Reading Challenge Check-In

I finished my first book for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge this week. My husband and I listen to audiobooks when we cook dinner. He hadn’t read Jane Austen before. I’ve actually read all of the complete Jane Austen novels; I haven’t read the juvenilia, letters, Lady Susan or Sanditon. I steered him away from Mansfield Park, and Emma is a sort of long one. I actually recommended Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but Steve wanted to try Northanger Abbey because he’d heard that it was a send-up of gothic novels. It is also one of the shorter Austen novels, and it’s her earliest novel, though it wasn’t published until after she died. I’m counting this novel under the category of favorite classic re-read. I wouldn’t say it’s my absolute favorite classic novel, but it had been about ten years since I read it, and Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. I hadn’t re-read this one as I had Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, so it was probably time. My husband loved Mr. Tilney’s sense of humor and shook his head at Catherine’s drama. He figured out the Thorpes were horrible right away. A couple of observations: I teach teenagers, and man, teenage girls have not changed at all in 200 years. Re-read any of the parts detailing Catherine and Isabella’s intrigues and it could be set today. Actually, this novel might not make for a bad modernization à la Clueless. In fact, even Catherine’s infatuation with gothic stories works if one takes the vampire/werewolf/witch fads under consideration. One of the reasons I love Jane Austen in general and this book, in particular, is Austen’s famous wit. Juliet Stevenson read the audiobook, and she was excellent.

I’m also slowly catching up on the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. We had two snow days this week, so no school, and I read five Sherlock Holmes stories:

  • “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”: Sherlock Holmes’s client John Hector McFarlane is a young lawyer accused of murdering one of his own clients but despite the mounting evidence, Holmes smells a fraud. Rating: ★★★★☆
  • “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez”: Inspector Stanley Hopkins seeks Holmes’s help to solve the murder of a young secretary Willoughby Smith, in the employ of invalid professor Coram. Rating: ★★★★☆
  • “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”: Violet Smith seeks Holmes’s help when she notices a man following her as she rides her bicycle to the train station to return home on weekends from her job as a music teacher. While the man never harms her, she is uneasy about him, and she is also uneasy about her employer Mr. Carruthers and his weird friend Mr. Woodley. Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • “The Adventure of the Three Students”: University lecturer Hilton Soames contacts Holmes for help preventing a scandal. He left an exam he planned to give three students competing for a scholarship on his desk, but his servant left the key in the door, and Soames knows that one of the students has looked at the exam. Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • “The Adventure of Black Peter”: Peter Carey, a former whaler known as Black Peter, is found gruesomely murdered with a harpoon. While most people agree he probably had it coming, Holmes and Stanley Hopkins team up again to solve the murder. Rating: ★★★★½

Of these five stories, I probably liked “The Adventure of Black Peter” best, if only for the image of Holmes whacking away at a pig carcass with a harpoon to see how much strength it would take to murder someone with said instrument. Spoiler alert: a lot. “The Adventure of the Three Students” is one of those weird stories when Conan Doyle seems to be trying to prove his open-mindedness. For another example, “The Adventure of the Yellow Face” serves well. Of the three students, two seem more likely to cheat than the third mainly because this third is easygoing, clean-cut, and white, while the other two are 1) an Indian, and 2) a panicky, ragey guy that Soames suspects is probably behind it, but he doesn’t discount the Indian guy because he’s, you know, Indian. It’s almost like Conan Doyle is trying to say, “See? I made the bad guy be the clean-cut white guy and not the Indian or the dude with obvious issues.” “The Solitary Cyclist” is one of those damsel in distress stories that are fairly yawn-inducing. Give me Irene Adler who can take care of herself. Speaking of damsels in distress, it’s a weird thing, but no mention is made of Mary Morstan Watson. She just disappears, and all of a sudden Watson is living with Holmes at Baker Street. I know it’s mentioned in one of the stories that she died, but I don’t recall reading it. I mean, what gives? “The Norwood Builder” and “The Golden Pince-Nez” were pretty much run-of-the-mill Sherlock Holmes stories. The only reference to any of these stories from the BBC series Sherlock that I caught was from “Black Peter.” Holmes shows up covered and blood and carrying a harpoon in “The Hounds of Baskerville.”

I am now caught up with the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge through November, so now I’m just a month behind.

Related posts:

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Favorite Quotes from Books

Top Ten TuesdayBusy week! I didn’t get to the Top Ten Tuesday on Tuesday at all. As soon as I finish this post, I’m off to pack up more books in preparation for next month’s move.

This week’s topic was irresistible, and I decided to participate even though I’d be late: Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes.

  1. And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…and one fine morning—

    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.—[amazon asin=0743273567&text=The Great Gatsby], F. Scott Fitzgerald

  2. If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.—[amazon asin=0684801469&text=A Farewell to Arms], Ernest Hemingway

  3. “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”—[amazon asin=0545139708&text=Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows], J. K. Rowling

  4. “Always,” said Snape.—[amazon asin=0545139708&text=Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows], J. K. Rowling

  5. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.—[amazon asin=0061120065&text=Their Eyes Were Watching God], Zora Neale Hurston

  6. “Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night,/Give me my Romeo; and,/When he shall die,/Take him and cut him out in little stars,/And he will make the face of heaven so fine/That all the world will be in love with night/And pay no worship to the garish sun.”—[amazon asin=0743477111&text=Romeo and Juliet], William Shakespeare

  7. “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.

