Classics Club Spin #21

CCspin21.jepg

The Classics Club is community of readers sharing our love for classic literature. Participants create a list of 50 or more classic lit titles that we agree to read within 5 years. A “Spin” is to take 20 titles you have not read from that list and number them 1-20. When the Spin gods choose a number your corresponding title is the book you will read and post about. For Spin #21 we are encouraged to post by October 31st.

The Classics Club is a wonderful way to meet like-mined classics lovers and have some fun. Yes….classic lit and fun CAN be in the same sentence 🙂

From the Classics Club website where you can get the full scoop on the Club and the Spin:

This is meant to be a fun, social way to read another book from your classics club list. We’re very relaxed about how you set it up, we simply want you to read more classics!

This Spin I am happy to say is a special one as I am only a few titles away from finishing my list, so I have chosen to repeat the titles I have not read on my list, instead of choosing any from my book shelf (can you say Frankenstein)?

Ok Spin gods…pick the monster, please 🙂

George Eliot
1. Middlemarch (1874)

E.M. Forster
2. Room with a View (1908)

Elizabeth Gaskell
3. Mary Barton (1848)
4. Wives and Daughters
(1866)

Henry James
5. Portrait of a Lady (1881)
6. The Ambassadors (1903)

Mary Shelley
7. Frankenstein (1818)

H. G. Wells
8. First Men in the Moon (1901)
9. The Invisible Man (1897)

Virginia Woolf
10. To the Lighthouse (1927)

11. Frankenstein

12. Wives and Daughters

13. Frankenstein

14. First Men in the Moon

15. Frankenstein

16. Portrait of a Lady

17. Frankenstein

18. Middlemarch

19. Frankenstein

20. Room with a View

 

 

#WitchWeekECBR-Two Books: Ray Bradbury, Kelly Barnhill

I am a little late in talking about these books that I read for Witch Week hosted by Lory at Emerald City Book Review, but I wanted to make some quick notes. The first is the classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and the second is a new title by Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

 

My Edition:somethingwicked
Title: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Author: Ray Bradbury
Publisher: William Morrow
Device: Hard cover
Year: 1962
Pages: 293
For a plot summary

 

In this classic by Bradbury two best friends, the almost 14-year olds Will and Jim, spend a horror-filled weekend together trying to get away from a hellish carnival. Told in a lyrical, almost poetic style that I really wanted to appreciate, I have to admit I was confused by it. I had to constantly reread and frankly, if I had not committed to this book  for Witch Week, I think I would have ditched it soon after starting!

But I persevered and discovered my confusion worked. My confusion was the boys’ confusion. Is Mr. Cooger really dead in the electric chair? And that little girl under the tree was Miss Foley their teacher who by nasty magic regressed in age? And whoever thought a hot air balloon could be so sinister as to hold a witch who was looking for fresh meat? And the Illustrated Man, I mean Mr. Dark, what was he and was he really going to take the boys into the carnival for ever and ever like some marionette doll?

One thing this style of writing did for me was to cast a spell over my imagination and force me to see a world of dimness and blurred vision. All the action happened at the edge of darkness, in fact, I don’t think the sun ever came out and coupled with a storm approaching and plenty of the action happening at night, I just felt weighted down.

The brightest spot for me was Mr. Halloway, Will’s father and the town’s night librarian, who has spent decades among historians and philosophers in his private realm of books. He is really the hero of the story, not just as the boys’ physical savior, but also as a voice for speaking your heart and emotion in the way he opened up to them about life. “Who are you?” both father and son asked and answered to the best of their ability. This ordeal surely strengthened their bond.

And finally, I really appreciated that the resolution to the horror carnival was to share love and joy. That because the carnival fed on the sorrows and disappointments of people, the cure was to be happy. Charles Halloway discovered this when he fought off the witch. What a comical scene: the evil old witch wiggling her hand in the air to slow his heart to a stop, while he is feeling it as tickles on his chest and cannot contain his laughter which in turn blows her out the door!

And I suppose that is about as good a resolution as they come because the alternative, to meet violence with violence, is always temporary.

 

******************

 

My Edition:drankmoon
Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Device: Hard cover
Year: 2016
Pages: 388
For a plot summary

 

 

This is a beautifully told story of magic and witches, love and community…and a very big misunderstanding.

For centuries, each year the people of the Protectorate give up the youngest child among the families to the witch who lives in the forest as an appeasement against her doing anything terrible to the town. The ritual is performed with much solemnity, with only occasional protest from the parents, such is the belief in the efficacy of the sacrifice. On this particular day, however, the mother will not let her little daughter be taken and she is ripped from her arms. The ritual goes on as planned and the baby is left on the stone for the witch to take. After the procession leaves and as she has done every year for 500 years Xan, the witch, snatches up the infant and carries it by broomstick to loving families across the forest to the Free Cities.

Xan has never understood why this village leaves an infant to die, but is happy to deliver it to families who love children. However, this year she has become very attached to her charge and begins to take the longer route in order to spend more time with her, alternately nourishing the baby with goat’s milk and starlight as is normal. But she has become so distracted with thoughts of keeping this one that she doesn’t see that the moon has come out when she raises her hand to the stars and draws down moonlight instead, filling the baby with great magic.

The story progresses with the child Luna growing up under Xan’s tutelage, the magical creatures she plays and learns with and the mission to find her mother. Meanwhile, in the Protectorate, a young man whose child is next to be taken, decides he must end this practice and sets out to kill the witch. The misunderstanding is resolved, but not before tragedy and evil takes its toll.

This is a beautifully written book with characters both magical and human that are unforgettable. Barnhill handles tension and conflict well, and writes an easy flowing prose. Though this is a book for middle schoolers, as an adult I found it a very enjoyable read. The only weaknesses in the book are due to this age difference, I believe, as I would have liked more depth to the characters.

Oh, and I must mention the cover. It is exquisite. Here is a larger view.
drankmoon

The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells (1898)

My Edition:warworld
Title: War of the Worlds
Author: H.G. Wells
Publisher: Tor
Year: 1988, text of the original 1898 edition
Pages: 204
Synopsis: Goodreads

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as moral as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinized the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. [i]

My Thoughts

When I put The War of the Worlds on my Classics Club reading list, I did so because I felt it was a book I ‘needed’ to read. Needed as in should: A classic work by an important author, whose works are the foundation of modern science fiction.

I also thought I knew the story having heard snippets of the infamous radio program devised by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the night of October 30, 1938 that scared almost a million people into believing Martians had landed and were destroying planet Earth.

fakewar

But from the opening pages, I realized I really didn’t know the story of the nameless narrator who, when looking through the telescope of a friend, sees 10 flashes of light coming from Mars and the gaseous flumes pulsating from its surface and the catastrophe these events bring.

Then came the night of the first falling star. It was seen early in the morning, rushing over Winchester eastward, a line of flame high in the atmosphere. Hundreds must have seen it, and taken it for an ordinary falling star. [ii]

The story follows the unnamed philosopher/writer from his telescopic viewing of Mars and the first “falling star,” to the landing of the cylinders that house the Martians and the destruction they bring with their heat rays and black powder. They are 100 feet in height with spindly arms and legs that tuck into their war-machines that have the capacity to destroy the world and enslave the human race. We follow him as he escapes from his home to take his wife to her family miles away and through his arduous journey to London where he craves understanding, insight and a way to stop this menace.

The writing was so compelling that I found myself thinking of the story in the car repair waiting-room as well as at the doctor’s office. So near to the end of the book, I sat in the parking lot to finish it!

The book is also a study in behavior when people are confronted by such a monumental disruption to their world view. Most ran for their lives without regard for the needs of anyone else, some wanted to stay and fight or study the invaders, some appeared to be in a paralyzed daze. One of these characters waylays the narrator with his plan to save humanity by moving mankind underground into the sewers while they learn about the Martians and try to find their Achilles’ Heel.

It’s saving our knowledge and adding to it is the thing. There men like you come in. There’s books, there’s models. We must make great safe places down deep, and get all the books we can; not novels and poetry swipes, but ideas, science books. That’s where men like you come in. We must go to the British Museum and pick all those books through. Especially we must keep up our science—learn more. We must watch these Martians.[iii]

The narrator is caught up in this plan until he sees the true nature of the man: he is just a “strange undisciplined dreamer.” He is once again off to London.

Entering the city, the signs of Martian destruction are everywhere: the black powder, the charred bodies and buildings and the strange red vine brought by the Martians that springs up trees, on bushes and in ponds. At Oxford Street by the Marble Arch he sees black bodies strewn around, incinerated. Breaking into a pub he finds food and drink which lulls his tired body to sleep. Awakening at dusk, the humming noise of “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla” fills his ears. Making his way toward the sound he comes upon a howling Martian in its death throes having been torn apart by dogs. Moving up to Primrose Hill he looks down upon another Martian, dead. And the “Ulla, ulla” stops abruptly.

Surveying the land below he sees overturned war-machines and their Martian inhabitants stark still. But how did they die? Not by any manner of military might or strategy, but by the smallest microscopic army. “Slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared;…slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.”[iv]

The novel ends with the narrator reunited with his wife and the world getting back to an uneasy normal, because knowing Martians can space travel, this may only be a reprieve. As it is, telescopes have detected light and gas coming once more from Mars, and lights falling on Venus.

We have learned now that we cannot regard this planet as being fenced in and a secure abiding place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of space…It may be that across the immensity of space the Martians have watched the fate of these pioneers of theirs and learned their lesson, and that on the planet Venus they have found a securer settlement….[v]

I came away from The War of the Worlds with a desire to read more ‘old school’ science fiction. I would describe this book generally as ‘character-driven by events,’ with a noble protagonist who managed to stay uncorrupted by circumstance.

Final Thoughts

It is interesting to note that Wells compares the Martian invasion and desire to conquer and vanquish with our own behavior toward the animals and peoples of earth:

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races….Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?[vi]

Finally, if we ponder our reactions to what some say is our own dying planet will we at some point look out into the dark universe for some other bright star where life might be possible on one of its plants, as the Martians did to save their own kind? How much more are we like them that we would have this same feeling?

That last stage of exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see…a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility.[vii]

___________

 

[i] 3.
[ii] 10.
[iii] 175.
[iv] 186-187.
[v] 187.
[vi] 5.
[vii] 4.

 

Classics Club Spin #11 and my Classics Club list.