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Siddartha = 86 down, 14 to go

15 Sep

Classic
Siddhartha
Hermann Hesse
108 pages

This short, but lyrical book takes you along the spiritual journey of Siddhartha as he travels through the lands of India on his search for enlightenment. Through interactions and life experiences, we see him move along the spectrum of his life – but watch him not fully understanding the lessons he encounters until his life comes full circle.

Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.

Alexander’s Bridge = 69 down, 31 to go

25 Jul

Classic
Alexander’s Bridge
Willa Cather
92 pages

I enjoyed this classic novel that features a brilliant bridge builder and his simultaneous love affairs with his wife and mistress. I found this summary of the book by accident on the blog Sexuality & Love in the Arts, but thought that it well captured the essence of the book…much better than I could after a long weekend.

Here is one quote that I found amusing. It is describing Alexander’s wife from the perspective of his old professor.

Wilson reflected that he had never before known a woman who has been able, for any considerable while, to support both a personal an intellectual passion.

This one is a verbal observation from the mistress to Alexander when he tries to bury his motive for seeing her.

“Don’t try to wear a cloak of humility; it doesn’t become you. Stalk in as you are and don’t make excuses. I’m not accustomed to inquiring into the motives of my guests. That would hardly be safe…in a great house like this.”

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button = 67 down, 33 to go

18 Jul

Classic
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories
F. Scott Fitzgerald
464 pages

My trail to this book was a little rocky. It started out with my purchasing what I thought was the book on the discount rack at Borders. Later that night, I was proudly showing off my cheap book finds to a friend at dinner and realized this particular cheap book find was actually a cheap movie screenplay find. Needless to say, I wasn’t so thrilled. Hey I love to watch a movie as much as the next gal, but reading one – in its literal conversational format? Not on the top of my bucket list, or likely even in the same galaxy as my bucket list.

So on pure principle, I returned the screenplay book and was refunded my $3.99 plus tax. But the storyline kept knocking on my head and telling me that as I found the idea of a baby being born old and then receding in time to infanthood at the end of life intriguing. And because I apparently live under a rock, I never saw the Brad Pitt movie and didn’t know what the crux of the story was until I wrongly brought home the screenplay.

So I went in search of this book on my Kindle iPhone app and discovered it is actually a short story, bundled with three “Other Jazz Age Stories.” The Benjamin Button story was an amusing, quick read full of the contrast and irony that comes with childhood and adulthood, parenting and gallivanting.

Towards the end of the story, when Benjamin has aged-down to an infant, there is the observation:

There were no troublesome memories in his childish sleep; no token came to him of his brave days at college, of the glittering years when he flustered the hearts of many girls. There were only the white, safe walls of his crib and Nana and a man who came to see him sometimes, and a great big orange ball that Nana pointed at just before his twilight bed hour and called “sun.” When the sun went his eyes were sleepy – there were no dreams, no dreams to haunt him.

How many times have you been having a conversation with friends, complaining about the job, the bills, the stresses of being an adult…and just wished to relive a bit of childhood all over again, “Remember how it was when we were five? Life didn’t get any better than that.” This story is the opposite of that and is a sentimental-ish reminder that sometimes the greatest joy is found in the moment immediately in front of you.

Daisy Miller = 66 down, 34 to go

16 Jul

Classic
Daisy Miller
Henry James
142 pages

Daisy Miller is a young American woman touring Europe with her mother and young brother. Frederick Forsyth Winterbourne, an American living abroad, is quite taken with Ms. Miller when he meets her in a garden in Switzerland. He pursues her, but much to his disappointment, her openly flirtatious demeanor is frowned upon by his society aunt and other American compatriots.

They meet again later in Italy, where Ms. Miller is spending inordinate amounts of time with a number of Italian gentlemen, especially Giovanelli. Oftentimes, she will entertain both Giovanelli and Winterbourne simultaneously, much to the chagrin of them both. Again, wealthy American society members strongly disapprove of her and her behavior. Ms. Miller seems in no way deterred by their disapproval – though I wasn’t sure I paid close enough attention as to whether or not she was undeterred or just oblivious. This book showcased the juxtaposition between American and European sensibilities.

