Cranford

Yes, Audible misspelled the author’s last name. It bothered me every time I opened the app to listen.

I’ve been on an Elizabeth Gaskell kick the past couple years, though I’m trying to pace myself so I don’t race through them all. I’ve read North & South (and watched the beautiful BBC miniseries) and Wives and Daughters (which I loved despite being unfinished), and last month I listened to Cranford via my Audible subscription.

This book feels like a miniseries in which you get to know the residents of a small English town and their misadventures. The narrator is a young woman who visits periodically and writes about the lives of the middle-aged women who mostly run the town.

Since it’s a series of vignettes, it doesn’t feel like a cohesive story, but there is a protagonist, Miss Matty Jenkyns, a respectable spinster whose gentle ways work her into the center of life in Cranford. The “adventures” are gentle and often hilarious, and I love Gaskell’s description of the friendship and loyalty between all these women.

It’s short and gentle, and a fun listen on my work commutes.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a BBC miniseries of Cranford, which I liked pretty well and it has a stellar cast (Judi Dench is Matty Jenkyns, so). The miniseries adds a few characters, like a young attractive doctor who catches the eye of several young (and some not-as-young) ladies, and focusing partially on a doctor makes me incredibly glad I live in the 21st century with more modern medicine. Whew. Being a country doctor in the 19th century was no joke. The first series is available to stream on Amazon Prime if you’re interested.

Read as part of my Classics Club 50 Books in 5 Years project.

★ ★ ★

To the Lighthouse

 I’ll open with a confession: I don’t really care for stream-of-consciousness style of writing, and this book was a lot of that.

This book is about a particular group of people (centrally the Ramsay family) at a particular point in time, and then the family again, a few years later on another day.  Woolf primarily goes from person to person as the day progresses, detailing their inner monologue.

In fairness, there are moments when I think Woolf really captures how one’s thoughts can jump so quickly between being happy with another person and then feeling so distant the next. We are all paradoxes, and there are some lovely passages in this book that feel really true.

However, I didn’t really enjoy reading this book. I enjoy stories and books with a bit more plot. I’m fine reading about the thoughts of characters as a part of a story, but I don’t want a book almost wholly composed of those thoughts.

It was exhausting to me to keep jumping from person to person, hearing their sometimes self-indulgent thoughts, and I wanted to know more about what happened in the time between the two days. The first day is before World War II, and the second day after. In between these times, several characters die in asides in the brief middle passage, with not much notice taken, which is interesting in one sense, and maddening in another.

I’d love to hear from someone who enjoys Woolf, and this book in particular, to see what I’m missing, or what appealed to them.

★ ★

The Broken Earth Trilogy

Broken Earth Trilogy PicI recently finished reading N. K. Jemisin‘s Broken Earth Trilogy: The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky.

The first book starts with a cataclysmic event from the perspective of an unusually gifted woman who then starts on a quest to find her missing daughter. The book shifts between three female perspectives and doesn’t really stop to let you catch up–there isn’t time. I was intrigued but also confused for the first 50 pages or so. I discovered later that there is a glossary of terms in the back of the book, which might help the first-time reader (I’m impatient though, and hate flipping to the back, so I took the approach that eventually I’d figure out what all these new words meant. I did, so it worked out).

The second and third books expand this fractured, pain-filled world further, and Jemisin’s imagination is on display here. Her characters are messy, interesting, and just trying to survive. In a brutal dying world, all choices are hard.

The books explore the relationships between oppressed and oppressor, and what happens when the rules shift during times of disaster.

These books all won awards (the first two won the Hugo and the third won the Nebula), and I think well-deservedly. They are well-written, fast-moving, heartbreaking, and I deliberately read them slowly so I could remember them better (I hope) than if I just inhaled them.

A friend lent me these books after I read Dune earlier this year, and there are certainly parallels: inhospitable environments, power struggles, and quests. Where Dune is more science fiction though, I’d call The Fifth Season fantasy (some people have magical abilities, and we don’t need an explanation of why). But they share some similar tones. The Fifth Season also has a female protagonist, while Dune is heavily male-centric.

