Friday, May 29, 2009

The Warden

Finished The Warden by Anthony Trollope, the first book in his Chronicles of Barsetshire. This is a quiet book. It begins the series of novels based on the church politics of Barchester. There are characters with droll names like Sir Abraham Haphazard, a noted barrister and Mr. Quiverful of Puddingdale, who has twelve children to support. I was expecting this book to be rather dry, but it was a pleasant, amusing read.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Finished Cheri by Colette. I decided not to read the sequel The Last of Cheri because it is rather dark by comparison. I apparently read both of these books in a Women's Lit class as an undergrad, but did not remember much about them. The prose is sultry, as is the plot. It is also rather beautifully written. A film version of the two books will be released next month.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Now in November

Finished Now in November by Josephine Johnson. It won the Pulitzer in 1935. This was Johnson's first novel. She was twenty-four when it was published. Set during the Depression it tells the story of a family's struggles to live with each other and to keep the farm they've put so much of themselves into.

Three sisters, Kerrin, Marget (the narrator) and Merle work alongside their mother performing the womanly tasks that are expected of them. Kerrin, the oldest, longs to work with her father on the land, but he thinks girls are too stupid and feeble to do so.

The novel is short, but spans ten years in the lives of the family on their farm. Towards the end of the decade Grant, the son of a neighbor, comes to live with them and help out. Kerrin, ever restless and rebellious, is distracted by him, as she would be by anyone new. Marget is quietly and desperately in love with him, but he himself is partial to Merle, who enjoys challenging him verbally, but has no interest in him as a mate.

Drought and tragedy take their toll on everyone, Kerrin in particular. At the beginning of the novel she is wild and untamed, much like Hans Christian Anderson's character of the Robber Girl in The Snow Queen. She teaches herself to throw a knife, wanders the woods alone most nights, sleeps in the barn and eats alone, like a starved animal. She becomes progressively unbalanced and in the end commits suicide. While horrible, this is almost a relief to her family who each felt that there was no place in the world for Kerrin and her odd ways.

The prose is spare, taught, poetic and bleak. The reader floats dreamlike through the days of drought and despair. Though I haven't read it yet, I think the impact of this book was perhaps overshadowed by Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath which won five years later.

Heaven to Betsy

Finished Heaven to Betsy, Maud Hart Lovelace's fifth book in the series. Betsy and Tacy are now freshmen in high school. Many changes take place this year. Betsy's family moves to a new, larger home. They also acquire house help, a woman named Anna, who comes to live with them. The move away from Hill Street is sad for Betsy since she will no longer be right across the street from Tacy. The new house is lovely though. Betsy has her own room and makes new friends nearby. They become "The Crowd." Betsy quickly merges Tacy into The Crowd and they have many adventures and social activities. Boys become a major topic in this book. Betsy spends a lot of time on her personal appearance. She begins rolling her hair at night on curlers (magic wavers) that Anna has given her. She develops a crush on a new boy named Tony, but steps aside when she realizes that her friend Bonnie likes him too. We also meet Joe Willard, whose character was based on Maude's own husband, Delos Lovelace. The social negotiations between boys and girls are very carefully drawn here. Betsy has numerous learning experiences as a result of them. The prose has again matured to match the age of the characters. This was a very pleasant, comfortable read.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Finished The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. I missed reading this book in eighth grade English class because I switched schools in November of 1977 and the class at the new school had just finished reading it. It's great fun. This was the precursor to later superheros in disguise stories. The cleverness of the disguises often reminded me of Sherlock Holmes. It's a gripping adventure as well as a romance. I really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to watching the 1934 film adaptation starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon this weekend.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Christmas Anna Angel

Finished The Christmas Anna Angel written by Ruth Sawyer and illustrated by Kate Seredy. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1945. Set in Hungary it is the story of a little girl who longs for the decorative Christmas cakes that they used to have before the wars came. The story is very original and the illustrations are lovely.

Ruth Sawyer won the Newbery Medal in 1937 for Roller Skates. Kate Seredy won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1936 for The Good Master and then the Newbery Medal in 1938 for The White Stag.