Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Title: The Moonstone
Author: Wilkie Collins
Pages: 559
Finished: April 22, 2018

First Sentence: I address these lines - written in India - to my relatives in England.

Summary: A large diamond, stolen from India in the late 18th Century, makes its way to a country estate in Yorkshire. Of course, upon waking on the morrow, everyone discovers the diamond is missing and an investigation must take place.

Thoughts: The Moonstone is widely regarded as the first detective novel written. As such, it doesn't fully follow what one would expect from a detective novel. After following along with some excellent red herrings, one gets blindsided by the truth halfway through the novel.

The strengths of The Moonstone, however, like in its characters. With the exception of Miss Clack (a wonderful caricature of ultra religious people), most of the characters are more fully realized than one sees in a detective novel. We get narration from servants. We see ex-convicts treated well rather than with complete suspicion. The novel itself has the typical Victorian racism and sexism, but I think the women rise above it as best they can. Better than I typically see in many novels.

The book itself starts off VERY slow. I will admit, I almost returned it to the library, and the diamond wasn't yet stolen. Betteridge does tend to ramble a bit. But once the diamond turns up missing and the investigation starts, I was very compelled. It took me a week and a break book to get through the first 94 pages. It took me another week to read 495 pages.

Read for my Classics Club Spin.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Title: Wide Sargasso Sea
Author: Jean Rhys
Pages: 111
Finished: April 15, 2018

First Sentence: They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. 

Summary: If you read Jane Eyre and wondered about the madwoman stuck in the attic, this is her story. This is the story of her growing up and marrying Rochester. Of her decent into madness.

Thoughts: I got a 4 on my English Literature AP test which meant I didn't have to take English 101 in college. Because I didn't have to take English 101, I missed reading this. But all my classmates raved about it. At least three girls on my dorm floor told me I HAD to read this book. I'd love it. So like a dutiful reader, I stuck it on my TBR list and then forgot it existed.

When it came time to choose a book for my 20th Century category on the Back to the Classics challenge, I figured this would be a great one, particularly as I was using Jane Eyre for my Rereading of a Favorite.

After reading it, my main thought is that I wish I'd read this when I was in college. I think I would have liked it better.

I wanted to like it. But really, I found I had a hard time keeping up with what was happening. Even after reading synopsis, I was shocked at what I had missed. I found myself rereading passages and not retaining the information. Perhaps this was just a bad month for me. I don't know.

From here on out, there will be spoilers. Read at your own risk.

I always thing reading books about madness with a 21st century perspective is very fascinating. Because what they call madness sounds like depression to me. And good lord does Antoinette have a situation ripe to succumb to depression. It's always hard to read a book where you realize things that I struggle with would have me labeled as mad.

Rochester was absolutely appalling in this novel. As much as I may not have liked him in the original novel, young Rochester was awful. He was brought up during British Imperialism. England was the best. Women were commodities. And here he was relegated to a British colony to marry a woman who wasn't even fully white like him. And let me tell you, my own husband has changed a ton in the ten years that I've known him... and he was never as bad as Rochester was. I can fully believe that Rochester was this horrific as a young, twenty-something year old man.

I confess I was confused at first that her name was Antoinette. Since we only know her as Bertha in Jane Eyre, I assumed that it was her name. To find out that, in Rhys' mind, Rochester gave her the name Bertha to torture her more was really chilling.

The book also brought to mind the short story The Yellow Wallpaper. I never got the sense that Antoinette was horribly mentally ill. But due to the lack of understanding or support for any sort of mental illness, what she had to endure just made it worse. Similar to the Yellow Wallpaper where the narrator is suffering from what is likely Postpartum Depression and is forced to do nothing and so descends to insanity. These stories are so chilling to me, and they make me so grateful that we've come so far in understanding mental illness. They also make me grateful that I have wonderful doctors who I trust.

This is a super rambling review that I'm going to end fairly abruptly. To sum up, I didn't particularly enjoy the book, but I did find it a very thought provoking piece of literature. I think that what Rhys wrote is a very plausible possibility of the before.

Read for the 20th Century novel in the Back to teh Classics Challenge.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel

Title: A Blind Guide to Stinkville
Author: Beth Vrabel
Pages: 246
Finished: April 3, 2018

First Sentence: Even I could see that Tooter was no seeing-eye dog.

Summary: Alice has just moved to Sinkville, North Carolina. Things are not going well. Her mother suffers from depression, her dad spends all his time at work, her brother leaves her at the library every day, and Alice herself has to find her way around town where she clearly sticks out being both blind and an albino. But she decides to prove to everyone just how much she can take care of herself by entering the Sinkville success contest.

Thoughts: Much more charming than I thought it would be. Enough that I wanted to keep reading. Of course, it's your standard outcast kid finds outcast stories and ends up being the underdog who learns more than everyone else. But cute enough story. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April Reads

A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel - 2018 Bluestem
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins - Classics Spin
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys - Back to the Classics
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell - Personal Challenge
Decluttering at the Speed of Life by Dana K. White - Nonfiction Challenge
Love, Sex, and Staying Warm by Neil Rosenthal - Nonfiction Challenge
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman - unaffiliated
The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman - unaffiliated
The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman - unaffiliated

Ambitious? Of course it is. Because I apparently can't have a month of only three books. That being said, the His Dark Materials trilogy is lowest priority and the two nonfiction books are middling priority. Of the high priority books, most are sub 300, so it should definitely be possible to get those. The two nonfiction books should be fairly quick as well. I'm confident I can get through all those in April. And I imagine once I start His Dark Materials, I won't want to stop.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Title: Cloud Atlas
Author: David Mitchell
Pages: 509
Finished: March 31, 2018

First Sentence: Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.

Summary: The first time I read this, I intentionally didn't review it because I hadn't a clue how I could possibly manage it. I find myself again, unable to do so. The book is really six stories, nested inside each other like a matryoshka doll (as we are reminded of multiple times in the book.) Each follows a character who may or may not be the same character reincarnated through time. Okay, so it's a bad summary. Just read the book... or find a summery online.

Thoughts: Like the last time I read this, I still don't know how I feel about it. That being said, I had planned on my second read through to be story by story rather than page 1 to page 509. For the sake of this challenge though, I did go ahead and read it beginning to end and will save the story by story for next time.

As with the last time I read it, the first half is slow, the last half is a race to the end. I particularly like Sonmi's story, though I dislike the way it ends. I immediately went ahead and watched the movie on Netflix. It's the third time I've seen the movie and I definitely prefer some of the storylines in said movie to the ones in the book. But the book is fantastic even if I can't talk about it in any sort of way that would be useful to anyone who wanted to read it.

Read for my own personal challenge. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Title: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Pages: 636
Finished: March 16, 2018

First Sentence: There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Summary: Jane Eyre lives her childhood as the penniless niece to her cruel aunt and cousins. After a final outburst, she is sent to a charity school where, while conditions aren't great, she learns enough to become a governess to Adele, a French girl living at Thornfield. There she falls in love with Adele's ward, Mr. Rochester. But things aren't quite what they seem. Rochester runs hot and cold, and the servant Grace Poole seems to do all manner of horrendous things without retribution.

Thoughts: This is the first adult classic I ever read. I remember reading it in 7th grade and understanding only the broad strokes of the story. In the 28 years between then and now, this is my fifth reading of the novel, and I'm always amazed at which I get out of it. Last time I read this, I remember noticing all the feminist language that I hadn't seen the first three times I read it. I also remember St. John being quite awful and controlling. Both those things were there, though I was struck at how firm Jane was in her convictions. She knew herself more at age 19 than I did at 29!

I find myself having mixed feelings about Mr. Rochester. I don't like the way he teases Jane. It reeks of the adage "He only treats you that way because he likes you," which is a HORRIBLE thing to teach our kids. But in the end, I always find myself pitying him and enjoying the fact that Jane goes back to him. I feel like I understand more, this time around, why she needed to go off on her own.

Again, I feel like each time I read this, I catch things I didn't the first time around. Some of Jane's speeches are really striking and astute. I've long said, since I started reading all these classes, that the ones written by women read very differently than the ones written by men. Women are always striving to be equals however they can be. I really enjoyed this rereading of Jane Eyre.

Counting as Reread of a Favorite Classics for Back to the Classics.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Classics Club Spin #17 - What I Got

Numbers have been drawn and we are slated to read number 3 on our list. In my case, that is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I'm really looking forward to this one. I had it on my Back to the Classics challenge up until the point that I realized it didn't technically fit the category I had planned it for. I decided to put it away until another year, but this works out just as well for me! As of right now, I don't plan on starting it until April, but I am very much looking forward to it.