Mansfield Park Readalong: Final Post

Friday, August 30, 2013


Mansfield Park
by Jane Austen
★★★★

In the second half of the book the relationship between the Bertrams and the Crawfords becomes much more complicated. Henry has decided he’s interested in Fanny and Edmund wants to pursue a courtship with Mary. After a complicated back and forth with necklaces Fanny feels more lost than ever. She received a necklace from Mary, but she’s worried it’s really from Henry but she doesn’t want to offend her friend. Poor Fanny has no interest in Henry and turns him down multiple times.

Her uncle is incredibly disappointed in her decision, thinking it a wonderful match. He decides to send her back to live with her family so she can understand how valuable a comfortable lifestyle is. While with her family she realizes just how little she has in common with them. Meanwhile her letters from Mary are beginning to make her understand her friend’s true shallow nature. When Edmund’s older brother Tom becomes ill Mary is more concerned with whether Edmund will benefit from his death than anything else. Henry visits while she is with her family and we begin to see a more genuine side to his personality beneath his flirtatious exterior.

All of that becomes a moot point when he runs away with the now married Maria. The scandalous act horrifies both Fanny and Edmund. Mary makes excuses for her brother causing Edmund realizes how blind he has been to her true temperament and he breaks off any understanding between them. Then in a shocking turn of events Edmund falls in love the Fanny and the two are married.



My Thoughts:

Mansfield Park seems like the book that Austen fans love to hate. I feel as though my opinion of it has changed through rereading it. The first time around I found Fanny whiny and moralistic. The second time around I took into account her situation and the strength it takes to stand your ground regardless of peer pressure.

I think that because I already knew what decisions Fanny was going to make I was able to pay more attention to the reasons why she made them. Her reasons for refusing Henry Crawford’s advances are incredibly valid, but it's incredibly difficult for Fannie to stand up to Sir Thomas and try to explain why she doesn't want to marry Henry. He loses all respect for her thinking that she just doesn't like Henry as much as she might.  She feels she can't be honest about her reasons for refusing him without implicating her cousins in Henry's bad behavior. Yes she still stands her ground saying that she doesn't want to marry despite her Uncle’s pressure. That's an impossible position to be put in considering Sir Thomas has given her a home for the last almost decade of her life.

The section where Fanny returns to her family is heartbreaking. She no longer feels like she knows her parents and siblings. She doesn’t feel at home there despite the fact that she’s been calling it home for a decade. It’s hard for her to realize it, but Mansfield Park is her true home.

I was also impressed with the big issues Austen tackled in this one. Adultery was an incredibly scandalous subject during that time period and Austen makes it a focal point of the book. Everything hinges on Henry’s actions and when he runs away the entire Bertram family is thrown into chaos.

The one part of the book that still doesn’t sit right with me is the marriage at the end. It’s too neat and tidy. The entire second half of the book Edmund has been telling Fanny that Mary is the only woman he could ever love. Then when that doesn’t work he decides he can’t live without Fanny? It doesn’t feel right. The two were raised in the same house, just like brother and sister. It feels like a marriage of convenience and I just hate that. I think Fanny could do so much better. There’s one bit from the final chapter that makes me think even Austen thought the quick turn around of Edmund’s feelings was a bit of a stretch…

“I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people. I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire.”

BOTTOM LINE: I’m so glad I reread this. It’s still not my favorite, but I gained such an appreciation for it this time around. Fanny is not just a moralizing condescending character. She's a strong woman who sticks by her principles even with unbelievable pressure from those around her. I respect that. I may not love her and the way I love some of Jane Austen's other heroines but I feel like I understand her better now.

An Amateur Cook

Thursday, August 29, 2013

(Asparagus Soup and Strawberry Freezer Jam)


Over the past couple years I have slowly been learning how to cook. For years my version of cooking was scrambled eggs if I was feeling fancy, but lately I've found that I really enjoy it when I have the time. There's something so enjoyable about taking a pile of ingredients, grabbing a glass of wine and putting on an audiobook and an hour later you have something delicious. 

