Book Review

All About Books: Hardy, Eliot, and Ten Boom

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I recently finished reading Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. I’ve read it once before, back in my heathen college days, and didn’t like it. I suspect I was too stupid to appreciate Hardy’s vocabulary and too shallow to appreciate his detailed descriptions of flora, fauna, and architecture.

Let me tell you, though, I couldn’t put the book down this time, even in spite of its daunting 362 pages.

This is the same copy I read in college. It even had my old notes in it, which were hysterical to read.

Far From the Madding Crowd is set in rural nineteenth century England and follows the fate of Gabriel Oak who meets and falls immediately in love with a very vain woman named Bathesheba. Then we meet two more men in the novel: Mr. Boldwood and Captain Troy.

Now just looks at those names. What comes to mind? There are so many biblical and ancient references in this book that it’s no wonder I was clueless the first time I read it. (Which is why, by the way, it’s worthwhile to revisit a book that one read a long time ago.)

In any case, this book was amusing and a sheer delight to read.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

I read this book by George Eliot (i.e. Mary Ann Evans) for four reasons:

  1. It’s short.
  2. It’s a Victorian novel. (I love Victorian novels.)
  3. I enjoyed two of Eliot’s other novels, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, so why not read another?
  4. Since the gals (and Mr. Banks) were reading it at the Literary Life Podcast, I wanted to follow along with them.

Now, did I like it? Meh. It picked up as I went along, but I must admit, I got tired of the didactic tone, and I found parts of it unbelievable–possible, yes, but unbelievable.

Basically this novel follows the plight of Silas Marner, a thwarted weaver living in the sticks who loses all, but gains something even better. I won’t spoil it for those of you tempted to read it, for it is worth a read.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I’ve written about this excellent book before. (Click HERE for details.) The reason I reread it was for a local book club–The Well-Read Mom.

As I’ve said before, if you haven’t read this autobiography, you are missing out. Corrie Ten Boom tells her story of hiding Jews during WWII and of how she survived a Nazi concentration camp. I give it a 10+.

Go buy a copy NOW. You won’t be able to put it down.

Bonus Book Mention: And now, a book I tossed into the trash…

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

This book was another read for the Well-Read Mom Book Club. It seems that every year at least one sketchy book is selected.

I tried to finish it, really. But page after page was chock full of occult practices and disordered sexual references, that I quit on page 47. I then looked up the author. It would appear to me that she had an agenda with this book. She wrote it specifically for Young Adults and even won awards for it. Disgusting.

I should have known even before page 47 when Alvarez has one the older sisters tell her younger sister that, “Sometimes you need to do a bad thing for good to come.”* Nope. No, you don’t. The ends never justify the means.

It’s not that authors can’t write about bad or evil things, though. They can, but what matters is that the good is good and the bad is bad. It’s harmful to read books that don’t get virtue and vice right. In others words, you can’t pass bad things off as good, which I think Alvarez does.

Alvarez even admits to having no biographical information about these four sisters who died in the Dominican Republic under a totalitarian regime, and the picture she paints is, well, disturbing. She’s got them playing fortune telling games with a priest, buying and reading spell books behind their mother’s back, drawing pictures of private male anatomy and then laughing when caught, participating in a girl stripping naked for others just to look at, and finally, where I quit, the masturbation scene.

Now you tell me, with zero biographical information, was all that necessary? Or is Alvarez sending a different message? Regardless of what other messages she may want to portray in the book, it would appear that Alvarez is trivializing and therefore normalizing these other completely disordered and disgusting behaviors. And remember, her intended audience are teenagers.

What Am I Reading Next?

I don’t know yet. I might pick up George Orwell’s 1984. Or I might read another Dorothy Sayers detective novel. Or maybe Agatha Christie?

What are you all reading?

*I can’t verify the exact quotation, because I threw the book away. But if you still have the book, check between pages 40-46. Then throw that trash away.

Book Review

84, Charing Cross Road: Really Fun Read!

8 Reasons to Read 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

  1. This book can be read in one sitting. Not kidding. You won’t want to put it down. I only got up once while reading it and that was because one kid decided to bite another kid, and I had to feign like I cared for thirty seconds and dole out consequences. Motherhood.
  2. Read it for free! You can probably get this book from your local library. I did.
  3. This book is in an epistolary book, which means it’s a series of letters written between one party and another. In this case, they’re between Helene Hanff and a book store in London.
  4. It’s a book about books. It’s fun to see what a spinster in 1950s New York City wants to read and can’t find in the States. It’s her real story–her real letters.
  5. And she’s hilarious. On page 5, she informs the book store that they sent her the wrong bible. She writes, “Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, you mark my words. It’s nothing to me, I’m Jewish myself…”
  6. I think the gals (and the Mysterious Mr. Banks) at the Literary Life Podcast are going to do an episode on this book soon. They keep mentioning it, anyway, which was why I read it to begin with.
  7. Speaking of the Literary Life Podcast…you do know it’s the best podcast out there, right?
  8. Helene Hanff loves Jane Austen. She put off reading her because she hates novels and anything that didn’t really happen in Real Life, but when she finally did read Pride and Prejudice, she “went out of my mind” over it.

2 Reasons to NOT Read 84, Charing Cross Road

  1. It’s too short. I wanted it to go on and on. My heart sank when it ended.
  2. It’s apparent that a few letters are missing. Where are they? I’d like to know!
Book Review

Gaudy Night: Book Review

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

Now this was a delightful read.  In fact, I couldn’t put it down.  Dorothy Sayers just turned my whole literary world upside down.  I thought I hated detective fiction.  I thought it was a waste of time.  I thought the whole genre could be brushed right into the dust bin.

Oh, was I wrong.

Let me back up a minute and define what actually is a narrow field of fiction: the detective novel.  The detective novel is different from the broader field of mystery novels.  The detective novel has a few rules:

  1. There’s a detective.  (I know, this should be obvious, right?  But nothing is obvious to me in this mysterious new world of words.)
  2. The author must provide all the clues and evidence in the text, so that the reader can actually solve the crime, along with the detective.
  3. In other words, to restate #2, one cannot withhold information which is available to the detective, but not to the reader.

I’m told there are other differences too, but I’m a slow learner, and these are the ones that stood out.  If you’re interested in learning a bit about this, a dear friend of mine in North Dakota sent me a lively and informative podcast about this very thing.  Click HERE for it and scroll down to Episode 3. ( You won’t regret listening to Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford.  I love these ladies.)

Back to Sayers

Like most homeschool moms, I had read Sayers’s famous essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and it had never occurred to me that she had written anything else.  Why should it?  At that time in my life, I was too busy in grad school reading all sorts of new and lovely books–Chesterton, Belloc, Waugh…  I wouldn’t have had room in my little brain for her anyway.

Plus, Sayers is really smart.  I mean, really, really intelligent.  She was one of the first women in history to be given a degree from Oxford.  Her knowledge of those things Medieval and Renaissance is impressive.  Gaudy Night is chock-full of references and quotations from that time period, which I struggle with.  Thankfully Cindy Rollins and Angelina Stanford put together a couple of podcasts specifically about Gaudy Night, which I found tremendously helpful.  You can find these episodes on their Literary Life Podcast.  I can’t recommend them enough, especially if you fell in love with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, like I did.

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Back to Gaudy Night

It was within the first few pages that I knew I’d like Sayers’s heroine, Harriet Vane.  Sayers writes:

But Harriet had broken all her old ties and half the commandments, dragged her reputation in the dust and made money, had the rich and amusing Lord Peter Wimsey at her feet, to marry him if she chose, and was full of energy and bitterness and the uncertain rewards of fame.

That pretty much sums Harriet Vane up, and the novel is so engaging because we get to see her finally take a good look at herself, and realize that she had it all wrong.  She didn’t really know herself–or Peter for that matter.

And then there’s Lord Peter Wimsey.  Angelina Sanford compares his personality to that of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  I found this intriguing and so true, especially when it came to manners and wedding proposals.

I promise that this book isn’t just a love story, though.  There is a mystery to solve…  In fact, there’s a lot going on in this book.  Sayers has multiple themes running at once.  For you see, she was writing this book at a time when women in universities was a new thing, and so she explores all the complications of introducing another “sex” into the life of Oxford.  She ponders single life and married life and women in the workforce and women at home.  It’s all there, and it’s messy.

In the end, I can’t wait to reread this book.  But first I want to get ahold of her previous novel Strong Poison where we get the backstory of Harriet and Peter.  Then I want to read the book after Gaudy Night wherein Peter and Harriet are solving crime mysteries on their honeymoon–goodness!