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Saturday, September 30, 2006

One Thing Leads to Another

I've spent a delightful several days with our eldest daughter and our grandchildren. I have been reading this week, but most of what I've read has had illustrations...wonderful illustrations in many cases. Judgements have been made once again on the quality of various books: Clarice Bean is a poor knock-off of the ever charming and sharply funny Eloise. Not only is C.B. a poor imitation, it is (at times) mean-spirited. Olivia by Ian Falconer also takes Eloise as a model, but is sweet and funny and for a younger audience. C.B. might appeal to those who have never had the pleasure of meeting Eloise, but I think the book's popularity is mainly driven by hype.

Speaking of a better way. Carl recently mentioned the influence of blogs on book sales and posted a link to this article that reveals a remarkable increase in sales for The Thirteenth Tale in the U.S. as a result of blog recommendations. Also, many of us involved in the R.I.P. challenge have ordered and posted about Gothic novels. I've noticed comments on non-book blogs lately mentioning or referring to Dracula, The Woman in White, and other novels in this genre. Some of these comments are, no doubt, a direct result of R.I.P. readers posting about their current reading.

I finished The Wyvern Mystery and have drafted a review which I will hold on to until I see some other reviews on the title. Now, I'm nearly finished with The Lamb's of London, a strange little book, and have not yet determined my opinion. Fact and fiction are intermingled here and I'm carefully watching Mary's behavior. Also interesting is that (synchronicity at work again) William Ireland wrote several Gothic novels: The Abbess: A Romance; Rimauldo: Or, The Castle of Badajos; and Gondez the Monk: A Romance of the Thirteenth Century.

I'm really behind in my own blog reading (and novel reading) and trying to catch up.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Visitors and Books

Erin, Mila, and Max are here for a few days. :)

I have a stack of library books to get through and books on the way from Amazon. Have almost finished The Wyvern Mystery, and eager to start some of my library books. Have already started
The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd, a fictional look at Charles and Mary Lamb. I've always loved Lamb's essays, so this one practically jumped into my hands. However, most reading will be suspended for a few days while I gloat over grandchildren.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bonus R.I.P.

Still reading my last R.I.P. challenge, The Wyvern Mystery, and it has gotten better.

Went to the library Saturday afternoon and got (among other books) A Coldness in the Blood, a modern Dracula version. Lurid cover, don't you think? It was a quick read, but not that great. Saberhagen is a PROLIFIC writer, and this is the 8th in this series (he has 4 different series, as well as some that are classified as "other"). I may look for the first in the series because it was a quick read and the earlier ones sound better.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Black and White and Read All Over

I'm going to have to keep a list of where I find new possibilities. I visit so many blogs, write down prospective titles, and later don't remember where I found that particular title. At any rate, I just ordered several books:

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill and since I've seen it reviewed on several blogs, I'm eagerly awaiting its arrival.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, which I've read before, but so many years ago, I only remember that I like it. Makes a nice contrast to the Susan Hill novel, eh?

Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, and I don't remember who had these on her R.I.P. list.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Map of Glass - Jane Urquhart

"He is an older man walking in winter. And he knows this. There is white everywhere and a peculiar, almost acidic smell that those who have passed through childhood in a northern country associate with new, freshly fallen snow. He recognizes the smell but cannot bring to mind the word acidic. Snow, walking, and winter are the best he can come up with..."

"It might have been more than an hour ago that he remembered, and then forgot, the word island. But even now, even thoughtthe word for island has gone, he believes he is walking toward a known place."

This is a novel about ecology. The relationship of man and place, the topography of a landscape, the result that occurs when an aspect of the landscape is destroyed through the gradual and residual effects of greed.

It is a novel of memory. The mining of memory for nuggets of joy or understanding, the turning from and denial of memory, the relentless loss of memory through disease.

The three main characters in the first and last sections are each concerned with landscape and changes in landscape, the structures man creates, the abandonment and decay of structures...but each approaches the landscape from a different perspective. Artist, historian, lover.

And all three are involved in the various aspects of memory, again from different perspectives, but at least two of the perspectives begin to merge and encompass each other, breaking out of their original strictures.

The middle section is a history - of place and of family - told through the journals of Andrew Woodman. This is the section that most reviews have called the heart of the novel, and it is interesting and important because Andrew's journals contain the stories of several generations.

For me, however, the first and last sections were equally, perhaps more, important ...because of the emphasis on the different aspects of memory and because of Andrew's loss of memory.

