Wednesday, January 20, 2016

November - December 2015 Book Report

I think every two months works for me with the book report. When I report on a book, I feel like I retain it better and that it leads me to reading better books. In conclusion, these posts are for me.

1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Dickens is one of my all-time favorites. You can't beat him for characters - he captures nuances like no one else. David Copperfield is not one of my favorite Dickens characters, but the book did have some great ones. You also can't beat Dickens for villains. 

I found David Copperfield to be a little too close to Oliver Twist, without the whores. It starts with David's happy childhood with his saintly mother, Clara Copperfield. His father passes away very early (before the story begins maybe?) and David enjoys a few years with his beloved mother and their long-suffering housekeeper, Clara Peggotty. Notice anything strange? Why would Dickens use the same first name for two characters? Is it because that happens in real life? Was it so we'd have to call Peggotty by her goofy last name? What's the deal, Dickens? 

David goes on holiday and stays with Peggotty's family in the country for a few weeks - tra la la la la - and comes back to find his mother has remarried! Somehow Dear Mother doesn't recognize that Mr. Murdstone is The Villain even though he's cruel to children and doesn't let David's mother speak her mind ever. Oh, well, David is off to boarding school and Mr. Murdstone's un-dateable sister, Jane, moves in to take over... everything that has to do with the house, really.

David has the worst luck for a really long time. He's too naive to notice that his bff at school is also a villain (like mother, like son), James Steerforth. Steerforth is the star of the B Story, so we won't worry about him. I bring him up because David Copperfield CANNOT read people. Saintly Mother Clara dies tragically (what else) and David goes to another town (I don't think he's even 12 yet) to start earning his keep at a factory and living with a crazy husband and wife, all arrangements having been made by The Villain who is now in charge of David's life. The husband of the couple David lives with, Mr. Wilkins Micawber, goes to Debtor's Prison, so David has no where to live and decides to run away and find his aunt, Betsey Trotwood. Betsey is my favorite, FAVORITE character. Maybe in all of Dickens' books. She's perfect. AND, she's played by Maggie Smith in the BBC mini-series of David Copperfield, which I watched. Young David is played by Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, before he was Harry Potter. Professor Umbridge is also in the mini series. More evidence that there are approximately 12 actors in Britain. 

Where was I... Oh, when Mr. Wilkins Micawber is on his way to Debtor's Prison, he gives David a golden nugget of wisdom, "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery." Testify!

Okay, this is a really long book and a long mini-series, let's sum up. David learns about life by trusting the wrong people, marrying the wrong (but still kind) woman, having his fake friends betray him and his real friends come to his aid as often as he is in need, watching his first wife die, then marrying the right girl. The End. I wanted to like it more, but David Copperfield is probably not even in my top five favorite Dickens novels. It was saved for me by Betsey Trotwood and her chasing donkeys off her lawn and telling the right people What Is Up and referring to David's "sister" (she wanted Clara Copperfield to have a girl). I hate to recommend the mini-series over the book, but I do.

2. The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple

I couldn't resist a deal Persephone had last year, something like buy two books get one free. After David Copperfield I needed something short with less than 25 characters to keep track of - short stories were just the ticket. 

The very first story was quite long - long enough to get to know the characters; a mother, father, and only daughter. This was not a happy family. The mother sucked the life out of the daughter, controlled her every move. The father ruled the house with his mood. If the room felt tense, he'd leave and go to his club where he didn't have to deal with anyone. It was an interesting study. Dorothy Whipple is so observant of unexpressed emotions. It's one of the things I love about her writing. 

I can't even remember more than a couple of the other stories. They were too short for me to get involved and I missed the very thing I love most about Whipple's writing - the slow unfolding. Still good, but I recommend her longer novels first.

3. Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough

I am fascinated by Theodore Roosevelt. Such an interesting combination of characteristics and ideals. He's one of those people in American history that was destined to do what he did. (The picture is him as a boy looking just like my nephew, Jake.) Mornings on Horseback goes back to Theodore's parents and his unique upbringing and ends before he becomes President of the United States. 

The Roosevelts were wealthy, but Theodore Roosevelt Sr. was different from his siblings and peers in that he could empathize with poor people and he wanted to use his status and influence to better the lives of the people around him. Theodore's mother, Martha Stewart "Mittie" Bulloch was a southern belle. Margaret Mitchell interviewed an old woman who was a child at Mittie and Theodore's wedding and used Mittie as a physical muse for Scarlet O'Hara and the Bulloch plantation as a stand-in for Tara in Gone With the Wind. That information made me geek out in the worst way. Also, this is the only combination of people who could create a person like Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Destiny!

During the Civil War, Mittie's mother and sister came to New York City and lived with Mittie and Theodore. Theodore wanted very much to join the war effort, but he loved his wife more than his country and he hired someone to take his place in the battles for her sake. I think that is the most romantic thing ever, but Theodore Jr. did not like it. He was all about the battle and the war and defending the country, so his father not taking part was embarrassing. On the other hand, Theodore Sr. was Teddy's champion in every way. Teddy always wanted to make his father proud of him. 

As a child, Theodore Jr. suffered from asthma attacks that were traumatizing to him and his whole family. McCullough went into great detail about asthma, what was known at the time and what has been discovered since. He also laid out when the worst attacks occurred for Theodore and the pattern emerged that the worst of them occurred when Theodore was in emotional turmoil. When he was active and doing things that made him happy (especially when he was doing those things with his father), no asthma attacks. When his father was away or he had to attend church or if something he loved was coming to an end (a family trip or summer), he'd have an asthma attack every time. Doctors told Theodore's parents that he needed to be kept still, he wouldn't live an active life. Theodore Sr. was having none of that. He told his son to teach his body who was boss. Teddy Roosevelt had so much energy - I'm positive he would have been diagnosed ADHD today. Back then, though, his parents taught him to engage his body and his mind at the same time as much as possible. 

There is too much! I loved this book. I was watching Ken Burns' documentary of the Roosevelts at the same time I was reading Mornings on Horseback. During the same time period, I mean, not simultaneously. Don't be crazy. It's mixed up in my mind now what came from the book and what was in the documentary. I'm pretty sure it was the documentary where Teddy Roosevelt said that he would be as disappointed in his boys if they didn't volunteer to fight in WWI as he would be if his girls told him they didn't want to be mothers. Is it just me? What a remarkable thing to say. Duty and love. I think that's what I admire so much about Teddy Roosevelt.

4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This was the perfect companion to my building a giant quilt over the Christmas break. I listened to it for hours while I was doing the most tedious part of the quilting process and the time went by quickly. It's the story of two women, Julie and Maddie, during World War II. Julie is a spy for England and Maddie is a pilot and mechanic. They are kindred spirits and a great team. The first half of the book is told from Julie's perspective, written while she is being held prisoner and tortured in a French hotel that has been taken over by the Germans. Julie is telling the story of her friendship with Maddie as a confession to her German captors. Julie is an aristocrat from Scotland, very educated.

Maddie is from a small English town where she grew up working on bicycles. She ends up being a pilot, but just before the war begins, so her opportunities are cut way back. Maddie is flying the plane with Julie as a passenger when they are shot at and have to make an emergency landing. Julie parachutes out and Maddie crash lands much farther away. Maddie's version of what happens is the second half of the book. 

This book is cool. Julie and Maddie had to be one step ahead of the enemy and use their individual strengths to the best advantage. I've read quite a few books set in WWII and I liked that this didn't feel like a rehash. I can't believe I've never read anything about women who were in the battles - just the sidelines. 

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