Category Archives: The Classics Club

The Red Pony

The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck, is a novella in four stories about a young boy growing up on a ranch near Salinas, California. The boy, ten-year-old Jody Tiflin, lives with his father, a strict and harsh disciplinarian, and his mother, who is strong and understanding, and one ranch hand, Billy Buck.  All of them work hard to make a living from the ranch.  It is good, honest work, and they are good people, but life is harsh.

Although just a young adolescent, Jody has to grow up quickly. He has to carry his own weight in terms of chores and help on the ranch, and he is constantly learning. In the first story, he is given a beautiful red pony and it is his responsibility to care for her and keep her well and safe. He relies on Billy Buck to guide him and teach him everything he needs to know about his pony. One day, when Jody has to be in school all day, Billy Buck tells him that he can let the horse stay out in the field for the day. Jody questions him about the weather because the pony shouldn’t be outside in the rain. Billy reassures him that it won’t rain. Unfortunately, it does rain and after spending most of the day outside in the elements, the horse gets sick.

Jody must face life’s challenges head on, but he is resilient, imaginative, and still very much a young boy (collecting frogs on his way home from school and putting them in his lunchbox, to the dismay of his mother). When his grandfather comes to visit, his imagination is captured by the stories he tells Jody of leading a wagon train westward.

Jody lay in his bed and thought of the impossible world of Indians and buffaloes, a world that had ceased to be forever. He wished he could have been living in the heroic time, but he knew he was not of heroic timber. No one living now, save possibly Billy Buck, was worthy to do the things that had been done. A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day. Jody thought of the wide plains and of the wagons moving across like centipedes. He thought of Grandfather on a huge white horse, marshaling the people. Across his mind marched the great phantoms, and they marched off the earth and they were gone.

Although I read this book a long time ago, this re-read was like reading it for the first time. I remembered that it was sad, and that it wasn’t a children’s story. But I hadn’t remembered how beautifully written it was, and that John Steinbeck was an extraordinary storyteller. I must revisit more of his books!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. The movie version of this book was released in 1949, my birth year.

 

 

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

The Outermost House

In my reading notebook from long ago, on a page with notes I took while reading a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, there’s a sentence I wrote down that says, “Who is Henry Beston?” I love discovering new-to-me authors by finding references to them from other authors. In those days there was no Google to instantly look him up. I took a trip to the library to find out who he was and what he wrote. Then I had to track down his book, read it, and finally understand more fully why A.M.L. admired him and his beautiful little book, The Outermost House. After forty-five years, I just reread it and found it even more beautifully written than I remembered.

Henry Beston served as an ambulance driver during World War I. After the war, he began a  writing career. He spent a great deal of time on Cape Cod, and in 1925, he drew up the design for a small getaway cottage for writing. He called it “the fo’castle.”  It was built near Eastham, on the outermost spit of land against the Atlantic Ocean. When it was finished, he went out to stay for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into a year of solitude and writing. The Outermost House is a memoir of that year of solitude and his observations and descriptions of that “elemental” area that bring it to life for the reader. As I read it I could hear the waves, I could  picture the shore birds, I could feel the wind and the storms. I slowed myself down from the busy-ness of the holidays so that I could read it word by word and enjoy the beauty of those words chosen so eloquently to bring to life a sense of place.

His book was instrumental in, or inspired, the establishment of Cape Cod as a National Seashore in 1961. Unfortunately, although his little house withstood many storms and an everchanging coastline (it was moved inland twice to preserve it), the severe winter storms of 1978 washed it out to sea.

I loved rereading this book. I loved learning more about the life of Henry Beston. And now I would very much love to spend some time on Cape Cod.

Some favorites from the book:

…The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied.

…The sea has many voices. Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea.

…We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

“Biographical Snippets” by Jessica Ellen Monk :  Click here to read her full summary of Henry Beston’s life.

  • Born June 1, 1888, Quincy MA
  • Served as an ambulance driver in WW1 – 1915
  • Began a writing career after WWI
  • Had “the Fo’castle” built in 1925
  • Spent much of the next few years there in solitude
  • The Outermost House published in 1928
  • Married Elizabeth Coatsworth in 1929
  • Donated Fo’castle to the Audubon Society in 1959
  • Died April 15, 1968
  • Fo’castle washed away by a storm in 1978

 

 

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

Death Comes for the Archbishop

“During those last weeks of the Bishop’s life he thought very little about death; it was the Past he was leaving. The future would take care of itself.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop is my favorite book written by Willa Cather so rereading it for my Classics Club challenge was a pleasure. It’s such a beautifully written book. It is an historical fiction, based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who served as the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and of his friend, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf.

From the publisher:

There is something epic–and almost mythic–about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.

The character of Father Latour was of a gentle, caring, intelligent and introverted man. This man’s personality was in stark contrast with the rugged western landscapes and the “wildness” of the west at that time, but he showed courage, perseverance, and kindness toward all through the experiences of his life.

But Jean, who was at ease in any society and always the flower of courtesy, could not form new ties. It had always been so. He was like a very few. To man’s wisdom it would have seemed that a priest with Father Latour’s exceptional qualities would have been better placed in some part of the world where scholarship, a handsome person, and delicate perceptions all have their effect; and that a man of much rougher type would have served God well enough as the first Bishop of New Mexico. Doubtless Bishop Latour’s successors would be men of a different fibre. But God had his reasons, Father Joseph devoutly believed. Perhaps it pleased Him to grace the beginning of a new era and a vast new diocese by a fine personality. And perhaps, after all, something would remain through the years to come: some ideal, or memory, or legend.

The stories of the Archbishop’s interactions with the Mexican and Indian peoples and their cultures were poignantly and honestly told. The political problems of both cultures with the American government were complex, but reflecting towards the end of his life, the Bishop said, “My son, I have lived to see two great wrongs righted; I have seen the end of black slavery, and I have seen the Navajos restored to their own country.”

Cather’s  descriptions of New Mexico are exquisite. She uses her words as if a painter and the visions she creates in our minds are full of color and emotion.

“The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, — and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!”

I do love this work of art and the artistry of Willa Cather. Reading this book fills me with sunshine and deep emotion. I am in awe of her mastery of language.

“Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!”

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also a book on my list for my personal reading journey, “May Sunshine Light Your Day.”

 

 

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli, was published in 1949 and received the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1950. It is a book I remember reading and loving when I was ten or eleven.  And as a school teacher, I used it for a novel study when I taught my 6th Grade unit on the Middle Ages. It’s a wonderful story and teaching tool for that period of history, and for that age group.

The story takes place in the 14th century, and Robin, who comes from a noble family, is expected to become a knight.

Ever since he could remember, Robin had been told what was expected of him as son of his father. Like other sons of noble family, he would be sent away from his mother and father to live in the household of another knight, where he would learn all the ways of knighthood. He would learn how to be of service to his liege lord, how to be courteous and gentle, and, at the same time, strong of heart.

Robin’s father was away fighting in a war, and his mother was called to serve as a Lady-in-Waiting to the queen, so Robin was supposed to start his long training for knighthood. However, before he could leave home, he and the servants that were caring for him while his parents were gone became ill. Most of the servants died, and Robin was left alone, ill and forgotten. A kindly monk, Brother Luke, heard that a child was left alone and came to help him. He nursed him until he was well, but the illness left Robin extremely weak and without the use of his legs. The story of his recovery and of how he overcame his limitations both physically and emotionally is what makes this book a wonderful read.

Brother Luke was a kind and gentle teacher and caretaker. He and the other monks took Robin underwing, and taught him to read and to do many things for himself.

“Always remember that,” said the friar. “Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.” “I will remember,” Robin promised, but he wasn’t sure that he knew what Brother Luke meant to say.

“Whether thou’lt walk soon I know not. This I know. We must teach thy hands to be skillful in many ways, and we must teach thy mind to go about whether thy legs will carry thee or no. For reading is another door in the wall, dost understand, my son?”

The language of the book is challenging for young readers, but the story is compelling and captures the reader. The history and culture of that period of time are masterfully presented and it’s a wonderful immersion into Medieval daily life.

But my favorite thing about the book is that it focuses on what is really meaningful in life, then and now. It’s a story about overcoming adversity and learning to understand and accept one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It shows the importance of doing one’s best and being open to opportunities that help you find an enjoyable and meaningful way to give back to the community. And it’s a story of a boy learning how to embrace life, despite the difficulties he faces daily. It’s a story full of wisdom, and our classroom discussions about the ideas in the book were wonderful. 

None of us is perfect. It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit. We can only do the best we can with what we have. That, after all, is the measure of success: what we do with what we have.

A wonderful read and highly recommended!

This book was on my list of 50-books-to-read-in-five years for The Classics Club. It was also on my list of Birth Year Reading, a personal challenge.

Currently Reading: My Spin Book

I’m up early this morning (thanks to the sounds of a squirrel in the attic) and so decided to start my book for the Classics Club Spin #19. The Spin number was just announced this morning and that number was #1. I made a large cup of tea and am starting Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which was the first book on my Spin list.

Americanah is the perfect book for me to read at this point in time because this book, (along with her book, We Should All Be Feminists) was chosen by the Multnomah County Library for the Everybody Reads 2019 in Portland, Oregon!  Discussions start in the various libraries in January, and she will be speaking in Portland in March. Unfortunately for me, that event is already sold out. But how serendipitous that this was my book chosen to read at exactly the right time!

Don’t know what we’ll do about the squirrel in the attic, though…

The Haunted Bookshop

 

The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley, has been described as “a love letter to booksellers”, and I agree with that. It’s also just a fun “entertainment,” to quote Graham Greene. As well as many interesting thoughts about the importance of books to individuals and to the nation, and many fun references to books and more books, the story also contains suspense and romance, and a lot of humor. It is not, however, a ghost story. The bookshop is haunted not by ghosts, but by the “ghosts of great literature.”

It is the sequel to Parnassus on Wheels, a book I loved. This one didn’t capture me in the same way, but I did enjoy it, as will anyone who loves books and bookshops. I highly recommend it!  Start with Parnassus on Wheels, though, and then move on to enjoy this one.

from the publisher:

“When you sell a man a book,” says Roger Mifflin, protagonist of these classic bookselling novels, “you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life.”

Some favorite quotes from the book:

Never argue with customers. Just give them the book they ought to have even if they don’t know they want it.”

You see, books contain the thoughts and dreams of men, their hopes and strivings and all their immortal parts. It’s in books that most of us learn how splendidly worth-while life is.

Books are the immortality of the race, the father and mother of most that is worth while cherishing in our hearts. To spread good books about, to sow them on fertile minds, to propagate understanding and a carefulness of life and beauty, isn’t that high enough mission for a man? The bookseller is the real Mr. Valiant-For-Truth.

“Of course one can’t help loving one’s country,” he added. “I love mine so much that I want to see her take the lead in making a new era possible. She has sacrificed least for war, she should be ready to sacrifice most for peace. As for me,” he said, smiling, “I’d be willing to sacrifice the whole Republican party!”

 

Click here to see a Wikipedia list of the book references included in this book that made it so much fun.

 

This book was one of my choices for The Classics Club.

 

Classics Club Spin #19

Hooray! It’s time for another Classics Club Spin!  This Spin will be a little different from previous spins. To add more fun to the challenge, this list should include some of the “chunksters” we have on our lists. We will have until January 31, 2019 to finish our spin book! The spin number will be announced on November 27, and at that time I will return to this post and highlight in red the book I will be reading for this fun November-through-January spin. Here is my list of 20 books selected from my master list of 50 books to read in 5 years.

Happy reading to all the spinners!

  1. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (did not finish)

  2. Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  3. The Sea Runners, Ivan Doig
  4. Travels With my Aunt, Graham Greene
  5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  6. Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
  7. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  8. The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
  9. Neuromancer, William Gibson
  10. Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset
  11. A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
  12. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  13. Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston
  14. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  15. The Solitary Summer, Elizabeth von Arnim
  16. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
  17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  18. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
  19. The Outermost House, Henry Beston
  20. This Star Shall Abide, Sylvia Engdahl

…painting by Peter Ilsted (1861-1933)

Death in the Castle

The Classics Club issued a DARE for the month of October. Choose one book from my list of classics to be read in five years, and dare myself to read it.

