Saturday, July 21, 2012

We're Moving!

I have an assortment of announcements to make, the most exciting of which is that we are in the process of packing for our big move to North Carolina!  All of my books, with the exception of my TBR shelf, have been packed - and those things are HEAVY, especially the academic texts!  I'll be reading sporadically over the next week and a half, but it's unlikely that I'll be making much of an appearance on the blogosphere until after we get set up in our new home.

Having no time to post is actually not going to be all that problematic, because I've discovered the difficulty with being in the middle of three 600-page books all at once: it takes you forever to actually finish one of them.  I'm actively reading from all three, so it's likely I'll get through them all at about the same time.  And so, it may be a little while before I actually post any more reviews.

Thirdly, in preparation for this move away from the St. Louis public libraries, I've just created one massive Excel spreadsheet for my TBR list - up until now, I've used a combination of cell phone reminders, a Word document, and the library website's wish list to keep track of what I want to read.  I'm a little shocked at the number: 208!  Bear in mind that this list only includes books I will have to check out from the library; any books I own and still need to read are not on this list.  All in all, it looks like I'll have plenty of reading material for many years!

Wish us luck with the move, and I hope you all have an enjoyable week or two.  My recommendation?  Grab something icy-cold to drink and head out to a park with a book.  :-)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: The Secret Garden


Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911) is yet another one of those classics of children’s literature that I didn’t read as a child.  I saw the movie, of course, at one of our family movie nights, and have since become very fond of the musical (though I’ve only listened to the soundtrack; I’ve never seen it staged).  But I’d never read the book until now.  I’m so glad I did!  For I found the book to be so much better than the musical, or my half-remembered thoughts about the movie.  Like most other books from this period, The Secret Garden contains a few uncomfortable moments of racism, classism, and misogyny, but I feel like it would still be a valuable book to read together with your child, accompanied of course by conversation about these issues.

It seems like everybody knows the basic premise of The Secret Garden: when her parents die of cholera in India, ten-year-old Mary Lennox is sent to live at her uncle’s manor house on the moor.  It is a house full of secrets.  There is a garden locked away, the key buried and the door concealed, and there is an invalid boy hidden in the house, hysterical and miserable, sure that he is going to die.  In the fresh moorland air, Mary grows from a sallow, disagreeable child into a healthy, fresh-faced girl with the curiosity and strength of will to discover both the garden and the boy, Colin, and with the help of her friends Dickon and Martha, breathes life into both.

One of the first questions the novel poses is that of family: what defines family?  Is it enough to be biologically related, or do other responsibilities come into play?  Must one act like family, and be treated like family, in order to be so?  In the first two chapters, we learn that Mary’s mother is beautiful but distant, preferring that her daughter be kept out of sight as much as possible, and that Mary’s Ayah, the native servant who works as Mary’s nurse, is completely subordinate to this unaffectionate child.  Neither is truly family, and Mary doesn’t grieve when they die of the cholera epidemic.  There is a clear parallel between Mary and her mother and Colin and his father.  “Perhaps if her mother had carried her pretty face and her pretty manners oftener into the nursery Mary might have learned some pretty ways too,” (9) said one Mr. Crawford after trying unsuccessfully to care for the girl.  It is clear to readers that Colin, too, may have been healthier of body and of spirits if his father had loved and supported him.  Instead, grieving over the death of his wife and fearful that his son may have inherited the same hunchback condition, Mr. Craven refused even to see the boy.  This abandonment by their parents transforms both children into stubborn, spiteful, imperious brats.  Over the course of the novel, however, Mary and Colin accumulate friends who stand in as family, until Mr. Craven finally discovers and acknowledges his love for his son.

Cleanliness was a virtue that I didn’t expect to be glorified in a novel about gardening.  In Victorian thought (though published in 1911, The Secret Garden is neo-Victorian in style), cleanliness was next to godliness.  In The Secret Garden, being clean is always listed among the principle virtues.  Certain peasants are elevated because they are clean.  Dickon, whose magic with animals makes him otherworldy, fairy-like, and angelic, is even described as “very clean” (87) with “a clean fresh scent of heather and grass and leaves about him” (89).  Yet this is a book extolling the merits of gardening.  How is one to properly reap the healthful benefits of planting and growing seeds without getting dirty?  It is a paradox.

One of the primary themes of this novel is the difference between solitude and loneliness.  The distinction seems to be choice: time alone in nature is essential to one’s mental and physical health, but being forced to be alone through circumstance or cruelty is the harshest of punishments.  Initially, in India, Mary is solitary through ignorance; she doesn’t care about the people around her and thus doesn’t recognize her need for companionship.  After she begins settling in at Misselthwaite Manor, Mary discovers her desire to have a secret place of her own: “Besides that, if she liked it [the garden] she could go into it every day and shut the door behind her, and she could make up some play of her own and play it quite alone, because nobody would ever know where she was, but would think the door was still locked and the key buried in the earth.  The thought of that pleased her very much” (61).  Loneliness, on the other hand, is devastating and crippling.  Mary’s first realization that she is lonely comes quite early on in the novel: “Since she had been living in other people’s houses and had had no Ayah, she had begun to feel lonely and to think queer thoughts which were new to her.  She had begun to wonder why she had never seemed to belong to anyone even when her father and mother had been alive.  Other children seemed to belong to their fathers and mothers, but she had never seemed to really be anyone’s little girl” (11).  Many times, the house itself is said to be lonely, the rooms shut up and cut off from human presence.  The robin dealt with his loneliness by searching out the gardener as a friend; Mary must learn to do the same.  The cure for loneliness, according to The Secret Garden, is twofold: large families and time spent outdoors.  On her first exploration of the huge, deserted house, Mary finds a family of mice living in a velvet cushion: “The bright eyes belonged to a little grey mouse, and the mouse had eaten a hole into the cushion and made a comfortable nest there.  Six baby mice were cuddled up asleep near her.  If there was no one else alive in the hundred rooms there were seven mice who did not look lonely at all” (51).  Similarly, Martha’s family of fourteen people means that none of her siblings ever feels lonely.  Martha’s mother, Mrs. Sowerby, even comes to fill in as a mother figure for Mary and Colin.  Even in the midst of all this boisterous family affection, Dickon goes off daily in sun or rain to explore the moor by himself.  There, he is solitary, not lonely.

The novel pushes the parallels between the secret garden and the two unhappy children – all are deserted and unloved, and left for ten years to grow alone.  ““How old are you?” he [Colin] asked.  “I am ten,” answered Mary, forgetting herself for the moment, “and so are you.”  “How do you know that?” he demanded in a surprised voice.  “Because when you were born the garden door was locked and the key was buried.  And it has been locked for ten years”” (117).  The outdoors, fresh air, and process of learning how to garden are just what the children needed: contact with growing things helps them to grow themselves.  ““If I have a spade,” she [Mary] whispered, “I can make the earth nice and soft and dig up weeds.  If I have seeds and can make flowers grow the garden won’t be dead at all – it will come alive.”” (77).  And as the garden blossoms, so too do the children, until they are physically healthy, enthusiastic, compassionate, and loving.  Colin later makes a speech that is even clearer: ““I don’t want this afternoon to go,” he said; “but I shall come back tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and the day after.”  “You’ll get plenty of fresh air, won’t you?” said Mary.  “I’m going to get nothing else, he answered.  “I’ve seen the spring and now I’m going to see the summer.  I’m going to see everything grow here.  I’m going to grow here myself” (200).

I think, since I enjoyed The Secret Garden so much, that it’s time to revisit A Little Princess.  For some reason, I absolutely hated that story as a kid.  Perhaps it was too depressing for me?  I don’t know, but I’m eager to give it another go, and perhaps try some more of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novels.  Any recommendations for things to try next?  When did you first read The Secret Garden and what did you think of it at the time?  Did you have a different impression of it as an adult?

