Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I was unsure how to begin my review of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol published 1843 because after completing the novel I realized that I preferred the 1951 film version starring Alistair Sim.  I felt bad about that since Charles Dickens isn't just any author.  But I think the reason I preferred the 1951 film, which I have seen many times, is it's a pretty accurate retelling of the novel and so once I got around to reading the book I didn't find alot new to discover.

Then too, there is Alistair Sim's marvelous portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge, putting all other Scrooge portrayals to shame.  In comparison, the Scrooge we meet in the novella needed to be fleshed out more in my opinion.  One scene from the movie for example is missing from the book and I think it needed to be there.  It's the scene in which Ebenezer, in his late twenties, is standing by the bedside of his sister Fan, the only relative who loved him.  She is dying having just given birth to a son, Ebenezer's nephew Fred, who Ebenezer will go on to blame for her death. 

That scene is missing from the novel and without it it's harder to see why Scrooge turned out so bitter because despite the cruelty of his father, Ebenezer goes on, at least in his early years, to have a good life.  He becomes an apprentice to the jolly and generous, Mr Fezziwig.  Ebenezer becomes engaged to a young woman he loves named Belle but years later she breaks up with him because she states that Ebenezer's love of money has replaced her in his heart.  But how do you go from Mr. Fezziwig and Belle to Ebenezer becoming so hard?  The interim death of Fan is the most logical explanation.  The book hints at this but the film is quite clear.

All of this said I am glad I read A Christmas Carol for my 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge - choose a classic novella.  I have also read Great Expectations and though I have yet to find the Dickens' book with my name on it so to speak and may never do so I so admire Dickens.  I was reminded of why when I was turning the channels and came upon commentators on Fox gloating about the flack Democrats are taking for their medicare for all proposal.  I might even be open to the GOP explaining why medicare for all wasn't feasible if they hadn't spent decades trying to make medicare for none a reality and they are still trying.

Charles Dickens in contrast never forgot where he came from no matter how successful he became.  He never forgot what it was like to be poor, particularly a child growing up in poverty.  As Scrooge's nephew Fred tells his uncle at one point:

There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round - apart from the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys". 

It has been said that with his novel A Christmas Carol, Dickens pretty much invented Christmas as we have come to know it today, the family get togethers, the sumptous food, the dancing, the singing and the spirit of reaching out and being a little nicer to each other during the Holiday season.  It shows the power a novelist could have back in the 19th century and how we could use a novel to come along today that speaks  to these times and the dilemna we find ourselves in but novelists no longer have that sort of influence on the culture as they once did.  Thankfully we still have great authors like Charles Dickens whose books still speak to us about what's going on.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden

Stored in my kindle and around my apartment are loads of unread books and this year I vow to change that.  So, first up from my backlist pile is Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden published 1939.  I discovered this novel and author through a website I subscribe to, Early Bird Books.  The plot of Black Narcissus which centers around a group of nuns living in an isolated corner of the world and the challenges they face sounded interesting.  I knew that an acclaimed movie had been made of this book.  Would the novel also be worthwhile?

And so when Black Narcissus begins it's the early 20th century.  A small group of Anglican sisters has been sent by their religious order, the Servants of Mary, to a remote region in he Himilayas to start a girl's school and a medical clinic.  The nuns have been invited to do so by General Toda Rai who owns most of the land in the area including the Palace at Mopu where the sisters will house their school and medical clinic.

General Rai wants to bring progress and education to the local people. He is also embarrassed by the Palace at Mopu where his father when he was alive kept his wife and concubines.  By inviting the nuns into the palace, which they rename the convent of St Faith, the General  hopes to erase the memories of what went on there.  But as the book progresses it becomes clear that the divide between the nuns and the local Hindu population is not going to be bridged.  The local people have been living their way of life for thousands of years and are happy to continue doing so.  Instead it will be the nuns who are shaken by their life in the Himilayas: the beauty and sensuality of the region,  the people, the culture, the hard work building the school and the isolation begin to affect the sisters profoundly, testing their faith.

