A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Tag: books

Quote of the Day: Barbara W. Tuchman

Tuchman-Barbara“Books are the carriers of civilization.  Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.  They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time.  They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”  Barbara W. Tuchman, 1912–1989

Happiness is

The Public Library: A Sanctuary since ca. 1974

Library_ShelvesI just read Five Times A Library Changed Me by Rachael Berkey about the mental, emotional, and spiritual growth libraries provide her.  I silently chuckled reading about the pride she had in getting her first library card, riding her bicycle to the library and attempting to bring home a shelf-load of books, the competitiveness of school reading challenges, and the complexities of navigating her college library mostly because I have many parallels in my own life.  It was a bit uncanny.  We love, crave even, the company of books and we live with the idea that the library is a home away from home.

I was inspired to write of my most potent memories and reflect on how a library was an important entity in my formative years.  Thanks Rachael for the idea:  imitation is, afterall, the sincerest form of flattery.

First Memory of a Public Librarylibrary-pockets

My first memory of a library is of my mother taking me on a very wet and dreary day, it was after a swim lesson, my belly full of pizza and myself physically exhausted [and probably cranky].  The building was diminutive, the exact size to inspire interest without being overwhelming to a 5 year old. It was divided into two wings, one side held the Juvenile books and the other the Adult books and in the middle overseeing all was the Librarian’s desk with all her pretty cards and stamps.  What a haven of serenity.  I received my first library card here.  What source of power, this simple manila heavy card stock, possessed.  I was left to roam the shelves and pick the books I wanted to check out.  I remember the smell of the books, a scent recollection so stimulating that the remembrance of it brings back floods of happy thoughts.

There were so many books!!  How was I to choose?  I couldn’t and boy, was my mother shocked by the small tower of books I had decided upon.  She didn’t flinch however as she guided me to the Librarian to have them checked out.  Thanks Mom for understanding the stirrings of what would become my lifelong affair with the written word and even encouraging it.

I Can and Will Read More Than Youreading medals

Yes, that sounds obnoxious but blame the philosophy of a late 70s and early 80s educational system.  It has established in me that reading for mere enjoyment and interest alone is not enough; that it can, and is, a competitive sport.  That practice, begun in grammar school, continues with Goodreads and their annual reading challenge.  I am currently at 29% of my 2013 reading goal having finished 26 books of the 90 I intend to read.  Cool right?

I remember my first official reading challenge.  The local library called it The Reading Olympics and depending on how many books you read you could earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal.  It won’t take too much stretch of the imagination to know what medal I not so secretly coveted.  I remember taking home the log sheet in which we were to write the books we had completed with the start and end dates.  The mostly self-inflicted pressure was intense but like any well-trained athlete I was sure that I had what it takes to win gold.  I paced myself, slow and steady will win the race, gradually picking up the pace until I had filled out that sheet.  I was so proud when I handed in my sheet knowing I had won gold exceeding the 25 book minimum.  A few weeks later I received that medal and reveled in all its shiny plastic dazzle.  [cue Olympics Theme music now]

Mom’s Library at Collegepaper-chase-lecture

When I was about 7 or 8 years old my mother began her collegiate academic career.  This was awesome for many reasons but mainly because on days when we had to accompany her Mom would leave us at the campus library with the strict orders that we were to behave.  We always did.  Nothing was cooler and it was from this moment that I knew I wanted to go to college too.  When you are in 5th grade and a veracious reader there is nothing like it.  I roamed the stacks for hours never getting bored pretending that I was a college student like those in the television show The Paper Chase.

I once had to do research for a class project.  We were studying medieval Europe and I decided I wanted to do my presentation on heraldry.  I looked up books in the card catalogue, pulled the necessary books from the shelf, and spent every dime I had photocopying a small forest worth of pertinent literature.  Mom even checked out books for me.  I don’t remember what grade I received but I sure do remember having lots of fun doing the research.

Libraries are wonderful places, temples of wisdom and bastions of human intellect.  I love to go to my local library and look at the books and I always inadvertently walk out with an armful of books to add the myriad others I have not read.  Oh well, it only helps me with my Reading Challenge goal!

It’s National Libraries Week (April 14-20) so get out there, get your library card, and start reading!!

