A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When I was around the age of Sara Crewe, I had seen the 1995 movie adaptation of this book and liked it. It was magical. I really adored the message about every girl being a princess and the sense of magic in the work. I didn’t know how true the movie was to the book until now.

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

I had somewhat high expectations for this novel given how much I liked Agnes Grey and the style of Anne Bronte’s writing overall. I found my expectations were not quite met. In general, this is a good novel and like Grey, it is a very interesting view about Victorian marriage. As a proto-Feminist novel, I can appreciate it as well.
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Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden

I have mixed feelings about this book.

On the one hand, I think Walden’s ethos and philosophy is largely positive and relatable for me. His views on the appreciation of nature, solitude, and civil life are good and important. I think more people should do the things he recommends.

On the other hand, this book was hard to read. Much harder than I thought it would be. I realized that not many people I know offline and online have read Thoreau’s work. Yes, he is often cited for his subversive views, but how many people today actually do read Walden? I’m sure some people gave up, and I almost did a couple of times.

I liked the content, but I was bored by the style and delivery.

I read this for the Classics Spin and it took me ages. I put it away for nearly a month because it did not engage me. Philosophy in general can be hard to read, but he is sometimes less forthright cut about it than Plato or the Enlightenment philosophers. I think this book would have been improved if there was a plot or more concrete examples. It was as if I was reading a long diary entry in Thoreau’s life. He meanders and his style changed.

Most of this book is not actually about civil disobedience or vegetarianism, it’s largely about nature. Long, overwrought passages on nature. I actually don’t think Thoreau is a bad writer, but there was something incredibly dull about most of this book. Too much waxing poetic. I remember many a number of pages on lakes and ponds and rivers.

In the beginning of the book, I did find Thoreau was erudite, intelligent and true, but at the same time, I found him florid, pretentious and bourgeois. This was the first 10% of the book, the rest he just talk about nature, solitude, and his neighbors. I am not sure if it was the time frame, but that should not be a problem since I have read so many nineteenth century books, but not necessarily philosophy. There was sometimes a feeling of insincerity in his words or slight arrogance about his knowledge of the world. He was only about 30 when he wrote this and I can see that his relatively young age can have contributed. He had not travelled very much and it shows in this book. I also suspect he was sarcastic at times.

Should other people read it? I think parts of the book and certain quotations make provocative reading such as the last section of Civil Disobedience. I think it is also a good book about history and the setting in which he wrote it because Thoreau is clearly intelligent. In terms of reading this for fun, I really do not know many people who should actually enjoy this book.

Or maybe I am blind to how good his prose was, but for me, this was not the most memorable reading experience even though I did agree with Thoreau at times.

Read on Kindle from February 27th to April 12th 2013.

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

I started reading this book in original French while living in France in the summer of 2010. I managed one chapter and then I had to return to the local library. I try to read one French book a year, but it’s more like I read one French every three years. This was the last French book I tried to start and I tried reading it over two years ago! With the Classics Club, I thought I would revisit this classic of French literature.

French is not necessarily an easy language to read and an even harder language to write. I have been lucky that my comprehension in French has always been good since I took immersion as a teenager, but even then, I am not completely fluent in reading in it.

People were telling me that the best way to read in another language is to read books translated into said language, but there are not many books that I want to read in French since many of them are in English or in the older, original French. One of my favourite French authors is Dumas, but I have largely read his books in English though I have reread some of the Count of Monte Cristo in French.

I read much slower in French than in English. I can’t quantify how much slower, but this book in English would have taken me one weekend day. I read the chapters in French then skimmed Project Gutenberg’s translation to verify.

This is a novel about Paris social life in the 19th century. Paris has and always will be an all-consuming place. The protagonist is very poor at the start of the story. Georges Duroy is apparently extremely good looking, charismatic, ambitious, but he also seems to be stupid and easily becomes conceited even at the beginning. It is funny to read in the beginning how transparent the characters and their motivations are. It is very much a critique of Paris life and a political satire. While the story is unique to the setting, a lot of the themes of social climbing, intrigue, and sex are still happening in political circles across the world.