Things I’m reading: (far too many at once!)
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
The Spiral Staircase, Karen Armstrong
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross
The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy
William Byrd and His Contemporaries, Philip Brett

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: Wicked


When I was in high school, my social group was formed largely from the music department.  I sang in the select choir, the jazz choir, and the women’s choir.  I had friends from all these groups, as well as from the band, and a lot of my acquaintances participated actively in teen musical theater.  We were all complete music geeks, and proud of it, and more than willing to spontaneously burst into song at random intervals.  And so, when the award-winning musical Wicked came out, it was an instant hit among my group of friends, and we all very quickly memorized the complete soundtrack.  To this day, we’ll still sing What is This Feeling? in two- or three-part harmony when we get together.

I say all this not only to give you a sense of what a social inept high school student I was (but also very happy with my wonderfully nerdy circle of friends) but also to provide some context for my recent reading of Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked, upon which the musical was based.  Naturally, since we all loved the musical so much, most of us tried to read the book as well, borrowing it from libraries and each other.  I don’t know about the others, but I didn’t succeed.  I wasn’t ready for such a politically-charged, complex novel, and I was confused that the plot and character relationships differed so much from the musical I loved.  (It’s really VERY different, particularly the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda).  So, like most of my friends probably did, I skipped ahead to one of the juicy bits and then set the book aside.  When I was in college a few years later, my mother gave me my own copy, which looked great on my shelf, especially since almost my entire collection of fiction lived not with me but in my mother’s basement.  Again, I tried reading it, and again, I didn’t make it past part two (Shiz).  I’m happy to report that, probably because I’ve gained experience in tackling more difficult literature through my recent fervor for classics, Maguire’s Wicked has been both read and enjoyed!

Published in 1995, Wicked is a retelling of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West, whom Maguire names “Elphaba” after the initials of the author of the original novel (L. Frank Baum – LFB).  It reinterprets events and character motivations and is a much darker story than the original.  Wicked is full of clever allusions both to the original novel, the film version, and moments from the series of books that followed The Wizard of Oz (many of which I read as a child, and most of which I can’t find anymore among the basement boxes of books).  In Maguire’s Wicked, Elphaba is not the evil witch of The Wizard of Oz, but nor is she the misunderstood good heroine of the musical.  She is an animal rights activist, yes, but also a terrorist and a poor mother.  Whether she is good or evil, and what the nature of evil might be, is one of the primary questions the novel explores.  Three other themes that jumped out at me as I read were gender, politics, and religion – exactly the topics a formal dinner conversation is supposed to avoid!

Wicked asks: what does it mean to be male and female?  If one takes on a man’s responsibility and power, must that person have male anatomy, or is a female in this position a transgendered male?  The book constantly speaks of shadows and other illusions that make it appear that Elphaba has male genitals.  I was left wondering: was Elphaba male, but in some kind of disguise?  Did she wish she were male?  Did she view the entire category of men as the enemy, since she herself did not present as one?  In one fascinating conversation, Nanny told Elphaba, “Oh, it was a merry chase here for a day or two, but of course the soldiers won.  Men always win” (329).  Maguire chose to continue straight on with Nanny’s speech, leaving readers with no indication of Elphie’s reaction.  And I so dearly wanted to see her response!

There is discussion of a great many political issues that were critical in the 1990s and continue to be relevant today.  The land of Oz is struggling for survival in the midst of economic crises and natural disasters, and the Wizard, a dictator who wrested power from the rightful ruler Ozma and her regent by force after he landed unexpectedly from his balloon, combats these contingencies through the systematic marginalization of minority peoples.  This allows the wealthy, who live in the more industrialized parts of Oz, to become even more prosperous and powerful, while the Animals and the southern Quadlings (peoples with different physical appearances than the northerners from the area around the capitol, Emerald City), are systematically stripped of their rights and their land.  It is a thinly-veiled criticism of American race politics.  In Wicked, genetic proof that there is no fundamental difference between peoples is seen as dangerous and seditious, reason enough for murder – a clear metaphor for modern struggles between science, politics, and morality born of fundamentalist religious beliefs.  Parallels run further: major political decisions by the Wizard redefine personhood in order to enable discriminatory or regulatory laws – does this sound familiar?  Defining when personhood begins is the lynchpin of the modern abortion debate.  Other politically-charged ideas in Wicked involve terrorism, personal responsibility in the face of injustice, political prisoners, torture, treason, and secession.

