Category Archives: The Classics Club

Currently Reading: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

The book chosen from my booklist for The Classics Club Spin #18, was Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Not knowing anything about it (except a vague memory of Shirley Temple as Rebecca?), I was a little nervous about starting it, but that didn’t last for long! I’ve read two chapters and am captured by it. Actually, Rebecca seems to capture everyone who comes in contact with her, including me! How could I have missed reading this classic as I was growing up?

Classics Club Spin, August 2018

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin! Here’s how it works:

On Wednesday 1st August, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st August, 2018. We’ll check in here then to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!

What’s Next?

  • Go to your blog.
  • Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club List.
  • Post that list, numbered 1-20, on your blog before Wednesday 1st August.
  • We’ll announce a number from 1-20.
  • Read that book by 31st August.

This will be the third “Spin” I’ve done since I joined the Classics Club. The last spin was a fail for me. The book chosen just wasn’t the right one for me at the time, so I still haven’t finished it (I will, eventually). I’m hoping the book chosen for this Spin will be one in which I can get completely and delightfully lost. Here is my list of 20 books for Spin #18. The chosen book will be highlighted in red.

  1. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
  2. Kinfolk, Pearl S. Buck
  3. Ask Me, William Stafford
  4. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
  5. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  6. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  7. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  8. Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene
  9. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Kate Douglas Wiggin

  10. The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
  11. The Sussex Downs Murder, John Bude
  12. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
  13. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  14. Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston
  15. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  16. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  17. Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, Eleanor Perenyi
  18. The Lost Prince, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  19. Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway
  20. The Sea Runners, Ivan Doig

Classics Club Spin #17

It’s time for another “Spin” with The Classics Club! I am enjoying my reading of the classics I chose for my 5-year reading plan even though I’m running behind on writing my reviews. It’s a very enjoyable, non-pressured challenge, so if you are wanting to read more classics, you should join up!

Here’s how the “Spin” works:

Choose 20 books from your list of classics TBR and post that list on your blog before March 9th. On Friday, March 9th, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 30, 2018. 

So here is my Spin List.  It will be fun to see which number (and which book) is chosen in the “spin” on Friday, and I’ll return to this post then to highlight the book chosen.

Classic Spin #17:

  1. Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
  2. A River Runs Through It, Norman McClean
  3. Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz 

  4. The Chosen, Chaim Potok
  5. The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
  6. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
  7. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
  8. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene
  10. The Ramayana, Bulbul Sharma
  11. The Gaucho Martin Fierro, José Hernández
  12. The Measure of My Days, Florida Scott-Maxwell
  13. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  14. The Lost Prince,  Frances Hodgson Burnett
  15. The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
  16. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
  17. The Solitary Summer, Elizabeth von Arnim
  18. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  19. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  20. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

A Very Easy Death

A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.

A Very Easy Death, by Simone de Beauvoir, is a beautifully written, powerfully emotional account of her mother’s death and her own emotional journey through her mother’s illness and death.

At age 78, her mother fell and broke the top part of her femur. She was hospitalized and during examination, the doctors found that she had cancer. It was a highly aggressive sarcoma, and her illness and decline were rapid. Simone and her sister, Poupette, spent most of their time at the hospital with their mother throughout that time, and Poupette was there the night she died.

This is a story that so many of us have gone through with a parent or loved one. Because the journey through illness and decline is a familiar one, I was acutely aware and appreciative of the honesty with which de Beauvoir shared their story — the story of two daughters in the process of losing their mother, and of their mother’s struggle to LIVE while dying.

Before reading the book, I thought that the term “an easy death” meant that the person didn’t have to suffer very much before dying. My family used that term about my father’s passing. He didn’t suffer long with his illness, and we were so grateful for that. But that is not what de Beauvoir meant by “an easy death.”  On the contrary, her mother suffered terribly before she died, but she had her daughters with her throughout the decline, and they helped her, advocated for her, and shared courage together in facing the inevitable. That was a luxury that de Beauvoir felt many people don’t have at the end of their lives.

With regard to Maman we were above all guilty, these last years, of carelessness, omission and abstention. We felt that we atoned for this by the days that we gave up to her, by the peace that our being there gave her, and by the victories gained over fear and pain. Without our obstinate watchfulness she would have suffered far more.

She and her sister were with her mother constantly during her illness, so de Beauvoir also describes the very painful reality a loved one faces in going through the agony of cancer.

…In this race between pain and death we most earnestly hoped that death would come first.

…Friday passed uneventfully. On Saturday Maman slept all the time. ‘That’s splendid,’ said Poupette to her. ‘You have rested.’ ‘Today I have not lived,’ sighed Maman.

…Nothing on earth could possibly justify these moments of pointless torment.

And she poignantly details the final aloneness of death.

…The misfortune is that although everyone must come to this, each experiences the adventure in solitude. We never left Maman during those last days which she confused with convalescence and yet we were profoundly separated from her.

All the way through this book, I thought of my own mother.  Simone de Beauvoir’s mother was 78 when she died, which seems so young to me from my vantage point now. I am incredibly fortunate to still have my mother who is 98 years old and still very much alive and well! But she and I are also very aware that time is getting short, which gives a special aura to every conversation, every visit, every moment we share. She and I talk about the end quite often, and our shared hope is that it is quick and painless. I live 800 miles away from my mother, so I know it is possible I won’t be with her when that time comes, to help ease her final journey, and that is hard for me.

Nothing prepares any of us for death. Even if fighting a terminal illness, Simone de Beauvoir said: “A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.” Her mother clung tenaciously to life:

What touched our hearts that day was the way she noticed the slightest agreeable sensation: it was as though, at the age of seventy-eight, she were waking afresh to the miracle of living.

And on the finality of death itself, de Beauvoir said:

There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.

Simone de Beauvoir was a gifted author and influential existential philosopher. This was the first book I read by her, but I am very anxious now to read more of her work. I was so impressed with the beauty of her writing and with her deeply thoughtful honesty. With this book, she has touched my heart and mind like no other author has done in a long time.

Simone de Beauvoir with mother and sister…

This was a book that was on my list of 50 books to read for The Classics Club, and was also on my TBR Pile Challenge list.

The Rainbow and the Rose

As many of you know from my past blog posts, I love the stories of Nevil Shute. He describes things beautifully and doesn’t hurry through the telling. He takes care to build very human characters in interesting and believable situations that reveal their best qualities. His male characters are decent, kind and hardworking. His female characters are intelligent and hardworking, as well. I enjoyed reading The Rainbow and the Rose for exactly those reasons.

Nevil Shute was an aeronautical engineer, and his passion for planes and flying is in many of his books, including The Rainbow and the Rose. This story is about a pilot and a younger man he taught to fly some 30 years earlier…

That year we had a terrible July. I was sitting there one evening half asleep, listening to the radio and the wind outside and the rain beating on the window. The seven o’clock news was just coming on, and I stayed to listen to that before going in to tea. I sat dozing through all the stuff about Egypt and the Middle East, and all the stuff about the floods along the Murray. Then there came a bit that jerked me suddenly awake. The announcer said something like this:

‘It is reported from Tasmania that a pilot flying a small aeroplane upon an errand of mercy crashed this afternoon on a small airstrip on the west coast. The pilot, Captain John Pascoe, was attempting to land to bring a child into hospital, Betty Hoskins, aged seven, who is suffering from appendicitis. There is no practicable land route to the Lewis River and all communications normally take place by sea, but no vessel has been able to enter the river for the last ten days owing to the continuing westerly gales. Captain Pascoe is reported to have sustained a fractured skull.’

I was a bit upset when I heard this news. We all knew Johnnie Pascoe because for a time Sydney had been one of his terminals and he still passed through now and then. The world of aviation is a small one in Australia. But I knew him better than anyone, of course, because I had known him off and on for thirty years, ever since he taught me to fly in England at the Leacaster Flying Club.

That begins an intriguing story of how the main character attempts to rescue both the sick little girl and his seriously wounded pilot friend/mentor. This is an unusual story because the main character identifies so closely with his friend, and under the stress of repeated rescue attempts,  the two characters merge. It’s really quite intriguing how NS wrote this story. I liked it very much.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Classics Club Catch-Up

One of the nicest things I did for myself in 2017 was to join the Classics Club and set a goal of reading 50 classics in five years. (Click here to see my list of books chosen, and click on the graphic above to be transported to the Classics Club web site.) I am so glad I finally joined, and I’ve been happily reading some of the wonderful books from my list of 50. I have not, however, been very diligent about getting my reviews written! So in the next few weeks, I will be posting those missing reviews from my 2017 classics reading.

When the sun is shining and the temperatures are mild enough for me to spend time outdoors, I simply don’t spend as much time in my digital world. 2017 has been a year of gardening, walking long distances, and of soaking up vitamin D.  That’s my excuse anyway for my slow posting of reviews. But it is time to “catch up” with my responses to the classics I’ve read, and to continue on with my very enjoyable reading of the classics.

Forthcoming reviews:

  • The Rainbow and the Rose, by Nevil Shute (completed in April 2017)
  • Around the World in Eighty Days. by Jules Verne (completed in June 2017)
  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen (completed in December 2017)
  • The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad (Completed in December 2017)

Classics read and already reviewed this year:

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April Reflections

“Puddle” by M.C. Escher

April flew by so quickly this year! We continued to have record-breaking rains here in the Pacific Northwest throughout the month, but the temperatures moderated and there were days when we could finally get out in the garden and start cleaning up after such a long winter. Hubby and I spent two days in Silverton, Oregon, enjoying the early Spring beauty of the Oregon Garden and a short, but beautiful visit to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival.

My reading time slowed down but April was a good reading month anyway. I completed 8 books and a knitting project! My favorite book this month was the science fiction novella, Binti!  It was so well written and enjoyable, and I loved spending some time out of this currently crazy world. I enjoyed listening to another audiobook in Craig Johnson‘s Walt Longmire mystery series. And I loved reading more poetry during this National Poetry Month!  I also read and reviewed three books for The Classics Club, books chosen from my 50 books in 5 years list.

I always love April, and the beauty of the spring flowers and blossoms is wonderful after the darkness of our winters here. May will be a busy month, including a road trip to visit my 97 year old mother and many more days to spend outdoors in the garden and on long walks around town, but I’m looking forward to my May reading, as well.

 

Around town…

The Moorland Cottage

The Moorland Cottage, by Elizabeth Gaskell, begins with a lengthy and beautifully detailed description of the countryside location of the cottage where Maggie Browne and her brother, Edward, grew up.  Before you meet the characters in this story, you walk into their world along a country path. By the time you arrive at their moorland cottage, you have a very clear idea of their place in the world.

If you take the turn to the left, after you pass the lyke-gate at Combehurst Church, you will come to the wooden bridge over the brook; keep along the field-path which mounts higher and higher, and, in half a mile or so, you will be in a breezy upland field, almost large enough to be called a down, where sheep pasture on the short, fine, elastic turf. You look down on Combehurst and its beautiful church-spire. After the field is crossed, you come to a common, richly colored with the golden gorse and the purple heather, which in summer-time send out their warm scents into the quiet air. The swelling waves of the upland make a near horizon against the sky; the line is only broken in one place by a small grove of Scotch firs, which always look black and shadowed even at mid-day, when all the rest of the landscape seems bathed in sunlight…

…With something like the sudden drop of the lark, the path goes down a green abrupt descent; and in a basin, surrounded by the grassy hills, there stands a dwelling, which is neither cottage nor house, but something between the two in size. Nor yet is it a farm, though surrounded by living things. It is, or rather it was, at the time of which I speak, the dwelling of Mrs. Browne, the widow of the late curate of Combehurst.

Mrs. Browne is a grieving widow. Her daughter, Maggie is a gentle, kind soul, while her son, Edward, is a coddled, cowardly and cruel boy. Mrs. Browne dotes on her son while treating Maggie as a subservient, worthless female. Maggie’s is a cruel and harsh upbringing, but there is a strength in her that remains undamaged by the harsh conditions of her childhood. Her gentle spirit is recognized and appreciated by others, and in particular by another family, the Buxtons, friends of her late father. The Buxtons are well-to-do and privileged neighbors. The story is really about these two families, their likes and differences, and their connections over time.

I wasn’t sure at first if I would like this book very much, but I was quickly captured by Maggie’s kind spirit and her resiliency. The view of women’s lives through the lens of Mrs. Gaskell’s writing is sobering. Women had few rights. Men provided the living for the family and controlled all the money. If the head of the household was not a good provider (or a good human being), that living could be very difficult for the women. Most woman of Maggie’s class were not educated and often the big life decisions (who to marry, in particular) were made for them by the male(s) in charge.

Although it was hard to hear the stories of Maggie’s childhood and the inequality and cruelty with which she was treated by her mother and brother, I totally loved the core of strength that Maggie had that kept her kind and hopeful despite the meanness of her situation. And I loved the woman she became over time, thanks to the loving care of the family servant, Nancy, and the kind connections to the Buxton family.

From the publisher:

Growing up in Yorkshire, the daughter of a deceased clergyman, Maggie Browne is encouraged to devote herself to her brother, Edward, upon whom their widowed mother dotes. Through the example and guidance of her mentor, Mrs Buxton, Maggie learns that self-sacrifice is the key to living a fulfilled life. How much personal happiness will she forgo in the name of duty and devotion to her brother? This novella depicts the struggle of a strong-minded Victorian woman, torn between her dreams and her duty towards her family.

I ended up loving this little book that told the story of a young girl who became a lovely young woman despite living in a time and culture that did not value women very highly. But in the language of today, “she persisted!”  I haven’t read very much by Elizabeth Gaskell, but I’m going to remedy that and enjoy more of her work.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also my first “Spin” book!

The Unicorn and Other Poems

 

One of the special books on my bookshelf is The Unicorn and Other Poems, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I bought this book many, many years ago, and revisit it often to read the poems that touched my heart when I first read them and now have special meaning in my life. They express so eloquently many of my own inner feelings and thoughts, and so have become treasures for me.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the wife of the famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who was a hero to many. After finding this book of poetry, and then reading all of AML’s diaries and fiction, she became for me the real hero in the family. She was a gentle soul, but with a tremendous inner strength, forged partly through tragedy. She lived an amazing life traveling all over the world with her husband, and she became a pioneer aviator herself. She was intelligent and introverted, and a beautiful writer. Her books, North to the Orient and Listen! The Wind told fascinating stories of their world travels. Her diaries and letters were her way of processing life as it happened.

“I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”

In her wonderful book, Gift From the Sea, she “shares her meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment as she set them down during a brief vacation by the sea.” (words from her daughter, Reeve).

But as I said before, it is her poetry that really touches my heart. One of my favorite poems in this book is called “Bare Tree.” I loved it the first time I read it, but it is even more meaningful to me at this age and stage of life, so I love it now in a whole new way.

BARE TREE

Already I have shed the leaves of youth,
stripped by the wind of time down to the truth
of winter branches. Linear and alone
I stand, a lens for lives beyond my own,
a frame through which another’s fire may glow,
a harp on which another’s passion, blow.

The pattern of my boughs, an open chart
spread on the sky, to others may impart
its leafless mysteries that I once prized,
before bare roots and branches equalized,
tendrils that tap the rain or twigs the sun
are all the same, shadow and substance one.
Now that my vulnerable leaves are cast aside,
there’s nothing left to shield, nothing to hide.

Blow through me, Life, pared down at last to bone,
so fragile and so fearless have I grown!

I chose to reread this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It’s a book I have re-read many times in my life and each time I read it, I love it even more.

Kidnapped

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is one of my favorite adventure stories, so I had high hopes for liking his book, Kidnapped, equally as much when I chose it as one of my Classics Club reads. We have a lovely copy of the book, with those wonderful illustrations by N. C. Wyeth, that’s been sitting on our shelf for years, so I read it eagerly but I’m sorry to admit that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Treasure Island.

But in all fairness, it was a different kind of story from the pirates adventure of Treasure Island. This book is a work of historical fiction with characters that were actual people involved in an important part of Scottish history, so even without the pirates there was a lot of intrigue. I thought the beginning  and the ending of the book were quite good and definitely kept me interested.  The story slowed down a bit too much in the middle for me, perhaps because I didn’t know much about the history that inspired this story. The idea that this story could possibly drag a little in the middle seems strange considering the rip-roaring description on the title page.

 

I may have to give it another chance at some time because I really like the other books I have read by Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s a wonderful writer and storyteller, so perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for me to read it. That happens to me sometimes and, when I reread the book later, I love it. Does that ever happen to you?

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.