I'm only cooking for me and the Huz, so I get to cook with any spices and ingredients I want. Neither of us are really picky eaters and if I'm not in the mood to cook we end up ordering Chinese or eating at our favorite Mexican restaurant (more often than I'd like to admit). Because there's no pressure to cook three meals a day for a big family I've been able to learn at my own pace, which I love.


(Ratatouille and Mushroom Risotto)


This summer I've been using a lot of recipes from an actual cookbook (unusual for me, I find most recipes online). It's called Harvest Eating and is filled with recipes for using whatever is growing locally at that time. 

We have a very small garden and we also get a local organic fruit and veggie bin every other week. Plus my wonderful mother-in-law gives us delicious homegrown items from her garden. So my recent cooking attempts have included a lot of fresh veggies. 


(Chicken Pot Pie and Beet Soup)


Some of our favorites have been the asparagus soup, ratatouille, chicken pot pie and mushroom risotto. The beet soup we made was completely gross. I also loved how the strawberry jam turned out and I couldn't believe it was so easy! 

Do you guys like to cook? I'd love to know what great recipes you all have!

p.s. I'm not a fan of reality TV, but I'm completely addicted to Masterchef. I love that it's about the actual cooking and not the peoples' personal lives. Anyone else watch it?

Photos by moi. 


Wordless Wednesday: Oxford Door

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Oxford, England


More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for the Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters. I love this question! 

1) Marian from The Woman in White – She is such a fantastic character and I always wished she had gotten a slightly different ending.

2) Dumbledore from Harry Potter – Wise, powerful, hilarious, one of my favorite characters ever.

3) Miss Havisham from Great Expectations – What a character! She makes an intense first impression and she’s impossible to forget.

4) Fermin from The Shadow of the Wind – Loyal and crass, Fermin is a bit of a mystery until we get to know him better in The Prisoner of Heaven.

5) Melly and Rhett in Gone with the Wind – It’s Scarlett’s story, but those two are by far my favorite characters in the book. One is a scandalous man who says what he thinks; the other is a great lady with a quiet strength. I love them both.

6) Matthew from Anne of Green Gables – He is such a softy. He loves Anne like his own daughter and he is always on her side.

7) Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird – He is a wonderful father and a humble man. Seeing him through Scout’s eyes makes him even more admirable.

8) Charlotte from Pride and Prejudice – She ends up with Mr. Collins, it’s a horrible fate. But at the same time she decides to marry him because she wants her own home and to no longer be a burden on others. She is a good friend and she is a strong woman. It took a couple rereads to appreciate her, but once I “got” her I loved her story.

9) Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – He’s a depressed robot and he is hilarious.

10) Laurie from Little Women – He is Jo’s best friend, partner-in-crime and confidant. You can’t help but love him dearly.


Alias Grace

Monday, August 26, 2013



Alias Grace
by Margaret Atwood
★★★★

One of the things I admire about Atwood’s work is her willingness to try new genres and styles. She writes dystopian novels, mysteries, character studies, etc. They’re never formulaic and this one is just as unique as her others. She’s not an author that writes the same book over and over again and so you never know what you’ll get, but you know it will be captivating.

Grace Marks was a real Canadian prisoner convicted of murder in 1843. Her story has inspired rumors and novels over the past 150 years and Atwood is the latest in a long line of Canadians to become fascinated by the murderess. The question of her guilt or innocence has been a matter of debate and in this novel Atwood tells the story from two rotating points-of-view: Marks herself and her fictional doctor Simon.  

It was a slow start for me. I found Grace’s story enthralling, but got lost in the minutia of Simon’s life. Once we got to Grace’s horrific journey from Ireland to Canada I was hooked. The story continued to lag for me whenever we switched to Simon’s POV, but it kept a steady pace.