Maguire sees politics and religion as inescapably entwined.  In his characters, political and religious motivations are often one and the same, particularly in the character of Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister.  Elphaba is the closest thing this novel contains to an atheist.  She must contend with Lurlinism, a pagan religion that dictates the identity of the rightful ruler of Oz; royalism, the set of dangerous political beliefs that stem from belief in the fairy Lurline; unionism, which is all-encompassing and moralistic as stereotypical Catholicism but also glorifies Scripture and the simple telling of it as does the more fundamentalist Protestant denominations; and the so-called “pleasure faith,” which delights in sexuality and the revealing of secrets hidden within communities.  Maguire’s depiction of all of these religions is complex; all are flawed and all lead to dangerous choices.  Despite this, even Elphaba’s atheism seems to be ultimately insufficient; she wonders whether she has a soul and in the end, decides that she desperately hopes that she has one or can gain one.  Her death, melting in Dorothy’s thrown bucket of water, is presented as a sort of baptism, leaving readers to wonder whether Elphaba achieved some kind of salvation in the end.

If this review makes Wicked seem entirely too heavy, and heavy-handed, rest assured that it is still an enjoyable read, and if you want, you can ignore all of the parallels to modern politics and just enjoy the book for its clever reinterpretation of a childhood classic.  Despite all of her flaws, I found Elphaba to be a highly sympathetic character, and I loved reading an imaginative explanation for how she became as wicked as she seemed to Dorothy.  I also own the next book in the quartet, Son of a Witch, and hope to tackle it soon.  Have any of you read Wicked or the sequels?  What did you think, and do the sequels retain the cleverness of the first?  Did the intense politics and thinly-veiled allegories bother you?

Books I've finished (posts coming soon):
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Things I'm currently reading:
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross
The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy
William Byrd and His Contemporaries, Philip Brett
The Spiral Staircase, Karen Armstrong

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Elizabeth and Her German Garden

This is a post participating in Allie's Victorian Celebration, hosted at A Literary Odyssey.

Like Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which, more or less truthfully, chronicles the author’s experience as a writer in Paris, Elizabeth von Arnim’s first and most well-known novel Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898) is a perhaps fictionalized account of her life at a remote estate in Pomerania and her deep love for the gardens she kept there.  It was published anonymously under the name “Elizabeth,” and it is impossible as you read it to separate the novel’s narrator Elizabeth from von Arnim herself.  I first encountered Elizabeth von Arnim’s witty prose and lush descriptions of flowers in The Enchanted April; I enjoyed this novel even more.  I had to laugh out loud when I came to this passage in the novel, because, coincidentally and unusually for me, I actually did read at least half of this book while outside in the summer sunshine: “the dullest book takes on a certain saving grace if read out of doors, just as bread and butter, devoid of charm in the drawing-room, is ambrosia eaten under a tree” (88).  I’m happy to report that Elizabeth and Her German Garden is neither dull nor devoid of charm, but delightful in every way and makes for the perfect summer novel.  Written as a diary, it contains musings not only on gardening and nature but also on solitude, religious life, learning from mistakes, humility, working with others, managing one’s reputation, happiness, houseguests, thankfulness, the conflict between duty and pleasure, parenting, gender relationships, class privilege, and even birthdays.  The novel recommends “plain living and high thinking,” already an ideal of mine but never before expressed so simply and eloquently.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden expresses quite a few themes also found in other books I’ve read this year.  I’m not sure if that’s because my reading choices tend to be fairly homogenous, or because there are certain universal truths with which all authors grapple.  In any case, Elizabeth’s thoughts on neighbors and solitude call to mind two other great works of fiction.  Elizabeth loves decorated gardens but also unadorned, unfurnished rooms.  What she truly values is solitude, particularly the opportunity to be alone with nature and growing things.  As I write this, that premise reminds me very strongly of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which I just finished this morning.  And so, consider this to be a preview; I’ll explore that theme in greater depth within a few days when I get to my review of Burnett’s novel.  Nor is solitude in a garden enough; Elizabeth also desires that the house itself be safe from intrusion by well-meaning neighbors: “If you have to have neighbours at all, it is at least a mercy that there should be only one; for with people dropping in at all hours and wanting to talk to you, how are you to get on with your life, I should like to know, and read your books and dream your dreams to your satisfaction?” (43).  This need to get away to a remote house, with only a few chosen friends for company, to enable life to be lived and dreams to be attained forms the basis for Vita Sackville-West’s wonderful novel All Passion Spent.  An introvert like me (and, I imagine, most avid readers of classic literature) can certainly sympathize with this desire.

