I really loved Miss Read's series about the fictional village of Caxley (which neighbors Fairacre), so I thought I'd check out these. I am reading theI really loved Miss Read's series about the fictional village of Caxley (which neighbors Fairacre), so I thought I'd check out these. I am reading the first three Fairacre books in one big, hulking volume. I enjoyed this first installment. Miss Read is a schoolteacher in a small village in the 1950s, although in many ways it feels more like the 1930s, as the war and its subsequent continued rationing and unemployment kept England from modernizing much, especially in small, working-class villages like the fictional Fairacre. As I studied to be a teacher and now homeschool my own child, it's interesting to read about the attitudes and methods of teaching and parenting in that time, place, and circumstance. Much of it is more modern than I would have thought, and certainly gives kids more credit and more patience that schools do these days. For example, on a lovely summer afternoon, Miss Read takes her children outside. I enjoyed this passage and her willingness to admit that lazing on a sunny day can be as important as any school work:
"The lesson on the time-table was 'Silent Reading' and in various attitudes, some graceful and some not, the children sat or lay in the grass with their books propped before them...With so little encouragement to read at home, in overcrowded cottages and with young brothers and sisters clamouring round them until bedtime and after, these schoolchildren at Fairacre desperately need peace and an opportunity to read. But on this particular afternoon I wondered how much reading was being done and how much daydreaming. My marking pencil slowed to a standstill and the geography test papers lay neglected in my lap. What an afternoon, I mused! When these boys and girls are old and look back to their childhood, it is the brightest hours that they will remember. This is one of those golden days to lay up as treasure for the future, I told myself, excusing our general idleness."
Also, I liked this passage, where she marvels at the lax and sweet parenting she sees and its surprising (to her) results:
"I am always amazed at the servitude of parents in these parts to their children, particularly to the little rascals between two and five years old. These engaging young scoundrels can twist their doting parents round their fingers by coaxing, whining or throwing a first-class tantrum. The parents thoroughly spoil them, and the older children are also encouraged to pander to their lightest whim. Sweets, ice-cream, apples, bananas, cakes and anything else edible that attracts the child's fancy flow in an uninterrupted stream down the child's throat, as well as normal meals and the quota of orange juice and cod liver oil which is collected from the monthly clinic at the village hall, and, I must say in all honesty, that a more healthy set of children it would be hard to find. They seem to stay up until the parents go to bed, and I see them playing in their gardens, or more frequently in the lane outside their cottages, until dusk falls. Then, sometimes as late as ten o'clock on a summer's evening, they finally obey the calls to 'Come on in!' which have been issuing from the cottage unheeded for an hour or more, and dragging reluctant feet they resign themselves, still protesting, to bed. And yet, as I have said, under these methods which are a direct violations of the rules of a well-regulated nursery, these children thrive. Furthermore, when they enter school at the age of five, one might reasonably expect some trouble in maintaining discipline; but this is not so."
Which is not to say that they book doesn't also touch on some of the darker parenting tactics, particularly those of alcoholic parents. In general though, she focuses on and promotes the gentle, kind, and respectful treatment of children and the happy results of that. I think I enjoyed the Caxley books a little more, as they were more of a historical epic, following the family fortunes of multiple generations, but I am still happy to continue reading these sweet Fairacre stories. On to the next volume! ...more
I liked it okay, but it's not a book I'd buy for reference later. I found it amusing to page through and see what they prescribed for each state of miI liked it okay, but it's not a book I'd buy for reference later. I found it amusing to page through and see what they prescribed for each state of mind or problem. But in a lot of cases, it was only one or two titles. I don't think I'd use it as it was intended. ...more
The inspiration for Freaky Friday, this book is about a Victorian man, Mr. Bultitude, and his son who accidentally change places. True to its subtitleThe inspiration for Freaky Friday, this book is about a Victorian man, Mr. Bultitude, and his son who accidentally change places. True to its subtitle "A Lesson to Fathers," the book is mostly concerned with how the father, having to cope with his son's life, grows and changes. One day, at the end of a term break, faced with his son not wanting to go back to the school, he rashly proclaims, "Perhaps you will believe me...when I tell you, old as I am and much as you envy me, I only wish, at this very moment, I could be a boy again, like you. Going back to school wouldn't make me unhappy, I can tell you." Ah, hubris. He just happens to be holding a stone from India, not knowing it's a wishing stone, and quick as you can say "I didn't mean it!" he's a boy on his way to boarding school. The boarding school is unpleasant (the food! Oh the horror of the food.), but what makes it truly terrible for Mr. Bultitude is the fact that while he looks like his son, he acts like his own pompous, grown-up, rigid, tattle-tale self, which doesn't endear him to anyone. He begins to make enemies the moment he gets on the train with the other kids on the way to the school. By the time he gets there, the tone is set. The book starts out as a light comedy, but becomes more serious and interesting as it goes. Mr. Bultitude makes absolutely no effort to fit in or make his own life easier:
"If it were not that it was so absolutely essential to the interest of this story, I think I should almost prefer to draw a veil over the sufferings of Mr. Bultitude during the rest of that unhappy week at Crichton House; but it would only be a false delicacy to do so. Things went worse and worse with him. The real Dick in his most objectionable moods could never have contrived to render himself one quarter so disliked and suspected as his substitute was by the whole school--masters and boys. It was in great measure his own fault too; for to an ordinary boy the life there would not have ahd any intolerable hardships, if it helf out no exceptional attractions. But he would not accommodate himself to circumstances..."
Instead, he tries to find opportunities to explain his situation, as though anyone would believe his story. Eventually, finding the situation more and more intolerable, he is left no option but to try to escape. When he finally manages to make it home to his family, he is a reformed man, one who can finally able to show love and kindness to his children.
