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The Blue Castle

In between all the sleeping in, paddle-boating and swimming with my friend up at the cottage last week, I found some time for reading material beyond our million or so back issues of Seventeen, People and Vogue. I brought up The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery, who’s also the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, (which is the best series in the entire world, just by the way) and it was the most perfect book for reading by the beach and pool.

Firstly, it’s by LMM, so obviously it was predetermined to be awesome: nice, cozy writing style; fulfilled expectation of a happily-ever-after ending; lovable heroine and quaint, early twentieth century, rural Canadian setting. Okay, fine, depending on the kind of person you are, that might not appeal to you and even if you’d like this book, that description probably makes it sound very lame. But it was awesome and those are the qualities that I loved about it, so if you have a problem with that, it’s your problem, not mine.

Photo credit: Goodreads.com

The difference between this book and the other books I’ve read by LMM, is that (as you probably know) her other books are geared towards a younger, more child based audience (which of course doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment in the least) whereas this is one of LMM’s only books for grownups. This means that there is drinking and drunks and even *gasp* an illegitimate baby. While nothing in the book is quite so shocking or even unusual to a twenty-first century reader, it felt just a little bit scandalous to read about such things in an L. M. Montgomery novel. I say this because, (for the uninitiated or the grownups who haven’t hung out with Anne Shirley lately), in one of the later Anne books (I believe it’s Anne’s House of Dreams, but don’t quote me on that one) she has a baby and the narrator describes the baby as being brought by a stork. Yes, you did read that correctly, a stork. This grownup book also tiptoes around such subjects, but much less so, and you have to bear in mind that these books were written in a different time and the woman writing them was married to a minister, so I’m sure she felt restricted in what she could write.

That being said, part of LMM’s charm is the classic, from-a-completely-different-world-but-the-people-are-still-the-same-as-they-are-now feel. And after studying and annotating serious (although still enjoyable) books for my Literature exam for days on end, this was just the right break I needing before coming home and doing the same with different books for my English exam.

And now that my English exam is over (as of yesterday at noon!!) I get to move on to new books over the summer. I already have a somewhat substantial to-read list, including Romeo and Juliet (although I may just watch the movie, if that isn’t absolute heresy), anything by Alice Munro, something by Willa Cather (who was recently recommended by the best English teacher in the world), perhaps The Great Gatsby, more by LMM and more of Louisa May Alcott’s easily-read, happily-ending classics and so on.

Any audience suggestions? I want a nice mix between cozy, happy endings to be read by the pool or beach and brilliant literature that you cannot be a complete human being without having read.

Little Women

Photo credit: Amazon.com

Unlike most of my other favourite books, Little Women was shockingly not recommended by my (very favourite) former English teacher. I actually thought about giving the real book (as opposed to the unreal book) a try after reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club, an adorable young adult series that I borrowed from my little sister. In the first book they read Little Women and in the next few they go on to read Pride and Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables. So obviously this is an awesome series for this fact alone. In fact, while my sister reads these books because (like most normal people when reading a book) she genuinely cares about the characters, I read them solely for the allusions to the books I actually read. Like, for example, one of the main characters, her mother’s obsessed with Jane Austen, so she and her brother are named Emma and Darcy after Jane’s characters. And every chapter starts with a quote from the book their book club is currently reading. Let’s just say this series is pretty awesome.

So, I began reading Little Women over the summer, after borrowing it from a friend who told me it was amazing. She was right. I love little women so, so very much. It’s just such a deliciously, delightfully light read, with lots of little pieces of gold that are so true to life.

I also really liked the nice, warm happy ending when the whole family bonding so sweetly together. I think that, especially in today’s age of technology and the constant focus on money and financial success, it it so nice and refreshing to have the emphasis placed on family and love and all those things, which, to me,  are what really matter.

Now, I know that some people aren’t so satisfied with the fact that Jo ends up with Prof. Bhaer, but personally I thought it ended just right in that respect. No, it wasn’t quite like Pride and Prejudice where I fall in love with him by the end, but it really isn’t about if love him, it’s about Jo loving him! Even in P&P, the whole reason I love Mr. Darcy is because he’s so perfect for Elizabeth. Same goes for Prof. Bhaer, I like him and I’m satisfied with Jo’s marriage to him because I think they’re right for each other.

I’m sure some people think that Jo should have gotten together with Laurie in the end, but I just don’t see that working out. When I was younger and read the abridged version (which you can read about here) I actually did think they should end up together. When Amy met up with him in Europe, while Jo was at home, I was under the impression that Jo wanted Laurie, despite her protests and that was why she was sad. I thought Amy was such an obnoxious, little brat.

However, upon reading the real thing, I realized that she really didn’t care about Laurie in that way. She genuinely wanted him to find someone else and was glad that that someone else was her sister. She and Laurie wouldn’t have made a good couple, they’re too similar, like two tornadoes, they each need someone who can ground them and is different enough to be a foil. I think they work so much better as brother- and sister-in-law.

Furthermore, by the end, I really wanted Jo and Prof. Bhaer to get together because of how desperately she finds herself wishing for his proposal. He comes  to visit the town where she lives and stays nearby for a bit, frequently coming to visit her household. On I think it’s his final day, she goes to off to the market to buy something where she hopes to bump into him — who hasn’t done such a thing? When they do meet, she’s just in agonies, wondering if maybe she had read him wrong and he really doesn’t plan on proposing at all. When he finally does, I, for one, was elated for her. It didn’t really matter how felt about him, Louisa May Alcott wrote it so effectively that I completely empathized with Jo and wished for exactly the same things she did, regardless of my own sentiments (if that make any sense…) And that, I think, is what makes effective writing.

The thing I love so much about this book is its capacity to make me both laugh and cry. I thought it was the perfect balance between reflective and (mostly) realistic, (especially in the way she addressed John and Meg’s marriage, showing that even with all their love, it wasn’t perfect, but something they had to work  at) while also keeping it light and entertaining.

To see my previous post on Little Women click here.

For a list of my other favourite books click here.

Dear me, let us be elegant or die.

Little Women was almost ruined for me before I even read it. Which is such a shame, because now that I have read it it’s one of my favourite books.

Let Us Be Elegant or Die

How pretty! From chickylovit on Etsy

It all started when I was younger (I don’t recall how young,  but sometime between grade three and four perhaps? ). There is this woman who’s friends with my family, but we only see her on occasion. Every time we did see her, she’d bring us presents of some sort. While I was a late reader my love of reading began years ago when I was in grade three, and I guess this woman knew that because she would always give me books. Now, books are never a good option as a gift. Unless you know someone very well, it’s difficult to know what they’d like to read. You’d want to get them a book they’ve yet to read, but how would you know if they’ll even like it? Their are a few “universals” that of course everyone must love, but likely the recipient has either read this book already or they will of course be the one person who doesn’t care for that book. Moral of the rant: don’t buy books for a random friend’s child if you have no idea what they may or may not care to read.

This woman would always bring me books that she obviously bought for less than five dollars at a second-hand bookshop. Look, it was a very sweet gesture, and I’m sure she had the best intentions. Presumably she saw some books that she thought I’d love and picked them up for me, hoping to introduce me to some great, classic-y books. But, of course, she knew little about me and my taste in books so she always managed to miss the mark. Not to mention the fact that even if she had given me Jane freaking Austen at that time in my life I wouldn’t have read it, as I was still partially in the Junie B. Jones  stage of my life.

I can only remember a few of the books she brought me over the years, as I mostly just skimmed through them. There was a lot of Nancy Drew, with which she thoroughly missed the mark. I vaguely remember reading through a few of them, but I remember not liking them at all and in the first place I have no use for Mysteries. I’m not even sure if these were the original Nancy Drew books, (although after a quick google search, which led me to this wikipedia article, I’m even more confused about the series as a whole… and it’s authorship… I’m also even more sure that I don’t care to try these books again). I believe there was also a copy of Jane Eyre at some point, but I have reason to believe it was an “abridged” (read “massacred”) edition. There was  a picture with a girl on a horse on the cover. I don’t think I so much as opened it. (For the reference, since that time I have read the real Jane Eyre and loved it.)

“Great” (not) Illustrated Classics. Photo credit: http://www.greatillustratedclassics.com

And speaking of books that have been murdered because people thought it might be fun to re-write them in their own words for the sake of little children’s reading pleasure, she also bought me Little Women, butchered with care by Great Illustrated Classics. I really wanted to read this book and I really wanted to like it. The problem is that even in this new and improved (yes that is biting sarcasm) edition, I was still too stupid to understand what was going on. I didn’t really get the social conventions, historical context or pseudo-old fashioned  language. I even revisited it a few times once I was older, but I never really got into it.

