Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Fourteen - Cold Comfort Farm - Part Two

Stella Gibbons
From Open Library
So, yeah I was wrong when I thought this book was the inspiration for that Nicole Kidman movie about the Civil War. Must remember this list was compiled by the BBC and most of the authors are British. I don’t suppose there are too terribly many Britons interested in our Civil War. (Nor, for that matter, many Americans.)

However, Cold Comfort Farm does involve a war of sorts. A young woman sets about imposing her will upon others, much to their chagrin, of course. She is the puppet master, attempting to change everyone into what she thinks they should be. I can hear you object, but remember this book is a parody. It is meant to make fun of itself, and it does so very well. The farm’s cows are named Aimless, Feckless, Graceless, and Pointless. The name of a wealthy family’s home is Hautcouture Hall. From page 137 of my Penguin Classics edition –

‘I thought poetry was enough,’ said Elfine, wistfully. ‘I mean, I thought poetry was so beautiful that if you met someone you loved, and you told them you wrote poetry, that would be enough to make them love you, too.’
‘On the contrary,’ said Flora, firmly, ‘most young men are alarmed on hearing that a young woman writes poetry. Combined with an ill-groomed head of hair and an eccentric style of dress, such an admission is almost fatal.’
I was disappointed in a couple of things but I won’t specify because that would be a spoiler. It was a fun book though it didn’t have the humor or the depth of Brideshead Revisited or even of Bleak House.

I’m currently reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck for my book club, and I’m not sure what will come after that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Fourteen - Cold Comfort Farm - Part One

I'm enjoying the book but reading is going very slowly. (It's that irons in the fire thing.) A sample -
So that was it. Aunt Ada Doom was mad. You would expect, by all the laws of probability, to find a mad grandmother at Cold Comfort Farm, and for once the laws of probability had not done you down and a mad grandmother there was.
The whole thing is like that! It reminds me of Northanger Abbey in that it's a send-up of typical novels of the time. This one is a parody of books about rural life. I've always thought I should read a few gothic novels to better appreciate Northanger Abbey, and my enjoyment of this book would be greater if I had read any of the books Gibbons parodies. Nonetheless, I am enjoying it very much as it is laden with descriptions of people, and people don't really change from one era to the next.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Thirteen - Vicky Angel

Jacqueline Wilson
Strange book, weird book, book I might have enjoyed if I first read it when I was thirteen or fourteen and recently lost someone I loved.

Not wanting to get into anything requiring much thought in November, I picked up this book. The print is big and glancing at the cover I thought it would be about someone called Vicky Angel and her BFF. Nice, sweet Young Adult book.

I didn't look closely at the cover until after the first chapter. By looking at it you can probably guess a few things about the book. It's one part "Ghost Town," one part the girl who doesn't fit in and one part this chick is whack. (I know that word is so fifteen years ago but I don't know what the new word might be.) Besides, who does feel like they fit in at fourteen?

It was, however, a quick book to read. Next up is Cold Comfort Farm which also has large print and I think might be the book that movie was based upon. You know the one with Renee Zellweiger doing a southern accent? And Jude Law and what's her name... Phoebe something, maybe. No, it's oh - what's her name, the Australian one that was married to Tom Cruise? Anyway, I never saw the movie.

Sorry, I'm saving all my best words for my NaNo novel right now. It's going well, thank you for asking, due in large part to my friend Georgie. She helped me finally understand one of my main characters. Thanks, G!

I'll think of that woman's name eventually. I could Google it but my brain  is tired. (This is when I should probably save a post and edit it later, but it's November. All bets are off in November.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Twelve - Charlie And The Chocolate Factory - Part Two

This is a delightful book. The story is equal parts sweetness and vengeance which I suppose is what children like. I don’t remember being all that into revenge when I was a child, but I may have been. I definitely remember hearing that you reap what you sow and there is lots of that in this book.

Near the end of the book, Willie Wonka rants that television is ruining the lives of children. He proposes that parents not allow a television in the home and recommends filling the empty spot in the living room with overflowing bookshelves. He asserts that if there were no television, children would read more. I disagree with his basic premise.

