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2020 Classics Challenge: The House of Mirth

I didn’t realize when I read it what an outlier Ethan Frome is compared to the rest of Wharton’s work.

Well, I haven’t read all her work, so maybe that statement is uneducated and overblown, but imagine reading that bleak depiction of a hard-scrabble rural life and then popping over to The House of Mirth, where we follow New York City socialite Lily Bart about the drawing rooms, ballrooms, and restaurants of upper-class New York during the Gilded Age.

It’s a real jump.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis of The House of Mirth, which will give you the gist if you haven’t read it:

First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.

Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, is accepted by ‘old money’ and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing, and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something – fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a ‘suitable’ match.

I found Lily Bart to be as compelling a character as she is infuriating. Her decisions, based wholly on making herself into the woman her social set expects her to be, are maddening at times.

Her problem is one we can understand from a contemporary perspective. Lily is beautiful but she is getting older. She has refused a number of potential rich husbands having no real desire to be married to them.

As a contemporary woman, I get that. But I also have better choices than Lily had in her time. Even women of poorer classes during that time needed to marry well to cement or improve their social standing–or at least an acceptable standard of living.

But Lily’s story shows us what happens when a woman is raised to believe that her beauty is her chief social currency, and maintaining it her chief purpose, and that no other striving is necessary to land her the life she has been promised. As a woman in the 21st century, I have no problem relating to the themes within this struggle.

Lily doesn’t seem to want to marry any of the men who seek her out. Instead, she relies on an aging aunt to fund her increasingly expensive lifestyle.

But, Lily’s obsession with keeping up appearances and her set’s penchant for gambling lead her into some “dirty” business with Gus Trenor, husband of her friend Judy.

Gus, a known flirt/philanderer, wants too much in return for the favor he does for Lily and, in an unfortunate turns of events, the deal between them is revealed and Lily is cast out from her former friends’ circle.

From the outside, we see her lose more and more dignity as she seeks to preserve her social standing armed with only her beauty and wit.

And then we see the choices she is left with when they fail her.

She does have one true friend in Lawrence Seldon, who tends to see her for who she really is outside of her social machinations. Their interactions allow for points of hope throughout the novel in a sort of will-they-won’t-they dance that carries through to the end.

I won’t give away the ending. It is apt and terribly sad.

I also have failed to capture all the wonderful themes in this novel. It is a beast in that regard, so many threads to pull out and examine. I have no doubt I’ll reread it before long.

Do read it if you have any inclination.


This is my selection for category 3. Classic by a Woman Author for the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate.

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2019 Reading wrap-up

Shelfie

But first, lemme take a shelfie

2019 was the year of the reading slump.

I had more trouble finding books I wanted to read this year than I can remember ever having. I hate that. It means I’m losing time that can be spent on actual reading once said books are found. But given my policy of immediately abandoning books I’m not into, I guess thems the breaks. Sometimes you have to kiss a few (or many) frogs to find your prince.

I also went through about three weeks where I was adjusting to a new medication (a stimulant) and throughout that time, I made a ton of collage art but didn’t read a damn thing.

So, win some/lose some?

At the end of the year, I had a chance to increase my numbers. My Christmas break from work gave me a week and a half to stuff in a few more volumes before the end of the year. I live for this break. Unfortunately, I have been sick throughout the entire thing. The strep throat seems to have cleared up thanks to 10 days of penicillin, but my sinuses continue to torment me and I still can’t hear out of one ear. Sigh. 

Lots of reading time, in other words, since I haven’t had the energy for much else. And also House Hunters.

In any case, here are some fun reading wrap-up stats.


2019 Wrap-up and Geeky Stats

The Reading Race:
Each year, Ben and I have a friendly competition to see who can read the most books. The rules are pretty loose and we operate on the honor system. There’s no page count minimum or anything. This year, as in the past couple of years, Ben beat me, reading 57 books to my 53. I made it to the 50s, so I’m not too fussed. I’ve set myself a goal of 60 for 2020.

Total books read: 53
Fiction: 17
Nonfiction: 36
Female authors: 32
Male Authors: 21
Nonbinary/Trans authors: 0 (Ick, need to work on this.)
Non-white authors: 2 (Well, that is just freaking abysmal. Will work on reading more authors of color in the coming year. Please suggest some for me in the comments!)
E-books: 23
Audiobooks: 9 (Yep, I count these as reading.)
Re-reads: 2 (The Kids Will Be Fine, Running With Scissors)


Most Read Genres

Memoir/autobiography: 19
Classics: 7
True crime: 6 (not surprising)


Other Genres I Read

Historical fiction: 3
Translations (not necessarily a genre, but a type):
 3 (all classics: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Ibsen plays)
Graphic novels: 1 (Paper Girls: Volume One)
Biography: 2
YA: 1
Self-help: 3
Spirituality: 1
Nonfiction history: 3
Nonfiction British history: 1
Short stories: 1
Fantasy: 1
Mystery/thriller: 2
Social issues: 3 (I lump many things into this category. This year these books qualified: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives, The Kids Will Be Fine, and This is Where You Belong.)


