Sunday, May 31, 2009

TSS: Louis Bromfield's Books

Over the Memorial Day weekend my family went camping at Malabar Farm State Park up near Mansfield, Ohio. The farm was once owned and run by Pulitzer Prize winning author Louis Bromfield.
Bromfield shot to fame with the publication of his first novel, The Green Bay Tree, in 1924. His popular and financial success were so great that he was able to devote himself to writing full time. Bromfield won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1927 with his 3rd book Early Autumn.
In 1925 Bromfield and his family moved to France where Bromfield became part of the group that Gertrude Stein would name The Lost Generation. A young group of artists living in France following WWI, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Edith Wharton. Wharton and Bromfield actually hit it off rather well and maintained a correspondence until her death. It is interesting to note that while Ernest Hemingway is well known and studied by students everywhere today, Louis Bromfield was the more popular and well known author of the day.
In 1938 the Bromfields left a Europe on the brink of war and moved to Richland County, Ohio, close to where Bromfield had grown up.
Bromfield purchased three farms, combined them and named his new home Malabar. Soon his passion turned to soil conservation, restoring plundered forests, and agriculture. Bromfield's farming techniques and innovations became famous and soon he was hosting up to 30,000 visitors and agriculturists a year at his farm. Malabar farm became the most famous farm in America and possibly the world. This fame was helped by Bromfield's Hollywood connections. In 1945 Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married at Malabar and many other famous celebrities often visited the farm. Bromfield wrote several screenplays for MGM and 7 of his books were turned into movies.
Over time Bromfield's writing turned from fiction to works on agriculture and he lost his standing with critics. When he did write fiction it was for the money, as a means to support his work at the farm. His heart was in the farming and not so much the writing anymore.
The best part about choosing this campsite to stay at was learning all about Bromfield and visiting his 32 room mansion which still looks very much like it did when Bromfield died. What I loved most about the house was that it still houses Bromfield's collection of about 3,000 books!
Here are pictures of a few of the many bookshelves scattered throughout the home.I love this desk! Bromfield had it designed himself with big shelves all across the front to house books.
This last picture is part of a poem that E.B. White wrote about Malabar Farm and that was published in the New Yorker. Here is a short excerpt:

Malabar Farm is the farm for me,
It's got what it takes to a large degree:
Beauty, alfalfa, constant movement,
And a terrible rash of soil improvement.

Far from orthodox in its tillage,
Populous as many a village,
Stuff being planted and stuff being written,
Fields growing lush that were once unfitten,
Bromfield land, whether low or high land,
Has more going on than Coney Island.

When Bromfield went to Pleasant Valley,
The soil was hard as a bowling alley;
He sprinkled lime and he seeded clover,

And when it came up he turned it over.
From far and wide folks came to view
The things that a writing man will do.
The more he fertilized the fields
The more impressive were his yields,
And every time a field grew fitter

Bromfield would add another critter,
The critter would add more manure, despite 'im,
And so it went-ad infinitum.
It proves that a novelist on his toes
Can make a valley bloom like a rose.

Although a prolific and popular author in his day, Bromfield has fallen into obscurity today. Most of his books are out of print and difficult to find. A few have been reprinted by Wooster Book Company and I was able to purchase his Pulitzer Prize winning book Early Autumn and one of the books he wrote about Malabar Farm, Pleasant Valley. If I enjoy them, I am sure I will order more.
I had no idea how much of a history and literary lesson I was going to get when I booked this campsite but I am so glad we went! We have every intention of returning soon.

