1. Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
A perfect birthday present from my sister, Jen. She knows me well. The first book, Daddy-Long-Legs, are letters from Jerusha (Judy) Abbott to her benefactor, a man she calls Daddy-Long-Legs because all she's seen of him is his tall shadow on the wall. This man pays for Judy to go to college and in return he expects monthly letters to let him know how she's doing. Judy goes the extra mile and writes to Daddy-Long-Legs every week and sometimes more. Even though her benefactor never writes back to her, Judy is open, funny, and smart in her letters. Very endearing. (Reminds me of writing to Brian while I was a missionary. I'm positive he fell in love with me because I am delightful on paper.)
Judy makes a bosom friend at college, Sallie McBride. The second book, Dear Enemy, is also letters, but this time they are from Sallie to Judy and a few other people in Sallie's life, one of which is a Scottish doctor she refers to as her Dear Enemy. Judy comes from an orphan asylum (doesn't that sound like a terrible thing?) and after she graduates from college and gets married to a wealthy man, Judy and her husband buy the orphanage and convince Sallie to run it. I love how Sallie describes her daily life. She is learning as she goes, but she finds fun humor in her situation even when things are pretty bleak.
"It isn't the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crises and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh--I really think that requires SPIRIT."
I highly recommend these books. They made my heart light.
|An aerial photo of Berwick-upon-Tweed, England|
I just finished listening this one yesterday, so I don't know exactly how I feel about it yet. It's the story of a recently retired Englishman, Harold Fry, whose life has become stale and monotonous. He gets a letter from a female colleague he hasn't seen in 20 years. Her name is Queenie and she tells Harold that she's dying of cancer. The letter from Queenie is like an alarm going off for Harold. He decides to write back to her and mail the letter right away. He walks to the post office, but when he gets there, he realizes he's not done thinking, so he'll walk to the next one. Harold stops for lunch and decides to walk all the way to Barwick-upon-Tweed to the hospice where Queenie is living... which is 647 miles away. Because of the off-hand comment of the waitress serving him, Harold starts a pilgrimage (in yachting shoes) to save his friend.
Jim Broadbent performed this reading and did a fantastic job. Everything about this book is so British. It was fun to hear about all the places Harold was encountering. I felt manipulated quite often, though. Joyce left much of the resolution for the last chapter, so most of the time Harold's strained relationship with his wife, Maureen, and his son, David, made no sense to me. How could things be that bad when nothing had happened? Then I find out that something did happen and everything makes sense. Same thing with Queenie - clearly something big occurred for her to suddenly not be in his life. There were fun moments, though, and great description. Grief is a heavy burden. Harold walking it out was familiar to me. Something about moving your body when you're too sad to do it brings hope back.
There were two characters who loved swearing. Their stay is brief, but every time they spoke, I cringed. No need.
3. A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes
I ordered this beautiful book from Persephone Books Ltd in London. "Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of 100 books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written." All the book covers are plain gray and the end papers are chosen to reflect the time or place, or both, of the book. Isn't that a wonderful idea? I think it's my favorite thing I've ever gotten in the mail.
A London Child of the 1870s is a memoir of Molly Hughes. She was quite a popular author in her time. She grew up in London with four older brothers and devoted parents. It's so simple - just this woman's childhood from the lens of an adult, but it's exactly right. Molly's parents were very creative in their discipline. When the boys misbehaved (Molly was spared punishment because she was a girl - most of her childhood is lived vicariously through her brothers), they were sent to get a hair cut. "This does not sound so bad as it in fact was. Our only available hairdresser had a strange habit of keeping a customer waiting for a half to three-quarters of an hour. There was nothing to do but stare at a fern and a picture of Cromwell sitting at his daughter's death bed." That struck me so funny. Maybe it's just me.
Molly and her brothers had a room that sounds kind of like a playroom, but she calls it a study. They each had their own shelf to put their treasures on, and it's where they would do school work. Molly's room was right below the study and sometimes she and her brothers would pass notes out the windows in a basket that they rigged up to a pulley system. "The burden of most of them [the notes] is a hope that I am quite well, but one begs me to take more than eighteenpence when I go to buy his birthday present."
Several chapters are devoted to the family's summers with Aunt Tony and a whole lot of cousins in Cornwall. I couldn't be more jealous of everything those kids got to do! The memories are beautiful.
It made me sad to learn what comes next for Molly's family. There are two more volumes of her memoir, which I might need to read now. She has a wonderful voice.