Saturday, May 30, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Learning to Forget (Ch. 41)

In which we abruptly leave the mourning March household and return to Europe, where Laurie gets over Jo faster than he'd intended or expected.  I like that he writes Jo and asks her one last time if she could marry him, and then accepts her negative answer as final.  

And without further ado, he falls in love with Amy instead.  I guess I don't mind, since "Amy felt that no one could comfort and sustain her so well as Laurie, and Laurie decided that Amy was the only woman in the world who could fill Jo's place and make him happy (p. 382).  I'm a leeeeetle put off by him still thinking of that as "Jo's place," but okay, whatever.  Not every match in fiction makes me happy, and I'm okay with that :-)  

Favorite Lines:

Jo wouldn't be put into the opera at any price (p. 376).

While waiting for an answer he did nothing, but he did it energetically, for he was in a fever of impatience (p. 378).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Laurie's proposal to Amy is unconventional and brief.  Do you think that suits them, or is it just Alcott refusing to give us what we expect?

IMPORTANT QUESTION!!!  Does anyone want to write a character sketch of Jo March?  I would need it fairly soon (sooner the better, really), but if no one volunteers to write one within the next few days, I'll probably write one myself later this week.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!!!  So that the end-of-read-along giveaway doesn't overlap my participation in the Great Book Giveaway Bonanza, I'm going to start the read-along giveaway this coming Friday, and will have it end on the 12th, after we've finished the read-along.  Got it?  Good!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: The Valley of the Shadow (Ch. 40)

What a sad chapter :-(  We've all known this was coming for so long, and yet, when it comes right down to it, it's hard to say good-bye to Beth, isn't it?  I love how "even while preparing to leave life, she tried to make it happier for those who should remain behind" (p. 369).  Her kind gifts for the school children made me tear up more than her actual death did.

According to my edition's notes, that poem Jo wrote about Beth?  Alcott actually wrote it about her sister Elizabeth, shortly before her sister died.  That makes me cry too.

Favorite Lines:

With the wreck of her frail body, Beth's soul grew strong (p. 370).

Possible Discussion Questions:

If Beth had not died, but simply continued the way she was at the end of the last book (a little weak, but busy), what do you think she would have done with her life?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Amy March: A Guest Post by Heidi

Amy March
by Heidi Peterson

Growing up, Meg was always my favorite of the March sisters, but (while I've now come to appreciate Jo's complexity and character development, and also Beth's sweetness and patience) of late I've been most particularly intrigued (and impressed!) by Amy.

Not universally (but often), Amy seems to be viewed as merely, "Oh yes, the youngest sister that eventually gets Laurie."  End of Story. But I think she very much deserves some attention and a closer examination in her own right.

Amy goes from being slightly spoiled at the beginning -- walking through life with her nose in the air (also exhibiting vengeful anger and a horrible lack of self-control in the incident with Jo's burned book) -- to a truly lovely, kind, cultured woman. Throughout, she is very consciously striving to live out what she believes.

Now, Alcott was pretty certainly writing from a transcendentalist worldview, i.e. leading in part to the idea of a person willing themselves to certain virtues, goodness, etc., whereas we know it's God -- and only ever God -- who can do the work in us, strengthening and giving us both the ability and desire to live out His commands. He alone is always, always initiating (doing the work in us that we absolutely never could) yet, as we're yielding to His working hand, it's definitely still a cognitive process, played out in time and space. At some point (or many points!) we have to make the conscious decision to act in ways that don't come naturally to us (being polite, gracious, forgiving, etc.) whether or not we feel like it.

On the day-to-day level, I like to think of it in terms of C.S. Lewis's words. To quote: 
"The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."
And I think Amy finds out this great secret.

Growing womanly over the course of the story, she's also a beautiful example of honest humility and wise discretion. She's diligent, not afraid of hard work (she never complains), and she's strong -- making her decisions and sticking with them, yet not afraid to change her mind. She isn’t afraid of wholesome confrontation, but -- dropping the petty, sinful squabbles of childhood -- becomes the woman who can rouse Laurie to reality and action. She also isn't too stubborn to change when he, in turn, candidly points out her weaknesses.

Finally Amy -- a true and gracious woman thinking first of others, seeking to bless and help them with her talents and gifts -- becomes the perfect lover and helpmeet for her husband.

(Hamlette's Note:  Thank you for this beautiful portrait of Amy and the way her character growth can inspire us on our own personal journeys!  Also, I loooooove the paintings you chose to illustrate this.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Lazy Laurence (Ch. 39)

Hurrah for Amy!  I'm glad she tells Laurie the truth and tries her best to show him he needs to snap out of his funk.  He's getting rather annoying with his ceaseless moping over Jo's refusal.

And Amy has come to realize that she will never be a famous artist, and accepted this with good grace.  Although I myself think that being good at something and pursuing it with all your energy is a perfectly good endeavor, since Amy was set on being a genius, I'm glad she's made peace with her discovery.

Favorite Lines:

"...talent isn't genius, and no amount of energy can make it so" (p. 361).

"Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don't let it spoil you, for it's wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can't have the one you want" (p. 366).

