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text 2018-05-23 02:29
Summer Reading List 2018
Pete Rose: An American Dilemma - Kostya Kennedy
First Love, Last Rites - Ian McEwan
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket - Edgar Allan Poe,Richard Kopley
Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld,Keith Thompson
Three Tall Women - Edward Albee
Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë

I'm well behind pace in my reading this year. I always say I "average" a book a week, for 52 or so books a year, but I usually exceed that by a fair margin. This year, I'm quite slow. Only 16 so far - even though at least two were "doorstops."


So two weeks ago, when I realized I hadn't even considered my summer reading list, I was worried. But when I finally sat down to compose it, the list came flowing straight out. Easy-peasy, less than an hour's contemplation, for sure.


The fact I've been using the same nine categories for years, I'm sure, helps considerably. Three books for each month of summer. Things that make me happy and better-rounded. Plenty of room left for serendipity and other titles. Here goes:

The list.


1. A baseball book - "Pete Rose: An American Dilemma" by Kostya Kennedy. Reading a baseball book - fiction or non-fiction - is a summer tradition. Thanks, Casey Awards for the ready-made list. 


2. A Michael Chabon book - "Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces." This was both tough and incredibly easy. I've read all of Chabon's books, except some very hard to get screenplays and graphic novels. Luckily, he has a new book out this month. It's an anthology of his magazine essays, in the mode of "Maps and Legends," but it's better than none!


3. An Ian McEwan book - "First Love, Last Rites." I've read all of McEwan's recent stuff, so I have to reach way back into the Ian Macabre phase, which I like less, but it needs to be done. At least there's a new McEwan adaptation coming out in theaters soon.


4. A Neglected Classic - "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket," Edgar Allen Poe's only novel. Not one that was really on my radar, but read entry five for more "why." 


5. A recent "big" book - "Pym" by Mat Johnson. I have the opportunity to hear Johnson read in June, and I think it's time to read his novel, inspired by Poe's, as listed above. 


6. A YA book - "Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld. A steampunk, World War I revisionist novel? Yes, please. 


7. A Play - "Three Tall Women" by Edward Albee. It's in revival on Broadway right now with Laurie Metcalf. You know I won't make it to Manhattan, so I'd better finally read it.


8. A Recommendation from a Friend - "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi. My friend, Laura, suggested it. She didn't have to suggest very hard, because I was already meaning to read it. And she loaned me her copy!


9. The book I didn't read from last year's list - "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte. There's one every year. This year's will probably be the Chabon, just because it's new and might be hard to acquire through library means.


Well, that's it. I'll post a list on the booklikes list app. Will you read along with me? What's on your list for Summer '18? 



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review 2017-09-13 16:08
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë

I have an affinity with the Bronte sisters, though I wouldn’t be able to begin to say why. I adore Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but I have never read any of the other books produced by the siblings. Why, I could not begin to say. I even live and work in the same county that they lived and died in. Haworth is about 30 minutes from where I work and yet I only visited the Parsonage for the first time this year. But what a visit. There was something quite beautiful about the building, and something quite moving about seeing the property and belongings of the family. Of course I could not come away without being a memento or five, and Agnes Grey was one of those purchases.


Immediately I started reading I felt that there was something quietly enticing about the story. It has been said that it is semi-autobiographical and there is certainly a feeling that Anne was drawing on experience. The writing feels more personal. This is of course aided by the narrator being in the first person and talking to the reader, admitting that parts are skipped over so not to bore, that occurrences are told not to evoke pity but to provide a true picture of Agnes’ life.


There is something beautiful and appealing in the brevity of the prose. The story is only 153 pages in length but doesn’t lack anything because of it. There is a humility to Agnes that one can imagine in Anne, and through Agnes it appears that Anne lived her dreams, or so it would appear to this reader.


Agnes’ charges are an amalgam of all that could be wanting in a child of the age. A child of a certain class that is. Whilst undoubtedly an exaggeration, they were based on experience. The dangers of spoiling a child, of lack of real interest by their parents of their welfare and of the desire to abdicate responsibility for their education are evident in this book. Matilda Murray is a cautionary tale, the result of indulgence, boredom and a victim, however willing, of the desire to marry for money and status than for love.