C. S. Lewis had this to say about the book: "I spoke just now of Vice Versa. Its popularity was surely due to something more than farce. It is the only truthful school story in existence. The machinery of the [wishing stone] really serves to bring out in their true colours (which would otherwise seem exaggerated) the sensations which every boy had on passing from the warmth and softness and dignity of his home life to the privations, the raw and sordid ugliness, of school." -- C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Ch 2....more
What a lovely story. Some heart-breakingly sad moments, but overall a beautiful tale of a lonely widower and boy evacuated from his home with his horrWhat a lovely story. Some heart-breakingly sad moments, but overall a beautiful tale of a lonely widower and boy evacuated from his home with his horrible mother in wartime London forming a bond and saving each other from a life of sadness. Sounds impossibly twee, but it's well-written and I loved it. ...more
A surprisingly diverse collection of stories all centering on the science of biology in some way. Linnaeus, Mendel, and Darwin star or are mentioned iA surprisingly diverse collection of stories all centering on the science of biology in some way. Linnaeus, Mendel, and Darwin star or are mentioned in several stories. If you think science is boring, think again! My favorite stories were the title story, about a doctor trying to save immigrants from Ireland to Canada during the hellish typhus epidemic; the Hawkweeds story which focuses on Gregor Mendel; "Rare Bird" about a woman who wants to be a scientist but is constrained by Victorian mores; and the wild story of the specimen collector. Barrett clearly has a science background, but you don't need one to understand and enjoy these beautiful and unusual stories. There were a couple of stories I didn't like (and I'm old enough now that I just skip what I don't like!), but overall it was a winning collection. ...more
The writing is excellent and I enjoyed this book when reading it, but found that when I would put it down, I wasn't very motivated to pick it up againThe writing is excellent and I enjoyed this book when reading it, but found that when I would put it down, I wasn't very motivated to pick it up again. Perhaps that's because of the short-story format. Even though all of the stories were connected by the painting, they weren't connected in any other way. Some of them worked for me, and some didn't. If I were to read it again, I'd read it backwards. I would have preferred to go from the beginning of the painting's history and gone forward rather than having each story be several hundred years before the last one. ...more
In the first couple of chapters of this book, I thought, "Oh no, this is going to be like an Angela Thirkell book. Classist snobs I find it difficultIn the first couple of chapters of this book, I thought, "Oh no, this is going to be like an Angela Thirkell book. Classist snobs I find it difficult to care about. Money being hoarded." But then it picks up and I found that it was a more of a psychological study of how people cope with one another. Sort of like a country-house mystery, but without the murder. You learn about people's backgrounds and why they do the sometimes weird or malicious things they do. Her sharp (pun intended) observations about motives reminded me more of Muriel Spark (whose last name also reflects her writing) than Thirk. Sharp is best known for her children's series, The Rescuers, about mice who complete heroic rescues. It was fun to read her writing for adults. ...more
You know how some movie trailers show all the great moments of a film and when you see the film you realize that actually the trailer was as good as iYou know how some movie trailers show all the great moments of a film and when you see the film you realize that actually the trailer was as good as it got? I would have liked a movie trailer version of this book much better than slogging through the book itself. I love short stories and I'm well aware that most collections are uneven. I often skip stories in collections to get to the good ones. I read the first story in here all the way through. And then I started skipping stories. Before I knew it, I was at the end, having not really read any other stories in full. Too dark, trying too hard to be weird or unique. I connected with very few of the characters. This felt like a desperate publisher's attempt to pull together a new Lorrie Moore book on which to make some money, composed of older stories that never made it to the big time until now. There were some great lines though, tiny insightful moments in a bunch of stories that left me cold. Here are a few.
"You're supposed to give things up for Lent. Last year we gave up our faith and reason; this year we are giving up our democratic voice, our hope."
[exchange between middle-aged Ira and his eight-year-old daughter Bekka on the subject of her mother's new boyfriend moving in]:
"Bekka shrugged and chewed. 'Whatever,' she said, her new word for 'You're welcome,' 'Hello,' 'Goodbye,' and 'I'm only eight.' 'I really just don't want all his stuff there. Already his car blocks our car in the driveway.'
'Bummer,' said Ira, his new word for 'I must remain as neutral as possible,' and 'Your mother's a whore.'"
"'Marriage is one long conversation,' wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. Of course he died when he was forty-four, so he had no idea how long the conversation could really get to be."
"She sometimes claimed to friends that her father had died, and when she was asked how, she would gaze bereavedly off into the distance and say, 'A really, really serious game of hangman.'"...more
Given the vintage date of this book, you think you know exactly where the story is headed. Spinster in a small village, with several suitors vying forGiven the vintage date of this book, you think you know exactly where the story is headed. Spinster in a small village, with several suitors vying for her attention. But D. E. Smith, an author I really enjoy, has other ideas in mind. ...more
It's hard not to like earthy Mrs Harris. For me, this is Dick King-Smith for grown-ups. His books often focus on older, quirky, warm-hearted folk whoIt's hard not to like earthy Mrs Harris. For me, this is Dick King-Smith for grown-ups. His books often focus on older, quirky, warm-hearted folk who manage to get into scrapes but handle them with all the aplomb of Gallico's Mrs Harris, making friends in unexpected places and ultimately landing on their feet. Shades of Paddington here too, but like King-Smith, Gallico is unafraid to address the darker side humanity. I will be checking out the further adventures of Mrs Harris soon....more
We listened to this in the car on a camping trip. I liked most of Estes' books, but this one about the Pye's adopting a singular kitten is the most enWe listened to this in the car on a camping trip. I liked most of Estes' books, but this one about the Pye's adopting a singular kitten is the most endearing. We all liked it, even my husband. ...more