Another book haul and “a whale of a read-along”!

Books. Why are they so irresistible?!
 
I was out whole day today with my best friend. We did some shopping and eating and of course, book buying. Somehow our outings together are never complete until we've picked up something from a book store. This evening I came home with these:
I picked them up from a second hand book store.
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë – A few months ago I had a poll regarding which C. Brontë book to read after Jane Eyre, and most folks suggested Villette. So, here I am, finally, with my own copy. When I'm going to read it is another matter all together!
  • The Mabinogion translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones – This one is a collection of “eleven Welsh stories which are among the finest flowering a of the Celtic genius and, taken together, a masterpiece of medieval European literature.” I this is a lovely find and look forward to reading it.
  • The Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer – The last time I read this one was many years ago. It's the sequel to These Old Shades and I'm glad to add it to my Heyer collection. ^^
  • Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton – A classic. It's African. I have read hardly anything from that side of the world. I'm curious.
  • The Baby and Toddler Treasury - Oh! This one is a gem of a find, I think! I love the illustrations and the fact that it has all the nursery rhymes that I grew up singing. I already sing a few of them to my sons. I hope to brush on the other rhymes I have forgotten so that I might share them with the boys. :D Here' s a sneak peek at the book:
 

And then there's THIS:
Ever since I read the first nine chapters of this book online, I have been meaning to get myself a copy to finish it. I find I like Melville's writing style and I was drawn into the story from “Call me Ishmael.” Adam's call for others to join him in a group read of Moby Dick inspired me to buy this book the moment I saw it at the store today. I am really excited about reading this with others, and I look forward to what the book discussions might bring. :)
 
 

The Celtic Twilight

The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and FolkloreThe Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore by W.B. Yeats

“Celtic” and “twilight” — two such pretty words; and when I found them together in a title by W.B. Yeats I simply had to give it a try. When I began reading The Celtic Twilight I was expecting a collection of faerie tales. It proved to be a collection, alright, but it was more a book of articles or scribbles jotted down as and when Yeats got a hold of a story. These stories were mostly reports on what faerie legends and experiences he had gathered from Irish peasants, for the most part. One gets the sense of pride with which Yeats reports his findings, as he explores the grass roots of Irish tradition and superstition.

There is a lot of the Catholic religion mixed up in the stories of the Sidhe, but the poor Irish folk seem only to deem this natural. Yeats says of the Highlanders who share similar folklore, “You have discovered the faeries to be pagan and wicked. You would like to have them all up before the magistrate. In Ireland warlike mortals have gone amongst them, and helped them in their battles, and they in turn have taught men great skill with herbs, and permitted some few to hear their tunes.”

Almost every chapter in this book is not more than two pages long. Some being only the length of half a page or even a quarter. All of these articles are written like newspaper reports and so there seems to be discrepancies in some stories while others were a bit garbled here and there. The last but one chapter, “By the Roadside” was the only ‘story’ in the book, and to me it sounded like a mixture of well-known fairy tales. I was able to identify tales like “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Jack-the-Giant-Killer”, a male version of “Cinderella” and two or three other tales. Again, I’m not sure whether it was my copy or that, in general, this story could have undergone some good editing, but it was interesting enough.

So, then…what did I think of The Celtic Twilight? It was interesting, rather disturbing in some places — I was a little puzzled at first about Yeats’ view on all this folklore, for at times it looked like he did have religious views about them. But these instances were fleeting and most of the time he seemed to extol the virtues of the simple minded peasants that allowed them to experience the faerie world. He sounded regretful of not being able to experience these for himself. I found it eerie at times, as such stories of the real faerie are wont to do, I think. And the book did manage to create the atmosphere for a “celtic twilight”.

Below is a quote that, I think, expresses Yeats’ feelings about his Irish folklore:

The voices melted into the twilight and were mixed into the trees, and when I thought of the words they too melted away, and were mixed with the generations of men. Now it was a phrase, now it was an attitude of mind, an emotional form, that had carried my memory to older verses, or even to forgotten mythologies. I was carried so far that it was as thougth I came to one of the four rivers, and followed it under the wall of Paradise to the roots of the trees of knowledge ad of life. There is no song or story handed down among the ottages that has not words and thoughts to carry one as far, for though one can know but a little of their ascent, one knows that they ascend like medieval genealogies through unbroken dignities to the beginning of the world. Folk art is, indeed, the oldest f the aristocrats of thought, and because it refuses what is passing and trivial, the merely clever and pretty, as certainly as the vulgar and insincere, and because it has gathered into itself the simplest and most unforgettable thoughts of the generations, it is the soil where all great art is rooted. Wherever it is spoken by the fireside, or sung by the roadside, or carved upon the lintel, appreciation of the arts that a single mind gives unity and design to, spreads quickly when its hour is come.

Have you read The Celtic Twilight or anything to do with Irish folklore? What do you think of their faerie lore?

On How My Opinions of Eliza Bennet and Darcy Have Changed

Auguste Reading to Her Daughter by Mary Cassatt 1910

 

Rereading a favourite classic at different stages of your life gives you different insights with each reading. Is there one classic you’ve read several times that also tells a story about you? (Classics Club: September Meme)

I beg your pardon, but I must go back to Austen. I MUST!

Pride and Prejudice is the Austen novel I have read the most. It was my first major unabridged novel. I devoured it when I was twelve, and it immediately became my go-to book everytime I wanted something to relax with. I cannot tell you how many times I've read it piece-meal. I must have read it from cover to cover about seven or eight times throughout the last eighteen years.

For most of those times I loved Elizabeth and Darcy. I loved that they got together in the end. (Who doesn't?!) Darcy was the epitome of what I thought a hero ought to be – tall, dark, handsome, slightly haughty, but with a kind heart just waiting to revealed when the right heroine came along. Darcy, in other words, fulfilled my girlish dreams and fantasies about what I thought the perfect man was. As for Elizabeth, I thought she was lovely. She was the kind of person I would have loved to have as a friend – so bright and witty and gay (in the conventional sense of the word).

For years I was content in the knowledge that Elizabeth and Darcy were two among my most favourite literary characters.

And then…I re-read it yet again sometime last year. I was re-reading it then after some three years, I think, and hot on the heels of my first reading of Sense and Sensibility. I found, for the first time, how much disenchanted I was with the two of them. It was a rather sad and depressing discovery, to be honest. But try as I could I simply wasn't able to re-capture the old pull I had towards these two well-known characters. I found myself being picky about Elizabeth. I found, in place of all her wit and charm, a young woman with a caustic, gossipy tongue, and too many unfounded opinions that she had no qualms about sharing with anybody. I found her extremely judgemental (and not only of Darcy) – much like Marianne of Sense and Sensibility.

As for Darcy, while I did not hold his character is aversion as I did Elizabeth's, I found I couldn't really care at all about his romance with the second Bennet sister. On this reading, the story of this young couple simply didn't matter to me.

Since I got married five years ago my opinion of my perfect man has changed. Who wants a dark, handsome, aloof man with too much pride to look further than his nose at anybody and anything? I like goofy and humourous, gentle and kind, a man who isn't afraid to cry, to acknowledge his faults, to treat everyone with care and compassion; who loves to laugh and not act all macho all the time. And so, I found myself liking Bingley tremendously. I found it in myself to appreciate the gentle man that he is. I no longer found him insipid. Just a young man who saw the good in everybody (much like his Jane), and so easily trusted his more worldly wise friend and his sisters. I am very sure that he and Jane must have been so comfortable with each other, and incredibly happy.

But most of all, Jane Bennet became the focus of my attention in the novel. I began to admire her so much. She was a version of Elinor from Sense and Sensibility – kind, gentle, attentive to other people's feelings and moods, practical, down-to-earth, a quiet sufferer, emotionally strong and sound. I was amazed at how much I had missed of Jane during all those previous reads. Until my last re-read, I had thought her a rather boring character, especially when set beside her more lively sister. But now I can truly agree with Mrs Bennet when she says that Jane is the loveliest of her daughters, because she really is.

I strongly suspect had I re-read this book before I ever read Sense and Sensibility for the first time, that I might have missed much of the above. But, because I was fresh from reading the former, and my opinion was so fixed about the Dashwood sisters that the personalitties of the two older Bennet sisters stood out a great deal more. I felt I was really looking at the two of them for the very first time!

Perhaps this has also to do with the fact that my ideas of romance have changed over the past few years? Does the fact that I find it hard to read mere romances any more reflect that the standard hero and heroine have no place in my imagination any more? I am not entirely sure, but this is the drastic change I have experienced when re-reading Pride and Prejudice as an all-out adult.

 

 

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Allow me to start out with the misconceptions I had about this book.
1. I thought this was a story about an eight year old girl who is raped by some white guys, but the accused is an innocent black guy.
2. It was incredibly sad and depressing.
I cannot tell you how I got these impressions. But it was these two things that made me avoid the book like crazy.

Recently, though, I figured it would be a good idea to read those books I've been ignoring. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of them. Only last week the copy I ordered was delivered at my doorstep. I just finished it. You can see I have given it five stars.

I enjoyed it so much! It is a story written from the perspective of a little girl called Scout. We see a little out-of-the-way town, the foibles and idocycracies of its people through the eyes of a child. As a result there are many things that are so humourous but extremely profound.

The blurb at the back of my book says: A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

I must admit that that phrase puzzled me throughout the reading of this book. As it was, while the blurb seems to indicate that the book is about the trial of a falsely accused black man, it is actually a story of the Finches – father and children. Atticus is a lawyer and a widower, and so he brings up his son and daughter the best he can with the help of his black helper, Calpurnia. He is an upright man, determined that he is the same man both at home and in public. His children are all he has got, as he says, and it is his goal to always do the right by them, for them before them and at all times so that he never has to feel ashamed for the man he is.

In other words, Atticus Finch is a rare breed. And I believe that the “mockingbird” of this novel is Atticus Finch for he was a man who harmed no one but tried his best to make as many people as he could worth the living.

Atticus said to Jem one day, 'I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after the birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
'Your father's right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

I really enjoyed the element of mystery that surrounded the Radley House, and the end was a real surprise. As for the characters, I don't know that 'endearing' is the right word for me to use…I really liked them; respected them and enjoyed the variety of them. It was nice to go back into a child's mind, see the world in it's actual simplicity, and be reminded that it is only adults that make things so complicated. There were times when any character told the children they would understand something when they were grown up, I'd feel a twinge of sadness….they would become just another bunch of adults. But Atticus is a compassionate, sincere, sensible man, and it was interesting to see the manner in which he had chosen to bring up his children.

I was inclined to dislike, a bit, Atticus' sister, Alexandra. But she's fine when one realises the times she comes from, her breeding and the fact that she does have kind and affectionate heart. Maudie is a delightful character, and it was always a relief to know that the children could count on her once they got to know her.

As for the whole trial. I was more than half through the book when the trial was even mentioned. It lasted a handful of chapters, and while I can't say I wan on tenterhooks, as usual I found it fascinating when there's some lawyering in a story.

I would recommend this book to anybody and everybody. But then, it's a classic. It doesn't need me to recommend it, does it? :)

I have a question to those who have read this book – Whom do you think the 'mockingbird' in the title refers to? I'd really like to know.

Classics Club June Question: Favourite Opening Line.

It's been many months since I last answered a Classics Club question. This month's question had me really excited. Three quotes jumped into my mind almost at the same time! I'm sure they're all well known even if most haven't read the books.

  • “Call me Ishmail.” I haven't read above nine chapters in Moby Dick, but these three words…so common, so simple, so ordinary, and YET so lyrical. I love to say those three words aloud!
  • “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” You'll find this quote on my side bar as well! I loved it so much because I thought it encapsulated the protagonist's character so well, and gave me a sense of what to expect from him. This one opens Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche.
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Most know the first twelve lines that open this long sentence. I read this passage over and over and over again when I began A Tale of Two Cities, reading it aloud, and enjoying the rhythm and nuances of this passage. Dickens sets the stage and background in just a few lines, AND the mood is set. Just WOW.

 

 

Anne of Ingleside

Anne of Ingleside (Anne of Green Gables, #6)Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure, now, what it was that had put me off reading the sixth book in the Anne series. I was inclined to be querulous about it, to go all out and tear it to pieces. Perhaps it was the knowledge that this particular book was written years after the original six, and so I was afraid the old charm could not be maintained. Perhaps it was my experience of Anne of Windy Poplars which was the other book of the series that was written years after the original six — I had found it to be a bore, I had found it too saccharine, and there were just too many people and too many kindred spirits.

So, my experience through the first few chapters of this book was simply so-so. I had a moment of ranting when I wrote the following:

There are many times when I do dislike Anne Blythe. She is nice when it is convenient for her. And as long as folk are going along with her fantasies she is absolutely peachy. The incident of the obituary really put me off. So, here was a woman who wanted something pretty said of her dead husband. She obviously had loved him in her own way, and had understood that he was of a gentle, poetic nature, unlike herself who was something of a peasant woman. Wanting something special written about her husband, and not thinking the regular kind of obituary good enough for him, came to Anne Blythe. Anne writes a poetical piece, with no substance I might add, and gives it to the woman who says admiringly that it is 'sprightly' (which offends our poet who cannot understand a person who does not speak her language and interests). When the obituary is put in the papers it is found that there is an extra verse tagged on to the end of the poem, that is specific about what this man meant to his wife. Anne and the entire Ingleside household is offended. I thought that unfeeling and selfish. Anne Blythe gets on my nerves, she does! If a person isn't her kindred spirit then they are simply labeled unworthy of any consideration. BAH!

Looking back, I still see my point as valid, but…I realised that quite a bit of the episodes revolving around Anne (save the last one) I found rather annoying. However, most of the chapters in the books revolve around Anne's children. These chapters are an absolute delight. We grow to know the Ingleside children (except for Shirley, the third boy and last but one child of the family) deeply — their interests, their quirks, their little foibles, and troubles. Anne makes for a lovely mother. She always seems to know how to work with her children and help them solve their tiny-people problems. However, she isn't perfect, and I think the incident I loved best with Anne was the last one in the book with Gilbert. It was so normal. This was a normal marriage, where, when work takes over one's life, one can some times forget the simple pleasure of a loving spouse.

I think one can tell that once I was well into the book I began to relax and enjoy it all. I found I loved reading of the so many tales, the gossip and rumours about folks of Four Winds Harbour. I wondered what it would be like to live in the small town my parents have retired to. Exactly like Four Winds, no doubt! It's a place where one gets to hear what's happening in every single family. It's deliciously scandolour to go home and hear all the 'gossip'. This is the sort of book one should really enjoy for its everyday-ness, it's little stories that make up the lives of ordinary people in an ordinary society.

I am so eager to delve into the last two books of the series. Having got to know Jem, Walter, Di, Nan and Rilla in Anne of Ingleside, I am looking forward to adventuring with them through Rainbow Valley, and then re-acquainting myself with an older Rilla and Walter and Kenneth Ford in Rilla of Ingleside. This last book was my first of this series, and as I remember it, perhaps to remain my favourite. I hope.

 

The Classics Club: Question for February

What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?

 

I believe it has to be Three Men in a Boat.

Mom had this book in her shelf for years and years and I never bothered to pick it up because…well…three men in a boat doesn't really sound like much fun. For one thing, I know nothing of boats. For another, a story about three men confined in one space? How boring!….or so, I had thought until I finally picked up this book.

I cannot tell you what prompted me to read it finally. I hadn't a clue what it was about, save for what the title said…and that it was humorous — though I was quite skeptical about that. (I had conveniently forgotten having read essays by Jerome K Jerome and finding them hilarious.)

However, having once picked it up I found myself laughing so much (more than I have done over a book in a very very long time!), nodding in agreement with much of J K Jerome's little snippets of life-sayings, and being quite blown away by how wonderfully, and beauteously poetical Jerome was prone to get. I was also quite startled to find that it was actually a creative travelogue of a journey down (or was it up?) the River Thames. Had I known this, again, I might never have touched this book. But having learnt of it only on the reading, I was really glad of it, and it has actually inspired me to pick up and read other creative travelogues! My first book in 2013 was Around India in 80 Trains, and I am hoping to read some William Dalrymple in the near future, plus I have also been inspired to give Around the World in 80 Days a go.

So, there you have it! In a nutshell — Three Men in a Boat which turned out to be a fun romp down the R. Thames and inspired me to start reading other creative travelogues.

Have any of you read Three Men in a Boat? What did you think of it? Do you read travelogues? What's your take on this non-fiction genre?