Monday, February 28, 2011

Fidelity Giveaway and the End of Persephone Reading Weekend

I had fourteen people enter the drawing for Fidelity by Susan Glaspell!  And the winner is. . . .

Cristina from Rochester Reader!!! 

It looks like this dove-grey book will be crossing the pond back to England.  I've emailed her and hope to mail this book to its new home very soon.  Congratulations!

And here are the answers to the endpaper challenge, in case you're curious:

The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby

The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding

The Woman Novelist and Other Stories by Diana Gardener

How To Run Your Home Without Help by Kay Smallshaw

The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler

I haven't read any of these but I want to read all of them -- and I'm tempted to buy them for the beautiful endpapers!  Thanks again to everyone who entered the giveaway. 

If you didn't win and you have a Region 1 DVD player, there's still time to enter my other giveaway for the delightful film adaptation of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which has been extended until Midnight tonight, U.S. Central Standard Time.  I was so busy reading this weekend (and watching the Oscars -- that I still haven't had time for the second viewing, but I know I'll be watching it again soon.  And it's practically spring break, so I'll have extra time for reading.

And what a great weekend for reading Persephones!  I posted three Persephone book reviews, read another Persephone (Little Boy Lost), and discovered so many great blogs!  (I actually read two of the Persephones earlier in the week and saved the reviews for the weekend -- plus they were both really fast reads).  And I was so inspired by all the great reviews I went to the local college library and checked out two more Persephones -- Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell and A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes.  I really have no business checking out library books when I still have almost 200 unread books on my shelf but I had to return A Woman's Place and I couldn't help browsing, that library has so many great books and so many of them are first editions -- how could I leave without checking something out?

I hope everyone enjoyed Persephone Reading Weekend.  Many, many thanks to Claire and Verity for organizing this, for all the roundup posts and for the great giveaways!  I'm already thinking about what I would read next time around.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Flush by Virginia Woolf

I'd been planning for weeks to start reading Flush, and finally it was time.  It's in the Persephone catalog, so it was top on my TBR list for that reason; also, Amanda from The Zen Leaf chose it for me last year in our first-ever Reading Swap.  And it's been sitting around on my TBR shelf for a couple of years now, so my timing was perfect. 

Now that it is time to put words on the blog I find I'm at a bit of a loss.  This is a short little book about a dog written by Virginia Woolf; specifically, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog.  Ostensibly, it is a biography, but is it about a dog or a poet?  Or is it just an excuse to start reading Virginia Woolf, who scares me?

Flush is not a hard read, and I suppose it's not one of the Woolfs that is studied and discussed and analyzed extensively by the literati.  (Which I am not, believe me!)  It begins when young Flush is given as a gift by his owner to Ms. Barrett (not yet Mrs. Browning), an invalid.  He must give up his days of sniffing and running and exploring the outdoors to be the indoor companion of this bedridden poet.  He loves her and becomes extremely protective and suspicious of Mr. Browning, and he is along for the ride during their elopement and marriage and journeys to Italy and back.  The story moves back and forth in places between his point of view and that of his owner.  

I know next to nothing about Elizabeth Barrett Browning but now I am intrigued by her life as well.  I do remember Browning and Flush are included in a book called Shaggy Muses, which is a nonfiction work about the lives of several women writers and their pets.

Like the life of a dog, Flush is sadly short.  This was the first of Woolf's fiction that I really liked, and I wish I'd had more of it to read.  I am glad, however, that the ending wasn't terribly sad -- there are so many tearjerking stories about beloved pets these days, I really did not want to cry at the end of this book.

Virginia Woolf seems to be all over the blogs the past couple of weeks.  My good friend Amanda was baffled by Orlando; Carolyn at A Few of My Favorite Books brought To the Lighthouse to Florida for a beach read!  To the Lighthouse has been sitting on my shelves unread as long as Flush, but it scares me -- it's such a short little book but I've heard it's challenging.  Stream-of-consciousness is not really my thing.  

The endpapers from the Persephone edition of Flush

I did read Mrs. Dalloway and was underwhelmed, but that was a few years ago when I had just started reading classics.  Maybe I didn't know enough about her work to appreciate it.  Last year, my classics book group at the library read A Room of One's Own, which I quite liked, but that's really a long essay, so I don't know I'd like her fiction.

