Friday, February 26, 2016

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reading New England: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne

"The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed."--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance

This month, for Reading New England (taking place at Emerald City Book Review), I chose as my fiction selection Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of life set against the backdrop of transcendentalism and Utopia in Massachusetts, The Blithedale Romance, originally published in 1852. 

There are many elements at work in this book that make it difficult to describe what it is. The story's narrator, Miles Coverdale, leaves his life of comfort and joins the group at Blithedale Farm to live the Utopian life. At the farm, he meets crusty Silas Foster and his wife. Silas appears to be the only one who has any knowledge of farming. Coverdale also encounters the strong willed Zenobia whose money is being used to fund the operation. Beautiful and exotic, she wears a different flower in her hair every day. Then there is Hollingsworth, a philanthropist, who brings to mind a Bronson Alcott type of person. He arrives on a cold wintry night with the frail but beautiful and naive young woman, Priscilla. 

While the goings on at Blithedale Farm would have been enough, Hawthorne introduces a subplot involving the ghostly story of the Veiled Lady and her disappearance. Then there is the character of Professor Westervelt whom Hawthorne likens to Satan. All the references to the devil made me wonder if that is indeed his identity. Westervelt has a mysterious attachment to Zenobia and Priscilla. 

Miles Coverdale proves to be somewhat of an unreliable narrator. He's telling his story years after his experiences at the farm, and in parts of The Blithedale Romance, he seems overly sentimental and sometimes speaks of the story in dreamlike tones. He's also a bit of a voyeur, whether it's his preferred hiding place among the trees to observe the goings on at Blithedale Farm, or whether he's back in the city, looking out the window of his hotel room to observe Zenobia, Priscilla and Westervelt who happen to be at the house next door. 

The novel seems rambling at times. I was a bit more interested in the Utopian society than reading about the Veiled Lady. And then there is the zinger at the end of the story where Coverdale chooses to reveal his most precious secret in the last line of the novel. 

Having read The House of the Seven Gables, I wouldn't say that The Blithedale Romance compares to that novel. I'd been wondering about the The Blithedale Romance and am glad I finally read it. I'd recommend The Blithedale Romance to those readers who really enjoy the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

What is your favorite work by Nathaniel Hawthorne? Have you read The Blithedale Romance?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: A Mind to Murder

Hello and Happy Tuesday! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon.

I haven't read a lot by P.D. James, but this Adam Dalgliesh mystery on my bookshelf has been tempting me.

The opening:

"Chapter One

Dr. Paul Steiner, consulting psychiatrist at the Steen Clinic, sat at the front ground floor consulting-room and listened to his patient's highly rationalized explanation of the failure of his third marriage. Mr. Burge lay in comfort on a couch the better to expound the complications of his psyche. Dr. Steiner sat at his head in a chair of the carefully documented type which the Hospital Management Committee had decreed for the use of consultants. It was functional and not unattractive but it gave no support to the back of the head. From time to time a sharp jerk of his neck muscles recalled Dr. Steiner from momentary oblivion to the realities of his Friday evening psychotherapy clinic. The October day had been very warm. After a fortnight of sharp frosts during which the staff of the clinic had shivered and pleaded, the official date for starting the central heating had coincided with one of those perfect autumn days when the city square outside had brimmed with yellow light and the late dahlias in the railed garden, bright as a paintbox, had shone like the gauds of high summer. It was now nearly seven o'clock. Outside, the warmth of the day had long given way, first to mist and then to chilly darkness. But here, inside the clinic, the heat of noon was trapped, the air, heavy and still, seemed spent with the breath of too much talking."

From the back cover:

"When the administrative head of the Steen Psychiatric Clinic is found dead with a chisel in her heart, Supeintendent Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate. Dalgliesh must analyze the deep-seated anxieties and thwarted desires of patients and staff alike to determine which of their unresolved conflicts resulted in murder."

Now that you've read all this, would you keep reading A Mind to Murder?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Berthe Morisot, Young Woman with a Straw Hat, 1884
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: The Wintry Edition

It's been awhile since I've had a Remarks on Recent Reads post. My reading has been a bit sporadic lately. There were some firsts with authors new to me--Mary Hocking, Dorothy Sayers, and Bill Clegg. I also read a couple of books set in snowy places which made for some great wintry reading.

I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth Goudge (originally published in 1969)

I read my first Elizabeth Goudge book last year for Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week at Emerald City Book Review. Elizabeth Goudge was a prolific writer. I Saw Three Ships is the first children's book I've read of hers, and it didn't disappoint. The story takes place at Christmas. Although I Saw Three Ships is about the origin of the Christmas carol, "I Saw Three Ships," the book is much more. It's the story of Polly, a young girl who lives with her aunts in a seaside English village. She's spending the first Christmas without her parents who have died. This is a story about miracles and the magic of Christmas, and I loved it. The 60 page book is a chapter book with delightful illustrations by Margot Tomes.