The book is not a fast read. I don't think the novel should be rushed, nor do I think it will appeal to everyone, but it is a timely novel for me. I will be looking for Urquhart's other novels.

(Jerome, the conceptual artist, has great admiration for Robert Smithson's Map of Glass)

Old Dark Houses and Sheridan Le Fanu

Finished A Map of Glass and liked it very much. Will review it later when I have more time. Have been a bit overwhelmed lately and very tired.

Started The Wyvern Mystery by Le Fanu, but although it initially looked to be a fast-moving read, things have definitely slowed down. The Aussie's made the movie in 1999 and PBS has a version.

Old Dark Houses is an essay that discusses the "old dark house genre" to which the novel belongs. An excellent essay for lovers of Gothic that takes you from earlier "old dark house" versions to more current ones. I love the conclusion:

Even after some 150 years, you can still find mysteries that echo back to the days of Sheridan Le Fanu and The Wyvern Mystery. By now, though, you'd think young women would know enough to stay away from houses with names.

Some people never learn! Fortunately for those of us who enjoy the genre...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Name Game

How important are names in life and literature?

Movies influence so much in popular culture, but books do as well. This is an interesting post about a passage in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned and popular choices in children's names.

I've noticed more and more young people turning to old-fashioned names and the article mentioned Sophie and Max. My new grandson is named Max (after his great uncle) and friends of Erin and Eric have a little girl named Sophie.

I especially like animals named for characters in books - or even animals in books - Laura in Lolly Willowes names her cat Vinegar,and a friend in New Orleans years ago had two kittens named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

A literary trick that I enjoy is giving characters names that relate to their character, situation, behavior, etc. Dickens did this in a very obvious manner, and we certainly tend to remember these characters. Other authors are more subtle, and only after getting to know the character do we realize how much the name reveals.

Who are some literary characters whose names have made it into popular culture? Who knows animals who have a literary connection? What examples of literary names can you think of that have the Dicken's "twist"?

Monday, September 18, 2006

R.I.P. #4 The Haunted Hotel

First published in 1879 in Belgravia Magazine, The Haunted Hotel: A Mystery of Modern Venice is set in 1860. At only 127 pages, the blurb says it is "perhaps [Collins'] last lucid effort (before ill health and opium drained his powers)." It is a fast-paced little novel that may have been based on an actual French crime. Collins' version has a mysterious countess, a murder, a secret room, a dungeon converted to a chemistry lab, a ghost, and a love story.

Definitely not a feminist novel, both the heroine and the villainess ask forgiveness for their feminine frailties on more than one occasion. Although Collins may really have intended to create frail and sensitive women, both the heroine and villainess exhibit a good deal more strength of will than do their male counterparts, they just make sure to request patience with the weaknesses of their gender. A good book for a "dark and stormy night." Gothic and Victorian and fun.

I had no idea when I chose my books that 3 of them would be so short.
The Le Fanu novel is longer, I think. Having so many that are such quick reads means I can start considering which "bonus" books to read in the R.I.P. vein.

Interesting posts & links; A Map of Glass

A review of the book Artist of Wonderland: The Life, Political Cartoons, and Illustrations of Tenniel arouses my interest.

Bibliotherapy...great post that introduces a cure for so many things. Seems to have worked for SoManyBooks.

Dorothy W. commenting about Courtney's post on review styles. When do reviews get too scholarly?

This link (BBC) is full of fascinating stuff about books, poetry, and a project called "Telling Lives."

I am still so in love with A Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart. What lovely prose, what a fascinating journey into the lives of the characters. I read it slowly-- almost like nonfiction-- because, unlike many books where the plot encourages rapid reading, Urquhart's sentences and paragraphs slow me down and encourage me to ponder characters, settings, history, memory. I find myself wanting to linger, not rush to a conclusion.

Will finish The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins today. Really more of a long short story or novella than a full length novel. All the important Gothic elements here AND a Gothic sensibility. Fun, fast reading.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

September Reading

Ackroyd, Peter. The Lambs of London. Interesting, although the novel changes (without sufficient reason in at least one instance) some historical facts. The "discovery" of Shakesperian artifacts and a never-before published play provide the basis of this story. Described as a "romp," the novel has little to do with humor.

