1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up discussion

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Monthly Book Club > February 2017 - Little Women

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message 1: by Manybooks, Active moderator (last edited Jan 25, 2017 03:19PM) (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Although the official starting date is not until the beginning of February, I have decided to once again set up the official thread a few days prior so that those intending to join can either start reading or make the necessary arrangements trying to obtain a copy of the book.

Also, please note that I am assuming we are reading the entire novel (both the first and second part), and thus not only the first part which ends right before Meg gets married, I think (but I am not actually sure of that as I have always read Little Women in its entirety and not as two separate novels).

With regard to spoilers, I am very lax with these, and really have no rules to impose. If you want to use spoiler tags, do so, but I both do not request these and if you are really afraid of spoilers, I would in fact suggest not visiting the thread until you have finished your reading of Little Women.

Still trying to figure out which Little Women book to read this time. I have this gorgeous harcover I got a few years ago in Hay-on-Wye, vintage with beautiful illustrations, but too fragile to be lugging around everywhere. And if you are in any way interested in the historical background etc. of the novel (and perhaps relish looking also at it academically and culturally, this Norton Critical Edition of Little Women is highly recommended).


message 2: by Manybooks, Active moderator (last edited Jan 30, 2017 04:23PM) (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
I also think that with Little Women, we can and perhaps should discuss the many movie adaptations there have been.

Personally, even though it did stray a bit from the book, I love the more recent adaptation which stars Winona Ryder as Jo the best, and think that Gabriel Byrne made an absolutely scrumptious Professor Bhaer (ha, I have always wondered why Louisa May Alcott spelled the professor's name the way she did, as it is definitely not a common spelling in German, it would usually be Baehr).

Have any of you seen the late 70s miniseries of Little Women that starred Meredith Baxter (of Family Ties fame) as Meg and none other than William Shatner as Professor Bhaer? It definitely is close to the book than the above mentioned 90s movie version, but especially William Shatner is almost inadvertently humorous, speaking English with a very heavy and rather fake sounding and forced German accent and then speaking German (or I guess what he thinks is German) with a very strong English accent (and sorry, I kept thinking he would say, "Beam me up, Scotty").

Have actually not seen any of the earlier movies but heard that they are supposedly pretty good.


message 3: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer (JenIsNotaBookSnob) (jenisnotabooksnob) | 45 comments I've seen several versions of Little Women, though I would have trouble saying which ones. I also loved the 90's version. It may not have captured the facts of the novel exactly, but, it did capture the feeling of the novel very well. That's probably why I can't remember the other ones. The 90's one was the one I liked.

I had a cheap paperback version I bought at a yard sale that I just read until it fell apart. I was to the point with that book for quite awhile where it just resided on my bedside table and I would just open it to wherever and read a few pages. It had been read so many times I no longer needed to read it in order. I roped my younger sisters into making our own paper too, though, they were not so amused with the endeavor and braved it as yet another annoying thing their older sister made them do.

My poor younger siblings. Oddly enough my next obsession was Star Trek, I wonder if it was because I had seen the version with Shatner? Anyways, shortly after growing out of the 'making our own newspaper' phase I tortured those poor children by reading aloud from Star Trek paperbacks to them. I swear that is why my younger sister is almost paranoid of being near books. She's afraid I will read them to her.. lol She recently confided that she has nightmares that I will read "How Much for just the Planet?" to her again.

Now that I've led the discussion completely astray, I will admit that I don't own a copy and haven't decided whether I will just read a project Gutenberg ebook or get a library book. My other copy was in pieces and was thrown away several years ago. I may hit up the used book store this week and see if I'm tempted by any copies they have there.


message 4: by Manybooks, Active moderator (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Jennifer wrote: "I've seen several versions of Little Women, though I would have trouble saying which ones. I also loved the 90's version. It may not have captured the facts of the novel exactly, but, it did captur..."

I might decide on rereading the cheap ebook I downloaded on my ipad, not bad as it contains not only Little Women but Little Men and Jo's Boys.

