Saturday, December 22, 2012

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and . . . becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief.”

     Last year I read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for the Transcendentalist event and quite liked it. This year The House of the Seven Gables is the last of the classics I read for the Classics Challenge.  The House of the Seven Gables is often called a Gothic romance or a Gothic horror. It actually is neither. Although there is a bit of an abrupt love story woven in, calling it a romance is too much of a stretch. Also, any supernatural element to the story is only very dimly suggested, never really played out.

     The story revolves around the seven gabled Pyncheon house, an old, melancholy mansion in New England with a bloody history. The present inhabitants of the house are Hepzibah Pyncheon who is a nervous old maid, her brother Clifford who is emotionally shattered from events in his past, their cousin Phoebe, a delightful young country girl and a mysterious daguerreotypist.  I’m not going to divulge too much of the plot because there really isn't much of a plot anyway.

     Hawthorne’s style of writing is not for everyone. It requires a fair bit of patience for the reader to wade through his long-winded and heavy prose. This verbose style worked pretty well in The Scarlet letter, lending real insight into the mind of the protagonist and even her tormentors. In The House of the Seven Gables though, it wore me out.  This explaining of every nuance and character trait was not only tiring but also slightly patronizing  I always prefer it when author leave us to figure out the characters for ourselves without spelling it all out. All in all, not my favorite classic of the year.

     And that’s it from me for this year. It’s been a hectic year with a lot of changes for our family. The changes were all good and for that I’m thankful, but it has meant that I've had a lot less time for reading and blogging. I’m hoping that 2013 will be more restful and leisurely. To make it easier on myself I've decided not to take part in any challenges or readalongs. I want my reading to be more spontaneous. I hope to take part in The Short Story Initiative as often as I can and perhaps any short term events I fancy that aren't too much pressure. I also hope to go a little easy on the classics next year and read more contemporary fiction. I don’t think I've read anything this year that was written in my lifetimeJ.

I wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. I hope 2013 will bring joy and peace to all. See you next year.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Classics Challenge- December Prompt.

So, here's the last installment of the Classics Challenge Prompts. It's been a great challenge to take part in and despite the crazy year I've had, I've actually managed to stay on track with my reading schedule. More or less. So here's this month's prompt:

Link to your favorite Classic Literature post you've written this year, it doesn't have to be related to this challenge. Just something you'd enjoy sharing.

Or make a list of what you read for the challenge, you could compare it to your original list drawn up late 2011 when you were planning what to read, link to the posts you've written for the challenge, how many authors you've read or any little stat or detail you'd like to share.

Ok, so my favorite classic read this year and my favorite review too is Mrs Dalloway. It stayed with me long after I'd read it and the post that followed, was one of my longer ones. It would have been a lot longer still had I not pruned it drastically. Didn't want to test the patience of my readers.

Here's my list of books read for this challenge. If you click on the names it will lead you to my post about the book.  

  1. Midsummer Nights Dream
  2. A Connecticut Yankee in KingArthurs Court
  3. Daddy Long Legs
  4. Mrs Dalloway
  5. Animal Farm
  6. Of Mice and Men
  7. The House of Seven Gables
I have read all the books I intended to and I've posted on 7 prompts so far. I think. So that makes this a successfully completed challenge for me. And I enjoyed every minute of it too. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Short Story Initiative: Ismat Chugtai

     This month, for the Short Story Initiative, we are focusing on stories from India. As always, the theme isn't mandatory, but what a wonderful opportunity it is to explore a rich and varied literary goldmine. Nancy mentioned that she would like to read some stories by Saadat Hassan Manto. Mel U has covered Manto pretty extensively on his blog (Also the go-to place for a thorough and enlightening primer on the Indian short story). There has been a revival of interest in Manto’s works in the recent years, which is as it should be because Manto has long been an underrated gem. Manto’s stories have the kind of biting humor that stings and tickles at the same time. He wrote a bunch of really short stories (just a couple of lines each) about the partition of India which are brilliant. And this was long before the term Flash Fiction was even coined.