Possible Discussion Questions:

How do you feel about Amy's giving up her art because she can't be great at it?  Would you do the same?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell

Yes, I have finally finished reading this.  I started it way back in February, even though I'd meant to finish reading Middlemarch first, but I just couldn't make myself wait.  You see, I first saw the 2004 miniseries in February, and after that, I simply had to get a copy of the book right away and begin reading it.  Because I finally understood the awesomeness that is this story, and I wanted more and more and more.  (I reviewed the miniseries here today too.)

This book focuses on Margaret Hale, a lady whose whole life is entirely disrupted when her minister father leaves his church because he has a crisis of conscience and moves his family from England's pastoral south to the industrial north.  They move to Milton, a town where everyone is entirely consumed with the making of cotton fabric.  A mill owner named John Thornton befriends the family, falls in love with Margaret, and finds his life changed by them as much as theirs have been changed by moving there.

This is the first Elizabeth Gaskell book I've ever read in its entirety -- I did try reading Cousin Phillis and Other Tales a couple of years ago, but never finished it.  I'm not sure I'm exactly a fan of her writing style yet -- she gets melodramatic at times, with more heightened emotions than I generally care for... and yet, there's no denying the power of this story.  She also loves her double-meaning names (Milton = Mill town, Thornton = North town, etc), though she's not as cutesy about them as her friend Charles Dickens, so I don't mind much.

I almost wonder if Gaskell got the idea for this by reading Pride and Prejudice and thinking, "Oh, but that's not how I'd have written it."  I know sometimes I get story ideas that way, and there are some marked similarities here -- a woman who thinks badly of a man because she misunderstands him, a man who loves the woman who continually rebuffs him, a botched proposal scene.  Anyone know if Gaskell ever revealed her inspiration for this?

Anyway, this is not my most coherent book review ever, and I'm sorry about that.  I've got so many things to say, I'm kind of overwhelmed.  I'm also trying not to compare it too much to the 2004 miniseries because I'm doing a review of that too, and I'd rather talk about this on its own merits, but it keeps getting tangled up with the movie in my head.  So maybe I should just go ahead and talk about some things I was expecting from this book after having seen the miniseries first.

I wanted to know more of what was going on in Mr. Thornton's head and heart.  I felt like after the miniseries, I understood Margaret Hale pretty well, but John Thornton was still a bit of a cipher.  Here, I was very happily rewarded -- there's quite a bit of time spent in Mr. Thornton's head, and I was pleased.  

I also wanted more wonderful scenes between Nicholas Higgins and Mr. Thornton.  Here, I was disappointed, because the miniseries actually played that up more than the book does.  Nuts.  Of course, Higgins was wonderful all the way through the book; I just wanted more of him, is all.

However, I was very pleased by how much nicer Mr. Henry Lennox is in the book.  He doesn't creepily sneak up on Margaret while she's napping in the meadow, he doesn't stand around glowering at everyone all the time, and he's generally helpful and nice.  I felt quite sorry for him in the miniseries and wanted to like him better, so I'm glad he's more likable here.

And I was happy that Mrs. Thornton was equally as awesome in the book as the movie.  I love how "she walked proudly among women for his sake" (p. 95).  Some people might think she's a bit oddly devoted to John, but I think it's pretty natural for a mother to be proud of the son who has made up for his father's mistakes and then raised himself up into a position of distinction.  I loved her.  Especially since, well, she's shy.  It says so!  "Mrs. Thornton was shy" (p. 96).  I'm shy too.  And I really liked how straight-forward she was, always speaking the truth even if people didn't want to hear it.  Like when she told Margaret, "If you live in Milton, you must learn to have a brave heart, Miss Hale" (p. 116).  She sees to the core of things and dispenses with the frivolous niceties other people would insist on blanketing truth in.

And I can't forget Mr. Bell!  He cracked me up continually!  He had some of the funniest moments in the whole book, and I wish he could have been in it more.  Same goes for Frederick Hale -- he was sweet and brave and kind and wonderful.  I love how quickly he and Margaret understood each other and became sympatico.

One of the things that fascinates me the most about this book is the way both Margaret and Thornton had to realize they were not just wrong about each other, but that they needed to open their minds and hearts to new ideas and ways of doing things.  But at the same time, they don't become new and different people by the end, they've just improved who they already were.  And the same could be said of Nicholas Higgins -- he went through the same sort of transformation they did, which is quite remarkable for a side character.  Mr. and Mrs. Hale, on the other hand, could or would not open themselves up to change, but tried to remain steadfastly the same, and so were broken.

Basically, I loved the contrast between what we are born versus what we make of ourselves, I guess.

I want to reread this again before too terribly long, maybe later this year, to see what more I glean from it.  And maybe then I could write a better review.  We'll see if I manage either of those or not.

Particularly Good Bits:

But the cloud never comes in that quarter of the horizon from which we watch for it (p. 20).

...Susan Lightfoot had been seen with artificial flowers in her bonnet, thereby giving evidence of a vain and giddy character (p. 34).

As she realized what might have been, she grew thankful for what was (p. 68).

...small, keen, bright little spots of positive enjoyment having come sparkling into the very middle of sorrows (p. 104).

"Loyalty and obedience to wisdom and justice are fine; but it is still finer to defy arbitrary power, unjustly and cruelly used -- not on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of others more helpless" (p. 109).

Margaret had always dreaded lest her courage should fail her in any emergency, and she should be proved to be, what she dreaded lest she was -- a coward (p. 173).

He had not loved her without gaining that instinctive knowledge of what capabilities were in her.  Her soul would walk in glorious sunlight if any man was worthy, by his power of loving, to win back her love (p. 264).

"I don't want to be more liberal-minded, thank you," said Mr. Bell (p. 323)

He had the greatest mind in the world to get up and go out of the room that very instant, and never set foot in the house again (p. 324).  (For some reason, that line made me slam the book closed and clasp it to my heart, and I couldn't read any more for hours.)

"...I doubt this smart captain is no great man of business.  Nevertheless, his mustachios are splendid" (p. 356).

"I must not think so much of how circumstances affect me myself, but how they affect others, if I wish to have a right judgment, or a hopeful trustful heart" (p. 391).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some violence and people dying all the time.

This is my 20th book read and reviewed for The Classics Club.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: On the Shelf (Ch. 38)

In which we have a sermon about a wife and mother's proper behavior disguised as a chapter in our book.

Okay, maybe not quite, but on a whole, this one is a lot preachier than the last few chapters, don't you think?  Actually, I quite agree with a lot of what she says here, and it feels very familiar to me, since I'm the mother of three little people.

I well remember that first year after I had Sam, how I had to struggle to find a balance between nurturing him and caring for our house and my husband.  I've been blessed with a very understanding husband who has been engaged in child-rearing from the first minute or so of Sam's life.  But I have really strong mothering instincts and get weirdly selfish about my babies -- happened with all three of them.  For the first 3 months or so, I just want them all to myself, all the time.  I have to force myself to hand them over to him sometimes, even if it's because I need to take a shower or whatever.  People who aren't Cowboy -- wow, letting them hold those little all-important bundles of babyness was almost physically painful sometimes.

So I well understood Meg's exhaustion, and also her stubborn absorbtion in her babies.  And also the need to make a point of spending time with her husband, because guys don't stop needing attention just because there's a baby around now.  Husbands are people too, and wives are wise not to forget that.

Favorite Lines:

" are the sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no fair weather" (p. 350).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Alcott says, "a woman's happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of ruling it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother" (p. 356).  Do you agree?  Disagree?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: New Impressions (Ch. 37)

Time to tell the truth:  I don't particularly ship Laurie and Amy.  I don't want Laurie to marry Jo, but I never quite like him with Amy either.  It just feels too... convenient or something.

However, this is an amusing chapter, with all the little side comments about the way Americans behave in Europe, the way people dance well or badly, etc.  I especially liked how "the Emperor's friend covered himself with glory, for he danced everything, whether he knew it or not, and introduced impromptu pirouettes when the figures bewildered him" (p. 344).  Doesn't he sound like a fun person?

Favorite Lines:

"I'd rather take coffee than compliments just now" (p. 345).

"Foreign life polishes one in spite of one's self" (p. 345).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What are your thoughts on Amy and Laurie's emerging relationship?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Beth's Secret (Ch. 36)

Best as I can tell, this is the sort of thing one wore at the sea side
in the 1860s, so imagine Jo and Beth in something like this.

Another sad chapter :-(  A poignant and soft sadness, though, not like the messy, sloppy sadness of the previous one.  My, how brave both Beth and Jo are, facing such loss, such sorrow with so much courage and acceptance.

Isn't that first description of Beth's face stunning?  "It was no paler, and but little thinner than in the autumn, yet there was a strange, transparent look about it, as if the mortal was slowly being refined away, and the immortal shining through the frail flesh with an indescribably pathetic beauty" (p. 331).  Wow.  You can really tell that Alcott knows whereof she writes, huh?  Her own sister Elizabeth died young, and I imagine writing about fictional Beth's illness and death must have been both painful and cathartic for Alcott.

Favorite Lines:

Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety.  It shows itself in acts rather than in words, and has more influence than homilies or protestations (p. 333).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the fact that Beth seems to have almost foreseen her own early death by never imagining a grown-up life for herself?  Is this realistic?  Or a fictional device?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

AMA Answers #3

The final answers to questions y'all asked on my "Ask Me Anything" post.  If anyone asks questions on it from here on out, I'll just answer them in the comments on that post, okay?

Elizabeth Grace Foley

Do you keep a pen-and-paper record of books read?

In a way.  I keep a more-or-less-daily journal, and in that, I record when I start and finish reading a book.  I also record watching movies and TV show eps in it.  I also still have the written record of all the books I read from about 4th through 12th grade, which is cool to read through sometimes.  Gives me good ideas of books to get for my kids, too.

What do you think is the best/most accurate book-to-movie adaptation you've seen?

Oh my.  Um.  Well, hmm.  I'm not a huge stickler for accuracy in my adaptations because if it's just lifting the words off the page and sticking them in actors' mouths, it's kind of pointless -- I want an adaptation to bring something new to the experience, to make it richer somehow instead of just showing me the exact things I get from reading the book myself.

That being said, I don't know if any adaptation has ever captured a book's spirit quite so well as Anne of Green Gables (1985).

Have you seen Cranford?

