There are so many books in the world, and not enough time to read them all. You’ll notice that I didn’t say “too many” books, because there could never be TOO many. Ok, maybe there are too many stupid books written by idiotic authors, but if we tried to cut back on those, we might end up losing out on the few clever things that they may actually have said. Or who would judge what’s idiotic and what’s not? Our government would probably try and keep back the good stuff, or at least make it all politically correct. Nope, there can never be too many books, and no one’s a judge of what we should have and what we shouldn’t.
Having just finished reading Detection Unlimited, by Georgette Heyer, followed by The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, by Julie Klassen, I’ve been a bit stumped as what to read next. I’ve really been on a fiction binge, recently. I realized too late that I was reading my second least favorite of Georgette Heyer’s detective stories, which would explain why I couldn’t remember what was going to happen and who committed the crime. The rest of her detective stories are so delightful and the characters so detailed that it doesn’t matter how many times you read them, you still enjoy them. Detection Unlimited was her last detective tale, and was she slipping or just tired of writing them? My least favorite of them, which isn’t actually her normal who-dun-it story, would be Penhallow, but that one was written (or so I’ve heard) because she was annoyed with one of her publishers, and wanted him to let her go. But despite it’s unlikeable characters, Penhallow is so well-written that you read it in a sort of insane fascination, waiting for the good part of the story to arrive. But it never does.
My favorite part of Detection Unlimited is the back-and-forth between Chief Inspector Hemingway and his sidekick, Inspector Harbottle, a slightly dour fellow. Harbottle always seems to have a slightly pessimistic viewpoint on things, which makes him a contrast to Hemingway’s last sidekick, Sandy Grant. Being Scottish, Grant always had some Gaelic to spout off, when frustrated with his superior. But next to Heyer’s original detective, Hannasyde, Hemingway has to be one of her best characters, with his “bird-like” appearance of interest in everything, his love of theater and psychology, and his belief in his own “flair” (or intuition). So, I would happily recommend every one of Heyer’s other detective tales, before this one, especially Envious Casca and Behold, Here’s Poison.
Taking a jump from detective stories to Christian fiction, I looked up The Maid of Fairbourne Hall on my Kindle. This being the latest book by Julie Klassen, I planned to enjoy this one thoroughly, which is probably why I stayed up too late reading it. Well, that and having a nasty sore throat, actually going to bed didn’t sound very appealing, if I was going to have to get up constantly for more water and cough drops. Julie Klassen is an author described as “loving everything Jane Eyre and Jane Austen”, which is a definite recommendation of any author. From The Lady of Milkweed Manor to The Girl in the Gatehouse, her books have explored the Regency period, but they go into more depth about the underclasses than any Austen or Brontë novel will.
I am not saying that her books are as well-written as Austen’s, but I really enjoy her explorations of the plight of unwed mothers (Lady of Milkweed Manor), the work of an apothecary (The Apothecary’s Daughter), what it’s like to be stuck between classes (The Silent Governess), and what it was really like to work as a servant during that time period (The Maid of Fairbourne Hall). And every one of her chapters begins with a quote from a book about the subject matter (servants, unwed mothers, apothecaries, etc.), written in that time period. My favorite is actually her first book, The Lady of Milkweed Manor, as it gives you the ins and outs of a home for unwed mothers, reminds you that even Christians can be hardhearted towards those that have erred, and follows the heroine through giving up her child and even becoming a wet-nurse (if there was a more embarrassing occupation, back then, I don’t know what was).
So, what to read, next? Fiction or non-fiction? I’ve started reading The Hobbit aloud to one of my girls, again, so that was tempting to begin reading, and then progress into The Lord of the Rings. But I’ve also been wanting to read The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America by Burton Folsom, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale, In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal by William G. Hyland, and several others.
Along with these books, I’ve been having some interesting discussions with new acquaintances on both my blog and others, and you can’t have these chats without wanting to read some books for the first time or re-read something you haven’t visited in a while. Discussing The Wind in the Willows and the illustrations of Robert Ingpen has me wanting to re-read that book, but also go through all of Ingpen’s books. As he’s illustrated editions of Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, and many more, you can imagine I’d have a good lot of reading to do, just with those. Of course, good illustrations might go a long way towards making Alice tolerable, as I’ve never particularly liked that book.
As mentioned before, The Myth of the Robber Barons is supposed to be an accurate (not recently revised or politically correct) portrayal of the men of big business, back in the times of Vanderbilt and Rockefeller. I remember being taught in school that these men and their monopolies were bad, therefore it was the duty of the government to slap them down. It wasn’t until I was well away from school that I read about a little bit about the truth, that these men were extremely innovative and worked hard to give us better goods, which were also lower priced. In the world of capitalism, if you can’t stand the competition, you should bow out, rather than beg the government to smack those “bullies” for putting them out of business. From what I’ve read, many companies were happy to merge with the monopolies, not forced into it. But no, the liberals wrote the history books, so I’ve had to unlearn a lot of crap I was taught in school.
Along the same lines, we were taught a bit about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, but I’ve come to believe that revisionist historians don’t actually look at the facts, but like drag down our noble Founding Fathers. No, these men were not perfect, but even the ones that weren’t Christians (and it’s supposed that Jefferson wasn’t), they were raised with morals and beliefs in better things, which this modern time is trying steal away from us. Yes, let’s tear down the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, and teach people that he may have been gay. Seriously? I may not agree with Lincoln’s path to keeping the South in the United States, but this is still a load of hooey, meant to tear down the reputations of great men.
As for Jefferson, from what I’ve read, his character does not strike me as one who would have carried on with a slave, and what little I’ve read on the subject says that those Hemings that are proud of their lineage ought to review this subject, as well. It is suggested that President Jefferson was not their forefather, but rather his brother Randolph. His brother was known for being on excellent terms with the slaves and being more of an age with Sally Hemings, too. Anyway, assuming that this book has plenty of references (look for the references when you read history!), I want to know what it has to say on the subject.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is supposed to be somewhere between fiction and non-fiction, as it’s based on a true story, but embellished a bit, where they didn’t know all the details. Mr. Whicher was one of the first detectives ever, and (I can’t remember exactly) may have been the real-life predecessor to Sherlock Holmes. I’ve heard good reviews of it, so eventually I’ll get around to reading it.
A discussion with someone, concerning a book club (I have never belonged to a book club, ever), has me wondering if I should ever read something like Water for Elephants, but then, I often avoid bestseller books, just because they’re popular, and popularity doesn’t make them good. Besides, I know enough about the story to be aware that the story involves a young man and an older woman, who happens to be married, and they can’t say no to their love for each other. Isn’t that the usual tale? The heroine may have been stupid or naive enough to marry a complete jerk, but in this modern world, people believe the lie that you should never say no to love. Well, if you’re breaking your marriage vows because of “love”, then you’re lying to yourself. Love is an action, something that you do for others, in the best interest of others. Love isn’t selfish, and when is cheating on your spouse not selfish? Sure, you need to give in to your lust because “I deserve this” and “I need to love myself”. Well, you need to look up the definition of love, what it originally meant, before you continue saying such stupid things. I’m afraid I have no patience with books that encourage this kind of thinking.
The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, by Wendy McClure, sounds like good fun, as what American child doesn’t have good memories of either reading all the books, or watching the TV show? I never actually watched the show, despite liking Michael Landon, because I know that the TV show bears little resemblance to the books, and that annoyed me. I grew up reading the books, or having them read to me before I was old enough to read them myself. I spent hours poring (Watch your spelling, people! You PORE over a book, not POUR) over the illustrations and reading favorite parts over and over. My memories are tied up in the dance at their grandmother’s house, making maple candy with maple syrup and snow, and how dull their Sundays sounded (in Little House in the Big Woods). I was fascinated with the life of Almanzo Wilder (in Farmer Boy) and Laura’s life on the prairie, as well as in a sod house (in By the Banks of Plum Creek). Oh, when I was little, I wanted to be Laura Ingalls.
I bought the entire set for Kit, for her birthday, and though she hasn’t finished the first one yet, I’ve started reading it aloud to the little girls. I hope to keep at it until they get interested. There are enough pictures to help keep their interest until they’re captured by the story, and I feel sorry that every Australian child wasn’t able to read these books, too.
What else? Skimming through the subjects in my Kindle, I considered my options, and looked through my listings of classic authors. I remembered telling someone about Louisa May Alcott’s books, recently. Before she wrote Little Women, she was known for writing thrillers and gothic tales, as she tried to earn enough to help her family. One of these, A Long Fatal Love Chase, was reprinted, not so long ago. I recall it being quite a fascinating story, and nothing like the rest of her books. Despite loving the story of Little Women, I was raised with a family of boys, so I really get a kick out of Little Men, and all the escapades the kids get up to. But though I read it now and then, I am always annoyed by the third book, Jo’s Boys. Amy’s daughter grows up to be a queenly woman, one that they only want the best for.
