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I Can Fly

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“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” 
― J.M. BarriePeter Pan

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie // Book Review // The story of Peter Pan symbolizes childhood innocence weighed against the responsibilities of adulthood. Themes of family, the role of a mother, abandonment, fairness, jealousy, revenge, and the importance of imagination are interwoven throughout an adventure filled with fairies, pirates, mermaids and more. Peter is self-assured, a leader, cocky, nonchalant, thirsty for adventure and forgetful. I have wondered if Peter forgets his experiences in order to repeat his childhood and therefore not have the capacity to learn, grow and mature.

As a child, I grew up with Disney's adaptation of the story of Peter Pan.  After all of these years, I decided that it was time to actually read Barrie's novel. As I traveled to and back from Neverland, I often found myself surprised, a bit shocked and yet openly entertained at Barrie's wit and humor as a variety of details emerged that were not present in Disney's antiseptic approach to the story of Peter Pan. George Bernard Shaw, a friend and neighbor of Barrie's, described the play as "ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people" and I can now see why. Although this book is classified as a children's book, I would not recommend it to be read to young children. In my opinion, the violence, language, poisoning, murder, loss or kidnapping of children and yes, even fairy orgies, are too extreme for children. 

Scholars believe that a tragic event in Barrie's childhood inspired the creation of the character of Peter Pan. When Barrie was six years old, his thirteen year old brother, David, died in an ice skating accident. This experience devastated both Barrie and his mother. Barrie would often dress up in David's clothes and mimic David's whistling in an attempt to try to comfort his mother. In their hearts and minds, David would remain a forever child. It is so sad and unfortunate that Barrie experienced so much overwhelming grief at such a young age. 

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” 
― J.M. BarriePeter Pan

 

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I Smell Violets

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Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery // Book Review // It’s no secret that my love for Anne is boundless! While the real world we live in is often filled with tragedy and pain, this fictional world Montgomery creates for us is full of hope and goodness! If we were all a bit more like Anne, our real world would be a better place!

This is the fourth book in the Anne series (although it was the seventh book written with 28 years between the publication of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in 1908 and ‘Anne of Windy Poplars’ in 1936). Written in an epistolary format (through Anne’s letters to Gilbert) we experience Anne’s maturity into adulthood, observe her acts of kindness (even to those undeserving) and witness her struggle with and ultimate victory over adversity.

I thought it was interesting that Montgomery originally titled the book Anne of Windy Willows. Her American publisher thought the title too closely resembled the children's book The Wind in the Willows so Montgomery changed the title (in the US and Canada) to Anne of Windy Poplars. The UK publisher maintained the unabridged version along with Montgomery's original title Anne of Windy Willows.

I am thrilled that Montgomery wrote this book, although I wish she would have made a few modifications. I enjoyed Anne's descriptive narrative in her letters to Gilbert, who is away attending medical school. I was so disappointed when I approached the "pages omitted" lines! I want to read all of Anne's letter(s) to Gilbert and Montgomery censors the reader from the gushy, lovey-dovey romantic talk. I also wanted to hear from Gilbert! Anne mentions her love for his lengthy letters and now I will sound like Davy.... "Anne, I want to know!" What did Gilbert say to Anne?! In my opinion, this could have been the very best part of the book! 

One of my favorite parts of the story that Montgomery does include involves the relationship between Anne and Elizabeth, the little girl next door. Elizabeth reminds me of a sadder version of Paul Irving. The following passage is full of such sorrow... and promise of love:

'They - they made me wash your kiss off, Miss Shirley,' she [Elizabeth] sobbed. 'I didn't want ever to wash my face again. I vowed I wouldn't. Because, you see, I didn't want to wash your kiss off. I got away to school this morning without doing it, but tonight the Woman just took me and scrubbed it off.'

I kept a straight face. 'You couldn't go through life without washing your face occasionally, darling. But never mind about the kiss. I'll kiss you every night when you come for the milk, and then it won't matter if it is washed off the next morning.'

'You are the only person who loves me in the world,' said Elizabeth. 'When  you talk to me I smell violets.'

Every time I pick up one of the books in the Anne series and start to read, I smell violets, too!

What are your thoughts on this book? Do you like epistolary novels? If so, which are your favorites?

 

 

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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Beartown by Fredrik Backman //Book Review// To say this a book about a small-town hockey team is true, however, there is so much more to this story than the plot! At its heart, Beartown is really about right versus wrong, courage versus fear, the price of winning at all cost, friendship, loyalty, community, family, parenting and perseverance. In one sentence, it's an insightful study of the human condition - the good, the bad, and the ugly!

I am a firm believer in the idea of "the right book for the right time" (this concept also works in the reverse). I first read Beartown last year in my book club. I don't know anything about hockey and wasn't really interested in spending too much time to begin. To be honest, I probably would not have picked up this book if it wasn't a book club selection. I am so glad that I did!

The storyline involves hockey but it really could take place in any competitive culture: ballet, softball, dance, cheer, football, basketball, etc. The competitive event of my personal reference at the time I read Beartown was a high school debate league. Through my son's four years of debate we met wonderful people that have become life long friends. We also experienced the very real but completely unnecessary side of humanity with the extremely cut-throat, win-at-all-cost families and coaches. Ethics, morality, principles, even the concept of just being a kind human being, were not always part of the equation. Although our personal experiences were very different on the surface, the underlying elements of the dark-side of humanity were extremely prevalent and similiar to the characters in Beartown. Hockey is just the backdrop in Beartown. Backman does a masterful job peeling back the layers of his character's personalities and examining their strengths and weaknesses. It's interesting to consider that if I read this book at a different time in my life, I may have written a completely different review. For now, however, Beartown hit on all cylinders.

The following quote is one of my favorites from the book and summarizes the big picture. Backman quotes Mother Teresa, "What you create, others can destroy. Create anyway. Because in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and anyone else anyway."

You will have to be the judge if this is the "right book at the right time" for you or not. If you have already read Beartown what did you think? Are you planning to read the sequel Us Against You?

One important note, there are triggers involving sexual violence and infant death in this book just in case those details are necessary for you to avoid. The language (also especially the locker room talk) is also very salty.

Book Details:

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Not My Cup of Tea

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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen //Book Review// This may not be a popular sentiment with Jane Austen fans but I will honestly admit that Northanger Abbey is "not my cup of tea". This assessment may surprise those of you who know of my often professed love and appreciation for Jane Austen's other works. I will unabashedly claim my adoration of Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice, however, I can not state the same for Northanger Abbey. I felt as though I was slowly trudging through snow, uphill, while I tediously read this novel. I am glad that I read it and was also happy when it was over. I did appreciate Austen's wit and humor but could not help feeling like I was trapped inside a string of "inside jokes" that I just didn't get! Despite my lack of understanding of many of the cultural references of the day (including a lengthy list of Gothic novels of the time), Austen successfully weaves a variety of interesting themes throughout the novel. The themes include: the role of the heroine (in both the novel and in life), novel reading, naivety, youth, wealth, social status, misunderstandings and maturity.

Unlike heroines of the novels of the day, Catherine Morland is a simple, naive, innocent, sweet-natured, middle-class girl of seventeen. She loves to read Gothic novels which impact her perception of how she views a variety of events in her life ultimately troubling her separation of fact from fiction. Like the heroines of Austen's other novels, Catherine ultimately develops into a discerning young woman. She desires happiness and doing what is right which is contrasted by many of the other character's desire for material wealth and social position.

Northanger Abbey is considered a "Gothic parody" as Austen satarizes the novels that were popular at the time she was writing. I think it is important to delineate her parody of the Gothic novel from the importance of reading. Austen is clear in her support of reading and education. She is also the queen of satire as she pokes fun at society's misgivings. 

