Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Old Favorites, New Format

So what have I been doing for the past whatever? Well living at my in-laws for one thing.  Which means 1) No access to my usual source of books these days, my own bookshelf and 2) away for Shabbos in all different places which means not much time to read.  But what I have been reading is ebooks. It started out as something to keep me occupied on the long A subway ride to the GWB bus terminal, but turned out to be entertaining enough to keep me occupied at lots of other times as well.  This time it wasn’t ebooks on my kindle (that’s packed away somewhere and in need of a charge), it was Google Play on my phone (which would seem even less appealing than the kindle but even so).  I was only interested in free books of course, and didn’t want to invest in anything too heavy… so it came down to children’s classics (and Sherlock Holmes).  About the latter, I will post separately, but here’s  rundown of some or all (if I can remember them) of these trips down memory lane.

A Little Princess - This was the first title I picked out.  I have  read this book *many* times and always enjoyed.  What’s not to enjoy about a rich and beloved little girl and her riches-to-rags-to-riches story? Everyone (except Miss Minchin of course, and who cares about her) loves Sara and even her darkest days don’t stay dark for very long.  And the book really is a fairy tale with the Indian gentleman taking secret care of his lost ward.  I don’t know if I enjoyed it more than I used to but it was definitely a fast and easy read. (And I was less annoyed than usual by little Sara’s mannerisms :))

The Wind in the Willows - I read this book once but didn’t remember it at all (and I’m not sure I followed it the first time around).  Of course I knew vaguely that there was a Toad in the story and some other animals, and something about a car, but that was it.  What I found when I read it was that there really isn’t all that much more.   I mean of course there’s  a lot more - Ratty and Badger and Mole and all their story - but as for plot, not really.  There’s no real fault in that, plenty of books get by on just telling one short story after the other, with some small plot line (like Toad’s adventures) running through.  And the animals do have nice adventures.  But I had quite a hard time with this book, because it wasn’t just meandering along - it seemed to go back and forth.  First of all, the personification of the animals was confusing, as I found it inconsistent - do the animals fight/eat each other? Are they all the same size? Are only some of them sentient? I’m not sure why this bothered me so much, as the author as the liberty to personify his animals as he feels is right, but if these questions intrude on my imagination, I just feel like it’s imperfectly done.  And then there was the inconsistency of tone, with a few chapters having almost religious solemnity, and then the wild ride of Toad’s crazy adventures.  I just didn’t know what to think.  I read the Wikipedia article and it pretty much said the same thing.  This isn’t a book known for consistency.  And I’m not quite sure what it is known for, because it just didn’t feel exceptional to me at all.

Around the World in Eighty Days - I always liked this one, I think because Phileas Fogg is just so unredoubtable (I think that’s the word).  He is indeed, but on rereading, I found this very aplomb to be somewhat out of place.  He insists that a trip round the world in 80 days is not merely a best case scenario, but eminently possible.  Though he does, in the end, succeed, in the face of many tribulations, his very narrow escapes at several points in his journey seem to indicate that no, indeed, plenty of luck is needed to make the deadline, it is by no means a foregone conclusion, even to one as fastidiously careful as PF.  So when Phileas Fogg’s infallibility fades somewhat, what’s left? It’s still a pretty good adventure :) Especially when so many of the places he visits were new to me as they were when I first read this book.  It was quite an education and an enjoyable journey, even this time around.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - I never liked this as much as the rest of the Oz books, and it is very different I think.  I haven’t read the rest so I can’t really compare, but what I can say of this one, is it’s written in that very deliberate fairy tale style.  The plot plods along, the characters state things, and it’s all just a little emotionless.  But when we’re talking about a story as iconic as this one, we bring our own emotion to the table, and this funny little fairy tale speaks to us (or me :))

Anne of Green Gables / Anne of Avonlea / etc.

Thus far I have only reread the first two of the series, and I’m not sure I will end up reviewing the rest if I go farther, so for now, let’s count this for all of them :) The Anne books were always a series I tolerated for the romance, which is of course excellent.  That’s why I’ve read Anne of the Island far more than the other ones.  The romance is of course present in the first two (I think the first even more than the second) but much more subtle/in the background of  course.  As for everything else, I always found Anne and her fancies to be annoying and the way everyone loves her to be extremely Mary-Sue-ish.  So it was much to my surprised that I found Anne Shirley when she first arrived at Green Gables, to be a delightful and sympathetic preteen.  Her high flown speeches and exaggerated emotions were quite as amusing to me as to Marilla and Matthew, and she seemed a sweet child deserving of love, much as she is to that pair.  Her various scrapes were of course a little trying but mostly less awful than I remembered.  I was, in short, pleasantly surprised, and attributed it to my being old enough to appreciate Anne for the child she was. This is probably true, Anne of Green Gables may be better read as as an adult for one to sympathize with its tone (at least in my case).  BUT I will say that as Anne aged - when she grew into a thoughtful and dreamy teenager, I felt my old skepticism return.  Teenage Anne’s quiet fantasies and deep engagement with nature and philosophy left me rather cold and I did not feel the same sense of love that her townspeople seem to feel for her.  Maybe that’s because I need to get yet more older to appreciate it :) Or maybe it’s because when she started to take herself seriously, I lost all interest.   Not that these books aren’t still very enjoyable in their romance and their light tales of PEI life (not to mention Anne’s various successes along the path of life) but I find my earlier impression to have been confirmed in the later parts of AoGG and AoA.  Oh well, can’t complain :)

Verdict: collective 4/5 can't be bothered to do each individually :)

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