LeFanu, J. Sheridan. The Wyvern Mystery. First published in 1869. Neither spooky nor suspenseful. Characters are not sympathetic. Drags. The Brontes and Wilkie Collins offer much more, but Le Fanu was tremendously popular in his own time period. Uncle Silas and Carmilla may be better examples of his ability.

Ironside, Elizabeth. Death in the Garden. Review is here.

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Lolly Willowes. My review is here.

Meltzer, Brad. The First Counsel. Not impressed with the writing, the characters, or the plot.

Hodgson, William Hope. The House on the Borderland. I reviewed this here.

Marrs, Suzanne. Eudora Welty: A Biography. I ended up really appreciating this biography, warts and all. Although thoroughly researched and documented, the biography is terribly uneven. It could have been cut to half the length (the "datebook effect") and would have been much more entertaining and still informative. Eudora's close friends included Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Ann Porter, Reynolds Price, V. S. Pritchett, Robert Penn Warren; she was acquainted with nearly everyone on the writing scene from the 1940's forward... Cleanth Brooks, Ann Tyler, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, S. J. Perlman, and on and on. Even in her closest relationships, however, little is revealed. This may change when certain letters that were sealed in her Will are made available in 2021.

What is revealed is that Welty was not the sheltered, stay-at-home spinster that some have thought. She was widely traveled (an exhausting travel schedule), interested in all areas of the arts, and a generous friend and mentor. I especially enjoyed her lectures and literary criticism.

Awards: Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, eight O. Henry Awards, the National Medal of Literature, and the Medal of Freedom. She recieved 39 Honorary Degrees from various colleges and universities.

She loved two men, but never married. Her first love, John Robinson, vacillated between courtship and distance until realizing/admitting he preferred men. Her second love, Ken Millar (Ross MacDonald) was married. Their relationship was very strong, despite being conducted mostly in letters of deep friendship.

Near the end of her life, Eudora tells of a letter from an old friend: "She said, 'I'm 90 years old now, and I feel like there's somebody else living inside my skin and not a friend.' I loved that! Isn't that wonderful? I know what she means. I understand. I guess she feels her body is not obeying her. She didn't mean an enemy but not a friend.

Walters, Minnette. The Devil's Feather. Strangely, although the subject matter is as dark as usual, the novel didn't seem as dark as most Walters' novels. Connie Burns is a war correspondent who makes connections about the brutal murders of five women in Sierra Leone, and the appearance of a frightening mercenary who appears later in Baghdad. Her suspicions and inquiries lead to several invasions of her hotel room. Frightened she decides to leave Baghdad, but is kidnapped on her way to the airport and held captive for three days. On release, Connie refuses to talk and returns to England damaged and seeking seclusion.
Eventually, she rents a house in a remote area where, as she regains some stability, she begins researching the suspected murderer again...
An engrossing read that I found difficult to put down.

Thurlo, David and Aimee. Prey for a Miracle. Quick little mystery about a former journalist, now a nun, who solves mysteries. Sister Agatha is an extern nun who helps protect eight-year-old Natalie whose mother had been forced off the road and badly injured. Natalie manages to escape before the attacker can catch her. Another motorist arrives on the scene and the attacker escapes. Natalie claims she has a guardian angel, and Agatha's convent provides shelter until the villain can be identified and caught. Not much to it, but a fast read.

more on science fiction

After looking over the science fiction list posted below, I've been thinking about The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey which I read probably 15 years ago. It belongs in the science fiction genre, although many of McCaffrey's works are fantasy.

Here are the first few paragraphs from the short story McCaffrey later developed into the novel:

She was born a thing and as such would be condemned if she failed to pass the encephalograph test required of all newborn babies. There was always the possibility that though the limbs were twisted, the mind was not; that though the ears would hear only dimly, the eyes see vaguely, the mind behind them was receptive and alert.
The electro-encephalogram was entirely favorable, unexpectedly so, and the news was brought to the waiting, grieving parents. There was the final, harsh decision: to give their child euthanasia or permit it to become an encapsulated "brain," a guiding mechanism in any one of a number of curious professions. As such, their offspring would suffer no pain, live a comfortable existence in a metal shell for several centuries, performing unusual service to Central Worlds.

She lived and was given a name, Helva... More here

Helva becomes a "brain ship" (those who have read Robin Hobbs' Live Ship Traders trilogy will note some similarities); Helva is a space ship whose brain manages all details of flight and operation, an advanced and human instrument with "the voice of an angel."