It is always hard to review a work of fiction that has been reviewed hundreds of times already, by many people with more developed and erudite ideas than myself. Suffice it to say I loved this novel. There is beauty, sadness, love, loss, poetry and beauty contained within its few pages. Sometimes it is hard to express why one finds a novel appealing, why it is loved. Sometimes it is just a feeling, a contentment from picking up it’s pages. And no more words are really needed.


As I was reading I felt that this was a story that deserved more than one piece of my attention. It is a book I could well imagine re-reading a number of times, no doubt gaining more insight on each occasion.


A book I will read again. I’m looking forward to doing so already.

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review 2017-05-28 00:00
Agnes Grey
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë Countering all of the romanticism of the position popularized by her sister, and showing the quiet humiliation faced by the marginalized figures in other works, Agnes Grey reveals the true lot of the governess. Agnes is a bright woman who is eager to do her part to support her family after they fall upon hard times. Her nervous optimism is soon shattered when she accepts her first position.

The novel was pulled from Bronte's own experiences as a governess and the book reads like someone relieved to open up. There's nothing like coming home from a bad day at work and saying "you'll never believe what happened this time...". A governess lives in her employer's house, as servants did, but as an acknowledged gentlewoman she also could not form bonds with other household staff. It was a lonely position, and a difficult one if your authority is limited to the boundaries that Agnes' employers gave her. There would have been no opportunity to decompress or garner sympathy from a friend except through letters - and it becomes clear that Agnes is not the sort of woman who would allow herself that kind of luxury.

Her charges are cruel, little monsters - children - or spoiled and inattentive. She is expected to correct faults and educate, but without inconveniencing them in any way. The contradictions, the hypocrisy, and again and again, the isolation and lack of understanding are insurmountable obstacles. Her only outlet to us, her readers, is a modern one: sarcasm. Agnes' sarcasm and irony nicely offset her faith and lovelorn denials. My impression is that Agnes found strength in her religion, but sanity in pointing out the often bizarre behavior and expectations of her employers and their families. As bleak as her situation can be, there are smiles and I could see the long suffering Agnes rolling her eyes behind her mistresses' back after yet another contradictory order.

Agnes Grey deals with grim realities which is a refreshing antidote to my other Victorian reading proclivities. Of her two novels this one feels superior for its simpler structure and the success of Agnes as a character who faces stern tests of character, shouts down doubts about herself, and persists.
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review 2017-04-30 23:40
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë

I really enjoyed this book.

Similar in style to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the book tells of Agnes Grey's journey into adulthood, specifically her struggles as a governess.

Beautifully-written, this book was a very good read. I really enjoyed Bronte's imagery.

It is heavy on the religious tones, but not in a preachy way, which didn't bother me. Agnes uses her religion to care for others, human and animal, which made her a very likeable character, despite her tendency to go on and on about God.

Light on the romance, which was also agreeable to me.

Listening to it as an audiobook made it even better; Emilia Fox did very well with the narration and intonation.

A good read with a satisfying ending.

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review 2016-12-18 05:50
Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte
Agnes Grey - Anne Brontë

This is Anne's first novel and it's a lesser work than the subsequent Tenant of Wildfell Hall but it shows some similarities; it is most powerful when tackling social issues of autobiographical concern to the author; the protagonist is a bit self-righteous; it never suffers the dullness that afflicts the lesser parts of Jane Eyre; it never tilts over into the almost insane hysterical passion of Wuthering Heights.


It seems fairly obvious that Anne wanted to tackle the plight of poorly treated governesses and bolted a very conventional and largely uninspired romance on the end in order to make it a novel. This romance section in itself serves more to act as a warning about the potential fate of people who marry merely for money or social status than to provide any satisfying against-the-odds meeting of soul-mates; the outcome is dictated by convenient chance. I note that as with other Bronte novels, the protagonist wishes to be appreciated for her moral, educational and intellectual capacities and achievements. This was clearly what was valued by the Brontes and what they wanted to be esteemed for having.


I found the book never tedious, being short in length and brisk enough, unlike Jane Eyre which bogs down frequently, but the early parts, loaded with the protagonist's early experiences away from home before romance enters the picture are surprisingly the most memorable. It would seem governesses were frequently treated badly by both parents and pupils and, being isolated from their previous "support network" as well as usually young and inexperienced, they often suffered greatly. It is obvious that Anne is speaking from experience in these passages and they act as a precursor to the later and greater similarly autobiographically informed sections of Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which remains by far the stand-out Bronte novel I've read.

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