Dune has more political machinations, and in the Fifth Season trilogy, I think the characters are more nuanced. Both are great feats of imagination, which is what I love about science fiction and fantasy stories. While we can escape into theses stories for a while, their ideas linger into the real world and make us question the way we approach our real problems.

EDIT/ UPDATE: It was just announced that The Stone Sky has won the 2018 Hugo award, so now all three books in the Broken Earth trilogy have won this award! Awesome.

Othello

sammie-vasquez-490032-unsplash I’ve started my “50 Classic books in 5 years” challenge with Shakespeare’s Othello (chosen by the Classics Club Spin for August). Since it’s nice and short, I’ve finished it already, so it’s good to start with something quick to get started.

I’m familiar with the plot of Othello, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it performed, so I’ll have to add it to my list.

The downside of reading a Shakespeare play is wading through the dense and often unfamiliar language and risking missing some of what’s going on. The upside is recognizing some Shakespeare-coined phrases (“O! beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”).

I enjoyed reading about the adventures and misadventures of the characters and rolled my eyes at everyone calling Iago “honest” and “trustworthy.” I forgot how he played everyone the whole time. That guy really held a grudge!

Also, the story wrapped up quickly there at the end with lots of stabbing and a little strangling. Those people really just took Iago’s word for it that they needed to kill with no other proof and got to the killing.

Two great comedy takes (fair warning: there’s some not-safe-for-work language here): Key & Peele on Othello and If Desdemona Had a Sassy Gay Friend

A brief review can’t do this great play justice, but I definitely recommend re-reading Othello, and I hope I can get to a production sometime soon!

“I kissed thee ere I killed thee, no way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.”

★ ★ ★ ★

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

Books, books, books!

boy-reading-surpriseOnce again, I’m embarking on a book reading challenge that I may (or may not–but let’s stay optimistic here!) complete. I’ve read some interesting books this year, but I also want to sprinkle in some more classics, and I want a moderate degree of accountability to read some books on my “I really should get around to reading this–it’s a classic!” list.

So I’ve joined the Classics Club and their 50 books in 5 years challenge. Here’s my big list.

I’m not sure exactly where to start, so I’m going to create this list of 20 of the books, wait for the Classics Club August Book Spin, where they will pick a number, and that’s the book I’ll start with. To give myself a good chance of not quitting immediately, I’m only picking books with less than 450 pages for this first month. I looked up the books on Goodreads and grabbed page numbers from there. My actual page count may vary depending on what edition I read, but I thought at least that would give me a general idea.

If you’re curious, the longest tome on my list is War & Peace, with 1275 pages. Yeah, I’m not going to start there.

Here are my options (I have more books under 450 pages, but I grabbed 20 at random):

  1. Forster, E.M.: Room With a View (119 p)
  2. Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse (209 p)
  3. Gaskell, Elizabeth: Cranford (257 p)
  4. Wharton, Edith: The Age of Innocence (332 p)
  5. Waugh, Evelyn: Brideshead Revisited (351 p)
  6. Burns, Olive: Cold Sassy Tree (405 p)
  7. Sayers, Dorothy: Have His Carcase (440 p)
  8. Hemingway, Ernest: A Moveable Feast (192 p)
  9. Shakespeare, William: Othello (314 p)
  10. Christie, Agatha: A Murder is Announced (288 p)
  11. L’Engle, Madeleine: Many Waters (352 p)
  12. Wilde, Oscar: The Picture of Dorian Gray (367 p)
  13. Cather, Willa: My Antonia (232 p)
  14. Marquez, Gabriel Garcia: Love in the Time of Cholera (348 p)
  15. Du Maurier, Daphne: The House on the Strand (352 p)
  16. le Carre, John: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (381 p)
  17. Austen, Jane: Persuasion (249 p)
  18. Camus, Albert: The Stranger (123 p)
  19. Gaskell, Elizabeth: Mary Barton (437 p)
  20. Alcott, Louisa May: Little Women/ Good Wives (449 p)

I’ll be back to let you know what I’m reading first!

UPDATE: The Classics Club spin chose #9, so I’m starting with Othello. An interesting place to start! I’ll let you know how it goes.

https://youtu.be/MIqFgimdJ6o

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash