Meghan W

Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Living in the Past

In history, Reading on June 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm

First off, I must apologize for my sporadic posts. I really don’t follow a set schedule or topic pattern, which means that I write when an idea hits me. I’ll be sitting in the living room and suddenly think of a topic, or I’ll be reading a book and a thought will cross my mind, and I’ll think “that would make an interesting post.” So since my last post nothing’s really hit me. My week has been really uneventful….as usual. I think it’s important to point out that I am so bored that even my brain can’t think of a blog post topic I could write to take up my time. (Okay, so this post has been in my drafts for four years. I’m not quite sure exactly when I began it. But I thought I’d finish it now!)

Tonight, however, I read 300 something pages of An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, finally finishing it after starting it August of last year. Yes, a year ago. I’m never like that, I assure you. It’s just that it’s really hard to read in college! I don’t have any time for it, and so I had three books (One Day and two Gabaldon books) sitting on my adorable yellow Martha Stewart bookshelf in my dorm room all year long. For an avid reader, it made me very sad. But I finally finished it! Even though it’s really hard sometimes to start up on page 457 and expect to remember every little detail, character, and plot written in the previous pages.

This post will simply be a reflection of myself and my tastes in books and history (because I just thought of it and felt like writing about it).

Did any of you read Ann Rinaldi’s historical fiction novels when you were a teenager? I believe she published the majority of them in the 80’s and/0r 90’s, but I found the re-printed Harcourt collection at Barnes and Noble when I was in middle school. She wrote stories that centered on the Salem trials, the American Revolution, and the Civil War, among others. Young females were always the protagonist. Her books made a huge impression on me as a young person. She didn’t start my obsession with history; I’m convinced I was born with that. But she wrote about the topics I was totally in love with. I wrote an essay about Rinaldi’s novels for an English class and had it posted on the hall bulletin board for everyone to see (I felt awkward).

I believe every reader has an experience like that– where you you find an author or book and it either transforms you or enhances a specific characteristic in yourself. For my mother, it was Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. For me, it was Ann Rinaldi (and I say it was her and not Jane Austen because early 19th century literature just didn’t affect me as a 14 year old as a contemporary Rinaldi book did…I’ll say it did later, and does, but not when I was 12, 13, 14).  In fact, her novels so made an impression on me that I found myself using antiquated terms spoken by the protagonists in her novels (I didn’t do it on purpose, I promise! At least my friends found it amusing and not creepy….thank goodness for small favors). I’ve never once looked up Rinaldi. I’m not quite sure if she’s still alive or not (is it odd I don’t want to know?). I did, however, print out nearly 100 pages of my mother’s nice printing paper with transcripts of the Salem witch trials for me to read through… I also kept a college-ruled notebook in which I painstakingly copied quotes or passages I found meaningful from Rinaldi’s books. Some of them, if they offered advice, I tried to apply in my own life (that’s sort of difficult for a young teenager, btw).

Anyway. As I was wrapping up An Echo in the Bone and verbally mourning the fact that I don’t have the next book in the series yet, I discovered just how acutely I was feeling for the characters and their present roles in the American Revolution. It’s one of my absolute favorite wars to study and so I naturally flock to any literature which takes place during that time (Rinaldi’s The Fifth of March was my favorite of hers. It takes place in Boston just before the official start of the Revolution). Picking up the Outlander series is like a veritable treasure chest of history since it spans the ’45 Jacobite Rising to the French Revolution to the American Revolution. Whoo!

But I realized tonight (and, sadly, not for the first time) that I longed for the chance to time travel backwards to those times I loved to study about in the present. I would think it’s every history major’s/lover’s dream to experience first hand the events or locations they study. I will be the first to admit it– I live in the past. I hold people accountable based on historic standards. A lot of my sense of morality comes from long established ways. I am in many ways a complete traditionalist, and that is because I live in the past.

