Friday, October 29, 2010

The Phantom of the Opera

Finished The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, a very bizarre and exciting book. Parts of it are wildly fantastic. This was a fun Halloween read.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Finished The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a novel by Ernest J. Gaines. Jane herself is the narrator. She tells of the many events of her life as an African American, from being a child during slavery to the 1960s. As a child she stands her ground against adult slaves who mistreat her. Once she is free she speaks her mind and has a determination that seems unwavering. Although never formally schooled, she has tremendous wisdom and goes through many life changing experiences, from raising a four year old orphan when she herself is eleven, to finding religion in middle age and then participating in a Civil Rights demonstration at the age of 108. Jane's voice and dialect are so genuine that I sometimes found myself thinking in it from time to time while observing some everyday scene. An excellent and compelling read. I look forward to reading more of Gaines' work.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Finished Cimarron by Edna Ferber, originally published in 1929. Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the book documents the events in the lives of Yancy and Sabra Cravat in Oklahoma Territory. It has the feeling of a tall tale. Many of the events and characters seem larger than life.

One thing that Ferber always seems to do in her novels is to paint a character as a perceived stereotype, introduce them as such to the reader, and then build that character outward and away from the stereotype. In this novel she does so with Native Americans, African Americans and Jews. A few of her characters are open minded and accepting of all people, while some will accept certain groups, but not others. This makes her characters complex and very human.

Although parts of this book were disturbing, I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Caddie Woodlawn

Finished Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. It won the Newbery Medal in 1936. Caddie is eleven years old and a long time tomboy. She lives in Wisconsin in the 1860s. Caddie is friends with everyone and everything, especially the Indians who live near their settlement. Caddie is spunky and brave with a strong sense of fair play and justice. She and her family live in a wilderness that is often cut off from the rest of the country, especially in winter. One of the ways they receive news is via the Circuit Rider, a roving minister who travels from settlement to settlement preaching and visiting the sick. He brings them news that the war between the states has ended. He also brings them the news that President Lincoln has been assassinated. This was a fun and exciting book with a strong female protagonist. If you can get past the constant use of the word "savages," this is an enjoyable book.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Durable Goods

Finished Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg. I finished it in less than a day. Like The Secret Life of Bees, this book is set in the early 60s and is about a 12-13 year old girl whose mother has died and whose father is very angry and bitter. Instead of running away and staying away, Katie runs away, but then returns. The book is fast paced and emotionally raw at times, but in a way that is genuine in terms of portraying the voice of a twelve year old girl on the brink of so many changes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

Finished The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Conner McNees. I've had my eye on this book ever since it came out in the spring. The cover is beautiful, as is the prose inside. I was immediately drawn into the story of the Alcotts' summer in New Hampshire in 1855. While this is of course historical fiction, the amount of research that went into this novel makes it seem very real. Louisa's frustrations with the world at large and with her family's situation (thanks to her father's faulty transcendentalist views) have never been quite so clear to me before. I read this very quickly and enjoyed it tremendously.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro in anticipation of the film's release next week. This book has intrigued me for a number of years, but I was concerned that it would be too brutal or graphic. While there is quite a lot of underlying brutality in terms of human nature, the book itself is very quiet. Ishiguro has a very strong grasp of the inner workings of the adolescent mind. All through the book the minor happenings, that in themselves didn't seem like much, all add up to a large, almost overwhelming truth. This is a haunting book.