Elizabeth has quirky names for her family: her husband is the Man of Wrath (so called because he was unhappy that she was happy alone in the garden without her family) and her children are the April baby, the May baby, and the June baby.  This lack of name or detail seems strange, especially in comparison to Elizabeth’s lush descriptions of all manner of flowers, until you consider that society’s expectations for wealthy women at this time held that their entire lives should be devoted to the wellbeing of their husbands and children.  Elizabeth does not neglect her husband or daughters.  Some of the funniest moments in the book recount conversations with them.  What Elizabeth demonstrates through her use of these improper nicknames for members of her immediate family is that they are not her whole world, her sole focus of attention.  Elizabeth’s delight in her garden flouts convention; her unashamed joy in a pastime regarded as improper for a woman of her station makes Elizabeth a feminist long before the current usage of the word was imagined.

If my review isn’t enough to make you rush out and find a copy of Elizabeth and Her German Garden immediately, I’ll let the book speak for itself.  Here are a few of many wonderful, funny quotes.  I marked far too many favorites to copy them all!

“I am always happy (out of doors be it understood, for indoors there are servants and furniture), but in quite different ways, and my spring happiness bears no resemblance to my summer or autumn happiness, though it is not more intense, and there were days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound garden in spite of my years and children.  But I did it behind a bush, having a due regard for the decencies” (2-3).

“In the first ecstasy of having a garden all my own, and in my burning impatience to make the waste places blossom like a rose, I did one warm Sunday in last year’s April during the servants’ dinner hour, doubly secure from the gardener by the day and the dinner, slink out with a spade and a rake and feverishly dig a little piece of ground and break it up and sow surreptitious ipomæa and run back very hot and guilty into the house and get into a chair and behind a book and look languid just in time to save my reputation.  And why not?  It is not graceful, and it makes one hot; but it is a blessed sort of work, and if Eve had had a spade in Paradise and known what to do with it, we should not have had all that sad business of the apple” (25-26).

“I wonder why governesses are so unpleasant.  The Man of Wrath says it is because they are not married.  Without venturing to differ entirely from the opinion of experience, I would add that the strain of continually having to set an example must surely be very great.  It is much easier, and often more pleasant, to be a warning than an example, and governesses are but women, and women are sometimes foolish, and when you want to be foolish it must be annoying to have to be wise” (106).

Books I've finished (posts coming soon):
Wicked, Gregory Maguire
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Things I'm currently reading:
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross
The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy
William Byrd and His Contemporaries, Philip Brett

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Good editions, bad editions


My friend Amy of Sunlit Pages requested that I write something about good vs. bad editions.  I guess I do tend to talk about editions a lot; for me, a good edition can add a lot to the plain text of a classic, and a bad edition can spoil my reading experience.  However, I’m not sure how qualified I am to write about editions of classic literature, seeing as I’ve only been reading them for a few months now.  Can anyone else jump in here?  Amy is looking for advice about good editions before starting to purchase them herself.