I loved the way Atwood incorporated real excerpts from newspaper and the trial into the beginning of each chapter. When it comes to historical fiction I love to learn something while being told an interesting story. Atwood manages to do both while at the same time maintaining an air of ambiguity in the story. She leaves some questions unanswered, which works well. As Grace’s history unfolds we learn that she has been through multiple traumatic experiences in her short life. The author deftly builds a case both for and against Grace’s possible guilt, dipping into the territory of psychological study.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting historical fiction novel about a murder I’d never heard of before. It's a bit slow in parts, but overall a good read that delves past the known facts into the question of true guilt. Another fantastic example of Atwood’s versatility as a writer!

Thanks to Care for convincing me to impulse read this one!

Image from here

Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets

Friday, August 23, 2013

  
While I was in DC a couple months ago my friend and I found ourselves with a couple extra hours before seeing Coriolanus at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. We decided to explore the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian. In addition to some beautiful artwork we found a special exhibit that was closing later that month.

The Poetic Likeness exhibit featured portraits of famous modern American poets paired with their own words. There were busts and paintings, photographs and drawings of poets like Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, and Robert Frost. Here’s a brief description from the exhibits’ brochure.




“In the twentieth century, American poets created a literature that was both responsive to history as they experienced it and linguistically inventive in a manner that influenced writing worldwide. Whereas previously American poetry was largely derivative branch of British verse, by the beginning of the 1900s it was poised to declare its independence as a distinctive literary tradition.

Poetic Likeness charts the biographies and careers of the major voices of American poetry in the twentieth century, drawing significantly on the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. Poets who are considered particularly inventive and influential – the makers of modernism – are given a cluster of portraits to signal their importance. But all the poets represented in this exhibition are delightful in the variety and inventiveness of their writing. Their work deserves reading and rereading, both on its own merits and also as evidence of poetry’s essential role in creating modern American culture.”

The exhibit was wonderful. I love it when two forms of art can meet in such a fascinating way. It was all the more enjoyable because we had unintentionally stumbled upon it.  Poetry has never been my literary strong suit, but it’s something I continually try to appreciate and learn more about. I love that this exhibit took a specific interest in how poetry is woven into the fabric of our country and it’s one more way that we have developed our own identity as a young nation.

Photos by moi. 

Native Son

Thursday, August 22, 2013



Native Son
by Richard Wright
★★★★☆

This landmark classic is hailed as one of the greatest American novels. It tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a young black man living in Chicago in the 1940. He begins a job working for a wealthy white family and by the end of his first day his life is in chaos. The book is broken into three parts, Fear, Flight, and Fate.

The first section introduces us to Bigger and we watch him commit a murder. From there his world spirals as everything comes crashing down around him. What might be interpreted as an accident soon becomes something darker and begins to taint everything in his life. Once he crosses that line he doesn’t look back and murder is no longer taboo. It releases something dark and evil inside of him and he finds himself being tempted to commit murder again. The brutality of one single act seeps into the rest of his life.

The cyclical nature of black men’s lives during that time period parallels many of the poverty stricken areas in America today. One thing is expected from them and they react to that expectation. If they are judged before they have a chance to live it’s that much harder to make the right decisions, so instead one bad decision leads to another, violence leading to more violence. They are trained to hate other races from a young age. When someone shows them unexpected kindness they are taught to treat it with suspicion and resent it.

“These were the rhythms of his life: indifference and violence.”

One disturbing element in the book is the effect his actions have on the rest of the black community in Chicago. They are all being persecuted because of him. Many lose their jobs because their white employers are terrified of what they might do. Some want to protect Bigger; others want to turn him in. His actions are dividing the whole community.

