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Booktalk: Moby-Dick

So.  Let’s talk about Moby-Dick, shall we?

Ishmael, I don’t want to call you.  You talk too much.  You really need a filter.  Or an editor.  Or something.  You started out so well, with your lofty talk of taking to the sea, but then you really lost my interest for several hundred pages.

See, I’m trying to catch up on “the classics.”  I read a lot in high school and college, but there’s so many more that I haven’t.  I consider myself to be a good and close reader, and every year, I try to tackle at least two or three as part of my reading regimen.  Last year, I read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.  Loved it.  The year before, I got into the Arabian Nights stories, Jane Eyre, and Dracula.  All fabulous.  

Next, I went for the great white whale himself.  What could be better than high sea adventure, a crazed captain with a vendetta, and a leviathan of the deep?

I had such high hopes, but the whole experience of reading Moby-Dick was a slog.  The beginning of the book is great and drew me in, and the end is completely thrilling and adventurous and tragic, but I could have done without the entire middle.  Every chapter, it felt like, focused on discussing things like, say, the portrayal of whales in French artwork or the many uses of whale fat or the anatomy of a whale’s mouth instead of moving the story forward.  

After reading 450 pages, I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up anymore.  I switched instead to the audiobook, hoping that listening would be a better experience.  It was, in that I could multitask my listening with my running errands, but it still felt like a chore to listen to until I got to final thrilling chapters.

Ultimately, I’m glad that I hung in there and finished it (to say that I did, if nothing else), but I really wanted to like it so much more than I did.  Has anyone else given Mr. Melville’s tome a try?

Filed under Moby Dick Moby-Dick Herman Melville classics books reading lit book review tumblarians librarians booktalk librarian whale white whale Ishmael call me Ishmael

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Booktalk: The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesay.  Fiction.

I read Jane Eyre for the first time just a few years ago for a class, and I really enjoyed the twisty Gothic story (even though the ending had been spoiled for me long ago).  When The Flight of Gemma Hardy first came on my radar last fall, I was curious to see what a more contemporary version of Eyre would look like.

Readers, I was not disappointed.

Livesay, who reimagines our heroine as a Scottish schoolgirl in the 1950s, keeps enough of the storyline intact that you can feel the Brontean influences, but she also puts her own signature on the piece and creates a story that stands on its own two feet.

Gemma Hardy, an orphaned Icelander who is taken in by her uncle in Scotland, has a difficult childhood and an even more difficult adolescence to contend with.  After making it through years of terrible treatment as a working girl at Claypoole School, Gemma finds herself ferried across the sea to become an au pair on the Orkney Islands.  Handily taking charge of her wild pupil Nell, she settles in happily to her new life of independence and financial stability, and she soon becomes smitten with her employer, Mr. Hugh Sinclair.

With Gemma and Sinclair set to wed, secrets come spilling out that jeopardize everything that Gemma has worked for.  In a flight that sends her across the Atlantic Ocean, she finds that her real life is just beginning.

Overall, I thought that Livesay did a good job establishing setting and time period, and I liked the way that she fleshed out the main characters and made them into their own people.  I’ve truthfully never seen the appeal of Mr. Rochester, but I could totally understand falling for Mr. Sinclair!  

Filed under booktalk The Flight of Gemma Hardy Margot Livesay Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte Mr. Rochester Scotland Iceland books reading fiction classics book review librarian librarians

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A Book and a Hug: Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic Little Women follows the story of the three March sisters: sensible Meg, dreamer Jo, patient Beth, and willful Amy. Coming of age in New England during the Civil War, they must follow their beloved Marmee’s example to become self-sufficient while their father is away treating wounded soldiers. Whether putting on plays, attending parties, caring for their neighbors, fighting, writing, or swooning over the boy next door, the bond between the four is unbreakable.

Unconventional Jo, who longs to be a writer, is the focal point of the tale, and she is a wild and funny model of feminism and strength. Her journey from awkward girl to headstrong successful woman is highly relatable, even as she navigates through heavier issues like love and loss. The squabbling yet highly loving dynamic between the March girls will certainly ring true for anyone who has ever had a sister, and it is pure pleasure to watch them grow up and choose vastly different paths for their lives. Theirs is a story for the ages and it is just as enjoyable to join them on their exploits today as it was when the book was first published all those years ago.

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This review originally appeared on A Book and a Hug.

Filed under A Book and a Hug Little Women Louisa May Alcott books reading lit book review classics

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Booktalk: Frankenstein

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

What do you picture when you hear someone mention Frankenstein?  A big green monster with bolts in his neck?  One who looks like, say, Boris Karloff?  Somewhere in the funnel of pop culture, that’s the image that universally comes to mind, but that’s not what Mary Shelley originally intended.

Everybody has heard of Frankenstein, but how many have actually read the book?  If you haven’t yet, now is a great time to give it a whirl—Mary Shelley’s dark novel is one of the ultimate horror tales and predecessor to many other works of science fiction.

Famously written in 1818 as part of a contest between Shelley, her husband Percy, and their famous poet friend Lord Byron, Frankenstein is a dark and fascinating tale of the human condition and what happens when we push science too far.  Victor Frankenstein, ambitious and clever, has been slaving away to figure out the mystery of life and creation, trying to cobble his own human being  together from the body parts of cadavers and bring it to life.  Of course, we all know that this does not end as the doctor would have liked, creating instead a violent and wildly unpredictable Creature who is immediately branded as a monster.

Rather than take responsibility for the mess he has created, Frankenstein allows his Creature to roam free and uninhibited over the land.  The pitiful Creature, abused, neglected, uneducated, and friendless, longs only for companionship, a luxury denied him over and over again save from the kindness of a blind man who cannot see his frightening appearance.  At his core, we discover, he is not an evil monster, but merely an unfortunate soul who has not been given education or restraint: a parentless child left to fend for himself.

As the Creature gains more knowledge and experience in the world, he learns of his creation and comes back to Frankenstein with a request: to make him a mate or there will be severe consequences.

Check out the original story, a thoughtful and spooky tale of ethics and humanity, just in time for Halloween!

Filed under booktalk Mary Shelley Frankenstein Boris Karloff Lord Byron Percy Shelley horror gothic science fiction scary story books adult young adult classic classics