The problem with this and other such books is that they’re kind of like spark notes (which I do not endorse… like, what’s the opposite of endorsement?), but, if possible, they’re worse. Yes, I would go as far as to say worse. It’s almost exclusively summary (the absolute epitome of cringe-worthy “telling not showing”), but unlike spark notes, whose sole purpose is so you don’t have to read the book, these you actually have to sit through the entire thing! Furthermore, the entire point isn’t what happened, but how it happened! Every single part that I adored in the real book was absent in the “abridged” version! Who cares that they went to a party, that doesn’t matter, what matters is that “Meg’s high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt her, though she would not own it, and Jo’s nineteen hairpins all seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die.”I say, if  child is too young to read a real classic, they should wait until they are old enough to appreciate it. There is no need for such mass murder of brilliant prose.

Thankfully, I ended up reading the real book this past summer. Click here to read my thoughts on the real thing.

Literary Baby Names

I’m the kind of person to whom a rose by any other name would NOT smell just a sweet. Like Anne Shirley, “I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” (Although, in all honesty, while thistles are the ugliest flowers I’ve ever seen, I really like the word thistle and before I had seen what a thistle was, I thought thistles were very picturesque weeds…)

Gwyneth Paltrow with daughter Apple Martin

So names are evidently very important to me. They’re your first impression, your identity; a girl named Cece must be very different than a girl named Caroline (right?). So, as a writer (kind of), I spend a lot of time (perhaps too much) picking names for my characters. I’m also the kind of girl who started planning out my entire life at 12 and had started naming my (as of yet, fatherless) children when I was six. I’m a little conflicted though. On the one elbow, I think it would be very cool, and unique and all, to have a daughter named Celery, or, you know, Apple. But, on the other, I think people who inflict such names on their children are not only ridiculous, but also cruel.

That’s why naming characters is so much better than naming babies. Because, firstly, characters aren’t babies anymore when they’re born, they can be as old as you want, and you already know they’re whole personality and can name them aptly based on that knowledge. Although, when it comes to real life babies, some people (myself included) believe that what you name a kid affects their personality and they fit into the name, rather than the name innately suiting them. So, there’s that argument for baby names over character names, because by that logic, character namers have to work backwards, which can, sometimes, be harder. A second reason character naming rocks, is that, unlike when you name a baby, you don’t run the risk of doing irreparable damage that even years of therapy won’t fix (unless that’s the effect you’re going for, and in which case, you won’t feel quite so bad when it happens, nor will you be the one who has to pay said therapist’s exorbitant fees). Lastly, you tend to work on whatever it is you’re writing for a while, and you can change you character’s names as much as you want, until you find just the right one. In the real world, changing your baby’s name isn’t all that easy (so I’m told … as of yet I don’t actually have any offspring to speak of). Presumably, once your baby’s registered into the system, you can’t just decide that, “maybe Gardenia is a stupid name, perhaps we should have gone with Tulip”.

But then there’s literary names. In my humble opinion, it’s a little awkward to give your characters a name that’s famous from another book; then the reader is probably aware of the other character’s personality and will remind them of that character when they should be falling in love (or hate) with your character. I think it would only work if you’re purposely alluding to that other character for some reason or another, or if it’s a popular name that you happened to read in a book, but the character you’re ripping it from isn’t famous or anything.

So, I was recently thinking about what I would name my brood of unborn children, you know, if I wasn’t restricted by this thing called reality, or weighted down by my future husband’s opinion or concerned with inflicting emotional damage on said children.

Picture this little girl, times five

I think it would be really adorable if I had quintuplets (that would be five babies born all at once … we’re suspending disbelief here, okay?) and I named them Elizabeth (because Elizabeth isn’t my real name, just a pseudonym, not being  egotistic or anything), Jane, Emma, Catherine, and Marianne. And they’d be adorable little blondes, and I could dress them in adorable little dresses. And they could have a big sister named Meg (like in Little Women) and she could be my one brunette, who looks like me. I can just see it now, they would introduce themselves and follow-up with, “yes, we are, in fact, all named after fictional heroines, and yes, our mother is, in fact, a cruel, cruel psychopath.”

So, what would you name your kids, if you weren’t bound by reality?

