Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Song of the Cardinal

Finished The Song of the Cardinal by Gene Stratton Porter, originally published in 1903. Porter puts her love and knowledge of wildlife to good work here in portraying the life of a male cardinal, his birth, youth, migration, mating and parenting. The cardinal migrates to the Limberlost Swamp in Indiana, where he befriends an old farmer and his wife. The farmer is so taken with the cardinal that he posts “No Hunting” signs all over his property, to protect the bird and his family. When he catches a young man taking a shot at his beloved cardinal he delivers the longest, strongest and most heartfelt telling off of anyone I have ever encountered. This is such a charming book. I recommend it to anyone who loves birds as well as an old fashioned read. Porter’s book A Girl of the Limberlost is among my favorite reads of all time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Clair de Lune

Finished Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton. It’s the story of Allen Liles, a young woman who takes a job as instructor at a junior college in Missouri, just before the U.S. enters World War II. Allen is the youngest member of the faculty, a lighthearted woman with dreams of being a writer in New York. Life in the small Missouri town is dull until she is befriended by two young men from her English literature seminar. The three a become chums and engage in many harmless larks, but one night, in a dense fog, her relationship with one of the young men changes. Nothing goes unnoticed in a small town. Allen, as a faculty member, soon finds her teaching position in jeopardy.

This was a lovely and funny book of lost innocence on the eve of an even greater loss. Carleton’s book The Moonflower Vine was a bestseller in 1963, and until now her only published novel. The manuscript for Clair de Lune was thought to have been blown away during a tornado, but instead it was safe in the hands of a good friend. I look forward to reading her other book with great anticipation.

Call It Courage

Finished Call It Courage written and illustrated by Armstrong Sperry. It won the Newbery Medal in 1941. Set in the Pacific Islands, it is the story of Mafatu, a boy who saw his mother die during a hurricane and who now has a great fear of the sea. Mafatu’s father is the chief of their tribe. He is ashamed to have a son who is a coward. One day Mafatu sets out in a canoe with his dog Uri to try to prove that he is not afraid, but he is lost in a storm and washed up on an unknown island. Here he employs all the skills of his people to build himself shelter, find food, create weapons and tools, and build a canoe to travel back home some day. He encounters many fierce creatures, a shark who tries to eat Uri, an octopus that tries to kill him when he is retrieving his knife from the water, and a wild boar. He conquers and kills all these dangerous foes, but his most dangerous foe is still the sea.

This was a very serious and at times frightening book. Mafatu’s struggle to stay alive and return to his own island is a compelling tale of bravery. Sperry’s book All Set Sail won a Newbery Honor Medal in 1936.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In This Our Life

Finished In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow. It won the Pulitzer in 1941. This family saga, set in Virginia at the end of the Depression, deals with various boundaries of acceptance. Stanley and Roy are sisters. Although Stanley is about to be married, she runs off with Roy’s husband Peter, creating scandal, havoc and bitterness. Stanley is a reckless person who never considers the consequences of her actions. Roy considers everything carefully, thoughtfully and emotionally. Their sensitive father, Asa, does his best for his family. His father before him owned the local tobacco plant where Asa now works in the stemming room. Asa's father lost the business and committed suicide when his son was a teenager. Asa is a patient man who has witnessed and endured a good deal of grief. His wife, Lavina, is a long-time invalid, who worries, fusses and fidgets over herself and Stanley, her favorite. Lavina’s Uncle William is a bombastic business man that helps keep the family afloat financially, and spoils Stanley in the process.

While most chapters deal with the ongoing turmoil of Asa’s family, some chapters are devoted only to the family of Parry, a young African American man who is studying hard in order to attend law school. He is encouraged by Asa who sees his promise and longs to help him achieve his dream. Parry’s mother had once been nursemaid to Stanley and Roy, as her mother had been to Asa. Now she takes in washing. Her husband is a mail carrier, who spends his free time tending his own lovely garden. Their life moves in a quiet, predictable routine until Stanley selfishly allows Parry to be accused of a crime she herself committed.

I enjoyed this book, although the daily emotional grind of the characters sometimes brought me down. It was made into a film in 1942 starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland as the two sisters. I’m sure you can guess who was cast as who.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Emily Alone

Finished Emily Alone by Stewart O'Nan. Emily is eighty and a widow. Her best friend and sister-in-law, Arlene, collapses while they are at breakfast one morning, Emily must return to driving in order to visit her in the hospital and take care of Arlene's fish. Emily finds that driving isn't as scary as she remembers. Her new confidence allows her more freedom. She gets rid of her old boat of car and buys a Subaru. Her days are filled with a constant soundtrack of classical music and small events and errands. Her dog Rufus is a senior too and in watching his struggles with mobility, she sees herself as well. This is a funny, honest, and quiet book. At times Emily reminded me of the old maids in the books of Barbara Pym, also living quiet, small existences. An enjoyable read and a window into the lives of older adults living alone.

Leaves of Grass

Finished Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I read the final, 1892 edition, known as "the deathbed edition." Whitman was considered insane and obscene when he published the first edition of this book. Today he is considered our greatest American poet. I never studied Whitman in any literature classes. I was surprised by the many references to this book that appear in popular culture. I was unaware of them until I read the poems. I took my time, reading only about five pages a day. It was a long haul, but stepping back, now that I have finished, I can appreciate the work as a whole and its influence on the Beat Poets, Ginsberg in particular,

"I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the
meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price
bananas? Are you my Angel?"

- from "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tuck Everlasting

Finished Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. Although it was published in 1975, I missed this book growing up, which is too bad. I was in 5th grade that year, the perfect time to read it. Winnie Foster lives in a very strict household. One day she strays beyond the fence of her yard and explores the adjacent woods. She observes a young man drinking from a bubbling spring. Soon she meets him and his family, the Tucks. Jesse Tuck was drinking from a fountain of youth. He and his family drank from it 80 years before and have not aged a day since. Rather than being a blessing of eternal youth, their's is a curse. They work hard to make sure that no one knows their secret. When Winnie finds it out they take her away with them, not to kidnap her, but to take the time to impress the importance of their secret upon her. She learns it only too well.

This is an interesting, quiet, and with the exception of one event, a gentle book. Although I was unaware of the book when it was published, it is considered a classic today. Highly recommended.