     Look at me going on about Manto when he’s actually not the subject of this post. Today, I want to talk about Manto’s friend and contemporary, Ismat Chugtai. Both Manto and Chugtai were tried for obscenity. Manto for Thanda Gosht( Cold Meat) and Chugtai for Lihaaf (The Quilt). The charges were eventually dropped but not before both writers had been saddled with a reputation of being controversial and shocking. It was even speculated that Ismat was in fact a male writer with a female pseudonym because her writing was too bold and unadorned for a woman. All this might lead you to believe that Chugtai was a rabble-rousing sensationalist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chugtai spoke of the unspeakable but she did it with immense compassion and sensitivity. Her characters were set in a milieu that was her own so she understood their fears, hopes and idiosyncrasies only too well. But even if you are totally unfamiliar with the socio-cultural setting of her stories, they will strike a chord because of the honesty in her voice. To paraphrase a quote I read somewhere, “what is most personal is most universal”. You could buy just about any anthology of her works and read just about any story in it; you won’t be disappointed. However, I’d like to recommend some of my favorite works of Ismat Chugtai.

The Veil (Ghunghat)
     The Veil is about a strange battle of wills between a beautiful new bride and her insecure groom. Custom dictates that the groom must lift the bride’s veil before the marriage can be consummated, but Kale Mian is intimidated by his wife’s beauty and refuses to do so, leading to an impasse that lasts all their lives. The characters may seem caricature-ish at first glance but as the story unfolds, Chugtai makes you feel for not just the abandoned bride, but also the deluded husband.

The Quilt (Lihaaf)
     This is the story Ismat Chugtai was charged with obscenity for. You’d be quite bewildered at this if you read the story because Chugtai handles the sexuality with a very light hand. But the story was written at a time when even the slightest suggestion of homosexuality sparked an outrage. The Quilt is about Begum Jan, a bored and sexually frustrated housewife in a prosperous household who turns to a female servant for companionship and more. The story is narrated from the point of view of a young girl visiting Begum Jan.  The ending of this story is one of the best written ones I've ever read.

The Rock (Chatan)
     Chugtai is best known for The Quilt, but I think The Rock is a much better representation of her style and voice. It is about a man whose pretty young wife gradually loses all interest in her appearance. Her husband and family convince her that fussing over ones looks is shallow and completely unnecessary for a married woman.  Her complacence is shattered when a glamorous young woman moves in next door. Turns out, her husband is actually pretty shallow himself. It doesn't end there but I don’t want to give away the rest.

     Ismat Chugtai has a rich a varied body of work and I've barely scratched the surface here. I could easily recommend another five stories that I love equally as well and perhaps in the future I will. For now, let me urge you to give her stories a try. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

     I was quite sure I wanted to read something by Steinbeck for the Classics Challenge but for the longest time I couldn't decide between Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. I went with Of Mice and Men because I read somewhere (probably Wikipedia) that it is one of the most frequently censored, banned and challenged books of all time. Apparently, it’s been challenged for obscenity, racial slurs and misrepresentation of the community. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about but frankly, I don’t see it. The language is positively mild by today’s standards and it’s plain to see that Steinbeck was not condoning racism.

     Set during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men follows protagonists George and Lennie to a ranch in Soledad, California. George is small and clever; Lennie is strong but has the mind of a child. George is protective and very mindful of Lennie and the relationship between the two friends is really the backbone of this story. The two men share a dream of someday owning a piece of land where they could live and work as they please. When they both find employment at the ranch in Soledad, their dream suddenly, seems very attainable and within reach. However, as the title suggests, the best laid plans of mice and men go awry.

     What struck me the most about the book was the characters. Every single one of them is very distinct and well drawn although the descriptions and back stories are kept to a minimum. There is a thread of loneliness that connects these men (and woman) but nobody including the author harps on it. The setting feels very stark and cheerless, emphasizing this loneliness.

     Having said all of that, I’ll be honest with you; this wasn't my favorite classic of this year. I can see why it is such a classic and there definitely is a lot to this book, but I just couldn't connect with it. Maybe it was the setting, maybe it was the plot, I grew a bit fatigued with it towards the end, which is crazy because it’s such a short book. Don’t let that dissuade you if you were planning to read this because, like I said, there is a lot to like here.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Classics Challenge- November

Last month I read Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck and hopefully I'll get down to doing a review of it soon. That leaves me with just one more book to go before I'm officially done with the challenge. My last classic for 2012 is going to be The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Anyone read it? Nice?

Moving on to this months questions, here they are:
Of all the Classics you've read this year is there an author or movement that has become your new favorite? Which book did you enjoy the most? Or were baffled by? Who's the best character? The most exasperating? From reading other participants' posts which book do you plan to read and are most intrigued by?

