RIP VII: Settling in to Fall

Every year, without a doubt, my favorite reading challenge to participate in is the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge hosted by Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings. It’s one of the few challenges that I’m almost always guaranteed to finish – mostly because there are few things I love as much in this world as cold fall nights, the way that crisp air smells, and the feeling of a kind of expectant nostalgia (is that a thing?) where the hairs on your arm stand up and it’s creepy but it’s wonderful because it reminds you of all the times you’ve felt that before. Or, as Carl puts it:

As Autumn arrives upon this hemisphere, a beautiful melancholy settles itself over the world. Daylight fades as the darkness descends earlier each night. Nature beds down to rest and the last flashes of gorgeous color give way to the monochrome shades of winter. There is a wistful scent upon the air and the mood generated by this time of year turns my thoughts toward the mysterious, towards stories with gothic undertones, towards darkened streets and death and the men and women sent to detect those who do these dastardly deeds.

So it’s time to announce my intentions for this year’s wonderfully creepy challenge! For those of you who aren’t sure of the general challenge layout, full details can be found through the link above, but basically this challenge is all about dedicating your reading to all things creepy and Gothic and mysterious and that go bump in the night all through September and October. You can get involved on any number of levels, from reading four books to reading short stories to watching films to any combination of the above! As for me, I’m hoping to be able to really sink my teeth in to a couple great books with short stories rounding out the rest of the couple months. So, without further ado, my tentative list is as follows:

NOVELS

  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The Woman in Whiteby Wilkie Collins
  • Draculaby Bram Stoker

SHORT STORIES

  • Fragile Thingsby Neil Gaiman (short story collection)
  • Edgar Allan Poe:
    • “The Pit and the Pendulum”
    • “The Masque of the Red Death”
    • “The Tell-Tale Heart”
    • “The Fall of the House of Usher”
    • “The Murders on the Rue Morgue”
  • H.P. Lovecraft
    • “The Call of Cthulhu”
    • “The Shadow over Innsmouth”
    • “The Colour Out of Space”
    • “The Dunwich Horror”
    • “The Outsider”

FILMS

  • Hocus Pocus
  • Carrie
  • The Shining

Well, I think that about wraps up my intention! This list puts me somewhere around

but of course I’ll also be doing Peril of the Short Story and Peril on the Screen. I’m also SUPER, SUPER excited to read this book:

for the Peril of the Group Read starting October 1st! This has long been one of my favorite Gaiman novels, and I had such a great time reading The Lantern last year during the group read that I can’t wait! Hope to see you all go sign up for the challenge – it’s truly the greatest way to pass the fall and head straight in to all of that great Christmas reading!

A Classics Challenge: March

Howdy, folks! For those of you playing along at home, you’ll know that I finished Middlemarch this week and started in on Gone with the Wind, which left me in a bit of a tizzy as far as which book to feature for March for the 2012 Classics Challenge over at November’s Autumn. The prompt for March focuses on the setting of the book and its importance to the rest of the story. And while location certainly features prominently in both books (after all, Middlemarch takes place in, you guessed it, the town of Middlemarch), I just think it would be more fun to spend this time talking about Gone with the Wind. I should go ahead and be fair and say that I’m only about three chapters in to the book, and may be basing more of these answers than I should on the movie, but it’s in the second chapter that Gerald O’Hara and Scarlett have their famous conversation about “land being the most important thing”, and with words like that straight out of the horse’s mouth, it seems like the decision was made for me! As per usual, Katherine has provided three different “levels” of questions, so without further ado, here’s my contribution to March’s Classic Challenge topic: a discussion of the Tara Plantation in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

Level 1: How has the author introduced the setting? What does it tell you about the character? about the time period? What is the mood of the setting?