Favorite Books of 2019

 

2019FaveBooks

Keep in mind that these are just books I read in 2019. I don’t make much of an effort to read new books unless they catch my interest. There are too many good books out there to limit myself to those published in the year in which I am reading. 🙂

The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier 
I truly love Daphne. Need to read another by her in the coming year.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
I’m always interested in hearing about how women make money, especially if they are low earners or don’t work in an office (like I do). I find I need exposure like this to better understand the many ways people get by. Reading books like this one are part of how I educate myself on economic and women’s issues.

Madame Lalaurie, Mistress of the Haunted House by Carline Morrow Long
We went on a New Orleans ghost tour in March and the Lalaurie house was part of it. This grisly account of Madame Lalaurie’s alleged crimes actually included quite a bit of well-researched New Orleans history. It also gave proper stage time to the stories of the enslaved people in the home.

 

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Lalaurie Mansion looking creepy AF

 

Gentleman Jack: A Biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist by Angela Steidele
I found this book on Anne Lister, 18th-century lesbian landowner and diarist, totally delightful! Talk about a woman who didn’t conform to gender roles. She was also pretty obviously out as a gay woman, which was dangerous at the time. On a related note, have you watched the Gentleman Jack series TV series via HBO? I tried it and was disappointed to find that I just couldn’t get into it. May give it another whirl in the future.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
LOVED this quirky memoir by the owner of the Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland. I’ve got his second book on ILL order at the library right now and can’t wait to get it.

Sally Wister’s Journal by Sally Wister
I picked up this slim book at the Museum of the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia over the summer. It’s the diary of a young woman during the first battles of the Revolutionary War. Short, but fascinating for this women’s history nerd! There is some drama due to the war, but this is quite focused on the day-to-day activities that must go on even in wartime. I love reading about how women who came before spent their time.

inflatablekayak

Shout out to my sister- and brother-in-law for the gift of watercraft this Christmas!

Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler
This book is the reason I wanted inflatable kayaks for Christmas. 😀

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Listen to the audiobook—you won’t regret it.

Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves by Marie Jenkins Schwartz
Schwartz is dedicated to telling the side of the story we don’t usually hear when reading about first ladies. This book looks at them from the perspective of the people they enslaved and tells the stories of those enslaved people. If you don’t know these stories, it is eye-opening. This is another I found at the Museum of the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia.

Calypso by David Sedaris
My favorite literary weirdo. I listened to this on my walks home and laughed out loud in parts. Sedaris is admittedly not for everyone, but I am definitely the target market for him…possibly because I am also weird. 😉

BingeworthyBritishTelevisionIn addition to the above, I thoroughly enjoyed Bingeworthy British Television by one of my favorite book bloggers and fellow Anglophile Sarah Cords (and her coauthor, of course, Jackie Bailey). Highly recommend this one if you are interested in British television. It is an excellent encyclopedic review of all that’s available, and I love thumbing through it for recommendations.

 


Other Thoughts


Thought One:
I always say that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and yet, I only read three books that fit this category: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton, and The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier.

Thought Two: I didn’t read a single volume of poetry. I barely wrote any either. Reading and writing poetry used to be a major part of my life and I have really abandoned it in the past several years. Would like to remedy this.

Thought Three: In the past, say, five years or so, my preferences have really skewed toward nonfiction, whereas fiction reined in the past. I wonder what that’s about…

Thought Four: I used to be all about YA and children’s books. In fact, several years ago I began the project of reading every single Newbery Medal and Honor book. I think I read around 20 or so, but my interest flagged. I wonder if that’s something I should revive.

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Bookshelf proof that I once cared about poetry…


2020 Reading Goals

  • Read 60 books (finally win the Reading Race? ;))
  • Read more historical fiction
  • Intentionally read diverse books (especially authors of color and trans/nonbinary authors)
  • Read some frikken poetry
  • Participate in 2020 classics challenge? If there isn’t one this year, I’m thinking of just setting out to conquer another doorstop. Les Mis comes to mind.

Lots to look forward to. How about you? Would love to hear your goals for 2020.

Happy New Year!

 

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2019 Classics Challenge, Uncategorized

2019 classics challenge

BTCC Berlin BooksI started the 2018 Back to the Classics challenge with hopes high and ended up reading six of 12. I’m not upset about it. That’s six more than I otherwise might’ve read.

With equally high hopes but no illusions, I’ve decided to start the 2019 challenge (info. here). 

Here are the categories and my plans for them. 

