Thursday, January 27, 2011


Finally finished Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I have tried to read it many times, but just could not get interested in it. This last time I decided to ration myself to four pages a day and this is what got me through. John Updike said "...the book risks being as revered and unread as The Bible." I think he's right. How I got through private school in Massachusetts without reading it is beyond me. I am interested in the Transcendentalists, via the Alcotts, and have long been aware of the importance of this work. Once I got used to the tone and the rhythm of the prose, Thoreau seemed pretty familiar. My disinterest in non-fiction was certainly part of my original problem with reading it, but his honest, grounded, even innocent observations are charming. Referring to some stumps removed from his bean field he said, "...they warmed me twice, once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tender Is the Night

Finished Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the south of France and Switzerland, it is the story of Dick Diver, a promising and attractive young American psychiatrist who befriends Nicole, a rich, young American mental patient, and eventually marries her. In his careful keeping of Nicole, Dick deeply immerses himself. Over the years as she grows stronger, Dick encounters several personal crises which manifest a downturn in his career and overall character. This is a quietly painful portrait of a marriage as it dissolves. It's been a long time since I read Fitzgerald. I'd forgotten the high quality of his prose.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Magic Finger

Finished The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl. Published in 1966, it is the story of a girl who possesses the power to teach people a lesson by pointing her magic finger at them. After that, strange, unlikely things happen to convince people of their wrong-doing. The child put into a position of power is a common theme in Dahl's work. This was a very short book. The edition I read had excellent illustrations by Quentin Blake.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thimble Summer

Finished Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright. It won the Newbery Medal in 1939. Set in 1930s Wisconsin, it is the story of Garnet, a girl who lives on her family's farm. Garnet longs for adventure and worries about the family's finances. One afternoon while bathing in the river with her brother Jay, she finds a silver thimble in the mud along the shore. Wonderful things begin to happen. The long drought ends, her family takes in an orphan who becomes another brother and Garnet's pig wins the blue ribbon at the fair. Garnet herself gets into numerous scrapes and even runs away from home, hitchhiking to a nearby town. The story of this particular summer is original and laced with wonderful detail concerning farm life. Other girls in the story are named Ruby and Citronella.

The book is illustrated by Enright who was originally trained as an illustrator. The story is based on summers she spent at her uncle Frank Lloyd Wright's farm in Wisconsin. Enright also won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1958 for Gone-Away Lake.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jane and Prudence

Finished Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym. This is Pym's third novel, published in 1953. Jane is the wife of a clergyman. Her younger friend Prudence is an independent, unmarried woman who works for a publisher. Jane lives in a country village. Prudence lives in London. Their lives could not be more different.

Jane is a rather dotty woman who often speaks before she thinks. While she means well, she is often misunderstood by others. She worries about her friend Prudence and wants to see her happily settled. Thus, she embarks on a matchmaking scheme that mirrors those of Emma Woodhouse. She even compared herself at one point to Austen's Emma. Much like Emma's efforts, hers is misguided.

Pym is so very good at minute observations. As a reader I felt very close to all the characters. There is a brief mention of Mildred Lathbury, the heroine of Pym's previous novel, Excellent Women. We are informed that Mildred has married the anthropologist Mr. Bone. This news was both satisfying and hilarious to me.