The nearly insurmountable challenge of a 19th-Century novel

This post is a twofer. Two reviews for the price of one. This is because I have very little to say about the first novel I selected to fulfill the 19th-Century category of the 2016-17 Classics Challenge.

courage.jpgAfter living a month or so inside the head of the Rebels while reading “Gone With the Wind,” I thought I’d spend some time with the actual winners of the Civil War (though are there really any winners in war?) by reading Stephen Crane’s 1895 novel “The Red Badge of Courage.” I’d liked his short stories (especially “The Open Boat”) and was eager to read it.

I chose this book because it has been on my bookshelf for some 20 years and because it was short. It should have stayed on the bookshelf.

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‘Water’ isn’t fine, but may still be worth a dive

water.jpgPaula Hawkins’ first book, “The Girl on the Train” benefited from the tailwind created by the huge success of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.” Readers, it seemed, were anxiously searching for thrillers with major twists on the theme of women hating men.

Hawkins has a new novel out, a thriller with a major twist with the theme of men hating women. It’s not great (but neither was “Train,”)  and it’s way too long, but it’s summer and everything seems better when read by the side of a big body of water.

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Author of ‘Welsh Girl’ offers a gentle surprise and a new view of World War II

welsh.jpgIn “The Fortunes,” Peter Ho Davies wrote so convincingly and with such insight about the plight of Chinese-American immigrants that, when I met him recently at a reading, I was surprised to hear his lovely British accent.

He said he’s been accused of putting on his accent, which didn’t surprise me. We tend to see an Asian face and expect, well, something else.

I was even more surprised to hear him say he is Welsh. But I shouldn’t have been. His first novel, “The Welsh Girl” was equally detailed and insightful, though it’s set during World War II, long before Davies was born. He said it was based on his father’s reminiscences of the war.

Both novels artfully address the theme of how people pigeonhole others based on looks or accents or ignorance, and how we define ourselves.

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Coming in from the heat with a classic spy novel

spy.jpgThough I’ve been reading like a dervish, assuming they read, it’s been so beautiful outside I haven’t trapped myself at my computer to post about them. We’re in the middle of a heat spell, so I thought I’d stay in the air conditioning and play catch-up.

In the month-plus since I’ve posted, I have good and bad, new and classic, thrillers and cozies. Now it’s time to get moving on the blogging.

This year’s Classics Challenge includes a category for which, I think, a challenge like this was made: A book by an author you’ve not read before. In my Sisyphean task to eliminate books from my shelves and the boxes in the basement, I chose to read John LeCarre, whose novel “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” has been collecting dust since I shoved it in a sack on Paper Bag Day at a local church’s used book sale lo these many years ago.

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A poet’s call to arms on the 100 anniversary of U.S. entering WWI

I was married in November of 1995 and my wife and I went went to England for our honeymoon.

While in London, we came across the remnants—flowers at war memorials, paper poppies left singly and in piles—of Armistice Day celebrations. I was surprised, and impressed, by the number of somber ceremonies honoring the dead. It wasn’t until later that I realized how many British lives were lost in that war, and that the people at ceremonies were often mourning not just some hypothetical soldier “who gave his life for our freedom” but very real brothers, fathers, grandfathers and friends. It sparked an interest in World War I and, while I’m no expert by any means, I find myself drawn to the war and the era, constantly stunned by the casual slaughter of so many.

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Wisdom and wit come with age and poetry

This week’s poem post is actually about two poems, written 70 years apart, by two different men and both about getting older.

Milne, Now We Are Six copy.jpegIn 1927, A.A. Milne published “Now We Are Six,” a collection of 35 poems for children, some about his most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh. Many feature Milne’s son, Christopher Robin and all the wondrous discoveries and flights of fancy that occupy the minds of young, active boys.

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In England, during WWII, ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’

brave.jpegSeveral years ago a friend of mine breathlessly begged me to read a novel she had just finished. “I’m not going to tell you what it’s about except to say you have to read it.”

So I picked up “Little Bee” by Chris Cleve. Here’s the quote from the flap inside the dust cover: “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t. And it’s what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.” A little too clever, but, OK, they had me.

Then I started reading this tedious, untidy novel peopled with stupid characters I didn’t care about entangled in a plot that had little point. It’s memorable to me only in that I wished I had stopped reading after the dust cover, as it was the most interesting aspect of the book.

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