It is understood that Austen wrote the original manuscript for this novel in 1798-1799, sold it for publication in 1803 (it was not published - for details see my earlier blog post), her brother Henry purchased it back from the publisher, Austen made more revisions and the novel, renamed Northanger Abbey was published with Persuasion after her death.

What is your opinion of Northanger Abbey? Is it one of your favorite or lesser favorite Jane Austen novel?

Book Details:

  • Publisher: Penguin Red Classics
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141028132
  • Format: Paperback; Out-of-print

 

 

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Oh my heart...

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Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery //Book Review// Where do I begin? Adjectives like "splendid", "delightful", "charming" and "lovely" come to my mind, however, they still seem to fall a bit short in forming a complete picture of this novel. In addition to Montgomery's stylized, descriptive sweetness, we experience a greater depth in the characters and their experiences in Anne of the Island, the third book in this series. This book begins where Anne of Avonlea leaves off as we, the reader, experience Anne's continued transition from girlhood to adulthood. The story is full of heartache and joy, love and loss, new beginnings and sad goodbyes. Themes of growing up, identification, community, friendship, acceptance, education, family, perseverance, respect, maturity, love, marriage and living life to its fullest are layered throughout the story. We see Anne determine who she is (she no longer views herself as an orphan) while she explores what her purpose should be in life. Anne states, "The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be sought and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth."

The book begins as Anne leaves Green Gables and sets off for college in Kingsport. Anne perfectly describes "home" to one of her roommates at college. Montgomery writes,

I’m going home to an old country farmhouse, once green, rather faded now, set among leafless apple orchards. There is a brook below and a December fir wood beyond, where I’ve heard harps swept by the fingers of rain and wind. There is a pond nearby that will be gray and brooding now. There will be two oldish ladies in the house, one tall and thin, one short and fat; and there will be two twins, one a perfect model, the other what Mrs. Lynde calls a ‘holy terror.’ There will be a little room upstairs over the porch, where old dreams hang thick, and a big, fat, glorious feather bed which will almost seem the height of luxury after a boardinghouse mattress. How do you like my picture, Phil?"

"It seems a very dull one," said Phil, with a grimace.

"Oh, but I’ve left out the transforming thing," said Anne softly. "There’ll be love there, Phil—faithful, tender love, such as I’ll never find anywhere else in the world—love that’s waiting for me. That makes my picture a masterpiece, doesn’t it, even if the colors are not very brilliant?"

The love Anne has received from Marilla (and Matthew) while growing up, has laid a firm foundation in Anne's character as she prioritizes what matters most to her.

I also love the section of the novel when Anne returns to the house where she was born. The current resident had met Anne's birth parents and saved a bundle of letters she found in the house. Montgomery writes,

The letters were yellow and faded and dim, blurred with the touch of passing years. No profound words of wisdom were traced on the stained and wrinkled pages, but only lines of love and trust. The sweetness of forgotten things clung to them—the far-off, fond imaginings of those long-dead lovers. Bertha Shirley had possessed the gift of writing letters which embodied the charming personality of the writer in words and thoughts that retained their beauty and fragrance after the lapse of time. The letters were tender, intimate, sacred. To Anne, the sweetest of all was the one written after her birth to the father on a brief absence. It was full of a proud young mother’s accounts of “baby”—her cleverness, her brightness, her thousand sweetnesses.

“I love her best when she is asleep and better still when she is awake,” Bertha Shirley had written in the postscript. Probably it was the last sentence she had ever penned. The end was very near for her.

“This has been the most beautiful day of my life,” Anne said to Phil that night. “I’ve FOUND my father and mother. Those letters have made them REAL to me. I’m not an orphan any longer. I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday, sweet and beloved, between its leaves.”

There are too many noteworthy passages to recount, so my best recommendation is to start at the beginning of this series and soak up the goodness of these special books! Enjoy!

 

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