This probably isn't the best review I've written, but I feel like I don't know enough about Woolf or her writing to think of something clever and insightful.  I would love to hear other people's thoughts -- how does this compare to other works by Virginia Woolf?  Should I take the plunge and read To the Lighthouse or start with something a little easier?

This is my third book for Persephone Reading Weekend, hosted by Verity and Claire.  Check out their blog links for more thoughts on Persephone books!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Woman's Place: 1910-1975 and Another Giveaway!

I have so much to post about, so I'm going to have to make this review a little short. I've been lucky enough to find some a copy of A Woman's Place: 1910-1975 at one of my local college libraries, so I snapped it up this week.  I thought it would be the perfect thing for Persephone Reading Week: some nonfiction for more background about the period covered by so many of my Persephone favorites.

A Woman's Place is a great quick read.  If you're interested at all in the social history of women's roles in Britain, I highly recommend it.  It starts with the period just before WWI, and covers women's suffrage, the war efforts, the fight for equal pay, and so much more.  My American edition was a short read, just over 200 pages (though the Persephone edition is listed as 352 pages -- maybe larger margins?) Either way, it was a very absorbing read.  I'm sure there are books which go into much more depth about these periods -- there's really only a chapter each about each decade, so there's a lot covered for such a short book.  But it's a great overview.  I learned quite a lot, much of which annoyed and infuriated me.  For example,the British government refused to give nurses professional status during WWI, because it might detract from that of the men, resulting in a severe shortage of untrained nurses and hospitals after the battles at Marne, Ypres, and Neuve Chapelle, at which thousands of young men died.

I could go on and on and pick out a lot more fascinating facts and statistics from the book, but I did want to let everyone know about my second giveaway!  In honor of Persephone Reading Week, I'm giving away a copy of the DVD adaptation of Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, my first Persephone, which is still one of my favorites.  The movie does digress from the original plot a little, but I think that Frances McDormand and Amy Adams really captured the essence and spirit of Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse -- and I will always love Ciaran Hinds!  I'm planning another viewing tonight in honor of PRW.

Unfortunately, I'll have to limit the giveaway to the U.S. and Canada, simply because it is a Region 1 DVD (so if the winner was in Europe, it just wouldn't work -- sorry!)

If you'd like to enter the drawing, please answer the following in the comments:  which is your favorite Persephone so far, and why?  If you haven't read a Persephone, which one do you want to read?  Please leave an email contact in the comment if you don't automatically link to your blog. 

The contest is open through Midnight, Monday, February 28 (U.S. Central Standard Time).  I'll select a winner at random from all eligible entries, and post the results on Tuesday!  Good luck and happy reading!

I'm having such a wonderful time reading all the Persephone postings.  Many thanks again to Claire and Verity for organizing this, and for all their hard work.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

At last, Persephone Reading Weekend!  I knew I had to read at least one book this weekend by Dorothy Whipple.  After I read The Priory last December, I knew I wanted to read more of her books, and I got three for Christmas! When it came time to choose the next one I just decided to go with the one I'd bought first.  I know this isn't everyone's favorite Whipple, but I just loved it. I loved everything about it -- except the characters I hated, but I was supposed to hate them.

Essentially, this is a story about a marriage in 1950s Britain, and how it suddenly dissolves.  Avery and Ellen North are an upper-class couple living in the country outside London.  He's in publishing but has inherited wealth; she's a busy housewife who loves to garden, and they have two lovely children.  The oldest, Hugh, is doing compulsory military service before he goes off to university, and the younger, Anne is a horse-crazy teenager at boarding school.  On the surface, they seem like the ideal family.

However, Mr. North's widowed mother, who is wealthy and lives in a large estate, is dissatisfied.  No one's giving her enough attention, so she answers an advertisement from a young Frenchwoman, Louise, and hires her to come and stay as a sort of live-in companion and French tutor.  Louise is bored to death living in a provincial town, and angry at having been thrown over by her secret lover for a more socially advanced fiancee.  Staying with the Dowager North is her ticket out.  She is an interloper, and one thing leads to another, but in a really interesting way.

The beautiful endpapers from the dove-grey Persephone edition
(which, sadly, I do not own).

If you read Dorothy Whipple expecting a lot of plot or action, you will be disappointed, as they're extremely character-driven.  But somehow I never notice this.  Her characters are so beautifully realized that I get sucked in to their world and I want to know more about them.  Even though not much happens on the surface, this book raises a lot of questions about marriages and family dynamics, and what motivates people to do the things they do.  Whipple is really good at getting into characters and letting the reader in on what makes them tick.  They're really dimensional -- when she's writing about the characters you're meant to dislike, she is somehow still able to make them somewhat sympathetic.

My one complaint about this book was that so much time was spent setting up the story and developing the characters, the ending seemed a little rushed in comparison.  After two Whipples, I'm beginning to suspect endings might not be her strong point; in retrospect, I realized The Priory had the same problem.  I did like that it was somewhat ambivalent, and not a completely Hollywood happy ending.  It left open the possibility that the characters might be happy, someday.

I really wish my library had this book and that there were enough copies that I could recommend it for a book group, because I think it would be great for a discussion.  This is a book that I will probably buy and give as gifts to other people, simply so I can discuss it with someone else.  My mother is coming to visit in a couple of weeks and I'm quite sure I will be forcing this on her so we can discuss it -- hopefully before she leaves!  If we do, I'll post her thoughts as well. Mom, if you're reading this, prepare for a guest posting.

This is one of the ten Persephone Classics that are available in here in the U.S.  You might not be able to walk into Barnes & Noble and find it on the shelf, but you can order it online without too much trouble.

P.S. I'll be writing about Persephones all weekend, and don't forget about my dove-grey giveaway in the previous post!  I'm planning another giveaway this weekend as well, so please check back.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Persephone Reading Weekend Giveaway

The beautiful endpapers of Fidelity by Susan Glaspell

I'm so excited about Persephone Reading Weekend, which starts tomorrow.  So, I thought it would be  the perfect time for a dove-grey giveaway!!  Due to a mix-up last year from an online book retailer, I accidentally received two copies of a a dove-grey Persephone: Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (which is sadly still unread on my TBR shelf).  According to the Persephone catalog, Fidelity is a "1915 novel by a Pulitzer-prize winning writer brilliantly describing the long-term consequences of a girl in Iowa running off with a married man."

I've heard so many good things about it, I thought this would be the perfect time to share, so I'm giving away my extra copy!  But I'm going to make it a little challenging.  Since Persephones are known for their beautiful endpapers, I thought I'd incorporate that into the challenge.  I'll choose the winner at random from anyone who can correctly identify the following Persephone endpapers by the deadline:

Don't leave your guesses in the comments; instead, email me at karenlibrarian13 [at] yahoo [dot] com.  And be sure and put the name of your blog in the email so I can link to it in the announcement if you win!  The contest is open world-wide, and it will be open until Midnight Sunday, February 27, U.S. Central Standard Time, and I'll post the results Monday morning, same time zone.  Good luck and happy reading!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Villette Readalong Week 3

Week Three of the Villette Readalong is upon us!  I apologize for posting this early, but I'm getting ready for Persephone Reading Weekend and I have a lot of posting to do.   It's actually been about a week since I finished this section, so if I mix up any of my facts, please forgive me.

So, this week, we're discussing Chapters 12 through 17.  At first was going to start out by writing that not much happens, but now that I look back, I suppose it does.  I'll explain.

Lucy has settled into her role as English teacher in the school and spends a lot of time observing everyone else around her.  She spends a lot of evenings sitting outside in one of the school's walled gardens, and one evening she finds a mysterious little package that someone has thrown over the wall.  Dr. John is spending a lot more time at the school -- ostensibly to take care of Madame Beck's children, but does he have ulterior motives?  Madame certainly seems to have a crush on him.

Ginevera Fanshaw is still playing games with all her suitors, which makes me want to smack her even more.  She's starting to annoy me as much as Cathy from Wuthering Heights (and I do realize they're different Bronte sisters, but I always lump them in together.  I can't help it).  Anyhow, Ginevera is playing two suitors off one another -- one is a French officer and another is a mysterious man she only refers to as "Isidore."  That is a truly unfortunate name for an alias.