P.S. A picture of the spot where Bogie and Bacall tied the knot.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum
Genre: Juvenile
Pages: 198
Published: 1900
Date Finished: 18 May 2009
My Rating: 4
Challenges: 100+, New Author, Visit to Oz, RYOB, Decades, Spring, Daring Girls

The 1939 movie version of the Wizard of Oz holds many fond childhood memories for me. I still have the old VHS copy that my grandma sent me as a birthday gift when I was a young girl, I have countless memories of watching the movie during sleepovers and one of the few things I remember from a family trip to Washington D.C. when I was a young girl is seeing the ruby red slippers (which are actually silver in the book) at the Smithsonian Museum.
I often thought about checking out the books from the library and reading them when I was younger but never did. I remember being confused about what order the books went in and instead of trying to figure it out, just never read them.
The book was really a treat to read and I am glad I've finally read it as it is vastly different from the movie. I tried to go into my reading without drawing comparisons between book and movie, but really, when you are so familiar with a movie it is impossible not to let it influence your reading.
The book is populated with characters and places that never made it into the movie. Places like the land of the Winkies and China Country and characters like the Queen of the Field Mice and a second good witch. One part of the story I found particularly interesting is that the Emerald City was not so Emerald! Oz made everyone where glasses that made everything appear green. Lots of surprises in this little volume and well worth the few hours it took to breeze through the narrative. The book is surprising violent at times but nothing horrifying. The way in which the Tin Man actually became a Tin Man was probably the most violent episode.
I loved that the book really illustrated that each character really possessed in abundance those qualities they thought they were lacking. The Cowardly Lion repeatedly performed brave acts, the Scarecrow was always solving tricky problems and the Tin Man was always looking out for other animals and creature and could not tolerate any harm coming to anyone.
Considered the first truly original American fairy tale, I think The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a book that everyone should read.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

Title: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Author: Howard Pyle
Genre: Classics, Fiction
Pages: 390
Published: 1883
Date Finished: 12 May 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
100+, Spring, Decades, Classics, RYOB, New Author

My son has recently developed an interest in all things Robin Hood. I was searching for some juvenile level books that I could read to him when I discovered that there are a number of versions of the Robin Hood legend floating around. I decided, in addition to reading the juvenile versions to my son, it would be fun to read some of the longer novelizations and compare them. I picked up Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood first but it was not until I arrived home with my book that I realized Pyle was very much an American. I thought it ironic that my first dip into the Robin Hood legend, a very British legend, should be written by an American.
All the characters that have become familiar, at least in name, through various movie and TV versions of the tale were present and accounted for: Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett, Little John, Allan a Dale etc. Pyle tells each character's story and how they came to be a part of Robin's band of Merry Men.
I thought it was interesting that Robin was just a yeoman who got into trouble for killing one of the sheriff's cousins and not a noble returning from the crusades (once upon a time I loved Kevin Costner's Robin Hood a little too much.) Apparently, some of the legends paint Robin as a yeoman and some as a wealthy man and Pyle went with the yeoman version for his retelling. Adds more to the everyman idea of Robin Hood, I think. Pyle also painted a more restrained Robin who only killed twice in the story, once at the beginning when he becomes an outlaw and again later when he faces Guy of Gisbourne, who is out to kill Robin.
One other interesting note is that Maid Marian is only mentioned once in the entire narrative and then only in passing. I am interested to see if she plays a bigger role in the next book I read.
I really enjoyed reading this tale of Robin Hood. I found the prose enjoyable and different from what I normally read. Lots of laughs, and definitely lots of action as Robin gathers his band, outwits the sheriff and becomes a hero through his "redistribution of the wealth."
I must not forget to mention the illustrations, which really added to this book. Pyle was an accomplished artist and his illustrations really add a great dimension to his story. If you do read Pyle's version of the Robin Hood legend, be sure you find a copy that includes the illustrations.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some Tame Gazelle

Title: Some Tame Gazelle
Author: Barbara Pym
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 252
Published: 1950
Date Finished: 30 April 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Decades, New Author, Library

