The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

TTOTS*This post contains spoilers.*

This novella was on my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge list, an event sponsored by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader, and it seemed like a good next choice to read as I have been craving “creepy” for the fall season. This was my first experience with Henry James and unfortunately I wasn’t impressed. Much of the turn off was the undecipherable “wordiness” of the writing.  For example: “That reminder had as little effect on my practical certitude as I was conscious – still even without looking – of its having upon the character and attitude of our visitor. Nothing was more natural than that these things should be the other things that they absolutely were not.”
Henry James, what are you saying??? There were sections where James wrote in a much clearer style, but he would constantly veer back to “long-winded” ground. Perhaps this would have worked better as a short, short-story rather than a novella.

The “wordiness” issue might have been worth it if the story itself had been spectacular, but it was just so-so for me. Although an excellent example of an unreliable narrator, I could not stand the governess. Here is a lady who thinks she sees an intruder in a tower at the house and initially tells NO ONE and does not even investigate the house herself. Come on. Of course, come to find out later she is the only adult in the house who can see this guy: “It was the dead silence of our long gaze at such close quarters that gave the whole horror, huge as it was, its only note of the unnatural. If I had met a murderer in such a place and at such an hour, we still at least would have spoken. Something would have passed, in life, between us; if nothing had passed, one of us would have moved. The moment was so prolonged that it would have taken but little more to make me doubt if even I were in life.”
I get that this is a psychological thriller. I understand that James wanted to leave the reader wondering if the governess was just crazy or if the ghosts were real and they had possessed the children. But here’s the thing, the ending was completely unrealistic no matter which of these was the case. Although I didn’t see that end coming, it was still a bit of a let down somehow.

There are many classics that still hold their power in 2013, but perhaps this is just a case of one, published in 1898, that does not hold up as well. Or, maybe it was just me. Have you read The Turn of the Screw? What did you think of it?

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Sassy Lady Writers Make Me Smile…

I am kind of obsessed with exploring the lives and writing of some really cool ladies. Sylvia Plath tops that list right now and I actually have an entire Plath reading list here on the blog. I lovingly refer to this as The Plath Project. However, there are other ladies that I think are cool as hell and really interest me: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anne Sexton, Shirley Jackson, Doris Lessing, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Dorothy Parker. It is sort of odd that some of these are poets since I am not a huge poetry fan … mostly because I understand very little about poetry in general. Anyway, I am going to be reading a biography about each of these women along with some of their work. I think Dorothy Parker may pull ahead as a favorite due to her amazing wit. Are any of these ladies among your favorites?

AS1

Anne Sexton
1928 – 1974

Zelda (and Scott)Fitzgerald 1900-1948

Zelda (and Scott)Fitzgerald
1900-1948

Edna St. Vincent Millay 1892-1950

Edna St. Vincent Millay
1892-1950

Shirley Jackson 1916-1965

Shirley Jackson
1916-1965

Doris Lessing 1919

Doris Lessing
1919

Dorothy Parker 1893-1967

Dorothy Parker
1893-1967

DP3

Night Film…Marisha Pessl

night_film_cover-201x300I just finished Night Film by Marisha Pessl, a book that is a little outside of my usual box, but since it is fall it felt like the perfect time for something creepy. The novel delivered the creep along with suspense, but it was also a heart-felt tale of human nature and an interesting look at the sometimes blurred lines between reality and art. Marisha Pessl paid close attention to detail in her writing and the added “epistolary” elements of the book such as magazine articles, website pages, and police file notes heightened the reading experience. All in all it was a very engrossing, enjoyable read.

The book opens with a fictional excerpt from a 1977 Rolling Stone interview with the elusive cult horror film director, Stanislas Cordova:

“Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are. Will you step back and cover your eyes? Or will you have the strength to walk to the precipice and look out? Do you want to know what is there or live in the dark delusion that this commercial world insists we remain sealed inside like blind caterpillars in an eternal cocoon? Will you curl up with your eyes closed and die? Or can you fight your way out and fly?”

