Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Published by Oxford University Press

I haven’t read a lot of the “classics” and as a result of not being well-read in this category of novels, I typically find myself intimidated by them and have a preconceived notion that I won’t enjoy the ones I do pick up. Inevitably, though, when I read them I surprise myself with how much I enjoy the experience of reading these classic books – they are considered the “classics” for a reason, after all! Such was the case with Madame Bovary – I found the book so refreshingly current and saw so many parallels to issues that people (well, women mostly) face on a regular basis in today’s society.

Here we have this woman who is confined by her time period and status in life (female) to a life of essentially being owned by a man. For most of her life, that man is her father, and then she marries Mr. Bovary, and he begins taking ownership of her. Although technically she is an independent human and citizen, the world doesn’t see women that way during this time in history, and she certainly doesn’t feel that she has any independence or ability to make her own choices whatsoever. So what does she do? She rebels, of course. She falls in love with several men who are not her husband, bucks social norms and her own wedding vows, and carries on several affairs without her husband’s knowledge. She comes dangerously close to getting caught several times, neglects her child to continue relationships with these guys, and comes to look at her husband with a mixture of disgust, anger, and of course regret.

Ultimately her story is one where you can see that having zero power in life can cause someone to do terrible things, whether it be because she was depressed, simply fell in love with the wrong people, or, was frankly bored out of her mind. But I saw so many parallels to the way women have been treated throughout history, and how the lack of access to power, information, money, etc. in even today’s world leads people down dangerous paths and causes people to make choices that are not in their best interest.

I missed the book club meeting for this one, but I’m sure the ladies in my book club had a lot to talk about because there’s so much here to think about and discuss. I’m really glad I read Madame Bovary and it’s one more time I need to remind myself that classics are deemed classic literature for a reason. I definitely need to experience more of them.

Mini-reviews: The Great Gatsby & Marriage Rules

I don’t have a whole lot to say about either of these books so I thought I’d treat you to a couple mini-reviews today!

Great Gatsby Unabridged, The By F Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Audio published by Caedmon, an imprint of HarperCollins

In anticipation of the movie coming out in May, I decided to reread The Great Gatsby, a novel I read in high school but haven’t picked up since. The audio was brilliantly performed by Tim Robbins, so it was an excellent listening experience, and I’m glad I reread this book because turns out there’s a LOT I forgot in the 13 years since I read it the first time. I forgot how utterly depressing the last part of this book is, and I got way more swept up in the characters and the drama of it all than I did when I read it the first time. Perhaps this is because I’m more mature than my sixteen-year-old self (I’d certainly hope that’s the case) or perhaps because it was required reading the first time around, but I enjoyed the book quite a bit more this time around. Also I definitely didn’t remember how absolutely gorgeous the writing is. At several points, I replayed portions of the audiobook because the writing was like poetry to me and I wanted to experience it again. Great book and now I’m even more excited for the movie.

Marriage RulesMarriage Rules: A Manuel for the Married and the Coupled-Up by Harrier Lerner
Published by Gotham, an imprint of Penguin

My marriage is incredibly important to me, and while I don’t read a lot of self-help books, I’m always open to hear about what the “experts” have to say about sustaining a healthy, happy relationship. My relationship isn’t in trouble, not by any means, but this stuff is interesting to me, and who doesn’t want an even better marriage than they already have? Anyway, I liked this book. The “rules” are super-simple, easy things that are truly common sense. However, if you’re in a bad place in your relationship (we’ve all been there), common sense when it comes to your relationship isn’t so common. We get these blinders on when we’re angry, hurt, or whatever, and these tips from Ph.D. Lerner really can help to see through the emotions and work on what really needs fixing in the relationship. The common theme here is this – the only person you can change is you, and here are things YOU can do to do your part in improving your relationship, or in maintaining the great relationship you already have. This book covers a lot of ground, and it didn’t give me a ton of insight besides what I already knew to be true, but I did get some stuff out of it. And I think for couples in trouble, this book could be really helpful.