Oh, goodness! Be still my beating heart, Margaret Mitchell, you’ve created a place that from the first minute I’ve been longing to step in to! I mean, I may be being slightly unfair in this because, although I’ve spent my entire life in a Midwestern state, I’ve always felt like a displaced southern girl at heart, so there is something appealing to me on almost, like, a genetic level; there’s this admittedly weird but still very strong desire to pick up my budding family and put us smack in the middle of southern breezes, Georgia’s red dirt, the briny smell of southern Louisiana – any and all trappings of the south. But I’m talking to much. You need to hear it from the woman of the hour herself:

“The plantation clearings and miles of cotton fields smiled up to a warm sun, placid, complacent. At their edges rose the virgin forests, dark and cool even in the hottest noons, mysterious, a little sinister, the soughing pines seeming to wait with an age-old patience, to threaten with soft sighs: ‘Be careful! Be careful! We had you once. We can take you back again.'” (p.7)

“The sun was now below the horizon and the red glow at the rim of the world faded into pink. The sky above turned slowly from azure to the delicate blue-green of a robin’s egg, and the unearthly stillness of rural twilight came stealthily down about her. Shadowy dimness crept over the countryside. The red furrows and the gashed red road lost their magical blood color and became plain brown earth.” (p.22)

“The warm damp balminess of spring encompassed her sweetly with the moist smells of new-plowed earth and all the fresh green things pushing up to the air.” (p.23)

So, needless to say, the mood there is evident. In terms of the character and time period, the land of Tara is very much so a representation of the wealth of the O’Hara family, a wealth which firmly entrenches them in the landed gentry of the Old South – a position that, history tells us, will put them firmly on the losing side of the Civil War. Also, knowing the kind of tenacity and strength and survival of the character of Scarlett, it’s too easy to see this in the same plantation that ends up surviving Sherman’s burning, destructive march to the sea.

Level 2: How do you envision it? Find a few images or describe it. Do you feel the setting is right? or was it a weak point of the author?

Oh my goodness yes the author got it right! My half brother lives in South Carolina, my grandparents live in Arkansas, my cousins live in Georgia, and the best vacation I’ve ever taken was to New Orleans, and I’m not a native, but I do know what it feels like to be in the south, and I think Mitchell hits it right on the head. As far as how I picture Tara – I don’t really have to! The movie actually does a rather fabulous job, I think, of capturing the feel of those Old South plantations. See for yourself:

        
Level 3: If this particular setting was changed how would it affect the course of the story?

How wouldn’t it?! I mean, yeah, a lot of Gone with the Wind takes place far away from Tara (namely Atlanta), but Tara is basically a character in and of itself, the way it motivates the actions of the other characters. It’s the place that Scarlett longs to return to once she leaves it. It’s the place that provides her the money and strength she needs to survive. At the end of the day, its the place she returns to when she’s lost everything else. If this setting were different, I feel it’s safe to say that Scarlett wouldn’t be the woman that she is, and if that were the case – well, Gone with the Wind without Scarlett isn’t a story I’d like to imagine!

EGADS! A Challenge!

I can’t believe it’s here already! IT’S HERE!!! And this year’s button is even more beautiful than last years (OHEMGEE THE BUTTON). I don’t know how Carl V does it, but somehow he always pull it out when it comes to the Once Upon a Time Challenge. This, along with Carl’s fall-themed Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) challenge, is by far my favorite blog-o-sphere challenge/event. In Carl’s words, the Once Upon a Time challenge

a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Tuesday, June 19th and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.

Basically, it’s about using that spring air to get in the mood to read all kinds of, well, stories that may indeed begin “once upon a time”! This is the first year I’ve ever tried to coordinate this challenge with other, larger goals behind what I’m blogging, but I’m looking forward to finding a way for them to fit together!