It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Wishing so fervently for a chance to live in Charleston during the Revolution or Civil War will only break my heart in the end. I romanticize the past sometimes, and I know that is silly. I nearly attended graduate school to study the 18th-century British-Atlantic world so that I could force myself to fully understand the realities people lived through 300 years ago. Romanticizing and idealizing how people (strangers) lived is not only unfair to their realities but unfair to ourselves. No one should want to live in Charleston in the 18th and 19th centuries. The weather was hideous, life sucked if you weren’t wealthy and accepted in society, and there weren’t many opportunities for women (duh). Wearing pretty dresses would get old after the third day of forcing my stomach into a corset and placing the fourth layering of clothing on my sweating body before stepping out into Charleston’s sweltering, miserable heat (I live here, so I can say that).

Understanding the past allows us to place our own lives and experiences on a continuum. Once we grasp the economic forces that enabled 17th century Holland and its artists like Johannes Vermeer to establish the Dutch Golden Age of painting and trade; once we accept the sociology of post-war American architects who created new and startling architectural styles in houses and high rises as a way of coping with the effects of WWII; once we acknowledge the enormity of the decision for our great-great-grandparents to leave Ireland in the middle of the night with a note to their parents, jump on a ship, and travel the Atlantic to make a new life in New York City (my great-great-grandparents, if you haven’t picked up on that)–only then, do we appreciate our own place in time.

So, I loved Ann Rinaldi’s books as a teenager because I could fantasize living on a plantation in the midst of the Revolutionary War in Camden, South Carolina. Her books pushed me to study the war on my own time, reading chapters of textbooks we never got to in class and secreting away my mother’s research books to my room to memorize. Now, though, about a decade after first picking up one of her stories, I’ve graduated to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Her books are so detailed, descriptive, real, that they served as the perfect outlet for me to both fantasize and realize “life back then.” Until time travel really exists, it is only through extensive research and immersion into history that we can feel the past as tangible as the reality in front of us.

Have any of you had a meaningful experience with a book/author, whether you were young or old? What or who was it?

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Agatha Christie’s Short Stories

In Reading on September 4, 2012 at 9:59 pm

ImageSeveral weeks ago I had a strong hankering for a classic mystery novel. Naturally, the first image that came to mind was Sherlock Holmes. My parents insisted they have a book of the full SH collection, but after scouring all book shelves in the house I couldn’t find it. I did, however, find a book of 5 of Agatha Christie’s short stories.

Unlike the Sherlock Holmes stories, I was introduced to author Agatha Christie while in late elementary school by a sophisticated and worldly family friend. She lent me a gigantic book of several Christie novels. I loved them! Looking back, I probably didn’t understand most references in the stories, but even at my young age I was able to grasp the mystery element surrounded by English charm.

How many of you have read Christie’s stories? What do you think about them?

The book in our house had 5 stories: Peril at End House, The Murder at Hazelmoor, Easy to Kill, Ten Little Indians, and Evil Under the Sun. After nearly a month I’ve completed the first three and a half.

I’m actually quite surprised at how little I remember Christie’s stories and style. I can’t even be sure that I’ve read these stories before or not. However–I love them. I really do!

1) Peril at End House–I essentially disliked every character, especially the client of Poirot. Also, because this was the first Poirot story I’ve read in the past decade, I’m not sure if the narrator (the story is narrated in first person) is ever named.  I was unable to form a complete character profile of Poirot’s helper beside the two facts that he was both male and tall. Overall, though, I enjoyed the anonymity behind the narrator. It allowed me to focus more on the story he told and less on whether I liked him or not. In every other story by any other author, if I disliked the characters, I’d completely dislike the story/novel. With Christie, however, the setting, mystery, British flair, and her own syntax allowed me to enjoy the story immensely. A very enjoyable read!

