Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Finished Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I've always wanted to read this book. I'm glad I finally got around to it. It was an excellent read. People have asked me if the language is antiquated. The answer is no. It's a very accessible, exciting and emotional novel. It was originally published in serial form in an abolitionist publication. When it was first published in book form the entire run sold out. It went on to be the best selling novel of the 19th Century. While Stowe does an excellent job of illustrating the horrors of slavery, she does so with characters who are very three dimensional. Simon Legree, the most loathsome and barbaric person in the novel is haunted by superstition and the memory of his pious mother. This made him much more credible as a character.

I recently started reading Maude Hart Lovelace's Betsey and Tacy Go Downtown, the fourth book in her series for children. Set in the early 1900s, the book tells the story of Betsy and Tacy and their friend Tib who are longing to go see the play Uncle Tom's Cabin which is being performed in their town. Funny coincidence.

Wikipedia suggests that anyone who is interested in American Literature and/or American history might find Uncle Tom's Cabin especially intriguing as a precursor to protest novels like Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Not sure I'll ever be able to read that one.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Finished Four and Twenty Blackbirds. It is a collection of English and American nursery rhymes compiled by Helen Dean Fish and illustrated by Robert Lawson. It won the Caledecott Honor in 1938. Lawson was both an illustrator and writer of children's books. He was the first person to win both the Caldecott and Newbery Medals. The black and white illustrations are whimsical. The nursery rhymes themselves are for the most part unfamiliar. Like original fairy tales they are a bit shocking at times. In one, a fox bites the head off of a baby owl and sucks out all it's blood. Yikes!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Scarlet Sister Mary

Finished Scarlet Sister Mary by Julie Peterkin. From the back cover:

"Banned in Boston when it was first published in 1928, Scarlet Sister Mary is the story of a sexy, independent, and outspoken woman who lives to please herself. Abandoned by her husband, the heroine takes many lovers, loses her firstborn son, and eventually 'finds peace' as a church member, although she refuses to give up her love charm and her gold hoop earrings. Scarlet Sister Mary shocked readers with its sensual portrayal of a black woman's private life, but it was universally lauded for its honesty and courage. The first edition sold more than one million copies worldwide, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1929."

I really enjoyed this book. Peterkin has a very clear sense of all her characters and how they interact in this small community. It's been interesting to read this book while also reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. Both books incorporate a large amount of religion to illustrate good vs evil, but they employ it in indifferent ways. In Uncle Tom's Cabin evil is illustrated with sins of cruelty, where as Sister Mary is a sinner by means of carnal sin. I'm amused that the book was banned in Boston. As I read it I kept trying to figure out what was so wrong with it. Certainly characters in literature perform this sin all the time. Look at Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary. Sister Mary is happy with her lot in life and sins for the sake of pleasure, but she is a good, kind person. She is eventually punished for her sins and repents of them, so what's the problem?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Animals of the Bible

Finished Animals of the Bible, the very first winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1938. The book is made up of excerpts from The Old Testament and The New Testament. These excerpts include various references to animals. The illustrations, drawn by Dorothy P. Lathrop are nicely detailed. Some of the excerpts seem a bit scary to me and some are just plain strange. One from The Old Testament is entitled "Behemoth" and features a drawing of a hippopotamus with his mouth wide open. I've never read so much from The Bible before. Much like the first Newbery medalist, this book was a long haul for me.

On to the Caldecott Honor books for 1938...

The Dark Frigate

Finished The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes. It won the Newbery Medal in 1924. An exciting adventure story with plenty of well drawn characters and suspense. The first half of the book reminded me quite a lot of Robert Lewis Stevenson's Kidnapped. The violence is a bit surprising, but I guess that's to be expected when a ship is "captured by a band of murderous pirates!" as it says on the front cover. The book ends with hints of more adventures to come. However, Hawes died before he even received the medal for this book. His book The Great Quest won the Newbery Honor in 1922, the first year the medals were awarded.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Light a Penny Candle

Finished Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchey. It was her first novel, published in 1982. I liked this book a lot. It reminded me a bit of A Murderous Innocence by Alison Scott Skelton. Both books are family sagas, taking place partially in Ireland, over several decades.

While the book was quite long (almost 600 pages), I breezed through it. Binchey's characters are engaging and realistic. The story itself is very compelling, although the end of the book seems a bit sudden and odd. It's almost as if it was getting too long and she had to find some way of winding it up. I look forward to reading her next book The Lilac Bus some time in the next year or so.