As per usual, Carl has created a variety of levels for participation, everything from reading one work to reading works in each of the four categories AND short stories AND film watching. Because of the other factors I’m trying to stick to, this year I’m thinking I’m going to have to go with:

which just entails reading four or more books in any of the categories over the course of the challenge, which runs from March 21st (yesterday) through June 19th. Looking at my master list, I’ve put together the following list of hopefuls (and yes, I know that the Lord of the Rings is technically three books, but in my mind it all counts as one epic story, so it works)

  1. The Odyssey by Homer
  2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
  3. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  4. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne AND
  5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (because no springtime or Once Upon a Time challenge would be complete without it!)

All in all, I couldn’t be more excited for the reading, and because this makes it OFFICIALLY spring time! And you? You should participate, too! Hop on over to Carl’s blog, then make sure to come back here and tell me what you’re reading!

<— This totally doesn’t need to be here, but I always love Carl’s buttons, especially those that use Melissa Nucera‘s artwork. Plus…fox!

Finished: Middlemarch

To be completely honest, guys, I came like *thisclose* to DNF-ingMiddlemarch. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that this is only the second book off my list and by the time I got to the part where I really didn’t want to keep going, I was only about 100 pages from the end (and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up on a 800 page investment!) And the fact of the matter is that I don’t really know what it was that wasn’t getting me in to this book.

On paper, or on e-paper, as this current case may be, this book is full of stories that would be fantastic to read. I mean, a man falls in love with a brat and spends his life regretting his decision and bending to her will? Sure (even if that does mean I want to PUNCH ROSAMOND SQUARE IN THE EYE FOR THE LAST 700 PAGES OF THIS BOOK! GAH!). A love story about two people who society wants to keep apart? Sign me up? A sweet country tale of a man who makes himself better to earn a decent living and the admiration of his lady love? I’d read that one more than any of the others. But, to be honest, when all three of these stories showed up inMiddlemarch, I got nothing. Well, I shouldn’t say “nothing”. Because I really did like parts of this book! And there were reading days that seemed to just fly by with the pages. But then I would put the book down and not pick it up because every time I thought about reading it, suddenly doing the dishes would become the most important task ever. And I. Hate. Dishes.

So lets try and figure out what’s up with that, shall we? A little post-book game tape playback, if you will. I think my biggest issue that I had withMiddlemarchwas how withdrawn I felt from the characters. Maybe this is a facet of it’s being a Victorian novel? (someone with more experience/knowledge of the genre, help me out here!) But I felt like I wasn’t actually being allowed in to the character. I mean, we were told how they felt, but it was just a telling. There was something missing to make me feelwhat the characters feel. I’m not sure what that missing thing is, but that’s what part of this project is about – learning what that ‘thing’ is and how to identify it/find it! I found this was the biggest case in the scenes between Dorothea and Will, and wonder if maybe the lack of dialogue and the omniscient perspective of the narrator kind of held things back a length or two. It didn’t seem to bother me much with some of the “shallower” characters (Mary, Fred, the Farebrothers’, the Brookes, even Celia and Chettam), but when it came to the Rosamond/Lydgate or the Dorothea/Will scenes, I felt like I didn’t get quite as much out of them as I could have if I felt closer to, well, everything.

That said, I did deeply enjoy the crazy events that seemed so perfectly in place in a Victorian novel – issues of mistaken parentage, town gossip, misunderstood exchanges of money, all of that jazz. It reminded me, in places, of some of the twists we see in Dickensian works. I was as much one the edge of my seat as I could be when Raffles was sick in bed at Bulstrode’s, and knowing how much was riding on his death, and knowing how things would look to the public once Lydgate was involved, it was truly a social-comedy delight to see the town gossips take the matter and run with it. Maybe that’s a bit cruel, considering this gossip was responsible for driving two good men (alright, one good man and one middling-to-fair man) out of the realm of decent public opinion, but to be honest – it was more fun to see how they’d deal with it than it would be to offer them sympathy! And ah, the joys of literature – the ability to have those feelings without worrying about hurting the feelings of real-life people!

