The Lady and the Gent by Rebecca Connolly


Last week, I took a break from my strict 2019 Reading Challenge and searched for some historical fiction to provide a quick, happy read. Three books by Rebecca Connolly caught my eye, and in two days I had finished the first, The Lady and the Gent. The book did not disappoint; I was smiling by the time I reached the epilogue.

Wealthy and lively Lady Margaret has had three London seasons to no avail; for some reason, she fails to catch any man’s eye. At twenty-two, she is now considered old. Facing the possibility of their daughter becoming a spinster, her parents take matters into their own hands. They suggest finding her a husband in the continent.

However, Lady Margaret loves England and wants to stay. She convinces them to let her try for one more season; meanwhile, they return to the continent, scouting out potential suitors. None of them will do for her, though; she has already given her heart to a man she has never spoken to. She only sees him for ten seconds a day while on the streets.

It is perhaps not a new plot, but something about Margaret’s questionable taste struck a chord in me. I am a daydreamer; I would do the same thing. Margaret knows nothing about this man, but he is so mysterious that she cannot forget him. He is everywhere and nowhere; though he always finds her, she cannot find him.

He is a spy called The Gent by those who know him, and he is London’s best and worst kept secret. He is friends with gypsies and orphan children and all sorts of undesirables. He seems too perfect to be real, but I believe that’s why I enjoyed this story. We see his darker side when he is forced to choose between love and work, leading to disaster. When I reached the point where I wondered if even The Gent could fix it, I knew the book had hooked me.

The Lady and the Gent is a love story with a happy ending. I think we all need those every now and then. Whether or not the plot is realistic, our hearts want to believe that there is the chance of love prevailing. We want to believe two people can fight for it against all odds, risking work and reputation, always choosing each other.

This book was the highlight of my week, and I recommend it to fans of romance and historical fiction. I have Connolly’s other two books and will be reading them soon. These days I can’t help but long for stories that take me back in time.

I am also reading The Pickwick Papers, and predict at least two blog posts about it. The first will come in the next week or so. I always have a lot to say about work by Charles Dickens, and Mr. Pickwick’s crowd have given me much laughter.

Advertisements

Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov by Robert Chandler


My third book in this year’s classic novel challenge, Russian Magic Tales, was a delight. I wandered dark forests, met evil stepmothers, learned riddles, and—happily—found the Russian mermaid, who draws travelers to death with her weeping.

More interesting than the stories were the biographies of each featured author. Many lived dank lives, suffering illness and imprisonment. During those stretches of despair, they worked on collecting stories.

One man finished his collection while quarantined for tuberculosis; another was banished to Siberia and, in what is perhaps the coldest town in the world, interviewed locals for their tales. He wrote them during his stay in order to keep sane.

What does this tell us about fiction? Just because a story is “made up” does not mean it’s worth less than a biography. A story based on truth can strengthen the human spirit—and where is truth stronger?

The fairy tales in this collection often seemed overwhelming; many did not make sense. Tell me, when does the human spirit make sense? Have we not all wished to speak with animals? When angered, are we tempted to get revenge? Everyone has a witch in their interior forest.

You were a child; you knew times when the imagination went where it wanted. Fairy tales, fiction novels, things the world thinks ridiculous, are reflections of our nature—part of our nature that we’re prone to deny, embarrassed by how illogical it can be.

Fiction helped one man survive the coldest town in the world. Today it gives comfort when monsters and witches appear in our lives. It helps where worldly logic does us no good; sometimes we just have to talk to the birds and chipmunks. They might help us out of trouble, for a favor.

Do not be hasty to write off fiction. You never know when you might need it. Caught in our blank offices, sooner or later we all need magic to help us keep going.

My next read for the challenge is going to be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, and I’m very eager to read one of his books again. Considering its length and the beauty of his writing, I am sure it will be worth two or three blog posts here.

I’ve also managed to read some novels on the side by authors who are not yet dead—a historical romance and a YA sci-fi. I will be posting reviews for those books, too, when I write them.

I hope the month has treated you well! What are you reading?