I'm about to abandon Golden Boy since I will only read a few pages at a time. I'm really enjoying the beautifully written A Map of Glass.

Friday, September 15, 2006

R.I.P. # 3 Death in the Garden

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Elizabeth Ironside's Death in the Garden was a pleasure to read. Danielle, didn't you read this earlier this year? I really enjoyed Ironside's prose, and the two narratives, one in 1925 and one in current time.

Interesting that there are some similarities here with Lolly Willowes. The idea of a woman's place being at home in servitude to house and home and a self-righteous, domineering male are present in both. The differences in the novels are huge, for example, Laura's brother is domineering and conventional, but not in any way violent or verbally abuse as is George Pollexfen when crossed.

George's view that his wife should not have a career provides a catalyst for Death in the Garden.The story opens with Diana Pollexfen's unexpected acquittal of her husband's murder. No one is more surprised than she.... The story then quickly moves to the days preceding George Pollexfen's death and the arrival of various friend's for Diana's birthday.

Part III introduces Helena, a London solicitor, and her life in contemporary London. When her Great-Aunt Fox dies, Helena must go to Inglethorpe where she discovers that 67 years ago, her Great-aunt had been accused of the murder of her husband. When Helena realizes that she has inherited Inglethorpe, she decides she needs to know whether or not her Great-aunt was really guilty. Reading old journals, Helen realizes that she knows very little about her Aunt's life and sets about learning more in the hopes of proving her innocent.

Helen's life has its own complications that need to be resolved, but she is committed to her project, and aided by her cousin Simon and his wife Marta, she begins unraveling relationships in the past.

She often does not know what to make of the journals: " she read the extracts from different decades, Helena could not decide whether she was reading an honest account meant for no eyes but the writer's, a work of fiction, or a self-deception. Did anyone keep a diary meaning no one else to read it? She doubted it. It might be written as therapy, a means of objectifying one's life for one's self, but the act of writing, however secret, implied a reader, known or unknown, one day, sooner or later" (213).

Elizabeth Ironside (Lady Catherine Manning) is an author I want to read again, although I may have to search to find copies of her earlier books.
Here is a link to an interview on American University Radio. The interviewer's voice is ... well, annoying.

Interesting List

List of books for feminist science fiction, fantasy

I had only read 5 from that long list:

Octavia Butler. Wild Seed.
Leonora Carrington. The Hearing Trumpet
Charlotte Perkins Gilman. "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Mary Shelley. Frankenstein
Sylvia Townsend Warner. Lolly Willowes, or, The Loving Huntsman (1925)

A number of the titles listed sounded quite interesting, a few were familiar, but most were absolutely new to me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

the keep

I'm evidently one of the few unimpressed by Jennifer Egan's The Keep. The style has been compared to Chuck Pahlahniuk's, and perhaps that is a key; certainly not one of my favorite styles. A few gothic elements do not a real Gothic Novel make, she said disappointedly. Obviously, the novel did have an influence, she said wryly.

There are elements I like:
  • the incident that changes life for Howard and Danny, sending them in separate directions. The "loser" becomes a winner and the "winner" becomes a loser, trying to forget the role he played and punishing himself. This psychological twist is interesting and believable.
  • the Gothic elements that are (as it turns out) only partially developed. There are scenes, incidents, characters in this portion that aroused my interest, but were never fully fleshed.
  • the story within the story, as Ray writes the story of Danny and Howard is a good concept, I think. I t has an intriguing aspect as the reader debates the role Ray plays/played.

But overall, the novel wasn't satisfying and was often annoying. When quotations marks and tags are deleted and more than two voices are taking part, the narrative is slowed down. Egan has received some acclaim for breaking rules, I just don't feel that the rules she breaks (for example, the dialogue) are beneficial, stimulating, or thought provoking.

Close to the end, my interest mounted, but I still felt dissatisfied. And then there was another ending...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Loving Huntsman (or "a room of her own")

Interesting tid bit:
1926 - The Book-of-the-Month Club in New York City chose as its first selection, "Lolly Willowes" or "The Loving Huntsman" by Sylvia Townsend as the offering to its 4,750 members.

I didn't realize that the Book-of-the-Month club started in 1926. Wonder how many members it has now, 80 years later...

Finished Lolly Willowes, a strange little book; another short one -- only 222 pages. Approximately the first 100 pages cover LauraWillowe's life as first daughter, living at home until nearly 30, then maiden aunt, living in the small spare room in her brother's home.

