Monday, September 27, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
Scout, Atticus and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird by Mary McDonagh Murphy
A compilation of interviews Mary McDonough Murphy completed with a range of personalities from tv celebrities
( including Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey ), authors ( including Wally Lamb and Scott Turow ), actors ( the young lady who played Scout in the exceptional 1961 film version) and locals of Monroeville Alabama ( such as Nelle Harper’s minister).
Everyone spoke to the meaning of the book in their lives and determinedly reiterated its importance as one of the most ground-breaking and influential books ever published.
The interviews conducted were exposed in such a natural and conversational tone, I felt like I was sitting in a circle of chairs at a book club. Of course, most lovers of the book championed one of the characters: Scout, the irrepressible Tomboy; Atticus, the emblem of all that is morally right in a crooked society and Boo Radley, the enigmatic “other” whose personal convictions mirror the very heart of the novel’s ethical core.
From the brilliantly embroidered prose of the opening scenes, through Scout’s childhood vernacular, through the painting of one of the most intensely-realized court scenes in literature, each interviewee expressed the novel’s indelible stamp on their lives.
Those, like myself, who are particularly hungry for more about the novel’s elusive author will snatch at the fleeting snippets of her life she keeps so well-hidden. Speculations are made on why she never published a subsequent novel after penning a masterpiece and those who know her personally were quick to evade any judgments regarding her reclusive nature. Instead, Nelle Harper is painted as a humble and spicy woman who avoids the limelight merely because she stepped into it long enough to have her say and stepped out of it when she knew her words had reached the world.
To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most poignant and influential books to inform my literary “upbringing.” I first read it at 14 and have read it every subsequent year since.
Oft thought of for its major themes and statements regarding Civil Liberties, Equality and Racism ( I capitalize them because they are so integral to this work), the novel remains, for a writer and reader, an exposition in simple yet gloriously well-settled prose.
Those who appreciate Mockingbird for its grand soap-box platform are also those who appreciate deft characterization, the sprinkling of humour in a largely ugly and unfair situation, the little charms and nuances of a father-daughter relationship.
To Kill a Mockingbird, I learned, is not just a world that I can (and often do ) crawl into ---- not just a place, ramshackled and old that I can peek in and explore at the snap of a page. No, it is a world for everyone: no matter race, colour or creed. The universal plight of humanity, the natural instinct for goodness and conscience is reclaimed every time someone rambles imaginatively into 1930s Maycomb.
I felt, having turned the last page of Scout, Atticus and Boo somewhat validated. My crazy love for this book is well-founded! Readers of all walks of life walk away having been met with different experiences---- but vital and important experiences nonetheless.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Today's BBAW topic, Forgotten Treasures, is a favourite: inspiring readers to turn their thoughts to books you, as a reader and blogger, feel may be under-marketed
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Modo and Octavia, under the orders of the complicatedly sinister Mr. Socrates have re-emerged from their last disastrous adventure to trace the whereabouts of a missing fellow spy.
To New York they go, disguised as husband and wife and then to sea where a twist of fate sends the inimitable Modo to the very depths of the abyss.
A french spy, Colette, a man with the amazing power to make himself invincible named Griff and the villainous Captain of the steam-powered submarine ship Ictineo pepper the fast-paced homage to Victoriana.
I must confess that these stories are especially fun for those who are familiar with their source material. Drawing on Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dickens, Hugo ( to a lesser extent in this volume than in the first Hunchback Assignments ) and even Arthur Conan Doyle, this addition to the extremely popular Steampunk genre will be a hit with kids.
The isolating cabin wherein Modo finds himself trapped at the bottom of the Ocean as well as the gruesome circumstances surrounding Modo and Octavia’s missing colleague and the re-appearance of the Clockwork Guild add the thrills and chills needed for the Hallowe’en Season.
I was at a reading of Arthur Slade’s where an adorable child reader pronounced that Modo satisfied all of her “reading needs.” The Dark Deeps is a compelling follow- up to the ˆHunchback Assignments and a perfect addition to the RIP challenge.
As per usual, Slade writes deliciously and there are few contemporary writers whose prose seems so sparkly and alive. Humour (also, as per usual) is threaded throughout and I caught myself laughing aloud more than once: even in public places!
When the cunning spy Octavia ( probably my favourite character in the series) attests : “ I do not cough. I expel air daintily”, I snorted coffee up my nose on my morning train commute. Just before Modo falls deep deep into the ocean, he has a last, fleeting moment to part with Octavia: “He tried to find some final, memorable words to leave her with, but all that came out of his mouth was ‘uh—ohhhhh!’ and he fell into the Atlantic.”
Not wanting to leave Modo without a wily and winsome heroine, Colette and Modo join tentative sides aboard the Ictineo. Colette is as equally as savvy and sassy as Octavia and bemoans her boredom in captivity on the ship: “Twenty-eight day and four hours, not that I’m counting. I hope you like reading books and looking at fish!”
When Colette questions Modo’s being in Iceland, Modo cleverly quips: “We were travelling to Iceland for diplomatic reasons. And smoked cod, of course”
Slade doesn’t really stop. Ever. There is a winning line on almost every page.
Thematically, the emphasis of Utopia and Captain Monturiol’s obsession with an underwater Utopia provides a deep and level contrast to the moments of humour, of monsters and of invisible men. Slade also quotes Coleridge for good measure ( seriously, folks, when was the last time someone threw Xanadu into a kids’ book? )
The only thing the book lacked was MORE OCTAVIA! While Colette was certainly interesting and Griff a surprising foil for Modo, Octavia and Modo’s relationship and the chemistry in the snap-crackle-pop dialogue flitting between them was sorely missed. I can only hope she turns up to greater extent in the next Hunchback novel.
This series is absolutely, tremendously and utterly unique and, as always, proves its writer’s almost ridiculously wide-spanning literary range.
Slade’s narrative voice is like a comfort zone to me: like the smell of pumpkin pie or macaroni and cheese--- it’s something I am so used to and so enjoy sinking into. A tremendously great yarn full of things that go bump in the night ( and at the bottom of the ocean, no less); of gaslight and creaking carriage wheels; of people who are not who they say they are; of steam-powered madness; of distant utopias on strange, green lands--- or on the crust of the ocean’s silvery bottom. The Dark Deeps is an imaginative smorgasbord.
( and while you're at it---- read Jolted ---one of my favourite books ever)
Monday, September 13, 2010
I am very interested in Dickens. Thus, I was excited to dive into Pearl’s novel about the shady circumstances surrounding Dickens' untimely death and the mysteries unsolved regarding the unfinished manuscript of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Drawing on figures fictional and historical and even Charles Dickens himself, Pearl weaves a splendidly theatrical and at times chilling and horrific yarn about one of the world’s most famous writers and one of literature’s greatest mysteries.
The chapters devoted to the past and, in particular, to Dickens' reading tour of the States are as compelling as those unraveling in present time. While in Boston last year, I was delighted to trace snippets of Dickens throughout the gorgeous historical city and those interested in how massive book events came to pass in the 19th Century will be really intrigued. Also, it was well known that Dickens devoted himself to largely theatrical unveilings of some of his larger-than-life characters ( imagine women swooning as he retold the gruesome butchery of Nancy at the hands of the evil Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist). Pearl’s research on this subject and on Dickens’ literary tour are sublime.
Publishing aficionados will be in heaven with Pearl’s exposition of the trade and especially of Bookaneers: book pirates who would steal into readings, take jot notes and re-sell the material overheard in cheap abridged versions thus completely obliterating the strict ethical code dueling publishers held sacred. I also very much enjoyed reading about the transportation of manuscripts from England for serial publication in the States: a high-stakes game, publishers would have to sneakily pick up the goods whilst stingy and wily bookaneers kept evil watch on the sidelines. It is here that The Last Dickens begins. Publisher James Osgood is horrified to learn that the trusted clerk, Daniel Sand, he sent on a mission to retrieve the last existing installment of Drood before Dickens’ death, has been run down by a cart in the street. The police prove that Daniel Sand was under the influence of opium at the time and while Osgood and Daniel’s sister Rebecca find this highly uncharacteristic, the missing piece of the Drood puzzle requires a trip to England and into a dark and sinister web of characters, plots and deeds.
The Last Dickens splits its time equally between Boston, London and India. The novel (especially the portions in India) focuses greatly on the Opium Trade ( see: Opening Chapters of Edwin Drood ) and Dickens’ son Frank’s military service (Canadians should note that Francis Dickens also served time as a Northwest Mounted Policeman and can read of his adventures in Dickens of the Mounted).
There are some really chilling moments: in an opium den, revisiting a gruesome Boston murder and a tale in a graveyard involving a father whose missing son’s bones rained down upon his head from a hidden roof compartment. The scenes at Dickens’ writing cottage in Gadswill are splendidly atmospheric and the premonitory events following Dickens’ Staplehurst train incident ( a pivotal moment in the author’s life and in the book) are just about as climactic and heart-stopping as one will find in suspense fiction.
The elements of theatricality permeating the tale expose themselves in eerie and grotesque ways: especially when characterized by a female stalker who forces Dickens to read her manuscript aloud in a tragic and darkly humorous scene and by the elusive Dick Datchery---- a sinister and mentally unbalanced figure who claims that since Dickens hypnotized him he has been reincarnated as one of the colourful characters from The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
This novel is very rich and very suspenseful. While there is more than a healthy dollop of history ( especially literary history ) interwoven, it is an engaging read. Pearl certainly understands even the minutiae of the time period and his characters, including Charles Dickens, leap off the page. The dialogue is wonderful and every slight happenstance is rendered with the greatest assertion of verisimilitude. It is one of the best written books I have read in a stint.
I was absolutely smitten.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Monday, September 06, 2010
Hurrah for Labour Day weekend! I got to finish the first book from my personal RIP Challenge list!
Sunday, September 05, 2010
After my trip to Vienna this summer, I became somewhat enamoured of the enigmatic and ridiculously fascinating Elisabeth or "Sisi", wife of Franz Josef.