Pryday #11

Hi, all, I hope you’ve had a lovely week of reading. This week for Pryday, let’s talk scary. I haven’t done much this year to get in the Halloween spirit, but I have been watching the World Series which has been scarily good ūüôā I did decide a few days ago to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. When I was a child I loved the Disney animated version of the story, narrated by Bing Crosby. It always fascinated me. More recently I sort of enjoyed the Sleepy Hollow film with Johnny Depp. I thought it was okay, not great, but decent. This year I wanted to go straight to the original source. I’ve been slowly savoring Irving’s famous short story and am very glad I decided to read it. I’ll write about it soon!

How about you? Have you read or watched anything to get you in the Halloween spirit?

Classics Circuit: The Witch of Ravensworth by George Brewer

The Witch of Ravensworth was written by George Brewer, a sailor turned attorney turned writer, and it was published in 1808. According to the Valancourt Books website the witch in the novel “is a precursor¬†to later Gothic literary monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula.”

The very last sentence of The Witch of Ravensworth sums up the novel very handily: “The good were not hurt: the bad repented”. ¬†And there is a lot to repent for in the book, mostly by our main protagonist Baron de la Braunch, a knight during the reign of King Edward I. Tall and handsome with wonderful knightly skills and the owner of a castle, the baron seems to have it all except for one little problem: he’s broke. Always looking for ways to improve his fortune, the baron proposes to the widowed (and wealthy) Lady Bertha. After they marry the baron realizes that he could be the owner of a huge estate if only Lady Bertha’s young son, Edward, was out of the way.

And here is where the witch comes in. The witch lives in a cottage on the edge of town and is believed to be in league with the devil. The baron, previously frightened and scornful of her, decides that she can be useful to him in disposing of his stepson. He precedes to join forces with the witch in carrying out his evil desires which also includes knocking off Lady Bertha so he can carry on with Lady Alwena, a lustful neighbor.

Eventually the Baron begins to feel contrite and things come to a head with a very twisty, surprising  and melodramatic ending.

This short novel is full of punch. I was wary of reading a Gothic novel from this time period, afraid that it would be impenetrable, but this is far from it. The language is straightforward, the storytelling is assertive and, though it is kind of silly, it is a terrific example of an early Gothic book and I would recommend it to others who are reluctant to read a classic of this genre.

I’ve really enjoyed participating in this round of The Classics Circuit. Thanks to Rebecca!

My fellow posters today:



Check out the entire Gothic Classics Circuit tour.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

I have a very fond association with The Scarlet Letter after having read it in college and so am open to any re-interpretations of the novel, though I have yet to read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. When She Woke is also a futuristic take on the Hawthorne novel, set sometime in America’s future after a nuclear attack has devastated Los Angeles and very strict morality laws have been passed in reaction to a terrible STD outbreak that sterilizes thousands of women.

Hannah Payne lives in suburban Dallas and has been raised in a rather strict, religious household. She’s always been a questioner, however, and doesn’t hesitate in reading forbidden books or using her sewing skills to construct immodest dresses.

As the book opens Hannah is in prison, convicted of murder by having an abortion and her skin is dyed bright red as a symbol of her crime. Melachroming has been legalized by the US government and minor criminals are dyed different colors according to their crime and sent out into society to survive among hatred and prejudice and violence against them. After Hannah serves her 30 days in prison she is released to a demented half-way house until she is presented with an opportunity to completely change her life.

Woven through the tale is her desire and passion for the man who got her pregnant, influential pastor Aidan Dale. Dale is not quite slimy, but very close to being a complete scum bag and it is hard to see why Hannah would love him.

At the other end of the slimy scale is Hannah’s father. Several scenes with her loving, supportive dad had me in tears. I loved that Jordan did not make all of the religious characters ridiculous caricatures – Hannah’s dad is definitely an example of someone who truly lives his religion.

And speaking of religion – this is definitely meant to be an indictment of extremism, but Jordan clearly avoids condemning spirituality and Christianity outright, which made the book more legitimate to me because I don’t like when authors trash religion¬†unconditionally.

This is a really good book. It has complex characters, a suspenseful plot and presents a vision of a scary future that I hope never comes to pass, but that makes you think about how fear and uncertainty can lead to harsh governmental control. Now I’m thinking I need to read The Handmaid’s Tale to experience Atwood’s take on a similar theme.

Pryday #10

Hello everyone! I had a few ideas for this week’s Pryday question and even wrote an entire post using one of my ideas, but it didn’t feel like the right question for today. So after thinking about my week in reading I realized that what I really want to know is:

What books that are being published this fall and winter are you looking forward to the most?

I got very excited this week when I found out that Ian Rankin has a new Malcolm Fox mystery coming out next month. I loved the first one in the series and was hoping that he’d continue on with this new character and I’m pleased to see that he has!

I also sat up with interest at the¬†announcement¬†of P.D. James’s Pride and Prejudice mystery spin-off,¬†¬†Death Comes to Pemberley. I love James’s writing and am really looking forward to reading this which is supposed to be published in December.