At home with her father, Laura is content with reading and botany and her father's brewery. She is interested in neither marriage nor an active social life. Her life is not exciting, but pleasant.

On the death of her father, Laura finds herself taken over by her elder brother Henry's family who move her to London to live with them. Their intentions may have been good, but after trying and failing to set Laura up with a suitable mate, they begin to rely on her as a sort of nanny for their children. This portion of the novel is deadly slow and reveals the 20 years that "Aunt Lolly" lives a stagnant life without questioning it. Her sister-in-law Caroline "was a good woman and a good wife. She was slightly self-righteous, and fairly rightly so, but she yielded to Henry's judgment in every dispute, she bowed her good sense to his will and blinkered her wider views in obedience to his prejudices" (50-51).

Laura thinks that "the law had done a great deal to spoil Henry. It had changed his natural sturdy stupidity into a browbeating indifference to other people's point of view. He seemed to consider himself briefed by his Creator to turn into ridicule the opinions of those who disagreed with, and to attribute dishonesty, idiocy, or a base motive to every one who supported a better case than he. This did not often appear in his private life, Henry was kindly disposed to those who did not thwart him by word or deed. His household had been well schooled by Caroline in yielding gracefully, and she was careful not to invite guests who were not of her husband's way of thinking" (51).

Laura, however, after 20 years of occupying this empty existence decides to make a change. She announces her intention to move to Great Mop, and despite being forbidden to do so, she follows through with her plan.

At his point, the supernatural elements begin to make a gradual entrance, and Laura discovers she is a witch by avocation.

The novel depicts a woman's struggle for independence, in a time that still views women only in circumscribed and conventional roles. Laura becomes a witch to escape this role and "to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out others..."

The devil appears, but not the demon we might expect. Not the "Wild Huntsman" of myth, but "The Loving Huntsman" who protects his own. Laura is not a typical witch, but a woman whose decision to take control of her own life could only have been achieved with supernatural help.

Information about The Wild Huntsman and the Wild Hunt can be found here. (I'm always gonna' go with folklore and myth.)

And this source: In other places the Hunter was not a God, but the leader of the fairies, such as Gwyn ap Nudd who was seen as the leader of the Welsh fairies (the Tylwyth Teg) and who led the Hunt in Wales and the West of England. [3] Toward the end of the middle ages, however, the Wild Hunt became more and more associated with witchcraft. Instead of saying that the Hunt was led by a spirit of God and featured many other spirits, it began to be said that witches participated in the Hunt and that their leader was either Satan himself or a demonic spirit. This belief also seems to have become muddled up with the idea that Witches rode in procession to Sabbats upon animals, or flew in the sky, and this idea became one of the major charges used in European witch hunts.
The Wild Hunt is a popular and very long lasting myth, perhaps arising out of the pre-Christian Pagan religions of Europe, and it is remarkable that it managed to survive being associated with Witchcraft during the witch mania. Herne and his counterparts have rightly been rescued from children's tales and brought back to be a positive male image in Paganism, which sometimes seems in danger of being unbalanced by an over-concentration on the female aspects of the Divine.

So Sylvia Townsend Warner has managed to associate a woman's independence with Satan (how dare a woman assert herself...unless the devil made her do it), and has chosen the Loving Huntsman as a means to remove Laura from a controlling, conventional family.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mark Haddon and Eudora Welty

First: I guess no wanted a copy of House on the Borderland; the only response was Carl, who offered to mail his copy as well! Maybe my review was discouraging... However, the offer still stands, if anyone is interested.

I really loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and was pleased to see that he had a new novel out, A Spot of Bother. The reviews have been quite good, and then on my favorite NPR, an interview with Haddon! He also writes poetry.

In my long list of books I want to read is Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings. Tedious as much of the biography was, I found some sections so interesting that I want more. Welty's lectures were the most vivid parts of the book for me, and I find myself thinking about them even now. The lectures were part of a series and are a form of personal and literary memoir.


Who would like my copy of The House on the Borderland? Let me know, and I'll send you my email address --so you can send your mailing address privately.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

I know most of you are familiar with The Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest, but just in case you want to can follow the above link. Fits in with the current R.I.P. theme, doesn't it? How utterly familiar is the phrase "...a dark and stormy night..." ?

Finished the Welty biography; it certainly increased my admiration of Eudora as author and woman, although the slow spots were really slow. Will review later.

