The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodieis another of those classic titles that I’d never read. What I knew from the blurbs were that Miss Brodie is a “progressive” teacher at a girls’ school, and she probably unnerved administration and parents alike. What I did not expect was to find that she was manipulative and small-minded and selfish and a great admirer of Mussolini and Hitler. I’m glad the book is more of the novella length because I was very disappointed with it.

The well-known quote from this book, “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life” certainly characterized this manipulative teacher’s philosophy. She assumed that she could get girls to do her bidding for her own selfish ends if she had simply taken them under her wing at a young age. She kept telling them (and apparently the men in her life) that she was a woman “in her prime”, as if this should be how everyone thought of her without questioning her motives or doubting her methods.

The book did portray the small-time politics of such a school, but really just showed an amoral and narcissistic woman.

I was not impressed. Three stars, for being readable, and short. And because it qualifies toward two of my reading challenges this year: Back to the Classics (I’m using it to qualify as A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title), and the Birthday Month Reading Challenge, as Muriel Spark was born 2/1/1918.


Another week in reading

After enjoying Natchez Burning so much, I wanted to immediately go back and read the books which came before. I hesitated, wondering if they might feel amateurish by comparison but I needn’t have feared. In fact, I thought The Quiet Game (Penn Cage Book 1) was every bit as good as Natchez had been. Characters were well-drawn and plotlines believable. Greg Iles can certainly write! When I finished that book I was wiping away a tear as I went straight to the kindle storefront to download book 2.  Five stars from me.

Early on, I was enjoying Turning Angel: A Novel (Penn Cage Book 2), but overall it did not ring as true for me. Oh, I could buy the primary love affair, though my sympathies were not with Drew Elliott, Penn Cage’s childhood friend (now forty years old and a respected local physician, charged with murdering the high school senior with whom he had fallen head over heels in love.) Regardless of any unhappiness in his own life, there isn’t  justification to try to start over with a minor. But I digress, and am being judgmental, so we’ll set that aside for now. I understand that good plotlines often involve putting characters in positions where they show poor judgment. But honestly, that same criticism pertains to the part of the book that I found ultimately less persuasive; because it wasn’t just Dr. Elliot. We are expected to believe that Penn very nearly falls into the same pattern, and that’s a relationship I simply didn’t buy. No way can even a “special” 18-year-old compete with the terrific woman Penn Cage was involved with for the past several years. Not even while they’re trying to sort through issues of career and the future of their relationship. I didn’t find the dynamics convincing, though perhaps that shows that I’m a grown woman and not a man. I don’t want to think it’s really that simplistic, so I’ll call this one a weakness in the book. It won’t stop me from going on to book three in the series after being so impressed with two others in the series. Three stars, and that may be a bit too generous.

But first I simply must read something that will count toward my Literary Birthday Challenge for the month of February.


This Week in Reading

I think I shall start posting this topic on Sundays, as a natural wrap-up to the just-completed week(s), but this one is a day late by those rules. In my defense, we spent much of the past few days seeing the eight Best Picture nominees for the 2015 Oscars. Years ago I used to make a habit out of trying to see the nominees just so I could have an opinion when the Oscars rolled around, but this year Cinemark has made it very very easy by selling a pass that works out to less than $5/picture and allows one to see the nominees repeatedly if one wishes, as well as the nominations for shorts. I actually didn’t make it to the 8th film (yet) but my husband enjoyed it too. My favorites? Hard to quantify, but I suppose my two top would be The Theory of Everything (story of Stephen Hawking and his first wife) and Selma. But my pick for best actor would have to go to Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game (which I also loved.)

Needless to say, this cut considerably into my reading schedule. I did, however, finish three books in the past week and make progress on a few others. I previously gave my impressions of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which won last year’s Man Booker Prize for Richard Flanagan.

I also enjoyed Natchez Burningenough that upon finishing it, I immediately went to my public library and borrowed book one in the Penn Cage series. I haven’t quite finished that one, but was delighted to find that Greg Iles was an excellent writer even back in 1999. I’m very much looking forward to books two and three before the newest title (five) is released in April. I highly recommend this for fans of mysteries and southern fiction. The Quiet Game is where to begin.

At the same time I was reading The Burgess Boysfor one of the book clubs to which I belong. This particular one meets at my local public library and the books are chosen by the librarian who moderates the group. She has excellent taste and chooses books in a variety of genres. I’ve never yet been disappointed at a choice, but this week I didn’t quite finish the book in time and didn’t attend the meeting. The book is about an ostensible hate crime committed in a small town in Maine, and is a good study of how an event takes on legs of its own with politics, the media, and family dynamics. I consider it primarily a good example of the latter and highly recommend it as such.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North

I went into  this bookknowing that it was about the building of the Burma Railway by Australian POWs, and that it had won the Man Booker prize for 2014, but it wasn’t anything like I expected. First of all, I didn’t buy the “great romance” that was supposed to be the driving force for the main character, and I saw no reason for it to consume so many pages in the early parts of the book. Because I didn’t care about that, it took me a while to get into the book. It consists of scenes cobbled together and while clearly this was an artistic choice, it wasn’t always an easy read

I have read a lot of books set during the 2nd world war, so I was expecting the brutality and senseless nature of many losses, but what set this one apart for me were the longitudinal aspects: seeing the aftermath of the war on its various participants and their families, in the glimpses and recollections of the post-war years. The sections relating to the Japanese guards helped me to understand some of the attitudes that influenced many of their behaviors in war.

Parts of it were compelling reading, but it wasn’t a page-turner in the classic sense except for a couple of memorable places. The scenes of the hero’s family trying to outwalk a huge fire near the end of the book will haunt me.


Housekeeping

Without making full posts on each of these books, I need to update the list of (new-to-me) classics that I’ve read in 2015, since I’m participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge

First up was Treasure Island. I’m certain that I’m not in the right demographic to fully appreciate this one; if I were a ten year old boy I would probably have loved it. I would have enjoyed it more than I did if I’d encountered it while I was still reading aloud to my daughter. Actually, she would probably enjoy that even now, except that she’s kept pretty busy as full-time R.N. and mom to two active little boys. But I digress. I’m glad I now have read Treasure Island, as I’ll better understand references to Long John Silver and the like, but I doubt it’s one I’ll read and read again. Unless I get the chance to share with my grandsons as they grow up!

The second book I read last week for the first time was The Wizard of Oz. If I hadn’t read it, I’d never have known that Dorothy wore silver shoes rather than ruby slippers — or that the flying monkeys weren’t as scary as I always thought from the movie! Again, I might be slightly beyond the prime target for this, as I’m not sure I need to read the complete 14-book series, but I enjoyed this one.

However, I think for my next classic or two, I’ll go back to the more grown-up books on my TBR pile.


2nd Annual Love for Books Readathon, February 9 – 15

To join in, sign up here. The rules are simple and non-constraining. Read anything you like and set any goals you like. There will be a small prize and perhaps some mini-challenges along the way.

I’ve been averaging about 165 pages per day so far this year, so to make it a challenge, I will set myself a goal of 1,400 pages for the week. That should allow me to finish my two current reads and one or two more.

Current stats:

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthI am currently on pg 392 of 467

Natchez BurningI am currently on pg 460 of 853

I’m also working through The NIV Bible in 90 Days and am on page 375 of 1088

I will come back and update this post as I go:

My Reading Progress

9th/Monday:
Read: The Narrow Road to the Deep North (75), Natchez Burning (320), The NIV Bible in 90 Days (69), The Burgess Boys (42)
Pages read: 506  (I had no idea I’d read this much!)
Total # of pages:
506
Books completed: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

10-11/Tuesday-Wednesday:
Read: Natchez Burning (73), The NIV Bible in 90 Days (43), The Burgess Boys (241), Reamde 19[in audio]
Pages read:
376
Total # of pages:
882
Books completed: Natchez Burning

12th-14th/Thursday-Saturday: 
Read:
The NIV Bible in 90 Days (74), The Burgess Boys (53), The Quiet Game (Penn Cage Book 1)(314)
Pages read:
441
Total # of pages:
1323
Books completed: The Burgess Boys

15th/Sunday:
Read: The Quiet Game (32), Reamde (71)
Pages read: 103
Total # of pages: 1427
Books completed: none

Total pages read for #LfBReadathon:  1427

Total Books finished: 3

So, I barely met my goal, despite the promising start. In my defense, we spent the weekend going to all eight of the Best Picture nominees for the 2015 Oscars (some good movies in there!) and that really cut my opportunities to read. It was fun to participate in this little challenge, though.


What a fun way to begin February

During the many years I was a single mom, my daughter and I enjoyed watching and watching and re-watching many animal-themed movies. One of our favorites was Babe, 1995, about a pig that learned to manage sheep simply by being polite. I didn’t know there was a corresponding book until I found this one on Audible a few weeks ago. This morning I began listening to it while I folded laundry, loaded the dishwasher and found other chores around the house. What a delight it was. The movie and book track so closely that most of the dialogue matches up, and it was a terrific walk down memory lane.

For the uninitiated, Babe is a piglet that comes to live at the Hoggett farm after Farmer H wis a prize at the local fair. He is adopted by the Hoggetts’ sheepdog and goes on to prove his worth (and intelligence) in working with sheep. The key, of course, is good manners.

I’m counting this one as my audiobook for the Read Harder challenge.