Category Archives: Readalong

Readalongs and Readathons

Hello, all! I think it says something about my current state of mind that when I feel like blogging at the moment, it’s mostly just to chat. I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about books or the state of the world or anything other than my own naval. So be it–I may need to keep my focus inward for the next little while, and that feels okay.

I’m getting ready to participate in a couple of reading/blogging events that I thought I should mention. Besides Paris in July which is going on right now (I haven’t posted anything yet, but that should change this week), I’ve decided to participate in the Estella Society’s readalong of East of Eden by John Steinbeck, which officially starts on the 21st.  The only Steinbeck I’ve read is The Red Pony, which scarred me for life at the tender age of 12. Hopefully I’m mature enough to handle this one (ahem).

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Finally, I’m going to join in the High Summer Readathon from July 21st – 27th, as I will actually be home from work that week and should have some time to read. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to read for it, but probably a combination of my reading for the other two events and some fun, spur-of-the-moment stuff.

high summer rat

But enough about me. How are you? 🙂 Are you enjoying your summer? Doing anything new and exciting? Reading anything so fabulous that you just have to tell the world all about it?

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Once Upon a Time VIII

onceup8275Carl does some of the best reading events around. I’ve participated in his R.I.P. challenge for two (three?) years running now, and this year I’ve decided to jump into his Once Upon a Time challenge, which asks readers to 1. Have fun! and 2. Participate by reading as few or as many books as they want that fall into one of the following broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology.

My plan is to join in by reading at least one book in any of the four categories as well as hopefully participating in the read-along of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in June.

I’m not sure yet exactly what I’ll be reading, with the exception of Violet Kupersmith’s The Frangipani Hotel, which I’m reviewing later this week. This is a book of short stories based on Vietnamese folk tales, so it segues nicely with the challenge.

If you have recommendations of books I should consider reading for Once Upon a Time, please feel free to let me know in the comments!

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The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

the-frozen-deepI’m not sure I would have picked this book up on my own, but luckily the Wilkie in Winter gang are hosting a readalong which gave me a reason to read some Wilkie in good company. The Frozen Deep is a cross between a novella and a play, and it tells the story of an Arctic expedition, a young woman with the second sight, and an embittered man seeking revenge. What’s not to like?

Because it’s so short (right around 100 pages), it’s very doable to read the book in one sitting. While I didn’t do so, I can see the advantages of it, as it would keep the reader caught up in the drama and suspense right until the last pages. There is a LOT of drama, melodrama to be more precise, and while it might not be every reader’s cup of tea I really enjoyed it. I could easily picture the actors on stage, with lots of bosom heaving and sudden exclamations and the brooding anti-hero twirling his moustachios.

I also liked the shift in setting from proper London society to the bleak landscape of the Arctic. I read elsewhere that the story was inspired by Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845, in which he attempted to traverse the Northwest Passage. While I don’t want to give away the ending of the story, suffice it to say it’s not quite as tragic as the true life tale.

If you’re looking for a few hours of escapism and some entertaining Victorian melodrama, I can definitely recommend The Frozen Deep. Thanks to Andi, Heather and Amanda for hosting this readalong for Wilkie in Winter, and I look forward to reading The Woman in White with you in a few weeks!

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Readalong: Middlemarch by George Eliot

middlemarchI’m planning to do a re-read of Middlemarch in December, if anyone would be interested in joining me. You all know how much I like having someone to read the classics with, especially when they are on the long-ish side.

Summary:
In the fictional town of Middlemarch, selflessness, social reform, and romantic love struggle to survive against human foolishness, economic missteps, and societal ideals. Young and intelligent, Dorothea Brooke hastily marries Casaubon, a middle-aged scholar working tirelessly on his “masterpiece,” The Key to All Mythologies. Their union soon sours, and Dorothea becomes trapped in a difficult situation that worsens upon the death of her husband. Elsewhere in town, Tertius Lydgate, an idealistic young doctor, is caught in an ill-fated union with the sweet but superficial Rosamund Vincy. Intertwined within the lives of these two unfortunate couples is the handsome artist Will Ladislaw, who is sympathetic to Lydgate’s ideas about science and medicine, and who develops feelings for his uncle’s wife—Dorthea Brooke.

If you’re interested in joining in, here’s how I plan to break up the reading:

Week 1 (Dec. 1-7) – Books I & II

Week 2 (Dec. 8-14) – Books III & IV

Week 3 (Dec. 15-21) – Books V & VI

Week 4 (Dec. 22-28) – Books VII & VIII

Week 5 (Dec. 29-31) – Catch-up/wrap-up week

If you can’t keep up with that schedule, no worries–just jump in whenever. I’ll put up my thoughts on the week’s reading in a Sunday post, and then I’ll do a wrap-up at the end of the month. If you want to chat about it on twitter, we’ll use the hashtag #middlemarch13.

I do hope you’ll read along with me! And if you need some more convincing:

Virginia Woolf gave the book unstinting praise, describing Middlemarch as “the magnificent book that, with all its imperfections, is one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” Martin Amis has described it as the greatest novel in the English language.

Villette Readalong: Wrap-Up

villette-buttonI’m having a hard time knowing where to start with this post. I finally finished Villette this afternoon, while my youngest daughter sat next to me counting down the seconds until I would play a game with her (“Just give me two minutes! I need to finish this!”), so the ending was a bit rushed for me. Then I had to go back and read it again (twice) because I kept asking myself what had just happened.

I’m still not sure. My best guess is that Brontë purposefully left the ending ambiguous to allow the reader to end the story in the way they wanted. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman, with its choice of alternate endings. I do think that Brontë wanted the reader to go away with a strong image of what was (to her) the most important outcome of the story–not the romantic one, but one that showed our heroine Lucy Snowe ending up a happy, independent woman.

Despite the focus of Volume III on matters of the heart, and the various twists and turns involving other characters (the ghostly NUN! The irrepressible Ginevra! The domineering Madame Beck!), I think it’s the character of Lucy herself who is the focal point of the novel and that will stay with me after having read it. Despite it carrying the name of the town, Villette is really mostly about Lucy, an exploration of one ordinary woman’s desire to make a life for herself–to find someone and something in the world that she can call her own, having been born into a life that granted her no favors.

There are so many layers to this book, from classical allusions to French phrases, so many themes that are explored and such richness of language. It’s a book that really deserves to be read more than once, and at leisure, and I definitely will be going back to it someday. But for this first reading, I’m so glad that I had a chance to share the experience with bookish friends. Thanks so much to Jaclyn and A.M.B. for reading along with me.

Their thoughts on Volume III:

Covered in Flour

The Misfortune of Knowing

Villette Readalong: Week Two

villette-buttonWow–so many thoughts, so few conclusions. Volume II sees Lucy entering into a new phase of her life in Villette. After suffering an illness at the end of Volume I, she is taken under the wing of a former acquaintance and nursed back to health. I couldn’t help but think that having companionship and people in her life who genuinely care about her made more of a difference to Lucy’s state than anything else could. She is a woman who is desperately independent and yet needs affection just as anyone does. Thus she finds herself in a struggle between wanting for someone to pay attention to her and wanting to remain stoic and unaffected by the actions (or non-actions) or others. I can’t help but feel that she’s this way as a result of her sad upbringing, which must have been quite lacking in affection.

Old acquaintances are renewed and new ones are made in Volume II, and we get to know some of the other characters at Madame Beck’s better. M. Paul (or M. Emmanuel, depending on Brontë’s mood, evidently. Is it confusing to anyone else that she calls everyone by several different names?) features largely in these chapters. Lucy runs into him at the museum and again at a public event at which he is speaking. He’s a funny little man, with very decided ideas about the place of women in society and Lucy’s place in particular, and I couldn’t help but think that he has a vested interest in her.

Two things stood out very clearly to me in this part of the book. One is that Brontë is using the book as a vehicle for trying to express her feelings about the role of women, and she does so particularly through the medium of art, which allows women to express themselves in ways that they might not be able to otherwise. The other is that she is using the character of Lucy, mysterious and unknown to us in many ways even as she shares her thoughts and feelings quite freely, as a way to show how women are much more complicated than the common view may allow for. Lucy is different things to different people, and none of them see her in exactly the same way. She doesn’t fit into a neat box, and I think that Brontë does this very deliberately.

As we head into the last third of the book, I still have no idea how it will all end, but I can’t wait to see what Brontë has in store for us next.

Other thoughts on Volume II:

Covered in Flour

The Misfortune of Knowing

Villette Readalong: Week One

villette-buttonI’m late! Not on my reading, but on my posting. We were away for the weekend and I didn’t have access to a computer. Still, I spent lots of time with Villette and I’m all caught up and happily moving on to Volume II. But Volume I? We still need to talk about that!

First of all, I don’t know why I waited so long to read this book. Honestly, I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to read anything else by Charlotte Brontë, as I loved Jane Eyre and felt immediately pulled back into the world that her writing creates as I started Villette. She has a way of making you feel intimate with the main character in a way that few other writers can manage, even when the main character is someone you hardly know.

Lucy Snowe is NOT Jane Eyre. We have a very different and distinctive heroine in Villette‘s Lucy, although certain parallels could be drawn between the two. Lucy is a mystery: we’re introduced to her as a young adolescent, then after a few chapters the story jumps forward ten years in time and she is a young adult. What happens in between these two different time periods is unclear, although the reader is led to assume that traumatic things have occurred in Lucy’s personal life and family situation.

In the first chapters, Lucy is the narrator of the story but we learn next to nothing about her as a person. Instead, the action revolves around her godmother and her godmother’s son, Graham, and a young ward that they’ve taken into the family because her father is travelling. When this part of the story reaches something of a resolution, the action shifts to Lucy as a young adult–ready to leave her home behind and venture out into the world on her own.

This is where we finally start to learn more about what makes Lucy tick, as her personality begins to reveal itself in the choices that she makes and the way she reacts to opportunities that come her way. I really enjoyed the scene in which she visits London for the first time, which shows that she has an eagerness for life and an independent spirit that must have been somewhat unusual for a woman at that time. She throws herself rather recklessly into situations as they present themselves, taking chances that seem quite risky to me for one who is very innocent of the world.

I don’t want to give away too much about the plot of the book, but suffice it to say that in Volume I there are several occasions in which the reader sees Lucy presented with a challenge, and she is given the chance to either rise to or shrink from that challenge. Brontë is able to let the reader into Lucy’s mind in such a way that we feel every emotion as she does, and she details Lucy’s reactions to things so precisely that I feel I know her by this point in the book, even though we still know very little about her background.

I could really relate to Lucy’s experiences as she *minor spoiler* becomes a teacher and as she learns French, both of which are things I’ve been through myself. Although I never shoved a student into a closet (thankfully!), I could understand exactly what she meant when she spoke of the frustration of not being able to react in a given situation in a foreign language as you would in your own language–that feeling of powerlessness is very familiar to me.

By the end of Volume I, Lucy has started to make a life for herself in a new place, settled into a job and become more comfortable with the language and people around her. Yet when the routine of her new life is interrupted and she finds herself alone for an extended period of time, she falls prey to illness and a mental disturbance that seems to be a result of her troubled past. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Lucy and I’m curious to see where the story is going, as it’s not at all clear. I have an instinct that it will involve Dr. John, whom she admires greatly, and maybe some of the characters from her past will pop up again, too. There are two volumes left to go, so anything can happen!

A big shout-out to my fellow readers of Villette–I’m so enjoying sharing the experience with you. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your own Volume I post (if you have one) and I’ll link it up here.

Other thoughts on Volume I:

Covered in Flour

The Misfortune of Knowing