Emma by Jane Austen (1816)

July 1, 2011 at 7:25 pm (Classics, mainstream)

As part of my intermittent effort to read more of the classics, I picked up a complete works of Jane Austen at the used bookstore last month, and I just finished Emma today.

It was a bit long, in my opinion, but the portrayal of the different characters was engaging and in some cases too sympathetic.  I’m not sure I could willingly put up with the behavior of Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse (one an incessant chatterbox, the other an incurable hypochondriac), but apparently I’m not as polite as the early nineteenth century English gentry tried to be.  Ah well.

For a while there, I took a real dislike to Emma, and hoped to read that she’d wind up an unhappy old maid.  No such luck; and, really, she did reform and start working on being less proud, high-handed, etc., so I suppose I don’t begrudge her the happy endings.  Much.

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A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds (1997)

June 3, 2010 at 1:37 pm (mainstream)

I bought this one at a library book sale a while back, and finally picked it off the shelf this week.  It’s quite good; sort of a long meditation on alienation, grief, forgiveness, and redemption.

In a small Southern town, Finch Nobles lives a hermit-like existence as the caretaker of the cemetery, a calling she inherited from her father.  She also listens to and talks with the dead who are interred there, and has as little to do with the living as possible, because she is badly disfigured (inside and out) by childhood burn scars.

The story begins as things are about to change, for Finch and several others among the living (see above about forgiveness and redemption).  Reynolds offers an interesting cosmology, numerous well-drawn and worthwhile characters, and more than a little hope for everyone.

It’s not my usual sort of thing, but I found it worth reading.

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June 2009: Watership Down by Richard Adams

August 25, 2009 at 7:41 pm (anthropomorphic, mainstream)

I realized recently that I haven’t read this 1972 classic in many years – not since I was a teenager, I think.  But I have a copy that I picked up somewhere, because I recollected that it really is a book that ought to be on our shelves.

And it is, though as a more mature reader I think the analogies are perhaps a bit heavy-handed.  On re-reading, I was impressed anew with Adams’ careful navigation of the real-life limitations of rabbits’ intelligence and the needs of the story.  Somehow I’d forgotten that the main protagonist of the story is Hazel, the leader, not the spooky outsider Fiver (the character an outsider adolescent is more likely to identify with).  And the writing itself is brilliant in all sorts of ways that I won’t go into here.

This is an adventure story in which a small band of heroes flees the destruction of their home and seeks out, first, a new place to live, and, second, some mates to share it with.  Mixed with their basic problems with the English countryside (dogs, traffic) are two important encounters with other rabbit warrens.  One of these seems promising, but proves unsuitable for very interesting reasons; the other is as fine a portrayal of a security-based totalitarian regime as exists in literature.

The “Watership Down” of the title, incidentally, is the name of a hill (the English call some hills “downs”).  That confused me quite a bit when I first picked it up, way back when.  If you haven’t read this book yet, do give it a try; it’s a thinking adult’s novel and a treat just for the writing.

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