Our family recently watched My Fair Lady together. I love that movie. Everything about it. Except the ending. It always leaves me unsatisfied. So thisOur family recently watched My Fair Lady together. I love that movie. Everything about it. Except the ending. It always leaves me unsatisfied. So this time, after watching the movie, I decided to read the play. I remember reading it years ago, when I was maybe 14, and enjoying it. But given my disgruntled feeling after the movie this time around, I decided it was time to reread this classic. I loved it. Everything about it. Except the ending. It’s even worse than the ending of the movie! But I do understand the ending better now after reading Shaw’s explanation, which he says would be unnecessary “if [my] imagination were not so enfeebled by a lazy dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me-downs of the rag-shop in which Romance keeps its stock of ‘happy endings’ to misfit all stories.” Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about! A happy ending. A romantic ending. Even if its an overused misfit from the rag shop.
Oh, well, this is still a great story about transformation, the power of language, friendship, class distinctions, and the sexual tension that exists whenever men and women interact no matter how different they are from each other in age, race, or class. It’s that blissful sexual tension Shaw is such a genius at creating on stage that sets me up to be so disappointed in that endlessly unsatifying ending. ...more
The message of this book seems to be that there is indeed life after 60. A woman can bounce back from a bad marriage, a declining career, and a financThe message of this book seems to be that there is indeed life after 60. A woman can bounce back from a bad marriage, a declining career, and a financial downturn. So it’s a hopeful book. The aging main character finds new romance, new avenues for her photography career, new sources of income, and new ways to see the world. That last is my favorite aspect of the book: the way the narrator sees details. The title of the book is the title of the character’s most well-known photograph, a picture of dirty dishes after a dinner party, including the bread crumbs and a dishtowel with a burnt corner. But the title is more than a plot reference. It hints at the most beautiful aspect of the Quindlen’s writing: her attention to detail and ability to capture everyday moments and moods. The writing is understated. It’s a comfortable a read. I read it by the pool while watching my daughter play this summer. It was not hard to put down when it was time to go home and make dinner. But I really enjoyed pausing now and then to think about a metaphor or a turn of phrase as I read.
This story also made me rethink a fantasy I have when my life gets crazy. It’s the Walden fantasy. It’s the “Lake Isle of Innisfree” fantasy. And the character lives the fantasy in this novel: She goes into the woods to live alone. It’s not all idyllic. There is loneliness. There are critters in the attic. There is a lot of snow. There are still relationship issues to handle. There is still your past to grapple with. But the idea of Walden—of spending time with yourself, of slowing down to really look at nature, of reexamining and reinventing your life away from the pressures of city living—that is appealing, even when the fantasy is dipped in a coating of realism. Ultimately, the character finds a balance between solitude and community that is healing and fulfilling. Maybe someday I’ll rent a cabin in the woods for a year and see what happens. Until then, this book keeps the fantasy alive. ...more
This novel was light and fun to listen to on CD while I cleaned house. What I liked about it: 1. The Southern charm and manners of the main character.This novel was light and fun to listen to on CD while I cleaned house. What I liked about it: 1. The Southern charm and manners of the main character. She is rather superficial, but I still liked having a peek at the world from the perspective of a southern belle. 2. The setting: I liked the idea of LeeLee fixing up the old Vermont Inn and making it more of a reflection of herself. The renovation becomes a metaphor for the changes LeeLee goes through in her personal life. 3. The oddball supporting characters. I appreciated the theme that you can become friends with all sorts of people who are different from you when you are working side-by-side and when you show kindness to each other. This story would make a good romantic oomedy movie. ...more
I loved this book. I did. It’s adolescent and girly and romantic and all that, and I loved it. Maybe this is actually where my development was arresteI loved this book. I did. It’s adolescent and girly and romantic and all that, and I loved it. Maybe this is actually where my development was arrested, somewhere around the age of the main character, somewhere around the age when I read Anne of Green Gables and Little Women and The Secret Garden. Because I felt right at home in this book.
Here’s what I loved about the story:
The young narrator loves to read and quotes from some of my favorite classic books. At the end she offers a suggested reading list of classics and I was pleased to see that I had read every single one of them, most of them long ago when I was her age. But along with quoting these great books, she incorporates bits of them into her story so that we see how life and literature can comingle in our minds and how our reading informs our choices and colors the way we see life.
I also love the narrator / main character. She is honest and she is loving. Even when others want her to lie, even when as readers we can see that it would be prudent for her lie, she tells the truth. Even when she has a right to be angry and resentful, she continues to love. And when her anger and resentment get the best of her, we see her struggle to stay in a place of love. She sees with the eyes of a poet. I love it when the narrator is poetic in soul. (Okay, I didn’t like it that she went on her first date when she was only twelve, especially since I was listening to this book on tape with my nine-year-old daughter, but it all worked together with the romantic feeling of the book.)
I love the romantic setting. Cape Cod—a small town where a girl can ride her bike to the beach or on over to the minister’s house for some friendly advice. A candy shop owned by Grandma, who insists you try her newest confections. A quaint bookstore with a shopkeeper who sets aside books he knows you will love. An old mansion next door, inhabited by a handsome poet-English teacher who spends his spare time working on a labyrinth in the back yard. A wedding planning studio, run by a glamorous, but sad and emotionally distant mother who insists on the twelve perfect ingredients to a perfect wedding but avoids love herself because she is afraid of having her heart broken again.
And finally, I love the themes. They are explicit enough for a young reader to grasp and for me to remember:
Sometimes what we wish for isn’t actually what we want (or need) most. A few quiet words can change a person’s life. Have the courage to keep wishing and hoping and loving even when you have been hurt. What matters most about a wedding are not all the perfect details, but the love. It’s what happens every day after the wedding day. One prayer, the most important one of all: Thank You ...more
This is a quick, romantic read. It is one of those Pride and Prejudice imitations, minus the depth and irony. I can’t think of much to say about thisThis is a quick, romantic read. It is one of those Pride and Prejudice imitations, minus the depth and irony. I can’t think of much to say about this novel because it is not particularly thought-provoking, but it is enjoyable in a fluffy way. I liked the characters well enough, although the main character's age seemed off. I really appreciated that it was romantic but clean. The male character was pure female fantasy. The plot had some surprises, but was mostly predictable in the satisfying way romance novels always are. I recommend it as a delightful escape into a by-gone world of letter writing, horse-back rides, and long conversations in drawing rooms. I like to go to that world sometimes. ...more
I really enjoyed Foenkinos' unique and fresh style. I’m not sure how to describe his style, but I’ll try by giving some examples.
Foenkinos switches poI really enjoyed Foenkinos' unique and fresh style. I’m not sure how to describe his style, but I’ll try by giving some examples.
Foenkinos switches point of view without transition. You’ll be reading along in one character’s mind and suddenly switch to the other character’s point of view without warning. You have to mentally catch up and figure out where the switch took place, but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint. This sounds like it would be annoying, but I liked the way it kept me on my toes mentally and the way it reveals how an individual's story intertwines with another's.
This author gives alternatives to the plot at times, instead of nailing it down. It may have been this way, or it may have been that way. Sometimes he even does this in a footnote. “They got up quickly and dressed slowly” has a footnote that says, “It may have been the opposite.”
In this and other ways Foenkinos draws attention to the fact that you are reading a novel. A description of one character at a train station is illustrative of this author-reader-story consciousness. “He saw her, standing stock still, at the other side of the station concourse. He began to walk toward her, slowly, sort of like in a movie. You’d have no trouble imagining the music that accompanied this moment. Or else silence. Yes, silence would be good. You’d only hear their breathing. You’d almost be able to forget the sadness of the décor. Salvador Dali would never have been able to be inspired by the Lisieux train station. It was empty and cold . . . And there was Natalie, so close to him. With those lips of the kiss. But her face was shut down. Her face was the Lisieux train station.”
Plot chapters are interspersed with exposition chapters that feel more like trivia tidbits. If a character is listening to a soccer game on the radio in the plot sequence, the next chapter is a list of soccer scores for that day. If a character refers to a work of art or a song, the next chapter might be trivia about the artist or the lyrics to the song. Some of these short chapters are irrelevant, but others come to have significance later. Kind of like life. Some of the details of our lives are insignificant, trivial, random. Others take on meaning later, as we go along. We won’t know until the end of our story which is which.
One of these trivia chapters is a definition of the word delicacy: the quality of being delicate, fragile, or sensitive. We see this definition played out in the two main characters. They are each fragile and vulnerable for their own reasons: Natalie is a recent widow and suffers from the grief of losing her husband and the happiness of an ideal marriage. Markus is fragile because of his troubled history with women and his loneliness. While Natalie represent the feminine ideal, Markus is awkward, unattractive and doubtful of his own virility. But these emotional weaknesses become strengths that draw them to each other. Natalie realizes that what she has needed was to “rediscover men through a man who was not a frequenter of women.” And Markus feels his virility growing stronger in the surprising relationship with Natalie that unfolds and her attraction to him. His awe for her makes him sensitive, makes him clumsy even, but awkwardness actually adds to his attraction—that and his way of saying unexpected, crazy things that make her pause or laugh or wonder. And that is the same appeal this book had for me—the crazy, unexpected way the writer had of making me pause or laugh or wonder. ...more
A young friend who loves good books recommended this adolescent novel and I’m so glad I picked it up and read it. I thought from the title that this wA young friend who loves good books recommended this adolescent novel and I’m so glad I picked it up and read it. I thought from the title that this was a fantasy or science fiction book, but it is actually a contemporary story, in a typical high school setting.
The author is male, and the narrator of the story, Leo, is male, so I think the book would appeal to some boys. But the heroine and focus of the book is Stargirl. We see her story through the eyes of Leo and his reactions to this unusual new student who shows up on the first day of tenth grade—reactions which range from wariness to fascination to first love to admiration to distaste to fear to regret and wistfulness. Leo is caught between his growing feelings for Stargirl and his desire to have the approval of his peers. He is connected to the group mentality. He values fitting in, looking like everyone else, doing what everyone else does, following expected ways and protocols. And Stargirl isn’t like other teenagers. She looks different, acts differently, thinks differently.
Individuality and community are at odds here, and although the author definitely comes down on the side of individuality, he does show the pull and value of community. He also shows that relationships are purer and communities richer when people act from a place of individual authenticity.
After reading this book I want to be more like Stargirl. I want more of her courage to be herself. I want more of her zest for life and sincere interest in other people. I want more of her powers of observation of people and the natural world. I want more of her confidence. I want more of her happiness. I want more of her immunity to the opinions of others and more of her ability to lead.
Any book that can inspire teenagers (and adults) to think and act for themselves is worth a read! ...more
This is a vivacious and farcical play, but not very memorable for me. At times I had the feeling I had read it before, probably in college, but I hadThis is a vivacious and farcical play, but not very memorable for me. At times I had the feeling I had read it before, probably in college, but I had almost entirely forgotten it. The setting is the English countryside. The inciting incident is a practical joke. Two young men are told that a private house—a house they have been invited to visit— is an inn, so when they arrive, they order dinner, put the chatty landlord (master of the house) in his place, and mistake his daughter for a barmaid. The instigator of the joke is Tony Lumpkin, the spoiled and roughish son of the mistress of the house. Like some of Shakespeare’s fools, he has the juiciest part in the play. This play is full of dramatic irony—the audience knows more than the characters. It is light and fun, one of the first romantic comedies. The best I can say of it is that it never becomes sentimental, always stays light. ...more
We seek him here, we seek him there, Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell? That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.
Years ago RobertWe seek him here, we seek him there, Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell? That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.
Years ago Robert and I saw this play, and what I mostly remember is this silly verse and the lavish costumes. Now I’ve finally read the book too or rather listened to it on CD, which was good way to enjoy the French and English accents and Percy's foppish dialect. I did not realize until I researched online a little that the author wrote the novel, then someone else adapted it to stage and it became a popular favorite despite unfavorable critical reviews. Soon after the play opened the author published the novel and it became so popular that the author went on to write many sequels. The earnings from her writing allowed her to live in luxury all the rest of her life.
This is a classic tale of romance, adventure, disguise, intrigue, and mistaken identity. Set in the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, the story clearly reveals the Baroness’s sympathies with the aristocrats. Marguerite was probably a daring heroic figure a century ago, to follow her husband to France and try to warn him despite personal danger. But compared to contemporary books I have also read this year, like The Hunger Games, she seems passive and ineffectual. The real hero is Percy, and Marguerite is the secondary romantic heroine whose job is to recognize his merit and fall in love with him.
What I especially appreciate about this story is that the couple is married. There are so few romantic marriage stories. Yet it does follow a certain predictable pattern of misunderstandings and obstacles to love, leading to reconciliation. The couple seems not to have consummated their marriage, so in a way it follows the traditional romantic formula. Yet the knowledge that they are unhappily married and bound to each other for life, though they despise each other, lends pathos. The dramatic irony is the hinge that the story swings upon—we know Percy is the Pimpernel, but Marguerite does not. When will her understanding catch up with ours? The confrontation outside the house late one night after a party is tense with sexual energy and unexpressed love. But still the identity of the Pimpernel is not revealed. When Marguerite finally learns the truth, Percy is far away in France and what follows is a long chase scene. Now Marguerite must prove her faith and devotion. Percy's cleverness in evading capture is delightful.
I just wish that after all the build-up there had been more time at the end to bask in the couple’s newfound love. I guess that is what sequels are for. ...more
What a delightfully sweet book to read on a summer day! Okay, the outcome of the story is predictable. The suspense never rises much higher than the lWhat a delightfully sweet book to read on a summer day! Okay, the outcome of the story is predictable. The suspense never rises much higher than the level of the main character’s anxiety about passing her final exams. But the voice is fresh. I loved reading Judy's descriptions of what she was learning, her impressions of her broadening world, her incisive assessments of other people, and her maturing sense of self. It amuses me that when she reads Samuel Pepys, she starts to write and talk like him. (I remember doing that with other writers). I lose a little respect for her when she writes that she thinks she is a socialist, but college is the time for trying on various political hats. I like to think she grew out of that one. Love of learning, love of life, and falling in love--this book helped me remember what my own college years felt like and offered a peek into what a young woman's life might have been like a hundred years ago. ...more
This short, romantic novel is based on a Persian legend, steeped in the traditions of the Middle East. The story both romanticizes and criticizes theThis short, romantic novel is based on a Persian legend, steeped in the traditions of the Middle East. The story both romanticizes and criticizes the cultural definition of femininity.
One theme of the novel is expressed on the last page, where Buran tells her children the story of how she and the Prince came together, because she says, “children should not think that the blessings of Allah are theirs by right or come to them simply for the asking.” No, this story teaches that a person must go out and seize her destiny. It’s a quest story, but whereas the hero of a quest story is traditionally male, here the hero is a woman disguised as a man. So in a sense the story questions the male quest story, but in another sense it reinforces it, since Buran has to pretend to be a male in order to undertake her quest at all. In the process of reinventing herself, Buran is irreversibly changed, empowered, and emancipated. When she resumes her feminine identity, she cannot cast away the sense of independence she gained as easily as she cast aside the male clothing.
The “blessings of Allah” Buran brings to her family and herself come to her because she has the courage to risk, pursue, and persevere. She is naturally gifted with intelligence, quick wit, and beauty. But all of her gifts would have been led to frustration if Buran had settled for the lot life seemed to be handing her.
This story also explores the duality of a woman’s nature. Do women care only for the duties of their household and their children? Are they only preoccupied with adorning their bodies, as the Prince’s friend asserts? This story shows otherwise. While women do care deeply about home and family and while they want to be beautiful and attractive to men, these needs do not exclude other goals—to achieve, learn, to travel, to earn, to discover, to create. Buran’s conscious motivation for undertaking her journey is to help her family, to provide dowries for her sisters and financial security for her parents. But another, deeper motivation propels her as well, one she does not acknowledge to herself, but which we can easily detect. She wants to see if she can do it. She wants to find out if she has what it takes. She wants to try her skills and test her own courage and find a wider arena than her little home in Bagdad where her intelligence can have fair play. She proves to the world that a woman can achieve. And she proves it to herself as well.
What is most gratifying to me is that Buran’s character is shown to have both the traditional feminine longings for romance and marriage and at the same time a desire to undertake a quest of her own. Rather than subverting each other, these polar purposes actually complement each other in Buran’s life. Her experiences out in the world of men make her even more attractive to the Prince, so much so that he finds himself strangely drawn to her, even in her masculine disguise. She becomes to him more than a beautiful face and body, but a friend and counselor. The dramatic irony makes their relationship bittersweet as we wait for the truth to be revealed. And when Buran returns home she finds that her intelligence and daring, along with her beauty and fortune, are attracting men from all over the world to seek her hand. But Buran’s standards are high and she will settle for no one but the man she loves.
So in this book the traditional male quest plot combines with the traditional female matrimony plot, woven together in a very satisfying, highly romantic, and even inspiring story.
I just finished this book early this morning and couldn't wait to write about it. This novel has everything I love in a good story--romance, humor, waI just finished this book early this morning and couldn't wait to write about it. This novel has everything I love in a good story--romance, humor, warmth, sentiment, and charming characters. And on top of all that, it has wonderful literary discussion and historical detail! This book made me think, laugh, and cry. Simply lovely. ...more
What could be more heavenly than reading Jane Austen on a beach in Hawaii? The novel has romance, social commentary, and love letters. I relish the idWhat could be more heavenly than reading Jane Austen on a beach in Hawaii? The novel has romance, social commentary, and love letters. I relish the idea of love letters that reveal all the character cannot say aloud.
Anne is so virtous in character, she is nearly too good to be true, except for one flaw--she is too easily persuaded. While a young person needs a mentor to advise her, part of growing up is learning to evaluate the advice of mentors and even reject it. Part of Anne’s internal struggle is trying to decide if she was right or wrong to follow her mentor’s advice so many years ago to turn down the man she loved. While Anne may have been right to listen at that young and vulnerable age to one who loved her and had her best interests at heart, even if that mentor’s advice was faulty, she now has the maturity and wisdom to make her own decisions and to reject the counsel of a mentor when necessary. In this story youthful willfulness is set up against caution and judgment; the story shows the limitations and benefits of both.
Through the father and older sister, Austen satirizes the vanity of living for appearances only. Through the false suitor, she denounces materialism without principles. Beauty, position, title, money—all of these matter much in Austen’s world, but all are empty and shallow without character to undergird them. ...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this Victorian novel. Gaskell's style reminds me of a cross between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens--social commentary, romance rI thoroughly enjoyed this Victorian novel. Gaskell's style reminds me of a cross between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens--social commentary, romance restrained by the manners of the day, whole chapters that take place in drawing rooms.
I love the heroine, Margaret Hale, for her goodness. People are always talking about the strength, the fiestiness of a female heroine. Margaret has strength. She has opinions. But what I admire most about her is the purity of her motivations, her kindness, and her quiet perceptiveness. She lacks the sarcasm and wittiness of Elizabeth Bennnett, but I think I like her better for it.
The overarching theme is one of the individual’s relationship to social authority. Mr. Hale leaves the church’s authority. Frederick Hale opposes abuses of naval authority. Margaret confronts society’s norms for what a young woman can and cannot do independently.
Another theme—overcoming initial impressions and growing to understand, respect, and eventually love a man—echoes the Pride and Prejudice theme, as does the exploration of the constraints society places on women. But Margaret manages to move against the constraints with more force than Elizabeth ever tried to do. She visits the poor districts of Milton, for example, and sets her own schedule in opposition to her Aunt’s expectations.
Mr. Thornton is a masculine ideal—independent, decisive, unwavering in what he thinks is best. He has good judgment. He is honest and fair. And in the end he shows himself compassionate, the one quality he lacked to round out his character and make himself appealing to Margaret. I loved the build of sexual tension. Margaret’s denial of her own attraction to this man, so different from the southern gentleman she is accustomed to, created a long period of Mr. Thornton’s longing for her to return his love.
For all Thornton’s traditional masculinity, it is Margaret who does the rescuing in this novel. She rescues him from the strikers. She rescues him from financial ruin at the end of the book. She rescues him from the loneliness and isolation his success and independence have imprisoned him in, inspiring him to a greater sense of community with his workers as she teaches him compassion.
I'm so glad I finally got around to reading this classic Romeo and Juliet love story. It has some slow passages but is definitely worth reading. I espI'm so glad I finally got around to reading this classic Romeo and Juliet love story. It has some slow passages but is definitely worth reading. I especially enjoyed the narrator's self-deprecating humor and ironic insights to life....more