My favorite classic of the year, hands down, is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Clarissa Dalloway is my favorite character.  Animal Farm was wonderful too BUT I just felt really strongly about Mrs Dalloway. I can't think of any character that exasperated me but I did feel that the character of Daddy-long-legs was not quite as enigmatic as he should have been. Karen's lovely post about Villette reminded me that this book has been on my to-read list for far too long. I definitely intend to get to it in 2013.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tales of Mystery and Suspense


    This month I read a bunch of mystery stories and I had initially intended to do individual posts about each of them. But then, time got away from me and I was quite surprised to realize today that the month is nearly over. I’d like to get my post in before the Short Story Initiative monthly roundup so I’ve decided to do one post with my pick of the best mystery shorts I read this month. Sadly, when I got down to it, only three of the six stories I read seemed good enough to write about.

The Mystery of the Essex Stairs by Sir Gilbert Campbell
    This one is an old fashioned mystery of the sort that would appear in periodicals. It’s not an Agatha Christie kind of mystery where you have all the facts of the case needed to figure it out yourself. This is one of those mysteries where the detective (in this case a lawyer) pulls the killer out of his hat and presents us with a neatly tied up case and even a rather ridiculous confession. But I found the story very quaint and fun to read. If you enjoy courtroom dramas give this one a go.

The Fenchurch Street Mystery by Baroness Orczy
    I’ve only ever thought of Baroness Orczy as the writer of the Scarlett Pimpernel books, but apparently she has quite a repertoire of mystery and crime stories as well. Judging by this story, she was very good at it too. I will definitely be looking up more of her mysteries. This one is about the murder of a blackmailer by his intended target. The whole case seems very straightforward at first but obviously, it all unravels very soon. The story is very taut and clear with no holes to be found in the plot. Easily my favorite of the lot.

The Dancing Partner by Jerome K Jerome
    This is the kind of dark story that you would expect from someone who regularly dabbles in the macabre like Edgar Allen Poe not from someone who has written a book as funny as Three men in a Boat and Three men on the Bummel. The protanganist of The Dancing Partner is Nicholaus Geibel, a talented toy maker who specialises in clever mechanical toys. One day, listening in to a conversation between his daughter and her friends, Geibel strikes on an idea for a very ambitious toy. Although not strictly a suspense, it is sinister and menacing.

All three stories (and many more besides) can be found online here. Read and enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Animal Farm by George Orwell

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others.
-          Animal Farm

   If you've ever heard or read anything by or about George Orwell, you know to expect a political subtext to his work. This book is probably one of his most incisive political works. What makes this remarkable is that all its principle characters are animals.

    Manor Farm belongs to the harsh and irresponsible Mr Jones who treats his farm animals very shoddily. The animals are used to bearing this with mute resignation until one night; Old Major the boar calls a meeting and shares his dream of a farm run by the animals themselves. He teaches the animals ‘Beasts of England’, a song which is to become the anthem of the revolution. When old Major dies, two pigs called Snowball and Napoleon take it upon themselves to lead the revolution. The revolt happens quite organically and much sooner than planned. The animals chase off Mr Jones, take control of the farm and rename it Animal Farm. Almost instantly their lives are much improved. Under the leadership of Snowball and Napoleon, the animals work hard and the farm prospers. However, power starts to corrupt the pigs. The tranquility and comradeship of the animals is threatened and things start to go rapidly downhill from there on. The ending was especially brilliant I thought. Chilling and poignant.

    Animal Farm is often, mistakenly touted as Orwell’s diatribe against socialism but Orwell is really making a comment on dictatorship and not on the people’s movement. Apparently Orwell intended this book to be a specific attack at Stalin but really, it is just as relevant to any dictatorship the world over. Orwell also takes pot-shots at organised religion and its sedating effect on the masses. Moses, a Raven and Mr Jones’ pet, tells the weary animals of a beautiful land called Sugarcandy Mountain where all animals go after they die but only if they work very hard when they are alive and never question their master.

    I’d urge you to give this book a try even if politics doesn't interest you. This isn't some dry political treatise. There is a story here that is engaging and thought-provoking irrespective of what your political ideology may be.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Classics Challenge- September Prompt

This month's prompt is to select a piece of...

...that you feel reflects the book. Modern, classical, jazz, anything, it doesn't have to be from the period of the novel but share what it is about the piece that echoes the novel in someway.

My Classic for this month is George Orwell's Animal Farm. I'm only 3 chapters in but so far, it's riveting. I don't listen to music when I'm reading. I find myself unable to concentrate on the story because music always gets me dreaming. 
     That said, Animal Farm has an anthem in the first chapter which would be fun to listen to as an accompaniment to the story. It is suggested that the anthem be set to the music of 'Clementine' or 'La Cucuracha' . Here are some of the lyrics if you want to take a stab at singing it :)

Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time.

Soon or late the day is coming,
tyrant man shall be o'erthrown,
and the fruitful fields of England 
shall be trod by beasts alone.

Rings shall vanish from our noses,
and the harness from our back,
bit and spur shall rust forever
cruel whips no more shall crack.

Riches more than mind can picture,
Wheat and Barley, Oats and Hay,
Clover, Beans, and Mangel-Wurzels
shall be ours upon the day.

Bright will shine the fields of England,
purer shall its waters be,
sweeter yet shall blow its breezes
on the day that sets us free.

for that day we all must labour,
though we die before it breaks;
Cows and Horses, Geese and Turkeys,
all must toil for freedom's sake.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Short Story Initiative: Getting to know each other

I've been a fairly regular participant of Short Stories on Wednesday ever since Risa started the event on Breadcrumb Reads. I had planned to keep it up when Nancy took over but I've been sporadic. Largely because this year has been super busy and my blogging has taken a bit of a backseat. Also, one Wednesday seems to follow the other at an alarming pace and I've barely managed to read a short story, leave alone blog about it. So, I think Nancy's idea to re-invent Short Stories on Wednesday as The Short Story Initiative is just the ticket. It takes away the weekly deadline while still giving me a structure to my short story reading. She's also posted a list of monthly themes which we may or may not adhere to. I think this is a great way to venture into genres that I would normally pass up . Read all about the it in this post.
      As part of the Getting to Know Each Other theme of this month, we answer some questions about ourselves and our short-story-reading ways :) Here's my bit:

1. Why do you want to join The Short Story Initiative?
I love reading short stories and I've learnt about a lot of new authors through bloggers participating in Short Stories on Wednesday.I'm guessing The Short Story Initiative will be even more informative with less pressure.

2. What kind of short stories do you read? Is there a specific genre or culture or nationality you would like to explore through short stories?

     I love all sorts of short stories and I'd like to read the great masters of short story writing. I also want to explore the literature of different cultures and nationalities. Nancy's focus on Philippine literature has been enlightening.

3. Who is your favorite short story writer? Why?
     Impossible to pick one favorite so I'm going to list a few. Fitzgerald, Chekov, Kate Chopin and Saadat Hassan Manto.

4. What is the most memorable short story you have read?
      Putois by Anatole France, Bernice Bobs her Hair by Fitzgerald and A Good Day for Bananafish by Salinger.

5. What is your experience with short stories in the past? Is it a good or bad experience?
     Mostly good. Largely good in fact. The great thing about short stories is that even if the story is not to your taste, you don't waste days over it.

6. Share one book confession when it comes to short stories?
     hmmmn... cant think of anything really. I think I've been good, so no skeletons in my short story closet.

7. Share something about yourself that has nothing to do with short stories.
     I'm gearing up to tackle Chaucer's Canterbury Tales once again . I hope to do a series of posts about it in 2013.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Short Stories on Wednesday: Sci-fi and Fantasy Stories by Ray Bradbury

        It’s been so long since I did a short story post. Time has really been in short supply these past couple of months. But, here we are again. I’ve got two fantasy stories for you this time. Sci-fi or fantasy is not usually my genre of choice but I saw Francois Truffaut’s movie version of Fahrenheit 451 and loved it. It made me curious about Ray Bradbury’s work and when I found a copy of his Zen in the Art of Writing, I picked it up. It was a good book, but as far as writing guides go, I didn’t like it nearly as much as On Writing by Stephen King. Fiction is obviously what Bradbury does best. This week I read two of his best known short stories. Both of them have been adapted several times in writing, on TV and on film so some elements may seem familiar to you while you read them.

The Veldt: George and Lydia live in a fully automated house with their two children. Society has reached staggering levels of mechanization with machines to do absolutely everything for you. There are machines that will tie your shoes, cook your food and even rock you to sleep. The highlight of this home is the nursery which can convert the children’s imaginings into a virtual reality on its walls. Things start getting scarily real when the kids’ obsession with the African Veldt comes alive on the walls of the nursery.

A Sound of Thunder: This story takes the concept of “the butterfly effect” and gives it a literal spin. Set in a future where time travel is not just a reality but a form of recreation. Time Safari is a company that promises to take its customers back to prehistoric times for a thrilling dinosaur hunt. But the slightest move you make in the past can have a powerful ripple effect that can change the future in unimaginable ways.

       Both stories are set in the future. However, I hesitate to call it dystopian because, at least on the surface, it seems like mankind has reached amazing heights. But beneath the clever inventions and smart machines, people seem more dissatisfied than ever. The Veldt, especially, makes a very pertinent comment on our increasing reliance on machines and disconnect from each other. If, like me, you don’t usually dabble in these genres, read these stories anyway. They are very entertaining and there is a lot more to them than time machines and smart homes. You can read them online here and here.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

“The World had raised its whip; where will it descend?”
                                                                   -  Mrs Dalloway

       Mrs Dalloway is one of those rare books that I abandoned midway despite really wanting to read it. This was over three years ago when my son had just been born.  Let me share some hard earned wisdom with you:  Mrs Dalloway  is not the best read when you’re wading through post partum depression. In fact, you may want to avoid Virginia Woolf entirely. Anyhow, now that I’m not perpetually sleep-deprived and cranky (much) I thought I’d give  Mrs Dalloway  another go. I was surprised at how much darker it had felt the first time I’d taken it up. Goes to show, doesn’t it, that a book can mean such different things depending on where you are in your life. Now, I’m not suggesting that this book is actually all bright and sunshiny, far from it, but it’s more thought-provoking than depressing.

       Clarissa Dalloway is throwing a party that evening and the book follows her and a few other characters around London during the hours preceding the party.  The narrative zigzags between the past and the present, thoughts and words, but Woolf does this with such skill that you are never confused.  Since there’s nothing here that can conventionally be termed a story, I’d like to examine some of the elements of the book that interested me.

       Clarissa Dalloway: Woolf lived with Clarissa Dalloway for a long time before finally giving her a book of her own. The character first appears in the novel The Voyage Out and then in the short story Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street, before evolving into the woman we meet in Mrs Dalloway. Clarissa is a wonderfully multi-layered character. At first glance she’s just another charming, but shallow and self centred woman of privilege. But beneath the serene exterior, she has her own struggles with life, age, mortality and isolation, although her struggles aren’t dramatic or noisy.

       Septimus Smith: Woolf intended Septimus to be another version of Clarissa. In her notes she refers to Septimus as Clarissa’s twin. Interestingly the two characters never meet or interact but it’s easy to see the link between them. Septimus suffers from post-war trauma and hallucinations. He is also convinced that humanity is innately cruel and therefore not worth being a part of. 
For the truth is (let her ignore it) that human beings have neither kindness nor faith, nor charity beyond what serves to increase the pleasure of the moment. They hunt in packs. Their packs scour the desert and vanish screaming into the wilderness. They desert the fallen.

       Clarissa’s loves: Richard Dalloway, the very proper and safe man she married, loves Clarissa in his own measured way but one is never quite sure if Clarissa feels anything beyond affection for him. Peter Walsh is the romance of her girlhood whom she rejected because he unsettled her. Now he’s back and a lot of her feelings for him are probably because he represents her youth. However, Clarissa’s most passionate love is for Sally Seton, a radical and bold girl who visited Clarissa when they were both young. 

       Dr Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw: Woolf really spews venom at the medical community of her time through these two characters. They are perhaps the most caricature-like of all her characters. Dr Holmes, the family physician, is insufferably patronizing. He seems to think Septimus is just being a bother and there’s nothing wrong with him that a hobby and some distraction wouldn’t cure. Dr Bradshaw, the specialist, on the other hand, pretends to sympathise but his ‘cure’ is really just a way of shutting the mentally infirm out of society.
Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalised despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views, until they too shared his sense of proportion.”

       Woolf’s notes suggest that she intended this book to be a sort of juxtaposition of the sane and insane, the living and the dead, the past and the present. She succeeds quite spectacularly in this regard. Admittedly, Mrs Dalloway takes some effort to read despite being a very slim book. But don’t let this put you off. I know a lot of people who have read and hated it but I still suggest you give this a chance, possibly even a second chance. I think it’s worth the effort.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Classics Challenge August Prompt : Quotes from Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Rather than a questions this month's prompt is to share a memorable


... or a few of them from what you're currently reading. Try to select one that are not so well-known but, of course, if you can't help yourself share it too!

My classic for this month is Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.

 Here's my favorite quote from the book.

“Peter would think her sentimental. So she was. For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying – what one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt.” 