At the end of the day, I am glad that I was able to get through Middlemarch. Not only because it’s another book off the list, but because it’s teaching me how to look for the things that are missing, how to name the things I’m looking for in a great reading experience – and while I’ve been blogging and talking about books for a while, I’ve never actually slowed down and really looked at those two skills.

Now, I’m thrilled to say, I’m moving on rather nicely through Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind which, to be honest, I had a hard time not reading while I was trying to finish Middlemarch. I’m only a few chapters in but, to be honest, the sweeping nature and the lazy Southern tone of the book are really what I need right now, as spring has set in and spring break has started! And you, darling fellow reader? What book is putting that spring in your step? Any big reading plans, as spring breaks hit nation-wide?

On Marriage, Money, and Mortification

*I had this entire post written up, ready to go, I hit ‘published’, and apparently WordPress decided that I didn’t need to actually publish the post, and it was all erased. needless to say – irritated.*

So by now my reading of Middlemarch has brought me through page 700, a bit past the start of Book Eight, “Two Temptations”. And damn – people in Middlemarch need to quit marrying out of duty/family/baby’s from the cradle. It seems like the only people in the book who are actually in any kind of healthy relationship are Mary and Fred, and that’s probably just because they aren’t actually in any kind of relationship, but rather are merely in the phase of promising and dreaming of a relationship. Seeing how that phase worked out for everyone else in the novel, I don’t necessarily think that’s a promising sign for these two.

I want to start by addressing the parts of the book that I have no intention of addressing: namely, anything having to do with the Reform, Mr. Brooke’s running for Parliament, and anything having to do with general politics or agriculture of any kind. While I can appreciate why Eliot included these bits in her novel – not only do they serve to create a fuller picture of the Provencal life she paints, but I imagine this was an issue on the minds of many writers at the time – let’s get it straight. These parts be BORING. So boring. Like, eyes glazing and skipping over the pages boring. Which I’m trying REALLY hard to prevent, because I want to give this book the attention it deserves on it’s first read through, but it’s hard when these huge paragraphs (or God forbid whole chapters) pop up. So lets get on to talking about what I think is the heart of the novel: the relationships between the primary sextet (which means, to me, Fred, Mary, Dorothea, Will, Rosamond, and Lydgate).

Oh, Fred and Mary. I think I like these two best of all. They seem to be the most…rational, at least. I love the way that Fred seems to really grow up throughout the course of the novel, and that everything he does really does seem to be for Mary and their possible future together. I think that Mary is an admirable character, namely in the fact that she’s so much less of a sycophant than so many of the other girls in the novel! I’m sure that it helps that she has her own source of income and the fact that her family isn’t bat-shit crazy, but I think it’s refreshing to see regardless. I have a good feeling that these two will eventually end up together, but I hope it’s not until after Mary gives in to Fred a little bit and Fred has learned even more to take responsibility for himself and his future.

Speaking of futures, this brings us rather nicely to a discussion of Dorothea and Will, definitely the saddest and most tragically wonderful couple in the story. I feel like if you were going to point at one relationship and say ‘See, totes Victorian’, it would be Dodo and Will (does anyone automatically think Dodo bird whenever Celia uses this particular endearment? If you didn’t, sorry – bet you will now!) I mean, there couldn’t be more things standing in the way of these two being together – Casaubon’s stupidpants will, Dorothea’s skewed sense of loyalty, Will’s pride, the opinions of the townsfolk towards Will, which is totally of the

Condescending Wonka

variety. It makes me sad for the two of them, honestly, but it also makes me even more sure that they’ll totally end up together and happy and somehow Dorothea won’t lose all her new money in the bargain. Also, did anyone else pick up on a bit of the Anne/Mr. Wentworth vibe when Will does all his talking about making himself better and securing a better position all for Dodo’s sake? I can only hope that their ending is that romantic!

