Posts Tagged With: Classics

Plan Ahead for Summer Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost summertime and I am pushing my “read more” agenda again! Here are some specific ideas for getting more from your reading this summer:

1) Read more – set higher personal reading goals! Summer reading is a special experience because is often takes place out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. We can allow ourselves a large allocation of time to read during this season because our routine is changing as we welcome our children home from school and make vacation plans.

My goal: Read a minimum of an hour a day June -August.

2) Connect with others in your reading! Reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Use your inner circle’s reading recommendations – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. Target your children’s favorite book and watch their pleasure as you become familiar with the plots and characters they love.

My goal: Read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

3) Stretch your mental muscles! All have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels you into new depths — past the shallow water of superficial plots and stereotypical characters.

My goal: Read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

4) Re-read a childhood favorite! Go down memory lane and enjoy that classic children’s book again. Perhaps a family member might join you in this endeavor, but even when you read something independently, you can still take time to share excerpts that you felt most impacted by; whether it be humorous, serious, or touching.

My goal: Read Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne.4cd2e-the_sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie

5) Listen to an audio version of a book! On a family car trip or even during your mundane work commute, pop in an audio book and enjoy a good story as the miles roll by.  As a side effect, if your children are listening too, audio versions of books allow them to participate and experience literature above their own reading level.

My goal: Listen to the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Book #1 is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – all the books are narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwhistle)

6) Be a good reading example to others! Maybe this summer is the time to read purely for enjoyment. Others watch what you do more than what you say, so if you especially want your spouse or children to pick up a book in their spare time, – to “read for pleasure” – as the phrase goes, then you must do the same.  Show them by example that reading isn’t always work!

My goal: to put up my feet in the daytime and read when the chores are not yet done.

7) Hit the library! Make use of your tax dollars and browse the local library for good ideas and free books to borrow. Library summer reading programs for kids and adults help direct our goals to increase reading with their prizes and recognition.

My goal: Sign us all up for the Dauphin County Library summer reading program on June 1st.

da69a-girl-reading1So, enjoy some special reading adventures this summer and please tell me about them!

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Categories: Autobiography, Biography, British novels, Chick lit, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Watership Down by Richard Adams

I loved this novel when I read it as a teenager in the late 1970’s and I hope I have passed on my affection for this story to my family.  First published in 1972, Watership Down, by British author Richard Adams, is a book about rabbits… 476 pages of rabbits to be exact.  According to Mr. Adams, the manuscript was rejected a total of seven times, all on the same grounds that older children would think the rabbits babyish and younger children would find its adult style unlikeable.

I am so glad that Richard Adams did not change a word!  His judgment was vindicated when the novel won the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1972 and the Guardian Award for Children’s Literature in 1973.  Over forty years later, Watership Down is a beloved classic for young and old.

My local library’s edition of Watership Down published by Scribner in 2005 boasts a fascinating introduction by the author.  He recounts that he created the story for his young daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, entirely out of his imagination on a long-distance car journey.  His daughters insisted that he finish it and then later write it for publication.  “Naturally, I am glad that the book has been enjoyed by so large a public, and that it plainly has a wide appeal (although the reason for this was never clear to me).” p. xvi.

A motley and untried band of eleven young rabbits flee an established warren after hearing the doomsday prophecy of Fiver, who is the young brother of the novel’s main character, Hazel.  Rabbits are not meant to leave their routines and community.  These intrepid yearlings move through harrowing circumstances in their search for a safe haven in which to set up a new homestead. The plot is varied and exciting with great rising and fall action and many surprises – And that is all I am going to tell you about the plot, because you have to READ it!

Richard Adams uses the anthropomorphic style of Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book) to develop rabbit characters that think and talk, but can not do anything physically that real rabbits can not do.  Each rabbit has a finely drawn, individual personality.  “I took characteristics and features from real people I had met over the years.  To Hazel, I gave the qualities of an officer under whom I had served (in WW II).  He had the natural power of leadership.  He was not only brave but modest and retiring, yet with excellent judgment.” (p.xii Introduction, Watership Down, Scribner, 2005)  Bigwig, the staunch fighter of the group, is based on a Norwegian resistance fighter, Mr. Adams knew in the war.   Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, Blackberry, Dandelion, Hawkbit, Pipkin, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, Silver: all are needed and yet each are unique.

This novel delves deeply into themes of leadership, belonging, bonding, and the importance of  the uniqueness and gifts in the individuals of a group.  To me, this is an echo of a biblical truth that shows up in the gospels: Jesus chooses twelve extremely diverse men as disciples,  and in Paul’s writing that admonishes Christians to accept and value one another: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12: 3-5 (italics added).  I suppose this is my favorite theme of the book.

Richard Adams, goodreads.com author page

Richard Adams, goodreads.com author page

Mr. Adams, born in 1920, is still going strong.  His grandson assisted him several months ago to answer online fan questions.  Mr. Adams expressed fascinating insights about his novel and gratitude for the many enthusiastic compliments from readers. “I’m still making up stories, reading and writing. I read anything I can find, spending at least 3 hours a day reading. I find this very stimulating for the imagination.” http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1n3quw/i_am_richard_adams_author_of_watership_down/

All editions in print have a lapine glossary (a list of rabbit language) developed by the author and a map of the North Hampshire region of England in which the novel is set.  As Mr. Adams commented in his recent online interview: “Lapine just occurred really. The point was that as the story was told, certain things that hadn’t got a word for them came up, so a word had to be invented to cover them, to mean what they meant. Owsla is a good example.”
In 2008, Italian painter Aldo Galli created over forty paintings in 2008 inspired by the novel and the artist’s hikes over the downs.  Mr. Adams chose Galli to illustrate Watership Down as the first-ever illustrated edition of the classic novel which was published in October 2012 by Scribner Classics Series to mark its fortieth anniversary.

Illustration by Aldo Galli

Mr. Adams, a lifelong student of natural history, describes in detail the flora and fauna of the downs of England with which he was so familiar.  It would a great pleasure to me to see a future edition published with an illustrated glossary of trees, birds, and wildflowers.

It is wonderful that Richard Adams is still with us.  My goal this year is to read his autobiography, The Day Gone By, write him a fan letter and read Shardik, a much darker story.

If you missed Watership Down, put it on your list of top ten novels to read in 2014 and then write me after you’ve read it to tell me what you think.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Great Expectations Revisited

“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” Charles Dickens

Yet again, a classic novel has found purchase in our modern world through film.  “Great Expectations” opened November 8 in limited release, and cast Helen Bonham Carter as the creepy Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes as Abel Magwitch, Holliday Grainger as Estella, and Jeremy Irvine as Pip.

According to the movie critics from the filmrejects website, the movie stays true to Dickens’ novel, although the central mystery of who is Pip’s mysterious benefactor is revealed much earlier.  Their overview of the movie reiterates my point about movies and books: “Done well, a Great Expectations film can hit all the notes of Dickens’ novel, and the machinations of the book’s storyline can be so convoluted that a finely tuned visual companion can only help. (No, we’re not advocating the use of films instead of books here, but taken together, a fuller understanding is possible).”http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/romeo-and-juliet-and-great-expectations-film-adaptations.php

Charles Dickens’ 497-page novel spans the early years and adult life of main character, Pip. Fellow wordpress blogger Jessica of The Bookworm Chronicles nicely summarizes the plot:

“Great Expectations follows the life of a young orphaned boy nicknamed Pip. When we join young Pip he is living with his strict sister and her big-hearted husband Joe Gargery. At which point Pip has little to no expectations other than to join Joe as an apprentice in his smithy. A series of strange events and encounters are to set Pip on a completely different road though. As a young man, he is visited by a London lawyer who informs him that he has a secret benefactor who wishes to pay for Pip to become a gentleman. Pip moves to London with his great expectations looking to make a name for himself and finally claim the hand of the woman he loves.”

http://thebookwormchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/the-classics-club-great-expectations/

Reading Dickens’ novels can be a challenge because of the time commitment and mental energy required. Five hundred pages filled with English vocabulary not in use today may daunt the most courageous reader, but to be truly literate we must become familiar with the literature that makes up the references we encounter in coursework, speeches, movies, and books. Just to use a few examples from Dickens’ novels: When you hear that a person is a “Scrooge”, do you know what that means? To what does he refer in this quote: ““Bah,” said Scrooge, “Humbug.”? Do you know this famous line from another Dickens story? “Please, sir, I want some more.” (Oliver Twist holds out his tin plate and dares to request “seconds” from the miserly orphanage overseer.)

We came across a literary reference just this week from Oliver Twist in Alan Bradley’s second Flavia DeLuce mystery novel, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. The author described a female character as “The Nancy to his Bill”. I knew what Mr. Bradley meant about his character, Nia. She was just like Dickens’ “Nancy” who put herself under the sway of a powerful and unscrupulous man. In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham was jilted at the altar and seeks to use young and lovely Estella to take vengeance on the entire male gender. What a great cautionary tale to use to describe the damage that can be done by manipulating others and seeking revenge.

“Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham”, by John McLenan, published in 1859 by Harper’s Weekly.