The quote is perhaps unlikely to find a place in any 'quotable quotes' book but it reflects the theme of the book and what Woolf was trying to convey, that feelings are more valid and important than thoughts. In the same vein is another quote,

 “What does the brain matter compared with the heart?” 

As you can see, this is an underlying theme throughout the book. I must leave you with another quote which is not from the book but about the book.

"I adumbrate here a study of insanity and suicide: the world seen by the sane and the insane side by side - something like that." -Virginia Woolf on Mrs Dalloway.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

"One can’t help thinking, Daddy, what a colorless life a man is forced to lead, when one reflects that chiffon and venetian point and hand embroidery and Irish crochet are to him mere empty words. Whereas a woman, whether she is interested in babies or microbes or husbands or poetry or servants or parallelograms or gardens or Plato or bridge-is fundamentally and always interested in clothes.”

    I read Daddy-Long-Legs as part of my classics challenge about a month ago but I’m only now getting around to writing about it. This is largely because it not an easy book to write about. Let me explain. Daddy-Long-Legs has no real plot. Well, it does, but its wafer thin and quite unremarkable. It also has just one real character: Jerusha a.k.a Judy. While other people are mentioned, they exist only as part of Judy’s narrative. Judy herself doesn’t really do very much and nothing very much happens to her either. All of this isn’t meant to imply that the book is boring. Hardly that. But it is difficult to write about without getting down to a textbook analysis of a very adorable character.

     To summarize briefly; Daddy-Long-Legs is an epistolary novel about an orphan, Judy, who has been given the chance to go to college by an unknown benefactor. This benefactor, whom Judy calls Daddy-Long-Legs because of his long legged shadow, expects her to update him about her life through regular letters. Judy enthusiastically obliges and we ‘see’ her life at college and beyond, play out through those letters.

     I hate to resort to a cliché and call this a coming-of-age tale, but I’m afraid it does belong to that category. However, this is less Catcher in the Rye and more Anne of Green Gables with a little added spirit and insight. The evolution of the letters in terms of style, tone and content is interesting.  Judy’s observations about the world around her, the people she meets and her own developing character are the most engaging and endearing parts of the book. Since she has never seen or heard Daddy-Long-Legs, he is almost an imaginary character to her and so she is able to write to him with absolute candor.

“We had a bishop this morning and what do you think he said?
"The most beneficent promise made us in the Bible is this,'The poor ye have always with you.' They were put here in order to keep us charitable."
The poor, please observe, being a sort of useful domestic animal. If I hadn't grown into such a perfect lady, I should have gone up after service and told him what I thought.” 

     This book is worth reading for Judy alone. It’s a small book and a very easy read. If you liked Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, you’ll probably like this one too.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Classics Challenge- July Prompt- Lasting Impression

This month's prompt is Lasting Impression

Choose one of the Classics you've read this year or are currently reading. 
What is a moment, quote, or character that you feel will stay with you? Years from now, when some of the details have faded, that lasting impression the book has left you with... what is it? --or why did it fail to leave an impression?

The book I read this month was Jean Webster's Daddy- Long- Legs.

Daddy- Long- Legs is an epistolary novel with its main protagonist being Jerusha or Judy Abbott. Judy is an orphan who is given the opportunity to  go to college by an anonymous benefactor. Her story is played out through the letters she writes to this benefactor.

The one thing in the book that left a lasting impression on me was the character of Judy. Jean Webster starts off with a rather stock character of 'the poor orphan' but turns her into a fun and feisty young girl with definite opinions of her own. Judy has a sense of humor despite the very humorless life she led in the orphanage. Though she is absolutely grateful to Daddy-long-legs for the life he is giving her, she does put up a fight when she thinks he is being unfair. 

The contents of her letters, the locations they are set in and even the story that unfolds is pleasant but nothing earth-shattering. Its the character of Judy that really elevates this book and stays with you long after you've forgotten everything else about it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain


    Sorry about slipping off the radar again. Too many things happening all at once and I couldn’t settle down to reading or writing. Nothing tragic or terrible, just one of those weird times when your mind seems to have switched off. I am so behind on all my challenges but I think I can still catch up. Anyways, it’s supposed to be fun right? So I’m not going to pile any pressure on myself.  

   I managed to finish Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court although it has taken me over a month to do so. Let this not put you off the book though. The delay was entirely due to the crazy time I've been having and nothing to do with the book’s length or quality. In fact, I would very much like to go back and re-read this when life is a little less hectic.