The Cordova’s are a family that flies. Stanislas’ daughter Ashley has been taught to “live life way beyond the cusp of it, way out in the outer reaches where most people never have the guts to go, where you get hurt. Where there is unimaginable beauty and pain. She was always demanding of herself, Do I dare? Do I dare disturb the universe?” This is a philosophy born from the T.S. Eliot poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, but now Ashley is dead. Scott McGrath, investigative journalist, is sucked into the Cordova story, once again chasing their myth and their ghosts. He is forced to confront the subjectivity of life, reality, and art. I found myself wanting the Cordova’s to be real characters in American history. They were just so fascinating.

Here I must stop and say that in a few places the novel veered into territory that was a little unnecessarily weird for me. For example, I loved the sequence where McGrath is “trapped” in various Cordova film sets at The Peak, but his being trapped in all those hexagonal boxes? A little over the top for me. The story just didn’t need that in my opinion. Still, this is a “must add” for your TBR pile.

Other Favorite Quotes:

“I hate how the people who really get you are the ones you can never hold onto for very long. And the ones who don’t understand you at all stick around.” – Nora

“She seemed to already know what took me forty-three years to figure out, that even though adults were tall, what we knew about anything, including ourselves, was small.” – Scott

“Is she sad? she asked. No, honey. She’s lived in.” – Scott to his daughter

“I lost Marlowe.

What?

She slipped out of bed when I wasn’t looking.

But Harold said she needed a wheelchair to move.

Harold is mistaken. The woman moves like the Vietcong.” – Scott

“Darkness. I know it’s hard to fathom today, but a true artist needs darkness in order to create.” – Inez Gallo

Orange Is the New Black … A Mini Review … and the Women’s Prison Book Project …

orangeUnless you have been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard about Orange Is the New Black. I watched season 1 of the Netflix show and then read the memoir.  I liked the series and I don’t often say this, but the show is better than the book. This is in part due to the amazing cast of lady actors that bring the adaptation to life.

The memoir didn’t live up to my expectations for various reasons. The writing itself just didn’t flow well for me. I found myself wanting to edit the book rather than just read it. I read the book to find Piper Kerman’s real story, but instead was left with a feeling of insincerity about the writing. At times it felt like Piper was trying too hard to mask the reality of prison life, while at other times it felt like she was trying too hard to appear as a seasoned inmate. She wants us to believe that prison has changed her, but doesn’t give us any real insight into that change. I guess I was looking for a depth to the writing that just wasn’t there.

Piper does highlight important issues with today’s prison system. Things like inadequate mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, and re-entry to society training for inmates. Perhaps this was really part of her goal in sharing her experience. Kerman writes,  “Dr. Kirk sheepishly informed us that he was in the Camp for a few hours each Thursday and ‘couldn’t really supply’ any mental health services unless it was ‘an emergency.’ He was the only provider of psychiatric care for fourteen hundred women in the Danbury complex, and his primary function was to dole out psych meds.” How can we expect these women to be successful after release when they do not know how to secure housing and work opportunities? When they have not received tools to try to remain drug free on the outside or received proper psychiatric care during their time on the inside?

I give Piper credit for taking responsibility for her crime and doing her time. I cannot imagine having to go to prison, but I am sure reading would be one of the things I would use to survive the experience as Kerman did: “… the literary avalanche was proof that I was different, a freak: ‘She’s the one with the books.’ Annette and a few other women were delighted by the influx of new reading material and borrowed from my library with abandon … Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Alice in Wonderland definitely served to fill time and keep me company inside my head.” I have recently purchased some updated editions of some of my favorite classics and plan to donate my other copies to the Women’s Prison Book Project. For anyone interested the website is: http://www.wpbp.org/book-donations and the mailing address for donations is:

Women’s Prison Book Project
c/o Boneshaker Books  
2002 23rd Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