An Old-Fashioned Girl = 31 down, 69 to go

28 Mar

Classic
An Old-Fashioned Girl
Louisa May Alcott
360 pages

One of my favorite classicbooks is Little Women, so since I’m not permitted to reread any stories during my year-long challenge, I decided to seek out another book by Louisa May Alcott.

An Old-Fashioned Girl originally began as a short six-chapter book where the main character, 14-year-old Polly, spends time living with her friend Fanny and her family, the Shaws, a wealthy city family. Polly is exposed to a more fashionable, expensive lifestyle much in contrast to her more modest, moral-focused, middle-class country upbringing.

The author added to the original chapters by picking up the story six years later with Polly returning to the city. She secures rooms for herself and establishes herself as music teacher. Similar to her original stay with the Shaws, as an adult, she battles being happy with the life she has built for herself with the contrast of the privileges, clothes and parties of the Shaws.

But her new life in the city shows her glimpses of situations that remind her to be grateful for what she has.

She had heard of poverty and suffering, in the vague, far-off way, which is all that many girls, safe in happy homes, ever know of it; but now she had seen it, in a shape which she could feel and understand, and life grew more earnest to her from the minute. So much to do in the great, busy world, and she had done so little…Polly asked for the strength of an upright soul, the beauty of a tender heart, the power to make her life a sweet and stirring song, helpful while it lasted, remembered when it died.

When the Shaw family members find themselves faced with bankruptcy, selling their family home and downsizing their belongings and lifestyle, Polly is the balancing force that reminds the family that they have everything that is important – family, love and one another.

This book, whose target reader is much, much younger than I, uses an idealized view of life. Using an engaging story, it reinforces 19th-century morals and the importance of appreciating the gifts one has been given. Though the internal battles that Polly deals with do resonate with those that face young adults today, I can see a teen in the 21st century being challenged to apply the lessons of the story to their modern lives.

But if you are a true romantic at heart, you will appreciate the end – where the Shaw son, Tom, loses an enormous sum gambling, heads out west to find himself and financial stability, and returns to the east coast mature and ready to marry his one true love, Polly.

Do you want to know the name of the girl I’ve loved for more that a year? Well, it’s Polly!

As he spoke, Tom stretched out his arms to her, with the sort of mute eloquence that cannot be resisted, and Polly went straight into them, without a word.

Never mind what happened for a little bit. Love scenes, if genuine, are indescribable; for those who have enacted them, the most eleborate description seems tame, and to those who have not, the simplest picture seems overdone. So romancers had better let imagination paint for them that which is above all art, and leave their lovers to themselves during the happiest moments of their lives.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow = 30 down, 70 to go

28 Mar

Classic
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Washington Irving
76 pages

As the story of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane is well integrated into the U.S. psyche, I’m not sure I need to to spend any time on the story line of the legendary Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

There aren’t many books that I know the exact end before I even crack the cover, but it was interesting to read the nuances of the story that didn’t make it into the cartoon version, which is how I was most familiar with the story.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the area located outside of Tarry Town, New York.

I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud, for it is such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great State of New York, that population, manners, and customs remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.

The Man Who Would Be King = 26 down, 74 to go

9 Feb

Classic
The Man Who Would Be King
Rudyard Kipling
88 pages

First, I read this book more because it was a free download on my Kindle app. I read in one of the reviews that it was short, but didn’t realize until I checked the page count on Amazon, that it was only 88 pages. And that brings us to second…I almost feel like that’s not long enough to count as a full book. But hey I finished it, so I’m going to darn well count it.

The only other Rudyard Kipling book I have ever read was The Jungle Book (though which I have to admit here for full disclosure that I didn’t know was written by him until about 30 minutes ago).

The story is modeled after some of the time that Kipling himself spent in India and is a literary version of two men he actually met who were bound and determined to build their own Afghan empire. I read in a couple of different reviews that pointed out that a “practical understanding of British imperialist history” would be particularly helpful. Though I really enjoy history, apparently I skipped British imperialism from an impact on overall history during my journeys back in time.

So while I hate to admit it, it took every ounce of my concentration to try and follow the storyline. I think that I failed miserably. Let’s just say that I’m thankful that this was a short book. Maybe I was just having an off reading day.

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