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The Classics Club – November 2012 Meme

The Classics Club November 2012 Meme Question:

What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?)

Since I grew up with classics, they are not really intimidating to me. I think it was a bit daunting when I first started in my adolescence with the serious reads, but since then, it’s been natural to read the classics.

I think the classic I am closest to being intimidated with is Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I don’t really get scared by long reads, but this is the longest novel in literature with 1.5 million words. Secondly, I rarely hear of other people actually reading this work. People will go on about how long Ulysses and War and Peace are, but rarely do I read about people willing to read Proust’s magnum opus. It makes me a bit a curious to read it for the challenge. Also, since it’s in French, I’d also be tempted to read at least part of it in the native language to since from all I can gather, Proust was a great writer. The novel doesn’t seem particularly exciting though, but I do like some modernist works so there is a good chance that I’d like at least one volume of it.

How about you? What’s an intimidating classic for you?

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This book was epic. Once again, I was conflicted about giving it a 4 or a 5 on Good Reads. As with before, the deciding factor was if I would reread it again. I wouldn’t be against reading it, but then again, I’m not planning on it. It was frustrating and very long at times, but there is no doubt that this is a well written book in many ways and a classic.

I started reading this book September 20th, but I really didn’t read much of it until the last weekend of September wherein I read 70% of the book from Saturday to Tuesday October 2nd.

The Beginning: Not that bad, easy going, lots of exposition, lots of idyllic life of the antebellum South.

The Middle: Gripping, dark, and compelling. This was when I started to really hit my next page button.

The End: Scarlett gets more and more cruel, ridiculous and unbearable. Book just ends a bit abruptly.

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The Classics Club Monthly Meme – October 2012

This month for the Classics Club Monthly Meme:

Why are you reading the classics?

To be honest, I’ve always read classics so I can’t say why I do it now. Even my favourite children’s books as a child were classics and I had a love for classical mythology. I just seem to like old things. My best courses in high school were English and History.

When people read fiction, it really is like travelling into another world or another time. With a classic, it is doubly so because sometimes you are reading a writer write about their own times with those details they have observed or written in the past. In any case, classics give a view that isn’t necessarily like that is offered now, but they can affect our present day.

The older the classic, the more authors add onto it or interpret it over time. Henry James liked Austen. The Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky influenced each other. Several of the classic authors appreciate Shakespeare and Milton.

Simply of course, I like a lot of classic books so I keep reading them. It’s that simple.

How about you?

Love & Freindship and The History of England by Jane Austen

Love & Freindship and The History of England by Jane Austen

Another reread from the collected minor works of Austen. I won’t do a proper post on Sanditon and The Watsons since they are unfinished, but I rather liked their beginning especially Sanditon’s when I read them three years ago.

These are just two of the juvenilia that I have read from Austen which features unpublished works she wrote as a youth primarily for her family.

Austen wrote this story when she was fourteen. Like most of her works, this is epistolary, and yet again, the right length. I think one early criticism of eighteenth century epistolary novels are that they are too long. I always like the length of Austen’s works; she’s actually concise for her time and I often wish her stories were longer.

This story is almost a fairy tale or a fable. The whole point of it is to mock sensibility and that trend of her time. There is a flair for the melodramatic in this work as the main characters are silly idiots. There is a lot of fainting.

Jane Austen’s predilection for sense in romance is one of the things I like most about her novels. I like that her heroes and heroines fall in love, but the females don’t go around acting hysterical or dramatic about it.

The History of England

This was rather amusing if you love history like I do. If you know British history, more the better. Very tongue in cheek and witty retelling of some kings and queens of England and Scotland from Henry III to George II’s beheading.

It’s a satire on standard history books. It mocks historians and their so-called objectivity. I rather liked her literary references and tone. It’s the kind of work young historians would appreciate and it does make it more interesting to learn.

Austen wrote this when she was fifteen. Goodness, I wish I had a slither of how much talent she had as a youth. I did find both works amusing in their own way and different than her novels of course except I still clearly saw Austen through it. I like her tongue in cheek humor and style of writing, her ability to not take things too serious, and her social commentary.