    I have read and reviewed Mark Twain’s short stories here and they are the reason I chose A Connecticut Yankee... as one of my Classic’s Challenge reads. I expected it to be a crazy, hilarious book and it is, but it is also so much more than that.  It is insightful, thought-provoking and sometimes quite grim too.

    The title pretty much summarizes the book for you. Hank Morgan is a resourceful and enterprising Yankee from the 19th century.  After a head injury, he wakes up in 6th century Camelot which is not quite the romantic and ethereal land we imagine it to be.  He is almost burned at the stake for being peculiar but Hank can think on his feet pretty sharp. Not only does he manage to escape a brutal death, he takes over the mantle of Head Magician from a disgruntled Merlin.  Hank, or The Boss, as he is now known, sets about improving and modernizing Camelot without rousing suspicion or alarm. But he finds that the general populace have immense respect for hocus pocus and very little for human rights.

    This book reminded me a bit of Twain’s Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven story which I’ve reviewed here. Not that the plots are similar but they both have an absurd, fantastical central idea which Twain uses to make a point about religion and society. A Connecticut Yankee... rips off the rose tinted glasses with which we view the past and shows us the ugly reality of an un-evolved society where brutality is passed off as gallantry. Having said all that, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is also a really fun read.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Short Stories on Wednesday: Irish Short Stories

First things first, Short Stories on Wednesday now has a new home over at Simple Clockwork. I’m relieved that the meme will keep going and although Risa will be sorely missed, I’m glad Nancy will be taking this forward.

As you all probably know by now, it’s Irish Short Stories Week over at The Reading Life so this week I have for you, 2 Irish stories. Both authors are new to me but after this I’m keen to look up more of their works.

    The story is narrated by an Irishwoman who works at a rehab clinic. She takes us through her seemingly humdrum life and frequently refers to Louis, her ‘companion’. However, you are made aware from the very beginning that there is something very strange about this relationship.
I thought I knew where this was going but I was way off. The premise is an interesting one and O’Donnell draws it out pretty well too.
    Mary O’ Donnell’s first novel ‘The Light-Makers’ was named the Sunday Tribune’s Best New Irish Novel in 1992. Since then, her published fiction includes the novels ‘Virgin and the Boy’, ‘The Elysium Testament’, and more recently a collection of stories, ‘Storm over Belfast’. 

Sightseeing in Louth by Bernadette M. Smyth
    Cousin John from America is visiting Roisin’s family to do some sightseeing and explore his Irish roots. The whole family is determined to help John in every way. Roisin, the black sheep of the family, does her bit by teaching John some revolutionary songs and introducing him to Irish whiskey. A simple sightseeing trip becomes a life-changing event for everyone concerned. This was a very well developed story written in a very simple and original voice.
   This is the second story Bernadette has had published in The Fish Anthology - in 2009 she won the Fish One-Page Prize with 'In The Car'. She was also a runner up in the People's College short story competition 2009.

Both these stories are available online here.

Besides these two I also read dozens of other short stories that were recommended by Mel u and other participants of Irish Short Story Week. Some of my favourite among these were:
2.    The Kith of the Elf Folk by Lord Dunsday
Thanks to Mel u and Free Listens for suggesting these.
I really wanted to read Beer Trip to Llandudno by Kevin Barry. I’ve read great things about it; most recently from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. Unfortunately I haven’t found it online. Hopefully, I find it at my library.
Irish Short Story week is on till the 31st  March so plenty of time to join in if you’d like to. I look forward to reading more great Irish stories in the days to come.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Classics Challenge March Prompt: Setting

Here's my 2nd entry for A Classics Challenge hosted by November's Autumn.This month's prompt focuses on the setting of novel. This month I'm reading A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. I've only just started on the book so I'm just picking the questions I can answer from each level.

How has the author introduced the setting ?
The book opens in Warwick Castle but the action really begins in Camelot so I'm going with the author's description of what Camelot was like. "It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream,and as lonesome as Sunday. The air was full of the smell of birds,flowers, and the buzzing of insects, and the twittering and there were no people, no wagons, there was no stir of life,nothing going on. The road was mainly a winding path with hoof-prints in it, and now and then a faint trace of wheels on either side"

What does it tell you about the character? about the time period?
Rarely does the very name of a place tell you so much about the time period of the story and even the characters you are bound to encounter. Mention Camelot and you are instantly transported to medieval times and King Arthur's legend.

How do you envision it? Find a few images or describe it. 