There's also a somewhat interesting section in which Lucy is pressed into acting a part in a play for the annual school fete -- actually, in man's part, which makes her sort of uncomfortable.  Monsieur Paul, a very overbearing sort of teacher, basically strong-arms her into taking the part at the last minute, going so far as to lock her in an attic without food and water so she can learn her lines.  I can't imagine anyone putting up with that kind of treatment -- I would have been so angry I would have refused to be in his silly play at all.  (But I am not a 20-year-old English teacher in a 19th century novel, so of course this helps to advance the plot.)  Naturally, she's playing opposite Ginevera.  To her surprise, Lucy really enjoys the play:

What I felt that night, and what I did, I no more expected to feel and do, than to be lifted in a trance to the seventh heaven.  Cold reluctant, apprehensive, I had accepted a part to please another: ere long, warming, becoming interested, taking courage, I acted to please myself. 

However, the next day she has regrets and resolves never to do it again:

A keen relish for dramatic expression had reveal itself as part of my nature; to cherish and delight, but it would not do for a mere looker-on at life: the strength and longing must be put by; and I put them by, and fastened them in with the lock of a resolution which neither Time nor Temptation has since picked.

I'm not really into literary analysis, since I'm writing this for fun and not a class assignment, but I definitely get the idea this is an important section and one that would be discussed and analyzed if this was a literature class.   In general, Lucy seems to spend a lot more time watching than doing. Maybe this is because it's a later, more mature novel than Jane Eyre, but it seems to me this book is much more character-driven than plot driven, much more internal and philosophical.  I wonder if this passage signals that Lucy was tempted stop being so passive, but realizes it's not in her nature (which would surprise me because she took charge and moved to France and got a job); or, if it signals that she's ready to change and take charge of her life.  We shall see.

Before the close of this section, Lucy has a crisis of nerves and falls into a fever -- what is it with the mysterious fevers people fell into in those days?  Is it just a literary device?  Obviously they didn't have the medical knowledge of today but it seems like literary characters seem to mysteriously fall into a fever at convenient plot points, after a tragedy or broken heart or what have you.  Anyway, Lucy is naturally saved and when she comes to, the reader is presented with another of those fabulous and unbelievable coincidences of Victorian literature.  I'll say no more.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Persephone Decisions

I'm so excited about Persephone Reading Weekend which starts this Friday!  I have a lovely stack of dove-grey books I haven't read yet, plus a couple of Persephone Classics and a few books from the library. Altogether I have ten unread Persephones on my owned-and-unread shelf but I've narrowed the week's fiction choices down to six:

  • Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
  • Consequences by E. M. Delafield
  • Fidelity by Susan Glaspell
  • Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
  • Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
  • Flush by Virginia Woolf
[I also have three Dorothy Whipples on my TBR shelf, but I'm saving those; I just finished Someone at a Distance and I have to ration the Whipples out!  Plus The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens but I'm saving that one too. . . I loved Mariana so I'm saving her other book for a comfort read. ]

I also have three possible nonfiction choices, from various libraries: 
  • A Woman's Place: 1910-1975 by Ruth Adam
  • The Carlyles at Home by Thea Hume
  • Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Moseley
 I'm hoping to read one nonfiction plus at least one fiction, maybe two.  I'll also be posting my review of Someone at a Distance . . . and I have two giveaways planned!  I'd love some feedback on my possible reads.  And what's everyone else reading?  I look forward to reading all the blogs and adding lots to my TBR list.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dumbed-Down Book Covers

The other day, when I was making my weekly post for the Villette Read-A-Long, I was searching the internet for an attractive cover so the post wouldn't look so boring.   I loved the cover I chose, which is one of a series for Vintage Classics:

Elegant and classy, I thought.  So I began to look for more.  Here are some more of the covers in the same series, which I find so beautiful that when I see them in the bookstore that I am tempted to buy them (despite the fact that I have multiple copies of some of these books, like Pride and Prejudice).  I particularly like the Jane Austen covers, especially Persuasion

I'm no expert on art or graphics or whatnot, but I think they're simply stunning.   But when I was searching the internet, here's what I kept finding: 

I'm not sure but it looks like Vintage has abandoned the beautiful and classy covers for something more cartoony.  In fact, these covers look suspiciously like they're meant to attract lovers of chick-lit.  Seriously, does the world NEED more book covers with stylized illustrations of young women and their fashion accessories??  

And after my recent review of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women I found these new paperback British editions of her books, which confirms my suspicions:

Apparently, Barbara Pym's works are now 1950s chick-lit, either about housewives having trouble with their husbands or career girls looking for husbands.  Or perhaps this is a nod to the popularity of Mad Men, one of my favorite television shows -- the woman in the top cover reminds me of Betty Draper and the girl in the bottom looks just like Peggy Olson! These are from Virago Books, once known for their eye-catching and distinctive green covers with lovely artwork.   I find this trend so disappointing.  It's good literature, must publishers dress it up like lousy chick?  I admit I'm a bit of a book snob, but why do I get the feeling they're trying to dumb these books down to attract more readers?  Or am I just reading too much into this?  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Villette Readalong Week 2

So, Villette, chapters six through eleven.  I had some real momentum while reading this the past couple of weeks and I'm way ahead, up to chapter 20.  Either I need to slow down my reading or starting writing posts as I read, because I'd almost forgotten what I'm supposed to be posting about.

After a brief review, I remember that this is the part in which Lucy makes a life-altering decision.  After going to London on her own in search of work (which I think is pretty gutsy for such a young girl) she decides to travel to France to look for a job teaching English.  She doesn't know a soul in France but on the crossing she meets a young girl, Ginevra Fanshawe, who is at a French school in a town called Villette (hence, the title) and Lucy decides to go there to look for work.  Upon arriving at the town at a late hour, she luckily encounters an Englishman man who gives her directions a reputable inn; however, she gets lost, and serendipitously finds Madame Beck's school for girls.

Though Lucy has no references and little experience, Madame Beck sizes her up and decides to give her a shot as a nursery-governess.  Much of the weeks' reading are about Lucy's experiences at the school and a great description of Madame Beck, who is kind of a tough lady making her way in what is still largely a man's world.  Lucy and Madame Beck don't exactly like one another, but it's obvious that there's a lot of grudging respect between the two.  Eventually, Lucy works her way up in the school, teaches more advanced students and apparently becomes pretty fluent in French.  The Englishman reappears, and so does the young lady from the boat, Ginevra.

So far this was my favorite section.  We got a lot of background and character development, especially Madame Beck.  I don't know if I like her exactly -- she's tough, but not quite a villainess -- and I think that's how Bronte wants the reader to feel.  I still don't know that I've gotten to Lucy very well, though I admire her guts -- first, she's gone to London on her own; then, she travels to a foreign country without any contacts or prospects, found herself a job; and now she's taken control of some uppity French students.  There's a great scene [MILD SPOILER ALERT!] in which Lucy is thrown into a situation substituting for the teacher of 60 teenaged girls, not much younger than herself, and she knows if she gives them an inch they'll walk all over her.  She has to show them that she's in control, and she takes a sassy student and locks her in a closet.  Well done!

I've now read about 40% of Villette but there's a lot left to go.  I'll try to catch up and write posts as I'm reading from now on  -- hopefully I won't lose momentum if I slow down a bit.  This book isn't quite as engaging as Jane Eyre, but I'm willing to give it more time.

I'm reading this as part of Unputdownables Villette Read-A-Long. Visit the link if you'd like to read more thoughts on this book.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

You know what I just love about reading?  When you find a book and you get so into it that you can't stop reading it, and it's just as wonderful as you hoped -- and then, you find out that this author has written a whole bunch of other books.  And then you want to rush to the library or the bookstore or online and order all of them, right now!

Well, that's how I felt about Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.  It was short and charming and I loved the main character, and it really made me think.  It's British domestic fiction, but it's not at all cutesy or twee.  Why did I wait so long to read this book?  I bought it more than two years ago, and though I didn't finish it in time for Virago Reading Week, I'm so glad it was a the top of my TBR list.

But now that I've been babbling, I suppose a brief description would be an order.  So.  Set in in London in the 1950s, Mildred Lathbury is a thirtysomething spinster, a clergyman's daughter and "excellent woman" who spends a lot of time volunteering at the local vicarage and generally doing good works.  She lives alone in a small flat, in what seems to be the verge of genteel poverty -- she only works part-time and doesn't seem to get much to eat.  Mildred's life gets shaken up when some new people move into her building, a young couple called the Napiers.  The wife Helena is an anthropologist and her husband arrives later, a rather dashing young naval officer who'd been posted in Italy.  Mildred gets slowly sucked into their somewhat tumultuous marriage, sort of acting as a go-between.

Mildred's other best friends are the Malorys: Julian, the parish vicar (whom, it is generally believed, is a perfect match for Mildred) and his sister, Winifred, who lives at the parish and keeps house for them.  Winifred and Julian decide to convert their attic into a flat to let, and things get interesting when an attractive young widow, Allegra Gray, moves in.  Her late husband was also a clergyman and she has definite ideas about how things should be run so things in the parish get complicated as well.

The novel doesn't have a whole lot of action, but the characters are so well-drawn I was quickly sucked in to the minutia of life in 1950s England.  Pym has been described as a modern-day Jane Austen but what really struck me was that Mildred didn't really remind me so much of one of Austen's heroines as much as Austen herself -- I think if Jane had been living in 1950s England, she would have been very much like Mildred: unmarried, a clergyman's daughter, quietly and wryly observing the lives of the people in her parish.  Though Excellent Women is set in London, it definitely had a the feeling of village life to it.

I grew to love Mildred and her observations, and now I want to read everything by Barbara Pym -- but now I'm annoyed at myself for waiting so long to read this book.  I'm also annoyed that I'm in the middle of the TBR Dare and I am not allowed to check out books at all.   So I'll have to wait until April, but luckily my library has ten more of her books, though I can definitely see myself wanting to own all of them.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Villette Readalong, Week 1

I am finally revisiting Charlotte Bronte.  Villette is another book which has been sitting on my TBR shelf for (ahem!) about five years, so when Wallace of Unputdownables suggested the read-along, I knew that participating would inspire me to finally pick it up .  It's been years since I read Jane Eyre, one of the first classics I really loved; strangely, I have yet to reread it.  (Might be a perfect choice for an audiobook -- I love rereads in the car because I don't feel pressured to finish them quickly since I already know the endings).   All I knew about this novel was that it is loosely autobiographical and has something to do with a teacher and Brussels or some such thing.  Sometimes, it's best not to know too much about a novel before you start it, so as not to have preconceived notions, right?

I've actually finished more than 100 pages but am technically not supposed to comment on more than the first five chapters.  It seems okay so far.   Basically, this is the story of Lucy Snowe, a young lady with some sort of family difficulties -- I assume later on that she will have financial difficulties and love problems as well, because isn't that what most young ladies faced during the Victorian era?  Well, in Victorian literature, anyway.

However, the first five chapters have very little information about Lucy, and this puzzled me.  In the first chapter, we learn that young Lucy is having some sort of family issues and has been sent off to visit her godmother, a widow with a teenaged son, Graham.  During her visit, a child of a relative has come to stay with the godmother, a little girl named Polly.  Polly's mother died recently and her father is bereft, so Polly has come to stay while he gets his act together.  He is traveling to France for business of some sort.  Polly is naturally sad at having lost her mother and misses her father terribly, so she's kind of withdrawn and sad.  The only one she really becomes attached to is Graham, who is about sixteen.

Basically, the entire first three chapters of this book is about Graham and Polly and their friendship as observed by Lucy -- we learn virtually nothing our narrator.  I didn't even know how old she was but I'm going to assume she's in her early teens.  I couldn't even figure out how old Polly was, but from the way she talked, I assumed she was about 10 -- until the book mentioned she's only six!  Either Polly was incredibly precocious, or six-year-olds were much more mature back then.  Or else Charlotte Bronte didn't know squat about six-year-olds.  I have two daughters who are now older than six, and they never talked like Polly at that age.  Well, Villette was written about 150 years ago, and times change, right?

Anyway, Polly finally leaves to join her father and the action shifts back to Lucy.  I can only assume that Graham and Polly are going to resurface later in the book, or their relationship is somehow symbolic of something else that's going to happen.  In chapter four Lucy is a destitute young lady working as a companion, and her life is a little bleak.  She has to go and make her own way in this world.  I was surprised that there was so little background about Lucy and her family.

The next few chapters do pick up a little and it's all about Lucy, but I'll save that for next week's post.  I was a little bored with Polly but I'm optimistic about the rest of the book, and wondering if Polly and Graham show up again.  If nothing else, this is a fairly fast read for a Victorian novel.  Who knows, maybe I'll love this and I'll take a chance with Bronte's other two novels, The Professor and Shirley.

