Re-tellings continued: Austen Project #3

I can hardly believe that I have arrived at the end of my son’s kindergarten year.  It felt like eons before he could even enroll in public school, even though I did so as soon as he was old enough, on the cusp of turning five with some behaviors that were equally on the cusp.  I had a few weeks of concern over his adjustment, but then, after he turned five, he was magically fine.  Something clicked.

My son appears to experience distinct leaps in growth.  The first one involved two night terrors a night apart, after which he emerged sleeping through the night, walking, and never having another night terror at fifteen months.  Every August I feel that he has turned the next age in his maturity, when his birthday hovers around Halloween.   Facebook reminds me every year with bringing back posts on different years where I captioned, “a lot of growth this month!”

And now here he is with a kindergarten musical this upcoming Friday and here I am talking about the Jane Austen re-telling that I feel is the most about growing up than all her major novels…

 

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Emma (The Austen Project #3), Alexander McCall Smith

I really liked this one. Emma might be my favorite Austen novel now.  I loved Pride and Prejudice first, once I had gotten enough understanding of the plot. At the time in my life I fell in love with the story I was hoping for some secret rich guy to fall in love with me from the wings.  I needed it to happen back then before I met my husband when I was floundering around in relationships that were frustrating and confusing in the impecunious years of youth and school and very little stability.  Pemberley?  Just because I am my feisty self?  Whaa?  I watched my favorite Pride and Prejudice movie after I got married and it didn’t give me the same hope.  Because I didn’t need it anymore.  I had created my own stability.

Anyway.

The author beat me to the punch on this one with the age difference.  Mr. Knightley is is established early on as being already established in the world and a bachelor to boot, but he specifically discusses how a fourteen year age difference didn’t impede the couple’s growing regard.  He talks about how they care about each others opinions and slowly begin to find the other interesting. I think them ending up together was less of a surprise in this one than in the original.  Also, with my own writing instruction and my love of  and familiarity with this plot, which extends to the movie Clueless, I could easily spot the setup in the conversations Emma had with her governess that set up the growth that she was about to experience through her actions in the rest of the novel.   Maybe it isn’t that I am better at picking these things out, it might just be Smith’s artistry.  But I liked it.

This one felt truly modernized, not just the same plot with some cell phones, texting and social media tossed in there, like Sense and Sensibility felt like.  There was the classic useless parent, this time a father, who doesn’t move her growth along nearly as much as her governess.   I like that she makes the active choice to stop being idle and trying to arrange people’s lives from her pedestal and learns that truly helping others more than just telling them what to do is the true fulfillment. This combined with having her own occupation and contribution also helped make it seem more modern to me.  Her contribution in the original one is just to get married, which a happy marriage is the highest they can aspire to back then, but with her choosing a real direction with her life was much more modern and satisfying.

So, Emma grows up, and my boy is at a milestone.

I don’t know where my next post is coming from. I need to re-read a classic for my novel and I have a BookRiot book post waiting for use, but neither of those go on my retelling streak and I have not completed all my books that are re-tellings of classics.  So, I am not sure.  And being that it is summer, I need to start posting every other week again, to give me time for other writing.

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Re-Tellings, Continued: The Austen Project #2

Happy Memorial Day weekend!  The unofficial kickoff to summer! The green of the brand new leaves in May is my absolute favorite green.  It’s invigorating to see it in all the trees.

And, because I am married to a vet I’m not losing sight of the reason for the season, which is to honor the fallen.

I usually spend Memorial Weekend with my parents because they are up for the summer, and I get another writing instruction session Monday morning because I have the time and its not actually a holiday in South Africa, where my writing instructor lives.  I need that time with her, as I hammered out a second draft in a month and there are lingering pot holes that I thought of after I emailed it to her and she said let her see what she can do.  Because writing instructors are wholly magic people!

This week’s classic retelling is not a book that needed any redemption.  Not only due to how I read it the first time, but it deserves mention: I have the Jane Austen omnibus from Barnes and Noble, back in the pre e-reader days when I was collecting classics and actually paying money for them.  The giant book with the tissue thin pages with the eensy print to fit it all on the pages.  I read this one on my loveseat on a second story glassed in porch during a rainy spring weekend and reveled in my solitude.  I was renting two rooms in a house in Poughkeepsie, I was in my graduate internship, I was not constantly hammering out graduate work nor tending to a long term relationship in my immediate space.  I just read a classic novel over the weekend, because I could.  It was the beginning of a glorious space in my life where my time was neither consumed with endless graduate work or the wonderful but endless responsibility of motherhood.  When I need time to myself I look wistfully back on that weekend as the paragon of what I once had. That and there was also a funny day trip to Ikea with my close friends where we spent hours in the store and were so tired when we were leaving that we laughed uncontrollably when we briefly lost the driving friend in the parking garage and couldn’t really understand why it was so funny.