The purpose of understanding literary references goes beyond simply feeling pride in our knowledge. We share these mentions with one another in order to explain, connect, and create context. We use common knowledge all the time, often simple instances like describing the power of a waterfall by saying it roared like Niagara Falls.

As a person of an older generation, I possess huge deficits in my own literary background, but that just means I still have a lot to learn. How much more do younger generations need exposure to Shakespeare’s characters and quotes, and those of great authors like Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne, and Daniel Defoe.

What does it mean when you are “tilting at windmills”? Who is someone who is like “a man, Friday”? What does it mean to have a “Capulet-Montague” type of situation? Whose signature exclamation is “Oh, bother!” What does it mean to “chase a white rabbit”?

What literary references have you run across lately? I would love to hear about them.

http://www.litlovers.com published great discussion questions on Great Expectations: http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/402-great-expectations-dickens?start=3

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Categories: British novels, Classics, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis


The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia, published in 1954, tells the tale of Shasta, a Narnian boy raised in the country of Calormen by an illiterate fisherman who uses him like a slave and keeps his true identity from him. Shasta and Bree the Talking Horse, also a captive of the Calormenes, escape north to freedom in Narnia.

This particular “chronicle” seems to be less known, due in part to the fact that no modern movie has promoted it, unlike “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, “Prince Caspian”, and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. The powerful themes of escape, providence, and identity make it my favorite. Aslan, the great lion, appears throughout the story, but in many different guises; all with the same purpose, however, of directing and protecting the main characters. Sometimes he physically guards them, other times he protects them from their own folly.

Chronologically, this story takes place while the four Pevensie children are ruling: “Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and two sisters were Kings and Queens under him”(p.3). They have grown up enough that Queen Susan is being courted by the ruthless Calormen prince, Rabadash, but they are still young and carefree in their roles as monarchs: “Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed.” (p. 58) The Narnian monarchs visit the Caloremene capital so that Queen Susan can meet her suitor in his own land and find themselves embroiled in political intrigue.

In my edition of the book, a colorful map, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, reminds us that the world of Narnia has surrounding countries, as well as the Great Eastern Ocean with its numerous islands. The Horse and His Boy is set in the land south of Narnia, across a great desert. The Tisroc, a cruel tyrant rules here and desires to gobble up Narnia through treachery if he can, and by force if his attempt at trickery fails.

Into this political intrigue enters Shasta who has grown up with beatings and hard labor and doesn’t realize he is of northern blood. He forms an alliance with Bree, a Talking Horse who was sold into slavery as a foal. During their daring escape attempt, the pair joins forces with another Narnian horse, the humble mare Hwin, and a privileged Calormene tarkeena named Aravis who is fleeing a forced marriage with a man “at least sixty years old with a hump on his back and a face like an ape”. (p.37).

The Narnian horses yearn fiercely for their free homeland : “The happy land of Narnia — Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rives, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs. Oh the sweet air of Narnia! An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen.” (p. 11). Even though Shasta has no memory of his birth in Narnia, his heart is drawn to it : “‘Oh hurrah!’ said Shasta, “Then we’ll go north. I’ve been longing to go to the North all my life.’” (p. 14)

In a humorous and ironic case of mistaken identity, Shasta falls in with the Narnian monarchs in the capital city of Tashbaan and unwittingly meets his twin. This story resonates for me as much now as it did in my youth when my babysitter, Sandi Beth Sandford, read it to us aloud. How that is possible is the genius of C.S. Lewis’ storytelling and his depth of insight into seeking where we belong and who we really are.

The sixth Chronicle of Narnia, The Silver Chair, also takes place in the land of Narnia, but in a northern country ruled by giants during the time when Caspian is king and Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia to rescue Caspian’s son and heir.
The chronological order of the Narnia books: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle.  Thanks to my friend, Lynn – who insisted that her first reading of the Chronicles must be in the order the author wrote them, here is a “publication list”:  Lion, Prince, Voyage, Silver, Horse, Magician’s, Last.

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Great Expectations – Read the Classics

“A sense of permanent worthwhileness surrounds really great literature.  Laughter, pain, hunger, satisfaction, love, and joy —the ingredients of human life are found in depth and leave a residue of mental and spiritual richness in the reader. “ Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Child’s Heart

As human beings, we are designed to deepen.  Many opportunities lie before us to do so: school classes, on-line tutorials, life experiences.  What about great literature as a teacher? These titles have stood the test of time as a source of teaching and inspiration.  Between their covers are stored enduring themes, memorable characters, and vivid plots which often do not leave our hearts and minds – ever.

All of us have the capacity to enjoy a classic book.  Although there is no harm in following a favorite genre of fiction or seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels us into new depths — past the shallow waters of  superficial plots and stereotypical characters.  Reading a more densely-written book builds our mental muscles. It definitely fulfills the Al-Anon recommendation: ”Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind…  I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.”

My unashamed bias is that classic literature should be appreciated in its unabridged form.   Many abridged versions cut out plotting, descriptions, or vocabulary.   An example of this is Daniel Defoe’s main character, Robinson Crusoe, who chronicles an episode of intense spiritual enlightenment which you wouldn’t want to miss.  Much of the vocabulary in classic books which tripped us up on SAT tests can be understood in context.  This is true for children as well.  Often they can hear and understand above their own school grade reading level, or they may choose to read the unabridged book later.   Also, many classics are now available at the library as wonderful audio productions with rich-voiced narrators.

My most recent efforts to read classics:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I spent three-fourths of the book hating Pip for his poor choices – especially how he treats the humble man who raised him with such disdain. Included in the adventure Dickens weaves is the threatening escaped convict who invades Pip’s life. This complex character is one of many memorable individuals which populate Dickens’ novels. Fellow wordpress blogger Jessica of The Bookworm Chronicles comments on the plot: “Great Expectations reminded me of a previous Dickens’s read Nicholas Nickleby because they both span a great deal of one individual’s life. There was plenty of time to really get to know Pip, his virtues as well as his faults and failings, and how he goes on to grow and change from a boy into a man.” http://www.thebookwormchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/the-classics-club-great-expectations/

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  It has been three decades since I last read it in its entirety.  In some ways,  it was like being introduced to the adventure for the first time.  Twain masterfully crafted a humorous, poignant and thrilling tale from beginning to end.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is next on my list, partly because I want to continue to reach beyond  my comfort zone and partly because I want to read what my 13-year old has been assigned to read for English class.

My teenage children’s favorites: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

As an adult in any life stage, you now have an opportunity to catch up on those great books you missed or glossed over during your student years.  Keep enjoying your favorite books this year, but also challenge yourself to read a classic (or two)!

Categories: British novels, Classics, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Read Aloud – A Christmas Carol

Good literature is a pleasure to read aloud.  The words roll off the tongue and provide a wonderful opportunity for children to hear the English language used artistically.   A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens may be a prime example of a book that is a pleasure to read aloud, and one that appeals to many age levels.  I hold nothing against the many movie versions of this classic tale, but I do want to point out that they all cut out great bites of the original book.  Charles Dickens is a master of the English language and although that can be daunting to the average reader, most of his vocabulary words can be understood in context.  As an example, Dickens describes Scrooge at the outset of the story as: “… a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire…” (p. 10).  I get this, don’t you?  Scrooge is miserly, cold-hearted, and loveless.

One Christmas vacation, I read A Christmas Carol in its entirety (88 pages unabridged) to my husband as he drove the long tedious I-70 highway from Denver, Colorado to his hometown near Kansas City, Kansas.  My fourteen-year old has re-read the book twice during her Christmas break.  She is hoping to read it a third time this year.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, author Gladys Hunt encourages us to keep reading aloud even when our children can read independently: “What most parents do,… is stop sharing books as soon as a child can read alone.  That makes reading a solitary happening, with no chance to talk about a book or discuss what it is saying. ” (Honey for a Teen’s Heart, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002).  Steve Demme, an inspirational homeschool speaker and founder of Math-U-See curriculum read at night to his four sons by positioning a chair in the hallway within earshot of his boys’ rooms and reading from there.  I vividly remember when I was called on during a babysitting job to read aloud to five children at bedtime.  They lined up on the couch and listened attentively while I read them the next chapter of the third Narnia book.  They knew where their mother had left off and they didn’t want to miss a night!

We can teach our kids to read with expression by our own example.  We benefit from listening to books also in the development of our imaginations.  Books with “boring bits” describing places are just opportunities to make a “mental movie” of what is happening in the book.  Doing the voices of the characters can be fun, especially when there is interesting dialogue between well-drawn characters.  To mix it up, the family member who is the usual family narrator can take a break while others take a turn reading aloud.  It’s important to switch genres of books to accommodate the tastes and ages of different family members.  Vacations, trips, and sick days are all wonderful times to put in extra reading moments.

Family closeness is precious and we value it even more at Christmastime.  I am beating the same drum as I “requote” Jim Trelease, the author of the Read-Aloud Handbook: “Next to being hugged, reading aloud is probably the longest-lasting experience of childhood.”  Read aloud and build closeness!

Other resources with wonderful read aloud book lists:

Sonlight Curriculum catalog

Hunt, Gladys M.. Honey for a Child’s Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

 

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Classics, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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