The Deerslayer

Did you know that The Last of the Mohicans is actually a series? We see series all the time now, but we don’t think about them much back in the 1800s. Maybe they happened more than I realize. I’ve seen books with multiple volumes and one title, but this is the first I’ve seen in an actual series like this.

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James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Leatherstocking Tales about an adventurer called Natty Bumppo–a white man who was raised among the Delaware Indians in the what is now New York. Even though he was raised among the Native Americans, he loathes the idea of harming his own kind. He hunts (giving him the nickname of Deerslayer), but he does not like the idea of war. He crosses paths with two white men, Hurry Harry and Floating Tom who have taken up scalping for trade, and try to convince him to do it with them. He tries to convince them to stop, but they don’t listen and are trapped by the dangerous Huron tribe.

This book…I just…have really mixed feelings.

I liked Bumppo’s character. He’s a good man, and he just wants to be left alone in the woods. Also, he’s asexual. He has a chance to marry the beautiful girl, and he says, “Meh…no thanks, I think I’ll go back and head off back in the trees, but thanks. Let’s just be friends, k?” He joins the fight because he has to get the idiots out of danger, but I got the idea that it was really really complicated and was just messing things up for him. Towards the end, Judith asks him if he wanted to fight and he tells her that while he can now claim the title of Warrior, he hates it and fights only out of necessity.

Also, the descriptions of the land are beautiful. This is written by someone who has spent a great deal of time in upstate New York. My Coursera professor added this to our historical fiction syllabus–which is why I am reading it now–and he showed us a picture of the lake Cooper references. The details are perfect, down to the exact spherical boulder on the shoreline.

However, I struggled a great deal with the racial context. I think sometimes it is hard for me to remove myself culturally from what I know now about the struggles/pain white men have caused in this country. I’m not even sure if that sentence made any sense. But even though I know in my head that Cooper was using the terminology that his characters would have called “injins” and “red men,” it still just makes me cringe. Bumppo and Hurry Harry have a pretty heated debate about the differences between white men and red men–Bumppo is trying to convince Harry that all men are equal, even if culture and tradition is different–and it just gets really ugly. It hurts my heart to know that I could pick that conversation up, take out “red” put in “black” and drop that conversation pretty much anywhere in the US right now, and it would still fit exactly.

I don’t talk about that subject much, mostly because I don’t know what to say, and what I mean will never come out right. But that part of the book really got to me, and I couldn’t leave it out.

There isn’t much else–the book is a little hard to follow at times. It is pretty chaotic. People have multiple names and there isn’t a whole lot of setting buildup. This is one that I read Wiki before I reviewed to make sure I understood what I read. I’m not ashamed to admit it, people!

This isn’t really a book I’d recommend, unless you really like old adventure stories. But, I know I’m going to have to read The Last of the Mohicans at some point for the Boxall 1001, so I stuck it out.

Seriously though, I am going to make someone else write my TBR for September. Why did I do this to myself? WAR WAR WAR DEPRESSED WARWARWAR DARK WAR

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Cyropaedia

Have you guys checked out Coursera yet? If not, you definitely should. It’s a website solely devoted to providing quality online college courses from real professors from real colleges for free (you can pay for certificates if you want/need them). I’m on my second class now–a class about historical fiction called “Plagues, Witches, and War.” Sounds super interesting, right?

Because it’s a class on fiction, there’s a pretty substantial reading list, and the class is “Go At Your Own Pace.” Now, the professor told us we don’t have to read everything on the syllabus but…come on, you guys know me well enough to know I’m sure as hell gonna try. Or at least the ones I can get for free on Kindle and Google Books.

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First on the list is Cyropaedia, an ancient book written by a student of Socrates. Composed around 370 BC, it is supposedly the first historical fiction novel–a political romance.

The eight books follow Cyrus the Great of Persia from his early beginnings as a rambunctious teenager until he is old and dying. During his lifetime he builds a magnificent empire in what today is the Middle East. He did this not just by conquering nations, but by also gaining the love and trust of his people and soldiers, and thus made many allies.


Image credit:  http://syria.ewas.us/

I never quite understood the “romance” part of the book, though I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. However, this book is very much a war epic. I kept wondering if this was required reading at West Point or during any Officer’s Training, because if not, it should be. The military strategy discussed is probably ancient and outdated for use with our technology now, but the motivational speeches made by Cyrus and his generals are some of the most epic I’ve ever read. I did run out of steam towards the middle because of the battle descriptions, as I tend to do with this sort of thing, but otherwise, the characters are absolutely captivating.

Xenophon is not an author we hear about much (ok, at all) in the literary world today, at least for those of us average folk. Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Homer, sure. Xenophon is never mentioned. But this book was excellent, for what it was. Perhaps not to my usual tastes, but it was captivating from beginning to end.

 

Buy it here!

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

The Good Earth

Today we are shooting across the globe to China and reading about yet another culture I haven’t spent much time in. I’m so glad to be opening my world up beyond the normal White America that is so prevalent in publishing.

I’m thinking about doing an Around the World challenge–reading a book from every country. Does anyone know of any “Map My Books” apps or websites? I have what I want in my head but I’m not sure if they are out there. I’d really like a way to track the books I’ve read from outside of the US in certain places, and maybe look up books in countries I’ve not read yet. Not sure if anything like that exists.

Just brainstorming. May be a challenge I’ll put together for 2016–and that’s still a ways away. Hmmmmm…..

Aaaaannnyyyywayyyyy….Back to China.

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The Good Earth takes place in the late 1800s-mid 1900s in mostly northern China. Wang Lung starts his adult life as a poverty-stricken farmer living with his old, grumpy father. He wants a wife, so he skimps a few coins to buy an ugly (but not pock-marked) slave from a rich family in town. She becomes his life-long friend and companion, not only giving him many children, but because of her help in the fields, they are able to grow the farm to success–with a few struggles along the way, of course.

I loved the first half of this book. It’s almost a Fiddler on the Roof kind of love story (OK, so I MAY have watched that episode of Gilmore Girls last night where Kirk is in an elementary play.). They don’t start by loving each other, but they work next to each other in the fields, hardly talking, gaining mutual respect, and it’s a marriage. It’s a hard life, but a seemingly happy one. O-lan supports his constant yearning for landownership and never pushes him towards material things. It’s a simple life that they both want.

But, something breaks in Wang Lung after the first famine, when they have to go south, I think. After they get back, he immediately starts gaining new land and capital, and is never the same. When he realizes how rich he is, and above the Old Lord, his ego overcomes him and his life just goes downhill from there. The more “successful” he is, the less fulfilled he becomes.

I did have to remind myself a few times that this is a different culture, and so things like concubines and sons getting education over working in the fields were normal. But I was so frustrated for O-lan. And I did not always understand the dynamic between Wang Lung and his uncle.

Really, I think my main takeaway is just that you don’t always need to be rich in order to have a full life. Oh, and Chinese farm wives are badass. That too. O-lan, you’re pretty much my hero right now. “Just bring me a sharp reed, and stay out.”

Ok, O-lan, whatever you say, O-lan.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #18:  A Pulitzer Prize-winning book

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