Favourite Books

Here’s a list of my favourite books so far, including when I read them and what led me to do so.  (This list starts in grade 10, because that’s when I discovered “real” books — I was a very literarily deprived child and my favourite books before then were along the lines of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and The Clique series *shudder*, but that was before I was enlightened by a certain amazing English teacher, whose class I’m no longer in this year 😦 )

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — although, the author should really be obvious and if it isn’t, I suggest you get off this blog and go read it, because if you haven’t read this book, you don’t deserve to read my blog. I read this in Grade 10; it was my first love, and by that I mean the first book with which I was in love, not the first love story I ever read. And then there was also my one-sided love affair with Mr. Darcy (*cough* Colin Firth *cough*). This was the first of many recommendations from the aforementioned English teacher. Click here  to hear (er, read) more.

Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park  and Persuasion I read these in quick succession of each other (in that order), shortly after reading P&P (i.e. the end of grade 10 until the beginning of grade 11). I started S&S after the same English teacher (not-so-subtly) hinted that it was time to move on from P&P. She also suggested Emma; the remaining three, I found all by myself. Mansfield Park and Persuasion were my least favourite, and Emma and Northanger Abbey both come in a close second to P&P. I may write posts elaborating on each at some point in the future.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was during the beginning grade 11. I remember not loving it and it being very different from what I would normally like, but I was unable to put it down. The recent movie adaptation did no justice to it, but made me realize how brilliant the book is (by comparison to the very un-brilliant movie) so I really want to re-read it when I get a chance. Can you guess who recommended it?

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, which, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but is pretty big here (in Canada) and everyone (who is a girl…) reads this book when they’re younger. Unless you’re me, in which case you’ll manage to make it until you’re sixteen before reading this book and the subsequent 7 in the series. I don’t know how I lived so long without Anne Shirley —  she and I are like the same person. I will definitely be expanding further about this series and the movie adaptation which was also incredibly amazing (seriously, it made me fall even more in love with Gilbert Blythe than I already was). Again, best teacher in the world told me that would would be my favourite book in the world — she was right.

After that was the Emily of New Moon trilogy, also by L.M.M. and which maybe shouldn’t be on my list of favourites, but is here anyways because it influenced me and my writing (Emily’s a writer). This was a follow-up recommendation, from the same teacher. (Are you starting to see a trend?) The final book in this series once kept me up half the night, worrying about Emily and her various suitors —  I think I get a little too involved in the books I read…

I read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne just before and during final exams. It was also recommended by my teacher — whose class I was actually in at the time. This was such an amazing, thought-provoking book and I just wanted to discuss and dissect it, because the ideas it presented were so intriguing and presented so beautifully. I was one of those psychopaths who actually wished I could learn about it in school and so we could have class discussions and worksheets and write essays about it. I was able to do the latter point this year, as I was able to choose it for my independent study novel. It was not quite as wonderful as I thought it would be (perhaps because I couldn’t focus on its brilliance and what intrigued me about it, but had to compare it to a movie in a slightly contrived manner — although, based on my grade, my teacher seemed to think it was a good essay).

Then this past summer I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which, shockingly, was not recommended by this teacher! This was an amazing, fun and easy read and I read it in my brand new hammock, under the gorgeous sun, which, of course, added tenfold to my  enjoyment. (And yes, it does get hot here in the summer and no, our houses don’t melt, because they’re made out of bricks, not ice). Less well-known, are two sequels called Little Men and Jo’s Boys which were both really cute (although they seemed to target a younger, more male audience, which didn’t detract from them, but I thought it was a little weird…) For more on my discovery of this excellent novel click here and here.

Which brings me to this year. I recently finished reading Regeneration by Pat Barker for my Studies in Lit class and it is one of the best books ever. It takes place in a mental hospital, during the first World War and it is far more “ugly” (if you know what I mean) and Postmodern than what I normally like, but my former English teacher (you know, the one I’ve mentioned about a thousand times in this post) told me I’d like it and (prepare yourselves) she was right. It was just really, really fascinating and I suggest you read it, because it kind of changed my life (okay, that may be a slight hyperbole, it isn’t Jane Austen or anything, but still).

Currently, I’m working my way through Adam Bede by George Eliot. It is amazing and I have no idea why it isn’t more popular (perhaps it’s been overshadowed by Middlemarch, which, the same English teacher (who, of course, told me to read this) claims isn’t even all that great! So, an appeal to the internet, I think you should all go read this book and realize how great it is, then tell all your friends and give it the popularity it deserves, because seriously, IT IS BRILLIANT. You know, in a occasionally-makes-me-want-to-throw-it-on-floor-because-the-characters-are-being-so-real-and-therefore-annoying kind of way.

Well, that was fun. Check back for elaborated posts on each of these books, coming soon to a computer near you. So, what are some of your favourite books?

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