“Simply read a CLASSIC book from your #CClist that you classify as thrilling, a mystery, or Gothic. It could even be a book or author that SCARES you (because of it’s length, it’s topic, it’s reputation etc).”

This sounded like a lot of fun to me, and it was a perfect blend with my RIP XIII challenge, as well as my 2018 TBR Pile challenge! So I chose to read Death in the Castle, by Pearl S. Buck, for both the Classics Club Dare 2.0 and for the Readers Imbibing Peril XIII challenge.

The old castle is a thousand years old, and although it has been in the family for generations, SIr Richard Sedgeley and his wife, Lady Mary, can no longer afford to keep it. The National Trust will only agree to take it over if they can turn it into a prison–not an acceptable option for the aging Sir Richard. However, a young and wealthy American is interested in it and wants to buy it. But he also wants to move the castle, stone by stone, to Connecticut! What a difficult dilemma for the aging owners of the castle!

He let the reins lie slack as he went and his eyes roved over the mellow landscape of field and forest. The afternoon light lengthened the shadows and deepened the gold of the willows and the green of growing wheat. In the distance the castle stood against the sunset in all its stately beauty. It was his home, his inheritance, and how could he give it up?

Lady Mary has always believed in “others who had lived in the castle and until now she had accepted the possibility of the persistence of the dead beyond life.” Not ghosts, but the life forces of those ancestors who lived there before her. And Lady Mary is quite sure that the Others can show her where some treasure is hidden so that they will have the money to save the castle.

“There’s no such thing as death, not really,” Lady Mary said. “It’s just a change to something—I’ve told you—another level of whatever it is that we call life. It’s only a transfer of energy. Can you understand? Please try, Kate! It would mean so much to me.

This was a story that involved mystery, intrigue, suspense. A gothic-type mystery is not the usual subject matter for a book by Pearl Buck, but it was, as always with her books, well-written and enjoyable to read. The suspense definitely worked for me because I couldn’t stop reading until I found out what would happen to the castle and the different characters. A fun read!

Persuasion

Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen book. I love Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice, but it is Persuasion that steals my heart every time I read it.

From the publisher:

At twenty-­seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune nor rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension, but, above all, it is a love story tinged with the heartache of missed opportunities.

I love the character of Anne Elliot in this book. She’s a strong, intelligent and practical woman who is very kind and caring to her family and friends. She must have been more like her mother because she’s the polar opposite of her vain and shallow father and sister. I also love the character of Captain Wentworth, who shares so many of those same good qualities. I cheer for them all through the book, hoping that they will finally find a way to be together because they are so obviously meant for each other. I never tire of this story, and have reread it numerous times. It’s a wonderful audiobook, as well.

My favorite selection from the book is the letter Captain Wentworth writes to Anne, hoping beyond hope that they can finally declare their love for each other. It is perhaps the most passionate love letter I’ve ever read. The way it comes about in the story is a wonderful exchange between these two characters who are so well suited to each other. 

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W. “I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”

This is a story I will reread and enjoy many more times throughout my lifetime.

Persuasion was one of my choices for my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Classics Club Spin #18: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, by Kate Douglas Wiggin, was a book I somehow missed reading as a child. I don’t know how that could have happened, but I’m glad that I finally read it and am happy that this was the book on my list chosen at random for my Classics Club “spin” book this month!

Rebecca Rowena Randall was one of seven children who lived at Sunnybrook Farm. Since her father’s death, it was very hard for the family to make ends meet. Rebecca was sent to Riverboro to live with two maiden aunts who could give her some of the advantages, including an education, that otherwise would not be available to her. Aunt Miranda was a grumpy, strict, rather hard-hearted person. Aunt Jane was just the opposite, but rarely spoke up to her more domineering sister. Rebecca, with her optimism, imagination, and zest for life, was a breath of fresh air for the community and for both her aunts. Her adventures were endless.

I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as Anne of Green Gables. Both characters, Rebecca and Anne, were strong, independent, intelligent and joyful young women. The stories about their adventures are timeless, and they are both wonderful role models.

This was a fun choice to read for the Classics Club Spin #18!