Not yet!  My library has it, so I'm hoping to see it soon.

Heidi Peterson

How about your favorite western book? 

Oooooh, good question!  Um, the one I've read most often is probably The Virginian by Owen Wister.  I really love Hondo by Louis L'Amour too, though.

And how many states have you traveled in total?

Forty-eight!  Still haven't hit Alaska or Hawaii.


Well, what is your favorite Pixar movie?

Toy Story (1995).  Just posted my list of my 10 favorite animated movies here yesterday :-)

Also, are you a Star Wars fan?

I am!  I love Han Solo the mostest, but also Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Marvel or DC?

Marvel.  There's only one DC hero I love, namely Robin, but I love ever so many Marvel characters!  Especially Wolverine.  And Thor and Spidey and Professor X and Captain America and and and and...

Have you ever been to an amusement park?

I have been to lots of them!  (Okay, six.)  I'm very fond of amusement parks.  Especially roller coasters.  I could ride roller coasters all day.  Which is why my favorite amusement park is Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, which has lots and lots and lots of roller coasters!  In fact, it's called the Roller Coaster Capital of the World :-)

If you couldn't live in the state where you live now, where would you live?

If I could pick any state, you mean?  I really loved living in North Carolina and Wisconsin, so either of those.


What is your favorite Austen novel?

Persuasion.  And Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth are also my favorite Austen heroine and hero.

What is your favorite film adaptation?

The Man from Snowy River (1982), which is inspired by a poem of the same name, by A. B. "Banjo" Paterson.  It's also my favorite movie of all time :-)

If you were on an isolated island, which books would you want to have with you?

The Bible, complete works of Shakespeare, and the complete Sherlock Holmes canon.  I'd do pretty well with those!

What was the book that made you fall in love with literature?

If you mean what book made me realize I could love classic literature, then it was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, which I first read when I was 11.

Why did you start blogging?

Initially, way back in 2002, I started Hamlette's Soliloquy because I wanted to see if anyone would be interested in reading my rambly thoughts.  I liked the idea of having a place online where strangers could connect with me and we could discuss whatever I was interested in.

I started The Edge of the Precipice ten years later because I wanted to have all my book reviews together in one place where I could link them together with labels and make them easy for people to find.  I had written book reviews on several earlier blogs which I have since abandoned, then wrote some on Hamlette's Soliloquy too, but I really wanted one place for all my book-related thoughts that was self-contained.

I've also had a writing-focused blog, a crafting-focused blog, and a homeschooling-focused blog, but like I said, I've abandoned them for various reasons, mostly because I didn't have as much to say on those subjects as I'd thought.  I do have a recipe blog still, called We Cook Too Much, which I started because my sister-in-law wanted a searchable archive of the recipes Cowboy and I have tried and found tasty.  I update it sporadically.

Do you like white, milk, or dark chocolate?

Yes!  I even like white chocolate even though it isn't really chocolate.

Elizabeth Anne D.

Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

I prefer dark if I have a choice, but milk is tasty too :-9  And thanks to all these questions about chocolate, I just ate a Lindt truffle.

Have you seen 'Merlin'? If so, what did you think of it?

Nope, never have.  Sorry!


Thanks for all the awesome questions, everyone!  This has been a ton of fun.  I think when I hit 900 posts on Hamlette's Soliloquy sometime this summer, I'll done one of these over there too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Heartache (Ch. 35)

This is definitely NOT my favorite chapter.  I just want to shake Laurie and tell him to quit being such a dolt.  Can't he take "no" for an answer and leave it at that?  I do feel sorry for him, with his unrequited love and broken heart and all that, but honestly, he needs to stop being so persistent.  Grr.

I'm very proud of Jo for not giving in and making Laurie temporarily happy.  She must be cruel to be kind, and that's all there is to it. 

Favorite Lines:

Laurie bore himself as young gentlemen usually do in such cases.  He was moody, irritable, and pensive by turns, lost his appetite, neglected his dress and devoted much time to playing tempestuously on his piano, avoided JO, but consoled himself by staring at her from his window, with a tragic face that haunted her dreams by night and oppressed her with a heavy sense of guilt by day (p. 330).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Is it me, or does this chapter go on and on and on?  Do you think there's a reason Alcott has Jo refuse Laurie over and over and over?

Monday, May 18, 2015

AMA Answers #2

More of my answers to your charming questions on my "Ask Me Anything" post last week.  (And if you still want to leave a comment asking questions, you certainly may.  I'll finish up answering the rest in a couple days.)


-What is the most difficult/hard to finish book you've ever read? Did you end up getting through it?

Hmm.  Probably The Iliad.  I did finish it, but it took me over a month, and I was not particularly enthusiastic about it.

-What are you primarily- a reader who writes, or a writer who reads? Somebody asked me this recently and I thought it was a fascinating question.

That IS a fascinating question!  I think I am a reader who writes.  I tend to write books because I myself want to read them, and no one else has written them yet, so I have to.

-If you were stranded on a desert island with one book character, who would you select?

Robinson Crusoe.  He's so clever and resourceful!  And also has remarkable faith.

(Yes, I know this wasn't the most faithful adaptation ever.
HOWEVER!  Pierce Brosnan is always a good idea.)

