn’t want to be seen as a cripple by the man she loves. So she refuses to see him and cuts off all communication with him. He moves on with his life and ends up marrying a rich widow.

Now if that doesn’t scream heroine of classic European fiction, I don’t know what does.

Seems to me the main issue of unrequited love in the novel could’ve been solved with a good talking to.

Do read it, though, if you like interesting heroines. Du Maurier never fails me there.

p.s. This is my entry for the classics challenge Classic by a Woman Author category.

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2019 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Emma Bovary: victim of circumstance or classic narcissist?

30374787Finished the last third of Madame Bovary by the great Gustave Flaubert last night and I have the eye strain to prove it.

As I read and iced my temples with the cool glass of the ice water I was drinking, I began unconsciously adding up Emma Bovary’s crimes against reason in my mind and it dawned on me that I was cultivating a very negative opinion of her. In fact, I was tallying her failures as I perceived them and feeling quite smug about it.

As you may or may not know, this is the classic work of French ennui. It is Flaubert’s first novel, published in 1865, and caused a scandal that resulted in litigation because of its salacious content (thanks to Emma’s affairs).

The story centers on Charles Bovary, a country doctor, and Emma Bovary, his pretty, well-educated (in a convent) wife who, to quote Disney’s Belle, wants much more than this provincial life. Charles is in love with his wife and does his best to please her, though, like any man of his time, he requires a hot supper each night and the little woman to provide him the many comforts of home.

Over time, Emma’s interest in Charles dies with her longing for a more interesting life and he quickly becomes odious to her. In fact, I can’t remember if she liked him in the first place. But anyway, her increasing dissatisfaction prompts her to initiate a couple of affairs with other men and, especially in the last half of the novel, she also drives the couple deeply into debt, making one terrible financial decision after another, losing Charles’ inheritance to boot, and resulting, as you also may know, in Emma’s suicide.

I should have pity for Emma. Her boredom, fickleness, selfishness, and general negativity are all understandable given her station and this particular moment in history. She’s a woman, first of all, and her options are limited, despite her good education, to, um, marriage. As a member of the middle class in rural France, there’s literally no other respectable role for her but wife and mother.

I should also be kind because, honestly, I really sympathize with Emma. I wholly identify with her disappointment in the monotony of day-in, day-out life as it comes, and with her longing for excitement and her inability to create any of her own. Her life is lived in a constant paralysis.

“She longed to travel or to go back to her convent. She wished at the same time to die and to live in Paris.”¬†

I mean, I get it. I’m not paralyzed, but I see how one could be.

And yet I can’t help feeling terrible for poor Charles. He’s a good man and a decent doctor and he cares deeply about his wife, even if his expectations of her reflect the chauvinism of the times. I go back and forth on Charles: he was duped and cuckolded and is just living out the prescribed circumstances for a man of his station. On the other hand, he’s a willing cog in the machine of a Western society that, generally speaking, raises men above women in all aspects of life. But how would he know any different?¬†I realize that’s a stretch and I’m bringing a really contemporary and feminist perspective to this novel and I’m not sure I’m meeting it where it lives.

Back to my original idea and the title of this post. As I was reading, I developed the fun game of of tallying up the qualities in and behaviors of Emma that resembled the classic narcissist.

  1. Emma is emotionally manipulative of (with?) her husband and her lovers. She alternately¬†showers them with love and then withholds love to serve her purposes. She expertly “handles” Charles, at turns cooing and browbeating him to get what she wants (for example, when she obtains his permission and the money to go to Rouen ostensibly for piano lessons, but really to see her lover).
  2. Emma is overly concerned with status and disappointed in Charles for not being a more prominent doctor. Along with Homais, the local chemist, she is the engineer and primary champion of a surgery that Charles attempts on a servant man which goes horribly wrong.
  3. Emma exhibits lack of empathy. Things happen to her and her feelings matter more than anyone else’s (especially when she’s manipulating people to get what she wants).
  4. Evident in her affairs, Emma is preoccupied with fantasies of ideal romance.

So, I’m conflating actual symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder with a lay-person’s understanding of what narcissism is, but you get my point. Some of Emma’s problems are self-created but the personal qualities or emotions that drive her to create them are born of her circumstances. If that makes sense.

