The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell

The Madwoman UpstairsThe Madwoman Upstairs is a contemporary adventure/mystery about a young woman who is beginning her studies in literature in Oxford. As the last descendant of Patrick Brontë, Samantha Whipple is hounded by the media about her father’s mysterious death (by fire) and the myth of the Brontë inheritance. When the Brontë books from her father’s library begin mysteriously showing up at her door (which she believed were destroyed in the fire that consumed her father), Samantha tries to uncover the truth behind who is leaving them for her, and what her father was trying to teach her between the lines.

I picked this up because one of my favorite novels of all time is Jane Eyre and although the only other Brontë I’ve read so far is Wuthering Heights by Miss Emily, I’ve always felt a little affectionate for their family (Anne, I’m coming for you!). I learned a lot about their family from this novel, but there are also some very definite spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the big four – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenent of Wildfell Hall. Many scenes in the novel are Samantha in one-on-one study sessions with her literature professor discussing the classics, and I was feeling really stupid even a quarter of the way through when this 20 year old was discussing work from…well, pretty much everyone. I read a lot of classics and I’m nowhere near as well read this character is. I would almost say it is unbelievable, but her father was a writer and lover of literature and she did descend from possibly the most famous family of authors who ever lived, so maybe it wasn’t so out of the realm of possibility for her.

After first finishing the novel I was a little bit disappointed that the ending didn’t turn out as shocking/twisty as I was expecting (even hoping for), but the more time that passes now after having finished it, I appreciate it more and more. The suspense is built up quite a bit throughout the novel to the point I was expecting a ‘Madwoman Upstairs’ type twist as found in Jane Eyre, but there is nothing like that. In the end, this is a book about acceptance and family, a coming of age story, and I quite enjoyed it :-)

e.

Mrs. Hemingway, Naomi Wood

Mrs. HemingwayI love Ernest Hemingway. That’s probably something you should know about me. I love his writing so much that I’ve been savoring it, because I never want to run out of new things to read. First I read A Farewell To Arms – to this day one of my favorite novels of all time. Then The Sun Also Rises. Loved it. I’ve reread these two novels many times. Then I read The Old Man and the Sea. I didn’t like it as much as the other two, but still effective. And that’s it. That’s all I’ve allowed myself to read for ten years. It’s ridiculous. And it stops…well, soon. But first, I picked up this book: a fictional account of the beginnings and endings of all four of Mr. Hemingway’s marriages.

It is written in four parts (around 80 pages each), one for each wife: Hadley (my favorite), Pauline (nickname:Fife, as in Pfeiffer), Martha, and Mary. Before reading this book, I was only familiar with details from his marriage to Hadley and the transition into Pauline, so I did learn quite a bit from this book. Each section jumps back and forth from the beginning of each relationship to the end, and many times they overlap one another (Hemingway was never known for his fidelity 😕). It had to be tough to decide what vignettes to include for each wife that showed why they married and also why they parted, but I feel that the author did a great job capturing the right moments.

Hadley was his first love, who he met when he was 21. They had a son together and lived for most of their marriage in Paris. It was there Hadley and Ernest became acquainted with Pauline Pfeiffer and her sister. Pauline (who everyone called Fife apparently), became fast friends with the pair, and slowly fell in love with Ernest. The affair went on awhile with Ernest still married to Hadley, but finally they divorced and he married Pauline. They lived happily together for many years, mostly in the Florida keys, and had two sons. Ernest went back to working as a war correspondent during this period. He met his next wife, Martha Gellhorn, near his home in Florida, but convinced her to become a war correspondent as well (she was a writer herself). In Spain they began their love affair, and Pauline was pissed when she found out. She is the only of his wives to really hold spite for him, or so they say. He married Martha, and basically did the same thing to her, meeting Mary Welsh while working as a correspondent in London (Mary was also married at the time), and it was Mary who was with him in the end of his life.

While this book is highly fictionalized (no one knows exactly what was said and exactly what happened in all of the details), it is also drawn from historical accounts, letters, and telegrams, so everything in the book is at least in the gist of what actually occurred. Ernest Hemingway had a big life, there are no doubts about that, and I loved seeing little snipits of it through the lens of the women in his life. 