Coming in January is a new book from one of my favorite writers on religion and spirituality, Lauren Winner. Her book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis continues her direct and honest probing of modern religious life.

How about you? What forthcoming books are you most excited about?

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

I opened my email and she was there, exposed in the raw – not just her body but her emotions

Overwhelmed with awe I had to share the video with someone else and my best friend was the one I trusted

I didn’t think, I didn’t think, I didn’t think

                                           that it would be seen by millions of people.

Now I am suspended from school, bored and alone in a house that is too full

of my parents’ anxiety, regrets, worry and anger.

My dad is as good as suspended from his job. We have more in common than he thinks.

My mom is overbearing, willing my dad to release me (and her) from this bondage.

The cracks in their marriage are creaking and it is all my fault.

My little sister suffers too because of my woe.

What will become of me? What will become of my family?

This Beautiful Life is a family drama that exposes the hardship of modern marriage and family relations. The pain of spouses uncleaving and of children’s poor choices is realistically rendered. Schulman writes in a straightforward and clean style that heightens the voyeuristic feel of this novel. There is gentle humor, humor that makes fun of middle class families and their¬†pretensions and the main family of the story is not spared. It is anguishing to read about the selfish habits and choices that plague us and transform not just ourselves but our families as well, yet it is also illuminating. The novel had more of an abrupt ending than I would have liked and had a vague and somewhat unsatisfying ending, but I still found it powerful.

(Please bear with my juvenile poetry – I’m trying to enliven my blog posts and keep from getting stale!)

Pryday #9

I’ve been thinking about families this week. I just finished an excellent book called This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman that tells the story of one family’s struggles after their teenage son makes a huge mistake (I’ll write more about the book later). I started thinking about how much I love reading about family dynamics and about how fascinating and unique each family is, not only real-life families, but fictional families as well. Some of my most memorable and thought-provoking reads have been novels about families. This week’s Pryday question is:

What are your favorite family sagas?

My most recent favorite novels that center on families are Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, a novel that explores the relationship between two Chinese immigrant sisters,  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, a tale of twin brothers growing up in Ethiopia and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson about two sisters and their shifting family loyalties.

How about you? What are your favorite family sagas?

A Book of Secrets by Michael Holroyd

This book was brought to my attention by the lovely blog Ciao Domenica. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as the book jacket is not very informative and, in fact, is strangely vague. But I can somewhat understand it as this book is hard to categorize.

At its root, it is a portrait of the wife, mistresses and illegitimate daughter of Ernest Beckett, Lord Grimthorpe, who owned a spectacular house in Italy called Villa Cimbrone. Beckett lived during the Victorian/Edwardian age and was a sometime politician, a follower of Randolph Churchill. Yet he was also a bit of a screw-up and was paid to leave the family business after which he traveled the world and settled in Italy at his villa.

It was in Italy that he met his wife, Louie, an American heiress who was very young and charming. We hardly get to know her before her death suddenly descends.

We then read about Eve Fairfax, a beautiful woman who sat for Rodin and who becomes Beckett’s fiancee. She seems to be a somewhat insecure person who never finds her place in the world. After Beckett dumps her she becomes a wanderer, never settling down, finding a home or financial security. She lives to be over 100 and relies on the help of fellow aristocrats and family to survive.

The final, and largest, section of the book focuses on Violet Trefusis who was most certainly Beckett’s illegitimate daughter. Beckett had¬†a brief affair with Violet’s mother, Alice Keppel, later the mistress of King Edward VII. Violet’s long and drama-filled life is well told, including her very tangled relationship with Vita Sackville-West.

My favorite part of this book was the story of Holroyd’s search for information of Beckett and his discovery of Trefusis’s novels by way of a very enthusiastic Italian academic. I usually don’t like the insertion of an author into the story of someone else’s life, but this was Holroyd’s story as well as he explains quite beautifully.

This was a book that spoke to me about the way our choices absolutely affect other people whether we like to believe so or not. If Beckett would have been more loyal to his wife, more considerate of his lovers’ feelings, and had any sense of responsibility toward his illegitimate children, this story might have turned out differently, but then we probably wouldn’t have wanted to read about it or have been very interested in their lives, would we?

Pryday #8

Oh, hello! Yes, it’s been a week since I’ve been here. I’ve seemed to have run into a little reading slump, well, more like a malaise. I don’t have the inclination to read right now, but I try to out of habit and end up abandoning every book I pick up. This week I’ve tossed aside Howard’s End, the new Michael Ondaatje novel, The Hare with Amber Eyes, and a few other books. I’m not sure when I will recover from this lethargy and it always scares me when I enter these phases. Will I ever want to read again? So I ask you as this week’s Pryday question:

Do you ever lose interest in reading? And, if so, what secures your ticket back into the land of literature?

Frederick Carl Frieseke, 'Blue Girl Reading"