Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Villette" Read-A-Long: Chapters 36 to end

Last post for this read-a-long, initiated by Unputdownables.

To see all the posts, click on "Villette read a long" in the right hand bar. 

NOTE: all posts include spoilers

As I was reading these last chapters, I felt so sorry for Lucy.  Is she cursed in relationships?  Just when she was opening up her heart to M. Paul, when "affection and deep esteem and dawning trust had each fastened its bond", she found out from Madame Beck that he was leaving the school for an indefinite time.  This news was even more painful because just ten days prior, he took her hand and "through his touch, and with his words, a new feeling and a strange thought found a course.  Could it be that he was becoming more than friend or brother?  Did his look speak a kindness beyond fraternity or amity?"

To make matters worse, she received no word or visit from him.  And on the day he came to the school to bid farewell, Lucy allowed Madame Beck to manipulate her into not seeing him.  What a silly girl to allow this to happen!  Although Lucy could be headstrong, tough and determined, at other times, as Madame Beck knew, she was completely the opposite.
"She knew my weakness and deficiency; she could calculate the degree of moral paralysis - the total default of self-assertion - with which in a crisis, I could be struck."
Lucy figured out one of Madame Beck's secrets - that she wanted to marry M. Paul.
"Deep into some of Madame's secrets I had entered - I know not how; by an intuition or an inspiration which came to me - I know not whence. In the course of living with her, too, I had slowly learned, that, unless with an inferior, she must ever be a rival.  She was my rival, heart and soul, though secretly, under the smoothest bearing, and utterly unknown to all save her and myself."
Lucy also deduced that the "three self-seekers" as she called them; Madame Beck, Madame Walravens and Pere Silas had conspired to send M. Paul to Guadaloupe to manage M. Walraven's estate.

She comes to believe the M. Paul is to marry Justine Marie Sauveur "and then - something tore me so cruelly under my shawl, something so dug into my side, a vulture so strong in beak and talon, I must be alone to grapple with it. I think I never felt jealousy till now."  Poor, poor Lucy.

Fast forward to the end - M. Paul does love Lucy!  And shows this by setting up a home/school for her.  A place for her to wait for his return and while doing so, to work for herself.
"Lucy, take my love. One day share my life. Be my dearest, first on earth."
These words must have fallen so sweetly on her ears and after lodging in her heart, filled her with inexpressible joy.

Three years passed and then while on his way home to her, a seven day storm on the Atlantic left wrecks in its wake.  Was M. Paul one of them?  The end does not make it clear, but I would guess yes.

Lucy is a survivor.  And a realist and pragmatist.  I don't think she withered away in grief and melancholy.  Rather, she probably found great comfort having been loved by M. Paul for three years, the happiest in her life.  I don't think she would have traded this for anything.  In fact, her words before he set sail, never to be seen again, only heard from in precious letters, is how, I think, she feels until the time they are united in death.
"He deemed me born under his star: he seemed to have spread over me its beam like a banner.  Once - unknown, and unloved, I held him harsh and strange; the low stature, the wiry make, the angles, the darkness, the manner, displeased me.  Now, penetrated with his influence, and living by his affection, having his worth by intellect, and his goodness by heart - I preferred him before all humanity."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"The Hearing" by John Lescroart

Published: 2001
Read: 2011
Genre: Fiction -  Courtroom Drama
Setting: San Francisco
Rating: 3
Reviews: Goodreads
Author web site

First learned of this author via a Washington Post book review back in January 2011.  I enjoy legal thrillers so wrote his name as well as other unknown/unread authors of this genre in my little book: Scott Turow, Justin Peacock,  Michael Connelly, Robert Reuland.

Found this book at a local library for $1.  It is the seventh out of thirteenth in a series involving defense attorney Dismas Hardy.

The Hearing reminds me of a Law and Order episode except with a few twists.  In a typical episode, the homicide detectives and the prosecution are working together to put the bad guys/gals in jail.  In this story, the detective and defense team up to find the real killer.

The victim is a promising young attorney who was shot and killed in an alley. A heroin addict, Cole Burgess, is found at the murder scene with incriminating evidence. He has confessed but questions arise regarding the authenticity of this confession.  Abe Glistsky, the homicide detective on duty is shocked to see the victim is none other than his estranged daughter.  The defense attorney is his best friend, Dismas Hardy.  The DA, Sharon Pratt has been soft on crime which has hurt her in the polls and since it is an election year, she is reversing course by seeking the death penalty for Cole Burgess.