The Very Dead of Winter by Mary Hocking (1994)

Another first for me is this book by British author Mary Hocking. The Very Dead of Winter is the story of a family coming together on Christmas Eve to a cottage in the woods in the midst of a blizzard. There are all kinds of subtle undercurrents going on in the family. The cottage has meaning for the two sisters, Sophia and Florence, who spent time there as children. The two sisters haven't seen each other in years. Florence's husband, Konrad, is dying. Florence and Konrad's adult children, Nick and Anita, are there, too. Hocking's writing is subtle in this story of complicated relationships between sisters, mother and daughter, and for the revelation of family secrets. I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more by Mary Hocking.

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers (originally published in 1934)

Lord Peter Wimsey and his man, Bunter, find themselves stranded in a village in the Fen country of England during a blizzard on New Year's Eve day. There he makes the acquaintance of the rector and his wife and several of the members of the parish. Lord Peter is so accomplished that he joins in the ringing of the church bells on New Year's Eve. Later he's called back to the village when a dead body is found in the grave meant for another. Dorothy Sayers weaves a very detailed murder mystery where there are secrets, lies, mistaken identities, seemingly meaningless clues, and then there are the bells. A really interesting and unusual mystery, I recommend The Nine Tailors.

A Motor-Flight Through France by Edith Wharton (originally published in 1908)

This book is comprised of magazine pieces that Edith Wharton wrote at various times while travelling through France. I loved the first half of the book but then found myself getting a bit bored after that because the villages Wharton visited started to sound alike. What I did like was the spirit of the pieces and the fact that Wharton  traveled through France in one of the early motor-cars.  

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg (2015)

Did You Ever Have A Family was heartbreaking, but I loved the characters, and I couldn't put the book down. Did You Ever Have A Family follows June and several people who are affected by tragedy as they each try to find a way to cope. The story is about connections, compassion, forgiveness, and surviving. It's wonderful writing and a novel I highly recommend.

What have you been reading? What books do you recommend?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros Possession by A.S. Byatt

Happy Tuesday! I am taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon.

I've been looking at Possession on my shelf for awhile. I came across the novel a few years ago at a book sale. From what I've read about Possession by A.S. Byatt (1990), people seem to either absolutely love the book or cannot stand it. This kind of intrigues me.

The opening:

"The book was thick and black and covered with dust. Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time. Its spine was missing, or, rather, protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow. The librarian handed it to Roland Mitchell, who was sitting waiting for it in the Reading Room of the London Library. It had been exhumed from Locked Safe no. 5, where it usually stood between Pranks of Priapus and The Grecian Way of Love. It was ten in the morning, one day in September 1986. Roland had the small single table he liked best, behind a square pillar, with the clock over the fireplace, nevertheless in full view. To his right was a high sunny window, through which you could see the high green leaves of St. James's Square."

From the back cover:

"Winner of England's Booker Prize and the literary sensation of the year, Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire--from spiritualist seances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany--what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Did You Ever Have A Family

Happy Tuesday! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon.

In looking through my books, I've put aside several novels that I want to read this year. One of them is Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg (2015).

The opening:


He wakes to the sound of sirens. Many, loud, and very near. Then horns: short, angry grunts like the buzzers signaling time-out in the basketball games he watches but does not play in at school. His cell phone says 6:11 a.m., but the house downstairs is awake and loud and from the particular pitch of his mother's rough morning voice, scratching above his father's and sisters', he knows something is wrong."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud

Happy Tuesday to you! I am participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about a book they're reading or planning to read soon. 

I've been in the process of organizing my books and came across Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud (2014), a novel I found last year at a used book sale. 

From the back cover:

"Thomas Maggs, son of the local pub owner, lives with his parents and sister in a village on the Suffolk coast. Life is quiet--shaped by the seasons, fishing and farming, and the summer visitors--until a mysterious Scotsman arrives. He is the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and he soon becomes a source of fascination and wonder to Thomas. "Mac" is what the locals call him when they whisper about him, and whisper they do, for he sets off on walks at unlikely hours and is seen on the beach staring out across the waves as if he's searching for clues.

Just as Mac and Thomas's friendship begins to blossom, war with Germany is declared. As the brutality of war weighs increasingly heavily on this coastal community, they become more suspicious of Mac and his curious ways. Esther Freud paints a vivid portrait of the home front during World War I, and of a man who was one of the most brilliant and misunderstood artists of his generation. "

The opening:

"I was born upstairs in the small bedroom, not in the smallest room with the outshot window, where I sleep now, or the main room that is kept for guests--summer visitors who write and let us know that they are coming and how long they plan to stay. Sometimes, after a night's drinking, folk may rest there, although Mother always takes their money off them first. If she doesn't they wake up and protest they don't know how they came to be lying in that fine wide bed, say they've been apprehended and held there, in comfort against their will. But that is at harvest times, when men and boys come to wash away the wheat chaff tickling their throats, or in high summer when they've spent the day thinning out the wild oats from hay. But I was born in winter, the sea storming on the beach beyond, roaring through the night, louder than my mother, whose ninth child I was."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?