I've started 2 more books-- Lolly Willowes from the R.I.P list and one by Brad Meltzer because I heard him interviewed on NPR. Here is a link to the NPR site; click on the "Listen" if you'd like to hear the interview. I didn't hear the whole thing and plan to listen to it later, but the fact that Meltzer was invited to a think tank to help flesh out information on possible terrorist attacks caught my attention.

I'm reading Meltzer's The First Counsel, and while I find certain details about the White House interesting, I'm not much impressed with his characters. Doesn't mean I don't want to know what happens!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

One Down

Finished The House on the Borderland and will point you to Carl's review of this short novel. My favorite character was Pepper, the dog. From what I've read about H.P. Lovecraft, it is not surprising that he was drawn to this short, strange work, considering it a classic. I didn't find it frightening, really, but strange and strangely disconnected. At only 137 pages, it was a quick read, and I'm glad I read it for the sense of putting it in a chronology of the genre. In spite of the many Gothic elements (brooding protagonist, supernatural occurrences, ruined Gothic architecture, terror, mystery, subterranean passages, etc.) the book seems more at home with science fiction. Frankenstein also walks this line between Gothic/science fiction. Lovecraft spoke of his work as "cosmic horror," and I think that must have been what attracted him to The House on the Borderland.

Conclusion: Although I didn't really like the book much, I did find it interesting--especially given the time of publication (1908). The novel seems to be part of the development of a sub-genre. Shelley's Frankenstein led to H.G. Wells, to Hodgson and eventually to Lovecraft...a kind of Gothic science fiction.

My R.I.P. books are here...

They arrived yesterday! I started House on the Borderland last night, and as it is very short, I should work my way through pretty quickly. I skipped Carl's review because I wanted to read the novel before getting any more details.

One interest I have in this novel is that it was an influence on Lovecraft (who had a huge influence on many authors). I've never read anything by Lovecraft, but his name surfaces all the time. He was a character in The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril which I reviewed here -- Blackstone the Magician is another name that I frequently come across in other reading; in fact, Eudora Welty mentions having seen him perform when she was a child.

Speaking of Welty, I'm almost through with the biography. I did try skimming some of the "datebook" type paragraphs, but wasn't very successful. I've come to admire Welty as a person and, although the biography has many dull spots, the research is impeccable and thorough.

Golden Boy has taken a back seat as I've waded through Welty's life and digressed to fiction, but as soon as I finish Welty, I'll return to it.

Yesterday, on Bayou Quilts, I wrote about Self-University and think a self-directed study of the Gothic novel might be fun since I'm involved with the R.I.P. challenge and have several appropriate books at my fingertips. Also, reading blog entries on the challenge provide another kind of research, don't you think?

Since I taught Dracula, at one time I did some reading in this area. In fact, the background reading and critical analyses on the novel were almost more interesting than the novel itself, adding so much about the historical aspects and the Stoker's contemporary Victorian culture. I despised the most recent film version which took WAY to many liberties, altering the original concept.

Those who are reading Dracula, I'd love to read your reviews since I don't need to worry about pre-reading influence.

Monday, September 04, 2006

On Children's Literature and a disturbing trend

In today's world, childhood is a very brief episode that too quickly slides into "pre-adult." There are too many (and many too obvious) examples to mention concerning the curtailing of childhood and the headlong rush into adult clothing and activities.

In Let Sleeping Beauties Lie an article by Dorothea Israel Wolfson for The Claremont Institute, Wolfson reviews the The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature: The Traditions in English and castigates the editors who have opted for current political correctness in assembling the works for this anthology. According to Wolfson, "It is not so much an anthology as a postmodernist manifesto."

And more of Wolfson's legitimately outraged review:

As the editors declare in the preface, "In our choice of texts and in our introductions, we have paid close attention to…perceptions of race, class, and gender, among other topics, in shaping children's literature and childhood itself." Practically every text and every author (save for the "emergent") is subjected to a wicked scolding from the editors for its racism, sexism, and elitism. Forget about ogres, witches, monsters, and evil stepmoms; today's villains are gender stereotypes, white males, the middle class, and the traditional family. Retrograde literature must therefore be replaced by a new one, one that is, as it were, beyond good and evil: "In our postmodern age, in which absolute judgments of 'good' and 'evil' are no longer easily made, the distinction between heroes and villains is often blurred."