Barbara Pym's first novel, published in 1950, tells the story of middle aged spinsters Harriet and Belinda Bede. Bubbly, chubby, fun and outgoing Harriet loves to take young curates under her wings and has made a habit of turning down the marriage proposals of an Italian Count. Meek, shy and romantic Belinda has been harboring feelings of unrequited love for the town's vicar whom she has known since they were in college together.
A comedy about life in an English country village filled with a host of eccentric characters. Sounds like just the type of novel I would adore and sing the praises of, but my enjoyment of this book was much lower than I thought it would be. I thought maybe it is because I am not a middle aged spinster (still in my twenties, have been married for 8 years and have 2 kids) but that has not stopped me from enjoying other such books so that is not it.
This book did have plenty of humorous and enjoyable moments that I got caught up in reading but at other times I was just not feeling compelled to open the book and keep going. A good book but I don't know if the book or the author garners the comparisons to Jane Austen that I have seen heaped upon them.
But I am not done with Barbara Pym. I have heard so much good, those Jane Austen comparisons etc, and this was her first novel so I will read more of her books and hope to find something that pulls me in more than Some Tame Gazelle did.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

All-Of-A-Kind Family

Title: All-Of-A-Kind Family
Author: Sydney Taylor
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Pages: 189
Date Finished: 19 May 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars

Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, Spring, Daring Girls

I only wish I had read this before I read The Other Half. I really tried not to be cynical while reading this book and reminded myself that this is just a fun book for kids not a treatise on life in tenements on the east side of New York. It's just that after reading about Jacob Riis, I can't help but see this book as a very rose colored look at tenement life. Yes, I know not everyone lived in dank, dark, squalor but they were still surrounded by it.
So, unfortunately my reading of this book was tainted by my recent reading of The Other Half, otherwise I am sure I would be much more ready with praise.
A fun, lighthearted look at a family of girls living on New York in 1912. It was interesting to read about some of the Jewish holidays that I really did not know much about. Lots of great little stories but it just rang a little too unrealistic for me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dandelion Wine

Title: Dandelion Wine
Author: Ray Bradbury
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 281
Published: 1946
Date Finished: 14 May 2009
My Rating: 2 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, Spring, Daring Girls

I am at a bit of a loss as to what to write about this book because I was, frankly, at a loss reading most of it. I just seem to be hitting upon a lot of books that are so beloved by others but just didn't appeal to me at all. I know this book is well liked by legions of people but I just thought it was kinda weird.
Dandelion Wine really seemed to be a collection of short stories involving many of the same characters during the summer of 1928 in a town in Illinois. There is really not much of a plot arc but that is usually fine with me as long as the characters are ones I care about. Hmm. Not so much in this case.
Poetic? I guess you could say that but I found it to be more of a hodge podge of words and strange stories. I did enjoy some of the stories but overall I just did not connect with this book. So many people love it though, so maybe you will too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Black Beauty

Title: Black Beauty
Author: Anna Sewell
Genre: Juvenile, Classic
Pages: 207
Published: 1877
Date Finished: 16 April 2009
My Rating: 2 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, Decades, Classics, Victorian, Spring, Daring Girls

I know this book is a much beloved children's classic and, in fact, that is why I picked it up. I was never a horse crazy girl and never had any interest in reading a book narrated by a horse but I've decided to read some of the classic children's books I overlooked when I was younger.
I had a difficult time with this one. Oh, it was an easy read, it was just hard to read it without rolling my eyes or making snarky comments. I have to wonder if any other 200 page book could be filled with so much cliched moralizing? Sure, the author is conveying good messages, be nice to animals, don't be a drunk etc but boy is it just shoved down your throat.
While I found this book less than enjoyable I realize that the moralizing is really par for the course in much Victorian literature and do have to give credit to the work and the author for breaking literary ground at the time it was published. Sewell tackled a contemporary issue in a unique way, the horse narrating his own story, and was able to be a catalyst for change. The story of horses being abused by their owners brought to people's attention the need for laws that would protect these animals from harsh and abusive treatment.
So, my kudos to the author for her ability to bring about improvements and changes but that did not translate into this 1877 children's novel being an enjoyable read for me today. I can only take so many cliches in one book.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Title: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 278
Published: 2009
Date Finished: 27 April 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, Seconds, Young Adult