It took a while to get into the story, but once I did, it became a page turner.  The plot got a bit complicated so reading at night was problematic as I retained probably 70%.  I had to re-read the ending in the morning to fully understand how all the pieces fit together.


  • Interested in reading other books by Lescroart.
  • Read books by other authors

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Villette" Read-A-Long: Chapters 31 - 35

Seventh post for this read-a-long, initiated by Unputdownables.

To see all the posts, click on "Villette read a long" in the right hand bar. 

NOTE: all posts include spoilers

Coming down the home stretch of my first structured "read-a-long."  Reading the assigned 5 chapters a week allowed plenty of time for reflection, hypothesizing and writing.  Not how I usually read a book.

As a reader, I have wondered (and worried) about Lucy: her past, what will come of her, will she find true love, etc.  A number of questions have been answered in this section.  Not really the way I expected.

1) Regarding her feelings for Dr. Graham: Lucy admits that she likes Polly and she knows that he likes her too.  By these words she blesses their match: "You must be united.  I knew the first day I saw you together at La Terrasse.  In all that mutually concerns you and Graham there seems to me promise, plan, harmony."  Lucy seems genuinely happy at their union; there is not a hint of jealousy, regret or bitterness.

2) Her feeling about M. Paul are so conflicted.  There is a point where she knew he was seeking her and instead of staying put, she fled!  Even she did not understand why. "I felt from the first it was me he wanted - me he was seeking - and had not I wanted him too?  What, then, had carried me away?  What had rapt me beyond his reach?"  Lucy, Lucy - still a study in contradictions!

3) Lucy finds out about M. Paul's true love, a deceased woman named Justine Marie while on an errand for Madame Beck to deliver fruit basket.  After listening to a story by the same priest who took her confession many chapters ago (how convenient), Lucy now calls M. Paul her "Christian hero" and one who is "half-knight" or "half-saint".

4) Is sibling love all that will be between M. Paul and Lucy?  A platonic, devoted but virtuous love?  It seems so and Lucy is content.  "I envied no girl her lover, no bride her bridegroom, no wife her husband; I was content with this my voluntary, self-offering friend.  If he would but prove reliable, and he looked reliable, what, beyond his friendship, could I ever covet?"

It appears loose ends are wrapping up nicely, albeit not as expected as Lucy may not find true love after all.  There are six chapters left - what could possible happen?  The title of the next chapter, The Apple of Discord, seems ominous.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Villette" Read-A-Long: Chapters 26 - 30

Fifth post for this read-a-long, initiated by Unputdownables.

To see all the posts, click on "Villette read a long" in the right hand bar. 

NOTE: all posts include spoilers

The title of Chapter 26 is "A Burial".  I began reading wondering who had died.  Lo and behold, Lucy was talking about burying letters from Dr. John!   But not just her letters.....
"But I was not only going to hide a treasure - I meant also to bury a grief. That grief over which I had lately been weeping, as I wrapped it in its winding sheet, must be interred."
As one who has been truly grieving for the past two years over the death of my 17 year old son, this seems so trivial and trite.  Give me a break, Lucy!

It is interesting that in this same chapter, Lucy give us an idea of how others view her.  Since this is coming from her, rather than an omniscient narrator, how reliable is it?  What if I put to pen what others thought of me?
"Madame Beck esteemed me learned and blue; Miss Fanshawe, caustic, ironic and cynical; Mr Home, a model teacher, the essence of the sedate and discreet...while another person, Professor Paul Emanuel, to wit, never lost an opportunity of intimating his opinion that mine was rather a fiery and rash nature - adventurous, indocile, and audacious."
Regardless, it FINALLY has given me a glimpse of Lucy - like a mirror reflecting her character.  Nothing is surprising as she is all of these things.

Fast forward - it has been three months since Dr. John has spoken to her, "a lapse of which he was not even conscious."  So his letters and her grief are well buried.

The last three chapters focus on M. Paul and curious interactions between he and Lucy.  Reminiscent of 13 year old, immature adolescent kids - trying to figure out if they like each other.  Not sure if I like M. Paul - he seems so extreme in nature, but maybe is the the perfect fit for Lucy.  Or maybe she is the perfect fit for him.

