A Room with a View

After a view distractions from my scheduled TBR, I am back on track. There’s nothing wrong with going off pace, especially for books people are talking about or movies I’m going to see. But, I always feel better when I go back to my list.

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EM Forster was up next with A Room with a View. This is a dramatic Edwardian romance with a love triangle–and a feminist heroine–something I wasn’t expecting for this style of book!

Lucy and her older cousin Charlotte visit Italy and meet George and his father. George becomes enamored with Lucy, but she finds him too immature. When they move onto Rome, she meets another man, Cecil, who is more sophisticated, and they get engaged.

However, the romance with George continues, and eventually she cannot ignore that she loves him more than Cecil. Cecil does not treasure her independence and sees her as more of a trophy to be won.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I wasn’t in love with it–I was easily distracted from the writing, and I didn’t get sucked in as much as I do some books from this period. However, I really like the plot and I did write down several quotes from the book. It’s a good concept, I’m just not not quite sure. May have to give it another go at some point.

 

Fulfills Boxall’s #93

Les Miserables

One Thousand Four Hundred and Sixty-Three.

That’s how many pages are in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

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I started this beast on Sunday. It has been a long time since I have conquered a book like this and it was almost as big a battle as the battle Hugo as writing about.

Ok…maybe not that big. But at times it felt like it. Like when we get through the biggest fight scene in the book–the big drama throw down at the barricade–and then we get a dissertation on Paris’ sewers.

No one kills a climax like Victor Hugo. WOMP.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. It’s impossible to read something this massive without having super strong feelings about it. This book is powerful, no way around it. And because I saw the movie musical first, it’s really hard to separate the two in my head. The entire time I was reading it, I was singing the songs. The main characters were their cast, of course. And I was pleased to find out how well the play actually did follow the main plot of the book…

…when we actually got to see the actual main plot of the book.

Here’s the thing about Hugo (or at least Les Mis, as this is my first Hugo):  he is the KING of context. For every 2 books/volumes of plot, there is at least one of scene setting or character building. For instance, before we even get to the storyline, we have to know every single itty bitty detail about the household of the bishop who redeems Jean ValJean. He’s an important character, sure, but a minor one. One we see him, he’s gone from the story. So why do we need to know Old Testament-level detail about his life? And we get that for nearly every single person who is introduced into the book.

You would think this would be a helpful feature in remembering who everyone is. But it’s actually just the opposite. All of the overcharacterization actually made it harder to keep track of the people in my head. It was just too much information. I didn’t realize until the end that Gavroche was the little boy until he took the note from Marius to Jean ValJean during the battle, or that Enjolras was the leader of the rebels. I actually had those two people backwards. Of course, I knew the main people–Jean ValJean, Javert, Cosette, and Marius–because, helloooo, I will never ever forget an Eddie Redmayne character, ever. But the rest is curtained by Hugo’s overwriting.

On the flipside, some of the extra stuff, even if it gets in the way of the story is interesting. Les Mis is as much philosophy as it is fiction. (Great historical fiction–but fiction nonetheless.) Sewer rant aside, there is quite a bit to be gained from diving into Hugo’s studies, even if it does sound like he’s standing on a soap box preaching at the top of his lungs. I also felt like I got much of the French history that I was missing. I want to go back and read parts of it from yesterday because I was not in the mindset to absorb it all and there was so much there that I have been wanting to learn about.

Les Miserables is a hell of a beast, but extremely worthy of my time and effort. I would suggest that if you’re going to try it, clear the other projects off your list.  This isn’t a book that you are going to be able share your reading schedule with, as I learned the hard way. Hugo requires too much focus for that. It’ll go in my reread pile…but not for quite some time.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #47:  A play

Fulfills Boxall #92

The Heart of the Matter

Some reviews just seem to write themselves. Those are the fun one, both for me to write, and hopefully for you to read.

And then there are reviews like this one, where I just stare at the blinking cursor for what seems like hours. Sigh…

This happens when I neither liked nor disliked the book. Strong feelings make for great reviews. But mediocre books make for mediocre reviews–what in the world do I say about books I have no emotion for?

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The Heart of the Matter is one such book. It was next up on the Boxall’s list, so it hit my TBR this weekend. And really, it wasn’t awful. I just don’t have any real emotion about it.

It’s about a police officer, Scobie, in a small West African town, torn apart by war. His wife is ashamed when he is passed over for a commission, so she whines until he sends her to South Africa–with money borrowed from a skeezy diamond mogul. While she’s gone he has an affair with a shipwrecked widow.

It’s very 1950 dramatic. Which is to say…bland for today’s audience. The officers are all white men who have “boys” as servants, and drink pink gin and scotch. Again, it’s just one of those “literatures” that has probably been on a must read list for decades and it’s just not really relevant anymore. *meh*

 

Fulfills Boxall #91

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Brace yourselves. A hate review is coming.

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I’m not kidding. I hated Tess of the d’Urbervilles. But it’s the kind of hate that makes me want to finish the book just so I can continue to loathe everything the characters do just that much longer.

This is no superficial hate either. Gah, I can hardly write this summary with out getting angry:

Tess is a beautiful young girl in a rural English family, but due to their financial situation she must visit their rich kin for help. While there, she meets a predator of a cousin who becomes obsessed with her. Long story short, he rapes her while taking her home. She gets pregnant, the baby gets sick, dies. This woman cannot catch a break at all, so she leaves town and gets a job as a milk maid, falls in love and gets married. Happy ending right? You’d think that. WRONG. When the husband finds out about her past (because while she had tried over and over to tell him, he refused to her about her “faults” until after the wedding) he runs away to Brazil because he is so disgusted.

I. WANT. TO. SLAP. EVERYONE. IN. THIS. DAMN. BOOK.

Except maybe Tess. There are times when I’d get frustrated with her for not standing up for herself, but who knows how I would handle her situation?

Look up SKEEZY in the dictionary and Tess of the d’Urbervilles is the definition. Seriously. Alec d’Urberville gets to just go his merry little way and become a priest and be absolved. He even comes back later in the book and resumes torturing Tess AND blames her for his evil perversions because she’s so goddamn gorgeous he can’t help himself. BOOFUCKINGHOO. He tells her to put her veil back on because her lips are too red, her something like that. He stalks her at work, begs her to go away with him even though she’s already married, and he’s a pastor! Meanwhile, her employer encourages her to run away with this creepy bastard, and her friends, who know she’s already married look on.

Look up VICTIM BLAMING in the dictionary, and Tess of d’Urbervilles is there too. Her mother is the biggest culprit. She all but shames Tess out of town. Telling her to keep quiet about what happened, because she got herself into this mess. Meanwhile, Tess is flabbergasted as to why no one ever told her that men could be that way, that she had to watch out for evil bastards like Alec. The guilt follows her all her life, so much so that when she meets her husband, she constantly feels the need to tell him about her past, but knows as soon as she does the relationship will be over. Right up until the wedding she tries to tell him, and then he starts telling her “No, I want to hear nothing until after we are married that will ruin my ideal of the beautiful you.” And then, when she finally does, what does he do but FREAK THE HELL OUT. Of course he does. He freaks the hell out all the way to Brazil, even so much as to invite one of her best friends to go with him. See also, above, where predator Alec blames her for her own rape. Just, GROSS.

The other thing that really bothered me is that the book doesn’t even TELL us what happened to her, or the conversation with her husband. It’s censored. It skipped from Alec coming up on her asleep in the woods to Tess having a sick baby. The only clue was the chapter titles, one about her being a maiden, and the next was “Maiden No More.” I had to wiki it just to find out if I was right! And we don’t actually know what she told Angel Clare (husband) so Tess could have completely blamed herself (it would have been in her character’s guilty conscience profile to do so), but since we have no context…who knows?

And then the ending. Well. Of course I hated it. It’s not that I thought it should have ended happily (although it kind of does in a twisted way) but it was just exactly the wrong kind of ending.

OH! One last thing. Alec KNOWS Angel’s father! Mr. Clare is an extremely religious man. The entire damn time Alec is ranting about how he converted to priesthood, he’s talking about Mr. Clare and how he brought him to God and made him see the errors of his ways. I’m over here jumping and waving like heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey! At some point, the connection has to be made, right? Alec is going to talk to his friend Mr. Clare about Tess, and he’s going to realize this gigantic rapist he helped save is the one who ruined his daughter-in-law, right? And he’ll tell his son? NOPE. What a waste of a Kevin Bacon 7 degrees connection. What was the point of it? If you’re going to throw in something like that, USE IT.

SIGHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Ok. Rant over. I think I’ve exhausted everything I can from this book. That was fun though. What’s next?

 

Fulfills Boxall’s #90

Treasure Island

You can’t really grow up in America without hearing pirate stories. Even if you aren’t a fan of adventure stories, the trope is everywhere in our culture.

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The most famous of these stories is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. This used to be the book young boys would sneak under their covers and read by flashlight, but now it is mandatory reading by schools–which takes away some of the pleasure. Not to mention the language is somewhat old fashioned and confusing to us now.

Still, read or not, the characters in these pages are everywhere–Long John Silver and his parrot are not just fictional mutineers, they are also a fishy fast food mascot. I also knew a few others, like Ben Gunn and Tom Morgan, even though I hadn’t known where they came from. Disney had a theme park “Discovery Island” based on the story, though it is shut down now. And there’s just a bunch of adaptations and other cultural references from Stevenson’s story.

To be honest, I really wasn’t that into the book itself. I really just skimmed it to get the jist. The seafaring dialect was difficult to read unless you really go slow, and I mostly had the story in my head anyway. I mostly just wanted to get through it to check it off my list and get all the cultural reference goodies. I like to connect the dots on this sort of thing to all the moments in my life that have related back to old books like this. And there were several. I’ll probably come across other scenes in other movies now that I’ll go “Ooooooh that’s the thing from the thing!” You know how that works.

Fulfills Boxall #89

Agnes Grey

Most book lovers have heard of the Bronte sisters. And it’s pretty hard to be a romance loving biblophile without reading at least Jane Eyre OR Wuthering Heights…if not both. Charlotte and Emily are famous names in reading culture. Their tropes are everywhere, from the dark and brooding Heathcliffe-like teen boys in YA EVERYTHING, to the plain Janes of this world who go unnoticed but have so much to offer.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that there was a third Bronte sister, Anne. I’ll admit, she’s missing from my shelf too, as I look up at my two beautiful Barnes and Noble Leatherbound copies of the two books above.

But this weekend, I sat down with Agnes Grey, and I fell just as much in love with Anne Bronte as I did with the more recognizable sisters, and I wonder why she is not just as famous.

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At it’s base, Agnes Grey the basic 1800s story of a young girl from a family on the outskirts of society, who decides to become a governess, and falls in love with one of the men she meets along the way. Pretty typical baseline for that period.

However, there are some things I want to point out that interested in the characters and the story:

1. Mrs. Grey could have been rich. She came from a wealthy family, but fell in love with a poor man, and even though her father disowned her, she married him anyway.

2. Agnes was the youngest child, and doted on. When her family needed money, she decided she was going to become a governess to help earn it, even though her mother and sister told her they would handle the situation and she should stay home and be idle. She was determined to help.

3. I’m not sure if they had a diagnosis for “sociopath” in the 1800s, but the first children certainly showed signs of it. The older boy, Tom, liked to trap sparrows and pull their heads and wings off for sport, because “he was not a bird and so he couldn’t feel what they felt”. His father even encouraged this behavior. His sister was much the same way. It was very alarming. I was very glad that the book was not staged around that house for long.

4. I loved Mr. Weston. He was just so sweet and friendly, really quite adorable in how he just wanted to spend time talking with her, without being a bumbling fool like some guys can be in these novels.

 

I could go on, but it’s just a sweet, simple novel. Nothing overly complicated or twisted or dark. I was expecting something a little more gothic, because of her sisters’ writing styles, but this is really nothing like that. The romance is almost set up more like a Jane Austen novel, but with much less drama. It made for a very nice Sunday afternoon.

 

Fulfills Boxall  #88

 

 

North and South

I recently read a Tumblr thread about how important it was to understand the historical context of the books we read. It was a debate over whether we should take Lord of the Flies at face value and ONLY read it in the context it was written in (which I didn’t really understand), or use that historical context to interpret it in our own time period and cultural situation now–which is what teachers and students and readers have been doing in every single class since the book was published.

My opinion is that historical context is extremely important. A book is going to make so much more sense if you know a little bit about the period and culture that you are reading in (hence my frustration with early French lit…we’ve discussed this…I’m working on it). Even fantasy books like Game of Thrones just blow up when you understand that it was based on the War of the Roses, and the Dothraki are essentially Mongolians.

However, every single person who reads a book is never going to read THE SAME book. Because none of us is the same person. We all interpret things differently based on our life experiences, and that effects our reading. So do the current events happening around us. So yeah, historical context is extremely important, but hardly ever can we take fiction at face value. There’s way too much to be learned and gained from it.

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The reason all this comes to mind is when I started North and South at the end of this week, Twitter was blowing up with the news of Rachel Dolezal–a woman who pretended to be black and became the President of the Spokane NAACP. So as I’m reading a book on Industrialism in England and unions and strikes and two classes ripping each other apart…I’m watching the social media sphere do the same thing, over race.

This quote, in particular, stuck out at me:

“I don’t know–I suppose because, on the very face of it, I see two classes dependent on each other in every possible way, yet each evidently regarding the interests of the other as opposed to their own; I never lived in a place before where there were two sets of people always running each other down.”

 

I am not writing this to make any commentary on Friday’s situation. For me, I very much want to see there be a resolution to all this strife that is going on, I just don’t know how or what or when. That isn’t my purpose here, though.

 

Sometimes, I read a book, at the exact right time. When I started North and South, I was completely underwhelmed. It was very slow to get started, and I really didn’t understand what was going on. Then, I got to Margaret’s very impassioned speech, which includes the quote above, and it all just clicked. I even went back and reread some of it because once I got it…I got it. And putting a book written in a different time, with a different historical context (industrial unions vs rich factory owners), in a current setting (the very real racial tensions that have been escalating), made it so much more clear.

This is a very strong book. There is a bit of a romance element, but it is literally the last important thing. I’m not going to say I enjoyed it, but I definitely learned from it. And sometimes, that’s the goal.

(Oh, and Mr. Bell? I’m not the only person who thinks he’s gay, right? He almost seemed more a character from Oscar Wilde.)

 

Fulfills Boxall #87

Joseph Andrews

You know…there are just some reviews that I do not know how to write. I just sit here with my mouth open a little flabbergasted.

But, since I can’t move on to the next book until I review (kind of a cathartic/cleansing process), it must be done!

*wetdogshudder*

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When I think of England 1742, I do not think of comedy. I think of pomp and red coats and powdered wigs and tea. Very high brow, pinky in the air type stuff.

But, I suppose, every generation has their own form of entertainment…and Henry Fielding was apparently it. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to well to “funny” in 2015. Socially on point, maybe. Funny, no.

I only got through Volume 1, but the book is basically about a footman who has committed to abstinence until marriage. What? Yep, apparently he took the same health class we did. However, all these slutty women (I’m using this term because it is how the book refers to them, not because I want to slut-shame.) keep throwing themselves at him. Something about his chastity makes them absolutely crazy.

At one point, a woman all but forces him to have sex with her because she absolutely does not believe he is a virgin. He is a man, and poor, so obviously he is promiscuous, right?

“I can’t see why her having no virtue should be a reason against my having any; or why, because I am a man, or because I am poor, my virtue must be subservient to her pleasures.”

The woman goes on to say, “I am out of patience.” And then continues to bully him into giving it up because she is SO superior to him. She strips him of his wages and position in her rage.

There are other similar instances, and all of them are supposed to be, as Fielding calls it, “burlesque,” or slapstick. They are meant to be comedic, and not serious. However, in today’s culture, I think it’s a great example of how sexual pressure can go either way. I realize it is fiction, but to have this example from 1742…it just stuck out at me as something to keep in mind.

One really obnoxious thing about this book are the characters’ names. Some are normal:  Joseph, Fanny, Pamela. But you know a character is going in the story for dramatic or comedic effect based on their name. People like Lady Booby, Madame Slipslop, and Constable Suckbribe. I WISH I were making this up. Constable SUCKBRIBE?! I mean…really. I guess that’s slapstick in 1742. Someone please write an SNL skit for this. Please.

I do feel like he spends more time explaining his book than actually having a book to explain. He gets sidetracked or something, I’m not sure. We’ll be in the middle of a scene, and it’ll be like “Squirrel! Oh, let me explain to you a thing.” And he’ll go on a tangent about the chapter headings. What?

Weirdest book ever. Ok, probably not. But it’s definitely up there. I’m not sure I have the brain cells necessary to try for Vol. 2, so I’m just going to list it and move on down the line.

Constable Suckbribe. Really? REALLY?!

Fulfills PopSugar #15:  A popular author’s first book

Fulfills Boxall #86

The Turn of the Screw/The Aspern Papers

Whoo hoo! I’m finally finished with Henry James! When I read The Iliad as my first “study” book, I thought reading prose would be easier than epic poetry, but I’ll be honest…this really seemed to drag on forever. I know some of you have been wondering about this book sitting in my Currently Reading section of WWW Wednesdays. Trust me, it’s a strugglebus only reading a chapter a day! But, I think I’d exhaust myself trying to read more of these books at a time.

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The Aspern Papers

This story made me really angry at everyone involved. At the narrator for being such a prick and taking advantage of Miss Tina and the old woman. While he is upfront about his intentions and desire for nothing but the Aspern Papers, he still manipulated Miss Tina quite a bit. I hated the old woman for hanging on to these papers with such a fervor, wanting to burn them rather than have anyone else have them. And then there is Miss Tina. Now, I understand how tempting it must have been, being a spinster and having a man come live with her, befriending her, and all that. But come on Miss Tina! You KNEW what he wanted. He TOLD you what he wanted. The entire relationship you were plotting to get those papers away from your aunt. So why in the world did you think he was in love with you, and not those papers? Sigh. Miss Tina made herself ridiculous in the end, and I was so ashamed.

It was well written, I just didn’t like a single character in it. Sometimes that happens. *shrug*

The Turn of the Screw

I’ll be honest–I had to look up the Wiki summary of this one because I was so utterly confused by what the heck was going on. I could tell it was some sort of ghost story–that much I got from the beginning narration. After that, I completely lost my way and I was just ready for it to be OVER…which thanks to the short chapters and my chapter-a-day ration…it took FOREVER. Oh my goodness. Needless to say I did not like it.

The Beast in the Jungle

I quite liked this one, maybe because I can relate to it so much. The main character feels there is going to be something so big in his life that he must put off everything else for waiting. Even when he meets the love of his life–a woman who becomes his best friend and essentially, life partner, he will not marry her, because of this “beast” of an event. And he waits, and he waits. And May, ever patient, waits with him. I’m always waiting for the next big thing to happen, so it struck home to me quite a bit.

The Jolly Corner

My first thought when beginning this one was “Wow, this would make a great name for a bar!” More than that, I don’t have much to say about it. It’s another one of James’ really vague ghost stories.

I think that’s the key thing about James’ writing–and the thing I most dislike. His stories are so vague, probably to seem mysterious, but I never had any idea what was going on. There was never any real definition of what the “mystery” was or what I was supposed to be looking for. Just this whispery hint of discomfort. The protagonist was troubled, but why? I always ended up going to Wikipedia afterwards to see if I understood the story correctly, and more often than not I found out details that I had missed.

So, not a fan of Henry James. Mark another X on the list!

Fulfills Boxall #85

Fulfills PopSugar #25: A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t

The Marble Faun

Have I ever told you guys how much I hate Nathaniel Hawthorne?

I hate Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I don’t know why. I’ve never really been able to figure it out. I’ve tried to read The Scarlet Letter several times and have not once been able to get through the whole thing.

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Because The Marble Faun is on the Boxall’s list (along with a few other Hawthornes), I knew I’d have to get to it eventually…but I wasn’t looking forward to it. So, when it came due on my TBR, I figured I might as well get it out of the way.

It wasn’t AS torturous as I expected it to be…better than TSL, but still not great. Kind of wonky, actually. Very much not what I expected from an author I had previously only known in connection to a Puritan shame novel.

The Marble Faun is essentially a book of painting and sculpture descriptions, mixed in with gothic mystery and darkness. At first there is quite a lot of garden frolicking, that made me think of Fantasia or Midsummer Night’s Dream. But then, it starts to turn quite dark, and though I haven’t seen it, I started to make a connection to Pan’s Labyrinth.

And then, all of the sudden, there Pan was. The faun himself was quite a big part of the story, along with quite a dark, deep mysterious place that read an awful lot like the scenes I’ve seen (ha) from Guillermo de Toro’s vision. Now, I couldn’t find any relationship online between the movie and Hawthorne’s book, but I am certainly going to watch GDT’s film this weekend and see if what I have in my head is as interesting as I picture!

Has anyone read and seen both? I’d be curious if I’m the only one making the connection.

As far as the book goes, it wasn’t bad. The prose is typical Hawthorne, just very long and tedious (maybe that’s why I don’t care for him?) so it was hard to stay focused for long, but the lore was interesting. I certainly want to read more about Pan. Miriam was a little annoying though–very egotistical.

I can now say I’ve successfully completed a Hawthorne book. With one under my belt, maybe I can complete some others without scorning…though probably not.

 

Fulfill’s Boxall #84