The editors herald this as a great advance, one they wish to promote by burying the stories under a ton of commentary. To read a children's story out of context, say the editors, is so passé (so childish?): "Discourses such as reader-response theory, poststructuralism, semiotics, feminist theory, and postcolonial theory have proven to be valuable in analyzing children's books." Thus the editors introduce Fun with Dick and Jane by noting that the "world of Dick and Jane was the idealized image of white, middle-class America." The introduction to the chapter on "Legends," which includes The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, warns that "history has generally been written by the victors and the elites, who tend to view those like themselves—white males, for the most part—as heroes."

In the chapter on "Classical Myths," the editors ponder whether myths are being "kept alive" "by unreflective adults." After all, myths are prone to "strong gender stereotyping—females are passive, males are active.... The protagonists are devoted to a ruthless elimination of the 'other' and to a savagery that is scarcely tolerated" in other children's literature. The genre of domestic fiction—which includes works like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and The Bobbsey Twins—"showcased white middle- or upper-class families." But the editors are happy to report that "the genre has come to reflect ethnic, racial and class diversity." Nor are they above offering advice to would-be authors: "still more change would be welcome here."

And yet more:
Fairy tales, which have always dealt with dysfunctional families, especially wicked stepmothers, now take on a hard modern edge by tackling perhaps the last taboo, incest. The Norton Anthology contains ten versions of Little Red Riding Hood, beginning with Charles Perrault's classic and ending with Francesca Lia Block's Wolf (1998). Block, unlike Perrault, isn't satisfied with the sexual undertones and imagery of the original; her heroine is the victim of rape at the hands of her mother's boyfriend ("he held me under the crush of his putrid skanky body") whom she kills with a shotgun at her grandma's house. The editors tell us that this "story shows how a young girl can take charge of her life, while at the same time exposing the sado-masochistic ties that exist in many dysfunctional families."
Well, perhaps, but is this really a story for children? "Once upon a time" used to be a gateway to a land that was inviting precisely because it was timeless, like the stories it introduced and their ageless lessons about the human condition. But this invitation must now apparently read, "Once upon a time when women were powerless and exploited and white male hegemony ruled the world, and when the sky was dark…."
In a strange way, completely unappreciated by the anthology's editors, we have returned to the pre-Lockean age of children's literature. Locke wished to scrub stories clean of horrific images and premonitions of death—not because he was a naïf or a utopian, but because he believed it possible to build a more rational, humane world. The Norton editors break with him on this central issue. They do not believe in the possibility of a more rational world, or even, it would seem, in childhood itself. And so they have more in common with the New England Primer than they dare to admit. They, too, are obsessed with death and the apocalypse, only they don't believe in redemption.

I know...I quoted an awful lot--and still provided a link-- :) You could have and still can go directly to the article and read for yourself, but this trend in children's literature bothered me when my children were young and bothers me even more today. Not that this anthology is intended for children, but it influences those who will teach them...

Talking to your books?

Interesting article on marginalia in John Adam's books.

What he most dislikes is breezy confidence; the pieties of both left and right set him off. Adams read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Discourse on Inequality” in translation. “Savages are not bad,” Rousseau wrote of the state of nature, for “the calmness of their passions and their ignorance of vice . . . prevents them from doing ill.” Adams: “Calmness of the passions of savages! ha! ha! ha!”

:) Ha! Ha! Ha! Centuries don't much change human nature, but thinking of John Adams adding the "ha! ha! ha!" makes me laugh.

Centuries after the invention of printing, millenniums after the invention of writing, literature still has many of the features of an oral/aural experience. We read books aloud, or listen to them on tape. John Adams talked to his books, ideas and authors becoming characters in a continuing free-for-all in his head. We don’t know if he spoke to himself as he made his jottings, but it’s hard to imagine him (“foolish woman”) writing in perfect silence.

Dovegreyreader scribbles recently posted on the topic of marginalia...who does, who doesn't, and why.

Still working on my biographies, but with typical interruptions for two mysteries: Prey for a Miracle and The Devil's Feather. Reviews are here.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

On book covers and book choices

An interesting post over at Carl V.'s blog on book covers. I've mentioned before that both covers and titles are important to my book choices, and this post illustrates the differences in opinions. Ruth and Booklogged seem to have expressed some of my own views on covers, and it's interesting to see those whose opinions are quite different. You really can't judge a book by its cover, but we all do a good bit of choosing or rejecting a book by its cover.