Thursday, 22 August 2013

Far From the Madding Crowd

   This book has been my solace this summer.  I was hoping to read many Thomas Hardy books, but when I got to "Far From the Madding Crowd", I clung to it and didn't want to finish it.  I read aloud, repeating significant portions.
   Penguin English Library has published a new version of the classics and I am enjoying this cover.  The pattern is bees, but it really isn't a 'busy book'.  It is about nature and the cover appeals to me.
   Thomas Hardy had grown up in the country and really disliked the growth in the cities due to industrialization.  His career in architecture made it necessary to live there.  But he longed for the idyllic world of the countryside.  This is my primary connection to the novel.  The pastoral descriptions soothe my soul and the characters add snippets of entertainment along the way.

 Bathsheba - proud, impetuous, independant, and outstandingly beautiful.
Bathsheba has three suitors:
1.) Gabriel Oak- "a young man of sound judgment, easy motions, proper dress and general good character".  He is a good-humoured, hard-working countryman, expert in most aspects of farming, and especially sheep.  He is a man of deep feeling and imagination.
2.) Farmer Boldwood- a rich, handsome, middle-aged farmer, and a very eligible bachelor."He was erect in attitude, and quiet in demeanour.  One characteristic pre-eminently marked him- dignity."
3.) Sergeant Troy- "Idiosyncrasy and vicissitude had combined to stamp Sergeant Troy as an exceptional being" - a handsome young soldier, educated, charming, and self-confident, bristles with masculine energy and steals hearts with eloquent and shameless flattery.

Bathsheba is distressed about her choices:
"Loving is misery for women always.  I shall never forgive my Maker for making me a woman, and dearly am I beginning to pay for the honour of owning a pretty face".

Who does she choose?????

  This is one of the earlier covers and, although it does represent the pastoral scene that I love, it really doesn't speak to me.
   This is Hardy's fourth novel and the one that enabled him, at age 34, to become a full-time writer.
   This story was first published in "The Cornhill" magazine in serial form.
   The language is spectacular!  The fact that some sentences completely bamboozle me does not distract from my love of the words.
   Thank you, Thomas Hardy, for touching my spirit and soothing my soul!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Nancy Pearl

Speaking of librarians.......   This is Nancy Pearl, a celebrity librarian.  There is an action figure of her with a button for a shushing sound.  How cute!  But it caused controversy because libraries are not the quiet places that they used to be.

 Nancy works at the Seattle Public Library.
In 1998, she began a program called "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book"- a very wordy title, 
but our area has copied that idea and organized "One Book One Community".

Nancy gave a lecture on the TED series (available on google)
 and proposed a new way of finding a good book.
There are four experiential elements to a book:
She suggested that each book should come with a pie chart 
to show the proportion of each of these elements in each book. "Looking at books the pie chart way".

A good idea, but not one that would help me.

  The theme of the book is of most interest to me.  The characters, plot, setting and language may be wonderful, but the themes and threads that weave through the story are most important to me.
  My interest lies in the theme of relationship, particularly within a family.  The role of women in all of its complexity can make a stellar novel for me.  Relationship with husband, with children, with self. Some novels portray a woman attempting to keep her family united- making sure the children are connected to their father while trying to help the husband follow his dreams.  My favourites in this line: "Poisonwood Bible", "The Sea Captain's Wife", "The Mosquito Coast", "The Secret River", "Angela's Ashes", "The Good Earth".
   I also enjoy books about women learning about themselves, such as: "Gift From the Sea", "The Wife Tree", "All Passion Spent".
  Another theme that fascinates me is slavery because these books juxtapose the worst of humanity with the best.  The contrast between good and evil is so strong in these books that I cannot put them down: "Cane River", "The Book of Negroes", "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "The Known World".
  So I leave the pie chart to Nancy and I will continue looking for good themes.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Librarians with a mission

 Aside from Marion the Librarian in the musical "The Music Man", how many other fictional librarians can you think of?
  While choosing library books for a retirement home, I was captivated by one of the books.  It has a beautiful, inviting cover.  And it is about a librarian. I opened the cover and this is what I read:

This is not the cover, just a great picture.
If my life were a book, no one would read it.  People would say it was too boring, too predictable.  A story told a million times.  But I was perfectly content with my life- that is, until the pages of my story were ripped out before I had a chance to live happily every after".  "Wonderland Creek" by Lynn Austin"

   I knew that I had to quickly read that book before delivering the 'stack'.
  With a backdrop of Illinois during the depression, Alice Grace Ripley, an unemployed librarian takes boxes of books to a needy settlement in Kentucky.  The library there delivers books to remote areas by horseback.
  This book was completely fiction, and a fun read, but it reminded me of another fiction book that was based on fact.

                                                                       "The Camel Bookmobile" by Masha Hamilton
   Fiona Sweeney an idealistic, 36-year-old librarian from New York, decided to take books to the bush in Kenya to improve the literacy rate there.  She was 'on a mission' and delivered the books by camel.  Each native in these villages of huts was allowed two books and if any book in the area was not returned, the bookmobile would not come back.  I was apalled when I read about the books they delivered- books by Hemingway, Mark Twain, and Dr. Seuss as well as Hollywood biographies and books on landscape and houses. For obvious reasons, some of the natives of Kenya objected to this invasion of Western culture.  But many Americans thought it was an important 'mission'.
  The author of this book, a journalist, had heard about the 'mission' and decided to make the story into fiction with a short trip to Kenya, which did not help to make the book sound authentic.

  Any other librarians???  Oh, yes, in one of my favourite books: "Where the Heart Is" by Billie Letts.  The librarian is actually a drunk who lives above the library.  Her brother, Forney Hull, one of the fascinating characters that makes the book special, covers for his sister in operating the library.  He had a copper-coloured beard and a brown stocking cap pulled over his head as he skulked among the shelves.  And he turned out to be the hero of the book.

  Any other librarians????  Oh, yes, me!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

   Continuing with my "Hardy" summer, I finished reading "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" and wish that I could say that I loved it.  But I did not.  The very things that I enjoy about Hardy's writing made this book slow and uninteresting.  He has an amazing ability to describe people and places, animals, crops, buildings, landscape, weather, etc., etc., etc.  But his descriptions went on and on and on.   There was almost no plot for the first half of the novel. 
  The novel began with a detailed description of Tess' family - a peasant father who discovered that he had aristocratic blood, but was completely uninterested in the welfare of his family.  Right at the beginning the scene is set for Tess to be used and abused.  Since she is the oldest, she must visit the relatives to get some assistance.  But, while there, she is raped by her distant cousin.  It took many, many pages of reading to get to this point, and this encounter is barely mentioned so that you are not sure that a rape occurred until she delivers a baby.
  The second half of the book does have a little more plot, when Tess falls in love with "Angel", who seems to be perfect until the wedding night when they decide to disclose their faults.  When Angel hears of the rape, he is unable to continue the marriage. However, Angel also had a past story- he had experienced forty-eight hours 'dissipation with a stranger'. But the double standard sets the tone for the rest of the book as Tess tries to make her own way in the world unsuccessfully.
  The distant cousin, Alec D'Urberville, cannot control himself because of Tess' beauty and he is a constant torment to her throughout the book. In fact, at the end, Tess takes matters into her own hands (a little too late) and the ending is fast and shocking.

   I still can get caught up in the description of the countryside and the lifestyle.  Some sentences cause me to pause and think. e.g. "It was a typical summer evening in June, the atmosphere being in such delicate equilibrium and so transmissive that inanimate objects seemed endowed with two or three senses, if not five."

   Hardy loved this book and many people have also loved it since then.  It made a lot of money for him.  He had been writing for twenty years at this point. But his first three tries to get "Tess" published in serial form were unsuccessful.  Finally, he bowdlerized it and it was accepted.
  When the novel was published in three books the next year, the missing parts were replaced.
  Once again Hardy gave the book a subtitle that was problematic to the public.  "Tess of the D'Urbervilles: a pure woman".