Monday, May 19, 2014

Alice in Wonderland (86th Book)

Ah, Alice in Wonderland a story that everyone knows, but few have read. I fell into that category until very recently when I quickly finished my book for the Novel 100 challenge and wanted to read a book from the 1001 Books challenge. I am starting to get grumpy about my fiction though and I didn't want to read anything that would be as slog. I was also lazy and needed to find either something I had on my Kobo or something I had on my shelf. I chose to read Alice in Wonderland, because I knew it would be a joy to read and I wasn't wrong!

I don't think I have ever read Alice in Wonderland even though I, like the rest of western civilization, know the story by heart. I read the book on my Kobo and was very sad that the images were listed, but did not appear. I love the original artwork from this book and used several of the images to make jewellery when I was on a kick of making scrabble tile necklaces. Lewis Carroll does a good job of describing the life of a young child. His depiction of Alice prior to her tumble down the rabbit hole reminds me of every toddler I have ever known including myself. Kids are easily bored and have trouble sitting still. They also have vivid imaginations and Alice's "dream" is full of wonderful imagery and fantastical occurrences. I still remember when I started to fell weird about engaging in imaginary play. The transition from child to teen is so hard.

When I googled Alice in Wonderland to find an image to include in my blog the book covers and pictures didn't even appear as an option. The categories included Disney, Tim Burton and the various movie images, but not a single book cover. I find that sad. Don't get me wrong, the movies have made Alice in Wonderland available to the masses, but there is just something amazing about reading something in its original form.  I do, however have a favourite adaptation of Alice and that is the Scy Fy Channel's made for TV Mini Series: Alice. The Mad Hatter, or Hatter, is fantastic in the show and the depiction of Wonderland as a casino where people feed on human emotions is both creepy and fantastic.

I can't wait to read Through the Looking Glass which is also on the 1001 Books to Read list. I am not sure I know much about that story and have been enjoying the books on the list that make up great story telling. I can see why Alice in Wonderland has been pasted down for generations and also why there are have been so many remakes of the books and movies. It is a tale that has definitely stood the test of time!

Book 53- Red Badge of Courage (85th Book)

Those who know me personally, know I have a trauma reaction to war. I am particularly traumatized by anything First World War-ish. The thought of trench warfare sends me cringing into a corner, rocking back and forth on my heels. I once had a friend who caused me to collapse in a heap in a drama game simply by whispering things about a war scene from Legends of the Fall. Remembrance Day is a hated holiday for me and I avoid war movies like the plague. So, needless to say, it is was with great trepidation that I picked up Book 53-The Red Badge of Courage. I was just stubborn enough with this challenge to push past my fear and read this extremely short novel about the American Civil War. I was pleasantly surprised. As much as I hate war I love novels of development and this definitely fits the Bildungsroman category.

The novel follows Henry Fleming as he sets out for his first real taste of war. He starts out idealistic and hopeful, but then runs in terror when he first encounters battle. Although he eventually goes back and finds his troop, he has to live with his initial desertion through the rest of the novel. He struggles with how to assimilate his cowardice with the idea he has of himself and it makes for a very poignant novel. Henry is a very relatable character who I felt for very much. He is real and honest and his struggle to live with himself in the wake of his desertion is absolutely touching.  The descriptions of war are horrific, but are off set by a large amount of internal dialogue. It is as much a critique of war as it is a critique of the unrealistic standards we hold up for ourselves.

I loved when I discovered that the phrase "Red Badge of Courage" was a description of wounds. In the novel this refers not only to physical wounds, but I also believe it refers to the more permanent emotional wounds that we carry around with us. Although Henry might have been cowardly for running away, he is courageous for coming up with a way to live with himself in the face of personal disappointment. "A moral vindication was regarded by the youth as a very important thing. Without salve, he could not, he thought, wear the sore badge of his dishonour through life."

This novel deserves a place in history as a classic novel because it was able to bring something hated and distance from me into the forefront of mind in very real way. I have loved this Novel 100 challenge for the simple reason that it has pushed me to read things I would have otherwise avoided. The next novel has been on my to-do list for years. John Steinbeck is one of my favourite novels and I am very excited to read Book 54-Grapes of Wrath next.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book 52- Jane Eyre (84th Book)

It seems I was badly mistaken. For years I have railed against the likes of the Bronte sister's and Jane Austen. I have staunchly refused to read anything that smacked of cheesy romance....the closest I got as a teen was Wuthering Heights. All the other "classic" novels that my friends read were lumped into the fluffy romance category that somehow  managed to be passed off as classic literature. I was sorely mistaken about Jane Eyre. While Jane Eyre IS a romance novel it is also falls into a category of fiction that I have recently discovered I love: Gothic fiction.

Gothic fiction pulls off a mood of eeriness that is very rarely accomplished in modern day horror. The use of lightening and remote locations and forlorn situations are tied together in such a way that suspense is added to a simple situation that would otherwise be quite normal. I have recently read Uncle Silas and Rebecca. Here is my simple breakdown of what makes a novel Gothic given the small sample I have read.

  • A life situation that makes one lonely and vulnerable (widow-Rebecca, orphan- Jane Eyre and the Uncle Silas)
  • A remote location (a forlorn house-Rebecca,Uncle Silas, Jane Eyre)
  • A mystery (Uncle Silas-Uncle Silas, the mystery woman-Jane Eyre, and Rebecca- Rebecca)
  • A strong constitution that allows the main character to face difficult situations (Mrs. De Winter, Jane Eyre, Maud Ruthyn)
  • Horrible caretakers that make the characters lives miserable (Uncle Silas and Madame de le Rougierre- Uncle Silas, Mrs. Reed- Jane Eyre, Mrs. Van Hooper-Rebecca)

I love  mysteries, I love psychological suspense, I love strong heroines, I love rambling old houses. What's not to love about gothic mysteries!? It just goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover and you can't judge a story by the category that you lump it into. I was thoroughly engaged with the story of Jane Eyre and desperately wanted to know what was going to happen. The novel has all the elements of good story telling and a suspense that makes it a page turner.

One thing that makes me extremely uncomfortable about the love story in Jane Eyre is the age difference of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester. I teach about age of consent and Sexual Exploitation as part of my job and I just can't get over the fact that very little concern is brought up about the age difference in this story. On the plus side, the novel is not glorifying two beautiful people who just so happen to find each other across the distances. It is a love story for your average individual. I don't think you would find a true-to-novel hollywood version of this story since both the characters are described as having very little going for them in the looks department. In fact, I just googled Jane Eyre to see the movie versions of the novel and found that the movies are filled with beautiful people.

I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to novels. I like my books to have a point and I like to feel enlightened when I read them. Nothing, however, will ever take the place of a just plain good story. I suppose for that reason Jane Eyre deserves a place in history.