2) The Murder at Hazelmoor– LOVED this one. I believe I owe that partially to the fact that I had just recently watched the 2002 version of Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. They both have simliar vibes due to the cold and isolated settings. The Murder at Hazelmoor was quite interesting to read. I felt myself drawn into the story. I wanted to be in that town during the blustery winter. I wanted to be at the seance at the beginning of the story. I couldn’t get a true read on Emily, so I cannot tell you if I liked her or not. I did, however, approve of her choice in the end. I was secretly proud of myself (or not too secretly since I’m now telling you) that I guessed the killer within the first several chapters!

3) Easy to Kill– I read this story while visiting Edisto Island, SC. The atmosphere affected how I read the story. Does that happen to anyone else? I’ll admit I was distracted while reading the story because I was interrupted so many times visiting old plantations and generally experiencing the local culture. Easy to Kill was a story in which I also guessed the killer early on. I mention this because I am not very good at doing that (I know, it’s kind of depressing considering my mother is an author, and I can rarely guess plot lines). But despite me suspecting, Christie developed a very comprehensive and believable suspect list with this one. Each character had motive for at least one of the murders. The setting was also lovely. I really enjoy how Christie really seems to understand the little tucked away British cottage-type towns; towns where everybody knows everybody, where gossip runs rampant among older matrons, and where the town is full of rich history. Yes, I know this particular town had a serial killer on its hands, but…if you look beyond all of that, the setting is really quite charming!

I won’t talk about Ten Little Indians because I’m not far enough in.

I believe everyone should start out reading Agatha Christie. She’s enormously talented. It’s why she is one of the best selling authors EVER! Her mysteries are unique. The plots are distinctly Christie, as is the settings and characters. Story series like Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are universally recognized and adored (despite Christie eventually becoming tired and annoyed of Poirot).I loved her books when I was 11 and I love them now. Her 66 novels and 15 short stories are timeless and because of that generations will be reading and enjoying them for many years to come.

The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake

In Reading on August 7, 2012 at 4:07 pm

This morning I finished The Postmistress, a novel written by author Sarah Blake. Out of 5 stars, I would give it somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3.

For those unfamiliar with the book, it follows the lives of several people during World War II– primarily, the years 1940 and 1941. As in any war book, there are bound to be some chapters of sadness and others of redemption. Although there were scenes in which violence occured, it was less graphic than other war books I’ve read. This, to me, is both good and bad. The story is not primarily about the war, exactly. It’s mostly about the lives of people–Frankie Bard, Iris James, Emma Fitch, Will Fitch, and Henry Vale– during the war years. I enjoyed that aspect about it because they were still the same people before the war, but they could not ignore the changes and occurrences of their daily lives that happened in the early 1940s.

I also really enjoyed the trans-continental aspect of it. The stories take place in London and a small northern Massachusetts town, and they eventually intersected through various actions. I found it interesting because in London the Blitz is occurring when the story opens. However, back in the states, the war hasn’t even touched those people directly like that. Blake gave two very different perspectives which I found necessary to explain the feelings and actions of the characters.

I loved the U-boat angle to the novel. I wrote a report my freshman year in college about the U-boat plan to invade and attack America’s shores. I voluntarily read a 300 page documentary about it and then wrote an 18 page paper full of information that astounded me. Did you (even WWII buffs) have any idea that U-boats were so, so, so, close to our shores? They were at Cape Hatteras, they were only miles from New York. Assimilating the search for U-boats off Franklin, Massachusetts in the story was a great way of incorporating little known history.

Blake’s writing is descriptive with an underlying melancholia that echoes through the entire novel. Each of the main characters faces an internal and external problem, which are separate but in the end entangle within the other people’s problems. Blake’s story (or stories, really) dives into the issue of morality and self  preservation. Each character seeks a purpose in life and each fears he or she is slipping through the cracks. In these aspects the book was very relateable to me and I’m sure to many people who have experienced similar feelings.

However, the novel did present some negatives. For one, the postmistress was not (in my opinion) the protagonist. I believe Blake wished to portray Miss James as some sort of omniscient and all-powerful being in control of everyone in town and the other characters. However, I believe it is not Miss James but Frankie Bard who is the protagonist. I do not wish to give anything away for those who haven’t read it yet, but the ending itself proves that Frankie really is the all knowing and all powerful one. She, in a way, is very much like a postmistress.