I tried to get my younger brother and sister to do book inspired things but they simply refused (actually, it was usually the other way around, that I would get roped into things the rest of the family liked but I did not).

Interstingly enough, my first exposure to Star Trek was the animated series and I only realised there was a life action version thereof after we moved from Germany to Canada when I was ten.


message 5: by Manybooks, Active moderator (last edited Jan 31, 2017 04:06PM) (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
My reread of Little Women is going well but like always, way too fast. I love the novel as much as ever and one thing that I absolutely cannot understand is the fact that there have actually been in recent decades moves afoot to censor and/or ban the book, not by Conservatives, but supposedly by "liberal" activists and so-called feminists (and the quotation marks are mine, as NO ONE who strives to ban a book is either liberal or democratic in any way for me, rather the absolute opposite).

It is really quite amazing that a novel written in 1868 can still (in this day and age) be so fresh, enchanting (often socially relevant) and truly, for 1868, Little Women is not only quite progressive and even strivingly feminist, it is actually much more so than many books (especially books meant specifically for girls) written in the late 19th and even early to middle 20th century. With that in mind, it just astounds me to no end (and massively infuriates me) that there there have actually been recent moves and petitions to have the book banned and censored (according to certain "activists" Little Women is supposedly not feminist enough and thus, due to its lasting popularity as a classic, inherently "dangerous" to girls/women, and thus warranting official censorship). Yes, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is not a book that I would call feminist in the late 20th, early 21st century manner of thinking, but for 1868, it was and still is very progressive indeed, a novel that not only promotes gender equality to a point, but also, and this is one of the prime advantages of Little Women, it pleads for and strives for freedom of individual choice, especially for women (Meg is happy being a homemaker and wife, but that is her own and personal choice, it is not ever forced on her, while Jo goes alone to New York City, and supports the family with her work, and even Beth is not made to keep attending school when it is reaslised that she is much too shy and too afraid of strangers for this).


message 6: by Manybooks, Active moderator (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
While I was rereading Little Women this time, I was also concurrently rereading two of my favourite books by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame), namely her The Story Girl and its sequel The Golden Road (like with Little Women a duo of novels I simply adore and reread often and regularly).

And it has become rather obvious at least to and for me how much both of these stories (both of these novels) have in common with Louisa May Alcott's classic, with Little Women. Especially the character of Cecily King is very much akin and alike to Beth March, both personality wise and with regard to her eventual fate (that she is also doomed and slated to die young like Beth does, although with Cecily, unlike with Beth March, she does not in fact, die within the pages of the books, but that at the end of the second novel, at the end of The Golden Road, Cecily King's future is called unearthly and heavenly, with her impending death hinted at as occurring in the very near future).

Now please note, I am NOT in any way claiming or even suggesting that Montgomery actually in any way actively plagiarised Alcott, and the character of Cecily King is also not a mere carbon copy and replica of Beth March either (although the latter might well have served as a bit of a model for the former).

However, the encountered, noticeable similarities are, for me, striking enough to believe that Lucy Maud Montgomery was in all likelihood somewhat influenced by Little Women when she wrote The Story Girl and The Golden Road (which assertion and consideration also becomes rather apparent at least to me when one realises that both the March family and the King family created their own magazines, and that both of these magazines are similar in both style and content to a point, with the March girls' magazine being perhaps a bit more literate, which makes sense though, as the March sisters are from a literary family, while the King family are farmers).


message 7: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 37 comments Some responses to the above:

* I'm pretty sure the "Little Women"/"Good Wives" split is right after the Christmas chapter. There's a significant tonal shift right there.

* I tried watching the '90s movie and didn't make it through. The movie felt just so girly, whereas the book connected better with me. Maybe seeing actresses portray the emotions was less interesting to me than my imagination of them in my mind.

* The Star Trek animated series uses the original cast as voice actors, and is still held in high regard by fans today.

* I think Little Women book has a strong claim to feminism, and it shows up frequently on lists put out by places like Bustle and Jezebel. Alcott does embrace a lot of traditional values, and Meg's marriage is a little stereotypical, but I think on overall theme is the four girls choosing what they want to do and who they want to become. Can't get much more empowering than that.