And, lastly, I want to talk about Rosamond and Lydgate. OH MY DEAR SWEET SWEATPANTS, ROSAMOND. I thought we were cool – I was kind of digging on the sweet and innocent dreamer routine you had going. And then you started talking more and you quickly went from this:

to this:

First World Problems

I mean, seriously. This girl might just be the whiniest character I’ve ever run across in literature. And there’s poor Lydgate, in a marriage he wasn’t planning on, trying his hardest to get by even after the people of Middlemarch are just, like *eyerollatthenewdoctor*, and Rosamond just keeps running him in to debt and taking silly pregnant horseback rides and carrying secret desires to galavant with Will and then, when Lydgate has the nerve to ask her to tone down the spending, she goes behind his back to his family like a total Smarmerton! WAY NOT COOL. But then. Oh, but then. There is this:

“‘I have only wanted to prevent you from hurrying us into wretchedness without any necessity,’ said Rosamond, the tears coming again from a softened feeling now that her husband had softened. ‘It is so very hard to be disgraced here among all the people we know, and to live in such a miserable way. I wish I had died with the baby.” (p.718)

I MEAN COME ON?!?!?!?! Who above the age of six responds like that?!

Anyway. Needless to say, I’ve about had with Rosamond, that silly twit of a girl, and I’m not sure I can take much more of her in the 300-some pages I’ve got left! In personal news, things with the wedding are rolling right along, although I just got bummer news today that the local farmstead in my town (where we were hoping to have the reception) is booked for our date, so now I’m just trying to scramble a bit and find another place! I’m feeling way under the weather today, and what with a late night last night (including some rather silly, unexplainable issues with WordPress) I think just about the only thing I can handle today are the last few chapters of The Magician’s Nephew, the first chronicle in the Narnia series, which is the small book that’s been keeping me company all week. What about you? What book’s been holding your hand and getting you by this week?

Joining The Classics Club!

So, needless to say, a bunch of the classics-oriented blogs I read have been all a-buzz lately with the new Classics Club that’s being hosted by Jillian at A Room of One’s Own (one of my new absolute favorite blogs) and, after looking at what the club is trying to accomplish, and the kind of wonderful people who seem more than ready to jump on board, I couldn’t help but start to fantasize about what my own list would look like if I decided to join as well!

The most beautiful part of the Classics Club is that this isn’t really a challenge so much as a community committing to a much more general goal of reading the classics in general. Here are the basics of the club, as Jillian lays them out:

At your own blog, list 50, 100, or 200 (or more, if you’re so inclined) classics that most interest/scare/excite you, alongside your goal date for finishing this list. You can either make a straight list of titles (what I’ll be doing), or explain next to each title why you’ve chosen it. You could also explain a few of your chosen titles, but leave the others explanation-free. It’s up to you.

The goal? To read every classic on your list at your blog, and write about each one at your blog. Each time you write about a classic from your list, hyperlink the discussion post at the main classics list on your blog (The one you will link here to join.)

The outcome? We’ll end up with a big giant feed here where people have linked to lists of classics that will then be linked to their personal discussion of every classic on their list. This will make finding fellow classics bloggers easier. And? It will be fun.

Levels: I’m not going to divide out the project by levels, but when you make up your initial list, keep in mind that YOU set your own goal date (five years from the date you start being the latest date you should probably set, to keep the project manageable.) You can choose to read 50, 100, or 200 books (or more). This is YOUR dream list, so please don’t worry about following some kind of prescribed set of instructions as you choose your books. If you’re not sure if it counts, and it’s an old book (not published within the last twenty-five years*) and you want to read it, go for it.