The plot is picking up so am eager to see what will happen to these characters.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Villette" Read-A-Long: Chapters 23-25

Fifth post for this read-a-long, initiated by Unputdownables.

To see all the posts, click on "Villette read a long" in the right hand bar. 

NOTE: all posts include spoilers.

This post is on three chapters which will get me in line with our reading schedule.  And an interesting three chapters they are!

Finally, Polly enters the picture.  The daughter of a Count, she is young, beautiful, sweet and refined.  Having lived a privileged life in the constant care of her loving father, it strikes me how opposite her life is to Lucy's.

So a stranger has come to town (master plot).  But not a real stranger, in fact, this is more like a reunion.  Those who were together at the beginning of the story are keeping company again.  Dr. John has for the second time, rescued the "damsel in distress".  He brought Lucy to his home after her breakdown in the street and he is the one to carry Polly out of the theatre and the threat of fire.  Hmmmm - a bit of a pattern here?

I have said "poor Lucy" to myself numerous times throughout the book and I said it again - out loud - while reading about the seven weeks without any letter, word, or visit from Dr. John.  Lucy's description:
"I suppose animals kept in cages, and so scantily fed as to be always upon the verge of famine, await their food as I awaited a letter."
In another passage, she likens it to being in solitary confinement or being a "long buried prisoner".  This is how it was for her to have no word from Dr. John.  How sad.  What might have been opaque is now crystal clear - Lucy is attached to Dr. John and this separation nearly drove her mad.

My questions now:

  • Dr John seems enamored by Polly and she with him.  Is something going to develop between them, right under Lucy's nose? 
  • What is going to happen to our poor heroine?   

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Excellent Women" by Barbara Pym

Published: 1952
Read: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Setting: London 1950's
Rating: 3
Reviews:  Goodreads and Books and Chocolate and Dovegreyreader
Web sites: Index of Barbara Pym's writings

Picked this book up at the library after reading a review from Books and Chocolate.  Protagonist is an unmarried spinster named Mildred Lathbury who spends her time attending church services, volunteering at church events such as the jumble sale and Christmas bazaar, and visiting "distressed gentlewomen".  She lives alone as both parents are deceased and has a small group of friends.  Her life is stable, predictable and uneventful.

Until some strangers come to town (master plot).  These are the new neighbors, Helena and Rockingham  "Rocky" Napier, Helena's anthropologist colleague, Everard Bone (what a crazy name) and newly widowed and beautiful Allegra Gray.  Four strangers that insert themselves into her life and thoughts or musings.

I am reading Villette by Charlotte Bronte and find similarities between Mildred and Lucy Snowe.  Both fit the definition of an excellent woman as stated on the back cover of Pym's book: "the smart, supportive, repressed women whom men take for granted."

Other similarities: both are mild-mannered and perhaps pride themselves in the ability to keep their feelings in check, under tight rein and control.  Both are quiet observers - interested in mentally documenting the good/bad characteristics of those around them.  Both are reluctant to impose themselves on others and tend to keep relationships at a safe distance.  Both enjoy the company of others but need time to themselves.  Both are self sufficient and independent, which is a treasured state of being.

Tea and the making of tea is mentioned many times in the book.  My favorite tea quotes:
"So he did remember me like that after all - a woman who was always making cups of tea.  Well, there was nothing to be done about it now but to make one."
"The tea was made now and it was as strong as it had been weak on the day Helena had left him.  I wondered why it was that tea could vary so, even when one followed exactly the same method in making it.  Could the emotional state of the maker have something to do with it?"
I kept reading, hoping for a "happily ever after" ending.  Would Mildred leave spinsterhood and find love with Julian Malory, the vicar with whom everyone wanted her paired with or Everard Bone, the quirky, unsociable anthropologist?

The last paragraph sums it up - although she will not find love per se, she will find a fulfilled life in meeting the needs of others - in being and remaining an 'excellent woman'.
"He (Malory) might need to be protected from the women who were going to live in his house.  So, what with my duty there and the work I was going to do for Everard, it seemed as if I might be going to have what Helena called 'a full life' after all." 
I would be interested in reading more of this author.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"The Well Educated Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer

Subtitle: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had

Published: 2003
Read: 2011
Genre: Non Fiction
Rating: 4
Reviews: Goodreads

This book was in my library's carousel entitled "Books on Books".

Bauer is a professor of American Literature at the College of William and Mary in my home state of Virginia.  This paragraph of the jacket insert intrigued me:
"..offers brief, entertaining histories of five literary genres - fiction, autobiography, history, drama and poetry - accompanied by detailed instructions on how to read each type."
More specifically, the chapter called "Keeping the Journal: A Written Record of New Ideas" is what prompted me to check out the book.  After listening to The Art of Reading in which Professor Spurgin encourages taking notes while reading, I wanted to get a bit more direction.  And this book delivered.  I read the book (and journaled through it) while on the plane for a business trip to San Diego.  I was itching to dog-ear and write in the book and have determined that it is one that I must have.

Bauer says that classical learning is divided into three stages, known as the trivium.
"In the classical school, learning is a three-part process.  First, taste: Gain basic knowledge of your subject. Second, swallow: Take the knowledge into your own understanding by evaluating it.  Is it valid?  Is it true?  Why?  Third, digest: Fold the subject into your own understanding.  Let it change the way you think - or reject it as unworthy.  Taste, swallow, digest; find out the facts, evaluate them, form your own opinion."
From this premise, introduced in the first chapter, the rest of the book flows.  Bauer devotes three additional chapters on fleshing out these stages and then proceeds with specific application to the five genres.  She also gives an annotated book list that should be read in order because:
"when you read chronologically, you reunite two fields that should never have been separated in the first place: history and literature."    
A second reason is that:
"writers build on the work of those who have gone before them, and chronological reading provides you with a continuous story. What you learn from one book will reappear in the next.  But more than that: You'll find yourself following a story that has to do with the development of civilization itself."
Bauer gives her opinion as to why one translation/edition of a medieval or foreign work might be better than another.  If there is a choice, she puts the passages side by side so the reader can determine which one will be more suitable.

She also suggests audiobook versions for the Illiad and Odyssey by Homer and Beowulf.   If I ever tackle these epic poems, it will be by listening to them. 

Here is the recommended fiction list:
  1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
  2. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1679)
  3. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1815)
  5. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
  6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
  7. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  (1850)
  8. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
  9. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1851)
  10. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
  11. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
  12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  13. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878)
  14. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)
  15. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
  16. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
  17. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
  18. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)
  19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  20. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
  21. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)
  22. Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
  23. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  24. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
  25. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
  26. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow (1956)
  27. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)
  28. If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino (1972)
  29. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
  30. White Noise by Don Delillo (1985)
  31. Possession by A.S Byatt (1990)
Since literature should not be separated from history, she suggests investing in history books such as History of the American People by Paul Johnson and Oxford History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan. In preparation, the reader should look at twenty years of history on either side of the novel, perhaps keeping a timeline of main events in the reading journal. 

This is just a snippet of useful information found in the book.  I do plan to buy it and keep as a reference book.  I like the idea of brushing up on my history at the same time. 

I'm still deciding on whether or not to start a second journal - a literary journal or a "commonplace book".  I would use it to implement the ideas gained thus far.  In addition, I found a "how to to get started" site. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

"The Book That Changed My Life" Edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen

Subtitle:  71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them.  

Published: 2006
Read: 2011
Genre: non fiction
Rating: 3
Review: Goodreads

Found this book at the library carousel entitled "Books about Books".

The editor of this book, Roxanne Coady founded R. J Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut after working 20 years as a tax accountant.   The book is a compilation of short stories by authors who at some point in their career, have read their book at Coady's store.  In their story, they share about the book or books that have changed their life.  It is a quick and fascinating read.

All proceeds go to the Read to Grow Foundation whose mission is to promote early childhood literacy by partnering with urban hospitals to supply families of newborn babies with books.   They also supply books to daycares, schools, clinics and home so have increased their outreach to young children.

I think this is a wonderful example of how a book-loving person has channeled that passion into a livelihood and a foundation that promotes literacy among underprivileged children.