I wasn’t sure about this book until about ¾ of the way in. It just seemed to have no overarching lesson. It really clicked for me during Bigger’s trial. In the “Fate” section of the book we get to see a discussion of the expectations and opportunities for men like Bigger. I think one of the most interesting choices the author made was to make Bigger’s lawyer a Jew. Though he was still a white man, it was 1940 and as a Jewish man, Max could understand being persecuted for just being who you are better than most people.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s hard to describe precisely how deeply haunting this story. It holds a mirror up to some of the ugliest aspects of human nature. It reminds us how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It breaks your heart and makes you angry all at the same time. It’s a difficult novel to read, but it’s an important one.

“For the first time in his life a white man became a human being to him and the reality off Jan’s humanity came in a stab of remorse. He had killed what this man loved and had hurt him.”

Wordless Wednesday: Fitzgerald Theatre

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Fitzgerald Theatre where the Prairie Home 
Companion is recorded in St. Paul, MN

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Things That Make Your Life as a Reader/Book Blogger Easier

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks Top Ten Things that make your Life as a Reader/Book Blogger Easier. Here are a few of my favorites!

1) LibraryThing.com – Oh how I love thee! I joined in 2006 and have catalogued and reviewed my books on LT ever since. I keep track of what I own, what’s recommended, what’s loaned and what I’ve read each year.

2) Paperbackswap.com – As soon as I hear about a new book I want to read I add it to my wish list on PBS. Sometimes I cave and buy it before it’s available or get it from the library, but other times I’m willing to wait until a copy is up. I couldn’t afford half the books I own if it wasn’t for PBS.

3) Indy Reads Books – This incredible bookstore has only been around for a year, but I am so in love with it. All the proceeds (100%) support literacy in Indianapolis. They host community events all the time and have a great used book selection.

4) Voice Memos app – I have this on my iPhone and I love using it to record quotes from my audiobooks.

5) My Library – I have a list of 50 books (the limit) on constant rotation at my library. I always have a stack of audiobooks at home and use my library for a lot of new books and eBooks.  

6) Half Priced Books – There are 3 in my state and I am a frequent visitor, both buying and selling books. This is also the one place everyone knows I love getting gift cards to!

7) Audiobooks – I always have at least two audiobooks going at a time; one in my car and one in my house. In the past 10 years I think my reading has become about 50% audio and 50% print. They give me the chance to read so many books I never would have gotten to.

8) Wikipedia – I use it for a quick fact check for nonfiction or historical fiction books when I’m writing reviews.

9) My kindle – It took me a LONG time to actually use my kindle regularly. Now I still tend to reach for a hardcopy first, but I use it a lot when I’m traveling and when I’m reading a huge chunkster.

10) My Clippings (option on my kindle) – I love that you can highlight lines that you read on your kindle and it saves them in a single document. I use this whenever I read an eBook to remember lines I want to include in my reviews.

Photo by moi of my library.

Classics Club Spin #3

Sunday, August 18, 2013



The Classics Club is hosting another Classics Spin! Pick 20 books off your Classics Club List. On Monday (the 19th) they will announce a random number and you have to read that number off the list you created sometime in August or September. I’ve listed a mixture of books I’m dreading, ones I’m looking forward to, very old ones, relatively new ones, big ones, small ones, etc. Can’t wait to see what I’ll be reading!

**UPDATE My spin book is #4 Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut!**

1) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
3) Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
4) Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut
5) The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
6) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
7) The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
8) Germinal by Émile Zola
9) Sanditon  by Jane Austen
10) Light in August by William Faulkner
11) Babylon Revisited by F. Scott Fitzgerald
12) Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
13) Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
14) Maurice by E. M. Forster
15) The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
16) The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
17) Roughing It by Mark Twain
18) The Warden by Anthony Trollope
19) If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
20) One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel G. Marquez

You can check out the complete details here.



Image from here


Mansfield Park: Midway Point

Friday, August 16, 2013


Mansfield Park: Chapters 1-25

Plot summary so far:

In the first half of the book we meet the Bertrams, a wealthy family that decides to take in the eldest daughter of their relation. They’ve decided her presence will cause very little inconvenience for them and their status will give her a much better life. Little thought is given to how difficult it will be for the 10-year-old girl to leave her family and move in with strangers. The young girl is Fanny Price and as she begins her new life with her Aunt and Uncle’s home she is timid and shy. She cries every day until she finally finds a kindred spirit in her cousin Edmund. She desperately misses her older brother and Edmund fills that role for her.

As the story progresses and Fanny grows up she begins to form her own opinions about the people she lives with. In addition to Edmund she has two female cousins, Maria and Julia, and another male cousin, Tom. Her uncle, Sir Thomas, is gone for much of the first half dealing with his business in Antigua. His eldest son Tom is with him for part of that time. While he is gone two young people, brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford, move in the area and begin to spend time with the Bertrams. Their presence causes the tightly knit world of Mansfield Park to begin to unravel.

Despite being engaged, Maria becomes interested in Henry Crawford.  Edmund also develops a bit of a crush on Mary Crawford. He has always seen himself as a bit of an outsider with his family. He disapproves of the dismissive way they treat Fanny and their shallowness. When Tom returns the Bertrams and Crawfords decide to  put on a play. This is a turning point in the story, forcing everyone to make their first major moral choice. The racy content of the chosen play causes both Fanny and Edmund to decide not to be involved with its production. Edmund later changes his mind to prevent someone from outside their home getting a role.

For the first time Fanny’s company is actively sought by someone, namely Mary Crawford, and she is not excluded. She can’t bring herself to participate in the rehearsals, but she watches the others performing.

In addition to Fanny’s inclusion, Edmund changes drastically as well. He begins to compromise his beliefs to justify Mary Crawford’s behavior and Fanny becomes more stubborn and condescending in response to his actions. Sir Thomas arrives home and casts a dark air over the whole house, the feeling of playful joviality disappears as the Crawfords leave.



My Thoughts:

On that note I stopped for write a midway post. I will say I’m enjoying this more than I did the first time around, but I think that’s because my expectations were so low.

Brona made a great point that the early parts of the story have the same feel of Jane Eyre. I couldn’t help but think about that as I read the first half. Both women are taken in by their relations at a young age. Both are treated as charity cases. Jane Eyre is much more tormented, but Fanny is neglected. I think it’s interesting that both women go on to become strong and to form their belief system on a high moral ground, always standing firm in their beliefs.

For some reason Jane Eyre is much more likeable in this action, but they are truly similar. I was wondering if there’s something about being raised in that environment that would encourage that end product. Maybe being raised by people who are cruel or neglectful and watching those same people value money and status over relationships and kindness makes the individual value the opposite in the extreme.

I’m a little more understanding of Fanny’s difficult position this time around. She’s feeling 18th Century peer pressure and is struggling with a desire to be included, while at the same time not wanting to compromise her beliefs. I will say that my impression so far has enforced my negative thoughts about the final romantic connection in the book. I didn’t like it the first time around and I don’t think I’m going to like it any more this time.

So a few questions:

If you’ve read Jane Eyre, did you find any similarities between the two books?

Do you think Edmund agreed to be in the play to protect the honor of his sisters or because of Mary?

What do you think of Maria’s scandalous flirting with Henry?

p.s. This is part of Adam's Austen in August event! 


The Odyssey

Thursday, August 15, 2013



The Odyssey
by Homer
★★★★☆

After the ten-year Trojan War ends the warriors return to their home lands. Odysseus’ journey is longer than most because he has angered Poseidon. He runs into one obstacle after another as he fights to return to his wife and son. He fights a Cyclops, travels to the land of the dead, narrowly misses the call of the sirens and spends years trapped on Calypso's island. When he finally returns to Ithaca his home is filled with suitors attempting to woo his wife.  