So I think that this will be yet another fantastic community to help support and to gain support from on this journey through the classics of mine! I also love how free this set-up is in structure, because it’s the perfect avenue to devote some time to the other ‘classics’ that I was going to have to put aside for the next few years: classic children’s literature. So here’s the plan. I’m still going to read the original 150 books that I set out to read as a part of this project. However, I have also put together a list of the 100 greatest children/young adult literature books (as combined from almost every list I could find on the internet, as well as some personal favorites I’ve been wanting to revisit lately). I’m giving myself the two years I always planned on using for my first 150 titles, but with the addition of the young adult books, I’m extending my deadline to December 31st, 2015, which will be a little over three years for 250 books, 100 of which are young adult/children’s titles. I think that should be a manageable goal, as of now, but of course one never knows what life holds, so I fully reserve the right to change that date whenever I see fit! My list 100 titles in listed below, and the full combines list of all the titles can be found on my Classics Club page! I can’t wait to get started on this leg of a growing, changing, and exciting project!

  1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  2. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  3. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
  4. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
  5. Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  6. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  7. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  8. The BFG by Roald Dahl
  9. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  11. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  13. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  15. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  16. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  17. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  18. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  19. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
  20. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett
  21. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  22. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  23. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  24. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  25. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  26. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  27. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  28. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  29. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  30. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  31. White Fang by Jack London
  32. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  33. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  34. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  35. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  36. Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  37. Emily Climbs by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  38. Emily’s Quest by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  39. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  40. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  41. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  42. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  43. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  44. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  45. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  46. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  47. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  48. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  49. Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
  50. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  51. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  52. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  53. Marry Poppins by Pamela L. Travers
  54. Stuart Little by E.B. White
  55. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  56. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  57. Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott
  58. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy
  59. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  60. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg
  61. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  62. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
  63. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  64. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  65. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
  66. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
  67. Feed by M.T. Anderson
  68. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
  69. That Summer by Sarah Dessen
  70. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
  71. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  72. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  73. “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins
  74. Redwall by Brian Jacques
  75. Mattimeo by Brian Jacques
  76. Sloppy Firsts  by Megan McCafferty
  77. Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
  78. Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty
  79. Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty
  80. Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty
  81. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  82. Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
  83. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  84. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  85. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  86. The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud
  87. Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud
  88. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  89. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  90. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  91. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  92. Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  93. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
  94. Boy Meets Boy by David Leviathan
  95. The Book Thief by Markuz Zusak
  96. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  97. Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor
  98. Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks
  99. Holes by Louis Sachar
  100. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Middlemarch by George Eliot – Parts One and Two

So, as you may have reckoned, I chose to go with Middlemarch by George Eliot as the first book off my list! I’m about 250 pages in, and, while its taken me a bit to get my mind back in the cadence of reading Victorian fiction, I’m finally starting to really love these characters, and am glad that I have over seven hundred pages left to follow them through.

For those of you who haven’t read the book, the first two portions of the novel introduce us to a number of the lovely and quirky townsfolk who run around the town of Middlemarch. The novel opens with Dorothea, a girl who doesn’t care for frills or jewels, but only to read and study things of a religious and dogmatic nature. Her sister, Celia is, as seems to always be the case, described as pretty much the exact opposite, and for some reason seems to be in constant reverence and awe of her sister, even going so far at times as to keep herself from speaking in order to avoid potentially being judged by Dorothea.

As the novel opens, Dorothea is being pursued by two suitors, the horse-riding and boot-licking Sir James Chettam and the “too long with the dead” Casaubon who, despite having a name that reminds one of the delicious, glazey, billion calorie delight that is Cinnabon, is remarkably un-glazey in his personality. Pretty much ever time he speaks, or looks at someone, or breathes, all he’s saying is “listen to this vague scholarly nonsense that is not only hard to follow but is completely un-topical and out of date by at least a hundred years”. That’s the thing with Casaubon – he’s a scholar who has no interest in contemporary scholarship. Instead, he wraps himself up in the academic debates of the past generation. He’s boring and cold and old and just, well, dowdy. And Dorothea eats it up with a spoon! Meanwhile, Sir James is all “I love you, please let me give you ponies and puppies and don’t you just love me because I love you”, but Dorothea will have none if it, trying to push him towards her sister instead. Dorothea and Casaubon marry, and it’s only after they leave for Rome that Dorothea realizes that Casaubon is cold and old and dowdy, and that his great scholarly work is likely never going to come to be much of anything, and it makes her pull one of these:

Luckily Will Ladislaw, the nephew that Casaubon has taken in to his reluctant custody, is also in Rome studying art and he’s there to keep Dorothea entertained, much to Casaubon’s chagrin, because needless to say said nephew is also young and attractive and romantic.

