The eNotated Alice in Wonderland is an electronic version of the story with parts highlighted. These direct you to notes that explain the text, offer...moreThe eNotated Alice in Wonderland is an electronic version of the story with parts highlighted. These direct you to notes that explain the text, offer context or give a theoretical viewpoint. As well as this, there are two short essays after the story that give more interpretation.
This review isn't going to be about the story of Alice in Wonderland, but rather my experience with the notes themselves and how this added to my reading. Believe it or not, this is the first time I've read an annotated version of a classic and on the whole I enjoyed it. The notes that I appreciated the most where the ones that gave background context about Carroll himself and the inspiration for the story. I knew Alice was a real girl, but I didn't know she kept rabbits as pets, actually had a cat called Dinah or that the Queen of Hearts was based on her rather overbearing mother (I hope the mother herself didn't find this out!).
I knew a fair bit about the Victorians before reading this, but added bits of context are always welcome. For example, I wasn't aware that families often renamed their servants, even going so far as to give a string of servants the same name so that they would only have to learn one name. Apparently, 'Mary Ann' was a popular name for a servant. Alongside these context notes, I liked the ones about Carroll's construction of the story and how this changed over time; the tea party wasn't in the original draft, meaning the Mad Hatter and March Hare were initially absent.
My feelings about the notes offering critical interpretation were more mixed. I was interested to see the theories but had I been reading the story for the first time, they would have stopped me coming up with my own ideas about what the story means. For that reason, I think versions like this are best suited to those already familiar with the story. Sometimes there were a lot of notes on each page and I didn't know which ones to select. I read this on an old kindle so I don't know if this would work on colour devices, but it might be nice to somehow differentiate the context notes from the theory ones, so the reader can select just the notes they are interested in. I also think the notes best suited to an American audience as there were a few explanations of British phrases that I personally didn't need the notes for; 'leave off' and 'box her own ears' were a few examples.
I do feel that I got more out of the text reading the notes alongside it. The two essays at the end were very interesting (I wish there had been more) and I feel I have more of an understanding of Carroll and why he wrote the story he did. The inclusion of many illustrations from early editions was a nice touch that made reading more pleasurable. On the whole, I'd recommend this to others, especially those already familiar with the story.(less)
Pip is a young orphan being bought up by his sister and her husband when he encounters an escaped convict in a dark, foggy churchyard. Motivated by fe...morePip is a young orphan being bought up by his sister and her husband when he encounters an escaped convict in a dark, foggy churchyard. Motivated by fear, Pip agrees to bring the convict food and help him escape, an act which weighs heavily on his conscience. Whilst still a child, Pip is sent to Satis House, the home of spinster Miss Havisham, who has remained in her wedding dress ever since being deserted by her fiance. There, Pip meets the beautiful but icy Estella and falls instantly in love, determining that the life of a blacksmith is no longer enough and that he will rise in the world to be worthy of Estella. When Pip becomes the recipient of money to 'become a gentleman' from a mysterious benefactor, he feels certain that Miss Havisham has him in mind for Estella. But is this really the case, or will Pip's past halt his great expectations?
I had a bit of a fear of Dickens before reading this so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this book. On the whole, it was a pleasant reading experience with the first and last thirds being the most enjoyable. The first third had the delightful gothic settings of the graveyard and Satis House and of course the first meeting with Miss Havisham, clearly the most memorable character in the book. In the last third, Pip finds out that he may have been wrong about his benefactor (I had guessed this from the start but there were some surprises in store) and the pace quickens dramatically with some great cliffhanger endings between chapters. I literally could not put the book down during the last third. Unfortunately the middle section lagged in comparison with the other two and reading about Pip's being a snobby gentleman in London became very tedious. I struggled to reach part three but was glad to have persevered once I got there.
I liked that the message of the book was to be grateful for what you have, rather than always striving for more. Pip as a blacksmith's apprentice had Joe, who was nothing but kind to him, and a potential wife in the intelligent and resourceful Biddy. He should have been happy with what he had but wanted to become 'better', which caused him a lot of hardship. He became embarrassed with the unrefined manners of Joe and put himself above everyone else. Throughout the book, Dickens shows us how false the class system can be by spreading the good/moral characters across the classes and by making many of the upper class characters miserable - money doesn't buy happiness and all that. Whilst I agreed with the message, I did feel Dickens was heavy handed in moralising in some places.
One thing that bothered me was how all the characters ended up being related or connected in some way by the end of the book, even the most unlikely ones. Dickens had a gift for creating memorable characters but his London really was a small world. I liked that the ending was full of twists and turns and links between the characters I hadn't guessed, but I was raising my eyebrows at the likelihood of some of them. I guess things were a bit too 'tidy' amongst the characters for my liking.
On the whole, whilst Dickens hasn't become my new favourite author, I wouldn't be opposed to reading more books by him (and a good thing too, because I have another four on my classics club list!). The wordiness of the middle section got to me but this was balanced by the memorable characters and how the pace was ramped up by the end of the novel. I'm glad I gave Dickens a try.(less)
The Western Lit Survival Kit is a whistlestop tour through Western Literature from the Greeks to the twentieth century. The sections on each author in...moreThe Western Lit Survival Kit is a whistlestop tour through Western Literature from the Greeks to the twentieth century. The sections on each author include a brief biography, a summary of major works and then a rating for importance, accessibility and fun. Designed for the non-expert, it's all written in a tongue in cheek style that is the opposite of a stuffy academic writing.
I was really excited to read The Western Lit Survival Kit because even though I studied English Literature to A-Level, I chose to study science at university and therefore never continued with literature. Although I have tried to educate myself by reading classics, I definitely lack an overarching view of how it all fits together and there are glaring gaps in my knowledge.
And I think The Western Lit Survival Kit was perfect for a reader like me, someone who is interested and knows about the basics but isn't university-educated in the subject. One of the most enjoyable aspects about reading it was working out which bits I was already familiar with and which were completely new. Surprising I discovered that I have a much better background than I thought in poetry (that's definitely from the A-Level) and that I'm OK at Russian Literature and gothic literature. On the other hand, my knowledge of French literature is non-existent.
Newman's writing style worked well for this kind of book as she didn't take herself or the subject too seriously. I found myself smiling at the humour and it was refreshing to see her treating the books as just books, rather than awe-inspiring works that are to be admired at all costs. Reading this, I felt like it was OK that there are certain authors I have no interest in reading, even though I know they are important (basically all the Greeks, Proust and Balzac).
I've seen a few other reviews critical of Newman's rating scales and they didn't always match up with my reading experience either, but that's fine. Reading literature is such an objective thing (especially when it comes to the fun scale) and I enjoyed seeing if my views matched up to hers. Newman doesn't put her perspective across as the be-all-and-end-all, although it was fun to see her share some of my opinions, for example I hated the writing in Frankenstein when I read it and so smiled when I saw Newman criticising it too. If you are precious about certain authors and wouldn't like them to be criticised, this perhaps isn't the book for you.
Overall, I had a lot of fun with The Western Lit Survival Kit and came away with a much better idea of what classic authors I want to read next and which ones I'm going to stop feeling guilty about not wanting to read. The light tone means that it's easy to read and never dry. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in the classics. (less)