Has anyone else read this?  Are you participating in the readalong?  How do you like it so far?  And what about the other Bronte sisters' works?  I hated Wuthering Heights, liked The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I still haven't touched Agnes Grey, which is waiting patiently on the TBR shelf.  It might be next!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TBR Readathon Results and TBR Dare Update

So, there was a TBR Readathon over the weekend (hosted by Unputdownables)  and I did my best.  W hat was I thinking, signing up for a Readathon the same weekend as my book groups, the Superbowl, and the Latin competition???  Seriously.  After my good start on Saturday with about 250 pages read, I kept falling asleep reading on Sunday.  But perhaps it was my reading material.  I did eventually make some progress, but it seemed like the whole day was bits and pieces of this and that.  Here's my final results for the weekend:

  • Farewell Leicester Square by Betty Miller -- read about 2/3, approximately 230 pages
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry -- completed, about 150 pages
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte-- 49 pages (still more than 500 to go!)
  • The Virago Book of Ghost Stories -- completed, read about 100 pages over the weekend

I guess it's not a bad total for a weekend, but nowhere near what I was hoping and not nearly as much as last spring -- I did finish two novellas and an enormous graphic novel, but I guess I can't compare that.  Next Readathon I want to book a hotel room and read all weekend.  And order room service! (Well, I can dream, can't I?)

And as for my TBR Dare Challenge -- I've completed 16 books so far this year, of which three were rereads.  Of those,  seven were books from my TBR shelves, which isn't bad. It's approximately 50% of my reads which is what I was hoping for.  Last year I completed about 130 books, and only 28 were unread books from my own shelves -- approximately 22% owned books versus library books read!   I'd love to read ONLY from my shelves this year, but I just know it won't happen.  Between book groups and volunteering at the library, I am constantly assaulted by the temptation of books.

Regarding the book-buying ban, I've been pretty strong.  I've been to bookstores several times since January 1 and not purchased anything for myself (presents for others do not count.  And I am NOT buying books for myself and pretending they're presents, I swear.)  My one digression so far was at the library's book sale last week -- I found a tiny little Trollope that I just could not resist!  It is a 1950 edition of Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, in a cute little pocket size, from Oxford University Press.  It was only $1 and I felt the need to make an exception for Trollope -- seriously, could you blame me?

And how did everyone else do over the weekend?  Lots of books crossed off the TBR list?  And is anyone else trying a book-buying ban, and have you been successful so far?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

TBR Readathon Update 1

Sunday morning already and I didn't post any updates yesterday.  What I thought would be a quiet day reading was not so much.  Not only did I have my classics discussion group yesterday, it was also the Jane Austen Book Group, and it was movie day.  I had originally planned on staying only a little while since I wasn't optimistic about the movie adapation -- fittingly, The Jane Austen Book Club, which I read and reviewed (briefly) last month.  Despite the changes made by the filmmakers, I quite enjoyed it.  And of course since it's held at the library, I had to stay afterward and help clean up and ended up chatting with my librarian friends. . . it was 2:30 by the time I got home!

Then at 4:30, it was off to the high school for the awards from the annual Latin competition.  My daughter is in the eighth grade, but her class is high-school Latin so they were allowed to compete.  She had a lot of fun but the awards were delayed which meant a long wait in a loud gymnasium with uncomfortable bleachers. . . I did bring a book, naturally, but it was hardly optimal reading conditions.  When we finally got home I did get some reading done after dinner. Here's what I got finished:

1.  Finished A Raisin in the Sun for the classics discussion -- about 100 pages, but it's a play and it was really fast.

2.  Finished the audio book of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day -- I only had a couple of chapters, and I finished it easily while driving to and from the library.  I read it last year but I'd always wanted to listen to the audio version, narrated by Frances McDormand who played Miss P. in the movie adaptation.

3.  Read three more stories from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories, about 40 pages -- I only have one story left and it's finished.  The final unread story is The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell.  For some reason I've been avoiding it, I'm not sure why because I love Gaskell.  I guess I'm saving the best for last.

4.  Started a new Persphone Book, Farewell Leicester Square -- I made some real progress, 109 pages!  I know I posted earlier I was going to read Flush, but I grabbed this one instead.  I joined the Persephone Reading Group on Goodreads and this is the February read.  (Last month was Few Eggs and No Oranges which is more than 600 pages, and I haven't even opened it.  I'll try to get to it in time for Persephone Reading Weekend).

So -- I still haven't tackled Villette but I did read about 250 pages total.  Not bad for a Saturday when I was actually out and about since I couldn't lock myself in a room and read all day.  I hope to get more reading done today since I don't really watch the Superbowl!

Friday, February 4, 2011

TBR Readathon

It's a Readathon weekend hosted by Wallace at Unputdownables, and it's the perfect opportunity to complete a few books off my TBR shelves.  I do have a book group meeting tomorrow, but I should have lots of time to get some serious reading done.  Here are some of my choices: 

From top to bottom:

1.  A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry -- my book group selection for tomorrow -- I'd better get this one done tonight! 

2.  The Virago Book of Ghost Stories -- I started this one last week during Virago Reading week, and I only have five more stories left.  Should be an easy one to finish. 

3.  Flush by Virginia Woolf -- it's short, it's a Persephone (though not this particular edition) and Amanda from The Zen Leaf chose it for me as part of our reading swap.

4.  Mrs. Craddock by W. Somerset Maugham -- because I'm in the mood for some Maugham.  The Painted Veil is one of my favorites and I was tempted to check out some Maugham today while I was volunteering at the library.  But I was strong and resisted -- got to work on my own shelves first! 

5. Modoc: The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer.  I have a whole shelf of nonfiction books and I love animal stories.  I've been thinking about elephants since I went to the zoo the other day (it was in the 70s on Monday -- and today we had a snow day!  Go figure.) 

6.  Villette by Charlotte Bronte -- Not the whole thing!  Just about 30 pages for this week's Readlong entry.  I'm behind already! 

7.  Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles: Letters to Helen Evans Brown by James Beard.  This is one of the books on my TBR shelf I've owned longest, so I really want to make some progress.  I started this volume of letters the other night, and I don't know if I'd want to read the entire thing straight through but it's fun to read a few at a time.  It's all about food and recipes so it makes me really hungry. 

So -- is anyone else participating?  What are you reading?  I'll try and post updates but it'll only be once or twice a day.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Big Box of Penguin Classics!

My only New Year's Resolution was to curtail the amount of books I was adding to my to-read shelves by not purchasing any more books.  But gifts don't count, right?  Well, what about . . . prizes?  Because a couple of weeks ago I received an unexpected email from Penguin Books!  To my surprise and delight, this is what it said:

"Congratulations! Your predictions for the final list of 10 Essential Penguin Classics were closer than anyone else's (okay, full disclosure, you and another person tied, so we're awarding two grand prizes). Because of your Nostradamus-like powers of prediction, you've won a set of Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions."


I was gobsmacked!  Okay, I've won prizes before, but I don't think I've ever won anything that wasn't random or pure luck, like a giveaway from another book blogger, or a door prize.  Or bingo -- certainly nothing that involved actual skill or knowledge.  I've never even been able to guess how many jelly beans are in a jar (not that I'd even want them -- seriously, if isn't chocolate, why bother?).  But I digress.

Anyway -- today I received a box with TWENTY FOUR Graphics Deluxe Classics from Penguin books!  A twenty-three pound box!!  Here's a photo of what was inside, properly alphabetized by author:

If you can't read the titles very well, here's a list of what was in the box:
  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott*
  2. Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen*
  4. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
  6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte*
  7. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  8. White Noise by Don DeLillo
  9. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens*
  10. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne*
  11. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  12. Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
  13. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
  14. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  15. The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
  16. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley*
  18. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  19. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
  20. Dracula by Bram Stoker*
  21. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain*
  22. Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire*
  23. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton*
  24. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde*
Update: Titles with asterisks are those I have read.

I've read quite a few classics but only half of these, so I've just added another 12 books to my owned-and-unread challenge.  I do own a few of these already, my other editions aren't nearly as nice!  I had originally thought I'd share some of these with friends, here in town and in the blogosphere, but these are so beautiful I don't know if I can part with any of them. They now have their own dedicated bookshelf.   

I'll start reading them soon and I'll be sure and post updates with my reviews.  Any suggestions where I should start?

And before I forget, thanks again to the generous folks at Penguin Classics, and congratulations to Jane at Reading, Writing, Working, Playing, the other winner of the sweepstakes!  Woo hoo!