While all this is going on, we also meet the dear Rosamond and her brother Fred Vincy, and Dr. Lydgate, a newly arrived physician in Middlemarch, and the ways in which their narrative all interact. Dr. Lydgate fancies Rosamond, but doesn’t want to marry because he’s so interested in bettering both himself and his profession, all the while Rosamond is insipid and shallow and hopelessly in love with Dr. Lydgate after he spends a great deal of time at the house taking care of Fred when he catches fever; meanwhile Fred is a bit of a Dandy who borrows money from Mr. Garth, the father of the girl he fancies (Mary Garth) and then can’t pay it back, facing a bit of rude awakening when it must inform the family. Of course, on the side of ALL OF THIS is stuff concerning local politics, running for Parliament, the Reform Bill, and I’m sure some characters that I’ve barely met but will become vitally important. Needless to say, this is one of those SAME BOOK, MANY PLOTS varieties of literature.

I’M SO SORRY THERE IS SO MUCH SUMMARY HERE! For serious, massive summarizing is something I generally can’t stand doing. But Eliot has so much going on here that I feel like I have to bring you guys with me, or my thoughts won’t make much sense.

So far, I’m having a slow time getting in to what’s going on here. I mean, it’s finally starting to pick up a bit, but it’s taken about the first 250 pages to see how these plots and characters are going to come together. All the little side plots are kind of hard to follow (especially those relating to politics, Parliament, the reform, and the blabbidy-bloos that surround all of that) and the meandering pace is forcing me to slow down and really follow who we’re talking about, whose related to who, and why its all important to remember. However, such a slow pace isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

Slowing down has allowed me to get to know these amazing, independent characters that I expect Eliot really wanted to be the focus of the novel to begin with. And rest assured – these characters are human. Each one of them is flawed, preoccupied, shortsighted, and a dreamer (expect maybe Casaubon, but he’s basically a walking corpse anyway). It’s nice to have Lydgate’s perspective to read through, as he’s also a newcomer to the town, so I feel like his voice echoes a bit of the readers mind, as he tries to figure out the social and town relationships and politics. I’m not sure Eliot intended to do this, but I sure hope she did, because it’s working out rather perfectly that way. I am also having a wonderful time trying to figure out how I feel about Rosamond – part of me wants to hate her for being so damn daft, but the other part of me can remember being a girl, doodling hears and ‘Mrs.____’ on my notebooks, who wasn’t concerned with much else outside of what immediately effected me. She’s sympathetic, but, to be honest, getting to be grating. And I can only assume it doesn’t go up from here.

Probably the character I’m getting to love the most (and this should likely come as no shock) is Dorothea. In the beginning, I could understand a bit of what she was feeling for Casaubon – after all, I’m a girl who went *squeeing* after many a high school teacher and older man myself. At the same time, HOW BADLY DID I NOT WANT THEM TO GET MARRIED?!?! I think that Dorothea is already developing a bad habit of selling herself short and not giving herself enough credit, being far to willing to get lost in Casaubon’s goals as opposed to her own. Then again, after the way he treated her in Rome, and the good time she had with Will Ladislaw, who know’s what can happen in those last 700 pages or so!

WHEW! That’s a lot. Sorry it’s so much – I promise the next post won’t be so much summary! Look forward to a new Friday tradition I’m hoping to start, premiering this Friday, and over the weekend I’m planning on stopping back in with another Middlemarch update! How about you – what are you reading? What are you loving or loathing about it?