I can say that I've had really great luck with Penguin, Modern Library Classics, Oxford, and Everyman editions.  The quality of the books themselves is pretty decent, and the introductory material and endnotes have always added to my reading experience.  These essays and notes have been very helpful in pointing out themes within the literature as well as placing the novel in its historical and biographical context - for example, the Everyman Gaskell edition I'm in the middle of always points out the source of her quotes.  I also love Puffin Classics when I’m buying kids books (Puffin is a subdivision of Penguin), but you have to make sure to check the back cover because a lot of the Puffin editions are abridged versions of longer classics - perfect for kids, perhaps, but less useful if you're an adult trying to get your hands on, say, the complete unabridged Robinson Crusoe.

Signet Classics are small and very cheap, which can be nice, and they make for great airplane books because they’ll easily fit in a purse.  Their text is small, as is the spacing between lines, and they tend to have little to no margin space.  Thus I find them a little bit wearing on my eyes, and there's no space to write comments.  I used to buy these a lot, but have recently started to prefer editions that present not only the book itself, but also added material by literature scholars, because I’m not a literature scholar and appreciate their insights.

I am by no means the only book blogger out here to extol the virtues of the Virago and Persephone presses, both of which specialize in overlooked novels by women.  One of the nice things about these books is how recognizable they are on a shelf – just like you can always tell a Penguin edition from the little orange penguin on the spine, Virago and Persephone books are easy to spot because their covers are hunter green and silver, respectively.  I think some of the Virago editions are actual reprints of the original publications – their fonts are unusual and their margins wider than is common today.  The obvious reminder that you’re reading a historical classic really adds something to the book’s atmosphere, I think.

I have tended to steer clear of Barnes and Noble editions, because I really disliked their edition of Peter Pan.  It had both footnotes and endnotes, and while the endnotes were decent, the footnotes insisted on defining really elementary words.  I couldn’t avoid reading the footnotes, and so they ended up being both distracting and even a bit belittling.  I suspect that any kid reading Peter Pan would already know what these words meant.  This being said, I recently purchased a used B&N edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which didn’t seem to have the same issue.  And Allie of A Literary Odyssey seems to adore B&N editions, so they’re not universally derided.

On occasion I’ve bought unknown, old editions from used book sales.  These have left me feeling a bit let-down, because they’re full of typos and, if in translation, don’t even list who translated them.  One secret to avoiding this trouble is to check the back of the title page.  A decent edition will not only list the year that this edition was published, but also list the year in which the book originally came out.  My two poor editions didn’t give the original publication date, which was annoying since I like to have some idea of the historical context as I read a classic.

The best advice I can give when starting to think about all of the various editions of classics would be to try a few from the library.  That way you can see whether you like an edition or not without spending any money first.  Bear in mind that no set of editions is going to have the same quality throughout – for example, I loved the introductory essay in the Penguin Classics hardcover version of Jane Eyre, but I found the essay in the Penguin Classics hardcover version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to be seriously problematic both in terms of content and grammar.  If you’re out shopping at a bookstore, particularly a sizeable used bookstore where there are several options, flip through a few different editions.  There are a few questions I always ask myself.  Has this book been written in or highlighted?  (If so, I almost always pass it up, although not everyone may be as finicky as me.)  Is the text really small?  What about the margins – are they wide enough that your eye doesn’t have to read from edge to edge?  Are they wide enough to take notes, if I felt like writing comments to myself for the next time I read it?  Are there footnotes or endnotes, and if so, are they useful and informative?  Is there an introductory or concluding essay, and if so, who is it by and what are the author’s credentials?  What is the condition of the covers and spine – torn, cracked, weathered, sticky from the removal of a “used” sticker?  And finally, what is the price?  (A really cheap price can sometimes make up for a less-than-perfectly-satisfactory quality, when you’re on a tight student budget like me.)

I’m sure a lot of you book bloggers have a lot more experience with editions than I do.  Do you have any additional advice to share?  Do you have a favorite publisher?  Do you try to collect all of your classics in the same edition, or do you have a whole bunch of different editions like I do, from buying books one by one at different book sales?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Portland


Portland was wonderful.  For the first time at a barbershop singing convention, I was able to spend some time seeing the city, and I’ve completely fallen in love with Portland.  I could definitely see myself living there someday.  The bicycle culture was fantastic, as was the public transportation.  It was so easy to get around via the downtown train, and most of my trips were free!  I got to try many fantastic restaurants, including my first experience of a sushi “go-around,” a place where you take whatever looks yummy off a conveyor belt, and pay according to the number and color of the plates you choose.  We ate there three times, it was that good!  I also had the opportunity to tour the art museum and the zoo, both of which were really fun, and of course, spend a lovely morning at Powell’s Books.

Ah, the bookstore!  For one thing, it was completely enormous.  I’d been warned, but I still wasn’t prepared for just how overwhelmingly large the place was.  I was such a tourist, wandering around with map in hand, carefully figuring out where I was and how to get to where I wanted to go.  The first stop was, of course, the music section.  While it had some decent books and scores, and large sections on popular music and opera, nothing would have been a useful addition to my academic library.  That’s not to say that I didn’t walk away from Powell’s with a bag of books and a delighted smile on my face!  As I mentioned earlier, this trip represented an exception to my book-buying ban.  I was able to buy up to five books; I ended up purchasing four.  Sadly, I ran out of time and didn’t make it to the young adult or children’s sections.  (If I had, perhaps I would’ve bought that extra book!)  The sections I did spend some time in were music, Christian religious history, Christian liturgy and worship, literature, science fiction and fantasy, as well as a quick detour to the café for a splendid Earl Grey tea.

Books I purchased at Powell’s:
The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy – According to the head of the Anglican House of Studies at Duke Divinity School (where my husband will be starting graduate school this fall, and I will be taking a few classes myself), the world is divided into two groups of people: those who have read The Stripping of the Altars and those who haven’t.  Nearly every great musicological text on English Renaissance sacred music that I’ve ever read has referenced this book.  I’ve been looking for it for about a year now, and was delighted to find the second edition, which is A) paperback and B) has a great new preface responding to some of the criticisms that have been leveled at it.  Duffy’s groundbreaking historical text discusses the experience of the masses, the layperson’s experience of late-medieval Catholicism in England, before going on to argue that the English Reformation “represented a violent rupture from a popular and theologically respectable religious system.”  I’m already 90 pages into it, from just my reading time in airports and on planes yesterday.  It is engaging and brilliant and totally reframing my understanding of religious practice and politics in 15th- and 16th-century England.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë – I’ve mentioned before that this novel single-handedly got me interested in classics and literary fiction after I read it over winter break this past year.  I loved the library’s Penguin Classics hardcover edition for its great introduction and endnotes, and was really happy to find a reasonably-priced paperback copy with the same notes.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence – Another of the classics read this year that has really stuck with me and which I wanted to add to my personal collection.  The copy I picked up is a Barnes and Noble hardcover.  Now, I HATED the Barnes and Noble edition of Peter Pan, and had half-resolved never to buy another of their editions again.  But, this one was so aesthetically pleasing (and cheap) that I couldn’t pass it up.  Unlike the other used copies I’ve looked at, this one has neither a terribly dated cover illustration nor one with a naked woman on the front – not that I have anything against nudity as art, but it could make me uncomfortable to read it on a bus or in another public setting.  This Barnes and Noble edition has a decent font size and margins, and none of the REALLY AWFUL footnotes found in the Peter Pan edition.  Lady Chatterley’s Lover, like Jane Eyre, was one of the books that inspired the formation of this blog, so I’m glad I finally found an edition I’m happy with.

Marriage, Susan Ferrier – One thing I love about Virago editions is how easy they are to spot on a bookstore shelf.  Another thing I love is how they encourage the consideration of novels by women alongside the more traditional classics by men.  I have yet to read a Virago novel that I didn’t like, so when I find a used one with a reasonable price and an interesting-sounding plot, I buy it.  For $3.50, I purchased this pre-Victorian social satire by a Scottish author, which from what I can tell examines the consequences that result when a young woman declines to marry the wealthy older man her father chose, and instead runs off with the penniless young man she loves.  Have any of you ever come across this one before?  Is it any good?

Books I’ve finished (posts coming soon):
Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth von Arnim
Wicked, Gregory Maguire

Books I’m currently reading:
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross
The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy