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Search tags: 1001-Books-You-Must-Read-Before-You-Die
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review 2019-11-13 20:49
The Water Babies / Charles Kingsley
The Water Babies - Charles Kingsley

What a weird little book.  I owned a copy of this book as a child and never read it.  Now I know why--lots of it is just so much babble to a child.  Without the historical notes in this copy of the work, I wouldn’t have had a clue about a lot of the details included in it.  I have to wonder who gave it to me way back when, and whether they had ever read it themselves? I certainly wouldn’t hand it to a contemporary child.

 

I found it interesting that the clergyman author was so easily able to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Beliefs weren’t quite so cut and dried at that time apparently. I also have to think that Kingsley had read Gulliver’s Travels and may have aspired to produce something similar.  His comments on contemporary events, seemingly scattered at random through the text, suggest those aspirations. It was also a strange mix of mythology, fairy tales, and Christianity.  Very, very odd.

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review 2019-10-16 23:28
The Moonstone / Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone, a yellow diamond looted from an Indian temple and believed to bring bad luck to its owner, is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday. That very night the priceless stone is stolen again and when Sergeant Cuff is brought in to investigate the crime, he soon realizes that no one in Rachel’s household is above suspicion. Hailed by T. S. Eliot as ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels’, The Moonstone is a marvellously taut and intricate tale of mystery, in which facts and memory can prove treacherous and not everyone is as they first appear.

 

 

I read this book to fill the Gothic square of my 2019 Halloween Bingo Card.

Well, finally, I have managed to read this Wilkie Collins classic, and I’m glad that I did. It is remarkable for the way it got detective fiction started. I could certainly see the roots of the genre in it and it reminded me strongly of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four. Sergeant Cuff, with his eye for detail and absorption in rose cultivation, seems like a clear predecessor of Sherlock Holmes, with his predilection for violin playing and smelly chemistry experiments. Both novels result from treasures stolen from the Indian subcontinent and Indian people appear in England in both cases to retrieve the ill-gotten valuables. Also appreciated was one of the earliest crime scene re-enactments in literature.

The Moonstone doesn’t rush it’s way to the finish line. Instead, it meanders and circles a bit, as the literature of the time period does. I thought that Collins must have had great fun writing the first two narrators--both Gabriel Betteredge and Drusilla Clack are entertaining for their eccentricities. Both have placed their faith in a particular book: Gabriel relies on Robinson Crusoe, while Drusilla trusts more to the Bible, or rather interpretations thereof by her favourite religious people. Each of them regards people who don’t pay attention to their book as heathens. Probably most of us have encountered a Drusilla at some point or may even count them as family members--we hope we see them before they see us, allowing us time to hide or flee!

Collins certainly reveals his excellent understanding of people with his characters. I found his depiction of Godfrey Ablewhite especially interesting, as it related to Collins’ own personal life. Godfrey proposes to Miss Rachel Verinder, but seems to be rather easily made to back away from their engagement, though it makes his father apoplectic. We learn later that he has been keeping a woman in grand style and had he succeeded in marrying Rachel, this woman would have been sure to ruin his reputation! Perhaps this is why Collins maintained two households without ever marrying either woman--they could tolerate being equal, but his marrying one would have automatically made the unmarried woman into the Other Woman, with the concomitant social censure.

Collins certainly set a pattern in literature with valuable gems being the centre pieces of mysterious goings on. I think even of modern urban fantasy such as Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews with it’s pillaged Indian crown, featuring a beautiful stone, which is used for nefarious purposes and eventually returned to India where it belongs, with the knowledge that nothing good comes from stealing from other cultures.

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text 2019-06-14 16:44
1001 Books?
1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die - Peter Boxall

I bought this reference probably 5 years or so ago, and scanned through it at the time I purchased it. I took a second look at it last night.

 

Any list of this sort is going to have deficiencies, and this one definitely does. It is extremely heavy on "contemporary" fiction, particularly fiction published in the 1990's and 2000's, and some of the choices are really strange.

 

For example, there is only one Willa Cather selected - My Professor's House - and the compiler completely ignored My Antonia, Death Comes For the Archbishop, and her Pulitzer Prize winning WWI novel, One of Ours. There's one Agatha Christie - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which is a great one, but not And Then There Were None

 

And my edition has 7 entries by Paul Auster. I don't  know who he bribed, but that's ridiculous. There is no way that he has written 7 books that are worthy of inclusion in a list that purports to be 1001 of the greatest books ever written. 

 

I think that perhaps we need a BL crowd-sourced list. What do y'all think?

 

 

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review 2019-04-15 16:33
Excellent Women / Barbara Pym
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym's richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those "excellent women," the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors--anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

 

I felt that I was now old enough to become fussy and spinsterish if I wanted to.


Amen, sister Mildred! I felt so much kinship to this single woman, obviously competent and to whom others turn when they want something done and don’t want to do it themselves. At a tourist site, someone turns to Mildred to ask directions and says, “I hope you didn’t mind me asking, but you looked as if you would know the way.” I’ve had the same thing happen to me frequently. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing, despite the fact that I’m often wondering about my own competence! (One of my coworkers once told me that he figured the world was split into patients and nurses and that I would be a head-nurse. I’m still wondering if this was a compliment or an insult.)

It’s no secret that there are tasks that tend to get heaped on single women. It is assumed that because you don’t have a husband or children, you have oodles of spare time in which to do things for others. So you can be the one to do the emotional labour of keeping up friendships or keeping in touch with family. This can work for you or against you. You can use it to your advantage as Mildred does:

”I began piling cups and saucers on to a tray. I suppose it was cowardly of me, but I felt that I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?”


She can find solitude at the kitchen sink because, as she told us earlier, “I had observed that men did not usually do things unless they liked doing them.” Hence the church-going men who hang around the jumble sales and drink tea, but, like the drones they are, do very little else.

It has always surprised me how much society pushes us toward romantic relationships. Like Mildred, I’m just fine with my single status—I can certainly see the married women around me struggling with challenges that I don’t have to face. It may be a liability someday when I need an advocate when I’m in assisted living, for example, but having a spouse or children doesn’t guarantee that they will show up to do this task. I had to laugh when one relative spent ages agonizing to me about whether to get divorced and then turned around and worried about whether I would get married!

I am just fine being numbered among the excellent women.

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text 2019-04-12 05:19
Reading progress update: I've read 72 out of 256 pages.
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

 

Barbara Pym, why have I never read any of your work until recently?  What a pleasure!

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