First, should we really trust the welfare of children to a man who makes candy for a living? Putting that aside, this is a theoretical argument which involves, in my opinion, faulty logic. Some people do not enjoy reading just as some people do not enjoy football, some dancing, and some dislike red meat. It follows that without television, some children would read more but others would not; the children who don’t like to read would find other ways to occupy their time. This is not a new phenomenon. There were people who didn’t enjoy reading before television or computer games or the internet or even radio. In fact, we have literary confirmation of this. There is no evidence that Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice ever picked up a book. She spends her time on “visiting and news.” Emma Woodhouse is always meaning to read more, but it remains an intention. In Bleak House, Esther doesn’t read. Granted, she describes herself as not very bright, but rather than try to improve her dim little mind by reading she spends her time jangling keys, seeing to others, and embroidering endless ornaments for the home. For that matter, Ada in Bleak House doesn’t read, nor does Richard. Of course, Richard is an irresponsible dunderhead, but these are examples which spring to mind immediately. Actually, I don’t recall Charlie, the hero of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, picking up a book.

I realize this notion of mine would open a can of worms in some quarters (or as Chandler Bing would say, “Can open – worms everywhere”) but that’s my opinion. Yes, some television is crap. Some books are crap, too. My policy with pretty much everything is to avoid the crap. (I wish I could come up with a pithier way of saying that, but there you are.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Twelve - Charlie And The Chocolate Factory - Part One

Roald Dahl
From Children's Classics
Somehow I missed out on this book when I was young, so here's The Book Report That Never Was.  

Book report on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
by Peggy

I like this book. It is a good book. It is funny and has chocolate and TV.

There is a boy who is so poor he doesn't have enough for dinner. That is very sad. And his grandparents can't get out of bed. That is sad, too.

Willie Wonka is funny. I don't like the Oompa-Loompas, they're shifty. 

The End 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Eleven - Brideshead Revisited - Part Two

Evelyn Waugh
From Leeds University

Filled with emotional highs and lows, Brideshead Revisited is wistful yet contains laugh out loud moments. Its characters are happy, sad, confused, dedicated, obedient, defiant, kind, cruel, pious, manipulative, weird, out of touch with reality by varying degrees, and pursued by assorted phantoms. The book’s subtitle is The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, and while this provides a hint as to the book’s contents, don’t trust it too much. Waugh is a crafty one.

This is the first book I’ve read by Evelyn Waugh and I immediately noticed something he has in common with Jane Austen – the ability to accurately depict types. Mr. Samgrass is one of these. During a crisis partly of his own making, he drones on about matters of absolutely no relevance to anyone but himself. The world revolves around him. Don’t you know people like this? They cannot endure silence and must speak incessantly, and they must speak about themselves. Rex Mottram is another type. Determined toward upward mobility, he eats and drinks only what the proper social circle dictates. When his proposal to dine at an officially sanctioned Paris restaurant is declined and he is taken instead to a restaurant he considers of lesser quality, he “gave up his hat and coat with the air of not expecting to see them again.” I love these amusing descriptions Waugh includes; they’re lovely little treats throughout the course of the book.

The matriarch and patriarch of the family are shrouded in mystery. I never felt as though I knew or understood them, but that may have to do with my social status as compared to theirs. They were born with silver spoons in their mouths. Now that's a metaphor I've never quite understood. We don't need spoons when we're in utereo, after all. And if a wealthy person was born with a silver spoon, does it follow that I was born with a brass spoon in my mouth? Was someone poor born with a plastic spoon in his mouth? In any case, the family name and family money create vast family pressures. There is a lovely symmetry between the Marchmain family and the stately English homes of the time.

Lady Marchmain collects the writings of the eldest of her three brothers to make into a book for family members. Her brothers were all killed in World War I. She enlists the help of Mr. Samgrass essentially to edit out the yucky stuff, thus rewriting history. And this I understand. Why tell future generations of your family the scandals of the past? Would it change anything? Would knowing that your great-grandfather was an alcoholic make you less likely to drink to excess? Surely not. If we truly learned from history, we would never make a mistake, as every possible mistake has been made. Indeed, if we truly knew the history of our families we would know that every mistake has been made by someone to whom we’re related. Would that prevent us from repeating those mistakes?

I am confused by the layers of English gentry. Sebastian’s surname is Flyte but his parents are Lord and Lady Marchmain. Maybe the family surname is Flyte while Marchmain is the title like Prince Charles is the Duke of Wales even though he doesn’t live in Wales. He probably has a castle in Wales, but I do not believe he has any special responsibility like guarding Wales from intruders. Or maybe he’s supposed to guard Wales for the English to ensure there is not a Welsh uprising! Sebastian Flyte (of the Marchmain family) has a brother called Bridey, short for Brideshead which is the name of their – manor, I suppose. The (relatively) new house, Brideshead, was built from stones removed from the old house which is described as a castle. When is a house a house and when is it a manor house? What is the definition of a castle? What does one keep in a keep? What are the responsibilities of a baroness? What’s the difference between a duke and an earl? How does one get to be the Duke of Earl? (Be honest, you saw that coming a mile away, didn’t you?)

As do all great books, Brideshead Revisited contains moments of universal truth. Here’s an example from page 169 –

But as I drove away and turned back in the car to take what promised to be my last view of the house, I felt that I was leaving part of myself behind, and that wherever I went afterwards I should feel the lack of it, and search for it hopelessly, as ghosts are said to do, frequenting the spots where they buried material treasures without which they cannot pay their way to the nether world.
There are certain scenes of our lives which haunt us, aren’t there? Why is that? Are these the things left undone or unsaid? Something we missed? Something we regret? Are the haunting scenes the ones in which we behaved badly? Which scenes belonging to others are we a part of? This brings up the next passage, from page 225, “These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing certainly except the past…” Do we possess the past? Surely not. As we age the past grows dim. Through the filter of time, we remember people and events differently. How can we possess it? When something has been lost, is the thing itself always to be mourned? Don’t we change as we age? Brideshead Revisited indicates that we do, if not in temperament then in understanding. Things which are important in one decade of our lives lose their significance in the next decade, and things which were unimportant gain significance.

There is much religion in Brideshead Revisited, but if you’re not a religious person don’t let that turn you away. What we take from a book depends upon who we are when we read it. It’s sort of like the Muppets – children see the fun and adults see the puns. There are layers, just as there are layers in Brideshead Revisited.

Waugh includes many classical references, most of which flew past me. I know just enough to recognize when there is something I could know if I spent more time studying the classics. It’s like, I sort of want to read Homer and I sort of don’t. Brideshead includes a room with “a Hogarthian aspect.” I know who Hogarth is, basically. I mean, I’ve heard of him and stuff. He painted, right? But I don’t think there is any way to truly appreciate “a Hogarthian aspect” unless I know much, much more about Hogarth, and he’s just not high on my list. So even though I don’t know what “a Hogarthian aspect” means, I know I would like to see such a room. And if I did, I would understand more about Hogarth! See, that could work. Now, where might one find such a room?

Waugh’s vocabulary is immense and I am sure he used precisely the right word in each context. I found myself looking up many of them. (Waugh probably never ended a sentence with a preposition even when he spoke.) I have friends with immense vocabularies and they tend to remember a word after hearing it only once. Sadly, I do not possess this ability. Since their vocabularies are so large, these people understand gentle nuances between similar words and probably have a greater appreciation for language than do I. Nonetheless, I learned a magnificent new word from Brideshead Revisited, “crapulous.” It is my new favorite word though I probably shan’t use it properly. (My language has become particularly formal, has it not? This happens when I read a book set in the past.)

Here’s a quick quiz. Which of the following sentences uses the word “crapulous” correctly?

a) This bitterly cold weather is simply crapulous!

b) His home is so filled with knickknacks and ephemera that it may only be described as crapulous.

c) I say, after six or seven sherries that chap looks quite crapulous.

The correct answer is c, though I shall probably use it in each of the above contexts. (This will drive my massive-vocabulary friends mad.)

I shall be scarce during November as I participate in NaNo (National Novel Writing Month), rewriting the tale of a WWII vet which began as a short story while I was in graduate school. Wish me luck - I truly love this character and must do him justice.