Overall I really enjoyed the book, it was hard to put down at times (I say that because I had to put it down, mommy’s need their sleep!). I love reading about Hemingway’s life. He lived in a different time, that’s for sure, and it makes me wonder how he would have liked the modern world. He wouldn’t have, probably. I have another fictionalized book about him called Hemingway’s Boat. I may be reading that soon, as well as Z. the novel about Zelda Fitzgerald (who was only in one scene of this book, but was alluded to a few other times). Why do the books I read always add so many other books to my to-read pile?! I’m trying to shrink it, but it keeps growing the more I read!! #readerproblems 😅

E.

Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Lincoln in the BardoBardo:: A Tibetan Buddhist term meaning ‘of an existence between death and rebirth’.

This novel is quite unconventional. Not quite as unconventional as the book called S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams, but it does not, as a typical novel would, consist of nothing but prose.  The chapters are quite short, and many of them are made up entirely of quotes pulled from historical accounts, history books, and letters. It is almost more of a work of art than a novel. And Although it took me awhile to get the rhythm, in the end I rather enjoyed it.
I came to this book straight off of Gone With the Wind and wanting to stay in the time period of the civil war. While this story does technically take place during the civil war, it is nothing about it but a vague backdrop that almost has no meaning to the story being told. This book is about the death and mourning of a child, and also an interpretation of the afterlife.

I read this book on audible, and it is the first audiobook I’ve listened to with a full cast. For this novel it meant 166 narrators! I can’t move on from this subject without mentioning how odd the experience was at first listening to people reading sometimes only a few words before another person jumped in. It was a cacophony of human voices for awhile, but once I understood what was going on, I loved it. As you may have seen, Nick Offerman (of Parks & Rec fame) leads the cast, playing a dead man called Mr. Vollman. David Sedaris has another leading roll as Mr. Bevins, and together they narrate much of the story from their perspective as ghosts in a graveyard. I was able to pick out a few other voices I knew: Rainn Wilson and Megan Mullally among them, and in 166 voices, I’m sure you will find others you know as well.

The story itself is devastating; Lincoln’s young and beloved son Willie dies. Since this was an audiobook it is hard to go back and pull quotes, but I will just say that the chapters full of quotes were extremely powerful and put together very skillfully. As a new mother, I found new layers of meaning and understanding in the scraps of real world accounts surrounding this event and my heart ached for our 16th president. Not only was he dealing with this horrific personal event, but he was also facing enormous backlash because of the war, where thousands and thousands of other men’s sons were being slaughtered on his order. What a terrible burden it must have been. Again, I find I am intrigued to learn more about this era, and even Lincoln himself. Knowing that his life was prematurely ended not terribly long after this, it makes me feel so terrible for him. What a hard life he had. Poor man.

But this is all only backdrop for the novel. Mostly the story takes place in the graveyard Willie is taken to after his death. The ghosts there are unwilling to accept that they have died, and therefore linger on, resisting their fate by essentially squeezing their eyes shut and ignoring anything that doesn’t fit their faulty beliefs. When Willie’s spirit joins them, he is confused, and resists ‘passing on’ when his father comes back to the mausoleum to hold onto his dead son’s body (apparently a true event). Through the quest to get this child’s spirit to pass on (something they all agree should happen), the other ghosts become more aware of themselves and what the true situation of their existence is, eventually accepting their fate and moving on themselves.

Yes, those were all spoilers, and yet I feel like none of that will ruin the book for new readers. This is the kind of book you don’t necessarily read for the story, but for the experience itself. I hope you read it, you who are reading this, and that you can appreciate it for what it is. I loved this book, and it has stuck with me in the weeks since I’ve finished it. Maybe it will for you too.

E.

Thoughts on My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelLast night I finished reading My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier. It had been at the top of my to read list for the past several years, but I never got past the first several pages until last week, which is strange, because the first several pages are almost as gripping as the first pages in Rebecca, one of my favorite classic novels.