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.
This will most probably be Dickens. The Pickwick Papers? May as well start at the beginning I suppose.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago.
So many options for this, but I’m thinking Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El-Saadawi. This would also qualify for #s 3 and 4.

3. Classic by a Woman Author.
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Lucy Bird. I brought this back from a family trip to Arizona 20 years ago and haven’t read it. But I kept it all those years with plans to read it. That’s dedication to a TBR list, people.

 4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots!) Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.
It may be time for Anna Karenina.

5. Classic Comic Novel. Any comedy, satire, or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it’s a work that’s traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. Some classic comic novels: Cold Comfort Farm; Three Men in a Boat; Lucky Jim; and the works of P. G. Wodehouse.
I’m thinking Cold Comfort Farm.

6. Classic Tragic Novel. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. Examples include The Grapes of Wrath, House of Mirth, and Madame Bovary.
Will likely slog through Madame Bovary for this.

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.
War and Peace? Les Mis? Doctor Zhivago?

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages.
I’m thinking: Passing, Silas Marner, or O Pioneers! Just found this helpful list.

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either North or South America or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude (Columbia/South America).
So many great options: The Stone Diaries (Canada); The Purple Land (Uruguay); Treasure Island (the Caribbean)

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those continentss or islands, or by an author from these regions. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); On the Beach by Nevile Shute (Australia); Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria).
Possibly The Pillow Book by Sei Shonago (Japan) or The Grass is Singing (Zimbabwe)

11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you’ve lived, or by a local author. Choices for me include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany).
Looks like this is the year I read A Girl of the Limberlost.

 12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.
I do not enjoy reading plays, but here we are. I’m thinking A Doll’s House, Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Death of a Salesman, which I have neither read nor seen.

There you have it. Quite a multicultural list this year and I’ve been wanting to work on reading more diversely, so I’m looking forward to so many of these!

Are you doing any reading challenges this year?

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2018 Classics Challenge, Fiction, Uncategorized, What Shannon Read

Of Mice and Men

890Read my first Steinbeck novel yesterday. Somehow I managed to get through high school and college as an English major without reading a single volume of his work. Of Mice and Men looked like a nice, tidy little novella, so I picked it up at the library last week and read it in a couple of hours.

What a pleasure to go through such a tightly written work of fiction. I’ve been steeped in Brit lit from the 1700s and 1800s lately, so I just appreciated Steinbeck’s comparatively concise sentences.

Anyway, let’s see, given how tired I am today, if I can do this book any justice…Set during the Depression, Of Mice and Men is the story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two itinerant ranch workers. We first find them on their way to Soledad, California, heading to a ranch to work. They’ve just left Weed, California, where Lennie, who’s mentally disabled, was accused of rape by a young woman on a ranch there. In truth, Lennie is fixated on touching soft things and when he saw the woman’s red dress, he wanted to touch it. But then he refused to let go of it and, apparently, scared her.

The pair make it to the ranch in Soledad and there, we meet the other ranch hands and learn some of their backstories. Wikipedia has a great run-down of those if you’re interested.

Lennie’s obsession with touching soft things leads to trouble that you can see building throughout the novella. Each time another character noticed or wondered about poor Lennie, I could feel my anxiety rising. Eventually, things come to a head and the ending is nothing short of poetic.

What struck me about this story was the absolute powerlessness of so many of the characters. George and Lennie dream of owning a parcel of land where they’ll farm and enjoy peace and quiet, with warm fires on cold nights and plenty to eat. It’s such a simple dream and yet, by the end of the novella, George despairs of ever achieving it.

Candy, an elderly ranch hand, has lost a hand in an accident. He’s still allowed to work odd jobs but he’s really not capable of much. In a blatant metaphor, Candy loses his beloved dog, who was also old and somewhat useless other than as a companion. A fellow ranch hand puts the dog down as it’s always in pain and can see Candy worrying the same thing will happen, or is happening, to him.

Those are just two examples of powerlessness in the novella. You get plenty more in the other characters, including the lonely wife of the owner’s son and Crooks, the African-American hand, who is isolated from the other. Throughout the novella is a pervasive sense that things are generally pretty terrible thanks to the down economy. While not hopeful, the story builds to a powerful ending. Thoroughly worth the read and I am pumped to find a few other Steinbeck novels to sink my teeth into. I’m comin’ for ya’, Grapes of Wrath…

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2018 Classics Challenge, Fiction, Kids books, Uncategorized, What Shannon Read

The Secret Garden

2998I always want to re-read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett in the spring. Watching things come alive for sad little Mary Lennox is such a delight and this time around it definitely helped me pay attention to the small signs of spring around here. I’m also cataloguing it as my re-read of a classic for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge.

Anyway, if you don’t know the story, the book is a classic of children’s literature set in England in the early part of the 20th century. It’s the story of ten-year-old Mary Lennox, who is born and raised (and spoiled) in India. She’s raised mostly by Indian servants who bow and scrape to her and, again, she’s generally a spoiled brat.

As the book starts, a cholera epidemic wipes out her family and her servants leaving her alone in the house at the same time. Once discovered, she’s shipped to England to live at Misselthwaite, a manor in Yorkshire belonging to her uncle Archibald Craven.

Thus begins my dream life: Mary is pretty much left to her own devices. Servants wait on her and, while she’s lonely at first, she has the run of the mansion as well as the grounds. She makes a friend of Martha, the serving girl who brings her meals, and hears from her about a special garden that’s been locked up for ten years, since the death of the mistress of the house.

Some Things I Love About This Book:

  • IMG_20180405_173333298

    Spring in Northern Indiana is about crocuses and waiting…

    The change in Mary from a skinny, bratty sourpuss to a little girl experiencing the wonders of the natural world as children should. The idea is that nature is transformative: “…and after she had stared for a while she realized that if she did not go out she would have to stay in and do nothing — and so she went out. She did not know that this was the best thing she could have done, and she did not know that, when she began to walk quickly or even run along the paths and down the avenue, she was stirring her slow blood and making herself stronger by fighting with the wind which swept down from the moor. She ran only to make herself warm, and she hated the wind which rushed at her face and roared and held her back as if it were some giant she could not see. But the big breaths of rough fresh air blown over the heather filled her lungs with something which was good for her whole thin body and whipped some red color into her cheeks and brightened her dull eyes when she did not know anything about it.”

  • Exercise is transformative too: “Mary felt lonelier than ever when she knew she was no longer in the house . She went out into the garden as quickly as possible , and the first thing she did was to run round and round the fountain flower garden ten times . She counted the times carefully and when she had finished she felt in better spirits.”
  • And lastly, so are thoughts: One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts — just mere thoughts — are as powerful as electric batteries — as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live. So long as Mistress Mary’s mind was full of disagreeable thoughts about her dislikes and sour opinions of people and her determination not to be pleased by or interested in anything, she was a yellow – faced, sickly, bored and wretched child. Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, and moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his “creatures, ” there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts which affected her liver and her digestion and made her yellow and tired.

I’m leaving lots of details out, but that’s because I think you’ll enjoy reading them yourself. All the above is to say that this novel is many things for me: it’s a romp in Yorkshire; it’s about having a mansion to yourself; it’s about making friends when you are friendless and alone; and it’s about the power of nature and beauty and even your own thoughts. I loved every freakin’ minute of it.

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Nonfiction, Uncategorized, What Ben Read

Brunch is Hell: How to Save the World by Throwing a Dinner Party

1So the guys behind a podcast called “Dinner Party Download” wrote a book titled Brunch is Hell: How to Save the World by Throwing a Dinner Party. One might assume that they are not completely impartial, and one would be absolutely correct. The anti-brunch case is argued very loosely, with the general thrust being that it is too commercial and also prone to making you lazy and day-drunk.

The perspective is hipster-ish, and slanted toward single people who enjoy having drinks (though they do make allowances for teetotalers and those blessed with progeny). If you’re not the target market, either read the book as anthropology or don’t bother. The authors know their target market and pander unashamedly.

All that aside, it was a fun read. There is something to be said for a dinner party: friends coming together for the purpose of enjoying good food, good company, and perhaps some mild hijinks. Adding a little more DIY to our socializing could be both good for camaraderie and easier on our budgets. And the book is sprinkled with enough banter, anecdotes, humor, and practical tips to keep it light and enjoyable. Underneath all their tomfoolery, the authors are earnest in their evangelization.

Also, I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a twist ending that definitely made me chuckle.

Fun and funny
4/5 Mimosas

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Fun bookish links 3/9/18

Heeey-ay…I’ve barely had time to read any book news this week, which hurts my heart. But I’ve got a few links for ya’ anyway. What’s everybody reading this weekend? I’m working on Yellow Crocus (historical fiction) and How to Read a Dressa history of the dress, essentially, and I am geeking out over it.

On to the links!

  • The blogoshpere is all abuzz with the Tournament of Books, which I’ve never really followed before. I may this year but not many of the selections interest me, tbh. How about you? Any of these on your TBR? And should I read The Animators? I can’t decide.
  • A fun piece on Hilary Mantel. I’ve only read Wolf Hall, which I didn’t love. I need to pick up some of her other stuff.
  • Have you read The Alienist? If so, are you watching it?
  • Why are we still talking about this yahoo? Also, lol to this quote: One local LGBTQ rights activist told the newspaper that the book should be renamed Kim Davis’ Cost to Kentucky Taxpayers, pointing to the reported $222,695 in legal fees from the clerk’s case. 
  • Ok, I’ve really petered out here….

Poor showing on the links today. I hope everyone has a lovely weekend. I def need one.

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