The Future of Blogging and Some Free Books For You…

IMG_20130803_210346The twins have changed my life in many ways. One of those ways involves reading and this blog. I am still reading, but not nearly as much. I no longer have the luxury of staying up late to read. Sleep is a necessity for my survival. I am also reading more on my Nook because it is easier, but most of my classics are paperback books. So, my reading has become more varied. Finding time to blog has been difficult, but I would like to begin getting back in the blogging routine. I will continue to read and journal about the classics on my list, but you may also find some posts about more contemporary selections. Along with my TBR pile, I am growing and changing as a reader, in large part due to the network of other amazing readers I have found through Twitter. I recently participated in two read-alongs for Stephen King’s Under the Dome and John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany. Owen Meany was a re-read for me, but remains one of my favorite books of all time.  In fact, I have been having a hard time starting another book as Owen is still running around in my head. Under the Dome was my second experience with Stephen King…11/22/63 being the first. I had always avoided Stephen King in the past, but I ended up really liking both novels. I would have liked to have put up posts for both of these read-alongs, but I just didn’t get to it. In the future, I hope to be better at this read-along component.

 I recently updated my copy of The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre with Penguin Classic Deluxe Editions and my copy of The Great Gatsby with a Penguin Modern ClassicsIMG_20130804_114022 Edition. So, if anyone is interested, I would be happy to send you my original copies of these books. They have each been read once and then sat on my shelves. First come first serve…leave me your email address so I can get your mailing information.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

tgg*This post contains spoilers, so if you are one of the few who have not read this classic, skip this post. 🙂

The Great Gatsby, published in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was my fourth read for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge sponsored by Adam over at Roof Beam Reader. I had never read this selection, not even in high school. I really had no idea what to expect. Fitzgerald’s writing – the language … the words …the sentences –  were fabulous, but I found the story, the plot, to be a little lacking for some reason. The action starts slow and ends with a bang, but perhaps I found it too predictable. Perhaps I was having a hard time trusting the narrator, Nick Carraway after he says: “Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

But, isn’t it Gatsby we aren’t supposed to trust? Jay Gatsby … the ultimate American self-made man, right down to his name. I adored him. Something about the mystery, sadness, and darkness that surrounded him really appealed to me. Then there is Daisy. I don’t think I have disliked a character the way I disliked her in a long time. Fitzgerald says: “Her voice is full of money.” So shallow … there was nothing to her, like she was a wisp that could just blow away with the slightest wind. Choosing wealth, security, the easy thing at every turn. What did Gatsby see in her? Why would he have gone to such lengths to bring her back to him? And for her to not even acknowledge his death … his blood that was ultimately on her hands … I could not fathom. It was so sad that no one came to his funeral, but I should not have been surprised. None of those “friends” ever really knew him. They were just fascinated with the idea of him, with what he represented, with what he could provide them. Fitzgerald’s words about Daisy and Tom not only describe them, but most of the people who had surrounded Gatsby in West Egg: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

f. scottFavorite quotes:

* “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.”

* “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

* “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.”

* “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Early on, Fitzgerald foreshadows how things will end for Nick and Gatsby’s friendship: “When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” Much like Gatsby was “borne back ceaselessly into {his} past” with Daisy, I assume it may have been the same for Nick with Gatsby … that he was haunted by him. Although the story may have been lacking for me somehow, I find that I am still thinking about this little novel, days later. Perhaps I am also haunted just a little bit by Jay Gatsby.

This is certainly a cautionary tale about the carelessness that seems to be a fixture of the Jazz Age. The 20s have never been one of my favorite periods in history, maybe because I do not know a lot about this period. It is growing on me though, as I begin to explore the writers and literature of this age.

2013 TBR Pile Challenge

1608f712ceffe9aee0c57f5173546389One of the reasons I originally started my reading project was that I wanted some motivation to read the classics I already had on my book shelf. However, the project ultimately led to my book collection expanding and now my “TBR pile” is larger than ever. So, I have decided to join Adam’s 2013 TBR Pile Challenge. I think I should be able to manage 1 book a month even with the twins. And if not…so it goes! The following is my list: (Some of the selections are from my reading project and some are not.)

1. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
3. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
5. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
6. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
7. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
8. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
9. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Judy Blume
10. The World According to Garp, John Irving
11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
12. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer