The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

the-house-of-the-seven-gablesHawthorne manages to weave a tale flawlessly with nary a snarl to be found.  While it took me a bit to read through its pages, it was well worth it.

Several generation of the Pyncheon family’s dirty laundry is aired and it is far from sparkly clean.  An ill gained land ownership becomes the family’s curse and The House of the Seven Gables eventually reveals its history as it deteriorates from its original splendor.

The falsely accused Matthew Maule curses Colonel Pyncheon from the gallows where he has been found guilty of wizardry.  The land then taken from his family will serve as the foundation for the seven gabled house and will curse the Pyncheon’s family for generations.

Hepzibah Pyncheon lives in the crumbling home, alone and destitute and is forced to open a little shop in order to provide basic necessities for herself.  Her scowl does little for business, but her niece’s arrival manages to keep customers returning.

The mysterious boarder in the Pyncheon home, Mr. Holgrave is a daguerreotypist who is able to capture the true essence of his subjects, both the good and the evil.

Sunshine is brought into the Pyncheon home with the arrival of Phoebe Pyncheon.  Her presence sets in motion the unraveling and eventual rebuilding of the Pyncheon clan.

Clifford Pyncheon, brother to Hepzibah is a man broken and child like.  We slowly learn that the evil Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon stood silent when Clifford was falsely accused of killing his uncle.

Quotes:

In this republican country, amid the fluctuating waves of our social life, somebody is always at the drowning-point.  The tragedy is enacted with as continual a repetition as that of a popular drama on a holiday; and, nevertheless, is felt as deeply, perhaps, as when an hereditary noble sinks below his order.  

Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon sat in the oaken elbow-chair, with her hands over her face, giving way to that heavy down-sinking of the heart which most persons have experienced, when the image of hope itself seems ponderously moulded of lead, on the eve of an enterprise at once doubtful and momentous.  

I find nothing so singular in life, as that everything appears to lose it s substance, the instant one actually grapples with it.  

For, what other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart!  What jailer so inexorable as ones’ self!  

It is a truth (and it would be a very sad one, but for the higher hopes which is suggests) that no great mistake, whether acted or endured, in our mortal sphere, is ever really set right.  

My rating for The House of the Seven Gables is a 9 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Erskine Caldwell’s A House in the Uplandsa-house-in-the-uplands

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

little-womenThe book’s volume had me a bit concerned as my journey has been rather sluggish.  I still wonder if my goal of reading 1,001 books is unrealistic, yet I carry on, albeit with the pace of a snail.

I cherished every word of Little Women and am so glad it didn’t find its way to the bottom of my book pile.  It was refreshing to read an old-fashioned view of the world with so much going on in today’s uncertain future.  Some might find the book sexist, however, putting it into the context of its time, its best to not take offense.

Set in New England during the Civil War, we meet, and get to know very well, the March women.  A strong mother whose husband is away at war, is at the foundation of this  family.  She sees each of her four daughters as individuals and helps them grow into people they can both be proud of.

Josephine March, better known as Jo found her way into my heart.  While her short fuse and impatience get her into hot water, her loyalty to family saves her from much scorn.

Sweet Beth is selfless and the only joy she allows herself is playing piano.  Even in her darkest hour, she continues thinking of others.  Tears flowed for this gracious little soul.

The rich boy next door, Theodore Laurence, is affectionately called Laurie by the March women.  He becomes a fixture in the March home and becomes Jo’s best friend and confidant.  His generous and playful nature endear him to all.

I believe I’d get on famously with Miss Alcott.  Presumably, Jo March is her fictional self so there would be no issue getting along here.  Perhaps she’d share with me her very early work only she would deem inferior.

Quotes:

They did feel it, yet neither spoke of it; for often between ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome.  

Simple, sincere people seldom speak much of their piety; it shows itself in acts, rather than in words, and has more influence than homilies or protestations.

Seldom, except in books, do the dying utter memorable words, see visions, or depart with beautified countenances; and those who have sped many parting souls know, that to most the end comes as naturally and simply as sleep.  

My rating for Little Women is a 9 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gablesthe-house-of-the-seven-gables

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist

At the rate I’m reading, I may very well be dead before I’m able to complete the gargantuan task of ingesting all of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  Perhaps I overwhelmed myself and should just relax and focus on the immense pleasure I experience while perusing rather than trying to complete something that will surely take some length of time.  I have an endless supply of excuses for my absence, but I will spare you and get back to it post-haste.

I need not introduce our dear little Oliver as everyone, the world around, is an intimate of the poor orphan of Mr. Dickens creation.  I thought I knew him as well, but I did not foresee how my heart would break and my chest heave when I truly came to know the child on paper.