-Favorite Ice Cream Flavor? :)

Mint chocolate chip :-9

Naomi Bennet

How did you meet 'Cowboy'? :-)

We met at college, at the beginning of my sophomore year, his freshman.  We had two classes together that fall semester, Self-Defense and German.  I found him conceited and annoying, but he was friends with some of my friends, so I kept bumping into him outside classes, and once I got beneath what I had perceived to be hubris, I discovered he was intelligent, kind, and sincere, just without a great deal of social grace, shall we say.  Also, he had magnificently broad shoulders and really cute dimples :-)  And he kept showing up places where I was, like sitting by me in chapel, eating lunch with me and our mutual friends, so I got the feeling he liked me.  (He swears this was unintentional.)

During the spring semester, he asked to borrow some notes from me.  I screwed my courage to the sticking point and wrote in the margins, "If you like me so much, why don't you ask me out already?"  So he did.  We've been together ever since.  

Have you read Gone with the Wind? Like, Love or Hate?

I have.  I liked it fine, but have no great desire to read it again any time soon.  I do watch the movie every few years, though.

Have you ever visited the UK?

No, but it's on my bucket list!  I want to visit Baker Street, the Globe Theater, Stratford on Avon, interesting Jane Austen sites, something J.R.R Tolkien-related... all sorts of literary places :-)

What's your favourite Jane Austen movie?

The 1996 Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Have you seen Little Dorrit?

No :-(  I have to admit I'm not a huge Dickens fan.  However, lots of people speak so highly of that adaptation that I've added it to my to-watch list.  (Plus, Matthew Macfadyen!)

Have you ever found a note in a library book? Or written one, for that matter?

I have found all sorts of interesting things in library books, sometimes tucked in the pages, sometimes scribbled in the margins.  I've found grocery lists, old cash register receipts, and sometimes a note to someone else.  I've also read books where someone felt compelled to correct a typo, and sometimes I've found a comment or word written in, for whatever reason.  I myself Do Not Ever Write In Library Books.  I've probably accidentally left some oddment I was using as a bookmark in one at some time or other, though.  

OH!  I just remembered that after reading The Man in the Box by Mary Lois Dunn for the third or fourth time, I wrote a poem about it (I was probably 14 or so) called "To the Reader:  An Ode" (not at all a pretentious 14-year-old, you can see), copied it off on a sticky note, and stuck it inside the front cover of the book.  I used to go and check and see if it was still there when I went to the library, and for a long time, it was.

That's all for today, kiddos.  Thanks for all the fascinating questions!  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Friend (Ch. 34)

This book just gets better and better.  If you're a fan of Professor Bhaer or Jo, anyway :-)  I keep going, "This chapter is my favorite.  No, this chapter is my favorite."  Isn't this one wonderful?  How subtly Professor Bhaer influences Jo to give up the writing he believes is beneath her, and which her conscience is telling her she shouldn't continue!  Just shows you what great power a good friend can have, whether we realize it or not.

And then by the end, I'm feeling so very sad for Professor Bhaer.  When I got to the part where, "'It is not for me, I must not hope it now,' he said to himself, with a sigh that was almost a groan" (p. 321), I kind of choked up for a minute.  Oh my goodness, poor, good, dear Professor Bhaer.  And yet, he was so good and kind, even in his disappointment, as to see Jo off at the train, with "a bunch of violets to keep her company."

Favorite Lines:

She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish (p. 309).

He was neither rich nor great, young nor handsome, in no respect what is called fascinating, imposing, or brilliant, and yet he was as attractive as a genial fire, and people seemed to gather about him as naturally as about a warm hearth (p. 313).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Of course, here also comes the great discussion that we've been dipping into in the comments already:  Alcott wrote sensational stories herself, and reportedly enjoyed writing them more than writing moralistic stories for the young.  Alcott clearly based Jo on herself.  Are we then to think that Alcott regards the writing she enjoyed to be worthless or dangerous?  Or is she putting this here as an obligatory warning she thinks her audience wants to hear, a warning she herself had no intention of heeding?  What do you think?

Alcott says Jo "was living in bad society, and imaginary though it was, its influence affected her, for she was feeding heart and fancy on dangerous and unsubstantial food" (p. 311).  Do you agree that reading "trashy" books of any sort (gothic romances, bodice-rippers, horror, lurid murder mysteries, etc) will affect you even though you know they're imaginary?  Is there more danger in what you read, or in how much you read of it?  Any other thoughts on this subject?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

AMA Answers #1

Here I am, beginning to answer the questions people asked me in response to my "Ask Me Anything" invitation in my 400th post.  Thanks for all the cool questions, everyone!  I'll be answering more in a couple of days.


"What is your favorite book (If you had to pick just one)"

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Only within the last few years have I admitted that, though.  Until I was about 30, I would have said, The Black Stallion by Walter Farley because that was my favorite book since I was about 7 years old, and I have a really hard time admitting to myself that I like something better than what has always been my most favorite.  However, I do now love Jane Eyre more, and have admitted it to the world.


"What are your top five TV shows?"