My Cousin Rachel begins in a place similar to Rebecca, with an orphan and a gothic, almost sinister, undertone. If I hadn’t been expecting great things already judging by the woman who wrote it, I definitely was after the first chapter, and I think ultimately this is what led to my disappointment in the novel.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is about a young man named Phillip who was raised by his cousin Ambrose. When advised to winter away from his damp home in Cornwall by his doctor, Ambrose goes south to the continent of Europe. He goes to Italy where he meets and marries his cousin Rachel. Having been a bachelor all his life, this comes as a great surprise to Phillip and their friends in Cornwall. The marriage seems to suit him until Phillip begins to receive odd letters from his cousin, and before he is able to see Ambrose again, he is dead. Did his new wife have something to do with it? How will Phillip behave once he finally meets this mysterious cousin? What about this woman caused a lifelong bachelor to finally ‘take the plunge’?

This novel lacked the feeling of suspense that I adored in Rebecca. There were no twists, no shocking revelations, and honestly once I set it down for the last time I was left wondering what the point of the book had been. I’m not saying it wasn’t compelling or well written, because it was, but there was never the sense of satisfaction in the end for me. After such a kick ass beginning, I expected more. I gave it three stars on goodreads because it is quite an entertaining book, I just took issue with the ending – it left things unresolved for me. I’m having the same issue with the ending of Gone With the Wind (I am still working on a post for that one).

For those of you who have already read it, here is a little more detail of what I thought of the story::

The beginning is excellent. It sets the tone beautifully and anchors the story in a gothic mood. The plot set-up is also perfect – a man meets a woman, marries her, has a crisis that leads to his death, and his family is left to wonder/discover whether or not this mysterious woman had a hand in it. I mean, that’s got to be an excellent story, right?

Eh.

I felt like I was turning pages in order to find out if Rachel had really had any fault in Ambrose’s death or not. Since I still don’t know for sure it just feels unfinished. I feel like the story leaves off in exactly the same place as it was after the first few chapters of the book. In the end, none of the plot really changed anything in the character’s lives. I guess I was expecting something equally mysterious and scandalous to happen to Phillip once Rachel came to town, but the only thing that happened is Phillip absolutely losing his mind in love and sabotaging himself. And yet, he wasn’t really sabotaged after all. It’s like everything that happened had the ability to be a complete disaster, but in the end Phillip is left exactly as he was after Ambrose’s death, a wealthy bachelor.

There was a looming mystery as to what Rachel’s big fault was, and all it turned out to be was a shopping addiction (who doesn’t know someone like that?). There was the giving of the estate to Rachel, and what changed for Phillip? Not a thing, except Rachel’s attitude was a bit colder (but that’s because he is a fool who expects her to marry him). There was the death of Rachel, but even that was unsatisfying. Did Phillip intend to let her die that night, or was he so preoccupied with his own mission that night that he completely forgot there was any danger in the garden? For me, it seemed like the emphasis kept falling on things that didn’t matter, and the things I was really interested in were only briefly mentioned.

In my group on goodreads, everyone seemed to agree with the implications at the end, that Rachel had been innocent the whole time and that she had done nothing wrong. But how can that be? Did he not find the poisonous seeds in her drawer? …..hello!? Was that just another figment of his imagination? …or mine? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!

This story just wasn’t for me in the end. I still adore Rebecca, and I for sure haven’t sworn off du Maurier by any stretch, but this one just didn’t sit well with me. However, it will be lingering in the back of my mind for quite some time, I’m sure. And maybe that was the point after all.

If you’ve read My Cousin Rachel, please share your ideas with me in the comments about your theories. This is a book that begs to be discussed!

E.

A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle

This is the second Sherlock Holmes story I have read (the first was The Hound of the Baskervilles), and I have to say I remain surprised by the way they read. I suppose it is the enormous fame of the characters, the familiarity with which I felt I had with them before ever reading one of the original stories that set me up for the subtle shock they’ve given me. And at the same time I’m not surprised at all; having read Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, I was already familiarized with his writing style.

Sherlock Holmes Pipe

The Sherlock Holmes stories are very different from what you may think of as a detective or mystery novel today. If you read a modern mystery novel, subtle clues are laid out for you and persuasive writing leads you to a certain conclusion by the end of the story. A good mystery will probably have left other clues you were unaware of that will satisfy a twist ending you weren’t expecting. This novel is not like that. There are clues, yes, but goaded by questions from Dr. Watson, generally they are explained quickly and thouroughly by Sherlock Holmes leaving the reader wanting for the grand finale type reveal at the end. There is explanation at the end, a final run through if all clues and deductions in the case, but it felt very anti-climactic for me.

The other thing that surprised me about this novel was the sharp change in setting in the middle of the book. With no warning at all, suddenly you are reading a completely different story. I actually stopped the book and went on goodreads to make sure my audible download hadn’t messed up somehow. One moment you are in the thick of the investigation (the supposed bad guy has been captured!), and the next you are on another continent as an old man and a young girl are rescued in the desert by the Mormons…..it was jolting, and it didn’t make sense until much later. I am still on the fence about how effective it was. After the story was all said and done I did really enjoy having all of that background knowledge that explains the murderer’s motive intimately, yet I think it could have used a transition to anchor the reader a little bit. Perhaps if I had been reading a physical copy it wouldn’t have been so bad, that is a possibility.

Speaking on the characters themselves and the set-up of what has turned out to be an infinitely famous crime-investigating duo, I was pleased enormously. The book is written from Dr. Watson’s perspective, I believe the reader is to believe the words have been taken from his journal. It opens with the explanation of Watson’s history as a doctor with the British Army, and how he ended up in poor health recovering in London. On a search for a flat mate, he is introduced through a mutual acquaintance to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. After finding one another agreeable, they move in together. Watson is unsure at first what Mr. Holmes’ occupation may be, it is the first mystery of the novel, and once he discovers he is a consulting detective he is endlessly fascinated and becomes a tag-along to the current case. The rest, as they say, is history.

Overall I enjoyed the book. It was different from what I had expected (again, I don’t know why I expected anything different), but in the end it was a very pleasant book to read, and it came to a satisfying conclusion. I look forward to reading more of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I could probably stand to reread THotB.

On another note, I need to do some reading about the foundations of Mormonism. …cause if what this book suggests is true…yikes!

E.

 

Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King

Mr. MercedesDespite the fact that Stephen King is one of my favorite authors (as a person), I have only read a shameful amount of his fiction. I frequently watch his interviews and appearances on YouTube, and once heard him talking about a story he was working on; a retired detective is being mocked by one of the criminals he never caught on the job. The idea gripped me immediately. That work-in-progress turned out to be Mr. Mercedes. The one book expanded into a trilogy, and embarrassingly I never started Mr. Mercedes until long after the last book in the series had been published 😬

The novel opens with the scene of the crime – on a misty early morning, a madman drives a Mercedes into a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair. It then fast forwards to find retired detective Bill Hodges doing nothing more exciting than watching daytime television and contemplating the thought of taking his own life, when a typewritten letter is delivered out of the blue. It is from the Mercedes killer, still at large, taunting him. Bouncing perspective between Bill and the Mercedes Killer, the novel is a non-stop crime thriller I found hard to put down.

Although I wouldn’t call this book a member of the ‘Horror’ genre, it is probably the most disturbing book I have personally ever read. Being inside the head of a serial killer is a freaky place to be, as you can imagine. **spoiler**At one point I thought I may have to put it down, as I have a sensitivity to cruelty to animals, but I pushed through and luckily the dog was not poisoned and brutally murdered. Somehow finding that his mother was instead didn’t bother me as much. (It’s the fact that animals are helpless and completely at the mercy of their caregivers is why, in case you are thinking I’m a monster for thinking that) **end spoiler**

Even though this book is part of a trilogy, I feel this novel stands alone very well. That is to say, it doesn’t leave off on a cliffhanger; there is a satisfying and complete ending, which I appreciate very much. There’s nothing worse than a cliffhanger ending. Or a violently abrupt ending (I’m looking at you Margaret Atwood), but this book doesn’t have that, so let’s move on.

Thrillers (especially crime thrillers) aren’t my preferred genre of novel to read, but every once in awhile a really good one can be quite satisfying. If you’re looking for something that fits the bill and is really well written, I recommend it! I’ve borrowed the next two books, Finders Keepers and End of Watch, from a friend, and I plan to read them later this summer. Stay tuned!!

E.

Gone With the Wind – A Reading Journal, Part IV

This post comes to you as a series of thoughts by bullet point. Spoilers abound.

-Ashley actually does like her? I apparently misread things from the beginning. Even after that confrontation in the orchard, she is still so wild about him. I’ve been harboring that she didn’t truly love him, but now having thought of him above everyone else except herself for so many years now, maybe it is more than just infatuation. Is his side of things only lust? Or does he truly admire her? I may have to go back and reread some of their scenes at the beginning.

-I can’t believe she stole another husband out from under someone, and this time from her own sister! Scarlett is a heartless cutthroat bitch, let’s just be honest.

-Clearly Scarlett is breaking some huge stereotypes in this section by becoming a business owner as a woman. Although it is too bad that Scarlett let’s her keen business sense trump her morality. She understands the treatment of the convicts at her mills are wrong, and yet the bottom line is all she cares about at the end of the day.

-I love the term ‘scandalized’.

-I like how through most of this section Scarlett and Rhett are pretty well established friends. They are very clearly cut by the same cloth, and Rhett has known that all along. If only Scarlett had a brain! Their conversations are one of my favorite things to read. And my, Rhett has so much patience with her!

-This novel has me intrigued. I have been reading online about the civil war, and I am interested in finding some good, readable, non-fiction as well as more fiction about the American Civil War era. Anyone have suggestions on what I should add to my TBR?

-Some of these I wrote before finishing part four, but now that I have: 😱🤗😁 They’ve finally done it! And what a sweet moment the proposal was. Yes, Rhett is probably a horrible person, but he knew from the beginning that Scarlett married Frank for his money, out of necessity, for survival. With that in mind I don’t feel Rhett was a scoundrel for proposing only days after her husband’s death. I frigging love Rhett Butler. He reminds me of Mr. Rochester from my favorite classic (Jane Eyre) in many ways.

Not so many details this time, I can’t wait to finish so I can reflect on the book as a whole.

E.

The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindI have to say, I was not expecting to love this book. Like it maybe, or more likely to be disappointed halfway through and feel obligated to finish it. It is not a perfect book by any means, and yet here I sit having finished the novel (in two days), and I am temporarily at a loss for words.

The Girl You Left Behind is about two women: One living in a German occupied town in France in WWI, the other a mourning widow in modern London. Both of them have lost the men they loved; one is off fighting a war with no word if he is dead or alive, the other died suddenly much too young.

The first part of the book is dedicated to Sophie, the Frenchwoman whose town has been occupied by Germans in World War I. Her husband, who is now off fighting in the war, was a painter. He had painted a portrait of Sophie in their happier days, and it now hung in her family’s hotel, reminding Sophie that she wasn’t always a skeletal being of fear and hunger. When the Germans commandeer the hotel, having Sophie and her sister cook for them every night, the painting catches the eye of the Kommandant, a man feared by the villagers.

Later we are confronted with a jolting change in time. Suddenly we are in England in modern times and introduced to Liv, who is now somehow in possession of the painting. She is a widow, struggling to move on, and clings to the painting as an emotional support. When she finally meets a man she thinks she could fall in love with, she learns he works for a company that restores paintings stolen in wartime to the families they belong to, and that her painting, The Girl You Left Behind, is being claimed by the family of the man who originally painted it.

This novel is two in one: a historical fiction account of what it was like to live in German occupied territory during WWI and the horrors that brings with it, and a modern court case driven thriller/mystery in the second half. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how I liked how lopsided it seemed to be…you never meet the present day characters until around halfway through the book, and then closer to the end it flips back and forth again a few times, but somehow it works.

I was reading the first half of Gone With the Wind (about the American Civil War) while listening to this novel on audio, and I think the wartime stories had a greater effect on me in both novels because of that. Both were terrible, bloody wars and it was difficult at times to read about them. It is quite graphic as it details the horrors of war…not gore from the front lines, but the starvation, pure fear, and destruction of a way of life that existed for those left behind.

*some spoilers in the following paragraph*

The modern piece wasn’t quite as good. To me it felt a lot more formulaic and bordered on unrealistic at times. Would Liv really have blatantly dug her heels in on the matter of keeping her painting without even considering the possibility of giving it back to the rightful family at all? I feel like there would probably have been moments of doubt whether she was doing the right thing, espcecially as those around her began to question it (and when she completely cut out Paul without even pretending to listen to what he had to say seemed odd to me, as they had really spent a lot of time together up to that point). Also how was Liv actually paying for everything? I feel like it was super improbable that she’d be able to get as far as she did financially from the spot she was in at the beginning (who would give her a second mortgage with so little money in the bank and presumably terrible credit). Why did Moe suddenly decide she wanted some space from her? And right when Liv needed her resilience and friendship the most? Because it made the dramatic timing of the plot right, that’s why. It was a little disappointing being able to see the blueprints behind the novel as I read, but those are my only complaints! Overall it was still a very good book and I will probably read it again one day.

My favorite character was Moe. Not only did she serve as the quirky silly friend, but she was just such a character! I could imagine her so clearly in my mind, and yet she was always surprising me. I loved how she came back into Liv’s life at the right moment and was able to bring her back to life a little bit, just by being there.

I would definitely recommend this book to a friend, as it was recommended to me. I have to say I enjoyed this book much more than Me Before You, and it gives me hope that Jojo Moyes has written other good books I’d enjoy. Any suggestions on what I should read next??

E.

Gone With the Wind – A Reading Journal, Part III

This post is a reading journal, and therefore contains pretty much nothing but spoilers. You have been warned.

If you do the right things for the wrong reasons, are you still a good person?

My oh my, part three has quite a lot going on, doesn’t it? As a short summary, it opens when the front lines are just reaching the boarder of Georgia. The inhabitants of Atlanta are still feeling confident at this point that they’ll never get any nearer the fighting than that, but within a few weeks the war is in their doorstep and people are fleeing for Macon. When Atlanta falls to Sherman’s army, Scarlett and Melanie barely escape, and were only able to do so with the help of Rhett Butler, who up and decides to join the army. Having to fend for herself for the first time in her life, Scarlett has to get herself, Melanie, Prissy, Wade, and Melanie’s new baby Beau all the way to Tara by herself while avoiding Yankee troops. Once there, she finds her mother dead, her father lost his mind, and her two sisters on sickbeds unable to contribute. The only lucky thing to have happened is stumbling across a cow on their way there, and having Dilcey in milk in order to nurse Melanie’s baby. At Tara, life isn’t much better, they are always on the brink of starvation, and in constant fear of yankee troops. They are also out of the way of any news and have no idea whether the fighting is still close or if it’s moved off away from the area. And of course, the part wraps up for the third time with a scene involving Ashley – this time, he is returning from prison camp.

I learned a lot in this section. Growing up in Colorado, which didn’t exist (as a state) during the time of the Civil War, we didn’t spend too long studying about it. Basically I knew there was a battle at Gettysburg, brother fought against brother, the Underground Railroad was a thing, slavery was abolished, and the south lost the war. It’s pretty pathetic really, my lack of education on the subject. I did not know that Atlanta was captured and essentially burned to the ground. I didn’t know that soldiers marched and fought while barefoot and starving to death. I didn’t know that the entire south was cut off from the world, unable to receive goods and supplies from anywhere else, which basically starved the whole confederacy. War is a terrible thing. A terrible terrible thing. 

I read another book as I read this called The Girl You Left Behind. It’s a novel by Jojo Moyes which describes in detail a fictional account of a family (all women and children since the men are off fighting) living in German occupied France during World War I. This made the atrocities of war in both books stand out even more than they would have on their own. Those were some somber days as I read them. I even had to set Gone With the Wind aside for awhile to get through some of the tougher passages about the suffering and wounded soldiers. I cannot possibly imagine living through that time. 

This leads me back to Scarlett. Our selfish Scarlett who resented every moment she spent tending to wounded and dying men. She seemed to hate them, and as I write this it occurs to me that I can’t blame her for that. I was just about to go on and on again about how selfish she is and how much I dislike her, but maybe it wasn’t just that. Yes, Scarlett is a selfish person and is upset about how life has changed so much from what she was raised to be a part of. But perhaps the soldiers served to remind her again and again that her old life is gone now, and slowly she was realizing unconsciously that it was never going to come back either. The relentlessness of the incoming wounded and dying must have been a painful reminder of that. I don’t think anyone would have been able to deal with it all fully. You would have to put out a mental block to keep yourself from thinking about it too hard, or you’d just go crazy with death all around, wouldn’t you? 

I marked one passage to that effect as I read:

“Gradually, Scarlett drew courage from the brave faces of her friends and from the merciful adjustment which nature makes when what cannot be cured must be endured.”

On another note, Melanie has continued to amaze me. She is by far the most sensible character and such a contrast to Scarlett. She does her duty and endures that which comes her way with no complaint. She’s a better woman than I, certainly. I was sure she would die in childbirth, but I’m glad she’s still around.

I’ve never enjoyed a book with such a dislikable main character before, it’s very strange. I’m waiting patiently for the ‘epic love story’ everyone goes on about…I am having a hard time picturing how Scarlett and Rhett will end up with a happy ending, but that’s part of the magic of a story I suppose. And maybe there isn’t a happy ending after all, I shall find out soon enough!

I’ve already started part four, I couldn’t stop reading after finishing three. Hopefully I’ll finish the book by the end of June – that is my goal! Stay tuned ;-)

E.

Thoughts on The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman

The View from the Cheap SeatsNeil Gaiman is one of those authors whose fiction has a distinct style. You can point to something he wrote and say with confidence, Neil Gaiman wrote that. It’s in the names he chooses, the subjects he writes about, the stories he weaves, and the language he uses as the strands to do so. After having read and loved many of his novels (Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, and Stardust are some of these), and hearing his incredible speech titled Make Good Art, I was very excited to read his book of collected non-fiction, The View from the Cheap Seats.

The book is comprised of magazine articles, essays, speeches for various occasions, and book introductions which are grouped together in an order that generally flows from subject to subject. Some pieces are short, others are quite long, and some of them seem to overlap each other slightly. He writes about everything from his own fiction, authors he admires, his career in comic book writing, the internet, music, films, mythology, and his childhood.

Beginning with the dedication – “For Ash, who’s new, for when he is grown. These were some of the things your father loved and said and cared about and believed, a long time ago.” – I loved this book. It is filled with the wisdom and insights of a man who has dedicated his life to telling stories. From a young boy reading his way through the children’s section of the library, to the young man who discovered and devoured the science fiction genre and comic books, to the young journalist, to the comic book writer and finally the award-winning novelist he is today. This book is all at once a reader’s guide to great fiction, a quasi-memoir, a conversation about what makes a book great, but most of all it is a love letter to story telling and literature. Neil Gaiman is one of the great authors of our time (in my opinion), and getting to see the inside of his brain in this book was such a treat.

Right off the bat we are confronted with discussions about the importance of literacy, libraries, and the freedom to read whatever you feel compelled to read. Reading teaches you how to think, it exercises your imagination, and it teaches us that anything is possible. According to Neil, a child should never be forbidden to read a book, even if it is not necessarily what you want them to be reading. He says every book is a gateway drug into the next book, and eventually they will probably stumble onto things you do feel more comfortable with, while all along learning about themselves and the world.

I loved his discussions about what makes a genre a genre, and another piece on what the difference is between a children’s book and a book for adults. He comes at these questions from a place of pure curiosity, taking the questions down to their fundamentals and building up from there. Truly, what is the difference between a book for children and a book for adults? It is not easy to point to one criteria that makes the difference, is it?

There is a good chunk in the middle of the book to do with comics; how he read and collected them as a kid to his eventual career writing them, working with different artists, as well as reviews and introductions for them. I myself have never read comics or graphic novels at all, and while this was not my favorite section of the book, I still feel like I came away from it having learned a lot about them, and harboring a new curiosity to find one of the ones discussed to see what I might think of it.

Neil, like me (and you, I presume), is a lover of fiction. He shares the names of works and writers who have inspired him, books that helped shape him, and the stories of how he came upon them in the first place. His introductions offer new perspectives on works you may have read before, and have definitely sparked my interest in some books I’ve never heard of. His recommendations span throughout many genres including children’s, science fiction, horror, and classics so you’re bound to find something you’ll love as well as something that may be out of your comfort zone.

The one thing that surprised me the most about this collection was how much Neil Gaiman has done. He has been involved with magazines, newspapers, collaboration fiction, short stories, children’s books, novels, comics, as well as being the speaker at any number of conventions and events, he’s been asked to write about books in all different types of genres, as well as writing for music albums, film scripts, and essays. What hasn’t the man done? He has a curious mind, and is a true believer in art and creativity. He understands the impact one good book can have on a person, and more importantly, he wants everyone to be able to feel that incredible feeling.

If I’ve come away from this book with only one thing, it’s that I love Neil Gaiman. I already knew it, but I saw so many more facets of the man through this book, and it’s made me love him all the more. I highly recommend it for any reader.

E.