* I think LM Montgomery was heavily influenced by Alcott. It would be hard not to be. Little Women is the cornerstone of the genre. Specifically, I thought Anne of the Island had a lot of similarities to the Jo chapters in the second half of Little Women.


message 8: by Manybooks, Active moderator (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Phil wrote: "Some responses to the above:

* I'm pretty sure the "Little Women"/"Good Wives" split is right after the Christmas chapter. There's a significant tonal shift right there.

* I tried watching the '9..."


Yes, Anne of the Island definitely has similarities to Little Women.


message 9: by Manybooks, Active moderator (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Phil wrote: "Some responses to the above:

* I'm pretty sure the "Little Women"/"Good Wives" split is right after the Christmas chapter. There's a significant tonal shift right there.

* I tried watching the '9..."


Of course and for a book published in 1868, there would be traditional values, but just as you (and hopefully I) have pointed out, for its time, Little Women is both massively liberating and very novel, with each of the four sisters being given their own voices and their own choices.


message 10: by Manybooks, Active moderator (last edited Feb 02, 2017 04:45AM) (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Another point of contention for some, perhaps even for many is that the second oldest daughter, that Josephine (Jo) does not end up marrying Laurie (Theodore Laurence), but her much older German friend, Professor Bhaer. Now for me, I have personally always thought that while Jo and Laurie would make and do make great friends, they would more than likely have made horrible and in many ways intensely problematic lovers.

The idea that Laurie and Jo are too similar in certain perhaps less than admirable parts of their personalities has always made sense to me. If Laurie and Jo had married, I believe that their personalities would have clashed, not because they are so different, but because they are so similar with regard to willfulness, stubbornness, desire and emotionality.

But Professor Bhaer, he actually much complements Jo and she in turn complements him. He calms her personality, even giving her writing a calming edge, while she, in turn, makes his own rather calm and staid personality a bit more outgoing. And also, one has to consider the salient fact that from an academic standpoint, Jo and Professor Bhaer are actually and really much more complementary and complimentary than Laurie and Jo would and could ever have been. Jo thrives on writing, literature, education, something that Professor Bhaer also exhibits in every fibre of his being, but something that Laurie really only shows marginally (mainly artistically and musically, and in and with this, he is actually much closer to Amy, and not Jo). Especially from an artistic and societal point of view, Laurie and Amy thus do suit one another, much more than Jo and Laurie would and could have ever lastingly meshed.

Now Louisa May Alcott might have indeed originally not wanted Jo to have been married at all (and there are actually critics who consider Jo's intense love for her sister Beth, her devotion to her, lesbian, and while I definitely do not, it is still a common thread in some secondary analyses and interpretations of Little Women).

And then, when the publishers (and likely many readers, the intended audience to so speak) clamoured for Jo to also marry, it does make sense, at least to me, that Alcott had Jo not end up marrying Laurie, but Professor Bhaer, an older, more mature man perhaps, but also someone whose intellect, whose philosophy, whose education and ideas regarding education, much better and for me more realistically and gracefully corresponded to and are sympatico with Jo.

I actually do very much believe that with Laurie as a husband, Jo would not only have had too many battles and arguments, I think she also would probably have found the life of relative leisure and ease that Laurie and Amy end up enjoying, rather tedious, even monotonous in the long run, when compared to and with the active and productive life of teaching and service, of nurturing that Jo and the Professor end up creating/having with their school at Plumfied, as demonstrated and described in the sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys.


message 11: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 37 comments I thnk Bhaer brought out the best in Jo, and Laurie was just kind of an annoying tag-along. He's way better matched with Amy, who's also kind of shallow in a matching way.

To me, Jo shooting down Laurie is a great feminist moment in the book. They are a superficial match, but she deserves a better one.

The idea about a gay subtext is pretty far-fetched.


message 12: by Manybooks, Active moderator (last edited Feb 02, 2017 12:11PM) (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Phil wrote: "I thnk Bhaer brought out the best in Jo, and Laurie was just kind of an annoying tag-along. He's way better matched with Amy, who's also kind of shallow in a matching way.

To me, Jo shooting down ..."


I agree, the supposed gay subtext that some see in Little Women has annoyed me almost as much as the L.M. Montgomery "bosom friend" controversy with regard to Anne's friendship with Diana (that it was somehow a quasi Lesbian relationship at least on Annes' part).

And you are definitely preaching to the choir with regard to Jo and Professor Bhaer being more suited than Jo and Laurie. I would not go as far as considering Laurie as simply annoying but he is definitely a bit more on the surface and shallow than Jo and more suited for Amy (and this is showm very clearly in and with both sequels, insofar that both Amy and Laurie and Jo and her professor are described as having both successful and loving marriages).


message 13: by Manybooks, Active moderator (last edited Mar 22, 2017 06:05PM) (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
One thing about Little Women, it is so famous that there actually have been a number of novels that either feature the former or author Louisa May Alcott.

(view spoiler)


message 14: by Manybooks, Active moderator (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
I have read some pretty decent recent biographies on Louisa May Alcott, the best so far having been, Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever and Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson. Now these are NOT really conceptualised for children, but are in my opinion suitable for teenagers above the age of fourteen or so.

With regard to biographies on Louisa May Alcott for specifically children, I was not all that impressed with and by Caroline Meigs' Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women, even if it did win the 1934 Newbery Award. I found the writing style too declamatory and moralising, so much so that it felt distracting and frustrating, tedious even. And I also did not much like how positively Bronson Alcott was depicted, when in fact, he was rather irresponsible as both a husband and a father. That being said, the book seems to still be quite popular, so perhaps my negativity a bit too personal.


message 15: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 37 comments Manybooks wrote: "I was not all that impressed with and by Caroline Meigs' Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women,"

Too bad. I'm planning to read that one soon. I was hoping it would be decent.


message 16: by Manybooks, Active moderator (last edited Feb 28, 2017 04:34PM) (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Phil wrote: "Manybooks wrote: "I was not all that impressed with and by Caroline Meigs' Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women,"

Too bad. I'm planning to read that one soon. I was hoping it..."


It is relevant and you should still read it. I just did not like the writing style and could have done without the hero worshipping of Bronson Alcott, who really does not deserve such idolization. And many actually seen to find the writing beautiful although I personally do not.


message 17: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer (JenIsNotaBookSnob) (jenisnotabooksnob) | 45 comments I meant to read this, have it sitting here at home, but just wasn't in the right mood for it. I've read it a whole bunch of times, so, maybe I'm just not ready to read it again.

I had gotten an audiobook from the library, but, HATED the voice they picked for it.. lol Oh well..


message 18: by Manybooks, Active moderator (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Jennifer wrote: "I meant to read this, have it sitting here at home, but just wasn't in the right mood for it. I've read it a whole bunch of times, so, maybe I'm just not ready to read it again.

I had gotten an a..."


That's one of the reasons I have never warmed to audiobooks, namely if you cannot stand the tone of voice of the reader, the narrator, that really can ruin an otherwise wonderful book (I guess a good narrator can also perhaps save a less than stella book, but still, I like reading more than listening and I remember more of what I read than what I hear).


message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael Fitzgerald | 15 comments I think it's the opposite for me. I am far more likely to "skip the boring parts" when reading. With an audiobook, I get every single word, without exception. As Montgomery has been mentioned, I've done the first four Anne books on audio and found them glorious. But I would say those are good books read by good narrators. I've recently had to endure two not-so-good books read by narrators who fail on pronunciation of even basic words. Tone was fine, but I can't fathom how someone in the process could miss such things.


message 20: by Manybooks, Active moderator (new)

Manybooks | 220 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "I think it's the opposite for me. I am far more likely to "skip the boring parts" when reading. With an audiobook, I get every single word, without exception. As Montgomery has been mentioned, I've..."

I am just not at all an auditory learner and I usually have to both read and often write down information in order to lastingly remember it.


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