Combat! (1962-67)
Angel (1999-2004)
The Big Valley (1965-69)
Five Mile Creek (1983-85)
Cheyenne (1955-63)

Interestingly, I only watched one of these in its original run, namely Angel.  The rest I've discovered via reruns or videos.  Angel is also the only one I started watching as an adult.

"You love the character of Boromir (as rightly you should!). Do you think that people tend to judge him too harshly?"

I think a lot of people do.  I know that before I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater for the first time (remember, I had never read the books before I saw the movies), I mentioned to some friends that I was excited about Sean Bean being in it, and one of them said, "Oh, no!  But he's playing the bad guy!"  I was like, "Oh, I'm used to that, I don't care."  I came out of the movie going, "How can you say he's the bad guy?"  Because I don't think of him that way at all, but a lot of people seem to dismiss him as weak or selfish or mean or bad.  (I wrote a big post about him here a while ago, if you want to know more of my thoughts about him.)

"Do you enjoy animated movies?"

Indeed, I do!  I love many animated movies, and I'm working on a list of my top ten to post on my other blog soon.

"Who is your favorite actor (or top three)? How about favorite actress (or top three)?"


1.  John Wayne
2.  Hugh Jackman
3.  Val Kilmer


1.  Maureen O'Hara
2.  Sandra Bullock
3.  Doris Day

"And, just because you gave me this question, chocolate and peanut butter or chocolate and mint?"

If I had to choose only one for the rest of my life, chocolate and peanut butter.  But I dearly love chocolate and mint too.

Isaac Benjamin

"Have you read the Poetics by Aristotle?"

Not in its entirety, no.  I did read selections from it, years ago, when I took a class on the history of dramatic criticism.

"Have you read the divine comedy by Dante? Does the first third of it make you squeamish?"

Nope.  So, also, nope.  I've read a few selections from it, and I've read kind of a summary so I know the basics of what it's about, but that's it.  I haven't read his Inferno either.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Jo's Journal (Ch. 33)

This is one of my favorite chapters.  And a long one, too!  I love how you can see Jo's affection for Professor Bhaer even though she hasn't really realized the extent of it yet -- such good writing, subtle but clear.  

And my goodness, he's "almost 40," and she's only what, 20?  Let's see, if we assume "almost 40" means he's 38, then if we adhere to the half-plus-seven rule for an "acceptable" age difference, half of 38 is 19, plus 7 is 26, and if Jo is 20, then yeeeeeeeah, he's really a little "too old" for Jo.  HOWEVER!  I happen to adore May-December romances (or April-September, as might be more the case here), so that may be why I've always loved them getting together.  Or maybe my early love of this story helped shape my predilection for romances with big age gaps?  Who knows!

Anyway, brave Jo, packing up and going off to a big city like New York to be a governess.  I'm not sure I'd have the guts to do that.  Yes, I went to college a thousand miles away from home, and I didn't know a single person there, but a tiny Christian college in a small midwestern city is not the same as a job in NYC, even the NYC of back then.  I'm impressed.

Favorite Lines:

I've got sense, if I haven't style, which is more than some people have, judging from the remarks of the elegant beings who clattered away, smoking like bad chimneys.  I hate ordinary people! (p. 301)

"Read him well, and he will help you much, for the study of character in this book will help you to read it in the world and paint it with your pen" (p. 307).  (Prof. Bhaer about Shakespeare)

Possible Discussion Questions:

Jo begins the December entry with "My Precious Betsey" (p. 304), which I took to mean she was addressing Beth, but then at the end, she says, "You see Beth manages [Laurie] better than I did," and "Thank Heaven Beth continues so comfortable" (p. 306), which doesn't sound as if she's directly addressing Beth at all.  Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Post 400 -- Ask Me Anything!

This is my 400th post on this blog!  Pretty crazy, huh?  I thought I'd open this up to all my blogging friends -- ask me anything, book-related or not, and I'll answer your questions in future posts.  As long as they're tasteful, of course ;-)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Marmee March: A Guest Post by Kelly-Anne

by Kelly-Anne

Every time I open my well-worn copy of Little Women, I am captured by the character of Marmee.
I love this wise and gentle mother. I admire her diligent efforts to keep her little daughters from being idle and teaching them through her own example how to attain a servant's heart and a life of true worth.

The author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, describes Mrs March very briefly as "a tall, motherly lady, with a 'can-I-help-you' look about her," and I noticed that she left a lot about Marmee's character merely to dialogue.

"She was not elegantly dressed, but a noble-looking woman and the girls thought the grey coat and unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid mother in the world" (p. 11).

Marmee truly inspires me. From what I understand, she was not a beautiful woman in the eyes of the world, but she had an inward beauty which truly shone through and drew people to her.  She was humble, faithful, wise, understanding, always seeking to uplift another, always ready to help someone in need, motherly, joyful and above all, ever dependent on her Saviour -- both in times of joy and sorrow.

Unlike the many mothers of her time, Mrs March could be explained as quite unworldly in many of her ideas and hopes for her daughters' futures:

- She didn't desire to marry them off to rich husbands, but rather young men who would love and cherish them all the days of their lives.

- She didn't want them to have grand houses, elegant clothes and numerous servants, but rather simple, thankful hearts that were always looking for ways to bless, help and encourage others.

- She didn't encourage vanity, but rather a life of fruitfulness, productivity, and happiness in simple pleasures.

"You have a good many little gifts and virtues, but there is no need of parading them, for conceit spoils the finest genius. There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long, and the great charm of all power is modesty" (p. 66).

Marmee could always be relied upon for a kind word and never too busy to encourage or correct a wandering soul.  But like every mother who has ever walked this earth, she was not perfect and just like you and I, in need of the grace and love that can only come from above.

In chapter 9, we see Marmee regretting her decision to allow Meg to visit a very fashionable and wealthy family for a fortnight of pleasure.  She says, "I was very unwise to let you go among people of whom I know so little -- kind, I daresay, but worldly, ill-bred, and full of these vulgar ideas about young people" (p. 89).

Alcott portrayed Marmee to be a brave, strong lady who was a wonderful support for her family during their long separation.  But in chapter 15 the March ladies receive a telegram saying that their beloved husband and father is lying far away in Washington, desperately ill and perhaps dying.
 Only for a moment does Mrs March's strong character weaken and we catch a glimpse of who she truly was:  someone who was weak and frail, but who had firm faith in the Almighty God.

This brave lady had sent off her husband whom she loved so much and whose opinion she valued above any other, to fight for his country, knowing that anything could happen to him and leave her alone to raise their girls.  She said, "Your father, Jo... He helped and comforted me, and showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess" (p. 75).

Marmee was a very special, Godly woman, and we can see the result of her virtue by observing her four daughters and the wonderful young women that they grew to become.  Her prayers, her wise lessons and her "gentle and quiet spirit" was such a great example for her daughters and I think we can learn a lot from her.

I conclude with one of my favourite quotes by Marmee, taken from chapter 11:

"Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success in spite of poverty."

(Note from Hamlette:  Thank you for this delightful character sketch, Kelly-Anne!  I think you have captured Marmee's likeness beautifully.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Tender Troubles (Ch. 32)

I do feel sorry for Laurie, don't you?  He's so set on Jo, and so fond of her, and probably kind of in love with her too.  And she discourages him any chance she gets because she's unable to think of him as anything more than a friend.  No wonder Laurie's prone to the occasion "Byron fits of gloom" (p. 290).

But I feel sorry for Jo too, because after all, you can't make yourself fall in love with someone.  You can, of course, gradually fall in love with someone you thought you didn't love, but it's not quite the same thing.  You know Jo wants to make Laurie happy, but she can't pretend to love him, and she knows they wouldn't be happy together anyway.

Favorite Lines:

"I never force my children's confidence, and I seldom have to wait for long" (p. 288).

...she preferred imaginary heroes to real ones... (p. 290).

"I'm glad you can't flirt, Jo.  It's really refreshing to see a sensible, straight-forward girl, who can be jolly and kind without making a fool of herself" (p. 293).

But young as she was, Jo had learned that hearts, like flowers, cannot be rudely handled, but must open naturally (p. 295).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Laurie says that "pretty, modest girls are never talked about, except respectfully, among gentlemen" (p. 293).  This has been my experience today, too.  Has it been yours as well? 

Do you think Beth suspects that Jo thinks Beth loves Laurie?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Our Foreign Correspondent (Ch. 31)

What a lot happens in this short chapter!  I just love the use of letters here, don't you?  It works so well to give us glimpses of Amy's physical and emotional journey without devolving into a travelogue.  I do like the epistolary format, though -- I know some people don't.  Isn't it cute how Amy sprinkles little French phrases into her letters?  I can imagine her doing that in conversation too.  Not to be pretentious and show off, but just to practice and use what she's learned.

And then, by the end of the chapter, she's practically engaged to Fred Vaughn.  Oh my.  Isn't it interesting how practical she is about this?  Not mercenary, but practical and clear-headed.  She knows she doesn't love Fred, but she's decided she's okay with that.  She makes me think of Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, marrying Mr. Collins for the security he would provide.  Though I think Fred Vaughn is a good deal more agreeable than Mr. Collins, of course.  

Favorite Lines: 

I ought to have read more, for I find I don't know anything, and it mortifies me (p. 285).

Possible Discussion Questions:  

Do you think Amy and Fred could be happy together?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Announcing the Great Book Giveaway Bonanza!

Remember that idea I had for having lots of book blogs host giveaways at once?  I've made an "official" page for it here, and Heidi Peterson made us 3 nifty buttons so people can spread the word.  If you want to hold a book-related giveaway on your blog and participate in the bonanza, please sign up in the comments on the GBGB page I made.  There's more info about it there too :-)

"Dreaming Spies" by Laurie R. King

Hurrah!  I've finally read the latest book in King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series.  I put a hold on it at the library when it first came out months and months ago, and it came in a few days ago, so I quickly devoured it.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Laurie R. King's writing, especially this series.  And I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though it was less of a whodunit and more of a "stop the blackmailer" type of plot.  Although a big section of the middle felt more like a travelogue than a mystery, I didn't mind because I love spending time with Russell and Holmes in these books, whether they're tramping the Japanese countryside or plotting how to retrieve a stolen thingamabob.  