It was pretty easy to get caught up in Laurie Halse Anderson's newest book, Wintergirls. A chilling look at a girl dealing with anorexia, it was not always a pleasant read but it was definitely compelling.
Lia's former best friend has died alone in a motel room after calling Lia dozens of times with pleas for help. Lia has been to rehab twice before but the death of her friend sends her on a downward spiral as she tries to lower her weight more and more.
I liked that the story was told from Lia's perspective because as a reader you were really able to see how warped the thought process can be for someone suffering from this disorder.
I did not necessarily care too much for all the strike throughs, dots and dashes etc in the text. A little too gimmicky for me, but I can see those things appealing to the books intended audience.
I found this book both disturbing and compelling at the same time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Title: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Author: Tiffany Baker
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 341
Published: 2009
Date Finished: 21 April 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars
Challenges: 100, Library, New Author, Pub

I need to create a new category of books for myself and call it "books I really wanted to like because they came highly recommended from people whose opinions I generally trust but just didn't like."
I eagerly picked up The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker because I had heard and read so many good reviews of the novel and its author. Unfortunately, this family saga about two sisters, the beautiful Serena Jane and the giant Truly, just failed to capture me. Born with a pituitary gland disorder Truly is, literally not just figuratively, a giant. She lives unhappily with her father and sister in upstate New York (her mother died while giving birth to the little giant.) Life changes for Truly when, after the death of her father, she moves in with a family living on a farm on the outskirts of town. Beautiful Serena Jane is left with a family in town and embraces her life of beauty and ease.
This was a novel of contrasts, beauty and ugliness, nice people and mean people. The novel explored many themes including love, betrayal, euthanasia, rape, true friendship and homosexuality. Maybe it was because the author tried to explore so many different themes in one book and never really focused well on any of them that the narrative did not work for me. The stories never seemed to go anywhere and I found myself getting bored. Not to mention the number of things that went unanswered or explored. Too many holes.
The fact the the novel was told by Truly but she was given an omniscient narrative voice also bothered me at times. How did Truly know what was going on in places she was not present and inside people's heads? The writing was also too lyrical and flowery at times to have been Truly's voice. It just did not fit.
I did not find many of the characters to be likable or sympathetic, including Truly, who became rather hateful and cruel herself at times or just frustrated me with the choices she made.
The novel started out strong and there were some narrative threads that I enjoyed but things just floundered out somewhere along the way. An OK book, and while it does not get a blanket recommendation from me, I know there is a slew of positive reviews out there, so obviously many people felt differently about this book than I do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Zookeeper's Wife

Title: The Zookeeper's Wife
Author: Diane Ackerman
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 368
Published: 2007
Date Finished: 14 April 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars

Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, WWII, Name

This is one work of non-fiction that just missed the mark for me. I was really looking forward to reading this account of WWII but found myself frustrated and bored while reading it.
According to the book, The Zookeeper's Wife tells the story of Jan and Antonia Zabinski, zookeepers in Poland who managed to use the zoo and it's facilities to hide and save the lives of countless Jews during the war.
When the book actually focused on the Zabiniskis and their work with the underground it was really interesting. Unfortunately, the author went on too many side trips and tangents that took away from the story of the Zabinskis. Ackerman's background as a naturalist really came through in her writing but I did not pick up this book to read long descriptions of beetles and other insects or animals. There was a lot of history and information included that did not promote or add to the central story but instead distracted from it. I really wish Ackerman could have stayed focused on the Zabinskis and Antonia especially. The times when Antonia's diary was quoted or the narrative shared Antonia's experiences were really great but there just was not enough of those moments in the book.
The story of the Zabinskis is a heroic one of courage and kindness carried out in the most harrowing of circumstances and I think I would have enjoyed their story more in the hands of a different author. It was just too difficult to find a cohesive story in this text.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Other Half

Title: The Other Half: The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America
Author: Tom Buk-Swienty, translated by Annette Buk-Swienty
Genre: Non-Fiction

Pages: 331
Published: 2008
Date Finished: 28 April 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: 100+, Library, New Author, Shoes

