There’s been some reading going on up in here

Spring Break meant lots of reading…

Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief by James Fenimore Cooper

  • Classic literature
  • Kindle e-book, free from the classics section
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book more than 100 years old

I was going to start out by saying that this is the first time I’ve read anything by James Fenimore Cooper, but then I remembered that he wrote The Last of the Mohicans – hasn’t everyone read that?

This was a cute, funny, odd little book. It’s told from the first person point of view of a handkerchief in a stretch of anthropomorphism greater than any I’ve seen before. The handkerchief, through some sort of hanky osmosis, absorbs things that happen around it and is then able to comment on such things as society and relationships. Although pocket handkerchiefs are asexual by nature, this one leans more toward the female side because it’s all lace-edged and whatnot. Quite a piece of artistry, if it does say so itself (and it does, many times).

In all, this was an interesting tongue-in-cheek way to give an insider’s look at both Paris and New York society in the early 1800s. I found many parallels to Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, which is set nearly 100 years in the future from the handkerchief’s New York society; it seems a whole lot of nothing changed between Cooper’s and Wharton’s New Yorks. I think I may need to read Gatsby again now to sort of close the loop.

My advice: take a look at this one. It’s short, unlike the “typical” classic novel, and it’s really funny. Cooper is a master of sarcasm.

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

  • Coming of Age
  • Hard cover (from a library book sale)
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book at the bottom of your reading list

Wow. Freaky, weird, insane, surprising… you get the point. I think this is one of those books that made it onto my reading list thanks to Oprah, and I can see why now that I’ve finished it. It’s whack, and I totally did not even close to guess what was coming at the end.

The story is told from the point of view of Harley, a guy who was 18 and fresh out of high school when his mom shot his dad to death in the kitchen of their little house in the hills of western Pennsylvania. He agrees to become the guardian of his three younger sisters and goes from a guy trying to figure out what to do with his life to an adult with major responsibilities overnight. Of course, shenanigans follow, some of them just plain crazy.

I found this book to be well-written to the point that it was compelling. I normally read more than one book at a time and had four in progress when I was reading Back Roads; I had to put the rest of them aside to read this. I stayed up late reading it. I was five minutes late to work because I picked it up in the morning. Yes, it was really like that. However, not being able to put it down doesn’t automatically put it into the category of lifetime-memorable. I’m pretty sure it won’t be one of those books that stick with me, in other words.

Oprah really likes books with twisty endings. I do, too, but this one was way twistier than typical. My recommendation: read it for the ending.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

  • Classic – Romance
  • Paperback
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book with bad reviews

This is another of those classics that totally slipped past me when I was younger, and I’m glad it did. There’s no way that 15 or 20 or 30 year-old me would have understood and appreciated it like 45 year-old me does. Because it’s a classic, it’s been reviewed countless times and I don’t think I have anything to add on that front, so instead of a review I’ll tell how I came to read it.

I got the idea in my head a while ago, perhaps last summer or the summer before, time sort of runs together anymore, that I needed to attempt to read Dickens. Please don’t ask why, I can’t explain it. It was sort of this thing where I was thinking about all of the times in high school when I sort of scooted off to the bookstore and spent my hard-earned dollars on SparkNotes (remember when you had to actually buy them in book form?) so that I could have more time for other stuff, like making pizzas and therefore money, or studying for the classes where I was tested and not graded on my writing ability. I skipped a couple Dickens assignments and some sort of adult moralism that’s popped up, pretty much unwelcomed, started creeping into my middle-aged mind and telling me that I needed to actually experience these classics.

This newfound literary moralism happened to coincide with a period where my youngest step-daughter was in a reading phase. I can’t say enough about how important reading is to me, and how much I want to encourage a love of reading whenever I can. When the Squirrel asked for books, in other words, I was a willing accomplice with a credit card. So there I was in Barnes and Noble. She was in the YA section and I was standing in front of a display of Barnes and Noble-published classics that were, for a limited time only, buy one get one free. Right in front of me was “Great Expectations,” and that inner voice talked me into picking it up. Of course, another needed to be chosen to finish off the deal, right? I passed over books that I’ve read and loved; no Austen or Hemingway or Fitzgerald for me, thank you very much, and selected a volume titled “The Awakening and Selected Short Stories,” realizing I had never even heard of Kate Chopin before.

Fast-forward to about a month ago. I was trying to fill in slots on my reading challenge and Googled “classics with bad reviews,” and to my surprise there was “The Awakening,” which was sitting on the shelf waiting for some love. I penciled it in and went about my life. I found myself between library books not long ago – I mostly only check out e-books and was waiting for some to become available – and I picked the book up and started to read. I put it down a couple times when library books came up, since I own it and can go back to it whenever. Once I got to about the middle (if you’ve read it, the part when the family goes back to the city), I was no longer able to put it down. I find it hard to believe that this book, this very racy book that was written by a woman, was actually published in 1899. It is so good. The story amazed me, and the ending almost made me cry. I felt what Edna, the main character, felt. I find myself now wanting to retell the story in a modern setting. And the phrase “think of the children” is bouncing around my head like a ping pong ball on crack.

In a nutshell, if you’ve not read this book, read it. You won’t regret it.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

  • Historical fiction
  • Recommended by Barb from the 2KnitLitChicks podcast, library e-book
  • PopSugar category: A book a friend recommended

I read a lot of books set in or during wars, and WWII is by far the most popular. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is one of these. It’s the story of three women: Emma, a small town doctor’s bride; Iris, the postmaster in that same small town; and Frankie, a war correspondent for CBS. Through some maneuvering and coincidences, their paths end up crossing and twisting together in not unexpected ways.

I skimmed some of the reviews on Goodreads and they seem to be universally terrific or terrible, with not much middle ground. I’m firmly in the middle on this one. The writing is quite good. I could see the research that went into creating the character of Frankie and the London blitz scenes, which were the best parts (however, they in no way compare to the same scenes as described in Life After Life). I found I sort of liked Frankie and rooted for her and wanted to really get to the bones of her story, but that wasn’t in the cards. I also had to read about the two-dimensional characters back in Franklin, Massachusetts.

Emma, the weeping childlike bride, has lived alone her whole life but is incapable of living alone after her husband goes to war. Iris, the postmaster, is some sort of letter-sorting automaton – when she does things outside of the established bounds of her character’s two-dimensions, she actually comments that what she is doing isn’t in her character.

I think I would really enjoy the story of Frankie, female war correspondent, living in London during the blitz and then traveling occupied Europe on a press pass. It’s unfortunate that Emma and Iris had to be a part of it at all.

I’d say this is worth a read if you’re looking for a quick read that’s pretty well-written, but if you want a story that you can love, choose something else.

Currently Reading:

  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Jenny Pox by J.L. Bryan

On Deck:

  • Breathing Lessons by
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
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