I recommend the juvenilia to see more shades of Austen

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

In 2009, I read Sanditon, The Watsons, Lady Susan, and the juvenilia from the Everyman’s Classics compilation so this is technically a reread. I enjoyed the book, but I don’t think I remember much of it so I may as well reread and review this one for Austen in August and the Classics Club.

This features Austen’s attempt at writing a villain and an antihero for the protagonist. This is a short epistolary novella so it’s not first person, but you get to see several characters through the letters. Epistolary works are best in short forms such as this because the format is limiting. Many early English novels are in letter form, but it can drag. This novella had the right length.

Lady Susan is not a good woman. She is deceitful, spiteful, manipulative, vain, not a good mother and yet amusing to read about. Personally, I don’t alway need to like characters in books, movies and film or even feel sympathetic to them, but they must be interesting. I found Lady Susan interesting or at least good to dislike. Like many selfish people, she has this weird logic about the way of world. With her letters, you can really tell she cannot help but think like this. She is just that amoral.

This was a nice, easy read that also had a lot of classic Austen touches, but it really showed another side to Austen. Weirdly enough, it reminded me of all the Georgette Heyer Regency novels I’ve been reading. Heyer has more characters who are scandalous and coquettish. I would recommend Heyer for those Austen readers who like the tone of Lady Susan.

Read on the Kindle August 7-8th 2012.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park is the only major novel of Jane Austen I hadn’t read yet. I have seen a couple of adaptations of it so I knew the story.

In a reply comment in the Austen in August post, Roof Beam Reader commented that many people seem to leave Mansfield Park last or that it ends up being their ‘last’ of the Austen books. I think there are couple of reasons for this.

First, Mansfield Park is known as the most serious of Austen’s works. It has the most social commentary, and it has a slightly darker tone about socio-economics in Austen’s times. While Austen has social commentary in all her books, MP has the one which involves a greater inequality between the characters both financially and morally. While this doesn’t necessarily dissuade readers, it is probably the most realistic of Austen’s novels. It is definitely the most somber.

Secondly, Fanny Price seems to have a reputation among the Austen heroines. In the Austen choose your own adventure book Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell, there is one alternative ending which the reader is trapped forever with Fanny in an attic (the horror!). That was amusing, but not surprising to me. I have touched my toe in the waters of Austen fandom online and Fanny doesn’t seem to be many people’s favourite Austen heroine (Austeroine?). While Lizzie has wit, Elinor has sense, Emma has schemes, Anne has maturity, and Catherine has curiosity, Fanny has…? She has relatively less to recommend her. In fact, some find her “insipid” including Austen’s own mother.

I wrote the above even before starting the book. I went in to the book with an open mind and tried not to find Fanny Price annoying. A lot of Fanny’s personality is due in part to her upbringing. She is neglected and made to feel low by all her relations except Edmund. She is shy to begin with but her snobby relations don’t treat her like a person, more like a charity case or property. Only Edmund seems to care about her so I understand how Fanny would be someone without much bravery or self-esteem. Actually without Edmund to protect her, Fanny is abused like a slave girl to her aunts. She takes it all because she is brought up to take it all. Another reason is that her personality type is probably not something in which modern readers can appreciate since her primary traits are frailty, passivity, and morality. Being a forthright female was not something conventional in Austen’s time.

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The Classics Club Monthly Meme – August 2012.

The Classics Club monthly meme for August 2012:

What is your favorite classic book? Why?

I read a saying, “Asking a bookworm what her favourite book is like asking a mother who her favourite child is.” While I am not a mother yet, I can see how it would be similar because I love a lot of books for different reasons, but I love them all the same. My heart grows for more love of them. There isn’t one or two that I would want to keep rereading and sharing forever. It would be rather sad since i like variety in all things, especially in books.