    I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”—[amazon asin=0486295559&text=Persuasion], Jane Austen

  8. “Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”—[amazon asin=0061743526&text=To Kill a Mockingbird], Harper Lee

  9. “It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”—[amazon asin=1612930840&text=Northanger Abbey], Jane Austen

  10. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.—[amazon asin=1619493845&text=Walden], Henry David Thoreau

You know, I could really go on and on with this list. In fact, from my favorite book:

“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff!”[amazon asin=0143105434&text=Wuthering Heights], Emily Brontë

Related posts:

Northanger Abbey

Northanger AbbeyJane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is the story of the naive Catherine Morland. Catherine accompanies Mr. and Mrs. Allen, family friends, to Bath and meets and befriends Isabella Thorpe, the daughter of one of Mrs. Allen’s school friends. Catherine also meets Henry Tilney and is instantly smitten. Catherine also befriends Tilney’s sister Eleanor and secures an invitation to visit the Tilneys’ home Northanger Abbey from General Tilney, Henry and Eleanor’s father.

Every synopsis of Northanger Abbey that I’ve read has been misleading. Even the title is misleading. I was misled into believing the entirety, or at least a large portion of the book would take place at the imposing Northanger Abbey, ancestral home of the Tilneys. I judge about half the book is actually set at Northanger Abbey. Also, most synopses of the book that I’ve read reference Catherine Morland’s romantic imagination convincing her that a strange gothic history has taken place at Northanger Abbey, but that episode occupies only a small part of the plot of the novel — a few chapters at best.

I don’t think this novel is so much a parody or satire of gothic novels as it is the story of how a young girl loses her naiveté. It was a quick, enjoyable read, and I liked it better than Emma, though I don’t think it quite tops Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. Catherine was a likable character, and I enjoyed the dialogue in the novel (as always in Austen’s writing).

I read Northanger Abbey as part of the Historical Fiction Challenge. At this point, my progress in the challenge stands thusly:

I don’t think I’ll pick up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell again next, but I’m not sure what I will read, as I expecting a bunch of books in the mail and would like to choose from among them; which one I choose depends on which arrives first. I’ll update once I have the books in hand and have made a decision.

Related posts:

Brunonia Barry’s The Lace Reader

I heard about Brunonia Barry’s novel The Lace Reader yesterday via Book Club Girl’s blog.  Book Club Girl has an interview with Barry that really intrigued me, and you ought to give it a listen if my description of the novel intrigues you.  I was lucky to be one of the first ten commenters, which means Book Club Girl will be sending me a free advance reader edition of The Lace Reader.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is how it came to be published.  Trying to get a book published is hard, trying, and often disheartening work.  Rather than spend years trying to find a publisher, Barry published her book herself.  The book became popular with readers and book clubs, and it attracted the attention of publishers who then had to bid for her book.  I love that part of the story.  Barry was able to score a $2 million book deal; the novel will be published by William Morrow and has already generated film industry buzz.

The novel is the story of Towner Whitney, a native of Salem, MA who can read the future in patterns of Ipswich lace.  She returns to her hometown after the murder of two women.  Barry says that her inspiration for the story was Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth, around which I built a senior English elective at my school.  Needless to say, a new book deliberately written with the Hero’s Journey in mind intrigued me.  Barry explains that “Most stories that follow this pattern have a decidedly male orientation: a lone individual acts heroically and saves the day. I wondered if there might be an alternate form, a feminine Hero’s Journey.”  Barry is right.  Of the books I chose, all of them had a male protagonist, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to find a book that had a female protagonist — I couldn’t.  I chose books like The Iliad, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Le Morte D’Arthur, The Ramayana, The Hobbit, Star Wars, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which was nixed by my principal), among a few other selected texts.  In part I am intrigued by this book for possible inclusion in my course.

I am about one-quarter into Northanger Abbey, and it’s been a delight.  I love the “heroine” Catherine, and I am looking forward to discovering what the Editrix of Austen Blog loves about Mr. Tilney (I’ve only seen him twice so far).  Austen, as always, has a pitch-perfect ear for conversation, and I was completely charmed by chapter six, in which she recounts a dialogue between Catherine and Isabella Thorpe (whom I also adore).  I should be finishing Emma this weekend, so please look for a review some time on Sunday.  I have decided I will read Charles Dickens next on DailyLit, but I am having trouble choosing a book.  I have narrowed down the list to three selections, and if you have thoughts about which one I should choose, please leave me a comment.

David Copperfield would take me more than a year in 447 daily installments, but A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations are broken into 170 and 231 parts respectively.  When selecting novels for DailyLit, I try to choose books that I think I would otherwise not read, and all three books fit that description, so if you don’t help me, I’m afraid I’ll have to rely on eenie, meenie, miney, and moe for assistance.  Here’s incentive for you: if you successfully convince me to read the book of your choice, I will send you a DailyLit subscription to the book of your choice (so long as it’s free), and you can enjoy a bit of DailyLit in your own inbox.  What do you say?

Related posts: