Monday, June 30, 2008

The Pickwick Papers

Finally finished The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. It was his first novel and consists of many loosely related adventures of the members of the club. It is easy to see the embryos of later, larger works taking shape in this book, in particular Bleak House and Little Dorrit. Pickwick himself is a lovable, benevolent character who often seems to get himself into scrapes. His manservant Samuel Weller is the real gem of the book. So funny and so logical, he is the antithesis of Jeeves, and yet he seems to get things straightened out very well. He's a character I wish I had as a personal friend.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Borrowers

Finished The Borrowers by Mary Norton last night. Considered a classic of children's literature I found it a little dull. That may be because I would read about two pages each night before I fell asleep, so the story didn't really get going for me until the end. I do like things in miniature, so when The Boy brings the Borrowers items from the abandoned doll's house thinks perked up a bit. I enjoyed Norton's Bedknob and Broomstick a bit more.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dream When You're Feeling Blue

When stuck at Logan Airport for four hours last week I wandered into the Borders there and bought Elizabeth Berg's Dream When You're Feeling Blue. This is the second time I've purchased a Berg novel in the airport. Last year it was A Year of Pleasures. I'd had my eye on this latest book ever since it came out last May. Set in Chicago during World War II, it's the story of the Heaney sisters, their family and the men they love who've gone to war. At times it made me think of Little Women and the sacrifices the sisters make during the Civil War. At other times it reminded me of Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters since there is a lot of relationship juggling going on.

The book was a quick and heartfelt read. Berg obviously did a lot of research, not just historically, but through letters, memiors and personal accounts, in order to deliver the very human story of this novel.

Shen of the Sea

Well I finally finished Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman. It won the Newbery Medal in 1926. It is a collection of Chinese folktales with block print illustrations. Like many of the early Newbery medalists this book was slow for me. The stories themselves were amusing, but I have a hard time getting through collections of stories since they lack a common narrative thread.

Cock a Doodle Doo

Cock a Doodle Doo by Berta and Elmer Hader won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1940. It is the story of a chick who for some unknown reason hatches in a nest of ducklings. The mother duck accepts the chick as her own, but the chick has a hard time trying to live the life of a duck. Eventually the chick runs away towards the sound of a rooster crowing. It is a dangerous journey, but he finally makes it to the farm yard and grows up with other chickens. While slightly reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling, this story is never about appearances, it's more about ability and a sense of belonging.

Berta and Elmer Hader were a husband and wife team who wrote and illustrated many books. Their book The Big Snow won the Caldecott Medal in 1949. Elmer Hader illustrated the cover of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath in 1939.

Anne of the Island

Finished Anne of the Island by Lucy Maude Montgomery, the third and so far the best of the Anne of Green Gables books. Anne is at Redmond College pursuing a B.A. She and her chums rent a cottage in town and share many triumphs and setbacks. For those interested in Anne and Gilbert this is a suspenseful book. That's all I'm going to say...

A Little Maid of Nantucket

I really enjoyed A Little Maid of Nantucket by Alice Turner Curtis. This is one of a series of twenty five books she wrote about girl characters living in colonial settings. The main character Prissie is brave and daring and helps to signal Nantucket boats that are heading towards British war ships. Curtis' research of the setting is thorough. I found the book to be an exciting read and would recommend the series as great books for girls to read.

I purchased my copy, published in 1926, last month at the Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair. I was very excited to find it there since I had been unable to get the book through interlibrary loan. Soon after I purchased it the library notified me that it had become available. Out of curiosity I went down and picked it up. It was a library binding edition reprinted in the 1950s with dreadful illustrations. So glad I found the original.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate

The Pursuit of Love and it's sequel Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (published together in this one volume) were the most fun I've had in terms of reading since Christmas. These coming of age between the wars novels are laced with eccentric characters behaving with delightful absurdity. The narrator Fanny, the only grounded character we ever meet, is someone I would have liked to known. Uncle Matthew, with his gross intolerance of everything, this obsession with playing opera on his gramophone and his cracking of bull whips on the lawn at dawn, is probably the most lovable lunatic since P. G. Wodehouse's Roderick Spode. I don't want to say too much more because I don't wish to give anything away. I can recommend these novels very highly to anyone who enjoyed reading Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, is an anglophile and/or likes to laugh out loud.