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle


Mounted Knight By Howard PyleThe second book in my 2019 classic novel challenge was The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. These stories were released in serial form for a children’s publication; they are characterized by their bold protagonists, as well as their focus on virtue and morality.

It is not a novel, but a compilation of tales following a handful of powerful characters. Aside from King Arthur himself, we meet remarkable people including Merlin, Lady Guinevere, and Sir Gawaine.

No two characters were the same, even when they shared a goal. Though the stories were written for children, the characters’ personalities were bold and controversial. The stories were meant to inspire children to live honorable lives; it’s fitting that they were given serious heroes.

These stories seemed relatable to me in the way that my heart reacted to their decisions. They stirred a desire in me to do good for the people I know. Our instinct for good has not change over the years. We still strive to be honest. We fight for causes we believe in and protect the people we love. Each of us wants to save the world in the way we think is best. In these Arthurian stories, I encountered traits most people respect, qualities we look for in a leader.Arthur And Excalibur

Don’t we all dream of slaying the dragon and taking care of the monster? Don’t we all have a rebellious side like Sir Gawaine, who resorts to unconventional means for victory? These stories reflect what we are; we still have these instincts.

Arthurian literature became a subcategory because of its heavy moral focus. I am pleased to know there are more tales of characters I met in this book. I will be looking for them, because the world of King Arthur and themes explored in it encouraged me.

They gave me hope that we are capable of creating a better world. All we need is to find courage and bring forth those ancient qualities our ancestors admired.

Next, I will be reading Russian Magic Tales. I’m excited for this one! Thank you for following my journey so far, and I will post again soon.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


thomas_hardy-the-mayor-of-casterbridgeThe first book I read for my 2019 reading challenge, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is compelling because of its characters. Though there are many, it focuses on a man named Michael Henchard, a man none of us would envy. It is the story of a mistake he made as a young man and how this mistake haunted him, even when he achieved success and power.

The first chapter in which he made the mistake stood out to me in color. Henchard’s great mistake was to sell his wife and daughter to a sailor for some coin. Word choice made the drama play out before me in shades of brown and gray. It is one of the best introductory chapters I’ve read, setting a consistent foundation for the novel to follow.

Chapter one makes Henchard look pathetic, rather than evil. The colors in word choice reveal that he is not taking the quarrel seriously. He thinks it’s one of many others he’s had with his wife. By the end of the chapter, when Henchard wakes up to find his wife’s wedding ring on the pub floor, I did not hate him. I pitied him.

Consumed by remorse for his great mistake, Henchard achieved power but never shed his chains. His jealousy of competition, his desperation to regain the trust of his daughter, and the defeated manner in which he ended his life—it all made him real. Though I wanted to hate him, I had the sense he needed someone to love him found no one willing.

Sometimes the protagonist of a great novel is not himself great or impressive; sometimes he’s a man you wouldn’t trust with your life, your money, or an ounce of your time. Memorable characters are defined by flaws. They become famous because we want to slap or hug them. The best characters tap into the saddest aspects of humanity.

The novel has a depth I’ve noticed in many classics which began as serialized publications, such as Dickens’ work. The Mayor of Casterbridge was long enough to keep me immersed, but not so long that I wanted to fling it away and read something else. It pulled me into the amusing society aptly painted by Hardy’s word choice. Punctuated with love triangles, humorous mistakes, and the ever-present threat of gossip, it was never boring.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has made it to my list of favorite novels, along with Swann’s Way and David Copperfield. These books are about more than characters. They’re about setting and time period, prose and morality. An attentive read of these books reveals why they made it to the title of classic. Written at a time when life was slower, these novels have elegance that will never grow outdated.

I have already started my second read for the challenge, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. This trip through literary history is being enjoyable as I had planned. Wait for a post about King Arthur in the next week or two.

The 2019 Reading List


In this post, I spoke about my New Year’s Resolution: to read 30 classic novels—or at least attempt to read them—in order to work through my bookshelf. Collecting books is a beautiful thing, but that’s only half the fun; the magic is in reading them!

I said I would post my reading list when it was assembled, however there has been a change.

The original plan was to read 30. While planning my reading list, I took into account the length of some of these books and the time I will have available. I also reminded myself that, following the death of my grandmother, I’ve been having problems sitting down to focus on a book.