But Jo’s black sheep, Dan, is the one that falls in love with Bess. Dan is one of Alcott’s best characters, and I love the scene where he returns from his travels, bring a stuffed buffalo head for Bess, because he thinks she should having something real to sketch. Then, Dan goes away on a trip, and doesn’t come back for over a year, and it isn’t until later that they find out he accidentally killed someone in a bar, and was imprisoned for a year. Because of this stain on his character, Jo cries because he can never have the girl he loves. Well, I find Bess to be a bit one-dimensional, but I think it would’ve been a better story if they’d allowed the reality of Dan to bring Bess down from the heights, and allowed the loving forgiveness of their family to bring Dan up to the best he could be. The ending of this little love story makes me want to rip my hair out, whenever I read it.
My favorite books of Alcott’s, though… ah, it’s a toss-up. An Old-Fashioned Girl is a wonderful book, the first half telling you about the country mouse, Polly Milton, visiting her city friends, and how she clings to her old-fashioned ways. Her friends are rich and fashionable, but she is able to teach them about love, humility, and how the outward clothes mean nothing if the inward self is selfish and unkind. The second half of the book shows them when they’ve all grown up, and Polly still sticks to being old-fashioned, and when the Shaw family falls on hard times, she is able to help them through it. Truly, one of Alcott’s best books.
The other one in the tie for favorite is Rose in Bloom, the sequel to Eight Cousins (or the Aunt Hill). Perhaps Rose in Bloom isn’t really as well-written as An Old-Fashioned Girl, but I have my reasons for loving it just as much. Eight Cousins tells the tale of Rose Campbell, an orphan, who is left to the guardianship of her bachelor uncle, and comes to live in the same neighborhood of all her boy cousins. Her family is apparently ruled by all of the aunts, as some of the uncles are at sea or working in India, but all of the male cousins keep things lively. Rose has to learn the good and bad points of the boys, and what influence she might have on them, and the boys, in turn, do their best to break her of any extra fastidious habits.
Alcott herself admits she wrote this book more for the entertainment of children than to have a dialogue about women’s rights, but it’s true that Uncle Alec was endowed with some interesting views on the raising of girls. Corsets and silly, fashionable outfits he will not have her use, exercise and good habits must be learned (he is a doctor, after all), and Rose eventually comes to love and trust him in all of his amusing experiments. Again, my coming from a family of brothers caused me to have a great appreciate for the gyrations of the cousins, as they go from studious Archie, handsome Charlie, dandified Steve, bookish Mac (or Worm, as they call him), down to the soldier-crazy twins and the lovable baby of the family, Jamie. And also, you throw in the influences of the maid Phebe, whom Rose befriends and learns many good lessons from.
You may already have guessed, but the bookish Mac was my favorite, right from the start, and though rarely getting the limelight, his extreme book-loving ways eventually get him into trouble, and allow him and Rose to both learn something about life and themselves.
Rose in Bloom continues the tale, many years later, and begins to explore the romances of the whole set, and the dangers society can have for them. Mac remains his bookish, blunt self, but Dandy falls in love, and Charlie gets into bad company, and finds himself addicted to drink. Though this story involves the possibility of romance between cousins (as happened, way back in the day), Alcott resists the urge to hand her heroine right over to handsome and rakish Charlie, but explores the idea that love can develop from respect and friendship, and what comes of a man honestly, openly offering his heart to a young woman. But though both of these books may have been written to allow a little preaching about this and that, none of the characters are perfect (except, perhaps, Phebe). They have their faults and their prejudices, which they need to overcome like any other human being. And some may never overcome them, though they try.
Well, I shan’t continue for much longer. As it happens, I bought a copy of Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton, by Kevin Belmonte, and started to read it. I was prepared for it being a bit deep or a harder read, and figured I might switch it up with some fiction. But the chapters are short and to the point, so I’m really enjoying it. I may leave the fiction alone for a while, after all. If you’ve never even heard of Chesterton, then consider that he was someone looked up to by C.S. Lewis, and it’s Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man that Lewis credits with bringing him back to Christianity… as well as discussions with J.R.R. Tolkien. If you never do anything else concerning him, google “Chesterton quotes”, and see what you get. The quotes will give you just a taste of the intelligence, wit, and wisdom that came from this fascinating man.
Here’s my new favorite quote of Chesterton’s, which he says to himself, when he met his future wife for the first time. What woman wouldn’t want this said of herself?
“If I had anything to do with this girl I should go on my knees to her: if I spoke with her she would never deceive me: if I depended on her she would never deny me; if I loved her she would never play with me: if I trusted her she would never go back on me: if I remember her she would never forget me, I may never see her again. Goodbye. It was all said in a flash: but it was all said.”