But the book…well, I guess the book was good too.  *insert tongue in cheek here*

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Northanger Abbey, Val McDermid (The Austen Project #2)

Like I said when I reviewed Eligible, it is a tall order to ask established writers to go in for a Jane Austen retelling, and not only that, to make them more accessible to today’s teens.  The ratings suggest that this is another layer people just won’t go in for.  I can’t even find a suggestion of Persuasion or Mansfield Park even having authors chosen for them online, the last Austen Project updates I can find being for Eligible in 2014/2015.  There’s no hard evidence that the project has been canned, but I am losing optimism that it will be completed.

Also, I cheated a little and listened to the radio dramatization of the original first just to freshen up on major plot points. I remember the rain and the love seat and the paper thin pages and a couple of my beefs with the story but I felt I would do better with the retelling with a rehash first.

So, I liked this.  I liked that she is going to Scotland to be in the theater and social scene there.  It is more fun than the original.   I wanted to know how she was going to pull off the Gothic novel obsession in a modern context and I almost thought Catherine would be really into TV,  but I felt her choice of vampire novels and then comparing the Tilneys to Edward and his clan in Twilight (although she is never that explicit, I read Twilight to catch every reference) was a good one.  Especially since the few minutes of the movies that  I have been able to sit through have been kind of atmospheric in a Pacific Northwest kind of way which could be similar to Scotland’s, although I have been neither place.  Sadly.  So, well done.

(A brief sidebar:  Someone put the collection of the original Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey on Amazon, Northanger Horrid Novels, complete with Radcliffe.  I read The Mysteries of Udolpho because of this book and someday I will read the other Gothic novels in the collection.  You know how I love my Gothic reads)

I also liked that the reason Catherine gets randomly cast out makes more sense in the modern world and is more fitting to a teenager’s understanding. There are fortune hunting characters but we are not such in a fortune hunting world anymore.  Parents have considerations for their children that can extend past money and I am glad she did something else with that.

I wish that Catherine Morland had been made a little older, as seventeen was a respectable age to get a husband back in the day but now it’s just barely legal for consent (at least in NY) and the age difference between couples at this age needs to be smaller to not be creepy.  Like, who can’t love Henry Tilney, but I don’t know anyone who is getting started after law school that would develop more than friendship feelings for a 17 year old who really knows nothing of the world.  They would not have enough in common to really develop a relationship. We are no longer in that time period where being completely naive is an attractive quality in men looking for a life partner and an equal rather than a wife.  I know she has to be naive in the story to make it work, but there can be too much in order to make the couple seem implausible, which is what is happening here.  I guess maybe I also spend more time with 17 year olds than many other people.

But there was one change to the relationship that she made that I did like.  It still eludes me why Jane Austen saw fit in the original to comment that Henry only marries Catherine out of gratitude and because she loved him first.  I don’t know why they couldn’t just love each other.  I felt badly for Catherine in the end because she was being married somewhat against the Captain’s wishes and then only because her husband was grateful.  In this one they really do just love each other, even though I feel that she should have been made a little older to help.

Like I said, it is a tall order to work on the Austen Project and the more I read them the more this becomes apparent.  I can better respect the challenge that McDermid was up against.

So, I am reading more retellings, because I love them, mixed in with the BookRiot challenges.  Rolling into summer and seeing if I need to space out the posts like I did last summer because I am busier in the season I can actually go places.

And the second draft of my novel is done?  I started writing in late January.  I feel good about that, even if my brains are on the blink because I am making them do all the things.

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Alice Hoffman Redeems a Classic

I think I might have posted on Wuthering Heights forever ago when I started this blog,  probably in my short guide to how to start reading the classics.  For anyone who has not memorized all of these posts, I recommended not to start with Wuthering Heights.

I don’t remember all the details of that post, but I do remember picking the book up in my second year of the foray into classical literature.  When I came back to reading but in full force, picking up the books that culture referenced over and over again.  I almost didn’t make it through the first 25-50 pages of this book because it was so depressing, and then it got less depressing, and then the characters were terribly abusive when I thought this was supposed to be some sort of love story and then I was disgusted, wondering why this was some sort of paragon of love.