The number has therefore been lowered to 25, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it if I can’t read them all. The point is to be trying.

I have already finished the first book on the list—it was The Mayor of Casterbridge, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. A post about the novel will follow. I took copious notes of the first chapters but stopped halfway through, when the book became too gripping to jot my thoughts every ten pages.

Here, then, is the list. The books are to be read in no particular order, and I have chosen these titles on the basis of owning them; there is no theme, even though you can tell classic literature is my favorite category. Also, some of these books are novellas or anthologies; they are thick books I haven’t gotten through yet.

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Dubliners by James Joyce
  • Heart of Darkness & Other Stories by Joseph Conrad
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Sagas of Icelanders (anthology of folklore)
  • Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Tess of the d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • Russian Fairy Stories (anthology of folklore)
  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  • Sons and Daughters by D.H. Lawrence
  • Adam Bede by George Eliot
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • TBA

I have left one spot empty because I know myself, and I know a classic will pop up sometime in July or September that should be in this list.

I am not limiting this year’s reading to the books listed above. I’m positive there are other lighter works that will provide modern respite. The point of this challenge, in the end, is to make progress, know literary history, and develop my vocabulary. Most of all, I look forward to doing something I enjoy. Reading old books has always been a favorite pastime of mine.

Have you set any goals this year? What are they?

In Grief


The day the grand piano was tuned, no one remained to play it. When the carpets were cleaned, not a soul walked the halls.

The lonesome house was being scrubbed to make space for new life—but wasn’t ready to let go. One could feel in the air a note from a lullaby never finished; it sought attention from anyone who would listen.

Empty were the chairs round the table and nothing baked in the oven. The curtains, once open to admit light of the sun, remained shut like a barrier to keep out the New.

Who, now, would rush down the stairs to greet the postman? Would anyone sit at the balcony again?

The house remembered, and was loathe to let go. It longed for the sound of children laughing and the cheer of the lamps. No one walked its halls, and it wondered why no one considered the pain of spaces where memories were made.

The house was not an empty shell; in silence, it mourned with the family.

Around the Literary World in a Year


A new year always brings with it pressure to come up with a resolution. Though setting goals often feels like a trend, I don’t like ignoring a clean slate. I don’t plan to do anything mind-blowing this year, but I know where I hope to be when roaring 2020 comes in.

Writing-wise, 2019 will see me focused on one novel. Usually I plan on completing two a year, but I’ve realized that I take more time editing than writing. It means I won’t finish any books if I tell myself I’m supposed to crank out a second one after I’m done with a first draft.

This year I will finish writing and editing my mermaid novel, writing poetry on the side for the collection I hope to release. I won’t be posting most of my new poems on this blog. What, then, will I be using it for?

My website is going to be a reading journal. The goal is to read at least thirty of the classic novels I own so that they’re more than a pretty collection on my shelf. I’ll be posting about them as I go. For longer books, you might get multiple posts. I can’t promise there won’t be spoilers.

They say that the person who loves to read lives hundreds of lives. We see the world through different perspectives, becoming the main character as well as the audience. I believe it; everyone who loves to read knows this is the truth.

I will be drawing inspiration from this list but not limiting myself to it, as there are many on there I’ve read recently, and some that aren’t on it. Part of the fun is going to be putting together a reading list of my own, and when I’m finished with that, I’m going to post it here.

I’m hoping to run a book blog rather like a journal, making commentary like I did with David Copperfield. I want to show you that there’s more to a good book than words; there can be magic between the lines.

I hope you will join me, and maybe together we’ll find a new favorite book.

l’automne


Your bookshelves are empty.
Outside, the leaves fall.
We’re waiting through
The saddest autumn of all.

Your piano is sleeping—
Too great for my hands.
Still, I will play
‘Til my heart understands.

I took home your paper
To sketch out your face,
But you have a smile
That art can’t replace.

The trees out your window
Have all become bare.
So I search my heart:
You will always be there.

I’m thankful to have this beautiful woman for a grandmother. And I’m thankful to have her for another Thanksgiving.