Wednesday, April 3, 2013

March Book Reports

Technically I didn't finish two of these by the 31st.  I couldn't stay awake to read during the last week of this month!  And I need to start reading shorter books.

1.  The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Another book from Persephone Press.  I'm a loyal fan of theirs now, even though they messed up a gift I tried to send.  They also made it right in a big hurry.  You may have recognized the author - it's the same Frances Hodgson Burnett who wrote The Secret Garden.  In The Making of a Marchioness, we follow the story of how Emily Fox-Seton becomes... A MARCHIONESS.  Emily comes from an aristocratic family with no more money.  She is the un-marriageable age of 32 and she has had to figure out how to live her life.  Emily is not afraid of hard work, so she makes herself useful to other aristocratic families (mostly old women).  The work she's doing makes her sound like a personal assistant to these women.  Emily knows how to find everything, she has exquisite taste, she isn't clever (Burnett kind of beats that quality to death), and she is a great listener.  One of my favorite things about the early part of the book is how Emily dresses herself and makes over the previous year's fashions.  

Thanks to the kindness of one of the women she has worked for, Emily Fox-Seton lives in a one-room flat in London.  She becomes friends with the landlord and her daughter.  The summer we meet Emily she is invited to spend two weeks at a grand house in the country so that she can help this dowager-type woman.  (I've loaned out the book and now I can't remember any names.  Ha!)  Also at this two week-long party is the Marquis of Walderhurst.  The dowager is trying to stir things up for this 50-something widower, so she's invited some attractive, young (yikes, y'all - they're 20 and 21!) women to see if she can set him up.  Because of the title of the book, I guessed that Emily Fox-Seton would eventually be Lord Walderhurst's choice.  It was a nice ride, though.  The younger women were playing games with Walderhurst.  Emily was being her simple ol' self, working hard and not complaining.  It was interesting to have the spotlight on the not-so-clever girl.  Made me realize that most of the bonnet movie and book heroines are quick-witted.  Most people aren't quick-witted.

The second half of the book took a turn I wasn't expecting.  When Emily married Lord Walderhurst, she put out of reach another man's chance at being the next Marquis of Walderhurst.  (WHAT IS HIS NAME?!)  Anyway.  Emily feels badly for this man (Lord Walderhurst couldn't care less - because the man is a horrible human being, that's why) and his Indian wife, so she invites them to stay in a "farm house" near the castle she and Lord Walderhurst have chosen to live in.  This man and his wife get it into their heads that Emily is standing in their way and they're going to get rid of her.  And make it look like an accident.  I lost sleep!  So so so creepy.  I have night terrors every once in a while.  Reading about poor Emily having the feeling that someone was standing by her bed while she was sleeping?  Not.  So.  Much.

Also, watch out for the racism in this book.  Cringe!

It was well-written, though, and I enjoyed being transported.  I think one of the big reasons I keep turning to these Persephone books is that I know I'm not going to read anything vulgar or be bombarded by swears.  I appreciate great writing and I appreciate an author who doesn't need to use ugly words.

2.  Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
I wonder how many people end up doing exactly what suits their strengths.  I listened to the story of how Ernest Shackleton survived the unendurable, mostly because it sounds like he was born to endure.  In December 1914, Shackleton set off in a boat called "Endurance" to make an expedition of Antarctica.  He was already legendary for other feats of strength.  Reading about men like Shackleton is giving me a picture of what a successful leader looks like.  One of the common threads is a knowledge of history, at the least in the field they're in.

Shackleton chose his crew by instinct, which I also found interesting.  If a guy made him laugh, he'd hire him on the spot.  Shackleton trusted his impressions and knew how important morale was in a ship.  The first year of sailing went well, but the second year started misery that sounded like a living hell to me.
There is no sailing through ice.  The Endurance was eventually squeezed to the breaking point by all that ice.  The men in the crew had to camp on this ice for a year.  They dragged small boats along with them, waiting for the ice to clear so they could get back on the water and out of there.  Sleeping in wet sleeping bags, wearing wet clothes, always cold.  BAH!

Shackleton often paced around instead of sleeping, always studying out what to do next.  Another sign of a successful leader.  He would consider all these options, speak to the men he trusted, and make a decision.  He always had a plan.  Often the plan had to be changed, but Shackleton was always thinking.  And he always did whatever he asked his men to do - he would take the first shift.

The crew of "Endurance" finally made it to Elephant Island, but only one of their boats remained sea-worthy after the journey.  Shackleton and a skeleton crew left the rest of the men on Elephant Island to try to sail to Georgia and get a rescue boat.  Anyway, if you like these kinds of books, I won't ruin it.  It's a very moving story, made more emotional because it really happened.  I'm glad I know about Ernest Shackleton.  He has inspired me. :)

3.  Watership Down by Richard Adams
I took a handwritten list of six books to the library with me a few weeks ago.  I was closest to the A section and since I'm working against all odds every time I go to the library, I grabbed Watership Down knowing nothing more than it's a classic.  When I started reading it I couldn't believe it was about rabbits and it was almost Easter!  Nice. :)

It's not just about rabbits.  It's like a person (a great writer) went undercover and watched this little band of rabbits, learned their language, got to know their culture, then came back and wrote a book.  I never forgot that I was reading about rabbits.  They were speaking English, but I never thought of them in human form.  Pretty remarkable. 

Their story begins when two brothers, Hazel and Fiver, decide to take as many rabbits as they can and get out of their warren.  The reason they're leaving is because Fiver has the gift of prophecy - he knows something bad is going to happen.  He's right.  Every time.  Hazel (another great leader) convinces several more bucks to join them in escaping.  They have all kinds of adventures on their way to making the kind of warren they want.  I can see why this might be required reading in some high schools.  The rabbits get to see how a few different styles of government end up affecting the societies they govern.  It made me stop and think about what freedom is, and it's not having quick access to food and a guarantee of safety.  Some rabbits think so, but not the ones who have tasted true freedom.

When they finally get to make their own warren, the hlessil (apparently the "word" for vagabond rabbit - hilarious!  a whole made up language) run into the biggest problem of all, no does (plural of doe).  The rabbits risk everything to get does in their warren.  Because without mothers, their warren will die. 

This is an amazing book.  I want my children to read it.  Who is this Richard Adams?!  Who thinks to write like this about wild rabbits?!  I'll never look at them the same way, that's for sure. :)


Jess said...

"Watership Down" is a favorite of the Busby's. They are actually kind of obsessed with it. Cole's been trying to get me to read it for years. Glad to know you enjoyed it too. :)

Jill said...

Watership Down is one of my favorite books of all time. I had the same reaction about it, I couldn't believe a book about wild rabbits could be so engaging. Fantastic read!

I'm reading a book about several inspiring famous people and Shacketon is one of them. He really is an inspiring guy.

Suzie said...

I need to check out this Persephone book store! Wish I'd know about it when I visited London several years ago. Would have been fun to browse.

Katy said...

I read "South" by Ernest Shackleton and watched the HBO movie with Kenneth Brannagh who totally looks exactly like Shackleton himself. I'm betting your book was more entertaining since Shackleton was not a writer and was very precise and technical about their locations (longitude this, latitude that). It did have amazing photographs in it, though. so sad and ironic that the name of the ship was Endurance, yet it got crushed by the ice.