Sister Ruth for starters is unbalanced and should never have been sent on this journey.  Sister Honey loves the children she cares for but gets too involved which leads to trouble.  Sister Philippa becomes obsessed with creating a beautiful and expensive garden, neglecting her other duties and then there is Sister Clodagh the young Sister Superior.  Mother Dorothea before sending Sister Coldaugh to the Himilayas expresses her doubts to a colleague about the young nun:

She has always felt herself just a little better than anyone else.  What makes it so hard to deal with, is the fact that she undoubtedly is.  She has great gifts and one can't deny it.  But one day I think she'll learn to know herself.  I have always found it wiser to let God teach his own lessons in his own time".

Sister Clodagh is the central character in this novel and a good part of the book takes place inside her thoughts which begin to drift back  to her years as a young girl in  Ireland.  I liked Sister Clodagh and another character that interested me was Mr. Dean, General Rai's English overseer tasked with helping the nuns build the convent.  The sisters meet Mr. Dean on the first day of their arrival, a handsome man with an amusing smirk on his face about what the sisters have gotten themselves into.  He's been living by himself in this remote region for years, knows the dialect, the people and the customs.  Mr. Dean doesn't have any desire to go back to England and one senses, as with Sister Clodagh, that there's a story there, that he's running from something.

I enjoyed Black Narcissus.  There is a haunting quality to this book.  You feel as you get deeper into the novel that a crisis is coming, you just don't know what form it will take.  Rumer Godden does a good job in creating intriguing characters and her descriptions of the beauty of the Himilayas is also well done. I closed Black Narcissus thinking that I would like to investigate what else Rummer Godden has written because she tells a good story..

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

My Book Choices for 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge

Here are the twelve novels I plan to read this year for the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge and thanks again to Karen K at Books and Chocolate for hosting this event.

19th Century Classic -  The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope - I have been introduced to Trollope through Brian Joseph's excellent book blog, Babbling Books, and so this year I will read what many consider to be one of Trollope's best novels.

20th Century Classic -  Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I loved the first novel in Wilder's Little House Series and Farmer Boy is book two which I'm pretty certain I will love as well.

Classic by a Woman Author  - Excellent Women by Barbara Pym - Ruthiella at Booked for Life, Lark at Lark Writes On Books and Life and JaneGS at Reading Writing Working Playing are all Pym fans and that's all the encouragement I need to give Pym a try.

Classic in Translation -  The Wreath by Sigrid Undset - Never read her but I have been hearing about Undset's acclaimed Kristin Lavransdatter saga for some time now and The Wreath is book one in that series.

Classic Comic Novel - The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse.  Skimmed Jeeves In The Morning many years ago and Bertie Wooster is hysterically funny without even realizing it.

Classic Tragic Novel - Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad.  A great novel about how we may think we know how we'll behave in a crisis but until the crisis hits, we really don't know.  Been described as a novel of guilt and atonement.

Very Long Classic  - The Adventures of Augie Marsh by Saul Bellow - Years ago I read a bit of Dean's December but Augie Marsh is the novel Bellow is most known for, one of the great novels and novelists of the 20th century.

Classic Novella -  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - I have seen the movie starring Alistair Sim many times.  A marvelous story about how it's never too late to turn one's life around for the better.

Classic from the Americas or the Caribbean  -  A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul.  This novel is set in Trinidad.  I read Naipaul's A Turn in the South years ago which I was quite impressed with and so I am looking forward to A House for Mr. Biswas.

Classic from Africa, Asia or Oceania (includes Australia) -  The Good Earth by Pearl Buck which is set in China where many of Pearl Buck's novels take place.  Read it possibly in high school and the novel made a big impression and so I'm hoping that will still be true when I read it again after all these years.

Classic From A Place You've Lived  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  Okay, I've never lived in Brooklyn but I have lived in New York City for most of my life and Brooklyn is a borough within NYC so I figure I'm covered.

Classic Play - Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.  Not proud of the fact that this is the only Shakespeare play I've ever read and it helped that our high school English teacher walked us through it line by line.  So I have decided to reread Julius Caesar to see how much I retained.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read my reviews here at Reading Matters.  It means so much to me and I wish everyone a Healthy and Happy New Year.  Now, on to the reading!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 Back To The Classics Challenge - Wrap Up

Thanks to Karen K at Books and Chocolate for hosting the 2018 Back To the Classics  Challenge.  It was my first year taking the challenge and I am happy I did.  So, here are my wrap up thoughts for each of the 12 classics that I read in 2018:

1. 19th Century Classic - New Grub Street by George Gissing.  My favorote book from the 2018 Classics Challenge set in the publishing world of 1880's London, a world in which talent plays second fiddle to how well one's books can sell.

2.  20th Century Classic - Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurtson is right up there with New Grub Street as being my favorite novel from the 2018 Classics Challenge.  For me its a novel about love and the scene I will remember is Janie Crawford standing outside her house looking up at the sky for a sign from God about why he would do this terrible thing to her and her beloved husband Tea Cake.

3. Classic by A Woman Author - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I felt this was an exceptional novel dealing with some important issues, alcoholism, spousal abuse, child custody and the importance of who you marry.  These are issues just as relevant today as they were in Victorian times.

4. Classic in Translation - The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio is one of the classics of the Middle Ages and set during the time of the Black Death.  The novel consists of a total of 100 stories told by ten young people who have moved to the country outside Florence to escape the plague   It's amazing how forward thinking Boccaccio was not only for his time but some of his stories would have the censors howling today!

5. Classic of Children's Literature - Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I loved it.  It's the first book in Wilder's acclaimed Little House on the Prairie series and though I have a tendancy not to finish a series, this time it will be different.

6. Classic Crime Story - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  I was expecting to like the book more than I did but when ten characters secluded on an island start dying off there isn't much time for character development.  Mostly though I didn't like the vigilante theme in which one character plays God.  But Christie is a major talent and I love Hercule Poirot.

7. Classic Travel or Journey Narrative - I chose Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan about a man who goes on a religious pilgrimage leaving his home so that he can  make his way to the Celestial City (heaven).  This is a major classic and some say a candidate for the first English novel (published 1678).  A great work of literature, although a rather fearsome view of God.

8. Classic With A One Word Title - Belinda by Maria Edgeworth is a novel Jane Austen admired so much that she has one of her characters mention Belinda favorably in Northanger Abbey.  Austen was right about this book and Lady Delacour in particular is a character you want to meet. 

9. Classic With A Color In The Title - The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.  Published in 1958 and winner of the prestigious Newbery Medal for children's literature.  I enjoyed the book set in 17th century New England.  A book like this can inspire kids to find out more about what life was like in Puritan times.

10 Classic By An Author New to You - The Trial by Franz Kafka.  Kafka writes in a very understandable prose style and I really appreciate that.  As with Camus's The Stranger what Kafka was trying to say in the Trial is open to interpretation.  It's a disturning book but I finished the novel wanting to know more about Kafka and maybe check out his diaries and short stories.

11 A Classic That Scares You - The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner.  I finished this book annoyed.  A stream of consciousness novel narrated in large part through the thoughts of a character with the mind of a three year old.  I knew I was in trouble from the first page and apparently I'm not the only one.  There is now a color coded version of tbis book so that the reader can more easily figure out who is narrating each part.

12. Reread A Favorite Classic - Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.  Held up very well, although Lennie not as I remembered.  In 2019 I would like to reread another great Steinbeck book Travels With Charley.

That's the wrap up and I have decided to take the 2019 Challenge and post my book choices in about a week or two.  A Happy and Healthy New Year to All and thank you for visiting my book blog.  I really appreciate it.