Quicksand by Nella Larsen (CC Spin #21)

Frankly the question came to this: what was the matter with her? Was there, without her knowing it, some peculiar lack in her? Absurd. But she began to have a feeling of discouragement and hopelessness? Why couldn’t she be happy, content, somewhere? Other people managed, somehow, to be. To put it plainly, didn’t she know how? Was she incapable of it?

Back in January of 2018 I read and reviewed Nella Larsen’s 1929 classic novel, Passing, and noted that I’d hardly ever come across a novel as slim yet as jam-packed with ideas ripe for discussion. I could definitely say the say thing about Larsen’s first novel, Quicksand (1928.) Both are arresting, probing explorations of race in early twentieth century America, both very readable. And while Passing is perhaps the tighter story, I found Quicksand to be the one that presented me with even bigger ideas to contemplate.

When we meet Helga Crane she is a young biracial woman (her father was black, her mother a white Danish immigrant.) Her mother died when she was very young and she never lived with her father; Helga feels adrift and as if she has no “people.” She is teaching at a Southern school for African Americans and engaged to a male teacher at the school. But she is not happy and doesn’t agree with the school’s educational philosophy. She makes a snap decision to leave the school and go to Chicago, where her mother’s brother lives, to see if he can help her begin anew. So begins her search for belonging and happiness, which takes her from Chicago to Harlem, to Denmark, and back again to the American South.

But just what did she want? Barring a desire for material security, gracious ways of living, a profusion of lovely clothes, and a goodly share of envious admiration, Helga Crane did know, couldn’t tell. But there was, she knew, something else. Happiness, she supposed. Whatever that might be.

Helga never does seem to find a place where she is viewed as a human being, treated superficially as an exotic, sexualized beauty in Denmark and feeling trapped in Harlem by strict rules of social etiquette and her companion’s obsession with ” the race problem.” I felt sympathy for her but also at times felt irritated by how rashly she made major life decisions. She was a compelling character and I eagerly turned the pages to see if Helga would ever find a safe place to land. Her life takes a surprising turn towards the end of the book, but I won’t spoil anything because this short classic is worthy of a place on your TBR.

This knowledge, this certainty of the division of her life into two parts in two lands, into physical freedom in Europe and spiritual freedom in America, was unfortunate, inconvenient, expensive.

Larsen is a thoughtful writer and her biography is ripe for a good biopic. Quicksand seems heavily autobiographical and I wondered how much more she could have written if she grew up in a later time, a time where biracial people’s lives weren’t so restricted by laws and societal conventions. She spent most of her life as a nurse, a career at which she, by all accounts, excelled and enjoyed. There are three short stories I haven’t yet read but that is all that’s left of her work for me to read. It’s a shame there isn’t more to explore, but I’m grateful to have found the novels she left behind.

This is the 16th book out of 51 on my Classics Club list, which you can see in this post.

Classics Club Spin #21 List

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin! I am so grateful for this prompt because otherwise the classics on my TBR list would get pushed down to the bottom. Having this nudge is a life-saver.

I chose 20 books from my master list and put them in a random number generator. Here’s the result:

1. The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy

2. Beloved – Toni Morrison

3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

4. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

5. Quicksand -Nella Larsen

6. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko

7. The Gowk Storm – Nancy Morrison

8. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

9. Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell

10. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery

11. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

12. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

13. 1984 – George Orwell

14. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

15. Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner

16. Howard’s End – E.M. Forster

17. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

18. The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

19. The Warden – Anthony Trollope

20. Native Son – Richard Wright

I’ve got some chunksters in there which makes me a bit nervous, but I’ve got to read them sometime. We’ll find out Monday which number is picked and I’ll post then. I’ll have to read and review my classic by October 31.

What would be your pick from my list?

Five Sentence Reviews : Two Classics and a New Best Seller

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G.Wells

This is short – my edition was 131 pages including an Introduction and a Forward by Margaret Atwood. It was descriptive, atmospheric, and unsettling, and the beginning is mysterious enough to hook the reader. I can see it’s rightful place as a science fiction classic and also how it’s exploration of science and ethics would make for great classroom discussion. But I can’t summon much enthusiasm for it. It’s pretty bleak and parts of it are very disturbing. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (Miss Marple #3)

Another short book- my paperback was 207 pages- but this one felt MUCH longer. Intriguing premise: a young attractive blond woman is found strangled in a country estate library and of course there are many suspects. Miss Marple didn’t make much of an impression on me here and she disappears for much of the book. The end provides a great twist but it took forever to get there. I love Christie’s other great detective, Hercule Poirot – am I just being too hard on Miss Marple? ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

This was delightful; it reminded me of Elinor Lipman. A baseball player struggling with the “yips” and a youngish widow who isn’t exactly grieving meet when one rents an apartment in the other’s overly big house. Sparks smolder slowly and eventually burst into flames. I appreciated the modesty with which the romantic scenes were written ( I don’t really want a play by play.) This was a cute, smartly written novel about the value of good therapy, true friendship, and two people on the journey to wholeness ( but not co-dependent!) ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A request for you Christie fans out there: What is your favorite Miss Marple book?

Let’s Talk Classics: A Round-up

I’ve made progress the past few months on my Classics Club list and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. I have not been timely about posting on these novels, however, so it’s time to clear the decks with some (very) mini-reviews. Let’s start with the one I read first, way back in March!

Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

First of all, kudos to me for finally reading the longest sitting book on my Goodreads TBR list. It had been there since 2008! I would recommend this only if you’re an Austen super fan. If you’re not, then DO read the wickedly funny Lady Susan, but you can feel free to skip the other two, which are unfinished novel fragments. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much about them! They were fine, they just didn’t sing like her novels do. I think the seeds of great books were there but maybe just didn’t have time to blossom into being. Lady Susan is worth the read because it’s really sharp and feels more daring than Austen’s later works. It’s about a 40-something widow and mother who is just awful (in a fun way,) constantly scheming to get her daughter married off and to get herself invited to people’s houses for extended periods, all the while making eyes (and worse) with other people’s husbands. The movie adaptation that came out a couple of years ago is pretty good too and faithful to the novella.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Yes, I did finish this one back in April but it felt and still feels nearly impossible to write about it. It was worth all the time I spent reading it. It really is a marvelous adventure, filled with unlikely but very entertaining twists, dastardly characters, and a very long game of revenge. It’s a commitment but I am so glad I read it and do recommend it.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Classics Club Spin Book)

Initially I loved this 1944 novel because it was filled with beautiful, rich, early 20th-century English people saying witty things to one another (one of my favorite genres of entertainment.) The prose sparkled with Sebastian as one of the main characters, but when he dropped out of the story line, my attention wasn’t held as strongly. I don’t think Charles is a very lively character.  He’s kind of a jerk, especially later in the book when he’s married. The scenes on the cruise ship were my favorite parts, though. This was good; uneven, but interesting. I’d like to watch the Jeremy Irons adaptation sometime.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Yes, I said that I might like this one more than Rebecca! I can’t decide – it’s at least as good, okay? The atmosphere du Maurier creates is just as tense and suspenseful (not as Gothic, though.) Young Philip is determined to hate his Italian “cousin” (by marriage) Rachel, but when she arrives at the estate unexpectedly after her husband’s death, she confounds Philip’s preconceptions. She is a fascinating character – one minute I was intensely sympathizing with her and the next I was convinced she was shady as hell! And my feelings about Philip changed over the course of the novel too. Initially I was firmly in his camp and little by little I saw all of his flaws and stubborn blind spots. The writing is incredible and the story is perfection. Now I’m pretty sure I need to read everything else du Maurier wrote.

I’ve read 14/51 classics from my list, and I’ve got about 3.5 years to finish  I guess I need to pick up my pace a little bit and be more intentional about mixing in classics with my contemporary novels. It’s good to take stock of where I am.

What classic works have you picked up lately?

 

Classics Club Spin # 20!

It’s time again for another Classics Club Spin. I am so grateful for these Spins or else I really would take ten years to complete my list instead of five. Here are the rules:

At your blog, before next Monday 22nd April 2019, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List.

On Monday 22nd April, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 31st May, 2019.

This is perfect timing for me because I will be DONE WITH THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO soon! (Maybe even tonight.) Woo-hoo!

Here is my Spin List (in alphabetical order by author:)

  1. Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury
  2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Bronte
  3. The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
  4. The Woman in White – Collins
  5. A Study in Scarlet – Conan Doyle
  6. Great Expectations – Dickens
  7. Love Medicine – Erdrich
  8. Howard’s End – Forster
  9. Cold Comfort Farm – Gibbons
  10. Nightingale Wood – Gibbons
  11. The Thin Man – Hammett
  12. Jonah’s Gourd Vine -Hurston
  13. Quicksand – Larsen
  14. The Blue Castle – Montgomery
  15. The Gowk Storm – Morrison
  16. Quartet in Autumn – Pym
  17. Ceremony – Silko
  18. The Warden – Trollope
  19. Brideshead Revisited – Waugh
  20. Stoner – Williams

We’ll see what number they draw on Monday.

Have you read any of these?

Count of Monte Cristo Check-In

I apologize for my absence here the past couple of weeks. We’ve all been sick at my house, the boys with the flu and I with a cold that turned into a sinus infection that has knocked me on my bottom. I’m just now starting to come out of it. Things have also been nutty at work and I’m in the midst of trying to hire a senior assistant. I haven’t had energy to write and not a lot of time to blog hop, but I have been reading! It’s time for another installment of my Count of Monte Cristo reader’s journal (covering pages 417-605.)

9780307271129Here’s what I want to say most about this book right now: Don’t be afraid of big books. For so long I put off reading this classic because its size intimidated me. I was afraid the style would be off-putting or too archaic. How wrong I was! Yes, there are sections that drag a little bit more than others, but on the whole, it’s a remarkably fresh, exciting, well-crafted story. Breaking it up and taking it slow has enabled me to enjoy this classic at my own pace while still reading other books.

Here are some plot highlights of this section (Chapters 34-45:)

  • Two young French men, Baron Franz d’Epinay and Viscount Albert de Morcerf, become acquainted with the Count in Rome. In fact, Dantès orchestrates a “kidnapping” of Albert just do he can save him. Why is Albert so special to Dantès? He’s related to someone from Dantès’ past.
  • The Count is powerful and wealthy enough to save an old associate from being executed, but he’s weird enough to make Franz and Albert watch the other criminal get executed.
  • Franz realizes he’s met the Count before, only when he partied with him in the grotto on Monte Cristo he knew his as “Sinbad.”
  • Dantès and Albert make a plan to meet in Paris at Albert’s house in exactly 3 months.
  • Who should Dantès meet at Albert’s house? Mercédès, his former fiancee, who is Albert’s MOTHER. Dear old dad is none other than Fernand. Mercédès is shaken and unnerved by The Count’s appearance, but she doesn’t say anything about her true feelings to her son.
  • Dantès buys a house in Paris and discovers that Villefort once had an illegitimate child with Madame Danglar there, and tried to kill it. Dantès’ servant, Bertuccio, rescued the child and gave him to his sister-in-law to raise.

Whew! This book certainly doesn’t lack for plot! And all the connections of the characters sometimes make me have to consult Wikipedia so I’m sure I know what’s going on. But it’s still good fun.

So I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, both here and on reading your blogs, friends. I hope you’re all staying well this winter – flu and other illnesses have been running rampant down here. My son’s school was closed because of illness for two days ahead of the holiday weekend. Drink lots of fluids, get some sleep, and wash your hands! 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Second 200(ish) Pages of The Count of Monte Cristo

(Note: I’m making my way slowly through The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas as part of my Classics Club list. I’m reading 100(ish) pages a week and writing up my thoughts reader’s journal-style every couple of weeks.)

1088140So where did we leave off last time? Oh yes, with Dantès and the Abbe Faria, his fellow prisoner and new friend, hanging out together by way of a secret tunnel they’ve carved between their two cells. Faria is showing off his homemade tools to an incredulous Dantès. Well, we pick up in this installment with the two men talking about just how Faria got his reputation for being “mad.” Apparently he has talked for years of a massive treasure that was willed to him long ago by his former boss and friend, the Compte de Spada. (The story of how the treasure is concealed and revealed to Faria is really fun and I won’t spoil it.) Guess where this supposed treasure (Dantès is skeptical) is located? The small island of Monte Cristo! And Faria, in a touching speech, wants Dantès to have it.

“You are my son, Dantès,” exclaimed the old man. “You are the child of my captivity. My profession condemns me to celibacy. God has sent you to me to console, at one and the same time, the man who could not be a father and the  prisoner who could not get free.”

And Faria extended the arm of which alone the use remained to him to the young man, who threw himself upon his neck and wept bitterly.

Fast forward a little bit, and Dantès has indeed escaped prison. I won’t tell you HOW, because that is truly one of the most inspired bits I’ve read so far and caused me to write “OMG!” in my notes. He’s now a man of 33, fourteen years since his arrest.

Then his eyes lighted up with hatred as he thought of the three men who had caused him so long and wretched a captivity.

He renewed against Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort the oath of implacable vengeance he has made in his dungeon.

He hooks up with some amiable smugglers and assumes the identity of a shipwrecked Maltese sailor. Apparently his appearance and even his voice has undergone such a great change in his fourteen years of captivity that “it was impossible that his best friend – if, indeed, he had any friend left – could recognize him; he could not recognize himself.” I had to suspend my disbelief that no one seems to recognize him, but you just have to go with it if you’re going to continue to enjoy the story. Then, in a stroke of luck, the patron of the boat that he has sailed with for a couple of months happens to want to make some sort of clandestine exchange of goods, and which small, uninhabited island would make the best out of the way place for such an exchange? Why, Monte Cristo, of course! So Dantès is able to finally go to the island and try to devise a way to search for the treasure out of eyesight and earshot of his fellow smugglers.

Does he find the treasure? Again, I don’t want to spoil things for you, but suffice it to say that he doesn’t need to keep sailing with the crew of The Young Amelia when his term of service ends.

He charges his new friend Jacopo to venture to Marseilles on an errand, to ascertain the whereabouts of his beloved father and his former fiancee, Mercédès. The news isn’t good. Assuming various identities and accents, Dantès visits both his old pals Caderousse and M. Morrel to get more of the particulars that led to his imprisonment. After playing the silent benefactor to save Morrel from his financial troubles, Dantès leans in to his dark side, with this rousing speech:

“Farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been Heaven’s substitute to recompense the good – now the God of Vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!”

Finally, we get a strange little diversion with the story of two young, elite Frenchman, Albert and Franz, who want to travel around Europe. The last 50 pages or so of this section are a little strange and rambling and I’m not sure exactly where it’s headed. I mean, obviously Dantès is playing the long game here in his quest for vengeance – after all, there are 1000 more pages to go!

This continues to be a very entertaining read and I’m thoroughly invested in seeing how this all plays out for Dantès. I want to see Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort get what’s coming to them, and good!  Stay tuned for more in a couple of weeks!