When Jacob Riis died in 1914 he was considered a hero and mourned by millions, including his personal friend and fellow reformer Theodore Roosevelt. But how many of us today know who Jacob Riis was or what he did to gain such a reputation?
In his very readable and fascinating biography Tom Buk-Swienty has brought the story of Jacob Riis back to life. "As if plucked from a variant Horotio Alger novel, his is the story of a poor young Dane from the isolated yet picturesque medieval town of Ribe who immigrates to the United States in 1870 because of broken heart, nearly starves during his first months there, and is so despondent that he nearly dies. He then goes on to live what can only be described as the proverbial American dream: He starts at the bottom, struggles mightily, and then makes a living as an iron salesman. Once again, though, he loses all; then by chance he gets a job as a low-paid journalist and, in a few years, becomes a star police reporter and, finally, the author of a resounding best seller and classic, How the Other Half Lives. At the same time he practically invents modern photojournalism, is knighted by the Danish King, and becomes a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt. Together they fight police corruption and work to eradicate the worst slums in New York City, their herculean efforts succeeding beyond anyone's expectations." (xv)
In short, Riis was an early progressive reformer and muckraking reporter before the term muckraker had even been coined. This poor Danish immigrant became one of the biggest social reformers of the day, campaigning successfully against the slums and tenements. Riis' work brought massive reforms including the destruction of some of the worst slums in New York Cty. Mulberry Bend was once an infamous slum and is today known as Columbus Park due to the efforts of Riis. Jacob Riis made it impossible for the wealthy and middle class Americans of the day to keep ignoring the poor and destitute living amongst them. Riis photographs, taken with a revolutionary new flash, literally brought the dark and dank slums to light.
Tom Buk-Swienty's biography does an excellent job of telling Jacob Riis' story, from his early life in Denmark, his heartbreak over the love of his life (and the amazing turn around that actually leads to him getting the girl), his early destitute days in America and his, eventual, dedicated hard work that led to him becoming a famous reporter and reformer. The book also provides an excellent look at life in New York City at the turn of the century and the break with old Victorian standards towards the poor and charity. A very compelling biography.Here are some links to more information about Riis:
-If you've got a few minutes, watch this video clip from a documentary about Riis. It showcases many of his photographs.
-An NPR article about Riis and Buk-Swienty's biography.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Title: Saplings
Author: Noel Streatfield
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 377
Published: 1945
Date Finished: 6 April 2009
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: 100+, WWII, Decades, RYOB, Seconds

"Really! I wish I didn't have to grow up. Do you know, Alice, I'm beginning to wonder if we've not been told things wrong. I mean, we're told that children behave badly and grown-ups are always right. I wonder if we shan't find that grown-ups do worse things than children." (240)

This heart-wrenching and painful book really packed an emotional wallop for me. It is not what I would characterize as one of those "charming" books I love to read. In fact, at times it was downright difficult to read, but I still really came away loving this book. Sounding a bit contradictory arn't I? I just found this book to be a powerful and moving story about the sad destruction of a family.
The saplings from Streatfield's novel are the four Wiltshire children, Laurel, Tony, Kim and Tuesday, whose lives are uprooted and forever altered due to war.
Before the outbreak of World War II the Wiltshire family led a pretty typical middle class life, with a nanny, governess, nice home in London and trips to the beach. Granted their mother, Lena, was not an ideal mother, she really saw her children as more of an accessory to be trotted out for other people to admire than as her children, to be loved and cared for, but their lives were still happy, good and pretty carefree.
"Laurel, at eleven, was conscious of being happy. 'I'll never be as happy again. When I'm quite old , as old as thirty, I'll come back to this bit of Eastbourne. I'll come on the same day in June and remember me now.' Then, because of the tight, bursting feeling of pleasure, she turned two cartwheels and attempted to stand on her hands." (1)
The disintegration of the family begins when the children are sent to live with their grandparents in the country and their mother stays behind in London with their father because she thinks it is more important that she be with her husband than with her children. As the novel progresses the children deal with more loss and their lives become more and more shattered. The adults in their lives do not listen to or understand the children and are the cause of most of their suffering. Yes, the war was a catalyst for their suffering but if the adults in their lives had been able to provide some stability the children could have fared better. I can't tell you how angered I got reading this book because of the adult characters who should have been looking out for and taking care of these children and instead only made their lives more tragic.
Published in 1945, this novel takes a psychological look at the war and its impact on children as the events were unfolding. A powerfully drawn story about war and loss. I think I will be revisiting this one again some day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Follow the River

Title: Follow the River
Author: James Alexander Thom
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 406
Published: 1981
Date Finished: 30 March 2009
My Rating: 3 Stars

Challenges: 100+, New Author, Library

I read this book for book club and then went out of town and missed the meeting when the book was discussed. I am not sure if that is good or bad because I did not enjoy this book very much whereas, I think, most of the other members of the book group I attend did enjoy it.
Follow the River tells the story of Mary Draper Ingels, who was abducted by Indians and lived amongst them for a time before escaping and walking about 800 miles through wilderness terrain to return home. I found this article in Blue Ridge Country Magazine that gives an account of Mary's experience.
I like good historical fiction but I just don't know if I can consider this good historical fiction. Reading this book really left me wanting to read some non-fiction on the subject to get a better feel for the real story.
The fact that this novel was based on a true story was the most interesting thing it had going for it. I just did not care for the author's treatment of the story. I felt several parts were just to sensationalized and unrealistic. For example, I found myself questioning if the author really expected me to believe that this woman was have feelings for the man who just days before brutally massacred most of her family and friends and destroyed her home and village? Really? Truly? Please! And her husband? He was drawn pretty flat and unlikeable. His biggest concern about his wife, who has just arrived home emaciated and barely alive after her harrowing journey, is whether or not she has been "spoiled" by the Indians. And if she had been? Well, he just did not think he could live with that. Nice. Plays a little too much into outdated stereotypes.
The narrative also really dragged at times as I felt I was reading the same thing over and over and over again. I know it was a long, harrowing and difficult journey and I know it is a miracle Mary even made it back to Virginia but I don't think I need to read about the roots they are eating and cliffs they are climbing on every page for about 200 pages.
Honestly, just give me some good primary sources to read about Mary Ingles and I am sure I'll enjoy them much better than I did this novel.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

The balance of power is officially shifting in my family. The girls will now outnumber the boys. I am having another girl!
Now we have to decide what to name her. I would like something classic, maybe even literary. My husband wants something bland, boring and overused.
My son has decided her name is Molly and will not accept anything else. It is better than Lightning McQueen, his previous pick. You might note, however, that Molly is the name of Andy's little sister from Toy Story.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Our Mutual Friend

Title: Our Mutual Friend
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Pages: 884
Published: 1865
Date Finished: 27 Feb 2009
My Rating: 4 Stars
Challenges: Victorian, Chunkster, Decades, RYOB, 100+

Simply not my favorite novel by Charles Dickens. In fact, this is the first Dickens novel I've encountered that I did not just get wrapped up in and totally love. I guess it was bound to happen.
There were way too many plots and sub plots and characters for me to even try to summarize this book so I am not even going to try.
What I generally love about a Dickens novel are the characters. Nobody does character development like Dickens and the whole plethora of interesting and strange characters were all there, but they just seemed to be lacking something this time around, like a cohesive plot. The most interesting characters were the creepy ones (Charley Hexam, Bradley Headstone and Eugene Wrayburn.) But there were many that I could not find myself caring about and sighed every time I came to a chapter featuring them (the Veneerings, Twemlow and that lot.) And the rest, eh, just so-so. Sometimes interesting and made the story feel like it was actually going somewhere and other times just made the story feel bogged down.
This was the most tedious and at times confusing Dickens novel I've read but it was still Dickens and therefore in the end, looking back over the novel as a whole, well worth the time and effort. Definitely the darkest Dickens novel I've read.
Just don't start with this novel if you are new to reading Dickens. Start with something like Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby or The Pickwick Papers.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Painted Veil

Title: The Painted Veil
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Pages: 246
Date Finished: 28 February
My Rating: 5 Stars
Challenges: Decades, RYOB, New Author, 100+

Kitty, Kitty, Kitty! Kitty Fane is such a wonderful and wonderfully flawed character. The reader is aware of her faults, most of the other characters in the novel are aware of her faults, but Kitty? She is pretty blind to her faults. How happy it made this reader to see Kitty grow and mature and begin to recognize some of her short comings only to be so disappointed when she made some really stupid mistakes, again. Kitty, Kitty, Kitty. I can't help but shake my head.
I really loved W. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil and I found Kitty Fane to be one of the best drawn female characters I've read in awhile.
So, what were Kitty's faults that were so obvious to everyone but herself? She was shallow, spoiled, ambivalent, and pretty naive.
Beautiful but still single at 25 Kitty,out of desperation, accepts the marriage proposal of Walter Fane, a man who is the exact opposite of Kitty and whom she has nothing in common with. Walter is a shy and boring bacteriologist who loves Kitty beyond reason despite her ambivalence towards him.
Walter's job takes them to Hong Kong where Kitty has an affair with a married man. When Walter discovers the affair he gives Kitty an ultimatum to travel to inland China with him where he will work to curb a cholera outbreak or Walter will divorce her, causing a scandal.
Poor, naive Kitty believes she can convince her lover to leave his wife and marry her but of course her lover has no intention of leaving his wife and Kitty is forced to accompany her husband, a man she now fears, into the middle of a cholera outbreak.
We begin to see Kitty transform as she realizes there is more to the people and world around her. She begins to mature and appreciate others, even giving of herself to others in an unselfish manner. But will she be able to rescue her self or her marriage completely?
A wonderfully drawn and unembellished story. Highly recommend.

A note on the movie: I'll be up front and admit I'd never heard of this book until I saw it was made into a movie. The movie looked really interesting but I held off watching it until I'd read the book. The movie really fleshed out Walter a lot. The book was so much about Kitty but the movie really gave more dimension and maybe a little more insight in Walter. His work in China trying to fight the cholera epidemic was explored and dramatized and really made the movie more interesting, I think, than if it had not been added. Kitty and Walter's ultimate relationship was changed and made into more of a romantic love story and Kitty ended up stronger at the end of the movie than she was portrayed in the book. Inevitable changes were made from book to movie but I still really enjoyed the movie.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Look What I Got!

That box is part 1 of my Mother's Day/Anniversary Present. New bookshelves! I am so excited!
I really like the bookshelves I have in my living room but they are short and kinda narrow and my books outgrew them about 5 minutes after I bought them. Since my wedding anniversary (8 years!) and mother's day are only a week apart, I thought it would be the perfect time to buy new shelves. We went to Ikea and picked out some shelves that are much taller and wider and will accommodate many more books. To make things easier on the pocket book we decided to just buy one shelf at a time. We will go back and get the other one in a few more weeks. My husband is going to put the new shelf together for me tonight but I could not wait that long to get things going so I cleared off and moved one of the old shelves to its new home.
Now that I am going to have space for more books I am pulling all the books I have scattered around the house in various odd places together. I am working on an organization plan. Here are the categories or sections that I've come up with:
-Persephone/Virago/British writers
-Jane Austen and books about her
-International (although, looking at my collection I see mostly American and British writers. Think I need to work on expanding horizons at bit more.)
-Mysteries (older, classic ones followed by modern)
-Misc/modern(books that I can't seem to fit in other categories)
-Young Adult
-Juvenile/Middle Grade
-Non-Fiction (organized by time period and location)

We'll see what happens when I actually start putting them on the shelves. :-)
I've got a busy weekend planned. In addition to organizing books I want to clean the carpet in the kids playroom and the stairs. I am also really hoping to write about half a dozen book reviews. I've been so bad about actually writing my thoughts on books lately. I need to get caught up. So be prepared, if all goes according to plan I will have a book post up every day for the next week or so.