Beach Reading 2012

When the temperature begins to rise the last book I want to read is a serious tome.  With the onset of the care-free days of summer my brain does not want to be taxed.   I want a good story, something I can bring to the beach and enjoy with the ocean breezes and nap if I am so inclined.  In other words, I don’t want a committment, I want a summer romance.  For example the ubiquitous Fifty Shades of Grey is included on this summer’s list.  This doesn’t mean I will only read poorly written crap.   In fact, I have some classics on my list but what all these books have in common is a good story where I do not need to analyze plotlines, hidden agendas, characterization, etc.  Some may be well-written and book club worthy others are included just for the pure joy of reading a story even if poorly written.  So here’s the Beach List for 2012:

1.Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson  (so much fun, pure joy)

2.Miss Timmin’s School for Girls by Nayan Currimbhoy (could not put it down, a good mystery)

3. Summer by Edith Wharton  (the title says it all)

4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (again, seems summer-appropriate)

5. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (mostly to see what all the hoopla is about)

6. The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (a good story and wonderfully written)

7. A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin (because I need to finish the 4th book before I can borrow mys sister’s 5th book)

8. A Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After by Elizabeth Kantor (because you can always use a little Jane Austen)

Lost in Austen

I have recently picked up a book that I can’t seem to embrace.  Not because of the subject matter, March, an historical fiction by Geraldine Brooks, would normally be something I would be all over.  It is the story of the absent father, Mr. March, of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and documents his experiences during the Civil War while his “little women” tend to the home fires.  I will go back to it certainly but right now I have many on-going  literary projects focusing on Jane Austen and I find myself preoccupied by her and repeatedly drawn into her world.

This month my book club, The Petty Rebuttals, are reading Pride and Prejudice.  It is my turn in the line-up, and since we collectively decided to read classics this cycle, I chose to introduce the group to Jane Austen.  We are a mixed bag,  evenly divided of those who have read P&P and those who have never had the pleasure.  I am excited to give my insight to the group and share my love and enthusiasm for this novel (and of Jane) and only hope that I don’t overwhelm the group with my zeal.  P&P is universally acknowledged (yes, that was intended) to be one of Austen’s best novels and I am currently trying to decide what of the novel I want to focus upon.   Do I focus on character, storyline, class?  My latest re-reading I specifically examined the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy, their imperfections and their strengths.  I am intrigued how they evolve through the story and am struck by their capacity for self-awareness.  Both come to terms with their pride and prejudice and become mindful of helping one another to overcome their shortcomings and give prominence to their assets.  In other words, form a true partnership of  like mind and heart.  I think I will allow the group to take initiative though, regardless of where the discussion leads it, no doubt, will be stimulating.

I am also preparing to lead a discussion next month for the Jane Austen Reading Society.  I am thrilled to be presenting Catharine, or the Bower.  A work of Jane Austen’s Volume, The Third of her Juvenilia.  A charming piece, written in 1792 when she was only 16 years old.  It is an unfinished story,  predominately for the gratification of her family but has enticing elements present in her more mature works.  The diversity in characterization and domestic realism is already evident in this short piece; it exhibits her wit and seemingly light and playful prose but also emerging is her perceptive understanding of class, gender, social decorum, and wealth.  It is an important piece still raw in its youthful vivacity but intimates a more developed novelistic approach as she attempts to move away from her earlier mocking works.  Catharine highlights the potential of the young Jane Austen’s scrutinizing eye and sardonic humor that fans know and love and appreciate.

A lamentable picture of an insipid Victorian-friendly Jane Austen. She's wearing a wedding band for crying out loud!!!!

In anticipation of all of this, or perhaps in consequence of, I have undertaken a biography I have not read before.  My favorite has always been that by Claire Tomalin but I decided to give David Nokes’s biography, Jane Austen:  A Life, a go.  Both biographers diverge from the generally accepted portrayal of Jane Austen as the staid and dour spinster, happy and accepting in her quiet life of little event.  This myth of Jane Austen was perpetuated by her family soon after her death, in fact, her tombstone at Winchester Cathedral doesn’t even mention that she was an author and became more pronounced as Georgian England became Victorian England.  In the Victorian era, a woman’s place was the domestic sphere; home life and motherhood were considered all that was necessary for a woman’s emotional fulfillment.  Reading the little that is left of Jane Austen’s letters, her Juvenilia, and her novels it is clear that Austen was not willing to place her well-being in a virtuous ideal of femininity.  She was feisty, opinionated, mirthful, and cutting.  She wasn’t one to not cut to the chase and often described things the way they were, albeit with a derisive wit.  Comments to her sister in letters emphasize her dry humor: 

 “I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged it will not be till we are too old to care about it.” [upon the birth of a nephew]

“Here I am once more in this scene of dissipation and vice, and I begin already to find my morals corrupted.”  [upon arrival in London]

“How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!”  [commenting on the Peninsular War]

“You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert’s servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not.”

I love the “rebellious, satirical, and wild” Austen!  This Jane and I could be great friends unlike the virtuous, devoted, and retiring maiden Aunt popularly portrayed for nearly 200 years.

Quote of the Day: E.M. Forster

E. M. Forster, ca. 1947.

Image by Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution via Flickr

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.”  ~E.M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy, 1951

The Best of Read Alouds

Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear from Uncle Remus, His...

Image via Wikipedia

The days are getting shorter and there is a hint of crispness in the air.  Soon, too soon, the languid days of summer will be over and autumn will be here.  Naturally, my mind has begun to turn towards preparing my son for his inevitable return to school.  Its been a flurry of clothes and supplies shopping, arranging for after-school, and the return to routine.  Once again, I will begin to mandate a time for reading, both alone and together.  Ever since he was a baby he’s been read to and although my son will be entering the 5th grade this year we will choose and put aside books especially to be read aloud.

Presumably one would think he’s too old to be read to, that it’s too babyish.  I disagree.  An article at the website Education World (Reading Aloud: Are Students Ever Too Old?) corroborates my belief.  Not only does reading aloud to your child promote reading literacy but it’s also great bonding time.  Some of my greatest childhood memories were of my father reading to my sister and I.  My Dad was a master of reading with character voices, he had the wonderful talent of becoming a persona; I remember with great fondness his reading, in the vernacular, the adventures of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and his interpretation of Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi made real for me the epic life and death battle of the stalwart little mongoose with the evil snake Nagaina.  The latter so fondly remembered that a few years ago while reading aloud with family I coerced my Dad to read, once again, one of my favorite stories.  And for a moment, at the age of 40, I was able to relive a wonderful childhood memory.  I don’t think he truly understood what a wonderful gift he gave me that summer evening.  (Dad:  If you’re reading this now, Thanks).

I too, want to give this gift to my son.  I try very hard to do voices; my pirate voice is pretty good (but I recommend having a glass of water on hand) and some of my very favorite characters to read have been those of Roald Dahl.   It feels so good to become the deliciously bratty Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the sinister Grand High Witch from The Witches.  I suppose I must be doing something right because my tween still looks forward to laying in bed listening to Mom’s interpretation of stories, bad accents and all.  At least, I haven’t yet had any complaints!

A Brief List of past, present and future read-alouds

  • Rudyard Kipling, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi
  • Roald Dahl, The Witches
  • Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Roald Dahl, The BFG
  • Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Edward Eager, Half Magic
  • E.B. White, Stuart Little
  • Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia
  • Walter D. Edmonds, The Matchlock Gun
  • Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  • C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond

"Give me but a little cheerful company, let me only have the company of the people I love, let me only be where I like and with whom I like, and the devil may take the rest, say I."

Jane Austen’s Will

If I could have tea with any one author, dead or alive, I would choose unhesitatingly, Jane Austen. Despite the countless books and articles, blogs, societies, websites, and fan pages dedicated to her, she remains an enigma. Oh, her books are studies in perfection, glimpses of her wit are revealed in her letters, and their are only two confirmed images of her (one only of her back) but do we really know who she was? I think everyone has an idea of who Jane Austen was but much of our perception of her is through the white-wash job presented by her Victorian relations. An insipid view, in my opinion, and far from the truth.

Her books, letters, Juvenilia, and unfinished manuscripts show a woman not demure and quiet but funny, engaging, intelligent, and, on occasion, peevish. I don’t doubt that Miss Austen would be a refreshing teatime companion and I would only hope to hold my own and not invite her jocular ridicule in a later letter to her sister, Cassandra.

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A Whole New Life

American journalist and writer Christopher Mor...

Image via Wikipedia

“Lord! when you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.  Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.”  Christopher Morley, 1890–1957

Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman

Jane Austen, Watercolour and pencil portrait b...

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Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman is not strictly a biography or a scholarly analysis of the various books but a straightforward and satisfying romp through all things Jane. It begins within her lifetime with the publication of her books and the modest success she achieved. It looks at the years immediately after her death, the family assuming she would be all but forgotten. She was neglected for about 20 years and then a rediscovery of her books and a biography encouraged a longing for more and more.

Her fame is now, nearly 200 years later, a phenomenon; re-prints in the millions, translations into every conceivable language, and biographies to satisfy the craving for all things Austen. And now with the instant access of the internet Jane Austen has become a cultural wonder. Claire Harman reveals that Jane Austen still offers something to everyone. I recommend this book wholeheartedly and without reservation to anyone who answers to the description of Jane-ite!

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