Now I don’t think that it is held up as a great love story, but it is lots of drama and scandal written in a time that those things were secretly craved by readers (as opposed to openly craved now).

Regardless, I was like, “what the frig is this?” especially after having my first foray into the Brontes being Jane Eyre by Charlotte, which was also depressing and the love story is off and a little disturbing, but not to this degree.  As of this writing my favorite sister might be Anne.  But I haven’t read the rest of Charlotte’s stuff, which is a goal of mine.  Anyway.

An Oprah’s Book Club pick:

 

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Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman

I am assuming that BookRiot added an Oprah’s book club pick because she picks intense and eye opening novels, which BookRiot also challenges you to do.   Books that push you into other perspectives and hopefully a better understanding of them.  I have actually read a decent amount of her picks because my mother was into them for awhile, because she liked the hottest new read.

The fact that Here on Earth is a retelling of Wuthering Heights made me more likely to read it, not less.  I love Alice Hoffman.  I would love to be able to pull off her magical realism, her historical fiction, her characters, her productivity as a writer (although I know I couldn’t write like she does as well as have my job).

I wanted to know how Hoffman was going to pull of Heathcliff, in this book Hollis, a one name character while everyone else had two names anchored with family.  I wanted her to make him better but then I didn’t. I didn’t want her to write a character in a way to justify his crappy attitude and treatment of others.  She made his attachment issues and subsequent abusive thought processes crystal clear without asking the reader for sympathy.  You could understand his abuser’s mind from his long history of being the underdog, but you aren’t asked to forgive him.  Like everyone, we are all responsible for how we act when the past is over and we are in a position to make our own future.  Hollis/Heathcliff are deeply damaged and only try to help themselves by controlling more and more of the outside world, which does nothing to heal the broken and unloved little boys inside them.  At least how Hoffman writes Hollis, he loses any charming vulnerability he once had as a child, the vulnerability that March saw and fell in love with at one time.  A boy who disappeared long before March returned and who March thought was still there when she got sucked back into his orbit.

I also thought the Coopers (Lintons) were well done.  The benevolent and naive family that gets pulled into the dysfunction of Hollis and March, who deserve so much better than them and who love and wait for them and allow themselves to be abused and killed off by the dysfunctional force that is Hollis and March.

I had to go back for a wikipedia refresher to remember the role of Nelly Dean.  I remembered that she narrated the story to the traveler in the original, and in this one the housekeeper’s death is what pulls March back to the area, so she continues to be somewhat of the focus even though she is dead.  Nelly Dean has been credited by some as the unreliable narrator, whereas Judith Dean in this book is also disappointed by love similarly to March.  She’s one of the centers who doesn’t even get to tell her own story, but is part of everyone else’s.

The one thing I wasn’t as sure of was how March was created.  Catherine Earnshaw in the original is wild and needs a decent amount of civilizing, which pulls her away from Heathcliff, which is why he gets himself more civilized in the first place, to be able to marry her.  March was in love with Hollis from a young age, which is so impressionable, but I think the original Cathy was more of a wild child.  March just goes through the motions of her comfortable and safe marriage and then when she submits to Hollis, she  enters a dream state and dissolves.  The love chemicals in her brain that are back from when she was a teenager puts her in a trancelike state and disconnects her from her awareness of consequences.  For awhile, she is completely consumed and in a dream.

I think this one sucked me in because it was so psychologically juicy.  I think it helps me understand the appeal of the original Wuthering Heights.  Hoffman’s characters maybe aren’t so savage, have more relateability than the original.  And I have had time to digest it and I must have liked the original somewhat because I wanted to read someone else’s spin.

It has started a tide of my wanting to get to work on my stash of re-tellings, so if you like them too, stay tuned for next week.  I am working on a new one right now.

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Children’s classics: The Mowgli Stories

I believe that children’s books provide a lot of information about the context of their times.  I originally limited this statement to classic, but the books I grew up on, which I am not ready to admit could be classic, or the books I am sharing with my reluctant reader (who is reading beyond his grade level) both continue to communicate information on the values of our cultural context.   There are books out now about understanding transgender issues, positive thinking  and accepting yourself as well as those with differences, whereas previously, and in the book I am going to talk about in this post, books focused on things like obedience and authority and order.

Being a parent myself has helped me clarify what values I would most like my son to have.  I am big on boundaries, and him standing up for himself and others, being kind, trying his best no matter what and having a positive attitude, no matter what the outcome (I have had to deal with some meltdowns if he didn’t make a goal in soccer).  So it would make sense that the popular books of the time reflect the prevailing values.  The parents are most typically the ones buying books for their kids.  Except of course for the book I am writing about today, which was originally posted as stories in magazines, which were the thing in the 1890’s:

A Children’s Classic Published before 1980:

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The Mowgli Stories, Rudyard Kipling

Now, I always like to shout out to Librivox when I listen to something classic because they have made listening way easier and free, and I have listened to the volunteer readings plenty of times, especially for the more obscure stuff that the regular market won’t take a chance on. But I cheated on Librivox this time and got this dramatized version from Audible.  Dramatized versions are rising in my estimation, as long as they are not grossly abridged.  And if they are, I will be sure to have read the actual classic first because that’s just more legit in my opinion.

I wondered when I listened to this what the jungles of India must seem like to a child raised in Britain at the time, how bright and animated and possibly frightening.  Wiki says that Kipling wrote these when he lived in Vermont for his little girl who died at six, and similarly, the jungle probably would seem distant to a child raised here at that time as well.

The animals have their own anthropomorphized social system and somewhat of a democracy where they meet to discuss things rather than every animal for himself.  They follow social rules, like not hunting at the water hole when water is scarce. The stories warn of what happens when someone doesn’t follow the general order and rules of the jungle.  My favorite one warns of what happens when one ignores an ancient curse.  Those are always for real.

I wondered as I listened about Mowgli’s having to move between worlds.  I have seen the Disney Jungle Book movie.  I am pretty sure I have a memory in there about seeing it in the movie theater.  In the Disney version, Mowgli just sees an Indian girl and follows her off to her village and everything is cool.  There is not an issue about fitting in or being one of them. In the movie they encourage him to move to the man world after he scares off Shere Khan, but in the book they kind of kick his butt out and he then kills Shere Khan himself by making the herd that he has to tend trample him to death.  He goes back and forth between the man and animal worlds, not fitting in in either, which would be to be expected and a story I have seen before in the context of stratified societies, where a child is raised in the world for which he or she was not ultimately intended and then not being able to be part of either.  I would expect a theme like that if it takes place in India at the time of British rule.   The feral child theme also is not surprising, as childhood did not seem awesomely nurturing at that time, either.   The wolves and the bear do a better job in loving and teaching Mowgli than the adults trying to raise children in The Secret Garden.

I am glad that BookRiot included a classic children’s book to get readers a taste of the values of different times and contexts of history.  I need to get to the original jungle book  too.  That will probably be some Librivox magic.  I have noticed that the audio of classics on Audible has gone way up.  It used to be a few dollars when you bought the free kindle version of public domain books, but now the audio version of The Woman in White I want is about seven and a half dollars, a price often assigned to non public domain works.  I am not sure why that is.  It looks to me like Audible still has the audiobook market, but I think others are getting in on it, like Google Play, although I don’t know if they whispersync to the book, which is a feature I love.  And I like being able to buy my credits in a chunk and sometimes there are sales where you can get two books for a credit. I still love them.  I drink their Kool Aid.  But I don’t know if they are getting too bold with the price hikes.

This one also could have counted as a one sitting book because the audio was only two and a half hours.  I got most of it done in a vacation length gym session and finished it driving out and back to Target and lunch with a friend.  I know, my white girl life is super hard.  Don’t deny your sympathy for me.

Also, in a brief note, the novel drafting has picked up speed.  I am hoping that around the time this post goes up that I will have it completely drafted.  Also I am hoping that it will have gotten above freezing on a daily basis and warm enough at night to open the water that has already refrozen so I can watch the ducks and geese.

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Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The point of healing from trauma is not forgetting the trauma happened, but allowing oneself to process what happened in as much detail as is tolerable and then considering the ways in which it shaped us and will always be a part of us.  And respecting it.

The same applies with the collective trauma that we experienced in becoming the nation we are today.   The trauma that became the reason behind our laws and regulations. Our systems.

I am wondering if this is why Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad not only won this year’s Pulitzer and National Book Award,  but also is on the long list for the Man Booker Prize.

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Also I am wondering why my summer reads this year are books that will help me recover from my first world problems.  I picked up another book to alternate with this heart wrenching tale for some breaks to find out that book was heavy as lead, too.  No rest for the wicked, or the privileged, I guess.

This book is exactly what the title says:  a narrative about a slave trying to survive her way to freedom via the actual underground railroad.  It illuminates attitudes on both sides of the slavery debate, even those of people who think they are being enlightened, but who in the end were almost as scary as the infamous and terrifying slave catcher.  It brings into sharp focus what these slaves lives were like: the realization of hardship that crashed early and fast, taking the light from children’s eyes before they are ten years old.  The main character evolves with the stages of her own journey to freedom:  a woman who was “a stray herself” from the beginning of the novel trying to find her home, free of bondage, where she can love and belong.

That said, I am wondering what is so exactly special about this book to make it worthy of two, possibly three of the highest book accolades there are.  It is powerful and well written, but we are pretty heavy as it is on the slave narratives.  I feel that Between the World and Me was more illuminating, as slavery is covered in the US History classes I took, but the effects of modern racism, even to this day, I have not encountered so much in formal studies.  It hides itself better today.  And I am careful of it in my work as a therapist.  I asked the people who go through it what it is like for them today, in this time and place.

But The Underground Railroad feels like this has already been done.  Maybe because those who decide the prize feel that it is done better than the narratives there are out there.  I mean, I don’t decide literary prizes and I don’t feel qualified to do so.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely.  I think it should be assigned, or parts of it, for high school students taking US History.  I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in that class instead. I just think that something hogging the major awards should have some aspect that is more overtly different, a different juxtaposition.  I don’t know.  It will probably win Man Booker too and make me look like a fool.  I understand why The Sellout won Man Booker last year.  It was brilliant in its satire of race. I have not read the other contenders for last year’s prize, but it would take a lot to change my mind.   I just feel that there was something more eye opening to me from Between the World and Me and The Sellout than The Underground Railroad provided.

I was sneaking in books about white people on the side all along.  I won’t play like I wasn’t.

Comments/likes/shares!  Tell me I am a fool if there is something missing. I am willing to hear alternate points.  Especially since I am using a whole post for one book, which is rare, just to say, how is this book, exactly, special? Ha.

 

 

 

Good-for-You YA

Sometimes, I think that YA books work harder at tackling difficult issues and topics because they are still meant to meet impressionable minds trying to make their way in the world.  When I see calls for YA manuscripts, usually ones that tackle tough and current issues, like mental illness and immigration, are the ones that publishers are looking for.

And it’s great.  I have often said on this blog that YA books can help build empathy in a mind that is open to empathy but might still be focused on the smaller immediate world of the person.  I don’t think that all teens are necessarily ‘me’ focused. I have met many on different parts of the spectrum, from completely self centered to so giving and concerned with others I have had to help them pull it back a little to take care of themselves.

Today I am tackling two YA books that are very very different, but I both feel are important in their own ways, written in different times and contexts.

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A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K Le Guin

There are lists floating about discussing important children’s books always mentions A Wizard of Earthsea, floating between Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte’s Web and Winne the Pooh and all the other better known ones I long since read.  And like those classics, it is about growing up and knowing your power, but it reminded me more of the Lord of the Rings, and His Dark Materials.  It is a created world, and there are significant philosophical slants to it, very Tao. It discusses the power of names and knowing true names, managing and respecting power, coming to terms with death.  I noticed in the age rating on Amazon it says 12 and up, no upper age limit, because although intended as a children’s book, it extends past the reaches of coming of age and into bigger, more lifelong concepts. Even if one did tackle it in middle school, it would need to be revisited, much like Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials require multiple readings.  Full disclosure, I have only read the Hobbit and the Fellowship, and I know that the other two are going to have to happen.  Maybe when the snow returns in a fit of binge crafting.  Anyway.  This is heavy and it is not flashy.  It is a journey through an unknown land of a boy figuring out how to wield his power.  I feel more well read in the children’s classics, but I don’t know if this is something I would share with my son.  Depending on who he is and how I frame it to him.  Huge work, though.

So Wizard was written in 1968, and combines legends and philosophical concepts, which I think is in keeping with the times in which it is written.  Race forward to 2014. Prejudice has focused to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Muslim countries as our ‘enemies’ when the vast majority of these equally god fearing people are coming here to live for opportunity and freedoms. Like the reason we all came over.  My family was here before we were a country because we wanted religious freedom and began the Seventh Day Adventists.  So I am not judging on anyone who is looking for the same.  I think our young people need to be informed and empathic to everyone coming here looking for something better. Just because some of us may have gotten here first doesn’t mean we have rights to more of the pie.

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The Art of Secrets, James Klise

I stumbled on this one because it was a 2015 Edgar Award Winner. This is an epistolary novel, which may fit some reading challenge criteria. It is interesting, well written and pulls in a number of personalities and motives.  It’s a mystery, not so much who committed the catalyst crime but who committed the following one.  The tragedy centers on a Muslim family who are the victims of arson and then the privileged white school kids who are trying to help them. Told from all these perspectives it is a rich and multi faceted plot that does not ignore the differences between kids coming in to the privileged school in Chicago and the worlds that they come from.  Some reviews felt that some of the nonwhite voices are a little stilted and stereotypical, and maybe they are, but I still liked it the same.  It has a rating of 3.5 on Goodreads, which I feel maybe could be a little higher, considering The Winter Sea was rated higher but I think it is less important.  It has won or been in the running for a number of awards and reading lists. This is one I might encourage my son to read or read with him.

I have sooo much YA in my kindle because of my own enjoyment of the genre and my own desires to write it.  So there will be lots more YA posts to come, but I felt both of these works are important in their own ways.

May has finally arrived!

Half marathon on Mother’s Day weekend next weekend!  ahhh

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Read Down 2017: how does your garden grow?

I think few people can deny that nature is chock full of magic.  The first magic honored the natural world and all the things that it does completely without us, in fact, in spite of us.

This post features two blogs where growing things on purpose is a major component of the book. Books about intentionally  growing things as well as redemption, redemption that is being looked for, and redemption that happens entirely by accident.

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The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin

I picked up The Orchardist a few years ago when it first came out, but it is a part of my Read Down 2017, as I still had not gotten to it.  It’s my kind of historical fiction, the kind that uses a story to steep you into the times, in this case, the American West 1850-1900.  A self elected foster father tries to save two abused pregnant teenage girls escaping a life of sexual slavery because his own beloved sister, the only person he had, disappeared mysteriously decades before.  The kind of vanishing without a trace that you could do in the loose structure of the American West at that time.  But when the girls stumble into his life, he sees a chance to save them, and keeps trying to save them at his own detriment until he dies. Raising the baby that was born and left on his orchard is not enough to assuage his prolonged grief over the loss of his sister.  We don’t even know if she was kidnapped or left of her own accord, but the fact that all that was left of her was a bonnet drives his actions in years to come. The fact that he grows food to sell as a means of sustenance is secondary to the other pieces of the plot.

This is a character driven novel to be read for its beauty and understanding of a different time and place.  I think when it came out, some people commented that it was slow and anti climactic, but I thought it was beautiful and engrossing.

There is also a re read on some of the Reading Challenges that I have been unsuccessfully avoiding.  Yeah, I have been trolling, especially as it relates to my own book collection.  I can’t even hold to my resolution for three months, but whatever, I actually have been drinking more water.  I bought bottled waters that just feel easier at home and reminders when I am out. But, somehow drinking more water has been easier for me to do than not looking at MMD, BookRiot and Popsugar.  But I have not committed myself to a number of books or pages, so that’s a start.  Any. Whoodle.

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The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

I loved The Secret Garden as a kid, and re reading it as an adult, I am realizing that my love of Gothic novels goes back to before I knew what a Gothic novel even was.  A little girl is saved from who she was by coming to the Moors under the care of an absent uncle and getting lots of outdoors and some good old hands off/borderline neglectful British parenting.  She comes from India, where she is yellow skinned, sour faced and completely unappealing and spoiled to regain health and vigor in the finding and cultivating of a forbidden garden in a big old house full of sadness and mystery.

And she is also saved by the poster child for old school British parenting, the ultimate best case example of a child who is allowed to roam free all day every day, Dickon.  If Dickon was brown he would have been Burnett’s version of the magical n-.  He is poor and uneducated and yet he brings life, love and vigor wherever he goes.  He will probably grow up to have the soul dragged out of him by factory work or some other such drudgery that effectively killed the souls of the poor at that time of history, but for now, he is a veritable beacon of heart and goodness.  Also of gender roles, because the girls in poor families with tons of kids are expected to help with the cooking and childcare and household duties, while the boys can be out on the moors talking to birds and raising orphaned animals or doing what they please for 12-16 hours a day.  Dickon’s older sister was a servant and sending her wages back home and coming home on her one day off a month to help her mother with the baking. Can I be any more obvious that I don’t like it when people hold old school hands off parenting as the gold standard to which we should all aspire?  These kids raise themselves back to having the potential of being productive members of society all on their own.  No help from busy adults who don’t set any limits.

These are both good reads, one is better for the atmosphere, the characters and the themes, and the other is a nice feel good story of redemption. Both worth a go.

 

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