Here are some of my favourite classics from my childhood and adolescence:

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – One of my favourite books as a child, if not the favourite. I adored this story and the Fox animated series too (and the action movie). I always wanted to be Wendy when reading this book. It was fun, dark, and oddly mature and sad.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – Another childhood favourite and also similarly, I also loved the 1980s BBC series (my love of books and TV/film feeds into each other a lot). I remember as a child knocking the back of every closet wondering if it would led me to Narnia and to tea with Mr Tumnus.

The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer – I had a big interest in mythology and fantasy as a kid. I was obsessed with the myths, especially Greek mythology. This is why I took Athena as my online name as well. The Iliad is rather violent; I think The Odyssey is a better read, but I feel one needs to get the full classic Greek experience by reading the Iliad. You can’t understand their mythology, their philosophy, their history without reading these two together.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – When I read and finished this at 14, I felt adult for the first time in terms of my reading. I had read other adult books before this novel, but this book seemed to be in a turning point in my life. It was a benchmark for me. It made me fall in love with Tolstoy’s writing and Russian Literature. I have a lot of respect for their lit, and after AK, I really did want to learn to read Russian for a long time. I have read War & Peace and do like it, but AK will be the book I reread every ten to twenty years. This reminds me that I need to buy a good copy of it.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Read this for school and loved it. This should be read and enjoyed early. The movie is amazing as well.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – It’s been ten years since I read this book and even now, I remember certain moments, passages, and writing. This book really stayed with me.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera – I’m not sure why I picked this book up, but the character studies in here are particularly interesting. The philosophy too and there are some great quotations here that I remember

Without listing all of their works, here are my favourite ‘classic’ authors:

Jane Austen – Immensely rereadable, fun, and romantic, I always feel comforted by Austen’s works.
William Shakespeare – All you can learn about life and people are in these pages. Hamlet is the tragedy I know best and I like Twelfth Night from the comedies. The writing in this always surprises, delights and enchants me.
John Steinbeck – I loved East of Eden.
E. M. Forster – I like A Room With a View and Howards End the best.
Rainer Maria Rilke – One of my favourite poets.

Honestly, I have more loves (Thomas Hardy, A. A. Milne, Richard Adams, Madeleine L’Engle and it goes on). I chose to leave out most of the authors and books from the last fifty years because then this post would be thrice as long.

I do notice that I love a lot of children’s literature, and with good reason. Even the ones I read as an adult, they do stay with you. I think some of the best classics are from those that you can read to children or they can read themselves.

How about you? What are some of your favourites?

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Another classic children’s book I missed out when I was younger. I knew of this book as a child, but I wasn’t very interested in this genre at that time. I had a proclivity to mythology and fantasy then. I know I would have liked these books since I really liked the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I wish i had read these when i was younger; it is quite easy to attach to these girls. On an interesting note, I read Geraldine Brooks’s March a couple years ago and enjoyed that. Coming into this book, I had her vision of Father March which was definitely more layered than Alcott portrays in this book.

My favourite of the sisters in order is Beth, Jo, Meg and then Amy. I felt the latter two actually developed the most from beginning to end which is always a testament to the writer’s ability for characterization. I do not have siblings so I can’t relate to how the girls were to each other, but it was lovely.

I had some teary eyed reactions to certain scenes in this novel. The older I get, the more easily I cry or tear up when I read books or watch movies. As a child, this rarely happened. This is such a touching novel where all the characters develop but aren’t perfect, and it really emphasizes how there is always something in one’s life to be grateful for and people that care and love for you. It’s a very human novel.

The story made me a tad sleepy, and I mean that in a good way. It is very relaxing to read and well suited to bedtime reading to children. All the chapters end neatly and with optimism.

The whole novel ends without any loose ends. I do feel Laurie and his wife end up together as if thrown together. There wasn’t that much foreshadowing for them. Similarly, that Jo would end up with who she did too. Alcott wrote it in well and did surprise the characters

I know this is the first in a trilogy, but I don’t feel inclined to read further. The ending left everyone happy and content. I admit to liking part one slightly more than part two. Alcott had actually published them as two volumes which is why this book does feel like two books in some ways.

Read on Kindle July 27th to August 1st, 2012.