The intro says it all:
"Every day in the store we see how books change lives, in big ways and small, from the simple desire to spend a few quiet hours in a comfy chair, swept away by a story, to the profound realization that the reader is not alone in the world, that there is someone else like him or her, someone who has faced the same fears, the same confusions, the same grief, the same joys.  Reading is a way to live more lives, to experience more worlds, to meet people we care about and want to know more about, to understand others and develop a compassion for what they confront and endure."
The underline is my emphasis.  It is why books have become so much more important to me...since the tragic death of my beloved son.  Opening the pages of some of the survivor of suicide books is like dropping in on a support group - on my time, when I am ready.  They have been invaluable to me in the work to process our sudden loss.  And it is work.  There is nothing easy about it.  And it helps to know that others have had to do this hard work and have survived.  Have found a way to live - while incorporating such a loss into themselves, their hearts, minds and psyches.

Below are the books to add to my TBR list.  Some I recognize, many I do not.

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
The Way we Live Now by Anthony Trollope
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oates
Little, Big by John Crowley
Escaping Into The Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg
From Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway
Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard
So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Villette" Read-A-Long: Chapters 13 - 22

Fourth post for this read-a-long, initiated by Unputdownables.

To see all the posts, click on "Villette read a long" in the right hand bar. 

NOTE: all posts include spoilers.

I am continuing to enjoy this book in which Bronte has created in Lucy, a complex and interesting character.  I have recently finished listening to the audiocourse, Art of Reading,  and am using Villette as a vehicle to practice the newly learned tools.

In the course, Professor Spurgin suggests writing down the chapter numbers and next to each, noting the entrance/exit of a main character, any changes in setting, if there is a destabalizing event, etc to determine if a pattern exists.  As I look back over the chapters, there is something significant that happens in every one.  For example, the changes to setting are numerous: the Bretton home, leaving for 8 years (where does she go?), London, boat to France, Villette, Rue Fossette, La Terrasse, art gallery, concert hall, back to Rue Fossette.  The list is longer if the places within Rue Fossette are noted: classroom, garden, alley, attic, fete, etc.

In last week's post, I wrote of the contradictions within Lucy's character.  Turns out, she is not the only one.
"The reader is requested to note a seemingly contradiction in the two views which have been given of Graham Bretton - the public and private - the out-door and the in-door view. In the first, the public, he is shown oblivious of self; as modest in the display of his energies, as earnest in their exercise.  In the second, the fireside picture, there is expressed consciousness of what he has and what he is; pleasure in homage, some recklessness in exciting, some vanity in receiving the same.  Both portraits are correct."
Lucy observes and notes the discrepancies, idiosyncrasies and nuance contradictions in the people around her.  I also find this idea of a "public and private" face or an "out-door and in-door"  view of a person thought-provoking.  Isn't this true of most people?  Of me?  Is this part of human nature to show different sides of ourselves in different situations?  And as Lucy says, all sides or "portraits" shown are correct?  And therefore, to really know someone, you must see both public and private life.  The only way for Lucy to have seen the "private" face of Dr. Bretton was to end up in his home.

Another thought from the Art of Reading.  Prof. Spurgin talks about looking for the conflicts either outside or within the main character by asking questions like: what do they want?  If the conflict is outside of the character what are the external obstacles to obtaining what they want?  And if the conflict is within the character, this question is a good one:  Do they want what they shouldn't want?  And how do they deal with this?

Lucy struggles with internal conflict.  She wants Dr. Graham but doesn't want to want him.  This inner fight shows up in the passage where she talks to the part of herself called "Reason".  They argue about Lucy's response in the event Dr. Bretton should write as promised.  Reason is harsh, unrelenting and downright horrible.
"This hag, this Reason, would not let me look up, or smile, or hope: she could not rest unless I were altogether crushed, cowed, broken-in, and broken-down.  According to her, I was born only to work for a piece of bread, to await the pains of death, and steadily through all life to despond."
So the questions I have after finishing this section are:
  • Is there going to be a love triangle? Two men are in Lucy's life now: Dr. Graham Bretton and M. Paul Emanuel. She is drawn to one who appears to view her only as a close friend while the other shows interest in her, but she finds him annoying.
  • What does Dr. Bretton think of Lucy?  Who will he love, if not Ginerva?
  • Why the conversation with "Reason?"  Why is she so harsh?
  • It feels like Lucy has a secret.  What is it?  Who is she?  Where did she come from?  These questions remain unanswered and I am beginning to wonder if they ever will be.