How did I feel about the book in general? I loved it. And I was sad at the end when things went horribly wrong. Having been in debt myself, Emma’s financial missteps were especially agonizing. That bothered me more than the suicide, tbh.

Have you read it? Would love to know your thoughts!

p.s. This is my book for the “Classic Tragic Novel” category in the 2019 Classics Challenge.

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2019 Classics Challenge, Uncategorized

2019 classics challenge

BTCC Berlin BooksI started the 2018 Back to the Classics challenge with hopes high and ended up reading six of 12. I’m not upset about it. That’s six more than I otherwise might’ve read.

With equally high hopes but no illusions, I’ve decided to start the 2019 challenge (info. here).¬†

Here are the categories and my plans for them. 

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.
This will most probably be Dickens. The Pickwick Papers? May as well start at the beginning I suppose.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago.
So many options for this, but I’m thinking Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El-Saadawi. This would also qualify for #s 3 and 4.

3. Classic by a Woman Author.
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Lucy Bird. I brought this back from a family trip to Arizona 20 years ago and haven’t read it. But I kept it all those years with plans to read it. That’s dedication to a TBR list, people.

 4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots!) Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.
It may be time for Anna Karenina.

5. Classic Comic Novel. Any comedy, satire, or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it’s a work that’s traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. Some classic comic novels: Cold Comfort Farm; Three Men in a Boat; Lucky Jim; and the works of P. G. Wodehouse.
I’m thinking Cold Comfort Farm.

6. Classic Tragic Novel. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. Examples include The Grapes of Wrath, House of Mirth, and Madame Bovary.
Will likely slog through Madame Bovary for this.

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.
War and Peace? Les Mis? Doctor Zhivago?

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages.
I’m thinking: Passing, Silas Marner, or O Pioneers! Just found this helpful list.

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either North or South America or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude (Columbia/South America).
So many great options: The Stone Diaries (Canada); The Purple Land (Uruguay); Treasure Island (the Caribbean)

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those continentss or islands, or by an author from these regions. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); On the Beach by Nevile Shute (Australia); Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria).
Possibly The Pillow Book by Sei Shonago (Japan) or The Grass is Singing (Zimbabwe)

11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you’ve lived, or by a local author. Choices for me include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany).
Looks like this is the year I read A Girl of the Limberlost.

 12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.
I do not enjoy reading plays, but here we are. I’m thinking A Doll’s House, Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Death of a Salesman, which I have neither read nor seen.

There you have it. Quite a multicultural list this year and I’ve been wanting to work on reading more diversely, so I’m looking forward to so many of these!

Are you doing any reading challenges this year?

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2018 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Middlemarch: Vanquished at Last

19089This post used to be subtitled “Waving the White Flag.” You guys, I almost gave up. Middlemarch by George Eliot is a novel that I felt was leaving a gaping hole in my literary repertoire. Now that I think about it, I believe I chose to take a class on the Romantics in college rather than a class on the Victorian novel. So, I missed this novel somehow.

And I almost gave up on it.

Honestly, between Dorothea Brook, whom I found insufferable, and the lengthy expostulation on politics, I could not take it. I’m not against politics in books on the whole and this one, especially, is known for its exploration of Parliamentary reform. So, I get it. That stuff was important to Eliot. It shaped both her world and the world she wrote about. But, man, it just bored me to tears. I even tried to listen to the story via Audible, read by my all-time favorite narrator, and that was worse because I got bored and tuned it out.

Last week, when I looked ahead on my Kindle and realized I was only halfway done, I thought, “It’s time to wave the white flag.”

But then, thanks to the LitHub daily newsletter, I was alerted to¬†Jennifer Egan’s post for The Guardian on how Eliot’s love life played into her writing of Middlemarch. I read it and that bit of context gave me a new appreciation for the novel, so I decided to plug on in the interest of seeing what happens to these characters.

Anyway, as Egan says, this is the story of three marriages of different classes and kinds. The primary is Dorothea’s marriage to Mr. Casaubon, who is an aging scholar intent on researching his latest project. His personality is dry and not many people find him anything but a bore, but Dorothea, who is strikingly beautiful but quite pious, is drawn to him because she’s made it her life’s goal to help and support a great man with a great mind. It’s a telling situation because Dorothea has lots of ideas and opinions of her own, and she wants desperately to live a large and meaningful life, but she can only see putting her desires to use via passionate support of a good husband.

Sadly, Casaubon just wants a wife who will keep him company and keep his house:

Providence, in its kindness, had supplied him with the wife he needed. A wife, a modest young lady, with the purely appreciative, unambitious abilities of her sex, is sure to think her husband’s mind powerful. Whether Providence had taken equal care of Miss Brooke in presenting her with Mr. Casaubon was an idea which could hardly occur to him. Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy.

I feel for Dorothea but I also found her piety exasperating. She gives up riding, even though she loves it, because, as far as I could tell, it’s a form of self-indulgence because she enjoys it. Uuugh. This is what religion does to some people.

Anyway, I much prefer sensible Mary Garth who is of the middle class and must work for her living as rich Mr. Featherstone’s nurse. At one point early on Rosamund Vincy, niece of Featherstone and daughter of the town mayor, who’s brother Fred is in love with Mary Garth (I know, I’m digging into the weeds), asks Mary what she’s been up to, and Mary replies “I? Oh, minding the house‚ÄĒpouring out syrup‚ÄĒpretending to be amiable and contented‚ÄĒlearning to have a bad opinion of everybody.”

She became my favorite character, along with Mrs. Cadwallader, the rector’s wife, and Dorothea’s beloved sister Celia. They’re the women in the novel who possess the endearing combination of good sense and wit. They add some much needed jocularity and even sarcasm to counteract the seriousness of the other characters.

This is a very superficial discussion of likes and dislikes about the novel, but if you’d like to plumb the depths, I’d recommend Egan’s post to get you started. I’ve also checked out Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch. We’ll see how much patience I have for it.

If you’ve read Middlemarch, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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2018 Classics Challenge, Fiction, Kids books, What Shannon Read

Black Beauty

BBI thought I’d read a nice animal story after spending a delightful couple of days with The Secret Garden, you know, since I was in the mood for a classic children’s book. So I picked up Black Beauty by Anna Sewell¬†and guys, I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR THIS.

I now know the particular effects of the mistreatment of horses, including but not limited to:

  • Forcing a bit into a horse’s mouth rather than coaxing the horse gently
  • Whipping a horse to make it go faster
  • Taking a jump that’s too high or far for the horse
  • Not feeding a horse correctly
  • Using a check rein to force the horse’s head higher than is natural for the sake of fashion

Omg. I was telling a coworker about how unprepared I was for an animal cruelty story, which inspired her to look up the wikipedia entry for Black Beauty. This is the quote she read me:

The impact of the novel is still very much recognised today. Writing in the¬†Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, Bernard Unti calls¬†Black Beauty¬†“the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time.”

Geez, no one told me.

Anyway, Black Beauty is the story of a horse of the same name born in 19th-century England. The book is written in the style of an autobiography, so Black Beauty is telling his own story. From his perspective, we watch as he is sold to several different owners, witnessing mistreatment of other horses and experiencing it himself along the way. He befriends other horses and we get their back stories too.

While the content was sometimes tough for me to read (especially the part where we learn how horses are trained to wear bits and harnesses – Jesus, why do we do this?!), the tone and Black Beauty as a narrator were both fun. He sometimes comments on the things humans do that seem strange to him and, as readers, we’re in on the joke. Anthropomorphism is great for revealing human foibles and giving us a chance to laugh at ourselves as well as reflect on our mistakes and correct them‚ÄĒapparently Sewell’s main objective.

Black Beauty takes us through all his owners and describes the work he does as well as the conditions under which he works. He has a few kind owners and a few awful owners. But there is a happy ending. The moral of the story is that horses need kind treatment and a certain amount of freedom, just like humans.

Also, we should stand up for what’s right:

Our friend stood still for a moment, and throwing his head a little back, “Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?” “No,” said the other. “Then I’ll tell you. It is because people think only about their own business, and won’t trouble¬†themselves to stand up for the oppressed, nor bring the wrongdoer to light. I never see a wicked thing like this without doing what I can, and many a master has thanked me for letting him know how his horses have been used.”

Once I accepted that this was going to be a tough read, I got into the story. But I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Side note: I’m counting this one in the children’s classic category for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge.

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