I didn't like Dreaming Spies as well as the previous two books, Garment of Shadows and Pirate King, but it was still great fun.  Hmm.  I'm in the mood to make lists today, so here are how I rank the books in this series so far, from favorite to least:

1.  The Beekeeper's Apprentice (book 1)
2.  The Game (book 7)
3.  O Jerusalem (book 5)
4.  Garment of Shadows (book 12)
5.  Pirate King (book 11)
6.  Locked Rooms (book 8)
7.  Dreaming Spies (book 13)
8.  Justice Hall (book 6)
9.  The God of the Hive (book 10)
10.  The Language of Bees (book 9)
11.  The Moor (book 4)
12.  A Monstrous Regiment of Women (book 2)
13.  A Letter of Mary (book 3)

I must admit, though, that I've read many of these only once.  Rereadings may change my ranking of these over time.  But today, that's how I feel about them :-)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for suspense, sexual innuendo, and the occasional mild curse word.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Consequences (Ch. 30)

I like Amy better and better as this second half of the book progresses.  She's not so spoiled and flouncy as she was as a child, and she really behaves well in this chapter, doesn't she?  My goodness, she's so adult about all this nonsense at the charity fair!  I love how Jo and Laurie rally the troops around her and make her flower table a huge success -- loyalty always pleases me.  So does magnanimity, and Amy sending them over to the art table she'd been banished from just warms my heart.

But poor Jo, getting left behind from the trip to Europe.  I feel so sad for her.

(I'm sorry these chapter posts are so short lately -- I've had a cold for over a week, which has morphed into bronchitis, and thanks to the illness and cough syrup, my brain is kinda fuzzy.)

Favorite Lines:

"You laugh at me when I say I want to be a lady, but I mean a true gentlewoman in mind and manners, and I try to do it as far as I know how" (p. 276).

Possible Discussion Questions:

If Mrs. Chester hadn't gotten in a tizzy over Jo's impression of her daughter and packed Amy off to the flower table, do you think the art table would have been more or less successful than it was this way?

If Jo had gotten to go on the trip to Europe instead of Amy, how different do you think this book would have been?

Do you wish Alcott had sent Jo to Europe instead?  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Calls (Ch. 29)

This chapter is mostly great fun, isn't it?  Silly Jo, pretending to be first an iceberg, then a flirt, and finally being herself around a bunch of boys.  And her aunts.  Though it's sad at the end, knowing she's missing out on the chance to travel to Europe because she's, well, too honest, I guess.  Do you think that's Alcott's point in this chapter?  That being yourself is all well and good, but that adhering to societal expectations once in a while is beneficial too?  That's our Possible Discussion Question for the day, I think.

Favorite Lines:

"Goodness knows I need a little change, for elegance has a bad effect upon my constitution," returned Jo gruffly, being disturbed by her failure to suit (p. 264).

"'s easier for me to risk my life for a person than to be pleasant to him when I don't feel like it" (p. 266).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Domestic Experience (Ch. 28)

(I know I don't usually post about chapters two days in a row, but I had such an overwhelming weekend that I missed doing posts for a bit, so I'm trying to catch up a little.)

What a sobering chapter this is!  My goodness, Meg gets herself into some rather sad troubles, doesn't she?  It made me think back to my first year as a married woman, and some of the downright absurd disagreements we had as we slowly figured out how this whole marriage thing was going to work.

Also, boom!  Out of the blue, they have babies!  Twins!  Isn't that last page or two kind of odd?  Alcott alludes to Meg getting a new experience, "the deepest and tenderest of a woman's life" (p. 255), which I kind of thought meant pregnancy, but the whole 9 months gets dispatched with a comic scene in which they surprise Laurie with the fact that she's had twins.  Was that whole section just kind of oddly put together, or is it just me?  Oh, isn't giving birth jolly, let's let Laurie name the babies, and tra-la-la, we'll all clown around a while.  Hmm.

Favorite Lines:  

They were very happy, even after they discovered that they couldn't live on love alone (p. 245).

She put it away, but it haunted her, not delightfully as a new dress should, but dreadfully like the ghost of a folly that was not easily laid (p. 253).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Alcott says that "Meg didn't like to be pitied and made to feel poor" (p. 252).  How is being made to feel poor (or ugly, or boring, or untalented, or any other undesirable thing) worse than the simple fact of being it?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Little Women Read-Along: Literary Lessons (Ch. 27)

In which Jo discovers she has a talent for writing sensational fiction and can earn pretty hefty chunks of money with it.  Hurrah for Jo!  She works up the courage to submit a novel for publication, after pretty thoroughly "ruining" it by changing it to suit everyone, which amuses me.  But then she gets it published anyway, which I find a bit convenient or over-happy or something.  Maybe I'm just being curmudgeonly today, but after all the time Alcott spends discussing how Jo messes up the novel, and then it sells anyway?  I"m happy for Jo, but kind of annoyed with Alcott, I guess.

I do love the description of Jo's writing cap, though, don't you?  And how people could tell by what was going on with it whether or not she could be disturbed -- so amusing!

Favorite Lines:

...when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh (p. 238).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What literary lessons do you think Jo has learned?

We know Alcott made some good money by writing sensational literature too.  Do you think her father reacted like Mr. March, saying she could do better?  Or does that feel more like Alcott looking back at her younger self and shaking her head?