TSS with War & Peace check-in

Happy Sunday, everyone! I’m really trying to enjoy my Sundays as much as possible lately because for the past few weeks, and for the foreseeable future, they’re the only day off I get each week. It’s a long story, and I don’t feel like talking about it, but let’s just say work is kicking my butt. In an okay way, but in a way that I am having difficulty getting anything done in my life besides work, sleep, eat, repeat. I cannot fathom how some people work sixty hour weeks like I’m doing right now and come home to take care of children. It boggles the mind. Anyway, it will get better eventually and life will get a little more normal soonish (at least that’s what I keep telling myself).

I have been keeping up with my War & Peace reading, though! I actually reread the first section because I felt like I missed a lot the first time around, which ended up being insanely helpful. I finished the second section this morning and I’m not sure what to think. Mostly I felt bored while reading it – the details of war have never been very interesting to me, in any book I’ve read. There was one particularly poignant moment, though, that made me stop and reread the passage. When Rostov comes to a full understanding of the reality of war, the reality that he could be killed, that someone would actually want to kill him, that struck me as such a major moment in the book. This chapter was all about the war itself and the messiness and violence and horribleness of it all, and this part was one where one character had a moment of clarity and it terrified the hell out of him. It was definitely my favorite part of the entire section. It made this huge, scary, overwhelming classic Russian novel so much more accessible and easy for my mind to grasp – and gave me the push I needed to get to the end of the section, with the hope that the book will become easier and more enjoyable as it goes on. So I’m looking forward to continuing with the book, even though there’s really been just that one moment I really liked the thing, I am hopeful that there’s much more to come. And I’m proud of myself for finding something to relate to and enjoy in the book – I honestly was afraid that just wouldn’t happen at all!

And I’ve been reading a little more than just War & Peace, but not a whole lot more. I also finished Ask the Passengers by A.S. King this morning and I LOVED it. I’m probably going to start something else this afternoon, although what I have no idea.

What are you up to this weekend – bookish or otherwise?

War & Peace check-in

So, friends, I am reading War & Peace! It’s already hard and I’m not sure I like it but I know I don’t hate it (which is possibly more important than liking it, when it comes to me reading classics because typically I suck at them), so I’m forging ahead. This is a read along hosted by Amy and Iris that lasts ALL YEAR! I figured I could handle reading this huge chunkster if I took the entire year to do it. So, here we go. Here are my answers to Amy’s questions for our first check-in after finishing Book 1, Part 1.

1) Why are you reading War & Peace?
Great question. I’m really not sure. I guess because I don’t read enough of the classics and this seemed like a good way to get one of THE classics under my belt. We’ll see how it works out for me!

2) What translation are you reading? Are you reading print, ebook, or audio?
I’m reading the Nook version which is the same as the Kindle version.

3) So far, is it different than you expected or the same?
I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest! I expected it to be hard and it kind of is, but it is slightly more readable than I was afraid it would be.

4) Do you have a favorite character? (lol just asking–I feel like I barely know these people)
I completely agree – I barely know them! There are SO many characters, it’s truly kind of overwhelming, and I think it’ll be a little while before I really can pick favorites.

5) Do you have any other predictions or expectations for the rest of the book?
Honesty, I don’t know yet. I’m still trying to get my first impressions together. I’m definitely having a tough time not getting completely lost or drifting off to sleep (LOL) but I do like the conversations of politics that happen randomly but also seem to be happening constantly.

6) What was your favorite part of the first section?
That I finished it! Haha sad but true.

7) What do you see as the biggest obstacle to finishing?
All those other shiny, more fun and exciting books that distract me. Oh, and my complete lack of willpower when it comes to finishing any book I’m not enjoying. But I think I’ll be okay once I start getting some of the characters straight.

 That’s it so far! I’m hoping that once I have one more section under my belt I’ll be feeling a little more confident in my understanding of what the heck is going on. Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking, we’ll just have to see …

Have you ever read War & Peace? What did you think?

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
Published by New Directions Books (2000 edition)

In 1950’s London a group of elderly friends suddenly begins receiving strange phone calls – a voice says, “Remember you must die” and promptly hangs up. These calls soon have these people examining their own, and others’, mortality, and it also spurns secrets and lies coming to the surface.

Memento Mori, for me, was … interesting. Upon finishing it, I had this feeling like I was missing something. Like it’s an incredibly profound piece of literature and I couldn’t quite get why. I feel that there are a ton of metaphors and poignant things being said in this book but I maybe missed some of them. Like I’m not quite smart enough to understand.

However, the book did make me think. I don’t think I’ve read another book told from the point of view of the elderly. There is a woman here who lives in a nursing home, a woman who cared for a dying person, another one with dementia, and to be honest I don’t give a lot of thought to what it must be like to be an older person in our society. The book definitely made me think about that.

I don’t know, I think I need to take more time to digest this one before I can really decide how I feel about the experience of reading it and what it really means. Again, I get that this is an important work of fiction and I saw many interesting themes throughout the novel, but overall I think I missed a lot too. Maybe I should read it again?

Have you read Memento Mori? Or anything else by Muriel Spark? This is my first time experiencing her work so I’m curious to know what you guys think.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With the WindGone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Originally published by The Macmillan Company (1936)

What can I say about Gone With the Wind? I can’t even summarize this 1000+ page book, to be honest. I’m sure most of you have read the book, watched the movie, or at least know the general plot, so I’ll spare you my clumsy attempt at a summary.

I first read Gone With the Wind in 1998. I was in eighth grade, and my friend Christina told me that it was her mom’s favorite book, and that she was going to read it and I should too. After we both read it, we watched the movie together at her house.  While I know I was a pretty intelligent eighth-grader, I am sure that I did not even begin to grasp how important of a novel this is at the young age of thirteen. Now that I have read it a second time, at twenty-seven, I am absolutely sure of how important this novel is. And I am here to tell you that I absolutely, without a doubt, LOVED Gone With the Wind.

Is it incredibly long and somewhat slow in parts? Yes. Is there waaaay too much racism and hatred in this book? Yes. But… is it historically accurate? I don’t know, I didn’t live in the Deep South during the Civil War, but based on everything else I’ve read about that time in our country’s history, I think that, yes, this book shows a pretty accurate depiction of that time. What surprised me most about the novel when I read it this time around is just how accessible it is. I always have a hard time with classics – I find the language and the writing clunky, difficult to get into, the dialogue unfamiliar, and the characters unlike people I have ever known in real life. Gone With the Wind is so different from that description – I had no trouble at all getting into the writing, and although some of the dialogue wasn’t what I’m used to (maybe part of that has to do with the fact that I’m a Northerner, ha!), it didn’t stop me from getting invested in the story and the characters. Scarlett seemed like a real person to me, as did Rhett, Melanie, Ashley, all of them. I was shocked by how refreshing this classic was – how even though the novel takes place in the 1800’s it felt incredibly modern to me.

And oh my goodness, the love story? EPIC. I mean, I have seen love stories be described as epic before, but guys – this is the most epic of epic love stories. And there’s more than one, really. And when Scarlett gets to the point in the novel where things finally click for her and she “gets” just how epic her love story has been… well, it’s amazing. And heartbreaking. Mostly heartbreaking. But I’ll let you discover that for yourself. Why didn’t anyone remind me how sad the ending is? I don’t think my eighth-grade self was capable of feeling the depths of sadness that I felt this time around when I finished the book.

Anyway, this has gone on long enough for a review in which I have nothing really new or interesting to add to the conversation about the book. But please, if you are one of the people who still hasn’t experienced Gone With the Wind, do yourself a favor and read it. I cannot imagine that you will be disappointed.

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
Published by Dover

This short (88 pages) play tells the story of married couple Nora and Torvald, who have a traditional marriage in that Torvald is a bank manager, responsible for the finances of the home and with that, all decisions except those Nora is allowed to make about herself, the home or the children. When Torvald requires a treatment for an illness they cannot afford, Nora acquires the money and tells him it’s a gift from her father, but really it’s an illegal loan she’s acquired from the bank by forging her father’s signature. While Nora knows she shouldn’t have done something illegal, she also feels that she was doing something to protect and help her family, and that makes her proud. The end of the play is a confrontation between the two of them as Nora realizes she has the ability to be an intelligent, independent woman and Torvald can only laugh at this possibility.

I don’t normally read plays, so I have to admit that I went into reading A Doll’s House with a fair bit of trepidation. I needn’t have worried, though, because I zipped through the book in one sitting and it provided me with much food for thought.

What surprised me about A Doll’s House was just how current the message is, especially since it was written in 1878. For the first fifty pages or so, the message is definitely dated, as women now have autonomy over financial decisions and most women have held a job at some point in their lives. I also think most marriages are pretty equal in terms of who gets to decide what happens with the family finances (at least, most marriages that I know of). But it’s the end of the book that really gets to the heart of the matter, and that’s where I think the play really shines and holds significance for women of today’s world.

While I don’t want to give anything important away, the end of the book is basically a stand-off between Nora and Torvald. Nora is asserting the fact that she is a person, independent from her duties as wife and mother, and she should be treated as such. She makes the case that just because she is a wife and mother, her own humanness shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of her husband and children, and that she should have the right to think for herself and make decisions according to what is best for her individually. I think that many mothers struggle with this even today – the question of being an independent person apart from one’s husband and children is something that I see all the time. Women ask themselves, do I make a decision based on what’s best for me, best for my husband, best for my children, or do I try to make a compromise for all of us? While A Doll’s House was about more than just that question, that was the point Nora got to by the end of the play and I do feel that was, in the end, the biggest message here. Women do compromise their needs and desires and put the other members of their family first – and by the end of the play, Nora wasn’t interested in doing that anymore.

Anyways, I really appreciated A Doll’s House for its central message and was surprised to find how current that message still is. For anyone interested in reading classic feminist literature, this book is an important work to pick up.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Title:  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author:  Betty Smith
Release date:  1943
Publisher:  Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Pages:  528
Genre:  Adult fiction, Young adult fiction, Classic fiction
Source:  Personal copy

Before I started blogging a few years ago, I was a firm believer in “the classics are not for me”.  But I’ve started to come around, and now that I’ve read several classics that I’ve liked or even loved (and several I’ve hated, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete convert here!), I find myself more in the “I like some classics” camp.  Which is a huge step for me!  (So be proud, Eva and Nymeth!) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one example of this – I LOVED this book.  I cannot believe it took me twenty-six years of my life to discover my love for it!

In case you are unfamiliar with this novel, it is about Francie Nolan and her family, and it is set in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s.  We meet Francie when she is eleven years old in 1912, and the story continues through her sixteenth year.  Francie’s family is poor – her mother is a maid, who works tirelessly every day to put food on the table for her family, and her father is a singing waiter who works when he is sober enough to get a night’s pay.  So Francie and her brother, Neeley, one year younger, learn the hard way just how tough the world is – but they also learn life’s simple pleasures and what beauty lies in the small things.

There are SO many wonderful things about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Francie is such a great character, she is worldly and smart, wise beyond her years but also appropriate for the time period she was written in.  AND she is a reader too!  The chapter where Francie’s local library was described was like heaven to me.  I loved reading about how much she loved to read, about how she planned to read the entire selection of books her library carried, in alphabetical order, one book a day until she was finished.  Totally reminds me of myself when I was a kid – books were my comfort, as they are to Francie.  In hard times, she curls up and reads a book, the same thing I would do when I was facing difficult times as a kid.

And there’s quite a bit of feminism in this novel – Katie, Francie’s mother, basically is the sole earner in the home, and she bears this burden without an ounce of complaint.  She does what she has to do to get her family fed and taken care of properly, performing back-breaking labor every day because she would do anything to take care of her children.  She raises Francie and Neeley to be honest, good people and treats them with respect, even asking their opinions on important family matters at times.  When they ask her questions, she gives the most honest answers she knows how, which was something I loved about her.  So many parents try to sugar-coat things, or tell their children what they think they want to hear, but not Katie  – she told them the truth as she knew it.

I don’t know what else to say about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – I really loved it so much, the entire novel, everything about it just captivated and charmed me.  I think I’ll be rereading this one in the near future, because honestly, when I finished it I just wanted to turn it over and start it again!  If you’re like me and haven’t yet discovered this gem of a novel, read it.  It is such a beautiful, perfect novel.  LOVE.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Title:  East of Eden
Author:  John Steinbeck
Release date:  1952
Publisher:  Viking Adult
Pages:  608
Genre:  Classic literature, fiction, family saga
Source:  Personal copy

East of Eden is one of my very favorite books.  (This was a reread for me.)  I can’t even summarize it for you because the book is so much better than its plot.  Really, I normally don’t say things like that but in this case, it’s true.  If I read the summary of this book I don’t think I’d be interested in reading it, but trust me, East of Eden is beyond fabulous.

I don’t normally gush about the writing in a novel, but I will make an exception for this one.  Steinbeck has the most beautiful, descriptive prose in East of Eden that I think I’ve ever seen.  This book will suck you in from the first chapter based on the writing alone.  In addition to the writing, the novel contains some seriously awesome characters.  They are believable, deep, realistic, and they will absolutely win you over.  There are so many layers to many of these characters, you will hardly believe it until you read it yourself.

I am not a person who enjoys reading “the classics”.  I wish I did, but I don’t end up enjoying most of the ones I read. East of Eden, however, is an amazing book and it’s one of those novels I truly believe everyone should read.  I’m thrilled that I gave myself the opportunity to reread this beautiful book and I highly recommend it.

Review: The Awakening

Title:  The Awakening

Author:  Kate Chopin

# of pages:  190

Release date:  1899

ISBN:  0380002450

Rating: 3.5/5

First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banished for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, The Awakening has been hailed as an early vision of woman’s emancipation. This sensuous book tells of a woman’s abandonment of her family, her seduction, and her awakening to desires and passions that threaten to consumer her. Originally entitled “A Solitary Soul,” this portrait of twenty-eight-year-old Edna Pontellier is a landmark in American fiction, rooted firmly in the romantic tradition of Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Here, a woman in search of self-discovery turns away from convention and society, and toward the primal, from convention and society, and toward the primal, irresistibly attracted to nature and the senses.

Many of you will recall that I have somewhat of a difficult time reading the classics.  Very rarely do I actually enjoy one that I read – it’s more like I can sometimes appreciate their value to the world of literature, can understand their popularity – but I don’t normally LIKE reading them, per se.  The Awakening, however, I liked.  In fact, I’m fairly certain I’ll read it again someday.

I’m not totally sure what exactly about this novel worked for me – definitely the feminism deeply entrenched in the book has something to do with it.  This is a book, written in 1899, that specifically defies the roles women were supposed to conform to in that time period.  The novel is about, very simply, a woman having an emotional affair on her husband – an affair which causes her to examine her life more closely and realize she is not content being simply a wife and a mother… she wants more.  This realization is, obviously, her awakening.

It is actually a very simple story, told in simple but elegant language that draws the reader in and makes it impossible not to care about Edna and what happens to her.  At this point I’d just like to direct you to Cara’s review at The Curvature, which is a fantastic analysis of The Awakening, and a much better review than anything I could come up with.  Suffice it to say, I liked the novel quite a bit and would absolutely recommend it as a relevant and readable classic.

More reviews –