I first read The Odyssey in high school, rereading it a decade later was a very different experience. This time I paid much more attention to Penelope’s story. She is such an incredible character. Her loyalty and patience is remarkable. Even though her husband has been gone for 20 years she still holds out that he is alive and will return to her. It made me wonder how long someone would wait nowadays. Obviously there were fewer communication options back then, but still a couple decades is a long time to hang on to hope.

Penelope is surrounded by suitors and keeps them at bay by telling them she’ll consider them once she finishes what she’s weaving. She weaves all day and then at night she undoes everything she’s woven. Margaret Atwood wrote an interesting novella about her story, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus.




I enjoyed his son Telemachus’ journey. When his father leaves he is only a baby, but he’s grown to become a man in Odysseus’ absence and he longs to find his father. He isn’t sure if he should search for his father or stay and protect his mother, it’s a difficult decision.

For me, it’s important that Odysseus is not a god. He is just a mortal man. So many of the stories in Greek literature are about the gods or demigods. Odysseus is neither, he occasionally has help from the gods, like Athena, at other times he is persecuted by the gods, especially Poseidon, but he has none of their powers. He must rely on his intelligence and cunning to outsmart his captors.

BOTTOM LINE: An absolute must for classic lovers. It’s also one of the most accessible pieces of Greek literature and a gateway drug into that world.

p.s. This time around I listened to the Robert Fagles translation on audio and it was read by the magnificent Ian McKellen. I would highly recommend it!

I reread this as part of the readalong hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey

Also, in the book they climb Mount Parnassus. I’m even more excited to visit the Parnassus bookstore in Nashville next month!

Nikki at Book Pairings posted on this book today too!

Wordless Wednesday: Paddington Station

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Paddington Station, London

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Favorite Books Set During World War II

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for ten great books with the setting of our choice. I picked World War II, because I have always been drawn to those books and I feel like there are a wide variety of books set during that time period.

1) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – One of my favorites, this novel tells the story of a young German girl during the war. Oh, and did I mention it’s told from Death’s POV?

2) Maus by Art Spiegelman – This Pulitzer-prize-winning graphic novel is about the author’s father’s time in a concentration camp. Just incredible.

3) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Women are not often the focal point of WWII stories, but this gem tells the gripping fictional story of a female pilot and spy.

4) Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys – Ever wonder what was happening in Lithuania during the war? This intense book is about the work camps in Siberia.

5) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – Finding the humor in the direst of circumstances, Heller gives the soldier’s POV.

6) Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Plane crash, torture, shark attacks, a nonfiction account of soldiers who survive the unimaginable in the Pacific. 

7) Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli – The Warsaw ghetto shown through the eyes of a young orphaned boy.

8) The Reader by Bernard Schlink – There are very few books that focus on the German guards during the war. This slim book handles the subject in a very personal and delicate way.

9) City of Thieves by David Benioff and The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean – Both of these books deal with Russia during WWII. One focuses on a soldier’s time and the horrors he sees, the other is more about the famous Heritage museum and the people who lived there during the war.

10) Night by Elie Wiesel and The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank – Two real life accounts of the Holocaust and Jews living in hiding. They are essential for any WWII list.

Image from here. 

Lord Jim

Monday, August 12, 2013



Lord Jim
by Joseph Conrad
★★★

Jim is the first mate on a ship called the Patna. While at sea an emergency convinces all the crew to abandon the ship and all of its passengers. They decide they have no other choice because there aren’t enough lifeboats to save everyone. They leave the passengers to their fate assuming they’ll perish at sea. Soon both groups are rescued and Jim is taken to court to be held accountable to abandoning ship.

Charles Marlow, another sea captain is our narrator. He gives us a bit of perspective (interestingly he is also the narrator of Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness.) Marlow watches Jim’s trial and decides that he has a sense of honor that the rest of the crew, who fled, did not have. He decides to help Jim find work. As Marlow relates Jim’s story he can’t help identify with Jim’s struggle.

As Jim tells him what happened the night he abandoned the Patna he keeps asking Marlow, “What would you have done?” He knows that Marlow can’t possibly answer that question, but he wants him to understand how impossible the situation felt. He longs to be a hero, but his own flaws made him flee at the crucial moment.

As Jim tries to rebuild his life he is haunted by his past. He can’t let go of the guilt that overwhelms him and he longs to prove himself in another way. The second half of the novel became a bit muddled and convoluted. The point is that our sins and shame follow us through life. Even if we can leave and create an entirely new life, we are still the person we always were. Jim finally gets a chance to once again choose between fight and flight, but it’s still an impossibly hard decision.

One of the most fascinating parts in the book for me was a small section about Captain Brierly. His is just a tiny section of the book, but it really resonated with me. He is the presiding judge at Jim’s trial and he is a sailor beyond reproach. He is well respected and admired by his colleges, as close as you can get to perfection in the naval world. He tries to get Marlow to give Jim some money to escape so he doesn’t have to stand trial. When that does work he is truly bothered by the whole situation. A very short time after the trial he commits suicide, completely unexpectedly. There’s no major emphasis put on this plot point, but it was still startling.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved the philosophical questions this novel raised, but it was an incredibly slow read. I almost wish it was a novella that maintain the main points, but cut out a lot of the repetition. There were so many points in the middle that lagged. I enjoyed it more than Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but I think I can safely say he’ll never be one of my favorite authors.

Emergencies Kit

Friday, August 9, 2013


I have an emergency kit in my car. It contains a roll of paper towels, a first aid kit, jumper cables, a small container of kitty litter (perfect for providing traction if you're stuck in ice), a portable battery jump, and... a book. 

Of course it has a book in it! What if my car breaks down and I'm stranded on the side of the road for a few hours, obviously I will need a book! The Huz doesn't seem to think this is an essential "emergency" item. 

Do you guys have any book related practices that might seem odd to a non-reader?

Photo by moi. 

Jo's Boys

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Jo’s Boys
by Louisa May Alcott
★★★☆

This book is the final one dealing with the March family. Jo and her professor started a school for boys and this is the sequel to Little Men, which chronicles the beginning of that school and the boys who attended. It takes place years after Little Women and the March women’s children are now grown and pursing their own lives.

The young residents of the March houses, Parnassus and Plumfield, are all picking careers and falling in love. Nan wants to be a doctor and spurs any romantic advances in lieu of the education she longs for. She and Dan were my two favorite characters. One bucks the social norms and decides to follow her dreams into the field of medicine. The other heads west to the Garden of the Gods and Rockies, longing for a life of adventure and being humbled along the way. It was fun to think about how new and radical both paths were at that time.

I made the mistake of reading this one before Little Men. It was published 15 years after that book, but I didn’t realize that when I started it. I really wish I would have read the other one first and will certainly go back and do so, but I went into this one without knowing who many of the characters were.

Jo’s Boys reminded me of the later books in the Anne of Green Gables series, like Rainbow Valley, that focus on the next generation. The writing is the same, but you miss spending time with the characters you have grown to love. I really loved one section which talks about Jo becoming a famous author and being hounded by her fans. It seems to be pretty autobiographical and gives the reader a little glimpse into Alcott’s own life after finding success.

BOTTOM LINE: A good book, but you definitely need to read Little Women and Little Men first. If you love both of those than you’ll love one last chance to spend time with the March family. It doesn’t give everyone a rosy ending, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a bit darker and more realistic.

“The women of England can vote, and we can't. I'm ashamed of America that she isn't ahead in all good things.”

“It adds so much to one's happiness to love the task one does.”

“It was curious to see the prejudices melt away as ignorance was enlightened, indifference change to interest, and intelligent minds set thinking, while quick wits and lively tongues added spice to the discussions which inevitably followed.”

“Mothers can forgive anything! Tell me all, and be sure that I will never let you go, though the whole world should turn from you.”