I imagine Camelot to be something like this although, really, its greatest attraction to fiction writers and romantics everywhere is that it can be anything you want. It defies any particular imagery since we don't know where exactly it was supposed to be located but I think you'll agree that it's impossible to imagine Camelot without an imposing medieval castle.

If this particular setting was changed how would it affect the course of the story? 
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is, as the title very clearly states, about a Yankee who is  mysteriously transported back in time to Camelot during King Arthur's reign. As you can imagine, this makes the setting crucial and the story cannot possibly be set anywhere else if it is to remain what it is.

I'm quite enjoying this book although I haven't made much progress. I've spent most of my reading time immersed in Irish Short Stories. Fortunately this is a short book so I'm hoping to finish it in a week or two and have a review up. Anybody else read this? 


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Irish Short Story Week: Four Tales and a Poem

   It’s Irish Short Story Week at The Reading Life and I’m excited to be joining in. Last year, during this event, I read a lot of amazing reviews and Irish short stories. Many of them were real eye-openers for me. Ireland has a very rich tradition of folklore and fairy stories but its literature is by no means limited to this. I’ve read the works of some of Ireland’s most widely known authors like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. However, during the next week I hope to read more new-to-me Irish authors. So far I’ve read four short stories by four different authors.
Janey Mary by James Plunkett
   Remember Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Little Match Girl? Janey Mary reminds me of that a little. It’s the story of a poor, fatherless girl called Janey Mary who has been sent out into the cold by her mother, with strict instructions to not return without bread. But bread is nowhere to be had and the world outside is frosty and harsh, in more ways than one.
   It’s a poignant story but it wasn’t my favourite of the lot. It felt just a little sappy in places and the characters were clichéd. It was not the best start to my read-a-thon but happily, it got much better from here on.
The Confirmation Suit by Brendan Behan

   The narrator, a 12 year old boy, is readying for his Communion. Unfortunately, his special suit for the day, stitched by his beloved Miss McCann, is embarrassing. It has too-large buttons and too-tiny lapels. There is no way out of it, especially since he wouldn’t dream of hurting Miss McCann. So he resorts to a little subterfuge.
   This is a lovely story. Not just the main story itself but also the little anecdotes and memories that the boy narrates. Like the time he and his grandmother were forced to cook a sheep’s head. There are so many little snippets that will make you smile. There’s a lot packed in here although the story is no more than a few pages long. This was a definite hit.
The First Confession by Frank O’Connor
   Jackie is about to go for his first ever confession but he is terrified that his sins may be too horrifying for redemption. His sins include wanting to kill his coarse grandmother and trying to stick a bread-knife into his irritating sister.
   This is an amusing and entertaining story.  It has such well done characters and very witty writing. It treads the same territory as the earlier story but this one is funnier. If you read only one story from this list, make it this one.
The Reaping Race by Liam O’Flaherty
   There’s a strange sort of race going on where 3 couples are competing to see who can reap a patch of a rye field first. The winner gets a princely sum of 5 pounds. From here on it goes into standard tortoise-and-the-hare territory. It is predictable and written to a template but the writer does manage to make the race exciting and engaging. This one is all about the narration rather than the story itself.
   The first 3 stories have a lot in common. They all have a child at the centre of the action, the Church plays a very prominent part in each story and there is an underlying theme of innocence and the fear that comes from being a child in a grown-up world. Yet, these stories play out very differently and are obviously written by very different kind of writers. You can read all four stories here.
   I've had fun exploring these stories and I hope to contribute to Irish Short Story week again before the 22nd of March (which is the end date). Join in if you can. The more the merrier I’m sure.  If you want to play along, but like me, don’t know much about Irish Literature, then head over to The Reading Life and read Mel U’s excellent posts on the subject. He also has recommendations and resources to help you along. If you can’t join in, just lurk and check out what all the participants are reading. Fun either way.
   I know this is Irish Short Story week but I couldn’t do an Irish anything without featuring my favourite Irishman, W. B. Yeats. Here’s a snippet from one of his poems about Ireland. It’s called To Ireland in the Coming Times.
KNOW, that I would accounted be
True brother of a company
That sang, to sweeten Ireland's wrong,
Ballad and story, rann and song;
Nor be I any less of them,
Because the red-rose-bordered hem
Of her, whose history began
Before God made the angelic clan,
Trails all about the written page.
When Time began to rant and rage
The measure of her flying feet
Made Ireland's heart begin to beat;
And Time bade all his candles flare
To light a measure here and there;
And may the thoughts of Ireland brood
Upon a measured quietude.