Also, the love between Emma and Dr Fitch wasn’t very convincing. I was sure there was something underlying between their marriage, but I was unable to figure out what that was. Emma simply seemed a little one dimensional in comparison to the other characters, which was a shame since the plot definitely revolved around her.

I felt that Blake read Atonement, saw a postmistress walking around one day, and tried to find a way to connect those into a novel. Some of the plot felt too forced (I don’t want to go into detail for those who haven’t read the book yet), as if she saw a few dead ends and tried to correct them without completely succeeding.

Overall, this book was OK. I did enjoy the history/war aspect and that it focused more on the people than the war itself.

Summer Reading to 8/03/12

In List of Summer Reading, Reading on August 3, 2012 at 10:42 pm

A List of Reading I’ve Accomplished Thus Far–

note: all but 9 are old reads…I really can’t explain why I love re-reading novels so much, but I suspect any fellow reader can understand. I recently bought 3 more books at Barnes and Noble while attending a book-signing, but I will post them as I continue to read. Well versed readers should recognize most of the titles.

1. The Secret of the Old Clock– Carolyn Keene

2. The Hidden Staircase– Carolyn Keene

3. The Bungalow Mystery– Carolyn Keene

4. The Mystery of Lilac Inn– Carolyn Keene

5. The Secret of Shadow Ranch- Carolyn Keene

6: The Secret of Red Gate Farm– Carolyn Keene

7: The Clue in the Diary– Carolyn Keene

8: Nancy’s Mysterious Letter– Carolyn Keene

9: The Sign of the Twisted Candles– Carolyn Keene

10: Password to Larkspur Lane– Carolyn Keene

11: The Clue of the Broken Locket– Carolyn Keene

12: The Message in the Hollow Oak– Carolyn Keene

13: The Mystery of the Ivory Charm– Carolyn Keene

14: The Whispering Statue– Carolyn Keene

15: The Haunted Bridge– Carolyn Keene

16. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time– Mark Haddon

17: The Clue of the Tapping Heels– Carolyn Keene

18. The Perks of Being Wallflower– Stephen Chbosky

19: Mystery of the Brass-Bound Trunk– Carolyn Keene

20. Tuesdays with Morrie– Mitch Albom

21: Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion– Carolyn Keene

22: The Quest of the Missing Map– Carolyn Keene

23: The Clue in the Jewel Box– Carolyn Keene

24: The Secret in the Old Attic– Carolyn Keene

25: The Clue in the Crumbling Wall– Carolyn Keene

26: Mystery of the Tolling Bell– Carolyn Keene

27. The Proposal– Mary Balogh

28. A Night Like This– Julia Quinn

29. What Happens in London– Julia Quinn

30. Just Like Heaven– Julia Quinn

31. The Duke and I– Julia Quinn

32. The Viscount Who Loved Me– Julia Quinn

33. An Offer From a Gentleman– Julia Quinn

34. Romancing Mister Bridgerton– Julia Quinn

35. To Sir Phillip, With Love– Julia Quinn

36. When He Was Wicked– Julia Quinn

37. Derby Day– D.J. Taylor

38. It’s In His Kiss– Julia Quinn

39. On the Way to the Wedding– Julia Quinn

40. The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever– Julia Quinn

41. The Lost Duke of Wyndham– Julia Quinn

42. The Winter Sea– Susanna Kearsley

43. An Echo in the Bone- Diana Gabaldon

44. The Postmistress– Sarah Blake

To read (so far) by end of summer: Incindiary– Chris Cleave, 1776- David McCullough

Reading is like my addiction. Once I start I cannot stop. I may take long breaks (it’s impossible to read for fun in college….) but I’ll always find a new read! As the end of summer draws closer it’s harder for me to read more. I think it’s because I’m too nervous and preoccupied thinking about Scotland. But I wanted to post this just to collect and organize all of the reading I’ve done this summer and to give you all a taste of what I’ve been reading. I really hope I’ll get to the last two, but if I’m not in the mood to read a depressing novel (Incindiary) or a lengthy documentary (1776) I won’t read it (yet). Feel free to comment or even recommend some others to sneak in before September!

How many novels have y’all read in one time period? I think this may be the most for me. How does it feel to read so much in such a short period of time? For me, it’s rather soothing and calming. It makes me think, too, about things other than me and my immediate surroundings.

Choosing a Fictional Character Over a Real Person

In Reading on July 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Yesterday I read an article in which the author talked about how she believed Fifty Shades was making its readers feel undervalued and disappointed in the real life guys surrounding them and their own personal love life. I found it a very interesting article, and I began to think. I realized after I thought about it for a while that I actually have a habit I do with each novel that features a love story. I get excited when I read the back cover, I find myself smiling at the book when the male hero does something exceptionally cute or romantic, I get a bit teary eyed at the big climax (the literary climax!), and then I feel sad when I finish the novel. I feel sad for that very reason– it’s finished. I found this pin on Pinterest a while ago from someecards.com and it made me laugh out loud with how true it is–

SO many fictional characters fit this description. Sigh.

I didn’t create this e-card, but really. I’ve caught myself saying that to myself or to my friends about certain characters. Just to name a few– Mr Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Edward Cullen, Jamie Fraser, Miles Dorrington, Harry Valentine, Robbie Turner, and Ned Nickerson. The first book I read with the aforementioned men was Pride and Prejudice, in 8th grade. I was such an awkward person (in both personality and looks), so much so that the most popular girl in our grade said to me in Sharing Time at the end of the year that she was astonished at how pretty I’d become since 5th grade. Gee…..thanks? So in 8th grade I wasn’t really thinking about boys in real life. I knew no one was crushing on me, and if I was crushing on somebody there was no absolute possible way EVER that he would crush on me back. Books were where I turned to discover and imagine other people’s more fortunate lives in the love department. Pride and Prejudice gave me that small glimmer of hope that maybe I could have a British gentleman fall in love with me, despite being too macabre, too moody, too jealous, too tall.

But is this a good thing? Here’s another e-card that made me both laugh and sober immediately–

Argh! Just the other day I had not one but two conversations with two close friends on how extremely selective we are where guys are concerned. It also just so happens that Mr Darcy is one of our personal heroes. And the thought has crossed my mind that I am SO selective over guys (I won’t even let guys dance with me at school…although, considering their idea of “dancing” is grinding, I’m really hoping many of you would not disagree with my decision) because of the fictional characters that I’ve read. I yearn for a guy who can tell me that I must allow him to tell me how much he admires and loves me. For the man who will secretly write me a love letter in which he says that I pierce his soul. I joked to my friends (but inside, I think I’m completely serious) that if I could find a guy who would just quote Coldplay lyrics at me (but mean them) is my perfect man. But nobody says these things. Men would probably think they’d be losing their masculinity if they began quoting Jane Austen. If they screamed that they couldn’t live their life without their soul, people would judge. Hardcore. I could easily say “whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” The problem is… I’m not sure he exists in real life. I really don’t. And yes, you could say I’m jaded, that I’ve read too much into these novels. I’m barely out of my teenage years and I haven’t really lived. And yes,

sometimes I do think of conversations with people based on a conversation in a book. And then I’m obviously disappointed when it never plays out.

But how wrong is it to hope that my life can turn out like Elizabeth Bennet’s, or Anne Elliot’s? I’ve been struggling with this question. Feel free to insert input, readers. When I feel lonely or sad I do the same exact thing—I tear through all of Julia Quinn’s novels in less than a week. But I don’t feel happy when I finish. I don’t feel sad, either. I feel a mixture that I could almost liken to hope. I keep my expectations low in life. I tell my parents that it means I’ll never be disappointed, and they respond that it means I’ll never accomplish anything great. But I am starting to think that if I keep on dismissing the thoughts of living the Darcy’s life in favor for being the spinster I tell my parents I’m turning out to be, it’s doing me more harm than good.

I made a short list of the pros and cons of reading and getting all emotional and passionate over love stories (I like making lists, if you couldn’t tell from my other posts…). This is what I’ve come up with:

Pros:

  • Hope—hope isn’t always defined as a bad thing. How would Gandhi have accomplished all that he did? Martin Luther King, Jr? Teachers? Now, some people surely have been disillusioned by their hope (Hitler, anyone?) but I’m not planning on starting a revolution and killing every man who thinks Darcy is stupid…ahem.
  • Happiness—living vicariously through characters’ lives does lift spirits. “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry is my favorite short story (go read it if you haven’t. It’s so romantic). I always feel so happy after I’ve read it, and yes, I don’t go mope that I’ll never find a love like that, unless I’m in one of my moods. Stories normally are supposed to provoke a response, of course. But generally it’s reflected in the moods of the characters. Claire loves Jamie, therefore, I love Jamie too.
  • Variety—seeing the different types of people out there; different types of love, different types of personalities, different types of income levels/appearances/flaws. If Wentworth still loves Anne after 8 years despite her perceived lack of constancy, then maybe we can still be loved despite that awful habit we can’t kick! (although, if it has anything to do with taxidermy-ing  your dead cats, well…all the best of luck to you.)

Cons:

  • Unrealistic expectations—Why, surely my future love will compose a lullaby for me on his instrument of choice! But, I think it’s up to us to determine if we will let ourselves get carried away with a fictionalized story. Sure, I’d love someone to tell me that “when the day shall come, that we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.” But will I only search for guys who are guaranteed to say that to me? No. Because I know that’s a false expectation.
  • Unhappiness with relationships now—Guys most likely hated Edward Cullen from 2005-2008, and I frankly don’t blame them. The amount of bumper stickers, tweets, Facebook statuses, and conversations over a flippin’ vampire was a bit ridiculous (although, yes, I may have convinced 9 people in my high school to read them, and yes, one may have been my Latin teacher. No regrets!). I have a friend who admitted reading Fifty Shades made her current relationship feel a little inadequate. But I really don’t believe she intends on breaking up with her boyfriend, or make him act like Christian Grey (oh dear God). The feelings will pass.
  • Idealization of what you have to be like—More than once it’s crossed my mind between 8th grade and now that I should voice my witty opinions I normally keep to myself aloud, because that’s how Elizabeth Bennet caught Mr Darcy. I do realize now, however, that I’m not like fully like her. I’m quieter, shyer, more inclined to judge privately. If I start acting exactly like her, I may attract the guy who’s not the one for me.

As you can see, these lists are pretty divided. But I believe that in the end I can justify those cons and turn them into pros. Yes, Pride and Prejudice will always be my favorite novel and quite possibly my favorite love story. Yes, I would count myself the luckiest girl alive if I could find a real-life man like Mr Darcy. But if an average dressed guy approaches me in the coffee shop and doesn’t seem serial killer-eque, I won’t push him away. After all, what did Austen teach us about prejudices anyway?

I still have my standards. Confuse “your” with “you’re” one more time and you go down in my estimation. You don’t share my faith or my political affiliation? I’d get too upset at you for it to work. But if you don’t like dressing up in Regency England garb and watching Downton Abbey with me, I won’t dismiss you just yet. I’ll take after Elizabeth Bennet and Captain Wentworth and give you a chance.

And yes, the 2 friends of mine who think we have such high expectations base it off of fictional characters, and yes, my other friends who don’t read don’t share this belief. But I also have a friend who grabs at the TV when Ryan Gosling and the Notebook is on, and she’s a voracious reader who happens to be quite single going into her senior year. She’s happy, though. She fully believes the right guy is out there, and that she’ll find him. And guess what—he’s real.

So, I suppose all I can do–all we can do, really– is to hope that