For those unfamiliar with Oliver Twist, it is the splendid tale of a boy born in a workhouse in the 1830’s whose mother dies shortly after his birth.  His treatment there is deplorable and he eventually runs away only to be taken in by a group of pickpockets overseen by a manipulative and unscrupulous man.  Just when things appear to be looking up for Oliver, something, or someone, always seem to get in the way of his deliverance.

The novel’s protagonist, Oliver Twist, begins his life with the loss of his mother and doesn’t know a day of compassion henceforth.  Somehow Oliver remains an innocent hungry for any sign of mercy that seems to continually evade him.

Mr. Bumble, an hypocritical beadle at the workhouse, is an unfortunate model for those he purports to care for.  His unattainable ambitions drive him even further down the path of indifference to his fellow-man.

Fagin is the ringleader of the young pickpockets he recruits among the many orphans in London.  He trains the young ragamuffins in a squalid building and then sends them forth to return the goods to benefit him.  If caught, however, the tiny thieves must take the fall alone, thus insulating Fagin from being implicated in any way.

The cruel and heartless Bill Sikes makes Fagin appear almost human.  He is an angry and brutal man who unleashes his rage on those nearest him and does so without pause, whether it be his lover or his dog.

This is an author I would have to reign in my adoration for before sitting down for a little tete a tete.  His obvious experience of a destitute life and ability to see the injustices and inequities around him make him an author extraordinaire and at the top of my list.

Quotes:

We need be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so much omitted, and so little done–of so man things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired!  There is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time.

My rating for Oliver Twist is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Louisa May Alcott’s  Little Womenlittle-women

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The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye

Although not considered autobiographical, The Bluest Eye recounts a painful coming of age in 1940’s Lorain, Ohio where Morrison herself grew up.  Morrison provides backgrounds for each character allowing the reader to understand their sometimes deplorable, sometimes heroic, actions.

The book’s narrator, Claudia MacTeer, is an independent nine-year-old.  She is sensitive to the behavior of others, and is especially aware of the different ways blacks and whites are treated.

Pecola Breedlove longs for blue eyes believing they will ensure she will be loved and respected by family, friends and strangers alike.  Raped and impregnated by her father, doubted by her mother and bullied at school, her self-respect has all but disappeared so she begins to remove herself from reality in order to survive the travesties that continue to dog her.

Pauline “Polly” Breedlove is Pecola’s mother.  She has a deformed foot that has made her feel inferior and she loses herself in movies.  Working as a housekeeper for a white family, she treats their daughter better than her own feeding into Pecola’s feeling of worthlessness.

It’s been fun imaging my encounters with authors living and dead, but this is an instance where I have actually met the author.  I attended a lecture in 2013 where Ms. Morrison spoke of her then recently published Home among a myriad of topics; her work in publishing and teaching, writing, politics and the ongoing divide between blacks and whites in America.  I came away with an autographed book and a wish for more time with this renowned author.

My rating for The Bluest Eye is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist…Oliver Twist

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The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe

The Pit and the PendulumPoe masters the art of quickly drawing the reader right into his tale in The Pit and the Pendulum.  How could anyone not be mesmerized with the following opening…

I was sick–sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me.  The sentence–the dread sentence of death–was the last distinct accentuation which reached my ears.

A doomed man finds himself in a seemingly inescapable torture chamber.  Hints of an inquisition dealing out unwarranted death sentences seem to have delivered this man to his final days.

The narrator is the sole character and seems to come to consciousness slowly allowing the reader to become aware of his arrival and current plight.  Finding himself in darkness, he attempts to determine where he is and what fate awaits him.  As he encounters horror after horror, he turns extremely resourceful and deals with each obstacle quite bravely.

General LaSalle arrives quite near the end…

Quotes:

He who has never swooned is not he who finds strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that flow; is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; is not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower; is not he whose brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has never before arrested his attention.

It would be difficult to contain my adoration of Mr. Poe, but I’d try my best.  Once again, I would choose to meet in an open forum as my paranoid mind would anticipate potential horrors my companion might have in store for such an unsuspecting soul as I.

My rating for The Pit and the Pendulum is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye…The Bluest Eye

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The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

The Fall of the House of Usher  It has been a while since reading Poe and now I remember why I was so enthralled with him when first introduced by a marvelous 8th grade teacher.  I was a little worried that I wouldn’t feel quite the same, but it was like returning to a long forgotten place that still invigorates the senses.

Poe manages to completely intrigue his reader in just an opening sentence or two.  That monumental ability will allow his works to be enjoyed in perpetuity.

A man receives a letter requesting a visit from an old boyhood friend who seems to be in failing health.  Even before his arrival, the narrator begins to feel unsettled and senses this will not be a pleasant reunion.

Little is revealed about the narrator other than his friendship with Usher and his appreciation for books and music.  His friend’s condition seems to initially escape him until he begins to question his own sanity.

Roderick Usher is suffering a number of maladies including hypochondria, ultrasensitivity to light and sound and an evident descent into madness.  He only seems to be calmed with books and music.

Twin sister to Roderick, Lady Madeline is said to be quite ill, with no known origin and one wonders if her brother may have a hand in her illness.  When her suffering seems to come to end, it is, in fact only beginning.

With Poe’s literary references to Gresset, Machiavelli, Swedenborg, etc., I’d certainly feel narrowly read and would try to discuss his writing methods instead.  While a tete a tete in an isolated locale would likely be ideal, I think instead I’d choose a more populated destination for our meeting.

My rating for The Fall of the House of Usher is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum…

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Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago Getting through Doctor Zhivago was more of a challenge than I had anticipated.  It was not the content that was a struggle, but rather the litany of characters Mr. Pasternak introduces and revisits at varying intervals.  I like to keep track of characters as I read, and this was the lengthiest list by far.  The overabundance of patronymic names made for lengthy note taking and the use of multiple nicknames even more so.  Alas I report the latest excuse for my delayed post.

I spoke to several people while reading who said they’d seen the movie (I have not and am eager to), but had never read the book.  The repeated impressions reported to me were that of a train and lots of snow.  No spoilers were provided.

Opening in early 20th century Russia, Doctor Zhivago begins with the Russian revolution and moves into the Bolshevik uprising in Moscow.  The equally brutal Reds and Whites fight for what they believe is their only hope for a life worth living.  All is seen through Doctor Zhivago’s eyes as he manages to survive both sides of the bloodshed.

Yurii Andreievich Zhivago, Yura, Yurochka, Doctor Zhivago, the book’s namesake loses his mother at a young age and his father to suicide so is raised by an uncle and exposed to a variety of experiences.  He seems to take the events around him in stride as secret revolutionary plans unfold and people disappear on a regular basis.  He maintains his roles as physician and manages to marry, have a child and carry on with two mistresses.  My impression of the dear doctor…schmuck.  He leaves behind his family, has an affair and then marries another and has another child.  All the while, he seems rather unaffected by the fighting, starvation, executions and collapse of life around him.  Perhaps it was Pasternak’s way of trying to seem unsympathetic to those under government scrutiny.

Victor Komarovsky is a lawyer who purportedly encouraged Zhivago’s father’s suicide.  He seduces the young Lara, the daughter of his mistress.  Komarovsky is the type of man who seems to glide on air never having to allow his feet to touch the dirt beneath his feet and manages to maintain a connection with Lara for years by providing things others have given up on.  In a word, or two, sleaze ball.

Larisa Feodorovna Guishar, aka Lara has an affair with her mother’s lover, Komarovsky, who she tries to kill, but only grazes.  She marries Pasha Antipov who she grew up with and they move to Yuriatin and have a daughter.  Antipov joins the war in an attempt at resolving imagined marital strife.  He later takes on a new persona, Strelnikov, a callous leader of the Reds and continues to elude his wife and family.  His reputation haunts him and he takes his life when he can no longer maintain a life on the run.  Poor, misguided fool…

Quotes:

About dreams.  It is usually taken for granted that you dream of something that has made a particularly strong impression on you during the day, but it seems to me it’s just the contrary.  Often it’s something you paid no attention to at the time–a vague thought that you didn’t bother to think out to the end, words spoken without feeling and which passed unnoticed–these are the things that return at night, clothed in flesh and blood, and they become the subjects of dreams, as if to make up for having been ignored during waking hours.

Reshaping life!  People who can say that have never understood a thing about life–they have never felt its breath, its heartbeat–however much they have seen or done.  They look on it as a lump of raw material that needs to be processed by them, to be ennobled by their touch.  But life is never a material, a substance to be molded.  If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself, it is infinitely beyond your or my obtuse theories about it.

None of this can mean anything to you.  You couldn’t understand it.  You grew up differently.  There was the world of hunger, overcrowding, the degradation of the worker as a human being, the degradation of women.  And there was the world of the mother’s darlings, of smart students and rich merchants’ sons, the world of impunity, of brazen, insolent vice; of rich mean laughing or shrugging off the tears of the poor, the robbed, the insulted, the seduced; the reign of parasites, whose only distinction was that they never troubled themselves about anything , never gave anything to the world, and left nothing behind them.  

Meeting Mr. Pasternak would certainly be a pleasure and I’d love to ask him about his decision to remain in Moscow rather than flee like many did.  I’d be most interested in where he actually wrote his Nobel (albeit delayed) awarded book and what inspired him to publish what did turn out to be such a controversial book for its time.

My rating for Doctor Zhivago is an 8 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or comments by using the Leave A Comment link below.

Next up, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher…The Fall of the House of Usher

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