Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fairy Tales: A Selection

Finally finished Fairy Tales: A Selection by Hans Christian Andersen. It takes me a long time to get through disjointed texts, books of tales or short stories. I much prefer a long, drawn out narrative with lots of characters to follow. This collection has sat on my bookshelf, unread, for many years. It contains many of Andersen's most familiar works, The Princess and the Pea, Thumblina, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, and The Little Match Girl. It was pleasant to read these in the original (if translated) text. However, I found the tales I was not familiar with truly bizarre and interesting. The Galoshes of Fortune was my favorite. It reminded me very much of the 1942 film Tales of Manhattan, where a tail coat passes from person to person, changing the destiny of each one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

Finished Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. It won the Newbery Medal in 1930. About a decade ago, when I used to read chapter books out loud to my daughter we started Hitty. We got about twenty pages in and were so bored we started calling it "Hitty: Her First Million Years." Needless to say we gave up and read something else. Because of that experience I was concerned when Hitty came up next in my chronological reading of the Newbery medalists. At times like this I hear the voice of Miss Baker, one of my middle school English teachers, saying "Always give a book at least 32 pages before you give up on it." Reading Hitty this time I was engrossed long before page 32.

Hitty is a doll, carved from strong Mountain Ash. She was made by a peddler for Phoebe Prebles, a little girl living in Maine in the 19th Century. Hitty's adventures begin almost immediately. She is picked up by a crow and brought back to a nest where she is pecked and crowded by young crows. She falls from the nest and is rescued by the Prebles. Phoebe's father is the Captain of a Whaler. He takes his family along on a voyage to the South Seas. They are shipwrecked on a small island. The people of the island are fascinated by Hitty and place her in a shrine where she is anointed and worshiped. Someone steals Hitty back and the family is rescued and taken to India. Phoebe is so tired. She is carried to lodgings and loses her grip on Hitty. Hitty falls into the gutter. She is later discovered there by a snake charmer. Hitty travels in a basket with a cobra from one end of India to the other. Adventures such as this go on and on.

There are times when Hitty is lost to the world in attics, barns, down beneath sofa cushions. She is always rediscovered, rehabilitated, and brought back in a different role, sometimes simply as a plaything, other times as a museum piece. She remarks on the changes that she sees over the years, new inventions, innovations, changes in styles and manners. She at one point is given a little desk, quill pen and ink and so begins to write, these, her memoirs.

This book was exciting and fantastical. An interesting historical ride. There are moments where one cringes over ethnic and racial stereotypes, but taken within the context of when they were happening, they are sadly the tone of the times. Hitty herself is a bit of a snob.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

When I read about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in the Times Book Review last summer I knew this was the book for me. Last week in Logan Airport I was sans book and popped into the Border's there to grab something, anything, to get me through the flight back to Detroit. There it was, now in paperback, so I snapped it up.

This is a book populated by deeply human characters, ones you glom onto almost from the first meeting. They are odd and each wounded in one way or another, and so endearing that you don't want to finish the book at all because, then they will be gone.

The book is written in letters, to and from the main character as well as letters among others in the story. This makes it very easy to pick up and put down here and there and thus breeze right through.

Set in 1946, the main character Juliet receives a letter from a person who lives on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands that was occupied by the Nazis during World War II and which was cut off from the rest of the world for several years as a result. The story of life during the occupation unfolds in these letters, at times charming and humorous, at others shocking and heart wrenching. Juliet eventually travels to Guernsey to meet all the folks who have been writing to her to possibly write a book about their experiences. Living among the people of Guernsey changes her life drastically. This was an excellent read.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blackberry Wine

Finished Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat. Like Chocolat this novel is laced with magic and mystical happenings. It is told in two times and places, Pog Hill, England, 1977 and Lansquenet sur Tannes, France, 1999. Jay MacIntosh wrote a brilliant first novel fourteen years ago, but has been writing pulpy sci fi ever since. He is jaded and discontented with his life. One day on an impulse he takes his savings and buys a vineyard in France, to live out the dream of Joe, the man who inspired his first novel, but disappeared twenty-two years ago. The story is told from Jay's perspective, as a teenager shipped off to boarding school and his grandparents while his parents go through an ugly divorce (1977), and as a 37 year old trying to rehabilitate a neglected vineyard and his own neglected potential as a writer (1999). A charming book, excellent for vacation reading.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Eight Cousins

Finished Eight Cousins (a.k.a. Aunt Hill) by Louisa May Alcott. Published in 1875, it is the story of Rose Campbell, an orphan at age 13, sent to Boston to live with her aunts until her legal guardian, Uncle Alec, arrives from overseas to take charge of her care. Rose is shy and sickly and overwhelmed by her fussing aunts. Her life changes drastically when she meets her seven male cousins and her uncle Dr. Alec, who prescribes fresh air, non restrictive clothing, housework, physiology lessons and an extended childhood. A charming book. So glad there is so much more Alcott to read. Next year the sequel Rose in Bloom.